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Thank You and OK!: an American Zen Failure in Japan
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[DC notes to self and others in brackets]

Chapter 59


November 20, 1989   -   GANGSTERS IN THE MIDST


"What's bothering you?" I asked Elin.

"How could you tell?"

"It's not hard.  Your posture gets bad and your forehead wrinkles."

"Oh it's just Ishitaki.  She got me over there to give us her old vacuum cleaner, and I feel indebted 'cause she's so helpful, and then she says something nasty or judgmental."

"You mean like when she said that it's hard for Japanese to see why they should give money to Eastern Europe when the people are so fat?"

"No, I mean like criticizing you."

"Oh, she's just mad at me because I hired another teacher to teach her son and the brat pack.  Thank goodness."

"No, she was criticizing you before that.  I wish she'd just keep it to herself."

"She's just trying to have power over you Elin.  Don't worry about it."

"But I do.  It bothers me."

"What'd she say?"

"I was telling her I was worried I'd been accidentally rude to Tanaka-san down the street and Ishitaki said that no one has any problem with me, just you."

"I think it's mainly her that I rub wrong."

"You shouldn't be so frank with her and joke with her the way you do."

"She's probably somewhat right, but we can't live our lives worrying about what she thinks."

"Okay.  That's enough.  Let's forget about the Joneses or the Senzakis or whatever.  Give me a hug."

And just as we were embracing, who should walk into the garden but Kubo-san who was so delighted to catch us she almost went into hysterics saying how wonderful it must be to have a love marriage and that her husband has never once hugged her.  And before either Elin or I could come up with a response, Kubo was explaining why she couldn't bring her children and join Elin and me in the mountains for our three day holiday.  We had booked an old thatch-roofed farmhouse well in advance.

"We can't accept your invitation because we only have Monday and Wednesday off and one day is not enough time."

"What about coming on Sunday and Monday?" I asked.

"My husband will be at home on Sunday so we must be there."


"I have to make his meals."

"Oh god," I said sighing.  That's nothing new.  She won't go anywhere if she has to cook for her sixteen year old son either.  "What's wrong with Tuesday?" I continued probing.

"We must go to school for a parent's and children's day.  I will go to my daughter's school.  My son would be embarrassed for me to come to his."

"You have to go to school for a special event in the middle of a holiday?" I asked incredulous.

"It is expected."

"Do you want to go?"

"Oh no.  It will be very tedious."

"Skip it.  Come to the mountains."

"If we are not there the teachers and parents will be angry with me.  They will say I am not a good mother and they will say that I do just what I want to and forsaking the children's education.  Our neighbors would disapprove also."


Before long the rest of the MMC had arrived and were seated in the living room drinking tea.

"Revolt," I said, "all of you please revolt."  I'd taken a poll and found that all of them and Shimizu's wife as well were in Kubo's slippers as far as mealtime obligations went.  They all just laughed at me.

I gave up and turned to sweet Mrs. Tanahashi. "Oh, hey, I just remembered, Tanahashi-san, whatever happened with the petition to stop the city chimes in your neighborhood."

"I hear it this morning at seven very loud," said Morikawa who lives near Tanahashi over the low mountain from our house.  Her voice was muffled because she was wearing a cloth mask to protect us from her cold.

          "Oh yes," said Shimizu, "Please tell us.  Could you stop it?"

"Oh, we have done nothing," she said.

I was disappointed.  "Why not?"

"We were going to take the petition to each house and we prepared it but on the morning my friend got afraid."


"She said, 'What if someone disagrees?'  We did not know what to do in that situation and were afraid to offend."

So that was the end of Tanahashi's neighborhood radicalizing: someone might disagree.  I was sorry but I understood her reluctance.  Shimizu said that if Tanahashi circulated the petition that her home might be harassed by right-wingers who don't want any sound ordinances that might interfere with the superloud amplified messages from their propaganda trucks.

I asked Tanahashi if they were worried about right-wingers and she said they hadn't thought of that.

