The Reunion

By William Wetherall

A homeless man lives on memories of Manchuria during World War II
and dreams of finding a younger brother his mother left behind

Original 1984 (4,690 words), last revised 1996 (6,380 words)

Placed 4th in 1984 Asiaweek Short Story Competition.
Rewritten in 1996 for The Broken Bridge (Kamata 1997).

The Broken Bridge
(Fiction from Expatriates in Literary Japan)
Edited by Suzanne Kamata
Introduction by Donald Richie
Berkeley: Stone Bridge Press, 1997, pages 113-127

The Reunion

By William Wetherall

Weekend-weary commuters rushing to work through the bowels of Shinjuku station one Monday morning had to veer around a drifter who had wandered into the passageways from the rainy autumn streets after the shutters had been opened at dawn. The man had made a cardboard bed at the foot of a concrete pillar in the middle of the main promenade and then fallen into a nightmarish sleep.

"It's about time you were up, mister," chided a matronly woman who had nearly skewered the drifter with her umbrella.

"Hey, numskull, can't you see you're blocking the way?" shouted a businessman while brushing off the briefcase he had dropped when he had tripped over the drifter's feet and pitched into a policeman.

The drifter stirred in his sleep. He had felt something strike his side, the toe of a shoe, he thought. His eyes came open but they closed before he could focus on the figure hovering over him, and again he was a young boy confronting the short, wiry, unshaven Imperial Army sergeant who had kicked him awake and was now glowering down at him.

"What are you doing here, son?" the soldier ask.

The boy's eyes, reaching into the darkness beyond the sergeant's shoulders, made out the rafters of the armory where he had been napping, the boy finally recalled, on top of some splintery pallets. He had to get up and find his mother and go back to Japan.

"The war's over, you know," the boy said.

"That's no way for a Son of Nippon to speak," the sergeant said.

"But the Emperor surrendered, and we're going home," the boy said, paying no heed to the stern look on the sergeant's face.

The sergeant's eyes flashed from the dusty shadows, but the boy wasn't fazed.

"I said to get up!" the sergeant exploded, booting the boy so hard that he fell off the pallet to the loam of the warehouse floor. The boy clenched his side and grimaced while squirming on the dirt.

Again the drifter's eyes cracked, but this time they widened until they had opened full stop, though they continued to strain out of focus. The pain in his side snapped some of his senses back into the present. His ears were assaulted by a rumbling crescendo of stampeding shoes on concrete. Foul odors, some familiar, others foreign, toyed with his runny nostrils, which he wiped with the frayed sleeve of a once stylish overcoat. The Manchurian loam became a cardboard mattress on cement. The brown corrugated paper reeked of vending machine spirits mixed with the gastric backflow of the half-digested meal he had scavenged from the garbage cans of the finest of Shinjuku's white-collar eateries.

The spike of the woman's right shoe caught the drifter's ribs, and she tripped. As her body pitched forward, she grabbed at an arm of the policeman who had been trying to awaken the drifter and keep the curious at bay, but the officer stepped back and she kept falling.

The drifter raised his head to avoid the armory sergeant's spatted boots. After he blinked the puffy folds of his thickly padded eyelids and dug some of the sleep from his eyes, the boots become purple pumps, red leg warmers, black thigh-highs, and a pleated mauve miniskirt which, as the woman wearing it fell on top of him, flared out and drew his glazed eyes to the blur of pink lace at her crotch until one of her knees plunged into his better eye and drove his skull back down so hard that it bounced off the pavement with the thump of a basketball.

The woman struggled to untangle herself from the drifter's limbs, which flailed like the legs of a beetle that had flipped on its back and was twitching around to right itself. She suddenly screamed for someone to help her, and the drifter stopped jerking his arms and relaxed them long enough for her to stand up and back away from their reach.

