“A Treatise on Count St. Germain ”(San-Jeruman hakushaku kou) is the author’s own selection from The Square Persimmon(Shikauikaki) and Other Stories, published by Charles E. Tuttle Company Inc., in 1991.





I hurried along the corridor of the hospital and peered through the large, glass window. Lined up like muffins in a baking pan, the newborns were lying in their bassinets. As if putting in the dough, a nurse moved from one bassinet to the next changing gauze bibs.  

“You're leaving?” the head nurse called to me at the hospital entrance. The nurses knew me well since my wife's uncle was the head obstetrician in the ward.

“Yes. I have business to take care of.”

“Then, you'll be at your office? ”

“No. I’ll be in the lobby of the Imperial Hotel for about an hour. Tell him to take over.” I left this short message for my uncle-in-law and departed.

Suddenly a cold autumn wind blew up as the setting sun fell behind a row of houses. The sky had already taken on a wintry color. I pulled up the collar of my coat and, hurrying along to the taxi stand, I wondered if I were in my right mind. It occurred to me that at least I was sane enough to question what I was doing. Lying in her hospital bed, my wife, Reiko, had also frowned and said, “Why go at this time?” But there were no two ways about it, I had to go. My decision was firm.

I wasn't sure if I would actually meet him, and if not, the trip would be in vain. However, I would never forgive myself if I didn't go. It had been my father's last request.  

After being in a coma for a long time, my father had passed away two years ago from a brain disease. At first, there were times when he would partially regain consciousness.

“Two years from now . . . November . . . the twenty-sixth,”  he had begun.


“Eight o'clock . . . the lobby of the Imperial . . . would you go?” With eyes wide open staring into space, he muttered his request to me.

“What should I do there?” I asked with my ear close to his mouth. I thought he wasn't lucid.

“Count St. Germain will be waiting. Eleven years ago in Paris we promised to meet again. Don't forget . . . year after next . . . November twenty-sixth . . . eight o’clock.”

“What do I do when I meet him?”

“E-leki-shi.”  The foreign word came out haltingly.  

“Elekishi. What's that?”

“E-le-ki-shi .

At that point I could no longer decipher what he was saying.


Today was the date specified by my father. At the time of his death, I had no knowledge as to who Count St. Germain was. Because my father had been to Europe many times, I thought St. Germain must be a friend that he had met on one of his trips. The title “Count” sounded quite pretentious to me, something like a joke, and I arbitrarily imagined it to be a nickname. Nevertheless, why had my father arranged to meet this man again in Tokyo on a specific day more than ten years later? Any speculation was beyond me. How could two people possibly predict what their circumstances would be after so many years? I imagined the meeting to be some kind of delusion or invention on the part of my father on his deathbed.

Nevertheless, the name St. Germain stayed in my mind, as well as the time and place of the meeting and one more thing-the word elekishi, which was meaningless to me then. The serious look on my father’s face would not allow me to forget these details. Meanwhile, I discovered more concerning Count St. Germain but I don't mean that I solved the enigma. On the contrary, I became more perplexed.

Count St. Germain-how can I describe this man? Apart from being an acquaintance of my father's, he was a singular personality whose name was known worldwide. I quote here a passage from the lwanami Dictionary of Occidental Names:


Count St. Germain. Died around 1784. A

French charlatan. Moving from Germany to

France, he represented himself as an

alchemist and gained the confidence of the

nobility and was taken into the service of the

French king, Louis XV, whom he served in

Petersburg and London. He was involved in

many political intrigues, and in his later

years retired to Schleswig-Holstein, and

there engaged in the study of the occult.


But the real reason why the name St. Germain was known throughout the world was not contained in these few lines. Rather, it was that this man had cheated death and obtained a state of immortality and eternal youth, a feat that had placed him in history as trompe-la-mort.¹ When or how he discovered the miracle drug of eternal youth was not known, but he was boasting of his immortality in the latter half of the eighteenth century. “I have lived so long I don't even know how old I am. Three thousand, four thousand years? It could be slightly more. I have conversed intimately with the Queen of Sheba. I know the Roman emperor Caesar well. I parted with Marco Polo on the silk route. Columbus himself recounted to me his various adventures. I'll undoubtedly continue to live for three hundred or five hundred or a thousand years more.”

