“Standing Woman” (short story) by Yasutaka Tsutsui
From Apostolou & Greenberg’s The Best Japanese Science Fiction Stories (1989)
Originally from Omni, February, 1981
Original: Japanese, 1974
Translated by David Lewis, 1981
Synopsis: For lack of greenery and for want of stiffer punishments, a city turns the unruly into arborous sculptures. A postman and mail clerk complain of their wages only to get their feet planted into the ground to become a manpillar and, one day, a mantree—complete with foliage and bark. The same treatment goes to embittered housewives and students who line the streets, while dogpillars and catpillars occupy gardens to be fed and loved or forgotten to become derelict bonepillars.
Analysis: In a megapolis, dogs and cat—though only a few years old—can be seen pointless additions to the city’s strained resources; further, those even mildly embittered by daily inconveniences are seen as a superfluous part of the population. When a city is pressed to buy and place foliage within its constrained city limits, the excessive parts of the same city are snipped from their functions and placed in public areas.
Because it takes a while for a cat, dog or human to eventually grow into a tree, their initial planting is a reminder to the other urban dwellers to conform. Later, these same catpillars, dogpillars, and manpillars offer the city its greenery in their original form, be it with bark and leaves.
In “Standing Woman”, the reader sees this all through the eyes of a writer who see himself on the border of being rebellious and even superfluous to the city. His old dog Buff was once planted as a dogpillar only to be forgotten about by the city to become a bonepillar. Now, his wife has been planted just outside a hardware store. Though she’s still able to talk and retain some sensation, he fights an internal battle to show her his love by visiting or by respecting her wishes and staying away from her and her eventual pulpy entombment.
“A future society uses a frightening method to provide urban greenery” (130)