This one's an extra story written for the 2019 Secret Santa project initiated by ProfAllister.
Prompt: Jigoro plans a Christmas surprise for his daughter and nieces this year.
A Bear Discovers Christmas
being an excerpt from the secret sections of ‘The Autobiography of Hakamichi Jigoro’ (2008 Edition)
My name is Hakamichi Jigoro, and I am writing this in ink, using the traditional style. This is to make clear the difference between the document I am creating here and the one that is my official autobiography. The reasons for such a difference may become obvious to the discerning reader. If you are not so discerning, too bad.
(Editor’s Note: In this English edition, I have attempted to preserve the nuances and atmosphere of the original. Sadly, in Mr Hakamichi’s case, the potency of his words and the forcefulness of his directions with regard to editorial policy render such attempts challenging at the very least, and often impossible.)
I have a daughter, and also, a son. They are the combined legacy of my attachment to the Satou clan—or to be precise, a specific clan of Satous originating from a line of seagoing merchants. Occasionally, they drag in some strays—we had a dog once, a cat who still manifests at awkward times, and various associates, one with alarmingly pink hair. We also have Satous of various lineages dropping in.
This is inconvenient, but it is fine with me. They need me more than I need them, because I am their main lifeline to the Hakamichi clan—or to be precise, the funding associated with a specific organizational structure managed by some elders who share my name. It is this organization that consumes most of my time and leads me to take extreme measures to disguise my brilliance under the cheap title ‘consultant’. Such is life. Loyalty to the clan outweighs loyalty to excessive truth-telling, I feel. But life is sometimes not as easy as it might be, and mine certainly has not been so.
Sometimes, despite the manliness of my outlook, I feel a twinge of discomfort. One of the major sources of this is the receipt of communications from my wife. She speaks to me from the other side of the sea, with sealed envelopes or mysterious electronic messages. They appear regularly, without preamble, and with the emotional force that only a very lovely woman can deliver—and even then, only if she was once married to you.
Thus it was that, in the bleak mid-November, I received this terse statement: “Hakamichi-san, you are to prepare and execute a Christmas surprise for Shizune, Lilly, and Akira.—M., at Kinross, Scotland.” Likely a fake location, of course, but this is ‘M’, and I have never had much of a choice in such matters.
A Christmas surprise? And one not involving my son Hideaki? I sat in a state of manly bafflement for minutes, first pondering if this were some euphemism for a darker act, then wondering about the nature of this Christmas thing, and finally considering how one might go about taking one’s daughter and nieces by surprise.
Clearly, something like a pit dug in the driveway under a layer of snow would be surprising. Akira’s little black car would vanish immediately, only to be discovered months later. That kind of story, of course, was worse than useless in an area of the country with no heavy snowfall in December. And even worse, Shizune might not forgive me, nor survive to forgive me. Then I would be saddled with a Hideaki undistracted by occasional female company. Furthermore, I like Akira. She is the manliest of ladies. In my mind, I struck this kind of surprise off my list.
Perhaps a surprise would be a hot air balloon suddenly inflating and taking them up into the clear Japanese air for a few hours. The mechanics of such an operation were trivial, to my thinking, and likely to be pleasantly amusing all round. The problem with sudden inflation, however, was that hot air balloons just do not behave that way. Also, I am for reasons of economic philosophy opposed to sudden inflation and precipitous deflation. ‘M’ and I used to have many pleasant discussions on related matters… but I digress.
Back to the problem at hand. Perhaps, to set an appropriate mood, one might resort to the influence of an appropriate colour palette. Instead of having hot water from one set of taps and cold water from another, we might have red water in the hot pipes and green water in the cold pipes, with random servings of snow. I knew an engineer who could set this up for a fee. On further reflection, considering he preferred blood in one set of pipes and formaldehyde in the other, I could see unpleasantness as an emergent phenomenon.
