"As you think best, sir."
"Good. Tell me, Nikko. Will you miss Shanghai?"
Nicholai considered for a second. "No."
"Will you feel lonely in Japan?"
Nicholai considered for a second. "Yes."
"I shall write to you."
"No, not often. Once a month. But you must write to me as
often as you feel the need to. Perhaps you will be less lonely than you fear. There are other young
people studying with Otake-san. And when you ahve doubts,
ideas, questions, you will find Otake-san a valuable person to discuss
them with. He will listen with interest, but will not burden
you with advice." The General smialed. "Although I think you may find
one of my friend's habits of speech a little disconcerting at times.
He speaks of everything in terms of Go. All of life, for him, is
a simplified paradigm of Go."
"He sounds as though I shall like him,sir."
"I am sure you will. He is a man who has all my respect.
He possesses a quality of ..how to express it? ..of shibumi."
"Shibumi, sir?" Nicholai knew the word, but only as it
applied to gardens or architecture, where it connoted an
understated beauty. "How are you using the term, sir?"
"Oh, vaguely. And incorrectly, I suspect. A blundering attemp
to describe an ineffable quality. As you know, shibumi has to do
with great refinement underlying commonplace appearances.
It is a statement so correct that it does not have to be
bold, so poignant it does not have to be pretty, so true
it does not have to be real. Shibumi is understanding, rather than
knowledge. Elquent silence. In demeanor, it is modesty without
pudency. In art, where the spirit of shibumi takes the form of sabi,
it is elegant simplicity, articulate brevity. In philosophy,
where shibumi emerges as wabi, it is spiritual tranquility
that is not passive; it is being without the angst of
becoming. And in the personality of a man, it is .. how does
one say it? Authority without domination? Something like
Nicholai's imagination was galvanized by the concept of
shibumi. No other idea had ever touched him so. "How does
one achieve this shibumi, sir?"
"One does not achieve it, one ...discovers it. And only
a few men of infinite refinement ever do that. Men like my
"Meaning that one must learn a great deal to arrive at
"meaning, rather, that one must pass through knowledge
and arrive at simplicity."
From that moment, Nicholai's primary goal in life was to
become a man of shibumi; a personality of overwhelming
calm. It was a vocation open to him while, for reasons of
breeding, education, and temperament, most vocations were
closed. In pursuit of shibumi he could excel invisibly,
without attracting the attention and vengeance of the
Kishikawa-san took from beneath the tea table a small sandalwood box
wrapped in plain cloth and put it into Nicholai's hand. "It is a farewell
gift, Nikko. A trifle."
Nicholai bowed his head in acceptance and held the package
with great tenderness; he did not express his gratitude
in inadequate words. This was his first conscious act of
Although they spoke late into their last night together
about what shibumi meant and might mean, in the deepest
essential they did not understand one another. To the General
shibumi was a kind of submission; to Nicholai, it was a kind
Both were captives of their generations.