Sunday, 14 September 2014

People I've Met On The Road – Frikushon

Teaching In Tokyo
Sometime in the depth of a freezing winter in the early 1980's, a Liverpudlian friend and I were living in a very chilly apartment in Tokyo while making ends meet teaching English. In those days, with a degree it was possible to get work at a language school and stay there on a six-month tourist visa. My degree was a fake since I didn't have one at the time. After the six-months was up one needed to leave the country and apply for another tourist visa. This could usually be done three or four times before they said no. So my friend and I came to the end of our visas and with very little available cash, had to find the cheapest route to getting a new one. Flights were expensive. Eventually we worked out our best bet was to hitch-hike to Shimonoseki in the south-west of Japan and go by ferry to South Korea then take a bus over the mountains to Seoul.

 It was not hard to see where Ridley Scott got his ideas for Blade Runner

Truck Mechanic
We set off in the early hours. Hitch-hiking was not something the Japanese understood in the early eighties. After hours of waiting we managed to get a truck to stop by flagging him down. In pigeon-Japanese we explained where we were going. An hour later, in early dawn, we were rudely awakened by a rumbling noise and the driver pulled over. One of the rear tyres was punctured and torn half off. The driver seemed unsure how to change it for the spare. Eager to get some distance under our belts I stepped in and helped him change the huge and filthy wheel. We were rewarded with a superb breakfast before being dropped off outside Osaka.

Wedding Guests
Our next host was a man in a car en-route to his brother's wedding near Okayama. Hiro was very chatty and eager to practice his English. He bought us lunch and we became firm friends – so firm in fact, that he made a phone call and insisted on taking us with him to his brother's wedding party. Much alcohol was consumed and many more friends made before we continued on our way, stopping off at Okayama for the night. It was then I realised I had the name of the friend of a friend who worked there at the Women's University. In a moment of crazy optimism, my friend and I called the uni and asked if they had an English girl working there named Christine. Eventually they understood and found one. It was indeed her. We had never met before.

Japanese Massage
Meeting her after work, Christine took us to a pre-arranged dinner party with the Principal of her university and some other teachers. Here we were encouraged to consume too much sake and I became romantically entangled with the hotel owner's lovely daughter, who I remember wooing with a story of being in Japan to study massage. We left later under a dark cloud, but were treated as heroes by the ageing Principal, who took us drinking until he fell unconscious from his bar stool and we had to carry him home via a taxi. Here we stayed the night before being served a reviving breakfast and continuing on our journey to Shimonoseki.

Slow Bus To Seoul
The ferry crossing was rough and we had to sleep on the carpeted floor with the Koreans, who were of similarly limited means. From these kindly people we learned the scam of buying a bottle of Johnny Walker whiskey from a kiosk in Shimonoseki and selling it at a reciprocal kiosk in Pusan, on the other side. It almost paid for our trip. In Pusan we boarded a rickety old coach to Seoul. A small TV at the front blared out Korean music and showed Kung Fu films all the way along the bumpy mountain roads. It was a terrifying and exhausting experience. Finally in Seoul we found the embassy and organised our visas before staying a night in a hostel where we slept in a courtyard on the floor alongside coal fires, with rats scurrying around throughout night. It was a well known dirt-cheap establishment named Inn Daiwon, which I believe burned down several years later.

Wild Journey Home – Tokyo Punks Knew How To Party
After getting chased out of a sleazy bar by a gang of drunken US servicemen, my friend and I boarded a bus to repeat our mountainous and bumpy journey back to Pusan. Another stormy boat ride ensued, after which we found ourselves hitch-hiking in the freezing early hours in Shimonoseki. We had barely slept in two nights and were so tired we hardly knew where we were. With only enough cash for a can of warm coffee from a vending machine (in our tiredness we mistakenly pressed the cold coffee button), we waited hours with no luck until eventually in a state of sheer exhaustion we lay down to sleep on the concrete verge of the motorway.
It was probably about 6am when we felt someone shaking us. Frozen stiff, we looked up to see a skinny man in sunglasses, a leather jacket and drainpipe jeans.

"Dude, speak Engrish?" he shouted. "Where you go, fukkah... Tokyo?"

Struggling to focus we climbed to our feet and followed his instruction to get into his van. In the back we found four other pale and skinny young men along with a drum kit, guitars and amps. Too shattered to ask questions we simply climbed in and lay in the pile with the other guys. It was about an hour before we opened our eyes again and attempted any communication.

"Fuuuk you crazy boys. Samui des nih? (cold no?)"

We agreed, we were as cold as a man can be. We explained where we had been and where we were going. The other bodies, roused from sleep by our story, began laughing uproariously.

"All okay now fukaas!" said the man with the sunglasses. "We are Frikushon. Punk music, yeah? We go Kagoshima play punk music. Too much crazy fukaah distance! Now go home Tokyo. You sleep more, no problem."

But we were awake now. A punk band we thought? now that was interesting. We asked them if they knew The Clash. The Damned? The Jam? They certainly did. The man with the sunglasses grabbed a guitar and began a familiar riff. From deep down in the pile of bodies around us a sound began to resonate. It was a sound somewhere between the howl of a wounded animal and singing:

"In a city one a thousan' thing I wanna say to you...!!"

Punk Friction
For hours we sang together... screamed and groaned. The drummer banged his hands and even his head against the metal side of the van. Cymbals crashed. A drum was broken over someone's head. The long journey seemed to pass in no time. It was an utterly wild experience and by the time they dropped us in our area of south-west Tokyo we had sung ourselves hoarse. I couldn't teach for a day after we got back. I was mute. Yes those Tokyo punks knew how to party. Fukaas!

Friction on Youtube:

If you would like to read the bestselling travel book 'Long Road, Hard Lessons' by Mark Swain, you can find this along with his two collections of short stories on Amazon, Smashwords etc. 
In the UK his books can also be found in all Waterstones Bookstores.

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