Fumiko Hayashi

Fumiko Hayashi (林芙 美 子; December 31, 1903, some sources say 1904 – June 28, 1951) was a Japanese writer.

Born out of wedlock to a family of itinerant peddlers, Hayashi spent her childhood in poverty and led a wandering life, travelling around Japan and spending the night in cheap lodgings. Hayashi’s mother separated from her father when the girl was seven.

She changed elementary school several times, before the family settled in Onomichi. During high school, Hayashi worked in a factory, to help cover tuition costs. From an early age, she started to write poems and short stories, and dreamed of becoming a writer.

In 1922, Hayashi graduated from high school and eloped to Tokyo with a lover (who left her soon after they arrived). In the big city, she supported herself (and a string of subsequent lovers, some of them abusive men) by working at several jobs, as waitress, maid, shop girl, office clerk, and factory worker. She lived in precarious circumstances, sleeping in public toilets or in deserted buildings, and her life centred on two main goals: to be able to eat and to write.

In 1926, Hayashi married the painter Rokubin Tezuka, who supported her career as a writer. In 1930, she published her first book, “Diary of a vagabond” (放浪 記),an autobiographical novel based on the diaries she kept in the 1920s. The book became an overnight bestseller and was later adapted by Mikio Naruse into the 1962 film A Wanderer’s Notebook (IMDb).

Hayashi would go on to publish over 250 books, among novels, short stories, essays, articles, poems, and travelogues. Nine of her books were made into films (six of them by Mikio Naruse).

During the 1930’s, Hayashi travelled to Europe, China, and Southeast Asia, and wrote several articles for magazines about her travels. During WWII, she visited the front as a war reporter, sponsored by the Japanese military government.

Hayashi died of a heart attack on June 28, 1951, at age 48.


In English:

  • Floating Clouds (2006, tr. Lane Dunlop. Original: 浮雲, 1951)
  • I Saw a Pale Horse & Selections from Diary of a Vagabond (1997, tr. Janice Brown. Original: 蒼馬を見たり, 1930; 続放浪記, 1930)
  • Downfall and other Stories (2020, tr. D. Wisgo. Five stories)
  • Days & Nights (2020, tr. D. Wisgo. Three stories)
  • The Beautiful Dog (2016, tr. Shelley Marshall. One story)
  • Anthologies:
    • Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories, ed. Theodore W. Goossen (1997, story translated by Janice Brown)
    • A Late Chrysanthemum: Twenty-One Stories from the Japanese, ed. and tr. Lane Dunlop (1986)
    • Modern Japanese Literature, ed. Donald Keene (1955, story translated by Ivan Morris).
    • The Columbia Anthology of Modern Japanese Literature, ed J. Thomas Rimer (2011)
    • The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories, ed. Jay Rubin (2018)
    • The PIP anthology of world poetry of the 20th century, v.02, ed. Douglas Messerli (2000)
    • World Literature: An Anthology of Great Short Stories, Poetry, and Drama, ed. Donna Rosenberg (1992)

About her

  • Wandering Heart: the work and method of Hayashi Fumiko, by Susanna Fessler (1998)
    • Includes full translations of three of Hayashi ‘s essays: My Horizon; Literature, Travel, Etc.; and My Work.
  • Be a Woman: Hayashi Fumiko and Modern Japanese Women’s Literature, by Joan E. Ericson (1997)
  • Under Fire: Women and World War II, ed. Eveline Buchheim and Ralf Futselaar (2014)
  • Japanische Schriftstellerinnen 1890–2006, ed. Eduard Klopfenstein. In: Asiatische Studien. Zeitschrift der Schweizerischen Asiengesellschaft. LXI, 2 (2007)
  • Great Women Travel Writers: From 1750 to the Present, by Bettina L. Knapp (2005)

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