The Bamboo Gate

Oba Shinzo, an office worker, lived on the outskirts of Tokyo and commuted to his office in the Kyobashi district; every morning without fail he would walk briskly the more than a mile to the station, saying that it was ideal exercise. Of a gentle disposition, he was well liked at the office.

His family consisted of his old mother, who was sixty-seven or eight and exceedingly hearty, his wife of twenty-nine, his wife's younger sister Okiyo, his seven-year-old daughter Rei, and a maid called Otoku who had been with them five or six yearsa total of six persons, himself included.

His wife, who was sickly, took little hand in domestic affairs. Household matters were mostly in the charge of Okiyo and Otoku, helped by his busy old mother. The authority of the maid Otoku was especially strong; her age was only twenty-three, but she had announced her resolve to serve the family all her life, and sometimes even the old mother had to give way to her. From time to time, Okiyo would complain that Otoku liked her own way too much, but she was always defeated in the end by Otoku's earnest concern for the family's best interests.

On the other side of a hedge stood a small building, little better than a shed. Here lived a gardener and his wife. The husband was some twenty-seven or twenty-eight, his wife around the same age as Otoku. The two women, next-door neighbors, were a good match for each other in gossiping.

When the gardener and his wife first moved in, they had asked permission to draw water from the Oba's well, having none of their own. The Oba's, thinking it a reasonable enough request, agreed. Another two months or so passed, and they came again to ask if they could make a gap of about three feet in the hedge, so that they would not have to go round via the gate every time. This aroused considerable objections among the Oba's. Otoku in particular insisted that it would amount to making a way in for burglars. But thanks to the perennial good-nature of Shinzo, the master of the house, permission was given in the end, on condition that a stout wooden gate should be made and kept strictly closed. The gardener, however, cut some green bamboo from a nearby thicket and made a rough-and-ready gate of bamboo interspersed with fronds of cryptomeria.

Do you call this a gate?"said Otoku in a loud voice when she saw it. Where's the latch? You might just as well not have a gate at all."

Ogen, the gardener's wife, overheard her as she was washing out the rice-pot at the well.

It's good enough,"she said. How can you expect us to make the proper kind of gate like a carpenter? "

Then why don't you get a carpenter to make it? "asked Otoku, incensed. She was perfectly aware how poor the gardener and his wife were.

I would, too, if it was worth his while!"

He'll come if you ask him, "said Otoku, unable to resist another dig.

Ogen, who hated to get the worst of things, looked put out at this, but knowing the power that Otoku wielded in the Oba household, prudently kept herself in check.

Come now, let's leave it at that, " she said in a semi-concilatory tone. I shall be almost the only one to use it, so it's up to me to see it's kept shut. Any real burglar could get over the hedge or the front gate at any rate, so a gate like this doesn't really make any difference."

I suppose not,"said Otoku. So there'll be no need to worry if only you keep it strictly shut. I expect you know, thoughthere are lots of sneak-thieves and dishonest garbage collectors hanging about this district, and you need to be on your guard all the time. You know the place belonging to that military man Kawai next to the new baker's?

They say somebody the other day lifted a big copper bowl they'd only just bought."

Really? How?" said Ogen, pausing in the act of drawing water and turning to look at Otoku

It was out by the well, and they took it the very moment the maid went out to the back to hang up some washing. The gate was slightly open, they say, so it goes to show."

Well! You can't be too careful, can you? Don't worry, I'll watch out. But you take care too―“don't leave anything likely to be stolen lying around outside, even for a moment."

I normally don't do that kind of thing; but even so, it slips one's mind sometimes, doesn't it? You must be careful with garbage collectors and so on, too. To get through the gate they have to pass right by your house."

Of course I'll be careful. Even a piece of firewood or charcoal is too valuable to have stolen."

 It certainly is. Talking of charcoal, by the way, isn't it terribly dear lately? Lookthat's top quality hard charcoal at eighty-five sen a bale." She pointed to one of the bales lined up under the eaves between the well and the kitchen door. I wonder how much it contains? I'm sure it work out at so many sen a piece. It's like cooking with money, I can tell you. Both soft and hard charcoal are just about twice what they cost last year. It's too bad, really. " She sighed.

