Wednesday, May 01, 2019

THE SWORD. (The adventures of Ken and Sharon.)

The adventures of Ken and Sharon.

by Ken Mogi


"Long time no see," said Jones.
"Yes, Indeed," responded Ken.
They were standing on a busy street in Tokyo, in front of a Starbucks. The rumbling sound of a passing train came through the air, like the walking studs of a gigantic imaginative dinosaur.
Jones worked for a media company based in New York. It has been a few years since he was relocated to Tokyo.
Ken was born and raised in a Buddhist temple in Fukui prefecture. He was meant to succeed his father as the chief priest, but he postponed it after some rudimentary training and fled to a college in New York. That's when Jones and Ken met. 
Ken's physique was lean, and his movements were vivace. He had a somewhat subdued facial complexion. When he trained as a priest he shaved his hair as tradition required: Now he just wore it very short, which his friends teased looked like recently mown grass. 
Ken had a mixed background. His mother was a Japanese, while his father was a mix of Chinese, Indonesian, and Dutch origins. It was unusual for his father with this background to assume priesthood in a conservative local city, but it happened anyway. Ken's mother was the only daughter of the 300 years old temple, and Ken's grandfather, himself a priest, welcomed Ken's father as a convenient successor to the institution.  
Jones and Ken bumped into each other at a party thrown in a penthouse. At that time, Jones was still married. For Ken, Jones at that time represented a world he did not and longed to know. Jones was kind, and introduced Ken to his media friends. Jones always teased Ken about when he was going to become a priest. Jones and Ken were never romantically involved. 
Settled in Tokyo, Jones sent e-mails and promised to catch up once Ken graduated from college and came back to Tokyo. When Ken went on to the graduate school of journalism, Jones lamented that he was not sure he would be in Tokyo that long. 
"I might go back to the States, or even more likely, relocate to Shanghai."
Naturally, they could have met up anywhere. Ken could get reunited with Jones in New York, when he came back to see his daughter. Alternatively, Ken could have travelled to Shanghai, should Jones have relocated.
However, for some inexplicable reasons, Ken liked the idea of catching up with Jones in his native town of Tokyo. Ken was not sure what he was thus looking for. Maybe he wanted to see Jones in his familiar background. A new side of Jones might be revealed to Ken then, like an epiphany. 
Actually Ken has been looking for an epiphany all his life. He was not sure if he had ever had one. Ken was always looking around, with the curiosity of a child, although, outwardly, he was slim, well-shaven, and calm, just like a would-be priest. Ken got the idea of epiphany seeking in his life while reading an analysis of Joyce's Dubliners
Or Ken could be searching for something else, though he did not have any definite idea what it actually would be. Maybe Ken could be looking for an adventure, although he was superficially not the type.
For some reasons, Ken did not want to come back to Japan during his study in the United States. He wanted to feel isolated, in order to grow in his inner soul. Although he formally ceased his training as a priest, Ken could be almost meditating. Ken did not miss his family that much. But then, he had not been close to them to begin with. Gradually, Ken began to feel at home in New York, feeling that the air he breathed was so natural. Paradoxically, that was when he realized that he desperately needed to go back to Tokyo, before it was too late, so to speak.
So this was Ken's home coming, perhaps overdue, after six years in the United States, with a master's degree in journalism. It was never in his mind to go back to priesthood, at least on the conscious level. Returning his flat's key to the landlord, Ken was not sure what he was going to do in his life now. He was not going to be a priest in a hurry, although perhaps that was something he could always fall back upon. 
Ken and Jones shook hands, and went through a passage under a railway bridge. Another round of rumbling sound passed over their head.
Tokyo is surely like the apotheosis of a maze of railways and subways, thought Ken, looking at his home town with a renewed insight and excitement of an expatriate of several years. It was as if the worst fears of humanity could be materialized and given a polish, and turned into dazzling results, of what is Tokyo today.
Jones and Ken walked to a building, and went up an elevator.
They found themselves in a corridor full of photos of famous people. Ken recognized some of them. Presidents, prime ministers, and religious leaders. A young Donald Trump was among them. 
"This is the FMJ," said Jones.
Ken knew that FMJ stood for the Foreign Media Club. FMJ was established just after Japan was defeated in the Second World War and General McArthur flew into the land of rising sun. In the heyday of Japan as an uprising economic superpower, many foreign press had placements in Tokyo, reporting the economic, political, social, and cultural news and whatnots from the capital. Famous names included the New York Times, Washington Post, and the usual suspects. Now, the weight of coverage has shifted to Beijing and Shanghai, and there was less buzz in the Tokyo headquarters.  
Even so, there still was an atmosphere of the old school media people in the FMJ, which Ken immediately recognized and liked. 
After all, journalism is rather like a rare plant, which would grow slowly and steadily under the rain and sunshine of constant attention. And the FMJ in Tokyo has been one of the nurturing institutions. 
Jones ordered two beers, on the strength of which they cheered themselves on the reunion.
"How is your book going?"
Jones asked.
Ken readily admitted his stagnation. In New York, Ken confided to Jones that he has always aspired to be a writer, fiction or non-fiction. But then, it was extremely difficult to get oneself published.  
It was true that Ken's book projects were going nowhere. Ken was not even arduously striving any more. Ken had scribed something and then other, from time to time, but it never seemed enough to merit a publication, or even a submission to an agent or publisher. 
Ken wanted to write something about peace, or the different possible approaches to the prevention of warfare. Admittedly it was a difficult theme to tackle, considering the recent missile crisis, and the fact that Ken took a rather idealistic stance did not help. With the advent of artificial intelligence applied to military technologies, with its possible applications to control and delivery of nuclear arsenal, not to mention killer robots, a naive view such as Ken's seemed almost like a joke. It was clear that Ken was out of his depth in this matter, and he knew that, deep down, even without meditation in the temple.   
Ken's life was apparently in a limbo. Perhaps it was partly his own fault. Equally likely, Ken thought, it was due to some circumstances that he could not really help, like the times that were changing.
"You need to have some materials," said Jones, suddenly sounding serious.
"Think of Earnest Hemingway. Of course he did not fight in the Spanish civil war in order to become a novelist, but in retrospect it almost looks as if he did."
Ken remembered, back in New York, Jones once mentioned that his ambition had been to become a novelist, like Hemingway. Jones then said he hadn't written a single line of fiction, ever. Maybe Jones was infusing his zeal into Ken, instead of living his own life fully. Ken was still too young to realize that Jones's attitude was one of the pitfalls for middle aged men. 
"You need to live such a life that materials for stories would come your way, naturally, " continued Jones.
Somehow, Ken felt he was being cornered, inch by inch, emotionally. It was almost like an assault.
"Well, one cannot really live in a utilitarian scheme."
That was the best quip Ken could throw, for the moment.
"I was once aspiring to be a writer myself, but found it difficult to do. So I picked up the present job."
Jones mused, rather redundantly from Ken's perspective, looking in the direction of the Imperial Palace.
Ken felt that the magic of the reunion was fading rather rapidly, although, looking back, his expectations about Jones were perhaps illusory from the beginning. It was similar to the disillusionment he felt towards his father after the magical childhood was gone. Ken looked around in the FMJ, as if to seek help. 
There was a man, in his mid-thirties, with very long wavy blonde hair, like a reggae musician. He was rather stoutly build, and had the appearance of a man whose flesh was ballooning out in every direction, including his face. He was sitting at the counter, apparently absorbed in thought. Unusually for this age, he was not looking at a smartphone or anything, while drinking alone. Although Ken could not see his face, he felt sure it had an interesting impression.
"Who is that guy?"
Ken asked, although he was not certain whether Jones would know the answer.
Jones glanced in that direction.
"Ah, I wouldn't bother him, if I were you," said Jones, in an instant surge of apparent agitation. That made Ken all the more curious.
"Who is that guy, again?"
Jones looked at Ken in a glaring stare. For a moment, Ken thought he was going to be scolded, or even punched in the face. Ken had an uncanny awareness of an imminent violence from childhood. Jones seemed to be trying to control himself at this time.
"He's a nobody, not the sort you would be interested to know, anyway," said Jones in a deliberately calmer tone.
Then he confided, whisperingly. "he's a trouble maker. He's a retired founder of a tech company. He doesn't know how to behave."
"But then, why is he in this club?"
Ken was feeling paradoxically emboldened by Jones's continued agitation.
"Well, anybody is welcome, as long as he or she behaves, within these walls."
Jones continued, rather apologetically.
Ken felt that there was something in Jones's attitude that made him puzzled. Ken could see that Jones was getting listless, second by second.
"He had made a lot of money, that's for sure. But he does nothing these days. He is just fooling around. And yet, he thinks he's better than others. He's an apotheosis of arrogance."
Suddenly Jones decided to leave.
"This is technically a members only bar, but you may want to linger a bit more, finishing that beer," Jones said, and was about to go away, when he turned around, came close to Ken, and whispered.
"His name is Sharon, by the way."
Jones finally walked away without turning back towards Ken, not even once.
Now that he was alone, Ken could barely contain his curiosity for the man with long wavy hair.
Ken was not sure if he was supposed to speak to a stranger in this club. On the other hand, Jones's words, that he was a trouble maker, resonated in his mind.
After a few minutes, during which all points of social pros and cons for an uninvited conversation was weighed, Ken finally stood up and approached the man. 
"May I join you?" asked Ken hesitatingly, with his eyelashes quivering.
Sharon did not answer, but just looked up, and gazed at Ken. Eventually he nodded, as if to acknowledge his existence for the first time.
When he sat in front of Sharon, his personality seemed to grow, both in size and impression.
"I am not a member of this club. I came here with Jones," said Ken apologetically. 
Sharon looked at Ken in a rather sharp glance.
"That's quite all right. I am not a member either. I don't bother to pay the bills."
There was an awkward silence. Ken was not sure what Sharon meant. From all appearances, he seemed to be respectable and abiding.
"I suppose you know Jones?" said Ken, to break the silence.
"O, sure," answered Sharon.
Just then, the monitor on the club wall started to show some news about the British monarchy. There was some procession at the parliament, and the Queen was being led by a man in a glamorous costume. 
"I don't understand this history business. We don't need that in this century. A person is a person. Why should one be designated to be someone special in a nation state just because that person is from a certain familial background, or endowed with a bunch of DNA sequences?"
Ken could not help feeling embarrassed by a man who exhibited such ignorance about the significance of history and tradition. Ken abandoned his priesthood, for the moment at least, but still held a respect for what people would call tradition. At the same time, on the other hand, Ken felt that he had seen enough of such people, and that some of them had been quite talented, 10 out of 10 in the genius scale. Maybe Sharon happened to be one of them. 
Just then, out of the blue, a man in a black suit approached Ken and Sharon. He was a Japanese gentleman in his late fifties, with a dash of grey hair. He was moving like he wished nobody would see him approaching the pair. In other words, he was very discreet.
Ken noticed straight away that something was out of order, looking at the way the man stepped nearer, the countenance, the behavior, the whole ambience. 
Although this was the first time for Ken to be in the Club, he felt sure that this gentleman did not belong there. There was something very unusual about him. Out of place, almost out of the times, really. 
The man sat beside Ken, facing Sharon. His profile revealed a friendly smile on the face, and his demeanor was gentle.  
"I am from over there," said the man, nodding, pointing towards the window. Ken was not quite sure which place he meant, or if the man was deliberately trying to sound casual and ambiguous. 
Sharon looked at the man with apparently growing interest, although he did not offer so much as a smile. 
The man now addressed Sharon directly.
"I hear you are a man of great intellect," said the man.
Sharon's eyebrows vibrated, ever so slightly.
"Well, it would depend on the definition of what you mean by intellect."
It was as if Sharon was implicating what a stupid question that was.
Ken feared Sharon would stand up and go, leaving Ken and the man behind. That would be terrible, thought Ken. For some reasons, Ken feared that he would never see Sharon again, if he left the room at that moment.
However, Sharon did remain, and demanded to know what this was all about. 
"Well, in respect of your great intellect, I have a proposition. Would you solve a mystery for us?"
The man said in a straightforward manner.  
At the mention of the word "mystery," Ken could see that there emerged a light in Sharon's countenance.
"Mystery…a rare word to hear these days," mused Sharon, putting a finger on his chin. 
"I thought that the world has run out of any, not to mention a great one," quipped Sharon. 
"But then, what you regard as mystery might turn out to be an illusion based on insufficient knowledge and lack of logical thinking."
