THE FACE OF JIZO
A PLAY BY HISASHI INOUE
Translated by Roger Pulvers
Music plays and lights go up to the same house whose eight-mat room is illuminated by a naked 30-watt bulb. There is smoke from a mosquito coil on the verandah. It is the next day, Wednesday, after 8pm. Mitsue sits at a low writing desk writing with a pencil. She is dressed as she was the day before. She begins to tell her story, glancing sideways from time to time at what she has just finished writing. She reads without emotion, correcting words when she feels necessary.
MITSUE: The city of Hiroshima has been known since ancient times as "the beautiful city on water straddling seven rivers." These seven rivers flow into one, the Ohtagawa, on the northern outskirts of the city. A long time ago I took great pleasure in traveling every week with my classmates in Japanese literature to the villages along that river where the people there told us stories that had been handed down to them. But the truth is, our real reason for traipsing around there was not the stories but the oysters in miso and the pine mushroom rice and the yam jellies in miso and treats like that. The story you are about to hear is one told to us by someone very old at that time. If my memory is correct, grilled sweetfish was served with it. (clearing her throat) Now, in the mountains just a stone's throw from the Ohtagawa there lived an old man and woman. The old man was a dyed-in-the-wool miser and loafer who would sooner die than do a decent day's work, and the two were able to get by thanks to the old woman who did everything from washing clothes and cutting and gathering wood to grilling sweetfish. One day the old woman left the house to catch some sweetfish. She was so thirsty that she took a drink from the river and, lo and behold, all the wrinkles on her face vanished into thin air. She took another drink and her back went straight as a pin. One more drink and she turned into a ravishing young beauty. She rushed home to tell the old man the news and he hollered, "You're not the only one who gets their youth back. Just you wait and see the handsome young thing I'm gonna turn into." He ran out of the house, and though night fell, he didn't return...
Someone is making a rumbling noise with a mortar and pestle in the kitchen. It is Takezo, wearing an apron and a twisted towel headband. He occasionally swats at mosquitoes with a fan on the counter, grinding dried small fry.
TAKEZO: Oh, will this heat never let up!
MITSUE: I didn't know you were here.
TAKEZO: Where'd you think I was, eh? Haven't seen ya for a whole day.
MITSUE: Can you stop that rumbling? I can't rehearse my story with you doing that. (She goes into the kitchen and turns on the light) What exactly are you doing?
TAKEZO: I got some small fry here and I'm addin' miso, whadda ya think, eh? Take a look, see how your old dad has ground it up good.
MITSUE: How did you guess that that's what I was planning to make?
TAKEZO: You had the small fry and the miso here... doesn't take brains to figure it out. Now, in goes the miso just like this... .
He throws some miso from a bowl into the mortar and again grinds away.
TAKEZO: And now we mix in the finely chopped chillies. (to Mitsue) Chillies. Finely chopped chillies.
Mitsue takes some chopped chillies from a little bowl and puts them in the mortar. Takezo skillfully grinds everything up.
TAKEZO: And you have it, small fry in miso, specialty of the Fukuyoshi Inn.
MITSUE (taking a taste) Mm, not bad at all.
TAKEZO: Your old man hasn't lost his touch after all, eh? So, what happens next in that story of yours? What becomes of the good-for-nothing old geezer?
MITSUE: Even though night fell, the old man still didn't return home. So the old woman, worried about him, goes out looking for him with a lantern. And when she gets to the bank of the river, she sees a bratty little baby bawling its eyes out.
TAKEZO: Kids these days aren't gonna go for a story like that. It's too highbrow for 'em.
MITSUE: No one's forcing them to like it.
TAKEZO: No, you gotta put a bit more spice into it. Look, make it like this. The old geezer doesn't come back, even when the night falls. There's neither hide nor hare of him. So the old woman, worried sick, goes out with a lantern to find him. And when she gets to the bank of the river, all she finds is a pair of dentures lyin' around. (Mitsue is not impressed) Well, the old geezer drank too much water, that's why. He went straight through bein' a baby and got himself unborn.
MITSUE: I get the point, daddy.
TAKEZO: It's a lot funnier than the punch line you're givin' 'em.
MITSUE: (shouting) You can't fiddle with a story like that! You gotta relate the older generations' stories to people who come after them as they are, faithfully. That's the philosophy of the Folktale Research Club at Hiroshima College for Women.
TAKEZO: That club of yours was given a real talking-to by the inspector from the prefecture six years ago, wasn't it. He said that if you had time to study folktales you could be down at the factory working. We got a war on, he said, this is an emergency. Your club broke up around the end of 1942, if I recall.
MITSUE: Yeah, but the spirit of that club is still alive inside me.
TAKEZO: That's just what you said to that Kinoshita fellow when you two had that argument at lunch time today, isn't it.
MITSUE: It wasn't an argument. It was a... debate.
TAKEZO: Maybe, but the folks who wanted to take a nap in the cool breezes by the little pine forest at Hijiyama were so jolted by your hollerin' they all woke up alarmed.
MITSUE: I tell you we were just having a... discussion.
