Society for Recreating the Hachiko Statue
Akira had three close friends and one sister who had chosen the Chuo line to end their lives. As he was still only seventeen years old, Akira thought this a little unfortunate. Statistically speaking, to lose just one person in this way was typical for his peer group. Four was considerably above the average.
Akira was in his final year at high school. For all his time there, the Chuo line had always been the most popular line on the subway system for those who wished to commit suicide. Compared to the others, more than twice as many bodies were recovered every year from between the tracks and the wheels of a Chuo train. It was no real mystery as to why this was. It was the only line known to not have a policy of charging the relatives of the deceased with the cost of cleaning and for the time the train lost. This made it the preferred choice for all those who didnt wish to leave their families with any financial burden after their death. Conversely, those who didnt choose the Chuo, may have done so because they did. Akira liked to believe that the fact that his sister Mamiko had chosen the Chuo showed that even at the end she was still thinking of others.
Akira used the subway every weekday to go to school and at the weekends to get to his part-time job in Tokyo. The nearest station to the house where he lived with his parents was on the Chuo line, but Akira took little notice of this. One subway train was much like any other. If its significance ever did come to mind, it was only when he went through Akihabara, the station where his sister had jumped. Akira had been with her all that afternoon and had arrived just a few moments after she had jumped. His strongest memory of the day was the brand new pair of pink Nike trainers that she had stepped out of and left behind her on the platform.
When Akira woke up on a Sunday morning in late August, he turned off his alarm clock and then, remembering what day it was, turned on his stereo to listen to the imported Black Flag Live album he had received in the post the week before. Akira was a big fan of English and American punk music. He particularly liked the lesser known bands of the late nineteen seventies and early nineteen eighties and had built up an extensive CD and vinyl collection. He liked some of the newer American punk bands too, and would try to see them when they came to Japan, but not to the same degree. He didnt believe they were quite as authentic as the originals.
Because of school and college after school and the job in the coffee shop on Saturdays, Sunday was the only day that Akira had to himself. This day was to be no different from any other Sunday, although maybe a little hotter as it was the height of summer. After lying in bed for an hour and staring up into the ceiling while listening to the music, he got up to dress and watch cartoons on TV for the rest of the morning.
At noon, he stepped into his mothers room to say goodbye. She turned over to nod at him but did not speak. He then left the apartment to walk to the subway station. He was planning to spend the whole afternoon at the record shops of Shinjuku, looking for CDs and perhaps meeting up with friends. It was a good fifteen-minute walk and the heat was wet and uncomfortable. The bus service was irregular at the weekends however and he had little choice but to walk as his bike had been stolen from the station rails the week before. By the time he reached the stairs that led up to his platform, he was sweating hard and had to stop to buy a soft drink from the station shop. He was still a few minutes early for the express train though and had time to sit down on a plastic bench and smoke a Lucky 7 cigarette.
The train arrived on time but the carriage that stopped in front of Akira was already full. He ran down the platform to get to the last carriage and just made it through the doors with seconds to spare. He had to stare down into the floor and wait until he had recovered his breath before he was able to look back up. He hated it when people could see him red faced and out of breath. It made him anxious. He was usually OK with the Sunday train. It was unusual for this train to be so overcrowded. Now, he was going to have to stand all the way. It was bad luck and he thought about what he had done to cause it. He wondered if it might have something to do with his mothers budgerigar and his recent cruel treatment of it.
On either side of him stood middle-aged men, reading newspapers and looking uneasy out of their weekday suits. In front of him sat an old woman in a traditional summer kimono. She had a small and kind-looking face, with deep folds and creases in her paper-like skin. She reminded Akira a little of his grandmother who had died the previous year. She had lived by up in the north, near Sapporo. Throughout his childhood, Akira had gone to visit her once a year with his mother and his sister, and then when his sister died, hed gone only with his mother. It was a long journey by train, but he had enjoyed it and was sad that there was no reason to go anymore. He smiled down at the old woman and she smiled back before hiding her head behind a book she retrieved from within the inner folds of her clothes.
Akira found it hard to read when standing. The express train was too fast and the carriages shook so much that it was hard to concentrate. He watched the buildings go by in a grey blur instead, and waited for the suspension bridge that carried the train over the Meiji river and into the city. He liked to look out of the window on the bridge, even when he had a seat. On a clear day, you could see for miles across the whole prefecture.
He hoped there might be some new CDs in the stores that he hadnt seen before. He needed something good to happen. It hadnt been a good week. He had received a bad mark for an exam at his school and then been shouted at by his boss at the restaurant on Saturday. He had been daydreaming when there were no customers to serve. If it happened again, he would probably lose his job and would have no money for shopping trips such as this one.
"Akira? It is you, isnt it?"
An English voice broke his train of thought. He could feel himself blushing even before he saw where the words had come from. Sat beside the old woman was Maggie, a teacher from the English conversation school and one of the main subjects of his sexual fantasies. He nodded and smiled at her.
