The growing-up years of Kenji in a tradition of Japanese potters are in many respects those of children the world over, but the events that changed his prearranged path in life affected him more profoundly than his Australian counterparts. The strict social framework that governed Kenji’s life is in stark contrast to the time he worked in Sydney before all Japanese nationals were expelled with the outbreak of the Pacific War. After he is recalled to military service, the resultant fanatically-inculcated Bushido warrior is sent to war. Enter the Sergeant, his captor: here is a man who continues to haunt Kenji into his old age, the dreams and fears satiated only with their reconciliation.    

This is not only a story of two ordinary men’s lives and the life-changing circumstances of their meeting on the battlefield far from home, but also of clashes in values between the old men and their younger fellows in each man’s separate society. It speaks to the readers of today about the age-old emotions that cut across culture and upbringing, time in history, location and social status: the feelings of love, hatred, fear, mistrust, repentance and, finally, forgiveness. 

In Store Price: $AU25.95 
Online Price:   $AU24.95

ISBN:   978-1-921574-30-6 
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 245
Genre: Fiction

Cover: Clive Dalkins

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Author: Darryl Hill
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2009
Language: English


About the Author 

Darryl Hill was born in 1949 in Toowoomba, Queensland. He worked as a plumber and then studied to work as a pathology laboratory technician. He writes in his spare time in retirement on the Sunshine Coast. Darryl and his wife, Joy, have vacationed several times in Korea and enjoy travel. They have two grown-up children, one of whom teaches Korean.


Part 1 – Wednesday


“Look, dear, another bus load of Jap tourists,” the man commented dismissively. Generous moist breezes swept over the lookout and ruffled shocks of black hair as the passengers alighted at the popular coach rest stop. In resigned fascination he watched the tour guide apparently explain, with appropriate gesticulations and arm directions, what made the high Point Danger headland lookout such a favourite sightseeing viewpoint.

“It’s like they’re following a script, Vonnie.”

In short quick steps, the tourists hastened towards the steel-railed safety fence, cameras at the ready.

“The Japs haven’t changed a scrap since I first met ’em; like a flock o’ sheep, can’t think of anything but their next camera shot...”

“Now, now, dear, every Asian you see is Japanese to you. It’s just not the case.”

“All the Japs are the same. Just look at ’em. Cameras out quicker than Flash Gordon, and they’re snap-snap-snappin’ in all directions like every view is a lost picture. Gotta fill that shot. Another bus stop, another roll of film; that’s the Jap tourist, isn’t it, Vonnie?”

“Yes, dear, but don’t forget it’s all digital photography these days. You’re living in the past.” Yvonne raised her hands to her gentle face and giggled involuntarily. “Surely you know that they’re obliged to take lots of pictures and souvenirs home for their families. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s all part of their culture, can’t you see? Archie, you really are so annoying sometimes.”

“I know that, luv. I’m just havin’ a lend of ya.” He laughed loudly and gave her an affectionate hug. “Anyway, let’s just watch and see. I always find this fascinating. They’ll be just like all the other Japs. Just look at ’em, a dead giveaway. We may as well be back in Japan – then again, that was quite a while ago…a long time ago,” he mused. “There, look. I told you so. See that love-sick couple dressed in matching outfits? Honeymooners; they’d normally have eyes only for each other, and see that elderly Jap with the white Panama hat? He’s arranged for the honeymoon couple to take his photo. Hat off and down by his side, perfect pose. That’s it – so predictable.”

“Oh come on, Arch, get out of their way, will you, or they’ll snap us too!”


The Asian man hung his white Panama on the hat stand. While others of his group socialised with each other, he kept to himself. Except for the evening meal, when he was joined by the couple who had obligingly taken his photograph earlier that day, he remained in his sumptuous Hilton apartment. After the meal, they invited him to their room where the trio delighted in viewing a slide show of digital photo images from the day on the television screen: Brisbane’s heritage-listed Victorian and Edwardian buildings; the historic Beenleigh Distillery; brooding cloud-shrouded Mount Warning and the lush rainforests of the Scenic Rim hinterland. Each image held a thrill for the tourists. As they shared their day’s travel, the television screen brought detail into sharp focus.

