[You may want to check the warning on this blog's translations.]
This a translation of a short detective story by 大阪圭吉 (OOSAKA Keikichi, 1912-1945), first published in the Japanese magazine Shinseinen (新青年) in 1936. I've called it "A Ginza Ghost", but you might prefer "The Ginza Ghost"; there's no article in the Japanese. You can read the original online at Aozora Bunko here. The four stories that I've read by this writer all feature amateur detectives; but they are not the aristocratic dilettantes that the word suggests. They are all professionals in some modern specialist work, sometimes in a management role, but still closely involved with the actual work (the director of a marine biology laboratory, for instance). This story shares with another famous Oosaka story, とむらい機関車 ("Funeral Train") a narrative approach which gives the narrative viewpoint to a whole neighbourhood. There are certainly better stories by Oosaka than this one; and I wouldn't want to claim too much for it. But I think it's an effective mystery, and the evocation of thirties Ginza could be interesting for western readers.
There are only five named characters in the story, TSUNEGAWA Fusae, her daughter Kimiko, her employee Sumiko, her lover Tatsujirou, and the detective NISHIMURA. We don't learn the surnames of Sumiko or Tatsujirou, or the first name of Nishimura. I've written Tatsujiro in the story, because that's how the name would mostly be written in English.
Where I could easily translate with an English expression, I have. I'll try to explain everything else here in advance.
Ginza: a Tokyo district, at that time very lively, and very modern, with many cafés.
ken: an old Japanese length measure, 1.8m.
tsubo: an old Japanese area measure, 3.3 sq. m.
well beam pattern, a shape with two crossing vertical and horizonatal lines, like the kanji for well, 井.
yakko kite: this is actually the point in the translation where I'm least confident. The symbol 奴 has various meanings: slave, person (derogatory) and I think I've seen it used dismissively for an (unspecified) thing. But here this is the only thing that seems to fit from what my dictionary or the internet offers me. The yakko kite is a traditional kite shaped like a man (a servant, hence the name).
Shinbashi: a Tokyo district just south of Ginza.
National Lamp: a popular square shaped (bicycle) lamp of the time, made by the company that later became Panasonic.
Story after the break.
A Ginza Ghost
by Oosaka Keikichi
On both sides of a sidestreet not three ken wide, the many coloured shops joined together like a rainbow to form a brightly lit backstreet Ginza neighbourhood. There was a café, large for such a sidestreet, with a blue neon sign ‘Café Blue Orchid’; and in front of it there was a pretty little tobacco shop, called Tsunegami’s. It was a two storey building, its front less than two ken wide, a narrow, narrow, beautifully decorated, bright shop. Almost as if sweeping up the sounds of jazz that tumbled out from the shops around it, it somehow by its own force drew in the customers of that sidestreet, so that it was effortlessly thriving.
The shop’s owner was a woman, apparently well over forty; a sign in women’s lettering carried the name Fusae Tsunegawa. According to local rumour she was the widow of some retired government official, with one daughter who was already about to graduate from a girl’s school. Tsunegawa was a light skinned, full bodied woman, dressed with restraint as befitted her age, but somehow still overflowing with inexhaustible youthfulness. Then at some point a bland young man of thirty or so moved in, very reserved in his contact with the people of the neighbourhood. But that intoxicated harmony did not last long. The tobacco shop throve, and finally a woman was taken on as a shop assistant and housemaid; and in no time, as the neighbourhood looked on, the peaceful agreement that the couple had till now enjoyed grew discordant. The shop assistant, Sumiko, was a little over twenty, a good looking girl with a wheat coloured complexion, and a body bouncy like a ball.
The first to discover the quarrel at the tobacco shop were the waitresses of the Blue Orchid. From the Blue Orchid’s second floor box, the second floor front of the facing tobacco shop could be seen through the window, and since the street separating them was less than three ken wide, sometimes one could hear – louder than you would expect – the complaining voice of the owner. Very occasionally a dishevelled figure was even projected on the window. At such times, even if they were at different places and welcoming customers, the women of the Blue Orchid would secretly exchange glances and give something like a sigh. But this turbulent atmosphere of the tobacco shop, faster than you would think, rushed to its limit, becoming a baffling, perfectly unnatural case, and came to a stop in something truly macabre. The witnesses of that horrible tragedy were the waitresses of the Blue Orchid who were serving just at that moment.
