Written by Ballad Kitaguni
Based on Hirohiko Araki’s “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure”
Original story in Japanese can be found here.
The pseudonym “Juugo Shishi” was a multiplication table that was calculated all wrong.
When 4 x 4 (shishi) gives you 15 (juugo), it’s a reminder that life never goes the way you plan it; that was apparently why he made the name. When Rohan Kishibe saw the kanji for that pseudonym, its square edges reminded him of a map of Kyoto with its many street intersections.
As fellow manga artists working at Shueisha, Rohan had first met Juugo at the year-end party that he had unwillingly attended and had heard the meaning of Juugo’s name from the man himself. As Rohan remembered it, he had shrugged at the explanation and thought nothing of it then.
However, he was getting a full taste of that name’s meaning at this very moment.
“…See all the empty seats around?”
“Yeah, I see them.”
“Then why come all the way here to sit at my table?”
“Think about this from my perspective,” Juugo began. “I come to this café for refreshment and see a colleague here, right? If I greeted you, sat at a different table, and we both quietly drank our tea and left for home, it just seems, I dunno, unnatural? Standoffish? The right choice here is to sit together!”
Rohan had come to Café Deux Magots with the plan to drink their Earl Grey tea while working on his new storyline when a loud, amiable voice had called out to him. It belonged to Juugo Shishi, who also just happened to drop in. Before Rohan even knew what was happening, Juugo had slid into the seat across from him and ordered a ginger ale.
For Rohan, who wanted to spend his time alone thinking quietly, he was simply a nuisance.
“What do you mean ‘colleague’?”
“Aren’t we? We’re both manga artists working for the same publisher.”
“We’re in the same line of business, but… When you think about my level, it grieves me to call you someone from the same industry as I……But ‘colleague’? We’re not friends. It’s better to call ourselves business competitors.”
“Now, don’t be so cold, Rohan-senseiii! Being a manga artist is a lonely life, y’know? The only person you get to talk to once in a while is your editor! If you find a conversation partner, you’ve just gotta talk to them! Otherwise you’ll forget how to talk!”
If only you could be a prime example of the latter, Rohan cursed inside his head.
It was true that manga artists and writers were often indoor people. There were a lot of them who led the kind of lifestyle that Juugo mentioned.
But… even though Rohan was an eccentric, he wasn’t lonely (he had friends that he could count on) and he spoke with people on occasion. Besides, even if he really was alone, he didn’t think he would feel inconvenienced by that.
Also, for a manga artist, this man Juugo Shishi was… Well, as one could tell by his appearance, he was an impudent chatterbox. Definitely the kind of guy who was born into the world mouth first.
That’s right, Rohan remembered. Even when they had met that first time, Juugo went into great detail about the origin of his pseudonym when Rohan hadn’t even asked.
“So, Rohan-sensei, what are you up to? Here to brush up on your latest story?”
“Well, aren’t you perceptive. If that’s what you think, then why not let me spend my time thinking quietly?”
“What a coincidence! I’m actually here to work on my material too.”
“At least carry the conversation, won’t you?! If you’re just gonna talk to yourself out loud then sit somewhere else!”
“If I’m seen talking out loud to myself at a café, people will think I’m nuts! I don’t want to be seen as a weirdo, so it’s better to be sitting with someone when talking to myself.”
“Then go talk to a scarecrow or something. I bet you two would hit it off.”
“Now don’t say that, Rohan-sensei! Listen, what you’re drinking, it’ll be my treat… Okay?”
“What?! Don’t give me that bullshit! Do you honestly think that I, Rohan Kishibe, would get chummy with you over a single cup of tea?!”
“Calm down, man! Don’t yell out your name… You’re famous, remember? Look, those kids coming home from school are looking at us. What are you gonna do if they come over here begging for your autograph? You won’t have the chance to work on your plot anymore.”
“Or do you like kids?”
“I hate them.”
“Then you see where I’m going with this,” Juugo grinned. “Besides, it’s impossible to be alone in such a public place. What are you gonna do if someone who knew us both saw that we were sitting separately and avoiding each others’ looks while sipping tea? That itself would turn into a strange rumor.”
Rohan felt a distinct stab of annoyance then. This annoyance that he felt for Juugo was like… Like the one he felt for that shithead Josuke and that idiot Okuyasu. Guys like them were simpleminded and yet difficult to predict what they would do next, so Rohan didn’t like them.
Just by watching them, he could anticipate their next move to be something that was even more annoying, so that anticipation alone had him on pins and needles. They were the kind of people who stomped up next to others with their dirty feet, touched your private collection that you kept preserved on your shelves with their grimy hands, flipped through books with the same fingers that ate greasy potato chips and then put those books back on the shelves upside-down. There were plenty of other peeves that he could find, but to add it up, what Rohan wanted to get at was that these guys annoyed him for all of the same reasons.
As another manga artist, as a person who worked with expression like he did, Juugo’s careless, inconsiderate attitude was unbecoming and got on Rohan’s nerves. That’s why, at a basic level, he distinctly disliked the guy.
“No, no, no, I mean, I get it?” Juugo said. “Yeah… I totally get it. Sitting at an open terrace with a gentle wind on your face, listening to the sounds of town life as you work on your story… You make a lot of progress in an environment like that.”
“It’s easy to concentrate when you’re alone in a room, but that isn’t enough. In order to ‘express’ something, you need energy… So creating while being surrounded by ‘living energy’ is important.”
“That’s why the atmosphere of the town is great… The ‘lives’ flowing through it act as the background music. Reality and rawness don’t come from the inside, and you won’t find it inside a room. You need to catch what’s pouring out outside… That’s why, even though it’s a profession where you can easily work from home, you go through the trouble of shaving your face and going outside. At least, that’s what I do.”
“…I guess you really are a manga artist.”
To tell you the truth, Rohan did not hate this man as a manga artist.
Juugo Shishi’s series was not what you would expect from his vulgar appearance. Despite his dyed red hair with shaved hairlines on the sides and pierced eyelids, his work was fantasy. While his series had a fictitious culture and fictitious history, there was a very detailed reality structured into it. Even though it wasn’t real, the world in his manga had its own social etiquette, laws of physics, and each of the characters had a full background. To draw something like that, Juugo Shishi believed that he needed “experience” and “knowledge,” so he habitually studied and researched history and customs.
