Falling Blossom— A British officer’s enduring love for a Japanese woman.
by Peter Pagnamenta & Momoko Williams published by Century
I found a very interesting book in a second hand bookshop at the weekend. (I buy almost any book about Japan! even the ones written in Japanese I can’t read that appear in this shop from time to time)
It reminded me of the old curse “may you live in interesting times”.
It is about the love affair between an British Army Officer (Arthur Hart-Synott) from Ireland and a Japanese woman (Suzuki Masa-san) in the early days of the 20th century. It is based on his letters that were found in Japan when Masa-san’s daughter-in-law was clearing the house. A unique record I think. Unfortunately Masa-san’s side of the correspondence is lost but it is a very interesting, albeit sad, story indeed.
Hart was posted to Tokyo in 1906 to learn Japanese and fell in love with Masa-san. But due to the nature of class and racial prejudices of the day and family pressures and global turmoils they were somewhat doomed to a tragic ending.
The backdrop is the decline of the British Empire and the rise of Japan. The Boer War, The Japanese-Russian War, The War of Independence and Anglo-Irish War in Ireland and 2 World Wars. Interesting times indeed and I wouldn’t want to experience them.
Not so long ago either. It’s my Grandparents time. I have an autograph album of my great aunt’s that has drawings by army officers from 1914. I remember family photographs of relatives in uniform from that time. And some Japonisme ornaments we had. Even some of the places in the book are familiar. One street mentioned is adjacent to where I live in London.
Hart is not entirely sympathetic from his letters. I found his lack of concern for his children very selfish, but maybe it was a very different time. In the end I don’t think he treated Masa-san very well. It could be his limited Japanese didn’t allow much nuance (and I’m reading translated extracts) but he often sounds like a petulant teen.
It think it is a pity we only hear Masa-san in the reflection of Harts letters. I’t be very interesting to know what her concerns and day to day life were. And in the end I perhaps think it might be the opposite of the sub title; it seems more a Japanese Woman’s enduring love for a British Officer.
The books title is never explained but I wonder if it isn’t to do with the following phrases I found to do with falling blossom 落花 [らっか]
落花流水 [らっかりゅうすい] (n) mutual love,
落花枝に帰らず破鏡再び照らさず (exp) fallen blossom doesn’t return to the branch, what’s done is done.
It is available from Amazon.