With the many number of great male Japanese writers, one could easily despair with regards to the rarity of female perspectives, but fortunately, Enchi has written a good novel -- good enough to add to the canon of Japanese literature. The story centers on a wife named Tomo, and follows through the aching years of her marriage until her death. Her tale involves the humiliation she must endure upon choosing a mistress for her husband. At first, she chooses the year-old Suga, who is invited into their home under the pretense that she will become their maid.
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The woman in her fluttering between agony and envy, empathetic towards the fate of an adolescent girl whereas the wife in her scrupulously astute in the ongoing task, a Not a single strand of hair loosened from the perfect coiffure, a fulsome smile tripping from the corners of her mouth putting a Noh mask to shame, confident in her posture, her heart being swept by violent sea of excruciating conflicts; there she sat gazing into the naivety of a girl-child untouched by the menstrual years.
At that very moment, I sensed the societal asphyxiation of Tomo. At that very instance, I had compassion for Suga and consideration for Yumi. I trust you, No more will the husband lovingly savour the naked flesh of his wife. No more will his quilts be spread besides hers.
The already small world had shrunk even smaller, the warmth erased by the frostiness of love that had now embraced the freshness of a trembling young supple body unaware of the pleasures and cruelty of the world. Love and sex maybe two entirely separate entities, but to a married woman, the institution of love and sex amalgamates into one solitary entity — her husband. The latter may forgo its trepidations, but it is the shaky foundation of the former that bring unpleasant repercussions in a familial world tighter and narrow than the ribbons in the shiny hair.
Was the idea of sending Tomo to select a concubine, some kind of a bizarre trust bond conferred by Yukitomo to his wife, without recognizing the immense misery his callousness was causing and tormenting Tomo? For eight long years, Enchi lived with Yukitomo , his women and the intricate functioning of the Shirakawa family thriving in a dominant patriarchal society ; scripting every sentiment, every desperation that oozed from the festering wounds of humiliation, loneliness, agony, betrayal, the survival of powerless among the powerful, wretchedness of poverty , slavery, fallen desires, hopeful dreams , love , repulsion, adultery and the immense longing of freedom inescapable from the shackles of an authoritarian egotistical patriarchy.
At times, out of the blue, from these poignant pages an emotion would escape, resting on my ink-stained fingers, quivering, as it relayed heart-wrenching episodes of cultural repression of women. Born in the ending years of the feudal era in a low-ranking samurai family, barely able to read and write, Tomo was raised to obey the familial patriarchs: - father, brother and husband.
Long before the winds of feminism came into the staunch patriarchal Japanese society, the destiny of the woman was to obey the hierarchical creed of serving her husband through her body and mind and to rebel against it would be outrageous with the possibility of being ostracized. From the time I was made to drink turmeric laced milk to a mandatory ritual of using fairness cream, I was enlighten with similar wisdom of being a worthy and good wife to my husband.
With all my elaborate education and liberalised lifestyle, the ultimate expectation was of being a dutiful wife. Are then the rights of suffrage, education, equal pay, enough for equality of women, at least in the patriarchal society? What would it take for men to finally not perceive women as a weaker sex? Even today, a womb is the measurement of social decree.
A fertile womb makes a woman worthy whereas a barren womb brings social worthlessness. How would Konno feel if his worthiness was measured by the virility of his sperm? Does possessing pair of breast and a uterus make a woman feeble or a reproductive machine?
The threshold of pain and resilience is far stronger in women than in men. Tomo in her lifetime, played varied roles with sheer grace and dignity. Not only was she a dutiful wife, but a wise mother, astute mistress of the household and a loving grandmother ,yet, in all these roles she misplaced her inner-self somewhere ; the woman in Tomo was lost amongst her societal obligations.
Do then children become an inescapable route from the burden of a tumultuous martial life? Or is the abundant love of mothering an escape from the societal degradation? Keeping a concubine or being a benevolent patron of a geisha was the norm of a conventional man , then I wonder. What if, it was Tomo who was adulterous and humiliated Yukitomo?
What if, it was Tomo who had betrayed the sanctity of marriage? What if, it was Tomo who had the liberty to discard Yukitomo like worn-out slippers? Or even the docile Suga or the coquettish Miya had comparable liberties? Most numerous among the trees were damsons whose fruits was not allowed to turn ripe and yellow but was shaken down and pickled in tubs while they were green The pickled damsons were carefully put in the jars and labelled each years.
But, still there were old jars left whose contents grew more mature every year , the damsons softer with a special tart sweetness. The unripe damsons plucked resembled the young mistresses that had entered the Shirakawa household with an illusionary legitimacy in the family registry.
Would she have been better off without Michimasa, then? Barren laps, fertile wombs and abandoned hearts all yearned for love and being loved. The titular legitimacy became a pokerfaced facade and the ranks of illegitimacy crumbled into an inevitable despondency.
In a patriarchal society where divorce was non-existent, rebellion a blasphemous act and women the eternal submissive species, the happiness of a woman truly lay in the legitimacy of a voice that struggled to climb the rocky hill of individuality. If only the voices of women are heard, their heartache listened by a comforting patriarchy, the lives of the Shirakawa women and the words of Fumiko Enchi would not ring true even today with alarming realism, decades after the novel was written concerning the woes and the vulnerability of women in a patriarchal culture.
Happiness — a small scale, endearing, harmonious A small scale happiness and a modest harmony :- let a man cry, let him rage, let him howl with grief with all the power of which he was capable, what more than these could he ever hope to gain in his life?
The Waiting Years
Meet extraordinary women who dared to bring gender equality and other issues to the forefront. From overcoming oppression, to breaking rules, to reimagining the world or waging a rebellion, these women of history have a story to tell. Even as a small child, she accompanied her father to Kabuki performances, and from her grandmother she heard stories based on literature of the Tokugawa period — Her first interest was in the theatre, and she effectively began her literary career in , when she submitted a play to a competition. About this time she embraced left-wing political beliefs that proved to be at odds with her privileged family background.
Early life[ edit ] Fumiko Enchi was born in the Asakusa district of downtown Tokyo , as the daughter of distinguished Tokyo Imperial University philologist and linguist Kazutoshi Ueda. Of poor health as a child, she was unable to attend classes in school on a regular basis, so her father decided to keep her at home. She was taught English, French and Chinese literature through private tutors. She was also strongly influenced by her paternal grandmother, who introduced her to the Japanese classics such as The Tale of Genji , as well as to Edo period gesaku novels and to the kabuki and bunraku theater. However, her interest in the theatre was encouraged by her father, and as a young woman, she attended the lectures of Kaoru Osanai , the founder of modern Japanese drama. Her plays took inspiration from Osanai Kaoru, and many of her later plays focused on revolutionary movements and intellectual conflicts.
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