THE FACE OF JIZO
A PLAY BY HISASHI INOUE
Translated by Roger Pulvers
The music crossfades with the sound of a three-wheel car's engine as the lights go up on the house. It is 6pm on Friday, the next day. Two teacups used by Kinoshita and the driver of the car are on the sitting room table. Objects brought by Kinoshita fill the space from the bedroom to the garden. On newspaper spread over the bedroom floor are cases of beer bottles with twisted necks, other such large bottles and a large sake jug misshapen by the heat of the blast, a round face clock 30 centimeters in diameter whose hands are stopped at 8:15 and a half-burnt bridal doll. Tea chests, orange crates and other such boxes are piled up along the wall. Three stones from atop the lantern sit in the garden, in addition to a football-size head of Jizo, the guardian deity of children, with melted face. The sound of the car engine grows faint as Mitsue enters the house, a smile still on her lips. She removes the teacups to the kitchen then starts wiping the table with a tea towel when she suddenly gazes at the head of the Jizo and her smile freezes. ... She gathers her courage to edge to the verandah, then, barefoot, enters the garden and turns the head of the Jizo toward her, giving out an unintended shriek.
MITSUE: It's... daddy on the day the bomb dropped!
As if responding to the call Takezo enters, tapping his shoulders with a bamboo pipe used to blow on embers in a fire.
TAKEZO: Well how do ya like them apples, it's me in the flesh!
Mitsue looks back and forth at his and the Jizo's face, her body stiffening, and abruptly turns the Jizo back the other way.
MITSUE: I didn't know you were here.
TAKEZO: Not a very clever entrance this time, I'm afraid. Anyway, that Kinoshita fellow seemed to say that he'd be back with more things from the bomb zone again.
MITSUE: This is apparently exactly half of what he's got.
TAKEZO: Gee, he's surely put together quite a collection. I mean, you can't blame that landlady of his, can you. Boy!
Mitsue dusts off the soles of her feet, steps onto the verandah and enters the house. She finishes wiping down the table and continues to do one thing or another in the kitchen, but she obviously cannot come to terms with the upset of a few moments before.
TAKEZO: How far did his driver say the boarding house was from here?
MITSUE: 5 kilometers one way on the button, with six traffic signals and one railway crossing in between.
TAKEZO: Taking into account, then, the time necessary to load up the little car, I would estimate that he'd be back here in 30 to 40 minutes. You make sure you thank him properly for everything and offer him a bath.
MITSUE: A bath?
TAKEZO: (holding up the bamboo pipe) Nothin' hits the spot like a bath on a hot day like today.
MITSUE: Have you been heating up our bath, daddy?
TAKEZO: You bet.
MITSUE: You've done everything... .
TAKEZO: Twenty years bein' a widower wasn't a complete washout, you know. How does that fellow like his bath, eh, boilin' hot or on the tepid side.
MITSUE: How should I know?
TAKEZO: Yeah, you've got a point. Well, I'll aim for somethin' in between. When he comes out you'll have to give him something cold.
MITSUE: I've got a bottle of beer that I bought.
TAKEZO: Good going. But the driver'll have to content himself with water. Even cold water is a treat on a hot day like this.
MITSUE: I've got a block of ice that I bought too.
TAKEZO: Oh, and you'll have to ask the driver to leave early. Make sure he doesn't overstay his welcome, got it?
MITSUE: He mentioned that he had other business right after.
TAKEZO: That's what I wanna hear. Make sure now you've got new towels ready.
MITSUE: I've bought 'em.
TAKEZO: And you'll need a bar of soap.
MITSUE: I bought that too.
TAKEZO: And a pumice stone to rub off dry skin?
TAKEZO: And a sponge?
MITSUE: Bought one.
TAKEZO: And a man's bathrobe, you'll...
MITSUE: Bought... no, what would I have that for?
TAKEZO: Yeah, wouldn't look good to people if you went around buyin' a man's bathrobe, I guess. Now, there's no need tellin' you that it's a bit premature for you to go scrubbin' his back for him in the bath. I mean, that too wouldn't look too good if it got out.
MITSUE: Shouldn't you be putting more firewood under the bath, daddy?
TAKEZO: I don't need reminding. Now, what're you plannin' to serve him for dinner, eh?
MITSUE: A beer and small fry in miso to go with it.
TAKEZO: Good going.
MITSUE: Marinated sardines.
TAKEZO: Thattagirl. That's the thing.
MITSUE: Soy-flavored rice.
TAKEZO: (licking his chops) So what and what goes into the rice, eh?
MITSUE: Sliced burdock, finely chopped carrots and then deep fried tofu and small fry.
TAKEZO: I can't take it anymore.
