from the fanzine Argentus #8
kaze no yadori wa
tare ka shiru
ware ni oshie yo
|Does anyone know|
The residence of the wind
That scatters the blossoms?
Anyone who knows, tell me!
I will go there and complain.
This is the second half of my Japan report. I was sent to Nippon 2007, the 65th World Science Fiction Convention, first in Japan, first in Asia, by the one-time travel fund HANA, Hertz Across to Nippon Alliance (hana in Japanese is "flower" or "blossom", a word much used in poetry), organized by Murray Moore at the 64th Worldcon, L.A.con IV. The first half, "The Worldcon I Saw", appeared in File 770 152.
I give surnames last although that is Occidental custom not Japanese; I generally mention people by surname even if entitled to more honor; I try to mark the Japanese long vowel e.g. Bashô (although that is a literary name for this great poet, not his surname Matsuo).
I gratefully thank HANA donors, without whom.
The Japanese Worldcon bid began in 2000 – or 1996, when Takumi Shibano was Fan Guest of Honor at L.A.con III – or 1987, when he and Tetsu Yano received the Big Heart, our highest service award – or 1968, when TOFF the one-time Trans-Oceanic Fan Fund brought Shibano to the 26th Worldcon – or 1957, when he started Uchûjin, the first Japanese fanzine (its name means "cosmic dust", and by a pun also "space man") – or 1927, when he was born. I was one of the con's Advisors, the only non-Japanese; plenty of time to learn the language, and work out how I could travel to Japan. Ha ha ha, ho ho ho. In fact the Cosmic Joker not only distracted me from those tasks, but deposited me in Japan anyway. Don't you think the Joker laughs at you?
Nippon 2007 was the most ambitious Worldcon we'd ever held, except for the first one. We knew it would be strange, and it was, strange for Japanese, strange for visitors; we looked forward to that: are we not fen (jocular pluran of "fan")? The con was a great success, in which I include the many things that didn't work, which was sometimes because they were strange, and the many things that did, which was sometimes because they were strange.
HANA raised enough that I had a week after the con in Japan if I was frugal. Until the end of the con I had no notion how this would be spent. I could have turned tourist, but I hoped instead to put myself into the hands of Japanese fans. I had been told this would be impossible. But it wasn't.
After Closing Ceremonies, in the crowd around Shibano, who was Fan Guest of Honor – very few have been made a Worldcon Guest of Honor twice – Mikiko Nakamura said she worked at the Bashô Museum. I exclaimed, "The Bashô Museum!" She said, "Yes, does that interest you?" Thus began the second half of my adventure.
Among the Japanese I'd been in touch with was Seiichi Shirato. Like me he was a fan of the graphic artist Eiji Yokoyama; when I'd urged that Yokoyama exhibit in Worldcon Art Shows, Shirato helped; when I wrote "A Look at Eiji Yokoyama" for Science Fiction Chronicle 248 (sorry the color pictures were printed in monochrome), Shirato helped. Like me he was a fan of the fermented-soybean dish nattô, which is so strange some Japanese won't eat it. He lived in Tokyo and had said he'd show me around. We both feared this would be impossible. But it wasn't.
On Tuesday Shirato arrived, with a friend Jôson Yamamoto, a Buddhist priest. What kind of Buddhist, I asked. Shingon, he said. I offered praise of Kûkai, the Great Teacher, who founded this school of Buddhism twelve centuries ago; many tales are told of him; he is credited with inventing hiragana, one of the three writing systems used in Japanese. Yamamoto had brought an automobile. As we drove along, he apologized for its noise. I said it was chanting Buddhist texts. He apologized for its shock-absorbers. I said comfort was an illusion. We passed a snake restaurant. Stopping there for supper was too strange even for these two Japanese. I said Yamamoto was exonerated because on the traditional calendar he had been born in the Year of the Snake.
Shirato arranged a week's stay for me at an economy hotel, whose name retorted upon me amply. Like other fanziners I'm never sure who reads my fanzine, but quite a few people receive it, and in 2006 when I was nominated for Best Fanwriter someone in the Hugo ceremony projected pages of poor Vanamonde, so my association with APA writing, in particular APA-L, the Amateur Publishing Association of Los Angeles where Van appears each week before being later mailed to multitudes, must be known. In Japan my second-half home was the Tokyo-Itabashi neighborhood branch of a chain known by the initials of its English name Always Pleasant Amenities. I still have my laundry bag labeled APA Hotel and emblazoned, under a coronet, within a scroll and leaves, APA.
