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What is a Geordie?

Strictly speaking, the term Geordie refers to a person from the Tyneside region (River Tyne) of England, or the dialect spoken in the region. But this definition would be so restrictive that people generally use the word Geordie to mean anyone from the North East of England, from Durham in the south to the top end of Northumberland in the north.

Although the origin of the term is disputed there are two theories that sound logical enough for either of them to be true. The first is that during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 the people of Newcastle took the side of King George II, while the people of Northumberland were largely Jacobites. Hence the people of Newcastle became known as Geordies. The other theory is that miners in the North East used Geordie safety lamps, invented by George Stephenson, and not the Davy Lamps invented by Humphry Davy that were used by miners in other part of the country.

Well-known Geordies

Well-known Geordies include: footballers—Alan Shearer, Jackie Milburn, Bobby and Jackie Charlton, Paul Gascoigne, Chris Waddle; musicians—Sting; Eric Burdon, Alan Price and Chas Chandler of the Animals, and Mark Knopfler; writers—Catherine Cookson (one of the best selling authors in the world), Jack Higgins (pseudonym for Harry Patterson, horror writer Stephen Laws, playwright and screenwriter Alan Plater, and poet Basil Bunting; actors—Stan Laurel, Robson Green, Imogen Stubbs, and Jimmy Nail; industrialists—George Stephenson, who is known as the “Father of the Railways,” Robert Stephenson, Lord William George Armstrong, and Sir Charles Parsons.  And, last but not least, there is Detective Akira Toyoda, the honorary Geordie and central character in the novel Blinded by the Night.

Geordie — The Spoken Language

The Geordie dialect and accent is closer to Anglo-Saxon pronunciations and accents than standard English because it was originally derived from Scandinavian languages brought to the north of England by the Angles and Vikings. Personal pronouns, for example, are pronounced differently in Geordie than in Standard English: I – aw; you – ye; my – me; our – wor. The “er” at the end of words sounds like “a”, as in “father” becoming “fatha.” The “ow” in words like “down” or “town” becomes “oo” as everyone in the United Kingdom knows, thanks to the famous football team, Newcastle United, which is know locally as “the Toon.” But it is not just the pronunciation that distinguishes Geordie from standard English: there are many words that are completely different. Geordies still uses many Anglo Saxon words like, for example: larn – teach; aad – old; claes – clothes; dyke – ditch; gan – go; lang – long. They also use Viking words: lass – girl; bairn – child; hyem – home; in fact, the phrase “gan hyem” means exactly the same in Danish as it does in Geordie.


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Although he seldom took the subway, Toyoda didn’t mind the Hibiya-line. It was more gritty and down-to-earth than some of the pretentious newer lines, and it meandered through the center of the city, through some of the older and more traditional areas that he liked very much. Moreover, it was a gallery of characters. A thirty-minute ride on the aging train was a journey back in time.

He glanced at the man sitting opposite and he lightened up. He practically smiled at the man, but that would have been a wasted gesture.

Dressed in an expensive suit and an elegant Italian necktie, the man had the face and the posture of a coolie. He was slumped in his seat with his legs spread wide and his chin on his chest. His mouth was wide open and spittle drooled from his protruding bottom lip. And every now and then he groaned. If he had been dressed in a loincloth and had his hair in a topknot, Toyoda thought, the man would not have been out of place in a mid-nineteenth century daguerreotype scene of the Yokohama docks.

Toyoda could not resist the temptation. The man had such a classic face that he simply had to record it. He took out his cell phone and surreptitiously snapped a shot. A young woman sitting along from the man adjusted her skirt and threw an accusing glance at him. Toyoda quickly put away his phone. The last thing he wanted to do now was to answer questions about his photographic tastes.

For the rest of the journey, Toyoda kept his eyes focused on his magazine. He did not even look up as the young woman, just as she got off at Ginza, screamed that he was a pervert.

The main feature in the magazine was the Wakayama curry-poisoning incident that had happened a month earlier. Toyoda shook his head as he read about the incompetence of the local police. Four people had died and 63 had been sickened after eating curry spiced with arsenic. It had taken the police a week to identify arsenic as the poisonous ingredient. For a few weeks they had run around like the Keystone Cops, bungling one lead after another. Meanwhile, the whole country was practically overwhelmed by a spate of copycat poisonings.

Fingers were pointing and tongues were wagging, but still the local police had neither made an arrest nor questioned a likely suspect. That’s the case I would like to be on, thought Toyoda, instead of riding the subway to east Tokyo on a Friday evening.

The thirty minutes flew by and before he had even read the article to the end, he arrived at Minami Senju and entered a world much different to the world he was used to. Although he was familiar with the reputation of the area, he was shocked at what he actually saw. There were new buildings around the station, but there was also an air of desperation about the place.

Walking away from the station, he felt as if he were in the Tokyo of half a century earlier. Minami Senju resembled the Tokyo that Toyoda had only seen in photographs, a city overwhelmed by economic depression and despair following defeat in the Second World War.

The faces of many of the people he passed were different to the faces of the people encountered in central Tokyo. These faces, with their tired and downtrodden expressions of despair, definitely belonged to a bygone era.

There was something else that differentiated Senju from central Tokyo—and that was the air. Senju exuded a strong exotic aroma that was difficult to categorize, but seemed to constitute a blend of temple incense and body odor with a kick. The further away he moved from the station, and the closer he got to the down-and-outs sprawled over the sidewalk, the more powerful and pervasive the smell became. As a wizened old man in filthy rags shuffled past him, his nostrils instinctively contracted.

Why on earth do they let themselves get like this? Toyoda asked himself. After all, there was quite a colony of homeless men in one of the parks in Azabu Juban, just behind Roppongi, but they managed to keep themselves clean. In fact even their blue tarp tents and other improvised shelters were well kept. He knew that they used the public toilet behind the police box at the corner of the park to wash and shave. One of the uniforms stationed at the police box had once told him that the homeless men had a system for cleaning the toilet and the area around their shelters. He had been impressed when he heard that. But things were different here. These people had given up.

Toyoda watched the malodorous old man stop at a vending machine and purchase a one cup Ozeki, the drink of choice for the down-and-outs, which was 200ml of hot sake in a glass cup with a ring-pull top and a plastic cover. The old man opened it and gulped it down without stopping for breath. Then he threw the bottle into the trash can and shuffled off.

Toyoda suddenly realized that he didn’t know where the police box was. He strode briskly back to the station kiosk and asked for directions. The man in the kiosk ignored him. He asked again, this time with a sting in his voice. Without looking up, the man told him that it was back the way he had just come from. He set off again for the police box, moving as quickly as he could in the hope that the air would get better: it did not. When he arrived at the police box he found it closed. There was a notice informing him that there were two police boxes at Minami Senju, one either side of the track. The one he had just arrived at was temporarily closed.

