Shizuko's Daughter

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Shizuko's Daughter
Kyoko Mori

Author Biography
Plot Summary
Historical Context
Critical Overview
Further Reading


The plot of Kyoko Mori's first novel, Shizuko's Daughter, published in New York in 1993, follows a story line very similar to the author's own life. The female protagonist of the story experiences very difficult and often traumatic experiences as she is growing up, such as the suicidal death of her mother and the harsh treatment she receives from her father and stepmother. The novel explores the challenging reality of a young, pubescent girl who is living in Japan and who rebels against the strict discipline imposed upon her by her father and the Japanese culture. For many reasons, she is often alone throughout the story. One cause of her loneliness is that she does not relate to others who accept their status in life without questioning it.

The idea of the novel began as a short story that Mori wrote during the summer while she was in graduate school. In an article titled "Staying True to the Story," for The Writer, Mori states that this short story was "the first story in which I was able to write about what I knew but didn't understand." She explains that at first she used to write about things that she understood "all too well." This, however, bored her. "There was no mystery in it for me, let alone for my readers," she writes. So she began by thinking about her grandmother's life, about her relationship with her grandmother, about what her mother's life might have been like, and finally about what her own life would have been like if she'd done things just a little differently. It was from these considerations that Shizuko's Daughter was born.

Stating her philosophy about writing in "Staying True to the Story," Mori comments, "each character comes to us already half-formed, in the midst of his or her conflict. Our job as writers is to define and develop that conflict, to follow and ponder the story that unfolds." This philosophy is very clearly followed in this, her first novel.

Author Biography

Kyoko Mori was born in Kobe, Japan, in 1957. When she was twelve years old, much like the young girl in Shizuko's Daughter, Mori's mother, Takako, committed suicide. Also like her fictional female character, Mori's childhood was traumatized by the harsh and sometimes physical disciplines that her father, Hiroshi, imposed on her, as well as by the unloving attitude of her stepmother, Michiko. There were, in other words, many similarities between Mori's childhood and the story of the young girl in Mori's novel.

Shortly before her death, Mori's mother decided that sending her daughter to the traditional Japanese public high school with its rigorous examination process would drain her daughter of her creative energies. So she helped Mori apply to Kobe Jogakum, a school in Japan that had been founded by two American women in 1890, and that focused its curriculum on the arts and language. When Mori graduated, she taught English for a while. Then, at the age of nineteen, in 1976, she moved to the United States, by herself, to attend Rockford College, a liberal arts college in Illinois. In 1979, Mori earned her bachelor's degree there.

During graduate school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Mori met her future husband. She eventually earned a doctorate in creative writing and found a teaching job in Green Bay, Wisconsin, at St. Norbert College, where she taught writing. The couple stayed together through most of their twenties and into their thirties, but then, as Mori states in her memoir, Polite Lies: On Being a Woman Caught Between Cultures (1997), "I decided to be divorced because I began to sit alone in the kitchen late at night, as sad and silent as my mother had been." Despite the divorce, Mori writes that she had a good relationship with her husband. She states in her book The Dream of Water (1995), her first memoir, that her husband completely understood her chosen path of writer, in which her work shaped her life. "I think of myself primarily as a writer, not as a wife," she writes. And her husband accepted this, but there still remained inside of her something that made her unhappy about her marriage. Unhappiness is a theme that drives much of her writing. She strives to unravel the causes of this sadness by working through them creatively in her novels and memoirs.

After her divorce, Mori eventually moved away from Green Bay, having found a job at Harvard University. Currently, she is a Briggs-Copeland lecturer at Harvard, where she teaches creative writing. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Mori's other publications include Fallout Poems (1994), another young adult novel called One Bird (1995), and her novel Stone Field, True Arrow (2000).

Plot Summary

Chapter 1: Housebound

The first chapter of Mori's Shizuko's Daughter begins with Shizuko, the protagonist's mother, dreaming about the small village in which she grew up. The phone awakens her. It is her daughter, Yuki, who tells her mother that her piano teacher will be late for Yuki's lesson, thus causing Yuki to return home later than anticipated. Shizuko assures Yuki that this will not cause any difficulties. Although the tone of her mother's voice concerns Yuki, she decides to wait for Miss Uozumi rather than forego the lesson.

Meanwhile, Shizuko begins her process of readying herself for her suicide. She sits down and writes two notes. She asks for her husband's forgiveness, blaming only herself for the unhappiness that has led her to this act. In her note to Yuki, she writes that Yuki must always remember that she loves her. Then she adds, "When you grow up to be a strong woman, you will know that this was for the best."

She goes to the kitchen, closes the door, and lays the two notes on the table. After turning on the gas on the stove, she sits down on the floor. She thinks about a comment that she wrote in the note to her husband: "I am almost happy at this last hour," she had written. Then she had added, "and I wish you to be." When she thinks over this last sentiment, she changes her mind about it and reaches up to the table, finds the note to her husband, and tears it into very small pieces.

Chapter 2: The Wake

Yuki and her aunt Aya are packing all of Shizuko's clothes and jewelry. Aya comments, "Nobody would think you were only twelve," making reference to Yuki's composed reactions to her mother's death. Already, Yuki is tired of such remarks. Yuki reflects on how she came home from her lesson the day before to find her mother on the kitchen floor. Looking back, she wonders if her mother was still alive when she first found her. She tries to remember whether her mother was breathing. When Yuki telephoned her father, he told her not to call an ambulance because it would cause too much commotion in the neighborhood.

Yuki goes downstairs to the living room, and when her aunt sees her, she suggests that the dress that Yuki is wearing is of an inappropriate color. Aya takes Yuki upstairs to find a dress in a darker or more muted tone. The only appropriate dress that Aya finds is an old choir uniform. Yuki's mother had made all of Yuki's other clothes, using brightly patterned materials. When her aunt leaves the room, Yuki begins to put on the choir outfit. As she does this, she hears voices wailing downstairs. She drops the dress to the floor and goes into her clothes closet with all the vivid colors, sits down on the floor, and shuts the door.

Chapter 3: Tiptoes

One year later, Yuki is sent up to a hotel dressing room where her father's future bride is preparing herself for her wedding. Yuki's future stepmother, Hanae, states that there should be no hard feelings between her and Yuki. She says, "You'll probably hear people say all kinds of bad things about me because I was married to your father so soon after your mother's tragic death." She then suggests that Yuki shouldn't believe any gossip concerning a supposed affair that she and Yuki's father had been carrying on.

Yuki is very uncomfortable in the room and tells Hanae that the smell of makeup is making her sick. Then she runs out of the room. Yuki finds her Aunt Aya and begs her to repeat the story about how her grandmother had arranged a wedding for Yuki's mother and how Yuki's mother had refused to take part in an arranged marriage. Her aunt repeats the details of how Shizuko had moved to Kobe to find a job. That was how she'd met Yuki's father.

Later, during the wedding ceremony, as a ceramic bowl of sake is passed around the room, Yuki purposefully drops it when it is given to her. The breakage, in Yuki's mind, mimics the earlier breaking of a rice bowl at her mother's funeral, an act performed so her mother's ghost would not haunt the house. Yuki breaks the sake bowl so her father will not forget her mother.

