The Japanese Rustic Life in 1950s. 14

The nature, culture and living in a small village in Japan just after the last world war, reflected through the boy’s eyes.

Chapter14  Mental Conflict – a Timid Spirit(1960)

Yoshiharu Otsuki (Sendai, Japan) and Yasufumi Otsuki (London)

HARASSMENT

(The main character in these essays is denoted in the third person, but the first person is used in this chapter, which is of a very personal nature.)

  1. Bullying in School

I was never bullied again after leaving the primary school in the village. However, the trauma caused by the bullying had a lasting effect on my emotional development. I made many efforts to overcome it in various ways but was always unsuccessful due to my weak will. At best, I somehow managed to hide my inferiority complex while I lived and worked. I’m ashamed to say that trauma induced by bullying has governed my whole life, and I was not able to confess it to anyone until I loosened up a bit with age.

According to my own experience, I thought that school bullying in the village, or at least in my generation, was not common. However, school bullying has become a nationwide problem recently. I would now like to briefly look at the statistics related to it,

A. Violence by students

< statistics (2016)>

(According to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology)

Total number of violent incidents in primary, middle and high schools per year: 54,242

Number of cases per 1000 students: 4

Number of truants in primary and middle school: 122,902 (1.21% in students)

Number of truants in high school: 53,154 (1.67% in students)

Number dropping out of high school before graduation: 53,403(1.5%?)

Number of suicides in primary, middle and high schools: 230

<details of violence>

(Elementary course medium grade department education child student section, Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT))

Number of cases; 11,468(primary school), 35,683(middle), 7,091(high)

Violence against teachers; 8,835

Violence between students; 32,423

Violence to others: 1,452

Damage to property; 11,532

Number of schools with cases of violence; 9,343(25.5%)

Number of schools with students committing violence out of school; 2,6547(7.4%)

Number of wrongdoers; 10,808(primary school), 35623(middle), 8,484(high) 54,926(total)

<Number of bullying incidents and details (2014)>

(Elementary course medium grade department education child student section, MEXT )

Number of recognized bullying incidents: 188,057 (13.7 / 1,000students)

(breakdown) 122,721(primary school), 52,969(middle), 11,404(high)

(details) Teasing, abuse, threats, saying unpleasant things:121,248

Actual hitting, kicking, pretending to hit: 41,829

Ostracism; 35,932

Bullying through use of a computer or mobile phone; 7,898

(According to the latest information published by MEXT Oct.22,2020:

violence; 78,787, bullying; 68,563, suicide; 317, which are all record highs.)

It is thought that the actual numbers of assaults and incidents of bullying are far in excess of these statistics. Bullying, particularly, often takes place away from the classroom in areas outside a teacher’s jurisdiction, so incidents are inevitably underreported. This suggests that the problem is far from uncommon in schools. Moreover, many suicides caused by bullying have recently been reported, leading to an acute sense of the seriousness of the problem in educational circles.

When I was bullied, I sometimes wished that I didn’t exist, but I never thought about suicide. The novel, ‘The tomb of Hotaru’ written by Akiyuki Nosaka, expresses the severe actuality caused by the war with a story in which a small boy and his younger sister suffer extreme poverty. They are ignored by the people around them and the girl dies of hunger (or illness caused by extreme hunger) – she doesn’t resort to suicide. However, suicides as a result of bullying have been widely reported in the media recently, leading to some victims of bullying seeing suicide as a way out of their problems.

On the other hand, having to deal with the situation when conflicts arise with others is an unavoidable part of life, and people may need to experience it in order to get used to handling stress and to grow as a person. Bullying, however, is beyond the reasonable limit that people might be expected to cope with. Looking at it another way, some animals might usually cooperate and help each other under normal circumstances but eat their own kind in extreme situations. Sacrificing weaker individuals to endure might be instinctive: the survival of the fittest. Human beings are not exempt from this, as I remember a man who’d been in the army explaining to me. 

In the writer’s opinion, even if bullying originates from man’s primitive instincts as an animal, society as a whole should try to control it through our collective wisdom, and parents should try to discourage it in their children. The Chinese Confucian scholar, Mencius explained, ‘human-beings are essentially kind-hearted, helping others in times of crisis and never harming them. In order to make people behave in this way all the time, it is necessary to build a peaceful and safe society.’ However, it’s easier said than done. Whenever I think of the pain that the victims of bullying must put up with, and however earnestly I wish there was something I could do to help them, I’m left feeling guilty at my complete lack of any idea how to do so.

B. Harassment by teachers

The number of teachers punished for physical harassment in public primary, middle and high school, according to the publication by The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Elementary and Secondary Education Bureau.

year

2013

2014

Number of disciplinary dismissals by reason of physical punishment

410

234

Number of reprimands by reason of physical punishment

3543

718

Total number of disciplinary dismissals and reprimands by reason of physical punishment

3,853 (0.43%)*

952 (0.10%)

Total number of disciplinary dismissals and reprimands by reason of acts of obscenity

205 (0.02%)

205 (0.02%)

Others

5,426

8,520

Total

9,484 (1.03%)

9,677 (1.05%)

*The number in parenthesis is the percentage of offenders compared to the total number of all school staff: principal, deputy head, chief teacher, teacher’s consultant, regular teacher, school nurse, dietary teacher, assistant teacher, lecturer, assistant school nurse, trainer, and dormitory staff in public primary, middle, high and special support education schools. (at the time of May first, 2014)

The number of disciplinary dismissals and reprimands in 2013 is much more than in 2014, which is attributed to the result of an emergency investigation carried out in 2012, and acted on in 2014. Following from this, it can be seen that thousands of teachers have been punished annually. It is not clear if this number can truly express the actual number of physical punishments administered by teachers. Even if this is assumed to be about two thousand, this is much less than teacher casualties of student’s violence: 8,800. When I was in primary and junior high school, it was inconceivable that students should use violence against teachers in the way mentioned in the YouTube version. Maybe teacher harassment was more common than at present.

It is definitely not right for teachers to physically punish students. However, recently it has sometimes been reported that parents criticize teachers who reprimand children even lightly, and some really spoilt individuals take their parents defense of any behavior as an endorsement to carry out further misconduct. Education in schools is truly facing some difficult problems.

  1. Power Harassment

I was glued to the computer screen, checking my email just after returning from an Italian restaurant near to my hotel.

The first mail said, ‘Mr. X died. I just wanted to let you know. When I know more, I’ll inform you.’ from Mr. S.

I had been working at the American subsidiary company of the company I was with at the time. Mr. S was one of my most reliable colleagues at my former company, which I had left two months before. At that company, Mr. X had moved to my research division from another section two months before I left. I had only known him for two months but I had been anxious about him ever since leaving. Still trying to digest the terrible news, I sent email to everyone who might have more information about him.

The second mail, ‘I heard he committed suicide.’ From Mr. A.

This had been my worst fear. My head ached unbearably and heart raced as I recalled my memories about him.

About one and a half years ago, Mr. B, the director of another development division, suddenly dropped by to see me. As his business field was different from mine, we had never worked together before, and this visit was the first chance we’d had to talk. He told me that one of his development projects was now ready for a practical trial production run, and he would conduct it with Mr. Z as the manager of this project team. As Mr. Z used to be in my team, Mr. B felt obliged to explain his decision to me. I answered, “It’s very good of you to let me know but he’s not a member of our team anymore, so you really didn’t have to. However, if I were you I’d check his personnel information and consult with the personnel division again – he’s a slightly peculiar individual.”

Half a year later, Mr. B visited my office again. I guessed he wanted to ask me about one of the other engineers in my team, but it turned out that he wanted me to accept Mr. X joining my team. The only knowledge about Mr. X I had was that he was 35 and one of the most able engineers in my company, and that he had obtained excellent results in his field. I could not understand Mr. B being willing to let him leave his project team, because he was a key person in respect of the engineering the project involved. Moreover, though Mr. X and I were in totally different engineering fields, he wanted to join my team. I asked Mr. B. why but he just said, “Please allow him to join your team, and then ask him why yourself.” I told him I’d think about it and get back to him.

Back in the hotel, hoping to take my mind off things, I switched on the TV. As usual, there was some drama with people shooting each other. I can’t understand the liking that Americans have for homicide dramas. Anyway, it just made me feel worse, so I started surfing the channels and finally settled on an American football game, which is one of my favorite sports. Victory is achieved by a game plan that gets the right mix of offense and defense, and also the occasional unforeseen incident. This seems similar to the ‘assumption and verification’ process that I go through with my work, so I can really get into American football. However, not even the many exciting scenes of trick plays by quarterbacks, long throws and runs, turnovers etc. could make me forget the email. In the end my eyes drifted back to the computer screen and I just waited for more email, oblivious to even the sound of the TV.

The third mail, ‘Mr. X had seemed much more cheerful since he came to our division four months ago, so I can’t understand why he killed himself.’ From Mr. C.

Mr. C was an engineer with my former team. I was a little disappointed that there was no mention of any possible reason for Mr. X taking his own life, but at least Mr. C said that he had known about my decision to accept Mr. X’s request to join our team. That gave me some small comfort, but my mind was still in turmoil about his death.

After Mr. B left my office, I phoned and mailed people to try to find out the reason why he had requested his transfer. The results of my enquiries can be summarized as follows:

+ Two years ago, under the direction of Mr. B, the project of a new production process finished the basic research phase and moved to practical trial production. Mr. X was the chief engineer in the basic development team.

+ One and a half years ago, Mr. Z joined this team as a manager as mentioned.

+ One year ago, Mr. X suffered from manic-depressive psychosis.

+Half a year ago, Mr. X came back to his job after recovering from the sickness. This was the time that

Mr. B came to my office to request his transfer.

What had caused his illness still weighed on my mind and pushed me to find out more. There was talk that he had been harassed by Mr. Z, and this might have become the trigger for his illness. Of course, this was only hearsay, but I could believe it. This was because I’d had to step in to rescue engineers he was harassing when he was part of my team. It wasn’t so much a problem of his personality, rather it was the inflexible style of his approach to management. For example, whenever he got a report citing experimental results different from his expectation, he reproached the engineer as he probed the differences. He hadn’t developed this style himself but adopted it after it had been used on him by a previous boss. As our paths often crossed, I was familiar with his method. His directions depended on the subordinate’s ability. That is, he left the overall experimental procedure to an able person and relied on that person to get a result without interfering very much. On the other hand, he gave very detailed instructions to ordinary engineers and then scrutinized their reports closely and was often critical. He sometimes spoke to me about what he considered to be the efficiency of his management style, and I was very impressed initially. I thought he could become the director of central research in a nationally well-known company, and then go on to make his name with an important invention in some field, but Mr. Z had only understood and taken on one part of his previous boss’s management style.

I do not have the ability and confidence of Mr. Z’s previous boss, so I always had deep discussion with engineers and hoped to achieve results harnessing their different abilities. If the result unfortunately differed from our expectation, we used to discuss the reason why. The only way I know is the method of ‘assumption and verification’. If an experiment gives us an unexpected result, I would rather believe that it might lead to something new, which might show what a bad engineer I am!

