Waiting for a Shooting Star, (Nagareboshi wo Machinagara, Toshindo Publishing Co., Tokyo, 2005, by Ko Takimura (Shinya Murase), pp.1-184, in Japanese.)
Yusuke Tajima, born in 1969. (The name Yusuke literally means “a brave man”).
Yumi Tajima, born in 1972, Yusuke’s sister
Tomokazu Ogata, born in 1969, Yusuke’s friend, who serves as the narrator of the story.
Satoko Kamiyama Tajima, born in 1967, Yusuke’s wife
Salem Omari, born in 1980, a Lebanese-American
Summary of the Story:
The story, a Buildungsroman, begins with Tomokazu (speaking as “I”), at the age of five, participating in the traditional New Year early-morning karate training session held at Enoshima beachside near Mt. Fuji along with some three hundred other karate athletes. Yusuke who was of the same age as myself began taking karate lessons shortly afterwards, and we became trusted friends and rivals for life. I liked Yumi, Yusuke’s younger sister. When I was nine years old, I conducted an “experiment” on the effect of mustard powder by pouring it over Yumi trying to see if she would sneeze. The experiment was successful, but it ended up with a fierce fight with Yusuke who would do whatever necessary to protect his sister. I came to realize that Yusuke and Yumi were inseparably close, while I was outside their relationship. The three however remained close during their childhoods. Yusuke and I obtained black belts for karate at the age of fifteen just before our graduation from junior high school. We took part in the New Year training together at the beach in commemoration of our promotion.
Due to my father’s transfer to the London office, I was to move to England with my parents. In the early evening before our departure, I called on Yusuke’s home to say goodbye. Since Yusuke was out with his father that evening as his mother had been hospitalized for illness, I asked Yumi (now twelve years old) who was at home with her aunt to say goodbye for me to Yusuke. Yumi asked me to wait, saying that she had something to return to me. Yumi said, “Let’s go to the nearby park”. We sat on the bench. Yumi said, “Don’t open your eyes, OK?”, and a moment later she poured mustard powder over me, saying “This is that something that I have wanted to return to you, Remember!?” She ran away and I chased her, just like our old childhood days. I reached her and held her under a tall keyaki (zelkova) tree.
“A shooting star!” Yumi shouted. I asked “Did you make a wish?” Yumi replied, “Yes, of course, but I would not tell you what my wish was, as they say, the wish may not come true if you tell it to other people.” Then, there was another shooting star, which I was able see this time. Yumi said, “The next one is for Yusuke, all right?” I said, “Of course”. We waited, and waited, but there were no more shooting stars that night.
I was sent to a boarding school near Oxford for three years. I wrote to Yusuke and Yumi, but my letters were returned with stamps indicating that their addresses had been changed. Their mother died of illness shortly after my departure, while their father was married to another woman. Yusuke lived with his grandmother in the suburbs of Tokyo, while Yumi was adopted by her aunt and her husband living in Kobe. After three years in England, I decided to come back to Japan and entered an English-style private university in Tokyo (supposedly, Rikkyo [St. Paul’s] University) which had the reputation of being strong in international studies. When I was walking on the campus my first day at the college, somebody called from behind, “Tomokazu!” That was Yusuke. We said to each other, “what in the world are you doing here?!”; a happy surprise of re-encounter. I found that he had also entered the law faculty.
Yusuke and I decided to join the karate club as well as the international law study club for our extracurricular activities. The karate club was on the verge of collapse with no members remaining. According to the manager, female senior student, Satoko Kamiyama (the name Satoko literally means “an intelligent girl”), tennis and sky clubs were nowadays most popular while old fashioned clubs such as sumo, judo and karate which require strict training were least welcome among students. Yusuke, as chief of the karate club, successfully reconstructed it from scratch with Satoko’s brilliant guidance despite all the difficulties. When Satoko graduated from the university, thirty members of the club lined up in the karate uniforms to honor her in front of the auditorium where the commencement ceremony took place. Understandably, Satoko was in tears. Yusuke was also in tears, which was a bit unnatural, I felt.