Even the weather that night was the kind in which some misunderstanding could easily arise; the night had an odd mood to it. From early evening a cool west wind blew, which stopped abruptly around ten o’clock. With that the air immediately grew heavy and there came a damp heat such as you would not expect in autumn. One of the waitresses, who up to this point had been serving a customer in the seat in the corner of the second floor front, now stood up and fanning her throat with a handkerchief went over to the side of the window and pushed open the sliding glass; but after a stray glance at the house across, she suddenly turned her face away, as if she had witnessed a terrible scene. Still in that state, she returned to her seat, and sent a silent signal with her eyes to the other waitresses.
In the second floor of the tobacco shop, through the half opened window, dressed in a blackish kimono with almost no pattern, the pale complexioned owner Fusae could be seen. She had not her man but the woman shop assistant Sumiko sat in front of her and was repeatedly making some entreaty. Sumiko did not nod at every point; she sat silent and with a sullen expression. She was turning her face away from the other; but her kimono, a black ground with a decisive gaudy well beam hash pattern in crimson, made an eye catching show of her beauty that night. Now however, Fusae, as if she had immediately sensed the watchers in the Blue Orchid’s second floor, turned a wary hostile face that way, then hastily got up and firmly closed the window glass. For all the clamour of the jazz music, the sound of the window slamming shut was so loud you would think it was the Blue Orchid’s window.
The waitresses gasped and exchanged glances; and then their eyes whispered each to the other.
This night is different from others.
Finally she's really laying in to Sumiko.
And really it was different from other times. There were no outbursts or whining, but a quiet and steady attack. Even if there was a loud voice occasionally, in all the din of the area it would be wiped out immediately. A little past eleven, perhaps on her mother’s orders, the schoolgirl Kimiko stopped serving and with a clatter started shutting the doors to the tobacco shop. The shop always closed at eleven; but there was a window open in front of the counter like a little hole, and from there late customers could buy tobacco. Tatsujiro – that was the name of Fusae’s young man – had also for some reason not shown his face at the front of the shop that night.
It’ll be serious for someone tonight.
Did little Sumi manage to keep her relationship with Tatsujiro under wraps in the end, I wonder.
The waitresses again whispered to each other with their eyes. But finally as the area became gradually peaceful, around the time that you could hear the echoes of the train crossing the Fourth Street intersection, the women were already thinking of the end of their shift. They forgot the tobacco shop, intent on chasing out a group of three customers who had been there from early evening and were quite drunk now. It was just at this point that the cruel tragedy took place.
First a low suppressed sound of distress – crying or wailing, it was hard to tell – came from the second floor of the tobacco shop. The window was still closed like the lid of a clam. Inside, the light was still off.
The women of the Blue Orchid instinctively exchanged glances again. A moment later from the same direction, there came a sound like someone falling down; and at that shock the women’s colour changed. They got up and bending over the window ledge they peered into the house opposite.
At that moment, in the tobacco shop’s second floor window, they thought they saw the shadow of someone swaying unsteadily. As it swayed the figure crashed into the light switch. Instantly the room became pitch dark. But a moment later, still swaying, the shadow was seen stumbling up against the front window and with a loud clatter the large yakko kite that was fixed right in the middle of the glass was torn down. With that the back of the shadow’s owner came into sight.
It was a woman, dressed in an almost patternless, plain, dark coloured kimono, with her neck whitened at the nape. In the bloodstained hand that thrust through the broken window she was holding a sharp blade, a razor by its look. Still with her back against the glass, her shoulders heaving with the violence of her breath, she stood there dazedly staring into the pitch dark room. But immediately, perhaps sensing the eyes of the people in the Blue Orchid’s window, she seemed to glance backwards for a moment, then with unsteady steps disappeared again into the darkness. The face was of a blueish pallor, distorted and glaring.
At the Blue Orchid’s window, the waitresses shrieked. There were sobbing, fearful voices mixed in as well. But the group of three customers who from behind the waitresses had also witnessed the terrible scene, men that they were, immediately ran out without a word and clattered down the stairs. Shouting out to the guests and women below, ‘Something terrible’s happened’ and ‘It’s a murder,’ they dashed out into the street. One of them raced to the police station. The other two, quite woken from their drunkenness, were walking up and down indecisively, when from the tobacco shop there came a pattering of feet and then, with the crash of someone bumping into something, the door opened violently. Dressed in a pink flannel nightdress, the daughter Kimiko burst out through the door. She saw the men and women who had come out and were milling about, and in a tearful voice she cried out to anyone listening, ‘Sumi, someone’s killed Sumi.’
