Cosmopolitan

My Backyard

Week:

I was early to bed Monday night, Tuesday was to be epic. Moto and I were going to tour a nihonshu (日本酒) brewery, and of course drink 日本酒.

I migrated to Machida at noon to meet Moto. Just outside the station stood a monk. It is normal for monks to frequent train stations and silently panhandle for change. While waiting for Moto to arrive I was approached by the man. I have seen plenty of monks, but I’ve never spoken to one. “Lovely afternoon, isn’t it?” He said in a thick Japanese accent. Indeed it was. The gentleman and I chatted for several minutes while I waited for Moto. The man was highly educated. He had, on several occasions, visited the United States. We were beginning to discuss socio-economic disparities in the US when Moto showed up. I shook the monks hand and wished him luck at the station.

Moto and I then began our journey to the brewery. This brewery was located in Okutama, western Tokyo. The commute was very long. We changed trains four times and spent over 90 minutes to reach our destination. Finally at 2pm we reached the sleepy mountain town. We were both surprised as we exited the station. There was no attendant working at the station. The entrance gate was the same as the exit, and there were no arms to regulate traffic. This station was on the honesty system. Leaving without swiping my metro card would have been very easy. But it also would have been dishonest and un-Japanese. I swiped my card.

I was very thankful that Moto knew Japanese. This town was far enough out of central Tokyo that English was sparse. We followed the signs and finally found our way to the visitors’ center. We checked in with the front desk an hour early. We were told of a cafe upstairs where we could wait. TUrns out, the cafe was a fully stocked 日本酒 bar. This brewery produced 15 different kinds of 日本酒. Joy.

With time to spare we ordered some drinks. Nihonshu translated, literally means “Japanese alcohol.” Nihonshu is traditionally served in a glass slightly bigger than a large shot glass. However the liquor is not to taken like a shot. Instead it is to be sipped at, and the flavor closely inspected. It can be most closely compared to a very bold white wine.

I have had the opportunity so drink nihonshu many times before, but today was to be different. Moto is a nihonshu enthusiast, to say the least. We approached the bar and Moto ordered us each two glasses of the local brew. The total cost of four glasses, ¥800. We were both stunned. The server told us, in Japanese, that the glasses were souvenirs and cost ¥100 each. Refills would only cost ¥100 yen. Our jaws slacks a little lower. We collected our drinks and sat down.

At the long table in the cafe we inspected the drinks. We swirled the glasses, sniffed and tasted. The first swallow brought tears to my eyes. It was very strong. And very good. We finished our drinks and ordered two more refills. After the final sip we rinsed our our souvenirs and exited the cafe. The brewery buildings were a short distance away. We followed the stone path and walked down a tunnel to find the plant. An employee guided us to a large lecture room and we were seated. We sat across from each other and laughed out loud. We had the giggles. Four glasses of nihonshu had given us a buzz and we were excited for the grand tour.

As the clock struck 3pm, a brewery employee entered. He took stock of the room and commented on the tour’s size, two people, me and Moto. I listened to the intonation in his voice and laughed right on cue with the man at Moto. I had no idea what he said, but I knew it ways a joke. He then began his lecture about this particular brewery. Moto was amazing during the whole tour. He translated everything the man said so I could follow long. The guide told us how his plant was special and over 200 years old.

We next had a walking tour of the stills. Massive vats of nihonshu were brewing in a very cold room. Cold weather is critical to the brewing process of nihonshu. As such, the only time producers make new nihonshu is between October and April, when the weather is at its’ coldest. We handled jars of polished rice. Nihonshu is made of only rice and water. So great care is taken with the rice. The tour, and Moto, were very informative. All the while I was taking photos of the facilities.

At the conclusion of the tour we were brought back into the lecture room. Our guide poured us both a glass of booze and we sampled. He was even nice enough to give us each two more sample cups. I thanked him and shoved the glasses into my pockets. I gave a thankful bow and my coat rattled from all of the glasses. After the tour we returned to the cafe to drink a little more. Whilst ordering our final glass, the sweet bartender told us to be careful. If we consumed 10 glasses, we were in effect drinking a whole bottle. Warning; noted.

After we had sufficiently wet our whistles we bought a full bottle of the local hooch and walked back to the train station and commuted back home. In Machida we stopped at a grocery store and bought ingredients for dinner. Moto was going to cook us some nabe, hot pot, a staple of bachelor cooking. We devoured his cooking, ate rice that his family had personally grown at their home and drank the souvenir bottle. Soon after my eyes grew tired. The warm food and alcohol in my belly was making me sleepy. The warm air pumping out of the heater made me too comfortable. I sat up and set out, lest I would fall asleep right there on Moto’s couch.

The rest of the week was business as usual. I stayed busy and helped out however I could. I am continuing to grow into my responsibilities as the soon-to-be senior foreign teacher at school. Before I knew it, the day was Saturday and I was cleaning up after my final class.

