+ 51 Aviación, San Borja

Yudai Kamisato

Illustration by Dianna Xu

1. Tokyo

I:  That I don’t remember the cold must mean it happened before it got cold,
It was noisy . . . really noisy. It still rings in my ears
They hadn’t yet announced the Olympics. But the streets were already carnivalesque, like spinning cogwheels
Eating and raging, drinking and vomiting everyday, the commuter trains were generating power themselves, digging through the underground, lighting new bombs
The din was enough
By then the city was barely holding on, almost having absorbed as much noise as it possibly could,
And in a building that I did not build, that felt sterile, I slept as I basked in the sunlight,
As I recall, I was alone,
Perhaps I had been awakened by my own snores,
But I felt as if someone had shaken my shoulder,
I awoke!
And then . . . I saw that I was in a room in the terribly stained building where there once was a kimono shop, in Chuo-ku in Tokyo
And in this room, there was fresh evidence that the carelessly placed mattress had been dusted off,
My drool had left a yellow stain which stank, so
I felt as if I was looking at my own stupid sleeping face
There was no music playing in my mind, it was terribly empty
And then only silence . . .

SEKISANO:  Silence is not the incidental gap between words
They say it possesses a force against words
The elderly man stands, his left hand nestled in his pocket as if guarding his words against silence
He has trouble bending his right leg,
The steam from the residual heat of silence is spit out of his palm when he opens and closes his right hand
The rising white steam smoothes out the wrinkles on his face, giving a glimpse of his former youth
On the other side of the silence,

I:  What’s the use of indulging this silence, I think, and get up and
I’m bewildered to find a man, known as the father of Mexican theater, standing right next to me
(To Sekisano.) “ . . . Hello”
I accept the fact that he is the father of Mexican theater
The fact that he is the father of Mexican theater, makes whether or not it makes sense to me, meaningless,
He is who he is, that’s right
I thought I would speak to this Mexican . . .
(Attempts to speak but hesitates.) I can’t think of what to talk about . . .
I don’t know whether, since he is a theater person, I should talk to him about theater? Or should I talk about the weather first, the way one would serve tea and cake to a guest first? Or perhaps, I should introduce myself, I am actually also involved in theater, I am ostensibly a theater director, so that would make mine a pretty low, bottom-of-the-rung existence next to yours, but to begin with, you seem to be Japanese or Chinese, but to begin with, are you in my dream?
That’s what was going around and around in my mind but, if you are an apparition or a ghost of some kind, you’d probably be able to hear what I’m thinking inside my head without my having to articulate it right? That was what was going around and around in my mind,
“How do you think about theater?” was his sudden question!
It seemed he couldn’t speak Japanese with facility, and since I don’t understand Spanish, he spoke to me in English
“How do you think about theater?”
“ . . . Well, I don’t really care about theater . . . ”
“I can understand what’s being said in Japanese, but it’s been a while since I had to speak it so the words don’t come easily,” the Mexican said something like this and stuck out his tongue.

SEKISANO:  From the late Taisho period to the early Showa period, I was in Tokyo
Back when they were starting to construct the winding sewers, and water grew dirty as it traveled down its pathway
In Tokyo, the earth shook, old buildings were destroyed, on the one hand there were revolutions in Germany and Russia, and I was in a panic about that, however I did not even have an ounce of intention to flirt with aging theater folk, rather, for the poverty-stricken masses, I went to exercise my rights in the general elections along with the rice farmers and laborers packed into suitcases, I believed that the morning, a spittoon, was rising imminently, and we fought for those politics, those ideals, for that society that stank like piss, for that economy that was like sleep in your eye and snot in your nose, as we cooked sardines over a flame, we were destroying the world created for the privileged, to leave behind some shred of hope that would at least be better than shit for the next generation of bastards,
That was the spirit with which I lived for theater . . .
However this young man, who fancied himself a theater director, asked
“Mr. Sano, when you lived in Tokyo, how long did it take for the train on the Yamanote line to complete a circle?” and
“Um, what time was the last train?”
like a reporter for a magazine, he repeatedly asks about the trains,
It’s nice that he had some interest, and of course there were times when I rode the train
However . . . What about theater?
Through theater, I would gaze at society with its exposed nipples, attack the wailing politicians with my girlish passion for revolution,
If I didn’t do that, what would be the point of making village plays for theater’s sake,
Ride the train, or take a picture of the train, and grin, what would that accomplish?
At least once, I’d rather bring home a young man from the shabby next-door apartment who looked like he might hang himself any day and share a pot of warm stew with him, or drop that pot so it shattered so I could give some work to someone who fixed things,
I’d rather make theater that matched these priceless social contributions, and feel good about myself,
Because then I would know how the needle and thread work underneath the fabric of society. Tear down the government, rob money from the rich!
Leftist theater is rising, long live the proletariat!

I:  The Mexican was so excessively passionate that he was unintelligible
It was as if someone had handed me a heavy, off-season blanket,
He spoke heatedly, at times dragging his foot while imitating an actor, meanwhile, I felt like I was sleep-talking
But, I am also a bit of a theater director myself, involved in this charade of performance,
“Nobody cares about the left or proletariat art in this day and age. All they care about is themselves and their petty little worries, facades of love and empty catastrophes. There may be one small faction of self-professed intellectuals who complain about the government online, but the theater has completely lost its significance.”

