In preparation for my move to Tokyo in 1963 as a young anthropologist with too shiny shoes and little worldly experience, I studied basic Japanese and read a lot of books about the people and their culture. Morse, Taut, Benedict, Fairbanks and Jansen became integral to my emerging self-confidence. These esteemed scholars however did little to prepare me for my first landlord.
For my comfort, a small new house had been rented on the property of a retired member of the Japanese diplomatic corps. Mr. Kifune was only 4 feet 11 inches, but to his neighbors in Setagaya, he was a giant. I instantly loved my little house adjoining the Kifune garden. The morning light diffused through the shoji, the sweet smell of the new tatami as flooring for the upstairs room. It was all so new to me and wonderfully exciting to my senses. There was only one problem - my new home was so empty! Having limited funds, I decided to add a few "conveniences" from the used goods shop I had found near to the local rail station. With the house now somewhat decorated, I invited Mr. Kifune over to see how well I was settling in.
He didn't seem to mind my undrinkable green tea or the horsehair sofa with the pink paisley upholstery, but the tansu on the tatami was another matter indeed .. His silence and furled brow did not imply approval. Then he spoke with that oblique politeness refined Japanese can use like a sword: HEINEKEN-SAN, PLEASE FORGIVE THAT I HAVE FORGOTTEN TO SHOW YOU THE PLACE IN OUR KURA STORE HOUSE FOR YOUR NOT NEEDED POSSESSIONS. I immediately sensed that I was in unfamiliar cultural territory. After a long silence puncuated by sips and sighs, Mr. K offered that perhaps the chest might look rather nice under the staircase. Of coarse he was right - it was his house! I thanked him for his sage suggestion. He thanked me for my hospitality. As I stood in the doorway watching him shuffle down the garden path to the main house, I felt myself bowing ever so slightly. What I learned that day wasn't in any of the books I'd read.