Reams have been written about the suicide-as-spectacle of novelist Yukio Mishima’s death; less, perhaps, about the cartographies and circumstances of his birth. He was born Kimitake Hiraoka, on January 14, 1925, the first child of a civil servant, of a family of what would once—then, indeed—have been called “very good stock”, and his wife, of a family of Confucian and Chinese scholars, in Yotsuya, once on the fringe but now already in the heart of a Tokyo that was rapidly expanding and shifting its center of gravity westward, in a district known then as Nagasumi-cho (永住町, “long dwell town”, although he would be gone from the neighborhood by the age of eight) but which was reorganized and renamed Yotsuya 4-chome in a municipal redistricting on April 1, 1943 (one would have thought they would have had better things to do), before being pulverized to smithereens by American air-raids less than two years later.
Before the Meiji Restoration, Nagasumi-cho had formed part of the Tokyo estates of one of the three noble branches of the house of the Tokugawa shogunate, the Tayasu Tokugawas, but by the early 20th century, it had fallen on its uppers, and was home to a couple of dozen cheap lodging houses, of which this drably fading hostel, the Nagaragawa, where rooms can be had for Y4,000 ($50) a night, is the spiritual successor.
Mishima describes the family and house into which he was born in his almost wholly autobiographical but unreliably narrated novel, Confessions of a Mask (1949), the book which made his name, thus:
…My family began sliding down an incline with a speed so happy-go-lucky that I could almost say they hummed merrily as they went—huge debts, foreclosure, sale of the family estate, and then, as financial difficulties multiplied, a morbid vanity blazing higher and higher like some evil impulse.
As a result, I was born in not too good a section of Tokyo, in an old rented house. It was a pretentious house on a corner, with a rather jumbled appearance and a dingy, charred feeling. It had an imposing iron gate, an entry garden and a Western-style reception room as large as the interior of a suburban church. There were two stories on the upper slope and three on the lower, numerous gloomy rooms, and six housemaids. In this house, which creaked like an old chest of drawers, ten persons were getting up and lying down morning and evening—my grandfather and grandmother, father and mother, and the servants.
(On inspection, it occurs to me that the original translator, Meredith Weatherby, one of a coterie of gay Americans who were to generously dominate the narrow neck of the funnel through which Japanese arts reached the wider world in the years after the war, has some of this wrong, not least the implicit reference to a five-storied house, when the original says, ambiguously, that the house had, or appeared to have, two stories when viewed from the upper reaches of the slope, and three stories when viewed from the lower reaches, but we know that as early as 1952, six long years before publication in English, Weatherby and Mishima discussed the translation in New York, so I defer—and anyway, I digress.)
Declivities are important here: there is the metaphoric incline down which the family fortunes begin to slide, mirrored by the slope on which the old rented house precariously rests, and there’s one more slope that matters, the one on which Mishima, as a boy of four, has—by his account—his erotic awakening:
It was a young man who was coming down toward us, with handsome ruddy cheeks and shining eyes, wearing a dirty roll of cloth around his head for a sweatband. He came down the slope carrying a yoke of night-soil buckets over one shoulder, balancing their heaviness expertly with his footsteps. He was a night-soil man, a ladler of excrement. He was dressed as a laborer, wearing split-toed shoes with rubber soles and black canvas tops, and dark blue cotton trousers of the close-fitting kind called “thigh-pullers”.
The scrutiny I gave the youth was unusually close for a child of four. Although I did not realize it at the time, for me he represented my first revelation of a certain power, my first summons by a certain strange and secret voice. It is significant that it was first manifested to me in the form of a night-soil man: excrement is a symbol for the earth, and it was doubtlessly the malevolent love of the Earth Mother that was calling to me.
(Weatherby reorders the Japanese, as is his prerogative. Let’s re-unpack a little of it using the tried-and-true four-step formula of the late, lamented Mangajin magazine.
Saka wo orite kita no wa hitori no wakamono datta.
Slope (object marker) descend-came (of + topic marker) one-person (of) young-person was.
A youth came down the slope toward us.
Koeoke wo zengo ni ninai, yogoreta tenugui de hachimaki wo shi, kesshoku no yoi utsukushii ho to kagayaku me wo mochi, ashi de omomi wo fumiwakenagara saka wo orite kita.
Night-soil buckets (object marker) front-and-back (place marker) bear-on-shoulder, was-dirty hand-towel (as) headband (object marker) did, blood-color (of) good beautiful cheeks and shines eye (object marker) had, feet (by) heaviness (object marker) distribute-by-step-while slope (object marker) descend-came.
