Hayashi Fumiko (1903–1951)

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Hayashi Fumiko (1903–1951)

First woman fiction writer in modern Japan who enjoyed both popular success and critical recognition during a 20-year career which produced 278 books. Pronunciation: HAH-yah-SHE FOO-me-KOE. Born in Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan, in 1903; died in 1951; fourth illegitimate child of Hayashi Kiku (mother) and Miyata Asataro (father), both of whom were itinerant peddlers; graduated from Onomichi Higher Girls' School in Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan; married Tezuka Ryokubin (a painter), in 1926.

Hayashi Fumiko lived in and wrote about the margins of Japanese life. Because her mother and stepfather were peddlers, she was frequently uprooted and attended seven different primary schools, with many long-term absences. She worked her way through high school, as a maid and as a factory worker on a night shift. After graduation, she went to Tokyo, where she supported herself in a number of odd jobs, working as a clerk, waitress, salesperson, and bath-house attendant. She also suffered from a series of illadvised romances. From these experiences, Hayashi gained great insight into the lives of the poor and social outcasts who rarely were depicted in Japanese literature. She wrote in her first book, Vagabond's Song, published in 1930: "Women are tossed about like flags in a breeze, I think as I wait in this long line. These women around me wouldn't be here if their circumstances were better. It is their need for work that binds them. Unemployment is an assault, your life becomes confused like that of an unchaste woman." Immediately, her work met with both popular success and critical acclaim.

Beginning in the 1930s, Hayashi traveled extensively throughout Asia and Europe. Her masterpiece novel, Ukigumo (The Floating Cloud, 1950), was based on her travels to Southeast Asia during the war years and is the story of a young woman and man who have been spiritually devastated by the war. A writer of poetry, short stories, and novels, Hayashi died in 1951, at the peak of her career. Her funeral was attended by a vast number of mourners, not only the intellectuals of publishing circles, but also ordinary women in aprons, carrying shopping bags.


Tanaka Yukiko. To Live and to Write: Selections by Japanese Women Writers, 1913–1938. Seattle, WA: The Seal Press, 1987.

suggested reading:

Lippit, Noriko Mizuta, and Kyoko Iriye Selden, eds. Japanese Women Writers: Twentieth Century Short Fiction. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1991.