2017 East Alps Trip II: Taiyôji

How does one reason themselves into hiking in a typhoon? Well, for me it wasn’t hard. I wanted to be on the trail bad, so I was prepared to do just about anything to make that happen. Fortunately or unfortunately, circumstances also made this easy. The typhoon was scheduled to hit on the southern shores of Kyushu (九州), the southernmost of the four main Islands of Japan, and would travel up the length of the archipelago until finally passing over the area where I would be hiking. Surely, I thought, with all of that time travelling over land the storm would be mostly dissipated and by the time it gets to me it’ll hardly be worth mentioning. This is the mental work I put in to get myself to ignore the fact that I clearly knew: the typhoon would hit, probably Monday afternoon.

Typhoon be damned! I left my Oshiage (押上) apartment, caught the Hanzomon Line (半蔵門線) and rode out to Ikebukuro (池袋), where I transferred to the Red Arrow Express bound for Chichibu. In high spirits (present in spite the look on my face in the picture below), I watched as the urban sprawl of Tokyo gradually faded into rice paddies and mountains.

Looking serious on the Red Arrow Express.

I stared out the window at the passing mountains and villages as each stop was heralded over the loudspeaker by a stiff, professional sounding female voice, first in Japanese and then in British accented English. As the train approached its final destination, I saw a mountain looming over the approaching town with half its face cut away exposing grey stone. It reminded me of the limestone quarries I saw back in the Ozarks when I was growing up, but on a much larger scale. As much of a fan as I am of the benefits that industrial progress has brought to us all, seeing such permanent mark left on the land as that always gives me a bad feeling in my stomach.

Waiting for the bus outside of Chichibu Station.

Stepping off the train, I made straight for the bus station and, after waiting a few minutes, caught the bus that would take me to the Taiyôji Entrance (太陽寺入口) of the park. In a way, one could view the speed with which I entered and departed the town as representative of my attitude towards this trip as a whole: I really didn’t care about anything except getting on the trail as fast as possible. This town, far from an attraction, was just something I had to pass through to get on the trail. I hadn’t even read anything about the it or its attractions until I started writing this post a few minutes ago, but I did find an article on Japan Visitor that gives some interesting details. Apparently its a town with quite a history. I should probably go back some day and visit some of the other sites, but I probably won’t.

A small mountain village on the way to the Taiyouji Entrance.

The bus to the Taiyôji Entrance winded slowly up narrow mountain roads for about an hour before I finally stepped off at my destination. I was on a quiet stretch of road with a mountain stream running along it. A bridge crossed the stream ahead, and a sign clearly indicated that this was the way to go to reach the Taiyôji. I set off.

After years of hiking around Japan and Korea, I’ve become accustomed to the difficulties one might face in actually finding the trailhead once getting off the bus. In this case, there was no obvious start of a trail, but I had learned from experience that often it could be quite a walk along a road before coming to it. Since I knew the trail had to pass through the temple, I decided to just follow the road knowing that even if I had to follow it all the way there, I would definitely find the trail once I arrived.

The heat and humidity was intense as I walked up the road. I’m not sure quite how long I walked, but according to my map it should have taken about an hour and forty-five minutes to reach a place called “Ô-hinata” (大日向, “The Great Sunny Place”). Eventually I did arrive there to find a small fishing hut, a noodle restaurant and, finally, the start of the trail. Knowing this would be my last chance at a hot meal for the next few days, I dropped into the noodle shop and ordered plate of cold udon. I know, I’m a genius.

The weather up to this point had been great: mostly overcast, but with occasional bursts of sunshine. While I was eating my udon, however, I noticed that small drops of water were beginning to appear on the glass roof above my dining platform. “It’s just a few drops,” I thought. “Nothing to worry about.” Well, by the time I left it was raining pretty good. I put on my poncho and resolutely set out.

I quickly found a problem with the poncho: although it was effectively keeping the rain off me, in the muggy summer heat I was quickly drenched in sweat on the inside. I briefly decided to just remove it and cool off in the rain, but I found that, despite the heat, the rain was actually quite chilly. Dressed as I was in gym shorts and a T-shirt, I decided to brave the sweat and put the poncho back on. Better hot and sweaty than a case of hypothermia. I trudged on, and before long I was drenched inside and out.