Bearing a yoke of night-soil buckets fore-and-aft on his shoulder, wearing a dirty hand-towel as a headband, with handsome ruddy cheeks and shining eyes, the youth balanced the heaviness of the yoke with his footsteps as he came down the slope.
Sore wa owaiya—fun’nyo kumitorinin—de atta.
That (topic marker) night-soil-man—feces-and-urine ladle-person—was.
He was a night-soil man, a ladler of excrement.
One thing the English loses, in the transitions from “blood-color” to “ruddy” and from “feces-and-urine” to “excrement” is the bond being tentatively forged by Mishima between blood and feces, a theme to which we’ll return, and it helps to know that Mishima was nicknamed “Aojiro” [“Blue-white”] at school for the pallor of his complexion—but I digress.)
The locus of Mishima’s desire, he goes on to say, is on the dark-blue “thigh-pullers”, part of the uniform of laborers still worn occasionally today, and the night-soil man’s occupation itself, although he then claims that he had “a misconception of the work of a night-soil man” and soon transfers his ardor to “the operators of hana-densha—those streetcars decorated so gaily with flowers for festival days—or again to subway ticket-punchers”—particularly the latter and “the rows of gold buttons on the tunics of their blue uniforms”.
What was once Nagasumi-cho is bounded to the east by another residential district, to the north and south by two major arteries, Yasukuni-dori and Shinjuku-dori, which were there in the days of Mishima’s youth, and bisected to the west by another major artery, Gaien Nishi-dori, which was not. The quarter into which Mishima was born, to the east of Gaien Nishi-dori, is tiny, at most 500 meters north-to-south and 250 meters east-to-west. Flat to the south, to the north and west it declines perhaps 20 meters in altitude to meet the major arteries—this is where Mishima’s formative slopes lie. Although I’ve lived for a nigh on a dozen years a two-minute cycle ride from it, and passed the mask it presents to the world on the major arteries measureless hundreds of times, I realize I’ve never once penetrated beyond the mask, down its somnolent streets and tangle of lanes where, in the deepest recesses of the warren the alley is so narrow, so private that to set foot in it feels like intrusion.
Although I have the prewar address for Mishima—Nagasumi-cho 2-banchi—and three maps to guide me, one from 1936,
one showing the redistricting of neighborhoods in 1943,
and a contemporary book of Tokyo street maps,
the address is too amorphous and the layout of the streets has changed too much to do more than stab a guess at its precise location, so I resolve to wander down every street and stairway, every passage and slope, and see what turns up.
It takes a moment to register from the exterior what the Horaiyu, a sento, a neighborhood public bathhouse, is—the giveaways are the chimney and the sign for hot water (ゆ) on the curtain behind the entranceway.
“Not many of these left,” says the passing Frenchman.
“No,” I concur, “I don’t think I’ve seen one in years.”
The sento is flanked, not only by a brace of vending machines, but by a pair of laundromats.
“Interesting architecture. From the sixties, I guess. People bring their washing here, have a bath, go home, everything’s pikapika,” he exclaims, using the onomatopoeia for a state of resplendent cleanliness.
The Horaiyu survives because, as it was in Mishima’s day, the neighborhood is pockmarked by poverty. To be sure, in this central and hence desirable neck of the woods some gentrification has occurred—a huge shiny new condo edifice has sprouted at one corner, a crop of smart townhouses has taken root at another—but there are plenty of shabby old blocks of one-room apartments lacking bathrooms, or even space for a washing machine, dotting the district.
The Meiwaso, the Mitsuiso, the Kawakamiso, how cruelly they taunt their occupants with the suffix for “villa” or “manor” (荘) that they all share in their names, how little, it is patently clear, their slumlords spend on their upkeep, how much it costs—about $500 a month—just to rent one of these tiny, tiny toeholds in the center of the capital. No Poggenpohl, no Aga, no Miele here, no kitchens at all: if you’re lucky, a one-ring gas stove on a bench to reflect your no-ring loneliness. I’ve been close to down-and-out in urban Japan, I’ve seen these places from the inside, and I well know they’re slit-your-wrist suicide traps, one misstep from death—or life on the street.
Some of the tenants are just transients through poverty, penurious students from the provinces scrimping by on what their parents can send them and their arbeit part-time jobs can pay them, but others—that never-married middle-aged woman who cleans your office toilets, that widower with his baton for directing traffic at construction sites, that barely employed aspiring singer growing too old for the game—they are stuck here for good.
