January 17, 1995
I suddenly awoke from my jet-lagged
sleep, and lying there looking up at the ceiling of the still-dark room with a
fading light gently creeping in and silence all around save for the gentle wash
of the river beyond the walls, I knew it must be the early morning hours. As I lay there, I began to ask God in my
thoughts why I was here, why He had brought me back to this country where my
child had been so cruelly aborted.
then a huge earthquake swept through the room.
At first it was a slight rumbling, but it rapidly accelerated into an
I exclaimed as I threw off the covers, rolled off my futon and shook Keiko
awake. At first groggy then suddenly
gaining consciousness, Keiko quickly rolled out of her futon as well. Just then the tall, thin mirror that had been
leaning against the wall at her head fell down along the whole length of her
futon. We rushed over to stand beneath
the doorway separating the small room from the kitchen and clung tightly
the shaking subsided, and when it did, my thoughts immediately turned to the
other side of the Kamogawa where I knew there were no tall buildings or high
wires, and therefore was a safe place in the event of an aftershock or if Keiko’s
apartment building suddenly decided to collapse. Never mind the fact that rushing outside was
not recommended in all the earthquake literature I had ever read. This was different because of the safety the
would be a bit of a risk to get there since I would be leaving a multi-story
building, passing by a few others, and even crossing a small bridge, but my
quick mental calculations made this option seem much more desirable than just
staying inside on the fourth floor of a five-story apartment like a sitting
on my light-gray sweats, I hastily told Keiko we should quickly go outside to
the other side of the Kamogawa, but she didn’t seem to be in any particular
hurry. This was inexplicable to me, and
I felt a bit of compunction rushing off ahead of her, but I didn’t want to wait
around for a possible aftershock.
briskly walked out the door and along the narrow balcony. This brought me to the elevator on my left
with its narrow red doors. This time I
didn’t take it down, as I usually did—fearing what might happen if a large
aftershock hit while I was on it—but instead availed myself of the stairwell,
which I rushed down thinking any moment the aftershock would come.
stepped down quickly into the lobby with its low ceiling and plant with large
green fronds in the corner next to the swinging glass door. Exiting these doors, I turned right, and was
now out on the street in the brisk, cold, morning air. About ten yards down, I turned right at the
corner of Shomen Street, and was now headed toward Shomen Bridge, the short,
slightly humped span with a blacktop, one-lane road in either direction and a
narrow, white, ribbon of concrete next its walls for traversing on foot over
the murmuring Kamogawa below. On the
right, I passed the large, Buddhist temple bell with hieroglyphics etched upon
its large metal shell on the shoulder of the street, and then I came to the
mouth of the bridge, and, with the exhilaration of finally having made it to a
safe haven, walked hurriedly across its gentle arc to the other side—bringing
me to the corner of Kawabata and Shomen streets.
turned left at this corner and onto the path of flat, pale-yellow, square
stones which led to the stairs some ten yards away. These stairs descended a steep floodwall
diagonally, away from the intersection, doubling back in the middle of the
floodwall until they reached the walkway below where their exit point came even
with the entry point above. Reaching the
neat, clean, cement pathway next to the river, I settled into a more calm and
relaxed gait, the street now fifteen feet above, the girders on the underside
of the bridge just ahead, and knew that I had made it. The whole way I hadn’t run, feeling that I
somehow had to keep my cool. But now
here I was, on the bank of the river, out of harm’s way, and a feeling of
indescribable peace settled over me as I began to pace back-and-forth and
ponder the amazing series of events that had culminated in this earthquake on
the morning of my return.
wasn’t any damage in the local area, as far as I could see, looking back across
the river at the skyline of two-and three-story houses that stood as calmly and
quietly as they ever had—maybe even more so in the ubiquitously eerie stillness
that follows a big earthquake. I was
surprised most of all to see that no one else had left their homes to come to
the side of the river or anywhere else for that matter, and I felt a bit silly
for having come out here all alone. But
at least I was safe now and I made a quick mental prayer for the safety of
everyone else as well.
wondered if Keiko was ever going to come out to join me. Was she taking her time?! How could she! Maybe the Japanese just aren’t accustomed to
earthquakes, I thought.