Rohan felt that Juugo’s works always had “logic” as its backbone. That’s why he could never act completely cold to this man.
Of course, he did not even consider once that this man was a better manga artist than himself.
“…So, about this new story of yours, Rohan-sensei. What’s it like?”
“I’m not obligated to tell you anything. It’ll piss me off if you stole my ideas.”
“Then how about you listen to my idea? I think my ideas are fun, but you could always use an objective view, right?”
“Why do I have to put myself through that?”
“I was thinking of trying out the horror genre once in a while as my main story, and I figured you’d have a great sense of that, Rohan-sensei.”
“…So you don’t just draw shonen manga about cautionary tales, eh? You think you can do horror?”
“But ghosts don’t scare me at all, man… I think things that hit more closer to home are creepier. So, I came up with some ideas on what would scare me… ‘A toilet paper roll that runs out no matter how many times you refill it’… That one feels scarily relatable… Oh, ‘A toilet paper roll that’s inexplicably sticky’ also gives me chills. Which one should I go with? I can’t decide!”
“They’re both incredibly scary ideas. I almost wet myself. Amazing.”
“Okay! In the trash it goes. I’m glad you’re so easy to read.”
Juugo laughed. Rohan didn’t laugh.
“If you want to bounce ideas off of someone, why don’t you discuss them with your editor instead of me?”
“Editor! That’s right! Speaking of my editor! There’s something I wanted to talk to you about!”
“Well, I don’t.”
The conversation didn’t click together, as usual, but Juugo kept talking anyway. Rohan rolled his eyes at Juugo’s rudeness but didn’t leave his seat in anger.
“Take a look at this.”
Juugo took out an A4-sized envelope out of his bag. Rohan saw the familiar “Shueisha Publications” logo on the front. As Juugo took out the contents of the opened envelope, he began talking.
“My editor got replaced the other day. My old editor knew how to do his job. We had the same taste in potato chips, and I liked how ‘Home Alone 3’ was his favorite out of the movie series. He only listened to traditional Japanese music, but it was great how he would only listen to THEE MICHELLE GUN ELEPHANT… Even when I put up the volume after work, he was always on board with it.”
“You two were close, huh?”
“He was seriously a great guy. And efficient. He was so efficient that he got promoted.”
“No longer had to hold your hand as your right-hand man anymore, huh?”
“Which is fine! It’s all part of the industry… Demoting, not so much, but being promoted is always a happy thing. However. However. My new editor… Well, he isn’t a bad guy. Yeah.”
“But he isn’t a good guy either?”
“No, I didn’t say that! In fact, he’s a great guy. He’s polite, thoughtful… But he’s a little too earnest. It’s good to be earnest, that’s an important quality to have in a job. But when you’re a little too much of it, then it becomes inconvenient… You know what I mean, right?”
“I won’t deny that.”
The issue with being earnest was how you applied that earnestness. When it came to his work, Rohan was earnest. No matter how twisted he was as a human being, there was no “treachery” when it came to drawing manga. While he may fool other people, he could not fool manga.
“It’s fine. Being earnest is a great quality… I welcome it. But the timing is all wrong. Did you receive documents of some kind, Rohan-sensei?”
“Nope. Probably the last thing my editor brought me was a Kinnikuman sticker… It was Curry Cook. You know him, I know you do.”
“Wow, I’m so jealous. Wish I had that. But my editor came to me and said ‘This is nothing special, but I hope you like it’ and then really gave me something that wasn’t special at all… Take a look.”
Saying this, Juugo pulled out a thin pamphlet from the envelope.
The pamphlet looked clean and businesslike, but not in a way that made one think that it should have a cover page made of good quality paper. It looked like a bunch of copy paper neatly stapled together.
On the very first page of this dull-looking pile of papers were huge words typed in brisk MS Gothic font.
“…Taboo word list?” Rohan read aloud.
“Yep. In other words, a list of words that can’t be used in manga or other publications.”
“That really is nothing special!”
“Right?! I got fed up just looking at the cover, but the contents are even more so. Look.”
Saying this, Juugo turned the pages. In syllabary order, the pamphlet was packed with “banned words” that was rare to see coming from a publishing company.
I see. Even I would get fed up with this.
These limitations were both the rules that changed manga from “art” into a “product,” as well as the shackles. It changed a simple expression into an object that could be purchased with money.
There was nothing interesting at all about a list crammed with those rules— but you couldn’t ignore it either.
“Let’s see here…” Rohan said. “Most of these words are ones that I agree with. The really obvious ones are the slurs. As long as my work is being published as a product, I want to avoid words like that.”
“Well yeah, you’re a professional.”
“But… What’s this? Some of them make sense, but… The ones that don’t make sense, they seem a little unreasonable, don’t they?”
“Right?! Why do words like ‘death by electrocution’ or ‘high voltage wires’ have to be banned? When I asked why, it’s because they’re “out of consideration” for a suspicious death that happened a few days ago! The fuck?! Who the hell cares, dumbass?! …I mean, not that I actually said that. I’m an adult, so I pretended to go with it.”
“Even ‘earthquakes’ and ‘tsunami’ are no good, huh? That seems a bit overly sensitive. How would you even work with that?”
“Right?!” Juugo agreed enthusiastically. “As manga artists, we use ‘art’ as our weapon. But it isn’t a manga without a ‘story.’ Words are incredibly important. We can change the words into inoffensive ones and change the plot, but doing that makes it lose its realism, right? When you lose the freedom to use all these words, the story starts to sound phony.”
“Yeah… Even I think this is a problem.”
To tell the truth, Rohan thought that this list was clearly going a bit overboard. Even though it came with remarks on why the word couldn’t be used, the remarks themselves weren’t convincing in the slightest.
Exactly whose complaints were they afraid of? Was a publishing company this much of a coward?
Rohan wasn’t given this list, but even he couldn’t help but feel confusion and resentment. As someone whose job was to express things, having his power of expression controlled was the same as being choked to death.
But apparently, for Juugo, that wasn’t the topic that he was interested in.
“But I’m a professional,” Juugo said. “If you tell me not to use it, then I won’t. Even a major leaguer sticks to the rules as long as he’s getting paid. Someone said it… ‘Manga isn’t art, it’s entertainment.'”
“There’s a lot that I want to comment on about that phrase…”
“That’s not what this conversation is about right now.”
