Bridge 14

September 25th, 2010

Bridge 14–SOTOBA KOMACHI

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It’s ugliness in beauty to be cruel,

And yet it’s something beauty can’t resist–

First tease her lover, make him feel a fool,

Then torture him with jealousy, and twist

His spirit–lying prostrate at her feet.

She’s exercising power in decay–

As she well knows!  While beauty seems so sweet,

Its essence is eroding, day by day.

Those beauties Mizoguchi had made stars,

Ah, what romantic dreams they’d helped him mold!

Look at them now!  It’s not like classic cars–

Fair women lose their lines as they grow old.

And who can pity beauty as it dies?

Most feel that’s where the retribution lies!

[Fall, 1962]

“At breakfast the next morning the countess insisted I go get Christine–that very day.  ‘She should be here with you, Jack.  I may call you Jack, I hope?’  I said, ‘Yes, of course,’ but couldn’t imagine calling her Natasha, as Randall did.”

“Nor would I have!”  Shoko said.  “As you know, I called her ‘Okusan.’  More informal than ‘Okusama,’ but still a term of respect.   She was my friend–but almost like my mother.”

“Still comfortably imperial, she said, ‘I’d enjoy having a child about.  And it would be good for you to have your daughter here.’  As you came into the room, she added, ‘For Shoko, too,’ laughing at your bewilderment.  ‘And you say she loves her cat . . . Midnight?  Then bring Midnight as well.’

“So I drove in to get Christine, thinking about the countess on the way.  I realized I was already becoming fond of this fantastic woman, looked forward to spending time with her, but wondered how she would react to Christine.  She was


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an old woman, used to having her own way, and might just think she wanted a soon-to-be-six-year-old child in the house.

“Then it was good to talk to Grace, in her tidy little kitchen–about Laura and me. Christine was sitting there with the cat, looking at us with those wide eyes, as if she wanted to say something, until Grace put her down for her nap.

“I admitted I’d neglected Laura.  Grace said she expected us to be back together, ‘once this thing with the football player is over.  You belong together, Jack.’  When I asked if Laura had said that, Grace said, ‘No . . . beyond saying how much she misses Christine.  She said they’re getting along fine, in fact–but I don’t believe it.  Something in the tone of  her voice told me she misses you, too.’  Grace was my sister, after all.

“Then Christine and Midnight and I drove back to Encino.  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed having her in the car, and how pleased she seemed to be to be coming with me.  With a child, such affection is so genuine it’s catching.  And she was noticing things, commenting on how horses must feel being pulled in a trailer, telling me the names of flowers along the drive into the countess’s estate that I didn’t know . . . said Laura had taught her.  But, otherwise, she didn’t talk about Laura . . . another sign of how perceptive she was becoming.

“Within three days it was as if we’d always lived in that strange, beautiful castle.  Christine was given a room next to mine, but was old enough to pretty well take care of herself–though you did spend a lot of time with her, and the countess was responding to this blithe spirit with obvious pleasure.

“The countess turned out to be one of those rare older people who can enter the world children live in and engage them in conversation, as you see an occasional grandparent able to do, while parents look on in wonder.  For long hours at a time–out in her flower garden, on the patio on a sunny afternoon, in the comfortable old library where she sat with

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her book–she clearly enjoyed having the child with her, in part because Christine didn’t demand much, was happy to entertain herself, in part because she was a very sharp little girl, with the kind of curiosity the countess loved to provoke.

“And she continued to provoke me.  The second day I was there (after she’d granted me that day off to pick up Christine), I spent reading Yeats.  Then, that evening, we talked about Yeats until she’d worn me out.  We continued with Yeats, off and on, first as I was trying to catch up in reading his work, then as part of a more balanced reading diet the countess began prescribing–a directed reading course more intense than any I’d had in college.  But she’d been living with her Yeats, and most of the books she was placing in my hands, for half of her life, which gave her quite an advantage.

“Even where I felt I should have the advantage, with Shakespeare, for example, she held her own nicely.  In the first week we had already considered the comic potential of Titus Andronicus, the elegiac quality of King Lear, and Shakespeare’s abiding interest in young girls in all of his last plays.  She was quite comfortable with dramatic literature in general–would allude to Shaw, or O’Neill, or Chekhov frequently and casually–their plays clearly present to her mind.  We soon discovered, however, that our strongest common denominator was admiration for Plato, the quintessential poet-playwright as thinker.  I decided that was why I wanted to be there with her, even if nothing else came of it.  For a while, we could just read books together.  I wish I had a companion like that now.”

