These two modern classics by the great Japanese novelist Junichiro Tanizaki, both utilize the diary form to explore the authority that love and sex have over all.
In The Key, a middle-aged professor plies his wife of thirty years with any number of stimulants, from brandy to a handsome young lover, in order to reach new heights of pleasure. Their alternating diaries record their separate adventures, but whether for themselves or each other becomes the question. Diary of a Mad Old Man records, with alternating humor and sadness, seventy-seven-year-old Utsugi’s discovery that even his stroke-ravaged body still contains a raging libido, especially in the unwitting presence of his chic, mysterious daughter-in-law.
About the Author
Junichiro Tanizaki was born in Tokya in 1886 and lived there until the earthquake of 1923, when he moved to the Kyoto-Osaka region, the scene of The Makioka Sisters. By 1930 he had gained such reknown that an edition of his complete works was published. Author of more than twelve novels, he was awarded Japan's Imperial Prize in lLiterature in 1949. Tanizaki died in 1965.
Read an Excerpt
New Year's Day
This year I intend to begin writing freely about a topic which, in the past, I have hesitated even to mention here. I have always avoided commenting on my sexual relations with Ikuko, for fear that she might surreptitiously read my diary and be offended. I dare say she knows exactly where to find it. But I have decided not to worry about that any more. Of course, her old-fashioned Kyoto upbringing has left her with a good deal of antiquated morality; indeed, she rather prides herself on it. It seems unlikely that she would dip into her husband's private writings. However, that is not altogether out of the question. If now, for the first time, my diary becomes chiefly concerned with our sexual life, will she be able to resist the temptation? By nature she is furtive, fond of secrets, constantly holding back and pretending ignorance; worst of all, she regards that as feminine modesty. Even though I have several hiding places for the key to the locked drawer where I keep this book, such a woman may well have searched out all of them. For that matter, you could easily buy a duplicate of the key.
I have just said I've decided not to worry, but perhaps I really stopped worrying long ago. Secretly, I may have accepted, even hoped, that she was reading it. Then why do I lock the drawer and hide the key? Possibly to satisfy her weakness for spying. Besides, if I leave it where she is likely to see it, she may think: "This was written for my benefit," and not be willing to trust what I say. She may even think: "His real diary is somewhere else."
Ikuko, my beloved wife! I don't know whether or not you will read this. There is no use asking, since you would surely say that you don't do such things. But if you should, please believe that this is no fabrication, that every word of it is sincere. I won't insist any further-that would seem all the more suspicious. The diary itself will bear witness to its own truth.
Naturally I won't confine myself to things she would like to hear. I must not avoid matters that she will find unpleasant, even painful. The reason why I have felt obliged to write about these things is her extreme reticence-her "refinement," her "femininity," the so-called modesty that makes her ashamed to discuss anything of an intimate nature with me, or to listen on the rare occasions when I try to tell a risqué story. Even now, after more than twenty years of marriage, with a daughter herself old enough to marry, she refuses to do more than perform the act in silence. Never to whisper a few soft, loving words as we lie in each other's arms-is that a real marriage? I am writing out of frustration at never having a chance to talk to her about our sexual problems. From now on, whether she reads this or not, I shall assume that she does, and that I am talking to her indirectly.
Above all, I want to say that I love her. I have said this often enough before, and it is true, as I think she realizes. Only, my physical stamina is no match for hers. This year I will be fifty-five (she must be forty-four), not a particularly decrepit age, yet somehow I find myself easily fatigued by love-making. Once a week-once in ten days-is about right for me. Being outspoken on a subject like this is what she most dislikes; but the fact is, in spite of her weak heart and rather frail health she is abnormally vigorous in bed.
This is the one thing that is too much for me, that has me quite at a loss. I know that I am inadequate as a husband, and yet-suppose she became involved with another man. (She will be shocked at the very suggestion, and accuse me of calling her immoral. But I am only saying "suppose.") That would be more than I could bear. It makes me jealous even to imagine such a thing. But really, out of consideration for her own health, shouldn't she make some attempt to curb her excessive appetites?
