Dec 2, 2023
My brother’s life began, really began, one evening in July when my father came home in as spirited a mood as we ever saw him, gifts in hand. That evening, as it turned out, he had gotten a promotion at work and liquidated his bonus, turning the check into three gifts: a small and weighty cardboard box for my brother Yuto, a bouquet of summer flowers for my mother, tied together with a satin ribbon, and for me a bag of hemp that rattled with the promise of wonder. In my bag there was a painting set of fresh new brushes with fine strands of goat hair waiting to be broken-in and made pliant by the efforts of my ten year old imagination. You could imagine that I was as happy as any boy could ever be, and was quick to put it to use. But it was my brother’s gift that made all the difference in the world for him and for me and perhaps for all of Osaka. Inside his plain brown carton box was a Sony transistor-radio, and though everyone will mark 1984 as the year that Yuto was swept away into the stars, it really happened that night in 1983 when he pulled off the plastic cover on the back of the radio, plugged in a battery, and turned the volume knob to power. Oh, he was gone from then on, gone from the very first crackle and squeaky tuning whine, seeking an errant radio wave, gone up and out into the deep blue night.
It was a lucky thing that my brother got his radio then. Being summer, he had a whole month and a few extra weeks besides to fiddle with his radio. The other thing he had going for him is that, at the time, all of Osaka was getting deep into the throes of a radio-craze, so my brother wasn’t too strange or unique in spending his holiday lying on the grass with his radio playing. These days nobody uses radio except in their cars, so I think it’s worth spending some of my time now to explain how things worked for us then. There weren’t as many radio stations as there are now, to start. At least officially. From what I recall there may not have been even more than two, both under the control of the government, and this was the result, from what I understand, of an excessive eagerness in policy. However, the radio revolution that happened all over Japan that summer and so thoroughly changed my brother’s life was the direct result of an exception in the radio policy, which allowed free and unlicensed broadcast for transmitters below a certain power threshold. These transmitters couldn’t broadcast much further than, say, a five hundred meter radius from their transmission point. But a five hundred meter radius can reach a lot of people somewhere like Osaka, not to mention Tokyo.
It was no surprise then that this single exception, so much in contrast to the strictness of the overall policy, was like a hole in a boat. All of Japan rushed in through the thing and claimed the radio as their own. We called it mini-FM radio, and it belonged to the people. Though I am not as fond of the medium as my brother was, I believe radio was always inevitable. Among us humans there is nothing more valued as the ability to express ourselves, to be heard. It is little wonder to me that the medium of radio, which is a medium of amplification and proximal distribution, should be so coveted, so treasured.
In the first two weeks of that summer, lying down on the grass of the furthest part of our home’s property line and listening to the radio was all Yuto did. During those days he was out there I would set myself up next to him under the shade of whatever tree we happened to be by and paint. My proclivity for landscapes and scenes of nature probably formed during those summer days. Not that they lasted long, mind you. On our fifteenth day of the ritual our mother got fed up and told Yuto he couldn’t just lay around all day and that she wouldn’t put up with it any longer. This was just as well for Yuto, who had by then already cycled through all the mini-FM stations in our proximity. Our neighbors, as it turned out, weren’t very interesting mini-FM broadcasters. Yuto was already dreaming of the denser center of Osaka which he was sure would offer a greater variety of stations and, perhaps even higher quality ones.
So Yuto spent a day or two fixing up his old bicycle which he had broken before winter and hadn’t touched since. Once it was all fixed up he used what few supplies we had in our house to create a mount for his radio on the bike handle and off he went, gone in the mornings before breakfast and back always just barely in time for supper. What exactly he did those days while he was gone I couldn’t say, as Yuto was afforded far more freedom than I was at the time, he being fourteen and I only eleven, perhaps nearer twelve. But I’ve put together a working theory through my memory of Yuto’s first-hand accounts, the accounts of many of the residents of Osaka (the quantity of which will be accounted for soon), and some of what my eleven-year-old self imagined my brother was doing while I was stuck at home.
When my brother left home in the mornings, he put on whichever t-shirt he found first, his favorite pair of jeans, and his white trainers. On his way out he’d grab some spare batteries, and a baseball cap, the one I gave him of my favorite team the year before. I was, and still am, proud of his enjoyment of that gift. My brother would have breakfast, say farewell, and mount his bicycle, going off into the city where he would spend the day roaming, exploring.
