Tokyo Damage Report

Oe’s DEATH OF A POLITICAL YOUTH part eleven

When I was young, I was obsessed with a picture-book which Elder Brother had received from the American pastor at church. The main characters were seals. The lead seal’s name was – I’m fairly certain – Olly. The illustrations were superb, full of emotion, with black ink and thin strokes of watercolor. My favorite part of the book were the dotted lines on the map which showed Olly’s travels around the globe, which was printed on the inside of the thick cardboard covers. Olly worked at the circus or something like that (when I read the book, I had no command of English language, moreover my memory is hazy in any case).
 
In the Great Lakes region of Lake Ontario and Lake Eerie, he had been set free to swim downstream to the distant oceans. He traveled over virtually every part of the world before finally returning to his birth-place in the Arctic Ocean. The details escape me, but it was one of those kinds of stories.
 
If  I’d set my heart to it, I  too could have traveled the world like that, with crazed zeal, like a hard-working sea mammal. But, I had now to accept, with tears of sadness bursting in my chest, that the dream which sprang from the pure heart of that little boy would never be possible in this life.
 
I ate the meals provided by the jail, refusing the beef-bowls that the elderly jailers offered me (from their own terribly small salaries), as well as refusing the bento (box lunches) that Father or Sakagibara sent to me. When he saw my refusal, the guard said:
 
“You’re a willful one, aren’t you? Selfish, but determined not to rely on anyone else. That’s definitely your nature, your happiness. There’s not many guys like you left in society, you know?”
 
I could see in his eyes that he believed I was free. On the other hand, gazing at his face, cut by the small peeping-window into one eye, a cheek, one ear, and bridge of the nose, I felt like he was not free.
 
He has to wear the uniform, the hat, the big ring of keys and all the other paraphernalia, he can’t go outside in the open air and sunshine when he wants to . . . .he definitely is not free. It’s quite hilarious – to these guards, I am an important person, but to me they’re nothing more than interchangeable zeros.
 
Like random trees in the forest, like salarimen doing arbitrary duties at a firm, these guards walked back and forth day after day watching me. Interchangeable little zero-men: it didn’t matter which one was doing it.
 
And I wasn’t just free only in my cell, either. I felt free when I was taken to the interrogation room as well. The lead investigator had a very humane attitude. As I said before, he was very kind. And I never tried to betray or deceive him. I spoke with him earnestly and truthfully. For example, I told him about the day I first saw the Imperial Way Party. I informed him that Shintouhou was there, that it took place the day after my seventeenth birthday, and explained what kind of fellow Shintouhou was. The investigator was laughing so hard I thought he was going to cry. His face was beet-red.
 
But my declarations were never enough to satisfy him. His kindness went hand-in-hand with an almost tireless, machine-like personality, manifested in his enthusiasm for his work. He would return again and again, most obstinately, to certain questions.
 
For example, the issue of complicity and co-conspirators.
 
I always insisted that I’d acted alone, because in fact that was the case. “It’s true that I joined the Imperial Way Party, and President Sakagibara helped raise me. It’s also true that I received a deep influence from Mr. Shigeru. But I was unsatisfied with the weak attitude of Sakagibara. That’s why I left his Party in the first place. As for Mr. Shigeru, he was obsessed with justice for his old classmates who were sent to die in the war. That was the only reason for his new Alliance. It was as if he wanted to construct it out of their souls, so I simply didn’t fit what he was looking for.
 
“As for the Ashiyaoka Farm that allowed me to lodge on the premises, I never talked to Mr. Matsuoka about politics. Moreover, I never discussed any sort of assassination plan with anyone – the specifics or even in general terms. And no one tried to tempt me to try something like that. It’s very important to me that I was able to do it entirely on my own.”
 
Another example was the issue of my personal motivations. I agreed to tell him, but it was more difficult than I’d imagined to explain it, and I became quite flustered immediately as soon as I’d begun. I eventually realized it was in fact quite impossible to explain it to him.
 
Even more vexing, because the motivation was so obvious to me.
 
I did it for the glory of The Emperor. To murder the one who was trying to disgrace Him and betray His country. This was so simple, it shouldn’t even need to be said. That The Emperor deserved glory, duh!
 
