Shlomo was horny by his own admission and in desperate need for some casual sex. He had a problem though, other than having to find a sexual partner that is. He was vegan and in Japan which was rather limiting his options.
Not that being in Japan was bad per se, but when you are traveling in a country distinctively dissimilar to yours - Shlomo was an Israeli Jew - matters pertaining to flirting, mating and the specifics of sexual intercourse can be rather complicated and potentially a minefield. Nonetheless not insurmountable, I would say. There are, after all, the professionals of the sex trade that offer uncomplicated solutions to such male travellers’ needs.
And Shlomo did know his options on that level only too well, as he was tormented by offers of prostitutes that tempted him like Odysseus' Sirens while walking through the back streets of Tokyo's Sinjuku station area promising the illusion of love or a quick release, depending on your level of cynicysm, need and wallet. For Shlomo gave the impression of someone who was not only looking for casual sex but love too. He just was not sure yet in what order, as his physical needs were almost blinding him.
Shlomo did vacillate between getting his release with a prostitute and putting in the effort of hunting, but ethical reasons got on the way as he discussed with me. Being against the sexual exploitation of women wasn’t that high on his list, although admittedly he did ponder on that too. No… Shlomo’s major problem was his wish to copulate with another vegan as the thought of doing so with a non-vegan whose guts were polluted by the flesh of dead animals was not sitting well with him at an energetic level. And who could blame him. Imagine having sex with someone with that image in your head: dead flesh inhabiting their innards? I wouldn’t!
But at the time I met him in Kyoto I was a ‘half way’ vegan, trying to cut my occasional fish intake and still on eggs. Perhaps I was his best chance, a 'half way' vegan would be better than nobody in his books of intense need for sexual release. Sometimes I wonder whether he actually smelled my pescarian state as he passed me by, or now that I think about it, he walked up to me at the Kiyomizu-dera Temple and took the decision right there and then that I would do, given his urgencies.
It was a comment he made in passing on the Japanese students jumping photo posing, quite a fit of achievement that pose was, which I responded to that connected us. He followed up with an alarmingly quick invitation to hang about together. I am not sure why I said yes. Perhaps after two months living on my own in Japan had created my own sexual hunger of sorts. Although mine was more for human communication with people who shared a somewhat similar code of language that did not involve bending at the beginning and ending of each encounter, no pan intended….
For all my lack of Japanese vocabulary, bowing was the only tool of effective communication I had with the good inhabitants of Japan in the 3 months of stay in a country full of elaborate social codes; an expression of politeness, an acknowledgment of the other, a thanking note accompanied with a smile and my staple expression of Arigato Gozaimas. By the time I came across Shlomo, I was also desperate in my own way to meet my own needs. So I said yes, not least of feeling a bit flattered…
We did spend the remaining of the day and evening together, wondering around the streets of old Kyoto, visiting beautiful old houses and ancient temples, contemplating on issues of filial responsibilities in zen gardens – Shlomo expressed his sentiments against the Zionist state’s occupation policy of Palestinian land and would have left if not out of a sense of responsibility to his holocaust survivor mother - and searching for vegan cafes and restaurants that he had meticulously earmarked in advance on his iPhone vegan travelers' app.
Shlomo was a good company, well-travelled, intelligent, sharp and attentive but clearly working towards a goal which was to have sex with me. This became more apparent as the evening approached. I must say he was good at it, working his way to gaining physical proximity, touching, familiarizing himself to me in a non-threatening way. So, I was not surprised when we finally came to kiss at Ponto-cho, the narrow walkway under the Shijo bridge over the Kamo river, near the famous Gion Geishas district.
He did have a clever line, I must say. Earlier on, during our meandering, he asked me how old I was and surprised to hear I was a whole decade older than his guestimate and his own age, he swiftly overcame any issue he might be having with it - see…he was desperate - by commenting that it’s how old you feel that matters, rather cliché you might thing.
We compared notes and it transpired that whilst he was feeling like a teenager, full of urges and needs to be satisfied on the now, I declared that I was an eternal five-years-old, full of curiosity about the world and keenness to learn with the characteristic innocence and enthusiasm of a toddler. The emphasis was on the toddler, hopping in some subconscious Freudian way to signal to him my non-sexual availability. This did not deter him of course. It was a far too nuanced signal that he either deliberately or by default disregarded, not well versed in his famous fellow Jewish psychoanalyst theories.
But I did promise above a connection to this game of ages and our kiss. His line under the bridge was that as an eternal teenager he could not wait to get what he wanted and what he wanted right then was to kiss me. He was a clever fellow, a former lawyer, and remember… desperate to get to his target. I let him kiss me. It was perhaps the ambience.
We were after all in one of the most romantic cities in the world, a mild winter evening, music playing in the background, in a part of town that had come alive as the evening fall, lit by beautiful lanterns, with geiko (geisha) and maiko (apprentice geisha) parading on the narrow strip of land facing the traditional wooden exteriors of expensive, overlooking the river, restaurants and bars patronized by elegant Kyotoites. Who knows… but I did. And despite the fact that just before we got there he had to run to find a toilet, something he did frequently throughout the day. Perhaps his anticipation for sex was putting some pressure on his kidneys?
He kissed me with tongue straight in and I felt the rude taste of living flesh upon flesh as a disappointment. Ahhh…my young man lacked finesse and subtlety, perhaps practice too, and he had clearly no patience for soft kissing or playful kissing, for hinting and tasting. He was past the hinting stage. We kept at kissing in the bus to the central train station, sitting at the back seats like teenagers holding hands and kissing. I was regressing into an age where I did not have much chance to do such things, kissing at the back seats of buses on the way to a train station – I grew up in an island, there were no trains.
I was staying in a small family ryokan with paper walls and he was staying at a hostel. There was not space to take this anywhere further than kissing. Although, as I was the wealthier one, I could have booked a hotel room but somehow the smell of desperation was a deterrent to sexual desire. Perhaps I desired after all to be wanted not because I was simply there or coming for free but for myself.
I met him again in Tokyo, at a vegan restaurant in a backstreet of Ura-Hara, near the sophisticated boulevard of Omote-Sando, and we did repeat the meandering, arm in arm, around the small streets of Harajuku in a cold November night. He did try to kiss me but I pretended to miss his move. Alas, the moment was gone. It was then that he mentioned the prostitutes but that he would rather do it with someone he knows and likes, and preferably for free, my cynical addition.
Our attempt to arrange a meeting the day after failed and I never heard from Shlomo again. He was bound for Hong Kong in a few days, before returning to Israel after several months of apprenticeship with various aikido masters in Japan.
I hope Shlomo did find a vegan girlfriend back home or on the way there….
*Visuals provided by the author
For more stories by this author see:
The Jewish-American poet in search of a companion and good food (a companion story)
Obsession at first glance: a Scottish Pub Encounter