It has always been a shaky ground when ventured into an unknown territory of a new author. The subtle yet curious exploration marks its validity through either germinating skepticism or a blank slate of hope. The naturalism trail to Nagai’s Edo had been doubtful, the sui generis framework a bit vague, the dark alleys of Ginza blurred by the energetic one-yen cabs and the swarming trolley. The dutifully employed imagination had betrayed my senses. Heavily crushed underneath incessant yawns, there lay rousing alertness succumbed to lethargy. And, then I stumbled onto the following string of cornered words. “From downstairs, abruptly, a phonograph started playing. This was a sign that it was five-thirty. Those waitress who’d been resting since three now freshened their make-up and went on duty. Upstairs and downstairs, the lights came on…….. there was a nightime liveliness.” There it was, in the midst of these myriad sentences, Ginza coming alive bustling through my sleepy senses, the empty glasses being clunked in crowded cafes, Alcoholic mouths slurring in their dampness at the nimble sensuality of waitresses and geishas, habitual patrons flirting for a lustful night at the assignation house. The colourful lights of Ginza flickered, some dim and some bright, but in the end all of them sparkled like little fireflies bringing clarity to the Kafu Nagai’s imaginatively elegant world and essentially to my dreary stupor.
“There is illusion and there is actuality. When a thing exists, it naturally casts a shadow. According to time and circumstances however, the opposite sometimes happens and the thing is created by the shadow, matters will be peacefully settle of their own accord…”
The shadows of the floating world disseminating in the corporeal poignancy of Ginza cafes ,its fetching pieces carried by waitresses, geishas and unlicensed prostitutes in the clammy moonlit rooms of the assignation houses where lovers and patrons dwell in remnants of its past and covetousness of current sexuality. The illusionary mirage of heavenly lust, love, trust, hypocrisy ,obeisance and opulence of present time is eliminated to reveal the actuality of betrayal, exploitation, revenge, honesty ,shame, fear and the burdensome shadows of the past shackling the present and the looming pessimism of human life. Kafu’s literary world of women thriving on the margins of society is lonesome yet sincere. Kimie’s audacious sexual venturing into a threesome with an older patron; a radical event leading to concoction of a revenge plot by one of her lovers, depicts the exact sentiment that Kafu plans to put forth signifying the stark disparity in the code of loyalty between an adulterous man and a unlicensed prostitute. Kimie’s capricious demeanour cast an ugly shadow of immorality and indolent embedding the element of fear in Kimie alternating between the embarrassment and brazen scandalous liaisons. It becomes rather interesting to view the changing circumstances of a sloppy and eccentric waitress working in the pleasure district into a vulnerable woman fearing the shadows of the past and the recurrent realism.
During the Rain, fluently illustrates two impressively characteristic women, even though existing on either side of societal extremities, they are plagued by the impossibilities of their past and the pragmatic possibilities of their present. Tsuruko – the academically prudent common-law wife of Kiyooka, signifies the shifting cultural mores of Japan being solely looked as a land of samurais and geishas. Yet, the salacious presence of Kimie portrays the traditional emphasis on the pragmatic societal reality of the 1920s-30s Japan. Traces of patriarchal insolence are observed through the imminent demeanour of Kiyooka, who later on becomes an ironical victim of love and loyalty.
The remnants of Nagai’s beautiful Edo (former name of Tokyo) are delicately sewn through dramatic passages, reminiscing the vestiges of a fading city heritage with evolving times. The constant appearance of the Imperial Palace moat develops into a sturdy heritage figure that has a “touch of Edo” and the remembrance of the glorious past firmly rooted in the altering city. Nagai astutely signifies the magnitude of the past and its obstinate presence everlasting even through the constricted alleys of human ignorance. Similar to Nagai, who with his extensive travels abroad was rooted in the modernity of individualism while still restoring his beliefs in conventionality; the female characters in this manuscript depicted such societal malleability. It is a familiar misconstruction of geishas being prostitutes. There is however, a significant boundary between a cafe waitress and a geisha. Amusingly, Nagai bends the contrasting margin (which I suspect is due the impoverished economical conditions prevailing during the 1920-30s decade) by asserting the impressionable,
“These days, what with geishas becoming waitresses and waitresses turning into geishas, there’s no difference anymore.”
Kafu Nagai’s acute interest in the exotic sensual world of geishas, cafe waitresses and prostitutes, streamed from the sincerity that he highly valued the ingenuous outlook of the ‘pleasure’ profession. The numerous unlicensed prostitutes ; daily entertaining their patrons as hostess further carrying their pleasurable acts in the nightly rented assignation house in a cutthroat profession , maybe erratic or even slight materialistic thriving at the bottom of the societal abyss, nevertheless they are least hypocritical and unlikely entities to join the phony masquerade of societal reverence and scathing prejudices. Although, I have a fault-finding opinion about the indolence of Jukichi, his words do ring with accurate notes easing O-Chiyo’s burgeoning quandary. “In Jukichi’s eyes, the lives of respectable people seemed absurdly constricted and somehow hypocritical. By, contrast, a lewd, indolent existence such as his seemed the happiness of life, without its pretense.” The willful thoughts of a perpetual male concubine resigning himself in the sediments of humiliation and monetary liability with a peculiar dynamism found in the emotional freedom of an aging prostitute’s affectionate simplicity and promiscuity.
“If there is just one time in one’s life where one has enjoyed oneself, it’s worth having been born. And when the time comes to give it up, you’ve got to resign yourself.”
Not only finding it tricky to let go of his own past but that of his beloved cultural metropolis metamorphosing to modernization of Taisho, Nagai’s both novellas – ‘During the Rains’ and ‘Flowers in Shades’ vividly captures emotional sketches and myriad shades of people either on the verge of leaving their agonising, forlorn past behind for an affable future or aching to abandon their arduous present to revive a particular worthy moment of their past to soften the harshness of their future. Through the vibrant strokes of the waning pleasurable districts and aesthetics of Ginza cafe culture and the glorious colours of Edo’s legacy and its visually captivating citizens, and when the woman in her ochre tinted make-up tossed a banana skin onto the sidewalk while shoving the oozing fruity pulp back into sticky mouth; I realized that my fondness for Nagai and his literary work grew a little more.