After work I went out for one beer with Moto and Emma. Earlier in the day Moto and I had agreed to spend only ¥1,000. Only one beer after the work week is optimistic, but hopeless. After four hours of eating and drinking at Shanto, we migrated over to a karaoke joint and set our minds to an all-nighter. We sang out hearts and slowly enjoyed our drinks. Unfortunately one of my associates became over served. At 5 AM, when our rental room expired, we left. I escorted my friend on the train and back to their local station. I caught the return train and hoofed it home. I was laying down as the sun was coming up. Amazing how one beer turned into nine hours and ¥5,000. Oh well, I suppose you only live once!

 

Weekend:

I enjoyed a very lazy Sunday. I didn’t once get out of my PJs. It was nice to protect my wallet and spend a day to myself.

I started out my Monday right. 100 minutes in the gym,  60 on the treadmill. Recently I have began thinking about running the Tokyo marathon. I’ve never been much of a runner, but have taken to the exercise since moving to Japan. The marathon, 50 kilometers, is hugely popular. I believe they hold a lottery to pick participants since the demand is so high. Currently I’m thinking about entering my name and getting in shape regardless. A lofty idea, I know. We’ll see how long I can keep it going.

While my morning was spent clearing toxins from my body, my afternoon was much more leisurely. At 4pm I was in central Tokyo. I met up with Eiko at the station and we set out. Destination: Tokyo Tower.

The Tokyo Tower was built in 1958 as a symbol of Japan’s return to economic power. Its’ design is based directly on the Eiffel tower in France, but is eight meters taller. While originally it was a powerful antenna, it has since become a major tourist attraction. Eiko and I ascended from the subway unsure of the tower’s location. I looked up it and saw it standing high behind other buildings. “Must be this way,” I thought. We navigated the streets, unsure of our path but sure of our destination.

The tower itself is painted orange and white and stands 332 meters from the ground. Directly beneath the tower is a large four story building which houses museums, shops and restaurants. 150 meters up, there is a two level observatory station. Here you can buy souvenirs, order a latte and see a stunning panaramic view of Tokyo. A second elevator takes you to 250 meters. The “Special Observatory” is very small. It offers the same view as below, merely from a higher elevation.

Eiko and I spent some time exploring the building. We visited the shops and strolled about. We bought our tickets and ascended to the main observatory. We walked about taking pictures of the Tokyo skyline at dusk. Very beautiful. We then took the next elevator to the top. The view was stunning. It really gave me a sense of just how big Tokyo is. After sometime, and many ear pops, we descended back to the base. Not a bad location for a second date.

After the Tower we caught a train back to Shinjuku and had dinner. We ate at an Arabian themed restaurant. Standing in the entrance, we had to rub a magic lamp for the door to open. There, a stunning Japanese woman stood in a belly dancer’s outfit. My jaw hit the floor. I remembered Eiko at my side and scooped up my mandible. The hostess sat us in a private booth, where we sat closely to each other, shoes off of course. Eiko ordered for us many Arabian-turned-Japanese foods. Everything tasted おいしい (oishii) (delicious).

After dinner she and I wandered around town for a while. Her spoken English all the while getting better and my Japanese listening skills improving. The language barrier was much more manageable this time around. It grew late and we were soon forced separate ways. It was a school night and we both needed to get home. I left her at the Marunouchi line with the promise to meet again next week. I walked to my train and was fortunate to grab a seat just as the doors opened. I sat down and read all the way home. Another fantastic end to another fantastic week.

 

-Leadership; Denied-

In my native environment I thrive at taking control. I like to project my voice and manage. I enjoy making executive decisions. Directing traffic is second nature. I often put my personal desires on hold while I take care of the greater good. Unfortunately these traits have floundered since arriving in Japan. I have often taken a back seat to conversations and decision making. This inability to participate has often been extremely frustrating.

There are two primary reasons for my removal from any semblance of authority. The first is obvious, the language barrier. I am unable to effectively communicate using the native language. This has rendered my negotiation skills useless. Often my own friends will converse in Japanese about our next action with me on the sidelines. However I do not make a fuss about this. I understand that I am in a completely different environment and that my role has thusly changed. Instead I wait quietly and patiently while decisions are being made. Happy to chime in whenever my help or opinion is needed. But generally under used.

The second reason for my abdication from the decision circle is cultural. In the states I am loud, confident, assertive and often bold. I am convinced these traits are required to lead Americans. Yet in Japan these characteristics are abhorred. To achieve leadership in Japan is to navigate complex social situations. An individual must always be aware of the context they find themselves in. They must be respectful and delicate. The Japanese have a saying for this; “Reading the air.” It means to be aware of the social atmosphere. I am slowly fine tuning my own traits to better thrive in this environment. Slowly, but surely.

It is my hope that this disposition is only temporary. At times it can be maddening to watch events unfold contrary to how I would have handled it. To sit hopelessly and have decisions made for me. However I plan to hold on to my assertive American self. There will be a time and place that I may return to my old ways. Yet my time in the backseat will not have been wasted. I will implement some Japanese traditions into my repertoire, and in turn I hope to be more suave. More, cosmopolitan.

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About japanesealex

Alexander lived in Japan from 2010 to 2013. He is now pursuing a career in public service in Honolulu, Hawaii.

One response to “Cosmopolitan”

  1. watashiwagaijin says :

    I can totally relate to the feeling of needing to bite my tongue instead of being assertive. It sucks sometimes. Well, most of the time. Welcome to Japan!

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