“Omedetō, omedetō (おめでとう, congratulations)! A superb kōgi (講義, lecture)! Daiseikō (大成功, a rousing success!) Welcome back, Professor Keyes!”
“You’re yopparatta (酔っ払った, drunk) already,” I tsubuyaku (つぶやく, mumble), somewhat dazed myself.
“Not yet, but we soon will be!”
“We’ll go to the kyūkeishitsu (休憩室, lounge). Order some beer, somebody!”
“Sensei (先生, professor), I have a question. You say young Japanese people today are muchi (無知, ignorant) of the past, and that sono kekka (その結果, as a result) Japan has lost its soul. But I wonder if gaikoku no wakamono (外国の若者, young people in other countries) know more about the past than we do. American school children, I’ve read, don’t know about the Amerika Kakumei (アメリカ革命, American Revolution) or the Nanboku Sensō (南北戦争, Civil War).”
“Ichiri aru (一理ある, You have a point).”
“Some beer for the professor! We’ll get the professor drunk!”
“Kako ni kampai (過去に乾杯, Here’s to the past)!”
“Kako wo wasureru tameni kampai (過去を忘れるために乾杯, Here’s to forgetting the past)!”
“The past is vile, genzai (現在, the present) is barely tolerable, but mirai
(未来, the future) — there’s hope for the future.”
“Wait, stop, who said that? Ah, Matsumoto.” I might’ve known. Who else says things like that?
“What do you mean?” demands Sakurai the Belligerent — you say one thing, he’ll say the opposite. This promises to be lively. “What do you mean, the present is barely tolerable? We have everything we want — freedom, full bellies, technology, push-button ease …”
“We have everything except one thing — kōfuku (幸福, happiness).”
“Why aren’t you happy?”
“He’s unlucky in love, that’s why.”
“Were they happy in the past, professor?”
“There was great happiness, much greater than ours, I think, but also much greater misery.”
“Tell us a story about happiness in the Edo Jidai (江戸時代, Edo Period, 1603-1867). We know about the misery. Hinkon (貧困, poverty), ue (飢え, famine), assei (圧制, oppression) . . . Japan was a sakoku (鎖国, closed country), it was like a keimusho (刑務所, prison), a bochi (墓地, graveyard). I don’t see how you can say it was one of the richest periods in history. To me it’s one of the poorest. Would you rather live in Edo than now?”
“You say that seriously?”
“Yes, Matsumoto, I say that seriously. I know you would rather live in the future, when the gijutsu (技術, technology) you have such faith in will have subete no mondai wo kaiketsu shita (すべての問題を解決した, solved all our problems) and turned human beings into robots. Me, I don’t want to be a robot. I want to be . . . well . . . Tokubei.”
“Tokubei! You mean Shinju (心中, love suicide) Tokubei? Who killed himself and the yūjo (遊女, courtesan) he loved because she was being sold as a dorei (奴隷, slave) to a vulgar man with the money to buy her?”
Trust Matsumoto to know all about it.
“That’s the kind of society you want to live in?”
“He’s drunk! The professor is drunk!”
“No,” I say, “the professor is shirafu (しらふ, sober). This isn’t beer, it’s water. Let me tell you something. Tokubei dying was happier than most of us are living.”
“Inochi ni kampai (命に乾杯, To life!)” roars Sakurai, raising his glass high and spilling half his beer on his pants — not noticing, however.
“Inochi ni kampai!” the others roar in unison, and I’m momentarily forgotten in the excitement. Good. I’d better watch what I’d say. All we’d need is for a student — Matsumoto, for instance, not the most kanjōteki ni anteishiteiru (感情的に安定している, emotionally stable) of mortals — to . . . well, jisatsu suru (自殺する, commit suicide) and leave a note saying Professor Keyes said Tokubei was happier dying. Time I left these young people to their own devices and trotted off home.
“Where are you going?” They are determined not to let me leave. “You promised to tell us an Edo story!”
“Professor!” A woman’s voice, familiar. “Ah, Madoka, it’s you.” An old friend, but she’s not looking too friendly — almost kōgekiteki (攻撃的, hostile), in fact. “You say you’d want to live in the Edo Jidai. Tell me this: would you want to be an Edo woman?”
“I know what you’re thinking,” I say — “that women were bought and sold like merchandise, which is true, but — you won’t like this — personally I think I’d rather be a tayū (太夫, high-ranking prostitute) in the yūkaku (遊郭, licensed pleasure quarters) than a 21st-century corporate executive or Cabinet minister. This isn’t really the time . . . we’ll discuss it more fully in class.”
“The past is vile, genzai (現在, the present) is barely tolerable, but mirai (未来, the future) — there’s hope for the future.”