SAMURAIS NEVER SLEEP AT NIGHT
(They eat, drink, and…)
Deadly Music-Chapter 3: Wednesday, January 18th, 2017
It was not raining outside. It wasn’t snowing, either, although both western and eastern Shizuoka Prefecture were covered in snow.
In Shizuoka City they had “kazahana”, or “decoration flowers”. The expression was apparently only heard in the Central Part of Shizuoka Prefecture. Gerard found himself every year explaining the strange phenomenon to friends from all corners of Japan hat was basically triggered by aerial humidity suddenly solidifying into tiny ice crystals under a blue sun.
It did look, feel and taste like snow, but it wasn’t. It was “decoration flowers”!
The Frenchman was ruminating about the occurrence walking down Miyuki Street wondering whether he would take a lunch break or just a stroll to eliminate all the drinks consumed the previous evening when he came upon a strange sight.
At one of the main crossroads between the railway station and the big intersection near Cenova Department Store, a man could be seen gesticulating and screaming in the middle of the zebra crossing where people hastened to walk to the other side under gusts of frigid wind.
Gerard knew the lunatic. He couldn’t recall his name but he knew one of these one-man religious sects offering fortune-telling to anyone gullible enough to be misled into nirvana. The man had even run twice for mayor of the city. He still wore the same grey suit, the same white shirt, the same red tie, the same dark glasses and the same shoulder bag. Only the front teeth had started missing. He was hollering at the cyclists crossing the street via the zebra crossing trying to tell them it was illegal to do so and that they should walk holding their bicycles. Gerard had asked him once in a loud voice for everyone to hear if he were a policeman. When the moron replied it did not matter, he had offered him to accompany the weirdo to the nearest police box only to be answered that the idiot was deeply disappointed to realize Gerard was not the gentleman he had always thought him to be…
Like all the Japanese citizens he had given up and ignored the wretch. Policemen and traffic wardens were consciously avoiding the hassle of interrogating a man who after all boasted to be a religious figure even if he was the sole member of his sect.
Peace had a price and the Japanese were ready to for it… Gerard opted to do likewise.
It was growing colder and colder, that is for a denizen of Shizuoka City, and the Frenchman was torn between visiting a wine bar he knew was opened at lunch time, sipping a hot coffee at a “kissaten” (coffee shop), guzzling down a beer at the nearby Aoi Beer Stand offering splendid craft beers from as early as eleven in the morning or just go non walking until he grew warmer when he bumped into an old friend of his. The kind of friend no one could miss on a street, or in one of his outlandish cars for that matter, Bernard Heberlé was a bear of man (some might venture with the epithet “grizzly”) with a waxed white moustache. Hailing form Alsace in France he was a celebrity in the whole Prefecture as far beyond and had been elected as no less as the official best French pâtissier in Shizuoka Prefecture. His own shop was located in front of massive Seirei Hospital in Hamamatsu City and he was coming regularly to Shizuoka City as many cooking schools were competing for the right of hosting his courses.
“Bernard, how dee? It’s been some time since we last met in this city!”
“The same as ever, Gerard, and it seems you never change. I’m just here to give my regular weekly lecture at the Suzuki Cooking Institute. By the way, I recently have net an old acquaintance of yours back in Hamamatsu City. The man who can be both useful and dangerous depending on what side of the fence you stand. Can you guess?”
Gerard’s mind still felt a little frazzled by the previous evening binge.
“No idea, but I suspect you are going to tell me anyway!” he feebly chortled back.
“Alright, alright! Do you remember police detective Hidemitsu Ishii?”
His friend certainly did.
“Don’t tell me he works in Hamamatsu City now! I used to teach him French about twenty years ago before he left for a six-month stint at the ICPO headquarters in Paris. The gentleman fluently speaks and reads English and French. I have always wondered whether he had not been transferred to Tokyo! Knowing that gastronomy is one of his hobbies I’m not surprised you made acquaintance! What is he doing in Hamamatsu City? “
“Well, he is no less than the head of the fourth Bureau of the Hamamatsu City Police Headquarters!”