Mitsue goes back to the sitting room and tries to commit the story to memory. Takezo divides the food in the mortar into two portions and puts them in two lidded china containers.
TAKEZO: Apparently Kinoshita first got interested in the bomb when he came across a roof tile that was in the bomb zone.
MITSUE: Yeah, he told me.
TAKEZO: That year, at the end of August, he came here to Hiroshima from Kure to catch a train home to Iwate, and while waiting for the train he roamed around the burnt-out city. He came to Ohtemachi around midday and sat himself down where there'd been a temple, and no sooner did he open his lunchbox than he felt somethin' sharp, like needles sticking right through his fancy navy pants into his bum.
MITSUE: Apparently he sat on a piece of roof tile thrown there by the bomb.
TAKEZO: So he sees that the tile is covered in these thorns that are all over it, all stickin' out in the same direction. The tile's surface had melted to form it in that instant of heat, that single instant of unbelievably intense heat. God, that's one hell of a bomb, he thought. I gotta find out more about it, what really happened in that intense heat, I gotta know. So he went pickin' up all the tiles he could find as he made his way back to the station.
MITSUE: Yeah, he told me that too.
TAKEZO: You took one of those tiles for safe keeping, didn't you.
Mitsue takes a furoshiki from the top shelf of the bookshelf.
MITSUE: I didn't take it, daddy! He forced it on me.
Takezo takes the furoshiki from her and unwraps it on the dining table to reveal a flat candy box made out of paper. He removes the lid and is stunned. Inside the box are a five-centimetre-square piece of tile, a medicine bottle twisted out of shape and a few pieces of glass. Mitsue removes these for him from the box with much reluctance.
MITSUE: These slivers of glass were removed from the bodies of bomb victims.
TAKEZO: It's... inhuman.
MITSUE: The tile from the bomb.
TAKEZO: It's so sharp.
MITSUE: A medicine bottle twisted out of shape by the heat.
MITSUE: Mr. Kinoshita says he's got scores of beer bottles like this in all weird shapes and big sake bottles warped into the shape of a horn and, he says, there's a huge standing stone lantern where the surface is all just foamy bubbles from the heat, and a grandfather clock with the shadow of its hands burnt into its face..... And the lady who runs the place where he's boarding is trying to run him out even though he hasn't even been there a month.
MITSUE: Yeah, and every time he comes back with more objects the landlady complains, "That stuff you keep bringin' in here gives me the creeps. You got so much it's gonna go right through the floor, so I'll just have to up your rent." She's on his back all the time. She really gave it to him two nights ago when he came home for dinner with tiles like this in a petrol can. There was just a little mound of rice in his bowl and almost nothing in the soup either.
TAKEZO: It makes ya wonder about people, I tell ya.
MITSUE: And that's why Mr. Kinoshita came to me today and said he knew he was asking a lot but could I keep his stuff from the bomb in the library.
TAKEZO: It's not possible, is it.
MITSUE: One word from MacArthur and we could. I felt sorry for him and I didn't want to refuse him on the spot so I asked if I could sleep on it. So tomorrow I gotta see him again during my lunch break. Some people who come to the library are a real pain.
TAKEZO: Lend me your handkerchief for a moment.
MITSUE: Wha... ? Okay.
Takezo wraps one of the lidded containers with small fry in miso in the handkerchief.
TAKEZO: Small fry in miso. For that Kinoshita fellow. Lid on an' everything. You make sure you give it to him tomorrow.
MITSUE: Daddy, how long are you going to go on like this?
TAKEZO: God knows why, but men have a thing for girls' handkerchiefs.
MITSUE: Will you please mind your own business and stop imagining things and then reading everything into them!
TAKEZO: Oh well, then give it to your boss instead.
MITSUE: My boss' wife gets jealous at the drop of a hat. It might cause trouble.
TAKEZO: Well, then, I think you better give it to that Kinoshita fellow after all.
MITSUE: (angrily puts the wrapped container on the writing desk) This is the last time I'm going to let you do something like this!
TAKEZO: Look, forget that and think about what you were arguing about with Kinoshita instead, all right?
MITSUE: Well, just before we parted he asked me if it wasn't a good idea to use his atom bomb objects in trying to tell the children about what happened to me in the bomb an' everything.
TAKEZO: That fellow sure has a good head on his shoulders.
MITSUE: I told him it was out of the question. Our philosophy is not to tamper with the original stories.
TAKEZO: There you go again! I mean, it's one thing to stick to the letter of the stories that you've heard on your trips, but...
MITSUE: But he kept on pushing the stuff that he collected on me and wouldn't take no for an answer even though I told him over and over that it was out of the question. Then I started shouting, I guess. Well, that's the long and short of it.
TAKEZO: Just a minute. I just had a brilliant idea.
MITSUE: Yeah, I know, you're good at that, you and your big ideas for things that can't be counted on. Every time you have one of your brilliant ideas you start up some new business or try to get your hands on some new woman or fritter away what granddad left on anything but your little inn...
TAKEZO: Everything left to me would have gone up in smoke with the bomb anyway, even if I had increased its value. You might say I saw past things.
