Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Monday, May 18, 2009
At Shibuya Station in Tokyo, there is this famous meeting spot called Hachiko Square, where people congregate and wait for friends to meet up and go out to eat at the izakaya or have a karaoke freakout or whatever their activities for the night may entail in the massive entertainment district. When I was studying abroad in Tokyo in 2007 I would end up there from time to time. The legend goes something like (if you’ve been to Japan odds are you’ve heard this story) that a dog named Hachiko used to wait there for his master every day after he was done working and when the guy died the dog still waited for him every day at the same spot.
On several occasions while with friends waiting at Hachiko, this one Japanese guy would come up to me, and try to engage me in conversation (in English) about world matters; what I thought of Japan, what was I there for; about America, about Americans being in Japan. About Jesus. He would warn me about the Japanese, and say things like that they can’t be trusted. And most of all he would tell me to be cautious of Japanese women. He would go on and on talking about these things that he had clearly spent years pondering, and here I was, a college kid in a foreign country looking to go out and have a good time in one of the most, if not the most intense freakout party cities in the world. But while all my friends for the most part ignored him, I listened to what he had to say and contributed all that I could to his seemingly bottomless exchange of philosophy, observations, and judgements about Japan, America, and the World. After all I was in Japan to meet and talk to Japanese people, not to hang out with more Americans.
From what I could gather he was homeless, and he survived by selling these handmade collections of stories and poems he had written. I was interested, and I bought one of the small handbound books from him, I think he wanted 1000 yen for it, which was around $8 US. It was called Black Stories: The Young Foreigner’s Friend and Guide, by Hideo Asano. The second time I met him he remembered me and told me he had slept in Yoyogi park the night before, and could I please help him and buy some of his stories, and I gave him 1500 yen for another book of stories and a small collection of haiku. I did want to help him, and I was interested in reading his work. I still had the stories he gave me last time in my bag, waiting to be read when I had a free moment (I was already reading several books for classes, including a Japanese & Chinese literature class; & also trying to experience living in Japan).
Hideo had told me about traveling to many places in the world, but I honestly didn’t know if I believed anything he said, or even if he was actually a native Japanese. In Tokyo there were very few homeless people at the time. Most companies in Japan hire you for life. The few that are homeless are extremely self sufficient, they build themselves mobile shacks out of wood and fabric, that they take their shoes off before entering. The second book I bought from him was called Stories of Afghanistan and when I finally got to opening it up it turned out the stories were things he had seen when he was in Afghanistan during the civil war & Soviet occupation. After coming back to the United States I eventually did more research on Hideo and found out through comments on someone’s blog that Hideo apparently had gotten work published but never received any of the royalties from the book. He was widely known, and many foreigners recounted stories of their experiences meeting him in various parts of Tokyo that sounded all too similar to my own.
Two years later, I decide to start an independent short fiction publication, just for fun, just to get in the habit of writing and improve and invite other people to have their work be read by some people. And how perfect, I thought, would it be to put one of Hideo’s stories in that he gave me when I met him in Tokyo. He was basically doing what I am, writing from his heart and his experiences, making a zine and trying to make a few bucks off of it.
I decided volume 4 would be the issue for Hideo, since my friend Yuna who lives in Tokyo was designing me a cover, it would make sense to tie them together. I told a friend about it and he said “that’s cool, did you email him and ask him if you could use something?” and I realized I hadn’t even thought of that, I’d totally forgotten there was an email address on the very last page of each book. So I sent Hideo this email, half expecting it to be returned undeliverable or simply unanswered:
My name is Sean, I met you in Tokyo in the spring of 2007. I bought two collections of stories from you. I live in the US, and I have started a small independent handmade 'zine collection of short fiction from different writers. It is called Four Thousand Flavors. I would like to use one of your stories for my next issue. I hope you won't mind. I enjoy your stories and I'm glad to have met a soul searcher and thinker such as yourself. Hope you are doing well, take care.
A few days later, I see this in my inbox:
I am sorry to tell this that my answer is no.
Things were not looking good for volume 4. Nobody was getting back to me about printing a cover, I really had no physical story submissions, only verbal promises. My story wasn’t even half written. And now Hideo had denied me permission to use his work. I sent him an email asking him to reconsider, I told him I wasn’t going to be making a profit from this, and that I wouldn’t change anything in his story & I would leave it exactly as he’d written it. He didn’t respond. The thought crossed my mind to just put one in anyway since he will most likely never see this, but there was no way I could let myself do it.
But everything ended up working out and I was able to make the book you are holding in your hands, and I figured I would tell you about Hideo anyway. He is one of the strangest and most interesting people I’ve ever met, and is part of the reason I started doing this. For the first time in over a year I googled Hideo, and I found that he now has a website which has some of his stories published on it:
There is also a link to his blog which has more work. But I find this part of the introduction on his website particularly intriguing:
Currently, as a struggling writer, he is reaching out foreigners with his written materials for his livelihood. Meanwhile, as an English writer, he is still looking for a right ambiance for the sake of his writing. Culturally and linguistically unable to pursue his dream, he is still searching for a Promised Land, where he could get a room, which have a table and a chair, to sit down and write. Is there anyone able to get a simple room, which have a table and a chair in Japan, except five star hotels? But all dead rooms you have to sit on the floor like Buddha.
He always felt that he was the old man in "The Old Man and the Sea" - so he himself is looking for a little boy who could have faith and confidence in his work. He doesn't mind to go through the entire population looking for one soul who is willing to publish his work.
Please send him information about any publishers who are interested in his work. If you are a journalist please don't hesitate to get in touch with him - an article about his work would be greatly appreciated.
You are enthusiastically invited into the world he fiercely cares for.