Translation / June 2012 (Issue 17)


by Dazai Osamu, translated from the Japanese by Owen Cooney

I'm leaving you. You were always telling lies. Perhaps I have some faults, too, but I can't tell what those faults are. I'm already twenty-four. At this age, even if people tell me that I have certain flaws, I can't fix those parts of me anymore. I couldn't mend them unless I died and then was resurrected like Jesus Christ. And since I'm pretty sure that to kill yourself is one of the worst possible sins, I'm going to leave you, so that I can try and keep living for a while longer, in the way I think is right.

I'm afraid of you. Because in this world, your way of life is considered the "proper" way—but for me, I don't think I could get by doing things like that. It's already been five years since I came to stay with you. We had our first arranged meeting in the Spring when I was nineteen, and then straight away I came to live with you with hardly any possessions of my own. I can say this now, but Father and Mother were outright opposed to the marriage. Even my little brother, who had only just started university, said "Sis, are you going to be all right?" as if he were all grown up. He looked very upset. I thought you wouldn't like to hear this, so I kept it to myself until today, but I actually had two other offers. The memories have already started to fade a bit in my mind, but I think one of them had just graduated from law school at the Imperial University, and I heard he was a nice boy who wanted to become a diplomat. I saw his photograph. He had a cheerful look on his face and seemed to be very carefree. My older sister in Ikebukuro had recommended him. The other young gentleman worked at my father's company. He was almost thirty and was an engineer. It's already been five years, so I don't remember exactly, but I heard that he was the oldest son in a reputable family, and he was considered upstanding. Father was quite fond of him, and both he and Mother supported this choice quite passionately. I don't think that I ever saw his photograph.

It's not that these things are so important. I hate it when you smirk at me. I'm just telling you what I remember. And I don't intend for these things to hurt you. Please believe me. It would bother me if they did. There isn't an atom in my body that believes such an unfaithful or stupid thing such as, "I should have married a better man." I can't think of another partner for myself, other than you. If you just laugh as you always do, then it will really upset me. I mean what I say. Please hear me out. Back then, and even now, I never had the slightest inclination to marry someone other than you. That is clear to me. Since I was a child, more than anything in the world I hated being slow to decide on things. At the time, Father, Mother and my sister in Ikebukuro all told me this or that—things like, "At least try out a meeting!" But to me it seemed like a meeting would end up with a wedding ceremony, so I couldn't answer those suitors so casually. I didn't have the slightest desire to marry those kinds of men. I mean, if they really were as perfect as everybody said, then I'm sure they would be able to find plenty of women who could be good wives for them, without necessarily choosing me. That just made me lose interest.

I had this vague idea (and I'm sure you'll laugh when I say this) that I wanted to be with someone whom only I could have married. And then right at that time, we had the offer from you. It was done pretty carelessly, so Father and Mother were sour from the very beginning. I mean, think of it. Mr. Tajima from the antiques shop came to Father's office to sell a painting, and then when they had finished exchanging niceties, he shamelessly joked, "The artist who painted this is probably going to be big any day now. What do you think about him and your daughter …?" Father delicately brushed it off, and still purchased the painting and hung it up on the wall of the reception room at his company. Two or three days later, Mr. Tajima returned and, what do you know, he seriously made the offer! It was done so crudely.

Father and Mother were quite disgusted, saying that if Mr. Tajima, as the messenger, was like that, then the man who asked him to do that would be just as bad. But then later when I asked you, I found out that you knew nothing about the matter, and I understood that the entire affair was a result of Mr. Tajima's loyalty to you. We really are indebted to him. Don't you understand that you owe your current success to him? He went off on his own and completed all of your business affairs for you. It means he saw something in you. You really can't forget him. At the time, I was somewhat shocked by Tajima's reckless way of making the offer, but I admit I suddenly felt a slight desire to meet you. For some reason, I was very happy. One day, I secretly went to Father's office to look at your painting. I wonder if I've ever told you about this time. I pretended I had something to discuss with Father and went into the reception room, and then I carefully looked over your painting.