In no time the police arrived.
It was indeed Sumiko that had been killed. In the middle of the pitch dark room whose light had been put out, she was lying crashed on the floor face up. She was wearing the same kimono with its a gaudy crimson well beam pattern that the waitresses of the Blue Orchid had seen her in earlier, its hem disordered. Right then, one of the policemen who rushed in with a pocket torch in their hands noticed that from the prostrate Sumiko’s throat a low wheezing sound was coming. He went straight over to her and lifted her in his arms, but she only gasped out a thin, moaning, ‘Fusa .... Fusae ....’ and collapsed.
There seemed to be a stab wound at the base of her throat, two lines from a sharp blade were cut into it. The floor round her was a pool of blood. At the edge of that pool, near the window, a blood smeared Japanese razor had been discarded.
As to Fusae, by the time people ran in, she was already nowhere to be found. Not just Fusae, Tatsujiro was not there either. There was only the daughter Kimiko. She did not come up to the second floor, but stayed blue and shivering with chattering teeth in front of the shop.
The waitresses of the Blue Orchid gave the police a concise, but terribly agitated, account of the events they had seen, from the beginning on. The party of three also confirmed the waitresses’ statement. From the statements of these witnesses and from the victim’s dying words, the police very quickly got a general idea of the case and immediately started searching for Fusae.
On the second floor of the tobacco shop, apart from the room in which the murder had taken place, there were two rooms, one facing the back and one in the middle. But Fusae was not in either of them. Downstairs, apart from the shop, there were again two rooms. But of course Fusae was nowhere to be seen. At the front, the door had been shut since eleven. The police were out in force on either side, so there was no crack for her to slip away. With that they pushed into the kitchen. That had the house’s back entrance. A path about three feet wide passed behind the neighbouring three houses, so that one could get out onto a different street from the one at the front. But where the path came out on the road, a respectable seeming grilled chicken seller had been at the counter from early in the evening. The grilled chicken seller adamantly shaking his head, gave the unambiguous statement that in the last two hours, or the last three hours even, no-one had entered or left the path. With that the police turned back and this time finally with gears creaking began a strict search of the tobacco shop. They searched everything, toilet and closets too, from one corner to the other, leaving nothing out; and finally on the second floor, and in the room in which the murder had taken place, they found Fusae in a closet.
But the policeman had hardly slid open the bamboo paper door, when he cried out, ‘B–, b–, that’s done it.’
Inside the closet, Fusae was already dead.
She was dressed in the same almost patternless blackish plain kimono as when the waitresses of the Blue Orchid had seen her. With a towel around her throat, with which she had been strangled by her own hand or by someone else, she had passed out and died. Her pale, bloodless face was already slightly swollen, but there was not doubt it was Fusae. The daughter Kimiko, held back in the arms of a policeman, was weeping and crying, ‘Oh, oh’ at her mother’s changed form.
One of the three customers, who up to now had been unobtrusively peering at the dead body from behind the policeman, said in a high voice, ‘Ah, that’s the one. It’s this one that killed the woman in the gaudy kimono over there with a razor.’
In response a senior seeming policeman bent forward and nodded deeply. Then he said, ‘In other words – how should I put it? – after killing that woman, Sumiko, Fusae here stood for a while in a daze, but knowing she had been seen by you from the Blue Orchid’s window, she quickly came back to her senses and .... but going downstairs was too dangerous, so for now she blundered into the closet and hid there .... but even as she was doing that, finally attacked by her conscience and the danger, she couldn’t bear it any longer and killed herself .... Hmm, for now it looks like that, doesn’t it?’
With these words the policeman took out his notebook and bent over Kimiko, still in her pink flannel nightdress and weeping unconsolably.
But soon after, when the investigating magistrate and the police doctor arrived at the crime scene and the investigation began in earnest, an unexpected fact emerged from the autopsy of Fusae, strange and unsettling.
Since Fusae had killed Sumiko, Fusae must of course have died later than Sumiko. She could hardly have died earlier. But for all that, although Sumiko’s body still had traces of life and was still warm, the after death phenomena of Fusae’s body were well advanced. Taking account, scientifically and objectively, of all the indications, the cooling, stiffness, mottling of the body and so on, it was quite certain that more than an hour had passed. That was the doctor’s unwavering judgement.
