Kyoto Journal, Fall 1987
By Inoue Yasushi
Translation by Mark Unno
Jiro Uomi chose Kyoto for his honeymoon.
He had spent a number of years there, from his days in upper school until he graduated from college. Although he had long forgotten that period of his life, and the fire of his youth had cooled, it had been a second home to him; fragmentary reminders appeared everywhere as he made his way into the city. Years had passed since he had last been there, and he had thought it would be nice to spend a few days with his new wife in the ancient capital where so many of his memories lay buried.
There were so many places he wanted to show Mitsuko, who had only stayed there for one night during a field trip. It was the perfect time of year, the beginning of October when both the city and the surrounding landscape were at the peak of beauty.
He had originally set aside five days of their schedule for Kyoto, but they had to settle for just one day and two nights because they had spent more time than planned at Mitsuko's parents' home in Shikoku. They arrived in Kyoto in the evening and had to take the early morning train back to Tokyo two days later, leaving them only one full day here at the tail end of their vacation.
They had settled into their inn on the bank of the Kamo River near Sanjo Bridge when Mitsuko spoke to her husband in a tone suddenly more intimate than the day before: "Where are you going to take me tomorrow?"
"Well..." Uomi did not have a ready reply. The fact that they were there for only a short time made it difficult for him to decide.
"Rather than rush all over, I'd like to go to just one spot where we can relax and enjoy ourselves," Mitsuko said.
Uomi felt the same. He would choose a quiet place where a newlywed couple could stroll together amidst the autumn colors.
He gazed paternally at his beautiful young wife, barely twenty and more than ten years his junior. He thought of a number of places she might enjoy. There was Ohara in Northern Kyoto: He pictured her youthful figure as she walked amidst nature. The Ginkakuji area was also attractive: Mitsuko liked to draw, and he could almost see the sparkle in her eyes as she viewed the gently sloping hills of Higashiyama, the red pine woods, the flowing stream.
When they finished breakfast the next morning and he was running out of time, his mind unexpectedly settled on a natural choice. Although he had not thought of it before, the place that now beckoned to him was the temple of Ryoanji and the surrounding area in western Kyoto which had nothing remarkable to offer except its atmosphere of ancient tranquility.
He would walk those streets again. They would go see the tea room at Ninnaji; from there it was just four or five blocks to the rock garden at Ryoanji; then they would stroll through the temple grounds with its large lake. It might be a bit trying for his wife who did not seem too interested in tea rooms and gardens, but Uomi's mind was made up, and he found himself unable to change.
They left the inn and caught a taxi at the intersection of Shijo Kawaramachi. They reached the western suburbs after twenty minutes and got off in front of the large temple gate of Ninnaji a quarter of an hour later.
Everything Uomi saw brought back memories. Nothing had changed in thirteen years. The wind was blowing out of the past. The hue of the white walls lining the street, the twining ivy--everything was the same.
The grounds of Ninnaji appeared to be empty.
"Let's go see the Ryokakutei."
"The tea-room of Ninnaji."
"After we walk around a little, we can go to the rock garden at Ryoanji."
"A garden made of rocks and white gravel."
Mitsuko uttered a small cry of delight no matter what he said, and her eyes sparkled with joy. A guide from the temple office led them to the tea house in the rear garden of Ninnaji. Uomi recalled the thrill of sneaking into this small beautiful building on tiptoe during his college days.
He had walked the path from Ninnaji to Ryoanji countless times. The cold clear rays of the autumn sun shimmered upon the quiet road; there was no one else in sight. The bamboo groves wavered in the wind. Uomi and Mitsuko walked side by side in the dancing light and breeze, characters in a scene which they could not even have imagined back in Tokyo.
But Uomi had been lost in his own thoughts since they entered the temple compound.
"The outskirts of Kyoto are so beautiful," said Mitsuko, walking slightly behind Uomi as she gazed at the scenery. Uomi barely heard her; her voice seemed to be coming from some faraway place. For the first time since their honeymoon began, he felt removed from his charming wife.
"Oh, what a big lake," Mitsuko said, as she scurried with short steps to catch up to him. He did not respond to her as they proceeded around the lake towards the main hall and its rock garden.
"Here!" Uomi silently shouted, "Here's where Totsuka beat me up." His face clouded with sorrow and he tensed the muscles around his mouth, an old habit reappearing.
"And it was here that I left Rumi!" he thought.
It was thirteen years ago this autumn when Jiro Uomi and Daisuke Totsuka were walking together, their hearts filled with emotion. They came to a halt and faced each other.
