Archive for March, 2007

It was Darren’s first visit to Japan, and it had started off so well that he was practically delirious. The meeting with his client, contrary to his expectations, had been no more than a mere formality. In less than one hour the client had agreed to sign a contract giving Darren’s company the right to handle all of its PR in the European market. It was a contract worth an initial million dollars, and potentially many more to follow. Try as he might, Darren could not keep the smile off his face thinking about the bonus he would be getting.

Lunch with the general manager of his client company’s PR division and two young office ladies was a boisterous affair. They dined in a French restaurant in Akasaka and his hosts insisted that he drank wine. Throwing caution to the wind, Darren swilled his way through two bottles of red Burgundy, oblivious to the fact that the others at the table sipped one glass each.

Throughout the meal the questions kept coming and Darren felt good to be the center of such intense attention. He mentioned that it was his first visit to Japan and that he had three free days to explore the country before he returned home. He asked for tips on how to really appreciate Japanese culture.

It was the general manager who suggested an onsen (hot spring resort). Darren had no idea what an onsen was but, with the wine taking over his reasoning, he expressed the wish to visit one. The general manager excused himself from the table, went outside the restaurant and made a call on his mobile. He returned to say that he had arranged an overnight trip to an onsen in Tochigi-ken, and that they would be leaving at four o’clock the following afternoon, which was a Friday.

At three-thirty the next day, when he arrived at his client’s company to set out for the onsen, he was surprised to discover that he would be traveling in a group of eight. Besides himself, there was the general manager, his assistant and five young ladies. His trip to Japan, Darren thought, was becoming more like a trip to paradise. In fact, he had to pinch himself to make sure he was not dreaming.

It was a three-hour drive to the onsen in the Toyota Hiace, and Darren enjoyed every minute of it. The general manager sat in the front with his assistant, who was the designated driver, while Darren and the five ladies shared the back. There seemed to be an endless supply of beer and snacks and from the minute they set off, the ladies kept Darren’s paper cup topped up. In fact, they even seemed to be competing for the pleasure of pouring his drinks.

By the time they arrived at the onsen and pulled into the ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) car park, Darren was feeling light headed. Nevertheless, Darren could handle his liquor so he managed to conceal this from the others. As soon as they checked into their rooms—the three men were sharing one, the ladies another—the general manager announced that there was time for a bath before dinner.

There were three baths, the general manager told him—one for ladies, one for gentlemen, and one shared by both ladies and gentlemen. He asked Darren which he preferred. Darren decided not to opt for the mixed bath in case it led to problems later; so, dressed in yukatas (light, casual kimono), the men and women went to their respective bathing areas. Eager to relish the whole Japan experience, Darren decided to ‘go native’ and do everything exactly as his hosts did. He watched the general manager cast aside his yukata and, covering his private parts with a small towel, go to the washing area, where he proceeded to scrub and shower himself with vigor. Darren did exactly the same. When the general manager was finished washing himself, he stood up, strode over to the steaming pool and stepped in without even testing the water. As he dropped to a sitting position, an expression of sheer bliss spread across his face. Darren, despite feeling a little self-conscious at his nakedness, decided to take the plunge. As he carefully moved over to the hot bath, concealing his private parts as he had seen the general manager do, he realized that everybody in the bath was staring at him. He decided to throw caution to the wind and plunge straight into the bubbling water. After all, he reasoned, if the general manager could do it so could he. How wrong he was! In practically one fluid movement, Darren stepped into the bath, screamed and jumped straight back out. He heard someone stifle a laugh and when he looked around everyone, except for the general manager was smiling.

He recovered from his embarrassment by making a joke, which the general manager quickly translated. Everybody laughed. Darren’s lower body was burning, so was his face. A few minutes later, however, he got back in—this time with a little more caution. Although he felt as if he were being boiled alive, he managed to stay in the water for a few minutes. By his fourth dip, Darren was starting to enjoy the experience. Suddenly there was an announcement, and most of the bathers got out and started washing themselves again. The general manager told Darren that dinner would be served in fifteen minutes, and that they would have to get out now or miss the meal.

