Friday, October 14, 2005

aborted fetuses a delicacy in Japan!?

As you can see on the right-hand column of the site, I have StatCounter built in this blog. (I need occasional reassuarance that someone's reading what I write. Yes.) I was looking at the visitor path earlier today, and found out that someone came here via an MSN search for "aborted fetus a delicacy in Japan." A very primitive search, indeed, but it made me curious--where the hell did this weird notion come from!? So I performed the same search, which led me to an article titled "China's Barbarism". Apparently a Christian pro-life magazine, the article on Christian Action News is just plain outrageous.

It claims that eating aborted fetuses (as a soup with ginger and pork, or for an epicurian, with orange) is a common practice in Shentzen province of China, and introduces a female doctor of "the state-run Shenzhen Health Center for Women and Children." She is reported to have handed a reporter a glass filled with fetuses, saying "there are ten fetuses here, all aborted this morning. You can take them. We are a state hospital and don’t charge. Normally we doctors take them home to eat - all free." Okay--let's say they do eat fetuses in China just for the sake of argument. Here's a doctor, trained in medical school and of course exposed to the Western culture, openly saying that she eats fetuses on a regular basis, without any hint of hesitation. Something is weird here--would she be THAT stupid to be completely oblivious of the potential controversy over the "practice"? I would think she would be more careful about publicity if she did engage in such a practice. Here, the article sounds like a poorly manufactured lie, doesn't it?

Naming such internationally acclaimed syndicated media sources such as UP and Japan Economic Newswire, but conveniently forgetiing to actually giving any citations, the article creates an atmosphere of authority and authenticity around this report of supposed "savegery." Medicinal benefits of fetuses are dropped in to make the article more believable to those of us who are bombarded every day with the newly-found anciend wisdom of Chinese folk medicine. The article from there procedes to criticize the mainstream U.S. media that fails to report the practice and the population control enforced by the Chinese government, while passingly attacking scientific research projects that utilize aborted fetuses in the U.S.

It is probably not worth trying to refute this article--unless one is preconditioned to believe it, the article's lack of credibility is quite obvious from the first glance. (Having more than a few spelling errors doesn't help, either.) I'm just too amused to know that such outrageous report existed, and that there's a whole industry of less than dubious articles on this matter. I'll probably be tired of this kind of malicious manipulation of ignorance sometime soon, but right now, I'm amused. (I'm also amused about how this scandal over a purported Chinese practice has been translated, in someone's mind, into the same practice in Japan.)

...Wait. This whole "fetus-eating in China" is NOT what the majority believes, right?

*UPDATE on Nov. 4, 2005*
Apparently the alleged fetus eating in Japan is a big thing in some weird little corner of the www. The visitors to this blog have increased by more than five times since I put up this entry! I hope people will come to their senses before too long...

Friday, October 07, 2005

"Tony Takitani" by Haruki Murakami (3)

This is my translation of Haruki Murakami's short story "Tony Takitani," which has been made into a film and brought over to the U.S. (to my delight!) The first part is here and the second is here.

One day, after dinner, he ventured. How about slowing down your clothes shopping? I’m not talking only about money. I don’t mind you buying what’s necessary, and I’m glad to see you become more beautiful. But do you really need this many clothes?

His wife thought about it for a while, looking down. Then she said, I think you are right. I don’t think I don’t need so many clothes. I know that very well. But I can’t help it even if I know it. I have to buy them when I see beautiful clothes in front of me. Whether it is necessary or not, whether I have many clothes or not, these things become irrelevant. I simply cannot stop buying them. Like a sort of an addiction, she said.

But she promised to try getting out of it. If I keep doing this, the house will be filled with clothes before long, she said. For about a week she locked herself up at home so new clothes wouldn’t meet her eyes. When she did so, however, she felt like she had become empty. It was like walking on a planet with little air. Every day she walked into the dressing room, spent all day picking up her clothes in her hands and looked at them one by one. She caressed the textile, smelled them, put them on, and stood in front of a mirror. However long she looked at them, it didn’t tire her. The more she looked at them, the more she craved for new clothes. Once she thought she wanted them, she couldn’t stop herself.


But she loved her husband deeply and revered him as well. She thought what he said was surely reasonable. She didn’t need this many clothes. She had only one body. She called her favorite boutique and asked the manager if she could return a coat and a dress she had bought just ten days ago and hadn’t worn even once. That is fine, if you could take them back here, we will give you a refund, the manager said. She was their exceptional customer. They were willing to accommodate such a request from her. She put the coat and the dress in her car and drove to Aoyama. She returned them at the boutique and had the credit card transaction canceled. She thanked them, left the boutique, hurried back in the car trying not to see what was around, and headed straight back home on highway 246. After returning the clothes, she felt her body was somewhat lighter. Yes, they were unnecessary, she told herself. I have enough coats and dresses to satisfy my need until the day I die. But while she waited for the light to change at an intersection, at the head of the line, her thought didn’t leave the coat and the dress for a moment. She clearly remembered what colors they were, how they were designed, and how they felt against her hands. She could picture them vividly to the tiniest details as if they had been in front of her eyes. She felt sweat well up on her forehead. She inhaled deeply, with her elbows on the stirring wheel. She closed her eyes. When she opened her eyes, she saw the light change. She jumped to floor the gas pedal.

