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!”

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?’”

Crickets.

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.

Thank you for reading.

注意:この作品はフィクションです。登場人物、団体等、実在のモノとは一切関係ありません。

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

69. Doisho

“Sure, no problem,” I tell the Customs agents and excuse myself to fetch the adaptor from my bedroom.

When I hand them the adaptor, I am told I must fill out a dōisho.

Dōisho?” Looking the word up in my electronic dictionary, I learn that a dōisho(同意書) is a letter of consent. 

Nakata draws up a sample dōishoand instructs me to copy it verbatim. 

As I am writing down the sentences, I hear the front door creak open. 

“If you don’t mind,” I say to the two agents, and rise to my feet. 

“Not at all,” Nakata replies.

Walking over to the entry, I find Azami standing at the door, dressed in a flowing purple summer dress and frozen like a doe in headlights. I could strangle the woman. 

Tell her not to call and what does she do? She rings me up every ten fucking minutes. Tell her to stay away from my place, so, naturally, she comes by.

“Ah, hello, long time no see,” I say cordially as I nudge her outside. “I’m afraid I have company at the moment.”

Closing the door behind me, I glare at my girlfriend. “Goddammit, Azami! When I tell you to do something, for fuck’s sake do it!”

“I’m s-s-sorry,” she says, taking a step away from me. True to the flower she is named after, she is as pretty as a thistle and just as prickly.

“Ah, Christ, I’m sorry, Azami. The one who should be apologizing is me.” I feel like a real arse. No, I aman arse. “Listen. Just make yourself scarce for the next thirty minutes or so, will ya? I’ll call you the moment I’m finished here and explain everything.”

Nodding, she does a sullen about-face and walks down the hallway towards the elevator.

What a jerk I am. Keep going Azamiand never come back.You deserve better than an arse like me.

“Thank you,” I say to the empty corridor, opening the door and stepping back into my apartment. “Please, do come again. Bye-bye now!”

Returning to the dining room table, I finish writing up the dōisho, affixing my official seal to the document where the Customs agent indicated.

“One other thing,” Nakata say. 

I almost groan. The Japanese have an annoying habit of going through an exhaustive list by saying “one more thing” before each item. I figure it will be more of the same here. To my surprise, however, there really is only one more thing: the password to my email.

Nakata shows me the piece of paper on which I wrote the password yesterday morning when my place was raided.

“We tried this, but it didn’t work.”

“Let me take a look at it,” I put on my best-puzzled face. “This is an underscore here, not a hyphen.”

“Yes,” says Windbreaker, “we tried it both ways.”

“Huh. It looks right to me,” I say, scratching my head. “But you know, I can’t remember the last time I actually typed the password. Oh, how silly of me. See this, what looks like a ‘b’ here? This is actually a ‘six’.”

“That’s a ‘six’?”

“Looks like a ‘four’,” Windbreaker laughs.

“No, that’s a ‘six’.” 

“Could you rewrite the password for us then,” Nakata asks.

When all the documents are signed and stamped, the two agents pack up and head for the door.

“Now, don’t forget about tomorrow,” Nakata reminds me, stepping into his sneakers and tapping the toes against the ground. “We need you there at nine o’clock sharp.”

“Nine o’clock? But, I thought Ozawa-sansaid nine-thirty.”    

“Oh, that’s right.” Nakata scratches his salt-and-pepper hair. “I mean nine-thirty.”

“I can be there nine,” I offer. 

“No, no. Nine-thirty’s fine.”

“Okay, I’ll be there at nine-thirty, then.”

“And don’t be late.”

What-the fuck-ever.

And with that the two of them are gone.


The first posting/chapter in this series can be found here.

Rokuban: Too Close to the Sun and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.

注意:この作品はフィクションです。登場人物、団体等、実在のモノとは一切関係ありません。

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

52. The Consulate

Thursday afternoon, July 6th

 

Next order of business: the U.S. Consulate.

I hop back on the bike and pedal over to the Consulate. Located a short ride away, and just outside of the park, the Consulate was built on what must be some of the most expensive residential real estate in the city today. As they say, to the victor belongs the spoils.

When I start to park my bicycle near the front gates of the Consulate, a police officer rushes towards me with a long nightstick, causing me to nearly jump out of my skin.

In broken English, I’m shooed away: “No park bicycle here!”

Halfway down the block another police office waves to me.

I push the bike towards the second officer and am directed to a visitor’s parking area around the corner. Once the bike is parked, I walk back to the entrance where an old guard is encased in a bulletproof glass box. He reminds me of the boy in the bubble.

I try to open the door, but it’s locked. The old guard points to the door and mouths something.

“What?”

He makes a poking gesture with his finger. It’s then that I notice the intercom. Pressing the button, I ask the guard in Japanese if he’d let me in to talk with one of the officials.

“Who do you want to talk to?”

“Anyone!”

The door buzzes, and I reach for the handle to open it. It is like trying to roll a boulder away from the entrance of a tomb.

