And then there was Takuji Sakuraba.
I have related the details of my two trips to Japan in 1961 and 1962 in my Memory chapters 38 to 40 on this same blog. On both trips, we were accompanied by the Liaison Manager from Mitsui Corporation, Tak Sakuraba. This time I am writing more about him than the trip details. Tak made all of our reservations, accompanied and hosted us with meetings at his company, the Mitsui Corporation and with the engineers and managers of Kobe Steel. My company, Production Operators Inc. had, through Mitsui, the sales company, contracted with Kobe to supply a nitrogen plant to make nitrogen that we, POI would then compress to 3,000 psi to inject into oil wells of the Chevron Corporation on a mountain top in Evanston, Wyoming. The reason for our two trips was initially because of the under performance of the Kobe plant but later it was to discuss the explosion that occurred soon after at the plant site. On both occasions, I was accompanied by another POI engineer but I spent most of my time with Tak and I learned a lot about ancient and modern Japanese customs. One quite modern custom was the bearing of gifts for occasions like meeting important people for the first time. For this purpose, Tak had told us we should each bring two bottles of good Scotch. These were put in Tak’s hands for distribution at the right time. On one trip, this custom got us invited into the home of one manager, something almost never done. With our shoes left at the door, I, as guest of honor was seated on an elaborate cushion on the floor facing the family shrine that contained family ashes from many generations. We hardly met the lady of the house as she seemed totally occupied bringing us drinks, cookies and strange but appetizing tid-bits.
Takuji, at one time told me that he played rugby which surprised me since he was even smaller than me at my 5 ft. 6 ins. I commented on this and Tak said that he did not get hurt because they played “porite lugby”. I visualized them approaching an opponent who had the ball, bowing politely before they knocked him on his arse. I assume they don’t have the rugby player’s plate on their cars saying, “Give blood. Play rugby.” Tak gave me pointers about eating with important people and told me what to expect. He suggested that I not play with the chop-sticks before the food is served and tried to prepare us for very different foods. When we went to the city of Kobe, Tak was very excited to have the opportunity to go to an expensive restaurant to eat the finest Kobe beef that could not be found in other cities. The restaurant we went to was the opposite of what we expected. It was run by an old man who, at one time had owned the biggest and best restaurant in Kobe. As he aged, he only had a small place for special customers and did it for his own pleasure as much as that of his small and special clientile. Tak had arranged for us to eat there long before we left the States and I realized it was also a special occasion for him to eat there. We went down a dark back-street to this place and, even when prepared to see a small restaurant, we were surprised how tiny it was. We were three and we sat at the small bar that could have only seated four. There were also two tables for four, un-occupied and no room for more diners. The owner appeared to be alone although we heard voices in the back somewhere. He opened oysters in front of us and kept them coming as we ate them and then without asking us how we liked our beef cooked he produced about a 10 ounce steak for each of us. The meat was quite rare but could be cut with a fork and we only had a few strange vegetables and fruits with it. It remains the finest meat I have ever eaten. On another occasion,Tak and I were eating alone and he explained that he had brought me to this particular restaurant because they alone served a special rare mushroom appetizer that was considered as a Japanese specialty. We were both served with about eight small pieces and when I ate the first of mine I thought it was the finest thing I had ever eaten and I eagerly took a second piece that was quite a sickly lingering taste. I knew that if I ate one more piece I would surely throw up. It was an amazing difference. I noticed Tak looking at the pieces I had left and when I saw his empty plate I realized he wanted my mushroom pieces. I moved my plate in front of him and he soon ate them all with relish. I don’t know what it was but it was certainly not a delicacy for non-Japanese.
Tak took us to the city baths in Kobe and we got scrubbed by ladies as we sat naked on stools and this was followed by a massage by a small lady standing on our backs for part of it. That and the hot and freezing cold pools was enough for me. A shower is better and quicker.
Wherever Tak is, I thank him for all the new experiences we enjoyed together. Because the Kobe engineers all got demoted, I wondered how it affected Tak at Mitsui. I hope he was not included in the disgrace of failure because he served Mitsui well in my judgement. I lost track of him but I hope he had success and a happy retirement.