The World of Shig Sato: Food in Japan

A reader discovering the world of Shig Sato will soon learn that food becomes in interesting side character – Miki’s breakfast of miso soup and rice, Abe’s early life growing up in a ramen shop, Ses Fujimori’s love of okonomiyaki, Shig’s lunchtime katsudon, even Mos Hishida’s nickname, a result of his steady diet of Japanese-style hamburgers. Any reader not familiar with Japanese cuisine might wonder at it all. In truth, the food of Japan is as simple as it is varied.

The simple: fish and rice. But is that really all there is? It doesn’t begin to encompass the world of sushi, much less the whole of Japanese cuisine. The popular Japan Talk website lists 100 types of sushi. Notice that fish, vegetables, eggs, meat – it’s all included. Sushi, sashimi, makiit can take minutes to prepare, a lifetime to master.sushi

The importance of rice in Japanese culture cannot be overstated. The language uses the word gohan for “meal” as well as “cooked rice.” Gohan is a part of each word signifying breakfast, lunch and supper. In feudal times, wealth was measured how much rice one possessed and peasants were keenly appreciative of a payment in rice for their labor – coins were no good to them when they had to eat. Japan’s propensity for natural disasters, and it’s involvement in war, often led to a scarcity of food. Rice stockpiles were worth fighting for.

As an nation comprised of many islands large and small, a reader would be right in thinking that all types of seafood is a part of the Japanese cuisine, from the common tuna to the exotic –  pufferfish, anyone?

What many Western readers of the Shig Sato series may not realize is that farming – livestock, grain, vegetable, fruit, any combination and variety – can be found in most of the nation’s 47 prefectures. Almost any grocery store or market will have fresh local produce, seasonal fruit, cuts of meat and poultry, and packaged foods like curry mixes and spices. (When my in-laws came to visit from Canada, flour and vanilla were found and donuts were produced in an afternoon!)

One may not think of baked goods when thinking of Japanese cuisine, yet the tasty sweets and snacks appeal to young and old. And it doesn’t take much to find pan – bread – and some have even embraced the staple, when it’s made with rice flour.bakedgoodies

The varied: Being an international city, Tokyo is home to an array of dining experiences any world traveler would appreciate. Michelin stars are not unknown in the city. Gourmets and foodies alike can find were the finest food is served, and also the stores that sell the products for those daring and talented enough to create at home.

Regional specialties abound. I’ll conclude with this list of a prefecture’s favorite dish. See if you don’t recognize some, and have probably eaten some others (and some not!).

Hokkaido – Grilled mutten

Aomori – Sea urchin and abalone

Miyagi – Oysters

Yamagata – Potato stewsweetpotatoes

Fukushima – Pickled herring

Ishikawa – Turnip sushi

Gifu – Potatoes with sweet chestnuts

Nagano – Buckwheat dumplings

Aichi – Deep fried chicken wings

Tochigi – Giyouza (potsticker) dumplings

Chiba – Steamed peanuts

Kanagawa – Curry

Mie – Lobster

Shiga – Duck hot pot

Osaka – Okonomiyaki

Hyogo – Kobe’s famous beer-fed beefkobebeef

Tottori – Snow crab

Tokushima – Buckwheat porridge

Nagasaki – Sasebo burger (thanks to the navy base there)

Kukamoto – Sliced horsemeat

Miyazaki – Kyushu-style fried chicken

Okinawa – Fried pork belly

To get a copy of  The Gangster’s Son click here . To get a copy of  Shig Sato Book 2 The Thief’s Mistake click here — and don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter and enter the World of Shig Sato. 

The World of Shig Sato

Do you remember where you were in 1991? Some of you do, of course, and some of you don’t. And one of the great thrills of reading is being taken to a time and place you may never have been: Paris, 1870; Dublin, 1904; Rome, 30 A.D.; A galaxy far far away — stories take us to memorable places with people and creatures that entertain us for hours.

In the Shig Sato Mystery series, the reader enters the world of Tokyo, 1991. A world capital, a center for government, entertainment, industry, diplomacy, a cavalcade of characters from the world over stepped onto the shores of the Land of the Rising Sun. It was a time of Japan Inc., riding an economic boom, the nation making its mark as an industrial leader. A city and a nation with a new emperor, a new vision for the future.

japan_imperial_palace_217304The world of Shig Sato was unique: a long-serving, highly respected police inspector, Sato returned to Azabu Police Station after two years of diplomatic security detail and security assignments for the Imperial Household Agency. Sato’s world was heart of Tokyo – the Imperial Palace, Roppongi, the embassy districts, and Sato knows every inch of it.

Roppongi: served by Sato’s beloved Azabu Police Station, isn’t so different now than it was in 1991. And Sato knew that among many of the foreigners out for a good time in that nightclub district were American servicemen, including some stationed with the U.S. Navy and Marine forces in Yokosuka, 37 miles down the coast. In the Shig Sato mystery The Gangster’s Son, Kimi Yamada’s beloved Cpl. Charlie Parker Jones is a Marine stationed on a American ship at the Navy base.

Sato’s return to Azabu Police station, the murder of Kimi Yamada, and his journey to finding the truth about her killer and himself make The Gangster’s Son “A highly readable murder novel with authentic Japanese flavor and a fresh, intelligent plot,” “Unique,” “Gritty. ”

Next time: Tokyo Inc.

To get a copy of my ebook mystery The Gangster’s Son click here and The Thief’s Mistake click here.  And you’re invited to keep up with the latest Shig news by signing up for my monthly newsletter.  See you soon!

