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Authors: Ichiro Kawasaki

Alien Rice; A Novel.

BOOK: Alien Rice; A Novel.
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Alien Rice

The japanese Are Like That (1955)
japan Unmasked (1968)

Alien Rice

A novel by


Rutland, Vermont & Tokyo, Japan


For Continental Europe:

For the British Isles:

For Australasia:

For Canada:

Published by the Charles E. Tuttle Company Inc.
of Rutland, Vermont & Tokyo, Japan
with editorial offices at
Osaki Shinagawa-ku,
Tokyo 141-0032

© 1973 by Charles E. Tuttle Co., Inc.

All rights reserved

Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 72-96775
ISBN: 978-1-4629-1155-4 (ebook)

First printing, 1973

Printed in Japan

And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee,
or to return from following after thee:
for whither thou goest, I will go;
and where thou lodgest, I will lodge:
thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.

—The Book of Ruth, 1:16

The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
. . .

—Keats, "Ode to a Nightingale"

Note: All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.


The medium-sized hall of the Savoy Hotel was filled. Over two hundred British and Japanese guests had assembled to congratulate Saburo Tanaka and his bride, nee Alice Burns, who had been married in St. Alban's Church, Queensgate, London, a few hours before.

At the entrance of the hall stood Hachiro Takahashi, London manager of the Tozai Trading Company of Japan, and his kimono-clad wife; Mr. and Mrs. James C. Burns of Glasgow, the bride's parents; Shigeru Goto, the best man and a colleague of Saburo's, and Mrs. Goto—these three couples formed the receiving line.

It was a memorable occasion as far as the London office of Tozai Trading was concerned and was no doubt a great event in the recent history of the Japanese community, for such Anglo-Japanese weddings were few and far between. The guests comprised British agents and clients of Tozai and senior British and Japanese employees of the firm, as well as leading figures of the Japanese community in London.

True to Japanese traditions of lavish entertainment, champagne flowed freely; generous quantities of caviar and other delicacies were also served without stint. For Manager Takahashi had decided to make this wedding reception for his subordinate Saburo Tanaka and Takahashi's private secretary, the former Miss Burns, an occasion to enhance the prestige of his firm. He had therefore offered to defray the expenses out of the special expense account of his office.

Saburo Tanaka had been with the London office of the Tozai Trading Company, one of Japan's foremost trading combines, for the last year. He was thirty-four years old, and had been with the trading company ever since his graduation from Tokyo University of Commerce ten years before. He was a serious and hard-working man. Physically he was perhaps more Japanese than the average Japanese, with prominent cheekbones, a protruding jaw, and a swarthy complection. Besides, he was short and not particularly handsome.

Alice Burns had also been working in the London office of the Tozai Trading Company as a local employee. Alice had applied for the job of secretary to the manager of the Japanese company two years before, answering an advertisement in the
London Daily Mail.
When employed, she worked for one year as secretary to the manager, a Mr. Tsunoda, and when Mr. Takahashi came from Tokyo to succeed Mr. Tsunoda, Alice continued as private secretary to the manager.

Three months previous to the Savoy Hotel reception, when Saburo Tanaka broke the news of his engagement, Manager Takahashi was taken completely by surprise.

"You're marrying Alice?" he asked, dubious and stupefied. For he had never imagined that Tanaka would marry a foreign girl, let alone Alice, of all women.

"Yes, sir. I fell in love with Alice and we both have decided to marry," Saburo replied, a little bashfully.

"You know, Tanaka, marrying a Western woman entails heavy responsibility. Such a marriage may inflict considerable hardships on you, both socially and financially, especially when you go back to Japan. Have you thought about that?"

"Yes, sir. I realize that it won't be easy to live comfortably with an Occidental woman on my paltry salary in Japan, but I think both Alice and I can somehow manage. Besides, Alice has already got the consent of her parents. As for my parents, sir, I've written to ask for their understanding and they are saying the same things you have just told me. But I'm certain they will accede to my wishes in the end," Saburo said.

The sudden announcement of Saburo's marriage to Takahashi's own secretary was indeed a bolt from the blue.

