Mrs. Hagiwara always insisted on calling me professor. It was a little embarrassing, but I suppose it was the only way she could make sense of why it was I had read so many books, or why it was I had so many writer friends. And of course, it was a show of respect. Part of traditional Japanese culture. And in some ways it was actually kind of refreshing after all the years I had to hide the fact that I was an intellectual. You didn’t want to seem like someone who knew too much in those days when simply having a foreign book on the shelf or owning a few jazz records could get you carted off to jail for an intensive interrogation by the Thought Police.
Sensei! Everyone! Come downstairs!
It sounded as if the entire neighborhood was assembled in the large tatami mat room on the first floor. All sat captivated by the only radio in the entire district, powered by a compact electrical generator.
First Kimigayo, the national anthem, was played and then the announcer said in a solemn voice that we would now hear some words from the Jade Voice (the emperor himself). Some people stood at attention, some prostrated themselves. I stood apart near the radio where I could hear better.
History is so unreliable. It all depends on how you tell the story. For some on that hot, humid day in August, the cry of the cicadas in the background, the world seemed to collapse beneath them. But most, like myself, were simply relieved. The sound of the emperor’s voice seemed oddly familiar to me. It was only much later that I realized he had delivered his speech as if reciting a poem. For some reason, I don’t know why, this one phrase sticks in my memory – we must endure the unendurable.
Mrs. Hagiwara was unusually plump considering the lack of provisions in the final months of the war. At least it seemed so in comparison to the emaciated look of most of the others. We lived on vegetables she grew in her garden. She didn’t charge much for rent, as long as we were willing to help out with chores around the house. Occasionally a small sack of rice would arrive from one of the nearby farms. It wasn’t polished rice which would glisten all fluffy and white in your bowl. It still had the husks on, but we treated it as a highly valued treasure, and made it last as long as we could. But most of all we lived on Japanese eggplant, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, and potatoes. Lots of potatoes. Modest fare, but we ate better than most because of the garden. Mrs. Hagiwara seemed to know everyone in the little town, as well as the surrounding farms, so she had ways of getting her hands on things.