The World of Shig Sato: Women and Medicine in Japan

In the world of Shig Sato in 1991, our hero is dealing with the loss of his beloved police career due to forced retirement at age 60, But more importantly, he is mourning the death of his beloved wife, Miki, a physician who specialized in gerontology. Shig and Miki’s love was built on mutual respect, admiration, and dedication to serving others. Miki’s desire to become a doctor was born in the war years of the 1940s when as a young teen she helped out her uncle, a doctor, and aunt, a nurse, caring for wounded in the aftermath of the air raids in Nagoya and surrounding areas in her home prefecture of Aichi.Ginko Ogino

But was it a realistic goal for a young woman in the 1940s? Perhaps. The story of women in medicine Japan dates back as far as the ancient healers and midwives. Changes to modern Japan came after it opened itself to the West in the 1850s – the modern world came to Japan’s shores. This led to opportunities for determined women.  Ginko Ogino (pictured) was the first licensed and practicing woman physician in Japan in the 1880s, practicing obstetrics and gynecology. Kei Okama was the first Japanese woman to earn a degree in Western medicine, having studied at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania while she and her husband were in the United States. She graduated in 1889 and upon her return to Japan she worked at the Jikei University School of Medicine hospital and opened her own clinic. Like Ogino, Okama was married to a Japanese Christian.

Educational opportunities for women expanded in postwar Japan, but old traditions die hard. A young woman with intelligence, determination and drive faced a daunting academic and practical education in order to be a practicing physician. Prevailing misogynistic attitudes were always a challenge to overcome. And family pressures to marry and have children prevailed. Perhaps Miki Sato was born at the right time – when she began her medical studies in the early 1950s, fewer barriers existed than during the time of Ogino and Okama. Perhaps she met the right man: Shig Sato came from a family of strong women he respected and admired. Still, the economic boom that helped lead Japan to the join Western democracies was still decades away. Miki, and her country, were finding their way in the modern world.

To get a copy of  The Gangster’s Son click here . To get a copy of  Shig Sato Book 2 The Thief’s Mistake visit my Smashwords page or Kindle page or visit my website www.josephmarkbrewer.com — and don’t forget to sign up for my monthly newsletter.  See you soon!

The World of Shig Sato: Ses Fujimori and the yakuza

Yakuza.

In some countries it’s called tong, triad, mafia, la cosa nostra — in Japan it’s yakuza. Organized crime. As an institution, it is a part of the fabric of Japanese life. For an individual, yakuza means many things: outcast, criminal, brother, compatriot.

But what is yakuza? Our hero Shig Sato’s closest childhood friend is Ses Fujimori, boss of a powerful yakuza clan, a position not just inherited from his father, Key Fujimori, but earned by Ses’s ruthlessness and business acumen. The Japanese police, and media by request of the police, call yakuza “bōryokudan” – violence groups – degenerate, violent gangsters with no sense of tradition or honor. Yakuza consider this an insult. They refer to themselves as “ninkyō dantai” – chivalrous organizations. Members often have elaborate tattoos, sometimes covering most of their body.yak

These organizations – often called clans, or families – in the Tokyo of 1991 view themselves much as Ses Fujimori does in the fictitious Shig Sato mysteries: legitimate businesses and charitable organizations, motivated by nothing but concern for the public good. The yakuza response to the 2011 tsunami and the 1995 Kobe earthquake are well documented. But so are the criminal aspects: Extortion, loan-sharking, day-labor contracting, drug-trafficking and blackmail all fall under the various clans’ control. It is gambling that is at the root of yakuza – the name comes from the worst hand possible in a card game (a reflection of the low opinion society views the men and the organizations).

Some say yakuza dates back to the 17th century and ronin – masterless samurai. Authorities knew roving bands of the “kabuki-mono” – crazy ones – were troublesome and were intensely loyal to one another. Some say the men viewed themselves as honorable, Robin Hood-like characters who protected towns and citizens. These gangs of men, among them some gamblers and some peddlers, gradually organized into clans, or families, adopting roles of  leader/father and follower/child. Gambling, prostitution – legal and sometimes encouraged from time to time by the government of the day – were businesses the yakuza controlled. In the Shig Sato series, gambling is the activity that built the Fujimori empire, from its humble beginnings in Kawasaki in the late 1800s to its nearly untouchable status as a quasi-legitimate business empire 100 years later.

Shig Sato’s  sense of giri – obligation – is central to who he is. This includes honoring his relationship with yakuza kingpins Key and Ses Fujimori. And Sato must reckon with this situation as he begins his new life as a reluctant P.I.

Next time: Miki Sato and women in medicine in Japan

To get a copy of  The Gangster’s Son click here . To get a copy of  Shig Sato Book 2 The Thief’s Mistake visit my Smashwords page or Kindle page or visit my website www.josephmarkbrewer.com — and don’t forget to sign up for my monthly newsletter.  See you soon!

The World of Shig Sato: Japan Inc.

Tokyo, 1991.

Our hero Shig Sato suffers a double whammy that summer. When he closes the file on the murder of Kimi Yamada, he never returns to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department. He accepts his forced retirement, but that is an afterthought as he tends to his beloved wife Miki during her final days. Her death and his retirement wounds Sato in ways he has yet to work out as Book 2, The Thief’s Mistake, begins.

And for Japan: 1991 is the beginning of the end of the Bubble Economy. Before long, the country will change from high times to The Lost Decade.

What happened? It helps to know a little something about Japan Inc.

Japan Inc.

Tokyo-picsIt’s no secret that Japanese business and government work hand-in-hand to help bring prosperity to the island nation, especially back during the post-war recovery years. The Ministry of Finance, which sets monetary police and indirectly controls the Bank of Japan, and the (then) Ministry of Industrial Trade and Industry, are key partners. Chief among the business organizations is the Keidanren.

