An Artist of the Floating World

by

Kazuo Ishiguro

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An Artist of the Floating World: November 1949 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Ono remembers the first time he met Dr. Saito clearly. It was sixteen year ago, the day after he moved into his house. Ono was placing a sign with his name on his gatepost when Dr. Saito approached, introduced himself, and told Ono that it is an honor to have an artist of his stature in the neighborhood. In the years after that first meeting, Dr. Saito and Ono always greeted each other politely when they would run into one another. He remembers this first meeting clearly enough that he is sure Setsuko was mistaken in some of the things she said the previous month during their walk through Kawabe Park. Ono is confident that Dr. Saito knew who Ono was before the marriage negotiations started.
Ono is recalling his first meeting with Dr. Saito because Setsuko suggested to him that Dr. Saito did not know Ono before the marriage negotiations began. Although Ono does not say it directly, Setsuko’s suggestion that the professor of art Dr. Saito did not know Ono by reputation in the art world has shaken him. This fact contradicts the narrative he now uses to explain his career to himself: that he was a very influential nationalist artist who must apologize for having had a negative influence on his society. Instead, this suggests that he was not so influential after all.
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Setsuko’s visit this year was brief, and she stayed with Taro and Noriko at their new home, so their walk together in the park was one of the only times they had to speak. It makes sense, then, that Ono is still turning over some of the things she said in his mind a month later. At the time, he enjoyed the walk through the park with Setsuko on their way to meet Noriko and Ichiro.
Ono seems to feel the need to defend and explain why he is still thinking about his conversation with Setsuko, which suggests that he doesn’t want to admit to himself how much her suggestion that Dr. Saito didn’t know of his reputation as an artist upset him.
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Ono says that Kawabe Park is one of the city’s nicest parks and holds a special interest for him because it was the site of Akira Sugimura’s plans to leave his mark on the city. In 1920 or 1921, Sugimura (the builder of Ono’s house) planned to build a kabuki theater, a European-style concert hall, a museum, and a pet cemetery in the park. Sugimura lost a great deal of his money, and his plans were ended, so now there are only oddly empty patches of grass where the buildings Sugimura hoped to build were supposed to stand. Ono feels that Sugimura deserves admiration for aspiring to rise above the mediocre, even though his plans ultimately failed.
Ono wants to see himself as a man who is similar to Akira Sugimura, the influential and wealthy man who built Ono’s house. Just as Sugimura tried to reshape the culture of the city by funding the building of new institutions in Kawabe Park, Ono supported the establishment of the Migi-Hidari in his pleasure district. Ono wishes to see himself as someone who pursued his dreams and rose above mediocrity, even if the ideas he subscribed to are now seen as out of date.
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That day, Setsuko and Ono met Noriko and Ichiro by a statue, and then Ono took Ichiro to lunch at a department store. Ichiro, then eight years old, told Ono that his favorite food was spinach and that Ono should eat as much spinach as he can, because it would give him strength. Looking at Ichiro, Ono noted the traits he inherited from his father and mother, as well as his resemblance to Kenji as a boy. He took a strange comfort in seeing this resemblance.
Instead of confronting his grief for his son, Ono describes the joy and comfort he feels in seeing his grandson’s resemblance to Kenji.
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Ono explains that people not only take on traits as children, but also in early adulthood in imitation of teachers and mentors. Even after a student rejects much of a teacher’s influence, mannerisms and gestures will be left as a trace of that influence. Ono still retains these traces of his teacher Seiji Moriyama (whom he always called “Mori-san”) and he imagines some of his students still have some of his mannerisms. He hopes that even if they have reassessed some of his teachings, they are still grateful for much of them.
Although Ono doesn’t make the connection explicit, Setsuko’s suggestion that Dr. Saito did not know him by reputation seems to be forcing him to reexamine how much influence he really had on his students and the country. He hopes that there will be an unconscious trace of his work, even in those students who, like Kuroda, have rejected his teachings.
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Ono reflects on his seven years living at Mori-san’s villa, saying they were some of the happiest years of his life. Back then, the villa had already lost much of its splendor. There were collapsing roofs and holes in the floor. Only two or three rooms were in good condition. In one of these rooms, Mori-san’s students looked at their teacher’s new works, praising their mastery and debating Mori-san’s intentions. Even though Mori-san was in the room, he did not respond to their praise or opinions. Although this may seem arrogant, Ono feels that allowing students to debate was a better way for a very influential teacher to give instruction.
