[from A Certain Distance, 9]
They were the best years of my life. I was making a living as a freelance writer and partaking of the life of the city. You could listen to Jazz at places like the Zebra club or the Blackbird, stroll along the wide boulevards of Ginza or in the evening go out to one of the dance halls. The first subway was completed in 1925 running from Asakusa to Ginza and since the rebuilding after the earthquake and fire of 1923 there were numerous examples of the latest architectural styles such as Art Deco and Modernism.
I used to go to the writers’ hangouts like the Lupin in Ginza. Writers like Kafu Nagai, Yasunari Kawabata and Fumiko Hayashi were regulars. I learned a lot and got contacts for writing jobs. Even painters and theater people would come by so I had the opportunity to mix with a whole cross-section of contemporary artists. You never knew what might be around the next corner in those days. You might run into a political demonstration or stumble upon a street performance by anarchist artists. But then after the stock market crash of 1929 things got to be pretty tough. That’s when I moved to Nakameguro to cut down on expenses.
I don’t believe in work. I’ve always been against it. But then again, one has to pay the rent, and to eat. And then there are all those nasty habits to support. I needed to keep up my supply of good tobacco and good scotch, my visits to the bars and cafes and of course, serve certain baser instincts. A couple of years went by and things were changing.
How can I describe the climate then… the Manchurian incident took us completely by surprise. I realize it seems strange now, but even we intellectual types were not very aware of what was going on as far as our own country was concerned. It seemed like all the writers in those days had an opinion about the Spanish civil war, but our own government and what it might be doing was a blank slate. An eerie silence hovered over our lives and then in a day or two things seemed to get back to normal. The main concern was finding a job.
The other reality that was just beginning to sink in was that I was now over thirty and wasn’t getting any younger. I needed something that would give me some employment security and yet still leave me enough time on the side to write. One of my old college friends had been pushing me to get an office job for a while, but I always brushed him off. I preferred to remain independent, and besides, it just wasn’t me. I couldn’t imagine myself as one of those clean upstanding members of the new middle class dressed in a perfectly tailored suit, riding the crowded trains each day to the office, and then back to that perfect little house in the suburbs attended by the perfect little wife always dressed properly in kimono. And then the children! Forget it! But then I got a call one day from my old friend.
Look, Arai, this is the last time I’m going to bug you about this. I just wanted to let you know that we could use someone who can handle foreign language shipping instructions down at the office. Things are starting to pick up again and, well, you know, let me be honest, it’s more like just a clerk’s job, but I thought you might actually prefer that. It’ll give you more time to write.
Of course, I suppose one of the ironies of that decade was that as Japan advanced along the road that would lead ultimately to its own destruction, employment actually increased, especially for general office workers, both in the huge zaibatsu conglomerates and in the government bureaucracy. So the next thing I knew I was on my way to an appointment at the offices of Mitsui & Co. in Marunouchi, right outside Tokyo Station and just a stone’s throw from the imperial palace.
Those were strange times. The 1930s were filled with so many contradictions. I suppose I managed to eventually adapt to conventional society, though after years in the corporate world and just watching how people changed as the events of that period unfolded, I’d say my suspicions were merely confirmed.
In Bunraku, the traditional puppet theater, the puppet masters wear black robes and black hoods as they operate the puppets on stage, unhidden from the audience. The black dress of course indicates their symbolic absence. To the uninitiated, these men in black stand out like a sore thumb. But for those who have become a part of the puppet culture, they are invisible. They no longer see them because there is an unspoken social agreement in which it is understood that they do not exist. Society itself is much like this – the truth lies hidden in plain sight . . . and those who know the truth will not speak of it.