The Makioka Sisters Read-along: Book Two

a066bc10-6f18-4f66-b701-678b2eeff1aeBook Two begins with the awareness that Okubata’s favor is resting lightly on Taeko’s heart. Whereas once they had tried to elope together, and created a scandal which even the newspaper picked up, now their relationship seems significantly cooled, at least on Taeko’s part. She tells her sisters that she wishes to learn sewing, to study in France, and thus have the skills required to support herself if necessary. This does not sit well with the oldest sister and her husband, living in the main house now in Tokyo; they feel that Taeko is being too “modern”. Why does she need a job?

Also, early in Book II, there comes a description of a most terrifying flood, which I read about with great trepidation. I was fearful for Etsuko away at school, Taeko away from home at her sewing class, and Teinsuke out searching for them while his wife, Sachiko, waits for news at home. But, who should be instrumental in saving Taeko? None other than the photographer Itakura, and surely it is more than mere coincidence that caused him to pass by the building she was in as the flood waters rose.

Yukiko’s story, involving the search to find her a suitable husband, is not as dominant in Book II. Instead, the focus is on Taeko, who has not had the advantages her elder sisters had while their father was alive. Neither does Taeko seem to act appropriately: she does not sit with her legs folded under her; she does not pour the tea, as the youngest sister ought; she searches out a career, and yearns to go to Paris. Most concerning of all, to her elder sisters, is her desire to pursue marriage with Itakura. Her former lover, Okubata, has acted deceitfully in the teahouse with the geisha, and one dancer who has even born a child. Surely he can not be considered a worthy candidate for marriage? Yet, the older sisters esteem him more highly than Itakura because he has a good job and refined clothes (which he did not want to muddy while in the flood).

It is interesting to me how much is built around appearance. Of course, The Makioka Sisters was first published in 1936, and much in the world has changed since then. But, the Japanese lead a very cultured life, one which is steeped in tradition and respect. They are refined and almost delicate physically, especially in comparison to those from other countries. Consider this description of their friend Katharina’s German friend:

One knew immediately that he was a German, she (Taeko) said: he was tall and strongly built, not so much handsome as rugged. (p.290)

This friendship of Katharina’s, and Etsuko’s friendship with the Stolz’s children (who once were their neighbors) is intriguing. We are on the brink of WWII, and I wonder if Tanizaki will bring these relationships with German people into his plot…

Are you enjoying it so far? Do you have any predictions? Will a husband ever be found for Yukiko? Will Taeko continue in her defiant ways? I am completely caught up in the world which Tanizaki is creating for us, and I am filled with curiosity about the Makioka family and their place in Japan.

21 thoughts on “The Makioka Sisters Read-along: Book Two

  1. Pingback: The Makioka Sisters Read-along for March | Dolce Bellezza

  2. I’m afraid I haven’t been a very active participant in the Japanese literature readings (travel & moving have interefered) but I did want to let you know how very much I’ve enjoyed it! After an unsuccessful attempt years ago, I’m well into Book II of The Makioka Sisters (a little behind, as I unfortunately forgot to pack the book before my last trip!) and, like you, became totally enmeshed in their world.
    Like you, I’ve noticed the shift from one younger sister (Yukiko) to the next (Taeko) that occurred from Book 1 to Book 2. It’s almost as though Tanizaki is using the two sisters as symbols or representatives of two very different paths open to young women of this transistional era (Yukiko tradition, Taeko modernity) and the potential consequences attendant on their choice. I’m probably stretching this a bit, but in a way, each reflects to some extent the choices of their two older sisters: Tsuroko, the chatelaine of “the main house,” is highly traditional while Sachiko, the second, is somewhat less so (she’s more sympathetic to Taeko’s desire for independence; she has foreign friends and seems open to some extent to non-traditional & foreign ideas and her marriage appears more egalitarian than Tsuroko’s). My predictions: the family will ensure that Yukiko will eventually be married to SOMEONE, as there appears to literally be no place in her culture for an unmarried woman and Taeko will continue to shock her family by going her own way, for good or ill.
    In case I haven’t made myself clear, I am totally loving this book! Ditto for the other Japanese works of fiction that I’ve read since January (Kawabata’s The Snow Country; Murata’s Convenience Store Woman & Yoshimoto’s Kitchen; I’m currently reading Kawakami’s Strange Weather in Tokyo). I’ve always been very slow to read translated works so I really must thank you for hosting this, as otherwise I would have missed some great books!

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  3. Janakay, how nice to receive such a wonderful comment from you! I like your insights into the sisters. For example, I had not thought of each one representing a different symbol or representation of the times. I think that’s spot on! I was thinking too narrowly, only looking at their position in the family and identifying with the eldest as that’s what I em. But, I think they are very symbolic now that you point it out. Taeko’s role continues in the arc which Tanizaki has set, not to spoil any surprises, and it will be interesting to talk about her (the rebellious one!) as we complete the novel.

