Friday Fictioneers – Come home safe

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz (the blue frog) on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

FF - Come home safe 180808

PHOTO PROMPT © Ronda Del Boccio

Come back safe

Tatsuya is away. Will he be back tomorrow, or next week?

I clap twice, fold my arms across my breast and bow to my household shrine, emptying my mind. A melody lures, light and shade slide slowly past each other and my fingers tingle. I push these distractions gently away, letting my mind fill with the nothingness that holds all things. The music stills and the colours fade.

When I open my eyes, I am dazzled by my rice plants glowing green with life. It is a good omen.

Kagutsuchi, please bring Tatsuya safe home from fighting the wildfires.

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What Pegman Saw – I had, in any case

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. Using the location provided, you must write a piece of flash fiction of no more than 150 words. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code. This week’s prompt is Fukushima, Japan.

WPS - I had, in any case 171202

Genre: Historical fiction

Word count: 151

Owatatsumi is one name for the Shinto god of the sea.

kami is a generic name for a Shinto god.

I had, in any case

I had, in any case, been intending to leave Fukushima.

There were only two sources of work there; agriculture or the nuclear plant. Neither appealed. I wanted a creative life. I envied those few Westerners I had met. They travelled, they drank a stronger wine and sang a gayer song.

Then one day Owatatsumi was angered. He beat the sea higher and higher until it overwhelmed us. We were powerless as it tore down our buildings, as it snatched babe from mother, husband from wife, into the finality of death, and poured relentlessly on, and on, and on, into the nuclear plant, where panic-stricken engineers fought frantically to avert catastrophe.

The fierce kami of radiation burst out like devouring dragons, poisoning land and water, driving us from our homes for ever.

The government evacuated us, exiled us. I’m in Kyoto now.

I had, in any case, been intending to leave Fukushima.

Cherry Blossoms (4/5)

Frederic is an excellent poet, and he’s written a sequence of five short poems about cherry blossom. I’ve reblogged my favourite, but they’re all well worth reading, and I recommend a visit to his site to read the others. While you’re there, you might enjoy his poem “The True Poet”. I like it; it seems to me to be very French in sentiment. But is it romantic with a post-modern slant, or is it just romantic? I’ll leave you to judge!

WORDS IN THE LIGHT

they raise their arms to the sky
but never ask for
anything

I admire the way
cherry trees pray

~

Cerisiers et le Ciel, Tokyo © 2017– F.G.M.

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In the moment – the power of a symbol

Sufferers from anxiety know that the condition can be debilitating. I was in that state some years ago; thankfully I’ve now recovered. In the recovery, I learned a number of mental habits that help me to avoid recurrences; living ‘in the moment’ is one of them; hypnosis for relaxation is another. I recently came across another influence, namely the power of symbols.

Miyajima cherry blossom 170425

I’ve recently returned from a holiday in Japan. I’ll start this post by confirming what a wonderful holiday it was. It was full of interest, full of beauty, full of emotion. My wife Daphne and I really enjoyed it.

It was a big, important holiday; we cashed in savings to be able to afford it. I was looking forward to it eagerly – but I was also apprehensive, because I am prone to anxiety attacks. They are sometimes very unpleasant, and they’re triggered by stress…

Travel – especially long haul flights – can be stressful. A different culture – and Japanese culture is pretty different from European culture! – can be stressful. Visiting a place where you don’t understand the language can be stressful – and although English is taught to all children in Japan, it’s not widely spoken, and only the most important signs are in English as well as Japanese.

And yet I have returned feeling tranquil, and the feeling has endured. This was sufficiently unexpected that I have tried hard to understand it. I wouldn’t say that I’ve reached any definite conclusions, but here are some of the thoughts.

