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Japanese Domain – Japan, Summer of 1999
(Arrival-Tokyo: July 5th, 1999) Most Japanese people appear polite, but once you’re in their country and a little less than a tourist, at least for me, being a guest more than a tourist, an American Caucasian: engaged to a Japanese woman five years my senior, it was quite the opposite; I was in their domain, I was in the land of the ancient warriors with long swords- and they wanted me to know it; prior to this, she had visited Minnesota three times within the past three years, and she wanted me to see her homeland.
Anyhow the story really starts in 1996, when I met Kikue with several of her girlfriends, waiting at the airport in Istanbul to go back home and we talked and exchanged addresses and became pen pals, and as I said, she visited me in Minnesota, then I was asked to come to Japan to visit her. And I did, the summer of 1999, for six-days, on my way to Java.
When I arrived in Japan, she was waiting there at the airport, it was near evening, and I was hungry, so we went to a restaurant, all the waitresses and host were wearing kimonos, and all the other necessities that make Japanese figures, Japanese. Everything very colorful and the food was not really all that tasty, but just being in Tokyo, Japan, gave a certain acceptable flavor to it. It was a full restaurant and many foreigners like I-a few of my fellow-countrymen here and there. After we ate we found our way out of the corridor outside of the bistro, and on our way out to the everlasting hysteric lifestyle of trains, trains packed to the rim with bodies: herds and herds of bodies being smashed into those opening and closing doors. All hanging onto rails, some sitting, and half the bodies were closed eyed as if sleeping.
It would be, the relationship with Kikue, my Japanese girlfriend, be a shrieking and not very promising one, by the end of my sixth day in Japan, I hate to say this so early on in the story but, there are reasons for this-I am not Marlon Brando, and I was not making a movie called “Sayonara,” by James Michener, so truth be told, I was not in their eyes of the same blood, and therefore, imperfect, even though we were their conquerors.
But as I was saying, little hands and big bellies and sweat, we were all jammed into these train cars, from one point to another, which for Japan, and certainly for Tokyo, is commonplace and cumbersome.
As we walked downtown, there were more massage parlors than cafes: Kikue told me, they were quite prevalent, like wings on a bird, everybody needed a rubdown from all the stress, and strain of the city life, and I could now see why just by taking one train ride, which really was several, connecting.
(Tama City-July 5th & 6th) Finally we came to what was called Tama City, Kikue’s domain, a district of Tokyo, one used by the U.S. Air Force, with a beautiful golf course. From what I understood a rather newer enterprise, than the city we’d visit in a few days, called Nagoya and Kyoto. There in Tama City, I would meet three of her girlfriends, one that owned a small café, and we all talked there, had coffee, and rice cakes and so forth, and they gave me hand made postcards, and they giggled a lot, the Japanese women are famous for that I guess, perhaps releases stress, and they were perhaps the friendliest of all the Japanese people I would meet while in Japan.
I took a few photographs, and went to a small apartment she had rented for our visit. Desirous, the Japanese do not mind being photographed, actually they seem to like it, so I had no trouble, innocently minded, and shot pictures when and wherever I wanted to.
The next day I was to meet her whole family, this was to be the Devil’s own time assembling, they didn’t take to me, no one smiled, there was perhaps ten of them at this restaurant, and only Kikue and her sister could speak English, actually her younger sister could speak better English than Kikue, who perhaps had a vocabulary of fifty to seventy-five words.
By they way they treated me at the table, eating, then every other minute someone asking questions, and so forth, it would have appeared to an onlooker as if they were interrogating me, grabbing the opportunity to degrade their enemy at the same time, their conqueror. Her sister who sat by me, put her hand on my thigh, and fumbled about, and I took it off, “Just checking to see what you’d do,” she said: meaning if I was serious about her sister I suppose: never reporting her facts to the family of course, and I let it be, surely she would have denied it, and impersonated the perfect sister.
All in all, the local scene was touchy, and I got to the point I could not take anymore and stood up and said in a near vulgar way, “You people are plainly rude, I’m your guest, even if I’m your disappointment, or your daughter’s disappointment to you: cozy as you look you’re a bunch of hypocrites.” And I walked out into the open air. And Kikue gasped, jumped up and followed, and the family members, the mother in particular, was saying, trying to say anyhow, “Oh, oh we are so sorry…!” which was a lie. She was sorry I could figure out what she was up to, that I confronted her and was bold enough to do so.
We did stay for her sister’s show of art, at this nearby gallery, and her sister gave me a water painting she did, one I liked, and we were back to being friends, no more brawling.
