The Marriage of Okiku-San
Red Book Magazine (June 1910): 254-263
By Onoto Watanna
Illustrated by Taka Spiro
Miss Kiku Taguchi was not an ordinary young lady. Her
father, a pompous, important individual, entertained a distinct
contempt for her insignificant sex. His wife was a mere nonentity, a
puppet, who vaguely repeated, parrot-like, the paradoxes voiced by her
lord. Hence, when this same lord emphatically expressed his opinion
concerning the proper education for a female -- this within twelve
hours after the birth of Okiku-san, Lady Taguchi assented, and promised
things. The result was a girl of naturally independent and original
disposition, trammeled by the contracted rules common for women in
Japan half a century before.
Kiku knew by heart the great rules
laid down by Confucius for her miserable sex. Aimlessly and dully, she
would repeat them from day to day, while her vapid-faced mother,
herself a product of the new Japan, mechanically kept time on the small
box desk by which she was wont to squat.
Okiku possessed an uncle who had been educated
abroad, and through this medium she had come to know of many attractive
things. His opinions were as emphatic as his brother's, but they were
entirely different. The emancipation of Japanese women was his pet
hobby, and so bitter was his denunciation of the old-time method of
repression and education of the weaker sex, that he and his brother met
only to argue and oftentimes politely quarrel. Okiku's uncle, however,
was a man of real power and great wealth, and while Okiku's father, who
was in modest circumstances, might despise and disagree with his
opinions, he respected the aforesaid power and also the considerable
fortune to which his own daughter would certainly succeed. The uncle
was old, had no children of his own, and would have none. A widower, he
was devoted, so he claimed, to the memory of his wife, and growled
contempt at the notion of marrying again merely in order to have a
progeny to pray for his soul after death.
To him went Okiku, fretting under the home chains,
and feeling, rather than knowing, the electrical change of thought
among her sex in Japan. She wanted an education -- a real one, as she
expressed it. To her bluff and sympathetic uncle, at least, she dared
to breathe her little hidden secret hope -- a desire to go abroad, to
enter a foreign school and college. This her uncle promised her she
should do, and the following day he paid a visit upon his brother. Once
alone with him, he went straight to the object of his call, barely
giving the more outwardly courteous one a chance to run through the
long gamut of civilities, usually the rule -- even with brothers.
"Tomi, your girl is stupid, lazy, sleepy!"
Tomi's lips became a straight line. Perfectly well
he knew that the foregoing statement was not true, but he believed in
the old-fashioned method of polite conversation, the humble admission
of the inferiority of one's self and one's family.
He said, in a tone that fiercely denied the words he
"It is miserably true. She is a stupid worm!"
"Let us put our heads together then," suggested
Gonji solemnly, "and see if we cannot devise some means to rectify her
unhappy imbecile condition."
"I listen to your enlightened words of wisdom," said
Tomi, grimly sarcastic and still fiercely polite.
"To the point then. What do you say to my niece
going abroad -- say, to America -- for a term of years?"
In spite of himself, the father of Okiku leaped up
in his seat.
"What!" he fairly shouted. "Have my daughter sent to
the country of barbarians, where civilization is only in its infancy!"
"Quiet!" urged Gonjil, pulling at a stubby little
imperial he had carefully copied from a French diplomat. "Let us talk
over the matter gently, reasonably."
"There is nothing to talk over," said Tomi,
controlling himself. "The matter is quite settled."
Gonji arose, shrugging his shoulders slightly -- a
trick also caught from the aforesaid diplomat.
"I regret you value my humble opinion so poorly."
"Not at all, brother." Tomi's voice was anxious. "I
have distinct ideas, as you know, in regard to the bringing up of
females. I believe in their suppression -- their being kept in their
proper sphere. Nothing is more offensive to me than a woman of modern
education, a creature thinking for herself like a man -- without regard
for the best rules laid down for her sex, talking, walking, acting
independently. Pah! It is nauseating to think of even. Yet these women
are the very product of this foreign education you suggest for my
stupid but worthy daughter."
Gonji was drawing on his outer coat, a heavy tweed
affair, which fitted somewhat grotesquely over his Japanese underdress.
"Well, I'm off then. Er -- by the way, did I speak to you of my
intention to adopt a son or daughter?"
