Swinging Mr. Zaitsu

I first met Ichiro Zaitsu in a hotel bar. It was a hot summer’s day, and he was drinking Campari and soda. “Alone?” he asked me. “How about joining me for a drink?” “Thank you,” I replied, and quietly began drinking a Margarita cocktail. Mr. Zaitsu told me he was from Kumamoto Prefecture. I come from Oita Prefecture, which is also down south, so we soon hit it off.

I’m sure you know Ichiro Zaitsu well. He appeared as one of the main actors in the movie Tenamonya Sandogasa, along with Makoto Fujita and Minoru Shiraki, and in the 2010 movie Swing Me Again he gave a wonderful performance in his role as an elderly jazz musician.

“In my junior high school days,” he reminisced, “I cultivated rice in a paddy field with my mother. Just the two of us. My father never came back from the war. To make things worse, the postwar emancipation of agricultural land meant that we had to carve up our land and transfer lots to tenants. We were left with just over an acre of land. We would fill the paddy with water, but then when we went back the next morning, the water would be gone completely. We would fill it with water again, but that would disappear as well. After planting the rice, the water would repeatedly disappear, so we were only able to harvest a little rice. One day, my mother was weeding the paddy, and all of a sudden she just squatted down and began to cry. When I saw my mother wailing, I felt so sad and angry.”

Listening to Mr. Zaitsu’s talk, I recalled the landscape of my own hometown. I could picture Mr. Zaitsu’s mother crouched down in the green paddy field and wailing. At a loss for words, I remained silent. The young Mr. Zaitsu and his mother agreed that they did not want to remain in that place, so they left the village.

Mr. Zaitsu went on to have an illustrious acting career. When the now famous personality returned to his hometown, the inhabitants of the village came out to meet him, and apparently they apologized for the injustice that had happened in the past.

Mr. Zaitsu is also a very proficient golfer. Although he only started from the age of 50, he is very skillful and has a gross score of around 80. “I really regret having started playing golf so late. Why on earth didn’t I begin sooner? Anyway,” he smiled, “now I’m trying to make up for lost time. That’s why I’m so crazy about it!”

In the summer holidays, for the first time in quite a while, I went with Mr. Zaitsu, his wife, and some friends on an overnight trip to play golf at the Forest Narusawa Golf and Country Club near Lake Kawaguchi in Yamanashi Prefecture. The course is situated 1,140 meters above sea level, so the temperature does not rise above 30 degrees even in the daytime. Playing golf there was very pleasant indeed. Because of the western grass, though, a strong shot on the fairway can send the ball flying over the turf and into the rough, where it gets buried in the grass. That happened to me, and after two or three hits near the green, I was quite ready to give up. However, Mr. Zaitsu, who is 79 years of age, finished with a score of around 85 on both days. Amazing!

When Mr. Zaitsu was 77, he managed to “shoot his age” at the Taiheiyo Club Gotemba West, and I attended a commemorative tournament on the Taiheiyo Club Gotemba course. I was astonished to hear that Mr. Zaitsu’s score on that occasion was 37-38. And he’s still going strong today . . .

In the summer I rode past Mount Fuji on my way back home.