HISAO Tanabe slumped back despondently on to a sofa, watching his friends knock back whiskies at 3,000 yen a shot in a fashionable bar in Tokyo. This was the sixth group he had been forced to entertain since his game of golf had ended in disaster a fortnight earlier. He had been happy enough at the time, with a fine five-iron tee shot at the par three, 18th hole. But his exuberance vanished along with the ball as it rolled straight into the cup. ''A hole-in-one,'' he cursed. This was going to mean big money in giri (duty) payments. Unfortunately Mr Tanabe had forgotten to renew his hole-in-one insurance policy. Most golfers who play on behalf of their companies can afford to bask in the glory should they achieve golf's foremost feat, covered by corporate insurance. But Mr Tanabe was unlucky. He has already had to curb his golf addiction; indeed the way things are going, he said, he may never be able to pay for another game of golf. On account of his driving accuracy, he had been obliged to wave goodbye to almost three million yen (about HK$216,000) out of his own pocket. ''I've had to give each of the five friends who were playing with me 500,000 yen,'' he said. ''I've had to buy two trees for the golf club worth 30,000 yen each, and I've had to give hand-outs of 3,000 yen to about 30 friends. ''Unfortunately, my boss got wind of my hole-in-one so he ended up getting 150,000 yen in giri payments. It's a stupid ritual, and it could only happen in Japan, but you just can't get out of it.'' Every self-respecting Tokyoite has an embarrassing golfing story even if they are not golfers. My own involves a day spent in the company of a group of Japanese businessmen and women who, bursting with misdirected generosity, invited me for a day out at their golf club. As my companions got down to some serious golfing I dabbled with putters, enjoyed the sunshine and tried to imagine we were on a stretch of unreconstructed Japanese countryside. The task was made difficult by a medley of favourite Japanese melodies, such as Colonel Bogey and The Sound of Music, that boomed from loudspeakers around the course. My lack of golfing aptitude quickly made itself apparent and I was allowed to tag along without chopping up the turf and making all the golf balls vanish. I noticed that most of the people we met were dressed in clothes identical to those Jack Nicklaus wears when he appears on Japanese television, advertising noodles and money-market investment instruments. When we got back to the clubhouse, we performed the commemorative snapshots ritual, the mutual admiration of skills ritual and the ritual of general agreement. Then came an entirely new ritual to me: getting the incompetent foreigner to have a go on the Mark 7 super golf box simulator. ''Nice shot!'' drooled an American voice from inside the machine, as Mrs Saito let loose a cracking shot at a sensor target marked on a net three metres away. The computer can determine the speed and angle of the ball and work out the likely results of a hit. It also generates a tidy round of applause if the player makes par or scores a birdie in the imaginary hole. But not for me. ''Bad luck!'' it shouted. ''Try again!'' it commanded. ''Eyes on the ball!'' it cajoled. But try as I might, the Mark 7 refused to be impressed. In the traffic jam on the way home, we discussed tactics, the price of golfing gear and ways I might go about improving my ''game''. But I secretly vowed to remain a golfing nonconformist in this golf-crazy country. At least my bank manager will be pleased.