Mr. Z’s method was readily accepted by people who needed to be told what to do, but it was much harder for people who were capable of thinking for themselves. Timid engineers, especially (I’ve often wondered why the R&D division tends to have more such people more than other divisions) could not bear his harsh reprimands.

Having this in mind when Mr. B consulted me about making Mr. Z his supervisor, I advised him to think very carefully about his decision. Subsequently, Mr. X, who had developed the new process as a leader, then had to endure the unreasonable criticism of a recently arrived inexpert manager, so I could well imagine how such a situation might have induced the onset of his illness.

Of course, in a business situation it is usual to reject people whose ability to perform duties, for whatever reason, is in question. Accordingly, Mr. B had decided to try to get rid of Mr. X, and it was also easy for me to see the logic of not accepting him. On reflection, however, I made the conclusion that he might get back on track if Mr. Z weren’t around, which would be good for both Mr. X and the company, so I accepted him. (During my time at many organizations over the years, I accepted people with mental health problems (especially psychoses) to work under me many times, which is no doubt down to my own experiences in childhood.)

Now it was after midnight. The sound of loud voices and heavy steps outside in the corridor intruded into my room, making me feel even more depressed. Having turned the volume down, I had forgotten the existence of the TV, on which the football game had already finished and another drama with cruel scenes of brutality was on. I couldn’t help thinking that programs like that were at least one reason for the violence that besets America and other countries around the world, and my depression deepened further.

I still couldn’t understand why, just as things had seemed to be going better for him, he had decided that taking his own life was the only way out, and I continued sitting in front of the screen waiting for more mail. But no more mail arrived. Perhaps people were hesitant to send in-house information to somebody who had already left the company, and maybe other people just didn’t want to get further involved in such a tragic affair. I was so desperate to know more that I stayed up all night just staring at the computer screen. But still no mail arrived. In the morning I took a shower and absent-mindedly ate the usual breakfast of muffin, yogurt, banana and coffee in the hot and humid dining room. I returned to my room and just when I opened the door to go out again, I heard the sound of email arriving on my computer.

The fourth mail, ‘I heard that Mr. Z joined your old team one and half months ago.’ From Mr. E.

Mr. E was a member of my old team, but being in a different section now, he could not get detailed information. I still needed to know more so continued waiting, hoping somebody else would contact me. It was time to go to work but I felt I couldn’t even drive in that condition, let alone work, so I telephoned one of my colleagues to say I wouldn’t be in that day.

The fifth mail, ‘Mr. Z joined my team one and half months ago. I’m sorry, I can imagine how much all this must have upset you, but it is not clear if his suicide is related to this or not.’ From Mr. F.

Mr. F was one of my most trusted colleagues, so he had known how deeply concerned I was about Mr. X after I left. He wrote carefully choosing his words, so as not to make me jump to conclusions.

There might have been another reason for Mr. X’s tragic decision, so at that time it could not be assumed that Mr. Z joining the team directly resulted in Mr. X’s suicide. However, it could be easily imagined that Mr. X, having experienced harassment before, must have felt very uncomfortable about Mr. Z’s mere presence, even if they didn’t have the direct relationship they’d had in the previous job.

 

I had already decided to leave the company before Mr. X joined my team, so I was not sure how much I’d be able to help him to recover from his illness and get him back to working normally again in the short time we had. The most important thing was to keep him as far away as possible from the cause of the original harassment. I was confident I could do that, and I had some other ideas about how I might help him, so I decided to accept him. When I left the company, I wrote the following, highlighted as the most important item in my job report to my boss, Mr. G:

It looks certain that Mr. Z will request to join my team after I leave, but I strongly recommend that you refuse to allow it. Mr. Z’s harassment was the cause of Mr. X’s breakdown, so there’s a good chance that Mr. X will relapse if Mr. Z joins the division. In the worst-case scenario, it is not impossible that he will commit suicide. I urge you to think about this matter carefully before you make decision.

My report was based on the information I got that his old boss, Mr. B, had wanted to get rid of Mr. Z, because their working partnership had broken down soon after he joined Mr. B’s team.

I am afraid this story might lead you to think that Mr. Z was an awful person, but he was quite ordinary. I think people have many different aspects to their character, the balance of these qualities making somebody suitable for a particular kind of job. He possessed sides to his character which were certainly superior to mine: he was always able to win over very different kinds of people, had a very clear way of thinking about things and was totally confident, which made him unwavering in the face of opposition to his ideas. These are definitely qualities I do not have. However, he didn’t seem so good at tasks requiring creativity or flexibility, making him unsuitable, I felt, for the development or sales divisions. Therefore, I wanted to assign him to the information investigation team, for which I thought his character was well-matched. However, Mr. B didn’t take my advice, and this resulted in Mr. Z becoming unhappy in a position he wasn’t suited to.

The sun was heating up the town from early morning as usual. The cooler was working noisily, sending out only a slightly cooled stream of air. It was more than 40 degrees Celsius in Arizona county even before the summer. The hotel’s outside wall was roasting, causing the inner walls to emit heat like electric heaters.

The sixth mail, ‘Of course, I am not sure whether Mr. Z joining our workplace caused Mr. X’s suicide, but I heard a rumor that Mr. Z requested Mr. G for a transfer to our team immediately after you left.’ From Mr. A.

The information in his mail made my blood boil and caused me to shout out, “You idiot, Mr. G! You took no notice whatsoever of my report and effectively passed a death sentence on Mr. X. The responsibility for his suicide lies squarely on your shoulders!”

Being a timid person. I calmed down almost instantly and started to blame myself: ‘I shouldn’t have allowed him to join my team in the first place – I should have withdrawn my resignation and waited until I had seen Mr. X was safely settled in – I didn’t explain the situation to Mr. G sufficiently.’ These thoughts made me feel awful but I realized in the end that whatever I’d done, the outcome would have been the same. Mr. G only ever read reports superficially, and even If I’d stressed that it was actually a matter of life or death, it wouldn’t have made a difference. I remembered that whenever I made detailed reports for him, he invariably asked me to send a summary in an email, and he made his decisions based on the abbreviated reports. Recalling this made me angry again and I couldn’t stop myself sending an email to him about the matter.

I sent the following mail: ‘I was shocked and deeply saddened to hear about Mr.X’s suicide – you will remember that I expressed how worried I was about him in my report. I feel so angry that you obviously didn’t attach much weight to my concerns. You will forever have his death on your conscience – I hope you can live with it.”

(I’m embarrassed now to admit to using such aggressively accusatory language; it is the one and only time in

my whole life that I have done so.)

As soon as I pushed the return key, I found myself having second thoughts: ‘I should look at my own faults and reflect on my own decisions and actions before blaming others. Whenever I feel compassion for somebody in unfortunate circumstances, I go through terrible frustration, because I can never communicate my feelings or take any action that might help. I am truly a weak person.”

I honestly thought it would be better for me to walk into the Arizona desert, get bitten by a rattlesnake and die. However, all I did was to wipe away my tears with a hotel towel.

The End

<<< Showing again the story presented in Youtube >>>

  1. Violent Teacher

In the front of the blackboard, the teacher was striking a student repeatedly on the face and head. The boy watched terrified, feeling each blow himself as the sound reverberated in the room. It sent a shiver down his spine and his mind froze. It was a home economics class in his first year of junior high school. Most children started working just after graduation from junior high school in the 1950’s, so they needed to learn the practicalities of everyday life. The boy’s school was in the country side, where students were taught mainly how to live as a farmer through lectures and practical instruction in farming, carpentry, cookery, sewing etc. Farming and carpentry were taught by male teachers, and cooking and sewing by female teachers.

Today’s lesson was about the cultivation of vegetables and was being taken by a male teacher who had a reputation for being rough. Knowing there was no way he would be able to become a farmer, the boy lost interest in the class soon after it started. All of a sudden, the teacher’s loud voice filled the room and jarred the boy out of his daydreaming. The teacher was pointing at one of the students and shouted,

Hey, you. Come here.”

The student being singled out was an average boy who was better at sports than academic subjects. He was always well-behaved, so the boy could not imagine why the teacher was angry with him. He rose from the chair, went forward and stood in front of the teacher. The teacher fixed him with a fierce glare and then suddenly shouted,

You are an insolent boy.”

His face turned red and his anger burst; he slapped the student hard on the side of his head. All of the students in the class were terrified and the room became as silent the grave. He hit him again, his anger appearing to increase the more he beat the student, and his now beetroot-red face made him look like an ogre. The violent beating seemed to go on for ever.

More than 10 years before, just after the second world war, a Western-style liberal democracy was introduced to Japan under the auspices of the GHQ (General Headquarters), but feudal social relationships based on Confucianism still largely remained. Teachers had absolute power in the class room and students had no rights, so the student put up with his treatment uncomplainingly. Almost all the other students couldn’t force themselves to look, and some girls even covered their ears with their hands. The boy’s mind was conflicted: he was overwhelmed by fear at first but then started to think how he might help the pitiable victim. However, nothing occurred to him. With each new blow, he tried to stand up and instinctively made to confront the teacher but stopped himself by grasping the edge of desk with his hands. Looking back on it now half a century later, it seems probable that trying to stand up to the injustice is something he had learnt from his parents. On top of that, the short temper he’d inherited from his father might also have had something to do with it.

-Whenever his father reminisced with the boy about his childhood, it was apparent that even as a child he quickly used to get angry and violent about the slightest thing. For example, when a guy from a neighboring village accidentally bumped into him at a festival dance, he went round to the guy’s house with a Japanese sword. (He did it many times and was stopped by his elder brother each time.) And the boy’s mother recalled to him many times that when his father worked for the police, he often used to have a party at their house. Towards the end, quarrels about which branch of the military was better would always break out between those of them who’d been in the army and those who’d been in the navy. The rest of the family had to run out of the house barefoot in order to escape from the drunken brawling. –

It has to be admitted that a basic fear of violence was one reason that held him back. Even if he had tried to stop the teacher, he would have been too weak to do it, and it would only result in him getting a beating too. However, there was a more powerful reason for his inaction: it was his poverty. He thought that if he did anything against the teacher, the teacher would surely tell his mother, who worked at the same school, and the whole school would soon know about it. If the worst came to the worst, his mother might have to resign, and that would result in financial hardship for the family, which depended solely on her income. You might find it difficult to believe that a twelve-year-old boy is capable of such deep understanding, but children are often well aware of the constraints that poverty places on a family.

His mind was in turmoil as he tried to control his temper and think of a way out of the situation, but he could only wish that the class would end without the teacher resorting to using the iron rod that was always next to the black board. His whole body became stiff. Finally, the bell rang and the teacher left the class room.

The student who’d received the beating was immediately surrounded by his friends. The boy didn’t know him so well, so he just remained at his desk, sitting with his head in his hands. He hated himself for being so spineless.

On the following day, the student came to school with his face swollen and red. The boy admired his courage, while feeling ashamed of his own timidity.