It’s hard to tell from the picture, but it’s raining quite hard right now.

As I rounded a turn in the path, the rain gradually tapered off and a gateway came into view: it was the entrance to the Taiyôji, the Temple of the Broad Sun.


The Story of the Taiyôji

According to legend, in the ancient days of the gods this valley occupied deep and hidden place where tengu, or heavenly dogs (sort of long-nosed goblin-like creatures) lived. Isolated for long aeons, it was here that the Buddhist priest Bukkoku Kokushi (仏国国師) founded the Temple of the Broad Sun, or Taiyôji, in 1313 CE.

The story of Kokushi and the temple begins in the period of political unrest in Japan at the end of the Kamakura Period (鎌倉時代, 1185–1333) through the Nambokuchô Period (南北朝時代, “The Period of the Northern and Southern Courts,” 1336 – 1392). Born in Kyoto as the third son of the reigning emperor Go Saga (後嵯峨天皇, literally “The Later Heavenly King Rugged-Mountain”), Kokushi would join the priesthood at age sixteen, perhaps to escape factional fighting in capital. Seeking a place to practice asceticism, he traveled to the Eastern Provinces, today the area around Tokyo and the Kanto Plain. There he became a priest at Kenchôji Temple in Kamakura, one of the most famous and powerful Buddhist temples in Japan at the time.

After some time at the temple, he decided to leave the temple to seek a deeper form of enlightenment and after much hardship arrived in a valley that was said to be so remote that not even birds and beasts could enter it. It was in that valley, a place completely indifferent to the political struggles of the outside world, that Kokushi founded the Taiyôji. At least, that’s the story according to the temple’s own website, not exactly what one could call the most credible of historical sources.

Visiting the Taiyôji

I of course didn’t know any of this at the time, nor did I care. I was just happy that the rain had stopped, counting myself lucky that the typhoon had in fact turned out to be not so much trouble after all. I walked down the path as you saw in the picture above, and as I got closer I caught a glimpse of the two wooden statues flanking the entrance, a fairly typical greeting for a Japanese temple.

Passing through the gate I saw the Hondô (本堂) or Main Hall (pictured below) directly ahead, and also a collection of other buildings arrayed further up the mountainside. The temple had clearly seen better days. Despite its auspicious name, the buildings were looking somewhat worse for wear. The wood was faded and dully with age (not unusual for a Japanese temple), but much of it was also chipped and eaten away as well. Overall, it was a pretty drab and dreary place. Being as wet as I was, I wasn’t in much of a mood for pictures, so I didn’t take any other than panorama of the Hondô below, nor did a spend too much time exploring the complex. Though, as I found later, if you interested in getting more acquainted with this place, you can do a temple stay for about $90.

The Taiyôji Hondô.

The whole time I was there, I didn’t reflect much on the curious point that the rain, which was a dying typhoon mind you, mysteriously stopped upon approaching a temple whose namesake was the “Broad Sun.” Nor did I then consider the curious fact that the rain resumed once more, and worse than before, shortly after I left the temple. Even more ironic is the fact that later that night I would throw a live cricket into a fire and, in response to my companion’s surprised look, say, “What? I’m no Buddhist.” True story.

This post is part two of a multi-part series. Click the buttons below to view the rest of posts in this series.

© 2017 Brian Heise

Summer 2017 East Alps Trip: Intro

Hey all! I’ve been silent for quite a while, but I’m hoping to put out some regular content for the next few days as I do a series on my recent hiking trip in the Japanese East Alps (東アルプス). I envision the series as being part background on the the places I visited and part being a narrative of the events itself, with pictures of course! Stay tuned in the next few days. I hope to get out one post per day. Until then, here’s a brief overview of the trip.



