By Mayumi Takadanobaba
Roppongi at dawn.
Baba said, "oh, that poor man."
Mayumi quickly retorted, "Na, Baba, he just drank too much." As she looked away from the drunk.
Mom looked at Baba with a shrug of her shoulders that showed Mayumi was right.
At eight years old, Mayumi came of age walking the streets of Roppongi at 7am every day to go to school. Mom and Baba always came with her. They lived in a compound right behind the Hard Rock Cafe just off Gaijin Street. The family has lived in this spot for hundreds of years. Baba's home is that old too.
Originally her home was the tea ceremony hall for family and business events. Her home always looked brand new to Mayumi. The entranceway had a row of 4 giant Cherry Trees lining each side. The porch was wide and surrounded the home. When the front shoji doors were open you could see the main room tatami mats that the little one would use as a gymnastics playground.
Dad automated the disappearance of the center fire pit and sitting area so she could have the whole room! Baba's sleeping quarters were spartan with the bedding folded and stored each morning.
By far my favorite part of Baba's home was the giant koi pond that was designed to be part of the interior and exterior gardens. My favorite was named Baka and the other Kawaii as those were the two words of my vocabulary when papa brought home my first koi. I got to name them! It's simple to discern which parent taught me these words.
My English teacher was always surprised when I excitedly used those words to greet my fish. Kathy was 22 when she first started to teach me English when I was 3 years old. I don't see her that often anymore, but I know where my California accent came from.
Mom told me she got married a few years back and is planning to move to Japan again.
Our home was a western wonder and one of the first imported "American Mansion" kits. Dad has this insane photo album showing him in the state of Washington with a chain saw in his hand in front of the tree that became the main pillars of our home.
My dad worked at a big bank in the Roppongi Tower. Even though he lived 5 minute walk from home I only saw him as he slept on the weekends. To dad living in Roppongi was the penultimate of being successful. Too bad he didn't know the sleaze I had to grow up with. He knew, but it did not matter.
This morning was no different. I woke at 5:30am daily and got an extra hour or so on the weekends.
Mom tried her best to shelter me from Roppongi and give me some childhood normalcy. Baba was consistent in saying soft things about Roppongi and its locals. I knew the local drunks, but it was the silly gaijins that confused me in the early years.
The pimps left me alone. The street callers selling sleaze did too. It wasn't that I was a local, it was that my dad was the all-powerful Jun Takadanobaba. Papa not only ran the big bank, he was active in every hi-society event in Tokyo proper. Some called him the mayor of Roppongi for a while.
Our home has a tall building on its North wall. Baba told me that papa was so powerful that no one dares to build tall enough to shade our property in any way. Even the mighty Roppongi Tower had to lower its height 3 stories so its afternoon shade did not hit our compound. At 1pm on December 22 each year we all knew exactly where the shadow would land.
I'm just 18. Should I talk like this? When normal is not, you might only realize it when pushed out of your bubble.
My cousin Megumi lived in Chiba in a farming village on the coast called Isumi. She did not get to come to visit me in Roppongi until she was of age. That was a day to remember and the reason I am writing this book. The over indulgence of Megumi into the cesspool of Roppongi was epic. At least she had a tour guide, one that every local knew.
"Tama! Tama!," you have to come see this. When are you coming to Isumi again? I miss you so much," Megumi typed into Line. Meg always called Mayumi "Tama" 'cause when they were young she'd call her "maru" and Baba would laugh and say "Tama" which means Ball. Mayumi was my play ball. My Tama!
"What's that sound?" asked Megumi
"Those are frogs! They just got born in the new rains and now are screaming for food." Said Megumi's mom, Yuki.
"They are so loud!" Megumi chirped.
Megumi's beach home in Isumi, Chiba was surrounded on three sides by rice, cabbage and bamboo. Five houses along a finger sized street, hers was the last and largest. The two-story home was also in a western style but built locally with decidedly Japanese influences. Especially in our shower and bath. It was like living in a hot spring resort.
The frogs arrived every year with the spring rains. This is the first year that Megumi asked about them, she was five years old.
"Come on Megumi we are going to be late for school," mom yelled from the front door.
Frogs were everywhere! Green little buggers that would move just as my foot would come down.
"Hooooooooonnnnnnnnnjjjjjjkkkkkkk cough cough," blew the local pheasant as it ran into the bamboo. He always sounds like a rusty wheel turning on grandma's bike as she rode to the market.
I skipped and jumped ahead of mom and grabbed hands with my best friend Yoko. Just beyond her was Yuki and Keniichi.
"Did you hear the frogs!," screamed Kenichi
Yu and I just giggled and laughed.
"Wait a second", Mom would always yell.
The walk to school took about 30 minutes. Along the way we came to learn where every kitty cat lived and started to have nicknames for the old-ladies tending the farms.
Wildlife was everywhere. Snakes, all kinds of birds, fish, frogs, boars, deer, cats, dogs and so much more.