(At that time, it was only fifteen years after the war, so society might still have been a little raw and somewhat inured to violence. Many teachers had fought in the war but not all of them were violent, although they tended to be strict. Nevertheless, in his whole life the boy only came across one like the teacher who beat the student that day. Related information is included in the home page version. According to the statistics, there is still a lot of school violence even now, but probably extreme cases like the one described above no longer happen.)

  1. School Bully

It was the start of the boy’s junior high school life, and he was feeling like he had just been released from a concentration camp, because his last year of elementary school had been hell. At the beginning of the first term of that last year, the teacher divided her class into several groups. The selection of the members for each group depended completely on her liking for particular students, and this was based on their ability.  For example, the top group was composed of all the exceptional children, and another consisted of less-gifted but hard-working children. There were several other groups, including one in which she placed a special group of particularly delinquent students, and assigned the boy as its leader. As a result, he spent a whole year always being at their beck and call. The teacher adopted a military-like rule of collective responsibility, so he always got the dressing-downs when anybody in the group misbehaved. The hardest task was the daily cleaning of the classroom, which was done by each group in turn. The other boys in his group always got out of it, leaving the boy to do it all almost by himself. Consequently, while some girls got sentimental and shed tears at the graduation ceremony, he just felt relieved that the year was over.

On a fine, windy day in the spring, he ate in the classroom at lunchtime and then walked alone to a flower bed in the school garden. He saw a group of three chatting girls coming towards him. When they approached each other, the girls’ chatting suddenly ceased. Turning his eyes towards them, he noticed the girl in the centre of the group blushing fiercely and looking at him. He immediately recognized who she was. Instantaneously, the last two years of his life in the village flashed through his mind, which deeply depressed him. He passed them with his head down.

Four years before, he was in the PE class of the elementary school in the village, practicing an American style folk dance. (That might have been something that was introduced by G.H.Q. as well.) In this dance, boys and girls in pairs holding each other’s hand rotate several times in step then change partner in sequence.

After the boy had changed partner several times, he was paired with a girl that he had recently noticed being bullied by her classmates. He did not know the reason why she was being picked on. He started to feel sorry for her, as he had also been picked on and humiliated by other children. He wanted to express his sympathy and solidarity with her by holding her hand, something other children never did. They approached each other gradually and he began to have second thoughts: “Is this really a good idea? Maybe if other people notice us holding hands it will only make the bullying worse for both of us.”

He also worried that she might take his act of sympathy as uncalled-for meddling.

Are you just going to ignore her like everybody else? – you’re pathetic!’ he said to himself but still couldn’t muster the courage to offer his hand to her.

Coward!’ he said to himself, biting his lip in shame. He glanced furtively at her face while they were dancing. She had no particular expression, just seeming to accept the situation, but the boy felt she must be thinking, ‘You’re just the same as the others’, and he hated himself even more.

And now, here she was again: the girl who he’d danced with. After being bullied in the village primary school for four years, he escaped when he moved to the town. Fortunately, he was not bullied in the new school, but he could not overcome the damage to his personality that the painful experience had caused. He did not have any knowledge about how things went for her after he left the village. Anyway, she had apparently just started a new school life and made some close friends, and then she came across him. The moment he saw her reddened face he thought, ‘It’s still painful for me to recall my experience from that time, but she had to put up with it two years longer than me, so it must be worse for her – and now here I am appearing in front of her and spoiling her happiness by reminding her of it. I am so sorry.’

He was afraid to say anything that might reveal her miserable past to her friends, so he passed them nervously looking down and no words were exchanged between the two former classmates. Fortunately, their paths didn’t cross during his two years at the school (he went to another school from his third year) but maybe that was because when there had been a chance of them coming across each other, she’d made a conscious effort to avoid him.

More than the hurt he felt from the experience of being bullied himself, he was ashamed of not being able to offer his help to someone in similar circumstances.

The end

The Japanese Rustic Life in 1950s. 13

The nature, culture and living in a small village in Japan just after the last world war, reflected through the boy’s eyes.

Chapter13  A Wavering Mind (1955)

Yoshiharu Otsuki (Sendai, Japan) and Yasufumi Otsuki (London)

 

1. Souvenir from Hokkaido

Recently, Hokkaido, one of four main islands and located in the northern part of Japan, has become well known to people from Taiwan and other south east Asian countries. There are many skiing resorts, wonderful winter landscapes and beautiful wild flowers, which mostly bloom at the same time due to the long cold winter season, and a delicious mainly marine products-based cuisine. Of course, the other main-islands of Japan, (Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku) and many of the small islands have similar attractions. However, Hokkaido, with its very different vast, open landscapes and the distinctive culture of the indigenous Ainu people, attracts many Japanese as well.

From the latter half of the nineteen-sixties and throughout the nineteen-seventies, tourism in Hokkaido became very popular among under-graduates. Especially in the summer holidays, they packed a big rucksack and went to Aomori station by train along the Tohoku main line of the national rail road (present JR), and then on to Hakodate in Hokkaido by ferry. (This service was greatly reduced when an undersea tunnel linking Hokkaido and Honshu was completed in 1988.) From Hakodate, they usually spent more than two weeks traveling around Hokkaido on foot and using public transport. Walking around with their arms and legs sticking out from their huge rucksacks, they reminded people of crabs and so came to be called “crab people”.

The reason why students found Hokkaido attractive might have been as follows. The islands of Japan except for Hokkaido have generally a warm climate and typical East Asian scenery, with rice fields spreading out from the rivers coming down form the high mountains and many small houses packed together in the towns. Hokkaido, on the other hand, has a temperate climate and landscapes resembling North America and some parts of Europe, with wide wheat fields and grasslands stretching endlessly, white birch forests and large white painted houses in big gardens. After the economic recovery that followed the last world war, people prospered and had a surplus to spend, many using it to travel. A lot of students wanted to travel around the US or Europe but could not afford it, so they headed to Hokkaido in droves as a cheap alternative.

He also traveled around Hokkaido with two friends in the summer of his second year in university. The itinerary was planned by his friends and included: sightseeing and enjoying squid and other delicious seafood in Hakodate; the clock tower, statue of Dr. William Smith Clark and roads lined with poplar trees in Hokkaido University in Sapporo; climbing Daisetsu mountain, taking in the spectacular scenery at Mashu lake (actually we could not see anything because of dense fog.) ; the beautiful coast at Erimo cape (Later to become famous after it was depicted in the lyrics of a popular song.) ; a wild flower garden next to the coast and an old prison for dangerous criminals in Monbetsu; visiting an Ainu village and taking a hot bath at Noboribetsu hot-spring, and so on. This was a very common plan. He didn’t have any ideas of his own, so he just went along with it.

(Anyhow, Hokkaido has lots of more attractive places than those of their itinerary. Check it out on the internet if you’re interested, and if you ever have a chance to go there, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.)

Why do people want to go sightseeing? Perhaps for the following reasons:

• To relieve the accumulated stress of daily life.

• To enjoy natural scenery or the architecture and cultural attractions of cities.

• To relive famous historical stories while looking at places connected to them.

• To simply enjoy walking or traveling on trains, buses, ships and planes.

• To meet and chat with the people living in a place one has never been before.

• To enjoy the cuisine of a particular area.

• To look for souvenirs. (This includes shopping for branded goods in cities or airports etc.)

People from nearly every country usually buy souvenirs for their family and acquaintances when they travel and naturally, sightseeing spots always have souvenir shops. Most Japanese feel obligated to buy souvenirs when they go somewhere, and sometimes people even relieve themselves of the burden by buying souvenirs beforehand from the many souvenir shops in Tokyo that have famous souvenirs from all over the world.

He also looked around souvenir shops to buy things for his family wherever he went on a trip. Getting things for his sisters was no problem but finding something for his mother was a different matter. Being a dutiful son, he was always on the look out for something to get her and it even began to weigh on his mind a bit in the latter part of a trip, to the point where he sometimes lost interest in sightseeing. (That’s probably why he struggles to remember much about his Hokkaido trip!)

When he got back from Hokkaido he gave his family a somewhat exaggerated and sometimes completely fictitious account of his experiences there. He gave his sisters their souvenirs, which they seemed quite happy with. His mother, on the other hand, started to look glum when she realized there was nothing for her. He knew she was disappointed and wanted to apologize but could not make up his mind whether she’d believe him if he told her that he had tried hard to find something for her but there was nothing suitable. In the end he did not say anything. Later he realized that it would have been better to buy her something, even if he knew she would not like it, or at least he should have told her how hard he’d looked. He still regrets it to this day. It’s always been difficult for him to get over the embarrassment he feels when expressing his feelings, and his wife often used to say, “You can’t expect people to understand how you’re feeling if you don’t tell them.”

2. On the Train

He was now on the local train going from the city of the main factory of his company to the small town where the partner company he was now working for was located. That morning, he had proposed his project plan for new business in an executive meeting, but he could not get approval for it. It was a bold plan aiming to drastically increase business in an economically difficult situation by introducing exciting new products to the market, but it needed some initial investment of money, and this made the directors reluctant to endorse it.

After the meeting, he was still fuming about the board’s indecisiveness. He’d often seen the same unwillingness to make bold decisions, and the consequent loss of business to competitors. He imagined that subsidiary companies must always be similarly frustrated by their parent company, but as a low level manager responsible for business development, it was up to him to come up with a reasonable plan that would convince the board to give the project the go ahead. So he was on his way back to the partner company in order to discuss how they might be able to reduce the investment cost.

He usually sat facing the direction of travel and watched the changing view through the window. This time, however, the result of the meeting weighed on his mind so much that he took out the meeting documents and started thinking about the business plan as soon as he sat down.

He stopped reading and looked up momentarily to consider a difficult point, whereupon he noticed a fresh-faced girl sitting on the opposite seat. She was modestly dressed and not wearing any makeup. He guessed that she was going to the city to start a job, having just graduated from high school. Consumed in his thoughts about her, she suddenly looked up and their eyes met, causing him to hurriedly look down again at his papers.

The train started to pull out of the station and he concentrated on his work again, only to be made aware of the girl again when she stood up and brushed against his knee. She seemed to be trying to open the window. He could not see why she wanted to do so on such a cold spring day, and moved to the aisle seat in anticipation of the cold gust that her action would no doubt result in. The window was stiff and she was struggling to open it. While he was wondering whether he should help her or not, she managed to pull up the window. In the end, as the train was not running so fast, it was not so cold in the carriage. When the train passed the last of the houses of the town and came out into the rice fields, she leaned through the window. Fearing that she might be about to throw herself out, he stood up in readiness to grab her. The train accelerated gradually and approached a crossing, and she started waving her hands. He looked out of the window and saw two small children standing at the crossing waving back to her.

She must be saying farewell to her young brothers, not expecting to see them again for some time. He was feeling pleased with himself that he’d read her situation correctly and thought about waving to the boys, too, but he could not bring himself to do it. He reproached himself for not being to override his self-consciousness.