And you need a lot in your family, too, because there are so many of you. There's just the two of us, so we get by on very little. Even so, I have to buy three to five sen's worth loose almost every day. It's too bad."

It must be difficult, " said Otoku sympathetically.

Launched on the new topic of charcoal, the two of them dropped the question of the gate and within an absurdly short time were back on their old neighborly terms, gossiping twenty to the dozen.

It was the end of November, when days were at their shortest, and it was already getting dark when Shinzo, the head of the family, came back from the office. Hearing that the gate was finished, he slipped on a pair of wooden clogs and came round to the garden by the kitchen, still in his office clothes. For a while he just stood looking at the gate, smiling.

Quite a gate, isn't it, sir? " said Otoku at his side.

Did the gardener make this? "

Yes, sir. "

It's a very odd gate, but it's a good job for a gardener. " He laid a hand on it, and shook it. “Seems stronger than it looks. Well, this'll do. It's better than nothing, I suppose. I'll have the carpenter come sometime to make a proper one. A wooden gate's a wooden gate, even when its bamboo. " And he went off laughing into the house.

Ogen heard this from inside her own house.

He's real easy to get on with, the master is," she thought, giggling to herself. There aren't many people as kind as he is, for a start. The wife's nice too, and the old lady is a bit of a fuss, but she's awfully good at heart. Okiyo's a bit awkward at times, you expect it with someone who's been married and come home againbut she's a kind nature. "

She was going on in this fashion when the recollection of Otoku's sarcasm that day brought her up short.

If I wasn't under an obligation to the family, I'd never stand for any her talk. But these country misses, they get big ideas if people treat them at all well. And look what happens, the impudent little hussy! " she remembered Otoku's remark.

'Quite a gate, sir,' she says! I suppose she meant to find fault, but the master, thank heaven, wasn't having any of it. That showed her, that did!"

But she's got her points, one must admit, "she went on, changed her tack again. "Her looks aren't bad, and she'd still be young enough to find plenty of husbands, if she was like me. But then she's too keen on serving the family. And she's so awfully honest that the Oba's can trust her with anything…"

Thinking on these lines, Ogen lit the lamp and was going to replenish the brazier when she found there was not a single piece of charcoal left. Tutting to herself, she tested the battered old kettle with her hand. Fortunately, it was still warm. I hope he comes back while the water's still hot. But unless he brings back an advance today we shan't have any fire tonight or tomorrow. I can manage a fire by collecting leaves, but there's no rice for tomorrow either! "

This time, instead of tutting, she let out a feeble sigh. Sitting dejectedly in the dim light of the lamp, with her untidy hair and her pallid face, she was a very pathetic sight at that moment.

She was still sitting there when her husband Isokichi came dawdling back. Without preliminaries, Ogen asked him about the advance. Silently, he took a purse out of his apron and handed it to her. She inspected the contents.

Only two yen? "

Yes. "

What's the good of two yen? If you were getting an advance at any rate, you might just as well have got five yen. "

I can't help it if they won't let me have it. "

Yes, but I'm sure even the boss would let you have five yen if you asked right. Look here. " She showed him the empty charcoal box. We're out of charcoal too. If I buy rice tonight there won't be much money left. "

Isokichi, who had been puffing silently at his pipe, banged out the ash. He drew the small table toward him, helped himself to rice, and began eating. This consisted of pouring plain hot water onto the rice and downing the mixture noisily, but he seemed to enjoy it greatly.

Ogen sat in silence, fascinated by the sight of her husband eating. Five or six heaped bowlfuls disappeared, and still there was no sign of his stopping.

Are you as hungry as all that? " she asked, half annoyed, half amused.

I didn't have any afternoon break today," he said, helping himself to yet another bowlful.