“Wait! Please hold that picture,” the older man snapped, on seeing the Point Danger scene and himself in the centre. “I want to have a closer look. Just look at those glorious colours.” With only a gentle rush of air through the room vent interrupting the silence, his mind could hear the deep boom of a rolling ocean swell, the aquamarine blues and turquoise greens of giant waves and their white caps claimed by worn boulders, resembling giant decayed teeth, far below. His keen imagination evoked the ocean smell, a rankness of seaweed, oysters and soft corals...and the feeling of danger. He flinched at the sudden thought of that night, when it was a full moon, when flashing messages of lights passed both ways between the ships and allies on shore. Long ago, it was indeed. But the rank ocean smell of today was no different from then. So deep in contemplation, whisked away to the disturbing distant past, he failed to hear the voices, until one of his company all but shouted, “Excuse me, sir. Are you unwell?”

“Oh, I’m deeply sorry, Takasu-san. Please forgive my rudeness. I was thinking of something else,” he apologised, recovering with a start.

“You must have been a lifetime away. I’m sorry I raised my voice. Please forgive me. Neither of us could make you hear us.”

“Indeed it is a very good picture of me,” he complimented them. “My family will be pleased for me. What a pity my wife is not here.” They bowed formally to each other.

Already shaken from his interrupted return to the past, his gaze travelled over the image, and all at once he became startled by something else. There in the background – he hadn’t noticed it before – an elderly couple materialised on the screen. The woman in the background had shaded her face from the sun’s glare with her right hand, and so her countenance was obscured. Firmly, from point blank range, he fixed his gaze on the image of the tall, elderly man’s face. His distinct profile clear, he seemed to be staring back accusingly. In instant recognition, the elderly tourist gasped, “It can’t be, it can’t be true. But it is true, it’s him. Yes, it’s him.” At this he slumped onto a couch and the couple watched in startled fascination as the colour drained from his face.

“Sir, what is it? Are you alright?” one of the Takasu couple queried, alarmed.

“I…I…feel faint. I wonder what has come over me.”

“Your face is clammy and you look as pale as a yurei, a ghost.” The young husband turned to his new wife, “Get him a glass of cold water, quickly, darling, and a wet hand towel, please.”

“A yurei. Yes, a ghost. A ghost from the past, my nemesis.”

“What do you mean, sir, your nemesis?”

“It’s no use my explaining, you are both too young.” The couple saw his irritation, as beads of sweat joined into rivulets.

“Here, sir, have a drink of this cold water.”

He grabbed it greedily and gulped a long draught. “Thank you. Oh, this is so refreshing, a cup of cold water for a dying soldier.”

“A dying soldier? Please allow me to call a doctor. Your voice is slurred and you’re confused, obviously unwell,” the young husband insisted.

“No, please don’t worry! I’ll be fine. Probably just low on fluids in today’s hot weather. I’m feeling somewhat better already. Thank you sincerely for your kindness.”

“Sir, are you sure you’ll be alright?”

“Yes, of course I’m alright. Just a little sentimental, that’s all. And that man you see in this picture...not even my wife could have ever understood. I have just one wish before I die: to meet him again.”

“You must tell us...if only for your own sake,” the wife of the young couple encouraged, mopping his face with a cool, damp cloth.

“You could never understand, never believe me. In fact, I sometimes find it all beyond belief myself. But if you insist...”

“We’ll stay with you until you’re ready to retire for the night, if you like. To be sure that—”

“You see, the truth is...I’m so lonely. My wife passed on recently and I thought I had worked through most of the grieving but now that she’s gone, the distant past comes to me; in dreams, morbid dreams. How can events from so long ago be so real as to punish me like this? Oh, I feel so weary. What’s the use of going on?”

“If it would help, sir, we’ll listen. What was your wife’s name?”

Angrily he sucked air through his worn teeth. “Never mind my dear wife. She’s better off than I am now.” Then he seemed to recover and knelt before his hosts. “First, you need to know about my mother. Here we are, three of us, kneeling on our heels just as my mother was when the kami came to her. That’s how she knew I was to be a son. How would Mother feel if she could see me now? Would she approve of me disclosing her private life to strangers? I feel it’s somehow wrong, yet it’s a story that needs to be told, to honour her memory. Besides, this story is too painful for me to tell you, as me. I have to detach myself, as it were.” At which he dropped his eyelids and, in a state of silence and stillness that shrouded his own inner turmoil, the storyteller began in a hesitant voice to present his extraordinary life as a gift to another generation.


Many years before…

A satisfied calm descended on her as she worked before the warm hibachi, on age-mellowed tatami mats that covered most of the wooden floor. Humming a sutra chant, her dexterous fingers wove multiple strips of damp cane, creating a basket crib to add to the shawls, wraps and other infant necessities she had completed to her fastidious satisfaction, not to speak of bundles of offerings from the generous, excited village womenfolk. The broad black obi round her plain indigo kimono seemed shorter each time she tied it. She was almost ready. I hope I will be a good mother, and I hate the prospect of visiting that local fortune-teller. If I were given a choice, I would go to one of my Buddhist priests – I am duty bound to obey my husband, but I will delay the visit as long as possible, she vowed to herself.