Chapter 4: Irises

Yuki, who had been living with her Aunt Aya until her father's marriage, experiences another dramatic turn in her life. She moves in with her father and stepmother, but they close themselves off to her. She goes into the kitchen and notices that all her mother's ceramic pieces are gone, except for one tea service. She remembers her mother taking her to street fairs to watch potters create their wares. The recent move into her father's house reminds Yuki of another transition, when she and her mother had packed up all the household goods to move to a new house closer to the mountains. She compares the warm feelings that she and her mother shared in that move to the coldness that she feels now in this house, now that her father's new bride has moved in.

Yuki looks out at the garden and remembers how her mother had dug up many of the plants from the old residential yard and replanted them here in the home where Yuki now lives with her stepmother. Although her stepmother has changed many things, she has not yet converted the garden.

Chapter 5: Pink Trumpets

Yuki runs track for her school team. She is one of the star athletes. Neither her father nor her stepmother ever attends Yuki's events, and she is painfully aware that the other students and their parents feel sorry for her.

While waiting for her event, Yuki watches Sachiko Murai, a record-breaking hurdler. Yuki wants to meet the young girl and is glad when Sachiko easily wins her race. After Yuki's event, she and Sachiko bump into one another and plan to meet later.

Chapter 6: Sundays

Sachiko and Yuki meet on Sundays until the end of summer, when Sachiko confesses that she is no longer going to be running cross-country. Yuki wants to maintain the friendship but suspects that Sachiko's mother no longer wants Sachiko to be Yuki's friend.

Chapter 7: Yellow Mittens and Early Violets

Yuki is allowed to visit her grandparents on the third anniversary of her mother's death, but she is uncomfortable there. Just before she leaves, her grandfather collapses, which startles Yuki, and she finally opens up emotionally to her grandmother.

Chapter 8: Grievances

Hanae (Yuki's stepmother) is cleaning the house and thinking about how dirty Yuki is. She decides to get rid of all Yuki's old clothes and is descending the stairs when Yuki comes home and confronts her. Hanae pushes Yuki back, and Yuki falls down several steps, hurting her ankle. A few minutes later, Hanae accuses Yuki of trying to hurt her. When Yuki goes to her room, Hanae takes the clothes outside so the garbagemen can collect them. She then walks into the kitchen, takes down Yuki's mother's ceramic tea set, and smashes it.

Chapter 9: Homemaking

Yuki is in a homemaking class at school. She does not get along well with her teacher, so when the teacher needs a volunteer to go out into the woods to gather some colorful items for the table arrangement, Yuki asks to go, but the teacher tries to deny her. Eventually, Yuki's classmates convince the teacher that Yuki is the best choice since she is so artistic.

Chapter 10: The Golden Carp

Yuki's aunt Aya is getting married to an old friend of Yuki's mother, Mr. Kimura. Yuki remembers the first time she met Mr. Kimura, who apparently had a crush on Yuki's mother at one time. Her mother might have considered leaving Yuki's father for Mr. Kimura but knew if she left, she would have lost Yuki. Later, after Yuki's mother's death, Mr. Kimura comes by to offer his condolences. It is then that he meets Yuki's aunt. After that, Aya credits Yuki for introducing them to one another.

Chapter 11: Winter Sky

Chapter 11 covers the wedding ceremony of Aya and Mr. Kimura. At dinner, Yuki tells her mother's family that she has decided to go to a college that focuses on the arts. Mr. Kimura assures her that he is certain she could gain entrance into the more prestigious national university, but Yuki says, "That isn't for me. My teachers agreed. I wouldn't fit in at a national university. I don't want to fit in." She then further explains that she also wants to go to this particular school because it is located a great distance away from her father and stepmother.

Yuki becomes angry and walks outside. She is confused about all of her emotions. Mr. Kimura joins her, and they discuss relationships. Mr. Kimura has been divorced. Yuki's Aunt Aya is widowed. Yuki asks if it is worth falling in love. Mr. Kimura's comment is that "it may not turn out right" but, in some ways, that "means more because the odds are against us."

Chapter 12: Gladioli

Yuki is at home and sneaks up into the attic in the middle of the night to look through all the boxes to chose something special to take with her to school. She senses that she may never return home. She is about to leave Kobe for college. In the end, she decides that none of the items in the boxes are better than the memories she already carries with her. So she leaves everything behind.

Chapter 13: Silent Spring

Yuki's father comes home one night to find all the boxes that had been in the attic now piled up on the front porch. Hanae asks Yuki's father to burn them all. Hideki takes the boxes to the back yard and must open them up and take out the items a handful at a time to get them to burn. The boxes are filled with Yuki's and Shizuko's clothing, as well as mementos that Shizuko had saved over the years. In the process of going through the boxes, Hideki runs across his dead wife's sketchbook. He looks through it and decides to keep it.

Chapter 14: After the Rain

Chapter 14 takes place at Yuki's grandmother's place. Masa thinks about Yuki's recent visits from her break at college. She has asked Yuki to live with her. While Masa is working in the garden, Takeo, Yuki's grandfather, suffers what appears to be a heart attack and dies.

Chapter 15: The Effects of Light

Isamu is a photographer and a new school friend of Yuki's. Yuki thinks about whether she wants to become involved with Isamu. When she returns from work, she finds two things waiting for her: a note saying that Isamu has called and her mother's sketchbook, which her father has mailed to her. Yuki, after looking through the sketches, decides that her mother must want her to move beyond her unhappiness. So she calls Isamu, thus signifying that she is ready to become emotionally involved with him.

Chapter 16: Epilogue

Almost a year later, Masa is at home, babysitting her grandson, Tadashi, who keeps himself entertained by cutting off the heads of flowers and trapping small tree frogs in a jar. Masa is tired of death, and when the young child takes a nap, she frees the tiny frogs. When the boy wakes up, Masa finds him playing at the old wooden slide that her husband had made when her children were small.


Aunt Aya

Aya is Yuki's aunt and Yuki's mother's sister. It is Aya who comes to Yuki's aid as soon as she hears about Yuki's mother's suicide. She helps Yuki prepare herself for the changes that are about to come upon her. It is also Aya who takes Yuki and raises her during the year between Yuki's mother's death and her father's remarriage. Aya becomes a cross between a big sister and a mother figure for Yuki. Aya ends up marrying a former friend of Yuki's mother.

Mr. Kimura

Mr. Kimura is an old schoolmate of Yuki's mother, Shizuko. He appears in a flashback when Yuki recalls seeing her mother express happiness in his presence. At one point in Shizuko's life, it is insinuated, Shizuko may have considered divorcing her husband for Mr. Kimura. However, according to Japanese tradition, Yuki's father could have contested, thus prohibiting Shizuko custody of Yuki had Shizuko gone through with the divorce.

Mr. Kimura appears later in the story when he comes to the house to offer his condolences to Yuki upon her mother's death. It is at that time that he meets Aya, Yuki's aunt. The two form a relationship and eventually announce their plans to marry.

Yuki is allowed to attend the wedding, and it is Mr. Kimura who comes to Yuki after she becomes angry at the wedding dinner table. Mr. Kimura is a sensitive man, and he is able to talk intelligently to Yuki. He confesses to Yuki that he too once thought that sharing love with someone else might not be worth all the pain and confusion. However, he tells her that he finally came to the conclusion that it is better to experience love and its pain than not to experience love at all and that it is worth all the risks involved.