"Do you love Rumi? Be honest." As Totsuka stared into Uomi's face, it was clear that he would not tolerate evasion.
Buttons were missing from both of their school uniforms, and they were wearing the same heavy wooden clogs. They were classmates in upper school majoring in science.
"Come on, be a man. If you really love her, she's yours. I'll give her up, all right? I'll quit school today and go home to become a farmer. My whole life's in front of me, plenty of time for the pain to disappear."
Uomi did not answer. He knew that if he said he loved Rumi, Totsuka would actually quit school. He never went back on his word.
"But you better really think about it. If you're willing to put your life on the line, you can have her. If you're just lukewarm, though, she's mine. I mean it."
Uomi remained silent. He just couldn't say. He loved Rumi, but he didn't have the confidence to say he loved her more than Totsuka. Yet, just the thought of losing Rumi made him sick, and he almost passed out. He didn't want to marry her right away, though. It would be too much to have to tell his folks. That was scary enough, let alone marriage which seemed so distant, as though it belonged to another world. He had no intention of telling his parents or getting married, but he did love her and couldn't bear to lose her.
"I love her." He spoke forcefully, but he was looking away. He could feel Totsuka's glance piercing his cheek.
"More than me?" Totsuka pressed as he peered into Uomi's face.
"Probably." Uomi was in pain.
"Probably? Don't talk like a woman! Answer me. Do you love Rumi more than me?"
"I do." Uomi gulped.
"So." A shadow fell across Totsuka's face. He sighed and pushed his cap back. "All right. You can have her. You've got more brains anyway, and your family's got more money since they own so much land. You don't drink, either, so you'll make a better husband for her. All right. I probably won't see her again. I'm going back to the dorm to pack up."
"Now there's no reason to quit school." He knew he shouldn't have spoken. Totsuka glared with anger.
"Isn't that considerate.... You asshole!"
Uomi's cheeks were burning, and he just swayed from side to side as Totsuka delivered blow after blow. All he did to protect himself was to cover his eyes. He let Totsuka do as he liked. He knew he was no match for him.
The two youths were quite different from each other, but something clicked and they had spent most of their time together for the last two and a half years. At school or downtown, they were inseparable. They used each other's lecture notes, and they pooled the money that came from their parents into a common pot.
Totsuka didn't go out for any sports in college, but he had been captain of the judo and kendo clubs in high school. He was a natural athlete, and his body was awesome, but he wasn't hung up about it like most of the other jocks. The track team as well as the judo and kendo clubs asked him to join, but he flatly refused.
"I'll end up stupid if I don't study, y'know? I'm not smart like you guys, and I didn't hit the books in high school. There's nothin' up here. So if I don't get goin' now, boy, will I ever be in trouble."
The athletes just couldn't figure him out. An oddball, they thought.
Rumi was a waitress in a coffee shop downtown named "Bonn." One night Totsuka came into Uomi's room and said, "Just shut up and come with me. I want to take you to a new place. "
When they got to Bonn, Totsuka ordered a gin-and-tonic and a cup of coffee. He put the coffee in front of Uomi and took the drink for himself.
"Not bad, huh. Whaddya think?"
Uomi knew he wasn't talking about the coffee. The waitresses were all just goldfish in a tank except Rumi.
She came and sat with them a couple times but only stayed for a few minutes. Most of them were wearing cheap kimonos; she was wearing a chic dress. Uomi started to lose it whenever she came near, lighting up a cigarette so Totsuka wouldn't notice.
Totsuka remained silent and just gazed at her face, glaring at the other customers as he sipped his drink whenever she left for another table. They both fell for her, and they saved up their change to go to Bonn every night.
After about a week they had gotten her to go on walks with them, and started to visit her apartment in Kitano not long after.
"She gets by on so little," Totsuka remarked, "Just one piece of toast for lunch."
"Yeah," Uomi followed, "I admire her."
"There's something different about her beauty. She has no discipline, but she's not sloppy either; she's honest."
"Well, I think..."
They would go on and on, finding so much meaning and beauty in everything about her.
Their relationship with Rumi began to generate friction about a year later, a half-year before they graduated from high school. Each one told her he loved her, but they kept their confessions secret from one another. She gave them both the same reply: "So, marry me!"
Neither Uomi nor Totsuka was very happy with the response, which meant she wouldn't tolerate a passing affair. She had apparently had enough of that.