    I am so very glad that you have read other works of Japanese fiction, too. I loved Strange Weather in Tokyo and The Convenience Store Woman. There was something so heartfelt in each of them, on top of how they show us (me) the Japanese culture. If you have a chance, you may wish to pick up The Housekeeper and The Professor, a lovely book of a non traditional family, and The Memory Police, both by Yoko Ogawa. The later has been named in the Booker International Prize long list, and I find it to be well deserving of that position, let alone the prize if it should win. Thank you for visiting and participating in the JLC13 challenge with such enthusiasm!

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    • I’m trying to place that, exactly, as most of my attention was taken by the flood. Wasn’t that alarming? Remind me a bit of the sushi restaurant; my mother is reading my copy so I can’t look it up right now.

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  4. Hi Meredith. I read Book II with your comments to my first impressions in mind, particularly your opinion that it was Makioka pride more than money determining the daughters’ fate. I had been wondering about that throughout Book I, whether the Makiokas had fallen so far from grace that they weren’t attracting the best matches (having to rely on matchmakers, etc), or was it more a consequence of certain character traits among the four women that weren’t meshing well with Makioka decline? I still don’t have an answer to that, but just to consider it deeply enriches the experience of reading the book for me. So thanks for that point.

    In my response to Book I, I had questions about the Makioka legacy. I understand it better now. Still not much said about the deceased parents, the father’s business interests. But the little details are interesting, from what’s been told. The father was a pleasure-seeker, for women and art, who ended up marrying a woman from Kyoto: on tradition alone, that would make the mother so much more different from the daughters, Osakans to the core. Not much said on her, unfortunately.

    Taeko is the focus of this Book, and a key piece of background data we read here is how much she has to rely on Tsuruko’s husband Tatsuo for financial dividends. I don’t see him in as much detail as Teinosuke. He sounds conservative. For that reason, I found it very interesting that in the letter Tsuruko sent to Sachiko about Taeko’s situation, she described her disapproval of Taeko’s choices in terms of “we” (her and her husband) suggesting Tsuruko doesn’t disapprove of her husband’s preferences. My first impressions of Taeko was that she was more of a free spirit than she actually is. That holds. I feel she is more in rebellion with the family tradition than she is society at large. She can be quite conservative in taste and temperament, too, and so, then as today, those who most set out to be independent-minded are actually hiding a deep desire for stability. In putting it in those terms, it’s almost comical to reflect that it took a catastrophic flood for Taeko to finally get a grip on which man suited her best!

    The way Tanizaki keeps shifting from one daughter to the next, so as to highlight the people in that woman’s orbit, all to better define her character and spirit is outstanding. The chapter where he contrasts Sachiko with her unhygienic maid. On first glance, we are liable to think, “So here’s an example of Makioka snobbery.” But then shortly, we see that Sachiko has a much more gracious attitude toward the maid than the maid’s fellow work-women do. It was a very impressive way of showing Sachiko’s desire to understand people, even as she seems at a loss with what to do with the family. Looking at that, you could never say for sure what Sachiko’s position is, but you do get a strong sense for how she thinks and feels – the joy of reading great novels.

    No predictions here. Tanizaki has announced his theme of family decline pretty clearly. I don’t expect him to change that, so whether the two youngest marry or not, I am more interested on reflecting on THAT theme by the time I close out. Damn, what an outstanding novel so far!

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    • Be still my heart. What an outstanding comment. You transported me back to the book. His ability to tell us about the sisters through those menial things in life which in turn appear as deep and what make us who we are is outstanding. It’s so different than western style. I was amazed at how the author disappears and it’s us and this family. The sisters. And their complex and simple relationship.

      I love when you say that the independent spirit person craves stability. I never thought of that and that’s my second daughter.

      I have an idea of the third sister that I have never been able to discuss. Do you find her with some type of autism?

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      • Hi Sylvia. Thank you for your generous comments. Your observation about the disappearing author is spot on – probably one of the biggest factors for why the novel is so absorbing. Like you said, it leaves things like plot contrivances aside just so that we can fully see who these women are.

        Aha, now I’m intrigued by your daughter, too. 🙂

        About Yukiko, is this just your general impression, or can you remember specific passages from Tanizaki that led you to believe she might be autistic? For me, I didn’t think of that. I was thinking of her more like students who aren’t bullied but who are so isolated within the classroom they shut down emotionally. But you might have a case.

        Two years ago, Japanese television ran a four-part remake of Makioka Sisters, placing them in our time and age. If you can, check out the way actress Ayumi Ito portrayed Yukiko (I’ll provide the link below). In the opening five minutes of the video the drama presents a preview of Yukiko’s various encounters with the marriage proposals: I don’t know how to put it into words, but her facial reactions do cause us to think in terms of some sort of disability. But for me, more like she has emotionally shut down, to a certain extent. Ayumi Ito, and the drama, plays it for laughs, too: her disbelieving eyes with some of the suitors presented to her are rather comical. Later, Yukiko/Ayumi Ito was able to show great heart and compassion for the one suitor still clinging to the memory of his deceased wife. So no, I wouldn’t say Yukiko is autistic, but if you can provide a case for it I’ll listen to it.