‘Tha–, that’s strange, ....’ the policeman from before blurted out. ‘If that was so .... No, it doesn’t make sense .... That’s to say, Sumiko was killed about twenty minutes ago, but if it’s an hour since Fusae died, then she had already died forty minutes before Sumiko was killed. The murderer died ahead of the victim – that’s what it amounts to. Looking at it the other way, when Sumiko died saying “Fusae” like that, that wasn’t the real thing, Fusae was already long dead .... It doesn’t make sense .... You end up with Fusae’s ghost. Murder by a ghost! .... And that in Ginza. A ghost appearing in the middle of the jazz quarter, that’s going to play well in the papers.’
The case had grown unexpectedly complicated. The police were at a loss, feeling like they had bumped into a brick wall. On top of that, the problem was now doubled. There were two victims to account for. Of those one had been killed by a ghost, the other after dying had turned into a ghost and come swaying forth to kill. Such an unnatural story.
But they had to move on from that. The police soon got their energy back and applied themselves to the investigation.
First, leaving the second victim Sumiko aside for the moment, they began investigating Fusae’s death.
Really, had Fusae killed herself, or had she been murdered?
But on this point the doctor was positive: it was murder, since, unlike hanging, it was pretty much impossible to strangle yourself with a cloth. The investigating magistrate and the police both agreed on the whole with this assessment. And then, taking the shop downstairs as its centre of operations, the investigation finally began in earnest.
First they summoned the daughter, Kimiko. The girl had just lost her mother and was completely distraught. Sobbing and gasping, she gave the following account.
That evening, her mother Fusae had told Kimiko to look after the shop and herself gone up to the second floor front with Sumiko. That was around ten o’clock. Kimiko had recognised that her mother’s state at that time was horribly ill tempered, but, that was not unusual and she had not made much of it. She had looked after the shop, reading magazines as she did so. But since she got up early for school, when it got to eleven o’clock, she became incredibly tired, and shutting shop as usual she withdrew to her room at the back of the second floor and went to sleep. As she went up the stairs to the second floor, she had heard no voices from the front room. For Kimiko, rather than raising suspicion, it had caused a strangely embarrassed reserve. But after a while half asleep and half awake, she was woken by a scream from the front room and the sound of a falling body. For a while she stayed in her bed, thinking and thinking, unsure what she had heard; but her alarm grew rapidly and she could not stay still. Getting out of bed she went to take a look at the front room. As the light was out, she finally, with agitated heart, put on the middle room light and softly sliding open the bamboo paper door peered into the room. Then, discovering Sumiko on the floor in the middle of the room, without making a sound she half ran, half tumbled down the stairs, forced open the front door, and raised the alarm to people. That was the general form of her testimony.
‘When you looked into the front room, your mother wasn’t standing in the window?’
Kimiko shook her head at the policeman’s question and replied, ‘No, mother was already gone then.’
‘And then, when in shock you went down the stairs, even seeing that your mother wasn’t there, you had no suspicions?’
‘Mother sometimes went out late at night for a drink with uncle. I thought she’d done the same tonight ....’
‘Uncle? Uncle you say? Who’s that?’
The policeman immediately picked up on the word. Kimiko fearfully explained about Tatsujiro. Then trembling she added, ‘.... Tonight uncle went out before mother, while I was still minding the shop .... But, as the back door was open, he might have turned round and come back. As I was asleep I wouldn't notice.’
‘Where on earth has he gone? Drinking I take it?’
‘I don’t know.’
At that the officer in charge immediately sent a man running off with orders to hunt out Tatsujiro. Then taking up again, the questioning of the Blue Orchid’s waitresses and the three customers started.
The witnesses repeated the statement they had made the first time. But of course beyond that no new evidence came out. Only that Kimiko’s statement agreed with what they themselves had witnessed. As to Tatsujiro, the waitresses only said as much as Kimiko knew.
That was all the questioning for now. On the whole the police understood the point at which Fusae had been killed. That is, she had been killed some time after when the Blue Orchid waitresses saw her with Sumiko seated in front of her and then wildly shutting the window, through to about eleven o’clock. If so, and if Kimiko’s statement was correct, Tatsujiro was not in the house at that time. But while Kimiko was minding the shop, could it be that he had quietly crept in the back way, gone up to the second floor, strangled Fusae and run back out? Either way they could only know when they got hold of Tatsujiro.