"I'm worried about the right-winger," said Shimizu.  "Well, not exactly the right-winger, the gangster."

"Yakuza?" I asked.

Morikawa grunted in surprise from beneath the white cotton mask over her nose and mouth, which in combination with her spectacles suggested to me a soldier in the trenches waiting for mustard gas.

"Oh, how do you know that word?"  Shimizu asked.

"What do you mean, how do I know that word?  How could I live in Japan and not know that word?  Everybody knows what the Yakuza is," I answered with slight irritation.

"I thought it was our secret," he said.

"The Yakuza have a building down the street," said Etsuko.  "And important man live in home nearby."

"Head Yakuza of Maruyama was shot waiting in my dentist's office.  He sat with wife and man shot him in heart and then waited for police," said Morikawa in muffled excitement.

"Yeah, that guy's daughter studied English in this house with the previous foreigners who lived here.  She was brought in a limousine and ran into the house for her private lesson.

"Arnie taught her?  My old teacher?" asked Shimizu.


"How did gangster know of Arnie?"

"Because Arnie taught English to the police and the police know all the Yakuza and they referred him to Arnie."  That elicited the rising "ehhhh?" from the ladies.

"I did not know such a thing," said Shimizu.

"You didn't know the police were on speaking terms with the Yakuza?"

"No - I didn't know Arnie taught the gangster daughter."

"Ishitaki-san wouldn't let her kids study here any more because of that and when the gangster got murdered she said, 'I told you so."  She's really got a thing about Yakuza and cops - she sees them as rotten peas in a pod.  Yakuza men are known for their perms, double-breasted suits, missing finger joints, arrogant swaggers and big black American cars.  Sometimes Ishitaki would seem to take this codification system too far and I couldn't tell where the savvyness ended and the prejudice began.  We were standing on the street in front of her house when a lady came walking through the temple parking lot with a tall off-white Afghan Hound, an unusual sight.  "Her husband is Yakuza," said Ishitaki contemptuously.  "People with large dogs are Yakuza."

"The gangsters are very bad," said Tanahashi.  "They scare many people and take from us in clever ways."

"Movies make them seem like the English man in green who lives in the forest," said Morikawa.

I finally figured out she meant Robin Hood.

"That is because the movies are made by gangsters," she added.

"Gangster shot in coffee shop across highway one month ago," said Kubo.  "Near my home."

"I know that place," I said.  "I tried to get coffee there once and they wouldn't let me in.  It was obviously open.  The man behind the counter said 'we're closed - go away.'  There were tough guys sitting at video poker tables.  Anyway, Mr. Shimizu, tell us why you're scared.  And why did you say right-wingers?"

"Right-wing and Yakuza are friends," he said, "and I demonstrated with crowd at head gangster's house - different group than building down the street.  I stood in street with many people asking for them to leave.  And right-wingers came and looked at us and act like they write down names to scare us off but they don't know who we are so I was not afraid.  Those gangsters left.  Head man stay and get into legal business."

"Oh I'm sure now he's totally legit," I said unnoticed.

"And now I must meet with the brother of that head gangster for Maruyama."

"What?  Why?" the ladies and I asked together. 

"One of the teachers scolded this man's son in school and he came to the school and spoke very loudly and rudely to the teacher in front of students and other teachers.  And now I must speak with him and suggest that he apologize to the teacher."

"Oh no," I grabbed his hand, "I'll lose my best student!  When is the funeral?"

"I am very afraid," he said beaming with responsibility and dedication.  "But I must do it and he will maybe say his apology at least to me.  That would be a good thing."

"I will pray for your safety and success," I said, "but why you?"

"I am president of the PTA.  It is my responsibility.  And because of that I must leave early today, my only holiday of the month.  Please excuse me."  He stood up.

"Good luck," I said. 

"Thank you," he said standing up.  "And now I must deliver spirits.  See you again."

I envisioned a van full of ghosts.  "See you later," I said and he was off enthusiastically fulfilling his function in society.