"I thought so. Ive been trying to catch your eye for the last couple of stations. You were in another world!"
Akira nodded again. He could sense the rest of the carriage now awaiting further information.
"We havent seen you in class for a while. Is everything all right at home? Youve not been ill, I hope."
"No, everything is all right."
The old woman had put down her book and was also looking up at him. He could feel the blood rushing to his cheeks. Fortunately it seemed Maggie had no more questions for the time being. Akira bit hard into a piece of skin on the inside of his mouth and prayed the next station would come before he was forced to speak again.
When it came, many people got off and the seat on the other side of Maggie came free. She put a magazine on it and gestured for him to join her.
"Quick, Akira, before someone else."
He sat and pushed his body as far back as it could go in the seat. If he was going to have to turn to talk to Maggie, he didnt want to see the old womans face listening in beside her.
"So its just that youve been too busy at college to come and see us then?"
Akira had enjoyed learning to speak English. He was good at it and had risen to the second highest level at the school. At this stage, you didnt have to have a grammar lesson but instead could talk about anything you liked. If he was the only student there, Akira usually liked to talk about American music and movies. There was an American teacher called Tommy who Akira would often get for a one-to-one session. He was a little different from the other teachers, always making jokes and refusing to do the lesson the school had prescribed. They both liked the same kind of music and Tommy often told Akira stories of what it was like being a punk fan in America in the 1980s. After many lessons together, Akira began to think of him as more of a friend than a teacher, and made a point of asking for him specifically when booking a lesson. An hour with Tommy would be spent teasing each other and testing each others musical knowledge. This came to a sudden end when Tommy asked Akira about his family. Akira told him about his sister. When he went on to tell him how and why, Tommy had laughed and said this was so typical of the Japanese that he found it hard to believe. Akira found this hard to take. When Tommy then refused to apologise for his laughter, Akira had stood up from the table, closed his books and left the cubicle and the school, even though there were still twenty minutes of the lesson left to go. Although he hadnt made an official complaint, he hadnt been back since and didnt intend to until Tommy had moved on to another school.
"Where are you going to now? Not studying on a Sunday, I hope?"
"No, Im going to Shibuya to shop."
She nodded and smiled at him. They both nodded their heads some more, until Maggie picked up her book and returned to the page she had been reading. Out of the corner of his eye, Akira looked down at Maggies long pale legs emerging from the short navy blue dress he remembered so well.
In the seat on his other side sat an elderly salariman reading a popular anime magazine. Akira glanced down at the detailed pictures of a school girl being raped by a giant octopus and wondered whether Maggie could see the same drawings.
He closed his eyes and pretended to sleep.
Thirty minutes later, he heard his station being called out. When Maggie touched his arm and said that it was time he got off, he opened his eyes and tried to look surprised. She laughed and said that she hoped she would see him again soon. Akira nodded and tried not to blush once more. He just made it out of the doors in time.
When he reached the street, Akira stopped to sit on a bench and smoke another cigarette. He was still feeling nervous and needed to calm down. All around him, people moved quickly to keep out of the glare of the sun. He looked at the statute of Hachiko that stood just metres from him, and wondered if it was being kept sufficiently clean.
He had always liked Hachiko. He was a young boy when his father had first showed it to him on the day he had brought Akira and his sister to his office to show them where he worked. It had been the highlight of the day.
In the years before the war, Hachiko had been a small dog who had followed his master to the station every morning and waited all day until he returned in the evening. But one day, his master fell ill at work and was taken to a hospital where he died some weeks later. Nobody told Hachiko and so he stayed at the station entrance waiting obediently for his master to return. After a while, station workers and commuters recognised him and gave him food and water. Sometimes people felt sorry for him and tried to take him home, but he would always return. With time, his story became famous. He never stopped waiting for his master until, many years later, he died. A metal statue was paid for from public donations and put up in the exact same place where he used to sit. It was melted down during the war for ammunition, but a society was formed afterwards to make sure it was rebuilt. Since then it had become a popular place for young people to meet in the evenings.
Akiras father told him the story because it demonstrated an attitude that was to be admired by all Japanese, but Akira just liked the statue because of the sad expression that was depicted on the small dogs face. That was a time when he and his father still liked to talk.
He blew the hot smoke out into the hot air and stubbed his cigarette out on the concrete beneath his foot.
The first record shop he entered was called Esmes, on the third floor of a department store. Akira recognised the assistant behind the counter. He had been a year ahead of him at school.
They had known each other on and off since they were little kids, but had little to say to each other now. Akira walked on to the new releases section to flick through the CDs. He owned most of them already in one format or another, but kept his hopes up that something new would turn up. Occasionally, he pulled out a CD he already owned but particularly liked, just to remind himself of some of the song titles.
His mother had been the big music fan in the family when he was growing up. Thats probably where he got it from. She was a big fan of the Beatles and had played their albums at full volume whenever she was cleaning the house. She used to dance from room to room, singing along to the choruses. These days, he never heard her play those old songs anymore. She rarely even left her bedroom.