The police box was right next to a small temple. Toyoda looked at his watch; it was just before eight o’clock. Another five minutes would be neither here nor there, he thought, and decided to take a quick look at the temple. He discovered that it was called the Enmeji Temple and that it housed the Kubikiri Jizo, a statue of a Buddha dedicated to the 200,000 criminals beheaded at the nearby execution ground during the feudal period. He made a mental note to read it up later. Then he turned toward the bridge that crossed the track.

Three day laborers who had been arguing over a bottle of sake fell silent when he approached the bridge. As he walked past them, one of the day laborers shouted that he looked like a twat and threw some soy bean shells at him. Toyoda ignored the provocation and quickly climbed the stairs of the bridge. As he crossed the bridge he could see that the area he was approaching was even worse than the area he was leaving.

The crossroads at the other side of the tracks is called Namidabashi, or Bridge of Tears, and it marked the northern boundary of the miserable quarter known as Sanya. There is no bridge here anymore for the canal it crossed was filled in long ago. But this was the bridge that the condemned crossed on their way to the execution ground of Kozukappara. Here the unfortunate were beheaded, burnt or boiled alive, sawn in half or crucified. Another testament to the suffering endured here is Kotsu Dori, or Street of Bones, a section of the road where the heads of the executed were displayed on poles as a futile warning of the consequences of crime or dissent.

From its very beginning Sanya has been cursed. Located in the northeast of Edo—the former name of Tokyo—a direction considered to be prone to evil spirits, Sanya has always been inhabited by social outcasts. Formerly the outcasts were called eta, a derogatory term that means full of filth. The eta were employed as executioners and torturers, undertakers, butchers or leather workers, all professions considered unclean. Another group of outcasts were the hinin, or non-humans, a group that included ex-convicts, street cleaners or vagrants. Now the outcasts are the day laborers and the homeless.

As he crossed the road at Namidabashi, Toyoda realized that the name was still appropriate today. There were a number of new buildings scattered among the shabby shells that housed many of the indigent temporary residents of the district, and some people had obviously made an effort to uplift the image of the area with flower boxes and colorful murals. But it was the drunks and down-and-outs sprawled all over the sidewalks that a visitor would remember, not the flowers. They were in various stages of undress: most retained their trousers, but there were many in just their underwear. Toyoda notice that one man, dressed in a loincloth that exposed his genitals, was arguing with himself as he staggered around trying to drink from a two-litre bottle of sake.

There were two patrol cars parked outside the police box and two uniformed cops were struggling with an older man in a well-worn suit. The man in the suit was mounting stiff resistance for a man who had obviously been on a prolonged binge. One of the uniforms looked up briefly at Toyoda; then he focused his attention back on the drunk.

When Toyoda flashed his card and introduced himself the altercation stopped. The uniforms and the drunk all turned to look at Toyoda.

“Are you here about the murder?” asked one of the uniforms, as he looked Toyoda up and down.

“Yes,” said Toyoda, “I’ve been told the victim is a foreigner. Where is the crime scene?”

The struggle started up again as the drunk tried to break free, and the cop answered breathlessly so Toyoda had to ask him to repeat himself.

“It’s on the container park at the other side of the track. If you wait a minute, I’ll drive you over there.”

“I’ve just come from that side,” said Toyoda. “I can walk back myself. You look to have your hands full.”

“Please yourself!” The uniform straightened out his shirt and wiped the sweat off his brow while the other one took the drunk inside the police box. “It’s over the other side, but you are going to have to walk right around the fence to get there. It would be quicker in the squad car.”

Before they got into the car, the uniform took another good look at Toyoda and said, “Does everybody in your division dress like that?”

Toyoda had no wish to explain why he was wearing a white Guayabera shirt and Faconnable flat front linen slacks to a murder inquiry, so he replied, “Yes, it’s part of the image.” His answer seemed to impress the uniform, who fell silent until they were in the car.

It took less than three minutes to reach the scene where the body had been found, just long enough for the uniform to tell Toyoda that more and more foreigners were coming to Minami Senju these days. It had something to do with the hostels advertising on the Internet, he claimed. Most of the foreigners were young backpackers, and they were quite well behaved, which was contrary to the image of foreigners portrayed by the media. He also told Toyoda that he was learning English—he pronounced it Ingurish—so that he could be more helpful when visitors asked him directions.

Although he was impressed by the attitude of the uniform, Toyoda was not impressed by the area they were driving through. If they have cleaned up their act, he thought, it must have been a hell of a mess before. He had been to Kita Senju, or North Senju, a number of times a few years earlier on a case involving stolen credit cards, but this was his first time in Minami Senju, the southern sector of the district. The area around Kita Senju station was a bit scruffy, he recalled, but it was definitely up-market compared to Minami Senju.

Looking out of the car window, Toyoda could not figure out what it was that was attracting the foreigners to Sanya. The uniform, who seemed almost clairvoyant, told Toyoda that it was the hostel prices that attracted the foreigners. He also added that he had been inside a few of the hostels and that they were very clean with good amenities, including free wireless internet.

They arrived at the scene and before he even got out of the car, Toyoda knew that he was in for an unpleasant night. The first person he saw was Inspector Hideki Watanabe, the last person he had ever wanted to meet again. Watanabe was talking to someone who looked like a medic.

Watanabe threw away his cigarette when he saw Toyoda get out of the car and he said something that made all those in hearing distance laugh and turn to look at Toyoda.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” Watanabe was obviously on home turf, and felt confident enough to be belligerent. “This is a murder scene not a stable.”

The last time Watanabe had mocked Toyoda for his hobby—horse riding—Toyoda had broken his jaw. And for that he had almost been thrown off the force.

“No, it’s not a stable,” responded Toyoda, “but there’s just as much shit on the ground.” He walked up to a member of the scene-of-the-crime scene team and asked for an evidence bag and a pair of tweezers. He went back to where Watanabe had thrown away his cigarette butt, bent down and picked it up with a the tweezers. Then he made a show of dropping it into the evidence bag.

Watanabe nearly exploded but, realizing that all eyes were on him, he managed to keep himself under control. “Well watch you don’t slip and start rolling around in the shit,” said Watanabe. “We’ll have to go back to the station when we’ve finished here and there are no showers.”

Toyoda ignored the remark and went over to where members of the scene-of-the-crime team were examining the area around the body. “What’s the cause of death?” he asked.

“Can’t be sure yet,” replied one of them, “but she certainly wasn’t killed here.”

“So she was definitely murdered?” said Toyoda.

“I would imagine so,” answered the officer. “Take a look for yourself. You can see marks of restraints around her wrists and bruising on her throat. It looks as if she’s been tied up and strangled. It doesn’t look like suicide to me.”

“Point taken,” said Toyoda. “Is there anything else you can tell me about her?”

“Nothing except that she’s Caucasian. Oh, and she’s got a hell of a pair of tits. At a guess I would say that she has also been raped, but you will have to wait for him to finish with her before you know that for sure.” He gestured to the man talking with Watanabe, and Toyoda assumed that he was the pathologist.

“They seem pretty chummy,” said Toyoda.