Monetary policy going back to 1985 set in motion land speculation, and the Nikkei stock market soared – from 13,000 in late 1985 to a historic high of 38,957 in late 1989. But within a year, the stock market lost 35% of its value, land prices stagnated, and a strong yen and tight money controls became the norm. Political scandals rocked the long-established political elite, and a new generation of business and social leaders demanded to be heard. In the years to come, what the world knows as Japan Inc. lost much of its luster.

As the Shig Sato series begins, forty-plus years after the end of WWII, Japan has a new emperor and the nation has a new vision of the future. But change is an awesome thing. For some, prosperity ended and their lives shifted to uncertainty. For Shig Sato, will his new life as a reluctant P.I. match the lost decade to come?

Next time: Ses Fujimoiri and the yakuza

To get a copy of  The Gangster’s Son click here . To get a copy of  Shig Sato Book 2 The Thief’s Mistake visit my Smashwords page or Kindle page or visit my website  www.josephmarkbrewer.com — and don’t forget to sign up for my monthly newsletter.  See you soon!

 

Shig visits Miki – an excerpt from The Gangster’s Son

Detective Endo was surprised to learn that behind the wheel of a patrol car, Inspector Sato drove like a Formula 1 driver and that the streets of Tokyo were his particular racetrack. Never had Endo clenched his stomach muscles so tightly, nor gripped a dashboard so severely, as he did while Sato sped through early morning traffic, leaving Meguro and heading north on Yamate-dori to Shinjuku.FINIFN

“Inspector?” Endo finally managed to say.

“I want to look in on my wife for a few minutes.” Sato said, his eyes fixed on the street. “You don’t mind, do you?”

“No.”

“Good.”

In an unending series of turns, Sato kept his eyes on the road but his mind was on his wife, Miki. Before the strokes that had left her an invalid, she was a physician specializing in gerontology, working with wealthy and indigent alike, author or co-author of dozens of studies on the effects of aging, works esteemed by the Ministry of Health. Now she was the patient, with heart and lung and blood pressure issues that confined her to bed.

Sato loved his wife and loved her spirit. It was Miki who knew that her Shig needed to go back to criminal investigation after working diplomatic security for so long, to get back to a true sense of himself. She knew he was reluctant to return to Azabu for his last month with the department despite wanting it so badly, because it meant far more hours away from her.

Miki Sato smiled her weak, sweet smile and said, “Shigeru Sato, just do your best. Now go.”

And he did.

Sato sped past Okubo train station and then down another busy street until he turned again and abruptly stopped. Endo saw a modest two-story home with cheerful flowers in pots lined up next to the front door. Sato said, “I won’t be a minute.”

Before Endo could reply, Sato was out of the car and in the house.

His wife’s nurse was awake and in the kitchen off to the side of the front of the house, and watched Sato slip through the doors of his home.

“You’re easier to read than the newspapers,” Mai Sakamoto said to herself as she smiled, bowed, and said “good morning” as Sato quietly kicked off his shoes, stepped into the kitchen, said hello, and took the small breakfast tray she had just prepared.

Sakamoto knew Sato would take it to his wife. She knew Sato ate every meal he could with his wife, if only to encourage her to take some nourishment. Her heart melted at such devotion.

Sakamoto was at that indeterminable age – anywhere between 30 and 50, and nothing about her hair, skin, eyes, lips, chin, neck, posture, poise, or personality betrayed her. She and Miki Sato were friends and colleagues of many years, despite Miki being a doctor and Sakamoto a nurse. There were few doctors Sakamoto respected more than Miki Sato. But what Sakamoto particularly liked about Miki was her easygoing personality, one that made everyone feel warm and welcome. It never crossed Sakamoto’s mind not to help her friend during her illness.

Sakamoto knew the Satos loved each other deeply, and sometimes acted as if they were still honeymooners. She had been sure the inspector would look in sometime Saturday morning, even at such an early hour.

Sakamoto left her patient in the care of her husband, walked to the front door, and slid it open. Endo got out of the car, stood, and bowed slightly.

After exchanging their “Good mornings,” Sakamoto asked, “Would you care for some tea?”

Endo again bowed slightly and said, “No thank you, I’m fine.”

“Has it been a busy night?”

“It’s been quite busy, yes. A waitress was killed in Roppongi. A college student.”

“Oh, poor girl.”

“We’ll get to the bottom of it.”

Sakamoto smiled at Endo’s earnestness. “Oh, I’m sure of it,” she said, and slid the door closed.

Sakamoto turned on the small radio in the kitchen where the volume was set low. She searched for the news, which she found right away: “Police say a girl found dead in Roppongi Hills last night may have been the victim of a brutal beating.”

Sakamoto listened to a few more details about Kimi Yamada’s short life, knowing this was Inspector Sato’s case. She wondered if the inspector had heard the report in the next room.

“You all right?” Shig Sato asked his wife as he sat next to her with the breakfast tray.

“I’m fine.” Miki had been up for an hour, watching the morning light move across the room, listening to Sakamoto’s domestic rustling. Her words were slow to form.

“I slept well,” Miki managed to say, stretching, turning to her side, but smiling at her husband. “It’s so early.”

“Are you hungry?”

“A little.”

“Here, take some soup,” Sato said.

Miki always found his look of concern touching. “Rice and tea, thank you. You take the miso.”

“Fine,” Sato said. He managed to slurp down the bowl, and some soup remained on the corner of his mouth. Miki tried to reach up to wipe it away. Sato helped her.

He could not keep his eyes off her. He worried about her getting her rest. Pale, impossibly thin, wrapped in a soft cotton yukata, he knew she had difficulty finding a comfortable pose for sleeping. By noon, it would be too hot and humid for sleep.

“Who did you leave out front this time?” Miki asked.

“Endo. He’s new. We just finished with a witness. I wanted to stop by before going back.”

“Going well?”

“As well as can be expected,’ Sato said. “Some pieces fit, some don’t. Have you gotten any rest?”