Right then, a semi, trying to force through the intersection with a yellow light, crushed into the nose of her blue Renot Cinque, sideways, at full speed. She didn’t even have time to feel anything.

What was left for Tony Takitani was a mountain of clothes, size seven, enough to fill a room. Shoes alone counted toward two hundred. He didn’t have the slightest idea what to do with them. Because he didn’t want to forever hold on to what his wife put on her body, he called a dealer, made him take all her accessories at his price. He burnt her stockings and underwear in an incinerator in the backyard. He left the clothes and shoes, for there were simply too many. After her funeral, he secluded himself in the dressing room and all day long he looked at the clothes that stuffed up the room.

Ten days after the funeral, he placed an ad on a newspaper for an assistant. Looking for a woman, size 7, height around 161 cm, shoe size 22, will pay well. Since the salary he proposed was enough to be extraordinary, thirteen women in total came to his office in South Aoyama for an interview. Five out of thirteen were obviously lying about their sizes. From the remaining eight, he selected a woman with a shape closest to his wife’s. She was a woman with a featureless face, in her mid-twenties. She wore a plain white blouse and a blue tight skirt. Her clothes and shoes were clean, but a little worn out, under close scrutiny.

Tony Takitani told the woman: the job itself is nothing difficult. Every day from nine to five, you come to the office, answer the phone, deliver the illustration, receive reference materials, and make copies and so on, in place of me. There is only one condition. I recently lost my wife and have a very large number of her clothes left at home. Most of them are brand new or like new. I would like you to wear them while you work here, as a uniform. That is why I included the dress and shoe size in the requirements. It must sound strange. You must think that this is a little suspicious. I understand that very well. But I don’t mean anything else. It’s just that I need some time to get used to the fact that my wife is gone. In other words, I need to adjust gradually the air pressure around me, so to speak. I need such a period. While I do that, I would like you to be around, in my wife’s clothes. That way, I should be able to grasp, on gut-level, that my wife died and is gone.

The woman bit her lips as she quickly thought about the strange condition. It was indeed strange. To be honest, she didn’t really get the main idea of Tony Takitani’s story. She understood that he had lost his wife recently. She also understood that his wife left many clothes behind. But she couldn’t quite understand why she had to work in her clothes, in front of him. In usual circumstances, she probably should suspect that there was something more to it. But he doesn’t seem to be a bad person, she thought. It was obvious listening to the way he talked. He was surely off-balance for the loss of his wife, but he didn’t seem to be the type of people who would harm others for that. And after all, she had to work. She had been looking for a job for the last few months. Next month her unemployment benefit would expire. Then it would be hard just to pay the apartment rent. She probably wouldn’t be able to find another job that pay as well as this.

Okay, she said. I don’t see the fine details, but I think I can do what you just told me. Could I have a look at the clothes, just in case, though, I think I should see if the size is really right for me. Of course, said Tony Takitani. He took her to his house and showed her the dressing room full of clothes. She had never seen so many clothes in a single place, except for at department stores. And each one of them was apparently very expensive, and of the highest quality. They was not much room for improvement. It was an exceedingly dazzling view. She had trouble breathing. Her heart beat fast, for no reason. For her, it seemed somehow similar to sexual arousal.
Tony Takitani told her to try the size and left the woman in the room. She pulled herself together and tried on a few clothes at hand. She also tried the shoes on. Both the clothes and the shoes fit her perfectly, as if they had been made for her. She took those clothes in her hand, one by one, and looked at them. She rubbed them with the tip of her fingers. She smelled them. Hundreds of beautiful clothes sat in files. Eventually tears appeared in her eyes. She couldn’t help crying. Tears welled up endlessly. She couldn’t push them back. She sobbed, trying to contain the sound, enveloped in the clothes the dead woman left behind. Tony Takitani came to check in after a while and asked her why she was crying. I don’t know, she shook her head. I haven’t seen so many beautiful clothes, so I think I’m confused, I’m sorry, she said. And she wiped off the tears with a handkerchief.

I would like you to start coming to the office tomorrow, if you don’t mind, Tony Takitani said in a business-like voice. For now, select a week worth of clothes and shoes from this and take them home with you.