The drifter fingered the rest of the sleep off his lashes as he watched the woman brush herself off and then rub at a soiled spot on the hem of her skirt with a moist finger napkin she had produced from her shoulder bag. When finished, she released the hem of her skirt, tossed the napkin toward the drifter, and glared at him as he gingerly touched the tender flesh that was swelling around his right eye. She could see a bright flush through the grime that had caked on his cheeks. His right eye would soon be distended and discolored like the left one.

The policeman, his back to the crowd, just stood there and gawked at the woman's round tush but averted his eyes when she looked his way. The woman smiled, tossed her head, and marched into the human sea. The officer limply saluted the woman's receding figure and, narrowing his eyes, tracked it until the parting crowed had closed around her.

The policeman turned his attention to the drifter who, now fully alert, had shifted his interest from the woman to the people who were pressing around him, stretching their well-scrubbed necks to see what all the fuss was about. The nearest and tallest people in the crowd were rewarded with a glimpse of the drifter's dirt-stiffened cowlicks, grubby overcoat, filthy pants, shredded sneakers that habit alone had forced off his feet before his drunken stupor had become sleep, and three tattered shopping bags stuffed with everything he owned.

After dispersing the crowd with his nightstick, the officer poked the drifter to his feet, and during a lull in the pedestrian traffic he steered the drifter to the side of the promenade and parked him beside the wall, where he would not disturb anyone.

"Gotta get my stuff," the drifter said in a phlegm-clogged voice. He started toward the cardboard mattress by the pillar, but the nightstick blocked his way.

"You stay here," the officer said, and then he darted back to retrieve the drifter's bags before the next stampede of commuters could kick them open. After setting down the bags at the drifter's bare feet, he returned for the shoes and, as an after thought, dragged the putrid cardboard over by some refuse bins at the side of the concourse.

"You just going to leave my bed there?" the drifter said, wiggling his feet into the shoes the officer had dropped beside him.

"The custodians will take care of it," the policeman said.

The drifter hacked up a mouthful of phlegm and spat toward the wall, hitting a mural of a flower shop and turning a white rose green. "Did you have to kick me so hard?" he said, rubbing his ribs while flexing his right arm.

"Next time you bathe, check out your bruises," the officer said, then pointed to his feet. "If they match my boots, you can file a complaint. All I did was toe you a few times to wake you up."

"Someone more than just toed me," the drifter said.

"What do you expect?" the policeman said. "You plop your butt in the middle of this station at rush hour, and someone's going to stomp on it. You should thank that woman you're still alive."

"The bitch nearly killed me."

"If her spikes had been any sharper, you'd be dead all right."

The drifter poured his eyes over the officer's dark blue uniform. "Yamada, is it?" he said, reading the name tag. He studied the two stars on the policeman's lapels and decided that, despite the officer's boyish looks, he was not a rookie. "You a detective or something?"

"Senior Policeman Yamada, Shinjuku Precinct," Yamada said. His face flushed as he snapped a salute and added, "I'm just a patrolman."

"Well, patrolman Yamada, thanks for your help, and I hope you have a good day," the drifter said as he picked up his bags. Ducking his head and jerking his right hand towards his face in a sort of reverse karate chop, he gestured his intent to cut in front of Yamada, who was standing between him and the human traffic.

"Hold it," Yamada said. "I've got to take you in."

"Have I done something wrong?"

"Just follow me. I want to ask you some questions."

Yamada guided the drifter toward the base of some steps that were clogged with commuters going up to the street.

"What's your name?" Yamada said while they waited for an opening.


"Nagase what?"


"Is that your real name?"

"From the day I was born," Nagase said. "Hey, am I gonna get a haircut and bath out of this? I could use some warmer threads, too."

"You might even get an address and a job."

Yamada noted Nagase's frown before turning his eyes toward the flow of people on the steps. Seeing a break, he led Nagase up to the street, where a chilly drizzle was falling on a turbulent sea of umbrellas waiting at an intersection for the light to turn green. When it did, Yamada and Nagase hustled across the street and made their way to a small police box near the station building and slipped inside before they had gotten very wet. The desk officer, who had three stars on a name tag that read Tamura, lifted her hatless head from the logbook she had been reading, returned Yamada's salute, and studied the shabby man with the bags.

