Monday, September 20, 2010

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

The Makioka SistersWelcome to the Japanese Literature Read-along discussion of Book Three of The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki. In the Vintage paperback, Book Three takes us from page 327 up to the end at page 530. 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 to enhance your reading of the book. (Click on the links for more information. Page numbers refer to the Vintage International paperback, ISBN: 0679761640)

"She looks so young." Teinosuke, who was seeing them as far as Osaka, glanced at Yukiko across the aisle. As though it were a fresh discovery, he whispered his admiration to Sachiko. And indeed there were few who would have believed that Yukiko was in that troublesome thirty-third year. (p. 333)
Yakudoshi, or the "years of calamity", is the belief that people will experience misfortune or illness during certain years of their life. Generally, for men these are 25, 42 and 61, and for women 19, 33 and 37.

Mt. Mikama
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Etsuko, who seldom went east of Kyoto, was enjoying her second trip around Lake Biwa, and remembering all the famous places she had had pointed out to her the year before - Mt. Mikami, the long bridge at Seta, the site of Azuchi Castle, and so on. (p. 335)

Ukiyoe woodblock print, "Evening Glow at Seta", one of the '8 Views of Omi'
by Hiroshige Ando
Photo courtesy of

Proud of being related to a family that figured in the chronicles of Sekigahara, Tatsuo had been looking for an excuse to display the Suganos to his wife and sisters-in-law. He also took much pleasure in showing them the battlefield and the ruins of the barrier gate at Fuwa. Their first visit was in the worst of the heat, however, and they were exhausted by the time he had finished dragging them over dusty country roads in a battered automobile. On their second visit they had to see the same famous places again. Sachiko was thoroughly bored. She had a pride an outsider would not understand in being a native of Osaka, and since the great heroes of her childhood were the losers at Sekigahara, she had little interest in that battle. (p. 337)

She had seen firefly hunts only on the puppet stage, Miyuki and Komazawa murmuring of love as they sailed down the River Uji, and, as Taeko had said, one should put on a long-sleeved kimono, a smart summer print, and run across the evening fields with the wind at one's sleeves, lightly taking up a firefly here and there with one's fan. Sachiko was enchanted with the picture. (p. 341)

Woodblock print, "Catching Fireflies" by Choki

Though the conversation moved a little more smoothly and there was desultory talk of famous spots in Gifu Prefecture - the Japan Rhine, Gero Spa, the Waterfall of Filial Piety - and of the firefly hunt, it required a great effort to string the pieces together. (p. 348)

It gradually became clear that Mrs. Niu and the man's wife had shared the same hobby, and had come to know each other as members of a group that studied batik dying. (p. 390)
Shibori, Japanese traditional tie-dyeing.

"Haze is a sort of puffed rice. In Tokyo children eat it on the day of the Doll Festival." (p. 395)
Hina-arare, essentially popped rice coated in sugar and very similar in taste and texture to something you might find boxed in the West as sugary breakfast cereal.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

The attack of dysentery was more serious than it would have been with a prompter diagnosis.
"But where did she pick it up? Did she eat something?"
"She said she thought it was the mackerel." (p. 425)

From Cholera, Diarrhea and Dysentery: Homeopathic Prevention and Cure by John Henry Clarke, M.D.:
Fish, when there is the faintest suspicion of its not being fresh, is a dangerous food, and of all fish mackerel is the most dangerous. Even when fresh, mackerel will induce an attack with many people.

The conversation between the two doctors, full of ponderous German words, was not entirely clear to the others. (p. 437)
Although previously using the English system, the Meiji government adopted the German system of medicine, an influence that has continued to this day, so even now many (most?) medical terms come from the German.

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 Three?

Was there anything that happened in this section that surprised you? Did the story follow the path you thought it would after reading Book Two?

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

What did you think of Tsuruko's letter to Sachiko after she learned of Taeko's illness? (p. 441) Could you understand her perspective?

Which sister did you most relate to?  Which sister would you most like to spend time with?

Throughout the book, there is emphasis on whether the men were good drinkers or not, with a man being able to drink a lot regarded as a positive feature. Do you agree?  What does this say about Japanese culture?

Do you think that in the end Yukiko made a good match?

Were you satisfied with how the story ended?

If the story had continued as war came to Japan, what do you think would have happened to each of the sisters?

If you've read any other books by Tanizaki, how does The Makioka Sisters compare?
If not, would you like to read something else by him?

Any final thoughts?

[Your question here]

I really enjoyed re-reading this and look forward to hearing your thoughts on the book, whether you've been reading along with us or have read the book previously.

Previous posts
The Makioka Sisters - Book One
The Makioka Sisters - Book Two

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. Hi, this is OWL again.


    In college, my J lit (my major was not J lit,
    but I took one class) teacher said
    Tanizaki did not want Yukiko to get
    married that is why Yukiko was suffering from
    diarrhea (! ) when going to Tokyo
    to have wedding ceremony.

    I do not know if it is true but
    it is quite anticlimax and
    Tanizaki might have done so on purpose.

  2. Book Three: I loved how Book Three was as full of plot twists as the rest of the book.

    Surprise: The character of Taeko was a surprise to me. That she became a “tragic figure” even if she tries to assert her freedom from social conventions.

    Tsuruko’s letter: I think that Tsuruko and Tatsuo’s financial difficulties led them to put more value on their social position and the Makioka name more than the care they should extend to a sister in need. As Yukiko said: “How very like her.”

    Drink: I think that there is a social aspect to drinking that is being seen as favorable by Japanese society. It may suggest sociability, affableness, amiability, and self-control.

    Yukiko: I think she eventually made a good match.

    Ending: I liked the way the story ended, with a bit of open-ended uncertainty to it. The rest of the story is already an achievement that the ending hardly matters.

    Here are my general thoughts on the book.

    Thank you, Tanabata, for the opportunity to be part of this readalong. It’s one of my best reads this year.


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