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Australian Car. Reviews Australian Car. Reviews is an independent publisher of car reviews, recalls, faults, image galleries, brochures, specifications and videos. All rights reserved. Reviews has over 1, extensive reviews of 62, Australian cars When I first entered the dormitory, the sheer novelty of the event would often prompt me to get up early to observe this patriotic ritual.
The two would appear in the quadrangle at almost the exact moment the radio beeped the six o'clock signal. Uniform was wearing his uniform, of course, with black leather shoes, and Nakano wore a short jacket and white trainers.
Uniform held a ceremonial box of untreated paulownia wood, while Nakano carried a Sony tape recorder at his side. He placed this at the base of the flagpole, while Uniform opened the box to reveal a neatly folded banner. This he reverentially proffered to Nakano, who would clip it to the rope on the flagpole, revealing the bright red circle of the Rising Sun on a field of pure white. Then Uniform pressed the switch for the playing of the anthem. The two stood to attention, rigid, looking up at the flag, which was quite a sight on clear days when the wind was blowing.
The lowering of the flag at dusk was carried out with the same ceremonial reverence, but in reverse. Down the banner would come and find its place in the box. The national flag did not fly at night. I didn't know why the flag had to be taken down at night. The nation continued to exist while it was dark, and plenty of people worked all night - railway construction crews and taxi drivers and bar hostesses and firemen and night watchmen: it seemed unfair to me that such people were denied the protection of the flag.
Or maybe it didn't matter all that much and nobody really cared - aside from me. Not that I really cared, either.
It was just something that happened to cross my mind. The rules for room assignments put first- and second-year students in doubles while third- and final-year students had single rooms. Double rooms were a little longer and narrower than nine-by-twelve, with an aluminium-framed window in the wall opposite the door and two desks by the window arranged so the inhabitants of the room could study back-to-back. To the Album) of the door stood a steel bunk bed. The furniture supplied was sturdy and simple and included a pair of lockers, a small coffee table, and some built-in shelves.
Even the most well-disposed observer would have had trouble calling this setting poetic. The shelves of most rooms carried such items as transistor radios, hairdryers, electric carafes and cookers, instant coffee, tea bags, sugar cubes, and simple pots and bowls for preparing instant ramen. The walls bore pin-ups from girlie magazines or stolen porno movie posters. One guy had a photo of pigs mating, but this was a far- out exception to the usual naked women, girl pop singers or actresses.
Bookshelves on the desks held textbooks, dictionaries and novels. The filth of these all-male rooms was horrifying. Mouldy mandarin skins clung to the bottoms of waste-paper baskets. Blackish grime and bits of indefinable matter clung to all the bowls and dishes on the shelves, and the floors were littered with instant ramen wrappers and empty beer cans and discarded lids from one thing or another. It never occurred to anyone to sweep up and throw these things in the bin.
Any wind that blew through would raise clouds of dust. Each room had its own horrendous smell, but the components of that smell were always the same: sweat, body odour and rubbish. Dirty clothes would pile up under the beds, and without anyone bothering to air the mattresses on a regular basis, these sweat- impregnated pads would give off odours beyond redemption. In retrospect, it Come Buy Banana - Various - For Adults Only (Vinyl amazing that these shitpiles gave rise to no killer epidemics.
My room, on the other hand, was as sanitary as a morgue. The floor and window were spotless, the mattresses were aired each week, all pencils stood in the pencil holders, and even the curtains were washed once a month.
My room-mate was a cleanliness freak. None of the others in the dorm believed me when I told them about the curtains. They didn't know that curtains could be washed. They believed, rather, that curtains were semi-permanent parts of the window. We didn't even have pin-ups. No, we had a photo of a canal in Amsterdam. I had put up a nude shot, but Album) room-mate had pulled it down.
I wasn't especially attached to the nude, so I didn't protest. Everybody sympathized with me for having Storm Trooper as a room- mate, but I really wasn't that upset about it. He left me alone as long as I kept my area clean, and in fact having him as my room-mate made things easier for me in many ways.
He did all the cleaning, he took care of sunning the mattresses, he threw out the rubbish. He'd give a sniff and suggest a bath for me if I'd been too busy to wash for a few days. He'd even point out when it was time for me to go to the barber's or trim my nasal hair. The one thing that bothered me was the way he would spray clouds of insecticide if he noticed a single fly in the room, because then I had to take refuge in a neighbouring shitpile.