When my brother explored Osaka, he did not do so as you or I might, because what Yuto explored was not a physical geography, but an aural one. In some ways, Yuto was something of a tourist in Osaka, sampling whole neighborhoods through their broadcasts ― local clusters of overlapping sounds ― organizing them into subcultures and genres and moods. Some broadcast channels, he said, played music, sure, but there was much more than music to be explored deep in Osaka. Much more! There were whole productions of theater, political discourses, channels dedicated to the recitation of anonymous love letters, broadcasts where the hosts spoke in reverse, pirated recordings of university lectures, and even some stations where only the sounds of lovemaking were broadcast. And it is this novelty and variety that called my brother out into Osaka everyday with his blue bicycle and radio, because my brother, who always took a deep academic interest in the world around him, couldn’t help but be enthralled by all that texture, contrast, richness, and nuance hidden in the invisible air. If I could ask Yuto to draw me a map of Osaka from his memory, I have no doubt it would resemble nothing more than the echo-location of a bat, mapping out buildings not by their positions relative to streets, but to sounds and feelings. In other words, I am not sure he would be able to get around Osaka without his radio as a map to guide the way.
Because the radio was Yuto’s sole obsession for the entirety of the summer, he became a fixture of Osaka’s various neighborhoods, and people would often holler and wave when Yuto soared past on his bike. If he ever stopped at a spot to listen to a particular broadcast for very long, it was rarely in the same spot, and almost never to the same channel, his fingers always hovering over the tuning knob of his portable radio. Midway through the summer, perhaps closer to the end, people began to comment to my parents and I that there were days he would sit around and listen to nothing but static all day. Too much radio, they said, might’ve fried his brain. But given what I know about my brother, and knowing what happened just a year later, he really must have been up to something else.
Yuto, I believe, was invested in radio not as an intellectual medium, nor solely as an artistic one, but as an expressive and physical medium. Not for the broadcaster, but for the listener. To clarify what I mean I think it’s worth pointing out that by the end of summer Yuto rarely stopped to listen to any one channel. He would fly down the streets and alleys of Osaka, zipping around with his head low, one hand on the handle and the other perpetually on the tuning knob of his radio. I theorize that he did this because at some point Yuto became interested in his own body ( of which his bicycle and radio were merely natural extensions ) as a sort of kinetic paintbrush: distorting, focusing, magnetizing, and magnifying the radio waves around him, leaving a wake in the ocean of invisible sounds of Osaka. So if he ever stood still on the sidewalk, or a street corner, or even the middle of the road listening to static, I would not be surprised if it was because he discovered in that spot a place in sound-space where signals, cultures, energies, overlapped and converged and averaged out into something profound and novel for my brother. I cannot blame him, myself, for I am a painter and do I not do the same in my own way, with color and light, what he did with radio waves in those days? Oh, Yuto. You really must have discovered something sublime with that radio of yours.
I was glad when summer came to an end that year because it meant I’d see more of Yuto. Though I enjoyed that holiday in my own way, painting and playing baseball with the neighborhood boys, I missed my brother’s presence for it was the first time I went so long with such little interaction between us. Yuto’s attention was always hard to get but never so much as when he got his radio. He was perpetually distracted right from the start, not in that flitting manner whereby external stimuli hold undue sway over his attention, but rather he was thoughtful, occupied with whatever was on his mind. Perhaps it may be said that he was never distracted, but focused quite intently on some object no one but he could perceive. Yuto was a good son, a decent student, but really quite a shoddy brother. Not to say he was ever cruel or selfish or a bully how some brothers are, but he was always too distracted or occupied to suit the needs of a younger sibling: shenanigans, conspiracy, fighting with branches. For this I always resented him a little, though it was not always his fault we were a little distant. We always had between us the natural distance of age, for example, which made it so that when I was at the age where play-acting was my fancy he had already outgrown it so I had no one to play with except my own shadow, and that was an inevitable distance. Perhaps all of our distances were inevitable, even the present one.
I took consolation, however, in the fact that he was always a little distanced from the rest of the world, too. Our parents had his admiration and affection, but nothing short of direct inquiry could get him to reveal his inner thoughts to them. It wasn’t cruel or even intentional on his part. His distraction was a warm thing, not cold and aloof. Yuto was not disengaged, but deeply engaged. So I’ve learned not to take it to heart because he always did love us. He loved me, too. This I know because on the days he was grounded I knew no more tender a soul. But always his muses called and he was whisked away again. It’s that way even now, when the distance between us is greater than before, Yuto being so far from Earth, sitting on the Moon.