Both Yusuke and I took a freshman seminar on the basic reading in social science given by Professor Sakamoto, who was known for his extreme strictness in teaching the course. He expelled those who were unprepared for the seminar instantly in the form of “open execution”. The seminar’s teaching assistant was Mr. Takahashi, a post-doctorate, who was by contrast a very tender-hearted, kind person. The seminar began initially with 25 students, but unable to stand the harsh demands of the professor, nine students withdrew at an early stage. I learned a lot in this seminar, and everybody who has successfully endured the professor’s “persecution” had the same thoughts. Yusuke was the top student of the seminar and demonstrated the highest quality of brilliance throughout the year.
However, at the last meeting of the seminar, Professor Sakamoto in front of the students said with contemptuous tone to Mr. Takahashi, “I thought there would be one or two students at least who would meet the standard, after all the training we gave them. This year, however, our efforts look fruitless, don’t they?” Mr. Takahashi defended us, though rather weakly, saying “Well, Professor, I think they did good work….” At that point, Yusuke shouted to the professor angrily, “Wasn’t it because of the lack of competence on the part of the teachers? You, son of bitch, it is You who should be blamed!” Everybody in the seminar was trembling for fear of the last “open execution”. But Professor Sakamoto said with a smile, “That was the only sensible thing you uttered in this seminar”. Relief and laughter followed with applause for Professor Sakamoto, for our leader Yusuke, and everybody else in the seminar.
During our sophomore year, Yusuke and I concentrated on the study of the basic law subjects, including international law taught by Professor Sakamoto. We were also very active in the international law club, participating in the Jessup Moot Court competition. The “Problem” this year was on international terrorism, modeled after the Achille Lauro incident of 1985. Ten students participating in the competition at our university were divided into two groups, representing the mythical nations of Shangri and Yokum. Yusuke was the leader of the former country, while I acted as leader of the latter. Five students were selected by the university’s internal competition, including Yusuke, myself, another boy Matsumura and two girls, Tomoko Kobayasi and Yuko Asai. One of the female students who had worked very hard, only to fail, became so upset that she instantly sold all her international law books to Book-Off (used book store), and changed her major from law to economics. (She was later admitted to the prestigious Graduate School of Economics of the University of Tokyo, becoming a successful economist).
Our team won a national championship, beating Tokyo, Kyoto and Waseda Universities’, thus we went to Washington, DC, to compete with 40 teams coming from more than 30 countries. (A number of amusing episodes are inserted in the course of competitions which had to be omitted here.)
While in Washington, DC, we were invited to dinner by a group of Georgetown law students. Their law school’s merit was said to be that it is located right next to the US Supreme Court. Also “advantageous” was their location in a high-crime district. After having had dinner at the cafeteria, five of us came out of the building trying to find a taxi to get back to the hotel. Then we found a couple being surrounded and threatened by a group of “bad guys”. The couple, who looked familiar, turned out to be the Jessup Competition participants from Poland who had also been visiting Georgetown. Yusuke jumped out to help the couple. I followed him. One of the criminals attacked with an iron bar, but for Yusuke this was an easy match. His counterattack sank the guy instantly.
The Japanese team became instantly famous among the Jessup students. On the following day, the last match, the one with the New Zealand team, was on the agenda. Tomoko was not in good shape today. A judge asked twenty questions at the same time, and she became confused. She might have felt insulted, and when she finished her pleadings and came back to her seat, she started weeping. I was upset about Tomoko, because I felt that someone who wished to work for law professionally in future should not show his or her tears in public.
Yusuke by contrast was very eloquent. When all the judges finished their questions, Professor Bishop who acted as the chief judge asked (probably because he wanted to compensate for the harsh treatment of Tomoko by his colleague on the bench): “I know this is a rather stupid question, but I cannot help asking it as I have heard of your good job of rescuing our foreign guests yesterday. My question is: Is there anything in common between kurate (like many Americans, he was not able to pronounce karate correctly) and adjudication?” Yusuke replies: “It is quite a pertinent question, your honor, and I am glad that you raised it. Litigation is a “battle” with principles and rules but it is based on the mutual respect for our counterparts, calling each other “learned counsels”. This is precisely the spirit of karate. Karate is fought in accordance with “kata” (forms) that have been established by predecessors through their tremendous efforts. These “forms” are comparable to the rules and standards in law. You apply them adjusting to the actual situation of the “battle”, which is so similar to the process of interpretation and application of legal rules. I trust that you will support the orthodox method of interpretation and application of the relevant rules employed by our team Yokum.”
