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The Setting Sun

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This powerful novel of a nation in social and moral crisis was first published by New Directions in 1956.

Set in the early postwar years, it probes the destructive effects of war and the transition from a feudal Japan to an industrial society.
Year:
1968
Edition:
Revised
Publisher:
New Directions
Language:
english
Pages:
175
ISBN 10:
0811200329
ISBN 13:
9780811200325
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EPUB, 204 KB
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4 comments
 
HANCOCK_BOA
we all came here because of bungo stray dogs
14 October 2021 (21:24) 
Kitomithelesbian
How do i rear the book?
22 October 2021 (18:20) 
Nir
BSD introduced me to them. Thank you Asagiri-san~
15 April 2022 (16:18) 
Naushaba Perween
thank you bsd for introducing me to Japanese literature:)
25 May 2022 (23:28) 

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Acting Reframes: Using NLP to Make Better Decisions In and Out of the Theatre

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Set in the early postwar years, this powerful novel of a nation in social and moral crisis probes the destructive effects of war, and the transition from a feudal Japan to an industrial society. Though Osamu Dazai died a suicide in 1948, the influence of this. book, often considered his masterpiece, has made the term "people of the setting sun" (i.e., the declining aristocracy) a permanent part of the Japanese language. And Dazai's heroine, Kazuko, the strongwilled young aristocrat who deliberately abandons her class, stands as a symbol of the anomie which pervades so much of the modern world.

Dazai's writing is in some ways reminiscent of Rimbaud, while he himself has often been called a forerunner of Yukio Mishima. Donald Keene, the distinguished translator, has said of the author's work: "His world . . . suggests Chekhov or possibly postwar France . . . but there is a Japanese sensibility in the choice and presentation of the material. A Dazai novel is at once immediately intelligible in Western terms and quite unlike any Western book."

Of this novel, Keene writes: " 'Victims of a transitional period in morality' is how Kazuko styles herself and her lover, and we feel that she is right. A modus vivendi with Western things has nearly been achieved, but the full effect of Western ideas has yet to be felt. The Setting Sun derives much of its power from its portrayal of the ways in which the new ideas have destroyed the Japanese aristocracy. The novel created an immediate sensation when it first appeared. . . . It is generally conceded that Dazai is one of the great chroniclers of contemporary Japanese life, and this major achievement was reached despite the shortness of his life and career. . . . But The Setting Sun is not to be considered [merely] a sociological document of help to those who wish to learn more about an obscure or distant country. It is a powerful and beautiful novel by one of the most brilliant of recent Japanese writers and stands as such in the world of literat; ure."





Published by the Charles E. Tuttle Company, Inc. of Rutland, Vermont and Tokyo, Japan, with editorial offices at Suido 1-chome, 2-6, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo, Japan, by special arrangement with New Directions Publishing Corporation, New York.

Copyright © 1956 by New Directions Publishing Corporation

All rights reserved.

Except for brief passages quoted in a newspaper, magazine, radio, or television review, no part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Publisher.

First Tuttle edition, 1981

Third printing, 1987

ISBN 4-8053-0474-X

Printed in Japan





CONTENTS


Snake

Fire

Moonflowers

Letters

The Lady

Outbreak of Hostilities

The Testament

Victims





Note on Pronunciation of Names


Japanese in transcription is pronounced with the consonants as in English and the vowels as in Italian. Thus, the name Naoji is pronounced nah-oh-jee. There is no marked stress accent, and one is safe in giving equal weight to all syllables.

In this novel most of the characters (such as Naoji, Kazuko, and Osaki) are referred to by their personal names only. Where both personal and family names are given, the family name comes first. Thus, in the name Uehara Jiro, Uehara is the family name and Jiro the personal name.





Translator's Introduction


The foreign visitor to Japan today is apt to be at once delighted and dismayed by what he observes. The delight will probably stem from what is old in the country — the temples set in their clean-swept grounds and gardens, the brilliant spectacle of the theatres, the cordiality and charm of one's reception in any Japanese home. Most travelers indeed are so captivated by this aspect of Japan as to become excessively critical of what the past sixty or seventy years have brought from the West. They bewail the fact that many Japanese women have given up their beautiful kimonos in favor of mass-produced dresses, that the Japanese house is all too frequently marred by a "foreign-style" room with lumpish furniture obscurely derived from European prototypes, and that the streets are filled with the din of clanging trams and squawking loud-speakers. Those who complain in these terms are quite justified in their aesthetic indignation, although not in the arrogant impatience with which it is too often accompanied.

Japan today, alone of the nations of Asia, is closely connected to the West, not only in its industrial and political developments, but in its active cultural life. The bookshops are full of European (especially French) works of literature in translation, including all the latest and most difficult ones. There are numerous coffee-shops where students gather to listen to records of Beethoven and Brahms, if not of Debussy and Stravinsky. Even the banks send out calendars all over the country with excellent reproductions of Renoir, Van Gogh, or Matisse. It may be debated how deeply this interest in modern Western literature and art penetrates, whether the farmer in his village has any better understanding of Goethe or Manet than his grandfather did. The fact remains that almost everywhere in Japan education has brought with it a profound respect for Western culture, and sometimes a genuine love.

This feeling has often been indiscriminate and led to a defacement of the Japanese landscape which we may find all but unpardonable, but it has not been only adulation for the West which has led to many of the changes so deplored by the foreign visitor. The Japanese woman who abandons the traditional kimono in favor of a dress is not merely imitating some Hollywood star; she is liberating herself from the nuisance of the elaborate series of robes and underrobes, unbearably hot in summer and impractical at any time of the year in the offices and busses she must cope with today. Even if she would like nothing better than to wear a kimono every day, the cost of the expensive silks makes the traditional costume a luxury which few can afford unless they have inherited them.

The face of Japan is changing every day as taste, convenience, and economic necessity dictate. Underneath the surface, at an undeniably slower pace, the moral and spiritual life of the country is undergoing similar change. The family system is breaking up, especially in the larger cities, and the traditional values associated with the family are losing ground. Divorce, for example, is now accepted (at least in Tokyo) as the alternative a woman has to an odious marriage, although until very recently she was expected to accept the flagrant infidelity of her husband and any other indignity he might choose to inflict on her in the interest of preserving the family. It will take years for such new ideas to spread throughout the country, but even today few of the younger people share their parents' belief in the traditional views.

As far as religion goes, one would have to look very hard to find in Japan even as much fervor as exists in this country, let alone India. Although most Japanese are nominally Buddhists and are buried, for form's sake, in accordance with Buddhist ritual, real interest in the religion is comparatively unusual. If, for example, the Prime Minister of Japan were to adopt the practice of important political figures in the United States and England (and elsewhere, of course) of invoking the blessings of the Deity — any deity — on the heads of the Japanese people, he would be greeted with astonishment and possibly derision. It may seem strange that Japan, which has borrowed so much from the West, has never taken more to Christianity. There has in fact been a decline of interest in Christianity since its high point at the turn of the century when many of the intellectual leaders were devout believers in a "churchless" Protestantism. This form of Christianity has not proved satisfying to most of their descendants who, even if they remember the Bible lessons of their childhood, find in them no adequate solution to their present problems.

The people whose lives are described in The Setting Sun are in many ways exceptional, but they are also typical of modern Japan. Kazuko, the girl who relates the story, seems more accustomed to wearing Western clothes than kimonos, is reminded as often of Chekhov or Balzac as of The Tale of Genji, and, if not fluent in any Western language, uses a variety of French and English phrases with certainty that she will be understood by everyone. At the same time, she remains unmistakably Japanese in her relations with the people around her and in her quick emotional responses to the moments of intensity in her life. Because family confidences are almost impossible (except on the rare occasions when the repressions of Japanese life are overcome by the force of intolerable emotions), Kazuko, her mother, and her brother live almost without overt communication with one another. The author, Dazai Osamu, must therefore resort to various types of flashback techniques (including a diary, letters, and a will) to create for us three-dimensional figures. And although he succeeded in lending extraordinary vividness to his characters, there is much necessarily left unsaid in this Japanese world. The Setting Sun owes much to European culture, but it is as Japanese a novel as can be written today, in this period when the surface and inner manifestations of Japanese life are being Westernized at very different speeds and when (to a Western reader) the Japanese literature which reflects these changes is surprising, alternately, for its closeness and remoteness to our own lives.

"Victims of a transitional period in morality" is how Kazuko styles herself and her lover, and we feel that she is right. A modus vivendi with Western things has nearly been achieved, but the full effect of Western ideas has yet to be felt. The Setting Sun derives much of its power from its portrayal of the ways in which the new ideas have destroyed the Japanese aristocracy. The novel created an immediate sensation when it first appeared in 1947. The phrase "people of the setting sun," which came to be applied, as a result of the novel, to the whole of the declining aristocracy, has now passed into common usage and even into dictionaries. Kazuko, her mother, and her brother Naoji are typical not only of the aristocracy but of the large class of Japanese who were impoverished by the war and the succeeding inflation and land reforms.

In reading the novel one cannot escape the feeling that the author, Dazai Osamu, himself was personally involved — that he was not only the story-teller but a participant. An examination of his biography tends to confirm this impression. Dazai was born in 1909 of a rich and powerful family of the north of Japan. He was brilliant in his studies at school and early showed promise of his literary talent, as well as signs of the erratic habits which were subsequently to darken his career. Before he was twenty, he twice attempted suicide. In 1930 he entered the Department of French Literature at Tokyo University. Dazai knew no French when he elected this course (and apparently, through complete neglect of his studies, never learned more than a few words), but at the time French literature was the chosen field of many young Japanese. This was partially because they found French Symbolism or Surrealism more congenial than the more matter-of-fact English literature, and far more so than the philological problems of the classical Japanese literature, and partially because of the universal credence given in Japan to legends surrounding the magical vie de Bohème of Paris.

Dazai withdrew from the University in 1935 without obtaining a degree. This was not surprising when one considers that he boasted of not having attended a single lecture in five years. Instead, he spent his time in literary and Left-Wing political activity. His stories had begun to attract attention when in 1935 he again attempted suicide, leaving in an envelope a collection of fourteen of his stories with the title, Declining Years, which was intended for posthumous publication. Dazai had, in the meantime, become addicted to morphine and was forced to spend almost two years in and out of hospitals before he could be cured. In 1936 there was another suicide attempt, this time with the woman with whom he had been living for the previous six years. He was married in the following year to another woman, who still survives him today.

