5 October 2013


I have returned to my home in Singapore from my lightning dash to Tokyo and I am fatigued. I would like to reveal much of what transpired in my meeting with the Oyabun and his underlings but I cannot.

I have taken an oath.

An oath is not a stupid or loutish person – that is an oaf. I know this because I work with many – oafs that is. 

They are predominantly English.

I should say at this early stage - do not worry Mum – don’t panic – I am quite OK. My ten fingers are intact and I remain un-inked by any Yakuza cult tattoos.

When I last wrote I was awaiting a call from the concierge desk of my Roppongi Hills hotel to inform me that a car had arrived to take me to the home of a Japanese godfather. I met the godfather and his entourage on the plane to Tokyo from Singapore. I received that call not long after I had pressed the ‘submit’ button on my last journal entry and I then went downstairs where two imposing Japanese bodyguard-type men awaited me in a very expensive German motor vehicle. The car had black tinted windows – the type that you can see out of but no one can see in.

The men were different from the ones who accompanied the godfather on our shared plane and helicopter trip and both appeared to be fully digital in the hand department. The rear door of the vehicle was opened for me and inside was awaiting the gorgeousness that is Myoki-san.

Myoki-san is the personal assistant of the Oyabun-who-I-cannot-name and when she greeted and smiled at me my heart melted, imaginary turtle doves flew around her head, harp music played and I felt all weak at the knees.

I am definitely love struck.

Myoki-san and I chatted pleasantly as the large German motor vehicle drove us through the Tokyo traffic into the Shinjuku district of the city. Shinjuku is one of my most favourite wards of Tokyo and whilst it has always been popular with residents and international visitors - it shot to international fame following the release in 2003 of the Hollywood movie “Lost in Translation”. This film starred Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson and it was set in the luxurious Park Hyatt hotel.

It was a love story.

The car manoeuvred its way along impossibly narrow streets before it entered a non-descript driveway and it came to a halt. The two big boys opened both my and Myoki-san’s doors and we alighted simultaneously. We walked up a narrow pathway and approached an intricately and beautifully carved set of wooden doors that miraculously opened just before we arrived.

I suspect that security cameras were monitoring us.

At the doors was a smiling Japanese man of an indeterminable age. He was splendidly attired in full butler’s livery. Myoki-san paused in her stride – as did I – and deep bows were exchanged.

It was very formal.

Myoki then spoke some rapid fire Japanese to the butler dude, a further bow was given – and returned - and we then walked through the doors into one of the most beautiful gardens that I have ever seen.

It was like stepping into Shangri-La.

My words will be quite inadequate to describe the stunning vista that Myoki and I entered and I think that I must have gasped out loud – for Myoki asked me if I was alright. I told her that I was and I tried to take in the majestic glory of the garden that surrounded me.

For a moment I suffered a sensory overload.

Our first few steps took us onto one of many arched wooden bridges that crossed a series of interconnected ponds that were teeming with enormous koi fish. A small waterfall cascaded down grey-blue rocks and there were intricate beds of sand in which were traced patterns of concentric circles. They were also impregnated with smooth pebbles of all shapes and sizes. Incredibly ornate and wonderfully shaped Japanese Maple and Cherry trees of blazing red and deep green were everywhere and I had to pause on the little wooden bridge to take it all in.

“I have seen many Zen gardens before Myoki-san – but none quite so beautiful as this”

“Yes Peter-san” the Japanese angel replied.

“Senpai spends much of his time when in Tokyo in his garden and he enjoys times of reflection and contemplation when he is here”

There is no literal translation of the word Senpai. It is a term used in deference to someone who is greatly respected or honoured. Zen gardens are a very ancient part of Japanese culture. They have been around for more than a thousand years and are deeply symbolic. Buddhist monks initially created them. Myoki explained to me that the word ‘Zen’ is actually a western one. She told me that the Japanese refer to these gardens as “Karesansui” - which means ‘Dry Mountain and Water Garden’.

There is much beauty in the meaning of many Japanese words.

There really is.

Myoki told me that the godfather employed monks to maintain his gardens and that they regularly raked and re-raked the sand and gravel into new patterns to simulate the changes that oceans go through. She explained that this was symbolic of the way that human minds experience such changes – and that by altering the patterns it prompted meditation, introspection and careful consideration.

I told her that I thought that this was very beautiful and she told me that she agreed.

We walked slowly through these peaceful and serene gardens and eventually arrived at another large courtyard where the Oyabun-whose-name-I-will-not-mention was tending to some bonsai plants that were laid out on a long marble bench. He was wearing some sort of black silk traditional costume and he was holding some very ornate looking scissors that he put down when we approached. Some more formal bows were exchanged before he shook my hand warmly in the Western way and he asked me how I was. 

His English was very broken but his smile was intact and it was very genuine and warm.

I told the Oyabun that I was very well and that I thought that his gardens were incredibly beautiful. Miyoki translated this for me and he beamed even more. I asked Myoki to tell the godfather that my son was learning to become a bonsai master back in Australia which sparked off a three way translated conversation that was as interesting as it was protracted. I showed both Myoki and the Senpai some photos of my boy’s bonsai on my I-phone and he seemed genuinely impressed. I also told them that I sometimes referred to my son as my ‘little tree’ because of his newfound love of bonsai and they both thought that this was very funny.