MITSUE: Topped off with a slice of melon.
TAKEZO: (sighing) You don't have room for one more, do ya?
MITSUE: Nothing would make me happier, daddy, than to see you eat.
TAKEZO: You think you'll be getting some time off for summer vacation?
TAKEZO: Yeah well, that Kinoshita fellow said when he was just leavin' that it would be nice if you could go with him up to Iwate if you got time off for summer. Said he wanted to get home once before the new semester started in September. Said his folks would be really happy to see you up there if you went.
MITSUE: I guess I'd get time off if I wanted.
TAKEZO: Then go with him, for cryin' out loud.
MITSUE: I've always wanted to go to Iwate, where Kenji Miyazawa came from.
TAKEZO: Kenji who?
MITSUE: Miyazawa, the poet and children's story writer. His books are really popular in our library. I like his poems too.
TAKEZO: What sort of poems?
MITSUE: Oh, "The Morning of Last Farewell" and "January on the Iwate Light Railway" and "Once Around the Stars."
TAKEZO: Oh, once around the stars... .
MITSUE: (singing) "The Scorpion with red, red burning eyes/The Eagle with wings so gracefully unfurled/And Little Dog his eyes so blue and bright/The long Snake of light shines in its own world... ." The poem has lots of constellation names in it.
TAKEZO: Daddy wrote a poem about the stars when he was in elementary school too, you know.
MITSUE: You did?
TAKEZO: (singing) "The night has come again tonight/And dozing off I count the stars/Three, four... seven stars/In the heavens the stars twinkle/On the ground the burglars burgle/Through the trees... ." I better go check on the fire. I'll just skip the rest of the song. But the teacher gave me a B for it and pinned it on the classroom wall. (exiting) His asking you to go home to Iwate with him was a sort of proposal, you know. You got that, didn't you? "Through the trees the raggedy owl bums/While the temple raccoon pounds his belly just like drums... ."
Takezo exits brandishing his pipe in the air. Once she has seen that he has gone, Mitsue again enters the garden and looks at the Jizo's face. She appears to have made up her mind about something, and hurries back into the house, takes a large furoshiki from the closet and begins packing her things. Takezo returns.
TAKEZO: He's got a stubbly beard, too, so you'll have to get a razor.
MITSUE: I don't keep razors in the house. Too many bomb victims slit their throats or their wrists with them. Some cut their left wrist and stuck their arm in the bath till they bled to death.
TAKEZO: What're you, packing or something? Doesn't look like the sort of stuff you'd take on a summer holiday to Iwate.
MITSUE: I'm going to go to Mrs. Horiuchi and ask her if I can give her a hand teaching flower arranging. If I leave right now I'll probably be able to catch the 7:05 train to Miyajima.
Mitsue finishes her packing, sits at the dining table and, with pencil in hand, opens up a blank sheet of letter paper.
TAKEZO: That Kinoshita fellow'll be back, so you should give another thought to that plan of yours. You can't just invite somebody into your home and kick 'em out just like that. It's downright rude.
MITSUE: I'll leave him a note at the front door where he's sure to see it. Don't worry about it.
TAKEZO: What about that fabulous dinner you cooked up for him, eh? You want it to rot and the flies to get at it?
MITSUE: He can have it all to himself. That's what I'm writing him.
TAKEZO: But the bath! Whadda ya gonna say, "Please feel free to take a bath" or somethin'?
MITSUE: After that I'll... (staring into space for a moment) ... kindly close the shutters when you leave, lock the door securely and leave the key with the next door neighbor. And the last line is... I am happy to hold onto your invaluable objects for you. But please forget about me. Sincerely yours... .
TAKEZO: Aren't you even going back to the library?
MITSUE: ... No... .
TAKEZO: Has that stubborn old sickness come back again?
TAKEZO: Yes, it is that sickness! (stepping onto the verandah) My... my existence here came out of the throbbing of your heart, from the heat of your sighs, from the faint whispers of your wishes. So I'm not gonna allow you to write something like this!
Takezo grabs the pencil from her hand.
MITSUE: Give me back that pencil! It's exactly like one Akiko had. I had it in my pants' pocket when the bomb dropped. I saved that pencil, it means a lot to me.
TAKEZO: You're sick, Mitsue. There's a name for what you've got, too. The symptoms appear in people who have survived their friends and the patient is riddled with guilt and never forgives herself for being alive. The name of the disease is "Guilt-ridden Survivoritis." (breaking the pencil in two) I know how you feel, Mitsue. But you're alive and you must go on living. You've gotta get over this sickness right away.
MITSUE: The person I feel so awful and guilty about is you, daddy.
