Writers Journal

In the 1980s, I was living and teaching in Japan, and on a number of occasions played tennis with Japanese friends. During my first year, they invited me for a “tennis weekend” at a mountain resort in central Honshu.

The second day was hot on the clay courts, and at one point I stripped off my T-shirt. While culturally appropriate on any tennis court back home in Seattle, I apparently scandalized all of Niigata Prefecture. With great embarrassment, my doubles partner whispered that I could not “play nude.”

I quickly apologized and slipped my shirt back on, though this embarrassment struck me as very odd since just the night before, we—men and women—had all bathed together in the resort’s large o-furo, which I’m pretty sure is not culturally appropriate in Seattle, without anyone showing the least embarrassment.

It was my first lesson in understanding the peculiar logic of a different culture, and I later included the experience in Tales of Tokyo.