The woman took time to select the wardrobe for the next six days. Then she selected matching shoes. Then she put them in a suitcase. It might get cold, take a coat, Tony Takitani said. She picked out a warm gray cassimere coat. It was light as a feather. It was the first time in her life to have such a light coat in her hand.

After the woman was gone, Tony Takitani went into his wife’s dressing room, closed the door, and for a while blankly stared at the clothes she had left behind. He didn’t understand why the woman cried looking at the clothes. To him, the clothes looked like the shadows his wife left behind. Her size-seven shadows hung on hangers rows after rows. They looked like a loosely hung bunch of a few samples of the infinite (at least theoretically infinite) possibilities inherent in the existence of a human being.

Those shadows were shadows that once clung to his wife’s body, were given warm breaths, and moved around with her. But what was in front of him now were a herd of miserable shadows withering away, minute by minute, having lost its root of life. They were meaningless, musty clothes. As he looked at them, he started to feel choked. Multiple colors danced in the air like pollens and jumped into his eyes, his ears, and into his nostrils. Greedy frills, buttons, epaulets, fake pockets, laces and belts thinned the air in the room in a strange way. The smell of abundant mothballs made silent noises like countless minute winged insects. Suddenly he realized that he loathed these clothes now. He leaned against a wall and closed his eyes, with his arms folded. Loneliness drenched him again, like a lukewarm sap of darkness. This is something that has already ended, he thought. Whatever I do, it’s all ended.

He called her apartment and asked her to forget about it. I’m sorry, but the job doesn’t exist any more, he said. Why, the woman asked, surprised. I’m sorry, but the things have changed, he said. You can keep all the clothes and shoes you took with you, and the suitcase, too, so please forget about this, and please don’t tell anybody about this, Tony Takitani said. The woman was completely perplexed, but she thought it was no use trying to get back the job any further. She said she understood and hung up.

For a while she was angry with Tony Takitani. But before long, she started to feel that it was ultimately the best way for the things to turn out. It was unnatural from the very beginning. I could have used that job, but I’ll get by somehow.

She carefully stretched out the clothes she took from Tony Takitani’s house, hung them in a closet, and put the shoes into a shoe case. Compared to these new comers, her own clothes and shoes that had been there before all seemed staggeringly shabby. They felt like a different kind of matter made from materials of a totally different level. He took off the clothes she wore for the interview, hung them on hungers, changed into a blue jean and a sweat shirt, sat on the floor and drank a can of beer out of the fridge. She recalled the mountain of clothes in the dressing room in Tony Takitani’s house and sighed. So many beautiful clothes, she thought. Oh boy, that dressing room was far larger than this apartment. It must have taken an insane amount of time and money to collect all those clothes. But the woman is already dead. Leaving behind a room full of size-seven clothes. She wondered what it would feel like to die, leaving so many clothes that are so beautiful.

Her friends, knowing that she was poor, were surprised to see her in new different clothes every time they saw her. All of them were designer clothes, sophisticated and expensive. How in the world did you get those, her friends inquired. I can’t explain, it’s a promise, she said. And shook her head. Even if I explain, you won’t believe me, she added.

At last, Tony Takitani called a secondhand clothes dealer and had him take away all the clothes his wife left. They didn’t amount to much. But it didn’t matter. He wanted them to be all gone, even for nothing, leaving none behind. He wanted them to be gone in a faraway place where they won’t meet his eyes ever again.

He left the empty room that once was a dressing room empty for a long time.

From time to time he went into the room and dazed away, without doing anything in particular. For hours on end, he sat on the floor and watched the walls. There were shadows of the shadows of the deceased. As years went by, however, it gradually became impossible for him to remember what used to be there. The memory of their colors and smells disappeared before he knew it. And even the vivid emotion he once embraced drew back outside of the realm of memory. Like a fog trembling in the wind, his memory slowly changed its shape, and every time it changed shape, it faded further away. It became the shadow of a shadow of a shadow. What he could feel was the sense of absence that was left behind by what used to be there. At times he couldn’t even remember his wife’s face. But sometimes he recalled the strange woman who once shed tears in the room, at the sight of the clothes his wife left. He remembered her featureless face and worn-out enamel shoes. And her subdued sob came back alive in his memory. He didn’t want to remember such things. But it returned against his will. After he completely forgot so many things, mysteriously he couldn’t forget the woman, whose name he didn’t even remember.

Two years after his wife’s death, Shozaburo Takitani died of liver cancer. For a cancer death, he suffered little and his hospitalization was short. He died as if he had fallen asleep. In that sense too, he was lucky till the end. Except for some cash and a few stocks, Shozaburo Takitani didn't leave anything that could be called assets. All that remained were the trombone and a huge collection of old jazz record. Tony Takitani kept the records piled up on the floor of the empty dressing room, not even taking them out of cardboard boxes of a home delivery company. For the record smelled of mold, he had to open the windows regularly to ventilate the room. But except for that, he rarely stepped into the room.

