Katsumi Suzuki and Bunraku

Dear Friends:
I first set foot on Japanese soil in September 1979 or 80. I know it was September because I was coming here to teach English and that was the best time to find a job. I had been living in California and a friend wrote to tell me that it was easy to find a job teaching English with good pay in Tokyo. She was in a different line of business that I will not reveal so as to maintain a family rating. So it was that I arrived knowing  nothing of the country, as usual, with the intention of working six months, making a quick buck and be on my way back to India with a very fat wallet. Yeah, right! Kundan, when are you ever going to learn. (That reminds me, I need to buy a lotto ticket today.)

As it turned out, I got a bit more involved than planned and it was much more than six months before I flew away to other shores. By then, my reason to go to India was in Oregon, so, it was back to the states.

As one might imagine, there were a few stories during my time here. Some more suited to a  full length novel. However, I will stick to the title of the piece.

One intention that did eventuate very quickly was my teaching of English. (Though the students tended to know there english grammar better than I). Through various English language schools, my bread and butter work was teaching company classes. These would start at five in afternoon and last a couple of hours. I would supplement my income with private students mostly in the town where I found myself living. However, there was one class that I travelled quite a ways to teach. It was for a group of engineers at Fuji Xerox. The ride on the trains was so long that I tried to quit but the man who organised the class managed to dissuade me. One enticement was that my students would take me out to dinner after the class. The man I just mentioned is Mr Katsumi Suzuki.  The plot thickens!

It may have been at one of our dinners that I remember being asked what I would do on a holiday. My reply was to say that I would take a train north into the mountains and get off at a random stop. From there, I would take a local bus to the end of the line. (Does this resemble my life?)

I like to think that my casual reply was the inspiration for the actions of two members of the class.

The first fellow decided to get married. No, I don’t believe that my comments were in any way responsible for that decision, though one could make a case for the point. He was good enough to invite me to his wedding. (Perhaps to show his future wife the crazy gaijin who made the aforementioned statement.) It was a very typical Japanese wedding. Only the immediate family attended the ceremony. The rest of us attended the banquet. This was held in a very large hall and was beautifully set out. I arrived with my present in hand. A beautiful hand thrown ceramic bowl that I had carefully chosen. When I passed it over, the bridegroom appeared startled. I wondered the cause as I went on in to find my seat. I later found out that the appropriate gift is an envelope full of money to help defray the cost of the sumptuous feast that I was about to partake. He did figure out what had happened and make a point of thanking me at the next class that he attended. It was at that class that he told me of his honeymoon. As is probably still the case, the usual dreamed of honeymoon at that time was a package trip to Hawaii. My student and his new wife decided to do something different. They packed up the car and drove around the north of the island camping along the way. This was so out of character that I, in my mind, took credit for being involved in the inspiration. I hope that he understood how positively impressed that I was. I never asked him if my comment had been their inspiration and will never do so, as some misguided assumptions are better left in place.

The second member to surprise me was Mr Suzuki. He was sent to Salt Lake City, Utah for a business trip. He arranged to take his holiday at the same time. He flew into San Francisco having only reserved his stay there in a hotel. After some sight seeing, he bought a ticket on a bus to Salt Lake City and chatted his way to Utah. Arriving in Salt Lake, he found a local bus that would take him to the area where his business was happening. He then asked the driver to direct him to a hotel in the area. After the business was concluded, he was off on another bus to Las Vegas. Then, on to LA where he stayed with my parents before returning to Japan. If you were acquainted with the usual Japanese individual, you would know that this was a man who had pushed himself well outside of his comfort zone.

I will be meeting Katsumi Suzuki this Thursday for the Bunraku and whether he remembers or interprets events as I have, I am sure that he would agree that the truth of a myth is ever relevant. Whereas, the ever-suspect “facts” of history…

Now that you have been introduced to Mr Suzuki, I can tell you about Bunraku (boon-rah-koo). http://www.ntj.jac.go.jp/english/access/facilities_04.html

Bunraku is the Japanese Puppet theatre. I know very little about it having never attended a performance. I believe that it was during a lesson a couple weeks ago that it somehow came up. I decided that I should add it to my Japanese experiences. Then, I remembered, that those many years ago, Mr Suzuki treated me to a Kabuki performance. This would be a good way to repay his kindness. You see, when I returned to Japan to begin shakuhachi lessons, I dug up Mr Suzuki’s contact details and miracle of miracles, I was able to re-establish our friendship. We have met a few times since then. He even was able to contact one of the other class members who also plays shakuhachi. The next Bunraku season runs for only a couple of weeks this month. I secured tickets in an almost sold out house and we are both happily anticipating the performance. As it happens, Katsumi has also never been to a Bunraku performance. Often, for traditional performances such as this there are head phones with translation. Not only for English speakers but also for Japanese as many times the performances are in ancient Japanese.

It should be fun.

Cheers, Kundan


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