Monday, January 16
I spent an hour in the morning talking with my grandmother, Mam. It was her 81st birthday and I called to wish her a good one. It was so nice catching up with her and listening to an honest southern accent. I really miss her and all my kin.
Later that evening I met with Emma at Station Square, the train station we work at. One of our students, Yuuko さん had invited us over for dinner. We were happy to be invited and so obliged. We found Yuuko and followed her down to her car, a Toyota Prius Hybrid, she buys domestic. Nice. I slipped into the backseat, fastened my seat belt and let the warmth from the heater wash over me. Yuuko さん put the car into drive and were off. It was soothing to be back in a car. The gentle movements of acceleration and turning were comforting.
20 minutes from the station we pulled into Yuuko さん’s driveway. She slipped the car into reverse and the dashboard display showed a camera view from her bumper. The on-board computer suggested how far to turn the wheel and told her when to stop. Awesome. We stepped out of the car and I could see the outline of her two-story home. We were too far from the center of the city for total illumination at night, but I got the idea. It looked big, and nice.
We entered her home and donned guest slippers. I sat down to change footwear and looked up. I was stunned. Her home was magnificent. Large and very welcoming. We passed the entrance and entered the main room. Here a たたみ room, living room, dining room & kitchen were combined into a very large and open space. Yuuko さん led us to the dining room table adorned with food. Knowing I was taking a break from alcohol she offered me a glass of soda. We sat at her insistence as she busied herself in the kitchen.
Over the next 30 minutes a group of people joined us. First her eight year old daughter arrived home. Then her 10-year-old son came home from じゅく. Finally her brother and sister-in-law joined us. We all sat around the table eating, drinking and laughing. We watched her daughter practice her 感じ homework in front of us. Then we all tried our hand at calligraphy.
The evening started to turn late and Yuuko さん took us back to the station. The kids slipped into the car with us, so it was a five person ride home. Her children meanwhile had decided I was the funniest person they’d ever met. I felt like a comedian the whole drive home. And a good one too. No matter what I said, it was a joke. All too soon we were back at the station and standing in the cold January air. Emma and I went separate ways and I took a train home.
All night with Yuuko さん’s family I thought about how nice it was to be in a family environment. Everyone was laughing and enjoying themselves. It was especially nice being around a young family. I watched with secret jealousy as the uncle and nephew rolled around the ground wrestling. I missed my family.
Sunday, January 22
It’s winter. It’s cold. And it’s nabe season! First a quick refresher on nabe. Nabe literally means “pot.” So a bunch of people get together with a pot. They sit on the floor around a small table with a gas-powered hot plate and a big pot. The pot is filled with a broth, meat and vegetables. Then while the food is cooking everyone drinks a beverage and makes nice conversation. Eventually the food is served & eaten, with a drink still in hand. After dinner the drinking continues and the conversation becomes even more wild. It’s a great time and a very social thing. I love nabe parties.
On Sunday night my boy Trevor invited over two Americans and five Japanese. We sat around his apartment eating and talking for the evening. Trevor was not as understanding about my decision to abstain from drinking as Yuuko さん was. He decided to give me a hard time while he worked at his beers. I was a “weakling” he told. A name I was sure to call him the next day when he was nursing a hangover, and I was not.
The party was a great time and I was happy to finally introduce my girlfriend to my friend. The two seemed to get along and I was all the happier. However it was Sunday and Mari had work the next day. We left early to catch a train home and split at the Ono. It was another nice way to have fun inside during the cold winter. Although I am already starting to crave a good summer barbecue.
I consider myself to be a fairly observant person. I usually know when someone gets a haircut. A shy person in the corner of a party naturally draws attention. And as I’ve previously mentioned, patterns over time emerge. I can’t help but to see some things repeating. For example; fashion & behaviors. In fact I’ll see some things so many times that I tend to assume that all Japanese people are the same. But then I slow down and reevaluate the situation. I live in Tokyo with a metro population of 35.6 million people. I may see a few million people every week, but certainly not all 35 million. So when I see a 100 women all clutching the same purse I remind myself that’s only a fraction of the population. 100 of 35 million is not very sustainable. I call this, exaggerated sampling.
Example: Early during my time in Japan I noticed the amount of infants in and around Tokyo. I wondered to myself how the country could have a population problem with as many children as I saw. Then slowly and over time I realized that for every 5 children in the train car, there were literally one hundred adults. In this instance my attention was drawn to the children and not to the quiet passengers. This also taught me to look at the background when making an observation. It is often the quiet and mundane facts that are more telling that the cute or screaming ones.
Example: Designer wallets. Japanese women and men alike have a preference for the finer things. Especially Louis Vuitton wallets. This has also caught my eye as I see millions of people with the famous “LV” logo poking out of their pockets. Why is everyone buying, and how are they affording, such a pricey piece of leather, I thought to myself. Then again I realized not “everyone” had this wallet. I had seen it so many times that I began to think those wallets were the norm. But really they’re not. This is just another victim of exaggerated sampling.
Wherever I go I always try to keep exaggerated sampling in mind. It’s fun to be observant and draw lessons from about people however possible. But I also must remember to keep an open mind. That in Japan, and especially around Tokyo, sampling is exaggerated.
たたみ (tatami): Traditional Japanese flooring
じゅく (juku): Cram school