Full Circle… Back to Yamazaki.

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Back in the spring of 2002 I traveled to Japan on business.  I didn’t travel alone.  I had a couple of business purposes, projects, which took me to Japan that spring and one of them was personal business:  the first buying trip for my and my former spouse’s new company.  So, for the second time in eight months my then-wife and I traveled to Japan together.  It’s impossible to adequately express the degree to which that trip was infused with joyful purpose.  The other part of the trip for me, and intensely purposeful in its own way, was to discuss assisting a company, a potential client, with some aspects of its U.S. business.  The company was, and continues to be, based in Yamazaki.  Yamazaki is a town situated between Kyoto and Osaka.

Immediately below is a short video of a portion of the the train ride between Kyoto and Yamazaki.  The scenery is not that inspiring.  It’s rather built-up and industrial and not the pretty “Zen Gardens & Willow Trees” views that a visitor always likes to see while in Japan.  But Yamazaki itself is a quiet town that offers some some peaceful mountain scenery.  It also offers the Suntory Yamazaki Distillery.

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Yamazaki Station. Home of the Suntory Distillery. August 10, 2011.

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So during that first trip to Yamazaki I brought my then-spouse along.  We were staying in Kyoto and the trip to Yamazaki is less than a half-hour by train from Kyoto Station.  One of the Administrative Assistants from my client company showed spouse around Yamazaki (but they didn’t go to the distillery) while I had my several-hour meeting.  After the meeting we, I and then-spouse, were treated to a wonderful multi-course dinner.  The company eventually retained me.

Three out of a group of seven enjoy a client-hosted dinner. Yamazaki. May ’02.

One of the office workers drove us back to the train station after dinner, but before we climbed into the company van, tired and a little wobbly from all the alcohol served at dinner, my soon-to-be client gave me a bottle of 10 Year Old Suntory Yamazaki “Pure Malt Whisky” as a parting gift, a custom in Japan.  To me it was an extraordinary thing.  It wasn’t expensive, nor anything I craved to own.  It was extraordinary because it symbolized the beginning of a bond between this company and me, a bond and a relationship that’s lasted to this day.  It was extraordinary because it came from Yamazaki.  One of the corporate officers told me that the company and the Suntory distillery people both had teams in a local baseball league and carried on a friendly rivalry with one another.  It was extraordinary because it tangibly marked my and my wife’s second trip to Japan together and our first trip as partners in a new business venture.  Within a few months she would quit her job as a social worker to work full-time on our business, while I would continue on with my lawyering work and assisting as much as possible on the Japan-side of things, and keeping the bills paid as we built-up the business.  Here’s a picture of the label from that Suntory Yamazaki bottle (yes, I still have it. keep going)  .  .  .

Gift from client. May 2002.

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Time passed.  We moved to another house in another town.  My little bottle of Suntory Yamazaki made the move with us.  I never really thought about displaying my keepsake from Yamazaki for friends or clients to see.  Rather, I just made sure to pack it carefully and put it up in a kitchen cabinet where I would know where it was.  We had probably had your average amount of momentos set properly atop the fireplace mantle, end tables, bookshelves and a dining room hutch.  The bottle of “Pure Malt” was fine where it was in the kitchen cabinet.

It was only a few years after we left Yamazaki in 2002 that she left the house, and me, for good in May 2005.  The following weeks, months and year were not easy.  In June 2006 time came for me to move as the house would soon be up for sale, once our no longer being together was made official by the Jefferson County Circuit Court.  With the help of some very Good People I packed-up the house.  There was nothing of hers to pack:  when she left one year earlier it was during a weekday, while I was away at work.  I didn’t know about it until I came home, early as it turned out, to change a tie.  The house had been stripped of all her possessions and some of ours.  As I packed-up all those things one puts in kitchen cabinets — spices, glassware, appliances, and such — I came across that bottle of Pure Malt.  This is what it looked like —  

Alas, she had, indeed, cracked it open and drank all but the last few milliliters.  Then she’d placed the bottle back, pretty as you please.  The emotion which trumped anger was bewilderment — if she had just asked I would have gone to the store and bought her a bottle of whiskey.  Or wine.  Whatever.  I kept the bottle, though, repacking it carefully.  It had sentimental value to me as a little tangible link to the past and to my first visit to Yamazaki back in 2002.

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In May 2008 I returned to Yamazaki.  This time with a group of MBA students from a local university.  The university had retained me to guide them around Japan on a 10-day “Study Abroad” trip.  I took and introduced the students to several large companies with which I had connections, including those in the heavy industry, consumer electronics and pharmaceutical sectors.  Companies most people would recognize.  I also took the students to Yamazaki where they toured my client’s very high-tech facility and learned about its domestic and global operations.  As a bonus for the students, and at the last minute, my client graciously arranged a tour of the Suntory Distillery for the students, too.  I didn’t go on the tour.  Instead, I stayed back with company officers and conferred on some general matters.

