Thursday, December 18, 2014

FUJI: LOOKING AT JAPAN INSIDE OUT AND OUTSIDE IN

Fuji: A novel of Japan  (Available on Amazon)


Excerpt from the novel...



"Even the clouds
Of heaven
Struck with awe
Dare not pass
Over that steep peak
It is a spirit that
Watches over Japan
Over Yamato,
The land of the rising sun…"

-Anonymous poem
Eighth-century Nara Period
from Manyoshu
‘Collection of Autumn Leaves’



"Life is but a dream,
Or so they say,
And there’s really
Something to that
Isn’t there?"

-Collin B. Long
Resident rewriter, Yamaba Temple
Ex-rewriter, VTR TV Nice News 
International Satellite Division












The sun rises sharply, poking through the curtain of mist over Tokyo Bay. Golden shafts of light reach across the waters, torching the underbelly of swollen, low-hanging clouds. A somnambulant city creaks into motion in hypnotic increments to the clockwork clickety-clickety clack-clack of commuter trains and the tinny ring of digital alarm bells. The circle line orbits itself, revolving two ways at once around its twin parallel tracks, always passing, never meeting, while the groan of overloaded busses, thundering trucks, beeping crosswalk signals and the smooth swoosh of bullet trains all add to the early morning hymn of commuters on the run. 

Sleep interrupted and slumber deferred, suit and tied salary men and hose-wearing office ladies trudge up and down station staircases, offering up their bodies to the hypnotic rocking of rail carriages so steady and stuffy as to invite snatches of sleep. Resting heavy eyelids, they drift back into black, attending to unfinished dreams.

Millions of conscientious citizens trudge to and fro, transporting themselves from tatami to linoleum, from bedroom to boardroom, getting up a little early and walking a little faster so as not to be a minute late. Commuters scurry into subways, escaping the rattle and hum of surface traffic for the reassuring subterranean clamor of the underground train. Coffee is quaffed, toast crunched, rice balls munched and hard-boiled eggs are consumed on the go.

Building by building, block by block, a warm tangerine glow beats back the cool shadows of night. Subways slither through banked tunnels into crowd-engorged stations; cars hurtle along walled-in highways, while up above, whispering jets scratch the sky, exuding iridescent vapor trails. To the west, the cloud cover is sundered by unseen winds, unveiling a distinct snowy mound.

Mount Fuji is blushing pink, modesty violated by the rising sun.

The cityscape trembles and shudders, almost imperceptibly at first, followed by a gentle shrug. A stealthy shockwave strikes unannounced, like a ninja leaping out of nowhere, poised to kill.

Then ground jolts abruptly, causing a million buildings to creak and sway in unison.

Startled crows caw noisily and take wing, fleeing perches on vibrating trees and wobbly utility poles. Sakura petals are shaken free from their branches, fluttering to the moist ground. Concrete and steel towers tremble and rock in synchrony with stands of bamboo.

Everything jiggles and vibrates like crazy and then it all goes still again.

The tectonic plates of the earth’s finicky crust stop slipping and grinding; the illusion of terra firma is restored once more. In the absence of further subducting, buckling and lateral thrusting, the fragile archipelago is at peace with itself again.

Traffic signals lose their dangle and swing like spent pendulums, crows return to their perches to caw. An uneasy calm follows in the wake of the widespread trembling. It was as if some massive subterranean earth spirit had woken with a start, stretched, yawned, turned over, readjusted its pillow and then went back to a deep, peaceable sleep, roiling countless human dreams in its wake.

No sooner does the rumbling of the earth subside, than the rumble of rush hour resumes.

The deathly silent shadow that passed over the city like an inauspicious eclipse has gone now, replaced by the reassuring cacophony of rush hour in full flow. The near miss with the unthinkable imparts to the drudgery of the daily routine a renewed kick, an appreciation for the little things in life. With the passing of danger, the habitual motions of morning are back in full swing again.

Along the narrow banks of the rocky riverbed tramps and vagrants huddle in their makeshift shacks and cardboard, lucky just this once not to have a solid roof over their heads.

In the shadow of a lumbering iron bridge that spans the banks of a broad, shallow river, a gathering of unwashed and unshaved men share a cup of coffee heated in a kettle suspended over an open fire. The whiskered men, unaware they are being watched, huddle around an open fire, warming their hands, exchanging knowing glances.

“Ji-shin?”

“Ji-shin da.”

An earthquake. For the tramps camped out on the riverbed it brought scant pause to the primitive morning ritual of heating water, washing up and airing out. Outsiders in an insular society, they lived on the edge, clinging to the detritus of the sparkling city like shipwrecked survivors, thankful for cardboard boxes, discarded food, and whatever flotsam and jetsam might come their way.

All is calm as the red-streaked dawn gives way to gray skies. The sun is gone, swallowed up the mass of purple-bottomed clouds that come tumbling in from the sea. Rain is on the way.

A disheveled American, whose arrival on the riverbank had gone unnoticed due to the drama of the early morning quake, is spotted.

Gai-jin?”

“Gai-jin da.”

The men wave the foreigner over and offer him a cup of their potent brew. He drinks, nodding repeatedly in thanks, but has little to say. It is plain to see that he was no early morning jogger, his whiskered face, dirty clothes and eagerness to share a few scraps of food suggested otherwise. At the first sign of rain, the exotic itinerant offers profuse thanks for the strong cup of coffee and moves on. He says he wants to get where he wants to go before the skies open up.

One of these days, the big one would get its due; both the superstitious and scientific could agree on that much. A major sneak attack from nature was overdue and inevitable. It would be big; big enough to shatter buildings, big enough to shutter the city, big enough to crush the economy. One of these days, without any proper warning, the gentle contours of the Kanto plain would ripple, buckle and shift, snap, sag and lift, reducing man-made towers and monuments of human ingenuity to rubble and ruin, rendering the rich as exposed and vulnerable as the homeless already were.