But a few minutes later Tatsujiro came strolling back without the police having any hand in it. With a face that looked like he had no idea what was going on, throughout the questioning he answered confusedly.
By his account, from ten o’clock till now he had been drinking continuously in a Shinbashi oden shop, Takohachi (The Octopus), quite unaware of what had happened. Straight away a police officer made an urgent visit to the Takohachi. But when in due course the owner was brought in, he took one look at Tatsujiro and said, ‘Yes, definitely this gentleman was at my humble shop from around ten until just now …. My wife, and the other customers too, should remember.’
The officer in charge, disappointed, told the owner to leave with a jerk of his jaw.
Tatsujiro had an alibi. Well in that case, the investigation was growing impatient. Kimiko was watching the shop at the front, and at the back where the path came out the grilled chicked seller was adamant that no-one had gone that way. The second floor front window was under the eyes of the second floor of the Blue Orchid. In Kimiko’s room at the back of the second floor, the window lock was fastened on the inside. Even if the catch had not been fastened, outside the window, on the kitchen roof there was a clothes drying area of two tsubo, and around that a strict barbed wire barrier. On top of that, when just to be sure they questioned the neighbouring houses on the path to the grilled chicken shop, each of them had had the back door to the path closed from early in the evening and had noticed nothing suspicious. In which case, even when Fusae was killed, in the tobacco shop, shut up like a locked room, there were only two other people, Sumiko, who was killed later, and Kimiko, who was minding the shop.
Now however you looked at it there was no other approach but to suspect one of those two. At this point they very quickly made Kimiko their target. But having done so and narrowed the stage, the start of their reasoning was to search out Fusae’s killer, and here there was a strange overlap with Sumiko’s murder and the resulting picture was just bizarre. For instance young Kimiko – and the thought was near impossible – but just for the sake of argument Kimiko first of all must have killed her mother. And in that case, since Fusae was already dead, for her to sally forth afterwards to kill Sumiko would be strange. On the other hand suppose that Sumiko killed Fusae. In this case too, it was strange to have the murdered Fusae setting off to kill Sumiko. – In the end, try what they might, they came back to the strange case of Sumiko’s murder. With that the officers in charge finally bumped to a stop in the ghost murder case, and had no way of proceeding further. Everyone became irritated and wrung their wits out.
First, when Sumiko was killed, there were two people in that tobacco shop sealed up like a locked room, the already murdered Fusae and Kimiko, who claimed to have gone to bed in the second floor back room. But for the police, who hardly believed in ghosts, even if the witnesses said they had seen Fusae after killing Sumiko from the window of the Blue Orchid, they had only had a glimpse and no-one could say with certainty whether it was Fusae’s face or not, they only agreed that she had been wearing a plain black kimono: that was clearly not Fusae risen to kill Sumiko. Kimiko had put on her mother’s kimono and killed Sumiko, and afterwards changed into her pink nightdress. Did that make sense?
But this collapsed immediately. From the time when the Fusae like figure had swayed away from the window of the crime scene, immediately after the murder, till the Blue Orchid people went out into the street and Kimiko came crashing through the door, hardly three minutes had passed. Kimiko simply had not had time to take off her mother’s kimono and again dress her mother’s corpse in it and so on.
Well how about this? She had made her performance wearing not her mother’s kimono, but another blackish one, plain and with no pattern that could be discerned at a distance of three or four ken? That seemed feasible. The police made a thorough search of the tobacco shop. But only two or three such kimonos emerged, from the drawers of Fusae’s Japanese dresser, and all of those had been prepared with moth repellent, neatly folded up and wrapped in print paper. There was no way that could be done in three or four minutes of hurried work. .... No, not just that, say that young Kimiko was the murderer, in that case what on earth could you make of Sumiko’s dying ‘Fusae’? .... However you looked at it, it couldn’t be Kimiko that killed Sumiko ....
The police ended up giving up on the investigation for that night.
Next day all the newspapers covered the ghost's appearance in big form. The police became desperate and went over again the things they had investigated before. As to new results, they had passed the razor used as a weapon to the forensic science department; but all they got from them was that, given the narrow form of the razor, not one clear fingerprint was left on it, only smudges. They had taken Tatsujiro to the station and interrogated him; but all they learnt was that at some stage he had become intimate with Sumiko, and because of that the house had begun to quarrel.
But then, after the police had begun wandering around in perplexity, towards evening, an unusual amateur detective came on the scene, and insisted on meeting with the officer in charge.
