from: After the Quake (2003), by Haruki Murakami
The plane reached cruising altitude and the
FASTEN SEAT BELT
sign went out. So, thought Satsuki, I'm going back to Japan.
She tried to think about what lay ahead, but soon gave up.
"Words turn into stone;' Nimit had told her. She settled deep
into her seat and closed her eyes. All at once the image came to
her of the sky she had seen while swimming on her back. And
super-frog saves tokyo
Erroll Garner's "I'll Remember April:' Let me sleep, she
thought. Just let me sleep. And wait for the dream to come.
Katagiri found a giant frog waiting for him in his apartment. It
was powerfully built, standing over six feet tall on its hind legs.
A skinny little man no more than five-foot-three, Katagiri was
overwhelmed by the frog's imposing bulk.
"Call me 'Frog;" said the frog in a clear, strong voice.
Katagiri stood rooted in the doorway, unable to speak.
"Don't be afraid, I'm not here to hurt you. Just come in and
close the door. Please:'
Briefcase in his right hand, grocery bag with fresh vegetables
and tanned salmon cradled in his left arm, Katagiri didn't dare
"Please, Mr. Katagiri, hurry and close the door, and take off
The sound of his own name helped Katagiri snap out of it.
He closed the door as ordered, set the grocery bag on the raised
wooden floor, pinned the briefcase under one arm, and unlaced
his shoes. Frog gestured for him to take a seat at the kitchen
table, which he did.
"I must apologize, Mr. Katagiri, for having barged in while you
were out;' Frog said. "I knew it would be a shock for you to find
me here. But I had no choice. How about a cup of tea? I thought
you would be coming home soon, so I boiled some water:'
Katagiri still had his briefcase jammed under his arm. Somebody's playing a joke on me, he thought. Somebody's rigged
himself up in this huge frog costume just to have fun with me.
But he knew, as he watched Frog pour boiling water into the
teapot, humn1ing all the while, that these had to be the limbs
and movements of a real frog. Frog set a cup. of green tea in
front of Katagiri, and poured another one for himself
Sipping his tea, Frog a~ked, "Calming down?"
But still Katagiri could"not speak.
"I know I should have made an appointment to visit you,
Mr. Katagiri. I am fully aware of the proprieties. Anyone would
be shocked to find a big frog waiting for him at home. But an
urgent matter brings me here. Please forgive me:'
"Urgent matter?" Katagiri managed to produce words at last..
"Yes, indeed;' Frog said. "Why else would I take the liberty
of barging into a person's home? Such discourtesy is not my
"Does this 'matter' have something to do with me?"
"Yes and no;' said Frog with a tilt of the head. "No and yes:'
I've got to get a grip on mysel£ thought Katagiri. "Do you
mind if I smoke?"
"Not at all, not at all;' Frog said with a smile. "It's your
home. You don't have to ask my permission. Smoke and drink
as much as you like. I myself am not a smoker, but I can hardly
impose my distaste for tobacco on others in their own homes:'
Katagiri pulled a pack of cigarettes from his coat pocket and
·struck a match. He saw his hand trembling as he lit up. Seated
qpposite him, Frog seemed to be studying his every movement.
"You don't happen to be connected with some kind of gang
by any chance?" Katagiri found the courage to ask.
"Ha ha ha ha l;ia ha! What a wonderful sense of humor you
have, Mr. Katagiri!" he said, slapping his webbed hand against
his thigh. "There may be a shortage of skilled labor, but what
gang is going to hire a frog to do ;heir dirty work? They'd be
made a laughingstock:'
"Well, if you're here to negotiate a repayment, you're wasting your time. I have no authority to make such decisions. Only
my superiors can do that. I just follow orders. I can't do a thing
"Please, Mr. Katagiri;' Frog said, raising one webbed fing~r. "I
have not come here on such petty business. I am fully aware that
you are assistant chief of the Lending Division of the Shinjuku
branch of the Tokyo Security Trust Bank. But my visit has nothing to do with the repayment of loans. I have come here to save
Tokyo from destruction:'
Katagiri scanned the room for a hidden TV camera in case
he was being made the butt of some huge, terrible joke. But
there was no camera. It was a small apartment. There was no
place for anyone to hide.
