Authors: Yuya Sato
by Yuya Sato
Copyright © Yuya Sato, 2009
All rights reserved.
Original Japanese edition published by SHINCHOSHA Publishing Co., Ltd., Tokyo
This English language edition is published by arrangement with SHINCHOSHA Publishing Co., Ltd., Tokyo in care of Tuttle-Mori Agency, Inc., Tokyo
English translation © 2015 VIZ Media, LLC
Cover and interior design by Fawn Lau
No portion of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the copyright holders.
Published by VIZ Media, LLC
P.O. Box 77010
San Francisco, CA 94107
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Sato, Yuya, 1980–
Dendera / written by Yuya Sato ; translated by Nathan A. Collins and Edwin Hawkes.
pages cm. — (Dendera ; 1)
“Original Japanese edition published by SHINCHOSHA Publishing Co., Ltd., Tokyo”  — Verso title page.
ISBN 978-1-4215-7173-7 (paperback)
1. Older people—Japan—Fiction. I. Collins, Nathan, translator. II. Hawkes, Edwin, translator. III. Title.
Haikasoru eBook edition
nce upon a time, Kayu Saitoh was abandoned on top of the Mountain. This was only natural. She felt fine about being abandoned. This too was only natural. In fact Kayu Saitoh had been looking forward to this event for some time, so the day held no fear, and indeed when it came she faced it with serene equanimity.
Now, the living cannot know what happens after death, so nobody knew for certain whether the stories that they were told from a young age, about Climbing the Mountain and the Paradise that awaited, were entirely true. So Kayu Saitoh stopped thinking about the stories, and she was now standing contentedly at the Destination in the middle of the snow-covered Mountain.
When a person reached the age of seventy, no matter who they were or what their circumstances might be, the custom of the Village dictated that, come winter in the new year, they were to be taken one by one to Climb the Mountain. That was how it was for everybody. And as this was the custom, it never occurred to Kayu Saitoh to think too hard about it.
The snow was still falling; it covered the Mountain in a thick sheet of white. The ground and the withered grass were completely buried in the snow.
That was how snowy it was.
Such was the season when Kayu Saitoh found herself standing at the Destination in the heart of the Mountain praying. Yes, her body was thoroughly chilled through, and her legs had turned purple, and even her white robes were saturated by the snow, exposing the bony limbs underneath to the freezing wetness. But she never stopped praying. Kayu Saitoh didn’t know why she prayed so devoutly under the circumstances. She had never been taught why she should pray, and she had never thought about why she should pray. She just prayed and continued praying.
Kayu Saitoh’s thoughts were not of the Village, not of the place where she had spent her entire life without once leaving. Her thoughts were not of her son, for whom she had suffered through months of a painfully swollen belly so that she could deliver him into this world, her son who had just a moment ago brought her to this place in the Mountain. Her thoughts were not of her seventy years in this world.
Her thoughts were of nothing.
It was not that Kayu Saitoh’s mind was empty. Rather, she did not need to think. All she had to do was put her hands together and pray and she felt complete. She felt no sorrow, no suffering, no regret.
Ever since she was a little girl Kayu Saitoh had been told that old people Climbed the Mountain for a clean departure from this world so that they could enter Paradise. Of course, there had been some people in the Village who murmured in hushed tones that Paradise didn’t really exist, and Kayu Saitoh also understood how the practice of Climbing the Mountain conveniently reduced the number of mouths the Village had to feed. But thinking about these things got you nowhere, so Kayu Saitoh had decided not to think about anything. Some old people refused to Climb the Mountain and instead ran away from the Village, but Kayu Saitoh knew these people were depraved—a side effect of doing too much thinking. People who let their thoughts run wild. People who tried to find the answers to questions that were too difficult to answer. What those people should have done, what anyone should do before they were tempted to confusing conclusions, is to just put their hands together and pray. That was what Kayu Saitoh believed, and that was why she was now praying. Indeed, she felt positively virtuous that she was Climbing the Mountain after a year when the crops had been so lean, and her prayers were tinged with a trace of pride.
