Megan Guimon Saliba Alternative Calendars 11 January 2000 Change Is The Only Constant With life comes death, with destruction comes rebirth, and with fear often comes understanding and growth. Constant change within our environment surrounds and invades our existence–which too is ever changing, growing, digressing and evolving. Often a sad tone resounds within this acceptance of uncontrolled fluctuation. It is the sad or destructive experiences that one wishes could be controlled; and often those become more apparent then the joy and happiness that accompanies change. Throughout Tanizakis The Makioka Sisters the essence of the novel is captured using subtlety to describe the timeless cyclical changes in nature, thus revealing and enhancing the acceptance of the unavoidable impermanence that is woven into the sisters lives and experiences. Transformations within their natural world saturate and undeniably affect the lives of the characters in this novel. Throughout the novel the sisters are constantly exposed to the beauties and destruction that the cycles of nature produce, changing and affecting their lives for brief and lengthy durations.
Change in nature perpetually occurs and learning to adapt to its inconsistency is often demanded of the sisters. Tanizaki poetically uses the fluctuation of nature to delicately suggest fluctuation or transformations that occur within the characters. For example, as massive flooding consumes the Kobe-Osaka district with destruction, the Makiokas lives are consumed with upheaval; and yet, this inevitable chaos encourages realizations for Sachiko and transformations within Taeko. The most disastrous flood in the districts history, its transforming effects on the river are vividly described as, “less a river than a black, boiling sea, with the mid-summer surf at its most violent” (Tanizaki 176). Its burdens afflict the land, and all of its inhabitants, from scuttling crabs and dogs to the Makiokas, Stoltzes, and countless other families. Physically destroying homes, railroads and schools, the flood claims lives amidst clouds of dust, mud, and sand.
The rain viciously reveals its overpowering capabilities. As Sachiko searches for occupying distraction from the worry that she endures concerning Taekos safe return, she is drawn to the pictures of Taekos performance of “Snow” from the previous month. The effects of the flood and its devastating possibilities encourage Sachiko to view both these pictures, and Taeko in a revised light. Sachiko admits her luring interest to a photographic pose of Taeko which reveals a “certain delicate winsomeness and grace[in Taeko.] ..one could see from this photograph that there was in her too something of the old Japanese maiden, something quietly engaging” (189). In the midst of chaotic torment Sachiko is able to appreciate the many aspects of who Koi-san is rather than concentrate on her sisters demise.
And not without sadness, she questions whether it was only by chance that Koi-san had been captured in this light or rather that it had been an unhappy omen for the disaster that now lay lurking. For Taeko, the floods transform her spirit as fear and lack of enthusiasm take root in her heart. Her environment has instilled a previously unfelt sense of fear and respect for its reigning force. Shaken, and perhaps disenchanted with the changes around her and within her, Taeko avoids work and activity for an entire month after the torrential storm. “Taeko, usually the most active of the three, had evidently not recovered from the shock of the flood. This summer she showed little of her usual energy” (204).
As the natural destruction drains her energy it also transforms her interests in Kei-boy, killing the last of her love for him. Within both of the sisters, the inevitable changes that the floods bring, seeps deeper than the surface damage; bidding and encouraging new growth and challenge within the characters hearts and minds. Yet another encounter with a severe storm, this time a Tokyo Typhoon, reveals the destruction and terror that nature can display, disrupting lives, and harshly revealing the change in direction that the Makiokas prestigious lives have taken. The worst typhoon in over ten years, winds literally shaking the house, dirt and sand forcefully flying through vacant cracks, and walls billowing seemingly ready to burst; the family must remain calm although terror chills their bones. They eventually find safety and solace next door in a sturdier home than their own. The storm not only reinforces the necessity to accept and deal with the atrocities that nature randomly brings, it also reveals the depths to which the Makiokas have fallen with their move to Tokyo.
“To lose the Osaka house was to lose their very roots” (99). Change in prestige and economics has obviously affected the conditions of the home that they are now reduced to invest in. Dramatic changes have touched the Makiokas lives, and the storm is a reminder that even the deepest rooted traditions are susceptible to change. As the next morning brings a clear crisp autumn day, the reality that destruction can be followed with beauty and rebirth rings regardless of the previous days chaos. As the sisters partake in an enchanting hunt for fireflies at the Sugano residence, an understanding of the impermanence of time and life that surrounds them unfolds.
