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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.

“Subway.”

“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

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.

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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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.male-couple-on-a-futon-moronobu.jpg 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. harunobu161.jpgIn 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.

200px-dream_of_the_fishermans_wife_hokusai-1.jpgIn 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-a 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 1858 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

 

 

 

Visitors to Japan have an enormous variety of foods to choose from.  Sushi, sukiyaki and tempura are familiar Japanese dishes to anyone with even a modicum of gastronomical inquisitiveness. But there are some less well known Japanese dishes that can, quite literally, take your breath away.

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

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

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

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

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

Some visitors, however, might not be lucky enough to live through their adventures with Japanese food. Those who want try their luck with fugu, one of the world’s most deadly dishes, should make sure that they eat it only in a special restaurant with a fully-licensed chef. Failure to do this involves the risk of dying a horrible death.Recently, two men from Shikoku foolishly prepared their own dinner of fugu—and they died a few hours later.

Dark Side of the Moon

Recently as I have been walking home from Tsukiji to Roppongi, a distance of about 6 kilometers, I have had a feeling of déjà vu. For a few days I wracked my brains, but could not figure out where the feeling was coming from. Then, this morning, as I opened my eyes, I experienced satori.

Tokyo presently resembles Berlin of the 1970s, when the city was divided in two. I lived in the West and worked in the East. The sun shone evenly on both sides of the city; so during the day there was very little difference—except for the advertizing billboards. In the West, the glitzy billboards advertised the latest in the line of automobiles such as Mercedes and Porsche, as well global brands like Coca Cola, Channel and Gucci; in the East, the giant austere billboards hosted huge photos of the Worker of the Month and text listing the achievements of the “Working Class Hero of the Deutsche Demokratic Republik.”

But when the sun went down, the difference between the two halves of the divided city was stark. The West lit up with neon while the East disappeared in darkness. In the words of the song by the singer-songwriter Paul Joses (Scottish-born but then resident of West Berlin), the red side of the Berlin Wall was like the Dark Side of the Moon.

Tokyo is by no stretch of the imagination like East Berlin of the 1970s—quite the contrary, it is still very much a vibrant and exciting city—but there are certain similarities. There are very few flashing neon lights and store fronts are dark and the interiors are on minimum lighting. But this is because everyone understands the need to save on electricity while the country is experiencing a crisis.

Towards the end of the day, many of the shelves in convenience stores are empty of milk, bakery products and the like. Large bottles of mineral water are just not available, beer is scarce and getting scarcer, and even cans of chu-hi are in short supply. The reason for the beer shortages, we are told, is that the major domestic brewers all have breweries in the Tohoku region. I have heard no excuses yet for the shortages of chu-hi.

Nevertheless, despite the dimming down (of the nighttime skyline, I mean), and the shortages of essentials like beer and chu-hi, Tokyo is not at all in crisis; nor was East Berlin in the 1970s. The difference between the two is that the situation in Tokyo is just a temporary phenomenon, while for East Berlin it was the norm, and Tokyo will light up again soon.

I decided to collect and take provisions to the victims of the March 11 Tohoku-Pacific Ocean Earthquake and the tsunami that struck in its wake came about after discussing the quality of reporting on the event by the European media with a friend. We both agreed that much of the news coming out of Japan, especially news about Tokyo, which was relatively unscathed, was either inaccurate or false. We both found it hard to believe that people were actually starving in some of the areas that had been hardest hit. This was, after all, Japan, one of the richest countries on earth, a country with an outstanding record of donating to other countries in times of need. Then we heard from someone who had been up to the north that people were suffering badly, that bureaucracy was getting in the way of relief, and that people were desperate for many of the basic items that we all took for granted. We had no way of knowing whether this was true or not, but we decided to go ahead anyway.

First of all I had to find a driver to help me take the provisions to the disaster area, and then I had to appeal for and collect whatever I could and buy what I could not collect. A friend volunteered to rent a truck and drive, so I started collecting provisions. I put up an appeal asking for contributions in Japanese and English on the notice board in my building. Almost every family in my apartment building contributed something. I quickly noticed that some things—rice, canned food, gas canisters and charcoal—were conspicuously absent; so I started buying them. Unfortunately these items are particularly heavy and, because of a surge in demand, finding them in the shops was extremely difficult. Then there was a limit on the amount one person could buy in each shop: consequently, I had to visit dozens of shops, some quite far away from where I live, to get enough provisions. Nevertheless, among other things, I managed to buy and carry home 50 kilos of rice and 25 gas canisters as well as six boxes of canned goods and charcoal. This was not only time-consuming, but also physically exerting and I began to worry that my knee might not hold out.

Two days before departure two problems arose: the volunteer driver was refused time off work to drive up to Minami Sanriku and the rental firm told me that I could only have the truck for 24 hours. At first, both problems looked insurmountable. Every rental agency I called responded negatively because “it was the moving season so nothing was available.” I pleaded and explained the reason I needed a vehicle, but my appeals were met with a smile and a shrug. Everyone I called and asked to drive up said that they would love to but that they already had plans for the weekend. I was running out of options when I remembered that one of my friends, Geoff England, had a driving license; so I call him. He immediately volunteered to drive and to rent a van, thus killing two birds with one stone, and we arranged to meet at the rental agency just before 6 pm on Saturday 2 April.

Meanwhile the things I was buying and the people in my apartment building were donating began to mount up, and I realized that they would not all fit in one van; so I started to call round once again. This time I managed to contact a Mr Arata who was working with an organization called OGA for Aid. He told me that he had room on his truck for more supplies and agreed to drive up with our van.