Masa is Yuki's maternal grandmother. Although there are times when she becomes very angry with her grandmother, Yuki loves Masa very much. Although her father prohibits Yuki from visiting her grandmother very often, Yuki has a lot of memories of spending summers with her mother at Masa's house. It is not too difficult for Yuki to maintain a close relationship with Masa despite how infrequently they are allowed to spend time together.

Masa is very disturbed by her daughter's death. She says that it is very unfair for a daughter to die before her parents. Masa is a traditional Japanese person. She is intelligent and rather open-minded. However, she does not always understand Yuki's emotional outbursts or the way Yuki always seems to get into trouble, such as when she was a child and climbed up a tall tree and got stuck there, or like the time she ran through a glass door in her attempts to catch an insect. Although Yuki is often angry with Masa, Masa is very forgiving.

When Yuki goes away to college, it is to Masa's home that she returns when she needs to make contact with her familial roots. At one point, Masa gives Yuki all her old kimonos so that Yuki can cut the material and make other types of garments. It is through Masa that Yuki introduces her boyfriend to the family.

Mrs. Murai

Mrs. Murai is Sachiko's mother. Sachiko is a running mate of Yuki's. Mrs. Murai is skeptical of Yuki when she finds out that Yuki's mother died under suspicious circumstances. It is suggested that Mrs. Murai tells Sachiko to end her relationship with Yuki.

Sachiko Murai

Sachiko is one year older than Yuki and attends a different school, but the two girls meet at a sporting event and become friends. They get together every Sunday to run. Sachiko teases Yuki for being so innocent about boys. She also encourages Yuki's confidence in herself. At the end of the summer, Sachiko makes excuses to end her friendship with Yuki.

Isamu Nagano

Isamu is the first boyfriend that Yuki has. Isamu meets Yuki in college. He is a photographer and teaches Yuki how to capture light on film. Isamu is very sensitive and his affections are apparent. He appears at the end of the story and represents Yuki's opening her emotions and trusting someone.

Hanae Okuda

Hanae is Yuki's stepmother. Hanae had a long affair with Yuki's father while he was still married to Shizuko. She is a small-minded person without much education. She is very petty, dictatorial, sneaky, and jealous. She brings havoc into Yuki's life.

Hanae has no need of Yuki and rarely speaks to her unless it is to scold her. She has no interest in what Yuki is doing at school. Hanae is only interested in what the neighbors think, so she keeps her house spotless, lies to cover social errors, and berates Yuki's blunt honesty.

Hanae is told by her doctors that she will never have a child. She is too old, they say, and Hanae blames Yuki's father for making her wait so long before he would consent to get her pregnant. Hanae does not understand Yuki or Yuki's mother; neither does she comprehend the close relationship between the mother and the daughter. In an attempt to destroy Yuki's memories of her mother, Hanae tries to rid the house of everything that Shizuko ever bought or made. Hanae is not even happy with Yuki's father. She is constantly arguing with him about how careless he is with Yuki in disciplining her.

Hideki Okuda

Hideki is Yuki's father. It is hard to understand Hideki. He rarely shows his emotions, except when he is angry with Yuki, which is often. Other than when he is angry, he usually remains silent. Hideki refuses to allow Yuki to visit her mother's relatives. He never goes to any of Yuki's school events. Although he knows that Yuki is struggling to pay for her college, he never offers to help her. At one time, Hideki appears to have been in love with Shizuko. There is a slight glimpse into his emotions for his first wife when he finds her sketchbook, which Hanae has asked him to burn. Eventually, Hideki sends the sketchbook to Yuki, but he does not include a note explaining his actions.

Shizuko Okuda

Shizuko is Yuki's mother. Although she commits suicide in the first chapter, her presence is felt throughout the novel. Shizuko was an artist. She loved colors and emotions. She loved flowers and things that were different. She encouraged Yuki to be different but often worried about her at school because she was so different.

It is suggested that Shizuko suffered from depression. There are several possibilities for what might have caused this. She was very different from the traditional Japanese woman of her time. She liked to wear vivid colors, whereas her peers wore muted tones. She refused an arranged marriage that her mother had set up with a wealthy family. She moved away from her family and found a job and a man that she thought she could love. She was enthralled with the unusual and shopped at art fairs rather than at department stores. These characteristics set her apart, making her an outsider in her culture, much as Yuki becomes.

Shizuko also knew that her husband was having an affair. She suffered in silence, staying with the marriage even though her husband was seldom home, because she did not want to take the chance that she might lose her child in a custody battle. Shizuko thought it was better, in the end, that she take her own life, thus ridding Yuki of her mother's depressive moods.

Yuki Okuda

Yuki is the protagonist of the story. She is twelve years old when the story opens and she finds her mother dead on the kitchen floor. Yuki is a very bright and very open young woman. She has trouble dealing with the hypocrisy that she sees around her. Yuki, like her mother, is an artist with a flare for the unusual. This places her outside of her traditional culture, which includes most of her peers.

Yuki suffers through most of her pubescent years because of her mother's death. She does not have anyone who encourages or counsels her. She has no one to turn to when she tries to sort out her emotions. Her father does not support her in any way except that he provides her with a roof over her head and food in the refrigerator.

Most of the time, Yuki suppresses her emotions. However, because she holds in the way she feels, she also has emotional outbursts. She lashes out at everyone around her, including her grandparents whom she loves. She tries to form friendships with her peers, but she is lacking social skills. Her blunt honesty often gets her in trouble.

Yuki is a gifted child in many different ways. She is intelligent and does well at school. Her artistic skills are well known. She is also a talented athlete. Instead of succumbing to the difficulties that face her, Yuki takes the talents and gifts that she has and finds a way out of her predicaments. She fights for her rights and finds a way to attend the college she chooses. By the end of the story, she takes the final step in facing her emotions when she decides to take a chance on learning to love Isamu.


Tadashi is the grandson of Masa and Takeo and a cousin of Yuki's. He appears in the epilogue and represents the continuity of life.


Takeo is Yuki's maternal grandfather. He and Masa are husband and wife. Takeo's strongest moment in the story is when he tries to get Yuki to eat while she is visiting his house. When Takeo comes from the garden with a basket full of strawberries, he falls and hurts himself. This makes Yuki aware of how much she cares for her grandfather. Soon after this incident, Takeo dies.

Miss Uozumi

Miss Uozumi is Yuki's piano teacher. Although she never appears in the story, it is because of her tardiness on the day of Yuki's mother's suicide that Yuki does not come home until her mother is dead. Throughout the story, Yuki thinks about what might have happened had Miss Uozumi held the piano lesson on time.



Either actual death or reference to death is a recurring theme in this story. The novel begins with the suicide of Shizuko, Yuki's mother; this suicide flavors the rest of the story, hanging over all of the events of Yuki's life. Because of her mother's death, Yuki is pushed deeper and deeper into herself. Her mother, who was an artist, encouraged Yuki to think independently. This attitude, however, did not provide Yuki with the skills to deal with the Japanese culture, which disapproved of the concept of the individual. Thus, upon her mother's death, a great support for Yuki's personality also died.

Toward the end of the story, Yuki's grandfather dies. It is at her maternal grandparents' home that Yuki receives the most positive sense of family life. So the death of her grandfather represents yet one more instance where she loses love in her life.

