An Artist of the Floating World
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"An Artist of the Floating World" Characters Analysis

By Kazuo Ishiguro

fiction | 205 pages | Published in 2012

From the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and author of the Booker Prize–winning novel The Remains of the Day In the face of the misery in his homeland, the artist Masuji Ono was unwilling to devote his art solely to the celebration of physical beauty. Instead, he put his work in the service of the imperialist movement that led Japan into World War II. Now, as the mature Ono struggles through the aftermath of that war, his memories of his youth and of the "floating world"—the nocturnal world of pleasure, entertainment, and drink—offer him both escape and redemption, even as they punish him for betraying his early promise. Indicted by society for its defeat and reviled for his past aesthetics, he relives the passage through his personal history that makes him both a hero and a coward but, above all, a human being.


Estimated read time: 9 min read

List of Characters

Masuji OnoProtagonist, Artist
Setsuko OnoMasuji's daughter
Ichiro OnoMasuji's grandson
Noriko KumaOno's daughter from his second marriage
KurodaOno's former pupil
MatsudaOno's friend and former colleague
Mr. MoriOno's old business partner
Mrs. KawakamiOwner of Mrs. Kawakami's Tea House
Mrs. KurodaKuroda's wife

Role Identification

In "An Artist of the Floating World," these characters play important roles that contribute to the narrative. Masuji Ono is the central protagonist, an aging artist reflecting on his past actions and their consequences. Setsuko Ono, Ichiro Ono, and Noriko Kuma are Masuji's family members, adding depth to his personal life. Kuroda is an important character representing Masuji's former pupil, and Matsuda and Mr. Mori are his colleagues from the past. Mrs. Kawakami and Mrs. Kuroda are well-known acquaintances of Masuji.

Character Descriptions

  1. Masuji Ono: Masuji Ono is the first-person narrator of the story, an older artist now retired from his profession. He is described as observant, introspective, and remorseful. Ono appears to be a respected figure in the art world, but his past actions and involvement with nationalist propaganda haunt him in the present.
  2. Setsuko Ono: Setsuko Ono is Masuji's daughter. Though not prominently featured, her role is important as she represents the younger generation's perspective. Setsuko is depicted as a caring and understanding individual who supports her father through his introspection.
  3. Ichiro Ono: Ichiro Ono is Masuji's grandson and Setsuko's son. Although young, Ichiro aids in revealing Masuji's character through their interactions and discussions about the war.
  4. Noriko Kuma: Noriko is Ono's daughter from his second marriage. She is portrayed as an independent and strong-willed woman who challenges her father's notion of personal responsibility.
  5. Kuroda: Kuroda is a former pupil of Masuji Ono and represents the post-war generation of artists. He serves as a foil to Ono’s traditionalist beliefs and values. Kuroda is critical of Ono's past actions, causing tension between the two characters.
  6. Matsuda: Matsuda is a friend and former colleague of Ono. He provides insights into Ono's past and the consequences of his actions. Matsuda also serves as a contrasting voice, often challenging Ono's self-perception.
  7. Mr. Mori: Mr. Mori is Ono's old business partner and a fellow participant in nationalist propaganda. Mori's character highlights the connection between art and politics, and his presence prompts Ono to reflect on his past choices.
  8. Mrs. Kawakami: Mrs. Kawakami is the owner of Mrs. Kawakami's Tea House, a place where Ono often gathers with fellow artists. She represents the traditional values of Japanese society and provides a backdrop for the cultural changes occurring during the post-war period.
  9. Mrs. Kuroda: Mrs. Kuroda is Kuroda's wife. While her role is limited, she adds context to Kuroda's relationship with Ono and serves as a reminder of the consequences of Ono's actions on those around him.

Character Traits

  1. Masuji Ono: Ono is introspective, regretful, proud of his past achievements, and deeply aware of the societal changes taking place. He struggles with guilt, haunted by his involvement in nationalist propaganda and the impact it had on his personal and professional life.
  2. Setsuko Ono: Setsuko is caring, patient, and understanding towards her father. She supports him during his reflective journey, encouraging him to come to terms with his past.
  3. Ichiro Ono: Ichiro is curious and questions Ono about his past actions and beliefs. He represents the younger generation trying to make sense of Japan's troubled history.
  4. Noriko Kuma: Noriko is independent, forward-thinking, and challenges her father's beliefs. She attempts to create her own path separate from the traditional expectations placed upon her.
  5. Kuroda: Kuroda is critical, rebellious, and represents the changing values of the post-war society. He questions Ono's beliefs and holds him accountable for his actions during the war.
  6. Matsuda: Matsuda is insightful, skeptical, and acts as a voice of reason. He challenges Ono's idealized version of his past and the nationalist propaganda they once embraced.
  7. Mr. Mori: Mori is pragmatic, opportunistic, and demonstrates the consequences of Ono's past actions. His presence highlights the intertwining of personal choices and societal repercussions.
  8. Mrs. Kawakami: Mrs. Kawakami represents traditional values and cultural norms. She values etiquette and embodies the pre-war social expectations.
  9. Mrs. Kuroda: Mrs. Kuroda's character traits are less explored. However, she appears to be loyal to her husband and indirectly affected by Ono's past actions.

