80. Why the long face?

Sunday morning, July 9th


After tossing and turning all night, I get up and take a long shower, letting the cool water run over my numb body.


I met Yūri and two other friends, Nobu and Mika, at Small Spaceslast night after trying unsuccessfully to contact my cousin God knows how many times. It goes without saying that I wasn’t in much of a partying mood, but did try all the same to give my friend a proper seeing off.

Saddling up to the counter, I ordered a shotgun for the four of us. The bartender, nodded and went about throwing the drink together—dropping hand-crushed ice into a crystal tub, then adding a few shots of a 192-proof vodka from Poland called Spirytus RektyfikowanySpecht Pampelmusegrapefruit liqueur, freshly squeezed lemon and grapefruit juices, and soda water. After giving the concoction a good stir, he placed the tub and four shot glasses before us. I poured Yūri, Nobu, Mika and then myself a shot.

“Yūri,” I said, raising my shot glass, “when you get to Tōkyō, don’t forget us country bumpkins stuck here in Fukuoka.Kampai!”


I had known Yūri—and Nobu, too, come to think of it—a good five or six years. Long enough for the two of them to have become unwitting bystanders of the collapse of my marriage, my descent into drug use and subsequent recovery, the separation and divorce from Yūko, the financial straits that had followed, the rebound, and so much more. They had been with me through all of it, and yet they didn’t know diddlysquat about what I had endured. Talk about poker faces!

“Why the long face,” Mika asked as she poured me another shot.

“He lost his phone,” Yūri answered for me.

“Yeah, it’s my phone. Good grief, what a hassle,” I said, knocking back the shot. “Speaking of ‘long faces’, Mika, you’ve reminded me of an old joke. It doesn’t translate well, so I’ll tell it to you in English: A horse walks into a bar. The bartender asks, ‘Why the long face?’”


There was plenty to be depressed about, the possibility of going to jail and jokes falling flat, notwithstanding. So many people I counted among my friends were moving away. My ex-wife had remarried and was now in Tōkyō. After being together for more than ten years, her absence was like the sooty shadow on the wall after a painting that had fallen off. Dé Dale, who had been in my life for nearly as long, was leaving Japan in a matter of months for destinations unknown. And now, Yūri was being transferred to Tōkyō. Nobu, too, would be moving to Nagoya next spring, leaving only Mika. The youngest among us, Mika would, by and by, get knocked up by her boyfriend and fade away as young mothers in Japan often do, too busy raising her child to socialize with friends. I might have sought recourse in that old gang of expats I had once hung out with before dé Dale if attrition, marriage and kids hadn’t thinned them out, as well. My circle of friends and acquaintances was shrinking faster than a drop of water on a hot skillet.


When I emerge from the shower, I find Azami, who slept over again, grinding her teeth all night, in the kitchen preparing a breakfast of rice balls with pickled plums, misosoup, tamagomaki, slices of smoked ham and a green salad. It looks and tastes lovely, but with my stomach so full of butterflies, I have little appetite. Azami insists that I eat. Twelve years my junior, a full generation of the Chinese calendar, the girl still manages to act like my mother.

What in the world does this girl see in me, I wonder as I nibble on a rice ball.There’s got to be better men out there. Men who are more handsome, more reliable, more loving, more faithful . . .


Told by Ozawa to be at his office in Hakata at nine-thirty, I leave at a quarter past eight to give myself plenty of time.

Azami kisses me good-bye at the door and wishes me luck. With a heavy sigh, I head for Akasaka station.

