Kobe, the dream universe of Inagaki Tarupho (2009.6.1[Mon.])


"Give me moths over butterflies. Or even better, if I could have a wind-up tin moth would rate about 90 out of 100 on my scale."
Inagaki Tarupho "My aesthetics"

As I'm here in Kobe, I thought it would be appropriate for me to write something about the city. I'm not sure how whether this will work in translation, however, for the story is a bit unusual...

    When I was very young, four, perhaps even two, I had strange dreams of the sort that everyone does, but one in particular stands out. I remember it clearly even now. In the dream, it was a summer's night, and the planet Saturn had fallen into a park in my neighborhood (which was Okamachi, in the city of Toyonaka). My father and my uncle, who was visiting from Rokko, had just gotten out of the bath and taken me out for a walk, to cool off and view the spectacle. The planet was a few meters across, and looked like it was there for a reason, wearing its rings and shimmering in its faint golden tones in the sandbox where it lay. It seemed strange to me, but I decided that it was perhaps not so outlandish after all, and continued to stare.

    It seems that I am not the only one to have had such an experience. The illustrator Marino Ruunii, the manga artist Tamura Shigeru, and the Kamosawa Yuji, now deceased, have all created imagery in a similar vein, which with a kind of inevitability finally reached an author who, for me, epitomizes the city of Kobe. He Romanized his name with characteristic flair: Inagaki Tarupho. Born in 1900, he died in 1977, the same year as my grandfather. With his connections to Akashi and Gessyou-ji, I sense in myself an affinity that precludes my thinking of him as other than myself.

    Tor Road appears frequently in Tarupho's novels. Reading works such as "Comet-Taroupho Planetarium" (Issen-ichibyou monogatari) the references to Motomachi and Sannomiya are clear. More than just the international atmosphere, by virtue of its landscape, Kobe is a city of corners and grades that entice with the prospects waiting around each new turn, sitting as it does nestled between mountains and seas. Take Nunobiki - although it stands at the foot of the mountains, if you turn south from the station you are immediately in the city. It is as if you were transported from one world to another. But long before the bullet train was built, the prospect of the western-style homes and the queer and exotic people and shops must have given young Tarupho and friends a sense of surreality that certainly infused his hard-boiled dreams. Even the plumes of smoke billowing from the chimneys must have taken on special significance. If he were alive today, I wonder what he would make of the handful of chimneys that remain, like lonely smokers looking out over this bleak betrayal of a city in the night. When I was growing up in Osaka, I had the same sense of eeriness whenever I passed this one old black building, built in a foreign style. In my young imagination, a sinister figure in an Inverness cape lived there, torturing his victims day and night.

    Many people raise the critique that the Kobe that Tarupho wrote about does not exist. That is true of course, but it isn't because the times have changed. Even before the war, it would not have been easy to locate the Kobe that Tarupho described. And so I say that the Kobe I envisioned when I was young is still here. Reality is different from the real. Reality happens regardless of what you do, but the real is something you must pursue, and even then, may never find. For people who cannot grasp the real, it is as if it does not exist at all, but this does not mean they should disparage it. Imagine being overcome by the eyespot of a large moth one spring evening. For one who is immersed in reality, what could be more ridiculous that being frightened by an insect? What greater vanity could there be than attempting to capture this magical psyche of the young in adult terms as literature? But Tarupho was one of the few authors who were able to do just that, though this sometimes, perhaps inevitably, took him down strange paths indeed. If you hope to reach this world by such a probabilistic wander, you need the right time and a plan. The time is twilight, the Geisterstunde when the hobgoblins of the real creep into our world, and the attitude is one of unconcern. Like stalking after a moth.

    Anyone who hopes to capture Tarupho's "Crouching dreams" needs to watch for it from the corner of his eye. For they dwell in ths spaces between seconds, in an ultrathin dimension made of fantasium, which Tarupho named Flatland. I have often wondered whether this might not be the interface shared by two three-dimensional worlds. It is so thin as to be invisible when seen head-on; only by glancing sidelong can one hope to catch a glimpse. The easiest access is at fringes and borderlands - sloping paths, nightfall, gaslight - places where reality is rent open a crack and the fortunate can enter that other inter-dimensional universe where dreams of all manner reside. Many seers of other worlds, including Jules Verne, Miyazawa Kenji, and the taruphologist Agata Morio, have retrieved for us things from these other times and other spaces. Even that sinister caligaresque character I sought can be found by taking a left turn at a certain crossroads on Yamamoto road. As soon as you turn, perhaps you will hear the sound of violin and bandoneón, jump at firecrackers snapping, and encounter a monocled figure standing in your path, or perhaps witness a blue cat materialize out from a power line glare at you and hiss, the somnambulist Cesare transformed. Until you discover them, they haunt this shadow world, avoiding human gaze.

    Tarupho's universe is not one of sepia-toned nostalgia, but a multidimensional cosmos as might be stumbled upon by a child in an imaginative leap, which takes shape as the real as he grows. When we are young, I had a place I would go with friends only at certain times and under the right conditions, places I would not go alone. I cannot now remember the exact route I took to go there, what roads I took in what order. I suppose if I ever wished to find a similar place and time, I would need to look for it out of the corner of my eye. Kobe allows people to live this way, in a way that few places do. In Tokyo only a handful remain, in Asakusa at the Kaminari-mon gate, at Nakamise and Sensou-ji... pigeons crowding about, old women selling beans... a Wunderkammer of sorts, or perhaps only one of the curios on display, filled up with the dreams of children and linking them into the universe. Tarupho was born in the year of Planck's constant and the Wright brothers' flying machine, and his imagination was captured first by airplanes and then, inexorably, by theories of the cosmos itself. Should a comet or the moon come down to Kobe and rub shoulders with the passers-by, it would no doubt be via the Lobachevskian space or one of the Minkowski light cones that he so loved as pathways leading to Flatland. And now that Kobe has its new airport at last, perhaps it is just a step closer to Tarupho's dream...