Years of meager living and hard labor had rendered Kayu Saitoh’s body frail to the point that even the simple act of joining her hands together in prayer was a struggle. There was no strength left in her fingertips, her snow-buried legs were numb, her nostril hairs were frozen solid, tiny white crystals formed every time she exhaled, and her white hair was hard with frost, but Kayu Saitoh did not succumb to fear. In her judgment, there was no reason to fear anything, because she would soon disappear from this world and arrive in Paradise, and then all the people who had Climbed the Mountain before her would be waiting to welcome her with open arms.
Kayu Saitoh stood firm as the Mountain dissolved into darkness. She prayed. Excepting her head, which was feverish from effort and lack of food, her body was now thoroughly frozen through, and she no longer even shivered. This was a sign that her heart and body had given up on their task of keeping her alive.
Some crows had noticed Kayu Saitoh and were circling the sky immediately overhead. They were waiting for her to become a mound of dead flesh. The old people who died Climbing the Mountain were food for the wild animals that roamed the Mountain during the winter months, for the crows and the foxes. And so a body that was nothing more than a drain on the Village’s limited food supplies would, ironically, become a food source for others. You will not be too surprised to learn that Kayu Saitoh did not think too hard about this fact either. She just waited for her body to shut down.
The birds cawed louder now and drew nearer. One particularly bold one came low enough that its eyes met Kayu Saitoh’s eyes. She saw a lucid image of herself reflected clearly in the crow’s jet-black pupils. Perhaps this was a hallucination, and perhaps it was not. Either way, Kayu Saitoh did not so much as blink. She simply stared straight back into the crow’s eyes. If you were to look at her now you might imagine that she would have even been smiling were she not frozen stiff. In truth Kayu Saitoh was by now past the point where she could imagine what her own reactions would be, and soon enough, the last of her remaining energy deserted her, as was only natural, and she toppled over backward. When the snow started to settle on her she felt no cold, and when the crows started to peck at her with their greedy beaks she felt no pain.
In this state Kayu Saitoh was unable to see the moon as it appeared in the sky to gleam down its faint blue rays. But the hint of warmth that the moonlight provided was just enough to revive her, infinitesimally, and her frozen eyelids popped open. She figured that Paradise was on its way, and that the last remaining traces of her spirit were about to depart this world. She was content with this thought, and she closed her eyes again.
Time passed, and then there was a sound of footsteps in the snow.
Kayu Saitoh listened intently and decided that these were not the footfalls of wild beasts. Beyond that, however, she had no idea as to what they might be. The rules of the Village prohibited anyone from entering the Mountain during the hours of darkness. This was so even when someone was due to Climb the Mountain. In fact, the ritual of the Mountain Climbing Ceremony was clearly laid out: early in the morning the Village Headman would come to the house of the old person destined to Climb the Mountain, and the
put aside for the special day would be passed round the family, and after all had partaken of it the old person would sit in the center of the house along with the family member appointed to take them to their Destination atop the Mountain, and the Village Headman would solemnly explain again the precepts of the Mountain Climbing Ceremony, and then all would drink again, and then when the sun reached its zenith in the sky above, the appointed family member would place the old person on his back and carry them up the Mountain to the Destination. Such was the custom.
In other words, there really should not have been the sound of peoples’ footsteps at this time of night.
The beating of the wings of the night crows grew faint, and the footfalls drew nearer. This much Kayu Saitoh perceived, just enough for her to understand that events were taking an unexpected turn. Her consciousness might have been fading fast, but this much she knew.
Then there was the sound of breathing.
Now, women were forbidden from entering the Mountain. Women who bled from their loins were an abomination to the Mountain, who was herself a woman, and it was known that a woman stepping foot on the Mountain risked bringing a curse of fire and brimstone upon her family home. The only time a woman was ever permitted on the Mountain was after her role as a woman was completed and there was no danger of her monthly curse defiling the Mountain. The only time a woman ever set foot on the hallowed slopes was when it was time for her to Climb the Mountain.
The sound of footsteps surrounded Kayu Saitoh.