Still a little embarrassed at being naked in a room with about twenty complete strangers, Darren kept his eyes down—unlike many of the others, some of whom were making no attempt to conceal their efforts to get a look at his private parts—as he dried himself and donned the yukata as quickly as possible. Perhaps things would have been different had he only looked around the changing room.

As soon as he entered the dining room, Darren knew that he was in trouble: there wasn’t a chair in sight. The spacious room was furnished in the traditional Japanese style of low tables with cushions for seats on a tatami (tightly-woven straw mats) floor. The room was partitioned with low screens to give each group—there were at least a dozen groups of various size—some semblance of their own space. The ladies were already seated and they waved the gentlemen over when they saw them. As he moved past three different groups to get to his table, Darren felt the eyes following his progress. Somebody shouted “Harroo,”and Darren turned and smiled at a red-faced middle-aged man who raised a beer glass. Everybody else at the table laughed. Three of the ladies were sitting at one side of the table, two at the other side with a space between them. They gestured for Darren to sit down in the space. The general manager and his subordinate took their places at the ends of the table. It was going to be difficult, Darren realized, to seat himself without exposing his private parts. Nevertheless, with a great deal of effort, he managed to sit down with embarrassing himself.

As the general manager sat down, his yukata swung open. Darren noticed that he was wearing striped underpants. For a split second Darren was stunned. He had not seen any underpants in the bathing area, so he had assumed that everyone was, like himself, naked under the yukata. His first thought was to excuse himself, rush up to his room and get into his underpants. Unfortunately, before he could move one of the ladies grabbed a bottle of Kirin and filled his glass. The general manager proposed a toast and Darren emptied his glass in one gulp. That set the pace for the rest of the meal. Before he could even put his glass down, another of the ladies filled it up. For the next thirty minutes Darren bent his elbow with the fluency of a gypsy fiddler while the others admired his “strong” drinking.

Darren was, in fact, a confident and competent beer drinker. When it came to stronger alcohol, however, he was not so sure of himself; but he would try anything. So, when the general manager called for sake, Darren accepted the challenge. And the ladies started pouring sake at the same speed they had been pouring the beer.

Before long the room started spinning and Darren began to feel unwell. He wasn’t sure if he were going to faint or throw up. He also needed to go to the toilet. Very carefully he managed to stand up, holding the front of his yukata securely closed. He tried to step sideways to pass the lady sitting to his right but his legs wouldn’t move. He started swaying backwards and forwards then he felt himself falling backwards. He bounced off a screen behind him and then crashed through it. For a split second the room fell silent; then it seemed to explode. Lying on the tatami (straw matting), conscious but unable to move, he heard ladies screaming and men roaring with laughter. Flashes from digital cameras and mobile phones came at him from all angles, and was surrounded by grinning strangers. He noticed that one of the girls in his group was covering her eyes with her hands. But the fingers were open and her eyes were focused on his exposed private parts. Then he passed out.

When he came to the next morning, to the sound of music followed by an announcement from a speaker outside his room, Darren found himself tucked into a futon. He vaguely remembered trying to get up from the table, but little of what had happened after that. The general manager told Darren that breakfast was being served and that they should hurry up otherwise they would miss it. A few minutes later, Darren threw some cold water on his face and followed the general manager down to the dining room. The reception he got when he entered the dining room surprised and shocked him. Spontaneously, everyone either burst out laughing or started applauding. One man jumped up and ran across to shake his hand. A group of four surrounded him, all flashing the peace sign, to have their photograph taken. Darren, totally perplexed, was desperately trying to figure out the reason for his sudden celebrity status when the general manager gestured for him to sit down.

After a gulp of hot green tea to lubricate his parched throat, Darren asked the general manager what all the fuss was about. The general manager looked at him incredulously and said, “Don’t you remember what happened last night?”

Darren shook his head, so the general manager continued. “You were sleeping on the floor over there for more than an hour. And you had no pants on, which we all found a little strange.”

Darren almost choked on his miso soup.