Storm Trooper was studying geography at a national university. As he told me the first time we met, "I'm studying m-m-maps. This was one of the very first new impressions I received when I came to Tokyo for the first time. The thought struck me that society needed a few people - just a few - who were interested in and even passionate about mapmaking. Odd, though, that someone who wanted to work for the government's Geographical Survey Institute should stutter every time he said the word "map".
Storm Trooper often didn't stutter at all, except when he pronounced the word "map", for which it was a per cent certainty. Racine, lonesco, Shakespeare, stuff like that.
I felt sorry I had done that to him. I just happened to pick drama, that's all," which was not the most convincing explanation I could have come up with. But not you, huh? I gave up trying to explain myself. Then we drew lots matchsticks to choose bunks. He got the upper bunk. Tall, with a crewcut and high cheekbones, he always wore the same outfit: white shirt, black trousers, black shoes, navy-blue jumper. To these he would add a uniform jacket and black briefcase when he went to his university: a typical right-wing student.
Which is why everybody called him Storm Trooper. But in fact he was totally indifferent to politics. He wore a uniform because he didn't want to be bothered choosing clothes.
What interested him were things like changes in the coastline or the completion of a new railway tunnel. Nothing else. He'd go on for hours once he got started on a subject like that, until you either ran away or fell asleep. He was up at six each morning with the strains of "May Our Lord's Reign". Which is to say that that ostentatious flag-raising ritual was not entirely useless. He'd get dressed, go to the bathroom and wash his face - for ever. I sometimes got the feeling he must be taking out each tooth and washing it, one at a time.
Back in the room, he would snap the wrinkles out of his towel and lay it on the radiator to dry, then return his toothbrush and soap to the shelf. I was used to reading late at night and sleeping until eight o'clock, so even when he started shuffling around the room and exercising, I remained unconscious - until the part where he started jumping. He took his jumping seriously and made the bed bounce every time he hit the floor.
I stood it for three days because they had told us that communal life called for a certain degree of resignation, but by the morning of the fourth day, I couldn't take it any more.
I'm still supposed to be asleep. I don't know how to explain it exactly, but that's how it works for me. Somebody on the third floor would complain. Here, we're over a storeroom. On the lawn. I don't have a transistor radio. I need to plug it in. And you can't do radio callisthenics without music. Mine was a transistor portable, but it was strictly FM, for music.
It's so damned noisy. What do you say? What's that? Bouncing up and down. I was ready to give up, but I wanted to make my point. I got out of bed and started bouncing up and down and singing the opening melody of NHK's radio callisthenics. I guess you're right. I never noticed.
I can put up with the rest. Stop jumping and let me sleep. I've been doing the same thing every day for ten years, and once I start I do the whole routine unconsciously. If I left something out, I wouldn't be able to do any of it. What could I have said? The quickest way to put a stop to this was to wait for him to leave the room and throw his goddamn radio out the goddamn window, but I knew if I did that all hell would break loose. Storm Trooper treasured everything he owned. He smiled when he saw me sitting on the bed at a loss for words, and tried to comfort me.
Naoko chuckled when I told her the story of Storm Trooper and his radio callisthenics. I hadn't been trying to amuse her, but I ended up laughing myself.
Though her smile vanished in an instant, I enjoyed seeing it for the first time in a long while. We had left the train at Yotsuya and were walking along the embankment by the station. It was a Sunday afternoon in the middle of May. The brief on-and-off showers of the morning had cleared up before noon, and a south wind had swept away the low-hanging clouds. The brilliant green leaves of the cherry trees stirred in the air, splashing sunlight in all directions. This was an early summer day.
The people we passed carried their jumpers or jackets over their shoulders or in their arms. Everyone looked happy in the warm Sunday afternoon sun. The young men playing tennis in the courts beyond the embankment had stripped down to their shorts. Only where two nuns in winter habits sat talking on a bench did the summer light seem not to reach, though both wore looks of satisfaction as they enjoyed chatting in the sun.
Fifteen minutes of walking and I was sweaty enough to take off my thick cotton shirt and go with a T-shirt. It was nicely faded, obviously having been washed many times. I felt as if I had seen her in that shirt long before. This was just a feeling I had, not a clear memory. I didn't have that much to remember about Naoko at the time. It's not that bad, I can stand it. Then she bent over and carefully retied her laces.
