electronic journal of contemporary japanese
Discussion Paper 4 in 2010
First published in ejcjs on 30 September 2010
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Comparing Morio Kita’s The
House of Nire with Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks
A Case of 'The Vanity of Human
Wendy Jones Nakanishi
Johnson described 'the vanity of human wishes'; that hard work and good
intentions can sometimes count for naught.
Morio Kita published Nire-ke no hitobito in three installments in
the popular literary magazine Shincho from 1962-64, and the
full-length version was awarded the Mainichi Prize in 1964. The novel was
later translated into English in two installments: The House of Nire
(1984) and The Fall of the House of Nire (1985). This paper argues
that there are important links between Kita’s novel and Thomas Mann’s
Buddenbrooks, published in 1901. Kita had become an ardent
admirer of Mann when he was a high school student, taught by a translator
of Mann’s writings. Buddenbrooks was written when Mann was in his
early twenties. I will argue that Kita hoped to emulate his idol’s
achievement by writing Nire-ke no hitobito
at a similar age and by addressing similar themes: the nature of
happiness, the notion of the family and its potential for 'decline,' fate
and the passage of time. Finally, and in
conclusion, I suggest that the leitmotif that unites the two volumes most
Note on Naming
Japanese convention places a person's
family name before his or her given name. In consideration that Morio Kita
is most commonly known in English translation using the European
convention that family names follow given names, and that this paper is
directed primarily at an English speaking audience, I have sought to avoid
confusion by naming all Japanese persons mentioned in the text according
to the European convention.
The author wishes to express her gratitude to Mari Ota for
assistance in the translation of Japanese documents and for conveying her
enthusiastic love of Morio Kita's writings.
Nire-ke no hitobito was
published by Mungkichi Saito (1927-) under his pen name Morio Kita in three
installments in the popular literary magazine Shincho from 1962-4,
with the full-length version awarded the Mainichi Prize in 1964. It appeared
in English translation in two installments: The House of Nire (1984)
and The Fall of the House of Nire (1985). Nire-ke no hitobito
and an earlier novel by Kita, Yurei, published in 1954 and in English
translation as Ghosts in 1992, are considered among the most
impressive works in postwar Japanese literature.
It is well known that Kita was enamored with the works of Thomas Mann
(1875-1955) and particularly with his precocious masterpiece Buddenbrooks
(1901), published to great acclaim when Mann was only twenty-six. It
is possible that Kita hoped to emulate his idol's early success because he
began work on the novel that was eventually to be published in English as
The House of Nire at a similarly youthful age, when he was in his early
twenties, a medical student at Tohoku University in the late 1940s.
Kita's infatuation with the works of Thomas Mann dates to his high school
days, when he happened to be instructed by a teacher famous as a translator
of the German writer's novels. In any case, he was ideally placed to be
receptive to their appeal. Kita had been raised in a Westernized household
that was filled with works of European literature. His father and
grandfather had each spent several years in Germany where they studied
psychopathology, a natural course for them to follow as the Japanese medical
profession established in the Meiji Era was modeled on that of Germany, and
students of Japan's top universities, and especially those training to
become doctors, were expected to master German. At the start of the Meiji
Era, many Germans had gone to Japan to work as advisors for the new
government. They were instrumental in the creation of 'modern Japan,'
particularly in the fields of medicine, law, and military affairs.
It was almost inevitable that Kita would be drawn to Mann and that, in
becoming a writer himself, he often would mention the author who had
inspired him. In his 'bildungsroman,' Ghosts, Kita reminisces about
his early acquaintance with Mann's writing. In his most popular humorous
work, Doctor Mambo at Sea (1960), based on his own experiences as a
ship's doctor, Kita describes a pilgrimage to Mann's birthplace in Germany,
where he finds that reality fails to live up to expectation: the man he
reveres is held in no such reverence by his compatriots, the prototype for
the Buddenbrooks house is disappointingly plain.
fondness for the German writer was so great that, in choosing a pen name, he
wanted one that would acknowledge his admiration for Mann and evoke Mann's
accomplishments. Kita was fond not only of Buddenbrooks but also of
Tonio Kroger, so he initially chose three kanji which could be read
杜二夫 . However,
Kita worried that 'Tonio' didn't sound like a Japanese man's name, so he
which can be read as 'Morio'.
It has been suggested that The House of Nire represents a Japanese
version of Buddenbrooks, but no research on establishing links
between the two has been done in English, although Mann's work has been
likened to Junichiro Tanizaki's The Makioka Sisters (Ireland, 1983:
39-49). I will argue that, in writing his own first important book, Kita
was heavily influenced by the German novel he rated so highly. The two works
share striking similarities. Both are lengthy sagas that chronicle the
downfall of a prosperous family, a focus made explicit as intentional by
their authors. The subtitle of
Buddenbrooks is Verfall einer Familie or 'the decline of a
family,' and the second part of the English translation of Nire-ke no
hitobito was published separately as The Fall of the House of Nire.
In Buddenbrooks, Mann depicts the gradual decline, over the course of
four generations, of a family of German merchants in the mid-nineteenth
century. In The House of Nire, family ruin is accomplished rather
more rapidly: in three generations, between the end of the first and the
second world wars in Japan.
In each novel, the family signifies not simply an assortment of
individuals related by blood but also a group united in their joint
allegiance to a family enterprise that assumes the form of a fetish or a
religion for them. The Buddenbrooks belong to the bourgeoisie of an
unnamed town Mann based on Lübeck in northern Germany, a port on the Baltic Sea.
Their business is trade, a tradition dating from Lübeck's old prominence,
dating back to the twelfth century, when it was the pivot of the Hanseatic
League, with 'Hanse' merchants acquiring a monopoly on trade from the rich
herring banks off the coast of Sweden. The Buddenbrook men are merchants or
politicians, and the fate of each family member, male and female alike, is
linked to the prosperity of the family firm. Individual wishes and desires
are necessarily subsumed in the interests of the collective.
Similarly, the three generations of Nire are all involved, in some
capacity, with the large private mental hospital they own and run in Tokyo.
Their rise to prosperity and social prominence has been recent. The founder
of the hospital is Kiichiro Nire, a self-made man of humble, provincial
origins, who managed to qualify as a doctor and then to set up his own
private clinic in a district of Tokyo. He and his descendants tend to feel
that their happiness depends on the success of the Nire Hospital and that no
life is possible for them outside their relation to it.
In both novels, the family's sense of identification with the family
business is particularly acute because there is no real distinction between
where they live and where they work. At the outset of Mann's novel, set in
1835, the Buddenbrooks are thriving. Signaling their prosperity, they have
recently been able to purchase and move into a spacious old house on Meng
Strasse. It is a house of white enameled furniture and yellow silk curtains,
of expensive tapestries and the adornments of civilization: books and
musical instruments, gold candelabra and Sèvres porcelain.
