Gangsters, Geishas, Monks & Me by Gordon Hutchison

Gangsters, Geishas, Monks & Me

KIRKUS REVIEW

This fascinating memoir unveils a hidden, nontouristy Japan to Western readers, not unlike a James Clavell novel.

In 1974, sickened by a crime- and drug-ridden USA—being mugged and repeatedly mistaken for gay in San Francisco were the last straw—Hutchison took a cue from author Phillip Kapleau, who became a Zen master after studying in 1950s Japan. With no prior immersion in the culture, Hutchison flew to Japan and began training at a centuries-old Zen monastery in the coastal town of Obama, a process that included hours of zazen (seated meditation) and repetition of the koan, “Who am I?” He also eked out a living teaching English to locals, but as the most visible gaijin (foreigner) in the ultraconformist community, “Gooodon” was an object of equal parts interest and revulsion, with some inhabitants going to extremes in rudeness. But one group—after an initial curiosity about American penis size—accepted Gordon-san: the local yakuza, gangsters led by the imposing Murata (who, of Korean descent, knew much about being outcast). Hutchison spent an interval as a doorman and factotum at a yakuza-run cabaret, witnessing both boorishness and street-level ethics among the thugs, as well as the noir-esque affairs he had with several women. Despite his candor—particularly regarding his own romantic prowess—Hutchison remains a sketchy figure, and the question “Who am I?” nibbles at the reader. He obliquely refers to multiple marriages and musical pursuits and doesn’t say much about his politics or the factors that subsequently earned him a long, successful advertising career in Tokyo and America. Nonetheless, the unerringly descriptive prose testifies to his copywriting chops. Twenty-first-century provincial Japan has proven itself to be more cosmopolitan than the era Hutchison experienced, so his unique account may be as valuable as it is entertaining for Orientalists.

A walk on the wild side in provincial Japan from a skillful narrator and infiltrator.

Pub Date: Nov. 30th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1475158939
Page count: 446pp
Publisher: CreateSpace
Program: Kirkus Indie
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