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With One More Step Ahead by Goro Takano Copyright © 2009 Published by BlazeVOX [books] All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without the publisher’s written permission, except for brief quotations in reviews. Printed in the United States of America Book design by Geoffrey Gatza First Edition ISBN: 9781935402572 Library of Congress Control Number 2009925638 BlazeVOX [books] 303 Bedford Ave Buffalo, NY 14216 Editor@blazevox.org
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Chapter 1 An Introduction by the Translator
Dear all my “session” friends on Manchurian Island, Hawaii:
Now, it is near midnight in Tokyo. As usual, I’m lying on my bed in this tiny cell, with my hands and legs tightly bound to the bed. And, as usual again, I’m shrouded alone by the darkness. All the fluorescent lights in this cell are still broken. So, now, nothing is visible here. Well, nothing but me and the bed seems to be here. Why can I call a bed a “bed” correctly still now, although I’ve ended up a mad woman like this, finally? Anyway, I like this complete darkness, because I don’t have to see any reality in this awkward situation. I have no fear now, and I’m happy, in a way.
Gosh --- My gum is eroding again. I can feel it, because my artificial teeth give me a pain --- Wait --- Are my teeth really artificial? Well, I’m not cocksure about it anymore.
Anyway, fortunately, I can still write to you, girls.
By the way, I’m writing not with my hands, but with my mind, as you already know. That is why I can write even in this complete darkness. Understand? More importantly, this awfully narrow space cannot exist without my writing. Understand?
Personally, this cell always reminds me of the most important memory of my life: a 9
ruin I saw a long time ago on a tiny island called Kamishima (“God’s Island” in Japanese), which is too small to notice easily in the vicinity of the Pacific coast of the Japanese archipelago. At that time, I was standing, at dawn, on the ruin with my dear husband. Its entire exterior took on numerous cracks and looked rather ashen. No windowpane was left. Nothingness filled its whole interior. Stark, bare, and raw. And, somehow, I saw it almost as a relic of a historic fire. And its aura felt exactly like this cell’s. The depth of the night I had felt on that ruin seems to have foreshadowed, I think, this cell’s darkness, metaphorically --- Wait, maybe no --Rather, this cell’s darkness may be the very archetype of the night in which my husband and I were shrouded at that time --- Sorry, it must be too early to give you girls a detailed account of this complicated memory. Let me leave it untouched for a while and proceed with my main point.
I hope that my English in this letter is readable for you all. If it is not, I’m really sorry. I don’t remember anymore how many times I looked into my Japanese-English dictionary placed only in the depth of my imagination. And I can hardly sleep now, as usual. Anyway, I hope that my dreamy mind-writing will work for you girls. I don’t care even if others don’t understand it. You girls are my only friends in this wide world, and this letter is only for you, not for others. My letter chooses its own readers, and not vice versa. So, just in case, here is an advance disclaimer to every person other than you girls: If you attempt to find a motive in this letter, you will be prosecuted; if you attempt to find a moral in it, you will be banished; if you attempt to find a plot in it, you will be shot. Okay?
I always try to be tolerant to those who cannot read my writing just as I expect them 10
to do. Why shouldn’t I? By denying them, my writing tries to touch them and include them within itself. In a way, my writing is like the mass media --- You know what I mean? My writing is doomed to end up an “all-about-everything” style, so to speak, whether it is good or bad. And it is always open to everybody, impartially. Why? It is because my writing is full of clichés. If you want to express everything visible or invisible on earth for the sake of every human audience in the world, you have to depend on nothing other than clichés, don’t you think? So, my writing is a sort of television. And I’m terribly sorry about it. I want you girls to laugh at my cliché-spoiled writing. I will heartily accept your laughs, but yours alone, and nobody else’s. In this whole world, you girls are the only people who can give me a true pleasure.
Some of you may be surprised by reading this letter --- I can imagine that you will say, “Wow, Lulu knew English! She can write English! Why didn’t she communicate with us much better, then? Why was she almost mute when we were around her? All she was saying to us was just five expressions --- ‘Yes,’ ‘No,’ ‘I’m wondering now,’ ‘Sorry’ and ‘You look good,’ wasn’t it?”
Sorry I was almost silent when I was with you girls. I always hated my English speech, in fact. Still now, it seems to me like an infant’s babble. I still feel it disgraceful to speak my “Japlish” to native speakers of English, I mean, to the people like you girls. For the same reason, I would like this letter to be my last attempt to write to you in your language, not in mine. Now, I’m terribly wondering whether or not I can make myself perfectly understood by you girls, especially as to a heavily complicated issue like the following. 11
You may wonder what the following chapters are all about. It may look simply like a novel to you. Or, it may look like a grand poem. It may be read even as another banal self-searching story --- The books of this kind are now overflowing every bookstore in this country, you know. Personally, I see the following chapters as a kind of romance, or a kind of melodrama, or a kind of ghost story, or a mere translation. Its Japanese original title is あともう一歩で (Ato-Mo-Ippo-De), which I translated as With One More Step Ahead.
Can you guess who originally wrote this story? Mr. Onishi did. And I’m not joking, girls. Oddly, it ends with its own bibliography, although it is not a research paper --- Wait --- Is it a research paper? Or, is it a story? Which?
