60. Buddies

As a stranger in a land as strange as Japan where enduring and satisfying human relationships can sometimes be difficult to come by, necessity often forces you into tenuous friendships with people you might not associate with otherwise. More often than not, the only thing bringing a group of gaijin together is the aversion to drinking alone.

It was no different with me. 

I had an odd collection of drinking buddies, like a drawer full of mismatched socks, I had picked up over the years. We would meet, get shit-faced on cheap beers at gaijin watering holes or, better yet, pig out at inexpensive izakaya with all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink deals, and score the occasional skank.

I have to admit it had been fun in a sophomoric sort of way for a while, but it could never be a fraction as fulfilling as the time I was now spending with dé Dale, drinking Zacapa and meeting, beautiful women, yes, but also getting to know men who were going places and doing things with their talents and connections. Shōhei and his partner, for instance, would open an upscale restaurant in a years’ time that would be the launching pad for a chain of fine dining establishments located throughout the Kantō and Kansai region,[1] making the two of them millionaires many times over and celebrities in their own right before their mid thirties.

And talking about bending reality, in those first few months alone since dé Dale and I had become friends, my mind had already been twisted into a pretzel. No one had, or ever would, come nearly as close to influencing how I lived or thought as the Frenchman did over the next several years. He would lead me out of the labyrinth of frustration my life had become.

“By the way, I have to go to Tōkyō next week for a show,” dé Dale said, leaning in close, his voice becoming a whisper. “I’m going to be meeting some mates from Colombia.”


“If you’ve been a good boy, Santa may pay you an early visit this year.”

If my face had been lit up like a pachinko machine before with that first sip of Zacapa, I wonder what it must have looked like when I learned that it was going to snow this spring: Jackpot!

“Won’t be cheap,” dé Dale said, taking a sip of his rum, “but I assure you it will be well worth it. Interested?”

Interested? Like a kid eager for Christmas morning, I was. I nodded my head, yes.

[1]The Kantō region includes the Tōkyō metropolis and six neighboring prefectures—Gunma, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Saitama, Chiba, and Kanagawa. The Kansai region lies in the southern-central part of Japan’s main island Honshū and includes the prefectures of Mie, Nara, Wakayama, Kyōto, Ōsaka, Hyōgo, and Shiga.

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.

59. Zacapa

Having finished off the last bubble of the Moët & Chandon, dé Dale ordered a glass of rum and invited me to try it.

I declined, saying, “I’ve never been a big rum drinker.”

“This is no ordinary rum, my friend,” dé Dale said. “This is Ron Zacapa Centenario. From Guatemala.”

“Guatemala? Huh.”

I had never heard of Zacapa, nor had I known that rum was produced in that small Central American country. I was willing to trust dé Dale’s judgment all the same; he hadn’t been wrong about much yet.

The liquor was much darker than other rums, and had a surprisingly pleasant nose. Giving the rum a tentative sip, I was overwhelmed by its rich, full-bodied flavor as the liquor washed over my tongue. 

My eyes must have lit up like a pachinkomachine because dé Dale turned to Shōhei and said, “Now that my friend here has slobbered all over my glass, how about a fresh one for myself.”

Shōhei laughed and took another glass off of the glass shelf. Placing a tumbler of stylishly etched crystal on the counter, he switched on a light that illuminated the glass from underneath.

Bacarat,” dé Dale informed. “They know how to do things right here.”

Shōhei then pulled out a block of ice from behind the counter and started chipping away at it with an ice pick. He rotated the ice in his left hand, chipped at the rough edges, flipped it around and gave it a few dexterous jabs with the pick, until it was a perfect sphere of ice, which he set into the tumbler.

Shōhei then took the bottle of Zacapa Centenario which was covered in petate, a hand-woven mat made from palm leaves, uncorked the bottle and poured a generous amount into the glass. With a flourish, he gave the ice a spin and slid the drink over to dé Dale.

Dé Dale and I clinked our glasses and savored the moment.

“Are you a rum drinker now?” dé Dale asked after a while.

“I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to drink anything else,” I replied. “The scales have fallen from my eyes.”

“Better late than never.”

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.

58. Bending Reality

Dé Dale took me to an shamelessly hip bar in Imaizumi where everyone seemed to know him. The moment he walked in the door, arms were thrown wide open, customers and bartenders alike calling out his name: “Dé Dale! Where have you been hiding yourself?”

“In Nepal, buying hemp,” he shouted back, and pointing towards one of the bartenders who had the tan and long hair of a surfer, added, “Sorry, Shōhei, none for you.” The whole bar erupted in laughter.

