Tokyo Damage Report

Kenzaburo Oe’s SEVENTEEN, part six

What is SEVENTEEN??

 
Chapter 3
 
“Wanna be a sakura, yo?” came a voice from close behind me. (sakura: literally cherry blossom, but it’s also a slang term for a militia temp-worker: someone hired to beef up the crowds at right-wing rallies) I was waiting for the train. As usual I was all alone, since I lacked the courage to attend the odious post-PE-test class meeting. I whirled around, and saw Shintoho looking at me with an unusually earnest expression on his face. He flinched as if I were about to punch him, and began to explain most loquaciously, putting my fears at ease.
 
“Chill out, bro! I didn’t want to go to that dumb-ass PE meeting either. I saw you at the ticket gate so I followed you in here. You know, you’re a pretty courageous motherfucker! I really changed my opinion of you today. What you did and all. All coaches are human garbage, but this coach has an especially bad attitude. 800 meters? Are we fuckin’ horses, man?? Making us run like that – they should call him Violence Coach. They say he got dumped by that cute music teacher, that’s why he’s taking it all out on us. I was thinking about that the whole time I was running, dude! I got pretty mad. Everyone was happy when you peed – it would have been better if the whole class had peed. That Violence Coach lost face!” This made me feel better, and then Shintoho continued, in a hushed voice, “I sometimes hang out at right-wing meetings. There’s one today near Shinbashi station. They’re hiring sakura, yo. 500 yen! How – How about it, dude? I’m dead serious yo.”
 
I felt that Shintoho was scared of me right then.  I’d never seen him speak with such and earnest face and such an urgent, pleading voice. He saw my sceptical, silent face, and spoke to me as if I was the superior person. “Let me tell you about where I’m coming from: I’m not a ‘rightster’ – more an anarchist, like those American Beatniks. But, yo, the progressives and the communists are always talking bad about our military, and that gets me mad. You sometimes stand up for the army at school, right? When you said that your sister’s a military nurse, I was happy. But I’m kind of a coward, so I didn’t back you up. But the truth is, my dad is in the Army- he’s a colonel. That’s why I want to crush the progressives and fuckin’ commies. And since the uyoku want that too, sometimes I go to their rallies. I heard about this outfit, called the Imperial Way Faction. Their boss is Sakagibara Kunihiko. During the war he was the head of the Secret Service.  He’s been friends with Prime Minister Oka since their days in (occupied) China, but he doesn’t want any power for himself – just to help Japan.”
 
I realized that Shintoho was much more naive than I’d ever imagined. Despite being popular, he was just another dumb kid after all. I felt great – like I had effortlessly caught a splendid bird who simply flew into my arms. The train came, and I nodded at Shintoho. We got on together. After all, I couldn’t bear going home by myself. What did I have to go home to? Even hanging out with someone I had nothing but contempt for was less wounding to my self-esteem than being all alone. It was like a drunk, drinking sake to forget his troubles. Once on the train, Shintoho changed completely: he was quiet. The idea of being hired by the right-wing was exciting – not that I believed in them – but I felt like I was going to be a spy in their midst! And that popular Shintoho – who was always talking to everyone – never mentioned his uyoku connections to anyone but me. If he’d told anyone else, half the school would have known by the next morning. Mr. Acne-Face Shintoho and I, we beamed at each other, with our secret knowledge, until our chests filled with pride. I realized for the first time that his greasy, hard pomade hairdo was a trick to make him appear taller. In fact, I was actually taller than he!
 
This is a strange thing to say, but realizing this consoled me, and a feeling of relief swept up from the bottom of my heart. As the train neared Shinbashi station, we remained silent, each lost in his own exciting thoughts. Even though it was the heart of Tokyo, the mid-afternoon train platform quiet and deserted, lending it a mysterious feeling. We walked out, our chests swollen with manly pride. We were going to do something naughty after school – like those kids playing the ‘peach game’! But at the same time, I had a feeling that suddenly the most important incident of my lifetime was just around the corner. Just thinking of the possibilities exhausted me. And yet, to the old man sweeping up the train station, and looking at us, we were just two regular high-school boys off to do some mischief.
 