“Dr. Amakawa is Watanabe’s brother-in-law,” replied the officer.

Toyoda walked over to the two of them and, ignoring Watanabe, spoke to Dr. Amakawa. “How long do you think she has been dead, doctor?”

“About twelve hours, I would estimate,” he replied, “but I will be able to give you more precise details after the autopsy.”

“Who found the body and when?” asked Toyoda.

“It was an old man,” growled Watanabe. “He walks his dog here twice a day, seven o’ clock in the morning and six in the evening. He’s regular as clockwork, and he swears it wasn’t here this morning.”

“So that means the body was dumped sometime between seven this morning and six this evening.”

“Well done,” said Watanabe miming a round of applause. “You’re starting to talk more like a detective than a sheriff. By the way, I see that you came up with a squad car today, what happened to your horse?”

Sensing the confrontational atmosphere between the two men, Dr. Amakawa was starting to look uncomfortable. He tried to change the subject. “I will start the autopsy as soon as we have finished here and get the body back to the morgue.”

Toyoda looked past Dr. Amakawa and spoke directly into Watanabe’s face. “The last time you spoke about horses, you got a kick in the face—and it wasn’t a horse that did it!”

Toyoda was referring to the incident between them. When Watanabe had learnt that horse riding was one of Toyoda’s hobbies, he had brought up the subject at every possible opportunity. Eventually Toyoda, tired of all the comments and drawing on the humor he had become accustomed to growing up in England, said that constant references to horses was a sign of penis envy. The joke was, unfortunately, lost in translation and Watanabe responded by throwing a punch at Toyoda. He missed, which was a big mistake. Before he could throw another one, Toyoda caught him with two left jabs to the face and a cross-cut punch that knocked him down. He finished him off with a kick to the face, which broke Watanabe’s jaw.

Watanabe, the big mouth and bully of the precinct lay on the floor, blood streaming from his nose and mouth and his jaw hanging loose. Nobody made any move to help him to his feet. Unfortunately, a senior officer was passing at precisely the moment the fight started, and he had them both hauled over the carpet.

Their superintendent at the time, a man of constant ill humor, had torn into them. He asked Toyoda to explain why he had kicked a man who was down. Toyoda had just shrugged and said that it was an instinctive reaction. The response had infuriated the superintendent so much that Toyoda thought the man was going to have a stroke.

Toyoda covered his smile with his hand as he remembered the scene. Watanabe, blood still trickling from his nose, held his jaw in place and desperately tried not to show any sign of pain or discomfort. The verbal battering had lasted thirty minutes, during which time the superintendent, his face burning with rage, had stood to attention behind his desk screaming at them. It only ended when a phone call from the justice ministry came in.

Before he answered the phone, the superintendent made them shake hands. As Watanabe removed his hand from his chin, Toyoda thought he was going to faint. But somehow he managed to bear the pain and shake hands.

The next day, they were both transferred: Watanabe went to Osaka, and Toyoda joined the International Criminal Investigation Division. In a way, Toyoda thought, he ought to thank Watanabe. If it had not been for the fight, he would probably still be in a domestic division.

Watanabe broke into his thoughts. You threw a lucky punch, but you’d never be able to do it again.”

Toyoda, who recalled landing three punches before Watanabe went down, shrugged. “I hope I don’t have to. That was eight years ago and we were both young. Why don’t you just forget about the past and concentrate on the job in hand. That way we can get this case cleared up quickly and both go our separate ways. Like it or not, we have to cooperate on this, and I intend to do so.”

“This is a murder investigation,” said Watanabe. “Murders aren’t as easy to solve as visa violations.”

“The International Criminal Investigation Division investigates murder, too. If you have been reading the tabloids, you would probably see that the number of murders we are investigating is on the rise. I’ve had three cases this year, how about you?”

Watanabe did not respond. Instead, he walked over to his car, got in and lit a cigarette.

Dr Amakawa almost heaved a sigh of relief when Watanabe walked away. He nodded courteously to Toyoda, and practically trotted over to his car.

Back at Senju police station Watanabe addressed the murder team with more self confidence than Toyoda expected. “We know only three things. She’s young and attractive, she’s foreign, and she’s dead.”

That’s four, thought Toyoda, and he struggled to keep a smile off his face. After all, he did not want to provoke a confrontation with Watanabe in Senju.

Watanabe continued, oblivious to the gaff he had just made. “At the moment we don’t know why she was murdered, but I am sure that we can assume there is a sexual motive.” He gestured to Toyoda and said, “You are our expert on foreigners, do you know where she is from?”

“No, but I would guess East Europe or Russia,” answered Toyoda. “I will need photos of the face; then I can start looking. When can you get them to me?”

Somebody coughed and started to speak. “Most of the backpackers around here are from western Europe, the United States or Australia.” Everybody turned to the speaker. He was a young, fresh-faced, tall young man.

“Who said she is a backpacker?” Watanabe fixed his eyes on the young man.

“Well, nobody. But the only foreigners we get up here are those staying in the cheap inns.”

“Exactly,” said Watanabe. “And most of those, especially the women, are traveling in pairs. If one of those had gone missing, somebody would have noticed. Has anybody reported a missing person?”

Nobody spoke.

Not bad, thought Toyoda. Watanabe must have been reading the manuals.

Watanabe looked at Toyoda. “You can have Polaroid shots now.” He gestured to a junior officer to hand a file over to Toyoda and then continued. “I will get the others to you by tomorrow morning.”

Toyoda took the file from the junior officer and asked for an envelope. The officer picked one up from the table in front of him and gave it to Toyoda. Watanabe sighed loudly and shook his head. Toyoda thought he heard him mutter something about powers of observation, but he let it go.

“There is not much I can do here until we have the crime scene and autopsy results, so I will head back,” said Toyoda. Is there any chance of a car to take me back?”

“What happened to the car you came in?”

“That’s from the police box at the other side of the tracks,” said Toyoda.

“How did you get here?” asked Watanabe.


“That’s the quickest way back,” replied Watanabe. “We don’t run a chauffeur service here.”

“Thanks for the help,” said Toyoda as he turned and left the room. He heard someone say that working with foreigners must wreak havoc with your dress code, followed by a sudden outburst of laughter. He stopped, thought about going back into the room and confronting them, but he changed his mind and left the station.

Chapter 3

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Akira Toyoda’s mobile started vibrating in his pocket; he ignored it and took another swig of Newcastle Brown Ale. The vibrating persisted. Shit, he thought, it’s got to be headquarters. For a moment he considered switching it off; then he relented. There was no point in getting himself into any more trouble.

He took the phone out of his pocket and checked the call number on the liquid crystal display screen. He was right: headquarters. That could mean only one thing—the end to his Friday night. He leant over the table and shouted, “Back in a minute.” Yelena stuck her tongue out.

Toyoda pushed his way through a rowdy crowd of drunken foreign brokers, some of whom looked as if they’d been drinking since lunchtime, and stepped out into the balmy, grimy night air of Roppongi.

