Akkeshi | 厚岸

By Eric Margolis, DC’18

A discussion of the pros and cons of being a white American living in Akkeshi, Hokkaido, Japan, in 1983.

ORIGINAL

良い点: この町の人はあなたに優しい。アメリカ人で少し目立つのに、町の人たちも正行寺のお坊さんたちもあなたがここにいる理由を問わない。居酒屋のおじさんは喜んでお酒をついでくれて、市場の漁師はあなたにおすすめを紹介してくれる。寺に住んでいて、日々の仕事を忘れた時以外はほとんどのお坊さんに無視されるけど、1人か2人は毎日の祭祀の意味を説明してくれる。話を聞くのは好きだけど、半分しか分からない。

悪い点:冬が寒い。ニューイングランドが寒いと思っていたけど、ニューイングランド には勝ち目がない。冷たい風は湿地を通り、町に来て、寺を出るのは難しくなる。1日の最後に空を染める夕暮れ、太平洋から飛んで来る白い霧、氷が溶けたような冷たい雨 。日常のことをかき消すというより、あなたを実存的な世界に連れ込んで行く。赤い刀のような日の出が海を割き、あなたの心に飛び込む。日本人、または、アメリカに帰る勇気がある人の体に入れるのであれば、そうする。取りかこむ気候が怖くなくなるかもしれない。そして、まるで悪魔のように大きい声で叫ぶ鳥と湿地が安らかな森に思えるかもしれない。それとも、この土地と別れるか。

良い点:世界に出るために植民地支配者としてのアイデンティティをあとにした。自分のアイデンティティについて考えることは、アメリカを出てますます大切になった。日本人は日本人でしかないけど、あなたは一体何?自分の肌の色とあとにした地を思い出すが、この地は盗まれたものだ。殺めと強要を通して原住民から盗まれ、奴隷制度を通して金になった土地。あなたはその負担から逃げ出すためにここに来たかもしれない。他人に身をまかせて、優しくしてもらい、本当に安心だ。ここの百万もの幽霊は、自分のものではない。栄えて増えている生き物は、森1つに狐が百匹、狐1匹に蜂千匹、ナラの木1本に葉1万枚、光景と風景だ。ここにも、祖先はいない。祖先はどこにもいない、アメリカにも、この寒い湿地の仏教の船溜まりにも。

悪い点:寺神戸という歯医者が娘さんと結婚してほしいと言ってくる。彼女は美しいけどあなたにとっては少し静かすぎだ。 外国人であるだけに町ー番のお金持ちがあなたを気にかけてくることに違和感を覚える。温泉と図書館がある大きくて心地が良い豪邸に住み、珊瑚礁のある宮古島の海へ年に2度行くような家の娘さんとの結婚。こんな幸運はあなたのような無名な渡り人には値しない。娘さんは金沢大学から家に帰ったところで、スキー好きだ。お父さんはウイスキーと17世紀の日本と中国の詩が好きだけど、アメリカの詩は嫌いなそうだ。お母さんの料理はいかとうなぎが特に美味しい。(もう4回もお宅で晩御飯をいただいている。)息子さんは船好きな弁護士で、3人で去年の6月に海に行った時が一番楽しかったね。あなたにはもったいなさすぎるから、裏で闇があることを訝る。娘さんはあんなに静か、あんなに美しい。あなたがアパートに移らないことを寺神戸さんは惜しんだが、寺を出るのを耐えられなかった。冬が続き、信頼を失う。幸せがこんなに近くにあるのに、怖がって手が出せない。