However, as soon as we arrived, I could tell that Mr. Imperial Way Sakagibara’s speech was a total disaster. There was nobody in the audience! Just an old man, perhaps in his fifties, roaring and yelling energetically. He seemed utterly unconcerned that passers-by paid him no attention, standing by himself and bellowing things whose meaning was unclear. Instead of looking at the people, he aimed his fury at the trains running back and forth on the elevated tracks. Perhaps Mr. Sakagibara was trying to win an award for “First Man To Be Louder Than The Shinbashi Train,” I thought. As sakura, we should have been clapping manfully and yelling encouragement, but we were so bewildered by the strange sight that we forgot. We forgot that we were hired to be ‘human lions’ who intimidated people with our shouting and mean facial expressions.  The irresponsible passers-by, and for that matter, Shintoho himself, were overcome with curiosity about this solitary ranter, and stared at him for a long time. I was especially amazed that he could boldly face large numbers of people, their cold expressions, their snickering, and their total indifference to his words. And yet he was not in the least fazed: he raged at them, like an army on the attack. I was overwhelmed with surprise, particularly because he had no one beside him. Also the stage was barren – his Japanese flag didn’t even have a pole. On the wings of the stage were young men in black shirts, as well as some broad-backed elderly men, but instead of paying attention to Sagakibara, they mostly watched the nearby race-horse scoreboard. Perhaps they were dreaming of winning big on a horse named “Imperial Way.” But there was one sakura who remembered to take his duty seriously. At first, this cold, pinched looking young man was just sitting right in front of the stage in the center of a concrete bench, with his knees pulled up to his chin. Sakagibara, meanwhile, was yelling so hard his throat hurt and spit flew out of his mouth, with a look of increasing resentment in his eyes, while glaring off into space. When Sakagibara paused for breath in the middle of an important point, the young man suddenly burst into wild applause, his solitary clapping hung awkwardly in the air, but soon his outburst began to cause a sort of scandal. . . . a minor scandal, but enough to arouse curiosity in even the bystanders who had acted as if they had sworn a solemn oath on their father’s deathbed to neglect Sakagibara! People began to gather around Sakagibara in a semi-circle. As the circle began to close, Shintoho and I decided we’d better get seats for ourselves while there was still time, and managed to snare a bench in the very back of the seating area. We were sakura, but I began to doubt whether Shintoho really ‘hung out at’ these ‘rallies, yo.’ He seemed to lack the passion he’d had on the train, and seemed much more quiet and timid than one would expect of a veteran sakura. I looked at the twenty or so men seated on the benches in front of us.  Those that were clapping and shouting praise seemed to be mainly paid sakura like us. But not like us exactly – they had the look of day laborers; men who kept all their worldly possessions in the duffel bags that they perched identically on their laps like so many pet cats. Every time the fanatical boy in their midst began to shout encouragement, they remained silent, causing him to make a very uncomfortable face.
 
I felt that Shintoho should have begun clapping as well by now, so I stared at him until he began to applaud. While doing so, he explained that the other guys – just like us – had been hired: “It’s sunny today, but Sakagibara often does rallies in the rain. Because these broken-down day-laborers need a place to keep dry! Then, Sakagibara always talks about how the rain is tears from heaven, which God is crying because of this degenerate age we’re living in. Or he’ll talk about how he is cursed with some sort of ‘rain jinx’, but they’re so loyal to him they’ll turn up anyway, and so on. These dudes need shelter anyway, so they usually don’t get mad at what he’s saying, but there are times when they do!” I had no idea if any of this was true. All I knew was, rain makes people more mellow. In particular, when there is a hot, muggy rain, with low atmospheric pressure conditions, I find myself to be much more tolerant of others. “These decrepit day-laborers are happy too, yo!” continued Shintoho: “They don’t have to do some back-breaking work – just sit quietly and clap sometimes. Pretty fuckin’ sweet for them if you think about it.” It was as if he knew exactly where my doubts lay and was trying to convince me. I knew perfectly well Shintoho was trying to pressure me to enjoy the show, but I wasn’t depressed about it. Actually, I recalled my feelings of disgrace on the PE field, and how much better – released, almost – I felt being here instead.  I was so overflowing with shame that I might have killed myself tonight! This event felt like I had been given a ‘stay of execution.’ The old homeless guys, sitting on their benches with their knees tucked under them, staring resolutely at their hands, I wondered, did they feel the same way?  These guys, do they feel the stares of passers-by penetrating them like a thousand arrows, into their back and shoulders? Do they feel the afternoon summer sun’s radiance on their head, pulling them down like a low tide, until finally the winter’s dusk and cold lead them to utter despair? Especially in big cities like Tokyo, the alienation and sense of futility can rise until it fills one’s whole body. Only the younger sakura could – in spite of all this – manage to applaud and bellow encouragement. On stage, Sakagibara was still yelling, and as we continued to endure the weight of his gravely voice, our eyes drifted to the waning sky and soared.
 