Tradition versus Nonconformity

The timing of this novel corresponds to the budding of women's lib in Japan. The liberation movement in Japan, especially in comparison to the revolution in the United States, is subtle, thus making Yuki's actions and thoughts appear radical.

The traditional role of the woman is very clearly defined in Japan. From the type of clothes she wears and the kind of makeup she applies to her face to the courses she studies if she should decide to go to college, all are dictated to her through a long tradition of social rules. Despite her intelligence, skills, or natural talents, she is expected to marry by a certain age, to give up her profession, and to focus all her efforts on the welfare of her husband and her children. She is also expected to maintain social grace, which often means that she does not express her true feelings.

In Shizuko's Daughter, Yuki breaks almost every traditional social rule. She does not understand accepting things just because that is what every other woman has done for thousands of years. She wears brightly colored clothes of original patterns that her artistic mother makes for her. She insists on her right to observe her inclination toward vegetarianism. When she is angry, she speaks her mind. If someone lies to her, she makes him or her aware that she knows the truth is not being told. At the wedding of her father and stepmother, Yuki, during the ceremony of communal sharing of the sake, drops the bowl on purpose to make her feelings toward her father's marriage known. In other words, Yuki fights for her independence, her sense of the individual, something that goes against the grain of Japanese traditions.


Through death, Yuki loses her mother. But it is more than just her mother that is lost; Yuki also loses her emotional support, her childhood, her optimism, and possibly her closest friend. When her father remarries, Yuki must give up her summers with her maternal relatives. Eventually, her stepmother throws away all of Yuki's clothes, including the ones that Shizuko made for her. Yuki's stepmother replaces everything in the house that represents Shizuko, from the handcrafted dinner plates and bowls to the boxes in which Shizuko saved little mementos from Yuki's childhood.

Yuki acknowledges her tremendous loss upon her mother's death when she shuts herself into her clothes closet. This event symbolizes her eventual closure to the world. With her mother alive, she was encouraged to be different. Having lost her mother, she has also lost her source of confidence. She knows that she is alone. In the dark closet, even though Yuki reaches up to touch the bright clothes, she can no longer see the colors.

With the loss of her mother's love, Yuki also loses her sense of humor. In its place are anger, frustration, and bitterness. While children her age giggle at frivolous things, Yuki lives in a solitary world that is cold and painful. She must learn to take care of herself. Inside her head she must recreate her mother's voice, encouraging her to go on. These tactics are precarious, at best, and often Yuki's anger boils over the top as she lashes out, unable to keep her feelings inside of her. She has lost her buffer. She has no place to go and no person to turn to for help in understanding her emotions.



Shizuko's Daughter is set in Kobe, a large city on Japan's main island, Honshu. Kobe, a major industrial and cultural center of Japan, is situated on a narrow strip of land that sits between the Inland Sea and a range of mountains. In the course of the story, two other cities are mentioned, Himeji, a much smaller city also located on the main island, and Nagasaki, located on the southernmost island of Kyushu.

Topics for Further Study

  • Shizuko, the mother in Mori's Shizuko's Daughter, suffered from depression. Write a research paper on the topic of depression. What are some contemporary causes of depression, and what are the medical and therapeutic treatments for this disease? Also look into the social implications of depression. Are there any taboos on the discussion of this disease? What are the personal ramifications of depression in terms of its affect on family members?
  • Suicide is a topic that has been covered in many different literary works. Find at least two poems or one other novel or short story that deals with this topic and compare them to Shizuko's Daughter. Suggestions include some of Sylvia Plath's poems, Susanna Kaysen's book, Girl Interrupted, and William Styron's memoir, Darkness Visible.
  • Research the traditional role of Japanese women. Has that role changed since World War II? How has Western culture affected Japanese women? How do the lives of women living in the United States compare with the lives of Japanese women?
  • Read Kyoko Mori's memoir The Dream of Water, which offers more insight into the background from which her novel was written. Then write a poem to Mori, expressing your feelings about one of the main topics that has ruled her life; it could be based on her mother's suicide, her father's or her stepmother's mistreatment of her, or the alienation that Mori has felt as an outsider from her traditional and inherited culture.

Kobe is where most of the story occurs. It is where Yuki, the protagonist, spends most of her time. It is where she lives until she goes away to college. Himeji exists in a more rural environment, and it is Yuki's mother's hometown. It is to Himeji that Yuki goes when she visits her maternal grandparents. Nagasaki is where Yuki goes when she leaves home to attend college. Nagasaki is located on a different island than Kobe, thus giving Yuki a sense of detachment or release from her father and stepmother who still live in Kobe.

As the story is set in Japan, the story reflects the traditional customs of that culture. To understand the emphasis on particular colors in reference to clothes, the reader has to grasp the concept of conformity that is of great importance in Japan. Fitting in without making a spectacle of oneself is very important in the Japanese culture. Yuki's clothes are clearly not clothes that fit in. The role of women in Japanese marriage must also be understood. First there is the accepted practice in Japan of husbands having extramarital affairs. Then there is (more so during the 1970s setting of this story than in more recent times) the social stigma that makes divorce an almost impossible choice. Adding to this is the power that a husband has to claim his offspring should his wife insist on leaving him. Yuki's father also has the right to insist that Yuki not visit her maternal relatives after Shizuko's suicide. This decision is observed by the rest of the family as a normal, accepted practice.

Point of View

Shizuko's Daughter is told through a third person narrator, as if someone were watching what was happening and then relating it to the reading audience. This third person narrator switches point of view from chapter to chapter, sometimes telling the story through the thoughts and vision of Shizuko (Yuki's mother), as in the first chapter, sometimes making observations through Masa (Yuki's grandmother), as in the last chapter. However, most of the story is told by the third person narrator observing life, as well as the internal dialogue, as Yuki expresses it.


Most of the chapters in this book begin with the present tense, with the narrator discussing what is happening at that particular moment. It is through the present event that the narrator then remembers something from the past. In this way, the author is able to fill in the details that lead up to the present moment. For instance, since Yuki's mother dies in the first chapter, the narrator, through flashback scenes, relates to the reader the possible reasons for her depression and subsequent suicide. Allowing the audience to view past events helps readers understand Yuki's emotional outbursts, facilitating empathy for the protagonist.

Journal Entries

Although this story is not written in a first person point of view, the use of dates as part of the title of each chapter gives the feeling that this story is written as if it were a journal. Despite the fact that the third person narrator switches from one character to another in various chapters, the specific dates carry over, thus providing a sense that there is some omniscient narrator who is recording the events in a special, universal journal. In this way, the story reads as if it were fact, an actual occurrence.

Historical Context

Japanese Women—Education and Employment

With the booming economy that Japan experienced in the 1960s and 1970s, the role of women saw, in Japanese terms, dramatic changes. Women, who traditionally were married young and stayed home to rear the children, were now finding jobs as the demand for goods and materials soared. Women were beginning to postpone marriage and to take their college education more seriously. There was also a budding awareness of women's rights.

The major role for women in Japan has been, and still remains, that of wife and mother. However, during the United Nations Decade for Women (1975–1985), three legal changes occurred in Japan. First, Japanese women were allowed to pass their nationality to their children (previously this had been a privilege given only to men); second, widows could inherit a larger share of their deceased husband's property; and finally, Japan adopted an Equal Employment Opportunity law.

