Chapter 1:

"Shunsuke of Tokyo"

Vibrancy x Vibrancy

While the sweltering, humid heat that could only signify the end of July clung to me, I reach out to grab the envelope from the frog-faced man. His jowls bounce as he gives a hearty laugh and yanks it away from me, over and over, like somebody keeping a piece of string just out of reach for their cat. Finally, once the West Tokyo University Newspaper Club all get their laughs in, he relents and lets me scoop up the envelope.

The mockery doesn't bother me. Well, it does, but I don't show it. Because this isn't just any envelope - this is an envelope carrying 10,000 yen inside. And it's all mine. It even bears my name on the front in official-looking letters - Shun Shunsuke. The words YOSHIAKI PREFECTURE RESCUE PROJECT are also printed on the front, so technically the funds are really for that, but considering I'm the only one going there and actually doing any journalism on the region, it's all for me.

10,000 yen. All the Yukichi-sans inside that envelope seemed to burn a hole through my palms. A night in a Tokyo hotel (outskirts). A week of cheap rural ryokans. 25 sandwiches from the konbini, 22 if I splurged on cutlets. 100 things from the 100 yen store. 100 things! You could fill an apartment with that many things. Fortunately, the only thing I needed was that one thing - rather, that One Thing, which is the purpose of this writing.

The jowls laugh again. These rolls of sweaty face fat are attached to the President of the Newspaper Club, a senior sempai who’s father works for a national newspaper. Everybody in this club has connections one way or another - except for me. My parents are janitors, but I got decent enough test scores to land in this university, and decent enough writing skills to join the club. ‘Course, on account of those lack of connections, I still haven’t published anything, and even though I’m halfway through sophomore year and on the wrong side of twenty years old, I’m still little more than a clerk. Or a dancing monkey. But those monkeys who can do sign language all had to start somewhere.

Anyway, those jowls laughs again. “Shun here will be representing our club in a writing competition hosted by the governor of Yoshiaki. We’ve graciously allowed him a 10,000 yen research grant. Should he take first prize, not only will he will win the club 100,000 yen, but his writings will be serialized in our university's very own newspaper.”

“Shun, you really think you can win?” one student with amused eyes asks.

I tap my finger on the envelope. “You bet your ass I do.”

The club starts laughing again. None of them think I can win it. All of them think they can win it, but the writing period is during August vacation, and none of them would be caught dead working during that time. They have trips to Austria and Australia to focus on. But me? I’ll be writing this report all August long. I’ve already started - you’re reading the report right now. I’ll have to edit out the parts about jowls and frog-faced.

In any case, the kaicho claps his meaty hands. He’s not that concerned about the 10,000 yen from the club budget - he needed to use it as a pork barrel project, otherwise it would disappear during the next fiscal year. “With that, our club is adjourned for the summer. Shun, take these files up to the dean’s office and with that, we’ll be done.”

The files are piled up in six or seven stacks that will take six or seven trips up six or seven flights of stairs. The six or seven members of the club are already out the door, the kaicho tossing me the keys with a smug grin before departing. Perhaps I’ll leave the part about frog-faced in.

It’s about six or seven in the evening by the time I’m done with the files. Actually, definitely past seven, since by the time I leave the university in downtown Tokyo, the sun is starting to set. On the subway, an advertisement for an anime idol girl shines confidence down on me - it’s her go now, apparently. I can only nod back at her gumption. When I get off the train, I feel even worse than that American phrase about somebody sweating in a Sunday church. The heat blankets my body, with the packed commuter train home doing little to help things.

But still, I got 10,000 yen to my name, which is approximately a 10000% boost to my net worth. Before I get home to my dumpy apartment, I decide to make my first purchase with it. A little boost to get this whole shin-dig kickstarted. I make my way over to the alcohol section of the local konbini and pick out a tall boy with the highest percentage I can find. The cover depicts a quaint scene - on one side of the counter is Edo-era brewers, on the other is men and women in suits and ties and dresses. I’d much rather be on the former side, but fate and circumstances beyond my control have brought me to the latter.

Time to buy. You know how it goes. The cashier gives the usual greeting and I give the usual greeting and he rings me up and asks if I want a bag and I say yes I want a bag so he bags it and then shows me the total price and I nod to confirm the total price so then I put the total price in the little slot on the cash register and ignore the receipt that prints out and he thanks me and I thank him and take the bag and head back out into the humid world where the twilight sky melts into a deep blue.

Life is a series of mindless interactions like that, things deserving of little more than dry prose. But the meaningless things far outnumber the meaningful - accidentally bumping into someone in the hallway, getting your online order from the fast food joint, signing a package for a delivery. Most of life is dry prose. But it’s prose nonetheless, prose we skip over, but when we do so, we’re left with a pretty thin book on our deathbeds. Meaning is subjective, so I like to pay close attention to the things I see, since once I popped out in the hospital, the clock started ticking, and just like when you step out of the airport to begin your vacation, this is all the time you’ll ever have. Too bad dry prose is dry for a reason.

What isn’t dry is the beer. Never had this brand before. I drink alone in the cramped apartment overflowing with newspapers, books, and journals, some of them my own. I turn on the television and flip through the channels - election season has started, there’s a war in Europe, and a hip, new hip cream is on the market, but outside of having the blood pressure of a middle-aged middle manager, my health is okay. I turn on the DVD player and nod at a movie I’ve already seen before. Bruce Leo fights a Philippine crime syndicate to save his sister.

Yes, I said Bruce Leo. He was a Hong Kong kung fu star that made dozens of movies that, when you combined them altogether, were almost as entertaining as the real thing. I sip the beer as Bruce Leo battles through alleyways. I stand up, wanting to battle through alleyways, but my opponents aren’t tangible. None of ours are. Depopulation isn’t a 6’4” hulking goon out of Kowloon. The climate crisis isn’t a femme fatale. I punch invisible enemies and frown when my fists cut through nothing but air.

I crush the empty can and gaze through the blinds on my cracked window. Down on the street below, I see them all. You got high school students walking hand in hand, you got couples pushing strollers, you got old ladies reminiscing and young men excited for the future. They were all part of the scene - and me? I can only watch it from the seats, and not even a good one at that, like one in the first row that forces me to squint and look up at the bright lights.

Something’s missing. That One Thing. With any luck, I’ll find it in Yoshiaki. It’s not like Tokyo. Tokyo is the centerpiece of the creeping modernity. Yoshiaki will feel like stepping backwards in time, like a lightning bolt retreating upwards into an early summer thunderstorm, and with my writing leading the way, I’ll be following my words in reverse.