“Is it a custom in England to eat dinner without your pants?” asked the general manager, winking at one of the ladies.

Suddenly Darren remembered everything. He wished the he could disappear into a crack between the tatami. But that did not happen. Instead, one of the ladies poured him some more tea. Darren’s face turned even redder as he realized it was the lady who had given his genitals a thorough inspection through her open fingers.

He started to apologize, but the general manager cut him off. “There’s no need to apologize, Darren-san. In fact, we would all like to thank you for making this trip so memorable. I don’t think any of the guests here will ever forget last night. Nor will any of the staff. They all came to see you, even the cooks.”

Back in Tokyo Darren got one more surprise. He took the film from his camera to have it developed and when he returned a few hours later he discovered that six photos had not been printed. He asked to use the lightbox to look at the negatives of the six shots that had not been printed. To his astonishment, and that of the young lady in the shop, the six missing prints all featured shots of his private parts—and many of the diners in the restaurant. In one shot, Darren, his yukata hiked up around his waist, was surrounded by six grinning strangers, three of them women, flashing peace signs. In another, a man was holding his sexual organ with a pair of chopsticks while others howled with laughter.

Darren could hardly believe his eyes—nor could the young saleslady. He snatched the negatives from the lightbox, and dropped them on the floor. The young lady picked them up and gave him a very wide smile as she handed them to him. Darren quickly paid and left the shop.

He managed to avoid any more embarrassment on his last day in Tokyo, but he swore he would learn from his experience. He decided that the next time he “went native,” whether in Japan or anywhere else in the world, he would find out exactly what the natives did first.

© Charles R. Pringle 2007

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A small restaurant in the station complex at Shinkoiwa in north-east Tokyo has stopped serving a unique delicacy—noodles and rice dishes based on mouse curry. The tachigui restaurant (literally means “standing eating,” and is a small restaurant with a counter at which you stand and eat) served thirteen meals featuring this original dish before it discovered the mouse in the pot.

Apparently, on 13 March from 6.15 AM to about 8.30 AM the restaurant sold four bowls of curried soba or udon (different kinds of noodles), seven bowls of curried rice, and two curry set meals using the curry sauce in which an 8-centimeter-long mouse had been slowly simmering. The curry was made with meat, vegetables and a 3-kilo roux pack in a large pot before the restaurant opened, and had been selling well. As the cook added more roux to the pot and started stirring it, he noticed something that looked like a ball. When he removed it from the pot he discovered that it was a mouse.

Nobody knows how the mouse ended up in the pot but there are three theories: it was in the roux, it was in with the meat and vegetables, or it fell in while tasting the brew.

The restaurant stopped serving meals as soon as the mouse was discovered, and has apologized for any anxiety it may have caused. It has also offered to refund anyone who may have eaten any of the curry dishes. So far no one has complained about their meal.

© Charles R. Pringle 2007

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Some years ago, there was a yatai (food stall) behind Yotsuya station. It was run by a real eccentric character who ruled his mise (translated as ‘shop’) with an iron fist.  

The yatai seated about twenty people, ten around the stall with the others sitting on two benches either side of a table, which consisted of a board perched on top of some empty crates. It served only oden (a hotpot), sake and shochu (distilled liquor). The oden was excellent, and itself a reason for stopping by. But the main reason for a visit to this particular yatai was the atmosphere. Every patron was considered an equal and expected to participate in the conversation and the banter on completely equal footing. 

There was one rule, and the master (Japanese equivalent of ‘proprietor’) enforced it with the ruthlessness of a medieval despot: No talking about or indicating rank or status! This effectively meant that talking about one’s job, company or educational background was prohibited because they were clear indicators of status, and so was exchanging or even showing a meishi (business card).  

The rule, which was not written down or displayed anywhere, was explained to newcomers before they even ordered anything. Naturally, some people took offense and left immediately, but most people accepted and even appreciated it.  

Any infringement of this rule would lead to instant eviction from the yatai. Once the master made a decision to evict someone that decision was final. No amount of apologizing or appealing would reverse the decision. But eviction did not mean a permanent ban. People evicted were always welcome to return, provided they obeyed the rule—and many people did return.  

