The Tsunami which engulfed Japan on March 11, 2011, is recorded as starting at 2:46 p.m. local time. This is the exact time when the great sea monster with glass eyes and scales made of jade awakes from a deep slumber. As his great shuttered lids start to push upwards displacing thousands of tons of shimmering silt on the sea bed, the people of Sendai at first feel only a slight shudder, barely enough to shake the tassels on a lampshade.
The creature is Okasa, the only son of Jishin Namazu, the bringer of deathly water. He flexes his muscles, feeling the wall of rock jab into his spine which stretches for some three hundred miles in a geological fault off the north east coast of Japan. The gargantuan plates grind as he wriggles his tail and thrusts the first battery of shockwaves which hurtle along beneath the ocean, heading towards the north east coastline. He opens his vast mouth to take in a gulp of seawater to swill his fetid mouth, unleashing another immense power surge which travels through the water at the speed of a jet plane towards the Sendai coast. When it hits the mile high ridge beneath the surface the water rears up, a great wall of welling ocean ready to strike.
Takeo is ready for the coming disaster for he and Okasa are old friends. Outwardly, Takeo Tanaka is a smart business man who has been making wise investments, until recently. His slick, silk, raven-black hair glistening with a cobalt-blue hue and his chiselled jaw line gives him the appearance of a manga hero. Inwardly, Takeo is no ordinary man, and steeped in tales of a mythical past, he is Daidarabotchi, a powerful giant responsible for forming this exquisite archipelago in the volcanic straits of the North Pacific Ocean.
He who lovingly formed the sweet and ethereal islands of Japan will not take Okasa’s threat lying down. He considers everything contained in this place, the most beautiful country on earth, sacred. The jagged mountain ranges like razor sharp teeth, the opulent glades dripping with cascades of purple wisteria and crimson spider lily, the sapphire and emerald lakes glittering like jewels in prince’s crown, even the gleaming sky scrapers in the cities scratching the underbelly of the heavens make his heart swell with pride.
Niko has no idea that her husband has discovered such a pedigree, nor that their son must therefore be part man, part giant. As the great tower of water heads full tilt for the eastern seaboard of Japan, its curved waves splashed with white foam only pausing for a second before striking the inauspicious flatlands north of the Abakuma River, they are thankfully at home on the fiftieth floor of the Midtown Building, Tokyo, in their suite in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. She is blissfully unaware of the battle in which her husband is about to engage, a far cry from the deal wrangling boardrooms of his demanding regular day job, while the boy Teru happily plays with a large toy truck with real headlights. As she listens to his blissful babbling, she becomes aware of a change in the air pressure. Her ears pop. The atmosphere seems to be holding its breath, as if trying to pretend it isn’t there. Nevertheless, she attributes it to living so high up, and thinks nothing of it until she happens to look out of the window.
Takeo has seen enough from his vantage point in his office. He must confront Okasa. His pretty personal assistant, Aimi, tries to get through to him. Her concern is increasing following the deal-breaker collapse with Vladimir, the latest Russian oligarch on Takeo’s list. He has not been himself for some time.
‘Tanaka San,’ she says, only the slightest hint of desperation showing in her voice,’ the tsunami is upon us. We must find high ground.’
Takeo turns to stare at her, his dark brown eyes almost black, his straight eye brows dipping in the middle like a bridge breaking in a storm. His voice, when it comes, is much deeper than usual. He fires the words as if spitting out balls of lead;
‘Ushi no toki mairi.’ The walls of the office shake as if they were made of paper. The light fitting above their heads quivers, but it is not this which makes the girl go pale. He says it again; the ancient curse to summon a yokai;
‘Ushi no toki mairi.’ The old stories say that uttering the summons three times will bring the fearsome yokai to the aid of the speaker. In modern Japan, the stories are a far cry from the days of yore, but the way he says it frightens her. And she can’t really be sure whether it is the tsunami shaking the walls or the force of some long undead creature coming to her employer’s aid.
She shakes herself free of the ridiculous notion. They have to get out of here. She can see the sky blackening through the window and hear the shouts of frightened people. There is the far off sound of rushing water.
‘Tanaka San!’ she cries out, now desperate for him to follow her, hoping the uncharacteristic volume in her voice will make him snap out of whatever psychosis is gripping him. She knows that fear can make people behave in strange ways. She offers her hand and starts for the door, but he brushes it aside and runs for it, bursting the door open with a guttural kiai. She can hear his rapid descent as he clatters down the corridor into the quickly rising water. She follows him with some relief that at least he is leaving the building, but also a tinge of fear. As he exploded through the doorway, she was convinced there were sparks coming out of his eyes.
Niko is peering through the window trying to focus on the fuzzy white line on the horizon. It is normally a broad stroke of blue somewhere above the clusters of geometric concrete sprouting up seven hundred feet below like digital mushrooms. Something doesn’t feel right. The quiet humming of Teru as he makes engine noises while moving his truck on the back of the sofa seems to fade as it slowly dawns on her what the thickening white line means. Tsunami.
