Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
14F Kioicho Bldg.,
3-12 Kioicho, Chiyoda-ku,
When I came to Japan Emperor Showa had just died. Prime Minister Noburo Takeshita had just resigned and Chiyonofuji was the reigning sumo Yokozuna under challenge from the behemoth Konishiki. Tsutomu Miyazaki was murdering little girls, Odaiba was still under development, Shunichi Suzuki was still the Governor of Tokyo, and the new Tokyo City Hall in West Shinjuku was under construction. Ikebukuro’s Sunshine 60 building was then still the tallest building in the land. Takako Doi, rising to the zenith of her career, was a symbol of the “ona no jidai.” The blue-hued ¥500 notes that were discontinued in the late-1980s were in their final months of circulation, and vending machines still accepted them as they were retooled for the ¥500 coin. Since then I have seen several generations of vending machines and electronic station ticket gates, each one an incremental advance over its precursor. Similarly, the famous Japanese bullet trains have undergone several generations of advanced models.
Rie Miyazawa scandalized people with her fine art nude photo book, “Santa Fe.” (I own two copies of it.)
The Oedo Line subway in the capital didn’t exist yet. Not by that name, anyway. While it was under construction it was called the “Number 12 Line.” It was christened “Oedo Line” by Governor Shintaro Ishihara. I never liked that name. Better to call it simply the “Edo Line.”
I don’t recall ever seeing a station platform safety gate or barrier in those days. It took a terrible accident at Shin-Okubo Station on the Yamanote Line in Tokyo, in which two Korean men were killed by an oncoming train while trying to rescue a Japanese drunk from the tracks, for train companies to get with the safety program and start a vigorous safety gate campaign.
“Tachi-shoben,” public urination, was still fairly common. I haven’t seen that in a long time. The same is true of spitting in public. Gobs of spit everywhere really irked me in those early years. Most of all was the work place smoking. I used to work in an office that featured a blue cloud of tobacco smoke hovering overheard. I bought a charcoal filter gas mask and made no secret about wearing it at my desk.
The Internet, Google, Yahoo, Amazon, Starbucks, cell phones, digital cameras and e-mail didn’t exist yet. High school girls were enamored of “pokeberu” pagers, and they wore “loose socks.” Without a choice of international supermarkets, many foreigners here relied on care packages from home, or else the Foreign Buyers Club in Kobe. Christmas decorations were available then, but Halloween was not yet a thing. In Harajuku, Takeshita-dori was only half the story. In those days Inokashira-dori was closed to traffic every Sunday so that electric bands could take over the street. I took thousands of photographs.
There has been a revolution in banking since then. When I arrived, ATMs were isolated inside banks. After 3:00 p.m. they were not accessible when the banks closed. There were no ATMs in convenience stores, department stores and stations. 24-hour access to money didn’t exist. And, ATMs did not accept foreign credit cards, bank cards or debit cards like many of them do now. Unfortunately, I got caught a couple of weekends with no money and had to spend my days at home with no food, drinking water, waiting for the banks to open on Monday morning.
Those were the days!
Published as "Looking back on the good, and not so good days" online and as "Those were the good old days - or were they?" in the print edition on Sunday, December 23, 2018.