TAKEZO: ... Me... ?
MITSUE: Of course I feel really guilty about Akiko and the others too. But I was just trying to cover up and deny what I did with that guilt. Nothing will hide the fact that I left you where you were and ran away like a horrid little girl. (She runs into the garden and uses every ounce of her strength to lift up the head of the Jizo) Your face was so badly burnt then, daddy, melted away just like the face of this Jizo. And I just did nothing, left you there and ran away.
TAKEZO: Look, we've been over that. It's settled.
MITSUE: I thought so too, daddy, but that's because I hadn't remembered anything, not even a little fragment of what happened then. But seeing this face brought it all back to me so clearly. I'm the daughter whose father fell into a sea of flames worse than hell and I ran away from it. A human being like that has no right to be happy.
TAKEZO: What you're saying is totally absurd.
MITSUE: Remember, daddy? I came to and the house was collapsed on top of us. I knew something terrible had happened but I didn't know what. I knew I had to get out from under there as quickly as possible and I managed to wriggle my way out, but you couldn't budge. You just lay there on your back with pillars and beams and all these pieces of wood everywhere on top of you, so many of them, and I screamed with all my might, "Somebody, come and save my daddy!" But nobody came.
TAKEZO: Because the same sort of thing was happening all over Hiroshima.
MITSUE: I had no saw or axe, not even a mallet. I tried to lift up a big pillar using another pillar as a lever but it wouldn't budge. I even dug at the earth but that did no good either.
TAKEZO: You did all you could've.
MITSUE: Then I smelled this acrid smoky smell, and I saw that our hair and eyebrows were on fire, crackling... .
TAKEZO: You tried to cover me by laying on top of me, and over and over again put out the flames that came off me. I was grateful, but I knew that we'd both die if you just kept on doing that, so I said to you, "Get outta here, Mitsue!" You said, "No, I won't!" and stayed, and we just repeated that over and over again, "Get out!" "No, I won't!"
MITSUE: Then you said, "Okay, let's play scissors paper stone. I'm gonna put out a stone, so you don't have a prayer of winnin'."
TAKEZO: "Ready or not, here I go!" (He holds out a fist)
MITSUE: (also holding out a fist) I see through you, daddy.
TAKEZO: "Here I go!" (fist)
MITSUE: (fist) You're not going to get away with it, daddy.
TAKEZO: "And let's go!" (fist)
MITSUE: (fist) I've been on to you since I was a little girl, daddy.
TAKEZO: "Ready let's go!" (fist)
MITSUE: (fist) You always let me win on the next one, don't you.
TAKEZO: "And here we go!" (fist)
MITSUE: (fist) Oh, daddy, you were always so kind and gentle... .
TAKEZO: Why in the hell don't you put out paper, eh?! Can't you see that I want you to win and get outta here? Now stop being so horrid and show a little respect for your father, will ya! (gasping for breath) Do as your father says for this one last time, I'm beggin' you. If you don't run away right now I'll die on ya right here and now. ... You see? Both your surviving and my dying were based on a mutual agreement.
MITSUE: But the fact is, I left you there. I should have died beside you, daddy.
TAKEZO: You are so stupid! How'd you ever get so stupid, eh? Didn't they teach anything to you in that college of yours?
MITSUE: I, uh...
TAKEZO: Listen to me, will ya! When you were next to me then, didn't you just cry and cry and tell me how inhuman it all was, how horrible, that we had to part like that? Remember? Didn't I say to you, "A parting like this should never happen again, till the end of time. It's not human." Were you able to hear my last words, Mitsue? "Live. Live my life for me too!" So, you see, you will go on living because of me.
MITSUE: Because of you?
TAKEZO: Yes. Go on living so that the world will remember that tens of thousands of people have had to say goodbye like that and it's inhuman. Isn't that what that library where you work is for? To tell people those things?
MITSUE: I, uh...
TAKEZO: You've got your work cut out for you, to tell people sad things an' happy things. If you don't get that through your head, then you're really the stupid pigheaded daughter you say you are and there's no way I can ever depend on you. Just as soon have some other child instead.
MITSUE: Some other child?
TAKEZO: A grandchild... a great grandchild.
Mitsue slowly goes into the kitchen and takes hold of a knife. She peers at her father for a while, then starts to finely chop a burdock root. She suddenly stops.
MITSUE: When will I see you again?
TAKEZO: Depends on you.
MITSUE: (with a smile that we haven't seen for some time) Might be a while.
We hear the car's engine in the distance.
TAKEZO: Oh God, I forgot to top up the firewood.
Takezo exits upstage and Mitsue calls out to him...
MITSUE Daddy, thank you!
The sound of the car gets louder. 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.