THE FACE OF JIZO
A PLAY BY HISASHI INOUE
Translated by Roger Pulvers
The Place: Hiroshima
The Time: July 1948
The Characters: MITSUE (age 23), TAKEZO (her father)
Music plays as the house lights fade and, after some time we hear the rumble of tympani and see flashes of lightning coming from somewhere far away, and these flashes reveal a simple house--no more than a glorified shack. The time is 5:30 pm on the last Tuesday of July, 1948.
The house, located on the east side of Hijiyama in Hiroshima, belongs to Mitsue Fukuyoshi, and consists of a kitchen adjacent to the entryway, a six-mat sitting room with a folding table and a few other pieces of furniture, and an eight-mat bedroom with a bookshelf, writing desk and closet. Mitsue, age 23, wearing wooden clogs, dressed in an old-fashioned white blouse and a renovated mottle-patterned pair of traditional work pants hurriedly rushes into the house. For a handbag she carries a cloth shopping bag with wooden trim. Lightning flashes again when she steps into the sitting room, and she stumbles to the floor, clutching her bag to her chest, and puts her hands over her eyes and ears.
MITSUE: Daddy, I'm scared!
The door of the closet slides open and we see Takezo, her father, wearing a white open-collar shirt, perched on its shelf. He is holding a large square cushion over his head so as not to hear the thunder.
TAKEZO: This way, over here, Mitsue, quick. Get in. (tossing a cushion to Mitsue) What's the matter with you?! Get the cushion on your head and get yourself in under here.
MITSUE: (somewhat shocked, yet glad to see him) Daddy, so that's where you've been.
TAKEZO: Where in the hell did you think I was, eh? You tell me where and when to go and that's where you'll find me. Where else would I be, eh?
MITSUE: But it's ridiculous, I mean, preposterous...I...you...
TAKEZO: Quit babbling and get the hell in here, will ya! (a flash of lightning) See, there it is again.
MITSUE: (crawling into the closet below the shelf) Daddy!
Takezo sits on the shelf above his daughter as the storm subsides.
TAKEZO: You've got three things going for you now, okay? Me, the closet and the cushion. No flashes or booms are gonna hurt you now.
MITSUE: But, daddy, I'm 23. A bit of thunder shouldn't scare the living daylights out of someone my age. It's downright embarrassing, daddy, and besides, it really gets to me.
TAKEZO: (firmly) Don't blame yourself, Mitsue.
MITSUE: ...Oh, I dunno.
TAKEZO: Look, it wasn't so long ago you were the tomboy of the athletics club at your girls' school, doing laps with the best of them, right? A bit of thunder didn't stop you then.
MITSUE: (nodding) There were only three of us altogether in the club, so I ended up having to run everything from the sprint to long distance stuff. Who had time to worry about thunder?
TAKEZO: That's my spunky little girl. So what happened to turn you into such a little scaredy-cat, eh?
MITSUE: I dunno, I just am. I'm scared to death.
TAKEZO: Since when?
MITSUE: Since about three years ago, I guess.
TAKEZO: Ah, the bomb.
MITSUE: I guess.
TAKEZO: Hey, remember Nobu from the Tomita Photo Shop?
MITSUE: He took a lot of pictures of all of us, yeah.
TAKEZO: He was one of the top photographers in Hiroshima. Took great pictures.
MITSUE: Yeah, if you call those racy pictures great.
MITSUE: You let those army officers use our home, the Fukuyoshi Inn, as a clubhouse, and you got your hands on a lot of goods that way, I remember.
TAKEZO: Ah, so I did. We had rice and sake pourin' outta the closets, and canned salmon and corned beef, cigarettes, caramels, yeah. Mummy died when you were a tiny little baby an' even if you were starved for a mother's love I didn't want you to be without the things you needed, so as long as I had the breath of life in me...
MITSUE: ...you would lure as many women as you could with cigarettes and rice and take them to some hot springs resort and that's when Nobu took those secret photos of them that he showed to those officers and then you...
TAKEZO: (interrupting) That very same Nobu now sells little jellies that he gets from God knows where.
MITSUE: I know.
TAKEZO: Such talent as a photographer and he wastes it peddling black-market jellies!
MITSUE: Serves him right for taking nude pictures in the hot springs!
TAKEZO: You gonna listen to me or not, eh?
MITSUE: Sorry, daddy.
TAKEZO: What happened was, he says, every time one of his magnesium bulbs popped he couldn't get the flash of the bomb out of his head, like it was a photo in real sharp focus. It scared the daylights out of him, and so, he says, he gave up photography. So that's why you and he go to pieces, 'cause the flashes and the booming remind you of the bomb.
MITSUE: I dunno...
TAKEZO: Well, you gotta know. You got your reasons to be scared and you shouldn't be ashamed of it. Nobody blames a victim of the bomb for gettin' shook up over somethin' that flashes, even if it's just an innocent little firefly. You got a right to be scared.
MITSUE: Is there a right for being scared?
TAKEZO: If there isn't, there should be. Any bomb victim who says he's not afraid of thunder is a phony victim.
