Page 8 of 13

Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3-3c up 20141125)

Posted: Thu Nov 27, 2014 10:30 pm
by Serviam
brythain wrote:
Solistor wrote:I think it's just the nature of this story to feel finished when it's actually not. It's very masterfully written, in my humble opinion. Each segment of the story feels like a story in itself. I'm still getting that mysteriously contented neutral feeling that I described before, and I've even begun to get feels about this work from unrelated works. Very powerful stuff, indeed.
That's a high level of praise, and brings with it a burden of having to live up to it! I'm glad you're feeling that way. I think of Kenji as someone who scribbles in his notebooks, types into his computer... after each chunk of journalling, he nods to himself and puts his files away, then wanders off to have dinner. Or a drink. ;)
With pretzels, I presume?

Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3-3c up 20141125)

Posted: Thu Nov 27, 2014 10:49 pm
by brythain
Serviam wrote:
brythain wrote: think of Kenji as someone who scribbles in his notebooks, types into his computer... after each chunk of journalling, he nods to himself and puts his files away, then wanders off to have dinner. Or a drink. ;)
With pretzels, I presume?
I have this odd hypothesis that Kenji's whisky-and-pretzels thing was subconsciously a nod to his Catholic background. It's a parody of communion, perhaps. However, he seems reluctant to discuss it with me. On the most recent occasion, he pointed out that he'd stopped regular whisky-drinking long ago and hardly ate pretzels. Pizza and tea, these days, apparently. I don't know how reliable his narrative is, given his profession and his nature.

Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3-3c up 20141125)

Posted: Thu Nov 27, 2014 11:00 pm
by Serviam
brythain wrote:
Serviam wrote:
brythain wrote: think of Kenji as someone who scribbles in his notebooks, types into his computer... after each chunk of journalling, he nods to himself and puts his files away, then wanders off to have dinner. Or a drink. ;)
With pretzels, I presume?
I have this odd hypothesis that Kenji's whisky-and-pretzels thing was subconsciously a nod to his Catholic background. It's a parody of communion, perhaps. However, he seems reluctant to discuss it with me. On the most recent occasion, he pointed out that he'd stopped regular whisky-drinking long ago and hardly ate pretzels. Pizza and tea, these days, apparently. I don't know how reliable his narrative is, given his profession and his nature.
With the pretzels and whiskey representing Corpus et Sanguis Christi.

Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3-3c up 20141125)

Posted: Sat Nov 29, 2014 2:08 pm
by brythain
Serviam wrote:With the pretzels and whiskey representing Corpus et Sanguis Christi.
Indeed, although I am sure that it seems more twisted and perhaps of a different kind of spirit. :(

Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3-4a up 20141129)

Posted: Sat Nov 29, 2014 2:11 pm
by brythain
This is the beginning of the fourth instalment of the third part of the redacted archive of Kenji Setou.
Work and strange family events interfere with Kenji's life.

Kenji 3: Distant Drums—Year Four
(February 2018-August 2018)

This was the year Hisao Nakai and Emi Ibarazaki finally got married. My wife and I had known them for more than ten years by that time, ten years that had passed too quickly. But although we had both been invited to attend, only Yuuko could be there on the day itself. I had other things to deal with.

I did not and still do not think myself so important that I could have changed many things that happened later. But 2018 was a year in which people I had not seen for a while became people I saw more often; it was also a year in which somehow, some of the people I knew became more distant. It was not deliberate on anybody’s part: this is the way things happen, and we learn to live with that although it is sad.

Quiet years, quiet years. I keep saying that, because it was true. The dogs that bite hardest are the ones that give little warning. Here begins my account of the fourth of those ‘quiet’ years, which were from 2015 to 2020.


February 2018:

My birthday present from Shin and Azami in December had been a set of hardcover books by some American author named Chandler. They were nice books, and I looked up the name. Apparently a chandler was someone who used to sell candles, and then started selling everything else that the crew of a ship would need. I put the books aside, and they looked nice on my shelves. Shin’s spidery writing had said only: These are good books, hard to find. 1989 Folio Society. Azami thought you might like to add to your English collection.

I sit in my room now and smile a little bitterly at that. The only reason I have an English collection at all is that Naomi had one, and I still have a few of her books because she gave them to me. And now I am married to Yuuko, who sometimes also reads English books and shares them with me. I don’t particularly like reading English. It is a hard language, and it breaks its own rules a lot.

Maybe that is what we Japanese must do, though. Island races are not the rule. They must break other people’s rules to survive. They have their own rules.

By now, if you have been reading my redacted journals, you may have guessed which people I keep referring to when I say ‘our neighbours’, and ‘our neighbourhood’. We have lived in the shadow of two big neighbours, and within the reach of the guy across the park who set the dogs on us and then wanted to be friends.

To be fair, we have let our own dogs mess up their gardens too, in the past. It is a complicated world we live in, and preserving the cherry blossoms is not easy. It helps if the other guy lets you plant cherry trees in his garden too—a gift for a gift, and you never know how that works out after hard times.

I have spent one week in January thanking my friends for their gifts. To other nations, it might be funny what we do. We give elaborate gifts for gifts. We are very serious about that. And so my return gift to Shizune Hakamichi takes the same form as her gift to me—a smaller, sweeter cake, this time with apricots and chocolate. There is quite a list, and that is why it takes a week.

Yuuko helps me with such things, but I work sometimes in Tokyo, and it’s easier to find certain things in a big city that are harder to find elsewhere. I travel from city to city quite a bit now, and she is mostly in Sendai. I am in Nikko, admiring the mausoleum of Lord Ieyasu of the Tokugawa shogunate, when I call Miki to wish her a happy birthday; towards the end of this month, I find myself in Hamamatsu instead.

The Black Dragon, my respected uncle, is in residence. As usual, he is surrounded by eager young postgraduate students and postdocs all looking for some action in his strange biochemical world. And just as he has always done, he cleverly manages to terminate his session without offending anybody, just to talk to me. I acknowledge this with a deep bow, even as his scattering disciples wonder who I am.

“Kenji!” he says, returning my bow with a slightly off-centre but sincere nod. “Are you feeling better? I’ve gone into the area of gene therapy for a few years now, are you interested?”

I know very little about such things. I’m an engineer of steel and systems, not all this wet messy stuff. “Ah, no, I’m ashamed by my ignorance, uncle. Please, teach me.”

“May I tell you a fairy-tale, young Kenji?”

The workings of his mind are beyond me. My father is a crude, blunt, direct force. His younger brother is subtle beyond belief, an engineer of things not meant to be engineered. “I would be honoured,” I reply.

He begins: “Once upon a time, there was a man who had five sisters…”

[Edit: I have removed the details for reasons that may become obvious in the years to come.]

It is a long story, and at first I think he is jesting with me. And suddenly many things come together in my mind. Me. Sachiko. And some people I would never have thought of in this way.

My uncle nods at me as he sees comprehension appear on my face. “Yes,” he says, and with that, I know what I must do.


March 2018:

It’s March now, ten years since I graduated from Yamaku. It’s the month of Rin Tezuka’s birthday, and also that of Emi Ibarazaki. Most of all, my wife Yuuko turns 30 years old. Or so I think. Sometimes, I’m not sure that I know her at all. She might have a secret past that she is hiding from me. She doesn’t seem the sort to have a secret past, nor to be able to hide things from a professional. But I don’t want to go there, because you never know what you will find.

So I quietly ask her for a date, as if it is our first time. She quietly accepts, to my happiness. And after that, all that remains is to find a baby-sitter.

This is harder than you think it is because, each year, Yuuko’s birthday comes just before Spring Equinox. That means people have their own plans. We are fortunate this year that if we choose the day before, 19th March, Yuuko’s father’s wife is willing to grant us some of her time.

Not for the first time, I reflect on that strange similarity in our families. Both our fathers are military men who have a second wife that we did not like. But Yuuko gets along well with my Aunt Midori, and I get along well with my father-in-law’s musical Mari, who plays in an orchestra and doesn’t mind looking after Masako and Koji.

After we thank her for accepting this task, she drops the bomb. “It is actually a kindness to me,” she begins. “It will give me some practice in looking after little children.”

Her small, warm, kindly face is glowing a bit more than usual. Her chestnut hair is almost bouncy. Or at least, these are the silly thoughts Kenji has in his head just before Yuuko blurts out, “Togami-san, you’re pregnant? Ahhh... so sorry, so sorry, one should not ask such things, so rude, apologies!”

“Yes, I am,” her father’s wife says. “No need to apologise! Your father and I were going to tell you, but maybe a bit later.”

Families, they are so complicated. Old Kenji whispers in my head, I bet it’s a girl. You will be surrounded and outmanned by the women. Ha ha ha. I wonder to myself why old Kenji is still in my head. I wonder how Yuuko feels, and if I should even talk about it during her birthday dinner.


April 2018:

This year, it is Yuuko and our two children and I who visit the graves together. They are too young to understand, but that is how tradition is established.

