as if he had never been here

  • TypeText
  • Time2021
  • SourceFieldwork
  • VenueMaizuru, Japan
  • CopyrightLee Kai Chung

I still remember that in 2018, I had to visit various major navy ports in Japan for a project that was about transportation of colonial bronze statues from Hong Kong to Japan [1] during WWII, and Maizuru was one of the navy ports as well as the main port receiving Japanese overseas nationals and repatriates after the war.

I departed from Osaka, and took a two-hour bus ride to Maizuru. Before I left, I booked a room, a small hostel converted from an old house. The hostess was a young lady who had just had a baby. I still remember the day I arrived at Maizuru station and immediately saw the hostess waiting for me outside the station in a small car. She stepped out of the driver's seat and waved her hands excitedly to me, and I was surprised by her enthusiasm. On the way to the hostel, we chatted and she mentioned that a friend wanted to meet me at the hostel because she hadn't met a foreigner for a long time and wanted to talk with me in English. I said that I was happy to meet her. When we arrived at the hostel, I got my filming equipment ready, put on my backpack and was about to go out for lunch, once I stepped out of my bedroom, I was a bit flattered to see the hostess and her friend, also a young and beautiful lady, sitting on their knees on the tatami mats in the living room, preparing green tea for me. I immediately sat down and had a cup of tea with them. I was asked why I had come to Maizuru, which is a remote and unpopular tourist area, I then explained my intention. As we chatted, the young lady talked about her background – she once worked in a hotel in Osaka, which explains her fluent English. Then she had to move to Maizuru with her husband after marriage and  became a full-time housewife. Her and my hostess' husbands both worked as technicians on the Self-Defence Force ships at Maizuru Port, which was a pivotal site in the history of the East Asian War. The young lady expressed that she rarely saw people from outside of Maizuru, especially foreigners, so she wanted to have more exchanges whenever there was a chance. From a career woman in a big city, to one that killed the time gossiping with a few neighbours in town, she couldn’t hide her resentment.

When it was about time, I excused myself and left the table, saying that I had to hurry up for filming.

I headed out on foot to the coastal area. As I walked along the shoreline, a large number of military vessels were faintly visible amidst the fog and drizzle, all surrounded by wire fences with ‘No Entry’ signs and metal signs from the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force. Next to the wire fence, there was an old lady pushing a bicycle, singing to the endless Sea of Japan, her voice trembling and sobbing. I couldn't understand the Japanese lyrics at the time, but I recorded it, and sent it to Isaji, who told me that it was a Rokyoku2 song of farewell.

A few years later, we started to collect information about the Manchurian repatriates. After 1945, many Japanese from different provinces came to the repatriation port and visited the Repatriation Relief Bureau day and night, hoping to hear about their relatives in Manchuria.

The rain didn’t stop on that day, and I returned to the hostel dripping wet. The hostel was a perfect example of Wabi-sabi, simple, imperfect but giving a sense of calmness. The bedroom was small but not cramped. There was a floor lamp in the room, the light was dim and hazy. A paper door led to a small garden, where the wet cobbles glittered. The paper door did not keep out the sound of the rain hitting the pond and the chirping of frogs, and the smell of logs inside created a warm and ethereal atmosphere. That night, I wrote a story about a man and woman trapped in the dark.

After a stormy night, I woke up to hear that transport had been cancelled due to the inclement weather. I was a little worried about my schedule, so I packed my bags and rushed to the next location for filming and research. When I left the hostel, I confirmed my departure on the hostel's online platform and the hostess was very polite and wished me all the best. She ended up leaving a comment on the review:

The guest cleaned the room and made the futon so well, as if he had never been here.

[1] Lee Kai Chung, The Retrieval, Restoration and Predicament, 2018-2020.