Tokyo Damage Report

Oe’s DEATH OF A POLITICAL YOUTH part eight

I was swept away by the currents of revelation and tears. A blissful current indeed. After the lecture, President Sakagibara leant me a special book: “Seppuku Diary.” But clearly his lecture was not meant to inspire me specifically. The revelations I gleaned from it were my own, from beginning to end. That night, I returned to the lonely room – – which I used to share with Shigeru. In my desk, I discovered a simple memo which Shigeru had left for me.
 
“I can’t take the conservative policies of this Party no more! I’m going to leave and put all my energy into starting my own Party. If you feel the same way, then I’ll introduce you to the Ashiyaoka Farm, where you can live temporarily. If you come in person, I’ll explain everything. I’ve drawn a map on the back.
 
Shigeru”
 
The following day, I got all my luggage in order and left Headquarters. Strong feelings welled up: I wanted to go to Ashiyaoka Farm, but I wanted also to travel to Washington Heights and see the suicide spot for myself.
 
I got on a train bound for Yoyogi.
 
At the site, I sat down on my trunk, looking through the barbed wire fence at the tall, grassy hill. The ritual-suicide spot had now been turned into a kindergarten for the children of American officers. Little blonde children played, smelled flowers, and sang songs. Watching the loveable foreign childrens’ happiness put me in a tolerant mood. The clean, fresh light of late summer shined on us all – solitary me, the drops of water on the green grass, and the small wiggling shoulders of the foreign blonde children alike.
 
Then I thought about that other Seventeen, fifteen years ago, on a summer’s morning, who followed the instructions: “Find the spot four centimeters below your belly button, and cut sideways fifteen centimeters, to a depth of 0.5 centimeters, which is to say, just the skin.” And then, his kaishaku would “Find the spot, in the center of the neck, between the fifth and sixth vertebrae, and cut the spinal cord.”
 
That Seventeen , who was now separate from his Party . . . all by himself in Heaven. Alone in his “uyoku castle” which he had caused to be built. I felt his solitude as if it were my own.
 
CHAPTER 6
 
At  Ashiyaoka Farm, I obtained the first chance of my life to perform manual labor, to experience the lifestyle of a peasant. I think everyone should devote some part of their life laboring on a farm, where one’s schedule is based on the sun. Especially for myself, it was one part of my giving my life for my country, I thought.
 
I wanted for at least an instant to feel the feeling of, “Us peasants working quietly and obediently in the twilight, like sheep.” To feel the honest sweat forming and then drying on my forehead. To feel my soft feet develop calluses and become dirty – but at the same time, feel the cleansing effect of the mud. To feel my hot muscles cooled down by the snow of fatigue, the knowledge of a honest day’s work completed, to know that the sun was in the sky watching over me as I labored. I was eager to receive the physical-ness of the naked natural earth.
 
Like a super-motivated nihilist in a graveyard, tearing up the earth to get to the soft bodies, I would scamper about, tilling the earth, planting the fragile seeds, secure in the knowledge that, the following spring, the sprouts would mature, a bountiful harvest born from my valorous labor. And like a bumper crop, these visions of farm life sprouted in my head, grew to great heights, and in their full ripeness, I beheld this: us peasants, looking up to heaven, hearing the voice which we had prayed for: “Yes! That’s enough now, go on!” and in that instant, like some salmon which had finished laying eggs, we effortlessly scampered home to play.
 
At Ashiyaoka Farm, I spent my first two weeks from dawn to dusk each day in the orchard, making fences to prevent the calves from entering. By the end of my second week, the persimmons were blooming, splendidly, feverishly. I realized that fruits were things which absolutely put all their strength into developing as fast as possible. I felt that I myself, in my mind and my muscles, was on the same path!
 
My next two weeks were spent raising livestock. And something in the livestock pens made an even deeper impression: the pregnant females, one pig and one cow, and even a pregnant dog, who lay in the straw, in the deepening sunshine outside the pens. They could only move slowly, with a very calm, harmonious attitude. Their eyes were full of a sort of great resignation, a sort of kindness or even love. The whole surface of their bodies, like the sun, radiated energy : a languorous slow motion, devoid of regret, full of life.
 
