This week saw the beginning of September. With it I marked 10 months in Japan. This time has passed in the blink of an eye. Amazing.
Wednesday night I had dinner with an old friend, Hamish. I met Hamish after work at our old haunt, the ramen shop near the station. He brought with him, his new coworker, Catherine. I had met Catherine five months before in Okayama. At the time, we were both on the lam after the big earthquake. Thus the evening for me was a double reunion.
While waiting for my friends to arrive I took a seat and opened the menu. Feeling confident I called over the server. I placed an order for three bowls of ramen, two plates of gyoza and three beers. All with spoken Japanese. The man wrote everything down and placed the order. I felt very proud of myself. The last time I had visited the restaurant I was unable to even order a glass of water for myself. The times they are a changing.
Finally I was joined by my friends and our food was served. We took an hour or so to eat and catch up. Of course we’ve been in touch through emails but it’s nice to get face-to-face. Hamish was continuing his many projects. Catherine filled me in the last five months. And I listened all the while. Unfortunately the evening was short. After all it was a school night. So we returned to the station and took trains in the opposite direction. I hope I can see my friends again sooner than last time.
Saturday I returned to same restaurant with Moto. Still confident from my experience, but not wanting to feel embarrassed in front of my Japanese friend, I order the same as before. He and I caught up for the first time in a week. We had hit our numbers the month before and our personal lives were going well. Naturally the conversation was very upbeat. After dinner we visited our favorite bar, Angie. We had a beer and played some cards. The night was short though as we were tired from a long week. We said goodbye and I found myself in bed before midnight. Fantastic.
12 hours after I had left Moto I saw him again. We were playing in a futsal tournament Sunday afternoon. The core players from our team met at 11 AM in Minami Machida, a station that I find myself visiting with increasing frequency. We migrated to the fields and were forced to run the last portion to stay dry. A storm was moving in over us. I was dreading having to play in the rain. My dread was short-lived as we arrived to the fields. The game, I learned, would be played inside.
A while back I had done some wikipedia sleuthing. I learned that “true” futsal was played indoors on hard floors. So there I stood, looking at an old automotive garage turned into two futsal fields. Nice! My first time playing honest futsal and I was also going to avoid the rain. I was happy.
My happiness however would not last. There were four other teams registered for the tournament. After playing everyone we emerged with only a single victory. Possessing a healthy competitive spirit I was somewhat disappointed by our effort. I had come to win and leave with a trophy. Instead we had gotten beat by all but the worst team. I think next time we should develop a basic game plan. Fortunately our next game is in three weeks so we’ll have a shot at redemption!
After the game the team went our for our customary dinner and drinking. Unfortunately I could not join the team this time. I had other plans. Better plans. So I said goodbye to the team and took a series of trains home. Back at my place I took a shower to wash off the stench of defeat. I put on a snazzy outfit and spritzed some cologne. Date time.
I stood in front of the mirror before leaving the apartment. I realized my footwear clashed horribly with my outfit. I looked in my shoe cupboard, no suitable replacements. So I looked at my watch. I had extra time. I visited a shoe store to find something in a hurry. I eased my resistance to an impulse purchase by reminding myself that I did need a new pair of sandals. In true man-fashion I strolled up and down the aisle scanning the products quickly. I started with price tags and narrowed my search. From the prices I further narrowed to a pair that I liked. I called over the clerk and pointed to the pair. I tried them on. They fit. Great. I bought them and walked out with them on my feet. Now I was styling.
I took a train into Tokyo where I met my date, Mari. She wore a black and white dress and had her hair down. She looked outstanding. We had spent the previous week making plans for the day. I planned an activity and she found the restaurant. The activity: aquarium. We took the Yamanote line to Ikebukuro’s famous Sunshine City. Sunshine City is a huge shopping center. Really, this place is huge. The aquarium was recently remodeled and billed as the highest in the world, occupying floors 11-13. We kept a flirty conversation and arrived at our destination. So we bought our tickets and ventured inside.
This was the first aquarium I have any memory of visiting. I found myself with mixed feelings. It was great to see some amazing animals and fish. But some of the displays were too small and it broke my heart. However these feelings were suppressed. I was fully engaged talking with the young lady. I also realized how romantic the aquarium can be. Dim blue lights, calm music and the easy nature of water. It was very conducive for a second date.
After dinner we visited the restaurant she had found for us. Mari is a vegetarian and so found a vegetarian restaurant for us. I myself am near a vegetarian these days so I had no quarrel with her preference. We arrived for a late dinner on Sunday night and found the joint almost empty. It was a perfect follow-up after the aquarium. We both ordered a glass of wine and chose a myriad of dishes. The waiter added to the wonderful evening. He walked about the restaurant barefooted and spoke Japanese to her and English to me. We paid the bill and left.
We took the train home for thirty minutes. After six hours together the conversation began to slow. I put her on the train home with the promise to see her again next week. Here’s hoping.
Sunday proved to be a rare occasion. Both Emma and I were in town and found ourselves with nothing to do. So I sent her a message and proposed that we do something. She replied with an enthusiastic “yes.” So I met Emma at our local kaiten zushi (conveyor belt sushi) restaurant. We both ate until fish came out of our noses and then asked for the check. The grand total: ¥700. Amazing! Next we visited Sari who was stuck at work, all alone. We took her a coffee and some cookies. Because we had nothing better to do and there were no students, we hung out at the office for two hours. It was nice to relax in our street clothes and shoot the breeze. Finally we left Sari because I only had one thing on my mind: karaoke. We moseyed down to a karaoke joint and took a room for two hours. The best party about two person karaoke: more singing time.
Finally the sun had set and I left my friend to go grocery shopping. I spent most of my time in the produce aisle picking up groceries for the next few days. Back home I wound down for the night and eventually made my way to bed. A successful week followed by a successful weekend. I was a happy camper.
-The Nail That Sticks Up-
This is an old and popular Japanese proverb. It is said, “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” Translated into the English language and American culture, it means something like “individuality is bad.” It can be generalized that Japanese people are very homogeneous. They look similar, speak similarly and have one culture. To deviate from the norm is unwise. This rule of thumb makes life in Japan very smooth, pleasant and agreeable.
As a guest here, I feel it best to play by the local rules. So I’ve often found myself keeping my head down much more than I ever had before. This mentality has permeated every part of my life. I dress with Japanese fashion in mind. I have adjusted my exercise to achieve a more Japanese physique. I buy and eat Japanese food. I’m even trying to learn the language.
I suppose you can compare this proverb with the popular European adage, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” I find it to be polite, and at times, advantageous, to play by the local rules. This comes at no real cost to me and has only helped me flourish here. Actually as winter is approaching I am beginning to contemplate my usual January scruff. Having a beard ready would be perfect for a holiday trip to the Middle East…