Hokkaido Popsicle

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Overview

After an altercation with the director of Wildman for Geisha! — a movie based on ace reporter Billy Chaka's life — Chaka finds himself in Hokkaido on mandatory vacation. Trouble starts when the elderly porter of the Hotel Kitty stumbles into Billy's room and dies. That same night, the lead singer of Japan's most popular rock band turns up dead in a sleazy love hotel in Tokyo.

Billy Chaka goes to Tokyo to cover the story for Youth in Asia magazine and soon finds out there's more ...

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Overview

After an altercation with the director of Wildman for Geisha! — a movie based on ace reporter Billy Chaka's life — Chaka finds himself in Hokkaido on mandatory vacation. Trouble starts when the elderly porter of the Hotel Kitty stumbles into Billy's room and dies. That same night, the lead singer of Japan's most popular rock band turns up dead in a sleazy love hotel in Tokyo.

Billy Chaka goes to Tokyo to cover the story for Youth in Asia magazine and soon finds out there's more to the rocker's apparent drug overdose than meets the eye. A Beatles-obsessed record executive, a mute DJ, two giant kickboxing twins with an encyclopedic knowledge of pop music, a Swedish stripper working at the Purloined Kitten Club — each play a part in the hard-boiled hilarity that ensues as Billy Chaka discovers that the rock star and the elderly hotel porter just might share a very strange link.

