Growing up J-Town #JT-080


ut I think that my classmates going to D-Land obliged Mom to trust me a bit more than she would have wanted. She couldn’t deprive her son completely from tasting some level of independence. So by the 8th grade, I was allowed to stay after school on Fridays until the Boy Scout meeting at 7:30PM. I had finally become a peer.

School let out at 3:20PM. As an Eastsider, I usually went home on second trip, meaning that I rode one of the school buses on its second route, the first route being the Westside. The second trip of my bus was around 4:30, so for an hour we would usually play basketball or touch football on the asphalt playground. The last second trip bus was around 5pm and usually left the playground with the stragglers–those who didn’t take the bus and waited for their parents to come pick them up after work. For me and my peers, it was time to go for dinner in J-Town.

From Maryknoll, J-Town was just a few short blocks away. We walked passed the warehouses and medium-sized factories that lined 2nd Street, stepped over the railroad tracks on Alameda, then crossed Central in front of the old brick Goodwill building, and we were in Japanese Town.

Friday around 5PM, everyone was heading home and the roads were crowded with cars, especially on 1st street. But for pedestrians, it wasn’t too bad, especially for me, a fourteen-year old walking around unsupervised. (I’m sure this sounds quaint to many of you today.) Before eating we would go into stores and check out the merchandise. First on the agenda for us was to walk into any store, often one of the many bookstores–you know how the Japanese love to read. We’d walk into one and look for the nasty magazines. I learned later that they were not really pornographic–especially after I saw real pornography. These magazines–like Gendai and Takarajima–had mostly short stories, serials and essays. But for some reason, the first few color pages had photos of nude women. Back in the 60s the photos were mostly boobs and butts, but it was enough to excite me. The after a few jokes and playful punches, the proprietor would chase us out of the store.

Other times we would go to some of the souvenir shops that dot J-Town. We’d pick up a plastic sword and play samurai a bit and again get chased out by a store employee. Once we went into the sporting goods on the corner of 2nd and San Pedro.

“Hey, Scratch,” Rhubarb called to me. Scratch was a nickname based on my Japanese name. “Take a look at this.”

He handed me an pen with a picture of a blonde girl wearing a bathing suit, but when you held it upside down–or was it right side up?–the bathing suit flowed away and the girl became naked. I remember asking why they would have such a novelty in a sporting goods store, but my friend just said, “tourists.” He meant, of course, Japanese tourists. They’d buy a handful and hand out naked blonde girls as souvenirs to their workmates in Japan.

Next he picked up a small red toy about the size of a pack of gum. It was shaped like a television, but on the back side, it had a small viewer into which my friend peaked. He immediately pulled his face away in embarrassment and almost threw the toy back into the pile from which he picked it up.

“Don’t look in there,” he cautioned. “Do not look in there.”

Well, being the type of person I am, I had to look in it now. So I picked it up and peaked in to see… yes, you guessed it, another naked lady. But this time it wasn’t an illustrated image like the bathing beauty on the pen. It was a photo of a real woman. She was again a blonde with large breasts, sitting with her legs beneath her as she gave me that “come hither” look. I was reluctant to put the toy down, but I was too embarrassed to be caught drooling by a store clerk, so I too returned it to the pile, all the while wondering if the girl in the blue toy was different. Well, Rhubarb cleared that one up for me when we left the store.

“This one has brown hair,” he said as he handed me the blue toy.

“How…” I didn’t finish the sentence. I just held the toy to my eye and indeed saw another naked girl, and indeed she was a brunette.

“So why do you have this. Did you buy it?” I asked naively.

“You gotta be slick, man,” he said, and proceed to tell me how it was easy to grabbed two of these small toys in one grab, look into one, feign embarrassment, and toss back only one of the toys back, stuffing the other one into his pocket.

“Ooooh.” How ingenious, I thought. There were a number of subsequent occasions when I had thought about taking something from a store–a baseball, a deck of cards, a pack of gum. But I would never be able to bring myself to take this five finger discount. Getting caught pilfering candy from McDonald’s supermarket when I was five set me straight for life.

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