When school began it was difficult for Yuto to be so separated from his bicycle and radio, but he made peace with it because his summer rambling had made him quite a popular figure in Osaka without him knowing. Everyone loves a mystery and what Yuto was doing all summer on his bicycle made him the most sought after fellow in the school. People exchanged stories about how they had seen him during summer out in an alleyway sitting on a box, or out in the park lying down on a bench, and in turn Yuto shared his insights about Osaka. During those days and deep into fall Yuto was more present with everyone, even me. He brought me out on a bike ride into Osaka once or twice that autumn, since I had finally turned twelve and my parents let him take me after much begging. I’ll always remember how surely he rode on ahead, looking back to check I wasn’t too far behind before turning around, his scarf billowing behind him. I don’t know how, but even with his radio off it felt like Yuto was tuning his direction towards a precise destination that would not be revealed until he stopped and turned on his radio, and tuned it to just the right frequency.
Once, on a saturday, we dismounted near a train station in the city near a park which was itself near a river. Yuto turned on his radio and tuned it to a channel that, cheekily, only played the sounds of trains, perhaps recordings of the very same trains that passed by near the spot of our picnic. We suspected it must have been some mischievous fellow in a nearby apartment with a sense of humor. We had a laugh and ate our sandwiches and listened to the radio-trains. It was a glorious afternoon.
In the winter Yuto picked up writing, I think with the intent of chronicling some of the amazing things he experienced while biking around the city and some of the folks he’d met. But I think that he also started theorizing in his journals about the relationship between his body and the radio waves, and the music he heard in the static empty-space no one else could hear. But this I cannot confirm because he took his journals up with him later.
Mid-spring Yuto discovered a new mini-FM station and this ignited that spark in him which had wound down through the winter. This time it was a particular station that captured my brother’s imagination, and this was an odd thing to happen because Yuto had always been agnostic about the stations before. He had favorites of course, and thus favorite “spots” in Osaka, but his devotion was almost exclusively to the medium of radio itself, far more so than to any one sort of broadcast. Thus, we all found his obsession with this particular station curious and exciting. Naturally everyone felt that they had to see what had so captured Yuto’s attention that it had even gotten him to skip school. Some people behaved jealously over Yuto’s newfound love and so we knew that they were hosts of a mini-FM station and had prided themselves on Yuto’s patronage, and took it to heart that he never stopped nearby anymore to listen to their broadcast.
Though Yuto listened only to that one station from then on, he still biked and walked around all of Osaka. Part of the reason that Yuto must have been so fond of that station is because it moved around, too. The rumor at first was that the host of the new moving-station was inspired by Yuto’s commitment to mobility, but then people started to believe that the mystery host was a girl from Yuto’s class who was attempting an elaborate courtship with Yuto. But those rumors were quickly dismissed because as people tuned into the station, hundreds maybe thousands of Osakans altogether, to see what had Yuto so riled up, they discovered that it was a station about stories of daily life in Osaka told in a myriad of voices that always sounded familiar but not quite like any particular person.
Every day five or six of these vignettes of life aired, and because the transmitter moved you had to as well to finish hearing the stories out. Many people found the stories as enchanting as Yuto did and a few things happened as a result: first there was a philosophical war that broke out among those who enjoyed the moving story broadcast.
Many followed the school of Yuto which was one of kinetic engagement with the stories, a sort of binding where they followed wherever the transmission led. These folks walked around Osaka, listening, watching out for whoever had the transmitter at hand. Sometimes people walked in groups, and would scramble to re-orient themselves when the signal eclipsed them, rushing to re-enter the radius of the story radio. A sizable group of these listeners thought it better to just follow Yuto, who had the best pulse on the frequency and would rarely lose it.
The other, reactionary philosophy concerning the story radio was one of stillness, which is perhaps the school of thought I am most sympathetic to. The reasoning of these listeners was that we aren’t meant to chase after the snippets of these stories, but rather let them eclipse us, overlapping with the ongoing story of our own life and then go on. After all, do we not each of us already have an infinity of potential lives and branching paths available to us that we must make peace with so as to focus on this path, this story? Well I think so, though my brother could never, since he was firmly a seeker. Yuto always wanted to eat the whole world, to suck on its core like a fat plum, not a centimeter left unaccounted for.
One of the interesting developments with the story radio was that people started relaying the signal because it got too impractical to follow Yuto around all day. Surprisingly, even the municipal government got involved in the effort. Originally the policemen tried to disperse wandering listening groups and make them go back to their jobs, but even these officers ended up following the stories, so ultimately the city decided it was best to invest in some infrastructure to make it so people could at least stay in their offices. Anyways, a grid of relay nodes tuned to that particular frequency of the story radio was set up in the city of Osaka in a short time, and the philosophical debate was put to rest. Almost everyone could listen to the story radio from the comfort of their homes. Still, Yuto rode on.
