Back to Japan: Nothing lost in translation
Four decades after last visiting Japan, former pro surfer Mike Purpus returns for an emotional reunion with the Japanese surfing community.
It all started when my friend Annie Dodge got my attention by having “Purpus” embroidered across the seat of her favorite Body Glove shorts. I told Annie that my friends in Japan would like it better if the shorts had my old Hot Lips logo on the front. Ted Adegawa, who owns Ted Surf Shops in Japan, used to invite me to Japan every summer during the mid-’70s to promote my Hot Lips surfboards, wetsuits, Katin Trunks and Ted Surf Shops.
Annie began working with Bunpei Yoshida, my agent in Japan, who flew over last August to meet with us.
Bunpei was all excited because Ted and Ted’s wife Yuri wanted me to attend their 50th anniversary party, which was to be held at The Palace Hotel in Tokyo on October 22. Bunpei knew if he could get me there that they would sell a lot of our Hot Lips products.
But there was another reason Bunpei wanted me at Ted and Yuri’s party.
Several years ago Ted was driving home from a surf contest, where he had just won his division. A blood clot next to his brain burst, leaving him in a coma for a month. Ted said that during the coma he had two visions where a beautiful blond girl in a field of flowers tried to take him to the other side. But Yuri called him back, saying he had unfinished business.
When Ted came to he was unable to talk and was paralyzed on his right side. After a month he started talking, but only in English and not Japanese. This was very strange because Ted hardly knows any English. Now through a lot of therapy Ted has worked his way back to speaking Japanese and walking with a cane. He plays golf and his memory is starting to come back stronger.
Yuri planned for the anniversary party to be a surprise and invited all of Ted’s friends to help Ted continue to get better.
My trip to Japan just turned from a vacation into a quest. But Annie pointed out one problem. “You don’t have a passport,” she said.
The last time I got a passport, in 1967, all I had to do was go down to the Federal Building on Aviation Boulevard, in Redondo Beach, show my birth certificate and two photos, pay $10, and come back the following Friday to pick up my passport. I soon realized that those days are long gone.
Bunpei gave me a ride to the Redondo City Hall where they help get your paperwork in order and mail it to the U.S. Department of State in Charleston, South Carolina.
We paid $130 for a passport renewal, $50 to expedite things and $20 to have it mailed. Then they said my birth certificate wasn’t any good. This was my original 1948 birth certificate from Queen of Angels Hospital in Los Angeles. They said it doesn’t say I was born in the USA. I asked them “Where do you think Los Angeles California is? Mars?” Finally, they agreed since it worked for getting my last passport, it would probably work again.
This was two months before I was to leave for Japan. I told them I had to be there on October 10.
Three weeks before I was to leave a letter from the State Department arrived. The State Department said that my birth certificate was no good. They told me to go down to the Hall of Records and get a copy of my original to get stamped.
There was a 90 degree heat wave and a strong six foot South swell and I have not had a driver’s license or driven a car since ‘79. I pedal a bike and they won’t let me take it on the freeway. I had to talk my friend Kevin Holmes into taking me to Norwalk instead of Trestles. I filled out the forms and paid $28 to hear, “You will get your birth certificate in 30 days.” I explained that I only had a week so they said come back Friday.
I got my roommate Eddie Solt to drive me back to Norwalk and then to the County Court House in Culver City to get my stamp. The parking cost twice as much as El Porto. After an hour wait they said that I don’t need a stamp unless I’m leaving the country. I pointed out again that it was for my passport. In that case, they said, I had to go down to the Federal Building on Spring Street in downtown LA. The parking was so expensive there that they only took gold credit cards. After an hour wait they said that I didn’t need a stamp and to just mail what I had in. We rushed to the post office and sent everything Express Registered Mail.
Cassandra, my mail lady, delivered my passport four days before Ted’s party. Eddie took a snap of her handing me my passport as I’m kissing her cheek for my Facebook wall. Bunpei was thrilled to death but just before he hung up he said, “Don’t mention Japan on your Facebook wall because Ted will see it.” As it turned out Ted was the first and only Japanese surfer out of my 3,000 friends to see it.
Then it hit me. I was going to Japan. I am the biggest hodophobic surfer in the South Bay next to Don Swift. I don’t go anywhere. I only started surfing the Cove a few years ago and San Onofre once a year. I couldn’t go to Japan, I hadn’t been to the airport since 1983. Eddie said, “Shut up, you are going to Japan and you are going to have fun.” I made him take me to the airport and held his hand all the way, like a five year old at Disney World. LAX went from a quaint little airport to a metropolis within a metropolis. My two artificial hips set off all the buzzers so they put me in the glass booth. I told them if they were going to strip search me I had a copy of my ‘74 Playgirl photo spread in my suitcase.
Bunpei was waiting with two very cute girls. Chika and Aina were Japanese but attended high school in the U.S. and Canada, so they spoke English. We had a few beers on the way to my hotel in the Ginza District, a few blocks from Chika’s apartment. Chika asked me when the last time I was in Japan. I said 1978. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. I have not been to Japan in 42 years. I am no Kelly Slater or Alex Grey. I am a 66 year old, washed up ‘70s surf star held together by Dr. Shrader’s nuts and bolts. I couldn’t sleep all night.
