The action of “The Japanese Quince” appears at first glance quite simple and straightforward, perhaps deceptively so. On a beautiful spring morning, Mr. Nilson opens his dressing room window, only to experience “a peculiar sweetish sensation in the back of his throat.” Descending to his dining room and finding his morning paper laid out, Mr. Nilson again experiences that peculiar sensation as he takes the paper in his hand. Hoping to rid himself of this uncomfortable feeling, Mr. Nilson determines to take a walk in the nearby gardens before breakfast.
With paper firmly in hand behind him, Mr. Nilson notes with some alarm that even after two laps around the park, the unsettling sensation has not ceased. Breathing deeply only exacerbates the problem. Mr. Nilson is unable to account for the way he feels, until it occurs to him it might possibly be “some smell affecting him,” a scent evidently emanating from the budding bushes of spring. When a blackbird begins singing, Mr. Nilson’s attention is drawn to a nearby tree.
Mr. Nilson pauses to enjoy the flowering tree. He congratulates himself on having taken the time to enjoy the beautiful morning. He then wonders why he is the only person who has bothered to come out and enjoy the square. Just then he notices that he is, in fact, not alone. Another man is standing quite near to him, likewise “staring up and smiling at the little tree.” At the sight of the man, Mr. Nilson ceases to smile and regards the “stranger” cautiously. The man, as it turns out, is Mr. Nilson’s neighbor, Mr. Tandram. His presence causes Mr. Nilson to perceive “at once the awkwardness of his position, for, being married, they had not yet had occasion to speak to one another.”
Unsure of how to respond to Mr. Tandram’s presence, Mr. Nilson finally murmurs a greeting before continuing on his way. When Mr. Tandram responds, Mr. Nilson detects “a slight nervousness in his neighbor’s voice.” A glance reveals that his neighbor is remarkably similar to him in appearance, both possessing “firm, well-colored cheeks, neat brown mustaches, and round, well-opened, clear grey eyes.” Both clasp newspapers behind their backs.
Feeling that he has been “caught out,” Mr. Nilson asks his neighbor the name of the tree they have both been admiring. A nearby label reveals that the tree is a Japanese Quince. Both men remark on the beauty of the day and the blackbird’s song. They gaze again in silence at the beautiful tree before them, until Mr. Nilson suddenly, in a moment of self-recognition, regards Mr. Tandram as appearing a little foolish, “as if he had seen himself,” and Mr. Nilson bids farewell to his neighbor.
The neighbors retrace their steps to their respective homes. As he approaches the doorstep, Mr. Nilson’s attention is drawn to the sound of Mr. Tandram’s cough. He sees his neighbor standing “in the shadow of his French window . . . looking forth across the Gardens at the little quince tree.” Mr. Nilson returns to his newspaper, “unaccountably upset.”