With that realisation, she has a sudden sinking sensation, like an elevator dropping to the next floor too quickly. She has an overwhelming urge to scoop up Teru and run till she realises, that on the fiftieth floor, she is probably in the best place to survive a tsunami. Now she has the word in her mind, she can feel the building swaying. A nauseous feeling overtakes her and she has to sit down. Teru spots her and toddles over to cling to her knee, a crumpled expression upon his sweet face. She wonders what other people are doing and another realisation hits her like a train. The walls in one of the most expensive places to live in the world are built to ensure privacy, so silence is to be expected. But a cursory examination of the immediate corridors and a few doorbells later she finds that she and Teru appear to be the only people up there. And with that understanding comes the third thing to bowl her over; her husband is in the office today, next to the coast. The elevator in her stomach drops another three floors and she moans, gripping Teru to her chest making him whimper. She picks him up and goes over to the window, an activity he normally finds calming as he coos over the astonishing view. But he must sense his mother’s anxiety as she gazes at the sinister white line wavering under the stained skies, its very existence unnerving. For a second she imagines how it must feel to be there and she is deafened by the screams and the roar of the water and so shuts it out again feeling helpless. She must speak to him. There must be a helpline. She flicks on the television, her worst fears are confirmed.
The screen shows cars being swept down the white water rapids that were once streets. The sound is the old world war two warning siren, for anyone not yet convinced this is an emergency. There is a map of Japan superimposed on the film with a thick red line down the Sendai coastline like a gash indicating where the main danger zone is located. Then the picture changes to show people running wild, people being knocked over by rushes of water, a voiceover telling people to stay away, a number to ring for news of loved ones. Thankfully, she snatches up her cell phone and presses the numbers. Engaged. Now she has the number she can keep fetching it from the phone’s memory every eight seconds till someone picks up.
When Aimi gets out of the building, Takeo is nowhere to be seen. All she can do is follow the people sloshing through the churning water heading for the nearest tall building several blocks away. People from all walks of life are sailing past in one way or another; men wading up to their chests with several small children on their shoulders, makeshift buoyancy aids holding up women with sad faces, and the street, taxis and cars floating by with people on the roofs. Aimi desperately scours the faces to see if any is Takeo but none is. He has gone, taken his chances, followed his demon.
After twenty three attempts someone does pick up. Niko is so thankful she can hardly remember what she is supposed to be saying. She is aware she is babbling, blathering, getting words mixed up, and the person on the end of the line is trying to inject some order into the proceedings. Neither is making a connection with the other. Eventually she manages to shout her husband’s name into the phone; ‘Takeo Tanaka,’ she shouts, ‘Takeo Tanaka,’ as if the person didn’t hear. Then she is overcome with a tearful gulping sob as the person says they have not heard that name. She throws the phone onto the floor and stands rocking Teru in her arms.
Takeo has Okasa’s dappled face firmly in mind as he pushes the other way against the people, against the water, against reason, heading for the coast. He feels the strength of ten men as he goes to meet his nemesis. After all these centuries their day has come. He will confront the monster in his true guise, he will punish the wretch for daring to rise up against his beloved country, now plunged into a seething, broiling soup of dun coloured water.
‘Ushi no toki mairi,’ he shouts, into the watery air, and feels the yokai he has summoned carry him along, pushing off any who try to make him turn round and go to safety. ‘Ushi no toki mairi,’ he jibbers. To all who observe him he is a mad man, but in his mind he is a prophet, at one with the ethereal beings at his side in their grey shrouds and imbued with the strength of ten oxen. They carry him along, one at each shoulder till they get to the roaring mouth of the beast still rolling in with breaker after breaker smashing his country to pieces. In his mind’s eye he sees the maw of his foe, laughing at him, taunting him, beneath the waves. With a final cry, he drives into it, feeling his spiritual companions pulling him down, down, further down than he ever thought was possible.
After what seems like hours, with the spectacular sunset lighting up the apartment, Niko awakes from where she had fallen asleep on the floor. Teru is playing with his truck watching its headlights throw beams into the gloom. For a moment she has forgotten her despair of before, cocooned as she is in the luxurious building seven hundred feet above the bustling Tokyo streets. She feels a chill as her doorbell chimes. She wraps a shawl around herself and goes to see who it can be. Then, as her memories return, she almost runs to the door, hoping for news of her husband.
Yes! Through the spyhole she can see three figures, one has the same glorious hair, that ebony black tinged with blue. She feels a surge of warmth as she fumbles to open the door, but when she does her mouth falls open and her face freezes in horror. The two figures in grey melt into nothing, leaving the watery wraith of her husband, his hair matted and festooned with sea debris, and his body wearing nothing but a shroud. She sinks to her knees, for now she has got her answer.