One year, Kogito was invited to speak at Kyushu University. While he was in the Green Room waiting for his lecture to begin, he happened to glance at a timetable and discovered that if he skipped the banquet with the other participants and hopped on the next ferryboat to Shikoku, then transferred to a Japan Railway train, he could be back at his childhood home, deep in the forest, before the night was over. He asked the assistant professor who was looking after him to make the travel arrangements, and the tickets were purchased while Kogito was delivering his lecture.
By the time Kogito made his way to the house where he was born, it was after 11pm and his mother had already gone to sleep. The next morning, Kogito was up early. When he peered down the covered passageway that led to an adjoining bungalow, he could see the silhouette of his naked mother, illuminated by the reflected river-dazzle that leaked into the dark parlour through the gaps in the wooden rain shutters. Backlit like that, Kogito’s elderly mother looked like a young girl as she twined the turban she always wore in public around her head. At that moment, his mother didn’t seem to belong entirely to this world; it was as if she had already begun to make the transition over to the Other Side.
Later, when they were sitting across from each other at the breakfast table, Kogito’s mother began to speak in the local Iyo dialect, which tends to feature more exclamatory sentences than standard Japanese. “I’ve been praying for a chance to see you since the beginning of last spring, Kogito!” she began. (It was already autumn.) “And now that you’re sitting here, I still half feel as if it’s my fantasy eating breakfast in front of me. It doesn’t help that I can barely hear what you’re saying - of course I’ve gotten quite deaf, and on top of that you still don’t open your mouth wide enough when you speak, just like when you were a child!
“But anyway, right now I feel as if this is half reality and half fanciful daydream! Besides, lately, no matter what’s going on, I’m never entirely certain that it’s really happening! When I was wishing that I could see you, it almost seemed as though half of you was already here. At times like that, I voiced my opinions to you out loud, and other people in the house would just laugh indulgently. However, if you happened to be on television talking about something and I said to the TV set, ’You’re wrong about that, you know,’ even my great-grandchild would jump in and try to stop me, saying, ‘That’s rude to Uncle Kogito.’ They think it’s amusing when I talk to an invisible person, but isn’t the television itself a kind of fantastical illusion? Just because there is no machine attached to my private hallucinations, does that make them any less ‘real’ than the images on TV? I mean, what’s the basis for that kind of thinking?
“Anyway, it seems as if almost everything is already an apparition to me now, you know? Everyday life seems like television and I can’t tell whether someone is really here with me or not. I’m surrounded by apparitions. One day soon I, too, will stop being real, and I’ll become nothing more than a phantasm myself! But this valley has always been swarming with specters, so I may not even notice when I make the shift over to the Other World.”
After Kogito finished his breakfast, his younger sister gave him a ride to Matsuyama Airport so he could catch a plane that left before noon. When Kogito’s sister called his wife in Tokyo to report that his departure had gone according to plan, she added, “As Mother was nodding off after breakfast, she said, ‘A little while ago I saw an apparition of Kogito, and we had a nice chat.’”
When Kogito heard this story later, he felt unexpectedly moved by his mother’s remark.
‘Prologue: The Rules of Tagame’ in Oe Kenzaburo’s THE CHANGELING, 2000.