Independence Day 1977
Hinomaru: The High Point

“So, what are you planning to do today?” Mike asked as I opened the case to see if my guitar had arrived all in one piece. This is a particularly odd question, I thought. Like anyone has a plan after travelling a day-and-a-half with a fourteen-hour time difference, crossing the international dateline…? “Uh, what? I'm going to take a shower and sleep. Why?” I replied. “Well, uh, I thought you, uh, might want to come with us,” Mike said. “Who is us?” I asked. “Well, right now I got Charlie, Sam, his wife Rebecca, and me. And we are planning to climb Mount Fuji today. You want to come along?” Mike queried. I'm beginning to think this guy may be a bit nuts. “You've got to be kidding me, Mike. I just got here. I've been travelling for a day and a half! I'm practically dead! Look, thanks for asking, but I think I better not go. Besides, I don't have any clothes for climbing and cold weather.” “Don't worry,” Mike said, ignoring everything I'd said about being exhausted. “I can lend you some clothes, and I've got an extra field jacket if you need it. Come on! It'll be great and a lot of fun. Everybody's going.”

Out on the Economy
Irrashaimase to Omotenashi

Irrashaimase…Irrashaimase… Irrashaimase… Irrashaimase.” A barrage of welcome greetings demanded our attention, seemingly echoing an important announcement. All of a sudden this greeting spread past the front door, throughout the first floor of the Odakyu OX Department Store at Sobadaimae Station—silencing our conversation and thoughts. Mike and I had just entered through the wide-open glass doors toa dainty, childlike girl dressed in a blue, military-grade uniform with aribboned, bowler-derby hat. She greeted us with the ice-breaking “irrashaimase” accompanied by a saikeirei—deep, 45-degree bow—as if we were royalty. A young man standing fifteen feet away at the cashier's counter turned to us with the same bow, seconding the motion with his rendition of “irrashaimase.”Instinctively, a third store clerk—tidying up a shelf halfway to the back of the store—blurted out his synchroneity for yet a third “irrashiamase.” I observed them as having the makings just shy of a Sobadaimae Station barber shop quartet when a deep male voice from an out-of-sight tenor chimed in with the last harmonious “irrashaimase.” With his decrescendo coda, he completed the official declaration that a customer was present and may need attention. Wow, what did I do? I wondered as we walked through the store to the second-floor stairs.

The Geisha and Her Mother
Kimonos, Kanzashi, and Ruby-Red Lips

Yokosakki kono futari kimashita yo. (Yoko, these two gentlemen came a moment ago.)” The old lady gave notice to the harp player from across the room. Yoko scurried over to us—draped in a beautiful, red-patterned kimono with a green obi, her finger picks in hand. Her ebony hair was put up in traditional geisha style, with a kanzashi dangling down the left side of her face. Her striking facial features put me in a daze; her silky, pitch-black hair outlined a forehead of smooth, soft skin—punctuated by delicate, pencil-thin eyebrows that blended into brown, alluring, oriental eyes. Her slight overbite of perfectly aligned, snow-white teeth jutted out of her vivid, lipstick-ruby-red lips—holding me spellbound as she opened her mouth to speak. “I mu Yoko,” she said in a heavy Japanese accent. “Thisu is maima—zaa. (This is my mother.)” “Uhhh…Yoko-san, my name is Joe, and this is Mike,” I said. “Aso desu ka… Jo-san to Mai-ku-san. How do you do?” Yoko replied (“I see, Mr. Joe and Mr. Mike”). “Hajimemashite (How do you do?),” I introduced myself while practicing my Japanese. “Eee, Nihongo dekimasu ka?” Yoko-san asked. (“Oh, can you speak Japanese?”) “Sukoshi dake (Only a little),” I replied, dampening her expectations.

The Japanese Child in Me
Amae and an Eighth Birthday Party

Okaasan's presence, and the fact I referred to her as “mother,” naturally instilled in me a childlike psyche that went hand-in-hand with my baby-language expressions and ignorance of their culture. I became their full-grown child to rear and refine to a culturally acceptable standard for a gaijin, so as not to embarrass or bring haji (shame) to the family name. Having imbibed a strong sense of obligation, reciprocity, and family values from my overbearing Italian father, I possessed the perfect disposition to endure a second childhood—going with the flow, an empty gaijin vessel to be filled. Their willingness to raise me was a calculated risk they unwittingly took, and the gesture showed they truly liked me. Besides, I offered them unbridled weekly entertainment—with Mike's help—breaking their boredom of just being Japanese. The close bond created through the concept of amae—a parent-child, behavioral roleplay, which is the basis of all Japanese relationships—unexpectedly burgeoned into an intercultural, parental-guided, love affair. My belief in karma and their’s in Shinto gods became the esoteric and determining outside force. Amae is the guiding credo at the heart of Japan's modern culture and traditions. It binds individuals, institutions, companies, even the government to the emperor in an incessant entanglement of interdependence. It holds together the interlaced pyramid of multi-level-marketing-like personal and business relationships, each party interacting as parent or child in the vertical paradigm that guarantees their social contract of                                                           security and livelihood. 

