Chapter 8:

"Tsukamoto Tsimmes"

Vibrancy x Vibrancy

Shizuko and I slept in separate rooms of Kenji’s Western-style hotel that night, probably the last time we’d be doing so (the Western hotel part, I mean) as we head deeper into the prefecture. Such a tremendous exertion of physical energy - my pitcher’s duel against Shizuko, which ended in a draw because she hit three homers and I got to see her hit three homers - put me right to sleep. The next morning, we were on the countryside train again, heading towards the last stop on the line - the neighboring town of Tsukamoto. The Summer Race will be held there tomorrow.

Kentaro and Ayako are with us since they’re covering the race as well. He transcribes the sights in his journal while she takes them in via camera. And the sights are…not that good, to be honest. The train runs through a mountain pass, with wooden villages hugging the edges of the valley. Many of them are rundown, some even entirely abandoned. I see very few signs of life, and the old stone steps leading to shrines hidden in the darkness of the mountains seem like they lead to nowhere.

But once we make it out of the pass and into Tsukamoto, life picks up again. The mountains circle away, creating spaces for long fields split by long roads, squares of green and gold that lead to the small town. Flanked by telephone poles and utility towers, the train rumbles through the paddies until we hit the town outskirts. A squadron of youths roaming on bicycles briefly follow the train, because in summers in a town like this, you got nothing better to do. By the time we make it to the town’s station, however, they’re gone.

A melody plays on the train - last stop. We’re more or less the only passengers on the train. When we leave and step out into the small plaza surrounding the square, my contact in the town leans against the cop car, smoking a cigarette. When he sees us, he ashes it in a portable tray and grins at us.

Minister Azawa provided me with Officer Yamazaki’s name. He’s the lone ranger working the Tsukamoto police box, and he certainly acts like it. His eyes are hidden by thick aviator shades and his blue cap is bright and shiny. There’s not a single wrinkle on his uniform and he replaces the cigarette with a toothpick. We shake hands, his grip strong enough to tear my hand entirely off if it weren’t for his own mercy.

I arranged for him to drop off the two Kenji high schoolers at the Tsukamoto High School - they’re going to speak with some compatriots there before returning tomorrow for the race - and then he drops off Shizuko at his home. His wife, a smiling middle-aged woman, shows Shizuko into their spice garden as Yamazaki and I head for the police box. Apparently, he’s forgotten something there.

When we arrive at the koban, Yamazaki shows me inside. He’s got a big grin on his face, like he’s about to let me in on the world’s greatest secret. It looks normal enough, but, after closing the blinds, he turns to me.

“What I’m about to show you is a matter of prefecture security,” he tells me. “Our very way of life is at risk.”


He lets me inside a dark backroom, and there, I see his life’s work. There’s a yellowed poster on one wall depicting a skeleton with a green beret, the official-looking English letters MACV-SOG blazoned above it. On another wall I see the prefecture’s largest conspiracy board. Pictures of encampments in the woods, blurry photos of suspected targets, and cryptic phrases and historical allusions litter the wall, kept in place by pushpins. All of them are connected by red strings tied around the pushpins and illuminated by a single desk lamp, creating a chaotic mess whose ultimate goal is to find the truth.

“There are guerrillas hiding in these woods,” he tells me, his voice excited now that he’s finally able to share this with someone.

“Guerrillas?” I repeat, and then he hands me a flier. I can’t believe it. I’m looking at an older, slightly less detailed drawing of anime girl Che Guevara. Below him (her?) is the name of the rebel group in question - TSUKAMOTO GUERRILLA THEATER TROUPE.

“A ragtag bunch of nattering nabobs of negativity,” Yamazaki says. “They first appeared last year. I ran through the list of organizations registered with the town, all seven of them, and all the clubs at Tsukamoto High School, all four of them - the Troupe isn’t official. They’re an underground movement, putting on unlicensed performances everywhere - in the train station plaza, by our little pond, in the fields. They must be stopped, Shunsuke.”

He takes a seat in an old metal chair and motions for me to sit across from him. The pictures look down on us; the skeleton’s mouth is open wide. Yamazaki briefly lowers his shades, revealing eyes blazing with passion. “I’ve studied their patterns. I believe, beyond all doubt, that they will strike sometime during the race tomorrow. You want a story? I’ll give you a story. Come with me on patrol tomorrow, and not only will you see more of the race than just the starting line, but I’ll show you the greatest news story in the history of Yoshiaki since the disappearance of Governor Eguchi.”

That’s a tall order. I tilt my head. “Why do they need to be stopped? Are their plays violent or something?”

Yamazaki shakes his head. “No, they’re actually quite good, especially for a bunch of high schoolers. But they’re unlicensed productions. To put on a public performance in this town, you need to register with city hall. They haven’t. That makes them enemies of the state.”


The officer stands up, illuminated by the lone light in the room. “It starts off with unlicensed acting. Then it becomes unlicensed fishing. People start smoking everywhere rather than the designated spots. Nobody pays excise taxes on their tractors. We stop giving the high school its scheduled repainting. Statues crumble away. Back-alley doctors, people won’t say hello to each other in the morning, and at the last moment, when the nation falls, we’ll have jaywalkers!”

“So it’ll snowball,” I realize, excitement creeping in my voice, and I can’t help it because it looks like Yamazaki is having the time of his life here.

“Exactly, my friend. Exactly.”

We drive back to his house soon after. He takes a few deliberately wrong turns to make sure we’re not being followed. When we get there, instead of an idyllic scene of Shizuko picking tomatoes, we see her standing in front of the house. There is indeed a bag of tomatoes in her hands, but her eyes aren’t on them. Instead, they’re on another woman standing across the street. She’s wearing athletic clothes, so she must’ve been running by when the two crossed paths. This woman, with shining brunette hair down to her back, tall and lean, looks at Shizuko with an open mouth. Shizuko herself gives a sheepish glance off to the side.

When we pull to a stop, the woman takes off, returning to her jog. When we get out of the car, both Yamazaki and I look at Shizuko with concern, but she brushes it off and the usual subdued look on her face returns. We move on like nothing happened, past Mrs. Yamazaki’s tour of their garden, past getting back into Yamazaki’s cop car, past picking up Kentaro and Ayako and dropping them back off at the station, past getting dropped off at our ryokan, right up until the time we’re sitting on fresh, green tatami mats in the room I’ll be sleeping in, both of us wearing yukatas provided by the inn.

As we sit on either side of the wooden table, drinking cups of tea, she’s pretty cute in her purple yukata with pink floral designs on it, but the dismayed look on her face is a lot less fun. I’ve known her for a few days now, long enough to know she’s hiding something, so seeing her upset doesn’t sit right with me, so I can’t help but ask.

“Did you know that woman from earlier today?”

Shizuko looks at her reflection in the cup for a second, then lets out a slow nod.

“She’s the reason I didn’t run the Tsukamoto Summer Race my senior year of high school.”

Steward McOy