66. Calling Azami

After taking a shower and getting dressed, I notice that the message light on the phone is flashing. I press the play button.

Beep. “Rémy? Are you okay? I miss you . . .”

Beep. “Answer the phone, Rémy. I want to hear your voice.”

Beep. “Are you with another woman again?”

Beep. “Pick up the fucking phone now or it’s over between the two of us!”

Beep. “Why don’t you answer the phone? I’m going crazy worrying about you.”

I know I have to fill Azami in on what is happening before she has a complete meltdown, but I can’t risk doing so from home. I don’t know, for one, if anyone is listening.

I leave home earlier than usual, elaborately rigging the apartment with markers: business cards in the door jams, cellophane tape at the base of the fusuma sliding doors. If the cops were to snoop around my apartment while I am away, I will know.

At the train station, I ring Azami up.

“Where are you?” she demands right away.

“I’m at Hakata sta . . .”

“Why didn’t you answer your phone?”

“I couldn’t . . .”

“Where were you?”

“At home.”

“Why didn’t you pick up then? You were with someone, weren’t you?”


“Then, why didn’t you?”

“Azami, shut up for once and listen!” I sigh heavily and continue. “My apartment was raided by the police yesterday.”

“Oh Rémy, I knew something like this would eventually happen,” she groans. “I knew the police would eventually catch up with you and dé Dale.”

And she wonders why I didn’t pick up the phone.

“We can talk about that later, but first I need you to do one thing for me this afternoon.”


“Meet me at Small at seven-thirty.” 

Small Spaces is one of my regular haunts.

“Why can’t I meet you at your apartment?”

“For the love of God, Azami!” I yell into the receiver. “Just be at Small at seven-thirty!”

“Okay,” she says reluctantly.

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.

50. But she's sleeping

It is well past one a.m. in D.C. where my cousin lives. If my neck weren’t on the chopping block, I might wait until a more civilized hour to call. 

I try the number as Dita gave it to me with the extra digit and, not surprisingly, don’t get through. “One of the numbers has to go.” I drop the last digit, and, presto, the phone starts ringing.

“Hello?” It’s my aunt. She sounds wide-awake. Must be the jetlag.

“Hello. Ammteh Michelin, this is Rémy.”

“Rémy! It’s so good to hear your voice. What are you doing?”

Ammteh, I haven’t got much time. Is Naila there?”

“Yes, but she’s sleeping.”

“Listen: I need to talk to her right now. It’s extremely important.”

“Shall I wake her?”

“Yes, yes! Yal’luh, wake her up!”

Khalass, Rémy. I’ll get her.”

Naila is still half asleep when she comes to the phone. It always takes my cousin a good half an hour to sweep the cobwebs out of her head and start talking coherently, but I don’t have the time for pleasantries.

“Naila, you sent me a package a few weeks ago.”

There is a muffled grunt on the other side of the phone. Hardly the kind of unequivocal affirmation the situation demands.

“Naila, you’ve got to wake up and listen! You sent me a package, right?”

“Yeah,” she says, blowing her nose into the receiver.

“What did you send me?”

She mumbles something about dryer sheets, charcoal for my narghilè. These are the same things she mentioned in her mail.

“What else did you send?”

“Um, I don’t remember.”

“Naila, you’ve gotto remember! What was in the package?”

After a pause, she says, “Vitamins?”

Vitamins? What the hell do you mean by vitamins?” My aunt must be eavesdropping. “Listen, Naila, my place was raided by the police this morning.”

“Oh, my God! I’m so sorry, Rémy!” Now my cousin is awake. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so . . .”

“Naila, what did you send?”

Adderall is the muted answer.

“Adderall . . .”

In a way, it is a relief to hear that a fairly common prescription drug might be what all the fuss is about. Things could be much, much worse and I admit so to my cousin.

“I want to say it’s all right, Naila, like, hey, no problem, but I can’t. I’m in a shitload of trouble . . . not nearly as much trouble as I could have been if the police had, say, raided my place last week . . . if you catch my drift.”

She does. After living with me for ten months last year, there isn’t much my cousin doesn’t know about me.

“The thing is, Naila,” I continue “and forgive my vulgarity, but I feel as if the cops are pointing their fingers at me and accusing me of farting when, in reality, I’ve shit my pants.”

Halfway around the world, my cousin laughs nervously.

“What are you going to do?” she asks.

“Not a fucking clue. I don’t know what my options are, for one. I don’t even know if I’m legally obliged to talk to the cops. And, I don’t know how contained this is.”

“What do you mean?”

The Party,” I answer.

“Oh, right.” 

The Party is the nickname Naila and I gave my friend dé Dale, who has a habit of replying, “I am the party,” whenever someone asks him if there are any parties going on.

My cousin begs me to leave Japan. “You told me you were thinking of leaving,” she says. “Now’s your chance.”

“I can’t, Naila. Bastards took my passport away.

“Oh, haraam, Rémy, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“I haven’t got much time left on this phone card. Listen. I’m not angry with you, Naila. So, let’s save the apologies for later . . . I have to go in Sunday morning for questioning. I’ll try to call again before then, okay?”


“Just in case, God forbid, I don’t get through to you again, if you are ever asked, tell them . . . well, tell them the truth: I did not ask for the Adderall to be sent. I did not want it. Did not need it. I did not even know it was coming. Okay? I didn’t ask, didn’t want, didn’t know. You got that?”


“Good. I’ll call again. Bye.”

“Be careful, Rémy. I’m so sorry.”

“Remember: I didn’t ask, didn’t want, didn’t know . . . Didn’t ask, didn’t . . .”

And then the line goes dead.

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.