That was quite an elevated status indeed as the fourth Bureau (incidentally the Japanese Police is divided into four Bureau, the third being involved solely with the Yakuza) was mainly investigating economic crimes. The Frenchman had entertained quite friendly relations with the detective while the latter was stationed in Shizuoka City. He had in particular introduced him to the most interesting restaurants and izakayas in town as his student’s status prevented him to investigate this particular field on his own. Many policemen, and civil servants, ate and drank out but they still had to be very careful for evident reasons and tended to keep to a very limited number of places and that mostly in the company of their workmates.
That reminded Gerard to check on Superintendent Ryuuji Kataoka, and he thought he knew just how to achieve that.
“Well, that is good to hear that! Give him my phone number next time you meet him! Mind you, I’m pretty sure he still has it! Now how about sharing coffee?”
“Sorry, Gerard, but I have to hurry back to Hamamatsu City at once for another class late this afternoon!”
“Oh well, I tried, didn’t I? But I’m sure we’ll meet again soon!”
“Count on that!”
Gerard had a private English and French conversation lesson in a couple of hours and sent these visiting the department stores in town away from the cold.
The student he had to look after was a jazz singer at “J and J”, the most expensive night club in town and exclusively patronized by the rich, the powerful and the connected denizens of Shizuoka City and beyond.
Sadako Uemura had been singing in English for jazz amateurs and in French for “chanson” aficionados for more than a dozen years and knew all the customers well enough although her entertaining duties were strictly limited to singing and satisfying the gests’ musical requests. Other requests were the responsibility of the “hostesses” under the guidance of the “mama san” (lady owner or chief of such an establishment). Hostesses’ role was to greet the customers, serve them and share whatever small talk they wanted to indulge in. Customers made do with any of them unless they designated one of their liking, in which case a supplementary fee was to be honored for the privilege. Moreover a “dohan” system was also provided by the club whereas a guest could request a chosen hostess to “accompany” him outside for a determined time and extra fee. What the said customer and hostess did to occupy such a time was out of the club owner’s hands as far as responsibility was concerned. While many customers requested the company of such “companions” for pure vanity, in many cases it also served as a conveniently disguised form of prostitution that the police could not find or prove anything l\illegal about it.
That day Sadako seemed more interested in little talk than honing her pronunciation. Actually she had a little favor to ask the Frenchman.
“Gerard, “J and J” have been getting increasingly busy of late and they are running short hostesses. You know what the job involves, so would you know by any chance anyone they could recruit?”
“In fact, I might. Do they anything against non-Japanese staff?”
“They don’t care as long as they possess a legal visa and some Japanese language knowledge.” Actually, foreign ladies are welcome as many of our customers bring and entertain many of their overseas business clients!”
“Well, this might be most fortunate as I know a Chinese lady with a permanent visa who is looking for a job! She speaks and reads English, Japanese and no less than three different Chinese dialects! Moreover, she is still young enough and very attractive to boot! She is sick and tired of working in pink salons and would certainly welcome a rise in her status!”
A delated Sadako enthusiastically commented:
“Why! That would be perfect, considering all the Chinese, Singaporeans and who else regularly brought along by our “joren” (“regular patrons” in Japanese)! Could you call her right away and find out if she could come for an interview in my company before “J and J” opens this evening?”
“Just wait a second, I have her a number here!” Gerard replies punching his Chinese friend’s number on his android.
The answer came up quickly enough.
“Yes, Gerard? How are you?”
“I’m fine, Chian Lin! Sorry for the sudden call, but I think a friend of mine has found an opening at “J and J”. You know that private hostess night club, don’t you? Would you be interested?”
“Of course, I would! Now, that is very kind of you to think ok of me! How can I thank you?”
“Don’t worry about that!” he genially replied. “Could you take a note right away? My friend’s m
Name is Sadako Uemura. She sings jazz and chanson at that club. She told she would be glad to help you with an audition this evening before “J and J” opens. Here is her number:…….. Could you call her before you arrive at “J and J”? She is a very nice lady and she will help you!”
“Thank you so much! I’m getting ready! Is 5:30 OK?”
Gerard asked her friend who raised a thumb in agreement.
“Yes, that would be OK! Good luck, then!”
“Thank you so much, Gerard! Don’t forget I owe you!”
“I certainly won’t!” he joked back.
He turned back to the singer.
“Well, that as quick! You ladies are so lucky for the timing! Now, Sadako, don’t mention to anyone that I introduced you to Chian Lin! It would definitely look and sound better if you had discovered her yourself!”
