Sakai-san: Part I – 2006

(http://owensark NULL.com/2011/02/sakai-san-part-i/japan-sakaisan-291106-fujivelvia100f-r1-05/)

 

Sakai-san is 78-years old.


Born in 1927, Namerikawa, Toyama, youngest of seven children and a second son.

 

“Ha—ha-ha-ha—.” A wheeze of a laugh, gap-toothed mug, purple hair and smiling eyes. “Didn’t have much money then, see, and if you don’t have money, you have children. They help out. More mouths to feed, but more people to help. Ha-ha—ha—ha—ha-ha . . . Yup, six older siblings, one brother, five sisters.”

 

“And Sakai-san is the youngest? Are any of his brothers or sisters . . .?”

 

“All passed away now. All dead.”

 

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear . . .”

 

Silence. A smile.

 

“What about their children? Nephews, nieces?”

 

“Sure. Must be some, but I didn’t really know them. Don’t go out to Namerikawa anymore now. Hard to get out there. Don’t really know them.”

 

Silence. And another smile.

 

Perhaps if Sakai-san weren’t senile, he wouldn’t forgive me — and then again, maybe he would. What’s remembered, what’s forgotten, conscious or not, are decisions that bound the realm of willpower and presence. What makes it all fit together is that Sakai-san’s lack of memory matches perfectly with my inability to comprehend. What doesn’t come the first time, comes the second, third, fourth, fifth . . . Something a little different revealed in each telling, a process of refinement leaving consolidated thought, rich, crystallized memories —not to mention the opportunity to pose the same question repeatedly. We both say the same thing, again and again and again. For a second, intent seems to preclude means, attaining a level of truth that is as quick to make its presence known as it is to vanish.

 

“Brother went to China, part of the military.”

 

“And Sakai-san . . .?”

 

“Never wanted to join the army, but had to. Eighteen years old when we entered the World War II. It was conscription — no choice. War is stupid, but it put money in my pocket. Foolish. Was working for a company at the time, and didn’t have much of a choice . . . Army base is where the university is now, can-you-believe-it — big garrison there, bunkhouses, the whole deal. [The] Americans fire-bombed us at night; they knew what was going on. Everything in the city [Toyama] burned. I remember, commanding officer sent me and another fellow out on an errand that night, out into the countryside, and when we came back, everything was gone — burned, leveled. Yup, I remember that . . . We knew what was going on too, though. A lot of families left their houses in the city, fled to rural areas. Yeah, I remember that.”

 

“And what about Sakai-san? Where are the children to help him?”

 

No children, never married, plenty of chances, though.

 

“Didn’t want to get married to someone a lot younger — nothing to talk about, not much in common. Imagine a 40-year-old marrying a 20-year-old. Used to happen, but not for me. No, the single life is better, I thought,” said with a sigh in the eyes.

 

“Living alone is sad, isn’t it?”

 

“The truth, yeah, it’s sad, it’s lonely. I talk to my cats and I work. Work is what makes my life fun . . .”

 

Sakai-san is senile, slightly or severely, perhaps somewhere in-between, like his split-level bifocals. Call it anterograde amnesia, short-term memory loss, a lack of lucidity, Alzheimer’s. Call it what you want, Sakai-san remembers who I am, but forgets questions he’s asked only a few seconds before, forgets what he’s doing in the middle of doing it, forgets whose pot is whose, and what’s in it -— genuinely surprised to find soup in the nabe he’s convinced is mine.

 

Sakai-san sells art.

 

“Got a list — all the big companies here in Toyama. I go to see the guy in charge, right to the top.”

 

Sakai-san sells art.

 

“Making a list —you know, big companies around Toyama, I go to see the guy at the top . . . It’s difficult sometimes. Have to take photos of what I’m selling. Can’t just take the original, now, can I — too heavy!”

 

Sakai-san sells art.

 

“Think 70,000 ¥ is expensive for a painting? It’s not. Tokyo people, they’ve got money. Might not even think twice about buying a picture this size . . . [gestures] Yaa, that’s where the money is. Here in Toyama, well . . .”

 

Sakai-san sells art.

 

“Hard to get down to Takayama now. That’s the furthest I’ll go.Transportation issue, really. Trains aren’t too good. Next year I’m thinking of stopping.”