We mounted barstools, minimalist things I had seen recently in the Conran Shop. Dé Dale introduced me to the bartenders, who pulled out their meishi(business cards) from a pocket in their crisp black aprons, and did a smart job introducing themselves to me.

I took the business cards and placed them before me on the steel counter top.

“Aren’t you going to . . . Oh, Rémy, don’t tell me you haven’t got your meishi,” dé Dale said, shooting me a look that made me shrink.

“No, not on me. I-I didn’t expect to be meeting . . .”

“Rémy, when you’re with me, you should assume it.”

“Trust me, I’ll have them on me next time,” I replied, embarrassed.

Dé Dale ordered a bottle of champagne straight off, and, as Shōhei was fetching it, told me that the two bartenders were worth getting to know.

“They’re well connected in the city, and this Shōhei, why, I’ve seen him fill a ballroom at the Solaria Hotel with five hundred women, all immaculately dressed.”

Shōhei placed champagne glasses and a bucket of ice before us and proceeded to ceremoniously uncork the bottle.

Dé Dale poured four glasses of champagne, two for the bartenders and two for us.

“It’s been a very good month,” he said, raising his glass. “Thanks to trippers like you.”

The others in the bar raised their own glasses, and, when dé Dale said, “Kampai!” they all clinked their glasses together.[1]

It was fascinating to watch the Frenchman interact with the others. Dé Dale’s Japanese was far from perfect, a fact he freely admitted. He couldn’t read or write a proper sentence if his life depended upon it, and yet it didn’t stop him from conducting business, signing contracts, taking out loans, and so on.

“People who moan about language preventing them from doing business,” he would say, “are lazy. The only reason those losers are aliveis because the sun shines and the air is free.”

As bad as he claimed his Japanese was dé Dale was able to make the most of what he knew to become a far more engaging and entertaining conversationalist than I could ever hope to be after all my years trying to master the language. 

It was no different with his English. Yes, it could have done with some fine-tuning, but it was still far more intelligent, nuanced, and substantive than the facile blather of your average American.

Three glasses of champagne later I admitted to dé Dale that it hadn’t been a bad month for me, either.

“My friend, I don’t mean any disrespect, but I doubt in your best month you earn nowhere near what The Zoo alone pulled in this month.”

“True, but I haven’t got all the overhead and hassles that I’m sure you have. And, everything I earn is tax free.”

“Well, my friend, if you want to live like a Bohemian, then I suggest you move to Bohemia,” dé Dale replied with a sardonic smile. “Paying taxes is a very small price to pay.”

“For what?”

“By paying taxes, you establish an income, a record of achievement that you can then use to get loans . . .”

“Loans? Who wants loans?” Now it was my turn to be skeptical. I was perfectly happy operating on a cash basis, knowing exactly how much money I had, never having to worry about bourgeois nonsense such as mortgages.

“Permit me to enlighten you, Rémy. Loans are the fuel for growth. Your business cannot grow without them.”

“Why would I want to get any bigger than I am? Okay, a little bigger would be nice, but I’m already making two to three times what any of my friends are making at the moment, maybe not you, but much better than average. I’m not rich, but I am comfortable.”

“It’s the purpose of any business to grow. It is their raisons d’être. Businesses either grow, or they die.”

“Well, this isn’t really what I want to be doing. I mean it’s just something that pays the bills and . . .”

“What is it then you’re wanting to do?”

“Write, travel, take photos . . .”

“You write? I did not know this,” he said, taking a sip of his champagne. “Why do you write?”


Why didI write? Most people seemed to want a tidy answer, something you could put in the center of a truffle and pop into their mouths. My reasons, however, were as cluttered and confused as that table in Adachi’s law office. The desire to write, I had long felt, was an affliction, an obsessive-compulsive drive to arrange letters into words, words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, to cover a perfectly good sheet of clean white paper with black ink.

“You know why?” dé Dale said. “Ego.”


“Yes, ego.”

“I’d like to think it’s more than that.”

“What is it then?” 

I rambled on about romantic ideas I had about living the life of a writer.

“Rémy, Rémy. If I wanted to punch you here,” he said, patting me in the soft part between my left breast and shoulder. “I don’t aim for there, I aim for here.” He put his fist a good foot behind my shoulder.

I had the feeling that I’d heard this witticism before, too, perhaps in the movie, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. Not that I was going to tell my friend that.

