THE FACE OF JIZO
A PLAY BY HISASHI INOUE
Translated by Roger Pulvers
Music plays and the lights come up on the same scene, the next day, Thursday, after midday. It is raining. Drops from the leaking ceiling fall into strategically placed bowls and teacups, five or six of them in the sitting room and six or seven in the eight-mat bedroom.
On one side of the sitting room stands Takezo with a small pot in his hand. A large pan and a pot for cooking rice are at his feet. He is surveying the ceiling for leaks like a teacher watching over students taking an exam. Finding a new leak between the sitting room and the bedroom he hums what sounds like a children's song as he hops between the bowls and cups as if playing hopscotch, and places the small pot under the leak.
TAKEZO: Yesterday's rain was clever. It came down at night and stopped in the morning.
He now returns to his position and soon detects another leak over the writing desk in the bedroom. With the rice-cooking pot in hand he heads for the leak.
TAKEZO: This rain doesn't have the brains it was born with. It started in the morning and hasn't stopped all day.
He pushes the writing desk aside and places the pot under the leak, but picking up the desk he is at a loss for where to put it down.
TAKEZO: Rain, rain, go away. You're old man's a brute and your old mum's a floozy.
He returns to his original position with the writing desk in hand, and while looking for a place to put it down notices letter paper and an envelope on it. He puts the desk down, sits at it and reads the envelope.
TAKEZO: "Mr. Tadashi Kinoshita, care of Mrs. Takizawa, Kogomori 2-chome, Fuchu Town, Hiroshima City."
Takezo grins a toothy smile, then reads the letter, sometimes to himself.
TAKEZO: Dear Mr. Kinoshita. Allow me to express my gratitude for your visits to the municipal library. ...always busy when you kindly appear...(He feels a drop of rain on his head and puts the large pot on it to catch the rain)...seeing as this is such an important matter, I have taken the liberty of writing...the things that you have collected from the bomb zone...if you have nothing against my home...as I live by myself there is room...it does have a few leaks here and there but...as it is stiflingly hot these days...take good care of yourself...yours truly."
Mitsue returns. She stands in the entryway, shaking water off her Japanese umbrella.
TAKEZO: Home already?
MITSUE: ...Oh, daddy.
TAKEZO: Yep, I'm making myself right at home. It's just past noon. What're you doin' here?
MITSUE: The rain spoiled our storytelling.
TAKEZO: God only knows why it doesn't rain at night. Poor kids. ...What's up, come back to get somethin'?
MITSUE: No, I just left work early.
TAKEZO: Feeling sick or somethin'? (suddenly alarmed) Oh no, you're not nauseous, are you? Is it the dizziness, the ringing in your ears, constipation, diarrhea? Do you still suffer from radiation sickness?
MITSUE: Not recently.
TAKEZO: That's a relief.
MITSUE: The only place it aches is here. (She lightly presses her left upper arm)
TAKEZO: That sets my heart at ease, if that's all it is. Who knows, maybe that godawful monster of an illness has finally been driven away.
MITSUE: Yeah, he leads you to believe that you're out of the woods and then, bam, he catches you by surprise. You can't relax until you've taken your dying breath.
TAKEZO: Yeah. It's really awful, what you've gotta carry in you. ...Well, get a load a that. (on the verandah, looking up) We did it. It's finally stopped raining. If it'd gone on any longer I'd've run clean out of things to catch it in. Couldn't very well drag the bathtub into here, could I've.
He puts away five or six of the bowls and cups and unfolds the dining table for the two of them.
TAKEZO: So, everything work out, then?
MITSUE: What do you mean?
TAKEZO: The small fry in miso. That Kinoshita fellow. Was he happy to get it?
MITSUE: Oh, that.
TAKEZO: Didn't he say, "Oh, I just love small fry in miso"?
MITSUE: Haven't given it to him yet. (She takes the container in the handkerchief from the same handbag she had before) Here it is.
TAKEZO: What's it doin' here?
MITSUE: I didn't go to Hijiyama.
TAKEZO: Why not?
MITSUE: Well, it was raining for one thing...
TAKEZO: You got an umbrella.
MITSUE: I mean, the paths are all slushy and I could slip and hurt myself...