"That may well be so," said the man.
"Whatever your opinion on mystery in general may be, would you help us solve this one?"
"That depends on what specific mystery you are talking about."
"All right, I will tell you, straight away, although this is quite irregular," said the main in black suit.
"My name is Ryogo Suzuki, by the way."
Mr. Suzuki gave his name card, in the polite way a Japanese would usually handle such an important social symbolism. 
"The Chief Palace Secretary" was the simple denomination on the card. Ken then remembered seeing Mr. Suzuki's face in a newspaper article a few days ago. Recently, there had been a lot of press coverage about the Imperial Household, for one reason or other.
Sharon received the card, absent-minded. He appeared to be acting as if nothing in the world mattered less than the fact the man standing in front of him was the top official serving the world's oldest hereditary monarchy.
"You meant you came from the Imperial Palace when you mentioned you were from over there," said Sharon, and Mr. Suzuki nodded.
"So what do you want with me?" asked Sharon, without any trace of respect. Mr. Suzuki did not seem to mind.
"I want you to make an impossible search," said Mr. Suzuki.
"Impossible?" repeated Sharon, apparently offended.
"Yes, impossible." said Mr. Suzuki. "It is impossible even with your intellect."
Sharon's eyes glittered, not in a nice way.
"Well, you wait and see!" cried Sharon, in an almost triumphant manner.
Mr. Suzuki stayed calm, fitting for a person who was quite assured of his position. Anyone with keen observation could have seen his clever tactic to excite Sharon's attention and commitment, Ken recalled later.
"I said, it was a logically impossible mission, as a matter of fact," said Mr. Suzuki with the calmness of a morning lake.
Ken was quite bemused. If the mission was logically impossible, why did Mr. Suzuki bother to ask Sharon to do it?
"But it may not be impossible for me," retorted Sharon.
"Precisely," said Mr. Suzuki.
"With your intellect, you might make the impossible possible."
"Why don't you say what this bloody mystery is, then?" spat out Sharon.
"Shall we take a walk?" Mr. Suzuki suddenly stood up. Sharon followed, with fiery eyes, as if to meet the provocative challenge. Ken noticed Sharon was not a very tall man. He was rather stoutly built, and his long wavy hair made a refreshing impression on his whole body.
They walked through the corridor decorated with picture galleries of famous people who had made press conferences in the FMJ, and took the elevator. Since Mr. Suzuki's proposition was clearly directed to Sharon, it was not certain where Ken stood. Maybe he was not supposed to be in the company at all. However, Mr. Suzuki appeared to take Ken's presence for granted, maybe out of courtesy, possibly due to some unfathomable calculations on his part. In any case, Ken kept pace with the other two gentlemen, sometimes feeling as if he would stumble from tension at any moment.
A few minutes later, in the basement car park, Ken found out that Mr. Suzuki's idea of "taking a walk" was actually to cruise the central Tokyo area in his chauffeur driven black Mercedes. 
Sharon and Mr. Suzuki took the back seats, while Ken was buckled up in the front.
The driver, who remained silent and anonymous, drove with remarkable dexterity. He also had a rather oppressive presence. Just possibly, he doubled as a security guard for Mr. Suzuki, an important person for the Imperial Household and Japanese government. Once the car started to move as smoothly as a drop of oil on a bamboo leaf, Ken thought he heard Mr. Suzuki release a sigh of relief. 
The momentary lapse of self-assurance might well have been only his imagination, because, although Ken did not turn his head to see the two, he could hear that Sharon and Mr. Suzuki were immediately engaged in a brisk conversation.
"We are safe here," said Mr. Suzuki.
"Well?" demanded Sharon.
"First of all, may I just say that this is a family business."
"Do you mean the family business of the Imperial household?" asked Sharon, without any signs of hesitation."
"Quite," was Mr. Suzuki's straightforward answer.
"What kind of family business?" insisted Sharon.
"Shall I say it is concerned with speaking the unspeakable, seeing the unseeable."
"You re talking in nonsensical riddles," grunted Sharon in discontent.
"Possibly," said Mr. Suzuki.
Ken remembered his American friends complaining that the Japanese always spoke in an enigmatic way.
But in this case, there was quite a logical reason for Mr. Suzuki to be enigmatic, as it later turned out to be the case.
Sharon then surprised Mr. Suzuki, Ken, and possibly also the driver, with what seemed to be an uncannily sharp observation and insight. 
"Is it about the Three Sacred Treasures?" said Sharon abruptly.
Even without looking back, Ken could feel that Mr. Suzuki's body stiffened. 
"How did you…" Mr. Suzuki's remark faltered in the middle, presumably quite unlike his usual composed self.
Ken now had to turn around and take a good look at the two individuals conversing in the back seat.
Ken was surprised to find Sharon fixing his gaze steadily on Mr. Suzuki now. Ken could almost feel the glare emanating from his eyes.
"It is quite easy to deduce, especially since you mentioned logical impossibility repeatedly. Is it the Sword, Mirror, or the Jewel?"
Sharon asked, leaving slight pauses between each treasure, as if to use them as an apparatus to measure the Chief Palace Secretary's responses. Observing Mr. Suzuki, Sharon appeared to read his mind like a book.
"It is the Sword, then," snapped Sharon, and reclined deep on the sofa, as if satisfied.
Mr. Suzuki, on the other hand, sat up, as if transfixed.
"You seem to possess an incredible intellect, indeed, and the skills of a mentalist," sighed Mr. Suzuki, not without admiration.
"So, it went missing, did it?" said Sharon. Mr. Suzuki confirmed with a nod, without the protocol of a feigned surprise. 
"How long has it been missing, the sword?" asked Sharon.
Mr. Suzuki was apparently not going to give that information so easily.
"Suffice it to say that we need to find it within five days."
"Why five days?" asked Sharon.
"Sorry, I cannot tell you," was Mr. Suzuki's helpful answer.
"The accession to the throne of the New Emperor is due in the new year. There should be enough time," said Sharon.
Ken remembered, by Sharon's word, that the present Emperor had expressed his wish to abdicate, for the first time in the last 200 years. The Crown Prince was to ascend to the Chrysanthemum Throne in the prime of spring next year. 
"Well, some preparations need to be done. And, in any case, the absence of the Three Sacred Treasures is a terrible embarrassment for the Imperial Household."
The black Mercedes was now running smoothly in one of the main streets near Shinjuku station. There were buildings with flashing adverts and vividly colored billboards. It was surreal to be talking about the Three Sacred Treasures, which were supposedly close to two thousand years old, in this day and age of technological marvels. 
"Weren't there times when a new Emperor ascended to the throne without the Three Sacred Treasures?" asked Sharon.
"Quite so. In the past, some emperors were obliged to do so due to battles and social turmoils. But remember, these were considered exceptions…anomalies. I don't want to see that kind of thing happen while my eyes are black." 
"And they did not have the television and newspapers, not to mention the internet, which would have huge appetites for such a scandal. There were no bloggers when the young Emperor Antoku reportedly went down into the sea with the Sword in 1185."
Ken looked at Sharon in amazement. Despite his disdain for historical and traditional matters, Sharon apparently possessed an incredible amount of knowledge about these random factoids.
"How was the Sacred Sword stolen?" asked Sharon.
"Well, the Sword went missing…a few days ago, shall we say."
"That's interesting" mused Sharon.
"Does it have anything to do with the visit of the US President?"
Ken then remembered that the president of the United States, who was a rather flamboyant character, had been recently seen in the Imperial Palace for state dinner with the Emperor. Ken saw it on T.V.
"O, no, unthinkable!" answered Mr. Suzuki, but his trembling voice seemed to reveal deep embarrassment.
"It is not the United States, definitely. Shall I just say that a third party is possibly involved."
"And the this particular party might want to embarrass and undermine Japan's confidence in the United States?"
"That would be certainly a possibility, although a remote one."
"Why would anyone be interested in the Sacred Sword? I know it is an important cultural relic, but…" Ken had the courage to interrupt here, if only to make his presence felt. Ken was getting increasingly uneasy about the fact that his presence just did not count. His former training as a Buddhist priest candidate was not much of a help here.
Sharon looked at Ken, with a bemused smile on his lips.
"Well, legend has it that the Sacred Treasures are the sources of the power of the Emperor. The Sacred Sword once helped one of the imperial ancestors escape peril. When he was surrounded by a great fire set by the enemy, he could sweep it away, by swinging the Sacred Sword."
"But isn't it all just a legend?"
"It surely is. But there are always some people who believe in such things. Remember the fascination about the Holy Grail. There were many people who pursued it for the supposed power it would bring, sometimes to their demise and ruins."
Sharon now faced Mr. Suzuki.
"Is it not the case that some people are indeed interested in the mystic powers of the Sacred Sword?
"I have heard of such people in the past," said Mr. Suzuki.
"Well, I see this is a very delicate matter," said Sharon.
Ken was remembering the face of the American President. He was known to be a shrewd businessman, ambitious, brazen, and sometimes a little annoying. It was reported that his behavior had been close to taking liberties within the Imperial Palace, when he made the state visit. Was it possible that the President or his aids took the Sacred Sword away?
It was an open secret that Americans could do a wide range of activities as they pleased in the postwar Japan. People could enter and leave Japan through one of the U.S. military bases scattered around the country, without going through the formality of custom and immigration. It was possible, although unlikely, that the Sacred Sword had already made its way towards the U.S., on one of the military planes, or even the Air Force One.
Ken was aware that all this was just wild imagination. On the other hand, Ken thought it was certainly possible that such events could have taken place. In that eventuality, it would be close to impossible to relocate the Sacred Sword, now that it was effectively outside Japanese jurisdiction.
There was silence in the car. Apparently, Mr. Suzuki was increasingly fretful, and Ken felt sorry for him.
"OK, I will solve this mystery for you," said Sharon suddenly, and Ken could see Mr. Suzuki's face immediately lit up.
"O, would you?" said Mr. Suzuki eagerly.
"But you must first describe what the Sacred Sword looks like!" demanded Sharon.
Mr. Suzuki seemed to genuinely hesitate at this time. Ken could feel that he was not deliberately hiding the information. It was something else.
"You see, it would be kind of difficult." said Mr. Suzuki. 
"Nobody, even not the Emperor himself, has seen it. Needless to say, the Emperor does know how the casing looks like. but not the sword itself. That's the very nature of the Three Sacred Treasures."
"Do you have a photo, drawing, or painting of the Sacred Sword?" asked Sharon.
"Of course not," said Mr. Suzuki, as if the very idea was sacrilegious.
"Is there a document of how the Sacred Sword looks like? Length, form, decorations?"
"No," said Mr. Suzuki.
"I see!" Sharon's eyes started to glare, as they would when he was truly excited, as Ken was to learn through his further interactions with this hermit.
"You expect us to find where the Sacred Sword is, while we don't know what it looks like!" declared Sharon.
"Well, that would be the gist of it," said Mr. Suzuki.
"Now I understand why you said that this was a logically impossible enigma. We've got to find something, but we don't know what it looks like! And there is no way to know it!"
"You certainly would help us, wouldn't you?" said Mr. Suzuki.
"Why do you suppose I would? I am not obliged to do anything," said Sharon.
"I know you would help us, because I know you love to solve an enigma. You are addicted to it," said Mr. Suzuki, in a rather wicked manner.
Sharon seemed to go into a spontaneous muse. The inside of the car became silent again, except for the gentle buzz of the engine and occasional noise from the outside. 
The black Mercedes was now cruising through a residential area. It was becoming twilight. Mr. Suzuki was taking a look at his watch. Maybe time was pressing.
"Would the Emperor help?" asked Sharon abruptly.
"His Imperial Highness is the kindest of all people. His heart is so gentle," said Mr. Suzuki.
"Could you ask the Emperor what the Sacred Sword , or rather, casing, looks like?" asked Sharon.
"It would be most improper," was Mr. Suzuki's encouraging response.
"I need to see him in person then, at the least, in order to find the Sword," said Sharon.
"That would be a little difficult to arrange," hesitated Mr. Suzuki.
"But you see, since only the Emperor knows what the Sacred Sword casing looks like, we do need to see him in person, unless there is some way to ask him in an indirect manner," said Sharon.
Mr. Suzuki only smiled, and signalled to the driver. 
The black Mercedes slowed down and stopped. Apparently, it was time for them to leave.
"I will be in touch," were Mr. Suzuki's final words.
Sharon and Ken were let out of the black Mercedes in a quiet backstreet. Although Ken did not know where he was, Sharon seem to know his way, and started to walk immediately.
A quarter of an hour later, they were seated in a bar, looking out on the darkening Tokyo skyline, sipping their second cocktail of the evening. They were testing the recommendations of the bartender, a mixture of orange juice and gin and something, an original cocktail named Sayuri.
"There is nothing like a Tokyo bar when it comes to the art of cocktail making," said Sharon, with a sigh of satisfaction.
"So, we are going to solve this together, right?"
Ken was secretly glad that Sharon was apparently seeing them as a team, although Ken did not have any idea how they were going to find a sword without knowing how it looked like.
"I will be in touch," said Sharon, finished his cocktail, and left, without asking Ken for his contact or giving his.
It was only as Sharon was disappearing into the darkness that Ken realized that his last words had been the exact repeat of Mr. Suzuki's. Sharon was that kind of person.