There was one avenue I was loath to pursue, and yet it was strangely appealing to me. Hideaki had not been mentioned as the potential recipient of surprises, and so it was within the rubric of the edict to co-opt him as a partner in paralegal endeavour. Nevertheless, the very appeal of the idea raised my hackles in wary suspicion. ‘M’ might have planted this path of least resistance in order for me to allow a European horse into my Asian city. Could Hideaki side with one of us against the other? Would he? I had my doubts, but I had no certainty.
As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. I had a cellarful of interesting books, dating back to other courses of study I had taken before meeting ‘M’. The keywords ‘green’, ‘almond’, ‘red-nosed’ and ‘decorative’ had come together in my mind. It only remained for me to find some purposeful combination that would make Christmas surprising for my daughter and nieces, and any friends they might bring with them. I smiled joyfully to myself, noting from a glance at a nearby mirror that this joyful smile might still be too intimidating to my neighbours. It takes all kinds to get along in this world.
Speaking of which, I knew a widow with a facility for working with ceramics, both in a material and a psychological sense. She might be willing to help out. I would of course not tell her everything, but I was confident that the project as described to her would win her approval.
“Young Hideaki, what is the name of the horny ungulate in that song?”
“I believe it is something like ‘Rudorf’, Father.”
“And he has a red nose?”
“I suspect he has Hokkaido in his ancestry, Father.”
“Son, are you attempting to deceive your progenitor? Hokkaido has none such.”
“Perhaps they swam over from Siberia, Father.”
Thus it is with the young scions of the Hakamichi clan. They vie to perform the most outrageous deceptions with a straight face, and thus grown into adulthood as full-fledged contenders for all manner of real-life leadership positions.
I nodded approvingly, and added ‘Rudorf, Red-Nosed Rangifer’ to my list.
Three days later, I met an old acquaintance in a curious tavern near Sendai.
Two men, both with manly deadpan faces. As always, I was astonished by the volumetric capacity of my very useful associate. Then, it was time for the serious business.
“It is well-behaved?”
“Very much so,” he replied, handing me a tastefully wrapped little box. “A small sample, from an old recipe.”
I accepted the container and deftly slashed the tape with the edge of my thumbnail. A brief moment to admire the neat packaging, and then I flipped the lid open.
“Hmm. It does indeed smell of almonds. Why is it green?”
“Do you not think it is a tasteful green?”
“Seasonal, if not preferable.”
“I do advise the use of ear-muffs this winter, Jigoro.”
“I shall take your advice into consideration, Akio.”
As always, we parted on good terms. Men who associate with that particular Satou clan tend walk in similar paths of destiny. It is like a very exclusive men’s club. With his help, I returned home with a truckful of greenly fragrant material.
My ceramics specialist was truly beautiful, I mused. It had become apparent over time that while I appreciated her beauty, and she appreciated my manliness, we had not entirely come together with a proper meeting of minds. A melancholy phenomenon, of course, but one occasionally found in the literature: not all geniuses get along as well as they should.
“The reindeer, they should be facing away from the driveway, Hakamichi?”
“Yes indeed, Madam Nishizume.”
Clearly, we had drifted away from any first-name acquaintance we might once had shared. Nevertheless, as I clinically juxtaposed the clean straight lines of my driveway with the elegant fluidity of her non-linear profile, I felt strangely stirred.
“This is unusual clay. Odd fragrance too. And how do you propose to fire the clay without a kiln?”
“Ah, well. I have on good authority a method involving sudden sharp compression.”
She looked dubiously at me. I found her golden eyes, almost green in their colouration, slowly penetrating my cerebral shielding. I looked back. A wisp of light brown hair curled down from her signature headscarf.
“You want me to make these things out of an unknown clay according to your direction but not see them through the firing stage?”
“It is meant to be a surprise.”
“I am sure it will be,” she said sardonically. Her tone scored marks in my sensibility and my hide, but I retreated behind my manly beard and held her gaze until she laughed and looked away.
I said to myself, I am likewise certain of it.
“Father,” the young man said, “I find this ostentatious panorama of Western mythological figures most unusual for your excellent Japanese sensibilities.”
