On a Sunday in the spring of 1952, when I had been a student at Keio University for about six months, I went to Kamakura to visit the Buddhist temple Zuisenji. Zuisenji is now a celebrated relais for Buddhist vegetarian cuisine, to which gourmets from all over Japan flock to sample the mushrooms baked and served on a hot round stone, the chestnuts cooked with red rice, the green ginkgo nuts served on a bed of hot pine needles, the seaweed tea. But in 1952 it was still remote and inaccessible, requiring a longish walk through ricefields and up into the hills behind the town. The few visitors to the place went for the lovely view, which on certain autumn days revealed the violet silhouette of Mt Fuji, and for the unusual garden, said to have been designed by the eminent fourteenth century Buddhist ecclesiastic Muso Kokushi.
On this particular Sunday however an elegant party of men and women had assembled there to celebrate the unveiling of a kuhi, an aesthetic rock engraved, in cursive characters, with a haiku by the poet Kyoshi Takahama. Amongst them was a tall thin man, with grey windswept hair, who moved with a straightbacked animation and spring. That is the famous writer Jiro Osaragi, I was told.
Already by that date he had written stories, essays, a Noh drama, a story for children called Kurama Tengu and numerous novels, including Kikyo which had won a prize and was later to be translated under the title of Homecoming. He wrote regularly for the Asahi newspaper, and in consequence his name was familiar to every Japanese. He was one of the bunjin or literary men, for whom Kamakura used to be so famous before the war.
Later in the afternoon, the priest of the temple introduced me to this celebrated figure. “How old is your father?” he asked rather abruptly. I replied that he must be about fifty-six. Just my age, Osaragi said. “If I had a daughter she would be the same age as you.” He went on to say that he had a little tea house which stood empty for six days of the week. If I would care to come and stay in it during the hot weather of the summer vacation, he and his wife would be glad to put it at my disposal.