3. Getting into jazz

He was working in Phoenix, AZ, US. During his stay there, he struggled to cope with many problems. Buddhism says a man is burdened with 108 earthly desires, and that the stress built up in their pursuit can be dissipated by hearing the sound of a bell in the temple struck 108 times on Dec. 31. However, he was in the US and it was summer, so he did not have recourse

to the solace that might have given him. His biggest concern was his work. Given the chance to work on long-cherished projects of his own, he had moved to a new company to research and develop these ideas. Unfor-tunately he had not been able to convince the company to take up his ideas and start development. When he negotiated the move to the new company, the director who had asked him to join the company initially had assured him that he would be given the opportunity to achieve his goals, and in that respect the director had kept his promise. The director told him that he could not make the final decision himself, but he would get the chance to talk with the president of the company, and if he himself could persuade the president that his R&D had potential, the project would get approval.

Since starting work at the new company, he had met the president many times to try to convince him of the business feasibility and the social value of his ideas, but without success. With Japanese companies, especially electronic device makers, he’d seen that they are enthusiastic about creating new products that can be sold at a high price, but hesitate to develop low-priced products that would require time to achieve significant profits. Moreover, even if the development seemed feasible, the investment needed to see it through to mass production was judged to be too big and would involve a risk of bankruptcy. It has to be admitted that his poor presentation technique did not help matters, either. And so he had moved to a new company, where it seemed he would have more chance to get his ideas accepted. However, even though he had many more opportunities to use his talent there, he was still coming up against the same problems.

The most urgent problem he had was to resolve an impasse they’d reached in a joint project with another company. This was mainly due to the difficulty of doing experiments using the many defective machines at the experimental facility in Phoenix, where permanent magnetic powders were produced. He had located and fixed almost all of the problems and was left with one to solve. This was the vacuum seal around the shaft supplying the rotating movement to the big roll in the vacuum chamber. This machine used a magnetic fluid vacuum seal, which was usual in high vacuum machines such as the vacuum chamber in semiconductor production processes. He knew that magnetic substances can cause unforeseen problems in the areas surrounding them, so he proposed changing the magnetic fluid vacuum seal for a conventional rubber ring. They flatly refused to let him, insisting that magnetic sealing was standard specification in that facility. In his experience, Japanese usually adopt a more pragmatic approach when some part of a machine is found to be unsuitable for purpose and are more willing to alter things written on standard specification sheets.

After discussing it many times, he finally convinced them to change to a rubber ring, promising to take full responsibility if it did not work.

When the test run started, people from all over the factory gathered around the machine. They looked disappointed when the vacuum pump started and the machine reached the designated vacuum level without any trouble. For the next step, the rotation of the shaft was started and after a while, the vacuum level in the chamber suddenly fell. Air seemed to be getting into the chamber through the rubber seal. The spectators clapped mockingly. Panicking on the inside, he forced himself to stay calm and instructed the technician to break up the rubber seal part to see what had happened, and was surprised to see there was no lubricating grease. Without lubrication, the rubber is naturally torn off by friction as the shaft rotates and causes the vacuum to break down. The technician must have forgotten to apply the lubricating grease when he was setting up the machine. He instructed the technician to lubricate the rubber and reassemble the part, and then they started the test again. As he’d expected, the machine worked without any trouble. The workers went back to their positions looking disappointed. During the test, he climbed up and down the eight meters height machine again and again in 45 degree Celsius heat, leaving him completely worn out when it was finished.

Driving back to the hotel from the company, he was going over in his mind again and again what had just happened at the factory. He became aware of some jazz playing on the car radio. It was a sax solo that consisted of a simple development of a theme and had many repeated phrases, maybe due to the poor improvisational skills of the player rather than by intention. While listening to a repeated phrase, he heard the sound of the sax as a human voice singing actual words, and what’s more they were English words!

Paul Hindemith described the process of enjoying music in something like the following way: “The sound waves arrive at the ear and are transmitted to the brain as neuron signals. Then they are mixed with the listener’s feelings and experiences to produce a musical image. When this image coincides with his expectation, it is said to be pleasing, and the greater the degree of coincidence, the greater the satisfaction.” This is what his ears and brain had done with the music, causing him to hear the notes of the sax transformed into words. He’d never been able to understand jazz very well, but he felt he might be beginning to get it.

 

At the end of the 1950s, late-night radio programs were popular among young people. As a primary school boy already tucked up in bed, he remembers his sister staying up studying for her university entry examination while listening to them. The programs often played US jazz and hits from the US charts. He heard a random mixture of Dixieland, swing, and contemporary jazz and pop songs by Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Neil Sedaka, Connie Francis etc. He could not understand English at all so he just followed the melody and rhythm, but he could not get anything out of it. Listening to classical music, on the other hand, gave him continuously changing visual images which were like a dream.

Perhaps understanding American music was just beyond a young boy from a rural area of Japan. However, being a boy, female jazz vocalists singing softly, sometimes almost whispering, held a mysterious attraction for him. After studying English in junior high school, he hoped he would be able to understand the lyrics and enjoy jazz more, but English was difficult. Finally, he did get to like Benny Goodman and even ended up playing the clarinet in the brass band at junior high school.

Now in Phoenix, his revelation about the music cutting through his confused thoughts and worries about work, he felt some satisfaction that he had understood something about the attraction of jazz.

The end

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A Big Catfish

Primary schools in Japan have long holidays in summer and winter. On the last day of the semesters, the children are given lots of homework to keep them in the habit of studying. It consists of a problem booklet for the main subjects, with extra space to write compositions and a diary. They are also expected to complete a special project, the subject of which they are free to choose themselves. The boy’s mother, who was the teacher of the primary school he attended, announced to him on the first day of the holiday,

“You should remember what happened six months ago.”

The boy just had to stand there as she continued,

“ The last time, you left your homework until the last 3 days of the holiday, and then cried all the time because you said you couldn’t finish it. In the end, we had to do everything for you. I remember I had to write your composition, and your sister did a painting and finished the questions for the main subjects. She even hurriedly made a booklet of botanical specimens she’d collected around our house for your special project. She did her best in the short time she’d had but I felt really ashamed when one of my colleague’s remarked cynically that it looked like your son spent the whole holiday just playing around your house. And it was not just the last time – you’re the same every summer and winter holiday. It makes me sad to think how unfortunate I am to have such a lazy, unmotivated boy. I used to do all the work myself, and your sister did, of course. Why can’t you?”

At the beginning of the holidays, he made the plan of study and tried to keep to it every day before going off to play with his friends. However, the problem booklet had many difficult questions (The booklet was edited in line with the average educational level, which was higher than the boy’s school.), so he answered the easy problems and put aside the difficult ones to ask his family later. Almost everyday his mother asked him if he was doing his homework, but she never asked to see what he’d done. The special project was always a headache for him. He was not good at painting or calligraphy, and although he was good at craft, he could not think of anything he could make at home. He could have done another plant growth project, but many children did that and he hated doing the same thing as everybody else. Astronomical observation was a possibility but, like the plant growth project, he would have had to work on it everyday, and he did not want to do that. Besides, his family did not have a telescope and his school did not, either. Every morning he tried to think of a theme for the project but never came up with anything. He always left home telling himself he would think about it while playing. It did cross his mind occasionally, but it only spoiled his fun. He eventually made a few futile efforts, but he quickly abandoned them and went back to playing. In the end he saw that he would have to rely on his mother and sister to help in the last few days of the holiday as usual, and he continued to deceive his mother that he was on top of his work. He was now able to devote his time to enjoying himself.

In the summer holidays, he went fishing, caught insects and picked plants in the forest, played in the garden and swam in the rivers and ponds nearby. Even in the northern part of Japan where he lived, the daytime temperature often rose above 30 degrees, so swimming and playing in the water were the main activities on fine days.

There was no swimming pool in his village. The river flowing through the village had a dam for drinking water in the upper reaches and ponds for farming in the lower reaches, but it was prohibited to swim there because it was too deep. Where the river flowed from the mountain area and into the plain, there was another small dam that had been constructed to irrigate rice fields on the outskirts of the village. It was slow moving and shallow, so the children played there. The big trees on both banks cast a cool shade on the water surface, creating a comfortable place for swimming. The bottom was covered in a coarse sand, so even when the children – who were always naked, which nobody thought anything of at the time – played energetically in this splendid natural pool, the water never got muddy.

One day, almost all the children in the village gathered there and were playing in the water under the clear sky. An older boy noticed a bus that was about to cross a narrow bridge about seventy feet downstream from the dam. He quickly recognized that the passengers were all children of a similar age to them from a neighboring town. He jeered at them, “Stupid townies!” The other children heard his shout and stood up and all joined in, “Stupid townies! Stupid townies!” Of course, the children on the bus stuck their faces out of the windows and shouted back, “Stupid hicks!” The children in the river did not understand ‘hicks’, so that they just shouted back, “Idiots!”

The boy, standing behind the children, could not see what all the fuss was about and submerged his body in the cool water. Just as he did so, something slippery momentarily brushed against his back. Turning around, he could see a big black shape and shouted, “There’s a big fish right next to me!” All the children stopped jeering and looked round at him. An older boy reacted immediately and directions to the other children, “Let’s form a line at the sluice gate. Then we’ll hold hands and make a double circle around the fish, tighten the circles gradually and move it into the shore.” As the village children played together every day and had learnt how to cooperate from the farming work they did, they could follow the older boy’s instructions quickly and efficiently. As they closed the circle and moved closer to the bank, the water became shallow and the whole shape of the fish could be seen clearly. It was a big catfish about seven feet long. Nobody had ever seen such a big catfish before. The young children were afraid and clung to the elder boys at first, but they were country children and would never allow their fear to cause them to blunder and let such a prize escape. They could not believe that such a big catfish inhabited their small river deep in the mountains. The dam did have some deep parts, but their total area did not seem a big enough habitat for such a big catfish. As catfish usually lived in muddy beds in the lower reaches of river, it might have been carried from the lower reaches to the dam when the river flooded after heavy rain.

“Girls should stay behind the boys,” the leader shouted, feeling that, unlike the boys, the girls were not used to catching fish and might panic and allow the fish to break through their cordon and escape. The girls changed their position and the boys promptly covered the openings. A few brave girls remained and stood with the boys at the front.

“Keep quiet and carry on driving it towards the shore. Whatever you do, don’t startle it. Slowly does it – that’s the way.” The leader shouted out his orders, apparently not aware that his booming voice contradicted his call for silence. As the circle of children around the big fish gradually tightened, it was pushed into the shallows until its dorsal fin broke the surface of the water, shaking slowly in the glaring light and making gentle ripples. The boy was fascinated and just gazed at it through the dazzling sunlight reflected by the water surface. Strangely, it felt like he was watching moonlight shimmering on a hot summer night.

‘Waahhh,’ the boy next to him cried as he dived towards the catfish, trying to cover it with the net he was holding in readiness. The fish jumped over the boy as he fell forward in the water and broke through the circle and escaped. The leader stamped his feet in rage and scolded him, “You idiot ! That was too soon. Why didn’t you wait for me to tell you?” The other children just stood around looking vacant.

The older boy soon regained his calm and set about organizing the children to pursue the escaped catfish. He saw his father directing the people working on his farm everyday, so it came naturally to him.