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This past August (2011) business took me back to Japan for a little more than two weeks.  While there I paid a courtesy call on my Yamazaki client and we met for a while and discussed some matters.  One of the company’s managers picked me up at Yamazaki Station and, after meeting with a company official and administrative assistant for two-hours, the same manager drove me back to Yamazaki Station.  It was less than a 5-minute drive, but the day was just too sweltering to make the 15-minute walk.  As had happened nine years and three months before, just before I slid into the van that would take me back to the station, the company officer and administrative assistant with whom I met gave me a gift, a keepsake to take back with me.  A bottle of Suntory Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky, Bottle No. 187355.  I think you can only get these bottles at the distillery.  I’m not sure.  I will check.  This is a photo of that bottle —

Suntory Yamazaki Distillery (山崎蒸留所):  Single Malt No. 187355

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I asked the manager who was driving if he would mind taking a short detour by the distillery (actually visible in the distance from my client’s parking lot).  He didn’t mind at all he said and took me straight there.  Here’s a snapshot from the Suntory Yamazaki Distillery parking lot.  Then he took me back to Yamazaki Station where I was able to catch the train back to Kyoto Station (¥210, each way).

The Suntory Distillery. August 10, 2011.

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Looking west at Yamazaki Sta. My train’ll go east. August 10, 2011.

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Full Circle…

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    • Mark Brafford
    • September 21st, 2011

    Beautifully written Rick, Felt the whole article, your gratitude, excitement and wish I didn’t, your pain. I brought my son to Yamazaki when he was 1 month old, when he turns 21 we will crack open a bottle of 21 year old Yamazaki that he can purchase himself, and believe it was born at the same time as my wee lad who will now be a man.

      • letsjapan
      • September 21st, 2011

      Thanks, Mark. I hear there’s a beautiful hiking trail nearby, through a bamboo grove. I haven’t been there, yet. So that’s on the list, too.

      As for “pain,” well, now it’s more like what Mr. Hallorann says to Danny in “The Shining” about the terrible things he might see, things from the past: “It’s just like pictures in a book, Danny. It isn’t real.” That’s what such things are to me. Also, weird or sad things make for better stories.

      Cheers, to you and your son.

      R

  1. This is fabulous. What a neat story. Except the part about her drinking your whiskey. That’s not cool. But what a way to come full circle. Thank you for sharing.

      • letsjapan
      • September 22nd, 2011

      You made me laugh: “Except for the part about her drinking your whiskey.” Yes, at the time that was not a happy-making thing. However, all bitterness over such a thing is gone, now: she gave me the gift of a good little anecdote. Thanks for stopping by and please don’t be a stranger.

      Cheers, indeed.

      R.

  2. The journey is Life. Thankyou for your work on this blog, I loved the film. All the posts reaffirm the need to step back a bit, and know.

      • letsjapan
      • September 22nd, 2011

      Thank you right back and, indeed, what you say about the journey. Just wish I didn’t have so many flat tires along the way. But, well, it keeps me alert. Alert-ish, to things along the way. We trust. Our trust gets betrayed. We trust again. Again we find that we were unwise in whom we trusted. And, yet, we trust again. Hopefully I get a little smarter each time. Or not. So it goes.

      Please don’t be a stranger here.

      R.

  3. Richard: What a beautiful, roller-coaster of a story. Full circle, for sure.

    >>Dale

      • letsjapan
      • September 22nd, 2011

      Thank you, Dale. I never asked for the rollercoasterisms in my personal life, I just seem to get strapped to the side of those things and off they go. All of us, to some degree or another, I suppose. Luckily, they downs go up again. That said, I always am able to breeze right by that sign. You know the one I’m talking about — the wooden cut-out at the entrance to the ride that says, “You Must Be This Naive To Ride.”

      So it goes, eh?

      R.

  4. I agree. Full circle. Extremely readable with emotions I can definitely empathise with. Thanks for sharing this Richard.

      • letsjapan
      • September 23rd, 2011

      Thanks right back, Honor. This turned out to be an epilogue to the “Auction” story, referenced and linked in the piece. As I’ve written and said many times over (including in a comment above, I believe): the gift of things-gone-wrong (in love, in friendship, in business, in families, in self-discovery, in society, etc.) is good stories, that contain their own arc — the build-up, the (short-lived or perceived) happiness/triumph/success, the slide downwards, the crash, the despair, the seed of hope, the turnaround, the new paradigm.

      It’s just occurred to me that this somewhat parallels that Hegelian dialectic: Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis, except on an extremely person, rather than societal, level.

      Keep on keeping on, Honor. Every new day provides as much new opportunity for positive things as it does for disappointment, eh? Cheers and all kind regards to you,

      R.

      Post Script: Just a few minutes ago, on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, I heard a piece about a gentleman who started out shining shoes, made it through college (against his grandfather’s wishes; they eventually reconciled) and is now Director of Community Development in Danville, Virginia. Quoting from the text:

      “Earl [Reynold’s, Jr.] tells his daughter. ‘Well, as you know, one of [granddaddy’s] famous sayings was, “Life is a process of adjustment.”‘”

      There you go.
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  5. Very moving, Rick. I enjoyed the story, told well with photo, video, and word. I can relate to it in a lot of ways. Thank you for sharing the true gift “a portion of thyself” (Emerson, 1844 Essays)

      • letsjapan
      • September 23rd, 2011

      KMF,

      Thank you for what you write, as I have some idea of what’s behind what you write. Also, you remind me of one of my favorite Emersonian aphorisms, found — appropriately enough for this piece — in his essay, “Love,” to wit:

      “All other pleasures are not worth its pains.”

      Now I find myself arguing with that observation, or opinion, from time to time. But it’s damn beautiful nonetheless and, indeed, we keep going back to that well. A sweeter poison was never sipped (or lapped-up, for that matter).

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