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Unformatted text preview: afû’s writings: nostalgia for
the gracious and aesthetically cultivated ways of the past.
Back in Japan, Kafû’s natural habitat was the demimonde and his
guiding urge was to recapture what he could of the former life style of
the floating world of Edo. Like the other Japanese aesthetes, he was preoccupied with women—especially the samisen-playing geisha type—and
with the voluptuous delights they could provide. Ever nostalgic and sensual, Kafû appears constantly to have sought escape from the realities of
modern Japanese society. Although he privately expressed outraged shock
at the severity of governmental suppression of the anarchists accused in
1910 of plotting against the life of the Meiji emperor, it is doubtful that
his escapism stemmed from any deeply felt despair over the restriction
of personal freedoms in Japan. Rather, Kafû was drawn by temperament
to seek his ideals and pursue his fantasies in the past. As Edward Seidensticker has put it: “Buildings had to be decaying, cultures ill and dying, if
not dead, before he could really like them.”4
One of Kafû’s loveliest tributes to the disappearing world of old Tokyo
is the elegiac novelette The River Sumida (Sumidagawa, 1909). This is the
story of Chokichi, a boy growing up. To Kafû, growing up was by its 280 The Fruits of Modernity nature sad because it could be accomplished only with the passage of
time. Chokichi’s great sorrow during the passing of his youth is the loss
of his sweetheart, who is sold—not entirely against her will—into the life
of a geisha. Chokichi himself yearns to become an actor in the classical
kabuki theatre and to re-create in life the fantasies of the traditional tales
of the past. Here is a passage that movingly evokes not only the intensity
of Chokichi’s yearning but also Kafû’s own peculiar sensitivity to the city
that absorbed all of his affection:
Chokichi noticed by chance on one of the houses of the neighborhood a sign
with the name of the street. He recalled at once that this was th...
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This note was uploaded on 02/08/2013 for the course ANTH 142 taught by Professor Hans during the Spring '13 term at The University of British Columbia.
- Spring '13