Greets from Tokyo. I write from the United Airlines first class lounge at Narita International, waiting for my flight back to Taipei. I came back to Japan to cover a biz story about United Airlines, ANA and the new Tokyo airport. If you are lucky, I’ll post the story here later, after it runs.
It was elucidating in so many ways to come back to Japan five years after I lived here. I was reminded of all the things I like and don’t about Japan.
I miss the trains, the cleanliness, the language, the TV (probably mostly as a result of the preceding), and the food (which I mostly can’t eat, anyway).
I can’t stand the amount of smoking, especially in public places like restaurants. There is a serious dearth of vegetarian food (though many thanks to the Hilton, ANA, UA and many of the places for taking great care of me in that respect.) I am also constantly annoyed by the sexism and the seediness, something I think is so unworthy of being part of such a rich culture that Japan has.
Unfortunately, I chose my hotel for the weekend before I saw where it was. Shinjuku has some exceptionally nice parts, but I was a little too close to the Kabuki-cho with its great number of hostess bars. Out just walking around last night, before heading back to my hotel, I was caught in the middle of it. After being approached an inordinate number of times by scouts, most of whom were also foreigners, I started saying I was here with my wife, which was, of course, untrue – I’m not married. Nothing else really seemed to work. But once they heard “wife,” they tended to leave me alone.
Until one guy came up. For some reason, I didn’t mention “my wife,” and I simply said “I don’t even know where I am or what I’m doing here,” which WAS true because I had become lost. This guy, who told me his name was “Willy,” politely showed me the way back to the train station from where I knew I could get back to the hotel.
Come to find out, Willy hailed from the Sudan. Finding out I was American, he told me about how thankful he was for the U.S. intervention in the civil war there.
As an American, you can imagine, I don’t get many such responses and I like to think there are some aspects to our foreign policy which do some good in the world. Listening to Willy, however, I realized that to some degree, the U.S. was taking sides. Willy is a Christian and the U.S. has been working to keep an Islamic-led faction out of power.
Of course, it’s not as easy to say the U.S. was simply favoring Christians over Muslims (though, I’m sure it gets painted that way), but certainly they have been looking to keep the Sudan from being turned into an Islamic-state, including – as the news recently reported, giving US$100,000 per month to the forces that were holding Mogadishu.
Willy, who speaks eloquent English, said that he studied at college but it was worthless in the Sudan. “In the job interview, the first question was always ‘Are you a Muslim,’” he told me. “Right then I knew I did not have the job. I don’t know why I even bothered with my education.”
Now Willy, who probably has plenty to offer as an employee in his home, is hawking young Japanese women (as well as Canadian, Thai and Korean, he tells me) at a club in Tokyo. It occurred to me he would probably rather be doing something else as much as I would rather the profession didn’t exist.
Later, I picked up a paper and read about how rebel forces took Mogadishu in what one expert called “worse than the worst-case scenarios” for the U.S. I wonder how many more Willys will be making their way to a club near you?