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Village in the Mist: Chapter 1

14/03/2009

Savage Village in The Mist

霧の蕃社 Village in the Mist  中村地平 Nakamura Chihei

Chapter 1

In the region just near the center of the lofty mountain range that extends like the spine of a cow from the north of Taiwan to its south, there is a famous village known by the name Musha.

The village lies alone on a plateau where the ridge extending from Mount Gokan to the north and the ridge extending from the southern Mount Suisha extending north-east meet.  It’s height, nearly 1220 meters.  Low at its base the source of a muddy river ravine splashes as it runs among jagged bedrock.  In the area surrounding the ravine the mountains Noko, Gokan, Jiko and North Togan tower above, subtlety overlapping one another among the viridian flora.

Though from long before the area has been revered for its breathtaking scenery, it is only when spring comes to that southern island that one can catch sight of what is prided above all else, the blossoms from a rare kind of cherry tree exploding out of the plateau’s green mountain panorama.   In all of Taiwan there is no land that enjoys the adoration of the Japanese as much as this village.

The village is not, however, merely a point on the map of a tourist, it also occupies an important strategic point for crossing central Taiwan called Noko pass.  In order to cross between Taichu on the western shore to Port Karen on the eastern shore without detour through either the north or the south one must traverse these steep mountain paths.  Travelers wearing leggings caked in dust, mountain climbers lugging backpacks, armies reeking of leather, they all must rest their tired legs here on this high plateau.  Under the shade of cherry trees that cover the plateau, a police station, Inn and other facilities to accommodate travelers form the center of a small community for expatriate Japanese, providing separate elementary schools for both Japanese and natives, a trading post for locally produced goods and a tea house.  Naturally it was also the model proving ground for the colonization policy of native peoples aimed at civilizing the local villages scattered around the area.

Every year on a fine day in autumn there was the custom to hold day of athletic events for both the Noko district native elementary school and the Japanese school.  It was not only looked forward to excitedly by the children, but fathers and sons, as it were, all those who were engaged in the local guard or education.  As a general rule, besides encountering the occasional hiker or passing inspector, the people living in this mountainous region of Taiwan very rarely had the chance to meet a fellow Japanese.  It was with these people people in mind that the role of this social gathering was considered.

It was nearly ten years ago from today, on an autumnal October 27th in 1930.  That year, like every other, a sports day was to be held at the Musha school for Japanese.  Governmental police officials, school teachers and plantation supervisors living among the ridges and hills, sometimes setting out from the day before, traveled with their families in groups of two and three towards this gathering on the plateau just as they had in the years before .  Husbands wearing the black gaiters of their uniform and straw sandals, their wives, wearing their rarely seen finest Kimono, heedfully holding its hem, walk happily together along the narrow mountain paths of steep ridges.  In the terraced fields hanging low from mountain pass to valley there stands still a native girl with vivid red dress carrying a large bamboo basket on her back.

She calls out, “Boss man, mad’m, where you go?”

“To Musha… tomorrow there’s the sports day in Musha.”  Though she can feel the jealous gaze of the native girl behind her, the man’s wife, dressed in her finest clothes, replies full of cheer, paying no heed to turn around.  Upon arriving everyone hurries to find a place to stay at either the house of a friend or an inn.  The children, having arrived in advance brought by their teachers, have been expecting their parents’ arrival.

The evening air is electrified with excitement.  That evening, in keeping with years past, there was to be a school play.  The parents, in between watching a miscegenation of theirs’ and the native children reading aloud and singing songs, busy themselves paying overdue greetings, saved for this day over the course of the past year.  The geese had multiplied, a viper had gotten into a fight with the chickens, so-and-so had been transfered back down to the costal plains… rising as if a fever, the women, seemingly speaking all at once were lost in conversation; fragrance from their white blush, used only such rare occasions, acted only to further the excitement of all that were in attendance.

This year.  It was Hanaoka Ichiro’s performance on the organ, a kind of prelude to the sports event, that received the warmest applause. Hanaoka was a young policeman and a native by birth.  From a young age he was doted on by the Japanese, showing a sagacious temperament and full of courage.  At a very early age he had been given a Japanese name.  After graduating from the Japanese school he studied under tutelage in Taichu city, during which time, in his capacity as a policeman he was involved in the education of other native children.