Although the second-floor terrace that fronted Inn for the Night was not as comfortable as the interior—there was no air-conditioning—it was just as crowded and just as noisy. The overhead speakers blasted out White Room by Cream. Everybody on the terrace was speaking at full volume.

One man, an American, was drowning out Eric Clapton’s meaty guitar solo with boasts about his business acumen. And a young Japanese woman, the only person trying to follow the man’s one-way conversation, was awestruck.

For a split second, Toyoda thought of giving the man a shove that would send him crashing down the stairs and knock the wind out of him. Then he relented and squeezed past him to go down to the street.

The humidity was stifling. It had rained until mid-afternoon, then the sun had come out, and the temperature had risen to thirty-five degrees. But it was the humidity—it stood at about ninety percent—that hit Toyoda the hardest. By the time he arrived at street level, Toyoda was drenched. He dialed headquarters and got an answer at the first ring.

“Where are you?” snapped Superintendent Tanaka. “I’ve been ringing for ages.”

“Roppongi,” he answered. “I didn’t hear the phone ringing.”

“I bet you didn’t,” said Tanaka. “What the hell are you doing there? Don’t you see enough foreigners when you’re on duty?”

“It’s Friday evening so I was just ….”

Tanaka cut him off. “Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself, because you’ve got work to do now. Get yourself off to Minami-Senju. And I mean now, not after another drink!”

“Minami-Senju?” groaned Toyoda, “What’s going on up there?”

“Suspicious death,” said Tanaka. “A dead foreigner, so that means we are involved.”

“Homicide?” asked Toyoda.

“How the hell should I know?” growled Tanaka. All I know is that we have a dead foreigner on our hands. Don’t ask any more questions; just get up there as fast as you can. Oh, and by the way, don’t even think about driving up there in that flashy Mercedes of yours! I’ve no intention of covering for you again.”

“It’s not a Mercedes, it’s a Porsche,” said Toyoda, cringing at the reminder of his latest, and most serious cockup, a reckless act of stupidity that could have cost him his career. Tanaka had covered up for him, but that meant he owed his boss something. And Tanaka would wait for the right moment before calling in his debt. Meanwhile, Toyoda had to jump every time Tanaka barked. And Tanaka had just barked.

“I’ll get a squad car from Azabu police station,” said Toyoda, “I wouldn’t risk taking my own car up to Senju. It would probably get stolen.”

He rang off and looked at the time before putting the phone back in his pocket. It had just turned seven o’clock; the evening had hardly begun but for him it had already ended—in tatters. He cursed his luck as he climbed the stairs back to the pub.

As he pushed the door open and entered, one of the foreigners dropped his pants and mooned him. The others cheered and howled with laughter. It was a sickening sight. The mooner was grossly overweight and carried a great part of his weight on his buttocks. Most Japanese would have froze, turned and gone straight back down the steps. But Toyoda was made of sterner stuff. Besides, he had seen it all before. He walked straight past the mooner, shoved a short, fat bald foreigner to one side and forced his way through the crowd.

One of the foreigners was slouched back in a chair with his legs stretched out across the floor. On his way past, Toyoda tripped over the legs and fell into the foreigner, elbowing him in the chest as he did so. The man grunted and dropped his glass, sending beer cascading across the floor. Before the foreigner realized what was happening, Toyoda apologized: “Sorry mate, tripped over some bugger’s foot!” He patted the foreigner on the shoulder, winked and walked into the back of the bar, where Yelena was waiting for him. As he walked away the foreigners all fell silent and stared after him.

“What the fuck was that all about?” said one of the foreigners.

“A Japanese with a Geordie accent!” said another. “I’ve heard it all now.”

“You should have decked him,” said the first one who had spoken.

“I don’t think it would have worked,” said the other. “Look at the size of the bastard. He was just hoping you would try something, and then he would have decked you. Confident bastard; he’s got to be connected.”

Yelena was talking into her cell phone when Toyoda dropped into his seat. She flashed a perfunctory smile and went on talking. Toyoda picked up his cigarettes, put them in his shirt pocket and stood up. Yelena covered the mouthpiece with her hand, “Just a moment, I’m almost finished.”

“Take your time,” said Toyoda, “I have to go.”

Yelena spoke hurriedly into the phone and rang off. “What do you mean, you have to go?” she said sharply. “You promised to take me to that new German restaurant. I haven’t eaten since breakfast and I’m starving.”

He shrugged. “Sorry. Something has happened, and I have to go. I’ll get back as soon as I can,” he promised, then he left her at the table and pushed his way through the crowd again. This time the foreigners saw him coming and moved respectfully out of the way.

He stopped at the door and turned back towards the foreigners. He looked the mooner straight in the eye. “You want to be careful who you show your arse to around here, mate. There are a lot of fellows who might find it too much temptation. And you wouldn’t want to lead anyone on, would you?” He tapped his nose and left the pub. A raucous bout of laughter followed him out the door.

He turned towards the Roppongi Intersection and set off for Azabu police station. The street was bustling. Although it was still early, the African touts were out in force. One of them grabbed his arm and tried to drag him towards a club. Toyoda shook himself free.

Another of the Africans, a gigantic man in a floral shirt, baggy trousers and a beret laughed out loud. He shouted something in Yoruba to the other African, who responded in the same language and then laughed.

“What’s the joke, Sonny?” Toyoda stopped in front of the large African, who held out his hand. Toyoda took it.

“He’s new on the street. I told him that he’d just tried to hustle a cop.”

Toyoda smiled. “That’s nothing,” he said. “A guy up there,” Toyoda pointed to the pub he had just left, “flashed me as I walked through the door.”

The African laughed “You should have flashed him…..with your warrant card. That would have brought him back to reality.”

Toyoda shook his head. “No point in giving that kind of information out unless it is really necessary.”

The African nodded in agreement. Toyoda turned and waved his hand in the air as he walked away.

Roppongi is certainly not Japan, he thought, savoring the aroma of roast chicken wafting across the sidewalk from the illegally parked rotisserie van. The Chicken Man, as the African who owned the rotisserie was known, interrupted his conversation with one of the Turks from the kebab van parked next to him to greet Toyoda. Toyoda nodded, but did not stop. A ten minute walk along Gaien Higashi Dori, he thought, and you practically go through the United Nations.

Toyoda strode into Azabu police station and went straight up to the front desk. The uniform sitting there looked surprised when Toyoda walked in. “You’re back early,” he said. “What happened, I thought you had the night off?”

“So did I,” replied Toyoda, somehow managing not to sound bitter. “The old man called me, and now I am off to Senju. Have you got a car and a driver to take me up there?”

The uniform gave a twisted smile and shook his head. “On a Friday evening? You’ll be lucky to get one before midnight. Anyway, what’s wrong with your own car? I thought you had it parked out back.”

Toyoda leant over the desk and breathed into the younger man’s face.