TAKEZO: Your clogs are still plenty good.
MITSUE: I thought it best not to go on seeing Mr. Kinoshita.
TAKEZO: Not that again. People who keep repeating themselves only become laughingstocks.
MITSUE: So I fixed up books in the library workroom instead of going.
TAKEZO: You can still make it if you leave now.
MITSUE: Then I saw Mr. Kinoshita walking toward the library from the direction of Hijiyama. I thought it better not to meet him so I left work early.
TAKEZO: (shaking) I'd smack some sense into you if these were the old days!
MITSUE: It's better this way, daddy. I can't let myself fall in love with anyone.
TAKEZO: If you keep acting unnatural like that you'll lose all heart, Mitsue.
MITSUE: Take my word for it, I'll be fine. Let me be, okay? (She starts to clean up)
TAKEZO: Don't you mess with the head of your fan club!
MITSUE: What's got into you now?
TAKEZO: You're tryin' to pull the wool over your old man's eyes with your bare-faced lies. How long you gonna go on pretendin' that you don't fancy him, eh?
MITSUE: Look, all I said was...
TAKEZO: Who needs to ask you? (pointing to the letter) "Yours truly." Who needs to say another word, it's all here.
MITSUE: It's just a polite phrase that all women write.
TAKEZO: "As I live by myself there is room..." Do all women write that to some fellow who comes saunterin' into their library, eh?
MITSUE: I wrote it as a joke. I planned to throw the whole thing away. Give it to me.
TAKEZO: If you don't want it anymore, I'll throw it away for you.
MITSUE: Oh, daddy....
TAKEZO: (putting the letter and envelope in his pants' pocket) Why do you insist you can't fall in love, eh? Sure, you don't have the sort of looks that go knocking men off their feet, but then, I guess I'm half to blame for that. But you've got respectable-enough features, an' that's due to me too.
TAKEZO: The point is, it's a good enough face for that Kinoshita fellow, so why worry?
MITSUE: I'm telling you, that's not the point.
TAKEZO: ...So maybe the point's the radiation sickness, eh? You can't let yourself fall in love because you never know when it's gonna hit you again.
MITSUE: But he said he would stake his own life on looking after me if it came to that.
TAKEZO: Well then, you two seem to have it all sewn up. Ah, I see, you're worried about the little one, when it comes into this world. Radiation sickness does get passed down to babies, they say.
MITSUE: If that's our fate then we'll bring it up best as we can.
TAKEZO: That what he said too?
MITSUE: More or less.
TAKEZO: Well, whether it's more or whether it's less, if you've gone that far, you certainly don't need me.
MITSUE: And it's all the more reason why I can't go on seeing him.
TAKEZO: You tellin' me the closer you get to each other the farther you wanna be?
MITSUE: More or less.
TAKEZO: I'm really gonna flip my lid if you don't stop this nonsense. What you said two days ago is topsyturvy from what you're gonna say two days from now. I tell ya, you're doin' so many backflips and frontflips, I can't tell which end is up.
MITSUE: (suddenly formal) Kindly be seated, father.
TAKEZO: ...I will.
Takezo sits in front of Mitsue.
MITSUE: There are countless people who, by all rights, should have been able to lead a happy life. Who am I to elbow my way past them and make a claim on happiness? If I did, I'd never be able to look them or myself in the face.
TAKEZO: Who are these people you're talkin' about?
MITSUE: People like Akiko Fukumura, for instance.
TAKEZO: Akiko Fukumura? Her?
MITSUE: We went all through middle school, high school and college together. For eight years we always sat next to each other because our family names start with the character for "Lucky", and for eight years we were on the track team together. It got so that everyone just called us Lucky One and Lucky Two.
TAKEZO: Yeah, an' when you were both absent one day, the teacher took roll call and said there was no such Lucky!
MITSUE: The two of us started up the Folktale Research Club at college, too, with Akiko as president and me as vice president. It was the two of us who made the strict policy that original stories are not to be touched.
TAKEZO: And you stuck to it?
MITSUE: That's right.
TAKEZO: You two were always competing with each other on grades, weren't you.
MITSUE: I could outrun her, but never once did I outdo her on grades. I always came in second on that. It's your fault, daddy.