“I consider myself lucky if I’m able to accomplish halfof my goals,” dé Dale continued. “You know why I run the business I do?”

“To get laid?” I offered, half-jokingly.

“Well, yes, there is that. Chicks are definitely attracted to guys with cool jobs, but that’s but an infinitesimal part of what I’m trying to achieve. More important than all the pussy and money you can throw my way, I want to bendreality. Some kid comes into my shop and buys . . .”


“No, it doesn’t even have to be shrooms. It could be those ugly canvas shoes I sold fifteen thousand pair of, or the hemp bags I was just in Nepal ordering. I designed them, had them made, imported them, and now some kid is slinging it over his shoulder and putting his wallet and things in it. I’ve changed his daily life. I’ve bent his reality.”

[1] Kampai (乾杯, lit. “dry cup”) is the Japanese equivalent of “Cheers!” Meaning to drink up all the saké in one’s cup, it can be more accurately translated as “Bottoms up!” It can also mean to “propose a toast”, as in “Kare-no kenkō-o iwaishite kampai-shiyō!” (彼の健康を祝して乾杯しよう, Lit. “Let’s toast his health!”)

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.


57. Nothing to Hide

Adachi’s private office in the back is even more cluttered than the reception area. A steel bookshelf has been rigged up against the wall and is stuffed with volumes of law books and journals. A large conference table, taking up what little room there is in the office, is covered with piles of legal documents, heavy stacks of books, newspapers, magazines, and cardboard boxes filled higgledy-piggledy with papers. From a distance the table could pass for an overloaded container ship inching its way through a narrow canal.

Lifting a box off of a seat, the lawyer invites me to sit down.

“I’m sorry for coming unannounced like this,” I say, taking the seat. It wobbles unsteadily below me. “But, this morning my apartment was raided by the police.”

“Did they tell you why they were there?”

“No, they wouldn’t say. Here.”

I hand the lawyer the papers I have with me: copies of the warrants and an itemized list of things confiscated from my apartment.

“What’s this?” Adachi asks, pointing to the Modafinil on the list.

“That has nothing to do with the case . . .”

Before I can explain, Adachi picks up the phone and starts dialing the number of the chubby Customs agent with the pencil mustache. 

“Is this Nakata? Oh good. My name’s Adachi, I’m a lawyer and I’ve got a Mr. Bon . . .” 

“Boncoeur,” I prompt. I can’t tell if the lawyer before me has brass balls or is a reckless fool.

“I’ve got a Mr. Boncoeur here. He’s quite upset about what happened this . . . I see . . .”

After speaking briefly with the Customs agent, Adachi hangs up the phone and announces definitively, “This is a case of attempted smuggling.”

“Yes, yes, I realize that now. That’s what I was going to tell you,” I reply, somewhat exasperated.

Adachi apologizes, saying he mistakenly assumed the case revolved around the Modafinil.

Starting over from the beginning, I explain what happened, the phone call to my cousin, and so on.

“Well, attempted smuggling isn’t nearly as bad as actual smuggling. If the drugs had, for instance, made it to your home and you had used them, well, then it would be an entirely different story. Hmm, this is very interesting.”

Adachi pushes his glasses to the top of his head and takes a second look at the papers again.

“Very interesting, indeed,” he mumbles to himself. “I worked on a similar case a few years ago . . . An American teaching at a junior high school here in town . . . When he was coming through Customs at the airport, he was found to have drugs hidden in the lens of his camera . . . He claimed they had been planted on him . . . Hmm, very interesting.”

Of all the names on the list, why did I have to choose this guy?

I wanted to back-peddle out of Adachi’s cluttered law office and find another lawyer, that Kōga, perhaps. Trouble is, I now have even less time than before.

“I wouldn’t worry,” Adachi concludes after muttering incoherently to himself for a minute. “If the police thought you were guilty, they would have arrested you this morning.”

“You know, I would really like to believe that, but I’m afraid I don’t trust the police. I mean, what if they are just postponing my arrest?”

“I don’t think they’d do that.”

“They want me to come in for questioning on Sunday morning and again on Monday.”

“Make sure you go, then.”

“Do I haveto? Am I legally obligated to go?”

C’mon, man, throw me a fucking bone here!

“No, but it will only make you look more suspicious if you don’t. And then they’ll definitely arrest you.”

“Isn’t there anything youcan do?”

“I’m afraid not,” he says flatly. “Just tell them what you’ve told me and you should be all right. You haven’t got anything to hide, right?”

Nothing to hide? Good Lord, I have plenty.

