jump into their pool when tattooed figures grabbed him from behind, spun him round,
and hurled him back the way he had come. His mates said he was lucky to return with
Rumour has it that, in former times, the tattooed skin of dead yakuza was peeled
from their bodies and made into lampshades. The Kobe boys reckon it still goes on.
They say it is a great honour to be turned into a lampshade. They point out that
politicians have statues erected in their memory. Past presidents of Rotary have
plaques inscribed. Yakuza are commemorated with lampshades.
I asked about sliced fingers. I’d read about it. The practice is a variant on IRA
kneecapping, which was a punishment inflicted upon individuals who failed to do as
they were told. The Kobe boys said that finger slicing is self-inflicted and shows
remorse for getting things wrong.
The yakuza are sticklers for law enforcement. So, if the oyabun tells you to go out
and shoot someone, it is important to get it right. If you shoot the wrong person, you
have to admit your mistake . You do this by cutting off the end of a finger and placing it
in a small box with a note explaining what happened . You say you are humbly sorry
and will be more careful in future . The Kobe boys say they know people with bits of
PS: The polite ladies from Nara West would, no doubt, be relieved to hear that the
above pic was produced with the aid of tomato paste and photshop.
14 Man in the middle
There was probably nothing sinister about the three people sitting opposite me .
The man was clearly unwell, which would explain why the women were propping
him up. Their facemasks were a bit severe but there’s no law against covering
the face. And there’s no law to prevent people dressing alike. For all I knew, the
ladies could be sisters caring for a sick relative. All the same, I couldn’t help
remembering the story about the man in the middle.
My photograph was taken in the Tokyo Metro. The man in the middle story took
place in the London Underground and was circulating about thirty years ago. It went
something like this:
A young woman boards a train late at night and is seized by a feeling that
something is seriously wrong. She glances around and her sense of unease is
heightened when she realises there is no way of leaving the carriage for another part
of the train.
Three young men sit hunched up on a seat opposite her and one of them is staring
at her with wide unblinking eyes. The only other passenger is a middle-aged man.
After a while he comes across. The young woman has never seen him before but he
talks as if he knows her.