After the two left it was suddenly quiet. The taiko of Asahimachi had ceased at some point, and the sound of the ocean, imperceptible until then, could be heard.
Take had risen and was putting the dishes in order. The master Ono found himself watching her, and suddenly he tried to regard her as a woman.
She was a short woman with thin hair and eyes that were slightly different in size. She had been thin and pale when she first came into his service, and there was something charming about her at the time. Since coming to this house she had gained weight and her cheeks had filled out. She seemed to have lost a great deal of her womanly charm.
Her parents’ home was near Kokura, but her elder brother ran a small restaurant. She had gone there on her brother’s recommendation–he had said that if she just came and just served sake (there was no need to help with the cooking), he would soon be able to obtain marriage arrangements for her—, but the customers who came there were all brutish sailors, so she fled in fear and returned to Kokura. She was a rare quality of maid, honest and ever mindful of the master. But it was difficult to see her as a woman. Ono had not once thought of her as a woman, and even trying to now it seemed quite impossible. In the end he simply didn’t feel any sexual attraction toward her.
Watching her take up the dishes, get up and leave, the master smiled unconsciously. Then he began to wonder at his own coldness.
This wonder grew defiantly in his mind and made him begin to search for some sexual attraction that might lie hidden somewhere within his heart.
To Ono’s mind floated a memory from the time a Buddhist memorial service was held for those who had died at war. Brother priests of the Hongan temple came, so the place was packed with men and women both young and old.1 Ono sat in his own reserved seat as people who came to see the ceremony gradually pushed their way in, until at his very knees squatted a young farmer’s daughter with her hair set in a shimada coiffure.2 She smelled of white make-up and hair oil. Midway through the sermon, the voice of whoever was speaking became mere white noise. For a time Ono’s heart was stolen by the eyes which gazed upon the higanoko headdress set over the girl’s shimada coiffure, as well as by the nose which caught the aroma of her hair and skin. For that moment Ono was a veritable slave to sensuality. Remembering that incident, Ono again smiled unconsciously.
Ono would be forty that year. It had been a long time since he had separated from his former wife. His grandmother in Tokyo worried terribly over his moving to Kokura alone, and with every letter she sent she inquired about his taking a new wife. Tonight another letter had come, but since he had guests Ono had left it unopened upon his desk.
Ono turned up the wick of his now darkened lamp and opened the envelope. Looking at the small elegant characters written in the oieryū style was like looking at the very face of his grandmother, wearing her horn-rimmed glasses.3
As the year’s close slowly approaches I look forward to the day you will make your journey up to the capital. I count the days on my fingers. At the request of Mr. Tanida, I went up to Ueno today to receive an introduction to the young daughter of Mr. Inoue, whom I made mention of in my previous letter. I write this letter now having just returned home. Mrs. Tanida and I had arrived early, and how surprised I was upon first seeing Ms. Tomiko, her hair set in the taka-shimada style, alight from a car with her mother.4 I found myself astonished that there should be a person of such beauty in this world. Were she presented to you, I believe even one with such apparent distaste for women as you have could not find her displeasing. I cannot speak for her character after only a single meeting, but it is clear she is a shrewd young lady. The one thing which struck me as peculiar was that in the hour or so we leisurely spent at a local teahouse, not once did Ms. Tomiko smile. At the teahouse was also a Western couple, and since we could not understand one another there were many amusing moments. Mrs. Tanida, who is quite fluent in English, interpreted for us, and it was so entertaining that both Ms. Tomiko’s mother and I laughed a great deal. Tomiko, however, didn’t smile even for a moment. Yet, as I stated in my previous letter to you, it is understandable that she should be different from other girls her age, as she was raised under somewhat difficult circumstances. In any case, I wait in earnest for you to make your journey to the capital soon, and confirm that my eye’s are not failing me on this matter.
PS: Seijiro and his wife also send their regards.5 I expect you received the cask of Kikkoman soy sauce we asked Mr. Ishizaki to send to you.
Having finished reading the letter, Ono lit the small lamp Take had set by his desk and, holding it, blew out the desk lamp. Crawling into his cold solitary bed, what dreams might he have dreamed this night.
1) The Hongan Temple, or Hongan-ji at once refers to the largest school of the Jodo Shinshu sect of Buddhism and to various actual Temple buildings associated with the school.
2) This is a hair-style worn by young unmarried women.
3) The 御家流oieryūstylerefers to a style of writing passed down within an aristocratic house, and the letter to follow is in a very formal letter-writing style called 候文sōrōbun, which is not very common nowadays, if it is used at all.
4) Tomiko is the young daughter of Mr. Inoue mentioned before. The taka-shimada coiffure is a variation of the shimada style from before. It is higher-set than the shimada.
5) Seijiro and his wife are probably Ono’s parents, but it is not explicitly stated.