“ I want you two to go to the sluice gate for the rice fields, and you two – go to the dam sluice gate. And you two – go over to the marshy area and check there. The rest of us will look for it in the pool over there.” Following the leader’s instructions, the boy joined the group going to the pool. He was good at diving under water, though he could only swim using doggie paddle, but more importantly, he was excellent at catching fish with his bare hands.

The pool was about 18~21 feet wide and 7 feet deep at its deepest point at the rock wall of the northern shore, and gradually got shallower towards the other side. In the upper reaches, a group of big rocks formed a small waterfall just above the pool. The water flowing over it was warmed by the sun. However, some water seeped down through the rocks and sprang up cold from the bottom of the pool. The change in temperature between the upper and lower layers was so abrupt that once somebody had died of a heart attack while swimming there, and people were always warned to be careful when they entered the water there.

But this was no ordinary catfish, so they did not think about the danger. The boy carefully selected a place where the water was springing up and stood in the warm flow, submerging his face in the water to search for the fish. The sunlight filtered down through the trees in pillars of light and danced near the surface of the water, attracting many small fish to the spot. His concentration being easily disturbed, the enchanting scene soon made him forget his mission and he drifted off in his thoughts. Eventually realizing that he needed to breathe, he took his face out of the water, whereupon he remembered what he was supposed to be doing and put his face under the water again and started searching in earnest. He came to concentrate his efforts in the murky depths of the water near the north shore, because in his experience catfish tended to stay near the bottom away from the light.

Suddenly the leader, who was also searching in the same place shouted loudly, “I found it!” He’d probably been able to find it because he was tall and able to wade into the deepest places.

“Guard the sluice gate and the overflow place like before, and someone give me a bamboo pole,” he commanded. The bamboo pole would be used to drive the fish out from the deep and into the shallows.

“Everybody ready? Here we go,” he said and started to stir the water with the pole. The boy dipped his face into the water and looked toward the fish. The water was less muddy here due to the sandy bottom, so he could clearly see the catfish coming slowly towards him. “It’s coming. It’s getting closer – ahh, it’s gone into the reedy area over there.” The leader immediately barked new orders, “Quickly now – surround the reeds, and you people at the sluice gate and the overflow – hold your position.”

The children started to make for the point indicated by the leader, struggling not to slip on the sandy bottom as they hurried in their excitement. They made a circle around the point indicated by the leader and started to tighten it as before. This time, he was determined the big fish would not escape.

Somebody behind the boy shouted, “Hey, you three girls. Get up on the concrete levee and keep watch.” Looking round, he saw that it was the second oldest boy. He’d realized that the reedy area was near the levee, and that if the fish got into that area it might be able to escape by jumping over the levee. The boy admired the older boy’s quick perception of the situation, no doubt as a result of the experience he’d acquired fishing for his poor farmer family.

The big cat fish was driven into the reeds, and its dorsal fin could again be seen protruding from the surface of the water. “ There are sharp spines on the fin so be careful,” the oldest boy cautioned. The boy had caught catfish himself many times and already knew that they had sharp spines in their dorsal and pectoral fins. The boy thought this was a mistake. The leader should have told them this before they started chasing the fish, because telling them suddenly now would only make the children nervous and lead to failure again.

The leader stood with his net ready and shouted more instructions, “You people downstream – one step forward, and you lot upstream, too. That’s it – drive it towards me.” The trap was closing. Then all of a sudden a boy screamed and loud splashing could be heard. The smallest boy guarding the lowest reaches near the concrete dam had fallen over and was lying on his back. He was the son of the richest farmer in the village and had just tagged along with the others out of curiosity. He was not used to catching fish. He must have been frightened by what the leader had said about the sharp spines, and he’d just jumped aside when the fish came directly towards him, letting it escape. The tension of the chase instantly disappeared and was replaced by profound disappointment.

“OK, it got away again. Never mind. Let’s find it again and make a fresh start,” the leader shouted, refusing to be discouraged. The children, now laughing about what had happened, broke up into groups to look for the fish.

The boy was often told off for things he did, so he was used to reflecting on his mistakes. Laying his hot body in the cool water and taking in the scent of the water plants broken by the children in their unsuccessful endeavors to catch the fish, he started to think about what had gone wrong. He could not fault the leader’s tactics or orders, and yet they’d failed to catch the fish twice. During its escape, the catfish seemed to only target smaller children with no experience of catching big fish like that. Maybe it would be better to involve only boys who’d done it before, who would not panic if the fish suddenly swam towards them. But in that case, there would not be enough people. He pondered over many different approaches but being in the habit of playing by himself and not used to coordinating the members of a group, he could not come up with anything. The only option was to think of a way he could do it by himself.

He got up and waded in the water over to the pool where the catfish had hidden before, the sand tickling as it squeezed through his toes. When the depth of the water was up to his neck, he dipped his face into the water and began looking for the fish. The leader, being taller than him, was searching for it in the deeper upper reaches. The fish must be hiding in some dark corner of the pool, maybe under leaves or behind rocks. It would not be so easy to find this time. While he was concentrating on his search, he heard a woman’s voice some way off call, “Yasuo-chan, come here.” He looked up and could see that it was the leader’s mother. Their house was near to the dam, and she was calling him from their garden.

“Ahh, not now – really? OK, I’m coming,” he said, and he reluctantly handed his net to the second oldest boy as he left. The boy was worried that loosing the leader would result in everybody giving up, and just as he expected, almost all the children forgot about the big fish and went back to playing in the water as before. Only two boys, the one with the net and himself, were still searching for it. They were afraid to go out of their depth so stood on the edge of the deeper water, stretching out their arms to probe as far as they could with long bamboo poles. The bamboo poles were unexpectedly buoyant, and they had to use their full strength to reach into the depths and stir the murky bottom as they searched.

His partner seemed to be gradually losing interest. The boy usually soon tired of most things but perversely tended to stick to things that others soon lost interest in. He continued looking but did not have any luck locating the fish with the bamboo pole, so he assumed it had already swum away from the deep area. Dipping his face under the surface again and again, he checked areas near the concrete wall, behind rocks, and amongst tussocks of water plants.

He lost track of time. Then when he was crawling on his hands and knees in an area of tussocks, he felt something slimy touch the finger of his right hand. Immediately realizing it was the catfish, he instinctively turned his body and braced to face it. He wasn’t sure how he would be able to catch hold of the slippy skin, but he just thrust his hands forward firmly. Somehow his right hand ended up deep inside the fish, where he found something solid that he could grasp and just held on with all his might. The big fish jumped up from the water with such force that the boy was thrown on his back, but he kept hold of his prize.

He was struggling to breathe and just managed to get his head above the surface, coughing up all the water he’d swallowed.

“Yotchan, I got it! Help me!” he screamed. (Yotchan was the nickname of his partner, Yoshio.)

“Help!!!” His cry echoed around the dam and could even be heard in the village. Yotchan was looking for the fish in an area quite far from him, but he immediately understood the situation and shouted, “Etchan caught the catfish. Come on everybody- let’s help him!” (Etchan was the boy’s nickname.)

He could not remember how many times he was pulled down under the water by the raging fish, desperately resurfacing and gasping for breath, but it never crossed his mind to release his grip on it. He sometimes managed to glance around for an instant and saw the others coming to his aid. Losing their step on the loose sand as they struggled to wade through the water to help him, it seemed to the boy as if he was watching a slow-motion video of their actions.

“Whatever you do, don’t let go,” said his erstwhile partner as he approached, no doubt more worried about losing the fish than the boy’s safety. He supported the boy’s back with his hands and shouted to the

children, “Boys, try to get hold of the fish. You girls, try to pull Etchan towards the shore.” The boys who’d handled catfish before kept hold of it as it floated in the water, while taking care not to get stabbed by the spines. The rest of them helped the girls to get the boy closer to the shore little by little. He could not help feeling proud that he was the one who’d actually caught the catfish and basked in the glory as the children brought him to the shore, but not being used to being the centre of attention, he also felt a bit embarrassed.

Many children were standing round a big wooden tub in the center of the farmer’s garden. Of course, the big catfish was in it. The tub was only four feet in radius, so the fish had to contort its body to fit inside. A net covered the tub in order that the fish would not be able to jump out it if it struggled.

“I have never seen such a big catfish!” all the children agreed.

An adult came over and said, “Well, it is certainly enormous but I have seen a bigger one. When I was a soldier in China, I saw one caught in the Yellow river – must have been ten feet long, and the river was so wide that you couldn’t see the opposite bank.” The children were unimpressed. They were aware that there were probably bigger catfish somewhere in the world, but they knew that the man’s words were just a tall story.

“Well, you found and caught it – it’s up to you to decide what to do with it,” the leader said to the boy. He had always been picked on by the other children in the village, so he was not sure how to respond to being treated as one of them. He started to think: By rights it was his, of course, but what would happen if he took it home? He usually picked the fruit and caught the fish that served as his afternoon snack, but this fish was just too big. There were no refrigerators in the village, and raw fish would go off over one night in the summer. How about if he asked his mother to cook it? No, that would not work. His mother had grown up in the big city and got all her food from grocery stores. Even when he brought wild vegetables home, she immediately threw them away. When he found mushrooms, she always got angry and said things like, “Do you expect us to eat them? How do you know they’re not poisonous?” There was one exception. When he took home a mushroom he’d found growing on the base of a zelkova tree near to their home, a farmer who was visiting their home at the time said, “This mushroom is not poisonous and it’s delicious in miso soup.” He was known as the mushroom professor in the village, so she readily accepted his advice and put it in the miso-soup that night, and it was indeed delicious.

He imagined what would happen if she saw the fish. It was three times the length of their chopping board and would look like a whale to her, so she would just say that we can’t eat it and throw it away. He had caught catfish and eaten them cooked so many times before, so he knew how good they tasted. It was too good to throw away and he did not want to cause his mother any trouble, so he decided to give it away.

The leader saw the confused look on the boy’s face and asked, “What’s the matter? Are you OK?”

“Uhhh. Yes,” he replied, not really knowing what to say.

“I said you can take it home – nobody’s going to complain. It’s yours,” the leader assured him.

“But I don’t want it. Give it to somebody,” he mumbled.

“What? Hey, you’re crying. What’s the matter?” The leader tenderly put his hand on the boy’s head out of concern.

He so wanted to return home as the proud hunter who’d caught the big catfish, but that meant throwing it away. The only thing to do was give it to someone else, but that would make it feel as if all his efforts had been for nothing, and that’s why he was crying.

“ I hurt my chest when I was fighting with the fish,” he lied to the leader, adding in a tearful voice, “Anyway, I don’t want it. Give it to somebody else.” He did actually graze his chest badly while struggling with the fish, and whenever he was swimming during the rest of the summer holidays, he was proud to show off the scar. Everybody knew how he’d got it.

