Ten Million Vulgar Human Relationships

At the end of June, Showa year 22 (1947), Utagawa Kazuma called to ask me to meet him at a small restaurant called Tsubohei in Nihonbashi. The proprietor of Tsubohei, Tsubota Heikichi, used to work as a cook for the Utagawa family. His wife, Teruyo, was a maid at the Utagawa residence. Kazuma's father, Utagawa Tamon, was a selfish lecher who was well-acquainted with mistresses, the company of geisha, and the seduction of maids. Teruyo, an attractive woman with charming features, was no exception. Tamon had her marry Tsubota Heikichi as his replacement and gave them money to open a small restaurant. During the war, Kazuma's Tokyo home suffered damage, so he stayed at Tsubohei on visits to Tokyo.

"The truth is I have an unusual request for you. I'd like you to spend the summer at my home?"

The journey to Kazuma's house deep in the mountains was an ordeal. After I got off the train, I faced a bus ride for about fifteen miles up mountain roads, followed by a walk close to two and a half miles. That's why many in our literary circle evacuated to his home during the war. Most importantly, his family brewed sake, and drinking sake was our other motivation.

"You probably won't understand my reason, but that fellow Mochizuki Wani unexpectedly showed up at the beginning of this month. Tango Yumihiko and Utsumi Akira appeared soon after. They said they received invitations to spend the summer from my younger sister, Tamao. I will reveal my shame only to you. This spring, Tamao had an abortion. She never said who the father was, and I still don't know. For about half a month, she's wandered Tokyo. Who knows where she's been staying? I have no idea what to do.

"As you know, Mochizuki Wani is a brutish, rude, and gross man. On the other hand, Tango Yumihiko is polite and smug like an English gentleman but is also an arrogant, vain, treacherous man, and a pervert. Utsumi Akira is the sole refreshing presence but typical of hunchbacks, his physique is hideous. All in all, he has nothing to offer. When together, all those three do is fight. Tamao finds this amusing and made it her business to invite them. I can't tolerate this.

"They quarrel and stare down each other. Sometimes the hunchback rages and sends the dishes on the table smashing to the floor. When one appears, another leaves in a huff. I've become both angry and sad. My mind is so jittery I can't leisurely read a book. When word got around, faces from the old days, the evacuees during the war, gathered under my roof to spend the summer. They said the place was perfect because Tokyo's bars and restaurants were shut down.

"That's their wish, but reality will save me. They aim to ease their boredom, but their presence suffocates me. Mokubei and Koroku's stay will bring me relief. They'll be a distraction. I need you to come, too. Mokubei and Koroku will be staying at the house. We're leaving Tokyo together the day after tomorrow."

"What about Utsugi-san?"

"Of course, she'll be with us. Kocho-san is coming, too. The theaters are closed for the summer."

Miyake Mokubei, a student of French literature, was the lover of the woman writer Utsugi Akiko, Kazuma's ex-wife. Being literary people, they discussed their situation and divorced. She's a beautiful woman, but Kazuma did not cause problems later. Mochizuki Wani did. During the evacuation, Akiko, Kazuma's then-wife, talked more and more with Mokubei. They decided to move to Tokyo after the war. Kazuma consented to a divorce. From the beginning, Kazuma's relationship with Akiko was troubling. For the most part, he is free of regrets.

Akiko was an extraordinarily sensual woman. During the evacuation, her relationship with Wani was more intimate than with Mokubei. However, Wani had no notion of absolute faithfulness and carried on with Tamao. Gossips spoke of his affairs with maids and women from the village. He thought of Akiko as a fruit or a snack after a meal. Fed up, she went with Mokubei, but her heart stayed with Wani. He was a popular author throughout Japan. His insolence, crudeness, and wildness probably charmed the passionate Akiko.

She was, instinctively, a doll-like woman and went to the mountain retreat because she could not suppress her jealousy or cut all ties with Wani. Mokubei was an intellectual, a scholar, and an oddball who fell in love with trifling women and let them lead him around by the nose. Consequently, he was a jealous man with a broken heart and more than a fool to accept Kazuma's invitation.