In the shimmering warmth above the hibachi, a kami appeared, squat and square, its four muscular arms and both legs flexed for action. With a head as bald as an egg and its face contorted in rigid determination, it identified itself to her as a messenger kami, with news of supreme importance for her ears only. Not in the least afraid – rather, she was used to the frequent, unannounced apparitions of kami – she brought her hands together before her delighted face in devotional thanks for recent prayers seeking help and strength. Shinto priests say that as many as eight million deities inhabit the heavens and the earth. When she asked a priest how many eight million was, he told her it was many more than a lot. How would I know, a mere artisan’s wife? All I know is that kami are all around me and I constantly feel their presence. Mostly they help me, but occasionally a particularly nasty one slips through a crack, but not you, my friend, she giggled for the kami’s benefit. The demon spirits were her greatest fear. Even more fearful than her husband, they gave no warning of their evil desires. They can strike me down with misfortune at any time, and my family will suffer even unto any grandchildren and great-grandchildren I may be blessed with. But I have a powerful force at my disposal. Ah yes, even stronger than a tiger; the Shinto shrine. You, my kami friend, will instil in me the true knowledge of my firstborn. The Shinto gods are to be believed over that fortune teller, she scoffed. If he wants to know what the untrustworthy wretch has to say, why doesn’t he go and ask? No, I won’t go! As she looked at the kami for confirmation, it delivered the good news of what her baby was to be into her mind. Then it dissolved into the heat shimmer, and was gone.


Michiko Ohmori and her husband Tadeshi were united in joy when a healthy boy was born; the mother aglow with relief that the kami’s prediction was correct. For her firstborn, she had produced a son. And to see how indulgent her husband was, gleefully holding the child, giggling into its red face and running his hands over its tiny smooth body with such obvious satisfaction, she didn’t think he had it in him to so overtly cherish another person.

The next day she couldn’t believe her eyes when her husband swept the swaddled child from out of her arms and hastened off at a lively trot in the direction of Hita. Unable to conceal her dismay and shock, she broke into an incessant wailing while running in a desperate bid to catch up with him. She cared nothing for neighbourhood eyes that stared through window shutters in sympathy at her plight, as she followed him to the door of his favourite geomancer.

Used to welcoming his clients effusively, the silver-bearded sage, in this instant however, stood threateningly tall over Ohmori-san. “Do we have to put up with that obnoxious din? Get rid of that woman,” he snapped at the father.

Only after Ohmori-san had beaten his implacable wife away with a stick could the men have peace, although she returned and continued to whimper like a dog with fleas on the practitioner’s cold steps. Seated together on the smoothly-worn timber floor, they conversed animatedly while slurping sake rice wine from crude earthenware cups. The neonate lay placidly between them amidst swirling tobacco smoke from their long-stemmed pipes. In due course, the geomancer’s face broke into a wide smile exposing crooked, discoloured teeth, and he clapped his hands to indicate the advent of high-seriousness. Unwrapping the bundle and muttering to himself, he began to near-sightedly inspect the infant, pressing its navel, pinching its nose, peering in its ears and pulling them until it cried. The father watched enthralled as the learned sage consulted a zodiac chart and calculated the child’s birth date against the alignment of the stars and moon. Muttering to himself, he proceeded to blend soils of varying colours and mineral contents on a flat tray with a special brush, and then he consulted a different chart for signs of earth elements predominating in the child’s personality. Finally, the sage spoke, “Ohmori-san, your child has only one apparent defect.”

Ohmori-san sprang to his feet, gesticulated with flying arms and yelled in a high-pitched snarl, “Defect? How dare you insult me? Do you take me for a fool, or what? I have examined my son from his head to his toes and I dare you to find one blemish,” he raged, while white froth and spittle foamed and spat from his mouth. “I double dare you!” and with that he sat down immobile and sucked hard on his long-suffering pipe.

The sage bowed his head and furrowed his brow, mulling in his mind how best to divulge – without causing his valued client further anguish – that there was every reason for him to be proud of his son in spite of the defect. He confidently jerked his head upright, clenched his jutting jaw and in a firm voice of authority he addressed the new father. “I reveal good news, honourable sir. The defect is so minor that even you, his father, were not aware of it. It is because of this blemish that the omens are so strong.”

