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Saturday, Oct. 16, 2004


Island life: gangsters, fish and thieves

If I have led my readers to believe that my island is safe, then I have misled you. Although still safer than the city, island life has its own dangers, not all of which are the natural disasters. We have the human type too.

Possible villains are numerous, with one islander being an Aum Shinrikyo member and with the everlasting gangster presence on the neighboring island. Last summer, a group of these bare-chested young punks with gold chains and tattoos came to our island for a visit. They sat in one corner of the bar and made their presence known. The bar customers, more disgusted than scared, moved to tables outside.

The infiltration of gangsters is enough of a threat that it has been a long-standing policy on this island to not sell land to outsiders. People hang on to land forever, just to keep it out of the hands of the wrong people and to protect the others still living here.

We are used to taking safety measures upon ourselves. We have a tradition called "houdou," where the neighbors take turns walking around the island at night to ensure that the 12 junior high school students and the 26 elementary school students are not getting into trouble. But still, stories of rising crime in Japan abound, and there was no reason we should think we'd be exempt.

So when my brand new mountain bike was stolen, I wasn't exactly surprised. It was more a question of who took it and why the hell they thought they'd get away with it.

It happened one morning in midweek when I was awakened at 5:30 a.m. by 75-year-old Rikimatsu-san yelling from the dock outside my house.

"Emily-san!" (The islanders call me Emily, I'm not sure why). "Emily-san! Are you awake?" he yelled. "Let's go fishing!"

I ran downstairs and opened the living room window that faces the port. "Fishing? Now?"

He looked at his watch. "OK, I'll give you 15 minutes. Meet me on the other side of the port."

I changed clothes, stuffed a piece of bread in my mouth, rode to the other side of the port where Rikimatsu-san's boat was tied up, parked my bicycle and went fishing.

For the next two hours we caught "mama kari" by the dozen with a 12-hook fishing line.

Then Rikimatsu-san added another length of line to add 12 more hooks, and I was catching twice as many fish each time I dropped the line in the water. With the extra weight of the fish, I had to steady the pole against my stomach to reel them in. This week's menu was looking good: fried fish, fish marinated in vinegar and mama kari sushi.

When we came back, the old man dropped me off at the dock in front of my house, then went and tied his boat up. This is when I realized my bicycle was missing. I looked everywhere but couldn't find it. Well, it finally happened -- crime had come to our small island in the middle of the Inland Sea. And I was going to find the perpetrator and wring his neck.

I got on my scooter and went searching for my bicycle. It was nowhere near my house. I looked up and down the port -- nothing. I was determined to find it, so I looked everywhere. And I finally found it -- on the other side of the port. This is when I realized who had stolen my bicycle: me.

Amy's home page: www.amychavez.com

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