Places: The Wild Geese

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Gan, 1911-1913 (English translation, 1959)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: 1880

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedOtama’s house

Otama’s Wild Geese, Thehouse. Residence of the young woman named Otama, located on Tokyo’s Muenzaka Slope. Otama’s lover, the middle-aged moneylender Suezo, carefully chooses the house in which he sets up his young mistress. Situated above Tokyo University, the wooden house sits in a mixed neighborhood. With its carefully designed traditional front garden, granite doorway, and exquisite interior, it previously belonged to a wealthy merchant, whose death puts it on the market. In spite of the house’s gloomy appearance and the noise emanating from a sewing school next door, it is in an out-of-the-way location that is appreciated by the careful Suezo. Suezo also buys the house for its investment potential, as its timber is of fine quality. The house is within easy walking distance from his own family home, so Suezo can visit Otama there on a daily basis.

Because Otama’s traditional Japanese house lacks a bathroom of its own–as was quite common even for expensive houses of its time–Otama is free to travel to a public bathhouse. It is while returning home from the bathhouse one day that she encounters the medical student Okada, with whom she begins a flirtation. However, circumstances prevent them from developing a more serious romantic relationship.

*Shinobazu Pond

*Shinobazu Pond (shee-noh-bah-zew). Pool of water in the middle of Tokyo’s university district designed to give aesthetic pleasure to the neighborhood. A small shrine on an artificial wooden island at the center of the pond is visited by wild geese; however, students treat the place disrespectfully, and one day Okada accidentally kills a goose with a stone that he throws on a dare from a fellow student. Later they retrieve and cook the goose and get drunk, and Okada misses his opportunity to visit Otama’s house while Suezo is away from the city.

Suezo’s home

Suezo’s home (sew-eh-zoh). House that Suezo buys for his family on fashionable Ike-no-hata street after he becomes rich. Acquiring a stylish home is not enough for him, however; he also wants a mistress. After renting a house on his own street for Otama’s impoverished father, he finds another house for Otama a somewhat greater distance away. When Suezo’s wife learns of his affair, she takes revenge by neglecting their home. Its unkempt and run-down appearance consequently literally symbolizes the lack of domestic peace and happiness within the home, from which Suezo flees with increased frequency.

*Matsugen Restaurant

*Matsugen Restaurant (mah-tsew-jen). Noted real establishment on Ueno Square near Tokyo University. It still existed at the time of the novel’s publication, and had not suffered from the fires that have historically plagued Tokyo, regularly destroying the fragile wooden houses designed to withstand frequent earthquakes. Suezo meets Otama and her father at this restaurant, where he formally proposes taking her as his mistress. The novel nostalgically reflects on the changes that had wrought havoc with the restaurant’s surroundings since the period in which the story is set. For example, Shinobazu Pond was once splendidly visible from the restaurant, but later horse-racing and bicycle tracks were built around it, reflecting the fast pace of Japan’s modernization and embracing of Western culture.

*Kamijo

*Kamijo (kah-mee-joh). Boardinghouse in which Okada and the novel’s narrator live as students. The social order of the place, which is run by a strict landlady, appears to be as old-fashioned as the building itself. The real Kamijo burned down, a historical event used in the novel to heighten the sense of a place lost forever.

BibliographyJohnson, Eric W. “Ōgai’s The Wild Goose.” In Approaches to the Modern Japanese Novel, edited by Kinya Tsuruta and Thomas E. Swann. Tokyo: Sophia University, 1976. An excellent examination of the novel. Particularly good regarding the problem of the narrator and the difficulties of interpreting the novel’s symbolism.Kato, Shuichi. “The Age of Meiji.” In The Modern Years, translated by Don Sanderson. Vol. 3 in A History of Japanese Literature. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1979-1983. Contains a section that examines Ōgai’s life and works. Provides interesting historical background.Keene, Donald. “Mori Ōgai.” In Fiction. Vol. 2 in Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature in the Modern Era. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1984. A fine study of Ōgai by the foremost American expert on Japan. Includes a brief examination of The Wild Geese.Powell, Irena. “In Search of Logic and Social Harmony.” In Writers and Society in Modern Japan. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1983. Contains a brief but informative section on Ōgai and his work. Especially useful for placing the author and his work in a societal perspective.Rimer, J. Thomas. Mori Ōgai. New York: Twayne, 1975. A thorough study of Ōgai’s life and work that includes much information about The Wild Geese.
Categories: Places