Now, you may be surprised again. You may say, “You must be teasing us! Look at him again, carefully. He is a seriously ill patient who cannot use any of his muscles except his eyeballs, okay? As you know very well, he shows ‘yes’ only, by rotating his eyeballs ONCE before us; he shows ‘no’ only, by rotating them TWICE before us; and he shows his indecisiveness only, by stopping them in the center of his eyes. Those three simple signs are all he can command, aren’t they? Isn’t that how we have communicated with him throughout all our weekly ‘sessions’?”
“He is nothing but a vegetable,” you may also say. “He was suddenly carried to our Manchurian Island all the way from Japan, as you already know, at the desperate request of his old Japanese wife in Tokyo. She chose to send her husband to us, because we still preserve a traditional ‘heiau’ in the center of our tiny island, and she 12
believed that, in the whole world, only our Hawaiian shrine would be able to heal his obstinate disease. In the truest sense, that strange Japanese woman hired us with good pay. She must be quite rich, just like her country. Don’t you remember any of those facts, Lulu?”
You girls may also say, with wry smiles: “We, the heiau, and this whole island may be nothing but Mrs. Onishi’s wild imagination. Who knows? We may be merely a part of her romantically-fantasized theme park. She might create us, just as, for example, the nineteenth-century Greek-British writer Lafcadio Hearn had forged his own non-Europeanized pure Japan in his imaginative stories.”
You girls may also ask me in chorus: “Who said to you that he can write a novel, by the way? Who said to you that he can move his hands, Lulu? Yes, he can see, hear, and smell as well as we can. But he cannot write, Lulu! He cannot even eat without having a tube thrust into a small hole in his neck! He cannot even breathe without the constant help of the respirator set by his side! You already know it, right?”
My personal understanding of his situation had been just like yours until I discovered, during my ninth participation in your musical “session” with him, something none of you girls had recognized before --- I mean, his Japanese manuscript hidden behind his respirator. Well, I will probably tell you, later on, why I brought it home in secret and translated it into English. Also, I may tell you later about some other things I have not told you yet --- For instance, why and how I left Japan for Manchurian Island back then, how I came to know your “sessions” with Mr. Onishi, and what my personal past is really like. 13
Oh, I miss your island so much --- Natsukashii --- It was located far away from Honolulu, from Maui or Molokai or Lanai or Kauai or the Big Island, and from all the sightseeing places filled with ant-like stupid Japanese tourists, wasn’t it? And it was a desert island surrounded by beautiful corals, wasn’t it? Who named it Manchurian Island? Why Manchuria? Well, I don’t know. Anyway, I can still visualize vividly the unique landscape surrounding your heiau --- It was nothing but an incredibly vast desert, just like the Sahara, whose existence seemed, geographically speaking, almost unthinkable in Hawaii. The desert always reminded me of an immense vestige of a Japanese ancient capital in the present-day Nara prefecture. Your heiau was standing alone in the very center of the desert, right under an enormous green tree --- Wasn’t it a banyan? I guess it was, and I still remember how sacred it looked; its branches were always trembling in a sea breeze, and the tree looked both joyful and sorrowful, both fragile and encouraging. And, the desert was encircled completely by a tall brick-made fence. The only residential area of the island was, as long as I remember, a narrow space between the fence and the corals. All the houses in this circumferential space were standing as if they had been worshipping soundlessly the tree and the heiau at a far distance.
I also remember that a huge sign was hung from the top of the fence’s sole (and tightly closed) entrance: “KAPU.” One more thing I will never forget is millions of albatrosses crouching all over the desert. Strangely, they landed neither on the heiau nor on the banyan --- They were always sitting motionless on the sand, and seemed to be safeguarding dutifully, in a body, the heart of the desert.
Mr. Onishi’s heiau, a prefabricated rabbit-hutch-size house only with his bed and respirator inside, was, in the daytime, shadowed by the countless branches of the banyan. Its arbor-like atmosphere was, somehow, like that of a thatched shrine that I had watched several times on the Japanese TV. Also, it was exactly my cell’s size. His bed was exactly like the one in this tiny cell. He was always lying on the bed alone. And you girls were always living around him, as if you all had been nymphs or fairies, and trying to read his mind, on a weekly basis, simply through the subtle movements of his eyeballs.
A long time ago, you all left your own houses located outside of the fence, chanted some spells before your first memorial entries into the desert, and moved into the heiau for your first “session” with him. Since then, you girls have been virtually imprisoned with him in the lonely pantheon. Of course, I know you haven’t gone out of the desert since that day, and, I also know you will not be able to go back home anymore. You chose such a lifestyle, while other residents on the island could not. “We’ve been shutting ourselves away in this desert so long that our sense of time has already been thrown off balance,” you said to me. “As often as not, Lulu, we wonder whether or not Hawaii really exists on this earth” --- And you smiled beautifully. Every time you said so, my weird imagination awakened in me an obscure image of a hundred-million-year-old fossil ammonite.
Now, let me return to Mr. Onishi’s manuscript. Although the author’s name is nowhere on it, I’m cocksure that it is definitely his and nobody else’s, because I’m an artistic pervert and my perversion makes me see everything behind-the-scenes and behind-the-camera. Sorry (Oops, “sorry” again) that I was always hiding this 15
ultimate fact from you girls when I was on Manchurian Island.
