Tokyo Damage Report

Oe Kenzaburo’s SEVENTEEN part TWO

What is SEVENTEEN??

Where's part one?


 

At dinner, no one said anything about my birthday, even my sister. I began to realize that no one was going to say anything suitable at all. Of course, our family had a habit of not talking at mealtimes to begin with. Father, who taught at a private school, disapproved of talking while eating. I think he considered it unforgivably low-class. My vigorous self-satisfying had left me exhausted and made my head ache. Perhaps I’m a despicable, polluted Seventeen, but I really wanted to tell them that quiet dinners are deeply unsatisfying. Of course this ‘birthday dinner’ wasn’t any colder than our usual dinners, I told myself. But, I decided to give up asking Father for an expander, and ate my kimchi instead. But in some corner of my heart, could it be that I really did still want a real birthday? 
 
After I finished reading the evening paper, I passed time by glaring at the TV, while still eating my kimchi and drinking my tea. When I was going to middle school in the countryside, a very tall Korean student called me a runt. After that everyone else teased me. I thought about this while eating my kimchi. On the TV news, the Crown Prince and Princess were giving a press conference from their overseas trip. Their message played on the screen. The prince, whose shifty little eyes darted this way and that, said, “People of Japan, during this time, make us proud of you. Do your best and work hard!” and so on. Beside him, the Crown Princess smirked as she stared at us, the ‘people of Japan.’
 
I muttered angrily to myself: "What the hell does he know about work, that tax-robbing parasite! I won't do my best for him!" My sister, who had been sprawled out in front of the television reading a paperback, jumped up in a sudden fury: "Tax-robber?!? What the hell are you talking about? YOU'RE the one who doesn't know anything!" I flinched before her onslaught, feeling that perhaps I had said a bad thing. My father, however, turned his head away unconcernedly and puffed contentedly on his cigarette. My older brother, who worked for a television company, was busy assembling a model airplane. Mother was working in the kitchen, but spent so much time craning her head to see the television that she accomplished nothing aside from looking foolish. 
 
In fact, the whole family gave us the cold shoulder, which irked me enough to pay my sister back tit for tat: "That's right! Tax robbers – the Crown Prince and his wife too! Working folks like us don't owe that bunch a thing! And they're not the only parasites – the army is the root of all the problems! It’s always darkest under the lighthouse, they say.”
 
"Leave the Crown Prince's wife out of this," hissed my sister, her tiny eyes sparkling with fury from the depths of her coke-bottle glasses. To tell the truth, she was speaking in quite a calm voice. "Why is the army a tax robber? If we didn't have an army, and America shut down its Japanese bases, who'd keep us safe? Moreover, what about all the second- and third sons of farming families that all work for the army? If the army shut down, what would they do for a living?"
 
I was check-mated. I went to the most liberal high school in Tokyo – we even had demonstrations. My gut feelings; my sentiments lie with the left wing. I've been to the demonstrations and written letters to the school papers saying that students should be allowed to attend the anti-military-base marches, which even got me called to the office of the sociology teacher who is the advisor to the student paper. But still, every time my class-mates criticized the army, I thought of my sister who worked at the army hospital, and I wound up defending it. That's why I was check-mated by Elder Sister: she was turning my own words against me!
 
"That's such a cliché argument. You're just recycling the LDP talking points that they repeat incessantly to deceive the people," I snorted derisively. "With your simple-minded naive head, you're just making it easier for them to steal from you!"
 
"Call me simple-minded if you want," she replied. "But let me ask you this, Mr. Complicated: If America withdraws its soldiers and our army disbands, who will occupy the military vacuum? For example, wouldn't South Korea have the advantage then? This is a fact: our fishing boats are already being captured at the Pusan line (the disputed islands between Japan and Korea) – and that’s WITH our army. So if some country sent even a small military force to our mainland, and we had absolutely no army, what would you advise us to do?"
 
"Call the United Nations, of course!” I retorted.  “As for the South Koreans, who cares? And these "small military forces" invading our mainland? Please! That's just a ruse; a rhetorical trap. These "enemy countries" only exist in your imagination."
 
