Wednesday, April 04, 2007

True Fables - The Big House

The house I used to live in stands in a bedroom suburb of Tokyo located on the JR Chuō Line.

A long, long time ago, when the Chuō Line was being built, the engineers and surveyors left an exceptionally long stretch of track without a station serving it. As towns and industries relocated from the city center to the areas around the Chuō Line stations, the area to the north of this long stretch of uninterrupted track remained covered in orchards and vegetable gardens. It was not until 1964, forty years after the opening nearest station, that a passenger platform was built at the midpoint of this long stretch, opening the area up for urban development.

Which explains the T family.

The T family were the owners of most of the farmlands. In much of the rest of Tokyo east of Tachikawa, families like the Ts sold off their lands to developers in the 1930s. These same families then saw their wealth go up in smoke in the incindiery bombings or in the postwar hyperinflation.

However, due to the fluke of the vast distance between their landholdings and the nearest railway station, the Ts only started selling off their lands to builders in the late 1950s.

So the Ts, owners of a landbank, are still the lords of their community.

Like the great families of rural villages, the main T family, the honke, found it necessary to hive off the branch lines, the bunke, keeping them away from family inheritance by bankrolling small mom-and-pop operations for the bunke to work in. So it is that even today, retailing and services in the town are provided mainly by T family-owned establishments--the sporting goods stores, the barber shop, the ugly game center in front of the pathetic station...

The T's not only dominate the town's economic life--they dominated its social and political life as well. The head of the local PTA was a T. The LDP representative for the town immediately next door (the rest of the city is a Democratic Party bastion) was a T. Of course, every local committee, shrine observance and festival had to be led by a T.

Even now, when the last parcels of open farmland are being subsumed under single family homes, everyone is still acutely aware that the T family believes we are all arrivistes with only the most tenuous of claims to ownership of what was once their land.

So it was not a great day when The Daughter, in a fit of what I hope was righteous fury, snapped in two all of the pencils of the T boy in her class.

The eldest son of the honke.

Now my spouse--a native of the town--was too mortified to go and apologize.

So the job fell to me.

So with The Daughter I set out, contrition gifts in hand, in search of the honke palace.

I asked The Daughter, "Where is it?"

"T-san said he lives in 'the big house' on the main avenue that runs out of the station, just around the corner from where we live. "

So nonchanlant daughter and dutiful parent set off down the lane. When we came to where the lane runs into the main avenue, we halted.

We looked left.

We looked right.

We looked left again.

We looked right again.

"Where did he say he lived?" I asked The Daughter again.

"In 'the big house' on the main avenue that runs out of the station, just around the corner from where we live. "

"I don't see a big house, do you?"

The scattering of single family homes on the avenue (most of the buildings are low-rise manshons) looked normal-sized to me.

"No, I don't."

The barbershop on the corner had the T family on it. We went inside.

"Is this where (child's name) lives?" I asked.

"Nope, he lives in the house next door, behind the wall."

We went outside again. Next door was a pair of decidedly average-looking houses behind a decrepit cement block wall.

Confused, we walked through the opening in the wall into a lonely dirt yard.

Nothing moved.


We heard some noise coming from the house in the back.

"Let's go ask there."

The house in the back was a two story stucco affair, gray with age--looking a lot like the old house of the in-laws before they tore it down.

"Hello?" we tried again.

More noise.

I slid open the glass door of the house. Inside was a clean but decidedly-looking dingy old wooden entrance hallway, with some children's shoes in the tiled entranceway.

"Ojama itashimasu!" I yelled.

A woman in simple clothing came out.

"Oh hello. How can I help you?"

"I'm sorry, is this the house of (child's name)?"

"Yes it is," she replied. She turned 90 degrees and called up the stairs, telling her son to come downstairs because he had visitors.

The slope-browed little toad made his way down the stairs. I began a litany of all the most apologetic set phrases I could think of.

The mother gently cut me off, saying that there was no problem. Smiling, she made her son accept the gifts that we offered, and made him acknowledge that The Daughter had indeed made recompense for the damage she had caused.

After a few more rounds of effusive apologies, The Daughter and I left the entryway, closing the sliding glass door behind us.

As we walked out the gate, I turned to The Daughter, and said:

"What the hell was he talking about 'the Big House'? His house no bigger than ours!"


The other day a very bright individual said to me:

"The problem with Abe, Nakagawa Shōichi, Aso, even Fukuda...all of them--is their whole life through they have been the children of important and powerful individuals. All they have seen is how others behave before their parents or their grandparents. They believe that obsequiousness is their right. Outsiders, the little people, bowing down and asking forgiveness of their families--that is all they know. Apologies are, for them, for inferior beings. They have never apologized to anyone outside their immediate families."

So perhaps the members of the top tiers of politics, LDP and Democrat alike, cannot help themselves.

In their mind's eye, they live in the Big matter what reality might be.

And we...are just uppity upstarts squatting upon Their Land.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Be forewarned, however, your daughter's emotional outburst disguises a tender spot for the young prince. Good girls always like the Bad boys.