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Editorial Reviews

Booklist
“Fresh and exciting. An entertaining blend of mystery and mischief.”
Time magazine (Asian edition)
“An animated Tokyo-as-Toontown that is simultaneously vivid, vibrant, gaudy and in glorious decline...a big adventure.”
(Asian edition) - Time Magazine
"An animated Tokyo-as-Toontown that is simultaneously vivid, vibrant, gaudy and in glorious decline...a big adventure."
Booklist
“Fresh and exciting. An entertaining blend of mystery and mischief.”
Time magazine (Asian edition)
“An animated Tokyo-as-Toontown that is simultaneously vivid, vibrant, gaudy and in glorious decline...a big adventure.”
Publishers Weekly
Adamson's action-packed, rapid-fire follow-up to Tokyo Suckerpunch finds its hero, star reporter Billy Chaka ("the deadline poet of the bubblegum set"), wrapped up in another murder mystery set in noirish, pop culture-crazy Japan. This time, hard-boiled Billy is in trouble with his editor at Cleveland's Youth in Asia magazine for slapping a film producer, and he's sent on mandatory leave to Hokkaido's Hotel Kitty to cool off. As felines slink around Billy's room, the night porter knocks with fresh towels in hand, mumbles something about immortality and then does a nosedive into the carpet, dead. At the same time, the Japanese rock star Yoshimura "Yoshi" Fukuzatsu drops dead of a supposed heroin overdose. Billy's editor suspects foul play and sends him to Tokyo to investigate. Meanwhile, on the cover of an unpublished rock magazine, a photograph of Yoshi reveals a curious bird tattoo on his shoulder, matching a symbol found on the night porter's ID card, which is then tied to a mysterious organization called the Phoenix Society, which dabbles in "cryonic suspension." What follows is a carefully orchestrated, martial arts-fueled amalgam of murder plots and botched drug deals, featuring a shady record company executive, the night porter's coquettish granddaughter and a Swedish stripper with a bad attitude. A whirlwind of implausible but entertaining subplots, Billy Chaka's adventures are as vibrantly hypnotic as the best Japanese anime. Adamson's wild, witty whodunit deftly sends up the genre while providing extreme doses of excitement. (Apr. 16) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-While in Tokyo to cover the death of rock idol Yoshi for teen rag Youth in Asia, Billy Chaka is at the Hotel Kitty (every room comes with a cat) when the night porter staggers into the maverick reporter's room and dies-after handing him a card with a bird logo and phone number, begging that he dial it. There's no answer. Then, happening across an advance copy of Power Chord Japan with a Yoshi cover, Chaka spies the logo tattooed on the deceased performer's shoulder. On the newsstand copy, the emblem has been carefully airbrushed out, and he soon suspects that Yoshi's death was not, as publicized, by accidental overdose. Two parts noir to one part MTV, this twisty mystery is spiked with teen pop culture and wicked wit (sizing up one thug, Chaka says, "His sunglasses were darker than Sylvia Plath on a rainy day"). Add to the mix the weirdo cast he meets as he unravels the true story (giant twin bodyguards who speak in rock lyrics, the night porter's eerie granddaughter, a powerful sleazeball called "Santa") and readers have a fast-paced, wildly entertaining, fresh brand of mystery that will draw them in as surely as the Hotel Kitty attracts cats.-Emily Lloyd, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Danger lurks in the well-lit corners of Tokyo's immaculately clean streets, and it takes a teen-mag journalist to unravel the mysteries of this inscrutable world. Billy Chaka is reporter for the Cleveland-based Asian rock magazine Youth in Asia (the sister publication of the e-zine Generasia X), and he knows Japan inside and out, having established a reputation for himself there as "the hard-boiled laureate of the literate teen." He was even made the subject of an action film (Wildman for Geisha!) in which he rescues a young woman from the clutches of the Tokyo mob. Billy hated the film so much that he assaulted its director, and, as a result, his editor sent him off to Hokkaido on a mandatory "vacation." He doesn't get much rest: Shortly after his arrival at the Hotel Kitty (each room complete with its own cat), the night porter dies in his arms-only minutes before Billy's editor calls to tell him that Yoshi, the lead singer of Japan's most popular group Saint Arrow, has overdosed in a Tokyo love hotel. The chase is on! Back in Tokyo, Billy looks up his old friend Olga (a Swedish stripper at the Purloined Kitten Club who knew Yoshi) and tries to get the inside story on Yoshi's final days. He also hooks up with the brass at Seppuku Records (Yoshi's label), who try to commission him to write a biography of the band. But this turns out to be more than your garden-variety Hendrix-style overdose. For one thing, several of the Seppuku directors have ties to the Tokyo mafia. For another, Billy begins to suspect some connection between Yoshi's death and that of the night porter in the Hotel Kitty. By the time several more corpses ("popsicles") are discovered in Hokkaido, Billy knows all is notwell. The question is whether he can get to the bottom of things in time. Somewhat too cute for comfort, but, still, a good tale with a nice slant on geography and the pop scene.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780380812929
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/28/2002
  • Edition description: 1ST PERENNIAL
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Isaac Adamson was born in Fort Collins, CO, during the Year of the Pig. He plays soccer well, guitar poorly, and is currenly living in Chicago.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Nine times out of ten, I'm a nice guy. I believe in nonviolence, intellectual discourse, artistic freedom and all that other jazz. Though I wouldn't go so far as to say I'm open-minded. Like I tell my comrade Sarah, open-mindedness can be a crutch. And objective distance? That's a sucker's game. I'm the kind of journalist who likes to mix it up, go toe to toe, engage the subject in a little kumite. Trashing a Saigon hotel room with lisping rock bad boys the High Deathibles, playing strip go fish with caretakers of the Forbidden City palace grounds, arm wrestling Triad triggermen for the last Dexedrine pill — there's not much I won't do in the line of duty.

Including slapping a movie director in the face.

When it happened I told Ed, my editor, that I couldn't go around worrying about hurt feelings and get the kind of stories my worldwide audience of faithful teens expects with every copy of Youth in Asia magazine.

Ed said he agreed in principle, but that you couldn't run a magazine on principles. Then he sent me on vacation. Mandatory R&R in some nowhere town in the mountains of Hokkaido. Sending me to Japan for vacation was like sending Dean Martin to Vegas for rehab, but when Ed gets an idea he clings to it like a winning lottery ticket.

I was thinking about Ed's ideas when something brushed against the back of my neck.

