June 3, 2020: “Super-Frog Saves Tokyo” by Haruki Murakami, Translated by Jay Rubin

Hello, Story366!

Last night, I saw someone I kind of know (and kind of like) ask the question on FB: “What does BLM want?”

The first responder in the comments asked if he was being serious, to which my FB friend replied, “Absolutely. I do not understand what they want.”

This first responder embarked on on a long back and forth with him, explaining the need for equal rights, equal treatment, an end to profiling, and obviously, at the top of the list, the immediate end of all the killings of unarmed black people by police.

My FB friend took one of those points, profiling, and turned the conversation into something about being in the wrong neighborhood based on your race. He defended profiling, saying that if he was the only white guy in a black neighborhood (my FB friend is white—did I not mention that?), then he certainly should be pulled over by the police. His reasoning? A white person in a black neighborhood is either lost and needs help, or they are there for a nefarious purpose; the officers stop that by pulling this person over, running the plates, checking for warrants, etc.

My FB friend then turned it around, of course, claiming the same is naturally true for a black person driving through a white neighborhood: That person is either lost or up to no good. The police, by pulling that person over, can either help them or hinder their insidious plots.

Now, if you’re reading this, and you’re following along, seeing the errors in his logic, then good for you. Someone, at the end of the conversation, asked him how often he A) ever drives through an all-black neighborhood, and B) how many times he was pulled over when doing so. The answer, to both questions, was zero. What does this mean? Again, if you’re following along, you should get it. And if you’re reading this blog, I want to think you’re getting it, but then again, I don’t know who’s reading this blog. Or if anyone is.

Yet, this is what BLM is up against, in some cases: Naysayers who think they have it figured out, that they’ve made some logical proof that solidifies their POV.

This reminds me of something that happened in my mom’s neighborhood, outside Chicago, about ten years ago. Note: south of Chicago, where I grew up in the south suburbs, doesn’t really have any neighborhoods that are segregated anymore, and didn’t ten years ago when this happened. My mom’s street is split up pretty evenly between white, black, and Latino families.

Yet, the woman who lived across the street (she’s since died), one day, came running outside of her house when I was mowing my mom’s lawn to hassle three pre-teen black males who were selling candy bars—caramel, crunch, almond, you know the kind—for Little League. Here exact words? “Are you boys lost?” It was out of some movie from a different era. This woman made the oldest boy pull out his phone and call their ride, to pick them up immediately. The boys sat on the curb outside her house, she stood above them, and when a woman pulled up in a car, my neighbor stuck her head in the window, pointed, the car drove off, and then that was that.

Today, I wish I’d had fifty dollars in my pocket that day, that I could have bought every single candy bar those boys had, told them to tell all their friends and teammates to come back—these kids played for the same Little League I played for—so I could buy all their candy bars, too. I wish I would have set up a lemonade stand for them, put it right in the driveway, facing that neighbor’s house across the street. I wish, today, I would have invited them over for a barbecue, and their family, too, just to let them know it was okay for them to be there. You know: exist.

But I didn’t do any of those things. Sure, I never talked to that woman again, and neither did my mom after she found out what happened. My mom isn’t the most progressive person in the world, but she isn’t a racist, didn’t put her house up for sale as soon as the first black family bought a house—actually, it was a single guy, E.J., two doors down, who’se lived there for eighteen years—and doesn’t tolerate this kind of intolerance. But we didn’t do anything, not when those boys were there, not after.

What am I getting at? Just thinking the right things, sitting back and silently supporting a cause, that’s not going to cut it anymore. There needed to be action then and I FAILED to act. There needs to be action now and I should _______.

For today’s post, I’m covering another writer I probably should have ready more of by now: Haruki Murakami. I’ve read stories of his in magazines and he has multiple collections, but the book I got my hands on is After the Quake, out in 2002 from Vintage. Murukami is one of those writers whom everyone talks about, everyone glows over, someone I’ve admired but never “got into.” Story366 does its job once again, increasing my should-read author vocabulary by one more writer, a writer with whom I spent the afternoon today.

