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"In Hoshino's dystopia, identities are fluid and any one is as good as another. . .Hoshino's ambitious novel is pleasingly uncomfortable."
Publishers Weekly

"Hoshino's latest-in-translation (rendered by De Wolf) begins as black comedy and devolves into an antisolipsistic treatise on the impossibility of individual identity."
—Booklist Online

"Part existential fable, part 'Night of the Living Dead,' Mr. Hoshino's inventive novel, accessibly translated by Charles De Wolf, paints a nightmare vision of Japan's rootless millennials, who work grinding dead-end jobs that leave them little time for family or individual passions...At first Hitoshi and his fellow MEs are happy to band together against an uncaring world. But the camaraderie doesn't last, since every time one reveals a character flaw the others take it as an indictment of themselves. As the MEs' failures and weaknesses become intolerably magnified onto the 'living but useless rabble' they're gripped by a suicidal impulse that unleashes a crazed murder spree. The frenetic, knife-wielding finale reaches its climax in—a McDonald's, of course. None of them can think of any place else to eat."
Wall Street Journal, included in Best New Fiction column

"A Kafkaesque journey of a lonely narrator being absorbed by an impersonal system."
Los Angeles Review of Books

"The imaginative story of a rather unimaginative camera salesman, ME features Hitoshi Nagano; his troubles begin with his impulsive theft of a cell phone from another customer at a McDonalds. They end with a post-apocalyptic future for everyone in Japan."
New York Journal of Books

"[Some passages] surpass even Kobo Abe. . .The author has leaped to a higher level."
Kenzaburo Oe, Nobel Prize-winning author of The Silent Cry, from the afterword

With an afterword by Kenzaburō Ōe. Translated from Japanese by Charles De Wolf.

This novel centers on the "It's me" telephone scam—often targeting the elderly—that has escalated in Japan in recent years. Typically, the caller identifies himself only by saying, "Hey, it's me," and goes on to claim in great distress that he's been in an accident or lost some money with which he was entrusted at work, etc., and needs funds wired to his account right away.

ME's narrator is a nondescript young Tokyoite named Hitoshi Nagano who, on a whim, takes home a cell phone that a young man named Daiki Hiyama accidentally put on Hitoshi's tray at McDonald's. Hitoshi uses the phone to call Daiki's mother, pretending he is Daiki, and convinces her to wire him 900,000 yen.

Three days later, Hitoshi returns home from work to discover Daiki's mother there in his apartment, and she seems to truly believe Hitoshi is her son. Even more bizarre, Hitoshi discovers his own parents now treat him as a stranger; they, too, have a "me" living with them as Hitoshi. At a loss for what else to do, Hitoshi begins living as Daiki, and no one seems to bat an eye.

In a brilliant probing of identity, and employing a highly original style that subverts standard narrative forms, Tomoyuki Hoshino elevates what might have been a commonplace crime story to an occasion for philosophical reflection. In the process, he offers profound insights into the state of contemporary Japanese society.

Charles De Wolf, PhD, professor emeritus, Keio University, is a linguist by training, though his first love was literature. Multilingual, he has spent most of his life in East Asia and is a citizen of Japan. His translations include Mandarins, a selection of short stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa (Archipelago Books) and collections of folktales from Konjaku Monogatari-shu. He has written extensively about The Tale of Genji; and is currently working on his own translation of the work.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781617754487
Publisher: Akashic Books
Publication date: 06/06/2017
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 8.20(w) x 5.20(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Tomoyuki Hoshino was born in 1965 in Los Angeles, but moved to Japan when he was two. He made his debut as a writer in 1997 with the novella The Last Gasp, which won the Bungei Prize. His novel The Mermaid Sings Wake Up won the Mishima Yukio Prize, and Fantasista was awarded the Noma Literary New Face Prize. His other novels include Lonely Hearts Killer and The Tale of Rainbow and Chloe. ME is his latest novel.

Kenzaburo Oe is considered one of the most dynamic and revolutionary writers to have emerged in Japan since World War II, and is acknowledged as the first truly modern Japanese writer. He is known for his powerful accounts of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and his struggle to come to terms with a mentally handicapped son. His prolific body of work has won almost every major international honor, including the 1989 Prix Europalia and the 1994 Nobel Prize for Literature. His many translated works include A Personal Matter (1964), Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness (1969), The Silent Cry (1967), Hiroshima Notes (1965), and Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids (1958).