We took two routes to get to school. If the weather was nice we would cut over to walk along the Isumi river. We started at the mouth of the river where surfers jived between the extended rock jetties. The fishermen were in rickety bamboo stays along the river. Just the other side of Pacific Coast Hwy 126 we marched into the playground.
Keniichi immediately went to the boys. Yu and I squealed as we met all of our friends. Our school was small by Tama's standards with only 200 kids in K-8 and about 500 in hour high school. Uniforms were standard for the boys, but the girls had a little more freedom. They could either have a pony tail or not.
School was school just like anywhere I suppose.
The moms still met us at school to walk home. Usually we'd stop by the farmer's market and pick up greens for dinner. In our small beach town the farmers rule and also provide the community with focal points. The same characters could be had every day.
The best game was giving English names to the animal life we saw everyday. Kathy would be on those walks home from school 2 days a week.
"Oh look! There's Bob the Cat!" screamed Kathy.
"Bob?" Megumi asked.
"Ya, it's Bob and his brother Fred and Sister Sally. Say hi!" demanded Kathy.
Ken and Yu just laughed so hard and ran around saying Bobu again and again.
When Ken and Yu left our parade, Kathy would get me to describe each named animal in more detail.
"Bob is black cat with white socks," Kathy told me to repeat
"Bob is a kuroneko with shiro socks," Megumi splurts as she ran toward Bob.
As soon as Meg got home she'd call Mayumi and talk about the day. Kathy encourages her to talk in some English when describing the animals and their mood of the day. They talked until dad got home.
"Papa!" Megumi would always scream while she is standing next to her fishing pole and ready to put on her boots. The bright red boots were an adorable contrast to the bright yellow rain jacket and hat Meg proudly wore.
"Ready? Let's go" Kazunobu Takadanobaba said as he electrically charged out the door.
Mom and baba would always stand at the doorway and say be careful and have fun.
Dad walked in front in a hurried pace. He loved fishing so much and was always so eager to see the surf. The two dogs next door always barked when we left the house. Meg called them "Bert" and "Ernie" after seeing Sesame Street on Kathy's iPad.
"Come on," Dad admonished as he motioned Meg away from Bert and Ernie. The dogs did the same thing every day. Bert goes inside the dog house and Ernie just keeps pacing.
The frogs were everywhere on our little finger, but they were dead on the "main" roads. The cars had been running them over. The little green imprints into the soft road were flat and in different positions.
Meg thought about the frog races last night and if any of these little buggers were the winners. Every night in frog season the lights from our living room would bring bugs to fly around our front windows. The frogs would jump on the window and eat bugs as they traveled up the window. The whole family would pick and name a frog to root for. As they moved up the glass some would fall off to the delight of the crowd!
Dad was already at the next corner ready to turn right and go to his fishing spot. Meg scurried her little legs, caught up and grabbed his hands and started yapping about the frogs.
Dad smiled and said, "oh yuk, I hate them froggies!"
At night the frogs went off like jets taking off from Narita. The noise would drown out the sound or the surf just a few hundred meters from our castle. Then the dead ones started to stink to high heavens. The Frogs got louder and louder at night day by day. With the rice paddies being flooded all them little polliwogs are born and quickly grow to be squawking "feed me" to whomever would listen.
By the third night of frogs we close our storm windows to try and muffle the sound just to get some sleep.
The fourth day of frogs was the worst and made me understand why Dad didn't like the frogs.
The road-kill frogs started to smell after three days in the sun. It wafted into the house when we opened the storm windows. The smells made Meg gag.
The birds were gleeful this fourth day of frogs. It was like the whole bird sanctuary moved into our backyard and were dive bomb attacking the frogs. It was not raining, but mom armed us with umbrellas so we could walk to school.
The fifth day of frogs turned to the dominance of the birds. They ate and ate and ate. Some of the birds so fat that they waddled along the road. In the bamboo grove next to our house between us and the ocean the birds sounds like they were having a party. Meg thought the birds were laughing and telling frog jokes.
The ocean was flat today but the waves still splashed across the rocks and concrete blocks. We always touched the bar at the beach head and turn left to our fishing spot. This area has a flower park that turns colors with the seasons. Fluffy small purple flowers floated in the wind bending the concrete fence that looks like lumber.
Just past the park was an abandoned bar that had its windows smashed out by the surf. This was the spot. Dad pulled out our rods and we went through a check list. He would ask Meg which pole she wanted today and she would close her eyes and reach out and pick.
It was the red one today, the "beast" as Dad called. It. A red feather and small hook repeated along a meter to be a fishing machine.
Our beach was always empty from our fishing spot the soft sand stretches 2 kilometers to the Isumi River jetty, I could only see old-man Sato casting into the surf. Sometimes when the turtles are laying their eggs in the sand we see the photography buffs clicking away.
Dad picked up the beast and cast it far off our concrete walkway at the edge of the surf. He then handed the pole to Meg and reminded her to gently pull on the line and feel for the bites.