In the five or so years since I last visited the Consulate, security has been beefed up. Where there were only one or two officers dressed like ordinary beat cops milling about the entrance before, there are now half a dozen cops in riot gear, standing sentry around the premises. In the past, you could pop right in whenever you felt like it and shoot the crap with the consular staff. Since 9-11, however, the State Department has turned this low priority target into Fort Knox.

Once inside the bulletproof box, I tell the guard that I need to discuss a legal matter with the consular staff.

“Do you have an appointment?”

“No.”

The old man sucks air through his teeth and says it might be difficult.

“I assure you this isan emergency.”

The guard makes a call, relaying what I have told him to someone inside. Hanging up, he instructs me to put my bag and other items on a tray. These are passed through an x-ray machine. I’m then told to walk through a metal detector.

Having leapt through the flaming loops of American vigilance, I am now allowed to pass through a second armored door and onto the grounds.

The consular building itself is set back off the road beyond a well-manicured Japanese garden with a rivulet of water flowing through it. There is yet one more set of bombproof doors to get buzzed through before I am able to speak to a frail Japanese spinster quailing behind another wall of bulletproof glass.

Christ, these people are prepared for Armageddon.

The woman asks me to take a seat, which I do, sitting across from a pair of large photographs of two of the most dangerous people in the world: President George W. Bush and his toady, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. 

Two more years. Two more years.

After staring at the shit-eating grins of “W” and Condi for half an hour, I am finally greeted by a barrel-shaped, middle-aged Japanese woman. She introduces herself as Ms. Satō.

I relay my story in brief and beseech the woman for the Consulate’s help. Ms. Satō takes some notes as I speak, and, when I’m finished, says that my timing couldn’t be worse: most of the consular staff are away from the office, busy packing up their things. Transfers are conducted in July and the new appointees won’t be arriving for several days.

After telling me to wait a little longer, Ms. Satō goes back through a door, made I suspect of kryptonite, where I can see her talking to a tall, balding man in a pink polo shirt. The man glances briefly my way and shakes his head. Gesturing to his watch, he dismisses himself. A moment later, Ms. Satō emerges from the Holy of Holies.

“You are American, aren’t you?” she asks.

“Would I be here if I weren’t?”

“Ah, yes, I don’t suppose you would. It’s just that Mr. Barker, the consul-general, told me to check. Do you have some ID, your passport, for example, with you?”

“No,” I say. “The police confiscated everything.”

She then explains that there isn’t anything they can do for me now. As a consolation of sorts, though, she hands me a thin printout published by the State Department: Guidelines for Americans Arrested in Japan.

God bless, the U.S of A!


The first posting/chapter in this series can be found here.

Rokuban: Too Close to the Sun and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.

47. Why didn't I say No?

A little before noon, my students start to arrive, and each one, noticing the Macs are gone, asks the same question: What happened?

“I sent them away,” I tell them, “to be debugged and upgraded and . . .”

Oh, you’d think I’d just delivered a zinger the way they double over with laughter. The thing is, for years I have been singing the praises of Macs and lobbing insults at their lousy PCs, a grassroots rabble-rouser standing up to that tin-pot dictator of a company, Microsoft. Now I have to pretend to swallow my pride and admit that I, too, could be frustrated by the very same problems they have had with their own PCs.

How would they react if I told them the truth that the cops stormed into my place only hours ago and confiscated the computers? Would they stick around and try to encourage me, or would they politely excuse themselves?

Having dodged the issue of the missing Macs, I now have to try to maintain my composure over the next ninety minutes. No small task when the levee holding back all my anxieties is leaking like a sieve.

What if the cops find something in my urine? Why the fuckdid I have to say “yes” to dé Dale? I wasn’t even interested . . . I, I didn’t even want it . . . Why, oh why did I say “yes”? Why couldn’t I have said “no”? I could have, but what did I say? “Sure, dé Dale, why not?” You know why? You’re a weak fucking bastard’s why.

Every fifteen minutes the stress gets to be too much and I have to excuse myself from the lesson to go to the toilet. “Drank too much coffee this morning,” I tell my students. “Ha, ha, ha.”

And what are the cops going to find on my hard disks? Good God, my whole life is in those computers. If they can’t find enough to arrest me in my urine, they’ll surely have no trouble finding it among all the files . . . 

Returning to the lesson, I mop the perspiration from my brow. 

“Damn hot today, isn’t it? You hot, too? No? You’re fine? Amazing! I’m burning up here. Mind if I turn up the air-con? You do? Damn.

Has dé Dale been busted, too? Is he being questioned by the police right now?

Runnels of sweat flowing down my back, I set an electric fan next to my feet and switch it on high.

“I want you to think carefully about what might have happened around you,” Ozawa told me before he left. 

He had gestured specifically toward the dining table as if he knew what dé Dale and I had been doing there last weekend, as if he had been watching usthe whole time.

What have the cops seen? What do they know?

“Tell us anything you can remember.”

Ozawa, that’s the problem. I remember plenty, but you are the last person in the world I will ever tell.


The first posting/chapter in this series can be found here.

Rokuban: Too Close to the Sun and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.

