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The word kinshu has many connotations in Japanese—brocade, poetic writing, the brilliance of autumn leaves—and resonates here as a vibrant metaphor for the complex, intimate relationship between Aki and Yasuaki. Ten years after a dramatic divorce, they meet by...
The word kinshu has many connotations in Japanese—brocade, poetic writing, the brilliance of autumn leaves—and resonates here as a vibrant metaphor for the complex, intimate relationship between Aki and Yasuaki. Ten years after a dramatic divorce, they meet by chance at a mountain resort. Aki initiates a new correspondence, and letter by letter through the seasons, the secrets of the past unfold as they reflect on their present struggles. From a lover's suicide to a father's controlling demands, to Mozart's Thirty-Ninth Symphony ("a veritable marvel of sixteenth notes"), to the karmic consequences of their actions, the story glides through their deeply introspective and stirring exchanges. What begins as a series of accusations and apologies, questions and excuses, turns into a source of mutual support and healing. Chosen as an Outstanding Work of Japanese Literature by the Japanese Literature Publishing Project.
I never imagined I would run into you on Mount Zaô, in the gondola lift going from the dahlia garden to Dokko Pond. I was so surprised that I was speechless for the whole twenty-minute ride up the mountain.
It must be twelve or thirteen years since I last wrote you a letter. I thought I would never see you again, but then meeting you unexpectedly like that and noticing how much your face had changed and the look in your eyes ... After much hesitation and deliberation, I tried every way I could to find out your address, and finally wrote you this letter. Please feel free to laugh at my capricious and impulsive nature, which remains the same as it always was.
That day, on the spur of the moment, I boarded the Tsubasa III express train from Ueno Station, intending to show my son the stars from the top of Mount Zaô. (His name is Kiyotaka, and he is eight years old.) You probably noticed when we were in the lift that Kiyotaka was born handicapped: not only is he paralyzed from the waist down but he is also two or three years behind in mental development compared with other children his age. Yet for some reason he is fond of stargazing, so much so that on clear nights he goes into the inner garden of our home inKôroen and stares up at the sky, engrossed for hours on end. During our brief stay in Tokyo at my father's condominium in Aoyama, I was leafing through a magazine the evening before we were due to return to Kôroen when a photograph of the night sky taken from the summit of Mount Zaô caught my eye. The sight of the heavens studded with stars took my breath away, and I wondered if there might be some way to show the actual scene to Kiyotaka, who had never been on a long outing.
Father turned seventy this year, but he continues to show up hale and hearty at the company every day. What's more, in order to supervise the Tokyo branch office, he spends half of every month in the same Aoyama condominium you knew. Compared to ten years ago, his hair has turned completely white and he's a little stooped, but he manages to keep in good spirits. He divides his time equally between Kôroen and the Aoyama condominium. Around the beginning of October, when the company car came to pick him up, he lost his footing going down the stone staircase in front of the condominium and injured his ankle badly-a hairline fracture and a good deal of swelling, which left him unable to walk. In a panic, I jumped on the Shinkansen bullet train with Kiyotaka and rushed to see him. No sooner had he lost his mobility than he became difficult to deal with. He disliked the fussy way Ikuko looked after him, and telephoned for me to come over though I had just left. Thinking that it might turn out to be a long stay, I had no choice but to take Kiyotaka along. As soon as Father saw our faces he calmed down. Perhaps worrying about the house in Kôroen, he perversely started to say that we should go back right away. I didn't know whether to be amazed or amused by his willfulness. Entrusting him to the care of Ikuko and Okabe, his secretary, I decided to return to Kôroen and left for Tokyo Station with Kiyotaka.