“What Shoko has become for me, Jack,” Henry said.  “And you’re right about how valuable such a relationship can be, especially when you’re in therapeutic mode–as I’ve been.”

“Well, Shoko had a good teacher.  The countess could have been a therapist.  And she had another advantage as student of literature–reinforcing her status as master in our

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relationship–her reading in other languages. That came home to me one day, about two weeks after Christine and I had sort of moved in permanently–the day after we celebrated Christine’s sixth birthday, I believe–as I came into the library to trade books and found the countess in her chair by the window with the book she’d taken from the shelf that first afternoon in her lap . . . just staring off into space.

“‘Have you re-read that play . . . by Mishima?’ I asked.

“I had startled her, but she looked up and smiled.  ‘Yes.  And I’m ready to talk about it.  Sit down, Jack.’  She handed me the book as I took the chair across from her, and I began to examine its strange characters.  ‘Mishima will rank as one of the great novelists of this century, he’s a fine short story writer, and he’s the most successful dramatist in Tokyo–this very year.  And he’s still a young man.  That volume, modern adaptations of medieval Noh plays, includes the play I was telling you about, his version of a play written by . . . ,’ she took the book and thumbed through a few pages, checking something, ‘Kwanami Kiyotsugu, in the 14th century,  about an old woman who lived in the 9th century . . . .’

“‘Pardon me, Okusan.’  You’d come in, with Christine, to ask if we’d like some lemonade.  We accepted, and moved out to sit in a little circle on the patio just outside the library.  The countess said, ‘I’ll give Shoko a literary quiz–like I’ve been giving you on lines from Shakespeare.  Shoko, who wrote these lines: “Iro miede/ Utsurou mono wa/ Yo no naka no/ Hito no kokoro no/ Hana ni zo arikeru?”‘ The sound of her voice was particularly melodious as she uttered these words that had no meaning for me, but brought a smile to your face.

“‘Another by Ono no Komachi, Okusan, a famous tanka by the same poet you quoted the other afternoon.’  That was for my benefit, I knew, and I did recognize the name, but could not have drawn it from memory then, as I can now.

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“‘Can you translate it for Jack, or should I?’

“‘I’ll try–though your English would do Komachi greater justice.  “Iro miede . . . Colors appear . . . to fade . . . in this world, in the flower of the heart of man.”  But “iro” may mean . . .’  Watching you think your way through that exercise, I was conscious of what a good-looking young woman you were, and wondered again about you and the countess.

“She was pleased, said,  ‘No, I wouldn’t change a word!’  I looked over at Christine, who was watching the two of you as seriously as if she, too, were judging the performance.”

“And she could now recite that poem herself, I believe.”

“Then the countess asked you to give me a lesson in Japanese literature by telling me who Ono no Komachi was.  Can you still do that . . . now for Henry?”

“Well, Komachi lived over a thousand years ago, before the writing of the Genji Monogatari.  Most of what I was told about her as a child was legendary, but hers is one of the best known of Japanese legends.  We know she was a great poet, because we have many of her poems–like that one.  But she’s also said to have been a great beauty, desired by every man who saw her.  She scorned them all, treated them cruelly.  One became famous for his persistence.  She forced him to come a hundred nights to woo her, and he died the last night.  But she had to pay for it . . . as she grew old and lost her beauty.  The story is used in a famous Noh play, Sotoba Komachi.”

“That’s where the countess picked it up.  ‘Yes–it’s the spirit of Shii no Shoshu that Mishima invokes in his version of the play, though he sets it in a modern city park.  He has Komachi, an ugly old woman–about my age–picking up cigarette butts, and a poet–about your age–criticize her for interfering with lovers who meet in the park.  But Komachi insists they know nothing about love, and gradually draws him into an imaginative experience in which he sees her as the very

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archetype of young female beauty.  At the climax of the experience, as she tells him he will, he dies–so Komachi is still the sorceress, with the poet, not her lover, as the victim.  You see how this applies to what we’ve been discussing in Yeats’ poetry,’ she said, ‘and to your trying to interpret my life story.’  I wasn’t sure I saw the connection, but nodded.