This deeply moved me with an almost spiritual power. And I began to realize that I, myself, had begun to manifest a special trait in common with these animals: more than just dumb composure, it was a gentle quietness, a peace of mind. Afraid of falling over and having a mis-carriage, they would walk very slowly and carefully. They must have had some premonition, some intuition, that , at length, they would know the agony and ecstasy of childbirth. I gave praise to these solitary mothers and their faint smiling expressions, caressing their heads, legs, chests, and everything else.
 
Of course I wouldn’t literally say that I was myself pregnant with fruits or fetuses, but nonetheless, I had the feeling that something great, some potential, some destiny, was developing within me. Something enigmatic, like the ancient Buddha statue so beloved by Ashiyaoka Farm’s owner, Mr. Matsumoto. But what I could definitely state was that I was free from the hyper-sensitivity and emotional volatility which had plagued me. I walked with a constant, small smile on my dark, sunburnt face, confident that my revelation was real, as I anticipated what form my own “childbirth” might take. And soon enough my destiny would arrive. It was extremely clear to me, this premonition. Any minute now, the big voice would boom, “Yes! That’s enough now, go on!” and my new life would begin, as if born, fully-formed, from my body.
 
Mr. Matsumoto had a daughter-in-law, who was also part of the “circle” of pregnant organisms on the farm: she was entering her second trimester. Since I came to the farm, I had barely spoken a word to anyone. But occasionally this beautiful daughter-in-law would come by and make some quiet conversation. Like me, she shared a love of watching the pregnant animals, so she would sometimes come to the livestock pens where I worked.
 
Mr. Matsumoto was a former uyoku theoretician and strategist. As one might expect from such a man, he’d had a small Shinto shrine (Ashiyaoka Shrine) installed on his property. The daughter-in-law, however, was a Buddhist.
 
As evening fell, I was in the already-dark pens, having finished shoveling hay, lying on top of the resulting pile. A smile played across my face, as I listened to the irregular breathing of the pregnant pig, while staring at the daughter-in-law, who wore a benevolent expression like that of the Virgin Mary: she also liked listening to the fat, moist, un-glamorous sound. As a Shinto youth, I was always the target of her mischievous Buddhist proselytizing. This time she said, “Hey you, do you know what the Buddhist teaching of ‘nengemishou’ (拈華微笑) means?”
 
I was shoveling massive amounts of cow feed into a pile when she said this, so I just rolled my eyes. She was always guessing things about me, and her guesses were usually completely wrong.
 
She continued: “Of course you don’t know. You’re in the “heavenly faction” like my father-in-law! Hey you! You have a special soul. Shinto can’t refine it the way Buddhism can. But you uyoku don’t have the patience to study foreign concepts, right? “
 
“You’re a lazy one, aren’t you?” the daughter-in-law continued, “Nengemishou means ‘heart-to-heart’ communication.” And now she laughed, because she’d seen me smile.
 
“Ah, you mean telepathy!” I responded: “A science-fiction Buddhism. Is your god a Martian, then?”
 
“Well, he did achieve enlightenment while seeing a falling star!” said the beautiful older woman. “Since you’re lying on your side in straw, like a pig, that must be a sign that you’re developing nengemishou powers! Maybe you can tell me what that pregnant pig is thinking?”
 
“What does any pig think about? Not enough hay, I want to eat some oats, something like that.”
 
“When I smile, I look exactly like a pig, don’t I?” she said, making a face. But of course this wasn’t true. “Actually nengemishou is hard to express with words, even if you can do it!”
 
It seemed to me that this lady and I were obtaining some heart-to-heart communication of our own, and then she pressed me further:
 
“You are still a child, but you already have something of a Buddhist saint about you. You should follow the gentle teachings of Siddhartha . I’ll lend you a book.”
 
“No thanks. I’ll even have a Shinto funeral! And they’ll name me Saint Whoever!” I said, recalling that the death of a young patriot was always around the corner. And, I have already had a Shinto revelation.”
 