Rumi wouldn't make her own choice, so it was up to them to decide who would get her.
Totsuka asked Uomi to take a walk with him. They took the street car to Kitano, walked to Ryoanji, and arrived at the rock garden.
The first winds of winter had come. They left the rock garden and descended the large stone steps in front of the abbot's chamber. It was there that the confrontation took place.
When he thought about it afterwards, Uomi was surprised that, even though he was such a weakling, he had been able to assert himself, to say he loved Rumi. Until then, he had figured that he would have to give her up. No matter how he looked at it, Totsuka's feelings for Rumi were much more intense, he was more totally involved. Uomi really hadn't thought about marriage, either. He didn't even consider it possible. Although it was completely different, he felt his friendship with Totsuka was closer than any love he might have for Rumi. So Uomi had expected that he would be the one to back down.
He just couldn't understand how he had been able to push his friend away so coldly, what had given him the strength to be cruel. While Totsuka was beating him up, and he was just swaying left and right, he clung to the thought that after that everything would be resolved.
Instead of going back to the dorm that night, Uomi stayed at his uncle's home near Ginkaku-ji. When he finally returned to his dorm three days later, Totsuka had packed his bags and left.
Totsuka's letter of withdrawal arrived at school about a month later. There had been rumors, but Uomi remained silent. He hadn't even told Rumi.
He entered college the following April and moved in with Rumi.
The other incident at Ryoanji happened in the first week of March. It was three years after he started living with Rumi, just before he graduated from college.
Rumi said there was something she had to talk about. She wanted to go outside, so they went for a walk near Ryoanji. There was an awkward silence. They both sensed that their relationship had reached a turning point.
They strolled down the wide veranda facing the rock garden, as if to pass the time. They sat down on the edge of the veranda and gazed at the rocks placed in the beautiful white gravel, not exchanging a word.
They wandered aimlessly through the grounds, maintaining an ambiguous distance from each other as they passed the cherry trees which had not yet begun to blossom.
Uomi's love for Rumi had turned to ashes, leaving no trace of his former affection. He couldn't stand her lack of culture; he hated everything about her. Her big eyes were undignified, and the sloppy way she talked was really irritating. How in the world this woman had become the center of his dreams Uomi could not fathom. He found it hard to believe he was the same person who had fallen m love with her.
Rumi was well aware of Uomi's feelings. But some part of her heart had become inextricably attached to him during those three years together.
At first she pressed him to get married, but she eventually gave up all such hopes. There was something more urgent now; the mere formality of marriage was irrelevant compared to the constant anxiety she was suffering. She just could not bear the thought of Uomi leaving her, throwing her away, and she was fighting desperately to keep from losing her self to this thought.
Something felt different today, though. If Uomi's affection for her was completely spent, if there was no chance of rekindling it, she just might leave him. She wasn't sure she could go on living without him, but it would be worth the risk anyway.
His graduation was nearing. If a break was going to occur, it would be better to suffer the pain now than to go on waiting.
"I want you to be honest," she said, "Don't hesitate. You don't have to feel sorry for me. I just want you to tell me how you really feel."
Uomi didn't respond.
"Well, say something," she pressed, "Do you love me? Maybe you don't love me?"
"Again?" thought Uomi. How many times had she questioned him like this, how many dozens of times had this been replayed in the past three years? He had never been able to admit to her face that he didn't love her. He always thought it would be unbearable, too mean. But living with her these three years had been like having a huge stone weighing down his heart.
"Do you love me or don't you?--All right, I'll be more direct. Do you hate me? Or don't you? If you don't like me, just say so. Just shake your head. Well?"
He looked at her face and noticed how pale it was; her expression was much more serious than usual. But he felt distant, as though he were gazing at her from some faraway place. Then suddenly, he found himself talking straight at her.
"I don't like you!"
He was startled by his own frankness.
"So. . ."
Rumi fell silent. Her lips were sickeningly white.
"She's going to fall," he thought, and quickly moved his hands to catch her. He had to support her whole weight.
"It's okay," she said after a while, and opened her eyes a little. She picked herself up, moved away, and sat down on the ground. She silently rested for a time. Then she stood up and walked away. Her steps were wobbly. Uomi could not see her face. She never glanced back.
"Finished!" Uomi thought. There had been many similar confrontations in the past, but this was different.
"It's finally over!" Uomi said to himself.
It seemed so strange, and yet satisfying, that he had been able to break out of his usual weakness to utter those cruel words.