From my uncle’s old fairy tale, I see my mother with new enlightenment; I understand why my elder brother Masaru was so perfect and my father loved him so much. It is terrible to know why my sister was the way she was, and why I am the way I am.

We take our time to wipe down the grave markers with fresh water from a little pail, to see that my father’s name is still touched up neatly in red to show that he is alive, to clean up whatever dirt has accumulated since the last time we visited. We clean out the vases and place new flowers in the little flower holders, and light small candles, also in their own holders.

We have little family rituals. Mine used to include pizza and whisky, but it’s now tea. I put the little teacups down, and I blow on the tea that Yuuko has brewed so that it will not burn our lips. Then I introduce little Masako to her grandmother and her uncle. “One day,” I say, “Koji will join us, when he is able to drink tea.”

She gives me an innocently cynical look, as if to point out that her brother is only a bit more than a year younger. Then she bows in the direction of the two grave markers, slowly and formally. She is so young, but she says all the right things! My heart is beating with some kind of sad happiness. I look at Yuuko, and I see that she is also quite moved.

Then it’s time to clean up and go to the other side of the cemetery, where poor Sachiko is buried. As always, on the anniversary of her death, there are fresh flowers already there, and the scent of tea. Her marker has been wiped clean. No candles, though. Some day, I should come earlier to see who this kind soul is. I have a suspicion about that, but it is not relevant now.

This year, Masako has a question. It surprises us. “Does Aunty Sachiko look like Aunty Natsume Godma?” I have not thought about that for a very long time, and Yuuko’s first instinct is to tell her not to ask such questions.

I hold up a finger to show that it is not such a bad thing and I try to reply. I see my finger is trembling a bit, and I close my hand into a half-open fist. “Ma-chan, they looked a little alike, but Aunty Nat has much longer hair and special eyes. Aunty Sachi looked a bit more like Aunty Shizune.”

On impulse, I look for a picture of my sister on my tabphone. There. There she is, a young teenager. It’s the first time in a long while that I have done this. I show it wordlessly to my daughter.

“Baba, don’t cry!” she says, and hugs me. It is nice to have family. I am glad Sachi gets to meet them all. I am glad that Yuuko is holding my hand right now.


May to August 2018

I remember Naomi waiting for me in a run-down café in Tokyo as I went through the job interview for the institution which now employs me. That was in November 2011. Every detail of her pale smile and her tired face after nightfall is etched in my memory. I cannot help but think it is like the engraving on a grave marker, still red because the person has not yet died.

I recall all this because I am sitting in that same café. A moment after I sit down, Ryu slides into the seat opposite me. We are joined by someone I haven’t met for a while. She’s still thin and smells of smoke, and probably still pretends to be an art historian.

“Good evening, Chieko,” I say politely. I am still using aliases for my colleagues, because it is good to get into the habit.

Our discussion is a bit complicated but urgent. Chieko needs information quickly, but it should not be transmitted through proper channels. Ryu is here to keep me honest. I am here because I know what I know. Chieko’s boss needs to take action very soon, because the neighbours are up to no good again.

I write a lot in my diaries for this time, over the next few months, but I realize it would certainly give away too many things. I am a simple man, I cannot interrogate myself because that is too confusing. So this part of my life is blank, redacted as far as history is concerned. Yuuko would hate that, but I think she understands.

The crisis arrives in August. Someone runs from a tiger only to find a wolf standing there. I am at the office all day, and sometimes at more than one office. On a quick stopover at home, I find a note: [My husband, I have gone to Hisao and Emi’s wedding. Children are with Midori-san. Will make apologies on your behalf. Yuuko.]

Shit, it’s Tanabata in Sendai already. I barely have time to read the note. My personal tabphone is in a locker somewhere and I am using a secure device. I can’t reply, but at least Yuuko understands that. I hope Hisao will understand that too.

During a lull in the action, I sit back in a secure room and operate the controls on yet another strange device. Pan, zoom… 38°15’09”N 140°51’22”E, I recite to myself, doing this because it’s the least I can do.

The drone picks out the humans immediately, using our latest facial recognition refinements. It flags them, one by one, Japanese taxpayers’ money being put to good surveillance use. There are people I would have wanted to be with, people I would have avoided at all costs. But I have chosen my duty, and my duty will not let me do what I want.

I leave the drone in overwatch mode and say a blessing for those who should be blessed. I wait until Hisao and Emi exchange rings, and then I reluctantly close my channel and cover my tracks. All is well. Yet when one chooses to protect the flowers, is it not sad when one can no longer walk among them?

prev | next

Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3-4a up 20141129)

Posted: Sat Nov 29, 2014 9:45 pm
by azumeow
brythain wrote:All is well. Yet when one chooses to protect the flowers, is it not sad when one can no longer walk among them?
The burden of the guardian...Often beyond that which they must protect. Kenji's existence is such a sad one...hell, his might be the most depressing story here when you come to think about it enough.

Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3-4a up 20141129)

Posted: Sun Nov 30, 2014 5:39 am
by Serviam
Why do I get the feeling Chieko is Sae, the big neighbors are Russia and China, and the guy from across the park who set the dogs on Japan is America with the nukes?

Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3-4a up 20141129)

Posted: Sun Nov 30, 2014 6:07 am
by brythain
Serviam wrote:Why do I get the feeling Chieko is Sae, the big neighbors are Russia and China, and the guy from across the park who set the dogs on Japan is America with the nukes?
Chieko's not Sae; Kenji's already met Sae (see entry for September 2012 here). The neighbours (as you have guessed) are people Kenji can't antagonise directly, so he is employing classic but not too subtle circumlocution. :)

Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3-4a up 20141129)

Posted: Sun Nov 30, 2014 9:01 am
by brythain
azumeow wrote:
brythain wrote:All is well. Yet when one chooses to protect the flowers, is it not sad when one can no longer walk among them?
The burden of the guardian...Often beyond that which they must protect. Kenji's existence is such a sad one...hell, his might be the most depressing story here when you come to think about it enough.
Hmmm. I've been thinking about that. Kenji's is actually the most 'normal' of all the stories, from his point of view. He's just trying to be a good citizen in his own way. It's perhaps melancholic in the sense that some Eastern European or contemporary Chinese fiction is a commentary on society. But we'll see... when I first started, I planned to stop at Kenji's graduation from Yamaku. But Natsume and Rika (of all people) got hold of me and said he deserved more.

Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3-4b up 20141201)

Posted: Mon Dec 01, 2014 9:41 pm
by brythain
This concludes the fourth instalment of the third part of the redacted archive of Kenji Setou.
People's lives change. Kenji helps out.

Note: for those who would like Misha's perspective, the relevant parts of her arc are here and here.

Kenji 3: Distant Drums—Year Four
(September 2018-February 2019)

Sometimes one sits in featureless rooms and looks at big maps and worries about catastrophe and crisis and all the doom that can come to a country. And when one does this kind of thing, it is only too easy to fail to see the small tragedies, the painful little but terrible hurts that come to real human beings.

2018 was the year that Nobu and Kei, two of my longest-serving colleagues, decided to leave and do something different. This had consequences. It meant I had less support in my workplace; it also meant I had more support in other places—a broader base, a shallower foundation. I did not know how things would turn out at this point in my life. But the first test was to come soon after.

This whole section of my journals, I suppose, is boring to people who are looking for real dirt and lurid stories of how Japan became the way it did. But they are my stories, and perhaps I should have called 2015-2020 the disquieting years, not the quiet ones. I should have known something was wrong.


September 2018

The man I call ‘Nobuhiro’ is broad and muscular, chunky and shapeless with very short hair and a classic expressionless face. He is what I would have called a ‘tough guy’ when I was much younger. He is deceptively slow to act, but can move very quickly when he needs to do so. His partner, ‘Keiko’, likes dressing like a Goth (which I know is not a very correct term) and behaving very emotionally. It’s all a front, of course. He’s very good at seeing data relationships, and she’s very good at understanding video and photographic information.

Nobu and Kei are sitting in front of me now. I know this won’t end well, but I hope they’ll still be my friends when we’re done.

“Acting Deputy Director sir, let us be brief. Sorry we are not ceremonious. We are leaving in December. Nice working with you, mostly. We’re telling you first. Then telling others.”

“This is a sad day for the department. May I presume on friendship and ask why?” I suspect I know, but it must be asked.

“Nobu’s just pissed off that you got promoted so quickly. It’s as if nobody appreciates us. We shouldn’t talk about this, but because we’ve been friends, that’s the least we can say. It was nice when we were in the same group, and then all that business happened with S. Then you and Ryu went off, and we had to train new people, and then things began to fall apart.”

She pauses for breath, although I’m sure that is just drama, because she takes the opportunity to let her too-black hair float around a bit. “So we are moving to another department, in another ministry.”

Nobu nods slowly, as if to show that they were in it together all along. But I know that, because it is my business to know.

“You are going to be psychic spies?”

It is a bad joke and an old one, but it also resonates with me. I know which agency has agreed to accept them, and perhaps they do not know this, because Nobu raises an eyebrow and Kei stares at me silently.