In discussing Mori-san’s influence on his students, Ono is also trying to weigh what his own influence on his students was without admitting that he feels any uncertainty about it. At the same time, Ono’s exhaustive description of how the physical place he used to inhabit looked reflects his strong interest in the way the world appears. 
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Mori-san’s leading pupil was named Sasaki. If Sasaki suggested that someone’s work was disloyal to Mori-san’s teachings, the offender often gave up on the painting entirely. When Ono and the Tortoise first arrived at the villa, the Tortoise often had to destroy his work because it was “disloyal.” The Tortoise had great difficulty grasping the principles of Mori-san’s style. This style was defined by taking the world of the pleasure district as its topic, similar to the traditional work of Utamaro, but turning to European techniques like using blocks of color instead of bold outlines and using subdued tones. Mori-san sought to capture a melancholy, nocturnal atmosphere and often included lanterns in his paintings. The Tortoise thought that merely by including a lantern in his painting he was showing loyalty to Mori-san’s teachings.
Although Ono defended the Tortoise at Master Takeda’s firm on the grounds that the he was taking a long time with his paintings because he had artistic integrity, his inability to adjust to a new atmosphere shows that he may merely have little artistic skill. For Mori-san, there is one kind of art that he is interested in creating and that he wants his students to create. This art is concerned with capturing very transitory moments that occur between people. Since Ono seems to be naturally fascinated by physical spaces as they are in a moment, Mori-san’s emphasis seems suited to Ono’s talents. Still, Mori-san is more interested in human moments, while Ono seems to have skill for capturing the feeling of a place.
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Ono reflects that every group of students will have a leader. The leader sets an example for other students because he has the greatest mastery of the teacher’s teachings. At the same time, this pupil is the most likely to see shortcomings in a teacher’s teachings and want to move in a different direction. In theory, a teacher should be ready to accept this, but, in practice, a teacher who has invested a great deal in a student may see treachery in the fact that the student takes a new direction. This is what happened to Sasaki. His fellow students refused to tell him where his paintings were or to speak to him, and he was forced to leave the villa without anywhere to go.
Ono focuses on Sasaki’s banishment from the villa after he decides to change his artistic focus, but he is also clearly weighing the parallels between Sasaki’s experience breaking off ties with his teachers, and Ono’s experience of Kuroda breaking off ties with him. The consequences of taking a different direction are much more severe for Sasaki and Kuroda than for Ono. It would seem that Ono breaks off ties only once he has found a new mentor’s support, while Sasaki leaves with nowhere to go, and Kuroda goes to prison.
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After Sasaki left Mori-san’s villa, he was referred to as “the traitor.” Often the pupils exchanged insults in a joking matter but comparing another pupil to “the traitor” eventually led the pupils to come to blows. The atmosphere Mori-san fostered was very intense, and he demanded total loyalty. Although it is easy to be critical of this in hindsight, Ono says, it should be recognized that Mori-san had ambitions to change the culture of painting in the city and dedicated a great deal of time and money to his pupils with this goal in mind.
The parallel between Sasaki and Kuroda is strong here. Just as Kuroda is called a traitor while being beaten in prison, Mori-san’s remaining students are driven to violence at the suggestion that they are traitors to Mori-san’s ideas. As Ono seeks to justify the atmosphere of total loyalty that Mori-san fostered, he is also indirectly defending his own decision to create a similarly stringent environment.
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Mori-san not only influenced his students’ painting, but also their lifestyles. Because they were painting the “floating world” of the city’s pleasure districts, they spent many nights out late drinking, or having parties at the villa with actors, dancers and musicians. Sometimes the parties went all night, and people would be passed out around the villa the next day.
Mori-san encourages his students to live a life of drunken debauchery, which is exactly the shameful existence that Ono’s father predicted he would lead if he became an artist.
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One night Ono walks away from the revelry and sits in a storeroom where no one goes. He sits there for a long time, until Mori-san comes in and asks what is worrying him. Mori-san asks if there is something about his actor friend Gisaburo that offends him. Ono admits that he feels they have spent a great deal of time with entertainers in the last few months. Mori-san does not reply but walks to the back wall of the storeroom and pulls out some of his old wood-block prints. He says of them that he feels affection for his old works but sees now that they are fatally flawed. Ono disagrees, saying that they seem to him to be an example of how Mori-san’s talent transcends the limitations of that style of art. Mori-san does not reply.