Ken was wondering how on earth Sharon was going to contact him, but he received an e-mail the next morning. Ken was not on any social network service, so the fact that Sharon could have dug up his e-mail address was rather creepy. On the other hand, with Sharon's intellect, it would have been presumably easy to do this in one way or another.
The e-mail consisted of just one sentence.
"I will see you outside the Sakashita-mon gate of the Imperial Palace at 14:00." 
There were no "hello" or "it was good to see you" or that kind of niceties. He just came to the point. That was characteristic of Sharon, as Ken was to learn. Sharon did not ask if that time was convenient for Ken either. Sharon just expected Ken to be there at that particular time.
Sharon started to walk into the gate without waiting, the moment he recognized Ken coming. Sharon walked rather swiftly, so Ken had to run a considerable distance in order to catch up.
Needless to say, the Imperial Palace is rather strictly guarded, but the members of the Imperial Guard at the gate seemed to recognize Sharon and Ken and let them pass, nodding slightly in approval. Apparently, Mr. Suzuki had informed the relevant sectors.
"You know I don't give a shit about the Sacred Sword or anything," said Sharon rather breathlessly, as he walked to the Imperial Household Agency.
"I am doing this, only out of kindness, " said Sharon bluntly.
"And curiosity?" Ken wanted to add, but thought better of it and checked himself, just in time.
Sharon went up the stairs of the Imperial Household Agency as if he had been there many times. In reality, Ken was quite sure this was the first time Sharon visited this venerable agency.
A few minutes later, they found themselves in front of a room, with the sign posted "Chief Palace Secretary" on it.  
Mr. Suzuki was seated behind a huge oak desk. The moment Sharon and Ken opened the door, Mr. Suzuki stood up, and came to welcome them, smiling, as if nothing in the world mattered more, at least at this particular moment.
"It is so good of you to come to the Imperial Palace," said Mr. Suzuki.
"It is our honor, thank you," said Sharon, in a uncharacteristically amiable tone.
"The honor is entirely mine," said Mr. Suzuki.
After the exchange of niceties, Mr. Suzuki swiftly came to the point.
"The Emperor cannot see you, and that's unfortunately final," said Mr. Suzuki.
Sharon remained silent, as if to wait for Mr. Suzuki's recovery remark.
"But the Crown Prince would see you," added Mr. Suzuki, in a rather obliging manner. 
Sharon did not say anything, but Ken's body stiffened. To see the Crown Prince in person was a great honor, especially at a time when his ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne was imminent, due to the planned abdication of the Emperor. It was understood that the Emperor wanted to give enough time for the Crown Prince to adapt to the new job, under His Imperial Highness's guidance.
Sharon was apparently not impressed, at least not in the same sense as Ken. 
"Would the Crown Prince know if he sees the Sacred Sword, or its casing?" asked Sharon bluntly.
"It is possible, but not certain," said Mr. Suzuki.
"Would the Crown Prince able to describe what the Sacred Sword looked like?" Sharon pressed on.
Mr. Suzuki's answer was ambiguous in words but clear in significance.
"It would be most improper to describe, or indeed explicitly refer to, the Sacred Sword."
"Again, how would you expect us to find the sword, if there is no way of identifying it?" demanded Sharon.
Instead of answering, Mr. Suzuki pushed a button, and a young slim lady in a blue suit appeared.
"Ms. Miyamoto will take you to the Palace. I shall be joining you shortly myself," said Mr. Suzuki.
Ms. Miyamoto smiled in a mysteriously timid way. 
"Hi, I am Mika Miyamoto. I will take you two gentlemen to the Crown Prince today."
Her voice was like a rolling bell, thought Ken.
It was not that Sharon was satisfied with the answers from Mr. Suzuki, but there was nothing for him to do but to follow Ms. Miyamoto at this time.
Ms. Miyamoto led the two through a maze of shrubs and passes. Ken soon lost a sense of where he was. They eventually came to an elegant but not so pompous building. This must be the palace, thought Ken. Ken had no idea how big the palace would be. Ken's impression of the Imperial Palace was that of a vast forest. He was sure that the private quarters, where the Imperial family resided, should be tucked away somewhere else, behind the vast extension of greens. Sharon was observing the surrounds with keen interest.
Sharon and Ken found themselves waiting in a meticulously furnished but yet extremely reserved room, sitting on chairs facing the window in an oblique manner. They could see the pine trees outside, which were not quite bonsais but of small stature.
Ken could see that even Sharon was listless, presumably from anxiety. 
Meanwhile Mr. Suzuki came into the room, smiling, with his arms held wide. There was such an air of assurance. Evidently, he was in his kingdom now.  
"The Crown Prince would see you shortly," said Mr. Suzuki.
"Before we see the prince, Mr. Suzuki, perhaps you may explain the circumstances in which the Sacred Sword was stolen?" said Sharon.
Mr. Suzuki's face stiffened, and only said, in an almost whispering voice.
"I would rather you did not use that particular word."
"Which word? Stolen?"
"That word. In particular in those quarters."
"All right then, perhaps you may explain the circumstances in which the Sacred Sword went missing?
"Very well," said Mr. Suzuki.
"But first of all, allow me one clarification. It is not the Sacred Sword itself, but an incarnation of it that went missing."
"A what?" exclaimed Ken, who could not constrain a sudden surge of curiosity.
"An incarnation," said Sharon, as if that was a common knowledge which every decent fellow should possess. 
"There was always an incarnation of the Sacred Sward in the Imperial Palace. It is the incarnation of the Sacred Sword that the Emperor keeps at his side as a symbol of his authority," continued Sharon.
Mr. Suzuki looked at Sharon with a surprised expression. There was a new glimmer of respect in the shrewd official's eyes.
"The Sacred Sward itself is currently in the Atsuta Shrine, near Nagoya, where it has always been, for the last 1900 years," added Sharon matter-of-factly.
"So you mean it is a replica?" asked Ken, not knowing exactly what he was saying. 
"Watch your words, Ken. An incarnation is quite different from a replica. You should know that, if you are familiar with the basics of the Shinto religion" said Sharon indignantly, and Mr. Suzuki gave a nod, indicating that he agreed with Sharon. 
"In Japanese mythology, a Deity will inhabit an incarnation, while a replica does not serve such a function," said Sharon.
"Exactly," followed Mr. Suzuki.
In fact, there seemed to be a growing "empathy" between Mr. Suzuki and Sharon, a chemistry so unexpected to observe but also strangely moving to watch. Ken was a little embarrassed himself, but was rather glad that this strange "friendship" was being nurtured between the relentless rebel and the shrewd official. 
"Anyway, let me describe the circumstances. The Emperor observes the Sacred Sword, incarnation or otherwise, in a designated quarter in the Imperial Palace, which only his Imperial Highness has access to, in normal circumstances."
Sharon was listening to Mr. Suzuki, without a hint of interrupting.
"Then, one morning, it was gone," said Mr. Suzuki. "According to his Imperial Highness that is, since I have not been able to confirm it myself, neither indeed is it in the nature of my function to do so," added Mr. Suzuki.
"For a few days, I thought that it was possibly an imperial mistake. The Emperor could be under illusions from time to time, and this could be another one. The Emperor is a man of great intellect: But at such a mature age, you see, things could happen. The Emperor is 83 years old now. Anyway, His Imperial Highness might have misplaced the Sacred Sword somewhere in the inner domain, and forgot where he has put it."
"I should say that would be a logical possibility," observed Sharon. 
"Please do go on."
Mr. Suzuki nodded, acknowledging Sharon's understanding. 
"However, as days passed, His Imperial Highness grew more and more…you know, for the lack of a better expression, depressed. It was quite unusual…missing important engagements, forgetting details of rituals… His Imperial Highness is such a responsible person, and seems to be feeling the significance of the Sacred Sword's absence deeply. It is not that the Sacred Sword would be needed on a daily basis. However, it has been used in the ascension ceremony in the past. It would be theoretically possible, of course, to use the Sacred Sword in Atsuta Shrine, but it would cause a lot of embarrassment for the Emperor, Imperial Household, not to mention the Shrine. It would be best to recover the incarnation, wherever it might be. However, his Imperial Highness cannot recall where he has last seen the Sacred Sword. The Emperor has grown increasingly agitated, is not his usual self, and there are hindrances even to his daily business of signing and sealing the papers, receiving foreign dignitaries, and giving audience to the prime minister. I feel sorry for His Imperial Highness, who has been conducting his duties with diligence and earnest. To think that such a tragedy should happen after all these years…I cannot bear the thought myself. It would be best if the Sacred Sword was recovered as soon as possible."
Mr. Suzuki's heartfelt remarks seemed to move even Sharon. Ken was also deeply affected.
"Can I ask you some factual questions?" asked Sharon.
"By all means! Please go on," said Mr. Suzuki.
"Wasn't there a state visit by the U.S. President recently?" asked Sharon.
"Indeed, there was," answered Mr. Suzuki.
"I presume that the President was shown around in the Imperial Palace?"
"There is no such thing as showing around. There are strictly designated routes for the foreign heads of state when they visit the palace."
"So you would say that there was no chance of the President of the United States to have chanced upon the Sacred Sword?"
"None whatsoever, although…"
"Although what?" asked Sharon sharply, forgetting his good manners for a moment, in a sudden surge of curiosity.
There was perplexity in Mr. Suzuki's face.
"I was not meaning to say this, as it would complicate matters. Now that I have mentioned it, I might as well say it." There was now a tint of resolution in Mr. Suzuki's face.
"The President, when dining in the palace, apparently mentioned the Sacred Sword. He asked the Emperor if there was any truth in the rumor that it had mystic powers. Then, apparently, the President asked if he could take a look at it."
There was a strange light in Sharon's eyes.
"And did the Emperor show it?"
"Not that I know of. It is completely out of the question. The President should not have mentioned the Sword in the first place."
Silence befell the room. Ken was feeling increasingly uneasy. Was there some international conspiracy involved? Sharon seemed to absorbed in deep thought, no doubt using his analytic machine. Mr. Suzuki seemed to be surprisingly composed, having apparently executed what he needed to do for the time being.
Just then there were some bustle and movements in the palace. Apparently, somebody important was approaching. It was not that people were making fuss. It was rather that there was nearly a complete hush, so that people here and there were almost pretending that there was nothing extraordinary in what was happening. The attendants of the court kept such low profiles that it was difficult to tell how many were in the vicinity: Surely, there must have been quite a few. All of them were in exquisite choreography. 
Then suddenly there was this smiling and elegant man, a face that seemed so familiar from the media coverage. He also seemed to be younger than expected.
That was the Crown Prince, soon to become the 126th Emperor of Japan. 
Strangely, even Sharon, who had earlier been speaking about history and tradition in a disdainful way, seemed to be impressed by his presence.
"Please, do not stand up!" said the Crown Prince, in a gentle voice, as Sharon and Ken were about to do precisely that. An elderly man stood behind the crown prince, trying to keep a low profile. He was his interpreter, but was not particularly imposing or forthcoming.
Mr. Suzuki stepped forward, and introduced Sharon and Ken briefly. The Crown Prince said "hello" to each of them. Then the conversation began, with the interpreter standing by. 
It soon became apparent that there was indeed no need for the translator. After all, The Crown Prince had studied at Oxford, focusing on "A Study of Navigation and Traffic on the Upper Thames in the 18th Century."
Before long, Ken and Sharon found themselves engaged in a very intimate, and surprisingly carefree exchange of niceties and random details. Ken found that the Crown Prince was a great artist of the small talk. Maybe that was something the imperial family was masterful about, since they presumably had to talk about things grand and trivial when meeting with visitors from within and outside the country.
"Well, let's get to the point, shall we?" said Sharon abruptly.
The Crown Prince looked at the rude barbarian in a strange way, as if partially teasing, half reproaching such an unreserved manner, but maintaining a good-humor all the same.
"To which point, if you don't mind me asking?" said the Crown Prince.
"Oh, I beg your pardon, that was for my assistant Ken here. It was not meant for you, your highness," bowed Sharon.
Ken did not mind Sharon referring to him as "assistant." Actually, he was rather glad about it. However, Ken did not show his gratitude for fear of pleasing Sharon. Ken was not sure of Sharon's psychological makeup, or its stability, in this particular context.
"I have only one question for you, your highness" said Sharon.
"What would that be?" asked the Crown Prince.
"Have you ever seen the Sacred Sword, or its casing, yourself?"
The Crown Prince smiled in a shy and enigmatic way, and simply answered. "Shall I just say that if I saw the Sacred Sword, I would recognize it." 
"So you have seen the Sword," said Sharon.
"I would recognize it. That is all I can say," said the Crown Prince.
Mr. Suzuki, who had been apparently standing in some corners, came out of the shade. The Crown Prince acknowledged his presence, nodded, and smiled.
"Well," said Mr. Suzuki, and stood there, capping his hands before him.
Ken understood that the time of audience was over.