That day it was very cold. I stood in the corner of the large room, where there wasn't the faintest hint of warmth, and shivered as I looked at your painting. It was a painting of a small yard and a well-lit veranda. There was nobody sitting on the veranda, and there was just a single white cushion lying there. The only colours in the painting were blue, yellow and white. As I was looking at it, I started to tremble so much that I felt I could no longer stand. I thought that nobody else in the world could understand this painting. I'm saying this in complete honesty, so you mustn't laugh. For two, three days after I saw that painting, night and day my body trembled so that I could hardly endure it. I thought that, no matter what, I must marry you.

It was very unladylike, and so embarrassing that my cheeks burned to think of it, but I asked Mother if it would be OK. Mother made a very unpleasant face. But I was prepared for this reaction, so I didn't give up and this time I went directly to Mr. Tajima to respond. With a loud voice, he said "Fantastic!" and stood up, only to stub his foot on the chair and fall over. But neither he nor I laughed one bit. I am sure you know the rest of the story very well. As the days went by, your standing among my family members only grew worse. My parents scolded me by bringing up various things they had uncovered about your life—I don't even know where they found out these things. You left your home town by the Inland Sea to come to Tokyo without even telling your parents, and they (of course) and every single one of your relatives were disgusted with you; you drank a lot; you had never had one piece put in an exhibition; you were probably left-wing; it wasn't even clear if you had really graduated from art school, etc.

But through the passionate mediation of Mr. Tajima, we somehow managed to make it to the arranged meeting. Mother and I arrived at the second floor of Sembikiya café.[i] You were just like I had imagined. I was impressed that the cuffs on your white shirt were spotless. When I raised the cup of tea, I began to tremble horribly and the spoon made a rattling noise on the saucer. I didn't know what to do. When we returned home, Mother said more and more negative things about you. It seems that what was worse than anything was that you smoked endlessly and hadn't said much of anything to her. She was also constantly saying that she didn't like the way you looked. She said that she just couldn't trust you. But I had already decided that I would marry you.

I sulked for an entire month and finally won out. I talked to Mr. Tajima as well, and then I moved in with you, taking almost nothing of my own. There was never a happier time than those two years we lived together in the apartment at Yodobashi. Day after day, in the morning I would be so excited to make plans for us. You were oblivious to exhibitions or names of famous artists and were just painting whatever you liked. The more penniless we became, the more and more I felt strangely happy. There was this nostalgic affection I felt for the pawnshops and used bookstores I visited, like the feeling one would have for a hometown left long ago. When we completely ran out of money, I could really test my resolution, and I felt such willpower to do my best. I mean, when you have no money, eating is so delightful and the food tastes good. Don't you remember how I came up with one new wonderful recipe after another? These days, I can't do it at all. When I think about how I can buy anything I want, my creativity just falls flat. Even when I try going to the market, I feel empty. I just buy the same things that all those other old ladies buy, and take it home.

After you suddenly became a big name and we left the apartment in Yodobashi to move into this house in Mitaka, all of the joy of life disappeared. The things that made my heart flutter with the desire to live disappeared. All of a sudden, you became a very good talker and treated me nicely in every possible way. But I began to feel a little bit like a pet cat, and it troubled me constantly. I never thought you could be successful. I always thought you were a man who would be poor until the day he died, selfishly painting only what he wanted to, ridiculed by everyone in society (yet never caring what people said and never bowing down to anyone), drinking your beloved drinks once in a while, remaining pure from the everyday world as you lived your life. Perhaps I was stupid to think that.

But I believed then, and maybe even more now, that there has to be at least one person who is that beautiful in this world. Other people can't see the laurel wreath resting on that person's head, so of course they think he is a fool. Therefore no woman would think to marry him and take care of him—so I thought that I would go and devote my life to that man. I thought that you were that angel. I thought that only I could understand. And that ended up being ... how shall I say it? It's just that, all of the sudden you became successful. I don't know how it happened, but I am so embarrassed about the fact that I can hardly stand it.