The uniform jerked his head back, waved his hand in front of his nose, and pulled a face. “That’s enough! I get the picture. It’s a taxi or the subway. And if I were you and I were in a hurry, I wouldn’t even bother trying to get a taxi. You’ll only end up sitting at the crossroads for the next thirty minutes or so. You’d be there by then on the subway.”

Toyoda grabbed a magazine from the desk and turned towards the door. “See you later.”

Chapter 2




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Party Tricks

The President lay on the king-sized bed staring at the ceiling. The first two days of his state visit to Japan had been a nightmare.

Somebody must have slipped something into my drink, he thought as he lay there struggling to cling on to his sanity, surely I must be imagining this bizarre chain of events. It can’t be real.

There was a knock at the door. The President looked around to see where the sound had come from. The knock came again, a little louder this time; then a voice called out: “Mr. President are you OK?”

“Fuck off!” screamed the President.

There was a moment’s silence, then again the voice: “It’s me, Mr. President, the Secretary of State. Can I come in?”

The President hauled himself off the bed and plodded over to the door. He hesitated a moment, then opened it to let the Secretary of State enter.

“You look tired, Mr. President, why don’t you lie down,” said the Secretary of State.

“I was lying down,” said the President, “until you started banging on my door. What’s up now?”

“I’ve just been speaking to the ambassador about tomorrow’s schedule. He suggests a breakfast meeting with the Prime Minister to discuss the balance of trade.”

The President looked incredulously at the Secretary of State and said, “Discuss the balance of trade at breakfast with the Prime Minister? The last time I had a meal with him, and that was dinner this evening, in case you don’t remember, it was like the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party!”

“Yes,” said the Secretary of State, “the Prime Minister is quite a character!”

“Quite a character?” said the President, “You can say that again without any fear of hyperbole! “

The Secretary of State was just about to repeat the statement when the President stopped him. “His tailor must be quite a character, too!  I couldn’t believe my eyes when he walked in wearing that red coat with the silk collar and black satin breeches with the matching stockings and patent leather pumps. I was so transfixed on his lower attire that it was a good few minutes before I noticed his white butterfly tie and white gloves. He looked as if he were off for a night in the Moulin Rouge in nineteenth century Paris rather than a formal dinner in the twenty-first with the most powerful leader on earth.”

“Yes,” said the Secretary of State, “his sense of dress code is rather idiosyncratic.”

“More like idiotic than idiosyncratic!” shouted the President. “If my tailor decked me out like that I’d send him to Texas for a lethal injection.”

“Well, you know that he’s a fan of Le Petomane, don’t you?” asked the Secretary of State.

“No, I fucking don’t!” snapped the President. “I’ve never heard of the Pederast or whoever he is!”

“Le Petomane was one of the great vaudeville entertainers in Paris at the fin de siecle. He used to play to packed houses every night at the Moulin Rouge. Even members of the complex mix of European royal families turned up to see him. Apparently his live shows were so explosive that women frequently fainted from laughing fits—they wore tight corsets in those days—and one man is rumored to have died of a heart attack brought on by laughing so much.”

“What was his party trick?” asked the President. “Did he dress up like a transvestite and tell heterosexual jokes?”

“No,” said the Secretary of State, “he farted?’

The President sat down slowly and stared at the Secretary of State. “Did you say he farted?” he asked.

The Secretary of State nodded. “Yes Le Petomane was not his real name. That was Joseph Pujol. Petomane is French for fartiste. You see, he was what we could call anal ventriloquist.”

The President shook his head and looked blankly out of the window at the neon Tokyo skyline. He jumped and looked around when the he heard the Secretary of State start speaking again.

“According to the ambassador,” said the Secretary of State, “the Prime Minister is an anal ventriloquist with an awesome repertoire. “In fact,” he continued, “the ambassador was telling me of an official reception he attended at which the Prime Minister unveiled his talent.”

“I have also experienced the Prime Ministers party tricks,” growled the President, “and that was just yesterday.”

The Secretary of State ignored the Presidents ire and continued, “The ambassador said that he can produce an amazing range of sounds through his rectum. He can quack like a duck, bark like a dog, meow like a cat, neigh like a horse….”

“And he can fart like a horse, too,” interjected the President. “Pass me that bottle of valium. I had better get to sleep before I go mad.”

The Secretary of State handed him the bottle and then looked on in amazement as the President gulped down a dozen tablets.

“And as for the fucking ambassador,” said the President, “where the hell did he come from? Which nincompoop had a lapse of sanity long enough to appoint him?”

The Secretary of State coughed. “Eh, you did, Mr. President.”

“Me?” screamed the President, jumping up too quickly for a man who had just taken an overdose of tranquilizers. “What was I doing at the time, sniffing glue?”

“Not as far as I could see,” said the Secretary of State. “In fact, I clearly remember you telling me that you thought the ambassador was a genius.”

“Well,” said the President, “there must be some truth in the maxim that there is a thin line between brilliance and madness. You weren’t in the car with him yesterday on the way in from the airport. I was! The buffoon never stopped talking about his birthday presents. He even had a catalog with him and he asked my opinion on what present he should choose.”

“Mind you,” said the President, struggling to keep his eyes open, “it is probably just as well he waffled on about his birthday presents because it distracted my attention from his necktie, which was one of the most ridiculous neckties I have ever seen in my life. And believe me, I have seen quite a few ridiculous neckties in my life. In fact, when I was young, spotting ridiculous neckties was one of my hobbies.

The Secretary of State raised his eyebrows and looked hard at the President, who was starting to lapse into sleep. It must he the medication, he thought, he doesn’t normally talk like this.

“By the way,” said the President, squinting at the Secretary of State’s purple and pink necktie, “where on earth did you get that necktie? I’ve been meaning to ask all day.”

The Secretary of State turned crimson and nervously fingered his necktie. “It was a present,” he answered.

“You are not a poof, are you” asked the President.

“Good Lord, no.” said the Secretary of State.

“Well, whoever gave you that necktie obviously thinks you are,” said the President, and then he fell asleep.

© Charles R. Pringle 2007

All rights reserved

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Chapter 3—Hair, There, and Everywhere

[This story is serialized so if you wish to read the chapters in order, please go to the categories: humour, nonsense, books, characters or Japan.]

By the time the elevator arrived at the fifteenth floor Mr. Horie was practically ecstatic. A quick telephone call to the company president was all it had taken to organize an impromptu meeting of all company executives and senior managers. Now they were all shuffling along to the executive board room, and he, Kenji Horie, was practically guaranteed a speedy promotion into an executive position.

In the executive directors’ room, Horie quickly introduced Yasuda and briefly told all present that their guest had a proposal that would rejuvenate the company. Everybody bowed. Yasuda flashed a blinding smile, swept a long strand of hair around his head and strode over to the table. He placed his briefcase on the table and stepped back. All eyes went to the case.

Yasuda’s smile took on a slight sleazy tone as he stepped up to the table,  opened the case, and threw a hairball into the middle of the table. The clock struck eleven. Every single man around the table stretched forward to get a closer look at the hairball. They all shot back in their seats when Yasuda started speaking.