This was the bar tender of the Blue Orchid, a young man called Nishimura. He rang the bell loudly, and telephoned again and again, ‘..... Hello, is that the inspector? I'm the Blue Orchid’s bartender. And I know who the ghost really was. That’s it, the real identity of Sumiko’s ghostly killer. .... Could you perhaps come over to our place this evening? .... Yes, I'll tell you then .... Or actually no, I’ll let you see the ghost with your own eyes ....’
When the inspector, accompanied by one subordinate, reached the second floor of the Blue Orchid, the area was already quite dark and as if last night's case had been quite forgotten, the side street was brightly lit and overflowing with jazz music. But as you might expect in the heart of a town filled with curiosity, there were several people who looked like they were crime scene tourists milling round in front of the tobacco shop. In the Blue Orchid, both upstairs and down were well filled with customers, all of them gossipping about the tobacco shop ghost.
Dressed in a white jacket and bow tie the bartender Nishimura greeted the policemen cordially and showed them upstairs to seats by the front window, ordering drinks from the waitresses. The inspector from the beginning was scowling and making no effort to talk, suspiciously keeping an eye out for just what the bar tender was up to.
Across the window sill you could see straight into the tobacco shop’s second floor. The corpse had already be taken away for dissection. As usual, behind the window fitted with sliding glass, the bright electric light was on.
‘The fact is – what should I say?’ the bartender started, ‘.... Rather than clumsily explaining, I thought, “No, what I’ll do is ask you to be so kind as to see the real thing.”’
‘What the devil are you planning to show us, man?’ the inspector asked back distrustfully.
‘Hmm. It’s .... well the ghost that I’ve discovered.’
The inspector interrupted, ‘So you know who killed Sumiko, do you?’
‘Mmm, pretty much ....’
‘What’s that? Were you watching the crime scene?’
‘No, it’s not that I saw it .... At that time, as Fusae had already been killed, there were only two people left ....’
‘Well then you’re saying that Kimiko was the killer?’ the inspector said with a sneer.
‘No, I’m not,’ the bartender shook his head heatedly, ‘Haven’t you gentlemen already eliminated little Kimi?’
‘Well then there’s no-one left,’ the inspector said as if giving up.
‘There is,’ Nishimura smiled. ‘Sumi was there wasn’t she?’
‘Exactly. It was Sumiko that killed Sumiko.’
‘So you’re saying it was suicide?’
‘Yes.’ Here Nishimura's face turned serious. ‘From the beginning,’ he said, ‘Everybody has been under an absurd delusion. If they’d been discovered after they died, it would probably not have come to that. But somehow, with her cutting her own pipe and writhing in her death throes, that place where she’d writhed around was all that people saw, and they mixed up the place of the suicide with the place of the murder. .... As I see it it was probably Sumiko that killed Fusae. That is, last night when Fusae chastised Sumiko it grew into a rival’s quarrel, and that ended with Sumiko killing Fusae. As she returned to her senses and saw the terrible crime that she had committed and could not run away from, she first hid Fusae’s body in the closet .... That would perhaps be because she thought of the danger when Kimiko came upstairs at eleven o’clock. .... After that becoming more and more anguished, in the end she committed suicide. That is, what happened is the exact opposite of what you gentlemen thought back when Fusae was discovered. So those dying words of Sumiko, when she called Fusae’s name – she wasn't telling you who had killed her, she was calling out the name of the person she killed, driven by regret. At least, that’s how I see it.’
‘That’s a joke,’ the inspector finally spat out. ‘From what you say, the woman these waitresses here saw then, the woman in a plain kimono holding a razor who slumped into the window, that was Sumiko not Fusae? .... Rubbish, the delusion’s on your side. You get it? First, think of the kimonos. Fusae was wearing that plain kimono, Sumiko was wearing that gaudy kimono –’
‘A moment please,’ the bartender interrupted. ‘That is, we’ve reached the key point. The appearance of the ghost .... I think everything’s prepared, so now I'd just like you to see the real form of the ghost ....’ He stood up dramatically, ‘.... Have you not spotted it yet? The identity of the ghost that appeared right in the middle of Ginza? .... If you’d just think a little about how things were when the incident happened, the way the house was built, I think anyone could see it ....’