Whirling to confront my attacker, I made a quick catalog of potential weapons in the room. A cheap ceramic lamp in the shape of a cat, one unwieldy wooden chair, a black lacquer vase stuffed withfake tiger lillies. Nothing to rival my own hands and feet. Nothing except maybe the whalebone nunchaka. They were a gift from the Water Dragon Alliance, a union of tuna fishermen and would-be poet-warriors in Tsukiji. I'd judged their annual tanka contest in '91 and was invited back every year, but a guy can only read so many poems about tuna fish.

The nunchaka wouldn't help me now, though. They were buried in my briefcase along with my writing supplies. I hadn't been forced to use the weapon since the Ping-Pong riots in D'Nang, but I carried them like a talisman. Funny the things we get attached to.

Once I saw my attacker, I figured the chucks wouldn't be necessary. My mute assailant just looked at me from atop the carpet-covered post. You'd think this cat had seen it all before. Maybe it had. This was a hotel cat, after all, sharing my room at the Hotel Kitty.

The cat licked his paw, the one he'd just brushed against me, as if trying to clean itself of my presence. Weird cat. Of course, if you lived your entire life in the same room with strangers coming in and out of your home day after day, it's bound to affect your personality. Even if you're a cat.

I reached out to pet the animal, but it leapt off the post and trotted off under the bed. At the Hotel Kitty, you get to choose from all thirty-three breeds of cats officially recognized by the Japanese Cat Fanciers Association. Abyssinians, Egyptian Maus, Chartreux, Selkirk Rexes, Norwegian Forest cats. Pixie Bobs, Ragamuffins, American Wirehairs. You can room with a male or a female. It really didn't matter to me. Like I'd told the Day Manager, I'm no cat fanatic or anything.

"No shame in being a cat fanatic," the Day Manager had told me in his northern accent. "Most of our visitors fit quite comfortably in that category. Not being one yourself, well that makes you a rare breed around here. A rare breed, indeed." Then he'd smiled and given me a key and told me all about the cat I'd be sharing a room with.

She was a six-pound female Japanese bobtail of distinguished-merit parentage. Her short fluffy tail was what aficionados called a clown's pom-pom. She liked water and liked to talk. The Day Manager said that as a writer, I'd probably be interested to know that cats were originally brought to Japan from Korea in order to protect important manuscripts from nibbling mice.

"Cats have always been writers' allies," he said.

Then he talked about allowable outcross breeds, and how to tell a Balinese from a Javanese and the difference between lilac point and seal point noses. But thinking about it now, I'm pretty sure he never told me the cat's name.

I spent time wandering around the hotel and marveling at how far they'd taken the cat motif. Each floor of the Hotel Kitty was devoted to a different type of cat. The third floor was called the Domestic Suite and its hallway was lined with framed photographs of somnolent house cats, all white Ruff and soft focus. The Rural Cat Ranch on the second floor featured Norman Rockwell-style paintings depicting lean farm cats hunting field mice and chasing each other through tall blades of grass.

My floor was called the Feline Metropolis, and was decorated with a cartoon mural depicting a cat cityscape. There were hepcats hanging out at jazz joints, biker cats on motorcycles, business cats taking subways, alley cats having a switchblade fight, even cats lined up outside a theater to see a production of Cats.

All the cat fare was a little over the top, but nothing beyond the stereotypical Japanese love of kitsch. It wasn't that much different from the Yokohama Carp Hotel or the four-star Sleepy Monkey Inn in Oita, really.

Or so I thought until I saw the swimming pool. It was lorded over by a Macy's-sized balloon of a Chinese beckoning cat. The kind you always see in shop windows, waving you in with their paw. The pool was filled with water that had been colored white somehow, so that from a distance it looked like a giant bowl of milk.

The Day Manager insisted the water was perfectly safe. just conventional food coloring, he said. It would wash right off with a quick rinse, no problem. He swore the pool adhered to the highest codes of health and safety, and encouraged me to take a dip.

