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.

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.

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.

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.