Then, the New Zealand’s team leader, Jim Baxter, requested permission to speak. Everybody anticipated that he would raise an objection to the irrelevant exchanges between Judge Bishop and Yusuke. On the contrary, Baxter said: “I agree with the basic assumptions of karate and litigation elaborated by the learned counsel of Yokum. However, I believe that both his idea about the karate “forms” and his method of legal argument are a little too conservative. The interpretation and application of legal rules employed by our country Shangri are more flexible and accordingly more appropriate for international law. The same flexibility is suited for the application of “forms” in karate. Recently, I have been given a black belt by a Wellington karate center, and so, I would like to propose that the honorable court hold a karate match to decide on which side of the argument is more convincing.” Everybody in the room welcomed this astonishing proposal, knowing of course it was a joke.
Thus, a demonstration of karate forms was given at the reception in the evening. We let Tomoko fight with Jim.
The Japanese team’s result was two wins and two losses in the Jessup Competition, which was quite good for a Japanese team. We were all twenty years old, and we had just started studying international law, while other foreign participants were three or four years more advanced in their studies. The secret was that we had extremely good lady interpreters: one worked for the UN and the other was studying at a law school in the United States. Both were former students of Professor Sakamoto, so knowledgeable in international law and extremely fluent in English.
We moved to New York after completion of the Jessup competition. The girls wanted to go to Tiffany’s at the Fifth Avenue, so we went there first. Being unable to buy anything with the money they had, however, they only took pictures in front of the store. Then, we visited the UN, Columbia University, Washington Square, the Statute of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the usual sightseeing spots. We even saw a Broadway musical, a remake of “Westside Story”. The last evening before going back to Tokyo, we planned to have dinner at the famous restaurant, “Windows of the World”, located at the top-floor of the World Trade Center. Finding that the prices were so high, we ran away from it, and came to “Chen’s Shanghai” in nearby Chinatown. Yusuke talked about his dream of working at the WTC in future as it is the financial center of the world. If his dream became true, he promised, he would invite all of us to the “Window of the World”.
Junior and senior years pass rather quickly. I concentrated on the study of international law under Professor Sakamoto. I assumed that Yusuke would also take the same seminar, but he did not. He selected the international trade law seminar instead, by which I was a bit puzzled. I spent much of my time writing a thesis on the right of self-defense, while Yusuke seemed to have enjoyed his study of international trade law. A lot of discussions between us on the nature of these laws (omitted). Also were described a few episodes about our classmates, such as Tomoko marrying Jim Baxter from New Zealand. Yusuke dated with Satoko Kamiyama who now worked for an insurance company, but nobody had any doubt that they were just friends as Yusuke was three years younger than Satoko.
One winter day, I saw Yumi, Yusuke’s younger sister, when she came up to Tokyo from Kobe to take entrance exams for the colleges where she was applying. I was twenty one and she was eighteen. The meeting was originally planned by Yusuke, but he was not able to join us for something happened beyond his control. So, two of us went for dinner, and after the delightful dinner, we had a first kiss. We liked each other, and it was splendid at first, but after some time, it went wrong. Neither of us was ready for love, and we departed with a desperate feeling that evening. It started to snow. I heard later that Yumi had decided to join a college in Kobe, though she was accepted by a few colleges in Tokyo, probably to avoid me, as I thought to myself.
After graduation, I enrolled at Columbia Law School, while Yusuke started to work for a bank in Tokyo. Yusuke’s first job was to help reconstruct a failing publishing company by way of an operational tie-up with an advertisement firm. He was successful in handling the job in a number of respects, and three years later, he was selected to study at Harvard Business School.
I was most surprised to hear the news that Yusuke was getting married to Satoko. Their wedding party was held at a Japanese style inn. The highlight of the party was the karate students’ demonstration of “forms”. I met Yumi here after not seeing her for three years. She told me that she would be working for Kobe city office’s welfare section after graduation from college. I thought perhaps we could get along well this time, and asked if she was available for lunch the next day before she was to go back to Kobe. She said “Yes!”. So, just as I was explaining the location of the restaurant, Yuko Asai, who was now an active investment banker, came up to me, and taking my arm, she said “Let’s go for a drink. Don’t let me be alone tonight”. She was drunk. I noticed that Yumi’s face turning pale. I tried to explain to Yumi, but she left without a word.
