2016年3月7日（月） ― 2016-03-07
in memory of Tsushima Yūko
Ten years ago, the journal Bungei put together a special issue on my work, and Tsushima-san contributed a wonderful essay to it. She mentioned the shock she’d felt at Nakagami Kenji’s untimely passing, and later, when I told her how moved I’d been by the memorial essay she’d written for him back then, she said, “Well, Hoshino-san, when I die you can write one for me.” Touched, I gladly promised I would.
It was a promise I thought I wouldn’t have to fulfill for at least another few decades. But now here I am, sustaining the same shock Tsushima-san did back when Nakagami died. I’ve lost my bearings, no longer sure of where I am, or when.
Tsushima-san frequently wrote stories about characters who’d lost irreplaceable people in their lives, showing how they try to accept death, to overcome it and move on; Tsushima-san herself, though, always seemed as far from death as a person can be. In fact, life force overflowed from her to an almost excessive degree, pushing back death at every turn.
I was one of those fascinated by this life force of hers, pulled into her orbit by her magnetism. We first met during the 2002 Japan-India Writers' Caravan, a project conceived by and for writers who wanted to travel to India. Tsushima-san took charge of the project with her usual verve, co-running it with the Indian writer Mridula Garg, the idea being that it was strange that Japanese and Indian authors only knew of each others’ work via mediation by the West. To redress this, the Caravan was a traveling roadshow facilitating direct meetings between non-Western authors.
Preparing this project, Tsushima-san took it upon herself to read the work the Indian writers had published in English. So the trip involved, for her, not just the physical movement to India, but also the movement of her heart into an Indian linguistic space via the written word. I tried to imitate her effort the best I could, but my English was so poor that in the end I had to give it up. But it wasn’t necessarily that Tsushima-san’s English was so good—rather, it was simply that she felt she needed to do it, so she didn’t let anything stop her. Imagining it now, it strikes me as so like her to work so deftly, even lightheartedly, to overcome any and all boundaries she may encounter.
The Caravan ended up making two trips to India, as well as hosting Indian writers in Japan and a making a trip to Taiwan. Everyone working at Subaru during those years as the journal backed each of the project’s endeavors must share the sense of loss I’m feeling now.
As the excitement around the Caravan died down, Tsushima-san decided to use the money left after the Women Writers' Association dissolved to fund the publication of books by Indian women authors in translation. The task of readying the translations for publication, our literary sensibilities rubbing up against each other all the while, was an intense experience for the four of us who made up the little production committee: Tsushima-san, myself, author Matsuura Rieko and office manager Fujii Hisako.
Tsushima-san’s desire to always move outward, to encounter those who were total strangers to her, was not merely an intellectual endeavor—it seems to me to have been something more immediate that that, something rawer. And I think this is a quality we had in common. I aspired to be like her, envious of the way she balanced the enormous scale of her border-crossings with a personal touch, the way she treated everyone she met as just another person, no different from anyone with whom to share fellow-feeling. In this way, Tsushima-san was always there before me, guiding me.
The one time she ended up behind me was in 2006, when a group of us were on Taiwan’s Lanyu Island visiting the Tao writer Shaman Rapongan. To travel around the island, our six-person group decided to rent motorbikes to ride, two per bike. The other members of the group paired off and got going right away, leaving Tsushima-san, who’d been less quick on the uptake, having to ride behind me. I was hardly an expert biker, and as we sped along I remember her calling out, “You don’t have to go so fast, it doesn’t matter if the others leave us behind! Take your time!” or joking through her unease, “We better not die together on this bike, just imagine the crazy stories the newspapers would write!” For my part, I found myself fantasizing I was one of the cool young bikers in Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Goodbye South, Goodbye. Besides our literary visit, we also visited the nuclear waste storage facility on the island, and after the Fukushima nuclear disaster I remember us talking, the two of us, about how Tōhoku had become Japan’s Lanyu.
It is precisely because of the times we live in that I feel Japanese literature needs the power of Tsushima-san’s writing still. Tsushima-san was a writer who threw body and soul into using fiction to create some kind of change, no matter how small, in society. To lose someone like her, the de facto leader of this already endangered species of Japanese author, makes me feel so alone, as if stripped bare and buffeted by fierce cold winds. The sorrow and loneliness seem sharp enough to cut flesh. Yet at the same time I can hear her voice telling me, “Such loneliness is the very stuff of literature, is it not?”
So I’m not going to recount every interaction I ever had with Tsushima-san. And I’m not going to thank her for all she did for me. For her role in my life has not come to an end, and she will continue to give me strength, now and for always.
SUBARU magazine, April 2016
(translated by Brian Bergstrom, Montréal, 6 March 2016)