Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Ueno, Yokohama

It is just before Christmas 2003, and I am strolling around the pink light district of Ueno, Tokyo and feel invisible. The whores fail to notice me. They have no interest in my being their john. My ego takes a blow, and my vanity is broken. On my third lap I get a single offer of a hand job, a massaji, five man, 50,000, yen, US$500. Slightly dear I think. Still, manual labour is expensive here. And white trash like me goes unnoticed when the salarymen are flinging their 10,000 yen notes to the wind. The company has done surprisingly well. And there is a Xmas bonus.

They do not see me,
Painted ladies of the night.
For he has few yen.

And such is life in Japan. Two coffees, tiny piece of apple pie, US$15. Anything that involves skilled labour will cost. An overhaul at the hairdressers sets you back US$200. But I swim in the subsidized local pool for US$3 and exercise on the sophisticated machines in the subsidized training room for US$2. At the university my health care is free.

And how the high yen attracts. Like bees round a honeypot. Casual labour will pay nearly US$10 an hour. Barmaids from North Carolina, kebab sellers from North London, club hostesses from Australia, systems analysts from India, dekaseguis from Lima and Sao Paulo, English teachers from all over. Many small importers. Export to Japan, so we can pay for their hi-tech exports. Jam, cheese, beer, mangoes, wine, rice, rice, rice. Save for a year, two. Invest, take it easy, chill out in India or Brazil.

Yesterday I was in Yokohama, where Japan first opened up. After 200 years of virtual seclusion, with only a limited amount of trading with the Dutch off Nagasaki, Captain Perry’s black ships from the US, black because of their smoke, forced the shogunate to open up, and in 1859 part of Yokohama became the Foreign Settlement, the only place in Japan where foreigners could trade. The Europeans, mainly Brits, lived up the hill, in Yamate, the Bluff, and the Chinese below. They had their own enclosed community with butchers, bakers, candlestickmakers, brewery, tailors, cricket and horse racing. I visit their graves in the foreigners’ cemetery: Hall, Anglin, Angus, Diack. Many Scots.

Perry’s black ships came.
Yamate became the Bluff.
And still is today.

Up on the Bluff little seems to have changed. Some of the old houses survive as teashops or museums. English, American, French housewives, an occasional househusband, fetch their children from the international schools. Two mothers from Bangalore discuss their problem in finding apartments. Down the hill on Motomachi, the smart shopping street, the French, Italian and British goods are still on sale, but these days imported, not produced locally. Up the road there is the American forces personnel compound, for the US still completely controls Japanese defence.

In the Cemetery there is of course the War Memorial. A Capt. Hawkins. Could he have been a relation of my grandfather? No memorial to the Second World War. All the foreigners had left by then. But this struck me as earlier in the day I had visited the Maritime Museum. Not a single mention of the Pacific War. It seemed the Yokohama shipyards had built just merchant vessels and luxury liners, and the years between 1941 and 1945 were a blank. And information inside the training vessel, the Nippon Maru, now in dry dock, delicately avoids the fact that it was used in the war.

And in Tokyo where are the war memorials? I first went there in 1996, just after visiting the concentration camps, cemeteries and memorials in Poland and was struck by their absence in Japan. It seemed a case of starting again, completely obliterating the past. Never again shall we devote all our energies to military expansion. The generals were totally discredited and still are. Japan is still, semi-officially, a pacifist country. Only a handful of nationalists would like Japan to reequip.

In Yokohama Bay,
Where are the ships of war?
A nation forgets.


Blogger Ana Julia said...

Week after week,
we are getting to know Japan better
not any Japan, that's to say!
It's John's
and it's fantastic!!

November 11, 2004 at 1:45 AM  
Blogger Marilise Rezende Bertin said...


The lyrics of the song keep coming in my mind so I feel necessary to write them down here too.

'Who wouldn't want someone who fusses and flatters
And make you think you are all that matters
Whose only aim in life is to serve you
And make you think she doesn't deserve you...'

The feeling of being one in a crowd, and the necessity to be seen and noticed or read...

We all need others and it is really great when we meet those who see us and respect our feelings, ideas...

As for wars, it's wonderful to know that a whole nation tries to forget one.
War is vanity led to extreme, we should avoid it always, shouldn't we?



November 11, 2004 at 4:33 AM  
Blogger Telma said...

More than often, the unsaid speaks louder. Maybe anything said or done is just too finite to cope with infinite sorrow? Maybe any attempt to portray a nation’s devastation will appear frivolous in face of such horror?
In the ‘A-Bomb www Museum’ it's possible to see some pictures currently on exhibit at the Peace Memorial Museum, Hiroshima. There are melted tin plates, melted glass bottles, a child’s burnt tricycle... and a printed 'shadow' of a man on stones: to speak of the unspeakable.


November 12, 2004 at 6:24 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home