Why? "

When I got there after making that gate the boss gave me a dirty look and complained about me coming latejust at the busiest time, he said. So I explained about the gate, but he said that's got nothing to do with methe bastard! So I thought what the hell, and I went hard at it, and when they brought something to eat at around, two or three I refused to look at it. The maid came and said, come and eat, it's nice seaweed rolls today, but I just kept on with my work. So one way or another I wasn't at all keen on asking the boss for an advance, but I couldn't very well not either, so as we were leaving I asked him to let me have five yen. Ha, ha, he says, so you want to slack and have an advance, do you? Some people's skins are thick, I must say. You'll have to make do with this, then. And he handed over two yen. Can I help it? "

Thus Isokichi disposed at one and the same time of the reasons for his hunger and the fact that he had only got a two yen advance. And as he finished talking, he put his chopsticks down at last.

Generally speaking, Isokichi was a man of few words and bad at expressing himself, but just occasionally he would let go in fine style, throwing in some invective for good measure. It delighted Ogen enormously. But though she had been living with him for some three years now, she still could not make up her mind whether he was a good worker or lazy. He would sometimes take three or four days off from work, occasionally as much as ten days, but when the fancy took him, she knew, he would do work enough for three ordinary men. So if only the fancy took him, she felt sure, they would be all right. She had never stopped to wonder at precisely what stage the fancy was going to take him. She also had a reassuring feeling that in a crisis he could do bold, drastic things that other people would hesitate at. Sometimes, though, she wondered. Sometimes it occurred to her that he might be unexpectedly lacking in self-respect. This only happened, however, at times when they were left completely destitute, and then the thought was so depressing that she tried as hard as possible to dispel it.

He was, in fact, a dark horse, and he always made the women in the Oba household feel rather uneasy. Even Otoku showed a certain deference to Isokichi. Ogen was secretly rather proud of the fact, and when Otoku behaved in this fashion, or when Okiyo used polite language to Isokichi, the joy welled up inside her.

The result was their perpetual poverty. Though their earning capacity ought to have been as its heights, they had no real home of their own, but lived forever in sheds or the corners of old storehouses. Thus the wives of the other gardeners came to look on Ogen as a mysterywhich was to say, a fool.

 Isokichi's meal over, Ogen rushed out with a basket and came back soon with some charcoal she had bought loose. Then, as she lit the fire, she chattered to Isokichi of her exchange with Otoku about the gate, and what the master had said when he saw it. Isokichi showed no sign of reaction at all.

Soon, Isokichi began yawning sleepily, so Ogen got out a single, grubby, wafer-thin quilt, spread another on top of it, and the two of them got into bed, and huddled close together. The cold night wind blew in through cracks in the walls and up through the floor; they bunched themselves up as small as possible, but still Isokichi's back was half exposed to the air.



December came, and the cold rapidly became more intense. Frost needles formed, there was ice on the puddles, and the sudden wintriness of Tokyo's suburbs startled those residents who, having fallen for the fashion for suburban living, were spending their first winter there. Oba Shinzo, however, was used to it, and every day went to work unperturbed in boots and a thick overcoat. Even so, the first Sunday of the month brought clear blue skies. The sun sparkled, not a breeze stirred the air, and the unseasonal tempted Shinzo's old mother and wife to go shopping downtown, taking little Rei and Otoku with them and leaving Shinzo and Okiyo to look after the house.

Any trip downtown from the suburbsreferred to by the normally stay-at-home women as going to Tokyo"required quite a flurry of preparation. So great was the commotion involved in getting the old lady, Shinzo's wife and daughter, and even Otoku changed and ready to go that their eventual departure left the house hushed and still, with an almost deserted feeling.

Shinzo, still in his padded silk kimono done up with a narrow sash, lounged around in his own den, which was warm and sunny. Toward noon, however, he began to get bored, and emerging from his study was strolling up and down the verandah when Okiyo called him from within the sliding doors:

Shinzo! "

What is it? "

'What is it,' indeed! " she tittered.There's nothing for lunch! "

Very well."

'Very well,' he says! "She tittered again.

There really isn't anything much, you know. "

He slid open the door of the room where she was and found her busily plying her needle.

You're hard at it, I see. "

It's a topcoat for Rei. Don't you like the pattern? "

He made no reply but gazed about the room.

I wonder you don't do your sewing in a room that gets more sun. Why, you haven't even got a brazier."

