Our Man In Tokyo

Alan Hulse


Stuffed Doggie

There has long been a group of Israelis selling all manner of things on the streets of Tokyo. When I first came to Tokyo in 1988, these street venders were selling cheap color reproductions of Hollywood movie stars. Drunken "salariman" would sometimes buy these for up to $150 or so. Well, the movie-star poster fad has long faded, and the new standard for these venders is jewelry. You can imagine my surprise when I saw Steve, an Englishman who has always claimed to be a medical doctor, SELLING JEWELRY on the walkway of Omotesando, one of the toniest areas of Tokyo. I sat beside him on the rail along the walkway and asked just whatever he could be doing. He had, in fact, bought his sales kit, a special box for carrying and displaying the jewelry and all kinds of rings, earrings, and bracelets from an Israeli for one thousand English pounds. Steve said it was a great way to meet women! Atop his jewelry display was placed a small, brown, toy, stuffed dog. "It's great as a conversation piece," he explained. "You know how Japanese women love cute things." I did.

We fell into conversation on other topics. Steve had been watching a BBC documentary series on the history and current state of Japan. He was learning a lot about Japan through this series. I commented that I watched the BBC channel at the British Council, the British cultural center in Tokyo and liked it a lot. He said BBC was great. The flat he was staying in had BBC and CNN on cable TV. BBC was analytical while CNN seemed simpler. "In England, we recognize that some are educated and others are not. It is the responsibility of the educated to present material in as high a manner as is possible and expose the public to it. CNN, on the other hand, is quite different. It recognizes that there are different levels of education, but, unlike BBC, CNN aims at simplicity. Everything is comprehensible to everyone...and the result is that not much is said at all.

I agreed with him. "Simplicity," I said, "is more democratic. The United States prides itself on being a republic. And a republic prides itself on the equality of all of its citizens. Therefore, there can be no elites...even though the real elites of the country consist of the rich and old families, the rich, the PACs, and the "papered elites," people with degrees and especially graduate degrees who actually run the country."

We carried on and the general drift of the conversation was that the ideology of equality insists upon simplicity and clarity, except, of course, where legislation is concerned. But, legislation and law are not ideology; legislation and law need professionals to be figured out. Simplicity belongs on television. And, since television is designed to be consumed by the most equal elements of the society, it speaks with an egalitarian, simple, voice. England, on the other hand, is an outwardly elitist society; there's even a queen!

I had to go to Kinokuniya Supermarket to buy groceries. So, I left Steve. Thirty minutes later, groceries in tow, I passed by him again. Steve said he was cold and was quitting selling jewelry for the day. He suggested we go to a café, but only until 6:45 PM. At 7:00 he had to meet his girl at his flat. I agreed, and we continued talking as he packed his things. Steve said, "I'm finding that doing things with her, with one person in particular, is really important: satisfying. You know, cooking and eating together, lounging and reading together...things like that." When he finished, we went to Café Ropé, my Omote Sando favorite.

Inside, we ordered beer and talked about BBC's Japan documentary. Our conversation drifted to the origins of WW II and the Japanese cult of militarism. After a while, it centered directly on "cultism" in general in Japan.

After some time he pointed out a Japanese woman on the other side of the café. "Do you see her? Isn't she beautiful? I wonder how I can attract her attention. I want to talk to her. Look, the table next to their table is open (she was sitting with another female). Let's move!"

"This café is strict. You can't jump tables in here."

"Uhh, what can I ever do?" he said. He worried for three or four minutes. But, suddenly he was inspired. "THE DOG!" He remembered the small, brown, toy, stuffed dog. It was suddenly out of his pack. He pointed the doggie directly at the woman, and with a big, phony grin on his face, waved its paw in her direction.

"Tee-hee," she giggled appropriately.

Steve stood up and, keeping a showman's happy face plastered to his own, called over a table of glowering, white country-club ladies and across the room to the woman, "HIS NAME IS OSCAR!"

She twittered and he was instantly at their table. I could hear bits of the conversation. He had been outside for a long time, but Oscar had got cold, so they went into the café to drink cocoa and get warm. Steve said he was an MD. What a coincidence, the woman was a pharmacy student. More importantly, it seemed, she lived alone. Did she like living alone? Yes (that was good to know), she did really like living alone, etc., etc.

I, for one, WAS left alone for the next 20 minutes as this sweet scene unfolded. He chattered away and interjected teasing questions. All was in good humor. Occasionally, though, the young woman looked at me from across the room with a worried look. It said, "But, aren't you being ignored?" But, her worry was always neatly distracted by Steve's charming banter.

Irritated, I got a magazine from the waiter and leafed through it. It was a "zine" full of pictures of London club-hoppers. Looking at the "zine," I was fuming in my head and kicked the bag of groceries. "I came here purposefully to neglect my chores for tomorrow's party and talk to this guy. I want to get home, prepare that stuff...uh, basically make the pasta sauce so that it could sit overnight, and then hightail it out of the apartment before my wife can get in so I can drink beer with the boys. What an insincere jerk he must be. In fact, that is probably how a woman thinks about cheating guys. She might think, "I watch him loot the place for other women right before my eyes! This kind of guy only cares about what anyone thinks of him until he's finished and then stalks after new prey. His rap is not fresh; it is just seems fresh to whom he is currently talking. So, this is what an insincere creep is like!"

I softened after this peak of anger. "Oh, cool it, Al! You have done practically the same, even worse. And, you never had a toy dog! You have to admit, that in front of those country-club ladies, that was a bold and shameless stunt. Stay around. Don't leave.. It's pushing on 6:45. Let's see if he blows off or is even late for his real 'togetherness' date at 7:00 PM."

At 6:45, he was back at the table. "Oh man, I got her phone number. I'm calling her tomorrow. Now, I must rush to meet my girlfriend. Watch, she'll probably be late, damn it. This one is a pharmacy student."

"Yeah, I heard. Your doctor rap was probably good for that."

He winced. "Yeah, she's been studying for two years and doesn't know the names of any drugs or anything."

"I once met a Japanese woman who said she was a gynecologist, but she had never heard of Nonoxinol-9." Nonoxinol-9 is a spermicide commonly used in condoms in the USA. Spermicides are illegal in Japan. Anyway, the government had announced that use of spermicides would increase female promiscuity in Japan; and that would help spread HIV.

"Didn't know about Nonoxinol-9? Ha! Well, now I've told her about myself and that I'm a doctor and now I have to walk out with this bloody street-vendor's stuff. What will I ever do?"

"I'll carry it out for you."

"But, they saw me carry it in!"

"No, they didn't. Remember, you saw her. She didn't see you."

"Thanks, man."

And off we went. I went home to cook the party pasta sauce and Steve home to be with his girl.