I don't despise your success. When I realised that, day after day, more and more people were falling in love with your unfathomably sorrowful paintings, I thanked God every night, and I was so happy I could have cried. During those two years we lived in Yodobashi, you worked only when you felt like it and painted the backyard of the apartment or the streets of Shinjuku late at night. When we had almost completely run out of money, Mr. Tajima would come and leave us plenty of cash for two or three paintings. At the time, you seemed very sad to see him leave with your paintings, and you didn't show a drop of interest in money. Every time he came, Mr. Tajima would quietly call me into the hallway and say, "Thank you, as always" in a very serious manner. He would bow and slip a white envelope into my kimono sash. You looked as if you hadn't noticed anything, and I wouldn't do anything so crude as to peek inside of the envelope. We thought to ourselves that if there was no money, then that was fine and we would get by somehow. I never once let you know exactly how much we had received. I didn't want you to lose your purity. There was never a time that I told you I wanted money and asked you to become famous. I figured that someone as socially awkward and coarse as you (I'm sorry) would never become rich and absolutely never famous. But I suppose it was all a pretention. Why, why?

After Mr. Tajima arranged a solo exhibition for you, you started, in a way, to become conscious of your looks. First of all, you started going to the dentist. You had a lot of cavities, and when you smiled, you always looked like an old man. But you never cared about that, and when I recommended you go to the dentist, you always joked about it, saying, "I'm fine—when I lose all my teeth I'll get false teeth put in. What's the point of trying to attract girls with shiny gold fillings in my teeth?" So you didn't get any work done on your teeth at all. But in some strange turn of events, you started going to the dentist during work breaks, here and there, a little at a time. And you would start coming back home with one or two shiny gold teeth. "Hey! Smile for me!" I said, but your unshaven face turned beet-red and you said, "It's that Tajima, he told me to." And you would try to make excuses in an unusually meek tone of voice.

Your solo exhibition started in the Fall of the second year since I had moved into your apartment at Yodobashi. I was very happy. Why shouldn't I have been glad to know that the greatest number of people possible would fall in love with your paintings? I had had foresight after all. But I became horrified when things started to get too good. The newspapers gushed praise for you. I heard that all of your paintings at the exhibition sold, and you received letters from famous artists. Both you and Mr. Tajima told me forcefully to come to the exhibition, but all I could do was stay in my room and knit as my whole body trembled. Just imagining twenty or thirty of your paintings lined up, with a great crowd of people ogling them—it makes me feel like crying. I could only think that to have so many good things happen so quickly probably means that something horrible is going to happen. I asked for God's forgiveness every night. "This is more than enough good fortune already," I prayed, "so in the future just protect him enough so that he doesn't get sick or something bad like that."

Every night, Mr. Tajima invited you to meet this or that great master. There were times when you came home the next morning, and even though I thought nothing of it, you would feel bad and report everything that had happened the night before—this or that artist said such and such, or he's a fool. You started talking about all these dreadfully boring things, so different from your usual quiet personality. I had lived with you for two years up to that point and had never heard you talk about someone behind their back. Even if such and such an artist was this or that, wasn't it true that in the past you would have self-righteously acted as if you had no interest at all? On top of that, you seemed to talk about these things in order to try and convince me that nothing suspicious had happened the night before. But I wished that you hadn't tried such a roundabout and weak-kneed method of excusing yourself. It's not as if I'd grown up dumb, so it would have been better if you had been clear with me. Even if it were painful for one day, in the long run, it would have been easier on me. After all, I am your lifelong partner. I don't trust men regarding this matter, but in the end, I don't really suspect you anyway. I'm not really worried at all in regards to this area, and if it did happen, I could just laugh and bear it—there are more painful things in life.

We were suddenly quite rich. You also became very busy. The Nikakai Artist Group invited you to become a member. And then you started to become embarrassed about our small apartment room. Mr. Tajima also insistently suggested we move, saying "If you stay in this apartment, people will doubt your trustworthiness, and first of all the prices on your paintings will never go up. Take a leap and try renting a big house." He offered you these unsavoury and secretive plans, and you said, "It's just like you say. If I stay in this kind of place, then people will make fun of me." You said such a base thing so enthusiastically that I was shocked and also very sad. Mr. Tajima got on his bicycle and went from this place to that and finally found this house in Mitaka for us.

