Tokyo Slaughterhouse

By Stephen Barber


Fiction, or visionary fact?

Yoko was dreaming a question: How many teardrops were needed to make up one warm rain of lust? Firstly, there were her own tears. Secondly, there were the tears of the backstreet abortionists of Tokyo’s eastern districts – the 'makers of angels'. And thirdly, there were the tears in the lashes of an unknown figure falling in flames from the night sky above Shinjuku, hair tumbling in a descent of fire. Each set of tears was counted out from her dream.

Tokyo had crumbled. Exactly one year before, the city had been struck by a massive tsunami, which had submerged every building for several hours, and drowned nine-tenths of its population. Some people had survived by clinging to the floating wreckage of consumer items, until the water receded, leaving a transformed city. After the deluge, Tokyo’s entire digital infrastructure had been utterly destroyed, and all of its millions of urban image-screens and hoardings had been swept away or rendered useless; every building and tower had been structurally weakened, skewed or obliterated by the tsunami’s impact. The cellphone signal for Tokyo had failed, rendering thirty million cellphones immediately obsolete. For the rest of Japan, Tokyo had now become an accursed megalopolis – an entire city of reviled burakumin, or outcasts – to be cordoned-off and avoided at all costs, and its governmental and imperial power had been summarily moved back to the former capital, Kyoto. But several million people still inhabited the wrecked city, stuck fast, unable or unwilling to move.

Yoko lived on the beach of Daiba island, across the narrow Bay of Tokyo from the city’s former financial heartland, the Shimbashi district. An immense suspension bridge – the Rainbow Bridge, as it had once been known – still spanned the bay, though the tsunami’s impact had sent it askew and it appeared ready to collapse at any time. The Daiba beachfront was bordered by a line of once-luxurious apartment highrises and hotels, many now structurally unsound and abandoned, others still inhabited by people who had moved southwards from the low-lying, still-submerged district of San’ya. Only twelve months earlier, that beachfront had been one of the most prized locations in the entirety of Tokyo. Its inhabitants had shopped in opulent department stores, or had lounged in the chandeliered cafés of the thirty-storey ‘boutique’ hotels that had lined the esplanade. Now, the place was a disaster area.

The tsunami had killed Yoko’s parents as they tried to flee the onrushing flood in their car. They had reached the base of Mount Fuji at Gotanda, and were almost safe, but the final pulse of water had flipped the car over and sent Yoko flying out through one of the unhinged doors; the car had then exploded, with her parents still inside it. Yoko was knocked out cold by her fall, and one of her eyelids had been torn. Her body smoked with the heat of the burning gasoline, and she put an anatomical imprint into the soft volcanic soil next to the wreck. All of the world was sucked into her coma. It felt like a television was on right there inside her head, behind her eyes. She knew that her body could have lived forever in that cold state of coma, powered by the television. The rich black earth around her body would have nourished her, resuscitated her.

The only life now left on Daiba island was a speed-tribe gang of teenaged motorcycle boys, whose lives were dominated by their obsession with the 1960s yakuza gangster-films of Seijun Suzuki and the grotesque-horror films of Teruo Ishii: above all, Ishii’s Horror of the Malformed Men. In their ancient and cracked leather jackets, the Motorcycle Boys spat their machines along the Daiba beachfront every evening, then visited now-abandoned cinemas all across Tokyo – from the vast Koma Ballroom in Shinjuku to the still-sperm-encrusted pornography-cinema of Asakusa – to unearth the rusted film-cans and project images of screaming faces and ecstatic mouths.

Those boys were the friends of Yoko. They had been the most vicious of all the speed-tribe Tokyo gangs, even before the tsunami, but felt only affection for Yoko in her solitude, and had repaired her damaged eye with catgut stitching. They brought her sweet red-bean cakes, salt-stiffened manga, bottles of premium-grade sake. The Motorcycle Boys dreamed of building a palace for themselves, from the debris of Tokyo. They were inspired by the great projects which the architect Arata Isozaki had formulated, long ago, for ‘future cities of ruins’, and for towering ‘utopia-cities’ to be constructed in the ocean alongside the island of Macau, far to the south. Their imaginations rapidly constructed the colossal buildings, and imprinted them into their memories, so that they would not be washed-away in those boys’ incessant floods of adrenalin. In every eye, the extravagant architectures flared.

Tokyo Slaughterhouse, the second novel in Stephen Barber’s ‘Tokyo Trilogy’, will be published by Creation Books ( in April 2007. Barber is a cultural topographer, counter-cultural activist and underground historian. He is published by Creation Books, Reaktion and Berg.