Although Ono doesn’t say this directly, he seems disturbed at the idea that his lifestyle reflects a fulfillment of his father’s fears. Sensing this, Mori-san goes to talk to Ono and looks at work that he himself did when he was Ono’s age. These wood-block prints were likely made before Mori-san adopted his current technique. Ono likes this older style of work, however, showing that styles and ideas that seem outdated can still be appealing to the following generation.
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After a moment, Mori-san says that Gisaburo has had an unhappy life and is only happy in the moments late at night when a woman tells him the things he wants to hear. He continues that the finest beauty in the world is to be found in pleasure houses late at night. Then he explains that the problem with his old work is that, as a young man, he did not value the beauty of the “floating world,” fearing that it was decadent and a waste of time. Ono says that perhaps he is struggling with something similar, and he will try to rectify the problem. Mori-san does not respond but says that he no longer doubts what he does. He feels he will look back at the end of his life and see his attempts to capture the beauty of the floating world as worthwhile.
In Ono’s retelling, Mori-san feels satisfied that his life’s work is worthwhile and that his art serves an important function, even if it seems from the outside that he is wasting much of his time with drinking and debauchery. Mori-san feels that capturing the mood of a single moment is the important work he is meant to do an artist. Ono likely brings up Mori-san’s statement that he will feel happy when he looks back at his life because Ono is wrestling with doubts about his own career and whether he should feel proud or regretful.
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Reflecting on this exchange from the present, Ono says that he cannot be sure that this was what Mori-san said. Indeed, it sounds like something he himself might have said while drinking at the Migi-Hidari with his students.
Once again, Ono suggests that he cannot be relied upon to give an accurate depiction of events. Instead, later events color the way he describes earlier ones.
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Ono returns to his account of his lunch with Ichiro at the department store. Ichiro pours spinach into his mouth as if it is a liquid and then sticks out his chest and punches the air. Ono asks if he is pretending to drink sake and then fight. Ichiro explains that he is being Popeye Sailorman. Then he asks Ono if sake makes you strong. Ono says it only makes you believe you are strong. Ichiro says that he drinks ten bottles of sake a night. He reports that Aunt Noriko has bought some sake for dinner that night and laughs that she might get completely drunk.
Ichiro is once again captivated by figures from American popular culture that are totally alien to Ono. Still, he looks up to his grandfather and they find ways to bond, especially out of a shared sense of being at odds with members of the interceding generation that now dominates them both. For this reason, Ichiro takes pleasure in the idea of his aunt’s getting drunk and being unable to dictate to him and his grandfather.
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Ono tells Ichiro that he since he is eight years old now, he will see that he gets a taste of sake that night. Ichiro says nothing. Ono says that Ichiro’s Uncle Kenji tried sake for the first time when he was around his age. Ichiro says that his mother might give them trouble. Ono says he will handle Setsuko. Ichiro says women don’t understand men drinking, then laughs again at the idea that Noriko might get drunk.
Ono wants to cement his bond with Ichiro by giving his grandson his first taste of sake. Ichiro seems wary, realizing that his mother may oppose this idea. Perhaps he is also scared of trying sake, in the same way he was actually scared to see the monster movie that Ono took him to.
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Ichiro asks Ono if he knew Yukio Naguchi, and Ono says that he didn’t personally. Ono thinks that the adults must have been talking about Naguchi around Ichiro the night before. Ichiro asks if Naguchi was like Ono. Ono says that Setsuko, for one, said that there was no similarity, though Ono one compared himself to him. He explains that Naguchi composed songs that were sung all over Japan during the war, and after the war he felt he should apologize to all those who lost loved ones, so he killed himself. Ono adds that he was brave and honorable to admit to his mistakes. Ichiro is silent. Ono says that he was only making a joke when he compared himself to Naguchi, and Ichiro should tell his mother that she misinterpreted him. Ichiro stays silent.
Ono’s belief that he was an influential artist who promoted destructive ideas has led him to compare himself to some of the most prominent wartime cultural figures, including the composer Yukio Naguchi. Earlier in the novel, when Jiro Miyake said that the president of his company had killed himself to atone for leading the company in a bad direction during the war, Ono said that this seemed to him like a waste of life. But now, he suggests that suicide is a brave way of atoning for exerting a powerful, negative influence on society. This kind of talk has clearly made Ono’s family worry that he is considering suicide.