“No, nothing,” I say. “I didn’t ask or want my cousin to send her medicine. I didn’t evenknow there was something ‘illegal’ in the package until this morning when my place was raided.”

“Well, tell them that and I’m sure everything will be settled before long.” 

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.

56. Ready or Not

Adachi’s office is a dishearteningly modest affair. Two dowdy middle-aged women stand behind a cheap reception counter, shuffling through documents in silence. A dirty window in the rear looks out onto a parking garage.

First off, I apologize for coming unannounced, then explain my situation in brief and ask if I might be allowed to meet Adachi.

One of the women tells me that “Sensei” [1] is out at the moment, but would return shortly. I take a seat on a squat vinyl sofa shoved into a corner between a sad little Benjamin tree with browning leaves and a clunky old copy machine that stinks of toner.

On the wall above the copier hangs a clock with a convex glass cover that hasn’t been cleaned in ages—a thick layer of dust cloaks the upper half of it like a fur collar. The time doesn’t look quite right either. A quick peek at my cell phone and I realize that I have even less time than I thought before I need to get back to work. I curse myself for not cancelling my evening lessons.

Twenty minutes pass and I’m starting to think it might be a better idea to consult another lawyer when a man hurries in. Gaunt and disheveled, he looks more like an absent-minded professor than a legal eagle. Noticing me, his eyes bulge. He gives me a nervous nod, then maneuvers around my legs to step into the office. After chatting a moment with the two spinsters, he makes a beeline for a room in the back and closes the door.

One of the secretaries serves me a cup of green tea and says that Senseiwill be with me in a moment. As I wait there sipping the tea, my feet are pointed towards the entrance. It is all I can do to keep from bolting out the door. 

If I’m not mistaken, another lawyer, a Kōga-sensei, has an office just around the corner. According to the List of Attorneys, he not only has experiences with narcotics cases but also speaks fluent English.

But what if Kōga isn’t in? I’ll lose another fifteen to thirty minutes. No, better stay put.

And stay put I do—precious minutes ticking away like diamonds being smashed into smithereens—until Adachi emerges from the back room. Running his fingers through pomaded hair, he gives a nod the secretaries. The resignation in his face couldn’t be clearer. 

Sensei is ready to see you.” 

Ready or not, here I come. 


[1]Sensei(先生), a word that literally translated means a “person born before another”, is used after a person’s name to mean “teacher”. It is used as a title to address teachers, professors, and professionals, such as lawyers, accountants, doctors, and politicians. The word can also be used to show respect to someone who has achieved mastery in an art form, such as an author.

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.

55. Not bad

“Mark my word,” dé Dale assured me, as he was getting out of his car. “Imaizumi is the next Daimyō.”

Everything—the coolest bars, trendiest restaurants, the most fashionable boutiques—was moving south to the neighborhood which was at the time still an unfrequented corner of the city with narrow, convoluted roads, a collection of seedy love hotels, and shabby apartment buildings.

“I watch these things very carefully,” dé Dale told me as he pressed the lock button on the car key. The Mercedes chirped.

“Tell me, how much are you paying for parking alone every month?”

“Rémy, I never ask how much something costs. I ask myself, how can I affordit.”

That witty little remark sounded awfully familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it.

“So, when are you going to open up a boutique in Imaizumi, yourself?” I asked.

“I’m going one better,” he answered proudly. “I’m going to move my head office to Yakuin once I find a property I like.”

Yakuin was further south still, and one train station away from Tenjin, the commercial heart of the city.

“Why Yakuin?”

“The new subway line.”

It was under construction at the time, due to be completed in about five years’ time. 

“Besides,” he said, “I’ve already got a shop in the ZEEX building over there.”

“You do?” The man amazed me. “How many places you got now?”



“Not bad for a Jew who started out selling trinkets from a box on the street, is it?”

54. Lawyers

As I make my way through the heavy doors of the Consulate with nothing but that lousy 24-page Guidelines for Americans Arrested in JapanI can’t help but feel let down. I don’t know what I was expecting. Diplomatic sanctuary, perhaps? The Cavalry riding in to save the day?

At least Ms. Satō has provided me with a list of lawyers. Once outside the Consulate, I start skimming through the list. The names are given alphabetically: Abé, Adachi, Baba, Eguchi, Kōga, Moriyama, Nakano, and so on. Each lawyer’s alma mater, areas of specialty, and English proficiency are also listed.

