Neo-traditionalism of Japan/Story

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Are these visions of the underground Hell?
- Merry pictures the truth of Japan through the increased sensitivity of her antenna.



#01 緑のサナトリウム Green Sanatorium
"Sanatorium in Mountain"


"Was it boring?"
"Of course it was boring! I couldn't believe that they had to quarantine me all the way up in the mountains like that! You can't even get a signal out there!"
"Quarantine...? It seemed more like therapy, I guess."


Due to extreme environmentalism, cities have been decorated to look like forests. Like a painted jungle, there is no natural vegetation.
Humans tried to create and bend nature to their will, but it was only a matter of time before the untamed portions were totally neglected. Treatments were found for most diseases. Incurable hereditary conditions were treated not as diseases, but rather as idiosyncrasies, and the society changed to accommodate them.
Incurable diseases were de facto "nonexistent" afflictions.


After Maribel Hearn (Merry) became injured at the Torifune Ruins, she caught an unknown disease. It was diagnosed as delirium caused by a virus that does not exist on earth.
Since society fears things beyond their control, Merry was quarantined under the name of therapy at the Shinshuu Sanatorium. Now, after being informed that Merry is fully recovered, Renko Usami has come to greet her.

 「ん? それってメリーにとってはいつもの事じゃあ……」

"They wouldn't let me see anyone, and I don't have any relatives in Japan anyway."
"Well, what kind of illness was it anyway?"
"I had recurring fevers, and I would start sleep-walking and seeing visions of other worlds whenever they happened."
"Huh? I thought that was normal for you..."


#02 牛に引かれて善光寺参り Led On by a Cow to Visit Zenkou Temple
"Goslings lead the geese to water."


"See how that pillar at the main temple is way out of alignment from the rest of the foundation?"
"So this is the 'Earthquake Pillar'?"


After Merry was discharged, Renko and Merry decided to go sightseeing through Shinshuu as they were in the area.
Their first stop was at the Zenkou-ji temple, where they planned on visiting Japan's oldest Buddha statue. There was nothing new about the main shopping street that ran through the shrine, packed as it was with visitors. As the world of souvenirs was bound by tradition, it was like time had been stopped for over a hundred years there.


"It's supposedly one of the after effects of the Zenkou-ji Earthquake."


The Zenkou-ji Earthquake struck the northern part of Shinshuu in the fourth year of the Kouka era (1847).
Zenkou-ji temple was famous for publicly displaying its private Buddha statue only once every seven years, and during that time the temple would be flooded with people from all over the country. Since the Zenkou-ji earthquake struck right in the middle of the ceremonial unveiling, the damage dealt by that powerful earthquake was catastrophic, and it is said that the dead numbered in the thousands.

 「地震で柱だけがずれたって言うの? そんな事あるのかしら」

"Are they trying to say that just this one pillar shifted in the earthquake? Is that even possible?"
"Well, the truth is that the pillar dried out and twisted that way over time.
However, everyone decided that in order to convey the fearsome power of earthquakes to later generations, they should call it the 'Earthquake Pillar', and the name stuck."


But Merry had seen it. She had seen a landscape wrought by a frightening earthquake that could easily have twisted that pillar.


#03 ハートフェルトファンシー Heartfelt Fancy

 「どうしたの? 何か顔色が良くないみたいだけど、

"Is something wrong? You look a little pale... Are you still not feeling that well?"
"Ah? Oh... No, it's nothing like that at all. In fact, I'm in the pink..."


Lately, Merry was not just seeing gaps in the boundaries between worlds, but seeing the worlds themselves.
And it wasn't just in dreams anymore, there were cases where she actually went to the places she saw, and that was making her a little worried.


Then there was that time at the Torifune Ruins from the other day. It might have been just a dream to Renko, but it was real for Merry. After all, she was the only one who was wounded.
The real reason she was put in the sanatorium was probably because it was determined she had some kind of psychological anomaly. Of course that wasn't the case, but society just isn't receptive to strange people.
That's why Merry had to keep her ability secret, as some element of the occult.


