By Hattori Yosuke, Novelist
A day in August
A letter, courteous and dignified, from someone moving out of temporary housing:
"A year and a half has passed since the Kobe Earthquake. The town of Kobe is alive and vibrant with the urgent energy of reconstruction. A new home has been completed for me at myold place, so I will now be moving out of these temporary quarters. I would like to express my sincere thanks for all the encouragement and support everyone has given me. Never shall I lose the gratitude for being allowed to live the remainder of my life; I shall endeavor to ensure it is fulfilled and worthwhile. The rainy season is over and the days will be hot and trying; please take good care of yourself and stay well.
The daytime temperature in temporary housing, which has steel plates on the roof to ward off the sun, reaches 40 degrees. When the rains are here the drumming of the raindrops keeps one awake, and in summer there is the heat. When a typhoon comes one trembles in fear that the entire barracks might be blown away, and in winter the cold gnaws to the bone. Through the thin walls you can hear the tinkling of dishes as they rattle against each other, but almost no voices. Everyone here is living quietly, unobtrusively -- so the sender of the letter told me when I visited him. He built his new home together with his son, who is away in Germany because of his job. They took out a joint mortgage, a mortgage of two generations. Still recovering from a mild stroke, he relies on crutches, and he has already lost his wife, but nonetheless he mutters, "You know, it doesn't feel right, that only I can have it so good."
A day in August
Why do teenage girls have to spend so long in the bath? Her old man is irritated at the never ending sound of the shower echoing through the night. He showers in five minutes flat. Just five minutes, even though it is he who supports this family. Then why, damn it, does he hear the sound of water running for almost half an hour?
The teenage girl in question is my daughter. It irritates me that she stays up all night even though she can't get up in the morning. And the sound of the unchecked flow of water really gets on my nerves. I try to control the urge to ask her if she has forgotten what it was like a year and a half ago, after the earthquake. The sound of the shower coming alive in my weary mind reminds me of the weight of the plastic containers we lugged.
When I was a child, my parents told me so many stories about the war and the postwar troubles that I got sick of them. But my daughter was there when the Kobe Earthquake struck. She should have experienced more than enough of the hardship of not having enough water. Don't you remember, we didn't flush the toilet even after taking a crap; water was so precious we saved it and flushed the toilet only once a day.
Lamenting but not giving voice to his laments, her old man eventually drifts off to sleep.
There's been a death from the O-157 bacterium.
What would have happened if the earthquake had struck in summer, I wonder, unnerved by this mysterious pathogen running wild.
A day in August
The Hanshin Expressway, which immediately after the earthquake some media people said should be permanently preserved as a symbol of the disaster like the Hiroshima Dome, has been rebuilt more quickly than expected. It's only a matter of time before the entire route reopens to traffic. Perhaps because work on the elevated roads is now mostly complete, a lot of work is being carried out on ordinary roads, and traffic is disrupted almost everywhere. Places closed off to traffic have signs such as "16th Post-Disaster Reconstruction Works."
This summer, heading to Suma Port to board the ferry from there to Awaji island, I took the bypass toward the Harborland area. Off the bypass, the route where the machinery to retrofit the Hanshin Expressway with steel piers had reduced traffic to only one lane until just recently is now back to four lanes; the road has even been newly paved.
The scenery has changed quite a bit, with some of the Kobe Steel facilities having been cleared away, but the area can now be traveled in one-fifth the time of the disaster, when traffic congestion was heaviest. People driving here are apt to think that Kobe has just about returned to normal, and it strikes me as an additional reason the administrative authorities gave priority to road reconstruction.
In the ferry I read a talk between Ibuse Masuji and Yasuoka Shotaro. Coming across a remark that "the Kanto Earthquake sure has changed that area there" since 1923, I think of the modern city's regenerative capability I sensed when driving along the bypass, and wonder if the Kobe Earthquake really has changed anything. There's all this talk of rehabilitation and restoration, but what is happening is that everything is being returned to its previous form, like righting a yacht that has overturned -- nothing really new is rising forth from the ashes of the tragedy.
After vacationing for three days in Awaji, I return to Kobe. To avoid the crowding in the roads feeding the bypass on the way back, I take a side road through Nagata district, one of the hardest hit areas. Here, time has been frozen. I can't remember exactly when I passed through this area after the earthquake, but the impression and scenery has hardly changed. The speed of movement, is also the speed of oblivion.
1954 Born in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture.
1977 Graduated from Sophia University, English
1983 Received the Kobe Literature Award for "Old
1988 Received the Literary World New Talent Award
for "Trip in Order for Me to be Me."
Currently he teaches at Shoin High School in Kobe.