“‘At the end she was so poor she had to scavenge for food.  Can I use the word “scavenge” that way, Jack?’  When I shrugged my shoulders, she went on.  ‘And she was also said to be haunted by the spirit of Shii no Shoshu.  Very romantic, I think . . . as Japanese literature is . . . while Chinese literature is much more classical.’   She paused, and smiled at me again.

“‘But how does this apply to Yeats’ view of old age?’

“‘Well, as I told you, I identify with Komachi.  I was often pursued by men in whom I had no interest, madly proclaiming their love.  I’m sure I seemed cruel to many of them.  And I warn you that, now that I’m old, I’d like to try my sorcery on you.  I’ll tell you stories of my young loves, but beware of the temptation, as poet, to capture my youth.  It might destroy you.’  She laughed again.  ‘But if Socrates was the reincarnation of Confucius, after a ten-year rest for that poor old soul, I may be the even-longer-delayed reincarnation of Komachi.

“‘That would be in keeping with her legend–like the Flying Dutchman–and is the way Mishima deals with it in this play.  He has the old woman lure a young poet–I’ll cast you in that part–into a spell in which he does see her in the full beauty of her youth, declares it, and so dies.  I have no such designs on you, Jack, but was an acknowledged beauty, and my most memorable experience in Japan–at the height of my powers–cast me in something of a Komachi role.  Not in the Tanizaki “affair,” which ended as a harmless amusement for both of us . . . but in my mating with the lion.’  She paused and looked in at the little jade statue, on its table in the library.

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“‘The naval officer who stole you away from Tanizaki.’

“‘Yes.  I, too, tended to be scornful of men, caught up in my “career,” and, as most actresses are, constantly surrounded by men–some of whom are indispensable, of course, but most simply a nuisance . . . like flies.  I had met some attractive men in Japan . . . but nothing serious had come of any of it . . . until I fell in love . . . or thought I had . . . with that newly met Japanese naval officer, Isoroku Yamamoto, and . . .’

“She paused for a moment, looking out across the garden, but then went on briskly, ‘and may have driven another to his death.  As officers, they were aristocrats, which I understood, having been raised as one myself–but also samurai.  I was familiar with the aristocratic Russian or German officer caste of World War I Europe–the dueling code, death before dishonor.  But bushido, the samurai code, requires more.  In a sense I did intrude on sacred ground.  I thought afterward that Shinji might have been seeking an occasion to die, and that I had unwittingly provided it through my sanctimonious scorn . . . for something which I didn’t understand at all.

“‘The Japanese see homosexuality–as they do suicide–very differently from Europeans.  There’s a homosexual tradition in Japan, from the cultivated sensibility of the Heian period, through the development of the samurai code (which idealized, not woman, but the relationship of comrades–as Phaedrus does in  Plato’s Symposium, or Ihara Saikaku does in The Comrade Loves of the Samurai), through the rise of the onnagata in kabuki drama, and even of the kamikaze pilots of World War II, to Mishima’s Confessions of a Mask and Forbidden Colors.  I came to understand this–and Plato–much better reflecting back upon the trauma of Shinji’s death.  It is like a religious belief in this warrior class that one dies in response to shame, or facing an unresolvable dilemma, and Shinji was evidently confronted with one or the other.’

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“Christine was sitting on the stone retaining wall that separated the patio from the garden, listening to the countess soberly, and  I remember you asking,  ‘Do you think this is a proper story for a small child to hear, Okusan?’

“The countess looked at you, then at Christine, then at me, and smiled.  ‘I leave that to her father, though I feel it’s more harmful to send a child away.  Her innocence will protect her from ideas she’s too young to digest.  But she’s six years old now . . . aren’t you, dear?  Ready for anything.’  Christine smiled back.  ‘I’m more concerned about you.  So you may take her off to play, if you think that best.’

“You looked at me, and I looked at Christine.  When neither of us responded, the countess said, ‘But listening to stories is a thirsty business–you may need more lemonade,’ as a hint to you, I suppose, since you refilled our glasses, and, Christine moved to sit at my feet as the countess began again.

