SBP Blog

Flash Fiction: Kaoru

Thomas Joel - Friday, May 26, 2017

Flash Fiction Fridays is an online series from Stone Bridge Press devoted to bringing readers short stories from and about Japan and East Asia. This month's piece comes from author, journalist, and academic Roland Kelts and tells the poignant tale of a traumatized woman as she desperately searches for spiritual solace and emotional peace after losing everything to a tsunami.

☀☀☀

Kaoru

by

Roland Kelts

 

After the quake, what Kaoru wanted was a carapace, some sort of hard outer shell shaped like herself, following her own body’s contours but harder, much harder, inside of which she could retreat when trouble came, when the earth shook and the seas steamrolled in and the animals and plants and soils were poisoned by radiation. A turtle, maybe, but sexier, and with the resistant agility of a cockroach.

She liked her own body fine. Even after giving birth to Miyuki and returning to work, she found her body resilient, eager to replenish its muscle memories. When her husband, Takayuki, aged into fatherhood and became more placid in bed, she knew that it was his body, not hers, that required more rest, and she was happy to let him have it.

But the talismans and stone statuettes outside their home were gone now, swept away, like her husband and daughter, by the tsunami, leaving behind a bare skeleton of their two-story farmhouse, a traditional minka that was an inheritance from Takayuki’s parents – deep-eaved, with curved bamboo beams and buffed timber floors, edged by rice paddies just half a mile from the Tohoku shoreline.

“Kimura-sensei,” she said to the town’s surviving Buddhist priest, a handsome but surly man in his mid-forties. “I cannot bring back my daughter or husband, I know. I cannot even find their bodies to honor their lives through cremation and burial. But may I pray for myself now, so many years after my losses? May I beg the gods for an act of grace and condolence?”

The first time she asked him, Kimura looked sideways, turning his head sharply and wincing, as if a high-pitched sound were stinging his ear.
“You know what you need,” he said. “You are a grown woman yet you think only of your own desires. You must first show the gods signs of honor.”

Kaoru stumbled from the temple and phoned a taxi.

An elderly beggar who called himself “Mr. Kaz” sat at an easel and tried to draw her as she waited for the car. “Your face,” he said. “Pure sadness.”

The cab took her back to her tiny six tatami mat government shelter in Izumi, where she drank herself to sleep with two glasses of sho-chu.
But she kept at it. Even when rumors in the village, now populated mostly by elderly widows and widowers, since the young who weren’t dead would never return, got nastier.

‘Some nerve that woman’s got,’ went the party line. ‘We’ve lost everything and she wants magic. Tsk.’

One day, Kaoru decided to visit Kimura early on a Sunday morning. Every time she’d seen him, he looked pained even before she repeated her request. Maybe he had stomach problems. Maybe late in the day was a bad time.

So she arrived at the temple at 5 a.m., when the monks were just finishing prayers and eating their morning mix of root vegetables and seaweed. A fresh hour, when the winds are soft and the trees are shafts of violet across the sky.

“Kimura-sensei, gomen,” she said. “I’m sorry. But I beg you one more time to ask the gods if they can grant me this one small wish. That I will have a body that is a shell, that I will have a way to protect myself when the earth shakes again, and the seas rage, and the lands are poisoned, and the world is at war with itself. I just want a body that is my body that will help me protect myself from the horrors.”

Kimura, whose skin was now smooth and shiny, said: “I need images. Your daughter and husband, who are they to the gods of thousands dead? We do not remember them.”

“But our photographs were washed away,” she said. “You know that. The tsunami stole the lives, and the images. How can the gods not know?”

“Bring images,” said Kimura.

Stepping down from the temple stairs, Kaoru tripped, toppled, then grabbed the handrail and stood still.

From the corner of the parking lot she heard this: “I am Kaz. Remember me? I can see your daughter and husband right now, in your face, in your eyes, around and inside you. They are here in my sketches. Give them to Kimura-sensei. They, like you, are beautiful. The gods will recognize.”

 

☀☀☀

Roland Kelts is an author, editor, journalist, public speaker, professor, and consultant who specializes in contemporary Japanese culture. He is currently a 2017 Nieman fellow in journalism at Harvard University. His book Japanamerica has been widely lauded as a consummate exploration of Japanese pop culture that covers everything from the Japanese attitude toward pornography to a meeting with the creator of Pac-Man. For more info on Japanamerica, visit Kelts’ website, www.japanamericabook.com, or get into contact with him by sending a tweet to @rolandkelts.

 


Like our blog? Please share it!

Categories

Subscribe to the SBP Mailing List

New Releases

Amy’s Guide to Best Behavior in Japan


Going to Japan? This unfussy modern guide guarantees you keep it polite and get it right!

China Smart


Essential essays on all things Chinese that inform and entertain travelers, students, and anyone working or living in China

Forty-Seven Samurai


One of the most spectacular vendettas ever: the history and haiku behind the mass-suicide featured in the 2013 film 47 Ronin

Oh, Tama!


A deeply eccentric novel about lives and connections—and a cat of course—in 1980s Tokyo: witty, offbeat, and strangely profound.

