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Sanshiro

Natsume Sōseki

A shy, unworldly young student has his eyes opened to Tokyo’s bustling metropolis, in this delicate, bitter-sweet work of innocence and experience from Japan’s foremost modern novelist.

‘“Get on the streetcar and ride around Tokyo ten or fifteen times. After a while it’ll just happen – you’ll become satisfied.”’

1

He drifted off, and when he opened his eyes the woman was still there. Now she was talking to the old man seated next to her – the farmer from two stations back. Sanshirō remembered him. The old man had given a wild shout and come bounding onto the train at the last second. Then he had stripped to the waist, revealing the moxibustion scars all over his back. Sanshirō had watched him wipe the sweat off, straighten his kimono, and sit down beside the woman.

Sanshirō and the woman had boarded this train in Kyoto, and she immediately caught his eye. She was very dark, almost black. The ferry had brought him from Kyushu the day before, and as the train drew closer to Hiroshima, then Osaka and Kyoto, he had watched the complexions of the local women turning lighter and lighter, and before he knew it he was homesick. When she entered the car, he felt he had gained an ally of the opposite sex. She was a Kyushu-color woman.

She was the color of Miwata Omitsu. At home, he had always found Omitsu an annoying girl, and he had been glad to leave her behind. But now he saw that a woman like Omitsu could be very nice after all.

The features of this woman, however, were far superior to Omitsu’s. Her mouth was firm, her eyes bright. She lacked Omitsu’s enormous forehead. There was something pleasant about the way everything fitted together, and he found himself glancing at her every few minutes. Several times their eyes met. He had a good long look at her when the old man took his seat. She smiled and made room, and soon after that Sanshirō drifted off.

The woman and the old man must have struck up a conversation while he was sleeping. Awake now, Sanshirō listened to them.

Hiroshima was not the place to buy toys, she was saying. They were much cheaper and better in Kyoto. She had to make a brief stop in Kyoto in any case and bought some toys near the Tako-Yakushi Temple. She was happy for this long-delayed return to her native village where her children were staying, but she was concerned about having to live with her parents now that the money was no longer coming from her husband. He was a laborer at the Kure Navy Yard near Hiroshima, but had gone to Port Arthur during the War.

He came back for a while when the War ended, but left again for Da-lien because he thought he could make more money there. His letters came regularly at first, and money arrived every month, but there had been neither word nor money for the past six months. She knew she could trust him, but she herself could no longer manage to live in Hiroshima without work. At least until she learned what had become of him, she would have to go home to her parents.

The old man did not seem to know about the Tako-Yakushi Temple or care about toys. He responded mechanically at first. But the mention of Port Arthur brought a sudden show of compassion. His own son was drafted into the Army and died over there, he said. What was the point of war, anyway? If there were prosperity afterward, that would be one thing, but people lost their sons and prices went up; it was so stupid. When there was peace, men didn’t have to go off to foreign countries to make money. It was all because of the War. In any case, he said, trying to comfort her, the most important thing was to have faith. Her husband was alive and working, and he would come home soon. At the next stop the old man wished her well and stepped briskly from the car.

Four other passengers followed the old man out, and only one got in. Far from crowded to begin with, the car now seemed deserted. The sun had gone down: maybe that had something to do with it. Station workers were tramping along the roof of the train, inserting lighted oil lamps into holders from above. As though reminded of the time, Sanshirō started to eat the box lunch he had bought at the last station.

The train started up again. It had been running for perhaps two minutes when the woman rose from her seat and glided past Sanshirō to the door of the car. The color of her obi caught his eye now for the first time. He watched her go out, the head of a boiled sweetfish in his mouth. He sunk his teeth into it over and over and thought, she’s gone to the toilet.

Before long, she was back. Now he could see her from the front. He was working on the last of his dinner. He looked down and dug away at it with his chopsticks. He took two, three bulging mouthfuls of rice, and still it seemed she had not come back to her seat. Could she be standing in the aisle? He glanced up and there she was, facing him. But the moment he raised his eyes, the woman started to move. Instead of passing by Sanshirō and returning to her seat, however, she turned into the booth ahead of his and poked her head out of the window. She was having a long, quiet look. He saw how her side locks fluttered in the rush of wind. Then, with all his strength, Sanshirō hurled the empty wooden lunchbox from his window. A narrow panel was all that separated Sanshirō’s window from the woman’s. As soon as he released the box into the wind, the lid appeared to shoot back against the train in a flash of white, and he realized what a stupid thing he had done. He glanced toward the woman, but her face was still outside the window. Then she calmly drew her head in and dabbed at her forehead with a print handkerchief. The safest thing would be to apologize.