Vacation was less than a week away and I knew without a doubt that I was going hiking (the decision was made easy by the fact that my bicycle is on a boat somewhere in the Pacific, so biking was out). But, as usual, I waited until the last minute to make any definite plans. I tend to justify this retrospectively by saying that I just enjoy flying by the seat of my pants, but maybe the truth is I’m just a bit lazy about it. With days to go, I had to answer the question, where would I go?

Pulling up a map of the Tokyo area on Google and checking the various mountain ranges on the edges of the Kanto Plain, I found that Chichibu City (秩父市) in Saitama Prefecture (埼玉県) offered the fastest and cheapest access to the mountains. With the search thus narrowed, I now had to actually find a course. This time I googled Saitama hiking in Japanese and found some nice courses, but most of them were only a single day. I wanted to go hiking at least three days. The longest course I could find was Kumotori Yama (雲取山, “Cloud Catcher Mountain”), but it was only an overnight trip. I knew I needed to find a site with complete trail maps for the entire area so I could plan to my own specifications.

The answer came when I discovered Yamakei Online, which is easily the best website for planning hiking trips in Japan that I’ve discovered so far. It has complete trail maps for all of Japan’s major parks, with water access points, major landmarks, elevation, shelters, and mountain huts and lodges all marked. What’s more, you can plot your own trips by clicking on the points on the route that you want to take. Check out the plan I made for my trip here. There is one downside to the site, however — it’s only in Japanese! You’ve gotta have a pretty good grasp of the language to navigate the site with ease. For those who are interested, I am considering writing a tutorial on how to use the site even if you can’t read Japanese that well yet. Leave a comment below and let me know if you want me to write it.

So what trip did I decide on? A 50 km trek from Taiyôji Temple (太陽寺, “Broad Sun Temple”) to Kobushi ga Take (甲武信ヶ岳, “Peak of the Armored Warrior’s Fidelity”) and then down to Nishizawa Gorge (西沢渓谷, “Eastmarsh Gorge”) to catch the bus back to civilization.

The map of my course. To view in greater detail, click here and scroll down until you see the map.
The change in elevation over the course of the trip.
Course Statistics
Horizontal distance 50.8km Course time 30 hours
Cumulative change in elevation (up) 6,193m Cumulative change in elevation (down) 5,393m

I was set to go and psyched up. I had work on Saturday, Sunday I would buy supplies, and Monday I would catch a train to Chichibu bright and early. Only one thing: I had to check the weather of course. Fast forward to Sunday night. Bag is packed, alarm is set, transportation itinerary is planned. One small problem, though. According to the weather report, a typhoon was scheduled to hit Monday. But was that gonna stop me?

This post is part one in a multi-part series. Click the buttons below to navigate to the other posts in this series.

© 2017 Brian Heise

Red Chimney

Red Chimney

A short story by Watanabe On, translated by Haiji.

A note on the translation

For me, the enjoyment that I get out of reading foreign literature is experiencing the culture vicariously through the author. Unfortunately, it’s popular in translation circles these days to try to remove the native culture and supplant it with the reader’s culture. Personally, I find that this kind of flattening of world culture defeats the purpose of reading foreign literature. Why would I want to read a story that was originally written in a different language if it’s just going to be presented to me as though it were originally written in my own? The following story (and more to come) is translated with this principle in mind.

A second point to note about this story is that it contains a lot of unusual punctuation. In order to retain the flavor or the original, I have retained this. Feel free to comment and let me know how you feel about this punctuation and whether or not you would prefer it rendered in a typical style.

(—— My red chimney. I wonder why smoke doesn’t rise from it. So much smoke comes out of Father and Mother chimney, but not mine……)

She first made that curious discovery in the autumn of her seventh year while she was put to bed near the second for window, suffering from tonsillitis.

In the blue sky of a clear autumn, the smokestacks on the roof of the neighboring Western-style houses were lined up, three in a row. The two on either side were black, the one right in the middle red. Also, that red one in the middle, being so small, was in some respects shaped like the leg of a child wearing red socks. To her, it looked entirely as though that little one was sitting between its mother and father. However, strange though it was, day after day she looked at hardly anything except those chimneys, but smoke never once rose from the red one……Since she was a child who was easily moved, she thought that small chimney to be terribly pitiful, and in the end she gazed at it tearfully.