“You’re still in Edo,” continued the Frenchman, using the old name for Tokyo. “Up there, at the big intersection, there are some old stones that show the boundary between the city and the country, you know, when Shinjuku was fields. Okido, it was called.”
He was right. The stone lantern marks the location of the Yotsuya Okido, one of the three “big wooden doors” that served as customs barriers on the three main thoroughfares west out of the capital, in this case the Koshu Kaido out to Nagano Prefecture. How many countless times have I passed it without pausing to contemplate its significance, I wonder.
A man passed by us on his way home from the sento.
“And over there,” the Frenchman went on, gesturing in the opposite direction, “in Tomihisa-cho, there’s a memorial to [Greek-Irish author] Lafcadio Hearn. Quite elaborate it is. He used to live there when he was in Tokyo. Ask at the police box, they’ll tell you how to find it.”
Who is commemorated and who is not: no plaque, no plinth with somber statue, no pedestal with bronze bust honors Mishima’s birthplace. He has never been forgiven for his criticism of the emperor, for the many other feathers he ruffled, for that last torrid day of his life.
In many ways, that day—November 25, 1970—was a homecoming (not that Mishima ever lived for any length far from the neighborhood of his birth). Nagasumi-cho is just 500 meters or so from the western edge of what was then the Eastern Army headquarters, where, after Mishima and four members of his Shield Society private army kidnap the army commander and Mishima harangues a throng of bemused and listless soldiers, hungry for lunch, in a speech that begins by acknowledging its own futility and is drowned out by boos and jeers and heckles and the police and media helicopters circling like vultures overhead, Mishima retreats to the commander’s office, smokes a final cigarette, strips to his loincloth, gives his wristwatch to a henchman, plunges a dirk into his belly, and is decapitated, to be followed headlong into death in like fashion by his acolyte Masakatsu Morita.
Indeed, from one spot—just one spot—in Nagasumi-cho, as the vista, usually so constricted, opens up, you can see the green-swaddled roofs and the communications tower of the Ministry of Defense, which moved to the site once occupied by the Eastern Army 12 years to the day before this photo was taken, in a relocation that took seven years and cost $3bn or so, the site having also once been the headquarters of the Imperial Japanese Army and the venue of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, where the Tokyo War Crimes Trials were held.
That day was a homecoming in less literal ways, too. Enthralled, I watch anew the 1985 BBC TV documentary, The Strange Case of Yukio Mishima, as bewitched by the imperfect perfection of his Grand Guignol exit—a monstrous coelacanth of an act hauled up from the depths of the extreme—as I was when I first saw the program, a naïve teen, when it first aired. There’s so much to savor but inevitably Mishima is the star: his urbanity, the suaveness with which he speaks in archive footage in excellent English about the “huge spiritual vacuum” and “unbearable boredom” engulfing post-war Japan, the relish he reserves for the word “death”, the voiceless dental fricative of the terminal “th” pronounced perfectly, his eyebrows, two hairy black caterpillars writhing with malevolent intent, and his sign-off declaration, “Hara-kiri sometimes makes you win.”
I grow fascinated by the khaki winter uniform of the private army, in which Mishima appears in the last shots taken of him alive, mere moments before his death, a uniform that some have ridiculed as Ruritanian or Graustarkian and others have derided as the livery of a hotel doorman, but which seems to me the epitome of a sparsely modern sensibility and was designed by a man, Tsukumo Igarashi, with a truly otherworldly name (九十九五十嵐, “ninety-nine fifty-storms”) who had worked with Pierre Cardin in Paris and sewn trousers for General de Gaulle and who is still alive, designed thanks to the offices of one of the patriarchs of the latterly deeply scandal-tainted Seibu railway-to-department store-to-real estate empire, Seiji Tsutsumi, who is also still alive. And the uniform itself, isn’t its progenitor to be found in the “thigh-pullers” of the night-soil man? And those rows of buttons that ascend in flying goose formation up the flanks of Mishima’s abdomen, aren’t they the descendents of the buttons on the subway ticket-punchers’ tunics? And that hachimaki headband, with its Shinto-nationalist inscription (七生報国—“Even if reborn seven times, I will serve my country”), isn’t it the just the night-soil man’s dirty hand-towel, rarefied, cleansed and politicized?