"Not there," she said to Nagase when he set one of his bags down just inside the entrance.

"Over here," Yamada said, stepping over to an unoccupied desk on the other side of the congested room.

Yamada removed his hat to reveal a shock of tousled hair, and put the hat on a corner of the desk. He motioned Nagase to a chair beside the desk, picked up his tea cup, and stepped toward the back.

"Let's start with some tea," Yamada said.

"No cappuccino?" Nagase said, not looking at Yamada but at the screen of a silent television monitor on a shelf in the corner.

"This ain't no coffee shop," Yamada said.

As he turned to look at Nagase, Yamada caught Tamura's nod. From the low cabinet that served as a counter for the teapot and hot water, Yamada produced a cup and saucer and the makings for various coffees.

"Would you consider some cafe au lait?" he said, facing Nagase.

"That would do quite nicely, yes," Nagase said, smiling at Yamada.

"Your coffee, sir," Yamada said as he handed Nagase a saucered cup with a packet of sugar and a spoon.

Nagase received the saucer with both hands, set it on the desk, and stirred the sugar into the steaming, creamy brew. While sipping it, he looked almost dignified. While Yamada served Tamura and himself some green tea, Nagase closed his eyes and let the sweet bitterness work its miracles on his throat and head. By the time he opened them, Yamada was sitting at the desk and shuffling some papers.

Yamada read from a special protocol for interviewing the homeless.

"Nine October nineteen ninety-two, zero nine fifteen hours," Yamada said aloud as he entered the date and time on the interview form. "Your name again?"

"Nagase Yuji," Nagase said, and this time he described the Chinese characters used to write it.

"Date of birth?"

"Thirteen December nineteen thirty-seven."

"Place of birth?"


"Manchuria?" Yamada said, looking up at Nagase. "My grandfather's regiment was sent there during the war, but he came back in an urn."

"At least he came back," Nagase said after a moment of silence during which his eyes dropped to the floor.

"Your permanent domicile?" said Yamada, his eyes back on the form.

"Tokushima prefecture," Nagase began. "But years ago, everything was torn down and all the paddies were filled to build a golf course," he explained after giving Yamada the rest of an old-fashioned rural address that no longer existed.

"And your residence of record?"

"Osaka," Nagase said, this time describing what Yamada recognized to be a neighborhood with a lot of flop houses mainly for men just down on their luck. "But I left Nishinari five or six years ago and never stayed anywhere long enough to bother to transfer the registration."

"Your father's name?"

"Nagase Masao."

"Is he well?"

"He's in the belly of some fish."

Again Yamada met Nagase's stare. At length he said, "And your mother?"

"Shizue. She died of tuberculosis in 1953."

"In Tokushima?"

"No. Tachikawa."

"Any brothers or sisters?"

"An older sister and a younger brother. Yasuko and Kuninori"

"Where are they?"

"Yasuko died in Manchuria. As far as I know, Kuni's still there. If he survived the Cultural Revolution."

"Your mother left him there?"

"Yes. With a Chinese family."

"And you've had no contact with him?"

"None. After my mother and I were repatriated, she tried to reach the family, but her letters always came back. I've still got one in one of these bags. Would you like to read it?"

"Maybe later. Marital status?"


"Never married?"


"Any children?"

"One," Nagase said, and then gave the names of his ex-wife and daughter, and the Tokushima address of his ex-wife's family, with whom they were living the last time he had seen them, just before he had taken the ferry to Kobe and made his way to Nishinari.

"Any other relatives? Grandparents? Aunts, uncles, cousins?"



"Middle school."

"Last employment?"

"Shoe-shine boy."

"Shoe-shine boy?" Yamada said, looking up at Nagase and picking up his tea cup. "You come here from Ueno?"

"How'd you know?"

"I read the papers."

