SOMETHING DIFFERENT TODAY. THIS, AND THE NEXT TWO POSTINGS WILL WANDER A LITTLE OFF THE BEATEN PATH. THE FOLLOWING IS A STORY TITLED, “KENSUKE,” AND THOUGH BASICALLY FICTION, THE CHARACTER AND EXPERIENCES OF KENSUKE ARE BASED ON THE 12 YEAR-OLD SON OF TWO FRIENDS IN JAPAN.
On Thursday morning Mrs Aoki stood at her garden wall watching her son Kensuke walk off toward school with three of his classmates. She was warmed by the excitement in his step, and the enthusiasm in his voice. As the four boys disappeared around a corner, she caught the last strains of her son’s story. He was describing to his friends the wonderful photographs he and his father were taking for the school paper.
Kensuke enjoyed school. In a country where education is the key to everything, students like Kensuke are a great joy to their parents, and Mrs Aoki was happy in the knowledge that her son’s enthusiasm would serve him well in the years ahead. Like all mothers, she felt a squeeze of anxiety when she considered the examinations and keen competition that would rule her son’s life throughout high school and university.
But that was some years off, and for now Kensuke was happy and carefree, consumed by an innocent passion for cameras, microscopes, ice cream and baseball.
Kensuke was twelve years old and in the sixth grade at Osaka Ichiritsu Tamade Primary School. Each morning at eight o’clock, Kensuke’s friends Yûki, Fumio and Teiji met at his house, and from there the four of them walked the short distance to school. On this particular morning Fumio and Kensuke were arguing over which camera was better, Pentax or Nikon. Kensuke naturally favored the Pentax because it was the one his father used.
“Wait till you see the pictures we took yesterday of the crow in our garden,” Kenji said.
“My papa’s camera takes pictures like a machine gun!” Fumio countered, spitting out a staccato blip of camera clicks.
Teiji interrupted, wanting to know what Kensuke thought of their new science teacher. At this, Fumio giggled and gave Kensuke a knowing look. This was a topic that had for days captivated the boys at Tamade Primary School, because the teacher was not a growly old man with a short temper, but a pretty young woman. For all the students a female science teacher was something of a novelty. A pretty science teacher was something no one had dreamed of.
At Teiji’s question, Kensuke blushed red, stammering that she was okay. But the other three could tell from his reaction that she was more than just okay. The painful truth was, Kensuke was experiencing his first crush, and it was the source of much embarrassment. The day before, when Miss Nakatani had stopped to help Kensuke adjust a slide in the microscope, he had become so nervous and flustered by her close attention, he dropped the slide and had to start all over again with a new one. But in spite of the agitation, Miss Nakatani had awakened in Kensuke a new interest in science. Her explanations enlivened the details of science in ways that were fresh and interesting to him.
It was a day for their calligraphy lesson. Every Thursday Kensuke’s class spent one hour practicing writing with brush and ink. The teacher often reminded students that this practice was not only for the development of beautiful writing, but also to teach concentration and discipline. The time of practice and study was far more than the mere copying of Chinese characters, more than rote imitation of the teacher’s example. Assignments were meant to reflect not only correctness and clarity of form, but also to seek out through contemplation the beauty of the words or poem being copied.
Kensuke’s assignment this Thursday was a haiku poem by the famous poet, Matsuo Bashô. It was a special project, one that required only Japanese kana characters without the use of Chinese kanji characters, and when it was approved by his teacher, Kensuke meant to present it to his father. It was a way for him to express his appreciation for the hours his father spent teaching him how to use a camera. Kensuke liked the poem, and was sure his father would, too.
As his hand moved in curving sweeps over the paper, Kensuke imagined the poet’s words coming to life.
Wake up! Wake up!
Come sleepy butterfly
Please join me on my journey
The teacher stopped to watch over Kensuke’s shoulder. “Good, Kensuke…Here…” She gripped the brush around Kensuke’s hand and guided his brushstroke. “On the word ‘butterfly’ try to feel the lift of the butterfly’s wing. When you sense the lightness of his wing…then your poem will fly from the page.”
“Do you think my father will like it, sensei?”
“I think he will be filled with pride to see how the words have touched you.”
The teacher recognized in Kensuke a talent she hoped could be cultivated. There was obviously some of the parents in the boy’s work. She had met his mother and father more than once and was herself familiar with both the mother’s and the father’s art. Mr Aoki’s graphic designs could be seen in a number of prominent magazines, and Mrs Aoki was recognized as an expert in the field of ikebana, flower arrangement. The calligraphy teacher suspected that some of that talent had rubbed off on the boy.