I accepted Kazuma's reason for these invitations but also believed Kazuma hid a deeper reason for his enthusiasm over this plan. He had his eyes on Kocho. I think he wanted to seduce her.

Akashi Kocho was an actress and the wife of Hitomi Koroku, who hailed from a theatrical family. She embodied sex appeal and radiated sexual passion but preferred intellectuals over rough and wild men like Wani, who she hated. Hitomi Koroku was a stubborn pest and an indecisive, timid coward. He was a kind and friendly man but had difficulty making friends. Kocho loved Kazuma and would discard Koroku if Kazuma actively pursued her. She had a mind to pursue him.

In those days, Kazuma was a coward. Utsugi Akiko ran off with Miyake Mokubei. In the past, the women who left him suffered no regrets over abandoning him. Thus, darkness lurked in his heart. The evacuation guests ran off when the war ended. Of course, Koroku left with his wife, Kocho. Kazuma was a solitary man but summoned Spartan courage to see everyone off like a lover you desire more than anything. He seemed to be shut off in loneliness.

Once every month or two, Kazuma took the long journey to Tokyo. The changes in social conditions left a deep impression. In the spring of last year, he met his current wife, Ayaka.

During her college years, she wrote poems. Utagawa Kazuma, the genius of the intellectuals, was a foremost poet with the perfect amount of charm for literary women. Three or four times in those days, she brought her friends when she visited him. However, Ayaka had shallow interest and was indifferent to poetry. After graduating from the women's college, she never visited Kazuma again.

When he encountered her last year, Ayaka was living with a painter named Doi Pikaichi. Some said his paintings were unique. Others called him a genius, but I wouldn't go that far. He smeared lasciviousness all over a canvas that burst from surrealistic compositions. In a glance, the paintings were filled with charm that had both sensual and melancholy poetic sentiments. In reality, however, none of the severity of loneliness or nothingness was present.

He was a skilled businessman and a master who slathered colors in sync with the tastes of the age to fabricate similar works. The creation of the paintings was also commercial, and he was a master salesman. The post-war period was an age of hardship for artists. He contacted magazine companies and writers, made easy money by drawing illustrations, and had the unique style of a genius.

Kazuma seemed like a different man. He suppressed too much. The changes in the times marked the beginnings of his anger. His wife's infidelity spawned a rage that led to his single-minded, stubborn pursuit of a married woman.

Ayaka's beauty was exceptional. Her name was fitting. She was mysterious, loved amusements, and carefree. But she hated stubbornness and saw Kazuma's obsession and unbecoming aggression on his scowling face. She could be called a whore sent from heaven and hated poverty the most. The artist Doi Pikaichi drew illustrations and made good money, but high prices deflated his income. He couldn't afford a silk sock for one foot.

Kazuma was the scion of a prosperous family of sake brewers and owners of several hundreds of thousand hectares of mountains and forests. Although nothing to admire, huge sums of dark money fell into his hands. On each trip to Tokyo, he carried a small wad of bills from the cashbox. Even if the handful was smaller, the reduction wasn't apparent. In an environment where the people in the lower classes could not imagine the fistful of bills resembling tissue paper totaled 70 or 80,000 yen. Ayaka who loved amusements, delicious food, elegant clothes, and luxury fell in love with money. She simply gave Doi Pikaichi his walking papers and married Kazuma last autumn.

Doi Pikaichi's business acumen was indisputable. In a face-to-face business negotiation, Pikaichi told Kazuma the price was 200,000 yen to buy her outright, as one would buy freedom for a prostitute, and negotiating from 30,000 or 50,000 yen would take too much time. He began haggling at 100,000 yen and settled on 150,000 yen.

"What? That woman must be mine. If my flesh does not … The pleasure in my body for her, like a European whore, makes me giddy. Am I a no-name hack poet? Soon she'll weep for me, apologize, and come home."

When Doi Pikaichi told me this, I thought this confident, made-in-Japan Don Juan was no good. Ayaka didn't see any difference between any man and a fart. She was an optimist who viewed the men of the world as objects to be chosen freely.