Read an Excerpt


By Tomoyuki Hoshino, Charles De Wolf

Akashic Books

Copyright © 2017 Tomoyuki Hoshino
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61775-448-7



I stole the cell phone on nothing more than a spur-of-the-moment whim, without any sense of wanting to do anything with it. The man sitting next to me at the McDonald's counter had absentmindedly laid the dark-blue device on the left side of my tray, which I had pushed so far in his direction that he apparently took it for his own. I hadn't even seen it until I started to get up. As I took out my Walkman earbuds, I glanced at him. He was dressed in a suit, with his back to me, jabbering away at what appeared to be two subordinates seated farther down. He struck me as a total bore.

"That's why I don't use those eco-bags. Mind you, I admire whoever it was that came up with the idea, but not the jerks who go out and get one as soon as they see other people parading around with them ... Like you ..." He said this as he pointed down to the feet of one of his listeners. "You and me, we're in the marketing business. We're the ones who should be doing the parading, not the other way around, which is strictly for losers. Do you get that? Because that's the trick of our trade. If it's eco-bags, we should get people to want more and more of them. Of course, there's nothing at all 'ecological' about the things. With so many out there, they become just another kind of garbage. Come to think of it, if you take it all to its logical extreme, the most environmentally friendly thing you can do is eat shit. There's even a bug that does just that — a dung beetle or something ... So what do you call the shit of a shit-eating beetle? See what I mean? Putting off a dump feels good, doesn't it? I sometimes wait as long as possible. Hey, now that's ecological!"

I picked up my tray with the cell phone still on it, stood up, and left.

Working at Megaton, the volume-sales electrical appliance store, I had Mondays and Thursdays off. On Thursdays I would brunch at McDonald's.

After I walked out, I went up to Tenichi Books on the third floor of the Hiyoshi Station Building, where I leisurely leafed through photography magazines before going off to a convenience store nearby to buy a dinner box. I then took the twenty-minute walk back to my apartment, where I emptied my pockets on the top of the quilted foot warmer. It was then I remembered that I had swiped the cell phone.

What a hassle! I thought, grumbling to myself. Why the hell did I walk off with the damn thing in the first place? I was contemplating how I would throw it away, when I happened to peek at the latest message:

Okay, Daiki. We'll start off at 5,000 yen per person, and then we can adjust the amount up or down, according to individual circumstances. You or I can give him the money in advance when we go to the hospital. Later we'll provide the account number for bank transfers.

I went back over the history of the e-mail exchanges. A former school buddy had been responsible for an automobile collision while driving under the influence, resulting in serious injury to his fiancée, who was riding with him. Under the circumstances, the insurance wouldn't come close to covering what he'd have to fork out, so his friends were rallying round to provide some support.

It occurred to me that I really couldn't ditch the cell phone without pulling off some sort of prank, so as a return message I tapped in: Go ahead and pay the money. Right now I'm holding back on a big turd. It feels fantastic!

But then I thought that actually sending it would be much too stupid and so abandoned the idea. I snapped the cell phone shut, resolving to throw it away after all, when suddenly it began to vibrate. On the screen I could see: Mother. It was a call, not an e-mail. Needless to say, I didn't respond, but when the vibrations stopped, I checked the log, found that she had left a message, and listened to it.

"Ah, Dai-chan. This is your mother. A postcard has come from your high school about a reunion. If you need it, I'll forward it to you, but you might consider coming home once in a while. Please return this call."

My first reaction was to feel a modicum of sympathy for this Daiki fellow, stuck with a mother who could work herself into a tizzy over some class-reunion postcard and then order him to pay her a visit. His fondness for holding back on his bowel movements struck me as a good indication of how overprotective and meddlesome she must have been while bringing him up. But then I thought that he might have been so unfilial that in desperation she had used the card simply as an excuse. Okay, I said to myself, I'll send the turd e-mail to her instead.

I looked for her address in the family folder but could only find a ten-digit number beginning with area code 048. Only his sister's home and cell numbers were listed, suggesting that the mother had no cell phone of her own.

I was disappointed at not being able to send a message to "Mother"; I had wanted to add a little joy to her life. There was nothing else to be done: I'd simply call her.

I practiced imitating the voice and tone of the McDonald's man: "Hey, it's me, Daiki. Look, I'm sooo sorry! I couldn't pick up because I was in the middle of postponing a major drop." I was surprised at how authentic I sounded and so carried on with my monologue. Just then the cell phone started vibrating again. It was Mother.

At the end of all my dithering, it seemed to me that swiping the cell phone was all part of some karmic plan. Okay, I said to myself, I'm Daiki. So let's do it! I pushed the answer button.

