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  • The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi and Arrowroot
  • Written by Junichiro Tanizaki
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780375719318
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The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi and Arrowroot

Two Novels

Written by Junichiro TanizakiAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Junichiro Tanizaki

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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

From a Japanese master of romantic and sexual obsession come two novels that treat traditional themes with sly wit and startling psychological sophistication. In The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi, Junichir Tanizaki reimagines the exploits of a legendary samurai as a sadomasochistic dance between the hero and the wife of his enemy. Arrowroot, though set in the twentieth century, views an adult orphan’s search for his mother’s past through the translucent shoji screen of ancient literature and myth.

Both works are replete with shocking juxtapositions. Severed heads become objects of erotic fixation. Foxes take on human shape. An aristocratic lady loves and pities the man she is conspiring to destroy. This supple translation reveals the full scope of Tanizaki’s gift: his confident storytelling, luminous detail, and astonishingly vital female characters.

Excerpt

Book I

Concerning the Nun Myokaku's "The Dream of a Night" and the Memoirs of Doami


There is no way of knowing exactly who the nun Myokaku was or when she wrote "The Dream of a Night," but it is clear from the text that she was once in the service of the Lord of Musashi. After the fall of the lord's clan, she shaved her head and retired "to a thatched hut deep in the mountains, where there was nothing to do but pray to the Buddha day and night." Thus it would seem that she recorded her memoirs of the past in the idleness of old age. But why would a nun with "nothing to do but pray to the Buddha" want to compose such a memoir? She gives this explanation:

After pondering the conduct of the Lord of Musashi, I understand that men are neither good nor evil, heroic nor timid. The grand are sometimes base and the brave sometimes weak; he who yesterday crushed a thousand foes on the battlefield is lashed today at home by the fiends of hell. The most graceful woman may show a ferocious temper; the most valiant warrior may suddenly turn into a beast. Perhaps the Lord of Musashi was a compassionate Buddha or Bodhisattva who, demonstrating in his own person the inexorable law of cause and effect and the cycle of transmigration, appeared in this world for a time to lead us out of illusion.

She concludes that

by enduring the torments of hell in his own precious body, the Lord of Musashi showed us common mortals the way to enlightenment. His presence was a blessing to us all. I am writing this account of his activities out of gratitude for his kindness and as an offering for the repose of his soul. I have no other purpose. If there be those who laugh in scorn at the lord's behavior, they shall be the damned. People of understanding will feel only gratitude.

Her argument seems a bit strained, however, and there is reason to wonder whether she really believed her own explanation. She lived alone, of course, and thus her biological needs were not satisfied; perhaps she wrote in an attempt to ease her desolation. But this is only idle speculation.

The author of "Confessions of Doami" gives no indication of his motives, but it is obvious that he could not erase from his memory either "my lord's terrifying behavior" or his own extraordinary experiences in the service of his master. No doubt these adventures seemed stranger to him the more he thought about them and, in the end, the temptation to put everything down in writing was irresistible. While the nun Myokaku arrived at the happy but unlikely conclusion that the Lord of Musashi was a Bodhisattva incarnate, Doami appears to have had a clear understanding of his master's mentality and to have earned his confidence as a result. From time to time the lord would reveal his inner anguish to Doami and relate the history of his sexual appetites out of a need for sympathy and understanding. Doami, for his part, seems to have been something of a sycophant. Perhaps he shared the lord's proclivities by nature; if not, he feigned them to curry favor and in the process became a true convert. In any case, it is certain that Doami was an indispensable companion in the lord's "secret paradise." Without Doami the lord's sex games probably would not have taken their perverse course, and, for this very reason, he sometimes cursed Doami's existence. He often beat him and more than once came close to dispatching him with his sword. But Doami was singularly fortunate: few of the men and women who participated in the lord's "games" escaped with their lives. Being the most vulnerable, Doami niust have faced death more often than anyone else. No doubt he escaped the tiger's jaws because he was prized as much as he was hated, but in part survival was his reward for alertness and tact.

