This is an excerpt from the story River of Lights (道頓堀川) by Miyamoto Teru, originally published in 1978 and translated by Roger Thomas in 2014.

The setting is roughly 1960s/1970s Osaka in the Dotonbori District. It is inside a cafe called River, beside the Dotonbori River, owned by a former underground champion billiards player. In it are the owner, his part-time university student staff, the owner of another business (London), a drag queen, and another young woman.

“Oh, that dog? When I came into the shop, I saw him trotting along in front of the Kado Theatre. I just caught a glimpse, so I don’t know for sure, but I think it probably had three legs,” Kaoru the drag queen said as he sat in the counter drinking coffee. Though he always wore western clothing, today he was in a light pink kimono and a Japanese-style wig, which was unusual for him. Both his nail polish and his small, beaded handbag matched the color of the kimono.

“Huh? What time was that?” “Hmm…just past seven, I guess.” “Hey, you really look sexy in that geisha get-up. No one would ever believe you’ve got a dick,” London’s owner, sitting next to him sipping coffee said in an unreserved tone as he studied Kaoru’s profile.

Kaoru grimaced and glared back, “That’s disgusting! Your gutter mind immediately goes to what’s down below.”

Everyone laughed except Machiko, who with a look of wretchedness picked pedals off the orchids displayed on the mahogany stand.

“Hey! Don’t pull those off! Those are expensive flowers, and I was hoping to make them last ten days.” At Takauchi’s smiling remonstration, Machiko hurriedly pulled her hand back.

“As the saying goes, ‘If you feed a dog three days, it will ever be grateful.’ Don’t worry. He’ll come back.” London’s owner comforted Machiko even as he continued to stare in amazement at Kaoru. “So, Kaoru, do you really like guys more than women?”

“Some guys I can’t stand.” Kaoru’s reply again brought laughter from everyone.

From Page 187

There are some discrepancies between my reading and the actual text. I was reading the story because I wanted to learn about working-class Osaka as a change from Tokyo-themed stories. I wasn’t expecting a character like Kaoru to appear – and stay central.