A year passed as such. However, he started to feel tired of gurading such a mountain of records in his house. Mere thought of what sat there sometimes choked him. At times he woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t go back to sleep. His memory was vague. But it definitely existed there, with its due weight.

He called in a vintage record dealer for an estimate. Since many of them were precious records that had gone out of production decades ago, the estimate was considerably high. It was just about enough to buy a compact car, but it too, was irrelevant to him.

When the heap of the records was gone, Tony Takitani was finally really all alone.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

"Tony Takitani" by Haruki Murakami (2)

This is the second part of my translation of "Tony Takitani" by Haruki Murakami. Here is the first part.

But one day, out of the blue, Tony Takitani fell in love. It was a girl who came to his office to pick up his illustration from a publisher, for whom she worked part-time. She was twenty-two. A calm smiled lingered around her mouth while she was in his office. She was a girl with a pleasant face, but was not extraordinarily beautiful. Yet, there was something that struck hard his heart about her. Once he had the first sight of her, his chest was so stuffed that he almost couldn’t breathe well. What was in her that struck him so strongly, he didn’t know. Even if he had, it wouldn’t have been the kind of thing that could be explained with words.

Then his attention was drawn to the way she dressed herself. Although he didn’t have a particular interest in clothing and he wasn’t the type of a person who takes notes of what women wore, he was somehow utterly impressed by the way she wore her clothes so comfortably. It could be said that he was almost moved. There were a fair number of women who were just good at choosing what to wear. There were far more who put decorations on themselves to show off. But she was completely different from such women. He wore her clothes very naturally, very gracefully, like a bird that flies to a distant world puts a special wind around its body. The clothes seemed to have acquired a new life by being put on her.

When she thanked for the illustration and went out with it, he was left speechless for a while. When the dusk came and the room sank in the darkness, he just sat in front of the desk, in an immobile daze.

Next day he called the publisher and cooked up a business so she would have to come to his office. When the business was taken care of, he asked her out for lunch. The two chatted over lunch. Despite the fifteen-year difference of their age, they had much in common. Whatever they talked about, their conversation clicked. Such experience was new for both of them. She was nervous at first, but soon started to relax, laughed a lot and talked a lot. You’re always a great dresser, he complimented when they parted. I love clothes, she said with a shy smile. I spend most of my paycheck on clothing.

From then on, they dated a few times. They sat together in quiet places and talked, instead of going somewhere special. They talked about their lives, about their jobs, about how they feel or think about many things. They could talk on and on tirelessly. They kept talking as if to fill a void. When they met for the fifth time, he asked her to marry him. But she had a boyfriend whom she had been with since high school. With the passage of time, their relationship had gone off the track and now they had reached a point where they had quarrels over trivial things every time they met. She enjoyed being with Tony Takitani more. Even so, she couldn’t severe the relationship with her boyfriend at once. She had her own feelings. And between her and Tony Takitani, there was a fifteen-year age difference. She was still young and didn’t have much experience in life. She couldn’t discern what that fifteen-year difference would mean in future. She said she needed time to think.

While she thought about it, Tony Takitani drank alone, every day. He couldn’t concentrate on his work. Loneliness suddenly became a burden, weighed him down, and made him suffer. Loneliness is like a prison, he thought. He just hadn’t noticed it so far. With desperate eyes, he kept staring at the thickness and coldness of the walls that surrounded him. If she says she doesn’t want to marry me, I might die just like this, he thought.

He went to see the girl and explained it squarely. He explained how lonely his life had been, how much he had lost, and how she made him realize all that.

She was an intelligent girl. She took a liking for Tony Takitani as a human. From the beginning she liked him, and she liked him more as she dated him. She didn’t know if it should be called love. But she felt there was something wonderful within him. I’ll be happy if I get together with this man, she thought. And the two got married.

The lonely period of Tony Takitani’s life ended. When he woke up in the morning, he looked for her. He felt relieved if he saw her sleeping next to him. When she wasn’t in his sight, he looked for her all around the house, feeling insecure. Not being lonely was, for him, a bit strange of a condition. For he was stalked by the fear of being lonely again, now that he ceased to be lonely. From time to time, when he thought about it, he was scared to the point of cold sweat. That fear continued for about three months after their marriage. But it gradually thinned away, as he got accustomed to the new life and as the possibility of her sudden disappearance became scant. He finally became calm and able to soak himself in the quiet happiness.

Once, they went to listen to Shozaburo Takitani’s performance. She wanted to know what kind of music her father-in-law was playing. Would your father mind if we went to his concert, she asked. I don’t think he would, he said. So they visited a club in Ginza where Shozaburo Takitani performed. Except for in his childhood, it was the first time Tony Takitani went out to listen to his father play. Shozaburo Takitani was playing the exact same kind of music he did in the past. They all were tunes Tony heard on record all the time since he was a child. Shozaburo’s play was very smooth, refined, and sweet. It was not art. But it was music, created masterfully by a first-class professional to put its audience in a pleasant mood. Tony Takitani piled up liquor glasses unlike his usual self and listened to the music.

