You are looking at the first page of 'Testament', the brief autobiography of Lilly Satou, my friend for many years. It is a fascinating journey through her mind and perceptions, as well as an interesting historical document in its own right. I trust you will enjoy it for what it is. [N]
(1989-2007) (this post, below)
Part 2 (2007)
Part 3 (2009-2029)
Part 4 (2029-2030)
Part 5 (2030-2044)
Part 6 (2044-2064)
Part 7 (2064-2074)
Being a transcription of some of the last writings of Lillian Alexandra Anderson Satou, penned in her own hand in the month of June in the Year of Our Lord 2074, and dedicated to the memory of old friends and the glory of God. The original documents may be found in the care of the archivist of the Church of St. Stephen, in which graveyard her mortal remains are interred.
Lilly: Testament1 (T +50)
My dear reader, I trust you will pardon the inconsistent recollections of an old lady with nothing better to do but potter around in the mountains and occasionally half-remember the moments of one’s marginally regrettable youth. It has often been said, even in my hearing, that my dear friend Hanako Ikezawa has written accounts of my life that seemed true. Of course they do, because they were based on her real-life recollections of what I told her, or what my much-beloved sister might have told her. My friend, it must also be said, tends to be overly self-critical and self-censoring, which is why her accounts leave her readers generally feeling good about themselves and sad about others.
As I sit in the twilight, however, and gaze out over the cold heights, I do sometimes recall different memories of that life. Some of it seems incredibly distant, and some of it can evoke painful echoes. I do not entirely yearn for that long-ago lost life, but there were things in it that have left an indelible mark—not a stain or a symbol of moral impurity, but something beneath the skin that is small and beautiful and burning—something that will not go away.
An old woman’s memories are sometimes overly sentimental and somewhat prone to gloss over the rougher elements of her younger and more adventurous days. In my case I eventually learnt that, as Lillian Alexandra Anderson Satou, I had my own identity; there was no need, nor space, for subterfuge or circumlocutory evasion. This was true because I had lost something of inestimable value, and I had lost it by not recognizing what it was.
Hisao Nakai has gone to be with his ancestors this half-century past. Indeed, a couple of months will see the fiftieth anniversary of his death and burial. As a Catholic, I do believe in the immortal soul. But I do not claim to know how God compensates in His righteous love for those who do not profess a spiritual belief of any particular kind. I will not do such a disservice to my own beliefs.
Tonight, as I go through what my dearest friend Hana (it means ‘flower’, you know, and she is no longer a child as we once were) has written about me, I very much want to believe that something of Hisao remains. If that is true, I hope he understands that the old lady who sits here still remembers what it was like to be in love. So, dear reader, if you would be so kind as to indulge me, this is what I would like to say about Lilly Satou.
I was born on 7th February 1989, the second daughter of Mr Hiroyuki Satou of Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, and the Honourable Catherine Elspeth Anderson, Mistress of Nairn, Scotland. No unusual omens attended my birth, although my sister Akira once claimed that when she heard the news, she tripped and fell, which explained the unusual scar she had across her right elbow.
Father was trained as an engineer at Tohoku University, and continued his education there to earn his MBA. It was during this time that he met the young and quietly opinionated exchange student who called herself ‘Cat’ (and apparently at one time ‘Neko’, or even 'Karla') and fell in love. Love is an unusual thing; it is an agent of change with consequences that can reach far into time and space. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it does not.
In Cat’s case, she was initially amused by Father’s earnestness, and then enthralled by his accounts of living in a little fishing village with a horde of sisters, my notorious Satou aunts (of which more, later). As an exchange student, she was rather keen to explore the less urbanized regions of the country. It was with some reluctance, however, that Father brought her home to visit the family.
My father seldom spoke of his humble background. He was proud of his parents, but uncomfortable about his origins. I never quite understood that; after all, my mother’s family were fisherfolk before they were gamekeepers, or merchants before they became lairds. My paternal grandfather was proud merely to be Japanese, and glad to be useful with his hands. His wife, my grandmother, was a weaver and seamstress—she also took pride in work well done, but also taught us that we should be humble because someone else would always be better.
Father’s many sisters were all much younger than he, who was born in 1953. The eldest, Aunt Mayoi, was six years his junior, and thereafter, my grandparents produced a daughter every few years until Aunt Michiko was born almost two decades after Father. Then, as Grandmother used to say, “The factory was closed down.” These girls were all much taken by their brother’s friend, and from all accounts, she was equally captivated by the horde of young Japanese girls who listened to her every halting word.
My parents were married at the end of 1980, and Akira was born two years later. By this time, Father was a busy corporation executive and Mother was helping him find contacts for expansion into the European Union. It helped somewhat that Scotland had a history of doing business with the Japanese. With greater success came greater responsibilities, and Akira and I were left in our grandparents’ care for increasingly long periods of time when we were still young.
So it was that I was educated at a local Catholic school for girls, a school whose emblem was the white lily. Inevitably, it was there in primary school that I first had my name shortened to its present form, which has become so much part of my identity that to be called ‘Lillian’ elicits a rather slow response.