Dad then cast his in and moments later pulled some fish. He was so gosh darn fast and good at it. Meg would try and emulate but her tugs didn't move the beast all that much. No matter Meg just loved the excitement and smile on dad's face when he hit and delivered the fish to the ice box.
Once we had 10 fish we had dinner and dad packed up and we laughed all the way home.
Mom and baba always cleaned and cooked the fish. Meg learned the sushi cut early and once mom was ok, she got to clean along side them. Especially when she caught the fish!
Right as dinner finishes mom sets our bath to tell us when its ready. About 20 minutes later a jingle is heard and the computer voice says your bath is ready. Meg always sang along with the jingle.
After dinner papa would put me to bed and we would chat about the day. He always encouraged me to teach him English so we did talk about all the animals in our neighborhood often. It was nice going to sleep thinking about Bob the Cat and his white socks.
Mayumi's day started with the pass out drunk and like Megumi she started to use nicknames for the humans of Roppongi. She started at the first door next to McDonalds where a trio of Chinese masseuses hung out pitching dawns leftovers. "The Neko Trio," she wrote in her notebook to share later with Megumi.
Mama and baba always were on the inside of the sidewalk at this point, trying to keep me the farthest point from the animals of Roppongi. Really, the way the random drunk that was staggering or passed out and the vampires bats of the night just before the sunlight burns their skin.
The Karaoke shop was always fun to walk by because we frequently met papa there and the window displays were so colorful. The supermarket at the corner always had fresh colorful fruits out front that baba would pick from for my lunch.
I always did a twirl at the Almonds coffee shop on the main corner of Roppongi. It's pink and fluffy interior is filled with delicious cakes and a daily stop after school. After my spin we'd go down the stairs to the Hibiya train station and buzz thru the turnstile with our Passmo magic pass. We took the train a few stops to Naka-Meguro station where my private school was. The gated compound was secured by a guard and that made my parents feels more comfortable.
While Megumi was counting frogs, Mayumi went to ballet and had private piano lessons at home.
The morning grit of the Roppongi cat walk wears off and the day in Tokyo delivers a continuous supply of comfort and lace. The afternoon tea at Almonds was indeed prim and proper.
Ok, from 6 years old just imagine Mayumi growing up in Roppongi, Tokyo and Megumi in Isumi, Chiba. Everyday they would share stories on their days and the fun game Kathy started in naming animals with gaijin names kept going. For Mayumi the characters of Roppongi became the animals. This allowed Mayumi to project a better memory than the true left-overs of any Roppongi morning.
Both kids were dynamic students and active in their schools. From sports to eager participation in the local shrine 'matsuris' and festivals.
It's easy to write about princesses like Mayumi. The trappings of wealth are just easier to describe. The big front doors lined with trees, etc. Because it is so easy I will do my best to describe Roppongi and its title of the "High Touch Town".
By now Mayumi had named every regular in Roppongi as different animals that Megumi gets to see every day. The names were always Bob the Cat, Sally the Bird, Fred the Bat, and more. The writer does not yet know why these names are important, but they seem to give a good reason to fill up the page.
The train from Tokyo station was the Wakashio that went to the tip of the Chiba peninsula. Megumi showed her excitement of going to Isumi by getting mom to talk about how to get to Tokyo station and where they would sit on the train. A six year old chatter box knew the train type, where it was made and all of the departure melodies. She was a train geek!
From the Roppongi compound mom, baba and Megumi marched out of the gate and waived the to the standing security guard. The daily route to school was the same, but Saturday mornings were a war zone in Roppongi. Especially when it was this early.
"That's Kevin the Pig" squealed Megumi as she pointed to drunk man holding on the light pole sitting on the sidewalk fence.
"What?" Grandma protested.
"Kevin the Pig" said Megumi looking directly into baba's eyes she continued in Japanese, "Baba, Mayumi and I have a game that Kathy the English teacher taught us. For Mayumi she gives the animals she sees everyday in Isumi English names."
"That's interesting and funny", said Grandma.
"Look!" whispered Megumi, "That Sally the Snake and her massage girls."
Right after turning on to Gaijin Street, just past the McDonalds is a shop called 'Sunrise Palace' with a massage sign board out front with pictures of hands touching bodies. This morning Sally the Snake was pitching a passerby and the massage girls were grabbing the client and whispering in his ear.
Baba was always internally horrified but showed absolutely no emotion when passing the filth of Roppongi. It was like it did not exist. Mama knew better as Roppongi is where her and Jun met.
Roppongi was in her blood. Baba did now know as they always told her that Jun and mama met at university.
Mayumi noticed first.
There were a couple of the best dressed in Roppongi that Mayumi came to know as the kings. Sorry Kingsly but I do need to describe you in detail as certainly the presentation of fashion and presence of power. Kingsly is from Nigeria and has been in Japan for 20 some odd years. I am not sure if I saw him in the same outfit on any given evening in Roppongi during a recent 3 year stay.