As he listened to the music for a while, however, as if dusts accumulate in a narrow tube, slowly but steadily, something about the music suffocated him and made him ill at ease. The music felt slightly different from what Tony Takitani remembered as his father’s music. Of course it was a long time ago, and it was just a child’s ear. Yet, the difference seemed significant for him. It might be just a tiny difference. But it was important. He wanted to go up to the stage, grab his father’s arm, and ask him: what’s the difference, dad? But of course he didn’t do such a thing. He sipped his brandy without saying anything and listened to his father’s stage until the end. And he clapped his hands with his wife and went home.

There was nothing to cast a shadow upon their marriage. His work was going well as usual. They never quarreled. They often took a walk together, went to see movies, and traveled around. She, for her age, was a fairly talented housekeeper and knew moderation in everything. She did household choirs briskly and never caused unnecessary worries on her husband. There was only one thing that bothered Tony Takitani, however. It was the fact that she bought far too many clothes. When in view of clothes, she almost completely lost control. Her face changed in a moment. Even her voice changed. At first he thought she suddenly felt sick. Although the tendency was visible before they got married, it worsened considerably when they went to Europe on honeymoon. During the trip, she bought and bought an incredible number of clothes. In Milan and Paris, she made tours of boutiques from dawn to dark, as if possessed by something. They didn’t see anything. They went to neither the Duomo, nor the Louver. The only thing he remembered from the trip was the boutiques. Valentino, Missoni, San Laurant, Givancy, Feragamo, Armani, Cerutti, Jean-Franco Ferre… she kept buying one clothes after another, looking as if under a spell, and he followed her, paying the bills. He almost worried that the marks on his credit card might wear out.

Even after their return to Japan, the fervor didn’t calm down. Day after day, she kept on buying clothes. The number of her clothes rapidly increased. They had to order a few large wardrobes. They had a closet specially made to store her shoes. It wasn’t enough: they had to convert an entire room into a dressing room. It was a big house and there were more than enough rooms anyway. They weren’t on a tight budget either. And his wife was very good at dressing herself. New clothes seemed to be enough to make her happy. So I won’t complain, he thought. That’s fine, no one is perfect in this world.

But when her clothes started to overflow the dressing room, he couldn’t but feel uneasy. Once, when his wife was away, he counted them. According to his calculation, it would take close to two years to wear all the clothes even if she changed her clothes twice a day. It was too large of a number for any reasonable thought. He had to stop it at some point.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

"Tony Takitani" by Haruki Murakami (1)

This is the first part of my translation of Haruki Murakami's short story "Tony Takitani," which has been made into a film by Jun Ichikawa. To my pleasant surprise, it made its way to Chicago and on screen now at Landmark Century Theater.

Tony Takitani’s real name was really Tony Takitani.

Because of the name (of course, on official records, it was Takitani Tony), his rather Western complexion with deep-set eyes and distinct nose, and his curly hair, people often mistook him for a mixed blood child when he was little. It wasn’t long after the war, and there were many children with American soldier’s blood around. But in reality, both his father and his mother were indisputably Japanese. His father was Shozaburo Takitani, a jazz trombonist with a bit of fame since the pre-war period. About four years before the start of the War in Pacific, he got into trouble involving a woman, and had to leave Tokyo. He took the opportunity to go over to China, bringing with him only his instrument. At the time, a day’s ferry ride from Nagasaki took him to Shanghai. He had nothing at all he couldn’t bear losing, not in Tokyo nor in Japan. There was no way for him to be regretful. Moreover, the artificial glamour the city of Shanghai offered at the time seemed to be more suited to his character. Ever since he saw the elegant cityscape shining in the morning light from the deck of a ferry that went up the Yangtze River, Shozaburo Takitani was in the city’s spell. The light appeared as if it had been promising him something very bright. He was twenty-one.

He spent this turbulent period of war, from Sino-Japanese War to Pearl Harbor, and eventually to the atomic bombs, nonchalantly playing the trombone in nightclubs in Shanghai. The war went on somewhere totally unrelated to him. In short, Shozaburo Takitani was the kind of person who was almost completely unequipped for things like a will about history or contemplation on history. If he could play his trombone as he liked, could have three decent meals a day, and could have a few women around, he didn’t have any particular desire for anything more.

Most people liked him. Young, handsome, and good at his music, he stood out wherever he went, like a crow on a snowy day. He slept with a countless number of women. Japanese, Chinese, Ukrainian, prostitutes, wives, beautiful women, not so beautiful women—he had sex with almost any women he ran into. With his obstinately sweet sound of the trombone and his gigantic and active penis, Shozaburo Takitani came to be an iconic figure of Shanghai of the era.