Before you all, wasn’t I always behaving like a 100-year-old ugly hag? I was, because, unfortunately, my entire figure looks exactly so. Back in the desert, wasn’t I always struggling to act like a serious case of senile dementia? I was, because it seemed perfectly suitable to my shabby appearance. Nevertheless, as a matter of fact, I’m a sexy, seductive, vigorous eighteen-year-old maenad. So, normally, you should call me either an ancient teen or a young elderly.
More importantly, I can communicate with every flora and fauna by catching their seismic sounds through my naked soles, like an elephant, whereas others probably cannot with their useless human ears --- I’m “sorry” (This damn word must be a kind of tic for me) that I was also hiding this fact carefully from you girls throughout last year --- Ha? Last year? Wasn’t it five years ago? Or, was it a decade ago? When exactly was I with you girls? Itsu? Itsu?
Here, you may want to use such a golden cliché as, “Well, in a way, we all are perverts, Lulu.” If so, I must be the best pervert in all. Or, should I call myself the worst one? Well, whichever. At any rate, my perversion is such that, for instance, I was not surprised at all when I met you girls for the first time and found that every one of you looked exactly like me, as if you girls had been my clones.
Each of you was equally wearing, interestingly enough, a kind of Noh-play mask which was a perfect imitation of my typical old Japanese-national face. It was a really strange sight, wasn’t it --- While I was secretly impatient to have a plastic 16
surgery on my wrinkled face to look much more Lolita-like, you precocious girls were wearing voluntarily the mask of an old Japanese hag! I always wondered what kinds of faces were hidden under your artificial masks; some would be Native Hawaiians or Micronesians or Polynesians; some would be whites; some would be blacks or Latinos; some would be Chinese Americans or Korean Americans or Japanese Americans. But, once wearing the same mask, every one of you was equally
kawaii --- How should I translate this Japanese word? --- It implies something
cutely grotesque, queerly pretty, vulnerably fairy, or immaturely precious --- A mixture of Godzilla and Audrey Hepburn, for instance. Also, coincidentally, I was nostalgically reminded by your masks of another strange word I had heard in a philosophy class in my girlhood: “PHALANSTERY.”
Unlike me, you Hawaiian girls were rather obese, addicted to fast foods, and looked somewhat diabetic, while the smiles on your masks were always beautiful and sublime --- Your masks were always beaming, as if to hide your private emotions. They all looked so, maybe because I am merely a mad Japanese woman. “You look good,” I always said to you girls. “Well, we know how good we look in your eyes, Lulu. And we have to warn you not to look behind our masks,” you used to reply. “Remember,” you also used to tell me, “You cannot know our truth --- You cannot love anything heterogeneous --- All you can love is something homogeneous.” Gazing after your shuffling back to the heiau, I sometimes said “Yes,” sometimes “No,” sometimes “I’m wondering,” and sometimes “Sorry.”
You may be wondering what kind of cell I am in now. Right after my last “session” with you girls and Mr. Onishi, I came back to Japan, my home, and, alas, was 17
arrested by force. I was wandering alone in the metropolitan Tokyo at that moment, feeling totally possessed with a long-used crutch-like stick (which I jokingly nicknamed “Banyan” or “Bannie”) in hand, just as I had often wandered alone on Manchurian Island. I was only wishing to live like, say, Tasha Tudor, then. But, all of a sudden, I was captured by a bunch of Japanese males, who kept calling me a mad harridan.
I asked them in the polite Japanese: “Why do I have to be arrested?” They said in the blunt Japanese: “Because of your dangerous incontinence.” So, I said, “No, I’m not incontinent at all. I’m a well-behaved lady, you know.”
Then, one of them said to the others: “Remember, gentlemen --- A case like this miserable woman represents vividly what the mindset of a senior citizen with senile dementia is typically like. Normally, her pride tends to tell her not to lean on anybody else’s help, especially when passing her wastes from her system, no matter how aged she is, no matter how unreasonably her madness controls her body. That is why, now, this possessed woman is managing to deny outright her own incontinence of urine and excrement. As a result, she often spits on us, bites us, and even tries to kill us, although we are simply trying to keep her in quarantine, out of kindness, for her own sake. Incontinence is a pride-rending event for a woman like her --- Every bed-wetting, every wetting of the lower half of her body, reminds her of an unbearable fear of losing the meaning of her life. That fear panics her and makes her attempt to wander away further.”
I was going to ask them why they wouldn’t leave me alone, when another man with 18
a confused look shouted to others: “We’ve got to confine her kind into our ward. A woman like this roaming witch would wreck things. Look around, people! Can’t you see her feces all over town?” Then, the third man came up and said, “Yeah, I agree. We should have her bedridden as soon as we can. Her age deserves it.”