I happen to know the Abé at the top of the list. She is an attractive, competent lawyer in her mid-thirties who helped me get the ball moving with my divorce two years ago. Although she is someone I can confide in, I eliminate her because she doesn’t have any experience with criminal law or narcotics. Not many on the list do. This isn’t America, after all.

Second on the list is a Mr. Adachi. Much older than Abé, judging by the date of his graduation, Adachi is one of the few who has apparently worked on cases dealing with drugs. The clincher, however, is the address of his law practice: it is only a short walk from my apartment. I hop on my girlfriend’s bicycle and head straight for it.

53. Brighter

Dé Dale and I became fast friends in the months following that first spliff at Bayside Place.

What the man ever saw in me I can’t really say. 

I was an unremarkable person in so many ways. I ran a small, but moderately profitable operation out my apartment, teaching English and occasionally French, writing, and translating. Business was, as they say in French, comme ci, comme ça—that is, neither very good, nor very bad. It defied growth the way a young boy resisted maturity. My love life, if you could call it one, was little better: I was four years into an unhappy marriage that I felt locked into and wanted out; and had an unhappy lover, I was locked out of, but wanted in. At thirty-four years of age, I had painted myself into a corner.

However little I could have possibly offered dé Dale, he still found it worth his while to phone me up now and then and ask if I was doing anything.

“At the moment, not much,” I replied. The sad truth was I hadn’t been doing much of anything for ten years.

And so, we would meet, and every time I would be exposed to things and introduced to people and places that would have taken me years of bumbling around on my own to discover.

Take music. Until dé Dale and I had become friends, I was convinced that I had been listening to a wide and eclectic selection of musical styles. It was, I would quickly learn, woefully narrow. At the time, I had been listening to minimalistic composers, such as Harold Budd in whose music I could zone out, let my mind go blank. Dé Dale would pull up in his Mercedes with music like I’d never quite heard before coming out the speaker, an orgy of sound.

“What is this?”

“Acid jazz, man. . . Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of acid jazz?” dé Dale said, shooting me a look of disgust.

I mumbled something about coming across the term in NME[1]and offered apologetically that it wasn’t bad.

“‘Not bad,’ he says! I ought a make you walk!” Taking a CD out of the glovebox and popping it into the tray, he said, “Listen to this.”

“Ronnie Jordan,” I read. “Brighter Day.”

The first warm notes of the double bass expanded in the confined space of dé Dale’s car. The percussions kicked in, cymbals, brushes scraping against a snare drum, rim shots. A bell tolled, like a distant church bell striking seven in a foggy English hamlet. And through the drizzle of the hi-hat a bluesy rift on Jordan’s Gibson rose up through the percussions like the sun breaking through the clouds.

“Wow.” I sat back and let the music wash over me. 

Dé Dale stepped on the gas and we cruised down the narrow road, a cocoon of cool sounds, neon lights and red lanterns blurring outside the windows. 

Dé Dale said I could borrow the CD if I liked.


“Of course.”

“Just be sure to give it back, okay?”

“Tell you what: I’m going to buy the CD myself,” I said, making a note.


[1] NME, or New Musical Express, is a weekly pop and rock music publication that has been published in the UK since 1952.

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.

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.


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?”


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?”


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.

51. Bayside Toke

A few days after the opening of The Zoo, dé Dale rang me up.

“Hey, man, want to party?”

It was well past eleven and I was already half a bottle of wine away from hitting the sack.

“Yeah, sure.”

“I’ll come by your place and pick you up, then.”

“Pick me up?”

There weren’t many gaijinin town who had their own cars. The few who did usually drove rusting jalopies that had been fobbed off by friends who didn’t want to shell out several thousand dollars for the shaken (車検). [1] It came as quite a surprise to me then when dé Dale pulled up in front of my building in a brand-new Mercedes wagon.

“Hop in,” he said. I did and off we went, aggressively powering down narrow streets like a bat out of Hell.

“Where’s the party,” I asked.

Iam the party,” dé Dale replied. “But, first, I have to stop in at my warehouse. If you don’t mind.”

“Not at all.”

Dé Dale’s warehouse was located in industrial area of the city, only a few blocks from where the old Customs House and Immigration used to be. Inside, narrow corridors separated rows and rows of metal shelves stuffed floor to ceiling with the same merchandise I had seen at The Zoo. Two tattooed and pierced employees busied themselves under the sickly glow of fluorescent lights unloading boxes that had just come in from Holland and Thailand. Dozens of plastic bongs, silver accessories packed in bubble wrap, knit caps, shoulder bags made from hemp, canvas shoes, wool scarves, skeleton figures, and pillow-case sized bags filled with dried psilocybin mushrooms. I felt like the proverbial kid in a candy shop.