Before I could speak, I heard Mother say: "Ah, Daiki? It's your mother. Did you get the message I just left? You've got to let them know by May 7 whether you'll be attending or not. Please come pick up the card. It's been over six months. You weren't even here for New Year's. You might, just occasionally, want to show your face around here." She was going full-tilt, without even pausing to catch her breath. I was reminded of how Daiki had browbeaten his underlings.

"I want to go see you. Really, I do. But I'm so busy all the time. I can't budge. They won't give me time off, my stomach's giving me trouble, and I always feel exhausted."

I was on edge, worried that she'd smell a rat. I was prepared to resort to the standard line — if she remarked that my voice sounded strange — that I had a cold. But she seemed to be quite without suspicion.

"Oh dear. So you're having health problems again? I'm afraid you're as frail as your father was. I keep telling you that you really must take better care of yourself. And that means coming back home more often. Don't work so hard — and stick to your vegetables."

"Oh, I so much want to do everything you say. And I'm totally sick of eating at McDonald's. I just want to go home and eat some of my old lady's home-cooked stew."

"Old lady? Since when have you started calling your mother my old lady? It's so, well, so outmoded. It makes me feel hopelessly over-the-hill. I don't care if you talk that way about me with your sister, but I won't have you referring to me that way to my face."

I was wiping away cold sweat as I tried to cover up my gaffe. "Hey, I'm sorry! It just slipped out! All sorts of things have been going badly for me. I just threw it out there. I promise I'll refer to you properly from now on, Mother."

"What's been going badly? Your job? You and Mamiko-chan are getting along all right, aren't you? I feel completely in the dark. You really need to come here soon and talk things over. Is something wrong?"

I was about to get back into turd talk but then thought it a dumb idea and instead took another gambit. "It's something I'd rather not talk about."

"What? Now you've got me fretting. Something you can't tell me?"

"It's not that I can't ... I don't want you to worry."

"Talk like that makes me worry even more!"

"Ahh, I've made a real mess of things. I really didn't want to burden you with this." Having dragged out the exchange, I suddenly blurted out, quite off the cuff: "I've piled up some debts."

I was blown away by my own words. I had spoken in a subdued, somber tone, my voice weak, as though petrified by the very idea (me? in debt?). It was quite a performance. Mother's dismayed reaction was only to be expected.

"Oh dear!" she sighed with an air of fatigue. She was silent for a moment and then asked in a thin, strained voice: "How much?"

"Well ..." I started to say, only to find myself at a loss. What was I waiting for?

"Well, how much?" she repeated.

"I knew I shouldn't have said anything. Never mind. For- get it. I'm all right."

"How much?"

I had now gone too far to back away. I had to brace myself for telling her "the truth," but would I be able to create the right atmosphere for leveling with her?

"Two million yen," I muttered as though to myself.

She sighed deeply. I had come up with the right amount. Now I had to think of what had made me borrow it.

"And the interest?"

Not having thought of that, I was momentarily thrown off. "Uh, there isn't any," I said falteringly. "That's at least one thing I don't have to worry about."

"It's not a consumer-credit loan?"

"No, no. It's like this: Some time ago I caused a horrible accident while driving a friend's car. We were both drunk, so there was no insurance to cover it. I went around borrowing money from other friends. I'm paying it back little by little, but I feel really bad about it, and things have gotten a bit rocky with them. I want to return the money as soon as possible, so I'm moonlighting, and that's leaving me exhausted, you know, like totally frazzled."

"An accident? Are you all right?"

"Yeah, I'm better now, though I'm still having some trouble walking."

"What about your friend?"

"He's okay. His car was more banged up than he was."

She took another deep sigh. "If you needed that kind of money, you should have come to your mother," she said grimly. "But at least you borrowed it from friends. The thought that you might have done what your father did and found yourself indebted to loan sharks was already giving me angina. What worries me the most is the feeling that you'll follow in his footsteps — right over the edge."

Having come this far, I now understood why in the cell phone contacts there wasn't an entry for Father. "Please don't be so morbid!"

"But I really am worried. If you're in such a pickle, I suppose I should do what I can. But, of course, if I lend you money, you'll have to pay it all back fair and square."

"You'd really be helping me out. And I genuinely appreciate your concern. Though I want to cope with my problems as best I can — on my own."

"But you've clearly dug yourself into an awful hole. Honestly, if you're going to be in debt anyway, I'd feel much better if you'd turn to me."

"Well, now that you put it that way ..."

"Are you still hiding something from me? Are you sure you're not saddled with something else? There's something fishy about this."