I didn't swim anymore, not since I'd saved actress Anna Wong's pet bonobo chimp from pulling a Brian Jones during the post-premiere party for Wing-Chun Sex Ghost IV. Of course, I didn't tell the Day Manager that. I just thanked him and told him that if a drunken chimp ever fell in the water, it was best to leave him to his own devices. The Day Manager just nodded, like he'd suspected the same thing all along.

The one hotel feature that really got my hairs up had nothing to do with cats or swimming pools. It was the stairs. They were temporarily off limits because they were being "fixed." I don't know how you fix stairs, but that's what the sign said. Stairs off use. Broken. We are fix. Staff of Hotel Kitty thanks you!

So there I was on the fifth-floor Feline Metropolis, looking at the paw-print carpet, waiting for the elevator. I've always avoided elevators. My long-standing aversion to them is not as irrational as it may seem, but that's another story. Let's just say in my line of work you make resourceful enemies.

The elevator doors opened to reveal a gaunt old man dressed in a burgundy porter uniform. The suit was immaculate, right up to the pillbox hat tilted perfectly on his head. Even with his stooped posture, the man was tall for a Japanese his age, which looked to be the other side of sixty judging by the thinning strands of whitish hair sticking out from under his hat. He leaned out of the elevator, his upper body curled like a wave about to crash as his lips struggled into a smile that fell apart twenty years ago.

"I am the Night Porter," he said.

I nodded and got in the elevator. I probably should have bowed, but the idea of taking an elevator made me forget my manners. They were forgettable as it was — which was okay since I was gaijin. Anything short of poking my hosts in the eyes with chopsticks was considered polite for an American. The door closed behind me.

The Night Porter and I shared the elevator with a scrawny shorthaired cat barely older than a kitten. He was a sketchy' little runt, puny and jumpy as hell. The type of cat Steve Buscemi would play in the movie. He was probably always getting suitcases dropped on his tail, or maybe traveling up and down all day messed up his equilibrium. I didn't envy the little guy. He looked disoriented, like a teenager in a room without television.

As we descended I felt the Night Porter studying me. His mouth parted every so often as if he were about to speak, but he'd only inhale noisily and smack his lips. The first couple times he did it, I half turned around. He'd stare at me, I'd smile weakly and drop my eyes back to the floor. Then he'd start making the smacking sound again.

We stopped on the fourth floor. The elevator doors opened, but there was no one waiting. Just twin marble cat statues and an empty hall. The elevator doors closed again, and we continued down. Then the Night Porter spoke.

"I thought you already checked out."

He didn't look at me when he talked, but stared at the numbers over the elevator door, the ones people always stare at. Amazingly, no advertisers had bought up the space yet.

"I'm sorry?" I said.

"I thought you checked out."

"No." I chuckled. "Just checked in yesterday. I won't be checking out for a while."

He smacked his lips again. A wet sound like meat being pulled from the bone. I just smiled as he leaned toward me for a closer look, scrutinizing me like some strange object he'd found washed up on the beach.

Just when it was turning into the longest five-story elevator trip in the history of the world, the doors parted to reveal the lobby. With yet more cat statues and cat paintings and just plain cats hanging around, it wasn't exactly your everyday hotel lobby. But compared to the elevator, it was a veritable oasis of normalcy.

"Dewa mata," I said to the old man as I stepped out of the elevator. I remembered to bow this time. The Night Porter didn't move except to lower his head a few degrees. With his stoop, that was all it took to bow.

The two Siamese cats that always hung out at the front desk eyed me as I walked by, that haughty, superior expression all over their pointy faces. Their names were Lieber and Stoller,

but Leopold and Loeb would have been more fitting. The Day Manager saw me and gave me a big grin. I did what I could to return it and kept walking toward the front door.

"Is everything satisfactory, Mr. Chaka?" he called out.

"Excellent." I had my hand half raised to wave good-bye, but he wasn't letting it go with that.

"You've met the Night Porter, I presume? He'll be on duty tonight to take care of anything you might need."

"Great," I said, inching toward the door.

"And all is well with your roommate?"