44. Think, Rémy! Think!

Snap out of it, Rémy! Think!

On the sofa with my head in my hands, I can think of a number of reasons why my place would be raided. And that’s the rub, as Billy Shakes wrote. Now, I’ve got to find out which one it is before day’s end.

The fact that I am still a free man is as confusing, and frightening, as it is encouraging. How much time do I have before the cops decide they have enough evidence and return with an arrest warrant? The mere thought of it sends a fresh shudder through my body.

It is about eleven in the morning when I am finally able to pull myself together. With work starting at twelve, I only have an hour’s time. 

Not nearly enough, but better than no time at all.

I leave my apartment and head for the nearest Internet café. It isn’t far, but I take a deliberately meandering route, riding my bicycle in the opposite direction to the local video rental shop.

The cops were familiar with my schedule, meaning it is likely I have been under surveillance for some time.

They’ve probably still got a few men shadowing me.

That’s what I would do, were I on the ball-busting side of the law.

Am I being paranoid? You better fucking believe I am! And for good reason: all of the cops who came to my place were plainclothesmen. They were average looking Tarōs—guys you wouldn’t remembered even if they’d rubbed up against you on a crowded train and goosed you. Anyone out on the street now could be a cop.

As I pedal in that roundabout way to the video shop, every man and nondescript white car I pass looks suspicious.

At the video shop, I pick up a random DVD, then pop into a variety store next door called Village Vangaurd, leaving my yellow bike out front for anyone to see. Hurrying through a maze of racks and bookshelves to the rear of the shop, I emerge from a little used exit that opens onto a narrow backstreet. Just as I hoped, it is deserted. 

The clock is ticking, but rather than risk drawing any more attention to myself than I already do as the only gaijinaround, I continue up the street at deliberately leisurely pace until I reach the Internet café. Once there, I buy a prepaid card and find a private room. Wasting little time, I log onto my e-mail account and start erasing any mails that might be construed as remotely suspicious. The account was set up only half a year ago, so there isn’t much to delete.

There is, however, a mail from my cousin Naila saying that she has sent a package for my birthday. The content of Naila’s mail, if interpreted literally, is innocuous. I leave it as is. If one of my suspicions proves correct, the mail might come in handy. Finally, before logging out, I make slight alterations to my password, changing a hyphen to an underscore, a “b” to a “6”, and setting the default language to French.

After taking out the garbage, I try to glean whatever I can about getting busted in Japan from blogs and Internet sites. It is hopeless, though. With the Internet as overcrowded as it is with pathetic little people sitting before little screens tap-tap-tapping away at little keyboards and feeling empowered by the "IT Revolution", it is getting damn near impossible to separate the wheat from the chaff.

I pop the prepaid card out of the reader, dump it in the garbage, and leave the café.

As I’m heading back towards the Village Vangaurd, I make a mental list of all the things I need to do before Sunday morning. Top of that list: contact dé Dale to find out whether the investigation has originated with him and, if it hasn’t, to warn him that he might be next. Paying him a friendly visit at his apartment, or even sticking my head into one of his shops is out of the question. The cops may be waiting for me to do precisely that.

Next, I need to talk to my cousin Naila. Then, I have to get in touch with my girlfriend Azami . . . and visit the U.S. Consulate . . . and meet with a lawyer, and . . . It is enough to send my head reeling.

At Village Vanguard, I pick up a few cans of Dr. Pepper and candy before exiting out the front door and hopping back onto my bicycle.


The first posting/chapter in this series can be found here.

Rokuban: Too Close to the Sun and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.

42. I'll be there.

After searching my apartment high and low for a full two hours and bagging up what scant evidence of wrongdoing they may have found, most of the agents are now allowed to leave. Hardly better than common thieves, the lot of them, they carry away all three of my Macs; the two cell phones; my passport and “gaijincard”;[1]as well as the Modafiniland Campho-Pheniquefrom my fridge. Nakata assures me that I will get it all of it back as soon as possible—tomorrow afternoon at the latest, he says.

I’ll believe it when I see it.

Although the pile of shoes at the entry to my apartment has grown smaller, a mountain of paperwork remains. Most of the forms—from the document that accompanied my urine sample to the release forms for the evidence that has been hauled away and passwords for my computers—need to be itemized, signed and stamped with my inkan.

Were this Lebanon, the whole affair might end with a few kind words and a handshake greased with a generous baksheesh. Were I in the States, a lawyer might be at my side, stonewalling. I couldn’t be further from either place. I know that I have to make at least a token effort to appear as if I am cooperating, otherwise they will throw me in the can for a month to make me pay for my impudence.

Only when the final piece of paperwork is signed and stamped can the last of the cops, including Nakata and Ozawa, leave.

Ozawa gets up off the sofa where he has been sitting all morning. He asks me one more time if I know why the police have come to my place. I make a show of giving the question some deep consideration, then shake my head. “No, none whatsoever.”

He gives me a blue card with a map to his office on the back of it. At the bottom, he has scrawled his name and phone number.