“It isn’t the cabinet,” I continue, “because that’s still in chaos since Number One’s legacy was implemented.”

“You’re right, boss. Well done, boss.”

“Nobu, why the hell are you calling me ‘sir’ and ‘boss’? Inside this room, you don’t want to and I don’t want it.” Even as I say this, I realize I sound like a boss. It makes me sad.

“Honour the office, they always taught us,” he says, deadpan as always.

“Right. Anyway, you will always have a friend here. Don’t let me delay you. Thank you for coming.”

I am unhappy. I never wanted to be promoted ahead of those who taught me my craft. These are good people. I am only seen to be good.

They stand and Kei bows stiffly. Then she claps me on the shoulder and leaves her hand there for a while. “Thanks, Kenji.”

Nobu nods, raises his big hand halfway, but cannot bring himself to do anything with it. I nod back. “You people taught me a lot. I won’t forget. Goodbye.”

It’s dark outside when I leave through the alleyway and the concrete floors. I’m not yet thirty, but I feel sixty years old. I am older than my mother would have been, if she had lived. I could cry, but I am too tired, and there is no point to it. If Ryu were here, we’d have a beer, maybe hang out a bit.

But Ryu’s gone south to deal with the cat-people. Good luck to him. I hear they’re Christians. Haha, maybe they’re Catholics. I choke back ironic laughter, because I don’t really mean to laugh, and there’s nobody around to understand my English puns any more.

When I get home a few hours later, my family has been waiting a while. I quickly change my footwear and carefully detach my briefcase before carrying it into the main apartment.

“Father’s home, children.”

“Good evening, baba!” says my daughter. She seems always glad to see me. That’s nice. The high-pitched squeal from her younger brother is a bit off-putting, but I remember that he is still young and it is fine to ignore that for now.

“Good evening, wife. Sincere apologies for lateness. Good evening, children.”

It is a normal night in the Setou household. At least, Yuuko and I are friends again. And then I remember what’s in my briefcase, and why dinner looks so special tonight.

“Ah, Ma-chan, it’s your birthday. I have a little thing for you in my bag.” I hope the doll in its traditional wrapping will suffice. Also, I need to wish Natsume a happy birthday, because they share the same day.

“Husband, um, will we get to see Natsume this year?”

I have no idea where Nat is. I could have found out, if I had remembered. But I haven’t done that, and somehow I feel the familiar sensation of failure and shame. It’s ridiculous. Part of it, thought, is that I now remember that three months ago, Naomi’s birthday came and went, and I was too busy to think about it.

“Sorry. I have not managed to keep in contact with her.”

Masako’s face is downcast. Like many young children, she loves adults who are not her own parents. It makes me feel like a terrible father.

“It’s all right, Setou-san. You’re a busy man. Ma-chan, your father and I will see if we can find Aunty Natsume Godma. You might have to, ah, wait a while. Let’s eat dinner first, it’s getting cold.”


October 2018:

I hear that my good friend Hisao had his honeymoon in Hokkaido. I know my father came from there, but it is like an alien world to me. I think of it as full of fish, ice, and separatists, even though I know this is not true. What’s real and what’s not begin to trouble me as I approach my 30th birthday.

Yuuko senses this. Over time, as my work has become heavier and I must talk less about it, she has been very supportive. She will distract me from thinking about work at home, but she is also very smart and will talk about history and economics in a way that gives me insights even though she isn’t supposed to know what work I’m doing.

People who look at my quiet wife would think I must be mad to not have wanted someone more like Miki Miura. But I have learnt to be honest with myself. Old Kenji was never honest, he was fearful and thus very crude. New Kenji was not much more honest, he wanted to be decent too much. Now that lives and livings are things I must protect, I cannot tell myself lies.

The truth is that I was like many Japanese guys: I had a kind of lust for Miki the way that guys are turned on by sexy girls. It was Miki who taught me that friendship is much more important. It was Naomi who taught me that what is in the heart is over a long time more important than what is in the groin.

And so Yuuko is my best friend, and we are becoming lovers again. What Kenji fears now is that even this can be taken away by accident and disaster. What Kenji wants to know is that he tried hard enough, that he did his best. It is hard to say that kind of thing. It is better to just do it.

At work, I spend some time with Nobu and Kei. They are leaving, so there is not much formality between us now. Ever since Kei mentioned Nobu’s resentment, there is nothing hidden. Except maybe that Kei knows Nobu loves her and Nobu is afraid that she does. Something has changed in Kenji, because I can now see such things.

I want to tell Nobu not to let her go, and I want to tell Kei to ask him and make him say it. It is the kind of thing he will silently suffer through, and in their new line of work, maybe the decision is harder. But I don’t want to meddle. What I do at work is bad enough already.

There are other things though, and life is sometimes very amusing. On 15 October, Yuuko wakes up to the knowledge that she and her brothers Shou and Shin now have a half-sister. The baby’s name is Kaori, and you should have seen the look on my wife’s face when the news came in. I guess it’s hard when the father you think of as ‘elderly, serious guy’ suddenly goes all happy and not-serious and has a kid who is 30 years younger than you. If mine did that… ah, well, best not to think about that. Besides, her father is still my boss.


November 2018

Things are looking a bit more stable in the neighbourhood today. After some people had their national days, sentiment died down and they became sane again. I realize that I have spent too much of my life moaning and groaning about things I have lost. Now it is time to think about things I have gained.

I have a lovely wife and two beautiful children. I have a home in Saitama that I thought I had lost. Yuuko and I have a home nearer to Sendai which is fully paid for, and which is conveniently located. We both love our jobs. The children are happy, and Yamaku now has childcare facilities where Yuuko can park them.

November is shaping up to be a great end to Autumn, actually. We have time, and I take a bit of leave, and we walk in the park, and we are just another young Japanese couple with kids.

It’s at the end of the month that Yuuko tells me something has happened. The news has leaked out around Yamaku, but people don’t know all the details. Immediately, I realize who will know. I know Yuuko also knows who that is. We look at each other, but she shakes her head, and I agree. I cannot ask this of Shizune.

All that Yuuko knows is that Shizune’s father brought her friend Misha to the school, very late at night. It turned out that Misha had been assaulted in some way. Shizune was extremely upset.

I am upset too. ‘Pink Drills’ (I still think of her that way) is a noisy person and I never really liked her. But nobody deserves such a fate, especially a friend of my friend. Yet, time has taught me patience. I already have a plan.

It is the end of November. In January, I have friends who will be transferring into a very useful agency. I can afford to wait. Even though I am furious. Especially because I am furious, I cannot afford to be impatient.


December 2018

The end of the year is full of broken pieces. They are part of the mosaic that is my life. Or maybe it is a collage. I am bad with words.

[Kenji] she says, black text on my tabphone, [what is it you really want?]

[Shizune] I reply, not knowing how my words appear on hers, [I have heard about Misha. I do not know if I can do anything, but if I can, I will.]

[That is]… and then a long pause… [nice of you. What have you heard?]

[She was assaulted, I heard. Beaten. Maybe worse. It angers me.]

[Yes, worse. Kenji, I am angry too. I am filled with wrath.]

Damn. I have not received this kind of language from Shizune ever. [Can I help?]

[No. The criminals are somewhere in Europe. We’ll never trace them now.] Her face is sad, miserable, defeated on the screen of my tabphone. [But I think that perhaps there is a favour I may ask of you, if it is not so great a trouble.]

I respond. It brings the shadow of a smile to her face.

[I will send you a special 30th-year cake this Christmas.]

[Thank you, Shizune Hakamichi. You will get one too.]

[I am in your debt. Thank you, Kenji Setou.] Her smile lingers beyond the disappearance of our wireless connection.

Time passes. The cake arrives. Yuuko’s family and mine get together, with all the little children, and give me a little celebration. I am thirty years old now. It feels heavy, like a wet overcoat that you cannot take off.

My phone buzzes gently. I look at the screen. [N] is all it says, and it is all I need to know.

“Hello, Naomi.”

“Kenji. I… Happy birthday, Kenji.”

“That is very kind of you, my friend. I am sincerely very sorry for missing yours.”

A pause.

“I thought perhaps we were no longer friends, and that was an evil thought.”


She interrupts me before I can reply. “Five years ago, I said I would be there for you in June and December, and even in April. Now, you have Yuuko and I have Nat, but the promise is there forever.”

I had said then that it was her choice, not mine. But this is not the time for arguing.

“Thank you, my friend.”

“I am your friend, Kenji. We’ve been through too much together. We will always need friends, and you are mine.”

For some reason, I have too much water in my eyes.

“Always, Naomi.”

I do not know how long Yuuko has been standing there, holding Koji quietly in her arms while I talk to the woman who was once the only love of my life. But as I look at her, she nods. It is a simple movement of her head, but it tells me that she understands, and that she knows Naomi will not come between us.

I can only hope Hisao is as fortunate.


January-February 2019

The winter that spreads its frosty wings into 2019 is a hard one. But I have a private project that keeps me warm. It doesn’t take me away from my work. However, there's a time I go on leave and sit on a roof somewhere.

