Sokolova-Yamashita Kiyomi (Professor, Department of Literary Arts, Nihon University College of Art)
From the end of October 1942 through early May 1943, in the middle of World War II, the female Japanese author Hayashi Fumiko (1903–1951) was dispatched by the Ministry of the Army Public Relations Division to Japanese occupied territories in Southeast Asia. The military objective was “upon the first anniversary of hostilities, to dispatch journalists, magazine reporters, and lady writers to the Japanese occupied territories in the South Seas so that they could see the degree of acceptance of military governance there, for use in Japanese domestic war propaganda” (Mochizuki Masahiko, Hayashi Fumiko to Borneo-to: Nanpo jugun to “Ukigumo” wo megutte (Hayashi Fumiko and Borneo: Following the army in Southeast Asia and “Ukigumo”), July 2008, Yashinomi Books). Along with other women writers and magazine and newspaper journalists, Fumiko set sail from Ujina Port in Hiroshima on October 31, 1942.
They boarded a vessel disguised as a hospital ship, where they were strictly forbidden to leave their cabins; after this death-defying journey, risking attack at any time by enemy submarines, they arrived in Singapore. Each was then dispatched to their area of assignment. The women writers were sponsored by newspapers and news companies. Hayashi Fumiko’s sponsor was the Asahi Shimbun. During her six months or so in Southeast Asia, she is thought to have visited the areas that are now Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Shanghai, and Vietnam. Although many details about her travels remain unclear, according to her personal notebook, she returned to Japan via Haneda on May 9, 1943.
Documentation was spotty due to the wartime conditions, and Fumiko’s travels with the military in Southeast Asia are still mysterious on many points, but the main focus was on Indonesia. Some two thirds of her time in Southeast Asia was spent on the islands of Indonesia, including Borneo, Java, Sumatra, and Bali. Specifically, she spent her four months or so in Indonesia visiting newspaper companies and Japanese schools while describing her experiences there for newspapers and magazines, fulfilling an assignment similar to those of the other writers dispatched. In Borneo, she was particularly closely involved with the Borneo News, later writing a short story titled “Borneo Diamond” (first published in Kaizo, June 1946). The literature of Hayashi Fumiko is noted for its evocative use of the senses. The experience of Borneo’s climate, where nature and humanity preserved an abundant harmony, proved to be a vivid stimulus to her sensitive and sense-based emotions.
After her time in Borneo, Fumiko returned to Java and stayed with a family in a village called Trawas. Living with the village chief’s family, she spent her days with the people of this farming village. This process was typical of Fumiko and her focus on the perspective of the common people.
Why, though, was this plan arranged for her? At the time, the Japanese military’s expectations of Java were centered on rice in particular. The success of Japanese control of Indonesia could be said to rest on village society, the basis for rice supply. It may have been this context that led to Fumiko’s stay in Trawas. Her notebooks and memos include detailed accounts of rice production quantities, showing her attention to Java rice growing in accordance with the intent of the military.
However, Fumiko’s gaze was inevitably drawn not only to the rice but to the people who ate it. This was who she was as a writer. Along with notes on rice, her notebooks cover the details of the people she met, including names and hometowns, ages, family status and so on. Later, she would put these to good use in “Minami no Den’en” (Southern Fields) (first published in Fujin Koron, September/October 1943), recounting her experiences in Trawas. “Minami no Den’en,” which describes the simple village life of a southern country, interactions with the people there, the sense of solidarity among Asians who rely on rice—all depicted against the backdrop of Trawas’ beautiful natural setting—is a truly affectionate piece of travel writing.
After her village experience in Java, Fumiko set off on a 3000-kilometer journey across Sumatra. The resources of Sumatra were an irresistible treasure trove from the perspective of the Japanese military. Fumiko’s “Sumatra: Nishikaze no shima (Sumatra: Island of the Western Wind)” (Kaizo, June/July 1943) reports on resources such as petroleum while turning a thoughtful gaze on the people of the island. Of the many Sumatra travel pieces written at the time, Fumiko’s is surely the only one to include the name and family status of the Indonesian driver. Her writerly determination to depict people continued to thrive in Sumatra as well.
Fumiko savored the vivid images of humanity and nature’s bond in Borneo, had a deeply human experience living with villagers in Trawas village, Java, and traveled through the Sumatra jungle in a tremendous adventure. Her experiences in Indonesia are extremely significant. Immediately after her return to Japan, Fumiko was evacuated to snowbound Nagano. She must have longed for the sensory stimuli of the southern country and its abundant nature, the encounters with the easy-going, simple people there, and the days of daredevil delights. Her tour of Southeast Asia, realized under the exceptional conditions of wartime, and the many experiences she encountered there became important elements in the shaping of Hayashi Fumiko as a writer.
The historical document edition here includes the Japanese and Indonesian texts of “Minami no Den’en.” The Japanese version is the first reproduction since its magazine publication before the war, and the Indonesian translation is the first of its kind.