Journalist Takashi Hayami meets Ai Katsuragi, a member of a religious organization, Tenmu Jinshinko, which meets secretly at the tomb of the Emperor Nintoku. The group adheres to the nomadic way of life of its ancestors, which lacked family registers and fixed abodes, and flouts civic duties such as paying taxes, serving in the armed forces and compulsory education. Even when the government tries to crack down on a segment of the populace, they continue to discipline themselves in the way of living as ambulatory people. They rely on the company Ikarino to fund the various political, social and cultural activities they promote that protect their unique lifestyle. But when Ikarino becomes a giant conglomerate that destroys the forests and mountains that form the foundation of the Tenmu Jinkshinko, Hayami must join the group’s struggle to save their way of life.
About the Author
Hiroyuki Itsuki is a novelist, essayist, critic, songwriter and composer from Yame, Fukuoka Prefecture. He is the winner of the 1966 Shosetsu Gendai Prize for New Writers for “Saraba Mosukuwa gurentai” (“Farewell to Moscow Misfits”), the 1967 Noaki Prize for “Aozameta uma wo mivo” (“See the Paled Horse”), the 1976 Yoshikawa Eiji Prize for Literature for “Seishun no mon, Chikuho-hen” (“The Gate of Youth: Chikuho”) and the 2002 Kikuchi Kan Prize.
Meredith McKinney is an award-winning translator whose previous translations include “The Pillow Book, ”Soseki Natsume’s “Kusamakura” and “Koroko,” Yoshikichi Furui’s “Ravine and Other Stories,” for which she won the Japan–US Friendship Commission Translation Award in 2000, and work by Seiko Tanabe and Masahiko Shimada.
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A sudden raucous voice blared behind him. A red light was flashing in his rear view mirror.
"The white car with the Shinagawa number plate! You there, pull over to the left!"
Taku Hayami stepped on the brake. He had been aware of the patrol car tailing him for some time. But he couldn't think why he was being pulled over.
"Damn." He put on his turn signal and slowly drew the car to a halt beside a utility pole. The patrol car swerved ahead of him and pulled up. It bore the name of the Osaka Police Department. A helmeted policeman emerged and strode over. Another remained in the car.
"Your license," said the cop. He was young, with a boy's face. Taku pulled his license out of his back pocket and handed it over.
"You're from Tokyo?"
"Yes." Taku turned on the interior light so the policeman could see his face.
"Thank you, that's fine." Returning the license, the cop stepped back a few steps. "Turn off your lights and step on the brake please." He spoke in a local Kansai accent.
"The brake?" Taku raised his right foot and lowered it onto the brake pedal.
"There, you see?" said the policeman, pointing to the rear of the car. "The left brake light's out."
Taku stepped on the brake again, and the policeman shook his head. "No, it doesn't come on."
"Right. I'll fix it right away." Taku glanced at the clock. Eleven fifteen. Nothing to worry about. There was still plenty of time until midnight, when the group would gather.
"I'm going to impress you by changing the bulb inside one minute," he announced. He turned off the engine, and took from the glove compartment a black box containing various spare bulbs. Then, from the toolbox under the dashboard, he drew out a Phillips-head screwdriver. He stepped out and around behind the car.
The policeman trained a flashlight onto the rear of the car. "This is a Mercedes 4WD, is it?" he said in surprise.
"That's right." Swiftly, Taku removed the brake light cover. He changed the bulb, then carefully screwed the plastic cover back into place. If you tightened too much, it tended to crack. The policeman helpfully shone his torch on Taku's hands as they worked.
"You're registered as a normal sedan car, I see. Unusual for something this size."
"That's right. That's the beauty of this car." Right on the minute, he gave the screw its final twist and all was completed.
The policeman was no longer trying to hide his expression of youthful fascination with cars, and this one in particular. He was round at the door ahead of Taku, peering in. "I'll try the brake and see if it's working now. Okay?"
"Sure, sure, go ahead."