“The merkin,” said Yasuda, pointing to the hairball, “has been stashed away in museum basements for too long. It’s time to bring it out of the dark and dank storerooms of history and put it where it belongs.” He paused and took a long swig of water. All eyes went back to the hairball. “And the merkin,” he continued, “belongs in the pants of every young woman in this country!”

Ono almost choked as he tried to stifle his laughter.

Horie thought he was hallucinating. I must be hearing things, he thought. What the hell is he talking about? He started to sweat. He noticed that Ono, who was standing by the door, was smirking. That bastard, he thought, he’s set me up. I’m in the shit. What the hell is this fucking madman going to say next? When Yasuda did start speaking again, Horie almost started crying.

“In Renaissance Italy merkins were extremely popular.” Yasuda’s voice sounded to Horie as if it were amplified. “In fact, they were the best selling fashion accessory throughout the 15th and 16th centuries.” Again Yasuda took a drink of water. “For practically two hundred years merkins were flying off the shelves. Merkin designers, developers and merchants were superstars of the era. They were some of the richest men in the world.”

Horie sneaked a glance at the company president. His face was blank, as was the face of every other director present. But Horie knew that behind the masks, they were all as confused as he was.

“The rebirth of the merkin should start here, in Japan,” said Yasuda. “Women today are more hygienic than they were in the seventeenth century.” He chuckled. “In those days the women had crabs here,” he said, vigorously scratching his crotch.

Horie amost fainted.

“They had crabs there,” continued Yasuda as he raised his left arm above his head and scratched under the armpit. “In fact,” he continued, “the dirty buggers had crabs everywhere.” He scratched his head with both hands, moved on to both armpits, and he finished off on his crotch. The directors, mouths hanging open, stared at Yasuda in disbelief at what they were witnessing.

Then the president coughed and looked at Horie, who followed the president’s eyes to the furry object and then on to Yasuda. He knew what was expected, and there was no way he could avoid it.

“You say it’s called a merkin,” said Horie.

Yasuda turned slowly to where the question had come from. He placed his hands on his hips and inhaled deeply, inflating himself like a poisonous blowfish. Ono felt like dancing. Horie was about to get a kick in the teeth and he, Ono, although vicariously, was about to deliver it.

“Of course it’s a merkin,” said Yasuda. “What does it look like? A fur frigging hat?

Horie almost choked. Around the table mouths dropped even further and expressions of shock and horror replaced those of astonishment.

“Er, no,” said Horie. “But what exactly is a merkin used for?”

The tension in the room started to rise as Yasuda focused on Horie. “A merkin,” he said at last, “is a pubic wig. What do you think it’s used for? Wiping your sweaty brow?” He took a handkerchief from his pocket and threw it at Horie. “That’s for wiping your brow.”

Instinctively, Horie took the handkerchief, wiped his brow and then continued. “I’ve never heard of a merkin before. Why would anyone want a pubic wig?”

“You’ve never heard of a merkin?” Yasuda was incredulous. “That’s why this company is going down the drain. If I were your boss, I would grab you by the short and curlies and drag you around the room until you wished you were wearing a merkin!” He clenched his fist at crotch height in Horie’s direction and skipped backwards miming the scene he had just described.

“The merkin,” said Yasuda as he leered at the young lady serving green tea, “enables even the most hirsute females to shave their private parts and maintain a canopy of modesty at the same time.” The young lady almost dropped the teapot. Yasuda continued. “Hairs can get stuck in your teeth. I’m sure you’ve all suffered this embarrassment before. But if there are no hairs around the object of attention, you eliminate the problem of having to dental floss a short and curly out of your teeth.”

The young lady turned quickly and hastily left the room. Yasuda paused while his greedy eyes followed her legs out of the room.

The company president coughed to attract Yasuda’s attention. “Mr. Horie is a little old fashioned,” he said. “Why don’t you explain the ….. er ….. merkin to him?”

Three minutes later, Yasuda’s laptop was set up and he was ready to begin his presentation. “The merkin,” he said enthusiastically, “was invented in Egypt toward the end of the Third Dynasty.” With a click of the mouse 2600 BC appeared on the screen.

“Merkins were first used by the pharaohs but eventually the custom was taken up by all well-born Egyptians. They achieved the highest popularity during the Twenty-first Dynasty, which was about 1000 BC.” Another mouse click produced a time-flow chart of Ancient Egypt.

“In fact,” said Yasuda, as he fished around in his briefcase, “this belonged to the royal lady Istemerken, wife of the High Priest Merkhenperre.” He threw a sorry-looking piece of matted fur onto the table. “It’s almost three thousand years old.”

One of the executives leant forward until he almost touched it with his nose. His nostrils flared and the pupils of his eyes seemed to dilate before he pulled back in horror.

“Merkins were popular in Persia by the middle of the 10th century BC. We know this from the works of Xenophon, the Greek writer, who described the shock he received the first time he saw one. He was in a brothel in Ecbatana, the capital of Media in Persia, where he was guest of Cyrus II, who was also called Cyrus the Great. After the gentlemen had consumed a great deal of wine, the dancing girls came in. Xenophon stood up to relieve himself but stumbled and as he fell he grabbed at one of the girls. Her merkin came off in his hand, and he fainted with shock. When he came to, he was still holding the merkin. The other guests were howling with laughter and Cyrus explained what had happened.

Greece 401 bc appeared on the screen and Yasuda continued. It wasn’t long after Xenophon arrived back from Persia that the merkin took off in Greece. Practically everyone wore a merkin. If you don’t believe me, take a good look at the genitals next time you see a Greek statue. There’s not a single pubic hair on any Greek statue. If that isn’t proof, then I don’t know what is.

The company president nodded in agreement with Yasuda and the other executives followed suit.

“Of course,” continued Yasuda, “the Spartans didn’t wear merkins, and we all know what happened to them, don’t we?” Everybody nodded. “They literally buggered themselves out of history. Spartan pederasty was legendary throughout the ancient world. It is a well-known fact that in all their battles, the Spartans never once managed to take any male prisoners. Their enemies all fought to the death. Mind you, we can’t blame them, can we?” Everybody shook their heads.

A crude image of a man bent over a table with a dozen men lined up behind him appeared on the screen. “That’s what would have happened to anyone foolish enough to let himself be captured by the Spartans. And they didn’t have Vaseline in those days!”

One of the executives winced, another turned crimson.

“The Romans conquered Greece in 146 bc and one of the first things they did was to start wearing merkins. In fact the Romans took the merkin to a new level,” continued Yasuda. “Messalina, the nymphomaniac wife of the Emperor Claudius, was known to have a whole wardrobe of merkins. She liked natural hair, and had pubic hair imported from all the fringes of the empire. She had black merkins made with hair shipped from India, flaxen and red haired merkins from Germany, as well as fair hair from Gaul. She was reported to have been meticulous in her selection when she went on her romps in brothels: one day she would pose as an Indian princess, the next as a slave from Germany.”