His brother's face turned livid, withered. He could
"You see," went on Gonji seriously, "I am not as
young as I was, and I feel the necessity of providing myself with a
proper heir. I had looked upon Okiku in that light, but she has been a
disappointment to me. I wish to leave my estate to one who has been
raised according to some of my own ideas."
"She is only a female," said Tomi huskily, "yet
believe me, though it is her father speaking, she is an admirable
example of her despised sex. She is meek, submissive, filial, obedient
-- having all the qualities most admirable in a woman. What more could
you possibly desire?"
"Well, I believe in a higher education for a woman.
She will be at a disadvantage in society. Other members of her sex are
being cultivated, their minds improved. I should not wish to be ashamed
Tomi was silent, biting his underlip to repress his
"Let us make a truce," he finally said. "Suggest
some alternative to a foreign education for Okiku and I will readily
"Good. What do you say to a year in Tokyo? There is
an excellent school there. All the members of the faculty are graduates
of American colleges, and one of them is herself an American lady."
Tomi flipped his fan open to conceal his enraged
face. Then he closed it upon his palm, and pointed dumbly to the mats
they had vacated.
"Condescend to sit."
Gonji smiled a bit, as he again removed his coat and
reseated himself comfortably. After both had taken several whiffs from
their pipes, Tomi began again:
"Brother, there is an excellent seminary in Kyoto --
"I know all about it. Kept by an ancient dame of the
old school. No. Excuse me."
"In Kumommotta -- "
"Tokyo -- or America. There -- I have said it."
He emptied his pipe, tapping it upon the hibachi.
"Well -- well -- er -- at least you will consent to
my imposing one condition?"
"By all means -- if it is reasonable."
"Now education for a woman may be very well, if it
is immediately followed by a proper marriage. That is the only antidote
for the ill effects."
Gonji appeared to be ruminating.
"So be it then. I'll grant that. Marriage is
certainly a worthy fate -- even for a modern woman. Then it is settled."
Okiku's progress at the American school was little
short of remarkable. She became the favorite pupil of the
aforementioned American teacher, a spinster of forty sweet summers.
Here was a woman fit indeed to make all others of her sex pause and
. As fearless
and outspoken as a man -- a superior man -- she was a walking delegate
for the suffrage of her sex. Her theories and opinions she had loudly
voiced upon various small platforms in her own native land, and now in
a country where the condition of her sex appealed to every indignant
and outraged fiber within her, she fairly hurled her views at the
amazed and in truth somewhat bewildered heads of her little oriental
pupils. They watched, fascinated, her mouth shoot forth riotously its
denunciation of all the laws which hitherto they had regarded as quite
sacred and necessary for their sex. Used through centuries of
oppression to yielding to a mind (or rather body) stronger than their
own, they now readily yielded to the persuasive doctrine preached by
this "extraordinary foreign devil" teacher. She sent forth from the
school one pugnacious little disciple after another, each to establish
a new order of things in various households.
No pupil had listened to her words with such eager
ears as Okiku-san. Fresh from her life of subjection, she leaped
thirstily into the new order of thought. Her adored uncle had
previously pointed out to her the exceptional merits of the foreign
teacher, and she now shared his views in regard to the strong-minded
lady of the piercing blue eyes and high cheekbones.
Okiku was to do wonders for the women of Japan! One year in Tokyo,
indeed! She was to have a career -- a profession! She should found this
and that club for this and that purpose, with uncle's money to aid and
abet. Her suffering sex would be so benefited that her name would be
blessed in the land. Little Okiku dreamed such dreams as surely never
before bewildered the head of any other little damsel of Japan. She saw
herself an oriental Mrs. Catt2
She gave not a thought -- she would have scorned to -- to that
contemptible atom in human form known as "man," or "mere man," as the
foreign teacher expressed it. If she did think of him at all, it was to
recall with burning indignation all the wrongs of the past put upon her
sex. "But at last," said little Okiku-san, with fervor echoing the
words of Miss Simpson, "the proverbial worm is about to turn."
About this time, the year came to an end, and she
was abruptly summoned home. Tearfully she flew to her uncle's hitherto
comforting arms. He was curiously constrained. At this time, he
declared, he was occupied by a most absorbing matter. He could not
spare the time to travel to her father's home. She had better obey the
parental summons and herself plead her cause. Too bad, but really uncle
was frightfully busy.
