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FICTION

Seshiru, Juhee

  • onJune 19, 2018
  • Vol.40 Summer 2018
  • byPark Min-Jung
Munhak dongne no. 92 (Winter 2017)
Tr. Kari Schenk
2017

 

Juhee made up her mind to get the contact information for the administrator of yeslut and send them an email just as she was set to give Seshiru her fourth writing assignment. As usual, she went to meet Seshiru on Sunday afternoon. She brought printouts of news articles and editorials with her besides the main textbook. Back when Seshiru first hit her up for private lessons, Juhee had told her she wouldn’t be much help with test preparation because her Korean wasn’t that good and she didn’t like reading books or writing. Seshiru countered that test prep was her motivation for studying harder, but she wasn’t really ambitious when it came to grades. Several times she told Juhee that her only goal was to have lots of conversations in Korean. Still, Juhee was taking her money, so she couldn’t just wile away the time chatting. She assigned Seshiru writing homework: My Hometown, My Family, My Childhood, My Hobbies, My Dream. These were the easiest topics she could think of. On her way back after leaving Seshiru, she tried to write, too, using the memo app on her cell. She hadn’t written theme-based compositions in a long time either.

Seshiru and Juhee always spent about an hour studying with the Korean textbook in Seshiru’s goshiwon room. After that, they chatted a bit as they went out for something to eat, and then they checked over the composition at a local coffee shop. Seshiru always paid for food and coffee. When they parted, Seshiru took the bills out of her wallet and nonchalantly counted them out before handing them over. Juhee used the money to cover the cost of transportation fare or coffee somewhere. She thought the pay was worth her time.

 

I was born in Shibuya, Tokyo in 1995. My mother is Nakasone Morio, born in 1970. My parents divorced when I was young. We were poor. I couldn’t go to university. I wasn’t good at studying anyway. I liked U-Know Yunho and became very interested in Korea through him. I watched K-pop music videos and Korean dramas and read Korean fashion magazines almost every day. That’s how I came to study Korean. It seemed easier than studying English.

 

Juhee wrote along the same lines as Seshiru.

 

I was born in Yeongtong, Suwon in 1993 . . . um . . . there’s nothing to say . . . wow, this is harder than I thought . . . my father was strict and my mother was kind . . . God, what a cliché . . . I’m so into cosmetics. I’m obsessed. And since I work at JuJu House in Myeongdong, for someone who likes make-up, I’ve done okay.

 

Comparing her writing to Seshiru’s, Juhee realized that the ability to write rough sentences without regard for spelling or word spacing was a power she had as a native speaker. J in New Orleans had been like this, too. J was proficient in English even though it wasn’t his mother tongue. Juhee took extra care in speaking lest she make grammatical mistakes and checked the spelling of each word even when writing short memos, but J didn’t. When she gingerly informed him that his spelling—“pork lib”—was wrong on an order form, he just said, “Oh, right” and fixed it. Had it been her, she would have instantly turned red. Looking at Seshiru’s homework, painstakingly written to avoid spelling errors, she wondered if foreigners learning Korean didn’t in fact construct better sentences than the average Korean.

Juhee was thinking this even while writing the email in English. Please erase my video from your site. I’m just an ordinary citizen. I’m not a slut.

 

*

From the time I was very little, my maternal grandmother Watanabe Seijen told me many stories about her mother. This woman, who died in 1945, was called Imai Sakurako. My mother was a single mom and we were poor. In elementary school, my classmates were shocked to find out we didn’t have a bathtub. My mother worked at a bakery downtown, and we were so poor that we had difficulty affording a change of uniform and regulation gym clothes for school. Even so, I was proud. Proud to be descended from Imai Sakurako. Even if a bereavement allowance doesn’t extend to me because I’m four generations removed, Grandmother Seijen receives special support from the state for being her daughter. Grandmother Seijen always told me no matter how hard my life was I should never forget I was descended from Grandmother Sakurako. “Your mother’s grandmother, Imai Sakurako, was Sailor Moon. Sailor Moon was created to commemorate your grandmother and her fellow teachers and students.” I will never forget what my grandmother taught me about this.

Grandmother Sakurako passed away in 1945. She was the teacher responsible for the Himeyuri Student Nurse Corps. I first saw the Himeyuri Memorial Tower in third grade on a field trip to Okinawa to study peace. The tower is to commemorate my grandmother. It is to commemorate the troop of students led by Grandmother Sakurako, who committed honorable suicide in 1945 before the American forces attacked in the Battle of Okinawa. Every year important government officials, including the prime minister, visit this place to pay their respects. Grandmother Sakurako is now at the Yasukuni Shrine.