Dazai's life of wild dissipation gave him much notoriety and caused even some unpopularity. This was especially true during the austere years which preceded the war with the United States. He was exempted from military service because of a chronic chest ailment. During the war he continued to publish, although he was forced by the bombings to move from one part of the country to another.

His most important literary activity came after the end of the war. Early in 1947 he published his brilliant short story "Villon's Wife" (which has been included in New Directions 15) and, later in the same year, The Setting Sun, the present volume. His second novel, The Disqualified, appeared in 1948 and was acclaimed by some critics as being even superior to The Setting Sun. He also began the serial publication of another novel with the English title of Good-bye. The cumulative effects of dissipation, overwork, and insomnia gave him an appearance of such utter exhaustion as to alarm his friends. The tuberculosis from which he had suffered before the war and which he claimed to have cured by drinking again manifested itself. The symptoms were unmistakable. In June of 1948 he finally succeeded in committing suicide, by throwing himself into the swollen waters of the Tamagawa Reservoir in Tokyo. Ironically enough, his body was discovered on his thirty-ninth birthday, the nineteenth of June.

The close connection between Dazai's life and almost any, of his works is immediately apparent, although as an artist he naturally did not confine himself to a mere recounting of autobiographical details. The Setting Sun is actually one of his more objective works, and yet we may find much in Naoji, in the novelist Uehara, his mentor, and even in the girl, Kazuko, who narrates most of the story, that clearly derives from Dazai's own personality and experiences. Dazai, himself a member of a near-aristocratic family, chose to depict the decline of his own class. Again and again we find ourselves wondering to what degree Dazai shared the emotions of his characters. When Naoji expresses the pain it has cost him to stay alive, we seem to hear the voice of the author who considered suicide so often. However, what gives The Setting Sun a strength that most of Dazai's other writings, however brilliant, generally lack is the character of Kazuko, who is determined to struggle rather than to die. Dazai himself, after his brief and not very animated participation in the Left-Wing movement, seemed to lose all desire to struggle, and his writings are almost invariably tinged with cynical despair.

Dazai's indebtedness to European literature is obvious, but he is in fact more closely linked with the great classics of Japanese literature, with which he was intimately familiar. His style offers no particular problems for the Western reader, but he uses one literary device which, although not unknown in the West, is perhaps unusual. He sometimes gives the last or climactic remark in a conversation first and then goes back to relate the steps leading up to it. An effective device in his hands, it is part of his fondness for the flashback. Another feature of Dazai's style which the reader will note is how he uses the description of minor happenings (such as, the burning of the snake eggs or the swelling in the mother's hand) to suggest much larger situations. In this technique he betrays his debt to Japanese poetry, particularly the miniature, seventeen-syllable haiku, in which each word must be a vital part of the whole, and where the attempt of the author is to make the reader supply from these scant drops the world from which the poem has been distilled.

It is generally conceded that Dazai is one of the great chroniclers of contemporary Japanese life, and this major achievement was reached despite the shortness of his life and career. He creates for us with amazing evocativeness a great variety of places — an old-fashioned mansion in the city, a country house, a Tokyo hovel, a cheap bar — and fills them with the people and the atmosphere that belong to them. I am, in a way, tempted to urge the Western reader to turn to Dazai for an exact picture of what life is like in Japan today, although certainly there are other pictures of Japan which can and have been painted of this same period. Despite the specialized area of the subject matter and the deviant behavior of some of its characters, The Setting Sun, by the depth of its understanding of the Japanese of today, evokes and reveals aspects of the Japanese nation as a whole. This is why the novel was so successful and so moving to Japanese of all classes. But The Setting Sun is not to be considered as a sociological document of help to those who wish to learn more about an obscure or distant country. It is a powerful and beautiful novel by one of the most brilliant of recent Japanese writers and stands as such in the world of literature.

Cambridge — New York

Donald Keene

This translation is dedicated to Kawabata Yasunari, the distinguished novelist and President of the Japanese P.E.N. Club, who has done so much to promote the understanding of Japanese literature abroad.





CHAPTER ONE / SNAKE


Mother uttered a faint cry. She was eating soup in the dining-room. I thought perhaps something disagreeable had got into the soup. "A hair?" I asked. "No." Mother poured another spoonful of soup into her mouth as if nothing had happened. This accomplished, she turned her head to one side, directed her gaze at the cherry tree in full bloom outside the kitchen window and, her head still averted, fluttered another spoonful of soup between her lips. Mother eats in a way so unlike the manner prescribed in women's magazines that it is no mere figure of speech in her case to use the word "flutter."

Naoji, my younger brother, once said to me when he had been drinking, "Just because a person has a title doesn't make him an aristocrat. Some people are great aristocrats who have no other title than the one that nature has bestowed on them, and others like us, who have nothing but titles, are closer to being pariahs than aristocrats. Iwashima, for example (mentioning one of his school friends, a count), doesn't he strike you as being more vulgar than any pimp you might meet in the streets? That damned fool wore a tuxedo to his cousin's wedding. Even supposing there was some necessity for him to appear in that outfit, it made me want to puke just to hear the highfalutin' language the idiot saw fit to use when making a table speech. That kind of affectation is a cheap front which has nothing whatsoever to do with refinement. Just the way there used to be signs around the University saying 'High-Class Lodgings,' most of what passes for the aristocracy might actually better be called 'High-Class Beggars.' The real aristocrats don't put on silly airs like that Iwashima. Mama is the only one in our family. She's the genuine article. There's something about her none of us can match."

Take the matter of eating soup. We are trained to lean slightly over the plate, to take up a little soup with the spoon held sideways, and then to bring it to our mouth, still holding the spoon sideways. Mother, on the other hand, lightly rests the fingers of her left hand on the edge of the table and sits perfectly erect, with her head held high and scarcely so much as a glance at the plate. She darts the spoon into the soup and like a swallow — so gracefully and cleanly one can really use the simile — brings the spoon to her mouth at a right angle, and pours the soup between her lips from the point. Then, with innocent glances around her, she flutters the spoon exactly like a little wing, never spilling a drop of soup or making the least sound of sipping or clinking the plate. This may not be the way of eating soup that etiquette dictates, but to me it is most appealing and somehow really genuine. As a matter of fact, it is amazing how much better soup tastes when you eat it as Mother does, sitting serenely erect, than when you look down into it. But being, in Naoji's words, a high-class beggar and unable to eat with Mother's effortless ease, I bend over the plate in the gloomy fashion prescribed by proper etiquette.

Mother's way of eating, not only soup but every-thing else, is quite a thing apart from normal table manners. When the meat appears she at once cuts it up into little pieces with her knife and fork, then transfers the fork to her right hand and happily skewers one piece after another. Again, while we are struggling to free the meat from a chicken bone without rattling the plate, Mother unconcernedly picks up the bone in her fingers and chews the meat off. Even such uncivilized actions seem not only charming but strangely erotic when Mother performs them. The real things are apt to be deviant.

I have sometimes myself thought things would taste better if we ate with our fingers, but I refrain from doing so, for fear that if a high-class beggar like myself imitates Mother badly, it might make me look a beggar plain and simple.

My brother Naoji says that we are no match for Mother, and I have at times felt something akin to despair at the difficulty of imitating her. Once, in the back garden of our house in Nishikata Street — it was a beautiful moonlight evening in the beginning of autumn — Mother and I were sitting in the summer-house by the edge of the pond admiring the moon, when she got up and went into a nearby clump of flowering shrubs. She called to me from among the white blossoms with a little laugh, "Kazuko, guess what Mother is doing now."

"Picking flowers."

She raised her little voice in a laugh. "Wee-wee!"

I felt there was something truly adorable in her which I could not possibly have imitated.

This has been quite a digression from this morning's soup, but I recently learned from a book I was reading how in the days of the French monarchy the court ladies thought nothing of relieving themselves in the palace gardens or in a corner of the corridors. Such innocence really charms me, and I wondered if Mother might not be one of the last of that kind of lady.

At any rate, this morning she let out a little cry — ah — as she sipped the soup, and I asked if it were a hair, only to be informed that it was not.

"Perhaps it was too salty."

The soup this morning was green pea, from an American can I got on the ration and made into a kind of potage. I haven't any confidence in my abilities as a cook, though it is one of the few confidences a girl should have, and couldn't help worrying about the soup, even after Mother said that nothing was wrong.

"You made it very well," Mother said in a serious tone. After she had finished the soup, she ate some rice-balls wrapped in seaweed.

I have never liked breakfast and am not hungry before ten o'clock. This morning I managed to get through the soup, but it was an effort to eat anything. I put some rice-balls on a plate and poked at them with my chopsticks, mashing them down. I picked up a piece with my chopsticks, which I held at right angles to my mouth, the way Mother holds a spoon while eating soup, and pushed it into my mouth, as if I were feeding a little bird. While I dawdled over my food, Mother, who had already finished her meal, quietly rose and stood with her back against a wall warmed by the morning sun. She watched me eating for a while in silence.

"Kazuko, you mustn't eat that way. You should try to make breakfast the meal you enjoy most."

"Do you enjoy it, Mother?"

"It doesn't matter about me — I'm not sick anymore."

"But I'm the one who's not sick."

"No, no." Mother, with a sad smile, shook her head.

Five years ago I was laid up with what was called lung trouble, although I was perfectly well aware that I had willed the sickness on myself. Mother's recent illness, on the other hand, had really been nerve-racking and depressing. And yet, Mother's only concern was for me.

"Ah," I murmured.

"What's the matter?" This time it was Mother's turn to ask.

We exchanged glances and experienced something like a moment of absolute understanding. I giggled and Mother's face lighted into a smile.

Whenever I am assailed by some painfully embarrassing thought, that strange faint cry comes from my lips. This time I had suddenly recalled, all too vividly, the events surrounding my divorce six years ago, and before I knew it, my little cry had come out. Why, I wondered, had Mother uttered it too? It couldn't possibly be that she had recalled something embarrassing from her past as I had. No, and yet there was something.

"What was it you remembered just now, Mother?"

"I've forgotten."

"About me?"

"No."

"About Naoji ?"

"Yes." Then, checking her words, Mother leaned her head to one side and added, "Perhaps."

