Hayashi Fumiko, translated by Joanne Jang, University of Victoria [About | Email]

Volume 21, Issue 3 (Translation 3 in 2021). First published in ejcjs on 20 December 2021.

A translation of Rinraku, by Hayashi Fumiko.

Keywords: Hayashi Fumiko, postwar fiction, women's writing

I came to Tokyo without telling my family. After the war ended, the people who had come to my village for evacuation went back to Tokyo in a hurry. Even the ones who said that they wanted to spend the rest of their lives in the countryside—like Mr. Honda and Mr. Yamaji—returned to Tokyo. I wondered, ‘what’s so amazing/special about Tokyo?’ And I thought that I would like to visit Tokyo at least once. My elder sister, who had been in Osaka for a long time working as a house maid, came back when the war began and was helping around the house. Both of my elder brothers had been mobilised; but because they were stationed on the home islands, they came back at the same time the war ended and were lazing around the house. My sister said that we had to find a place to work as soon as possible. Our eldest brother also said that if such healthy people—who didn’t even own a much farmland—were to live crowded under the same roof, we would soon no longer be able to live. Because I had 5 siblings and 3 of them were younger than me and still very young, father began to habitually say that feeding everyone every day had become a headache for him. I made up my mind and got a station attendant I was friends with to buy me a train ticket to Tokyo. I stuffed my rucksack with enough food to last me for ten days without being found out by mother, and in October of last year, I got on the night train and arrived in Tokyo by myself. As soon as I arrived in Tokyo, I went to Mr. Yamaji’s house by asking around because I remembered that his wife had said ‘if you (ever) come to Tokyo, please do visit us and we will return the favour,’ whenever she came to us to buy rice or vegetables. I wondered how big the house would be be since Mr. Yamaji said that he owned a factory and even had a cottage at a place called Atami, but contrary to my expectations, the house was small. The wife seemed surprised when she was looking at me. When I said that I ran away from my home and came here, the wife looked troubled and said “Tokyo is very short on food. Besides, since our house burned down, we had to borrow somebody else’s house for now.” I thought I would ask them to let stay for just one or two days and find a job soon. Tokyo was terribly burned down. It was burned down so much that it astonished me, and I thought that it was truly a shame. Mr. Yamaji’s wife would only complain about the countryside to me, and because she said that everyone from the countryside were bad people, I got annoyed. Although she had acted so humbly when  she was in the countryside, once she came to Tokyo her whole demeanour changed and she said that she would have even liked to take back the kimonos and watches she had lost back there. Even I had received about 2 of her daughter’s kimonos back then, but because the wife was complaining too much, I thought that I’d rather return them. I couldn’t consider the people at Mr. Yamaji’s household to be good people—the wife, Mr. Yamaji’s mother, and two daughters who attended a women’s university. They acted prissy and lent me the dirtiest and most worn out quilt to use for sleeping. I stayed at Mr. Yamaji’s house for only one night and went to Ueno Station. I met Koyama there. When I was idling by the entrance of the station, a man came by and asked where I was going. When I told him that I was returning to the countryside because I had come to Tokyo looking for a job, but was treated heartlessly by the acquaintances I was depending on, and I was stumped because I couldn’t afford the ticket, the man said that he could find me any number of jobs if I wanted to work in Tokyo, and asked if I wanted to come to his boarding house. Since I was desperate and it didn’t matter who took care of me, I went with him. The man was living at an apartmentin Urawa. It was on the second floor of a dirty apartment that was a wreck of its former self, and there was just bedding and basic cooking tools inside his small, four-and-a-half tatami room. The stuffing was sticking out of the tatami mat, and the bedding was spread out by the window all the time. Koyama was working at a pharmaceutical company in Kanda. He was around forty. It was strange how he had so much money.
He said that his wife had died in an air raid, and that he was living alone now. That night, I slept on the same futon as Koyama. I was surprised and scared because Koyama was doing things to me, but when I thought how I would have to go back to the countryside, I decided to bear it. Koyama said that he thought I was already past twenty. When I said that I was still eighteen, he said that country girls looked older than they were. I thought that I couldn’t care less. Upon reflection, I thought since there was nothing that could be done, I was lucky that there was a person that was treating me so kindly. I also gradually became to like Koyama. Whenever Koyama came back from work, we went to see movies, just the two of us. Eventually, cold winter arrived. When I said to Koyama that maybe I should go back to the countryside to pick up some clothing since I didn’t have any, Koyama said that I shouldn’t go back to the countryside and brought me some pretty clothes and an overcoat from somewhere. I went out into the city without telling him and got myself a hair perm in the salon. Koyama told me that I