"This reminds me of a Japanese saying:
Todai-moto kurashi,
'the beacon light does not shine at the lighthouse base.' Or 'one who should know best does not,'" the manager mused to himself. He had had no inkling of what was to come, partly because his London staff was fairly large-there were fifty-odd Japanese officers and over two hundred British employees-and also because there was little mingling between British and Japanese outside the office, so rumors of a romance such as Tanaka's would spread slowly.

The manager's ignorance was also due in part to the social hierarchy peculiar to Japan, strictly maintained even in the London office, whereby the manager was very much "a person above the clouds," in Japanese parlance.

"As you know, Tanaka, company regulations state that you must obtain approval before marrying a foreigner. You may live a fairly comfortable life as long as you are posted abroad because of the overseas allowances. But once you get back to Japan, you know very well what to expect in the matter of food and housing. There is also the problem of a foreign wife clashing with Japanese in-laws," Mr. Takahashi continued.

"Besides, you may be happy while you are young, but everybody grows old, and in old age you may wish to eat
while a Western wife will insist on eating greasy roast beef. Disagreement may prove fatal to your marriage. I've known many cases of East-West marriage which ended in failure. There was the case of Mr. and Mrs. Tagawa of our company, some years ago. Mrs. Tagawa, an English woman, deserted her husband the moment he retired from the firm, and went back to England for good with their daughter. I'm advising you against the proposed marriage out of consideration for your future advancement and also for your own happiness."

Takahashi knew he could not veto Saburo's decision, but at least he tried to dissuade his subordinate from marrying a foreigner.

"Think it over for a few days more and you can come back to me again."

Alice Burns could never forget the day she started to work in the Japanese office four years before. She was assigned to Mr. Tsunoda, the former manager, but her duties were never strictly defined. Tsunoda was in his middle fifties, reserved and kindhearted and always diffident to Alice. He was very polite, even overpolite to her, and would say, for instance, "Miss Burns, would you be so good as to ring up Burlington Golf Club and reserve starting-time for a round of golf?"

At first Alice had considerable difficulty in understanding Tsunoda, for his English was very weak and he spoke in a low-pitched voice with no intonation. Sometimes she was exasperated at the slowness of the manager's speech, but in time she got used to it. Alice also had difficulty in understanding incoming telephone calls, for many of the calls were from other Japanese in London. In particular, she was baffled at the Japanese "Yes" which in many cases meant "No," and vice versa.

Alice handled the manager's telephone calls and was in charge of his correspondence in English. But oftentimes Japanese members of the office dropped by at her desk to discuss certain personal matters. One young Japanese, rather fluent in English and newly arrived in London, came in to ask Alice if she knew a suitable English conversation teacher for his wife. Another Japanese, apparently a bachelor, popped in to ask her if she knew an English family who would take him as a paying guest.

Though Alice was supposed to be responsible for the manager's appointments, she was evidently not completely in charge of them; the manager only wanted her to make appointments with Britishers and other foreigners, and often he himself made conflicting appointments with members of the Japanese community. Once, when she complained to Tsunoda about it, he apologized profusely and promised to be careful in the future. She was surprised at the meek attitude of the manager, which reminded her of a small boy being scolded by his school-mistress.

Also, Mr. Tsunoda kept very irregular hours, especially in the evening. He would stay in his office long after 5
., the closing hour. When she complained about it, Tsunoda said that she, being a British employee, could leave at the official quitting time. What the manager did after office hours she had no means of knowing, but it was said that he and his Japanese staff members often held meetings, or cleared letters and cables until close to midnight.

Soon after she joined Tozai, Alice had a talk with John Talbot, a British employee who had worked for eighteen years with the firm and was then assistant export manager. When Alice complained about the odd manners of the Japanese, Talbot merely told her to be patient and philosophical.

"Working for a Japanese firm has its redeeming features," John said. "That's why I stayed with them for seventeen years before the war, and came back again last year, when Tozai reopened its branch office here.

"The Japanese are extremely easygoing with us Britishers, as they suffer from a considerable inferiority complex toward us white people," John confided.

"During the years I've been with Tozai, I've come across many instances of a Japanese employer kowtowing to a British employee. There was a manager some time ago who used to call Jack Huckstep, the manager's driver, by his family name. 'Mr. Huckstep, please drive me to such and such a place,' he would entreat. We all chuckled but you soon get used to all these things, you know."

