Saturday, June 10, 2017

Coping in Hard Times: Kawabata's "First Snow on Fuji"

19th-c rendering of Noh drama.
Our May 22nd meeting was devoted to Kawabata’s short story “First Snow on Fuji,” in which two former lovers, Jiro and Utako, reunite to take an overnight journey to Hakone, located in an area famous for its mineral baths.

Their relationship years earlier during the Second World War had resulted in the birth of a child, who was put up for adoption and then died.  When Jiro and Utako talk about the child on their journey to Hakone, Utako, the mother of the child, appears to have repressed the memory altogether.  Jiro, on the other hand, is ridden with guilt.  At one point in the conversation he blurts out, “We killed that child,” and immediately afterwards regrets having said it.

One of our participants pointed out a moving passage later in the story. During the war, Jiro fled Tokyo and rented a room in the nearby countryside, in Musashino. A teacher of Noh chanting had also relocated to Musashino, and gave lessons to the priest of the local temple. Noh is an ancient Japanese performance art that combines singing, instrumentation, dance, and drama.  Jiro enjoyed watching their rehearsals. 

He tells Utako, “It struck me as peculiar and also as pretty amazing that they would go on hitting drums and playing flutes even as we were losing the war, you know?  I mean – there probably wasn’t anything else they could do, but still … you and I didn’t even have enough willpower left to think like that – to realize that there was nothing left for us to do but play our flutes.” 

Utako replies, “…you and I should have been playing our flutes together. Things ended up like this because we weren’t.” (Michael Emmerich translation)