Johann Buddenbrooks and his wife Madame Antoinette occupy the mezzanine
or second of the house's three floors. Their son, a city consul, his wife
and daughters Antonie (Tony) and Clara and sons Thomas (Tom) and Christian
have their quarters on the third floor, while the ground floor is reserved
for the activities which allow the old merchant and his family to live in
luxury above: it houses the kitchen and scullery, the servants' quarters and
the business offices. A paved courtyard over which wagons can pass links the
house and the warehouse behind, that features a vaulted ceiling and a pulley
rope for lifting sacks of grain. The house represents a solid if not stolid
edifice, designed not only to shelter its inhabitants in comfort but also to
symbolize, for the world at large, the firm's prosperity, stability and
In 1918, when Kita's story begins, the Nire Hospital complex consists of
a main building and outbuildings that house a considerable population. There
are not only some three hundred and forty patients but also about a hundred
other occupants: members of the Nire family and staff and other dependants
of the hospital. The hospital itself is an outwardly impressive structure.
Its heavy, wrought-iron gates are flanked by two granite pillars, and a long
path lined with brick walls leads to a gravel courtyard before the hospital.
When the main edifice was erected in 1904, the locals had been astounded by
its magnificence because it contrasted so incongruously with its
surroundings. The Nire Hospital had been built in a rural area of Aoyama, a
place of paddy fields and farmland, near a graveyard and a small cluster of
houses. The massive structure of the hospital, boasting seven towers, a row
of Corinthian columns topped by a stone balustrade adorning the front of the
building, along with a Chinese clock tower above the central entrance, seems
out of place in this quiet backwater.
But elegant if architecturally muddled decorations are features confined
to the main hospital building. Behind the hospital there is a sprawling
chaos of outbuildings. There is a ramshackle cookhouse and a bathhouse near
a row of cramped buildings reserved for the staff as well as a jumble of
other small structures inhabited by servants and family members. There is a
two-storied house of rather better quality than the rest that is known as
the Director's dwelling, but while the Director's family live there,
Kiichiro and his wife occupy special, luxurious living quarters inside the
main hospital building.
Where the Buddenbrook house on Meng Strasse featured a 'landscape room,'
Kiichiro's mental hospital has a 'Coral Room.' While most of Lübeck's
prosperous merchants' homes were constructed of heavy red brick, the Nire
Hospital's red brick walls are actually made of wood that has been painted
with a red brick façade. Similarly, its Corinthian pillars are concrete,
polished with a luster to resemble marble. The Buddenbrooks' 'landscape'
room had contained valuable wall covers in pastel shades, depicting pastoral
scenes; the Nires' 'Coral Room' is a Japanese-style room in the main
hospital building, so called because the wall of the tokonoma is not
decorated, as usual, with a hanging picture scroll, but with bits of inlaid
coral that appears valuable but is not genuine.
Both novels are semi-autobiographical. Mann was born in Lübeck in1875
into a patrician family of senators and merchants. There are some direct
parallels between Mann's own family and the Buddenbooks and the fate that
befell them. Although Mann never identifies the city depicted in the book,
described as a mediocre trading center on the Baltic, and although he
professed sympathy with the protestant ethics of the community of his home,
on the book's publication, German critics attacked him on the grounds that
Buddenbrooks might be construed a libelous portrait of Lübeck and its
Certainly, the city is recognizably Lübeck, and the house on Meng Strasse
that forms the backdrop of the novel is the very house on its Meng Strasse
once occupied by Thomas Mann and his family. In Buddenbrooks, Mann
recreated his childhood home in every detail: with its 'landscape room'
whose wall coverings depict idealized scenes of eighteenth-century life and
its 'dining room,' filled with white figures of gods and goddesses. The 'Buddenbrooks
House,' as it is now known, is one of Lübeck's most famous and popular
As for Mann's decision to cast his first novel into the form of a family
saga, it is probable that he realized that he had a rich mine of personal
experience to draw upon for his first foray into an extended work of
fiction. Mann was ambitious and wanted to equal his older brother's success
as a writer: in 1894, Heinrich Mann (1871-1950) had published In einer
Familie (In a Family). As a schoolboy in Lübeck, Thomas Mann
published short stories in the school journal. On graduating and moving to
Munich in 1894, he published more stories, attracting the attention of the
influential writer and editor Richard Dehmel, who praised and encouraged
him. Mann began work on what would become Buddenbrooks in 1897, when
he was only twenty-two, completing it three years later, in August 1900.
It was natural that the talented author should have chosen his own family
background as the topic for his first novel; he was too young to have much
experience of anything else. Again, sibling rivalry may also have played a
part in the shaping of Buddenbrooks. At the time Thomas was working
on it, Heinrich was also composing a novel about German bourgeois society
entitled Im Schlaraffenland (In the Land of Cockaigne), that
was published in 1900 and, as we have seen, Heinrich had already published a
'family' novel in 1894.
Mann's father was both a businessman and a politician in Lübeck. He was a
grain merchant who, two years after Thomas's birth, was elected to a
lifetime position as a senator of the city. He obviously served as a model
for Consul Buddenbrooks, just as Mann's mother, the musical, exotic Julia,
who was born in Brazil and emigrated to Germany when she was seven,
resembles Gerda Anderson, the Consul's wife, a talented violinist. A
musically-gifted mother of 'indeterminate foreign blood' also appears in Tonio Kröger.
The Mann family enjoyed comfort and even glamour, with their large house
in Lübeck and summers spent at Travemünde, on the Baltic Sea, but this way
of life came to an end abruptly on the sudden death of Mann's father in
1891. The family firm was dissolved, the house on Meng Strasse sold, and
Mann's mother moved to Munich with the younger children. Thomas remained in
Lübeck to complete his schooling and rejoined his family in 1894, on
receiving his diploma.
Similarly, Kita drew heavily upon personal experiences for
the raw material of his own novel. The hospital that forms the backdrop of
his novel is recognizably the institution known as the 'Aoyama Hospital'
founded by Kita's grandfather, Kiichi Saito, in 1903, and Kiichiro Nire is a
portrait of this grandfather who fled provincial obscurity in Yamagata
prefecture to study in Tokyo, qualifying as a doctor and founding his own
Contemporary photographs confirm the veracity of Kita's descriptions of
the Aoyama Hospital (the Nire Hospital) and its founder Kiichi Saito
(Kiichiro Nire). Saito is the proud owner of a large, luxuriant moustache;
his hospital is an improbable, if lofty and impressive, structure of towers
and pillars. But there are discrepancies. The Nire Hospital was supposedly
founded in 1904, the Aoyama Hospital one year earlier, in 1903. Kita has the
lowly-born Jinsaku Kanazawa reinvent himself as Kiichiro Nire. In fact,
Kita's grandfather, who was born Kiichiro Saito, only changed his first
name: from Kiichiro to Kiichi.
Too, while Kita portrays Kiichiro Nire as a kind of buffoon, Kiichi Saito
boasted impressive credentials, having graduated from Tokyo University,
studied for several years in Germany, and qualified as a brain surgeon
before going on to found the successful and respected Aoyama Hospital, also
known as the Aoyama Brain Hospital or the Aoyama Psychiatric Hospital.