Also he was gifted with a talent to make “useful” friends—not that he was conscious of it. He kept close friendships with high-ranking army officials, affluent Chinese, and a pack of others who sucked out a huge profit from the war through some dubious methods. Most of them were the type of people who always hid a pistol under their jacket and looked around the street up and down when going out of a building, but somehow Shozaburo Takitani got along with them very well. And in turn, they took special care of him. Should a problem arise, they set it straight for him. For Shozaburo Takitani, life was such an easy task at that time.

Such convenient gift, however, sometimes works against us. When the war was over, due to his friendships with various dubious people, he was marked by the Chinese army and was thrown into jail for a long time. His fellow prisoners were executed one by one without a decent chance of trial. They were dragged into the courtyard of the prison one day, without warning, and were shot in the head with automatic machineguns. The execution always took place at two in the afternoon. Pfewn, the hard-packed sound of the automatic machineguns echoed in the prison’s courtyard.

It was the biggest crisis in Shozaburo Takitani’s life. There, there was literally only a hair-thin gap between life and death. Death itself wasn’t so terrifying. He would have his head shot through and it would be the end of it. Pain would be only momentary. Until then, he had lived his life as he pleased and slept with a few women. He had eaten delicacies and experienced some good fortunes. He didn’t have anything to cling to in his life. He hadn’t been entitled to complain, even if he had been offhandedly executed right there. Millions of Japanese died in this war. There were many who died far more horrible death. He persuaded himself and spent his time in jail, whistling away. Day after day, he watched the shapes of clouds floating outside of the small window with iron fence, and pictured one by one, on the stained walls, the faces and bodies of women with whom he had slept with. Yet in the end, he became one of the only two Japanese who managed to made it back to Japan alive, from that prison.

It was in the spring of 1946 when Shozaburo Takitani came back to Japan, a bag of skin and bones, with only his cloth on his shoulder. When he came back, his parents’ house in Tokyo had burnt down in the great Tokyo bombing in March of the year before, and his parents had died in it. His only brother had been missing in action in Burma. In short, he was completely alone in the world. But he didn’t feel it sad or lonely, and wasn’t particularly shocked. Of course he felt some sense of absence, but one would become alone at some point anyway. He was thirty then. He felt like he aged a few years at once, but that was it. Beyond that, there was no other emotion welling up in him.

Yes, Shozaburo Takitani managed to survive anyway, and given the fact, he had to use his head to keep surviving from then on.

Since he couldn’t think of anything else he could do, he formed a small jazz band with his old friends and started to tour American bases. Utilizing his inborn friendliness, he befriended with a jazz-loving American major. The major was an Italian American from New Jersey, and played clarinet quite well. Working in logistics, he could order whatever record he needed from his home country. In spare time, they often played together. They went to the major’s barrack to listen to Bobby Hacket, Jack Teagarden, Benny Goodman, and that sort of happy jazz records, drinking beer, and worked hard copying the phrases. For him, the major procured foodstuff, milk, and liquor, scant at the time, as much as he needed. This isn’t too bad of a time, Shozaburo Takitani thought.

He got married in 1947. His wife was a distant relative of his mother’s side. When he was walking in the street, he ran into her, and over a cup of tea they talked about the news of relatives and about the old days. It led to their friendship, and somehow—which could very well be due to her pregnancy—they ended up living together.

At least that was what Tony Takitani heard from his father. He doesn’t know how much Shozaburo Takitani loved his wife. She was pretty and quiet, but she wasn’t built sturdily, Shozaburo said.

In the second year of their marriage, they had a boy. Three days after the baby was born, the mother died. She died within a blink of an eye, and was cremated within a blink of an eye. It was a very quiet death. There was no inner conflict, no real pain—she died as if she faded away. As if someone went to the back and turned off the switch ever so gently.

Shozaburo Takitani wasn’t sure how he should feel about it. He wasn’t familiar with these types of emotions. It felt like something flat and disk-like was enclosed in his chest. But what kind of object it was and why it was there, he didn’t understand at all. Yet the object remained there ever since and wouldn’t let him think deeper about anything. Such being the case, he spent about a week without thinking about anything. He didn’t even remember the baby he had trusted to the hospital.

The major consoled him sincerely. Almost every day, they drank at a bar in the base. You have to stand strong, you have to raise the kid, the major told him. He didn’t know what the major was talking about, but he nodded in silence. He could at least understand the major’s good intention. Then, as if the thought had suddenly popped in his mind, the major offered to be a godfather of the child. Come to think of it, Shozaburo Takitani hadn’t even named the child.

