Planaria
Author: Fumio Yamamoto
Specifications: ISBN  978-4163196305
266 pages
13.4 x 19.0 cm / 5.4 x 7.6 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Bungeishunju Ltd.
Tokyo, 2000
www.bunshun.co.jp/
Awards: Naoki Prize, 2000
Buy now: amazon.co.jp

Synopsis

This series of five short works depicts peopl in contemporary Japan who have either chosen, or been driven into, unemployment. The 26-year-old Haruka, the protagonist of the title story, blurts out while drinking one night: "If I'm to be reborn, I'd like to be a planaria flatworm." Two years earlier Haruka was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent a mastectomy and had surgery done to reconstruct her right breast; thereafter she left her job at a company. The quip was intended as humor: if she were a flatworm, "the breast taken from me would have swollen out again on its own, saving me the time and expense of that surgery."

A woman she meets during her monthly visits to the hospital for follow-up care recommends her for a part-time job at a traditional Japanese sweets shop. Haruka starts working there, but soon falls out with her coworkers and leaves the job behind. Being a cancer survivor makes her feel entitled to getting away with selfish demands.

The final piece in the collection, Ai aru ashita (A Tomorrow with Love), centers on a 36-year-old man who runs a bar. His wife has cheated on him and divorced him. No longer able to live with his daughter, he quit his job at a major firm to start the bar. His new business is at last going smoothly when a homeless woman with a talent for palm reading starts showing up every night. Word gets out that her readings come true, and the bar is filled with more customers each day. At last the two begin living together. Even so, the woman, like other characters in this collection, is fundamentally opposed to the idea of holding down a job. The work won unanimously high praise from the Naoki Prize committee members, with Takashi Atoda exclaiming: "Yamamoto has grasped the human essence at a very deep level, and possesses a sure-footed talent for expressing it."