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Amazon Music Stream millions of songs. Amazon Advertising Find, attract, and engage customers. Amazon Drive Cloud storage from Amazon. Alexa Actionable Analytics for the Web. Sell on Amazon Start a Selling Account. People in cities were all starving. Supply routes from Taiwan and the continent had been cut off by this time and urban areas were suffering terribly from a lack of food and fuel. Did they get along well with the local children? In my class at least they did. The environments the two groups grew up in, of course, were completely different--one way out in the country, the other in the heart of Tokyo.
They spoke differently, even dressed differently. Most of the local kids were from poor farming families, while the majority of the Tokyo children had fathers who worked for companies or in the civil service. So I couldn't say they really understood each other. Especially in the beginning you could sense some tension between the two groups. I'm not saying they bullied each other or got into fights, because they didn't.
What I mean is one group didn't seem to understand what the other group was thinking. So they tended to keep to themselves, the local kids with other local kids, the Tokyo children in their own little group. This was only the first two months, though. After that they got along well. You know how it is. When kids start playing together and get completely absorbed by whatever they're doing, they don't care about things like that anymore.
It was a hill we often went to on outings. It was a round hill shaped like an upside-down bowl. We usually called it "Owan yama. At the children's pace it took somewhere around two hours to get to the top. Along the way they'd search the woods for mushrooms and we'd have a simple lunch.
The children, naturally, enjoyed going on these outdoor sessions much more than staying in our classroom studying. The glittering airplane we saw way up in the sky reminded us for a moment of the war, but just for a short time, and we were all in a good mood. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, no wind, and everything was quiet around us--all we could hear were birds chirping in the woods. The war seemed like something in a faraway land that had nothing to do with us.
We sang songs as we hiked up the hill, sometimes imitating the birds we heard. Except for the fact that the war was still going on, it was a perfect morning. That's correct. I'd say it was less than five minutes later that we went into the woods. We left the main trail up the hill and went along a trampled-down path that went up the slope of the woods. It was pretty steep.
After we'd hiked for about ten minutes we came to a clearing, a broad area as flat as a tabletop. Once we'd entered the woods it was completely still, and with the sun blocked out it was chilly, but when we stepped into that clearing it was like we were in a miniature town square, with the sky bright above us.
My class often stopped by this spot whenever we climbed Owan yama. The place had a calming effect, and somehow made us all feel nice and cozy. We took a break once we reached this "square," putting down our packs, and then the children went into the woods in groups of three or four in search of mushrooms.
I insisted that they never lose sight of one another. Before they set out, I gathered them all together and made sure they understood this. We knew the place well, but it was a woods, after all, and if any of them got separated and lost we'd have a hard time finding them.
Still, you have to remember these are small children, and once they start hunting mushrooms they tend to forget this rule.
So I always made sure that as I looked for mushrooms myself I kept an eye on them, and a running head count. It was about ten minutes or so after we began hunting mushrooms that the children started to collapse.
When I first spotted a group of three of them collapsed on the ground I was sure they'd eaten poisonous mushrooms. There are a lot of highly toxic mushrooms around here, even ones that can be fatal. The local kids know which ones not to pick, but a few varieties are hard to distinguish. That's why I always warned the children never to put any in their mouths until we got back to school and had an expert check them. But you can't always expect kids to listen, can you?
I raced over to the spot and lifted up the children who'd fallen to the ground. Their bodies were limp, like rubber that's been left out in the sun. It was like carrying empty shells--the strength was completely drained from them. But they were breathing fine. Their pulses were normal, and none of them had a temperature.
They looked calm, not at all like they were in any pain. I ruled out things like bee stings or snakebites. The children were simply unconscious.
The strangest thing was their eyes. Their bodies were so limp it was like they were in a coma, yet their eyes were open as if they were looking at something. They'd blink every once in a while, so it wasn't like they were asleep.
And their eyes moved very slowly from side to side like they were scanning a distant horizon. Their eyes at least were conscious. But they weren't actually looking at anything, or at least nothing visible. I waved my hand a few times in front of their faces, but got no reaction. I picked up each of the three children in turn, and they were all exactly the same. All of them were unconscious, their eyes slowly moving from side to side. It was the weirdest thing I'd ever seen. It was a group of girls.
Three girls who were all good friends. I called out their names and slapped them on the cheek, pretty hard, in fact, but there was no reaction. They didn't feel a thing. It was a strange feeling, like touching a void. My first thought was to send somebody running back to the school for help.
