AZUO ISHIGURO: A FAMILY SUPPER
Fugu is a fish caught off the Pacific shores of Japan. The fish has held a special significance for me ever since my mother died through eating one. The poison resides in the sexual glands of the fish, inside two fragile bags. When preparing the fish, these bags must be removed with caution, for any clumsiness will result in the poison leaking into the veins.Regrettably, it is not easy to tell whether or not this operation has been carried out successfully. The proof is, as it were, in the eating.
Fugu poisoning is hideously painful and almost always fatal. If the fish has been eaten during the evening, the victim is usually overtaken by pain during his sleep. He rolls about in agony for a few hours and is dead by morning. The fish became extremelypopular in Japan after the war. Until stricter regulations were imposed, it was all the rage to perform the hazardous gutting operation in one's own kitchen, then to invite neighbours and friends round for the feast.
At the time of my mother's death, I was living in California. My relationship with my parents had become somewhat strained around that period, and consequently I did not learn of thecircumstances surrounding her death until I returned to Tokyo two years later. Apparently, my mother had always refused to eat fugu, but on this particular occasion she had made an exception, having been invited by an old schoolfriend whom she was anxious not to offend. It was my father who supplied me with the details as we drove from the airport to his house in the Kamakura district. When wefinally arrived, it was nearing the end of a sunny autumn day,
'Did you eat on the plane?' my father asked. We were sitting on the tatami floor of his tea-room.
'They gave me a light snack.'
'You must be hungry. We'll eat as soon as Kikuko arrives.'
My father was a formidable-looking man with a large stony jaw and furious black eyebrows. I think now in retrospect that he much resembled ChouEn-lai, although he would not have cherished such a comparison, being particularly proud of the pure samurai blood that ran in the family. His general presence was not one which encouraged relaxed conversation; neither were things helped much by his odd way of stating each remark as if it were the concluding one. In fact, as I sat opposite him that afternoon, a boyhood memory came back to me of thetime he had struck me several times around the head for 'chattering like an old woman'. Inevitably, our conversation since my arrival at the airport had been punctuated by long pauses.
'I'm sorry to hear about the firm,' I said when neither of us had spoken for some time. He nodded gravely.
'In fact the story didn't end there,' he said. 'After the firm's collapse, Watanabe killed himself.He didn't wish to live with the disgrace.'
'We were partners for seventeen years. A man of principle and honour. I respected him very much.'
'Will you go into business again?' I asked.
'I am - in retirement. I'm too old to involve myself in new ventures now. Business these days has become so different. Dealing with foreigners. Doing things their way. I don't understand how we'vecome to this. Neither did Watanabe.' He sighed. 'A fine man. A man of principle.'
The tea-room looked out over the garden. From where I sat I could make out the ancient well which as a child I had believed haunted. It was just visible now through the thick foliage. The sun had sunk low and much of the garden had fallen into shadow.
'I'm glad in any case that you've decided to come back,' myfather said. 'More than a short visit, I hope.'
'I'm not sure what my plans will be.'
'I for one am prepared to forget the past. Your mother too was always ready to welcome you back - upset as she was by your behaviour.'
'I appreciate your sympathy. As I say, I'm not sure what my plans are.'
'I've come to believe now that there were no evil intentions in your mind,' my father continued....
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