ASAKO UTSUNOMIYA: Part-time worker and housewife. Lives alone in an apartment block. In her fifties.
KOZUE UTSUNOMIYA: ASAKO’s daughter. Has recently quit her job, vacated her one-bedroom apartment, and returned to her family’s apartment. In her twenties.
SCENE 1. May
The living room of ASAKO UTSUNOMIYA’s apartment.
At the back of the living room is an area with six tatami mats and a small balcony. In the same room, between the living room and the door leading to the corridor, is the kitchen. Off the corridor are two western-style bedrooms, a bathroom, a toilet, and the entrance hall. In short, a typical apartment in a housing complex.
ASAKO is doing a spot of light cleaning.
The sound of the intercom.
ASAKO: Coming. Coming. Co—ming.
(ASAKO goes to the entrance hall to unlock the door.)
(It is KOZUE who has come back to the family apartment for the first time in a long while.)
KOZUE: Hi, Mum.
ASAKO: Welcome home.
KOZUE: Sorry it’s been so long.
ASAKO: No, no.
KOZUE (grunts): Let me sit down a sec.
ASAKO: Your luggage arrived. I’ve put it in the other room for now.
KOZUE: Oh yes. Present!
(KOZUE presents ASAKO with a box. There is a crème caramel inside.)
ASAKO: You really didn’t have to. You’ve stopped working, you’re not getting paid . . .
KOZUE: It’s fine, Mum, I’ll still get paid for this month. It’s a crème caramel. It says you should put it in the fridge.
KOZUE: I’m just going to pay my respects to Dad.
(ASAKO goes to the kitchen carrying the box with the pudding in it. KOZUE goes to the tatami mat area, upstage. She lights a stick of incense before the family altar, and rings a bell. She returns to the living room.)
KOZUE: They’re delicious, these puddings. There was this cake store opposite my old apartment . . .
ASAKO (from the kitchen): You won’t believe this, but I bought a crème caramel too. From Aqua, the bakery . . .
KOZUE: What are the odds! Crème caramel overload!
ASAKO: Well, yes. But we can still eat them today and tomorrow, can’t we?
KOZUE: The ones from Aqua are nice too.
ASAKO: But they have gotten smaller, haven’t they?
KOZUE: Really? So, why don’t we eat both?!
(ASAKO comes back into the living room.)
ASAKO: Have you signed on at the Hello Work and things yet?
KOZUE: Not yet, Mum. But I’m going tomorrow. Where was the nearest Hello Work again?
ASAKO: There’s one around here. Do you know the one near the pachinko parlour?
KOZUE: The pachinko parlour . . . ?
ASAKO: The hu—ge one . . . oh right, they only finished it recently, didn’t they? There was a Daiei Store there before, wasn’t there? Well, you go all the way down the big road, like you were coming from Daiei, and then . . .
KOZUE: Ah, yes. Yes. I’ve got it, I remember.
ASAKO: If you go in the morning, I can lend you my bike. But I can’t in the afternoon, because I’ve got my shift then, you see.
KOZUE: What? Go all the way there by bike?
ASAKO: It isn’t too much for you, is it?
KOZUE: Nah, it’s okay. I’ll go by bus.
ASAKO: Oh. Fine then.
KOZUE: So what’s this part-time job, Mum?
ASAKO: I’m on the till at the supermarket.
KOZUE: Really? You mean the Marukyo supermarket?
ASAKO: The Marukyo’s gone.
KOZUE: They shut down the Marukyo? Really? So where do you go for your shopping now?
ASAKO: Sunny-Mart, and . . . oh, but they’ve opened this new farmer’s market now, so I sometimes get my veggies there.
KOZUE: Everything’s changed a lot more around here than I thought.
ASAKO: Well, it has, hasn’t it? You’re now . . . let me see . . . twenty-nine?
KOZUE: Twenty-nine next birthday. That’s nine years since I graduated.
ASAKO: Nine years!
KOZUE: Nine years. It’s crazy how much things have changed around here.
ASAKO: There are so many more konbini stores now, aren’t there?
KOZUE: There didn’t used to be a single one.
ASAKO: We’d go out of our way to get our snacks when they first started opening up, didn’t we?
KOZUE: Now it’s kombini meal-deals every day!
ASAKO: Wait, you don’t make your own lunch?
KOZUE: Well, I did make my own bento at first but . . . bit by bit, I started staying late at work, and I just felt like doing nothing at all when I got back to the house . . . putting lunch together, cleaning the container afterwards . . . it all seemed like such a hassle.
ASAKO: That’s no good at all, is it, love?
KOZUE: But . . . well . . . I quit that job, didn’t I?
ASAKO: That reminds me, what shall we do for dinner? Do you want me to do my special hotpot? Or a nice bit of fish?
KOZUE: Nah, something ordinary is fine.
ASAKO: Oh. Fine. Alright then.
KOZUE: . . .
ASAKO: So, what’s your next move?
KOZUE: Nothing special. Find a desk job again, that sort of thing.
ASAKO: I see . . .
KOZUE: And until then . . . I do feel bad . . . but I really appreciate you letting me stay for a bit.
