Fumiko Hayashi

Fumiko Hayashi was a Japanese female novelist (1903-1951). From childhood, she moved from one residence to another, and after coming of age she moved to Tokyo and changed jobs often. She used these experiences to publish “Diary of a Vagabond”. She established herself as a writer with this autobiographical novel on the subject of the lives of ordinary people. This article provides an insight into the life of a successful Japanese female writer in the prewar period.

Life of Fumiko Hayashi

 Fumiko Hayashi (林 芙美子:はやし ふみこ) was born in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture. Her father was a peddler, and she was raised as a bastard child of her mother, Kiku Hayashi. Due to her mother’s divorce and remarriage, the family moved from place to place until 1915, when they settled in Onomichi, Hiroshima Prefecture. Hayashi entered Onomichi Municipal High School for Girls and graduated in 1922.

 Hayashi moved to Tokyo, relying on her mistress. However, her life was not stable. She worked at various jobs, including a street vendor and a female laborer. In the meantime, she developed an interest in literature and began writing poetry. In 1924, she published the poetry magazine “Two People”.

 Hayashi also corresponded with poets and actors. She was acquainted with and influenced by anarchist poet Jun Okamoto. In 1926, she married Rokubin Tezuka, an apprentice painter.Around this time, Hayashi saw the success of women writers and began her own writing career in earnest. In 1928, “Female Art” was launched as a literary magazine for women writers. That same year, Hayashi’s “Diary of a Vagabond”(放浪記) was serialized in this magazine. In 1929, Hayashi published a collection of poems entitled “I Saw a Pale Horse”. In 1930, “Diary of a Vagabond” was published in book form and got a great success. A follow-up work, “Sequel to Diary of a Vagabond,” was also published.

Diary of a Vagabond

 This work is an autobiographical work based on Hayashi’s life experiences up to that time. It was a time when the world was in the grip of a recession. The main character, a young girl, has been traveling from place to place with her peddler parents since she was a child. After graduating from a girls’ school, she moved to Tokyo. She moved from job to job, working as a maid, a female factory worker, and as a waitress at a café, which was popular at the time. She lived with various men and was kicked out. Despite this wandering life of poverty and humiliation, she never gave up, trusted others, and held on to her dream of literature. This is a coming-of-age novel in which the hope for life never disappears.

 In 1931, Hayashi published “The Accordion and the Fish Town” and “The Book of Poverty”. They depicted the lives of ordinary people in an autobiographical manner. These were also successful and established her as a popular writer. In the same year, she traveled around Europe. After returning to Japan, she continued to publish “Oyster” and other works.

