Azalea Hills



by Setsuko Adachi

Tokyo, 2015


Walk away from the elevated, concrete-built Forever Forest Upper Field Station, travel three flights down on the escalator, and then walk a few minutes on street level towards Big Mountain through the West Field. It will open up to a five-way intersection, which marks the beginning of hills in three directions. At the very bottom of these hills, in a corner, stands a house elevated on white oya stone bricks with a hill at the rear.

Commuters, like trails of ants, march wordlessly between Bamboo Mound, located on the other side of the Big Mountain – actually a small hill – and Forever Forest Upper Field. The workers’ eyes are downcast, repeating this routine commute every morning and evening. Every morning, the woman of the white oya stone brick house, who is in her late seventies, sweeps the road beneath her garden. The same people pass her by twice a day, at the same time, in silence, no greetings exchanged. They walk by, fixated on electric screens; or jog with headsets. Others walk their dogs, or dogs walk them. The dogs serve the same purpose as the electronic screens — self-eviction, keeping people from being there — and they are on a trained internal autopilot that navigates their bodies, avoiding accidents.


In May, in the garden of the elevated house at the bottom of the hill, four shrubs of stunning azaleas come into full blossom. They protrude and hang out over the white oya stone walls and over the road. The azaleas break the rhythm of the march. Noticing them, individuals slow down their pace. Some turn on the camera function of their electric gadgets on. Framing the azaleas, some like to keep in the Bubble Towers in the background, some make sure to zoom in so the Towers are cropped out. Either way, the pictures are often a disappointment, for they fail to capture what they had hoped for, the flaring vividness of that glaring pink or green of the azaleas. They do not capture the excitement that brought out the desire to take pictures.

It is the hour of the horse, high noon. No shades from the trees along the long gentle slope of araragi yews — the dwarf plants with the dark green needles with rounded tips bear bright red berries.[1] The uphill climb of the slope, intersected by the Bottom of the Slope, where the gates of temples, the gardens of horticulturists, flower shops and such marked the entrance to the village, became only fields. A watchman’s hut, or something of the like, is seen on a slightly higher place. Field mustards are still there in the valley. The sides of the road, right and left are the bloody red azaleas, looking over looking back are the azaleas at their prime. …

There were azaleas where I was going and azaleas whence I came. The hue of the mountain soil even seems to have turned crimson red. It was terrifying, the beauty. I should head home…[2]

“I,” the boy in Izumi’s Ryutandan, who lost his mother and craves her breast, does not make it back to his home, to his dear sister who lacks the comfort his late mother offered. The azalea-infested hill lures the boy to the other world, a bewitched sweet breast-suckling world. The child disappears.

The azalea’s exuberance strikes at the five-way intersection, and the air is infused with vitality. Practically distorted, and in frenzy, their rampant rawness hits the sensory organs, sending signals and electric pulses stimulating the buried psyche and benumbed — the evicted, confined and neglected. Under this influence they turn off autopilot. The buried and benumbed sensors revive.

In the house elevated on white oya stone bricks, a home to a family of four generations, the woman sweeps the road and finds herself thanked by strangers even after the azaleas have stopped blooming. The strangers thank her for the vivid sense of enjoyment that the azaleas brought to them, breaking the lifeless selfless muted march routine.

She tells and retells her daughter about strangers infatuated with the azaleas. Her favorite is a businessman in his fifties who crossed the intersection, stopped, and turned around, coming back against the marchers’ flow like a salmon coming back up the river to lay future generations. He bowed and thanked her for her time and effort guarding the azaleas, telling her how those azaleas were like an oasis in the desert, and that they gave him the space to breathe the goodness of life in years when the rest of the time was sucked and pressed in his daily busy-iness.

The old woman glows in happiness, and animated, she entertains her daughter and friends with the stories of azalean rebels winning over the muted mechanic march.


The azalean rebellion does not last long. Inheritance tax sees to that. The government evicts the tenants from the house and rips out what is left of the deceased. In Japan, when the owner of a house dies, the estate is bulldozed and chopped up into strips of land, large enough to build a house for a family of three or four with no garden and each piece is sold. This is a popular inheritance routine here, but the population is dwindling, so why isn’t the land that each one owns getting bigger?


Make money. Give money. If not, die: an individual worth zero or less money is better off dead. Don’t even think of leaving. These are the Simple Rules of the national identity management department today.

“Heaven forbid if you are forced to live on when you want to die. I would wake up feeling increasingly bad knowing that [treatment] was all being paid for by the government,” … “The problem won’t be solved unless you let them hurry up and die.” [T]he health and welfare ministry … is “well aware that it costs several tens of millions of yen” a month to treat a single patient in the final stages of life.”[3] Thus spoke a Japanese Frankenstein, a 72-year old wealthy politician, a friend of the Prime Minster, no longer human, a monster.[4]

The daughter hears the voices of azalean storytellers. Children suffer the world that adults create for them and try their best to adapt to it; in time, usually, they will replicate it.[5] The vicious circle is resurfacing, replicated by the adapted, and they are all born after the war except for the Frankenstein.