The two together were a power couple. Minoru the club manager and Kingsly the player. Kingsly's job was to manage all the staff at multiple locations across Roppongi. From hostess clubs to fine dining to sports bars Kingsly was the gatekeeper and certainly the one to know in High Touch Town.
Mayumi named him Kingsly the Tiger. He didn't need a made up English name as she has known Kingsly for as long as she has been on Gaijin street. Mama was always greeted warmly by Kingsly. A kiss on the cheek and a how are you. It always formal and at a concierge distance.
Mayumi named Minoru Sam the Pheasant. Minoru always was dressed in more colors and a style just behind Kingsly. A mini-me attempt at High Touch fashion. Minoru's shoes were always sparkly and avant-garde. Pheasant was also a good choice because being 1/3 shorter than Kingsly he seems to run around Kingsly to get his story heard.
The R2 supper club was across the street from the Tokyo Sports Bar building that also housed a hostess bar and high-end restaurant.
Roppongi was full of street callers from around the world selling sex, drugs and rock n' roll 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Every corner was staked out with regular players. Mayumi had them named in every direction in Roppongi. Mayumi did not just walk around Roppongi on the way to school.
Life in Tokyo does not have a timeclock.
Mama made sure that the known safe regulars all knew Mayumi and Kingsly made a point of making these introductions over the years. Kingsly made it known in no uncertain terms that Mayumi was to be protected, respected and shielded from all that Roppongi has to offer. From the biggest man on the street, Ricki, a caller for the Wall Street Bar to the Turkish boys selling kababs and the smallest pimp on the street, a Chinese gal 4' tall and firm hands to offer massage.
Mayumi called Ricki "Harry the Hippo". He was that big and always had a suit that draped to his knees making the overall Hippo look. She would see him sometimes between TGIF and Motown blocking out the eastern Sun behind him. His shadow cast onto and almost all the way across Gaijin street. Behind Harry the Hippo the street fell and in the background was the Roppongi cemetery with the Buddhist sticks capturing some of that morning winter glow.
Kingsly the Tiger was 6' 2" tall black and built. His evenings started at 7pm at the Tokyo Sports Bar where he and Minoru the Pheasant would play pool with the regulars. Happy hour was from 7 to 9pm and without a doubt Mr. Oldman was there. With 500 yen for his one beer that he would nurse until 11. Playing round after round of free pool.
The Tokyo Sports Bar real purpose is to serve hostesses after they get off work. From 2am its rocking.
By the morning Kingsly and Minoru have checked into a dozen Roppongi haunts. Most of them they 'own and operated' together. The walk was consistent by checking in with the various street callers and giving nod to competitors.
For Mayumi she would sometimes see Kingsly twice a day. Once in the morning and the other in the evening when she had dinner with her papa and family at the Oak Door in the Grand Hyatt of the Roppongi Tower. It was Jun's favorite restaurant and frankly he loves the late-night bar.
It did not matter what time of day it was, Kingsly always gave the same energetic hello and hug.
Mayumi did notice first. She noticed that mom would light up when she saw Kingsly and baba would grunt and disapprove. Mama would talk shop with Kingsly, always just out of earshot of Mayumi. Mama was a prize back in the day before Jun Takadanobaba took her from Minoru's hostess club some 8 years ago. Mayumi put It together and although hard to believe, baba was still oblivious.
Kingsly knew we were headed to Chiba and that our train was moments away. He knew the exact time to let mama go so we could casually make the Hibiya line at Roppongi station.
The Saturday trains had different crowds than the workday. The school commute everyone had a uniform on. Not just Mayumi in her sailor outfit, but the staff and suits. Early Saturday had two customers, leftover drunks and travelers.
From Roppongi station we rode one stop to Marunouchi and switched to the red train direct to Tokyo station. We had to have a purposeful pace to catch each transfer. The Wakashio train was a 2km walk under the tracks and a winding set of very long escalators to enter the stomach of Tokyo.
Mayumi loved the escalator rides. It was the only time the three stopped and just rode. If she saw a unique human she would write in her notebook a new name and animal to share with Megumi in Isumi.
There were more than just escalators on this trek thru Tokyo station. The people mover was like the airport and just moved people right along. You had six speeds of humans with these automated machines. On the move, standing still in motion, steppers up and down, the others frozen in place and the movers again.
Mayumi had great eyesight and would track her prey early on the ride and pick a name. Once written doodles took over around that name unless more uniques were spotted.
Mama always had reserved seats on the Wakashio in the third car in the third row. Mayumi got the window seat and was eager for the snack girl to come. Baba would be next to me as they waved goodbye to mama. Mama hated the country but always told Mayumi some other reason, like I must get my hair done, etc.
Baba loved the country and could not be happier. She loved her daughter but hated Roppongi. Mayumi could see it on her face. As soon as the train doors shut and it shudders forward baba's face becomes relieved and a broad smile appears as she jumps into Mayumi's animal name game.