There were, of course, some people who either never learned, or perhaps enjoyed the procedure and attention of being thrown out. These serial offenders were sometimes given a temporary suspension of one or two weeks, after which they would be welcomed back as if nothing had ever happened—until the next time they were evicted.  

The topics of conversation varied with the season and with what was happening in the world. Baseball and sumo were popular topics, as were culture, politics and society. Discussions were often heated—fueled by the hot sake and sochu—with everyone around the stall, or even those sitting at the table, getting involved. Everybody had an opinion, and every opinion was respected, even if not agreed with.  

The master’s favorite topic was sex, of which he had an encyclopedic knowledge. Every single night the conversation turned to the subject, and it was discussed enthusiastically by all present—including the females, of which there were many regulars. In fact, the banter between the master and the female regulars—ladies ranging from early twenties to late fifties—was one of the special features of the yatai. Some of the ladies, no matter how reserved or modest they affected to be at work, could surprise or shock newcomers with the ease at which they handled the sexual innuendos being thrown back and forward.  

The yatai, unfortunately no longer exists. A few years ago the master retired and thus one of the few true bastions of equality in Tokyo vanished. That it no longer exists, however, does not mean that it will be forgotten. I, like many other patrons, will always remember it. How could we ever forget a character like the master, a man who welcomed everyone on the same terms irrespective of rank, status or gender? How could we ever forget his ‘shop,’ a place that served excellent oden, reasonable but not the best liquor, and a fantastic evening of conversation and entertainment (at least one person was evicted every night and the scene was always highly amusing)?

© Charles R. Pringle 2007

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Until about ten years ago the Japanese police had a fairly solid record of crime detection. Then things started to go wrong; and for some reason police failures and bungling seemed to coincide with collapse of the Japanese economy.

A good example of the police incompetence is the Wakayama curry-poisoning incident of 25 July 1998. At a summer festival in the Sonobe district of Wakayama (450 kilometers west of Tokyo), four people died and 63 were sickened after eating curry spiced with arsenic. In no time, the whole country was practically overwhelmed by a spate of copycat poisonings.

For over two months the Japanese police—up to then normally a paradigm of efficiency—ran around like the Keystone Cops, bungling one lead after another. Then on October 4 they arrested a couple from Sonobe and charged them with a string of offences, ranging from insurance fraud to attempted murder by poisoning. This last charge sparked off speculation that they were responsible for the curry poisoning too.

Eventually, the police charged Masumi Hayashi with the Wakayama poisoning and also of attempting to poison her husband, Kenji, on at least two occasions.

It is a matter of fact that the Japanese police have a pretty poor record when it comes to investigating cases of poisoning. Since World War II there have been three waves of poisoning (not including the sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway system and a village in Matsumoto). And so far the only one of these cases to be satisfactorily cleared up is the Wakayama incident.

The first poisoning incident occurred on 26 January 1948. Someone posing as a government health official entered the Teikoku Bank in Shiinamachi, Tokyo, just after closing time. He persuaded the 16 members of staff to drink poison, saying that it was medicine against dysentery, which had broken out in the neighborhood.

The so-called health official showed remarkable ingenuity and self confidence. After the members of staff were assembled, he produced a bottle and used a pipette to draw some liquid into a cup. Then he demonstrated how to drink it by extending the tongue so that the liquid would go quickly and directly to the throat. Next he poured some liquid from the same bottle into sixteen cups and instructed them to drink simultaneously. He claimed that this was important because after precisely one minute, they would be given a second medicine. Unquestioningly, they did as he said. Ten people died on the spot, and two more died later. Four people were fortunate enough to survive and bear witness to the incident.

Seven months later, an artist called Sadamichi Hirasawa was arrested and charged with the murders. After strenuous questioning, Hirasawa confessed but later withdrew his confession, saying that he had been coerced. Nevertheless, he was found guilty and sentenced to death. But the sentence was never carried out, and he eventually died in 1987 at the age of 95, after nearly 40 years on death row.

