The language school at which I used to work was a ten-minute walk from my apartment. I didn’t have to start work until 1:00 in the afternoon so on my first day I left home at around 12:45. The first part of the walk took me down a narrow road, flanked by houses on either side. They were fairly typical Japanese houses – two floors, futons gasping from windows, a couple of parking spaces and, if they had one, a small, well-maintained garden. One house, however, stood out. It was a bungalow, tucked into one end of a fairly large plot of land. The rest of the land was strewn with piles and piles of what looked to me to be rubbish. There were huge heaps of aluminium cans, some old tyres, a couple of broken refrigerators and televisions and a pair of rusty bicycles, and all of these things appeared to be getting slowly sucked down into untamed grass and weeds.
I came to take that route every day, but it wasn’t the state of the land that I found most remarkable. Rather, it was the fact that every afternoon, as I strolled by, I would witness a scruffy old man amongst all the rubbish and that man was invariably naked. He had a beard that looked as though it housed insects, and a wildness in his eyes that caused me to try to avoid his gaze. He didn’t appear to have anything to do. He just stood there or occasionally sat on a deck chair, completely nude in amongst his desperate items. He was always easily visible from the road between the houses.
August is a hot month but, nevertheless, most people over the age of two have learned that clothing is fairly standard as a social convention. I don’t know what the man’s neighbours must have thought about about his exhibitionism but I’m quite certain they wouldn’t want him coming over and sitting on their cushions during the hot months. The old man did have clothes; I know that because sometimes a piece of string was stretched between the eaves of his house and an old pole in the garden, and jogging trousers and vests with curious brown stains hung there in the sunshine.
If it wasn’t raining, I saw the man almost every day through August and September, happily naked on his land, caring not a jot what the world thought of him, but I wondered what would happen when autumn came and the temperature was gradually falling. I found out midway through October. It wasn’t cold but it was considerably cooler than it had been and the old man was out in his garden, amongst the trash as usual. He was sitting in a deck chair, dressed in a light sweater. It was only when he stood up that I realised he hadn’t bothered to wear anything else. As I said, it was cooler, but normal people understand the priority underpants and trousers have over a sweater, don’t they?
When winter drew in, I stopped seeing the man. I thought that perhaps he stayed naked indoors. But in January the bulldozers came. The house was demolished, the garden cleaned, and now a house like all the others on the street stands on his plot.