“We want you to show up here at nine-thirty, Sunday morning. If for any reason you can’t make it, if, say, you become sick, or come down with a cold, or get busy with something, whatever the reason, call this number, okay?”

“Don’t worry. I will be there,” I answer. In the back of my mind, however, I am seriously considering lamming it.

“In the meantime, I want you to think carefully about what might have happened around you,” Ozawa says, gesturing towards the dining table, “and tell us anything you can. You understand?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, see you Sunday.”

Nakata also gives me a card with his contact information. Looking at the card, I learn for the first time that he isn’t a cop after all. He is a Customs official.

As soon as they leave, I lock the door and go to the living room where I drop heavily onto the couch and clutch my head to keep it from screaming open.


[1]All foreign residents in Japan are required to register with their local ward office if they live in cities, town offices if they live in smaller towns. Once registered, they will be given a photo ID called the Certificate of Alien Registration which they must carry on their person at all times and present to authorities when asked. The rules and name for this changed in 2013. Many foreigners call them “gaijincards”.


The first posting/chapter in this series can be found here.

Rokuban: Too Close to the Sun and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.

41. The Final Warrant

Nakata comes to me with yet another set of warrants to search my body and to obtain a urine sample.

Having run around my apartment for the better part of an hour directing the search, he is now sweating like a pig, mopping his bloated, red face with a handkerchief. I am beginning to feel the heat myself, so I offer to get him some iced tea. This only pisses him off more. He takes some swings through the air with his short pudgy arms, a wimpy jab with the left, a girlie punch with the right, and says, “I do shōrinji kempō.”

I suspect this Nakata character means it as a kind of threat, a hint of things to come if I continue to be a smartarse, but I can’t help finding his little martial arts demonstration comical. The man couldn’t kung-fukick his way out of a wet paper bag.

“Wow!” I say, a smirk breaking across my face. “What dōjō do you work out at?”

Nakata waves me rudely away, and orders another cop to pat me down. 

After the pat down, I am told to turn my pockets inside out. I do, dumping the contents onto the coffee table before me: two handkerchiefs, a hundred and fifty-three yen in change, some lint, a button, a scrap of paper with a note to myself to buy some toilet paper, pannacotta, a new toothbrush, and so on.

Nakata then tells me to raise my shirt and drop my pants. As a cop inspects the insides of my jeans and socks, the cop with the video camera keeps the film rolling.

After pulling my pants back up and buckling my belt, I am given a clear plastic cup with a red screw-on top. 

Figuring this was what they expect me to tinkle in, I start to make my way towards the toilet. Another cop, it’s getting hard to keep track of who is who, catches me by the shoulder and tells me to wait. It may be my apartment, but—make no mistake—I am no longer Lord of the Manor.

First, they take my photo holding the empty cup in my hand. A second shot is then taken of me in the W.C., another standing before the john with my “dingdong” hanging limply out of my pants. The whole humiliating episode is being caught for posterity on video as well. And, to make doubly sure that I don’t cheat, a third cop, much younger than the rest and as sinewy as a greyhound, stands at the door of the W.C., keeping his eye on me.

Where’s the Whizzinator[1] when you need it?

Listen: that calm Windbreaker was admiring only moments before dissipates as soon as the piss starts dribbling into the plastic cup. Icy sweat trickles down my spine. My knees become weak. My fingers twitch nervously.

How many days did dé Dale say it took? Three to ten? And what’s today? July sixth. Four full days have passed. Only four! God almighty, I am screwed. I am screwed. I am screwed.

“I’m sorry, but this is all I can manage,” I say, showing the young cop the sample, hardly enough to drown a gnat.

“It’s enough,” he says with a confidence that is unsettling.

Enough for what? Enough to find what they’re looking for? Enough to throw me in jail?

I screw the top back on, and as I turn to leave the restroom, he catches me off guard by saying, “Aren’t you gonna wash your hands?”

“Silly me,” I say with a nervous laugh. At the washbasin, I put the urine sample down on the counter and start lathering up like a surgeon before an operation, all the way up to the elbows. The young cop is clearly irritated by my antics, but the last thing I am trying to do is get a rise out of him. No, I just need a moment to clear my skull of all the anxiety howling inside of it.

I rinse off, dry my hands and return, as instructed, with the urine sample to the living room where I am given a strip of silver metallic tape to seal the cup. Again, as instructed, I affix my official seal, known in Japanese as an inkan, to the tape in three places to prevent it from being tampered with. Finally, my photo is taken with the urine sample. I couldn’t feel prouder.

Now drenched in sweat myself, I mop the back of my neck and forehead with a handkerchief. In my breast that telltale heart of mine is pounding away like a kettledrum, so loud I am certain the cops can hear it.

Surely, this is what they have been waiting for: the moment the gaijinfalls to pieces right before their very eyes. All they need to do is to tighten the screws a little, to press me about what they might expect to find in the urine when they analyze it, and I will crack.

But no, as luck would have it, the cops allow themselves to be distracted once more. 