The Simple Rules of the national identity management department: Make sacrifices. Give life. If not be ready to be killed by your own: individuals are worth zero or less if they survived in a different world. Don’t even think of leaving.

The doomed cycle of sending boys on hopeless and futile kamikaze missions, telling girls to kill themselves rather than survive in the hands of monstrous beasts (鬼畜) when the battle is already lost. In the end, it is about making sure that people don’t live and survive beyond their thought-confinement. Don’t notice enemies as humans, shut down empathy. Let the desire to destroy rule. The enemy became a pretext. Banzai attacks and kamikazes were ineffective in terms of reducing the enemy but they brought death to the attackers. Don’t find life outside.

The cycle of doom is repeating. The Simple Rules are engineering identities today in which trying to live a better life is not an option. There is only the world that the Simple Rules presents. There is no better life, the best life is here. And if the best life is unbearable, then commit suicide with sorry for burdening you notes. It is a “sinister” country “where middle-aged people commit suicide en masse.”[6]

Japan ranks among the world’s top five richest nations and yet the majority of individuals are becoming poorer financially and mentally. The old woman’s stories of azaleas and a man’s thanks are rapidly losing its meaning. Simple Ruled identities don’t, can’t understand the story. The daughter sees the blank expressions of idiots on their faces. There is no meaning to be an individual. Money-greedy Simple Rules ruthlessly go on, murdering humans in the name of money-less education to cultivate idiots.


Can these Simple Rule contaminated beings hear a suppressed scream calling for a revolution? Can they hear a lost child’s cry in the azalea hills for his home? Give it back to the child, his future, his life and his intelligence. Sapere aude! Have courage to use your own intelligence![7] Or, will intelligence give out on the battleground, and drown itself in a river leaving no-longer-humans behind?

In the meantime, like the other names of the area, the azaleas take on the phoniness of grey. Forever forests, fields, bamboo mounds and mountains, they are long gone. Azalea Hills is a high-end grey concrete apartment for the rich ex-pat population. It is an apartment complex where successful businessmen from abroad live with their families, send their kids to the American School, and after a few years move on to wherever their companies assign them next. Despite different residents having barbeque parties outside on weekends and holidays something doesn’t change in Azalea Hills. It is the only place in the neighborhood where that energetic lively laughter of people having fun is heard. Kids and adults are dancing, singing, playing music, playing basketball. Moms and dads converse with beers in their hands. Everybody there seems to be having a great time enjoying each other’s company over a Costco Japan procured BBQ.

Spending their money in Japan is extremely welcomed by the Simple Rule promoting government. Feel free to repeat it, — it rolls off the tongue, Invest in Japan: “double- I J.”[8] And auto-piloted Simple Ruled identities are cherishing their non-work time. They devour sleep — preparing for the next cycle.



[1] The Editors of Publications International, Ltd..  “Japanese Yew”  22 April 2007. <>  05 July 2015.

[2] First chapter of the Kyoka Izumi’s “Ryutandan” written in 1896 is called ‘Azalea Hills.’ Kyoka Izumi, “Ryutandan.” In Kyoka Tanpen-shu. Ed. by Jiro Kawamura. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1987, pp.7-8.Translated by Setsuko Adachi for this vignette. For a full English translation of the story see Ryutandan-Of a Dragon in the Deep. Poulton, Cody. Trans., Kanazawa: Takakuwa Bijutsu Insatsu Ltd, 1987.

[3] Justin McCurry, “Let elderly people ‘hurry up and die’, says Japanese minister,” The Guardian, 22 January, 2013.

[4] 72 year old Taro Aso who served as a finance minister and doubled as deputy prime minister, is sincerely offering a solution to a problem in the fast aging population, which is made worse because of the low birthrate. Aso lives a fifteen minute walk away from the azalea house in the far upscale residential area in Wave-like Sound of Pine Trees. The area is pine less – well plumed pine trees will be there in his Japanese garden. His residence has a huge traditional wooden gate and two guards guarding his private residence.

[5] Michel Houellebecq, Wynne, Frank (Trans). The Elementary Particles (1998), Vintage Book: New York, 2000, p.206.

[6] Michel Houellebecq, Wynne, Frank(Trans). The Elementary Particles(1998), Vintage Book: New York, 2000, p.14.

[7] Immanuel Kant, “What is Enlightenment?,” 1784.

[8] Shinzo Abe, “Japan and Asean, Always in Tandem: Towards a More Advantageous Win-Win Relationship through My “Three Arrows,” 33rd Singapore Lecture Series (July 26, 2013), Institute of Southeast Asian Studies: Singapore, 2013, p.10.