A loud scream and the sound of splintering wood woke Hideki Tojo from a peaceful dream. The images of falling cherry blossoms vaporized immediately as he yelled for his wife and bodyguards and grabbed the pistol from the case next to his futon. Hearing quiet voices outside his bedroom door, he aimed the gun and waited. There was a gentle knocking.
“Who’s there?” Tojo yelled.
“I am Captain Morikawa Eiichi of the First Division, Third Battalion, and I was sent with a detachment to deliver a most urgent notice, your excellence.”
“I see. Well it must be so, to warrant such a disgraceful imposition.” said Tojo putting on his robe and glasses, then turning on the lamp.
Sliding open the door, he immediately saw his wife, her face pale and her hair still done up for bed. One of his bodyguards laid face down at the far end of the hallway, while the other could not be seen. The Captain and several men were bowing low before him. As they rose, it struck Tojo how young they all looked, some still had acne on their cheeks. The Captain then stepped forward, bowed again, and offered up a letter with a red stamp. Snatching the letter, Tojo quickly read. He paled and read it again to be sure.
“Insolence!” he finally exclaimed, “So Araki really is a bigger viper than we thought. No doubt he’s already at the palace. And this request! Does he think we are all vassals?” When he regained his composure, the Captain was bowing again, offering up a silken bundle.
“It is asked that there be no delay.” he said, without looking up.
Tojo looked at his wife, who knew as well as he did what was to happen. It was a credit to her upbringing that she did not weep or moan. “Shigata ga nai.” he thought; “It can’t be helped”. To fight it would bring disgrace and suffering to his family for nothing in return. The tension fled out of his body. Drawing himself up, he addressed the Captain. “I understand, but in light of the circumstances, I request some time to go to my study and arrange my affairs. You have my word I shall fulfill this request in all due haste.
“It is permissible, your excellency.” said the captain.
Tojo turned to his wife. “Wife, have some tea prepared for these gentlemen. There are things I must do.” She nodded and went towards the kitchen. Tojo then made his way to the study, followed by the soldiers. He sat at his desk, took out some paper and picked up his pen. As he held his pen, he noticed his hand was shaking. He quelled it and started to write a letter bidding farewell to his family and friends and detailing who was to receive what item and responsibility. He took his personal seal and stamped the letter while his wife was serving tea. As his cup was poured, he turned and looked directly at his wife. “My dearest, we have had many good years together. I give you and the children all my love, but now it is time for me to do what is asked of me. I ask that you not follow me, and remain behind for the sake of the children.” he said quietly, placing his hand on his wife’s. She nodded and left the room.
“Gentlemen, I am ready!” he shouted.
With that, the soldiers got up and quickly moved in preparation. They pushed the desk to the side and laid down thick blankets, so as to not damage the tatami mats. The Captain offered the silk bundle again, and Tojo grabbed it without hesitation. With his other hand he took one last sip of tea. It struck him how good it tasted. The door to the outside slid open and chilly air filled the room. Tojo looked at his garden– how beautiful it was, even in winter! He unwrapped and drew the sword, marveling at the moonlight glinting off the edge…
“It can’t be helped if she doesn’t know exactly where he is.”
“How can she not know where he is, she’s his wife!” yelled Army Major Aizawa Keiji at the younger naval officer named Suzuki Kintaro.
“Apparently they’re not particularly close.”
Yamamoto Reiko bowed apologetically for the ninth time. “Again, I know who my husband is with, but I cannot tell with certainty the location within the pleasure quarter.”
“Well then, tell us, woman, and we’ll knock down every door in every brothel, bar and geisha house there!” said Aizawa. The naval officer looked askance at the higher ranked army major. It wasn’t a good idea to send excitable men like him along for this kind of business. This wasn’t some finance minister that you could get rid of any old way. Even if Yamamoto was a fop lacking in bushido spirit, he was still military and beloved by many in the navy for good reason. Indeed, Yamamoto himself had done favors for Suzuki in the past, so it was natural that he’d offer to be Yamamoto’s second. Too bad Yamamoto simply could not see the right way about things.