“I feel fine.”

It was true. Miki had managed to sleep well during the night, and seeing her husband lifted her spirits. Miki could see that her husband’s eyes were tired, but he had that energy that only came from working on a case. She did so enjoy seeing it. Miki knew her husband and knew his sense of duty, but she also knew his devotion to her and their marriage. She was never surprised, morning, afternoon or evening, when he took time out of his day to stop by.

She was thinking about it just before he arrived. He’d often shout, “I’m home.”

“That you, darling?” she would say.

“Where are you?” he would ask.

“The back.”

“The back” was a small yard, no more than two yards by four yards, but it held flower boxes and her father’s two juniper bonsai. Shig laid in the stonework himself. It was her favorite spot.

Shig would peer out the back door to gaze at her, and liked what he saw: a slim woman with natural grace, a ready smile, short dark hair with just the beginning of gray. In June, she’d be dressed in her gardening outfit: Bermuda shorts, a plain white blouse, and a navy blue cardigan. She often sat in the back and read. He would come to the back and they would talk. It was never a long interlude, but it was something he knew would brighten her day, and make their long spells apart bearable.

Even before her strokes, Miki Sato knew her angina was serious. Her cardiologist said it was plain arterial deterioration. She knew it ran in her family. But the spasms, frightening spasms that called for quick action — as she got older, she cut back on her practice simply to rest. Shig worried then, and after the strokes, became more of a nursemaid than Miki was prepared for, but knew it came out of love. Miki treasured her husband’s concern for her.

That Saturday morning, Miki Sato could tell something was on her husband’s mind.

“Shigeru, what is it?”

He sighed. “Did I do the right thing, asking to go back to Azabu?”

“Of course.”

“I could retire now, if I wanted to. I could go fishing,” he said.

“Yes, you haven’t been in some time. You could go fishing, and then you would be bored with it. You go fishing to unwind, not kill time.”

Sato said nothing, his apprehension still in midair.

“Well,” Sato finally said, and Miki knew it was time for him to leave.

“Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. Go.” Miki tried to read her husband’s mood, which was difficult when he had a case.

Sato smiled. “Will you be all right?”

“Mai said she can stay today but has to leave for a while this evening. She can stay tonight if we need her.”

But Sato could see that her breathing was labored. He hated having to say “I have to go,” but he did, and got onto his feet as boyishly as a man of 60 could manage.

Miki smiled. “I’ll be here,” she said.

“I’ll be back,” he said, the silent promise in his voice reassuring her.

Slipping past Sakamoto and preparing to leave, he looked up at the nurse. He could have asked how his wife was, but he already knew the answer, and wanted to spare Sakamoto from saying things he did not want said aloud anyway. Instead, Sato said a sincere “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Inspector.”

Sakamoto followed Sato outside after he slid open the door. She watched as he stepped over to the patrol car, got behind the wheel, gunned the engine a little, and drove off. She watched the patrol car as it reached the end of the lane and abruptly turned right, and disappeared.

She then returned to her patient.

To order The Gangster’s Son, click here.

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The Reluctant P.I.

(Another chapter from The Thief’s Mistake, Book 2 in the the Shig Sato Mystery series, available in ebook soon.)

clip6265Shig Sato was lost, and nearly ready to admit it. He had followed Ken Abe’s directions to his new office – three blocks south from the Akasaka-mitsuke subway station, right, and walk another block, where he would approach an intersection with a coffee shop at the bottom of a white office building five stories high. At another corner, a bank; another, an electronics equipment sales outlet with garish signs shouting bargains too good to be believed, and finally a real estate agent’s office with dozens of photos of properties of every type, size and price. It was quite a quartet that formed that intersection in Akasaka. Yes, he was in the right place. But what now?

The crossing light music brought Sato into the present. He became part of the hustling mob crossing the street, and before he knew it, he was standing in front of the coffee shop.

“Inspector?”

Sato turned toward the voice, feminine but low and tinged with too many cigarettes and too much sake. It was a middle-aged bar hostess’ voice, but the person attached to that rumble was plump, fair, pretty, and dressed in a subdued plum purple.

“I saw you from the coffee shop,” the woman said as she studied Sato with a look of apprehensive curiosity, then mild amusement, not trusting the beard or such casual clothing on so handsome a man – faded yellow sport shirt, rumpled khaki pants, and a round blue canvas hat. Mariko Suzuki had remembered Sato as a tall, commanding presence. Now, what she noticed was that he had the saddest eyes.

But she plowed ahead. “Good thing I was here this morning. I seldom stop in. But I saw Abe just now and he’s in his office. I think you’ll like it. He’s been there every day that I know of since starting the business, but you know he insisted your name should be on the door. I haven’t gotten a proper sign for outside yet but–”

Sato’s disadvantage produced a weak “Hello …?”

Then the woman realized Sato may not remember her. “I’m Mariko Suzuki. Abe’s friend.”

“Ah, Mrs. Suzuki,” and Sato then recalled meeting her five years before, at a coffee shop in the Ginza. He was there with his wife, Miki, stealing precious moments all to themselves before a social function he had no way of avoiding. Back then he was an Inspector in the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, and was summoned to the event by the department’s superintendent general. Saying “No, thank you,” was not an option.

But Ken Abe – at that time, he was a detective, and that lowly status enabled him to skip such boring soirees. When Abe spotted Sato from across the crowded dining room that evening, he approached Sato’s table to introduce Suzuki and remind Sato that he had tickets to a prize fight, knowing it would make Sato envious.

Standing on that street corner on that warm August morning, Sato gave Suzuki a small smile and said, “I remember the last time we met.”

“Oh, that awful boxing contest Abe wanted to go to,” Suzuki blurted out. “I don’t know about Abe sometimes. But I’m glad I saw you. I’m so sorry about your dear wife.”