Living in a dorm? You could let a lot of things bother you if you wanted to - the rules, the idiots who think they're hot shit, the room-mates doing radio callisthenics at 6. But it's pretty much the same anywhere you go, you can manage. She seemed to be turning something over in her mind.
Then she looked straight into my eyes as if peering at some unusual object. Now I saw that her eyes were so deep and clear they made my heart thump. I realized that I had never had occasion to look into her eyes like this.
It was the first time the two of us had ever gone walking together or talked at such length. Then she sighed and looked down. Never mind. She continued walking east, and I followed just behind. The plump cheeks that had been a special feature of hers were all but gone, and her neck had become delicate and slender. Not that she was bony now or unhealthy looking: there was something natural and serene about the way she had slimmed down, as if she had been hiding in some long, narrow space until she herself had become long and narrow.
And a lot prettier than I remembered. I wanted to tell her that, but couldn't find a good way to put it. We had not planned to meet but had run into each other on the Chuo commuter line. She had decided to see a film by herself, and I was headed for the bookshops in Kanda - nothing urgent in either case. She had suggested that we leave the train, which we happened to do in Yotsuya, where the green embankment makes for a nice place to walk by the old castle moat.
Alone together, we had nothing in particular to talk about, and I wasn't quite sure why Naoko had suggested we get off the train. We had never really had much to say to each other. Naoko started walking the minute we hit the street, and I hurried after her, keeping a few paces behind.
I could have closed the distance between us, but something held me back. I walked with my eyes on her shoulders and her straight black hair. She wore a big, brown hairslide, and when she turned her head I caught a glimpse of a small, white ear. Now and then she would look back and say something. Sometimes it would be a remark I might have responded to, and some- times it would be something to which I had no idea how to reply. Other times, I simply couldn't hear what she was saying.
She didn't seem to care one way or another. Once she had finished saying whatever she wanted to say, she'd face front again and keep on walking. Oh, well, I told myself, it was a nice day for a stroll. This was no mere stroll for Naoko, though, judging from that walk.
From there she followed the tram tracks to Komagome. It was a challenging route. By the time we reached Komagome, the sun was sinking and the day had become a soft spring evening.
We made this big arc. I was just following you. Thirsty, I had a whole beer to myself. Neither of us said a word from the time we gave our order to the time we finished eating. I was exhausted from all that walking, and she just sat there with her hands on the table, mulling something over again.
All the leisure spots were crowded on this warm Sunday, they were saying on the TV news. And we just walked from Yotsuya to Komagome, I said to myself. I used to do the 10, metres. And my father took me mountain climbing on Sundays ever since I can remember. You know our house - right there, next to the mountain. I've always had strong legs. But you can't judge a book by its cover. We've never done that before, just the two of us," I said, trying without success to recall what we had talked about.
She was playing with the ashtray on the table. Do you think we could see each other again? I know I don't have any right to be asking you this. What do you mean by that? My reaction to her request might have been a little too strong. I can't really explain it," she said, tugging the sleeves of her sweatshirt up over the elbows and down again.
The soft hair on her arms shone a lovely golden colour in the lights of the shop. I was looking for another way to put it. Failing, she sighed and closed her eyes and played with her hairslide. I'm not sure how to put it, either. I try to say something, but all I get are the wrong words - the wrong words or the exact opposite words from what I mean. I try to correct myself, and that only makes it worse.
I lose track of what I was trying to say to begin with. It's like I'm split in two and playing tag with myself.
One half is chasing the other half around this big, fat post. The other me has the right words, but this me can't catch her.
Tell you the truth, I know I saw you a lot back then, but I don't remember talking to you much. I'll be expecting to hear from you. She was also in the sixth-form at a posh girls' school run by one of the Christian missions. The school was so refined you were considered unrefined if you studied too much.
Naoko was the girlfriend of my best and only friend, Kizuki. The two of them had been close almost from birth, their houses not yards apart. As with most couples who have been together since childhood, there was a casual openness about the relationship of Kizuki and Naoko and little sense that they wanted to be alone together.
They were always visiting each other's homes and eating or playing mah-jong with each other's families. I double-dated with them any number of times. Naoko would bring a school friend for me and the four of us would go to the zoo or the pool or the cinema. The girls she brought were always pretty, but a little too refined for my taste. I got along better with the somewhat cruder girls from my own State school who were easier to talk to.
I could never tell what was going on inside the pretty heads of the girls that Naoko brought along, and they probably couldn't understand me, either. After a while, Kizuki gave up trying to arrange dates for me, and instead the three of us would do things together.
