There is serious talk in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government of running the city managed subway systems Toei Chikatetsu（都営地下鉄) 24 hours a day when Haneda Airport opens to more international flights later this year. You might think of Tokyo as the city that never sleeps but in fact all public transportation stops around 1 am. This forces any one living far from the city to head home before midnight or be stranded until five or six am. However, with flights arriving into Haneda at all hours of the night–a lack of any other transportation other than expensive taxis is sure to go over poorly with much sought after tourists.
At the same time, merchants in Kabukicho, the former red-light district of Tokyo, located in Shinjuku are pushing to allow the area to be designated a special region where all businesses can stay open 24 hours a day. Currently, host and hostess clubs are forced to shutter their windows at one am. They are circumventing the laws by transforming the places into “girl’s bars” or “boy’s clubs” after hours, with stand up counters where customers can order drinks,–which makes them “bars” instead of cabarets, technically. Tokyo has a fair amount of latitude in how they run their own subway system, and while the 都営地下鉄 (toeichikatesu) routes are limited, if they run 24 hours a night there is a good chance they will become the last resort of the night owls and newly arrived passengers at Haneda. Longer hours should translate into more employment for the locals–and the cops as well.
In a departure from our usual somber posting, I’ve written an original prose-poem, which is for a friend’s upcoming “Where is the Romance” theme party in Tokyo–a pre-valentines’s day event. I’ve been in Japan (not just Tokyo) for over twenty years now and it seems to me that this city as overpopulated as it is, is also a very lonely place. I’ve heard more dating horror stories than any man should hear in his entire life. If Hong Kong is the graveyard of marriages–Tokyo is where the infanticide of them is widely practiced–and marriages, when they happen, seem to last as long as the cherry blossoms or linger on, liked fish being dried in the sun. Of course, this also a city where fake marriages run 3,000 dollars for foreign women wanting to work in the entertainment industry, and gay men marry women to maintain appearances, and marriage fraud schemes are a semi-institutionalized crime.
I should say that I’m parodying one well-known author/poet with this masterpiece and whoever figures out who it is gets a pack of dried umeboshi and honorable mention on this humble blog. Hopefully, those of you familiar with Tokyo will get some of the subtler references. By the way, remember on Valentine’s Day in Japan–the women buy chocolate for the men.
I wish I could be a little more cheerful around this time of year. I can remember a time when the Christmas season didn’t depress me much but it seems like decades ago. Maybe if I was in Japan where Christmas is more festively celebrated by buying tubs of Kentucky Fried Chicken and young couples flock to love hotels to consummate their undying love for each in Hello Kitty! themed love hotel suites or in illuminated Jacuzzi baths or round beds shaking to festive tunes channelled through the “body sonic” (speakers embedded in the mattress frame.)
Well, for me it’s the time of year when I began preparing to send out 年賀状 (nengajo=New Year’s Greeting Cards). It’s an important thing to do in Japan and one nengajou has the power to keep almost dead relationships alive for yet another year. To receive one and not reply is a terrible social mistake and it’s always important to send one along with a hand-written note if humanly possible. In many ways, your nengajo is considered a barometer of who you are and where you are in your life. They are not to be taken lightly although they weigh next to nothing at all.
And even though I’ve automated the process somewhat, I still find that I spend a lot of time pulling up New Year’s Cards (nengajo) from years past to make sure I have the correct addresses and am not forgetting any one. Each year that process becomes a little more painful. There are New Year’s cards from Sekiguchi Chiaki, my mentor, a great cop and and a great friend. Hamaya-chan, my co-worker and teacher. Shibata–a retired yakuza who is probably burning in hell somewhere but hopefully up for reincarnation someday. There was some good in the man. And there is Helena. Every year part of me hopes that this year, this year, I’ll get a Christmas card from her telling me she’s fine–that she started a whole new life–that I was played for a fool. I wouldn’t mind being wrong about that one. I wouldn’t mind finding out I was the class-clown and not the class comedian.
I suppose I have other Pavlovian reasons for associating New Year’s with death. As the lone gaijin at the Yomiuri, I almost always got stuck on the New Year shift, and that meant tallying up the number of people who choked to death on sweet rice cakes (mochi)–which always included old people and sometimes children. I think I did it for ten years straight and you know what–it’s not fun to talk to the families about the deaths of their loved ones on what should be a joyous occasion. I didn’t have to do it too many times but once is enough. Talk about feeling like a jackal and a heel. Of course, there are a lot of suicides as well–even if you don’t write them up, you’re supposed to call and see if there is a heart-warming, really sad story behind the suicide.
Amazon celebrated the book’s 10th day in the top 100 best-selling non-fiction books by marking it down considerably. It’s never too late to buy it as a sushi stuffer for a Japanese thanksgiving celebration.
Today, November 1st, 60 Minutes did a stellar piece on the Yakuza in Japan and my life covering them as a reporter, and the one scoop regarding Goto Tadamasa, the Professor Moriarty of Japan’s yakuza that got me in a lot of trouble. A lot has changed since 60 Minutes came to Japan to report on the story. It remains to be seen how it will all play out. If you want to know more about it all, read TOKYO VICE. It will tell you more about Japan, the mob, and the underworld than you probably want to know. For more on Goto-gumi, see the crime resources. Thanks for stopping by.