Out of Manila: Not waving, but drowning politely

THEY arrived in a group - five Japanese men, accompanied by five young Filipinas. With their short, permed hair, tight black trousers and gorilla- like roll of their shoulders, the men would have been immediately recognisable to anyone who had been in Japan. But the Filipino diving instructor did not realise whom he was dealing with until they had changed and come down to the beach for their first diving lesson.

'It was incredible. They looked as if they had already put on wetsuits,' he said. The gentlemen in question had tattoos covering their entire bodies, stopping just short of wrists, ankles and necklines - a full body suit of dragons, tigers and devilish faces in green and blue inks. 'I laughed at them, but they didn't seem to mind, they were proud of their tattoos. And at the end they gave me a very big tip.'

They were members of the yakuza, Japanese gangster syndicates, and had taken time off from the exacting demands of gambling, prostitution and running nightclubs to have a holiday by the sea.

Having spent the past month doggedly covering the run-up to the Japanese elections, at which only 67 per cent of the electorate bothered to vote (a record low in post-war Japan) the Independent last week decided to track down the missing 33 per cent and what better place to start than a diving resort in the Philippines, four hours by jet from Tokyo. The search turned up an interesting group of characters in addition to the playful gangsters: a pharmacy student trying to catch up with his friends who had all been diving the previous year; two young women office workers who said they preferred travelling on their own than burdened with boyfriends; a salaryman who was too polite to tell his diving instructor when he was drowning, and an adventurous young man who had been trekking in Alaska - in the winter.

Each one of them had a broader world view than the average party hack from the antiquated Liberal Democratic Party back home. No wonder they didn't vote, nor show any interest in the election results or subsequent scramble to form a coalition. Like young Americans a generation ago, the Japanese are discovering their incomes make them richer than anyone else, that the world is out there waiting for their (strengthening) yen, and that they don't have to do it in a tour group all wearing the same white hats following a guide with a little flag into the same museums.

Kiyoshi, the pharmacy student, was a man seeking to regain lost honour. In March he had gone to Thailand with some friends, only to discover to his horror that they had all taken diving courses previously, leaving him standing on the beach with a snorkel as they headed off with scuba tanks to explore the coral reefs. So he had quietly booked a holiday in the Philippines to do a diving course, and by the end of it no one was going to kick sand in his face mask.

The two office workers had been diving before but they didn't much mind about Kiyoshi's lack of a diving licence, and thought him quite an 'interesting' prospect. They had been propositioned rather crudely by an anonymous telephone caller to their hotel, and quickly warmed to Kiyoshi's tame and retiring manner. It took him several days to get over his shyness, but eventually candle-lit dinners ensued.

The salaryman, Mr Aoki, was an endearing character who nodded and smiled but didn't say very much. His enthusiasm for diving, however, was boundless, to the extent of jumping in one day before he had opened the valve on his air tank. Under the surface, his instructor signalled to ask him if he was all right, and Mr Aoki replied with the okay gesture several times in a comedy of errors that continued until the instructor realised Mr Aoki was not emitting any bubbles and was not able to breathe. Mr Aoki bought everyone beers that night because he thought the joke against himself was so funny. 'Could not breathe' he kept repeating as he laughed.

The most enterprising of all was a 26-year-old man who worked in the early morning fish market in Tsukiji in Tokyo, and used his earnings to travel. He went by the name of 'Ji' and liked out of the way places, such as Alaska in the winter. Last year he took six months off to go to the Sahara. 'I bought a camel,' he said. 'But it ran away - the Arabs cheated me. So I bought another camel, and I spent six months with this camel in the desert. Very interesting.'

Next year Ji is planning to take off to South America. 'I like Japan, it's a great place,' he said. 'But outside Japan is interesting also.'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own