Hearing that the miracle drug of eternal youth discovered by this noble was the elixir of life, I was half inclind to believe that he was the same Count St. Germain mentioned by my father in his delirium. In other words, he was the very man known in legend as trompe-1a-mort.

I knew none of the details of my father's life in Europe. Though he traveled to France as a businessman he had always wanted to be an artist. No, that's not it. Apart from whatever artistic ability he might have had, my father really cherished a yearning for the debauched life of a struggling artist. I had heard that while he was in Paris he had abandoned his business and, affecting the life of a vagabond-drinking, consorting with women, and associating with questionable characters-he had greatly enjoyed the flow of ideas and conversation at the cafes. Maybe this man who claimed to be Count St. Germain had been one of those questionable characters, I thought.

My father could not have actually believed the fellow, but it's probable that his curiosity had been aroused by the uniqueness of his story. I pictured the two of them enjoying each other's company, undoubtedly on the twenty-sixth of November some years ago; surely they must have had plenty to drink. At the end of some pointless discussion, stimulated by their talk, the man might have said, “All right, let's meet again in Tokyo thirteen years from today. At that time, I'll share my elixir with you.”

“Why wait thirteen years?”

“In this case thirteen is a good number. Don’t forget.”

“I won’t.”

I imagined that it was this kind of exchange between the two that my father had stored away in some corner of his brain.

I do not know what one thinks about in one's last moments, but in dreams irrational fantasies can appear as real. When my father was directly facing death, couldn't he, in his dark thoughts, have remembered the possibility of eternal youth? Somehow he must have felt a strong desire to prolong his life, and tying that to an old memory from Paris, his brain had retrieved the word elekishi, or the elixir of eternal youth. At least, that's how I chose to interpret his last words.

Naturally, I myself had no reason to believe in immortality; nevertheless, given the situation, I collected as much information on the Count as I could.

It was a historical fact that Count St. Germain, playing a mysterious role, had been a prominent figure in eighteenth-century French court society, appearing and disappearing in many places in Europe. He was acquainted with Madame Pompadour and Casanova; he skillfully handled many languages, including Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Arabic, Cerman, English, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish; he was a true scholar with a brilliant, retentive mind. Well versed in all studies, all learning, he especially outshone the experts with his extraordinary talent at the piano and in oil painting.

The fact that a scholar of such superhuman talent lived in an era in which information was not readily available sufficed to demonstrate his powers. However, the legend of Count St. Germain that follows was much more fascinating than what has been reported thus far.

 The eighteenth century was, without any doubt, the period in which he had actually lived, but everyone who had met Count St. Germain unanimously acknowledged the astonishing fact that he had always been the same age. Without having changed in the slightest through the years, he continued to look about forty, with a thick head of hair and a youthful glow.

The famous lover Casanova had once invited the Count to dinner, but he had declined, saying, “Thank you for your invitation, but I never have anything to eat that you might call a ‘meal.’ I only take a capsule. Please do not be offended.” Casanova had inferred that this capsule was the elixir of eternal life. Louis XV had also been interested in the Count's abnormal youthfulness, and, looking skeptical, had said, “It is true that that man can turn an ordinary stone into a diamond, but we do not understand the mystery of his youth.”

The legend continues. St. Germain was said to have died in 1784, but records abound of his resurfacing later. There are over ten men of reason, whose word would be fully accepted in society, who would testify to having definitely seen the Count in La Place de la Révolution in Paris in 1815. And when you consider the various records remaining on the scene, it would be difficult to doubt his appearance in Bombay in 1903, looking the same as usual. In addition, he had been seen in New York, Hong Kong, Peking, Sydney, Salisbury, Buenos Aires, Tashkent, and Teheran-in virtually every part of the world at different times. Sometimes publicly and sometimes privately, he would confess, “I am Count St. Germain, the very man who defied death.”

How far I chose to believe this kind of romantic legend was another matter, but the fact remained that my father on his deathbed had expressed the wish that I meet this mysterious individual.