“So, Hisao.”

“Like old times, Kenji. Here we are up on a roof.”

Two old men, I think of us as. He’s thirty this year. His hair is still messy, but so is mine. Now, we are both respectable civil servant types, although I think his profession is more respectable.

“How’s Emi and married life? And Rin?”

“It’s all good. Emi has enough energy for both of us. She always tries to be positive, so I’m learning how to be positive too. Rin keeps us sane.”

“She does?”

“Yeah. We start arguing with her, and then we realize that even if she doesn’t know it, she’s showing us how life really makes sense. Or doesn’t make sense. Or both.”


We’ve both got ginger ales, and Hisao takes a swig. I join him.

“So…” he looks at me searchingly, “What are we doing up on a roof?”

There’s no point dragging things out. I do want to know about Yamaku, but there’s something else I really want to know.

“Tell me about Misha, my friend.”

“What?” Hisao’s got that furtive look he cannot hide, that says he is indeed trying to hide something. Immediately, I know he knows about what happened.

“Kenji sees much, does not know all. My eyes are shaman’s eyes, but only half-open in the light of day.” I have no idea where those words come from.

“Heh.” He takes another swig of his pale yellow drink. I belch a little, just for old time’s sake. I remember giving him a faceful of garlic gas once, when I thought he might be a vampire. Old Kenji is not completely gone.

He eventually tells me what I need to confirm, and what he and Shizune have guessed about Misha’s past. I did not know Shizune’s father had looked after Misha, though. Now I do, and my picture of the crazy Hakamichi father is not so clearly crazy after all.

I thank him, and we exchange New Year’s gifts. The little box of goodies from him and Emi also has a couple of decorative envelopes with cash blessings for Masako and Koji.

I nod appreciatively. “Hisao, some day I will return this favour. You and Emi should have lots of kids.”

He looks wryly at me. “If I live long enough. Frankly, Kenji, there are three cases. I’ve worked them out: we have no kids; we have kids and all’s good; we have kids and I’m gone and someone has to help Emi. I’m glad to have so many friends. I remember thinking I’d not live long enough to keep any of them.”

“Me too, Hisao.” I had not intended to say that, but here it is, coming out of my mouth. It seems to startle him. “I have a heart problem too. And other things.”

“Ah.” He stares at me, as if this is all new to him. Is it? I cannot remember if this is a reminder to him or the first time I’m saying it. I note that even with Lilly’s birthday approaching, he has not mentioned her once. Somehow, that pleases me.

It’s later, in the cold heart of February, that Nobu and Kei find a way to precipitate events that deliver the favour they owe me. A certain abusive father finds himself in no position to abuse anyone again. Still alive, of course; we are not gangsters. Some benefits are transferred to his wife, soon to be ex-wife, in Niigata. By the time I wish Miki a happy 30th birthday, almost everything is settled except the long hard process of the law.

I find myself at Yamaku again, on one of those rare occasions that I get to drive my wife to work. All scarfed up because it is so damn cold, we look at each other and Yuuko gives me a shy peck on the cheek before she gets out of the car.

This is different, though. I turn our car around as she trudges up the steps to the administration building. I park in a lot which I remember from a long time ago. Shizune’s new car is here, with the green and yellow butterfly label she has always had. Now, however, I know what that means.

I get out and walk back into the building. When I enter the office, Yuuko automatically greets me and then does a double-take. “Kenji! Did you… did I forget something?”

“Ah, Shirakawa-san, could you please do me the honour of letting Hakamichi-san know that I am politely requesting a short meeting? Many apologies for the short notice. It is terribly rude of me, and I will understand completely if it is not convenient.”

My wife’s forehead wrinkles and she looks a little dismayed, so I wink at her. It seems to make her more uncomfortable at first. Then she comes round the counter, takes off my overcoat and hangs it up for me. “You silly man,” she whispers, smiling. “Of course she’ll meet you.”

Yes, Shizune probably will. Yuuko has deliberately avoided knowing what this is all about, but I’m sure she has an idea. She hits the button that will trigger a flashing blue alert light in the Acting Principal’s office, and taps a short message on a little keyboard. “Go on in, Colonel,” she says loudly enough for the rest of the office to overhear.

Curious gazes, hastily disguised, are pointed in my direction. I see most of them. My new lenses are quite potent.

I head down the corridor, a man on business. Before I get to the end, the door opens and a slightly neatened, familiar mop of very dark hair appears. Grey, she’s always in grey, I smile in my heart.

[Setou-san] she signs emphatically, [what brings you here to my humble domain?]

[Hakamichi-san] I nod politely, replying for the benefit of the ‘eavesdroppers’ who might know sign, [a little private catching up about certain legal matters?]

[Come in, come in!]

I follow her in. Before I can say anything, she signs: [How are the eyes, old friend?]

[You always beat me to the questions!] I reply. [My eyes are working well. The cake you sent was very good and the children enjoyed their shares. Many thanks.]

She bows daintily, quite at odds with the image of ‘school principal’. [You’re welcome. I enjoyed mine too, although Father said it was decadent and far too sweet and rich. Misha enjoyed a double helping. It seemed to make her very happy.]

[Ah. How is Misha?]

She stares at me over her glasses. Then she pushes them back up her nose and tilts her head at me, as if to begin a lecture. [It was you?]

I don’t bother answering. I am quite sure it was not really me.

[Misha’s mother has returned to Niigata. Family matters are being settled. Misha is thinking of changing her surname to her mother’s family name.]

[That’s good. I am glad things are working out.]

[It was all legal, right?]

I laugh. In my mind is the image of a former Student Council president with her hands on her hips. What a scary persona!

Yet, there is also the image of a young lady whose things had been scattered across the floor by a careless and inconsiderate young man. I look Shizune in the eye and sign: [It’s what we do. We help those who can be helped, and it’s mostly all legal.]

She nods in agreement. She knows that my ‘we’ includes both of us, not just the people I work with. [It was well done.]

She accompanies me out, and signs to Yuuko: [Your husband is a good man. He does good work. Both of you make other people’s lives better.]

My wife blushes a little. I bow deeply to the Acting Principal. She bows as if we are equals. Everyone nods goodbye. It is the Japanese way. It is a good day.

prev | next

Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3-4b up 20141201)

Posted: Fri Dec 05, 2014 9:39 pm
by Gamma
After a thoroughly exhausting six day trip, I was presently surprised to find not one, but two new chapters in the Sakura saga.

These two chapters were just so good in so many ways. Firstly, I was so happy to see Kenji's relationship with Yuuko grow in strength. The family dynamic between the two of them and their children was a joy to read. The graveyard scene was absolutely fantastic. I'm eagerly anticipating another one of those scenes that you may write in the far future.

Another huge event occurred in that chapter. If my analysis of your writing is correct, then it was Kenji's uncle who showed him the truth about the Families, and I'm speculating that the "private project" that's keeping Kenji warm is related to that revelation. I hope that Kenji can eventually stop being so damned vague about the details. I want all the juicy and glorious details of his manipulating prowess.

It was sad that Kenji had to deal with those pesky Neighbours on the day of Hisao's wedding. I was beginning to wonder why Kenji wasn't at the wedding in person before that chapter, as current Kenji is extremely focused on honouring and respecting his friendships.

Both these chapters showed how busy Kenji's become. I hope he can find a bit more free time for his family. I'm sure he's already doing his best though. I just want more Kenji-family interactions.

Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3-4b up 20141201)

Posted: Sat Dec 06, 2014 9:52 am
by brythain
Hi! I'm glad you had as much pleasure reading about Kenji's familial interactions as I had presenting them. :)
Gamma wrote:If my analysis of your writing is correct, then it was Kenji's uncle who showed him the truth about the Families, and I'm speculating that the "private project" that's keeping Kenji warm is related to that revelation. I hope that Kenji can eventually stop being so damned vague about the details. I want all the juicy and glorious details of his manipulating prowess.
A lot will remain redacted, but I assure you that enough clues must leak out to make the story understandable. Right, Kenji? *cue sinister laughter* Kenji, Kenji, Kenji...

Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3-5a up 20141219)

Posted: Fri Dec 19, 2014 3:29 am
by brythain
This begins the final (fifth) instalment of the third part of the redacted archive of Kenji Setou.
Kenji wonders what friendship is really all about.

Kenji 3: Distant Drums—Year Five
(March 2019-August 2019)

Sometimes it is during the quietest of moments that you realize, in that deep silence, how the world is balanced on the finest edge of the katana. Up to the boundary, everything goes on, the usual messes, the usual day-to-day suffering.

Sometimes, you feel good; sometimes, you feel lousy. It is both best and worst of times. I stole that line from one of Naomi’s books.

In 2019, everything actually looked good. You will only know how good when I show you the rest of my notes for the year.

Perhaps that will help you to see how 2020 looked so terrible, and the years after that even worse. Here then are my notes for 2019, as we come to the end of the years of muddling along, the years 2015-2020.