Before going to Japan, I recognised that I might suffer from anxiety, and I accepted the possibility. I find that acceptance is a big deal. It goes at least halfway towards dealing with anxiety symptoms. I must make a very clear distinction at this point. To accept the possibility that something might happen, is definitely not the same as expecting it to happen. It’s the exact opposite of worrying about something. It’s realising that something may happen, and saying “Yes, I understand that, I accept the possibility. I don’t have to worry about it.”

So I considered in advance what might happen.

The anxiety would be very unpleasant. Could I get through an attack without going home? Yes. Could I get through two attacks without going home? Er, yes, probably. What about repeated attacks? It would spoil the holiday but I’d survive.

What about a worst-case scenario? The worst case would be that I would have repeated anxiety attacks that would leave me feeling so vulnerable that we would have to return home before the end of the tour. It would be a great shame to lose the holiday. It would cost a lot of extra money to change flights for an early return.

I consciously accepted that this could happen, and used my usual hypnotic relaxation regime to put aside any worrying about it.

I’m sure it helped. But I’m equally sure that it’s not the whole story.

Could the tranquillity have arisen as a result of having succeeded in surviving the stress of the holiday? I took on the challenge of a visit that in prospect I found quite intimidating, and came through it unscathed. Was I just feeling relief?

Well, I suppose it’s possible. But the tranquillity seems such an active feeling. I’m a slightly different woman from the one who set off to Japan. I would have expected relief to be a reactive feeling, and to dissipate quickly.

One of the features of the holiday was that we visited some important Buddhist temples, and Shinto shrines. Buddhism is based on the Four Noble Truths, and the Noble Eight-fold Path, and includes a recognition that human suffering is unavoidable. It also teaches, among many other things, that true happiness can be attained despite human suffering, by relinquishing useless craving and by living in the moment. Surrounded as we were by pilgrims, it seems possible that some of their piety ‘rubbed off’ on me, so to speak.

Beyond any of these possible explanations, though, my emotions tell me that the answer may lie in the symbol of cherry blossom. It was the ‘Cherry Blossom Tour’ that we took, and there were several occasions when the symbolism of the blossom overwhelmed me emotionally. The blossom is beautiful – and transient. But the symbolism goes far beyond the recurrence of beauty in the world despite personal tragedy. I can’t explain it; I had to experience it.

I suspect that Japan has given me a most valuable gift. I’m so glad we took the holiday!

The man who hated his job

During my holiday in Japan, I saw both the little man and the hotel manager, and the story demanded to be written! Just in case you don’t know; bushido was the moral code by which samurai warriors lived and died; the Yakuza are Japan’s equivalent (very approximately) of the Mafia; members of the Yakuza wear elaborate whole-body tattoos declaring their clan affiliation. Note: This story is strictly fictional!

Tokyo cityscape hotels

The little man with the scowling face walked across the hotel lobby. His white shirt, worn under a dark-grey pinstripe suit, failed to conceal the elaborate tattoos surrounding his neck. By and large, the hotel guests paid him no attention; why should they? He was nothing to them, and they were less than nothing to him. They were there to holiday, to see the sights – to spend money. Yes, he approved of that, as it made his leader happy.

The guests mattered to the hotel manager, Akira Hisakawa, though. His position meant far more to him than merely a source of income. It was a source of pride. It was his purpose in life. He patrolled the restaurants, the lobby, housekeeping, the “in-house” convenience store, to make sure that everything was flawless. Nothing untoward or ugly should come between his guests and their enjoyment.

“In modern Japan,” he would say to his immediate subordinates, “We administrators are the new samurai. We must be meticulous. We must be as familiar with our procedures as warriors with their weapons, as if our lives depended upon it. We must live by bushido.” They would nod, and remember apprehensively where they had fallen short.

Not that the manager was a harsh man; he didn’t need to be. The disappointment on his face when something was less than perfect was all that was needed by way of admonition. And if he were to say quietly, “Bushido, Nobu-san, bushido,” why, Nobu would be so mortified that he would do anything, literally anything, to put right the deficiency.