The Tipping Point
Oneesan, My Seventh Older Sister

Her quirky smile told me I was no longer perceived as a gaijin, but as what I was referred to later in my Camp Zama spook afterlife—a henna gaijin(strange foreigner) for being an eccentric herbivore. But I was a polite henna gaijin, so she was going to try her best to help me out of my predicament. Bless her heart. She's going to feed me. I'm going to like this girl.Hai. Niku to sakana to chicken please take out shite kudasai (Yes, please takeout any meat, fish, and chicken),” I said. “Hai, wakarimashita. Tencho tokakunin shimasu. (I'll check with the chef to see if we can do this for you),” she said. From that day forward, I became their most loyal customer, dropping in for a quick lunch on the weekends or an evening of dining and loitering, using one of their tables next to the window as my private study. I would spend hours studying Japanese after dinner, as long as they weren't short a table. The flip side for them was that on slow nights, I helped fill the void, occupying an otherwise empty table for better optics, not to mention a larger tab. “There's nothing sadder than an empty restaurant,” my father used to say. I knew this from the time I was a kid. Although I wasn't yet born when my grandmother closed her restaurant in 1955, my father carried on the tradition and started a restaurant under the same name in the mid 1960s. I was eight at the time.

One Short Hanami Season
Sayonara My Friend

Suteki! (Wonderful!)” Yoko-san exclaimed as she entered my room. “Suteki desuyo, Jo-san (This is lovely, Mr. Joe).” She examined the red cotton Indian tapestry hanging from ceiling to floor that split my room into the entry/genkan, and a larger living-bedroom. Her nose sniffled, inhaling the residual scent of Nag Champa incense burned that morning, lingering in the tapestry's cotton weave. I enjoyed a snort myself, subconsciously calming my mind. The tapestry hung directly down from the red cornice I'd painted after my Odakyu Ox visit with Mike fifteen months earlier to buy my futon. That day was to be my “initiation” into the made-man life of a spook with Charlie, Mike, and the third floor. The bowing babe—a time already gone, but not forgotten. Ma and Pa's ramen and gyoza nights. Our Sobadaimae battles and beer stains. I missed Charlie. I was going to miss Mike more. Time had passed. My room had become a magical mystery tour with felt scrolls showing scenes of famous Japanese temples and Mt. Fuji, with a canvas collage painting of Buddhas of different sizes hanging around all four walls. The incense burner on a side table holding my night lamp was full of ash from daily burnings of Indian and Japanese incense. A library of books on world religions, Zen Buddhism, and Indian mysticism filled the bookcase in front of the window, draped in bamboo roller blinds.

The Pickup
Lincoln, JFK, and Mr. Yamaguchi

The rest of the night started with Junko-san serving me English milk tea with two omochi, (Japaneserice cake) then p lacing a bottle of sake (Japanese rice wine) and an ochoko (shot glass) in front of Mr. Yamaguchi. Junko-san joined us with a pot of ocha (Japanese green tea) for herself, moving me around to sit across from Mr. Yamaguchi, with her in between. It allowed her to service both of us with drinks and desserts, as we joined together for the adult's time of the evening. Mr. Yamaguchi took the first shot of sake, refilled shortly after he placed it back down on the table—Junko-san there at the ready to serve him. His face turned beet red after downing the third shot fifteen minutes in to our conversation. I readied myself to listen to some mumble jumble, the likes of which Mike and I were accustomed to from late-night drunks at the bars around Zama. He was funny, like all drunks in Japan that I would encounter over the next twenty years living there. He was beginning to slump a bit, and his speech became peppered with hesitations and broken sentencing—signs of tangled-up messaging from his cerebrum. Still cognizant, he hadn't blown a fuse yet, but was getting close. At this pace, it was only a matter of time before his head would lie flat on the kotatsu table, but unlike his two-year-old daughter, his eyes and mouth would be closed. And it wouldn't be cute or pretty. I was hoping it wouldn't get to that. I wouldn't know the proper way to react.  