Okiku noted through her tears, that uncle was also
frightfully attired, in a foreign suit, padded of shoulder and plaid of
To the great Miss Simpson now went Okiku and poured
out her cup of sorrows. The lady hugged her chin, wiped her glasses,
and looked very thoughtful.
"My dear, by all means go home. What I have taught
you can best be illustrated in the home. Believe me, the home is a
woman's real platform."
This remarkable statement served only further to
bewilder the heart-broken Okiku. She retired to her precious room, a
pathetic replica of some faraway Smith College room, and sobbed
with her head on the beautiful brass bed chosen by teacher for Okiku.
It had been a source of great wonder and awe to both Okiku and her
maid, but hardly of comfort, since the twain slept under, not on, the
Dolefully she packed her fine modern clothes -- the
clothes meant to be worn on that certain trip to America. Lingerie in
underwear, corsets, kid gloves, openwork stockings, skirts, and what
not. As she traveled homeward, a great lump choking her poor little
throat, she said savagely, with a mind picture of her father's face
when he should see the contents of her trunks:
"Anyhow man is inferior to woman. Certainly I shall
let all males so understand."
She had no sooner arrived home than they broached to
her the subject of matrimony. A youth had been selected -- or rather,
Okiku's father had carefully selected the boy's father as an excellent
one to be allied to. There had been some quiet negotiations between
relatives of the two families, the boy's uncle acting as a go-between.
When they told Okiku, she said nothing. She went up
to her chamber and pulled the sliding doors behind her.
"I wish I were dead!" she said. "I could not endure
to live with a man!"
Then she fell into a deep reverie, her chin pillowed
on her folded hands. Presently she got up, opened a panel of her room
and took out a lacquer box. Rummaging among its papers, she found what
she sought, and, this spread before her, she studied it thoughtfully:
"A wife may be divorced for the following reasons:"
read the script.
1. If she be disobedient to her parents-in-law.
Okiku looked thoughtful.
"Suppose they should beat me! That would be hard to
bear," she said.
2. If she be childless.
"Children will come, alas!" sighed little Okiku
3. If she be untrue.
4. If she be jealous.
"Not I," said Okiku, scornfully.
5. If she steal.
6. If she talk too much.
A dimple stole into either round cheek of little Kiku
"Well, I can talk!" said she.
A few days later she sat in a room in which were
assembled the various members of the Taguchi and Hakemoto families.
They sat in a semi-circle, drinking tea and eating. Great quantities of
sake were also consumed, and of this beverage Kiku herself was
permitted to drink for the first time. She ought to have felt quite a
personage. The assemblage was in her honor, hers and the boy's she had
not yet even condescended to look at.
The sake brightened up her eyes and cheeks. Her ears
tingled. She wanted to talk. Also she had an inclination to cry. She
wished ardently all the time that she were dead. Suddenly there flashed
into her tangled mind the comforting words of the divorce authority:
"If she talk too much!" Little Kiku's lips curled up. She astonished
the assemblage by an unexpected, eerie little laugh. Next moment she
Later she found herself sitting opposite to a
person, who by his attire and manner she recognized as a tyrannical and
odious man. She looked up and said quickly, so that she might not be
interrupted by her officious father:
"It is better you should know the truth. I talk all
Now when a pair of newly affianced people are thus
for the first time brought together, a somewhat gentle conversation is
expected to ensue. Sometimes where the twain have met before,
sentimental passages occur; but in any event it is seldom that hostile
words are spoken. Therefore, it is not to be wondered at that the
prospective bridegroom, when he heard the words of Okiku, so far forgot
himself as to leap up like a rubber ball bouncing.
Kiku saw that his face was red, that his eyes were
round, that his mouth fell agape. She inwardly described him as: "A
beast! Stupid and ugly, too!" -- which was not a fair or true
description of the boy at all.
Before an open shoji3
the Sakura Hotel, Okiku stood looking out at the scenery surrounding
the place. She appeared to be waiting or listening, for her attitude
was very alert, though she stood perfectly still, one little hand
pressed against her lips. Suddenly her brows drew together. An
expression, half frown, half smile, swept her lips and remained in her
eyes, giving them a curiously defiant, almost aggressive aspect.