What she found fishy may have come from the fact that she was talking to a phony. I felt a pang of guilt. Not wanting to disappoint Mother, I knew I had to provide her with a more convincing scent of reality. As strange as it may sound, I now had for the first time a perverse sense of mission: to favor her by taking her money.

"Yes, I suppose I really am in a bind. To tell you the brutal truth, one lender friend was fired when the police nailed him for marijuana. So now he's hard up himself, with rent payments and such. I've got to get him a million yen by tomorrow. The fact is, I'm feeling so desperate that I'm thinking of going to the loan sharks after all. There's nothing else to do."

"What?" She fell silent. I pictured her falling into a deep abyss. "By tomorrow?" she finally said.

"If possible, by today."

"Give me your bank account number."

"Uh, it might actually be better to deposit the money directly to my friend's account."

"One million will do?"

"I've got 100,000 yen on hand myself. So another 900,000 would get me by."

"I'll put in a million. You can use what you've got to come home."

"No, I've scraped together enough to return 100,000, so all I need right now is the 900,000. If I give him too much, he may ask for more. And I'm in no position to refuse."

"Fine. So give me his account number."

I gave her my own. I felt that I'd been taken for a ride — with me as the driver. Providing my real name was a very bad idea. I warned myself that everything was sure to immediately unravel and that I'd soon be caught. I'd been tearing along without thinking and now couldn't stop.

I swear that my original intention had been to pull some sort of harmless prank. I wanted to comfort Mother in her loneliness. Just for minor amusement. But the words kept coming out, and one thing had led to another.

And yet at some point the joke had turned real, and I missed the point of no return.

Before hanging up, she asked once more: "Are you sure it isn't a consumer-credit loan?"

"I swear it isn't," I replied.

Even when the conversation was over, the sense of not being myself lingered. Feeling removed from my normal reality, like a cat in a strange house, I kept waiting for another call from Mother. She would be sure to call after making the deposit. I should have been worried that she'd call "my" older sister or that Daiki would realize that his cell phone was missing and have the service suspended. Instead I thought: Well, if I'm caught for stupidly giving out my own name and number, so be it. And so, in no mood to do anything, I idly turned on the television. Five minutes later I was dozing off.

The cell phone began vibrating again. An hour had passed. For a moment I panicked, thinking that I was at work, having fallen sound asleep during a break. When I realized I was in my own apartment, I felt that I had been caught in some sort of delusion.

Mother told me that she had transferred the money, adding: "The bank teller asked me, when I told him the amount, whether I might be the victim of remittance fraud. I had quite a fright."

I was the one who now had quite a fright. Could she be on to me? "What did you say?"

"Does that bother you?"

"Yes, it does. Because I feel that I really am engaged in some sort of scam in asking for your help."

"I sense that you're still holding back something from me. Perhaps that's why you think you're doing something fraudulent."

"I keep telling you that I don't owe money to any loan sharks."

"So please show your face around here and explain yourself as you should."

"Fine, I understand. I'll try to get over there next weekend. I'll be in touch."

"Call me tomorrow. Make sure you actually do. I want to know whether this will really tide you over."

I immediately got on my bike, pedaled to a nearby ATM, and withdrew 900,000 yen. I still had 214,307 yen left. There was no sign that I was on the verge of arrest. I thought about calling Mother to thank her once again but then realized I might be digging my own grave even deeper.

I went back to my apartment, pausing by an open drain. I switched off the cell phone. As I carefully removed any fingerprints with the edge of my shirt, it occurred to me that since my account number was already known, this was a meaningless precaution. I felt like a dog that tries to paw sand over its scat after taking a dump on a paved street. I smiled wryly to myself.

I noted that in all the time since I had swiped the phone, the only messages to Daiki had been from his mother. What a lonely bastard, I thought, but then reconsidered, remembering that on a weekday he'd be at work anyway. So perhaps he wasn't so forlorn after all. Might not the one messing with the supposedly lonesome dude's cell phone be, in fact, the real loser? For a moment I felt faint, questioning my own existence. I hastily made sure that there was no one else around, then broke the cell phone in half and threw the pieces into the water. In doing so, I had the distinct sensation of having regained my true self. Humming to myself, I returned home.


Excerpted from Me by Tomoyuki Hoshino, Charles De Wolf. Copyright © 2017 Tomoyuki Hoshino. Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Deception, 7,
Chapter 2: Realization, 44,
Chapter 3: Proliferation, 94,
Chapter 4: Disintegration, 146,
Chapter 5: Transmigration, 177,
Chapter 6: Resurrection, 205,
Afterword by Kenzaburo Oe, 227,
Translator's Note, 237,

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