Sato managed a nod while Suzuki forged ahead: “I bet you were looking for your office. Abe told me about the detective agency. I think it’s wonderful. You can count on me to send business your way. Well, you need to go to that door over there,” and Sato saw her point to a glass door just behind him to his right. “Just inside is a small lobby. It has two other offices, and a stairwell. You’re one floor up. I’m sorry I don’t have a sign on the outside of the building yet.”

Just as Sato’s hearing caught up to the woman’s verbal torrent, the intersection’s crossing light music caught her attention. “I have to go but please make yourself at home and good luck! Abe’s already up there.”

Sato watched Suzuki dash across the street as the last strains of the music blared from speakers above the intersection.

For much longer than he was aware, Sato stared at the door Suzuki had pointed at, as if memorizing its appearance. But he knew he was allowing his memory to capture the moment when one life ended, and another began.

It was a moment of dread.

“What a reluctant P.I. I am,” he muttered as he opened the heavy glass door. The white tile floor was buffed to a dull mat finish and he noticed grim along the baseboard in the corners, but the stairwell seemed clean, and Sato caught himself inspecting the tile for cracks as he slowly walked up the stairs, step by step. Sato opened the stairwell door that opened onto the second floor, and off to his right, five feet away, he saw a door, its top half inset with opaque glass and words declaring “Sato Private Investigation Service.”

So, what had started as a somewhat truthful answer to a seemingly benign question asked by the TMPD superintendent general was now a fact – Shig Sato was now a private investigator.

Sato sighed. “Reluctant, indeed.”

~

Ken Abe had not been so sure that his friend would show up that morning.

The day before, he skipped his search for an air-conditioned drinking establishment once he finished for the day, and instead took his ten-year-old Toyota Carina out of the towering parking garage near his home in Mita and drove the forty minutes it took to get to Shig Sato’s family home in Takatsu, Kawasaki, to bring his best friend and business partner back to Tokyo. Abe was not fond of driving, and did not know what he was going to say to Sato. He was not sure if he would want anyone bothering him if his wife had died so recently. But Abe had a problem: after Miki Sato’s funeral, his friend Shig left for Takatsu, leaving Abe to established the agency and put in the hours needed to get it off the ground. Not that he minded. He was glad to leave the department after Sato’s retirement. They had been partners off and on for nearly 18 years, and Abe did not relish the idea of having another partner, and was eager to face the challenge of a new venture.

He knew Sato was going to the Takatsu house to mourn, and believed that was only right. Miki Sato had been like a sister to him, and could not imagine what Shig went through, watching Miki slowly waste away.

But no tender feelings for Miki’s memory, and no long-established friendship with Shig changed the fact that Abe’s advertisement for Sato’s fledgling detective agency was bringing in more business than he could handle, and with 30 days passed, it was time for Shig to get busy with this crazy P.I. business he started.

~

As dusk began its short life in earnest, Sato, tanned and dirty and unshaven and wearing dingy shorts, wooden sandals and a frayed cotton shirt, was drinking his sake cold while sitting on the back steps of his family’s small house, with what remained of his dinner of rice and edamame next to him. He squinted at the sun dipping towards the mountains and breathed in the scent of jasmine and pine. Footsteps along the side of the house and the clink of bottles invaded his silent meditation. When he heard the deep rumble of a fake cough, he knew his visitor was Ken Abe. When the shuffling and clinking stopped, he glanced down and saw the familiar scuffed brown loafers.

He did not turn around.

He heard Abe’s unmistakable sniff, once and then once again, and Sato thought about his friends’ unusual sense of smell. A childhood injury left him with the olfactory senses of a bloodhound. He had stopped being amazed at this peculiar prowess long ago, but knew Abe’s mind was instantly taking inventory of whatever odor he could detect: the sweat on his back, the Tama River dirt on his sandals, the stale rice in the pot, and the soy beans wilting.

“I guess you’re going to tell me do something about the rice, eventually,” Sato said.

“No.”

“You brought your own refreshments. Thoughtful.”

Abe had yet to glance down at his friend, but instead, was watching the late evening sun’s progress from a sliver to nearly nothing. “I wanted to make sure I could pour you into the Toyota if I had to.”

“Am I going somewhere?”

“Yes,” Abe said, flat and low.

“Where?”

“Work.”

“Why?”

“Because it was your idea to start this business. And I’m stupid to let you do whatever you’re doing here while I do all the dirty work.”

“What dirty work?”

“Taking calls from angry wives, suspicious husbands, marriage-minded grandmothers. It’s time for you to get going.”

“You’re kidding. You came out here because of that?”

“Would I be here if I was kidding?”

Sato glanced up at Abe, then at the beer and then he recognized a package. He knew it was pickled eel.

Sato knew there were never gifts between him and Abe, never any small tokens of appreciation, kindnesses given and received. He knew Abe could have shown up empty-handed. But the eel was what he brought with him whenever he came by to visit him and Miki at their home in Tokyo, all those hundreds of times over the years.

“Want to come on in?” Sato asked, eyes still on the eel.

“Sure.” And without missing a beat: “I hate the beard.”

“I know,” Sato sighed as he rose and walked into the house, somewhat cooled by an ancient electric fan, burring along with the sounds of the summer evening. He tasted the eel, pleasant on his tongue. Sato found beans and peas and they sipped the beer, munched their food, and said all they needed in saying nothing.

But Abe knew his friend, and knew Sato’s mind. Sato may be mourning, may be deep into his sorrowful contemplation, and may even be fishing every morning to sooth his sleepless nights, but he also knew Sato could count. Abe was not the least bit religious, but knew Sato was, and seven days after Miki’s death, after the Buddhist priest’s chants ended, Sato slipped out of Tokyo, to Takatsu, to escape and to mourn the only way he knew how. Abe did not have to be present at the fourteenth day remembrance or any other occasion to offer prayers to the spirit of Miki Sato. But he knew the 49th day was approaching, the day a Buddhist believed the spirit of the deceased crossed over to the other side, and Abe knew that his friend, who loved his wife more than he lived himself, would be thinking of nothing but that.