I shall describe here the Count's distinctive features, which are consistent with the great quantity of material written about the man. He had large, brown eyes. His hair was a dark, reddish brown. His height was quite a few inches under six feet, fairly small for a European. He had a long, refined face, and his thin, straight nose looked particularly aristocratic. There was a faint crescent-shaped scar on his right temple. His clear voice was pleasing to the ear, and his lucid manner of speaking was said to have captivated people's hearts. I had committed myself to carrying out my father's dying wish to meet this same man in the lobby of the Imperial Hotel.

It was slightly after eight by the time I reached the hotel. The first-floor lobby was unusually crowded. As I moved through the clamor, I thought, I'm here on a mere whim. Spotting a familiar face in such a crowd would not be easy; how much more difficult it would be not knowing each other. Moreover, it was an uncertain rendezvous that may or may not have been arranged over ten years ago. It would be a sheer miracle if we happened to get together. Was it inane to expect, on a hundred-to-one chance, that a meeting might occur?

Why had my father, muttering under his breath, chosen this particular day? Perhaps an unforeseen natural disaster was about to occure. Perhaps there was a sign I ought to perceive in this crowd of people.

 I walked slowly around the large lobby not neglecting a single corner. Having gone that far, I felt I might as well turn fiction into reality and act out my role. I slowed down particularly in front of foreigners who appeared to be waiting for someone and casually surveyed their features and mannerisms. But no one seemed to be the man. Walking on the splendid carpet and absorbing everything around me, I simply could not believe what I was doing. The whole situation was ridiculous. I seriously questioned my sanity in being there.

If I had to find a reason for my behavior, I felt it must be due to my fond memories of my father. The figure of my father, whom I resemble a great deal, came to mind. He was not the kind of person generallv admired by society. He had not been the model husband, nor the model father, to say the least. He had graduated from a prestigious university, been employed by a prestigious firm, and should have settled into the uneventful life of a businessman; somewhere along the way he had lost heart and gone astray. Having left his wife and children behind in Japan, he had begun a life of his own in a foreign land. Mother had known nothing of this change until after he had resigned from his firm without consulting anyone.

 “You mustn’t be like your father, interested only in yourself.” I was raised listening to my mother’s complaints about him. Actually, the father that I had known was a warmhearted, trustworthy individual who had an answer for everything. Nevertheless, having listened over and over to my mother’s rebukes, I had a deep-rooted impression of my father’s unworthiness, and in my childhood, he had always been a “bad, unforgivable” character. Now, I don’t necessarily think this way. I would not deny that my father’s character was one not highly respected by society. Mother’s censure had been justifiable. But like my father, I had gone to a good university and was working for a good company, and now I was beginning to follow the secure course of a businessman.

“You’re different from your father because you are responsible, Makoto,” everyone who knew my father would tell me. I wondered if it were really true. Half of my life had been spent stuck in the groove of a fixed course. I too thought of living a life of wild abandonment. Escaping the restrictions of business and family to live a totally different life from that prearranged for me was a desire cherished in my innermost heart. I simply did not have the courage to act.

After reaching my midthirties, I came to understand my father's viewpoint, I felt a closeness to him.Even accepting, to a certain extent, the preposterous story of the Count St. Germain and coming to this hotel per his dying words was due to this belief in him. I hoped that this meeting might give me a clue to understanding what my father was like when he had lived as he wished.

Well, what happens next, I wondered. I had circled the big lobby slowly, but not wanting to go home without having done anything, I sat down in a corner of the lounge and ordered a beer. A potion for eternal youth and immortality? It was beyond the height of ridiculousness. I smiled derisively. It might make sense in the age of alchemy, but it isn’t easy to joke about the subject in contemporary times. What could my father have been thinking of?

Holding up my cloudy, amber-colored glass under the chandelier’s light, I happened to glance at the wall, where I noticed a painting on which two lines of a Chinese poem appeared. It was, without a doubt, in the hand of a noted master of Japanese calligraphy. The characters in ink were faint, and the style of writing was extremely cursive, but as I gazed at the writing I was able to read it.


