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Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest VIII

Little Tokyo: City of Regeneration

22nd Century, Little Tokyo.

Looking up at the falling snowflakes, I put my coat collar up and breathed into my hands.

Some time ago, Tokio had told me that a century ago, it would have never snowed like this. Tokio is an AI that works at the Koban police box. Ever since this city decided to coexist with AI, Tokio seems to have been keeping an eye out on even the trivial of crimes to protect the safety of this city. At human age, Tokio should have already reached Kiju (age 77), but Tokio’s appearance was the same as mine in my late twenties.

There was a time when the world was unsure about having AI around, that would be taking over the jobs of humans, but now it is no longer uncommon for cities to tolerate AI. On the other hand, nations that could not coexist with AI continued to decline, until they disappeared altogether before the world realized it. However, if I were asked if humans were inferior to AI, my pride as a human being would prevent me from admitting it…

I still believe that humans have good qualities only found in humans, even if humans have destroyed the global environment and repeatedly made the mistake of killing each other ever since the beginning of mankind.

Little Tokyo… People come here not only from the mainland of Japan but from all over the world in search of good old Japan. However, the land left on earth was one tenth of the mass from 100 years ago, and most of it has sunk under water. Especially Japan, which had a particularly small area to begin with, had lost more than half of its land mass.

I came here to Little Tokyo because I heard that my grandfather’s grandfather, had successfully regenerated his life, although it was not easy by any means.

My grandfather’s grandfather is one of the Nikkei who immigrated to the city after World War II. When his beloved homeland Japan decided to go to war with the United Sates, he had decided to give up his home country.

I think that choice he made was right. After the war, although Japan lived through shame and climbed up to gain economic growth, it gradually fell behind the rest of the world. The young generations had lost their pride and willpower of being Japanese.

The incident happened in March when I had gradually gotten used to life in this town. I received a notification on my smartphone that “Tokio, who worked at a Koban police box, was shot by someone.” This notification was automatically sent to an app registrant called PSCR. To follow the understanding that “the safety of city should be watched over by the local residents”, all incidents that happened in the city were notified.

“Tokio! Are you okay?”

Tokio smiled when he saw me rushing to the Koban police box. If you saw his natural, beautiful smile, you would never think he was an AI.

Seeing that smile, I knew that the injury was not too serious.

“It’s good that I was the one who got shot.”

To my sigh of relief, Tokio said with a cool voice.

“What are you talking about? It’s not good...”

When I first came to this town I didn’t know right from left. Tokio treated me with more kindness than anyone else had given me. I could not even imagine losing him.

Some scientists say that AI have no emotions, but I think emotion is something that you gradually acquire by living with humans.

“Were they able to identify your attacker?”

“Yes……”

He said that with a hint of uncertainty, which was quite an unusual thing for Tokio.

“What is it, Tokio...?”

“He is hiding the attacker... ”

The man that appeared was Mr. Osugi, the chairman of the autonomy. He has lived in this city since he was born, and is now 70 years old. He is actually from the same generation as Tokio.

“Mr. Osugi, do you have an idea of who the attacker is?”

“It’s a newcomer...”

--Newcomer……

The words hurt my ears. I must have been referred as such, just half a year ago.

If I remember correctly, it was around the end of the summer that Shimura, who Mr. Osugi referred to as the “newcomer,” had come to this town. He looked older than his age, but aparently he was only a year or two older than me.

At the turn of the season, when his tanned skin becomes moderately cooled by the evening breeze, he wore a long-sleeved coat.

I remember thinking that for a man who came to a new place to regenerate, he did not care to interact with anyone or try to blend in at all.

“I think that man is a criminal...”

“Which crime? What did he do?”

“If you ask me, he had always been a bit of a sneak, don’t you think?”

Shimura’s attitude had made people talk about him behind his back.

“You should be careful...”

“Be careful, of what?”

I question this. I am not sure if one should suspect him of being a criminal just because he doesn’t blend in with the atmosphere of the city. Do I feel this way because I’m a stranger myself?

“Tokio, what do you think of this person? Is he really a villain that everyone claims him to be?”

“How do you feel about it?”

I did not know what to say when Tokio asked the question in return.

“I don’t know... that is why I am asking you...”

“Really?”

Tokio would call us the “inheritor”.

For things that last a long time, like family genealogy or a company, someone always need to inherit it and pass it on. Tokio explained that we, as “people”, will inherit this city.

Tokio also talked about the “three eyes” that are a necessity for “the inheritor”; the “eyes to foresee“ to anticipate the future as soon as possible, the “modest eyes” necessary for those who have power, and the “eyes of the heart” to be able to judge others unsuperficially. But can an ordinary person like me have the “eyes of the heart”?

“Judging people by their appearance does not solve anything.”

Mr. Osugi exhaled from his nose after hearing Tokio’s words.

“Are you trying to lecture me?”

“No... I didn’t mean it that way.”

“There is no question that he did it. So we need to catch him and make him confess!”

Mr. Osugi, who is somewhat short tempered, turned to Tokio and yelled at him.

“You should always listen to others, to have a better understanding of the other...”

“You’re just an AI... how can you be so lenient!”

With those words, Mr. Osugi left. Tokio turned his head to me who was still there.

“Do you feel the same way?”

“Which part?”