Ken did not hear from Sharon for a couple of days after their visit to the Imperial Palace. 
Ken was wondering how Mr. Suzuki, or the Imperial Household in general, came to know Sharon. Apparently, Sharon had a reputation of being super-intelligent, although a little biased and unstable on many sides. Arguably, there would be many clever people, including those with Japanese citizenship. Ken wondered why Mr. Suzuki and those in the know in the Imperial Palace or Japanese government came to judge that Sharon was the man for the job, to find the Sacred Sword. It was only much later, when Ken came to be acquainted with characteristics and circumstances surrounding Sharon that Ken appreciated Mr. Suzuki's decision. Actually, it was spot-on. 
Ken started to conduct some investigations about the Sacred Sword himself. Ken found some background information, which presumably Sharon already knew. Originally, the Sacred Sword was found in the tail of the Eight-Forked Serpent, a giant monster with eight heads. Susanoo, the god of summer storms, slew the monster. The Sacred Sword was then offered to Amaterasu, the Goddess symbolizing the sun. The Sacred Sword was then given by Goddess Amaterasu to the founding members of the Imperial Household together with the Sacred Mirror and Jewel, and came to be known as the Three Sacred Treasures of the Chrysanthemum Throne, the symbol of the authority and power of the Emperor of Japan.
Interestingly, the Secret Sword went missing on one occasion. In the year 668 AD, the Sword was stolen by a priest. However, while escaping with the Sword, the priest lost his way in heavy rain and wind, and returned to the Imperial Palace, bewildered and repentant, bringing back the Sword. Some believe that the plight of the sinning priest was due to the magical powers of the Sword.   
Legend holds that the Sword itself has always been housed in the Atsuta Shrine near Nagoya, while the incarnation has been in the Imperial Household, to be accessed and handled by the Emperor only.
Now, nearly 1350 years later from the last incident, the Sacred Sword was again missing. It could not have come at a worse timing. The Emperor was about to abdicate, for the first time in almost 200 years: The Crown Prince was to ascend to the Chrysanthemum Throne soon. The media seemed not to have gotten wind yet, but there would be huge trouble, should there be a leak.
Through amazing twists of fate, Ken and Sharon had been asked to find the missing Sword: They had no idea what the Sword looked like: There was no record, photographic, pictorial, nor even verbal, of what the Sacred Sword was like. Apparently, the Crown Prince would be able to recognize the Sword once His Highness saw it. But the Crown Prince could not and would not describe to Sharon and Ken what the sword looked like, perhaps out of security considerations, modesty, respect for tradition, or a delicate combination of these. 
The more Ken thought about it, the more desperate the situation appeared to be. Ken and Sharon needed to find something that they didn't know what it looked like. Theoretically, the Crown Prince could tell it, but it would be most improper to take the Crown Prince around, in and out of Tokyo. Ken genuinely did not know what to do. Ken was in limbo. Ken only hoped that Sharon wasn't.