Nagase laughed. He could read too, and quite well at that, thank you, he felt like saying, but he closed his mouth, suddenly conscious of the lone tooth that protruded from his gums. Just as abruptly, though, he opened it again and began pouring out his life, sometimes so fast that Yamada, who had resumed taking notes, had to ask him to pause so that he could catch up. Even Tamura had stopped pretending to work and had giving the interview her full attention.

"Yeah, I came from Ueno. I was living in the park with several other transients. One day a band of teenage punks began harassing us. Five or six of them came over to the tree were my buddy and I had built this lean-to. They pointed to a sign that said 'It's your park, keep it clean,' and then started kicking us. My buddy, who made a little money shining shoes around the park entrance, took a couple of hard blows in the kidneys, and the next day he died. Well, he had this shoe-shine box, and I inherited it. I got his turf, too, but I had to shell out more protection money. Anyway, I gave it a try. Not a lot of business, but I was making enough to buy food and booze. Then it started getting cold, and I sold out to another guy and came to Shinjuku. Everyone was saying that the cops over here are easy on station dwellers. I had the same impression till this morning. Now it seems you're cracking down."

Now and then Nagase stopped to sip from his second cup of coffee and watch Yamada struggle to catch up with his notes. Twice he took it upon himself to explain how to write a Chinese character that Yamada had stumbled over. Yamada merely grunted his thanks, too proud to use words that would have encouraged Nagase to believe that his help was actually appreciated, much less to ask him how a mere middle-school graduate had managed to learn so much. Nagase, who saw in the younger man's eyes more fear than envy, resisted the temptation to inform Yamada that living on the road gives an otherwise studious man time to read more books in one year than a work-a-day cop could peruse in a whole lifetime of leisure snatched between career and family.

During one of the longer breaks in his narration, Nagase's eyes were drawn to the television monitor. The volume had been muted, but the program was plainly about some Chinese who had recently arrived in Japan in hopes that a Japanese relative might recognize them. All now middle-aged, most had been offspring of Japanese settlers in Manchuria for whom conditions at the end of the Second World War had made it seem preferable to leave their smaller children with Chinese families.

"After my mother gave Kuni to a childless Chinese couple in Harbin, she and I made our way to Hsinching, and from there to Fengt'ien and then Chinchou, and at last to the port of Hulutao, where we were shocked by the sudden appearance of my father.

"Neither of us immediately recognized the filthy bearded man who had called my name and started to limp towards us. Even when we finally realized who it was, we were strongly repelled by the stench that seemed to effuse from his every pore."

Yamada signaled for Nagase to go on, but the drifter's jaundiced eyes were again riveted to the screen showing, one by one, the faces of the Chinese who claimed to be Japanese war orphans. An old film clip of the hospital ship S.S. Hakuryu Maru, arriving at Hakata with a cargo of repatriots vying with one another for standing room on the deck, brought back nightmarish visions of his own voyage.

"On the morning we embarked from Hulutao, I stood between my parents on the port side of the Tsuta, an Imperial Japanese Navy destroyer that the occupation authorities had pressed into service to shuttle Japanese back to Japan, and ex-colonials in Japan back to their liberated countries. My father was still weak from his ordeal of escape from the Soviets, and the weeks of travel incognito as a Chinese beggar. Though now shaven and dressed in cleaner clothes, he remained silent and grim. My mother, who had given him up for dead, suddenly wanted to go back for Kuni. My father said it was too late, and told her she'd just have to write to the family after getting back to Japan.

"As the ship slipped away from the quay, a small girl, harnessed to the back of a Chinese man who was standing on the pier, began waving to a woman just down the railing from us. Suddenly the girl stretched her arms toward the ship and her face turned red, contorted in wails that were swallowed by the churning sea. My mother tried to keep her composure but collapsed in tears. My father bowed toward the shore of the land he had come to love, very deeply from the waist, and when at length he lifted his face there were tears in his eyes, too."

