Burn My Bonsai: Final Diary Entry/Epilogue
BURN MY BONSAI
(Pre-script: I lack the depth to assume to write on behalf of such a presence as an Emperor. I do, however, offer a conjecture that may interest some. It is steeped in Japanese folk lore, legend and myth. It is cast against the presumed views of a mercantile Japan by a man in search of meaning in his last thoughts. For those who know Japanese legends and heroes it may be an interesting study.
I tender it with honor, respect and humility.)
A proposed final diary entry:
I wasn’t sure who suffered the greater disappointment myself or Thys. We were of course both looking forward to the trip. Thys, because he had a wonderful ability to dissolve himself into the glory of nature. It was as if we could stroll together and I could feel as though my good friend had somehow left me and become one with the surroundings. He allowed me, through his utter fascination with nature, to speak directly to her. He will no doubt, in his self-effacing manner deny it all, but a fact is a fact. I, in this aspect of my life, was blessed with a sound vessel to challenge myself. He would forever be my vessel never would I think him my vassal.
I suppose it is the concept of vassal that irked my disappointment in not being able to go to Iwakuni. Of course I shall not again see the fascination that thrives below the waves there. I have been several times and the bounty that enriches the waters brings a wonder to me that I have only experienced on a few rare occasions. The irritation forced upon me by my illness and the fact that it limits me from my time at Iwakuni with my kindred spirit is yet another cinder blurring the perspective of my vision. I had of course wanted to go to view the marine life, but I also had wanted to be near the lands of Satsuma and Choushu again. I would assume all who know of my life, sorry tale that it is, would assume that it is only coelenterates that I seek the company of. Shall I be measured more for my studies in areas lacking backbone in nature rather than my dilemmas of dealing with a lack of backbone in my own nature. Iwakuni of course is the area Kusunoki Masashige, our great hero, made his doomed stand and even more important it is across from the home of the great Saigo Takamori, the home of honor, of the samurai of Satsuma.
I remember how two years ago, when Thys and I spent a lovely four days pottering amongst the sea life there, that he was able, inadvertently, to cast me into a gloom which has plagued me ever since. Not being a political man he had the ability to grasp at the simplicity of human intent with the clarity of the full moon. When a full moon, on a clear, frosted winter night, like those that loom over the thatched antiquated homes of Gokayama, casts a cold shudder through the night, that clarity of vision pierces all adornments and trappings of the ego. Thys has that sight. We were resting on the shoreline and viewing the dangerous swirling tides, I was forever fascinated by the four tides of this area. Thys pondered why so many heroes, having served so valiantly in the cause of their emperor, were always decimated in the end. He, being of the West, was amazed at the juxtaposition of these two aspects of our cultures. Thys then went on to ask, ‘during my reign, who might have served as a valiant shield or hero to my reign?’
I’m sure he was expecting some intelligent pronunciation on the spirit or emotional complexities that swirl in the Japanese soul or stomach, but I was actually stumped for an answer. I thought at first to make light of his comment but instead found a paralysis, like the sting I suffered years ago across my thumb from a blue jellyfish. The searing venom of the burn froze my hand. His comment, like dry ice, burned my thoughts into a congested paralysis. Why did the heroic legends of Japanese lore suffer ignoble decimation and who was the single great hero of my times. Like some tangle of rubber strings wound into a ball, I was unable to answer who had served as my valiant vassal, the hero of my imperial rule. The knotted rubber ball grew in my stomach.
Searching my mind for an answer, firstly, like a school of anchovies, prominent military faces crossed my past. They darted and vanished expelled from my thoughts. I dwelled on this question and realized it was the faces I didn’t know that lingered.
I don’t think Thys understood how deeply the question disturbed me and though we continued our observations throughout the remainder of that trip, I felt like a child searching for an image hidden in a drawing. I knew there was a crystallized answer but for my shame it evaded me for many months. Perhaps the recent trip to Iwakuni was intended to find that reflection in the swirling ocean or perhaps in the heroism that is impregnated or naturally fertilizes the soils of Satsuma and Choushu.
If Emperor Godaigo, for all his hubris and arrogance, was served by the hero Kusunoki Masashige, where was the retainer that would guide me with the strength of his valor. If the cruelly betrayed Masashige should cast his dying wish to return to vanquish the Emperor’s enemies as he lay disemboweled on a pillow next to his brother, where then was that single vanguard during my rule?
If the great Saigo, who gave his breath of life in honor of what he thought was best to represent his people and his ethos, could stand alone in his beliefs, where then, as an emperor, had my breath, my valor dissipated to?
