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Saturday, Sept. 21, 2002
Traditional house preserves dream of pioneering writer
By ERIKO ARITA
Surrounded by trees, the old house sits preserved in tranquility, exuding the beauty of traditional Japan and reviving the taste of the Edo Period two centuries ago.
This is the house of Fumiko Hayashi (1903-1951), one of Japan's premier female writers in the first half of the 20th century. The aesthetics of her residence can hardly be found in today's Tokyo.
Hayashi, whose novels are known for their compassionate descriptions of working-class women, built the house in 1941. It was opened to the public in 1992 as Hayashi Fumiko Memorial Hall.
The 198-sq.-meter, one-story house was the fulfillment of Hayashi's dream: to build a beautiful home for herself after enduring the hardships of her childhood and youth.
The house consists of two wings. Both feature the "sukiya-zukuri" style of construction, which incorporates the characteristics of the traditional tea room, with Hayashi's original designs to make living relaxing and convenient.
"Fumiko spent much more money on the kitchen, the bathroom and the living room than the guest room," said Akira Miyazawa, a researcher at Shinjuku Historical Museum.
The spacious kitchen has a wooden cupboard and a large sink made of polished artificial stone. The sink was installed low to accommodate the relatively short novelist.
The living room faces the garden and served as a place for Hayashi, her husband, mother and son to gather.
It has an alcove, closets, and a "horigotatsu" foot warmer with a tabletop and a sunken area underneath for people's legs.
Hayashi asked the designer to install a cupboard equipped with many small drawers and a small Shinto altar, in the wall. These items are unusual for an ordinary Japanese-style living room.
To construct her ideal house, Hayashi read more than 200 books on architecture and traveled to Kyoto with an architect and a carpenter to study traditional houses, tea rooms and temples, Miyazawa explained.
The studio of her husband, who was a painter, exhibits her photos and books.
Hayashi was born the daughter of a poor peddler in western Japan. She later moved from one cheap lodging to another with her mother and stepfather while helping the pair hawk their wares.
After moving to Tokyo alone at age 19, she worked as a housemaid, factory worker and clerk to make a living. That was when she began to write her novels.
When she was 27, her novel "Horoki" ("Journal of Vagabond"), which depicted her harsh life and strong mind in the form of a diary, became a best seller.
Hayashi then started describing the lives of working-class people while traveling in Japan and abroad. During the war, she was sent by the military to China and the Dutch East Indies to cover the front for the newspapers.
After the war, she turned her eye to the war-damaged lives of ordinary citizens. She died of a heart attack at age 48.
One woman who visited the house said she immediately realized it was designed from a woman's point of view.
"I was really impressed with the beauty of the house and surprised by the radical design, such as the living room with its ample storage space," she said.
The garden has more than 17 kinds of trees and more than 23 kinds of other plants. Beautiful flowers, including cherry blossoms, Japanese maples and violets, dutifully appear according to the seasons.
Hayashi Fumiko Memorial Hall is a seven-minute walk from Nakai Station on the Seibu Shinjuku Line. It is open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday, and is closed Mondays except national holidays, when it is closed the next day. Admission is 150 yen for adults and 50 yen for elementary and junior high school students. For more information, call the hall at (03) 5996-9207.