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        • For those interested in seeing the 2018 version broadcast on Japanese television:

          Dailymotion is temperamental on my computer – sometimes it moves, sometimes it stalls. I hope you have better luck with it, because I love the television version as much as the book. It’s wonderful to see Tanizaki’s story updated for our time. Unfortunately, there are no subtitles, but if you’ve read the book you’ll have a good idea for what’s going on, which sister is which, and so on. Enjoy.

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        • Oh, I love your observations. Okay, emotionally shut down is accurate. A huge yes. It’s been years but I remember her in a room wondering away, and I remember instances in her meets with the suitors in which she just didn’t want to be there. Maybe a disability of sorts, yes, now I remember that under stress her face showed a mark that the sisters tried to hide and which put off the suitors. She truly seemed not to want to get married but she doesn’t want to go against her sisters.

          I wonder if there’s some humor that I missed. Most likely there’s a comical side to those encounters with the suitors.

          I want to watch that series so bad. I need to try to find it.

          My second daughter is such a deep thinker at only 13 years of age. She has a truly unusual personality. I am not exaggerating. It’s not that I believe religiously in the Myers Briggs, but they say that very few women in particular have her profile

          https://www.16personalities.com/intj-personality

          It says only 0.8 of the women are like her. And she clashes tremendously with her sister who is opposite, the entertainer.

          To give you an example, she came to me the other night at 12 pm, with half of her hair cut, asking me to help her even it out. I did what I could and she told me in the end that even if it wasn’t perfect, she just can’t abide herself to go to the hairdresser because she doesn’t trust anyone with her hair.

          That night too she opened up to me with some theological doubts that I could not answer anymore and which made me pause and pray. I text with her a lot even at home. She’s not autistic, -or maybe she is?- She’s capable of a lot of emotions, it’s just that she has a very cerebral approach to life and she’s always had it. They say these women either don’t marry or gravitate towards someone they have known early in life. (They are not allured by novelty at all, -that’s the siso, hahaha). My oldest is more like the youngest Makioka. She loves us and she has a moral compass yet she’s more out there, questioning the norms, and more vulnerable or different vulnerable because of that exposure.

          Sorry for the long comment. This book has made a mark on me. I also love how Yukiko (?) was able to see that her sister was spoiling her daughter. I too relate to that. We moms sometimes are blind to how we are overprotective or neglecting a bit. Balance is hard to achieve in this thing called parenting. 😉

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        • Well, Silvia and Stephen, I am unable to comment between your threads and I am so frustrated because I’m so interested in all that you had to say! If only we could all be together, with Tom and Janakay too, to discuss this book in person.

          It’s so interesting to think of characters in relationship with the people in our lives. I find myself doing that a lot, so and so is like my mom, or my brother, or my husband…I think the characterization is what makes books particularly significant to me.

          Your daughter sounds fascinating, Sylvie, and I have read that about the intj personality type. I myself am an insf, probably overboard on sensing and feeling, but I am certainly not without judgement!! As to autism, in Yukiko, or anyone, a dear friend of mine who works with children with special needs had this to say when I asked her about my son: “Meredith, we are all on the spectrum somewhere.” It’s so true! All of us have some autistic tendencies to some degree, I think.

          But, as for Yukiko, I tend to think as Stephen said, that she was “emotionally shut down”. Or, maybe she is so compliant, in keeping with Japanese tradition, that she is perceived as being on the spectrum. All fascinating thoughts.

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    • Stephen, I read your comment several times because it is so filled with insight and observations! I especially love these sentences of yours: “I feel she is more in rebellion with the family tradition than she is society at large. She can be quite conservative in taste and temperament, too, and so, then as today, those who most set out to be independent-minded are actually hiding a deep desire for stability.” The more I read of Taeko, the more annoyed (and less sympathetic!) I became. I suppose I am quite a judgmental person deep down, and I was “angry” with her for not being more supportive of her sisters. But, I guess she can be no other way than who she is, and ultimately, to me, that way is selfish. We will have to talk about her more when the book is finished.

      Sachiko is by far my favorite. It seems that she will stop at nothing for the benefit of others; she continually strives for everyone’s best, even more than the eldest whom I would have assumed would take the most leadership.

      And, you’re right, I think. It doesn’t really matter if anyone gets married or not. That point becomes almost obsolete as we read and get a better grasp of culture and family dynamics.

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  5. Oh, Janakay and Bellezza, how happy to hear this book I love.

    I too think the sisters representing tradition and modernity is spot on. Years later and I still remember these sisters as if I had met them in life.

    I too know the end and want to tell you so much but can’t yet. After the years and in response to your thinking at this point of the book Janakay, something is brewing in my mind.

    This book is so amazing.

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  6. I appreciate everyone’s comments. I have more to add, but I will save it for when Meredith posts next, keeping everyone’s thoughts in mind. I truly look forward to it.

    Liked by 1 person

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