The major said he could give the child his first name Tony. Tony couldn’t be an appropriate name for a Japanese child in any way, but the question of whether or not it was an appropriate name didn’t seem to come into the major’s head even for a moment. Shozaburo Takitani went home, wrote “Takitani Tony” on a piece of paper, put it on the wall, and gazed at it for a few days. Takitani Tony, not too bad, he thought. It’d be the era of the United States. It might turn out to be convenient to name the child in American way.

But thanks to such a name, Tony was made fun of at school as a mixed-blood, and when he says his name, people looked at him funny or seemed offended. Many people took it as a bad joke, and some people got angry.

Partially for that reason, Tony Takitani grew up to be an introverted boy. He didn’t make any friends, but he didn’t find it particularly hard. Being alone was something natural to him, and it was almost a kind of premise of life, so to speak. As far as he could remember, his father was always away on performance trip with his band. When he was small, a housekeeper came to take care of him, but he started to do everything himself when he was in fifth or sixth grade. He cooked for himself, locked the doors, and slept alone. He didn’t find it particularly lonely. Rather than busily being taken care of by someone, being on his own felt so much easier. For some reason, Shozaburo Takitani didn’t remarry after his wife’s death. He invariably kept making numerous girl friends, of course, but he never took any one of them home. He too, like his son, seemed to have become accustomed to being all alone. The father-son relationship, however, wasn’t as distant as it might seem from such a life. But both of them were as deeply accustomed to solitude as a habit as each other, neither of them went ahead to open up their heart. They didn’t feel any particular need to do so. Shozaburo Takitani wasn’t made to be a father, and Tony Takitani wasn’t made to be a son, either.

Tony Takitani loved to draw. Every day he locked himself up in his room alone and did drawings. He especially liked to draw machinery. He was good at drawing minute details of things like bicycle, radio, and engines, using a pencil with its tip sharpened like a needle. When he drew a flower, he traced every single vein on its leaves. Whatever people might say, that was the only way he could draw. Although he received not-so-impressive grades for other subjects, his grades for art were always outstanding. When there was a context, he usually won the first prize.

So, it was only natural that he entered an art school after graduation (from the year he started art school, without neither of them taking the lead, somehow, as if it was a course of nature, the father and the son started to live separately) and became an illustrator. In fact, there was no need to consider other possibilities. While other youth worried, groped in the dark, and suffered, he single-mindedly continued his precise, mechanical drawing without thinking about anything. Since it was the time when young people were rebelling against the authority and the system earnestly and violently, there was scarcely anyone who praised his extremely realistic drawings. Seeing his drawings, teachers of the art school gave a wry smile. His classmates criticized the absence of ideological statements. Yet, Tony Takitani couldn’t understand at all how the “ideological” paintings of his classmates could be so remarkable. In his eyes, they were just immature, ugly, and inaccurate.

When he graduated the art school, however, things changed drastically. Thanks to his very practical skill and pragmatic utility, Tony Takitani didn’t have hard time finding a job from the very beginning. No one else could produce more minutely detailed drawings of complicated machineries and buildings than he could. Everybody unanimously said that his drawings were “real than the real.” His drawings were more accurate than photographs, and were more easily understandable than a thousand words of explanation. Immediately he became an illustrator of great demand. From cover illustrations for a automobile magazine to an advertisement illustration, he took any offer as long as it was about mechanism. He liked his job and it paid quite well.

Meanwhile, Shozaburo Takitani kept leisurely playing his trombone. In the age of modern jazz, then of free jazz, and then of electric jazz, he kept playing his old-style jazz as always. Not that he was the first-class performer, but his name was fairly recognized and he always had some job offer. He could have tasty food, and didn’t have to go without women. From the standpoint of whether he had complaints or not, it was quite a good life.

Because Tony Takitani turned to work whenever he had time to spare and didn’t have expensive hobby in particular, he made himself a small man of property by the time he was thirty-five. Following someone’s advise, he bought a large house in Setagaya. He got to own a few apartments buildings for rent. His tax accountant took all the care.

Tony Takitani had dated a few women by then. When he was younger, though for a short time, he had lived together with a woman as well. He had never thought about getting married, however. He did cooking, cleaning and laundry for himself, and he could call up a contract-based housekeeper when the schedule was tight. He never wanted to have children. He didn’t have any close friend whom he could consult with and confide in. He didn’t even have a friend to go for a drink together. Yet, he was not an eccentric man. Though not as friendly as his father was, he had no problem interacting with people around him in everyday life. He didn’t swaggered nor bragged. He didn’t make excuses, nor spoke ill of others. He preferred listening to others than speaking about himself. So, most people around him liked him. But he never managed to build a relationship with someone that went beyond the practical level. He and his father only saw each other once every few years for some practical matter. Even when they met, when the business is done, there was nothing much to talk about between them. Tony Takitani’s life passed thus quietly and peacefully. I probably will never get married, he thought.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

architectural hell: a look into a typicaly student life at a public university

Built somewhere in the '60s, UIC has serious architectural problems. And I don't mean the chunks of concrete peeling off from the towering University Hall. The exposed (and of course rusting) iron structure 300 feet above my pedestrian head is scary, but that doesn't affect my daily life at this public university. (I made a point not to walk underneath it.) What I'm talking about is what bothers me every single day.