 True Story of Fumiko Hayashi Herself

 In 1935, Hayashi published her “Literary Autobiography”. This is the story of her own life on which her “Diary of a Vagabond” is based. Let us take a look at its contents.
 As a child, Hayashi lived with her parents in Onomichi, Hiroshima. While attending a girl’s school there, she often went to the library. The library was gloomy, cluttered, and deserted. However, since parents were not home for work, Hayashi did not go home, but instead frequented the library. There, she read the works of Suzuki Miekichi, a children’s literature scholar. This period of her life was not particularly inspiring. Hayashi was plain and had no close friends.
 However, in the second grade, Hayashi heard a record of a song called “Tsubakihime no uta” (Song of La Traviata) at school. The words were so beautiful that it stimulated her heart. After that, Hayashi’s interest in literature grew stronger. She read “Paul and Virginie” and “The Sorrows of Young Werther”. Around this time, her homeroom teacher used to read to students on rainy days Japanese translations of poems by German poets such as Heine and Novalis. Hayashi found them heartwarming. She “meditated and listened to the poems”. She was especially fond of the poem of Pushkin. In this way, Hayashi became very fond of poetry. She enjoyed making her own landscape poems.
 After graduating from a girl’s school, Hayashi, like many young women of her time, moved to Tokyo on her own. She spent her days with no particular goal in mind, and her life was not going well. Soon after, her parents moved to Tokyo and lived with Hayashi. During this period, she worked as a clerk and and somehow managed to make a living. She and her parents began to open a general merchandise night stall in Kagurazaka and other areas. As she became accustomed to the business, she began to open her own night stall by herself.
 In the meantime, Hayashi read a lot of secondhand books. She was particularly fond of the novels of Sakujiro Kano. sHe also enjoyed reading the magazine “Bunsho Club”. Among them, she especially liked the poems of Saisei Murou.
 In 1923, the Great Kanto Earthquake occurred. Tokyo was severely damaged. The Hayashi family moved from Tokyo to Shikoku. In Shikoku, they spent a depressing period of time with no goals. Hayashi moved back to Tokyo by herself. She earned her living by working as a female laborer and a vendor. She met and married an actor. She interacted with poets such as Kyojiro Hagiwara and Shinkichi Takahashi. They produced anarchist poetry. Hayashi ended her marriage after about three months.
 Hayashi publish a coterie poetry magazine called “Futari” (Two People). However, the funds did not last, and the magazine was discontinued after five issues. She produced children’s stories, but they did not sell well. This period was the most difficult. To save money for food, she worked at a cafe.
 Later, Hayashi married a poet, Yoshiya Nomura. This marriage lasted about two years. After their separation, she moved in with novelist Taiko Hirabayashi. While working at a café, she contributed poems to magazines and wrote children’s stories. Amid the growing socialist movement, she joined the Proletarian Women’s Union.
However, she did not fit in.
 During this period, Hayashi frequented the novelist Shusei Tokuda. He treated her to dinner and took her to Rakugo performances. She never had her novels reviewed by Tokuda, but she did have her poems reviewed by him. At that time, Tokuda took off his glasses and teared up. Tokuda said only one word: “It is a good poem”. Hayashi was deeply moved. Hayashi had lost all hope for life at the time, but this word saved her. “When I think about it, it must have been Mr. Tokuda who led me to the path that I am on today,” Hayashi said.
 In 1926, Hayashi married Rokubin Tezuka. Around this time, “I finally began to think that I wanted to write something”. However, her income from writing was small, and life was difficult. She began to serialize the diary she had been writing in the magazine “Female Art” . That is “Diary of a Vagabond”. She devoted herself to writing. However, Hayashi stopped her serialization after one year because “Female Art” had become a leftist magazine.
 In the summer of 1930, Hayashi had sold her regular clothes, so she wore a red bathing suit as her regular clothes. One day, while she was doing her laundry, an employee of the Kaizosha company came to visit her. Hayashi was embarrassed by her attire, but she greeted him. The October issue of the magazine “Kaizo” published her “Diary of a Vagabond in Kyushu’s Coal Mine Town”. She said “The joy I felt at that moment can’t be compared to anything else”. In the same issue, novels by Junichiro Tanizaki and Yaunari Kawabata were also published. The same issue also included essays by Mokichi Saito, Saisei Murou, Kiyoshi Miki, and Hajime Kawakami, among others. Hayashi was greatly encouraged by these articles. She received enough money from the publisher to live on for two months. This made her very happy, as she had never received any income for manuscripts before.
 At this time, Hayashi started going to the library and reading many different kinds of books. “There has never been a more enjoyable time for me,” she said. She read books such as Okakura Tenshin’s “The Book of Tea” and Kant’s philosophy of religion. Around this time, she began to think that she wanted to write novels. But actually writing them was painful. For her, what could be written in 10 lines of a poem had to be stretched into a hundred pages in a novel. This was very painful. Hayashi’s passion for poetry thus continued to grow. With the support of her friend, she published a collection of poems entitled “I Saw a Pale Horse”.
 In 1930, Hayashi published a book of her “Diary of a Vagabond ” in book form from the publisher Kaizo-sha, and felt truly happy. She embarked on a two-month trip to China. In 1931, she published “The Accordion and the Fish Town,” which she herself described as “like a fairy tale for adults”.
 That same year, Hayashi traveled to Paris. As background, proletarian literature was flourishing in Japan at the time, and Hayashi felt isolated and helpless. She no longer wanted to continue writing and wanted to go somewhere foreign. After revising “The Book of Poverty” and sending it to the publisher, she left Japan with the thought, “I would not be able to come back to Japan again”.
 After arriving in Paris, Hayashi was busy writing travelogues. She spent her days locked in her apartment writing. The following year, she visited London. It was cold here, so she read many poems indoors. She wanted to write great poetry. “Living in Europe, I realized the beauty of the Japanese language, poetry and songs. In Europe, where there is not a single Japanese word, I was impressed by the beauty of the language when I read aloud the poems of Hakushu, Saisei, and Haruo. I thought the Japanese language was so beautiful that I even secretly became proud of my own native language”. She began to want to return to Japan, but she did not have enough money for it.
 The following year, Hayashi returned to Japan with travel expenses courtesy of the president of the Kaizosha company. She wanted to write great poetry. “I sometimes wondered if what was missing from Japan’s current literature was poetry”. She saw no value in literature without poetry. She thought that people recently talked about romanticism and active spirit in the Japanese literary world because everyone wanted poetry. She published a collection of poems, “Omokage”. She felt that poetry was a hundred times more enjoyable than novels. She decided to devote herself to poetry and novels from now on.

 Late Years

 Around this time, Japan was leaning toward World War II. Under such circumstances, Hayashi went to China and Indochina. She published her military service memoirs, such as “Battle Lines”.

 After the war, Hayashi published anti-war works based on her wartime experiences. In 1948, she won the Women’s Literature Prize for “Late Chrysanthemums”. She died of illness in 1951.

Source: “Portraits of Modern Japanese,” National Diet Library (https://www.ndl.go.jp/portrait/)

Recommended or Selected references

福田清人『林芙美子』清水書院, 2018

尾形明子『華やかな孤独 : 作家林芙美子 』藤原書店, 2012

川本三郎『林芙美子の昭和 』新書館, 2003