East Meets West December 2000

For centuries the countries of Asia have been struggling to come to terms with the onslaught of Western Civilization. Many adjustments have been made-some superficial but many go much deeper. Food tastes have been altered thanks to McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and the like, and Western music is everywhere.

Many of the influences are subtle but others clash with all the impact of two bullet trains colliding head-on. A few days ago in Japan I had the dubious pleasure of being a witness to such a cross-cultural collision. It was Halloween night when I got off the train, “fresh” from eight hours of travel from Hong Kong. Halloween has not made it to Japan -little wonder when you think about it. Halloween is one of those vestiges of the dark days of our pagan past that even we do not really understand. We just do it, year after year!

I was in Kofu, a small town tucked quietly behind Mt. Fuji. With its panoramic views, it is a postcard image of the beauty of Japan. For the past three years, Kofu has been home to my eldest son Einar, who established and now manages an English language school there. Halloween presented the kind of opportunity that Einar could not resist, so he scheduled two Halloween parties, one in the afternoon for children and then another in the evening for adults. I was picked up at the train station by Einar’s wife, Manami, along with his two boys Ian and Søren. We would be going, I was informed, directly to the second party!

Ian, the older of the two boys at age 4, is a special buddy of mine so we were walking together across the parking lot when we spotted a Geisha standing on the sidewalk some distance away. Such a rare and beautiful scene of Japan, but as we drew nearer I could see that something was terribly wrong with the picture. Usually the Geisha are small and a bit plump but this one was tall -really tall!! -and as the face turned toward me there was a cigarette dangling from the pouty lips! Suddenly the Geisha started to lope toward me with horse-like strides -for a second I was ready to cut and run but finally I decided to hold my ground. And then I heard the voice -a deep, familiar voice -it was Einar! As we talked passers-by were halted dead in their tracks -they would just stop, and speechlessly gape at the wonder of it all!

Mercifully, we got off the street and went up to the small restaurant where the party was already in progress. At one end of the restaurant I saw Mickey and Minnie, a cowgirl, a blond siren, and a few failures of cosmetic surgery. But Einar was the undisputed star of the show -even his two kids would not get too close! The regular patrons carefully kept their distance.

But the party was a huge success, if survival is a measure -Einar made it, I made it, and so, somehow, will Kofu!

Richard Keldsen

Kofu, Japan