The policeman opened the door and twisted himself into the driver's seat, checked to see where the brake was, and put his foot down on it. The brake light flashed.
Taku held up his hand. "That worked. Thanks."
"This car has no free-wheeling hubs, eh?" the policeman asked.
"Yes, I guess you don't want to stop the car when there are bullets flying at you, say, or cause a breakdown in the desert or something. Besides, it's not the kind of car that has an issue with noise."
"You use it in the military too, do you?"
"Yes, Daimler Benz developed this car in collaboration with the weapons company Steyr-Puch, you see. Apparently they were put to pretty big use by the Argentine side in the Falklands War. A different type from this one, of course."
"Wow." The policeman was still sitting in the driver's seat, disinclined to move. "So this is the transfer control lever? And what's this round one?"
"You use that to independently lock the front and rear diff."
I was just like this when I was his age, Taku was thinking. No, probably not like this really. I would've done whatever it took to get my hands on the steering wheel and do a lap around the block.
"Actually, I'm planning to get myself a Jimny 1000 sometime," the young policeman revealed a little shyly. He climbed out of the car, bowed politely, and turned back to the patrol car.
"Er, just a moment," Taku called to him as he was sliding into the driver's seat of his Benz. "Could you tell me if I'm on the right road for the Nintoku Tomb?"
"You mean the burial mound of the ancient emperor?" The policeman nodded, and gave him succinct directions. "If you end up in the area round the back, it's full of love hotels, you know. Drive safely."
He was about to go, but suddenly he stopped and cocked his head to one side quizzically. "Is something going on there tonight? At the mound, I mean."
"Why do you ask?"
"Some others were asking the way there just a while ago too."
Taku forced a smile. "I'd guess they were just a bit shy to ask how to get to a love hotel in so many words."
"Those guys didn't look like the type, really."
"Well, thanks." Taku Hayami raised his hand in farewell, pressed lightly on the accelerator, and turned the key. The five- cylinder diesel engine started at what seemed a single touch, spinning into action with a metallic cry that resounded confidently through the quiet night. The loud beating of his heart seemed to echo it. He released the hand brake, throwing his weight behind the gesture, and headed the car towards the Nintoku Tomb.
Turning left at the traffic light as instructed, Taku found himself in a wide, empty street. Imperial Tomb Avenue, said the sign. Not a soul was in sight along the dark road. On his right soared a high tower, while a black row of trees lined the stretch to his left.
This was his first visit to the tomb mound. He'd double-checked its location with the aid of a map before he set off, and found it on GSI 1:2500 map 4 for the Sakai area of Osaka, at N1/53/15/9/2. The address was number 7 Daisen-cho, Sakai. A large number of other ancient imperial tomb mounds, the most famous of which was that of emperor Richu, dotted the surrounding area known as the Mozu Tomb Collection, a place of great archaeological significance. On his way here, he'd dropped into a book shop in Kobe and snatched a look at a guidebook of the area, which said that it was one of the two great imperial mound regions in the Kawachi area, rivaling the famous Furuichi Tomb Collection in importance.
Can it really be bigger than a pyramid? he wondered. Taku recalled the great pyramid of Pharaoh Khufu that he'd seen when he went to Giza, at about the same age as that young policeman.
Seven or eight years had passed since his trip to Egypt. He'd been a young man in his early twenties back then, temporarily employed as a driver by a Japanese company in Cairo — an impetuous, car-loving youth, bursting with the urge for adventure. Now he was a tired man past thirty who still lived alone. He was no longer as fascinated with driving cars. These days, his only love was walking.
In no time, he saw a small open area on his left. He slowed as he passed it. To its right stood a building that might be some sort of administrative office. A single light burned softly above the door. Taku could make out a set of stone posts strung through with a chain indicating a parking lot, a gravel area, and a black metal fence surrounding the whole space. Beyond stood the dark shape of a shrine gate. To either side of it, two dense rows of tall shrubs stood blackly, as if to obstruct the gaze from what lay beyond.