The middle-aged detective gave me a really interesting reaction. He seemed to understand that the glory of The Emperor was of course also the glory to Japan. And he replied, “Ah, so that’s why you sometimes write Shinshuu (literally “god’s country” – meaning “Japan is the one true country founded by The Emperor in the name of Shinto Gods”), or Shinshuu Fumetsu (“Eternal Country of God”), in your notebook, isn’t it?”
 
I grew very excited, eager to explain to the detective the important and complex differences between the two concepts. As a man of the law, surely he would appreciate the importance of nuance and precise wording. Moreover I didn’t want to be misunderstood by him on such a vital matter:
 
“I was brought up in the post-war democratic environment. We were trained not to think of The Emperor, the country, and the people together, but as separate, unrelated concepts. We were trained not to feel those emotions. Concepts like ‘shinshuu youth’ and ‘eternal shinshuu’ were just words from old poems, nothing more.
 
“I love The Emperor, I would die for Him.  But even so, because I was raised in such an environment, I can’t connect the dots, so to speak. I have a direct connection to Him, but don’t really care that much about the Japanese country or the Japanese populace. He alone is my motivation, and it’s for His sake alone that I stabbed. I had no thoughts of improving politics, or, for that matter, raising the salaries of you Police Officers.
 
“My actions are between me and Him, pure and simple.”
 
The Detective briefly scowled, but then composed himself and continued: “Well, in that case, uh, why the Chairman?”
 
I could feel my heart begin to palpitate but I answered without hesitation: “It didn’t have to be him. It could have been a big man in the Teachers’ Union or a big Communist. This might sound extreme, but anyone who didn’t pray for more glory to The Emperor would have done just fine. The problem wasn’t finding a worthy target. The only problem was finding a target that I could easily get close to!”
 
The Detective suddenly went cold. In a low, sharp-edged voice, he said, “That is the most fucking perverted thing I ever heard.” I patiently explained, “Please retract that comment, otherwise I will have to exercise my right to remain silent.”
 
The Detective refused to retract his comment, and that day’s interrogation ended in a stale-mate.
 
During the interrogations, sometimes it was the Detectives, not I, who became angry.  For instance, when the investigator kept asking me why I did my Deed in early Autumn, and not some other time. I answered, “In summer, on the train home from Hiroshima, in the steam-filled window, I saw the sun sinking into the ocean, I beheld its sublime radiance, and in that instant that the sun touched the ocean, the sublime radiance transformed into His face. I screamed, “Oh! His Highness The Emperorrr!” I had had a revelation directly from Him. Now that I reflect back on it, the time and place of the Deed was decided during that moment of revelation.”
 
The detective became irritated and spat out the next query: “So you’re saying you saw a hallucination of The Emperor, right!?!”
 
It appeared that I had to be more concrete and specific to satisfy the Detective:
 
“To put it bluntly, I saw a vision of The Emperor. This vision is my only accomplice. He is my guide in all things. I really want you to understand about this ‘phantom Emperor’, but it’s difficult to explain, so please give me time to think.”
 
“…”
 
“I suppose you could say that The Emperor is my accomplice. If you’re looking for people behind the scenes, you’ll find no one but Him pulling my strings.”
 
No sooner had I uttered these words, than the Detective flew into an insane, brutal rage, thrusting his head in my face so quickly I thought he was going to head-butt me. He bellowed: “The Emperor is your accomplice? He’s your co-conspirator?!!?!? Asshole, you’ve never met him! He’s never paid you any money! Look, fuckface, I’ve been nice with you so far, but it’s made you arrogant! Don’t fucking play dumb with me! Don’t try to lie, you little mope!”
 
I resolved to give the most unadorned confession possible, speaking only to deny the Detective’s false statements. As coolly as I could, I gazed back at the red, steaming face of the Detective, which was beginning to form some purple spots. 
 
In fact, it seemed that the more frank and honest I was in my confession, concealing nothing, the more bewildered the Officers became.
 
If this was truly the case, what was the use of heartfelt human relations?
 
Realizing this, I became very quiet whenever I was brought to the interrogation room, speaking only when necessary. In fact, I’d already told them everything I could. And I’d been interrogated fifteen times, so it’s safe to say my enthusiasm for the process was waning.
 