The hunt takes place at dusk as both the day and energies of the participants wane, emphasizing the fleeting beauty of the sisters experience. Tanizaki describes this beauty as “the delicate moment before the last light goes” (342), again delineating the brief duration of the event. The fireflies are at first invisible to their pursuers as they are darting back and forth across the river among the long grasses that line the water. This moment is described as the “impressive moment of the evening” (342), when the fading light and a sudden abundance of fireflies leave behind a multitude of tiny bright trails combining. Sachiko finds a yearning connection to be a part of their bright band of existence “cutting her own uncertain track of light” (342). After the fireflies are caught, the participants walk back to their base releasing the fireflies into the garden of the country home allowing them to disperse. The final firefly of the evening is found inside the house by Sachiko as she is getting ready to end the day; its presence draws her attention to a calligraphic scroll bearing the motto “Pavilion of Timelessness.” (343).
In this world of timelessness, cycles of joy and experience permeate the Makiokas lives and are yet in constant flux. The motto Pavilion of Timelessness truly sums up the experiences of the evening as Sachiko releases the firefly into the garden, noting that all of the others have flown, thus revealing the transience in all of their lives. The thread of impermanence is woven through the novel with the changing seasons and flourishing cherry blossoms, revealing the essence of change within nature and in turn, within the Makioka family. An excerpt from Sachikos thoughts reveal the essence of change that the event symbolizes. All these hundreds of years, from the days of the oldest poetry collection, there have been poems bout cherry blossoms.
The ancients waited for cherry blossoms, grieved when they were gone, and lamented their passing in countless poems. How very ordinary the poems had seemed to Sachiko when she read them as a girl, but now she knew, as well as one could know, that grieving over fallen cherry blossoms was more than a fad or a convention. The family..had for some years now been going to Kyoto in the spring to see the cherry blossoms. The excursions had become a fixed annual observance..the three sisters were always together. For Sachiko there was, besides pleasant sorrow for the cherry blossoms, sorrow for her sisters and the passing of their youth.
She wondered whether each excursion might be her last with Yukiko. 85 Although anticipated with enthusiasm, for the beauty and significance that they bring, the cherry blossoms reveal symbolically the passing of each year and the cycle of saddening change that inevitably occurs. “The flowers would come again but Yukiko would not. It was a saddening thought, and yet it contained almost a prayer..” (89). Each year the sisters grow older, and soon the tradition of experiencing the blossoms all together will simply be a treasured memory. Sachiko is particularly engrossed and drawn to the cherry blossoms each year as she accepts an understanding of spring. She finds a obvious connection amidst the beauty of seasonal cycles, which creates a haven of understanding for the impermanent nature of her natural world and her familial one.
Sachiko witnesses the evolving changes within the social structure of her family as she deals with the responsibilities involving her younger sisters. Feeling responsible to help marry off Yukiko, she cant escape the cherry blossom festivities without an underlying feeling of guilt. “A wedding party was just leaving .this was not the first time they had seen a bride at the Heian Shrine. Sachiko always felt a stabbing at the heart, and walked on” (89). Realizing that soon her family will again be altered, she hints at a note of sadness although the change will possibly bring a joyous communion for Yukiko. A transition will be made to a new life and journey.
It is at every passing year that the beautifully exotic cherry blossoms suggest the nearer possibility of that adjustment. Natures cycles are vast and endlessly progressing. Threading its way through the lives of the Makioka sisters, change burdens and at times terrifies them. But it is these evolving transformations within themselves, each other, and their environment that they must in turn come to accept and respect. Nature is an intricate part of Japanese life and culture, reflecting many aspects of their lifestyle and beliefs. In having central aspects of life concentrated around nature, one must learn to live with its rhythms and cycles. In an attempt to accept the changes that constantly occur around them, the Makiokas must also accept the impermanence which continues to pass within their own daily lives.
The subtle suggestions that Tanizaki incorporates into The Makioka Sisters truly reveals the deeply rooted connections concerning impermanence within the lives and experiences of the sisters and those that occur in their environment. Bibliography Works Cited Tanizaki, Junichiro. The Makioka Sisters. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.