My brother Naoji was called up while still at the University and was sent off to some island in the South Pacific. We have had no news of him, and he is still missing, even after the end of the war. Mother has resigned herself to never seeing Naoji again. At least that is what she says, but I have never once "resigned" myself. All I can think, is that we certainly will see him again.

"I thought I had given up all hope, but when I ate your delicious soup I thought of Naoji, and it was too much for me. I wish I had been better to him."

Along about the time that Naoji first entered high school he became fanatically absorbed in literature, and started to lead a life almost like a delinquent, causing Heaven only knows how much grief to Mother. And in spite of his dreadful behavior, Mother thought of Naoji as she ate her soup and uttered that cry. I angrily pushed the food into my mouth and my eyes grew hot.

"He's all right. Naoji's all right. Scoundrels like Naoji simply don't die. The ones who die are always the gentle, sweet, and beautiful people. Naoji wouldn't die even if you clubbed him with a stick."

Mother smiled. "Then I suppose that you'll die an early death." She was teasing me.

"Why should I? I'm bad and ugly both! I'm good for eighty years!"

"Really? In that case, your mother is good for ninety!"

"Yes," I said, a little perplexed. Scoundrels live a long time. The beautiful die young. Mother is beautiful. But I want her to live a long time. I was at a loss what to say. "You are being difficult," I protested. My lower lip began to tremble, and tears brimmed over.



* * *



I wonder if I should tell about the snake. One afternoon, four or five days ago, the children of the neighborhood found a dozen or so snake eggs concealed in the stakes of the garden fence. They insisted that they were viper eggs. It occurred to me that if we were to have a dozen vipers crawling about our bamboo thicket we would never be able to go into the garden without taking special precautions. I said to the children, "Let's burn the eggs," and the children followed me, dancing with joy.

I made a pile of leaves and brushwood near the thicket and set it afire, throwing the eggs into the flames one after another. They did not catch fire for the longest time. The children put more leaves and twigs on the flames and made them blaze more vigorously, but the eggs still did not look as if they would ever burn.

The girl from the farmhouse down the road called from the other side of the fence to ask what we were doing.

"We are burning viper eggs. I'm terrified that the vipers might get hatched."

"About how big are the eggs?"

"About the size of a quail's egg and pure white."

"Then they're just ordinary harmless snake's eggs and not viper eggs. Raw eggs don't burn very well, you know."

The girl went off laughing as if it were all very funny.

The fire had been blazing for about half an hour, but the eggs simply would not burn. I had the children retrieve them from the flames and bury them under the plum tree. I gathered together some pebbles to serve as a grave-marker.

"Let's pray, everybody." I knelt down and joined my hands. The children obediently knelt behind me and joined their hands in prayer. This done I left the children and slowly climbed the stone steps. Mother was standing at the top, in the shade of the wisteria trellis.

"You've done a very cruel thing," she said.

"I thought they might be viper eggs, but they were from an ordinary snake. Anyway, I gave them a regular burial. There's nothing to be upset about." I realized how unfortunate it was that Mother should have seen me.

Mother is by no means superstitious, but she has had a mortal dread of snakes ever since ten years ago, when Father died in our house in Nishikata Street. Just before Father passed away, Mother, seeing what she thought was a thin black cord lying near Father's bed, casually went to pick it up, only to discover that it was a snake. It glided off into the corridor, where it disappeared. Only Mother and my uncle Wada noticed it. They looked at each other but did not say anything, for fear of disturbing the peace of Father's last moments. That is why even Naoji and I (who happened to be in the room) knew nothing about the snake.

But I know for a fact from having seen it that on the evening of my Father's death, there were snakes twisted around all the trees by the garden pond. I am twenty-nine now, which means that when my father died ten years ago I was already nineteen, and no longer a child. Ten years have gone by, but my memories of what happened then are still perfectly fresh, and I am not likely to be mistaken. I was walking by the pond intending to cut flowers for the service. I stopped by a bank of azaleas and suddenly noticed a little snake twined around the tip of an azalea branch. This startled me a little. Then when I went to cut off a bough of kerria roses from the next bush, I saw a snake there too. On the rose of Sharon next to it, on the maple, the broom, the wisteria, the cherry tree — on every bush and tree — there was a snake. This didn't especially frighten me. I only felt somehow that the snakes, like myself, were mourning my father's death and had crawled out from their holes to pay his spirit homage. Later, when I whispered to Mother about the snakes in the garden, she took it calmly, and merely inclined her head a little to the side, as if she were thinking of something. She did not make any comment.

And yet it is true that these two incidents involving snakes made Mother detest them ever after. Or it might he more correct to say that she held them in fear and awe, that she came to dread them.

When Mother discovered that I had burned the snake eggs, she certainly must have felt that there was something ill-omened in the act. This realization brought home to me the feeling that I had done a terrible thing in burning the eggs. I was so tormented by the fear that I might have caused an evil curse to fall on Mother that I could not put the event out of my mind, not that day, or the next, or the next. And yet this morning in the dining-room, I had blurted out that idiotic remark about the beautiful dying young, which I could not cover up afterwards, no matter what I said, and had ended up in tears. Later, when I was clearing up the breakfast dishes, I had the unbearable sensation that some horrible little snake which would shorten Mother's life had crawled into my breast.

That same day I saw a snake in the garden. It was a beautiful, serene morning, and after finishing my work in the kitchen, I thought I would take a wicker chair out onto the lawn and do some knitting. As I stepped down into the garden with the chair in my arms, I saw the snake by the iris stalks. My only reaction was one of mild revulsion. I carried the chair back to the porch, sat down, and began to knit. In the afternoon, when I went into the garden intending to get from our library (which is in a storehouse at the bottom of the garden) a volume of Marie Laurencin's paintings, a snake was crawling slowly, slowly over the lawn. It was the same snake that I had seen in the morning, a delicate, graceful snake. It was peacefully crossing the lawn. It stopped when it reached the shade of a wild rose, lifted its head, and quivered its flame-like tongue. It appeared to be searching for something, but after a few moments dropped its head and fell to the ground, as though overcome with weariness. I said to myself, "It must be a female." Then too the strongest impression I received was one of the beauty of the snake. I went to the storehouse and took out the volume of paintings. On the way back I stole a glance at where I had seen the snake, but it had already vanished.

Toward evening, while I was drinking tea with Mother, I happened to look out at the garden just as the snake again slowly crawled into view, by the third step of the stone staircase.

Mother also noticed it. "Is that the snake?" She rushed over to me with these words and stood cowering beside me, clutching my hands. It flashed into my mind what she was thinking.

"You mean the mother of the eggs?" I came out with the words.

"Yes, yes." Mother's voice was strained.

We held each other's hands and stood in silence, watching the snake with bated breath. The snake, languidly coiled on the store, began to stir again. With a faltering motion it weakly traversed the step and slithered off toward the irises.

"It has been wandering around the garden ever since this morning," I whispered. Mother sighed and sat heavily on a chair.

"That's what it is, I'm sure. She's looking for her eggs. The poor thing." Mother spoke in a voice of dejection.

I giggled nervously, not knowing what else to do.

The sun striking Mother's face made her eyes shine almost blue. Her face, which seemed to wear about it a faint suggestion of anger, was so lovely that I felt like flying to her. It occurred to me then that Mother's face rather resembled that of the unfortunate snake we had just seen, and I had the feeling, for whatever reason, that the ugly snake dwelling in my breast might one day end by devouring this beautiful, grief-stricken mother snake.

I placed my hand on Mother's soft, delicate shoulder and felt a physical agitation which I could not explain.



* * *



It was at the beginning of December of the year of Japan's unconditional surrender that we left our house in Nishikata Street in Tokyo and moved to this rather Chinese-style house in Izu. After my father died, it was Uncle Wada — Mother's younger brother and now her only surviving blood relation — who had taken care of our household expenses. But with the end of the war everything changed, and Uncle Wada informed Mother that we couldn't go on as we were, that we had no choice but to sell the house and dismiss all the servants, and that the best thing for us would be to buy a nice little place somewhere in the country where the two of us could live as we pleased. Mother understands less of money matters than a child, and when Uncle Wada described to her our situation, her only reaction apparently was to ask him to do whatever he thought best.

At the end of November a special-delivery letter arrived from my uncle, informing us that Viscount Kawata's villa was for sale. The house stood on high ground with a good view and included about half an acre of cultivated land. The neighborhood, we were told, was famous for its plum blossoms and was warm in winter and cool in summer. Uncle Wada's letter concluded, "I believe that you will enjoy living there. It is apparently necessary, however, for you to have a personal interview with the other party, so would you please come tomorrow to my office?"

"Are you going, Mother?" I asked.

"I must," she said, smiling in an almost unbearably pathetic way. "He asked me to."

Mother left the next day a little after noon, She was accompanied by our former chauffeur, who escorted her back at about eight the same evening.

She came into my room and sat down with her hand against my desk, as if she might collapse on the spot. "It's all decided," were her only words.

"What has been decided?"

"Everything."

"But," I said in surprise, "before you have even seen what kind of house it is?"

Mother raised one elbow to the desk, touched her hand to her forehead, and let out a little sigh. "Uncle Wada says that it's a nice place. I feel as if I would just as soon move there as I am, without even opening my eyes." She lifted her head and smiled faintly. Her face seemed a little thin and very beautiful.

"Yes, that's so," I chimed in, vanquished by the purity of Mother's trust in Uncle Wada.

"Then you shut your eyes, too."

We both laughed, but after our laughter had died away, we felt terribly depressed.

The workmen came every day to our house from then on, and packing for the move began. Uncle Wada also paid us a visit and made the necessary arrangements so that everything which was to be sold could be disposed of. Okimi, the maid, and I were busy with such tasks as putting the clothes in order and burning rubbish in the garden, but Mother gave us not the slightest assistance. She spent every day in her room dilly-dallying over something.

Once I screwed up the courage to ask her, a little sharply, "What's the matter? Don't you feel at all like going to Izu?"

"No," was all she answered, a vague look on her face.

It took about ten days to complete the removal preparations. One evening when I was out in the garden with Okimi burning some waste-paper and straw, Mother emerged from her room and stood on the porch, silently watching the blazing fire. A cold greyish wind from the west was blowing, and the smoke crawled over the ground. I happened to look up at Mother's face and was startled to see how poor her coloring was, worse than I had ever seen it before.