"The U.N. isn't as almighty as you think,” Elder Sister shot back:  “After all, we're not being invaded by Martians! If a country on Earth is invaded, the invaders will either be U.N. members themselves, or be allied with some U.N. members. It's not like they sit around all day thinking about what's best for Japan. What's more, the U.N. armed forces don't intervene until war has already broken out. For instance in the Korean war, or those wars in bits of Africa. If Japan is invaded, even if the U.N. comes after only three days, there will be countless Japanese already dead! But the U.N. armed forces don't really care – it's not their home country they are defending, is it?
 
“Anyway, someone will definitely want a base here – Japan is vital to everyone’s Far East policy. If America withdrew from Japan, therefore, your left-wing friends wouldn't feel safe. They'd invite Russia to set up a base, to "keep Japan safe," wouldn't they?" Me, I'm inclined to stick with the Americans. I trust them more than you, anyway. But of course the best thing of all would be to have no foreign army bases on our soil at all. And that is why it's good to make the SDF a self-sufficient army. Well, and it's also good to give work to the second- and third-born sons of farmers."
 
I knew I was losing the argument and the knowledge of my immanent defeat tormented me. I hate to lose, and moreover I was certain that I was right. When my friends and I spoke of such things at school, we always agreed that opinions such as Elder Sister's were full of errors. It was normal to simply ignore them or squash them. Now, though, I found I couldn't win even against such stupid opinions. Shit! Curse the cunning of women!   I was utterly unprepared for a discussion about re-militarization.
 
"It's the fault of the conservatives in the Cabinet that those farmers' sons are unemployed,” I improvised. “Those wily politicians disenfranchise the poor with their bad policies, then use the desperate unemployed that they created, to further their right-wing military aims. Fuck what you heard and act like you know!" I was getting really worked up.
 
"But, wasn't it those same politicians who oversaw Japan's post-war boom and economic development?" retorted Elder Sister, smoothly, without any of my panic. She continued, "Admit it: the conservative government is responsible for Japan's prosperity. That's why vast numbers of Japanese continue to vote and support the conservative party."
 
"Japan's prosperity is . . . . poo-poo!" I yelled, losing all composure. "And the Japanese who vote conservative? Also poo-poo! Nothing but sheep who believe lies!" I was shouting now, and tears fell from my eyes. I knew I had blown it. I couldn't think anymore; I was too consumed with self-hatred and shame. But neither could I stop my tirade: "This Japan should be blown to bits! These kinds of people should be all shot!"
 
Elder Sister flinched for a second, then her eyes grew ice-cold and she began to stare at my still-dripping tears of shame. She stared with the pleasure that a cat takes in pouncing on a dead mouse, then dropped her gaze and began to re-read her newspaper as before. Then she said, in a low voice, "If that's how you think, I guess I’ll never change your mind.
I think left-wingers are treacherous. They say they are for democracy but they obstruct debate in the Diet (congress) every chance they get.  Then they blame the results on "the tyrants": every other party but themselves. They say they're against re-armament because it would violate the constitution, but they don't bother actually trying to find other work for the SDF soldiers. It's like they don't really have a solution, they don't seriously want to disband the SDF, they just want to make trouble for the ruling party.
 
“It's like the conservative party is a blender, and the liberals are happy to drink the sweet juice, but turn around and blame conservatives for the spicy juice: "Oh, your blender is broken, you scoundrels!" Honestly, I'd enjoy it if the progressives DID win an election for once, just to see them fall on their face. By all means! Kick out the Americans, liquidate the SDF, lower taxes while giving jobs to all the unemployed, and by-the-way, massively grow the GDP all at the same time. Let's see how that works out. If everyone hates the SDF so much, I’d gladly quit being a military nurse and become a ‘conscientious and progressive worker’ for ‘the people’ . . . if the left-wingers could fulfil all their promises, that is!”
 
My tears sailed from my face practically down to my posterior while I listened. I had disgraced myself. My father and Older Brother had impassively watched not only my defeat but seen the depths of my shameful tantrum. My father must know his son is crying, but he irritatingly hides behind his newspaper. He doesn't even care enough to scold me. Perhaps he thinks he's demonstrating American-style liberalism? At the private school where he works, they order parents to adopt American style "liberal" parenting. In fact, they brag about this wanton meddling. I asked a fellow who had transferred from Father's school, if Father's students scorned him or acted up in class. He replied that Father was thought of as unreliable. 
 