Just then the doors were pushed apart and a young
man came into the room. Apparently he had been walking quickly, for his
face was very rosy and he wiped the perspiration from his brow.
Kiku turned about.
"Oh, here you are at last," said she in a
complaining voice. "Did you meet with an accident?"
Before the half-reproachful, half-puzzled expression
of his eyes her own fell down. Without answering her question, her
husband, kneeling, opened one of his packages. The wrappings were of
fragrant tissue paper, and his clumsy fingers attempted to undo them
with care. At the sharp voice of the girl, however, he stood up,
looking at the package uncertainly; then went to her and put it,
without speaking, into her hands.
But she only said:
"Most exalted lord, would the condescension be too
great for you to answer my humble and servile question?"
Carelessly tearing away the paper covering, she
revealed the single rose he had bought her -- an American Beauty, a
costly thing in Japan.
Kiku colored, turned away.
"Oh, Kiku!" said her husband, seizing her by the
sleeve. "Just turn around here. Was there ever such a sunset before4
? Why, what -- ?"
She was looking at him, and something in her face
held his tongue-tied for a moment. Then he stammered:
"How lovely you look to-night, Kiku-no!"
She smiled brilliantly.
"Oh," said she, "but I talk all the time. You'd much
better divorce me."
"Well, sit down here for the present anyhow," he
urged, pulling her down beside him. A bit timidly his arm stole out,
then settled confidently about her shoulders. She held back, but his
arm was strong and presently her head rested under his chin. Reaching
down, his lips found their way to hers. At least he knew a few of the
"I suppose," said Okiku, intent on talking, "that
that is a -- kiss?"
"Yes," said he.
Then said little Okiku, who had determined upon a
"It is good!"
They had been married exactly one day. A sentimental
uncle had managed to separate them from the too closely pressed
relations. They were enjoying a modern novelty -- a honeymoon alone
together in the mountains.
"Oh!" said Jihei, laughing loudly, "how perfectly
enchanting you appear when you blush, Okiku-no!"
"But I thought," said Kiku, pouting and drawing away
a bit, "that men despised a mere female. Men are all tyrants -- beasts.
We are merely their prey -- their playthings. I won't be a plaything!
Jihei growled fiercely.
"Whoo!" said he savagely. "We are horrible
women-eaters. Look out, mere female creature, I intend to gobble you
Whereupon he kissed her violently.
After she had extricated herself, and breathlessly
"Well but -- you have got to find out about me. I t
-- talk all -- "
"And so do I. Keep still -- just for a moment. I am
going to whisper something in your ear. Don't tell anybody, because
these are terrible words for a Japanese to say, but Oho! I'm something
of a modern myself too, you know. Now pay heed!"
He whispered into her little ear.
"Did you hear?"
She had turned actually pale.
"That is an improper word!" said she in a faint,
very frightened voice.
Jihei threw back his head. He laughed joyfully, like
a mischievous boy, rejoicing in his tricks.
"Is it? 'Love' an improper word! Oh, well, I'll
explain to you some day what I mean."
"Explain to me now."
"Oh, no, because you are way behind the times,
Okiku-san. Fancy a modern woman of Japan calling 'love' an improper
She was much offended and forced herself free,
sitting poutingly apart from him to the extent of three or four inches
Jihei promptly reduced this considerably:
"Very well, I will try to tell you then. Now the
foreigners -- the westerners, you know -- think they have a patent upon
the word. They say, to us, it has no meaning, or if one, an improper
one. But we know better, don't we, Kiku-san? It's the feeling -- the --
the -- greatest impulse in us. I adore you, reverently, ideally. That's
what I wanted to tell you, Kiku-no."
"When did you first?" she stammered breathlessly.
"At once -- at the look-at meeting. I had been
preparing for it, you see -- preparing for you. I intended to love you,
and I did. It was just as it should be."
"It was all quite wrong," she sobbed. "Such a -- a
-- marriage is -- against nature." The words of Miss Simpson came to
Jihei was silent a moment, but regarded her, smiling
"By and by we shall know," he said, softly.
