I was heading to my long-awaited pedicure this morning in Harajuku walking along Meiji-dori to Shibuya station when I noticed something odd: scores of older men walking purposefully away from the station. When I say purposefully, I mean with intent. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Some obviously retired blue-collar workers. Others perhaps ‘salarymen’ and a few old drunks clutching their jars of sake or plastic bottles of Jim Beam. All with newspapers and most with the ubiquitous Japanese man-purse or zippered pouch. I followed them. It was just after 9am and I figured I had a bit of time (only had to go one stop on the Yamanote Line) to get to Harajuku by 10am. They were streaming towards a place called WINS. I figured it was some sort of casino or pachinko parlour (weird Japanese pinball game that I still haven’t figured out) but there was no music or flashing lights which are always found with pachinko. Anyway, I didn’t have time to actually go inside, not that I would have as there was nary a female in sight.
Fast forward to my lovely pedicure with Minami at Boudoir Tokyo’s first bi-lingual salon. We’re chatting away and it turns out she lives in my neighbourhood so I asked her about the old men heading to WINS. She was puzzled at first but then understanding dawned. “Horses,” she said. “They play, you know, for money. Racing.” Ah yes, it all became clear. The newspapers were the racing sheets and the old dudes were off to place their bets and hang with their buddies. They’re likely sent out of the house by their wives who often find their husband’s retirement a difficult adjustment since a typical employee works six days a week and sleeps on Sunday, leaving the household and family management completely up to the wife. (Yup. The apron-wearers control the money.) However, the wives often become naturally resentful when the absentee husband is suddenly home ALL the time taking up space, demanding food and generally cramping her style after never being around.
By the way, I don’t think there are actual horses IN that building in the middle of Tokyo, but I’m going to check it out next Sunday 😉
Gomi-bakko = old retired men that clutter up the house and get in the way; literally “old garbage.”