Rohan was slightly miffed that Juugo decided that, but Juugo kept talking before Rohan could interrupt. He was good at creating a tempo like that.
“I’m sure you would understand this, Rohan-sensei… What’s important isn’t just expressing yourself and that’s it, end of story. You’ve gotta entertain. You’ve gotta make something that’s worth showing people… So to do that, you can’t ignore the rules that allow you to put that out into the world. If I carelessly used words like ***** and ***** (words that I would hesitate to even use here), I know that there are gonna be many people who would be unhappy with that.”
“That’s right,” Rohan agreed. “There’s no point unless people read our work. We aren’t middle schoolers content with sketching in our notebooks. If we want to reach readers who look forward to our series and buy the magazine, then we can’t just throw work away over something like that. We need to put up with it.”
“Which is why it’s fine. I don’t agree with it at all but it’s fine. It’s a rule. It’s like the offside rule in soccer… I don’t know exactly how it gets called, but I’ll abide by it. However…”
Juugo flipped through the pages again, this time turning back towards the front of the package. He found the ‘k’ page and pointed.
Even Rohan was taken aback by this one.
“Do you know this word?” Juugo asked the confused Rohan.
In Rohan’s entire life… No, in the life that he put at stake to accumulate knowledge and stories for himself, he had never come upon this word.
It was almost like an onomatopoeia. He didn’t think it meant anything.
“No, I have no clue at all. Is it a regional word of some kind?”
The word was so unfamiliar that it creeped him out a little, but the unusual sound of it perked his interest. That’s why he asked Juugo, but…
“Man, the thing is…”
But even Juugo looked bewildered.
“…I dunno. I’m at a complete loss,” he spat out with an aggrieved sigh.
Rohan was disappointed that the answer was not surprising, despite Juugo’s pause, but he did not show it. “I thought so. If I didn’t know it, then I was pretty sure that you wouldn’t either.”
“Well, you’re right, I don’t know it. At all. This word is the only one that doesn’t have the meaning written down, and the reason for why it can’t be used is left blank.”
“I’ve never even heard of it before… Did you try asking your editor?”
“Of course I did. But all he tells me is that ‘it can’t be used.’ It doesn’t make sense! It’s not in dictionaries and I can’t find it on Google.”
“So you’re at a dead end.”
“Yeah, exactly… But that otherwise very earnest editor of mine tells me that if it can’t be used, then I shouldn’t bother knowing what it means either.”
“Wow, what a nasty attitude!”
“Right?! It’s not nasty, it’s downright heinous! Apparently he’s going by the same logic that it’ll be as safe as when you see a sign for a button that says ‘Don’t Push,’ even though you don’t even know what that button is for. And that’s true, he has a point. If there’s a sign for it, then any good general citizen wouldn’t push the button. I get it.”
“Doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
“You get me! How you follow along is seriously so smooth! A total contrast to my editor. You gimme the words that I wanna hear as if we’re comedians who’ve been working together for many years!”
“Who are you calling a comedian?!”
“But it’s just as you say, Rohan-sensei,” Juugo continued as if he hadn’t heard anything. “I don’t like it! That bastard, if I can’t use it, then at least explain to me why I can’t!”
“Not using it is simple… But it’s important to know ‘why.’ Why it’s bad to use, why it’s dangerous… There’s a difference between not using the word versus choosing not to use the word while knowing what it means. The ‘weight’ of that shows up differently in the story.”
“That’s right! I’m so glad you catch on quick, Rohan-senseiiiii! You’re as smooth as a sliding door coated with wax. That’s exactly the problem I’ve got!”
“You know, you’ve been being quite rude!” Rohan said in an offended tone. “Enough with the examples! Stop it! To be honest, you really suck at them!”
Even Rohan was, not all that surprisingly, angered to be described as a sliding door coated in wax, but Juugo continued before Rohan could continue his objections.
“It’s unforgivable, that’s what this is… The manga artist’s weapon isn’t just art, it’s words too. If you wanna have lively dialogue for a story, then you can’t just hold that back. If there’s a word that interests you, you can’t just leave it as a huge ‘I don’t know.’ You need to ‘use it without using it.’ So you gotta know what it is.”
“Well… I’ll agree to that.”
“Which is why… Well, to be honest, I called out to you because I thought maybe Rohan Kishibe would know. If you didn’t, then it’s probably useless to ask any of our other peers.”
“You have the right perception there. However… Unfortunately, I’ve never heard that idiotic-sounding word before. Nothing about it even comes to mind.”
Juugo’s shoulders drooped visibly. Maybe his expectations were that high, because the gesture looked exaggerated.
“At least we know for a fact that it isn’t standard Japanese,” Rohan said.
“There’s no mistake there…” Juugo said. “I tried guessing from words that sounded close to it. I thought it may be a spin on other words like ‘sobagara’ (buckwheat chaff) and ‘kushami’ (sneezing). But then it doesn’t make sense why it would make it on the taboo list.”
“If it’s a variant of words that are used often, it wouldn’t be prohibited in the first place,” Rohan pointed out.
“Yeah. If you can’t use it, then it’s the ‘meaning’ that becomes important.”
“I thought that maybe it isn’t Japanese, but then they would probably write it out in English. It might be some sort of regional word after all.”
“I thought as much…” Juugo mused. “Maybe I should look into it from the dialect angle… ‘Kushagara’… ‘Kushagara’… When you repeat it over and over, it sounds like an onomatopoeia. Like a sound when you crush something with a fist?”
“If not that, then it could be a straightforward slur. That would make sense. Those are the ones you have to be most careful about among all taboo words.”
“That’s a good point. But if that’s the case, then I wanna know all the more what it means! How can I just sit down and swallow it if I’m not even familiar with who the word is indicating?!”
“All things considered, shouldn’t you just ask your editor about it?”
“The thing is? I can’t catch him.”
It was here that Rohan felt for the first time that something was wrong.
“I mean, he picks up when I call him, but when I ask him about this word, he runs circles around me… And when I go to the company building to ask him directly, he’s never there. We haven’t even had a face-to-face meeting with each other lately. Meanwhile, my deadlines keep coming through all of this, so it’s not like I have time to follow up on it constantly…”
“…Isn’t that a bit strange? If that were happening to me, I’d be yelling at them to change my editor.”
