Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley (5)

Coincidental Colorful Encounters That Affected My Artistry (1)

I wrote in an earlier part of this series that my mother’s restaurant, Kikuya, had sponsored us two shinnai entertainers, my father and me. However, Kikuya didn’t just provide us with essential financial support. From among the patrons of the restaurant came my supporters, sponsors, and people who understood shinnai, as well as my fans, all of whom were my benefactors.
I was influenced by some of the regular patrons of the restaurant, including people who were shinnai beginners hearing shinnai for the first time and who gradually became my fans and lovers of shinnai. Other customers included people from the Japanese musical and theatrical worlds, and heavy drinkers and various other colorful people who introduced me to many famous writers. From that time to this, my network has continued and broadened, enlarging my world.
In what follows, I look back at my nostalgic encounters with those Kikuya regulars.
In the Kagurazaka area, there were many publishing companies such as Shinchosha, Obunsha, and Tohan, and their employees came frequently to the restaurant. Chuokoron had a warehouse in the neighborhood, and all their young employees were Kikuya customers. Among those men were several Waseda University alumni who had been members of the university’s prestigious swimming club. They were the same generation as the athletes Yamanaka and Yoshimuta. Even so, I suppose that they were not as well known. But anyway, they were Japan’s leading swimmers. One of them introduced me to Mr. Tomoda, the president of Nippon Culture Broadcasting [an AM radio station in Tokyo], who was also the chairman of the alumni swimmers’ club at that time. When I went right away to visit him at his office, he welcomed me and introduced me to a staff member in the performing arts department. As a result of my encounter with that man, my friendships widened considerably.

The person I’d been introduced to was Mr. Hisahiro Suzuki. He was an excellent director of dramas for radio and television, which were popular at that time. He was selected for the [Agency for Cultural Affairs] Arts Festival Award every year for ten years. We’ve been friends from then to now, nearly forty years.
The first person to whom Mr. Suzuki introduced me was Mr. Obayashi. He was a very popular writer who was often a candidate for the Naoki Prize. He dominated the world of broadcast writers after the war. His NHK serial radio drama, “Nuclear Dreams”, and a TV drama, “To the End of That Wave”, were big hits.
I met Mr. Obayashi for the first time at a bar on the lower ground floor of a building in Shinbashi, where he was drinking, sitting casually on a bar stool.
Although that was more than 30 years ago, I can still clearly remember my first impression of him, which was that he was a dandy, a handsome elegant, gentle, and calm person.
We were friends for about thirty years, and I received innumerable kindnesses from him. We often had good times together, and drank and traveled together frequently.
Mr. Obayashi had founded and was the chairman of the Asia Broadcasting Culture Association, and he put up my name to be one of its directors. The directors besides me were prestigious executives of various broadcasting companies. I was the only one who was a performer. We often went on domestic and overseas trips for the association. They were all luxurious complimentary trips. We spent a wonderful week in Korea, receiving VIP treatment.
We made countless domestic trips. Every time, we were driven around the city to visit sightseeing spots. One time, we stayed two nights at a luxurious ryokan in the Okuyugawara hot springs, where we had a wonderful time. In the morning of the third day, when we were leaving, Mr. Obayashi said, “Tayu [that is, me], let’s stay one more night”, and while the other members of our party went back home, the two of us went to Ohnoya Ryokan, where we hired a geisha who entertained us that night. The next morning, when we went to pay our bill, we discovered that we didn’t have anywhere near enough money. As we could not stay there any longer, we called the accounting director and asked him to come there from Tokyo. Then, that morning, relaxed, we started to drink again, and when the accounting director arrived with the money, he joined us, and we three stayed to enjoy one more night there. Mr. Obayashi was an unusually heavy drinker. Until he was close to death, he finished a whole bottle of whisky every night.
Mr. Obayashi was a genuine Edokko [man born in Tokyo and brought up in Tokyo’s traditional ways], born in Shiba, with good spirit, subtle, and hearty, and with refined tastes. I never heard him shout or saw him get angry. Even now, I continue to respect this fine gentleman who had such a splendid personality.
One evening when we were drinking with some old friends, Mr. Obayashi suddenly started to read us his farewell message. It astonished us, as he didn’t seem to have become frail. I shed many tears. That was around ten days before he died.
After his passing, poems dedicated to his wife were found, in which he wrote that he had caused her a lot of trouble.

(fifth of twelve parts)
(to be continued)

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