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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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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

All rights reserved

 

 

 

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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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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

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All the characters in this absurd story are fictitious and any resemblance to any person living, dead or not yet born is purely coincidental. Any person living, dead or not yet born who resembles any of the characters in the story is, was or will be in need of serious counseling.

Chapter 1 — Another day just like any other

 

It was eleven o’ clock on a sweltering mid-August morning in Tokyo. Despite the heat, life had to go on as usual. On this particular day, the Metropolitan Police Force was raiding the facilities of a pseudo religious group suspected of having manufactured condoms out of thin air. In the Diet, the Prime Minister, his face a raging red, was hurling obscenities at a female member of the opposition. The Minister of Justice, at eighty-seven the fifth eldest member of the Cabinet, had forgotten the reason for the press conference, and to the astonishment of over a hundred journalists, was rambling on about the number of women he had seduced. In a café in Akasaka, the Foreign Minister, his hand resting limply on the thigh of an excessively handsome young man, was smiling lasciviously at the young waiter who had just brought him his morning coffee. Meanwhile, in Washington D.C. a buxom young lady blew a kiss towards the president as she left the Oval Office, and he pulled his trousers up. It was three o’clock in the morning in London, and the Palace security trained machine guns on an intruder who had just climbed over the fence. The were astonished to see that the intruder was the husband of the Queen, who explained that he had been to a reunion of his naval buddies and had forgotten his key. They were even more surprised when, just before he set off for the front door of the palace, he turned and asked them if they had ever played a party game called musical cocks. And, back in Tokyo, the senior managers of Suriku Garu, the world’s largest producer of hair products and cosmetics, were staring with bewilderment at the hairball Tadashi Yasuda had just thrown into the middle of the table around which they were sitting.


© 2007 Charles R. Pringle

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