The following day, seated by5
the self-same shoji where she had waited
for her husband, Okiku sat reading a letter:
MY POOR LITTLE KIKU-SAN:
By all means be firm. Bear in mind all I have taught
you. That you, my most hopeful and best beloved pupil, should be
absolutely forced into an odious union, at the very height of your
mental development, seems horrible to me. I can only strenuously urge
you not to succumb. If you do so, believe me, you will sink into that
helpless, hopeless, crushed condition so pathetically common to your
countrywomen. If you, who have been made to see the glorious
possibilities of our sex, should succumb and go back to that obsolete
position of Japanese women, slaves, not wives or true mates of their
lords -- not husbands -- then, indeed, I will say my work has failed.
Dear child, keep up a brave spirit. Though I smiled
at the thought of your pathetic ruse to obtain your freedom, I also
applaud it. By all means, if it will serve your purpose (Remember the
end justifies the means) -- Talk!
The sound of a splash was heard.
"Okiku!" called a cheery voice. "More towels, please!"
She crushed the letter in her hand, then drew
herself up stiffly.
"Call a servant, please!"
"A servant! I want my wife to wait upon me! Hi!
there, wifey! Get me a towel -- and hurry, please!"
Her answer was to clap her hands loudly. To her
summons swiftly came a serving-maid who brought the desired towels and
took them to the commanding one within.
A few moments later Jihei appeared. His shining
round face bore evidence of his recent bath. He was in excellent humor.
Pinching his wife's ear, he threw his arms carelessly about her
shoulders and drew her up against him, cheek to cheek.
"What do you think, O-Kiku-san, we've got to cut our
beautiful honeymoon in two."
She turned about uneasily.
"You see," he went on, "my mother needs us at home.
She's getting pretty old, and really, someone ought to look after her.
What a godsend you will be to her!"
Okiku's form had stiffened to a rigidity so
repelling that even the arm of the affectionate Jihei loosened. Now one
of the chief things against which Miss Simpson had preached was the
domination of the Japanese mother-in-law.
As all the world knows, a daughter-in-law in Japan
is a very inferior person in the household of her husband's mother. She
can even be divorced by that lady, in the absence of the husband. Her
chief ambition is to please and propitiate the dread lady, and to
become later herself a mother, when she will have her own household.
In what glowing terms had not Miss Simpson painted
the position of the daughter-in-law in America? There things were
reversed. At the wish of the wife, the woman who has borne the husband
may be peremptorily ejected from his house -- so said Miss Simpson. If
she remained, her position was far below that
of the wife in authority. In fact, her authority was quite nil after
the advent of the wife. She must take a "back seat," be careful of her
speech, be meek, conciliating -- often serve the wife.
"Why, what is the matter, Okiku? Did something bite
you? Let me -- "
He was quite ready to scratch her, declaring that
the mosquitoes were becoming unbearable.
Okiku pushed his hand aside.
"I want my own home!" she cried.
"Your own home! Well, but where do you think I am
taking you to, then? Certainly you are to be one of us. My little
brothers and sisters will adore you, I am sure, and as for my mother --
"You expect me to be her servant!"
"Why, no, we keep servants -- several."
"Oh, yes, I know quite all about it. A
daughter-in-law is just another servant. I won't bear it, indeed."
"O -- Kiku! You must love my mother, and wish to do
services for her."
"You mean I am to wait upon her wishes?"
"Why, certainly. That is a daughter's duty. It is
proper. She is an old woman."
"Don't touch me!" said Okiku in a suffocating voice.
"Let me pass, please," and she rushed into her room, snapping the doors
tightly behind her.
He did not follow her.
So this was what she had come to! She, who was to be
an example to all her sex -- she was to do the humble daughter-in-law's
service in the ancient way.
"Never! Never! Never!" she cried, pacing up and
down, and spasmodically clapping her little hands together.
By and by her anger passed away. She stood, as if
listening for some sound from the adjoining room. Up to the present he
had met all her rebellious outbursts with embraces, rude, but also to
the unconscious Kiku, desirable. Now all was silence. What was he
doing? Okiku hesitated a minute, then silently she stepped over to the
shoji. Moistening her finger, she made a considerable hole in the fusuma6
. To this she applied her
eye. Whatever she saw within apparently was not what she expected, for
with a little petulant sound she opened the sliding doors and went into
the other room. Nobody at all was there. She looked about her. The
frown left her face. An anxious look came into her eyes. Suddenly she
ran across the room, and opened wide the shoji onto the veranda.
