WARNING: This work is a future obituary of a Japanese citizen. Although the style is primarily journalistic, rather than graphic, many of the major events in T-Japan during his life are mentioned, some of which⚠⚠⚠⚠⚠ refer to events readers may find distressing. Hovering over the warning triangles will reveal what lies beneath. Please consider your tastes and headspace before deciding to read this.
OSAKA: Isao Kobayashi, who was spared from nearly certain death as a kamikaze pilot by the surrender of Japan following the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki only to be disgraced and isolated by changes to his body wrought by the weapons' deadly aftereffects, has died. A press release from the Osaka headquarters of Kobayashi Cleanup KK announced his recent passing, stating: "Kobayashi Cleanup KK announces the death of Isao Kobayashi, eldest son of our third Chairman Tetsuo Kobayashi. Kobayashi-san died honorably by his own hand at Kobayashi corporate headquarters on October 18. Kobayashi recognizes the important contributions that Kobayashi-san made to our corporation and its business activities." Isao Kobayashi had been involved with the company in some fashion from its rise to prominence following the end of World War II until his retirement in 2012.
As the eldest son of the president of what at the time was a small but successful firm providing cleaning services to offices and factories, Isao Kobayshi was expected from childhood to eventually assume his father's role and eventually become chairman. Coming of age during World War II, Kobayashi enlisted in the army at age 15 near the end of the war, when the demand for manpower had grown so intense that almost any man who sought to enlist was accepted. Correspondence with his father and grandfather indicates that he sought to learn about leadership and how one properly exercises one's authority.
Being a smaller and younger individual, Kobayashi was assigned to one of the last few cadres to undergo kamikaze training. His training was nearly complete when the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Japan's subsequent surrender, ended the need for soldiers of all types. Kobayashi's brigade was disbanded, and he returned to his family in Osaka.
The increase in activity from Japan's rapid industrialization for war, and later on damage from Allied bombing raids, had provided an excellent opportunity for Kobayashi Cleanup to expand their business. By the end of World War II, it had grown to become a regional company with operations over a wide area of central Honshu.
Desperate for additional manpower to clean up the industrial waste and rubble, regional authorities in lower Honshu contacted Kobayashi Cleanup, expressing interest in having them create and staff cleaning brigades. Kobayashi was assigned to lead a team in Nagasaki in 1946.
Following the efforts there, Kobayashi led other cleanup efforts. The scope of his assignments increased rapidly, until, by 1951, he was given primary responsibility to supervise the efforts of Kobayashi Cleanup in Minamata. His cooperation with the medical staff retained to investigate the unusual ailments suffered by people and animals in the area was considered to be essential in the process of uncovering Chisso Corporation's poisoning of Minamata Bay and obtaining restitution for the lives damaged and lost by their actions.
Shortly after Chisso's government-mandated waste treatment operations began and the most toxic areas of Minamata Bay had been filled in, items mentioning Kobayashi's position and activities in Kobayashi Cleanup suddenly almost completely disappeared from company literature. Press releases that had once prominently featured cleanup efforts led by Kobayashi and associated the presumptive future chairman with those efforts now contained no mention of him. Records indicate that Kobayashi Cleanup continued to employ him, and a scant few bits of other information show that he was often sent to assist in cleanup efforts that were later found to have been some of the most hazardous undertaken by Kobayashi Cleanup. Aside from a brief mention of a 1957 visit to corporate headquarters, no mention of Isao Kobayashi's activities can be found. Most notably, when company custom would have had Isao Kobayashi assume the office of president following his father's being named Kobayashi Cleanup's chairman upon the retirement of Sadao Kobayashi from that position, Isao Kobayashi's younger brother Hideki became president.
This mysterious absence ended without publicity in 1978, when he was listed as a "Special Advisor" on the staff roster that accompanied informational releases from Kobayashi Cleanup's nascent Robotics Division. Still, there was no mention of his activities in other corporate literature, and none of the division's releases mentioned the nature of his contributions. His tenure in that position lasted until 1991, when the Robotics Division launched its Autonomous Vehicles Initiative and he was named its director.
It was at this time that the reason Kobayashi's career did not proceed as it would have been expected became known. In a momentous press conference called to announce the formation of the Autonomous Vehicles Initiative and his designation as director, Kobayashi was called to the dais to accept the position and the respect of the leading executives of the Robotics Division. Despite the attending press having received a briefing letter indicating that Kobayashi had developed a "disfiguring condition during his many years of industrious work on behalf of Kobayashi Cleanup", gasps of shock overtook the audience when the glowing silver eyes that marked him as someone who had manifested superpowers were revealed. This prompted a deluge of questions concerning the propriety of assigning a superpowered individual a position of significant power and influence. Kobayashi handled the situation with his trademark politeness and calm, frequently calling on various Robotics Division executives to demonstrate that he had the solid support of Kobayashi Cleanup top management.
Beginning with a single prototype having limited autonomous capability, the Autonomous Vehicles Initiative under Kobayashi quickly spawned a broad range of autonomous rescue vehicles (ARVs) capable of navigating dangerous and unpredictable environments to reach people and hazardous conditions inaccessible to humans. Kobayashi's insistence on adaptability and durability resulted in Kobayashi Cleanup's ARVs coming to be regarded as a worldwide standard of excellence against which other ARVs are measured.