MITSUE: That insults all people who worked their guts out. My God.
TAKEZO: Okay. Look, all you'll end up doin' is arguin' till the cows come home if you just repeat those stories. You should tell stories that everybody knows but just slip the material that Kinoshita collected in, that's all. He'll be really tickled if you do that.
MITSUE: The summer holiday storytelling is for children, daddy.
TAKEZO: Sure it is. Look, just take a story, look, like Momotaro or The Battle of the Monkey and the Crab or, say, the Little Inch-High Warrior and kinda work the atom bomb into 'em.
MITSUE: How am I supposed to do that?
TAKEZO: You're the expert, figure it out.
MITSUE: The occupation forces keep an eye on absolutely everything, daddy. You can afford to pretend that things don't matter because you have no idea how powerful the occupation army is.
TAKEZO: (yet another brilliant idea) Got it!
MITSUE: I've got to go and memorize my stories. You can leave any time you please. Do visit again, will you?
TAKEZO: This is it this time. You'll be telling your stories to the kids and the wind will rise and carry your words here, there and everywhere. They will enter the hearts of those kids and come out, riding the wind straight up to the sky where they will turn into little rainbows. There will be no proof, just the Hiroshima wind that is fighting for you, blowing through the hills of Hijiyama.
Takezo puts two of Kinoshita's objects into the lower pocket of his apron and one in the upper.
TAKEZO: May not do you any good, but just listen to me, okay. The Little Inch-High Warrior... no one who doesn't know the story of how the Little Inch-High Warrior arrived in Kyoto sailing in a rice bowl. Well, he hops into the red ogre's mouth to save the beautiful princess and sticks a sewing needle, which he uses for a sword, all inside the ogre's tummy until the ogre, in the end, surrenders. He's powerful, the Inch-High Warrior, yep. But the Little Inch-High Warrior of Hiroshima is even more powerful.
MITSUE: The Little Inch-High Warrior of Hiroshima?
TAKEZO: And the curtain goes up on Mitsue Fukuyoshi's Apron Theater!
MITSUE: Apron Theater... ?
TAKEZO: Apron pockets can really help dramatize a story, you know. Now, up to the part where he hops into the ogre's belly it's the same. But that's where the story takes on a completely different tack.
Takezo takes a tile from the lower right pocket and holds it in the air.
TAKEZO: Having found himself inside the red ogre's belly, the Little Inch-High Warrior of Hiroshima pushes the tile from the bomb zone hard against the ogre's lower tummy and says, "Hey, ogre! Unplug your ears of all your wax and listen to me! In my hand I have a tile that was burnt by the atom bomb in Hiroshima. You know that an atom bomb was detonated at a height of 580 meters above Hiroshima in the morning, on that day. One second after that there was a fireball with a temperature of 12,000 degrees Centigrade. Hey, get that? 12,000 degrees. The surface temperature of the Sun is 6,000 degrees, so that day the sky was lit up with two Suns floating there at 580 meters above the ground. That's two Suns, for one second then another, side by side, up in the sky. Everything on the ground, the people and the birds and the bugs, the fish, the buildings and the big stone lanterns, it all melted in a flash. Every single thing under the sun bubbled, foamed and melted. Roof tiles melted too. Then the atomic blast itself arrived. At 350 meters a second, an atomic blast faster than the speed of sound. The melted tiles were blasted too, and they grew little needles which cooled into jagged thorns like sharp little icicles, like the blades of a grater or iron spikes. With these terrifying spikes I'm gonna grate your liver into slivers of pulp! Grate and grate and grate and grate!" And the red ogre writhes in such excruciating pain that his red face just gets paler and paler.
Mitsue is terrified by this story. Takezo produces the medicine bottle from the lower left pocket.
TAKEZO: Before you know it, the Little Inch-High Warrior of Hiroshima pulls out a medicine bottle that was all twisted up by the heat. "Hey, ogre! Now I'm gonna shove this medicine bottle up your bumhole from the inside. I hope you drop dead from constipation!"
Takezo produces a piece of glass from the upper pocket and raises it in the air. His voice becomes tearful during the following.
TAKEZO: "Hey, ogre! This here is a piece of glass that pierced human flesh. Every window in Hiroshima was blown out by the blast, shooting slivers of glass into human bodies, turning people into porcupines...."
MITSUE: Stop it!
TAKEZO: "With the blade of this glass I'm gonna make mincemeat outta your large intestine and your small intestine and your appendix!"
MITSUE: I said stop it!
TAKEZO: ... it was so inhuman, what people did to people just like them, lining up two Suns in the sky. (putting the mortar and pestle away) No, it might be too much for the people of Hiroshima to take, slippin' things from the bomb into a story, any story. Gotta keep that in mind. All I wanted was for that Kinoshita fellow to be keen on you, but I was wrong. Yeah, just another of my big ideas. (disappearing at the back of the kitchen as he carries the kitchen items) Just be content with the small fry in miso for that fellow when you give it to him.
MITSUE: Thank you, daddy, for everything you've done for me. Daddy? Daddy?
Takezo is gone. The lights 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 email@example.com.