HORSE’S MOUTH: Memories of Mountain View High

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By GEORGE YOSHINAGA
(First published in
The Rafu Shimpo on Tuesday, December 21.)

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The year was 1939. I was a lowly substitute on the Mountain View High School (Northern California) varsity football team.

However, since the team was a powerhouse and ran over all its opponents, the coach gave the substitute a lot of playing time.

The team was undefeated, untied and unscored upon and won the Santa Clara County Athletic League championship.

It repeated again in 1940 and 1941.

The talk started circulating that perhaps Mountain View was the strongest prep team in the State of California.

Well, that sort of talk went down the drainpipe when a sports writer for an area newspaper wrote that the strongest prep teams were from Southern California, including the Los Angeles area.

He said, “You country boys can’t compete with the Southern California high school teams.”

In recent years, they started statewide play-off games for the preps from every section of California.

I was watching one of the games on TV his past weekend. It pitted undefeated Serra High School of Gardena vs. Folsom High of Northern California.

The game wasn’t even close and Folsom trashed Serra.

And in the three other division games, the Northern California teams blasted the Southern California entries.

Palo Alto High defeated Centennial High. Concord De La Salle kicked the kukai out of Servite and Escalon defeated San Diego Madison.

So, going back to 1939. Maybe if they had a playoff system then, Mountain View might have ended up as the best team in California.

We had some great “country boys” on that team.

No, a second-string farmer wasn’t considered a great “country boy.” I think I can say that I was a great “bench warmer.”

Mountain View HS football team; George Yoshinaga pictured. (Click photo to take a closer look.)

This is the photo of the three-time league champions. That’s me (No. 2) in the front row on the far left. The coach of the team was Stan Anderson, who was a star at Stanford University during his playing days. The other two “Japanese faces” were George Shiraki, the team manager, and Bob Izu, a bench warmer like me.

Ah, sweet memories.

One of the advantages of having written a column for so many years is that when I want to give my brains a little rest, I can always thumb through the pile of stuff I have kept in what I call my “File.”

So, in reviewing some of the material and with another year coming to a close, I thought some of the stuff might be reprinted to fill my column.

Here is one I had entitled “Best Way to Survive in Tokyo, Put a Lid on Booze.”

This one appeared in 1985 when I was still at the Kashu Mainichi. It goes:

“I don’t drink.

“Never have and probably ever will, save for a small beer on a hot summer day.

“As I look back at the three years that I lived in Japan, my disdain for the booze probably helped me to survive in Tokyo.

“Since I was employed by a promotion company, most of our activities were at night and after work was finished, all the Japanese employees would head for their favorite bar.

“I tagged along because we would be out in the company car and if I said I was going home, I had to grab a cab.

“And, even in those days, trying to hail a cab late at night was tougher than finishing a New York Times crossword puzzle.

“During the early days of my stay in Tokyo and bar-hopping activities, I would go in and order a soft drink, usually a Coke.

“Immediately, I would be eyed suspiciously by the bar hostesses as if I had landed from another planet.

“At first, they would laugh, thinking it was a joke. Later, when they learned I was serious, they turned colder than the ice in a glass of ‘mizu-wari,’ the most popular drink in Japanese nightclubs and bars.

“‘Mizu-wari’ was the name they gave to scotch and water. I wondered at that time what they would call bourbon and water. At any rate, ‘mizu-wari’ always meant scotch and water.

“Hostesses in Japanese bars, who earn a portion of what the customers drank, didn’t have much time for someone who was sipping on a soft drink.

“I couldn’t figure this out because they charged as much for a glass of Coke as they did for scotch and water. Perhaps they concluded that no one drank as many Cokes as scotch and water.

“On the other hand, nobody ever got drunk on soft drinks, a condition that the hostesses try to induce because, I suppose, when one gets plastered, he really isn’t too concerned about his bar tab at the end of the evening.

“And, even if one did care, he probably couldn’t focus his eyes enough to see what the bottom figures were on his bill.

“Also, when one drinks too many soft drinks, a trip to the little room becomes a lot more frequent than those who consume hard alcohol. I don’t know why this is, but I found myself going to the john at about a three-to-one ratio over those who drank the hard stuff.

“The other thing is that when one is the only sober person in a crowd, he becomes a party pooper of sorts.

“After a time, I decided to change my tactics. I would order scotch and soda and let it sit in front of me. Perhaps I would sip on it just enough to conceal my plot.