"No;' Frog said, "we are the only ones here. I know you are
thinking that I must be mad, or that you are having some kind
of dream, but I am not crazy and you are not dreaming. This is
absolutely, positively serious:'
"To tell you the truth, Mr. Frog-"
"Please," Frog said, raising one finger agam. "Call me
Katagiri nodded. Hoping to calm himself, he picked up his
· ct.tp and swallowed a mouthful of tea. "You said before that
"To tell you the truth, Frog;' Katagiri said, "I can't quite
understand what is going on here. It's not that I don't trust you,
you have come here to save Tokyo from destruction?"
but I don't seem to be able to grasp the situation exactly. Do
you mind if I ask you a question or two?"
"Not at all, not at ail;' Frog said. "Mutual understanding is of
critical importance. There are those who say that 'understanding'
is merely the sum total of our misunderstandings, and while I do
find this view interesting in its own way, I am afraid that we have
no time to spare on pleasant digressions. The best thing would
be for us to achieve mutual understanding via the shortest possible route. Therefore, by all means, ask as many questions as you
"Now, you are a real frog, am I right?"
"Yes, of course, as you can see. A real frog is exactly what I
am. A product neither of metaphor nor allusion nor deconstruction not sampling nor any other such complex process, I
am a genuine frog. Shall I croak for you?"
Frog tilted back his head and flexed the muscles of his huge
throat. Ribit! Ri-i-i-bit! Ribit-ribit-ribit! Ribit! Ribit! Ri-i-i-bit! His
gigantic croaks rattled the pictures hanging on the walls.
"Fine, I see, I see!" Katagiri said, worried about the thin
walls of the cheap apartment house in which he lived. "That's
great. You are, without question, a real frog:'
"That is what I said:'
"What kind of destruction?"
"Earthquake;'. Frog said with the utmost gravity.
Mouth dropping open, Katagiri looked at Frog. And Frog,
saying nothing, looked at Katagiri. They went on staring at
each other like this for some time. Next it was Frog's turn to
open his mouth.
"A very, very big earthquake. It is set to strike Tokyo at
eight-thirty a.m. on February 18. Three days from now. A much
bigger earthquake than the one that struck Kobe last month.
The number of dead from such a quake would probably exceed
a hundred and fifty thousand-mostly from accidents involving the commuter system: derailments, falling vehicles, crashes,
the collapse of elevated expressways and rail lines, the crushing
of subways, the explosion of tanker trucks. Buildings will be
transformed into piles of rubble, their inhabitants crushed to
death. Fires everywhere, the road system in a state of collapse,
ambulances and fire trucks useless, people just lying there,
dying. A hundred and fifty thousand of them! Pure hell. People _
will be made to realize what a fragile condition the intensive
"One might also say that I am the sum total of all frogs.
Nonetheless, this does nothing to change the fact that I am a
frog. Anyone claiming that I am not a frog would be a dirty liar.
I would smash such a person to bits!"
collectivity known as 'city' really is:' Frog said this with a gentle
shake of the head. "The epicenter will be dose to the Shinjuku
"Close to the Shinjuku ward office?"
"To be precise, it will hit directly beneath the Shinjuku
branch of the Tokyo Security Trust Bank:'
A heavy silence followed.
''.And you," Katagiri said, "are planning to stop this earthquake?"
"Exactly;' Frog said, nodding. "That is exactly what I propose to do. You and I will go underground beneath the Shinjuku branch of the Tokyo Security Trust Bank to do mortal
combat with Worm:'
debt, Katagiri had been surrounded more than once by mobsters threatening to kill him, but he had never been frightened.
What good would it have done them to kill one man running
around for the bank? They could stab hi~ if they wanted to.
They could beat him up. He was perfect for the job: no wife,
no kids, both pa~ents dead, brother and sister he had put
through college married off So what if they killed him? it
wouldn't change anything for anybody-least of all for Kata-
As a member of the Trust Bank Lending Division, Katagiri had
fought his way through many a battle. He had weathered sixteen years of daily combat since the day he graduated from the
university and joined the bank's staff He was, in a word, a collection officer-a post that carried little popularity. Everyone
in his division preferred to make loans, especially at the time of
the bubble. They had so much money in those days that almost
any likely piece of collateral-be it land or stock-was enough
It was not Katagiri but the thugs..surrounding him who got
nervous when the-y saw him so calm and cool. He soon earned
a kind of reputation in their world as a tough guy. Now,
though, the taught Katagiri was at a total loss. What the hell
was this frog talking about? Worm?
"Who is Worm?" he asked with some hesitation.