Before the Equal Employment Opportunity law was passed, most companies would not even consider hiring women who had a degree from a four-year university. It was understood that these women, by the time they reached the age of twenty-five, would be married. Once married, the women would retire from the workforce to stay home, give birth, and raise the children. So it was considered a better economic practice to hire women with only a high school or junior college education. Although the law was passed, Japan's workforce continues to be predominantly male, according to Jane Condon in her article "The Quiet Revolution: Changing Roles of Women," with the largest group of working women still remaining what is called "office ladies" or "office flowers," women who mostly run errands and answer phones.

Japanese Women—Marriage and Children

In Japan there is a saying, writes Condon, "Women are like a Christmas cake—no good after the twenty-fifth." This refers to the belief that all women should be married before they reach the age of twenty-five. If they aren't, pressure is applied by family, friends, and even fellow employees or supervisors. Although the social customs of arranged marriages are not as strict as they once were (only in 1947 did women and men win the right to marriage by mutual consent), a modern version of matchmaking still occurs in what is estimated as one-fourth of all marriages.

Whether Japanese women work or not, the responsibility of raising the children solely rests on the woman's shoulders. In the end, when the children finally leave home, how they function in society is seen as either a credit or a failure on the part of the mother. If a child does well in school and is accepted into the better colleges, it is because the mother has trained the child properly.

Although divorce rates are rising in Japan, there continue to be social pressures on the couple to stay together for the sake of their children. Divorce, especially for the Japanese woman, is considered a social stigma. Because of the fact that few companies rehire women who once quit their jobs to be married and have children and that alimony support is nominal, the economic ramifications of divorce are severe for women.

Japanese Women—Suicide and Depression

Suicide in Japan has a long tradition. The ceremonial hara-kiri was performed historically when someone committed what they thought was an unforgivable social error. In other situations, Japanese warriors committed suicide that symbolized loyalty or sacrifice. However, in modern times, much like in other countries around the world, suicide is most often committed due to severe depression.

During the 1950s, Japan ranked within the top five countries with the highest suicide rates in the world. Although this ranking has dropped over the years, the number of women committing suicide has risen. The number one reason for female suicide is depression. In Japan, despite its modern facade, there remain social taboos on seeking help from mental health professionals. To go to a psychiatrist is to admit that one is crazy.

Japanese women often receive mixed messages from their society. The traditional rules dictate that a woman marry, stay home, and raise children, whereas the modern, technological world encourages a woman to be bold and go out into the world and work hard in college so she can partake in the business world. However, if a woman decides to pursue a profession and delay her marriage, she is ostracized. If, on the other hand, she pursues a college education but retires from the business world when she marries, she feels that she has wasted all her efforts. Managing a house and rearing children, with modern devices available to help her, do not consume as much of her time and effort as they might have for her grandmother. Since business does not look favorably upon women who want to return to work after their children are in school, the only outlet women find are school-related events such as membership in the local PTA or taking on a somewhat unfulfilling part-time job. If a woman should pursue this route, she must not only work outside of her home, but she must also continue full responsibility of the home and the children, as the husband is not required to share in domestic chores.

Added to these pressures are social traditions that demand that a woman "look the other way" in relation to her husband's extramarital affairs. In addition, men who want to climb the economic ladder are required not only to work long hours but also to socialize after work, often drinking until late and returning home exhausted. These factors create pressures in a marriage, leaving many women either feeling unfulfilled or overwhelmed with domestic detail. Without an outlet, these conditions can lead to depression and eventually suicide.

Critical Overview

Mori's writing has captured the attention of literary reviewers. She has also gained their respect as a writer. Praise comes from a wide range of sources, such as John Philbrook, writing in the School Library Journal, who describes Mori's writing as "beautiful and sensitive prose [that] evokes a world of pungent memories and harsh realities." Kirkus Reviews claims that Shizuko's Daughter is a "beautifully written book about a bitterly painful coming of age" and concludes that her book marks a "splendid debut." Following in this same line of praise, the Horn Book Magazine's Nancy Vasilakis describes Mori's first published book as a "skillfully structured novel." Vasilakis then goes on to state, "Mori paints beautiful pictures with words, creating visual images that can be as haunting and elliptical as poetry." Rounding out this criticism of Mori's first published writing is a Publisher's Weekly review that declares Mori's book to be a "quietly moving novel" that depicts "keen imagery," as Mori pays attention to details that "produce an emotionally and culturally rich tale tracing the evolution of despair into hope."

Mori has published several books since Shizuko's Daughter, and the reviews continue to come out in her favor. Hazel Rochman, writing in Booklist, states that in Mori's second young adult novel, One Bird, "Mori writes with subtlety and drama." Mori's memoir, The Dream of Water, published in 1994, is "beautifully written,"according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Mori's second book of memories, Polite Lies: On Being a Woman Caught Between Cultures, is reviewed in Booklist where it states that Mori "sensitively examines" the cultural differences between Japan and the United States through the use of "exquisite language." Kay Meredith Dusheck, writing in the Library Journal, states that Mori's second memoir shows "the insight evident" in her previous works and describes this book as a "strong collection [that] binds one woman's old country with her new one."

As Mori continues to publish, the reviews about her books continue to assure her that she is doing a great job. Although she is sometimes criticized for ruminating over the same themes in most of her works—those of separation, loneliness, and loss—her ability to write gracefully and simply is never in question.


Joyce Hart

Hart has degrees in English literature and creative writing and is a published writer of literary themes. In this essay, Hart ponders the symbolic significance of the last chapter, or epilogue, of Mori's novel.

Only two sections out of the sixteen that make up Kyoko Mori's novel Shizuko's Daughter are written without the appearance of the protagonist, Yuki: the first chapter, during which Yuki's mother commits suicide, and the last, referred to as the epilogue. Although it is quite evident why Mori might have chosen not to include Yuki in the chapter about her mother's final moments, it is curious that she decided, after devoting all the other chapters to her protagonist, not to include Yuki in the epilogue. Instead, the focus in the last chapter is on the character Masa, Yuki's grandmother. It is through Masa's vision and reflection that the novel ends. The abrupt transition of the epilogue may be unsettling, leaving the reader wondering why the protagonist has disappeared. However, upon closer reading, the symbolism becomes evident, allowing the reader to conclude that the story has come to a perfect ending.

The epilogue begins on the morning of Yuki's grandmother's seventy-fifth birthday. Masa is Yuki's maternal grandmother, the adult who, more clearly than any other character, represents a loving parental figure for Yuki. Upon awaking on her birthday, Masa's vision first takes in the family altar. This altar is a shrine to all her ancestors and relatives who have died before her. Besides having lost her husband, Masa has also lost some of her children, among them Yuki's mother. The narrator describes Masa's thoughts as she looks at the altar and remembers other mornings when she ritualistically placed offerings on the altar. When she married her husband, the ancestors to whom she made offerings were like "a large white cloud," Masa remembers. In other words, when she was young, the word ancestors was more or less an abstract concept that covered intangible feelings. However, now that she is seventy-five, having lived a long life, faces and memories are attached to that word. In particular, she thinks specifically about her husband, Takeo, and her daughter, Shizuko.