Concerning the Armor of Terukatsu, Lord of Musashi, and the Portrait of Lady Shosetsuin

A portrait now in the possession of the descendants of the Kiryu clan shows Terukatsu sitting cross-legged on a tiger skin, fully clad in armor with a European breastplate, black-braided shoulder plates, taces and fur boots. His helmet is surmounted by enormous, sweeping horns, like a water buffalo's. He holds a tasseled baton of command in his right hand; his left hand is spread so wide on his thigh that the thumb reaches the scabbard of his sword. If he were not wearing armor, one could get some idea of his physique; dressed as he is, only the face is visible. It is not uncommon to see likenesses of heroes from the Period of Civil Wars clad in full armor, and Terukatsu's portrait is very similar to those of Honda Heihachiro and Sakakibara Yasumasa that so often appear in history books. They all give an impression of great dignity and severity, but at the same time there is an uncomfortable stiffness and formality in the way they square their shoulders.

Historical sources indicate that Terukatsu died at the age of forty-two. He looks somewhat younger than that in this portrait, perhaps between thirty-five and forty. With his full cheeks and strong, square jaw, he is certainly not an ugly man, though his eyes, nose, and mouth are disproportionately large. All in all, it is a face worthy of an intelligent and self-assured leader. His eyes, open wide and glaring straight ahead, glitter angrily from under the peak of his helmet. Between the eyes and above the nose is a slight bulging of the flesh, cut horizontally by a deep crease so that it looks almost like a second, very small nose. Deep wrinkles run from either side of his nose to the corners of his mouth, giving him an irritable look, as if he had just chewed something bitter. He has a straggly mustache and goatee, in the fashion of the times.

Impressive as this face is, it would be far less imposing without the helmet. In addition to the splendid horns, there is a crest on the brow of the helmet depicting Taishakuten, the Buddhist guardian of the east, crushing a demon underfoot. The European breastplate, too, is strangely impressive. I am no authority on the subject, but it seems that the Western-style breastplate was introduced to Japan by the Dutch or Portuguese in the 1530s or '40s, about the time matchlocks first came in through Tanegashima. It might be described as pigeon-breast armor: like a peach, it swells to a ridge down the center, and the bottom edge curves up and away toward the back. The warlords of the period set a high value on such breastplates--so much so that imitations were being manufactured not long after their introduction--and so it is perhaps not remarkable that Terukatsu should be wearing one. Still, why did he choose this particular armor for his portrait? We do not know whether he comissioned the portrait himself or someone painted it from memory after his death; but in either case the portrait is evidence, I think, that this European breastplate was Terukatsu's favorite piece of armor.

If one views the portrait knowing the Lord of Musashi only as he is presented in the history books, then it will seem no more than the portrait of a hero, resembling those of Honda Tadakatsu and Sakakibara Yasumasa. But one who knows about the lord's weaknesses and has learned the secrets of his sexual life will detect (or is it just the power of suggestion?) a certain anxiety behind the imposing facade--the anguish of the lord's soul concealed within forbidding armor--and the image will seem pervaded with an unspeakable melancholy. The glaring eyes, for example, the tight lips, the angry nose, and the set of the shoulders would inspire the same awe in a viewer as the picture of a bloodthirsty tiger; and yet, seen in a different frame of mind, Terukatsu looks like a man suffering from rheumatism and struggling to endure the excruciating pain in his joints. The European breastplate and the helmet, with its sweeping horns and Taishakuten crest, are open to suspicion as well. Perhaps he chose these formidable trappings deliberately to conceal his inner weakness. But the effect of these accessories is to make the rigidly posing figure seem all the more awkward and artificial. The pigeon-breast armor would look less uncomfortable if Terukatsu were perched on a stool in the Western style, but because he is sitting cross-legged, the breastplate juts forward ungracefully. There is no suggestion of the muscular, battle-hard flesh that must have been there behind the plate. The armor does not cling to his body as it should and seems somehow independent. Far from protecting his person and instilling awe in others, it looks like a set of shackles inflicting endless torture on him. When viewed in this light, the lord's countenance betrays a touching look of anguish, and the figure of the brave, armor-clad warrior comes to resemble a prisoner moaning grimly in the stocks. If the decoration on the front of the helmet is viewed with a skeptical eye, the figure of Taishakuten standing triumphantly over a demon symbolizes the lord's courage, while the hideous, grimacing demon itself, trampled cruelly underfoot, hints at the shameful side of the lord's character. Of course the artist, as he worked, had no such intent. Probably he knew nothing of the lord's secret life and simply painted an objective likeness.