Nagase took a moment to wipe his eyes with a tattered sleeve.

"Early on the morning of the second day out, a sailor standing watch saw my father dive into the Yellow Sea off the fantail. He left his shoes on the deck, and a note by my mother's head. Her scream woke me up. I pried the note out of hand and read it. He had scribbled her name and mine and simply "Forgive me." When she first coughed up blood, a year before she died, she began weeping and told me that both of us would have been better off following him."

Nagase had kept his eyes on the screen while talking.

"Hey, would you turn up the sound?" he said.

"We're not finished!" Yamada said, in a tone that expressed his growing displeasure with Nagase's inattention.

"But that was my brother!" Nagase said, coming out of his chair and heading for the TV. Tamura, too, leapt to her feet, and her hand blocked Nagase's arm as he reached for the volume control.

"Your brother?" Yamada said.

"My brother!" Nagase said.

"Just relax and sit down," Yamada said, gripping one of Nagase's arms and pushing him back to his chair. "How do you know it was your brother?"

"It was him, alright. He looks exactly like my father. And the bottom of the screen said his Japanese name was Kuni."

Yamada, back in his own chair, jotted some notes on a pad while Nagase talked. Tamura, too, resumed her seat and immediately boosted the TV sound with a remote control.

A newscaster was saying that the Chinese were being processed at the National Olympic Memorial Youth center in Yoyogi. Some telephone numbers that viewers could call to obtain or provide more information about them were being flashed on the screen.

"That's just minutes away," Nagase said.

"Try calling the center," Tamura said to Yamada.

Yamada jotted down the numbers and studied his notes for a couple of minutes before he picked up the receiver. Nagase watched him tap out 3481-2488 and then shift his eyes toward the entrance.

"Wrong number," Nagase said.

Yamada's eyes remained on something outside the entrance as he held the receiver to his head and waited. A minute or two passed. Yamada's mouth opened as though to speak to someone who had answered the phone, but a couple of seconds later he pressed the cradle switch.

"Try 42 instead of 24," Nagase said.

Yamada released the cradle switch and touched the redial button. This time Yamada looked at Nagase while he waited.

"Line's busy," Yamada said at length. "I'll try again." When he did, though, he manually redialed but did not return Nagase's smile.

Yamada called the Yoyogi center and confirmed that the Chinese man Nagase insisted was his brother had indeed said that he had been called Kunichan. Tamura then gave Yamada permission to escort Nagase to the center.

"But first take him to Takadanobaba," Tamura said. Nagase's face lit up when he heard this reference to the nearby welfare center, where he knew that he would receive a medical examination, and a bath, shampoo, haircut, shave, and clean clothes, and maybe some food.

By noon, Nagase had emerged from the Takadanobaba facility neatly groomed and cleanly attired, looking more like a gardener on his day off than a jobless vagrant. On their way to Yoyogi, Yamada took him to a eatery and treated him to his first hot meal in several weeks.

Yamada introduced Nagase to the case worker in charge of the man who remembered being called Kuni, reminded him that he was to return to the welfare center by himself when finished at Yoyogi, and then returned to the Shinjuku police box. After interviewing Nagase, and sending him to a small room to give up another tube of blood, this time for typing, the case worker accompanied him to the auditorium, where one by one the men and women claiming to be war orphans would relate their sagas before a large audience of government officials from both countries, several nationalities of journalists, and of course the people who had come from all corners of Japan to find a lost relative.

While walking beside the young case worker toward the auditorium, Nagase patiently listened to her describe, as though she had been there in her previous incarnation, the chaotic conditions that had caused so many Japanese but also some Koreans in Manchuria and other outposts at the end of the war to leave behind a child, a spouse, a sibling, or a parent in the course of leaving China.

"Surely all these people feel guilty about what they did," the case worker said, "yet only a few of them are willing to trouble themselves, as you are, to locate the missing family member."

"Why is that?" Nagase asked.