The end

 Concert Schedule 2020 second half~

               CONCERT SCHEDULE         revised 6th Oct. 2020

                                    Concert Schedule  2020

                     The Second Half of 2020

September(2020)

12th Sept.: St.Woolos Cathedral in Newport, South Wales. 12:00 – 13:00. (cancelled)
       Violin: Fumi Otsuki,   Piano: Sarah Kershaw
  1. Ralph Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending
  2. Edvard Grieg: 1st and 2nd movements from Violin Sonata No.1
  3. Sarah’s piano solo (Chopin: Prelude Op.28 No.15)
  4. Claude Debussy: En Bateau
  5. Jules Massenet: “Meditation” from Thais
  6. Ralph Vaughan Williams: Pastorale
  7. James MacMillan: After the Tryst
    Elena Kats-Cherning: Eliza’s Aria.

 

17th Sept.: Portsmouth Cathedral in Portsmouth, Hampshire. 13:10 – 13:50

        Violin: Fumi Otsuki,   Piano: Sarah Kershew (Postponed to 27th May,2021)

  1. Ralph Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending
  2. Germain Tailleferre: 1st and 2nd movements from Violin Sonatina
  3. Edvard Grieg: 1st movement from Violin Sonata No.1
  4. Sarah’s piano solo (Frederic Chopin: Prelude Op.28 No.15 )
  5. Claude Debussy: En Bateau.
21th Sept.:Christ church in Woking, Surrey. 12:40 – 13:20. 
        Violin: Fumi Otsuki,   Piano: Sarah Kershaw
  1. Ralph Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending
  2. Germain Tailleferre: 1st and 2nd movements from Violin Sonatina
  3. Edvard Grieg: 1st movement from Violin Sonata No.1
  4. Sarah’s piano solo (Frederic Chopin: Prelude Op.28 No.15 )
  5. Claude Debussy: En Bateau.
30th Sept.: Cramphorn Theatre in Chelmsford, Essex. 13:00 – 14:00. (postponed to next year)
        Violin: Fumi Otsuki,   Piano: Sarah Kershaw
  1. Ralph Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending
  2. Edvard Grieg: 1st and 2nd movements from Violin Sonata No.1
  3. Sarah’s piano solo (Chopin: Prelude Op.28 No.15)
  4. Claude Debussy: En Bateau
  5. Jules Massenet: “Meditation” from Thais
  6. Ralph Vaughan Williams: Pastorale
  7. James MacMillan: After the Tryst
    Elena Kats-Cherning: Eliza’s Aria.

 

October(2020)

2nd 0ct.:St.John’s ARC centre in Harlow, Essex. 13:00 – 14:00.

     Violin: Fumi Otsuki,   Piano: Sarah Kershaw

  1. Ralph Vaughan Williams The Lark Ascending
  2. Herbert Howells: Pastorale
  3. Edvard Grieg: 1st movement from Violin Sonata No.1 Op.8
  4. Frederic Chopin: Prelude OP.28 No.15 (Sarah’s piano solo)
  5. Claude Debussy: En Bateau
  6. Jules Massenet: “Meditation” from Thais
  7. Ralph Vaughan Williams: Pastorale
  8. James MacMillan: After the Tryst
  9. Elena Kats-Chernin: Eliza’s Aria.

 

7th Oct. St.John’s church in Caterham, Surrey.  12:45 – 13:30. (postponed)

   Violin: Fumi Otsuki,   Piano: Sarah Kershaw

  1. Ralph Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending
  2. Germain Tailleferre: 1st and 2nd movements from Violin Sonatina
  3. Edvard Grieg: 1st movement from Violin Sonata No.1
  4. Sarah’s piano solo (Frederic Chopin: Prelude Op.28 No.15 )
  5. Claude Debussy: En Bateau.
  6. Jules Massenet: “Meditation” from Thais.

 

16th Oct. Unitarian church in Brighton, East Sussex. 12:30 – 13:15. ⇨ 26th March, 2021

       Violin: Fumi Otsuki,   Piano: Sarah Kershaw

  1. Ralph Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending
  2. Germain Tailleferre: 1st and 2nd movements from Violin Sonatina
  3. Edvard Grieg: 1st movement from Violin Sonata No.1
  4. Sarah’s piano solo (Frederic Chopin: Prelude Op.28 No.15 )
  5. Claude Debussy: En Bateau.
  6. Jules Massenet: “Meditation” from Thais.

 

November(2020)

9th Nov. All Saints church in High Wycomber. 13:10 – 13:50. ⇨ 8th November, 2021
  1. Ralph Vaughan Williams The Lark Ascending
  2. Herbert Howells: Pastorale
  3. Edvard Grieg: 1st movement from Violin Sonata No.1 Op.8
  4. Frederic Chopin: Prelude OP.28 No.15 (Sarah’s piano solo)
  5. Claude Debussy: En Bateau.
10th Nov. Cheltenham Town Hall in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. 13:05 – 13:55. ⇨ 9th February, 2021
       Violin: Fumi Otsuki,   Piano: Sarah Kershaw
  1. Ralph Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending
  2. Germain Tailleferre: 1st and 2nd movements from Violin Sonatina
  3. Edvard Grieg: 1st movement from Violin Sonata No.1
  4. Sarah’s piano solo (Frederic Chopin: Prelude Op.28 No.15 )
  5. Claude Debussy: En Bateau.
  6. Jules Massenet: “Meditation” from Thais
  7. Ralph Vaughan Williams: Pastorale.

                      Concert Schedule  2021

                          The first Half of 2021

January(2021)

22th January: St.George’s church in Beckenham, Kent. 12:30 – 13:00

         Violin: Fumi Otsuki,   Piano: Sarah Kershaw

  1. Frederick Delius: 3rd movement from Violin Sonata No.3
  2. Franz Schubert: Violin Sonata No.1 Op.137
  3. Herbert Howells: Pastorale Op.28-1
  4. Ralph Vaughan Williams: No.3 from 6 Studies in English folksong.
23th Jan. St.Pancras church, London.13:15 – 14:00. 
       Violin: Fumi Otsuki,   Piano: Gina Kruger
  1. Frederick Delius: 3rd movement from Violin Sonata No.3
  2. Edvard Grieg: 2nd movement from Violin Sonata No.1 Op.8
  3. Franz Schubert: Violin Sonata No.1 Op.137
  4. Sarah’s piano solo
  5. Herbert Howells: Pastorale Op.28-1
  6. Ralph Vaughan Williams: No.2 from 6 Studies in English folksong
  7. Claude Debussy: En Bateau.

 

February(2021)

2nd February: St.Mary’s church in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire. 12:30 – 13:10.

         Violin: Fumi Otsuki,   Piano: Sarah Kershaw

  1. Frederick Delius: 3rd movement from Violin Sonata No.3
  2. Edvard Grieg: 2nd movement from Violin Sonata No.1 Op.8
  3. Franz Schubert: Violin Sonata No.1 Op.137
  4. Sarah’s piano solo
  5. Herbert Howells: Pastorale Op.28-1
  6. Ralph Vaughan Williams: No.2 from 6 Studies in English folksong.

 

7th Feb. Holy Trinity church in Gosport, Hampshire. 15:30 – 16:30.(unfixed)

      Violin: Fumi Otsuki,   Piano: Sarah Kershaw

  1. Ralph Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending
  2. Frederick Delius: 3rd movement from Violin Sonata No.3
  3. Franz Schubert: Violin Sonata No.1 Op.137
  4. Herbert Howells: Pastorale Op.28-1
  5. Sarah’s piano solo
  6. Ralph Vaughan Williams: No.2 from 6 Studies in English folksong
  7. Claude Debussy: En Bateau
  8. Ralph Vaughan Williams: No.3 from 6 Studies in English folksong.
9th Feb.  Cheltenham Town Hall in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. 13:05 – 13:55. 
       Violin: Fumi Otsuki,   Piano: Sarah Kershaw
  1. Ralph Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending
  2. Frederick Delius: 3rd movement from Violin Sonata No.3
  3. Franz Schubert: Violin Sonata No.1 Op.137
  4. Herbert Howells: Pastorale Op.28-1
  5. Ralph Vaughan Williams: No.2 from 6 Studies in English folksong
  6. Claude Debussy: En Bateau
  7. Ralph Vaughan Williams: No.3 from 6 Studies in English folksong.
11th Feb. Guildford cathedral in Guildford, Surrey. 11:15 – 12:00.
    Violin: Fumi Otsuki,   Piano: Sarah Kershaw
  1. Frederick Delius: 3rd movement from Violin Sonata No.3
  2. Edvard Grieg: 2nd movement from Violin Sonata No.1 Op.8
  3. Franz Schubert: Violin Sonata No.1 Op.137
  4. Sarah’s piano solo
  5. Herbert Howells: Pastorale Op.28-1
  6. Ralph Vaughan Williams: No.2 from 6 Studies in English folksong
  7. Claude Debussy: En Bateau.

 

24th Feb. Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire. 13:00 – 13:30. 

    Violin: Fumi Otsuki,   Piano: Sarah Kershaw

  1. Frederick Delius: 3rd movement from Violin Sonata No.3
  2. Franz Schubert: Violin Sonata No.1 Op.137
  3. Herbert Howells: Pastorale Op.28-1
  4. Ralph Vaughan Williams: No.3 from 6 Studies in English folksong.

 

27th Feb.  Waltham Abbey church in Waltham Abbey, Essex. 12:30 – 13:00. 

    Violin: Fumi Otsuki,   Piano: Sarah Kershaw

  1. Frederick Delius: 3rd movement from Violin Sonata No.3
  2. Franz Schubert: Violin Sonata No.1 Op.137
  3. Herbert Howells: Pastorale Op.28-1
  4. Ralph Vaughan Williams: No.3 from 6 Studies in English folksong.

March(2021) 

6th March: St.Martin’s church in Dorking, Surrey.  12:00 – 12:40.
 Violin: Fumi Otsuki,   Piano: Sarah Kershaw

  1. Frederick Delius: 3rd movement from Violin Sonata No.3
  2. Edvard Grieg: 2nd movement from Violin Sonata No.1 Op.8
  3. Franz Schubert: Violin Sonata No.1 Op.137
  4. Sarah’s piano solo
  5. Herbert Howells: Pastorale Op.28-1
  6. Ralph Vaughan Williams: No.2 from 6 Studies in English folksong.

 

16th March: St.John’s church in Northwood, London. 11:30 – 12:00. 

         Violin: Fumi Otsuki,   Piano: Sarah Kershaw

  1. Frederick Delius: 3rd movement from Violin Sonata No.3
  2. Franz Schubert: Violin Sonata No.1 Op.137
  3. Herbert Howells: Pastorale Op.28-1
  4. Ralph Vaughan Williams: No.3 from 6 Studies in English folksong.

 

26th March: Unitarian church in Brighton, East Sussex. 12:30 – 13:15. 

       Violin: Fumi Otsuki,   Piano: Sarah Kershaw

  1. Frederick Delius: 3rd movement from Violin Sonata No.3
  2. Edvard Grieg: 2nd movement from Violin Sonata No.1 Op.8
  3. Franz Schubert: Violin Sonata No.1 Op.137
  4. Sarah’s piano solo
  5. Herbert Howells: Pastorale Op.28-1
  6. Ralph Vaughan Williams: No.2 from 6 Studies in English folksong
  7. Claude Debussy: En Bateau.