"Merry, I know that you have some kind of mysterious power,
but I also know that that power is somehow related to shrines and temples."
"Yeah, that's one of the reasons we came here, but are you sure you're feeling alright?"
"I already told you, I'm fine.
It's just... maybe I feel too fine. Like I'm able to see more than I should."
"More than you should? Like what?"
"Like Hell."


#04 六十年目の東方裁判 Eastern Judgement in the Sixtieth Year
"Fate of Sixty Years"


"Whoa, this sort of has..."
"It's got a really 'funny' face, doesn't it?"


Renko and Merry were standing in front of a statue of a yama. Its face was bright red in anger, but to them the statue just looked like an old drunk.


"Hey, Merry. Back to what we were talking about before, does Hell really exist?"
"Well, it's said that Hell exists forty thousand yojana underground."


"And 'yojana' is a measure of distance?"
"Yes, it's a unit of length from ancient India. One yojana is about seven kilometers, so forty thousand yojana would be about two hundred eighty thousand kilometers. The diameter of the earth is just a little over twelve thousand kilometers, so the distance goes through the earth."


"At two hundred eighty thousand kilometers, that puts the moon closer to Hell than earth, even if you start by going through the earth. In other words, I guess that means it doesn't exist."
"Uh, I wouldn't be quite so sure about that..."


The place that's forty thousand yojana underground is the bottom of Hell. Hell is actually about thirty nine thousand yojana high; that means that its ceiling is far closer, just a thousand yojana from the surface. Converting to metric puts that at about seven thousand kilometers underground. In other words, close to the center of the earth.


Merry didn't know that much about the inside of the earth, but the thought had crossed her mind that if she believed Hell really existed, she was bound to find herself there someday. After all, Merry was carrying a piece of evidence with her. Merry continued the conversation, trying to conceal her anxiety.

 「え? 極楽は雲の上にあるんじゃなくて?」

"Still, that puts it a lot closer than Paradise."
"Huh? Wasn't Paradise supposed to be somewhere above the clouds?"


"Hey, Amitabha, who lives in Paradise, is 6×10125 yojana tall, right? Just 'above the clouds' isn't even..."
"Umm, if that's the case, Amitabha's height is far greater than the scope of the universe, at least according to the Big Bang Theory. That's some ridiculous inflation."


#05 アガルタの風 Agartha Wind


"So I guess compared to Hell, Paradise is a lot larger, and a lot farther away."
"At the same time, Hell is a lot closer, and a lot more realistic."


Since ancient times, as long as there have been humans, there has always been 'hells on earth'. It may be that people imagined Paradise to be far larger than their own hell as a way to quell their fears.
Yet, the real Hell deep underground still remains in silence.


Merry didn't tell Renko, but when she was undergoing "therapy" at the sanatorium, she experienced a strange world that lay far beneath the surface, in the depths of the earth.
There was that cave entrance, filled with the frightening stench of death. It reminded her of Yomotsu-Hirasaka as it was described in the Kojiki. Merry was still carrying the strange rock fragment that she found while she was there. For some reason, when she held it, she envisioned several landscapes in her mind, appearing and then vanishing just as quickly.
Merry had a hunch that some secret lay beneath the earth, and that it was somehow connected with the origins of this country. Some monumental secret.


"Merry, what's wrong? You're drifting off again."
"Hey, Renko, did anything happen while I was in the sanatorium?"


#06 イザナギオブジェクト Izanagi Object

 「え? 何か、ねぇ」

"Huh? Did anything happen, huh...?"
"In particular, anything that has to do with the depths of the earth."
"Uhh... Oh yeah, now that I think of it you were completely cut off from all outside information weren't you? Okay, okay. I remember pretty much everything that went on in the news in the last month. As for something to do with the depths of the earth... Well, if you're fine with fake news..."
"Tell me."
"At one of the methane hydrate drilling sites in the Sea of Japan, they found some ore with a strange composition... Those involved said that it was a relic of the Izanagi Plate that was thought to have completely disappeared some twenty five million years ago, and there was an uproar about it for a while, but it seems that some of the information was fabricated. The rock fragment they found turned out to have been shaped by human hands. Once that came to light, the entire scientific community lost interest."