Every day at eleven o’clock in the morning, seven days a week, Akira-san sat at the desk in his office to update his action plan to make the hotel even better. It was a beautiful desk made of glass. There was no clutter. Close to Akira-san’s right hand was a fruit bowl. If a subordinate distinguished himself, he might be rewarded with an invitation to spend five minutes sharing a piece of fruit with Akira-san.

It was cherry blossom time, all rooms were fully booked, and Akira-san was at his desk. He frowned at the report for breakfast in the restaurant. There had been a short period when saucers had not been available by the coffee service. Worse, at nine-thirty there had been three groups of people in the queue for a table. They had all been seated within ninety seconds, but that was not the point; they should not have had to wait at all. The restaurant manager’s plan to improve was not good enough.

His office door opened; but staff had strict instructions never to disturb him in his office.

The little man with the scowling face walked across to Akira-san’s desk, threw himself into the chair in front of it, and crossed his legs.

“Good morning, Hisao-san.”

The little man’s scowl became even more ferocious. How did this man know his name?

“Hironori Kurosawa is not happy.” The little man took out an extremely sharp knife and began to clean under his fingernails. Akira-san hid his distaste.

“I am grieved that Hironori-san is not happy. Perhaps if I could meet him we could arrive at an arrangement that would suit us both?”

“You can pay now, and he will overlook your insolent behaviour – this time.”

Hisao-san impaled a bright red, perfect apple with his blade. Akira-san’s hand strayed under his desk.

“I have no quarrel with paying Hironori-san for what he provides, but he has not done enough to justify the very large monthly sum. Two of my guests were approached by a drug dealer last month.”

“No negotiation.”

“I am not an unreasonable man… ” began Akira-san.

The little man catapulted out of his chair, knife in hand, towards Akira-san. There was a soft “phut” as the taser, concealed under the desk, fired. Hisao-san shrieked, struggled, and finally dropped to the ground. Two members of the hotel staff burst into the room to find Akira-san standing on the little man’s wrist, removing the knife from his flaccid fingers.

“Check him for weapons,” he said. The baggage handler picked up Hisao and held him firmly, while the manager of reception frisked him carefully. Hisao was shaking and strengthless.

“I suggest a twenty percent discount this month to compensate for the poor performance in protecting us. I’m happy to meet Hironori-san to discuss this, if he wishes. Good day, Hisao-san. He bowed, in a perfunctory manner. Automatically, Hisao-san bowed in response, and left.

“Police?” queried the manager of reception.

“No, of course not.” The reception manager quailed.

Outside the office, Hisao-san tried unsuccessfully to recapture his swagger; his scowl had become a grimace that even a heedless tourist might spot. Sometimes he really hated his job…

If you enjoyed this story, I would be very grateful if you would share it with your friends!

 

 

There’s something about Japan…

Why did I visit Japan?

I expected to enjoy the food and the scenery; I anticipated seeing cutting-edge technology; I already knew from working with them that I liked Japanese people. The country seemed slightly exotic without being intimidating. A tour of Japan felt like a suitably ‘special’ holiday to mark my retirement, especially as we chose the cherry blossom tour which takes place around the time of our wedding anniversary.

Many Japanese celebrate cherry blossom season with a hanami party, which is a picnic under the cherry trees. On day two of the tour, our group was going to enjoy its very own hanami party! Unfortunately, the weather was poor, cold and wet, and we picnicked in the rain. Our tour guide had prepared copies of a traditional Japanese cherry blossom song for us to sing, and provided a recorded accompaniment. We sang it. It all felt a little silly.

Until the next day.

We took a boat trip on the Sumida River, and there, in the background, was the cherry blossom song, ‘Sakura, Sakura’, we had sung the day before. Suddenly, the symbolism of cherry blossom made perfect emotional sense. I don’t think I can explain it; it’s something you need to experience before you can even begin to understand it. It goes way beyond the obvious reading of the transience of beauty.