“‘I’ll tell you how I missed the Tokyo earthquake–the 1st of September, 1923–before any of you were born, back when I could still compete with girls like Shoko in that realm that, as Yeats says, is no country for old men . . . or old women.  The Tokyo earthquake was one of the most devastating disasters in human history.  You’ve heard of it, surely.’

“I nodded.  ‘Yes, I have.’

“‘And I missed it.  It was through Junichiro that I first met Captain Yamamoto, later Admiral Yamamoto–master-mind of the attack on Pearl Harbor–who finally died near the end of the war when his plane was ambushed in the Philippines by American fighters.  I was as distressed by that news as I was by any I heard during the entire war.  He was a beautiful man as a younger officer, courtly and distinguished, and well received in the foreign community.  He’d studied in America, so his English was better than that of most Japanese, and he thought he understood Americans very well.  Perhaps he did.

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“‘He pursued me elegantly, I thought–in those first days after I’d met him at one of Tanizaki’s dinner parties.  But not with overt passion . . . very reserved.   In the short time I knew him he worked on refining my Japanese, which Shoko tells me has a Niigata accent, since he came from the “Snow Country.”  That can hardly be true, since I knew him so briefly, but I like to think it is.  And we went everywhere together, to shop at the fashionable specialty stores, to Nikko, to those interminable kabuki performances, of which he was very fond, where spectacle is everything.  But I don’t believe we ever stayed for a full program.  He tried to explain the artistry of the onnagata to me after one performance of the lion dance, a very popular piece, where a geisha is possessed by the spirit of a lion and comes back to dance in the lion’s form.  He knew the man who danced the role–who was a very convincing geisha.  It was that same day that we saw that jade statue in a shop and I remarked on it reminding me of that dance . . . but it really reminded me more of him talking about that dance.

“‘It was the next afternoon, then, that he came to my room at the Imperial Hotel, for the first time.  I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I’m sure I’d have resisted aggressive amorous advances, in the tradition of Ono no Komachi, but wasn’t sure what to expect of myself, either.  But he presented the jade lion, which he’d seen that I’d admired, and invited me to spend the few days I had free after Antony and Cleopatra closed in Hakone with him, during which time we could climb Mount Fuji.  I expected that he intended more, but he stated only that I must climb Mount Fuji while I was in Japan.  How absolutely risque and abandoned, I thought, going on such an adventure with this handsome navy man.  I told him I’d be delighted.  I was more concerned about telling Junichiro I wouldn’t be able to go to Kyoto with him, but am surprised, thinking back, how little that troubled me.  I was under the spell of the lion.

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“‘The Japanese custom is to climb Mount Fuji at night, then eat breakfast on the summit as the sun comes up.  Like so many calculated aesthetic experiences in Japan, it’s well worth the trouble.  Japanese friends told me this was the best time of year to climb the mountain, though some of them looked askance at my going with Isoroku.  The manager of the theatre we were performing in seemed shocked, and tried to tell me something, but after confusing me with references I took to be to myself as an onnagata, finally gave up.

“‘Isoroku picked me up at my hotel early Thursday afternoon, in an automobile driven by a younger man in uniform, one that I liked immediately.  I assumed that he was Isokoru’s orderly, or aide, or that he came with the automobile as one of his perquisites as a more senior officer.

“‘The two-hour drive to Hakone was a pleasant afternoon outing, the Japanese countryside at its picturesque best.  Isoroku was solicitous to point out things of special interest and was in a very good mood.  He talked to the driver more than he did to me, laughing at things I didn’t understand, but included me as much as he could–to give me practice in Japanese, as he said.  I could follow much of the Japanese by then, but not where it seemed to matter most, and some of their comments, and the tones in which they spoke, seemed casual, given their relationship.  When I hinted at this, Isoroku was both surprised and amused, saying that, no, the driver wasn’t his orderly but a fellow officer, and a good friend, and introduced him to me as Lt. Shinji Okuyama.  Shinji smiled, too, but continued to be reserved in his conduct toward me.

“‘We arrived at Hakone a little before dinner time, the hotel a picture postcard image, nestled against a hill, amidst skillfully cultivated natural vegetation that made it seem a natural growth itself, overlooking that beautiful lake.  I wasn’t surprised that we had separate rooms–but that Isoruku’s was

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next to Shinji’s, not mine, did surprise me a little, as did the fact that Isoruku didn’t visit my room until time to take me down for dinner.  I thought, “Well, we’ll see.”

