“The old capital was known as the place in Japan where many of the innovations from the West were first adopted. This trait was evident among many of the people of Kyoto as well.
But perhaps there is still something of the old capital in a city that would keep the streetcar running so long. Naturally, the streetcar itself was small; one’s knees almost touched those of the passenger sitting opposite.
Now that the street car was to be dismantled, however it seemed that everyone hated to part with it.” (p. 103)
Cited as one of the three novels specifically mentioned when Kawabata won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968, The Old Capital is a lovely, atmospheric, deeply moving book. It seems to examine many dualities: between twin sisters, old traditions and new, successful businesses and struggling ones.
Chieko has been adopted by two parents who love her immensely. She has grown to be a sweet and beautiful girl, one whose countenance makes any one who gazes upon her sigh. Completely by accident, she comes across her twin sister one day, who works in the mountains. They instantly form a bond of love and understanding.
Chieko had caught wind of the neighbors’ whispers and realized that she was a foundling, but she had forced herself not to wonder about what sort of parents had abandoned her. no amount of wondering could have helped her understand. Besides, Takichiro and Shige’s love for her had been so warm that she saw no need to pursue her origins. (p. 93)
The background of the story contains her parents; her father is a kimono designer. They struggle financially. They also struggle with a sense of guilt, for who is to say that Chieko has been adopted or kidnapped? It is never quite clear, and perhaps ultimately, it doesn’t matter. What we become is more important than from where we’ve come.
I found this novel to be melancholy, but beautiful. Much like I feel when I’m sitting in the pine forest on a gray winter day. There is much to think about. But there is even more to absorb simply by being still and letting the flakes fall where they may.