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Go, Japanese!

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Julie Otsuka’s ‘Come, Japanese!’ opens Granta’s Aliens issue. The excerpt from her forthcoming novel The Buddha in the Attic introduces readers to a group of mail-order brides coming to the US from Japan in the early 1900s. The women in the story have left their homes but haven’t yet arrived at their destination. They crowd together on their bunks in the lowest decks of the ship, imagining what their new lives, and husbands, will be like. ‘On the boat we often wondered: Would we like them? Would we love them? Would we recognize them from their pictures when we first saw them on the dock?’

We invited two Japanese writers to respond to ‘Come, Japanese!’. Here, Kyoko Nakajima, an award-winning novelist, conceives of a different group of emigrants shipped off from Japan.

Early this century our population started to decline. We had been warned of our society’s aging, and our birth rate’s slipping. Stories appeared in the media here, stories of herbivore boys, who were not interested in sexual intercourse. And what could we do about that? Three decades have passed. When most of us became middle aged we Japanese stopped producing human beings. Instead we decided to create something else, a substitute of sorts.

Humaniform robots have a long history now. Very fine ones already started to appear at the beginning of this new millennium. Several years ago their mass production began. Their delicacy and precision steadily progresses. Especially outstanding are those with the brand name Japanese. They are recognized around the world, first class products with natural movements and a range of emotions. Their touch is soft, almost tender.

The lion’s share of our electronic goods are Korean now, factories relocated to China and Thailand long ago. However our Japanese are still made here in Japan, in a factory in Hamamatsu, in the prefecture of Shizuoka. The owner is a ninety-eight-year-old man. He heard the stories of our golden age. ‘My father was so very proud of products made in Japan,’ he said. ‘I have inherited this pride from him.’

This factory owner gives a speech to the morning gathering of his workers every day. ‘Remember please who designed Nintendo DS! Remember who created Prius! Let’s show the highest quality of Japanese precision engineering! Let us show off the wonder of Japanese craftsmanship!’

Surprisingly, eighty per cent of his factory workers are now Japanese.

Japanese are never idle,’ he says. ‘Japanese never lie. Japanese are very earnest and polite always. I want to programme in all these virtues we Japanese used to have.’

Today the first exports of delicate Japanese are shipped from Yokohama.

On the boat nearly half of them are males and nearly half females. The rest of them are in-between. Most of them wear brand-new clothes. Some wear kimonos. All can cook and clean, make love and fix machines. They can laugh. They can cry. They can sing and play instruments. They can even make sushi that is good. Most go to America, though some will go to Europe, Australia and Asia too. A few of them will go to Africa. Soon after they arrive at their destination they will be fully charged.

On the boat none of them will know who will meet them where they go. This is the world, they say to themselves. There is no need to worry. And this part is true, as worry functions were never built in. ■

Photograph by A Little Lamb
Home page photograph by damien_m_in_japan

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Please see Google's Crisis Response page for updates regarding the 2011 Earthquake. The site is accepting contributions to the Japanese Red Cross.

The Guardian provides information about how to donate online, through text messages, by phone or with a cheque.

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