“The fact that I was a Nisei had its plus and minus points.

“Some of the hostesses were interested in my background … what it was like being a Nisei living in Japan.

“Others chose to ignore me, figuring that a Nisei was not affluent enough for them to waste their time on.

“Since my command of the Japanese language was very limited during my early days in Japan, it was just as well that I was ignored. I couldn’t carry on a decent conversation anyway.

“After going this route for about a year, I decided that this was not my lifestyle, so I decided to battle the cab drivers and make my way back to my apartment.

“As I left, I wondered how all the other guys could stay out all night since they had kids and wives waiting for them.

“Seems like Japanese men didn’t care about making them wait up. They didn’t even call home to let them know they wouldn’t be coming home until the wee hours of the morning.

“When I would tell them my wife might be upset if I started stayed out without calling her, they looked at me like I had taken leave of my senses.

“Of course, after a while I figured that their nonchalant attitude was only a front. Most of them never called home because they were afraid their wives would tell them to shag their butts and come home.

“I gathered this because when I would hear some of them who did call home, they would always make the excuse that they had a ‘gaijin no okyakusan’ they had to entertain. The ‘gaijin’ being me.

“I never recall any of them saying that they were ‘out with the boys from the company.’

“In the old days, most trains used to stop running at midnight, so if we stayed out beyond that hour, most of the guys who lived on the outskirts of Tokyo had to take a hotel room or grab a cab.

“Again, in those days, the cab fare was very inexpensive, so most of them opted for the cabs over hotel rooms even though hotel rooms were very reasonable in those days.

“Most of those riding on the midnight trains were pretty well-oiled with booze and I often wondered how they remained awake long enough to get off at their station.

“On the other hand, the thought of facing their wives when they got home was sobering enough for them to shape up before the train reached their station.

“Most of the Japanese men used to tell me that no matter what the hour, their wives would be up waiting for them, usually with dinner prepared.

“If I got home so late, I was lucky if my wife didn’t lock me out.

“But those were the glory days in Tokyo.

“One could ‘do the town’ with only 20,000 yen in his pocket because the yen rate was 360 to $1. And, I would never spend that much in one evening.

“Today, one would need 20,000 yen just for the cab.

“I mentioned earlier how hard it was to catch a cab late at night. Those that stopped would ask how far I was going. If it was just a short ride, they would speed off into the night.

“Just to get them to stop was a trick in itself. I used to stand on the corner with a 1,000-yen note in my hand and wave it at the cab as it passed by.

‘“This would do the trick most of the time. At other times, the cab driver would want to negotiate a higher bribe. If you told them to ‘go to hell,’ they would respond by telling you to go back to the sidewalk.

“Of course, this was all illegal, but since it was a common practice, nobody really made a formal protest to the company or the authorities.

“When it was raining, it was doubly tough to negotiate a ride for only 1,000 yen. Usually it took 1,500 to 2,000 yen. The meter for such a ride was usually under 1,000 yen, meaning that the bribe was much larger than the meter fare.

“When there were two or more of us trying to get a cab, we used to get much bolder and if a cab driver didn’t stop, we would throw rocks at them.

“Unfortunately, we missed our target most of the time.

“On one occasion, however, we were getting soaked, so everyone made a real effort to hit the cab. One of the guys scored a hit on the window, creating what can be expected when a one-pound rock hits glass.

“The driver slammed on his brakes and came after us with a big tire iron.

“Needless to say, I think Olympic sprinter Bob Hayes would have had a tough time catching me. I don’t think anyone can run faster than me when I am being chased by an irate individual with mayhem on his mind.

“I was fortunate in that I lived in the Shibuya section of Tokyo and Shibuya Station was one of the crossroads of subways and trains. Since I lived about four blocks from the station. I always managed to find a train going my way when I returned home in the evening.

“One thing about walking on dark streets in Japan late at night is that one need not be concerned with being mugged.

“On occasion, a drunk might get a little nasty and out looking for trouble, but I always figured that if a drunk tried to run after me, he wouldn’t last more than a block or two before he passed out. If not, one of the weapons I had was the English language. If I cursed the drunk in English, it would shock him. He’d mutter something like “Na-ni, omae wa gaijin da.’

“I never worried about my wife going out alone even after dark. Even it it was late at night, she was never bothered by strangers.