Shouldn’t I live any longer? Am I so aged and helpless? One of the males who had arrested me was telling the others that I might be a typical case of “Korsakoff’s psychosis” (What is that, anyway --- I cannot spell these two words accurately without using my dictionary). He also said, “That may be why she cannot help fabricating stories and filling the blanks in her memory, which were probably caused by something like infantile amnesia. So, naturally, she neither remembers correctly her killing of . . . (Killing of what? What did he say here?) . . . by stopping his . . . (His? His what? Ah, mata omoidasenai --- Again I cannot remember at all) . . . nor the corpse she ate afterwards (I ate what? Whose corpse?).” Then, one of the others added, “Her brain is too senile to resist a kind of animalistic pleasure principle, which has been long submerged under her rationality. For her, now, every reality is only what she wants it to be.”
Then, the other guys said different things about me respectively, without listening to my words at all:
“She has not been sleeping at all lately. Every night, on her bed, she keeps mumbling a weird monologue all thorough the night. Have you ever heard it?”
“Yes --- When I stopped by her cell around 2 AM the other day, she was talking 19
about a translation or something. She told me that it was her husband who had written the original of her ‘translation.’ He used to be working for a major TV station as a documentary maker, according to the hag.”
“When I talked with her in her cell, she told me about another strange thing; she said that she was writing a letter or something to her ‘session’ friends in Hawaii. She said HAWAII, guys! Wondering what the word ‘session’ would mean in her context, I asked her, ‘For what are you writing a letter? Why to Hawaii?” Then, she said that the reason would be beyond my mediocre understanding. How can she write a letter while being tied up to her bed like that, eh? --- But, for some reason, I almost believed in her delusion. I don’t know why.”
“She tends to call everyone she meets a thief. In addition, she even mistakes us for strangers and asks us who we are, although we’ve met her hundreds of times, already. At night, she sometimes shrieks that ghosts are dancing around her. Right after her meals, frequently, she says that she hasn’t eaten anything yet. Isn’t she also a typical case of Alzheimer’s disease? What do you think?”
“Well, maybe, or maybe not --- As every one of us already knows, she harangues repeatedly in delirium about Hawaii. She has never been there throughout her life, as far as we read her profile carefully, but she believes obstinately that she has. She has no friend on any Hawaiian island, apparently, but she is still obsessed with the idea that she has some. That particular obsession must be coming from, I guess, her lingering attachment for an attempt to live to the ripe old age in the heavenly Hawaii, only together with her deceased husband, leaving far behind their whole past in the 20
bustling Japan. Presumably, she used to long to visit with him, for instance, the world-largest astronomical observatory standing over there, and to watch the magnificent cosmos in a holiday atmosphere. ‘I even bought a Hawaiian dictionary a long time ago --- Where did you hide it? --- I used to love reading it,’ she said the other day.”
“If I had been her, I would have volunteered to leave her house in Tokyo much sooner than she was taken to this nursing home. Have you ever seen the pictures of her house? I’ve never seen such a horrible sight in my lifetime. It is a garbage dump, in a word. Five or six unattended mountains of trash, about 15-feet high each, are still left intact in her small garden. The inside of the house is still filled with rubbish, litter, waste, and dirt --- They are everywhere imaginable. And lots of corpses of cats (which she still calls her ‘dear pets’) are left well-dressed on the floors; can you believe it? When the old woman was living there with her husband, day after day, she disguised hundreds of female cats with super-small tuxedos, male cats with wedding dresses, and toyed with them until their starvation.”
“She might even eat some of those corpses. How many times did she try to eat, for instance, the bed in her cell? Numerous times, right?”
“Or, some cats might have been eating that special corpse with her, while it was totally neglected in his prefab bedroom --- Who knows?”
And, all of a sudden, they brought me a small bottle filled with yellow pills and forced me to take some of them. And they shuffled their feet away. Must be a kind 21
of truth serum, I supposed. I don’t remember how many pills of the same kind I have taken by now. A thousand of them, maybe. Or, a million of them, maybe. Oh, I’m in limbo --- Yes, I am.
When I was compelled to take the first bunch of pills, I was trying to tell them that I had been saving trash in my garden because, if they had been handed over to outside institutions or the Japanese government, they would have been badly taken care of and, eventually, our natural environment would have been further damaged. I was going to tell them that I had secretly attempted to recycle them by myself, as if the vast ocean had repeated its intense self-purification under its tranquil surface. But, unfortunately, the pills numbed me so soon that I could not tell them so, after all.
At any rate, now, I’m an eighteen-year-old healthy Hello-Kitty girl --- Yes, I think I am. When they arrested me, I was just looking for someone I could seriously love, someone I could make love with instantly and passionately, as if a lonely female camel had been wandering alone on a vast desert to find her true sexual partner. And I’m still a cutie lady, you know. I still can live perfectly like a teenage nymphomaniac, or like a Pretty Soldier Sailormoon. Do you know my favorite foreplay? I love to whisper an irritating monologue about the misery of my long-exploited vagina in my man’s ears while licking them with my sexy tongue again and again, as erotically and mercifully as I can. Sex is a political act for me, and I always try to make love politically. Now, what do you think?
I know that, back on Manchurian Island, you girls were always wondering why a rag-like dying Japanese woman appeared out of nowhere in your community and 22
chose to join, not necessarily with your unanimous acceptance, your musical “sessions” with Mr. Onishi in the heiau. He was, so to speak, our dear composer who, by the time of my appearance, had already made a number of musical pieces only out of the movements of his tiny eyeballs. And, in reality, I’m a young, voluptuous soothsayer who can hear what others can only see and can see what others can only hear. I’m a modern Proteus, a kind of Siren. Mr. Onishi’s homunculus-like eyeballs caught my Dionysiac eyes so strongly that I could hardly resist joining your voluntary activity. Thus, I became another indispensable helper for his music-composing process in his sickroom.
