Chapter 23:

"The Long View"

Vibrancy x Vibrancy

The next morning, I woke up with a cold. Perhaps it was the lack of nicotine in me, perhaps it was not having a drink in me for several days now, and or maybe it was because I danced around in the rain yesterday. But whatever the case, my hands felt clammy and my head felt like it was doing laps around a swimming pool.

Having a cold felt a tad ironic, too - yesterday’s storm had broken up the cloud cover over Yoshiaki, allowing the sun to bake the land once again. On this hot summer’s day, I braved the outdoors as we departed Hoshinomori and its broken dreams. Because the goal was Soga, and the highway to that city bypassed Hoshinomori, we retraced our steps back to Tsukamoto. The familiar town helped to alleviate the nausea a little, but less than an hour after getting to the bus depot, we were on the road again, taking a bus up the highway. I blinked in and out of consciousness while leaning my head against Shizuko’s shoulder. I don’t think she minded, and she had a pleasant look on her face as she watched the countryside roll by through the window.

As to why I didn’t just take an extra day at the Hoshinomori ryokan - I had enough of that town, truth be told, and we needed to get to Soga in time for the Bon Festival they host there. And because we were stopping at a lakeside resort along the way, there wasn’t any room for sickness on the schedule.

Chikuma, once a small town kept alive by the tourism industry, had undergone a boom now that the highway gave it easy connections to the rest of the prefecture. Once the bus turned off the expressway, the clouds of diesel, sand, and gravel gave way, revealing a village hugging the coast of Lake Chikuma, which shone in seven shades of blue. Hills and mountains rose behind it, creating a cascade of green that seemed to roll down to the lakeside. The picturesque scene lifted my spirits, and just when I thought I made a full recovery, a horn blast by the bus made my head spin.

Checking into the ryokan and getting to the shore was a blur. Shizuko did the heavy lifting there. I could’ve stayed at the ryokan, but the thought of staying inside all day inspired me to at least check out the lake for a little bit. We rented a swan boat - and I really need to check my finances, since I’m starting to lose track of where the college fund ends and my own personal bills begin - and, with Shizuko pushing the pedals, we were out onto the lake. I let Shizuko do all the pedaling vigorously tried my best to do my share of the driving. All the while, I kind of let my head lean back while a towel filled with cool water rested on my forehead.

Swan boats are boats shaped like swans. They have a little cabin, so at least we were in the shade. With Shizuko in the driver’s (captain’s?) seat, she took charge, moving the boat at whatever the knot equivalents of a slow cruise is. My fisherman’s blood was failing me at the moment. I slumped in my seat and with a nod of support from Shizuko, I decided to read a little, since that always makes me feel better. The book written by former Governor Eguchi had been weighing on my mind.

Into the Heart of Yoshiaki, with a foreword by Professor Miyagawa that outlined the governor’s life story. Come to think of it, all I knew about Eguchi was that he was born in Yoshiaki, worked in Tokyo as a bureaucrat, then came back to Yoshiaki and served as governor until everything came crashing down decades later. Miyagawa’s foreword dripped with praise for Eguchi of the highest order. Sweat dripped down my own forehead as I read about a man who should’ve won the Nobel Prize.

Eguchi was born in Soga. Published poetry by age sixteen. Top of his class at Soga Regional High School (of which Shizuko and Ume are his fellow alums). Law degree from the most prestigious university in Tokyo. A fast track position for advancement within the bureaucracy of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry right as it was building the foundations for Japan’s economy for the next forty years. Responsible for communications and transportation for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics that reintroduced Japan to the world. He had his fingers in everything - the new bullet train, satellite communications, public relations, you name it. Accomplished poet by this point. All signs pointed to a top slot within MITI for the foreseeable future.

But a trip back to Yoshiaki changed things. After spending an August there, he resigned his post upon the completion of the Olympics. Miyagawa didn’t cover if there was an uproar or not, but the prodigal son returning home proved popular at the polls. He cruised to a landslide victory in the December gubernatorial election at the age of thirty-eight.

According to Miyagawa, Eguchi had foreseen a depopulated Yoshiaki. The migration to the cities, combined with a Malthusianism limit on the population of a country that imported almost everything, created a real fear that Yoshiaki would one day dry up. So, he set out to build something that would endure the test of time. Concrete rivers, concrete roads, concrete factories; subways, trains, planes, parks, cities. All of it was designed to last forever; all of it built upon corruption. When the walls closed in on him, he vanished. Never seen since.

I wiped the sweat off my face. To build something endurable. Officer Yamazaki said it’s not about beginnings or endings, it’s about the chase; Eguchi never wanted an ending. He wanted to protect and preserve that past feeling forever. Perhaps that’s why he came back - he couldn’t let go of the Yoshiaki from his childhood. He wouldn’t allow that feeling to die.

By this point, I realize the swan boat has come to a stop. Shizuko’s still in the captain seat, but she’s no longer pedaling. She holds a piece of paper in her hands, using a notebook as a backstop so she can draw on it. Her eyes squint at the landscape; her tongue pokes out the side of her mouth in complete focus. Every so often, a slow song escapes her lips - I’ve never heard it before, but it sounds like a folk song. Perhaps a song a mother or older sister sings to lull a kid to sleep. Perhaps I’ve been sleeping in this swan boat and dreaming of Eguchi and yesterday.

When I shift in my seat, her face turns crimson and she looks away.

“You sing off key,” I tease. The swan boat immediately lurches forward, sending ripples across the water and making my head swim again. Her mouth curls indignantly, but then she breaks into a smile. She holds up the paper in her hands, revealing the surrounding lake and mountains rendered in black pen. I remember her earlier drawing at the Field in Kenji - it tried to mimic everything down to the last detail in hard, exact lines. But this drawing of Lake Chikuma - the pen swirls and twists, mountains are rendered as shadows and surrounding swan boats are more like faded rectangles. It’s a quiet drawing, yet still full of movement, something like a dream or an impression of the sight before us.

“I tried to put my own feelings into it,” Shizuko says quietly. There’s a hint of pride in her voice.

I tap my finger on the paper. “This is great! It should go in the museum at Mabuchi.”

She laughs a little, then grows more serious. Or rather, more guarded. She produces another paper from her notebook.

“Um…since you look tired, and all. I thought I would write about the lake for your book.”

Steward McOy