We fulfilled the hope Shirato and I had formed, and in retrospect decided had been a mutual promise, at a restaurant I thereafter called Science Fiction Sushi. It had a railroad. Sushi and other edibles passed in cars; you took what you wanted, and kept score. This was fun. You could signal the kitchen too. Not much nattô. Shirato and I each took some, to the unease of other customers. After years we ate nattô together in Japan. Yamamoto wondered at the strange if simple joys of these two men he had innocently gone to dine with.
By railroad the Japanese would take me all over, indeed this tale could be called Trains Over Tokyo; the trains were plenty stfnal, to use our old adjective ("stef-nal", a relic of Hugo Gernsback's word scientifiction), automated, clean metal and plastic, prompt to the minute, high tech in the stations and the cars, full of readers including sober businessmen with comic books.
Wednesday; to the Edo-Tokyo Museum. Edo was renamed Tokyo ("Eastern capital") when Emperor Meiji moved there from Kyoto. As a fanziner I was impressed by the accuracy of ten-color printing in an exhibit of woodblocks. We saw many pictures of Danjûrô VIII, eighth-generation actor to take that kabuki name, a great celebrity in his day. During the Worldcon a newspaper asked Danjûrô XII "Why do kabuki now?" He gave the proverb On-ko chi-shin, study the old to appreciate the new; the heart of my visit. Yamamoto and Shirato and I took turns hefting a fireman's standard. An Edo fireman in the smoke and flame had to know where his company were. A pole held a large identifier on a crosspiece. It all had to be fireproof. It was heavy. You had to be fit to be a fireman. We snacked in the Museum sweet shop, cubelets of agar, beans, tea.
The Kiyosumi Garden had been Baron Iwasaki's villa. He dug a pond and used his Mitsubishi ships to bring famous stones from every region of Japan. Stone appreciation is an art. After the 1923 earthquake and fire he restored what he could and in 1932 gave the land to Tokyo; the stones had survived. Here were Nakamura, Shigeru Hayashida one of two Worldcon vice-chairs, half a dozen others. We had umbrellas. A flat blue stone three people wide was like waves. A tall red one swirled like a waterfall. The wind made wavelets in the pond. Their patterns had names. Turtles and a dozen waterbirds lived there. Stepping-stones took us across. It is said that setting foot in Japan will leave you lonely for it forever.
Tall red stone, flat blue,
Turtles breathing in Japan.
Sudden rain like pearls.
I asked if we could look at the irises. People said "Why? It isn't their season." Irises are a May flower. As I explained I wanted to see where the irises had been, people realized I was talking about the 14th Century poet Kenkô, who said chrysanthemums are most beautiful when their edges start to brown. I could not remember the famous 8th Century iris poem, or its author Narihira, from the Kokinshû (Book of Old and New Poems), but Etsuko Kodama, who had been At-Con Registration, found both on her pocket computer. A stone with Bashô's frog haiku carved in as a monument, originally on the bank of the Sumida River, had been moved here. Once water from the river fed the pond, whose water level changed with the ebb and flow of tides in Tokyo Bay. Today the pond is maintained by rainwater.
Upstairs at the Bashô Museum were replicas of his clothes, his traveling-hat, his writing-brush. Paper dolls a foot high showed us. Nakamura asked me which of his haiku was my favorite. I said "Whichever one I re-read most recently." They were all on a wall chart. Another chart showed the schools of haiku poets. We were in the Fukagawa district where his cottage was. A bashô tree (a kind of banana, no fruit, prized for broad green leaves easily torn by the slightest wind) stood where his had been, a statue of him sat. We watched the Sumida River where he had watched. This 17th Century master who lived before the modern word haiku, who only in his last decade was called Bashô, could paint the momentary, the timeless, and their meeting, in seventeen syllables.
I did not go to Kyoto, but some of it came timelessly, or timely, to me. "Zen Treasures from the Kyoto Gozan Temples", an exhibit about to end at the Tokyo National Museum, honored the 600th death anniversary of Yoshimitsu Ashikaga, who while Shôgun (military ruler of the Empire, in an administration that lasted four centuries until Meiji) confirmed the Gozan ("five mountains") system of top-ranked Zen Buddhist temples. He made a sixth by founding Shôkokuji, Nanzenji remaining highest. Many exhibits were outside their temples for the first time. The monk Dai-e Chikotsu (14th Century) in a painting and a statue was portly and fierce; anecdote says he challenged his master Enni; maybe his expression said "Stop fooling around, get Enlightenment now!" Of calligraphy by Soseki Musô (14th Century), garden designer, advisor to the Shôgun and the Emperor, teacher, poet, monk, our curator said "The vigorous and self-confident brush strokes suggest that this was written in the later years of his life."