Kiichi Saito went on to play an important part in paving the way for the
passage of Japan's Mental Hospitals Act in 1919 when, in 1918, as an MP in
the House of Commons, he 'delivered a long speech accusing the government of
leaving numerous dangerous lunatics at large' (Porter and Wright, 2003:
Kita introduces his father, Mokichi Saito, in the figure of Tetsukichi.
Mokichi was adopted by Kiichi Saito; Tetsukichi, by Kiichiro Nire, when they
were schoolboys in Yamagata. Mokichi and Tetsukichi prove unusually able
individuals who contract unhappy marriages with the eldest daughters of
their adoptive fathers, quickly qualify as doctors, and then study
psychopathology in Germany and Austria from 1921 until 1925. The sections of
The House of Nire that are set in Berlin, then Vienna and then
Munich, where Tetsukichi is portrayed as studying and conducting research,
obviously draw on Mokichi's reminiscences. Like Tetsukichi, Mokichi returns
from his European travels to assume the directorship of a well-known
hospital and clinic for mental patients: the Aoyama Hospital, aka the Nire
Hospital. Both Tetsukichi and Mokichi are responsible for rebuilding the
hospitals when both burn down in 1924.
The authenticity of the medical practices detailed in The House of
Nire owes much to the fact that its author also received psychiatric
training, qualifying as a doctor in 1960 with his study of schizophrenia.
Kita's father also maintained a second career as a writer. Mokichi Saito's
experiments with the thirty-one-syllable waka form made him one of
the most famous poets in Japan. His success in juggling two occupations may
have inspired his son also to try to balance his medical career with work as
Buddenbrooks and The House of Nire represent an astonishing
achievement on the part of their youthful authors. The maturity and
ambitious breadth of the two works belie the fact that the novels were
written by men in their early twenties. It is possible, too, that the two
novels sprang from a similar source: remorse at failing to live up to
perceived family expectations. In other words, as a delicious irony, Mann
and Kita celebrate in their fiction the families whose influence they sought
to escape in life.
It has been conjectured that Mann experienced a sense of liberation on
the death of his father and the subsequent dissolution of the family firm.
Adolphs and Schwarz (1988: 357) suggest that Mann was relieved that he 'no
longer had to spend long hours studying to please his father, who had hoped
that he would eventually take over the family business,' and could devote
himself to his real interest: writing. Similarly, Goodman argues that, given Morio Kita's background, descended from a 'dynasty of doctors,' with a
father considered possibly the greatest master of syllable tanka poetry in
the twentieth century, 'preferring literature to medicine (and possibly
being better at it)' might have aroused a sense of guilt (1984: 318). Mann
and Kita were both second sons who, in their youth, felt pressured to take
the path enjoined upon them by their fathers. Mann, who had been enrolled in
a commercial high school because of his father's hope that he would someday
take over the family business, knew he was expected to become a merchant.
Kita shared his own father's ambivalence over the demands of qualifying and
practicing as a doctor and devoting his time to his writing.
The novels: comparisons and contrasts
Each novel begins with a description of the
powerful patriarch who has brought the family's fortunes into the ascendant.
In character, temperament and appearance, these two individuals could not be
more dissimilar. Johann Buddenbrooks, at seventy, continues to dress as he
did in the mid-eighteenth-century, when he was in his youth. His snow-white
hair is powdered and drawn back in a pigtail; he wears breeches and a frock
coat. He is depicted as a man incapable of meanness or dishonesty despite
his shrewdness as a successful businessman. Mann conveys a sense of the old
man's worldly savoir faire by depicting his irritation with what he
perceives as his son's narrowness; Johann has little patience with the
Consul's religious fervor or with his idealism concerning human rights. It
is the generational divide of the late eighteenth century between the
Augustan Age and the Romantic, with Johann siding with Voltaire and the
Consul, with Rousseau.
The opening scene of
Buddenbrooks marks the apogee of the family fortunes. It is a cold
Thursday in October 1835, and the family has gathered for the large formal
dinner held every fortnight to which close relatives and associates are
invited. The party is one for special celebration, for the Buddenbrooks have
recently moved into the spacious old house on Meng Strasse. The town's
wealthy, powerful, and prestigious have been invited to join in the
festivities, but even on this auspicious occasion, there is a hint of the
doom that eventually will envelop the Buddenbrooks. The house is an unlucky
one. The fate of its former occupants foreshadows their own. It had belonged
to a similar old family enterprise, Ratenkamp & Co. The Ratenkamps had moved
into the Meng Strasse house on its completion in 1682 and had prospered for
nearly two hundred years. It was only in the early nineteenth century,
twenty years before the Buddenbrooks' party, that their fortunes had begun
to falter, when one Dietrich Ratenkamp had made some unwise decisions
leading to the collapse of the family firm: to the forced sale of the house,
to poverty, to the end of the family as a thriving dynastic business
The opening pages of The House of Nire also depict a family
seemingly at the height of its fortunes. This novel, too, opens with a
celebration that constitutes an affirmation of family prestige and
commercial success. The patriarch and architect of the family's success,
Kiichiro Nire, is presiding over the annual 'Prize-Giving Day' at the Nire
Hospital, held every year on December 14, to commemorate the founding of the
hospital fourteen years earlier, in 1904. Every member of the hospital
staff, no matter how lowly his position, is awarded a prize in recognition
of his service.
Kiichiro Nire resembles a latter-day Japanese version of M. Poirot in his
inordinate pride, in his fussy neatness, in his large, elaborate mustache
and hair dyed an improbably glossy black. In fact, he is not who he seems:
it is all a matter of appearances. Just as the Nire hospital conceals,
behind its impressive façade, gimcrack building materials and squalor, with
its imitation marble pillars, imitation brick walls, imitation coral, and a
jumble of shacks squatting behind the hospital and hidden by it, so Kiichiro
seems a man of long-standing wealth and property and position, but
appearances are deceptive.
Kiichiro Nire is a self-made man, an individual born in poverty and
obscurity as Jinsaku Kanazawa, inhabitant of a small, undistinguished
village in Japan's northeast. In financial straits, Jinsaku's father, a
farmer, gave up his fourth son to another farmer, residing in a neighboring
village, for adoption, but the boy then committed an unpardonable act by
running away from his adoptive father, unhappy with his new life, and
returned to live in the village of his birth with his elder sister before
running away once more.
Reappearing in the village many years later, he astonishes his family and
friends by his appearance of prosperity and by the papers he brandishes that
certify to his having qualified as a bona fide doctor. Jinsaku then
disappears once more, returning much later to startle and amaze the
villagers yet again, this time, with the news that he has married, that he
is the owner of a clinic, and that he has changed his name. Jinsaku
Kanazawa, the fourth son of a poor family, destined, it seemed, for poverty
himself, has re-invented himself, transforming the unwanted child with an
undistinguished name and a bleak future into a wealthy, successful
individual who now styles himself Kiichiro Nire. This 'new' man has even
invented his surname, taking delight in explaining the difficult Chinese
characters that comprise 'Nire' to the baffled villagers. Like the hospital
edifice he has had constructed with such loving care, Kiichiro Nire is a
kind of optical illusion.