MITSUE: I wouldn't go that far.
TAKEZO: Well, maybe...okay.
Takezo exits the closet and crawls onto the narrow verandah by the sitting room.
TAKEZO: Oh, gee, the sun's come out.
MITSUE: (crawling out a bit) Yeah, the sun!
TAKEZO: Thunder seems to have moved on out to sea at Ujina.
MITSUE: That's a relief.
Mitsue, relieved, stands, goes to the kitchen and returns with a little earthen-ware teapot and two cups.
MITSUE: I've got some barley tea I made before going to the library this morning. Want some?
TAKEZO: Just what the doctor ordered.
Mitsue pours two cups and gulps hers down right away. Takezo lifts his cup to his lips but puts it down without drinking.
TAKEZO: Can't drink it.
MITSUE: Yeah, guess so.
Mitsue gulps down her father's tea as he watches her.
TAKEZO: Oh my God.
MITSUE: What is it, daddy?
TAKEZO: The sweet bean jam bun! The one Mr. Kinoshita gave you at the library today. What if it's been squished!
MITSUE: Oh no!
Mitsue grabs the bag that she was clutching so tightly and takes out a bun wrapped in newspaper. The bun somehow has retained its shape.
TAKEZO: It's still all plump and round!
MITSUE: He got it at a stall by the station.
TAKEZO: You don't see bean jam buns like this these days.
MITSUE: Mr. Kinoshita says he was stopped dead in his tracks when he caught sight of them, I mean, they just kind of shot out at him, so he bought one but then his legs kinda turned to lead and he had to buy another before he could finally get away.
TAKEZO: Gee, this is one hell of a bean jam bun, that's all I can say.
MITSUE: I was sitting at the library checkout desk and he walks up to me and says, "Here, two's too much for me, you take one." (She divides the bun in two) Let's eat it now.
TAKEZO: Yeah, well, except that I can't, you know.
MITSUE: Yeah, I forgot.
Mitsue, chewing, wraps the other half in the newspaper.
TAKEZO: (swallowing his saliva) Kinoshita, the young fellow who gave you the bun, told you he was teaching at the University of Arts and Sciences, didn't he.
MITSUE: Yeah, he's attached to the physics department, he says, from this September.
TAKEZO: What do you mean "attached"?
MITSUE: I mean, you know, a kind of tutor.
TAKEZO: He wears glasses thicker than two milk bottle bottoms and totes around that huge briefcase wherever he goes and speaks real calm and soft, no, he's one hell of an intellectual, that fellow, if you ask me.
MITSUE: He was lecturing at the Navy Arsenal's institute at Kure till the bomb dropped, he was a technical officer, a lieutenant there.
TAKEZO: A bit rough around the edges for a navy man in my book.
MITSUE: Not all men in the navy are like you think, daddy. Anyway, he went to his old school at Tohoku Imperial University as a graduate student for two years after the war ended and came back here in early July, this month, and he says that just after the bomb dropped here in Hiroshima all he did all day was wander around what was left of the red burnt-out city.
TAKEZO: 'Bout how old is he...30 maybe?
MITSUE: Twenty-six. That's what it says on his library card.
TAKEZO: An' you're 23, so it's a perfect match.
MITSUE: (at first smiling, then in anger) What's wrong with you, daddy! He's just somebody who goes to the library.
TAKEZO: Somebody who just goes to the library doesn't go around giving away bean jam buns!
MITSUE: Ridiculous. I'm not going on with this. Look, it's time for dinner. You going to stay, daddy?
TAKEZO: Up to you.
MITSUE: Okay, give me a hand, then, with the cleaning up.
Mitsue dons an apron, goes to the kitchen and washes a wooden bento box. Takezo also puts on an apron and picks up a duster, but his heart isn't in cleaning.
TAKEZO: About that young fellow Kinoshita, you know, he wouldn't give you a bun if he hadn't taken a shine to you. You oughta get that straight, you know.
MITSUE: You see too much in a little bun, daddy.
TAKEZO: Even a bun can carry a lotta weight. It's you who should have the courage to look into it a bit more deeply.
MITSUE: Mr. Kinoshita gave it to me to thank me, that's all.
TAKEZO: More than just thanks in my book.
MITSUE: Oh, daddy! (entering the sitting room) Now, please come here and sit down. Four days ago, on Friday last week, a man came up to the desk at the library just after noon and said, "Do you have objects related to the atom bomb? I was told at City Hall to enquire at the library." It was Mr. Kinoshita. We normally tell people that there are no such materials there, but something about the way he asked was so sincere that I explained to him, "The occupation forces keep a very close eye on anything to do with gathering information on the bomb. They forbid going public in any way, assuming that we would be allowed to obtain things in the first place. Besides, as an atomic victim myself it takes everything out of me just to forget it. Nothing about what happened that day in August will make a story or anything like a picture or a poem or a novel or, for that matter, a subject to be studied. One instant pulverized people's whole world, and that's why we do not collect things on it. Not only that. If there were such things, we'd destroy them for good. I have burnt absolutely everything that would remind me of my father." So you see, daddy, the bun was only to thank me for that, nothing more than that.
