"It's about God."
- Me, translating an Irish priest's sermon for Japanese guests.
In September of 1996 I went home for a week, and spent a day walking around Dublin with my camera. I must have covered twenty kilometres that day, going from the city centre to the Phoenix Park
and then all the way out to the Bull Wall in the middle of the bay. By this stage I was firmly hooked on photography, and came back from that trip with over seven hundred pictures. These included
the wedding of Grant and his girlfriend Miki, who got married in Cornwall. I flew to London and took a train down there, and we went to a small church overlooking the English Channel for the
ceremony. The hotel we stayed in was a place called Boringdon Hall, which took pride in the fact that Queen Elizabeth I once stayed there. In the taxi from the hotel to the station, the driver
regaled me with his harmonica playing, and told me he once held a wedding in his cab. I thought this was pretty weird, and wondered if I should just jump out at the next traffic light. He was not
the craziest taxi driver I ever met though; that would be in Milan.
I started travelling around Japan as well, taking photos of Yokohama, Tokyo, Sumo tournaments, and of course Kawagoe and its festival, held every October. I also did a photo shoot at a live jazz show which a friend of mine organised, and my photos got used for the poster for his next gig. I even went up to the top of the Shomaru Ridge, to the west of Tokyo, to watch and photograph the sunrise on New Year's Day. Since I started working on a BMW model early in 1996, I got to visit Munich twice, and remembered it well from my previous visits there. On the first of these visits, I did not bring my camera as I presumed I would be too busy to use it much, but I had forgotten that Europeans don't do overtime as Japanese do, and since I was travelling alone, I did not have to join other Japanese for long evening dinners. I did not make this mistake on my second trip, and enjoyed many long summer evenings strolling the streets of Munich, snapping away. I would end each day with a visit to one or more of the many Irish pubs in the city, one one occasion enjoying the company of a delightfully chatty local girl with short, blond hair whose name fate has not been kind enough to allow me to remember. In the taxi back to my hotel one night, the driver appeared very keen to take me to a strip club, and offered to do so for most of the journey home. Another helpful taxi driver I met in Munich was the old man who must have been the only taxi driver in the city who did not know where BMW's technical centre was (Try an imagine a London taxi driver not knowing where the Houses of Parliament are!); and even when I told him the address, he explained that he would drive down the length of the street and I should say "STOP!" when we got to where I wanted to go. At least I presume that is what he was saying, since I do not speak German! All that I understood of what he said was the word "STOP!" and the long straight line he kept drawing in the air.
In September of the following year, I went to Ireland again, This time was for two weddings. When I arrived at the church for the practice for Eamon's wedding, he broke the news to me that I would be the translator for his wife, Keiko's family. Since simultaneous translation is really difficult, I did not do a very good job. The priest insisted on me translating “God” as "Father", even though I protested that they would not understand what he meant. In the end, I summarised his sermon as "It's about God!" which got me a good deal of praise from the local audience, many of whom wished the priest's original version had been that succinct. At that wedding I met an old college friend Steve, who said he was now living in Cork and I should drop in sometime. Taking him at his word, I told him I would be there the following Tuesday. I got a train down and spent the day walking around Cork City, meeting up with Steve in the evening. We had a few drinks and went back to his house. The next day I took a bus out to Midleton to visit the distillery, and went to see the Murphy's brewery as well. Having lunch in a pub, I unthinkingly asked for a pint of Guinness, and the bartender scolded me for drinking "that Dublin stuff". As I sat with my pint, a young man next to me suddenly piped up, "That's a fane dare karemera yiv gat dare". It took me a few seconds to decipher his accent and realise he was saying "that's a fine dear camera you've got there". I let him have a look at it, and he passed it back without further comment. Tired from walking and loaded down with whiskey souvenirs, I got a train back to Dublin, where my father picked me up at the station.