Despite the institution's apparent prosperity, Kiichiro's wife, the
formidable and forbidding Hisa, is aware of the parlous state of its
finances. She is like a swan, proud and elegant, swimming with apparent
serenity and ease on the pond of life, but her legs, concealed from public
view, are frantically kicking in an effort to keep the enterprise afloat.
Too, it is unclear how many of the staff Kiichiro employs possess actual
medical qualifications. Also, at least one of the medical specialists listed
as a staff member of the hospital, whose fame and prowess is intended to
enhance its prestige, has yet to meet a single patient.
Like Kiichi Saito, on whom he is based, Kiichiro is an eccentric
character enamored with all things German and, like Saito, Kiichiro spends
time studying medicine in Germany, the course he is later to urge on his
adoptive son, Tetsukichi. The special living quarters Kiichiro and his wife
inhabit within the hospital are stuffed with German souvenirs. These are not
the precious objects d' art that adorn the rooms of the Buddenbrook
mansion but, rather, the cheap knickknacks and trinkets favored by a
tourist. Like Consul Buddenbrooks, Kiichiro is eager to combine his business
duties with political responsibilities. His position as the hospital's
director, combined with a considerable outlay of funds, enable him to become
elected to the Japanese House of Representatives as a Member. The bribes he
has been obliged to extend to potential voters for his candidacy constitute
one of the reasons why the Nire Hospital, despite its good reputation and
numerous patients, is on the verge of bankruptcy at the beginning of the
Naturally, the scions of Johann Buddenbrooks and Kiichiro Nire are
expected to contract advantageous marriages that will further the family
fortunes. Consul Buddenbrook has gratified expectations in marrying
Elisabeth, one of the prosperous and powerful Krögers, landed aristocracy
who own a luxurious property on the outskirts of the city. They 'lived in
grand style,' a 'dazzling wealth….of a different sort from the solid if
somewhat ponderous prosperity of the Buddenbrooks' (p. 57).
The Buddenbrook children prove less satisfactory in their performance of
the duty of forming lucrative and prestigious alliances. Thomas fatally
introduces an element of the artistic and the temperamental into the family
gene pool by marrying Gerda Arnoldsen, a gifted violinist. Pious little
Clara marries a poor pastor and dies young and childless. Christian's
youthful quirks develop into full-blown eccentricities, and he fails to
marry at all until his middle age, when he contracts an unsuitable alliance
with a woman of dubious reputation by whom he has already had an
illegitimate child. Alas, subservience of individual desires for the sake of
the collective good proves no guarantee of fulfilment or success. Although
Tony falls in love with a thoroughly unsuitable young man who belongs to the
working class and, even worse, is a political firebrand, she renounces her
dream of happiness with him when she decides that 'Just as it was Tom's job
to work in the office, her calling in life was to add to the luster of her
family and the firm of Johann Buddenbrook by marrying a wealthy and
prominent man' (p. 103).
Although she does not love him, she agrees to wed her parents' choice of
partner, Herr Bendix Grünlich, an apparently successful merchant from
Hamburg. But her self-sacrifice is in vain. Grünlich is a fraud, his
business a sham, and Tony divorces him when he goes bankrupt. Left a widow
with a small daughter, she later marries once more, but this husband is
revealed to be
a philanderer, and she ends up leaving him as well.
As for Kiichiro Nire, he and Hisa produce five children and adopt three
others. Kiichiro's eldest natural son, Oshu, proves initially less
satisfactory than his two adoptive ones: Tetsukichi and Tatsuji. Oshu is an
indolent, passive boy who cannot pass his high school entrance exams while
Tetsukichi is a bright, capable child of humble origins who quickly
qualifies as a doctor and assumes joint control of the hospital with
Kiichiro. Tatsuji is a kind of mentally-deficient monster; Kiichiro adopts
him in the hope that his new protégé, with his gigantic body, may someday
become a famous sumo wrestler.
Tatsuji Nire is another example of Kita's drawing upon personal
experience in composing his novel. An unusually large child named Bunjiro
Sato was plucked from obscurity in rural Yamagata prefecture to be adopted
by one of Kiichi Saito's relatives. Unlike Tatsuji, Bunjiro excelled in
academic studies, but his size (at one point, he was 206 cm tall and weighed
200 kg) led to his being discovered by the sumo world. Bunjiro reluctantly
abandoned his dream of becoming a pediatrician and, instead, is remembered
as a 'gentle giant' of the sumo world, known as 'Degawatake Bunjiro'.
Kiichiro's eldest daughter, Ryuko, surpasses even her father in her pride
in the family. She marries Tetsukichi in obedience to her father's wishes
but Seiko, her younger sister, acknowledged as the family beauty, fails to
put her own personal endowments to proper use. Seiko incurs Ryuko's wrath by
marrying for love—a poor man whom her family regard as unsuitable—and she is
disowned by the Nires, dying young in poverty, illness and disgrace. Seiko's
deplorable act of self-indulgence results in disaster for her younger
sister, Momoko. The Nires are so worried that Momoko might also follow
inclination rather than duty in making a match that they force her into an
arranged, loveless marriage when she is just an adolescent.
For both the Buddenbrooks and the Nires, things go from bad to worse with
the next generation. It is not only that the children and grandchildren
prove less than satisfactory. Both families are caught up in the inexorable
grip of historical circumstances. The main focus of Buddenbrooks and
The House of Nire is always on the family unit, but the particular
individuals that comprise it are inevitably affected by the time and place
in which they live although, as we shall see, Kita is far more anxious than
Mann to plunge his characters into the maelstrom of contemporary events and
to show how profoundly individuals can be influenced by their experiences.