I still clearly remember our painstaking effort in each “session” to have our composer get his works done. Didn’t we keep asking him, again and again, “What’s the next scale, Mr. O? Do? Re? Mi? Or, fa?,” or, “How long is the next note, Mr. O? Half note? Quarter note? Or, eighth note?,” until his eyes finally would show his final decision on the shape of each sound?
To have him conceive a basic idea of his new work, from time to time, you girls had to talk about different issues with one another by Mr. Onishi’s side and encourage him to have interest in, at least, one of them. You used to tell me that this “inspiration stage” --- That is how you girls used to call this particular task everyday --- would gear up his new creative motivation and, also, would help you understand another unknown aspect of his soul. Keeping your eyes on his eternally-unchangeable face, you girls chatted about, for instance, some Hawaiian gods (such as Kane, Kanaloa, Ku, or Lono), a traditional concept of the Hawaiian supernatural called “mana,” a local land-division system called “ahupua‘a,” the 23
importance of canoeing or surfing for the entire Hawaiian history, Captain James Cook, the visits of Mark Twain (or Jack London or Robert Louis Stevenson) in Hawaii, the King Kamehameha, the king Kalakaua, the Queen Liliuokalani, and the spiritual difference between the English word “Hawaii” and the alphabetized Native-Hawaiian word “Hawai‘i.” To me, every single thing you lectured to Mr. Onishi sounded, in fact, both like a holy chant and like a one-page hackneyed instruction in a Japanese guidebook on Hawaii. On the other hand, I told him what had happened or was happening outside of Manchurian Island --- Especially, I chose wars (Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, and so forth), natural disasters, child abuses, domestic violence, hate crimes, and all the like, because I thought that those issues would be able to make him ironical and sympathetic at the same time and, as a result, would force him to face his own true feelings. Sometimes, I even sang him some Japanese folkloric songs such as “Asadoya Yunta,” “Horehore Bushi,” “Hawaii Ondo,” “Honolulu Kouta,” or “Haisai Ojisan.” I also sang him a few popular tunes of Misora Hibari, the post-World-War-II queen of Japanese pops and ballads.
Whenever nothing we talked about worked for Mr. Onishi’s new inspiration, you girls started to show your hula to him. Although I could not understand any specific message hidden behind each individual movement of your arms or legs, I always believed myself as a part of you, as a part of the beats of your “ipu heke” drum. And I still remember his intent gaze at your slow dances illuminated dimly by the fluorescents of the prefab heiau.
I really don’t know how Mr. Onishi typed his manuscript with his eyeballs only. Apparently, no computer helped his writing. As you know, no computer was 24
installed in the heiau, and we were always possessed with the notion that, from his birth to the present, he had activated no muscle to punch any key. Also, we had heard that Mrs. Onishi, his sole companion, was totally blind and couldn’t read his eyeballs at all. Then, how on earth could he write such a long story with his eyeballs only, without anybody else’s support, without any technological help? Well, all we can imagine now is a far-fetched possibility that he must be a kind of alchemist, a sort of Voodoo, another Jesus raising the dead, a man of surreal serendipity, or an extraordinary man who can make the impossible possible, one way or another.
The best episode which proves the existence of his innate magical power is, I believe, the fact that he survived that fatal disease which, according to today’s medical knowledge, usually leads any infant to death by age two or three, because of a deadly breathing problem accompanying it. Usually, an infant of this disease is left without a respirator until its death, because the compulsory extension of its life through a machine tends to be considered as awfully unethical. And ---
Okay, okay, I know that I’m repeating what you girls already know. I can almost hear you shouting, “Your writing is getting foolishly redundant, Lulu, just like your wordless mumbling of English words!” But I still had to repeat my key points to you, because, very often, repetition turns out to be an indispensable ingredient of high art, you know. Anyway, the manuscript is his and nobody else’s, no matter how anonymous it looks. And, obviously, I’m a mere pervert, a 100-year-old cosmic Japanese girl, a senile-dementia-looking cute little teenage whore.
Ah --- I should have studied English much harder during my earlier life in Tokyo. 25
While I was sunk into the Japanese compulsory-education system, I used to show absolutely no interest in all the English classes I had to take, because I used to hate all my English teachers, every one of which was, in fact, a Japanese national. Strangely enough, none of them could speak English fluently to any native speaker --- They were always ashamed of their awkward “Japlish,” and, at the same time, were always trying desperately to mask their own embarrassment from the curious eyes of their students.