There are many inconsistencies in the police case against Hirasawa. First, in his confession he used the word “koppu,” which in Japanese means “glass for drinking alcohol.” The survivors all claimed to have drunk from a “chawan,” which is a Japanese-style tea cup. Sixty years ago, no Japanese would have mistaken the two. Another inconsistency was that Hirasawa said he had carried the poison in a beer bottle and that he had poured it directly into the glasses. Survivors contradicted this claim, too.

Asked to identify Hirasawa as the culprit, survivors of the crime said that he looked nothing like the man who came to the bank that day. Unfortunately for Hirasawa, as he had confessed, the police ignored all the evidence that did not point to his guilt.

There was also a strange discrepancy in the analysis of the poison that killed the victims. Tokyo University, the top national university, and Keio University, the top private university, were chosen to carry out autopsies—they were given six bodies each—and their results contradicted each other.

Keio University was the first to announce the results. The forensic scientists at Keio announced that the poison was acetone cynohydrin. Tokyo University, on the other hand, did not release the results until after Hirasawa had been arrested and charged with the crime. Tokyo University scientists stated that potassium cyanide was the poison.

These strange contradictions are very significant because, while potassium cyanide was a fairly well known poison, and one that was relatively easy to obtain, acetone cyanohydrin certainly was not. It was a relatively new poison that had been developed by the notorious Unit 7231, the biological warfare unit of the Imperial Japanese Army. Thus, if acetone cynohydrin had been the agent, it would seem unlikely that someone like Hirasawa could have committed the crime.

Both poisons act differently, an important factor in administering them. The potassium cyanide kills its victims instantaneously; so it would have been difficult to persuade the slower drinkers to swallow if they were to see their colleagues suddenly drop down dead. Acetone cyanohyrin, on the other hand, acts a few minutes after it has been swallowed, so it would be a more suitable poison for this type of crime.

Some time before the crime, two boxes of acetone cyanhydrin had disappeared from the Army Research Center, and there was great suspicion that the culprit was somehow connected to the biological warfare unit. In fact, the police were starting to look closely at some possible suspects connected to this unit. That changed, however, after Hirasawa’s arrest, when the police suddenly lost all interest in the previous and more obvious suspects.

The second wave of poisonings, which is just as mysterious as the Teikoku incident, started in March 1984 and ran through to late 1985. During this time, six major foodstuffs manufacturers were targeted by extortionists.

It began with a bizarre kidnapping on 18 March 1985 in Nishinomiya, a city located between Osaka and Kobe. Two men wearing ski masks broke into the house of Ezaki Kasuhisa, president of Ezaki-Glico, Japan’s second largest confectioner, and dragged him from his bathtub. They wrapped a towel around him, covered his head with a cloth bag and took him away in a red car.

That signaled the start of an extraordinary crime spree that has still not been solved. The kidnalppers of Ezaki demanded one billion yen in used banknotes and one hundred kilograms of gold. Fortunately for Ezaki, he managed to escape from a hut by a railway sidings, where he had been left bound and gagged, before payment was made.

The kidnappers then tried to extort the money from the company by threatening to poison the company’s products and place them in shops across the company. Soon they started threatening other companies too.

On 8 April, two newspapers the Mainichi and the Sankei, received messages written on the same typewriter as the ransom note. The notes were addressed to “the fools in the police” and they challenged the police to make arrest in the case. The writer signed off as “the creature with twenty-one” faces.”

The salutation on the note was a fairly accurate description of the police and their efforts to catch the criminals. For eighteen months the police proved to be hopelessly inept. At one stage they were in hot pursuit of a car driven by the criminals, but it outran them on a public highway. They managed to capture a large amount of equipment used by the gang and even got close enough to one of them to compose a sketch of him. But they couldn’t arrest him. This character had peculiar facial features that led to him being nicknamed “the man with fox eyes.”