By creating this scene, Mori has brought her story full circle. Having begun with the death of Shizuko and then having made Masa, at the end, reflect on the death of her daughter brings the reader back to the beginning of the story. Mori doesn't stop there, however. She not only takes the reader back to the opening events, but she also encourages the reader to reflect on the entire passage of the story from beginning to end. By having Masa think about the two major deaths in Mori's tale, the suicide of Yuki's mother and the death of Yuki's grandfather (which occurs near the end of the novel), the reader travels, via Masa's thoughts, from the events of the opening pages of this book through all but the final passages. In this way, in just the first two paragraphs of the epilogue, Mori has created a short but concise summary of her story. She does not, however, conclude her story there.

There is something else going on in the epilogue. The tone of this segment, although it resounds with the idea of death, reflects something more uplifting, more positive. Throughout the preceding chapters of the novel, the overall tenor is that of sadness, loneliness, frustration, and anger. However, here, in the epilogue, a sense of rebirth and hope exists.

In the first sentences of this final section, Mori has Masa wake up to music and "painted images of Buddha in his various manifestations." Both music and the Buddha can be said to represent the full spectrum of emotions behind the variety of challenges that life presents. Music is played at weddings as well as at funerals, for instance. In addition, as if to emphasize that there are several ways to look at the circumstances of life, Mori refers not just to a single version of the Buddha but rather to all his various expressions; thus, the mood of this novel has changed, the focus has altered, and it is hinted that rather than looking at life through a haze of gloom, this chapter is going to take on some other aspect. Just as Masa has "taken to sleeping in the family room" since her husband died so that she can "forget momentarily" that he no longer is there with her, Mori, too, changes her point of reference.

Continuing with this theme of change, Mori has Masa rise from her bed, and, as the grandmother folds her futon, she gazes at its quilted cover. The quilt has been made from many different kimonos that her children wore when they were children, when they were teenagers, and when they were young adults. This leads Masa to remember other kimonos, too. The last time Yuki visited her, Masa had given her granddaughter some of her old kimonos, which Yuki then took back to school with her and transformed into vests. Taking these old materials (as well as the memories surrounding them) and turning them into something else more useful symbolizes the changes that Mori is attempting to relate. Mori also has Yuki send a photograph to Masa, showing off the new vests she has made. "I wanted to wear the same things you did," Yuki writes to her grandmother, "only in a different way."

Masa next prepares herself for the arrival of her grandson Tadashi. Upon mentioning the child's name, Mori makes a connection between Tadashi and Yuki, by having Masa remember, "Yuki was the only person he seemed to like from the first time he saw her." Tadashi is a sullen child. His moods, much like Yuki's throughout the previous chapters, are heavy and mournful. He is also prone to fighting children his age, and that is why his grandmother must watch him while his mother goes to work. At first, when Tadashi arrives, the mood of death prevails.

While Masa works in the garden, Tadashi catches tiny frogs and places them inside a tightly sealed jar where they wait for their imminent suffocation. Masa tries to distract him from his endeavors when she suggests that he help her clear the garden by pretending the weeds are enemy soldiers whom Tadashi must decapitate. This mood shifts when Tadashi takes a nap and "his mouth, so often distorted sullenly while he was awake, relaxed in his sleep and his face was flushed from the morning in the sun." At this point, Masa looks over at the jar full of frogs. She feels sorry for them and, tired of the thought of death, she opens the lid and, while Tadashi sleeps, releases the frogs.

From this point, the epilogue turns to symbols of birth. First, Masa sees a cicada, which has just risen from the earth. Having cast away its larval shell, it is drying its new form on the screen of one of Masa's windows. Later, when Masa lies down for a nap, she thinks about another of her birthdays, when Shizuko was still alive. Her daughter had brought her flowers and a new kimono made of silk that Shizuko had wrapped around her mother in soft layers "like a cocoon." These images of rebirth and transformation stand in stark contrast to the earlier images of death and sadness. They are positive and hopeful symbols that lead to the final scene.

Masa awakens from her nap to the noise of Tadashi running up the steps of an old wooden slide that Masa's husband made many years previously for her own small children. Tadashi had been afraid of the slide, concerned that it might give him splinters and then worried that he was too big for the slide and might break it. Before taking his nap, Masa encouraged Tadashi to try out the slide, which he did once before going into the house. As the story ends, however, Tadashi is filled with enthusiasm, running and sliding down the slide "in an almost frenzied circle of movement." Watching him, Masa sees all her children running and sliding, "laughing and chattering." The epilogue ends with Masa laughing and crying "copious tears, until her chest and shoulders ached from joy."

It is through this scene that Mori ends her story. Here is a child (who could represent Yuki, in particular, or the future, in general), who has overcome his fear and, at least momentarily, his anger and sorrow. The circle of children, like the circle from birth to death, the circle from the beginning of the story to its culmination, is capable of causing a full range of emotions. Sometimes those emotions become so entangled that it is hard to sort them out, to separate them. Often they are so closely related that they all come out at the same time in the form of tears. In the epilogue, Mori appears to be telling her readers (and maybe even reminding herself) that even though life may contain many difficult challenges, people should not give up hope. It is possible that she could not convey this message to Yuki whom she may have believed still had to learn this lesson. Masa, on the other hand, who has lived through many more experiences and who is preparing for her own death, has the wisdom that is required to transform even death into something as positive as peace. It is on that note that the novel ends, presenting a conclusion that rises above depressing emotions and offering an absolute contrast to the opening tragic scene, thus giving the overall effect of a perfectly balanced rhythm.

Source: Joyce Hart, Critical Essay on Shizuko's Daughter, in Novels for Students, The Gale Group, 2002.

Douglas Dupler

Dupler has published numerous essays and has taught college English. In this essay, Dupler shows how symbolism is related to memory and time in a novel.

For as long as novels have been written, novelists have grappled with the issue of how to portray the passage of time in their stories. In the nineteenth century, novelists frequently used the epic form of the novel, creating sweeping stories that take place over long expanses of time with actions occurring mainly in chronological order. This form was used by authors such as Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, Jane Austen, and countless others. Novelists have also experimented with other ways of dealing with time in novels. In the early twentieth century, James Joyce wrote a long, complex story that takes place in only one day, in the landmark modern novel, Ulysses. Joyce told his story with the realization that people, at any moment, have access to vast portions of time through the process of memory and recollection. Kyoko Mori's novel, Shizuko's Daughter, has aspects of both of these ways of dealing with time in storytelling. This novel proceeds chronologically from beginning to end, showing various points in the six years that pass in the lives of the main characters. Within this linear passage of time, the characters are also able to move around in time, as they remember past events.

Shizuko's Daughter begins with its most affecting event: Shizuko, an unhappy wife and mother, commits suicide. The first chapter begins with a date, "March 1969," as do the remainder of the chapters, which proceed chronologically and inform the reader of the passage of time. The novel is told from a third-person point of view, which allows insights into the thoughts and memories of the characters. The structure of the novel relies on narrative flashbacks to inform the reader of the depth of experience and emotions of the main characters. These flashbacks are triggered by objects that symbolize events of the past.

As Shizuko acts out her tragedy in the first scene, many of the important symbols of the following story are introduced. First, there is nature, which serves as a backdrop and an influence for the characters and their emotions. Dreamily, Shizuko thinks of "white cherry blossom petals that were blowing about in the wind." She remembers the "rainy morning" of her mother-in-law's death, while the smell of gas "reminded her of the tiny yellow flowering weeds that had grown near her parents' house." In this first scene, there are also several references to clothing, such as Yuki's "pink spring dress," and the pieces of cloth from Yuki's new skirt, which remind her of "butterfly wings." Near her end, Shizuko imagines Yuki in this new skirt, which would flutter in the wind "like the sail of a new ship." Throughout the remainder of the novel, these particular symbols—nature, flowers, and clothing—appear again and again, serving as markers that connect the present moment of the characters to this major emotional event of the past.