The next weekend was Ronan's wedding to Jane. I again acted as an unofficial photographer, and the official photographer seemed a little annoyed at my presence. Ronan told me later that the limousine driver had said to him as they travelled from the church to the reception that he had seen a lot of wedding photographers in action, and that I had been taking much better photos than the professional they hired. Jane told me later that she thought my photos were much better too.
In between those two weddings, my father and I went on a two day fishing trip to Kilmore Quay in the south east of Ireland. We stayed in a little guest house run by an Englishman, and I kept everyone awake with a fit of sneezing that lasted about four hours. On the morning of the second day, we took things slowly, and decided to wait for the rain to stop before we took the boat out. We sat down with the paper and some coffee, and I dug into the crossword. By the time I was finished, the rain had stopped. I looked at my father and asked if we should get going. He looked out the window for a few seconds, and said "No." We spent a little longer browsing the newspapers, and then decided to head home. Having caught only one fish in two days, that was probably the most relaxing fishing trip I have ever experienced.
Returning to Japan, I went to another wedding in November that year, having been invited by a co-worker called Miyamura. He had met his wife through the Japanese practice of "GOKON" where groups of single men and single women meet up on a sort of group blind date. He invited me to join these meetings a couple of times, and they were enjoyable enough, but I soon decided that none of the women were for me. While those around me were starting to get married in droves, I was having no such luck. I had by this stage given up on the idea of dating Japanese women, because so many of them were not my type. Many Japanese men still expected Japanese women to be saccharine-sweet (i.e. artificially) cute like the poster girl "idols" they saw in their magazines and "manga", and many of them duly obliged, both in the way they behaved and the way they dressed. I found many of their seemingly forced mannerisms to be artificial and unappealing, an act they put on to try and make men like them. I had heard so many stories from co-workers and others of wives who dropped their cute persona as soon as they got married, so I was more than a little hesitant to accept this behaviour at face value. There were women who acted in a more mature and natural manner, with whom I could interact on an more honest level without "role playing", but a surprisingly large number of these smoked, which was another characteristic I was not prepared to accept. As a result there was a remarkably small number of women among the large number I met through work, Simple Simon and the sports club, who interested me romantically, even though a large number of them became and stayed good friends. The fact that I socialised with a large number of women at Simple Simon, but made romantic approaches to none of them, also eventually triggered a rumour that I was homosexual.
Of the handful of women who I actually dated, Riko was the only one that continued for any length of time. With others it became clear after one or two dates that ordinary friendship was the best way to go, or we simply stopped calling each other. There was one girl who worked at Simple Simon, Hiromi, who captivated my heart completely, but she was already involved with another guy. Even knowing this I found myself infatuated with her for several months, so much so that I considered not going to Simple Simon to spare myself the frustration of seeing her so close but not being able to be with her. Walking home some nights I would cry at the thought that I was walking home alone. One night when I was a bit too drunk, I even asked her to marry me. The sad thing about it was that I was serious. Even then she was very tolerant about it all, and her consistent refusals were nothing short of polite. But I realised it was not fair to her for me to be this persistent, and I resolved to show no further interest in her. She later moved to Australia with her boyfriend, and I lost contact with her. For several years after this I showed no interest in women at all, convinced that they were more trouble than they were worth, and I started to resign myself to living as a bachelor. The single exception to this was a woman I met at the sports club, whose name was Satomi. We had two dates, both of which ended with her sleeping at my place after the most unromantic, unenjoyable sex I had ever experienced. The fact that she never gave me her phone number, or any other means of contacting her, (and expressly would not allow me to do so,) has led me to suspect that she was married. Either way, she seemed to be only interested in the sex, as she practically demanded it when she went out with me, but made no attempt to be conversationally interesting, attractive or appealing.
