The Repository - Chapter 15

Alex and Tatsuo



            It was a Monday morning in early September when the military courier plane landed in Tokyo.  There were three flights a week that carried the classified material from our Field station to the ASA headquarters there.  Major MacIntyre and I were the only passengers.  The major was the second in command at our operations center and though I had never actually talked to him before, we chatted non-stop during the entire flight.  When he learned that I was going to visit Kyoto and was interested in Japanese culture he suggested a nearly limitless number of places that I should visit.


            I had written to Alex and arranged to spend two days there visiting with him in Tokyo, and then fly out early Wednesday morning to Kyoto.  Gregg would be arriving in Kyoto, directly from Korea, within an hour of my arrival there.  First Gregg and I had planned to explore Kyoto, the ancient political capital of Japan and still recognized as the cultural capital of the country.  Next we would take the train down to Hiroshima and then a ferry to the southern island of Kyushu.  Dwight was at the Fukuoka ASA station in Kyushu and we had arranged to visit with him.  Fred insisted that we also look up Duane who was at the naval base in Sasebo, an hour or so south of Fukuoka.  We had probably planned far too many things to do in the short three weeks, but would do as many as possible, and comfortable, in our allotted time.


            There was a car waiting for the major at the airport and he invited me to go with him to the ASA headquarters building.  Normally, as an Specialist I would have been expected to utilize one of the transport busses which shuffled military personnel around the city.  This small gesture on the part of Major MacIntyre was one of the features, which distinguished the ASA from the rest of the Army.  The officers recognized our basic equality as human beings.  A persons 'rank', which was a deciding separator within most of the military, was almost a minor consideration within the ASA organization.  


            The major and I arrived at the headquarters building and Alex was outside the building waiting for me.  Evidently my timing had been perfect since he was on the second day of his five-day break.  It had only been a year since I had seen him but the change was immediately evident.  He was extremely talkative and had planned a number of things for us to do during my two days there.  First we got in a cab and headed for the small house, which he had rented in a nearby section of the city.  Having spent a year in the relative remoteness of Hokkaido I was astounded by the activity of Tokyo.  The constant movement of both traffic and people was almost overwhelming. 


            Alex mentioned that he was sharing a house and that his roommate would probably be there since he was anxious to meet me.  I was about to enquire about his roommate when Alex told the driver to stop at the next corner.  We walked down a small side street, went through an entry gate and then as Alex slid open the shoji door I was surprised to be greeted by a young Japanese fellow.  He was introduced as Kinawara Tatsuo, in the Japanese tradition of giving the surname first.  I didn't know if it was the sudden imput from my 'antenna' or perhaps the manner in which they were speaking to each other, but it was fairly evident that Alex and Tatsuo were more than just friends.  Or at least I was pretty sure that they were.  Within the composition of the Japanese language there are various forms of 'politeness' and verbs, as well as adjectives, are all suffixed with these necessary forms.  The form, which they had used, was that of very close friends.  But in addition to this, perhaps more than this grammatical structure, were the tones within the words they used.  Now I knew how Sven had been immediately cognizant of the relationship between Gregg and me.


            I guess what really surprised me was that Tatsuo looked like he was no more than about sixteen years old.  Alex explained that Tatsuo spoke very little English, although he understood it rather well, so if I didn't mind we would converse primarily in Japanese.  I spoke directly to Tatsuo and commented that it would be an honor to practice my poor Japanese with him.  Tatsuso's eyes lit up and he immediately complimented me on the manner in which I spoke his language.  At almost the same time he chided Alex, telling him that he needed to work a little more to improve his manner of speaking.  Actually it had sounded pretty good to me.


            Since it was well after mid day Tatsuo suggested we go to a nearby place for something to eat, explaining at the same time that it was just a block away from the house, or would I first like to rest or perhaps use the bathroom.  Was there anything I needed or wanted?  I liked Tatsuo immediately since he, like most Japanese, was so aware of making a guest feel completely comfortable.  Their house was charmingly simple and completely oriental in that it had none of the clutter of the occident.  When we'd entered the street gate we'd passed through a small, well-tended garden and entered the entry room where one took off their shoes.  There was a large eight tatami room, about 12' x 12', a smaller six tatami room, a modest though adequate kitchen and large bath.  The larger room looked out on an exquisite small side garden, which had, besides the exquisitely groomed plants, a beautiful granite lantern adorned with lichen and moss.  The tokonoma alcove in the main room had a tasteful scroll of a black and white sumiye landscape and vase with a single sasanqua camellia.   After I had freshened up a bit we went out to lunch.  Coming from the cooler north, I felt the heat and humidity of Tokyo, but it was pleasant nonetheless. 