Those damned teachers always repeated, during their boring lectures exclusively about the English grammar, the same catchphrases over and over again: “If you cannot speak English, you will be a loser in this global age, inevitably,” or, “English is like your blood, because, without it, you won’t be able to live from now on.” Some of them used to add boldly, “You don’t have to brush up your Japanese-language skill anymore, because, who cares about such a ridiculously minor language in today’s world?” They often told me to devote myself not to further memorization of complex Chinese characters or difficult Japanese idioms, but to learning English. One day, one of them said in his class, “The Japanese language should have vanished entirely from the earth when Douglas MacArthur landed on this nation’s soil in 1945 --- All we Japanese needed then is the complete deprivation of our outworn national language and the thorough transplantation of the one-and-only international language, the greatest language of all, I mean, the Queen’s or American English.” I was always feeling nauseated by their zealous remarks about English. “You guys are traitors; if you love English so much, desert this country now and never come back, you fools,” I used to mumble in my mind, during their dull classes. How old was I, then? --- Eighteen? Forty? Sixty? How 26
old? --- Gosh, what’s wrong with my head?
Also, back then, I was always feeling a great antipathy to every returnee student from foreign English-speaking countries. You know why? They laughed in my face, whenever I said, for instance, “See shells shecells by da shesore,” or “Bes’s barsday is on da sard sarsday of dis monse.” They sneered whenever I said, for instance, “hochikisu” instead of “stapler” --- “This girl doesn’t know that Hotchkiss is the name of a nineteenth-century American who invented a stapler,” they said --- Who cares, I thought --- It is called “hochikisu” in our language, you asshole, I shouted in my mind. Their eloquent English speeches always nagged me --- And I hated their non-Japanese gestures, too: their shrugging (which gave me goose skin all the time), their instinctive cries of “Ouch!” (“Say ‘Itai!’ --- Use a Japanese word,” I always cried secretly), their eyes opened particularly wide whenever they were astonished, and their eyebrows raised peculiarly whenever they faced something outrageous. I once stabbed one of them almost to death, didn’t I? Simply, I might be too jealous of them to let them go. They always looked like the haves, while I was constantly like the have-not.
I also hated every Hollywood film on Japan. Using a non-Japanese actor or actress for a Japanese character, as well as having every Japanese character speak English naturally on the screen only for English-speaking audiences, is an insult to us Japanese, isn’t it? Back then, I really thought so.
For some strange reason, my past anger against all my English teachers reminds me now of another terrible fact that, today, while living in the age of the overflow of 27
Western foods and Westernized gourmets, most Japanese are facing an ambiguous fear of the deterioration of their health. Apparently, one third of the whole Japanese population has some allergies, whereas diabetes and liver diseases are now labeled as our “national” diseases. The three biggest causes of our death --- cancers, heart diseases, and strokes --- are still frequently seen nation-wide. Why did we fall into such a crisis? The reason is quite simple: the tremendous spread of an improper eating habit disregarding the laws of nature. Traditionally, the staple foods of the Japanese people were rice, wheat, barnyard grasses, millets, soybeans, small fishes, seaweeds, and seasonable vegetables. The bodies of our ancestors were the products of the longtime continuation of such an eating style, which was well-suited to our unique climates. And, normally, our own bodies ought to be just like theirs. However, because of the rapid popularization of the Western meat diets --- just like the overgrowth of the English language in our Japanese hearts and minds --- in our age, our health is incredibly threatened by the increase of so-called
“lifestyle-related” diseases. The bottom line is that now is the time for us Japanese to go back to our traditional national consciousness.
How did our ancestors nurture their national consciousness? You will find it an awfully easy question, if you try reviewing our old history textbook. A century ago, they tried to raise it while facing the pressures from Western powers. They tried to create their own nation-state through numerous attempts to imitate anything culturally European or American. That is, our national consciousness is based solely on our ancestors’ efforts to transform everything Western in a Japanese way to become another New Jerusalem in the Far East. And, today, we are merely the products of their continuous mimesis, of their countless translations. Lots of English 28
words, which had had no counterparts in Japanese until then, were expediently translated by coining new words --- “宇宙” (Uchu --- Cosmos), for instance (And remember --- On this bed, I’m lying all the time). Without the Euro-American powers, we would not have been able to end up an independent nation. I mean, no modern Japan would have been here. And every one of us Japanese would have been a nowhere man, so to speak.
So, I need to love you, my dear “session” friends in America, and I need to love your global English, which is, for me, the most accessible foreign language. English is a sole turbine engine of our glorious globalization. And, learning English is almost like the act of climbing up a terribly high mountain which has no summit at all. Whenever I climb up this magic mountain, I try not to look up the climbers walking proudly before me --- Instead, I usually look down on the other Japanese climbers sweating below me and snicker at them. Some of them are actors or actresses, whose English speeches must be mumbo jumbos for all the Hollywood filmmakers. “That’s why Hollywood never uses rubbish like you,” I say to them in my mind and guffaw. In the meantime, native English speakers like you girls are relaxing at a far higher level, believing blindly that their places are the very summit of the mountain, although no summit exists anywhere, in reality.
Here, I will not tell you, in a lengthy manner, how laboriously I have studied your language in order to become a native speaker like you. All I want to say here is that I used to speak and write the odd English all the time, for instance, as follows: “No Japanese so hate American not. No idea in no brain, like, ‘Because bad thing we was done, we hate still.’ I mad if said atom bomb throw a city right.” 29
I know that, regarding your language, I’m still a developing learner like most of other Japanese ESLs, and not necessarily a fully perfected one. You know what? --Every grammatical error I commit in this letter is my Japanese originality, so please don’t try to correct it while reading. And a cliché I love best in your language --- I love all the clichés of your language, by the way --- is “Nobody is perfect.” I also like such an expression as “Nothing is safe.” You may wonder why. In the Japanese language, the word “safe” is written by two Chinese characters, “無事” (Buji), which literally means “nothing.” So, even in Japanese, “nothing” is safe. Wandering between the two different languages is not so much painful as enchanting --- You know what I mean? But, at the same time, I feel a bit ashamed, girls, because I have no more than these two languages. Only two, damn it.