After a while we moved into yet another courtyard where a very low table was laid out with a stunning ceramic tea set and a vast array of food. We sat down cross-legged Japanese style while two young girls dressed in gorgeous kimonos poured us steaming cups of ginger tea. Myoki told me whilst I was taking my first sip that the tea set was more than four hundred years old and it belonged to the Senpai’s great-great-great grandfather. I nearly choked when I heard this for I am famous for my clumsiness and from that point on I drank my tea very carefully and with both hands gripping the cup.

We chatted in an easy and relaxed manner for nearly an hour and having Myoki-san interpreting every word that was said was no burden at all.

Like the waterfall in the godfather's garden, our conversation flowed.

After tea the godfather asked if I would like to see his collection of Samurai swords and I once again replied with the question, “Is the Pope Catholic?” I uttered this same response on the plane where we first met and it elicited a similar reaction of amusement from the old fellow.

He expressed much mirth.

Senpai led Myoki and me through a series of corridors and rooms decorated with beautiful Japanese art and furniture and we eventually emerged into a huge hall. The dude’s entire house was simply enormous. The hall that we entered was lined with swords that were all hung on a wall. There must have been at least one hundred of them.

Possibly more.

They were exquisite.

The Oyabun led me up and down each wall and he paused often to tell me – through Myoki - about the history of many of the swords – which era they were made – and by which craftsman.  It was one of the most fascinating displays that I have ever seen. We must have spent a couple of hours in the hall but it is difficult to tell. 

It was one of those moments where time gets lost.

Then it suddenly ended.

The godfather announced that he had meetings to attend and Myoki informed me that we had to go. I bowed very deeply to the Senpai as we left – and I asked Myoki to tell him that I felt most honoured and humbled and privileged to be invited to his home. My bow was returned and I was a little surprised when the old dude then gave me a hug.

It was my first cuddle with a Japanese Oyabun and I was quite chuffed.

When we got into the car Myoki asked me if I wanted to go to one of the Senpai’s clubs that was nearby and I told her that I did. She barked some Japanese at the driver and ten minutes later we were in a back alley in Shinjuku. We walked up some stairs and emerged into a very high-class club that was throbbing with the doof doof of music and it was full of beautiful people of every race and gender.

The place was pumping.

Myoki and I were ushered into what I presume was a VIP area and over the course of the next few hours I met an amazing array of characters. I had a couple of funnily named cocktails – which is quite unusual for me as I am not much of a drinker. I recall chatting to one very big and much-tattooed Japanese guy with a missing little pinky. Miyoki-san told me that in the ‘family business’ as she described it, the cutting off of one's finger is a form of penance or apology and it is not just ‘being in the gang’ as I initially thought. She told me that such an act is called “Yubitsume” - where the transgressor must cut off the tip of his left little finger and give the severed portion to his boss. She told me that sometimes an underboss might do this in penance to the Oyabun if he wanted to spare a member of his own gang from further retaliation.

Myoki informed me that the origin of “Yubitsume” stems from the traditional way of holding a Japanese sword. The bottom three fingers of each hand are used to grip the sword tightly, with the thumb and index fingers slightly loose – and the removal of digits - starting with the little finger – and then moving up the hand to the index finger - progressively weakens a person's sword grip.

Nice huh?

I told Myoki-san that my son Tom - the little tree - had many tattoos and I would be happy to cut off one of his fingers and send it to the Oyabun as a token of my respect. She laughed at this and so did I. 

I don't think that Tom will be too happy about it though.

As night moved into early morning I met and conversed with a number of interesting people including some men who I first assumed were African Americans – but I soon established that they were actually English. They wore hoodies and they said ‘innit’ a lot – often in quite strange parts of their sentences - and they referred to me as a ‘geezer’. “Innit’ is geezer English for “Isn’t it?”

For example I was asked:

So you live in Singapore innit?”

To which I replied with some delight:

“Yes I do innit”

I recall a bit of a drunken conversation with a group of these geezers about the fact that I go to Nepal and Hong Kong quite a lot and I recollect talking about the subject of mules too.

A mule is a hybrid breed of animal that is formed when a horse is bred with a donkey. They are commonly used to carry people and things and they are regarded as beasts of burden. However mule is also a term used by gangsters to describe very silly people who smuggle illegal substances across international borders. I think that the hooded English lads were referring to the latter rather than former type of mules in their conversation with me.

At one point I suggested to the ‘innit-geezer’ boys that I thought that it might be a good idea – if they were that way inclined – to use an actual mule as a drug mule – and to declare to immigration when they arrived at the country of destination that they had a mule.

For some insane reason they said, “that is fuckin brilliant bruvver innit’

The whole night was madness but was great fun and I arrived back at my hotel not long before the sun came up.

Myoki sent me back in her employer’s car.

I saw and heard a whole heap of other stuff that was interesting and kind of secret but I can reveal none of it here.

I will not.

I have taken an oath.   

No comments :

Post a Comment