Do you believe in love at first sight ? ? ?
I do ! ! !
My dear friend Mitsui san was the owner of a bar in the “Golden Gai” a small neighborhood in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo.
Shinjuku developed from the black market after the war fueled by the trade in stolen US army supplies of food and equipment and the need to “entertain” GIs with not much time and a lot of money.
Skyscrapers and modern buildings, bright lights and fancy department stores, gourmet restaurants and hip bars fill Shinjuku these days
Today it is a thriving business and entertainment area, but somehow in the middle of all the modernity is the pre war neighborhood of the “Golden Gai”
This area of only 6 tiny alleyways escaped the firestorm of the Tokyo bombing and is one of the few areas of modern Tokyo that today keep the character of prewar Tokyo. It is a popular night life area with artists, musicians, and writers.
One night when I still an undergraduate and only 18 years old, I was walking to Shinjuku station and decided to take a short cut through Kabukichou ( Tokyo’s most notorious red light districts ) and the Golden Gai.
It was exactly midnight and the hour that Mitsui san opened his bar. As I walked through the alley way, a tall, older gentleman with an impressive moustache and dressed like an extra from a Yakuza movie appeared before me ! ! !
He was opening his bar and putting the sign outside and as the alley way was so narrow we had to meet.
In that moment our eyes met and we both knew that this was a fateful meeting ! ! !
He half bowed, looked at me and smiled and invited me in to his bar ! ! !
His bar was more or less the size of my kitchen and had only eight seats. On the walls were posters of Jazz musicians and old movies and behind the bar was a record player and his collection of Jazz records.
We started talking about music, at first Soul and Blues, and then my very limited knowledge of Jazz and and Mitsui san began to tell me about the greats of Jazz and the wonderful Blue Note label and their host of stars.
It soon became clear that to have seat at Mitsui san’s bar was really something special. Actors, musicians, writers and artists came asked to come in, some were admitted but many were not. The customers asked who I was and Mitsui san said I was his friend, daughter, wife or girlfriend depending on how he felt ! ! !
Mitsui san kept the bar for more than 40 years and he was around 80 years old when he died last year. There was always a young sparkle in his eye and his love of life and music that shone through everything ! ! !
As an undergraduate, I soon became a regular at Mitsui san’s bar and early evening during the week days ( between 12 midnight and 1 in the morning ) when the bar was quite, we would talk and he would play me his favorite Jazz records.
Drinking beer and listening to Jazz with Mitsui became something special for me.
I was new in Tokyo and felt alone and sometimes lost. Sitting early in the evening in his bar listening to his stories with a sound track of mellow Jazz became a symbol that this city somehow still had a heart. He never asked me anything, but he could feel my mood and would be funny, attentive or considerate depending on how I felt, but best of all, he could feel when I just need to be alone and silent with him for a while. He was a remarkable man and a wonderful friend ! ! !
I still go occasionally to the Golden Gai, and whenever I go I am treated like a princess and honored guest as the bar owners there still remember me and my friendship with Mitsui san.
His favorite Jazz musician was Miles Davies, as long ago, when Mitsui still had teeth, he played the trumpet. He introduced me not just to Miles Davies but a whole world of Jazz ! ! !
Somehow, I know, when I am reborn I will meet him again ! ! !
Miles Davis – Blue In Green