I was ambling in Kyoto when I bumped into my old pal Shotaro Yasuoka. His latest novel, Why?, published by Vintage, explores themes of modern alienation and spiritual emptiness. When asked to expand on that, he said (in Japanese): “Well, the idea that two people, coexisting for decades, never really know one another, have no belief in a higher being outside their sickly consumer culture, and will die bald and unhappy in their underwears.”
As we supped sake beside a statue, he expanded: “For instance, our acquaintanceship is doomed to fail. You bump into me on the streets of Kyoto, you never think to phone or arrange a meeting. You never enquire about my health, my relationships, my spiritual wellbeing. When we do get together we have insipid chats about craft and the marketplace. You do not truly know me, and you make no effort to do so. It’s dehumanising.”
I apologised and chewed on a meatball. (Our meatballs had arrived in the time it took him to finish that sentence). I explained that we form relationships through delegations of culture. The terrible films we see, the bands we watch, the meals we eat. These are our conduits for closeness and love. Our feelings are channelled into memories, and through extracting certain moments and deeming them ‘precious’ or ‘memorable,’ we grow warm feelings for one another. For instance, these meatballs will, in time, lead to a fondness between us.
Shotaro didn’t respond to this, he was interrupted by a call on his mobile. A plate of linguini was calling him from Paris to tell him he was swell guy. I, too, had an incoming call from Meet the Fockers, who just wanted to call to say how much he loved me. As we ended our calls, a calm passed between us and we spoke of other matters, such as my pending novel about gun culture among Eskimos, Blood on the Igloo. Shotaro found the double –oo sound pleasing. I didn’t tell him that the English don’t stress the –oo in blood.
A month later, I received a fax from a bowl of meatballs. They expressed delight in our meeting in Kyoto, and wondered if we might meet up in another venue, perhaps Naples with some spaghetti? I said I was busy right now, maybe another time, but thanks for calling.