"Donna the Donkey" Mayumi gleefully said as she pulled out her notebook and showed it to baba. Baba remembers that they just recently watch 'Shrek' and that Mayumi was right! That gal on the escalator looked like a fully loaded Donkey.
Sometimes baba did not like the name game. It felt like Mayumi was making fun of others, but to Mayumi is was innocent.
Mayumi could hear the Wakashio train pulling into the station and motioned baba to get a move on it!
The third car back door was right at the base of the escalator and opened as they hit the platform. Both whisked in and went to row 3 seats A and B. Mayumi grabbed the window and started her countdown to takeoff.
Baba knew Mayumi thought this part of the train ride was like Space Mountain at Tokyo Disneyland, the dark hole with flashing lights passing by before launching into the light. The smile expanded wide as the Wakashio's 1st stop was mouse land.
The Waka rolled past rivers and concrete for a full 45 minutes until the first green pastures and trees of note. The industrial Tokyo Bay was rusted and falling apart while mixed with the oasis of yellow in Ikea.
Soga was the last "city" stop. Mayumi knew this because the fashion change from here to Isumi. Soga is like Dallas, all prettied-up but have no real place to go. Baba and Mayumi would stop in Soga on the way home to Roppongi to do some retail shopping.
At the Soga stop fishermen and day tippers hopped on the train. A few surfers and beach babes raised the chatter level to max. As the train rolls the green immediately appears with the speed making small hamlets rush by. The bamboo fields gave way to valleys of layered rice and flowing water.
Baba's face would always relax when green came. Mayumi loved this part. Baba would point to the fishing pole stored by the train door and explain to Mayumi what type of fish that it is best for.
Time on the train hits a time-warp rhythm as ancient shrines and farms houses wiz by.
When they arrived at the last main stop before Ohara station baba knew that her daughter Yuka and grand-daughter Megumi started towards the Besia Supermarket on the main 126 highway running through Isumi. Baba and Mayumi would walk from Ohara to the Supermarket, unless it was raining where they would take a short taxi ride. At Besia they would go and find Megumi and the laughter would truly begin. Baba and Yuka would methodically shop and the kids went to the front to get ice cream.
Baba loved Isumi. The town was frozen in time. Farms dot the landscape and farmers markets are every few hundred meters. The port and its fishing fleet has not been upgraded since the 1970's but still caught a bounty of fish. 'Isumi Time' she called it. Weekends with Mayumi and Megumi in Isumi were the best.
After shopping, everyone piled into Yuka's k-van called "Sharky" that seats 5 comfortably but is so small you would store it in the back of a Toyota Sienna van. Literally a beer can with wheels.
Sharky made a left on hwy 126 and passed the Isumi River. The first right was a small country road that quickly dropped about 20' and then ran along the river. At the almost abandoned 4 story hotel Sharky would make a left as the road got smaller.
Megumi streaked, "there's Bob the Cat! And his brothers. Don't him 'em mom!"
The next right brought them to farms on both sides filled with cabbage. Over the flood protection channel and it's big red wheel they made a left and then a right down the finger street to Yuka's home.
It was 10am and the sun with bright. Just three hours before Mayumi was walking past fallen drunks in Roppongi and now she is about to go the beach with Megumi. A whole new world!
Immediately Meg and Mayu went to the puppies two doors down and got them tails a waggin'. The poor dogs were always tied up in the front of the house. Beige and about half the height of Mayu it was always hard for the girls to see the puppies jump and yelp but be held back by their chains.
Baba called them in to get a snack and help set away the groceries. They never bought too much at the stores so that job was easy. In all of Japan shopping is a daily, if not, intra daily affair. Small homes led to no practical food storage.
Megumi ran upstairs and changed into her swim suit and grabbed a towel as Mayumi did the same. Mayumi kept clothes and the kids were interchangeable. The home was filled with laughter and smiles with the four girls all together.
Meg knew where papa was and ordered Mayu to grab the fishing gear and get a move on it. As soon as Mayu hit the front door the two were running down the finger road while barking with the dogs as they went.
The morning sun was bright and the sky had fluffy white clouds. A they turned right on the country road they saw the what they called the Tottoro Lighthouse and then another right put the reflection of the lighthouse in the flooded rice paddies to their left.
"Come on!" begged Megumi as Mayu always stopped to see this view. Mayu would close her eyes and her imagination would superimpose Tokyo Tower as seen from the middle of Gaijin street. This helped Mayu project the Tottoro Lighthouse onto to the Tokyo Tower. Her imagination of seeing Isumi in Roppongi helped her survive the onslaught of sluts, pimps and hos.
"Hold your horses," screamed and smiled Mayu as she caught up to Meg.
The road turned to dirt at the last home just now being painted yellow by the owner up on scaffolding he put up himself. The road went to the berm and then both could see the ocean and the rusted railing at the water's edge.
