An Artist of the Floating World

by

Kazuo Ishiguro

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An Artist of the Floating World: June 1950 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Ono reflects on a walk he took yesterday over the Bridge of Hesitation. He has just heard of Matsuda’s death and thinks that he had meant to visit Matsuda more often but had only visited once more since Noriko’s marriage talks.
Ono feels some regret that he had not spent more time with his old colleague, but the rest of the chapter will show that his last visit with Matsuda has shaped his thoughts about himself and his career just as much as earlier conversations with Matsuda did.
Themes
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On that visit, Miss Suzuki answers the door and tells Ono that Matsuda is much stronger than he was eighteen months before when he last visited. Ono thanks Matsuda for writing to him during his recent illness. Matsuda says that Ono seems to have recovered. Ono says he is fine now, he just must carry a cane.
Ono gives no further explanation of his recent illness, leaving open the possibility that he was so disturbed by Setsuko’s insinuation about the insignificance of his career that he fell ill as a result. Most likely someone in Ono’s family wrote to Matsuda to tell him of Ono’s illness in the hopes that his influence could be helpful.
Themes
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Family Reputation, Family Secrets, and Familial Loss Theme Icon
Matsuda asks after Noriko, and Ono tells him that Noriko is pregnant with her first child, and Setsuko is also expecting another child. Matsuda congratulates Ono.
Although Ono has experienced the stress of conflict with both his parents and children, the childless Matsuda reminds him that having children and grandchildren is a lucky thing.
Themes
Family Reputation, Family Secrets, and Familial Loss Theme Icon
Intergenerational Conflict Theme Icon
Matsuda asks if Ono is painting. Ono says he has started painting flowers in watercolor to pass the time. Matsuda says he is glad to hear it and adds that Ono seemed very disillusioned the last time he visited. Ono says that may be true. Matsuda says Ono always wanted to make a grand contribution. Ono says that Matsuda had been the same way and they both had great energy and courage.
Matsuda is glad that Ono has not entirely given up painting, because he knows that working as an artist brings Ono pleasure. Ono has returned to simpler depictions of naturalistic scenes, instead of trying to bring ideological meaning to his work.
Themes
Memory, Self-Perception, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
The Relevance of the Artist Theme Icon
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Matsuda recalls how angry Ono used to get when Matsuda teased him for his narrow artist’s perspective. He says it seems neither of them saw things broadly enough. He says they should not blame themselves, they merely turned out to be ordinary men without any special insight.
Matsuda now admits that the nationalist message that he convinced Ono to put into his art was a mistake. He sees both of their contributions as insignificant to the country and its history. This perspective clashes with what Ono has been trying to convince himself about his own past.
Themes
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City, Nation, History Theme Icon
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Ono looks out at the garden. He can smell something burning faintly and tells Matsuda that the smell makes him uneasy and reminds him of bombings. He adds that it will be five years next month since Michiko’s death. Matsuda says the smoke is likely just from a neighbor clearing his garden.
For the only time in the novel, Ono brings up his wife’s death. While Matsuda sees the smell as a sign of rebirth and new life, Ono has long convinced himself that his career was the most important thing to him and he is only just beginning to face his grief for losing his family during the war.
Themes
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Family Reputation, Family Secrets, and Familial Loss Theme Icon
City, Nation, History Theme Icon
A clock chimes and Matsuda says it is time to go feed the carps in his pond. They go outside, and Ono sees a boy of four or five peering over a fence. Matsuda greets the boy, Botchan, who then dips out of sight. Matsuda says to Ono that the boy comes to watch him every day. He says he wonders what the boy finds fascinating about an old man feeding fish.
Even though Matsuda has no children of his own, he still experiences connection with younger generations through his contact with Botchan. Something undefined but meaningful passes between those who are at the end of their lives and those who are at the beginning of theirs.
Themes