All morning long as they have been going about their search, they seemingly forget what they are supposed to be doing only to get caught up with the novelty of being in my home. If it isn’t the interior decorating and tidiness, then it is my pet rabbit or the Tanabatadecorations or the antique Imariporcelain dishes on display in the bedroom that stops them in their tracks. Considering that your average Japanese lives in an abominably cluttered rabbit hutch, it is only to be expected, but, the way they oohand aah, you’d think they were high school boys from the sticks in the big city for the first time rather than cops raiding a suspect’s home.

And now, the Keystone Kops are fascinated by the inkan[2] I have stamped my urine sample with. Cackling and cooing, they pass it around among themselves. The stamp, mind you, not my urine sample.

Several years ago, on the advice of a girl I was dating at the time, I had my inkanengraved with a transliteration of my family name, Boncoeur, into kanji: 良心. Individually, the two characters literally mean “good” (良) and “heart” (心). Together, however, they form the word ryōshin,which means “conscience” or “honesty”. Most Westerners in Japan have their seals written in katakana, the syllabary used primarily for foreign loan words. My own name in katakana, ボンクール (Bonkūru), never quite lent itself to the confined space carved into the end of an inkanstamp.

Explaining all of this to the cops goes a long way in helping me gather up those loose strings and regain my composure. Inside I may be a ball of nerves; outwardly, however, I manage to keep from unraveling. That is, at least, what I hope is happening. Who knows if the cops are sharp enough to see through my act?


[1]Trust me, you’ll want to google Whizzinator.

[2]Inkan (印鑑), or hanko (判子), are seals carved in wood or plastic which are used in lieu of signatures in personal documents, office paperwork, contracts, art, or any item requiring acknowledgement or authorship. In China, Japan, Taiwan, and Korea inkan are still used in combination with hand signatures.


The first posting/chapter in this series can be found here.

Rokuban: Too Close to the Sun and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.

40. Smart Drugs & Not So Smart People

Windbreaker comes around again and asks if I like traveling.

“Yeah. I go to Southeast Asia—Thailand, Malaysia, and so on—about once a year. And, I try to visit a new country at least once every one or two years.”

“You do drugs when you were there?”

“Pardon me?”

“You do drugs when you were there?”

“Where?”

“Thailand. Did you do drugs in Thailand?”

“Huh?”

“Have you done drugs in Thailand? You know, ecstasy?”

On the bookshelf just behind Windbreaker is an article my friend dé Dale clipped for me from The Bangkok Times a few weeks ago. It describes Thailand’s illicit trade in narcotics, yaba in particular.

“You must be joking.” I say. “Of course, I haven’t.”

“Oh? Why not?” Windbreaker seems surprised.

“Why not? Because I have zero interest in being thrown into a Thai jail is why not!”

“How about Japan, you ever do drugs in Japan? You ever smoke ‘ganja’?”

“Ganja?”

“Marijuana.”

“Marijuana? No. Never.”

“You’ve never smoked ganja?”

“Look, I’d be lying if I said I’d never smoked,” I admit, somewhat apologetically. “In college, you know, I 'experimented' with it just like everyone else. Hell, even President Clinton did. But, no, I have never smoked marijuana in Japan.”

Cross my heart and hope to die.

A taller cop, thinning on top and shabbily dressed, takes a large case off the top of my refrigerator, places it on the dining table and opens it. Inside is a water pipe, broken down into about eight pieces.

“What’s this?” he asks, holding up the Bohemian glass bowl that forms the base of the pipe.

“It’s an narghilè,”I say. [1]

“A what?”

“A water pipe from Lebanon,” I explain, “for smoking tobacco. The tobacco is in the cabinet across from the fridge. Top shelf.”

If there anything in my apartment is suspicious, it’s that pipe, but, rather than pack it up with all the other things the cops are now confiscating, he returns the narghilè to its case and puts it back on top of the refrigerator. You can smoke dope with one of those, not that I’m going to tell them.

The same cop, clearly not the sharpest tool in the proverbial shed, asks if I am Muslim.

“How many Muslims do you know keep a well-stocked bar?”

I have a small shrine of sorts dedicated to St. Max Kolbe—patron saint of, among all things, addicts—stocked with Ron Zacapa Centenario, Absinthe, Bombay SapphireSatsuma potato shōchūTres Generacionestequila, Pernod, and so on to keep the home fire burning.

He sighs irritably, then, starts hunting through the contents of my refrigerator where, in addition to the usual perishables, I keep vitamins and other supplements on the top rack of the door.

“What’s this,” he asks, holding up a small bottle of filled with a green liquid.

“It’s Champo-Phenique,” I answer. “It’s for insect bites and cold sores.”

He bags it up as evidence. Then, he removes a small box. “And this?” 

“I have rhinitis,” I explain, pulling a handkerchief from my back pocket and honking the klaxon good and loud for effect. “It helps.” Sniff-sniff.

The box contains about a month’s supply of Modafinil, a mild stimulant I’ve been taking for the past three years—I happen to be slightly jazzed up on it this morning. Did I give the truth a slight twist by saying it helped with my rhinitis? Not really. It does help me keep my eyes open when the allergy meds I take daily are trying to pull the shades down.

