Maki Kashimada: Touring the Land of the Dead: Two Novellas

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Maki Kashimada Touring the Land of the Dead: Two Novellas
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    Touring the Land of the Dead: Two Novellas
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Touring the Land of the Dead: Two Novellas: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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A story from one of Japan’s rising literary stars about memory, loss, and love, Touring the Land of the Dead is a mesmerizing combination of two tales, both told with stylistic inventiveness and breathtaking sensitivity. Taichi was forced to stop working almost a decade ago and since then he and his wife Natsuko have been getting by on her part-time wages. But Natsuko is a woman accustomed to hardship. When her own family’s fortune dried up years during her childhood, she, her brother, and her mother lived a surreal hand-to-mouth existence shaped by her mother’s refusal to accept their new station in life. One day, Natsuko sees an ad for a spa and recognizes the place as the former luxury hotel that Natsuko’s grandfather had taken her mother to when she was little. She decides to take her damaged husband to the spa, despite the cost, but their time there triggers hard but ultimately redemptive memories relating to the complicated history of her family. The overnight trip becomes a voyage into the netherworld—a journey to the doors of death and back to life. Modelled on a classic story by Junichiro Tanizaki, Ninety-Nine Kisses is the second story in this book and it portrays in touching and lyrical fashion the lives of the four unmarried sisters in a historical, close-knit neighbourhood of contemporary Tokyo.

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Maki Kashimada




Translated from the Japanese

by Haydn Trowell


The 10:00 A.M. Kodama service, Natsuko reminded herself.

There would be any number of shuttle buses once they got there, and there was still ample time before check-in. But even so, she wanted everything to go according to plan. She couldn’t help but feel that if they were delayed for even just a few minutes, the whole trip would end up having been for nothing.

Taichi, however, was unaware of her thoughts. Having boarded the bullet train, his four bad limbs bumped against the seats here and there, until finally he came to the one designated on his ticket and sat down with a plump. If he were anyone else, his failure to show reserve with respect to his disability might, far from engendering sympathy, have invited nothing short of annoyed frowns. But he was oblivious to that kind of unreasonableness. He merely beckoned to her from his seat, as if his having found it by himself were some kind of great achievement.

Natsuko showed no wifely concern for her husband’s difficulties. She had hovered all over him throughout his repeated hospitalizations, and the constant need to take care of him had left her emotionally exhausted. Now, as she walked behind him, taking the seat by his side, she looked at him coldly, perhaps even cruelly, as if she saw not her husband but a raw manifestation of unreasonableness itself. And yet Taichi, almost pitifully blind to the malice of others, and yet as innocently dependent on his wife as ever, turned his back to her, asking without words for her to remove his coat. Shortly after the train left the station, a cabin attendant began to move down the aisle with an in-car sales trolley. Before he could have a chance to pester her for one, Natsuko bought him an ice-cream. Taichi, in good spirits, immediately set to devouring it.

At long last, she was able to break free from her restraints, to tear off the pink cardigan that her mother had sent her.

It was to be a short trip, only two days. To anyone else, to anyone who hadn’t gone through experiences like hers, that would be all it was.

It felt like the train had only just left the station, and yet it had already reached Shinagawa. After their marriage, Taichi had been struck by illness. Three years of repeated hospitalizations had passed since then, and five again since they had learned the name of the disease. Yet to Natsuko, as exacting as those eight years had been, they were still better than what had come before. She didn’t want to call to mind the time before she had met her husband, and referred to her past only as that life. That life—truly, the only words with which she could describe those unspeakable experiences. Not poverty, not loneliness, not sickness, but that life.

But then, at the end of January, she had come across a notice on the bulletin board on the way to the supermarket.

Local Health Retreat. Special Accommodation Discount. 5,000 Yen Per Night. Weekdays Only Through February.

Reading it, she found herself being carried away, torn by a contradiction of callous pleasure and unbearable pain. It was the luxury resort hotel where she had gone with her parents and brother as a child.

Past Taichi’s head, outside the window, each mountain that pierced the peaceful late winter scenery was, to Natsuko, a very real embodiment of the cacophony that disturbed the stillness of her heart. As though trying to run far away from it all, she slumped deep into the realm of recollection.

There was no doubt about it, that hotel—no, that health retreat—would have to be quite old by now.

“Ah, I’m finally home. My second home!” Natsuko remembered her mother crying out at check-in time, leaning forward on the leather sofa as if having an attack. She seemed to be appealing to someone—well, certainly to no one in particular—that the fact that no one quite believed her was so terribly unfair. The eight-year-old Natsuko drank her “welcome drink,” an iced tea, in silence. Even her four-year-old brother, holding an inflatable rubber ring as he waited to go for a swim in the heated pool, must have realized that their mother was acting out of the ordinary, as he wore an expression of mute astonishment. And what about her father? Maybe he was going through the check-in procedures? In any event, her memories of him were weak. Her mother and the two children always tended to act as if he didn’t exist. That everyone was indifferent to her father, always ignoring him, had seemed to her to be a matter of course. So it didn’t really matter what he was doing.

Her mother kept going on and on about how wonderful the hotel was. She had been repeating the same story since before they had left home. Natsuko, fed up, wasn’t paying her much attention. The crimson carpet was so vibrant that she found it stifling. The hotel had been there since her mother was a child, and even then, it must have been a long-standing establishment. Natsuko had been shown it countless times on the old monochrome 8 mm film and so felt as if she already knew more than she cared to about it. Her grandfather dressed in a tuxedo, like some silver-screen star. Her grandmother wearing a décolleté, extraordinary for the time. They were dancing in the salon, their movements looking so peculiar in the halting projection of the 8 mm film. She knew just how much her mother cherished that film. Everyone wanted to stay at that hotel at least once in their lifetime. That was what her grandfather would say. And her mother would often repeat those words to the young Natsuko, quite as if she herself had thought of them.

There had to be some reason why the once haughty seaside hotel had been reduced to a cheap health retreat. Natsuko had been a student when it was first opened to the general public, and every now and then would think about going there on a whim. It should have been so easy. Yet such thoughts had seemed to her to be divorced from reality, and in the end, she never did go back.

She had learned several things from the experiences that had visited her in that life. She felt as if she had seen the unseeable, but her memories were vague and cloudy, and she couldn’t quite put them into words. Once, when she had been a child, there had been a news scandal about a debt-ridden household that went on a trip to Disneyland the day before their family suicide. Though still young at the time, Natsuko felt a strange attraction to the incident. When, without her mother knowing, she took the magazine to her room, she discovered that the young girl had been the same age as her. She imagined again and again how the girl must have felt. Whether it would be fun to go to Disneyland the day before she died.

But Natsuko, having now passed through that life, knew. It would be.

She decided to go to the hotel at the end of February, when tourists would be fewest in number. Until then, she imposed on herself a lifestyle of abstinence and cleanliness. It wasn’t as if she wanted for anything, but in her spirit of thrift, she polished the tableware until it sparkled, like a bird that maintains a tidy nest before taking off in flight. She was at peace, yet she felt as if her heart were overflowing with an unquenchable need to cry, consumed with a single thought—that she had nothing left to regret.

And so she told Taichi that they would be going on their first trip in eight years.

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