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That evening, Ono and Ichiro go to the Izumimachi area, where Noriko and Taro’s apartment is. The area is full of small, modern apartments, which seem cramped to Ono, but which Noriko finds practical and convenient.
It is clear that Noriko and Taro’s marriage must have worked out by this point. Ono records the way the city is being altered by the construction of high-rise apartment buildings. Used to living in a large home, Ono finds the new style of building unappealing.
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Ono tells Setsuko and Noriko that he wants to give Ichiro a taste of diluted sake, but his daughters say that is a bad idea. Ono says he has promised Ichiro, and it will hurt Ichiro’s pride if they say he is too young.
Ono wants to cement his bond with Ichiro by giving him a taste of sake, but his daughters refuse to let him.
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Ono says he remembers how his wife objected when he gave Kenji his first taste of sake at around Ichiro’s age, adding that it did Kenji no harm. He regrets bringing Kenji up in such a trivial disagreement and hardly pays attention to what Setsuko says next. He cannot be sure that he remembers it correctly, but he thinks she says that Ono surely gave a great deal of thought to Kenji’s upbringing, but given what came to pass, their mother might have had better ideas about raising children. Ono cannot be sure that Setsuko really said something so unpleasant, although the things she said in Kawabe Park earlier in the day suggest she is capable of saying something like that.
This heated exchange between Ono and Setsuko (who is normally polite and unaggressive) reveals that there are things about the Ono family that Ono has not revealed in the course of his narrative—including exactly what Setsuko said in the park. It is unclear what Setsuko is referring to when she says that her brother’s upbringing caused problems later. No answers are provided. Once again, in the face of a harsh and unpleasant statement that Ono does not want to think about, he says he may be misremembering what was said.
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At dinner, Taro describes a colleague who never meets the deadline, saying he has been given the nickname “the Tortoise.” Ono excitedly tells them that he also once had a colleague nicknamed the Tortoise, but Taro says that most groups have both a leader and a “Tortoise.” Ono thinks about this. He believes that Shintaro was the Tortoise of his own pupils, even though he wasn’t called that. Ono reflects that the Tortoises of the world never rise above mediocrity because they are unwilling to take chances for the sake of a principle. They will never try something so grand as to transform Kawabe Park, as Sugimura attempted to do.
Ono is in the process of reevaluating his artistic legacy once again. It is important to him to see himself as having made brave choices, even if those choices did not lead to his earning great influence like he has been telling himself he possessed. As he continues to come up with a narrative for his life that he can look at without regret, he lumps his two former friends Shintaro and the Tortoise together as a negative example with which he can contrast himself, and at the same time draws parallels between himself and Sugimura.
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Ono recalls his relationship with the Tortoise, of whom he was fond, but whom he never considered an equal. Ono and Tortoise often painted together in an old kitchen in the villa. One afternoon, the Tortoise said that he could tell that what Ono was working on was very special because he was bringing an intensity to the work and had requested that no one look at it until he finished. The Tortoise said he was lucky to have worked side by side with someone of Ono’s talent for almost eight years. Ono asked the Tortoise if he was happy with his work, and the Tortoise said he was. He said he was always striving to improve, because he hoped someday to exhibit alongside Ono and Mori-san. Ono let the matter drop.
Ono views the fawning attention and interest the Tortoise showed him with a mixture of pride and disdain. It has taken the Tortoise a long time to master Mori-san’s techniques, but he feels he is succeeding. It does not occur to him that Ono may has asked for privacy because he is painting something that goes against Mori-san’s teachings. The Tortoise’s ambitions are limited to a desire to rise to his colleagues’ level, and the more ambitious Ono sees this ambition as paltry and uninspired.
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A few days later when he entered the kitchen, the Tortoise looked at Ono in alarm. Gesturing towards Ono’s painting, he asked if it was a joke. Ono recalls that the Tortoise had trusted him and took a risk in his career with him by leaving Takeda’s, and he had hoped the same thing would happen again in this instance.  However, in a whisper, the Tortoise called Ono a traitor and walked away.
Even though Ono does not respect the Tortoise’s work, Ono likes to have him around because he praises and looks up to him. The Tortoise trusted Ono and left Master Takeda’s, and it seems that Ono has similar thoughts of leaving in mind now. But, whether out of a lack of bravery or for some other reason, the Tortoise is not interested.
