Something like a torn blanket – I could not see clearly through the evening gloom – had caught high in the limbs of a tree and was billowing gently in the wind. Another tree had fallen and tumbled over the shrubs. Leaves and broken branches lay scattered everywhere. I thought of the war, of the destruction and waste I had seen throughout my earliest years, and I stared at the garden, saying nothing, while my grandmother explained how a typhoon had passed through Kagoshima that morning.

Within a few days, the garden had been tidied, the broken tree piled against a wall together with all the branches and dead foliage. Only then did I notice for the first time the stepping stones which wound a passage through the shrubs towards the trees at the back of the garden. Those shrubs bore a few signs of the assault so recently endured; they were in full bloom, their foliage rich and strangely coloured – in shades of red, orange and purple unlike anything I had encountered in Tokyo. In all, the garden ceased to hold much resemblance to that defeated place I had glimpsed on the night of my arrival.

Between the veranda of the house and the start of the stepping stones was a flat area of turf. There, each morning before the sun had fully risen, my grandfather would lay out his straw mat and exercise. I would awake to the sounds coming from the garden, dress quickly, and go out onto the veranda. I would then see my grandfather’s figure, clad in a loose kimono, moving in the early light. He would bend and stretch with some vigour, and his step was light when he ran on the spot. I would sit waiting quietly through these routine movements. Eventually, the sun would have risen high enough to fall over the wall and into the garden; and all around me, the polished planks of the veranda would become covered in patches of sunlight. Then at last, my grandfather’s face would turn stern, and he would begin the judo sequences: swift turns, frozen postures, and – best of all – the throwing motions, each throw accompanied by a short shout. As I watched, I could see vividly the invisible assailants who came at him from all sides, only to fall helplessly in the face of such prowess.

At the end of each session, my grandfather would follow the stepping stones to the back of the garden to confront the largest of the trees that grew by the wall. He would stand before the tree for several seconds, absolutely still. Then, with an abrupt shout, he would pounce on it and attempt to throw it over his hip. He would repeat the attack four or five times, beginning each time with those few seconds of contemplative silence, as if that way he would catch the tree by surprise.

As soon as my grandfather had gone inside to change, I would go into the garden and attempt to reproduce the movements I had just seen. This would end with my constructing elaborate scenarios around the movements – scenarios which were always variations on the same plot. They always began with my grandfather and I walking home at night, along the alley behind the Kagoshima railway station. From out of the darkness would emerge figures, and we would be obliged to stop. Their leader would step forward – a man with drunken, slovenly speech – demanding we hand over money. My grandfather would quietly warn them they should let us pass or they would come to harm. At this, voices would laugh in the darkness all around us – dirty, leering laughs. My grandfather and I would exchange an unworried glance, then take up positions back to back. Then they would come, an unlimited number from all sides. And there in the garden I would enact their destruction; my grandfather and I, a smoothly co-ordinated team, rendering them harmless one by one. Finally, we would survey with gravity the bodies all around us. He would then nod, and we would go on our way. Of course, we would show no untoward excitement about the matter and continue home without discussing it.

There were times midway through such a battle when Noriko, my grandparents’ housemaid, called me in to breakfast. But otherwise, I would conclude my programme as my grandfather did; I would go to the tree, stand before it silently for those vital few seconds, then embrace it with appropriate suddenness. I did at times act out a scenario in which, before my grandfather’s startled gaze, I would actually uproot the tree and send it tumbling over the shrubs. But the tree was infinitely more solid than the one broken by the typhoon, and even as a boy of seven, I accepted this particular scenario as unlikely, not of the same realm of possibility as the other.

I do not think my grandfather was an especially wealthy man, but life at his house seemed very comfortable after the conditions I had known in Tokyo. There were shopping expeditions with Noriko to buy toys, books and new clothes; and there were many kinds of food – though commonplace enough today – which I tasted for the first time in my life. The house too seemed spacious, despite a whole side of it being so damaged as to be uninhabitable. One afternoon soon after my arrival, my grandmother took me around it to show me the paintings and ornaments which adorned the rooms. Whenever I saw a painting I liked, I would point and ask: ‘Did my grandfather do that?’ But in the end, though we must have inspected each of the many paintings displayed around the house, not one turned out to be an example of my grandfather’s work.

‘But I thought Oji was a famous painter,’ I said. ‘Where are his paintings?’

‘Perhaps you would care for something to eat, Ichiro-san?’

‘Oji’s paintings! Bring them at once!’

My grandmother looked at me with a curious expression. ‘I wonder now,’ she said. ‘I suppose it was Ichiro’s aunt who told him about his grandfather.’

Something in her manner caused me to become silent.

‘I wonder what else Ichiro’s aunt told him,’ she continued. ‘Yes, I do wonder.’

‘She just said Oji was a famous painter. Why aren’t his paintings here?’

‘What else did she say, Ichiro-san?’

‘Why aren’t his paintings here? I want an answer!’

My grandmother smiled. ‘I expect they’ve been tidied away. We can look for them another time. But your aunt was saying how keen you were yourself on drawing and painting. Most talented, she told me. If you were to ask your grandfather, Ichiro-san, I’m sure he’d be honoured to teach you.’

‘I don’t need a teacher.’

‘Forgive me, it was merely a suggestion. Now, perhaps, you would care for something to eat.’


Cousins
Evensong