Both kids waived their arms and yelled at papa who was fishing 100 meters away in front of the broken down bar. He grunted, waived and went back to fishing.
Meg and Mayu made their favorite right turn and walked to the end of civilization as the concrete walkway gave way to field of purple flowers. A carpet of magic fluffy colors the stretch 2km between the small inlet and the Pacific Ocean to the Isumi River break wall.
When Mayu doesn't see people she doesn't think of filth. Meg knows this and just like Mayu when she sees baba decompress from Tokyo, Meg gets to see this happen to Mayu. The joy of youth explodes for Mayu in Isumi especially when the beach is empty.
The sand is soft and dark from its volcanic origin. Meg and Mayu know the rules about how far they can be to the surf. So they generally hang along the path between the purple flowers nearest to the calm inlet. The inlet is a farm for baby eels that the locals farm literally from their back porches that extend just to the waters' edge opposite of where Meg and Mayu walk.
As long as the waves were tame the kids were allowed to walk out onto the Isumi River jetty. From the soft sand concrete extended 100 meters out to sea. All sorts of old bamboo was strung about across the jetty with the big pile right in the middle from the beach out.
The kids picked and poked their way thru the bamboo and walked the rest of way to the end. In the river surfer was Kenichi and his older brothers and their girls on jet skis. Meg pulled Mayu and excitedly screamed so loud that the surfers waved as both sat down to watch.
Two ducks sat just 6 meters away. Meg whispered, "hey Mayu, those ducks love each other!" As the ducks just stared at each other.
"Let's call them Ricky and Lucy," giggled Mayu.
"You got some splaininng to do,' sputtered Meg in trying to imitate Kathy doing an 'I Love Lucy' imitation.
Both of 'em bust out laughing as they watched Kenichi slice a wave. Meg told Mayu all about Ken and his dad's Jet Ski marina up the river. Like Meg, Ken has never been to Tokyo.
Meg knew it was time to head back for lunch so they waved goodbye to Ken who did not notice. After climbing back over the dead bamboo they jumped to the pile of sand pushed against the wall. Soft! And quickly they ran up the beach to home. They could just see papa has he made his right turn to home and his 6 meter fishing poles bobbing and weaving above. Papa did not have to look after the girls on this secluded beach.
The path back thru the flowers has a different feel, smell and touch. The mist of the ocean was clearly seen from the boulders on the cliffs to the abandoned bar. On the path back we always stop for a second and pretend we are boat captains while looking at a garbage filled boat sunk to the coast of the inlet.
"I'm Popeye the sailor" yelled Meg while Mayu motioned that she was rowing while sitting on the bank above the boat.
Just past the inlet was a different path home that yielded new friends for Meg to show off. The squawk of the Minoru the Pheasant was heard first and then Meg yelled to follow her faster.
The summer home was empty and weeds growing here and there. A 3-meter-tall Indian totem pole painted in many colors stood guard and always made Meg and Mayu hop and howl. A few more meters and they could see baba and Yuka on the front porch watching them come in.
"When does Kathy come?" Meg asked baba.
"What!," screamed Mayu. "I love Kathy!"
Baba, Yuka and Yuko worked it out so Kathy would come on Saturday afternoons and spend the night with the kids in Isumi. This allows Baba and Yuka some quiet time together. Even papa liked Kathy and 'Engrish' night.
Baba and Yuka dropped the kids off at Ohara station to meet Kathy. They wanted to walk home with Kathy to show her Meg's school and show her off to friends. The Token Gaijin is still a status symbol in Japan.
Kathy also taught Megumi and Mayu "Californian" English over the telephone.
"The surf was totally bitchin'," Megumi screams on the phone during the only English language phone calls. At least 10 minutes every day we had to speak English on the phone.
In the beginning, it was hard and we were both stubborn. But after a while we got into beating each other with new vocabulary. It was a daily language competition that Kathy would sometimes allow to go to slang and street talk. After the allotted time we often spoke in Japenglishese mixing English and Japanese slang.
As I think about it, Kathy did not allow us to use bad language so we'd resort to text messages on Line.
Now together the three girls giggled big time as the met at the train station. Meg and Mayu grabbed Kathy's hands on either side and marched to the exit at Ohara station.
I love writing this story. The locations are known to me so I can smell the environment as I get excited about what they are going to do next!
Right after the ticket wicket they went right to the little shared book library and returned two books and took two. Meg and Mayu explained to Kathy who just smiled from ear to ear upon landing at Ohara station for the first time.
Meg ran over to the ticket machine with big buttons that said two or three stations in Kanji each. She pointed to the 5th stop and said," there is nothing there. We will show you next time!" As the one-car diesel train painted bright yellow with anime Pokémon characters all over it. Kathy pulled out her camera and snapped a picture and then the girls really hammed it up and posed for many shots.
Meg and Mayu decided to walk to the port and then to the hot bath spa at the Isumi River. Mom, papa and baba will meet them there to drive home after a soak and a snack.