Kizuki and Naoko and I: odd, but that was the most comfortable combination. Introducing a fourth person into the mix would always make things a little awkward. We were like a TV talk show, with me the guest, Kizuki the talented host, and Naoko his assistant. True, he had a sarcastic side that often struck people as arrogant, but in fact he was a considerate and fair- minded person.
He would distribute his remarks and jokes fairly to Naoko and to me, taking care to see that neither of us felt left out. If one or the other stayed quiet too long, he would steer his conversation in that direction and get the person to talk. It probably looked harder than it was: he knew how to monitor and adjust the air around him on a second-by-second basis.
In addition, he had a rare talent for finding the interesting parts of someone's generally uninteresting comments so that, while speaking to him, you felt you were an exceptionally interesting person with an exceptionally interesting life. And yet he was not the least bit sociable. I was his only real friend at school. I could never understand why such a smart and capable talker did not turn his talents to the broader world around him but remained satisfied to concentrate on our little trio.
Nor could I understand why he picked me to be his friend. I was just an ordinary kid who liked to read books and listen to music and didn't stand out in any way that would prompt someone like Kizuki to pay attention to me. We hit it off straight away, though. His father was a dentist, known for his professional skill and his high fees. The three of us spent a lot of time together, but whenever Kizuki left the room, Naoko and I had trouble talking to each other.
We never knew what to talk about. And in fact there was no Album) of conversation that we had in common. Instead of talking, we'd drink water or toy with something on the table and wait for Kizuki to come back and start up the conversation again. Not that we were incompatible: we just had nothing to talk about.
Naoko and I saw each other only once after Kizuki's funeral. I tried raising several different topics, but none of them led anywhere. And when Naoko did talk, there was an edge to her voice.
She seemed angry with me, but I had no idea why. We never saw each other again until that day a year later we happened to meet on the Chuo Line in Tokyo.
Naoko might have been angry with me because I, not she, had been the last one to see Kizuki. That may not be the best way to put it, but I more or less understood how she felt. I would have swapped places with her if I could have, but finally, what had happened had happened, and there was nothing I could do about it.
It had been a nice afternoon in May. After lunch, Kizuki suggested we skip classes and go play pool or something. I had no special interest in my afternoon classes, so together we left school, ambled down the hill to a pool hall on the harbour, and played four games. When I won the first, easy-going game, he became serious and won the next three.
This meant I paid, according to our custom. Kizuki didn't make a single joke as we played, which was most unusual. We smoked afterwards. He died that night in his garage. He led a rubber hose from the exhaust pipe of his N to a window, taped over the gap in the window, and revved the engine. I have no idea how long it took him to die. His parents had been out visiting a sick relative, and when they opened the garage to put their car away, he was already dead.
Kizuki had left no suicide note, and had no motive that anyone could think of. Because I had been the last one to see him, I was called in for questioning by the police. I told the investigating officer that Kizuki had given no indication of what he was about to do, that he had been exactly the same as always.
The policeman had obviously formed a poor impression of both Kizuki and me, as if it was perfectly natural for the kind of person who would skip classes and play pool to commit suicide. A small article in the paper brought the affair to a close.
Kizuki's parents got rid of his red N For a time, a white flower marked his school desk. In the ten months between Kizuki's death and my exams, I was unable to find a place for myself in the world around me. I started sleeping with one of the girls at school, but that didn't last six months. Nothing about her really got to me. I applied to a private university in Tokyo, the kind of place with an entrance exam for which I wouldn't have to study much, and I passed without exhilaration.
The girl asked me not to go to Tokyo - "It's miles from here! I wanted to begin a new life where I didn't know a soul. And so we parted. Thinking about all the things that made her so much nicer than the other girls at home, I sat on the bullet train to Tokyo feeling terrible about what I'd done, but there was no way to undo it. I would try to forget her. There was only one thing for me to do when I started my new life in the dorm: stop taking everything so seriously; establish a proper distance between myself and everything else.
It seemed to work at first. I tried hard to forget, but there remained inside me a vague knot of air. And as time went by, the knot began to take on a clear and simple form, a form that I am able to put into words, like this: Death exists, not as the opposite but as a part of life.
Death exists - in a paperweight, in four red and white balls on a pool table - and we go on living and breathing it into our lungs like fine dust. Until that time, I had understood death as something entirely separate from and independent of life.
