The Spirit Captives of Japan's North Country 2-- Tokyo Monogatari.pdf

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Tokyo Monogatari
Sarah Lawrence College
This piece is intended as a sequel to my " The Spirit-Captives of Ja-
pan's North Country" (SADLER 1987). In that essay, on Yanagita's
TGno Tales, I had occasion to remark on the tabloid-like character of
some of the stories. After finishing that study, I found myself specu-
lating whether the reverse might also be true: that newspaper stories,
especially of the more sensational kinds of crime and mayhem, have
about them the character of folklore? Would they be, in a culture
without newspapers, the makings of folk tales? Do the working jour-
nalist and the working folk memory, on some occasions, draw upon
the same sort of raw material? This essay is the outcome of that specu-
The clippings I invoke as evidence are from two decades ago-a
sort of illud tempus, a dreamtime. There may be terms within them
unfamiliar to the modern reader, or to outsiders to the ways of Japan;
for them a glossary is provided at the end of the article.
Newspapers are pretty much the same the world over. We read
them for their war news and their political gossip, for their cartoonists
and their columnists. And they favor us with tales of scandal and
mayhem and catastrophe. For the modern sophisticate, the journalist
fills in for the (now sadly defunct) story teller. His wares are the stuff
of folk narrative, done up for a numb army of commuters with time on
their hands.
We won't admit to buying the paper for its crime stories; but we
do read them with care. Partly for practical reasons, I think. If there
were three auto accidents last week at the intersection of Cat Moussam
Street and Hardscrabble Road, we ought to know about it. Pick-pock-
Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 48, 1989: 265-275
ets at the County Fair? We'll be on our guard.
Beyond that, there is the fascination with the grotesque, the un-
seemly, the lunatic, and the hurtful. It is so remote from us, yet so
close to us. We live orderly lives, but we know we are living on the
boundary of disorder.
In a foreign land, how much closer the disorder seems. Perhaps
because the corollary holds true: alien systems of order seem more
orderly. Think of caste, or of Confucian etiquette. Then think how
long you have taken the Infield Fly Rule for granted, and how exotic
it is to a Pakistani.
I offer here my reflections on a year of crime news, reported in the
Tokyo press, during 1965-1966. This is to be an unscientific discourse,
based on materials drawn from five large scrapbooks of newspaper clip-
pings collected during a year's residence in Tokyo. Whatever caught
my fancy went into the scrapbook; I make no pretense of the metho-
dological niceties.
What has stuck in my mind, in these long intervening years, is not
the political news-not the debates in the Diet, not the speeches of
Cabinet Ministers-nor the reports of typhoon and earthquake. All
that seems quite commonplace, in retrospect. But not the crime news.
That was special. That held clues, one felt, to the heart of Japan and
its people.
Not so much, either, the crimes of passion-although even there
the element of universal human turmoil and emotion takes on an es-
pecially Japanese flavor.
September eleventh: The owner of a Tokyo antique shop re-
turned home at day's end to find his wife had returned. She had left
him two weeks before. They had quarreled over her joining one of
the so-called new religions. She brought with her a woman friend,
perhaps from the sect, as a "divorce consultant." After an evening
of bitter argument, the two women turned in; the husband went to the
cellar and brought up a bucket of gasoline, and torched the house. All
three died in the fire. Fifteen fire engines responded to the alarm.
October nineteenth: A forty-two year old Korean rag-picker
was sentenced to prison for the theft, on July twenty-first, of two tran-
sistor radios. He said that his troubles began when he entered a bar
near the Kokubunji station on the Chuo line, and the hostess whispered
in his ear that he was the sort of man she would like to marry. He said
that he fell in love with her then and there; saw her often; and spent
lavish sums to make her happy-in all, about 3P50,OOO. She vanished,
and he found himself without funds. Later, he heard that she was
already married. He had forteen previous convictions.
January thirty-first: A girl of seventeen who was an employee
at a Turkish bath stabbed to death a bar hostess. The accused had
run away from home at the age of fifteen and come to Tokyo to work
in a series of coffee shops, and then Turkish baths. She and the bar
girl had fought over an eighteen year old boy-a cook and waiter who
had come to Tokyo from Shizuoka upon graduation from junior high
school. He was known to have spent money freely, betting on horse
races and bicycle races, and to have gone on sleeping pill binges with
the girl, in local tea shops. The cause of the murder was listed as a
love triangle.
May twentieth: An eighteen year old girl, who lived near Shi-
buya station and attended a high school in Ikebukuro, vanished one
afternoon after saying goodbye to her friends at Ikebukuro station.
She was found, six months later, living with a man in Shibuya, not far
from her parents' home. She said that she had gotten off the train at
Shibuya as usual, that day in November, and was standing by Hachikb's
statue, when this man approached her, and lured her home with him.
She said she had been doing his cooking and washing ever since. Asked
why she did not notify her parents of her whereabouts, she made no
reply. The man, a forty-four year old sightseeing guide, said that she
reminded him of his ex-wife, and that he had intended to marry her.
In Tbno, he would have been called a mountain man, and she would
have been called kamikakushi; but this was Tokyo, so she was sent home,
and he was arrested for kidnapping.