I believe, that my valor hadn’t dissipated. I am sure none will realize it and instead will think of me as an ill wind, a putrid stench, wafting in the corridors of a great Imperial line. Am I misunderstood? Do I pretend to misunderstand myself?
Thys used to chide me, the Emperor, to leave my thoughts and focus instead not inwardly, but through the waters. He used to say all answers were beneath the seas, if we only learn to look. To learn to look is that not the gift of life? I found his comment at once amusing and disturbing for each time, after this comment of his, I actually looked below the waves, I saw only thousands of eyes looking back at me. The reproach in the still cavities of the young skulls that slept beneath the waves, who clutched onto a misdirected belief, blazed my thoughts and again a paralysis of spirit dishonored my line. I shall be known not for my achievements, but perhaps only for my skill at paralysis. It is suitable that jellyfish, the invertebrate purveyors of a poison that neuters action should be my focus. I should have been more self-reflective much earlier in life, then I would not have had the millions of dead souls staring back at me nor the millions of live ones. But that is another thought.
So who is the hero of my time? Who is the Takamori, the Oshio, the Yoritomo of my existence? All of them legends.
I have been plagued by this wretched thought. So many advisors have crippled my mind, or molded my being, that I am not sure who or what I am. Though I believe I made one correct choice. There was one time in my pathetic, misguided rule that a lucidity, like that full winter moon, pierced my thoughts and gave me a direction that none in the centuries to come will view of as anything but despicable. By discussing it now, do I only grasp it, like a drowning man, avoiding the questions in the skulls lurking below me, waiting to pull me down and tear at my spirit. Those eyes wait to peel shreds of my spirit away like husk on corn, each strand a denunciation of my being. How many lashings shall I suffer? Should I, must I, suffer to atone for my paralysis?
I gazed at the bonsai in my friend Thys’ garden yesterday. He has honored them with a care beyond mere nurturing. In that art, he is expert, he has tended them with not only sustenance but with a spirit that I, could not find. The three bonsai are now old and stately. The Meiji bonsai, my grandfather’s, with its cascading limbs suffers most and requires the most attention. Indeed like the Emperor himself and his fragile newly founded state was left to struggle on wobbly legs, like a newborn calf of government, searching for stability. With the great Saigo Takamori gone, there was no one to keep the wolves of avarice at bay and when my father Emperor Taisho asserted his presence it was like his bonsai. Taisho of course, has been honored with the miniature forest style bonsai and though a work of intense constant cultivation, like the sickly Emperor himself, it is little more than shadows and vapid shapes. It is a cluster of directionless mass unable to find the strength of individuality. Then of course Thys has taken the greatest pains to assure that my bonsai, reaching one hundred years, has reflected myself. I wonder, has he failed in this? The tiny single elm I chose as a boy, to epitomize my rule, has grown straight and unwavering. If any has bent and distorted then surely it is I or perhaps my immobility and absence of intent has left it so erect. Most definitely the cleave that scars the bough is appropriate and reflects my rule, yet it seems as well to be unnecessarily tended and undeservedly cared for. That must be the kind heart of Thys Rasmussen.
In my Bonsai I do not find my heroic soul mate. I do not find the answer to Thys’ question, ‘who is the hero of my times?’ Though this entry is nearing the last of many, it plagues me that it has taken until now, in my late eighties, to discover the answer. I trust I shall be able to pass it on to him. It may make no difference to him nor to the millions of others who like anchovies swirl in a jackal-like disdain at my very existence. It is strange, but behind so many smiles you can see the flicker of disgust. It hangs in the eyes. It is the steam evaporating off the thatches in Gokayama when the spring warms the reed roofs. The essence is there and then gone; a question of distaste, the spittle of disgust dripping in their eyes.
For I am no doubt seen as the greatest coward of the twentieth century, which if one thinks about it is a huge expanse of dishonor to encompass. Certainly I am seen as the greatest affliction on the honor of our Japanese God Amaterasu and the Chrysanthemum throne.
Yet they do not realize whom the hero is, nor where he has been enshrouded. ‘Manipulated and paralyzed’ will be my written on my epitaph.
‘Confused and misunderstood’ shall that be rung out by the bells at my passing? I am sure it will not, but if ‘confused and misunderstood’ were to be personified into statesmen, then I am sure they were my advisors. Arrogance and hubris the nutrients that flow through the marrow of man were encouraged to pool in me as a young and frightened man. It grew like a cancer on my soul to be the guide from which I was unable to see the night. Like an obsessed misplaced lighthouse, a crooked eye, it lured my ship from my natural spirit to the shores of conceit where it floundered until decimated. Paralysis, forever a siren in my ears, allowed my pomposity to be fanned.
