Translated by Katrina Hassan
“If this book influences today’s youth, dragged deep in poverty, in-tranquility, and need, to keep living, there would be nothing that brings me more joy.’’
This is the ending to the preface of Hayashi Fumiko’s Diary of a Vagabond book written in 1939. Published initially in instalments in 1928 & 1930.
Her diary was written between 1922 and 1927. We shall estimate she was between 18 to 23 years old. This was when pain, misery and social exclusion ripped her skin off in pieces. She went through an infinity of badly paid jobs on her way to being a powerful tenant at the bottom of Japanese society in 1920.
Hayashi was a girl that grew up with her parents as a family of street venders. She never had the warmth of a home, nor a town to feel homesick for. She didn’t have memories of a flowering garden, brightening her home’s windows. The home invoked through time. There was no place to seek refuge for her vagabond soul.
Hayashi in angst and desperation of the circumstances that she is exposed to everyday, doesn’t have a set place to sleep. She rented a room in any old boarding house or slept at her workplaces. She slept far from where her parents roamed. This while offering their merchandise out of a cart in different towns that appeared in their nomadic way. She figured out their whereabouts because her mother sent her letters and sometimes a coin that helped her survive. She answered sometimes and would also send a coin back. The money would be used for their medicine, lodgings or some food for the parents.
In this stage in life, Hayashi learned to be a writer and a poet. From lovers that didn’t treat her right and common betrayals in love, to exploitation from proletarians that lived in the slums/lumpen. That is what she called her down market world. Hayashi began to write in the form of a diary. She practically wrote everyday during those years. The most marvellous and surprising thing is that at this moment she dived into reading and writing. She bought books with her miserable earnings and put her heart and soul into reading them. She always saved what little she could for a book, to go to the cinema or the theatre for a play. The theatre productions were created by the lumpen people of the downtrodden neighbourhoods in 1920’s Japan.
She dreams of being a writer at that age. In that poverty, she dared to dream. She breaks barriers and dreams. She dares to resist by writing. In that marvellous diary she tells us about her day to day vagabond life. She tells us about pain, worries, ire, exasperation, questioning, depression, hunger, her wishes, and the resistance of millions around the world in a timeless reality.
The freezing cold still burns in poverty and misery has no borders or languages.
With unique talent and an honest and simple language, on the trot, the writer-labourer, the labourer-poet, with her thunderous voice, keeps echoing through the gutters of the world. She launched into the wind her diary’s feminist stories. One cannot deny that Diary of a Vagabond is not an enthusiastic denouncement, from a woman who demands equal rights for herself and all women of all different classes.
Once you read Hayashi Fumiko, you are not the same person again.
Reading her books, is to pulsate through Hayashi’s veins and in the mind of the lumpen that live in the shadows of exclusion. You will feel her heartbeat as you read her mother’s letters. You will run alongside of her and get on and off trains and knock on random doors asking for work. You will mop the floor of a tavern, wash your only change of clothes and feel the cold on nights sleeping on the floor.
You will live alongside her disenchantment with love, machismo and the excitement of having a new book. You will be able to smell the fall, the cherry blossoms in spring, and get your feet wet in puddles on the streets of working class neighbourhoods. You will yell alongside her as sheoffering her sales in her childhood, eyes wide open because of a long sleepless night.
This fertilises poetry.
Once you read Hayashi, you will live in first person the reality of misery and poverty. Not only that, you will live the immense humanity, talent, denouncement, and the beauty and resistance of a woman who dared write her name in the history of time. Straight from the heart of a misfit.
Not all was poverty in Hayashi’s life. With time, her books were published. She is one of the most read authors of Japan and Asia. She travelled to different countries around the world. She had more than one house, with their own gardens and windows to give oxygen to her vagabond soul. She is recognized for her talent and originality.
Diary of a Vagabond is still a manifest to the years of poverty and exclusion, the lack of love, but also, the sweet honey of talent that started to blossom and was her major resistance against adversity.
I, Ilka, this misfit/lumpen from the working class, from my street vendor heart and my reality in tenancy, thank Hayashi Fumiko for her audacity, for being a transgressor, for speaking up and having the balls to do so.
I thank her for daring to take that road. Thanks to her, millions of us women from the slums will also take the same road. I thank her for questioning the patriarchy. By saying her name, I pronounce all of womankind’s. She brought us out of the shadows, made us exist. By telling her story she opened the path and lit a candle. She sheltered our souls and with her dreams got us to dream too. Dreaming is the strongest way to resist adversity. Thank you, professor!
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Ilka Oliva Corado @ilkaolivacorado