Chapter 17 - Japanese Manners & Others Less Pleasant


I was assigned to drive the manager of one of Japan's largest companies. He had been a student at Oxford, spoke English extremely well and was from the upper class of Japanese society. Although he was friendly and well mannered I wasn't able to get close to him. Most of the Japanese's companies had similar types of managers. The manager was recalled to Japan to occupy a higher position. When he left, his place was taken by a completely different character. He was an ordinary man and a first class engineer but without a good education. He had been with the company many years starting as an apprentice and working his way up to become a manager. His English was weak and he was taking lessons. He was living in an apartment with his wife and two little children. Whenever I had to pick him up, I got there early and helped him with his learning. It wasn't easy but I managed to explain some things and he was very grateful.

Several Japanese companies had offices in London and it became a fashion for their employees to learn to play golf. I used to see them in their finest dress and equipment and watch them hitting the ball all over the place, but they gradually improved. Playing in private golf clubs can be quite expensive and one had to be introduced by a member and be accepted. I was never sure who paid the expenses, the company or themselves, but the company clearly gave them the time off for them to play. Golf was not the only sport popular in Japan. Baseball especially was a favourite. Tennis and badminton was being taught. Now soccer with English coaches has become prevalent.

I decided that it was time to have a break. Through a friend who was working for a travel company I got a discount on a world tour with my wife. The tour included a visit to Japan and I mentioned to my Japanese manager friend that I would be staying in Tokyo for three days. He was pleased. He asked me where we would be staying in Tokyo. I told him the name of the hotel, which translated to English, was Number One. He knew the hotel and said I would like it, and wished me a happy holiday. He mentioned that the hotel was the largest in the world at that time.

Our tour group travelled eastwards in freezing cold weather. We landed in Moscow, not the intended stop but because of the weather the wings of the plane needed de-icing. The Moscow airport was dark and miserable. My wife and I walked around. There were lots of toys on sale. We bought the toy in which four different size dolls fitted inside each other. I then went alone to a cabinet with booklets and pamphlets were in display and almost got arrested. There were no policemen there, only soldiers. As I was reading their awful propaganda tripe, a soldier came over to me. He must have known I was English because even in his only few words of English, he managed to ask, “What are you doing here?” I said, “You can see, I am reading your literature.” Obviously he didn't understand. He stood in front of me, glaring, not sure what to do with me. I produced my boarding card and he made a smart about turn and marched away, I was relieved.

The wings of the plane were de-iced and we continued on our tour. We visited Beijing just for a stopover and then flew on to Tokyo. When we reached the hotel, we could not believe it was a hotel. It had its own supermarket, hundreds of rooms and at least thirty restaurants catering for every kind of cuisine. It had large Japanese garden with the bridge over a lake. There was an enormous staff who treated everyone with great courtesy. As we were signing in at reception I heard my name being called. It was a Japanese man who spoke English quite well. As we were about to go to our room I asked him to come up with us. He told us that he was one of the managers of the company K, which my friend worked for. I was surprised. I had no idea why he was there. It was obvious it could only have been arranged by my friend. He asked about our trip so far and we were chatting, when he said, “Have you had breakfast yet.” I said, “No.” He said, “What kind of food would you like?” I said, “English” so he took us to the English restaurant, where we enjoyed bacon and eggs just like being at home. We thanked him and as he was leaving he said that he would be back at seven to take us for dinner. My wife and I were a bit shaken. I said, “I think there must be some mistake.”

He came as he said he would and we had an excellent meal. I noticed he was a smoker. I went to my room and bought down a carton of cigarettes. I knew that English and American cigarettes were liked everywhere so as he was leaving I gave him the carton. He behaved as though I had given him the crown jewels. He was almost in tears. He bowed at least ten times. I thanked him and asked him to give our thanks to the company for their kindness and hospitality. His reply was to ask us to be ready at ten the next morning. I asked him why because we were supposed to be with the rest of our group. He told us that a young lady would be coming for us at ten the next morning to take us on a pleasant tour on our own. Talking it over with my wife, I said, “The company must think that I am a potential customer. How could they treat an ordinary driver like this?” The rest of the group just thought we had friends there.

