Six short stories set in feudal Japan portray men of the samurai class and their relationships with women.
The title story centers on two men, Shōgo and Teijirō, who grew up together in samurai families, became low-level bureaucrats in the Tokugawa shogun’s government, and are now retired at the age of 56. Teijirō, who enjoys creating mathematical problems as a hobby, runs a book-rental business that deals mainly in scholarly works. The story begins at the point where he asks Shōgo for the use of an outbuilding on his property and moves in. Both men are single, but their histories with women are a study in contrasts.
Shōgo has three unhappy marriages behind him. His first wife became a shopaholic after their second son died from an illness at the age of four; she ran up ballooning debts until she, too, died of an illness. His second wife went running back to her parents after only three days, and his third wife, 18 years his junior, was unfaithful to him. Although the fault clearly lay with his wife in the last case, Shōgo chose not to publicly denounce her, and as a result was forced to return her dowry—which further added to his debts and prompted him to begin writing entertainment fiction for the common classes in an effort to pay them off.
With a reputation as a woman-hater, Teijirō has remained unmarried. At one time there were rumors that he had attempted a “love suicide” with Sayo, a maid in Shōgo’s household, but the truth of the matter remains uncertain. Teijirō now says he is thinking of welcoming a woman into his new home and would like Shōgo’s opinion of her; Shōgo finds himself unable to offer an assessment.
With both of them confounded by women in different ways, the two men consider that simply spending the rest of their years together might be their most carefree option. But Teijirō ultimately opts to move out of Shōgo’s outbuilding to live with a woman and have her see him to the grave. Exactly what may have transpired between Teijirō and Sayo remains a mystery. Shōgo believes Teijirō has made an admirable choice.
In contrast to the trials and tribulations dogging the former samurai in their lives as bureaucrats instead of warriors, the six stories offer lively portraits of women who are dauntless and bewitching and overflowing with love. The result is a superb collection of paeans to women, by a writer who has already proven himself a master of his craft.