Golden Years: Big In Japan

It was the best of times achieving rock-star status during my three trips to Japan in the late ’80s for the annual J. Press convention in Tokyo, a series of blowout bashes organized by the new owner, Onward Kashiyama.

On three separate occasions I enjoyed the whimsical and intoxicating power of celebrity with incessant flashbulbs, a flurry of sake toasts, constant interviews, addresses to packed auditoriums, jet-lagged days and nights greeting lines of devout J.Press customers and the local press referring to me as The King of Ivy. And it was even more of a blast than it reads on the page.

On my first two trips to Tokyo, Kashiyama sent me directly back to the hotel after each of the formal company dinners. But the trips were not without their own peculiar rites of fanfare. I was fortunate to share the van rides with two captivating female members of the staff, who had been assigned to sit next to me during the feasts and ply me with a steady diet of local beer, heated sake, and platonic affection. Though none of us felt any pain during the ride home, it still threw me for a loop when my entourage began to punctuate their giggling with a full concerto of breathtaking flatulence. The surprisingly full range of tones immediately brought me back to the cavalcade of flatulence that punctuated mandatory chapel services during my boarding school years at Loomis Chaffee.

Make no mistake, under normal circumstances I am in with both feet (and both cheeks) when it comes to observing provincial customs, with the possible exception of nibbling on sea creatures as they continue to display vital signs. But given the intensity of the evening’s alcohol and food orgy, the odds against my “following through” in the act of expelling were not as airtight as I like them to be. Yet I couldn’t risk offending my hosts and fellow passengers, who had utterly charmed their American guest at the first hello. So with the van already overtaken by a noxious aroma, I gave the appearance of full participation in the festivities with a proportionate blend of boisterous laughter and elaborate fanning gestures.

Another reason there was no more encore for the trumpet section was because my third trip to Tokyo resulted in my being called up to the big leagues. No more being sent home in a van after the company dinner. The Kashiyama team invited me to accompany them to their favorite club in Roppongi, the nightclub district of Tokyo. Instead of last year’s sulfur, there was excitement in the air, as if I were about to pitch in a World Series game at Yankee Stadium. I was hustled from the van into the welcoming arms of Mama-san, a broad-shouldered linebacker of a woman who ran the joint and who had obviously been provided with my scouting report. She led our group to a long table that had been saved for us in an alcove away from the dance floor, finally introducing me in Japanese to my hostess.

Assigned to be my “friend” for the evening was Divina, a slight Filipino woman in her mid-twenties conservatively attired in a black denim shirt that partially camouflaged the more suggestive sarong she wore underneath. She was unique among the women who sat at the table with my Japanese counterparts in that she came off as low-key and attempted to speak English, while the women assigned to the rest of the crew were much more garishly attired and gaudily made up. As Divina’s English warmed up, she revealed that she had been a shop girl from outside Manila, one of a dozen kids that lived in a modest shack. She then wanted to know stories about America. It was a lovely conversation.

Not terribly familiar with Japanese house rules for the occasion, I was relieved when Divina made it clear that she was a “table girl.” This meant that her role was to sit next to me, make me feel important and laugh at my jokes, although I’m not sure she got my Borscht Belt punchlines. Fortunately it also meant there were no after-hours commitments built into the arrangements. Whew! But I also hadn’t noticed the commotion and crowd gathering around us nearing pandemonium.

“Sing Richard, sing! We want Richard! Sing Karaoke Richard!” chanted our group, probably using 80% percent of the English they knew. 

Sensing my reluctance, Divina leaned in and whispered, “Follow me.” An old pro at this, Divina showed me the American songs available, which was invaluable considering the alternative. Making the executive decision that my vocal shortcomings would be thoroughly exposed on a full-throated rock-and-roll number, I sensibly sought out Elvis’s ballad Love Me Tender and a real softie, Edelweiss.

Not for the first time in my life things seemed to have reached their conclusion in mere seconds. After the applause and winding down of festivities, Divina took my hand and said, “Thank you, Richard, for a wonderful night.” I stepped away and bowed to her as though she was Madame Butterfly, at which point she laughed and gave me a peck on the cheek.

Yes, it was good to be The King Of Ivy, and big in Japan. — RICHARD PRESS

9 Comments on "Golden Years: Big In Japan"

  1. Len Longville | May 8, 2018 at 12:31 pm | Reply

    What an amazing memory Mr. Press has!

  2. Just Sayin | May 8, 2018 at 2:15 pm | Reply

    Well. These particular memories have aged rather poorly, haven’t they?

  3. Mark Russell | May 8, 2018 at 2:59 pm | Reply

    You are still the King of Ivy in my book.

  4. H. Huntington | May 8, 2018 at 3:03 pm | Reply

    Just Sayin,
    It’s not the memories that have aged.

  5. whiskeydent | May 8, 2018 at 3:17 pm | Reply

    I think these particular memories are just fine and nothing to get your knickers in a twist about.

  6. “A full concerto of breathtaking flatulence”. Love it. And with your permission, Richard, I’d like to use it henceforth. I’m still experiencing problems “settling” my stomach post-surgery.

  7. G. Bruce Boyer | May 9, 2018 at 9:28 am | Reply

    Richard Press can always be counted on for a well-balanced sense of wry wit. Elegant story-telling is his natural metier.

  8. Grey Flannels | May 9, 2018 at 11:07 am | Reply

    Mr. Boyer can always be counted on to give credit where credit is due. A consummate gentleman.

  9. There’s a scene or two from the film “Lost in Translation” that come to mind.
    Suffice it to say- Japan is a wonderful country!
    Great article,
    Foghorn

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