On a matching scroll stored in the same box is a portrait of the lord's wife. Neither is signed, but it is safe to assume that the two likenesses were executed by the same artist at about the same time. The lady was a daughter of Chirifu, Lord of Shinano, a daimyo of about the same standing as the Kiryu clan. Noted for her faithful service to her husband Terukatsu, she took the tonsure after his death and assumed the religious name of Shosetsuin. She was supported by her father's family, but her last years were particularly lonely, as she had no children. She survived her husband by only three years.

It is characteristic of portraits of historical figures in Japan that many of the paintings of men are realistic masterpieces with individual traits carefully rendered, but those of women are nothing more than stereotyped representations of whatever the age considered to be the ideal model of beauty. The lady in this portrait has fine, regular features and is beautiful, to be sure, but the painting is not much different from those of other daimyo wives of the same period. It could just as well be a portrait of the wife of Hosokawa Tadaoki or Bessho Nagaharu; the impression made on the viewer would be virtually the same.

Typically there is an icy detachment in the blanched faces of these stereotyped beauties, and this lady is no exception. Her face is round and full, but on close inspection the pasty white makeup appears to be flaking here and there, and her cheeks are quite lifeless. The same is true of her proud, sculpturesque nose. Above all, her eyes--long, narrow slits with the pupils gleaming like needles under stately lids--give an impression of coldness as well as refined intelligence. No doubt the wives of daimyo in that period spent their monotonous days shut up in the inner suites of their palaces, where light rarely penetrated, and so perhaps they all assumed this characteristic expression. The loneliness, boredom, and despair that Terukatsu's wife suffered were particularly severe, and one senses that this portrait must indeed show her true countenance.

Book II

In Which Hoshimaru Grows Up as a Hostage in Ojika Castle, and Concerning Woman-Heads

"Confessions of Doami" contains this account:

My lord's childhood name was Hoshimaru. He was the eldest son and heir of Terukuni, Lord of Musashi; but when he was six years old he was sent as a hostage to the castle on Mount Ojika, the seat of the lord Tsukuma Ikkansai of the next province, with whom his father had reached a reconciliation. My lord told me, "I was separated from my father at an early age. For more than ten years I studied the literary and military arts at the castle on Mount Ojika. I am indebted to Ikkansai for my upbringing."

This passage mentions a "reconciliation," but the head of the Tsukuma clan was a major daimyo with several provinces under his rule, and so Terukuni was certainly not an equal partner in the "reconciliation," though he may have been spared the humiliation of a complete surrender. It is likely that he became Ikkansai's vassal, for he would not otherwise have offered his son and heir as hostage.

What follows is one of the few surviving episodes from Hoshimaru's early years.