Instead of going back to their apartment right away, Uomi dropped by to see a couple of his friends. When he finally climbed the stairs and opened the door, the lights were out. Turning them on, he saw that the clothes Rumi usually hung on the wall were gone.
She never returned. He didn't try to find her.
Someone told him once that she was waitressing in Osaka, but he had a few drinks that night and forgot about it.
Uomi's heart ached a little when he remembered those times.
He had heard that Totsuka had gone home to Kyushu and become the owner of a brewery. Uomi could imagine Totsuka's rich and prosperous life, and it seemed fitting. But he recently learned that his old friend had died of tuberculosis.
He never heard anything more of Rumi.
It had been years since Uomi had walked across the veranda of the abbot's chamber at Ryoanji. He sat down next to Mitsuko at the edge of the veranda overlooking the rock garden, just as he had done with Totsuka and Rumi.
"It's a nice garden, isn't it?" Mitsuko fell silent and stared into the garden.
Although called a garden, it is actually composed of just a few large rocks placed on a field of white gravel raked lengthwise. A kind of austere intensity emanates from this clean and simple garden which strikes into the heart of those who see it. It would be inappropriate to say that it is pretty or beautiful. The power of its attraction belongs to a different realm.
"Let's go," Mitsuko said. Her face seemed pallid. Maybe he had been gazing into the plane of white gravel for too long.
Uomi's mind had been filled with cold dark memories since entering the temple grounds, but once they left Ryoanji and began strolling along an old road, he felt cheerful again.
His life seemed to be filled with happiness these days. A young beautiful wife walked beside him. Mitsuko was much more beautiful than Rumi, more cultured and refined as well. Their marriage had been arranged, but now, only ten days after the wedding, he felt completely in love with her. This was different from his enchantment with Rumi; it was a more relaxed, peacefully fulfilling love.
"I'm a little tired," said Mitsuko, lagging a couple steps behind.
Sympathy filled his heart each time he glanced back at his wife, who indeed seemed to be experiencing some fatigue. He stopped every so often to wait for her.
She had become noticeably quiet. "Do you feel ill?" he asked.
Yet it was clear that she was in some sort of pain.
Uomi had intended to walk to Kitano but changed his plans. Instead they took the street car there and caught a taxi back to the inn. Mitsuko seemed to have regained some of her cheer by the time they returned to their room. "I'm sorry to have dragged you back here," she said, "I'm going to rest for awhile. Please go out if you wish." After so many years, there were lots of places he wanted to go, and since he would have felt cooped up in the inn otherwise, he decided to go out by himself that afternoon. He went to visit Professor K. who had done so much for him during college. Though the professor's appearance had changed a great deal, he had not lost any of his exuberance. He made a few phone calls, and Uomi's old classmates M. and S. came to join them. The professor generously urged them to stay for dinner, and the four of them enjoyed a delicious meal prepared by his wife. It was nine o'clock by the time they left. When Uomi returned to the inn, Mitsuko was not there. He felt a vague uneasy presentiment the moment he stepped into the room. A letter lay on the table in the corner. He went over hurriedly and picked it up. He broke the seal.
I started to carry out the plan of spending a lifelong existence of happiness as your good wife, but it turns out that this was not possible. Since the wedding and until yesterday, I thought it might be possible. Having been embraced by your love, my heart had been completely tamed.
But today, while my eyes were focused on the strange cold beauty of the rock garden at Ryoanji to which you had taken me, I came to feel a distaste for the compromises I have made, though I do not know why. It is not right to just let it go; it is not right to compromise: I could hear these voices welling up from within. Those still rocks and sand somehow lifted the weakness out of me and made me so strong as to be cruel. Was it the spirit of the gardener--who had thought to create a garden of only white gravel and stones --calling out to me, so noble as to be utterly devoid of sentimentality?
Life with you might well have been the happiest path for me. But, I thought, even if it is not a happy one, I must live out my own life. I offer a thousand apologies for having kept secret a small love affair in my past.
That was all the letter said. Of course Mitsuko did not return that night.
INOUE YASUSHI (1907-) is one of Japan's most distinguished and best known authors. Several of his many novels and stones are available in English in book form.
SEKITEI is presented by Kyoto Journal for the first time in English with permission from Kadokawa Bunko, publisher of the 1959 collection of Inoue stones entitled Ai. It first appeared in the October 1950 special edition of Sunday Mainichi.
MARK UNNO, who grew up in the US and Japan, is a research fellow in Buddhism and philosophy at Kyoto University