looked just like a western person because I had a modish face. He said that I would be popular if I were to become a dancer. I thought that I’d like to become one. I bought a newspaper, searched for that type of advertisement, and applied there by myself because I thought Koyama would definitely oppose the idea if I asked him. That place was a Japanese-only dance hall, and newcomers had to receive training for about two weeks. I went there regularly during daytime. There, I met Kuriyama who said that he was working as a musician. Kuriyama was still young, had just been demobilised, and he was a man who had a cleanly demeanour. Whenever I talked with Kuriyama I somehow felt good. Because Kuriyama said that he’d like to have a homemade meal once in a while since he ate using meal tickets, I brought Kuriyama back with me to the Urawa apartment one day. Koyama had bought some black-market rice, so I made Kuriyama a meal of that—I also made other things, such as grilling sardines and making miso meat stew. When I talked about how I came from the countryside and ended up living with Koyama, Kuriyama looked surprised and said “You really are a foolish girl; when I look at you, I thought that you were very clever and intelligent—but I guess that’s just the Gods being sarcastic. You may think that everything in the world is sweet and easy, but you’re living a dangerous lifestyle.” But really, with the world as it is, after a few months of living in Tokyo, most of the girls end up living just like me. When I saw Kuriyama off at the station, I met Koyama who was carrying a large cloth bundle on his back. Kuriyama left in a rush. After I returned to the apartment, I was treated horribly by Koyama—not only did he scold me severely, he grabbed my hair and gave me a terrible beating, hitting and kicking me. When he treated me like this, I suddenly began to hate Koyama, and I shuddered from the skin-crawling-cold feeling it gave me. I put on my overcoat to leave, but Koyama suddenly pushed me down and kicked my stomach two or three times. It hurt so much that I felt my back was going to snap. Koyama dragged me into the bedroom, and cruelly chopped off my permed hair with scissors. I had my eyes firmly closed because of the pain in my stomach. For two or three days, my body ached so much so that I couldn’t move. When I looked into the mirror, I was glad that my eyelashes were uncommonly long. Although my cheekbones were a little high, since my lips were thick, when I put on a lipstick, I kind of resembled a westerner. With my big, white front teeth and uncommonly large breasts, I somehow felt that I was prettier than the girls at the dance hall I went to for a very short while. The dance instructor looked at my legs and complimented me on how shapely thery were. Among the girls who had applied, I was on the tall side. I couldn’t forget the gorgeous scenery I saw at that dance hall. I utterly hated that I was in this dirty apartment and sleeping together with an old man on a filthy futon. Kuriyama had called me a girl that was sarcastically created by the Gods, and I felt that I just couldn’t stay still in a place like this. Whenever I think deeply about something, my whole body starts to tingle. I don’t like thinking. I left the house after two or three days had gone by. I knew an old lady who was running an oden stand in front of the station who had a place, so I went there. The old lady had two children and she lived behind a garage. Since I’d eaten oden at her place many times and we knew each other, the old lady kindly let me stay. Just like the old saying ‘there is kindness to be found everywhere,’ I was able to live there and work at the dance hall. Around that time, Kuriyama had switched to a different dance hall. He said: “It may be impossible to ask such a thing from you, but since I’m egoistic and fastidious, I’m afraid we can’t ever be together.” A man such as Kuriyama is just caught up in dreams. When he said that he didn’t want to be together, I felt my heart longed for it even more because of that. I didn’t meet Kuriyama for about two months. And yet, I couldn’t help but be constantly reminded of him in my heart despite of how there was nothing between us. I didn’t meet Koyama for a long time. I didn’t even want to meet him. I went to an inn in the countryside two or three times with different men, and I felt like I’d become a bad woman these days—sometimes, it feels like a gust of chilly wind is blowing into my heart. The old lady also said that the way I look had changed quite a lot recently. The house was moldy and exactly as wide as two six-tatami-mat rooms, but I’d come to really like this place. The daughter was nearly 14 and the son 12, but I was often surprised by how both of them spoke just like children from wealthy households and how they were devoted to their parents. No matter how late I came back, the old lady didn’t say a single complaint and treated me just like one of her children—I thought it was rare that a person could have such a kind heart.