With these words the bartender smiled maliciously and went downstairs leaving the policemen in blank amazement. But a moment later he came back carrying a National Lamp bicycle light and standing by the window, addressed the inspector, ‘Well I’m about to show you the ghost. So please stand here!’
The inspector, with a sulky face, stood by the window as the bar tender instructed. Up to this point the waitresses and the customers had been holding back and watching from a distance. Now one after another, like an avalanche they came over to the window. The bar tender said, ‘Please look at the window opposite.’
In the second floor window of the tobacco shop opposite, only three ken away, as it had on that night, a light was shining peacefully; but after a bit you could sense the presence of someone in the room, and a shadow was thrown on the glass.
The people in the Blue Orchid leant forward instinctively, their eyes concentrated on what might be starting. The shadow moved, swaying wildly. One hand stretched out, and instantly the light disappeared.
‘Is that right? Back then the shadow’s owner swayed and bumped into the light switch, and it got dark like this?’
But before the bartender had finished speaking, the facing window was opened from inside with a creak, and like what they had witnessed the night before, a woman’s back could be clearly seen in the midst of the darkness, dressed in an almost patternless, blackish, plain kimono, and with a whitened nape of the neck. At that moment the bar tender threw the beam of the National Lamp he was holding onto the woman’s back. And with that, the figure, that had been wearing an older woman’s almost patternless seeming blackish kimono, unexpectedly transformed into a young woman wearing a kimono with a decisive gaudy well beam pattern in crimson on black.
‘Thank you, Kimi,’ the bartender shouted across to the window opposite. The woman in the window calmly turned towards his voice and gave a melancholy smile. The face was Kimiko’s.
‘You saw that, I take it. .... Well with Miss Kimiko, I borrowed that kimono for the sake of this little experiment.’ The bartender turned back and throwing a mocking smile at the dazed face of the inspector, he spoke again. ‘Have you not understood yet? .... Right then, I’ll spell it out. .... Please just consider this point for a moment. For instance, a letter in red ink, if you view it through normal clear glass, looks red, just as if there was no glass there, doesn’t it? But now if you look at the same red letter through red glass, you can’t see a red letter at all. .... Just like when I develope a film – that’s a hobby of mine – I get caught up in developing under the red light, and often I’m thrown out when the printing paper in a red package, that I’d definitely put just by my side, unexpectedly disappears. Surprised I grope for it with my hand and exactly there where I can’t see anything, my hand senses it .... Yes it’s just like that. But this time instead of red glass, if you look at a red letter throught blue glass, just the opposite to before, it would seem clearly black, yes? ....’
‘Hmm. I see,’ the inspector said. ‘I think I get what you're saying, but ....’
‘It’s really trivial,’ the bartender Nishimura said, smiling. ‘Come on, this time let’s replace that letter in red ink with a gaudy kimono with a scarlet or crimson well beam pattern. Under a normal light that should look like a crimson well beam pattern, yes? But like with the red ink, the moment the light hitting it is blue, that crimson well beam pattern becomes a black well beam pattern. If that was all, it would be no problem; but if the ground that the well beam pattern is standing out against is black, with the concurrence of black and black, the pattern doesn’t come out a bit. It just looks like a black patternless kimono.’
‘But, you. The light was off. Got it?’
‘Yes, it was. Exactly because the normal light in the middle of the room was switched off, that makes my idea all the more correct.’
‘Well, this blue light, when was it switched on then?’
‘What? It was on from the beginning. If it had been switched on at that point someone would have noticed. That is, the blue light didn’t get switched on then; what happened was, when the normal light in the room went out, only then did the blue light that had always been on have a noticeable effect. That’s why nobody at this window noticed at all.’
‘Where on earth was this blue light?’
‘Come on, you all know, surely.’
At this point the inspector, not waiting for the end of the bartender’s words, ran to the window. Then gripping the frame he bent forward and lent out to a point where he looked in danger of falling and twisted his head upwards. Immediately he called out, ‘Ah, I get it.’
Above the Blue Orchid’s window, a large blue neon sign with the words ‘Café Blue Orchid’ was shining brightly.
‘But even so, you did well to notice this, didn't you?’ the inspector said to the bartender later, buying him a beer. The young bartender suddenly became embarrassed and laughed, ‘No, no, it was nothing. .... In the first place, as to this ghost phenomenon, I see it every day.’ He indicated the waitresses with a movement of his jaw. ‘The women here, the same kimono is really a different thing noon and night, you know. .... That too is a kind of Ginza ghost ....’