Recently, more theories on the case have appeared. One of the most telling is that the ring leader of the kidnappers was the president of a trading company with close ties to North Korea. He is supposed to have been involved in a scam that persuaded people to invest in a non-existent gold mine in North Korea, and around the time of the Ezaki kidnapping he apparently needed gold bullion to prove that the mine was doing well.

Three other people who fell under suspicion at the time were closely connected to the company president. The man with the fox eyes is said to have been an associate, another man is said to have had handwriting similar to that on the notes to the media. Another of his company employees owned a red car similar to that used in the kidnapping.

With all the circumstantial evidence it is surprising that no one has ever been arrested or even taken in for serious questioning. However, it seems that Ezaki himself refused to cooperate with the police, and there are rumors of a conflict between the local criminal police and the state security police.

This strange crime spree came to a sudden end on 12 August 1985, when the criminals sent another note to the media announcing the end of their criminal activities.

Whatever the original cause of this crime wave, one thing is sure. As soon as the extortion threats became public knowledge, a spate of copycat poisonings broke out. By the end of 1984 at least a dozen were documented.

The first of these occurred on 18 May, when a man called Coca-Cola and threatened to poison soft drinks unless the company paid him 50,000,000 yen. He was arrested when he went to make the pickup. A month later, a junior high school student was arrested after telephoning Glico’s Tokyo office and demanding 300,000,000 yen. In the same week a thirty-two-year-old man was arrested for trying to extort 30,000,000 yen from Ezaki-Glico. But as soon as the gang announced the official cessation of activities, the copycat poisonings also stopped.

The Wakayama poisonings stunned the whole country. Sonobe seemed an unlikely place for such a vicious crime but, obviously, something dark had been lurking under the surface of serenity. Revelers at a summer festival were served curry that had been prepared by volunteers, and they soon began to feel sick. By the next morning, four were dead and another 63 hospitalized.

The police stepped in and incompetence took over. First of all, it took them and the hospital staff a week to ascertain the cause of the poisoning. And even then they did not identify it correctly. That took weeks, and in the meantime some of those who had been poisoned became even sicker.

The investigation took an interesting turn when the police discovered that two men who dined regularly at the home of a Sonobe couple, and had frequently been hospitalized after eating there, had traces of arsenic in their hair. One of them, a 35-year-old man, had been insured by a dummy company operating out of the couple’s home. This company had been paid 6 million yen in insurance benefits for the man’s sickness. The same address was listed on the insurance policy of a 45-year-old company president who had also been treated for arsenic poisoning after eating there.

The residents of the house were then investigated for another insurance scam. In this case, the wife, Masumi Hayashi, had been scalded while cooking spaghetti at home. To receive the insurance money, she claimed that the injuries were sustained when she had crashed into a bonfire while riding her bicycle home. The deeper the investigation went, the more insurance scams the police dug up.

The police assumed that Hayashi had put arsenic into the curry at the festival to collect on insurance policies she had taken out on several of her acquaintances due to attend the festival. They suspected that her original plan had been to poison her husband and his acquaintances at a mahjong party. When the party was canceled, however, she had to change her plans.

Traces of arsenic on cups found among the garbage from the festival matched the arsenic used by her husband in his termite extermination business. Witnesses also reported seeing her alone near the curry pots on the day of the festival.

At her trial, Hayashi denied responsibility for the poisoning and then refused to testify. She was found guilty and sentenced to death (by hanging), and she immediately appealed both the verdict and the sentence. On 25 June 2005, however, a court in Osaka upheld the conviction and death sentence. Now she waits on death row for the sentence to be carried out. When it comes, it will come quickly for in Japan prisoners are given less than two hours of their execution—and it is never announced publicly in advance.

Hayashi must surely go on record as one of the stupidest mass murderers in history. If she had stuck to quietly poisoning her guests, she might have gotten away with it for years. But when over sixty people are poisoned, even the most inefficient authorities are going to start looking.

© Charles R. Pringle 2007

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Will Adams, who was born in Gillingham, Kent, on 24 September, 1564, was the first Englishman known to have set foot in Japan.