UIC's east campus has, in its center, six single-story "lecture hall" buildings, which are separated into six large lecture halls (surprise!). Due to some mysterious whim of the architect, these lecture halls, even if they're in a same building, aren't connected with each other inside of the building. One has to get out of the building, go around the corner, and get in again to go from one lecture hall to the other. This causes a mess between classes, especially when it's rainy out: one has to wait in line to get out, open one's umbrella to get to a room in the same freakin' building (sorry), and wait in line again to get back in. And mind you, there's no restrooms in these lecture hall buildings, each of which probably house more than a thousand students. Again, one has to get out of the building to go to whichever restrooms nearest to the lecture hall, located in separate buildings. The toilet theme, sadly enough, becomes a recurrent theme in this exploration of bad campus planning.

Surrounding the lecture halls are three-story, one-basement halls, each floor of which probably has ten smaller classrooms. As an English major, I frequent two of those: the Stevenson Hall and the Burnham Hall. Both have problems. To stick with the toilet issue, I'll start with the Stevenson Hall. This building probably has a capacity of more than a thousand students (35students in each room x 10 rooms on each floor X 3 floors). Since most classes held in the building are English classes, the majoriy of these 1000+ students are female. Keep this in mind and try to picture what would happen if this building had only three working toilet stolls. It's not that hard to imagine, right? But obviously it was too hard for the architect (and for the administration). There ARE only three working toilet stolls in this building. There are five stolls (which wouldn't be enough anyway). Yet, one of the five is perpetually clogged and one has its door sitting on the floor. The lines are so bad that I decided not to go to the restroom in this building: it is practically impossible to use the bathroom here and make it on time to the next class. To make confuison worse, the only one hand drier is located on the opposite side of the sinks. So one has to turn around, bump into the line of people waiting to use the bathroom in the narrow space between the sinks and the drier, murmur some applogy, and again wait in another line to use the hand drier. This is the worst toilet design I've ever seen in my life.

The restroom in the Burnham Hall is not as bad--its five stools are all functioning. It even has two hand driers--even on the same side as the sinks, what a luxury!--only that one of them is long dead... The Burnham Hall has a congestion problem elsewhere: in the stairwell. Housing about the same number of students as the Stevenson Hall, it has only one staircase. Well, technically there are two, but one leads to nowhere. The width of the stairs is barely enough for two people to pass. And that is assuming a person of usual to slim build. As college students, we're typically bulged up with backpacks and shoulder backs, if not with "a few extra pounds," and this makes it almost imossible to climb or descend the stairs without twisting our bodies in order not to bump into the people going the opposite direction. Not surprisingly, the movement becomes s........l.........o..........w........... Painfully slow. Between classes, on each floor, there is always a large pool of students waiting to slip into the staircase file. As if the narrowness weren't enough, the architect went out of his way to make a large gap between the steps and the surrounding walls, resulting in the further slowdown of movement: nobody wants to lose his steps into this threatening opening. I just don't want to imagine what would happen in case of emergency. I bet there'll be injuries, if not deathes.

"Student Center" building houses two cafeterias, computer labs, and a bookstore, among other things related to students' life. One of the two major ways to reach the upper floors is an escalator located in the middle of the building. (The other is to use an exterior stairwell.) As the main artery of the building, there is usually a constant flow of people getting on and off this escalator. For some reason, the entrance to the escalator hall is limited to the width of the escalators with glass doors, concentrating the stream of people in one congested area. It is, therefore, very tricky to cross this escalator hall, especially when one has a cup of coffee in one hand and a muffin and an apple precariously heaped in another. Since the escalator hall separates two dining halls, one often finds oneself shuffling through the people, in search for an open table, in exactly that situation. A nice addition is an old communist guy who hands out capitalism-condemning, revolution-inciting pamphlets at the foot of the escalator, probably every day for decades. There is just no way to get around without frustration.

Simply put, the architect who designed the campus and the administrative board which must have approved his plan didn't give any consideration to the logistics of moving a large number of people efficiently in and around campus buildings. Yet, from what I heard from one of the professors, it could have been worse: the original plan of the architect was to cover the campus entirely with concrete, expelling any element of nature, after the glorious examples of Italian Renaissance cities. Maybe I should be glad that this part didn't see the light of the day. Life would have been much more unpleasant if they had adopted this belated representation of the human triumph over the ferocious force of nature.