Gaijin

Peter Tasker

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Ian Buruma. Photo: Courtesy of the author and Penguin Press.

A Tokyo Romance
Ian Buruma
Penguin Press: 2018
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The past, as they say, is a foreign country. Certainly, Japan in the 1970s was a very different place from Japan in 2018. I was there for the tail end of the decade, a callow youth stuck in a non-air-conditioned, four-and-a-half-tatami mat (7.4 m²) room in the badlands between south Osaka and fume-spewing Sakai City.

Unlike Ian Buruma, I did not rub shoulders with world-famous movie directors, charismatic female poets or highly cultivated gay expatriates in exile from their puritanical homelands. The other occupants of the dormitory were young Japanese salarymen who worked like demons but also drank, smoked and caroused like demons too.

I also was a beneficiary of white privilege. In recognition of my status as the sole foreigner in residence, every day I was provided with a “western” breakfast of a cold fried egg perched on a mini Mount Fuji of chopped raw cabbage.

We shared a communal bath that could hold five bodies. The doors were closed at midnight — a restriction easily circumvented by clambering through a first-floor window that was helpfully left open.

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