The double disembowelment and beheading produces barrels of blood, as is only to be expected, great ghastly torrents of blood that spatter everyone and everything; it also releases, as the dirk goes in, the stench of feces, even though Mishima had evacuated his bowels that morning, and it’s plausible that if he had had any space left in his sensory system free of paralyzing pain, the very last odor he would have tasted would have been his own ordure—and there we are, transported back to the slope of 1929, with the night-soil man, his beautiful blood-red cheeks and his buckets of excrement. So in death, Mishima achieves his earliest yearning: writing of the night-soil man, he says, “Looking up at that dirty youth, I was choked by desire, thinking ‘I want to change into him,’ thinking, ‘I want to be him.’”
In the BBC documentary, Nobuko Lady Albery (now there’s a name to conjure with) says in her exquisitely cut-glass but expressive English of the suicide of Mishima something worth citing in full:
It was a political embarrassment, as well, because just when Japan was on the point of becoming a member of the advanced industrialized nations, whom we have copied so doggedly all those years, and then here comes this writer, and killing himself as if the clock were put back two centuries. Certain people say, the way he died, the way he worshipped the sword, the Japanese Hagakure cause of ethics of the samurais and everything, he’s the most archaic, the most reactionary Japanese. Now, in whatever little compartment as an individual, as a clown—which he liked to be—as an actor, as an impostor, as a gangster, as an aristocrat, in every little thing he tried to be, he over-existed, and I think that quality, the Japanese simply not only scorn, but find intolerable, because we have all been brought up on this Confucian teaching, “When there is a stink, put a lid on it.”
When there is a stink, put a lid on it—this is what Mishima refused to do. When he appropriates—if that’s not too strong a word—the buckets of the night-soil man, he lifts their lids and carries them with him, through life to death.
Nagasumi-cho is trisected south-to-north by two roads just wide enough for cars to pass each other; one manages to make it out of the neighborhood, the other dissolves into an intricate nest of tiny lanes barely wide enough for a bicycle, then into a lattice of stairways and slopes. There are no gods here, save for a tiny curbside Shinto shrine to Oinari, flanked by red-bibbed stone foxes in cages, no shops here, save for a greengrocers with sagging sun-sapped awnings,
no reason for outsiders, save deliverers of parcels and post, to broach the bulwarks of the district. I wander the lanes of the flatlands first, where manhole covers seem to rear up off the asphalt like the shining breastplates of warriors.
It’s a fine day for washing, for airing, for drying, and the laundry is out—as it is all over the city—on ramshackle verandahs perched above sheds and on poles blocking rickety staircases.
Umbrellas hang off a staircase handrail like acrobats and futons lap out of windows above banks of air-conditioners, their parasitic tendrils seeming to suck the life out of the old grey concrete.
Almost nothing is left of the neighborhood as it would have appeared in 1970, when Mishima died, but here and there are vestigial traces of the first wave of post-war reconstruction, and down the merest capillary of an alleyway, accessible only on foot, I stumble across the purest expression of that reconstruction, a house, its front staved in as if punched in anger, that dates to around 1950—confirmed by an old man weeding nearby.
To the north and east, as the claustrophobia intensifies, the abandonment multiplies. Of a jumble of refuse outside a postage-stamp park, to which an enraged resident has affixed a sign that’s almost a haiku:
Go to hell
I’ll be waiting!
Enma Daio (the wrathful Hindu-Buddhist god of purgatory)
Of bicycles, naturally, but also of scooters, moldering away under and beside stairways, wherever surplus space—there’s precious little—can be found.
The doorways close in as the passageways narrow—and what doorways they are, rust-blotched and rust-rashed doorways, doorways in ocher with ancient light fixtures, crazy-paved doorways with piles of tires, doorways to secret strips of land down which one could go looking for a lost cat and end up in a parallel world, doorways with the light on at midday and a sticker refusing flyers for sex services, doorways to a landing on stilts with no manifest purpose, doorways that give on to yet other doorways, where someone always seems to watching.
And the stairways! What a profusion of stairways crowd in now, aerial stairways, stairways that clamber up the sides of the tenements, public and private stairways that feel forsaken by feet, stairways piled on stairways—impossible Escher stairways the denizens of this netherworld of stairs are condemned to ascend and descend for eternity.
“Is it so unusual?” asked the man in yellow and black, dismounting with bagfuls of laundry.
“No, not really. I just like the shape of the stairs.”
“Bloody stairs. Hard work when you’re my age.”
