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Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

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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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

 

 

 

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Despite the hype and the hysteria in the foreign press, Tokyo is still functioning fairly normally. It certainly is not the City of the Damned that some media are painting it. If we are to believe all we read and hear, we are just waiting for the “Big One” that will erase Tokyo from the map. And if that were not bad enough, there is supposed to be a radioactive cloud headed our way. Sure, there are a few problems like shortages of certain goods in the shops, the shutdown of elevators and escalators, a reduction in the number of trains and subways, threats of a blackout and the odd aftershock or two. But the Japanese and the foreigners who were not scared out of town as soon as the tremors died down are going about their business as usual.

According to one UK daily, on one day last week, “You could find a few die-hard Brits and other expatriates who wouldn’t leave their beers on the counter in the party-time district of Roppongi for any threatening radioactive cloud, but mostly Tokyo has become eerily quiet.” Well, I was one I was one of the die-hards drinking in Roppongi that evening and I neither saw any threatening radioactive cloud nor heard of one. Moreover, I walked to Roppongi from Tsukiji, which took about 45 minutes, and passed thousands of people walking (some fairly quickly, I admit) to the stations, but there was no sign of panic. I admit, though, that there was a heavy dust cloud hanging over the city. But that was caused by the rush to Narita as the rats scuttled away from what they thought was a sinking ship.

The biggest losers in the aftermath of the Tohoku Pacific Ocean Offshore Earthquake are going to be those foreigners who scampered away from Tokyo, their tails between their legs. None of these fleet-foots will ever be able to look a Japanese in the eye again if they come crawling back to Tokyo when the media give the all clear. None of them will ever be trusted again, and I would be very surprised if any Japanese would have anything to do with them. But who could blame them for running away? After all, the media had predicted the worst. And let’s just hope they are wrong as usual!

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Party Tricks

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

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

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

“Fuck off!” screamed the President.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Charles R. Pringle 2007

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“Who the hell does that fucking left-winger think she is?” said the prime minister, as he slumped into an armchair. “The trouble with these commies,” he continued, raising his right buttock off the chair to cut loose with a rasping fart,” is that they are all wind and no substance.”

“I hope that was only wind,” whispered Takeuchi, the prime minister’s private secretary, to a young colleague. “The last time he followed through with the substance, I had to take his pants to the cleaners.”

The prime minister settled back in his seat. “Who’s ever heard of a prime minister having to apologize for making a little joke?” he growled. “That’s the trouble with people today. No fucking sense of humor. Political correctness is a load of shite! Besides, it’s true. The horse did get an erection as she walked past. Millions of people saw it on television. And the horse had to be withdrawn from the race.”

“That the horse was withdrawn from the race,” said Takeuchi, “is beyond dispute, Prime Minister, but I don’t recall noticing that it had an erection.”

“I noticed it,” snapped the prime minister.

“Unfortunately, the video recording does not show the horse in a state of arousal,” responded Takeuchi.

“Videos can be doctored,” snarled the prime minister, his eyes practically on fire.

“But, Prime Minister,” said Takeuchi, “I was sitting next to you when the race came on TV. In fact, you even told me that you had word from a good source that the horse was going to win the race and that you had placed a bet on it. Besides, the horse was withdrawn from the race before the leader of the opposition walked past. And the official statement from the race track puts the withdrawal down to a leg injury.”

“Bollocks!” screamed the prime minister. “It was that frigging mini skirt that got the horse withdrawn. “Why, even Nancy practically got a hard on when she walked past—and he’s a puff!”

Takeuchi sighed. He knew that it was pointless to argue with the prime minister; so decided to get on with the business. “We have to resolve the situation with the female opposition member of parliament before it gets out of hand.”

“Bullshit!” growled the Prime Minister. “The woman must be an absolute fool if she thinks that she can take legal action against me unless I apologize publicly for making a little joke? He eased himself up and again farted violently. “She’ll have to prove that I said it.”

“But you did say it at the press conference,” said Takeuchi.

“I was speaking off the record, so those bastards had no right to quote me.”

“But, Prime Minister,” said Takeuchi, “I’ve told you many times that if you speak off the record, you should make it very clear in advance. It’s no good saying it after you are quoted in the newspapers.”

