Over Mount Fuji (9)

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 April 23 — 
Eileen awoke in cold sweat, struggling against disorientation. Damn it! Gigantic flares. Columns of black smoke. Fiery red meteors. Seemed like an eruption. But where?

She blinked hard against the dark, wondering if it were real. She shook her head. Nothing; it was only the lingering aftermath of a dream. The surroundings of the beautiful ryokan reminded her that she was still on an investigating trip in northern Honshu.

She had planned to drive back to Tokyo along the coast, but the tsunami had damaged the highway. For a week, she waited at Sendai as torrential rain and squalls scoured the landscape, but finally the rain eased and she managed to book a ferry to Yokohama.

After taking breakfast, Eileen left amidst strong smells of the sea. Over the long hours, the wind jostled the waves. Some gulls flew overhead, while others rode the currents, all screaming whenever the wind swirled. Sprays of seawater drenched the deck and main cabin. She felt unsettled when the ferry chugged and bobbed along, and the journey was once again met with rain.

At midday, the drizzle stopped. The sun soon glinted and flashed on the rolling waves. Eileen looked through her binoculars—the beaches had disappeared and the flooded hinterlands filled her view. As she made notes and took pictures, the continuous cries of cranes along the shore sounded more eerie than usual.

Ferry-to-ChoshiBy late afternoon, the ferry approached Choshi, a town situated on a peninsula protruding from the main island. Eileen focused her binoculars on the edgy homes. Smashed roofs and debris dangled from cliffs, ready to topple over.

She strained her eyes, squinting at the strange-looking bloated objects floating toward her, intricately entangled among debris and seaweed. Bodies. The acrid stench of the air clung to her skin and crawled up her nostrils. Babies! Her mind reeled; their floating faces horrified her. More corpses! Like a knife through her gut, anxiety pierced her. She switched on her cell phone to call the emergency task force and advise them of the sighting. But no connection. She shook the phone and tried again. Still no signal.

Rushing to the cockpit, she said to the captain, pointing, “Stop! We have to get back. There are babies out there.”

Duty-bound, the skipper shrugged. “I’m ordered to follow a designated route.”

“We must look for survivors.”

The captain frowned at her, appeared callous, then turned back to the wheel.

Eileen retreated to the deck. To jump into the sea to find any survivor would be futile. What else could she do? Her investigation had stalled, her article about the doomed archipelago had hit the bedrock, and no report would be coming from the Raging Planet for a while. Feeling disoriented, she gulped a deep breath. Calm down, I need a clear head.

She scrambled to the bar, thinking a bottle of spring water might help. But on the way, copies of the Japan Times caught her attention. Once she had bought the newspaper and a drink, she sat to read. The lead story reported police recovering the bodies of three murder victims—a middle-aged woman and her two teenage boys—a short distance near a beach off Choshi. The woman was identified as Mrs Yoshino, wife of Professor Yoshino, Japan’s best-known seismologist at the Earthquake Research Institute. The murderer had painted the shape of a chrysanthemum on her back.

Eileen recalled that under Japan’s system, no one could challenge the Sensei. Yet, he hadn’t predicted any earthquake at all, let alone one of this magnitude. The article speculated how this failure had fueled the wrath of citizens and gangsters alike and triggered an attack on Yoshino’s family.

Below the article, the newspaper printed pictures of twenty mangled bodies lying crumbled at the base of a cliff, their white clothes stained with blood. Forensic experts had concluded the group had committed mass suicide by hurdling themselves over the cliff.

Eileen cursed, remembering the score of youngsters she had met earlier. The ailing social aftermath of many cultures had always shattered lives in an instant, but why were such suicides taken amass? How are the Japanese seeing all this? Why such senseless suicides?

An aching sadness gripped her. After disembarking at Yokohama, Eileen returned to Tokyo for more leads. Old ideas had resurfaced about the origin of the isles. With catastrophes all around, magazines and broadsheets published various versions of Japan’s mythology, of how Izanagi and Izanami first created the eight islands of Japan by stirring the waters with a jeweled spear. Now, the creators of the archipelago must be angry and vented by destroying its inhabitants.