49. Calling Beirut

As soon as the lesson is over, I run downstairs to Family Mart, the convenience store on the first floor of my building, and buy a KDDI international calling card. I then hop on Azami’s old bicycle, and pedal as fast as I can towards Ōhori Park. The park is one of the few remaining places in town that I can think of, which has public phones set up for international calls. With everyone owning cell phones nowadays, public phones, and the international variety in particular, have fast become obsolete. The last time I personally had any use for one was just after our big earthquake in 2005 when public phones were the only ones you could get through on.

Near the entrance of the park, I find a phone booth. I call up KDDI, tap in the number on my prepaid card, and wait for the dial tone.

As I’m waiting, I look outside the phone booth. Just a stone’s throw away is a playground where young mothers chat with each other as their children climb monkey bars, chase dragonflies, or nibble on the goodies in their bentō boxes. It’s hard not to envy those kids, snotty noses and all. Not a care in the world, they spend their afternoons running around, falling down, getting back up, and running some more. At my age, with the consequences as distressing as they are, I no longer have the confidence that I can stand up, dust my knees off, and keep on going like those kids can. If I fall, it’s really going to hurt.

Sighing heavily, I dial the number of my aunt’s home in Beirut. After several rings, Dita, her Sri Lankan maid, answers.



“Dita, this is Rémy. Is . . .”

“Oh, Rémy! How are you?” she says cheerfully.

“I-I’m fine, Dita.”

“It’s so good to hear you,” she says. “Are you coming . . .”

I am hardly in the mood for chitchat. “Um, Dita, is Ammteh Michelin home?”


“Yes. Is she home? I need to talk to her.”

“No, Rémy. No. Madam is not here.”

Dita, despite having lived for decades in countries where English is the second most commonly spoken language, still speaks with a heavily curried accent. Her Arabic is even worse, far worse than my own, which is saying a lot. Have I not been living in Japan, where the average Western expat even after a decade-long residence still can’t string a proper sentence together in the local tongue, I might dismiss the maid as stupid. Dita isn’t stupid; just dismally average. Polyglots like my Lebanese relatives, I’ve come to realize, are the exception.

That said, at a time like this, I wish my aunt’s maid spoke better English. When a tornado is churning destructively towards you, you don’t want your message to get lost in the wind.

“She’s not there?” It has to be eight, maybe nine in the morning in Beirut. Perhaps she is out picking up man’ousheh for breakfast.[1] “When will she return?”


“What time will she come back?”

“Come back?”

“Yes, come back. What time will she come back?”

“No, Rémy. She don’ come back.”


“Madam is in America now.”

“America? What’s she doing there?”

“She’s visiting Naila.”

“Perfect! That’s really who I need to get in touch with. Have you got Naila’s phone number?”

Dita gives me the number, but her accent is so thick, I can’t tell if she is saying “two” or “three”. I have her repeat the number to me again before I read it back to her. I double and treble check, but just as I am about to hang up I notice the number has one too many digits.

“Dita, the number’s too long.”

“Too long?”

“It has too many digits.”


“Yes, it . . .” Ah, fuck it. “Never mind, Dita. Thanks. Bye.”



[1]Man’ousheh is a popular Levantine dish similar to a pizza, consisting of dough topped with thyme (za’atar), cheese (jubna), or minced lamb meat (sfiha). It is often served for breakfast.

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?”


“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?”


“Thailand. Did you do drugs in Thailand?”


“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’?”



“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.


“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. 


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?”


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.


“You decorate it yourself?”


“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.

35. Rabbits and Tanabata Wishes

“There’s a rabbit, too!” another cop hollers from the balcony. Dressed in jeans and a blue windbreaker, he seems to be enjoying the raid far too much.

“Is it yours?” he asks coming back into the room.

“The rabbit? Actually, he belonged to my next-door neighbor, but I, um, ‘adopted’ him when they moved away.”

“What’s the rabbit’s name?”

“Pyon-kichi,” I answer.

Everyone laughs.

The black rabbit hops into the room and, pausing at my feet, glances up at me with his dark eyes as if to say, “Dude, what’s with all the pigs?” Then, dropping a few balls of poop, hops off towards the dining room where another old cop is rummaging through my cupboards.

Atta boy, Pyon! Sic ‘em!

“Pyon-kichi? Who gave him a name like that?” the cop in the windbreaker asks.

“My wife did,” I say, reaching down to pick up Pyon’s droppings with a tissue.

“Well, that makes sense,” he says with a chuckle. “Pyon-kichi isn’t the kind of name I imagine a gaijin would give a rabbit. What about the bamboo in the other room?”

In the main room of my apartment, a large open space comprising the living and dining rooms which I sometimes use for the English lessons I have at home, is a bamboo branch about two and a half yards long that arches out from one corner of the room. A few days ago, my girlfriend Azami and I spent the evening decorating it with colorful origami for the Tanabata Star Festival that falls on the seventh of July.[1]

As she often does, my girlfriend impressed me with not only her retention of, but also her ability to still apply all the creative and artsy-craftsy skills she picked up ages ago in elementary school. Where the typical Japanese might be able to fold a square piece of paper into an origami crane, Azami can take the same piece of paper and make four connected cranes out of it as if it was the easiest thing in the world to do. Most of my students were thrilled when they saw the bamboo, and, filled with nostalgia, gladly wrote down their Tanabata wishes on paper, which they then attached to the bamboo branch.

“My students and I made it,” I tell the cops. “There may be some extra tanzaku paper left. Feel free to write your wishes down, too.”

None of them take me up on the offer.

[1] Tanabata (七夕, literally, “evening of the seventh”) is a Japanese star festival, celebrating the rendezvous of the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi (represented by the stars Vega and Altair), who are separated by the Amanogawa (Milky Way). The lovers are allowed to meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, according to the old lunisolar calendar.

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.