“She shouldn’t be in politics if she can’t take a joke,” responded the Prime Minister. “And if she doesn’t like jokes, she shouldn’t have joined a party which is the laughing stock of the whole country. Socialism went out of style with the ridiculous mini skirt she wears—and that was twenty-five years ago.” He let go with another explosive fart.

“In any case, Prime Minister,” said Takeuchi, “I recommend that you be careful about what you say from now on.”

“Balls,” screamed the Prime Minister. “I’m the Prime Minister, so I can say any fucking thing I want to.”

“There is also the comment you made about her breasts. That got on the front pages, too.”

“I only said that they were great, pendulous things, and it’s true. They are huge. I wouldn’t mind if someone said that I had a whopping chopper. In fact, I would be very pleased. Nobody’s ever said it though. I’m not like Setoyama. People say that to him all the time, and they are not kidding. He’s got an incredible dick. Have you seen it?”

Takeuchi, who was a bureaucrat not a politician, did not answer, instead he changed the subject.

“I hate to bring this up, Prime Minister, but the opposition have called for a session of the Diet tomorrow to discuss the Jusen business. I think we should have a cabinet meeting to plan our strategy for this business.

The Prime Minister glared at Takeuchi. “It’s that bloody woman again,” he snarled. “First she accuses me of sexual harassment, then she implies that I’ve been taking bribes.”

“I think you are overreacting, Prime Minister,” said Takeuchi. “She didn’t accuse you of taking bribes, at least not directly.”

“Like hell she didn’t. She said that there were certain member of the Diet guilty of taking kickbacks from big business, especially the construction industry. Then she asked me if I were happy in my new house.  If that is not an underhand accusation, I don’t know what is. Everybody knows that my new house was not a bribe, it was a birthday present from one of my best friends.”

“Who just happens to be the president of one of the largest construction companies in Japan,” said Takeuchi. “And one week after your birthday his company was awarded the contract to build the new government training center.”

“Whose fucking side are you on,” asked the Prime Minister, “mine or hers?”

“Yours, of course, Prime Minister.”

“You didn’t hear me threaten to sue her for her accusations, did you?”

“No, I didn’t,” said Takeuchi. “But I heard you call her a horse-faced lesbian with a dick for a tongue. So did about five hundred others who were present in the Diet this morning.”

“Well, she is a lesbian. Everybody knows that.”

“I understand you logic, Prime Minister, but just because she is forty-eight years old and still single doesn’t mean that she’s a lesbian. Besides, last week you said that she had serviced the entire shadow cabinet after their Christmas party. There seems to be a contradiction there somewhere.”

The Prime Minister farted aggressively. “By the way, have you made reservations for the Yanagi tonight? I’m having a drink with Setoyama and Nancy.”

“Yes,” sighed Takeuchi. “I confirmed the reservation this morning. Would you like me to arrange for your driver to collect you when you are ready to go?” He got no answer, so he turned around. The prime minister was fast asleep.

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Although the Japanese authorities turn a blind eye to most of the sexual establishments that openly flaunt the law—prostitution, for example, is illegal, but brothels operate over the country—the police in Osaka raided a cabaret club last December and arrested six of the employees and one male customer for indecent exposure. What one may ask prompted the police to take action in this case? Well, it would seem that a self-styled “sexual cabaret club” had ignored repeated warnings “for going too far”.

When the police entered the club they found the female employees, totally naked, servicing their male clients, who were in various stages of undress. One of the customers greeted the policemen by flashing his genitals at them, and for this act of defiance he was promptly arrested. The others, who were more discreet with their gentials, were just warned and released.

The club offered an exotic menu of sexual services to its hardcore regulars—and the service started at the door. On entering the club, the customer would be given a hot towel, which the hostess had first of all used to wipe her genitals, to wipe his face. He would then be served a drink of the hostess’s urine on the rocks—the hostess would insert the ice into her most intimate part before putting it into the glass. Next on the menu would be an array of snacks sprinkled with pubic hair.

After the food and drinks the real business would begin. Trousers would be lowered or removed entirely and the customer would choose his preferred sexual act from a list that featured hand and oral stimulation as well as penetration of either of the lower orifices. And this all took place in one room that could cater for up to twenty customers simultaneously.

The closure of one club is not going to make much of an impact on Japan’s most profitable industry—the sex trade—and it is not even going to drive the clubs underground. In fact, nobody would be surprised it the club were to open up again with an even more outrageous range of activities on the menu.

© Charles R. Pringle 2008

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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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