Seance a daughter's daughter and a father/a daughter and a father
56Sec
Video by Akiko Nishimura, Toru Akiyama

The Time of My Life
1 Diamond, 80 Artificial Diamonds, mirror

Wind
Mist, Silk cloth

Group Exhibition Hirosaki Encounters
Terroir of Apples / Hirosaki: Magnetic Field for Myriad Encounters
at Hirosaki Museum of Contemporary Art
2021.10.1 ― 2022.1.30
Cerith WYN EVANS,SAITO Lei,SANO Nui,TSUKAMOTO Etsuo,
MURAKAMI Yoshio
Guest Curator : MIKI Akiko

===

Journeys End in Lovers’ Meetings,

“My dear chap, I am overjoyed to see you.
Sit down and tell me how you came alive
out of that dreadful chasm.”
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
“The Adventure of the Empty House”
in The Return of Sherlock Holmes

+

This is the story of how I, a man born in Hirosaki, lived, and how I died.




I slowly open my eyes.
Everything is white, as if shrouded in mist.

It was spring in Hirosaki when I was born, early enough there was still snow.

Food was piled high in special dishes of Tsugaru lacquer—a grand celebration.

My mother was the daughter of a jeweler, my father a military doctor attached to the 8th Division Army Hospital in Hirosaki. He specialized in radiography.

His was a lineage of doctors, and I was to be the eleventh.

At the time I was born, in the town of Crowborough in Sussex, England, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the famous detective Sherlock Holmes, was dying, having suffered the latest in a series of heart attacks.

Doyle looks out through a window framed by overgrown ivy at the rose garden planted by his second wife.

Doyle died the next year. He was seventy-one.

A devotee of spiritualism in his later years, he regarded even his own death as “nothing more than a passage to the next world.”

+

Mist rises from the river.

Our maid carries me on her back along a busy street to visit the famous Kakuha Miyagawa Department Store—it even has an elevator!

There’s a gable-roofed theater showing moving pictures. There’s a kimono store in a Western-style building with a balcony so spectacular people use it as a landmark. There are so many cafes.

Hirosaki has been a bustling military city ever since the 8th Division came to town.

The old Hirosaki Castle was transformed into a gunpowder repository, the daimyō’s villa redone in Renaissance style to become an Army Club.


I close my eyes, then slowly open them.

I see Mount Iwaki in the distance, towering above the city.

+

I was two years old when I left Hirosaki.

As my father, the military doctor, was transferred to various places in Japan and Manchuria, I was brought along as well.

A sickly child, I spent most of that time asleep.

A doctor—not my father—said to my mother,

“I don’t believe this child will live to see his tenth birthday.”

My mother counted on her fingers.

They glittered with the diamond rings she’d brought with her as a dowry.

+

Not long after I left, the 8th Division began to leave too.

Soon they all marched off to the battlefields of Manchuria.

The red sun of the Japanese flag fluttered in their wake.


+


I didn’t end up dying, though. Not even after I turned ten years old.


I escaped my sickbed and went to grade school, and then to secondary school.

As part of Student Mobilization, I was sent to an airplane factory in a town called Inami in Tomiyama Prefecture, and I helped build reconnaissance aircraft there.

Almost all my grade school classmates died in carpet bombings.

My mother’s rings were all gone, along with the rest of her jewelry, confiscated to help fund the war effort.

The soldiers of the 8th Division were dead as well, meeting their end in the southern Philippine islands.

I was lined up with the other student workers in the yard beside the airplane factory when I heard the news on the radio.

Defeat.

It was the summer of my sixteenth year.

The day set aside for Obon, the festival when the dead return.


+

The war ends.

The underground air raid shelters are filled in.

The soldiers are heroic spirits now. They will never come home, not even their bones.


+


It was in the midst of World War I that Conan Doyle wrote the Sherlock Holmes story “His Last Bow.”

In it, Holmes says, “There’s an east wind coming, Watson.”

The east wind that blew in came from the German Empire.

It spread poison gas across the land. So many soldiers died in its mist.


“It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast. But it's God's own wind none the less.”

Doyle himself lost his brother, Innes, and his son, Kingsley, in the war.
Not long after, Doyle became increasingly devoted to spiritualism.


+


The war ended, but I lived on.

A new military force came to Hirosaki, this one an American expeditionary force called the Wildcats. They brought a genuine wildcat with them, a female they said they captured in the Philippines.

The former 8th Division Secretariat became the headquarters of the Allied Forces; the former 8th Division Field Artillery Regiment barracks became the Hirosaki Third Junior High School.


I went on to become the eleventh doctor in my line. Or rather, I was supposed to.


+


By the time I decided to abandon my medical career and become a translator of Sherlock Holmes stories into Japanese, the expeditionary forces had left, my mother had died, my father had died, and my second wife was pregnant with what turned out to be our fourth daughter.

My second wife and I sit around the kitchen table in our house in Nerima. We begin to translate Sherlock Holmes. 


+


I returned to the streets of Hirosaki for the first time when my fourth daughter turned three.

The Kakuha Miyagawa Department Store had become a large mall called simply HIROSAKI.

The red brick edifice of the old Army Hospital was still there, though.

My memory was vague, and I found I could no longer even remember where my old house used to be.

My daughters were tired and slept in the car as I drove around.

But when I closed my eyes and slowly opened them again, Mount Iwaki was still there in the distance, towering above the city.


+


I was seventy years old when I finally finished translating all sixty Sherlock Holmes stories into Japanese.

Doyle wrote the stories over a period of forty years, and I translated them over a period of thirty.


I look out the window with its perpetually broken rain shutters at the fig tree I planted with my second wife.


+

I died in summer. I was eighty-one years old.

One-hundred-and-ten years after Doyle’s death, as it turned out.

A wind was blowing.

I slowly close my eyes.
Everything is white, as if shrouded in mist.


My orifices are filled with cotton, my body decorated with flowers and dry ice.

I am placed in a wooden coffin and burned until I’m only bones. I become white smoke.


+


Things I left behind sometimes turn up still, appearing unexpectedly.

But not as much anymore, and they too end up disappearing again, one by one.

The day may come when I will disappear entirely, perhaps.


This summer will be the eleventh since my death.



Text by Erika Kobayashi
Translated by Brian Bergstrom