- 25 . 06 . 05
In which we meet a gentle old man in a park who turns out to be a retired mafioso.
Gifu, Japanese Culture, Karaoke, Tattoos, Yakuza
Gifu seems to be in a constant state of reconstruction and the downtown area is already much changed from when I first arrived. One aspect of this improvement is a new park area behind Gifu Station with seating, water features and even some grass! Occasionally after work, we like to go and sit there, meet up and relax. Depending on the time of day, you can see people practicing martial arts, break dancing, playing with their kids or even just sleeping in the sun. There also seems to be a small homeless community (Japan does have homeless people despite what people like to think), who sleep in the shelter of the buildings by night, and neatly stack their cardboard and do their washing in the river by day. It’s not too uncommon for them to greet us, so it wasn’t really too strange to have a guy sit next to us when we went there tonight.
He was quite a colourful person, both metaphorically and literally, telling us about his wife being a demon and having a huge tattoo covering his arms and shoulders. Tattoos, remember, are something of a taboo thing here. He was drinking pretty expensive sake and was about 54, though to look at him I would’ve guessed he was about 40.
Throughout the conversation, he kept asking if we had girlfriends or wives and did this weird motion with his little finger. We just assumed he was making a sign for love or something. Eventually though, he got tired of explaining himself and held up his right hand for us to see. It probably shouldn’t have taken us an hour and a half to realise he was a Yakuza, but at least we all knew straight away what it meant when we saw that his little finger had been cut off. The tattoo should have been a clue I guess, especially with it being a picture of a pirate…
It’s strange, he was a perfectly polite and friendly old man, but from then on it was difficult to focus on anything else. Pretty soon, we felt sufficiently uncomfortable to leave. He kept trying to invite himself to karaoke, where we were going next, but in the end settled for telling us to come back and visit again. He was in the park most days, he said, to escape from his wife. That evening, some people told me we were lucky, but most said that old Yakuza are very gentle. I guess that would be from the knowledge that you are secure at the top of the food chain. Either way, and although I never even once felt at risk, I’d prefer it if there wasn’t another encounter for a while.