The Samurais Garden
Matsu and Kenzo
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.
Hurdles in Life: Understanding The Samurai’s Garden
The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama is a book about a young man, Stephen, who is faced with tuberculosis changing the course of his life by taking him to a small peaceful village, Tarumi. When he first arrives at Tarumi, he meets Matsu, Sachi, and other characters from the village. His experiences at Tarumi are one of a kind, and he learns many lessons from the experiences that Sachi has gone through. At a time before Stephen, Sachi was a young, beautiful woman that was admired by everyone in the village. This was all until the leprosy outbreak in Japan. Many people all across Japan, and many parts of Tarumi were affected. Out of the many people being infected, Sachi, unfortunately, was one of the many people who caught the disease. When this happens, Sachi is faced with obstacles that she can’t overcome through her limited understanding, at the time, of these obstacles.
In the story, time after time Sachi has demonstrated power over her fears and obstacles through experiences in life, that brought her to realization. Throughout Gail Tsukiyama’s, Samurai’s Garden, the author uses Sachi’s thoughts and feelings about the Japanese idealism of honor and her experiences with leprosy, to show that the path of overcoming adversity requires time and understanding of the obstacles one faces. During her life, Sachi was a beautiful Japanese girl. She was someone who her family was proud of, and loved dearly. During the early stages of her life, Sachi had no troubles, and her life was blissful. At this time she loved and was loved back, by her family, and a young man named Kenzo. During this time Kenzo and Sachi were considered lovers. This was at the same time Sachi caught leprosy. When Sachi got the disease, her family, supposedly lost their honor, by having a daughter with the disease. According to the Japanese honor code, that her family highly respected, Sachi had to be honor bound, and commit suicide to preserve her family’s honor. When Sachi recalls,”By seventeen, I had shamed my family twice…my father wanted me to honor the family by killing myself.”(79), it is shown that Sachi had to make a choice of killing herself to preserve family’s honor. This also shows the Japanese honor code system and how strict her family implies it. After her decision, to not suicide, she was considered a disgrace to her family, and she was alone because of the code of honor.. Her family did not want anything to do with her because of who she became, and cast her away. When she is forced into suicide she explains, “I have brought great dishonor to my family by not killing myself”(109), it is shown how important the honor of her family is to her and their place in society. The Japanese code changed her relationship with Kenzo, and even her family. This is an enormous obstacle for her because this means she has no family or people who love her, because of the honor code. The overcoming in her adversities finally occurs, when Stephen tells Sachi that her honor doesn’t matter because it will never affect Matsu and Stephens love for her. This is a turning point for her, because she finally understands that her honor shouldn’t matter to the people who love, and truly care for her. While it takes her a long time to understand this, she finally understands this when she realizes what the adversity of the Japanese code is, and removing her idealism of not being honorable.
The honor of Sachi’s family is important to her, and was an adversity that took time and understanding to surpass. Another example of Sachi overcoming adversity, through time and understanding, is when she overcomes the experiences she has had with leprosy. As a result of getting leprosy, Sachi was affected for life because of what the disease is, and what it does to people. When Sachi noticed the early stages of leprosy, rashes on her arm, she hid this from everyone she loved and cared for, because of her shame towards what it did. Soon the rashes spread to other parts of her body, and they never left her body. When the disease became visible, people realized this and isolated her. In the beginning of her leprosy, Sachi knew that it would isolate her and make her a stranger in society, so, because of this, she hid it from everyone. Sachi’s leprosy affected her life in many ways, which demonstrate that the experiences that have haunted her took her time and understanding to vanquish. Not only Sachi, but many other people had gone to Yamaguchi, a village full of lepers, as a safe haven where they wouldn’t be judged and isolated for their leprosy. The adversity, that is leprosy, is a powerful obstacle that can change the visualization of life for people like Sachi. When Matsu talks about Yamaguchi, he illustrates the enormous negativity contained in leprosy, “After all, lepers from all over Japan found their way to Yamaguchi…to be accepted”(120). This excerpt shows the kind of power the disease has on people’s lives. The leprosy makes people change who they are and is an obstacle that takes Sachi, most of her adult life, to overcome.
When Sachi rethinks her decisions about living, after Kenzo’s death, when she is reminded of him that she is a monster, Matsu reminds her, “It takes more courage to live”(139). At this moment, the effect of what Matsu told Sachi, on Sachi is what creates a rippling effect on her overcoming of the challenge of leprosy. One of the biggest issues, Sachi had about leprosy, was the beauty aspect, which was once again shown when Kenzo calls Sachi a monster. The beauty aspect was something that people in Tarumi were judged on. Throughout her life, Sachi is ashamed at what the leprosy has made her look, and thus she covered herself with a scarf. During the part in the story, where Stephen visits Sachi, in private, they talk about the leprosy. When Stephen reaches over and touches her face, she is awestruck, because she thought people were scared of her, yet he touched her face. They talk for a period of time, and at the end Sachi finally feels accepted when Stephen touches her. These different events over the course of her experiences with leprosy took her time and understanding, to realize that she is amazing just the way she is. Overcoming this hurdle in her life caused a great impact in her life, by making her defeat the disease she had been struggling to defeat.
The Samurai’s Garden is an inspirational book that portrayed the ways Sachi faced the Japanese code of honor, and her experiences of leprosy, to illustrate the essence that Sachi, through time and understanding of her adversities, was able to surpass these experiences. When one gathers the courage and understanding of that hurdle, they will be able to conquer this inevitable obstacle in their life. The experiences of the brutally strict Japanese code of honor, was an enormous obstacle that Sachi had to go ahead of, because of how it bound her life and made her lose who she loved and cared for. Her past history of leprosy, affected her in an abundant number of ways. Leprosy, since the time she had obtained it, had affected her love life, her looks, and also her place in society. Her understanding of this, was finally obtained when she talked to Stephen. The different types of obstacles that Sachi had to overcome, leprosy experiences and Japanese honor code, changed her life drastically for the better.