“Give me a sec, will you?”

“Sure, take your time.”

Dé Dale sat down at a desk and placed a call to Switzerland. The guy was amazing. One moment he was ordering his staff around in Japanese, the next he was on the phone speaking German having funds moved from his Swiss bank account to one of his suppliers in Thailand. I had a couple of years of university German under my belt—enough to order bierand würstat a kneipein Heidelburg—but this dé Dale, he blew just me away.

When dé Dale was finished with his call, I asked him if it were smart to be doing what he did so close to Customs.

“Oh, the cops are watching me, everystep of the way,” he said. “Make no mistake about it.”

As soon as his work was done, we took off for Bayside Place, a woebegone shopping mall the city had built ten years earlier at the port from which hydrofoils and ferries departed for islands in the Genkai Sea and beyond to South Korea. Dé Dale had a small boutique in the mall, as well, one of several he operated all over the northern part of Kyūshū island. He told me he needed to check up on something at the shop, so I tagged along. 

The boutique was much smaller than The Zoo and lacked its subversive edge. It was also dead quiet like most of the shops in the mall.

“There’s no future in retail,” dé Dale told me as we entered the shop. “From now on I’m going to focus more on wholesale.”

I picked up a pair of cheap canvas slip-ons selling for 3,900 yen ($37) and made a face.

“Those canvas shoes you were just snickering over . . .”

“Snicker? Me?”

“I saw you. They’re as ugly as shoes get, yes, but I sold over fifteen thousand pairs of those canvas shoes last year. Imagine that: fifteen thousand Japanese kids wearing myshoes. All I need is three or four hit items a year like those ugly shoes and . . .”

15,000 times 3,900 yen . . . Christ, that almost 60 million yen ($560,000).

It was a staggering amount of money for someone who was busting his balls ten hours a day and making less than a fifth of what dé Dale earned with those ugly shoes. I had long suspected that I was in the wrong business; now, I was certain of it. 

“And, how much do you buy them for?” I asked.

“It’s not as simple as that,” he replied. “C’mon, this place is depressing me.”

We left Bayside Placeand walked to the end of the deserted pier where, I suppose, lovers were meant to gaze upon the romantic skyline of the city before heading off to one of the nearby “love hotels” to screw each other’s brains out. Only, there wasn’t much of a view to speak of. Across the harbor were general cargo sheds, silos, and a tugboat. Beyond that was the stadium for the boat races and further still was the city’s elevated expressway. An uninspiring skyline of fifteen-storey high buildings and neon billboards could just barely be seen in the distance.

Dé Dale asked me if I smoked.

I pulled a pack of Gauloisesout of my jacket breast pocket.

“Ooh, les Gauloises bleues. I haven’t had one of these in years.”

He took a cigarette from the box and put it between his lips. Digging into the hip pocket of his cargo pants for what I thought was going to be a lighter, he took out a small Ziploc bag with a black ball of clay in it. 

“Smell this,” he said. 

I did. It was hashish.

“I hope you appreciate this. It’s from your Beqaa Valley.”

He passed the hashish over a flame to soften it, then tore off a small amount and returned the rest to the Ziploc bag.

“Consider it a gift,” he said, handing me the bag. 


“Hold this a sec,” he said, giving me the small lump he’d torn off. 

He then pulled the filter off the cigarette, tossed it into the water, and started to remove the tobacco. Gesturing for the hashish, I placed it in his palm and he started to rub his hands together in a circular motion, blending the tobacco with hashish. From another pocket, he took out some Zigzag papers and rolled up a spliff. It had taken him less than a minute.

I couldn’t remember the last time I had smoked. Lighting up and taking that first toke, I let out an embarrassing rail of coughs.

Man, you want to cops to find us,” dé Dale said, looking around nervously.

“No—cough, cough, cough—it’s just that—cough, cough—it’s been—cough, cough, cough—it’s been fucking ages—cough.”

I passed the spliff back to dé Dale and then the rush hit me.

“Woa!” I had to lean against the concrete breakwater to keep from swooning.

With the spliff held between his index and ring fingers, dé Dale took a long hit from his cupped hand, then, without exhaling, made the following observation: “An Arab and a Jew sharing a spliff. Imagine that!”

“You shouldn’t call someone from Lebanon an Arab,” I said taking the spliff back. “They may consider it dis—cough, cough, cough—disparaging. I understand what you’re getting at, though. What the world needs is more pot, and fewer bombs—cough, cough.

