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Kiku's Prayer: A Novel, by Endo Shusaku

Kiku's Prayer: A Novel, by Endo Shusaku

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Read the opening chapter to r Kiku's Prayer by Endo Shusaku, a novel set in the turbulent years of the transition from the shogunate to the Meiji Restoration.

Read the opening chapter to r Kiku's Prayer by Endo Shusaku, a novel set in the turbulent years of the transition from the shogunate to the Meiji Restoration.

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Published by: Columbia University Press on Feb 14, 2013
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved

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09/17/2013

 
At the outset,
I must introduce two girls who are characters in this novel.Teir names are Mitsu and Kiku. Tey are cousins only one year apart inage.Tey have no last names, having been born toward the end o the okugawaperiod into arming amilies in the Magome District o Urakami Village, whichborders Nagasaki.Consequently, the government ocials in Nagasaki and the Buddhist prel-ates at Shōtokuji emple recorded in their registries: “Mitsu, daughter o Moheio Magome District, and Kiku, daughter o Shinkichi rom same district.”Shōtokuji was the ancestral temple or this region.Were you to drive in Nagasaki toward the epicenter where the A-bomb wasdropped, on the right side o the highway you would see a temple with a signreading “Shōtokuji Preschool.” Tat area used to be known as Magome District.Tese days there is nothing to see there but a drab national highway with carsand trucks weaving in and out, but around the time Mitsu and Kiku were born,this area was right next to the ocean.
Te Shōtokuji was perched on a hill at theedge o the water.Mountains pressed up against the shore, leaving little land that could becultivated. So the armers in Magome, just like the peasants in the neigh-boring Satogō, Nakano, Motohara, and Ieno Districts, used the slopes o thehills and made their living by planting rice crops in the valleys between. Te
 Mitsu and KiKu
1. Land reclamation projects rom the 1850s onward have signicantly changed theproximity to the ocean o many Nagasaki neighborhoods.
 
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2
mitsu And kiku
population o all these villages combined could not have exceeded nine hun-dred households.Nothing remains o those days, with Magome now buried under modernhousing developments. But each time I visit Nagasaki, I always pause there andclose my eyes, imagining what it must have looked like when Mitsu and Kikuwere still alive.Mountains covered with groves o camphor and alder trees. Farmhouses dot-ting the slopes. From the tops o the hills one can look straight down into Naga-saki harbor with its new rice lands reclaimed rom the sea.Several years aer the two girls were born—in 1885, to be exact—the Frenchwriter Pierre Loti, author o the amed
 Madame Chrysanthème
, sang thepraises o the verdant trees hovering over Nagasaki harbor. It was this sameinlet, glimmering in the sun and lush with greenery, that Mitsu and Kiku saw every day.Te little community o Magome, too, was blessed with sunlight and green-ery and yet was so astonishingly quiet. Little birds chirped in the camphor trees.At midday, as those voices tapered o, somewhere a rooster crowed.Te adults all are out working in the elds, and the children are at play. Somany ways to amuse themselves. I can almost make out the small gures o Mitsu and Kiku among the children racing up and down the slopes.It was the grandmother o Mitsu and Kiku who said it: “Mitsu is a spoiledlittle girl, and Kiku is a tomboy!”Her Granny may have called her “a spoiled little girl,” but Mitsu wasn’t thesort to cling like a puppy dog to her mother or her older brother.What was unique about Mitsu’s personality is that she would accept unques-tioningly anything said by an older person. She believed everything she heardso implicitly that some people were le to wonder whether she was mentally decient.For instance, when Mitsu was ve, her older brother Ichijirō gave her somefower seeds.“Hey, see these? Tey’re morning glory seeds!” Ichijirō dropped the gray seeds—one, two, three—into Mitsu’s tiny hand. “Now, Mitsu, i you plant theseand water them every single day, some cute little sprouts’ll come up!”“OK.” With a nod, Mitsu set out running. Across the way, her cousin Kikuwas playing jump rope with some other children. Mitsu gleeully showed hermorning glory seeds to Kiku, and then with a rened gesture, like a high-classlady dropping her valuable jewels one by one into a box, she planted the gray seeds in the ground.Seated by the hearth that evening, Ichijirō, who was ten years older thanMitsu, asked her, “Mitsu, did you plant your seeds?”“Yup,” Mitsu nodded.
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