Arrowroot is now the oldest Japanese work I have posted on, published for the first time 78 years ago. It is about the search of a man whose parents died when he was quite young for his maternal roots. The story is set in Japan in 1910 in Tokyo and Osaka. The narrator is deeply involved in The Reading Life. He sees the world through the classic dramas and epics of 15th to 17th century Japan. Everything is somehow formulized through that prism for him. When he sees something or meets someone he is reminded of a play he has seen or a poem he has read and then launches into an internal monologue linking one literary work to another then another. We learn of a number of the great works of classical Japanese literature.
The narrator is an extremely cultured man who can only marginally relate to those below his level. When he does relate to them, he sees them as minor characters in a Kabuki play. The narrator was orphaned and raised by relatives starting at a young age. He decides one day to seek out his maternal roots in Osaka. When he goes back he finds out that at about age 13 his mother was sold by her parents to a business he can identify only as being in the "pleasure quarters" of Osaka. This might mean she was sold to a tea house as a kitchen worker or was to be trained as a Geisha but most likely it means she became a prostitute at age 13. Somehow through a great stroke of good luck his mother married a wealthy man. She died only a few years after having her son, our narrator. He finds out his family were makers of fine paper, from arrowroot. He sees a girl in her late teens making paper and he tells her family he wants to marry her. She reminds him of a selfless heroine in one of his dramas.
To me the fun of this work is that it shows a man living completely The Reading Life in a literature in which I have no home but I can totally relate to the narrator nevertheless. You feel his love for reading and you know it is the most important thing in his life. Like other characters whose Reading Life I have posted on, he is both shielded from the world by his reading and allowed to experience the world more deeply by it.