So this was the Nintoku Tomb.
Taku drove on for a while, keeping his eye on the row of trees that continued on his left.
Yes, it was big all right.
He finally came to a halt some distance beyond the plaza. It took both hands to pull up the heavy handbrake. Then he cut the engine, which stopped with a thud that shook his shoulders. He guessed there were so few passersby in these parts that he could safely leave the car parked here for a while without attracting complaint.
Taku tugged a haversack from the back seat and got out, slinging it over his shoulder. He didn't lock the doors. First he must survey the plaza. He set off at a leisurely pace, adopting a casual air. Just before the plaza, he paused and peered through the darkness. No sign of anyone there yet.
Taku now stepped off the pavement, and moved around to the front of the building that stood at the edge of the plaza. A large wooden notice board hung there. He ran his eyes along the brush- written words on it: "Imperial Household Agency Documents and Monuments Department Furuichi Surveillance Area Mozu District Office." Apparently this gravelled plaza was open for public visiting. The area beyond, surrounded by a series of dark moats and a stone fence, would be sacred ground to which entry was forbidden.
Suddenly from the depths of memory he recalled the fact that this imperial mound was the world's largest tumulus in the peculiar elliptical shape characteristic of those in the region. He remembered seeing a marvelous bird's-eye view of it taken from the air in some photographic magazine.
He was not particularly interested right then in the ancient imperial tomb itself. It was just that he'd been impressed by how much grander and more beautiful it had looked in comparison to the other tumuli in surrounding photographs.
He stood there for a while, gazing as if entranced at the vast shape of the burial mound that rose before him in the darkness.
Suddenly, an odd feeling gripped him, as if something was calling to him from the mound. Presently, he grew aware of a strange, unanticipated emotion beginning to stir deep inside him. The sensation made him slightly uncomfortable.
It was feeling he had never before experienced, a delicate mixture of peculiar nostalgia and unidentifiable sadness. What's more, it was unquestionably emanating to him like sound waves from somewhere within the shrine gate that stood beyond the moats, penetrating deep inside him. He felt rising slowly within him like a tide the urge to rush to the ancient tomb that lay in there in the darkness, fling himself down onto its earth and wail and sob aloud.
"Something's wrong with me this evening," he thought, shaking his head, and he raised his left hand as if to block the invisible waves flowing out to him from the tomb, and checked his watch.
In another half circle, the glowing blue minute hand of his titanium waterproof watch would coincide with the hour hand. The last Saturday of March would soon be over. A long day, and one he would never forget.
Yes, this Saturday would be remembered as the day he had met with the most shocking thing in his ten and more years of roaming.
But was the thing I saw this afternoon up there in the mist of Nijo Mountain real? he asked himself. And will that "flying woman" appear again here?
Calm down. There's still some time to go, he told himself, and he set off walking slowly across the road, away from the plaza, toward the park opposite.
Taku Hayami settled himself into the shadows behind the bushes of the park, and from this hidden spot he watched the plaza.
"Will they really come?" he wondered.
Across the road and facing the park, not a soul was in sight. A chill breeze carried the faint scent of the sea.
Suddenly Taku was hungry. He searched in his haversack, and pulled out a paper bag — a packet of dried sweet potato slices he'd bought in the greengrocer outside his apartment the night before as he was setting off.
He'd loved these things since he was a kid. "Popeye likes spinach, Taku like dried sweet potato!" his older brother Shin'ichi used to tease him. But, aside from the question of calorie count, he did prefer these to other dried foods such as beef jerky, which was so salty that it gave you an awful thirst.
Working to bite off a piece of dried sweet potato with his front teeth, Taku laughed silently. He was suddenly recalling the time three years earlier when he'd trekked for two weeks through a Nepalese valley, walking from village to village.
They were a party of three men and an animal — himself, an elderly Sherpa guide, a young porter, and a skinny donkey. His three companions had completely fallen for the dried sweet potato slices he'd been sent from Tokyo, and he was remembering now their humbly expectant expressions as they waited for him to dole out this precious preserved foreign food at every tea break on the trek.