"Worm lives underground. He is a gigantic worm. When he
to convince loan officers to give away whatever they were asked
for, the bigger the loan the better their reputations in the company. Some loans, though, never made it back to the bank: they
got "stuck to the bottom of the pan:' It was Katagiri's job to
take care of those. And when the bubble burst, the work piled
on. First stock prices fell, and then land values, and collateral
lost all significance. "Get out there;' his boss commanded him,
"and squeeze whatever you can out of them:'
gets angry, he causes earthquakes;' Frog said. "And right now
The Kabukicho neighborhood of Shinjuku was a labyrinth
of violence: old-time gangsters, Korean mobsters, Chinese mafia,
guns and drugs, money flowing beneath the surface from one
murky den to another, people vanishing every now and then
like a puff of smoke. Plunging into Kabukicho to collect a bad
imagine, have atrophied, his brain has turned to jelly as he
sleeps. If you ask me, I'd guess he probably isn't thinking anything at all, just lying there and feeling every little rumble and
reverberation that comes his way, absorbing them into his body,
and storing them up. And then, through some kind of chemical
he is very, very angry:'
"What is he angry about?" Katagiri asked.
"I have no idea;' Frog said. "Nobody knows what Worm is
thinking inside that murky head of his. Few have ever seen him.
He is usually asleep. That's what he really likes to do: take long,
long naps. He goes on sleeping for years-decades-in the
warmth and darkness underground. His eyes, as you might
process, he replaces most of them with rage. Why this happens I
have no idea. I could never explain it:'
Frog fell silent, watching Katagiri and waiting until his
words had sunk in. Then he went on:
back. "I still don't get it;' he said. "Why did you choose me to
go with you?"
. Frog looked straight into Katagiri's eyes and said, "I have
always had the profoundest respect for you, Mr. Katagiri. For
"Please don't misunderstand me, though. I feel no personal
sixteen long years, you have silently accepted the most danger-
animosity toward Worm. I don't see him as the embodiment of
ous, least glamo~ous assignments-the jobs that others have
evil. Not that I would want to be his friend, either: I just think
avoided-and you have carried them off beautifully. I know full
that, as far as the world is concerned, it is in a sense all right for a
well how difficult this has been for you, and I believe that neither
being like him to exist. The world is like a great big- overcoat,
your superiors nor your colleagues properly appreciate your ac-
and- it needs pockets of various shapes and sizes. But right at
complishments. They are blind, the whole lot of them. But you,
the moment Worm has reached the point where he is too dan-
unappreciated and unpromoted, have never once complained.
gerous to ignore. With all the different kinds of hatred he has
"Nor is it simply a matter of your work. After your par-
absorbed and stored inside himself over the years, his heart and
ents died, you raised your teenage brother and sister single-
body have swollen to gargantuan proportions-bigger than
handedly, put them through college, and even arranged for
ever before. And to make matters worse, last month's Kobe
them to marry, all at great sacrifice of your time and income,
earthquake shook him out of the deep sleep he was enjoying.
and at the expense of your own marriage prospects. In spite of
He experienced a revelation inspired by his profound rage: it
this, your brother and sister have never once expressed grati-
was time now for him, too, to cause a massive earthquake, and
tude for your efforts on their .behalf Far from it: they have
he'd do it here, in Tokyo. I know what I'm talking about, Mr.
shown you no respect and acted with the most callous disre-
Katagiri: I have received reliable information on the timing and
gard for your loving-kindness. In my opinion, their behavior is
scale of the earthquake from some of my best bug friends:'
unconscionable. I almost wish I could beat them to a pulp on
Frog snapped his mouth shut and closed his round eyes in
your behalf But you, meanwhile, show no trace of anger.
"To be quite honest, Mr. Katagiri, you are nothing much to
"So what you're saying is;' Katagiri said, "that you and I
look at, and you are far from eloquent, so you tend to be
have to go underground together and fight Worm to stop the
looked down upon by those around you. I, however, can see
what a sensible and courageous man you are. In all of Tokyo,
with its teeming millions, there is no one else I could trust as
Katagiri reached for his cup of tea, picked it up, and put it
much as you to fight by my side:'
a t t e r
t h e
q u a k e.
"Tell me, Mr. Frog-" Katagiri said.
"Please," Frog said; raising one finger agam. "Call me
"Tell me, Frog;' Katagiri said, "how do you know so much
"Well, Mr. Katagiri, I have not been frogging all these years
for nothing. I keep my eye on the important things in life:'
"But still, Frog;' Katagiri said, ''I'm not particularly strong,
and I don't know anything about what's happening underground. I don't have the kind of muscle it will take to fight
Worm in the darkness. I'm sure you can find somebody a lot
stronger than me-a man who does karate, say, or a SelfDefense Force commando:'
Frog rolled his large eyes. "To tell you the truth, Mr. Katagiri;' he said, "I'm the one who will do all the fighting. But I
to share your simple courage with me, to support me with your
·whole heart as a true friend. Do you understand what I am trying to tell you?"
