I was in Japan on business and my friend and colleague Charlie Snoek
(aka The Snooker, of bass-fishing infamy) arranged a weekend for us
in the mountains northwest of Tokyo. Our host was the late Tom Hiayashi,
then in his eighties, a retired board member of Mitsubishi Chemical, and
Mr. Tom was a slight, short man with white hair and a wonderful smile.
To virtually all things he answered, "Is that so?" A Japanese version
of "Do you hear what I'm saying?"
A career diplomat before his sojourn in the world of capitalism, Mr. Tom
spent World War II under house arrest in Calgary, Alberta, where he was
the consul. For months his RCMP minders escorted him on his daily walk,
but after several months of wearing out longer and younger legs, the
Mounties told him to just go and be back at such and such a time.
Snooker first went to Japan as a honcho in a joint venture with Mitsubishi,
but very quickly found he could not get certain chemicals through Customs.
In exasperation he called Mr. Tom and told him it was time to fold the
"Is that so?" Mr. Tom said.
Snooker told him of his problems.
The next day, the barriers were gone and the needed chemicals began to
flow into the factory. Mr. Tom was what some in Japan call a King-Maker,
one of those silent types who sit behind the curtain like the Wizard of Oz,
We met Hiayashi-san at his apartment in a distant suburb of Tokyo. Inside
his front door was a stuffed German shepherd his favorite pet. He could
not bear to part with when it passed away. He was a sentimental old gent.
On the way to the mountains, Mr. Tom decided we should have some juicy
Japanese pears. He stopped his car in front of a grocery store in a small
town, halting it suddenly smack in the middle of the highway, got out, leaving
his door open and trundled into the store to shop. Cars veered and squealed
their tires going around us. I looked at Snooker and told him no way was
I playing sitting duck.
Mr. Tom's cabin was located in an artist's colony. It was secluded, looking
down on a silver river at the bottom of a deep gorge. The house had a tower,
sort of like those used to hang and pack parachutes, but this one was filled
with dozens of stuffed Canadian mammals and birds, gifts from the Canadian
government when he was released at the end of the war. In his will, he
wanted a museum built and it has been.
That first night we drove to an onsen, a mineral bath in a country inn.
In Japanese public baths, as in Russia, the genders are separated.
First you go into a changing room, where you strip.
Then you take a towel and go into another room to soap yourself and wash off
the soap. The water comes out of a low pipe in the wall. While you are soaping
and rinsing before entering the bath you are standing in full view of all bathers,
Which came as a bit of a shock when I turned around to see several female
faces staring at me.
We had the entire dining room to ourselves for dinner. We were served tiny
trout, twisted brown by frying and seasoned with some sort of spice that made
them sweet. I don't know how many we ate, but it was plenty. And enough
food for a large group, of which the diminutive Mr. Tom ate the most.
We slept on futons on rattan floors and awoke to a cold cabin and frost on
the ground. It was autumn and the valley below us was covered by a canopy
of low Japanese maples turned scarlet orange.
At midday we went down to the river and instead of fishermen, we saw dozens
of men with their easels set up, painting away.
"No fishing here?" I asked Hiyashi-san.
"Good trout," Mr. Tom said, "But before you can catch a dream, you must be
able to see it. To paint a fish is to see it."
I thought about it for a moment and said, "Is that so?"
Before we departed, Mr. Tom planted two trees in honor of our visit. I then
penned a poem, a sort of Heywood Haiku, meaning clumsy. But Mr. Tom
had that poem rendered into stone by a sculptor-calligrapher and placed it
at the base of the trees. It is still there.
There is so much to learn in this life, and so little time to learn it. I now
paint fish every chance I get. Trout, naturally. ~ Joe Heywood