A Journey To Hakodate: This Isn’t On the Tours

cherry blossum     This is a yarn for the easily amused or so desperate for stories that have to be told in such ponderous detail that only one of my tales will suffice.  Ah, seekers of the second aspect are in luck; those of the first, not so much.  Let us begin:

     To understand this story, you first have to have some background.  I was in the US Air Force, along with my wife, the lovely and talented Debora, stationed in Misawa, Japan, as a radio communications analyst.  Our operations were divided into four shifts of personnel (Alpha, Baker, Charlie, Dawg) called “flights.”  We would operate in this insane 4-4-4-3 shift schedule through swings, mids, and days, with the last three days being our days off, called “break.”    Debbie and I were both on Baker Flight.  On occasion, the flight would organize trips to places in Japan because, otherwise, only a few adventurous souls would get out and actually see that wonderful country besides what was within easy driving distance.  So, Baker flight organized a trip to Hakodate, which is located on the southern end of Hokkaido, the northern most island of Japan.  Misawa, by the way, is located near the northeastern coast of Honshu, the largest island and directly below Hokkaido.  After thirty years, I can’t remember why Hakodate was the destination, but wifey wanted to go, so we went.

     Now the only thing I knew about Hakodate was that it was the city that Soviet pilot Lt. Victor Belenko flew to, in 1976, when he defected in his MiG-25, my favorite of the Soviet fighter aircraft.  Now, because of my work, I had seen pictures and documentation of that particular Foxbat, the NATO codename for the MiG-25, and I knew that plane inside and out.  For some reason, that’s all I was thinking about when we departed for Aomori, our departure port, as if somebody was going to come up to me and say, “Welcome, unknown American military person with a very high security clearance, we have the MiG-25 ready for your inspection.”  Yeah, right…

     So, we got to Aomori and boarded the ferry that would take us on our journey across the channel that separated the two islands.  We went to the main cabin below decks and there was row after row of leather cushioned chairs that looked like a La-Z-Boy convention.  Debbie and I took our places on the front row and took in the wood-paneled ambience.  I insist that I was not feeling well before the trip, but once we got out into that choppy sea, I was not doing well.  I refuse to tender any suggestions of seasickness – I come from a long line of psuedo-mariners who refused to tender any suggestions of seasickness – but I did seem to feel much better at some later point involving dry land.

     But the worst part about this trip was that, after a while, I started having some intestinal discomfort.  I went to the ferry’s restroom and it was then that I was introduced to the traditional Japanese toilet, known as the benjo.  This porcelain contraption is not a sit-down affair, oh no! it is a trough in the floor that one must straddle and squat over.  Do your business, push the flush handle, and whee! the water cascades from the front to the back and you’re done.  If you were suffering from my particular type of stomach affliction, it was not fun.  And that’s all I want to say about that…

     We got to Hakodate and went to our hotel rooms where everything is small.  Now, if you have ever been to Japan or seen real imported Japanese furniture at Pier One, you can tell that it has been sized down to the typical Japanese frame.  But, come on!  Getting into the shower was like climbing into a submarine and I was taller than the faucet, so I had to bend like a gymnast to wash my hair!  Not happy, I made myself some green tea and drank it without sugar.  Ah, better!

     The next day, we did some sightseeing, but after thirty years, nothing stands out in my mind.  Or, maybe the events of that evening have pushed all else out of my memory.  And those events unfolded thusly:

     Baker Flight was a pretty rowdy crew and we had some doozys with us.  One of the guys was named Steve and from his accent, you could tell he was a New Englander, like my dear spouse of a New Hampshirite, so he kept her occupied a bit as they dropped their “r’s” together.  Debbie’s supervisor, Dean, was with us as well as a co-worker in her section, Archie.  We were probably an entourage of twenty or so people and the leader of this band of merrymakers was Tech Sergeant Bishop.  His wife was with him and I think she was Japanese, which may explain how we got around with such relative ease.

     Anyway, we hit the town that night and basically just club-hopped until TSgt Bishop gets the bright idea that we need to go some place.  We didn’t know what the place was, but we followed along through alleys and side roads until we came to a rather nondescript building and we were then told, “This is a Japanese strip club.”  Hmm.  Really?  Well, having had enough to drink, we all thought that this sounded like a swell idea, so we eventually gained entry and were instructed by Bishop’s wife not to get loud or cause a disturbance or the girls will be too embarrassed to come out.  At this, we all looked at each other with expressions that must have made us look like college professors who had stumbled upon a profound revelation: “so, Japanese strippers still have a sense of decorum!”  We nodded our understanding.

     The hallway led straight from the entrance to the other side of the building.  To our left there were two open entryways to the stage area.  Seated before the stage were, perhaps, thirty or so older Japanese men who looked somewhat surprised that a large group of American gaijin had invaded their little party.  But they soon returned their attention to the stage as the first girl came out.  Now, I don’t remember if the music was piped in or if she had her own boom-box to operate, but she went into her act.  Most of our women took a curious look and then retreated out of sight in the hallway.  In fact, nearly all of us stood around one of the entranceways and watched because the room was close to filled.  Eventually, our dancing diva gets down to it and produces a small object that looks like a blackjack (you know the thing they hit people on the head with in film noir movies) and she hoisted her leg up against the side wall of the stage and smiled.  She was missing a front tooth.

     At this, Steve, who was quite inebriated, began laughing and he had a laugh that would carry in a room – especially in a room of Japanese men watching a naked woman pleasure herself.  An elderly man who was close to Steve looked back and smiled sheepishly as we were all snickering.  A smile in Japan, though, is not necessarily a smile; it is often a sign of irritation or embarrassment.  This was probably a mixture of the two.  I had seen enough and receded to the hallway with the other ladies and disinterested guys until she had finished her “act.”

     Well, as this club was not lacking in entertainment value, the next woman came out and she was a big surprise.  I mean she was a BIG surprise.  This hefty gal’s act consisted of lying down on the stage, business-end to the audience, and crossing and uncrossing her legs.  Steve started laughing again and we decided it would be in the interest of international diplomacy if we departed, which we did.

     We were all hungry – surprisingly enough we could still manage a desire to eat – and headed to a place that specialized in Mongolian barbecue.  This was a large room with wooden tables that lined the walls.  This was because on every table sat a gas-fueled hibachi with a wall connection.  We took our seats and got large mugs of Sapporo beer, armed ourselves with chopsticks, and drank.  They brought out these huge platters of pork slices and various vegetables and we were to take whatever we wanted off these platters and cook them on the hibachi.  It was so good! Once one platter was finished, another came to replace it. This was worth the trip to Hakodate by itself!

     But, of course, this wouldn’t be Baker Flight if we didn’t start playing drinking games and the “Here’s to Brother…” drinking song rang out and soon we were all, in time, chugging our very large beers.  After a while, we strayed from our tables, the food eaten, and we were visiting the restrooms and mingling and still chugging beer.  Debbie went to the restroom and happened upon this scene where Archie, who was not an experienced drinker, discovered  he had reached his limit – but not the restroom – and violently disgorged himself on the back of Dean’s shirt.  My wife was a witness to projectile vomit!  I was and still am jealous.  She couldn’t stop laughing and that little event was “last call” for us all.  We departed Hakodate the next day, another town conquered by Baker Flight hijinks.

     To this day, the only things my wife remembers about Hakodate are those “dirty hog” women and Archie’s projectile vomit.  I, however, remember the siren song of Mongolian barbecue.

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