That evening I had acupuncture, from a friend of Kikue’s, and when I got on the bus to go back to our apartment, I collapsed. My body couldn’t take the acupuncture.
We went back to the room; it was mostly furnished with a sturdy bed, Japanese décor, outside was two food machines, where you could buy a cold drink or a candy bar-and we waited for morning, where we had breakfast at McDonald’s (way over prices); made a phone call to Minnesota, not sure what for, perhaps business I had a few apartments then; and caught a train to Nagoya, which was really a stopover on our way to Kyoto. It was morning, but while waiting for the train, her sister showed up, an even younger one than the artist, I of course was incapable of replying to her grinning face, and they were talking about me: from what Kikue said and from what she didn’t say, with an icy cold look at me, it wasn’t good, I gathered she felt her Western-style selection of boyfriend was not to the Japanese taste, yet everything per near in Tokyo was bent towards the West. I tried to interrupt several times what they were saying, because everything was just getting gloomy, everything under a gloomy glare, and people walking by. Her face went into cruel and gaudy colors, as I lazily passed the 400-square foot platform, enclosed between two doors.
(Nagoya-July 7th) From Tokyo to Nagoya was perhaps two-hundred miles, and from there to Kyoto, would be a bus ride-perhaps another forty miles or so: anyhow, here we were in Nagoya in time for the events Kikue had planned: she had put heart and soul into this visit of mine, and with enthusiasm I equaled it, and the first thing we saw was the Japanese Castle, with its waving like gables, in place of towers. Below it, it had a great wall and dark green bushes below that, and then the sidewalk. But the most exciting thing of the city was that there was a Sumo event going on. And I got to go to it, an international competition, people from around the world, and the old Champion who was from Hawaii, was present. I actually got to meet three of them, and was told in a light but dramatic way, I should not approach them, but heck, why not, surely that person was exaggerating, and so I did, no problem, they liked their picture being taken.
After all this we caught a bus to Kyoto…
(Kyoto-July 7 & 8th) I was wondering how broke I would become if I lived here in Japan, everything was high, higher priced than Alaska, Iceland, and Paris, the three places I though were out of space with prices: I could include New York City also, but it would come in 5th or 6th place, but here in Japan they were somewhere in the Dark Galaxy. On another note, it seemed to me the Japanese people were indifferent-walking around in a trance: if not at times giving out some kind of pitying expression, as if it was some sphere of enlightenment, I mean here was a people who prided themselves in a pure blood race, but their ancestry was that of South East Asian, Korean, and Chinese, even their writings were mixed with the Chinese, and they avowed to be a pure race, the Japanese race; I thought how silly can they be, their blood was thicker with older races than they wanted to acknowledge, they were no accident, they were puffed, that’s all.
Anyhow, once we got to Kyoto, we didn’t go to a hotel, we went to a Ryokan, a traditional wooden Inn, built in 1603; this was July, 1999. It was simple I thought, but expensive, we had to take off our shoes to enter it, had slippers, a phone on a lowly built table, and everything was half size from what I was used to, or so it seemed, and I had a robe they provided with a black belt. Kikue had made all these arrangements, her character was now more tender, and it was nice of her to have put so much into this visit, I was surprised, even some flowers, red roses were in a vase behind me, or next to the wall.
As I walked about the place, a door was open to one of the rooms, I saw a man and woman making love on that thin mattress they leave in the room for a bed, it was as if they wanted spectators, she smiled as the guy on top of her never stopped to turn about and grin, his forehead bobbing back and forth, I just kept conservatively walking. Making my way back to my room, then Kikue and I went to visit the pigeons at one of the Kyoto Temples, then down to this Underwater Bridge, of sorts, I even participated in a Buddhist prayer or devotions, a meeting of some sort; the monks were very gracious.
That evening we went to the Kyoto Tower, it reminded me of the tower in Cairo: very high and not all that much design to it. It was closed but we snuck up the stairway to it anyway, I had to say I was there I guess, my taste in attire was still western, and no one paid me all that much attention, other than someone saying, “It’s closed,” and I went with a grin anyhow.
Well, we couldn’t eat there so we went to this other restaurant, closer to our Ryokan, and ate there, very expensive, and again the food, wasn’t all that great, but I did enjoy the duck, the slim pieces of duck I got-they have several dishes to every meal.