 

April(2021)

28th April: St.Nicholas church in Brighton, East Sussex.12:30 – 13:15.

         Violin: Fumi Otsuki,   Piano: Sarah Kershaw
  1. Frederick Delius: 3rd movement from Violin Sonata No.3
  2. Edvard Grieg: 2nd movement from Violin Sonata No.1 Op.8
  3. Franz Schubert: Violin Sonata No.1 Op.137
  4. Sarah’s piano solo
  5. Herbert Howells: Pastorale Op.28-1
  6. Ralph Vaughan Williams: No.2 from 6 Studies in English folksong
  7. Claude Debussy: En Bateau.
May(2021)
5th May: Downing Place church in Cambridge.
13:00 – 13:50
         Violin: Fumi Otsuki,   Piano: Sarah Kershaw
  1. Ralph Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending
  2. Frederick Delius: 3rd movement from Violin Sonata No.3
  3. Franz Schubert: Violin Sonata No.1 Op.137
  4. Herbert Howells: Pastorale Op.28-1
  5. Ralph Vaughan Williams: No.2 from 6 Studies in English folksong
  6. Claude Debussy: En Bateau
  7. Ralph Vaughan Williams: No.3 from 6 Studies in English folksong.
 27th May: Portsmouth Cathedral in Portsmouth, Hampshire. 13:10 – 13:50
         Violin: Fumi Otsuki,   Piano: Sarah Kershaw
  1. Frederick Delius: 3rd movement from Violin Sonata No.3
  2. Edvard Grieg: 2nd movement from Violin Sonata No.1 Op.8
  3. Franz Schubert: Violin Sonata No.1 Op.137
  4. Sarah’s piano solo
  5. Herbert Howells: Pastorale Op.28-1
  6. Ralph Vaughan Williams: No.2 from 6 Studies in English folksong.
July(2021)
9th July: St.Chad’s church in Shrewsbury, Shropshire.

12:40 – 13:15.    

Violin: Fumi Otsuki,   Piano: Sarah Kershaw

  1. Frederick Delius: 3rd movement from Violin Sonata No.3
  2. Franz Schubert: Violin Sonata No.1 Op.137
  3. Herbert Howells: Pastorale Op.28-1
  4. Ralph Vaughan Williams: No.2 from 6 Studies in English folksong
  5. Claude Debussy: En Bateau
  6. Ralph Vaughan Williams: No.3 from 6 Studies in English folksong.

                                  The second half of 2021

September(2021)

10th Sept.: St.Mary’s church in Warwick, Warwickshire. 13:15 – 14:00. 
        Violin: Fumi Otsuki,   Piano: Sarah Kershaw
  1. Pyotr Tchaikovsky: Serenade melancolique
  2. Frederick Delius: 1st movement from Violin Sonata No.3
  3. Edvard Grieg: 3rd movement from Violin sonata No.2 Op.13
  4. Sarah’s piano solo
  5. Frederick Delius: 3rd movement from Violin Sonata No.3
  6. Ralph Vaughan Williams: No.3, 4 and 6 from 6 Studies in English folksong
  7. Astor Piazzolla: Tango Etude No.4 for violin solo.

 

October(2021)

1st Oct.: Unitarian church in Brighton, East Sussex.
12:30 – 13:15.
Violin: Fumi Otsuki,   Piano: Sarah Kershaw
  1. Pyotr Tchaikovsky: Serenade melancolique
  2. Frederick Delius: 1st movement from Violin Sonata No.3
  3. Edvard Grieg: 3rd movement from Violin sonata No.2 Op.13
  4. Sarah’s piano solo
  5. Frederick Delius: 3rd movement from Violin Sonata No.3
  6. Ralph Vaughan Williams: No.3, 4 and 6 from 6 Studies in English folksong
  7. Astor Piazzolla: Tango Etude No.4 for violin solo.

 

November(2021)

8th Nov. All Saints church in High Wycomber. 13:10 – 13:50.
  1. Pyotr Tchaikovsky: Serenade melancholic
  2. Frederick Delius: 1st movement from Violin Sonata No.3
  3. Edvard Grieg: 3rd movement from Violin sonata No.2 Op.13
  4. Sarah’s piano solo
  5. Frederick Delius: 3rd movement from Violin Sonata No.3
  6. Ralph Vaughan Williams: No.3, 4 and 6 from 6 Studies in English folksong.

THE JAPANESE RUSTIC LIFE IN 1950S . 12

The nature, culture and living in a small village in Japan just after the last world war, reflected through the boy’s eyes.

Chapter 12 Solitude and a true friend (1954)
Yoshiharu Otsuki (Sendai, Japan) and Yasufumi Otsuki (London)

Saved

He rang the doorbell, but as usual nobody came to let him in. He unlocked the door and went into the living room. The light was on but there was nobody there, even though it was around 9 o’clock. He put down his bag on the floor and plumped down exhausted on the sofa. He switched on the TV set and flicked through the channels – the evening news, variety shows, drama etc. , but nothing interested him. The sound of violin came from the music practice room along the corridor.
“You’re lagging behind the tempo! You made a mistake again! Keep to the right rhythm! Do it once more! One, two, three – go!” His wife’s angry voice could be heard over the violin sound. He muttered to himself, “ Not again!” He knew dinner wouldn’t be coming any time soon and resigned himself to having to wait till the practice ended. He sank in the sofa and started to recall the day’s events.

It was his first day at the company he had joined after quitting his job at the university, where he had been investigating industrial materials for 15 years in the faculty of engineering. In the course of his research, he identified the problems that he wanted to work on in the future, and he decided that working for an electronic parts manufacturer would give him a better chance of succeeding than continuing in the highly restricted research field that he was limited to at the university.
The reality of the situation there was totally different to what he’d naively imagined. While working at the university, he had been involved in some joint research projects with the company, so already knew quite a lot about it. In specific fields, the company usually had more advanced research technologies and equipment than the university.
The company was impressed with his research experience and left him in charge of new material development. However, the research field that he would be involved with at the company was quite different from his own, requiring him to learn some disciplines from scratch in order for projects to start and progress smoothly.
Before joining the company, he had been given a tour of the work place by one of the directors. The director told him that there was no research equipment in the places he was being shown, but he felt that implied that such equipment must be in another area of the factory, and probably this area was off limits to visitors. However, just after he came to the company, he made a complete tour of the place and realized that the company didn’t have any equipment specifically for research. He couldn’t say the director had lied to him but he certainly felt that he’d been mislead. Moreover, he found there was no established research and development system either, which meant no research and development technologies. They had been developing new products using production machines after the daily work ended, and, as the production machines were set up for a particular day’s production, it was impossible to use them for development without resetting them. He was very disappointed when he realized the situation, and had to resign himself to the fact that it would take about ten years to build a proper research and development system.

After looking around the factory, the engineers taught him how to operate the machines and do the necessary paper work. He spent half his working time trying to make a research and development plan for the project he was committed to. Having no experience in some of the areas involved, it was impossible to come up with a comprehensive strategy, but he had always had a fundamental belief that the first part of any project was to establish some kind of working plan, even if speculative information had to be used as a source to produce it.
Even after a regular eight-hour day, he could not leave work, having to attend managers’ meetings for more than four hours. In these meetings he was often unable to understand the agendas, and the thick smoke (most men smoked in those days) in the small room almost made him sick. He did not mind the 12-hour days – this was no different to when he worked at the university – but the different and unhealthy working environment put a lot of strain on him and he returned home entirely exhausted on his first working day.

As he’d changed his job completely of his own volition, he could not complain about his situation to anybody. Nevertheless, he wanted to relieve the strain by telling somebody about his problems. He would have spoken to his wife, but she was completely wrapped up in her son’s violin practice. He tried to get over the frustration he felt, telling himself that it was just the first step in realizing his life goals.

The telephone rang.
“It’s me. How’s it going? Working hard?” It was one of his friends.
“It must be tough working at a company in a totally unfamiliar environment, especially at your age. Are you coping OK?”
“Yes, but I’ve been well able to understand that the worlds of company and university are completely different, but I think things will work out.” He started to talk about the difficulties he was facing, but, moved by his friend’s concern, he couldn’t continue. His friend, being fully aware of how he felt, was silent for a few seconds before going on,“ Well, it’s bound to be hard in the beginning but hang in there – you’ll get used to it, and things will improve. Anyway, I’ll call again soon.”

He went over again and again what they had talked about, again feeling touched by how his friend had been worried about him. Mopping away the tears from his face brought him back to reality, and he noticed the sound of his son’s violin. He was playing Mozart’s Violin Sonata in E minor, K304. Even though Mozart’s music is usually uplifting, it sounded slightly melancholy to him.

The end

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Lost

In the village on New Year’s Eve, it was the custom for people to visit the temple on the top of the mountain behind the village to give thanks for their good fortune over the past year and to ask the gods for their continued protection during the next year. They tolled the bell to renounce the 108 worldly passions which had possessed them through the year’s activities. The form varies depending on the locality or temple – in some areas a priest strikes the bell while people gathered around pray, or people pray at home to the sound of the bell coming directly from the temple, or from a famous temple via the radio. Recently some temples have received complaints that the bell is too noisy, and are limited to striking the bell in the daytime or stopping it altogether. It is sad that religious observance has decreased to such a point.
As the boy’s family had come to the village from another place (or maybe just from a lack of piety!), they ignored the custom and went to bed early, intending to get up to see the new year’s first sunrise. The three of them – his mother, sister and him – had been invited to visit the temple by neighbors. His father was back from the city for the year – end holidays but wasn’t included, because he spent most of the time away drinking with his relatives, or at least that’s how it seemed to the boy.

The boy’s life was so monotonous. In school, where pupils spent the greater part of the daytime, he did not take an interest in the class, just sleeping or thinking about playing after school, so it never really felt like he was there. When school finished, on fine days he often went to the river or lake to catch fish, spending rainy days alone bored in the house. There was also a mountain, and as the fishing was a way to get extra food to fill his stomach, he only really played when he went there. The mountain was 777 ft (238m) above sea level with forest, creeks, areas of wild grass and bare rock. Naturally, there were poisonous snakes and other dangers but he knew how to avoid them.

The area was rich in wild berry * and every summer he picked full basketfuls of them, his family enjoying a sweetness which was never tasted in any cakes.
*(Scientific name; Rubus hirsutus. Popular name; grass-berry. Area of distribution; east Asia. Genus; Raspberry. The stems have a height of about 6 inches and the leaves are grass-like. The bright red berries look similar to raspberries but are much sweeter.)
At that time, strawberries had spread from the city area to the countryside and even the people in the village could buy them at a nearby town. However, they were not sweet enough to eat without milk and sugar. Strawberries are similar to Potentilla, hebi-ichigo in Japanese, which in that region were called snake’s pillow, for it was believed that snakes slept laying their head on this berry. The villagers never ate strawberries without wondering why city people could be so fond of eating anything so unsweet. The fall was very rich in nuts and fruit such as pears, grapes, persimmons etc. In the winter he could not catch fish and there was nothing to be had in the mountain, so he was always hungry. He had to satisfy his appetite with dried persimmons, which were made by exposing the peeled bitter persimmons to the sun for several months or leaving them on the trees.
On the other hand, he could enjoy playing in the mountain throughout the year; in spring, running around under the trees with green leaves and picking the wild plants and flowers; in summer, climbing up the trees and sleighing on shale-covered slopes in the cool forest and catching the river crabs; in fall, picking fruit and sleighing on the rotten leaves; in winter, sleighing on snow-covered slopes. Of course, many wild animals such as foxes, raccoon dogs, wild boars, giant flying squirrels etc. lived there but did not show themselves, being wary of people. There were bear sightings but only a few times a year. Spending his time in this way, he tired himself out playing and basically just rested and recovered from his exertions when he was at school.