But Modafinil does so much more, something that I’m not about to let them in on, because, as they say, loose lips sink ships, a fact that is made all the more poignant when your boat is filled gunwale-to-gunwale with plainclothesmen. Modafinil taken with a cocktail of the Cognamine and other nootropic smart drugs will have you soaring like a rocket all night and landing softly as if onto a giant marshmallow. Astonishingly enough, none of them are controlled substances in Japan.[2]

The cop drops the Modafinil into a Ziploc bag to be sent to the lab, then closes the fridge having done his bit.


[1]The names for water pipes vary from country to country. In many parts of the Middle East water pipes are called narghilè (pronounced “arghileh”). “Hookah” comes from the Indian word for the pipe.

[2]“Nootropics” are drugs that are said to enhance cognition, memory, and attention. Many of the drugs mentioned above have since become controlled substances in Japan. (Party poopers.)


The first posting/chapter in this series can be found here.

Rokuban: Too Close to the Sun and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.

39. Search and Seizure

The cop who was pawing my underwear earlier now walks over to me with two cell phones in his hands: “These yours?”

“Yes, but, um, I no longer use thatone,” I say pointing to the older of the two. “It hasn’t worked for months.”

“We’re confiscating both of those, too,” Nakata calls from the dining room. 

Pyon-kichi hops back towards me, scratches playfully at my legs, then takes off for the balcony, a trail of droppings left in his wake.

One of the cops asks me where my wife is. When I reply that I’m not married, his eyes widen. Perhaps he believes he’s just caught me in a lie. “But, you said your wife named the rabbit.”

“One, we are divorced and, two, Pyon is an old rabbit.”

“Aah so,” he replies, somewhat crestfallen, and drifts away, scribbling in his notebook.

Meanwhile, the other cops continue to go through my belongings. There is no rhyme or reason to their search: they give the contents of one box a thorough going over only to overlook the next box altogether. They run their gloved hands through the contents of one drawer, but leave the drawer next to it alone. It only serves to reinforce my initial impression that they don’t know what they are looking for. When they first started poking around my apartment, I expected them pack everything up in uniform white boxes and march away in a neat line—as I’ve often seen on the news—leaving me in nothing but my skivvies in the center of a cleaned-out apartment. After nearly an hour, though, all they have confiscated are my passport and cell phones.

A middle-aged cop, poorly dressed and sweating profusely, shows me a stash of unexposed film in one of my smaller Balinese containers, about ten rolls from some of my more recent trips.

“What’s this,” he asks.

“Film.”

“I know it’s film, but what is it of?”

“This and that.” 

It’s not that I’m trying to be difficult, but, really, what’s the point in being too cooperative?

He turns to Nakata and asks if he should pack the film up and take it to the lab as evidence.

“By all means, please take them,” I interject. “And while you’re at it, I’d really appreciate it if you could you make extra copies for me, too. I haven’t had the money to get them developed.”

Nakata tells him to forget about the film. 

Damn.

38. Passport Confiscated

Windbreaker, who is still crouched down before me, comments on my Japanese: “It’s pretty good. You been here long?”

“Too long,” I answer. “Fourteen years this spring.”

“Where are you from?”

“The States.”

“The U.S., huh? Where?”

“Oregon.”

Olé . . .”

“Oregon. It’s on west coast of America, just north of California.”

Normally, I don’t miss “home”, but on a day like today . . .

“Ah, California. I know California.”

I have had to endure the very same conversation ten thousand times since coming to Japan. I know what the next question will be before Windbreaker does.

“You don’t, em, . . . look American,” he says, craning his neck to get a better view of the gaijin before him.

“You tell me: what is an American supposed to look like?”

“Well . . .”

“I’m half Lebanese,” I tell him. “Half Lebanese, half French.”

“But you are American?” he says, making a notation on his pad. Many of the cops are carrying small notepads and scribbling away. None of them are the same, though. Not like the standard notepads the FBI in American movies have. Makes you wonder if they have to cough up the yen to buy their own.

“Yes, I was born in America,” I said. “You know, the Great Melting Pot and all that.”

To the average Japanese, it probably sounds like I am trying to pull a fast one by “claiming” to be American. As if the cachet of being a Yank is so great that I would lie about my nationality. If anything, it is an embarrassment, especially with a reckless cowboy like Bush in the White House.

“Can we see your passport?”

“Yeah, hold on.” When I stand up to get it, the older cop in double-breasted suit stops me with a hard tap on my arm. He gives some orders and that annoying little man with the salt-and-pepper hair and dreadful pencil mustache comes over. His name, I’ll learn soon enough, is Nakata.

“Where is it?” Nakata asks brusquely.

“It’s over in the living room.”

“Where in the living room?”

“I’ll show you.”

“Don’t move!”

Nakata gives the other cops instructions to clear out of the way. The longhaired cop with the video camera follows along behind me. Another cop with a camera takes stills: one shot of me pointing towards the living room. Another photo of me pointing towards the bookshelves and cabinet, then one of me opening the cabinet and pulling out the folder I keep important documents in.

