Kafu’s Tokyo musings

“Bats were already out, and children were already chasing them. Near at hand there was a clanging of streetcars, while in the distance the horns of boats would give forth long blasts and fade away, to be followed by samisens in unison from the second floor of the (geisha house) Kamesei. . . . Two newly lacquered rickshaws with red leather steps waited beside the wooden fence of the Ryukotei (another geisha house) . . . A geisha in a long, sweeping kimono in a solid color but for the pattern at the skirt, and her apprentice, in a dazzlingly bright printed kimono, hurried through a gate over which trailed a willow.” (from “The Peony Garden,” 1909)

“The first figure to cross the bridge was a priest in a dark hempen robe. Then, in tights, a hitched-up kimono and rubber shoes, came a man who might have been the head of a building gang, and after him, some minutes later, a rather shabby housewife carrying an umbrella and a small cloth bundle, inelegantly kicking up gravel with her high clogs . . . ” (from “The Sumida River,” 1910)

“When I look at the strongly affirmative art of the West, it is as if I were looking vacantly up at some great mountain peak; but when I look at the weary, monotonous art and literature of Edo, so wanting in individuality, I feel, both spiritually and physically, an almost numbing sense of repose.” (from “The Arts of Edo,” 1913)

“What a great delight it is to hear a temple bell in this day of airplanes and automobiles and radios and phonographs.” (from Kafu’s diary, mid-1930s)

“To the (Asakusa) Opera House in the evening . . . There being no neons, the moon lit the tall buildings, cold and clear, and cast tree shadows upon the street. A most compelling scene. The prohibition against neon signs must be described as an enlightened act by our unenlightened military government.” (from Kafu’s diary, 1938)

The above extracts, selected by Michael Hoffman, are from “Kafu the Scribbler” by Edward Seidensticker.