In Buddenbrooks, Mann is reluctant to engage directly with the
social drama of the age even though the backdrop of the novel, spanning the
years from 1835 to 1877, includes some of the most dramatic episodes of
nineteenth-century German history. These include the Revolutions of 1848,
the Austro-Prussian War, the North German Confederation, and the
establishment of the German Empire. Yet the rumblings of history outside the
elegant house on Meng Strasse reach the Buddenbrooks, as they sit in their
well-appointed drawing room, like the sound of distant thunder
Only the revolutions of 1848, which sought to challenge the old status
quo with demonstrations by the proletarian masses against aristocracy and
baroque absolutism, directly affect them. The liberals demanded freedom of
the press, freedom of assembly, arming of the people, and a national German
parliament. Such demands are anathema to Consul Buddenbrooks's
father-in-law, the aristocratic Lebrecht Kröger, invariably described as a
'cavalier à la mode,' (p. 13). He is furious when the group he
contemptuously dismisses as 'riffraff' approach the town hall and keep the
council, holding a meeting there, captive, hurling the occasional brick
through the windows of the building. Although the Consul manages to placate
and disperse the mob, someone hurls a stone at Kröger's carriage as he is
returning home that enters the carriage window. The stone falls harmlessly
on the blankets enveloping the old man, but it is the proverbial 'last
straw,' a symbol of the revolt of Germany's workers that has so incensed and
outraged him. The 'cavalier' dies moments later, presumably of a heart
Too, although the Buddenbrooks are businessmen rather than aristocrats
like their relatives the Krögers, they increasingly find themselves
challenged by a new breed of entrepeneurs who fail to play the game by the
old rules. There are 'upstart' individuals like Hinrich Hagenström, a 'sly
fox,' who snaps the order for a large consignment of rye to be shipped to
Holland right from under the Buddenbrooks' noses (p. 59). Julia Hagenström
is little Tony's bête noire as they walk together as children to
school, and the firm of Strunck and Hagenström come to assume the form of
the Buddenbrooks' principal rivals as the novel unfolds, with the former
enjoying considerable expansion at the expense of the latter. To add insult
to injury, Julie Hagenström and her brother Hermann manage to contract just
the sort of lucrative, socially-desirable marriages that have eluded poor
Tony, Christian and Clara, with Julie marrying into one of the best
families, the Mollendorpfs, and Hermann wedding the daughter of the richest
man in town, whose wholesale lumber business enables him to leave each of
his three children two million marks.
It is not a tale of one family rising as the other inexorably declines.
The Buddenbrooks enjoy a period of success in the early 1860s, when the
business flourishes and, on the death of James Mollendorpf, one of the
town's senators, Thomas Buddenbrook is selected as his successor, narrowly
beating his rival Hermann Hagenström. But Thomas becomes increasingly
exhausted with the full weight of responsibility for the family and the firm
resting on his shoulders alone. He collapses and dies in his mid forties,
the business founders and is sold, and, in the final turn of the wheel of
fortune, the Meng Strasse house is taken over by the Hagenströms.
Mann's portrait of the decline of the house of Buddenbrooks interestingly
links their collapse to the enervating effects of a prosperity sufficient to
allow individuals the leisure and inclination to pursue cultural interests.
A theme of this novel, and of many of Mann's works, indicative of the
divided loyalties he felt as a child to his mother and father, is the
conflict between art and business. Buddenbrooks implies that exposure
to music, art and literature can weaken moral fiber. Each successive
generation of Buddenbrooks is increasingly incapable of dealing with the cut
and thrust of commercial life. Capable of irony and introspection, sensitive
and intellectual, the latter-day Buddenbrooks have lost the will to succeed;
they lack the requisite ruthlessness that confers the competitive edge.
The House of Nire also spans a dramatic period, if one subsequent
to that described in Buddenbrooks, Kita's novel covers the tumultuous
years from 1918 to 1945. Noteworthy events include the end of the first
world war, the Great Kanto Earthquake, the Manchurian Incident, the rise of
Hitler, the Rape of Nanking, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the starvation of
Japanese soldiers in the South Pacific, the firebombing of Tokyo, and the
atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Kita weaves actual historical happenings into the body of his narrative
much more than Mann had done, although his focus, like Mann's, is on the
individuals these events affect and influence. The novel opens in 1918, the
year of the Armistice and of Spanish flu, and the inhabitants of the Nire
Hospital are delighted by news of the former, not because of any animus they
bear towards the defeated Germans, but because the occasion offers a chance
to celebrate, which they duly do.
The next historical event to affect the family is the Great Kanto
Earthquake. Kiichiro and Tetsukichi's brother, Shirokichi, waiting in
September 1923 for a steam train from Odawara to Tokyo, have their journey
disrupted by powerful tremors that flatten the train station and kill most
of its staff. Shirokichi cannot imagine an earthquake strong enough to
effect such damage and originally surmises that Mt. Hakone must have
erupted. No trains are running, and the pair must pick their way through
scenes of unimaginable devastation in their attempt to return to Tokyo. They
have to contend not only with hunger and thirst and exhaustion, broken
bridges and damaged roads, but with the possibility that Shirokichi, with
his thick lips, might be mistaken for a Korean—chosen as scapegoats for the
largest physical catastrophe to hit Japan—and killed by an angry mob.
The Nire family and their hospital escape unscathed from the earthquake
but, ironically, the hospital is razed by fire shortly afterward. To make
matters worse, Kiichiro may unwittingly have been responsible. It seems that
the highly flammable paint he had had applied to the buildings, to lend them
an air of fresh elegance to welcome his adoptive son back from Germany, was
partly responsible for the fire, and legal restrictions prevent the
rebuilding of the hospital in its initial location. Kiichiro rises to the
challenge, but at the cost of his life. In 1926 he arranges for a loan that
will enable him to put up a new hospital in a new location, in undeveloped
Matsubara. He collapses and dies while he is measuring the
recently-purchased land, and Tetsukichi must take on the directorship of the
projected new hospital.
Kita was drawing on facts in constructing this section of the novel.
Kiichi Saito, just like his fictional counterpart, Kiichiro Nire, had
erected his hospital on rented land and, just like Kiichiro, had allowed the
insurance to lapse on the property. The Aoyama hospital's destruction by
fire was financially devastating for him. Too, just like Tetsukichi Nire,
his fictional counterpart, Mokichi Saito found the work of rebuilding the
hospital and then acting as its director a great struggle. A commemorative
plaque located on the land once occupied by the hospital displays one of
Saito's tanka poems, whose meaning, roughly, translates into 'Please
understand how difficult it was for a person like me to serve as the
director of the hospital'.
Ryuko and Tetsukichi's children—Shun'ichi, Aiko and Shuji—grow up in a
Japan in which the military plays a prominent role in daily life: the army's
'bold exploits during the Manchurian and Shanghai incidents had confirmed
the military's role as defender of the Japanese lifelines and creator of
national power and prestige' (p. 257). Shun'ichi and his younger brother
Shuji conceive a passionate fascination for aircraft, and Shun'ichi predicts
a war between Japan and America. Japan's war with China, commencing in 1937,
signals the end of their childhood and the emergence of a new Japan, bent on
patriotic displays. Shun'ichi is posted to Indochina as a lieutenant in the
Medical Corps, Tatsunori Shiroki, the man Aiko loves, participates in the
attack on Pearl Habor but later is killed when his aircraft carrier
Zuikaku is bombed by the Americans near Guadalcanal, and Shuji,
with his classmates, is trained to become a soldier. In the final years of
the war, Shuji and Aiko become munitions workers in a Tokyo under constant
bombardment, and Shuji becomes obsessed with thoughts of death. The Aoyama
hospital has been closed and the Matsubara one is no longer the 'Nire
Hospital': it has been taken under new management.
