Tuesday, December 10, 2013


We sat cross-legged at a low table and ate tinned pork and beans by candlelight. The walls of the onsen creaked like a massive bellows and the building sighed with each push of wind. The old woman clucked critically.

"Repairs are impossible in the winter. It's too cold and I'm too tired," she said. "Did you enjoy your bath?"

"River runoff got cold early this year." I flashed a thumbs-up. "First good soak in as long as I can remember."

"That pleases me greatly."

The building was one of three that sat in a valley between two of the smaller hills adjacent to Mt. Fuji in Sengokuhara. They were at the edge of town, after the graveyards, abandoned busses and cars, and the slim commercial district with its broken windows and walls covered with moss.

Hazuki was the woman's name. She inherited the onsen from her parents, who inherited her from their parents, and so on for enough generations until memory and time blurred together. Her family had always owned this onsen, she insisted.

"It's nice to see some things haven't changed all that much," I said. "I remember places like this. My father took me to one before he died. Down in Kyoto I think. The waters tasted savory."

"I wished for my son to take over for me." She left the thought unfinished because the rest was obvious. He was one of the unlucky ones, one of many.

"What was his name?" I asked.


"Tell me about him?"

Hazuki smiled, set her can down on the table, and then placed the spoon next to it. She rubbed her hands together.

"He was a sweet boy and so gentle. I raised him here as my parents raised me. He left here for Tokyo some years before this all began. He wanted to study Rosanjin and become a chef."

"Rosanjin?" I laughed. "What would the old master think of us now? Here we are, huddled here in the dark eating from tin cans."

"There's beauty here that doesn't require fine plates and exquisite preparation." Hazuki picked up the spoon and pointed it at me. "We share food together in spite of everything that has happened. And we stay true to ourselves and our old ways. That's beauty enough for me."

I shoveled a spoonful of beans into my mouth. It was cold and tasted like metal. Everything tasted like metal these days because we ate so much food out of cans.

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