“I’ll have a Buddhist funeral.” She replied.  “Shinto ceremonies are too raw, they’re scary. What I want you to understand is, and maybe you are the only one who can feel it: ever since I became pregnant, I wanted to eat strange things, but just as much I keep obsessively picturing my own funeral.”
 
I understood exactly. Ever since I’d had my revelation, I had known that I might die during my mission. I’d often pictured my Shinto funeral, raw and scary as it might be.  
 
What’s more, I was now overcome with a feeling – like water-pressure – which was rising in my chest, causing me to shudder; a mysterious excitement! I searched, but could not find any fragments of dread, inside me nor in the mood of the day. We were just talking and smiling, having our heart-to-heart communication, and before we knew it, night’s curtain had fallen and we had become intimate friends, older-sister and younger-brother! Shoulder-to-shoulder, we walked back to the main dining hall, where the Ashiyaoka Farm’s oven spread its early-autumn aroma thickly through the air.
 
For the first time since I’d joined the Imperial Way Party, I had met a woman for whom my feelings were not sadistic. Instead, I felt love, respect, and a thin eroticism for this older housewife. She was the perfect image of allowable womanhood. I’d been working as hard as possible at the farm – like a bow stretched to maximum tension. But, as paradoxical as it might sound, when I was with her, I was more relaxed than I’d ever been, utterly free from the self-consciousness that had ruined my high school days.
 
I was completely oriented towards this older woman. No longer did I think of Sugi Emiko. I no longer wanted Shigeru to whisk me off to Tokyo for a night of “king-and-prince entertainment” with the female slaves at one of the Turkish bath-houses. I didn’t have any impure desires. I scorned the small and solitary bo-ki, disdained the orgasm of onanism.
 
Since my revelation, my entire existence was one giant bo-ki, and my orgasms (along with my seed) were being saved as energy for my mission, whatever it might be.  The bear-looking hick waitress at the Hiroshima cabaret had relieved me of my virginity, but that was just a superficial change. Here at the farm, I learned to sublimate sexual desire into honest labor, but at the same time, the blossoming flower of the owner’s daughter-in-law’s smile hardened my purity, cleansing me, making me more pure than any mere virgin.
 
Smiling became second-nature to me, a recurring motif in the song of my life! Actually, that would make a good verse for my death-poem, I think. The poem could be done in the pastoral style, about my rapid development despite my short life-span, like that of my beloved fruits and animals here at Ashiyaoka Farm.
 
Even Mr. Matsuoka’s eldest son, who had a reputation as an uyoku-hater, had to admit I cared about these animals. This allowed me – alone among the uyoku – to develop a rough bond with him. One time he said, “Hey, put aside patriotism or whatever for a second. Just look at that soil, look at that grass and those vegetables, yo. Feel the soft and moist earth of the field under your feet. You got such skill with them! You were born to be a peasant. It’s a shame to waste your life on politics!”
 
Beyond the labor itself, Ashiyaoka Farm’s biggest influence on me was probably the mental environment: it was a place where individuals had the freedom to have their own ideology. The elder Mr. Matsuoka was a very strong uyoku, whose ideas had a certain magnetism, but I didn’t have to go to his lectures. I didn’t have political interactions with the other farmers either. I said to myself, “Right now, I’m not trying to hear rumors of the external world, not trying to talk to strangers too much. I’m only concerned with my relationship to my internal world, because that’s where my revelation is growing, like a precious tree-seed which I must cultivate above all other things!”
 
And before I knew it, my “tree” had sprouted branches, and the branches grew full of leaves. It was only then, for the first time since he brought me to the Farm, that I once again felt ready to meet Shigeru.
 