(——My red chimney must be sick……) she thought.

However, though her illness was cured shortly, her red chimney, as always, gave off no smoke.

She had been frail from birth, so she had fallen ill many a time. And whenever that happened, she was put to bed near the second floor window. At those times, she looked at the three chimneys next door, suppressing her feelings. The little red one was never letting out smoke.

(——My poor chimney!……)

Tears pouring down onto her white-laced pillow, she took pity on the red chimney and on her own prospects. Even to hear childish heart, she knew that with a body as weak as hers, she probably wouldn’t be able to grow big like her mom or dad.

She turned sixteen. Her pale, thin cheeks faintly tinged with red as they were, she was altogether a maiden like a beautiful, fragile flower. Presently she had risen from her bed and was leaning against the windowsill. She had been recuperating from a cold, but she was already mostly better.

Summer was near, and the sky, only just turned to dusk, appeared to be dyed in broad stripes of lilac and rose. Around the next-door residence, low trees with nary a gap between them grew thick with young leaves, and above them the rooftop and the three chimneys were just barely visible. The smokestacks had already gotten old and stained with soot. However, in this spring season, the ones from which smoke rose day and night were, as always, just the two on either side.
Even at that age, she still hadn’t stopped thinking that little chimney right in the middle was pitiable.

(My red chimney. Why don’t you give off smoke? …… Such a lot of smoke is rising from Mother and Father chimney……My pitiful red chimney!)

But, it was no longer a red chimney. It had changed to an unsightly yellow-brown.
At that moment, a singing voice suddenly became audible, carrying over from the within the neighboring residence.


Myō ni kiyora no, aa, waga ko yo        Strangely beautiful, oh my child!
Tsukuzuku mireba, sozoro, aware      When I look deeply, somehow pitiful
Kashira ya nudete, hana no mi no      Stroking your hair, the flower of your nose


It seemed to be the voice of a young man. Up until now she had never once chanced to hear that kind of singing voice from the neighboring residence, so she leaned out from the window frame and strained her ears. The pale blue ribbons tied to the ends of her jet-black braids dangling beautifully on either side of her neck fluttered quietly in the evening breeze.

Itsudemo, kaku wa kiyorare to     Forever, be beautiful like this
Itsudemo, kaku wa myō ni are     Forever, be strange like this

The singing voice gradually grew closer, and before long, the back door, which was situated right in front of her window, opened and out came a single tall boy whom she didn’t recognize at all. Upon catching sight of her unexpected face, his own face reddened. Thereupon, he rushed out in the direction of the main street. From that behavior, it appeared altogether as though he had taken terrible offense or something.

But, on the evening of the next day, she exchanged words with him. At about the same time as yesterday, he came out from the red back door, this time whistling that same melody. And upon spotting the girl, who as usual was gazing at the red chimney, he again reddened just a bit, but called out exceedingly nervously.

――Hello, Miss. Your illness is better today?”


She thought it strange. How would the boy know of her condition?

――Miss, are you always in that room there?”


She thought it strange that he who was looking up at her seemed to not really see her.

――Pardon, but what is it that you’re looking at?”

――Your house’s red chimney.”

――My house’s red chimney, you say?”

The boy made a strange face and looked up at the roof of the residence that he had come out of. However, the chimney wasn’t visible from where he was.

――But, not even a little smoke ever comes out of it. Why doesn’t the red chimney give off smoke?……”

――Huh, why might that be……”

The boy gave a vague laugh and then his eyes fixed upon her two blue ribbons swaying in the evening breeze like big flower petals hanging from the ends of her braids. It was as though he were looking at real flowers.

And then, in only a moment, the girl and the boy came to know each other not at all unlike acquaintances of more than ten years passed. He invited her to take a walk with him on a day when the weather as good, saying that exercise was needed for the sake of her health. Her parents didn’t even mind. Rather, they were pleased that he had come to be so affectionate for their only daughter, who was so sickly that she had hardly ever had a satisfactory companion. (What a relief! Though, she is still only a girl—). Her father spoke thus to her mother. The sick girl was certainly entirely girlish in mind and body like one two or three years her junior. She walked here and there, hand in hand with the boy.

