A Cold Night (KANYA)

  It was a very cold day. I went out for a little walk. I was suddenly reminded of an appointment with a friend of mine, a Western-style painter. I called him by public telephone. Apparently he was already tired of waiting, and said reproachingly, "What's all this? I have been burning coal in the studio all this time, since early morning. Hurry up!"
      It was true that on that day, I had agreed to go out to his place early in the morning. He was working on a piece entitled "Fishing." I had agreed to serve as his model of a fisherman.
        I heard him speak loudly on the other end of the line,
          "Look, I can't help becoming irritated having to wait for anyone. Don't you understand that your mood is everything, when you want to paint? If something was the matter with you, you could have called me in advance. In such a state of mind, I don't think I'll ever compose."
            If he was being that unpleasant, I was not willing to become his model, either.
              "How about cancelling it, then? You may blame me for not keeping my word. If you are really unpleasant, I want to refuse to be your model. I am no less busy than you are."
                Then it was his turn to be stern.
                  "Don't you do that! You must have grown tired of being a model of a fisherman. But I have my own plans. I feel the hardships of a fisherman in your face. Your low nose is typical of a fisherman's. Don't waste time. Grab a cab and come right away!"
                    "I'm now taking a walk. I'll be there in an hour or so. I have to get my overcoat from my home."
                      "You don't have to worry about your overcoat. After all you are a model of a fisherman. Night clothes would be perfectly all right. You should take the blame for breaking your promise. Come right away!
                        " He hung up without hearing my answer.
                          He is an impetuous man and is especially selfish toward me. He behaves as if he had the right to be selfish in this manner toward those who love his work as I do. I have accepted it with a sense of resignation and have been trying not to offend him as if it were something almost pleasant.
                            I took a cab and hurried to his home. In the studio coal was burning heartily in the stove. He sat in front of the canvas, awaiting my arrival.
                              "Sorry to have kept you waiting. Is it all right dressed as I am now?'' I asked him, wiping my dim glasses. Pointing to a corner of the studio, he said,
                                "Look there. I want you to wear that. I borrowed it from a fishmonger in the neighborhood. He says that's the way shore fishermen dress.''
                                  It was a short coat, striped, fishy and wrinkled all over―a miserable thing, indeed.
                                    "Do you really mean to have me wear this?"
                                      I restrained myself and put it on. I wore the sash, baring my chest like a fisherman.
                                        "Put on that cap. I borrowed it from the same man. He says that it should serve the purpose all right.''
                                          It was an ordinary hunting-cap. It smelled of fish though, same as the short coat. At first I shrank from its smell. As I kept posing a fisherman dropping a line, however, I gradually became used to the smell. It was the posture of a fisherman as he feels the bite about his fingers, while resting his elbow on the side of the boat. For the side of the boat, my friend used a footstool. Since the painting was a half-length portrait, the stool served the purpose.
                                            He told me to remove my glasses, and started working on the dessin. I had to keep still as much as possible and forbore my eagerness to smoke.
                                              A pipe in his mouth, he started drawing as if he were cutting the canvas with a piece of chalk. I cast a side glance at him. He looked full of confidence. When, however, I turned toward the window at the buzzing of a plane, he scolded me as if I had done something outrageous.
                                                "No! Don't you move! "
                                                  Then, he refilled his pipe and started smoking with gusto, saying, "I'll tell you a story. A certain great French postimpressionist once had a lady for his model. She moved without being told to do so. Thereupon, the painter said to her, 'I draw a person with exactly the same attitude as I draw an apple.' This was a remark he made in his fury, I'm told. What he meant is that a model should sit still like an apple."
                                                    Maybe it was a proper demand for a painter. From the standpoint of his model, she naturally wanted him to be more generous. By way of the story, my friend started telling me about the devotion of this French painter while he was working on the dessin. Not allowed to move an inch, I was far from interested in listening to his talk.
                                                      This thoughtless friend of mine seemed to take everything for granted.
                                                        While serving as a model, I was given a break every thirty minutes. The dessin was completed toward the end of the day. I was given a two-hour break and a bowl of rice with fried shrimps on it.
                                                          I was completely exhausted. But my friend declared that he wanted to continue to paint, this time on the pretext of not wishing to have me make many trips. He then put on a daylight lamp in the studio. It was dazzling bright. Holding a palette, he started to paint. Every thirty minutes he gave me a break as before. To him I was just an apple. He went on and on with his work feverishly.
                                                            He became exhausted. I became even more so.
                                                              He decided to stop for the time being. I found myself released at long last. The clock showed it was quite late at night.
                                                                "Oh, dear, I can't waste a moment, or I shall miss the train."
                                                                  Taking off the short coat. I put on my clothes. Hurriedly I left his home and ran to the railroad station. I was just in time for the last train for Asakawa.
                                                                    The inside of the train was heated. I stretched out and leaned against the window, feeling relieved. That was how I made the slip. Feeling at rest, I closed my eyes. I then fell asleep.
                                                                      The train took me to the Asakawa terminal. The station employee whom I asked told me there was no train going back that night. I asked him if there was an inn where people were still up. He replied that these days the inns all closed early in the evening. There was no taxi, either. Just to make sure, I asked him the same question again. His answer turned out to be the same. It was a very natural answer for a station employee to make, and there was nothing to blame. The fault was mine for having fallen asleep carelessly, while knowing that it was the last train.
                                                                        I went out through the wicket, and sat on a bench on the wide dirt floor. It would take hours to walk home from Asakawa probably it would be the dawn even if I walked straight along the railroad track. One had to go through Hachiōji, Toyoda, Hino, Tachikawa, Kunitachi, Kokubunji, Musashi Koganei, Musashi Sakai, Mitaka, Kichijōji and Nishi Ogikubo....
                                                                          I went out into the public square in front of the station. I could not find any taxis. Entering the public telephone booth, I turned the pages of the directory and called the taxi companies one after another. There was no answer at all.