Sorry, I’m deviating too much now (I believe, nevertheless, a deviation is the salt of the earth). What I want to say here is that I hate your language and love it at the same time, just as I’m 100 years old and eighteen at the same time, or, I’m living faithfully to my husband and living like a flirtatious whore at the same time. Did I tell you anything about my marriage, when I was with you girls?
I’m still wishing if I had my own kid. I’m still wondering how I would be living now, if I was a mother at present. If so, would I say to my baby, “Thank you so much for coming into this world”? Or, would I say, deep in my mind, “I shouldn’t have given birth to it --- What a curse on my future!”?
I know I’m writing too much for an introduction. And I know that, in your 30
American eyes, this lengthy introduction may be simply like a stupid undergraduate’s freewriting or something. Some of you may even see this as a surrealist’s “automatic writing” or something (I’d love to learn more about this particular writing, by the way --- If I can write automatically far faster, my sentences will eventually lose pronouns, tenses, grammar, and coherence, and end up like a collage --- Isn’t it fun?). Now may be the time for you to stop reading this illogical letter --- My senile-dementia-like illogicality is, you know, a product of my well-calculated logicality --- and, instead, grab the enclosed translation. By reading it, you may be able to find, at last, what you have been long looking for throughout every “session” with Mr. Onishi --- In other words, what is hidden behind his eyeballs. It is a wonder for me, incidentally, that he had the effrontery to write such an awfully sentimental tale.
Let me write a bit more. While watching your “sessions” in the heiau --- And I wish that you girls were still doing them regularly --- I was always overwhelmed with a sense of awe and respect, because I knew that it cost you girls lots of labor to read each obscure move of his eyeballs. I was also impressed with your voluntary struggles for transcribing each group of sounds he continued to choose (until he rotated his eyeballs twice to your routinized final question, “Do you need any other sound for the piece?”) into a variety of imaginable tunes.
Your skillful transcription was based solely on your own speculations about the best way Mr. Onishi might have wanted each work to be played. And, coincidentally, all of you were amazingly gifted musicians, as well as great hula dancers --- Boy, I’m now wondering how many you girls were. Five? Ten? A hundred? A thousand? --31
More than three hundred, at least, right? --- Or what?
It was always fun for me to watch a meaningless-looking list of the silently-bedridden patient’s notes getting changed dramatically by your unique arrangements and favorite instruments into, for instance, a wild rock and roll, a serene Hawaiian, an impressionistic serenade, a transparent bossa nova, an African juju beat, a passionate Argentine tango, or an aggressive performance of a Japanese traditional lute called “shamisen.” Sometimes, you even changed his choice of sounds into a Bach-like classical music, a reggae, a ragtime, a chanson-like tune, a “sitar” performance, an Arabic “oud” performance, a blues, a punk, a rap, or something like a Japanese pre-World-War-II war song. All the time, you all were competing with one another for Mr. Onishi’s praise, just as bebop musicians often rival one another in their group performance, especially through their improvisations. “We’re his scores, his instruments, and his metronome,” you often said.
Also, I still remember clearly that your first performances of his new work were held right by his side, always during his “bath-taking” time in the heiau. Wasn’t he lying naked, during your lovely performances, on a coffin-size metallic table in a completely-sterilized space called “Washing Room”? That room looked somehow like the bathroom of my house in Tokyo. Is it, still now, in his prefab heiau?
In his “bath-taking,” wasn’t Mr. Onishi always focusing his eyeballs fixedly on a huge mirror which was installed on the ceiling, right over his head, and reflecting his whole body getting slowly soaped down by a shabby-looking elderly Japanese 32
woman? Was she a nurse or something? Who was she? Why did she wear exactly the same Japanese mask with yours? Was she your another member? Was she also a local of Manchurian Island?
No bathtub was there, but we were calling this particular time Mr. Onishi’s “bath-taking,” weren’t we? On the metallic table with another respirator installed aside, his bare arms looked flabby enough, as if they had been twin translucent thin fishes living in the deep sea. And his bare bowlegs looked exactly like a letter O, or two identically-bent pieces of dough. In my eyes, he looked either like a kind of frozen eunuch, or like an innocent little baby waiting for his mother to come and embrace him. Nevertheless, apparently, he kept listening to each of your musical presentations quite intently, like a professional critic, even after his bathing was finished and the nurse-like shabby woman started diapering him, in the same way as a bunch of fiend-like males change my diapers in this hell-like nursing home.
Tears were always in Mr. Onishi’s eyes by the time all your performances were over in “Washing Room.” Some of you girls managed to see his tears as signs of his complete acceptance regarding your original interpretations of his
seemingly-haphazard choice of sounds. On the other hand, some of you girls saw them as signs of his deep regret for his inevitable dependence on your biased understanding of his musicality. Your debate concerning our bedridden “Last Emperor” went on and on (Is it still going on?) and the truth of his mind always remained a mystery to you all.
