The white plastic door opened revealing a large transparent bag bursting with the mixed up detritus of fifteen mixed up people and a large full family sized ashtray. The bin bag was unaccountably stood on the table, proudly showing all the colours shapes and smells of its decaying contents; the ashtray too was on the table, an impressive pyramid of fag buts where one more cigarette butt added to the pile could set off a landslide that could Pompei the whole kitchen in a thick layer of choking ash. It wouldn’t have taken much, the kitchen being so very small. Even the door had to tread softly as it swung out on its hinges, too hard a push from the outside world could scatter the entire kitchen into the four corners of the world.
“This is the communal area and kitchen,” the Japanese man wearing paint covered overalls said, making a small gesture with his hand.
Unfortunately for him the focal point of the communal area and kitchen was the bursting bin bag and the heaving ashtray and it seemed to Rick that he had brought him here to show him a prize bag of rubbish and a record breaking fag pile.
Tanaka San felt some embarrassment:
“I don’t know what that’s doing here,” he murmured darkly to the rubbish bag, “it was supposed to be cleaned!” He paused then added impressively:
“This building is cleaned everyday,” apparently unaware of the betrayal of this statement by the evidence sitting on the table.
Rick had seen enough and he wanted to leave, he hadn’t known what his first impressions of the gaijin house would be but he hadn’t expected them to be quite so rubbish. The ashtray too was a bad omen, seated as it was on that off white coffee marked plastic table, between two chairs it seemed clear that the only thing to do in such a confined and oppressive space was smoke. He used to smoke and felt that if he stayed here another minute he might have to start again. He heard the paint covered man muttering to the bag of rubbish again, then suddenly he brightened up:
“Over here there’s a coin operated washing machine!” as if this nullified the dirtiness of the place, Rick didn’t have far to go to find the coin operated washing machine and he had never known ‘over there’ to be used for things which were located directly under your nose, but this was Tokyo. He had also never seen a washing machine climbing up a wall before, he marvelled at the machine hovering four feet off the ground. Below it was the stainless steel sink which by some effort had become heavily stained. The man in paint covered overalls continued his grandiose ‘over there’s’ as if sighting far-off objects from the middle of the ocean.
“Over there’s the cupboard, he said pointing to another wall climber about six inches from his fingers. Rick thought, maybe he perceives space differently to me. This thought was confirmed when the man confirmed his worse fears and showed him what he called, with his particular perception of space common perhaps to his citizenship but no doubt more to his trade, ‘the studio’.
A white door among a long series in a very short corridor opened, for a moment Rick thought he had been sent to prison, or that he had become a bee, there was something about the series of doors that suggested cells. The door opened cautiously restraining its arc, so as not to send the room flying out of the window. Naturally the room was all white, the suggestion of space, Rick thought. There was some space but it was all under the bed, the room was as long and as wide as a single bed. However the bed was a bunk bed so, as long as you slept crushed up against the ceiling you could watch TV underneath, hunched up on a chair with the bed bearing down on you. And this was 300 hundred pounds a month worth? The frightening thing was that these weren’t even the cheapest rooms available, if you were on a really tight budget then you could always share a room, or ‘semi-private’ as they nonsensically and euphemistically put it, but Rick didn’t even want to consider that possibility, the idea of sharing a room with another man, or even men, was too awful, it was bad enough having to live with himself. He wanted to leave, to run, to be free from hovering washing machines and crawling about underneath beds to get dressed but for some reason he wanted to see what more horrors awaited him, like watching a grizzly movie or a road accident, it’s just so hard to turn away from the fascination of the macabre.
“Do you have any more rooms?” He asked trying to convey interest and not being able to turn away. He felt sorry for this paint covered man, he’d probably been painting over the coffee and nicotine stained walls all day.
He was shown another room, by way of introduction he was told:
“The good thing about this room is that it’s warm.” Good, Rick thought, maybe things are looking up, his smile fell from his face as the door opened on a room with no windows. Not even a window to throw your self out of Rick thought bitterly.
All in all there were eight floors of this, each floor identical to the previous one and each upper floor identical to this one. Fifteen people crammed into small painted cells, crouching under their bunk-beds chain smoking while watching incomprehensible Japanese television. The kitchen with its two seats and the ever present ashtray must be the throne room to those with the muscle to bully the other thirteen residents out of precedence. And so from the ground floor fifteen souls on the bottom floor, (or ‘the insulation’ as the residents of the first two floors were known for they lived in the cold and damp during the winter but warmed things up nicely for those living above) then 30, 45, 60 until by the eighth floor we can count 120 human beings all packed in tightly paying their 60,000 yen a month, and the ninth floor, well the ninth floor was very special.