            We ate at one of the many small counter cafes, which normally seat no more than a few people at a time.  This one had a maximum capacity of about twelve persons.  Normally each specialized in a particular type of food and this one's specialty was Tempura—seafood and vegetables dipped in a batter and then deep-fried.   We all decided on the shrimp and vegetable tempura.  As the food arrived we each in turn uttered, "itadakimasu"  [戴きます] a ritual that began each meal, much as the words "gochisôsa madeshita" [ご馳走様でした] ended it.  Curiously they were words that I had never encountered in any of my grammar or phrase books, yet was a necessary and integral part of every day living.


            The tempura was exquisite and much better than anything I had encountered in Hokkaido, or perhaps it just seemed that way since I hadn't eaten breakfast before boarding the plane early that morning.  As we were finishing Tatsuo explained that he would have to go to work and at least put in a few hours though he would be able to return by about 6:00 and then we could all do something together.  He politely excused himself and headed for the train station to go into downtown Tokyo. 


            It was well past midday and there were only two other customers in the small cafe.  Alex and I decided to have some more tea and chat in order to catch up on what had been occurring in our lives during the past year.  Now we could also speak completely in English and it facilitated the exchange of information.  He wanted to know all about Hokkaido and how I enjoyed life in the north.  I briefly outlined how the weather affected our lives there and a bit about my friends.  We were both very cautious not to mention anything about our work, at least in public.  That was a forbidden subject, kinjiru [禁じる], outside of the operations building.  Then I mentioned that I was sharing a house in Chitose with one of the guys in my barracks.


            Alex looked sort of surprised and asked about my current relationship with Gregg.  Now it my turn to be surprised, but I realized that he had misunderstood about the relationship with Len.  It was getting complicated since neither of us was being completely open. 


            I just blurted it out and asked, "Alex, just exactly what do you know about Gregg and me—about our 'friendship'? 


            He smiled, a very coy and knowing smile, "Oh, everything.  Dwight explained it all to me when he was here a few months ago.  But of course I'd figured it all out long before we left the Language School.  Don't you remember our conversation that day we went to San Francisco together?  In fact, we were in a restaurant, just like today, except the food was Russian.  God, those piroshki were delicious.  I was sort of fishing around for information about the two of you, but you didn't seem to want to talk about it. 


            "It was about that time that I was sort of accepting the fact that I was gay.  I'd known it probably for several years but was still pretty mixed up.  Then when I saw you and Gregg together all the time, as well as the scuttlebutt about the fact that you two were lovers.....   Don't misunderstand; you guys certainly weren't the only ones there at the school.  I guess being there, and seeing some obviously well adjusted gay guys around also helped to convince me.


            "Well, I hoped we could talk about it.  I just wanted to talk to someone, anyone.  But, since it didn't happen I guess it just wasn't the right time.  But getting back to you and Gregg, what's going on, if you don't mind my asking?"


            "Well its obvious," I began, "that we can now talk openly.  In the first place, Len is just a buddy and we share the house in town—a place where we can get away from the base and just be ourselves and relax. And actually he has a new boyfriend.  More about that later…  Nothing has changed between Gregg and me and of course that's why I'm down here, so we can finally spend some time together."


            Alex smiled, "I'm really glad to hear that.  I liked Gregg from the first time I met him and felt that you guys were just perfect together.  Now, I know you must be curious about Tatsuo.  Isn't he sweet?    And then he sighed, "God, I am so in love you can't believe it."


            Yes, I did have a number of questions and began by asking exactly how old Tatsuo was as a starter.  Alex laughed and then explained that Dwight had asked the same thing and though he certainly didn't look it he was almost twenty-six.  In fact tomorrow was his birthday.  He had studied at the University of Tokyo, though because of financial problems he hadn't finished and at present he was working at the Tokyo Shimbun - a large newspaper in the city.