His fiend laughed in connivance.
“Don’t worry about that! Discretion is certainly a requisite in our cub!”
“In some cases, certainly!”
A notion struck him. The Japanese in general loved secrets and loved even more to share them. There is a saying in japan that if you wish a rumor to be spread quickly you only needed to confide your next friend with it mentioning not to tell anyone. But he knew her friend for being more careful than your average Japanese citizen.
“Sadako, you don’t have to answer, but may I ask you which famous local people patronize your night club!”
“Bad boy, aren’t we? But you made me a favor and it will be a special pleasure to treat you with some juicy tidbits! As a rule I do not mingle that much with customers and I care less about their occupation. But at least I can tell you: that some of our top politicians are regular patrons!”
The Frenchman felt his curiosity somewhat aroused at the information despite it could have been expected.
“Let me guess: for example our dear Governor, Kentaroo Ishikami and maybe our beloved Mayor, Kenichi Komatsu?”
“Bingo! But you forget another one! They usually play golf together every Saturday efore visiting our place!”
“I have no idea!”
“Well, nobody less than Prefectural Councilman, Satoru Akase!”
“The former mayor? But what could bring him to socialize with our present Mayor? These two should be enemies!”
“Not at all! In fact they hold the posts of Governor, Mayor and Prefectural Council Chairman between the three of them! What better control of all politics could you have?”
Gerard let out a rare and pointed expletive in French that had the singer in giggles.
She continued, enjoying the conversation:
“And did you they sometimes meet a couple of political sponsors you are working for?”
A nonplussed Gerard commented:
“I, working for political sponsors?…… Hang on! Do you mean the owner of the University I work for, that is, Dean Ryotaroo Sawaguchi and Vice-Dean Daisuke Sugi who leaves him?”
“Indeed! These are quite notorious among political sponsors, aren’t they? Between you and me, it is not difficult to imagine what they might talk about in private after such meetings at our club!”
Gerard shook his head in feigned disbelief.
He casually asked the next question:
That7s most interesting, but I can’t see myself bragging about such information publicly, or I’ll lose my job quickly enough. But before we resume our dear lesson may I ask you if someone called Ryuuji Kataoka who happened to be the Superintendent of the Shizuoka City Police Headquarters s also a customer at our club?”
It was Sadako’s turn to show some surprise:
“It’s strange that you should ask. Yes, indeed, he is a customer, and I personally dislike that slimy excuse of a man!”
A very attentive Gerard asked:
“Slimy? Why is that?”
Sadako who didn’t need much encouragement after all continued:
“Well, the last time he came, he was actually in the company of the owner of your university who paid big money for the privilege. Apparently Kataoka has an open tab taken care by your Dean. He certainly makes good use of it! If it was all about eating and drinking the club wouldn’t much care, but the man is a troublemaker and lecher of the worst sort! The problem is that the club dare not refuse his “patronage” or reveal his habits for fear of sure retribution. Such business as “J and J” is never completely clean as you surely can imagine!”
Gerard airily commented:
“Well, well, aren’t we all in the same world? I suppose both of us had better forget it all. At least we found a needed staff herself looking for work. Why should we worry? Now, about the pronunciation of the two songs you wanted to practice, shall we start in earnest?”
Sadako nodded in agreement as she lay the underwritten score sheets over the between the two of them.
That evening, for once Gerard cycled back home early as he had to wake up at the wee hours of he following morning. Moreover, Atsumi was working until late that day and she expected a hot dinner to be waiting for her on the table when she reached their apartment. Gerard prided himself in being an excellent cook but had lately experienced to satisfy his partner. He had taught her too well. He still reminisced on the days when Atsumi marveled at all the dishes he could concoct notwithstanding the superlative drinks, be they wine or Japanese sake. Now she had at least become as proficient and her lashing tongue did not spare him from the smallest culinary misstep. He wondered if Japanese men were after all right to leave all the cooking chores to their wives from the very first day of their married lives. At least there was a foolproof way to please his partner as she was a pasta maniac. There was plenty in the fridge to come up with something original.
He left his bicycle under the crowded sheltered rack, climbed to the second story, opened the door after extricating his bunch of keys out of his jeans pocket, entered, closed the door behind him, took off his shoes, slid his feet into the slippers neatly arranged in front of him, remembered in time to switch on before he penetrated the living room where he battled with another set of switches to light up the room properly as he had done every day for many years. He usually did all this absentmindedly, but this time, he did not know why, he felt compelled to go through the motions with more attention than usual.