At the end of the year, we took our few possessions and moved into this uncomfortably enormous home. Before I knew it, you had gone to the department store and purchased a great amount of high priced furniture. The loads would be delivered from the department store one after another—it made my heart sink and I grew despondent. We were now no different from the multitude of ordinary nouveau riche out there. But at the time, I didn't want to make you feel bad, so I tried very hard to be happy and act excited about the whole thing. Before I knew it, I had become one of those awful "wives." You even said we should hire a maid, but—though I could allow other things—I was opposed to that no matter what. I just cannot "use" other people. Right after we moved, you had three hundred New Year's cards printed to be sent in combination with a note about how we had moved. Three hundred! Since when did you have so many friends? I had the feeling that you had begun walking on a very dangerous tightrope, and I was so afraid I could hardly stand it. Something horrible would happen at any moment now. After all, you weren't the kind of man who would have such worldly acquaintances and become respectable. With these thoughts in mind, I remained caught in a web of anxiety, and I spent each day in uneasiness.

But you didn't seem to stumble at all, and only good things happened, one after another. Am I wrong about this? Even Mother started visiting this house little by little. Each time, she would bring my kimonos or savings account booklet and seem to be in very high spirits. I heard that Father used to dislike the painting in the reception room at his office and had shut it away in the closet. But now he brought the painting home, and he had put into a nice frame; it is now hanging in his study. My older sister, too, has started sending me letters saying, "You better give it your all." Your clientele has really increased quite a bit. There were times when the parlour was full of them. At those times, I could hear your cheerful laughter even in the kitchen. You really became talkative. You used to be so taciturn that I always thought to myself, "Oh, this person knows everything, and so he thinks everyone is so boring and that's why he's so quiet all the time." But it seems that's not the case. You say some very trivial things in front of your clients. You heard a theory about a painting from a client one day, and then later repeated that exact same idea in a solemn way, as if it were your own opinion. Also, when I tell you a bit of what I thought after reading a novel, the next day you tell someone, "Even Maupassant was afraid of faith, wasn't he?"—taking my silly musings without changing them a bit. There were times when I would be entering the parlour with tea and, upon hearing you talk like this, become so embarrassed that I would freeze right where I was standing.

I guess that you really knew nothing before. I'm sorry, but even though I don't know all that much, at least I have my own words. You're completely silent—or not—but I guess that all you can do is constantly mouth the words that other people say. And though that's the case, you've somehow become successful.

You even received an award from the newspaper company for the painting you did for Nika that year. The newspaper strung together a list of the finest compliments; they're so embarrassing I can hardly repeat them. They used words like "lofty," "austere," "philosophical," "melancholic," "prayer," "Chavannes" and many more. You talked to a client about that newspaper article later and, oh, the things you said! We are not "austere." Why don't we have a look at our bankbook? Since we've moved to this house, it's almost as if you've changed personalities and started talking about money. When you're commissioned by a client to make a painting, you never shy away from bringing up the price tag. You explain it to the client by saying that it's "best to make these things clear at the beginning to avoid trouble later on" and "we'll feel better about it," and so on. I caught you saying these things from time to time, and I can't help feeling really awful about it. Why are you so hung up about money? I believe that as long as you paint wonderful paintings, practical matters will naturally fall in place. It would be so exhilarating if you kept doing good work but remained unknown to anyone, and we were poor and lived modestly. I don't want money or anything else. All I want is to hold true to a distant, expansive sense of pride, while living a quiet life.

Recently, you even check the contents of my purse. When we have some money come in, you divide it between portions for your large wallet and my small purse. You put about five large bills in your wallet, and then fold one large bill into four, which you put in my purse. The rest of the money is stored away at the post office and the bank. Every time you do this, I just sit there and watch it happen. One time when I forgot to lock the shelf in the bureau where I keep my bankbook, you found out and said, "Oh, we can't have you forgetting to lock this," and scolded me as if you were sincerely displeased. This really crushed my spirits. When you go to the gallery to pick up your money, you come back about three days later in the middle of the night and slide open the front door with a clatter—drunk. As soon as you come in, you say, "Hey, I still have three hundred yen left. Take a look," or something really pathetic like that. It's your money anyway—don't you realise it wouldn't bother me no matter how much of it you used? I'm sure that once in a while, to let loose, you may want to go ahead and use a lot of money. Perhaps you think I would be disappointed if you used it all up? I appreciate the value of money, but it's not as if I live my life thinking about it all the time. It makes me sad to think of that self-satisfied look on your face when you come home having saved three hundred yen.

