You can read Summer time graduation trip online. (Please support Junji Ito by buying his manga in your own language where available)
Summer time graduation trip — synopsis
A woman recalls her time after her graduation thirty years ago. During that time, she and a friend took a trip to a holiday inn towards the north-west of the country. The place was relaxing and surrounded by beautiful scenery. However, hidden beneath the inn was a bath house with an eerie secret.
On arriving at the inn, the pair decide to investigate the local facilities — first on their list was the bathhouse. As they descend the steps towards the bathhouse below, they notice how the stairwell seems to take far longer than it should do to get down. In fact, the further they go down, the darker the bottom seems. Then as they look back up the way they came, nothing but darkness there too.
Before long, they pass a strange woman who is walking towards them up the steps. This woman is lit only by a small lantern she is carrying. She nods to them that they are heading in the correct direction to the bathhouse. Then as if by magic, they are at the foot of the steps, feeling the steam from the bath behind the door.
The main character then takes off her glasses before entering the large bath, severely limiting her vision. It is one of those large public steam baths. Sat in the water, she can make out shapes of people close to her, but can make out none of their facial features. She just sees shapes and shadows in the steamy water around her.
Suddenly, her friend Hezi taps her on the shoulder and urges her out of the water and to leave with her immediately. But what did Hezi, with her much more attuned eyesight, see in the bath’s waters? What was it that the main character could not see? And just who was that mysterious figure in the stairwell?
Almost a ghost story
At first read, I couldn’t really think of how to approach writing about Summer time graduation trip. You see, it kind of ends just as it seems to begin. We get introduced to the location of the inn, then we see the mysterious lady who passes them in the hall. Following that we get the reveal of the strange people in the bath, all with their heads facing away from the girls. And then just as the inn worker seems to be about to reveal a clue to move the story along, it ends.
After reading some comments by others, I was introduced to the idea that this could actually be a troll ghost story. In fact, it’s a ghost story where the characters actually make smart decisions and get out before anything bad happens to them. If the story had taken a normal route, then perhaps the maid would have revealed a history of the building and the origins of the lady on the stairs. This would probably have led to some investigation, followed by some trouble with ghosts.
But what’s almost funny is, is the girl just stops the maid in her tracks and screams “Never mind, Ma’am! […] If we continued to listen to her, it might turn out to be really scary, right?”. In fact, the more I think about this story, the more I’m convinced that it is in fact a comedy. But it’s only a comedy in the punchline, like a dry-witted comedian who you didn’t realise was telling a joke until you find youself laughing at the end.
Although I respect Junji Ito for taking a chance on the story in how he ended it, I cant help but want more of the story revealed. If only the girls had taken the other route, and pursued a line of enquiry that would have inevitably meant risking their lives and possibly their sanity.
I loved the imagery of the bath house full of people too, all with their backs to the girls. We are left to wonder whether they are perhaps disfigured or dead… or both. Maybe it’s like a nightmare where if they are turned around they would reveal nothing more than the backs of their heads once again.
And that lady on the stairs too. She seemed like an interesting chaarcter, carrying her small lantern and apparently disappearing up the steps behind them. What was her purpose? Was she some kind of overseer of the dead below? Was she evil? Good? Or maybe an impartial lost spirit just searching for rest?
Maybe it was all some lost potential for a longer tale? Or maybe it was further strokes of genius from Junji Ito, in letting us imagine for ourselves just what was happening at that inn.
Summer time graduation trip is one of Junji Ito’s manga stories that has had to take time to grow on me. I don’t think I really “got it” on first reading. I may have even thought I didn’t have the complete version — I don’t remember. But it has grown on me and even makes me smile when I think about the ending to this one.
It’s a risky choice to write a ghost story but then end it before any meaty ghost encounters occur, but if there’s one thing I’ve come to expect from the master is that he isn’t afraid to take some chances. If you want gory or ghosts, or people with seemingly doomed fates, then you can find those aplenty amongst his other works.
However, with Summer time graduation trip what you are getting is, as I believe, a tongue-in-cheek ghost story. I can even picture Ito watching your reaction as you approach the end, just to see if you get it. I mean, I could be completely way off, but these are just my opinions. Let me know in the comments if you have any other takes on this one.