What bothers me most is that my energy is steadily declining. Lately, sexual intercourse leaves me exhausted. All the rest of the day I am too worn out to think. . . . Still, if I were asked whether I dislike it, I would have to say no, quite the opposite. My response to her is by no means reluctant; I never have to whip up my desire out of a sense of duty. For better or worse, I am passionately in love with her. And here I must make a disclosure that she will find abhorrent. I must tell her that she possesses a certain natural gift, of which she is completely unaware. Had I lacked experience with many other women I might have failed to recognize it. But I have been accustomed to such pleasure since my youth, and I know that her physical endowment for it is equaled by very few women. If she had been sold to one of those elegant brothels in the old Shimabara quarter, she would have been a sensation, a great celebrity; all the rakes in town would have clustered around her. (Perhaps I shouldn't mention this. At the very least, it may put me at a disadvantage. But will knowing about it please her, or make her feel ashamed, or perhaps insulted? Isn't she likely to feign anger, while secretly feeling proud?) The mere thought of that gift of hers arouses my jealousy. If by any chance another man knew of it, and knew that I am an unworthy partner, what would happen?
Thoughts of that kind disturb me, increase my sense of guilt toward her, till the feeling of self-reproach becomes intolerable. Then I do all I can to be more ardent. I ask her to kiss my eyelids, for example, since I am peculiarly sensitive to stimulation there. For my part, I do anything she seems to like-kiss her under the arms, or whatever-in order to stimulate her, and thus excite myself even more. But she doesn't respond. She stubbornly resists these "unnatural games," as if they had no place in conventional love-making. Although I try to explain that there is nothing wrong with this sort of foreplay, she clings to her "feminine modesty" and refuses to yield.
Moreover, she knows that I am something of a foot-fetishist, and that I admire her extraordinarily shapely feet-one can hardly think of them as belonging to a middle-aged woman. Still-or therefore-she seldom lets me see them. Even in the heat of summer she won't leave them bare. If I want to kiss her instep, she says "How filthy!" or "You shouldn't touch a place like that!" All in all, I find it harder then ever to deal with her.
To start off the New Year by recording my grievances seems rather petty of me, but I think it is best to put these things in writing. Tomorrow will be the "First Auspicious Night." Doubtless she will want us to be orthodox, to follow the time-honored custom. She will insist on a solemn observance of the annual rite.
Today an odd thing happened. I've been neglecting my husband's study lately, and went to clean it this afternoon while he was out for a walk. And there on the floor, just in front of the bookshelf where I'd put a vase of daffodils, lay the key. Maybe it was only an accident. Yet I can't believe he dropped it out of sheer carelessness. That would be very unlike him. In all his years of keeping a diary he's never done anything of the kind.
Of course I've known about his diary for a long time. He locks it in the drawer of the writing table and hides the key somewhere among the books or under the carpet. But that's all I know, I don't care to know any more than that. I'd never dream of touching it. What hurts me, though, is that he's so suspicious. Apparently he doesn't feel safe unless he takes the trouble to lock it away and hide the key.
But then, why should he have dropped the key in a place like that? Has he changed his mind and decided he wants me to read it? Perhaps he realizes I'd refuse if he asked me to, so he's telling me: "You can read it in private-here's the key." Does that mean he thinks I haven't found it? No, isn't he saying, rather: "From now on I acknowledge that you're reading it, but I'll keep on pretending you're not"?
Well, never mind. Whatever he thinks, I shall never read it. I haven't the faintest desire to penetrate his psychology, beyond the limits I've set for myself. I don't like to let others know what is in my own mind, and I don't care to pry into theirs. Besides, if he wants to show it to me I can hardly believe what it says. I don't suppose reading it would be entirely pleasant for me, either.
My husband may write and think what he pleases, and I'll do the same. This year I'm beginning a diary of my own. Someone like me, someone who doesn't open her heart to others, needs to talk to herself, at least. But I won't make the mistake of letting him suspect what I'm up to. I've decided to wait until he goes out before I write, and to hide the book in a certain place that he'll never think of. In fact, one reason why keeping a diary appeals to me is that although I know exactly where to find his, he won't even realize I have one. That gives me a delicious sense of superiority.