Doi Pikaichi's demand for 200,000 yen to purchase her was a blow to her pride. The wound was deep in this optimistic, beautiful woman's small pride because she thought of men as little more than flatulence. She filled with great anger. She did not fly into a rage or retaliate in revenge, but her fury showed on her face. She split up with him after a quarrel.

When I told Doi Pikaichi this, he roared with laughter. To him, the fight was stupid. Don't men give each other a chance to make up? Aren't fights between a man and a woman who are companions natural? A break-up after a bad argument is the key to getting closer. You see? He was the incarnation of confidence and conceit.

From the beginning, Doi Pikaichi's expectations were unrealistic. Ayaka thought nothing of him, but her marriage to Kazuma was unhappy. It was nothing like having an affair. Ayaka was a version of Princess Sotoori whose body glowed light beneath her clothes. A person able to see the allure in her beauty and youth radiating from her entire body saw her apathy, coldness, indifference, and almost no passion. Only shopping trips to Tokyo for extravagant articles gave her joy. She could buy the clothes and shoes that appealed to her. At the height of her happiness on the first night, she fell asleep in those clothes and shoes. She never did anything by the book.

Everything about her was adorable despite her considerable haughtiness of a queen like Cleopatra, selfishness, and inability to make allowances for the human heart. She never thought about a wife's duties or about her service to her husband. Thus, he was tormented by her indifference to anything he did. He failed in his futile efforts because she never saw him as special. He was ill at ease, regretful, and frustrated by any attempt to explain his resentment. He was ashen and overwhelmed. His expression betrayed one man's clumsiness, weakness, traces of agony, and distress.

Kazuma fell too much in love with his wife, Ayaka, and seemed to want to have an affair. He plotted to invite the evacuation gang for the summer and set his sights on Koroku's wife, Kocho. A rich boy like him was content to be loved and enjoyed pretending not to know. In particular, he was certain another man's wife secretly thought about him more than her husband. He enjoyed pretending not to know and toying with that love. This was his hobby and not an affair. He had little interest in jumping in and persuading her. He was not that smitten.

I thoroughly understood Kazuma's state of mind caused by his apparent sensual regret and shame for unexpectedly falling in love with his wife. Therefore, the unhappy part of him tempted the married Kocho and secretly depended on that love. He cruelly played with her pure love. He truly loved Ayaka but couldn't undo the harm he carelessly caused.

I called him a rich boy, but Kazuma was a forty-year-old, elite literary man and poet. Even if charmed by the devil, he was a man who had to bear the cross alone, and I didn't worry about him.

I had personal reasons for not wanting to accept this invitation. Of course, the outlaw Mochizuki Wani jumped on board. The plain pervert Tango Yumihiko and the cheerful hunchback Utsumi Akira marched in, became entangled, and exchanged glares and sneers. It was reasonable to want to call them a regiment of ghosts. Men and women in sticky entanglements resembling an old decayed spider's nest gathered under one roof. Aren't the wretched connections and entanglements unpleasant, vulgar, and hateful? I had a more forbidding reason not to join.

My wife, Kyoko, had been a mistress of Utagawa Tamon, Kazuma's father. Of his several mistresses, she received special favors. During the war, she had no reason to enter his home (his wife, Kajiko, was alive). He rented a house in the village and evacuated her there. She and I fell in love. When the war ended, I stole her, and we ran back to Tokyo.

Tamon's anger was violent. According to rumors, he could not suppress pent-up anger. Unfortunately, he was a powerful politician on the level of a minister and was banished to the place holding the greatest hope in my world. I became the hated villain for him to direct his fury. Last summer, his wife Kajiko died. He soon zeroed in on Shizue, a daughter in a respectable family in the village, and forced her to become his servant, a maid, and a mistress. His mood improved. After his banishment, his rested body favored and leered at the nineteen-year-old woman.

"I'm not like Mokubei and Koroku. Why should I go to your home? Even if your father's mood has changed somewhat, I don't want to see how uncomfortable it will be. Of course, I would tremble, but so would Kyoko. That's why I can't go."