“I think so too, but I don’t really wanna anger my editor, man. I mean, publishing a book is not all thanks to me. Since you gotta make those negotiations with editing, I try not to complain as much as possible.”
“With the kind of treatment you’re getting, I’d say you’re more of a fool than a goodhearted man,” Rohan snorted with laughter. Juugo didn’t laugh.
“Anyway, this word, ‘kushagara.’ It’s been on my mind… At this point, I don’t care if my editor explains it or not. As long as someone can tell me what it means, that’s all I care about.”
It’s like he’s crying about it, Rohan thought.
It was quite possible that he actually was, because Juugo was clearly in distress. Until today, Rohan would have never pinned him as a man who would plead this much.
“…Hey, Rohan-sensei. This is my once-in-a-lifetime request… If you find anything on ‘kushagara,’ would you let me know? I’m serious, it can be anything… If a once-in-a-lifetime request was seriously something that you could only use once, then I don’t hesitate to use it here.”
“That’s quite a cheap ‘lifetime’ you’ve got.”
Rohan laughed again, but Juugo didn’t laugh.
Apparently, Juugo was more serious about it than Rohan had thought. While Rohan didn’t normally care about how serious another person’s situation was… Juugo’s behavior really was odd. He’d be lying if he said it didn’t bother him.
“…All right. All right. If I find something on it, I’ll let you know… but don’t expect me to be your lifeline on this. It’s none of my business to begin with.”
“Ahh… No, that’s enough. That would be helpful… Seriously, thanks.”
Saying this, Juugo placed down his empty glass (when had he emptied it?) and finally rose from his seat. He comes and goes whenever he pleases, Rohan thought.
“I feel soooooo much better now. I knew it would be better talking to someone else about it.”
“I think it’s more important to consider first if it’s a suitable time or not for the person you’re talking to.”
“Hey, don’t say that. You’re a good conversation partner, Rohan-sensei. No, seriously. At least that’s what I think!”
“Don’t think that! In fact, don’t ever come to me again!”
“Hehehe… Seriously, you were a big help. See you around!”
Saying that, Juugo walked back home at a lazy pace with his shoulders pulled back.
When he walked like that, he really did look like a thug, Rohan couldn’t help but think. Was he really able to do the delicate work of a manga artist when he acted crudely like that?
But maybe that part of him that tormented himself over the meaning of a single word was the delicacy that balanced it out.
As he thought that… Rohan’s thoughts slowly shifted over to the word “kushagara.”
“‘Kushagara’… ‘Kushagara,’ eh? What a bizarre-sounding word… I do feel interest in it, but not to the desperate extent that he’s going about it. Well, if I have a free moment, I can look it up and revel in the feeling of superiority when I tell him what it means. That wouldn’t be bad at all… If I make him feel indebted to me, maybe I could even tell him to stop bugging me…”
As he spoke, Rohan realized that his throat was dry from the conversation and brought the barely touched cup of Earl Grey to his lips.
What passed his lips was a discomforting lukewarmness.
The porcelain cup could not insulate against the long talk they’d had. The Earl Grey, with its fragrant flavor, had cooled completely.
Knocking back his cold Earl Grey tea in one swig, Rohan stood up and left for home in a huff.
Juugo was irritated.
This irritation, he thought, was the kind of irritation that a person felt when they decided to stop smoking for their health but then reached their fifth morning of no cigarettes.
Although Juugo put an example to it, he had actually succeeded in quitting smoking (gaining both the experience of smoking and of the irritation from quitting filled his satisfaction more as a manga artist than that irritation itself). Similarly, he could also put up with hunger and desire for sleep. Sexual desire was a piece of cake.
But “the thirst for knowledge” was the one thing that he simply could not endure.
The mentality of manga artists, heck, of all creators, existed apart from the body. It was resistant to pain, suffering, and physical hunger.
That was why “mental” hunger was all the more painful.
Being unable to satisfy your knowledge was agony.
It was more agonizing than walking through the desert with only salty dried meat and a bottle of seawater for sustenance! It was really, really agonizing!
As the days passed, Juugo continued to turn over all of the dictionaries in his house, stayed for hours at the library, and visited the editorial department at Shueisha again, but he could not find a single trace of the word “kushagara.”
He visited the editorial department so much that they began to call him a troublesome person over there, which he did not like. Some editors even said to him warily, “You sure you got enough time developing your manuscript?”
For Juugo, who had never missed a deadline, being told that was humiliating. As time went on, he stopped approaching the editorial department altogether…
The next time Rohan Kishibe and Juugo Shishi met was a month later, at the town’s antique bookstore.
It was Rohan’s first time visiting this bookstore. He liked to buy his books in as pristine a condition as possible. Like new was best of all, while secondhand he would settle on if it was from a collector’s auction or even a large chainstore where it was properly covered in vinyl. The more new the condition, the better.
That’s why the reason he entered this mom-and-pop used bookstore was not because he wanted a book (although he wasn’t completely unexpectant, since he could possibly find a bargain). He only wanted to get a taste of the atmosphere in an “old declining bookstore.”
However, when he allowed himself to follow such whims like this, Rohan Kishibe usually met with…Well, like when a little brat persistently pursued him for a rock-paper-scissors showdown… He met with unexpected developments.
This time, it was Juugo. But he was different from before.
“I’m asking you if you’ve got any other dictionaries around! I don’t mean encyclopedias! I mean something more involved with dialects or ancient languages! Any books that feature that!”
“Please, give me a break, sir…”
Juugo was getting tangled with the shopkeeper, a roly-poly man past middle age who certainly fit the picture of someone who had inherited this store from his parents and was running it as a hobby.
Juugo had always looked like a thug by nature, but when Rohan observed him like this objectively, he was nothing but a thug. Still, he shouldn’t have been the type of guy who got up in strangers’ faces like that… No matter how brutish his appearance was, he basically let everything that came his way roll off his back. That was why seeing Juugo like this felt like something was amiss.
Was the way his face looked stretched and gaunt, showing sharp cheekbones, the reason why he looked more like a goon than usual? Not even a month had passed since he’d last spoken with Rohan, so why did he look so different…?
Several questions rose as his appearance caught Rohan’s gaze. But Juugo didn’t realize that he was being watched. Looking completely emaciated, he continued to harass the confused shopkeeper.
