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“Separate Ways” by Ichiyo Higuchi『わかれ道』📚by 樋口一葉

We read and discussed “Separate Ways” by Ichiyo Higuchi. I personally like this story very much. I was fascinated by the various themes that this one short story entails. We had a wonderful discussion as well.

Ichiyo Higuchi is considered the first “modern” Japanese female author and noted for her very distinctive writing style. Even though she was almost a contemporary of Soseki Natsume and Ogai Mori, she adopted the old Japanese, which makes it difficult for us to read. If you read her writing in her original Japanese, you would notice that one sentence sometimes extends over two pages with no periods, whose style I have never read before. Mieko Kawakami and Masahiko Shimada have translated Higuchi’s writing into contemporary Japanese.

Her father was originally from a farmer’s family but managed to climb the social ladder and become a member of the samurai class, which was a ruling class in the Edo period. Samurai warriors were elite and cultured. He wanted his daughter to be educated and learned, so he sent her to a renowned poetic conservatory, the Haginoya. There, she learned poems of the Heian period.

“Making something of oneself” (“立身出世”in Japanese) was one of the slogans of the Meiji period, when the class system was abolished in theory. One of the biggest themes of “Separate Ways” was that, together with gender, family, friends, choices, wealth, and the class. The relationship between Okyo and Kichizo is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. The story ends with Kichizo’s definitive sentence, ‘Take your hands off me, Okyo.’

I was sincerely impressed by Ichiyo Higuchi’s depiction of human emotions of multi-layers and delicacy. Probably, we sometimes have no choice but to go our separate ways.

She died very young when she was only 24 of tuberculosis. The last 14 months when she published “On the Last Day of the Year”, “Troubled Waters”, and “Child’s Play” are called the 14 months of miracle.

August, Women in Translation Month, has come to an end beautifully with Ichiyo.

Next week, we’re going to read and discuss “Desert Dolphin” by Masahiko Shimada. This story is going to be intense.. See you all in the next class!

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