The River

Only a flesh wound.



The week started out at a leisurely pace. The shopping center where I work was closed for routine maintenance. This meant we had one more day of vacation. You know me, I’m not one to waste a day away. I woke up at 7 AM and got my day rolling.

I arrived at my station at 8:45 and waited for the train. While waiting, I found a student and friend, Kenichi. We were catching the same train. Actually we were going to the same BBQ. It was his first day of Obon vacation, and my final. Our beards matched the difference. We caught the train and rode to Atsugi. Atsugi is a small station that we both know by name but have never visited. After a quick 15 ride we arrived in town. We got off the train only to see Moto walking a few paces ahead of us. I called his name and we all caught up.

We exited the station to be greeted by Moto’s friends. They had organized the whole party and invited Moto. Moto in turn invited the two of us. We were given directions from the station and set out on foot. It was only 9 AM and the morning sun sat high in the sky. Suddenly I was glad I had applied sunscreen before leaving my apartment. We made the 25 minute walk all the way to the park. Very inconvenient and far from the station. Yes I’m already jaded.

Finally we arrived at the public park. Being so far from Tokyo it had ample room to spread out and was thus a large park. Tennis courts, a swimming pool, baseball fields, pony corrals and a BBQ section. At the entrance of the park were Moto’s friends, 10 of them. They had dozens of bags with them. We all grabbed the supplies and made a break for the barbecue garden. We found our pit, Pit E, and deposited our goods. Some of us returned to the park office to rent the bbq gear. Much to every ones’ surprise and delight, everything was free. Our pit & the tools had no cost. Excellent!

We returned to Pit E and started a fire. What followed was five solid hours of grilling. The crew that had put the party together did an excellent job. There was plenty of food and drinks. I jumped in right away and started to help. I took a bag of vegetables to the water pump and cleaned our food. Two of the girls came with to help. They didn’t speak a lick of English nor I any Japanese. This wasn’t a problem. Our pidgin quickly developed and we were soon having a good time.

Back at the grill the boys had gotten the coals cooking. The first round of food went on, vegetables. Grilled vegetables. What a treat! It wasn’t until the first slices of eggplant came off that I heard the first beer cracking open. I looked at my watch. Noon. We had been at the park almost two hours before someone wanted a drink. I breathed a sigh of relief. It’s nice hanging out with an older crowd. And a crowd that doesn’t feel the need to drink solely because they can. Moto tossed me a cold one from the ice chest. I cracked it and open and we raised our cans, “kampai!”

For the next four hours we kept the grill rolling. Vegetables, meat and fish cooked all day long. All the while we tossed around a frisbee and enjoyed the clear skies. After a while some local boys approached us. Two eight year-olds. It was their summer vacation and their parents were at work. They had been left to fend for themselves and so went down to the park. I smiled, I would have done the same thing at their age. They wanted to hang out near our camp most of the day. And since they brought squirt guns, I obliged them.

After the food had been eaten, but before all the beer had been drank, we walked down to the river behind us. It was hot and we wanted to cool our feet. Of course with a handful of young men, and two boys, bad ideas sprung up. Before long we were trying to ford the river. The water was only knee-high and moving at a leisurely pace. So Mom, please don’t worry! I was the first to make it to the other side of the river. I stood tall on a rock and beat my chest.

“I’m King Kong! You ain’t got nothing on me!”

Just then I saw one of the boys trying to cross the river. I slipped back down and met him.

“Be careful, little man.”

I took his hand and led him back to the near-shore. We neared the concrete edge and I helped him out. I saw a mossy spot on the rock he was stepping on. I knew it to be slippery and warned him.

“Don’t step there!”

Since he didn’t know English my warning was pointless. Of course he stepped there. His little foot left an imprint on the moss and he stepped onto dry land with no problem.

“Well if he can, then I can do it too…”

I put my foot over his footprint and shifted my weight. Oops! I slipped and fell. My back was cushioned by huge rocks on the bed of the river. Of course everyone saw it. I hopped back to my feet and jumped out of the river.

“It’s no problem. I’m okay. Don’t worry.”

They weren’t worried, they were laughing. The old guys were laughing. The young boys were laughing. I laughed too. Guys love to see each other get hurt. It’s a part of our genetics. I wrung out my pants and took off my shirt. I slipped back into the moving water to wash the mud off my arm and legs. Under the dirt I was greeted with three big scratches. I had hit my quota of injuries for a holiday. Three. No more, no less.

I limped back to our picnic to lick on my wounds. The Japanese people around the blanket looked at me more horrified. A big white man had come lumbering up the stairs. Soaking wet, shirtless and dragging a leg. They peppered me with questions. All in Japanese.