In the dim yellow light Kawai Chiyoko watched as her patron, Yamamoto Isoroku slept. Falling asleep during a massage, fancy that! They must be working him hard. Best to let him rest. She remembered that one of the younger girls told her that a patron let it drop while drunk about some sort of imminent top-secret “realignment” in the government. It might be that, but she learned long ago not to bring up his work with him. No, this place truly was “the floating world” for him. The talk later in the night over tea would be of subtle dreams and longings, not of daily obligations. Perhaps he would read some poetry he wrote while at sea, or recite from some book in English and translate for her. She would show him her latest painting. She looked again at Yamamoto’s face. It was hard to believe that the gentle artistic man before her was the most brilliant strategist in all the Japanese Navy. If only he had not been adopted by that family. If only she had not entered into the realm of the geisha. They might have met as equals in social standing, as a man and a woman instead of as a patron and a mistress. She imagined a life where he was a simple English teacher and she was his wife. A life where day and night were unified and dreams and obligations were one and the same.
Distant crashing, shouts and screaming broke her reverie. She slid open the door and peeked out. One of the younger geisha was running down the hallway as fast as her tight kimono would allow her. It was Momoko, who was supposed to be greeting people tonight.
“Momo-chan! What’s going on!” said Chiyoko.
“Oh Kawai-san! Something bad is up! A whole bunch of soldiers are looking for you but they won’t say why. They’re tearing through the entire house destroying everything! They punched one of the bouncers! They haven’t found side exit yet, you can still get out if…”
“Silly girl, if it was just me they wanted it would only be the police, this is much, much worse. Whatever happens, get Moto-san the Warbler at the Mizuyama Pub and tell him to put out the story. Whatever happens here isn’t going to be kept quiet. You got it?”
Chiyoko slid the door closed and latched it tight. Yamamoto was still asleep on the bed. That wasn’t good at all. They had to go immediately. She turned off the light and shook her patron, whispering in his ear. “Iso-kun, wake up, you must get away!” Yamamoto mumbled in his sleep and rolled over. The door crashed open. Someone must have leaked what room she was in. “Get out! Get out!” she shouted, as she hurled herself at the silhouette entering the room. Several shots rang out and it felt like lightning had struck her in her stomach, knocking her to the ground. Her eyes adjusted to the light, but she found that she couldn’t get up. At door of the room, a young man—no, a boy in a uniform, stood shaking, holding a pistol with both hands. The shock of his unthinking reaction sank in and he fell backwards onto his rear. Boots thumped down the hallway towards the room. Chiyoko turned her head in the other direction. Yamamoto was still lying on the futon, but where his sleeping face once was there was now nothing but a bloody pulp. She reached out for his extended hand.
“I’m sorry, Iso-kun. I’m so useless, I couldn’t protect you.” she whispered to the body. Gasping, she then remembered what he quoted one time about art. “Art is useless, yet in the end, man cannot live without it.” She smiled as her lover faded into darkness.
“Shit, shit and more shit.” muttered Aizawa.
Aizawa and Suzuki stood in the small room where the bodies of Yamamoto Isoroku and his geisha laid. Yamamoto’s body was naked and his face was splattered all over the back wall. The geisha’s expensive silk kimono and obi were stained crimson-brown with blood.
“That doesn’t begin to cover it! This is just… horrible.” Suzuki was completely overwhelmed.
The private who had shot Yamamoto sniffled, tears and snot running down his face. He knew he had fucked up big time but didn’t know what was going to happen to him. Even worse, the contingent of soldiers sent to the geisha house had not sealed the perimeter. When Aizawa and Suzuki had arrived at the scene, geishas, their white makeup streaked by crying, were running from the house in every direction. By now the “waterhole wireless” must be buzzing in all directions with what had happened.
“You have that right. We’ll be lucky if all we get away with just a drubbing, a demotion, and a week’s docked pay. Endo here is as doomed as an eel in a fishmongers barrel.” With that, the boy started bawling again.
Aizawa slapped the boy. “Grow some balls and show some bushido spirit!”
“No, you don’t understand! I mean, this isn’t how it’s supposed to be!” shouted Suzuki.
Aizawa’s eyes narrowed. “Regardless, it is what it is, and if you know what’s good for you, you won’t say anything like that again.”
A deep chill penetrated all the way to Suzuki’s bones.
James Clemson stood looking out the window of the Kawasaki Baptist Mission and onto the street. It was drizzling and people were on their way to their jobs and school. It looked like almost like any other day, but ever since the coup…
“Dear, I know what the bible says, and I am ready to face any tribulation God sends our way, but please, think of the children! Mark may be able to understand, but Amy and Robert are still too young!”