“‘We planned the ascent for that first night, but had time for a leisurely dinner, since the climbing falls between ten and dawn.  We went by car to the fifth station–at 6000 feet, halfway up the mountain–from which you proceed on foot.  I’d changed into hiking costume, but it’s not a demanding climb.  There is that 6,000 feet of additional elevation, a mile straight up, but on an easily manageable slope–an endurance contest, not a feat requiring climbing skills.  I’d climbed the Matterhorn–on a brief vacation with Thomas Mann I must tell you about some time–when I was younger, and found this just a five-hour hike.  We began about 10:30, so we were at the top half an hour before sunrise, which was about 4:00 a.m..

“‘The view from the top, as the sun came up out of the sea, was incredible–worth the whole trip to Japan.  I was so enthralled that I hardly noticed the conversation between the two men.  I just assumed they were commenting on the experience to one another, and that, if I was being neglected, it was the kind of neglect that we’re all guilty of in communicating with someone in a second language when we’re tired.

“‘The climb down the mountain was in daylight, and, even though it was early morning, was hot enough that I was thankful the ascent had been at night.  We had a second breakfast at the inn where we’d parked the car, then a pleasant drive back to Hakone, where we were to spend the next three days.  I’d become addicted to the Japanese custom of the hot bath, and sought out the bathroom immediately.  My Western sensibilities were catered to by letting me bathe alone.  Both men told me to go ahead, that they’d bathe later.

“‘I felt in every muscle that I’d been on a climb, and the long soak in the hot water was perfect for transforming my

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exhaustion into a kind of nebulous euphoria.  On the way back to my room I thought, “Now might be a good time to test Isoroku’s intentions,” and, under the pretext of informing him that the bath was free, I slid back the door to his room.

“‘I had thought I might surprise him in the nude, perhaps lying on the futon reading as he waited for the bath–which was part of what made me yield to the impulse–but I myself was surprised to discover both of them in the nude, and not reading.  They hadn’t seen me, but, as I instinctively stepped back to draw the door shut, I stumbled slightly.  They must have heard me, and I half imagined that Shinji had caught sight of me from the corner of his eye.  But I pretended just to be knocking, and called out, “The bath is free now, Isoroku-san.”‘

“Christine had climbed into my lap, and I looked down at her, trying to judge her reactions to the story.  She was quite still, but seemed to be paying attention.  I looked over at you, looking at her, but could read nothing at all.

“The countess went on.  ‘There was a little rapid and confused Japanese, then Isoroku’s gruff and strongly accented, “Arigato.  We will meet you in the dining room soon.”  I felt I had been dismissed, and, returning to my room in confusion, set about packing to return to Tokyo.  But, as I inquired at the desk about the necessary connections, they proved to be very inconvenient–which may have saved my life.

“‘And, as I began to recover from the initial shock, I found my curiosity getting the better of me.  Why not stay and see what develops?  I could have little to fear from these Japanese officers, since I was not, evidently, to be pursued in the manner to which I’d become accustomed–and, as a connoisseur in matters sexual, I might learn something.  What did I have to lose?  The advantage was all mine.  So, by the time they came down I had decided to play the observer, to watch the actors in this little drama for my own edification and

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amusement–a cynical and entirely unadmirable motive, I’ll admit, but one to which I have yielded on a number of other occasions . . . and which I have almost never regretted.

“‘They seemed nervous when they arrived–but expressed this nervous tension very differently.  I was an accomplished actress, after all, and think I gave a convincing performance of a delighted female tourist who’d just seen the sunrise from the top of Mount Fuji.  By the time we ordered, they were beginning to relax, but I didn’t intend to let them off that easily, either.  I began asking questions, about their youth and schooling, their military training, how long they’d known one another, samurai traditions and how they applied to naval service . . .  where they might be at sea for months . . . without women.  Once I got into it, I was absolutely enjoying myself.

“‘Isoroku responded candidly, quoting passages from the Hagakure (written about 1700 by his namesake, Jocho Yamamoto, and much admired by Mishima as well), as having shaped his own samurai values–but as if he didn’t much care what I thought.  Shinji began to draw back, however, turning the conversation to our experience on Mount Fuji, and what the mountain, in its various moods, meant to a Japanese.  He asked if that made sense to a foreigner, and I actually did engage in trying to explain the bases for my own aesthetic responses in Romantic theories of the sublime experience.