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The painting that the Tortoise was shocked by is called “Complacency,” and it was inspired by a walk Ono took with Matsuda. Ono and Matsuda were walking along a bridge overlooking the Nishizuru district, where many shanties were wedged in between two factories. Matsuda said this was typical; people all over the country had been forced to leave their homes in the countryside and work in factories. Matsuda said you can smell the sewage even from up on the bridge, adding that politicians and businessmen, and perhaps also artists, rarely see this kind of poverty. Ono sensed a challenge in Matsuda’s voice, so he suggested that they go down and look. The shantytown was hot, crowded, and smelly. While walking through, Ono and Matsuda saw three small boys bent over something that they prodded with sticks. They turned around and scowled at Ono and Matsuda, who both concluded that they were torturing an animal.
While Ono portrays himself as bravely pursuing his own ideas even when they contradict others’, the new direction in his artwork was not independently arrived at but in fact inspired by Matsuda’s ideas. Japan experienced an economic slowdown in the early 1920s, but Ono has been living cut off from the currents of Japanese society at Mori-san’s villa. Matsuda is keen to bring Ono’s attention to the situation of real people because he believes that artists should pay attention to social and political problems and use their art to inspire others to improve society.
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Ono didn’t think about the boys much at the time, but later he made them the central image in his painting “Complacency.” In the painting, two images appear set in an image of the Japanese coastline. The bottom image depicts the three boys in the shantytown, wearing rags but holding their sticks like brave samurai warriors ready to fight. Above that is an image of three fat, well-dressed, decadent-looking men. The left-hand margin says “Complacency” in bold letters, while the right-hand margin says, “but the young are ready to fight for their dignity.”
Although Ono is inspired by the image of the three boys from the shantytown, he portrays them in quite a different, more ideological light. Instead of showing the three boys’ cruel perversity in torturing an animal, Ono adopts Matsuda’s idea that few politicians are paying attention to poverty and then depicts the boys as brave and pure-hearted—a depiction in keeping with the nationalist views Matsuda expounds.
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Ono adapted this work in the 1930s for his painting “Eyes to the Horizon,” which became famous in the city. This painting shows two contrasting images bound together by Japanese coastline. The top image shows three well-dressed men, talking anxiously, while the lower image shows soldiers ready to go west towards Asia. The right-hand margin of the painting says, “Eyes to the Horizon!” and the left-hand side says, “no time for cowardly talking. Japan must go forward.”
Later on, the nationalist tone of Ono’s work became even more pronounced as he began to call for Japanese invasion of other countries. Far from seeming like a painting inspired by Ono’s independent convictions, both the message and the style of “Eyes to the Horizon” would have resembled many works of propaganda created at the time.
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Reflecting from the present, Ono says that he recognizes that the sentiments in the painting are outdated, but he brings it up to show how meeting Matsuda impacted his career. Although he didn’t initially like Matsuda, he found his ideas appealing.
Ono describes himself as creating art that matches his principles, but he actually adopts the ideas of others without having a deep understanding of the politics himself.
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One evening not long after their visit to the slum, Ono and Matsuda sit in a bar having a dispute. Ono proposes raising money for the people in the slum by selling paintings, and Matsuda scoffs at this idea. He says Ono has a child’s understanding of the world and probably doesn’t even know who Karl Marx is. Ono says Marx led the Russian Revolution.
Before Matsuda shares his ideas about art being used to change society, Ono sees art’s power as being limited to its value when sold for charity. Matsuda proves Ono’s naivete when Ono shows he doesn’t know who Karl Marx (a German philosopher who theorized how Communism would develop) is.
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Matsuda tells Ono that weak politicians and greedy businessmen are leading Japan into a crisis. He says the Okada-Shingen society hopes to awaken artists to the country’s political situation so that they can produce works of genuine value. Ono says that Matsuda is mistaken about what art can and cannot do. Matsuda says that not only artists, but people of all walks of life need to unite to fight for the country. He explains that he wants the Emperor’s power to be restored and that Japan should forge an empire in Asia just as the British and French have done.
Matsuda introduces Ono to nationalist and imperialist ideas that are gaining prevalence throughout Japanese society. He changes Ono’s understanding of the artist’s role in society with his suggestion that the artist can actively make society better. This idea is flattering to Ono’s ambition to become a great and influential man through his art.
