No Man’s Land

Terminal Boredom: Stories by Izumi Suzuki. Translated by Polly Barton, Sam Bett, David Boyd, and Daniel Joseph. Brooklyn, NY: Verso. 224 pages. $18.
Cover of Terminal Boredom: Stories

This morning a boy passed by my house.

When I told my sister Asako about it, she just said, ‘Dummy, you know there aren’t any boys around here.’

And she was right.

Long ago, the Earth was peopled only by women. They lived in peace until one day a certain woman gave birth to a child unlike any that had come before: its body was misshapen, it was rough and careless in everything it did, and it made a great deal of trouble for everyone before it produced a few offspring and then died. Such was the advent of man. From there, the number of men increased steadily. It was they who invented war and its requisite implements. Worse still, they began to toy with notions like revolution, work, and art, wasting their energy on all manner of abstract pursuits. And they even had the audacity to claim that this, this was the greatest characteristic of mankind—this zealous pursuit of adventure, romance, all things that were utterly useless in everyday life. Though men were adults they were children, seemingly complex but as simple as could be; they were utterly unmanageable creatures.

Women had something as well, something called ‘love’, but this was much more concrete. It was putting up with a crying baby, changing its diapers even though you were exhausted. It was sharing any food you found with the weak little beings in your care. But not with outsiders. Because if you did that, you and your bloodline would not survive.

As the number of men increased, the women had to keep a close eye on each and every one of them. This was a truly onerous task, but most women seemed to have the knack for it. They had to safeguard home and family.

With the passage of many long years, men came to dominate society through violence and cunning, and thereafter they made nothing but war. They seemed to find their raison d’être in conflicts both great and small. War found its way even into everyday life, and so were born ‘traffic wars’ and ‘admissions wars’. Such terms became so common that the word ‘war’ lost all meaning. This deplorable situation was of course the men’s fault. And, when the traffic snarls and college entrance competition got so bad that people could hardly bear it, they replaced the word ‘war’ with ‘hell’, coining phrases like ‘traffic hell’ and ‘exam hell’.

Factories continued to operate, and the age resounded with hymns of progress and harmony. But then, in the latter half of the twentieth century, a strange thing happened: the male birth rate began to decline. This was apparently due to something called pollution. The men who invented the steam engine probably never expected to set in motion events that would bring an end to their own kind.

Izumi Suzuki. Photo: Nobuyoshi Araki
Izumi Suzuki. Photo: Nobuyoshi Araki

In any case, men became scarce. For some reason women had developed the habit of each finding a particular man to love, so they were terribly sad about this. Nevertheless, the number of men continued to dwindle.

Nowadays, you’ll never even lay eyes on one unless you visit the Gender Exclusion Terminal Occupancy Zone.

‘You sure you weren’t just seeing things?’

Asako poured some tea. My confidence evaporated in the face of her question.

‘Maybe. But afterwards I looked it up in a book, and the clothes he was wearing were a lot like the ones boys wore towards the end of the twentieth century. His hair was short, and he was wearing trousers.’

‘Same goes for me.’

Asako’s hair was indeed cropped short, and she had on a pair of light cotton bell-bottoms.

‘I mean, sure, but his trousers were a lot tighter and not so wide at the bottom. And his chest was flat as a board.’

‘There are women like that too, you know.’

‘His whole vibe was different. He was solidly built and tall, with a spring in his step. There was something . . . intense about him.’

‘Wow. Well, looks like you’ve got all the answers, never mind the fact that you’ve never even seen a man before. The year I graduated high school we went on a field trip to the Occupancy Zone, but men turned out to be nothing like I expected. They were scraggly and smelled funny, and they all gave me the creeps. Maybe it’s because they’re stuck in that place, but they all seemed so lazy. You’ll understand when you go and see them. They’re awful. But you said you looked it up in a book. Where did you see a book like that?’

The publication of material concerning men is strictly prohibited.

‘A friend’s house.’

‘Well, how’d it get there?’

‘I guess her mother works for the Information Bureau. My friend doesn’t really know either. She opened the door to the study with a hairpin and said I could read any book I wanted.’

‘Such a little hoodlum.’

‘There were lots of films, too.’

‘If that got out, it would mean real trouble. Yūko, I know you don’t really understand, but that kind of thing could throw society into chaos. I want you to remember this: order is the most important thing. Abiding by the rules. If we all do that, humanity can avoid destruction.’

She gave this lecture gently, like a proper big sister.

I poured some milk into my tea. ‘By humanity, you mean women?’

‘Of course. Didn’t you learn that in school?’


‘Well, there you go.’

‘And men?’

‘Men are an offshoot of humanity as well, but they’re a deviant strain. They’re freaks.’

‘But there was a time when they flourished, wasn’t there?’

They don’t teach us much about that in school. You only learn about such taboo subjects through whispered conversations among friends. Two or three years back, someone secretly published a pamphlet called On Men, and a friend showed it to me. Eventually the police cracked down and seized all the copies. The culprits were quickly caught and put in a detention facility.

The news posters branded it a dangerous publication because it ‘stimulated curiosity’.

From Terminal Boredom: Stories by Izumi Suzuki. The stories here appeared in Japanese in The Covenant(契約 鈴木いづみSF全集), a larger collection of Izumi Suzuki’s short stories © Bunyusha 2014. Translation of ‘Women and Women’ © Daniel Joseph 2021. Used with the permission of the publisher, Verso Books.