By now Horie was convinced that he had gone mad or had fallen asleep and was in the middle of a bizarre nightmare. He took his pen out of his pocked and stabbed himself in the leg. His scream distracted everyone temporarily; then they all focused their attention back on Yasuda.

“The Romans,” said Yasuda, “were notoriously cruel. But they were also ingenious, especially when it came to inventing excruciating punishments. And there was no Roman emperor with more imagination than Caligula, who was a drunken pervert. He used to murder his enemies by stuffing a merkin down their throats.” He paused to absorb the horror his words had induced, and he reacted with an obscene smile before continuing, slowly and deliberately. “Moreover, gentlemen, he never used a clean one. No, not Caligula! He would scour the brothels looking for the dirtiest and smelliest merkins he could find.”

Yasuda paused and a collective shudder when around the room. “Christianity was the downfall of the merkin,” continued Yasuda. “The Council of Constantinople in AD 692 issued an edict excommunicating Christians for wearing merkins, but this did not stamp them out: it only drove the wearers underground. In fact, as a result of this edict, a secret society sprung up, and it still exists today. It has rather a sinister reputation, unfortunately, for it is believed that this organization wields an extraordinary amount of political and economic influence. And now and again the ugly head of intolerance rears up and the members have suffered horrific persecution.”

Horie noticed the company president was fully focused on every word that Yasuda said. And he seemed to be nodding in agreement with the madman or he was on the verge of falling asleep, something he did in practically every meeting.

The next visual appeared. It was a visual of what looked like the beard of Leonardo da Vinci. “As I have already told you,” continued Yasuda, “the renaissance saw the second coming of the merkin—everybody wore one. This is the one worn by the greatest artist and scientist of the time.” He then rattled off the names of a dozen historical characters who had been patrons of the obsolete hairpiece.

Horie stared at the screen, totally bewildered about what he was seeing and hearing. It is peculiar, he thought to himself, that every merkin Yasuda displayed seemed to resemble the beard or moustache of the man who wore it. Nietzsche, Stalin, Hitler and Salvador Dali all wore merkins that resembled their moustaches, while the merkins worn by Confucius, Marx, Freud and Abraham Lincoln were all styled after their beards.

“But it is not only famous historical figures that can wear a merkin,” said Yasuda. “Anybody can, and everybody should. I’m wearing a merkin as I speak to you right now.” Then, to everyone’s surprise, he dropped his trousers, pulled off his merkin and threw it into the middle of the table beside the other two. Then, totally exhausted, he slumped into a chair and sighed.

For a split second there was a tangible silence, then, almost simultaneously, the entire management team stood up and started applauding wildly.

Yasuda was invited to lunch in Le Grand Coq, the exquisite French restaurant that was haunt of the aristocracy and corporate elite. The lunch was a boisterous affair, and the only topic of conversation was the merkin. That is until Horie finished his third glass of Chateau Neuf de Pape and, in the loudest possible voice, suddenly began talking about the female pudenda.

The restaurant fell silent; the head waiter tugged at his bow tie and looked nervously around at the other guests; Baron Ozeki, a distant relative of the Emperor, threw his knife and fork down and stormed out swearing never to come back; the cook came out of the kitchen to see what all the excitement was; and Keiko Ono giggled behind her hand while her latest lover, the president of a large construction company stood up and threatened to smack Horie on the nose.

Yasuda took the ancient merkin out of his pocket and threw it across the room. A photographer from Good Morning Shinbun, the newspaper with the largest circulation in Japan, and an even larger reputation for scandal and smut, reached for his camera and snapped a shot just as the merkin landed on the chin of the irate executive. The photograph appeared on the front page the next morning with the caption “Van Dyke or Van Dick?”

The executive issued a summons against the newspaper for libel, but withdrew it when he discovered that the photographer also had a shot of him with his hand up the skirt of Keiko Ono during their lunch.

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The Japanese have never been shy or squeamish about sex. Modern Japanese have an ambivalent attitude toward the subject: on the one hand they feign shock and horror at the mention of sex; on the other hand pornography — soft and hardcore — is ubiquitous, and sexual establishments offering extensive menus are found throughout the country. It is hardly surprising then that shunga, the woodblock prints once considered mass-market erotica but now viewed as high art, originated in Japan.

Shunga, which translates as “images of spring,” evolved from matrimonial manuals for newlyweds called makura-ebon or “pillow books” that featured graphic images of foreplay and a gamut of sexual positions deemed essential to a successful marriage. In the 1680s, however, when advances in technology reduced the time and cost of producing woodblock prints, the focus of the erotic prints switched from one of education to one of titillation.

With this switch, a new name for the genre was coined. Shunga, as it became known, is a combination of two words: “shun” from “baishun” (“selling spring” — a euphemism for prostitution) and “ga” (picture). This term was chosen because most shunga dealt with the world of prostitution, a flourishing industry in Edo (now Tokyo) by the 17th century.

Edo‘s population suffered an imbalance of the sexes — there were thousands of samurai or male vassals in the service of the shogun, or feudal lord, quartered in the city and very few available women — that greatly boosted demand for prostitution. This demand was met with the establishment of Yoshiwara, a twenty-acre brothel complex housing over 3,000 prostitutes. It was here that shunga was born.

Shunga prints were originally created to advertise the facilities in Yoshiwara, including the tea houses, restaurants and theaters, as well as the brothels. But the new art form quickly took on a life of its own, portraying every imaginable form of sexual activity from straight heterosexual acts through sodomy, pedophilia, bestiality and a wide range of fetishes. Hand scrolls and albums featuring shunga soon became popular, and the prints were enjoyed by both men and women of all ranks, from the very top of society to the bottom.

To Westerners, shunga prints were originally difficult to assimilate. The sexual acts in many of the prints are often grossly caricatured, with outrageously proportioned genitalia — perhaps because native Japanese religions practiced phallic worship — and extraordinary sexual positions. The subjects are frequently reduced to graphic icons with facial features that seldom vary.

The distinct lack of expression on the faces of the subjects, especially the women, is a characteristic of shunga. In the shunga The Masseur and the Girl, the woman featured is surely about to bite off more than she can chew, yet her face remains expressionless. Most women confronted with such a monstrous male organ would certainly appear surprised. The Older Women and the Young Man, however, is one of those rare prints in which the women do show expression, this time at the sight of the young man’s enormity. One of the women looks absolutely thrilled, while the other appears shocked.

Nakedness in itself was not considered erotic. Public nudity was a way of life for the Japanese — mixed bathing in public bathhouses was the norm — before the country opened up to the West and adopted many of the sexual repressions of the Victorians. Consequently, most of the figures in shunga are either clothed or half clothed, with only their genitalia exposed, a condition that was and still is considered highly stimulating by the Japanese.

