Chapter 3:

"Executive Order"

Vibrancy x Vibrancy

Shizuko dresses like any other college-aged woman - in clothes.

I salute her courage in wearing a white sweater on a day the sun made it its mission to remind the world of its power. She has a gray skirt to match, a neat contrast to my own stereotypical white button-up and black slacks. I’m sure her palms are far less clammy than mine - good thing we only give a slight bow of the head to the other.

While I got the usual black hair, hers almost looks like a real blond, but at the scalp, you can see the natural black roots. Her dyed hair falls down to her shoulders, slightly unkempt. She looks dull and exhausted, plain and simple. But considering the fact I’ve emitted enough water through my forehead to fill a small, perhaps medium-sized moat, we’re both sights for sore eyes. But I’d take real dourness over fake peppiness any day.

“We look forward to your report, Shunsuke,” Minister Akaza says. “Yoshiaki Prefecture has never been the wealthiest of areas, and we’ve seen such a population decline in the past two decades. Everybody just wants to live in the metropolises on the Pacific coast. It takes a nice bonus to relocate out here.”

I wonder just how many Yukichi-sans she has in her bank account.

“We’ve created a list of possible destinations for you,” she continues. “Cities, villages, shrines, mountains, lakes, festivals, and other events. Governor Daisuke and I are trying to reverse Yoshiaki’s decline. A nice travelogue like yours will go a long way in helping.”

At this point, you might be wondering why I’m receiving so much help from the prefectural government.

“When you return to the university, please give President Frogface my regards,” Akaza says. “I went to school with his father and he’s such a wonderful boy. It’s unfortunate they’re summering in the Riviera, but you’ll do great, Shunsuke.”

‘Course, she doesn’t call him Frogface, but you know him better that way.

Akaza gestures at her tired niece. “Shizuko will be your tour guide for the month. She grew up here and knows the area like the back of her hand. Your first stop today will be the Yoshiaki Museum of History.”

I give Shizuko a bow. “Please take care of me.”

No audible answer comes. When I glance up, she gives me a polite nod, the muscles in her mouth slightly moving, but there are no words.

“Shizuko isn’t one for talking,” Akaza says with a smile. “But before the end of this, you might get some words out of her.”

Words out of her? If she doesn’t want to talk, then why would I? In the next five minutes, I hear the following - the ding of the elevator, the PA on the elevator, the conversations in the lobby, the conversations in the plaza, trunks honking, cars beeping, motorcycles idling, subways rumbling below ground, planes soaring above ground. It’s just one big incessant whirlpool of noise that comes with the city, mankind’s own invention that’s now gotten away from him and pollutes the ear drums with that constant rattling. When I'm feeling right, I can take a deep breath and feel right at home in that mass of humanity, but I’m not feeling right right now and it’s all so loud.

But she’s quiet. And if she wants to be quiet, she can be quiet. A hole in the noise. And interactions aren’t just limited to talking or even texting on your phones. Shizuko points in the direction we gotta go, stands at the intersection with one sneaker on the ground, the other slightly raised, absent-mindedly tapping the concrete with the front. She smells like strawberry in early spring, and considering it’s late summer, she sticks out even more to me.

Shizuko stands a head shorter than me. Considering how long of a journey I’ve had today, I’m half-tempted to use her as an armrest, but the crosswalk light turns green and we're off.

The Museum is another glass and dark blue metal building, right across from the government tower, except it lies flat across the ground like Kazakhstan. Inside, the cool air is a godsend.

For those who don’t know the history of Yoshiaki (likely all of you), it goes a little something like this: centuries ago, the daimyo Yoshiaki Nobuhide founded Mabichu as a castle town. He was a good, loyal lord to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, which earned him the right to commit seppuku when the Tokugawa came to power. He placed a curse on his land, dooming anyone who harmed it, before plunging the knife into his belly.

Fun stuff. Something to keep in mind as I write this.

After that, Yoshiaki in general and Mabichu in particular survived as a lumber and trading area in the Edo period, thrived as an industrial area after the Restoration, and vanished after a few fire-laden days in June 1945. It came back soon after to the tune of MITI’s drumbeat - heavy industry in the 50s and 60s, automobiles and electronics in the 70s and 80s.

Life must’ve been good in the 80s. Nowadays, Yoshiaki is most known among my age demographic for the city pop classic “Entrance Ceremony”. Look it up, it’s pretty decent, just the right amount of synth and hedonistic confidence.

Governor Eguchi administered Yoshiaki during all of this. He was only 37 when he was first elected in 1964, the year of the Tokyo Olympics - the “Kennedy of the East”, they called him. He made it all the way to 1989, when the stock market collapsed and the housing market collapsed and the deal with the devil known as speculation reared its ugly head and the bubble burst. It was open season on anyone official, and intrepid reporters whom I model myself on exposed the downsides of Eguchi’s industrial initiatives - i.e., blasting away much of the countryside to feed the growing roadways and railways - and the corruption within them.

And worst thing about it all stares me right in the face. I’m eye to eye with a little stuffed red bird known as the Yoshiaki Crimson Sparrow. Industrial development over the past century reduced it to a single forest - and that forest is now known as a four-lane highway. Eguchi knew he was about to make a species go instinct, yet he did it anyway. It’s a bit like playing God when you think about it, and God plays for keeps. This bird isn’t coming back, and neither is Eguchi - he vanished before his trial began, never seen since.

Nowadays, Yoshiaki is very much like the average person - plodding along, aimlessly, desperately searching for the old candlelight.

I take my examinations of the exhibitions slowly. There’s old samurai armor and old telegrams - including one from President Rutherford B. Hayes of America - and countless stuffed birds. Their vacant eyes watch as I head to the restroom. An anime girl on a notice taped above the sink advises me to wash my hands. When I make it back out, Shizuko is staring up at a great big map of the prefecture from the '20s.

There’s no better feeling in the world than when you see someone excited. Happiness is one of the few positive infections out there. For all her previous sourness and dourness, Shizuko’s eyes light up as she examines every bit of blue water and green mountain in that map.

I stroll up beside her. Going from alone to in the presence of someone makes her look off to the side, but then her eyes light up again when she sees one of the birds. Or the armor stand next to it.

“You like history?” I ask.

She gives the map a nod.

I wonder what else she likes. I tilt my head towards an old landscape painting. “How about nature?”

She looks up at me with round eyes and nods.

“Entrance Ceremony?“

A blank stare.

“The song.“

An amused sort of grin.

Steward McOy