Thursday, January 30, 2014

My Friend Manny: R.I.P.

I arrived in the the Japanese city of Hamamatsu to teach English in the middle of August, 1971. Or I thought I was there to teach English. I was in a school. I had multitudes of students. But they were not there to learn English. The men were there to meet the women, and vice versa. Both sexes were there to hang out and have fun. No one had more fun than my student turned friend, Manny. His real name was Hisato Ota but I gave everyone a nickname in lieu of learning to pronounce their Japanese names. I named Manny after a favourite Dodger, Manny Mota because Ota was close to Mota. As soon as classes were over every night, it was off to a bar. On weekends there were excursions and/or parties. Manny organized most of these, including this one: 
Japan was vastly more fun that it would have been in those early days of my life there if Manny hadn't been involved. I was transferred up north to the city of Yamagata on Halloween but kept in touch with Manny ever since.
  After marrying Fumiyo Ishikawa in Vancouver in Sept. 1975, we went to Japan together in March 76. We hitch hiked south from her hometown Kamagaya, near Tokyo and visited Manny, who had moved to Nagoya and also gotten married. Here is Manny with his wife Mineko in April, 1976. Still having fun.
After our daughter was born in Vancouver in October, 1978, we moved to Kamagaya and lived there for the next decade, seeing Manny and his family often. We moved permanently to Vancouver in 1988. I've only been back in Japan twice, in 2003 and the last time in August, 2007. It's ridiculously hot in Japan in the summer. Here is Manny having fun even in that hideous weather:
This was the last time I saw Manny. His daughter told us he died at the end of 2013. He had a good life.
He was born in Manchuria when it was a Japanese colony in the 30s. As an adult, he was in the Japanese Self Defence Force for a while. Later he was a pig farmer in, oddly, Kamagaya when it was rural instead of a suburb of Tokyo, as it is now. Then he worked digging tunnels for the Tokyo subways, including one under my school in the Kudanshita neighbourhood of Tokyo. I don't know what he was doing in Hamamatsu, but in Nagoya he worked for a company that made textile machines. But whatever he did wasn't important..
  In one of Peter Bergman's first radio shows, maybe 67 or 68, shortly after he formed the Firesign Theatre, Peter responded to a question on the air about jobs. "There is no such thing as a mailman," Peter said, "just a guy who spends a few hours a day delivering mail." After Peter died in 2012, I met Peter's daughter Lily, and she told me he raised her that way, that jobs were not important: Life was important. Having a good time was important.
  Manny's life is perfectly captured in Charles Dickens' ending to A Christmas Carol, speaking of Scrooge:
  "It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us." I hope Manny's son and daughter and their children take after Manny in his sheer mastery of having fun. May that be truly said of the rest of us too.

  





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