"Mother, you don't look well!" I cried. Mother answered with a wan smile, "It's nothing." She moved soundlessly back to her room. That night, became our bedding had already been packed, Okimi slept on a sofa while Mother and I slept together in her room on bedding borrowed from a neighbor.

Mother said in a voice which sounded so old and weak that it frightened me, "I am going to Izu because you are with me, because I have you."

I was taken aback by this unexpected remark. "And what if you didn't have me?" I asked in spite of myself. Mother suddenly burst into tears. "The best thing for me would be to die. I wish I could die in this house where your father died." She spoke in broken accents, weeping more and more convulsively.

Never had Mother spoken to me in such a feeble voice, and never before had she let me see her weeping with such abandon. Not even when my father died, or when I was married, or when I came back to Mother pregnant, or when the baby was stillborn in the hospital, or when later I was sick and confined to my bed, or, for that matter, when Naoji had done something bad — never had she shown such weakness. During the ten years since Father's death, Mother had been just as easy-going and gentle as while he was alive. Naoji and I had taken advantage of her to grow up without concerning ourselves about anything. Now Mother no longer had any money. She had spent it all on us, on Naoji and myself, without begrudging us a penny, and she was being forced to leave the house where she had passed so many years to enter on a life of misery in a cottage without a single servant. If Mother had been mean and stingy and scolded us, or had been the kind of person who secretly devises ways to increase her fortune, she would never have wished for death that way, no matter how much times had changed. For the first time in my life I realized what a horrible, miserable, salvationless hell it is to be without money. My heart filled with emotion, but I was in such anguish that the tears would not come. I wondered if the feeling I experienced then was what people mean by the well-worn phrase "dignity of human life." I lay there, staring at the ceiling, feeling incapable of the slightest motion, my body stiff as a stone.



* * *



The next day, as I had expected, Mother seemed definitely ill. She lingered over one thing and another as if every additional minute she could remain in the house was precious to her, but Uncle Wada came to inform us that we had to leave that day for Izu. Almost all the luggage had already been dispatched. Mother with obvious reluctance put on her coat, and bowing without a word to Okiini and the other people in our employ who had come to say good-bye, she walked out of our house in Nishikata Street.

The train was comparatively empty, and we were all able to find seats. My uncle was in extremely good spirits and hummed passages from the No plays, among other things. Mother, pale and with her eyes downcast, looked very cold We changed at Nagaoka for a bus, rode for about a quarter of an hour, got off, and began to walk toward the mountains. We-climbed a gently sloping rise as far as a little village, just outside which was a Chinese-style villa, built with some taste.

"It's a pleasanter place than I had imagined, Mother," I said, still gasping for breath from the climb.

Mother stood in front of the entrance of the cottage. "Yes it is," she answered, a happy expression coming into her eyes for a moment.

"To begin with, the air is good. Fresh air," declared my uncle with evident self-satisfaction.

"It really is," Mother smiled. "It's delicious. The air here is delicious."

We all three laughed.

Inside we found our belongings arrived from Tokyo. The front of the house was piled high with crates.

"Next, there is a fine view from the sitting-room." My uncle, quite carried away, dragged us there and made us sit down to admire it.

It was about three in the afternoon, and the winter sun was gently striking the garden lawn. At the foot of a flight of stairs that led from the lawn, there was a little pond surrounded by plum trees, and beyond the garden, an orchard of tangerine trees. A village road, rice fields, a grove of pines, and, in the distance, the sea could also be discerned. As I sat in the drawing-room, the sea appeared to be just on a level with my breasts.

"It's a gentle landscape," Mother said dully.

"It must be because of the air. The sunlight here is entirely different from Tokyo sunlight, isn't it? It's as if the rays were strained through silk," I answered with excessive gaiety.

On the ground floor were two fairly good-sized rooms, a Chinese-style reception room, a hall, and a bathroom, then the dining-room and kitchen. Upstairs was a foreign-style room with a big bed. This was the whole house, but I thought that it would not be especially cramped for two of us, or even for three if Naoji returned.

My uncle went out to the only inn in the village to arrange about a meal for us. A lunch was presently delivered which he spread out in the sitting-room and began to eat. Some whisky he had brought served to wash it down. He was very cheerful and insisted on relating his adventures in China with Viscount Kawata, the former owner of the house. Mother barely touched the food, and soon afterwards, when it started to grow dark, she murmured, "I'd like to lie down for a bit."

I extracted the bedding from our baggage and helped Mother spread it. Something about her worried me so much that I ferreted out the thermometer to take her temperature. It was 102 degrees.

Even my uncle seemed upset. At any rate, he went off to the village in search of a doctor. When I called to Mother, she merely nodded drowsily.

I pressed Mother's little hand in mine and began to sob. She was so pitiful, so terribly pitiful — no, we were both pitiful. The tears would not stop. I thought as I wept that I would like to die on the spot with Mother, that we had nothing to hope for any longer, that our lives had ended when we left the house in Nishikata Street.

Some two hours later my uncle returned with the village doctor. He seemed quite an old man and was dressed in formal, rather old-fashioned Japanese costume.

"It may possibly develop into pneumonia. However, even if pneumonia develops, there is no occasion for anxiety." With this rather vague pronouncement, he gave Mother an injection and departed.

Mother's fever did not go down the following day. My uncle handed me 2,000 yen with instructions to telegraph him if it should happen that Mother had to be hospitalized. He returned that day to Tokyo.

I took the necessary minimum of cooking utensils from our baggage and prepared some rice-gruel. Mother swallowed three spoonfuls, then shook her head. A little before noon the doctor appeared again. This time he was in slightly less formal attire, but he still wore his white gloves.

I suggested that it might perhaps be better if Mother went to the hospital. "No," the doctor said, "I do not believe it to be necessary. Today I shall administer a strong injection, and the fever will probably abate." His answer was just as unreassuring as the previous time, and he went away as soon as he had finished giving Mother the "strong injection."

That afternoon Mother's face turned a bright red and she began to perspire profusely. This, perhaps, was to be attributed to the miraculous powers of the injection. Mother said, as I changed her nightgown, "Who knows, he may be a great doctor!"

Her temperature had dropped to normal. I was so happy that I ran to the village inn and bought a dozen eggs from the proprietress. I soft-boiled some at once and served them to Mother. She ate three and about half a bowl of rice-gruel.

The next day the great doctor appeared in his formal costume again. He nodded gravely when I thanked him for the success of the injection, with an expression as much as to say "Exactly as I expected." He examined Mother carefully, then turning to me said, "Your mother has quite recovered. She may therefore eat and do whatever she desires."

His manner of speech was so peculiar that I had all I could do to keep from bursting out laughing. I showed the doctor to the door. When I returned to her room, I found Mother was sitting up in bed.

"He really is a great doctor. I'm not sick any more," she said absent-mindedly, as if she were talking to herself. She had a very happy expression on her face.

"Mother, shall I open the blinds? It's snowing!"

Snowflakes big as petals had softly begun to fall. I threw open the blinds and, sitting next to Mother's side, watched the snow. "I'm not sick any more," Mother said, once again as if to herself. "When I sit here with you this way, it makes me feel as if everything that has happened was just a dream. To tell the truth, when the time came for moving, I simply hated the thought. I would have given anything to stay a day, even half a day, longer in our house in Nishikata Street. I felt half-dead when I had to board the train, and when we arrived here, after the first moment or two of pleasure, I felt my heart would burst with longing for Tokyo, especially when it grew dark. Then everything seemed to go blank before me. It wasn't an ordinary sickness. God killed me, and only after He had made me into someone entirely different from the person I had been, did he call me back to life."



* * *



From that day to the present, we have managed to continue our solitary lives in this cottage in the mountains. We prepare meals, knit on the porch, read in the Chinese room, drink tea — in other words, lead an uneventful existence almost completely isolated from the world. In February the whole village was buried in plum blossoms. One placid, windless day succeeded another well into March, and the blossoms remained on the boughs until the end of the month. At whatever time of the day one saw them, the blossoms were breathtakingly beautiful, and their fragrance flooded into the room whenever I opened the glass doors. Toward the end of March a wind would spring up every evening, and as we sat in the twilighted dining-room drinking tea, petals would blow in through the window into our cups. Now in April our conversation, as we knit on the porch, has generally turned on our plans for cultivating the fields. Mother says she would like to help. Even as I write these words the thought strikes me that, just as she said, we have already died, only to come back to life as different people. But I don't suppose a resurrection like Jesus' is possible for ordinary human beings. Mother spoke as if the past were already forgotten, but all the same, when she tasted the soup this morning she thought of Naoji and uttered that cry. Nor, indeed, have the scars of my past healed.

Oh, I would like to write everything, down plainly and absolutely without concealment. I sometimes secretly think that the peace of this house in the mountains is nothing more than a lie and a sham. Even assuming that this has been a short period of respite vouchsafed by God to my mother and myself, I can't escape the feeling that some threatening, dark shadow is already hovering closer to us. Mother pretends to be happy, but she grows thinner by the day. And in my breast a viper lodges which fattens by sacrificing Mother, which fattens however much I try to suppress it. If it is only something which comes with the season, and nothing more! That I could have done such a depraved thing as burn the snake eggs certainly shows what a state I am in.. Everything I do seems only to make Mother's unhappiness the more profound and to weaken her.

As for love . . . no, having once written that word I can write nothing more.





CHAPTER TWO / FIRE


During the ten days that followed the incident with the snake eggs, one ill-fated thing after another occurred to intensify Mother's unhappiness and shorten her life.

I was responsible for starting a fire.

That I should have started a fire. I had never even dreamed that such a dreadful thing would happen to me. I at once endangered the lives of every. one around me and risked suffering the very serious punishment provided by law.

I must have been brought up so very much the "little lady" as not to have been aware of the obvious fact that carelessness leads to conflagrations. Late one night I got up to wash my hands, and as I passed by the screen in the entrance hall, I noticed a light coming from the bathroom. I gave it a casual glance only to discover that the glass door of the bathroom was a glowing red, and I could hear an ominous crackling. I rushed to the side door and ran outside barefoot. I could see then that the pile of firewood which had been stacked beside the furnace was blazing furiously.

I flew to the farmhouse below our garden and beat with all my might on the door. "Mr. Nakai. Fire! Fire! Please get up! There's a fire!"