Once the relay nodes were up in Osaka, it was no surprise that efforts were made to get the signal out further. The stories made it out to Kobe with some level of fidelity, but attempts to get them to Kyoto bore strange fruit. The signals couldn’t get relayed so far out without strong distortion, but folks over there liked it just the same, adapting what they could make out of the distorted stories into their own stories and arts. Operas came out of it in Kyoto, they said. Even rock albums and musicals and television programs, and even a new form of radio-augury whereby the pattern of distortions were used as fixtures of personal divinations, and even therapy. What did you make of that noise? Oh the sound of an elephant, doctor. Fascinating!
Of all the developments my favorite is that of the adaptations in Kyoto because to me it is a reaffirming model of life. My view on art is that the world has a perfect, or at least true form which is complex and faceted, thoroughly rich, but that the eyes of mortals are so distant from that wholeness, that utter unity, that the true signal is degraded into a static, chaotic noise. And yet! And yet we try to make sense of it. We try endlessly to distill its meaning from what little we could salvage from that great garbling rift that is our humanity, which the signal could not get through purely. And I truly believe that once every work of art, every novel, every statue, every joke, every song has been made, we will have been able to simulate that great perfection we are born in and apart from. To me, of all the great artists, the sense-makers, perhaps it was my brother Yuto who was the best.
One evening in the summer of 1984, a few weeks after Yuto turned fifteen, the story radio halted its broadcast. That day he hugged our parents, then me, and grabbed his backpack and radio. “Goodbye,” he said, which he had never said in that particular way before, and then he left on his cobalt blue bicycle. We ran after him, asking where he was going, but he didn’t stop and neither did we. He rode into and around Osaka in some pattern we couldn’t discern, and our numbers grew until almost all of Osaka was following Yuto. Yuto stopped at the bay, on the start of a long wooden pier that reached out into the ocean. Just then a new voice came from the radios tuned to the story frequency, and it spoke in Yuto’s voice even though he did not move his mouth. The crowd of people that had gathered gasped in shock and awe and relief that at last the mystery of the author of the Osaka radio stories was resolved and they could stop trying to guess which of their neighbors a given story was about, because all the stories had come from the mind of Yuto.
How Yuto learned to transmit stories from his mind I do not know. I don’t think he was aware of the fact that he himself was the frequency he had been following all along until perhaps even that very evening. I also refuse now to repeat the specifics of what Yuto said that night at the pier as the sun dipped into the sea and the stars sparkled into view for purely selfish reasons ― I think those words belong only to me and to Osaka. Some things need not be broadcast. Besides, I am sure some adaptation will reach Kyoto or Tokyo or wherever you are soon enough.
However, I will tell you my own theory of what made all this possible and it relates to Yuto’s summer of static. It is my belief that Yuto so thoroughly captured the spirit of Osaka with all his biking and listening that he tapped into some dimension of potential-Osakas where all the things broadcast were captured, distilled, mixed-up, and made new by my brother’s imagination so that, through him, we had the most privileged experience of experiencing ourselves, each other, as something new and foreign, yet undeniably familiar.
But as for what happened after Yuto’s farewell speech, I cannot explain this even in as far-fetched and fantastical a means as my explanation of his telepathic transmission, which I am sure he did unwittingly. I assume that, somehow, Yuto must have honed his fine intuition for the body’s kinetic relationship with the radio waves around us towards the achievement of human flight without the use of wings or motors. For this is what he did: Yuto began to pedal with utter conviction towards the end of the pier and, rather than fall over into the ocean, he flew over it and towards the moon.
Many people ask me, even today, why my brother left for the moon, and what answer can I give? My true opinion, which is often unsatisfactory to those asking, is that my brother likely left Earth for the same reason he ventured out from our property line and into the city last summer: for a better view. A better view into that pulsing, vibrant, confusing mess of life we call Earth. Why else would the story radio be broadcasting still? Why else would it broadcast different, foreign voices in tongues we do not speak? In any case, I’ll say this as proof of my conviction at risk of sounding crazy: Hello Yuto, I know this broadcast will eventually get to you on the moon, if I got the transmitter working right. I just wanted to say I love you, and forgive you for leaving. This distance between us was inevitable because you always wanted the world and now you have it. But as for me, well, I think Osaka’s just fine. And thanks for leaving me the hat! I wear it almost every day.