 

Juhee gave Seshiru a quick glance. She was drinking coffee and staring at her phone. Juhee had assigned her the topic “Me and My Family.” There was a Sailor Moon sticker on Seshiru’s cell phone case. Juhee looked back and forth from the composition to Seshiru, who was giggling at something on her phone. Grandmother Sakurako is now at Yasukuni Shrine. Juhee was still digesting these words. Yasukuni Shrine . . . She thought of the article she’d read a while back on a recall of Kanebo Cosmetics’ products and the comments accusing Kanebo of war crimes. Unconscious of what she was doing, she underlined “Yasukuni Shrine” in red pen. Seshiru looked up at Juhee.

“Oh, Seshiru-san. This is really good writing. Here you could refer to your mother’s grandmother as jeungjo halmeoni, great-grandmother.”

“Really? It’s good? That’s because the subject matter is important to me.”

“The writing’s better than mine,” Juhee said, eyeing the Sailor Moon sticker on Seshiru’s cell phone case. “Sailor Moon was famous in Korea too, but I’ve never seen it.”

“I’ve got the full collection of anime. I could send it to you if you like. It’s surprising, isn’t it? That Sailor Moon is my grandmother.”

Juhee hardly knew anything about the events mentioned in the composition. She changed the subject. Juhee and Seshiru could occupy several hours just talking about new products that had come in at JuJu House and popular make-up tutorials. For them, this was also shoptalk. Whenever Seshiru failed to come up with the right word to convey her intended meaning, she scrunched up her forehead and made a sad frown, and then Juhee patiently explained the Korean. As always, Seshiru handed over the payment and then clasped Juhee’s hands in hers. “I look forward to Sunday all week,” she said, giving each word emphasis. Seshiru waved goodbye and Juhee left.

After she was home, Juhee searched for the terms “Himeyuri Memorial Tower” and “Himeyuri Nurse Corps.” Tons of hits came up.

 

The Himeyuri Nurse Corps was a troop of female students that took on the role of field nurses. Most of them died in 1945, in the final stages of the Asia Pacific War when American troops landed in Okinawa and fought with the Japanese in what is known as the Battle of Okinawa. The term himeyuri (star lily) comes from combining the names of the PR magazines from the two schools the girls attended—Otohime, the magazine for the Okinawa First Girls’ High School, and Sirayuri, the magazine for the female division of Okinawa Normal School. Himeyuri Memorial Tower is one of the sites most frequently visited by Japanese students as part of their peace studies, and a never-ending stream of movies are being produced about the nurses. In popular culture, images of young girls in military uniforms are usually based on the Himeyuri students, and some argue that anime such as Sailor Moon are a product of this influence.

Juhee skimmed over relevant blogs and Wikipedia entries. The first thing that caught her eye was that Sailor Moon had a connection to the Himeyuri students, just as Seshiru had said. Only some of the scholars believed this, but it didn’t make much difference. After the war, girls represented in military uniforms were all broadly associated with the Himeyuri students. Juhee’s interest wasn’t piqued by the Asian Pacific War or the Battle of Okinawa, but she was curious about the reason for an all-girl military corps. Moreover, it surprised her that Seshiru’s great-grandmother was part of such a well-known military unit.

Juhee typed “himeyuri” into a file-sharing site and downloaded the highest quality video out of the titles that came up. Released in 2010, it ran to 90 minutes. The Japanese title when translated read: O Pure Lilies Fallen in the Ravages of War, O Last Nightingales! Juhee laughed out loud at the title and sat down on her bed to watch the movie on her laptop. Scene after boring scene dragged on. For a long time, shots of teachers and students dancing traditional dances or singing in choirs appeared against a subtropical background. White lilies also made sudden, inexplicable appearances throughout. As she listened to the traditional music that played in the background throughout the film, a low melody played on strings, Juhee was overcome by drowsiness.

Surprised awake by the sound of her phone vibrating, she opened her eyes to find grim scenes unfolding on her laptop. Every time a bomb exploded, the arms and legs of soldiers went flying up into the trees, where limbs hung in clusters. The girls of the nurse corps then wept and gathered them up. American fighter planes bombed from the sky and Japanese soldiers fell in abject helplessness. Unlike the other scenes in the movie, this one was in black and white. It seemed as if it captured actual events from 1945 instead of something from a screenplay. Finding it difficult to watch any more of this, Juhee skipped ahead. Soon the girls reappeared, talking boisterously and laughing joyously as if nothing had happened. Each one carried a thin white blanket, and together they descended on a creek and removed their uniforms. Wearing nothing but white camisoles and girdles, they entered the water together. The camera pulled far back from the scene and suddenly a lone white lily became the focus. This was followed by a long shot that showed a flickering image of the girls kicking and swimming as they bathed.