On the morning of the third day, Ken received an e-mail from Jones. Ken was rather surprised, because he was suspecting that he would not see Jones for a long time to come. For some reason or another, Ken thought that Jones had been deeply disappointed in him, or even offended.
When Ken met with Jones, in a Cafe safely distant from the Foreign Media Club, it became immediately apparent what Jones was after. Jones wanted to know the details of trouble at the Imperial Household.
"How do you know?" demanded Ken, rather alarmed. Immediately after that, Ken realized that perhaps he should not have acknowledged the truth of Jones's query, but it was too late.
"Well, one has one's grapevines…" said Jones. 
Ken grasped, all of a sudden, that it was possible that Jones saw the Chief Palace Secretary coming into the Foreign Media Club. Jones could have secretly returned to the salon and been observing, as Mr. Suzuki made his remarks to Sharon and Ken. Ken wouldn't know, as he was too much absorbed in the conversation with Mr. Suzuki. Alternatively, Jones could have had spies or accomplices in the FMJ.
Ken tried to stay calm, but Jones seemed to read Ken like a book.  
Jones looked straight into Ken's eyes, and Ken was sure Jones was measuring Ken's reactions very carefully. 
"Some may think that it is only a cultural relic, but it is something more, isn't it?"
Black clouds of uneasiness was growing in Ken's heart.
"It is crucially valuable for the Japanese, Especially at this moment, since the enthronement of the New Emperor is contingent on using the Sacred Sword," said Jones, observing Ken's face.
Ken was deeply shocked, who did not, despite the mention of "grapevines," assume that Jones knew the nature of the trouble to that detail.
Now Ken was almost certain that Jones had been eavesdropping here and there. At the same time, Ken realized that he needed to be extremely careful with every word he uttered now.
"Are you going to write about it?" asked Ken timidly.
"I might, but not in a hurry," said Jones.
Jones worked for a media company based in New York, where his main capacity was public relations, sales promotions and brand managing. Jones, however, did write articles from time to time for various magazines and newspapers, including the New York Times. It was clear that Jones was aiming for a "big one," with this article on the missing Sacred Sword. The prospect of such article made Ken uneasy. The worried face of Mr. Suzuki and the calm demeanor of Crown Prince crossed his mind. Ken did not want these people to suffer, let alone the ageing Emperor.
"How many journalists know about the Sacred Sword?" asked Ken.
"Just myself, as far as I am concerned," said Jones, and winked. 
Ken remembered the conversation with Mr. Suzuki in the black Mercedes. The face of the driver flashed in Ken's mind. Maybe Jones happened to know the driver personally? Did Jones obtain information from him, through one way or another? Or Jones had some connections in the Imperial Household Agency? Ken's mind started to wander.
It was entirely un-priest-like.
"In the modern era…people no longer would believe …all the mythic details surrounding the imperial family…" Jones was saying.
Ken was not sure what Jones was implying. Ken was not sure of the context. Possibly, Ken had not been paying attention, so that his words came in fragments and did not make sense.
Ken had to say something, in order to appear confident. But nothing seemed to come out of the void that was his mind at that moment.
"I am sure we can get out of this, with Sharon investigating the matter," said Ken at last.
Although Ken's words were intentionally ambiguous, Jones seemed to know exactly what was implied.
"Nonsense," said Jones.
"He would never be able to find it. How can you discover something that you cannot even identify?"
Ken could not contain his deep embarrassment, not for Jones's denial of Sharon's abilities, but for the fact that Jones apparently knew that the Sacred Sword was missing.
"I am sure Sharon would be able to solve it," Ken could only repeat, feeling, at the same time, that it was not at all convincing.
"You trust that man too much," was Jones's helpful last word.
After seeing Jones off, Ken took the subway, and went home.
On the train, Ken's mind tended to wander off, and he could not concentrate on the things that he wanted to think about.
The encounter with Jones had unnerved Ken considerably. Their relationship used to be otherwise, thought Ken wistfully. There was a time when Jones's words actually encouraged Ken. That seemed to be such a distant past now.
Ken was walking towards his airbnb place. He was renting a flat in a residential area near a terminal station. It was close to eight o'clock, and the wind was turning rather chilly. Ken was indulging himself in a reverie, thinking about the past and the future, the strange adventure that he got involved in, when, suddenly, he noticed that there was somebody hiding in the dark, just in front of the flat. 
"Hey, you startled me," protested Ken.
"Let's get to business straight away, shall we," said Sharon drily, as if to indicate that Ken's emotional ups and downs were of the least concern to him, compared to the important issue Sharon and Ken were tackling right now, supposedly jointly.
"We need to get back the Sword by tomorrow evening, by the sunset time," said Sharon.
"What?" said Ken.
"Otherwise, the Imperial Household of Japan would collapse," said Sharon in a serious tone.
"How do you mean?" asked Ken.
"I just know. That's the way it is," said Sharon.
"Why by sunset time?" pressed Ken.
"There is an important ritual, and the sword's got to be there," said Sharon confidently, as if he was now an expert on such things.
"Have you been talking to Mr. Suzuki?" asked Ken.
"You know, that would not be logically necessary, although it would have been polite," answered Sharon.
"Don't you think so, Jones?!" said Sharon in a louder voice. Quite alarmed, Ken looked around, to see Jones standing on the street, surprisingly close to them.
"Have you been following me?" said Ken, in the sharpest tone that he could manage.
"Naturally. What else would you expect from a shark journalist?" said Sharon.
"You are not reproaching me by that expression, are you?" said Jones.
"Not at all," said Sharon. "Everybody has to make a living," he added.
"You were talking about the sword," said Jones.
"Indeed, we have," answered Sharon.
"How do you know that the Imperial Household would collapse, if the sword was not recovered by tomorrow?" asked Jones.
"I use teleological means."
Sharon said.
"You mean, you can see the future?"
"Rather, I see the past, as well as the future, as if all were at the present," corrected Sharon.
Jones exhibited an ostensible expression of scorn.
"You are boasting, as always," said Jones rather disdainfully.
"I neither boast or shy away. I just state the obvious, either about myself, or the world at large," said Sharon.
Ken frowned, not from disdain, but in an effort to understand.
What could Sharon possibly mean?
"In any case, I need to see the Chief Palace Secretary first, in order to ascertain salient points on this story. I have an appointment on the day after tomorrow," said Jones.
"Good," said Sharon.
"We would have the case solved by then, so that would give you only a non-story. " 
Ken glanced at Sharon's facial expressions, which was neither smiling or frowning.
"So you think there is a conspiracy to embarrass the Emperor?" asked Jones.
"I am not saying anything like that," answered Sharon.
"Rumor has it that some people do not like the liberal Emperor. His Imperial Highness has expressed concerns over the recent trends of xenophobia and nationalism in this country. So this could be a political maneuver to embarrass the Emperor, possibly involving the United States," said Jones.  
”It is not at all the case!" shouted Sharon somewhat impatiently.
"How can you not see?" said Sharon, as if lecturing.
"This is a case of an article missing, nothing more, nothing less, although you don't know what it looks like. You do not have a photo, picture, or even a verbal description of what the article looks like. Even those few people who have had direct contacts with the article cannot speak to you about it, because it is against tradition. That is all there is to it, a logical puzzle, and it has nothing to do with politics," said Sharon.
Ken felt like standing by Sharon, at least for this once.
"Well, I beg to disagree. I think there is always a political motive in these things," said Jones. Ken noticed that Jones's voice had a rather adhesive quality, like a sticky tape.
"That is your opinion, sir. Now I hope you will get out of here."
Ken just found out that Sharon could be polite and menacing at the same time.
After Sharon got rid of Jones, they went to the nearest pub. It was a rather long walk. They moved towards the main station, never touching the busy streets.
"I know a very good pub here. We can get drunk a little tonight. I know your airbnb place is nearby"
Sharon seemed to depend on beer as Sherlock Holmes used to depend on cocaine. A far more benign addiction according to public health data, Ken thought. Then Holmes was only a fictional character. 
"We are almost neighbors, by the way," said Sharon, and pointed to a building nearby.
It was a massive mansion, like nothing Ken had ever seen. It was a flat complex, but each section was gigantic. The whole structure looked ridiculously huge, with massive belts of green protecting the residents from the public's eye.
"It is called the Alpha Mansion," said Sharon.
"Presumably alpha would stand for alpha male."
"Wow, do you live here?" asked Ken.
"Kind of," said Sharon.
"What do you mean kind of?" asked Ken.
"I am a resident tutor here," said Sharon.
"What?" shouted Ken, as if what Sharon had just said was something beyond Ken's comprehension.
"I heard you are a retired founder of a tech company."
"Sure I am. But now I teach maths and computer programming, to a daughter of a famous song writer."
"Is she a good student?"
"She is OK, doing everything on her own, although she has just turned nine years old. Home education is the thing nowadays, even in a conservative place like Tokyo. There is no rationale for going to school, anyway. It is a waste of time."
"And you are staying with the song writer?"
"He has tens of extra rooms in that monster of a residential building."
They went to the pub, and had some rounds of beers. Ken was pondering over what Sharon had just said. From the moment they met, Ken had kind of assumed that Sharon was a rich man. His super-intelligence, and in addition the nonchalant defiance he exhibited towards the world in general, not in the least to Mr. Suzuki, seemed to suggest that Sharon was a man of independent means. 
Now Ken learned that Sharon was a resident tutor at a song writer's flat. Did that mean that Sharon was not so rich after all? It was entirely possible that Sharon was teaching the girl and staying at the song writer's residence out of his whim, even if he didn't have to do so financially. But then, it seemed a bit odd, given his idiosyncratic manner to associate with people. Ken could not imagine how Sharon would get along under such an arrangement.
There must be some deeply hidden secrets in Sharon's life. In Ken's mind, that made Sharon all the more interesting. 
"Hey, are you listening?"
Ken realized that he had not been paying attention to what Sharon had been saying. 
"So next morning, we are going to the East Palace."
"East palace?"
"Yes. The East palace, where the Crown Prince is normally resident."
"O, doesn't the Crown Prince live in the Imperial Palace?"
"He would, when he becomes the Emperor. Until then, his highness would live in the East Palace," said Sharon impatiently, as if not knowing these things was unthinkable for a Japanese citizen, even if he was a failed Buddhist priest. 
"But why visit the East palace?" 
"Well, that is the precisely the point," said Sharon.
"I have been thinking a lot about the nature of traffic and people coming into and going out of the Imperial Palace, the list of foreign dignitaries who have recently paid visits, including the American President. I went through the lists over and over again. And then, I came to a missing piece."
"A missing piece?"
"Yes, I would say that the Sacred Sword would be probably involved with the missing piece."
"And the missing piece is in the East Palace?"
"That would be my educated guess."
Ken wanted to know more, but Sharon simply would not offer any further explanations. 
Sharon told Ken to meet at a gate of the East Palace at ten in the morning. Normally, it would be off limits to the general public, but Mr. Suzuki would make necessary arrangements, Sharon said.
That night, one anomaly stood out in Ken's memory. As they were parting ways, Ken thought he saw Sharon's hands shaking wildly. Ken had no way of knowing that it was due to a heightened agitation on Sharon's part. Secretly, Sharon was getting very nervous, not because of uncertainties of the next day, but due to the expectation that his reasoning would culminate to a confirmation soon. 
The East palace, or Togu Gosho in Japanese, was in Tokyo's fashionable Aoyama area, just a 10 minutes drive from the Imperial Palace. 
Ken was surprised to see Sharon dressed in a handsome black suit. So far, Ken had seen Sharon only in jeans and shirts. This must be a special occasion to him, thought Ken. Ken was wearing a brown sweater. Although he felt a bit embarrassed, there was nothing Ken could do now.
Once inside the gate, Ken and Sharon were surrounded by a deep forest. Sharon told Ken that it was here the annual garden party was to be held in the spring, hosted by the Emperor. Sharon said this was one of the ecologically most rich, pristine forest in Tokyo, and that there was an abundance of wild life.
While they were walking through the forest, led by an elegant young man dressed in a smart blue suit, Ken thought that Sharon's eyes glittered in a rather strange way.
"Was there something?" asked Ken.
"O, nothing. Just a Motacilla alba."
"A motaci…what?"
"A Motacilla alba. Or, white wagtail for you, if it is easier."
Ken still did not know what a white wagtail was, except that it was apparently a bird. 
"A man has a lot of hobbies," murmured Sharon, as if to reassure himself, in addition to Ken.
"You know, life is too precious, to live only a single life," said Sharon.
"I want to live the life of a man in the Amazonian rainforest. I want to live like a woman on an ice field. I would like to live the life of a king, or a life of a pauper. For that matter, I would like to live the life of an earthworm, a bird, a tree."
Although Ken did not understand what Sharon meant immediately, that poetic and casual remark made a lasting impression on him.
"What do you think would happen if we couldn't find the Sacred Sword?" asked Ken.
"The Chief Palace Secretary would probably have to resign," said Sharon. 
"Would that be all?" said Ken.
"In the old days, the Japanese used to commit an honorable suicide in such cases, using a katana sword, in recognition of the fact that he has failed to live up to the duty. In the modern times, however, Mr. Suzuki would just have to resign," said Sharon.
"It would be a pity. He's such a nice person," said Ken.
"Precisely. That's why I am going to prevent Mr. Suzuki's resignation," said Sharon, with what seemed to be stiff upper lips, which did not become Sharon particularly well. However, Ken got the message anyway.
The young man walking just a few paces in front of them kept his silence, as if he was a spirit from another, enchanted world. It was as if he was not listening.
Finally, they came to what appeared to be the Crown Prince's residence. The guard at the entrance ushered Ken and Sharon in with a nod, with a typical Japanese reservedness. They were shown into a parlor of exquisite taste, where orchid flowers were displayed in a subdued fashion here and there.
Soon there was a bustle, and there came the next Emperor. 
The Crown Prince was in a noticeably different mode from what they have seen at the Imperial Palace, apparently more relaxed. After all, the East Palace is currently the Crown Prince's domicile.
"Have you found the thing yet?" the Crown Prince said, smiling.
"O, no, " said Sharon. "But we may well be able to find it yet, hopefully today."
"Oh, is that so?" said the Crown Prince casually, as if nothing could matter less, even though his ascension to the Throne theoretically depended on its recovery. 
The Crown Prince continued, "but how, may I ask, are you going to recover the thing?"
"Well, in order to achieve that, I would like to ask Your Highness a favor," said Sharon.
"What would that be?" asked the Crown Prince.
"I understand your younger brother, Prince Aki, also lives in the East Palace."
"That is quite so," said the Crown Prince.
"Well, I would like to ask Your Highness's favor about Prince Aki."
Ken thought that Sharon winked at the Crown Prince, but he must have just imagined it.
One hour later, there was laughter in the East Palace, and the Sacred Sword was safely recovered.
There was yet enough time before the sunset.

