Contemporary Japanese Writers

Chiya Fujino*

Chiya Fujino* 藤野千夜

Chiya Fujino (1962–)  writes with precision and delicacy about the subtle, wavering emotions of the human heart. After graduating from college, she worked at a publishing house as editor of a comic magazine before making her literary debut in 1995 with Gogo no jikanwari (Afternoon Timetable), which won the Kaien Prize for New Writers. Fujino is also known as one of Japan's few transgender writers: born male, she felt uncomfortable with her gender and began dressing as a woman. Characters in her early works often include youths suffering from gender identity disorder or gay men, but Fujino's greatest strength as a writer lies, rather, in the sharpness of her perceptions about perfectly ordinary people.

Fujino's artistry is fully showcased in the novel Bejitaburu Haitsu monogatari (The Story of Vegetable Heights), set in a two-story apartment building in which all eight apartments are named after vegetables: "Avocado," "Broccoli," "Carrot," and so on. The story describes the tenants and the various members of the Yamamoto family, who own the building?especially Sayaka, a high school student who named the apartments when she was a little girl.

Kazumi, who lives in "Avocado," has quit college and is instead taking lessons in photography. She more or less lives with her boyfriend and is jealous of Sayaka, who is wealthy and works part-time although she doesn't need the money. Takeno, the salaryman who lives in "Broccoli," sees himself as basically a bland fellow who is lately on a streak of unbelievable luck, possibly because he has started exchanging emails with an old high school friend. Meanwhile Sayaka, who takes great interest in all the tenants, is aiming to become a popular singer and is jealous of her friend Katsuko, who has already achieved success. In the commentary to the paperback edition, writer Kō Machida observes, "The characters embrace mistaken convictions about themselves and continually draw mistaken conclusions about others. The friction and crossed signals that result from this constant misplaced focus on the self and others are by turns funny, weird, and poignant. A superb novel bursting with the feel of life."

The novel Shufu to ren'ai (Housewives and Romance) depicts 31-year-old housewife Chiemi as she falls vaguely in love. Married in her mid-twenties to Tadahiko, a high school math teacher, Chiemi quit her job a couple of years ago wanting to start a family. In 2002 she and her husband received tickets to the Japan-Korea World Cup soccer final, and flew to Sapporo to see the game. Wakana-chan, a 26-year-old woman they met there, starts to drop by now and then, and at a party at her own friend's house Chiemi meets Sakamaki, a 34-year-old photographer who lives in the neighborhood. No passionate affair ensues, however, and in the end Chiemi muses, "If things had gone even slightly differently along the way, I might be somewhere completely else now."

Another novel that expertly captures this sort of disconnect with daily life is Fujino's early work Rūto 225 (Route 225). The main characters are Eriko and Daigo, a sister and brother in the second and first year of middle school, respectively. One day Eriko goes to meet her brother, who is late back from school, and they return home to find their parents have disappeared. On the way there had been signs: the broad national highway they see every day looked like a river, and they spoke with a girl who was supposed to be dead, a former classmate of Daigo's. They realize they have stumbled into a parallel world without parents.

Fortunately, Daigo is able to use his prepaid telephone card to call their mother and talk to her. Back in the world their parents inhabit, it is the children who have gone missing, and their mother is furious. They try to go back, re-creating the way they were when they slid into this parallel world, but it doesn't work. Gradually the minutes left on the phone card run out. In the world they now inhabit, relatives take action, concerned about the pair living on their own. The brother and sister are separated and taken in by different families, and their house is rented out to strangers. Defying the convention that all returns to normal in the end, this is an ambitious and heartrending work.

* Rūto 225 (Rironsha, 2002, 282 pages)
* Bejitaburu haitsu monogatari (Kobunsha, 2005, 228 pages)
* Shufu to ren'ai (Shogakukan, 2006, 248 pages)