In the past, police had caught no less than twenty of Father's students playing the "peach-color amusement game". (some sort of sexy truth-or-dare thing) The newspapers made a big stink about it, but Father matter-of-factly told them that it wouldn't be liberal to regulate their behavior after class. I find his beliefs irresponsible. Students my age might protest strict rules, and hide our true feelings, but the thing we primarily need is a teacher who pays attention to our personal problems and assumes the responsibility for correcting them. As for me, an exceptionally loud and irritating child, I feel that I definitely need someone to intervene in my behavior. I don't know anything about Americanism or this so-called "liberal trend," but in this case, clearly I am more like regular folks than like Father. 
 
Father never received any formal education. He supported himself with a great many menial jobs while studying alone after work. In this fashion, he was able to not only pass his GED, but to become a principal at a respected school. But in order to focus single-mindedly on this transformation, he had to tune out those around him. As much as possible, he refused to compete with anyone. Even today, he doesn’t want to get involved in the problems of his employees who are in trouble, or punish those who start it. So he wears his cold dignity like a suit of armor because inside, he’s terrified of being sent back to poverty and manual labor. He even wears it around his family: never showing emotion, getting involved in our problems, and only expressing himself through disdainful and analytical criticism. Does he really think that’s how his beloved American liberals act with their kids?
 
In order to better ignore my sister's continued gloating, I decided to stand up and move into the tiny shed behind our house and live on a cot. Well, that is not strictly true. I decided to stand up, but I hadn't thought of anything beyond that: in fact, my mind was so full of shame and disgrace it had no room to consider anything else. However, in standing, I kicked our low dining table, knocking over the teacups. The tea dripped over the side with a sickening cold, yellow sound, like old urine. In that instant, I held my breath, and looked at Father. Instead of yelling at me, he laughed a scornful, cold little chuckle, while never even raising his eyes from his newspaper.
 
"Way to go, Mr. 8th-best-in-school," mocked Elder Sister.
 
With a scream, I turned around and delivered a strong kick straight to Elder Sister's face.
 
She wound up flat on her back, hand still grasping her book, blood streaming down her face. I had broken the lens of her glasses and the glass had cut her eyelid. Sister had always had an unbearable face that resembled a Mako shark. Now the blood from the thick eyelid that encrusted her useless eye was dripping down and collecting on the shelf of her un-naturally thick cheekbone. Mother came galloping out from the kitchen to wrap her arms around Elder Sister. I stood trembling, dumbfounded by my own actions, looking at Elder Sister's blood on my toes. From the toes, a creepy, itchy sensation was growing up my legs. Father finally put down his newspaper, with an agonizing slowness. I stood still, waiting for the rain of blows that would surely ensue. I resolved to not resist the many punches, even if I were punched to death. 
 
But in fact, father said this, in a very calm voice, and did nothing else: "You! You won't ever get any college money from your sister ever again! That means you'll have to study pretty hard to get into Tokyo University! Of course, public universities are cheaper. And the ratio of student applicants to scholarships is pretty high. But – it's not enough to just study hard. You have to have nerves of steel. If you panic, you have no one but yourself to blame. Can you make it to Tokyo University and get a great job? Or will you have to settle for Military University? But that's another story."

 
Could Father be any more of a douche? How rad is the shed in the back yard? Will Elder Sister lose her eyesight or become impregnated by leftover semen in the bathroom floor?  Will Korea attack Japan, knowing that leftists have abandoned the second-sons-of-substinance-farmers???
Tune in next time to find out!
4 comments Tags:

4 Comments so far

  1. TaoisticBeer June 23rd, 2010 6:16 am

    Holy shit I am digging the hell out of this piece of fine literature.  Time to read some more Oe!

  2. Sarah June 24th, 2010 2:05 am

    Oh, Seventeen, you wacky sonofagun. Go to your shed and repent!

  3. Alex June 30th, 2010 9:49 am

    This is awesome, very much enjoying this.

  4. AnokPanda July 30th, 2010 12:16 pm

    "Fuck what you heard and act like you know!" hahaha only a gangsta like you would translate something that way.

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