            Alex asked if I wanted to go into downtown Tokyo now or perhaps just visit the local area and we could spend the entire day in the city tomorrow.  I opted for local visiting and then perhaps a rest in the afternoon since he had also mentioned that we would be going out to celebrate Tatsuo's birthday tonight.  We visited several shops, a beautiful temple that had come through the wartime bombing raids completely intact and then on to an exquisitely beautiful garden which belonged to a Tea Association, the Dainihon Chado Gakkai.  The garden was simple and one of the most magnificent I had ever seen.  In a remote corner was the building where the tea ceremony was held.  Though we were in the middle of a city, the surroundings were so perfectly constructed that we could have been standing in a wooded site remote from civilization. 


            When we eventually got back to the house Alex immediately changed into a yukata, a light cotton summer kimono, and asked if I would like one too.  Sounded like a great idea since they were certainly more comfortable than western clothes, and especially since the afternoon had become slightly overcast and very humid.  We were relaxing and drinking green tea when I got around to asking Alex how he and Tatsuo had first met.


            His deep blue eyes sparkled and he responded, "Do you believe in destiny?  Well I certainly do now and know that it was that very force that brought us together.  Our meeting was so well orchestrated that it couldn't have just been chance."


            As he got up to pour some more tea, I commented on the fact I was sure that it was that very same element that he was talking about that had been responsible for my having met Gregg.


            Then Alex began the story about how he had first met Tatsuo.  One day at the Operations center a couple of months after he had arrived, Alex had been invited to join several of the guys at a new bar, which they had discovered and were especially fond of because of the atmosphere.  It wasn't far from their Headquarters building and within easy walking distance.  Alex explained that he wanted to finish a couple of letters that evening before going out, so his buddies told him exactly how to get there.  After he had finished his letters he set out along on the trip, which was to change his life completely, though he certainly wasn't aware of it at the time.


            He had walked down the broad thoroughfare from Headquarters until he encountered the Iwakura building with its brilliant neon sign.  As per instructions he turned left and walked for three blocks and then turned right and walked for another two blocks.  They had explained that in the middle of the second block he would find the bar.  He couldn't miss it since it was the only one on that side of the street among a number of shops and small restaurants.  When he got to the middle of the second block he realized that they must have been slightly mistaken since there was nothing open but a soba (noodle) restaurant.  Then towards the end of the block he saw some guys going in a doorway and could hear music coming from inside, obviously the bar he was looking for.


            As he entered the doorway of the bar and began to look for his friends he realized that he was the only American there, and the music was much more oriental than occidental.  Well, it was still fairly early and maybe they had stopped somewhere else first.  He was greeted by a pleasant young man and shown to a small booth on one side of the room.  His young Japanese host asked what he would like to drink and Alex decided that the music and atmosphere called for sake, Japanese rice wine.  The young man returned shortly and then sat down with Alex in order to pour the warm sake and chat.  It was a pleasant custom, which was characteristic of Japan.  The only difference was that normally young ladies served the drinks.  Alex then noticed that there wasn't a single female in the entire bar. 


            The young host introduced himself in a halting combination of Japanese and English.  His name was Kinawara Tatsuo.  Alex introduced himself and Tatsuo had a little trouble in dealing with Alex's first name and they finally settled on Areitsuku.  They continued to attempt conversation, but since neither was really conversant with the other's language it was difficult, though not impossible.  Then a young man entered and Tatsuo immediately motioned for him to come over to the booth.  They talked briefly in Japanese and the other young man introduced himself as Kinamoto Seiji, and in near perfect English.  Seiji sat down and explained that he was a student and was in fact studying English and very happy to be able to practice it.  The sake continued to flow, as did the conversation with the help of Seiji acting as interpreter for Alex and Tatsuo. 


            Some time later Alex noticed that two of the young men in the back of the bar were dancing together and it was immediately evident why there were no women in attendance.  He had wandered into a Japanese homosexual bar, but not only did he not feel uncomfortable, he realized that he felt very much at home.  All too soon the hour of curfew was nearing and he realized that he would have to return to the ASA Headquarters.  Through Seiji, Tatuso told Alex that he hoped he would return soon.  Alex promised him that he would.  Tatsuo and Seiji offered to walk back to the headquarters with Alex and he accepted their generous offer.