Tanaka San pressed the number nine button of the lift, the door closed on the grim sad little world of the gaijin guest house and after a while opened on something quite different. Rick was puzzled as he looked out into a large wood panelled room with an antique mahogany banqueting table in the middle.
“You’re going to meet the owner,” Tanaka San drooled; something in his tone made Rick think he’d said ‘you’re going to meet my master’ and that the paint covered Tanaka San was in fact a kind of Igor figure to some other, very powerful being. Suddenly from out of the shadows to the right of the room and rather self consciously too close to a French 19th Century portrait painting, loomed a Japanese man with clearly European pretensions, sporting a pencil moustache, a cravat and handkerchief and incredibly, a monocle, the man was clearly dressing to impress and it was for this very reason that he failed so spectacularly. It was at this point that the Rick noticed the smell, and traced it to two beastly Yorkshire terriers which flanked their master: Endo San. They yapped and danced as he floated across his room with the air of a puffed up balloon, this meeting had been set up before hand and perhaps even, ridiculous as it might seem, rehearsed. Rick glanced briefly around him, on the table there was a bottle of red wine, he looked closer and noticed that it was a bottle of Chateau Montrose, a very nice drop of Pauilliac which teased him a little; there was also a couple of contracts, no doubt prepared with the expectation that another drone would fill his cell. As this rather unusual man walked across the room Rick couldn’t help but think of the 150 odd souls bellow, all feeding this man’s silly obsession with being refined. As he walked he stepped over the cells that lay bellow, he foot stepped on their dreams as they slept, he languished in contentment as they masturbated themselves to sleep. He wined and dined and they raised their glasses to his health, he drank deeply of what they had, he was king of his castle he demanded rent, he turned out the lights, lay down the law and evicted trouble makers, but to an outsider, to Rick, he was rather a vain and odd looking fellow. It was only now, now that he’d seen this man and smelt his company of Yorkshire terriers that Rick decided that he’d had his fill, too bad that he was going to walk out half way through the performance, he made his excuses and stood up, Endo San, who had been sat cross legged while staring with a oily liquidity at Rick, suddenly leapt up too, forgetting the importance of a gentleman not raising too soon or too suddenly; his hunger for cash and his fear that it might escape from his clutches had forced him up to try to hang onto this departing meal. He smiled an oily lopsided smile that made his monocle pop out and swing around his stomach.
“I say!” he said, “why don’t we have a drink of this fine wine.”
Rick looked at the bottle and smiled.
“I’m afraid not.”
“Why not? You cannot refuse a drink!”
“Because it is from last year’s vintage.”
“And it was a very good year. An excellent year in fact so what is the problem?” The man eyed him sternly as if to break him with his gaze, “it is the best wine you have ever seen, it is very very rare and very expensive, it is not everyday that a young man like yourself can enjoy such an experience I am sure. You are honoured!”
“Maybe but I cannot drink it.”
“Well you are a little foolish I think, perhaps you do not like drinking, I am surprised because I see many of you English and they like to drink very much, too much I think. This is the finest wine, but there are always some people who do not know how to appreciate something so good; that is life but I am glad that I at least know how to enjoy it.” He uncorked the wine, poured himself a glass and drank it noisily and with a great deal of affectation, making swilling and slurping noises in his mouth.
“It is a very fine wine.” He added after finishing his glass.
“Well that’s the problem, it is too fine!” Rick said coolly as he made for the
door, “It is very nice wine but not now, now it will be bitter sour and impenetrable
because it is far too young. Only a fool or a drunkard would drink such green wine, no matter how fine it is.”
As Rick left to the sound of the yapping dogs, the man’s face fell, he had lost the meal and had been shamed by a scruffy looking Gaijin backpacker.
Tanaka San turned to Endo San when the young Gaijin was gone,
“I have heard about red wine and white wine but I have never heard about green wine, I think that Gaijin is crazy.”
Endo San smiled indulgently to himself, then laughed; he had learnt something: the green wine thing, he thought to himself how he would use this to fool some of his less au courant acquaintances at his next dinner party. How he would laugh at them, as he now laughed at the man in paint covered overalls.