ASAKO: Yes, yes. So long as you put in enough to cover your food expenses, okay?
KOZUE: I am unemployed, though, Mum.
ASAKO: Let’s make it 10,000 yen a month.
KOZUE: Okay, fine, alright then, Mum.
ASAKO: . . .
KOZUE: . . .
ASAKO: Shall we have one of the crème caramels?
ASAKO: Can I get you tea or coffee?
(KOZUE exits, to the kitchen.)
(Suddenly there is a noise from the floor above. It is the sound of something falling, hitting the floor and breaking. The sound of something smashing.)
KOZUE: Woah! What was that?
ASAKO: Oh, it’s been every bloody day recently. I can’t believe I have to put up with this.
KOZUE: What do you mean? Why do you have to “put up with it”?
(There is the noise of something breaking again. The violent smashing sounds continue, intermittently.)
KOZUE: Who is living upstairs?
ASAKO: An old couple. Mr. and Mrs. Shiki.
KOZUE: They don’t have little kids, or anything?
ASAKO: Mr. Shiki is retired. It’s like they never leave the house now.
KOZUE: So, what? It’s just the oldies up there? Crashing about like pro-wrestlers? Were they . . . sumo or something?
ASAKO: Don’t ask me! But it’s been about a month of this.
KOZUE: Every day?
ASAKO: More or less every day.
KOZUE: Every day like this?
ASAKO: More or less.
KOZUE: What?! Isn’t there someone who ought to be . . . notified?
KOZUE: The police.
ASAKO: Oh right, the police . . . Well, I was just saying to my neighbour, Mrs. Sakai, the other day . . . let’s say we did call the police, well, Mr. and Mrs. Shiki would end up with an awful grudge against us, wouldn’t they?
KOZUE: But it’s terrible, Mum. All day, every day, like this.
ASAKO: It’s really not like it’s round the clock. You do get used to it.
KOZUE: No! No! No!
ASAKO: They’re in bed by nine anyway, so it isn’t such a bother. And it’s not like you can’t sleep at night or anything like that. It’s just a surprise at first.
KOZUE: But . . .
ASAKO: It’s fine. I’ve mentioned it to the head of the apartment council, and to the building manager, and he said he was thinking of bringing it up at the next session. You’ll just have to put up with it.
KOZUE: But . . . is it really fine?
ASAKO: It’s fine. It’s only the two oldies up there after all. And, if they do go a few rounds now and again, well, the exercise is good for their health. It’s not like she’ll die if the old man knocks her about a bit.
KOZUE: Yeah . . .
ASAKO: Ah, there we are. The water’s finished boiling. Now, let’s have that crème caramel!
(The two of them go to the kitchen, and come back to the living room with crème caramel and coffee in hand. The noise upstairs has stopped without their noticing.)
ASAKO: Thank you for this.
KOZUE: Bon appétit!
ASAKO: Wow, nice and syrupy, isn’t it?
KOZUE: Didn’t I tell you they were good?
ASAKO: It’s delicious.
KOZUE: Oh . . . the noise has stopped.
ASAKO: See, what did I tell you? They soon settle down.
KOZUE: What are they doing up there, do you think?
ASAKO: I do wonder . . . I’m not in during the day, what with my shift and things, so it doesn’t bother me . . .
KOZUE: Nothing bothers you, right, Mum?
ASAKO: Shush! But you know my neighbours, Mr. and Mrs. Sakai? Their son is working to retake his university entrance exams. And when they start clattering about up there in the middle of his studies, he can’t concentrate at all, Mrs. Sakai says.
KOZUE: He should sue them for making such a racket.
ASAKO: Yes, you may be right.
KOZUE: Or he could just go to the library.
ASAKO: Well yes, realistically I suppose . . .
KOZUE: Mm, that was good. Up I get! I’m going to put away my things.
ASAKO: Okay love. I put a few old kimonos, and the things your sister left behind, in the bottom drawer. So don’t go using that one, okay?
KOZUE: Yes, yes.
(KOZUE goes out. ASAKO takes the last gulp of coffee.)
ASAKO: It would be nice if you put things away when you were done, now wouldn’t it . . .
(ASAKO takes the cup, and the spoon, and everything else from the table. She exits to the kitchen.)
SCENE 4. October
Evening. An autumn wind is blowing. Outside, there is the continuous sound of the fūrin.
ASAKO is eating sweets, relaxing in the living room. KOZUE comes back from the job centre.
KOZUE: I’m ba—ck!
ASAKO: Welcome home.
KOZUE: Urgh . . . so . . . tired . . .
ASAKO: You’re working very hard, love.
KOZUE: It’s been so, so long since I had to sit through a class like that . . . (Sighs.) Hey, can I have some?
ASAKO: Go ahead. So how was it? The third day of these job application classes?
KOZUE: Ugh, my brain is dead already.
ASAKO: You’ve had your dinner?
KOZUE: Yeah . . . (She lies down on the living room floor).
ASAKO: Don’t fall asleep. If you’re going to go to sleep, do it after you take a bath and brush your teeth. You’re not a child.
KOZUE: I’m not sleeping.
