Seance Nights
Author: Jirō Asada
Specifications: ISBN  978-4022509505
292 pages
13.7 x 19.5 cm / 5.5 x 7.8 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Asahi Shimbun Publications Inc.
Tokyo, 2012
publications.asahi.com
Buy now: amazon.co.jp

Synopsis

In this story set in contemporary Japan, author Jiro Asada takes his inspiration from the seances that were so popular in 19th-century England. The season is autumn and the place is the resort area at the foot of Mount Asama. The first-person narrator, a man getting on past middle age, lives alone in a large old house. One day he finds a woman in his yard, seeking refuge from thunder and lightning. She gives her name as Azusa and, in gratitude for his help, says she’d like to introduce him to an Englishwoman named Jones, who has long lived in the woods nearby. "If there’s anybody you’d like to see, living or dead, Mrs. Jones can make it happen," she says. And so it happens that the narrator finds himself sitting around a table with Mrs. Jones, Azusa, and a young girl named Mary who is a distant relative of Mrs. Jones, for a seance that spans two nights.

The first night takes the narrator back to when he is nine years old, 15 years after Japan’s defeat in World War II. Thanks to the fortune his father made on the black market when he returned from overseas after the war, the family?parents, grandmother, himself?live a life of affluence. By contrast, his friend Kiyo is poor. Kiyo’s father was held in a Soviet internment camp after the war before returning to Japan, and he is now unemployed; the family survives on his mother's low wages as a menial. Although the two boys remain friends for a time, the narrator eventually starts avoiding Kiyo, and then a short while later Kiyo is run over by a truck and dies. Kiyo’s father had roped him into a scheme to feign injury in fake traffic accidents in order to swindle money from the drivers. The scheme had been successful twice before, but the third time, in spite of his previous experience, Kiyo ended up getting killed. Arrested after this accident, Kiyo’s father kills himself in jail. During the seance, Kiyo’s mother, who also committed suicide, Kiyo’s father, and Kiyo himself all put in appearances.

The second night reveals the true feelings that underlay past relationships between the 19-year-old narrator, his best friend Kaji, and two women their age?Masumi and Yuriko. It centers on events from 1970, when campuses were rife with student unrest. Three of the four friends?Kaji, Masumi, and the narrator?are from well-to-do families, enrolled in private universities but rarely cracking a book as they party almost every night. By contrast, Yuriko grew up poor and no longer even knows the whereabouts of either of her long-divorced parents; she had moved to Tokyo after finishing middle school to continue with her secondary education at night school while working by day in a chocolate factory. She meets the others when she happens to wander into one of their parties. The narrator falls in love with her, but when he breaks up with her after just six months, it upsets the balance that had prevailed among the four. While the narrator has been in love with Yuriko, Masumi has secretly been in love with him, and Kaji has been in love with Masumi. Masumi dies in an accident at 19, and Kaji remains single until felled by illness at 45. The narrator asks to be reunited with Yuriko, but it is Masumi and Kaji who are brought back by the seance . . .

We all have memories of people who dropped into and then out of our lives at some significant moment in our past, and even when we find people or events impossible to forget, we may prefer to keep them sealed away from our daily consciousness. The author uses the device of the seance to retrace Japan's postwar history from defeat to reconstruction, to the heady days of rapid economic growth, and then to gentle decline, depicting the people who lived through it all with a bittersweet nostalgia.