When I hand Nakata my passport, he asks, “Have you got any other passports?”

On the urging of a mother too proud of her country and family to ever renounce her own nationality, I have kept a Lebanese passport wrapped in a handkerchief in the side pocket of a pair of shorts along with about three-hundred-thousand yen in euros and U.S. dollars in a suitcase that is tucked away and gathering dust in the back of my closet. If my mother has taught me anything, is that it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

“No, of course not,” I answer.

“We’re going to confiscate this, okay?” Nakata says, agitation rising in his voice.

“Yeah, sure. Go ahead.” I reply and return to the sofa in the back room. Never has it occurred to me to actually use my Lebanese passport. Not until today, that is.


The first posting/chapter in this series can be found here.

Rokuban: Too Close to the Sun and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.

37. Pressure Building

In the bedroom, a cop searching through my chest of drawers finds something that makes me swallow hard: a simple black wallet dé Dale gave me. The cop runs his gloved fingers through each pocket, but, not finding anything, returns it to the drawer. He moves onto the next drawer and fishes around my socks and boxer shorts, tedium starting to show in his face.

“C’mon, you know why we’re here, don’t you?” Ozawa prods again.

The guy is starting to sound like a broken record. Every time he asks, I reply with the exact same answer: “No. I don’t know.” I look straight into the narc’s eyes and say, “I honestly haven’t got the slightest of clues.”

I wonder how others are able to perform in similar circumstances. Do they collapse like aluminum cans under the slightest pressure? Do they blather away, confessing every class of sin, venial and mortal? Do their telltale hearts drive them mad with guilt until they own up to everything?

It’s not in my nature to lie, but I can’t afford to be forthcoming with these men, not until I know what they know—namely why they have raided my apartment in the first place. The last thing I want to do is to confess to the wrong crime.


The first posting/chapter in this series can be found here.

Rokuban: Too Close to the Sun and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.

36. Ayin Hasad

The cop in the blue windbreaker crouches down before me and says, “You’re awfully calm.”

I shrug. Calm waters may run deep, but there is a torrent raging just below the surface. It’s all I can do to hold myself together and keep from breaking out into a sweat and freaking out completely.

The guy with the video camera moves slightly to the right so that he can get a better shot of my face.

“You’ve got a nice place here,” Windbreaker says.

“Thanks.”

“You decorate it yourself?”

“Yes.”

“Where do you buy stuff like this?” He holds up a coffee grinder I bought a few years ago at an antique fair in Beirut.

“Here and there,” I answer. “I like to travel. I pick up things wherever I go. I got that in Lebanon. Those baskets are from Thailand and Malaysia. That lamp is from Bali.”

Windbreaker asks what all the blue and white glass circles hanging in the entry are.

“They are talismans from the Middle East called nazar,” I explain. “They’re supposed to protect you from the Ayin Hasad.”

“The what?”

Ayin Hasad, the maliciously envious stare of strangers. It’s a Middle Eastern thing. In English, it’s called the ‘Evil Eye’. My mother brought them when she last visited and insisted I put them up. I’m not a superstitious person, but my mother can be persistent. I did it to humor her.”

“Do they work?”

“Not today.”


The first posting/chapter in this series can be found here.

Rokuban: Too Close to the Sun and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.

34. Guilty of Good Taste

The fusuma partitions, which separate the room Ozawa, the suit, and I are sitting in from the other rooms of my apartment, have all been thrown wide open such that I can see most of my apartment from where I am. Plainclothes officers mill about, going through my things with gloved hands. Two cops poke their fingers into the pockets of the clothes hanging in the closet, while others open the baskets and containers I have on the bookshelf in the living room.

Another cop—it’s hard to keep them straight—comes up to me and asks, “Who do you live with?”

“I live alone.”

“Oh? Why have you got two bicycles, then?”

“I know people who’ve got three or more cars . . .”

He makes a notation in his book and walks away.

 

I’ve never been the kind of person to harbor a blanket contempt for law enforcement the way, for instance, my friend dé Dale does, but as I watch these matori agents search my apartment I can’t help being reminded of the Keystone Kops. I get the impression that they are just as bewildered as I am. For one thing, they don’t seem to know what they are searching for.

A cop venturing out onto the balcony exclaims, “Hey guys, check this out!” Curious policemen gravitate towards the balcony. “He’s got bamboo and hydrangea out here.”

“And a Japanese maple tree!” says another. “Well, I’ll be!”

They have me there.

Where most Japanese have laundry racks and bags of recyclables, I do indeed have two thickets of black bamboo growing on my balcony and a number of hydrangea of varying colors, which are now in full bloom. The leaves of the Japanese maple still has that fresh green hue that I love. When the afternoon sun shines on them, the bedroom fills with a comfortable viridescent glow. The morning glories I planted only a few weeks ago are just starting to wind their way up a railing and bamboo trellis that I built in a rare fit of frenetic activity only a week ago.