March 2019

I’m in Hamamatsu again. The place has many memories for me. It was my first experience of family away from home, because it is where my uncle has had his lair for many years. Today, we are sitting in some sort of pastry shop. It seems to be run by a famous car manufacturer, which over the years has diversified a lot.

I think I am eating a cigar made from tea powder and cake. Respected uncle is chewing on something that looks like bullshit, but I am sure it tastes better. Not that I would know. Both of us are drinking good coffee. The conversation we are having, it’s not so good.

“Your dear wife does not have the problem, Kenji. Your daughter obviously has, and your son of course does not. I am confident that we can treat Masako. Indeed, it would have been a useful test across the entire lineage, but I don’t suppose you would be able to engineer that kind of thing.”

I look at the Black Dragon, my father’s brother, with something like horror. He is very calm, very scientific. I can understand that in my head, but to have it done to me in real life is a terrible thing.

In my generation there were ten of us. Three dead, three maimed, two escaped, two unknown. In the next generation, one victim already. We are not all victims of the same thing, but…

“They put us all in one place,” I blurt out. “And they didn’t tell us.”

“Indeed. Perhaps they were hoping for a cure, and maybe I have found something that works.”

“How many other such families are there?”

“I do not know. But my feeling is that you already have encountered such people.”

What comes out of my mouth next is a bit of a shock. “Dammit! Is there really a feminist conspiracy behind all these things?”

Somewhere, old Kenji is laughing his idiot head off. New Kenji is cringing. Me, I smack my head immediately. “Respected uncle, no, no, I didn’t mean that.”

The Black Dragon’s head moves a few inches closer to mine, and his eyes narrow like those of a very dangerous reptile. Then he relaxes, and I do too. “Eh, my nephew, I will put it down to random psychotic effects of those terrible drugs you’ve been taking all these years.”

He sighs and then continues. “No, Kenji, there is no such thing. But there is a reason why there are more girls than boys at Yamaku, and why the majority of the people in your circle are female, I assume. Women survive such disorders better than men, in most cases.”

“You’re involved with the Yamaku Foundation?”

“No, not at all. There are all kinds of conspiracy theories and conspiracies, but I’m just a medical researcher who wants to cure people. I’m not a Family man.”

I look at his aristocratic face, where a faint resemblance to me hides. He keeps secrets, just as I do. But we have the same Y-chromosome. Is it enough? I try to keep his gaze locked with mine, and I ask, “Respected sir, what are you not telling me?”

The skin around his eyes slowly crinkles, as if he is showing happiness at a student who has begun to solve a difficult problem. “By 2040, humanity will have changed, young Kenji. That’s only 20 years more. We are a country which used to pride ourselves on innovation, but we are also one which prides ourselves on tradition. One solution can be found in Kyoto; you’ve been to the International Manga Museum there, have you not?”

I fail to see where he is going with this. “Yes?”

“We write a lot of science fiction, and also a lot of existential-problem fiction, and romance, and stories about funny animals and half-humans. But what’s important is the question: what do we do to make better people, nephew? There’s social engineering, but that tastes bad; there’s genetic engineering, and people are afraid of that; and there’s nanoscale engineering, and people worry about grey goo. In the end, there’s a fix for all that: make it look cute, and everyone will allow it.”

“What? And you said there is not a feminist conspiracy?” I think I get his idea. But I’m not sure he’s telling me the whole truth. Is he joking? I can’t always tell when people are.

“Ah, well. One day, you might pass by a little old place called Noda, where Todai has a small research offshoot. They do things differently there, but the more different, the more they are the same. Come, let us talk about family now.”

And that is all he will say on the matter—for now. We rejoin my family, and he takes us out to celebrate Yuuko’s 31st birthday. He has nothing but smiles for her, but I notice that he gives little Masako a few uncertain, slightly anxious looks.


April 2019

Did the Black Dragon mourn when he heard his niece was dead? He has told me before that he was deeply saddened. But since then, I have learnt that deep sadness and mourning are two different things. Sometimes, the sadness passes. Sometimes, the mourners are unexpected.

Yuuko and I are visiting the old graves again. The children are with us once more. A year has passed, and little Koji walks with seriousness and confidence between the honourably buried dead, holding his sister’s hand but trailing a little behind.

After our visit to Mother and Elder Brother, we are on the way to Sachiko’s grave when a surprise falls on me like lightning from the sky. No, it was not a present from a little bird. One such incident traumatized me when I was young, and if it had happened again, I would have written it down.

A very familiar voice rings out. “Kenji? Excuse this one for being so impolite as to intrude.”

I turn, already knowing who it is. I am trying to calm my leaping heart, but it feels too unsettled to lie still.

“Hello, Naomi. There is nothing to excuse. What, may I ask, brings you here?”

I realize too late that this is crushing. Her face loses its expression; her smile looks very strained. I am still not good at reading people, but I know when I have said a wrong thing.

Naomi bows. “Ah… Shirakawa-san, greetings. Would you mind if I beg of you a favour? A few quiet words with your husband?”

What is the look on Yuuko’s face? Is it desperate resignation? Sadness? I don’t know. Can I say a right thing?

“Children, say hello to Aunty Naomi,” I whisper, while Yuuko remains silent.

“Hello Aunty Naomi!” they chorus. It’s Masako who adds, “Is Aunty Natsume Godma with you, Aunty Naomi?”

“Eh-heh, no, she is not, Ma-chan. She is back in Osaka. I’ve just come to speak with your parents.”

I know she really means me. But it is kind of her to include Yuuko. I hope Yuuko will be as kind.

“Hello, Naomi,” says my wife. “I’m always Yuuko to you, you know. If you need to talk to my husband, who is your old friend, it is not a difficulty for me.”

The smile on Naomi’s face brightens a lot. The darkness that I placed on her with my words is gone.

“Many thanks, Yuuko, but that’s… not necessary. I’m here because, ah, I just… you see, it was ten years ago that I first met Sachiko, and we went with Kenji to pay respects to his mother and brother.”

It was ten years ago. How could I have forgotten? They got along very well. I am so unobservant. How could I not have noticed that Naomi wears the string of pearls my sister gave her? Stupid Kenji. It is very meaningful that she remembers it. I am grateful, and I smile to let her know it.

By the end, Yuuko and Naomi are chatting like old friends. I think they are even sharing Kenji jokes. Damn feminists. No, that was a joke. I think it was a joke. Shit, I’m beginning to sound like my friend Hisao.


May 2019

A little place called Noda, my distinguished scientific relative had said. I abuse a little of my authority and call up some files. Hmm. One name catches my eye: there is one Dr Katayama named as lead researcher for a certain project which might be of use to me. The dream of all those with broken hearts is that those hearts might one day be repaired—or failing that, replaced. Ha.

Thoughtfully, I assign more people to this area of national defence technology. With an ageing population, it is best to reduce risk and provide options. Engineering is fine, but as I have recently been made to notice, there are many kinds of engineering we can do.

I look at the small, ugly poster on my office wall. It says: “We will aggressively complete our mission with responsibility, professionalism and pride; we will conduct research and development seeking the most practical technologies that deliver the most appropriate solutions for the user.”

Such bombastic words. So bureaucratic. This is what people think when they look at us, we who were once warriors. But we are good at what we do, and in some ways better than what we used to do. Aggressively.

Something is bugging me. There is something I must do. I look at my desk, my… my optics are tagging something. I gaze at it. My office staff like to joke that I have the eyes of a man who has seen too much, and now it is true: I see too much all the time. It is my calendar icon that is patiently waiting for me to interrogate it.

But that is all I need to know. Only one day in May has survived all the purges, the old Kenji, the new Kenji, and the post-human Kenji.

[Good morning, Principal Hakamichi. Happy 30th birthday to you. How is my favourite junior?]

My friend Shizune is one of the few people I know whose text messages have such complicated associated programming. This means that she can respond very quickly to my communications, and this is indeed the case today.

[Not very happy. Am sitting in a board meeting. It is boring. People are stupid. Thankful for implants sometimes. Can text without moving, now. Thank you for your wishes, but where is my cake?]

[It is a salted caramel coconut gooseberry cheesecake. Has it not yet arrived?]

[Did you send it to my apartment or to school?]

[Your apartment.]

[Oh dear. Misha will get fat.]

[What? Oh, is she still living at your apartment?]

[Yes, for at least another month before she goes back to work.]

[Happy that she has you.]

[Ha. She is happy that she has my father.]


[No, nothing like that, you dirty-minded pervert.]

[No, was just surprised.] Actually, I already knew this.

[He’s still taking care of her, although he is now back in Saitama. Sometimes I wonder if he would have preferred a daughter like her, rather than me. One day I caught him calling her Shi-chan: Misha was most uncomfortable, and she automatically signed back at him ‘please don’t call me Shi-chan’ and I caught that.]

[Oh dear.]

[Yes. Thanks again. Have to deliver my 2018 report. If I get my wires crossed, I might call the honourable board members ‘dirty-minded perverts’. Haha. Bye.]