                                                                            The cold was biting. I wore no overcoat. I was dressed thinly for taking a short walk. Furthermore, I was extremely tired after sitting as a model all day. The fatigue and the cold conspired to make the aftermath of the sleep on the train even more uncomfortable.
                                                                              I went out of the telephone booth, returned to the dirt floor of the station and sat on the bench again. I had to leave the bench right away. The cold of the late night did not allow me to sit still.
                                                                                I thought of going to the police box and asking for help. Something indescribable, something akin to restraint prevented me from doing so. After walking around in the public square for some time, I went into the telephone booth and called the operator. I still believe that I never spoke to her in a begging manner.
                                                                                  “Hello, hello. May I ask you something? Do you happen to know any inn where they will admit me now? I overrode myself in the last train, and am at a loss, because I can't go back. Forgive my personal call at this late time of night. Since this is a personal call, I'll put a 5 sen coin in the slot for the fee, of course.''
                                                                                    I put the coin in the slot.
                                                                                      "Oh, did you deposit the fee?"
                                                                                        The operator's voice sounded very cheerful. To exaggerate it, her voice sounded as bright and cheerful as the voice of a young maiden standing amidst a flowering field. Probably the fire was burning either in the fireplace or the stove, making her office comfortably warm.
                                                                                          "But, will you please wait a moment?" Saying this, there was a pause which would have given her time to consult with her colleagues, then she said, ''Hello. They say the inn people have already gone to bed. There may be an inn where they will wake up for you. Let me try. Will you please hang on?"
                                                                                            I kept stamping my feet to ward off the cold, and waited, hoping they would wake up.
                                                                                              After waiting for about ten minutes, I heard the same cheerful voice of the operator again.
                                                                                                "I'm sorry to have kept you waiting. I tried half a dozen inns. But there was no answer. If it were summertime, I could suggest that you sleep on the bench over there. You must be at a loss because of this cold."
                                                                                                  "Thank you. Talking with you over the phone itself makes me feel better."
                                                                                                    "When does the first train in the morning start?"
                                                                                                      "Probably there are three or four hours to wait yet. Thanks for your trouble."
                                                                                                        "Wait. Just a moment."
                                                                                                          There was another pause during which she could have talked it over with her colleagues. This time she spoke in a little lower voice.
                                                                                                            "I'll tell you. If you don't mind the unpresentable room. Yes, it's a very dirty room, indeed. The hostess of our boarding house, I mean the lady living on its first floor, would be glad to get up any time at night. I'll call her. Why don't you go there?"
                                                                                                              "Is that far from here, I mean your boarding house? I don't mind if it's far as long as she will let me stay there. Do they give lodgings late at night at the boarding house?''
                                                                                                                "I'll call her aud tell her about you. They are supposed to have a vacant room. I'll tell her that you are my acquaintance. Since it's a cheap boarding house, the rooms are very dirty. If there is no vacant room, I'll tell her to arrange a room, somehow."
                                                                                                                  Then the operator gave me directions to the house. I kept pressing the receiver hard against my ear lest I should miss a word. I was to go out of the public square in front of the station, turn to the right, take the second turn to the left and go straight on, until I saw on my right a two-storied house with a signboard "My House." The signboard is painted and the house is western style but is no different from a partitioned tenement-house in a suburb.
                                                                                                                    After repeating the directions once again, the operator said, 'If you get lost, please call me again. It's a large signboard, so that you can't miss it even in the dark. Good luck, then...."
                                                                                                                      In this way she showed incredible kindness.
                                                                                                                        Her kindness touched me as being very rare and precious, and I was even glad that I had ridden past my stop. I then followed the way as directed by her. There it was. I found the signboard saying "My House.''
                                                                                                                          It was exactly the kind of house she had described. "My House" was a two-storied tenement house converted into a boarding house. The large painted signboard was at the door, beside which was a noodle box, substituting for a pot, in which was planted a fatsia japonica. The entrance to the middle one of the three partitioned houses served as the main entrance of the house. It was a glazed door. On the signboard one could read the telephone number, which apparently was added later.
                                                                                                                            With reserve I knocked on the door. A few minutes later the light went on behind the glazed door. I heard someone stepping onto the dirt floor.   I spoke to the person through the door.
                                                                                                                              "Good evening. Will you give me lodging?"
                                                                                                                                "Who is this?"
                                                                                                                                  The voice sounded sullen.
                                                                                                                                    "She called you about me some time ago. Won't you give me lodging?"
                                                                                                                                      "I'm sorry, but all rooms are occupied."
                                                                                                                                        Despite her remark, the person inside opened the door for me. I could not see her face clearly against the light. A woman of forty years old or so went on saying in a reproachful tone, "Yes, Gamō-san called several minutes ago. Early this evening we still had a vacant room. After she had left, the room became occupied, you see. She thought the room was still vacant."
