The Beginning:of the write up…about Tokuyama

Tokuyama is a coastal city in the Yamaguchi Prefecture, on the main island of Japan. The residents joke that the Prefecture’s leading export is Prime Ministers as no less than five have come from this seemingly backwater area. Tokuyama has a population of about 110,000 people, although upon closer inspection, the newest residents will realize that about 90,000 of these are geriatric. If NHK, Japan’s biggest broadcasting corporation decided to import CBS there’s a good chance nobody in the city would leave their house, being glued to the exciting season finale of Touched by an Angel. Ironically enough, I believe the greatest minds of Ginsburg’s generation, the one’s still living, were actually destroyed by seven separate CSI shows. Stay tuned for CSI: Baghdad next year, the first season has a record 15,000 episodes, and it only covers three days of actual crime.

My apologies, anyway, the city is carved along the Inland Sea in a half-moon, or crescent for you elitists, shape. The water however, is not so clean, and there are no beaches in town. According the Encyclopedia Britannica, Tokuyama was a castle town in the early Tokugawa Period between 1603 and 1867. Don’t come looking for a castle though, it’s not here. Almost all of the castles in Japan were torn down during the Meiji Restoration, an act which according to my geriatric students, started in the Yamaguchi Ken. The castles somehow symbolized the oppressive steel fisted rule of the shoguns, don’t ask me why.

Meiji: Not just a delicious tasting chocolate bar

After the Meiji Restoration/Revolution swept all of the picturesque structures from the area, there was nothing to replace them with but coal burning monsters, smelting stations, petro-chemical refineries, oil refineries etc…and lo the people did rejoice, by coughing up black phlegm and dying of the sorts of diseases and ailments associated with the early industrial revolution.

There is evil there that does not sleep. It is a barren wasteland riddled with fire, ash, and dust, the very air you breathe is a poisonous fume. Not with ten thousand smokestacks could you do this. It is folly.

Though Boromir’s words from The Fellowship of the Ring may stretch the image a bit too far, the quote is apt. The Japanese though, never complain, unlike the whiny Europeans who couldn’t handle 22 hour back to back shifts, six days a week, when they were seven years old. The bucolic lifestyle of the Tokugawa period was transformed into a gangling mass of industry and a thriving port until


No wait…


The entire city was burned to the ground. The American bombing raids left no trace of manufacturing, or human endeavor of any kind. The loosely scattered houses, offices, and other buildings that survived the bombing were all converted into hospitals for the unending mass of wrecked humanity. I know this because my student’s grandfather’s house became one such hospital. Afterwards a large US Air Force base was installed in the nearby “city” of Iwakuni.


The cold war was as good to Tokuyama as the rest of Japan, they had an economic miracle, at least in the 70’s. Everything that had once been farmland, and then castles, and then factories, and then ash, once again became factories. It’s not the choice I would have made, but I suppose they had to make a living. The entire shoreline and port of Tokuyama are now covered in spidery pipes connecting a vast forest of smokestacks which lend the city an air quality a friend has described as worse than LA.

The residents have a much different opinion of the scene though, as I climbed Mt. Tycozahn with one of my older students, we reached the top to spy over the industrial behemoth of the port, and he said, “Isn’t it beautiful?” He is just old enough to associate the city with the memories of the war’s aftermath. This city, to him, represents everything indomitable about the human spirit; survival, and pride in the face of despair.

I don’t think I’ve actually presented the total picture of how dense the industry in this city is though. The only cities in the US that would place this much industry and dense clouds of pollution are the cities with massive, massive poverty rates, in states like Alabama or Mississippi. There is one smokestack across from my school that for six months of the year, 24 hours a day, shot a bright orange fire five meters into the air. The surrounding 20 blocks were never dark at night.

Enter the Gaijin

The westerners are not brought here on dreams of industrial wealth. They are brought here because through the course of e-mails and possibly phone conversations with an ESL school, someone tricked them into believing that this city presented a somewhat exciting experience. They were duped, cajoled, bamboozled, or in the case of the Russian girls, beaten over the head and shipped in a cargo hold to work at a sex club.

Which is not to say that there isn’t a “downtown” persay, it’s just that downtown is almost always empty after midnight…on a Saturday. This is not to say that Tokuyama doesn’t have any bars, it in fact has the highest bar per capita ratio of any city in Japan. Unfortunately almost all of these bars are hostess bars. A hostess bar is like a strip club, or skin bar, or your euphemism of choice except that all the girls keep their clothes on. On second thought, it’s nothing like a strip club. Think of a hoity-toidy bar that only eccentric elitists or douche bags with too much money would patron, ah right, think of it as a Martini Bar. Think of it as a Martini Bar where all the waitresses are paid extra to be cock teases, and they overcharge you exorbitant amounts presumably for their company.

So now that 80% of the bars in Tokuyama have become useless to the typical westerner, what’s left? Not a whole lot. The main drag in town is a street called Heiwa Dori, or Peace Street in English. This street houses Shidax. Shidax is not, in spite of it’s name, a giant mechanical robot charged with defending the city from evil, it is actually a Karaoke Box. A karaoke box is a place where a group of people get a private, nearly sound proof room where they can belt out karaoke and get nomehodai, or all you can drink alcohol for two hours.

The best gaijin bar is a little place called El’s Ditch. It’s an Irish Pub run entirely be Japanese staff that has Guinness and Hefeweizen on tap. It also sports a hardy collection of imports including, Brooklyn Lager, Liberty Ale, Duvel, and Chimay among others. This is usually the first stop in any gaijin’s night downtown. The staff is friendly,and speak a modicum of English, more importantly they serve a bacon steak. Yes, an entire steak, made out of bacon, it should be impossible. I’ve calculated that the effect on the body is equivalent to three years of two pack a day smoking.