良い点:これまでの人生の中で、一番健康で賢明だ。毎日走って、そばや野菜や魚を食べ、贅沢をしたければカレーライスを食べる。水も空気も清らかで、日はどの季節でも純粋で、空は知勇の源だ。地は知恵を与えてくれる。どこに行っても感慨深く、並んでいる木と空に浮かぶ真実をみいだす。好きな日本文化はたくさんあるが、建築はその1つだ。正行寺の庭では青々とした松と清い石が枯山水に天体を描く。善悪と哀楽、無知と真実などの違う世界が、橋で渡る小川のまん中の島の鋭い石に宿っている。建物は、素朴で清らかで、発想と感情のバランスをたもっている。建物は明るすぎるアメリカの色を遮って、時間と空きをあなたにくれる。かつての愛を分析して忘れられる。市内のテレビ番組技術部長の仕事でそのことについて考える時がある。パリと東京で映画を作っていた時より仕事が易しい。ケーブルや電気自体を扱う。ケーブルと電気は生命の源だと思う。一歩ずつ生活は進む。朝、昼、夜。お昼ご飯では仲男さんとアメリカの政治について話す。あなたがロナルド・レーガンはやめるべきだと言っても、仲男さんはレーガンのカリスマ性のとりこのようだ。

悪い点:留守の間に弟が亡くなる。5年間パリと東京で留守にした自分のせいだろうか、それとも一瞬の間いなかったとしても起こるようなことだったのだろうか。この数年間でたくさんの変化を経験したが、弟の発病と診断と闘病と死以上に時の歯車の残酷さを思い知らせるものはない。5年前、弟はまだサンフランシスコに住んでいなかった。4年前、あなたは日本にいなかった。3年前、弟がゲイだということを知らなかった。2年前、彼は運命の人と会った。1年前、彼が病気になったことを知らなかった。1週間前、連絡が来たのだった。父との通話。

— もしもし。

— It’s Dad.

— Dad — sorry, Dad, it’s good to hear from you.

— Mark’s passed away.

— Already?

— That disease is a monstrous son of a bitch.

— You there?

— Yeah.

— You’ll come home, right?

— I’ll book a ticket.

あなたの飛行機は明日だ。

良い点:愛に失敗し、望みがなくなったあなたを自然が労る。その愛は、地球の反対側に来た理由である。秋の日差しがオルゴールの音のようにやわらかく川に当たって、跳ねた魚に光が踊っているかのようにきらきら光る。そして失われた愛について考える。彼女の影が水中の石に輝く。留学生の2人がするような簡単な恋だったのだろうか。撮影現場で出会って、それからいつも一緒にいた。一緒に寝ては働いて、働いては寝た。ヨーロッパの古い城の中で、この年代のカッコイイ映画を作っていると、何でもできるみたいで、欲がどんどん増していったね。欲望は欲望を呼ぶ。人生のほとんどを資本主義国で過ごしたのは偶然ではない。美人まで手に入れられると思っていたのか。愛に失敗した。完全に成功すると思っていたけど、彼女は日本で婚約していた。あなたが聞いていなかったのは彼女のせいだが、2週間彼女を東京で探し、家に行った時は決まり悪かった。ヨーロッパの歴史の中では、なんでも言える。見てできることもたくさんある。一緒に星を描き、ラブストーリーを考え出すこともできた。しかし、違う歴史の国に渡ると、一瞬ですべてを失った。

悪い点:母はいつもクリスマスの日に、長くて悲しい手紙を送ってくる。日本でもクリスマスをお祝いするから手紙を送るのは変ではないが、母はそう思っている。手紙が来た後、電話でいつも母に話す。「お母さん、カードを送るのはおかしくないよ。ここでもみんなクリスマスに色々なことをするよ。」母は「手紙がほしくないみたいだから謝るの」と言う。あなたはこの小さな喧嘩から離れて、母に言おうとする。結婚しようと思えばできるし、寺神戸さんがあなたより良い独身男性を選ぶ前の最後の機会かもしれないことを。しかし、なぜか母は知りたくないだろうと思っている。

直近の手紙を読み直した。行間で震えている弟の幽霊があなたを呼ぶ。その手紙は、大量の新聞の下に埋もれてた。最後の行に行き着いたとき、1つの考えが頭をよぎった。もし、サンフランシスコに行って、日本に帰らないとしたら。厚岸に帰らないとしたら。

誰もあなたがいなくなっても寂しがらない。いや、お坊さんたちはあなたがいないことに気づく。仲男さんも、寺神戸のご家族も、他の人々も。それに、あなたは簡単に他人の意見や感情をもとに動く人ではない。だけど、今回は、母を聞くべきかもしれない。

