where truth resides


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. 

            Just then a huge earthquake swept through the room.  At first it was a slight rumbling, but it rapidly accelerated into an intense shaking. 

            “Earthquake!” 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 together.  

            Eventually 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 river presented. 

            It 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 duck. 

            Throwing 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. 

            I 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. 

            I 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.

            I 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. 

            There 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.  

            I 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. 

            The 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.   

                And then something amazing happened.  As I was pacing back and forth on the sidewalk, deep in thought, a voice said, “Nisshin to jisshin, kankei aru.”[1]

            “What?!” I thought in response. “Eriko’s pregnancy?!  Related to this?!  This massive earthquake?!”  

            As 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. 

            Keiko 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 apartment. 

            Back 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 aru.”   

            “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 big earthquake.” 

            I 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[2], 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. 

            The 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. 

            But 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.

            Keiko 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. 

            “Work?!” I said.  “Not right now!  Not just after this earthquake!” 

            But Keiko insisted it was her duty even immediately after an earthquake. 

            “That’s the Japanese way of thinking,” she said. 

            After 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. 

            I 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. 

            A 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 Kobe. 

            Each 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?”

            “Fr. Lukas?  I don’t want him to think I’m a freak.”

            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. 

            Father 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[3].  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 in.

            Upon 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

            “What?!” I said, surprised.  “I didn’t know they had such a history!”

            “Not many people do,” he explained, “but hopefully this little museum will help to rectify that!”

            After 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 adjunct museum. 

            Father 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.

            He 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 by nature.

            After 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 people.

            This 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. 

            Tentatively, 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. 

            Kyoto! I immediately thought. Where we are now…

            He then added “By the way, she was pregnant at the time.” 

            Hearing 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.  

            “Six,” came the reply. 

            Well, 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.

            Looking 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.

            This 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.

            Shomen 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 Cathedral[4]for 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 kanji[5]characters “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 martyrdom occurred.” 

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 Kawabata Street. 

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 Gendai.” 

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. 

[1] “There is a connection between the pregnancy and the earthquake.” 


[2] Nisshin is actually spelled and pronounced as ninshin, as I would later discover.

[3] Japanese samurai-run government

[4] also known as the “St. Francis Xavier” Cathedral, but I did not know that at the time, as Japanese ordinarily refer to their churches for the street intersection or city district they lie within, rather than the patron saints they are named for

[5] Chinese characters appropriated and adapted for the Japanese language, lit. “Chinese letter”

Copyright by teclahashimto.com, March 30, 2014. All Rights Reserved.