If you were to speak of taking a walk, then certainly you would go to the hill that was growing thickly with moonview grass, all the way on the edge of town. “Moonview Hill” the people of the town call it. After all, it’s a good hill for viewing the moon in the fall. From that hill one can view the azure sea of the port, the yellow flags of the harbor, and also the girl’s house and the boy’s residence, all in one sweep as though you could take it all in your hand

The boy appeared to pride himself in his singing more than anything else, and when he stood atop the steep cliffs of the hill, he sang constantly. She stared intently in the direction of the town as she meekly listened to the song. Then, when his song changed to a sad melody, suddenly her large eyes brimmed with tears. When he noticed this, he stopped his song and asked,

――What is it? Do you want to go home?”

――No……But, why is it that your house’s red chimney doesn’t give off any smoke?”

――Why are you only talking about that? ……Miss, you’re strange one, aren’t you?”

――That red one, that or some such things, they remind me of myself. Pitiful things……Yes, they look like that, don’t they? The big ones on both sides are like the mother and father……”

The youth gazed distantly upon the roof of his own residence, perplexed.

Winter came and snow continued to fall nearly every day. This time, the girl suffered from pneumonia. This time, they thought, she probably couldn’t be saved. Day and night the boy from next door never parted from her bedside. Her parents gradually began to think him a strange person.

The girl, delirious with fever, gasped for breath through her parched lips and muttered incoherently.

——My red chimney! ……My red chimney! ……It must be sick…..my poor red chimney!”
The youth looked out the window. The night had deepened and the snow fell incessantly. In the corner of the pure-white roof on the opposite side, there were the three dark shadows of the chimneys. The two on either side were sending up pale red flames. However, the pitiful one right in the middle was covered in snow, small and cold……
But, fortunately she did not die. She already passed the peak of her illness and her fever had quickly receded. She quietly and comfortably continued to rest. Both her parents and the youth could truly relax.

After some days, when her eyes opened widely, she saw just the boy sitting there alone.

――Oh! Your eyes are open.” For some reason, he spoke as though he were at a loss for words.

――Father, and mother? Where? Oh, you’re here alone?”
――I…I’m alright?”

She glanced quickly out the window as she spoke.

As she did, she laughed suddenly. It was a weak laugh owing to her illness, but that kind of joyfully relieved laughter would have been rare even in times of health. And then, while barely restraining that laughter that seemed altogether as though it would never stop, she pointed out the window and spoke.

――Look! Look! Over there!……My little red chimney’s giving off smoke!……My, I wonder what on Earth happened!……”

The youth looked at the three chimneys. Indeed, smoke was energetically blowing out of the little red brick chimney right in the middle, the same as those on either side.

――What the…So it is……Who knew? ……” He said. This time they both laughed as one. But the girl thought she might have seen tears welling up in his eyes.

After that her red chimney continued to give off smoke every day. Grey-blue smoke and black smoke flowed out vigorously among the snow. At night, it raised a charming sound in the wind, the tips of rose-colored flames peeping out. The girl stared out at this absently form the second floor window. She stared out every day, even on days when she wasn’t sick. However, in her heart, she was not happy – on the contrary, presently she had slipped in a pale sadness.

(――I wonder why my red chimney is breathing out smoke? …….) she thought, as though this were unfair. The reason was that the youth living in the Western-style house with the red chimney letting out that smoke suddenly stopped coming to visit since her sickness had healed……

Summer came around once again. Her little red chimney gave off smoke day and night. She went up to the second floor every day and gazed at the neighboring residence. When she leaned against the sill and stretched her neck out the window, she could even see the rust-red back door. To the tips of her braided hair, this year just like the last, blue ribbons were tied in the shape of delicate flower petals. However, neither the sound of the song she was waiting came to her ear, nor did the tall boy appear……

She went to Moonview Hill alone. The sea of the harbor shined azure, and on the wharf new yellow flags were flying.