Year in, year out, the ageless cherry blossoms,

Year in, year out, the aging viewer.


Oh, I know these lines, I thought. But the calligrapher’s signature and seal were written in an even more flowing style, and there was no way I could decipher them.

What Chinese characters could end up looking like that, I wondered. I was not that much of a drinker and, with a fuzzy mind, I thought hard about the characters and stared at the brush strokes. My vision became blurred. I probably hadn't had enough sleep on account of my wife’s going to the hospital. I could feel the beer agreeably warming me inside. Its heat spread to every corner of my body like fire on a plain. My eyelids became heavy.

“Mr. Aizawa, Mr. Aizawa.” From far away the voice of the bell captain called out. a name; as it gradually drew closer I realized that it was mine. I rose uncertainly to my feet and stood in the boy’s path.

“I’m Aizawa.”

After giving a little bow, the boy looked around and gestured toward the information desk. “Mr. St. Germain is waiting for you.”

At that, my heart palpitated. The person I had been awaiting had actually come. The figure of a foreigner could be seen where the boy was pointing. He had noticed the exchange between the boy and me and with a graceful step approached. Restraining myself, I too, not to be outdone, threw back my shoulders and stepped forward, a picture of the utmost composure.

He appeared to be a small man, well under six feet. I’ve never been able to tell foreigners’ages, but I judged him to be around fifty. He had large eyes that moved in a winsome way and reddish-brown hair. His elegantly chiseled nose was long and straight.

 As the distance between the two of us narrowed, the man squinted and stared at my face as if somewhat startled. Obviously he had come here expecting to meet my father, and it was only natural that he looked at me with suspicion.

When we were within hearing distance, I asked in halting English, “Are you Mr. St. Germain?”

His face broke into a smile, and he answered in fluent Japanese, “Yes, I'm St. Germain.”

Of course. A man who conversed in many languages would reply in fluent Japanese. There was a small, crescent-shaped scar  on his temple.

After bowing deeply, I spoke, this time in Japanese. My explanation was brief. “I have come representing my father. He died two years ago, at which time he told me to meet you here today.”

The Count's face instantly clouded over-the expression was exaggerated enough to look somewhat fake―and he said, “He passed away? I’m sorry to hear this. Forgive me, I did not know about it. This isn't the appropriate place, but let me express my condolences.”

“Thank you. Will you sit down?”

The two of us sat down facing each other on some overstuffed chairs in the lounge. There was nothing strange or out of the ordinary about the foreigner in front of me. From the top of his head to the tips of his shoes, he looked the twentieth-century gentleman. He had on a blue suit and a light pink shirt. His tie was the latest fashion, green with light blue polka dots. Both his dress and his manner were very refined. If I may venture to say, he had the elegant air of a diplomatic official of an older, better day, the kind of man who never ceased to cause a stir. In no way was there the appearance of an eccentric with mysterious tricks up his sleeve, as I had vaguely imagined. Rather than addressing him as Count St. Germain, I thought it more appropriate to call him Monsieur St. Germain in contemporary style.

“So, you are his son? No wonder! I thought he had become very young since we parted.” St.Germain took out a long French cigarette from his inside pocket. Saying “Pardon,” he put it between his lips. “The old wing of this building had more dignity. It was superb architecture,” he said, looking up at the ceiling.

“Yes. Wright's design.”

“It's well known among foreigners too.”

“Have you been in Japan many times?”

“This is my sixth trip. The first time was in 1885. That was a turbulent period right after the Meiji Restoration.”

“Is that so?” I remarked, at a loss how to proceed. “Where did you meet my father?”

“Well now,” the Count put his palm to his cheek as if deep in thought. “That's it,” he said, nodding. “I think I met him at a wine cellar in Montmartre, close to Patachou's cabaret. Do you know Patachou’s?”

“No. I don’t.”

“It’s a cheap, hole-in-the-wall cabaret, but it’s become a tourist attraction now. When his patrons refuse to sing along, the owner cuts off their neckties.”

It sounded familiar.