June 2019

Why is she crying. It’s not a question. It’s an interrogative of some other kind, it hits me in the head when I wake up. What have I done now. I don’t ask that either, I wake up almost knowing it is my fault.

I sit up in bed, the bed I share with the most beautiful Yuuko Shirakawa, mother of our two children. Lucky Kenji, I am. I say that to myself as I look at her naked back. She is slim in the waist and neatly full-figured elsewhere, despite those two children. From where I am sitting, I can just about see the side of her right breast curving away from me.

I feel a stirring of a familiar sort. But why is she crying, is the line in my head. Why. Maybe my sleep has been punctuated but not my words.

“My wife?”

“Go to sleep, Kenji. Um… it’s Sunday morning, no need to wake so early.”

She is sniffling gently.

“Why are you crying?”

“Naomi… Naomi…”

What? Dammit I knew those feminists couldn’t be trusted you see what has happened they will get into your bed and into your head and your life is all upside down because of the drama and you don’t need this and… shut up, old Kenji! With great effort, I wake up properly and kick my oldest self into the headbucket where he belongs.

“Ah? Naomi? Tell me, my wife.”

“No, it’s… not about her. It’s, umm… she said it was ten years since she met Sachiko. And I was thinking, it’s about ten years now since you emailed me and wanted to be friends again. And… we’ve been friends a long time now, Kenji. Do you still love me?”

I want to groan. But that would not be a good thing. And I am still waking-up wrong-side confused, especially with Naomi’s name still floating around.

“Yes!” I say brightly, or at least as brightly as I can at—the clock says 6:13 in flashing red digits—a quarter past six in the morning.

I may be confused, but I am still functional. That is what I learn from the next hour or so. At the back of my head, though, are those numbers of fire. It is Naomi’s 30th birthday on the thirteenth day of June this year. That whole year is having 30th birthdays!

Silly Kenji! I mentally head-slap myself. Don’t get distracted by old memories, Kenji.

I put Naomi out of my mind, and make Yuuko giggle again. We both laugh, and then make other sounds. Even some groans. I am happy now.


July 2019

“I think we have to do it for Masako, husband. We can’t wait till she is old enough to choose. We don’t know what will… ah, what will happen.”

We are sitting in a café near our apartment. We are on leave because we have to make an important decision. We’ve sat on this decision long enough already.

“If you are happy, I will call my uncle and make an appointment.”

“I am sad, my husband. I am worried. But I think this is the best thing to do, and we are fortunate to know the Black Dragon of Hamamatsu.”

Experimental gene therapy. Yuuko and I are students of history. We worry a lot about the social implications, the shadows of evil times in the 20th century, and what the future might bring. We are very anxious, both of us. Yet, we have decided.

I say a short prayer for my daughter. I am a lousy Catholic. I don’t know many saints, and I don’t know if any of them would be interested in gene therapy. So I just say what I say and I hope it is enough for whoever is listening.


August 2019

“Ever thought of how many children you’re going to have, Kenji?”

I look at the scruffy fellow sitting across the table from me. Well, here we are again, two scruffy fellows with loosened ties. What would my staff or his students think? Me, I think that Hisao looks a bit like old Mutou when he’s not had enough sleep.

“Nah, you just keep spawning them and then when you have enough they spawn more of themselves and that’s called a ‘family legacy’, I think.”

He laughs, but it’s a bit dry. Yeah, he really hasn’t had enough sleep. I wonder why.

“So far, no spawn. Not for want of trying, though!”

“Heh. Well, once you’ve spawned, you can’t wait until they can stand on their own two feet. Although they are cute that way.”

Why is he looking at me with the eyes of a fish? Oh. Haha. Oh shit, Kenji.

“Oops, sorry. Didn’t mean to make a joke about your dear wife,” I say quickly. “Really, it was just a… figure of speech!”

His face cracks into a lopsided grin. “I used to say things like that too. But after getting glared at a few times, I’ve stopped…”

He stops. I wonder if that’s a figure of speech. Then I realize he’s looking across the room to another corner of the establishment we’re having drinks in, and I turn my head slowly to see what’s there.

At this angle and in this smoke, my implants can’t quite track, so I take the lazy way out. “Hey, Hisao, what’s up?”

“Those two. Hai, don’t turn your head to look, that’s right. It’s Mutou and Dr Kaneshiro. You used to call him Head Nurse.”

“I know who that is,” I reply, a little annoyed. I’m not Kenji who lives in a cave and doesn’t come out till midnight, you know. Then I realize that maybe Hisao still thinks of me that way a bit.

“I wonder if some day we’ll be two old codgers like those two. Drinking cheap beer and telling stories about the people we try to look after, I mean.”

“Nah. I don’t think so.”

“We were celebrating Tanabata up at Yamaku a few days ago. I saw the fireworks display, and remembered the old days. In my heart, it felt so… hnnnng.”

“Don’t make sounds like that. It’s bad luck. I’ve got a heart condition too. And if you’re referring to the promise Satou made to you, well, I get promises made to me too. Though not by Satou, I promise.”

What’s this, Kenji you fool, I say to myself, are you trying to make Hisao go all sullen and melancholy again? Idiot Kenji. I realize that maybe I’ve had a bit too much to drink, and the irony is that Nurse is sitting over there and if he saw me, he’d shake his head and think dire thoughts.

“Don’t be silly, Kenji. I proposed to Emi during Tanabata, you know. Two years ago, during the fireworks. Also, we got married last year and that was Tanabata too.”

“Tanabata in Sendai, that’s right. Where everything is different from the rest of Japan,” I say, not sure why I say it.

“You weren’t at our wedding. Everyone missed you, you know.”

“Ha, I doubt that. But Yuuko did send my apologies, and I did write a note in our present to you. You did read it, right?”

“Yeah. We’re grateful. Did you read our return note?” he chuckles. “But it wasn’t the same. Not to blame you, of course. I know you were busy and you couldn’t say what it was all about. I read the newspapers very carefully when we came back from Hokkaido, but I couldn’t figure out what had been so important.”

“I…” I’m about to tell him that I stopped a war and kept everyone safe, but that would be arrogant and maybe not true. “I’m sorry, Hisao. Really. But didn’t you and Emi enjoy the whisky?”

“It was great stuff. But Emi started acting like a pirate queen after a few glasses! We finished the first bottle in Hokkaido. Then she said, ‘Hey, Hisao… I have TWO artificial legs, I should be able to store more booze down there…’ and she fell into bed and… well, I took her legs off and I must have been a bit drunk because I looked at them to see if she was storing whisky in them.”

We laugh together. Maybe a bit too loud, I realize guiltily. Then I decide not to see if the two old codgers over there have noticed. Friendship is friendship. They’ll understand. Although booze is bad for both of us, what with the meds and all.

Later, when I head home, walking so that my head is clear when I get in, I think about that. Friendship. Those two have been friends since I was a student, and probably before that. It’s good to have friends. We lose so many of them along the way.

I feel a little sad, but the night air and the streetlights are familiar, and they’re keeping me focused. If I can make the world a better place, maybe each of us will keep our friendships for a longer time. Yeah, that’s a good goal to have.

prev | next

Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Book 3 Complete 20141226)

Posted: Fri Dec 26, 2014 1:16 pm
by brythain
This concludes the third part of the redacted archive of Kenji Setou.
Kenji realises that the good years have ended.

Kenji 3: Distant Drums—Year Five
(September 2019-March 2020)

Everything did indeed look very good. I had friends. I could do things that helped my friends. I had family. I could do things that helped my family. I had a country, and I thought I could serve it by helping it do better too.

As 2019 became 2020, it was all good and all sweet. Why would anyone not assume that things could only get better? I am sure that is the conclusion you too will draw at this point, as I bring you to the end of the third chapter of the days I lived through.

Here then are my notes for late 2019 and early 2020, as we come to the end of those innocent years. Learn about the small things that you will see became important in the end. And then I will worry about whether my account of the remaining years should be published at all.

This is a story and in stories there are heroes and people who are not heroes. When I write this, and when I edit this with my old friend Natsume Ooe, I cannot help but feel sadness and happiness mixed together. We are happy to remember them, and sad that this is mostly all we have left.


September 2019

Where was everyone in September as the autumn came? The neighbours had been behaving themselves, and I was due about 28 days off. So Deputy Director Setou took a break. What of it? It had to happen, or I would’ve cracked up.

The streets are quiet this month. I do not know why, but traffic is down, hydrocarbon fuels are cheap but people aren’t using them, even the paths of wayward electrons are less densely populated than usual. Yuuko is still at work, so I spend time with the children, and I spend time updating my personal database.

[Edit: You might wonder, reading this, if the old Kenji with his obsessive note-taking and information-collating had returned. No, not so. I had my old files though, and I was now on the Yamaku Academy Alumni Association Committee, courtesy of the last school board meeting. Yes, you now know who to blame, and perhaps the beginnings of how I came to owe her so much.

Natsume tells me that I should update these entries, forget the old data layout and just say a few things, like a story. You who read this will not be interested in many of my schoolmates. You might be interested in but a few. So I will edit this a bit, and tell you about the ones who have become more famous.]