He was thinking.
Not about the dinner he had to prepare.
On an impulse he punched the remote control of the TV. The NHK news program just happened to be broadcast. He remembered having switched off the set on the same channel upon leaving home a couple of hours before Atsumi.
After the boring news of The Duck trying to close the States to anyone he didn’t personally like, the anchor commented on a domestic case that drew Gerard’s attention:
“Last night, that is, in the late hours of January 17th, a gun fight occurred between underworld rival gangs in Harajuku, Tokyo, that left two men dead of bullet wounds. One was a middle-aged Japanese hoodlum known to the police, the other an unidentified foreign man of Caucasian origin. The police is thoroughly investigating.”
Short but remarkable news.
Such scoops were always briefly treated by the Japanese media because of a long ingrained fear of retribution. Such retributions on individuals or agencies reporting on the Japanese underworld had not been rare before his arrival in this country. But these days the officially recognized number of Japanese belonging to the underworld did not exceed 14,000 in the whole country. They were fighting for survival, what with diminishing targets and increasing competitions from foreign gangs. When the Frenchman arrived in Shizuoka City Philippinos were notorious for their prostitution misdeeds. Now the men had disappeared and the ladies had safely married into Japanese society. Then came the South Americans and their drugs. That did not last too long has the Japanese police in a very efficient manner. The Irani drug pushers did not achieve much better results and it had become nigh impossible for their compatriots to obtain an entry visa. Later the Russians and East Europeans left their mark, especially in prostitution. Now the women had practically disappeared or gone into hiding, if not dodgy marriages, while the men were now competing with Chinese Tang, although the latter mostly kept to the Chinese nationals. That could be quickly changing when considering the increasing smuggling both to and from China. At one time, Chinese were caught stealing telephone cables, roadside metallic rails and even manhole covers. The media had recently uncovered their habit of stealing newspapers and magazines regularly left on pavements outside homes to be collected by officially recognized recycling companies. These days the Nigerian underworld could be seen in broad daylight under the cover of rap clothing shops attracted no customers. In Shizuoka City, and Prefecture for that matter, overmanned police had proved to be too strong and efficient to make the lives of such imported criminals hard indeed, and even the yakuza had left or gone into hiding.
Talking of the yakuza, the Japanese man in the street might mention them as such, but the hoodlums referred to each other only as members of a precise “kumi/sect/clan” or its affiliate groups. The reason was simple enough. Contrary to general belief the term was created only after the Second World War when it had been glorified by the movie industry to follow the trend all the world to make heroes out of bums and criminals from cowboys to sinister members of the Mafia.
The word “yakuza” in fact bore a very demeaning signification. It meant “loser”, that is, a member of the lowest strata of the Japanese society. Japanese hoodlums played their own kind of poker card games called “karuta”. A hand totaling a sum ending with “9” was a sure winner, whereas if it were a “0” its holder was hopelessly losing. The word “yakuza” had been coined by associating “ya” (or “hachi” for 8), “ku” (or “kyu” for 9) and “za” (or “san” for 3) to make a total of “20”, the worst hand possible.
They favored knives or swords, although completely illegal, as weapons as Japan had the harshest gun regulations in the world. Hunting guns did not escape the legislation. A hunter to study and pass attest before being allowed a permit lasting only three years, after which the sportsman had to go through the whole process all over again. But if he or she passed away while still possession of the hunting gun and ammunition, the family had to return the whole to the police at once.
Of course illegally manufacturing a handgun or rifle with the help of a skilled individual was not that difficult but the weapon would be useless without the proper ammunition. The latter was either extremely difficult smuggle or fabricate. Even so the gun had to manufactured and filed according to the cartridge and the bore of the bullet. In many cases it would have been made for only a few available cartridges and bullets.
Gerard had even made acquaintance with a local “oyabun” (gang boss in Japanese) who had managed the rare feat to retire. It had been quite a story he was always fond to reminisce about.
