Sunday, August 15, 2010

'The Makioka Sisters' - Book Two (JLit Read-along)

The Makioka SistersWelcome to the Japanese Literature Read-along discussion of Book Two of The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki. In the Vintage paperback, Book Two takes us from page 151 up to page 326. For general information about the book and the author, please visit the discussion post for The Makioka Sisters - Book One.

Vocabulary and Cultural Context
The following links provide further explanation or illustration for some of the cultural or other references that I thought might enhance your reading of the book. (Click on the links for more information. Page numbers refer to the Vintage International paperback, ISBN: 0679761640)

In their devotion to the Yamamura school and their desire to show the Osaka dance to the world, some of the more enthusiastic among them had formed a club called the Daughters of Osaka, which presented a dance recital once a month at the home of Mrs. Kamisugi, widow of an Osaka lawyer. Taeko occasionally danced in the recitals - such was her devotion to the art. (p. 160)

Her face, when one thought about it, was rather long and bold for her frail body, and suggested theater breeding. One could not help thinking how it would have become her, had she been born long ago, to shave her eyebrows and blacken her teeth, and wear long, trailing skirts in the old manner. (p. 162)

KAWASE HASUI: "Snow on Miyajima shrine" (1928)

Because the gathering was to be such a small one, and because the times did not permit extravagence, Taeko decided not to have a new kimono made. Discussing the problem with Sachiko, she remembered that the wedding kimonos were still at the main Osaka house. Sachiko's father, in his most prosperous period, had commissioned three famous artists to paint the designs, representations of the "three scenic spots of Japan": the shrine at Itsukushima on a black ground, the pine-covered islands of Matsushima Bay on a red ground, and the strand at Amanohashidate on a white ground. (p. 163)

They could hear samisen and kokyū being tuned below. (p. 168)
The book uses the spelling samisen, but it is often written as shamisen.

NISHIMURA HODO: "Yamabuki" (1939)

The heat was intense and the quiet gave the light and dark greens of the foliage a special limpidity. The green of the lawn seemed to rise up and flow through her. When she had left in the spring, the lilac had been in bloom and the yellow yamabuki in bud; and now the Hirado lilies and the azaleas had fallen, and only a gardenia or two was left to perfume the air. (p. 201)
Yamabuki is often translated as a type of yellow rose.

Sachiko had thought that the great actor Kikugorô would be playing in September, and that Etsuko could go to the Kabuki. (p. 227)

"Have you had any more proposals for Yukiko?" Tsuruko spoke in a very low voice.
"Not since the one you know of. But I am hoping for something soon."
"This year? Next year is bad, you know."  (p. 241)
I don't remember if Yukiko's age was specifically mentioned in the book but perhaps this particular 'bad year' is because of yakudoshi, a bad luck year for women aged 33. Otherwise there are other 'bad luck years' relating to the Chinese animal horoscope.

Perhaps because it reflected the tastes of one who preferred spring, the garden had little in it to attract the eye: a rather forlorn hibiscus in the shade of the hillock, and a clump of hagi trailing its white flowers off toward the Stolz fence. (p. 243)
Hagi, or bush clover.

bush clover
Photo credit: jhassy

Teinosuke thought that he and his family should go to the funeral. (p. 324)
Japanese funeral rituals

Discussion Questions
The questions below are simply a guide to get the discussion going. Feel free to pick and choose, and answer those ones that interest you. Plus if you have any other questions or thoughts on the book, please don't hesitate to bring them up. For anyone who hasn't yet read the book, please be warned that the questions and comments may contain spoilers, so please proceed at your own risk!

What did you think of Book Two?

Was there anything that happened in this section that surprised you?

Do you have a favourite scene or passage to share from Book Two?

What do you think of the relationships between the different sisters?
Which of the sisters do you most resemble?

How do you feel about the social restrictions due to class or family heirarchy?

Are you looking forward to reading Book Three?  Where do you think the story will go from here?  Do you think they'll ever find a suitable husband for Yukiko? What do you think Taeko will do now?

[Your question here]

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the book, whether you're reading along with us or have read the book previously.  If you have completed the book though, please be considerate to those who haven't regarding spoilers for Book Three.

Also, just a reminder that we'll be looking at Book Three of The Makioka Sisters on September 20th. It reads quite quickly so you could still easily pick it up and join us then to discuss the book in its entirety. Please refer to the Japanese Literature Read-along page for additional information, and please feel free to email me if you have any questions.

The Makioka Sisters has been reviewed by:
chasing bawa
Rebecca Reads
Shelf Life
The Reading Life
Tony's Reading List
In Spring it is the Dawn (I first read it in 2007, this is my earlier review.)
If you've also reviewed this book, let me know and I'll link to it here.


The small print:  Links in this post to Amazon contain my Associates ID.  Purchases made via these links earn me a very small commission.  For more information please visit my About Page. 


  1. I have also read and reviewed 'The Makioka Sisters':

    The post was preceded by an imaginary trip through Kansai:

    Enjoy ;)

  2. II wish I had time and a copy of this book to participate - it looks beautiful and wonderful!

    And I love that picture of snow on the miyajima tori!

  3. Hi, tanabata. I’m late, but I wouldn’t want to miss the discussion. Here are my answers to the questions.

    Book Two: This is the more action-filled of the first two sections, in terms of the occurrence of natural calamities and health problems. Personal intrigues also take center stage as before, putting on display the motives of characters.

    Surprises: I’m not going to the specifics, but I find the turn of events always surprising. Tanizaki exploits the quirks of his characters to bring new plot developments. His storytelling particularly thrives on catastrophes (both natural and human). He so delineates his characters vthat they acquire complex lives of their own. Their “true colors” are brought out to the surface when one least expects them. One character observing another can reveal hidden insights to both the observer and the observed. The forward motion of both plot and characters, complementing each other, somehow make this a Chekhovian novel.

    Favorite scenes: I would say that the confrontation scenes between sisters are my favorite. These illuminate further their individual weaknesses and strengths.

    The sisters: I think they are all strong women. Even if they differ in their personal beliefs and prejudices, they try to iron out their differences. Their clashing interests only seem to highlight the four sisters as exemplars of a tightly knit Japanese family. They look out for each other. What they seem to find hard to balance (the two older sisters Sachiko and Tsuruko, especially) is their search for personal & familial happiness and what they view as the “proper thing” to do in the eyes of others (the society at large).

    Male characters: The sisters’ partners (Teinosuke, Tatsuo, Itakura, and Okubata) are often viewed from the perspectives of the sisters. The subjective opinions about them are not always reliable but their actions (and inactions) also propel the story in significant directions. Their own faults, desires, and prejudices are as crucial to the story as the sisters’.

    Class/Family hierarchies: Upholding the social distinctions and the old traditions seem to be the cause of much of the troubles of the characters. It constricts the freedom of individuals with regard to marriage options and the treatment of women as independent persons.

    Book Three: The last section is very highly anticipated. With Tanizaki’s penchant for surprises, I don’t trust myself to predict what will happen. I think it can go any which way. There’s a slim chance that Yukiko will find a husband. I don’t think that she will. I think that Taeko will still flaunt her independence, but I don’t discount the possibility of her succumbing to Okubata. The impending world war seems to cast a gloom on the novel.


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