None of this made any sense to Kat.agiri, but still he felt
that-unreal as it sounded-he could believe whatever Frog
said to him. So~ething about Frog-the look on his face, the
way he spoke-had a simple honesty to it that appealed directly
to the heart. After years of work in the toughest division qf the
Security Trust Bank, Katagiri possessed the ability to sense
such things. It was all but second ~ature to him.
"I know this must be difficult for you, Mr. Katagiri. A h~ge
frog comes barging into your place and asks you to believe all
these outlandish things. Your reaction is perfectly natural. And
so I intend to provide you with proof that I exist. Tell me, Mr.
Katagiri, you have been having a great deal of trouble recover-
can't do it alone. This is the key thing: I need your courage and
your passion for justice. I need you to stand behind me and say,
'Way to go, Frog! You're doing great! I know you can win!
You're fighting the good fight!"'
ing a loan the bank made to Big Bear Trading, have you not?"
Frog opened his arms wide, then slapped his webbed hands
down on his knees again.
sters. They're scheming to make the company go bankrupt and
get out of its debts. Your bank's loan officer shoved a pile of
cash at them without a decent background check, and, as usual,
the one who's left to clean up after him is you, Mr. Katagiri. But
"In all honesty, Mr. Katagiri, the thought of fighting Worm
in the dark frightens me, too. For many years I lived as a pacifist, loving art, living with nature. Fighting is not something I
like to do. I do it because I have to. And this particular fight
will be a fierce one, that is certain. I may not return from it
alive. I may lose a limb or two in the process. But I cannot-I
will not-run away. As Nietzsche said, the highest wisdom is
to have no fear. What I want from you, Mr. Katagiri, is for you
l 0 0
"That's true;' Katagiri said.
"Well, they have a number of extortionists working behind
the scenes, and those individuals are mixed up with the mob-
you're having a hard time sinking your teeth into these fellows:
they're no pushovers. And there may be a powerful politician
backing them up. They're into you for seven hundred million
yen. That is the situation you are dealing with, am I right?"
"You certainly are:'
Frog stretched his arms out wide, his big green webs opening
l 0 l
like pale wings. "Don't worry, Mr. Katagiri. Leave everything to
me. By tomorrow morning, old Frog will have your problems
solved. Relax and have a good night's sleep:'
With a big smile on his face, Frog stood up. Then, flattening
himself like a dried squid, he slipped out through the gap at
The connection was cut.
Frog visited Katagiri in his Trust Bank office at lunchtime.
'.'That Big Bear case is working out well for you, I presume?"
Katagiri glanced around uneasily.
"D on't worry,"Frog sa1'd. "Viou are the only one who can see
the side of the closed door, leaving Katagiri all alone. The two
teacups on the kitchen table were the only indication that Frog
a product of your imagination. I can take action and produce
had ever been in Katagiri's apartment.
results. I am a real, living being:'
But now I ari:i sure you realize that I actually exist. I am not
"Tell me, Mr. Frog-"
The moment Katagiri arrived at work the next morning at
nine, the phone on his desk rang.
"Please;' Frog said, raising one finger. "Call me 'Frog:"
"Tell me, Frog;' Katagiri said) "what did you do to them?"
"Mr. Katagiri;' said a· man's voice. It was cold and busi-
"Oh, nothing much;' Frog said. "Nothing much more com-
nesslike. "My name is Shiraoka. I am an attorney with the Big
plicated than boiling Brussels sprouts. I just gave them a little
Bear case. I received a call from my client this morning with
scare. A touch of psychological terror. As Joseph Conrad once
regard to the pending loan matter. He wants you to know that
wrote, true terror is the kind that men feel toward their imagi-
he will take full responsibility for returning the entire amount
nation. But never mind that, Mr. Katagiri. Tell me about the Big
requested by the due date. He will also give you a signed mem-
Bear case. It's going well?"
orandum to that effect. His only request is that you do not
Katagiri nodded and lit a cigarette. "Seems to be."
send Frog to his home again. I repeat: he wants you lo ask Frog
"So, then, have I succeeded in gaining your trust with regard
never to visit his home again. I ...
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