It was growing dark outside. She leaned forward,
peering about her. Then she sat still, waiting, growing steadily more
uneasy and agitated. When it was quite dark, she still remained by the
opened doors, and only when a maid came to the rooms bearing lighted
, did she move
from her position. Too proud to question the servants, she could not
forbear speaking of what engaged her so utterly:
"My husband -- took letters to the village. It is
quite a walk, is it not? I trust a very good and safe road?"
"Yes, mistress. But the young master has dropped one
of his letters, I fear. I picked it up on the threshold of your room."
"Indeed. Well, give it to me."
When the servant was gone, she turned the letter
over in her hand and looked at the address. It was to his mother.
Okiku's hands began to tremble. Slowly her little finger slipped under
the flap of the envelope. It was very carelessly closed and yielded at
once to her pressure. She took the note out. A moment she hesitated,
"No -- no -- I can't do it!"
She was putting it back hastily, when her eye fell
upon these words -- they were written very clearly and in exceptionally
SHE TALKS ALL THE TIME!
Her heart suddenly ceased beating. She felt as if
about to faint. Her hand sought her throat.
Her ruse then had succeeded after all! He was
writing home to his parents. "She talks all the time!" So she was to be
Slowly, her fingers shaking, she straightened out
the crumpled letter. Her eyes widened. She stared -- a stifled sound,
half laugh, half sob, escaped her. The entire sheet was covered with
the one sentence: "She talks all the time!"
Gods! How he wished to make his case clear to his
parents! Oh -- !
She was about to tear the letter across, when a new
terror assailed her. Perhaps he had already divorced her -- left her
here alone in the mountains!
She tried to comfort herself with the thought of her
"dear teacher," to whom she would go at once; but Miss Simpson's face
became fainter with every moment, until it seemed extinguished
altogether from her mind. In its place appeared instead the round,
boyish, cheerful countenance of Jihei!
Suddenly she thought: "I have driven him away!"
There was nothing particularly handsome or
attractive about her husband's face except its natural good humor and
affectionate expression, but to the mind's eye8
of little Okiku now it appeared surrounded
with a pale, golden halo.
She flew across the room, blindly calling him by
A number of maids came running in at her summons.
"My husband?" she cried shrilly.
She appeared distraught.
Just then someone came from out the shadow on the
"Why, hello!" said he. "What is the trouble?"
"Madame was anxious," said a smiling maid. "She
feared harm had come to you on your trip to the village."
"But I have not been to the village," said be.
They withdrew discreetly, leaving the pair alone.
Okiku had picked up her sleeve, and pressing it to
her eyes, she stood in the attitude of a child crying.
"What is it, Okiku?"
He was smiling as he stood behind her.
"D-don't speak to me," she said, "I -- I know --
know you wish to divorce me, and -- "
"What made you think that?"
"I s-saw your letter to your mother."
"You did! Well! Let me see it, please."
He undid the little fingers curled about it,
smoothed it out, and read through the epistle.
"Why look, Okiku, did you notice what is written on
the flap of the envelope? Here, take your sleeve down."
She turned a little tear-stained face around, and,
as his arm closed about her, she read the writing on the envelope, as
he held it before her eyes:
"This letter is for my little foolish wife only."
She turned bodily about in his arms.
"Let me hug you now, and then we'll both forget all
A few moments later:
"And now tell me, where did you get all your curious
notions about men and marriage?"
"You see, uncle and teacher do not believe in
marriages such as we have in Japan, and they think an intellectual
woman should not marry, but have a career. I -- I -- really I did hope
to emancipate my sex in Japan."
"By divorcing me?"
"But I didn't know -- "
"That I loved you, and you see my life had been so
cramped at home I simply thought marriage would prove another cage into
which I would be shut."
"It will not be," said he fervently, "for you see we
are starting right -- with just one thing all unions ought to have --
"Miss Simpson thought that unnecessary."
"Did she? Now look here. This came a little while
It was a telegram from Tokyo. Okiku's eyes were wide
as she read:
"Married to-day at five P.M."
It was signed by both "teacher" and "uncle."
] "pause and
heed" in original.
Chapman Catt (1859-1947), suffragist and founder of the League of Women
] shoji: paper
screens or windows.
] "Was ever
such a sunset before?" in original.
seated by" in original.
sliding doors used in Japanese houses, constructed of light wooden
frames with opaque paper panels.
lantern with paper shades.