Kathy asked the kids to stop, "ok, lets start using English directions otherwise I can't move." As Kathy did the robot and squeaked to a stop. Frozen. Meg and Mayu just loved it and marched their directions in English and the three cross the train tracks and headed east to the cross Hwy 126.
Along the way Meg said,"I can show you so many different ways to get to my house! Old ones, new ones and this one with fish processing places and the so much more." Of course, her English was not that good, so she was using sign language, English, Japanese and facial expressions. Kathy was just beyond amused.
The shopping street on the path is traditional and not seen in Tokyo often anymore. The two-story store-fronts are right in the street. Upstairs is a living space and downstairs is a wide variety of services and products. The Bike shop is a mess with wheels and frames just stacked. The cake / bakery is pink and cute. The barber shop has its pole and the taxi stand looks like it has been the same for hundreds of years, you could almost see the horses parked.
Every few feet is a temple, shrine or monument in Japan. The walk from Isumi station was the same and Meg knew them all. The first was the sake museum with its giant ball of rice stalks adorning a giant gate and wall at the entrance. I mean giant! Kathy snapped another picture with a big smile on her face. The girls pulled her along.
Highway 126 had a steady beat of traffic and the girls knew how to be safe. They often walked this by themselves, even where they were just 6. Kathy was along for the ride and always prodded for English with a, "This is a red light." And get the girls to repeat.
Once across they hurried along down the hill toward the Isumi port. As they walked the buildings got older and rattier.
"What are these?" Kathy asked the kids as she stopped in front a pile of pottery jars.
Meg giggled and said, "That is where Oscar the Octopus lives." And she got Mayumi to play along and the English names for animals showed its laughter for the first time to Kathy.
"The fishermen use these pots to catch octopus. They get all strung and sunk together. These are probably 50 years old," explained Meg. She knew so much about fishing because of papa. They fished every single day together and today would be no different. The octopus pots were quite large and a dark grey color. The form looks like wine casks. Really like octopus apartments.
The weeds grew to the edge of the pile as it bulged from street to the ancient wall of the home. This part of the port was deserted, but the bold framing of the buildings still stood tall.
The sky was all blue now and as they made the last left to the port Kenichi and his friends yelled out. Three boys on bikes wheeled up. This gave Kathy time to explore this old neighborhood as the kids just went volume up chat boxes.
Kathy picked up an octopus jar and made a few poses with it. The kids did not notice as selfie after selfie happened. On her head, looking into it. She really had fun time looking at this old fishing gear.
The kids were at corner and caught Kathy's eye so she took a final pic and watched them disappear as she approached.
A mythical thing happened in this sleepy Isumi fishing village. Kathy came face to face with a beer vending machine.
The Asahi Beer sign was faded but it still stood out against the dark brown wooden building that housed this relic of Japan's past. Kathy's old-timer friends in Tokyo always talked about the beer machine on every corner. And how their students would tell them of their youth getting beer for their papas.
The moment did stop time. Thought bubbles inside Kathy burped their way to the surface. That relentless march of time just stopped. The kids were chatting away and did not mind Kathy stopping.
Kathy walked up to inspect the beer machine. Her wry smile showed when she looked at the coin slot and saw it covered with yellowing scotch tape. That was ok. It seems to reinforce this images back in time location.
Directly to the left of the beer machine was empty lot with some rubble on it that looked way overdue to be cleaned up. The wood siding of the building was dark brown and led to a door that had not been opened in many years. The porch was surprisingly clean, like a local had kept it swept in homage to the beer machine.
Kathy was thirsty, but her job was the kids. She quickly caught up and enjoyed the kids chattering about "Pete the Pelican", a large old bird that hung out on the port's main street corner. Mayu and Meg kept speaking in English as best they could. Every time would elicit hoops and howls from Kenichi and his little brother Michiaki.
Pete the Pelican seems like a well dressed waiter at a local bar. Distinguished with a nice touch of grey.
Everybody posed for Kathy and just then Pete flew away.
Meg had complete control for the young Michiaki. She would order him to do things with obvious authority. Michiaki loved the attention and was happy to comply.
Time was moving and Kathy knew that the team had to meet at the spa in 30 minutes. Kathy reminded Meg and Mayu by pointing to her watch. Everyone quickly went to a marching pace and made a left at the port to walk along the beach trails. It was a longer walk that Kathy thought. Right after the port was the main Isumi beach with a big arch announcing it as so.
The public showers were the last building and then 10 km of beach to the Isumi river and the location of the spa. At the last of the road was a rusted and burned out car with its tires melted off. It fit, but is a reminder of a great society gone bad.
To the left were 50 meters thick of pine trees, down the middle was a path covered with sand, a 5' tall wall meant to block the sand and then the beach. We walked on the wall as it was just a step up from the beach. It was about 18" wide so Kenichi and his buddies easily rode on their bikes ahead of us.