On that day (New Year’s Eve), he was excited about climbing the mountain with his family, because they rarely had a chance to go out together except for shopping in the big city a couple of times a year. Furthermore, they were going to his mountain, where he always played like it was his garden, so he was particularly cheerful before leaving their house. Fortunately, there had not been much snow that year and many people had passed along the trail before them, so they could climb smoothly without slipping.
He was cheerful and also garrulous by nature. He sometimes joined a group of gossiping women and chattered freely with them, usually dominating the conversation. At that time, he was quite a popular person but after entering primary school, he was bullied by his classmates and became taciturn and a complete loner.
In the evening at the beginning of the climb, he followed the area illuminated by the flashlights of other families and companions, then went back and forth along the line chatting gaily to everybody.
“Be careful – If you slip and fall you’ll hurt yourself,” his mother called out to him anxiously.
“It’s all right. Don’t worry – we are in my garden here!” he answered.
The other people laughed as he kept on stepping on and off the path and darting in and out of the line, taking no notice of his mother’s words of caution.
The mountain trail was wide enough for 4~5 persons at the starting point, and gradually got steeper and narrowed to a space enabling only 2 people to pass at a time. After climbing for twenty or thirty minutes, you reached the halfway point, where people usually sat on a big stone at the side of the trail and took a rest for a while. That evening, everybody was wearing long rubber boots, having presumed that the trail would be muddy, so they got tired and had to rest standing before they reached the stone.
After passing the halfway point, the mountain trail went into deep forest and started to cross a steep slope. Here, the trail narrowed and became slippy where wet fallen leaves had piled up, causing the people to walk slowly and carefully to avoid falling into the valley below.
As the boy‘s family entered the forest after passing the half point, he was some way away from them, still moving among the groups of people ascending. His mother and sister were busy chatting to other people and had almost forgotten he was there. Running on the dark trail, there was suddenly nothing under his foot and he found himself falling down the steep slope. He came to a halt at the foot of big tree far from the road due to a big pile of leaves. It was completely dark around him but far above him many flashlights were moving. It seemed impossible to climb back up there because the slope was so steep and covered with slippery leaves.
He shouted for help, and at that moment the excitement he’d felt on the trail disappeared and he thought gloomily, ‘ I’d rather die than have everybody see me down here helpless.’ He stopped shouting and crouched down at the base of a tree and considered how he might get back to the trail. He sensed a temperature difference between his left and right foot and realized he’d lost his right boot during the fall. Fortunately, the moon came out from behind the clouds at that moment and the moonlight shone on the ground through the leafless trees. Opening his eyes widely, he scanned the area above him to try and find the missing boot. “ There it is!” he exclaimed, finding the boot on some leaves at the base of a small tree just above him. In such cold and difficult conditions, it would have been too hard even for a wild mountain boy like him to get down the mountain without boots. He reached out and drew the boot to him with a small branch then put it back on, much to his relief.
It occurred to him that he might be able to cover himself in dry leaves and spend the night there. However, he remembered the time that some other boy had got into difficulty on the mountain and failed to return home – almost all the villagers gathered to go and search for him. He would have to get back home before dawn, or the same thing was likely to happen again.
Looking up at the trail far above him, he muttered to himself, ‘How can I get back home?’ The steep slope was thickly covered with the fallen leaves of oak, maple, beech etc., and it seemed surely impossible to climb up.
‘Then should I go down?’ he wondered. He could not see anything down below in the pitch black of the valley, and this scared him a little. He remembered what an old man in the village had said: “When you lose your way in the mountain, your instinct might be to descend to the valley – going down is easier than climbing up and you might think you could reach the village by walking along the river – but this is a mistake because there are many dangers in the valley. There is actually less danger on the top part of a slope, and it’s much easier to see where you are from above, so it’s best to climb up to the top of a ridge.” He went over the valley option for himself: ‘I am sure I could reach the village through the valley – the worst thing would be poisonous snakes, but it’s winter now so that’s not a problem. On the other hand, there is no proper trail along the river, so I would have to climb over big rocks the whole way – I’d probably fall into the river, get soaked and freeze to death. Yes, the valley route is dangerous.’
He thought about other possibilities: ‘I could walk along the slope and try and find a way through the trees, or just go left or right until I hit a woodcutter or animal trail, but the slope is so slippery, and it’s difficult to see very much in this moonlight.’
Then he realized that he could see faint lights from the distant village. He was staring longingly in that direction when he became aware of a shape with two small shining points about a hundred feet away. ‘What can it be?’ he thought. It began to move slowly closer to him and he could see it was a fox. When he was younger, he would have been terrified of the animal, but now he was much more scared of the prospect of being bullied by his classmates. The fox stopped moving and they stared at each other. After a few minutes it shook its’ head up and down, turned on its heels and slowly left. Then it occurred to him, the words coming to his mind and gushing out from his mouth almost instantaneously, “I can just follow the fox’s trail – it’s bound to hit a main trail sooner or later.”
After he checked out the condition of the slope immediately in front of him with a dead branch, he grasped a branch on a tree with his left hand and took a step forward, being careful not to slip on the dead leaves. He repeated the process again and again and advanced slowly.
After what seemed an eternity, he caught sight of something big between the trees – it was the big stone at the half-way point. “ Made it!” he exclaimed in relief, only to lose his footing, and he would have fallen back down the slope if he had not just managed to catch hold of a small branch. Finally, he laid himself down on the big stone, sweating profusely but more from relief than exhaustion.

Opening the front door quietly and entering into the hundred-watt light of their living room, he felt rather than saw his mother and sister staring at him. Almost collapsing on the floor, he braved a glance at his mother. Her face was beyond description, looking both angry and relieved.
“Where have you been all this time?” she said, trying to hide her emotions. He just wanted to tell her about his frightening experience and to be comforted by her, but then he thought if he told her the truth, she would just get even angrier and his scolding would go on for even longer. He decided to tell her something more plausible and just go to bed. He regained his composure and said, “On the way back, I met one of my friends who lives on the hill and stayed at his house playing with him.”
“You should not stay late at night at somebody’s house – it’s not polite,” she said, the anger welling up inside her.
“I said I should go but they said it didn’t matter, today being New Year’s Eve,” he replied quickly, not feeling confident that his explanation would satisfy her.
“And you’ve got dirt and leaves all over your face and body – how on earth did you do that?” His mother did not miss a thing.
“On the way back from my friend’s house, I slipped and fell down a slope.”
During their exchange of words, his sister, sitting by her mother, was looking at him unforgivingly.
“ Brush off the dirt and leaves quickly, wipe your face with a towel and go to bed.”
She’d believed him – he’d done it!
He went straight to his room and quickly fell asleep in the cold bed, without praying to be released from the one hundred and eight worldly passions he had stored up during the year.

It was the middle of the night a week afterwards and he was half awake and half asleep in bed. He felt a great deal of pain all over his body. It was as if he was being pressed under some great weight and could not move any part of his body. He was able to make out the shape and saw it was some kind of animal.
‘Ah, it must be the fox I saw when I was in the woods,’ he intended to shout, but no sound came out. His hands and feet were also completely paralyzed.
‘ Help – I can’t breathe!’ He eventually managed to scream. Several minutes passed and the pressing force gradually diminished. He awoke with shaking hands and covered with sweat to see his mother’s worried face before him. She hugged her son’s stiff body.
It was the first time he could ever remember her holding him like that, but there was no joy in the realization at that time. After a while his muscles relaxed and he was able to open his strongly clenched fists. She felt the change in her boy’s body and laid him down on his bed again saying, “What’s the matter? Were you having a nightmare?”
He could not reply because the image of the nightmare lingered. After she settled him back in bed, she stayed by him for a while until he calmed down and fell asleep.
The following day, he was chewing over the experience from the previous night. He was anxious about the connection between the fox that had appeared in his nightmare, and the one he had seen on the mountain. Even to this day, there are some superstitious people who believe that foxes have the power to possess people. In Japanese folk religion, everything, including inorganic matter, has a soul. A person’s soul might become an evil spirit if they die an unnatural death, and in some cases, even a living person may become a spirit. The same thing can happen with animals and inanimate objects. In that village the fox was believed to cheat people by entering a person’s body and controlling their behavior by taking over their mind – fox possession.
The boy was afraid that the fox he’d encountered that night had chased him home and possessed him. Even if he told his mother, she would not believe it, because she had been born and raised in a big city, where such superstitions were not taken seriously. On top of that, he would have to confess that he had lied that night. He did not want to deal with that, so he kept his concerns to himself.
Three days later, he had the nightmare again. This time, he could not tell what was on top of him but the pressure was lighter than the previous time, and he only cried out a few times. His mother judged it to be a simple bad dream, and, without hugging him tightly this time, tucked him back in bed.
The next day, hoping to understand the cause of his torment, he tried to recall what had happened in the nightmare but without success.

One day his sister said to him,
“On New Year’s Eve, where did you really go? Mom was worried sick about you until you came back. After we got back, she went to the home of the family we went up the mountain with to ask if they’d seen you since, and she said that if you did not come back by the next morning, she would go to ask the chief of the village to search for you. The next morning, she went to their house again to apologize for troubling them.”
Even after hearing that, he still could not bring himself to tell her the true story.
That night, he had the dream again. It was worse than before but he endured it without crying out. He had the nightmare again sometimes, but it over time became less frequent, although he still had it once every year or two until he was about twenty years old.

The phenomenon the boy experienced in his nightmare is called sleep paralysis. Some doctors dismiss it as stress-induced, and some people even put it down to supernatural causes, but there is no generally accepted explanation for it. In the author’s opinion, the boy’s nightmare was not caused by falling over the edge into the dark or the accidental meeting with a fox, but rather from feeling unwanted after his family failed to show much emotion when he returned home. Maybe this denial of affection in such a situation is a similar thing to mothers in Japan sometimes telling a disobedient child (usually boys rather than girls) that he is not her real child but was in fact found as a baby while floating in a basket on the river. The boy’s mother sometimes said the same thing to him. He usually did not believe her, but sometimes he felt it might possibly be true.
Possibly the recurrence of his nightmare might be attributed to the remorse he felt for having worried his mother. If he had apologized to his mother as soon as his sister told him what his mother did on that New Year’s Eve night, his stress might have been relieved naturally. The inconsistency of thought and behavior that his stubborn character caused has remained a constant all through his life.

The end