The Reading Life Japanese Literature Project
Akira Yoshimura in his novel One Man's Justice lets us see the great sense of shame brought on the people of Japan by the very large number of women who right after WWII ended became prostitutes. The once proud citizens of Tokyo were deeply humiliated to see their women servicing the needs of occupying American troops. Returning Japanese soldiers were treated with contempt by their own people. I am puzzled that this really powerfully novel does not get more attention.
"Bones" starts out on the night streets of Tokyo. MIchiko, whose husband was killed in the war, is out buying some groceries. A man she does not know comes up to her and says "How much?". At first she is puzzled then she recalls the stories of one of her friends who was a sometimes sex worker and she realized the man meant how much to spend the night with her. At first she hesitates, this would be a big step for her to take, then she basically figures what does she have to lose so she tells her self "why not" and she goes to a hotel with the man. She does not really know exactly what she is supposed to do or how much she is supposed to charge. The hotel clerk explains the basics to her. The man is polite and respectful to her but he thinks she is experienced and wants things to proceed in an orderly business like way. The man does want to actually spend the entire night with her, not just have a brief encounter. Michiko has had no love or tenderness or male attention of any kind for six or seven years so she cannot help but have feelings aroused that she may not want when the man holds her in his arms as he sleeps The man feels something also but in the clear light of day both realize any emotions are foolish and he leaves (she had been schooled by the hotel clerk to collect in advance). Her basic emotion after the encounter is "easy money, a bit shameful but I can do this".
Michiko takes care of her brother who has TB. He is very demanding and costs a lot to care for. She does not want to but she comes to wish for his death. Her father also lives with them, her mother having been killed in a bombing raid. As she watches the smoke from the cremation of her brother, she finds herself wondering when her father will also die.
There is no "resolution" in this story. It is in part an account of what war can do to the survivors so conditioned to death all around them. Michiko was not forced into prostitution to survive. She just did it because it was easy and she knows that a war widow in Japan in the 1940s had little prospect of remarriage. There was for a time a shortage of men because of the soldiers killed in the war. Further a war widow brought up bad memories.
There is more in this story than the outline I have given of it. For example I have not at all explained the import of the title. I read this story in a collection of Japanese WWII stories, The Catch and Other War Stories edited and introduced by Shoichi Saeki. I think it is not in print but I bought it for only $1.00 (plus shipping) on Amazon. I am glad I added this story to my list. Two of the four stories I already had in other books but there is one 50 page story that sounds good that I will read and post on soon.
Look for more Japanese short story posts soon.