Coming to live in Japan is an adventure for any foreigner, but for Gordon Hutchison it turned into a veritable thrill ride. When he came to Japan in the 1970s, his goal was to spend a year teaching English and then go out and see the world. Funny how things work out sometimes; for the next three years, Hutchison received an amazing education in Japanese culture by studying in a Zen monastery, hanging out with the yakuza, and getting a job in the mysterious “water trade.”
In his new book, Gangsters, Geishas, Monks & Me, Hutchison relates his unlikely story with humor while taking the reader inside parts of Japanese culture which very few foreigners have been allowed to experience. After training in the Zen monastery for six months, he started teaching English in the small town of Obama (I think the town was named for the future president, but I could be wrong about that), and discovered what it was like to be a true outsider. “Outsiders are not wanted in most small rural towns,” Hutchison noted. “Most of the people in Obama had never even seen a foreigner in person. Whenever I tried to make friends with the townspeople, particularly the women, trouble ensued.” But it was a chance encounter with some gangsters in the local bathhouse that led to his first real Japanese friendship and caused his life to take another unexpected turn. He discovered that what the monks, the gangsters and the “geishas” all had in common was that they were all outsiders on the fringes of Japanese society – something he was readily able to identify with himself.