Kamogawa was a smooth and gentle crystal-clear river about twenty yards in
width and no more than three feet deep in any one place as it went on a
relatively straight course along the eastern edge of downtown Kyoto. As its name indicated, it was home to many
gulls that loved to rest in flocks on the various smooth stones that poked
through the glassy-clear surface—or sometimes their little feet sunk just below
the transparent water line upon these stones—and then flying away in agitated,
white-winged frenzy when someone approached across the bridge, although in this
case probably already having done so with the advent of the quake.
I thought in response. “Eriko’s pregnancy?!
Related to this?! This
I considered the implications of this, still pacing anxiously back and forth, a
feeling of great, eternal joy swept over me.
Everything from eight months before until now suddenly snapped into
place, as if it had been my sad destiny to have all that happen so that I could
arrive at this place, at this time and with this message.
eventually came out, and instead of joining me by the side of the river she
beckoned to me from the bridge, telling me everything was okay and that we
could return to the apartment now. My
mind and spirit now at ease—although a bit embarrassed that I had rushed out
ahead of her while she seemed entirely unaffected by the quake, coming out here
for no other reason than to call me in—I moved lightly back up the stairs of
the floodwall and walked with her back across Shomen Bridge to her
in Keiko’s room, I told her that when I was by the side of the river a voice
had told me, “Nisshin to jisshin kankei
“Well, of course,” she said in
response, “for you there would be a connection between the pregnancy and the
earthquake because after you left Japan eight
months ago your baby was aborted, and now, when you returned, there was this
myself was not sure where the voice had come from, but Keiko’s explanation
seemed to logically place it within my own mind. Adding to her theory, I said: “Maybe since nisshin and jisshin rhyme,
and since I am an English Literature major who loves to read and write poetry,
I rhymed the words in my own mind.”
Keiko concurred with this idea, and we both had a good laugh over my
foolishness. Keiko then turned on the
TV, and before our eyes was a scene of utter devastation that was quite
different from the calm intactness of Kyoto as we saw it when we were outside
and as we could now see from her fifth story window. The announcers were saying that this was the
city of Kobe—a city about an hour by train south of Kyoto, bordered on the east
by Nishinomiya, the city where I had been hired as an English teacher and was
due to start in a week.
initial moments of the quake were starkly captured by a security camera in an Osaka business office—the
little digital readout in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen reading 5:46 AM.
One could see people on the grainy, black-and-white monitor working
peaceably at their desks, and then a sudden, violent shaking; the men in their
business suits and women in their smart dresses diving and scrambling for
cover; file cabinets against the wall to the right suddenly coming to life in
some kind of phantom jitterbug, opening and spilling their contents as they
crashed to the floor.
the most startling images were the helicopter shots from above Kobe that showed fires
quickly overspreading the city’s many buildings and roads, and it seemed like
nothing could be done about it. The
reporters sounded glum. The whole
Hanshin Region—that area which encompasses Kobeand Osaka, and, between them, Nishinomiya—had suffered severe damage.
and I watched in shocked amazement and after some time she told me something
that further added to my shock: she had to go to work.
I said. “Not right now! Not just after this earthquake!”
Keiko insisted it was her duty even immediately after an earthquake.
the Japanese way of thinking,” she said.
some prompting from me, she finally called her department store, Daimaru, to check and make sure she
was still needed, and it turned out she was.