He came to the end of the CDs. There were no more to see and there was nothing he didnt have. He thought about buying another copy of the first Fugazi album, just in case anything was to happen to the one he already owned. He didnt like the feeling of coming all this way and buying nothing. But he knew that Junichi would want to know why he was paying for something he already had and was afraid of having to explain himself. Instead, he waited until Junichi was busy with another customer and then put his head down and hurried out of the shop.
There was another store he liked a short walk away. It was still hot, but at least the tall buildings provided some shade from the afternoon sun. He bought a can of iced coffee and cut down through the kabukicho district to make the journey shorter.
It was quiet compared to the weekday evenings that would see the alleys and streets teeming with red-faced salarimen looking to get their kicks before catching the last train home to their wives. One or two of the bars and clubs were closed for the weekend, but most were open for business. Akira walked past a group of girls in high school uniforms and white stockings outside one bar, all smoking cigarettes and giggling.
Akira and his friends thought that kabukicho was a very old fashioned and square place. Only sukebe old men went there, in big drunken groups to protect their embarrassment. Today though, Akira walked a little slower than usual. He paused to read some of the special weekend prices, and caught the eye of the touts and girls on the street. Normally, he would hardly even look up as he walked by.
He stopped again outside the entrance to a new club. The signs and pictures caught his attention.
It was a new type of business for kabukicho. Akira had heard about it but not seen it with his own eyes before. Rather than providing a service in traditional bathrooms or cubicles, this club offered different themed settings and scenarios for the customer to choose from. It was like a love hotel, but with girls who would already be there for the single man. There was an office scenario, with secretary girls; an old fashioned tatatmi room, with girls in kimonos; and a room that had been done up to look like a subway carriage, with girls dressed to look like commuters.
Akira knew he had to get a move on if he wanted to get to the record store before all the new releases had sold out, but something about the photograph of the subway room stopped him from walking away. There was a special weekend price of ten thousand yen for an hour. This was the same amount he had intended to spend on CDs. He checked his wallet and then walked forward to greet the Korean woman behind the counter.
He was shown through to an elevator and told to press the button for the sixth floor. Inside the elevator, Akira hesitated before pressing the button. He could still leave and ask for his money back. It was not yet too late. Before he could make up his mind, the elevator shuddered into life and the light for level six lit up.
When the door opened, there was nobody there to greet him. He walked out into a dimly lit corridor and towards a door with the clubs name written on it.
He opened the door and stepped inside.
It was just like being in a real train. It was maybe a little larger and smelled a little different, but, apart from that, it was very life-like. Akira closed the door behind him and stepped up to one of the windows. It looked like it was dark outside with just a few neon lights shining through. Closer up, Akira could see that it was just black paper stuck on the other side of the glass.
"Good day, can I get you something to drink, something to eat?"
Akira turned to look at the woman who was addressing him. She was younger than he had been expecting and dressed like an average secretary, though her skirt was shorter than normal. From her accent, he wondered whether she might also be Korean.
"Maybe a coke would be good, thank you."
"Of course. Please take a seat. I will be back as quickly as possible."
She turned and half-ran up to the doors on the other side of the train. They slid open automatically and she stepped out onto what looked like a station platform.
Akira sat on the nearest seat and felt its material. It was very realistic, identical to the seats that were on the JR lines. They probably used the same supplier, he thought. The adverts for credit cards and conversation schools that were above the windows opposite him also seemed to be for real.
He closed his eyes. The sound of an express train running over rails was being played over a PA system.
"Here is your drink, sir?"
He hadnt heard her return.
"What would you like to play today? Shall I tell you what we can provide?"
He nodded, hoping she would not notice his blush.
"For the most popular choice, we will send more passengers into the carriage. It is just like rush hour. You can stand by one of the girls. But this way, nobody will complain if you want to touch them."
"I see. Maybe that is not the thing "
"For the second most popular choice, there is just one girl in the carriage with you. You have up to an hour together. If you like, she can dress as a JR employee."
"Would you like this?"
"I dont think so."
"If there is anything else you would like to try, please ask."
"I dont know, maybe just the one girl."
"Of course. Shall I stay? Or would you like to see another?"
"No. Its OK. Please stay."
"Shall I dress as a JR employee, or do you prefer this outfit?"
"Youre fine as you are. Please sit."
The truth was
that Akira was beginning to wonder what exactly it was that he was doing there. This was
the kind of place his father might frequent. It was not for him. He wondered whether it
was too late to get his money back.
|© Alex Mitchell 2006
This story may not be archived, reproduced or distributed further without the author's express permission. Please see our conditions of use.
Alex Mitchell lives in North
London and is currently finishing his first novel, Broken Orange Pekoe, set
in Sri Lanka at the turn of the 20th century. He also writes short stories, non-fiction
and completed the Masters in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths College in 2005.
Issue 54: July - August 2006
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