Bunpei showed up the next morning to see what I was wearing to Ted’s surprise party. I had a pair of Kanvas by Katin shorts, Levi’s and a pair of Volcom dress jeans Annie bought me. I had also packed two Hawaiian shirts, 5 T-shirts and a pair of dress shoes, but forgot socks. Bunpei was in a white dress shirt, black slacks and a grey sports jacket. They all fit me so we went shopping for socks and a black belt.
Chika photographed everything I did and everywhere I went, then posted the pictures on my Facebook page. My 3,000 friends quickly grew to 4,300 with over 10 likes behind every photo. Nobody could believe I was in Japan, in formal dress.
It was an hour before Ted’s Surf Shop 50th Anniversary Party and we were all in a cab speeding through Tokyo to The Palace Hotel. I was starting to sweat. Bunpei didn’t have any deodorant. We pulled up to the front entrance and rushed upstairs to Ted and Yuri’s room, where I was to wait alone until somebody came to escort me down the service steps to the main banquet room so nobody would see me. Ted and Yuri knew I was there but none of the guests did. It was a reverse surprise party. My escort was to be back in 10 minutes and it was going on 30 as I sat alone in the big beautiful hotel room looking like a scared freshman waiting for his date to the high school prom. I was getting a little ripe underneath Bunpei’s sport coat and wondered how many people were there and what I was going to do. My escort finally showed and said “Hurry up. We’re late. We will have to run.” Great.
We scampered down five flights of stairs to the hallway outside the main banquet room. I heard a lady announcer say my name as the main doors swung wide open. I saw over 100 guest formally dressed in tuxedos and suits all spring up from their dinner tables to give me a standing ovation. A waiter on my right and a waitress on my left cleared a path for me to the stage.
As I approached the last table before the stage, ‘70s Japanese surfing champion Mikio Kawai greeted me smiling. I gave him a big hug and didn’t want to let go. The crowd went wild. I climbed up on stage as Ted came towards me clutching his cane with his right hand. He hugged me me with his left arm, then dropped the cane and hugged me with both arms. Yuri started to cry. She looked beautiful, dressed in traditional Japanese kimono.
I had tears in my eyes as I cleared my throat to say, “It has been 42 years since I was last here and all of you remember. I want to thank Bunpei Yoshida, Ted and Yuri Adegawa for getting me here. They are the only three people who could get me this far away from home. I remember my first trip in ‘72. I forgot to put down sightseeing on my customs card. I wrote promotions instead. They put me in this room for three hours, asking why I didn’t have a working visa while Ted waited with 50 people to greet me by the baggage claim. I kept saying get Ted and they kept saying Ted is not a Japanese name. I didn’t know his Japanese name was Tedo.”
Yuri handed me a glass of champagne. All the guests held up their glasses and said “Kanpai, Ted and Mike.”
A big-name Japanese country western singer sang several Hawaiian songs with pretty hula dancers swaying their lovely hips on stage. Then Ted and Yuri showed surf movies Ted made in the ‘70s that started out at Doc’s House on 15th Street in Hermosa Beach with my Hot Lips Surf Team — Tracy “Turkey” Stumbo, Steve Martin, Chris Barela, Mike Benevidez, Terry Stevens and Dan Purpus — all waking up in the morning and going to get free coffee from Teresa Gamboa at Winchell’s Donuts. He even had Doc cooking his famous hamburgers.
The following morning Bunpei and I were back at the Palace Hotel for a delicious breakfast buffet with Ted and Yuri. Bunpei and I thanked them for the wonderful party and looked forward to their big barbecue the following night at their beach house in Chiba. Then Bunpei, Aina, Chika and I were on the road for the two hour drive to Bunpei’s Chiba beach house.
The following morning we were up at 7 a.m to find good 6-foot, offshore walls breaking way outside, off the end of the Izumi River mouth jetty. I borrowed Bunpei’s 9-foot-6 single fin with a very wide tail and spun out on my first wave. The air and the water temps were the same as the South Bay. I could have surfed without a wetsuit. The outside waves broke just like El Porto on a big southwest swell.
It was Saturday morning and only five Japanese surfers were out with us. A surf contest a mile down the beach drawing most of the attention. We came back Sunday morning to find fun four-foot waves and over a 100 Japanese surfers out. I borrowed a mint condition, 9-foot-6 Donald Takayama single fin and spun out on my first wave, again. We surfed on the other side of the jetty where it broke like Seal Beach River Jetty on a fun day. Aina, Chika, Bunpei and I got fun waves four days in a row.
I noticed a lot more surf shops in the Chiba area, which was beginning to look like Encinitas in the early ‘70s. Ted’s Surf Shop is still the nicest, most complete shop with surfboards, windsurf boards, kite boards and stand-ups. Ted and Yuri offered to sell Hot Lips Designs by Mike Purpus and my Mike Purpus Assembly Film, but only if I agreed to come back to Japan when they need me.
The last two days I spent in Tokyo with Aina and Chika still taking photos for my Facebook wall and crying every time I talked to them. The only way Bunpei could get them to stop was by promising to bring them over here in mid-January. By my last day, they were all cried out and a little dehydrated.
That’s when I started to cry. I always learn so much about tradition, manners, politeness, and myself on my trips to Japan, but I never felt heartbroken like I did leaving this time. My heartfelt thanks go out to Bunpei Yoshida, Chika, Aina, the wonderful Japanese surfers, Ted and Yuri Adegawa. Hi, Domo. B