TAKEZO: Hey, don't throw that in my face all of a sudden.
MITSUE: Besides that, she was really pretty. Everybody called her the prettiest girl in high school and college.
TAKEZO: Must've been 'cause of her mother. She was a real goodlooker. She ran a little sewing school, and a widow to boot. Gee, one look from her and all I could do was stand there with my mouth open.
MITSUE: So you wrote her a letter, didn't you, and sent it with some rice and canned salmon and corned beef. "Mrs. Shizue Fukumura. It would give me great pleasure to accompany you to view the nighttime cherry blossoms at Hijiyama. Very kindly yours, Takezo Fukuyoshi."
TAKEZO: How'd you find out about that?
MITSUE: Akiko showed it to me. She said, "Don't you think 'very kindly yours' is a bit weird?"
TAKEZO: How so?
MITSUE: It's the sort of thing women write.
TAKEZO: Who lets their letters get read by other people anyway, eh? That widow turned out to be nastier than she looked.
MITSUE: She treated me like a real mother, very tenderly.
TAKEZO: And she should've been your mother too, you know. All she had to do was change the second half or her last name from Mura to Yoshi.
MITSUE: (again formally) Akiko was the one who should have had a chance at happiness.
TAKEZO: Why's that, then?
MITSUE: She was prettier than me, and more clever and more popular, and she saved me from the bomb.
TAKEZO: ...Saved you from the bomb?
MITSUE: If it weren't for her, I wouldn't be alive today.
TAKEZO: That's absurd. You and I were the only people in our garden then. Akiko...whadda ya talkin' about?
MITSUE: She saved me with a letter.
TAKEZO: A letter?
MITSUE: She was teaching at the time at the Second Prefectural Girls School and had gone to the airplane factory at Mizushima in Okayama with her ninth and tenth grade pupils. I had received a letter from her the day before and I was so happy that I spent the whole night writing a reply. The next morning I decided to mail it on my way to the library, and I was walking through our garden toward the wooden gate in back with the thick letter in my hand....
TAKEZO: I was on the verandah, wasn't I. I was polishing brown rice with a stick in a big sake bottle when I saw you passing the stone lantern and said, "Be careful, Mitsue...."
MITSUE: I turned toward you when I heard your voice and waved. It was then...I saw a B-29 just beyond our roof and caught sight of something shining, glinting. "Daddy, they're dropping something on us."
TAKEZO: "Funny, there's been no airraid warning." I stepped down into the garden.
MITSUE: "I wonder what they're dropping now? Propaganda flyers maybe." As I was looking up my grip loosened and I dropped the letter by the stone lantern. "Oh God." I bent down to pick it up, when, out of the blue, everything under the sun turned a pale white.
TAKEZO: I saw it full on, two suns of blazing fire.
MITSUE: (with pity) Daddy...
TAKEZO: It was a great ball of fire, blindingly white at the center with a weird kind of yellow and red outline. (pause) What happened then?
MITSUE: I was shielded from the heat coming from the fireball by the lantern.
TAKEZO: Oh, that big stone lantern! Gee, it cost me an arm and a leg, but it was sure worth it.
MITSUE: If I hadn't received that letter from Akiko I wouldn't have been kneeling down by the lantern. That's why I said she saved my life. (She covers her face with her hands)
TAKEZO: What is it, Mitsue?
MITSUE: Akiko had taken the first train that morning from Mizushima to Hiroshima.
MITSUE: She was on her way to the school to fetch some things she needed for her evening tutorial, mimeograph things and a couple of reams of coarse paper.
TAKEZO: What'd she do then? Oh no....
MITSUE: She stopped off at her mother's at Nishi-Kanonmachi then set out for school exactly at eight. She was hit by the bomb when she was by the Red Cross offices at Sendamachi.
MITSUE: Her mother didn't find her till a whole day after. By then she had been laid out on the dirt floor at the back entrance of the Red Cross.
TAKEZO: Oh my God, the poor little girl.
MITSUE: Her buttocks were completely exposed 'cause the back of her pants had burnt off, and there was a little patch of dried stool...