"There would be a grateful tea party in the Imperial Palace," said Mr. Suzuki in an e-mail.
"You would get an invitation one of these days."
"Does grateful refer to the tea party itself or the people at the Imperial place, or even to the guests, meaning us, I wonder?" said Sharon to Ken in a sarcastic, but good-humored way, as they were taking a walk in the Meiji Shrine forest, pointing to various birds species along the way. Apparently, Sharon was enjoying the idea of going to the palace for tea, Ken thought.
"I had never imagined that there would be a day when I become a regular visitor to the Imperial Palace," retrospected Sharon.
The "grateful tea party" was to be held on a fine autumn day in the Imperial Palace, a few days after the recovery of the sword. Ken got a formal invitation through the mail one day. Although the envelope was ornamented with a gold-plated chrysanthemum emblem, it was delivered by conventional post, to a slight disappointment of Ken, who was unconsciously expecting a man in black suit knocking the door deferentially. Ken was sure Sharon would not give a damn about these trivial details.
Upon arrival, Ken and Sharon were cordially invited, through a maze of meticulously swept corridor decorated with reservation and good taste, into a parlor whose color theme was subdued orange. 
Ken and Sharon were welcomed by the Crown Prince and Crown Princess themselves. Later, they were told that this was indeed an unusual honor. 
The tea started with a free flow of Champagne, in which the Crown Prince and Crown Princess took avid parts, especially the former. Surprisingly, even Mr. Suzuki joined in the merriments.
"This is indeed an occasion for celebration," whispered Mr. Suzuki, with a contented expression on his face. "I am quite relieved." 
There was a hush, and a gentleman with grey hair walked into the room, smiling. The Crown Prince stood up, so did the Crown Princess. Ken was momentarily in the twilight zone. When he came back, he realized, to his shock, that everybody else was standing in the room, including Sharon. Embarrassed, Ken also stood up from the chair, and the man with grey hair made a hand motion.
"No, no, no, that is quite all right," said the man.
Mr. Suzuki went up to the man, with quick but soft steps like a cat on a gorgeous summer afternoon. Mr. Suzuki started to whisper to the man, keeping a respecting distance, glancing in the direction of Ken and Sharon. The grey haired man listened, nodding from time to time. 
Just then, Ken noticed that there was a very elegant lady, smiling just a few meters behind the man. Together, they came up to the table, and sat on the two empty chairs. The Crown Prince and Princess sat down. Sharon sat down, so Ken followed.
"That would be the Emperor and Empress," Sharon whispered into Ken's ear, as if he were a five year old child who needed to be told everything, including the obvious. 
Presently, the Emperor sat down, and addressed Sharon.
"So, please tell me how you made this astonishing recovery. The Crown Prince explained it to me already, but I would like to hear from the man of genius himself," said the Emperor. 
"Well, Your Imperial Highness, it was actually Mr. Suzuki, who first inspired me to the conclusion."
Mr. Suzuki, who was sitting in a remote chair, made a surprised expression.
"Oh, was that so?"
"Indeed, do you remember what you said when you first met me at the Foreign Media Club?"
"No, not really."
"You said that this was a family business. Of course, 
you meant it metaphorically, but the more I thought about it, there seemed to be a lot of truth in it."
"What do you mean by that?"
"I understood that only a very limited number of people were allowed access to the Sacred Sword. The Emperor naturally had a full access, the Crown Prince, although His Highness did not express it in so many words, would have had access."
The Emperor, Empress, Crown Prince, and Crown Princess were all listening to what Sharon had to say with vivid interest.
"Then I realized that among the imperial family, those in the direct line to the throne would have access to the sword, in one way or other."
The Crown Prince was now openly smiling, as if he was admiring the way Sharon was making his reasonings clear.
"The Crown Prince would have had occasional access to the Sacred Sword, as His Highness is going to be the next Emperor. It is not likely, however, that a responsible person such as the Crown Prince would misplace the Sacred Sword, unless…"
The Emperor asked Sharon, with a smile on his face.
"Unless, of course, the person in question is of a junior character in nature."  
Just then, Prince Aki came in, with his son, Prince Hisa. Prince Hisa was currently attending the elementary school, and was such a charming person. Everybody in the imperial family, and those serving them in the private sectors, called Prince Hisa the little prince. Cute as he was, he was in direct line to the Chrysanthemum throne, who would someday become the 127th Emperor, after the Crown Prince. 
Prince Hisa walked towards the table, and made a very gentle bow to the Emperor.
Recognizing the little prince, Sharon went on to give a finishing touch to his explanation.
"I checked the list of visitors to the Imperial Palace within the few days of the Sacred Sword's disappearance, and found, in addition to the American President, (here, Sharon looked at Mr. Suzuki and smiled) Spanish ambassador, and the governor of Kyoto, the name of Prince Aki. Now, Prince Aki, who is the younger brother of the Crown Prince, has a charming young boy, who is in the direct line of succession to the Chrysanthemum Throne."
Sharon was now grinning, with his mouth widely open. 
"So I checked with Mr. Suzuki, if Prince Aki took the little prince to the Imperial Palace on that day. The answer was in the affirmative. So I visited the East Palace, asked the Crown Prince to go to Prince Aki's residence, and to have a chat with the little prince."
The Crown Prince interrupted, in a good-natured way.
"And there it was, the Sacred Sword, on the little prince's study desk."
The Emperor burst into a mellow laughter, like the golden sunbeam dancing on a tranquil lake.
"Did you take it, little prince darling?"
"I did. I am sorry, grandpa, I mean, your Imperial Highness the Emperor. I borrowed it, and meant to take it back, but my school schedule did not allow it, to come back to your residence."
"Why are you busy in the school, my dear?"
"We are preparing to stage a historical play. I am going to be a samurai warrior," said the little prince, with a light of pride in his eyes. 
"Did you plan to use the sword to practice the ways of samurai?"
"I did, grandpa."
The Emperor rolled his eyes in an expressive manner, and then burst into another laughter. The Empress laughed, the Crown Prince and Princess laughed, and Prince Aki laughed, stroking the little princes's head. 
"You are to be an Emperor some day," said the Emperor to the little prince, with an air of solemnity. 
"The Sacred Sword is the symbol of your duty to the nation and the people of Japan. So you should never play with it," said the Emperor.
The little prince nodded.
"One more thing. Historically, our family has never been engaged in a military role, except for a brief, sad period during my father's reign. It was an unfortunate turn of history, and should never be repeated. Our family has been able to prosper, because we stayed away from those things."
Ken noticed that the Crown Prince was listening to the Emperor earnestly.
 "So from now on, you should never think of becoming a samurai. It is a different thing. Do you understand, little prince darling?"
"I understand."
"Did you really get it?"
"I got it, I am very sorry. I won't do it again, grandpa, I mean, Your Imperial Highness the Emperor!" 
There followed some rounds of merry laughters in the tea room. Ken noticed that the sun started to shed a rosy tint on the window. 