Q-Bar is the area’s club. It’s a basement affair with a sizeable dance floor and live DJ’s, unfortunately unless you bring the party yourself, there’s never anyone in Q-Bar. You have your most likely chance at glimpsing one of the rare blonde-haired blue footed Russians there though. It’s one of the few places they’re allowed to go when the Russian Mafia/Japanese Yakuza let them out of their cages.

The most interesting haunt on Heiwa Dori though, is the Yatai Shack. Yatai is a Japanese word to describe a small type of mobile kitchen attached to wheels so it can be carted away. They are usually rectangular in shape, and place benches on three sides, while the master cooks on the other side. Although I don’t know if there is an implication of the food Ramen in the word Yatai, all Yatai that I have seen, whether in Tokuyama, Tokyo, Fukuoka, Osaka, or Hiroshima serve Ramen. They also usually serve Oden which is basically anything you decide to leave in the Oden broth for a few hours. It could be vegetables like the giant radish daikon, or it could be eggs, or various fishy type things. Most importantly, the Yatai serves beer, by the barrel.

There are three Yatai next to Shidax, sitting in a row. The outer two are covered with little blue flags, which I assume to be the color of pretension or normality. They have TV’s and segmented cooking sections for various pieces of food. Families usually go their with kids. The middle Yatai is draped in red, which is for drunks and lunatics. This is the Yatai where all the foreigners go, and as such all the Japanese citizens interested in talking to foreigners, also go there. As do just the folks who want to get steamrolled. The owner of this establishment goes by the name of Giovanni, or Cappuccino depending on how drunk he himself happens to be. He loves foreigners, and over the 30 years he’s run that Yatai, he’s probably met more white people than you, and I’m sure you think you know a lot of white people. This is not intended to be racist in anyway, but of the foreigners who teach English in Japan, the vast, vast, majority are crackers.

So because this drunken, happy, friendly individual happens to love foreigners, he undercharges them, and I mean WAY undercharges them. Some nights he will just look at you as you stagger off his bench and wave his hand, simply saying, “No, no money.” Some nights he will fill you with enough Asahi to tranq an elephant and feed you ramen topped with pork for 1,000 Yen. That’s only ten bucks, and massively cheap for anything in Japan.

For now that will sum up my dealings with downtown Tokuyama

If you’re seeing double…well just remember they drive on the other side of the road, you drunk

The most common drink served in Tokuyama…is water. Come on, it’s the building block of life. The most common drink in my diet is beer. The most common beer in Tokuyama, at least at our fine dining and bar establishments is Asahi Super Dry. Though that isn’t the only Asahi beer, and they do make a wide variety of mediocre products veiled in various colors on the can. Super Dry in a can is straight silver and it’s what Coors would look like if they had any pride. To the dismay of the Asahi Brewing Company however, Kirin, has successfully taken over the top market share of beer in Japan. I was going to try to dredge up some information on the upstart company but the legends involving their mythical mascot are more telling. The funky looking animal that decorates the Kirin beer cans, and the company’s masthead is a mystical “unicorny” horse beast with scales. However, also according to some guy’s web page the “Danger Level” is described as “Generally Benevolent.” The Japanese are clearly in denial about the effects of imbibing large quantities of beer, see homicidal rage. Kirin’s gentle mascot has now earned them my ire, and all further poems will only mention the drinking of Asahi, who’s mascot I will make up right now…Bonzai – the Karaoke Panda of Vengeance.

Whiskey is also extremely popular here. There is a brand called Black Nikka which depicts a Russian man on the front of the bottle, but is probably made from the lost souls of unhappy school girls somewhere in Hokkaido. Jack Daniels is available at almost every bar in Japan, and Jack and Cokes have fueled more than a few gaijin rampages through the countryside. In general whiskey is cheaper in Japan than in the USA.

Sake, is Japanese rice wine. I’ve have never heard a single person anywhere on the planet dispute the fact that Sake came from Japan, however, every single Japanese person you meet will refer to the beverage as “Japanese Sake.” I would advise not being sarcastic about it. There are ultimately two bodies of Sake, hot sake and cold sake. Within these groups there are dozens of others, but I imagine you’d have to drink it for taste to really tell the difference. I have never been able to drink hot sake without gagging, some people find it delicious. Sake has about the alcohol content of wine in most cases, but it tends to go down more like water, as do the women who have been made to drink a lot of sake.

There is a specific brand of Sake made in Okinawa known as Awamori, if you go there, you should drink it…that is all.

Shochu is another popular liquor, it is often served with water, in some cases hot water. My opinion of Shochu is that it tastes like vulcanized rubber, and smells like a chemistry class. It is my kryptonite; I do not wish to speak more of it.

Why are you writing this? Is any of this even True?

I’m glad you asked, giant blue font.

Here’s the deal, for any of you who have read my poetry, when I write about Japan I tend to use a whole lot of footnotes to explain all the “Japanesey stuff” so I thought about how I could avoid it, and this write-up was miscarried. I don’t think the words found here warrant the word “birth.” Anyway, I intend to make this write-up somewhat of a symbiosis between my experiences here, and the poetry I’ll be writing. I’ve lived in Tokuyama for almost a year now, and I think I’ve gained enough perspective on it to start committing more into my chosen genre. So as new poems appear about the town, new information will appear in this write-up. Eventually both this write-up and the poems should give you a pretty thorough understanding of what my life here has been like, and you can read it in two different forms. As you may have noticed, this write-up has a more whimsical nature, to offset the soul-crushing despair found in my poetry.

Sources:< br />
Old People< br />

Japan Poems

  1. Little Italy: Part II
  2. Little Italy: Part I
  3. Translating Silence
  4. When Walls Become Tables
  5. Empty Dictionaries
  6. Flickering
  7. This is where the dead live