The first great night fire raid on Tokyo, in March 1945, inspires
Tetsukichi to leave the city to seek refuge and safety at his old family
home in rural Yamagata. Aiko, Ryuko and Shuji barely escape the
conflagration of Tokyo, hit by incendiary bombs, and Aiko's face is badly
disfigured by the flames. The atomic bombs are dropped on Hiroshima and
Nagasaki, the war ends, and, against the odds, they all survive, even
Shun'ichi, rescued from Wake Island on the verge of death by starvation.
While the Nires, apart from Kiichiro, are allowed to live, the principal
Buddenbrook males die and, in this respect, Kita is kinder to his fictional
creations than Mann had been. In the months before his death, when Thomas
Buddenbrooks realizes that he faces financial ruin and feels too exhausted
to make any further efforts to restore the family's fortunes, he draws hope
from one source: his beloved son, Hanno. For a period, Thomas is sustained
by his 'inherited and ingrained sense of family' which can grant him a
vision of an old age in quiet retirement, when he might see Hanno as the
prosperous, successful head of the family business (p. 601). Thomas believes
that 'he had lived in his ancestors and would continue to live in his
descendants' (p. 631).
Thomas has a brief moment of revelation when he reads Schopenhauer and
decides that the conclusion of his personal existence should be a matter of
little moment to himself or to anyone else. He is comforted by the notion of
a unity of all that lives. But then Thomas returns to his normal
middle-class consciousness, embraces his worries, and makes a new will. In
the cold light of reason, he accepts that Hanno's career lies in music, and
he stipulates that the family firm be dissolved within the year following
his death, which occurs shortly afterwards. It is generally accepted that
Mann based the character of Hanno on himself, but he consigns his fictional
counterpart to an unfortunate end. Aged fifteen, young Hanno dies of
typhoid, a death signaling the end of the Buddenbrooks dynasty.
If Hanno is a version of Thomas Mann, a similar claim might be made that
Kita's own consciousness informs the character of Shuji, whose sensitive
apprehension of events enlivens the second half of the The House of Nire.
Shuji, like Hanno, is an introspective soul who finds it difficult to make
friends and who fails exams and seems unsuited for 'ordinary' life. But, in
the opinion of Susan Hinerfeld (1985: 1), Shuji has an important destiny to
fulfill: he 'will become a writer, and tell of these vanquished people and
their vanished life' just as Kita chose that role—depicting Japan between
1918 and 1945 and, in particular, describing his own family.
Despair characterizes the closing section of each novel. Despite the
unlikely survival of herself, her children and husband, Ryuko Nire is
unhappy and lonely because she is disappointed that her family fails to
possess her father's enterprising spirit. Kiichiro Nire had made his fortune
despite the humblest of beginnings. Similarly, Tony questions whether life
has any meaning. She is devastated by the deaths of her parents, her brother
and beloved nephew and by the loss of the Buddenbrooks' firm and house,
complaining that life 'crushes things deep inside us, it shatters our faith'
But, equally, both novels conclude on an affirmative note, stressing the
indomitable nature of the human spirit. At the end of Buddenbrooks,
the surviving characters are comforted by the prospect of a reunion with
departed family members after their own deaths. In the conclusion of The
House of Nire, the resourceful Ryuko demonstrates that she is her
father's daughter in determining to carry on, no matter what. As she grinds
up the tea leaves that she uses to supplement the family's diet with extra
nutrition she decides 'She would not give in….She would never surrender' (p.
Mann and Kita both refer to Schopenhauer in their lengthy family sagas.
Thomas Buddenbrook and Kiichiro Nire are described as finding inspiration in
the German's philosophy, and the epiphany Tetsukichi experiences just before
suffering a paralyzing stroke is remarkably similar to the momentary
happiness Thomas Buddenbrook experiences after reading Schopenhauer's
chapter 'Concerning Death and Its Relation to the Indestructibility of Our
Essential Nature.' A similar short-lived epiphany is experienced by Hans
Castorp, the protagonist of The Magic Mountain, when he nearly
perishes after unwisely persisting in skiing in poor weather. Williams
points out the parallel with Buddenbrooks (1986: 38): 'The saving
grace vouchsafed to him in the blizzard, when he glimpses the true
relationship between life and death and the outline of a new humanism, fades
even by that same evening, like Thomas Buddenbrook's vision in an earlier
The drama of the family is played out against the promise of eventual
release from individual suffering; the vicissitudes of fortune pale beside
the vast peace of eternity. Buddenbrooks and The House of Nire
testify to a way of life, now vanished, and memorialize the inhabitants, now
passed away, who peopled that 'foreign land': the past. If Mann and Kita
fail to find complete consolation in Schopenhauer's assertion that even
after death, individuals return to the life force and thus retain their
connectedness to all living things, they can be satisfied that their own
works have conferred a kind of immortality on the families they present in
their novels in such loving detail.
Buddenbrooks and The
House of Nire are works by intensely ambitious and talented young men
who chose to 'cannibalize' their own families as material for first novels
cast in the style of nineteenth-century European naturalism. Both novels
feature an omniscient narrator, a supposedly 'objective' representation of
reality, the depiction of a vast social canvas, and characters who are a
product of their backgrounds: familial, cultural and historical. While it
was natural and appropriate for Mann, a European born in the nineteenth
century, to adopt this style in composing Buddenbrooks, Kita's use of
it, as a twentieth-century Japanese, in The House of Nire, is
significant. In choosing this style, Kita eschewed the fondness for
shishōsetsu evinced by his compatriots, although the 'I novel' had
formed a central component of mainstream Japanese literature since the early
twentieth century. Why did Kita need and want to tell his story in this
According to Irmela Hijiya-Kirschnereit, shishōsetsu developed and
became important in the early twentieth century as an 'advanced form' of
shizenshugi, a 'Japanese naturalism' that took its orientation from
European naturalism and 'declared its dedication to truth and
"straightforward" description' (1996: 3). In Hijiya-Kirschnereit's opinion, however, shizenshugi differed markedly
from European naturalism in its 'lack of analytic description and the
relative neglect of hereditary and environmental factors' (1996:
28). She believes that after the heady embrace of all things western,
accompanied by the rejection of all things Japanese, that characterized the
early Meiji period, there was an inevitable backlash that saw the rise of
militarism, imperialism and 'the mystification of the state as expressed in
theocratic Shinto teachings' (1996: 18). At this critical
juncture in Japan's development into a modern nation state, its
intellectuals felt increasingly alienated and retreated from public life to
follow the 'inward path'.
The evolution of shizenshugi into shishōsetsu confirmed and
emphasized this trend. Whereas shizenshugi had advocated an
objective, value-free, detailed description of 'reality,' in
shishōsetsu the observer (the author) took precedence over the observed.
What was important was the writer's sincerity. What he wrote about was
confessional and private.