There was no way I could carry three unconscious children down by myself. So I started looking for the fastest runner in the class, one of the boys. But when I stood up and looked around I saw that all the children had collapsed. All sixteen of them had fallen to the ground and lost consciousness.
The only one still conscious and standing was me. It was like Any strange smell or sound-or a light? The assistant principal was terribly upset. He told me that an entire class had lost consciousness while on an outing in the hills to pick mushrooms.
According to him they were totally unconscious. Only the teacher in charge had remained conscious, and she'd run back to school for help just then. She was so flustered I couldn't grasp the whole situation, though one fact did come through loud and clear: sixteen children had collapsed in the woods. The kids were out picking mushrooms, so of course my first thought was that they'd eaten some poisonous ones and been paralyzed.
If that were the case it'd be difficult to treat. Different varieties of mushrooms have different toxicity levels, and the treatments vary.
The most we could do at the moment would be to pump out their stomachs. In the case of highly toxic varieties, though, the poison might enter the bloodstream quickly and we might be too late.
Around here, several people a year die from poison mushrooms. I stuffed some emergency medicine in my bag and rode my bike over to the school as fast as I could. The police had been contacted and two policemen were already there. We knew we had to get the unconscious kids back to town and would need all the help we could get. Most of the young men were away at war, though, so we set off with the best we had--myself, the two policemen, an elderly male teacher, the assistant principal and principal, the school janitor.
And of course the homeroom teacher who'd been with the kids. We grabbed whatever bicycles we could find, but there weren't enough, so some of us rode two to a bike. It was I remember since I happened to glance at my watch when we got there. We rode our bicycles to the bottom of the hill, as far as we could go, then climbed the rest of the way on foot. By the time I arrived several children had partially regained consciousness. Three or four of them, as I recall.
But they weren't fully conscious--sort of dizzily on all fours. The rest of the children were still collapsed. After a while some of the others began to come around, their bodies undulating like so many big worms.
It was a very strange sight. The children had collapsed in an odd, flat, open space in the woods where it looked like all the trees had been neatly removed, with autumn sunlight shining down brightly. And here you had, in this spot or at the edges of it, sixteen elementary-school kids scattered about prostrate on the ground, some of them starting to move, some of them completely still.
The whole thing reminded me of some weird avant-garde play. For a moment I forgot that I was supposed to treat the kids and just stood there, frozen, staring at the scene. Not just myself--everyone in the rescue group reacted the same, paralyzed for a while by what they saw. This might be a strange way of putting it, perhaps, but it was like some mistake had occurred that allowed us to see a sight people should never see.
It was wartime, and I was always mentally prepared, as a physician, to deal with whatever came, in the remote possibility that something awful would occur way out here in the country. Prepared as a citizen of Japan to calmly do my duty if the need arose. But when I saw this scene in the woods I literally froze.
I soon snapped out of it, and picked up one of the children, a little girl. Her body had no strength in it at all and was limp as a rag doll. Her breathing was steady but she was still unconscious.
Her eyes, though, were open, tracking something back and forth. I pulled a small flashlight out of my bag and shined it on her pupils. Completely unreactive. Her eyes were functioning, watching something, yet showed no response to light. I picked up several other children and examined them and they were all exactly the same, unresponsive. I found this quite odd. I next checked their pulse and temperature. Their pulses were between 50 and 55, and all of them had temperatures just below 97 degrees.
Somewhere around 96 degrees or thereabouts, as I recall. That's correct--for children of that age this pulse rate is well below normal, the body temperature over one degree below average. I smelled their breath, but there was nothing out of the ordinary. Likewise with their throats and tongues. I immediately ascertained these weren't the symptoms of food poisoning. Nobody had vomited or suffered diarrhea, and none of them seemed to be in any pain. If the children had eaten something bad you could expect--with this much time having elapsed--the onset of at least one of these symptoms.
I heaved a sigh of relief that it wasn't food poisoning. But then I was stumped, since I hadn't a clue what was wrong with them. The symptoms were similar to sunstroke. Kids often collapse from this in the summer. It's like it's contagious--once one of them collapses their friends all do the same, one after the other.
But this was November, in a cool woods, no less. One or two getting sunstroke is one thing, but sixteen children simultaneously coming down with it was out of the question. My next thought was some kind of poison gas or nerve gas, either naturally occurring or man-made. But how in the world could gas appear in the middle of the woods in such a remote part of the country?
