Saturday, 21 January 2012

PanJapanter - Episode V: "Waking the Dragon" (New Year's Eve, 2011)

Kenjo Wakazaki takes a long, deliberate draw on his cigarette, narrows his eyes and stares out across the bay towards the Rainbow Bridge. The sun has begun to show above the hotels on Odaiba, and he takes a lung-full of cold air to counteract the acrid heat inside him.

Nagayoshi’s body has now slipped under the skin of the water. ‘Old work is complete and new work must begin’ as the Oyabun(Yakuza boss) said frequently. It was an adage you had to live by. You had to, and you had to move with the cycling and the changing of things and progress each day and every time an act was done in the service of the ninkyo(The 'firm')-dantai you took a drag on your cigarette and you thought about it only briefly and then you exhaled and you got on with business. That was how you became a kyodai
(big brother) and failing was how shatei(little brother) ended up at the bottom of Tokyo bay on a freezing New Year’s Eve morning.

The shatei stand and smoke, and Kenjo throws his fag-end into the water. Ôtakutaku (“Big Takeru” his mother back in Kurume might call him) sat on the harbour edge. The largest and newest of the shatei, he had done his duty and thrown the boy into the water. Kenjo walks to him, pats his shaved head, congratulates him on his efforts, and calls the shatei to get into the van. They get in, Otakutaku up front.

The destination is Shinjuku, to one of the gang’s love hotels. Violent lusts are invigorated after the morning’s events, and violent justice has to be dished out to a punter who didn’t pay. Kenjo gets a call.

Moshi(He-) moshi(llo). Un(Yeah). Hai(Yes). Hai(Yes). Hai(Yes). Un(Yeah).Wakarimashita(I understand). Hai(Yes)”.
Dare(Who was that)?”

Ribaratsuki­-sama was the gang’s shingiin(lawyer). A gaijin(foreigner) who claimed to be both Polish and English, he had come to Japan in the eighties with a London law firm, become a consultant for the Tokyo police and then a consultant for the ninkyo-dantai. The deal is sorted, the decoy planted. All is in place.
The LH job goes without a hitch. A broken jaw and a bloodstain on a canvass shoe, but enough time for a fag and some nihon(Japanese) cha(sencha tea).

The afternoon meeting with the Kudo(Kyushu- based)-kai(Yakuza syndicate) takes places in an onsen(traditional spa) in Asakusa(district in North Tokyo).

(Old )(work)仕事終(finished)わって(new),(work)しい(work)めなければ(must)(begin)りません” says the boss, bowing to the Kudo-kai Oyabun. He bows an agreement. The pleasantries take place in the cool bath. There are six; three from each side.

本田様九州来(Lord Honda )てから(having come from Kyushu)(we)たち(・・・) 
“Jeeeeeeesus, it’s so cold. Ah, man, try that”.
“God! That is cold. Oh, sumimasen. Haha”.
“Hahaha, just get in, Henry. It’s fine”.

Two gaijin, one with glasses, one with red hair, squeeze into the cold pool. Long hair sits next to the boss. Silence.

“Wow. Where’s Jumpei?” says long-hair,
“No idea”, says redhead. “Probably embarrassed by our gaijin ways”.
Silence again. All in the pool look through each other. 

The Kudo-kai boss narrows his eyes, looks around him, inhales and begins again. “本田様九州来
(Lord Honda )てから(having come from Kyushu)(we)たち(・・・)
“…ah Jeez, it’s getting too cold for me. Shall we go to the hot one now? I think Jumpei-sama’s in there”, says long-hair,
“nah man, let’s give it a minute. I really like it”.

Kudo‑kai boss bows his head and the silence becomes more tense. An old man and his grandson open the door to the outside pool.  The Kudo-kai kyodai exchange glances. Tokyo boss nods his head. With a splash they rise and go to the hot pool.

“God, did you see the tattoos on those guys?” says long-hair,
“Hahaha, no”, says redhead.
“Jesus, they were huge”.
“You love blasphemy don’t you?”
“Offends all the right people, Grahame”.

That was how our celebration of the New Year began, embarrassing ourselves in a yakuza-filled onsen. I should add that the hot pool was really hot and that, like the place Hiro took me to in Chikushino, there was an electric pool to singe/massage your back muscles.

Going to the onsen was preceded by a walking tour of Shinjuku, Harajuku and Shibuya. Afterwards, we tired ourselves out, bought tea and went home to Jumpei’s place.

At around six, we met up with one of my favourite students from Fukuoka, again in Asakusa. He’s a very successful lawyer who claims to be mid-forties but looks early twenties (oh, the Japanese!). We had coffee with him and his sisters and he revealed that he was and is a break-dancing champion. Wow!

Staying in Asakusa we had gyouza and ramen as our last meal of the year, and thence to Shibuya, thinking we would meet our Mexican friends from Kyoto and then go to Roppongi.

As things turned out, we met up with Ina-chan and her friends from home in a bar under a bridge near Hachiko in Shibuya. Drinks were had (mmmm, gin). As is traditional for New Year, disputes arose as to who wanted to do what. There was a group of around ten, with around ten different views. Happily, a consensus grew that Roppongi was a daft idea, and Henry-sama, Jumpei-sama and I decided that going to a nightclub and then coming back out at midnight was a stupid idea too, so we bought some cans of Yebisu (my favourite Japanese beer, not least because it uses a now defunct hiragana in its name) and waited in the big square for 2012 to roll around.

When you think of Tokyo you may think of a criss-cross of zebra crossings in a neon drenched pleasure district. That’s Shibuya and that’s where we saw in the year. The police, and there were hundreds of them, choreographed some farce of forming lines with rope to keep everyone of the road, but then running in synch to allow for people to cross at the crossings when that was permitted. Some poor young policeman must have been shattered by the end of all of this unnecessary running around.

Though there were several thousand people in the square, many drunk too, it all felt pretty safe. I worry that Japan is making me too soft. The only people causing any trouble were drunk, huge Americans who seemed to really enjoy shouting “USA! USA!” at any opportunity.

There was no central countdown (ka-u-n-to-da-u-n) in the square so no one really knew when 2012 had arrived. It was 12:02 by my watch when some shouted “Suree! Too! Wan!” and we all went mental.

I snogged two Japanese girls (one of whom is still calling Henry every day). A great start to the year of the Dragon. Roar!

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