Acting Principal Hakamichi you already know about. Her friend Shiina, ‘Misha’ as you might know her, had gone back to work with the UN in Europe. Ikezawa, who had developed a career in writing about her experiences, was another member of the Alumni Committee. I am sorry to say that we were never close, although we were friendly enough.

I did not need to track down my old acquaintance Tezuka, because she lived with Hisao and Emi in Sendai. Since I occasionally kept up with Naomi and Natsume, I knew a bit more from the Osaka/Kyoto side of the alumni network. Miki Miura was in Nagasaki, of course.]

So here I am, looking through my old records and my new ones. And I’m learning more and more about the people I never saw in school. Yamaku graduates up to a hundred students a year, if you include the ones in the supplementary list. The actual figure is more like 70. There are seventy Yamaku alumni released on an unsuspecting Japan each year. Where are they all?

When I wish Natsume a happy birthday one evening, we talk about it because she like thinking about such things. She has some ideas, and the facts support some of them.

The graduates of Yamaku don’t all go to university in Japan. Some go straight into family businesses. Some go overseas, never to be heard of again. Some become ronin, or have a gap year before they attempt university admission one more time. Natsume says a lot of them go into services that help other people with diseases and disabilities.

But there are many, many missing people. It’s not my job to know all this, but I confess that I am curious.

I am also careless. My curiosity infects my wife.


October 2019

“Husband, what happened to the Student Council of your graduating year?”

“Oh, that’s easy. We did not have much of one. It was Madam Boss, Pink Drills, and Hisao.”

“I sort of remember that, but I wasn’t sure. They started slightly bigger, and then something happened, right?”

“Ah, yes. I have many theories about what actually happened, and most of them are about the blonde amazon and Madam Boss not getting along… wait. What made you ask all this?”

“You keep asking me for alumni data and you wonder why? Every time, um… a request comes from the Alumni Committee, it ends up in front of me at the office! And it has your name on it, Setou-san!”


“So I get curious too. If your work needs it, I want to help you. It’s my workplace, you know. I like it. And we’re writing a book anyway.”

“A book?”

At this point, I am not sure if I have taken my meds, or maybe too many pills. I don’t seem to be hearing right. I need to ask more questions, but that’s what got me into this in the first place.

“It’s Yamaku’s 50th anniversary in 2021! So I’m involved in the anniversary commemorative book committee, because I look after the school archives.”

“Oh, yes, that is true.” Oh, yes, my wife knows too much. Which is a good thing. She has a genuine reason to get my questions answered. “My very dear wife, would you like to turn your excellent research skills in some specific directions? I have an idea about that book.”


November 2019

I’m still on leave in early November. So I decide to spend a bit more time in Sendai. It’s hard to believe that I graduated from this place more than ten years ago. But that’s the old post office where I used to get my tech packages, and that’s the convenience store where I used to get other supplies. In Japan, sometimes things don’t change so fast.

I get hold of Hisao on one of those days in his busy schedule when he’s not teaching so many classes, and we have lunch at a little café in Otemachi Ward, near the Nakamura. It’s round the corner from his dentist, and it’s a very Hisao thing to go see his dentist before he has lunch with me.

“So, Nakai-san, what if the dentist had found a cavity and wanted to fill the hole before lunchtime?”

“She wouldn’t have found one, Kenji.”

“But why see a dentist before lunch? They polish your teeth and then you dirty them with brown sauce, that isn’t very respectful to them, right?”

“It’s less respectful if I visit the dentist with my mouth full of bits of food,” he says a bit primly.

“Oho, if the pit-bull knows you are so polite to your lady dentist, she’ll have a fit.”

“Come on, stop making jokes about my wife!”

I look him in the eye, and I look carefully. Damn. He really loves her. At that moment, I think he might be over Satou for real. It’s just that he likes to be some kind of gentleman to ladies, even if they are dentists.

Satisfied, I continue my interrogation. “So, is there a little Emi or little Hisao coming along now?” It is easier to ask such questions when you already have children of your own, but maybe it is not very sensitive.

He flinches noticeably. He sounds a little downcast when he says, “No, not yet.”

“Enjoying married life before you tie yourselves down, eh?”

“I suppose.”

I take pity on him. “Don’t worry, my friend. It’s not so bad either way. Take it from one who knows.”

“Kenji, you sound like someone from a manga.”

“I do?” It takes me a while before I realize he might not mean it as a compliment.

“We do want children. Some day we’ll have them. At least two. But I worry a lot about that.”

“Why?” I am genuinely mystified.

“I’m 30 years old. They told me I might live long, or I might die by 35. Can you imagine? If I’m gone and Emi has to bring up the kids by herself? Right now it’s already hard enough thinking about one day not seeing Emi any more. Or worse, thinking about her not seeing me any more. She looks at me with her big eyes when she’s sad and thinking about such things, and she thinks I don’t know, but I do—she’s thinking about how her father died and left Meiko to look after her all by herself.”

Wah, that’s a lot of words from Hisao. He doesn’t normally do this to me, so I’m listening to the pain of his heart. I lay a manly hand on his shoulder and try to send waves of brotherliness into him. If I say anything now, it’ll probably be tactless.

“Well, I have a heart condition too, and I have two children.” Gah. I knew it. So clumsy! So tactless!

He looks at me. Sometimes, you can’t tell which Hisao will turn up, the maudlin sentimental guy who put a secret inscription on his tombstone design, or the ruthless pragmatic who set up a legal way to build assets for the future. I hold my breath.

“That’s… very true,” he says slowly. “Very true. Man, why did you do it?”

I want to laugh, because he sounds so much like what I used to sound like back in school. But laughing now would spoil the mood. So I am serious, because he is.

“Because I love Yuuko. And if I’m gone, at least she’ll have living memories and company and something we shared together. That’s what she told me, and I think she’s right.”

He snares a last chunk of pork cutlet, dabs some sour sauce on it, and chews thoughtfully for a while before he replies. It’s an interesting reply.

“Emi… she has issues not the same as Yuuko, maybe? She is an only child with no father. She thinks in terms of having a few people she really loves, because each one she loses is a terrible grief. To marry me was very brave of her. To have children? I don’t know. But maybe you’re right. To lose me and not have any children, it might be worse than that.”

I think there is something very Japanese about this conversation. I don’t know what it is. I wonder if non-Japanese people sit together over simple rice meals and talk about death and legacies. Or maybe I am wrong. But I am seeing a different side of Hisao, something not totally alien, but something unusual.

I put a stray pickle in my mouth and crunch it. I’ve just realized something. Both Hisao and Emi are single children. They’ve never known what it is to be at home with another child. Yuuko and I are different. I wonder: does it really work that way?


December 2019

This month, I am thirty-one years old. It is like the kind of essay I wrote in primary school. My name is Kenji Setou. My father is—was—a general in the defence forces. My mother is a… and now I cannot remember what I wrote, because she no longer is. I have—had—an elder brother and a younger sister. Now my father has a wife and she is not my mother. I don’t know why I am still so sad to write these things; everything happened so long ago.

Sometimes Yuuko holds me and sings me to sleep, after she’s done that for the children. It is soothing, quieting. It makes us all one family. Sometimes, sorrow and reflection, they are parts of the foundation that lead to happiness.

It’s a cold morning when I do something unusual. It is impulse, but I have learnt that some impulses are my deeper intuition for both good and bad things. So I let it pulse, and I call my father’s home.

“Hai.” It is funny to hear my father’s voice like that.

“Hello, respected ancestor Setou. This is your humble offspring, Kenji.”

“Son!” There is a pause, and I can picture his face creasing as he considers the tactical situation. “Are you making a joke?”

I am not sure if he is serious or not. Maybe madness runs in our family. Actually, I am not sure if I am mocking him or not. So I reply, “I do not think so, father. May I be allowed to converse with Aunt Midori?”

I can almost hear the gears of war, now a little rusty, turn in his brain. “It will be your privilege. Please hold on.”

He is much more polite these days, I note. Somehow, being a retired general makes you not the same man. Being a grandfather too, I suppose.


“Respected aunt! I trust you are in good health?”

“Oh, I am fine. How are you and your family? Do you need a baby-sitter?”

I cannot help but smile a bit as I reply. “No, my aunt, that’s very kind of you. But I need to talk to you about your family, my mother’s family. Preferably without my dear father around?”

It takes a little persuasion and some rearrangement of plans. Finally, we have a nice little afternoon tea, just the two of us. She is dressed in a tidy beige dress, with a dark blue silk scarf. Somehow, these get along well with her small items of gold jewelry and her medium-brown hair. She looks pretty, and reminds me too much of Mother.

She is eager to talk. I get the feeling that there are many things she cannot talk to my father about. I learn some more pieces of the puzzle that I am putting together. We learn more about each other. Aunt Midori has many things to tell me, and I can feel my universe changing. When we are done, we part amicably: a dutiful nephew and stepson, a concerned aunt and stepmother. Somehow, that relationship has become real to me.