"Please, don't be too quick and hear me out. I want to tell you, and only you, the whole story. This is my spiritual fairy tale and a bit of a popular true crime story."

He took a sealed letter from his pocket.

"Look at this. Someone's up to mischief."

This was written on ordinary letter paper.

Who killed Kajiko-sama?

It will all end on the first anniversary of her death.

There will be hatred, curses, sadness, and anger.

The handwriting was poor. The characters were probably written to conceal the writer's hand. The ink was cheap, and stains dotted the paper. The stamp revealed the letter was mailed from a nearby town, easily reached by train from Tokyo. His home was seventeen miles away by bus when traveling the mountain roads. However, this country town is closest to his village and a convenient place for the villagers to shop.

"The text isn't clever … but it is literary."

"This letter is addressed to me, but I haven't written letters to criminals. If someone sees it's addressed to me, I may be targeted as a criminal. As you know, my mother was my stepmother. My father married her after my mother died. There is a three-year difference between us. She was 42 years old when she died last year on August 9. What reason did I have to kill this mother? She had cardiac asthma.

"That's a scary diagnosis. The son of distant down-and-out relatives is a doctor called Ebitsuka; he walks with a limp. We paid his school tuition to study internal medicine. About five years ago, we gave him a house in the village, and he opened a practice.

"As the lone doctor in a mountain village, his practice covered more than internal medicine. He also needed to be a doctor of external medicine, ear, nose, throat, eyes, and even try his hand at dentistry. He objected to being summoned so soon, but my father refused to give him the time to learn every specialty because he was not in school to benefit the village but for my father's benefit. He forced the doctor to come after about one year in a research lab after graduation.

"The doctor is an academic and was dissatisfied. After he came, he was superficially obedient but disagreeable. He's forgotten his duty and lacks compassion. My mother got angry at the doctor, but dismissing him was a problem. She had to endure her dissatisfaction. A person with asthma suffers a terrible affliction. Mother lay on her belly, tearing at the tatami mat, and died in agony. She found no relief in countless injections.

"This is not exceptional but normal for cardiac asthma. A person can only endure so much agony. Death by another method may be indistinguishable from death by poisoning. Also, the bleeding and death spots that appeared on the corpse were different but nothing special. There was just agony. Death brought serenity to her face. She was buried without one person suspecting death by poison. This rumor reached our ears this year.

"The gossip began with the servants and merchants who came and went. They met around her deathbed and witnessed her agony. The never-ending talk was probably the embellishments told by the villagers who retreated to the mountains for leisure. If they asked Dr. Ebitsuka, his large eyes glared. He was the sort of man known not to respond to the obvious.

"His crankiness is aggravated by his limp and results in an inferiority complex. He's also an unlikeable man who hates to converse. At a recent gathering of the family for a meal, Tamao blurted out the villagers had been accusing me of killing our mother. Of course, she was joking. She's the type to play nasty pranks and is an odious woman.

"She came and may have mourned Mother's passing as Kajiko-san's only biological child but did not shed a tear. The person who kept her in line was gone. Now, she openly plays as much as she likes. But even she doesn't tell that stupid joke because it was murder. In fact, at that time, a plausible rumor named a certain person as the murderer. It was Nurse Moroi. You know her. She's a strangely sexy woman and must have been involved with my father.

"After you ran off with Kyoko-san, the fact is their friendship was understandable. A mother was killed, and the heir, targeted. Doesn't this new-style tragic human relationship fit into village rumors? All gossip in a rural village is trite. This gossip inspired my sister to say that horrible joke. Of course, no one shivered because it wasn't gruesome. Everyone roared with laughter. Now, I can barely sleep."

Nurse Moroi Kotoji was about thirty years old. Women, particularly young women, are heroes and enthusiasts. The average young woman dreams of becoming a nurse and going to the front if war comes. As a nurse, she's determined to volunteer for the battlefield, but Moroi was different, a cold woman with few dreams. She paid no attention to men's jokes. At nearly five and a half feet, she was unusually tall for a woman and had a well-proportioned, beautiful physique. Her face wasn't bad either.

