“Child’s Play” and Other Notes – Ichiyō Higuchi, Part 4


Takekurabe Movie Poster

Takekurabe Movie Poster

In this final installment of the series on Ichiyō Higuchi, the first story we will look at is “The Thirteenth Night,” (十三夜) which was published in 1895 and has two sections. This story begins with dutiful daughter Oseki contemplating how to tell her parents she wants to divorce her husband Isamu and how she will be forced to abandon her son. She fears the news will upset them because Isamu has high social status and gives them gifts which will stop if they divorce. Their social status would also suffer. Sure enough, when she arrives to tell them the news, they gush on about how Isamu has changed their lives for the better.

The title “The Thirteenth Night” refers to the 13th night of the 9th month of the year, which was a traditional date for moon-viewing parties, and Oseki’s discussion with her parents takes place on this day. She details for her parents the situation with her husband: he has transformed from a doting husband to a bully once she had their child. She thinks he’s trying to drive her to leave him. “He’s a great man in name only, and I won’t have a moment’s regret at being divorced,” she tells them (Danly, p 245). Her mother is supportive, even recollecting how fiercely and insistently Isamu had courted her before their marriage. Her father is more hesitant. He talks her out of divorce and sends her home. Section one of the story ends leaving the reader with the impression of Oseki’s parent as understanding and supportive even though she gave up on the idea of divorce.

But the second section is another matter. For a few moments, it even takes a gothic turn, which gets the reader’s attention in time for the final, almost shocking plot twist which shows Isamu and Oseki’s parents in quite a different light altogether. This part shows Oseki’s meeting with an old childhood friend which tells of events leading up to Oseki’s marriage. It turns out that her parents’ motives for marrying her off to Isamu were indeed less than pure in spite of impressions from their earlier conversation that night. It’s quite a remarkable ending, and it shows Higuchi’s skill at portraying a depth of motives of all of her characters. I certainly wasn’t expecting the revelations of the second half of the story based on the first half at all.

Here is the text of this story in Japanese:

http://www.aozora.gr.jp/cards/000064/files/386_15291.html

The next story we will look at is “Child’s Play” (たけくらべ), which was also published in 1895 or 1896. This story is presented in 16 sections. Like many of Higuchi’s stories, it was also made into a film, but it’s very hard to find much information on them. I was only able to dig up this version of “Child’s Play”:

http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E3%81%9F%E3%81%91%E3%81%8F%E3%82%89%E3%81%B9_%281955%E5%B9%B4%E3%81%AE%E6%98%A0%E7%94%BB%29

This time, Higuchi returns to a more descriptive, reflective style as the story begins rather than jumping directly into the narrative as she did in the last few stories. The first section gives a lively description of the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters and introduces a major character of the piece, 15-year-old Nobuyuki, the son of a Buddhist priest. The second section launches into the details of an upcoming shrine festival and the quarter’s two teenage street gangs led by 16-year-old Chōkichi and 13-year-old Shōta. Section three introduces teenager Midori, the younger sister of a very popular courtesan; she is a dominant character in the story and is popular with the street gang members. Part four introduces another street gang member, this time the clownish boy Sangorō who is also a friend of Midori’s.

The remaining sections of the story explore the scuffles and the various personal friendships among the gang members in slice of life detail, including the romantic angst of the low-key love triangle formed by Shōta, Midori and Nobuyuki, as well as vivid descriptions of the gang members’ families. The story ends in a surprisingly reflective fashion, all of the gang interaction really leading to the serious realization that the teens were all on the verge of adulthood, especially Midori and Nobuyuki.

Here is the text in Japanese:

http://www.aozora.gr.jp/cards/000064/files/389_15297.html

The last story in this volume is “Separate Ways” (わかれ道), published in 1896. It only has three sections. Kichizō is an orphaned 16-year-old boy, nicknamed “Dwarf,” who works in an umbrella shop. He visits Okyō in the middle of the night to cook his rice cakes. In section two, the circumstances of Kichizō’s adoption by the umbrella shop owner’s wife are explained. Okyō is revealed to be a seamstress who befriends him, and that relationship is explored in more depth. In the final scene, Okyō and Kichizō have an emotional moment when he realizes she won’t be around forever. The text comes to an abrupt end.

Here is the text in Japanese:

http://www.aozora.gr.jp/cards/000064/files/391_15301.html

This ends our discussion of the stories in this collection, but let me say a final word about Ichiyō Higuchi’s diary. Scholar Yoshie Wada is reported to have edited her diary, and I did find a book that looked like it which was titled Ichiyō’s Diary (和田芳恵の『一葉の日記』), but it mainly looked like an overview and discussion of the diary’s contents organized by Higuchi’s age rather than actual excerpts. The introduction had an interesting discussion about the publication of the diary since apparently her family was unsure of whether to allow it to be published or if it should be burned instead. One thing of interest about this book is that it uses an obsolete hiragana character throughout it, the old “wi” (ゐ) sound. Like many languages, Japanese has gone through many reforms over the centuries. According to Wikipedia, the “wi” hiragana was eliminated in 1946. But needless to say, my search for some form Higuchi’s actual diary in Japanese was unsuccessful.

Part four of a four part series.

Next time: A special holiday mini-series on Japan’s Hundred Poets!

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About Lady Xiansa

Lady Xiansa is a writer, linguist, artist, and dancer. She has been a core volunteer for the Silk Screen Asian Arts Organization since 2007 and has provided content for Pitt JCS anime events since 2011. She has taught both ESL and Beginning Korean. Her novel, The Haunting at Ice Pine Peak, won the Bronze Award for Young Adult Fiction E-book in the 2016 Moonbeam Children's Book Awards.
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