“Please… If you’ve got it, bring it out! There’s gotta be books or something in your inventory that aren’t on the shelves, right? It can be anything… I’m begging you here!”
“You need to back off, sir! I told you, we don’t have that here!”
“Goddamnit! T–Then, what about you?”
“W–What about me?”
“I’m asking if you know anything about ‘kushagara,’ you fucking dumbass! I’ll take anything you know, even if it’s just something that you heard in passing! Did you ever hear about it as a rumor, or hear the kids talking about it? You got to have! Tell me you have!!! If you don’t tell me, I’ll break that fucking useless neck of yours in half!”
“Geh! Ggh… ghhh…”
The atmosphere had turned alarming and tense. Juugo had grabbed the shopkeeper by the collar and was pressing into his face, staring at him with menacing eyes that seemed to look right through. It was clearly not a normal exchange.
Rohan didn’t want to get involved, but since he knew the guy who looked as if he was one move away from murdering the shopkeeper… He couldn’t look the other way on this one.
Rohan returned the book he was holding, “The Ukiyo-e System: One Hundred Famous Views of Edo,” back on the shelf and reached out with the same hand to grab Juugo by the shoulder, pulling him away from the shopkeeper.
“What the— The hell are you doi—! R–Rohan Kishibe…”
“Yeah, that’s right. At least you have the good sense to recognize me.”
In fact, Juugo looked as if he had returned to his senses a bit the moment he saw Rohan’s face.
While Rohan had wanted to be surrounded by the sooty scent of books a bit longer, the looks that the confused shopkeeper gave them as he fixed his collar made Rohan uncomfortable, so he pulled Juugo out of the store without buying anything.
Leaving the poorly ventilated store, he felt the sun smoulder down on them in the sunny alleyway. Rohan was hoping a little that the sunlight would shine down on Juugo and cleanse him like an air-dried feather quilt.
“Jeez, what the hell are you doing? I didn’t get to read my book thanks to you. I hadn’t even gotten to see Kameido Umeyashiki yet…”
Juugo looked to have calmed down a bit. He had the look of someone who’d just woken up from a nightmare but was unable to forget what he’d dreamed about. His pale skin was slick with sweat, and he had bags under his eyes. His hair wasn’t properly styled and it looked greasy as if he hadn’t washed it in days.
For someone who was overly social, almost annoyingly so, and who decked himself out so fancy that no one would think he was a manga artist, he now looked like a seedy social outcast.
Was it possible for someone to change this much in a month?
Rohan believed that the look of a person’s face didn’t change by cosmetic surgery (although that was a different story if it was done by a Stand, and let’s not get into that right now), but by how they felt mentally. Therefore, Juugo must have undergone considerable mental damage.
And what caused it was clear.
“…Have you been searching this whole time for that ‘kushagara’ thing?”
“Y–Y–Yeah… That’s right. That’s right. It’s never left my mind.”
“But from the look of things, you still haven’t found what it is.”
“…I’ve read more dictionaries than anyone could possibly read in their lifetime. I’ve read novels, reference books, even picture books. I even asked the police. But it’s not there… The ‘answer’ is nowhere to be found.”
“I’ve been curious about it too and looked into it a bit…”
“You found it?!”
Rohan was taken aback by Juugo, who looked ready to literally tear into him at any moment. It must have been luck that Rohan had been able to stop him at all earlier. The second Juugo heard the word “kushagara,” his eyes changed into that of a rabid dog.
“I looked for it too… But I didn’t find it. Nothing came up. Whether in books or broadcasts, I couldn’t find such a word anywhere.”
“I knew it… Damn it… Shit, it’s only to be expected from a banned word. You can’t go around using a word that shouldn’t be used… You wouldn’t find it in books or anything of the sort… I know that. I know that!”
“I couldn’t find anything no matter how old the literature was. If the word can’t be used because it’s prohibited, then it must be that way for a deeply rooted reason.”
“Then it’s all a dead end?! Fuck! I don’t accept this! I can’t quit now! If it’s being prohibited that strictly, then the reason has to be paired with it! That’s right. Let’s just forget about the word right now, why is ‘kushagara’ banned?! That’s all I wanna know!”
“…Hey. I’m about to say something that is unlike what I would normally say,” Rohan prefaced. He pointed a finger before Juugo’s eyes and took a breath. He looked like he was soothing a wild beast. Instinctively, that’s what it felt like. “…How about letting it go?”
“What?” Juugo paused. ” …You know, man, I have good hearing. I can hear a coin hit the floor even while I’m listening to heavy metal with the volume at max… But maybe I misheard you. Did you tell me, just now, to let it go? You can’t be serious…”
“…It’s been a month. A month. It’s taken over your life way more than it should. If you’re starting on a new project, then it’s a bad idea to spend that time on something else.”
Even as he spoke, Rohan felt that it really wasn’t like him. If he was in Juugo’s position, he would continue investigating without a second thought.
In fact, he put time into researching it even though he’d only heard about it briefly. If it wasn’t for his job… If it wasn’t for his prideful will to complete that job fully before the deadline and send it to his readers, he might have been more absorbed with it.
He was able to see things objectively because he wasn’t personally involved. Rohan thought that if he didn’t say this, then Juugo was bound to fall into a deeper abyss and Rohan wanted to warn him.
But Juugo said, “That’s impossible, you ********* bastard!”
Resolutely, without any hesitation. What he said was so dirty that it can’t be written down. Anyway, it was a very dirty word.
Which was why Rohan instantly snapped and clobbered Juugo in the face.
Rohan had the sense to not use his dominant hand, the tool of his trade, but Juugo still landed on the concrete with a satisfying thump.
“…I’m being nice and telling you to calm down. I don’t care if you’re annoyed and taking it out on other people… but keep in mind that depending on who you talk to, you could end up with your face planting in the asphalt… Good thing I wasn’t holding a G-pen, eh? That would have sliced your fingers.”
“I’ll pretend that you were acting out of momentum and got carried away. But if you dare try to treat me, Rohan Kishibe, with contempt ever again, you’re on your own.”
“I–I’m sorry. I seriously can’t understand myself either… My mind is full of nothing but ‘kushagara’… I just lose sight of everything else…”
Juugo tried to stand up as he rubbed his temples, but he was swaying as if he couldn’t gain balance. Since Rohan didn’t think he’d punched him that hard, he looked at Juugo with suspicion.