The characters in all these stories should be familiar to us: the
spurned and resentful husband, the street people and runaways, gam-
blers and prostitutes, the exploiters and the exploited-often one and
the same. The settings may be a little different-the hostess-run bar,
the tea shop or coffee shop, the Turkish bath (we call them massage
parlors); but the stories are not peculiar to Japan. Each story is of a
type, yet each is individual.
Gangland crime is a different matter. It is collective. It is a
business. It supplies people with needs the law does not recognize.
September twenty-first: The chief cook of the freighter Yama-
hime Maru was arrested on charges of smuggling forty-nine pistols
into Japan from Vancouver, British Columbia.
September twenty-first: One hundred ranking members of the
Matsuba gang assembled today at Hosho Temple to participate in a
formal ceremony of dissolution. The head of the gang, Mr. Fujita
Uichiro, said the gang had been destroyed by the current police cam-
paign against gambling, extortion, and possession of firearms. The
gang was also engaged in right-wing political activities, and had clashed
with leftist demonstrators against renewal of the U.S.-Japan Security
November twenty-eighth: Minami Imatoshi, former ranking
member of the now disbanded Sumiyoshi gang, was shot leaving his
home, by two gunmen of the Matsuba gang. It was reported that
Minami and the Matsuba gang were engaged in a dispute over purchase
rights to pachinko prizes.
December fifth: Nine gangsters were arrested near Kanda sta-
tion for attempting to shake down hot dog vendors. Seven were mem-
bers of the Kodama gang. They were demanding Y20,000 a month
in protection money. Police said that roughly one third of the hot dog
stalls in Tokyo are now operated by gangsters.
December fifth: Three gangsters were arrested in Ueno Park for
- -
molesting hot dog vendors, in an effort to drive them out of the park.
One of the gangsters reportedly plans to open a hot dog stand there
December ninth: Police are investigating the case of a medical
doctor who, upon request, amputated the little finger of the left hand
of a thirty-six year old gang member who had offended a fellow gang
member by stealing his girl. If he had not made amends, the doctor
said, he would have been killed.
December twenty-third: Three former members of the Matsuba
gang were arrested for attempting to fix a professional cycling race.
One of the cyclists said they had tried to thrust Y100,OOO into his hand,
but he refused the money, and notified authorities.
December twenty-ninth: Textile officials report concern over the
growing number of factory girls who go home for the year-end festi-
vities, and never return. Most are young and " too weak against men."
Living the year round in factory dorms, they have no family life, and
no contact with men. Many come from farming communities where
their prospects for marriage are very poor. They are easily seduced
by hoodlums hanging around the train stations, and put to work in
bars and Turkish baths.
Crimes of passion are accidental. They are unplanned, unintended.
They simply erupt. Gang-sponsored crime, by contrast, is willful,
and filled with intent. The gangster makes the things happen that he
wants to happen. Yet how perfectly they dovetail. The gangsters
are almost the managers of the Theatre of Crime. They hire the hall
and bring on the secnery. They wait in the wings for the actors to
come on stage, and act out their little tragedies.
November ninth: A prominent citizen from Kyushu was in
Tokyo on business. On Sunday night, his business completed, he
took a cab to Asakusa, and entered the Kadoebi Turkish Bath, for a
bit of relaxation. His attach6 case contained an uncashed check for
Y630,OOO. When the Kyushu visitor left the Turkish bath, he recov-
ered his clothes and the attach6 case, but not the check. On Monday
morning, three young men in their twenties were arrested at a branch
bank in Chuo-ku, attempting to cash the check.
With that story, we pass out of the theatre for innocents prepared
by organized crime, and into another, more specifically Japanese, theatre
of crime. The first theatre specializes in tales of souls caught between
rural boredom and urban tinsel; the second has its roots in ancient
tradition, and its (perhaps equally ancient) perversion.
November ninth: The head of a small corporation needed his
hanko (his signature stamp) to complete a tax form, unlocked his top
drawer, and found the little case containing the hanko missing. His
first thought was of his accountant (who was also his brother), who
often borrowed it to authorize orders and payments made by the firm.
The brother assured him that he always returned it to its proper place
in the desk. Ten days later the bank called and asked him when he
was going to pay off his Y800,000 promisory note. He rushed to the
bank, and asked to see the note. Sure enough, it contained his hanko
stamp, and was counter-signed by a friend of his plant manager. He
explained that it was not his loan. The bank explained that it was.
The manager denied any knowledge of the affair, but his friend con-
fessed to stealing the stamp, and taking out the bank loan. .All three
went to the bank, and the bank manager heard the confession. He
said that nonetheless the Y800,000 was owed by the owner of the hanko,
and demanded payment within twenty-four hours. The thief some-
how managed to pay off the loan. The injured party threatened pro-
secution, but the bank said that since the loan had been paid in full and
the man had said he was sorry, as far as they were concerned no crime
had been committed, and the matter was dropped.
And so ends the Case of the Purloined Signature Stamp. Now
consider the Case of the Unwanted Bather. And note the date; as the
big holiday season approaches, Tokyo crime takes on a special character.
December twenty-fourth: A thirty-three year old construction
worker from a little farming village outside Sendai was heading for his
lodgings in ~ishiarai-machi,~dachi-ku,around midnight, when he
passed by an open door. Within the door he saw a very inviting tubful
of steaming hot water. He went in, pealed off his clothes, scrubbed up,
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