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Turning away from his recollections of Matsuda’s remarks, Ono looks back on the moment when  the Tortoise discovered “Complacency.” He thinks that the Tortoise was probably not disturbed by the political message of “Complacency” but instead noticed Ono’s use of bold calligraphy and hard outlines, techniques Mori-san taught his students to reject.
Even though Ono subscribed to Mori-san’s ideas about how to create art until he met Matsuda and learned his ideology, Ono mocks the Tortoise out of an assumption that he naively only recognized that Ono had changed his technique and did not recognize his new work’s political message.
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Ono shifts his narrative to a conversation he has with Mori-san a week after the confrontation with the Tortoise. Ono and Mori-san go to the pavilion at Takami Gardens, which is elegantly decorated with hanging lanterns. In later years that pavilion remains a favorite spot of Ono’s, until it is destroyed in the war. It is also, he says, the place where he had his last conversation with Kuroda.
The Takami Gardens are the place where Ono experiences both the influence of and conflict with his teacher Mori-san. Ono’s memories quickly shift between memories of Mori-san and of Kuroda throughout this scene, reflecting their similarities in Ono’s mind.
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On the night he visits the pavilion with Mori-san, the lanterns are unlit when they arrive, so Mori-san asks Ono to light them. Mori-san asks Ono what is troubling him. Ono says it is a small thing: he cannot find certain paintings and the other pupils will not tell him where they are. Mori-san tells Ono that he has his paintings. Ono says that he is very glad to hear that his paintings are safe, but Mori-san does not reply to this. He apologizes if it alarmed Ono that they were missing and says that Ono seems to “exploring curious avenues.” (Looking back, Ono is not sure if Mori-san used that phrase, or if this is what he himself said to Kuroda years later during their last conversation.)
Like Sasaki, Ono’s art has gone missing after he tries to go against Mori-san’s teachings. It seems that Mori-san has confiscated the art, like Ono’s father once did, and he will not promise to return it to Ono. Throughout this scene, Ono seems to be struggling to remember things in a way that will suit his own perception of himself. He may focus on his conversation with Mori-san as a way to avoid thinking through what happened in his own interactions with Kuroda, which ultimately led to Kuroda’s jailing.
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Mori-san continues that it is not a bad thing for a young artist to experiment, as long as he returns to serious work. Ono says that he feels his recent work is the best work he has done. Mori-san says that perhaps there are other paintings, the ones that Ono is most proud of, that were not stored with the others. Ono says there may be. Mori-san asks him to bring them to him, but Ono says he is not certain where he left them. Mori-san asks Ono if he has plans for what he will do when he leaves the villa. Ono replies that he hopes to explain his intentions to Mori-san and continue to live at the villa. Mori-san says it will be painful for him to part with Ono. He adds that Ono is clever, so he is sure Ono will be fine. He predicts that Ono will either join a firm like Takeda’s or perhaps illustrate magazines.
Mori-san’s words echo Ono’s father’s on the night he told his son he could not become a painter. Although Ono never explicitly states what became of his relationship with his parents, it seems that he was forced into a break with them similar to the one that Mori-san is threatening. Mori-san also suggests that while Ono will not starve, he will be reduced to doing commercial art once again, which he believes to be a lowly occupation.
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Looking back years later, Ono reflects that Mori-san’s treatment of him may seem harsh, but it should be remembered how much Mori-san had invested in Ono. He thinks it understandable that a teacher may overreact in such a circumstance, but of course arrogance and possessiveness on a teacher’s part should be regretted.
Immediately after these reflections, Ono plunges into a description of how he learned about Kuroda’s being jailed. Although Ono never says he is reflecting on his own role in Kuroda’s fate, it is clear that these justifications he provides for Mori-san’s treatment of him are also meant to justify his own treatment of Kuroda.
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Ono reflects on visiting Kuroda’s house the winter before the start of the war. Upon arriving at the house, he smells burning and knocks on the door. A uniformed police officer answers and tells him that Kuroda has been taken to headquarters for questioning. Ono can hear Kuroda’s mother crying inside the house. He asks to speak to the policeman’s commanding officer. The policeman brusquely tells him to leave or he will be brought in for questioning too. Ono explains that he is an artist and member of the Cultural Committee of the Interior Department and advisor to the Committee of Unpatriotic Activities, adding that he is the one on whose information the police were brought to the house. He says there must be some mistake.
