Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Sunday Series: Sunday August 23, 2015 (Izu Oshima Island, Tokyo, Japan)



The Sunday Series:
Sunday August 23, 2015

Izu Oshima, Tokyo, Japan

Every Sunday, here at the Haru Elementary School, my duties are to sweep the floors and clean up the bathrooms.  I’m here as an artist to take part in an arts festival that is taking place later next month.  From August to the end of September, the festival takes over the elementary school as their gallery and office space.  The school itself became something of the past, in 2009.   Being here now, it is like the entire population of students and their teachers made a run for it, and just left everything in the classrooms intact.  When I first walked in the door last week, it was an eerie feeling of a presence of not one, but many individuals who threw themselves from one classroom to another.  The school itself was under construction by the noted Japanese architect Takamasa Yoshizaka, who once worked as an assistant to Le Corbusier in Paris.  In fact, he translated Le Corbusier’s writings from French to Japanese.  Although I’m totally not sure about this, but I suspect that he designed this school sometime in the early 1960s.   On the property is an Olympic sized drained swimming pool and a baseball field - both are covered by natural growth with an occasional poisoned snake here and there. 



In the principal's office, where I do my daily writing, I’m surrounded by images of past awards, trophies, and various class photographs over the years.   The one thing that becomes clear from looking at the photographs is that teachers start multiplying faster than the students.   Youth, over time, eventually moved to the main land, more likely to Tokyo, and left the island behind.  I can’t speak for the property, but this structure has only been in existence for forty years or so.  Yet it’s a building from the past, and left to rot.  Artists, like rats, need space to do their art, so at the moment it’s a happy relationship between the recent past and the ‘now. ' Still, I feel a great deal of sadness seeing rows of trophies that no longer have any meaning for anyone.   At the time, there must have been great happiness, and nothing but a great future to look forward to.  But life had other plans, and what’s important then is now not-so-important anymore.  



There are a series of photographs on the wall of various teachers who once taught here - and I imagine now, most are dead.  The same for students.  How many of these serious looking faces are alive now?  Even the baseball diamond and the swimming pool are dead.  It’s summertime and all I can smell is death.   The sliding windows on both sides of me are open, and the mosquitos, dragon flies, and an occasional lizard crawls or flies in to bite or harass me.  I wear insect repellent like it is cheap perfume and I want to hide the smell of my decay.  

As I was writing late one night, I felt a presence near me, and I turned around and it was an older gentleman.  I just presume that he was one of the artists here - so many come and go on a daily basis.  The odd thing is he sat behind the table that was once the principal’s desk.  He just sat there looking at me, with no emotion on his face.  He was dressed in a suit and tie, which is an odd outfit for an artist here, and especially in the wet hot weather   of August. It was strange, but then again I’m in a foreign part of the world, and therefore I don’t try to read one’s face, or clothing, especially since I don’t know the language or the customs of those who are from here.  One distinctive thing I notice is that when I saw him, the temperature changed and it became slightly cooler.  If he’s the reason to make the room more comfortable, then I’m perfectly ok with him being here.  And since this is an open studio for artists, it is common for them to come and go as they please. 



The room got warmer all of sudden, and I turned around and he wasn’t sitting at the desk, nor anywhere in the room.  He left.  Oddly I didn’t hear him leave the room.  But since I was totally involved in my writing, I really didn’t think too much about it.  When I finished my work and turned off the computer, I went to the hallway, and I saw the older gentleman slowly walking down towards the other rooms and making a left turn to one of the classrooms. Since I was going in the same direction, I went by the classroom expecting to see him there, but alas, he wasn’t there.  I of course, walked past the classroom again, but I slowly went back and forth in front of the room just to make sure he wasn’t there.  Nothing.  I entered and I did notice that it was cooler in this room than the hallway - which was odd, because all the windows were open in the hall. 

One shouldn’t do this, but I had some hot sake while taking a bath.  It’s dangerous because you can pass out due to the combination of the heat of the bath, the temperature outside, as well as the alcohol.  When I got out of the bath, while drying myself, I heard a noise outside.  I put my clothes on and walked towards the noise, which was coming from the hallway.   From the hallway, I could see a light in my office.  The sound, which was like one or maybe two people walking with the faint sound of a conversation.  It could be one of the other artists here, but I think not, because it was late, and everyone usually is asleep by now.  I walk towards the office slowly.  I wasn’t that fearful it was a burglar - my first thought it was an animal of some sort. Due that in the heat I keep the windows open in the office just to hopefully keep the air circulating.   As I slowly approached the entrance I stuck my head inside the doorway.

What I saw on the desk was a girl in what I think was wearing a Japanese student uniform - maybe 15 or 16, laying on the top, with her skirt above her panties.  I immediately turned away.    I then put my head through the doorway, and this time, she was looking directly at me.  No emotion in her face.  Just laying there.  As if waiting for me.  But also at the same time, I felt her gaze was really looking at nothing.  I felt panicked, but I didn’t want to make any harsh or sudden movement.  When I look towards the desk again, I didn’t see her.   Nor was there any sign of her in the room.   I stayed there for ten minutes doing nothing. I then turned the lights off and stood in the dark for a minute or so.  Nothing.  Unlike the last time I saw the old man at the desk, the temperature didn’t seem to change.  I was trying to logically figure all of this out.   There is nothing to figure out. 

It was a few days later, while looking at the wall while focusing on my writing, that I come upon her.  She is one of many in a classroom photo, taken outside my (the Principal’s) window.  She is sitting down in the front row, near the Principal.  What happened to them, or why, I don’t know.  Or perhaps it is just my imagination over-reacting due to stress, the heat, and being thrown into another culture.  Nevertheless I walk gently into every room in this school, not knowing what is around the corner.  



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