About a kilometer from the Isumi beach park the path just disappeared completely to sand. The boys marched their bikes to the sand and all followed to the harder sand close to the water. In the distance was the great cliff and lighthouse just behind Meg's home.
The kids ran ahead and Kathy could walk alone. The kids were far enough away that she only heard the gentle surf and the birds chirping about. All foreigners living in Japan have long stretches of time where logical conversations in their home language do not take place. At the beginning of life in Japan the amount of time alone is noticed. Kathy liked it. The sand was soft and the water warm.
Sporadic people would be seen over the next 30 minutes walking down the beach. Some surfers in between the many jetties and an occasional jogger. Kathy thought about the kids and how Meg was naming the animals with Mayu. It made creating English lessons easy.
Just as it disappeared when the walk began the walkway revealed itself from the sand about 1km from the river jetty. Walking on the sand that long made Kathy's legs a bit tired so it was a relief to stand on the paved block pathway. The kids were waiting just ahead in a park bench under columned Spanish Tile roof veranda. A signpost at the beginning of this walkway featured pictures of turtles in various stages of life, including burying eggs in the sand on this beach! Kathy was so excited. She looked down the beach and again was proud about Japan modern world mixing with nature.
"Meg, Meg," yelled Kathy while waiving her arms to come here. "Tell me about this sign!" she continued when Meg got closer.
"Turtle Beach," said Meg. In the past papa told me of grandpapa getting turtle eggs and cooking up omelets. Now this beach is protected."
Smooth sand and a vast view as Kathy looked back from the parking lot at the Isumi river. The kids walked to the exit and she followed. The parking lot was full with small cars with surfers in various stages of dress. The Isumi River inlet was a favored spot. Kathy loved it. The palm trees were the final glory to remind of California.
The inlet finished here also as the bridge led to a small row of beach houses. The home on the end was grown over in jungle with a rusty front gate half open. The rest of the places looked pretty cool and inviting. As we turned the corner a two-story 10 unit apartment lay fallow with for sale signs.
Kathy knew it was the jungle in Okinawa, but Isumi seems greener than anything she'd seen. The homes probably weren't abandoned, just a few weeks away and the grass is knee high.
Part of California was seen in the old skate park, empty and also overgrown. Kathy walked up to the fence and saw the empty bowls and almost instinctively looked for here skateboard. Mayumi and Megumi laughed when they say that.
"Skater girl!" screamed Mayumi with Megumi chiming in right behind.
Right next to the skate park was a 2-story hotel, spa and restaurant. Hotel Isumi. Nothing original in the name in this bubble built place, but the original uniforms worn by the counter team. A dark blue blouse and skirt. The gold buttons down the middle were only missing the accent of a blue bowl cap with gold trim.
It was 500 yen to use the bath. The kids went to the counter to receive the coupons already paid for by Baba and Yuka.
"Kathy, we go up the stairs," said Megumi grabbing her hands following Mayumi who was way ahead at the top the stairs.
As you go up the wide stairs posters from past events of glory held at this facility still hung proudly. To the left were a few rooms and the staff with carts cleaning them. To the right a hallway with a colorful red Japanese symbol for women at the end. As Kathy and the kids walk towards the baths she notices the beer machine and a room full of massage chairs.
Kathy ducked as she entered between the slit in the red banner. The kids did too! Even though there heads did not reach, they made an in-motion pause, bowed their heads and went in giggling.
They had a bath.
The steam is still coming off these girls as the meet Baba, Yuka and papa in the massage room. Papa is sitting in the middle massage chair with his eyes closed. Mayu and Meg hop on either side of them and demand coins from Baba! She happily complies. Papa shows a grin, but keeps his eyes "shut".
Yuka hands Kathy a cold beer and insists she take it. Kathy was so frickin' hot she just was so pleased to have a cold beer. Kathy was not used to the hot baths yet, but over the years in Japan she became a professional bather.
After a bit Kathy got into the massage chair with Baba and Yuka at her sides. Oh man, she just melted into the pulsating sides and rolling triggers of pleasure. The painting of almost naked fishermen on a boat pulling nets filled with fish was erotic. The beer and push of the massage chair was … pleasant. But the art was true Japanese homo-erotic. Only the foreigner noticed it that way, for Isumi is home to the naked festival (hadaka matsuri) where locals plunge local shrine gods on their shoulders into the surf.
Yes, the locals dressed in loins cloths would meet at their local shrines the night before. Each shrine laden with alcohol and taiko drums. Late September everyear for hundreds of years the obsessed with partying with be there by the fires.
Oh gosh, this story can go anywhere from now but the massage chair stopped and Megumi and Mayumi grabbed Kathy for the walk home.
Baby, Yuka and papa got into the van and the kids went straight to the walkway along the Isumi River. Papa drove slow enough that the teams met at the Pacific Coast Highway 126. Kathy was relieved as she was getting tired as they all piled into the k-van for the rest of the ride home.