And now, finally, you have got a great key to open your treasure box (or, Pandora’s 33
box?), that is, the English translation of his manuscript. Please receive it as a pledge of my hearty thankfulness for your gratuitous attempts to listen to the sound of silence in Mr. Onishi’s inner world. I hope that the whole truth about his inside is written in this translation. It has nothing dramatic within --- Yet, it will surely influence your future review of the whole musical works he has produced so far. In fact, I took the manuscript back home in secret and translated it into English behind closed doors, because I just wanted to surprise you all, later on.
In my first “session” with Mr. Onishi in the heiau, I asked him behind your backs: “Where in Japan were you born? What is the first alphabet of your hometown’s name? A? B? C? ...” His eyes said yes to the letter H. In my second “session,” I asked him about the second alphabet, and he chose the letter I in the same way. Then, the third to ninth letters were chosen, one by one, in the rest of the sessions I joined. In my ninth session, finally, I knew where he had come from: Hiroshima, which happened to be my own hometown, too. That may be another reason why I chose to take his manuscript home secretly after the “session.” And the ninth session ended up my last meeting with you girls, as you already know --- No. 9, No. 9, No. 9.
Let me send a big aloha from a prison-like nursing home in Tokyo to you all, as well as to our great composer. Here, millions of cicadae are chirping wildly all over, as if we were suddenly caught in a big downpour, although they are normally the insects of summertime and, now, alas, it is damn cold wintertime in Japan. Aloha
Hey! Is anybody here? Is there nobody in this goddamn home? Give me some stamps, will you? I’m saying, STAMPS! Without them, who can send this letter and my translation to America? Give me stamps, NOW! And, leave all the lights in this cell out of order, understand?
Am I alone again? --- Well, of course I can wait for my stamps for a while, because I’m a sophisticated lady. I can always kill my time in various sophisticated ways, until my request is satisfactorily completed. For instance, to kill my time productively, from now on, I will read my translation aloud until my stamps are brought here. Anybody wants to hear it? My English translation is superbly easy to understand, quite easy like a Pokemon story, even for Japanese-only common people like you guys, so don’t worry. Nobody is here? Is anybody listening to me? Hey, can’t you guys hear my raving and ranting, you ESL third-rate people? Do you want me to spit on you again, bite you again, and threaten to kill you again? Remember --- I’m a remarkable abstract art, and an abstract art is always a poem, and poetry is always a bomb, and I can bomb you anytime, only if you want it!
--- Gawd! Where did my translation go? Where is my painstaking work? Someone stole it! Omigod! Translating Mr. Onishi’s original was a kind of life-extending measure for me, so to speak! I was about to show it to you all, you brutal males, before you would treat me mercilessly as a kind of hopeless terminal-disease case and kill me in the name of euthanasia (I have absolutely no intention to write any goddamn living will!). Where is my translation? Give it back to me, now! And give me stamps, now!
In the meantime, I’ll recite my entire work aloud --- I can do it, to you sirs with love, because the whole translation is not only in my mind, but also in my whole body! Surprised? Hey, surprised? Or, are you guys deaf or something? I will have my whole body recite the winged translation, as if I were a kabuki actress --- I have never seen, though, any kabuki performance with my own eyes --- because it would surely fit the stereotype about a Japanese woman which those Hawaiian girls must have. What a wise and thoughtful woman I am! Don’t you think so? Hey, why don’t you answer me? I’m now speaking to you in my beautiful Japanese, so I’m cocksure you can hardly miss my words. Or, am I speaking English now? Am I? Then, who is translating my Japanese against my will, behind my back, although none of you can understand English? Or, can you understand English? Can you? Oh, since when?
Does anybody know how old I really am, or how young I really am? Am I really a hundred? On the first day of my life in this cell, one of you told me, if my memory is still correct, that I had been born in August 1945 --- On August 6th? 9th? 15th? --- But, is it really true? If it is true, how old am I now? Some of you said that I had been born in 1905, when my country defeated Russia and finally became a first-rate nation. Some of you said that I had been born in 1923, when a huge quake destroyed Tokyo and many Koreans in the collapsed capital were unjustly tortured as dangerous rioters. Some of you said that I had been born in 1932, when the Japanese Manchuria was built in the end. I might have been born in 1933, when Japan said goodbye to the League of Nations. I might have been born in 1937, when the Nanking massacre happened. Or, I might have been born in 1941, when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Or --- Or --- Am I not too young to know who won who in
the World War II? Oh god, someone threw my sense of time off balance, it seems. I’m a kind of misfit now, am I not? Tell me about my real age, please. Also, tell me who you guys are, tell me why you guys look so exactly like my husband, please --Wait --- Are you really all men? Must be some women in you --- Am I wrong?
Oh no, what am I talking about? I don’t want to know my real age, do I? Why should I? Who cares about age? Who cares about the passage of time? I’m a timeless papier-mâché nymphet, a gagged untamed Luddite, and a forever dangerous dud! Bah, grammar suffocates me! Well, anyone here? Hello? Hello? Speak to me now! Please!
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