Ten Disciples / 涅槃の谷

Ten Disciples

I do not clearly recall if it was when I was preparing for my father’s death after hearing that he had been diagnosed with cancer and only had a short time to live, or if it was when my child was born, that I learned about the valley where cancer patients gather. The spa of Tamagawa is deep in the rural mountains of Akita prefecture in northern Japan. The valley is filled with radioactive rocks and the ground temperature is high. The air is thick with sulfuric fumes from volcanoes from nearby volcanoes. When I look closely, I see people lying here and there on stretch of gray rock. People fighting cancer throw themselves at the mercy of the radiation that fills the valley and get exposed to the heat of the Earth. The scenery reminded me of Nirvana, the painting of supreme enlightenment. It is said that the painting, where Buddha lay in the center of ten great disciples in various styles, describes the stage where all Bonno (earthly desires) are entirely gone.

The visitors stay at the spa for long for healing sessions. Here, one’s background, occupation or wealth is something of little worth. It is as though even the concept of gender difference seems to fade away. Looking at the sight of a person walking toward the volcanic fumes within the valley. I could not feel the distress, but only the determination to prepare for the eternal peace. The river that divides this valley reminds us of the River Styx that borders this world and the next. The maids working at the spa reminds us of Amitabha, an infinite light that escort the dead to the other world. In the summer, bon-odori, a memorial dance service for the dead is held repeatedly. That is exactly "the last scene" that my grandmother told me in my childhood. As I was caught between anxiety and hope, I felt that I saw a representation of the Japanese view of life and death within this valley, and I returned to this place again and again relentlessly.

I stay there and seek wholeheartedly to feel the “brink” or the “loophole” that are invisible in the eye while sometimes I count my heartbeat or think about my father and my son.

Tsutomu Yamagata

涅槃の谷

それは父の癌を知って残された時間が長くはないと覚悟した頃か、それとも自分に子どもが産まれた頃だったか。私は癌に冒された人びとが集うという谷のことを知った。東北秋田、人里はなれた山奥にある玉川温泉。放射線を放つ岩がごろごろと転がるこの谷は地熱温度が高い。硫黄の臭いがする噴煙がいたるところからモウモウと立ち昇っている。目をこらすと灰色の岩場に点々と人が横たわっている。癌と闘う人びとは谷に飛びかう放射線と大地の熱をくまなく受け止めようと身を投げ出す。初めてその光景を見たときに私は涅槃図を思い出した。寝そべる仏陀を中心に十名の高弟たちが思い思いの格好で過ごす絵は、すべての煩悩が消え去って悟りが完成された最終境地を表すという。

長く滞在して湯治する人びと。ここでは生い立ちや職業、貧富に意味はない。性別さえ薄らいでいるかのように見える。谷に立ち昇る噴煙に向かって歩いていく姿には、内に抱えた苦悩の気配は薄く、むしろ安寧なる世界への準備を感じさせる。谷を分断する川は現世とあの世の境にある「三途の川」を、湯治場の女中たちは「お迎え」を思わせ、夏の夜には亡きものを供養する「盆踊り」が延々と繰り返される。それは子どものころに祖母からよく聞かされていた「最期の光景」そのものだった。私は、この谷に具現化された日本人の死生観を見た気がし、執拗に通いはじめた。

私はひたすらそこに身をおき、とらえどころのない「際(きわ)」や「間(はざま)」を感じとろうとする。そして時には自分の鼓動を数え、時には父や幼い息子のことを考える。

山縣 勉