Clemson’s wife Virginia sat at the table behind him. The plea seemed odd coming from the usually stoic woman. However, the past few weeks had been trying for her, no, for all of them. She had been forced to close the Sunday school and the children could no longer walk the streets without fear of someone teasing them. It was even harder for his small flock. Old Gen had been beaten just for saying grace over his meal at the steelworks. Planting the seed of the Gospel in the rocky soil of Japan had never been easy, but now Satan’s grasp tightened ever deeper into the land. How much hope he had when he and Virginia were first called to testify abroad by the Holy Spirit! The fire in his heart still burned, but now it was cupped in Jesus’ hands to keep from going out. A loud knocking at the door downstairs interrupted their argument. He went down to answer.
When he opened the door he saw an army officer and several policemen. He recognized one of them as Officer Oda. The usually smiling face of the neighborhood beat cop was drawn tight and his eyes were blank. “Yes, can I help you officers?” said Clemson, politely bowing. The bow wasn’t returned. The army officer said in a brusque informal manner; “You gaijin are to come with us for a clarification of your status today. All of you, even the kids. You have five minutes to get ready to go.”
“I understand, officers.” Clemson bowed deeply and went upstairs. Well, this was to be expected. They were probably going to drag them to the government offices, harangue them and threaten to deport them for breaking some new laws, then make them pay “processing fees” to update their visas. He went upstairs and informed his wife and children. Thankfully everyone was already up and Robert wasn’t in a fussy mood, so they made it back downstairs with time to spare.
Riding along in the police paddywagon, James noticed that they were headed in the opposite direction of the government offices, to another place entirely. This was worrisome.
“Where are we going, sir?” he asked the army officer.
“You don’t understand Japanese or what? It’s just what I said. Your status is going to be ‘clarified’. You gaijin have nothing to fear. In fact it’ll only take a moment of your time and few yen and you can go right back home again.”
Clemson didn’t like the way the officer smiled as he said it.
Eventually the van stopped. They were at the state shrine for the district, and a large crowd had gathered. Some obviously were called to attend while most had gathered out of curiosity. What could possibly be going on? The crowd parted and the family was led onto the shrine grounds.
“All of you wash your hands and mouth here.” The officer pointed to the ritual cleansing station. A cold sweat pricked up Clemson’s spine. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” rang in his head. His wife and children looked expectantly at him. He forced a smile and tried not to think of what might happen next. Now, now, we mustn’t be rude. We’ve been asked to wash up by the officer. It’s just being polite.” Thankfully the children didn’t know the implications of what they were being asked to do and dutifully cleaned. He felt as if the eyes of God were bearing down on him, judging him, burning into his soul. “But Lord! I have not made false testimony or worshipped another besides you! No, forgive me my weakness for my children’s sake.” he thought. He realized he trying to bargain with God and the weight grew heavier inside him.
Afterwards they were led to the entrance of the shrine building. At the top of the stairs an old shrine priest and his young assistant stood in their full regalia. The older one looked slightly miffed while the younger seemed openly nervous. Next to them was a Kempetai officer with a loudspeaker. Over his flashing white smile was a pencil moustache and owlish eyeglasses. It seemed that every foreigner and prominent Japanese Christian in the town was being gathered for some sort of public spectacle. The officer surveyed the people before him and the crowd, nodded and began to speak.
“As you all know, the Showa Emperor was restored to his rightful position as both political and spiritual head of our beloved nation recently. His Imperial Majesty is above and beyond the leaders of other nations, for he alone traces his true descent to the original kami that birthed the world, via the kami Amaterasu. In order for there to be harmony across all the land, it is only right and correct that all those who dwell in Japan and those who are guests here give reverence to his Imperial Majesty and the multitudinous kami. You are all gathered here for that express purpose. I realize some of you guests may not know how to correctly show reverence, so Sergeant Tanabe here will give a brief demonstration. After you have shown reverence, you will be free to return to your homes and go about your business without any further ado.”
Sergeant Tanabe walked up the stairs to the doors of the shrine, rang the bell, clapped his hands twice, bowed slowly and deeply to the altar and image of the Emperor inside, tossed a coin in the offering box and clapped twice again before backing away from the door, turning and walking down the stairs. “It is important that you do this a pure heart and mind. Those lacking that will have to be instructed further on what it means to be Japanese and be in Japan.” said the Kempetai officer in a schoolmarm’s tone. After a pause and a triumphant smile, he continued: “Now, do we have any volunteers?”