Abe did not like to contemplate the consequences.

Having finished his eel and his beer, Abe lifted a knee, placed his foot flat on the floor, and eased his bulk onto his left flank until he was flat on the floor, and with several small sure gestures, he freed a cigarette from its pack, raised it to his lips, found his lighter, lit his cigarette, inhaled, exhaled, then said, “Ready to go?”

Sato stabbed at some beans, and looked at his glass of beer still half full. “Now?”

“When I finish this,” Abe said, holding up the cigarette.

Sato studied Abe’s deceitful lethargy. He only nodded and said, “Okay.”

Abe expected more of a fight, but Sato quietly rose and then wandered around the house, and he heard the random sounds of shutters sliding into place and boxes being shuffled about, then Sato reappeared and wordlessly gathered the dishes and placed them in the sink.

Abe turned his attention to his Mild Seven cigarette and after a few puffs, snuffed it out and got to his feet. By this time Sato had disappeared, but a minute later reappeared, wearing clean, comfortable, presentable clothes for the drive back to the city, and seeing Abe erect and ready to move on, said, “Let’s go.”

Abe pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and gave it to Sato. “Here are the directions to the office, in case you plan on coming in the morning.”

Sato noticed the sarcasm, and a surge of mild belligerence rose inside. “I’ll be there,” he said, pocketing the instructions.

“Really?”

“Yes.”

Pleased to see some sign of the old Sato, he asked “You riding with me?” thinking that his friend looked tired beyond measure.

“No, I’m driving in. I don’t want to leave the Pajero here,” Sato said. Gathering what he wanted from the house, Sato placed the bundles in the Pajero. Abe saw that his friend seemed up to making the drive back to the city. “Follow me?”

Sato looked up at Abe. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“You have the directions to the office?”

“In my pocket.”

“Don’t get lost,” Abe said. And as he started his Toyota, he glanced into his mirrors and in the dark of the August evening, he saw the shadow of Shig Sato sitting behind the wheel, the look of concentration Abe knew well, and watched as Sato started the engine, checked the gauges, adjusted the mirrors, buckled himself to his seat, turn on the low beams, then finally glance up. He noticed Abe, and nodded. Then Abe watched his friend pull away, and drive toward the road that led to his future.

~

Sato stood at the door to his office long enough for him to realize he had no idea how long he had been standing there. Then he heard “It’s open.”

And as he opened the unlocked door, Sato took a sight he had seen a thousand times, Ken Abe smoking a cigarette and reading the morning’s sports pages, all tussled hair, rumpled jacket and scuffed loafers in pose of careless nonchalance. The image pleased Sato immensely. “Perhaps things aren’t as new as I think they are,” he muttered as he walked to the center of the office, eying an empty chair behind a small lonely gray desk with a telephone, calendar, pen and notebook atop it. On a side table along one wall he saw a bucket of ice, highball glasses, and a pitcher of iced coffee.

Abe peered above the top of the newspaper. “You’re here, I see.”

“Yes, I’m here.”

Abe had heard the tentative steps to the door, the pause – Abe could have counted to five and knew that as soon as he said “six,” the doorknob would turn, and there he would stand, Shig Sato, ready to start his new day. Abe watched his friend wander around the small office, peer into corners where there was nothing to see and open the blinds of the three large windows, whose bottom pane opened outward, offering an escape for Abe’s cigarette smoke while offering up all the cacophony known as a busy Tokyo intersection, this one mere yards from their window.

Abe lit another cigarette to keep his iced coffee company, but kept his eyes on his friend as he walked around the office. His silence was born of shock. Sato was wearing a yellow sport shirt, worn khakis, and green socks above scuffed white sneakers, but it was the round blue cotton twill hat with the canvas rim, soft and faded by years in the sun, that made him stare. He recovered quickly enough to noticing Sato fix a look at everything in the office, one item at a time. He had seen this performance before: whenever Shig Sato entered a room for the first time, he inspected it much like a dog sniffing at every corner. He never pointed this out to his friend. Anyway, Sato would have denied any behavior resembling a canine. Abe was content to sit, and watch. He knew what he had to tell him would not be welcome.

As Sato settled into his chair, Abe asked, “Have you seen the papers? Watched the news?”

“No, I wasn’t really paying attention to anything when I walked to the station,” he said, settling his body into the chair, testing it for strength and comfort. “I was people watching, quite frankly. Wondering if I would see anyone I knew. I didn’t.”

“You took the train?”

Sato turned in the chair to the right, then to the left. “Yes. Why?”

“No reason.”

Abe knew Sato’s power of concentration could block out the world around him. Ignoring the morning news was not surprising. But the thought of Shig Sato a morning commuter seemed amusing. He watched Sato for another moment before casually saying, “Well, I got a call this morning.”

“Oh?”

“Osaki Police Station. From Saburo Matsuda himself.”

Sato looked up. “Matsuda? What does the station chief at Osaki Police Station want?”

“He wants you.”

This got Sato’s attention.

“At Osaki? Why –”

“Matsuda wanted to know if you were in town. I was happy to tell him that yes, you were.”

“Thanks a lot.”

Abe put down his paper and snuffed out his cigarette. “Remember how we picked up the Kobayashi twins at the end of the Down Low case?”

Sato nodded. It was only two months before, and it was his last case with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department. He was at Azabu Police Station for his last month on the force. He had looked forward to returning to regular investigative work. He had spent two years working security details for the Imperial Household Agency and for English-speaking foreign diplomats who visited the city, since he was fluent in that language.

