Takehiro Irokawa*

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Contemporary Japanese Writers

Takehiro Irokawa*

Takehiro Irokawa* 色川武大

Takehiro Irokawa (1929–1989)  , the son of a navy captain who was a strict disciplinarian, made his relationship with his father a central theme in his work. His debut story was Kuroi nuno (Black Cloth), which won the Chūō Kōron New Writer’s Prize in 1961. In 1968, under the pen name Tetsuya Asada, Irokawa published a work about mah-jongg that pioneered what became known as the “mah-jongg novel.” In 1977 he published Ayashii raikyakubo (Suspicious Guest Register), a compilation of short works that had first appeared in magazines, for which he was awarded the Izumi Kyōka Prize. The following year, he was awarded the Naoki Prize for Rikon (Divorce), a portrayal of the curious relationship between a husband and wife. Irokawa’s works are distinguished by the way he incorporates events in his surroundings as well as small, telling aspects of modern life, projecting himself into his characters through a finely crafted style. He once wrote, “It seems to me that there is a reality in this world that the sense of sight cannot perceive, one that must be perceived if one is to portray reality fully.”

Irokawa suffered all his life from narcolepsy. He died in 1989 in Ichinoseki, Iwate Prefecture, where he had moved to devote himself to writing.

Kūshū no ato (After the Air Raid), a short story from Suspicious Guest Register, weaves together three mysterious episodes in the style of an essay. When the narrator is in middle school, his house, which escaped damage from a bombing raid, is designated a temporary shelter for survivors. The narrator returns home unaware of this, and as he tries to head to his room has the extraordinary experience of stepping on someone’s face. A muffled cry rises up from beneath his feet, and he sees that it belongs to the old woman employed by Y, one of the occupants of the house. She had survived so many disasters that during the war people made much of her, but now after the war she is seen only as the corpse that she will soon become. Eventually she enters an old people’s home and sinks to the bottom of the narrator’s memory. One evening he passes her in the street. Her bare feet are black, her face is pallid and puffy, and mucus is dripping from her nose. The narrator tries to see what she is carrying, which he has wondered about for some time, but in the darkness he cannot make anything out.

In the short story Hyaku (One Hundred), from the collection of the same title, the narrator receives a phone call from his sister-in-law informing him that his father has struck his mother, and that his mother has fled to her house. The father, in his dotage and almost completely deaf, insists that he has done no such thing. Going to the family home, the narrator finds his father sitting quietly in his usual spot in the dark. From a loud, disjointed conversation, the narrator gleans that the old man intends to live to the age of 100, when in reward for his longevity the town office will bestow on him the gift of one million yen, which he plans to use for his grandchildren’s education. One day, the old man happens on his sons just as they are having a discussion about him. He summons them to his place and tells them to look for a bear in the garden. They are unable to do otherwise.

Kyōjin nikki (Diary of a Madman) is Irokawa’s last novel. A mental patient in his fifties who experiences daily auditory and visual hallucinations sums up his condition this way: “My brain is broken. That’s how it feels, and it’s a better description than anyone else’s so far.” At the mental hospital the man meets Keiko, a fellow patient, and they decide to live together. The narrator wants fiercely to stop being sick and to create a life with Keiko, but society is not kind to those with a history of mental illness and they are given the cold shoulder. Still, he thinks life with Keiko has a good chance of working out since they share the same problem, but one day Keiko leaves and doesn’t come back. Believing no other road is open to him, the narrator decides to die by taking to bed and not eating. As he lies there drowsing, all at once Keiko’s face hovers above him, her lips parted in a smile. He prays for the face to go away, but it never does.

* Ayashii raikyakubo (Hanashi no Tokushu, 1977, 287 pages, Izumi Kyōka Prize)
* Hyaku (Shinchosha, 1982, 219 pages, Kawabata Yasunari Prize)
* Kyōjin nikki (Fukutake Shoten, 1988, 253 pages, Yomiuri Prize for Literature)