The hand of death is bound to take us, I had felt, but until the day it reaches out for us, it leaves us alone. This had seemed to me the simple, logical truth. Life is here, death is over there. I am here, not over there. The night Kizuki died, however, I lost the ability to see death and life in such simple terms.
Death was not the opposite of life. It was already here, within my being, it had always been here, and no struggle would permit me to forget that. When it took the year-old Kizuki that night in May, death took me as well. I lived through the following spring, at 18, with that knot of air in my chest, but I struggled all the while against becoming serious.
Becoming serious was not the same thing as approaching the truth, I sensed, however vaguely. But death was a fact, a serious fact, no matter how you looked at it.
Stuck inside this suffocating contradiction, I went on endlessly spinning in circles. Those were strange days, now that I look back at them. In the midst of life, everything revolved around death. I suppose I can call it a date. I can't think of a better word for it. As before, we walked the streets.
We stopped somewhere for coffee, walked some more, had dinner in the evening, and said goodbye. Again, she talked only in snatches, but this didn't seem to bother her, and I made no special effort to keep the conversation going. We talked about whatever came to mind - our daily routines, our colleges; each a little fragment that led nowhere.
We said nothing at all about the past. And mainly, we walked - and walked, and walked. Fortunately, Tokyo is such a big city we could never have covered it all. We kept on walking like this almost every weekend. She would lead, and I would follow close behind.
Naoko had a variety of hairslides and always wore them with her right ear exposed. I remember her most clearly this way, from the back. She would toy with her hairslide whenever she felt embarrassed by something.
And she was always dabbing at her mouth with a handkerchief. She did this whenever she had something to say. The more I observed these habits of hers, the more I came to like her. Naoko went to a girls' college on the rural western edge of Tokyo, a nice little place famous for its teaching of English. Nearby was a narrow irrigation canal with clean, clear water, and Naoko and I would often walk along its banks.
Sometimes she would invite me up to her flat and cook for me. It never seemed to concern her that the two of us were in such close quarters together. She led a spare, simple life with hardly any friends. No one who had known her at school could have imagined her like this. Back then, she had dressed with real flair and surrounded herself with a million friends. Album) I saw her room, I realized that, like me, she had wanted to go away to college and begin a new life far from anyone she knew.
We were all supposed to go somewhere more chic. You know what I mean? Little by little, she grew more accustomed to me, and I to her. When the summer holidays ended and a new term started, Naoko began walking next to me as if it were the most natural thing in the world to do. She saw me as a friend now, I concluded, and walking side by side with such a beautiful girl was by no means painful for me. We kept walking all over Tokyo in the same meandering way, climbing hills, crossing rivers and railway lines, just walking and walking with no destination in mind.
We forged straight ahead, as if our walking were a religious ritual meant to heal our wounded spirits. If it rained, we used umbrellas, but in any case we walked. Then came autumn, and the dormitory grounds were buried in zelkova leaves. The fragrance of a new season arrived when I put on my first pullover. Having worn out one pair of shoes, I bought some new suede ones. I can't seem to recall what we talked about then.
Nothing special, I expect. We continued to avoid any mention of the past and rarely spoke about Kizuki. We could face each other over coffee cups in total silence. Naoko liked to hear me tell stories about Storm Trooper.
Once he had a date with a fellow student a girl in geography, of course but came back in the early evening looking glum. Each time the photo changed in his absence, Storm Trooper became upset. They're all nice pictures. You should be grateful. Not many things succeeded in doing that, so I talked about him often, though I was not exactly proud of myself for using him this way. He just happened to be the youngest son in a not-too-wealthy family who had grown up a little too serious for his own good.
Making maps was the one small dream of his one small life. Who had the right to make fun of him for that? By then, however, Storm-Trooper jokes had become an indispensable source of dormitory talk, and there was no way for me to undo what I had done.
Besides, the sight of Naoko's smiling face had become my own special source of pleasure. I went on supplying everyone with new stories. Naoko asked me one time - just once - if I had a girl I liked.
I told her about the one I had left behind in Kobe. I don't know, sometimes I think I've got this hard kernel in my heart, and nothing much can get inside it.
I doubt if I can really love anybody. She didn't ask me more than that. I could sense her breathing through the thick cloth of her duffel coat. She would entwine her arm with mine, or cram her hand in my pocket, or, when it was really cold, cling tightly to my arm, shivering.
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