When he was 12 years old, Adams was apprenticed to a shipyard owner at Limehouse in London, where he studied shipbuilding, astronomy and navigation. After his apprenticeship, he joined the Royal Navy, and he commanded a ship in Francis Drake’s fleet that battled the Spanish Armada in 1588. He then became a pilot for a merchant company called the Barbary Merchants and participated in a mission to find the Northeast passage to the Far East.

In 1598 he went to Holland and joined another fleet sailing to the Far East. Two years later, on April 19, 1600 he landed at Bungo, which is now called Usuki City, in Kyushu. There were only 24 survivors from the fleet that had set out with five ships and 500 men, and only six of these were able to stand.They had gone through hell on the voyage. Four of the ships were lost in storms, with all men on board, and disease ravaged the crew of the fifth ship. The men had to fight for their lives on the islands off Africa and South America. And they faced starvation in the South Atlantic and Pacific. They eventually ended up having to eat the rotting leather around the ship’s ropes to survive.

When the ship landed at Bungo, the survivors were utterly exhausted. Instead of being welcomed, however, they were imprisoned by the local authorities. The Spanish and Portuguese Jesuits learned of their imprisonment, and they tried to persuade the authorities to kill them. The prisoners were held in Osaka Castle for some time but, eventually, Adams made a good impression on the Shogun.Adams was freed and became an advisor to the Shogun.

Adams taught the Shogun geometry and mathematics and built two ships for him. The first was a ship of 80 tonnes and the other of 120 tonnes. These ships enabled the Japan to open its own trade with the East Indies. The association between Adams and the Shogun was beneficial to both men The Shogun learned a great deal about European thought, science and technology, while Adams was well rewarded for his service to the Shogun. He was given a substantial salary and a large new house in Edo—present day Tokyo—and permitted to wear two swords, the mark of a samurai. With this privilege came the title Miura Anjin (Pilot of the Miura Peninsular) and some land as his fief.

Although he already had a wife and children in England, Adams married Oyuki Magome, the daughter of a samurai and official at Edo Castle. They settled in Hemi, which is now called Yokosuka City, and they had two children, a boy and a girl.

In 1613, when the British East India Company arrived in Japan, Adams was controlling all foreign trade for the Shogun. The commander of the East India Company, a man called Captain John Saris, expected that Adams would give special treatment to men of his motherland. He was wrong on this. Adams acted as a neutral advisor to the Shogun, and this angered Saris.

Saris declared that Adams had become ‘a naturalized Japponer,’ and started humiliating him. Nevertheless, Adams did give the East India Company much assistance. He helped it, for example, to set up a trading post near Nagasaki. And he sailed to Okinawa, Thailand and Indochina on an East India Company ship.

In the end, however, it was Adams who got the last laugh. When Saris returned to England he took with him a collection of Shunga (erotic Japanese paintings), and he committed the faux pas of showing them around. Consequently, he was disgraced and shunned by polite society for being a ‘man of lewd disposition.’

When he finally died near Nagasaki on 16 May 1620, Adams had spent more than one third of his life in Japan, something that no foreigner had ever done at that time—and not so many have done since.

Will Adams, or Miura Anji, is still one of Japan’s favorite foreigners, and every year a ceremony is held in Yokosuka to honor his memory.


© Charles R. Pringle 2007

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Every country has its legends and myths, and Japan is no exception. Most Japanese legends or myths originate from the two great religions that have coexisted in the country from more than 1500 years—Shintoism and Buddhism.

Shintoism, the indigenous religion, can be traced back to about 500 BC. In Shinto, a host of natural objects, including mountains, rivers, water, rocks and trees as well as the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu, are venerated. So, naturally, many Shinto myths or legends feature natural objects as the subject.

Buddhism arrived in Japan around 584 AD from Korea. It was not a popular religion in its early stages, and it is only due to the tenacity of its missionaries or zealous converts that it survived and eventually took root. Consequently, many Japanese Buddhist legends testify to the piousness and powers of these men.

Taken at face value, the claims made in many Shinto and Buddhist myths or legends seem outrageous and incredible in the twenty-first century. Yet, in comparison to the claim made by the town of Shingo in Aomori Prefecture, all of these outrageous and incredible claims are highly plausible.