Something was indeed off about Juugo, both emotionally and physically. This could not be explained away with a simple “I didn’t see anything else around me because I got absorbed in one thing.” Was he perhaps snorting something…? Rohan couldn’t help but suspect that was the case.
Whether Juugo knew what Rohan was thinking or not, he kept holding his head as he staggered in place. He began mumbling incoherently under his breath.
“Ugh… fuck! All I want to know is what ‘kushagara’ is. When I was a kid, my parents would praise me about how I would always look up more information on something once it catches my eye. Since I always had my nose in a dictionary, they said it would be a useful life skill when I grew up… So why the hell is this happening to me?!”
“How should I know?”
“…Damn it… Damn it! ‘Kushagara’… ‘Kushagara’…”
Juugo chanted the word over and over, as if he were possessed.
As if it were a spell. As if he was having a fit.
“‘Kushagara,’ damn it! That’s all I wanna know! If I knew what ‘kushagara’ was, I wouldn’t need anything else! I’ll even trade it for a gold nugget or a hundred million yen check!”
“Why don’t you head on home and work on your material? You want to keep your job, don’t you?”
“I can’t…. Once I have ‘kushagara’ on my mind, I can’t focus on ‘kushagara’ anything else…”
A feeling of discomfort.
It was a clear sense that something was not right. Rohan thought that maybe he had just misheard, but Juugo didn’t seem bothered.
“No, just… Just now… Was something strange there? I mean, with the usage of it, or even… the ‘timing’ of it…”
“Timing? What the hell are you ‘kushagara’ talking about? I’m seriously racking my brains over ‘kushagara’ here!”
“Hey! You did it again! You’re acting weird!”
“What the hell is your problem?! You’re calling me weird now?! ‘Kushagara’ just to put things straight between us, man, you’re ‘kushagara’ not the only one here who gets to be mad at the drop ‘kushagara’ of a hat!”
“That’s not the issue!”
Something was wrong. Something was clearly wrong.
Like a sneeze or a hiccup, it interrupted Juugo’s words at unnatural timing.
Yes, it was a spasm. A spasm occurred whenever the body was ill.
It was then that Rohan recognized clearly that Juugo was “sick” and that Juugo was absolutely unaware of it.
Juugo was acting crazy over something as if he was delirious with fever. His interest and passion was leaking out from him like a cough that couldn’t be held back.
There exists a phrase that “sickness and health start with the mind.” But there are plenty of illnesses that progress without being noticed.
Juugo hadn’t noticed. He hadn’t noticed the “lesion” that was growing inside of him…
Surprisingly, it’s easier for other people to see when you are sick. It’s more clear to them since they can see the changes in your appearance, like the color of your complexion or if rashes have flared up on your skin.
That’s why it was Rohan who noticed it first.
“I keep trying to ‘kushagara’ forget ‘kushagara,’ but I can’t even sleep ‘kushagara’ because I can’t get ‘kushagara’ out of my head… Damn it, I’m not some teenager pining ‘kushagara’ over his first crush…”
“What’s ‘kushagara’ wrong? You went quiet ‘kushagara’ all of a sudden.”
“You’re making fun of ‘kushagara’ me too, right?! If you fucking ‘kushagara’ keep looking ‘kushagara’ down on me, I’ll fucking beat you up so ‘kushagara’ bad!”
“No… Wait, what is that? That thing… in your mouth…”
Juugo was confused. Although he was admittedly acting threatening, Rohan was shrinking back too much for that. He looked, in fact, terrified. It was not an expression that the proud and arrogant Rohan Kishibe ever allowed himself to show.
And his eyes were clearly focused on Juugo.
“…I’m asking what that thing is… In your mouth… No, in your throat?… What is that thing coming out…?”
Obviously, Juugo couldn’t see what was happening, but Rohan could.
Now Rohan understood. He knew now who was saying the word ‘kushagara.’ He could see it.
Something bizarre was peering out at him from inside Juugo’s throat.
This was the guy.
It wasn’t Juugo. “This guy,” this something that wasn’t human, was saying it. This bizarre something that made Rohan physically recoil.
It was trying to crawl out from Juugo’s throat. The moment Rohan saw that, he cried out, “Heaven’s Door!”
An ‘image’ of a young boy wearing a hat appeared in the sky.
With a flash of light, Juugo collapsed to the floor unconscious.
While Rohan’s Heaven’s Door had grown in power and now had the unbeatable ability to hit a target without question, it was better to be safe than sorry to use it on a target that matched his “wavelength.” In that respect, it was effective on Juugo as a fellow manga artist.
In the blink of an eye, Juugo was spread across the floor, having turned into a book.
He was knocked out cold… That helped Rohan to reaffirm that Juugo was indeed just an ordinary human being. At the same time, since Juugo’s mouth closed the moment he lost consciousness, whatever was in the back of his throat had vanished.
Rohan had to admit, he breathed a little sigh of relief at that.
“I’m not sure about this… but that was probably a close call. I want to believe that using Heaven’s Door was the right choice…”
Rohan crouched down next to Juugo, flipping through his pages. Perhaps he could find out what that bizarre creature was somewhere in here.
Juugo himself hadn’t appeared to be aware of it. With Rohan’s Heaven’s Door, which could turn someone into a book and read them, he might be able to decipher an answer.
That was both his expectation and his wish.
“…Juugo Shishi. His real name is Keitaro Nishi… What a normal name. His father loves manga. In high school, his submission for a contest won an award and that’s how he made his debut… The person he dated then he’d broken up with two years ago, but he was invited to their wedding at the beginning of this year and attended it… No, that’s not what I’m interested in right now…”
Turning people into a book and reading about their life. The action of it always struck up a tremendous amount of curiosity that was greater than one could find from reading a novel or a biography. Reading with the use of Heaven’s Door was the greatest Peeping Tom experience in this world.
That person’s life, their experiences, their complexes… Whether it was a golden experience or a nauseating past, it was all exposed.
With “Heaven’s Door,” there was nothing that Rohan couldn’t read. Except for his own memories of his past and his fate.
…That was how it had always been, and yet…
As he flipped through Juugo’s pages, what Rohan found… was something bizarre that he had never come across before in the books of people that he had read.
“…A sealed page?”