She then put on her smart salesgirl uniform and was soon walking out the
door. And so I was left alone with the
apocalyptic image of Kobein flames and fury.
couldn't well understand what the newscasters were saying, as my Japanese had
declined greatly in the eight months since I had been expelled from Japan, and, in
fact, the newscasters’ rapid, unintelligible Japanese was distracting me from
absorbing exactly what I was seeing.
few days after the quake, I went to Tokyofor training with American Language School (ALS). At the head office in Yotsukaido, ChibaPrefecture,
everyone was abuzz about the Kobe Quake and I was told the teacher in Nishinomiya whom I was to
replace had been pulling bodies from the rubble in the apartment next to his,
an apartment I would soon inhabit.
During my orientation, Jack, the assistant principal (who bore a
striking resemblance to Michael Douglas)—informed me that the Los Angeles Quake
had happened exactly one year before the Kobe Quake, on January 17, 1994, and
the joke was going around that I had actually brought the L.A. Quake to
time I was introduced to someone, I would invariably receive a surprised look
and the question, “Were you in the L.A. Quake, too?!” This question made me uncomfortable, and
thankfully I was able to answer, “No, I was in Japan at the time.” But these peculiar queries did remind me of
my own peculiar connection to the Kobe Quake and the voice that had said, “Nisshin
to jisshin, kankei aru.”
Just upon returning from Tokyo, I entered Keiko’s
apartment room, when a huge aftershock swept through the room and the voice
intoned, as it had on the morning of the earthquake—but this time more
emphatically—“Nishin to jishin, kankei aru!”as if growing impatient with my reluctance to acknowledge it. So strong was this impression that I was
compelled to tell Keiko that with the large aftershock (which turned out to be
the largest of the Kobe Quake) the voice had told me even more emphatically
that there is a connection between the pregnancy and the earthquake. In reply, she
said, “If it happened twice, then maybe
you should talk to a Catholic priest about it.
How about Fr. Lukas?”
Lukas? I don’t want him to think I’m a
After Keiko went to
work, I reluctantly gave Fr. Lukas a call and told him something strange had
happened in relation to the earthquake and the recent aftershock, and I
wondered if I could have an appointment to talk with him about it. He said he had time the next day and asked if
I knew where Franciscan House was. I
told him I had never heard of it before, and he told me he would meet me at
Shijo Station and lead me there, since the directions might be a bit difficult
to understand over the phone. I agreed
to this and hung up the phone.
Lukas greeted me heartily the next day at Shijo Station and together we walked
the quarter-mile or so down Shijo Street, past the various shops and
restaurants, and turned right down a small, narrow, side street with a series
of low wooden shacks that closely abutted the street, broken every now and then
by small parking lots. This led to a low
wooden shack with a sign that read “Franciscan
House” hanging from its eaves above a pair of sliding doors. On one side of these doors stood an old,
Japanese stone lantern flecked with patches of rich, green moss and one of
those flat, wooden signs with thick, black Chinese characters inscribed on it
indicating some strict decree sent down by the medieval bakufu. Fr. Lukas told me the edifice had formerly
been a kimono shop, but the Franciscans now owned it. He slid open the doors open and invited me
crossing the threshold into the cool, dark room, I felt like I had stepped back
in time. On the walls were various
charts, timelines, and graphs, along with an old painting depicting people on
crosses being speared by samurai who thrust their long pointed yariup into the helplessly stretched-out bodies from below. Glass display cases lined the walls and
featured a variety of Christian-themed antiques. Seeing my look of surprise and fascination,
Father told me that this rectory doubled as a museum of the early Christian
history of Japan.
I said, surprised. “I didn’t know they had
such a history!”
many people do,” he explained, “but hopefully this little museum will help to
I looked around a bit, Fr. Lukas pointed me to a side room, and, as we
proceeded there, we passed the doorway of another room wherein I saw a set of
old, musty clerical robes hanging in a closet, with tarnished gold monstrances
shining in muted glory on the shelf above them.
