Just a Nobody (from the Rumors about Me).
Reported: Mr. Tsutomu Morishita (28, Average Office Worker) Dated Miss Akiko Mikawa (23, Typist) In A Coffee Shop!!
It was printed in the biggest Gothic type under a blow-up of my face. Next to it, in small letters:
That Night, Mr. Morishita Masturbated Twice!
I tore my hair, ground my teeth, and screamed. "It's a violation of my rights! I'll sue! What's it to you if a guy jerks off two times, or three!" The moment I arrived at work, I planted myself in front of my section chief's desk, and shoved a copy of the women's magazine at the station toward him.
"I request permission to leave the office on private business. You know of this, don't you? This article? I'm going to have it out with the publishing company that puts out this magazine!"
"I can appreciate how you feel," the chief said, trying to calm me in a tremulous voice. "But wouldn't it be better not to be so short-tempered? The mass media is a frightening opponent. Of course I'll give you permission to leave the office on personal business any time. You well know I'm a paternalistic fellow about things like that. You do know that, don't you? Yes. I think you do know. But I'm just thinking of your own good when I say this. Now, certainly this is a terrible thing. This article is horrendous, I agree. Yes, I can sympathize with you on this."
"Yeah, it's really bad."
"Oh, it really is. It's just too awful."
I hadn't noticed my colleagues gathering around us, and now they all began sympathizing with me. Some women workers even cried.
But I wasn't fooled. Behind my back they were all whispering ill about me, and they were helping the mass media. It was the inevitable two-faced nature of all those around the famous.
After the president himself came out to persuade me, I finally gave up on the idea of bursting into the publishing company. But the funny thing was that even though I had been so raving mad and had made such a commotion, none of it was reported on the television news or in the day's evening papers. That led me to think back over the way the mass media had selected news about me over the previous days.
They had left out of the news everything that I did in conscious awareness of the mass media. My attempts to shake my shadowers, for instance, or the way I would fly into a rage and shout at the television news or newspaper articles were either completely ignored or reported as if they had happened for different reasons. Far from reporting them as they had happened--even an incident like the helicopter that had crashed into a building while trying to tail me--they were reported as if they were totally unconnected events. In that respect, the coverage was very different from when the media investigates and reports other famous personalities. In short, they were treating me as if I was in a world devoid of mass media.
But thinking about it, I found it ironic that that was the very reason that the news about me gradually grew more prominent, that people began to take an interest in it, and that I became the nobody that nobody didn't know. For instance, one day the morning papers played up a story with a six-column headline topping the front page.
TSUTOMU MORISHITA EATS EELS! THE FIRST EXTRAVAGANCE IN 16 MONTHS!
There were times when I would unexpectedly encounter some of the crowd that were secretly reporting me. Once, when I came out of a stall in the company toilet, I tried opening the doors to the rest of the stalls in the line and found most packed solid with guys dangling cameras and tape recorders. If I suddenly used my umbrella tip to poke through the shrubbery in front of the empty lots on my way home, female announcers would spring out and dash away, microphones in hand.
Once I raised the tatami straw floormats, pried up the floorboards, opened the closet doors, and poked at the ceiling with a broomstick. The announcers and onlookers who were packed under the floor ran wildly about, shrieking; from the closet, four or five reporters, including several women, tumbled onto the tatami; and one cameraman behind the ceiling put his foot through a panel and came crashing down as he hurriedly tried to get away.
Of course, none of this kind of thing ever became news. Only the daily incidents of my life were taken up and grandly reported as the big news of the day, outstripping important stories about politics, diplomacy, and the economy.
For instance: "Mr. Morishita Orders New Suit on Installment Plan!"
For instance: "Mr. Tsutomu Morishita Dates Again!"
For instance: "Complete Investigation--Mr. Morishita's Weekly Dietary Life!"
For instance: "Who is the Woman in Mr. Morishita's Heart? Is it Really Miss Akiko Mikawa? Or ..."
For instance: "Mr. Tsutomu Morishita Argues with Colleague, Mr. Fujita, 25, about Voucher Error."
For instance: "Shocking! Mr. Morishita's Sex Life!"
For instance: "Today, Payday for Mr. Morishita!"
For instance: "How Will Mr. Morishita Use His Pay Check?"
For instance: "Mr. Morishita Again Buys 350 yen Socks (Blue-Gray)!"
After a while, even commentators specializing in my affairs appeared. This surprised even me.
Finally my picture embellished the cover of one of the big newspaper's weekly magazines. It was a color picture. Of course, I had no idea when it was taken. It showed me mingled among commuting office workers on my way to work in the business district. I was slightly pleased that it was so well taken.
