This story is only available to subscribers, but then it’s a re-run from 10 years ago. The story carries a note from the editors: “This story, which was inspired by the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan, was originally published in The New Yorker’s March 19, 2001 issue.”
It’s a good story, and not nearly as disturbing as I thought it would be after reading that note. Because the quake of the story is really just backdrop, which may be all it really could be.
But the story deals with Komura, an electronics salesman in Tokyo, whose wife is obsessed with watching news of a recent major earthquake. Their relationship is not filled with warmth, although Komura is happy enough. But a week after the quake she has left him, gone home to the inn her parents run in the north. He’s shocked by this, and decides to take some time off from work to figure out what to do. A colleague makes a strange offer—if Komura will carry a package with him to Hokkaido, the colleague will pay his way. There’s no reason not to, so Komura agrees.
When he gets to his destination, Kushiro, Komura hands over the package to his friend’s sister and woman she has brought along. They go to a noodle shop, talk briefly about Komura’s wife—the girls were under the impression that she’s dead. “No matter how far you travel, you can never get away from yourself,” Komura says, echoing what the sister’s friend has said. “It’s like your shadow. It follows you everywhere.” They speculate as to how the wife’s leaving is connected to the earthquake, and compare it to a disappearance that occurred after a local woman saw a UFO.
The hotel they take him to is a “love hotel” but he thinks nothing of that. They talk and drink beer. The sister leaves. Komura tries to make love to the woman but can’t.
It is then that he makes the connection between the package that he carried from Tokyo and the excuse his wife gave for leaving him. The woman says of the reason he’s wondering now about what was in the package: “It’s because that box contains the something that was inside you. You didn’t know that when you carried it here and gave it to Keiko with your own hands. Now you’ll never get it back.” She claims she’s joking, but since there was nothing inside him and nothing in the package, it seems as if he’s now free to begin again.
Terrific story. Whether any of this is the least bit comforting to those affected by the Sendai earthquake is another matter. I doubt it.
March 28, 2011: “U.F.O. in Kushiro” by Haruki Murakami