Night before last we observed the old New Year's custom-but how shameful to put such a thing in writing! "Be true to your conscience," my father used to say. How he would grieve at the way I've been corrupted, if he only knew! . . . As usual, my husband seemed to have reached an ecstatic climax; as usual, I was left unsatisfied. I felt miserable afterward. He's always apologizing for his inadequacy, yet attacks me for being cold. What he means by cold is that, to put it his way, I'm far too "conventional," too "inhibited"-in short, too dull. At the same time, I'm "splendidly oversexed," he says, quite abnormally so; it's the one thing I'm not passive and reserved about. But he complains that for twenty years I've never been willing to deviate from the same method, the same position. And yet my unspoken advances never escape him; he's sensitive to the slightest hint, and knows immediately what I want. Maybe it's because he's afraid of my too-frequent demands.
He thinks I'm matter-of-fact and unromantic. "You don't love me half as much as I love you," he says. "You consider me a necessity, a defective one at that. If you really love me you ought to be more passionate. You ought to agree to anything I ask." According to him, it's partly my fault that he's not able to satisfy me fully. If I'd try to stir him up a bit he wouldn't be so inadequate. He says I won't make the slightest effort to co-operate with him-as hungry as I am, all I do is sit back calmly and wait to be served. He calls me a cold-blooded, spiteful female.
I suppose it's not unreasonable of him to think of me in that way. But my parents brought me up to believe that a woman ought to be quiet and demure, certainly never aggressive toward a man. It's not that I lack passion; in a woman of my temperament the passion lies deep within, too deep to erupt. The instant I try to force it out, it begins to fade. My husband can't seem to understand that mine is a pale, secret flame, not one that flares up brilliantly.
I've begun to think our marriage was a dreadful mistake. There must have been a better partner for me, and for him too; we simply can't agree in our sexual tastes. I married him because my parents wanted me to, and for all these years I've thought marriage was supposed to be like this. But now I have the feeling that I accepted a man who is utterly wrong for me. Of course I have to put up with him, since he's my lawful husband. Sometimes, though, the very sight of him makes me queasy. Yes, and that feeling isn't new. I had it the first night of our marriage, that long-ago honeymoon night when I first went to bed with him. I still remember how I winced when I saw his face after he'd taken off those thick-lensed glasses of his. People who wear glasses always look a little strange without them, but my husband's face seemed suddenly ashen, like a dead man's. Then he leaned down close, and I felt his eyes boring into me. I couldn't help staring back, blinking, and the moment I saw that smooth, slippery, waxy skin I winced again. Though I hadn't noticed it in the daytime, I could see a faint growth of beard under his nose and around his lips-he's inclined to be hairy-and that too made me feel vaguely ill.
Maybe it was because I'd never seen a man's face at such close range before, but even now I can't look at him that way for long without feeling the same revulsion. I turn off the bed lamp to avoid seeing him, but that's precisely when he wants it on. And then he wants to pore over my body, as minutely as possible. (I try to refuse him, but he's so persistent about my feet, in particular, that I have to let him look at them.) I've never been intimate with another man-I wonder if they all have such disgusting habits. Are those gross, sticky, nasty caresses what you have to expect from all men?
Today Kimura paid us a New Year's call. I had just started reading Faulkner's Sanctuary, and went back up to my study as soon as we had exchanged our greetings. He talked with my wife and Toshiko in the sitting room for a while, then, around three o'clock, took them out to the movies. He came back with them at six, stayed for dinner, and left after chatting till about nine.
At mealtime everyone except Toshiko had some brandy. Ikuko seems to be drinking a little more these days. I'm the one who initiated her, but from the first she has had a taste for it. If you urge her, she will drink a fair amount. It's true that she feels the effects of it, but in a sly, secret way, not letting it show. She suppresses her reaction so well that people often don't realize how much she's had. Tonight Kimura gave her several sherry glasses full. She turned a little pale, but didn't seem intoxicated. It was Kimura and I who became flushed. He doesn't hold his liquor very well-not as well as Ikuko, in fact. But wasn't tonight the first time she let another man persuade her to have a drink? He had offered one to Toshiko, who refused and said: "Give it to Mama."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Two novellas by Tanizaki using the diary form. I found The Key a bit annoying since the husband and wife echo each other so much in their diary entries--Tanizaki missed a good opportunity to differentiate the characters and make them more dynamic. That being said, the story is interesting and fast moving. Diary of an Old Man is much better and might be read with Kawabata's Sound of the Mountain, which is more subtle but which addresses many of the same themes.