I became acquainted with a certain office worker at the dance hall. That person didn’t dance even a little bit. He came with a companion and he would stare vacantly at the others who were dancing—one day, we coincidentally ran into each other in front of the Yaesu station and we talked while drinking tea. He had been in Java and had just been demobilised, and he said that he wasn’t working anywhere yet. Apparently, when he came back from the war, his wife was living with someone else, and since his house was burnt down, he was now living with a friend. He said that the world now presented neither joy the sadness to him anymore, and that he was now simply living by chance. Although I couldn’t understand complicated things, he said that ever since he had been left behind and forsaken by life, every day had become the continuation of a painful hangover. Because I was lonely, I quickly came to like this person called Seki. Seki was thin and tall with a bluish-black, gloomy face. He had a habit of asking me “How about it, having fun?” whenever we met. So, I would always answer “Yes, it is fun anyhow. In any case, it sure is interesting.” Summer came, and the two of us went to the Ohito Hot Spring in Izu. We stayed at a small inn. Seki had whiskey with him. I had brought some rice which I had bought with help from the old lady at my place. The inn was a very unremarkable place located in a field, and we spent the night drinking whiskey and listening to the cicadas. Seki only talked about dying. I only talked about how being alive was more fun. Even after we went back under the mosquito net, Seki would silently cry—maybe because he was too drunk. I couldn’t help but find everything about it to be weird. At night, I went to the hot spring for a soak alone. After staying at Ohito for one night, we returned to Tokyo. And two or three days after that, Seki committed suicide. Ever since that time, death must have been haunting him. Even I was sad for two or three days, but I gradually came to forget Seki. I changed halls again, and took the name Momoko. Each and every day was of utmost importance, and I was too busy with dancing and having fun to be thinking about the countryside and my future in any case. I was still poor as ever since I’d spend away all the money I had, but whenever I wanted to eat something, a complete stranger would treat me to a meal.
Coming in to September, I noticed that my physical condition was quite strange. I immediately thought of Seki, but I didn’t want to give birth to a child. When I talked to the old lady about this, she said that it simply wouldn’t do not to have a child. She said that if I were to have a child, a woman like me would also begin to think properly about the future. I didn’t even want to consider such a thought as having a child. Even at the hall, I danced intensely without rest. I felt sorry for the child that was going to be born from a woman such as myself. Autumn winds started to blow in. By chance, I came across Koyama in the streets of Shinjuku. Koyama looked like he was down in the world. It seemed like he hadn’t had a good life even after breaking up with me. During our brief chat, he said: “I went through a lot of trouble because of you,” and he also talked about how he had gone to the police about me for about two months.
Koyama asked me to get together with him again, but I said no. While looking at me with amazement, he said this former country girl had completely changed—he said he thought now I looked like a young lady from a wealthy household somewhere. Because he asked about what I’d been doing, I lied and said that I had become a movie actress. When I said that he would be able to work for me at a movie theatre after a couple years, Koyama fell for it, and he begged me to let him live with me, promising not to do anything violent anymore. In my heart, I couldn’t help but to find it laughable.
I thought that all men were spineless. I hated weak men. Koyama offered to have a drink somewhere with me, but because I figured Koyama wouldn’t have enough money for drinks, I said that I was about to go to my workplace and we split up shortly afterwards. I couldn’t bring myself to like a man such as Koyama no matter what. When I got to the Shinjuku train platform, a pretty woman happened to be standing beside me by chance. She was wearing a grey suit and holding a large brown handbag that matched the colour of her shoes, and her face had no makeup on it whatsoever—her skin was smooth and beautiful, you could tell it had regular care put into it, and she had a sparkling expression with her big, glittering eyes. Men who were casually passing by would direct their focus at that beautiful woman, and they would suddenly change their expressions to a patronising smile when they looked at me—somehow, I felt like I was being made fun of. When I looked over the girls who were my co-workers at the dance hall, I couldn’t find a single woman who looked like that beautiful woman at the Shinjuku platform. It must have been that she was a daughter from an extremely wealthy family, unlike us. I looked into the mirror and felt that I was somewhat different from the proper women around the world. Our appearance and makeup tended to change gradually so that we would stand out among others just by being there together. We would apply eyeliner and plaster lipstick to its fullest. Since there was no good skin crème those days, some girls would rub kitchen oil over their backs and legs, and they would be scorned for their tempura stench. Wearing clothes as thin as cellophane, I began to feel as if I’d become an obvious copy of a woman from the circus that was visiting the countryside long ago. After seeing the beautiful woman at the platform, I felt like I was starting to consider myself a vulgar woman—and it made me sad.