There is not a shred of me that desires money. I don't even think about what I want to buy, what I want to eat or what I want to see. Even for household furnishings, we usually get by with recycled things, and I can re-dye my kimonos, and re-sew them, so I don't have to buy any. I can get by no matter what the conditions. I wouldn't even want to buy a single new towel hanger. It's so wasteful. From time to time, you took me into the city and treated me to some expensive Chinese food or other cuisine, but I didn't think it was particularly delicious. I couldn't relax, and my heart was in my mouth, and I thought the whole thing was really unnecessary and a waste. You don't know how much happier I would be if—rather than three hundred yen or Chinese food—you built a trellis in the yard for growing luffa sponges. Since the sunlight from the west hits the eight-tatami mat veranda so well, I think that if you built a trellis, the vines would grow really nicely. No matter how much I have insisted on it, you say it's better if we call a gardener or some such thing, and you won't build it on your own. I don't want us to pretend to be some rich couple and order a gardener. All I want is for you to build it, but all you say is, "OK, OK, next year," and finally you haven't built it at all.

You splurge on yourself, but for other people, you show no compassion. Let's see, when was it ... your friend Mr. Amemiya was troubled by his wife's sickness and came to talk to you. You went out of the way to call me over to the parlour and asked me, "Do we have some money here, now?" with a serious face. I thought it was strange or stupid and didn't know what to do. So as my face turned red and I fidgeted, you said, "Don't hide it, dig around a little and I'm sure you'll come up with twenty yen or so." You said it as if you were teasing me, so I was surprised. Just twenty yen! I looked over your face again to make sure you were serious. You tried to wave away my gaze with one hand and said, "Just lend it to me, don't be cheap." And then you turned to Amemiya-san and laughed and said, "We poor folk have it rough at times like this." I was so disgusted that I felt like saying nothing at all. You're not "austere" or anything like that. To call you "melancholy"! Where can one see such a beautiful aura emanating from the person you have become? You're the opposite—a selfish Pollyanna. Don't you stand in front of the sink every morning and sing "Oitokosoudayo"[ii] in a booming voice? I'm so embarrassed about the neighbours hearing you. "Prayer" and "Chavannes" are wasted words on you. And as for "lofty," don't you realise that you're living a life where your followers merely flatter you? The clients who visit our house call you "sensei," and you say things like, "I've defeated the paintings of various painters one by one, and now there's no one who walks the same road as me." But if you really thought that, then I don't think you would speak ill of people so often and try to get your clients to agree with you. You want the clients' approval even if it is only for a moment. What is so "lofty" about all of this? Wouldn't it be fine if you didn't force the people who visit you one after another to admire you?

You really are a liar. Last year, you left the Nika group and formed the Shinrou Manha group. Do you know what a miserable experience I had at the time? After all, you formed this group out of people who you secretly mock and laugh at. It's almost as if you don't have any definite views on anything. I wonder if your way of living is, after all, the correct way. When Mr. Kasai comes, you both say horrible things about Mr. Amemiya and express your outrage and ridicule him. When Mr. Amemiya visits, you're very kind to him and say, "You are my only friend after all," etc. in a very emotional way, so that you'd never think it was a lie. And then you start to criticise Mr. Kasai's attitude. I wonder if all the successful people of this world get on by doing the kind of things that you do. I think it's horrifying and also a little mysterious that you all can live like this without stumbling somewhere along the line. I'm sure something bad will happen. I hope it happens. I've come to the point where, somewhere in my heart, I pray that one bad thing will happen to you, both for your own sake, and to prove there is a God.

But nothing bad has happened. Not a single thing. As usual, only good things continue to happen. The first exhibition that your group held seems to have been very well received. I heard from your clients that your painting of the chrysanthemum flower shows how you have reached a lucid state of mind and that "pure love wafts fragrantly from its image." How can things be like this? It is mind-boggling to me.

