Things that don’t make sense. Or fragments of memories that cannot be shared. ep1 “The Factory”: Kyosuke Higuchi

Text: Kyosuke Higuchi

Photography: Roland Saito

Translation: Jonathan Ealey


I woke up this morning and decided to write something meaningless.
No particular reason. I just felt like writing, so I wrote. This happens from time to time. And I don’t go against this kind of desire, because I think that’s what writing is, and what it should be.

I’m going to start writing something meaningless.
Since meaningless things are meaningless things, I’ll start writing without really thinking about it.

There are some memories that no one can share.
Memories that can be shared with someone are useful to someone, or even if they are not useful, they are interesting to listen to, or there is something about them that attracts us even if we don’t understand why.
No matter how trivial or private the event, it’s told to someone other than the narrator—for someone else—in order to contribute to someone else’s utility.
Memories that cannot be shared by anyone refer to all such memories, other than those that can be shared.

What is said is said in order to be said.
The unspoken is often forever unspoken.
What is said as unsaid will never be said as unsaid.

This text, which I am about to attempt, is a predetermined failure, and perhaps can’t be written.

When I was in high school, I got a part-time job at a factory. It was a factory that stored the stock of food and beverages that were sold in supermarkets and convenience stores. It was stored in large cardboard boxes. My job was to carry those cardboard boxes from one area to another. I didn’t know what the meaning of this work was at the time, and I still don’t know now, but at any rate, I found myself carrying the cardboard boxes.

The reason why I had to take a part-time job was because I spent too much time on the phone at home. On weekends, I would call my girlfriend, who I was dating at the time. The calls started at night and ended in the morning. I don’t remember what we were talking about. I think we were talking about the music we had recently listened to or the movies we had seen. I remember we talked about Bjork. I liked Bjork. She liked Bjork, too. Maybe she didn’t, but that’s how it was in my memory. I don’t remember what she was talking about at all. I don’t remember much of what people say to me. I don’t think I listen to people that much. I’m always talking at them. It’s quite common to have drinking parties where I’m the only one talking. I think it’s a bad habit. About eight years later, when I started working at a company, my boss would get angry at me. He told me not to talk so much and to listen to others. Yeah, I guess he’s not wrong I thought to myself. And then I put that advice into action. I stopped talking. That’s why I couldn’t speak well for about the first three years after graduating from university.

The story has gotten off track.
When I write, the story tends to do that.
But I think that’s interesting.

That’s right. So, I was on the phone for so long that the house phone bill went up, and I had to pay the bill.

It’s hard for a high school student in the countryside to find a part-time job. Moreover, I was naive. I didn’t know how to get a part-time job. Well, even now I don’t know much about it. I think I first applied for a part-time job at a nearby Bamiyan (Chinese restaurant chain) or Ministop (convenience store) because there was a sign on the front of the store that said they were looking for part-time workers. I wrote down the phone number, went home, took out the note, called the number, and the call went through. I heard an adult’s voice. Of course, it was a lie to say that I heard an adult’s voice—I don’t remember anything like that. I don’t have any memory of it, it’s just a story that happens when you think about it in a normal way. This is not fiction, but it is a story because it is a story being told. A story has its own logic. When I am telling a story, my memory is constantly being shaken by the logic of the story. At that time, I had never had a conversation with an adult other than my parents and teachers, so I felt nervous. Maybe I was nervous. I can’t really remember. They told me where and when the interview would be held, and I wrote my resume and brought it with me. I didn’t know what a resume was in the first place, but I asked my parents and they told me. I had a copy of my mother’s resume from her part-time job interview, so I used that. Of course, I don’t remember that. It is true that my mother had a part-time job, but I just pieced together the two symbols, “mother’s part-time job” and “resume,” to make it look like that. I often tell small, unimportant lies like this. Maybe I’m a liar. Probably so. By the way, the people closest to me already know that I’m that kind of person, because the lies I tell are so insignificant, so poorly crafted, and so easily exposed. My wife, in particular, is the person closest to me, and she laughs at me when she finds out about my lies as if it were an everyday occurrence. As an aside, novels let you get away with lies like that, which is kind of nice of them. There was a place on my resume where I had to put a photo, but when I asked, I was told that I needed to pay for a photo. It cost 500 yen or so. I didn’t have any money at the time, so I didn’t take a photo and left the field blank on my resume. However, even if I had the money, it is doubtful that I would have taken a photo. If I had 500 yen, I could have bought a used album at the local GEO (entertainment store). Or you could rent two movies at Pineapple, a video rental store in the neighborhood that looked like a knockoff of TSUTAYA. It would be more meaningful to spend money on that than on a photograph. That’s what I was thinking at the time, or I must have been thinking. Or that’s what I’m thinking now. Pineapple is a place that I have very fond memories of, and I went there every time I went back to my parents’ house, but it went out of business in 2010 or so. It’s since become a batting center.

