In this political fable reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984, protagonist and first-person narrator “T” is an author in his late thirties. In part because he’s out of ideas for stories, he decides to make a trip to the town of O to visit his mother’s grave. She had died from an illness before T reached the age of ten, never telling him who his father was. In the train on the way there, T nods off and has a dream about her. He awakens and arrives at his destination as evening falls. At this point he enters a nightmarish parallel world: he finds himself in an alternate “Japan,” utterly different from the real Japan he has known.
The alternate “Japan” is ruled by new “Japanese” of Anglo-Saxon extraction from the United States and allies that were victorious in World War II. “Japan” is now a complete democracy, and it is a measure of how dedicated the “Japanese” are to protecting that democracy that they wear dark green combat uniforms. Meanwhile, the original residents of the Japanese islands are now referred to as “old Japanese,” and they have been forced to move into special enclaves established by the government. These people have neither sovereignty nor the right to vote. Further, writers and other artists are not permitted to express themselves without government approval. All expression not related to the state is considered anti-democratic.
T enters this alternate “Japan” as an intruder. Because he happens to look just like the legendary rebel J, an “old Japanese” man who plotted the first uprising against the new regime, the “old Japanese” want to elevate T to be leader of the anti-government movement. At a loss, T simply repeats the request he has made to both the “Japanese,” who initially detained him when he arrived in “Japan,” and the “old Japanese,” who look to him as their potential savior: “Please give me paper and pencil.” Even in his life-or-death circumstances, his only interest is in writing fiction.
A central figure in the story is the eponymous Prime Minister A. This “old Japanese” man is a puppet governor set up by the “Japanese” in order to administer the “old Japanese” enclaves, where more than two-thirds of the population live. He gives speeches in halting English. “The wars being waged around the world by this country and the United States are progressing well,” he declares. “War is the great mother of peace.” He reels off mumbo-jumbo about a “peaceful democratic war based on warring global pacifism” and boasts of the country’s successes. When T is detained by the “Japanese” a second time, he becomes a government-approved author after undergoing torture.
The work is a pitch-perfect satire of a state that is democratic in name only, all too realistically portraying the grotesque perversions of democracy imposed by the despotic rulers. It also delves deeply into the place and significance of fiction writing in contemporary Japan.