One hand shot up before the others. It was Shiroma, the textile storeowner. Clemson heard that Shiroma had been baptized as a Catholic years ago but had long since apostatized. “You there, come on up!” said the officer. Shiroma confidently and quickly strode up, gave reverence and tossed a large handful of change into the box. “Well, Shiroma-san, it seems you show quite some enthusiasm. Perhaps the seven kami of prosperity will bless your store, eh?” the officer announced jauntily. “Well, see? Easy enough, isn’t it? Come, have we any more volunteers?” Several more hands shot up, and people lined up to give reverence. Then a white person raised his hand and was called up.
It was Professor Brolsema, the Dutchman who taught at the technical college. It didn’t surprise Clemson. Brolsema always observed and participated in the pagan festivals of the Japanese and seemed apathetic at best to Christianity and a devout unbeliever at worst. Still, he had always treated the Clemson family as friends. He walked up, did the whole routine, and tossed a coin in as if he were Japanese himself. “Ah, Brolsema-Sensei! How good to meet you in person! In fact, I have heard from your neighbors that you visited the shrines at New Year’s out of your own accord, right? Well, learned and respectful men such as yourself will always be welcome guests in Japan!” the officer commented. Brolsema made a slight bow to the officer and walked down the stairs. He slowed and murmured in heavily accented English as he brushed by Clemson. “James, do it for your children. You always told me your God forgives you your sins.” Clemson turned and looked at Brolsema’s face. His heavy brow was furrowed in worry. “I’m thinking of leaving Japan.” Brolsema then walked briskly through the crowd, out of the shrine and down the street.
Every now and then the officer made a fawning announcement about one of the people volunteering. It was shocking how many had cast aside the cross out of their own free will, just to escape being shamed in public. Clemson saw one of his own parishioners volunteer; it was Hirai Abe, the roofer who sang hymns loudly during service. Hirai avoided making eye contact with Clemson on the way down the stairs and quickly left the shrine grounds. Even if they weren’t going to force people to bow to the idols, this was enough to crush his spirit. How could so many hard won souls for Christ turn their backs on him? Clemson held back tears of frustration and prayed silently for strength. Virginia sang the younger children quiet songs in English to distract them from both their father and what was going on around them, with little success.
Soon no more people raised their hands. The last volunteer, a British trade agent, breathing a sigh of relief, walked down the stairs and into the crowd to watch what would happen next. All that remained standing there before the shrine were the Clemson family, Reverend Sakamoto Kenpachi of the Congregational Church, Reverend Okawa Hiroyuki of the Reformed Church along with his family and an elderly follower, Father Ernst Krause of Saint Mary’s Church, along with his two deacons and finally three random Japanese Christians who had not succumbed to temptation. Apparently Reverend Ogumo of the Methodist Mission had either fled, been arrested, or worse.
The officer with a loudspeaker began to talk. “Well, no more volunteers, eh?” he sighed into the megaphone and his face became stern and his voice took a harsh tone. “I had hoped it would not have come to this, but I am not surprised by who I see before me. Ungrateful rude gaijin and the deluded followers of their extreme foreign doctrine! Here we let them buy land to set up their churches and spread dissent among the population and they refuse us one request! Krause-san! If I were to go to the Vatican and was told to kiss the Pope’s ring, would I refuse? No! I am a guest there. Clemson-san! If I were to go to America, I could not even buy land in my name to set up my own small personal shrine and yet here we graciously allow you to set up a public church! And the rest of you! How dare you call yourself Japanese when you can’t even give proper respect to the leader of your nation! For shame! Now, you all will pay homage, or…” the officer trailed off and regained his composure. “Well, we shall review each individual case to see what shall be done. Now, Krause-san! You out of all the gaijin have been here longest. It fits that you should go up first and thank the kami. And remember to be respectful, hm?” The smile reappeared on his face.
The old German Jesuit looked around in all directions. He was dressed in his cassock and despite the damp breeze was sweating profusely. He and Clemson had never been friendly with each other. The priest seemed unable to walk, and soldiers began to draw near him and his deacons. One of his deacons pulled a rosary string out of his pocket and clutched it in his hands, his lips moving silently in prayer. A soldier swatted the deacon’s hands with a club. The beads and crucifix fell to the wet earth. The deacon groaned and dropped to his knees in pain. Robert began to wail at the sight and Virginia quickly covered his mouth with her hand.
“Enough! Please, I will go.” Krause was breathing heavily and shaking. He stepped forward, and slowly trudged up the stairs, stopping halfway up to look behind him. He shut his eyes, clapped and bowed and tossed a coin in the box. He turned around almost ran down back to his deacons. He then kneeled next to the one cradling his broken fingers and covered his face with his hands.