With my hauteur exposed like some clam before a scavenging gull or supercilious sacrificial lamb I was lead out to the hitching post by my esteemed advisors.
I may have been slow to find the answer to the question of hero, but the villain stood like that lighthouse, luring me to the shore of my conceited annihilation. With Meiji gone and the girth of valor encompassed by Saigo betrayed, the mercantile, military aspirations of the worms in the wood of the true bushido, ate their own course and manufactured a nation frightened into obedience. Again the jellyfish of my honored lineage cowered.
But if the knife was thrust into the heart of the beast when it lay dying in the ring, why then disfigure the beast during its death throws with bombs? Of course the massive expenditure had to be accounted for. The notoriety was too irresistible, like my own military’s hubris. The desire for redemption was too great to deny and families, generations were incinerated for the sake of being the first to drop the bomb. The evil that lurks behind the decision to murder hundreds of thousands to see if it could be done, was not a military choice. It was evil and shall never be forgiven nor appreciated for the depth of its horror. How can the mistake, the pathetic typing skills of a clerk in Washington possibly abrogate the vaporization of cities? Where were our hero’s cries then?
But to gloat on the vaporization of a people is surely the most horrific of deeds. MacArthur, seen by the frightened masses and as portrayed by the subservient fools called the press, was the poison to the dying beast. But who must drink this hemlock of humility? The vanquished beast? Surely not the people. Prostrate, starved, victimized by their military leaders, the people of Japan, my people, should not be so abused. Then I.
My only moment of lucidity, my moment of clarity was to obliterate my honor, my lineage, before my people in such a way that the hubris of the victorious would do my people no harm, would not twist the knife, infest the wound. The Occupancy wanted a price far greater than blood. The hanging of the perpetrators of the affair was just and overdue, even my people desired that, but the scorching of our spirit, the erosion of identity is an infinitely more vile prescription for a floundering, sick wounded soul. It was that which MacArthur pursued. He sought to achieve the long-term insidious decay of a nation’s spirit.
So my only truly imperial action was to try to bear the humiliation of a people. My people, herded and tormented by the avarice of a few, had no need to suffer more. I left the cocoon of debilitation, of meek paralysis, that I had become so fond of and walked the indignity of my soul as proudly as I could. With each minute from August fifteenth I have tried to redeem one of the pairs of eyes that stare from below the waves.
I am sure I will never live long enough to atone for my paralysis. Each minute is but a single snowflake to call forth another spirit.
How irreverent the fates are? How they encapsulate and deride the aspirations of man. I am sure it is this final hubris on my part, this wanting to think I could somehow individually bear the infliction of disemboweling the soul of a nation that will see me mocked in perpetuity.
I gaze at the streets as I make my way from your home, Thys. I am sure it will be the last time I shall lay my eyes on the magnificence of the three Bonsai you have honored me by caring for.
The window plays a sad film to me. I see the opposite effect of my forty years of humiliation raise its subjugated grin at my impotence. Again I think of the aptness of my study of invertebrates for I am most surely one.
The soul of the people has it returned? Has honor seeped into the marrow nurturing the bushido spirit? No I fear not. Honor has been replaced by the whore of covetousness. An influenza of materialism and cultural mimicry pumps through the bodies I see before me. How can I not honor and love my people, they are my soul and yet I see the adoption of a foreign need for experimentation and a greed for life that is unbecoming to all I have sacrificed. Is not the soul of the decimated a far more wounded creature than the body? How has my attempt to bear the burden of humility, of shame, been thwarted by the mercenaries of greed?
So often on our island. Every heroic attempt is thwarted by a baseness no man may overcome.
My Bonsai I think now should perhaps wither to nothingness. It should be allowed to decay like my bones. In the eyes of the Goddess Amaterasu, it was the severing of spirit from people that I bore the indignity to try to overcome. With my failure like so many heroes on this little island, it is evident I chose the wrong side. I should have ended the people’s suffering many years ago with my life instead of trying to bear it on their behalf with my humiliation. I played into the victor’s hands. By trying to endure their suffering and reaffirm their bushido spirit, I instead neutered our souls.
There will be no blush on the cherry blossoms that fall across my spirit. They shall all be soiled.
Thys, dear friend, please burn my bonsai it honors neither of us to see it survive.