 “It's not enough to make my fingers numb yet. Besides, it's officially decided we're to economize this season. "

Economize with what? "

Charcoal. "

Charcoal's gone up, admittedly, but surely not enough for us to start cutting down on it all of a sudden?"

Shinzo, who dissociated himself completely from everyday household affairs, was quite ignorant of such matters.

Why, but Shinzo, we spent a good deal more on charcoal than on rice in November alone, and the three months when we need most charcoalDecember, January and Februaryare still to come. So it will be difficult if we don't economize all we can. Otoku moans all day long about the way we use charcoal and the price of it, and I don't wonder it. "

But what's the good if we cut down on charcoal and then catch colds or something? "

“I hardly think that's very likely."

At any rate, it's nice and warm today, isn't it? Even mother shouldn't feel the cold today."  He stretched and yawned. What' s the time? "

It's nearly twelve already. Shall I get lunch? " No I'm not at all hungry yet. I'ts funnyat the office, I can't wait to get at my lunch-box…"

He went out and peered in turn into all the rooms from the back parlor to the maid's room. In the maid's room, which he had never been in before, he found a window left about two feet open. He poked his head out idly, only to find himself gazing straight into the face of Ogen from next door, who had looked up instinctively at the same moment.

Her face crimsoned, and in her confusion she barely managed to falter out:

Just look what fine-quality charcoal you use in your house. "

She produced a piece of cut charcoal which she was holding in her hand. Beneath the window the bales of charcoal lay, already undone at the top; Ogen could not help passing near them on her way from the gate to the well.

Shinzo, also somewhat embarrassed, searched for a reply.

We men know nothing of charcoal, " he said. He flashed her a smile and promptly drew his head in again.

He went straight back to his den and pondered over Ogen's behavior. But it was difficult to reach any verdict. The most obvious theory was that she had been stealing the charcoal, but he could not be completely convinced of this. She might really just have been looking at it. She might have picked it  up to look at it as she was passing, then blushed for no particular reason at being so unexpectedly observed from above. It was possible, at least. Being disposed to accept this latter theory if at all feasible, Shinzo eventually made up his mind that it was so, and determined not to mention the matter to anybody.

It occurred to him that if, by any chance, she had in fact been stealing it would only make matters worse not to act. But he told himself that she was most unlikely to persist in her wrongdoing once she had been seen at it, and this persuaded him all the more strongly that he should keep the matter to himself.

Either way, he reflected, it had not been a wise policy to let the gardener make his bamboo gate at that spot.

Between three and half past the shopping expedition came trooping back home, and promptly assembled in the living room for a voluble recapitulation of the day's experiences. Not only Okiyo, but Shinzo himself were dragged out to listen and provide suitable interjections of interest and wonder. Little Rei had embarrassed them by insisting they buy her a large doll at the emporium at Shimbashi…a drunk had made a nuisance of himself on the train ... Shinzo's wife had bought him a finest-quality imported undershirt at a bargain price because he felt the cold so . . . when one went to town, one always ended up spending more than one intended ... and so on and so on, indefinitely. The people doing the talking, in fact, seemed to it all much more interesting than the listeners.

When a lull came in the chatter, Otoku got up as though she had suddenly remembered something, and, going out of the kitchen door, came back after a while round-eyed and with an unwontedly serious expression.

Well did you ever! " she exclaimed in a subdued voice, gazing round goggle-eyed at the others. Sensing that something had happened, they gazed back at her.

Well, did you ever! " she repeated. Okiyo, you haven't taken any of the charcoal from outside today, have you? "

No, I only used what was in the box. "

Then I was right! I've been telling myself for some time there was something funny about the way the charcoal was going down. Admitted the charcoal man cheats with by raising the bottom, that still wouldn't account for it going as fast as this, I told himself. So having my own idea, I had a little peep into Ogen's house through a hole in the shoji while she was out yesterday. And what do you think? " She dropped her voice still further. There were a couple of pieces of top-grade hard charcoal, all nicely banked up with ash, in that battered old brazier of theirs! I felt sure when I saw it, and thought of speaking to the old lady about it. But then I thought I'd set a trap first, just to make sure myself. And so I did today! " She smirked at them.

What sort of trap? " Okiyo asked with a worried air.

