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SPIRIT OF THE HOUSE / Okamato Kanoko translated by Lane Dunlop from the Japanese ON THE HIGH GROUND of the Yamanoté district of Tokyo, there is a crossroads which is an intersection for trolley cars. Branching off straight and narrow from this crossroads, a slope road leads towards a vaUey and downtown Tokyo. Midway along this road, facing the shrine of the God of War, there is a small restaurant whose specialty is mudfish soup. Across the top of the doorway, which is framed by delicate latticework, wiped and polished, there hangs an old shop curtain. On it is printed, in white and in the style of calUgraphy used for public documents of the Edo period, the ideogram for 'life'. Mudfish, catfish, snapping turtle, blowfish and in the summer whale blubber, cut in thin strips, boiled to render the fat and served cold—because such food gave nourishment and strength, the founder of the shop, in what seemed to him a splendid brainstorm, had long ago named the shop 'life'. At the time it must have been a novelty, but in the decades that had gone by since then it had become an extremely banal name that no longer attracted anyone's interest. But because of the special way the shop had of preparing the above dishes, and because of its low prices, it never lacked for customers. This story takes place about four or five years ago. It was a romantic time, when the word 'Ufe' evoked a sense of danger born of the nothingness and glamor of a certain unease, and a stubborn seeking after the dawn. That was why the shop-curtain of this store, washed clean of the soot of tens of years, gave a kind of improvisatory frisson to the modern young men of the neighborhood. Passing in front of the shop, they would look up at the ideogram on the faded curtain. With a youthful melancholy, one would say: 'I'm exhausted. Shall we eat a little "life"?' Whereupon his friend would answer, in a voice tinged with worldly wisdom: 'On the contrary, we shaU be eaten by it/ Clapping each other on the shoulder, they would jostle inside the little restaurant. AU of the seating for guests was in one large room. On a cold mat of woven rattan, long slender planks had been laid down in a square shape, which constituted the one table. The guests would go up onto The Missouri Review · 289 the raised portion of the room and sit there to eat, or wine and dine themselves while seated in chairs on the dirt floor part. Among the dishes the guests were served were many in pots or wooden bowls. From the bottom to about halfway up, that being apparently as far as the shopgirl's hand had been able to reach with a rag, the smoke and steam darkened walls were burnished to a golden red like copper. Above that, to the ceUing, it was just as black as the inside of a stove. In this room, even in the daytime, a chandelier of naked light bulbs shone obtrusively bright. Not only did its bleaching white light make the room look Uke the interior of a cave, but as it iUuminated the fish-bones that the guests were extracting from their mouths with chopsticks, it made them look Uke white branch coral. As it shone on the whiteness of the scalüons on the high-heaped platters, it made them gUtter like precious white jade. Also, and on the contrary, it made the assembled guests look IUVe a banquet of hungry ghosts. The guests' table manners were stiff and ritualistic, as if they were eating some secret, sacred food. On one side of the room, about halfway up the wall, there was a window with a shelf sUl. The dishes which the guests had ordered were handed out from the kitchen here, and carried to the guests' places by the young waitress. The money paid by the guests was also put down on this shelf. For many years, sitting sidewise at the cashier's trellis inside the window, on the lookout for the money and taking it up, the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 189-201
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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