“But what has my peasant wife passed on to the poor child? I am a proud traditional artisan, well above her poor station in life. I regret ever having married the classless weakling. What is wrong with her child?  Tell me now!”

“Ohmori-san, please bear with me. Sit down here again and share some more sake with me. Here, drink. That’s better. Now, you must listen to me. I am certain not only about the most appropriate name, but that this child of yours will take a very different path from previous firstborns of your clan. You will be a proud father.”

“Tell me what is wrong with it,” the father pleaded, grubby hands outstretched imploringly. He waited a full minute as the geomancer sat close to him, silent, nodding his balding head in rhythm while he rocked the baby to some imaginary ancient lullaby.

Then he fixed his eyes on his client and broke the news. “Your child has a flat nose.”

 In raucous, joyous laughter the father responded, “A flat nose? So he has a flat nose. Is that all that’s wrong with my son?”

“Don’t you think his nose looks rather flat?”

He slapped his hands on his knees and exclaimed, “Why of course, now that you mention it. Wouldn’t you have thought that dull wife of mine could have forewarned me? She’s its mother. I’m a busy man. I barely have time to look at him.”

“Ohmori-san, it’s a good sign, trust me. Now for the name – you must name your son Kenji.”

“Aaaah, Kenji – an excellent name; it means good health. Yes, I agree, we will call him Kenji.”

“I’m sorry, honourable sir, it is the other Kenji spelling.” With a stub of chalk he rapidly scrawled on the wooden boards beside the baby. “You see these characters? This one is the Kenji for good health and prosperity. But this other one, this is the character that appeared to me from my studies of your child’s birth. This is the other Kenji character, the one that means smart and intelligent. Your son will rise above this old traditional life and embrace a new era of prosperity for Japan.”

“No! It is my wish that he be called Kenji meaning health and prosperity.”

“Please forgive my directness and I’ll forgive your rudeness, Ohmori-san, but you must name the boy as I say.”

Now somewhat becalmed, although confused, Ohmori-san relit his pipe and asked, “In what way will our son be noteworthy?”

Once again in command of the situation, the sage refilled his client’s sake cup from the earthenware decanter and continued, “The signs show a strong personality. Yes, he’ll be a difficult child at times, I warn you, but as a potter he will outshine you, his father, but perhaps not his teacher. He will study diligently and travel far away, further than our capital, Tokyo. From Tokyo, your Kenji will sail across the distant seas to foreign lands. He will befriend different people with their strange customs and gods. His star will shine, and Ohmori-san, you will be justly proud of your firstborn...”

Ohmori-san, apprehensive and petulant anew, sprang to his feet and flung his pipe on the floor. Waving his arms near the sage’s face, he raged, “I don’t care about other people and their strange lives and gods. If my son is to make a difference, it will be to help my clan’s prosperity and social standing,” he snarled. “I will make sure my son follows the ageless traditions of our ancestors, the life of an Onta-yaki potter. Then the Shinto gods and the spirits of my ancestors will be pleased. Then he will live up to his name. And then my family will have good health and prosperity.”

He shook his sage head slowly, and said, “No, Ohmori-san, it’s no use ranting. I’m not mistaken. Mark my words, this one will be different. The signs show it, and they are never wrong.”

To emphasise the lack of amity between two proud men, the father glared at his clay pipe spread in broken pieces on the floor, but left it there. Then, on leaving the booth he dropped a few brass coins, barely enough to promise a future transaction, into the geomancer’s eager hands, made a vestigial bow and strutted resolutely out.

“Just don’t ask me what he said,” her husband spat as she joined him to return home.

“I don’t care what he said,” she snapped icily. “You’re in league with that miserable old fool, and whatever he said will be lies.”

“Cheer up, woman. There’s nothing wrong with my son.”

Already Michiko had carved out different ideas for her firstborn son. It was my immoral uncle who made all sorts of empty promises to my father, if he would let me marry this worthless potter. I will invest even my very life, if necessary, in raising my son above the social status of a mere artisan, for our family to escape the trap of ignorance and narrow-mindedness that is this village of Onta. He will work his way back into the prosperous merchant class I was forced to abandon. Secretly storing them in her heart, her young round face glowed with the excitement of performing all the ordinances and rituals required of her with the arrival of her firstborn. At the temple in Hita, in the presence of his parents and villagers, a Buddhist priest dedicated their firstborn son in a traditional naming ritual – where she heard her son’s name, Kenji, for the first time – and added a blessing from the guardian gods for his life.


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