It has been argued that the European nineteenth-century naturalist style
was particularly appropriate for Kita because, like fellow Japanese writers
Yaeko Nogami (1885-1985) and Otohiko Kaga (1929-), he was impatient with the
narrowly personal perspective of shishōsetsu. Kaga, for example,
rejected the solipsism of shishōsetsu because it included
'practically no criticism of contemporary issues, nor any socially
revolutionary components' (Nakamura, 2000: 143). For Kaga, the shishōsetsu
writers who focus on accounts of themselves ignore the fact that theirs is a
limited perspective, a 'conceit, based on an unjustified belief in the truth
of their perceptions and the value of generalisations drawn from narrow
experience' (Nakamura, 2000: 143).
In composing Buddenbrooks and The House of Nire as novels
written in the style of the roman-fleuve, with the Buddenbrook and
the Nire families providing the unifying focus of stories that cover a wide
tapestry of individuals and events, Mann and Kita could widen their focus of
vision. By portraying their characters against the backdrop of dramatic
historical periods in Germany and Japan, Mann and Kita could offer a
commentary on their own societies.
While Mann rarely alludes to external events in Buddenbrooks, we
can still catch the occasional glimpse of a country in the process of rapid
change. Adolphs and Schwarz (1988: 361) describe it as a time in Germany
that witnessed the 'fading away of the classical education based on the
humanities and its replacement by a technical, goal-oriented system'. It is
this new, sterile, competitive environment that the sensitive young Hanno
finds so uncongenial, a sentiment shared by Mann. Pascal (1973: 35) notes
that 'we can find in Buddenbrooks his strong preference for the
traditionalist Buddenbrooks over the "bourgeois" Hagenströms'. Too, Mann
must have been aware that the age of the paternalistic family firms such as
his father's and the fictional one portrayed in Buddenbrooks were
coming to an end; Lübeck had begun to industrialize; the 'anachronistic'
system of business observed by its old merchant houses was being replaced by
'new institutions such as stock corporations' (Adolphs and Schwarz: 1988:
356). It was appropriate that Mann celebrated the old, vanishing traditions
in the form of a 'family' novel, for the defence of the family and the
idealization of family feeling were the great themes of the age that was
Given that Buddenbrooks, which can be seen as one of the last of
the great 'old-fashioned' novels in its style and content, had been
published sixty years before, it is all the more curious that Kita should
have chosen to model his own first novel so closely upon it. Too, it is
ironic that The House of Nire, written by a Japanese in the
mid-twentieth century, is in some respects, even more representative of the
nineteenth-century European naturalist tradition than Buddenbrooks.
As we have seen, the Buddenbrook family takes center stage in Mann's novel,
with events in the wider world barely impinging upon their consciousness.
They are largely insulated from the changes and calamities of their age by
wealth and privilege, with only Lebrecht Kröger seriously affected—felled by
a heart attack caused by shock when he encounters one of the mobs of
Germany's 1848 revolutions.
The House of Nire, on the other hand, adheres more closely to the
tradition of European naturalism in portraying characters framed within the
context of social institutions and historical events, who are influenced by,
and who reflect, the background in which they are placed. One or more of
Kita's characters is depicted as being inextricably involved in all the
noteworthy events of those years. The Nires are placed in mortal danger by
earthquakes and fires. They face death during the war years from starvation,
air raids, and bombs. They are shaped and changed and, in Aiko Nire's case,
literally scarred by their experiences. If Kita fails to condemn the
militarization of society that led up to the war, it is because he is too
intent on offering shrewd psychological insights into those individuals who
ignorantly followed and obeyed rulers who led them to destruction and who
subsequently were forced to carry the full brunt of the consequences of the
There is one exception: Kiichiro Nire. It is a case of 'truth being
stranger than fiction'. There was little in Kiichiro Nire's background to
portend his future success as the owner of a prosperous and prestigious
mental clinic, just as it was improbable that Kiichiro Saito, born into a
poor, humble family in rural Yamagata prefecture, would someday qualify as a
brain surgeon and serve his country as an MP in the House of Commons as
Kiichi Saito. Kita had to sacrifice probability in fiction because he was
depicting the real-life achievements of his own grandfather.
Donald Roden (1986: 126) praises Kita for his unsentimental portrait of
Japan: 'one leaves this novel with a renewed awareness of the brutalities of
the age'. Roden compares Kita favorably to Yukio Mishima in his refusal to
indulge in 'ideological gloss or escapist fantasy'. This is particularly
true in the final section of the novel, which describes Japan in the
agonizing last months of the war. It has been conjectured that Kita's 'dour
representation' of this time may represent an ironic commentary on what he
believed were his father's 'misplaced enthusiasms;' Kita was dismayed by the
ardent nationalism the distinguished poet and brilliant doctor had developed
during the war years (Rimer: 1997: 91). Kita may have heard his own father
describe Americans as 'Hairy damn foreign swine' (p. 518) and admit to the
intoxicating happiness at Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor that he attributes
to Tetsukichi in his novel. But Kita's sensitively nuanced portrayal of
Shuji, Kiichiro's teenage grandson offers a beacon of hope in the pervasive
darkness as Shuji struggles to survive and comes to realize that a new way
of life may arise from Japan's ruins. Too, it may be that, just as Mann
depicted a vanishing world in Buddenbrooks, Kita wished to
commemorate a prewar Japan—optimistic and naive, confident and brave—that
was buried in the rubble of the second war. A new Japan would rise from the
ashes, but it would significantly differ from that which had not known the
humiliation of defeat and occupation and the dethronement of the emperor
from his semi-divine status.
In their epic tales, Mann and Kita not only offer semi-autobiographical
portraits of their families and social chronicles of their countries but
also create novels that are self-consciously 'literary,' that are works of
art. Both authors employ, for example, the 'leitmotif' or 'unifying theme'
that is a concept usually associated with music and particularly with the
operas of Wagner. Adolphs and Schwarz (1988: 360) describe Mann's fondness
for the use of the leitmotif in his writing to his admiration for that
composer. They observe a
parallel between Mann's literary leitmotiv and Wagner's…Both devices
serve a similar function: to create thematic and structural unity by
guiding the reader or listener's attention to an artificial connection
The leitmotifs they identify in Buddenbrooks include a
disquisition on happiness, with family members expected to sacrifice their
own hopes and desires for the sake of the common good. There is also the
suggestion that the covetable Meng Strasse house functions as an evil omen
rather than as a symbol of prosperity; it is a venue that seems to
contribute to the decline of families, with the downfall of the Ratenkamps
mirrored by that of the Buddenbrooks and, presumably, the same fate will
befall the Hagenströms, who move in afterwards. There is, too, the notorious
leitmotif of teeth as an indicator of mental and physical health, with bad
teeth signaling either illness or nervous collapse: in 'the first part of
the novel the reader learns that Thomas has bad teeth; later, before his
fiftieth birthday, he goes to the dentist and dies on his way home of a
complete physical breakdown, symbolized by a decayed, hollow tooth' (Adolphs
and Schwarz, 1988: 363).
