“I wonder where I should start…” The dense sentiment of Yuasa Joji’s words lingered as I embarked on this literary documentation. My perishable deliberations fleeted from the quirky passionate adventures of Joji to the resolving core of Uno Chiyo’s audacious vibrancy. What, if I was a man? Would I be able to brazenly shove my penis into a vagina that voluntarily opened in front of me , without the repercussion of societal prejudices? My masculinity measured by the depth of my promiscuity reasoning the democratic sexual vulnerability. Would the sentiment of ‘love’ be on the tip of my penis, vanishing at the very instance of my sexual fulfilment? Or would I crave for the precise emotional upheaval of a woman’s dilemma? My aspirations of desiring to be a man are solely for the sense of sexual freedom. Why is it that when a woman seeks sexual pleasure for reasons other than “love” is defined through despicable labelling? Is it the sole responsibility of a woman to construe the lucid characterization of ‘love’ through her marriage and sexuality, whilst the puzzlement of the said sentiment becomes a prerogative of a man? What if I articulated through a man’s voice elucidating the woes of both the genders? Will I achieve the sense of freedom experienced by Uno Chiyo, herself? The wishful contemplation remains to be seen.
“Had I ever once been in love? Never. That was because I wasn’t the type of man who falls in love, was I?……………. I had in fact become nothing more than a scoundrel who had cleverly learned his lessons while abroad. It was just now my expertise had developed further and I was able to put on a show of falling in love.”
The far-reaching panorama of love confessions recounting the romantic experiences of an apathetic Western-style artists challenging the traditionalist perception of women ; experimenting on new found liberation of woman’s sexuality and financial independence. Uno Chiyo ardently scripts the attention-grabbing lifestyles or to be truthful, life choices of three audacious female protagonists associated with the progressive picture of the Japanese “modern girls”- modan garu or ‘mo-ga’. The steady rise in urbanisation brought a plethora of social changes with young women replacing their reams of kimono with much vibrant and fanciful Western-styled clothing, aping the Westernized philosophies the modernized youth culture engaged in a bohemian existence scandalous to the yet traditionalist Japanese society. Chiyo, herself being at the helm of such restructured image led an outrageously audacious life with her preference for vibrant make-up and chic dressing and for her democratic approach to social and personal demeanour. The idea of love and sex etched by the irrational imagery of “good wife” or “good girl” smothers the women in this manuscript by constant ethical validity. The knotty lives of the four women enmeshed with Joji’s capricious oddity reflect Chiyo’s own asphyxiation when experimenting with the new found freedom, the men in her life and the matrimonial hypocrisy.
If Joji can mull over the probabilities of genuine love with a pardonable defence, why is the same self-exploring conduct of Takao or Tomoko’s experimentation seen as scandalous and wayward act? When the act of sex weighs more towards the lure of lust than love, can’t it be enjoyed with gusto,equally by both men and women without the latter being embellished with unflattering terminology? The concept of love is not as vacillating as the male protagonist, seeing that the sentiment of love does eventually flourish to a fanatical climax.
“This what a home was supposed to be and in a home it made no difference what the husband thought or what was on the wife’s mind, just as long as one lived peacefully, wrapped in great warmth.”
The onset of Taisho democracy conveyed a fresh libertarian attitude in the 1920s Japanese society enlightening a myriad of political philosophies persuaded by Westernization. The establishment of the democratic environment split the war prone Japan into two communal doctrines. The exertion of challenging the old while embracing the new, mislaid a sense of belonging within the populace, especially the youth. Uno Chiyo delineates similar dilemmas wrestled by the befuddled characters in this ‘shosetsu’. Yuasa Joji’s predicament of fitting into two polarised world sympathizes with the likelihood of him accustomed to the European life-style while study art in France. His yearning and frantic search for a “comforting home” exposed the alienation endured by Joji in both his social and private life. A forlorn domestic front, impassioned sexual affairs and high susceptibility to the female exquisiteness generates an erratic yet sympathetic persona to Joji’s entirety as a man perpetually stuck within its own isolation. Parallel conjectures are also detected in the lives of Joji’s women. Takao’s feral sexual prowess and obstinacy for exploring sexual and emotional freedom like a man; Tomoko’s self reflection on her burdensome marital life and the subsequent extra-marital expedition with Kurota; Matsuyo’s intense yearning for a divorce freeing her from the monotony of a passionless marriage and then Tsuyuko, whose life weighed down by the eternal fight against the desolation of love and the repressive familial milieu.
Each of Chiyo’s illustrated women was jammed between the explorations of emotional, sexual and social independency carving their own niche in the society yet, somehow restricted by financial dependence due to hierarchical and gender chauvinism. Uno Chiyo steadily gives a commonsensical depth to Yuasa Joji comparing the daunting visibility of ‘modan boi’ or rather an ‘urbane man’. Joji’s quest of a ‘warm and peaceful home’ diminishing within Tomoko’s residential domesticity was a momentary respite for his neither his or Tomoko’s heart could find a permanent refuge in this materialistic solace.
“I had Tsuyuko’s love the way a baby searches for a mother’s breast, but no matter how long I journeyed I still found no refuge where my heart could came to rest.”
The dissection of the romantic crescendo culminating in suicidal brouhaha sharply cuts through the biographical narration of the Parisian nurtured artist- Seiji Tōgō and Chiyo’s life with him. Togo known for his contemporary art as well as his flamboyant love –life and a vastly publicised act of lover’s suicide, had encountered Uno Chiyo on of her attempts to write a novel encompassing the romanticism of a ‘love suicide’. Intriguing as it replays, the bizarre episode of Chiyo spending a night with Togo on the same blood-stained futon recapping Tōgō’s fruitless suicide attempt , possess an sinister eroticism that Chiyo brings into her prose. The ‘watakushi shosetsu’(I-novel) overpowering the confessional fictionalized account of Seiji Tōgō is a road to liberalism collapsing into nothingness when bent towards a controversial Japanese society still shackled within the burrows of conventional dogma inundated with volatility and misapprehensions.
Not to be easily dismissed as a romantic fluff from the 1920s literary era, the archetypal Japanese hero, a charismatic man weakened by female sexuality, fabricates a sense of coherent evaluation when scrutinized through the concave disposition of the desperation and vagueness of sexual rendezvous and the chaotic ideological consumption of three women crammed in the bohemian allure of modernisation. The warmth of a mother’s breast, the passion of a lover’s body and the draughtiness of the heart misplaced in uncanny temperament of love shatters the lives of those involved in Yuasa Joji’s lyrical portrayal of love marred by reckless sexual vulnerabilities and the calamitous progression towards romantic emancipation.