During the typhoon I was safe in my APA Hotel. I didn't know it then, but my counterpart was wandering in the rain. I had been brought from the U.S., Chris O'Shea from the U.K. by JETS, the Japanese Expeditionary Travel Scholarship. We saw each other in person at the Worldcon for the first time. He will tell his own story.
As I was going my way west
Farther than ever one day,
I met a traveler going east.
The world is round, they say.
On the Saturday morning train we saw a Japanese woman wearing a dark top with sequins in English Beauty Again. We went in another friend's automobile to Kawago-e. Its fame is purple sweet-potato. We walked through streetsfull. Sweet-potato chips. Sweet-potato ice-cream along with shops dating to the Edo period. Yokan, a dense gel good with tea, elsewhere other flavors, here potato. Banners, elsewhere red, here purple. "Hello Kitty" dolls here in purple with slogans I love potatoes. Vending machines had run out of potato soft-drink; should we write to the Mayor? There was a baseball team; when its batters connected, had they hit the old potato? When they missed, did they turn purple? After this to the Tokyo Imperial Palace. The cherry trees were beautiful outside. In its museum, modern ceramics from the Emperor Shôwa's collection donated at his death.
I was invited to a kimono club, another good deed by Shibano's married daughter Miho Hiramoto. In Tokyo they met on its great street the Ginza. Once a year was a kimono-con and a kimono-zine. I had seen kimono everywhere, though prevailing dress was Occidental. Here they were a cloud of glory, some understated, some ablaze with color. It was the second week of autumn by the traditional calendar. Kimono, like other Japanese tradition, are very seasonal. The big Matsu-ya department store, named for pine trees at the front, had a crafts exhibit. Two quilted appliqué carp on blue cotton swam up a waterfall to become dragons. Another fabric picture, which I thought a space ship, was the point and ribs of an umbrella. In the men's section of the kimono department a kimono fan unerringly picked what I'd have bought if I were to get exactly one, in kon, a dark grayed blue. On a side street we visited a used-kimono shop.
Noriko Maki, wife of translator Shinji Maki, was a kimono expert and s-f fan. She and I had practically no words in each other's language, but fans' minds meet. She is at my right in the picture on page 49 of Uchûjin 201; her report starts on p. 48, mine on p. 45. She steered me to the Akihabara district where a monthly s-f club (not, I believe, the one she had been president of) was meeting over dinner. I happen to like fish, of which there was plenty in Japan. Also guidance in saké. In three hours I tried Tengumai, Uragasumi (least dry), Ginban (made of famous Yamada-nishiki rice), Denshu, and Dewazakura (unpasteurized), which I did not think a heroic quantity but perhaps my friends were readily impressed.
On Sunday another s-f club met at a coffee shop in Shinjuku, a district celebrated for its congeries of old and new, cheap and costly, neat and garish, large and small. I ate the house special, toast wrapped in seaweed. Before and at the Worldcon had been controversy about John Scalzi's being nominated for the Best Fanwriter Hugo. Now I was asked to explain. No one knew he would win in 2008, or would when accepting fail his shining opportunity to utter only the word "Whatever". He was certainly eligible, I began. When the shop chased us out we adjourned to a karaoke bar. Here I had honey toast, six inches thick with ice cream and caramel sauce. We had come as far as letters of comment. "So your fanzines are for communication!" a Japanese fan exclaimed. Afterward four or five stayed to sing. "This next one is from Heinlein's Door Into Summer," someone said; "you'll recognize the names Rikki-Tikki and Pete."
It was my last night in Japan. At a sukiyaki and shabu-shabu house we groped at borders. One fan said, "If you meet a ghost, and investigate, that's science fiction; if you make friends, that's fantasy." I felt I had not had enough saké so drank Masumi. From the s-f point of view, we agreed, "pseudo-science" was a wholly literary problem; we were in the storytelling business, not the engineering business; if a thing should later prove possible, it was not retroactively science fiction, or if impossible, retroactively fantasy. We spoke of the Masquerade at s-f conventions; watching and judging I had seen little that drew upon nô or kabuki – Masquerades even called stage helpers ninja (really strange to a Japanese) instead of koken, the established term in kabuki where they were invented; perhaps someday some entrant would portray an alien geisha. My friends confessed descending on restaurants in gangs, buying little food or drink, talking s-f until all hours, and eventually having to find other restaurants. Some things are international.