One day after her mother's death, clothing begins to symbolize the drastic change that has just occurred in Yuki's life. Her Aunt Aya begins folding her mother's clothes, which "hung limp," representing death. Yuki has also seen the clothing for the new dress her mother had been making, which leads her to question why the suicide happened. Things no longer fit correctly in Yuki's world, down to the fact that she cannot pick the correct clothes for the funeral. As her aunt goes through her clothes to find an appropriate dress, Yuki feels "utterly humiliated." Yuki understands that her life has irrevocably changed when she cannot bring herself to zip up her new dress, and she finally collapses in her closet of clothes. A year later, at her father's wedding, Yuki is still plagued by this ill-fitting event: the dress she wears makes her itch. Throughout the rest of the story, clothing remains a central symbol connecting the present to the past, and Yuki saves the clothing her mother had made for her until the very end. Yuki accesses the clothing when she needs to sort through her memories.

In this novel, objects in nature serve to symbolize past events and provide a backdrop for the emotions of the characters. In recalling an important conversation with her mother before her suicide, Yuki thinks of the rain, which "was coming down with enough force to shatter the fragile cups of flowers." These memories have shattered the innocence of Yuki. Flowers play a particularly symbolic role in the novel. During her father's wedding, Yuki can "almost smell the wisteria blossoms," which makes her remember her mother and question her father. She wants to ask him: "Can't you remember … the scent of flowers and

What Do I Read Next?

  • Mori has written two memoirs. The first one, published in 1995, is The Dream of Water. This memoir covers Mori's trip back to Japan, thirteen years after moving to the United States. As Mori travels back to her homeland, she also travels back through her memories, many of the same memories that triggered her writing the novel Shizuko's Daughter. Although the novel and memoir differ slightly from one another, the reader is given a fuller and even more dramatic glimpse into the psychological challenges that Mori has faced in coming to grips with her mother's suicide, her father's callous response to her, and her stepmother's immature attempts to keep Mori disconnected from her maternal relatives.
  • Mori's second memoir, Polite Lies: On Being a Woman Caught between Cultures (1997), includes twelve essays that deal with Mori's observations of the role of women as seen through her experiences with her native Japanese culture and her adopted American culture. She writes about the effects of language and social customs, the role of women in the family, how women relate to their bodies, and how women in both cultures deal with their drive to improve their status through education and professional experience.
  • Another novel written by Mori is called One Bird (1995). It tells the story of a teenage girl whose mother decides to divorce her father and return to her family's village. According to Japanese tradition, this estranges the mother from her daughter, as her husband forbids any contact between the two. The story is written as if Mori is thinking through the possibilities of what might have happened if her own mother had not committed suicide but had only physically removed herself from her husband. In other words, this novel is a different take on the circumstances of her first book, Shizuko's Daughter.
  • Walk Two Moons (1994), by Sharon Creech, is a Newberry Medal winner and tells the story of a teenage girl's attempts to find her mother who has suddenly disappeared. As the young protagonist travels to Idaho with her grandparents, she exposes her hidden emotions about the loss of her mother by telling a story of a friend who has gone through similar experiences. Although the topic of the story is sad, the grandparents offer a loving and humorous touch. This is a story about loss and the rites of passage into adulthood.
  • A collection of poems compiled from across many different cultures of the world and focused on the theme of loneliness, Pierced by a Ray of Sun: Poems about the Times We Feel Alone (1995) is a great companion to anyone who has ever felt as if he or she were the only person alive. This collection contains beautifully crafted poems from masters such as May Sar-ton, Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich, Carl Sandburg, and Rainer Maria Rilke. The variety of poetic voices offers inspiration and hope during times of despair and sadness.
  • Joy Kogawa's Obasan (1982) tells the story of a young woman living in Canada whose mother returns to Japan to visit her family right before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Because of this incident, the mother is trapped in Japan and cannot return to her family. The young girl, along with the remaining members of her family, is then forced to move to a relocation camp until the end of the war. The story is told in reflection and covers her feelings of loss and the mistreatment of Japanese people during World War II.
  • If you have ever considered writing your own memoir, a good place to start might be to read Denis Ledoux's Turning Memories into Memoirs: A Handbook for Writing Lifestories. Ledoux doesn't do all the work for the writer, but his book is capable of heading any potential memoir author in the right direction. He offers insight and inspiration for writers attempting to overcome the fears and challenges of delving into old memories to create a good book.

green leaves" that reminds her so much of her mother. In another scene, Yuki recalls working with flowers alongside her mother. Her mother had said, "I always wondered if the dead people can really smell those flowers," which made Yuki feel "a chill down her back," so flowers, for Yuki, are associated with fear and death. The symbolism of the flowers has many layers. The chrysanthemums smell like funerals. The violas are hardy plants that "bloom and multiply on their own," just as Shizuko claims Yuki would do if she were no longer alive. Yuki associates irises with guilt, because she had thought of irises when her mother asked her if Yuki could survive without her. Whenever Yuki is plagued by the thought of not having said redeeming words to her mother, she thinks of irises: "When the irises faded, they shriveled into themselves like punctured balloons and dried up." When Yuki understands the difficulty of living with grief, she takes strength in the flowers, remembering that: "Her mother was right about the flowers. They were hardy."

The use of flowers as symbolism continues throughout the novel. When Yuki meets Sachiko and her mother during a track meet, flowers serve as pointers to memories of her own mother. Yuki suddenly remembers that "her mother had shown her how to pick an azalea blossom." Yuki's memories are still overwhelming at this point in the story; on the flowers "there were spots of intense sweetness" and Yuki wishes she could "suffocate with their sweetness." Flowers also symbolize changes to the characters in the story, or reflect upon their mental states. When Yuki senses her friendship with Sachiko is fading, she notices that "petals had begun to curl at the edges. Soon, the frost would break them into a pile of broken stems."

Symbolism also plays a part in describing the subtle transitions that characters undergo in the novel. In her school, Yuki is afraid of dissecting frogs in science class, thinking, "it's wrong to cut open something," and claiming she already knows what she'll "find inside." On a symbolic level, this is another way for her to say that she has been avoiding going inside herself. It is at this point in the story that Yuki begins her own healing work of coming to terms with her hidden memories and with her mother's death. She has decided to begin sketching pictures of the clothes that her mother had made for her. She goes at this sketching project with energy because "she didn't want to forget anything." Moments later, Yuki confronts another fear, by stealing the jar of dead frogs from the science room, which have a smell that "reminded her of standing outside the crematorium while her mother's body was burned." Releasing the dead frogs from the jar is the same as releasing her own bottled-up memories; she is forced to confront the things that have been closed off for so long. It is interesting that one of the scenes near the end of the book also uses this same symbol of frogs, only the frogs in the jar are alive, having been found by Masa's grandchild, showing the change from despair to hope that has taken place.