Were it a weekday the train would be packed, shoulder-to-shoulder, with bleary-eyed salarymen, reeking of cigarettes and last night’s beer and shōchū. There would be office ladies preening themselves, and school girls in their pressed sailor uniforms thumbing out messages on cell phones, oblivious to the men craning their necks to get a better gander up their skirts. Today being Sunday, the train is mostly empty, each car carrying a few lifeless passengers, like half-deflated “Dutch wives”.[1]

Down the entire length of the railcar hanging from clips in the ceiling like laundry drying in the sun areposters, known as tsuri-kōkoku(吊り広告), advertising the new Shinkansenline that connects the city of Kagoshima in the south of Kyūshū with Hakata. Each poster shows a famous spot in Kagoshima Prefecture: the sand spas of Ibusuki with the dormant volcano Mt. Kaimon rising like a mossy conein the distance, the ornate Kirishima Jingū shrine surrounded by autumn hews of maples, and Mount Sakurajima across Kinkō Bay, burping a plume of smoke from its caldera. Each poster features a sleek white bullet train racing across the bottom and the alluring actress Hitomi Kuroki, dressed in an elegant kimono making bedroom eyes.

“Next stop Nakasu Kawabata. Nakasu Kawabata,” a sugary female voice announces.

The urge to flee from this country seizes me.

I have the cash, not a lot, but enough. I could take the Shinkansenall the way to Kagoshima, where I could catch a ferry to Amami Ōshima, then another ferry to Okinawa. From there, I could sail on to the southern-most island of Yonaguni. It would take two days, possibly more to get that far, a long time considering it was only two and a half hours’ flight away. But there would be no records, no ID checks if I went by ship. I could vanish.

My friend on Yonaguni could put me up for a few nights. Two or three days would give me more than enough time to think. Then, if I did decide to leave Japan, well, I supposed a fishing boat could take me on to Taiwan. It’s only a hundred kilometers away. I could use my Lebanese passport to enter the country and fly out of Taipei, making my way to Lebanon. I could deal with the cops from there. I am still a free man; after all, they haven’t arrested me . . . yet.

The screws may be tightening, but I can still wiggle. If the cops really had anything on me, they would have carted me away with my computers and urine sample on Thursday morning.

“Next stop Gion. Gion,” the woman’s voice reminds the passengers.

Only one more stop. . .

My heartbeat quickens. 

I still have time to turn around and head back to my apartment where I could call Ozawa and make up some excuse or another, tell him I overslept and would be there by ten-thirty. Better yet, I could tell him that I was talking to my lawyer and that I’d be there at noon. And before Ozawa knows what has happened, I’d be on the Shinkansento Kagoshima bulleting my way through the mountains of Kyūshū at 300 km/h.

But what would happen if I did manage to escape? Would I be able to return to Japan? Would I have to give up everything I have suffered so long to achieve: my home, my permanent residence status, my career—if you could call it one—the few friends I still have and, most importantly, my ex-wife’s family? Despite the divorce, they have stayed by my side, generosity I did not deserve. Would I ever be able to see them again? What about my rabbit, Pyon? Who’d care for him? And Azami? I know she’d be better off without a loser like me in her life, but am I? Would I be better off without her?

“Next stop, Hakata. All passengers transferring to the JR Kagoshima main line . . .”

The train stops, bells chime, and the doors hiss open. 

It is five past eight-thirty in the morning. I have a little under an hour to kill, fifty-five minutes to fill my head with silly ideas about lamming it.

I still have time to call Ozawa, tell him I am feeling ill, but would be there at eleven. No, tell him I’ll be there at noon. That would give me over three hours. Enough time to pack my bags and empty my bank accounts and . . . I could take a taxi back to the station, catch the first Shinkansen to Kagoshima . . . ride it all the way to Kagoshima . . . just me, and Hitomi Kuroki in her kimono, and freedom. All I have to do walk to the other side of the platform and board the train going the other way. All I have to do is take the train back to Akasaka. Back to Akasaka . . .

[1] A “Dutch wife” (ダッチワイフ) is what the Japanese call a sex doll. Why Dutch? Why, indeed. The original meaning of a Dutch wife was the “bamboo wife”, a kind of hallow bamboo bolster pillow. Dutch wife did not take on the connotation of a sex doll in Japan until the late 1950s. 

The first posting/chapter in this series can be found here. This is the last installment of Too Close to the Sun. To continue reading this, please visit Amazon. Too Close to the Sun and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.

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All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.