I went exploring, which was not the problem. My classmates were currently exploring Harajuku, Shibuya, and Shinjuku. I’d decided to go explore somewhere off the beaten path, which mean that I had stumbled upon somewhere I probably shouldn’t be.
Let me start again. I was part of a photographer class, and our assignment was to capture the true meaning of Japan. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds though. Most of my classmates, as I’d already said, were looking at the more modern remains of the forgotten country. The buildings that welcomed hundreds, if not thousands, of people a day.
And I? I took the train going anywhere, and got off at the last working stop. Kept walking. And walking. And walking. Managed to find another path to follow after the train tracks ran out, one that was old and not there if someone wasn’t looking exactly for it. I may not have known it was there, but hunting for deer with my mother had taught me trail-finding, which meant that it stuck out to me.
Birds were the loudest animals I heard as I continued on, the shade of a forest turning a hot summer day into a pleasant and cool afternoon. There were signs here and there, scattered reminders not to throw trash away here and to keep to the left side of the road. No cars though. No houses to be seen, and thankfully no skeletons to be found. I spent a brief moment hoping that my classmates were in the same no-remains boat as I was, took a swig of water, then set off again. Late afternoon found me in a clearing at the bottom of a hill, a winding river flowing by and glinting in dappled sunlight.
I looked around a bit, then filled my canteen. Cupped cold water in my hands to wash the sweat off my face and rub a little more life back into my soul. And then I saw the dented metal roof. The bottom wooden frame was covered in green, but the top was bending a little under the weight of so many pieces of dead branches, leaves, and more.
“Hello?” I called out, immediately regretting the decision. There was no one here. Most Japanese people had left the Tokyo area after the first few illness bombs had been set off. The few that stayed there now contributed to keeping things running, but it was no where near as packed as if had been in the days before.
I looked through the window, then grabbed for my camera. This was it. This was what I’d been looking for. The life, or lives, of people I hadn’t known before were piled up before me. Once loved items, or if not loved than at least welcomed and used items, were piled on top of each other.
“What happened here?” I wondered aloud, moving carefully around the abandoned house to find an opening. The front door was locked, but the side door, facing the river, slid open with a slight prodding. Almost as if it was asking me to enter.
The floor squeaked beneath my foot as I walked inside.
“I’m sorry my shoes are still on,” I apologized to the air. Normally shoes would have been off outside the door, but with all the debris scattered across the floor, I didn’t feel comfortable doing that here. I took several pictures, trying to build a picture of who had been here before me.
There was a wooden chair, an old kerosene can, and a nice looking bookshelf buried halfway under a rotting futon. The colors were mostly navy, white, and blue. Nothing pink or even yellow. No nice looking table runners, nothing that someone else could point out and call “cute.”
“Were you all alone?” There was only one bed. One chair. One bookshelf. Several futons though, and blankets and pillows. “What happened to you?”
I crept to the other side, opening a door that had been out of sight from my earlier window peek in. It was supposed to move outwards, but there were enough things piled in front of the door to prevent it from fully opening, which mean I needed to leave my backpack outside to slip in through what I could get.
And there they were. A skeleton clothed in off-white pajamas, lying on their back and looking up at the ceiling.
“But… if you died here, like this, what happened in the outer room?” There had to be someone else who knew about this place, someone who had moved all the furniture. An earthquake wouldn’t have left futons like that when there was no second floor to for them to fall down from. Then I looked around the room again. Clean. Perfectly preserved. The windows were broken, and rain had gotten in, but it wasn’t the mess it had been outside. The only problems in this room were the mountains of accumulated dust
“Did you clean out your final resting place?” My mind flashed to all those articles talking about which man-made illnesses had hit Tokyo the hardest at the start of World War III. If this person had gotten one of the slower acting ones, or even that final lingering one released by China, then they would have had enough time to do this.
I moved back to the door frame and concentrated on cleaning enough of a path I could open the door wider. Brushing spiderwebs and dust off the dresser mirror, I angled it so that with some testing, I could get a picture of the clean room looking out into the messy room. That would be my answer to the “true meaning of Japan” theme my teacher had set. Sure, some would see it has appearing neat while being chaotic, but I would always see the past action for what I believed it was; a person once loved finding peace within an everyday mayhem.