I couldn't account for it. Poison gas, though, would logically explain what I saw that day. Everyone breathed it in, went unconscious, and collapsed on the spot. The homeroom teacher didn't collapse because the concentration of gas wasn't strong enough to affect an adult. But when it came to treating the children, I was totally lost. I'm just a simple country doctor and have no special expertise in poison gasses, so I was out of my league.
We were out in this remote town and I couldn't very well ring up a specialist. Very gradually, in fact, some of the children were getting better, and I figured that perhaps with time they would all regain consciousness.
I know it's an overly optimistic view, but at the time I couldn't think of anything else to do. So I suggested that we just let them lie there quietly for a while and see what developed. I was concerned about that myself, so I took several deep breaths to see if I could detect any unusual odor. But it was just the ordinary smell of a woods in the hills.
It was a bracing scent, the fragrance of trees. Nothing unusual about the plants and flowers around there, either. Nothing had changed shape or been discolored. One by one I examined the mushrooms the children had been picking. There weren't all that many, which led me to conclude that they'd collapsed not long after they began picking them. All of them were typical edible mushrooms.
I've been a doctor here for some time and am quite familiar with the different varieties. Of course to be on the safe side I collected them all and took them back and had a specialist examine them. But as far as I could tell, they were all ordinary, edible mushrooms. For instance, the size of their pupils, the color of the whites of their eyes, the frequency of their blinking? Other than their eyes moving back and forth like a searchlight, there was nothing out of the ordinary.
All other functions were completely normal. The children were looking at something. To put a finer point on it, the children weren't looking at what we could see, but something we couldn't. It was more like they were observing something rather than just looking at it. They were essentially expressionless, but overall they seemed calm, not afraid or in any pain. That's also one of the reasons I decided to just let them lie there and see how things played out.
I decided if they're not in any pain, then just let them be for a while. Yes, they did. But like me they couldn't figure out how it was possible. I mean, no one had ever heard of somebody going on a hike in the woods and ending up getting gassed. Then one of the people there--the assistant principal, I believe it was--said it might have been gas dropped by the Americans.
They must have dropped a bomb with poison gas, he said. The homeroom teacher recalled seeing what looked like a B in the sky just before they started up the hill, flying right overhead. That's it! Rumors about the Americans developing a new kind of bomb had even reached our neck of the woods. But why would the Americans drop their newest weapon in such an out-of-the-way place? That we couldn't explain. But mistakes are part of life, and some things we aren't meant to understand, I suppose.
They did. I can't tell you how relieved I was. At first they started squirming around, then they sat up unsteadily, gradually regaining consciousness.
No one complained of any pain during this process. It was all very quiet, like they were waking up from a deep sleep. And as they regained consciousness their eye movements became normal again. They showed normal reactions to light when I shined a flashlight in their eyes.
It took some time, though, for them to be able to speak again--just like you are when you first wake up. We asked each of the children what had happened, but they looked dumbfounded, like we were asking about something they didn't remember taking place.
Going up the hill, starting to gather mushrooms--that much they recalled. Everything after that was a total blank. They had no sense of any time passing between then and now. They start gathering mushrooms, then the curtain falls, and here they are lying on the ground, surrounded by all these adults. The children couldn't figure out why we were all upset, staring at them with these worried looks on our faces.
They seemed more afraid of us than anything else. Sadly, there was one child, a boy, who didn't regain consciousness. One of the children evacuated from Tokyo. Satoru Nakata, I believe his name was. A small, pale little boy. He was the only one who remained unconscious. He just lay there on the ground, his eyes moving back and forth.
We had to carry him back down the hill. The other children walked back down like nothing had happened. As far as any outward signs at least, no, they displayed no unusual symptoms. No one complained of pain or discomfort. As soon as we got back to the school I brought the children into the nurse's room one by one and examined them-took their temperature, listened to their heart with a stethoscope, checked their vision. Whatever I was able to do at the time I did.
I had them solve some simple arithmetic problems, stand on one foot with their eyes closed, things like that. Physically they were fine. They didn't seem tired and had healthy appetites. They'd missed lunch so they all said they were hungry. We gave them rice balls to eat, and they gobbled them up. A few days later I stopped by the school to observe how the children were doing. I called a few of them into the nurse's room and questioned them. Again, though, everything seemed fine. No traces remained, physically or emotionally, from their strange experience.