(I wonder why my red chimney is giving off smoke so vigorously……It shouldn’t be! …… It shouldn’t be! ……)

Thinking it pitiful that she had been betrayed by that little red chimney, she cried.

Fall began, and finally a letter came from the youth.

“The one I love is ―― it’s…I love you. But, they say I cannot. Your mother and father told me so, and my mother and father also.
“Tomorrow I will enter a British school, so I will be parted from the house here, and also from your second-floor window.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again in my life.
“I pray to god that you will stay well. Good bye.
“After this…from now on our red chimney might never again give off smoke, but it’s no use to worry. Such a little chimney has a connection with you, doesn’t it? Yes, starting today forget all about such of trivial things. Surely you must forget about it.”

While she was reading those words written on thick white paper with four folds, she felt a large hole gradually open in her heart, and from within tears completely different from usual welled up and overflowed.

Not long after, in accordance with his words, the red chimney once more ceased giving off smoke. She had no idea why.

However, she was satisfied.

(――My pitiful red chimney doesn’t give off smoke. But, in any case, that’s the truth. …… Pitiful chimney! …… And pitiful, pitiful me!) Her eyes dim with tears, she gazed at the roof of the Western-style house without the youth.

Ten years drifted by.

Her parents had already died. She married, and lived in a house different from the one next to the Western house. It was on the edge of town, near Moonview Hill. Consequently, she never thought of the pitiful red chimney anymore. However, she was not at all happy. Her husband was a good mechanic of suitable skill, and not at all a bad person, but when he drank liquor, he severely tormented his fragile wife. Even worse than that, it seemed like every day recently she was assailed by a persistent fever such as to make one think her end was not far off. At that time, the days when her husband didn’t come home became more frequent. Eventually, a whole week passed without him coming home even once. After that, her circumstances became desperate.

From the time she was a child she had always slept stretched out on the floor by the second floor window. However, what she could see from the window there was not the three chimneys on the roof of the Western-style house, but the blue ocean and the cliffs of Moonview Hill. On Moonview Hill, the moonview grass was at peak bloom. When dusk drew near, she would lean on the windowsill, stretch out her neck and gaze in the direction of the hill full of pale yellow flowers. Braided hair tied with blue ribbons no longer hung on either side of her face. Her hair, which had become sparse and patchy due to her long sickness, fluttered sadly in the evening breeze.

(――pitiful, pitiful me! ……)

Tears not at all different from those she shed at sixteen welled up and she cried like a child. Her proclivity to emotion had not weakened with her years…… However, the time came when even her tears, which seemed to be altogether like an endless spring, would dry up.

One day, an old woman came to the girl’s door to tell her that her only daughter, who had been working as a geisha in the city, had vanished from the port there along with the girl’s husband.

(――She’s a wicked girl, my daughter. Such a thing must wound your spirit……” the old woman apologized, wiping her bleary eyes.

The girl – the woman now – upon hearing those words spoken, got the feeling that she had seen that old woman somewhere. And then, she suddenly remembered that she was kitchen hand at that Western-style house with the three chimneys from so long ago.

……The three chimneys! Her chest suddenly began to ache.

――Yes, grandmother. The chimney right in the middle of the three on the roof of the house where you worked…it never gave off smoke……Do you remember?”

――The chimney, you say?” Understandably, the old woman seemed unable to interpret the girl’s offbeat question.

――Yes, right……But, look, around ten years ago there was about a year when it did give off smoke. Do you know about it?……”

――Oh, good heavens, but Miss you do remember well don’t you……” the old woman said, gradually recalling. “Right right, that did happen… Now let’s see, that was just around the time when our young master came…… One day the young master unexpectedly said that he’d make smoke rise from that red chimney. He set up a ladder in a dangerous place and turned himself pitch black with soot as he cleared out the pipe under the red chimney. It was by sheer force that he got smoke coming up from it…..Whatever got into him? Miss, that red chimney was broke from the start――since the smoke pipe didn’t go through, it was really nothing more than a decoration……Why on earth would he purposefully do such a foolish thing?…..”

