On a Saturday afternoon, two or so weeks after Kitamura-san and Ichiro had their conversation, Ichiro and his father went to a big theater near the Ginza shopping district in downtown Tokyo to see an animated movie. It was around five o’clock in the evening when the movie ended.
Not yet ready to call it a day, the two of them exited onto Ginza Avenue and made their way on foot toward Shinbashi Station. The store windows along Ginza Avenue were lit up. The neon signs glimmered. The night had not yet fallen. The electric lights and the sky above glowed with an equal brightness.
It was that bewitching hour of the dusk, when everything felt slightly off, when even people passing by on the sidewalk grew indistinct and faded into the shadows.
As on any evening, the Ginza shopping and entertainment district was thronged with pedestrian traffic. So as not to get lost in his thoughts and wander off on his own, Ichiro kept a tight grip on his father’s hand. But then he was struck by the overwhelming feeling that something unexpected was about to happen in the skies above. So he tore his gaze away from the store windows and looked up.
Undisturbed by even a wisp of wind, the clear skies appeared heavy and gray. Here and there a star twinkled in the twilight. Ichiro couldn’t help thinking about those flying saucers. What star, what different world so very far away, had sent them here?
“What’s the matter?” his father scolded and gave his hand a gentle squeeze. “Let’s pick up the pace.”
That’s when it happened. Ichiro started. His heart leapt into his throat. Was he seeing things? Directly above his head, shining with a pure white light, a round, saucer-like object shot across the high dome of the sky.
“What’s going on, Ichiro?” his father pressed. “What are you staring at?”
“Dad, look! There’s another one! Two of them. Three. No, four! And one over there. Five of those flying objects! Do you see them, Dad?”
Startled by this unexpected outburst from his son, Ichiro’s father turned his attention to the sky as well. It was all a blur until his eyes could find a point to focus on, but Ichiro kept saying, “There! There!” His father looked in the direction he was pointing and caught sight of the strange spectacle.
One, two, three, four, five of them, flat and round and shining with a silver light, shot over Ginza Avenue and flew off toward the west. Ichiro wasn’t imagining things. His father could see them too.
The father and son standing stock-still in the midst of the crowds thronging Ginza Avenue soon drew the attention of other pedestrians. First one, then two, then they all stopped and looked up.
“Balloons!” a boy yelped.
A young man shouted back, “Those aren’t balloons! Balloons wouldn’t shine that bright. Those are flying saucers. Flying saucers!”
His words ran like a wave through the crowds. People froze in their tracks and raised their eyes toward the sky. Movement along the Ginza ceased, as if thousands and tens of thousands of its inhabitants had suddenly turned to stone. A truly strange spectacle.
As drivers and riders noticed what was going on around them, automobiles and bicycles stopped as well. Such was the uproar that even the trams and trains ground to a halt.
Except not all of the pedestrians had seen the flying saucers. In the time it took to call out, “Where? Where?” the five silver saucers crossed the Ginza skyline and disappeared from view.
“There! There!” came the responding cry, as people rushed toward Sukiyabashi Crossing and Hibiya Street like a surging tide. But human beings on foot couldn’t keep pace with the flying vehicles. The fleetest of foot among them soon lost sight of the saucers.
Then they noticed the dark silhouettes dotting the rooftops along Ginza Avenue, where store employees and customers had gathered, trying to figure out where the flying saucers went. The pedestrians clambered up to the rooftops to stand with them. But flying like arrows shot from a strong bow, the saucers were already gone.
“Phone the papers! Send a plane after them!”
There was no need to call the press. Reporters were already on the story, crowding around the counter telephones inside the stores and shops. In fact, it soon seemed as if the entire press corps had perched atop the roofs of the newspaper offices in Yurakucho, shouting and scanning the skies. Quick-witted photojournalists aimed their cameras in the direction of the flying saucers as they flew away.
Of course, their editors thought of sending up chase planes too and reached for their phones to make arrangements. But they soon abandoned the effort, realizing that in the time it’d take to ready a plane for takeoff, the saucers would be another ten miles away.
A better idea was to phone their news bureaus in locations where the saucers were headed. Leapfrogging from one bureau to the next, they planned to thus discern the whereabouts of the saucers. The police had the same idea, and called ahead to set up an air cordon and pin down the coordinates of the mysterious aircraft.
Ichiro and his father stood there in a daze, observing such a commotion that the Ginza had never experienced before. But just standing there accomplished nothing, so they boarded the train at Shinbashi Station and returned to their home in Setagaya.
On the train platform and in the train, the talk around them was about nothing but the flying saucers.
“They’re spy planes from a hostile nation. Another war is right around the corner.”
Such rumors and speculations were par for the course. Any theory the imagination could concoct was treated as the cold hard truth, except nobody opined that the saucers might be emissaries from a distant star.
They’ve all got it wrong, Ichiro thought a bit smugly. Nobody knows what’s really going on but me.
When the train arrived in Setagaya, a crowd had already gathered around the radio store in front of the station, listening to a broadcast about the flying saucers. According to the news reports, the five jellyfish-shaped saucers arrived from the direction of Tokyo Bay, flew over the Ginza, crossed through the skies of Toranomon, Aoyama, and Meiji Jingu into Setagaya Ward, and from there followed the Koshu Highway towards Hachioji.
The reports said that, as in the Ginza, every town along the route was thrown into an uproar.
That night, every radio in every house in the city remained on in anticipation of the next update. The next morning, newspapers flew off the stands as readers devoured every story about the saucers. Papers devoted their entire local sections to the subject, along with photographs and artists’ renderings. Alas, such was the altitude of the unidentified flying objects that photographs captured them only as five indistinct dots.
The papers published the thoughts of astronomers and university professors. The “experts” prattled on about the history of the flying saucer phenomenon and what their American counterparts had to say on the subject. None of them ventured forth with their own opinions.
So where had the saucers gone? On that matter, the newspaper and radio reports proved anticlimactic. They’d flown for sure over Setagaya Ward, but after that, the darkening skies made them impossible to see. Hachioji was the biggest city in the area. The police and newspaper reporters had camped out there, ready and waiting.
But the flying saucers never arrived. Based on their speed, they should have appeared over Hachioji at twilight. They never showed up. They simply disappeared.
Unlike in the United States and other countries, this time as many as a million people in the Tokyo metropolis had seen them. Hardly unfounded rumors or tall tales. A million people weren’t simply “seeing things.”
Nevertheless, no one had the slightest idea where the silver jellyfish-like saucers had gone. The newspaper articles and radio broadcasts speculated wildly. After passing over Setagaya, the saucers might have climbed to a high altitude and disappeared from sight. Or passed out of view over the fields and mountains and turned back to the Pacific Ocean. Or flew over Honshu altogether towards the Japan Sea.
All anybody knew was that one of these options had to be true.
Except every single one of them was wrong. In the evening papers the following day came astonishing news that rocked the whole country back on its heels.