A Dog, A Tigress, and the Stallion
As Long as it Takes

As I reflected on the statue of Hachiko I'd just seen, I recalled my afternoon at Odawara Castle and the “hollow” samurai coat of armor. I now realized it hadn't been playing with my imagination. Even Japanese dogs followed bushido, to “after-life” extremes which seemed unfathomable to weak human beings like myself. I sensed something intangible yet real—all-pervasive and consuming in the ethos of Japanese society—that validated the precepts of Shinto and their millions of kami (gods). I realized I was subconsciously agreeing to these precepts as a way of life with my visits to Shinto shrines. Yet the Buddhist temples had guided me onto a karmic Zen path of falling in love with a Japanese woman, even as she was subjugated to her culture's beliefs. Resisting Yoko-san and her Japanese way of relating to me was futile. My love for her made me helpless. The senselessness of this society is starting to make sense, I ironically began to believe. Maybe it was my faith in Yoko-san who made me want to believe. Or was I fooling myself and knew no more than what I understood that first night at Ma and Pa's with Charlie and Mike? Only time would tell.

My “OneShot” Day
Sleeping with the Enemy

From the very beginning, The Captain called me “Joey,” a name only my family, childhood friends, and parish priests back home would call me. By using my childhood name, I subconsciously assigned him to the role of a foster father, and his genuine interest in every facet of my life made me feel close to him. He acted like my legal guardian, and I looked up to him as such. His interest in my well-being went beyond legal or military aspects of my life. He wanted to knowhow I thought and what I wanted to do with my life. I'd talk to him about Zen Buddhism, Shintoism, Indian mysticism, and my three-hour-a-day meditation regimen. He borrowed a couple of books on Zen and Indian mysticism from me to get an understanding of my thinking. The Captain must have read them a couple of times, as he would reference passages from these books in letters he wrote to me years later after he left Camp Zama. The Captain invited me for dinner in the Garden Room at the Consolidated Club several times. For an airman to have dinner with an officer of that rank was unheard of and sometimes made me feel out of place. It didn't seem to faze him, as he didn't care what people thought. Even Miki wondered what I was doing dining with him the first time we ate in the Garden Room. He was a regular and spent many of his evenings there, wining and dining important military and civilian personnel from all over the Pacific. He knew everybody of any importance, and they knew him.

Scent of a Japanese Woman
The Kiss of Death

As I shifted my gaze to her red lips, smiling gleefully to see me, I sensed that they were pantomiming like in an old silent movie. The words coming out of her mouth went over my head unheard, as only a subliminal message seeking a response.“Jo-san konnichi wa. Hisashiburi! You wait long? (Good afternoon. It's been a long time since meeting last. Did you wait long?)” “Chotto dake. (Just a while.) I noticed beads of sweat had gathered above her upper lip from roaming the festival grounds. An attractive smell of her natural body odor escaping her kimono swirled over to me, extinguishing the fragrance of my musk, as she turned up the air conditioning fan to cool me down. I imagined her naked, soaking and sweating for hours in a steaming wooden ofuro (Japanese bathtub)—like the one at Junko-san's house—deep cleaning the pores of her skin that were now oozing out pure perspired droplets, coming up to the surface of the water, as I sat next to her. Her perspiration released an attractive scent that bent back the hairs of my nose, arousing a sense of aphrodisia. Yoko-san never wore perfume. She didn't need to. My self-control seldom failed me, but now...I felt totally vulnerable, succumbing to the scent of a woman. Staying free from the sway of a woman was the foundation of my psyche, a direct result of having grown up amongst nothing but woman.

A Garden Room Send-Off
Jindaiji: A National Treasure

Jo-san,komban wa (Good evening, Mr. Joe),” Yoko-san said softly. She'd quietly entered the Garden Room and snuck over to my table unnoticed. I looked up at her. I choked up. She looked radiant—classically made-up like a geisha doll with her hair put up in a bun, but in Western apparel—wearing the red patterned skirt and white blouse outfit I'd bought her a year earlier. “Hisashiburi desu ne (It's been a long time),” I said, my voice catching. The “long time” represented more for me than the months since meeting her and Okaasan last November. It was as if this person standing before me had finally come home to stay after multiple lifetimes—as we reunited to walk the same earthly path together. Yoko-san sat down. We took a long look at each other, smiling. We were exhaustively excited to see each other—wanting to speak, but calmly reserved in order to soak in the experience—while still uncertain how our destiny would shape a future life together. “Jo-san watakushi to atte kurete arigatou gozaimasu (Mr. Joe, thanks for meeting me.)” “Kochira koso (It's my pleasure),” I said, smiling gently. Miki returned and took our order. She remained aloof from me the entire time, sensing I wanted to be left alone, and that my meeting with Yoko-san was a                                                           private affair.