They couldn't even remember that it had happened. Their lives were completely back to normal, unaffected by the incident. They attended class as usual, sang songs, played outside during recess, everything normal kids did. Their homeroom teacher, however, was a different story: she still seemed in shock. But that one boy, Nakata, didn't regain consciousness, so the following day he was taken to the university hospital in Kofu.
After that he was transferred to a military hospital, and never came back to our town again. I never heard what became of him. This incident never made the newspapers. My guess is the authorities decided it would only cause unrest, so they banned any mention of it. You have to remember that during the war the military tried to squelch whatever they saw as groundless rumors.
The war wasn't going well, with the military retreating on the southern front, suicide attacks one after the other, air raids on cities getting worse all the time. The military was especially afraid of any antiwar or pacifist sentiment cropping up among the populace. A few days after the incident the police came calling and warned us that under no circumstances were we to talk about what we'd seen.
And I love the comfortable sofa. An old upright piano stands in a corner, and the whole place makes me feel like I'm in some friend's home. As I relax on the sofa and gaze around the room a thought hits me: This is exactly the place I've been looking for forever. A little hideaway in some sinkhole somewhere. I'd always thought of it as a secret, imaginary place, and can barely believe that it actually exists.
I close my eyes and take a breath, and like a gentle cloud the wonder of it all settles over me. I slowly stroke the creamish cover of the sofa, then stand up and walk over to the piano and lift the cover, laying all ten fingers down on the slightly yellowed keys.
I shut the cover and walk across the faded grape-patterned carpet to the window and test the antique handle that opens and closes it. I switch the floor lamp on and off, then check out all the paintings hanging on the walls. Finally I plop back down on the sofa and pick up reading where I left off, focusing on The Arabian Nights for a while. At noon I take my bottle of mineral water and box lunch out to the veranda that faces the garden and sit down to eat.
Different kinds of birds fly overhead, fluttering from one tree to the next or flying down to the pond to drink and groom themselves. There are some I've never seen before. A large brown cat makes an appearance, which is their signal to clear out of there, even though the cat looks like he couldn't care less about birds.
All he wants is to stretch out on the stepping stones and enjoy the warm sunlight. I just decided not to. I have no idea how to reply. In other words, each person was made out of the components of two people. Everyone was happy with this arrangement and never really gave it much thought. But then God took a knife and cut everybody in half, right down the middle. So after that the world was divided just into male and female, the upshot being that people spend their time running around trying to locate their missing other half.
You got me. God works in mysterious ways. There's that whole wrath-of-God thing, all that excessive idealism and so on. My guess is it was punishment for something. Like in the Bible. Adam and Eve and the Fall and so forth. At two o'clock I lay down my book and get up from the sofa to join the tour of the building. Miss Saeki, leading the tour, is a slim woman I'd guess is in her mid-forties. She's a little on the tall side for someone of her generation. She's wearing a blue half-sleeved dress and a cream-colored cardigan, and has excellent posture.
Her long hair is loosely tied back, her face very refined and intelligent looking, with beautiful eyes and a shadowy smile playing over her lips, a smile whose sense of completeness is indescribable. It reminds me of a small, sunny spot, the special patch of sunlight you find only in some remote, secluded place. My house back in Tokyo has one just like that in the garden, and ever since I was little I loved that bright little spot. She makes a strong impression on me, making me feel wistful and nostalgic.
Wouldn't it be great if this were my mother? But I think the same thing every time I run across a charming, middle-aged woman. The chances that Miss Saeki's actually my mother are close to zero, I realize. Still, since I have no idea what my mother looks like, or even her name, the possibility does exist, right?
There's nothing that rules it out completely. The only other people taking the tour are a middle-aged couple from Osaka. The wife is short and pudgy with glasses as thick as a Coke bottle. The husband's a skinny guy with hair so stiff I bet he needs a wire brush to tame it. With narrow eyes and a broad forehead, he reminds me of some statue on a southern island, eyes fixed on the horizon.
The wife keeps up a one-sided conversation, her husband just grunting out a monosyllable every once in a while to let her know he's still alive. Other than that, he gives the occasional nod to show he's properly impressed or else mutters some fragmentary comment I can't catch.