It had all started after less than two years in Japan when he was still very naïve about the country and its people. He was then patronizing an izakaya called “Wa no Ji” located in the infamous (at the time) district of Tokiwa. How he ended up drinking in that place he couldn’t remember but he still recalled its regular patrons who had literally looked after his person. On day the owner asked if he would accept teaching private English lessons to a fourth grader who was the nephew of a “friend of his”. Gerard had of course accepted and he was given the names, address and phone numbers after he had stated his fee. The kid’s “home”, a vast two-story private building complete with its grand garden, was located on the south side of Shizuoka station which represented quite a ride by bicycle. The classes took place in the kid’s bedroom and study room. An “ojiisan” (grandad/old man in Japanese) was always on site to greet him and call the kid for his lessons. One day, the kid could not be found. The ojisan told him he would most probably be playing on the second floor and offered to fetch him. The Frenchman he could dot himself and climbed the stairs of the second floor. One could enter only through a single massive door in spite of the size of the building. He knocked on the door. It was readily opened. But he did have to carefully control his feelings when he discovered who was inside. No less than Nagasawa oyabun/leader and a whole platoon of his minions. He already had met the oyabun and his wife at Wa no Ji, and it had to be said that the man always defer to him very politely. Nagasawa (he never could recall his first name) had lost not one of his little fingers but both of them. The yakuza offered their little finger to atone for mistakes, but this oyabun must have got into quite some trouble for having relinquished both of them. There are all kinds of misconceptions as why the little finger was cut in preference to other digits. Gerard who was actively practicing judo at the time knew that the little finger is called “shime yubi” in Japanese meaaning “closing finger”. As long as you held the lapel of a judo jacket with only your little finger wrapped around it would not escape from your hands, but the moment your little finger was not holding anything the other for fingers were of no use and your opponent would easily pull out the lapel off your hand. The yakuza favored knives and swords over guns for many obvious reasons and losing your little finger meant you lost a secure hold of your weapon. Even so, every time he met the oyabun he made a point to salute him the Western way with his had offered for a handshake. More than once the latter had had to hold his other hand up to signify to his “buka” (inferiors in Japanese) that it was ok. He had actually met him after quite a long while the ear before at Yamanashi Clinic where he was receiving medical massages for his stiff neck and shoulders. He had completely retired and was “enjoying” his life. But at the time he had entered the second-floor room he had been the most powerful oyabun in the City. So when he shouted “Sensei desu!” (“This is the teacher!”), the whole gang bowed their heads and shouted I recognition.
The Yakuza would not think of bothering teachers as they represented the future status of their children for whom education would become the best way to acquire respectability. You had to be a real moron as a teacher to provoke their ire. It did happen though a half dozen years ago when a young Australian man was having an affair with one of his students. One day he was visited by some disreputable individuals who ordered him to immediately stop his liaison as the young lady was the very daughter of an oyabun in another city in the Eastern part of the Prefecture. The stubborn Ozzie flatly refused to comply. A few days later he found himself having a drink at Shanty Town, a dodgy reggae bar more notorious for its cannabis than its music. Three men quickly walked inside. One of them went into the kitchen where he grabbed a cooking knife while the other two grabbed the young Australian’s arms. Without a word the third man lunged at him and repeatedly stabbed him in the stomach. They left him holding his intestines without a single word. The whole incident had lasted only a few seconds. The young Ozzie somehow managed to survive after a long stay at the hospital where he was visited by the Head of the Tokyo Australian Consulate. The case had been hushed up by the media, but most expat teachers had heard about it. In the end the young Australian teacher went back to his country and was never heard of since. He had been very lucky indeed that the hoodlums had not come with their own knives!
The salutations having been done Nagasawa told his nephew who was in fact reading manga (Japanese illustrated stories) in no uncertain manner to leave immediately for his studies downstairs. Gerard had the time to notice in the adjacent tatami room one man being tattooed not with an electric needle but in the traditional manner with the sharp end of a Japanese sword! Both of them left under the departing greeting shouts of the whole gang. He kept teaching the kid until one day the ojisan moved to another city in his company.
Coming back to the TV comments, gun fight would mean some feuds had become unmanageable. What were the hoodlums in Harajuku fighting for? Moreover an “unidentified man of Caucasian origin” could only mean a Russian or an Eastern European.
Well, he would have to forget it for a while unless he wanted to provoke his partner’s short temper for not providing a hot dinner in time!
Now, where was the garlic?….