At ten the next morning a pretty Japanese girl was waiting with a car and driver. She spoke English and bowed to us. First she took us to get a better view and to see mount Fuji, then to Finicla where we watched the volcanic springs of mud. We went to a railway station and saw how people were being pushed in to the bullet train. After lunch she took us to some kind of club. It was a delightful place. It also had a Japanese garden. We stayed there to have tea but we had an unexpected surprise. We all had to sit or kneel on the floor. We watched while the ladies performed what was called the traditional tea service. We all had green tea to drink and as the serving ladies were inter-changing cups they seemed to murmuring some chants. It was all done so charmingly it was unforgettable. As a treat for us the ladies also did beautiful arrangements of flowers.

On the way back to our hotel we managed to get a peep into the Emperors' palace. We were about to say goodbye to our lovely guide, when she said, “I'll call for you at seven.” Once again we were mystified but she said that arrangements had been made for us to have dinner. My wife and I were getting beyond feeling surprised at anything. We were taken to Tokyo's highest building and to the very top where there was a revolving floor where the restaurant was. You were able to see every part of Tokyo as the tower went round. This time I insisted that our tour guide join us for dinner. We chose Chinese. The girl was delighted. It was the first time she had eaten Chinese food.

We got back to the hotel and asked the girl to come up to our room with us. I said to my wife, “What we can give this girl as a present?” At the time the Japanese were not allowed to accept money from tourists. I looked for something, but I had nothing suitable and then my wife said that she had something that might be right. It was a silk scarf made in France that had hardly been used. I said that would do nicely. We handed the scarf to our guide. For a minute or two I was sorry that we had given it to her. She was crying. I thought it was a mistake. Taking a silk scarf to Japan was like taking coals to Newcastle but there was nothing else we could have given her. But it turned out that she was so enamoured that if she had been allowed to she would have hugged and kissed us.

After buying a lovely Japanese doll for our granddaughter we continued our tour. It was all a wonderful experience. Soon after we got home I was told to go to the Japanese manager in London and take him to the golf course. On the way I bought a huge bouquet of flowers for his wife. I got there very early. When rang the bell his wife answered it. Not understanding English it was difficult for me to explain. She went to get her husband. The husband was in bed having an afternoon nap and wasn't too pleased to be aroused. He knew I was coming for him later and couldn't understand why I was so early. His wife said something to him so he understood that I had brought her flowers. He said nothing and went back for his nap. I drove him to the golf course and thanked him for what the company did for me. He said very little as though it was nothing and he couldn't understand why I brought the flowers. He was more interested in the game of golf he was due to play.

When I was working for Nike one of the assistants was a Japanese American. I told him all about my good fortune with the company because of the manager. He wasn't a bit surprised, he told me it is a custom in Japan that if someone does you a good turn you must replicate.

I asked him about another thing that had puzzled me in Japan. When we were walking along the Ginza, although it was more than three weeks to Christmas, every store was blaring out carols and Christmas songs. At the end of the road was a Shinto Shrine. We saw young girls putting little scrolls of paper in holes in the bricks. He told me it was a prayer for obtaining a husband.

One of England's most popular events was to take place. It is an annual show called the Royal Tournament and one of the most exciting events was the competition between two teams. They each had a field gun and had to dissemble it, lift it over a wall and assemble it again. The first to do the job correctly was the winner. The teams on this particular tournament were from the Royal Navy. The BBC had broadcast an evening program a few days beforehand with one of the teams showing the viewers how it was done. I had to go to Portsmouth to bring one of the teams. The broadcast was live and came on late. Afterwards the lads were invited for drinks. The show was a success. The lads might have been offered some expenses but I did not see them get paid. The sailors made the most of their free drinks.

