Yin and Yang is the idea of creating balance in the universe. While one side represents good, the other represents evil and when both sides are balanced, one achieves perfect harmony. The two sides fit together perfectly, each conjoined to the other. In Gail Tsukiyama’s novel, The Samurai’s Garden, the idea of yin and yang, or the balance of things, is shown through Matsu and Kenzo and their differences. They are the polar opposites of each other not only in their physical characteristics but also in their personalities. Yet their main differences become present as Sachi, whom they both love, causes them to chose which side to take. Although extremely different, Matsu and Kenzo become best friends, and stay that way all the way up to adulthood. Yet the surprising thing is that neither turns out to be the person one expects as their true characters reveal themselves for what they really are.
Physically, Kenzo is average sized and thin. He radiates friendliness, a quality that makes him very popular as a child. However, Matsu is short but well built and strong. He doesn’t have many friends as a child because he is very reserved and quiet. Kenzo is easy to get along with because of the way he talks and presents himself while Matsu is like a wall, one that takes time and effort to really penetrate. Kenzo represents youth and all the ignorance and strong emotions that come with it and Matsu represents an older kind of wisdom and depth that Kenzo can never accomplish. Up until when Sachi begins to show signs of leprosy, Kenzo and Sachi seem perfect for each other—two halves of a whole.
Matsu is simply the best friend, the one that is shadowed by the wonderful traits of Kenzo, the lesser person who no one really remembers. His entire life is shadowed over by his best friend Kenzo, as well as his sister, Tomoko, which is revealed when Sachi admits, “I’m ashamed to say that it wasn’t until Tomoko’s tragedy and then my own, that I really began to know Matsu” (Tsukiyama 134). On the other hand, Kenzo is always in the spotlight, the piece that fits in easily with the rest. Kenzo seems like the perfect match to Sachi and they even get engaged before Sachi’s disease begins to show. Yet, when she starts to show signs of leprosy, Kenzo loses touch with her, while Matsu and Sachi only begin to get to know each other. In Sachi’s hour of need, it is Matsu who comes to rescue her and help her rebuild her life, not Kenzo.
Although at first, Kenzo’s parents are the ones that prevent him from ever visiting Sachi, when he finally gets the chance to see her, he shies away. While Stephen and Matsu talk about Kenzo’s inability to simply talk to Sachi himself, Matsu says, “It was too late… by then the prospect of seeing her again frightened him. He was ashamed of his weakness. It was easier to speak through me” (69). This shows the true cowardliness that Kenzo possesses in that he chooses to keep in his mind the Sachi that he wants to remember, rather than take in the full extent of what she is now. Even though he does love her, his anger at the fact that Sachi has visited Matsu and not him blinds him from this fact. While both love Sachi, Matsu chooses to embrace Sachi’s disease and Kenzo chooses to turn his back against it. When he finds Sachi at Matsu’s house, he realizes that Matsu has lied to him and takes his anger out not only on Matsu, but also on Sachi when he yells, “ Now I understand everything! She’s all yours Matsu, no one would want her anyway” (67}. This reveals another difference between Matsu and Kenzo. While Sachi’s scars make Matsu love her even more, to Kenzo, they make her a monster.
The entire time, Kenzo has been lying to himself and pretending that the beautiful yet shallow Sachi has not changed. But when he sees her for what she really is—no longer as beautiful on the outside, but much more beautiful on the inside—he can see nothing but a monster. To compensate for his hurt, he decided to hurt the woman he has loved his whole life. After seeing Sachi for the first time for who she really is, he cannot believe the truth and like Aaron from East of Eden he commits suicide to escape the miserable truth. Through his suicide, Kenzo reveals the fact that he really is a coward. Matsu and Kenzo both love Sachi very much and neither is a bad person. However, when faced with the challenge of accepting Sachi’s disease, Matsu proves to be the stronger, better character. He learns to appreciate Sachi for who she is while Kenzo can do nothing but resent it.
In The Samurai’s Garden, it is revealed that for Matsu and Kenzo, it is not their similarities that define them, but rather their differences. Although Kenzo seems like the one to save the day, it turns out that he is the wrong piece. To complete the picture, the piece that is needed is actually the wise and understated character of Matsu.