Mariko Hayashi*

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Contemporary Japanese Writers

Mariko Hayashi*

Mariko Hayashi* 林真理子

Mariko Hayashi ( (1954–)  ) graduated from the Fine Arts Department of the College of Art at Nihon University and worked as a copywriter before beginning her literary activities. Her essay collection Runrun o katte ouchi ni kaerō (Let's Buy Happiness and Then Go Home), which perfectly captures the emotions of young women, became a bestseller. Following the nomination of her first novel, Hoshikage no Sutera (Stella in Starlight), for the Naoki Prize, she took up writing full-time and has been one of Japan's most popular authors ever since. Her works, which range from novels of contemporary manners to literary biographies of historical women, resonate particularly well with female readers.

The Japanese word that forms the title of the novel Anego refers to a female boss or to the wife of one's boss or senior: it suggests a big-sisterly type of woman, someone who is dependable and caring. Naoko Noda, 33 and single, is a career woman who works for a well-known trading firm. Some of her female contemporaries have since married office colleagues or men from other companies, while others have quit work to help out at home or study abroad. Only some one in four have stayed on like Naoko, now a trusted figure to whom new workers frequently turn for advice.

Naoko had been going out with a freelance journalist named Mizoguchi, but they split up over something trivial. She has an arranged meeting with a prospective husband, a government bureaucrat whom she seems on the point of accepting. Then she takes a trip, meets a man named Sawaki and his wife, Eriko, and becomes involved in their peculiar relationship. Eriko is mentally ill and has returned to her parents' home. Naoko goes out with Sawaki several times, thinking dreamily that she would like to marry him, but Eriko finds out and things deteriorate from there. Eriko and Sawaki attempt suicide together, but he survives. Their daughter, following the instructions in Eriko's will, telephones Naoko and says she would like to meet her. When Naoko looks into the girl's dark eyes, she is shocked to see in them Eriko's eyes, looking back at her.

Hayashi is a master of the short story, as can be seen in her collection Shiritagariya no neko (The Nosy Cat). The title story is about an anonymous career woman in her late thirties and her relationship with her pet cat Alice. The woman declares that she will not go out with any "wretched" men, and also believes that married men with families make the best companions. One day, as she is walking through a park late at night, she finds a kitten. It seems to her as if the kitten murmurs, "Are you going to go off and leave me like this?" and so she takes it in and names it Alice. After a while she realizes that whenever she is having illicit sex with a married man in her apartment, Alice parks herself someplace where the man cannot see and stares at her. This discovery alternately appalls and titillates the woman. When she eventually marries and has sex with her own husband, Alice looks on knowingly as if to say, "You've finally found your place, haven't you."

The novel Grabia no yoru (Photogravure Night) might be described in musical terms as a collection of short stories in rondo form. The staff of a young men’s manga magazine gather for a photo shoot of a girl in a bathing suit, with the resulting glossy photos to appear in the front pages. The lives of each person present?the editor, stylist, hair and makeup artist, photographer, model, and model's manager?are vividly portrayed. The editor, who is looking for a chance to move up the ladder to literary editor, is less than enthusiastic about this project. The stylist is planning to put an end to her 15-year-affair with the photographer, a married man. The hair and makeup artist, who is gay, has a fair-faced youth as his lover. The photographer has a strange romance going on with a model who has achieved star status. The manager enjoys his job, which allows him to look after his models like an older brother. The model is pregnant with the child of a senior assistant editor at a large publishing company, a man with a wife and family. And tonight, all of these people are to gather for the shoot.

 

* Anego (Shogakukan, 2003, 393 pages)

* Shiritagariya no neko (Shinchosha, 2004, 289 pages)

* Grabia no yoru (Shueisha, 2007, 189 pages)