When Hanaoka had finished playing the organ, everyone, finally releasing a sigh of awe, began clapping passionately.  There were even a few who let their praise be know through excited shouts.  Only Ichiro seemed to carry some gloom in his heart, his face full of melancholy.  His was an astoundingly grave face.  Needless to say, those who were overflowing with joy were unaware of the agony hidden in the shadow of Ichiro’s dark countenance.

At long last, the day of the event.  The sky of this usually cloudy plateau was uncommonly without a cloud in sight.  The sunlight in these clear mountains overflowed upon the red earth of the sports field, it’s bright cheer shining within the breast of each child and parent present.  As the children moved busily about preparing the field and changing their clothes, a friendly fraternization of joyous voices and laughter began to rise up like a cleansing morning fog from beneath the tent reserved for fathers and sons .   Apparently there was much left to be discussed from the evening before.  Fathers spoke proudly of the fact that even the Nouko regional administrative cheif Ogasawara Keitaro who had come all the way from the town of Hori was there making an offical appearance. A regional administrative chief was even more influential than a prefectural governor back home.  The fact that an offical that important was attending the athletic meet excited everyone all the more.  It was a enjoyable event without blemish for all in attendance.

In the shadow of this happy gathering, an unpredictable tragedy… a barbaric atrocity, unthinkable in the civilized world, lay in ambush; had no one had been able foresee it?

The event, as planned, began at 8 am.  School principal Shinabara Jyushi’s opening words, regional administrative cheif Ogasawara’s greeting then finally Musha Police branch office’s chief police inspector Sazuka Aiyu’s address all took place to everyone’s expectation.

After that the children helped raise the Japanese flag up the staff at the center of the field.  Everyone began to sing the national anthem… it was then just at that instant.

All of a sudden, without anyone noticing, unexpected misfortune arrived, rained down from above.  These words we use so often, misfortune… they lack the sufficiency necessary to truly make us understand: tragedy.  More than half of the 134 Japanese who had gathered that day on field fell,  casualties to the ignorant and ferocious barbarian’s surprise attack.

At first, when everyone had starting to sing the national anthem, a mass of cries yelling UGHH! as if to try and wash out their happy singing was heard, rapidly approaching from behind.  Everyone, half doubting their own ears, was filled with a sudden sense of dread.  For an instant, their signing voices fell into disorder.  Everyone had finally noticed the nearly 150 savages holding bamboo spears and crude machetes who were already rushing onto the field with the inhuman momentum of an avalanche.

Directly behind the athletic field there is a mound they used to call by the name of cherry tree knoll.  Among cherry blossom trees and small bushes that grew so thick they hid the ground yet another group of savages secretly lay in wait.  Some held drawn machetes in hand, others who held their sharpened spears, concealing their breath, eyes flashing bright, waiting for the right moment.

Panicked screams suddenly broke out even while those gathered on the field were still unaware of what was occurring around them, still unable to understand its grave meaning.  Soon, five or six Japanese, martyred with bamboo spears.

“Sound the Alarm, Sound the Alarm!”

With a ferocious scream, chief inspector Sazuka drew his sword.  Japanese children dressed in pure white gym clothes wailed in terror as their mothers and fathers called out their names, searching frantically, overcome with madness.  The native children had already disappeared from the field.  Mothers, clinging to their daughters, look for anywhere safe to escape to, find only more natives rushing down from the knoll.  Police officer Hanaoka, having been only moments ago still in uniform, standing among the masters of ceremony, had now shed that uniform in favor of a primitive hemp cloth.  Rarely had been seen donning these clothes.  It seemed he had foreknowledge of this surprise attack.  Perhaps unexpectedly, Hanaoka tried to holdback his fellow native’s murderous advance, yelling in a blood soaked voice, “wait until night fall, wait until night fall!”  Was there some calculation in his words, were they out of impulsive, or something else, perhaps not even he himself knowing their true meaning.

Not even this hoarse cry of desperation would find its way into the ears of the attacking natives for whom the sight of blood gave rebirth to savage instincts.  Women, children, as long as they looked Japanese it didn’t matter, one after another their bodies were cut down.  As inspector Sazuka clashed swords with the advancing savages a vision of chief Mona Rudao’s suddenly came to him.  Of even the most brutal headhunters, Mona Rudao’s was second to none.  Sazuka had only a few moments to considered this.  

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