Glasses of champaign, some delicacies taken with coffee followed by a glass of fine cognac made the tea at the Imperial Palace literally imperial, so Sharon and Ken left in hight spirits, especially the former, who actually had a second helping of the cognac. 
Mr. Suzuki came as far as the gate to see them off. Ken thought it was very polite of the Chief Palace Secretary, while Sharon suspected that he was watching over them, being afraid that they might venture into the off-limits of the palace and engage in some tomfoolery, especially Sharon. 
It was nearly dusk. The silhouette of the Tokyo Station could be seen, with the bright lights of the big buildings shining behind. 
"That was a nice little tea party," said Sharon.
"I thought you held a dislike for that kind of thing, classy and pompous," said Ken in an uncharacteristically sarcastic tone.
"It was certainly classy, but never pompous. I should say I actually enjoyed every minute of it," said Sharon with a sigh. Ken could detect a surprisingly good-natured tone in it.
So their adventure seemed to be ending in a mellow light, and Ken and Sharon went through it together, although Sharon mainly did the thinking part.
"We shall solve many mysteries together yet, should they come our way," said Sharon.
"You did a pretty good job of solving the impossible this time," said Ken.
"It was not impossible. And what is more, I was just lucky," said Sharon, not in a reserved way, but as-a-matter-of-factly.
"After all, compared to the difficult unsolved problems in maths and physics, such as the millennium problems, it has been nothing."
Ken could feel that the sarcasm of Sharon was returning, with a vengeance.
"What are the millennium problems, to show my ignorance?" said Ken, rather timidly. The millennium problems were not in the curriculum for a Buddhist priest. 
"The Navier-Stokes, for example," was Sharon's helpful answer.
"Every one of the millennium problems, let alone the mind-brain problem. Compared to these enigmas, this has been like nothing," Sharon mumbled on. 
They were in a jolly mood nevertheless, so they walked for one hour and half as far as near the Shibuya station. Ken waved Sharon goodbye, and watched him walk past the guard, giving a nod, into the gigantic complex of the Alpha Mansion.
Ken headed for his own flat, which was a modest fare compared to the gorgeous home of Sharon.
Reflecting on what they together went through, Ken thought it had been one hell of an adventure. 
How exciting it would be, if it came to that, to embark on yet another adventure with Sharon. Every adventure would be different. Sharon would solve them using his formidable intellect and ingenuity. As time went by, all in all, there would perhaps emerge quite an interesting storyline. 

