Welcome back to part two of a two part series titled, “Tales From the Dark Side of Tokyo.” If you haven’t done so, check out part one below. Otherwise read on for more darkness.
Off With Yer Head
A few years before the hanging experience with Jimmie, I was out riding with a Japanese friend, Hiro. He and I used to meet for “crack of dawn” morning bike rides between the hours of four and five. Being family guys we wanted to ride far and be done riding before our families woke up so that we could devote the rest of the day to our kids.
It was a Sunday morning around 4:30 am, we were riding along the Tamagawa river, not far from where I would witness the hanging a few years later. We came upon a group of people gathered on the bike/pedestrian path talking to a police officer. “How odd that this many people would be out so early in the morning,” I said to Hiro. They were congregating right in the middle of the path causing us to slow down and eventually stopping to avoid tipping over.
Unaware of our presence, the group of mostly octogenarian men and women were intently looking in the direction of a bridge about 100 meters away. Wanting them to move out of the way so we could continue our ride Hiro said, “Sumimasen,” excuse me in Japanese. No acknowledgment whatsoever. Riveted on the goings on under the bridge, he said it a little louder. One of the guys turned around and started jabbering in Japanese to Hiro. He listened intently trying to grasp what he was saying. I could only pick up on a few words like body, police and yakuza.
Yakuza, if you don’t know is the Japanese version of the mafia. Intrigued after understanding only these three words I got off my bike completely and started looking in the direction of the bridge while I waited for Hiro to fill me in on the details.
I noticed in the distance under the bridge what looked like a group of about six police officers combing the area. They were walking slowly while looking down at the ground moving the brush and hedges to get a better look. “What could they be looking for?” I wondered to myself. I would know soon enough after the old guy finished his long-winded jabbering to Hiro.
Hiro being patient gave the old guy all the time in the world to get his explanation across. I on the other hand was chomping at the bit wanting to find out what the hell was going on. Explanation complete, the old guy nodded in my direction and smiled revealing a toothless mouth save for three, two at the top one at the bottom. That and his bald head of hair save for a few strands he used as a comb over added to the bizarreness of what was about to be revealed.
Hiro wheeled his bike over in my direction and proceeded to tell me what was going on. Hesitating at first to provide details he chose to fill me in on it all. He explained, “Turns out that someone walking along the river came across a headless body. The cops have been scouring the area for two hours looking for the head. The old guy speculates that it was a Yakuza hit and the head was thrown into the river and will wind up somewhere downstream in central Tokyo someday.”
I found this fascinating and my mind began to wander. Wow, a Yakuza hit. I wonder if he was beheaded Samurai style? That is for those that don’t know, victim kneels down with the beheader standing behind the soon-to-be beheaded after the sword is swung from the top down at an angle across the back of the neck in one fell swoop. I chose not to ask Hiro this for fear of tarnishing my reputation.
We thanked the old codger and rode on our merry way not letting the experience taint the rest of the ride.
I do wonder what became of the head and if it indeed ended up somewhere downstream along shores of the Tamagawa in central Tokyo like the old man predicted. Or perhaps it sunk to the bottom to remain with all the other beheadings that this blood drenched river has witnessed over the many centuries.
Little did I know that these two experiences would come to the fore of my consciousness and end up as a blog post after having simply observed a line of firetrucks along the Tamagawa the other day.
I wonder what other dark stories the Tamagawa has witnessed over the hundreds of years in existence? It seems this is a gathering place for darkness.