Quixotic though the quest for the slope of the night-soil man certainly was—there is no telling whether it has been effaced by war or prosperity, or even how close to Mishima’s home it lay—being freed from the burden of certainty allowed the liberty to choose whichever felt right. I have never had a literary hard-on for Mishima, but I could feel one coming on, dick as dowsing-rod, walking the backstreets of Nagasumi-cho. We can infer from the scene in Confessions that the slope was narrow, as the buckets are being carried, fore-and-aft, over one shoulder, whereas the yoke would usually be worn across the back of the neck with the arms wrapped around the beam—the night-soil man as eternal Christ-like penitent in the blood cult of Christianity. The night-soil man’s journey must have been short, too, because by the twenties there were surely night-soil carts, hand-drawn or horse-drawn, plying their abject trade across the metropolis.
In this—no doubt morbid—curiosity about the night-soil man, I’m joined by throngs of priests and priestesses of the religion of psychoanalysis, be they Freudians, post-Freudians, Lacanians, post-Lacanians, post-post-Freudian-Lacanians, or whatever irascible sect into which they have splintered, who furiously pen articles in their journals and festschrifts with titles like Phallic Narcissism, Anal Sadism, and Oral Discord: The Case of Yukio Mishima. (Oddly, they are steadfastly uninterested in the operators of hana-densha or the subway ticket punchers.) The coarser sorts of Freudians simply insult:
One may also discern a more specific psychological meaning [than that attributed by Mishima himself to the night-soil man]: the attraction to excrement common among homosexuals fixated in what Freud called the anal-sadistic phase.
Deadly Dialectics: Sex, Violence, and Nihilism in the World of Yukio Mishima, Roy Starrs, Associate Professor, University of Otago (1994)
The more sophisticated post-structuralists, influenced by feminism and queer theory, simply obfuscate:
The ability to spill (blood, shit, urine) is a sign of the body’s flaunting of the norms of containment, its relish in excess, but also of its moribundity. Accordingly, Kochan’s [i.e., Mishima’s] first physical attraction is to a ladler of excrement (funnyuo: manure/urine), an episode that comes close on the heels of his initial bout of autointoxication and reinforces his tendency to apotheosize health-as-reformulation/emission. … But the connection of excrement to the social role of the shit-ladler and the mapping of that role on a sociohierarchic grid—a role that Kochan valorizes and eroticizes—indicate the attraction is identificatory as well. One effect of Kochan’s pairing of recirculation/emission fantasies with the ladler of excrement manifests itself in a homoeroticized coprophilia, in which health and beauty are linked with the collection/dispersal of soil/feces.
Body/Talk: Mishima, Masturbation, and Self-Performativity, Donald H. Mengay, Associate Professor, Baruch College, CUNY (1995)
I used to be old enough to understand what this meant, but thankfully I’m so much younger now. And besides, just to take the first sentence alone, the ability to micturate and defecate is not a sign of either the “body’s relish in excess”, as bodies alone cannot relish anything, nor of its moribundity, but of healthy excretory processes, and blood is not to be idly conflated with feces or urine.
The post-Lacanians simply provoke giggles:
It is around the age of four that the boy must lose his penis to bear the phallus, the signifier of desire and of castration. This is how masculine identification takes place. The privilege of the phallus, says Lacan, is to give order to the real of the body and to its mental scheme, to integrate it, so that even if it remains parceled out, it functions as the elements of the body’s crest, or coat of arms.
Violence in Works of Art, or, Mishima, from the Pen to the Sword, Danielle Bergeron, Training Analyst, GIFRIC, Quebec (2002)
It amuses—though it should appall—that the good taxpayers of New Zealand, the United States, and Canada should be funding, directly or indirectly, this infantile psychobabble. In a September 11, 1964, Life magazine special ahead of the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, Mishima has the following to say, in a short yet meandering and in places flippantly offhand essay, A Famous Japanese Judges the US Giant (adore that “giant”):
In America … the fear of self-confrontation appears to have impinged on the outlook of some intellectuals. I was amazed to learn how many intellectuals and artists frequent the psychoanalysts. Would it not be more proper for the psychoanalysts to consult the artists? In Japan, the laundries send a man every morning to the back door to pick up the family wash, but in America it is the customer who must make his way to the laundry with his bundle of soiled clothes, the accumulation of days if not weeks.
By poring over the entrails of Mishima’s life and works in search of validation, the psychoanalysts are, I suppose, answering his wish that they consult the artist, although they appear convinced they have the upper hand in the dialogue; personally, I would advise anyone with disequilibria of the mind, psychoanalysts—surely they have enough problems of their own—and indeed anyone of less than robust mental constitution to steer well clear of Mishima and artists of his ilk. As for the soiled laundry analogy—as if schizoaffective disorder, psychotic depression, or delusional parasitosis could be washed out like a dirty shirt—well, just see above…
The next day, a little providence and a little diligence conspired to hand me a modern address—Yotsuya 4-chome 22 banchi—for Mishima’s birthplace. While still amorphous, this address covers less territory than its prewar counterpart, and there was only one corner.