Knowing Wulfstein had settled down in Tokyo for his research, Eileen wanted to see again, but an appointment with him could only take place in a week’s time. She proceeded to a public square, thinking to get more man-in-the-street viewpoints on the legend.

“Amaterasu-Omikami,” a cult spokesman with a red headband said, “Amaterasu-Omikami has displayed her displeasure with the current crop of ministers, who did nothing to stop the erosion of Japanese consciousness.”

Standing on a podium and speaking from his microphone to the gathering crowd with his long hair and beard, the leader looked like one who’d lived in the jungle for years. But he was animated and filled with energy.

“The God Kashima has once again failed in suppressing namazu by his divine powers, so now this monster is on the move.”

“What can we do about this?” a distraught spectator shouted from among the crowd.

“We can pray, we can hold a public demonstration, and we can commit seppuku to show our solidarity.”

Seppuku! Is the whole nation following suit? Crazy, yet an opportunity for her investigation. Eileen learned from the stricken citizens that protest groups from all over the country would call for a demonstration against the government on “the first Monday of May.” At last, another timely article for her Raging Planet magazine. She wanted to be there, to witness how these groups picketed, gave speeches and threatened chaos. With a population on a path of anarchy, security would be severely tested.

Upon reading the Asahi Evening News, she learned that the governing cabinet had hastily installed a Special Task Force and offered a twenty-five million-dollar reward, stipulated in US currency, to any individual or institution able to satisfactorily explain and resolve the phenomenon.

But the cults and malcontents didn’t call off the demonstration.

On the appointed Monday, Eileen drove to the city center, expecting a tirade of invective between nationalists and government officials. Behind the horning vehicles, she followed a sound truck rushing through the streets, a leading personage blaring from the speakers.

The truck stopped at Ginza and Eileen parked nearby to mingle with the crowd, the humid air reeked of sweat and sulfur. Beyond a barricade, she found a small space from which to watch.

“This upheaval isn’t the work of Godzilla,” the leader said. “Neither is it the result of Mothra flapping its wings.” Led by an ornate portable shrine on poles shouldered by a host of young men, he spoke fast, lips close to the microphone, his head wrapped with a white band. “And this sulfur isn’t its farts.”

Eileen turned around and was surprised to spot a familiar face in the milling crowd, a volcano expert who’d been a colleague of her husband Jerry, a man she’d met at a garden party three years ago. Now, he had sprouted a goatee. Wanting to find out more, she pushed through the crowd. As the mob pressed back, she called out and he met her eyes in a cold stare, then turned and bolted.

Why’s he running away?

She followed, still trying to remember his name. Does he know something?

Eileen pushed harder through the crowd, but he dodged and weaved away. She rushed after him. Missing a step, she tripped. She struggled back to her feet and dashed forward, but the man had disappeared.

Back in the crowd, drums and gongs of war overwhelmed her as they sounded in a steady, unflagging rhythm. Unruly mobs chanted while careening from one side of the street to the other.

“ . . . now it is happening again,” the speaker shouted above the chants. “Foreign governments are using secret devices to cause this havoc.”

A man pulled Eileen’s arm from behind. “Hey! Are you a spy?”

Terrified, she shook him off. His accusation tightened around her neck like a noose.

The man, with Yonex shoes and faded tracksuit, stayed close. His teeth looked like crumbling tombstones; his eyes pursued her. “What is this Syndrome you are unleashing on us?”

“Get lost,” she exploded. “I’m only a reporter.”

Run, she needed to run. Fear shook her. She lost herself in the mass. In another thirty yards, she secured a tiny breathing space from which she could see a raised platform where one of the men stood.

“American forces are vermin without manners,” the cult leader raged, his voice rising above the deafening roar. “They’ve hidden an evil-device in our sacred ground, like they did to create the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923.”