In the restricted living spaces of old Japan — and to some extent, those of today — sexual activities were often semi public, so it is no surprise that group sex scenes also feature in shunga, as do scenes in which a couple are having sex in front of children. An exaggerated perspective of Japanese open-mindedness can be seen in At the River’s Edge, in which a group of people unashamedly pleasure each other.

Another common feature of shunga is the presence of a voyeur. In The Voyeur, the watcher is a woman and more than likely a younger prostitute observing the performance as part of her training. In The Cuckold, however, the man hiding under the futon to observe the tryst has a contorted facial expression that could mean he is masturbating, another common theme in shunga. The characters engaged in the sexual activity are usually blissfully unaware that they are under observation, no matter, as in the print titled Out of the Mosquito Net, how blatant the act of peeping is. An interesting twist on the role of the voyeur in shunga is the man in Unnoticed Affair. Hearing a noise in the room beneath, the man strains his ears and is surprised at the noises coming from below. “I’ll have to ask the wife,” he says to himself, “if she’s ever heard that sucking noise down there.”

Unlike countries bound by Christian ethics, Japan has never frowned on masturbation. It therefore comes as no surprise to find that self-stimulation frequently appears in shunga. Voyeurs peeping around a corner or through a space in the shoji (sliding screens) at a copulating couple are often masturbating. Women are often shown stimulating themselves while a man looks on, as in Man Watching Woman Masturbate, or a woman taking a man, often a younger than her, in hand, as in The Boy and the Older Woman.

In the creation of shunga, reality usually took backseat to artistic freedom. In Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife by the renowned ukiyoe artist Hokusai, an octopus — with the eyes of a lecherous man — is performing oral sex on an ecstatic woman. Female abalone divers, who dived for shellfish in the costal areas, were popular subjects in shunga, and were occasionally depicted pleasuring themselves with sea creatures such as a sea cucumber, an animal that, like the male penis, stiffens and ejects a jet of fluid when stroked.

Although there was no stigma attached to shunga — all the great Japanese woodblock artists produced them — the arrival of Commodore Perry in 1853 was the beginning of the end for this unique art form. A new form of morality was imposed on the country and shunga disappeared from sight. Fortunately, most of the prints were saved and now appear in museums and art books around the world. The exception is Japan, where, ironically, shunga is proscribed as pornographic.

© Charles R. Pringle 2007

All rights reserved

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Chapter 2 -From Despair to Delight

[This story is serialized so if you wish to read the chapters in order, please go to the categories: humour, nonsense, books, characters or Japan.]

It is hard to believe that until recently the merkin was entirely unknown in Japan. Its meteoric leap from the trashcans of history into the pants of millions of young Japanese women and onto the glossy pages of dozens of magazines is entirely due to the tireless efforts of one man: Tadashi Yasuda. Of course, luck was on his side.

On that steaming-hot August day, the kind of day that smells thrive on, Yasuda had endured a harrowing train journey into central Tokyo from his home in the suburbs. A middle-aged man on his right farted at regular intervals while a young lady on his left, who constantly fiddled with her mobile, had such rancid breath that he at first thought she had farted too. He would have gladly given up his seat and moved to where the air was a little fresher, but the train was so packed that he couldn’t move at all. Every now and then, as the train lurched and all those standing were thrown around, he had to press his head back against the window to avoid contact with the crotch of a man whose trousers had suspicious-looking stains around the flies.

Shortly before Yasuda walked in to the building at 10 AM, Shinji Ono had just experienced another loud, public rollicking from his boss The general manager of the design department hated Ono; and the feeling was mutual.

Ono had been told to meet the visitor in reception and tell him the meeting was cancelled. It was a task that Ono did not enjoy doing. His boss knew this, that’s why he had ordered him to do it.

As the elevator went down, Ono’s anger started rising. He just wished he had the guts to thump his boss on the nose and walk out of the company. The idea was appealing. The writing was on the wall; the company was going downhill fast and he would be out of a job soon anyway; so he decided to go out in style. It was just a question of getting the timing right. The next time that little bastard belittles me in public, he decided, I will drop him.

The elevator stopped and the door opened. Ono stopped fantasizing about beating up his boss and stepped into the lobby, where Yasuda, drenched in sweat, was waiting. There was an insolent, menacing air about Yasuda, and Ono took an instant dislike to him. Suddenly he began to feel glad that he had been delegated to turn him away.

“My name is Ono,” he said, smiling, as he approached Yasuda. “I’m afraid that Mr. Horie, the manager of the design section is unavailable, how can I help you?”

Yasuda’s smile, about as sincere as that of a circus clown, seemed to peel away in slow motion. His reaction was totally unpredictable. “Unavailable?” he practically screamed. “If he was going to be unavailable, why didn’t the bastard call me and cancel the frigging meeting.” Ono was momentarily stunned. He had never been spoken to like this before by anyone other than his boss.

“My car is off the road,” said Yasuda, “impounded, actually, so I had to travel here by bloody train. Do you know what it’s like on these damn trains?”

Ono shook his head, unable to get the words out, although he knew exactly what the trains were like. After all, he traveled in by train every day.

“It’s like sitting inside a pair of underpants,” said Yasuda, his voice starting to rise, “Dirty bloody underpants. There is every possible stench you can imagine in there, and some you don’t even want to think about.”

The reception area went totally silent. The three receptionists were standing to attention with their heads bowed. A group of visitors waiting for their appointments looked on in bemusement. And the security guards fussed around in the background, unsure of how to respond to a situation that, while not yet threatening, was highly unusual.

“Please accept my humble apologies,” said Ono. “You have every right to feel angry at being inconvenienced.” He bowed deeply.

“Of course I fucking have,” snarled Yasuda.

And that is when the idea hit Ono. He nearly leapt into the air with joy. He could have kissed Yasuda. The offensive man was becoming more and more appealing with every foul phrase he uttered. He quickly assessed the opportunities for revenge. This man, he thought, was perfect. He was just the kind of character his boss needed to meet. He would play a little trick on Mr. Horie to teach him a lesson.

“Now that you are here,” said Ono, “perhaps you could tell me the nature of your business. In the meantime Mr. Horie might become available and you could be able to meet him after all.”

“I’m here to make a presentation on a merkin,” said Yasuda.

“A merkin? What’s a merkin?” said Ono.

Yasuda’s brow furrowed, and his nostrils dilated as he inhaled deeply before replying: “A merkin’s a pubic wig!”

Ono coughed to stifle his laughter. He had never heard of anything so insane in all his life. “Does Mr. Horie know that your presentation is on a …… a merkin?”

“Not yet,” said Yasuda. “He only knows that I have a product that can revitalize this company and spread its name around the globe.”

The man is the perfect weapon for my revenge on Horie, thought Ono. He guided Yasuda to a reception room and asked him to wait while he spoke again to Mr. Horie. He called from the lobby and told his boss that the visitor had a sensational idea that would turn the company around. Horie did not ask what the idea was. He just told Ono to take Yasuda immediately to the directors meeting room, and that is just what Ono did.

© Charles R. Pringle 2007

All rights reserved

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