TAKEZO: You got two little checkout desks next to each other at the library, right, with one girl at each.
MITSUE: That's right, Miss Takagaki and me. So?
TAKEZO: Ever since the bomb you've not been yourself. You keep everything to yourself and keep people at arms' length, mopin' around with a scowl on your face till you get home. While Miss Takagaki always looks on the bright side of things, right?
MITSUE: Yeah, so? What are getting at, daddy?
TAKEZO: I mean, what makes a fellow like Kinoshita go for a Miss Grumpyguts like you instead of someone, well, more approachable like Miss Takagaki, eh? That's the crux of it. Anybody'd think he'd go for her first.
MITSUE: It's his privilege.
TAKEZO: That's what I'm sayin'. That fellow Kinoshita has one hell of a head on his shoulders. And as for you, you always had a nice disposition and knew what was what, I mean, you graduated second in your class, didn't you. Kinoshita saw the real you and took notice. That's what's behind that sweet bun of yours, take my word for it.
MITSUE: I can't stop you if you make up preposterous things like that. (entering the kitchen) Just sit there for as long as you like with your little stories. They've nothing to do with me.
TAKEZO: There's another hidden meaning in that bun, I'm convinced of it.
MITSUE: Will you please stop bringing up that bun!
TAKEZO: Look, this thing is crucial for you, Mitsue, and I'm not going to rest until I get to the bottom of that bun.
MITSUE: You come here out of the blue and go on and on about some stupid bun, I tell you, I can't think straight anymore, my head...
TAKEZO: You can't think straight because you fancy that fellow Kinoshita too. It's love at first sight, for the both of ya, and it won't be long before you won't have eyes for anybody else. Hard as a rock on the outside but drippin' with sweetness on the inside. Your heart is just one big sweet bean jam bun.
MITSUE: (screaming) Not on your life! I don't let myself get keen on anybody and that's that.
TAKEZO: If you weren't keen on that fellow you would've pushed that bun right back in his face then and there.
MITSUE: Quiet! Absolute quiet. That's the main rule at our library. "Thanks for your help. Here, have a bun." "No, I couldn't possibly." "No, please, I insist." "It's against the rules to accept a bun from library visitors." You think we can just blabber away like that at the library desk? The head librarian and the deputy head librarian, not to mention Miss Takagaki right beside me eavesdrop on everything that happens. It was all I could do to take the bun without making a peep.
TAKEZO: But you made a date with him for tomorrow, didn't you, to meet during your lunch break at Sennenmatsu near the library.
MITSUE: I wanted to say no but...
TAKEZO: But you can't just blabber away at the library desk, eh?
MITSUE: ...so, well, I just nodded okay.
TAKEZO: So that means...
MITSUE: You watch me tomorrow, daddy. Watch me tell Mr. Kinoshita in no uncertain terms never to speak to me again.
TAKEZO: Why do you always turn everything around, eh? There's no harm in fancyin' the fellow. You're keen on him an' he's keen on you. Get yourselves together and live happily ever after. That's what's really at the bottom of that bun he gave you.
MITSUE: I can't be happy, so just stop talking, daddy.
TAKEZO: I'm head of your fan club, you know, an' I won't let go of you.
MITSUE: Head of my fan club?
TAKEZO: Yep. Think about it. I started showin' up last Friday, right, when your heart started throbbin' for the first time in a long time when you caught sight of that Kinoshita fellow comin' into the library. My torso was born out of that throbbing. Then when he started to approach the checkout desk a soft little sigh slipped from your lips. Isn't that right? My arms and legs grew out of that sigh. Then you made a silent wish, didn't you, that he would choose your desk to come up to. My heart came to life out of that wish.
MITSUE: Is that why you've been hanging and milling around, to get me to fall in love? (Takezo beams) Love is out of the question. I can't fall in love. Stop pestering me about it, okay?
TAKEZO: If you don't stop suppressing your feelings like that, you'll end up living a life dull as ditchwater, you know.
MITSUE: Keep your nose outta my business, will you, daddy? I've got things to do. I've got a dinner to make, and a lot of things to prepare for tomorrow. We've got a Children's Summer Storytelling Club where for 10 days the library staff tell stories to kids. Every day about 30 or 40 children get together in a little pine forest at Hijiyama where there's a cool breeze. They love our voices mingled with the sound of the breeze that blows through the pine branches. They look forward to it every day and I've got to be absolutely prepared.
Mitsue starts chopping cabbage with great gusto. Takezo watches her for a while, then dusts his way to the entryway. Mitsue now chops the cabbage with even greater vigor. Fade to blackout.
* * * * :
"The Face of Jizo" has been translated into English, Chinese, Russian, French, German and Italian. These translated works can be purchased from the Komatsu-za theater company founded and managed by Hisashi Inoue. Each edition is sold for 952 yen. Please note the Russian version is currently unavailable. You can place an order or ask for information either in Japanese or English via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.