Both of them are dressed more for mountain climbing than for visiting a library, each wearing a waterproof vest with a million pockets, sturdy lace-up boots, and hiking hats. Maybe this is how they always dress when they go on a trip, who knows. They seem okay--not that I'd want them as parents or anything--and I'm relieved not to be the only one taking the tour. Miss Saeki begins by explaining the library's history--basically the same story Oshima told me.
How they opened to the public the books and paintings the umpteenth head of the family had collected, devoting the library to the region's cultural development. A foundation was set up based on the Komura fortune and now managed the library and occasionally sponsored lectures, chamber music concerts, and the like.
The building itself dated from the early Meiji period, when it was built to serve double duty as the family library and guesthouse. In the Taisho period it was completely renovated as a two-story building, with the addition of magnificent guest rooms for visiting writers and artists.
From the Taisho to the early Showa period, many famous artists visited the Komuras, leaving behind mementos--poems, sketches, and paintings--in gratitude for having been allowed to stay here.
They were, in short, patrons of the arts. Kagawa Prefecture has produced quite a number of talented tanka and haiku poets, and one reason for this was the dedication with which the Komura family founded and supported the local art scene. Quite a number of books, essays, and reminiscences have been published on the history of these fascinating artistic circles, all of which are in our reading room.
I hope you'll take the opportunity to look at them. This might have run in the blood. They were very discerning patrons of the arts, supporting artists with the highest aims who produced the most outstanding works. But as you're surely aware, in the arts there is no such thing as an absolutely perfect eye.
Unfortunately, some exceptional artists did not win their favor or were not received by them as they deserved to be. One of these was the haiku poet Taneda Santoka. According to the guestbook, Santoka stayed here on numerous occasions, each time leaving behind poems and drawings. The head of the family, however, called him a 'beggar and a braggart,' wouldn't have much to do with him, and in fact threw away most of these works. There are many things we only see clearly in retrospect.
After this Miss Saeki guides us around the first floor, showing us the stacks, the reading room, the rare-books collection. Still, as you can see, in contrast to the bold structure of the building, the furnishings and picture frames are quite elaborate and luxurious. The carving of these wooden panels, for instance, is very elegant. All the finest master craftsmen in Shikoku were assembled to work on the construction. The ebony railing's so highly polished it looks like you'll leave a mark if you touch it.
On a stained-glass window next to the landing, a deer stretches out its neck to nibble at some grapes. There are two parlors on the second floor, as well as a spacious hall that in the past was probably lined with tatami for banquets and gatherings. Now the floor is plain wood, and the walls are covered with framed calligraphy, hanging scrolls, and Japanese-style paintings.
In the center, a glass case displays various mementos and the story behind each. One parlor is in the Japanese style, the other Western. The Western-style room contains a large writing desk and a swivel chair that look like someone's still using.
There's a line of pines outside the window behind the desk, and the horizon's faintly visible between the trees. The couple from Osaka walks around the parlor, inspecting all the items, reading the explanations in the pamphlet. Every time the wife makes a comment, the husband chimes in to second her opinion.
A lucky couple that agrees on everything. The things on display don't do much for me, so I check out the details of the building's construction. While I'm nosing around the Western parlor Miss Saeki comes up to me and says, "You can sit in that chair, if you'd like to. Shiga Naoya and Tanizaki both sat there at one time or another. Not that this is the same chair, of course. Feel like you could write something?
Miss Saeki laughs and goes back to the couple. From the chair I watch how she carries herself, every motion natural and elegant. I can't express it well, but there's definitely something special about it, as if her retreating figure is trying to tell me something she couldn't express while facing me. But what this is, I haven't a clue.
Face it, I remind myself--there're tons of things you don't have a clue about. Still seated, I give the room a once-over. On the wall is an oil painting, apparently of the seashore nearby. It's done in an old-fashioned style, but the colors are fresh and alive. On top of the desk is a large ashtray and a lamp with a green lampshade. I push the switch and, sure enough, the light comes on. A black clock hangs on the opposite wall, an antique by the looks of it, though the hands tell the right time.
There are round spots worn here and there into the wooden floor, and it creaks slightly when you walk on it. At the end of the tour the Osaka couple thanks Miss Saeki and disappears. It turns out they're members of a tanka circle in the Kansai region. I wonder what kind of poems they compose--the husband, especially. Grunts and nods don't add up to poetry. We accept that sometimes it may not be possible to address all the concerns in your paper as desired, and we take full accountability.
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