During the two years when Yusuke stayed in Cambridge, he was asked to teach a karate class for young boys at a Japanese-owned karate school in Boston, which he agreed. He was particularly fond of a Lebanese-American boy, Salem Omari, then sixteen years old. He was a very serious and hard-working young man concerned with the situation of the people in the Middle East, particularly the children there (so different from the unconcerned ordinary Japanese boys of his age). Salem liked Japan, he said, because Japan had won a war with Russia in 1905, and because Japanese had fought bravely against the US and UK during the Second World War. Yusuke replied to him that he had a totally wrong perception about present-day Japan, that Japan was now a peaceful nation, and that no Japanese wanted any more war.
After two years at Harvard, Yusuke returned to Tokyo to work for the headquarters of his bank. For my part, I finally obtained a JSD from Columbia, and got a job at the UN Legal Office. (A few interesting episodes and gossip about my UN colleagues are omitted here.) As a legal officer, I was involved in the work of drafting conventions on the suppression of terrorist bombings and terrorist financing. I heard that Yumi, Yusuke’s sister, who had been working for the Kobe City Office, was very actively involved in rescuing the victims of the earth-quake stricken Kobe.
In 1999, Yusuke came back to Cambridge to work for the Boston Branch of his bank. The first thing he did was to look for Salem, his karate student, but he was unable to find him. It was said that he and his family had returned to Lebanon.
I saw Yusuke quite frequently because he came to his bank’s New York Branch office at the WTC at least once a month. I also visited their home in North Cambridge, Mass. I was invited there on their 7th marriage anniversary. It was early summer of the year 2000. Yusuke showed me a wrist-watch that his wife Satoko had given him for the occasion. It was a solidly made Japanese Seiko watch easily adjustable to different time zones which was convenient for Yusuke who traveled a lot between continents.
That night, I remember that I talked about my Russian boss, Ushakov: “He always wants us to put in writing whatever information we have for him. At one point, there was a crazy self-claimed writer in New Jersey. He went to a publisher asking to publish his novel, only to be turned down. He was so angry that he took off in a small airplane which belong to his friend, and declared to the control tower that he was going to crash his airplane into the publisher’s building which was located just in front of the UN Building on the First Avenue. Just in case, everybody had to be evacuated from the UN Building. Ushakov was sitting next to the chairman at the Sixth Committee of the UN General Assembly. The UN security guard rushed to him and delivered the order. Do you know what Ushakov said? He said, “Put it in writing. I cannot cancel the meeting without a document.” The guard said, “This is emergency!”, but Ushakov never listened to him. Ushakov contributed a lot to our happy dinner that evening.
In late August, 2001, I met Yusuke at Chen’s Shanghai in Chinatown for lunch. He had just come back from Japan where the 17th anniversary service was held with his relatives for his mother at a Buddhist temple. Yusuke uttered, “It would be nice if my sister Yumi would marry somebody like you…” I was at a loss what to say. I knew that I was going to say “Yes! I would like to marry her too!”, but I did not know how to express myself. When I was about to say so, Yusuke’s mobile phone rang. When he was talking to his colleague on the phone, I was determined to propose to Yumi and to tell Yusuke my intention. However, when Yusuke finished his call, he was already in his “work-mode”: he said, “Something urgent came up at the office, and I have to get back immediately”. He left, walking toward WTC, waving his right hand backward, which was the last time I saw Yusuke.
That night, I wrote a long letter to Yumi and asked her to marry me, which I sent by Fedex. Five days later, I received her reply by express mail, accepting my proposal. I called her on the phone, but I was too overwhelmed to say more than a few words. I thought I should talk to her face to face and as soon as possible. It was difficult to persuade Ushakov give me a leave of absence from office, as it was just before the General Assembly session, but in the end he agreed that I might go to Japan and come back to New York in four days.
I arrived at Kobe on September 10, 2001, and Yumi and I were engaged. My present to her was of course an engagement ring which I had purchased at the Tiffany’s. Yumi was radiant to receive it, and it was the happiest day of my life. Yumi’s aunt looked very relieved and said “Now I can give the news to Yumi’s mother whenever I go to Heaven”.
The following day, September 11, Yumi took me to various sites of the reconstructed Kobe in the morning, and we talked about our future till late in the evening. After dinner, I walked her home. I was to leave Kobe for New York early next morning, and I said goodbye to her in front of her house. Yumi wanted me to stay for a tea “just for one more hour, please!”. So, we went in. It was just before 10 pm (9 am in NY). Yumi switched on the TV, and alas!, the WTC was burning…
Yusuke was on board of the United Flight 93 which crashed at Shanksville, Pa. (Events that took place in the airplane are taken from the 9/11 Commission Report, pp. 4-14, 28-46). I was able to read the confidential report on Yusuke prepared by Peter Smith, my roommate during our law school days, who had been working as a staff member of the 9/11 Commission (this is of course a fiction).