I made a mark on each of the top pieces of charcoal before I went out today. And what do you think? When I looked just now, four pieces of the top-grade charcoal had clean disappeared! And two big pieces of soft charcoal I'd put out on top with marks on them had gone too! "

Oh dear, how dreadful! " exclaimed Okiyo, scandalized. Shinzo's old mother and his wife exchanged glances in silence. Well, this is it," thought Shinzo, but he still decided to postpone telling what he had seen today. In fact, he did not have the heart to do so.

So now we know who the charcoal thief is, "said Otoku.What had we better do? " The question sounded rather flat. She had expected astonishment and a storm of debate, and the lack of vocal response from the master and everybody, in fact, except Okiyo had somewhat taken the wind out of her sails.

Do? " countered Okiyo after a short silence.

About what? "

The charcoal, of course, " said Otoku rather impatiently. If we leave it as it is, we shall just go on losing it for ever. "

How would it be under the kitchen verandah? " asked Shinzo. Since he had resolved not to disclose what he had seen, he had to make some suggestion, although he knew that even if they took no action at all. Ogen was not going to steal again in a hurry.

It's full up, " declared Otoku, dismissing the suggestion summarily.

I see, "said Shinzo, and lapsed into silence again.

Then how would this be? " proposed Shinzo's wife.We could take up the floor of the closet in Otoku's room and put the charcoal there for the time being at least. And we could clear out the closet in the middle room to put Otoku's things in."

Let's do that, then, " agreed Otoku promptly.

It's taking advantage of you rather . . " said Shinzo's wife to Otoku.

Not all; in fact, I'd prefer it if I can put my things in the closet in the middle room. "

Well, that's that, then,' said the old lady.But this kind of thing wouldn't have happened in the first place if only Shinzo had have a shed made without shilly-shallying when he was asked. There'd be no trouble if only there were a shed…"  Her long silence, it seemed, was only broken in order to complain about the shed again. Shinzo smiled and scratched his head embarrassedly.

No, the real trouble is the bamboo gate, you know, " said Otoku.That's why I said making a gate there was like making a way in for a thief. Though what's happened in fact is that the thief has made his own way in." Without realizing it, she had let her voice rise in pitch.

Quietly, quietly! " said the old lady. People will hear if you talk as loudly as that. I didn't want to make a gate there either, but now it's done it can't be undone in a hurry. If we blocked it up in too much haste it would only make relations awkward. The gardener himself is sure to get tired of that little shed of a place in the end and move out or do something. We'll block it up then; in the meantime, we'll keep quiet and pretend to know nothing. You, Otoku too, you mustn't mention the charcoal to Ogen under any circumstances. We didn't actually see her stealing it, and after all we should only do ourselves a disservice by making people of that kind resentful through making a fuss over a little bit of charcoal. Really. " The old lady was quite preoccupied expounding her own private fears.

Yes, that's really true, " said Okiyo, echoing the old lady's anxiety. You always tend to make insinuations, Otoku, but you'd better not try it with Ogen. She'll take you up on it and then anything may happen. There's something about her husband Isokichi that makes me nervous. He's a queer fish. Just the kind of man who'd fly at you without caring about the consequences. " The old lady had not mentioned Isokichi by name, but that, of course, was what she had had in mind.

Come now, he's only a man like any other, "said Shinzo, getting up.Even so, it's best not to get mixed up with him. "

He went off to his study and, the charcoal question having been settled for the moment, Otoku and Okiyo hastily set about preparing the evening meal.

Otoku was secretly eager to see what sort of face Ogen would put on things, but was puzzled when she failed to put in her usual appearance at dusk to draw water at the well.

About an hour after sunset, Isokichi came to draw the water himself.



Although she had been seen by Shinzo, Ogen believed she had passed things off successfully. She had put some soft charcoal in the sleeve of her kimono, wrapped up some of the fine-quality charcoal in her apron, holding it in place with her left hand, and had been about to take one more piece  when Shinzo had looked down from the window.

But the master was good-natured and unsuspicious by nature, and she doubted whether he had realized anything was amiss. Nevertheless, as dusk approached she could not bring herself to go to draw water as usual.