By now Kayu Saitoh was completely immobile, and she could not even flutter her eyelids, much less think about running away. A number of hands reached out and touched her, but she could not open her eyes to look at them. The hands radiated warmth, and one reached down to feel her cheeks, but Kayu Saitoh could not even feel it as it touched her. Even so, her ears still seemed to work, and she just about heard a phlegmy voice rasp excitedly: “She’s alive!”
It was the voice of an old woman.
At this point Kayu Saitoh lost consciousness completely.
She drifted in and out of sleep throughout the next day. The first time she awoke her head was groggy and she could only see red light and indistinct images, but she was conscious enough to realize that her hearing was shot—from strain—and from the dull lethargy that gripped her body she surmised that she had a fever, and then she passed out again.
When she next awoke she realized that she was being lowered into some sort of straw bedding, although she did not understand how or why this was happening. She wondered whether she might be dreaming, but as Kayu Saitoh was a young girl again in most of her dreams she dismissed this idea. Before long Kayu Saitoh lost consciousness again, and this time she really did dream. As was to be expected she was now a girl, in a time before her face and neck were wrinkled and her palms and soles were riddled with cracks and her teeth and ears were enfeebled with age, a time when she was beautiful and lived beautifully. In her dream Kayu Saitoh was running through an open field, laughing for the sheer joy of laughing, even though in her actual past there had been precious few scenes like this one, if any. Her actual past had consisted of tilling half-barren fields, sitting in her house sorting beans, babysitting her younger brother, and reaching maturity so that she could bear a child. That was how her actual youth had gone. There hadn’t been time to run through the fields laughing. Still, Kayu Saitoh never thought of herself as unfortunate.
The dream having finished, Kayu Saitoh consciously opened her eyes.
First she saw the ceiling, and then she saw her own body covered in straw. Kayu Saitoh lifted her right arm out of the straw. She should have recognized her own arm, but for some reason it seemed alien to her. She didn’t understand why such a familiar part of her own body now seemed detached and irrelevant.
Kayu Saitoh stood up. She was unsteady on her feet, and her joints ached, but not enough to trouble her at this point. She took a few steps across the dirt floor. She still felt detached from her body.
She ventured outside.
Her first thought was that she was back in the Village. There were houses, and people, and the snowcapped Mountain stood in the distance, so it was an understandable first impression. Within the space of a few steps she had cause to revise her first impression. This wasn’t the Village. The reason for this new thought was simple. There were far fewer houses, and the only people she could see were old women.
One of the old women noticed Kayu Saitoh. The old woman gave a hearty yell, alerting her surroundings to the fact that Kayu Saitoh had woken up. Faces turned to Kayu Saitoh. The faces seemed surprised, almost angry, even. Not blank. Kayu Saitoh looked at the faces one by one, and a realization hit her.
She had seen all these faces somewhere before.
Kayu Saitoh thought for a moment that she must therefore be in Paradise and felt a sweet sensation, but this passed as quickly as it had come. It occurred to her that if this were really Paradise then it was no different from the life that had preceded it. The thought made her despondent.
By and by, one of the old women approached her. It was Makura Katsuragawa, whose house in the Village was right behind Kayu Saitoh’s. Childhood memories flowed back to Kayu Saitoh of Makura Katsuragawa as a young woman playing with her, Kayu Saitoh, as a little girl. The same Makura Katsuragawa was supposed to have Climbed the Mountain eighteen years ago. She was supposed to be dead, but instead she was here, standing right in front of Kayu Saitoh, older and thinner than before and with a nose that looked like it had suffered from frostbite.
Makura Katsuragawa’s mouth crinkled up at the corners in what seemed to be a friendly manner. “You’re awake, then,” she said, and “It’s been a while,” and her breath came out white. Kayu Saitoh thought that she should really say something in return, but she could only move her parched tongue from left to right, and not even a sound emerged from her mouth, let alone coherent words. Makura Katsuragawa continued speaking. “Yes, it’s certainly been a while.” Kayu Saitoh realized she was being pushed to say something, to respond, and that nothing would happen until she did, so she forced herself to focus on wetting her lips and mouth.