In the autumn of 1549, when Hoshimaru was twelve years old, the castle on Mount Ojika was besieged for more than a month by the forces of Yakushiji Danjo Masataka, a vassal of the Hatakeyama family, who were, in turn, hereditary officials in the shogunate. Hoshimaru had not yet come of age and so was not permitted to join the fighting, but the daily battle reports he heard inside the castle made his young heart pound. He realized that a boy his age could not go to war, but he was, after all, the son of a samurai family. At the very least he wanted to view the battle for himself. Though he was too young for his first campaign, he reasoned it was none too soon to slip out onto the battlefield and learn how a warrior conducts himself. But the castle on Mount Ojika--the headquarters of the Tsukuma clan for generations--was a heavily guarded labyrinth. It would have been impossible to slip outside unnoticed. The hostages were watched closely after the siege began, and Hoshimaru was personally attended by a samurai who had come with him from his father's castle. Hoshimaru found him useful in many ways, but he could also be meddlesome. Shut up all day in the room assigned to him, Hoshimaru would listen to the distant gunfire and battle cries as Aoki Shuzen, his attendant, described the progress of the battle. "That is the sound of the enemy being driven back," Shuzen would say; or, "That was the sound of a trumpet shell, signaling our men to regroup within the gates." It would be a hard fight, he explained. The enemy had already taken the advance fortifications surrounding the main castle, and more than twenty thousand soldiers encircled the base of Mount Ojika. There were fewer than five thousand defenders. Thanks to strong fortifications and a strategic position, the castle had been able to hold out so far, but time was on the side of the attackers, and nearly a month had passed. The only hope was that political changes in Kyoto might lead the enemy to raise their siege; if this did not occur soon, the castle would fall.
Junichiro Tanizaki

About Junichiro Tanizaki

Junichiro Tanizaki - The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi and Arrowroot
Junichiro Tanizaki was born in Tokyo in 1886 and lived in the city until the earthquake of 1923, when he moved to the Kyoto-Osaka region, the scene of one of his most well-known novels, The Makioka Sisters (1943-48). The author of over twenty books, including Naomi (1924), Some Prefer Nettles (1928), Arrowroot (1931), and A Portrait of Shunkin (1933), Tanizaki also published translations of the Japanese classic, The Tale of Genji in 1941, 1954, and 1965. Several of his novels, including Quicksand (1930), The Key (1956), and Diary of a Mad Old Man (1961) were made into movies. He was awarded Japan’s Imperial Prize in Literature in 1949, and in 1965 he became the first Japanese writer to be elected as an honorary member of the American Academy and the National Institute of Arts and Letters. Tanizaki died in 1965.
Praise

Praise

“These fictions, subversive and self-referential, join the already dazzling canon of Tanizaki’s work. They are masterpieces.” --The Nation

“Japan's great modern novelist...[Tanizaki] created a lifelong series of ingenious variations on a dominant theme: the power of love to energize and destroy.” --Chicago Tribune

“Junichiro Tanizaki may well prove to be the outstanding Japanese novelist of this century.”--Edmund White, The New York Times Book Review

Arrowroot is related with a delightful deftness, in the blunt easy tone of a born writer.” --John Updike, The New Yorker

“With the publication of these two novellas one of the major lacunae in Tanizaki’s English translation . . . has been filled. (And with great grace and elegance–the translation is first-rate.) Tanizaki, with his wonderful imagination, his complete artistry, his honesty . . . his classical aesthetic restraint, is one of the great Japanese writers of this century.” --Donald Richie

"[A] master of death and eros. . . . The unthinkable is made breathtakingly real by Tanizaki's eye for detail, which can operate clinically . . . or like that of a primal shaman artist who knows how to turn an ordinary object into a fetish." --L.A. Weekly

“Tanizaki transforms the page into the ritual of Kabuki theater." --Newsday

"One of Japan's most prized novelists of this century." --The Wall Street Journal

"Tanizaki's spare and elegant prose draws us into a society at once familiar . . . and exotic. The disjunction, the remoteness are . . . entrancing." --New York Magazine


  • The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi and Arrowroot by Junichiro Tanizaki, translated by Anthony H. Chambers
  • March 11, 2003
  • Fiction - Literary
  • Vintage
  • $12.00
  • 9780375719318

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