This recollection about Kuroda’s fate shows what Ono really has to be ashamed of. It is not that he was so influential that he caused his countrymen to follow nationalist ideas that have since been disproven. Instead, he used what stature he had to settle personal grievances by reporting his student who had rejected his teachings to the authorities. Although he may have naively expected that Kuroda and his paintings would not be harmed, this is another sign of how little he truly understood the nationalist ideas his art propagandized.
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The uniformed officer leads Ono through the house to the back yard, where a plain clothes officer is standing by a bonfire, burning Kuroda’s paintings. Ono says he thought the officers would simply give Kuroda a “talking-to” rather than arrest him. He asks if they were authorized to burn the paintings and says there were many fine works among them. The plain clothes officer says they destroy all offensive material that isn’t needed as evidence. He says that the matter no longer concerns Ono and asks the uniformed policeman to show him out.
Just as Ono’s father burned his paintings, the authorities now burn Kuroda’s. Ono has tried to force Kuroda to follow his artistic beliefs (which he himself learned from Matsuda), but instead has caused Kuroda’s art to be destroyed and Kuroda himself to be endangered. Although Ono does not say so, it is clear from his attempt to save Kuroda and his paintings that he feels guilty.
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In the present, Ono says that this story is of limited relevance, because he means to recount what happened during Setsuko’s visit last month: that night, Taro tells amusing stories about his work. Ono is uncomfortable to see how Ichiro watches each time the sake is poured out. Setsuko says to Taro that even though he jokes about his work, she understands from Noriko that it is a stimulating work environment. Taro earnestly says how optimistic everyone at KNC is and how inspiring his branch director is. Setsuko says that Suichi is also very inspired by his work at Nippon Electrics.
Almost despite himself, Ono has finally revealed the real source of his guilt during the war—his role in Kuroda’s arrest—but he quickly shifts his attention back to the present because he is afraid to face these uncomfortable memories. He also feels guilty that he cannot keep his promise to Ichiro, whom he wants to cement a bond with by giving his first taste of sake.
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Ono asks Taro if he thinks all the sweeping changes in Japan are entirely a good thing, suggesting there may be too much hastiness to follow the American way. Taro admits that the changes have happened quickly but says that he thinks Japan is finally on a good path. Setsuko says that Suichi feels the same way. Taro says that he went to a high school reunion the week before and all his classmates had the same sense of optimism. But, he says, perhaps they should be corrected. Ono says that he is sure the younger generation is right to believe in its splendid future.
Ono also finds it hard to understand the way members of his daughters’ generation pledge their lives to building Japan by imitating American corporate practices. He is quick, however, to concede to Taro that the younger generation must know better. While he used to proudly spout nationalist rhetoric, Japan’s defeat in the war has made ideas about the importance of Japanese traditions suspect.
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Ichiro reaches over, taps the sake flask, and looks at Ono. To distract him, Taro asks what Ichiro would like to be when he grows up. Ichiro says he wants to be the president of Nippon Electrics, which is the best company. At the meal’s end, he asks if all the sake is gone. When he hears that it is, he accepts this quietly, but Ono empathizes with Ichiro’s disappointment, feeling that Setsuko should not have been so stubborn.
Ono believes that Ichiro feels let down because he failed to give him sake and he blames the interceding generation for stopping him from bonding with his grandson. When Ichiro says he wants to be a president of Nippon Electrics, Ono likely feels this distance between himself and Ichiro grow larger.
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After dinner, Ono goes into the spare room where Ichiro is going to sleep. Ichiro asks Ono if Noriko is drunk and giggles at the idea. Ono tells Ichiro that he will soon grow up and be allowed to drink sake. Ichiro is silent for some time, then says that Ono should not worry. He explains that sometimes his father wants to do something, and his mother forbids it, so Ono shouldn’t feel bad that she kept Ichiro from drinking sake. He repeats that Ono shouldn’t worry and asks if he is spending the night. Ono tells him he is going back to his house, but he will come to say goodbye at the station the next day. Ono sits with Ichiro until his grandson falls asleep. Sitting there, he begins to turn over what Setsuko said to him that morning in Kawabe Park and to grow annoyed by it.
