Jun’ichiro Tanizaki: 春琴抄 (The Story of Shunkin; later: A Portrait of Shunkin)


The latest addition to my website is Jun’ichiro Tanizaki‘s 春琴抄 (The Story of Shunkin; later: A Portrait of Shunkin). This is another novella from Tanizaki about delving into the past and about sex, though the sex is decidedly lower key than the last two Tanizaki novellas I reviewed. This tells the story of Shunkin, born into a prosperous family selling pharmaceuticals. She is beautiful, intelligent and graceful. She starts dancing when young and soon shows a lot of promise. However, tragedy strikes and, when she is eight, she goes blind. She takes up music, playing the koto and samisen. She soon shows that she is considerably talented. Initially, she is taken to her lessons by a maidservant but then she asks for Sasuke, an apprentice in her father’s shop, to take her. Soon, he is not only taking her every day to her lessons but also acting as her servant. Hearing her playing tempts him to learn and he saves up and buys a cheap samisen and practises at night. When he is discovered, he is forbidden from practising but Shunkin, her sisters and mother ask him to play. They are so impressed that it is decided that he can continue and that Shunkin will given him lessons. This continues for some time, with Shunkin proving a hard teacher but Susake clearly has talent. When they are in their late teens, it is suggested that they marry. Shunkin firmly rejects the idea, thinking of him only as a servant. However, when Shunkin becomes pregnant a year later, her parents naturally suspect Susake. Both deny it but Susake eventually admits that he is the father, only to withdraw his confession. The child is put out for adoption. The couple remain together, with Shunkin working as a teacher and continuing to treat Sasuke as a servant, though she has three more children. She is later attacked, possibly by a pupil whom she had criticised, and, soon after, Susake goes blind, though the causes are ambiguous. It is a fine story of a relationship whose basis is as a teacher/pupil, mistress/servant and lovers, all strangely working together.

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