All of the stories in the collection, to note, take place in Japan, Murakami’s home country, right after the disastrous earthquake that ravaged Kobe, what Wikipedia refers to as the Great Hanshin earthquake. I was a senior in college when that happened and remember it, know today there was a terrible earthquake in Japan that killed a lot of people. It’s the same way I know there was a tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2004 and that Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980. These were large-scale natural disasters, often deadly on a large scale, but because there were far away (or I was a little kid) and they didn’t directly affect me, I didn’t pay all that much attention. That’s a great reason for a writer to write a book like this, to inform privileged yahoos like me about things that they don’t know much about. But anyway, that’s what the title, After the Quake, is referring to.

The opening story, “UFO in Kushiro,” about Komura, whose wife leaves him a few days after the earthquake. He’s a decent guy, good-looking, with a good job, and he is extremely loyal, but more or less, this is why she leaves him, because he’s ordinary and too routine. A friend of his from work finds out he’s taking some time off and asks him to deliver a package to his sister, up north, which Komura does. He is met by his friend’s sister, as well as a woman named Shimao, who has a profound effect on his new existence, his life post-marriage.

“Landscape With Flatiron” features Junko, a young woman who ran away from home, disappearing to a far-off part of Japan. She eventually moves in with a surfer boy named Keisuke, but also befriends a forty-something guy named Miyake, a guy who has a particular affinity for beach bonfires, using the abundant driftwood in this part of the country as kindling. Junko and Miyake have a unique, special relationship, kind of like a mentor and apprentice, that makes the story, and Junko’s journey, particularly interesting.

The story I’m focusing on today is a lot different that these two pieces, and I dare to say, most of the stories in the book (and most stories ever written, ever, by anybody). “Super-Frog Saves Tokyo” pits Katagiri as its protagonist, a loan recollection specialist who comes home one day to find a six-foot-tall  frog waiting for him in his kitchen. Katagiri thinks initially that it’s a guy in a frog costume, or that he’s imagining things, but nope, this is a real giant talking frog, who goes by Frog, waiting, making tea, offering to pour Katagiri a cup.

Once Frog establishes that he’s real, he convinces Katagiri that an earthquake is about to hit Tokyo (this one takes place pre-earthquake) and the only people in the world who can prevent it are himself and Katagiri, working as a team. Katagiri is skeptical, still hung-up about the whole talking-frog thing, but also doesn’t understand how he, even with the help of a giant frog, can save Tokyo from an earthquake. Frog convinces him that because of the nature of his work—convincing those clients who have no chance of paying their loan back to pay their loan back—he is the ideal candidate. In addition to his coercive and communicative skills, he’s also an honorable man.

Frog’s got Katagiri convinced, and me, too, pretty much, and then Murakami reveals Frog’s plan: They have to go underground, beneath Katagiri’s bank, and fight Worm. Worm is a giant worm that sleeps under cities, but when Worm wakes, Worm gets all crazy and causes earthquakes. So, if Frog and Katagiri defeat Worm, there won’t be any earthquake and thousands will be spared.

Katagiri agrees he must do this—Frog is persuasive—and agrees to meet Frog at his office one night, at midnight. From there, they’ll move a secret panel in the basement, climb down a rope, then do battle with Worm.

That’s where “logic” kind of falls off the rails: Katagiri is mugged on his way back into work the night of the battle, shot by his assailant. He passes out, trying to get to his bank so he can fight Worm with Frog. He instead wakes up, the next day, after the earthquake was to have happened, in the hospital.

I won’t go any further into this story’s plot, but the tale does take a real turn with the mugging, and keeps twisting from there until its end. It’s a goofy fable Murakami has written for us, seemingly about guilt and responsibility. It also reminds me of those fantasies that everyone gets—at least I get them—after something horrible has happened and you dream about saving the world, being the hero. Not unlike my thoughts, today, about helping those black candy salesmen, what I should have done, so easy to imagine now.

Haruki Murakami has scribed a lot of books and has had a profound effect on what fiction is today as one of our most renowned and accomplished contemporary voices. After the Quake is just a snippet of his catalogue, but a good one. Now I’m curious as to what else he does. Only one way to find out.

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One thought on “June 3, 2020: “Super-Frog Saves Tokyo” by Haruki Murakami, Translated by Jay Rubin

  1. Pingback: June 4, 2020: “Dying Light” by Donald Hays – Story366

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