“Close by there’s a cafe called Coliath, and it was probably there that we met. How it brings back memories. There were high-class demimondaines in the neighborhood who painted after the fashion of Matisse. I often used to go drinking there with two or three friends from my residence.”

“What was my father like?”

“He was very cheerful and had a certain esprit and the gentle way of a Japanese. We didn't know each other that well.”

I wanted to ask him about my father's life at that time, but more than that the matter of the elixir lurked in the back of my mind. I waited for a break in the conversation and said, “Excuse me, but . . .”

“Yes?" Like the joker in a deck of cards, he was always smiling and appeared to be nonchalantly ready to answer any question. His smile was as mysterious and inviting as a magician’s.  

What was this bizarre feeling in the air? Though we were still in the hotel lobby, the surrounding frivolity had faded, and it was as if just the two of us, St. Germain and I, occupied a silent, empty space.

“Are you really Count St. Germain?”

“Yes, I am.”

“The famous one in history.”

“I’m not that exceptional,” he replied, as if embarrassed and yet appearing to acknowledge the fact.

“But your name is even in a Japanese dictionary of names.”

“Does it give me a bad reputation?”

“No, nothing like it, but . . .”


“You're described as being the man who defied death, in other words, you're . . .”

“The man who found eternal youth.”

“Yes. That's right.”

“Is that what your father said?”

“I didn’t hear anything about that from him. My father only mentioned the elixir.”

“Ah, I see.”

“It may be only rumors, but I’ve heard you have the secret potion for eternal youth, and you’ve met the Queen of Sheba as well as Columbus.”

“A rumor is usually passed along with great elaboration, isn’t it?”

“Then eternal youth is just a fabrication. The elixir of eternal life doesn’t exist, right?”

“No. There is such a thing as eternal youth. Even now I have the elixir.”

“I don't believe it.”

“That’s exactly what your father said. I remember now. Your father disputed the point with me just like you are. After I told him I had the elixir, he pouted like you and said, ‘There’s no such thing as a potion for eternal youth. I said, ‘I have it,’ and he replied, ‘Impossible!’ It was becoming an endless dispute, and so I promised to show him the elixir on the same day thirteen years later. It was a gentlemen’s agreement. That’s right. The two of us were fairly drunk, but we raised our glasses and vowed by the names of our individual deities to meet. Your father was a gentleman, because he did not forget the promise even on his deathbed. And as you can see, I too have made my way here.”

“Then you are carrying the elixir? The potion of eternal youth?”


“Then can you show it to me, instead of my father?”

“That has been my intention from the start.”

“Then please show it to me.”

For an instant, I was apprehensive that as soon as I made that request some kind of fearful, untoward event would suddenly occur. However, everything around remained unchanged, and the surging crowd swayed and quivered like a scene viewed through glass in an aquarium.

“It is just that . . ., “ he said, leaning his head to one side.


“It’s just that the elixir is not a powder or a drink as everyone thinks it is. The elixir is pensée


“Yes. Would it be easier to comprehend if I call it an idea?”

I shook my head. “I don’t understand.”

“The Japanese are a people full of sentiment. But the French are a nation of sophists. I am French.”


“How interesting. There’s a work of calligraphy here.” St. Germain pointed to the poem hanging on the wall, the same smile on his face. He read it aloud in Chinese. “Do you understand this poem?”

“Yes. We studied it in school long ago.”

“Isn’t it Liu T’ing-chih’s poem from the Tang dynasty?”

“Perhaps so. I'm not sure.”

“What does it mean?”

“The cherry blossoms are the same each year, but the people who view them are not the same. I believe the poem expresses the impermanence of human existence,” I answered.

“I’m sure that it does. But this observation is mistaken. It’s a very sentimental approach.”


“The blossoms that bloomed last year and those that bloomed this year are different,” the Count explained. “A different flower, a different life. Corrected it should read ‘year in, year out, the blossoms are not the same.”

“But the same tree flowers in the same way.”

“True. But if you can see that last year’s blossoms and those that bloom this year are a part of the same life, then you should be able to see human beings the same way. If a creature other than a human being were to look at mankind from some external vantage point in exactly the same way that the poet looks at the cherry blossoms, then man all the way from ancient times, from the parent to the child to the grandchild, could be seen as expressing eternal life.”