“Although we lived very close to the busy section of Shibuya, the road leading to our apartment was not very well-lighted, but she never worried about walking alone.

“I understand that this is not the case in recent times. Cases of women being harassed if they are walking alone at night are much more common.

“I guess this is something the street people picked up by watching American movies.”

Well, that’s it. A column I wrote 25 years ago. Hope most of you found it interesting reading.

Since I still have one more page to fill, let me continue with “writing from the past” by reprinting a story headlined, “Mochi, mochi, ano ne, ah so rice cake desu-ka.” It goes like this:

“In modern industrialized Japan, mochi made from glutinous rice steamed and then pounded into stretchy cakes is still a traditional must at New Year’s time.

“‘A rice cake in a picture’ looks appetizing, yet it has no substance. Therefore, this metaphor is often used to imply an unfulfilled plan. There seems to be no exact equivalent in English for this popular Japanese proverb.

“However, corresponding expressions with somewhat similar connotations would be ‘pie in the sky’ or ‘a castle in Spain.’

“In Japanese dietary culture, rice means much more than just a main staple. In fact, it is the most important and basic ingredient of the national drink, sake, sembei, dango and other eatables.

“In old agricultural society, rice played a crucial role as the nucleus of economic activity.

“During feudal times, the size of the fee of each daimyo (lord) was determined in terms of how much rice his territory could yield yearly. In those days a daimyo collected rice as land tax from his farmers and peasants and part of the tax, rice was distributed among his retainers as annual salaries.

“In Edo (now Tokyo) and Naniwa (now Osaka), merchants used to pay their clerks mochi-dai (rice cake money) as a year-end bonus. Thus, even today there is a mass compulsion to eat mochi during the New Year holiday.

“After temple bells toll 108 times in ringing out the old year, all sorts of supposed evils are believed to vanish on New Year’s Eve.

“Japan’s New Year’s Day begins solemnly with a very auspicious dish of mochi soup called zoni, which contains rice cakes cooked with vegetables and seasonal delicacies peculiar to the locality.

“The custom of eating zoni continues during the cold month of January in the countryside, if not in urban and suburban areas.

“The way zoni is prepared differs considerably according to the district and also family tastes.

“In the region around Tokyo, rice cakes cut into squares are slightly toasted before being boiled with various ingredients such as kamaboko, chicken and spinach in clear soup. In the Osaka district, however, rice cakes are round and cooked in thick white miso soup with carrot, radish and tofu. In addition, local flavors are often included in the dish. For instance, potatoes and salmon are frequently used on the northernmost island of Hokkaido.

“New Year’s Day is the biggest festival of the year. The day seems as a time as any to look forward to a new and vigorous start. To prepare for this festive occasion, many people customarily write greeting cards, cook several kinds of lucky food, and do a thorough housecleaning. In addition, rice-straw banners are hung above the doorway to scare away the evil spirits. In the alcove are placed kagami mochi, round mirror-shaped mochi offered to a deity.

“Together with round mochi, for good luck, other things of good omen are set on the family altar, such as Japanese oranges called daidai, a homonym of ‘from generation to generation,’ green ferns signifying expanding prosperity, and a red lobster symbolizing longevity. Fascinating and noteworthy is the fact that this custom has survived almost 1,000 years of turbulent Japanese society.

“There are two major kinds of Japanese rice. One is glutinous mochi rice. The other, non-glutinous uruchi rice.

“Mochi rice costs far more than uruchi because the same area of cultivated land yields less mochi rice than non-sticky uruchi rice in both weight and volume.”

Here’s a gassy laugher:

A lady walks into Tiffany’s. She looks around, spots a beautiful diamond bracelet and walks over to inspect.

As she bends over to look more closely, she unexpectedly farts.

Very embarrassed, she looks around nervously to see if anyone noticed her little whoops and prays that a salesman was not anywhere near.

As she turns around, her worst nightmare is realized in the form of a salesman standing right behind her. Good looking as well and cool as a cucumber, he displays all of the qualities one would expect of a professional in a store like Tiffany’s.

He politely greets her with, “Good morning, Madam. How may I help you today?”

Blushing and uncomfortable but still hoping that the salesman somehow missed her little “incident,” she asks, “Sir, what is the price of this lovely bracelet?”

He answers, “Madam, if you farted just looking at it, you’re going to poop when I tell you the price.”

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George Yoshinaga writes from Gardena and may be reached via e-mail. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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