                                                                                                                                          If that was the case, there was nothing to be done.
                                                                                                                                            "Oh, is that so?" Well, I'm sorry to have bothered you."
                                                                                                                                              I bowed and was about to leave, when the woman stopped me.
                                                                                                                                                "Look. I didn’t mean to refuse you. It was a special request from Gamō-san. I'll show you the room, anyway."
                                                                                                                                                  In this case, I was an entirely uninvited guest. I told myself that I should rather sleep on the bench at the station. Still I followed her as if driven by cold and sleepiness.
                                                                                                                                                    The stairs squeaked. On the second floor, there was a long passage. The woman opened the sliding door of the room at the end of the passage and put on the light.
                                                                                                                                                      "This is the room. Gamō-san asked me to make a bed. There, it's for you, sir."
                                                                                                                                                        "I'm obliged to you."
                                                                                                                                                          But I hesitated to go into the room. In addition to the bed, I could see a small mirror stand, a desk, a bookcase, a mandolin as well as a woman's kimono and a haori hung on bamboo hangers, as if to tempt my male instinct.
                                                                                                                                                            "But this room is occupied by someone, isn't it?"
                                                                                                                                                              The woman sneered and looked at my face. She must have thought that I was pretending ignorance while I knew everything about it just by the look of the things.
                                                                                                                                                                "That's why Gamō-san called me, asking me to make the bed. When I told her that there were no more vacant rooms, she asked me to let you sleep in her room instead. I told her that I did not like to have a stranger stay here late at night. Only because she insisted on your being a friend of hers, I finally agreed."
                                                                                                                                                                  I had never counted on being given lodgings in this manner. To stay here, as I was told to, would be going too far in taking advantage of her kindness. If on the other hand, I left without accepting the offer, the young operator would have inconvenienced the woman by waking her up late at night.
                                                                                                                                                                    Seeing me standing in dumb surprise, the woman said.
                                                                                                                                                                      "Now, go to bed. It's cold, you see."
                                                                                                                                                                      She left the room without bidding me goodnight and spoke to me across the door―this time in an amiable voice.
                                                                                                                                                                          "Good night, then. She'll be back at eight tomorrow morning." Some laughter was mingled in her voice.   "Gamō-san is really a smart girl, indeed. She appears innocent....Well, she'll have no end of trouble, doing thing like this, you know."
                                                                                                                                                                            When her footsteps downstairs ceased to be heard, I looked around the room. On the desk, there were an ink bottle, a tiny fountain pen which looked like a toy and a book entitled "Short Guide to New Organization." In the bookcase there were Selected Works of Yoshida Genjirō, Complete Works of Kamura Isota, The Lemon by Kajii Motojirō and old magazines. All these books appeared well-thumbed and seemed to have been read again and again. The mirror in the stand was covered with a crimson piece of rayon and everything was neatly arranged on the stand. The lining of the haori was again rayon with the pattern of thousand cranes dyed in purple on the crimson base.
                                                                                                                                                                              I looked at these items intently. But I refused to visualize the occupant of this room. There was no way of knowing where my imagination wander. I braced myself against it falling into an improper area by some chance.
                                                                                                                                                                                I turned off the light and slipped into the bed. The upper edge of the quilt smelt faintly of perfume and sweat. Because of my fatigue, I fell sound asleep right away.
                                                                                                                                                                                  The next morning I woke up with a dazzling light on my eyes. On the window I saw the back of a tall girl dressed in foreign fashion. She was pulling the white cotton curtain aside. It must be Operator Gamō. When I closed my eyes and turned my face away from the light, she quietly closed the curtain and went out of the room.
                                                                                                                                                                                    I crept out of the bed hurriedly. Going downstairs, I ran into the landlady at the door.
                                                                                                                                                                                      "Good morning, madame. Thanks a lot for what you did for me last night. Please give my best regards to the occupant of that room. I shall write a letter or thanks to her later."
                                                                                                                                                                                        Going outdoors, I breathed the cold air to my heart's content.
                                                                                                                                                                                          This happened several days ago. I haven't written Miss Gamō, the operator, a letter of thanks yet. Neither have I been back since then to pose as a fisherman for my friend.