The donkey had particularly adored them, and by the end of the trip his ears would stand straight up at the cry of "Imo!", the Japanese word for sweet potato.
The trip was a failure, thought Taku, but it was fun nevertheless. He hadn't managed to meet the Lung-gom-pa, the holy men who levitated as they walked, that he'd heard about; still, he'd learned a great deal about walking from his guide and porter. And from Chunjun the donkey, whose spindly legs looked likely to snap but were in fact astonishingly tough.
The sweet potato was too hard even for his strong teeth to break. The packet must have lain gathering dust in the greengrocer for a long time.
He drew a small knife from its sheath, an elegant little thing with a hardwood handle. He usually carried nothing more than a worn old cheap pocket knife, but as he was preparing to go on this research trip his brother Shin'ichi had convinced him to take this one.
Shin'ichi was a year older, and a complete gearhead. He wasn't one to be satisfied merely with collecting knives. His first step was to take over the underground garage of the house, installing a specialty belt grinder, a small lathe, a sclerometer and so forth, trying to make knives out of sheet metal himself.
Before long, however, he'd realized that making good knives was in fact a professional job worthy of deep respect, not something an amateur with nothing more than an interest in it could perform. He had now given up on blades, and instead was enjoying himself by making knife handles and sheaths.
The knife he'd asked Taku to take along was one of the "backpack handle" knives that were his latest creation. It was an unhilted drop point, the small blade just a little over five centimeters long, but the semi-hollow grind finish made it perfect for a utility knife. He had painstakingly carved the dark green Micarta handle in a beautiful curve that seemed to draw the fingers into it.
The rock-hard sweet potato chips peeled away as smoothly as butter under the Hitachi ATS34-strength blade.
"Poor fellow," murmured Taku, recalling his brother's clean- cut profile, his face tanned brown from the artificial sunlamp. But no, perhaps he wasn't so poor after all. No, no matter how weird his way of life seemed, at least his older brother wasn't alone. He was living with a woman he really needed. That was for sure.
In the darkness, Taku's thoughts shifted to picture the older woman, a flat-chested singer with skin through which the veins showed.
Suddenly he felt he heard the sound of singing from somewhere.
Do not point the finger, pray. There goes another fellow-man ...
It was the song she herself loved best, though of course this gloomy ballad never became any kind of hit.
Instantly another woman's image came back to him, like a stab to the heart.
It was the face of the "flying woman," speeding towards him astonishingly fast through the mist. Suddenly, his heart was beating loudly.
To recover his composure and turn his mind to other matters, he looked up at the sky. The air was cold, and remarkably clear and dark for a city skyscape. Yes, he recalled suddenly, this was the right moment to search for the Arc to Arcturus. Pleased by the idea, he focused his eyes on the northern stars.
The Arc to Arcturus, so named by Dr. Suzuki, is famous among amateur sky watchers as one of the main nocturnal events in the spring skies, together with the so-called Spring Triangle. Unfortunately, however, the air at this time of year tends to be humid and overcast, far from ideal conditions for stargazing. But since childhood Taku had had a fondness for staring up at the lonesome sky of spring.
The winter heavens, so sublime with their vast throng of jostling constellations against a lacquer-black frozen sky, were unquestionably an incomparably more impressive sight, it was true. Yet Taku had an odd love too for these forlorn little spring stars that shone so hesitantly above the swaying atmosphere, and found them somehow warm and nostalgic.
Taku first located Mizar, the first star at the point where the Big Dipper's handle bends around. Right next to it should be visible a little fourth-magnitude star by the name of Alcor, like a child hidden away behind its mother. Long ago, the Arabs used to select their warriors by testing the strength of their eyesight by distinguishing its faint light.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Kingdom of the Wind"
Copyright © 1985 Hiroyuki Itsuki.
Excerpted by permission of Wimbledon Publishing Company.
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