Still Life

 "Good night, Father!"
     "Good night, Mother!"
       "Good night, E-V-E-RY-B-O-D-Y!"
         The children's voices rang throughout the house-lingering, suspended in midair, like exclamation points. Having changed into their night clothes, they scampered to see who could crawl into bed first. This game had just finished.
           "This woman sleeping next to me and facing my way . . . . She's the one I married," thought the father, who was the only one awake in the still night.
             "Just imagine . . . For fifteen years . . . I've always slept with this woman. Every night, in the same bed." When he was a child, he slept alone; it was the same in the army. But from the clay he was married, he began to share his bed. Two people, who were total strangers, began sleeping next to each other―like this.
               They rarely slept apart. How many months were they actually apart? About three? Probably. Then they were in separate rooms. She slept with their daughter who was about a year old. This arrangement, however, lasted only briefly. After that, they returned to the habit of sleeping together. Since then, they've never slept apart.
                 The father, the only one still awake, recalled that late evening on their wedding night when the moonlight streaming through the window lit his wife's face. She slept soundly, hardly breathing at all. She slept with a tiny ribbon still in her hair.
                   " . . . That," he said to himself, "was the beginning of our sleeping together."
                     The book he was reading, slipped out of his hands. He lost his place.
                      He picked it up again and looked for the proper page.
                         "Here it is. No, I've read this before. I dozed off about here. Now wait a minute, I remember reading this, too." He was totally confused.
                           He opened his sleepy eyes and began reading again. His eyes soon grew heavy. The book again slipped out of his hands.


                             "Iku-chan is coming this afternoon. We're going to make doughnuts. It is all right, Mother?" asked the daughter.
                               "Fine," answered the wife.
                                 "She said she'd bring some things with her."
                                   "She doesn't have to do that."
                                     "I know. I told her not to worry."
                                       "We've certainly got everything for making doughnuts."
                                         "That's exactly what I told her, but she said she'd bring them anyway."
                                           They were talking one Sunday before noon.
                                             Her friend came around two o'clock, carrying a bag of flour and a single egg. She was sweet-natured child who was always smiling, whenever you met her.
                                               "I want to make them, too !" the son began to pester.
                                                 "You mustn't want to do everything," said the father. "When girls make doughnuts, it's like homework for them. If you get in, you'll be interfering with their studies."
                                                   "I want to do homework, too !"
                                                     "Now listen. You know that the kitchen is too small. Three people can't work in there."
                                                       "I want to make doughnuts !" The boy pouted stubbornly. His eyes quickly filled with tears; they began streaming clown his face.
                                                         "All right, then." said the wife, "but remember, just for a while."
                                                           "Yes, Mommy." The boy was suddenly all smiles. The change of expression from grief to happiness was so incredibly fast.
                                                             The doughnut-making began in the kitchen. The wife was explaining the essentials.
                                                               "Make them small !" called out the father, who had nothing to do, "They taste better that way !" Then he retired by himself into the corner room. He was going to take a nap by folding a cushion into two and resting his head on it.
                                                                 "Don't be so greedy!" It was a girl's voice. The boy was getting scolded. He was probably very excited.  The father heard his wife's voice. He listened, thinking, that was the voice of the woman he was married to. She often used that certain tone when she was doing something with the children.
                                                                   He was suddenly reminded of the sound of sobbing which he had heard long ago. When was that? They were still living in the old house then. He was taking a nap one Sunday afternoon, just as he was doing now, with a folded cushion for a pillow, but in the upstair's room. It was towards evening. He suddenly heard a woman sobbing. When he rose and listened once more, it stopped. Thinking it strange, he remained perfectly still; the sobbing started again. What happened? Who was crying in the house? He couldn't imagine why.
                                                                     When he came down the stairs, the second child, who was still an infant, was sleeping under tiny covers. The daughter was out playing. When he looked into the kitchen, the wife was washing the spinach.  "Didn't you hear anything?"
                                                                       "Why no. Did you? " Her radiant face was turned his way.
                                                                         "I don't know, I thought I heard a noise somewhere. That's why I came down."
                                                                           Then what was all that sobbing about?. . . Those short, broken, sorrowful cries? Perhaps somewhere, something was rubbing together on account of the wind and was making that noise. Still-why did it sound so much like his wife, drying?
                                                                             He went back upstairs, but the sound never returned. At that moment there was no reason for his wife to cry. In fact, she wasn't crying. The father wondered, his eyes wide open.
                                                                               "This is mine !" It was the boy speaking. "See, I put a mark on it!"
                                                                                 There was laughter. Everyone was laughing.
                                                                                   Someone was running up the hall. The door opened.
                                                                                     "It's ready. Come on, Daddy!" Having delivered his message, the boy quickly ran out.
                                                                                       The father got up and went into the room where everyone had assembled. On the table the doughnuts were evenly divided and placed on individual plates.
                                                                                         ''Yes, it's delicious. As I've always said, the doughnuts taste better when they are small."
                                                                                           He tasted only one and, then, just watched the others eat. His wife urged him to try more, but he simply said, "I've had enough."
                                                                                             The daughter and her friend finished all the doughnuts on their plates.
                                                                                               When the boy was about to put the very last one in his mouth, the daughter cried out, "Wait ! Save a small piece !" But it was too late. The mouth, which was poised wide open, refused to listen, and snapped up the doughnut.
                                                                                                 "What a shame," said the daughter, dejectedly.
                                                                                                   "What's the matter?" asked his wife. "We forgot to save a piece for the goldfish."
                                                                                                     The boy wiped around his mouth with his hand as if to say there wasn't even a speck left.
                                                                                                       In fact, there was not a trace of a doughnut to be found, either on the plates or on the table.


