Saturday, July 03, 2004

The Allegrezza ficcione, Part Two

History was written at the ryokan; or at least the outline of a possible history obtained by rewriting the past. The officers were chosen because of their disciplines, not their military discipline. For the purpose of the meeting was to find historical & cultural justification for Japan setting out on an expansionist policy &, in concert with the others whose nations each had similar plans of their own, to divide the new world up amongst themselves.

It was a room full of ironies. The only Japanese to have seen military action was the civilian, in the late eighteen-nineties against the Chinese & a decade later against the Russians. The highest ranking officer was the American, a general, but the only one whose presence here was not sanctioned by his government. The only foreigner not to have fought was the youngest of the Italians, Franco Allegrezza, & though his politics were suspect he was regarded highly as an Orientalist, the foremost one in the military. The youngest Japanese, Kaoru Ishikawa, practised Buddhism, a suspect religion.

Despite the importance of the discussions it is only these last two who play any further part in this story; & even they only for a little while. They shared at room & similar interests. On the occasional evenings when there was a break from the conference they would soak in the hot springs & talk, or play go in their room & talk. The older Japanese would bring in geisha to entertain them in the banquet room, would drink, their faces growing redder, until they passed out. The foreigners would hire less-than-geisha, male or female depending upon their preference, & spend the time in their rooms taking advantage of the temporary privacy.

On one of these evenings, after a day spent investigating the augmented history base that the acquisition of China would bring – the Mongol conquests, the journey of Hsuan-Tsang to India to search for the Buddhist sutras, the voyages of Zhang He – Ishikawa mentioned that there had been a preface to the first edition of Wu Ch'eng-en's "Monkey" that made reference to an even earlier journey than that of Hsuan-Tsang. The preface was obscure, no dates given, no names even. Only an initial, K or Q, of obscure origins, possibly a Uigur who had converted from animism to Buddhism & come east. The implication was that the quest, if indeed it had occurred, was unsuccessful, that the Uigur had simply decided to return home & into anonymity. The preface had been removed from all subsequent editions.

Allegrezza was mildly interested. His family had a story of a twelth-century ancestor who was supposed to have traversed the Silk Road before the Polos. Again obscure, disputed names, vague dates, no proof of a journey let alone a successful one. It was a story told as an entertainment, not as a tale of truth.

He returned home after the conference. The anecdote about the Uigur traveller became a footnote to the family history, used as a supplement in an extended telling or as a defence to reinforce the universality of quests, mystical or otherwise.

All the officers were dead before the Second World War ended. Only the civilian survived, working as an advisor to Douglas MacArthur's Army of Occupation until his death in 1948.

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