[1] Shaken (車検), a contraction of Jidōsha Kensa Tōrokuseido (自動車検査登録制度) is Japan’s vehicle inspection system which can cost up to ¥200,000, plus the cost of repairs and parts if necessary. It is one reason why you seldom see older cars on Japanese roads.


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.

48. Show Time!

It wasn’t until The Zoo opened down the street from my apartment in late 1999 that dé Dale and I finally got to know each other. Although he had been living in Fukuoka for nearly as long as I had, the two of us seemed to be running around in concentric circles. All I knew about the man was a few salacious rumors.

In the dark, too, about dé Dale’s nationality, I resorted to greeting him in English, a “Hey, man” here, a “Whassup?” there, whenever our paths happened to cross. And so, it was in English that we spoke for the first time, curiosity having compelled me to pop over to The Zoo on its opening night.

A row of massive bouquets stood on tripods before the shop bearing congratulatory messages from companies that conducted business with dé Dale. Inside, the shop was crowded with businessmen, friends, staff, and not a few customers who, like me, had been attracted by the commotion.

Dé Dale walked straight over to me, hand out and grinning broadly. “Thanks for coming!”

“Quite a store you’ve got here,” I said.

The Zoo was deep and narrow. At the front of the shop, fashion accessories were displayed: racks upon racks of rings, bracelets, bags and hats. The deeper you ventured into the shop, however, the more degenerate the merchandise became. Outrageous graffiti covering the walls and ceiling pulled you further into the store, where body modification equipment was on display. Everything you could possibly want and more to pierce, cut, implant, stretch or tattoo your body. And in the very rear, in The Zoo’s Holy of Holies, dissipation reigned: every kind of paraphernalia imaginable vied for space on the crowded shelves: pipes, bongs, rolling paper, scales, turbo lighters, and so on. And there in the glass case next to the cash register was a smorgasbord of psychedelics, many I had never before heard of.

“You’re so conveniently located,” I said to dé Dale, giddy as a boy in a toyshop, “I don’t know whether to be thrilled or concerned.”

“Man, you cannot believe what I have been through in the last three days to make The Zoo a possibility,” dé Dale said excitedly. He was standing before a row of dildos, one of which wobbled and churned on the shelf. “Four days ago my realtor found this property, the next day I got the loan and signed the contract. Yesterday, we painted the place and then moved all this stuff in last night. I have not slept a minute in four days.”

“Sounds like a rough week.”

“No! Sounds like a goodweek! A great week for business! There was a chance, I took it, and—boom—three days later, here I am and here you are and here is everyone else and now it’s show time. You saw the sign?”

“The sign? The one out front? Yes, I . . .”

“There’s a reason for that,” dé Dale said, giving his temple a self-congratulatory tap.

Rather than hanging a shingle out front that gave the business hours like practically every other shop in the world, there was a board that said: 


Show Time: 11am to ?


The Zoo is not just a store,” dé Dale crowed.

“You can say that again.”

“This is going to be my showcase. This store! This is but merely the beginning, my friend! Merely the beginning.”

There was no way I could have known it at the time, but dé Dale was full on, pumped up with enough methamphetamine to give an elephant a heart attack. I was under the naive assumption that the man rocking on the balls of his feet before me had the stamina of Napoleon who famously functioned on as little as three hours’ sleep a night. And, like le Petit Caporal, dé Dale was also short in stature, even in a country like Japan. What he lacked in height, though, he more than compensated in his physical presence: he had the broad shoulders and powerful arms of an ape.

“Pardon me, but I don’t believe I know your name,” dé Dale said, presenting me with a business card: G. dé Dale, President.


“Gabriel, Gabriel dé Dale. Everyone calls me dé Dale. And you are?”

“Rémy,” I said.

“Rémy?” he said. His piercing blue eyes studied me. “You’re American, no? Or am I confusing you with some one else?”

“I am American, American by birth, but I’m half French. My old man’s from Avignon.”

“Avignon. Interesting. And the other half?”


“Ah, Lebanese!” His eyes widened as if his suspicions had been proven correct. “You are only the second Lebanese I have ever met, and you both party. That must be some country.”

“It is. You should visit it some day.”

“I would very much like to do that, but I am . . . Jewish.” Dé Dale’s hair was strawberry blond, cropped militarily short. On his chin he sported a narrow beard, tinged with orange. He looked like the Devil himself. “Now that we’re neighbors, we ought to get together and party.”

