“Life in Japan is like tofu,” announces a friend over drinks at a late night eatery. “It’s much too bland. What this country needs is a good dose of . . . evil.”
A comment so sinister I almost choke on my chopsticks.
“I don’t mean evil in the sense of crime and corruption. There’s enough of that. I mean evil in the Machiavellian sense — that of intelligent darkness, planned malevolence, behind-the-doors heh-heh-hehing. What this country needs is a nice, juicy conspiracy theory.”
Heavens to Matsumoto Seicho! Chords of Beethoven’s 5th echo around us and my friend bends his brows.
“In the West we have Kennedy, Roswell, Sept. 11 and more. But what does Japan have? Nothing, that’s what.”
“Well . . . ” I tell him, “I think I saw Elvis on the Chuo Line.”
“It could’ve been,” he says back. “I’m sure he’s out there somewhere. But that’s a Western plot. I want something Japanese. Where is it?”
“You mean like some nights the Crown Prince dresses as a waiter and serves tables in Yurakucho?”
“No, but that’s what you mean, right?”
“What I mean is this.” His eyes flick right and left. He lowers his voice. “If Japan wants to take center stage in the brotherhood of nations, it needs a worthwhile conspiracy to garner attention. As it is, this land is too squeaky clean. It needs some bona fide cloak-and-dagger, some first-class mayhem.”
“But if you sift back in history — before the war and so on — you’ll find . . . “
“No, no, no,” he says. “I’m not talking about World War II, the Warring States era, or even ninjas, God bless their souls. I’m talking about now. What is Japan doing now to make you think it’s dirty enough to be respected?”
“Um . . . Still waters run deep?”
“No they don’t. Not in today’s media market. Today, if you’ve got no skeletons in your closet, you need to start digging. Part of modern-day leadership is entertainment. The masses don’t like to be bored. They want intrigue, suspense, unholy shenanigans, and so on.”
“Isn’t that why we have movies?”
Movies, he reminds me, are fiction.
“And real life is supposed to be stranger than fiction. If all Japan can offer is an occasional dismembered husband, she’s in big trouble spotlight-wise.”
“You’re not being fair,” I say. “Remember those whispers of corporate Japan scheming to take over the world? Or how about the silk curtain of the Imperial Household Agency? Who knows what secrets they’ve got? And then you have the Tokyo Giants. Evil incarnate if I’ve ever seen it.”
He blinks profusely. “Baseball teams? Career-weepy princesses? You call those conspiracies? And the rumors of Japan’s world dominance popped with the bubble. The question remains: If Japan is so mind-bogglingly efficient, how come it can’t produce any worthwhile chicanery? Tell me, huh?”
I fumble for an argument and end by pressing for more time. It’s like Japan’s fledgling space program, I conclude. It’s way behind the States now, but give it a few more years and it will put a man on the moon for sure.
“No one put a man on the moon,” he snaps. “That was a hoax. The kind Japan could never pull off.”
“What is it with you conspiracy guys? How come everything that happens has to be mysterious or have some ulterior motive? Why can’t single gunmen sometimes actually act alone? Aren’t you seeing shadows where none exist?”
“Yeah,” he says. “I use to have those very same thoughts. Until I came across one little known fact.” He leans in close and his eyes open wide.
“‘Leave It To Beaver’ was canceled barely two months before the Kennedy assassination. Think about it.”
I do. And say: “So?”
“That can’t be a coincidence. The Beaver gets canceled and then so does Kennedy? Clearly someone was upset. Someday it’s all gonna come out.”
“You’re nuts,” I tell him.
“But wait! There’s more. Put a blond wig on Jackie Kennedy and she looks just like June Cleaver, the Beaver’s mother.”
“You’re really nuts.”
“And the names Kennedy and Cleaver both have seven letters!”
“That’s not a mystery! It’s chance!”
“Oh,” he blurts out. “I could tell you things that would make your brain explode. I could tell you that the night she died Princess Diana was carrying Marilyn Monroe’s secret diary predicting the murder of Jon Benet Ramsey. That the AIDS virus was brought to earth by microscopic UFOs. That a genuine Big Foot is being held in a concealed room inside the pyramids. Why doesn’t Japan have such stories!?”
“Maybe people here are too sensible.”
He waves me off. “Nonsense. The Japanese eat this stuff up. But they can’t produce it themselves. They import their conspiracies.”
Yet then he gasps and adds. “Unless . . . It’s a coverup!”
I ask the waiter for the bill. My friend grabs my sleeve.
“What’s Japan hiding!?”
Nothing, I tell him, as I pay the waiter.
Who, as it of course happens, is a dead ringer for the Crown Prince.