“Will things settle down if I catch him and have him confess?”

Mr. Osugi probably knows that that will not really solve the real problem at hand.

But we humans have long avoided talking to sinners. I assumed the Mr. Osugi’s anger at Tokio the AI, stemmed from his irritation towards humans.

“But will he listen?”

It is a bad habit of mine to hesitate before giving things a try.

“You are the only one that can talk to him.”

“Why?”

“Because... you are also an outsider…”

Light dwells in Tokio’s emotionless eyes. Accepting what he meant, I found myself slowly nodding yes.

The United States had encountered uneasy times due to natural disasters such as large earthquakes, tsunamis, and tornadoes that occurred repeatedly in the 21st century. Tokio had told me that this city survived some natural disasters and was getting closer to the coast due to those disasters.

Looking for Shimura, I arrived on the beach where I could see the horizon in the far distance.

And as Tokio had suspected, Shimura stood on the embankment with a cigarette in his hand.

“Mr. Shimura, I came here to talk to you...”

“Did you finally come to catch me?”

Shimura said calmly and looked at me out of the side of his eye.

“That is Tokio’s job...”

“Doesn’t it bother you that AI has taken control of everything in the city?”

“Bothered?”

Shimura stared at my face, as I questioned back.

“My hometown used to flourish from the fishing industry…however, one day they decided to have AI take over...”

“I wished... that everything would sink to the bottom of the sea… myself, the city, the country, the whole earth...”

I gave a bitter smile at Shimura who looked startled. And then continued.

“You’re not the only one, Mr. Shimura... that carries a past, carries secrets, and came here to escape...”

“What are you...”

I told Shimura that just like the earth needs to force itself to reset, we, humans need it too.

“Although it is not so easy for humans to reset even if they wanted to...”

“What is it that you want to reset?”

Shimura squints his eyes as if trying to read through my uncertain mind.

It was finally time to reveal my secret to others.

“Do you know the word sexual minority?”

“Oh... it was a widely talked about topic, quite a while ago wasn’t it?”

Then Shimura opened his eyes as if he had a sudden revelation.

“You...”

“I was born into this world as a girl...”

But I could not get used to my body and didn’t like my feminine appearance. And yet, boys are what I was attracted to, which confused me even more.

“So, when LGBT started getting a lot of attention... I thought it was an opportunity...”

After explaining that much, I shrugged my shoulders.

“I did that “coming out” thing... but in the city where I was living, that wasn’t accepted just yet…”

The cold eyes of the acquaintances and colleagues made me feel abnormal, and so uncomfortable that I could not stay anymore.

“And you escaped here?”

“Yup… I had heard that my ancestors had regenerated in Little Tokyo after World War II so...”

I thought I could revive someday, just like my ancestors. And I wanted to get back at those who didn’t understand me.

“Now you know that you’re not the only one, right? There are others who left their hometown to run away...”

After listening to my story, Shimura nodded with a serious look on his face.

“But I feel that if I run away this time, I think I’ll be completely defeated... once is ok, but I can’t run away from the same problem twice... do you know who taught me this?”

Shimura shakes his head.

“It’s Tokio... it’s the AI you hate... in the beginning, I didn’t think AI had human-like emotions...”

“Is it not true?”

“They may have more emotions than humans once they start to learn...”

Since I came to this city, I was saved by Tokio’s warm smile countless times.

“This city and I will accept you as you are. So please….regenerate yourself.”

Tokio’s words encouraged me when I was frightened by the eyes of the people.

“Mr. Shimura, stop running away...”

I don’t know if my feelings were conveyed, but I saw a smile on Shimura’s face for the first time.

It was indeed Tokio that told me few days later that Shimura had left the city.

“He ran away after all...”

Tokio didn’t say anything to Mr. Osugi’s murmur, but he told me when we were alone at the Koban police box.

“Mr. Shimura apologized to me for injuring me. He also said he wanted to talk to you. He also said the reason he is leaving the city is not because he didn’t agree with what you said… He said he wanted to return once to his hometown and take care of some things he left unfinished. And the next time he returns to this city, he wouldn’t run away... he told me to tell you that.”

Little Tokyo, the city that has been regenerated many times. But this is something that had been done with the power of humans. I should also regenerate to a new self in this city, overcoming age, gender, and race.

Actor Eiji Inoue reads “Little Tokyo —City of Regeneration—” by ShoRei. From the 8th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest: A Virtual Celebration on May 23, 2021. Sponsored by the Little Tokyo Historical Society in partnership with JANM’s Discover Nikkei project.

 

*This is the winning story in the Japanese category of the Little Tokyo Historical Society’s 8th Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest.

 

© 2021 ShoRei

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About this series

Each year, the Little Tokyo Historical Society’s Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest heightens awareness of Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo by challenging both new and experienced writers to write a story that showcases familiarity with the neighborhood and the people in it. Writers from three categories, Adult, Youth, and Japanese language, weave fictional stories set in the past, present, or future. On May 23, 2021 in a virtual celebration moderated by Michael Palma, noted theatre artists, Greg Watanabe, Jully Lee, and Eiji Inoue performed dramatic readings of each winning entry.

Winners


*Read stories from other Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contests:

Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest I >>
Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest II >>
Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest III >>
Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest IV >>
Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest V >>
Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest VI >>
Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest VII >>