That’s right. As he flipped through a couple of pages, it suddenly appeared there unnaturally. The ends of the two pages were stuck together to form a pouch, so that you couldn’t see what was inside… You may have seen them before in weekly magazines. There was a pouch there.
“…What is this? Does this mean there are things that not even Heaven’s Door can read? …It’s true that, while it’s rare, strange things happen when a person is made into a book depending on their condition, but this is a first occurrence…”
The outside of the pouch had patterns drawn all over it. There was something about the messily drawn patterns that made him instinctively sense that they were dangerous. Upon closer inspection, he realized why.
This wasn’t a pattern!
Innumerable small handprints were etched into the page, enough to turn it black!
“…This is getting bad. It’s gotten to the point where it isn’t simply just a word anymore. This thing has the power to take down Heaven’s Door!”
What was he supposed to do with this pouch? Rohan could steal a person’s memories by ripping their page out. But would that be enough?
If this was a manga, would such a “simple, happy ending” be possible?
But the reality that was unfolding before his eyes was not like a manga waiting for its reader to turn the next page. It did not wait for Rohan’s decision.
There was that voice again. It was coming from within the pouch.
Every time the voice spoke, the pouch squirmed.
If this was a magazine, the words “please open from here” would have been printed on the edge of that pouch. The part that was holding the pouch closed was being pulled from within as whatever lay inside squirmed restlessly.
“…T–There’s something in this pouch! It’s trapped inside… No, it can’t be! Is it trying to get out?!”
As if to answer Rohan’s question, the corner of the pouch ripped open.
…This was not good.
He couldn’t explain why, but he knew that if he didn’t do something, there was going to be trouble for sure. He had to act fast.
It was highly likely that this phenomenon was the cause of the word “kushagara,” the word that was having so much influence over Juugo. He didn’t know if this would be the right way of dealing with it… but he had to do it now.
Before it was too late.
Rohan took out a ballpoint pen from his pocket and brought it to a blank space on Juugo’s “page.”
“I’ll make him forget everything that’s related to the word ‘kushagara’! It’s the only way!”
He pressed down the tip of the pen on the page and wrote the word ‘kushagara.’ This was the only approach that he could take at the moment.
But reality betrayed his expectations even further.
He kept writing and writing.
But the very moment he wrote the word “kushagara,” it evaporated from the page as though he were writing it in disappearing ink. No matter how many times he tried, the ink wouldn’t stick. In fact, he would be writing furiously onto the page but there was not even a trace of a line, as if he was writing with an empty pen.
“Impossible! I can’t write it?! But this is a new pen… The ink is still fresh! …It can’t be. It can’t be! Is it because it’s ‘forbidden’? I can’t use this word… It can’t be accepted on the pages because it’s a ‘taboo word’?!”
The dots connected.
No wonder he couldn’t find the word, no matter what documents he searched. Because it was prohibited, it couldn’t be used. It was outrageous… but at the same time, a simple and powerful reason.
“Ghhk… This thing is coming out! Any minute now, it’s going to rip through the pouch to get outside…! There are some species of parasites that eat their host from the inside out once they’re done growing… If this guy is like that…!”
There was no time to spare.
The word was like the countdown to a time limit. With small ripping sounds, it opened up Juugo from the inside and tried to squeeze through the hole.
“Gwooooohhhhhhhh!” Rohan cried.
He didn’t even have time to think. Gripping the pen, he used the superspeed which he drew his manga with at full power… and “wrote” on Juugo…
When Juugo woke up, he felt incredibly clear-headed.
It was like… As if, after a whole month, he had changed into new clothes and underwear, soaked in a hot bath, shaved his beard, fallen asleep on brand new sheets and had woken up from a deep, fulfilling rest.
“…What am I doing here?”
“Oh, if it isn’t Rohan-sensei! What a coincidence! Not that I’d really know if it’s a coincidence or not, since I don’t even know why I’m here, but if we’ve met without knowing why, then it’s just gotta be a coincidence! Don’t you think so?”
“…Let’s just say that’s the case.”
Juugo had no idea what was happening. He tried to think, but felt like he was missing information to piece it together. But since Rohan Kishibe was being unusually docile and the early afternoon sun felt great on his skin, he chalked it up to one big “Oh well.”
“I don’t get what’s going on here, but I’m gonna head home,” Juugo said. “My head feels so clear right now, man. Like I just came out from a sauna that shed all my dead skin off. If I come up with ideas for my new story right now, I bet they’re all gonna be great.”
“…Is that so? Go for it.”
“Go for it? Did you just tell me ‘go for it’? Wow, is the sky about to fall down?! If people in the business heard that Rohan Kishibe is rooting for me, all of their jaws will hit the floor! Can I tell them? Is it okay for me to brag about this?”
“…Do what you want.”
Juugo was left even more confused.
Seeing Rohan so quiet— not that he was a noisy person to begin with, but seeing him act like this was a first.
Juugo Shishi quite liked Rohan Kishibe as a person, as well as his manga. While the guy was an eccentric, Juugo had nothing but respect for him as a manga artist. Even though he did his work with an aloof expression, all of his creations were filled to the brim with amazing life energy. Juugo moaned with admiration whenever he read them.
Juugo was always eager to say that he was Rohan’s colleague. He was doing the same job as Rohan. Just thinking that made him swell with pride.
So even if Rohan treated him harshly (although, to be honest, he thought Rohan should fix his attitude towards people in general), being able to talk with him from the shared stance of a manga artist was enough to satisfy Juugo.
And now, Rohan’s replies to him were strangely gentle.
That fact only boosted Juugo’s sunny, positive, and fully driven motivated mood. He was certain that he could draw a wonderful manga right now if he had pen and paper in hand.
“Hehe… See you around then, Rohan-sensei. The next time we meet might end up being the Shueisha party though…”
“Yeah… If I decide to attend.”
“At least that hasn’t changed.”
Juugo laughed, while Rohan didn’t laugh, and the two parted.
The sun, which was just starting to set, cast a shadow over Rohan’s face.
And so, Juugo was on a roll.
He felt as if he had opened up a creative outlet that went beyond the “everyday life that he had known before.” He was able to incorporate incredible intensity into his fictional story.
He had no idea that he still had such potential as a manga artist within him!
With this wonderful feeling surging inside of him, he drew up various plots and was eager to talk about them with his editor immediately, when he remembered.
“Oh right, I got a new editor.”