Kobayashi's and Kobayashi Cleanup's reputation reached its zenith following the 2011 Fukushima earthquake and tsunami, where Kobayashi Cleanup's ARVs were instrumental in locating and repairing damage resulting from the tsunami and subsequent hydrogen explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex. The rescue and cleanup effort also represented a personal triumph for Kobayashi, who for the first time publicly demonstrated his powers of Invulnerability and Regeneration by fearlessly entering areas containing deadly levels of heavy metals and radiation to better position ARVs for many of the exploratory and repair operations that located and sealed compromised areas of the power complex's cooling ponds.
The Fukushima Daiichi mitigation effort also became recognized as a pivotal event in the long and often difficult process of advancing Japan's reconciliation of superpowers and superpowered individuals with their culture. The actions of Kobayashi and Russian superhera Ilyana Cerenkova in responding to requests for aid from Japan's Ministry of Civil Defense and SPOON's Atomic Disaster Response team, accepting the authority of and acting in response to direction from the executive team managing the cleanup, and interacting with non-superpowered individuals as equals and with respect, were widely shown across Japan. This not only demonstrated that superpowers could be used in ways that benefited Japan and its people, but that superpowered people could respect and act in harmony with Japanese cultural values. It was not long before the public, and popular media, hailed Kobayashi as the first authentically Japanese superhero. Other superpowered individuals, many of whom had also chosen to reveal their previously concealed powers in support of the Fukushima cleanup, soon felt they no longer needed to hide their abilities. This led to increasing acceptance and normalization of soups and superpowers in Japanese culture.
Having seen the autonomous vehicles perform admirably in an exceptionally challenging environment, and perhaps disconcerted by the publicity and adulation he had been attracting, Kobayashi announced his retirement from the directorship of the Autonomous Vehicles division and Kobayashi Cleanup, and once again disappeared from public view. Occasional rumors of his presence trickled in from places around the world, but no sightings were ever confirmed, and no communication with Kobayashi ever reached the public.
The next record of Kobayashi's existence is a purchase of an airline ticket from Bangkok to Tokyo, and a train ticket from Haneda Airport to Osaka Central Station, in late September of this year. No subsequent records of any sort of transaction were found; it is believed that Kobayashi stayed with relatives in Osaka between his return to Japan and his death, and chose not to venture into public -- or even to visit any corporate facility where his presence would have been recorded.
The mysteries that accompanied Isao Kobayashi's life also accompany his death. First and foremost, there is no information regarding how his powers of Invulnerability and Regeneration were overcome. And though a properly executed and attested Affidavit of Termination, listing current Kobayashi Cleanup chairman Hiroshi Kobayashi as kaishakunin (second) and witnessed by Hiroshi Kobayashi's personal physician, was filed on the same day as the press release announcing Isao Kobayashi's death, the spaces provided where the date, time, and location of death can be entered were struck through. No record of the treatment or disposal of the body can be found.
Chairman Kobayashi also released a personal statement that day. This read, in part: "I have been deeply honored by Kobayashi-san to have been asked to act as his kaishakunin and help him bring his life to an honorable and proper close. The chair I now occupy was his by right of birth; despite being unable to occupy it himself owing to the prejudices of his time, he continued to be loyal to his employer and family, and remained a diligent and capable employee until his retirement. Kobayashi Cleanup KK owes much of its current stature and success to his efforts."
At the bottom of Chairman Kobayashi's personal statement was a set of columns of handwritten Japanese characters, as would appear in a calligraphic rendition of poetry. This section was not included in any of the translated texts when the statement was released. When Albert Tanaka, Professor of Japanese Literature in the department of Cultural Anthropology at the Westbord Institute of Social Sciences, was shown the statement, he identified it as being typical in form and content of the "death poem" a samurai would write before performing seppuku. Asked for a translation, Professor Tanaka replied that it had been written in a somewhat archaic style and vocabulary that fell out of common usage around the time of the Meiji Restoration, and offered what he described as an "approximation" of its content:
"Bonfires dot the fields.
The farmers strive to complete --
The autumn harvest.
"The golden heads proudly stand;
Their deaths nourish the people."*
These are most likely Isao Kobayashi's last words.
*Professor Tanaka notes that the last line of the first stanza refers to the late autumn rice harvest, which began in the Osaka area three days before the Kobayashi Cleanup press release and the filing of Isao Kobayashi's Affidavit of Termination. He also adds: "A more emotionally accurate translation of the last line of the poem would be 'They gladly yield their lives to improve the vitality of the community.' I have been so far unable to do satisfactory justice in English to Kobayashi-san's thoughts."
SOURCES: Yomiuri Shimbun (Tokyo); Mainichi Shimbun (Osaka); Kobayashi Cleanup KK press release; personal statement by Kobayashi Cleanup chairman Hiroshi Kobayashi; poetry analysis by Albert Tanaka
Honshu is the principal, and largest, of the islands constituting Japan. Osaka has been the economic center of Japan since the seventeenth century. Many of the largest Japanese companies have their corporate headquarters there.