This New Year's, you took me along for the first time to make a holiday visit to the most passionate supporter of your paintings, the famous Okai Sensei. Even though he's such a well-known master, it turns out that he lives in a house that's smaller than ours. He is the real thing. He's plump and hefty and never stirs as he sits cross-legged, peering over his glasses to stare at me. Those large eyes really were the eyes of a lofty man. I couldn't keep my body from trembling ever so slightly, just as I did when I saw your painting for the first time in the cold reception room at Father's office. Okai Sensei talked only about uncomplicated matters and spoke without dwelling too much on anything. When he looked at me and joked, "What a nice wife. She looks as if she comes from a samurai family," you pricked up with pride and said, seriously, "Oh yes, her mother's ancestors are samurai." I felt a cold sweat. What do you mean my mother is from a samurai family? Both Father and Mother are commoners to the root. People have flattered you so much that you now think it's OK to tell them, "Yes, my wife's mother is nobility." What a horrifying thought. It's a mystery to me that someone as great as Okai Sensei can't see through all your trickery. Is everyone in the world like this?

Okai Sensei said that the work you are doing right now must be very strenuous, and he tried to comfort you. But all I could think about was you singing Oitokosodayo every morning, and seeing that image in my mind, I suddenly felt confused and then thought it so amusing that I almost burst out laughing. When we left Okai Sensei's house—before we had even walked a block—you kicked a pebble and said, "Huh! He's so sweet and kind to women, isn't he!" I was so shocked. You really are a nasty person! Just moments ago you were bowing down to this brilliant man, and now you are badmouthing him behind his back. There must be something wrong with you.

From that point, I decided I would leave you. I couldn't bear it anymore. I think that you're probably wrong about life. I really think that it would be good if some disaster fell upon you. But nothing bad has ever happened. You seem to have even forgotten Mr. Tajima's kindness. You said to your friends, "That idiot Tajima is here again." Then before you know it, it seemed that Mr. Tajima had found out about what you had said, and he showed up through the back entrance, saying, "Here's that idiot Tajima! I'm here again!" as if nothing were the matter. I simply don't understand how all of you operate. What happened to your sense of pride as human beings? I'm leaving you. I even have the feeling that all of you are in league with each other and are secretly ridiculing me.

The other day you did a program on the radio about the timely significance of the Shinro Manha group. As I was reading the evening paper in the living room, your name was abruptly announced on the radio and then after that I heard your voice. To me it felt like a stranger's voice. What a corrupt and murky-sounding voice it was! I thought, "What an unpleasant person." I was able to see you from a distance and definitively judge you. You're just an ordinary person. It's likely that you will just continue to shoot merrily towards success in your career. How ridiculous. When I heard the words "The reason I was able to get to where I am ..." from your mouth, I turned off the switch on the radio. Who did you think you were? Please have some shame! Please don't ever say such offensive and ignorant words as, "The reason I was able to get to where I am." It would be nice to see you take a fall soon.

That night, I went to bed early. I turned off the light and, as I lay there alone facing the ceiling, I heard a cricket chirping loudly under my back. It was just below the veranda and chirping; since it was so close to me, the small cricket felt like it was actually crying inside of my backbone. I thought to myself that I would never forget this faint voice, and I would live my life with it stored away in my backbone forever. I'm sure that in this world, your way is the proper way and someone like me is wrong, but no matter how hard I try, I just can't see what is wrong with me and how badly I am wrong.

About Osamu Dazai

Osamu Dazai is one of Japan's most well known writers. He is the author of two significant postwar novels—No Longer Human (Ningen Shikkaku) and The Setting Sun (Shayo). Dazai had a very turbulent and short life, wherein he tried to commit suicide multiple times and finally succeeded (in 1948, he and his mistress drowned themselves in a canal near his home in Tokyo). This particular short story is taken from the collection Kirigirisu (Tokyo: Shinchosha, 2002, third edition). It was originally published as part of a collection of nine short stories in 1942 under the title, Josei (Women). Dazai's forte was the watakushi shosetsu (I-novels), or stories written in the first-person that reflect the author's true thoughts and events from his or her life. In "Crickets," there is a twist because it is told from the first-person female perspective. Dazai often said that he did not understand the way women thought, but despite this his female "confessions" seem very authentic and convincing. Dazai's stories are full of insight and pathos, and although they often have sad endings, they are also lined with bittersweet humor.

[i] A fruit and confectionary café.
A folk song from Miyagi.
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