Mr. Nakai had apparently already retired, but he answered from inside, "I'll come at once." While I was still urging him to hurry, he dashed out of his house, still in his bedclothes.

We raced back to the fire. Just as we began to draw water from the pond with some buckets, I heard Mother call from the gallery next to her room. I threw down my bucket, climbed up to the gallery, and caught Mother in my arms. She was on the point of collapse. "Mother, please don't worry. It's all right. Please go back to bed." I led her back to bed and having persuaded her to lie down, I flew back to the fire. This time I dipped water from the bath and passed it to Mr. Nakai to throw on the burning woodpile. The blaze, however, was so intense that we could not possibly have extinguished it that way.

I heard voices shouting below, "There's a fire. Fire at the villa!" Suddenly four or five farmers broke through the fence and rushed up to us. It took them just a few minutes to get a relay of buckets going and put out the blaze. If the fire had lasted just a little longer, the flames would have spread to the roof.

"Thank Heavens" was my first thought, but in the next instant I was aghast at the sudden realization of what had caused the fire. It was only then that it occurred to me that the disaster had taken place because the previous night, after I removed the unburned sticks of firewood from the furnace, I had left them next to the woodpile, thinking that they were already out. This discovery made me want to burst into tears. As I stood there rooted to the ground, I heard the girl from the house in front say in a loud voice, "Some-body must have been careless about the furnace. The place is gutted."

The village mayor, the policeman, and the head of the fire brigade were among those who appeared. The mayor asked, with his usual gentle smiling face, "You must have been terribly frightened. How did it happen?"

"It was all my fault. I thought that the firewood had burned out." This was all I could say. The tears came welling up, and I stood there incapable of speech, my eyes on the ground. The thought came to me then that the police might arrest me and drag me off like a criminal, and at the same moment I suddenly became aware of the shamefully disheveled appearance I made as I stood there barefoot in my night-gown. I felt utterly lost.

The mayor quietly asked, in a tone of sympathy, "I understand. Is your mother all right?"

"She is resting in her room. It was a dreadful shock for her."

"Anyway," said the young policeman, trying to comfort me, "it's a good thing that the house didn't catch fire."

Just then Mr. Nakai reappeared, having changed his clothes in the meanwhile, and began to shout all out of breath, "What's all the fuss about? Just a little wood got burned. It never turned into a real fire." He was obviously trying to cover up my stupid mistake.

"I understand perfectly," said the mayor nodding. He spoke for a few minutes with the policeman, then said, "We'll be going now. Please remember me to your mother." They all left except for the policeman, who walked up to me, and in a voice so faint it was only a breathing said, "No report will be made on what happened tonight."

After he had gone Mr. Nakai asked in a tense voice what the policeman had said. I answered, "He told me that they wouldn't make a report." The neighbors who were still standing around apparently caught my words, for they began gradually to drift away, murmuring expressions of relief. Mr. Nakai wished me a good night and started off. Then I stood alone, my mind a blank, by the burned woodpile. In tears I looked up at the sky, and I could see the first traces of the dawn.

I went to wash my hands, feet, and face. Somehow the thought of appearing before Mother frightened me, and I idled around the bathroom, arranging my hair. I went then to the kitchen where I spent the time until it grew light in making a quite unnecessary rearrangement of the cooking utensils.

I tiptoed to Mother's room only to find that she was already completely dressed and seated, looking absolutely exhausted, in an armchair. She smiled when she saw me, but her face was dreadfully pale.

I did not smile in return but stood without a word behind her chair. After a little while, Mother said, "It wasn't anything, was it? Only firewood that was meant to be burned."

I was swept by a wave of happiness. I remembered from childhood Sunday school classes the proverb in the Bible, "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver," and I thanked God from the bottom of my heart for my good fortune in having a mother so full of tenderness.

After finishing a light breakfast, I set to work disposing of the burned woodpile. Osaki, the proprietress of the village inn, came trotting up from the garden gate. "What happened? I just heard about it. What happened last night?" Tears shone in her eyes.

"I am sorry," I murmured in apology.

"There's nothing to be sorry about. What about the police?"

"They said it was all right."

"Oh, that's a relief." She looked genuinely glad.

I discussed with Osaki how I should express my thanks and apologies to the village. She was of the opinion that money would be most suitable and suggested the houses I should visit with presents of money and apologies. She added, "If you had rather not make the rounds all by yourself, I'll join you."

"It would be best, wouldn't it, for me to go alone?"

"Can you manage it alone? If you can, it would be."

"I'll go alone."

When I had finished disposing of the wood, I asked Mother for some money, which I wrapped in little packets of 100 yen each. On the outside I wrote the words "With apologies."

I called first at the village hall. The mayor was out, and I gave the packet to the girl at the reception desk saying, "What I did last night was unpardonable, but from now on I shall be most careful. Please forgive me and convey my apologies to the mayor."

I next visited the house of the fire chief. He himself came to the door. He gave me a sad little smile but did not say anything. For some reason, I burst into tears. "Please forgive me for last night." I took a precipitous leave and ran through the streets with the tears pouring down my face. I looked such a fright that I had to go back home to put on some fresh make-up. I was just about to set out again when Mother appeared. "Not finished yet? Where are you going this time?"

"I've only just begun," I answered, not lifting my face.

"It must be a terrible ordeal for you." Mother's tone was warmly understanding. It was her love which gave me the strength to make all the rest of the calls, this time without once weeping.

Wherever I went the people sympathized and attempted to console me. Mr. Nishiyama's young wife — I say young but she's already about forty — was the only one who rebuked me. "Please be careful in the future. You may belong to the nobility, for all I know, but I've been watching with my heart in my mouth the way you two have been living, like children playing house. It's only a miracle you haven't had a fire before, considering the reckless way you live. Please be sure to take the utmost care from now on. If there had been a strong wind last night, the whole village would have gone up in flames."

I felt the truth of Mrs. Nishiyama's accusation. Things were really exactly as she described, and I couldn't dislike her in the least for having scolded me.

Mother had tried to comfort me by making the joke about the firewood being for burning, but supposing there had been a strong wind, the whole village might have burned down, just as Mrs. Nishiyama said. If that had happened, not even my suicide could have served as sufficient apology, and my death would not only have caused Mother's but have blackened forever my Father's name. I know that the aristocracy is now not what it once was, but if it must perish in any case, I would like to see it go down as elegantly as possible. I couldn't rest in my grave if I died in atonement for having started a fire.

I began from the following day to devote my energies to working in the fields. Mr. Nakai's daughter sometimes helps me. Ever since my disgraceful act of having started a fire, I have felt somehow as if the color of my blood has turned a little darker, as if I am becoming every day more of an uncouth country girl. When, for instance, I sit on the porch knitting with Mother, I feel strangely cramped and choked, and it comes as a relief when I go out into the fields to dig the earth.

Manual labor, I suppose one would call it. This is not the first time I've done such work. I was conscripted during the war and even made to do coolie labor. The sneakers I now wear when I work in the fields are the ones the Army issued me. That was the first time in my life I had put such things on my feet, but they were surprisingly comfortable, and when I walked around the garden wearing them I felt as if I could understand the lightheartedness of the bird or animal that walks barefoot on the ground. That is the only pleasant memory I have of the war. What a dreary business the war was.

Last year nothing happened The year before nothing happened And the year before that nothing happened.



An amusing poem to this effect appeared in a newspaper just after the war ended. Of course all kinds of things actually did take place, but when I try to recall them now, I experience that same feeling that nothing happened. I hate talking about the war or listening to other people's memories. Many people died, I know, but it was still a dreary business, and it bores me now. I suppose you might say I take a very egocentric view of it. Only when I was conscripted and forced to do coolie labor in sneakers was I able to think of it except in terms of its dreariness. I often had harsh thoughts about the coolie labor, but thanks to it I became quite robust, and even now I sometimes think that if ever I have difficulty in eking out a living, I can always get along by performing manual labor.

One day, about the time that the war was entering its really desperate phase, a man dressed in a kind of military uniform came to our house in Nishikata Street and handed me conscription papers and a schedule listing the days I was required to work. I discovered that from the following day I would have to report on alternate days at a base in the mountains behind Tachikawa. In spite of myself, I found myself in tears.

"I suppose a substitute wouldn't do?" The tears kept flowing and I had begun to sob.

The man answered firmly, "The Army has work for you, and you yourself must go."

The next day it rained. An officer delivered us a sermon as we stood lined up at the foot of the mountain. "Victory is a certainty," he said by way of preamble. "Victory is a certainty, but unless everybody does exactly what the Army orders, all our plans will be thwarted, and we will have another Okinawa. We want you without fail to do every bit of the work you are given. Next, you are to be on guard against one another. There is no telling whether spies have been planted among you. You will now be working in military positions just like soldiers, and we want you to exercise every possible caution not to reveal to other people under any circumstances what you have seen."

The mountain was smouldering in the rain as we stood there, close to five hundred men and women. We listened with all due reverence to his address, in spite of the drenching rain. The unit also included boys and girls from the elementary schools, all of them with frozen little faces on the verge of tears. The rain went through my coat, penetrated my jacket, and finally soaked through to my underwear.

I spent that whole day carrying baskets of earth on my back. The next time at the base I tugged ropes in a team of laborers. That was the work I liked best.

Two or three times while I was out working in the mountains I had the impression that the schoolboys were staring at me in a most disagreeable manner. I was shouldering baskets of earth one day when a couple of them passed by, and I heard one of them whisper, "Think she's a spy?"

I was astonished. I asked the girl carrying earth next to me what made the boy say such a thing. She answered seriously, "Perhaps because you look like a foreigner."

"Do I? Do you also think I'm a spy?"

"No," she answered, this time with a little smile.

"I am a Japanese," I said and couldn't keep from giggling at the obvious silliness of my own words.

One fine morning which I had spent hauling logs along with the men, the young officer suddenly frowned and pointed at me. "Hey you. You, come here."

He walked quickly toward the pine forest, and I followed him, my heart pounding with nervousness and fear. He stopped by a pile of timber just brought from the saw mill, and turned around to me. "It must be very hard working that way every day. Today please just watch over this lumber." He spoke with a smile, flashing his white teeth.

"You mean I should stand here?"

"It's cool and quiet, and you can take a nap on top of the pile. If you get bored, perhaps you'd like to read this." He took a small volume from his pocket and tossed it shyly on the boards. "It isn't much of a book, but please read it if you like."