Shingo bills itself as ‘Kirisuto no Sato,’ which translates as ‘Hometown of Christ,’ and it has developed an amazing mythology—amazing even for a country like Japan that has a mythological structure that dates the founding of the country back to 4004 BC—to support this claim.

According to this mythology, it was not Jesus who was crucified at Golgotha; it was his brother. Jesus did what any man who had been marked for crucifixion would do. He left the area as quickly as possible! Apparently he headed north and then east across Siberia until he reached Japan, where he changed his name to Daitenku Taro Jurai.

As soon as he settled down, he did what most committed immigrants to Japan do: he married a local girl and raised a family. The girl he is supposed to have married was called Miyuko, and she bore him three daughters. Apparently, this arrangement suited him so well that he lived to the amazing age of 106, which is much longer that he would have lived had he stayed in the Middle East or headed west into Europe.

This astonishing story of Christ’s miraculous flight to Japan germinated in 1935, when a Shinto priest found some ancient scrolls that told the tale. After World War II, the people of Shingo realized that the discovery of Christ’s tomb could have enormous economic benefits. Consequently, the myth really took off—and so did the related commercial activities.

The site itself actually contains two ancient graves—one said to be Christ’s, the other that of his brother Isukiri—marked by two tall wooden crosses and surrounded by a white picket fence. Nearby is the Kirisuto no Sato Denshokan (Museum of the Village of Christ Legend).

Not far from the grave of Christ—on top of a hill just off the road from Shingo to Lake Towada—there is a mysterious circle of megalithic stones. The O-Ishigami Pyramid circle marks a site that was probably used for sun worship thousands of years ago.

Despite the religious symbolism of these two unusual monuments—the grave of Christ and the pyramid—the local people have no qualms about vigorously capitalizing on them. Local gift shops offer the secular sightseer a host of souvenirs like dolls, cups, coasters, chopsticks, thermometers, and telephone cards as well as the local equivalent of the Biblical wine: Kirisuto no Sato sake.

Is it true that Shingo hosts the grave of Christ? Who cares? It’s a great story, and it is not likely to lead to a rewriting of the Bible! Besides, if Jesus did really turn water into wine, what would have stopped him hiking to Japan?

© Charles R. Pringle 2007

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Visitors to Japan have an enormous variety of foods to choose from. Sushi, sukiyaki and tempura are familiar Japanese dishes to anyone with even a modicum of gastronomical inquisitiveness. But those who come to Japan can sometimes experience a few culinary surprises.

Imagine sitting down to a meal and suddenly thinking that you have brought something unpleasant into the restaurant on the soles of your shoes. What do you do? Rush outside and try to scrape the offensive waste off? Not if you are in Japan, you don’t. First of all, quickly and furtively cast you olfactory organ over the dish in front of you. If the smell seems to be emanating from your plate, remain seated. It could be that you have been served the traditional Japanese delicacy of kusaya, which means ‘stinking fish.’

If there were an award for the food that was ‘most difficult to acquire a taste for,’ Kusaya would, without doubt, be one of the contenders for it. But in some parts of Japan, it is considered a delicacy and eaten with gusto.

Kusaya is often made from mackerel, and the process takes months. First of all, the fish are soaked in a kusaya gravy that consists of a brine solution that is used over and over again. Some of this gravy is over 100 years old. When the kusaya gravy is not being used to process mackerel, a fish fillet is added to it to maintain the microflora that boosts the distinctive pungent aroma. When the fish are removed from the kusaya gravy, they are are dried in the sun.

Kusaya are usually grilled, and this is when the uninitiated start checking their shoes and looking around at other patrons. The stench is overpowering, but aficionados of the dish consider this a small price to pay for the taste, which is not as bad as the smell. But there again, it couldn’t possibly be.

On a positive note, there is no record of anyone dying after eating a kusaya, and any visitor to Japan who actually eats one will have something to talk about when they return home.

© Charles R. Pringle 2007

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