It was there that I saw a travel poster for Mount Zaô. The large photograph was filled with the spreading branches of brightly colored trees in autumn. I had always associated Zaô with its ice-covered trees in winter, and I stood in the Tokyo Station concourse imagining how these trees-which would become pillars of ice, but were now brilliant with autumn foliage-would look swaying in the breeze under a star-studded night sky. For some reason, I felt an irresistible urge to let my handicapped child experience the invigorating mountains and see all the stars. When I told Kiyotaka this, his eyes brightened and he begged me to take him there. Although it seemed too much of an adventure for the two of us, we went to a travel agent inside the station and bought train tickets to Yamagata. Then we made reservations at an inn at Zaô Hot Spring, and tried to reserve return seats on a flight from Sendai to Osaka Airport. No seats were available, though, and we had to change our plans and stay an extra night at either Zaô or Sendai before our return flight. I decided to stay two nights at Zaô, so we headed for Ueno Station to catch the tram there. If we had stayed only one night at Zaô, I would not have run into you. It all seems very strange to me now. Yamagata was cloudy. Feeling somewhat disappointed, I sat in the cab from Yamagata Station to Zaô Hot Spring and looked up at the sky. Suddenly I realized this was the second time I had visited this northeastern region. I remembered setting out for Towada from Lake Tazawa in Akita Prefecture on our honeymoon. Kiyotaka and I stayed at the inn in the hot spring resort. The strong smell of sulfur made it difficult to breathe, and the overflowing hot water was running down channels on both sides of the street. Clouds covered the night sky, without a sliver of moon or any stars visible, but the mountain air was bracing. For the first time my son and I were on a trip, and we were in a buoyant mood. The next morning it was clear. Holding his crutches in front of him, Kiyotaka didn't want to waste a minute getting to the gondola, so immediately after breakfast we set off for the gondola platform in the dahlia garden. To think that we should board the same gondola halfway up Mount Zaô at the same time as you-one of countless gondolas going up and down the mountain in such an out-of-the-way place as Yamagata! It sends a shiver down my spine just to think about such a coincidence. Several groups of people were waiting to get on the lift, but after two or three minutes we boarded. The attendant opened the gondola door, lifted Kiyotaka and his crutches, and set him inside. Then I got on. I heard the attendant announce that he could take one more, and a man in a light brown coat boarded the cramped gondola and sat down opposite us. The door closed, and the moment the lift lurched forward I realized it was you. How can I begin to express my astonishment? You were not yet aware of me and were gazing at the scenery with your chin buried in the upturned collar of your coat. While you were absently looking out of the window, I kept staring at your face, never blinking once. I had got on the gondola to see the beautiful autumn leaves, but I didn't give the trees a glance; I just fixed my eyes on the man in front of me. During those few minutes, the question kept racing through my mind whether or not this person could actually be Arima Yasuaki, my former husband. And if it was Arima Yasuaki, why was he riding this gondola on Mount Zaô in Yamagata? It wasn't just my surprise at this incredible coincidence; your face looked totally different from the one that was etched in my memory. Ten years ... I had been twenty-five years old then, and I'm thirty-five now, so you must be thirty-seven. Both of us have reached the stage when the effects of age begin to show on the face. Even so, the change in your appearance was severe, and I understood that you had definitely not had an easy time. Please don't take offense, I myself don't really understand why I'm writing a letter like this. I just want to put down my side of things-something I'll probably never do again-and describe exactly how I feel. Yet, in spite of my writing to you like this, I still haven't decided whether I'll actually post my letter or not. At length you glanced in my direction, then turned again to the scenery outside the window. Then you looked at me once more, your eyes wide with amazement. It seems as if we stared at each other for an eternity. I thought I should say something, but words failed me. I finally managed to say, "It's been a long time, hasn't it?" After responding, "Yes, it has," you looked at Kiyotaka with a blank expression and asked, "Is this your boy?" It was all I could do to answer in the affirmative, in a voice that was almost trembling. The clusters of trees with scarlet leaves flowing past both sides of the gondola were reflected indifferently in my eyes. How often have I been asked, "Is this your boy?" When Kiyotaka was smaller, with disabled limbs and a face that clearly revealed his mental retardation, some people would ask the question with an obvious look of pity, while others would contrive a sort of vacuity. Each time I would muster all my energy, look the person straight in the eye, and proudly answer, "Yes." Yet when you asked, "Is this your boy?" I was overcome by shame of a sort I had never experienced before, and replied hesitantly, in a weak voice. The gondola proceeded slowly up the mountain toward the landing platform by Dokko Pond. The Asahi Range was coming into view in the distance, while in a fold in the mountain below, the roofs of buildings in the resort town were minuscule points of reflected light. On the mountain slope, the lone red roof of a hotel, set apart from the others, appeared intermittently through gaps in the trees. I distinctly recall even now that for some reason it reminded me of a scroll painting from the Kamakura period depicting the flames of hell. Why did it make me think of something like that? Perhaps my nervousness and mental agitation had put me in a strange state of mind as the gondola swayed along. I should have been able to talk about all sorts of things with you during the twenty-minute ride, but I just sat in stony silence, thinking only of how soon we could arrive before I could get off. It was exactly the same as when we parted ten years ago. At that time, we really needed to discuss our feelings about the divorce openly, yet we did not. Ten years ago I stubbornly refused to force you to explain the incident, and you kept your perverse