But since, for some reason, he couldn’t find his new editor’s business card or phone number, he called the editorial department to reach him and got chewed out instead.
“Now, you listen here, Juugo-sensei! I understand that you were very close with your previous editor, but can you please not stand up your new editor for a month when he’s trying to meet you and please stop calling us here?! He doesn’t have much experience under his belt yet, so being treated like this is gonna give him a nervous breakdown!”
“Huh? Oy oy oy oy oy, what are you talking about? I have no idea what you mean!”
“Please don’t act innocent.” They sighed. “You totally stood him up at your very first meeting with him! Then you phone us mumbling about something on a broken line… You said you wanted to ask about something, but none of us could hear what that ‘something’ was and it was driving us nuts, did you forget about that?! Besides, what have you been doing for a month?! You’d better have the prep for your new story ready to go… We’re really reaching our limit here.”
“R–Right. Yeah, of course. It’s bang on!”
He remembered being told that he was getting a new editor. He remembered that, and also that he’d made an appointment with them to meet. They hadn’t met even once since then?
But now that he thought about it, he didn’t remember having meetings at all. In fact… His memories of the past month were ambiguous, as if they had gone missing.
He didn’t understand what was going on, but Juugo thought, “The way I treated that new editor of mine ain’t right. My new story is totally interesting for sure and I want him to look at it… Maybe if I bring him a cake, he’ll forgive me…”
Rohan Kishibe felt ill.
In order to save Juugo, he had to do it.
Juugo’s personal life was absolutely about to be subject to considerable friction because Rohan had written “Forget everything that happened this past month.”
…To be honest, that was fine. Rohan wasn’t obligated to have that much concern for Juugo and, for what it was worth, he did save him.
What bothered Rohan was that… at the end of it all, that was the only step he could take to resolve the situation. If he made Juugo into a book again, that pouch could still exist.
In the end… he had discovered nothing about ‘kushagara.’
When Rohan went to the editorial department the next day and inquired, it was true that Juugo Shishi had been assigned a new editor, but Juugo hadn’t met with them even once.
That itself made Rohan raise an eyebrow, but there was also something else.
When he asked, “Is there a list of taboo words that’s being given around to manga artists?” he was met with a reply of: “No way! We wouldn’t give something like that to our authors. If we come upon a problematic word or phrase while checking the draft, we can easily fix those with a snap. Oh, but if you’re mindful about stuff like that to begin with, it would be a big help to the editing department!”
…At the end of the day, who in the world was “the new editor” that Juugo had met?
What was the list of taboo words about?
…The truth would never come to light.
But he did try coming up with a theory: Maybe that word “kushagara” didn’t have any meaning to begin with. Like a germ or a parasite, it stimulated people’s curiosity to infect susceptible hosts. That was its goal… Perhaps even a way of “reproducing” itself.
That thought brought chills down Rohan’s spine.
“Oh, hello there.”
Hearing someone speak to him, Rohan snapped out of his thoughts. He had gone to visit the antique bookstore once more. Standing in front of him was the shopkeeper that Juugo had fought with.
“You were here the other day, weren’t you, sir? You know, um, when you stopped that scary man that was here… Right?”
“I was so surprised back then… Since he was all frantic about it, I got curious myself and looked into it… But I couldn’t find anything on that word ‘kushagara.’ Would you know about it, sir—”
Rohan’s Heaven’s Door burst forward before the shopkeeper had even finished speaking. He fell to the ground and as Rohan perused the shopkeeper’s pages… He found it.
“…It’s small and slim, but this page has that pouch.”
Rohan wrote into the shopkeeper to forget everything that happened in the past few days, and left the bookstore.
Even as he left the moldy store, he could hardly feel the warmth of the sun.
…You can’t control what people say, as the proverb goes.
The “transmission” of words is not unlike that of a virus or bacteria spreading.
How many places did Juugo Shishi travel through in this past month to investigate? And how many people did he speak about “kushagara” to?
How many places did the “kushagara,” unable to be recorded either in books or on paper… How many places did it spread to by borrowing Juugo’s voice?
…What’s more, when considering the “propagation of kushagara,” wouldn’t Rohan be no exception? Who was to say that Rohan himself wasn’t carrying a “pouch” right now?
If so, then why didn’t Rohan lose his sense of reason like Juugo?
Did his “pride,” which prioritized his work over his curiosity, win over it? Or did his ability to use Heaven’s Door enable him to fight against this incomprehensible power?
The questions were endless. But he felt that inquiring further was dangerous.
He couldn’t allow his “curiosity” to spur him any further.
When you thought about it, it was a rather simple precautionary measure. But for humans, it was much harder to act on it than how it sounded. Even Rohan was all too familiar from past experiences where he had acted on his curiosity and had met with pain.
If he hadn’t had such experiences and had heard about ‘kushagara’ before Juugo had… He couldn’t stop shivering at the thought.
…To tell you the truth, there is a “lie” mixed into the story that you have now just read.
The bizarre word that Rohan and Juugo came upon is not actually ‘kushagara.’
Since it’s a taboo word, it can’t be used in the first place. It wouldn’t have even been published here. So you, having read the record of this bizarre incident here, are safe.
However… If, in the future, you happen to hear “a bizarre, indecipherable word,” I think it’s understandable that you’d want to look up its meaning.
“Curiosity kills the cat” as they say.
If you have Rohan Kishibe’s force of will, experience, and ‘Heaven’s Door,’ you could stand a chance. But not many people are immune to bizarre events.
There’s no guarantee that you won’t end up as the dead cat.
 志士十五 , the kanji for “Shishi Juugo”.
 浮世絵体系・名所江戸百景 The Ukiyo-e System: One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, the title of a real book on Ukiyo-e print.
〈亀戸梅屋舗〉Kameido Umeyashiki, one of the famous views which you can find collected on this wiki: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/One_Hundred_Famous_Views_of_Edo
 袋とじ , Fukuro-toji is “double-leaved printing,” more info can be found on this page: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/japanese-rare-books-culture/0/steps/17244
北園ばらっど --Ballad Kitaguni-- Lives in Hokkaido. Winner of the Award for Excellence at the 13th Super Dash New Novelists Awards. Previous publications include "Apricot Red," "We're Normies And Were Never Otaku In The Past (Big Fat Lie)," etc. Their favorite Stand is Tubular Bells.
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