“Now we say goodbye. There is no victory without sacrifice. We will never surrender to the demonic Americans and we will continue to guard Okinawa. If we do not keep it safe, the main island will also be lost,” the students said forcefully, bandanas tied around their heads. There were ten minutes remaining in the film. The students sat together combing each other’s hair and adjusting each other’s clothes. “This is a farewell ceremony. But we will all be going together,” the girls pledged resolutely. When one of the students, eyes glittering, rose to pull the safety pin from the grenade with her teeth, a teacher rose abruptly, shouting, “Stop!” and snatched it away. Juhee’s eyes grew wide at this scene. The girls, sitting in a circle, screamed at the teacher, “Miss Sayuri, you’re a coward! Step back now!” Another teacher rose suddenly and said, “Miss Sayuri, if you do not wish to do this with us, then get out of our midst. Survive and forever feel ashamed in front of your descendants!” The teacher who shouted this so grimly came and stood in the center of the girls. Miss Sayuri left the air-raid shelter and raised her hands in surrender. Afterwards came the sound of an explosion, representing the end for the students, who were on their way to being annihilated.

As Juhee numbly watched the ending credits, she had a feeling that Seshiru’s great-grandmother was the one who shouted, “If you do not want to do this, then get out of our midst!” and led the group to commit honorable suicide. She suddenly had goose bumps. A teacher who had encouraged her students to kill themselves and who had accused someone of being a coward for telling them to live, not die! Since she was a small child, Seshiru had heard stories about her great-grandmother from Grandmother Seijen, who regarded her mother a war hero even though she had abandoned her and chosen death. How was this possible? Granted, descendants of war heroes probably all thought this way. Juhee went back to sleep.

 

My Dream is World Peace Too © Cho Jang Eun

 

*

It was a month before Christmas, and JuJu House was busy every day with seasonal promotions. The items in the gift sets were more varied than in other seasons, and many other companies and organizations collaborated on promotions with the store. Almost every day, Juhee explained the promotional products to international employees. When she ran into Seshiru at the store, the two exchanged friendly smiles. They continued to meet on the weekends even though it was the busy season at work.

There was still no answer from the administrator of the porn site. Juhee didn’t have the nerve to check if the video was still there. All she could do was forget about it. Sometimes when she was drunk, or late at night when she couldn’t sleep, she felt the impulse to call J, tear into him, and demand an explanation, but she never did.

About two weeks before Christmas, word came out that all of the profits from one of the products would go to support a fund for the women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army. In addition, employees were encouraged to participate in a large-scale demonstration in Myeongdong on Christmas Eve and distribute items people might need there. For a long time, a weekly demonstration had been held in support of the women, and a memorial statue of a teenage girl had been erected near a popular department store a few months ago. It didn’t seem to Juhee that many Japanese tourists were interested in this, which was fortunate since they had such a major impact on JuJu House’s margins. She thought of Kanebo and Kanegafuchi.

“Seshiru-san, are you going to the U-Know concert on Christmas Eve?”

“No, I can’t. I wasn’t able to get tickets,” Seshiru said, looking stricken. She added, “And I wonder when I’ll get to Gwangju. I haven’t had as much free time as I expected.”

“In time, you’ll get there. In time, you know?” Juhee said to comfort her.

Seshiru asked if Juhee had any plans for Christmas Eve. She didn’t have any.

“Then do you want to hang out?”

Juhee was caught off guard by this. She didn’t think they were close enough friends to get together and hang out on holidays. She had spent the last few long Christmas weekends at home resting. When she didn’t answer immediately, Seshiru’s face fell. She murmured, “I’d hoped we could go out for pancakes together.” Juhee felt remorseful.

“All right. Let’s go out for pancakes. Where’s the restaurant?”

“It’s close to JuJu House. Not far away.”

“You want to come to Myeongdong on a day off? It’ll be crazy with people that day . . .”

When Seshiru’s expression fell once more, Juhee said, “Okay let’s go” and smiled. Having gone over Seshiru’s writing, Juhee suddenly felt curious. “So Seshiru-san, it seems like Grandmother Sakurako continued to teach even after she got married, then.”

“No. That isn’t possible. I was told that all of the members of the Himeyuri Nurse Corps were unmarried virgins.”

“Really?”

“Yes, I’m certain. That’s what I was told.”

“Then Seshiru-san, how did Grandmother Sakurako have Grandmother Seijen?”

Seshiru’s face slowly hardened, and Juhee could sense that she was even more flustered than when she’d brought up the topic of adult videos. Juhee hadn’t meant to cause any offense.

“No, no, you said she died during the war . . . So I was wondering when Grandmother Seijen was born.”