At the time, all Sato wanted was to get a good case to work on. But what he got was the Down Low murder – girl dead, GI boyfriend nowhere to be found, but for Sato, worst of all, was the fact Jun Fujimori had become a prime suspect in the case. Sato had to solve the murder without exposing his ties to Jun’s father, Ses Fujimori, leader of one of Tokyo’s powerful crime syndicates. Ses Fujimori was Sato’s childhood friend, and their two families were linked in ways that would have been hard to explain to a police commission.

Abe saw a faint look of dread cross Sato’s face. He said, “Those two were arrested early this morning in Gotanda, trying to steal something that wasn’t there, so they say. What was there was a man with his throat slit. The Kobayashis were picked up for murder. And the people at Osaki don’t believe the twins’ story. But what’s really strange, those two idiots demanded to talk to you, if you can believe that.”

Sato let slip a shocked “Why?”

“I don’t know. But Matsuda said something about anti-organized crime deciding ‘OK, call Sato.’”

“That’s absurd!”

“Well, forensics don’t have anything yet, obviously. Way too soon. But a dead man rankles a lot of people, especially in Gotanda. Matsuda said he can’t help it if the press got their hands on the story, but they want to shut the case before it’s open.”

“The twins go to do a job and a guy winds up with his throat slit? And then they want to talk to me?”

“That’s what they say.”

“The only throats the twins ever cut are their own while shaving,” Sato said. “Whose bright idea was it to arrest those two?”

“I don’t know. But Matsuda said the anti-organized crime supervisor wants you to come in.”

“Who is that?”

“Kamioka.”

Sato sighed. Koichi Kamioka: young, ambitious, not particularly bright, and part of a gang of yakuza cops loyal to Tatsuo Tanaka, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department’s top anti-organized crime supervisor, and a man who hated Shig Sato. Tanaka and Sato were partners once. Sato solved a case that made his reputation as a true investigator, and to some, made Tanaka look bad. Tanaka never forgave, or forgot.

“The reason they want to talk to me is because of Fujimori,” Sato said.

Abe lit a cigarette, and tried to think of what it would be like to have a childhood friend like Ses Fujimori, one of the most powerful crime bosses in Tokyo. Between Ses and his father, Key, the Fujimori clan was ruthless, efficient, powerful, and at least for Key and Ses, impossible to arrest. Abe was certain this new mess with the anti-organized crime boys and Fujimori was probably starting up again, all because the Kobayashi twins got caught burglarizing a copier repair shop.

“I can see Kamioka thinking the twins are part of some gang,” Sato said. “But Matsuda. He has more sense than that. He should be able to see that no one would take the twins seriously.”

“I don’t know,” Abe said. “It’s not like he’s never dealt with a case like this.”

“You really think they want to talk to me because the twins asked for me by name, and they know about me and Ses?”

“Well, a lot of people are going to think that,” Abe said.

“I know that. But it’s just idiotic to me that those guys take one look at the twins and make them for killers.”

“Stranger things have happened,” Abe said. “The twins show up and there’s nothing to be stolen. So why is there a dead guy? And where is the loot? Did they stumble onto a murder?”

Sato had leaned back in his chair, his arms folded across his chest. Abe knew he was listening.

“Was there another guy there for the loot and did he get surprised? Did he kill the guy on purpose?” Abe asked. “I can think of a lot of things those guys might be thinking, Shig. None of it makes sense.”

He watched Sato ease into a thoughtful pose, his fingers laced together behind his head, and stare at nothing.

Abe stretched, then stood up. “So what are you going to do? We got a lot of things to do.

“Like what?”

“We’ve been getting calls from the ad I put out,” he said, lighting another cigarette.

“What ad?” Sato asked, as if the idea had been invented just then.

“The one advertising our business, Shig. You think we can just sit here and wait for business to come to us? We need to make money. Pay rent.”

“Oh …”

“And we’re getting inquiries.”

“Like what?”

“Marriage proposal investigations, suspicious wives wanting dirt on wayward husbands. Things like that. There’s a shop owner wanting to investigate a vendor because he thinks he’s being cheated. And I have to say ‘I’ll call you as soon as my partner returns from a big case.’ That seems to placate them, but that won’t last forever.”

“Huh,” Sato grunted. Lying, cheating, suspicions.

It filled him with dread.

Abe knew Sato’s dejected look. “This was your idea,” he said.

“I know. It’s just that – ”

“This is it, Shig. This is what it is.”

“I know. I just need to let my mind catch up with all this.”

“It will,” Abe said, and he returned to his chair, to sip the last of the coffee from the shop downstairs.

“So what are you going to do about the Kobayashis?”

“Go over,” Sato sighed. “See what happened.”

Abe’s “Really?”surprised Sato.

“Why?” Sato asked.

“Shig, you’re not a cop any more. You don’t have to jump every time a station chief tells you.”

“I’ll head over. But how did they know to call here?”

“I saw Hiro the other day,” Abe said. “You remember him? The sergeant at Azabu? He was transferred to Osaki. When your name came up, he knew where to find you.”

“I see.”

Abe saw Sato stand up like a man with somewhere to go. He knew what was next.

“You’re going to do it, aren’t you.”

“Yes. I suppose I have to. What you are doing today?”

“Going to Ikebukuro to see this woman who wants to investigate her husband. It’s probably nothing. After that it’s a woman with a daughter who has a prospective groom. The mother wants the boy checked out.”

“Okay,” Sato said.

“I’ll probably be back here in the afternoon,” Abe said as pocketed his cigarettes and lighter and checked his jacket pocket for his car keys. “Don’t forget, your pager is in your top desk drawer. So are the extra business cards.”

“Okay.”