It was called Troika. I picked it up. "Thank you very much. There's someone in my family also who likes books, but he's in the South Pacific now."

He misunderstood. "Oh, your husband. South Pacific. That's terrible." He shook his head in sympathy. "At any rate, today you stand guard duty. I'll bring your lunch box myself later on. You just rest without worrying about anything." With these words, he strode off rapidly.

I sat on the lumber pile and began to read the book. I had read about half when the crunching of his boots announced the officer's return. "I have brought your lunch. It must be very tedious being here alone." He deposited the lunch box on the grass and hurried off again.

When I had finished the lunch, I crawled up on top of the lumber pile and stretched out to read the book. I read the whole thing through and nodded off. I woke after three with the sudden impression that I had seen the young officer before, but where I could not recall. I clambered down from the pile and was just smoothing down my hair when I heard the crunching of his boots again.

"Thank you very much for having come today. You may leave now if you wish."

I ran up to him and held out the book. I wanted to express my thanks, but the words did not come. In silence I looked at his face, and when our eyes met, mine filled with tears. Then tears shone also in his.

We parted without words, just like that, and the young officer never again appeared at the place where I worked. That was the only day I was able to take it easy. From then on I went every other day to Tachikawa to do my stint of hard labor. Mother worried a great deal about my health, but the work actually made me stronger than ever before, and even now I am, at least, a woman who is not particularly distressed even by the hardest labor in the fields.

I said that I hate to discuss the war or hear about it, but now I find I have told all about my "precious experience." But that's about the only memory of the war I ever feel the slightest inclination to relate. The rest might aptly be summed up by the poem:

Last year nothing happened The year before nothing happened And the year before that nothing happened.



Idiotically enough, all that remains of my war experiences is the pair of sneakers.

The mention of the sneakers took me off again on another digression, but I should add that although wearing what may be called my unique memento of the war and going out into the fields every day helps to relieve the secret anxiety and uneasiness deep in my heart, Mother has of late been growing weaker day by day.

The snake eggs.

The fire.

Mother's health has shockingly deteriorated while I, quite on the contrary, feel as though I am steadily turning into a coarse, low-class woman. I can't escape the feeling that it is by sucking the life-breath out of Mother that I am fattening.

Mother has never said a word concerning the fire except for her joke about the firewood being for burning. Far from reprimanding me, she seemed to pity me, but the shock she received was certainly ten times as great as mine. Ever since the fire Mother sometimes groans in her sleep, and on nights when a strong wind is blowing, she slips out of bed any number of times, however late it may be, and goes around the house making sure that everything is all right. She never looks well. Some days even walking seems a great strain for her. She had expressed a desire to help me in the fields, and although I had discouraged her, she insisted on carrying five or six great bucketfuls of water from the well. The next day her back was so stiff she could barely breathe. She spent the day in bed. After that she appeared to have given up the idea of manual labor. Once in a while she walks out into the fields but only to observe intently what I am doing.

Today, while Mother was watching me work, she suddenly remarked, "They say that people who like summer flowers die in the summer. I wonder if it's true." I did not answer but went on watering the eggplants. It is already the beginning of summer. She continued softly, "I am very fond of hibiscus, but we haven't a single one in this garden."

"We have plenty of oleanders," I answered in an intentionally sharp tone.

"I don't like them. I like almost all summer flowers, but oleanders are too loud."

"I like roses best. But they bloom in all four seasons. I wonder if people who like roses best have to die four times over again."

We both laughed.

"Won't you rest a bit?" Mother asked, still smiling. She added, "I have something I'd like to talk over with you today."

"What is it? If it's about your dying, no thanks."

I followed Mother to a bench under the wisteria trellis. The wisteria blossoms were at their end, and the soft afternoon sunlight filtering through the leaves fell on our laps and dyed them green.

"There's something I've been meaning to tell you for quite a while, but I was waiting for a moment when we were both in a good mood. You see, it's not a very easy thing to discuss. But today I feel somehow as if I can talk about it. I ask you please to restrain yourself and listen until I have finished. The truth is that Naoji is alive."

I stiffened all over.

"Five or six days ago I had a letter from your Uncle Wada. It seems that a man who used to work for him has recently returned from the South Pacific. He went to your uncle's office to pay his respects, and then, quite by accident, it came out that he had been in the same unit with Naoji and that Naoji is safe and will soon be returning. He had one unpleasant thing to report. According to this man, Naoji has become a rather serious opium addict."

"Again!"

My mouth twisted as if I had eaten something bitter. When Naoji was in high school, in imitation of a certain novelist, he had taken to drugs, and he finally ran up such an enormous bill at the pharmacist's that it had taken Mother two years to pay it in full.

"Yes. He seems to have taken it up again. But the man said that he's certain to be cured by the time he gets back because they won't let him return otherwise. Your uncle's letter goes on to say that even if Naoji is cured when he returns there's no immediate likelihood of finding a job for someone in his frame of mind. Even perfectly normal people become rather peculiar nowadays if they work in Tokyo — what with all the confusion — and a semi-invalid who has just recovered from narcotic poisoning might go berserk in no time. There's no telling what he might do. It Naoji comes back, the best thing would be for us to take care of him here in the mountains for the time being and not let him go anywhere else. That's one thing. And, Kazuko, your uncle had another thing in his letter. He says that our money is all gone, and what with the blocking of savings and the capital levy, he won't be able to send us as much as he has before. It will be extremely difficult for him to manage our living expenses, especially when Naoji arrives and there are three of us to take care of. He suggests that we should waste no time in finding for you either a husband or else a position in some household."

"As a servant?"

"No, your uncle wrote that he knew of a family that's related to us and in the peerage where you could have a position as governess to the little girls. That probably wouldn't be too depressing or awkward for you."

"I wonder if there isn't some other job."

"He says that any other profession would be impractical for you."

"Why impractical?"

Mother smiled sadly but did not answer.

"No! I've had enough of such talk!" I burst out hysterically, knowing even as I did so that I would regret it. But I couldn't stop. "Look at me in these wretched sneakers — look!" I was crying, but I brushed the tears away with the back of my hand and looked Mother in the face. A voice within me repeated, "I mustn't, I mustn't," but words, having no connection with my expressed self, poured forth, as if from the depths of my subconscious.

"Didn't you once say that it was because of me, because you had me, that you were going to Izu? Didn't you say that if you didn't have me you would die? That's why I've stayed here without budging from your side. And here I am wearing these sneakers because my only thought has been to grow vegetables you would like. Now you hear that Naoji's coming home, and suddenly you find me in the way. 'Go off and become a servant!' you say. It's too much, too much."

My words seemed horrible even to myself, but they could not be stopped, as if they had an existence of their own.

"If we're poor and our money's gone, why don't we sell all our expensive clothes? Why don't we sell this house? I can do something. I can get a job working at the village office, and if they won't hire me there, I can do coolie work. Poverty is nothing. As long as you love me, all I want is to spend my whole life by your side. But you love Naoji more than you love me, don't you? I'll go. I'll go. I've never been able to get along with Naoji and it would only bring unhappiness to all three of us if I stayed. We've lived together for a long time, and I have nothing to regret in our relationship. Now you and Naoji can stay together, just the two of you. I hope for your sake he'll be a very good son to you. I'm sick of it. I'm sick of this life. I'll go. I'll leave today, at once. I have somewhere I can go."

I stood up.

"Kazuko!" Mother spoke severely. Her face was filled with a dignity she had never shown me before. When she stood and confronted me, she looked almost taller than I.

I wanted to beg her pardon, but the words would not come from my mouth. Instead I uttered quite different ones. "You've deceived me. Mother, you've deceived me. You were using me until Naoji came. I've been your servant, and now that you no longer need me you're sending me away."

I let out a cry and burst into tears.

"You are very foolish." Mother's voice as she spoke these words was shaking with anger.

I lifted my head. "Yes, I am. I've been taken advantage of because I'm a fool. You're getting rid of me because I'm a fool. It's best I go, isn't it? Poverty — what's that? Money — what's that? I don't understand such things. I had always believed in love, in my mother's love, in that at least."

Again I spoke in that stupid, unforgivable way.

Mother turned her head away abruptly. She was weeping. I wanted to beg her pardon and to cling to her, but my hands were dirty from my work in the fields, and this involuntary embarrassment kept me distant. "Everything will be all right if I'm not here. I'll go. I have somewhere I can go."

With these words I ran off to the bathroom where I washed my face and hands, still sobbing. I went to my room, changed my clothes, only once again to be overcome with weeping. I wanted to weep more, more, until I had drained every tear from my body. I ran to the foreign-style room on the second floor, threw myself on the bed, and covering my head in the blankets, wept my very flesh away. Then my mind began to wander aimlessly. Gradually out of my grief, the desire for a certain person crystallized in me, and I yearned unbearably to see his face, to hear his voice. I had that very particular sensation one experiences when the doctor prescribes cauterization of the soles of one's feet, and one must bear the pain without flinching.

Toward evening Mother came softly into the room and switched on the light. She approached the bed and called my name in a very gentle voice.

I got up and sat on the bed, sweeping both hands over my hair. I looked at her face and smiled.

Mother also smiled faintly and then sank into the sofa under the window. "I have just disobeyed your uncle for the first time in my life. I wrote a letter in answer to his, requesting him to leave my children's affairs to me. Kazuko, we'll sell our clothes. We'll sell our clothes one after another and use the money just as we please, for whatever useless things we feel like. Let's live extravagantly. I don't want to let you work in the fields any more. Let's buy our vegetables even if they are expensive. It's unreasonable to expect you to spend every day working like a farmer."

To tell the truth, the strain of daily work in the fields had begun to take its toll. I am sure that the reason why I wept and stormed as if I had gone off my head was that the combination of physical exhaustion and my unhappiness had made me hate and resent everything.

I sat on the bed in silence, my eyes averted.

"Kazuko."

"Yes."

"What did you mean by saying that you had somewhere to go?"

I could tell that I had turned red to the nape of my neck.

"Mr. Hosoda?"

I did not answer.

Mother gave a great sigh. "May I bring up something that happened a long time ago?"

"Please do," I whispered.

"When you left your husband and returned to the house in Nishikata Street, I did not intend to say a word of reproach, but there was one thing that made me say that you had betrayed me. Do you remember? You burst into tears and I realized that I had been wrong to say such a terrible thing."

