As I was talking to Mr High Bridge – a student from Ibaraki who had got up at five that morning and cycled all the way from Sapporo – a four-wheel-drive van with monster truck tyres pulled into the convenience store car park. Having jumped down from the driver’s seat, a middle-aged man with an Elvis-like quiff came over for a chat and a cigarette and handed both of us his business card.
I made it to Sapporo myself at about lunchtime, and on the recommendation of Mr Eminent – the architecture student I had met the previous day – went straight to Moérénuma Park. Moérénuma Park is perhaps the most famous work by the artist Isamu Noguchi, who was born in the US to an American mother and a Japanese father, and became active in numerous different disciplines, including sculpture, painting, interior design, set design and landscape gardening.
Over dinner at a restaurant nearby, Mr Assistant Wisteria confessed that he had given up drinking six months ago, before proceeding to down three glasses of beer in quick succession, and I wasn’t quite sure whether to feel privileged that he was willing to jump off the wagon in order to toast my safe arrival in Sapporo, or fearful that I had managed to make friends with another raging alcoholic, in the same mould as Mr Small Field from Kushiro. In the event, though, Mr Assistant Wisteria knew how to hold his liquor, and to the best of my knowledge didn’t use the phrase ‘Sapporo, number one!’ at any point during the time I was with him.
Like me, Mr Assistant Wisteria played guitar in his spare time, and at the end of the evening we had an impromptu jam session back at his apartment, where I tried my best to remember the chords to a medley of Oasis and Frank Sinatra songs, and he played the English (that is to say, British) songs that he knew – among them Yesterday and Layla – along with some Japanese enka (演歌).
Enka is the Japanese equivalent of American country music, in that it is perennially unfashionable, beloved of old folks, and its lyrics – cf Hibari Misora’s Bihoro Pass from Day 15 – are more often than not about breaking up with one’s lover. In fact, Mr Assistant Wisteria’s life story wouldn’t have looked out of place in an enka song.
‘I used to be married,’ he told me. ‘We even had our honeymoon in Hawaii, but then a couple of years ago we got divorced.’
‘Have you got a girlfriend now?’
‘No, I haven’t. I’m playing a concert with some mates of mine soon, and all of them are married with children. I’m forty-four now and I’m the only one left from my year at school who’s still single. My sister’s got two kids and my parents are putting pressure on me to get married again, but I’m not in a hurry. I’ve had my heart broken once so I’m a bit more choosy now – I’m waiting for my destiny.’