SHARE In the midst of Showa Era Japan, with patriarchy dominating and imperialism rising, a young female playwright, Fumiko Enchi , started a literary career that would eventually lead her to become a passionate advocate for female empowerment, while casting a critical, penetrating eye over her own sex. Masks, by Fumiko Enchi. Born into a wealthy Tokyo family in , Enchi was home-schooled as a child due to ill health. It allowed the young girl to pursue her literary interests fully and, by 13 years old, she had read through many of the giants of Japanese and Western literature, from Ryunosuke Akutagawa to Edgar Allan Poe.
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The men are old friends from college and Mikame is a bachelor and practicing psychologist, whilst Ibuki is a married university professor with a wife and child. The four are joined by an intellectual interest in Heian era spirit possession, on the subject of which Yasuko is continuing the research begun by her husband before his death.
Ibuki is invited to join Mikame and the two women on a trip to visit the estate of the ailing noh master, Yorihito Yakushiji, and to see his collection of costumes and masks. Yasuko demonstrates some inclination of a romantic bent towards Ibuki but signals her intention to marry the bachelor Mikame, for fear that her true feelings are being manipulated by her scheming mother-in-law, Mieko.
Ibuki urges Yasuko to get off the train with him and the pair disembark at the seaside resort of Atami, where they spend the night together. Back in Tokyo, Ibuki receives a call from Mikame, who alerts him to the existence of an old forgotten essay, entitled The Shrine in the Fields, published by Mieko Togano shortly after the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in Yasuko then turns her attention to the essay The Shrine in the Fields whereupon Mieko reveals that it was intended for her lover who died from a disease contracted at the front after having been conscripted to China.
In a further revelation, we learn that this man is in fact the true father of Akio and Harume. We learn that she is mentally handicapped, that her mind is like that of a child and that she cannot care for herself. After a banquet dinner that evening, Ibuki returns with Yasuko and Mieko to the Togano household.
He finds himself physically drawn to Harume, not yet alert to her disability. On the way home, Ibuki is intercepted by Mikame, who takes him to the hotel suite he uses for his writing. Driven by jealousy after his marriage to Mieko, Aguri engineered for Mieko to fall down the stairs, causing her to miscarry several months into her own pregnancy.
Mieko rereads an old letter sent to her by her soldier lover, who expresses his delight at having fathered Akio and Harume and his firm conviction that he shall return to Japan, given his status as a non-combatant. Ibuki visits Yasuko at the Togano household, continuing their series of illicit rendez-vous. In the middle of the night he is perturbed to see before him the face of Harume, apparition-like and resembling the Masugami mask of the young madwoman.
In the morning, he relates his suspicions to Yasuko, who dismisses them offhand, likening his confused perception of reality to an episode of the Heian era uta monogatari, The Tales of Ise.
Fukai[ edit ] Ibuki and Yasuko continue their nocturnal rendez-vous at the Togano household. Sadako visits Mikame at his home to reveal that she has hired a private investigator and has it on good authority that her husband and Yasuko are sleeping together. Sadako further announces that Harume is pregnant, although she does not know who has fathered the child.
Mieko takes Harume, now three months pregnant, to the hospital. The doctor recommends abortion since Harume has a severely retroflexed womb and cannot be expected to survive childbirth.
Mieko, however, ignores his advice, for she is intent on continuing her family line and producing a child bearing the same blood as her beloved son, Akio. He once more glimpses Harume, heavy with child, at a temple on the outskirts of Kyoto.
At a meeting of her poetry circle some months later, Mieko is presented with the gift of a noh mask from the old master visited in the first part of the book, now deceased. The mask is Fukai, that of an older woman withered with age and visibly marked by the deep emotions of one well advanced in years.
The novel closes with Mieko reflecting upon the Fukai mask when suddenly she is struck by some unseen, supernatural power. The Journal of the Association of Teachers of Japanese. Japanese Women Novelists in the 20th Century: biographies, Copenhagen: Museum Tusalanum Press.
Picks and Pans Review: Masks
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.
Not a single Noh mask in sight. The docile wintry wind was hardening the gummy paste onto my fingers; restricting the imminent bastardization of the Kabuki splendour about to take place in front of an ignorant mirror. Two streaks on the cheeks, one pat on the nose, then the forehead and remaining three strokes on the neck. The wheatish dermal stretch steadily concealed within the ephemeral white sheath. The shiny red lacquer swiftly swept across the lips prompting the black kohl liner to smartly march beneath the eyes. With the last swipe of the palm, my face had confined itself within the gelatinous pale interiors, its fine lines disappearing among the smooth exterior.
Fumiko Enchi: A critical advocate of female empowerment
They meet a group of village girls who tell them the story of Unai. In the story, two men, Sasada and Chinu, declare their love for Unai. Unwilling to incur the jealousy of one by favouring the other, Unai declined to make a choice. Her parents make the two suitors compete for her hand, but each contest results in a draw. In torment, Unai drowns herself in Ikuta River.