Shigeru had been trying to put together a new alliance, which had kept him busy as a TV star, making appearances everywhere. And even if he had been able to meet with me, I was so far within my “internal world” that I would have had no room to deal with his ideas in any case. But now he was here. He silently took a long look at my face, then slowly let out his breath, and at length, began to speak:
 
“You are like a lone wolf, getting more and more extreme in your fanaticism. You’re so alone, building up pressure inside yourself. Your body is like a generator which can’t sit still, always making more power, and storing it away. And your isolation acts as a sort of rubber insulation, keeping your infinite voltage forever locked in, always ready to go off. You’re really like a lone wolf, looking at the moon, tensed and ready to leap over it in a single bound!”
 
I turned to look at Shigeru. When I arrived at the Farm, I had been intending to join his alliance. I vaguely knew that he was keeping tabs on me during my “insulated” phase. I realized now, that my hard work on the Farm which had undertaken to please Shigeru, had finally, without conscious deliberation, become an end in itself.
 
I understood that this phase of my life was like that of some beast who was in hibernation: an activity which could only be done alone. And, what I was coming to understand was, once my development was complete, perhaps it was possible – even necessary? – for me to complete my entire Mission alone.
 
I enjoyed listening to Shigeru, this Shigeru who was now like a stranger to the “new me,” explain about his alliance. After I had heard enough, I might return to the Farm, continue my peasant life, and with a smile, silently write my pastoral poetry . . . .
 
I felt that the ideology of Shigeru’s alliance much the same way that he felt about me: namely, that it was too extreme, too fanatical. To press the metaphor further, Shigeru was also like a lone wolf, who had broken off from the “herd “ of the Imperial Way Party, to gallop fiercely through the “forest” of Tokyo. I was tired from my long work on the Farm, and what’s more the extremism of the new alliance, not to mention the huge strain of building it, was showing on Shigeru’s face – I got the impression that he had gone a bit wild.
 
Every time I met him, he was burning with the maximum passion. I sensed a lack of judgment, or self-awareness, when he spoke of his organization, as if his extreme physical and mental exertions were distorting his philosophy. His ideas developed only in one direction, and then had hit a wall. As quickly as his alliance gained members, he would expel old members. And when I say “old members,” I mean two or three weeks old!
 
When I asked him for the details, it became apparent that, besides himself, no one at all had stayed in the group for more than three weeks!
 
At length, I came to comprehend the reasons for this: he wanted to start a new alliance for the sake of his student friends who had been forced to die in the war, but the only people who could truly qualify for such an alliance were those deceased friends themselves. In all of Tokyo, I doubt there was such an extreme lone wolf as Shigeru, roaming its wastelands. This desperate, hopeless man, trying to make an organization by the elderly dead, for the elderly dead. . . out of young fanatic uyoku! In the end, it became clear there was nothing more to his ideology than this: the only people he could tolerate in his group were dead class-mates.
 
One early fall afternoon, as Shigeru obsessively lamented about the evils of today’s society, I said something that perhaps I shouldn’t have, but it slipped out nonetheless:
 
“Where in all of Japan is there a damn comrade that meets your standards?!? You’ve been running around like mad by yourself, trying to drum up comrades . . . why can’t you just do your political activity by yourself in the first place?”
 
“It’s better to honorably suicide than to be all alone, I suppose. . . .” he replied. “If you’re all alone, why be a patriot? The individual himself is, hehhhh, without a fatherland.”
 
“So, OK, you don’t have any fatherland, then! Why don’t you get in your time machine, and go back fifteen years, and go back to die in battle with your class-mates?!?”
 
“Oh, and where’s your father-land? In the future? You’re as alone as I am, but your ‘friend’ isn’t dead yet, is he? ”
 
“His Highness The Emperor is alive now! My time is now! Because, if my father-land is really in an un-reachable future, then Japanese people have no meaning. The Empire doesn’t have meaning. The whole world. . . the whole Milky Way doesn’t have meaning!”
 
We sat quietly, smiling, for a while after this: me thinking about The Emperor, and Shigeru, thinking about his fallen comrades. One thing I liked about the “war generation” was, they could give real, first-hand testimony about their friends, the friends who are not with us today.
 
I finally got up, and shook Shigeru’s hand. He said, “I want to finish forming my Association by next May.”
I looked steadily at him for a good five seconds, smiling, and then we parted.
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