TAKEZO: I've heard enough. Now I think I know why you feel you can't seek out happiness like ordinary people. But, Mitsue, look at it this way. You've gotta live out Akiko's happiness for her.
MITSUE: I can't do that, daddy!
TAKEZO: Why not?
MITSUE: Because I promised. ...Her mother.
TAKEZO: Her mother?
MITSUE: Well, something akin to a promise.
TAKEZO: What'd you promise, eh?
MITSUE: I met up with her mother three days after the blast, in the early evening of August 9th. I had run off to Mrs. Horiuchi's house in Miyajima on the 6th and stayed there till the morning of the 9th.
TAKEZO: Mrs. Horiuchi? The name rings a bell, but....
MITSUE: My old flower arranging teacher from school.
TAKEZO: Oh, old Mrs. Horiuchi. Lucky for you to have had such a nice teacher.
MITSUE: She urged me to go back home, so I left that morning and got home around noon. The whole city smelt like grilled fish.
TAKEZO: Yeah, grilled into oblivion.
MITSUE: I just cried and cried picking up your bones, daddy.
TAKEZO: I know. Thank you.
MITSUE: Then I went to Akiko's, but everything around there was burnt to the ground, an' when I got there her mother was lying in a tunnel dug into the garden. She was on her stomach 'cause her back was covered in these enormous blisters.
TAKEZO: Oh, the poor woman.
MITSUE: She looked really happy to see me an' she got to her feet and hugged me really tight and thanked me for coming. But when she started telling me about Akiko she all of a sudden turned white as a ghost and she just looked right through me and....
TAKEZO: Go on.
MITSUE: ...and she said, "What are you doing alive?" ..."Why are you alive when my daughter isn't?" ...By the end of the month she was dead too.
TAKEZO: This might not help any, but really, Akiko's mum wasn't really in her right mind, and I'm sure she didn't mean it and....
MITSUE: No, it was unnatural for me to have survived, daddy!
TAKEZO: What on earth makes you say such a thing, eh?
MITSUE: I don't deserve to live.
TAKEZO: Don't you ever say a thing like that!
MITSUE: Listen to me, daddy!
TAKEZO: I'm not going to listen to a word of this.
MITSUE: Almost all of my friends are gone. Etsuko who died while standing in a fire-prevention reservoir. Kaori, just walking along, her tongue swollen out of her mouth like she was chewing on a huge eggplant. Fumiko had gotten married just after graduation...she died with her baby at her breast. The baby, too, went to the other world soon after, pressing its little face to her breasts, without even an inkling of what this world is like. And Michiko, my friend at the telephone exchange. Two of her coworkers were too scared to move, so she put her arms around them and told them to be brave 'cause she wouldn't leave them, until she died, too, right there. It's three years now, daddy, and I have still had no news from other friends. And there's you, too, daddy....
TAKEZO: (He holds up a clenched fist) You and I have our old agreement, remember? You should try to keep that in mind, Mitsue.
MITSUE: That's wrong, daddy. To die in Hiroshima was the natural thing to do. To survive here is unnatural. That's why my being alive now is wrong.
TAKEZO: Dead people don't see it that way. I'm per-fectly at peace with what happened to me, actually.
MITSUE: I don't deserve to be alive. But I don't have the courage to die either. (It has started raining again) So I'm just going to live a quiet life and, when I get the chance, leave life just as quietly. It has been three very hard years for me, daddy. Please at least give me credit for managing to stay alive. (She stands, goes to the front door)
TAKEZO: Where you off to now?
MITSUE: I've got to get back to repairing those books, so I guess I'll go to the library. I doubt if Mr. Kinoshita is still there.
TAKEZO: Hold on a minute.
He takes the envelope and letter out of his pants' pocket and pushes them on her.
TAKEZO: You take this to the post office on your way. ... Special delivery!
MITSUE: Don't be ridiculous, daddy.
TAKEZO: That's an order. From your father.
Mitsue takes the envelope and letter from her father. She is shaking. Takezo, discovering leaks from the rain, starts going around the room placing cups and bowls below them.
TAKEZO: Rain, rain, go away. Your old man's a brute and your mum's a floozy.
Fade to blackout as the rain pounds ever harder on the house.
"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.