Archive for the ‘history’ Category

In the opening chapter of Blinded by the Night, as Toyoda returns to the pub, he is greeted by the sight of a foreigner’s bare buttocks. The practice of dropping one’s pants, bending over and displaying one’s buttocks is called mooning.

In some cultures, mooning is a form of protest, contempt, or irritation; in others it is used to shock or amuse. Although mooning is usually considered impolite and offensive, it is practiced by a wide range of people from all sorts of backgrounds in different parts of the world.

There are numerous mentions of mooning throughout history. In 1346, during the Hundred Years War, hundreds of French soldiers mooned the English army at the Battle of Caen. This was a painful mistake for many of them because the English archers were armed with very powerful and accurate longbows, and they seized the opportunity for a free shot at the French buttocks.

Mooning was first recorded in North America in around 1524, when the Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano and his crew were mooned by Native Americans of the Abenaki tribe along the coast of Maine . Verrazzano was astonished by the “barbarous” behavior of the natives and called the state of Maine “onde la male gente” (land of the bad people). The Abenaki, however, had previous contact with Europeans and did not think very highly of them. Mooning Verrazzano and his crew was the Abenaki’s unequivocal way of telling the Europeans exactly what they thought of them.

According to legend, in 1534 the city of Nice in southern France was saved from the Turkish invaders by a local washerwoman, Catherine Ségurane, who mooned them from the walls of the city. Although there is no evidence to support this legend, the people of Nice celebrate Catherine Ségurane Day annually on November 25.

Members of the British royal family have been victims of mooning incidents in recent years. Queen Elizabeth II was mooned by a Maori while on a visit to New Zealand. Tame Iti, a Maori activist and serial mooner, claimed that mooning was a traditional Maori form of protest and not indecent exposure. And in 2000 an event called the Moon against the Monarchy took place outside Buckingham Palace in London. A large group of people gathered to protest against the Royal Family by mooning the palace, and some of them were arrested for doing so.

In the United States there is even an annual event to celebrate the practice of mooning. The Annual Mooning of Amtrak is now in its 28th year. The event started in 1979, when a man called K. T. Smith, who was drinking in The Mugs Away Saloon, offered to buy a drink for anyone who mooned the next train. What probably started out as a joke for a few fellow drinkers has turned into a carnival with thousands of participants each year.

Mooning has frequently featured in movies and television series. Marlon Brando in Last Tango in Paris responded to being kicked out of a dance hall by mooning the patrons. In the movie Braveheart, the Scottish army mooned the English just before the start of a battle. And two of televisions biggest stars, Homer and Bart Simpson, are enthusiastic mooners.

Sportsmen are also partial to the practice of mooning. The most famous mooning incident is English football occurred in the 1979 FA Cup semi-final, when Arsenal’s Sammy Nelson mooned the crowd to celebrate scoring a goal for both teams in the 1-1 draw. Mooning is often part of the after-the-game celebrations for American football or rugby teams. Rugby players usually accompany their mooning sessions with rousing choruses of obscene songs.

Rock stars—many of whom have behavioral problems—are also known for their mooning stunts. Ozzy Obsourne of Black Sabbath mooned the audience at the UK Music Hall of Fame ceremony in November 2005. The audience responded by giving him a standing ovation.

Although there are no gender prohibitions for mooning, it is usually practiced by men, and more often than not, drunken men. It can be fun, but it can get a person into trouble if practiced at the wrong time or place. Ken Mitsuda of the popular Japanese comedy duo “Tommys” was questioned by the police and severely warned by the Chinese authorities for mooning a group of tourists at a Buddhist temple on Hainan Island in China. He was obliged to write a letter of apology before being allowed to return to Japan.


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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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Sumo wrestling is a traditional martial art that originated the 9th century and is closely associated with Shinto, the indigenous religion of Japan. The objective of a Sumo bout is simple – the over-sized combatants aim to force their opponents out of the dohyo (ring) or onto the ground using a mixture of slapping, wrestling and shoving. Although wrestlers grasp the mawashi (loincloth ) of their opponents in an attempt to throw them, grasping the opponent’s testicles and squeezing them is frowned upon and is, in fact, a violation of the rules.

The dohyo is considered sacred ground and is blessed by a Shinto priest before every bout. When the wrestlers enter the dohyo they perform an elaborate series of Shinto rituals, starting with a foot-stomping exercise to drive away evil spirits. Foreign visitors to a sumo tournament have been known to panic when stomping starts, mistaking the mild rumblings from the dohyo for the start of an earthquake.

After the foot-stomping, the wrestlers rinse out their mouths with a ladle of chikara mizu, or “power water,” and dry them with paper tissues called chikara gami, or “power paper.” Finally, before a bout begins, the wrestlers toss a handful of salt into the dohyo to purify it. Although as a tactic throwing salt into the eyes of an opponent would certainly give a wrestler an advantage, there is no known case this ever happening.