So, I failed the interview. I thought at the time that I was failing at part-time job interviews, but I guess I’m just that kind of person, because when I was in college and looking for a part-time job in Tokyo, it still didn’t work out. When I was in my first year of college, I had a part-time job at a national chain clothing store in Takadanobaba (I’m allowed to use proper nouns, but I’ll refrain from doing so in case it might cause trouble). The manager was a really nice guy, and when we all went out for a drink, he said something like, “You were a bit naive, and I was worried about whether you would be able to have a good life, so I hired you to help you learn.” This may sound sarcastic, but that’s not how it turned out at all. Despite the manager’s intentions, I would go on with my life after quitting that part-time job, completely unaware of the world. I can’t remember why I quit my job at the clothing store. It was a great place to work. I remember they held a farewell party for me when I quit. I remember another employee, who was directly senior to me, said to me, “You’re making fun of us. You smile to our faces, but deep down it’s not true. You may think you’re hiding it well, but everyone knows it. To tell you the truth, I’m relieved that I won’t be seeing you anymore from tomorrow. No one liked you.”

Wait… what was I talking about?

It’s about a factory. I found the job through“Town Work.” I think the hourly wage was about 700 yen. It said that even high school students could work there, and in fact there were high school students working there. The factory was about two stops away from the nearest station to my parents’ house. When I called the company, I was told that they were already hiring, so I just needed to bring my resume and seal on the day I could work. When I told him that I would like to come around noon on the first day of summer vacation because it was about to start, he said that would be fine. We didn’t exactly have that conversation, but it must have been something like that. There are memories that cannot be shared, and memories that cannot be shared are not even shared by the owner of the memory. Memories do exist. Every memory is real, even if it did not happen in reality. But they can’t be touched by anyone. A memory exists only on its own. It does not belong to anyone.

I went to the factory by bicycle because I didn’t have money. I’m not very good at reading maps, so I often get lost. But at that time, I had no problem. All I had to do was pedal along the railroad tracks toward the station two stops away. It took me about 15 minutes to get to the next two stations. It was a hot day, but not uncomfortable according to my memory. Between the tracks and the road, there was a bare, rusty, reddish brown iron fence. Weeds that resembled silver grass grew thickly in the gaps between the fences, swaying in the wind. It might have really been silver grass. Either way, it didn’t matter. It was a residential area, and school children on their way home from the swimming pool were holding hands and walking in a line. I was listening to music. I don’t know if I was really listening to music or not, but I probably was. At the time, I liked to ride my bicycle and listen to music. It took me about 20 minutes to get to my high school by bicycle from Gifu station, but I loved the ride. On weekends, about four of my friends and I would ride our bikes from Gifu to Nagoya. It was to buy some used CDs. It might be a lie. Maybe I’m just pretending that I had those memories. I have many beautiful memories. I don’t know now how many of them really happened and how many didn’t.