しばらく考える。

窓の外で、流れる絹のように、厚岸の雪が積もって、積もって、積もる。

TRANSLATION

Pro: The people of the town are notably kind to you. Though you draw too many stares for your taste, neither townsfolk nor the monks of Shogyo-ji question you for being there. At the izakaya the bartender is happy to get you drunk on local sake, and in the market the fishermen advise you on what to buy, rather than try to rip you off. You live at the temple, and while most of the monks disregard you, only noticing if you forget your daily chores, one or two take you under their wing and explain all the details of religious ritual and building function. You are happy to listen, though you understand just half of what they say.

Con: Winters are cold. You thought New England was bad, but when the ocean’s icy breath swirls through the wetlands and into the town, leaving the temple becomes a nearly metaphysical ordeal. The haunting dusk that reigns in day, the ivory fog that sweeps in from the Pacific, the storms where ice melts, freezes, and melts again — rather than sweep all but the worldliest thoughts from your mind, they seize and drag you to existential depths. Sunrise pierces the bay, wetlands, and town like a red sword — and plunges deep into your heart. If you could leave your body and take another, one bold enough to go back to America, or one of a native Japanese, you would do so then if not at any other time. Perhaps then the climate would turn less fearsome if you were somebody else. Perhaps the wild reeds and large-billed birds that caw like devils in the morning would turn to English wooded groves. Or you would leave this place altogether.

Pro: You’ve left your colonial identity behind to be a wanderer. When you wonder who you are — a question that has mattered more and more since leaving the U.S. because the Japanese are Japanese, you think, and that’s all there is to it, so what are you? You can only think of your skin and your land, but that land is a stolen land. Stolen from natives through murder and extortion, and made profitable through slavery… perhaps you came here to flee from that burden. You surrendered yourself to the mercy of others, and were relieved to have been treated with kindness. The million ghosts in this landscape are not your own. The fractal living things that flourish as they fold up others within themselves — for every forest a hundred foxes, swans, and a thousand oaks; for every oak ten thousand leaves; for every fox a thousand bees — are spectacles and scenery. You have no ancestry here. You cannot find your ancestry anywhere: you could find it no more in your home than in this icy wetland Buddhist haven.

Con: The dentist, named Terakado, wants you to marry his daughter. She is beautiful, though quiet for your taste, and you wonder if it is only because you are a foreigner that one of the wealthiest men in town gives you any attention. If so, the attention is undeserved. To marry into a family with a large and comfortable home, including hot baths and a library, let alone a family that visits the coral reefs of Miyakojima twice a year — such good fortune should not come to a stumbling wanderer like yourself. The daughter just came home from Kanazawa University and loves to ski; the father adores whiskey and 17th century poetry, Japanese and Chinese, though he is rather disdainful of American poets; the mother’s cooking, especially the squid and eel, is marvelous (you have been to their home four times now for dinner), and the son is a lawyer with a passion for boating, and you will be the first to confess that you have never had more fun than when the three of you went out on the water last June. You deserve none of it, and wonder if there is darkness beneath the surface. The daughter is so quiet, so beautiful. Terakado was disappointed that you didn’t want to move into an apartment, as you couldn’t bear to leave the tranquility of the temple, and you only continue to lose his respect as winter winds on. It is so painful to see happiness within reach, and be too afraid to grab it.