Akira had also received her education there, and I believe she chafed somewhat at the kindness of the Sisters, once calling them ‘annoying busybodies’. She also had unkind words for the uniform, which on one occasion she likened to my favourite nightwear. She did, however, allow that I looked fetching in dark blue with white piping. I liked the sound of this, because she told me that this particular shade of blue was deep and mysterious, but the white clarified its borders and gave a sense of innocence to the mystery.
To this day, I have no certainty as to whether the many things Akira told me were serious or in jest. Akira was the strongest personality in my life, and when she passed on, it was as if half my world had vanished. But I am too far ahead of the order of my narrative now, for which I do apologize.
Life in that school was tolerable, and people worked with me generously in almost all things that mattered. However, when Akira had graduated from university and begun to work full-time in 2005, we were faced with some difficult decisions. My grandparents were getting on in years and disinclined to be making daily trips into Sendai; Akira, who had been providing transport for some time, was soon to be posted overseas or, at the very least, would be travelling a great deal.
Thus it was that, in April 2005, I was admitted on special transfer to the first-year class of the Sendai-Aoba Mountain District Academy, colloquially known as Yamaku High, where I would spend my senior high school years. At first, I was a day boarder, returning to my grandparents’ home in the evenings with Akira’s kind assistance. However, this quickly became too onerous an arrangement, and in December that year, we made arrangements for me to move into the dormitories as a full boarder.
One advantage of the transfer, my distant and constantly-travelling parents had thought, was the fact that Aunt Michiko, the youngest of my father’s sisters, had married a teacher in that school. I remember the 1997 occasion with gladness because I had been flower girl and Akira had been bridesmaid. My uncle-by-marriage was very unassuming but passionate about his profession. His story is told elsewhere, so I will just note here that he had always been my favourite uncle by a rather large margin; I believe that my sister shared these sentiments.
I completed my move into the Yamaku dormitories in March 2006. Regrettably, my aunt and uncle were no longer man and wife, having severed their connection in February that year. I believe I had been a fairly sociable creature up to that time, but the horror of the event chilled my soul—I stopped talking to people, began to lose weight, and developed the habit of having tea alone in a small auxiliary classroom that had once been a Student Council meeting room. My move was therefore not as happy as I had anticipated; the joy of meeting my favourite uncle and hearing his mellow bass-baritone daily was much reduced by the absence of my aunt, who had always been friendly and supportive to me.
I could not bring myself to visit him in his staff apartment. It reminded me too much of better times, and when the cherry-blossom scent my aunt wore was slowly displaced by the sharper fragrance of quality whisky, I resigned myself to loneliness. Akira continued to visit him when she was in town, and sometimes we would meet in some out-of-the-way hamlet for a meal. My uncle had always been conscientious about avoiding any appearance of nepotism, or worse.
In retrospect, the year 2006-2007 was the first major watershed in my life. I felt I had to learn to be independent, to be alone and to be satisfied with that. It was harder than I thought it would be.
I have never had many close friends; in my first year at Yamaku, I had none at all. I performed reasonably well in my studies, and was even appointed class representative. My classmates were generally friendly, but I suppose that something about my demeanour must have put them off. I have always been a little competitive, although in a way that most would consider introverted. There is almost always a dignified method of accomplishing any given task, and I tended to keep my own counsel when others, more outgoing, wanted to do things in a more obvious and indecorous way.
Moving into the girls’ dormitory at the end of that academic year was a chastening and educational experience. It was good that the layout was clear and easily memorized. However, living in proximity with many others, and being exposed continually to their sometimes eccentric personal habits (all of which had to be learnt, in order to avoid or reduce social friction), was difficult. It turned out that my nearest neighbour completely agreed, and that is how Hanako Ikezawa and I first began our initially rather tentative alliance.
A few months into our friendship, while I was mired in melancholy and having a quiet cup of tea in a deserted room, I heard a timid knock on the door. Not being in the mood for company, I remained silent. A slight movement of the air, however, reminded me that the door was slightly ajar, and that to keep quiet would have appeared somewhat rude. So, “Hanako, is that you?” — to which she replied, “Y-yes, may I perhaps join you?” — and thus, the beginning of many pleasant afternoons.
Hana was far stronger than anyone realized, although she could be brittle too. My more flexible stubbornness complemented her strengths, and I believe that we both were the better for this. It was through her indirect encouragement, and with the blessing of my dear uncle, that I decided to run for a place in the Student Council. It would give me something to do, although in retrospect I might have done it because I wanted to be everyone’s mother-figure.
In the end, as representative of my class, I almost automatically gained election. I then ran against my cousin Shizune for the presidency of the Council and lost by a fair margin. I did not really mind, except that it reminded me of one thing: I had a secret to keep and would have to be a little more vigilant about keeping it. Shizune, you see, was not to know that Aunt Michiko’s husband was a teacher in our school. I had no idea how they had managed to keep it a secret from her all those years. Akira had once explained to me why Aunt Mayoi had decreed it, and I complied even though the whole matter left a bitter taste in my mouth.