"The cat? Cat is great. Great cat."

"She is really something, isn't she?" He beamed. "Coat white as the year's first snow. We aren't allowed to play favorites here, but I can't help loving that cat. I love all the cats, in their own way, but she is especially divine. She has the manner of a princess, don't you agree?"

I forced a smile.

"You know," the Day Manager continued, "one thousand years ago Emporer Ichijo witnessed five white kittens being born and decreed that they be raised in his palace in Kyoto, treated as if they were real princesses. With her coat and carriage, it wouldn't surprise me if your cat were a direct descendant of Ichijo's royal cats."

The cherubic Day Manager smiled broadly, amused by the thought.

"Pick of the litter," I said.

He fought to keep his smile in place.

"A good evening to you, then, sir."

I nodded, and walked out the door.

I walked around the little town without passing anyone on the street. I didn't find a single place of business. Not even a noodle shop. Before I knew it I found myself back in my room at the Hotel Kitty.

Out of nowhere, I started wondering if I was getting old.

Just like that.

My editor had been hinting that maybe it was time for me to go work for Generasia X, our new sister Web publication that catered to the 20-31% demographic. He said it was the next logical step for me. I told him Generasia X was a stupid name for a magazine.

It's not a magazine, he pointed out. It's an e-zine.

It's generasiax.com.

Even Sarah — Sarah who'd come to Youth in Asia as a plucky nineteen-year-old, pierced punk rocker whose one driving ambition was to die with more holes in her body than John Dillinger — even she was about to go over to Generasia X. And though she vehemently denied it, in an unguarded moment I'd even caught her using the word career.

Ed said that Generasia X could give me a fresh perspective, a chance to explore more challenging subject matter. By clicking through the screens once or twice, I'd ascertained challenging subject matter was stuff like how to get raises click here for McMahon's bestselling "Who's Your Daddy? How to Make Your Boss Say Yes!" how to wear suits click here for 20% off at Big and Large, how to get your abs in shape click here for a 40% discount at Jim's Gym, how to pick up girls in bars enter your zip for bars in your area, have more sex and better sex click here for tips from porn queens and buy the perfect car stereo click here to eavesdrop on lesbians!

I told Ed that the day I start writing about crap like that was the day I snap my pencils in half and join the holdout Khampa guerillas in the mountains of Tibet.

You can't keep the world from changing, Ed said. just think about it.

So here I was in some goofy hotel on mandatory R&R in nowhere Hokkaido, thinking about it.

Had I known it would come to this, I may not have "assaulted" the visiting Japanese film director at the Chicago Film Festival a few weeks before. But I probably would have.

His name was Ishao Tonda. His movie Wildman for Geisha! was loosely based on my life, specifically on a strange episode that happened a few years ago in Tokyo. I'd never given anyone permission to make a movie about me, though, so they had to change a few details.

In the movie, I worked for a magazine called Wild Teenager. Instead of being the highly respected teen publication Youth in Asia is in reality, Wild Teenager was a soft-core rag popular with middle-aged middle managers with rorikon — Lolita complexes.

I wasn't called Billy Chaka. The character based on me was named Randy Chance. He didn't wear black slacks and white shirts either, the kind that made Sarah call me the human yin-yang symbol. Randy Chance dressed in technicolor suits. And instead of my ordinary wingtips, he wore custom-made silver Doc Martens.

The final scene saw Randy Chance taking an elevator to the top of the Sunbeam City Building to enjoy a game of rooftop minigolf with the gorgeous geisha he's just saved from the yakuza.

Golf.

You bet I assaulted the director.

I can take a little kidding. And yes, people are free to interpret things their own way and follow their artistic vision. I probably would've forgiven even the golf scene if it wasn't for the way the film treated the two loves of my life.

Sarah was written off as a mousy, mixed-up womanchild who idolized Randy Chance. A passionless bimbo hopelessly disconnected from reality. Randy Chance's little blonde cheerleader. In other words, nothing like the Sarah I knew — she of the ferocious personal critiques, she of the scathing feminist deconstructions. She who was so jealous — of a city no less — that every time I went to Tokyo she visited a certain disreputable dentist in Cuspidoria, Ohio, and got one of her teeth pulled. She did it for the medication, she said. She did it to forget about me.

