Nigorie (にごり江 Troubled Waters, Inlet of Muddy Water) is a novel written by Ichiyō Higuchi (樋口 一葉 Higuchi Ichiyō) in 1895. It dramatically depicts the life of a geisha in the Red Light District and the lives she touches.
The story heavily uses heterodiegetic narration, a style of narration where the narrator describes what the characters experience in the story. This particular narration is partially omniscient as it tells the readers everything the characters are feeling and thinking but doesn’t go too far into the future. It also seems slightly critical of the characters but uses a fairly judicious balance.
Several times throughout the story the narrator disagrees with the opinions presented about the characters.
The novel centers around the Kikunoi, a popular geisha house in the red light district of an unspecified town, and its most popular geisha, Oriki (お力). During the story Oriki’s previous relationships are learned from the point of view of her wealthy patron: Tamonosuke Yuki (結城朝之助). Although Oriki attends to Tamonosuke whenever he calls, he is more interested in learning of her previous “boyfriend” whom the other Geisha constantly tease Oriki about.
Prior to the story, Oriki was engaged in a longstanding patronage with Genshichi (源七), a futon salesman of moderate affluence who was reduced to the hard labor of a construction worker. Despite being married with a child, Genshichi spends all his money and time patronizing Oriki at the Kikunoi. Due to his heavy spending, Genshichi and his family are forced to live in a dilapidated shack at the end of a merchant alley.
The story’s end isn’t told from any of the characters’ points of view, instead jumping ahead to several passersby discussing a recent love suicide implied to be Genshichi and Oriki. The gossipers are conflicted, though, as to whether it was a true love suicide or if the woman was attacked. It’s left to the reader to determine the true circumstance of the characters’ deaths.
Risshin Shusse (立身出世) Success in Life
This was a mentality that the Japanese held during the Meiji Restoration that if one works hard enough, one would be a “success in life”. It can be compared to the “American Dream”. Higuchi takes this ideal and shows that it is not as easy to accomplish, as one would believe. Women were excluded, as the only way to reach a higher position in life for a woman at that time was to marry a man of wealth. Tamonosuke seemingly gives Oriki this opportunity to leave behind her geisha life and become his wife but whether she wants to or not is ambiguous. She encourages Tamonosuke to get ahead with his life, and almost seems disappointed with Tamonosuke’s increasing interest in her.
Shinjū (心中) Love Suicide
The love suicide was a popular theme used by the Japanese particularly in the puppet theatre, otherwise known as bunraku (文楽). The scene usually depicted two lovers separated by societal expectations or familial obligations. It was believed that when lovers committed suicide together, they would be reunited in heaven where they could love each other the way they never could on Earth.
Higuchi makes a reference to this in Nigorie as she takes the stereotype and adds a surprising twist to it. Love suicides often end with a small poetic journey, otherwise known as a michiyuki, in which the audience is given foresight as to what the characters will choose to do. The news about the supposed love suicide in Ichiyō’s Nigorie is given by gossipers on the street who aren’t sure of what really happened and who desecrate Oriki’s name.
Yamato Kotoba (大和言葉) “Japanese Words
Nigorie is written in yamato-kotoba, a style of classical Japanese writing written completely in the native hiragana[link] and purified of any Sino-Japanese words. These two traits give the writing an air of femininity, as Chinese-influenced writing was considered the domain of men; women were therefore barred from using this type of language.
Nigorie was translated into English in 1958 by Hisako Tanaka under the title Muddy Bay and again in 1981 by Robert Lyons Danly under the title Troubled Waters. It was also translated into modern Japanese in 1996 by Hiromi Ito.
A film, An Inlet of Muddy Water, was made in 1953 by Tadashi Imai and entered into the 1954 Cannes Film Festival. It won the 1953 Blue Ribbon Award and the 1953 Mainichi film.