“Indeed,” I replied, secretly pleased at his attitude—although his sea-green hair dye job was somewhat galling to me.
“It is meant to be a surprise for the womenfolk?”
“Yes, my son.”
“But cousin Lilly will not be able to appreciate the visual spectacle.”
“True. I am sure, however, that her wonderful sister will be able to describe it in meaningful terms for her.”
“Yes, Father. Cousin Akira is indeed a wonderfully descriptive person. Especially when driving her car quickly through crowded traffic, or with a few beers in her.”
“Tsk. Do not be sassy and disrespectful with regard to esteemed Satou lady relatives.”
“I did not mean to express hurtful sentiments. I am sorry.”
“Your apologetic words are noted. We all forget ourselves at times. There is nothing to be sorry about.”
Morosely, we remained seated on the edge of the roof, looking down at the pagan deity ‘Father Christmas’ and his twelve reindeer and multiple forest spirits. And gifts. And, of course surprises.
I sipped my whisky, and the sprout sipped his caffeine-laden carbonated refreshment. I suspect we were both thinking of ‘M’. It was six days to Christmas, and according to the weather report, it was already frosty in Kinross.
My house appears small, for its frontage is limited and squeezed between that of its neighbours. This is by design. The rest of the house is far larger than can be seen from the road. And up on top is my sensor array, the visual-wavelength scopes of which were trained that Christmas Eve upon the North-South highway that snakes for four hours down from Sendai. Or at least, a fair bit under four hours, considering how Aki-chan was known to drive that dangerous little car of hers.
I had made arrangements for her to drive in by the rear-facing driveway, which is long and has a lovely view, banked on one side by hills and with a little water and woods on the other side. The area also has the advantage of being screened somewhat from the neighbouring houses. And I had made sure that the neighbours were mysteriously away on holiday travel, anyway. Surprises all round.
Speaking of which, the sprout was looking up at me quizzically. “Father, I have seen little evidence of a stunning surprise, as you described it. While it is true that the visual spectacle of twelve large northern ungulates and a very fat Western spirit-father might win a prize even in Tokyo’s Harajuku district, and certainly in Sendai’s Ichibancho, any special features completely escape me. Although Madam Nishizume’s baubles do enhance the look, of course.”
“Patience, my son,” I said fondly, ruffling his adorable mop of hair. “Patience is a virtue amongst the samurai folk, and the mark of a man.”
“You once said knowing when to strike is the mark of a man.”
“There are many things in life which are the marks of a man. The more marks you accumulate, the more manly you are.”
He nodded once, in decisive acceptance. This moved me, but of course I did not let him see it. Instead, I turned to my Hibiki 30-Year and took an appreciative sip of that nectar.
A green light went on, and automatic tracking locked on. “You see, sprout? They have turned off the highway and will be here in seconds.”
“In a one-horse open sleigh, those strange lyrics say, Father.”
To show that I appreciated his joke, I replied, “More like 300 horses in a black Lancer Evo X.”
“Aki-chan will be riding 300 black horses when she comes?”
We passed the time in innocent and cheery banter until the yellow light lit. I opened the gates. We had, by that time, visual acquisition of Akira’s black Lancer with its piercing white beams in the gloaming. The car had been heavily modified; I had seen to some of those modifications myself, and had referred to the blueprints in my preparation for the evening. At this range, I could see at least four silhouettes.
A smile was creeping across my face. It itched my beard. The sprout noticed.
“Father, they are entering the driveway.”
“Yes, my son. Fix your gaze upon Rudorf, if you will. Make sure your ear-muffs are secure.”
“Yes, Fa— ”
In the beautiful golden lights, one reindeer’s nose lit up in bright red as I pressed the trigger. I imagined ‘Father Christmas’ circling the world, visiting every child in every house.
“—ther. Oh, what a surprise, they’ll all be like Shizune for a while.”
The sprout had always been a quick thinker. And Akira would be shaken but not stirred, as she had always preferred.