Then, a few days later, Mount Fuji. What is it about that peak that makes it so potent? I’m not Japanese; it’s not a national icon of mine; and yet seeing it evoked a sense of awe in me. And it wasn’t just my response. We were travelling by bus, and the whole busload of us  gasped (and I really mean that – you could hear the sharp intake of breath) as we first saw the mountain.

Mount Fuji 2 170413

In the afternoon, I walked a short way along the ancient Tokkaido highway, which is planted on either side with 400-year-old cedars. There was one especially majestic tree. I stopped and rested my hand against its trunk. Abruptly I felt…disrespectful. I felt as though it would have been more appropriate to have bowed to the tree.

The next day we saw the Miyako Odori. I have rarely watched a performance of such intensity. I understand some of the theatrical devices that made it so powerful, but there’s more to it than that. Once again, it leads back to cherry blossom, the exquisite beauty of the world that humans are privileged to share for a short period.

Miyajima 170413

This holiday has changed me. A small part of that change is that I feel more tranquil. I haven’t changed my religious belief; I’m certainly not a Shintoist, or an animist; but I’ve experienced emotional responses that go beyond my ability to understand or describe them more than superficially. I’m glad of those experiences; I’m the richer for them.

It was a good holiday. Thank you, Japan!

Hiroshima – War and Peace

On August 6th 1945, at 8:15 a.m. the world changed for ever. The Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. There were nearly 400,000 people in the city. Nobody knows exactly how many were killed directly; the official estimate is that by the end of 1945 about 140,000 had died as a result of the bomb.

The city was laid waste, flattened. For a radius of 2700 metres scarcely anything remained standing. Men, women and children died in their tens of thousands, many burned alive by the searing heat of the blast, others shredded by glass blown from windows, still others with their internal organs destroyed by the shockwave.

The Peace Park and Museum in Hiroshima are both a memorial to those who died, and a powerful political statement against the possession and use of nuclear weapons.

The devastation of the blast is symbolized by the gutted structure of the Trade and Industry Exhibition Hall, which has been left exactly as it was after the bomb had exploded.

Hiroshima dome 170409

The children who died are commemorated by a sculpture in the Peace Park.

Hiroshima children's sculpture 170409

They are also remembered by a place where visitors, especially children, can leave origami paper cranes. This tradition originates with a little girl named Sadako Sasaki. She suffered from leukaemia as a result of radiation left by the bomb. There was a popular belief that anyone making 1000 paper cranes would have their wish granted and be healed. She tried to make the cranes, but died before she had finished them. Her classmates completed the remainder so that 1000 cranes were buried with her. Since then, people from all over the world have left similar paper cranes in memory of her, and of all the children who died as a result of the bomb.

Cranes fly above the river next to the park.

There is a great bell, which any visitor may toll to affirm their desire for peace and an end to nuclear weapons. The reverberations sound in every corner of the park and maybe in every corner of the world, carried there in the recollections of those who have visited.

There is an eternal flame, which will be kept burning until every nation has forsworn nuclear weapons.

Hiroshima eternal flame 170409

There is a tree, which was half burned away by the blast. Astonishingly, the next year fresh branches sprang from the trunk, and the tree still survives, left there as a symbol of hope.

I have been convinced of the evil of nuclear weapons since my childhood 50 years and more ago. The more I think about the matter, the more strongly I feel that the only solution is to altogether repudiate armed conflict between groups. Anyone who serves in their country’s armed services must obey without question, which means that unscrupulous leaders can unleash war. We know it happens; we have seen it happen in our own lifetime in Iraq.

Please, if you are a man reading this blog, say no to service in the military, and teach your sons and your grandsons to do the same. And if you are a woman, encourage the men in your family to put aside thoughts of military service.

Unless we do this, eventually somebody will use nuclear weapons again, bigger weapons in greater numbers causing incalculably more casualties. And surely we none of us want that.