“‘Then he said that he, too, had seen my performance as Cleopatra, and I used that to ask about the psychology of the onnagata, remarking that in ancient Greece and Shakespeare’s London, too, the parts of women had been played by men–that my Cleopatra would have been “boyed” in Shakespeare’s time (too bad he couldn’t have seen me in the role), and, though it seemed to trouble Shinji, Isoroku quite freely discussed the skills involved in men playing women’s roles, but pleaded ignorance on what that might do to the male psyche.

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“‘They were both knowledgeable about Greek culture, so I asked their opinion of Plato’s theories of love.  Shinji began backing off again, as I began addressing most of my questions to him, but Isoroku, regarding first me, and then Shinji, intently during this exchange, began asking some of his own questions.  He seemed genuinely disappointed when Shinji finally said he was tired from the climb and was going to his room, but admitted that we all might use a little rest after that long night, and they both conducted me to my room.

“‘I wasn’t really very tired, the day’s events having left me a little uneasy, so I rolled up the extra futon to prop myself up and began to read a book, though I found myself considering other images and ideas than those on the pages before me.  Then I was surprised to see my door quietly sliding open, and even more surprised to find myself looking into the eyes of the lion, Isoruku Yamamoto.  My door, too, had been left rather carelessly unlatched, but he latched it as he came in, bowing  to me as he did so.  He was wearing the hotel kimono, and slippers which he left by the door, but on the inside.

“‘He motioned me to be quiet, indicating there was no cause for alarm, then came to sit on the tatami mat next to me, and said, “Now I’ve had my bath . . . and gotten into the wrong room.”  He smiled.  “It must be strange for a Western woman here in Japan.  It’s difficult for me to understand you, too.  You are so open, so free, which we don’t expect from women . . . not with men.  We have geisha, trained to be with men, but they do not engage in questioning them.  There are many strong-willed women in Japan, but they do not express that quality in that way.  I am amazed by your . . . I hope this does not offend you . . . your masculine quality.  You were talking about Plato’s Symposium.  Yes, I have studied that book.  Now you must try to be that wise woman for me.”

“‘”Diotima?”

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“‘”Yes.  To teach me, as she did Socrates, about love.  I will answer questions you ask, as he did . . . those your lips ask, and also those your eyes ask.”  I’m translating loosely from speech that mixed Japanese and English, as I watched him very carefully, trying to determine his “intentions.”  But this was a game I knew very well . . . and had always enjoyed.

“‘”Shinji-san and I agree that Cleopatra is a destructive power, for a military man.  You become that power . . . on the stage . . . or here in this room.  And it is a remarkable power.”

“‘I began to laugh at such transparent flattery, but then we felt the first tremors, a severe shaking of the whole room, enough to topple the flower arrangement in the tokonoma.  We grabbed each other on impulse, and I felt the strength of his arms in that embrace.  I gasped, “What was that?”

“‘Again I saw the eyes of the lion.  “A jishin.  ‘Earthquake?’  These islands were all volcanoes.  Mount Fuji, too, is a volcano.  No great concern . . . usually.”  But he did not release me.  His face was close to mine and we were looking deeply into each other’s eyes.  I offered no resistance . . .  my Komachi defenses had been broken through by this warrior.

“‘”Isn’t there?” I responded, and tried to manage a laugh, but he closed the distance and kissed me firmly on the lips, pushing me back onto the folded futon at the same time.  There were three distinct sets of tremors while we were engaged in this “combat,” each heavier than the last, and I really did feel that the world might be coming to an end.  It was a very memorable experience.”  The countess smiled.

“‘You can imagine how surprised I was by this “attack upon my virtue” by a man I had just been convinced was homosexual.  His sexual impulses in this instance, if I was any judge, were exceedingly normal, as, I might add, were my own.  I understand Mishima is bisexual, too.  He has a play, Three Primary Colors, and the novel I mentioned, Forbidden

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Colors . . . his best . . . in which he examines this paradox.  I haven’t known many men who were bisexual.  Have you?’

“‘None . . . that I knew of, at least.’

