Tuesday, 1 December 2009


Kenjiro Tokutomi, 1868-1927 who's also known as Roka Tokutomi was the younger brother of Soho Tokutomi who was an eminent historian. Nami-Ko was serialized initially in the Kokumin Shimbun between 1898-1899, it's Japanese name was Hototogisu, (Cuckoo). The translation done by Sakae Shioya and E.F Edgett of this Yurakusha 1905 edition is a little dated now, but it's still a very readable novel. Kenjiro Tokutomi was a great admirer of the works of Tolstoy, he translated him into Japanese and even visited Tolstoy at Yasnaya Polyana, the novel has a western influence to it. Shadowed by the Sino-Japan war it follows Nami-Ko just married to Baron Takeo Kawashima,a naval officer, as they honeymoon around Mount Akagi , telling of her childhood, her birth mother died when she was eight years old, and her step mother never liked her, scolding Nami-Ko and at times ridiculing her dead mother, marrying Takeo was a relief to escape from her. Whilst out collecting ferns on their honeymoon, Takeo's cousin Chijiwa finds them and whilst Takeo leaves them alone to fetch a cane he forgot, Chijiwa questions Nami over the letter he sent to her, it's revealed that Chijiwa had intended to propose to Nami, but his cousin beat him to it, Chijiwa's unwanted attentions upset her, but she tells him that his letter will remain a secret as she put it in the fire, a source of great bitterness for Chijiwa he accuses that she only married the Baron for his money.

After Chijiwa has left them he meets up with Hyozo Yamaki, 'a gentleman merchant' who appears to be an unscrupulous man, with all sorts of shady dealings, his daughter O-Toyo has always had feelings for Baron Takeo and dislikes Nami. Baron Takeo's father we learn died in the Restoration War, and his widowed mother suffers from rheumatism, soon after they return from their honeymoon, Takeo is called away for duty, Nami has to stay with her mother-in law. Takeo learns that Chijiwa is gaining a bad reputation, falling into debt, military secrets have leaked, and Chijiwa has been seen around the stock exchange. Baron Takeo is seen as a figure of incorruptibility, leaving early from a party held by Hyozo Yamaki, repulsed by the drunken behavior. Takeo learns that Chijiwa forged his official seal to raise funds from a promissory note to pay off a debt, Takeo chastises Chijiwa, paying off the debt for him, but severing their relationship, and telling him he won't make it public. Nami-Ko falls ill to consumption and Takeo is called up again,and whilst he's away Chijiwa plans his revenge, and hearing that Nami is gravely ill he meets Takeo's mother, who has never liked Nami and has been jealous of the attention Takeo has given her, Chijiwa suggests that maybe Takeo and Nami should be divorced as her illness threatens the family line of the Kawashima's. They go behind Takeo's back and seek consent for the divorce from Nami's father telling him that Takeo knows and has agreed to it, he gives his consent and Nami is 'called back' to her family home.

At the out break of the Sino-Japanese War Takeo sees action at the Battle of the Yalu River.  Nami is devastated by her situation, her consumption worsens. Takeo is injured during the battle, and convalesces at Saseho. Yamaki taking full advantage of Takeo's absence and trying to work his way into the wealthy Kawashima family, sends his daughter to Takeo's mothers residence, to have her trained as a maid, and a possible second wife for Takeo, but Toyo is not popular with Takeo's mother who's estrangement from her son, soon leaves her questioning her actions. Once Takeo's injury has healed he doesn't return home, instead he goes back to his ship. Recovering at Sagami Bay, Nami grows more and more despondent, contemplating the early death of her real mother, and the separation from her husband, Nami concludes that maybe death is the only way she can find happiness,standing at the cliff edge, staring out at the sea, she imagines Takeo out there, perhaps her spirit may reach him...

Tokutomi, in his later years moved to the country,and like Tolstoy became reclusive, a prolific translator and writer, his last book 'Fuji', an autobiography was written with his wife Akio, although he died before it was completed. Interested in Christianity, he was baptized when he was seventeen, his writing is also noted for his fascination with nature. I think two other of his books are available in translation; 'Footprints in the Snow' and 'Nature and Man', which hopefully I'll read in the future.

To read Nami-ko online please see the Japanese Literature: Online Translations post. 


mel u said...

This is a very interesting review-I hope this book is available-I am interested in the Russian-Japanese war-I read last month Kusamakura by Natsume Soseki-set at the start of the war-

me. said...

Thanks for the comment,i think the book is currently available in a print on demand edition.The translation needs updating in places, but it's a great novel,Tokutomi manages to combine history, social commentary with the story of the lives of the characters.
Well worth tracking down a copy.