Once the bout begins, the action can be fast and furious with the wrestlers slapping, shoving and pushing or trying to trip each other. The winner is the wrestler who forces his opponent out of the dohyo or to touch the ground with any part of his body except for the feet. A wrestler who loses his mawashi during a bout is automatically disqualified as the sight of a male sumo wrestler naked from the waist down can be a traumatic experience for those unfortunate to experience it.

The sight of a female sumo wrestler losing her mawashi during a bout, however, has never shocked anyone in Japan. Moreover, totally naked women sumo wrestlers were once revered. In times of drought, for example, naked women wrestled in shrine precincts to provoke the anger of the Gods and cause rain.

In the eighteenth century onna zumo, women’s sumo, took off as a sport in Osaka, where it was popular in the brothel quarter. As well as bouts between women, there were also bouts between women and blind men (men who could see were ineligible as it was considered that they would not be able to concentrate on the sport).

By 1744, women’s sumo bouts featured regularly at the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, Edo (now Tokyo), and they were immensely popular, especially with the owners of the nearby brothels. In 1926 the authorities eventually prohibited naked female sumo on the presumption that it promoted immorality. Female sumo did, however, manage to survive until after World War II in cabarets and beer halls, where there was no false pretense of modesty.   

In recent years sumo has been beset by scandals that have seriously damaged the reputation for sportsmanship and purity it had long enjoyed. These scandals include match-fixing, betting on baseball and golf as well as other professional sports, and drug taking. One of the top foreign wrestlers, and perhaps the greatest of his generation, Asashoryu, was forced to retire after beating up the former head of a biker gang after an argument in Roppongi. Other foreign wrestlers have been sacked for smoking marijuana.

Whether sumo recovers from the recent scandals or not is uncertain. Younger Japanese do not seem to have the spirit to put up with the rigid discipline of life in a sumo stable. There are also more attractive sporting opportunities for those with athletic ability, including careers in soccer or baseball.

One should not, however, write sumo off. As a sport, it has been around for a very long time, longer than most sports still practiced today. It is culturally ingrained in the Japanese psyche, and it has overcome crises before. Expect it to do so again.

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Sapporo is a very young city. Nevertheless, it spreads over 430 square miles, and is Japan’s third largest city in area and fifth in population. It is the center of politics, commerce and culture for the major northern island of Hokkaido, and it is the hub of communications for all domestic and international travelers to the region.

Hokkaido, which was once called Ezo, was originally inhabited by the indigenous Ainu people, whose footprint can be found on the island in many of the place names. There are indications that Japanese settlers arrived on Hokkaido in the 7th century to trade with the Ainu, but it was not until 1821 that the Tokugawa Shogunate established a trading post on the Ishikari River, near present-day Sapporo.

In 1855, the Shogunate officially annexed the whole of Hokkaido and established government offices at Hakodate, on the south coast of the island. Two years later, two families moved into the Sapporo area and became the first official residents of the region. Soon after, the government changed the name of the island from Ezo to Hokkaido and serious colonization began.

The government established the Kaitakushi, or Development Commission, to plan and develop the island’s resources. They decided to construct a capital for Hokkaido on the Ishikari Plain. Thus began the transformation of Sapporo from a small farming village into the major administrative center of Hokkaido. The Kaitakushi encouraged immigration by subsidizing transportation costs and providing food for settlers who were prepared to assist with defense preparations and development of the region.

The city planners created a green belt to divide the city into northern and southern portions. Today, Odori Park plays a major role in the seasonal events of the city by hosting major events such as the Sapporo Snow Festival, Cherry Blossom Viewing and the Sapporo Summer Festival.

Construction took place at a furious pace. The Kaitakushi office was completed in 1871, with other government buildings, such as the Old Hokkaido Government Building (Akarengo) going up around it in the northern part of the city. Meanwhile, south of Odori Park, the commercial and entertainment districts started to take shape.

Settlers arriving from Honshu were encouraged by the Kaitakushi to introduce Western production technology for capital-intensive farming and to establish lumber mills, breweries and mines. To facilitate the introduction of technology, Sapporo Agricultural College was established in 1876. In the same year, Kaitakushi Brewery, Japan’s first real beer brewery opened in Sapporo. The original Sapporo Brewery building is now home to the famous Sapporo Beer Garden.

In 1880, as the economy developed, based on raw materials and agriculture, Japan’s third railroad was constructed to link Sapporo with Otaru, a major port to the west. Sapporo prospered as the city oversaw the transportation of agricultural produce, such as wheat, potatoes, corn and asparagus, as well as raw materials like timber and coal. Gradually, the city replaced horse-drawn trolley cars with electric streetcars.

The Hokkaido Government was established in 1886, and it quickly set about encouraging private investment in the region. An influx of businessmen from Honshu, followed by immigrants looking for higher paying jobs in the new territories, saw the area’s population rise drastically from 1900 to 1920. Sapporo’s post-war history is one of rapid growth and development as well, bringing the population to over one million by 1970.