Yusuke and Salem recognized each other in the plane. Salem was now 21 years old. He had been trained in an al Qaeda camp instead of being enrolled in a university in Lebanon. Yusuke shouted to him “How in the world can you be involved in such a thing!” Salem insisted that this was Jihad or a holy war. Yusuke said that there was no such a thing as a just war, but that every war was evil.
Salem: “Teacher, you taught us in karate that we could defend ourselves without weapons. We have no weapons to fight against imperialism and colonialism from which our people suffer so much. We are fighting by the model of the kamikaze attacks that brave Japanese fought against America.”
Yusuke: “That was the most stupid method of warfare. But, at least, the kamikaze fighters were targeting military objects, and never involved innocent civilians.”
Salem, almost in tears: “It may be so, but in any event, it is too late, as we are all going to die.”
Yusuke: “Never too late. Yes, we may die, but listen, Salem, it matters how we die. Do we want to die as righteous persons, or …?” One of Salem’s fellow hijackers noticed what was going on with Salem and Yusuke. He pointed his pistol to Yusuke. Salem shouted: “Don’t use a gun in the plane!” The terrorist said, “Don’t worry, I will be careful not to shoot the walls”, and he pulled the trigger. At that moment, Salem put his body in front of Yusuke. The bullet stopped inside Salem’s body. The next moment, Yusuke threw the terrorist down. Before Salem’s last breath, he said to Yusuke, “It was so good to see you again…”
A spirit of defiance against the terrorists emerged among the passengers amid the desperation. They voted, and decided to take over the plane… The voice was heard from a mobile phone, “Let’s Roll!”. A few months later, Yusuke’s watch that his wife Satoko had given him for their 7th anniversary was recovered from the ruins of Shanksville.
On that mid-night of September 11 in Kobe, Yumi went mad. She was not able to accept the fact that her beloved brother would never come back. She was now totally a different person from what she had been until that evening of September 11. She said that UN was useless: “What are you doing here. You are useless. At least we saved thousands of people when the quake hit Kobe. You are not doing anything.” She threw the engagement ring back to me, saying that she would not marry me. She threw a flower base to the television set, which exploded. She fainted, and was hospitalized.
A few months later, I was helping Satoko in Cambridge to pack the family belongings, as she was shortly to go back to Tokyo with her five year old son. When I said to her that “I am no longer interested either in international law nor UN…”, Satoko became so angry. She said, “You may not know, but Yusuke also wanted to study international law at the university, but because you were so good, he declined to continue studying the subject. He always admired you. That is why he changed to trade and financial law. Now, you are saying that you are no longer interested in international law. What can I say? You are making Yusuke’s life meaningless.”
I realized that I was wrong, and that it was my duty to continue my work on international law. I wrote to Professor Sakamoto about my situation. He replied by inviting me to take a position at a newly established faculty of international studies.
Yumi finally recovered from her illness after a fierce inner struggle, thus overcoming terrorism in her own way. Having heard of her recovery, I immediately went back to Kobe. We held each other tight for a long, long time.
So, now, I am teaching at my Alma Mater. When I was walking along the campus, I thought that somebody was calling my name from behind. I thought it was Yusuke just like sixteen years ago.
Yumi and I are married now, and live in a small house in the Tokyo suburbs. The happy news is that we are having our first child in some six months. Following the doctor’s advice, we walk a lot as Yumi needs exercise. When we get tired, we sit on the bench overlooking the Tama River.
Yumi: “Do you remember that we saw the shooting stars the evening before your departure to London?” Do you know what wish I made at that time?”
I: “If you tell that to other people, your wish may not come true, right?”
Yumi: “That’s all right, because my wish has been realized now. That was to get married to you!”
I: “I thought so too!”
Yumi: “I thought that you thought so too”.
I: “Nowadays, we don’t see shooting stars. Is it because it is too bright around here?”
Yumi: “Maybe so…”
Then, on the sudden, Yumi shouted: “A Shooting Star!” The trace of the light was deeply imprinted in our hearts.