                                                                                                         Shono Junzo (1921- 2009) was born in Tezukayama district in Osaka. His father was the principal of Tezukayama Girls School which was established in 1917. After graduating from middle school, he enrolled in the English Department of the Osaka Foreign Language School and acquired a taste for English essays by reading works such as Charles Lamb's Essays of Elia. He also developed an interest in the haiku and composed them with his classmates; in addition, he translated short stories by writers like Mansfield and published them in magazines. Ito Shizuo (1906-1953) , his Japanese language teacher in middle school, appears to have had great influence on Shono's literary career. This poet, who followed the German Romantics and known for his highly pure, lyrical works, not only introduced him into the field of poetry but encouraged him to write them.
                                                                                                           In 1942, he entered the Law Department of Kyushu University and majored in Asian History. In December of the following year, he was given a provisional status of a graduate and drafted into the navy. His first novel, Yuki-Hotaru (Snow-Lighting Bug) , written just before his military service, earned him the praise of Ito Shizuo. The jubilation over the poet's encouraging words played an important part by helping him endure the hardships of military life.
                                                                                                             With the end of the Pacific War in the summer of 1945, he was demobilized and taught history at a middle school. From this period he began seriously to write novels. In 1949, his Aibu (Embrace) and Buto (Dance) were recognized by the literary world, and he began receiving orders from magazines. In the fall of the same year, his father suddenly died; this event plunged Shono into two years of inactivity.  In 1951, the beginning of commercial broadcasting in Japan helped him to overcome his literary slump. He started working for Asahi Broadcasting Corporation where he was placed in charge of the educational programs and threw himself energetically into the task. The recovery of his former enthusiasm had its correspondingly beneficial effect on his literary productions, Koibumi (Love Letters) and Mofuku (Mourning Clothes) , both published in 1953, were nominated for the Akutagawa Award, the most covered prize for a literary hopeful, and in 1955, he received this distinguished honor for Purusaido Shokei (A Pool-side Scene) . Within his soft, exquisite, finely-textured lines-overflowing with balminess like the fragrance of incense, the author had deeply etched his own philosophy of life, reflecting the misery and insecurity of human existence. The literary circle wholeheartedly responded to this fresh work which permeated with the profound sense of gloom, by an author who had already established his professional reputation.
                                                                                                               After receiving the Akutagawa Award, he left Asahi Broadcasting Corporation to devote himself completely to writing. But in the wake of the lavish praises which the press had heaped upon the literary world upholding the energetic style of its postwar generation of writers, the literary world had apparently lost its resiliency to properly appreciate Shono's firm, restrained style. Hence, his career as a writer was not a happy one.
                                                                                                                 But during this period he received an invitation from the Rockefeller Foundation in America and left his hectic literary career for a year of quiet, carefree existence in Gambia, Ohio, beginning in August, 1957. This study abroad had a great influence on his writing.
                                                                                                                   After his return, Shono's style acquired additional depth. Moreover, his pen which had previously sought after the unhappiness behind human existence began to reverse itself; from the time of Gambia Taizaiki (My Stay Gambia, 1959) he began looking for happiness underlying human existence. In 1960, by such works as “Seibutsu” (Still Life) , which fully demonstrated his subtle, sensitive style, he received the Shincho Literary Award.
                                                                                                                     Still later, in his essay-type novels, which are full of lyricism, like Uki Todai (Floating Lighthouse) , Tsumugi no Uta (Thread-making Song, 1963) , Tori (Bird) , and Yube no Kumo (Last Night's Cloud) , have taken on more and more polish, and he is turning out increasingly creditable works.
                                                                                                                                              Translated by Ted Takaya

                                                                                                                        Work Posted
                                                                                                                          Still Life (Seibutsu) first appeared in Gunzo Magazine in June 1960. Shono’s depiction of peaceful and stable domestic daily life shows contrast to the unstable daily life the author experienced as he was drafted into the military as a student. The English title “Still Life” does more justice to the content of the story than the Japanese original “Seibutsu” which literally means “still thing.” The author’s message is clear, that peace and stability is important in human life, even if that life is mundane and ordinary. Considering this message, Still Life is a type of anti-war novel. An excerpt was translated into English and published by the Japan P.E.N. Club in February, 1966. (From The Japan P.E.N. News No.17 1966)

                                                                                                                          SHONO Junzo
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                                                                                                                          SHONO Junzo

                                                                                                                          Novelist. February 9, 1921 - September 21, 2009. Born in Osaka and graduated from Kyushu University with a Bachelor of Arts in Oriental History. On campus, Shono became acquainted with SHIMAO Toshio who was one year senior to him. With early graduation in 1943, he became a reserve student at the naval academy and a second lieutenant a year later. The end of the war saw him at the naval base on the Izu Peninsula. Discharged from military service, he first became a teacher and then joined the Asahi Broadcasting Company. He published his first anthology “Aibu” (Caress) in 1953. It was around this time that he got acquainted with writers who would later be called The Third New Faces. He received the Akutagawa Award in 1955 for “Poolside Scene.” In 1957 he went to study for a year at Kenyon College, Ohio, as a Rockefeller Foundation Fellow; his experiences bore fruit as his Gambia series of novels including “The Gambia Diaries.” He established a unique world highlighting the instability hidden in the ordinary lives of urban dwellers by depicting their daily life in a descriptive style. He was awarded the Shinchosha Literature Prize for “Seibutsu” (Still Life) in 1960. Receiving a number of other literary awards, he continued growing to be a mature author. He became a member of the Japan Art Academy, an affiliate of the Cultural Affairs Agency, in 1978.

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