‘Days & Nights’ by Fumiko Hayashi (Review)

After a short delay caused by some time-travelling farmyard animals (don’t ask…), it’s time to get this year’s Women in Translation Month proceedings underway here at the site.  I’ve been a keen participant ever since Meytal Radzinski of the Biblibio blog started the event back in 2014, and I always enjoy selecting a variety of books to spotlight over the course of the month.

As was the case a few years back, this time around I’ve decided to use the event as another opportunity to spend some time vicariously in Japan, and I have an exciting mini-project lined up for the final two weeks of August, as well as reviews of some books I haven’t tried before.  However, my #WITMonth kicks off today in a slightly unusual manner.  You see, while I’m looking at a new book, those with long memories might find it oddly familiar – let’s see what it’s all about…

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Back in January, during my own January in Japan month of reading, I looked at a couple of ebooks featuring stories by Fumiko Hayashi.  While Hayashi is an important twentieth-century writer, she’s not covered too well in English, so I was happy to try two short collections collated and translated by J.D. Wisgo.  As I said in my review, they’re excellent pieces and well worth trying, even if a physical version would make the experience more enjoyable.

Well, several months later, that’s exactly what has happened.  Wisgo decided to take his various ebook translations and bring them together in a new project, Arigatai Books, his own micro-press dedicated to bringing neglected Japanese work into English.  No prizes, then, for guessing that the first paperback is a new edition of the Hayashi stories, entitled Days & Nights, bringing the two mini-collections together into one work 🙂

For the most part, the stories here, arranged in a slightly different order to that of the original ebooks, are tales of people struggling to get by in a country shattered by war.  While a couple take place during the war itself, most show life after the end of the fighting, with the protagonists more concerned with finding work and making ends meet than with any thoughts of Japan’s defeat.  There are a couple of slightly different pieces, though, with a short allegorical tale of cranes and a magic flute, as well as the slightly comical tale of a young man at a boarding house and his encounters with a femme fatale

However, you can read about all that in my previous post – in this one I’ll focus on something else. You see, one other welcome change for the paperback edition of Days & Nights is the addition of a new story.  ‘The Tryst’ fits nicely into the collection, another tale of lovers doing their best to enjoy life, even if they’re slightly more fortunate than most of Hayashi’s struggling couples.

The story shows a couple passing time on a rainy day during a short stay at a hot-spring inn.  As the first-person narrator tells her tale, there’s a distinctly gloomy air, and it’s not just from the weather:

Sometimes, as if struck by a sudden recollection, Keisuke would put his ear to my belly and listen to the sound of the child breathing within.  Keisuke had a wife; I, a husband.
‘The Tryst’, p.74 (Arigatai Books, 2021)

With the impending birth of their child, the couple’s affair has become a more serious matter, and this break acts both as a brief time-out and a chance to work out what to do next.

The writer switches between the scenes at the inn (their room, the bathhouse) and the woman’s thoughts.  She does give a passing mention to her husband, but her mind is mainly preoccupied with the child she’s carrying.  One dominant scene in the story is her recent visit to the rural hospital where she’s thinking of having the baby, far away from prying eyes.  It’s there that she witnesses another woman selling off her child, causing her to think harder about her own child’s future.

There’s a definite crossover with the other stories in Days & Nights, with the dark tone, bad weather and grimy tatami mats reminiscent of several other pieces.  The idea of going away for a few days and putting off making decisions, if only temporarily, crops up in ‘Days and Nights’ and ‘Employment’, where the main characters also flee the city to think things over.  However, as is the case in stories such as ‘Beyond Happiness’, there’s a sense of optimism, too.  As the narrator of ‘The Tryst’ says:

Like a great flood we all walk together, pushing and shoving each other…  I am in that crowd too, trying to frantically keep up with uncertain steps.  Countless faces emerge, each burdened with countless worries.  I have no choice but to continue pushing my way forward in a daze.  Even if my entire life is destroyed for the sake of this love, I will regret nothing. (p.85)

Despite her issues, she shows that she’s ready to face the real world head on and make the best of what’s to come.

‘The Tryst’ makes a nice addition to the book, then, and Days & Nights makes for a nice collection overall, too.  It contains nine stories in total, running to around 120 pages plus a one-page bio of the writer at the end, and is well worth checking out if you’re interested in trying Hayashi’s work.  So far, Arigatai have converted one more of their ebooks into a paperback version, namely Fast Forward Japan, a selection of stories from Juza Unno, described as the founding father of Japanese science-fiction.  I’m not sure that’s for me, but I’ll certainly be interested if they decide to work on more literary fiction, so here’s hoping there’s more on the way 🙂

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