Kita similarly presents his panoply of the three generations of the Nire
household in what has been described as a 'complex symphonic fashion' (Rimer,
1997: 91). At the drama's core towers the figure of Kiichiro Nire, described
as one of the great comic creations of fiction, who, even posthumously,
seems to guide or influence the actions of his descendants. Around the
central focus of the novel that this character provides there is a vast and
vivid cast of characters, related to him by blood, marriage or adoption.
These lesser figures dance to Kiichiro's tune even when the founder of the
house of Nire has been reduced to the dust of death. They provide the
harmony of the fugue against Kiichiro's dominating personality, which
strikes the major chord.
Although I have read the two books in English translation, it is possible
to glimpse in Buddenbrooks what H.B. Garland (1976: 108) identifies
as Mann's characteristic note: '[c]ool detachment, masterly disposition, and
ironic playfulness'. He is the puppet-master pulling the strings, remotely,
dispassionately observing and analyzing his characters' struggles. Kita, on
the other hand, seems to acknowledge no distance between himself and the
strange and wonderful people he describes. Their pains and pleasures are
rendered as his own.
The European naturalist novel's employment of the omniscient narrator
provides an interesting perspective on the authors who use it, who
appropriate the role of 'god' in their tales. Again, it is curious that Mann
kills off Hanno, his fictional prototype, with a sudden case of typhoid, and
it is fascinating, if probably unfruitful, to conjecture that Mann was
gripped by a reserve of self-loathing, even at the youthful age when he
penned Buddenbrooks. There is also an echo of Mann's belief, expanded
more fully in The Magic Mountain and Death in Venice, that one
must pass through sickness and death to arrive at a higher plane of sanity
and health, although poor Hanno is not allowed this metamorphosis.
Kita, on the other hand, allows his counterpart, Shuji, to live. Kita
clasps his fictional creations in a warm, life-affirming embrace. There is
no scorn for the weak or contempt for the wicked: good and evil, benevolent
and malicious characters alike are portrayed with humor and compassion. The
desperately lonely protagonist who figures in many Japanese novels is absent
from Kita's which represents, rather, a mock-epic remarkable for what David
Goodman describes as its 'endearing combination of humor and compassion'
(1984: 318) that bathes its large cast of eccentric characters in a soft,
Both Buddenbrooks and The House of Nire graphically
illustrate and confirm what Johnson memorably described in his eponymous
poem as 'the vanity of human wishes', and this might be seen as the
leitmotif that unifies the two works the most closely. Hard work and good
intentions go for naught. All nations and their citizens, all individuals
and their enterprises, are equally subject to the mysterious workings of a
fate that determines destinies with inscrutable ruthlessness. Tony
Buddenbrooks, who sacrifices true love for the family good, finds no more
happiness or self-fufillment than Seiko Nire, who abandons her family for
her lover. Thomas Buddenbrook devotes his life to the family firm and pays
for his sacrifice with premature death. Testukichi Nire juggles work on his
magnum opus, a comprehensive history of psychiatric medicine, with
his struggles to preserve the Nire legacy. Both men are doomed to see all
their efforts end in failure. The Buddenbrooks' dynasty expires with Hanno's
death, as if it had never existed, with the house on Meng Strasse sold and
the family firm dissolved. Similarly, Tetsukichi's ten years of painstaking
labor on his book fail to result in his being elected to membership in the
Japan Academy, and his bulky masterpiece sinks 'into oblivion' (p. 469). The
manuscript and the notes for a subsequent research project are completely
destroyed in a fire, Tetsukichi suffers an incapacitating stroke, and the
impressive edifice of the Nire hospital is reduced to rubble at the war's
Back to Top
1. Page references for the two
novels cited within the text of this article refer to the following two
editions: Thomas Mann, Buddenbrooks, translated by John E. Woods (New
York: Vintage International, 1994) and Morio Kita, The House of Nire,
translated by Dennis Keene (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1984).
Interestingly, the two translations are nearly the same length, with
Buddenbrooks at 731 pages, and The House of Nire slightly longer,
Back to Top
Adolphs, D.W. and Schwarz, E. (1988) 'Thomas Mann'
in Hardin, J. (ed.) German Fiction Writers, 1885-1913, Part 2: M-Z,
Dictionary of Literary Biography, 66: 340-90.
Garland, H.B. (1976) A Concise Survey of German
Literature, 2nd. ed. London: Macmillan.
Goodman, D.G. (1985) Review of The House of
Nire in World Literature Today, 59 (2): 318.
Hijiya-Kirschnereit, I. (1996) Rituals of
Self-Revelation: Shishōsetsu as Literary Genre and Socio-cultural Phenomenon
(first pub. 1981 in German), Cambridge (Mass) and London: The Council on East Asian
Studies, Harvard University.
Hinerfeld, S. (1985) Los Angeles Times, 24
Ireland, K.R. (1983) 'Epics of Decline: The Institution of the
Family in Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks and Junichiro Tanizaki's The
Makioka Sisters,' Arcadia, 18: 1-3, 39-49.
Kita, M. (1999) The House of Nire. Dennis
Keene (tr.) Tokyo: Kodansha International.
Mann, T. (1994) Buddenbrooks. John E. Woods
(tr.) New York: Vintage Books.
Mann, T. (1996) The Magic Mountain. John E. Woods
(tr.) New York: Vintage Books.
Mann, T. (1955) Tonio Kroger. H.T.
Lowe-Porter (tr.) London: Penguin Books.
Nakamura, M. (2000) 'Novelists of Integrity: Nogami Yaeko
and Kaga Otohiko,' Japanese Studies, 20 (2): 141-57.
Pascal, R. (1973) From Naturalism to
Expressionism. New York: Basic Books.
Porter, R. and Wright, D. (2003) The Confinement of
the Insane: International Perspectives 1800-1965. Cambridge: Cambridge
Rimer, J.T. (1997) ‘Kita Morio’ in Gessel, V.C., Rimer, J.T. (eds.)
Japanese Fiction Writers Since World War II, Dictionary of Literary
Biography, 182: 88-92.
Roden, D. (1986) Review of The House of Nire,
The Journal of the Association of Teachers of Japanese, 20 (1): 124-7.
Williams, C.E. (1986) ‘Not an Inn, But an Hospital.’ Bloom, H. (ed.)
Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain: Modern Critical Interpretations,
New York, Chelsea House Publishers.
Back to Top
Jones Nakanishi, an American by birth, spent seven years in Britain,
earning her MA in 18th-century English Studies at Lancaster
University and her PhD at Edinburgh
University, with a doctoral thesis on Alexander Pope's correspondence.
She has been a resident in Japan since the spring of 1984, working first for
five years as a 'Guest Professor' at Tokushima
Bunri University's Shido campus, and since then, as a full-time tenured
member of staff in the Department of Language and Culture at Shikoku
Gakuin University. She has published widely in her academic field,
mainly on the topic of letters, diaries and journals, but recently has also
been writing on the topic of her experiences as a foreigner living in Japan,
the wife of a farmer and the mother of three sons.
e-mail the author
Back to Top
Wendy Jones Nakanishi.
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