After Geoff, his wife Ayuko, and I picked up the van, we drove to Takadanobaba to pick up some of the things that Clive France, who was taking another van up north, could not fit in his van. Then we picked up Peter Blake, a professional photographer who had also volunteered to drive, and drove to my place to meet up with Arata-san and his team. We loaded the vehicles and set off at exactly 7.44 pm, stopping once before we left Tokyo to pick up Ana Shimabuku and the provisions she had collected.

Once out of Tokyo the road was practically empty, at least in the lanes heading north. The threat of radiation sickness certainly keeps people off the roads. We tanked up at every opportunity because we knew that once we got into the disaster area, there would be no gasoline available.

After we left the highway, driving became more difficult. We were in total darkness because there were no lights anywhere. We even passed through towns and villages that, although inhabited, looked deserted. It was a very strange feeling. Many of the roads we traveled were cracked and, despite the darkness, we could see damage to buildings all around. We left the towns behind and started to climb into the mountains on narrow and twisting roads that were in very poor condition. We started our descent and entered a world of destruction on a massive scale. At about 4 am we arrived at a road that was closed, and that was the road we needed to take. The guard told us that we would have to wait until 7 am for it to open, so we tried to find space to park—and that was very difficult because the whole area was covered in debris, the remains of what had once been a town were piled up everywhere we could see with the headlights.

Before we parked, however, a local man drove by, realized that we had brought provisions and offered to show us what he called a “shortcut” to the distribution center. Back up the mountain we went on roads steeper and narrower that the ones we had originally taken. Thirty minutes later, however, we arrived at Hotel Kanyo, a luxurious resort hotel that, apart from the two floors below ground level that out to see, had escaped major damage. It was 4.30 am and the temperature was below zero: we were freezing and tired, but we could not sleep for the cold. Around 6 am one of the staff brought us a cup of coffee. The inside of the cups were lined with plastic wrap because there was no running water to wash the cups with.

At around 6.30 am, Angela Ortiz from OGA for Aid, and aid agency organizing relief efforts in the area joined us in the lobby. She explained the situation and told us of the needs of the people. She said that the Japanese military was providing rice and drinking water, but that there huge shortages of just about everything else. People can survive on rice and water, but sooner or later, health problems kick in. What the people desperately needed were canned protein foods like fish, seafood, meat and chicken as well as canned vegetables and fruit. They also needed baby food, sanitary items, over-the-counter medication, fruit and energy drinks, toys and a whole host of other things that we normally take for granted but the people living in the refugee centers could not get.

Angela also told us some horrific tales of desperation in the area. She spoke about a minshuku (bed and breakfast) in a hamlet called Yoriki at which more than 20 people had been trapped for two weeks because the roads had been destroyed. There was no electricity, gas nor running water and no means of communicating with the outside world. In desperation they had put up flags in an attempt to attract the attention of the Japanese military helicopters carrying our search and rescue missions and delivering provisions. The people trapped there were on the verge of starvation when volunteers from OGA for Aid found them.

Angela also told us the story of So-kun, a 12-year-old boy who traveled in our van from the distribution center to Utatsu Junior High School that was function as a refugee center for 470 people. After the earthquake struck, he and his mother managed to escape to a school on a hill. When the tsunami raged past in the valley below, he could see bodies being swept up the valley. He lost his dog and house but, fortunately, he had survived.

After we had been briefed by Angela, we unloaded our provisions and set out to see the damage in the light of day. I had read all the reports in the newspapers and seen all the images on television, but what I saw with my own eyes was much worse than anything I was prepared for. The town of Minami Sanriku and its surroundings looked like the aftermath of a nuclear war. Very few buildings had survived intact; there was rubbish and refuse where houses, hospitals, schools and shops had stood. Bridges were battered and broken; railway lines were ripped off their pilings and lay twisted like strings of wire; lamp posts were bent, buckled and snapped in two; and even the road surfaces had been destroyed. Wrecked cars, buses, tractors, and ships were everywhere, some on the roofs of the buildings that still stood, others high up on the hillsides or up trees. But the most disturbing sight was that of the personal belongings—photos, notebooks, pens and pencils, CD players and the like—scattered among the debris or hanging from trees—clothes, sheets, blankets and futons—on either side of the tsunami-ravaged valleys in a macabre caricature of festive decorations.

We returned to the distribution center and then drove to Utatsu Junior High School, where OGA for Aid had organized an hour of games for the children to celebrate a birthday. The children were happy for an hour at least, but the elderly did not have anything to cheer about. Some sat around in small groups on the mattresses on which they slept, others came and went, but I noticed one old man sitting alone. He never moved a muscle the hour we were there. His eyes looked straight ahead, but he was not seeing anything in that gymnasium: he was surely looking into the past. I had to struggle to keep back the tears for I did not want to upset any of those unfortunate people who have lost everything except their dignity. They have been living in appalling conditions since March 11. They have no electricity, gas or running water. There are a few kerosene heaters here and there; so it must be absolutely freezing at night.

It is difficult for me to come to terms with what I saw in Minami Sanriku. The violence and havoc wreaked upon an unsuspecting community in the space of a few minutes by the unstoppable forces of nature is not easy to comprehend. I was not there the moment nature struck; so I will never be able to understand the fear and shock of those who were. But now that I have met and spoken to some of the survivors I will never be the same again.

The survivors will need help for some time, so those of us who took provisions at the weekend are resolved to continue delivering them. We are planning our next trip for April 16 and so far we have arranged for two vehicles. If we can get financial support of any kind, we will be able to take more. We are also looking for Japanese companies that could help us buy products like toilet paper, gas canisters and the like in bulk. We gratefully appreciate any support we can get.