Author: Shsaku End
First published: Obaka san, 1959 (English translation, 1974)
Locale: Tokyo, Japan
Plot: Wit and humor
Gaston (Gas) Bonaparte, a native of the Savoy region in France and a descendant of Emperor Napoleon I. Having failed to qualify as a missionary priest in France, he has followed an inner call to journey to Japan to act out some nebulous missionary role despite his limited knowledge of Japanese. A gigantic man resembling a sumo wrestler, he has a long, horselike face, with sad eyes. Despite his size and his obvious strength, he is a coward who will not even defend himself against an attacker. Moreover, he is both a simpleton and a bungler. He is a man of peace, love, and compassion who seeks to aid any creature he sees suffering from misfortune, oppression, or a physical handicap, whether it is a man, woman, or a dog; he is the “wonderful fool” of the novel's title.
Takamori Higaki, a young bachelor and university graduate who works in a bank in the Otemachi district of Tokyo and is a former pen pal of Bonaparte. He lives in the residential district of Kyd in Setagaya Ward, quite removed from the heart of Tokyo, with his mother and younger sister, who, to his annoyance, is in the habit of “policing” him. Although he takes his position at the bank seriously, after work he likes to make merry with friends in the amusement district of the city. He is a spendthrift and always lacking in funds. When Bonaparte arrives in Japan, the Higakis invite him into their home as a guest.
Tomoe Higaki, Takamori's sister, six years his junior. She is strong-minded, shrewd, a bad loser, and independent. She saves her money and invests it in the stock market. A university graduate, she studied Italian as well as typing and shorthand. She works for the Disanto Trading Company, located in the Marunouchi Building across the street from Tokyo Station. Although she is very attractive, she resembles in her character the Japanese Amazon Tomoe Gozen of TheTaleof Heiki, who rode to battle with her lord, Yoshinaka Kiso.
Takuhiko Osako, a business associate of Tomoe at the Italian trading company where she works. A grandson of Baron Osako, a member of the prewar nobility, he is a very thin man who wears rimless glasses and dresses with sartorial splendor, being unusually careful of his personal appearance. He is, however, effeminate in voice and manner. Although he courts Tomoe, she regards him strictly as a friend whom she dates on occasion.
Chtei Kawaii, an old, emaciated Oriental diviner, formerly a teacher and school principal, who makes a meager living telling people's fortunes and writing love letters for women. He befriends Bonaparte.
End, a tubercular gangster with a face like General Tojo. A lone wolf and a “hit man” for the Hoshino gang of Tokyo, he is a pitiless killer who does what he likes without rancor or lament. A sniper in the army during World War II, he lost faith in people entirely and became a nihilist after his brother was executed at the end of the war for a war crime of which he was innocent. He trusts nobody and nothing but his Colt pistol. A university graduate, he speaks French.
Major Kobayashi, a land surveyor in the small city of Yamagata and a former army officer of the battalion in which End's brother served. A thin man in his early fifties, he has a ratlike face and very round eyes, and he looks mean.