Fumio Niwa: 菩提樹 (The Buddha Tree)


The latest addition to my website is Fumio Niwa‘s 菩提樹 (The Buddha Tree). This is a long novel, set in a Buddhist temple, with a detailed description of the temple and its rituals (Niwa descended from a long line of priests and trained as a priest before abandoning the profession to become a writer). However, despite the spiritual background, it is primarily concerned with human failings. Soshu has been adopted into the Getsudo family when the current priest dies, leaving a young and still very attractive widow and an eight-year old daughter. The intention is that Soshu will marry Renko, the daughter, when she is of age. However, her mother, Mineyo, starts an affair with Soshu and, even after Renko is of age and the couple are married, the couple continue the affair. A son is born to Soshu and Renko, but the affair continues. Eventually, Renko realises what is going on and, like Niwa’s mother, leaves to marry a Kabuki actor. Meanwhile, Soshu falls for Tomoko, a widowed parishioner, who is trapped in an unpleasant relationship with the main benefactor of the temple, and ceases his relationship with Mineyo. The parishioners, unaware of the affair with Mineyo and Soshu’s feelings for Tomoko, feel that Soshu should remarry. Soshu, despite his failings, is a good man and realises his situation cannot continue as it is. Niwa gives us an excellent portrayal of the conflict between the spiritual life and human emotions and how there is no easy resolution between the two.

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