“Well, I think that will do from you all for now.” said the officer. “I expect that your little servant there would have trouble giving proper reverence with his hands in such a state, but we are not barbarians. Some later time for the rest of you, hmm? I would advise that next time you leave behind your decadent western baubles and not display them in front of the kami. Now, I think that Sakamoto should be next. Step forward and do your patriotic duty, lad.”
Sakamoto recently graduated from the Reformed seminary and as of yet was still unmarried. When Clemson was introduced to him six months ago, they had a debate about the correctness of Calvinist versus Arminian theology. Even with such differences of belief between them, it was clear the youth burned with a fire for Christ. Right now, the young minister was smiling, almost beaming, despite the situation.
“Respected Officer! The Bible says that I should worship no other God, and I will not bow to another. I respect and honor his Imperial majesty as the leader of the nation, but to me, Christ is higher than all nations and he alone deserves not only my worship, but also the worship of everyone, including his Imperial majesty. For verily the Gospel of John, Jesus Christ says of himself ‘I am the way, the truth and the—‘”
A blow to the back of Sakamoto’s head interrupted the speech. Two soldiers started kicking and stomping the minister while the crowd murmured. Someone shouted “Kill the foreign spy!” Clemson closed his eyes and prayed for strength and for Sakamoto. “When your enemy strikes you, turn and offer him the other cheek.” he thought. The loudspeaker barked “Stop!”. Clemson turned and looked back at the shrine. The elder shrine priest was livid and was shouting at the officer. The officer put on a conciliatory smile and bowed to him in apology
“Amamiya-Sensei here reminds me that spilling blood on shrine grounds is impure and offends the kami. We shall take care of that person later.” The two soldiers each grabbed one of Sakamoto’s legs and dragged the unconscious body off to the paddywagons along the street.
The officer smiled sheepishly with his hand behind his inclined head for a moment until the van drove off. “Well, hopefully there won’t be anymore such unpleasantness. I apologize to all you good Imperial subjects for having allowed you to hear such offensive ramblings and not letting you all have the satisfaction of seeing that malefactor dealt with summarily. However, I assure you all that with time, we will make him understand the error of his ways, and he will come back here of his own accord in front of all of you and loudly praise his Imperial Majesty and all the kami from dawn to dusk. We shall work with him on this intensely, for day, month, years even… Why I believe that we shall work with him even if it takes his whole life for him to praise them as they should be.” During the speech, the officer’s smile shifted from sheepish to predatory. He closed his eyes, stretched, and then looked in mock disinterest at the people before him, settling on the Clemsons.
“Hmmm, Clemson-san. I see that your entire family is here. You all don’t know me, but I do know all about you, and let me confess, I like you gaijin. One son is almost a man, the other a tot, and between them a girl with long blond locks. And your wife, so dedicated! Why during the shameful commotion, I saw her tending to the children in fashion that just almost befits a Japanese mother. Ah, such softness and care. Truly, you have much to be happy for in life. Why I like you all so much, I would say that just you as householder should suffice for all your family.”
Clemson looked at his family. Robert was crying quietly. Amy looked like she would cry any minute. Mark’s fists were balled up and he was looking at the ground, trembling in blind fear and impotent rage. Virginia alone looked back at him. He knew that God would be able to forgive him if something horrible happened to the children, but she might not. He walked slowly towards the shrine. He prayed with all his might. “Lord, please guide me, tell me what I should do. How can I follow in Jesus’ footsteps?” Up the stairs, foot by foot, each second an eternity. He felt the presence of God inside him and saw the image of Christ carrying his cross through Jerusalem. The crowd jeered, hurling garbage at the bent and bleeding form. Christ looked at the crowd and in his sad eyes Clemson saw the answer and felt peace.
He reached the top of the stairs. He rang the bell, clapped his hands, bowed, tossed in a coin, and then clapped again. “Well, that was very good. You didn’t hesitate at all. I’m quite pleased.” said the officer. Clemson turned and looked the smiling face in the eyes. It was so small, so human. The officer raised an eyebrow. It wasn’t a look he was expecting. Rage and bitterness was normal. This looked like something else. It looked like how his mother looked when he confessed he killed her favorite pet bird so many years ago. It was a look that said I forgive you.
Clemson walked down to rejoin his family. He would have to apologize to his congregation. They would understand. Then he would have to pack. After so many years, it was time to go back to America. He could do more for his flock there than in Japan now.