"It's been a long time," the case worker said. "I mean, nearly half a century. A lot of things have changed, and they've got their own lives to think about. The economic burden of taking in not only the lost relative, but also the relative's Chinese family--spouse, children, even grandchildren--is by no means small, and there's not much help from the government. Not to mention the psychological burden; a reunion may open old wounds that many people would rather just let time heal."

After a moment of silence, the case worker went on.

"Thus some of the Chinese who are saying they're of Japanese descent come all the way to Japan to find that no one is looking for them. The luckier ones, if that's the right word, have more than one contender, which causes its own sort of confusion. Take Huang Wenjen, alias Kunichan, for example. Or O Bunjin in Japanese. Well, you're not the only one who thinks he's a relative. An Akita woman in her late seventies is certain he's her son. We won't know who's right, if either of you are, until we see the results of the blood tests."

Entering the auditorium, Nagase saw about thirty men and women sitting on the stage behind a rostrum where each would in turn tell their story, not only to the live audience, but also to the TV cameras. Sitting beside the case worker, he studied the people on the stage. Each person held a large name card on their lap, and though their eyes ranged from distant and dull to alert and glowing, all were undoubtedly there in hopes that, if no one in the audience saw or heard something familiar about them, then an unseen kin watching TV somewhere would recognize them, as Nagase had at the police box, and call the phone number shown at the bottom of the screen.

Over the years Nagase had followed as much of the news about the would-be Japanese war orphans as he could. Today he actually recognized some of the faces from the pictures he had seen in recent papers. This group was not unlike the many others that had come to Japan, but already it was proving to be a special one for him. The man holding a card with a name that Nagase read as O Bunjin was sitting in the third seat from the left in the front row. The man looked so much like his father that Nagase began to wonder if perhaps he had somehow survived the waves.

Some of the Chinese on the stage were smiling. Some were rubbing their eyes. Most sat rigid with their hands in their laps as the stage lights drew beads of sweat from their almost catatonic faces. The first speaker, the woman sitting first from the left in the front row, came to the rostrum. The man sitting next to her was second. Then came Huang.

Nagase's eyes locked on Huang's face as an interpreter put his Chinese into Japanese. None of Huang's facial features hinted Yamato descent. Even had he been a prince of the blood, his genes would have had to compete with the leathering effects of a youth spent laboring in the sun, to say nothing of the hardness of flesh that results from an austere diet. Whatever his genetic ancestry, the man standing behind the rostrum had a healthy, rotund countenance. His large mouth readily broke into a warm, engaging smile each time he looked up from his notes. He wore no camera makeup, and his skin was smooth and taut, though the corners of his eyes were deeply lined. Both lids had single folds, and his eyebrows were thin. He held up an enlargement of an old snapshot showing him in a Mao tunic and a red-star cap on a closely cropped head. Now his hair was finger-length on the right, where it was parted, and longer on the left where he had combed it over a receding hairline.

"My name is Huang Wenjen," he began. "My earliest memories are fairly vivid. There were four in my family, and we were living in a colonial settlement near Chalantun at the foot of the greater Hsingan range west of Tsitsihar in Heilungjiang province. Father was some kind of merchant, I recall, but he was drafted near the end of the war.

"I particularly remember the day we went to see him off. Dressed in his new uniform, he looked like a cedar tree facing our neighbors while they waved their rising-suns and shouted banzais. Long after they had stopped, he just stood there and gazed through his rimless glasses at the mountains where he had always taken us fishing in the summers.

"Mother wore a deep-sleeved kimono, dark blue I think, with a red brocade sash. My older brother, who may have been ten, had on his school clothes, a white shirt with black trousers and whatever shoes the family could afford. I was only four or five, and he held my hand as the train pulled away. I was crying because Father had said that I couldn't go. It was the last time that I ever saw him.

"We moved to Tsitsihar just days before the Soviets swept down from Siberia. I remember some heavy shelling, then waiting in lines to board a train for Hsinching. But we got no further than Harbin, which was already swarming with refugees. Food was scarce, and Mother was unable to feed us.