Pro: You are healthier and wiser than you have been in your entire life. You jog daily and eat vegetables and fish, buckwheat noodles, and curry rice if you decide to indulge yourself. The water is clean and the air is even cleaner; the sun, weak as it is in winter, is a pure source of wisdom in the sky no matter the season. The land itself provides insight and you feel full. You are always in a place for reflection, and you write out firm truths in tree lines and cloud formations. One of the many things you admire about Japanese culture is the building. The garden of Shogyo-ji maps a cosmic architecture onto a gravel field, marked with lush green fir and stainless stones. Different realms of good, evil, sorrow, joy, ignorance, and truth live between the pond and the creek crossed by a wooden bridge, and the three sharp rocks surrounding a cypress in the pond’s center. The buildings, bare and elegant, hold ideas and emotions in balance. They ink out the overly bold American colors, and bring you time and space. You can forget more of the heartbreak you suffered in six months here than the full year in the bustle of Tokyo. You have time to think about such things on your job as a technical director at the local TV station. The job is simpler than working on films in Paris and Tokyo. You deal in the wires themselves — wires and electricity, life’s animating force. Life moves one step at a time: morning, lunch, and afternoon. And at lunch Shizuo always talks about American politics with you. You’ve been trying to convince him that Reagan has to go, but Shizuo seems thoroughly won over by the president’s charisma.

Con: Your brother dies in your absence. You wonder if it’s your fault for being away for five years, at college and then chasing love and making movies in Paris and Tokyo, or if it’s one of those things that would have happened even if you’d been gone for just a second, for just a blink of the eye. Though you have experienced a lot of change over the past years, nothing nails the endless train of time more into your heart than his sickness, diagnosis, brief struggle, and death. Five years ago he hadn’t yet moved to San Francisco. Four years ago you weren’t in Japan. Three years ago you didn’t know he was gay. Two years ago he had just met the love of his life. One year ago you didn’t know he was sick. The news came in a week ago. It was a phone call from your father.

— もしもし。

— It’s Dad.

— Dad — sorry, Dad, it’s good to hear from you.

— Mark’s passed away.

— Already?

— That disease is a monstrous son of a bitch.

— You there?

— Yeah.

— You’ll come home, right?

— I’ll book a ticket.

Your plane’s tomorrow.

Pro: The wilderness consoles your hopeless and failed romance, which is a reason you ended up on this side of the world in the first place. Among the weak autumn sunrays that hit the river like the tinkling of a music box, and the glimmering fish that leap up as if light itself could dance, you wonder what went wrong. Her shadow shimmers in the underwater stones. Was it a simple foreign romance of two students abroad, among the ruined castles of Europe? You met her on set, and became inseparable off of it, staying every other night in the other’s flat. Could it have been a great film of the generation in the works? You were making both a film and a world — a world where anything is possible, and you want more and more, casting a line into the stars. Desire fuels desire. It’s not a coincidence you’ve spent your whole life in unforgivingly capitalist nations. What, you think you deserve a beautiful woman as well? Well, the love failed — great as it was going to be, she had an engagement back in Japan, but it was her fault she never told you about it, so when you showed up at her door after a two week’s search in Tokyo, well, that was awkward. When you’re among European lore and history, there’s so much to say, to see, and to do! Together you had invented the stars and a love story. But then, all at once, you took a plane to a land of different lore, and there was nothing left to say.

Con: Your mother never fails to send you a long and emotionally exhausting letter on Christmas Day. Since the Japanese celebrate Christmas, it doesn’t feel out of place, but your mother assumes that it does, and you always correct her when you call her afterwards. “Mom, you don’t need to act like it’s inappropriate to send me a card. People do stuff on Christmas,” you say. “I feel like you don’t want me to send you letters,” she retorts, “so that’s why I apologize.” You take a step back from the petty arguments and are on the verge of telling her that you could get married if you wanted to, and that it might be your last chance to do so before Terakado moves on to a more suitable bachelor. But somehow you think she doesn’t want to know.

You reread her last letter, haunted by your brother’s ghost that shivers in between the lines. The card had been buried under a month of newspapers until you went scrounging for it. When you reach the final line, an idea enters your head. What if, after you go to San Francisco for the funeral, you simply don’t come back to Japan? What if you don’t come back to Akkeshi?

It’s an interesting idea. No one here would miss you. No, that’s not true — the priests would notice your absence, and Shizuo, and the Terakado family, and some sprinkling of others. You’re also not one to take action simply based on the opinions or emotions of others. But maybe this time you should listen to your mother.

You think about it for a while.

And outside your window, descending in tapestries, the Akkeshi snow piles on, and on, and on.

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