Even if I couldn't expect anything for the articles about me, it seemed natural that there should be some kind of acknowledgment from the newspaper company now that they'd used me as their cover model. But three days passed from publication date, then four, and there was still no word from the paper. One day, unable to contain myself any longer, I detoured by the newspaper office on my way to work.
Although everyone I passed when walking around town would turn to look back at me, when I entered the newspaper office both the receptionists and on-duty editors were unpleasantly cold. Their attitude seemed almost to say that they'd never even heard of me. While I sat in the reception room I'd been guided to, wondering if it would have been better not to have come after all, a sober-faced man appeared and identified himself as the assistant editor of the magazine.
"Mr. Morishita. You do know you're causing us a lot of trouble by coming here."
"So that's it. It's because I'm just a nobody who has nothing to do with the mass media, right?"
"You're neither a celebrity nor a man of the hour. You're not even a famous person. That's why you shouldn't come to places like this."
"But I am famous, in fact, aren't I?'
"All that is just gossip in the press about someone who isn't famous. Even after your face had become known, we still wanted you to remain nameless forever. We thought you fully understood that yourself."
"In that case, why did you need to make news out of a nobody like me?"
The assistant editor sighed.
"How should I know? I imagine it was because someone judged that you could become news."
"You mean the mass media? Who was the ringleader who came up with such nonsense?"
"The ringleader? If there were a ringleader, the newspapers would never have all gone chasing after you like this. The mass media pursues things with news value, even if there is no one there to give the order."
"What news value is there in my daily routine?"
"Very well, just what kind of articles would you say were big news?"
"Let's see now. For instance, whether or not the weather forecast was correct or that there was a war some place or that there was a ten-minute power failure in such-and-such a block or that an airplane crashed and a thousand people died or that the price of apples is going up or that a dog bit a man or a dog was caught shoplifting at a supermarket or the president of the United States was shoplifting or Man landed on Mars or an actress got divorced or World War Three is likely to break out or polluting industries are making money or another newspaper's making money."
The assistant editor had been watching my face absently. But at last he sadly shook his head.
"So in other words, you think that kind of material is big news."
I was stunned.
He waved his hand irritably.
"No, no. Of course those things could be big news, too. Isn't that why we always report them? Yet at the same time, we're also writing stories about an ordinary office worker. Therefore, as long as the mass media reports on it, anything can be big news." He nodded. "Once the reporting has been done, any amount of news value will emerge. But the point is, by coming here today, you've destroyed that news value yourself."
"But it doesn't bother me."
"I see!" The assistant editor slapped his knees. "Now that you say it, it doesn't bother us, either!"
I quickly returned to the company. The moment I arrived, I called the typists' room from my desk and asked for my girlfriend, Akiko.
"Akiko," I said loudly. "Will you go to a hotel with me tonight?"
At the other end of the line Akiko gasped.
For a moment, the whole room fell perfectly silent. My co-workers and section chief stared at me round-eyed.
Finally Akiko answered, on the verge of tears.
"Yes, I'll go with you."
And so that night I stayed at a hotel with Akiko. It was of the lowest class in a hotel district awash with garish neon lights.
As I had expected, nothing about it appeared in the newspapers. It was not broadcast on TV. From that day on, news about me vanished from the mass media. From that day on, a middle-aged office worker of a type you might see anywhere appeared. He was thin, short, had two children, and lived in a suburban high-rise. He was chief clerk for general affairs at a shipbuilding company.
I became, once again, truly nameless.
I tried asking Akiko out just once after that to see what would happen. I asked if she would meet me after work at a coffee shop. But Akiko refused. Since I knew what kind of woman she was, I felt quite satisfied.
After a month, there was no one left who remembered my face apart from my own acquaintances. Yet even so, there were sometimes people who would look startled on seeing my face.
One day, in the train on my way back to my apartment, one of two girls sitting on the seat in front of me had that kind of expression on her face.
"Gosh. I've seen that man before somewhere," she whispered, nudging the girl beside her with her elbow. "Look. That guy. What does he do, I wonder?"
The other girl gave me an annoyed glance. Finally she replied uninterruptedly, "That guy? Oh, he's just a nobody."
Translated by David Lewis
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|Publication:||The Review of Contemporary Fiction|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2002|
|Previous Article:||Keeping Not Writing: an Interview with Yasutaka Tsutsui.|
|Next Article:||A (Very) Selective Bibliography of Modern and Postmodern Japanese Fiction and Culture (English Translation Only).|
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