Then one day I got an e-mail from someone named Misao, who had found me through my photography homepage. She had just moved to Kawagoe, and was looking for someone to practice English with. Something about her piqued my interest, so I responded and we agreed to meet. I remember thinking just before she showed up, "What if she's really ugly?!" but my worries were unfounded. Misao was tall, slender and not unattractive, but in the three years I knew her she was never more than a friend. She worked at a local hospital as a counsellor to terminally ill patients, and often went to England on business as the translator for the head of the hospital. She liked to talk, and like to drink beer while doing so. We met irregularly, and always to talk over beer, and our friendship continued on those lines until she moved away. I lost contact with her after that.
Also around that time, I was in Simple Simon one night when I got talking to an Englishman sitting next to me. He told me his name was John, and he was here to clean up an apartment belonging to his mother in law who had recently died. He introduced me to his Japanese wife, who matter of factly told me that she was a dominatrix. I looked at her in confusion for a few seconds, and she went on to explain that yes, her job was to torture people for money. She worked in brothel in London doing this, and was married to John, who was a bartender, to provide her with a visa. Her mother had recently died, and she had come over to be with her at the end and was now clearing up her affairs. Since she was making such good money in London, she was going to go back by herself and leave her husband to take care of the apartment, which he did over the next two weeks. Most nights he came to Simple Simon for dinner and drinks, and we met up a lot. Most nights he was there, he would open the conversation by offering me various items of furniture, as he was gradually getting rid of all the stuff in the apartment. After he eventually left, I recounted the story to my friend Misao, who looked at me astonished and said that the mother was a patient at the hospital where she worked, and that the daughter always served as their driver when she visited London with the hospital head.
One other event around this time was around the time of the Tyson - Holyfield fight where Tyson infamously bit off Holyfield's ear. On the night that fight was shown on Japanese television, I was watching it intently on the screen at Simple Simon. Also sitting at the counter was a Jordanian street seller named Arman, who had been in Kawagoe longer than I. He apparently raised his glass in greeting to a girl who was sitting across the room, and was offended when she didn't return his greeting, but instead made a face at him. He went over to her seat and started verbally abusing her, and did not desist until he was thrown out of the bar by the owner and told not to come back. The girl, for her part, claims she could not see clearly who it was who was greeting her, and squinted to try and do so. I know both of them and consider Arman to be a hot tempered and viciously proud person, who had always boasted about protecting his street stall from the local mafia "Yakuza" who would normally demand protection money. This was proven to be true when he called me over one night soon after his expulsion as I passed his stall and told me that he was very angry with me. When I had approached him, several Japanese youths who were hanging around with him surrounded me, and I felt distinctly threatened, even more so when he gestured at them to back off, since that meant my instincts were not unfounded. He then went on to berate the owner of Simple Simon as a racist (which is ridiculous, given the large number of non Japanese customers and friends he has), the girl he abused as a snob (I have known her for many years to be nothing short of polite, and since she drives a truck for a living it would be difficult for her to be a snob), and he even berated me for siding with the Japanese rather than him. (I had actually remained neutral on the incident, expressing comment in neither direction as I did not actually see it happen.) In the course of his tirade, he threatened to "piss down her throat" and insinuated that he knew people who could have the bar burned down if he wanted to. I walked away from that confrontation quite scared, and resolved to avoid him whenever possible.
He came back into Simple Simon a few weeks later, stuck his head in the door and asked Shimano to join him outside. Seconds later, the room fell silent as the words "Fuck You" were roared outside. Another customer, David, a Scotsman, went outside to try to translate and mediate, between Shimano and an infuriated Arman. Someone suggested I should go out and intervene, but after the barrage I endured on the street from Arman, I was in no mood to mediate. After a while, Arman was allowed in to have a drink, and sat beside me. He again asked which side I was on, and why I didn't support him. I told him again, it was not my quarrel. He protested that all he wanted was respect, but I responded that respect must be earned, not demanded. I have encountered him a few times since, but have avoided long conversation. I believe he has since moved out of Kawagoe, but cannot confirm this.
If you dropped in by accident, the story starts here;
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