Perhaps a few words of explanation are in order. Shizune’s parents, my eldest aunt and her husband, had themselves parted on somewhat unpleasant terms the year after Aunt Michiko had been married. With Aunt Mayoi then seeking sanctuary with Father, and eventually moving overseas, she had no desire for this conflict to spill over to the rest of her family. In essence, Father and Aunt Mayoi formed the ‘overseas branch’ of the Satou family, while the rest remained ‘local’. Akira and I were caught in between, since we lived in Japan but were Father’s children. My cousins Shizune and Hideaki, in the care of their eccentric Hakamichi father, were therefore brought up not knowing much about their mother’s other relatives.
To this day, I have always believed in true love and the sanctity of marriage. I realize that this might seem terribly old-fashioned, or even hypocritical of me. I do not pretend that my stand has always been consistent. It is often hard to decide which is more important, and for a Catholic girl growing up in Japan, it is possibly a choice that is even more difficult to make. I do not offer any excuses for my past actions; I have never done so, and will not do so now. What I did was what I did, and at this end of my life, I am afraid that I cannot find in me much regret for the sins of my youth.
I do, however, keep an old music box. The memories associated with it, and the boy who gave it to me, are too precious to discard, no matter how many acts of contrition or penance have been required of me over the years.
I have digressed again. To sum the matter up, Aunt Mayoi became a brooding presence at Inverness, where Father had bought some sort of castle (not the kind with turrets), while Mother was her bright counterpoint. Lovely Aunt Michiko, after her own distressing break from my uncle, was to join her there for a while. I understand that Akira spent a great deal of time with both of them; obviously, I had far fewer opportunities, and that still saddens me.
The fondest memory I have of the happier days is that of a skiing trip to Hokkaido with Aunt Michiko and her husband. It might surprise many of my readers (although I suspect it is rather more well-known now) that I was taught how to ski and have done quite a bit of that. I also used to ride, and although brave old Warlock is long gone now, I will never forget the thrill of ‘sitting a horse’. Akira’s gift to me more than sixty years ago was irreplaceable: he was faithful and affectionate to the end and always solicitous of my welfare, even when he could hardly walk and then had to be put down.
My, an old lady can indeed ramble on! Back to Yamaku, then.
The end of my second year was mostly uneventful. I do think that Shizune made a more effective Council president than I would have been, although her inability to communicate hobbled her efforts somewhat and eventually alienated a few of her fellow councilors. My cousin had always had a tendency to arrogate work to herself when she felt others were less capable, and in the end she wound up doing most of it and chasing some of those others away. Matters only came to a head at the beginning of our final year.
Shōwa Day was first commemorated on Sunday, 29th April 2007. It was meant, I think, to be a reflection on the sobering realities of a previous Emperor’s reign. Different people reacted in different ways, some in humility and some in anger, some with pride and some with wishes for peace in our time. Yamaku reacted in the time-honoured way of having a school festival. The student body ignored the turbulent political undercurrents and decided to have fun. We, in the Student Council, were already a little anxious at the effort required to run three festivals in a single school year. Our calendar included, at that time, the Day of the Sea in mid-July, during which our school celebrated with a festival; the Sendai Tanabata Festival in early August (which the whole city would be celebrating); and Sports Day, on the second Monday of October.
My cousin, of course, merely kept an accusing silence as we voiced our concerns. Then she ‘said’, rather characteristically, “We’re the Student Council!~ We live to do our best for everyone!~ We can think of it as early preparation for the other festivals and keep all the pieces so that we can rearrange, reassemble and reuse them the next time!~”
I have always wondered what my cousin would have sounded like if she had found her own voice at a much younger age. The synthetic voice she adopted in her later life was nothing like Misha’s interpretation, now difficult to dissociate in my mind from my memories of her. Poor Shizune! I admit that I was uncharitable to her on many occasions, and sometimes downright seditious to her leadership. I am glad we made peace years ago.
On that particular day, however, although I was still smarting from my defeat, I offered my support and actually felt willing to help her get things going. I told her so, and after a brief Misha-pause, when she momentarily squeezed my hand in token of acknowledgement, I had nothing but goodwill towards her.
I shall not dwell on what followed. We worked fairly well together, but our styles were perhaps too different. It suffices to say that after this somewhat rushed festival, during which some things had not quite gone according to plan, Shizune and I were no longer friends. We were tired, the mid-term examinations were looming, and too much had happened between us.
We were very young then, passionate about our own principles, ideals and ways of getting others to perform the tasks we felt were essential. I was bitter, Shizune was angry. We left it at that. At the back of my mind, I rejoiced that I had a secret which she would probably have given much to discover. As you are possibly shocked to find, I was not always a nice person, and sometimes I was unfortunately a bit… dislikeable.
That was how things stood at the end of May, in the Year of Our Lord 2007. Subsequent events are well-attested—especially at Yamaku from 4th June that year—and I wonder how much I should elaborate on those. Besides, my fingers are getting a little stiff. This is probably a good time for me to get up, pour myself some tea, and say hello to Hanako’s family to remind them that this old lady is still alive. I shall probably resume thereafter: writer’s cramp alone will not defeat a Satou girl, dear reader.
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