The technology supporting industrial, and later autonomous, robotics proceeded much more rapidly in Terremagne. Integrated circuit "chips" small and complex enough to be used in controlling industrial robots became commercially available in the mid-1960s, about ten years earlier than the local timeline. Combined with the mechanical advances developed by gizmologists and super-gizmologists, factory automation quickly became practical, and soon indispensable. This drove research to the extent where the prototype Kobayashi autonomous robots in 1991 were roughly comparable to current autonomous robots here. The Autonomous Vehicles Initiative was a response by Kobayashi to concerns such as these.
Read about the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami. Because many of the safety issues that were improperly dealt with at the L-Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex were attended to in T-Fukushima, damage to the complex was less severe. Even so, most of the hazards faced in L-Fukushima were present in T-Fukushima.
Japanese culture's relationship with superpowers and soups has been, and continues to be, problematic. In the 1950s and into the 1960s, any physical manifestation of superpowers was considered analogous to being possessed by a demon. This always resulted in the unfortunate person being excluded from society, and frequently led to attacks and deaths. As soups became more prevalent around the world, and were shown to be good citizens in many places, the general Japanese public began to tolerate overt soups with non-concealable physical attributes in public spaces. Even so, they were granted a good deal of space -- evidence that they were only grudgingly accepted, and still considered outcasts and non-Japanese. Even into the 1980s, an overt soup entering a shop that was not soup-friendly would frequently prompt the current customers into abandoning their intended purchases and quietly exiting.
By the time of the Fukushima earthquake, things had improved somewhat. Japanese soups who did not obviously look "different" or employ their powers in public could expect to be treated politely, but formally, in nearly all cases. It was possible to be soup-friendly without jeopardizing one's stature or livelihood; many people and businesses would actively welcome interaction with soups. But being obviously superpowered, either by appearance or actions, is still risky in many areas of Japan. And public display of superpowers is still sufficient to make one's Japanese nature disputable.
Samurai were the warrior class of feudal Japan. During the Tokugawa Shogunate, samurai were offered, and accepted, positions in the government. Many of their attitudes, forged on the battlefield, came to permeate Japanese culture. Although the Meiji Restoration marked the end of the influence of the samurai in government and society, the cultural influences remain strong, even today.
(These links are unsettling⚠.)
A samurai pledged to place their life at the disposal of their lord, up to and including being ready to die rather than disobey, or fail to carry out, an order. An example of this attitude in more recent history was the World War II kamikaze missions. Kamikazes were pilots ordered to crash explosive-laden aircraft into Allied ships as a last-ditch effort to slow or stop the impending invasion. As the number of incoming soldiers decreased, younger and smaller soldiers, who would be less effective on the battlefield, were preferentially "chosen" to undergo kamikaze training.
(from ysabetwordsmith:) T-Japan has a very respectable set of legal parameters regarding end-of-life issues. Suicide is considered an appropriate way of paying for certain major crimes. Assisted suicide is an option for people with incurable diseases or other unbearable suffering. These factors make some other countries uncomfortable, but are congruent with Japanese culture. Also worth mentioning is that some crimes are considered so disgraceful that suicide is not permitted as an escape. Hence why Japan tipped the Maldives to put the whalers on suicide watch, guessing (probably right) that the captain would have made the attempt.
(These links are unsettling⚠.)
Seppuku was a form of ritual suicide permitted to samurai. Although a common popular culture view outside Japan is that of a disgraced samurai seeking to regain his family's honor by their death, seppuku was more commonly performed as an alternative to being captured in battle, or to protest the actions of one's lord. The practice of seppuku has nearly died out in Japan. Inability to find someone to serve as one's second, and kill the samurai after they had mortally wounded themself, has also played a major role.
Many Japanese who were about to die wrote death poems when their time drew near. Some examples of death poems are here. Isao Kobayashi's presumed death poem is a tanka. The tanka form begins with the 5/7/5 pattern that has evolved into the modern haiku. Learn more about tanka here.
An Affidavit of Termination is a T-Japanese legal document declaring a person's intent to end their life. The person who intends to die names a kaishakunin (the term that once described the "second" who assisted in the seppuku ritual by decapitating the samurai); being asked to perform this act is considered a great honor. The two take oaths together, before someone who has been authorized by the government to attest to the sincerity and validity of the statement. This is typically a medical, mental health, or end-of-life professional, although some police departments have an officer who has the appropriate credentials and training. (Hiroshi Kobayashi's physician is a gerontologist with end-of-life training.) Following the death, the kaishakunin confirms that the deceased's wishes were carried out. A properly filled out and filed form serves as a death certificate, and precludes police investigation into the manner of death, the kaishakunin's role in it, and the disposition of the body. The phrase "died honorably by their own hand" in a death notice or obituary indicates that an Affidavit of Termination was properly executed and filed.
I've got another bit of demi(science)fiction lined up, that will fill in the holes in Kobayashi-san's bio. As of the time of the obit, though, that's secret history. Stay tuned...