Character Background

  1. Masuji Ono: Masuji Ono was a respected artist during the late 1930s and the early 1940s. He participated in nationalist propaganda, creating artwork that supported Japan's imperial endeavors. However, following Japan's defeat in World War II, Ono's past actions tainted his reputation, resulting in him retiring from the art world.
  2. Setsuko Ono: Setsuko is Masuji's adult daughter, married with her own family. Her character represents the next generation, influenced by the aftermath of the war and the shifting societal values.
  3. Ichiro Ono: Ichiro is an inquisitive young boy who questions his grandfather about his past. He serves as a bridge between generations, bringing forth the impact of history on personal relationships.
  4. Noriko Kuma: Noriko is Ono's daughter from his second marriage. She symbolizes independence and challenges her father's beliefs, embracing a different path than what was expected of her.
  5. Kuroda: Kuroda was once a pupil of Ono and represents the post-war generation of artists. He rejects Ono's traditionalist values and criticizes his past actions.
  6. Matsuda: Matsuda is an old friend and colleague of Ono. He sheds light on Ono's past and provides a perspective on the consequences of their collective actions.
  7. Mr. Mori: Mr. Mori is Ono's former business partner, and together they participated in nationalist propaganda. His character demonstrates the intertwining of art and politics during the war era.
  8. Mrs. Kawakami: Mrs. Kawakami, the owner of the tea house, has deep-rooted traditions and values. Her character embodies the societal expectations of women during pre-war times.
  9. Mrs. Kuroda: Mrs. Kuroda's background is not extensively explored. However, as Kuroda's wife, she reflects the impact of Ono's actions on those indirectly associated with him.

Character Arcs

  1. Masuji Ono: Ono's character arc primarily focuses on his introspection and coming to terms with his past. Initially proud of his nationalist art, he begins to question the consequences of his actions. As the story progresses, Ono confronts his guilt and acknowledges the negative impact his choices had on his family, career, and society.
  2. Setsuko Ono: Setsuko's character arc acts as a supporting element to Masuji Ono's arc. She remains steadfast in her love and support for her father throughout his journey of introspection.
  3. Ichiro Ono: Ichiro's character arc revolves around his curiosity about his grandfather's past. Through conversations with Ono, he develops a clearer understanding of the war and its repercussions on Japanese society.
  4. Noriko Kuma: Noriko's character arc depicts her defiance of traditional societal expectations placed upon her as Ono's daughter. She actively seeks her own path and challenges Ono's beliefs.
  5. Kuroda: Kuroda's character arc portrays his rebellion against traditional values, including Ono's practices. He serves as a catalyst for Ono's introspection and confronts him about the consequences of their past actions.
  6. Matsuda: Matsuda's character arc showcases his skepticism towards Ono's idealized version of the past. He challenges Ono's perception and opens his eyes to the reality of their collective involvement in nationalist propaganda.


  1. Masuji Ono and Setsuko Ono: Father-daughter relationship. Setsuko supports and stands by her father during his journey of self-reflection.
  2. Masuji Ono and Ichiro Ono: Grandfather-grandson relationship. Ichiro's inquisitiveness prompts Masuji to reflect on his actions during the war.
  3. Masuji Ono and Noriko Kuma: Father-daughter relationship. Noriko challenges her father's beliefs and seeks her own independent path.
  4. Masuji Ono and Kuroda: Former teacher-pupil relationship. Kuroda holds Ono accountable for his past actions, causing tension between them.
  5. Masuji Ono and Matsuda: Old friends and colleagues. Matsuda provides insights into Ono's past and challenges his perception of the nationalist propaganda they once embraced.
  6. Masuji Ono and Mr. Mori: Former business partners and participants in nationalist propaganda. Mr. Mori's character highlights the connection between art and politics, and their past actions affect their relationship.
  7. Masuji Ono and Mrs. Kawakami: Acquaintances. Mrs. Kawakami's character represents traditional values, and her tea house serves as a setting for interactions between various characters.
  8. Kuroda and Mrs. Kuroda: Husband and wife. Mrs. Kuroda's character indirectly reflects the consequences of Ono's past actions on those around him, including Kuroda himself.

In "An Artist of the Floating World," Kazuo Ishiguro skillfully develops these characters to explore themes of guilt, personal responsibility, and the impact of past choices on the individual and society as a whole. Through their interactions and character arcs, the reader gains insights into the complexities of post-war Japan and the challenges faced by those seeking to reconcile with their past.