So she went to bed, with the quilt up over head, before Isokichi got home from work. But though she lay down, she could not sleep. Thin though the grubby quilts were, at night she and Isokichi kept the cold out with the warmth of each other's bodies, but alone the bed was hard as a board, refusing to fit into her body, and she felt twice as cold as she had done up. She started to shiver, so she curled herself into a ball, bringing her legs up as close to her body as possible, till finally she scarcely looked like a human being asleep at all.

Thinking things over, she began to feel uncomfortable. She was used to poverty, but not to thieving. Admittedly, the value of the charcoal she had been pilfering during the past few days was slight, but this was the first time she had, when nobody was looking, unmistakably taken something belonging to somebody else. The thought made her feel uneasy in a way she had never known before, an uneasiness mingled with both fear and shame.

Today's incident floated up vividly in her mind's eye. She could see the master's face clearly as he looked down at her, and the thought of how she had held out the charcoal in her hand to cover her embarrassment brought the blood flaming to her cheeks.

Whatever was I up to? " she exclaimed in voluntarily. By progressive stages, she became more agitated. What shall I do if it comes out? …How could it, though-the master's too kind-hearted….But you never know with kind-hearted people. ….Kind-hearted people are stupid.…. " Gradually, the solitary exchange grew more worked up.

Stupid, stupid, stupid! " she cried again. Then she snorted defiantly and added, as a kind of after thought. As if they could find out, anyway. "

She put her head out from under the quilt. The sun had set and the moon was shining on the paper of the sliding door at the entrance. But she made no move to get up and light the lamp, drawing her head in immediately and curling up into a ball again. She was still there when Isokichi came home.

On being told that she had gone to bed with a splitting headache, he himself placidly lit the lamp, put more charcoal in the brazier under the kettle, which was getting cold, and went to draw water. While the water was boiling he sat puffing at a fill of tobacco in his miniature pipe.

What sort of pain? "he asked.

Getting no reply, he stared a while at the round hump in the quilt.

What sort of pain, I said? "

Still there was no reply, and he fell silent. Soon the water boiled, so he poured it, as usual, straight onto the stone-cold rice, and began munching at the crisp pickled radish as though it were a long-awaited feast.

The sound of Ogen sobbing came from under the quilts, but the noise of crunching pickle and rice being swallowed, and his total absorption in the food before him prevented Isokichi from hearing it, and by the time he had finished eating the sobbing had stopped.

He began tapping on the edge of the brazier; the quilts began to heave, and soon Ogen was sitting by the brazier, still half wrapped in the bedclothes. Her kimono gaped open slightly at the front, showing her knees, but she made no move to adjust it; her face, he noticed, was suffused with blood and her eyes moist with tears. She was sobbing steadily.

What's up, I asked youtell me! " he said, but, as was his nature, he showed no sign of surprise or alarm.

Isokichi, I'm thoroughly fed up, " she began, her voice tearful. I've been having with you for three years now, and it's been a hand-to-mouth kind of existence. Not a single day when life was really worthwhile. It's not that I want an easy life, but this is too much even for me. Look at us, we're little better than beggars! Are we? "

Isokichi made no reply.

All we're doing is eating to keep alive. People hardly ever actually starve, that means everybody at least eats enough to keep alive. I feel that's just not enough for a human being. " She wiped the tears with the sleeve of her kimono. You've got a trade like other people, haven't you? And there are only two of us to support, aren't there? But what happensthe same poverty, day in day out, and it's not just poverty at that. We've never once lived in a decent house. Always this kind of shed or"

Do stop your endless chatter, woman! "

He banged the ash out of his pipe roughly against the brazier, still avoiding facing her directly.

Go on, get angry if you want to, "she said, growing excited.Tonight for once I'm going to have my say, whatever happens. "

Nobody likes being poor. "

Then why do you always have at least ten days off every month? You don't drink and you don't have other amusements outside the house. If only you went to work properly we shouldn't be poor like this. "

He was silent, gazing into the ash in the brazier.

