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Tomoyuki Imai, St Antony's, Oxford, 1960 - 61
Being asked to write about the Society's activities in the old days was rather embarrassing to me as I would have to reveal my real age. I have been disguising myself as someone ten years younger, although the deception was probably obvious on golf courses. Nevertheless I decided to accept the request, thinking, "Who cares about my age?!" In any case, I have recently had to buy that wicked old man's driver and spoon called an S-Yard to maintain the distance of my woods shots.
I believe it was in early 1963 that I joined The Cambridge & Oxford Society. My ultimate & very senior boss, the President of Shell Sekiyu K.K., took me to a regular Society luncheon at the Diamond Hotel in Ichibancho, the usual venue. My memory tells me that there were about fifty members in attendance and that they were mostly British. After half an hour or so spent drinking aperitifs we sat on both sides of a long table shaped like a katakana 'ko', with the President sitting in the centre so that he could be seen by most of those present.
My boss had warned me in advance that all the new members of the Society would be asked to make a short speech. I had obediently and diligently prepared a sheaf of notes for my speech which, I remember, included some humour, and was confidently waiting to be called upon. However, a moment before the President started making his introductions, my boss whispered in my ear that because time was limited my speech must be very short and that I should simply introduce myself. I was the first to speak and became extremely nervous. As a result I simply stated my first and second names, which college I had attended and when, what job I was engaged in, and a little about my sporting and other interests. To my consternation, this caused roars of laughter, which were immediately followed by the President's cynical observation: "The speech was very concise and efficient and I sometimes feel that all the introductory speeches should be as efficient as this". This provoked yet more laughter. The English gentleman who came after me spoke ten times longer than I did, yet quite humorously and entertainingly. This made me feel even more embarrassed.
This sort of seated lunch was good in that it allowed one to talk with the same people for sufficient time to exchange views on current topics at a fairly profound level. This contrasts with the current buffet lunches at which one tends (or, feels obliged) to move around too much or to busy oneself picking up food and drink, thus interrupting conversations and making them rather superficial. More seriously, shorter persons like myself are handicapped against taller persons in conversation! For these reasons, I feel that the exchanges we had at table in the old days were generally more serious, instructive and enlightening.
I cannot recall with complete certainty how often the luncheon meetings took place, but I feel they were on a monthly basis, except during the popular periods for home leave. Neither do I recall whether there were any get-togethers in the evenings, although I rather suspect there were, including inter alia kind invitations from the Ambassador. What I remember for sure was that I could not afford to attend the luncheons so often: for a junior employee like me, it was difficult to spare so much time for lunch, and more seriously it cost me as much as ten percent of my monthly salary each time.
In those days expatriates in Japan suffered a lack of recreational facilities. I doubt the American Club even existed or that the Foreign Correspondents Club accepted non-journalists as members. Also it must have been almost impossible for expatriates to become members of the Tokyo Tennis Club. Most employers felt they had to compensate for these shortcomings with generous allowances. Therefore, expatriates tended to go only to hotels for drinks, lunches and dinners with their families and/or friends, and for swimming, which was the only readily available sporting facility in town.
There was, however, a certain bar in Mamiana named Gas Light, which was haunted by expatriates in the evenings. They tended to drink quite heavily and till quite late. Policemen in those days were in general very lenient with expatriates when they violated parking and drink driving laws. I remember an English friend of mine (a Cambridge man) giving me a lift home after a heavy drinking session and asking me to pretend not to understand any Japanese at all when a policeman approached our car swinging a lantern on a dark street in Roppongi. The policeman asked my friend if he was a little drunk. As he seemed not to understand the question, the policeman looked at me and repeated the same question, to which I responded only by shaking my head. Then the policeman said in English, "Okay. Priizu dolaibu seifuri hoomu."
As well as providing the Japanese members with good opportunities to keep in touch with "nice chaps" from the Universities, The C&O Society in those days must have provided many of the expatriates working in Tokyo with one of their only opportunities to enjoy intellectual conversation with like-minded people.
(30th May, 2001)