We stepped up into the room just beyond and I noticed the walls were lined
with bookcases which encased old, musty volumes with Latin words on their
spines behind protective glass doors, as if this room were an archive to the
had me sit in a chair on one side of a low, square coffee table, where he
served two round cups of warm tea, and settled into the couch across from
me. I then told him what had happened
from the point of our last meeting before Christmas when I returned to Los
Angeles, my return back to Japan in mid-January, the earthquake, and the voice
telling me “Nisshin to jisshin kankei
aru”—Father occasionally muttering syllables like “yes” or “mm” along the
way to let me understand he was following the progress of my words. When I finished, Fr. Lukas sat there silently
for a moment.
then asked me what I learned from this experience. I reflected for a moment,
and then said, maybe God was trying to tell me that just as an earthquake
happens within the womb of the earth and causes great destruction, so too does
an abortion happen within the womb of a woman and causes great destruction, the
difference being that we can see the damage from the earthquake, but we can’t
see the damage from the abortion, although the damage from the abortion is far
worse since it is caused by man, while the damage from an earthquake is caused
mulling this over with a kind of calm consideration, Father then asked what I
planned on doing with this new knowledge.
I thought about this a bit, and then said maybe God wanted me to be more involved with
the pro-life movement. Father said that
would be good fruit, and then explained that even though I had a powerful
experience of this earthquake, everyone has had their own experience of this earthquake and mine was not the only
one. I told him I understood, and he
then continued by saying I should be aware that some people might not
understand my experience, and I should therefore be careful to whom I tell it, saying I could
know privately for myself that this happened without having to tell many
sounded like very wise and prudent advice, and I thanked him for it as we got
up to depart the room. As we crossed the
threshold and stepped back down into the museum, I again expressed my
fascination about all that I was seeing around me. I then said to Father that my parents back in
L.A. might be
interested in knowing about this place, and asked if the museum had any
postcards I could send them. Father was
happy to accommodate me as he pointed to the glass display cabinet next to the
door where I had entered. It was a small
nook with Franciscan-themed pictures hanging on the walls. Walking over to this area, I directed my eyes
toward the shelves of the cabinet, and they immediately fell upon a very
dramatic postcard in the center of the display:
It was a postcard of a
Japanese woman standing on a pyre of logs in the middle of a fire. Her head was
turned up toward the heavens with a look of concerned but matronly strength in
the midst of her distress, with small children wrapped around her, the children
somewhat obscured by a wide strip of white paper with “100 ¥” written on
it. Sadly and tragically, they were all
tied by ropes to a tall wooden cross, the crossbeam slanting above the woman’s
head as she looked up into a sky painted black with smoke from the fire which
now blazed around them.
I asked Father who this was and, taking up the postcard from its case and
handing it to me, he said it was a woman named Tecla Hashimoto, explaining she
was one of the fifty-two martyrs of Kyotoin 1619.
immediately thought. Where we are now…
He then added “By the way, she was pregnant at
this sent my thoughts reeling—Pregnant?!
Here in Kyoto?!—and I of course was strongly reminded of the
voice that had told me “nisshin to jisshin kankei aru” at the corner of Kawabata
and Shomen streets on the morning of the earthquake, not to mention the
pregnancy of my own ex-fiance that I thought this voice referred to.
I then asked Father how many months Tecla was pregnant.
came the reply.
this was not the same as Eriko’s three months and ten or so days of pregnancy
before our child was aborted, but it still seemed coincidental that this poor
Catholic martyr, Tecla Hashimoto, had also suffered the killing of her unborn
child under such dire circumstances.
more closely, I could see that there were actually three postcards bound
together. After seeing the first postcard, I was curious to see what the other
two postcards depicted, and so I began by pulling up the second one.
one contained a split image in the upper half, with typed Japanese script
below. I examined it carefully. The image on the left depicted a modern
street scene with cars in the distance on a city street next to a curb flanked
by green bushes flecked with reds and oranges, and next to them a yellowish
path of flat, square stones above a stretch of river which disappeared into the
upper left-hand corner. There was
nothing striking about it, nothing apparently related to the apocalyptic scene
of Tecla and her sacrifice. Just a
modern street scene. But then I saw a
street sign in the upper right hand corner of the picture which read: Shomen Dori.