“Sure, anytime,” I replied, pulling my own business card out of my wallet. “I usually finish work late . . .”

In a broad gesture taking in the whole of his store, he said, “And you take me for some nine-to-five stiff?”

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.

46. Bending the Rules

Six years ago—good God, where does the time go—I was at a party sponsored by the mayor’s office commemorating the achievements of three gaijin living and working in the city. After making a bland speech, the mayor presented the three foreigners with letters of commendation, like a scoutmaster passing out merit badges.

I can’t for the life of me remember what I was doing there or who had invited me. I do remember, though, sitting with dé Dale on a sofa reserved for “VIP” guests—something that had us elbowing each other in the ribs and snickering. Leaning in close to my friend, I whispered: “As far as I’m concerned, the most remarkable thing any gaijinI know has done is to import magic mushrooms and sell them in the center of town right under the cops’s noses. And not get busted for it!”

Dé Dale, God love him, had been receiving bulk shipments of dried psilocybin mushrooms from a wholesaler in Holland. You name it—San Isidros, Liberty Caps, Blue Halos, Amanitas—dé Dale’s shops carried it. He also dealt in limited quantities of peyote seeds, San Pedro cactuses, as well as Ayahuasca bark from the jungles of the Amazon. Thanks to the entrepreneurial spirit of the man sitting beside me, the city’s disaffected youth were being kept in stitches, and out of their minds.

The “magic” didn’t last, though. It seldom does. A few months earlier, a popular young actor, by the name of Hideaki Itoh, had been hospitalized after a bad trip on shrooms, stirring the Japanese media into a frenzy of indignation: How on earth could such dangerous things be legal? The hosts of tabloid TV programs, called wideshows, wrung their hands and fretted. Reports reminiscent of Reefer Madness exaggerated the harmful effects of the mushrooms and concluded that something had to be done to eradicate the scourge.

In June 2002, laws would go into effect, plugging up the loopholes through which the delightful smorgasbord of natural psychedelics had been pouring in.

I knew the changes would hurt my friend’s business—he’d been doing some 10 million yen ($95,000) worth in sales a month at The Zoo, alone, not a small portion of which came from psilocybin mushrooms.

Never one to let his feathers get ruffled, dé Dale took the amendments to the law in stride. “It’s a game, Rémy. Only a game,” he said with that familiar insouciance of his. “Politicians change the rules, and think they’ve got you by the balls, but, all you have to do is to stay one step ahead of them.”


“When they try to change the rules, you change the game completely.”

A few days before the new law would come into effect in June 2002, dé Dale would get rid of his stock of psychedelic mushrooms, cacti, and Amazonian barks and leaves. And, without missing a beat, he would start selling vials of synthetic hallucinogenic drugs, instead, providing an ever expanding and nominally legal arsenal of designer drugs, with names like Speed Ball and Mellow Water. Cracking down on magic mushrooms only ensured that there would be stronger, more easily transportable drugs available to blow your mind with.

“And do you know why I always win?” dé Dale asked me that night.

“No, why?”

“Because, my friend, I make more money and have more fun bending the rules than the cops do enforcing them.”

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.

45. Business as usual

On my way home, I pedal past dé Dale’s flagship shop, The Zoo. A block and a half away from my apartment, the shop specializes in drug paraphernalia: rolling papers and bongs, turbo lighters and glass pipes for smoking meth and crack. The Zoo also sells beach cruisers and New York hats and original silver accessories and anime figurinesbut those bicycles and hats, as popular as my friend claims them to be, isn’t what brings people into his shop at three o’clock in the morning.

Dé Dale always opened up possibilities for me: where other foreigners spoke of the limitations of being a gaijinin Japan, of all the things they couldn’t do, my friend was steaming ahead, doing the unimaginable: running several headshops in town and selling drugs, albeit it nominally legal ones. What balls! What stupidity!

“If you really want to make money,” dé Dale once lectured me, “you must tread a very fine line between what is accepted and what is not, what is allowed and what is not, what is legal . . . and what is not. That is where the money is, Rémy! That is where the others are too goose to tread.”



“Yeah, it’s ‘chicken’, not ‘goose’.” 

“Ah, chicken. Yes. I am a learning machine,” he said, and he was. 

I try not to be too obvious as I ride by The Zoo. Beach cruisers are lined up smartly on the sidewalk, lava lamps gurgle in the display window, and the dreadlocked manager is slouched at the entrance having a smoke. Seeing me, he gives me a friendly nod. 

Business as usual. Thank God.

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.