Sato opened the drawer, found the pager and the cards, placed them in his pocket, but his mind was on the twins, Matsuda, Kamioka and Osaki Police Station. As he shut the open windows and then turned off the office lights, a dark premonition overcame him. He cast a rueful glance back at the darkened office as he shut the door behind him.

Tell your own story

So today I’m perusing what’s in my Twitter feeds,  cruising along, looking at some of my favorite sites from Japan, like The Tokyo Reporter and The Japan Times (fond memories of working there. Great people) when I see a book review for Barry Lancet’s new novel, “Tokyo Kill.” Lancet wrote “Japantown” and earned much praise and an award or two, and has the type of mojo going any author would kill for.
Lancet writes about a reluctant private investigator and Japan and mines his extensive knowledge of Japanese art and martial arts to add depth and flavor to his enviable writing ability. A long-time editor and Tokyo resident, Lancet has everything going for him.
And I wanted to kill him.

Jealous much?

But then I started remembering what every writing coach, friend, counselor and guru has said countless times:

“Write the story you want to read.”

My reluctant P.I. stories, the Shig Sato Mysteries, began life as a spinoff from my American in Tokyo ex-pat novel. I lived in Japan off and on for five years (GI and civilian), met my ex-wife there, married there, my son was born there, and I worked there as a journalist and book editor. My small observations, coupled with my fascination for Japanese art and literature, which my no means made me an expert, propelled me into taking more than a casual interest in the arts and events and culture, modern and ancient.
The one thing I noticed living in that culture so unlike my own was the similarities – how people laughed at jokes, how grandparents doted on grandchildren, how teenagers clustered and giggled and strived to be different by being the same. Harajuku_girlsTired salarymen, weary housewives, industrious students striving to gain entry into elite universities — this could be anywhere.
My fear of writing about Japan and the Japanese fell by the wayside because I saw the similarities, not the differences, between my culture and theirs.
Sure, there are many people with more intimate knowledge of that language, life and culture. God bless them. I wish them all the success in the world. Me? I’m happy that a few people like my stories, and if I work hard and remain true to my vision and my story, maybe a small band of dedicated readers will like what I write and want more.
It’s all a writer can ask for, isn’t it?

 

You’re invited to visit my web site, my Kindle page or my Nook page.

Stumbling onto the Perfect Plan


Shig Sato Mystery “The Thief’s Mistake”roppongi3

 

Chaper 1

 

The plan was too good to pass up, and Nara knew it.

It pleased him that the job was set for the morning after next. Nara hated waiting. Four years at Fuchu Prison frazzled what little patience he possessed. And he knew when he got out he would not be able to wait for fortune or luck to bring work to him. He needed something.

And he got something.

Nara first heard about the plan while in Fuchu. He had confided in a cellmate he respected, saying he needed money to return to Hokkaido, his home prefecture, and never set foot in Tokyo again. He needed a lot of money fast, so he needed an easy job that paid well, a job that would not land him back in prison.

The cellmate said nothing as he listened to Nara’s worries all those months. Then one day the cellmate said, “I know a man. Oshiro is his name. He always has little jobs that pay well. If you’re interested, I’ll see what’s out there.”

Nara said, “Good.”

The cellmate asked what Nara did on the outside. Nara said he was a mechanic. Which was true -‑ he even had mechanic’s overalls among his few possessions.

The cellmate said nothing more. But four days before Nara’s release, the cellmate said he had heard from Oshiro. There was a job. Did he want it?

Nara said “Yes.”

 

Nara’s first telephone call on his first day of freedom was to Oshiro.

The cellmate had told Nara: Identify yourself as “the mechanic,” and say “the car is ready to be picked up.” The cellmate had said Oshiro would give a time and location for a meeting.

When Nara phoned Oshiro and repeated what he was told, Oshiro said, “Yamanote line. Gotanda station. Main entrance. Noon tomorrow.” Nara was about to ask how would he recognize him, but decided this Oshiro fellow would find him. Nara decided not to worry.

At noon the next day, standing on the bus island across from the East Gate of Gotanda station, wearing his overalls, dirty sneakers and an old Yomiuri Giants ball cap, Nara watched the ebb and flow of people around him, and at exactly noon a man dressed in a fine suit, shined shoes and sporting a pencil-thin mustache approached Nara and asked, “Is the car ready?”

Nara said “Yes.”

“Follow me.”

Nara followed the man through the pedestrian walkway under the station, turned right, and saw a green taxi with red lettering. The door was open.

Oshiro said, “Get in.”

Nara did what he was told.

Then Nara saw there was no driver.

“What’s going on?” Nara asked unpleasantly.

“Don’t worry,” Oshiro said. “I own this taxi. The driver is having his lunch. I own a dozen taxis. See that van over there? The blue van? I own three of them.”

Nara nodded. He saw the van, saw the cartoon of a teddy bear in a diaper on the side.

“Okay.” But Nara was still wary.

“I need a man who can follow instructions exactly,” Oshiro said, not smiling, not frowning, not giving Nara any indication that he was happy, anxious, or miserable. The man seemed business-like. Nara relaxed a little.

“Go on,” he said.

And Oshiro said, in terms simple enough for a child to understand, exactly what needed to be done. Nara was shocked at its simplicity.

When Oshiro finished, he said, “You understand, when this is all finished and you get your money, you disappear. You don’t know me. I don’t ever see you again. That’s what the money is for. You disappear.”

“How much money?”

“Two million yen.”

Nara didn’t blink. “You won’t see me ever again when this is finished.”

“Good.”

~

Nara returned to his rented room, and for the first time in four years, was able to relax. He felt his mind relax, his muscles relax, his tendons, his neck, his shoulders, his arms, his fingers, his legs, his toes. He sat in his bed, drank from his small bottle of whiskey, and thought about the plan.

It was the perfect plan.

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