            I couldn't help but ask, "And was that the bar that your buddies had invited you to?  Did they ever show up?"


            "Oh, god no.  I later discovered that they had told me to turn right at the Iwakura building and then turn left after two blocks.  I had done just the opposite and by making that mistake I found the person I'd like to spend the rest of my life with.  By the way I've already looked into being discharged here in Tokyo and it shouldn't be too difficult to find a job—I can't envision leaving either Tatsuo or this culture.  I love Japan and everything about it."


            Alex then explained that the house actually belonged to Tatsuo's family and they had, for economic reasons, been forced to rent it after the death of his father several years ago.  They had been living with a nearby aunt and the income from the rent helped to sustain them.  Tatsuo had been compelled to leave his University studies and had gotten a job at the newspaper and also helped to manage the bar, which belonged to an uncle.  Later Tatsuo's mother had returned to the town of her birth to be with her mother and Tatsuo had stayed on in Tokyo.


            Alex continued, "So when Tatsuo and I decided that we would like to make our relationship a permanent affair I was able to rent the house and here we are.   There's another reason for wanting to stay in Japan.  I know that my father could never, but never, accept my being gay.  This way he'll never have to know." 


            "One of the great things about Japan is the fact that homosexuality is accepted as just another way of behavior.  There's no great stigma attached to it like there is in most occidental cultures.  God, the Japanese are so civilized—well, with the exception of the war which I think we all know was perpetrated by a small group of power hungry individuals—as is usually the case. Sometimes I think that politicians and the military ought to be outlawed, but then that would put us out of a job wouldn't it?"


            Just then we heard Tatsuo slide open the shoji door to the entry room and then he came into the room, bowing low.  I got up, bowed back and said, "Shiwase na tanjôbi, Tatsuo san - happy birthday!"  He smiled broadly and commented that it wasn't until tomorrow but that he was pleased to accept my congratulations.  He sat down, felt the teapot and was about to get up to make some hot tea.  Alex insisted he remain seated so the two of us could chat and went into the kitchen.  Tatsuro told me that he had convinced his boss to give him the day off tomorrow so that both he and Alex could help to show me around Tokyo.  I had to agree with Alex, that Tatuso was probably one of the cutest, saiko kawaii, and most charming young men I had ever known, with one exception of course.


            That night we went to the bar and it was a truly festive occasion.  Nearly all of the guys seemed to know each other and had all brought a gift for Tatsuo.  They were beautifully wrapped and presented in a formal, almost ceremonial manner with a low bow. As he accepted each gift he said, "Itadakimasu", the same word used for beginning a meal.  A bit confused I ask Alex if he knew what it was all about, and he explained that it meant "I humbly accept" and when used at the meal was in reference to accepting food from one's host, or the gods perhaps, and now it was used as a humble acceptance from his friends.  It was a word I had used for some six months and never questioned.  I still had a lot to learn about this complex and elegant language. 


            Everyone seemed to be impressed that there was another gaijin, foreigner, present and some even asked me if I knew Zuwaitu, though it took me a while to figure out that they were referring to Dwight.  Soon it was well past the curfew hour for army personnel.  We left the bar and decided that it would be safest to take a taxi to the house.  My day had been a long one and I was well on my way to sleeping before I had completely stretched out on the comfortably soft futon.


            Tuesday was spent playing tourist and we passed the entire day in the downtown area of Tokyo.  It seemed to have grown considerably in the last year and the number of things to see and do seemed limitless.  At times I felt somewhat like the country bumpkin who had come to the big city.  Hokkaido was nice, but this was truly exiting.


            Wednesday morning we were up early and after saying goodbye to Tatsuo, Alex and I went to the Headquarters building where I would be able to get a ride to the military airport.  Before leaving I told Alex how happy I was for him—that he had found not only a very special person to be with, but obviously had also found himself.   Alex then handed me a small, wrapped package, felt like a book, and said that it was a small gift for me and that special person in my life, Gregg.  I promised to visit again as soon as possible and at the same time told Alex that they should consider visiting Hokkaido.  Adding that it might not be as sophisticated as Tokyo, but there was little to equal its natural beauty.