SEKISANO:  “Listen to me. Time goes around and around, and now is the time for you to speak out for the laborers, tear down the government, focus your youth and your passion, abandon catastrophe and throw yourself into the internet! We need theater to do its work!”

I:  “Theater doesn’t speak for anyone and can’t bring down the government. Youth is useless and passion is scoffed at, and nobody believes there’s a shred of truth online.”

SEKISANO:  “Now is the time for the voice of the laborers to focus its youth and its passion, abandon catastrophe and throw itself into the internet! We need theater! Come on, say it”

I:  “ . . . Now is the time for the laborers to take their youth and passion to the internet . . . ”

SEKISANO:  “Terrible.”

I:  “Hey, I’m not an actor”

SEKISANO:  “Quit jabbering! Take a pause between your breaths, connect the flow of words together”

I:  “ . . . OK . . . ”

SEKISANO:  “Hurry up!”

I:  “ . . . Now is the time, and the laborers always have their youth sucked dry by the internet . . . ”

SEKISANO:  “Damnit, those aren’t the lines!”

I:  I don’t care anymore.
Being insolent and shameless, I just want to sleep, I want to end my days in this slumber,
I want to stop this thinking game and stay asleep, I don’t want to think about society and labor and meaning
I want to float to the surface of the world and for my flimsy life to melt away in a bland soup
As if he read my mind, the theater Mexican clammed up, irritated,
And dragging the leg he couldn’t bend, he runs around, glittering
Like dust stirred up into the sunlight
And he shouts
My brain cells are being scratched by the sharp claws of political purveyors,
He cries the cry of an exile like a lab rat
If Mexico is like a child to him who is the father of Mexican theater,
His home country of Japan must be like his mother, Oedipus!
Abhorred by his mother, their relationship never restored,
With the resilience of a rat, he groaned nonsense, exhausted


Afterwards his body fell calm, and he told me the story of how he retreated from the front lines of the left-wing theater movement because of the detectives from the police department’s rat control office, and traveled off to Berlin and then Russia with the help of his parents/the help of money

In the new world, he became an assistant to the director Meyerhold, who would be crushed to breadcrumbs. His stories from that time were so spicy I almost fainted.
The conflicting theater theories of great director Stanislavski and Meyerhold
The miraculous fusion of the two legendary men, flaunting their genitalia to each other as old men,
These were the stories I had to listen to as if inside an eternal fire, what kind of theater was this?

“Isn’t Stanislavski a style of skiing?”
When I gingerly try to make a joke,
Seki Sano, the formerly Japanese theater person who had been forced by circumstances to establish his artistic home in Mexico, made a withered expression like the end of the world, and with a lopsided skip he disappeared
As I watched him walk away his back seemed to say
“Follow in my footsteps and go to Russia”
But in this climate of rapidly deteriorating U.S.-Russian relations, which would you choose?

I longed for the sun, so I decided to go to Okinawa.

2. Okinawa


I:  I headed from Narita to Okinawa, it was December
I went to Naha by myself
I didn’t need a coat in Naha in early December, the airport was crowded with American military planes that were taking off and landing,
The escalator leading to the airport monorail was overrun with Christmas decorations,
which felt so out of season
Okinawa is always summer, what an arrogant misconception
But it’s true, Okinawa should always be summer, and there should be no Christmas in the summertime in the Northern hemisphere
Berlin was probably cold, Moscow even colder, Tokyo was also cold
In Naha I just needed a light jacket
I wanted dinner so I walked to the international street but I couldn’t find a restaurant, everything looked like a tourist spot
I couldn’t make myself feel like a tourist
In the hotel alone, I drank awamori and got wasted
I turned the TV on, and there was news that the Special Secrecy Law had passed in the Upper House
I was pretty drunk and yes, drowsy
As I brought the last of my snacks to my mouth, I swam at the entrance to the land of dreams, in the pool of hatred
Oh, I thought, that old Mexican guy Seki Sano might show up dressed like Santa Claus
There was something I wanted to ask him
But he didn’t show up, he must have been off-season, you know, Christmas . . .


The dream I was having was distorted
There was an old Japanese man who was a choreographer for a Broadway musical
In my dream
It seems that he was once a dancer who’d been active overseas
His lone body, his one insignificant body was jumping around on stage,
And as I watched him, somehow I entered into him, occupying his body
My heart was heavy, and my agile body transformed
Into that of an asthmatic grade-schooler,
The more desperately I danced, the currents in my body were obstructed, and I was overcome with shame,
My limbs exploded like sand and crumbled
The red fires of war were destroying the alignment of my teeth!
The panic, my heart pounding,
A member of the secret police dressed in tails, a Marine deliberating over one menu,
Ceaselessly moving feet, tangled,
A young man and his magic marker, writing his thoughts and feelings on paper,
Countless prime ministers closing in with wide grins on their faces
The sweat spraying and reddened face on a body that cannot dance,
And I tearfully beg them to stop overfishing the salmon that’s given birth,
Me on the internet, me in the coral reef,
I am the fishcake that I eat as I kick children to death,
I am surrounded by myself and at the peak of my fright,
I jump awake drenched in sweat,
And in my apartment hotel room in Naha, there is a sweaty shirt hung up to dry,
And it had been treated with fabric softener and smelled nice

translated from the Japanese by Aya Ogawa