Dori—the street Keiko lives on! I thought. What’s
that doing here? And that must be the
Kamogawa! And if that’s the Kamogawa,
then the street running alongside the Kamogawa at the intersection of Shomen
must be Kawabata….
Examining the photo more closely, I mentally
verified that this was indeed the intersection of Kawabata-Shomen, where I had
gone the morning of the earthquake and where the voice had said “Nisshin to
jisshin kankei aru.” I quickly
looked over the postcard again to make sure I wasn’t seeing things or confusing
this intersection with another one further up or down the street, but there was
no doubt. In almost speechless
astonishment, I asked Father what this was, and he told me that that was the
place where the martyrdom occurred……….
So remarkable was the coincidence implied by
these words that just then I had a vision of a golden path to heaven, wide and
straight, that narrowed to a point in the distance, and I knew for certain that
there was a God, and a heaven, and everything else that the Catholic Faith
taught, and all I had to do was stay on this path in order to get there.
I then asked about the orange-colored stone in
the other half of the split image, and Father told me it was a stone right near
that intersection which had just been erected a few months before. It must have been small—and innocuous—I
thought, for I had passed by this intersection many times (in fact, on a daily
basis) in order to get to and from the Kawarmachi-Sanjoo Cathedralfor Mass and Rosary but had never seen it.
After this second postcard, I now wanted to see
the third, and so I pulled it up from behind the previous two, and saw, as in
the second postcard, a split image with Japanese writing below, again with the
orange stone on the right side, but this time, on the left side, a small
hump-backed bridge crossing a river. On
its little stone entrance pillar one could read the three kanjicharacters “Shomen Bashi” (ShomenBridge)—apparently the name of the bridge I had
crossed to get to the other side of the KamoRiveralong Shomen Street,
and to reach the intersection of Kawabata-Shomen on the morning of the Kobe
Quake. Feeling as if I knew the answer
in advance, I asked Father what this bridge was.
“Oh, that’s the bridge over the place where the
Upon hearing this I felt in a kind of spiritual
daze, but I thanked Fr. profusely for all his assistance and rushed back to Keiko’s
apartment to verify that all this was real and I hadn’t imagined any of
it. Holding the three postcards and
starting up on the fifth balcony, just outside the door of her apartment, I
retraced all my steps on the morning of the Kobe Quake. First, I went over to the stairs next to the
elevator and descended them. When I
reached the bottom floor, I went through the lobby, then through the glass
doors and turned right. I then walked down to Shomen Street, where I turned
right and approached the bridge.
I had never really noticed this before, but now
with the third postcard help up, I saw clearly etched upon the bridge, just as
it was on the postcard, the three Chinese characters for Shomen Bashi.
Crossing the bridge, I then saw the signpost
just as depicted in the second postcard—Kawabata and Shomen pointing in
directions perpendicular to one another.
There was the same yellowish tile walkway, and the same snaking river in
the distance beyond. As I walked along
the yellowish brick path toward the stairwell leading down the side of the
floodwall (just as I had on the morning of the quake), I then saw on my right
an orangish stone with sparkles in it, squeezed in among the hedges that lined
So there it was! I thought. All this time I had passed by and I never
noticed it, not even once! But there it
was, clear as day. Etched upon it were
the words “Gendai Jidai--Junkyo no chi”—“Earth of the Martyrs—Era of
It was so hidden and innocuous that no one
would have noticed its existence unless they knew in advance to look for
it. In fact, in the two or so months
that I had been staying at Keiko’s apartment, I had not only not noticed it
while passing by it daily, but I had never seen anyone else stop to look at it,
let alone meditate upon it and all that it meant.