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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Yakuza - Ninkyo Dantai

Would you believe the Yakuza refer to themselves as Ninkyo dantai? Not Yakuza, of course, as that has a negative connotation from what I read in the media.

Instead, clling themselves the Ninkyo dantai makes them seem more like an exclusive gentleman's club, because the term actually translates to 'chivalrous groups.'

Now I've had a drink or two with a ninkyo dantai leader (aka Yakuza boss) in my city of Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan - 20 years ago. That would be in the 4C bar, my choice of hangout mostly because it was classy, probably over-priced, but then again it had a better class of women.

I must tell you that although he didn't try to speak any English - speaking a deep guttural growl of Japanese instead - I thought he was a nice enough guy.

I'm not sure if chivalrous would come to mind as a means to describe him, but he wasn't unchivalrous.

I mean, I didn't expect him to hold my chair out for me or anything like that, but he did call me over - by name - AN-DO-RYU-sensei! he bellowed as the bar grew quiet. He waved me over in that typical Japanese way: arm up, elbow bent and with his palm down moved his fingers (not his thumb) back and forth.

He was dressed in a yukata... a male, Spring kimono. I had not seen any other Japanese man dress like that - except at an onsen (hot bath house. When his arm moved to call me over, I spied a mess of red and green and blue ink on his arm as the yukata slipped to his shoulder...I have no idea what type of tattoos he had, though I was curious as all get out.

I like tattoos. I do. Especially when they are done right and actually have some meaning to the person. I was sure his tattoos had meaning, but because he quickly pulled the yukata down to cover them, I played the chivalrous coward and did not ask him to show me them.

But man... I wanted to. I have always wanted a tattoo... but I'm a hairy guy and even now, to this day, failed to come up with a piece of art that would convey what I say. That's what my mouth and typing fingers do, so I guess I don't really need a tattoo.

Anyhow... I suppose I may have mislead you all... maybe he did speak English, as he bellowed out a question: DURINKU?!

That means 'drink' - at least it was katakana English. I'm not sure if he was asking or telling me, but I stammered out a 'hai' (yes). I might already have had a drink when he called me over, but when a member of a chivalrous group wants you to drink, you drink. That's the chivalrous thing to do.

I still have no idea how the bartender got me the whiskey straight up so quickly, but he did.

I don't drink whiskey, and if I did... it sure as hell wouldn't be straight up. I prefer bourbon and the bartender knew that, but since whiskey is what the leader of the cultural group was drinking, he knew better than to provide me with anything other than the same. It just wouldn't be chivalrous.

Now... just so you know... his son was in the third year (Grade 9) over at Ohtawara Chu Gakko (Ohtawara Junior High School)... the main one of seven junior high schools I teach at as part of my duties as a junior high school assistant English teacher on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme.

From one of the other gentlemen with the glorious leader of the Ohtawara Chivalrous Group who spoke English, he confirmed that his son spoke highly of me to his father.

I thought back to what sort of impression I might have made on the lad and figure it might have been me complimenting him on his orange hair color.

Quite naturally, he was the only kid in the school who wore orange in his hair.

Adding a hair color to one's hair is a sign of rebellion, and usually the nail that stands up get's hammered down in Japan. For some reason this kid was not chastised for his hair color. I thought that very chivalrous of the OBOE (Ohtawara Board of Education) office (my bosses). And smart.

I am sure they probably went and set up a meeting with his dad and explained their predicament. Apologizing the whole time they were doing it, but they must have come to some sort of chivalrous agreement that allowed the boy to keep his hair color and them to keep whatever it was they were doing... breathing, is my best guess.

Anyhow... the chivalrous group leader sucked back his drink... so I did the same. He bowed in the most subtle manner possible for a Japanese person (I think he lowered his head a millimeter. Actually, I don't think he moved at all) and quietly said 'domo' (thanks).

For that chivalrous outburst, I bowed so deep my head hit the table (thankfully no drinks were hurt - especially the leader's) and told him thank-you very much for looking after my well-being in the city, stood up, bowed deeply again, saw him smile broadly at my sign of respect as he did give me a bow... the head slightly to the side kind of bow that you might do to a friend... and then I bowed yet again before I backed into the bar, sat down and had a free drink from the bartender/owner who was impressed that I wasn't killed in a chivalrous manner.

As if.

If I had done something stupid, these guys weren't going to exact a measure of chivalrous revenge in broad daylight to a well-known gaijin (foreigner). No.... it would be done in a completely chivalrous manner in which nobody saw nuthin'.

I wanted to ask how it was possible for a gaijin to become involved in the chivalrous club... as I could always use the extra income and respect and fear that came with it, but that damn whiskey had burned my throat in a chivalrous way allowing my brain to come to its half-drunk senses and shut my mouth the hell up.

And... although I once forgot upon which side of a beautiful woman and the road I should have walked, I've learned my lesson quite well from the chivalrous group leader.

Somewhere being chivalrous,
Andrew Joseph
Oh... and the photo above is not a Japanese Chivalrous Group shot, though I like the imagery.

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