When I was in my third year of high school, I stayed at a friend’s house and, unable to sleep well, I used the light leaking from outside to read a book by Yukio Mishima. I had forgotten all about it, but after I joined the workforce, someone told me about this memory at a bar.“I woke up at dawn, and you were already awake, reading something. When I asked you about it, you said it was Yukio Mishima, and I thought you were kind of badass.”I neither confirmed nor denied the story, but smiled vaguely in response. After that, I started to talk about the incident myself. As I did so, images of the event actually began to appear in my mind. It became one of the beautiful memories that I experienced, as if it was a memory that I was aware of from the beginning, but I am not sure whose memory it is. I am not sure if the event is true or not, but in my mind it is completely true, and since it is an irreplaceable memory that makes up who I am today, I will not alter it in the future. I don’t remember reading Yukio Mishima, I was not influenced by him at all, I don’t even know what he wrote, and I don’t think I will ever read him, but I am supposed to have read Yukio Mishima. In terms of form and content, I feel that Agota Kristof’s “The Illiterate,” for example, would be more appropriate, so I won’t hesitate to replace my beautiful memories when I simply want to write something meaningful.

But what we have here is not fiction. What is here is fact. As much as possible, I have tried to describe the facts as they are. Of course, what I call facts here include the extremely subjective sensations that I recall while writing.

One of the friends I hung out with at the time was Takahiro Horie, who is now a film director. He made his debut in 2015, and in 2016, there was a screening of his work at a mini-theater in Nagoya. I’ve been living in Nagoya since 2015; from 2007 to the middle of 2015, I lived in Tokyo and didn’t see many of my high school friends. I hadn’t seen Takahiro Horie (Hori-chan) since we graduated from high school. Since I was in Nagoya, I decided to go see him for the first time in a while. To be frank, I didn’t really get his film, but it was fun to go out for drinks with him and everyone else involved in the film after the screening. I think we talked about movies, music, and novels. At that time, I was the one who blabbered on and on. Hori complimented me on my sharp opinions. I was happy about that, but at the same time I felt embarrassed. He was creating something and not talking about it, and I was just talking without creating anything, which I thought was somehow wrong. I thought Hori was doing something. I thought I wasn’t doing anything. “Am I going to spend the rest of my life just blabbering on?” I thought to myself. It made me uneasy. So, the next day, I started writing a novel.

As of 2021, I am a novelist. But I still don’t really know what a novel is. Even now, there’s a part of me that can’t shake the feeling that I’m just blabbering away without creating anything. I guess it’s the same with this essay. For me, a novel is not just a piece of fiction. I believe that a novel that can be called a novel must have a world that is not here, another world. There must be a structure to the world, a logic to the world, and a law to the world that can only be found in the novel, and these must be perfectly constructed. Thus, a sentence written in a sloppy, talkative manner is never a novel. It should never be called a novel. But this is not an essay either, because many of the descriptions here are nothing but fiction.

This is not a novel, nor is it an essay.
So what is this all about?
What the hell am I doing?

Maybe I don’t even particularly want to know the answer.

I can’t seem to stick to the topic. I want to get back to the factory.

The factory was located very close to the nearest station. I could already see it from the station. It was a large space paved with asphalt, and we could see several trucks passing by. There was a building in the back that looked like a factory. Around the entrance of the factory, there was also a small orange car with a special arm to carry cardboard boxes, although I didn’t know what to call it.

The room I was assigned for the interview was on the second floor. There was an ice cream vending machine in front of the room. I noticed that I was sweating. I bought some ice cream. I went into the room. I don’t remember how I got in. I was a complete outsider, but I was able to get into the room. I wonder what the security was like. There was no one in the room, but the air conditioner was working and it was cool. I ate the ice cream I had bought earlier and waited for someone to come. I read a kind of biography of Chiune Sugihara written in English. It was a thin booklet, no more than 100 pages. My English homework for the summer vacation was to summarize it in 200 words or so. I didn’t know who Sugihara was, and I still don’t know much about him, but I remember reading the book, putting sticky notes around the important episodes with a red pen.