                                                                                                                                                                                                             Translated by George Saito.

                                                                                                                                                                                              Translator's Note:
                                                                                                                                                                                                  Born of a reputable family in Hiroshima Prefecture, Ibuse had his early schooling in a small village such as depicted in a number of his stories written against the background of the Inland Sea of Seto. A graduate of Waseda University, one of Japan's largest private universities, where he majored in Japanese and French literature, Ibuse also showed keen interest in painting and took art lessons once or twice a week at another institution while a student at Waseda. His attachment to painting was revived after the war and Ibuse has been producing a number of paintings and works of ceramic art while doing creative writings. This is evidenced in the story as introduced here.
                                                                                                                                                                                                    Ibuse's writings are characterized by his sympathy and understanding for the people he depicts. Very often his characters are identified with himself. Behind practically every story, the reader may feel the warmth of the author with which he views human affairs. This story, written during the turbulent days preceding Japan's plunge into the last war, betrays the author's trust in man's good will, which was indeed precious in the light of the unfortunate days Japan had to face.      G. S.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Kan Ya “A Cold Night” was written around 1940 and was published by Jitsugyo no Nippon Sha in March, 1941, in the collection of short stories, Shigurejima Jokei “Shigure Island Scenery Sketch.” Ibuse writes that he published this work ‘to expose his true characters’ in postscript. It is an urban-style short novel with a distinct taste hinting of sensuality. The protagonist, who has overslept in the last train and cannot find an inn near the station in the unknown town, calls on a public phone in desperate move, and a female operator gives him her own room.
                                                                                                                                                                                                          A Cold Night (Kanya) was published in English translation by the Japan P.E.N. Club in March, 1966.
                                                                                                                                                                                                          (From The Japan P.E.N. News No.18, 1966)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                IBUSE Masuji
                                                                                                                                                                                                                This page was created on 2016/09/01

                                                                                                                                                                                                                Background Color

                                                                                                                                                                                                                Font Style

                                                                                                                                                                                                                • Default
                                                                                                                                                                                                                • For Weak-Eyed

                                                                                                                                                                                                                IBUSE Masuji

                                                                                                                                                                                                                Novelist. February 15, 1898 - July 10, 1993. Born in what is now Fukuyama City, Hiroshima Prefecture. Attended Waseda University Literature Department, though withdrew before graduation. Received the 6th Naoki Award in 1937 for John Manjiro Hyoryuki, “John Manjiro the Cast-away.” He was drafted into the army during the war and resided in occupied Singapore, an experience that affected his creative activities later on. His style was consistent in expressing the lives of ordinary people without missing any fine details. In 1965, he started the serialized story Mei no Kekkon, “Wedding of my Niece,” later renamed Kuroi Ame “Black Rain.” This acclaimed story about the Hiroshima A-bomb led to his receiving the Noma Prize for Literature in 1966. He was awarded the Order of Culture in the same year. Died at age 95. His other prizes include The Japan Art Academy Award.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                Other Works