If only you'd got more go in you, we shouldn't be stuck as we are, not able to buy even a decent bale of charcoal…"

She threw herself down on the quilts and began to cry. Suddenly, Isokichi got up, stepped down into the unfloored entrance, thrust his feet into a pair of straw sandals, and darted out of the house. It was a clear moonlit night with no breeze, but a cold that chilled to the marrow. Isokichi hurried out to the new road and along it half a mile or so, to call on his friend Kinji. He stayed playing chess with Kinji till ten-thirty, then, as he was leaving, asked him for the loan of one yen. Kinji refused: tomorrow, yes, but tonight he was without a sen.

There was a charcoal shop on the way home. It sold sake, firewood, and charcoal by the bale. The Oba's got their firewood and charcoal here, and here Ogen came to buy charcoal too. The shops in these newly developed suburbs shut early, and this one was already closed. He loitered for a while in front of it, then suddenly hoisted on to his shoulder one of the bales of a charcoal piled up in the front, and made off down a path into the paddy fields by the side of the shop.

Hastening home, he set the bale down with a thud in the entrance. Ogen, who had cried herself to sleep, woke up at the sound but did not call out. It did not even occur to her to wonder what the noise had been. Isokichi too said nothing, but crept into the bed behind her.

The next morning Ogen noticed the bale of charcoal.

What's this, Isokichi? " she asked in astonishment.This bale of charcoal. "

I bought it, of course, " he said from beneath the quilt. He stayed there till the meal was ready.

Where did you buy it? "

Does it matter? "

Can't I ask? "

A shop near Hatsu's. "

Why ever did you buy it so far away? " She paused. Oh, IsokichiI suppose you wouldn't pay the money for the rice today? "

He got up.

You kept harping on about you couldn't buy charcoal, so I went to Kinji's house last night to borrow some, but the bastard didn't have any. So I went straight to Hatsu's place, asked him to lend me a little to buy charcoal with. If one bale's enough, he said, all generosity, you can get it from our sake shop. So I went straight there and got it in his name. That should do you for four or five days, won't it? "

I should think so, " said Ogen happily. She wanted to open the bale at once, but decided to put off the pleasure and busied herself getting breakfast instead.

Four or five days, indeed! " she said as she worked.That'll last us ten in our house! "

The previous night she had worried a lot after Isokichi had rushed out of the house, and had concluded that if she was going to urge her husband to have more go, it was no good lying around being depressed herself. She also decided that it would only look more suspicious if she did not show herself to the neighbors.

So she sent Isokichi off with his packed lunch as usual. She had breakfast herself and cleared away, then took a bucket and opened the gate.

Okiyo and Otoku were out there. Seeing her, Okiyo said:

Ogen, you're looking dreadfully pale. Is something wrong? "

I've had a bit of a cold since yesterday. . . "

Oh dear! You must be careful, you know. "

Otoku was silent, save for a brief Morning. "

Then, seeing Ogen staring pale and wide-eyed at the spot where the bales of charcoal had stood, she gave a smirk. It was not missed by Ogen, who glared back at her. This Otoku took as evidence that they were already quarreling. She wanted to give vent to some cutting sarcasm, but restrained herself because of Okiyo's presence. Just then a boy of eighteen or nineteen arrived through the gate to take orders for Masuya. Mausya was the name of the shop from which Isokichi had stolen the charcoal the previous night.

Good morning, ladies, "said the errand-boy politely. Then, missing the bales of charcoal that had been standing there outside until the day before, he said,

Hullo, where've you put the charcoal! "

Oh, we've put it all inside, " responded Otoku promptly, as if she had been waiting for the chance. It's just not safe to leave it outside, you see. With the price of charcoal today it's silly to let even a piece of it get stolen. "

She looked at Ogen. Okiyo glared at Otoku. Ogen, having drawn her water, was already a few paces off.

It really isn't safe, "said the boy. We finally had a bale stolen from our shop last night. "

How? " asked Okiyo.

Because we always leave it piled up outside unattended."

What did they take! " pressed Otoku, her eyes on Ogen.

Best-quality hard charcoal. "

Their words reached Ogen's ears as she made her way unsteadily out through the gate, her teeth clenched.

Inside the entrance, she almost flung the bucket down and hastily opened the bale.

Best-quality hard charcoal! " The exclamation came involuntarily.

