In Japan, as is often noted, there are separate words for the self you show the world and the one that you reveal behind closed doors; where we regard it as a sin to be reserved at home, the Japanese take it as much more cruel to be too forthcoming in the world. This reticence has little to do with trying to protect oneself, and everything to do with trying to protect others from one’s problems, which shouldn’t be theirs; it’s one reason Japan is so confounding to foreigners, as its people faultlessly sparkle and attend to one another in public, while often seeming passive and unconvinced of their ability to do anything decisive at home.
‘Under the sun the couple presented smiles to the world,’ Sōseki writes, in one of his most beautiful sentences here; ‘under the moon, they were lost in thought: and so they had quietly passed the years.’ At one point Oyone asks her husband, ‘How are things going for Koroku?’
‘Not well at all,’ he answers, and with that they both go to sleep.
Sōsuke had been relaxing for some time on the veranda, legs comfortably crossed on a cushion he had set down in a warm, sunny spot. After a while, however, he let drop the magazine he had been holding and lay down on his side. It was a truly fine autumn day, the sun bright, the air crisp, and the clatter of wooden clogs passing through the quiet neighborhood echoed in his ears with a heightened clarity. Tucking one arm under his head, he cast his gaze past the eaves at the expanse of clear blue sky above. Compared to the tiny space he occupied here on the veranda, this patch of sky appeared extremely vast. Thinking what a difference it made, simply to take in the sky in the rare, leisurely fashion afforded by a Sunday, he squinted directly at the blazing sun for a few moments, then, averting his eyes, rolled over to his other side and faced the shoji. Beyond its panels his wife was seated, busy with her needlework.
—the first paragraph of Nasume Sōseki’s The Gate, translated by William F. Sibley and on sale today. The Gate is a classic of the Japanese Meiji era, and it was Sōskei’s favorite of his own novels. Pico Iyer, in the introduction to this edition, writes that, “in Sōseki’s world doing nothing should never be mistaken for feeling too little or lacking a vision or doctrine.” Sam Sacks, reviewing the book in the Wall Street Journal, notes something else: “Sōseki had a genius for sensitively depicting souls in torment.”