I said to myself, “Try as I might, I can’t make the Officers believe in my revelation which I had as the sun was falling into the sea that evening. I tried to give them testimony that I was the Chosen Youth with the perfect uyoku soul; tried to explain that, with my Deed, I’d been trying to ‘build the internal uyoku castle’ and ‘realize the dream of an internal uyoku shrine’, but it seemed that they were utterly incapable of comprehending this.
”Fine, I’ll just remain silent. I don’t care if they can’t understand me. I already have constructed my shrine and castle. I’ve already proved that I’m the Chosen uyoku child. And now I am bathed in the supreme bliss of Imperial Glory.”
 
Thinking about it that way, as I sat in my dark solitary-confinement cell, I saw the four walls, the whole Metropolitan Police Station, the Officers, the Tokyo Public Prosecutor’s Squad, the whole justice system, all of it vanished in a cloud of smoke, like the scene in the Aladdin’s Lamp manga which I’d read. The only thing which remained real was my freedom, the freedom of solitude. Only by thinking of myself as the assassin, by contemplating the Glory conferred on me as a human-who-was-capable-of-assassination, could I obtain mental peace and tranquility as I sat there.
 
The first time I beheld a real ‘human-who-was-capable-of-assassination’ was in Hiroshima, when I’d accidentally seen the legendary assassin with his dark and depressed face. I had thought to myself, he looks like some sort of demon. I wondered if I – a young man and still scrawny – looked like a demon to others?
 
Then I suddenly realized: that legendary assassin, who had murdered a politician with a pistol some thirty years ago. . . at the time he must have been almost as young as me!! A real ‘little demon’, if you will.
 
He must have gotten his depressed and dark face in the thirty years since his Deed?
 
Eyes half-shut to the point where it looked as if he couldn’t see, walking stooped as if carrying an enormous burden, that’s what those thirty years of enduring in the shadows did to him, this ‘human-who-was-capable-of-assassination.’ It seemed as if he had endured thirty years of Hell, and kept living somehow. This man, has he spent thirty years, every day thinking, ‘What should I do today?’ and every night thinking, ‘What should I do tomorrow?’.
 
For quite some time, I thought about nothing but that man. Eventually I fell into a sort of day-dream where I conversed with him in the blazing summer heat of a country town square.
 
In the dream, I asked him, “What’s been the most difficult part of those thirty years?” The assassin, the elderly ‘demon of depression’, answered, in an anxious voice, as if he was scared of losing his ‘assassin’s badge of honor’, as if he would soon lose his composure:  “You know that Jew’s story? Fellow wakes up transformed into a rhinoceros beetle? Kafka, that was the Jew’s name. Well, I’m also worried every morning, that I might open my eyes and find out I’m not a real ‘human-who-was-capable-of-assassination.’ This terrifies me. After all, I only killed a man one time. If I lose my ‘badge,’ I can’t get it back. Maybe they’ll start saying, ‘He’s a coward,’ ‘He’s not loyal,’ ‘He’s a pervert.’ You have to understand: If I lose my ‘assassin’s reputation,’ what have I got left?”
 
And then I had another dream: instead of getting admitted to Tokyo University, and seeing a counselor to decide my major, I had been admitted automatically to the Assassination Department, and when I went to the Department office, a staff member approached me, telling me that he’d seen my ‘entrance application’ on television and was quite impressed: “But,” he added, “It’ll be tough for you to keep such a high GPA for your whole life, won’t it?”
 
With eyes closed, I began to contemplate myself, slowly becoming an old, depression-wracked demon, but the second I began to imagine it, my mind turned around and ran full-speed in the opposite direction.
 
This went on day after day, until one day I awoke trembling with cold. Initially I thought that winter had begun, and dawn would soon break over the outside world. I’m like one of those beasts that lives underground – I can tell the time of day instinctually. I rubbed my goose-pimpled body and hugged myself until I could feel my warm blood pumping. I started yelling to myself:
 
“Hey you! Saint Seventeen! You liked those scenes in the movies – the sun rising over the American desert, back in the Age of Pioneers! The aftermath of the winter storm! The sunrise approaching, peach-color mixed with the color of a dove’s breast! The weak light flowing out from the sky, scattering the inky black mist of night! The trembling of the fir tree, upon which swings an empty noose from which witches are hanged!”
 
I smoothed my bedding and went back to sleep. Unexpectedly, I dreamt of Ashiyaoka Farm, more specifically the young pregnant Buddhist lady. What if the shock of my Deed had made her miscarry? I was seized with ghastly fear at the thought. At the same time I hoped the animals were safe as well. And I dreamt of Ashiyaoka Farm as it would be in winter:
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