With a glass necklace wrapped around my neck, I was wearing a gilded bracelet and a pink dress that was paper-thin. My hair was tied up with a large blue ribbon, my earrings were blue marbles, and there was a ruby on my ring. I was wearing a pair of secondhand high heels made of black leather, which I just managed to buy with the help from my co-worker Rose—some man told me that I was just like a fresh horse from new cargo, and although I couldn’t understand what that meant at that time, when I understood it afterwards, I disliked it very much. Kuriyama had often said: “You look much better when you don’t put on any makeup. Since you have a large physique, you look somewhat older when you have makeup on.” I couldn’t help it but to put on very thick makeup. The manager of the last dance hall would call me by the nickname, Parakeet-chan.
Because my physical condition was getting increasingly worse, I found myself wanting to take a break from even the dance halls those days. When I took some time off from going to the dance hall, I would sleep freely through the whole day without even eating anything. The old lady would worry and cook me some food, but I didn’t want it one bit. I recently learned how to smoke a cigarette. While I felt that I was gradually becoming a bad woman, I just couldn’t reflect on myself. My body would itch all over whenever I thought about something, so I slept through the entire day, and when I got bored in the middle of the night, I played trumps alone. When I was doing fortune-telling by myself, I felt like fortunate things could happen to me at any moment. In the house where the sunlight shone through brightly, I would give birth to a lovable baby. Although I thought about such things, soon afterwards, the melody from the dance hall music would come to my ears. Within that dance hall, my co-worker friends also lived a life of tricking men or being tricked by them—but mostly, the women were on the tricked side, and contrary to popular belief, there were a lot of pure, kind-hearted girls there. Recently, a person had taken a liking to me, and he had been frequenting the dance hall. Though I didn’t know where he worked, I hated him because he put on such airs.
Seeing his habit of wiping his face with a blue handkerchief or combing his hair with a small red comb made me sick to my stomach. Types of men I’ve never imagined to even meet back in the countryside regularly made an appearance at the dance hall. I had no clue what they did for a living. Even for my friends, although each and every one of them had lovers or people whom they liked, those girls were falling head over heels in love with men that would make me wonder what they saw in them. And just like that, they would break up and meet a different person yet again and break up to come across a different person yet again—letting the fleeting days pass by.
During the day, we were no different from the weeds in the shadows that don’t emit a single glint; but when it finally became night, even we came back to life. Within the dressing room, there were also girls who drank hormone drugs as if they were light snacks. A dirty chemise, homemade bread, a blouse coming apart at the seams, and a dirty, half-read novel or magazine were the only contents of our cloth parcels. There was rarely anyone who had collected any money inside their handbags. All of these freshly shipped horses were penniless.
Although I thought about wanting to return to the countryside from time to time these days, they were just thoughts and ended at that—it wasn’t like I missed my home so much to the brink of tears or anything. I paid 300 yen as rent to the old lady each month. With unwavering kindness, she always told me not to overwork myself, and to find a respectable job someday. Since I hadn’t even graduated from a girls’ high school, there wouldn’t be such a respectable job available for me. Everyone said that a great depression was coming. –– One day, I was at Ginza with Kuriyama—a first meeting in a while—he was surprisingly kind, and he said this: “It’s all the same, wherever you go. There are more and more girls that are no different from you—it’s not even a big deal. Momoko came to my mind from time to time, so I’ve been worrying about what became of her. Well, I guess either of us can’t be helped for a while.” For some reason, my chest became tight with overwhelming emotions. Neither of us felt like drinking tea, so we walked toward Marunouchi in the sunsetting city, and took a walk toward Miyagi. Most of the bugs festering the entire area were already gone, signaling the approach of fall. Kuriyama said that he had gotten into a small band and had been travelling around. Although business had been good, he said that nothing came out of it since he had to take care of many of his family members. When I said “Kuriyama-san, I think I’m now ready to marry someone,” he said “How could you consider such a thing as marriage at times like this. Even if you’re thinking about marriage, you wouldn’t find a good partner anywhere.” With a serious face. I talked about how I might have become pregnant by him, and Kuriyama told me: “Sure, whatever’s fine. You might as well give birth. When that happens, let me know. I can prepare some money for you.” We walked to wherever the wind blew us among the wide boulevards of Miyagi. –– When we were parting at the Sukiya bridge, Kuriyama said “We’ll meet again. Let me know whenever,” and he gave me a sleek business card with his name on it and two 200-yen bills. Kuriyama was wearing a brand new pair of shoes. I thought his business was doing nicely.


About the Translator

Joanne Jang holds a BA in Pacific and Asian Studies from the University of Victoria. She is a translator and avid reader of Japanese popular fiction and manga, in addition to other forms of popular culture.

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