Tag Cloud

journal paul mccarthy tea budhist swastika tourist frederik schodt rebecca otowa the fourth string sensei gaijin comics jing liu juddhism japan today wife japanese cutlure hiaku book reading zen four immigrants WWII ancient symbol event trip Chinese Astrology zen monks wife' foreword indies buddhist priest The Colorado Review a memoir Ukiyo-e welton gaddy osaka Second World War japanese manners Basho fantasy literature 15 years at studio ghibli foreigner in japan chapters poet oh tama kimba the white lion eli lieberman student teacher japan ravel university of chicago chinese diary monk Children's Literature History hong kong manga pottery book kris kosaka traditional japanese instrument zen monk kinokuniya event UCLA haibun zazen japanese classic podcast society Chinese culture 4k shun medoruma award blurb ex pat literature how to travel in japan alan brill anime book reviews janet pocorbba mieko kanai learning instruments in japan studio ghibli 1960's Japan buddhist swastika tomoko aoyama stone bridge cafe hitlers cross Christianity in Japan finalist japanese people classic wanderlust manga biography tea garden sensei and me writing jun hazuki book publicity memoir, tracy franz, zen monk, buddhist jared cook translators new york travel etiquette Korea expert tracy franz author signing huffpost AAS black jack world literature today shaimsen Olympics osamu dazai japan visitor diy mfa interfaith takuma sminkey Asian Studies bowing in japan Chiune Sugihara china history monk wife Poetry kyoto travel travel manners hate japanese drunk ritual literary review astro boy yukio mishima benjamin franklin award rachel manley drinking in japan photography peace symbol illustration kyoto journal book tour mentorship in japan politics and prose comic history pacific rim review of books awards zen monk in japan osamu tezuka japan times book review journal of a zen monks wife in japan brad hawley japanese instruments 1960s Korea japan book monks wife book blurb shamisen performance japanese books otakuusa swastika japanese craft 2019 janet pocrobba asia IBPA book talk Interview travel Japan t.k. nakagaki Nikolas Bunton henry kiyama japanese books in english osamau tezuka journal of a zen monk seppuku frank beyer the silver spoon pulitzer prize visitor criterion amys guide to best behavior in japan Japanese art bird talk and other stories dirt and water luke patitsas amy chavez china vacation foreword indies award namethetranslator graphic novels suicide japan book review musical ancient symbols classic japanese literature machiya restaurant guide Culture a shameful life Tokyo Olympics nazi Japanese holidays performance 20th century chinese literature benjamin franklin awards internment manners catcher in the rye buddhist polite sharing a house with the never ending man asian review of books travel to japan washington dc center of east asian studies the japan society foreword reviews china smart japanese instrument forty seven samurai expat in japan memoir Japanese aesthetics traditional japanese music Coming of Age Day keanu reeves doris bargen summer vacation will eisner expat chinese literature ripe mangoes journal of a zen monk's wife film janet pocorobba Language do it right and be polite nara purification donald keene a memoir of sensei and me Basho's Narrow Road nhk reviews japanese customs classic literature hitler symbol fred schodt larry herzberg japan travel jungle emperor Shoah eastern and western philosophy japan travel guide donald richie koto Anime/Manga/Comics understandind china through comics tk nakagaki VIZ the millions travel literature memoir writing astrology memoir in japan matcha green tea holocaust hitler disney book signing machiya restaurant forest gander evil controversy shamisen studying in japan hippocampus magazine hooked cross verticle book hoarding japan behavior best behavior in japan my year of dirt and water Travel japan culture gaijin pot in the woods of memory fiction 2020 Olympics japan books books learning shamisen Chinese New Year chinese comics association of jewish libraries Korea photography traditional dazai symbol japan memoir Japan japanese business lions roar japanese history bushido what do in japan author talk how to new york events stone bridge press lucille cara living in japan japan guide Spring Festival manji Okinawan literature learning in japan giajin japan manners japanese to english american shamisen japanese translation china where igo china travel forty seven ronin classic poetry min kahng gratitude in japan japanese bath China zen monk wife buddhist symbols china book kyoto guidebook the inland sea eating in japan danica davidson holden caufield steve alpert tricycle magazine peace suehiro maruo Alexandra Johnson ningen shikkaku new books new release xu xu steve heller publishing 47 samurai a mejiro novel china What You Don’t Know, What You Need to Know— A Past & Present Guide to History, Culture, Society, Language japan vacation Christianity japanese etiquette miswest book review the buddhist swastika japan custom hiroaki sato guide tokyo gallery awa publicity review Chinese history japan restaurant leonard koren literary prize Spirituality Children's Books japan etiquette book award japan travel etiquette buddhism announcement education about asia Translation the japan times china guide international book award michael emmerich walt disney no longer human forewrod reviews indies bookstore author japanese japan trip the asian review of books gaijinpot memior state of belief alan moore frederik green the fourth string a memoir of sensei and me death haiku damian flanagan author tour poetry of consciousness anne prescott the hidden writer 47 ronin literature non-fiction japanese music behavior huffington post amys guide to bes tbehavior in japan william f sibley why we write podcast Japanese literature miyazaki nova scotia lesley university japanese travel etiquette dark horse kyodo news koun mark gibeau Art/Design World War Two kansuke naka journal' monks wife nichi bei weekly, naomi hirarahara japanese book World War II religion japanese culture japan food PEN AWARD how to order in japan diymfa the lion king kyoto year of zen simba Year of the Dog author event ibpa publishing university traditional japanese instrumenet kotaku
RSS