Otoku got a thorough scolding from both the old lady and Shinzo's wife. When dusk came and Ogen had put in no appearance, Okiyo, feeling worried, went to see her, intending to cheer her up and enquire about her cold at the same time. So still was everything inside the house that she called out: Ogen, Ogen! "There was no reply, so

she timorously opened the sliding door. Ogen was hanging dead from a sash tied to the beam in the center of the entrance; she had used the charcoal bale, it seemed, to stand on.

Two days later, the bamboo gate was taken down, and the hedge reverted to its previous state.

Another two months, and Isokichi had taken another woman of about the same age as Ogen as his wife, and was living in the village of Shibuya. But the house they lived in was, again, little better than a pig-pen.

Translated by John Bester

Kunikida Doppo (1871-1908) was born in Choshi, a town of close on 100,000 inhabitants in Chiba Prefecture, near Tokyo. In 1887 he entered the English Language Department of Tokyo College. In1889 he was baptized as a Christian. Fond of reading Wordsworth and Carlyle, he wrote his own first work. Uncle Gen (Gen Oji) in 1897. In

1901, he published Musashino, and in 1905 a collection of short stories.

In 1906 he founded his own publishing house, Dopposha, but it went bankrupt the following year.

His work can be divided into three periods. The first, which can perhaps be called his lyrical period, and lasted from 1894 to 1901, saw publication of his poems in a collection entitled Doppogin, and the stories The Unforgettables(Wasurerarenu Hitobito), Uncle Gen (Gen Oji ), Mist on the River (Kawakiri ),and Musashino..

The second period, from 1901 to 1904, saw the appearance of some of his most mature and characteristic works—works such as Beef and Potatoes (Gyuniku to Bareisho). In the contrasts he draws between ideal and actuality, fate and the individual, social convention and real life, he reveals himself as the most intellectual of the romantics.

In the third and last period, from 1904 to 1908, the failure of his business ventures seems to have wrought a major change in his creative activity. Works such as Laughter and Tears (Nakiwarai), Extra (Gogai), Death in Despair (Kyushi), and The Bamboo Gate, translated in this issue (Take no Kido) are more objective and more socially aware than the works of his second period. Death in Despair (Kyushi) is perhaps one of the most important works produced by the Japanese naturalists.



The short story appearing here, “The Bamboo Gate"(Take no Kido) was first published in the magazine Chuo Kouron in January, 1908. It is a fine, unique work written in his final years as he was suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis and in financial hardship. In this story, he writes about the daily life of poor people in an objective but warm-hearted naturalistic style, comparing the home lives of white-collar workers in the Tokyo suburbs and artisan workers of the “bamboo gate."

 “The Bamboo Gate" (Take no Kido) in English translation was published in October 1964 by the Pen Club of Japan. (From The Japan P.E.N. News No.13, 1-5, 1964)



The Japan P.E.N. Club, in order to preserve them in an archive of modern Japanese culture, is digitizing the English translations of literary works as they appeared in The Japan P.E.N. News (irregular publication dates, July 1958-September 1971) and will publish them at irregular dates online in the Digital Library - International Edition.


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(July 15,1871-June 23,1908.) Poet, novelist. Born in Choshi city, Chiba Prefecture. Kunikida was exposed to Christianity while he was a student of Tokyo Senmon Gakko (now Waseda University), and undertook the task of guiding young people after his baptism in 1891. He joined the National Newspaper Publishing Company, was a war correspondent on board a warship, and wrote serial reports under the title of “Brotherhood Correspondence” (Aitei Tsushin), gaining a good reputation as a writer. He married the daughter of the manager of KYOFUKAI Japan Christian Woman’s Organization, but his marriage fell apart and joined Minyu Sha in 1896. From those days he began to create a new style of poems (Sintai Shi), and published “Doppogin”.Then he published “Ima no Musashino” (later changing the title to “Musashino”) in the magazine “Kokumin no Tomo”. Though he became a one of the pioneers of Japanese Naturalism, the evaluation of his works was not high at that time. After his death at age 36, his works became more highly evaluated, and he has become known one of the representative writers of modern Japanese literature.

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