“‘We’ll talk about Mishima later.’  She smiled again.  ‘But back to my earthquake.  The earth’s passions subsided with our own, and, in that moment of tranquillity, my spirit went out to Shinji, with feelings of both triumph and pity, trying to imagine what he must be thinking, my own nether muscles twitching in imagined sympathy with his.  I’ve often reflected back upon that impulse, as a psychic phenomenon with which I’ve had other experiences, but none so traumatically intense.  I can still induce a kind of cramp in the lower abdomen with the memory–or think I can.  I haven’t tried it recently.  Partly this was in response to my absolute submission to Isoroku, mixed with perplexity about just what that would now mean, to all three of us.  I asked him, “What about Shinji?”

“‘As soon as he’d composed himself, he, too, showed concern, but more about how Shinji might have fared in the earthquake than in the vicissitudes of love.  Arranging his robe, he went down the hall to check.  The earthquake had tumbled us about pretty severely, and the whole hotel was buzzing.  When Isoroku returned I tried to make light of it, asking if he’d arranged these special effects just for me.  But he was in no mood for nonsense, almost ignored me, muttering “Hairemasen!” . . . “I can’t get in.”  But, as I got his attention, he was polite, telling me the quake was the heaviest he’d ever experienced, and warning that tremors would come again, at intervals.  Still, looking outside, I saw no signs of major damage near the hotel, though there was a chaos of activity. Then I asked him if he had checked on Shinji.

“‘As if talking to himself, he said, “The door is jammed.  I must force it open.”  Then he said to me, “I get no answer from him.”  As nearly as I could understand his Japanese, he

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thought Shinji might have been hurt, or knocked unconscious, in the violence of the quake, and that he’d have to force entrance into his room to be sure that he was all right.

“‘That 1923 earthquake ranks as one of the severest natural disasters in human history.  It was heaviest in Tokyo, and on a line running down through Yokohama.  Reports soon began to arrive giving us some inkling of the extent of damage.  People were up and down the halls, listening to one another’s radios, expressing concern, speculating on what the conditions must be in the city, by the time Isoroku returned with tools he had borrowed from the hotel kitchen, saying that he and Lt. Okuyama must immediately report for duty at their base in Yokosuka.  I went with him as he then proceeded to force the lock on the door–as, indeed, it had been locked on the inside.  He talked about their need to return to duty, but his first concern was Shinji himself–that was obvious.

“‘I stood there with him as he slid the door back, to be confronted by a sight that still comes vividly and unsolicited into my mind–the sight of Lt. Okuyama sitting cross-legged in the middle of the room, crumpled forward, and swimming in his own blood.  A long knife, or, as I was told later, a samurai short sword, was pierced through his neck, jutting out the back, one hand still wrapped around the handle, the other fallen in the pool of blood, his stomach cut open from one side to the other, the bowels spilling out between his legs.

“‘My reactions were extreme enough, as I cried aloud and jumped back into the hall in revulsion, but Isoroku’s were even more extreme, as he fell forward on his knees before his friend, and broke into long, deep sobs.  These sounds attracted others, who came clamoring up, probably expecting to find more evidence of the quake’s damage, but when they got a view of this spectacle they fell into hushed silence.  One of the maids quickly brought the manager of the hotel, who, though

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shaken, took charge–closing the room back up and notifying the authorities. It was he who first suggested that Shinji had taken his own life in despair at the disaster that had befallen his country.  Isoroku, almost absentmindedly, agreed with him–though the anguish in his eyes told a different story.  I tried to console him, but he paid me almost no attention.

“‘After making arrangements for me to stay at the hotel until I could get in touch with my company, almost as if I were luggage he was leaving, Isoroku left for Yokosuka.  Later, I would see the haunted look on his face as he took his leave superimposed upon those pictures of Admiral Yamamoto we saw in the magazines and newspapers during the war–or in the eyes of the jade lion.  But, after I watched him driving off alone in the car Shinji had always driven when we were in it together, wishing I could help him somehow, I never saw him again.  I only heard his voice once more, when he called with the formal notification of the travel arrangements he had made for me to rejoin my company a few days later.