On the northern half of the balcony—the part you can see from my Japanese-styled bedroom with its antique tansu chest of drawers—I have arranged plants typically found in Japanese gardens. The other half of the balcony, visible from where Ozawa, the older cop in the suit, and I are sitting, is more Mediterranean in theme with a palm tree, bougainvillea and herbs such as lavender and rosemary. I also have deck chairs and a large parasol.

If they were to charge me with having good taste and a green thumb, then I am, beyond the shadow of doubt, guilty.


The first posting/chapter in this series can be found here.

Rokuban: Too Close to the Sun and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.

33. Matori

Cool as a cucumber, the cop in the wrap-around sunglasses explains that he is Ozawa from Matori, the Mayaku Torishimari Kyoku (麻薬取締局), the Japanese equivalent of the DEA. He also has a piece of paper: a warrant to search my apartment.

“I understand,” I say. “I’ll get out of your way, then.”

What else am I supposed to tell the man? This sure ain’t the United States where you demand to see your lawyer; no, the only thing you can do is let them go about their business and hope against hope they don’t find what it is they are looking for.

As they begin searching my apartment, I go to a back room and sit down heavily on the sofa.

Ozawa follows behind me, taking a seat near mine, while an older cop in a baggy double-breasted suit sits down next to me.

“Do you know why we’re here?” Ozawa asks.

“No.”

“You have no idea?” He says, giving the older cop a look that speaks volumes about the contempt he must feel for the gaijin[1] in his presence.

“No. None at all,” I reply.

Ozawa doesn’t seem to buy it. He pushes his sunglasses up on to the top of his shaved head and rubs his eyes. Looking long and hard at me, he says, “You can’t think of any reason that would have all of us storming in here?”

The guy has the build of a wrestler, the hands of a strangler. He’s also got a good 20 to 30 pounds more meat on his bones than I do. If he wanted to knock me about, there wouldn’t be anything I could do but try my best to enjoy it.

“A mistake?” I offer.

“A mistake?”

The cop in the double-breasted suit chuckles; Ozawa looks away in disgust.

Another cop with longish hair and acid-washed jeans is standing a few feet away, filming me on a small video camera.

“Yes, a mistake,” I say. “My neighbor down the hall in four-oh-five is yakuza. People are always confusing our apartments.”

“Are you trying to make a fool of us?” Ozawa yells.

“No, no, no, not at all. It’s just that you asked . . . Never mind. I’m sorry.”


[1] Gaijin (外人, lit. “Outside Person”) is a contraction of gaikokujin (外国人, lit. “Outside Country Person) which is Japanese for “foreigner”. Many Japanese, aware that some non-Japanese residents take offence at being called gaijin will bend over backwards to not use the word “foreigner” when speaking English. Instead, they’ll say something silly like “other country people”. To which I’ll say, “Oh, you mean ‘foreigner’, right?”

Some foreign residents of Japan take umbrage at being called gaijin, likening it to an African American being called a “nigger”, but the word isn’t nearly as emotionally charged as that.

The first posting/chapter in this series can be found here.

Rokuban: Too Close to the Sun and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.

 

32. This is No Joke

When I open the door, I find an intimidating gang of middle-aged men standing in the corridor. The beefy one in front, who’s in wrap-around sunglasses and blue work clothes, flashes a badge.

“Police!”

“Yeah, right,” I say, barely able to suppress the nervous laugh that bubbles out of me.

Badge or no badge, the guy looks like a thug. Shaved head, a scraggly, but trimmed beard, and those ridiculous sunglasses. If this goon’s a cop, then I am a man of the cloth.

“Someone put you up to this, right?” I say. “Was it dé D . . .”

Before I can complete the sentence, they storm my apartment—one after the other like an implausible number of circus clowns jumping out of a VW bug—so many, I lose count.

As I’m watching them rush in through the front door, I notice something curious: before stepping into my apartment each one of them nimbly removes his shoes. By the time they are all inside, a heap of leather and rubber and canvas, a pyramid of sneakers, loafers, and rubber boots has formed at the entry.

The last one to enter my apartment is a pudgy little man with closely cropped salt-and-pepper hair and a pencil mustache. Right away, he corners me in my dining room and starts waving a badge and a piece of paper in front of my face. He says something to me that I can’t quite catch, and then turns to the others and starts rattling off quick, excited orders.

Only now does it hit me: this is no practical joke.


The first posting/chapter in this series can be found here.

Rokuban: Too Close to the Sun and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.

31. Knock, Knock

But then comes that knock at the door that will change everything.

I look to the clock on the wall. “Eight-o-two? Who on earth could be coming by at this hour? Must be dé Dale.”

Ever since the Frenchman confided in me that he was going to leave Japan, never to return—NEVER!—we have been spending a lot of time together—for better, for worse.

More knocking.

Then again, maybe it’s FedEx with the package . . . but at eight in the morning?

The knocking grows louder.

Jesus, I’m coming already!”

I peer through the peephole, but can’t see anything. Someone or something on the other side of the door is covering it.

Gotta be dé Dale.

Oh, if only it were.


The first posting/chapter in this series can be found here.

Rokuban: Too Close to the Sun and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.