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Aural Delights Nov 2008

The A Bertram Chandler Story UFO is now available as an audio podcast from Starship Sofa Aural Delights No 48

The Mentor No: 50 - Jul 1984
(Cover Kerrie Hanlon)

The Mentor No: 50 - Jul 1984


Mr. Noda had asked me before my visit to Japan what I wished to see in or in the vicinity of Tokyo. I told him that I should like to revisit the tomb of the Anjin-sama, Will Adams, the Elizabethan seaman who was the first Englishman in Japan. (Clavell, in his novel SHOGUN, based his character Pilot-Major Blackthorne on the real life Adams.) Also, since it is in the same general area, I said that I should like to see again the battleship, Mikasa, Admiral Togo’s flagship during the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-1905.

Members of the University Science Fiction Club had volunteered to take me on this expedition so, on Saturday morning, we set out in two cars for the Miura Peninsular. As on the previous occasion, seven years ago, it was a stinking hot day, with one long traffic jam all the way out to Yokohama and beyond. My guides, however, had come equipped with a large Thermos of iced green tea for my benefit and the car was air-conditioned, so I did not suffer

About half way to Adams’ tomb I saw - and experienced - a rather amusing example of sex discrimination. In some ways the Japanese are a very prudish people but in some ways they are not. For example, in the local edition of PLAYBOY the interesting areas of the photographs of female nudes are blacked out, and in the imported American PLAYBOY the public hair is rather clumsily scratched out. The signs outside the establishments in the red light districts would not, in our own Kings Cross, be regarded as even soft porn and would not cause a puritanical maiden aunt to blush (What goes on inside such an establishment is altogether another matter...)

Anyhow, we stopped at a roadside comfort station to relieve our feelings. There was a unisex toilet, complete with a bank of urinals. The ladies could, if they so desired, watch the gentlemen pointing Percy at the porcelain whereas they did whatever it was they were doing, behind closed doors...

The visit to the tomb of the Anjin-sama and his lady wife was, in many ways, a repetition of the previous occasion. But, in 1977, after we had parked the cars at the bottom of a hill and completed the journey on foot we found that had we made the approach to the other side of the hill, we could have completed the journey by car. This time we did not make such a discovery. There is no longer an approach road negotiable by automobile. I gained the impression that the gaijin daimyo, the Anjina-sama, is being phased out of Japanese history. I could be wrong - but recent Japanese attempts to rewrite the official histories of World War II and a few years prior to that to make one uneasy.

Anyhow, I paid my respects to Will Adams and asked his permission to use him in some stories of my own, and then we made our way down the hill, back to the cars and the drive to Mikasa’s final, permanent mooring.

On the way, my guides started making hungry noises. Oddly enough, having enjoyed a very good breakfast at the hotel, I wasn’t all that hungry so, despite my being asked what my preferences foodwise were, put myself in their hands. Their choice Host, a place with which I gathered, they were familiar. There was a fine selection of various national cuisines - but nothing East of India. (Indian curries featured prominently on the menu.) We disposed ourselves at two tables. At the one at which I was seated was one of the young men who had a quite genuine-looking pizza and the other one enjoyed spaghetti bolognaise. The two girls and I ordered the Chef’s Salad. The establishment was crowded with Japanese families, all enjoying what was, to them, an exotic meal. I was reminded of Dixon Street (China Town) restaurant at lunch time on a fine Saturday, with Australians shovelling down yum cba delicacies.

Talking of food, during this occasion in Japan, I could not help but notice how the humble potato is becoming more and more a part of the Nipponese menu. On one train journey, a small boy seated ahead of us was filling his face from a bag of soggy chips. On two occasions, when I was treated to a traditional Japanese meal, one of the side dishes was half a potato roasted in its jacket (but vastly improved by the spices sprinkled on the exposed surface). And twice there were traditional, compartmented lunch trays, with a portion of potato salad in one of the compartments.

But back to Mikasa...

As on the first occasion, I was impressed by her, a beautiful pre-World War I battleship, complete with the admiral’s stern gallery. As on the first occasion, I enjoyed playing with one of the 3” guns which was still more or less in working order. We went up to the bridge and I instructed my friends on the use of the Barr and Stroud 9’ range finder. And so on, and so on. I worked out, to my own satisfaction, why I am so fascinated by the ship. Put me aboard Nelson’s Victory and I should feel a stranger, displaced in time. I should require years of training before I should be able to handle her. But put me on Mikasa’s bridge and I know that, given a crew and a full head of steam, I could take her out of port and to sea, and even, fight a single ship action. After all, I was brought up in the Good Old pre-electronic Days when gunnery was an art rather than a science and steamships, naval and mercantile, changed very little in the days between the Russo-Japanese War and World War II.

And yet I was disappointed.

Mikasa, in an effort to popularise her, has been cheapened. An exhibition of World War II aeroplane models... and exhibition of school children’s art... She isn’t yet in the same sorry state as Queen Mary, at her final moorings at Long Beach in California, but she’s heading that way.

My final engagement for the day was dinner at the home of a Faithful Reader, Miss Jun Yamakura, in one of the Tokyo suburbs. My fan entourage ran me - back to the hotel so that I could get showered and changed, then took me out to the wilds of Hachioji. By this time, night had fallen and having all the street signs in Japanese didn’t help. (A recurring joke) We cruised around and around and around, asking directions. At last, when it was thought that we must be somewhere near the address, one of the fans made a telephone call, and within seconds, Jun and her mother appeared on the scene to guide us the last few yards.

That evening was a most peculiar mixture of cultures. Jun, in shorts and T shirt, could have been any Australian teenager (dresswise at least). Her mother (who is an Ikebana - the art of flower arranging - instructer) wore a European style dress. Her father (a composer and the manager of a recording company) was at ease in a kimono. There was the usual shoes-off-sandals-on
routine, but we sat to dinner on chairs, not on the floor, and the meal was, mainly, roast pork and salad. After dinner we retired to the music room upstairs. furnished in Western-style and with a baby grand piano in evidence.

The conversation - Jun and her parents all have a good command of english - was very pleasant and interesting. I could not help feeling, however, that Mr. and Mrs. Yamakura were rather mystified by their daughter’s infatuation with science fiction and science fiction personalities. That phenomenon, however, can be encountered in just about any part of the world.

Finally a car from Mr. Noda’s TV studio called for me and I was taken back to the hotel, where I was soon engaged in another attempt to catch up on lost sleep.