“‘I never returned to Tokyo that time.  The director reached me by telephone on the third day to say he’d arranged to return to Los Angeles later in the week, would have my maid pack my things and have them on the ship, since there’d be no theatre in Tokyo for a while, and the film was definitely off.  I suggested we play Macbeth in a barn, or on a street corner–to affirm the arts in the face of catastrophe.  But three members of the company had been killed, and others injured, so there were no resources for that kind of gesture.

“‘I told him, then, that I couldn’t leave . . . because of Isoroku.  He laughed at first, then tried to explain that, whatever might have happened between us, there could be no future in the relationship, that Isoroku had a wife and family, and that I could never be more than a high-class foreign geisha for him–that his giri and training would not allow more, no

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matter how much the veneer of Westernization might deceive me . . . and that he’d be too busy to bother with me now.

“‘I knew that before he analyzed it for me, thinking that Isoroku probably held me partly responsible, if not for Shinji’s death, for not being at his post when the earthquake struck.  It had taken him almost twelve hours to get to his base from our Hakone retreat.  He sent a Mr. Matsufune to see that I got back to my company safely, but informed me of these arrange- ments on the telephone, and the moment I heard his voice, cordial but withdrawn, I knew it was over.  He spoke entirely in English, and treated me like a stranger who had no part in the things that now occupied him.  He said I should return home until Japan could again be more hospitable.  Wherever he thought my home might be, it was clearly not Japan.  I felt frustrated at being shunted aside in this time of his great need,  but there was no way that I could help–a hard lesson to learn.

“‘So I returned to this country–no more my home than Japan–and soon began to make other movies.  But I brought back an interest in things Japanese–the culture, the language, the literature–and a greater insight into the nature of love.  No matter how distantly met Isoroku and I were in terms of culture and nationality, my love might have bridged the gap, I felt, except for his own deeply ingrained prejudices.  But I do have the memory.  And I have the cat . . . his jade lion . . . which I treasure very highly.  It does remind me of him.

“‘I heard about him from time to time–then a great deal during the war.  When I heard about his death, I actually cried, seeing in memory my lion king, who’d shown an interest in what a displaced Russian woman could teach him about Plato’s concept of love–if not quite what Diotima taught Socrates.  And the images of the passion of the earthquake are mixed in memory with those of that younger officer, sitting in his own blood.  I’d come into their lives briefly–to wreak

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havoc.  As I’ve become old–as Komachi did–the spirits of these young officers visit me in my lonely hours, as I sit in my library and stare at the jade lion that has outlived them both.

“‘Back in Los Angeles, a friend remarked, “I heard you caused an earthquake in Japan.”  I broke into hysterical laughter . . . and had trouble getting stopped.’

“The countess stopped talking for some moments, then, gazing at Christine affectionately, asked, ‘Do you think that story will corrupt this young child’s morals?’

“Christine, who had been sitting there on my lap for some time, had fallen asleep.  I lifted her carefully, and, excusing myself on her account, carried her to her room.

“That evening, after I’d gone to bed, but was still reading, I saw the door to my room opening very quietly.”  I looked at Shoko, who gave me a rueful smile. “A young woman slipped in, barefoot and in her robe, as if directly from the bath, as in the countess’s story, making me think perhaps she was able to recapture the seductive powers of her youth, to haunt me as she’d said the Komachi character in Mishima’s play haunts the poet.  But perhaps I shouldn’t be telling this part.”

“I’ve told Henry all about those days, Jack, so it’s all right if he hears it from you, too.  After what you’ve told us about Betty and Laura I’m interested to compare your impressions.”

“That young woman said, ‘You must know that you can’t take everything the countess tells you in her stories as true.  I don’t believe that she ever had such an experience with Admiral Yamamoto.  But it may be that she believes she did.  And her stories are always . . . interesting to listen to.’

“Then I heard the comfortable sound of a bathrobe dropping onto the rug before the young woman climbed into the bed.  California is known for its earthquakes, too.”

Henry and Shoko both had rather vacant smiles, however variously motivated.

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Assignment for Bridge 15:

Read Shakespeare’s sonnet 116, beginning “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments,” of course, but, beyond that, if you don’t know Shakespeare’s sonnets well, begin to read through them, then memorize the one you like best.  Sonnets should not be read in batches, but, say, one an evening, out loud, with the family, before dinner, for the rest of the first half of this year–it will make your life richer.

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