Sapporo appeared on the world stage in 1972, when the city hosted the 11th Winter Olympic Games. To accommodate the Games, Sapporo instigated a development program that included construction of its subway system, underground heating for roads, and some of the best winter sports facilities available, including the fabulous Okurayama Ski Jump.

Adding to its reputation as a sporting city, Sapporo was a venue for group games in the 2002 Korea/Japan World Cup. In preparation for this, the city constructed the Sapporo Dome, a multipurpose venue that is one of the most modern stadiums in the country.

Sapporo is unlike any other Japanese city. It has wide streets, parks and green belts, and its sporting facilities are second to none. In such a short time, Sapporo has grown from a trading post to a city that is known throughout the world.

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While the city of Yokohama is a relatively recent phenomenon, the immediate area is a treasure chest of historical sites. These include the Otsuka and Saikachido sites dating from the Yayoi Period (300BC – 300AD), and Kamakura, the capital during the Kamakura Shogunate (1192 – 1333), which has a plethora of ancient temples and historical sites as well as the Kanazawa Bunko Library that was founded in 1275. The history of Yokohama itself, however, only started in the middle of the 19th century.

On July 8, 1853, a fleet of four American warships under the command of Commodore Matthew Perry arrived at Uraga, just south of Yokohama. Perry was carrying a letter from the President of the United States to the Emperor of Japan demanding that Japan open itself to international trade. After handing over the letter, Perry left Japan saying that he would be back one year later for an answer. Little did anyone realize that Perry’s visit would lead to the elevation of an obscure fishing village on the southwestern coast of Tokyo Bay into the second largest city in Japan. But that is exactly the effect it had.

At the time of Perry’s visit, Japan was under the control of the Tokugawa Shogunate, which had been established by Ieyasu Tokugawa after his victory in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. Ieyasu established his capital at Edo (present-day Tokyo) and Yokohama came under direct shogunal jurisdiction.

In 1636, the Shogunate introduced an edict forcing total isolation on the country. No one was allowed in (with the exception of a small group of Chinese and Dutch traders, who were confined to Dejima, an artificial island just off the coast from Nagasaki), and no one was allowed out. This policy was strictly enforced until Perry arrived. Although the Japanese were loath to open up their country to foreigners and dangerous foreign influence, the sight of Perry’s steam-driven warships, which the Japanese called kurofune, or “black ships,” startled them. They realized that they were technologically inferior to the Americans and that if it came to hostilities, they would be hard pushed to defend Edo against the powerful cannons on the American warships.

When Perry returned in 1854, the Japanese signed the Kanagawa Treaty opening two ports, Shimoda and Hakodate, to American ships. In 1858, the US-Japan Treaty of Amity was signed, opening up six ports to foreign trade, including Kanagawa. One year later, the trading rights for foreigners were transferred to Yokohama, a sleepy little fishing village at the time. Thus began the transformation that was to turn Yokohama into one of the most famous port cities in the world.

Yokohama was selected as the base for foreigners as it was far enough from Edo to prevent unnecessary contact with the foreigners, whom the Japanese called ketojin, or “hairy barbarians.” The settlement was surrounded by a moat and divided into two sections: kangai (outside the barrier) and kannai (inside the barrier). The foreigners were located in Kannai, which has since become the very heart of the city.

Relations between fanatic Japanese isolationists and foreign traders were tense. In the first year, five foreigners were murdered. Things came to a head in September 1862 when Charles Richardson, a British merchant, was hacked to death by the bodyguard of the daimyo, or “lord,” of Satsuma (now Kagoshima). Great Britain declared war on Satsuma and exacted retribution.

As the foreign traders flocked to Yokohama, the village was transformed into a hub of commercial activity and subsequent development. It grew in significance as a port in 1872 when the first railroad in Japan connected Yokohama with Shimbashi in Tokyo, and in 1889 when it was constituted as a city with an area of 5.5 square kilometers and a population of 116,193.

Yokohama has continued to grow ever since, despite two major disasters, one natural and one induced by man. On September 1, 1923, a major earthquake hit the Kanto Plain, measuring 7.9 in magnitude on the Japanese scale. Yokohama was practically obliterated by the seismic shocks, the devastating fires that swept through the city and the tsunami tidal wave that followed. Reconstruction efforts quickly restored the port and its function as a gateway to the nation. But in May 1945, as the Pacific Front of World War II moved to Japanese soil, most of the business areas and more than half of the port facilities were destroyed by American air raids. By 1952, the port was again reopened, this time with more modern shipping and railway facilities that established Yokohama as one of the world’s great commercial centers.

In 1985, when the population of Yokohama passed the three million mark, the city was already planning for the future. One of the most important projects in the city’s history was announced. This was the development of Minato Mirai 21. The idea behind this project was to create “an information city of the 21st century incorporating an international culture center that was active around the clock” and provide a “human environment surrounded by water, greenery and history.” A visit to this fascinating waterfront area will confirm the accuracy of that vision and just how far Yokohama has come since Perry’s Black Ships first sailed into Uraga Bay.


© Charles R. Pringle 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


© Charles R. Pringle 2007

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