"But I can never get used to the ill-defined sphere of my duties, Mr. Talbot. I've been so exasperated that I'm thinking of quitting this place," Alice said seriously.

"You are free to go, but I must tell you one thing," Talbot replied. "The Japanese are not only very easygoing with us, but extremely generous. Because of their peculiar lifelong employment system, you get a pay raise every two years almost automatically. Do you know, Alice, you'll get the thirteenth month's pay as a bonus if you work one full year?

"Also, our Japanese bosses come and go. They seldom stay more than three or four years. Then they are promoted to directorships in Tokyo and off they go. If your boss is not a nice fellow, just put up with him for three years and you may have a more pleasant one the next time."

Alice later found out that most British staff members shared Talbot's point of view.

One afternoon Saburo Tanaka dropped in at Alice's office and engaged her in a rather lengthy conversation, as the manager happened to be away that day. Saburo had a fairly good command of English and told her of many things-his duties in the company, his upbringing and his aspirations. Apparently such private chats during office hours were condoned in Japanese business firms as a form of relaxation, especially since the Japanese would stay on late into the evening to finish the day's work.

Saburo was not much to look at, but by that time Alice was used to the physiognomy of the Japanese, as well as their faulty English. Alice found in Saburo something which attracted her-she did not know why. His brown eyes, though small, were piercing and bespoke kindness and intelligence. His rather dark skin, which was in contrast to her rosy white, was more brown than yellow. It was smooth and entirely devoid of hair, which made Alice wonder whether perhaps Saburo's whole body was hairless, apart from the jet black hair on his head and eyebrows. At least she was curious.

Thereafter, Saburo began to drop by at Alice's office regularly, on one pretext or another. Once he asked Alice if she knew a good restaurant in London where there was dance music. She mentioned Quaglino's in Piccadilly. Next time he saw her, Saburo mustered his courage to ask Alice if she cared to dine with him at the restaurant she had recommended.

She had never in her life dined at Quaglino's or any such posh place, and was intrigued by Saburo's generous invitation. But then Alice had a second thought. What if she were to be seen by somebody she knew? Saburo was short and dark and typically Oriental. Alice was tall, much taller than Saburo, and as shapely as any Caucasian could be. Above all, she was afraid of dancing with this diminutive Japanese on the floor of Quaglino's. She and Saburo would certainly be the object of much attention. The couple might cut a very comic figure in public. Thus Alice was torn between her desire to dine at Quaglino's and her fear of being seen with Saburo. After a momentary hesitation she accepted the invitation.

Alice was nervous the evening Saburo took her out. She wore her best dress and costume jewelry and Saburo was in his best blue-serge lounge suit. Although guests were not required to wear black tie that evening, most people were well dressed, befitting the standard of that famous restaurant. Alice felt somewhat shabby in comparison and was awkward in her behavior. She remembered that she was just the twenty-eight-year-old daughter of a Clyde Bank shipbuilding welder from Glasgow. She had three brothers and a sister, and her family could hardly be considered even middle-class. After finishing high school, she came to London and worked as a salesgirl in a department store and then a haberdashery before she responded to the advertisement of the Japanese trading firm. Hence she had never frequented any better eating-place than J. Lyons's, Wimpy's or other such popular restaurants.

That evening she was in Quaglino's as the guest of her colleague, Saburo Tanaka, but she was not quite at home in his company. Saburo, on his part, was also somewhat uneasy, not because he had never been to such a place-for he had wined and dined, at his company's expense, at many luxurious restaurants in both London and Tokyo-but because, for the first time, he was taking out an English girl who was physically superior and attractive.

When a waiter in tail coat came to take their order, Saburo asked Alice what she liked to eat. She was not much of a connoisseur of the French food for which Quaglino's was famous; in fact, she could not tell Bouillabaisse from Vichysoisse.

"I like any plain English dishes," she replied somewhat awkwardly.

"Smoked salmon is the speciality of the house, and if you prefer English cooking you could order roast beef with Yorkshire pudding," Saburo suggested. Alice readily agreed.

BOOK: Alien Rice; A Novel.
6.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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