"One day we were playing in a small park which had become an evacuation center. After talking to a man who had taken special notice of us, Mother told my brother--I can't remember his name, I just called him Niisan--to stay with her pack while she took me to the man's house.

"She bought me a bean-jam dumpling from a vendor on the way, and she told me to enjoy it, for it would be the last sweet that she gave me. I was too hungry to give much thought to her words. We walked in silence, several paces behind the man, who never once looked back at us.

"Mother asked me to get on her back. She had squatted down as she did when I was much younger. When I said I could walk, she looked at me with eyes that were starting to tear. I asked her what was wrong, but she just smiled, grabbed my hand, and hurried on after the man.

"As soon as we reached his house, the man introduced us to his wife, and she served us tea and sweets. Mother talked with them for a while, and finally the man gave her an envelope with some money in it. She then explained to me that I would be staying there while she took care my brother, who had not been very well.

"She hugged me for a long time and then left. She paused very briefly at the gate to bow. She looked back only once, when I cried Okaasan and started running toward her, but the woman restrained me as Mother rushed down the street we had come by. My only wish, while watching her back get smaller, was to be on it. Even as I tell you all this, I can hear her humming and feel her hands patting my bottom as I warm my cheek on the back of her neck."

Nagase's eyes were misty. His mind drifted back to the park where he had watched his mother take Kuni away. Many other children had been in the park that day. Some of them were vying over a couple of swings, but he didn't feel like playing, so he sat in the sun on the pack his mother had left him to protect. He was waiting for her there when at length she returned, and the first thing she did was to pull him into her bosom and weep on his head until his hair was wet to the scalp.

A few weeks later Nagase posted a letter to China.

"Dear Wenjen,

"Since seeing you off at Narita I had a chance to move. A friend passed word to me that he would be going to Kyoto. Would I like to take over the cozy nook he had staked out along the south wall of the Tokyo headquarters of a major electrical appliance maker in the heart of the posh Ginza district? He would even leave me the one-room mansion he had fashioned from a huge cardboard carton that once protected the unmarred finish of the company's most popular five-door refrigerator.

"My friend is allowed to set up his shelter by the building's marble facade so long as he moves out during the day. So the next day I trained across the city to Yurakucho, and my friend introduced me to the night guards he pays a small monthly tribute to look the other way.

"It turned out to be a better arrangement than I thought. Shinjuku's catacombs had left me pale and chronically short of breath. Squatter's rights to the few benches in the tiny parks that dotted the labyrinth of bars near the station were claimed by local turf lords who have little sympathy for tramps like me. The biggest boon of all are the foreign tourists. The Americans, especially, are suckers for my new A-bomb survivor spiel.

"At a public toilet in a small playground just down the street from my new home, I can sponge bathe and brush my teeth any time of day. A half kilometer further south is Tokyo's sprawling Hibiya Park--I think you stopped there on one of your tours and fed the pigeons around the big fountain--where any morning of the year, except on the Emperor's birthday, I can get a sturdy bench overlooking a small pond where frogs sun on lotus leaves and croak as though the world was theirs. Flanked by the Imperial Hotel and the Metropolitan Police Department, and with only a few shallow moats between me and the Imperial Palace, I spend my days reading current newspapers and magazines, and during the evenings I forage for a full-course dinner in the refuse bins of some of the most sumptuous watering holes in the whole world.

"Words alone cannot convey the extent of my change in fortune since reuniting with you, dear Wenjen. Father, and Mother too, would be proud to learn that you are a respected village doctor, and that I am the president and sole employee of a company that recycles the world's highest-class waste. I trust that you will not be ashamed to tell your good comrades that your elder brother, though filthy rich, is devoting his time and wealth to the poor. When next you sail this way, do not hesitate to bring with you as many of your compatriots as are crazy enough to want to come here. I guarantee you that, within a few weeks, many of them will be sharing with me the finest bed that a traveler can make on the banks of the palace moat!