Neither of them had anything to say after this, so they stared awkwardly at the table. Juhee searched Seshiru’s face for an instant. Seshiru was sitting there, her face void of expression. Juhee recalled the image of Miss Sayuri shouting “Stop!” and seizing hold of the student who was trying to remove the safety pin from the grenade. Miss Sayuri, coming out of the air raid shelter, surrendering with her hands in the air. She would have survived. Miss Sayuri, squinting in the bright sunshine, crawling toward the American soldiers. Seshiru, by any chance, was your grandmother Miss Sayuri? According to the information Juhee had found, not all of the Himeyuri nurses committed suicide. In fact, many of them had survived. After the war, Grandmother Sakurako had Grandmother Seijen and Grandmother Seijen had Morio and Morio had Seshiru. And isn’t that how we came to be here sitting in front of each other today?

It’s too obvious, isn’t it? That your great-grandmother must have survived.

Juhee couldn’t bring herself to say these things to Seshiru. Her mind was spinning with all the possibilities that kept occurring to her. Grandmother Sakurako, joining the war as a field nurse when she was already married and a mother. Grandmother Sakurako, remembering her child and bursting out of the air raid shelter at the very last minute. Grandmother Sakurako, somewhere else that day, unable to attend the farewell ceremony. Grandmother Sakurako, surrounded by American soldiers and surrendering to them on another day . . . and Grandmother Seijen, making up stories about the past to soothe poor, diffident little Seshiru, showing her Sailor Moon and telling her all about her great-grandmother, once upon a time.

Juhee looked absently at Seshiru as these scenes came to mind.

 

*

Seshiru and Juhee met in Myeongdong on Christmas Eve as planned. Seshiru handed Juhee a package. “It's a Japanese hotpot my mother sent. Since I don’t cook much, I want you to take it.” Juhee accepted it, a little bewildered.

But I don’t cook either, Seshiru. Juhee said she hadn’t thought to bring a present, so the pancakes would be on her.

The pancake restaurant was about ten minutes from JuJu House on foot, in the vicinity of the department store. It was very far from the subway station. Juhee said it was farther than she expected, teasing Seshiru. Seshiru linked arms with her without speaking, and they walked. It was their first time like this.

As they walked, the crowd kept getting thicker. Juhee was disabused of her idea that the people were Christmas revelers out for a good time when she saw some wearing masks. She realized they had inadvertently joined a protest march. She looked around. Picket signs covered in writing caught her eye: “Out of the mire of this historical injustice and on to the path of true reconciliation and healing!” “For the victims and their families, and for all of us who are living in the same age, we require a settlement.” Seshiru clung a little more tightly to her arm at this time. “What is this protest about? I shouldn’t be around a protest . . . You know, we foreigners are a bit vulnerable.” She hid her face against Juhee’s shoulder.

Juhee patted Seshiru and said, “It’s okay, Seshiru-san. This is a peaceful gathering. It’s to support war victims.”

Seshiru’s eyes shone as she answered, “Oh, really? Since middle school, I have participated in anti-war demonstrations. Because my grandmother died in the ravages of war, in Japan.”

Juhee felt an odd feeling come over her and she looked at Seshiru, who was standing on her tiptoes as if trying to see something in the distance. Looking around, her eyes would get red from time to time. Juhee felt as if she had duped Seshiru. Seshiru, your grandmother and the elderly war victims they are talking about here are a little different . . . You said your grandmother is at Yasukuni Shrine.

Juhee could never say this to Seshiru and she felt a little distressed. “Seshiru-san, shall we take another route?” she asked earnestly, but Seshiru shook her head. “It’s all right. Let’s just go.” At that moment, Juhee thought of herself sitting in the New Orleans pub.

I want to be just like you. This was the thought she’d had most often when travelling. She wanted to mix with locals like J did and experience the culture naturally. That this would land her in a pornographic video was something she could never have imagined. J had got up together with the American guys and advised her that if she was tired then she didn’t have to go. She could just stay there and drink a little more. Juhee replied, “No I want to come along.” I want to come along. She closed her eyes tightly, miserable, thinking back on herself saying this. Mardi Gras. Shrove Tuesday was closing in. Soon they had come close to the memorial, and Seshiru didn’t know what the statue represented.

(Excerpt from pp. 185–194)

 

Translated by Kari Schenk

Author's Profile

Park Min-Jung debuted in 2009 when she won Writer’s World’s newcomer award for her short story “The Private Life of Count Saint-Simon.” She has authored the short story collections When a Ghost Gains a Body (2014) and The School for Wives (2017). She won the 2018 Young Writers’ Award for the short story “Seshiru, Juhee” that is excerpted in the Summer 2018 issue.