ASAKO: You will fall asleep if you stay there. Come on, you’ll catch a cold.
KOZUE: Oh yeah . . . Mum, recently, it’s been quiet upstairs.
ASAKO: Upstairs? Oh, well, there’s no one up there now.
KOZUE: What? Really?
ASAKO: For about the last two weeks.
KOZUE: I didn’t realise. Hey, did they die?
ASAKO: The husband went into a care home, and I heard that the old woman was taken away by her family.
ASAKO: They said that she was the one beating him.
KOZUE: What? The old lady? It wasn’t the old man who was beating her?
ASAKO: It seems like she was tidying up, putting all their bits and pieces in order, you know, while they were still in good health, straightening up the house and so on. That was when she ended up finding reams and reams of letters, or pictures, or something, from when the old man was still working, of him and this woman he had been having an affair with!
KOZUE: So, she beat him up over this really old affair?
ASAKO: Well, that’s what it seems like to me.
KOZUE: Scary . . . Mum, if proof came out now that Dad had an affair, what would you do?
ASAKO: Doesn’t matter what I’d do, does it? Dad isn’t here anymore, is he? If he took it to the grave with him, he wins, I suppose.
KOZUE: So when you’ve been tidying up, you’ve never found anything?
ASAKO: No, nothing . . . Why, do you know something?
KOZUE: No, no reason. I only wanted to ask.
ASAKO: . . .
KOZUE: No reason, I said. It doesn’t matter. So, how did things play out, with upstairs?
ASAKO: Well, the head of the neighbourhood council tried again and again to contact the son. And when he finally came to see them, at the end of last month, the old man was already covered in bruises. Not only that, but driven half senile.
KOZUE: Oh no.
ASAKO: He was so feeble, nothing but skin and bone, and his incontinence pads hadn’t been changed. That was when the police came. It was a serious thing, I’m telling you.
KOZUE: The police ended up coming?
ASAKO: That was when the old lady lost it. First time I’ve seen anything like it. “I’ve done nothing wrong,” she said. Then the police car came. So, well, Mrs. Sakai and I couldn’t help but come out to take just a little peek at what was going on . . .
KOZUE: Mum, really . . .
ASAKO: Yes, yes. But the surprising thing was that even though she was old, Mrs. Sakai still had so much physical strength. Even the policeman thought that, since she was just a little old lady, he shouldn’t have to use too much force to restrain her. He might have broken a bone or something. So imagine the policeman’s surprise when the woman started throwing plates and stuff at him. “Don’t you understand, I’ve been betrayed!” Smash! “We are husband and wife! What happens between husbands and wives is for husbands and wives to sort out. Please, go away!” Smash! “He was the one who had an affair. He’s the one who has done wrong. Isn’t he?” Smash! All that kind of thing.
KOZUE: Too funny . . .
ASAKO: No, it was really scary. You wouldn’t laugh if you’d seen it.
KOZUE: And the wife was arrested?
ASAKO: Well, under the circumstances you would have thought she might have been arrested. But the son and his wife desperately tried to calm her down, apologised to the policeman again and again, and he ended up not filing the case. And then they went and said to her, “Mum, you’ve done nothing wrong. So you should just come home with us now.”
KOZUE: No, no, no! She’s a bad old lady, for sure. No one should take a crazy old lady like that home.
ASAKO: It gives me the shivers just thinking about it.
KOZUE: Don’t you get senile on me, Mum. Don’t expect me to take care of you, if you do.
ASAKO: Who knows what will happen to me . . . but if you work hard and become a qualified carer, you could, couldn’t you?
KOZUE: Give me a break.
ASAKO: . . .
KOZUE: . . .
(The sound of the fūrin continues.)
KOZUE: Why don’t you take down the fūrin, Mum? It’s autumn now . . .
ASAKO: But it’s such a lovely sound. Now that it’s quiet upstairs, there is something so nice about listening to the chirping of the crickets and the sound of the fūrin together. Don’t you think?
KOZUE: Well . . . I dunno.
ASAKO: It’s beautiful. Pay attention at night. Try to listen.
KOZUE: Yes, yes . . . What did you have for dinner?
ASAKO: Chicken stew.
KOZUE: Mmm . . . is there any left?
ASAKO: There is some. You can have it tomorrow.
KOZUE: . . .
(KOZUE stands up.)
KOZUE: Up I get! Ow, ow, ow. I’m going to the konbini. Is there anything you want? An ice cream?
ASAKO: An ice cream sounds nice.
KOZUE: What would you like?
ASAKO: A choc ice would be nice.
KOZUE: And if they don’t have choc ice?
ASAKO: If they don’t have a choc ice . . . then anything is good so long as it’s vanilla. Oh, if they have Häagen-Dazs . . . ?
KOZUE: Too expensive.
ASAKO: Anything is fine.
KOZUE: See you in a minute.
(ASAKO, munching on sweets, begins reading the evening paper.)
translated from the Japanese by Matthew Perkins
I am grateful to the theatre producer, Misato Yamada, for all her help with this translation and to the playwright, Tanioka Sachi for the opportunity to discuss and work on this translation with her.