“Diajobou desu,” meaning “I’m okay.” I sat down in the sun to dry off. The women chatted quietly trying to figure out what happened. One of the men approached me and handed me a cold beer. I took it and nodded.  No words were exchanged.No words needed.

The swelling subsided and my clothes dried off. Besides a little blood I was no worse for the wear. The party resumed. Soon the sun dipped behind the trees and our time at the park was wrapping up. We cleaned our camp and the barbecue pit. We revisited the office to return the supplies and say thanks. Then to the parking lot.

Next: fireworks.

We all piled into three cars and made a short drive further down the river. We grabbed the fireworks and walked down to the shore. Deja vu. I was on the riverbank across from where I had celebrated the Fourth of July six weeks before. The fireworks were pulled from the bag and set out for evaluation. I left my friends and waded out into the river. The sun had just set behind a mountain and gave the landscape a surreal silhouette. The river below moved quickly and carried the water behind a bridge. I looked up and hundreds of bats had come out to hunt. I love summer.

I climbed out of the river and helped my friends light some fireworks. Very quickly we were all done. The sky was dark and we were beat. We returned to the cars and were driven back to the station. We did the math and all paid for our share. Only ¥ 3,000. Not bad for a great day and someone on a budget.

After a short train ride I was back home. I took a shower and dressed my wounds. At nine o’clock I was out. What a successful holiday this had been.




The return to work was brutal. Only because we had taken a 10 day vacation and an immense amount of work waited our return. I had spent the week before break working extra hard to gear up for the holiday. Even with the extra progress I still had a tremendous load the rest of the week. Man, it’s like working in the real world or something! Overall the week was busy, but very enjoyable. It felt great to be back in the swing of things. I am a creature of habit and I enjoy my routines.

No sooner had the week started then it finished. However this Saturday was unlike most Saturdays. We had a work party! This was our “Summer Party.” Sometimes I feel like I work in “The Office.” We have parties for no reason at all. And I love it. After classes on Saturday we took a group of students to a local izakaya for food drinks and fun.

All told, 42 students and eight staff came out for the party. I was the first to finish work and so 10 minutes after work I took a gaggle of students to the restaurant. Extra students and the staff and teachers from work trickled in over the next 20 minutes. Finally everyone was present and the party started. Five servers brought big bottles of beer for each table and glasses were poured. Moto asked me to lead the toast. I was happy to.

“Sumimasen! Attention please! Thank you for coming to our summer party. I am excited to be here and hope you are too. I’ll keep this short and have only word to say; nomihodai! Kampai!”

Everyone clicked their glasses and the party started. For the second time of two parties, I was asked to MC the event. They didn’t have to ask me. I love doing this. Throughout the night I stood up in the room and shouted from my belly. Emma and I had prepared some party games earlier in the week. So I, loudly, explained the rules in very basic English. Thanks to Emma’s great planning and hard work, the party was a success.

After two hours of food and drink our reservation was over. Again I stood tall and spoke to the room.

“Thanks for coming, but the party’s over, and y’all gotta get out right now.” Obviously I had a few drinks by this time. “But,” I continued. “The party is not over. If you are having fun come join us at the second party. Look for me downstairs. Now give me a final kampai!”

Everyone cheers-ed and slammed their drinks. What followed was a 20 minute process of getting 49 drunk people out through one door. Naturally a pile up occurred as everyone put their shoes on the other side of the door. I stood in the back of the room picking up the stragglers. Finally the room was cleared and I was the last to leave. I slipped on my shoes and took the elevator downstairs and outside.

I was amazed to see 25 smiling faces outside. Normally the second party draws seven or eight people. We had a great turn out that night, how amazing. I knew of only one bar to host so many people. I found my way to the front of the group and hopped onto a ledge.

“Party people! Follow me!”

We made our way through the streets to arrive at the Manchester bar. The Manchester is a sports bar near the station. Expensive but big enough for all of us. No sooner had we walked in then I saw the manager talking to a student, and my friend, Ban. The tone of the conversation didn’t please my ears.

Ban told me that they wanted to charge a ¥ 300 cover for each person. No way, I told him. Then I turned and looked right at the manager.

“There’s 25 people here and we’re each going to order at least one drink. Stick us with a cover charge and we’re gone. Your move.”

Ban translated. The manager acquiesced. The party resumed.

The good times kept coming. By chance I looked at my watch at 1 AM. Holy smokes! The last train was leaving in five minutes. I jumped up and grabbed my bag. I bid everyone a quick goodbye and ran to the station. Another student came with me. We made it to the station in the nick of time. A train ride home and a walk to my apartment. Night: over. Lights: out.