At that, even the sadness vanished from her heart.

(――Nothing more than a decoration!…..It was broken from the start!……If I were that red chimney, I’d wish I hadn’t ever been born!…)

When the old woman had left and she was alone, she took out her old jewelry box and removed that letter written on thick paper, folded four times, which had been stored carefully for such a long time. She began to read it aloud…………

“The one I love is ―― it’s…I love you. But, they say I must not. Your mother and father told me so, and my mother and father also………………

――He was eight years older than me, so at the time he wrote this, he was twenty-five……My, what a sweet boy he was. To think he did something like write this kind of letter at twenty-five! I couldn’t have been a day over eighteen……and on top of that, doing some such thing like getting covered all over in soot while setting up a ladder to put a pipe through to a chimney without a smoke hole……what an odd man……right right, my pneumonia was on the verge of getting better, and when I laughed having seen the smoke coming out of that chimney for the first time, he cried……but, they ruined it! ……But……supposing that old woman had lived under that little red chimney for just a long time, then that little red chimney might have been acting like it wasn’t a decoration from the beginning, as though it might have gone on smoking day after day……”

And then she began to tear up the letter, into how many pieces she didn’t know.

I Lied When I Said I Was a Nobleman

I Lied When I Said I Was a Nobleman

A short story by Watanabe On, translated by Haiji.

A note on the translation

Though the sources language of this text is Japanese, the characters occasionally utter words in English. To preserve the distinction between these English words and the original Japanese, I have taken the convention of italicizing them.

Among the women of the foreign quarter

That night I went out to Yokohama to enjoy myself for the first time, guided by Alexander, who lived in the room next door to me.

If you were to ask about that kind of place, Alexander was by far more knowledgeable than even I, a Japanese person.

Alexander, if we take his word for it, says he was the dancing master attached to the former Russian imperial family and that after the revolution he crossed over to Japan from Shanghai. As it turned out though, he couldn’t make a living by dancing, so nowadays he plays the cello in some back-alley Western restaurant in Ginza, a Caucasian of a kind barely higher than those cloth-sellers you often see on crowded streets.

Even so, as one might expect of one born in the Caucasus, he is quite a handsome man with his hair and eyes both jet black such that, in spite of his poverty, he seems to be especially popular among the women of the foreign quarter.

By the way, other than Russian, Alexander, is able to speak crude Japanese and equally crude English.

It was 9 o’clock when we descended from Sakuragichō Station, so we first turned in the direction of the wharf and went to the Chinatown in Yamashitachō.

After that, we drank beer at International Bar, which everyone knows about. For some reason this shop made its name on Ebisu Beer, but a long while back I had gotten to drink a terribly delicious pilsner at Hamburg Bar, which was also in the neighborhood.

Back then – it was around the time I was thinking of going to Germany – there happened to be a strange German man in that bar who claimed to be a crewman on the Battleship Emden. Claiming that the most important qualification for entering the University of Heidelberg was being able to drink four dozen beers, he goaded me into drinking two dozen of the pilsners.

“That Emden guy works for the shop. I mean, he was shilling for them, eh?”

Alexander said, rejecting the Hamburg.

A group of four or five waitresses – each of whom looked to be of a different nationality – had gathered around our table.

“On top of that, there isn’t even a single beautiful woman there. It’s boring.”

As Alexander was speaking, he prodded the chin of the blond-haired girl, the one with the most beautiful slender eyes.

“Marsha! You’re in love with a man who writes Japanese novels. Marsha, speak!”

Even I had already heard the rumors of that girl. She showed me a handkerchief that she says she received from Mr. XX.

After that, she joined with Alexander and they danced. An old couple near the stove, apparently a family, joined in with the harp and violin.

I couldn’t be satisfied with Ebisu beer, so I stood at the bar and drank vodka.

The proprietress, who in her youth had apparently been quite a beautiful woman, struck up a conversation with me as she poured a drink.

Sure. If you die then I’ll die too

As we had planned, after spending one hour we left the International.

The blue streetlamps were miserably frozen in the pitch-black riverside road, and the wind blew around carrying the intense smell of the sea.