silence, not offering even a word of excuse. Being twenty-five at the time, gentleness and forbearance were not in my nature. You were twenty-seven, and had sunk as low as you could. When the trees outside the gondola became denser, blocking the sunlight and darkening the inside, you looked straight ahead over my shoulder, and muttered, "We're here now." In that instant, I saw the scar on the right side of your neck. "Ah, that's from the wound back then," I thought, and hurriedly looked away. We got off at the dirty, gray landing stage and, standing on the winding path to Dokko Pond, you said with a slight bow, "Well, goodbye then," and walked briskly away. I'll be as candid as possible in this letter. For a while after you disappeared, I stood there glued to the spot. It seemed as if we were parting for good, and I had to fight the urge to burst into tears. Why did such a feeling come over me? I hardly understand myself, but I suddenly wanted to run after you. There were things I desperately wanted to ask you. How were you living now? How have you spent the ten years since we parted? If Kiyotaka hadn't been with me, I might well have run after you. Adjusting my pace to that of Kiyotaka, I began to walk ever so slowly toward Dokko Pond. Frayed, withering cosmos petals were swaying in the cool breeze. A distance that ordinary children could walk in ten minutes ended up taking a half-hour for Kiyotaka. Yet compared to before, he manages to get around, and it has only been about two years now that he's been able to act on his desires. Recently, his teacher at the school for handicapped children has been saying that, with training and effort, he might someday be able to lead an ordinary life and hold a job. We walked along the sun-dappled path beside the pond and boarded the lift to the top of the mountain. I scanned the slopes looking for you, but you were nowhere to be found. We descended a short distance from the summit through a grove of oaks to a large rock jutting out of the side of the mountain. I had Kiyotaka sit there, and for a long time we gazed at the scenery. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, and at about eye level a hawk circled endlessly. Way off in the distance, violet mist enveloped rows of mountains that bordered the Sea of Japan. I explained to Kiyotaka that it was the Asahi Range, and that the mountain rising up on the right was Mount Chôkai. I kept glancing all the while at a square gondola descending another of Zaô's slopes, thinking that you just might be inside. Every time I heard footsteps on the path behind me, I cautiously turned and looked, wondering if it could be you. Kiyotaka laughed as he watched the hawk and the gondola, which had become a tiny speck, and also when he spotted a column of smoke rising from somewhere below. I joined in his glee, all the time envisaging your features as they had looked to me for the first time in ten years. I kept thinking how much you had changed, and wondering why you had come to Zaô. After sitting on the rock for what must have been nearly two hours, we decided to return to the inn. We took the lift down to Dokko Pond and back to the gondola landing stage. This time there were only the two of us on board, and once again I gazed at the autumn leaves, which were at their peak intensity. The whole mountain wasn't covered with crimson foliage-patches of bright red flowed past on both sides of the gondola, interspersed with evergreens, trees with brown leaves, and ginkgo-like trees with golden leaves. These other colors made the red leaves stand out even more, as though they were ablaze. Musing on their similarity to great flames spouting ever so gently from small openings in the inexhaustible array of hues, I gazed silently and intently at the coloration of the dense trees. Suddenly, it seemed as if I were looking at something frightening. A lot of different thoughts were racing through my head. Perhaps this sounds exaggerated, but what would no doubt take hours to express in words flashed through my mind each time a patch of leaves crossed my line of vision. You will probably laugh at my usual dreaminess, but I was intoxicated with the intense blaze of autumn leaves and definitely felt something threatening in it, rather like the quiet, cool blade of a knife. Perhaps our unexpected meeting reawakened my girlish tendency to fantasize.
That night, after Kiyotaka and I bathed in the inn's huge stone bath filled with steaming, sulfurous water, we again walked up to the dahlia garden to see the stars. Taking a shortcut the inn's employees had told us about, we followed a deserted, winding path, shining a flashlight to show us the way. It was the first time in his whole life that Kiyotaka had walked so much. The crutches were hurting his armpits, and he stopped several times in the dark to complain, but when I sternly urged him on, he changed his mind and proceeded little by little toward the illuminated circle cast by the flashlight. We were out of breath by the time we reached the dahlia garden. Coming to a stop, we looked up at the night sky. Stars so great in number as to leave us awestruck were twinkling, seeming so close that we could stretch out our hands and touch them. The dahlia garden, which was on a gentle slope, was nothing but a faint scent and a dim outline, the colorful blossoms blotted out by the darkness. The only sound was of the wind. The mountains towering before us, the gondola-platform building, the pylons supporting the wires-all were engulfed in silent darkness, above which spread the shimmering Milky Way. We reached the center of the garden and, keeping our eyes upturned to the heavens, walked farther and farther up the slope. At the top of the dahlia garden were two small benches. There we sat, dressed in the warm parkas we had purchased near Yamagata Station, transfixed by the glittering universe above us despite the discomfort of the chilly wind. Ah, what loneliness in all those stars! And what extraordinary fear that boundless expanse inspired in me! Somehow I couldn't help feeling that, after ten years, suddenly bumping into you in the mountains of this northeastern region was a sorrowful event. Why on earth should it have been sorrowful? As I gazed at the stars, I whispered in my heart: sorrow, sorrow. As my sorrow increased, the incident of ten years before came alive again, as if projected on a screen. (Continues...)
Excerpted from KINSHU AUTUMN BROCADE by Teru Miyamoto Copyright © 1982 by Teru Miyamoto. Excerpted by permission.
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