Sunday started easy. Studying. Coffee. The usual. A light rain came down all morning and afternoon. It was a cold day too. I kept all my windows cracked and wore a sweater around my apartment. Brr. As the afternoon ended and evening came I slipped into the shower then hit the door.

I arrived in the Ono. Ban, Emma, Mari, Masaru & his wife, Masako, were all there. We set out. The occasion: Sagamiono Summer Festival. Everyone, save Masako, had been at the party the night before. Fortunately no one looked any worse for the wear. We took a short walk from the station to arrive at Central Park. The skies above were gray and looked ominous. The scene below though was festival. A small stage with a band was playing to a crowd of hundreds. Behind the green space was a semicircle of local food vendors. We navigated the crowd and found a spot. We tossed out our tarp on the wet grass. Masaru and Masako saved our spot and we made off for food and drinks.

We took a walk around the park and saw the good-looking food. We ordered a drink and food and returned to our spot. We had just taken the first bite when the rain came down. We opened our umbrellas and made cover as best we could. The sky was clear of lightning so the band kept playing. The poor weather couldn’t keep down our spirits and we had a high time. There was something magic in the air.

An hour before the end of the festival the skies cleared and the rain lifted. We stood about listening to the music and dancing. Finally at 8 the show was over. We turned our back on the stage and watched a firework show from the far side of the park. Firework festivals are very common in Japan during the summer. But following the March earthquake/tsunami, there hasn’t been as many. This was actually my first time to see summer fireworks. What a delight!

After the fireworks we cleaned our campsite like good samaritans and left the park. It was unanimously decided an hour of karaoke would do us some good. We walked back to the station and visited an unfamiliar karaoke joint. The hour went quickly and we all went home. Emma made a funny comment on the way out.

“Wow, I haven’t had this good of time before midnight in months!”

“And we’re sober!” Someone said.

Early and sober we split up and went home.

Monday morning I woke up with a cloudy head. Sober, but confused. I had a lot on my mind. I had been presented a dilemma and needed to make a decision. To clear my mind I laced up my shoes and went for a walk. I ran all over the city for 90 minutes, hitting a great runners’ high 50 minutes in. Suddenly I had the clarity I sought. I explored the issue and finished the run immensely satisfied.

I returned home for a shower and set out again for the Ono. I met Hikari for dinner and had a good time. However at the end of the evening I told her we had to stop seeing each other. The relationship wasn’t what I thought it would be. I was considerate and gentle in saying this. Fortunately we had only been steady for a week so it wasn’t terrible. She took it well. Still, I felt terrible doing this.

And just like that, I was back to where I started.


-Work Ethic-

I had my first job at the age of 12. During the summer of 1999 I worked as a detassler in the cornfields of Nebraska. My next job came two years later when, at the age of 14, I went to work for a grocery store. In 2005 I left the grocery store to work for the University of Nebraska. I worked for the University for almost five years until I graduated. I held down two summer jobs between the U and my current job. Through 12 years of working I’ve found myself with a strong back and stronger work ethic.

My strong work ethic has become stronger in Japan. The Japanese have an amazing worth ethic, almost to a fault. Working with primarily Japanese people and for a Japanese company, I have intentionally and unintentionally acquired their ethics. I am an industrious member of the proletariat. And I dig it.

Take for example my hours. I am contractually obligated to work 38 hours in a week. In reality, I’m working around 45+ hours. I’m not complaining. I enjoy my work. Each day I work hard I’m making the next day easier. I’m making work for my associates easier. And I’m proving to myself that I can do anything I set my mind to. It’s highly rewarding.

Such work does come at a cost though. My coworkers are often irritated with how late I’ll stay after work. I’m trying to prepare work for the next day and they’re ready to go home. “Just give me five minutes,” I tell them. This is promptly followed with an exasperated sigh.

This work ethic is beneficial two-fold. I’m making subsequent work at my office easier. 10 minutes spent now is an hour saved later. And I’m permanently changing my personality to expect more of myself. I’m sure this attribute will translate to my next career. Whatever that may be.

Yep, it’s all work when I’m around. As I’ve been saying all along, “play hard, work hard.”


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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.

2 responses to “The River”

  1. KAZ-Dad. says :

    Just a scratch!

    Hey I just happened to watch you old apt. video tour the other day, very interesting. Will we see one for the new digs?

  2. Claudia Wheeler says :

    You keep freaking me out when you say, Mom don’t worry:)

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