A set of unlikely coincidences links the life of an ordinary man with Japan’s imperial family in this deeply felt work that vividly captures the voices of those who have been left with no place to go.
The first son of a farming family in Fukushima Prefecture, Kazu is born in 1933?the same year as the current Japanese emperor. Soon after the Pacific War ends in 1945, he hires on at the age of twelve with a fishing boat to help supplement his family’s meager income. He eventually marries a girl he grew up with; they have a daughter and, two years later, a son. The boy comes into the world on February 23, 1960, the same day as the first-born son of the present emperor (crown prince at the time), so Kazu takes one of the kanji in the new prince’s name when he names his own son. Three years later he leaves for Tokyo to work as a laborer in the run-up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, both to support his own family and to help out his parents and seven younger brothers and sisters. The train from Fukushima takes him to Ueno Station, the northern gateway to the metropolis.
Thirty-seven years later, Kazu arrives in Ueno once again, this time to join the ranks of the homeless squatters in Ueno Park?land gifted to the city by the imperial family. In the interim, Kazu had continued to labor away from home after the Olympics, with very little chance to actually spend time with his family, even as he provided for them. His son died suddenly at the age of 21, with Kazu having been away most of his life. Only at the age of 60 had Kazu moved back to Fukushima permanently, hoping to enjoy his twilight years surrounded by his wife and his daughter’s family (two grandsons and a granddaughter), but even this period of stability had been cut short when the death of his wife made him a widower at 67.
In November 2006, five years after Kazu joins the homeless camp in Ueno Park, an order comes down for all of the squatters’ cardboard and tarp shelters to be cleared away. The emperor and empress are scheduled to pass by in their private rail car, and the park is being cleaned up for the occasion. When the day comes, Kazu is in the crowd at the side of the tracks watching the two exalted figures smile and wave through the window, and he instinctively waves back. Four and a half years later, when the Great East Japan Earthquake hits the Pacific Coast of Honshu on March 11, 2011, the granddaughter who has taken him in is swept away by the tsunami and, making matters even worse, the subsequent nuclear power accidents render the area where his family had always lived uninhabitable . . .