The womanizer Mochizuki Wani, who she dubbed The Moody Perv, worked hard at imagining the night her innocence would suddenly turn to passion. He knew deep down she was a slut despite her distant, smug look. However, she never responded to his advances.

When war came, nurses became precious objects and were urged to go to the front. This nurse from an ordinary medical practice in Tokyo grumbled about being commandeered to the battlefield. Her superb ploy was to become a nurse in a village with no doctor and obtained permission to go there. She didn't go to Ebitsuka's hospital but was given a room in a private home and went to the hospital at noon. She made her schedule and became known around town. She had two other patients in the same home.

One was an elderly man called Nagumo Ichimatsu, an evacuee to this area. After his arrival, he suffered a stroke and was paralyzed. He was confined to bed. Ichimatsu's wife, Auntie Yura, was Utagawa Tamon's younger sister. She was semi-invalid and suffered hysteria caused by her innate weak nature. She locked horns with Kajiko.

Tamon had no enthusiasm for his immediate family and was not troubled by mundane matters. He wasn't bothered by his younger sister's family evacuating here, being a nuisance, falling ill, and having to provide them with medical care. His prominent family had money and material wealth. He forgot those people sponged off of him. However, women were different. His second wife, Kajiko, who was young enough to be his child, could not live graciously with them because of past animosity.

Auntie Yura had one son and four daughters. The son went overseas to work as an engineer and died on a submarine during the war. Two daughters are dead. One is riding the Manchuria Railway on her way to get married. The youngest daughter, Chigusa, was not married and evacuated with her parents. She and Tamao, Kajiko and Tamon's daughter, were worse than bitter enemies. Tamao was a beauty, but Chigusa was absurdly plain. Squinty eyes peered from her heavily freckled face, and she was piggy fat. Although plump, she had a sensitive nature and was warped by spite. Her powerful envy extended her malicious grudge to the meaninglessness of the wild Tamao. It was not Tamao's nature to hide her agenda, and she boisterously attacked Chigusa. This was the seed of her conflict with her mother. Kajiko submitted poems for publication in tanka magazines and was a gentle wife. However, she was pathologically fastidious, and her hate multiplied one hundred-fold.

Nurse Moroi's other patient was Kayoko, a woman with serious problems. Her mother was dead. Her grandfather and grandmother were the head manservant and maid in service for life in the Utagawa household. Both Grandpa Kisaku and Grandma Oden were kind-hearted, always smiling, and delightful servants. Kayoko was the granddaughter of this elderly couple, the child of their daughter, also a maid, and fathered by Tamon. Although Kayoko lived in a servant's room, she wasn't a maid's helper. Her clothes were not glamorous, but she was allowed tidy items with a metropolitan flair. The beauty of this attractive young woman was smart, pure, and bright, nearly translucent.

From the age of seventeen, however, she suffered from lung disease. In her fourth year in college, she fell ill in the dormitory and was briefly hospitalized. Since leaving the hospital, she slept and spent her waking hours in the maid's room and mostly read.

The twenty-four-year-old Kayoko was two years older than the twenty-two-year-old Tamao. At twenty-six, Chigusa was two years older than Kayoko.

Kajiko agonized over the existence of Tamon's illegitimate child. The incident, which occurred before her marriage, seemed consensual. I don't know much about it, but her mother, the maid, hung herself after Kajiko came. After that, Kajiko weakened the curse she put on Kayoko. Because diet was crucial to her illness, she focused on special meals for Kayoko, proper clothes for her to wear so she wouldn't be embarrassed in the company of others, and told Nurse Moroi to care for her.

If Kayoko had a slight fever, the nurse did not take her to the hospital. Nagumo Ichimatsu and Auntie Yura asked her, although she was busy, to take Kayoko to the hospital when warranted by changes in her condition. Nurse Moroi was a heartless woman and lacked common emotions. She hated the Nagumo family with their excessive complaining, sobbing, and hysteria, and didn't provide them with good care. Her curse focused on Kajiko.

