Playing the Local
Sincere apologies for the delay between posts. My friend, Kellee, was visiting from the States. I was unable to sit down and write a blog during her stay but I’m catching up now. And because so much happened while she was here, I’m going to briefly return to the old format where I give day-by-day details. Here we go!
Thursday, June 23
Kellee’s flight arrived in Tokyo at 11 pm. After a full day’s work I caught four trains to make it to the airport. I arrived with enough time to drink a coffee and confirm her flight. Soon after her flight arrived and I greeted her at the gate. I had put on a surgical mask only to officially welcome her to Japan. She and I quickly made eye contact and embraced with a long overdue hug. Just as soon as she let go I grabbed her bags and made a run for the train.
The trains in Tokyo stop running at midnight. As such, we had one hour to make four transfers and get home. Theoretically it was possible. But a single hiccup and we would be stuck somewhere for the night. Fortunately we made all of our connections and arrived back home on the last train. I was thrilled to have skillfully navigated the trains, and even more excited to have Kellee visiting.
Although I had worked a long day, and Kellee had lost a day traveling internationally, neither of us were tired. We picked up a beer at the local konbini (Japanese-English for convenience store) and stayed awake chatting for hours. Finally the clock and the beer said it was bedtime and we complied. What a day!
Friday morning came very soon for the both of us. We woke up and cleaned up before hitting the train. We skipped over one stop to my work. There we had a light lunch at a New York style bagel shop. Kellee’s first meal and we ate American, I’m a terrible host, I know. I quickly showed Kellee the general area around the shopping center and the office I work in. Then she went out for a day of exploring and I a day of work.
My head was in a weird place all day. I was sleep deprived from the night before. But worse than the drowsiness was the nervousness. Kellee was on her own in a foreign land. As long as she was visiting me she was my responsibility. Even though she is a fully capable adult I couldn’t help but feel concerned.
Concern for another is an emotion I’ve rarely had to deal with in Japan. For most of my stay I’ve been totally on my own here. No one to worry about myself. Now that I had another in my care, my big brother instincts kicked back on. I spent the whole day fretting about Kellee.
Fortunately I was able to meet Kellee for lunch which slightly eased my concerns. Then again after work I found Kellee and we had a drink. Emma and Moto tagged along and we shared two quick beers at our favorite izakaya. Not long after the drinks were served I found my head dipping into the beer. We were tired and so we left. Bed!
Saturday I put in another full day. Kellee again joined me near the station for lunch. After work we again got a few drinks with Emma and Moto. It was only her second day visiting, and already I was getting Kellee in a Japanese routine! We skipped a train back home and stopped by the local grocery store to pick up a few items. Kellee took a great delight in walking around the store taking pictures of all the products. We paid for our groceries and went home. We would need our rest for the next day.
Sunday morning began in earnest. We ate breakfast and ran laundry. Early in the afternoon we took a series of trains to meet up with my futsal team. As luck would have it, the day’s game was a lot of deja vu. We were playing on the same field as my first game, against the same opponents. We showed up and I suited up for three hours of futsal.
If you remember from an earlier blog, the other team is a bunch of wild guys. Good natured and a lot of fun they ran up and down the field without too much concern for the score. One of their captains was even drinking beer while playing against us. On multiple occasions I smelled him before I saw him. This gave our team a competitive edge.
The game was fun and we often didn’t keep score. Afterwards we took a shower and took a train to Shin-Yurigaoka. Here the 20 of us had dinner and enjoyed a two-hour nomihodai. It didn’t take long for the booze to get flowing and everyone around us was feeling liberated. The wild shenanigans from the game carried over to the restaurant and we all had a good time. Kellee’s chopstick skills, while still beginner, were already getting much better. I was impressed.
During dinner I tried to make conversation with a young lady, Mari. She was beautiful and had played futsal with us. I set down my beer and began to ask her a question.
“Mari san, where did you learn English—”
Kellee cut me off.
“Alex, she’s eating. Don’t ask her questions now.”
I looked over at Kellee with a sharp gaze. She had sensed I was flirting with Mari and she wanted to stop it. If only to have a laugh. I was slightly irritated but laughed nonetheless. This was the Kellee I remembered from back home. It was good to have her back.
After dinner we took our train home and quickly fell asleep. Life is good.
Monday was spent traveling all around Tokyo. I was also able to introduce Kellee to many of my foreigner friends. For breakfast we met with Hamish in Shin-Yurigaoka. Then we traveled to Roppongi to meet with Lauren. For a night cap we met up with my buddy Trevor. What a day!
We first visited the Mori Art Museum in Roppongi and enjoyed the view from the 50th floor. For lunch we ate some tonkatsu, a Japanese take on deep-fried western food. After lunch we spent some time in Shibuya. Here Kellee was able to see the famous Shibuya Crossing. We also spent an hour in an authentic karaoke booth.
At Shibuya we split with Lauren and went into Shinjuku. Here I showed Kellee, Tokyo’s highest concentration of skyscrapers. As well as a nice glimpse of Tokyo’s seedy underbelly. For dinner we visited a kaiten zushi restaurant, in English, conveyor belt sushi. Kellee ate a few pieces before realizing she didn’t care for fish. On the other hand, I was starving and love fish. I pulled off a dozen plates and slathered the sushi in wasabi & soy sauce. Half an hour and ¥2,000 later I was full and we were on our way to Hon-Atsugi to see Trevor for a beer.
Shinjuku station, the world’s busiest train station, is very busy at 9pm on a Monday night. While it was unfortunate that Kellee had to cram into a train car full of sweaty salary men, I thought it was a great opportunity to see the real Tokyo. Where the masses jam into tiny boxes of metal to make the commute home.
Welcome to Tokyo, Kellee. This is my home.
Japan has a culture of respect and being polite. I can totally dig this. One example of being polite is the word “san.” Translated, “san” is a title much like Mr. or Ms. For example, “Konnichiwa, Suzuki-San,” means “Good afternoon, Mr. Suzuki.” As in American society, the title San is always used in business situations or with people you are not very close with. Sometimes it is used between friends too. Naturally I use this word more often than I should.
One of the many attributes I picked up from my Southern mother is a genuine respect and politeness for others. In addition to this background I once had a great conversation with a bartender in New Orleans. He told me that his Southern heritage was so deeply engrained into his personality that he could not turn it off. Especially when addressing others he couldn’t help put to prefix their name with a “miss” or “mister.” I remember to thinking to myself, “gee, that’s a strange quirk.” But for some reason, it really stuck with me. And for better or worse I adopted this practice as my own.
While living in Nebraska I often called new acquaintances with a title, like mister John. Shortly after my move to Japan I learned about the word “san.” I was delighted. I could take my American personality and make it Japanese. That is exactly what I have done here. Outside of the workplace I call most everyone by “san.” This habit has made me endeared to some Japanese, and yet it irritates others. Like it or not, I will continue to do it. That is until they stop and ask me not to use the title. I have to be respectful!
During all of Kellee’s stay I introduced her to the Japanese as Kellee-San. Usually this would elicit a chuckle. A very un-Japanese name paired with a Japanese title. But sure enough, everyone would address her as Kellee-San thereafter. If there’s one thing the Japanese do well, it’s respect.