Uncultured Gaijin
The Gaiatsu Professor

I think most Japanese looked at Al as an ex-Navy gaijin bully who never crossed the cultural goal post of acceptability during his time in Japan—university “professorship” or not. He had perfected his game plan to always stay in the lead, by interacting with the Japanese from his position as an American boss. Al had learned the technique of playing the politically charged gaiatsu card when backed into a corner and confronted with a losing proposition that wasn't what he wanted—with the gai in gaiatsu meaning foreign, and atsu meaning pressure. In international geopolitics, gaiatsu was the practice by foreign partners to continuously pressure Japanese decisionmakers to acquiesce to their demands that Japan change their foreign policy until they would cry “uncle!” The Japanese would agree to the demands during negotiations, while sitting face-to-face, only to ask “uncle who?” after deliberations were over. They'd then declare that there had been a cultural misunderstanding that got “lost in translation,” and they'd agreed to nothing of the sort. A waiting game would then ensue, hoping the gaiatsu demands would fade away. In the 1980s, the practice of gaiatsu was used particularly in international trade talks to open up Japan's capital markets and to lower Japanese tariffs on imported goods and services. Many of Japan's markets remained closed well into the early 2000s, as history would show. The Japanese were masters at moving goal posts to keep gaijin out, while protecting its people, markets, economy, and culture from foreign influences.

Within You Without You
Frizzy Hair and Tickled Cheeks

My back-to-the-future hairstyle and wardrobe were right out of the Beatle's Maharishi Mahesh Yogi days of the late sixties. I was hoping Yoko-san would look beyond my unfitted traditional Indian clothes and whiskered facial that brought the “Cat” back out of me, to know that I was still her “Jo-san” on the inside. I arrived at Chofu Station fifteen minutes early to make sure I was on time to greet her. Yoko-san was ten minutes late. “Konnichi wa Jo-san (Hello, Mr. Joe),” Yoko-san said as she briskly approached me, exiting the station. Her face radiated the excitement of a child entering Disneyland. “Konnichiwa! (Hello!)” I declared enthusiastically, sharing in her excitement. “Jo-san…hige suteki desu ne! (Your beard looks great, Mr. Joe!)” “Honto ni? (Really?)” “Kao wo niau. Suki desu yo! (It suits your face. I like it!)”I was thrilled and quite surprised she liked the beard. Then again, what would Cat Stevens look like without facial hair? I couldn't recall ever seeing a picture of him clean-shaven! Was there a face under there …?

My Little Chinese Airline Girl
An Oyster Forkin the Road

To my surprise, she began to participate in a cat-and-mouse game of peek-a-boo with me that continued for an hour as I got closer to boarding time. I would see her looking at me from the corner of my eye. I'd look over at her, and she would look away, until she'd eyeball me again ten minutes later. I'd give her a couple of seconds of attention before looking down. Funny thing was, neither one of us smiled—we'd just share serious looks, expressing interest, maybe imaginary intrigue. We were naturally attracted to each other, of that, I was sure. But I couldn't quite figure out how we got into an endless gawking game, or how to escape. Our little eye-spy episode of suspense killed the monotony, helped the wait/hurry-up, and provided a bit of pre-boarding entertainment. Before I knew it, I was only T-minus forty minutes to take off back to Tokyo. I gave her my last glance, stood up, and walked into the waiting lounge in front of my departure gate to get ready to board. Well, that was fun. Now I know what aloha means, I thought. Within five minutes of sitting down, an announcement came over the airport loudspeaker. My flight had been delayed for two hours until noon.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
The Empty Hollow

My body froze stiff, as my mind suspended all thought. I stood there speechless for five seconds, not knowing what to say ordo. I'd never experienced anything like what confronted me in that instance. I had a vision of a samurai apparition from Odawara Castle in a coat of armor, which then transformed into an in-the-flesh human being standing in front of me. The face glowed with heavenly beauty out of the darkness—a disembodied spirit that was still a part of my very own soul. “Yoko-san!” I whispered. My throat dried up, my stomach contracted, and my legs went wobbly, as my nerves stood on end throughout my body. I could feel my heart pump rapidly, my veins emptying and then filling up, as if being transfused with new blood to inject fresh oxygen and remove the waste of yesteryear's love pains, unbearable longing, and sorrow. It had been a half a year since I'd seen Yoko-san's face. My body became listless, my head faint.