In Tokyo and even in the Occident, I have known almost no society except that of courtesans. — Nagai Kafu There's not much left of Kafu today. Among the major Japanese writers of the early 20th century, he scarcely ranks as a survivor. Natsume Soseki, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Junichiro Tanizaki are the towering names of the period. Kafu, relatively speaking, is a footnote.

Even his biographer and principal English translator, Edward Seidensticker (whose translations from "Kafu the Scribbler" are used here except where otherwise specified), had serious reservations about Kafu. Dubbing him (in his 2002 memoir "Tokyo Central") "the writer of whom I was probably fondest," he hastens to add that "affection and admiration are not the same thing."

His praise is barbed: "Though he was not such a good novelist, he has come to seem better and better at what he was good at." What he was good at was evoking the moods and textures of a Tokyo changing, he thought, much too fast and altogether in the wrong direction.