"From your older brother, Yuji."

Nagase Yuji felt something big and firm thump against his ribs. He remained absolutely still, but tensed with anticipation.

"There's a man there! I think he's dead!"

As Nagase turned towards the voice, he pulled the shroud of newsprint from his head. In front of his face was a soccer ball that all but obstructed his view of its youthful owner.

"Don't touch him!"

That must be the boy's mother, Nagase figured. Probably afraid that her son would be infected with lice or some horrid disease. The boy, now stiff with fear, would venture no closer, so Nagase reached for the ball himself and, pushing his body up with one arm, sent it flying back with the other.

Nagase was delighted to discover that he could still throw hard and straight. Even the boy grinned in surprise, and he began moaning when his mother dragged him to a nearby faucet and made him wash both the ball and his hands.

As Nagase sat up on the plastic sheet he had spread on the grassless ground, he wondered what had become of the benches. And the pond with the fountain, and the vast flower beds, and the small woods with glades were one could sit alone and not even see a telephone pole. And where was the palace moat, and the imperial swans that graced its weedy waters?

Surely this was not where he had gone to sleep, Nagase thought. Yet wasn't it, too, peaceful? Suddenly his stomach started growling with a ferocity that he had not heard for days. Had he risen too late to raid the cans he had seen when he arrived the night before? Then hearing the churning roar of the sanitation truck as it munched his morning meal inside its monstrous metallic maw, he knew that again he would have to wait until noon for the cans to began to refill.

Shrugging off another hungry start, Nagase reached for his single shopping bag, which bore the name of a Tokyo department store that gave him a bit of distinction wherever he went. Tucked into its top was a plastic bag with some stained and tattered documents that he had been looking at just before going to sleep.

One of the pieces of paper was a transit pass certifying that he had sailed from Hulutao on May 14, 1946, and had entered Japan through Sasebo three days later. Another was a single sheet of stationery, a letter which had been in an envelope addressed to his mother and bearing a postmark equivalent to the year he had finished middle school.

The letter had arrived a few weeks after he had found her dead from acute alcolosis in the three-mat room where she would service GIs while he was at school or outside. He could read just enough of the closely printed Chinese to know that it was about his brother.

Nagase's eyes caught a black bird swooping down to peck at a pool of vomit that could have been his. The mother, keeping a frenzied eye on the bird, dried her son's hands, pulled him toward the exit, and left the park to its truly indigenous species.

The crow beat its wings to the dripping faucet, where it took its morning communion from the water that filled the pebble basin below it. Then it looked Nagase's way and cawed. And as though an old friend had said something funny, he smiled.

Kamata 1997 The Broken Bridge
Yosha Bunko scan


Donald Richie was kind enough to want something by me for this collection, and Leza Lowitz also had something to do with me getting on the contributor list. I had met both of them, once together, but corresponded only with Suzanne Kamata concerning the story she asked me to contribute.

I offerred Suzanne two choices, "The Reunion" and "Hospitality". Both were expanded and subtantially recrafted versions of the original stories which had placed respectively 4th and 11th in Asia Week's 1984 and 1985 Short Story Competitions. I had hoped that she would choose "Hospitality" but she said another contributor had written on a similer theme, so the "Reunion" better fit the anthology. In fact, no other story addressed the main theme of the several themes in "Hospitality", but "The Reunion" was significantly shorter.

What mattered a lot more to me was the way the anthology was packaged. I didn't anticipate that I would be "boxed" as an "expat" author and that my story would be characterized a work of "expat fiction". I would have backed out had I known this. It's a silly enough metaphor when used casually. It violates everything I understand about the human condition and literature when used seriously, as it is in the marketing of this anthology, which panders to a niche market that insists on alienating writers and their characters from the societies in which they born and raised, or live and write in later in life, whether as natives or migrants.

Many people, I know, will say I should be grateful. For what? A chance to be published? As someone I'm not?