The Izanagi Plate was the ancient tectonic plate which gave rise to the Japanese archipelago when it ran into the Pacific side of the Eurasian Plate. Twenty five million years ago it was completely submerged under the Eurasian continent and disappeared. Its name comes from the god that was said to have created the Japanese archipelago.

 「遥か地底から人工物? それって本当?」

"Something man-made from deep under the earth's surface? Is that true?"
"Well, I'm not so sure about that. There was that one case of a scientist who claimed that some stone artifact dated back to seven hundred thousand years ago turning out to be a fake, but for something twenty five million years ago? That seems like a tough argument to make."
"In other words, it's actually almost certain that it's not a fake."


Merry looked as if she had made up her mind.


#07 妖怪裏参道 Rear Temple Path of Youkai
"Enigma Street"

  今日のメリー、何か変よ? 急に不安がったり、急に自信持ったり」
 な、何言ってるの? やっぱりおかしくなっちゃった?」

"That's great news! That man-made object is real!!"
"Huh? Merry, are you a little off today? You keep switching from looking worried to being full of confidence at a moment's notice..."
"The truth is, I've got one of those fragments of the Izanagi Plate!"
"Huh? Wh-what are you talking about? Are you sure there isn't something wrong with you?"


Renko looked on as Merry was getting all excited about something.
She kept on muttering things like “Izanagi was real..." on and on. It was as if Merry was going off somewhere all by herself and Renko started to feel lonely.


Come to think of it, recently it felt as if Merry's abilities were getting stronger. At first they had fun enough with just being able to catch a glimpse of strange new worlds, but now they were bringing things back from those worlds as if it were nothing.


In those strange worlds they had sometimes encountered beings like youkai. To Renko, those were just figments of her imagination, but to Merry, they were real.


Renko couldn't help thinking that Merry was on the same level as those youkai.


#08 アンノウンX Unknown X
"Unfound Adventure"


"Hey, Merry, about that rock you said you had with you..."
"Here it is."


Merry held out a small rock. Its shape was hard to describe, something like a fishing hook and something like a key[1], but it was clearly man-made.

 「これがイザナギプレートから見つかった人工物、伊弉諾物質 (イザナギオブジェクト) よ」

"This is what I found at the Izanagi Plate. It's an Izanagi Object."
"Hmm... How can you say for sure?"


"I can see it. The shape of Japan as Izanagi made it, twenty five million years ago."
"You really are acting a lot weirder than usual today, Merry."
"Say whatever you want, right now I feel amazing. I keep seeing these new visions, one right after the other."


Ever since Merry came back from the sanitorium, her sharpened senses seemed to be on a whole new level.
While Renko felt a bit jealous, she hoped that somehow she too could see what Merry saw.


"Come on, show them to me, too!"


#09 日本中の不思議を集めて Gathering the Mysterious from All Around Japan
"Mysterious Island"


When was it that people stopped accepting the mysterious?


When will o' wisps appeared, people used to think they were the regretful spirits of the dead, or fires which foxes used to deceive humans.


In those thoughts was a deep sense of imagination.


Even as science advances, the power of imagination does not grow any less important. The better half of science is still based on imagination. In order to explain those will o' wisps, we imagined that perhaps they were natural combustions of phosphorus gas, or perhaps they were plasma, or perhaps they were some sort of hallucination caused by the inner workings of the brain.


However, as this society built on information advances, the power of imagination has been all but extinguished.
In this age where information is equally available to anyone, there is no room left for imagination.
"On the true nature of will o' wisps, in the vast sea of information given to us, there will surely be an answer. If there isn't, then the whole thing should be labeled as some kind of mistake."


People have taken great pleasure in mysteries that have answers, but the mysteries whose answers cannot be found are spurned.
That is why the gods have vanished from this country.
Already, the entirety of Japan has become their graveyard.