At the far edge of the area, men who had nothing better to do were watching and scoffing with their cold faces. I was drifting between wakefulness and sleep. All the noises of the big city began to blur together in my ears. It was as if I was the warm, heavy ocean of a summer night, and the noises were peeling off of me, and drifting upwards towards the ocean surface. I forgot about the mocking men behind me, forgot about Shintoho beside me, forgot about Sakagibara in front of me. It was if I was just one insignificant grain of sand in the desert of the big city: I couldn’t change the desert with my tiny ‘grain power’, but I could use it to achieve piece of mind, and forgive everything that had happened to me thus far in my life. I took all the hatred and contempt and let it seep out of me, distributing it back to the desert from whence it came. All my self-blame was cast out, all my self-loathing and my weak points were blown loose by the desert winds. My rotten parts, my perverted filth and the relentless critic who lived inside of me, were all suddenly gone from my heart. I was a puppy, I thought. A puppy covered in gaping wounds, futilely licking itself and consoling itself. I was barking and biting at the world and those who mocked me, but the whole time I was searching blindly for a Papa-dog who could heal me. In my half-awake, dreamlike state, I was spellbound by my revelations. As if in a dream, I heard all the abuse that I’d ever hurled at the normal people and the society that had mistreated me; all the hatred and detestation. I was dimly aware that – out in the real world – it was Sakagibara’s voice, but inside my head, his bellowing took on the form of my own voice- all his hatred and detestation became the cry of my own heart. In his emotions and gestures, I felt a strength began to enter my entire body, and I began to hear his screaming for the first time: “These guys, these shitty-ass fuckers, these low-lifes are selling our country like a cheap whore!!! These heinous fuckers! This is God’s land! This is where we keep our women and raise our children! But the way we raise them is wrong, isn’t it?!? The Japanese who do business with those beasts from Russia and China, they should retire! Because I’m not going to stop kicking them right in the asshole! Those faggots are getting butt-fucked by Kruschev so hard they don’t even have time to fart!!! They’re taking dirty money from that hoodlum Mao Zedong, and using it to bribe workers to strike! And I’ll bet you within two years all these Commie faggots will be betrayed – their friends will turn on them for ‘leaning to the right.’ They’ll be forced to go to ‘self-criticism sessions’ and purged, and it serves them right! Look at you now, Commies! They say we’re Yakuza, that we’re violence gangs. But who’s really doing the violence? Who is doing the protests and the strikes? Who is doing the terrorist bombings? Us or them? Without even a word of warning, these leftist pigs kill many people. Nazis aren’t the only ones with concentration camps, you know! The Soviets are worse!!! These dirty Commies go to China and infect the Chinese with their ideas. Then the Chinese commies enslave the people and live off their sweat and blood! The Japanese military had to come in and crush them – massacring and killing! The Commies called it the “sankousaku” (literally, ‘three alls strategy’: kill all, burn all, loot all). And yet, the Commies perpetrated those same atrocities, and even worse, on their own people! And they have the nerve to say, “Forgive us, because the Japanese army did worse. Let’s all blame everything on them!”
 
In the name of the Imperial Family, we must strike back! My friend – a Manchuria veteran – begged me, “Make me rape their women and kill the men!” These back-stabbers are betraying Japan. These shameless toadies, these fork-tongued lackeys, these irresponsible murdering swindling homosexuals!!!!! It makes me want to vomit!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I have taken a solemn oath to kill them, to torture them, to rape their women and feed their children to the pigs! It’s the only righteous thing to do!!!!!!!!!!!!! It’s my responsibility as a man!!!!! It’s the mission God gave me!!! To send them straight to helllllllllllllllllllllllll!!!!!!111 Why did God put us here on Earth? To make sure these Commies burn at the stake! There is no other reason!!!!!!! God put us here to send them to hell! There is no other reason!!!! We are few, but we’ll find a way, because it’s divine providence. Lenin is the only god these pigs have – they call him Uncle. Weak though we are, we will gladly give our lives to take theirs! We are righteous!!!!”
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2 Comments so far

  1. Monty July 24th, 2010 4:16 pm

    " The Japanese who do business with those beasts from Russia and China, they should retire! Because I’m not going to stop kicking them right in the asshole! Those faggots are getting butt-fucked by Kruschev so hard they don’t even have time to fart!!!" This is some seriously good stuff. How close are you doing the translation?

  2. EstherHawdon July 25th, 2010 4:29 am

    Oe's "Seventeen" is a controversial political novel; somehow dangerous yet fascinating.
    When I was a student, I loved reading his novels.

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