But my memory was that I had felt grateful to Mother at the time for talking to me in such a way, and my tears had been of happiness.

"When I said that you had betrayed me it was not because you left your husband's house. It was because I had learned from him that you and that painter Hosoda were lovers. That news came as a terrible shock. Mr. Hosoda had already been a married man for years and had children. I knew it could never come to anything, no matter how much you loved him."

"Lovers — what a thing to say. It was nothing but groundless suspicion on my husband's part."

"Perhaps. I don't suppose you can still be thinking of Mr. Hosoda. Where was it then that you meant when you said you had somewhere to go?"

"Not to Mr. Hosoda's."

"Really? Then where?"

"Mother, recently I have discovered the one way in which human beings differ completely from other animals. Man has, I know, language, knowledge, principles, and social order, but don't all the other animals have them too, granted the difference of degree? Perhaps the animals even have religions. Man boasts of being the lord of all creation, but it would seem as if essentially he does not differ in the least from other animals. But, Mother, there was one way I thought of. Perhaps you won't understand. It's a faculty absolutely unique to man — having secrets. Can you see what I mean?"

Mother blushed faintly and gave a charming smile. "If your secrets only bear good fruit, it will be all I could ask. Every morning I pray to your father's spirit to make you happy."

Suddenly there flashed across my mind an image of driving with Father through Nasuno and getting out on the way, and how the autumn fields looked. The autumn flowers — asters, pinks, gentians, valerians — were all in bloom. The wild grapes were still green.

Later Father and I boarded a motorboat at Lake Biwa. I jumped into the water. The little fish that live in the weeds brushed against my legs, and the shadow of my legs, distinctly reflected on the bottom of the lake, moved with me. The picture bore no relation to what Mother and I had been discussing, but it flashed into my mind, only to vanish.

I slid off the bed and threw my arms around Mother's knees. "Mother, please forgive me." I was at last able to say it.

Those days, as I remember them now, were the last in which the dying embers of our happiness still glowed. Once Naoji returned from the South Pacific, our real hell began.





CHAPTER THREE / MOONFLOWERS


A sensation of helplessness, as if it were utterly impossible to go on living. Painful waves beat relentlessly on my heart, as after a thunderstorm the white clouds frantically scud across the sky. A terrible emotion — shall I call it an apprehension — wrings my heart only to release it, makes my pulse falter, and chokes my breath. At times everything grows misty and dark before my eyes, and I feel that the strength of my whole body is oozing away through my finger tips.

Of late a gloomy rain has been falling almost incessantly. Whatever I do depresses me. Today I took a wicker chair out onto the porch, intending to work again on the sweater which I began to knit this spring. The wool is of a somewhat faded rose, and I am eking it out with cobalt-blue yarn to make a sweater. The pale rose wool originally came from a scarf that Mother knitted for me twenty years ago, when I was still in elementary school. The end of the scarf was formed into a kind of skullcap, and when I put it on and looked at myself in the mirror, a little imp stared back at me. The scarf was very different in color from the scarves my school friends wore, and that fact alone sufficed to make me loathe it with an unreasoning fury. I felt so ashamed to be seen in it that I had refused to wear it again, and for years it had lain hidden away in a drawer somewhere. This spring it came to light, and I unraveled it. I decided to make it into a sweater for myself, in the pious intention of resuscitating a dead possession. But somehow the faded color failed to interest me, and I had put the yarn aside again. Today, having nothing else to do, I took it out on the spur of the moment and idly began to knit. It was only while I was knitting that I realized the pale rose of the wool and the grey of the overcast sky were blending into one, making a harmony of colors so soft and mild that no words could describe it. I had never suspected that the important thing was to consider the match a costume makes with the color of the sky. What a beautiful, wonderful thing color harmony is, I thought to myself, rather surprised. It is amazing how when one unites the grey of the sky with the pale rose of the wool, both colors at once come alive. The wool I held in my hands became vibrant with warmth, and the cold rainy sky was soft as velvet. I remembered a Monet painting of a cathedral in the mist, and I felt as if, thanks to the wool, I had for the first time understood what good taste is. Good taste. Mother had chosen the pale rose wool because she knew just how lovely it would look against the snowy winter sky, but in my foolishness I had disliked it. I had had my own way, for Mother never attempted to force anything on me. During all this time Mother had not said a word of explanation but had waited these twenty years until I was able to appreciate the beauty of the color myself. I thought what a wonderful Mother I had. At the same moment clouds of dread and apprehension suddenly welled up within my breast as I wondered whether Naoji and I between us had not tortured and weakened Mother to the point of killing her. The more I reflected the more certain it seemed that the future had in store for us only horrible, evil things. The thought filled me with such nameless fears that I felt almost incapable of going on living. The strength left my fingers, and I dropped my knitting needles on my lap. A great sigh shook me. With my eyes still shut, I lifted my head. Before I knew what I was doing, I had cried, "Mother!"

"Yes?" Mother, leaning over a desk in a corner of the room, reading a book, answered with a note of doubt in her voice.

I was confused. In an unnecessarily loud voice I declared, "The roses have bloomed at last. Did you know it, Mother? I just noticed it now. They've bloomed at last."

The roses in front of the porch had been brought back long ago by Uncle Wada from France — or was it England? at any rate some distant country — and had now been transplanted here from our house in Nishikata Street. I had been fully aware this morning that one of them had bloomed, but to cover my embarrassinent I pretended with exaggerated enthusiasm just to have discovered the fact. The flowers, of a dark purple, had a sombre pride and strength.

"Yes, I knew," Mother said gently, adding, "Such things seem very important to you."

"Perhaps. Are you sorry for me?"

"No. I only meant to say that it was typical of you. It's just like you to paste pictures by Renoir on the kitchen match boxes or to make handkerchiefs for dolls. To hear you talk about the roses in the garden, one would think you were discussing live people."

"That's because I haven't any children."

I was quite taken aback by my own remark. I nervously fingered the knitting on my lap. It was as if I clearly could hear a man's voice, a scratchy bass, like a voice on the telephone, saying, "What do you expect — she's twenty-nine!" My cheeks burned with shame.

Mother made no comment but went back to her book. For some days now she has been wearing a gauze mask over her mouth, and that may have been the cause of her exceptional taciturnity of late. She wore the mask in obedience to Naoji's instructions.

Naoji had returned a week or so before from the South Pacific, his face sallow. One summer evening, without a word of warning, he had burst into the garden, slamming the wooden gate behind him. "What a horror! What atrocious taste for a house! You should put out a sign 'China Mansions: Chow Mein'!"

These were Naoji's words of greeting on first seeing me.

Mother had taken to bed two or three days before with a pain in her tongue. I could not detect anything abnormal about the tip of her tongue, but she said that the slightest movement hurt her unbearably. At meal times she could only get down a thin soup. I suggested that the doctor examine her, but Mother shook her head and said with a forced smile, "He would only laugh at me." I painted her tongue with Lugol, but it had no apparent effect. Mother's illness unnerved me.

Just at this juncture, Naoji came.

He sat for a moment by Mother's pillow and inclined his head in a word of greeting. That was all — he immediately sprang to his feet and rushed off to inspect the house. I followed behind him.

"How do you find Mother? Changed?"

"She's changed all right. She's grown thin. It'd be best for her if she died soon. People like Mama are not meant to go on living in such a world as this. She was too pathetic even for me to look at her."

"How about me?"

"You've coarsened. Your face looks as if you've got two or three men. Is there any saké? Tonight I'm going to get drunk."

I went to the village inn and begged the proprietress to let me have a little saké, in honor of my brother's return, but I was told that they were unfortunately just out of stock. When I repeated this information to Naoji, his face darkened into an expression the like of which I never before had seen, and which made him a stranger. "Damn it! You don't know how to deal with her." He got me to tell him where the inn was and rushed out. That was that. I waited for hours for his return, but in vain. I had made baked apples, one of Naoji's favorite dishes, and an omelette, and had even put brighter electric lights in the dining-room to add some cheer. While I was waiting, Osaki, the girl from the inn, put her head in at the kitchen door and whispered urgently, "Excuse me. Is it all right? He's drinking gin." Her pop-eyes bulged even more than usual.

"Gin? You mean methyl alcohol?"

"No, it's not methyl, but just the same. . . ."

"It won't make him sick if he drinks it, will it?"

"No, but still. . . .

"Let him drink it then."

Osaki nodded as if she were swallowing and went away.

I reported to Mother, "He's drinking at Osaki's place."

Mother twisted her mouth a little into a smile. "He must have given up opium. Please finish the dinner. Tonight we'll all three sleep in this room. Put Naoji's bedding in the middle."

I felt as if I could weep.

Naoji returned late that night, thumping loudly through the house. The large, room-size mosquito net was spread open, and the three of us crept inside.

Lying there I asked him, "Why don't you tell Mother something about the South Seas?"

"There's nothing to tell. Nothing at all. I've forgotten. When I returned to Japan and got on the train the rice fields looked unbelievably beautiful from the train window. That's all. Turn out the light. I can't sleep."

I turned out the light. The summer moonlight flooded into the mosquito netting.

The next morning Naoji, lying in bed and smoking a cigarette, looked out at the sea in the distance.

"I hear your tongue hurts you." He spoke as if he had noticed for the first time that Mother was not well.

Mother merely smiled feebly.

"I'm sure it's psychological. You probably sleep at night with your mouth open. Very careless of you. You should wear a gauze mask. Soak some gauze in Rivanol solution and put it inside a mask."

I exploded, "What kind of treatment do you call that?"

"It's called the aesthetic treatment."

"But I'm sure that Mother would hate wearing a mask."

Mother dislikes putting anything on her face, even glasses or an eye-patch if her eyelids are inflamed, let alone a mask.

I asked, "Mother, will you wear one?"

"Yes, I will." Her voice was earnest. I was quite taken aback. Mother was apparently resolved to believe and obey anything that Naoji said.

After breakfast I soaked some gauze in Rivanol solution, as Naoji had directed, folded it into a mask, and took it to Mother. She accepted it without a word and meekly tied the strings around her ears. She looked as she lay there pathetically like a little girl.

That afternoon Naoji announced that he would have to go to Tokyo to see his friends. He changed to a business suit and set off with 2,000 yen from Mother.