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Matsuda says that people blame the military, politicians, and businessmen for what happened to the country, but people like himself and Ono made only a marginal contribution. Despite what Matsuda says, Ono thinks that he is not disillusioned, but realizes how much he has to be proud of. He says that they took bold steps and followed their convictions, and he is sure Matsuda felt satisfied as he looked back on his life.
Matsuda was the one who convinced Ono to turn to nationalist art. Ono tried to subscribe to Matsuda’s beliefs, convinced that through political art he could achieve his ambition to make a mark as an artist. Matsuda sees that their work failed to do this, but Ono is still unable to fully admit to himself that he wasted his talent doing something that will be forgotten.
Themes
Memory, Self-Perception, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
The Relevance of the Artist Theme Icon
City, Nation, History Theme Icon
Ono shifts the narrative to recall a proud moment in his life: in 1938, he has just finished the New Japan campaign, which is a great success and wins the Shigeta Foundation Award. He sits in the Migi-Hidari being toasted by his pupils, but it is not until a few days later that he has a feeling of deep fulfillment and pride. He takes a train to Wakaba, intending to visit Mori-san. He is sure that Mori-san knows how much better his career turned out than he predicted, while Mori-san’s prestige has declined and he is forced to illustrate popular magazines to make ends meet. Ono wonders how Mori-san will greet him and prepares himself for either a cold or warm reception. He decides he will not address Mori-san as sensei. But, when he gets to a place on the mountain looking over the villa, he sits down and eats an orange. Looking out at the villa, he has a feeling of triumph and satisfaction. He does not go further to the villa but sits in contemplation looking at it.
At the peak of Ono’s career, he is celebrated for his nationalist work. Notably, Ono does not mention the larger political context: Japan’s large-scale invasion of China. Instead, Ono is gratified because he feels like he has proven Mori-san wrong. This feeling of satisfaction after a conflict with a teacher mirrors Ono’s other conflict with his father. Ono is pleased with his own interpretation of his success and decides not to threaten it with an actual encounter with his former teacher. Instead of trying to reconnect with a person whom he saw as a father figure, he sits looking at his old home and contemplating his own perception of his place in the world. 
Themes
Memory, Self-Perception, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
The Relevance of the Artist Theme Icon
Family Reputation, Family Secrets, and Familial Loss Theme Icon
Intergenerational Conflict Theme Icon
City, Nation, History Theme Icon
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Most people, Ono thinks, never feel this kind of contentment. Certainly, the Tortoise or Shintaro would be incapable of it, because they never risk anything to rise above mediocrity. Ono feels that Matsuda likely experienced moments of deep pride like he did, because he acted on what he believed in.
Although Ono followed Matsuda’s lead, he has convinced himself to believe that this was a brave and independent act. He also refuses to accept what Matsuda told him about how he now views their past careers, instead holding onto the self-deception that he and Matsuda were independent thinkers who should be proud.
Themes
Memory, Self-Perception, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
The Relevance of the Artist Theme Icon
After hearing of Matsuda’s death, Ono walks across the Bridge of Hesitation to the area that used to be the pleasure district. Where Mrs. Kawakami’s stood is a large office building, and where the Migi-Hidari once was, there is a front yard in front of another office building. In that yard is a bench, which Ono thinks is in approximately the same place where his old table in the bar was positioned. He sometimes sits on this bench, as he does in this moment. He watches several young office workers greet one another and notes their happy, optimistic demeanor. He recognizes the same good-hearted spirit that used to hold sway in the pleasure district among the young office workers. He thinks that, despite the nation’s mistakes, the new generation is starting afresh. He wishes them well.
Ono continues to closely observe how the city is changing, but he realizes that his time has passed and the city will never be as he knew it again. He shows signs of accepting this, as he expresses his hope that the young office workers—who live a life similar to his children’s—will succeed where he failed. Their optimism resembles the optimism of his generation, however, suggesting that they may also eventually live to be disappointed about their contributions and to delude themselves about their pasts.
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