Kashima & the Catfish

LETTER FROM JAPAN

The apartment building in Chiba where my wife Keiko and I have spent most of our adult lives and where our four children grew up looks across the bay to Tokyo and Yokohama. On clear days, particularly in the late autumn and early winter, we can see Mount Fuji, glistening white in the morning sun or glowing red in the twilight.

Earthquakes are a common occurrence here, and as our condo is situated on the fourteenth floor, even low-level tremors are readily noticeable. A thump or a jolt is followed by the swaying of ceiling lamps. One or both of us will exclaim “Jishin!” and then, if the quake is strong enough, scamper to make sure that the gas has automatically gone off before turning on the television for the report that always follows moments later.

When the tremors began shortly before three in the afternoon on March 11, I was sitting on the sofa, chatting via Skype with my youngest brother, who was in a hotel room in Virginia. Typically, the worst of an earthquake is over in a matter of thirty or forty seconds, but this time the shaking continued—and intensified. My brother later told me that he, too, could hear the rumble. In a show of bravado, I jokingly remarked that he might want to pass on my last best wishes.

Amid a pile of fallen...

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About the Author

Charles De Wolf is a linguist and translator of Japanese literature. He is professor emeritus at Keio University, where he continues to teach linguistics and comparative culture.