‘I’m sorry.’

‘That’s all right.’

She was still wiping her face. There was nothing more for him to say, and she fell silent as well, poking her head out of the window again. He could see in the feeble light of the oil lamps that the three or four other passengers all had sleepy faces. No one was talking. The only sound was the ongoing roar of the train. Sanshirō closed his eyes.

‘Do you think we’ll be getting to Nagoya soon?’

It was the woman’s voice. He opened his eyes and was startled to find her leaning over him, her face close to his.

‘I wonder,’ he answered, but he had no idea. This was his first trip to Tokyo.

‘Do you think we’ll be late?’

‘Probably.’

‘I get off at Nagoya. How about you?’

‘Yes, I do too.’

This train only went as far as Nagoya. Their remarks could not have been more ordinary. The woman sat down diagonally opposite Sanshirō. For a while again the only sound was that of the train.

At the next station, the woman spoke to him once more. She hated to bother him, she said, but would he please help her find an inn when they reached Nagoya? She felt uneasy about doing it alone. He thought her request reasonable enough, but he was not eager to comply. She was a stranger, after all, a woman. He hesitated as long as he could, but did not have the courage to refuse outright. He made a few vague noises. Soon the train reached Nagoya.

His large wicker trunk would be no problem: it had been checked all the way to Tokyo. He passed through the ticket gate carrying only a small canvas bag and his umbrella. He was wearing the summer cap of his college but had torn the school patch off to indicate that he had graduated. The color was still new in just that one spot, though it showed only in daylight. With the woman following close behind, he felt somewhat embarrassed about the cap, but she was with him now and there was nothing he could do. To her, of course, the cap would be just another battered old hat.

Due at 9.30, the train had arrived forty minutes late. It was after ten o’clock, but the summer streets were noisy and crowded as though the night had just begun. Several inns stood across from the station, but Sanshirō thought they were a little rich for him – three-story buildings with electric lights. He walked past them without a glance. He had never been here before and had no idea where he was going. He simply headed for the darker streets, the woman following in silence. Two houses down a nearly deserted back street he saw the sign for an inn. It was dirty and faded, just the thing for him and this woman.

‘How about that place?’ he asked, glancing back at her.

‘Fine,’ she said.

He strode in through the gate. They were greeted effusively at the door and shown to a room – White Plum No. 4. It all happened too quickly for him to protest that they were not together.

They sat opposite each other, staring into space, while the maid went to prepare tea. She came in with a tray and announced that the bath was ready. Sanshirō no longer had the courage to tell her that the woman was not with him. Instead, he picked up a towel and, excusing himself, went to the bath. It was at the end of the corridor, next to the toilet. The room was poorly lit and dirty. Sanshirō undressed, then jumped into the tub and gave some thought to what was happening. He was splashing around in the hot water, thinking what a difficult situation he had gotten himself into, when there were footsteps in the corridor. Someone went into the toilet. A few minutes later the person came out. There was the sound of hands being washed. Then the bathroom door creaked open halfway.

‘Want me to scrub your back?’ the woman asked from the doorway.

‘No, thank you,’ Sanshirō answered loudly. But she did not go away. Instead, she came inside and began undoing her obi. She was obviously planning to bathe with him. It didn’t seem to embarrass her at all. Sanshirō leapt from the tub. He dried himself hastily and went back to the room. He was sitting on a floor cushion, not a little shaken, when the maid came in with the register.

Sanshirō took it from her and wrote, ‘Name: Ogawa Sanshirō. Age: 23. Occupation: Student. Address: Masaki Village, Miyako County, Fukuoka Prefecture.’ He filled in his portion honestly, but when it came to the woman’s he was lost. He should have waited for her to finish bathing, but now it was too late. The maid was waiting. There was nothing he could do. ‘Name: Ogawa Hana. Age: 23. Address: As above,’ he wrote and gave back the register. Then he started fanning himself furiously.

At last the woman came back to the room. ‘Sorry I chased you out,’ she said.

‘Not at all,’ Sanshirō replied. He took a notebook from his bag and started a diary entry. There was nothing for him to write about. He would have plenty to write about if only she weren’t there.


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