Leaving Motochō, we approached the Bungalow and waited for 10 o’clock. Alexander said he wanted to dance here until closing time, but I, unable to dance, did nothing but sample the whiskey absentmindedly and waited while surveying the spectacle of the lively hall.

A drunken dancer who was really too old came near me and begged for a port wine and, in the end, she, thinking my inability to dance pitiable, offered to teach me. Grasping both my hands, she pulled me up.

But, she promptly tumbled down upon the waxed floor. Again and again she fell.

In the end I had to lay the troublesome old dancer down on a cushion.

At 12 o’clock we were driven out of the Bungalow, so we headed on foot towards Ōmarudani down the sleepy Motochō Street.

“Ōmarudani is about half as cheap as Honmoku, but it’s no good. Japanese people aren’t welcome,” said Alexander as he walked, linking arms with me.

As we ascended a grassy, pitch-black hill road, a line of some number of houses stood on the left side, the words “such-and-such hotel” visible in the lamplight.

Among those, we chose the New Number Nine, which appeared to be the grandest, and went there, but the entryway and windows were completely dark, so we reluctantly went to the Tokyo Hotel located behind it.

“What country?” The small side-window opened, accompanying the voice.

The woman’s face, back-lit to black in the window-light, peered not at Andrew, the one standing at the opening, but rather at me, though who stood behind him.

Chinese,” Alexander said, laughing.

“We’re full!” and with that, the window shut.

“Peh!” Alexander spat on the pavement.

“Even if we go to the Tivoli, they’ll be sleeping. Let’s go to Honmoku!”

Alright, I answered.

After that, we discussed whether we should choose Jūniten or Shokō while we road a taxi toward Honmoku.

In the end, since the Kio Hotel is so bourgeois, we ended up taking the latter. The car sprinted along the late-night seashore.

We turned into a narrow alley, and when we passed the front of a hotel lighting a nightingale lantern in a plum tree, Alexander made the car stop. We entered a hotel called Étoile. In the bright, charming lobby, ten or more women, gorgeous as June peonies, stood in a line.

To Alexander this was already familiar: he explained that I could to choose whichever woman most attracted my attention.

The girls surrounded Alexander, shouting “Sasha! Sasha!” Alexander’s girl, sporting a beautiful bobbed haircut and severe eyebrows,  looked as though she couldn’t be more than 17 or 18.

“Sasha, let’s tango!” she said, twining around his body.

My own selection was pressed on by the mistress of the establishment. I ended up pointing out, all the way on the far end of the crowd of girls, a slender pale-faced one who was looking the other way.

She captivated me from the start. It was because she wasn’t smiling at me like the other girls, and what’s more, I could feel an awfully timid, pitiful charm in those big, sorrowful eyes and sharp shoulders.

However, the mistress, the other girls, even Alexander found this not a little unexpected. Nonetheless, I had her sit on my lap and I caressed that colorless face.

The pair of us paid twenty-five yen. The transaction completed, we entered our respective rooms. My girl folded my clothes and put them away in the dresser. “Are you an important person?” she asked, stroking my hair with a bony finger. Her voice hoarse, she made a sound like a long sigh.

“Ah, a nobleman. I’m a baron,” I lied.

“Oh? Wonderful.” Her voice rumbled like the wind.

“Are you sick? Are you having chest trouble?”

“I’m sorry. I…I might die.”

“Ok, fine. If you die then I’ll die too!”

“My, aren’t you a glib talker.”

I embraced her small head against my chest.

“Please stop. I…I have an even worse disease than that,” She said. Turning her lips away, she coughed.

“Ok ok,” I said, and against my will I held her cheeks in my arms. – That kind of disease linked millions upon millions of men and women across long centuries. – To say it another way, the love between men and women is of the same quality. – These words of Alexander’s came to my mind as I…

The above story is a previously untranslated work by Watanabe On, a Japanese author who was active in the first half of the 20th century. This story was originally published in 1929 in the literary magazine “Storytelling” (講談雑誌). The original text can be found on Aozora Bunko.