Contemporary Japanese Writers

Nobuko Takagi*

Nobuko Takagi* 高樹のぶ子

Nobuko Takagi ( (1946–)  ) began her career as a novelist in 1984 when she won the Akutagawa Prize for her vivid portrayal of two vulnerable high school girls and their wavering emotions in Hikari idaku tomo yo (To a Friend Embracing the Light). She is now considered a master of love stories.

The protagonist of the novel Mamiko is a 38-year-old painter, Mamiko, whose work exclusively concerns water. Nonfiction writer Shigeharu Sakamoto, a husband and father, falls in love with Mamiko at first sight, and soon they become physically involved. Mamiko has him wrapped around her little finger.

The two go on a trip to Gujō Hachiman, a historic city in the center of Honshū, Japan's main island. Their relationship grows increasingly intimate as they watch the water fireworks at the Sōgi Suijin Festival, a summer event in which conical fireworks are shot into a spring, resulting in underwater bursts of mysterious light. To answer the question of why Mamiko paints only water, Sakamoto begins investigating her past and discovers that her home is one of many that are soon to be destroyed to make way for a dam. Her family had been forced to move as a result. After the two meet one day in the snow, Mamiko does not appear ever again. Her disappearance coincides with the day the Hiyoshi dam becomes operational. The story ends with a bird's-eye view revealing the letter "M" at the bottom of the dam.

Hyakunen no yogen (A Prophecy of One Hundred Years), another heavy love story, takes place in Kanazawa Prefecture, Vienna, and Bucharest. Sō Magaki, a diplomat based in Vienna, and Mitsuko Sōma, a passionate violinist, buy an old handwritten musical score from a young man who has defected from Romania. The piece was written by the renowned patriotic composer Ciprian Porumbescu and is entitled "To the Beloved Sheep a Hundred Years From Now."
The music has a strange melody that cannot be easily played. Taken by it, Magaki becomes impotent in the midst of his lovemaking with Mitsuko. There seems to be some connection between Porumbescu’s "Balada" and this piece that is still unknown to the world. Upon further investigation, Magaki discovers that the music is in fact code; what emerges from it is part of "Miorita," an old Romanian ballad said to be the soul of the Romanian people. Meanwhile, in a shortwave broadcast on Radio Free Europe, a dealer in period instruments named Barbaresque has been playing music encoded with messages urging the Romanian people to overthrow the Ceausescu regime. The score now in Magaki's hands holds the key to that code.
Immediately after the fall of Ceausescu, Magaki and Barbaresque, who came to know each other when Barbaresque approached Magaki for help in overthrowing the regime, are assaulted in the street. Magaki dies instantly. Mitsuko is unable to understand the circumstances surrounding his death, but two years later she puts on a bright red dress and performs "Balada" on stage, just as she had promised him.

The novel Hyōen (Ice Fire) is a tragic love story set in Kyoto. Forty-eight-year-old Kōsuke Matsudo, a college professor, has two children?a daughter, Kazuko, and a son, Kōji?with his wife, Masako. Forty-three-year-old Himiko Satō, who fills a vacancy at the research lab where Kazuko works, is also married and has a daughter, Sawa. Kōsuke and Himiko used to be lovers, but it has been 20 years since they last saw each other. Their daughters, who in time become friends, get into a car accident. Sawa's life takes a downward turn: she loses one of her eyes as a result of the accident and becomes tormented over a romantic relationship with the driver of the other car involved. The situation brings Kōsuke and Himiko closer together. They reaffirm their love for each other and frantically indulge their desires. Masako and Kazuko then decide to start a new life in Tokyo, and Sawa commits suicide.
One day, when Kōsuke is to meet with Himiko, he sits waiting at a Japanese restaurant. As a camellia petal falls, he has the feeling that he will soon hear that Himiko, too, has killed herself.


* Hyōen (Kodansha, 1993, 259 pages)
* Hyakunen no yogen (Asahi Shimbun Publications, 2000, two volumes, total of 566 pages)
* Mamiko (Kodansha, 2001, two volumes, total of 609 pages)