Just then, Ken realized that he had just come across a perfect material for his book.

Monday, April 01, 2019

On the new Japanese era name, Reiwa.

The word "Reiwa" is destined to define and influence the Japanese psyche for decades to come. The new era name, "Reiwa", was announced by the cabinet secretary on the 1st of April, 2019.

The Japanese era names ("nengo", or year name), which officially started in the year 645, have directly or indirectly affected the zeitgeist of the Japanese society.

The Meiji era (1868-1912) witnessed the rapid modernization of Japan. The Taisho era (1912-1926) was marked with the surge of democracy and diverse culture. The Showa era (1926–1989) was shadowed by the Second World War, and then brightened by the rapid development of the Japanese economy in the postwar era. 

The current period, the Heisei era (1989-2019) is to officially end on the 30th April 2019, when the current Emperor would abdicate for the first time since 1817.  The Reiwa period would officially start on the 1st of May.

It is too early to predict what the Reiwa era would turn out to be. It is significant that it has been taken for the first time in history from a Japanese classic, Manyoshu ("Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves"), the oldest collection of Japanese poetry. All other Japanese era names, when they could be traced, have been taken from Chinese classics. 

Manyoshu is a collection of poems composed by people from all walks of life, from the nameless peasants and  fishermen, to nobles and the Emperor. Reiwa is thus perhaps an apt era name in a modern world where the relations between people are increasingly becoming equal and free.

The cabinet secretary announcing the new Japanese era name.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Brexit conundrum.

It seems that the U.K. Parliament simply cannot make up its mind as to Brexit.

I am not saying that the members of parliament are not doing their jobs. I understand the complexity of the Catch-22 situation. It is simply not a question of whether or not to leave the European Union. There are too many parameters, and the sheer combination of them diversifies the "phase space" of possible options so that no single stance would be able to command a majority. It is such a kerfuffle. 

When one cannot make up one's mind, the usual strategy is to keep the status quo. It is not a good idea to make any moves unless one is sure in which direction one is going. One would be advised to stay in the same position.

However, in this case, it is not entirely certain what the "status quo" actually means. You would think that remaining in the EU would be the "status quo." However, when you consider the result of the referendum in 2016, it might appear that leaving the EU would be the "status quo", or the default position. 

So here's the heart of the current U.K. conundrum, from cognitive point of view. The situation is too complex to make a clear decision. Under such circumstances, normally, one would be advised to keep the status quo. However, it is not clear what the status actually quo means in this case, specifically, whether to leave the European Union or not. 

The situation the U.K. parliament and Mrs. May are facing is actually more complex than the original Catch-22 situation. Fingers crossed that the peoples of the U.K. would somehow muddle through.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

After Life: Sometimes Rembrandt, and occasionally Shakespeare.

Ricky Gervais has consistently exhibited a genius for depicting the worst in humans, and yet, in a mastery way that leaves a tinder of hope at the end. It is almost like alchemy. In a ride with this comedian, one experiences moments of frustration, sadness, and bewilderment, but finally, one is almost guaranteed to be left with a refreshing and enthralling endorsement of the human condition. One feels that the trip has been quite worthwhile, a great testimony of the powers of the art.

The Netflix series After Life is no exception. The protagonist sets out to give the worst time to people around him, with an expression of disgust on his face, but never with an outright malice. He is too intelligent to be oblivious of one's own shortcomings. One cannot be a pure evil unless one forgets or ignores one's own limitations, as is evidenced by some famous persons in the world today. 

Everything seems to be so miserable for the man. But then, things start to happen, and through a poignant process of self-recognition, reconciliation, and acceptance, the protagonist starts to love life again, if with a gingerly touch at first.

The most unique character of this 6 part series is perhaps the tonality of the cinematic experience, especially in terms of emotion that comes one's way while watching it. It is sometimes Rembrandt, and occasionally Shakespeare. After Life is a celebration of human existence, not only on its bright sides but also shades of dark. It is the contrast of the bright and dark that makes life sparkle with joy.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Where comedy approaches in spirit great works of drama

Steve Coogan's character, Alan Partridge, is excellent in that he exposes the ignorance, prejudice, stupidity, and vulnerability in all of us. The good work is being carried on in This Time with Alan Partridge.
When an intelligent comedian (such as Steve Coogan) plays the role of a prejudiced person (such as Alan Partridge), the result is strangely therapeutic. It is perhaps the blessing of metacognition.

In order to depict a mindless moron, one needs to make keen observations in the everyday, seeing how people fall into the pitfalls of mediocrity. 

No person is hundred percent vile, nor perfectly good. It is only human to be complacent in one's imperfection. A good comedian captures the human nature and makes a truthful portrait of it. That's where comedy approaches in spirit great works of drama, such as those by William Shakespeare. 

Friday, March 22, 2019

Real people change. Numbers don't.

The ongoing difficulties concerning Brexit in the U.K. seem to suggest the importance of keeping your judgement implicit.

A referendum might appear to be a straightforward way to make a people's judgement. However, measurement of the people's will is only statistical. Even if we come up with a statistically significant result, there is no guarantee that the people's will would stay the same over time.

This is probably why we have members of parliament, who are elected by the people, engaged in continuing debates over issues. Real people are not numbers. Their opinions change all the time.  Most crucially, their judgements are at least partially based on intuitions which are implicit, not on explicit rules or numbers.

The ongoing Brexit fiasco, which as someone who admires the culture and traditions and above all people of the U.K. greatly hopes would come to a settlement soon, does seem to show the risks involved in putting too much emphasis, a fixed significance in particular, on a specific number supposedly representing the will of the people at a given time. 

Real people change. Numbers don't.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

A lesson in life's fundamental conditions of radical changeability.

It is official. Cherry blossoms are here this year again.

The Japanese craze for cherry blossoms (sakura) is world famous now. The love for the five-petal flower is so deeply embedded in the Japanese psyche that we take it almost for granted, like the air we breathe.

The essence of the cherry blossoms is that they are so ephemeral. The first blooming of the cherry blossoms is always a major news making national headlines, partly because it is so unpredictable. Once they bloom, you cannot tell how long they will last. The whole affair is tinged with subtle and transient signs. You must learn to read and interpret these elusive manifestations of nature. 

Unpredictability and ephemerality are the hallmarks of the cherry blossom phenomenon. The blooming and perishing of these lovely flowers is a lesson in life's fundamental conditions of radical changeability, repeated every year.