So this was it, the modern incarnation of that “pretentious house on a corner, with a rather jumbled appearance and a dingy, charred feeling”; still a tad pretentious and jumbled, perhaps, though not dingy and charred. It is both the office premises of Aroma Watch Japan (that’s “watch” as in “wristwatch”), about which I can dig up nothing, and the home of either a Japanese with the forbiddingly rare family name Kiku (聞) or—heaven and Mishima forfend!—a Chinese.
But what of the slope? There was one leading away to the right from the corner house itself, narrow enough in places, but scarcely an incline and lacking in drama, and another, half-slope, half-steps, but too broad and too bright, somehow, for the night-soil man. The steps, though—what if the slope had been laid to steps since? Again, there were two candidates.
The first stairway I dismissed as too wide, too straight, but the second, ah the second—there was an ineffable magic about the way the stairs climbed, then twisted, then narrowed, then turned, one wall rusticated with mossy stone. This, then, was the slope of my night-soil man, my Mishima.
If much of what was Nagasumi-cho looks dowdy and superannuated, well it is. In 1979, critic Donald Ritchie could write in an essay, Tokyo, the impermanent capital, that “the city as a whole does not appear as though it were built to last”, that new buildings are so flamboyantly modern “one cannot but expect them to be shortly superseded”, and of how the grand shrine at Ise, the Mecca of Shintoism, is torn down and rebuilt every 20 years:
In its way the Japanese city follows this same pattern. The idea of continually pilling down and putting up is very strong. Tokyo for this reason always seems under construction and indeed, will never really be finished.
Tokyo strikes me as a vast swathe of veldt that has to be swept by fire—in its case, earthquakes and conflagrations historically, latterly carpet-bombing and prosperity—to have its ecosystem renewed. But in the last two decades of stagnation, and especially in the last five years, those fires have grown fewer, briefer, and more concentrated around stations overground and underground, and in places like Nagasumi-cho—of which there are thousands across the capital—the clock of renewal has slowed to a crawl. Tokyo, like its inhabitants, is aging, and because, beyond the arteries, its proportions are so resolutely human, and because it is primarily built of concrete, that most unforgiving of materials, whose aging cannot be disguised by Botox or surgery, the physical fabric of the city is aging as a favorite aunt or uncle ages, visibly, almost painfully, as the metabolism of the city slackens. As far back as 1932, Belgian poet Henri Michaux could exclaim, “Tokyo is a hundred times more modern than Paris!” The same comparison would not hold today.
This, though, is my Tokyo, if not the Tokyo of Mishima: unshaven, unshowered Tokyo, Tokyo with its make-up off last thing at night, a place of battered plastic bottles strapped with green duct tape and nylon string around a lamppost to ward off cats and—maybe—demons, of rolls of toilet paper and cleaning fluids seen through frosted mosaic windows, of traces of tires worn in the dusty beige and ecru tile floor of an empty garage, of a white business shirt slumped on a pillar like a crumpled ghost, of bicycles parked where no bicycles should be, of brooms and plant pots and bright blue upturned buckets and bins, of resident association noticeboards, green felt encased in bronzed steel, with no notices of note, of electricity meters slapped on chipboard and strung up with wire knots, of silvery shrouds for motorcycles and motorboats, of lanes and balconies and doorways and narrow strips of sunlight that fall on passageways between buildings down which noone ever strays—a disciplined Tokyo gothic if you like, where a fluorescent strip-light always flickers down some dank corridor, even on the sunniest day, where clouds sneak up and rain sets in for hours and hours, where a mother sits on a bench in a park reading a paperback, alone, while her toddler son plays in the dirt, alone, where ivy breeds and strangles desire, and where, on a stairway forever in shade, a camellia weeps its petals for the youth of an old woman who hangs her undergarments with bath-fresh flesh-pink pegs on a washing line in a gloomy nook, hard by the spot where—just possibly—eighty years before, a boy had his first, aureate, erotic encounter, one that was to define the contours of his life and death, a Tokyo where some young Mishima still lies in bed and dreams of blood and glory, a Tokyo where something—or someone—can always be revealed if one peers intently enough past the spray-on drywall coating and through the letterbox, the letterbox of everybody’s river.