When Kajiko lay on her deathbed, the agony that made her tear at the tatami lessened just before her death. She asked if everyone was there. It was impossible to hear her words clearly, but she seemed to want the Nagumo family to be present. However, no one could understand her. Tamao sat closest to her pillow but had no idea what Kajiko was saying.

"This threatening letter is ridiculous. I have no experience in this sort of thing, but I'm not worried about the accusations in the letter. The evacuees in the village have free time. This is probably a prank played by an unstable loon. What I'm asking is terribly selfish. The truth is more than you, I need Kyoko-san."

Kazuma's face paled as it does when his drunkenness from sake fades away.

"I realize this is coming out of nowhere, but I've been passionately in love with Kayoko for a long time. But we are the older brother and the younger sister. My compassionate heart that adores the Holy Mother spiritually transforms the sexual passion.

"The problem was Kayoko's love for me was greater than mine. This story makes no sense because you can read stories like this every day. I am the older brother loved as a lover. But why are we told it is forbidden for an older brother and a younger sister to be in love? People say that's how it is, but why must we be like that? That's too rash.

"I don't want to be seen by the damn world anymore. I was defeated because I only thought of her love as the undiluted passion of a virgin. I was fine with dying. It's all too subtle. You probably can't believe this. There is nothing more sublime. What can I say? Kayoko is turning away from the world. She understands sin and is wise.

"She knows everything like a god. She's astute and sees her destiny. I'm unreliable. That's how it is. If god gently hugs you and whispers bad things, what do you do? I give up when danger comes. I will not touch her body. Even if I die, I cannot commit a crime against god, despite not feeling it's a crime.

"Kayoko squeezed my hand, and we kissed. It was a cold, sad kiss. You could say two people became one like water. It was dignified and sorrowful. Kayoko said, 'Let's get married. God will approve. Then we will die,' but I can't die. I'm not that naive. I'm a villain."

Kazuma shouted his words convulsively. He yelled, "I'm a Western boy by nature and don't move in one direction," but slowly calmed down like a beast in the zoo.

"But I'm a lowlife," he said.

"I understand. Anyone your age is a lowlife. You are deeply in love with Ayaka-san. Sometimes, you may want to persuade Kocho-san. Because Kayoko-san sees no man but you, it's not noble and not unexpected incest. In the world envisioned by you, isn't the root merely a virgin's charm and magical powers? When the root is identified, the truth is surprisingly flimsy. Are you angry? No? Actually, Ayaka-san not being a virgin bothered you and you surrendered. Love between an older brother and a younger sister is okay. You wanted to rebel a little. It's okay to vent. I thought you had and cooled down a little while speaking."

"When you talk like that, I'm saved. I don't think your words hit the mark, but I'll stop arguing. I don't believe I'm alone in this quarrel. I'm satisfied if I've gained your sympathy. I have a request. Kayoko-san has no friends other than Kyoko-san and thinks about her every day and becomes nostalgic.

"Kayoko-san knew her illness was serious but often walked over two miles up the mountain road to visit Kyoko-san. She was scolded but went anyway. She came down with a fever and was confined to bed but tried to get up. She escaped and went out. At that time, I saw Kyoko-san as a witch who wanted to kill Kayoko-san, and I hated her. However, the presence of you and Kyoko-san may comfort Kayoko-san.

"If you'll play that role, it would be hard to call me a coward because there's no one other than Kyoko-san. Sadly, she's already given up on me. I'd like you to come to distract my spirit. Of course, I'll be tempted, but I'm asking for Kyoko-san's help because all my strength is not enough."

That role is a problem. From the beginning, I couldn't decide on my own and had no response.

If I went back and told Kyoko, I would keep saying, 'I'm sorry.' They say only love sickness cannot be cured by the hot springs in Kusatsu, so a prescription from anyone would be no good. It must be left to those involved and the course of events. If Kayoko commits suicide, my conscience would be tormented. Kyoko would never want to go to the mountain villa again.

Kazuma gave up, persuaded by Kyoko's rock-solid determination. Mokubei and his wife, Akiko, and Koroku and his wife, Kocho, accompanied Kazuma to the mountains three days later.