Ono believes Ichiro is disappointed that Ono was unable to convince Setsuko to allow Ichiro to try sake, but Ichiro himself seems relatively unconcerned with this. Despite his youth, Ichiro sees that not being able to provide him with sake made his grandfather feel powerless and disrespected. Ono has not said that he feels this way, so Ichiro’s insight shows the reader something about Ono that Ono himself is not sharing. Meanwhile, the incident with the sake is only exacerbating a sense of grievance springing from whatever Setsuko told ono in Kawabe Park.
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Ono goes to rejoin the adults in the main room. He says to Taro that it is a shame that he and Dr. Saito didn’t get to know each other well until the marriage negotiations, since they were both connected by the art world and knew one another by reputation. Taro agrees, and Ono looks pointedly at Setsuko, but she gives no sign that she understands the significance of Taro’s agreement.
Ono has still not revealed to the reader what Setsuko said to upset him, but what she said obviously challenged his sense of his reputation in the art world.
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Ono describes the events that passed earlier that day in Kawabe Park: walking along, Ono and Setsuko say how glad they are that Noriko’s marriage worked out. Ono says that it was good that he heeded Setsuko’s advice to take precautionary steps, but Setsuko responds that she doesn’t know what her father is referring to. Ono says that he had made sure that his career didn’t create obstacles for Noriko by speaking out during the miai about the mistakes he had made. Setsuko says that Noriko told her about the miai, but only to say she was puzzled by her father’s behavior—as were the Saitos. She adds that she and Suichi were also puzzled by Noriko’s account of what he had said. Ono tries to remind Setsuko about their conversation the year before, but she says again that she does not remember it.
Setsuko’s failure to remember her conversation with Ono raises the possibility that he made the entire conversation up. If this is the case, however, nothing Ono has described throughout the entire novel should be believed. Alternatively, Setsuko may not have been referring to Ono’s role as a cultural influencer during the war, but instead referring to his role in having Kuroda jailed. It seems most likely that Ono understood Setsuko’s meaning at the time, but then, sometime after his visit with Matsuda, came up with a different interpretation that did not cause him so much anguish to reflect upon.
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Ono and Setsuko continue walking. Setsuko says that Taro told her that Ono brought up Yukio Naguchi, a composer who had committed suicide. She says Taro was concerned by their conversation because it seemed to him that Ono was drawing a comparison between himself and Naguchi. Ono reassures her that he is not considering suicide. Setsuko says that she understands that Naguchi’s songs were very influential, so it makes some sense that he wanted to share responsibility for the direction the war went. But, she adds, although her father painted some splendid paintings that were appreciated by other painters, he should not worry that he did any harm because his work had nothing to do with larger matters. Ono says that this is very different from what Setsuko said to him last year. Setsuko says she has no idea why her father’s career would have any relevance to the marriage negotiations.
Setsuko fears that her father may be considering suicide, which many prominent people did to atone for their role in leading Japan astray during the war. But from her perspective, Ono’s role was not significant enough for this to be at all warranted. This means that all of Ono’s apologies for his wartime mistakes were disingenuous. Instead of feeling sorry for his role, he was trying to inflate his own importance to show that he had a large, albeit negative, impact. Even though Setsuko is telling Ono that he did nothing terrible that he should feel guilty about, Ono feels that she is saying his career did not make any significant mark. She is threatening his belief that he achieved relevance as an artist.
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Setsuko continues, saying the Saitos were puzzled by Ono’s behavior at the miai. Ono says he was under the impression that Dr. Saito appreciated what he said during the miai. He says that Dr. Saito had followed his career over the years and would have been familiar with the mistakes he made, so it was appropriate for him to tell Dr. Saito his current view. Setsuko says that Taro told her that Dr. Saito was not aware that Ono was an artist, but only knew him as a neighbor. Ono says this is not true. Setsuko accepts this but insists that her father should not feel guilty for anything he did in the past. Ono stops arguing with Setsuko, but in retrospect he feels sure she is mistaken. He clearly remembers meeting Dr. Saito when he moved to the neighborhood and how Dr. Saito said that it was “a great honour to have an artist of your stature in our neighborhood.”
Now it becomes clear why Ono said to Taro that it was a shame he and Dr. Saito did not become better acquainted before their children brought them together: he wants to prove to Setsuko that he is a well-known and prominent nationalist artist, one whose wartime career was so significant that it could actually have had negative consequences for the whole family’s reputation in the light of Japan’s post-war orientation. Setsuko seems to have revealed that this was a delusion. Whether Dr. Saito and Ono really did meet before the war is left a mystery.
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