“Keizoku wa chikara nari”, he said, his hands deftly sliding along the rim of the wheel, the same as if it might be a great big clipper ship and he a captain. Nagayama-san seemed never to grow weary, but just to tick over at that same steady rate - slow, sure, but he always got where he was going, and there was no-one who could take him down. If anyone tried, he’d just move aside, anyway.
When I saw that he wasn’t going to expand on that, wasn’t going to tell me what it meant, well, I went I was meant to go, said what I had to say, and asked.
“Keizoku wa chikara nari. That means… Hard to say it in English. It means, you keep going, because sometimes that is all there is to do. Keep going to keep going, to become strong again. You feel like you’ve lost everything, and when it feels you have nothing more to give, that gets taken from you, too. But strength is in continuity.”
We try to move on, carrying so much of it with us, when the truth is that to love, to live, is also to let go. That’s true not just for tsunamis, earthquakes and disasters, but also for the detritus each of us accumulates through the course of our everyday lives. Nobody, I think, gets out of life alive, unscathed, unmarked.
He stopped the car at the crossing, where the lights no longer worked. There was no electricity, but then, there were no trains, either.
Crossing cautiously, he stopped halfway to leave the road for an old man crossing through the dark by himself.
“Keizoku wa chikara nari. You take strength from that loss itself, little by little, everyday. You are training in Kendō, but maybe you get an injury, maybe you injure your neck, so you train in Iaidō. Maybe you hurt your knees - you can try Kyūdō. Maybe you get too sick or old or stiff to do that - learn Sadōr. But you keep going. You must keep going.”
We drove past two houses, the entire ground floors gutted. In the darkness, the tangled mess of wires and rags, remains of what was once a wall, now twisting, contorted in the darkness swayed in such a way so as to suggest at first glance someone was standing there, or had been. The cars we drove past, cleared from the road as if from the world, were stacked up along the bank, as if they were toys mislaid by a child-god who no longer cared for them. Others still were scattered amongst the trees that struggled to break free to the spring. Most of the cars had crosses spray-painted across them.
“Why?” I asked, again, just as I had to.
“Why? Why ask why? Why do you always have to ask why?” Said Nagayama-san, glancing at me sidelong, and barking a gruff laugh, gravely, affectionately. “Because if you want to understand what Budō means, you must. Even the sharpest sword must be oiled, ground, sharpened still. You need to prune a Sakura to get the best cherry-blossoms. Things happen, despite and beyond you, but you must still take part.”
Never, you will never be satisfied with yourself. Your soul, it is far too restless. But at those moments when you think everything is gone, all you need to do is to let go to see that you are not alone, and that you can make it.
The car rumbled as it crossed a road still yet to be resurfaced, which had been shattered, torn and shred like an old rag. It slid slightly coming to a stop as the ground rumbled beneath the wheels. The shockwave moved through and past Wakabayashi ward, onward toward the city. We sat for a moment; that was only the short primary wave, the real shock was still to come.
And it came, and it went, like all the rest, stronger than some, not as strong as others. Nagayama-san restarted the engine without a word and we drove on. You get used to anything.
“When nothing is left, or it looks like nothing is left, that is the moment from which you gain true strength - the strength to grow, to move on. Never, you will never be satisfied with yourself. Your soul, it is far too restless. But at those moments when you think everything is gone, when you are wrapped up in your your own self pity, all you need to do is to let go to see that you are not alone, and that you can make it. First, you have to go through that. You have to feel that emptiness, that pain, that weight, just so you know you can feel.”
We made it the rest of the way up the hill without a word. From there, we could see the rest of the city, still mostly in darkness. We got out and walked to Mizuno’s.
“It means all of that?” I said, stirring up the silence.
“Maybe. Maybe not. It’s more elegant just as it is. Keizoku wa chikara nari.”
Inside, the Izakaya was lit by lantern light, and heated by a kerosene stove. There were bottles of beer though, and he had still some gas for cooking. Better than cold emergency rations alone, that’s for sure. In the corner, the radio told stories of the separated, searching for loved ones, predicted the possibility of a meltdown a the nuclear power plants, and what the consequence might be; we didn’t know at that point that that had already happened, three times over.
We talked about training. We talked about the damage, we talked about friends we hadn’t heard from: suddenly I felt a gulf open up between us. The difference between me and the people who had lived there all their lives was that anything I had to lose had already broken back in my flat. I had no family there, not so many friends, and I knew that I would be leaving in a few months. Something like guilt - or envy perhaps - for not belonging, or for having the absence of anywhere to belong to, tore at my heart.
It was just about then that an elderly lady walked in, holding a young boy by the hand. They were locals, who still hadn’t any facility to cook, so they brought their food to Mizuno’s; more than they could really eat, and more than they could really spare, by the looks of it.
They explained to Mizuno that the little boy was from near Ishinomaki. His parents died in the tsunami whilst he was at school, meaning that they were the only family each of the other had left. His mother had been her daughter.
“We’ll stay together as long as we can, isn’t that right Kyoske-kun?” She said. Sitting on her lap, slurping his soba and soup, he nodded and intoned a deep “uun” in between gulps.
Nagayama-san and Mizuno-san, they echoed the little boy. Noriko-san, the Grandmother, gave a glance my way and bowed almost seeming to be embarrassed. I bowed and smiled, greeting them both. I was embarrassed - for what I had felt before. That they had a place to belong to wouldn’t bring his parents back, nor her children, nor any of the thousands dead.
Mizuno-san shot me a glance and topped up my glass, tapping the counter. “Hei, furrio gaijin, nommu-yo!” Nothing else to say, really.
Nagayama-san was right, and he still is. After the waves and the surging tides subsided, the mud and the debris piled up so high, too high to move past, or over it. We try to move on, carrying so much of it with us, when the truth is that to love, to live, is also to let go. That’s true not just for tsunamis, earthquakes and disasters, but also for the detritus each of us accumulates through the course of our everyday lives. Nobody, I think, gets out of life alive, unscathed, unmarked.
For one year now, I have been carrying with me something of the emptiness left by the Tohoku Dai Shinsai - the Great Eastern Japan Seismic disaster. But that emptiness is something I had before, too, an emptiness I think that sits with us all in some way, a weight which is for us to carry, for we have no other choice.
The way out, the only way out, is through. Pray for the dead, and remember the living.
Keizoku wa chikara nari.
- Kendō, Iaidō and Kyūdō are traditional Japanese martial arts of the sword and bow. Sadō is the tea ceremony. Sakura is the Japanese cherry blossom.
- “Hei, furrio gaijin, nommu\-yo” = “Hey, foreigner, drink up”, said in a friendly, cajoling way.