“Perhaps so, but . . .”

“Continued existence is old cells constantly changing into new cells and going on forever without perishing. When you realize that one generation will not last, you give up such petty acts as transferring organs, and you make the next generation from your cells. In other words, it’s the relationship of parent to child. In this fashion, the majority of mankind, from the most ancient times, has continued to maintain its immortality.”

“Is that your elixir?”

“Yes. If you accept this way of thinking, then you see how all mankind will be able to achieve eternal life. You do not fear death, nor do you grieve over life's being snuffed out.”

“But . . .”

“Is something bothering you?”

“Yes. If that’s so, the elixir you . . . in other words, it’s not just you that has the elixir of life. Everyone has it.”

“You could say so. But I can’t say that everyone is clearly conscious of this way of thinking. St. Germain’s elixir is to make a person clearly aware of this.”

“I feel as if I’ve been tricked.”

“This is the only way to cheat death. Don’t you agree? For example, you resemble your father in appearance and personality. At times, you reflect upon what kind of life he had and what he thought about. This is the way your father’s life endures. This is the wholesome way to change and continue generations.”

Like the incantation of a medium, St. Germain’s voice droned hypnotically along. Something wasn’t right. No, that wasn’t true. Basically I understood the Count's theory, but wasn’t there something I had forgotten to ask him? Ah, that was it.

“If this is true, why didn’t you explain the elixir to my father thirteen years ago? Wouldn’t it have been just as well not to let time elapse, not to make it all so dramatic?”

“No.” He shook his head, blowing out the smoke he had inhaled. Like a cigar, the French cigarette had a strong odor. “I didn’t do it with a sense of self-importance. I wanted to wait until today so that what I am saying would not be taken as mere theory. You must not hold St. Germain in contempt. I know the laws of the universe. The principles I voice are in accordance with those laws.”

St. Cermain’s voice became fainter, and in its place, somewhere in the distance, the bell captain could be heard calling “Mr. Aizawa” over and over. It appeared that he had been paging me for some time.

Something pierced my brain, and everything before me became suddenly light. At the same time, the surrounding scene that had appeared as if I were viewing it through glass began to move along with the same bustle as before. I stood up and approached the bell captain. “I’m Aizawa.”

“There’s a telephone call for you.”

I followed the boy and entered the phone booth. “Hello. Aizawa speaking.”

“Makoto?” It was my uncle calling from the hospital.

“Congratulations. It’s a boy. Mother and child are both doing

fine. He looks just like you.”

“Really? I’ll be right there.” I hung up the receiver. I was seized with a strange excitement. A boy who looks just like me. So that's my immortality. But why this particular day? That I didn’t understand.

Feeling puzzled, I returned to the lounge. There was no one in the chair. Only a French cigarette, half stubbed out, was burning on the side of the ashtray, emitting a white stream of smoke.


1.Trompe-la-mort means "cheat death" and is sometimes used to

describe a person who recovers from a serious illness or injury.


Translated by Willicent M.Horton





ATODA Takashi
This page was created on 2010/09/23

Background Color

Font Style

  • Default
  • For Weak-Eyed

ATODA Takashi

Novelist. Born in Tokyo on Jaruary 13, 1935. In 1954 he enrolled in the French Literature Department of Waseda University aspiring to become a journalist, but a year later he was forced to take a leave to have treatment for turberculosis. After he was discharged, he wrote short essays while working as a librarian at the National Diet Library. In 1969, his book Black Humor Nyumon became a bestseller, allowing him in 1972 to begin making his living entirely with his pen. He was awarded the Naoki Prize for Napoleon Crazy (Naporeon kyo) in 1979. Atoda has published some 180 volumes to date, including short-shorts, standard short fiction, novellas, and full-length novels, as well as essays, commentaries on the classics, and other non-fictional material. In addition to keeping up an active writing schedule, he has been the 15th President of The Japan P.E.N. Club since 2007. He will serve as the Chairperson of the 76th International PEN Congress Tokyo /Kyoto 2010.

Other Works