Almost ten days have gone by since his departure, and as yet there is no sign when he will return. Every day Mother wears her mask and waits for Naoji. She has told me that the medicine is very effective and that wearing the mask greatly relieves the pain in her tongue. I can't help feeling, however, that Mother is not telling the truth. She is out of bed now, but her appetite remains poor and she seldom speaks. I am worried about her, and I wonder what can be keeping Naoji so long. No doubt he is amusing himself with that novelist Uehara and is at this moment being sucked into the frenzied whirlpool of Tokyo. The more I let my thoughts run along such lines the bitterer my life seems. It is a sure indication that I am at last losing control of myself when I burst out for no good reason with a report on the activities of the roses or mention the fact I haven't any children — lapses I would never have believed myself capable of.

My knitting fell as I stood up with a cry of dismay. I felt at an utter loss what to do with myself. With shaking limbs, I climbed the stairs to the foreign-style room on the second floor.

This is to be Naoji's room. Four or five days ago Mother and I settled this, and I asked Mr. Nakai to help me move in Naoji's wardrobe and bookcases, five or six wooden crates stuffed with books and papers, and various other objects-in short, everything that had been in his room in our old house in Nishikata Street. We decided to await his return from Tokyo before we put the wardrobe and bookcases in place, not knowing where he would like them. The room was so cluttered that there was scarcely space enough to turn around. Aimlessly I picked up one of Naoji's notebooks from an open crate. The words "Moonflower Journal" were written on the cover. The notebook seems to have been kept while Naoji was suffering from narcotic poisoning.



* * *



A sensation of burning to death. And excruciating though it is, I cannot pronounce even the simple words "it hurts." Do not try to shrug off this portent of a hell unparalleled, unique in the history of man, bottomless!

Philosophy? Lies. Principles? Lies. Ideals? Lies. Order? Lies. Sincerity? Truth? Purity? All lies. They say the wisteria of Ushijima are a thousand years old, and the wisteria of Kumano date from centuries ago. I have heard that wisteria clusters at Ushijima attain a maximum length of nine feet, and those at Kumano of over five feet. My heart dances only in those clusters of wisteria blossom.

That too is somebody's child. It is alive.

Logic, inevitably, is the love of logic. It is not the love for living human beings.

Money and women. Logic, intimidated, scampers off precipitously.

The courageous testimony of Dr. Faust that a maiden's smile is more precious than history, philosophy, education, religion, law, politics, economics, and all the other branches of learning.

Learning is another name for vanity. It is the effort of human beings not to be human beings.



* * *



I can swear even before Goethe that I am a superbly gifted writer. Flawless construction, the proper leavening of humor, pathos to bring tears to the reader's eyes — or else a distinguished novel, perfect of its kind, to be read aloud sonorously with the deference due it, this (shall I call it running commentary on a film?) I claim I could write were I not ashamed. There's something fundamentally cheap about such awareness of genius. Only a madman would read a novel with deference. In that case it had best be done in formal clothes, like going to a funeral. So long as it does not seem as affected as a good work! I will write my novel clumsily, deliberately making a botch of it, just to see a smile of genuine pleasure on my friend's face — to fall on my bottom and patter off scratching my head. Oh, to see my friend's happy face!

What is this affection which would make me blow the toy bugle of bad prose and bad character to proclaim, "Here is the greatest fool in Japan! Compared to me, you're all right-be of good health!"

Friend! You who relate with a smug face, "That's his bad habit, what a pity!" You do not know that you are loved.

I wonder if there is anyone who is not depraved. A wearisome thought.

I want money.

Unless I have it. . . .

In my sleep, a natural death!



* * *



I have run up a debt of close to a thousand yen with the pharmacist. Today I surreptitiously introduced a clerk from the pawnshop into the house and ushered him to my room. I asked, "Is anything here valuable enough to pawn? If there is, take it away. I am in desperate need of money."

The clerk, with scarcely a glance at the room, had the effrontery to say, "Why don't you forget the whole idea? After all, the furniture doesn't belong to you."

"Very well!" I said with animation, "just take the things I have bought with my own pocket money." But not a one of all the odds and ends I piled before him had any value as a pledge.

Item. A hand in plaster. This was the right hand of Venus. A hand like a dahlia blossom, a pure white hand, mounted on a stand. But if you looked at it carefully you could tell how this pure white, delicate hand, with whorl-less finger tips and unmarked palms, expressed, so pitifully that even the beholder was stabbed with pain, the shame intense enough to make Venus stop her breath; in the gesture was implicit the moment when Venus' full nakedness was seen by a man, when she twisted away her body, flushed all over with the prickling warmth of her shock, the whirlwind of her shame, and the tragedy of her nudity. Unfortunately, this was only a piece of bric-a-brac. The clerk valued it at fifty sen.

Items. A large map of the suburbs of Paris. A celluloid top almost a foot in diameter. A special pen-point with which one can write letters finer than threads. All things bought by me under the impression that they were great bargains.

The clerk laughed and said, "I must be leaving now."

"Wait!" I cried, holding him back. I finally managed to load him down with an immense stack of books for which he gave me five yen. The books on my shelves were, with a few exceptions, cheap paper-bound editions, and at that I had bought them second-hand. It was not surprising that they fetched so little.

To settle a debt of a thousand yen-five yen. That is approximately my effective strength. It is no laughing matter.

But rather than the patronizing "But being decadent is the only way to survive!" of some who criticize me, I would far prefer to be told simply to go and die. It's straightforward. But people almost never say, "Die!" Paltry, prudent hypocrites!

Justice? That's not where you'll find the so-called class struggle. Humanity? Don't be silly. I know. It is knocking down your fellow-men for the sake of your own happiness. It is a killing. What meaning has it unless there is a verdict of "Die!" It's no use cheating.

There aren't any decent people in our class either. Idiots, specters, penny-pinchers, mad dogs, braggarts, high-flown words, piss from above the clouds.

"Die!" Just to be vouchsafed that word would be far more than I deserve.

The war. Japan's war is an act of desperation.

To die by being sucked into an act of desperation . . . no thanks. I had rather die by my own hand.



* * *



People always make a serious face when they tell a lie. The seriousness of our leaders these days! Pooh!



* * *



I want to spend my time with people who don't look to be respected. But such good people won't want to spend their time with me.



* * *



When I pretended to be precocious, people started the rumor that I was precocious. When I acted like an idler, rumor had it 1 was an idler. When I pretended I couldn't write a novel, people said I couldn't write. When I acted like a liar, they called me a liar. When I acted like a rich man, they started the rumor I was rich. When I feigned indifference, they classed me as the indifferent type. But when I inadvertently groaned because I was really in pain, they started the rumor that I was faking suffering.

The world is out of joint.



* * *



Doesn't that mean in effect that I have no choice but suicide?

In spite of my suffering, at the thought that I was sure to end up by killing myself, I cried aloud and burst into tears.



* * *



There is the story of how on a morning in spring as the sun shone on a branch of plum where two or three blossoms had opened, a young student of Heidelberg was dangling from the branch, dead.



* * *



"Mama, scold me please!"

"What for?"

"They say I'm a weakling."

"Do they? A weakling. . . . I don't think I need scold you about that any more."

Mama's goodness is unsurpassed. Whenever I think of her, I want to cry. I will die by way of apology to Mama.



* * *



Please forgive me. Just this once, please forgive me.



* * *



(New Year's Poem) The years! Still quite blind The little stork-chicks Are growing up. Ah! how they fatten!



* * *



Morphine, atromol, narcopon, philipon, pantopon, pabinal, panopin, atropin.



* * *



What is self-esteem? Self-esteem!

It is impossible for a human being — no, a man — to go on living without thinking "I am one of the elite," "I have my good points," etc.

I detest people, am detested by them.

Test of wits.



* * *



Solemnity=feeling of idiocy.



* * *



Anyway, you can be sure of one thing, a man's got to fake just to stay alive.



* * *



A letter requesting a loan:

"Your answer.

Please answer.

And in such a way that it will be good tidings for me.

I am moaning to myself in the expectation of humiliations of every sort.

I am not putting on an act. Absolutely not.

I beg it of you.

I feel as if I will die of shame.

I am not exaggerating.

Every day, every day, I wait for your answer; night and day I tremble all over.

Do not make me eat dirt.

I can hear a smothered laugh from the walls. Late at night I toss in my bed.

Do not humiliate me.

My sister!"





* * *



Having read that much, I shut the "Moonflower Journal" and returned it to the wooden crate. I walked to the window, threw it open, and looking down on the garden smoky with white rain, I remembered the events of those days.

Six years have already passed since then. Naoji's drug addiction eventually led to my divorce. No, I shouldn't say that. I have the feeling that my divorce was settled from the moment I was born, that even if Naoji had not been addicted to drugs the divorce would have occurred sooner or later for some other cause. Naoji was in difficulties about paying the pharmacist and frequently importuned me for money. I had just been married and could not be entirely free about money. Besides, I felt strongly that it was most improper for me to slip furtively into the hands of my brother money I had received from my husband. After talking the matter over with my maid Oseki, who had come with me from my mother's house, I decided to sell my bracelets, necklaces, and dresses. Naoji had sent me a letter concluding, "I feel such anguish and shame that I can't bear to meet you or even to talk to you over the telephone. Please send the money with Oseki to the apartment [he gave the address] of the novelist Uehara Jiro, whom I'm sure you must know, at least by name. Mr. Uehara has the reputation of being an evil man, but he is not actually like that at all, and there is no need to worry about sending me the money at his address. I have arranged with Uehara to let me know immediately by telephone when the money arrives, so please do it that way. I want to keep my addiction from Mama, at least. Somehow I intend to cure myself before she learns of it. If I get the money from you this time, I will pay back the pharmacist all that I owe him. I may go afterward to our villa in the mountains to recuperate. I really mean it. The day I pay back my whole debt I intend to give up drugs completely. I swear it to God. Please believe me. Please keep it a secret from Mama, and send the money to Mr. Uehara's."

That is more or less what was in the letter. I followed his directions and had Oseki take the money secretly to Mr. Uehara's apartment, but the promise in Naoji's letter was, as always, false. He didn't go to the villa to recuperate. Instead, his drug taking seems to have turned into a kind of poisoning and grown steadily more serious. The style of the letters he sent imploring me for money took on an anguished tone which was all but a shriek. Each time I read his words "I promise to give up drugs now," followed by a