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Lions Roar : March 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN MArcH 2011 73 “I didn’t have a personal relationship with the man, though he had seemed a bit strange,” the woman managing their apart- ment complex said. “I didn’t notice any indi- cations of ruckus related to debt collection.” When told that he may have had a heavy loan burden, she said, “It could be true. It does seem that he enjoyed pachinko and gambling, but I just really can’t say for sure. We’re not supposed to speak about that in public or to the media, even if it was true.” another resident, a middle-aged wom- an working part-time, said: “We were liv- ing in the same apartment building, but I never got to know him. I may have met him before, but I can’t place his face. Since I’ve moved into this complex, I haven’t gotten acquainted much with those liv- ing around me. yesterday, I was told that someone else, the wife of the person living in room 201, had died. I thought it must have been a double suicide, but it wasn’t. She just killed herself. It probably would have been helpful if she had someone to confide in, but it seems that she had no one she could talk to.” Questioning the owner of a pub next door resulted in: “I am not familiar with the man. If he was a customer, I would most likely recognize his name.” on the first floor of the complex was a beauty salon, but questioning was not possible due to tuesday being the salon’s off day. an attempt to gain further clues from speaking with someone in the salon was set for the following day, as was a visit with the elderly woman working at the nearby ramen shop, which I hoped would give me something to go on. I came back the next day. no luck. It’s amazing to me that people can live in an apartment complex right next to each other for years and not know each other at all, not even in passing. this was the case with the akutagawa family. they had no friends; they had no social life or interaction with the neighbors. mr. akutagawa lost his job, they ran out of money, and they made a suicide pact. a lot of japanese people hate to ask others for help—even close friends. that was the whole story. all they could tell me at mr. akutagawa’s former company was that he worked hard and didn’t talk much. Work was slow, they had to let people go and mr. akutagawa wasn’t young or fast or par- ticularly good at building. So they laid him off. he’d only been work- ing there a few weeks. I went back to the totsuka police station and asked them whether they had found anything else about the husband and wife or the circumstances leading up to the suicide. the detective showed me the note he had left behind; it was addressed to no one—they didn’t have any children. the note said simply: “don’t worry about us. We’ve been dead for a long time. Sorry, we didn’t clean up before we left. We didn’t have the energy.” Very japanese, very apologetic. the police had found some very nasty letters in the akutaga- was’ mailbox from a loan company backed by the yamaguchi- gumi, japan’s largest yakuza, or crime syndicate. debt collectors had shown up at his workplace. he was apparently being threat- ened and harassed at regular intervals. Still, the suicide couldn’t really be blamed on the loan sharks, the detective told me, at least not in a criminal justice sense. I asked when and where the funeral would be held, but the po- lice said no one had claimed the bodies. they were muenbotoke, literally “buddhas without connections.” there was no one to mourn for them. there was no one who would miss them, pine for them. at least not in tokyo. there would be an ad put in the paper, and if no one came forward, the cremated ashes would be taken to a temple on the outskirts of the megalopolis. the detective asked whether I could write something in the paper, but I didn’t have enough for a story. I told him as much. he nodded. I asked him where the temple was and he told me. I checked back with him two weeks later. the ashes had been moved there. I took a cab to the temple, and the priest showed me where they housed the ashes. there were about three stories of urns in the pagoda dedicated to the muenbotoke. on one floor there were the ashes of children and infants—who’d had loved ones. Some- one had stuck a photo of one child onto his urn. a cute kid, little round face with big lips, fuzzy eyebrows, and wearing a navy blue hanshin tigers baseball cap. the priest took me to where the ashes of mr. and mrs. akutagawa were stored. I lit a stick of incense, put my hands together, mumbled the only Buddhist prayer I could remember and left. By now, the ashes of the akutagawas have probably been evicted or displaced by the ashes of other muenbotoke. this happens. When family members don’t pay the upkeep fees on gravestones and burial plots in japan, the remains are moved and new tenants are sought. even the dead can only rent in tokyo. I think I’ll still visit the temple this summer anyway and pay my respects to the akutagawas before even the memory of their memory is gone. It seems like the least I can do. everybody needs someone to mourn them. I hope that when my time comes, there’s someone who will do the same for me. I can’t tell you why that’s even important to me, but it is. ♦