And then something twitches at the back of my head. So I go home and I ask Yuuko to buy a few thousand shares of Hakamichi Industries for the children’s trust funds, as a sort of Christmas present. Of course, it would not be right for me to buy them myself.

A couple of weeks later, I receive a text message: [Happy birthday, Kenji.]

I’m puzzled. It’s not like her to do this.

[Thank you, Shizune. But you know it is not yet my birthday.]

[This time, your cake will have extra icing.]

[Oh?] This is even more puzzling.

[Hai. We are friends, and we exchange debts and secrets too. Have a good one in three days’ time, my friend.]

[Thank you.]

My confusion lasts for more than three days, and then increases somewhat while decreasing simultaneously. I will only describe a few events, and you will see why.

This Christmas, Yuuko and I have dinner with the Nakais, since we are not too far from Sendai. My old friend Rin is there too, and the children seem to enjoy her company, especially when she draws butterflies using coloured wet chalk sticks held between her toes.

Emi and Hisao keep looking at each other. It is what I would call a silly kind of grin. Kenji is of course not a very clever person in a people way, so when Yuuko also starts smiling like that, I open my mouth and say, “Eh, why is everyone smiling in this strange way?”

Yuuko looks like she is about to say something, but deliberately covers her mouth. Emi’s lips part in surprise, as if I have said something shocking. Hisao just looks embarrassed, but when his wife elbows him sharply in the ribs, he coughs and says, “Ah, is it so obvious?”

My wife says, “Um, yes, if it’s what it is.”

“Well, we were going to tell you the good news. Emi, ah, we are expecting. Due in August next year.”

Oh. Kenji is such an idiot! Haha! I laugh to myself. “Congratulations,” I say. “That is a truly happy thing to say. May you both be very blessed.”

I wonder if that is what the icing on the cake is supposed to be. Unless Shizune was being literal and my birthday cake is sweeter than usual? I don’t know.

It is just after Christmas that the news leaks out about Hakamichi Industries’ new alliance with some famous foreign companies. Reading the news reports that are beginning to flow in, I realize that my own office intelligence was more than adequate to understand Shizune’s message. Damn. Will they think of it as insider trading? My children have had a very profitable Christmas indeed.


January 2020

I am technically a member of the Special Service branch of the Civil Service. At least, this is my status when I walk into my office on 6th January, having enjoyed a long bank holiday weekend and my son’s third birthday.

It is a status in question by the time I leave the workplace. After a harrowing surprise meeting with my Director and some people of high rank, I learn I am to be transferred to a very small branch—the Designated Service.

This is a promotion of some kind, although it is hard to say of what kind. I will have new responsibilities from 1st April, and this will no longer be my department. It is almost unheard of, such rapid change. Immediately after the meeting, I go to a place of convenience and take leave of my breakfast. I clean up as best as I can and return to my desk. It will be mine for only a short while more.

I survive the day. I sort my files and begin to make sure everything is in good order for my successor. I am a machine. My ocular adjuncts help me with the work. When I am too tired in the head to continue, I sit quietly in my chair. I study the worn surface of my desk, my faithful companion for many months. Every little scratch and nick, every stain and uneven patch, I commit to memory.

I do not eat lunch this day, even though my guts complain. I am sure that, a few times, my heart skips a beat. I am an old man, if expected lifespan is 100% and my current lifespan is part of that. I feel it deeply and depressingly.

I am being deprived of my life, and my story, because after this there will so much less truth I can tell. I keep this record of my life because it reminds me that I have one. When the records of a man are gone, does that man’s life mean anything?


February 2020

“Hey, Kenji! What’s up?”

When you wish someone a happy birthday, you should not call too early in the morning. There is a lot of skin in that view, a little of which I imagine that I remember with long-ago fond thoughts.

“No, nothing’s up, Miki. Eh, I can call back later when you… have more blankets on.”

She looks down. I look away. I hear her laugh. “Oh, hey. Shit! Ha, sorry, sorry, sorry! Hang on.”

I hear rustling sounds and then, “Properly attired now!”

I look back at the screen. She has a bright fluorescent blue robe of some coarse material on and a lot less skin on display. Also, a big smile. Both the robe and the smile would blind me if I weren’t able to tune my implants down a bit.

“Happy birthday, Miki,” I say. I take my glasses off so that we can see eye to eye. My eyes adjust to the absence of polarizing filters.

“Aw, shit, that’s nice of you. I think you’re one of the few people I still keep in touch with. How are those eyes working, by the way?”

“They are good augments. Ah… I have to add something to your birthday wishes.”

“Say away, Kenji!” She’s in a good mood, I think. I’m hearing relatively fewer bad words and there’s a kind of perkiness in her voice.

“The other day, I ran a screen on my implants. They send data out once in a while. If I’ve been working in the office a long time, the streaming is noticeable. I get flashes of some sort. So far, it seems to be mainly maintenance data that tells somebody somewhere that my eyes are still working.”

I take a deep breath. “But I also know that there’s GPS information and other things. I would not like to learn that my augments could store visual data and zap it to a server somewhere. It would be a breach of national security. I would lose my job and end up in prison. Or worse.”

She looks at me in shock. “Shit, Kenji, I didn’t think of that.”

“I would rather go blind,” I say quietly. It’s true. I would.

She looks utterly dismayed, and I somehow feel glad that she does. “Kenji, I’ll go find out from Kyu what the exact specifications are. Don’t do anything reckless.”

“No, I won’t gouge my eyes out. But I need to know. I might need a very clean security clearance very soon.”

“Sure. Thanks for calling. I’ll get right on it.”

It is one of my few images of Miki Miura as a serious businesswoman. Eventually the matter is settled. I will keep my security clearance.


March 2020

It’s Yuuko’s 32nd birthday this year, on the day of the summer equinox. However, she understands when my present is delivered with a card that wishes her a happy 20th birthday. It is a geek joke, and I am glad I have a wife who gets such jokes.

She too is capable of such amusements. She is teaching the kids to count in binary. Worse, she is watching boxing matches with them, and telling them that a punch that lands is 1 and a miss or block is 0, or something like that. They have a lot of fun, and I feel happy about that.

But the last few days of March are not so happy. In fact, very little is happy at all.

There are things that befall us in our safe and private lives, and they are brutal because you think you are safe from tragedy even when you know you are not. There are things that befall us like thunder from the heavens, and they are public as well as private tragedies.

In one of the worst weeks of my life, a few such things happen and I will not speak of these events further except to capture their essence briefly. If you read this, far in the future, you may already recognize them.

There is a bridge, and it connects the mainland to a beautiful island. A man’s parents are on that bridge when the sky and sea are sucked away. They have no time to do much, perhaps, except to say goodbye, when the sea returns like a hammer. No bodies are recovered.

There is a cat, one of the wise and sagacious cats of Tsushima. It dies, old. A woman has come to love that cat. She is very sad. She calls a friend, but that friend, he and his wife have just lost what will not be found again—and he has not enough sympathy for a cat.

There is another woman, with long pale hair. She sits in a sterile room to the north of Tokyo. She has discovered something. Nobody wants to say what it is she has made. A man is working to the south of Tokyo, and he too has discovered something. They will meet.

In these scenes are many tragedies and triumphs, all mixed up. Sometimes, we make tragedies harder for each other, because the hard thorns of our own pain pierce deep into the lives of others. My wife keeps a diary. It is her own, a secret from me. I honour that. It will be many years before I know how much pain she has felt.

It is harder, because I fall into the trap of my own pain. I only realise that this is the case when I find myself shouting at a dead phone, for Naomi has wisely broken our connection. I don’t know if I will speak to her again.

And on the last Saturday of March, before I can leave my office, a message comes in. [Fire Chief. Southern Light. White Tiger. Broken Blade.]

When you decided to protect the cherry blossoms, did you ever wonder if they would one day be your shroud? It is a question I ask myself, and the blinking lights of the fully alert Operations Room give me no answers.

All these events will have sequels. I do not know if I will have the strength and the opportunity to write about them. And so this is where the third part of my story must end.

prev | end of Book 3 | next

Re: Sakura—The Kenji Saga (Part 3 Complete 20141226)

Posted: Sun Dec 28, 2014 10:28 pm
by Gamma
The best part about being offline for extended periods is the eventual catching up of everything that was on-going before I left. As always I enjoyed these last two chapters. A couple of things that peaked my interest and enjoyment:
brythain wrote:“Kenji, you sound like someone from a manga.”

“I do?” It takes me a while before I realize he might not mean it as a compliment.
That made me laugh for a while. Kenji's social awkwardness and bluntness is always so endearing.

Also, this little titbit,
brythain wrote:My wife keeps a diary. It is her own, a secret from me. I honour that. It will be many years before I know how much pain she has felt.

got me curious at what a Yuuko perspective would be like. It's probably not necessary considering how tightly woven Kenji and Yuuko's stories are. Then again, I didn't think a Kenji story would be necessary and so far it's been one of my favourites.

I eagerly look forward to the next update. Now I've got to get around to the latest Suzu chapter.