Checkout time was ten thirty, so I set my alarm for ten-fifteen, had a very quick shower and dropped my key at reception at approximately ten twenty-nine. Having sat down in a nearby kissaten for morningu setto, I then realised that I had inadvertently thrown Mr Fukuoka’s details in the hotel room rubbish bin, so dashed back, asked for the key again, ran upstairs, and retrieved the vital scrap of paper before the cleaning ladies had time to whisk it away. Yamato had livened up considerably since the early hours, and was full of the usual hustle and bustle of a Tokyo suburb: delivery trucks manoeuvred around the narrow streets, housewives did the daily shop, and just outside the kissaten’s window, a young woman with long, curly Farrah Fawcett hair, high heels and a Louis Vuitton handbag put on a crash helmet, balanced two bags of groceries at her feet, and rode off on a fifty-cc scooter.
Out here the ratio of greenery to buildings was still favourable and the landscape unexpectedly hilly, as I wended my way between small farms, country parks and university campuses. But getting lost on the backstreets soon grew frustrating, and eventually I resigned myself to Route 45, which led more directly towards Tokyo city centre. I passed what may have been the scene of an accident, but looked more like a man collapsed on the pavement from a heart attack, and stopped to let three elementary schoolgirls parade serenely across the road on unicycles. Soon it was like riding through a cross between Spaghetti Junction and downtown Manhattan, as the high rises became higher, and the overpasses, underpasses, bridges and tunnels multiplied: I kept myself occupied by picking out individual cars to see whether or not I could keep up with them, although in such heavy traffic it was too often an easy victory for the Mariposa.
My hosts in Tokyo were to be the Field Middle’s, friends of the family who used to live in England, although I had never met them before today. I called their home number from a family restaurant in Kawasaki at four o’clock, and felt a little put out when Mr Field Middle – the father – suggested that I might not make it to Shibuya by five thirty. In the event it only took an hour, and owing to a mysterious reversal of his initial prediction, Mr Field Middle was already there to meet me, next to the so-called ‘Scramble Crossing’ outside Shibuya Station.
Quite apart from being the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world, the Scramble Crossing has appeared in every single film and television programme about Japan since the dawn of moving pictures, and of the hundreds of thousands of people who make use of it every day, a significant proportion are TV presenters, actors or actresses. You will, for example, remember the Scramble Crossing from Lost In Translation, as a place that perfectly symbolises Scarlett Johansson’s shock and disorientation at arriving in Tokyo for the first time, surrounded as it is by enough neon billboards and multi-storey video screens to make Picadilly Circus look like a couple of country lanes. Even its design has proved influential, and Oxford Circus is the latest of London’s crossroads to incorporate a phase during which traffic from every direction is halted, and pedestrians are allowed to ‘scramble’ – that is to move diagonally as well as perpendicularly – to and from all four corners of the junction.
Saturday afternoon is the busiest time of the week on the Scramble Crossing, and it was a battle just to extricate ourselves from the crowds. Within a couple of minutes, though, Mr Field Middle and I were cycling through a quiet residential neighbourhood to his family's modest company apartment near Komaba-Todaimae Station. Mr Field Middle worked for Mitsui Sumitomo Bank, and as he was transferred from office to office, the family had spent time in New York as well as Tokyo and London (or to be more precise, Staines). Mrs Field Middle worked ‘part-time’ – ie. forty hours a week – at a postal company, and having taught Japanese during their years abroad, was wonderfully patient with my conversational ineptitude. Japanese was almost a second language for their daughter, who had spent much of her childhood in the UK and the United States, and was currently on her summer vacation from studying music back in New York. Even in this supposed time off she practiced for up to six hours a day, at a grand piano that completely dominated one of the apartment’s tatami-mat rooms, and which through a typical misunderstanding on my part, I mistakenly believed had been shipped all the way from America.
More than once while I sat with Mrs Field Middle in the kitchen, she referred to the family tendency to put on weight, although as far as I could see, they were as trim as the majority of their fellow countrymen and women, and the food she prepared the usual healthy combination of rice, miso soup, fish and tsukemono. As we sat down to eat I found myself, professor-like, wielding a chopstick for a baton and indicating my route thus far, on a map of Japan that she had pinned to a cupboard door. Because Asahi Breweries is owned by Mitsui Sumitomo, the fridge was stocked with cans of beer to accompany the meal, although these were dinky little things less than half the normal size, and even after a few sips, Mr Field Middle was out for the count.
First of all his face went bright red and then he fell asleep on the floor, because like many people from the Far East, he was afflicted with the dreaded missing enzyme (as Jennifer Anniston once said, here comes the science-y part: the enzyme in question is called a ‘low-Km aldehyde dehydrogenase isoenzyme’), which renders the liver incapable of processing alcohol. Of course, being unable to drink does not do away with peer pressure, and nor does it do away with one’s basic desire to have a good time, so in bars and restaurants you will often see people just like Mr Field Middle, blushing profusely and sound asleep, as their friends continue to eat, drink and be merry all around them. Technically speaking such sufferers are not drunk – they have consumed too small an amount of alcohol for that – and Mr Field Middle was no exception, resurfacing after half an hour or so to carry on with dinner as if nothing had happened.
‘Is that a Rolex you’re wearing?’ he said.
‘It is, yes.’
‘Do you mind me asking where you got it?’
I related the story of inheriting the watch from my father, of finally having it repaired after years of neglect, and of deciding to wear it this summer.
‘But when did he buy it?’ Mr Field Middle continued. ‘Do you know?’
‘We’ve always assumed that my grandmother gave it to him as an eighteenth birthday present, so the late fifties, I suppose.’
‘I think it could be more recent than that.’
Mr Field Middle left the room, and returned bearing a carbon copy of my by now battered Rolex, still in its original box and looking as good as new.
‘This is the same model,’ he explained. ‘But they didn’t make them until the early seventies.’
A family mystery was one step closer to being solved, and when I next visited my father’s brother back in the UK, he showed me a Rolex that had not only been given to him as an eighteenth birthday present, but was of a different design from my father’s. So the latter must have been a replacement for one lost or broken, and it was perhaps fortuitous that I had not consigned it to the same fate during my travels.