Symbols are also important to other characters remembering their pasts throughout the novel. Yuki's stepmother, Hanae, "couldn't stay in the attic for more than five minutes" without being overwhelmed by unpleasant memories of her secret affair with Yuki's father. Hanae is so plagued by memories that she compulsively cleans and dusts the house, keeping it clear of objects that might trigger recollection. Beneath her compulsion lies the sad thoughts that she cannot have a child, as well as jealousy and anger toward Yuki and her father. Hanae finally breaks down and destroys a set of pottery that Yuki's father had saved for Yuki, one of the last heirlooms left from Yuki's mother. However, it is more than just pottery, on the symbolic level: "broken pieces filled the sink while Hanae counted her grievances against the living and the dead." Yuki's father has "never told Yuki that he was saving the tea set for her." When these characters repress their memories, the symbols for them become intolerable. Hanae also violates Yuki's memory of Shizuko by destroying the clothing that her mother had made for her. These memory cues are so powerful for the characters that they cause violence, such as when Hanae pushes Yuki down the stairs when taking away Yuki's old clothes.

Throughout the novel, Yuki's father, Hideki, is portrayed as distant, silent, and uncaring. One of the only times that he shows feelings for Yuki is near the end of the story, after Yuki has moved out, when he is reluctant to destroy Yuki's belongings. Hideki finally carries out Hanae's request to destroy the boxes; while handling these mementos, he is flooded with memories: of childhood, of Yuki, and of his former wife. He is destroying these items, ultimately, because he is plagued by a "useless sense of guilt." Hideki finds a book of Shizuko's sketches and secretly looks through it. Dried flowers are pressed between the pages and are all that is left of a relationship that was once sweet and filled with living flowers. Reminiscing, Hideki "was staring at the brittle flowers, the memory escaping him and leaving him with nothing but faded ink smudges." The last image of Hideki in the book is one of pain and despair; he can no longer avoid the many symbols that force him to confront his memories and his past.

Just as nature contains symbols that remind the characters of the painful events of the past, nature also displays promising symbolism. Near the end of the novel, Masa thinks to herself that it is "a wonder that the flowers came back every year." This sentence has a dual meaning. The flowers still remind her of Shizuko, as she recalls the lavender that "bloomed profusely" the year after her daughter's death. Memories of this event come back every year. At the same time, these flowers represent renewal, healing, and the indomitable living force of nature. Takeo reaffirms this metaphor, because when "he looked at the irises now, he knew again that Yuki was going to be all right." Despite the tragic event, he realizes that "Yuki had not changed all that much," just like the perennials that appear the same each year. After Yuki hears of Takeo's death, "flowers floated into Yuki's memory," and she, as well, is confronted by symbols of recollection. Nature helps Yuki understand her own healing process, and her own relationship with time, as when she reflects on the persimmon fruit that her grandfather had given her. At first, the "fruit was bitter when it came off the tree," but "Yuki and her mother would eat them through the winter, reminders of their summer in the country." Nature turns in cycles, and the bitterness of the past can have a purpose and can be transformed.

Yuki's identification with symbols and their relationship with memory has a major effect on her life: she decides to be an artist, a person who works with symbols, emotions, and memories. She is eager to go away to school, "then it would be as though the last six years had never happened." However, as she is packing up her things, Yuki comes to understand that she cannot simply forget the past six years, because her memories are still attached to the objects around her. Yuki has a flashback to a presentation she gave at school on a painting by Monet. Looking at the painting, or the symbols of an artist's memory, Yuki realizes that whatever "was important about the painting could not be put into speech." This realization comes at the same time Yuki decides to leave all her mother's things behind. At last, Yuki comes to terms with the memories that these physical objects symbolize. She no longer has to either avoid or sanctify the objects, because "[t]hese things were not necessary for her to go on remembering." Then she realizes that she and her mother "are moving on," leaving behind "nothing but empty spaces" that are "turning green," or regenerating and renewing once again, just like nature.

In the end, Yuki is living independently at college and getting on with her life. Her interest in photography shows the new relationship she has with objects and memories. Before, she was committed to sketching the symbols that reminded her of her mother, which indicated her need to control the symbols that had such a power over her memory. Her new interest in photography shows a change; she can now confront the present in its clearest terms, and she is committed to facing the world as it is, no longer filtering it through her own perceptions, but "taking pictures of the surrounding light."

Source: Douglas Dupler, Critical Essay on Shizuko's Daughter, in Novels for Students, The Gale Group, 2002.


Condon, Jane, "The Quiet Revolution: Changing Roles of Women," in Video Letter from Japan II: A Young Family, The Asia Society, 1990, pp. 18-24.

Dusheck, Kay Meredith, Review of Polite Lies: On Being a Woman Caught between Cultures, in Library Journal, Vol. 122, No. 17, October 15, 1997, p. 79.

Mori, Kyoko, The Dream of Water, Ballantine Books, 1995.

――――――, Polite Lies, Ballantine Publishing Group, 1997.

――――――, "Staying True to the Story," in The Writer, Vol. 114, March 2001, p. 26.

Pearl, Nancy, Review of Polite Lies: On Being a Woman Caught between Cultures, in Booklist, Vol. 94, No. 7, December 1, 1997, pp. 590-91.

Philbrook, John, Review of Shizuko's Daughter, in School Library Journal, Vol. 39, No. 6, June 1993, p. 132.

Review of The Dream of Water: A Memoir, in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 241, No. 45, November 7, 1994, p. 54.

Review of Shizuko's Daughter, in Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 1993.

Review of Shizuko's Daughter, in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 240, No. 4, January 25, 1993, p. 87.

Rochman, Hazel, Review of One Bird, in Booklist, Vol. 92, No. 4, October 15, 1995, pp. 396-97.

Vasilakis, Nancy, Review of Shizuko's Daughter, in Horn Book Magazine, Vol. 69, No. 5, September-October 1993, pp. 603-04.

Further Reading

Fine, Carla, No Time to Say Goodbye: Surviving the Suicide of a Loved One, Main Street Books, 1999.

Fine personally experienced the suicide of someone she loved, and this book reflects the battle that ensued as she tried to cope with her emotions. Using not only her personal experience, but also advice from professionals in the field of mental health, Fine writes about the full range of emotions, including guilt, anger, and confusion, that confronts a person who is forced to experience the death of someone close to him or her, in particular, death by suicide with the complications caused by social taboos on the subject.

Leonard, Linda Schierse, The Wounded Woman: Healing the Father-Daughter Relationship, Shambhala Press, 1999.

As a Jungian analyst, Leonard examines the relationship between daughter and father as a key to self-understanding. Using examples from her own life and those of her clients, Leonard exposes the problems and conflicts that can arise from the bond created in this relationship.

Lippit, Norika Mizuta, ed., Japanese Women Writers: Twentieth Century Short Fiction (Asia and the Pacific), M. E. Sharpe, 1991.

This is a collection of fourteen short fictional works, translated by the editors, that reveal the range and degree of women writers' participation in modern life and in the historical development of modern Japanese literature. The book is a good overview of the various topics and styles of modern Japanese women writers.

Morley, Patricia A., The Mountain Is Moving: Japanese Women's Lives, New York University Press, 1999.

Morley wraps together current fiction, government data, and interviews of women living in Japan to examine the most relevant issues facing women in that culture. She asks Japanese women to answer tough questions as they reflect on the advantages as well as on the ancient cultural taboos that guide their lives. This is an excellent introduction into what it means to grow up female in Japan.