 「メリー! この場所、見た事があるよ!」

"Merry! I've seen this place before!!"


#10 素敵な墓場で暮しましょ Let's Live in a Lovely Cemetery
"Neo-traditionalism of Japan"

 「この逆さに刺さった鉾は、高千穂の天逆鉾 (あめのさかほこ) ね。
  伊弉諾命と伊弉冉命 (イザナミノミコト) が大地をかき回したという鉾よ」

"That spear that's stuck in the ground, that's the Ame-no-Sakahoko of Takachiho! That's the spear that Izanagi-no-Mikoto and Izanami-no-Mikoto were said to have roiled the ground with!"


Merry had put her hand over Renko's eyes. Though unstable, Merry was able to share her vision with Renko in this manner.

 「え? この世界に実在するの?」

"Huh? That exists in our world?"
"It's sticking of out the peak of a mountain in Takachiho. Even though it's really strange, no one's properly researched it."


All of Merry's anxiety was gone. The land under the earth that she had seen wasn't Hell. What she had seen were images of the world of the gods, a place that actually existed.


"Then that must mean that Ame-no-Sakahoko is real, too. I think it's made out of the same rock as this Izanagi Object. We'll have to check it out!"
"That sounds great. Let's go in celebration of your full recovery. If the Ame-no-Sakahoko is real, then... there might be another Izanagi Object close by!"


Their imagination knew no bounds.

  あそこには天手力男命 (タヂカラオノミコト) がぶん投げたという天の岩戸があるんだって」

"After we rest a bit we should go to Togakure. Supposedly that's where Amenotejikarao-no-Mikoto burst through the gate of the celestial cave, Ama-no-Iwato!"


"Isn't Ama-no-Iwato part of Takachiho's..."


"Exactly! I'm sure that Ama-no-Iwato's an Izanagi Object! Now that that's that, let's go to Togakure!"


"This is really exciting, isn't it? I think that Izanagi Objects are sleeping all throughout Japan, it's just that no one's paid them any attention. Only people that have realized them for what they are can see the land as it appeared in the time of the gods. This is wonderful! Let's go out and find them all!"


So they started off, taking the graveyard of the gods as factual history.
It was what the members of the Sealing Club, those who accepted inexplicable mysteries, could see: a different Japan.


あとがき Afterword
Hello, it's ZUN. It hasn't been that long, has it?
I'm actually from Shinshuu, and have been to the Zenkou-ji temple in Nagano several times.
 あそこには戒壇巡りという、真っ暗な通路を手探りで歩く施設があります。 There is a pitch black passageway inside of the temple where it's so dark you must feel your way through. It is used in a certain set of monks' trials.
「真っ暗、って言っても、観光客が多いんだから安全性を考慮して非常口の灯りくらいはあるんでしょ?」 "Pitch black? But if there are many people that come as tourists aren't there emergency exit lights there for safety reasons?"
No, no. It really is pitch black in there. If an incident happened in that passageway, there would be absolutely no eyewitnesses.
The whole point is that if in the middle of the dark passage you can grip the lock of paradise, you've cleared the mission.
That's the way it usually is, but there was one time when there were lights on inside of it.
I think it was during one of those ceremonial unveilings they do every seven years. It was terribly crowded, so they must have done it out of safety concerns. It was really disappointing to me at the time, like I'd lost some of my innocence.
But looking back now, it really was a valuable experience to me. After all, I still remember clearly what the lock to paradise looks like, and that's not something you see everyday.
Ah, that really has nothing to do with the music CD, does it?
This story was just one of those adventures the two members of the Sealing Club usually have.
上海アリス幻樂団 ZUN(戸隠そばを食べたい) Team Shanghai Alice: ZUN (wants to eat Togakure soba)


  1. This part should include mistyping. If the original word "key" is "hook" , both of which share the same sound "kagi" in the kun-yomi system, this part goes easily. The mysterious artificial shaped like a fish hook or a hook needle is magatama. The relation between Izanagi Object and magatama is shown later in Unconnected Marketeers.
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