It was early morning when we left to return to Portsmouth. They were all a bit tipsy and singing bawdy songs. We arrived at the barracks where the night guard was on duty with the petty officer in charge. He wasn't the nicest of NCOs I've known. He came out shouting, “Where have you lot been?” Of course he knew where they had been and why. He could see they were a little worse for wear. He called out the guard and was about to put them in the clink and put a charge on them in the morning. I decided to intervene. I called out, “Just a minute petty officer.” He shouted at me, “What do you want? This is nothing to do with you.” I got closer to him so the others couldn't hear. I told him that I was an ex-sergeant in the RAF. I said these lads had represented the Navy on television and the BBC gave them a few drinks. I told him he should be proud of them. He replied, “Mind your own business.” I said, “Okay if that's how it is. I will report back to the BBC who will explain to your commanding officer as well as reporting your attitude to me.” He said something rude but went back to the guardroom and nothing more was done. I feel sure the young sailors were happy to tell their mates that the disliked petty officer got his comeuppance.

The Royal Ascot racing was about to start. I had to go to bring one of the announcers for television who was there to set up ready for the first day of racing on the following day. I went to his house and waited for him. Either I was too early or he was detained I never knew. But after an hour his wife came out with some tea and a sandwich. They were nice people. I drove him to Ascot. He seemed to be very friendly with other announcers I drove. As we came near to Ascot he gave me a tip for the last race on the first day. I don't bet but I wrote it down. I never drove him again. I was surprised to hear that his wife was divorcing him. I was to go to Ascot again the next day with two gentlemen from New York but I was to meet them first at Heathrow and take them to their hotel. It was a bit of a rush to get them there for the first race. I explained where I would be when they wanted to leave. It was obvious that they were betting men.

It was only the first day but the stands were full and there were enormous crowds. The weather was perfect. I found somewhere to sit and get a bite to eat. Just before the last race the two men came to me and said, we had better go home now. I said OK but there's still another race. One said, “Yes we know but we lost all our cash and left our wallets and money in the hotel.” I said, “How much do you need? I can lend you some money, I don't have much but you can pay me back at the hotel.” They were very pleased and took the money intending to place it on the favourite. I said, “Just a minute. I was given a tip yesterday by someone connected with racing but it is a complete outsider.” They laughed and one said, “What the hell! We have lost all our money on favourites.” The men came back full of smiles. The horse came second but the odds were high. They gave me my money back and had enough to pay me for my job.

I have had my share of police efficiency. My first terrible crime was when I had to deliver a letter to a building close to a police station. I parked my car outside the building, went upstairs to find the office to deliver the letter and came down. The car was gone! There were no lines or any indication that it was a no parking area but it was a main road. I went into the police station where I was told that the car had been impounded. I had no idea where the pound was. I had to get a taxi. When I got there I was told to wait. There were two counters but no one there. They were deliberately keeping me waiting. There were four huge officials grinning. I went to the counter where now a giant stood on the other side. He asked me what I wanted, as though he didn't know. I had to produce my driving licence, my insurance, my MOT and indentation letter or card.

When I had answered all questions he wanted cash. I had just enough to pay. While he was counting the money I said that I was only there two minutes. He straightened his back and looked down on me from a great height and said in a false stern voice, “Do you know how much trouble you could cause in two minutes? The whole road could have been jammed.” As I got out I could hear their laughter. I wonder if having a tall policeman there was a ploy to intimidate people.

I received an emergency call, to go to a hospital to collect some blood plasma and take it to a private clinic. I wasn't quite sure of the exact address location but I was told that it was near the roundabout close to Henley on Thames. I made my way to the roundabout and stopped at the edge where there was a narrow roadway and took out my road Atlas to find the street with the clinic. As I was checking a constable appeared and said in a plumb voice, “Exactly what are you doing here?” I showed him the atlas and explained. He said this was a slip road and I had no business to be there. I said, “Look constable this is an emergency.” He said, “I can't help that. By the law of the council, you are trespassing. I shall have to book you.” I pleaded to no avail and he straightened up and said, “I don't make the laws but it's my duty to execute them.” Giving me a ticket, he said, “Take the third on the right and second left and you will find the clinic. Thank you.”