At some point, a person came. It was a tall man. A man with a loud voice. He had a slightly disheveled pompadour hairdo. He wore glasses with a brownish gradation. His front teeth were missing. He was wearing a work shirt over his undershirt. He had a towel wrapped around his neck, and the end of the towel was tucked into his shirt. He was sweating. When the man sat down in front of me, he smelled a little sweaty. Then we talked about something, but I don’t remember what. The man was the plant manager. I didn’t know when I got that information, but it was probably then. The factory manager was drinking something from a plastic bottle. I showed him my resume without my picture on it. The factory manager took my resume, folded it, put it in his pocket and explained the nature of the job. From that day on, I started working at the factory. I went down to the factory with the manager and put my belongings in the locker room. I punched my time card and put on my gloves. The factory manager took me to the section where I would be assigned to work. There was a pile of cardboard boxes filled with plastic bottles. The factory manager said, “Let me know when you get all of these to the truck outside,” and disappeared.

It’s getting kind of uninteresting to write about it.
Why did I start talking about this in the first place?
I don’t know. The person I was when I started writing, the person I was when I was writing, and the person I was when I finished writing all seem to be completely different people. When I start writing, I only know how I feel when I start writing. When I’m writing, I only know how I feel when I’m writing. When I finish writing, I only know how I feel when I finish writing. I don’t know who I am. I think I only have moments.

So, without further ado, let’s finish this story.
The part-time job started on the first day of summer vacation, and in the middle of that vacation, I got tired of going, so I just quit.

There were many people working happily at the factory, but I was not one of them. It wasn’t that the workplace was bad. There were people I became friends with. A freelancer with long hair, I forgot his name, who had just graduated from beauty school, told me that there was no easier job than this. “Other jobs are much harder. This job is hard work, but I can do it at my own pace, and I can decide when to work. This is the best job I’ve ever had,” the freelancer said. I thought to myself, “Really?” I was terrified of what it might mean for the rest of my life. I wondered what a person’s life would be like if they had to live like this forever. While I was walking around with the cardboard, I felt that time was passing very slowly. It’s a real waste of time, I thought. I was a restless person. I was a rebellious person. I liked punk rock. I hated my part-time job. I still hate work, basically. But there are many people in the world who do not. I don’t know whether people who have been exposed to rebellious culture and ideology cannot adapt to work, or whether people who cannot adapt to work prefer rebellious culture and ideology, but I have never had a conversation with someone who seemed to enjoy working. This is still the case today. I liked school. It was a playground for me. Studying was like playing. When I was a child, I thought that if the duty of a child is to study and the duty of an adult is to work, then the current situation would continue even after I became an adult. However, through working part-time, I learned for the first time that this was not the case. This reality was hard to accept. And even now, I still can’t accept that reality. Somewhere, I still think that there is a way to work like I play and live with a free mind. It may be a naive idea, and in fact I have been pointed out as such by others, but what does it matter if it is naive? No matter what anyone says, or what I myself think, I have no choice but to live with my naive thoughts, and with my naive thoughts as my own.

Since graduating from high school, there has probably not been a period of time when I have not worked, but that does not mean that I have done so voluntarily. I think it’s really strange that work isn’t part of freedom, or that the freedom not to work is stripped away in the first place. We should be free. We should have fun and enjoy our lives. No one should be deprived of that freedom and enjoyment.

It’s a strange sentence. I’ve been writing a lot of strange sentences.

I think I earned about 40,000 yen from my part-time job at the factory. I don’t remember if I gave that money to my parents or not. At the end of the summer vacation, I rented a lot of VHS at Pineapple (a video rental store in the neighborhood that looks like a clone of TSUTAYA) and spent my time watching movies by myself.

Kyosuke Higuchi

Science fiction writer and Office worker. Author of “Structural Elements” (Hayakawa Shobo) and the critique collection “All the Nameless Future” (Shobunsha).