And Tokyo — my beloved Tokyo, the city I loved enough to mess up my life for weeks and months and going on years on end — Tokyo didn't fare much better.

Back when I'd first heard about the project, I used my connections to insure Tonda didn't get a permit to shoot in greater Tokyo. I figured that would stop the film. It didn't. Instead, all the exteriors were shot in Osaka. Osaka looks like Tokyo like Philly looks like New York, but with all the digital trickery available these days, a talented filmmaker could pull it off.

Tonda was not a talented filmmaker.

And as it happened I only ended up slapping the untalented little bastard inside the Drake Hotel. One weak little open-handed love tap on the side of the face. It was a mild rebuke, at worst. As it turned out, he couldn't even handle that.

It turned into a big deal. An incident. Lots of phone calls back and forth and so on. But I never apologized.

Sarah thought I was out of line. She said it was just a movie, and slapping the guy was something Randy Chance would have done, not Billy Chaka. I said I was just trying to defend her character. She said she could defend her own character, thank you very much.

Then she slapped me.

My editor had put up with a lot over the years, but all this slappery proved too much. I have a troubling suspicion the real problem was that Ed actually liked the movie. But I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. After a long argument, Ed suggested in no uncertain terms that I take a vacation.

I didn't want a vacation.

Take one or you're fired, he said.

He couldn't have meant it, but the next day there was a plane ticket on my desk with an itinerary enclosed. Two weeks in a mountain town at someplace called the Hotel Kitty. There was a note, too, attached to my hotel reservation slip. The handwriting wasn't Ed's.

A caterpillar
This deep in fall
Still not a butterfly.
—One of your beloved Japanese poets.
Think about it, caterpillar boy.

I was the one who forced haiku on Sarah, so I guess it was my own fault. Still, you gotta hate it when people use poetry against you. I knew I was supposed to sit around and contemplate a reply, but I didn't feel contemplative.

So here I was trying not to think about Generasia X. Trying not to think about the silly director I slapped, and most of all trying not to think about Sarah. That didn't work, so I tried not to think at all. As any Zen student will tell you, it's like washing blood with blood.

When the not-thinking fell through, I did the next best thing and turned on the TV. Sure enough, I didn't have a thought for some ten or fifteen minutes until an ad for Wildman for Geisha! came along and ruined it.

I shut off the TV, yawned and rubbed my eyes. Then I slapped my face a few times in order to tighten up the loose skin around my mug. I have no idea if it actually works, but as with most rituals it doesn't really matter. The point is just to do something. Next, I did some three-fingered yoga pushups. I'm no fitness geek, but the body needs routine maintainance so I did what I could.

The cat watched me from atop his little perch, listless as ever. I'd probably been the most boring guest he'd ever had. Not only was I not a cat fanatic, but I clearly had no business in this hotel. No secret amorous rendezvous, no family vacation, no tantric ritual that called for a private room and a cat. Hell, I hadn't even watched the porno channels on the TV. So why, the cat seemed to say, are you at the Hotel Kitty? To do push-ups?

Outside, the last of the daylight struggled against the encroaching darkness of the winter sky. The mountains were losing their shapes, blurring into shadows. Even though it was right outside my window, the whole scene struck me as hopelessly remote, impenetrable. Some austere virtual reality projected onto a screen.

I tried to envision a future spent looking out the windows of strange hotels, with only a nameless cat for company. A future like an Edward Hopper painting. Has-Been with Feline.

This vacation thing was killing me.

Hokkaido Popsicle. Copyright © by Isaac Adamson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2004

    Just Cool

    This book is just plain cool, everyone can relate to the main charecter in some way. Funny and creative, unlike those serious Knight and Shining Armour books your sick of hearing about. I totally reccomend it!

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