He rambled on, his voice drowned out by the clamor of other marchers with their own shrines. Other mobs plowed through the street, tilting their shrines precariously forward and backward at times, creating hysteria, causing the milling crowd to fall back.

The atmosphere sounded melodious, yet piercing. Eileen’s head throbbed from the different rhythms and beats of the drums. Wearing only loincloths and headbands, the marchers roared at everything the leader said.

While the clashes of steel and wood deafened her, the cymbals rose above the din. The shouters alternated their strokes, keeping up a booming rhythm. Carried along, Eileen was shoved down the street by the crowd. The sound of drums followed the ringing of bells, the lament of flutes, and the chants of the faithful, alternating with recurring footsteps.

“It’s time for the full reinstatement of the Emperor,” the leader continued. “It’s time to listen to the Goddess Amaterasu-Omikami.”

Nationalists held up placards, cheering and calling out, marching toward the National Diet, their Parliament. Hundreds of police braced themselves in rigid formation; barricades stopped traffic.

Ahead, another group marched. The Okoro Osahora cult had pledged a thousand warriors. They gathered momentum, forming a long column. Their leader predicted an “astral vision and intuitive wisdom” to its members, and also a call for the spread of Osahora Truth on a global scale. “The day of annihilation has come,” he continued. “The world will soon witness the sinking of Japan—an evil land destined to perish under the waves.”

Country folk in farming hats and costumes passed next in array, some carrying bags of rotten tomatoes on their backs, others balls of dung. Their rhythm of drums and marching feet echoed from office blocks nearby. Before the Diet, they waved their banners and hoisted signs above their heads, dancing to the cadence of each chant.

Eileen elbowed through the mob. Around the square, technicians jockeyed for position to set up electronic equipment and erect their cameras for a panoramic view.

In the distance, a siren wailed, becoming louder and more piercing. All eyes turned toward the main gateway to Japan’s Parliament. The horde of humanity parted, and a motorcade with police escort passed through the barricades and entered the Diet.

Members of the press tried to slip past the cordon, dragging with them their microphones and cameras before riot police ordered them back. A horde of jostling reporters pressed forward, some becoming unruly.

Eileen pushed against the mob to reach the hall for the news conference. After a struggle and craning her neck, she managed to get a view of the stage.

Silence ensued before a man stepped forward and introduced the Prime Minister. Clicks sounded and cameras flashed. The crowd broke into rousing jeers as soon as Prime Minister Ono appeared with a ominous frown.

The uproar from the audience continued unabated. When he stepped onto the podium, his officials and assistants dropped their heads like a row of falling dominoes. He bowed and lifted his head. Seeing the incorrigible mob, he stepped back but his knees buckled. Four assistants rushed to his aid. He shook them off and regained his composure.

Prime Minister Ono cleared his throat and thanked all who had gathered to hear his speech and especially the media who could bring his message to the rest of the country. “Japan is undergoing a national crisis,” he began. “We must determine the root cause of this Sinking Syndrome. Japan will overcome this plunge. Japan will come out stronger. Japan will . . . ”

The audience fell silent. Ono divulged more details about the submersion and the extent of damage and promised that a solution would soon be found. Although his speech represented no breakthrough, the high drama and publicity quieted the people.

The Prime Minister’s well-prepared speech dragged on for an hour, and the crowd began to murmur. Scuffles broke out and someone threw a tomato at the podium, followed by handfuls of dung. Ono’s hands shook as one tomato hit his forehead. He wiped it away with his sweaty hand and threw off his prepared text.

“I know none of you are morons,” he yelled, stabbing a finger toward the audience. “But you’ve made it hard for me to tell the difference.”

Surging forward, the mob responded with jeers and hisses. They clambered toward Ono, but security men fought back with shields and batons. In riot gear, bodyguards rushed the Prime Minister away, spraying tear gas on retreat.

Shattered by the commotion, Eileen slipped out of the hall. Shriek of sirens wailed once again amidst more sprays of tear gas. The mass in the street parted, but as the cars sped off, the crowd threw more tomatoes and piles of dung at the entourage

 

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