Throughout my stay in Japan I was seriously sober, they drink a good portion of sake I understood (I believe it to be a rice wine I drank it while in Vietnam, 1971), I didn’t drink anymore, nor did I ever like sake even while in Vietnam, nor did I smoke any longer, and although I didn’t see that many Japanese people drinking, they did like to smoke-a real-life counterpart to Americans, or Europeans I would think.
It was now getting late and I was fading out, tired, we walked back and Kikue started talking about me staying in Japan, and here I had arrangements to go to Guam in a few days, and on to Java. It kind of struck me as peculiar, this produced an argument, and I ended up fighting with her, but to calm things down I maintained a convent-like existence there in Kyoto, or tried to. I would have liked to have bid her forlornly sayonara,but I left well enough alone, perhaps this was just her peaceful annoyance underneath the romance not wanting me to leave-but the longer I stayed, it seemed as if it was more planned than abruptly staged, or at least so I assumed.
In the afternoon the next day we went to Geon, there I met a Geisha, and found a house where they served foods and drinks, and it was in essence a Geisha house, the proprietor told me it was one of the oldest in Japan, and you could see all these old pictures on the walls, I think Kikue was getting a little jealous, but she was a good diplomat in that she got me a tour of the place, then we left, and I found a Geisha walking about, and I got a picture with her, and believe it or not, when I got back to Minnesota, I noticed she was in one of the books I was reading about Geon; anyhow, right after that, we caught to a location near Mount Fuji, where a bus was waiting, and a group of people.
(Mt. Fuji-July 9 & 10th) It was the second week of July, we went to Mount Fuji, in one way I had never been happier on a sightseeing trip, but not necessary with the company I was with, Kikue. She was bringing up to me staying in Japan more and more. I tried to concentrate on the background of this trip, went up 9500-feet of Mt. Fuji, it was above the clouds.
I realized the Sumo event was $500-dollars a seat, she paid for it, and the trip to Mt. Fuji, was per near double that, per person, and she paid for that also, so I said I’d pay the tip for the bus driver and guide, I asked how much, and she said: “One hundred dollars should cover it.”
I had a business, and I was doing quite well, but a tip for one hundred dollars, I was not Frank Sinatra, whom I heard gave $100-dollar tips. Nonetheless, I gave it, and bite my tongue.
For the most part it was a great trip I thought, and it was now noon when we got to the lakeside restaurant, provided by the tour company, she starts up with the same old argument, staying in Japan when I had tickets to Guam and Java, hotels paid for and tours paid for and all that kind of rot. I had bought a necklace for her, I had it in my hands and ripped it apart, threw it in the lake, and stomped my feet, snorted like bull, and then tried to pull myself back together, as she kept saying: “I paid for the dinner, we got to eat it,” over and over, and I was hungry, and so we got to the restaurant, and ate the leftovers.
In any case, Mt. Fuji was a sight worthy of seeing, and looking down into its cloudy mist, and its bluish-green sky. And below not all that far away were beautiful gardens.
On the train ride back to Tokyo, I kept looking out at the sunset, and at Mt. Fuji, it was a beautiful sight from the train.
(Back in Tokyo: July 10 and 11th) At this point I was very tired of trying to smooth things out, walking on eggshells with Kikue. The subject of me staying longer came up again, and my plane was leaving tomorrow evening. We fought over that again and almost to the point of her leaving me in the hotel room alone, for me to find my own directions to wherever. I knew I had the ability to find my way to the airport, but why leave like this, it was an eerie night, not much said.
In the morning we went to the Tokyo Tower, it was built in 1957; we went to the top of it, I had been to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and the Tokyo was built similar to that, although taller, matter of fact I had been to the restaurant at the Eiffel Tower trying to make reservations-it’s not easy.
It was a nice ending to a short visit to Japan; harmony seemed to take place as now she figured, once I left: what then? I’m sure that was on her mind. And she would have been right; I couldn’t say Sayonara, quick enough. I saw her from the plane looking out the glass window, estranged it all seemed. I figured I’d never see her again, I had made up my mind, our lives would just be in disharmony, and there was only inability within her family to try and balance East with West. It was a month later that her mother called me in Minnesota, and said she was sorry-she had learned some English evidently, it was clear. Anyhow she repeated that several times, and added how bad she felt about it. I knew though, people don’t change in a month, she was playing a game, perhaps she would have tried to interlace her feelings with the west for the sake of her daughter, even hang her old Japanese pictures alongside an American’s, who’s to say, but she was no more than a puppeteer and the puppet-as far as I figured it, and I had let go, and was not going to try and work out something that was unworkable.
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