DAYS 1 – 21 20
07.26.2008 – 08.16.2008 08.15.2008
Essentially slept the entire thirteen hour flight and two hour bus ride from Chicago O’Hare to the Keio Plaza Hotel.
I shall let you draw your own conclusions as to my choices of how to spend my last evening in the states.
That said, the morning of my departure started perfectly. Good-byes to Mom and Dad, and more importantly I ate a well-balanced breakfast of a Dog, Chicago Style and my lifelong McDonalds’ staple:
* 2 Hamburgers, no pickles
* Large Fries
* Large Coke
Less is more, simple is beautiful and that meal is enlightenment.
In the interests of time, and more importantly taste, I will skimp over the details of my first possibly nefarious evening in Tokyo. I shall only reveal that I stopped by a club owned by a world famous individual and was later offered an invitation “upstairs” by an absolutely stunning woman.
First three days in Japan’s capital were spent in meetings along with hundreds of other new JETs about our new roles as cultural ambassadors and promoters of “internationalization” here in Japan. The highlight was our first “kampai!” by the President of CLAIR, which in traditional Japanese style meant staring at free booze and an insane food spread for over a half hour until the boss man was ready.
Following orientation filled with a thousand plus gaijins, it was not until I landed in Sapporo that I had my first real “I am in Japan moment.”
One second I was walking in a pack of comfortable white people, shooting the breeze about life on top of the food chain and next thing I know, I enter a room, the name of my town is announced, and I am placed in the care of two gentlemen who barely speak English.
In case you did not already know, my Japanese level was: zenzen, or nothing.
Thankfully, I managed not to immediately demand a return ticket home and soon enough we were sitting over an awkward meal of tonkatsu. The man who turned out to be my supervisor was attempting to communicate something to me, which his facial expressions indicated I should understand.
I struggled with all my might, and then finally it came through, in a moment akin to Noah seeing the white dove, a wave of relief washed over me as I realized it was all going to be OK,
Thirsts quenched, we became fast friends, even if I did happen to fall asleep on the six hour car ride into my town of 4,000+. As soon as we arrived, I was whisked off to a welcome enkai of about ten people who were extremely kind to me all night, filling my glass and plate at every opportunity.
It was also the beginning of what has become a daily rite of passage for me, a “challenge.”
It is usually said with a zest and a gleam in the eye as something is brought up that both the speaker and I now I do not really want to do, but inevitably will. That night it was about food. I eat ume, uni and natto! which is pronounced with an exclamation point at the end when served raw.
Surprisingly enough, advice from my father has come in handy in these situations. According to old man Danoff, the best thing to do is smile and comment on the delectable nature of the cuisine. All three items were absolutely gross in appearance, taste and worst of all texture, but my yellowed teeth beamed, nevertheless.
Was the correct play too. Every time a Japanese person finds out I “like” gnatto, I hear a very excited “oooooh.” Best times are when they bring it up, expecting me to be like, “oh my god, natto is so gross you Japanese are frigging crazy.”
Instead I play it like a poor-man’s Cool Hand Luke, “Natto? Delicious. That the best you got?”
As the days went by, it became apparent the first night was merely setting the table for the parties to come.
That weekend was the shrine festival, where I competed in a Sumo tournament. I would like to say I walked in there and showed them why “Made in the U.S.A.” will always trump “Made in Japan,” but there is a reason more Americans drive Toyotas than Chevrolets these days.
I got whooped.
I lost count of how many matches I lost in a row, but it was definitely over ten. My opponents ranged from a big-boned female younger than me, to a geezer pushing 70 at about half my weight, to a couple of guys around my age and size. They all tossed me to the turf.
The next weekend started college style, on a Thursday night, with work to do the next day, and would have tested my endurance even at my Frat Boy peak. That night was a festival at a retirement home, Balmodori Bonodori style,
where Taiko drums lay down a centuries old beat, and people dance in a circle round and round.
They feature cheap food and beer, which is always nice, and end with a big bingo game once everyone is nice and lubed. The prizes are usually practical, which is refreshing, going from daikon to laundry detergent to gohan.
Friday night was my official introduction to the boy’s club at the office. Dudes-only BBQ enkai at the local lake. Although they lack rhythm and dancing, the advantage of enkais is that they feature nearly unlimited food served literally right off the grill, and kegs that seemingly never get tapped.
Sat around and talked about how its a man’s world for a while, as two charcoal fueled grills were going and eat yakitori, yakisoba, yakki niku (a.k.a. Genghis Kahn) squid and my personal local favorite scallops, or hotate.
That was also the night where I was given my first official Japanese nickname:
The emphasis is on the “tah.” I thought about donning the nickname for the blog, before realizing that was an utterly stupid idea.
Saturday was a neighborhood BBQ, with the same constant food and booze, only this time it featured women and children. Late that evening, I engaged in one my safest activities ever, as I ran around with 5 – 10 year olds and played with burning, white hot sparklers.
Sunday morning I was on the top of my game for the local Gold Panning Championships. I competed, but once again fared quite poorly, coming in dead last. On a good note, I did start drinking before noon. I even was given the honor of competing in a beer tasting.
I thought the purpose was to rank the beers 1 – 5. Only half way through did I discover the goal was to name the beer’s brand. Not familiar enough with the local mead nor kanji, I went 0 for 5.
Went home around 1:00 for a quick nap, before manning up for a different retirement home Balmodori Bonodori-style festival. That night, I made my live Taiko debut, after only being in the club for around a week. Did not fare too well, but did get feer food and beer for my efforts, so really I won.
One would think Sunday would be the end of my blissful/torturous run, but no, Monday night was the “official” office enkai. This time a BBQ in the town office parking lot, with coed staff. Needless to say, after 6 parties in 5 days, I choose not to attend the official “ni-ju-kai,” or after party.
Instead I attended the more select ni-ju-kai at the local coffee shop, which doubles as a bar that stays open till 2:00, and an attractive 45-year old bartender whom I thought was max 30 when I first met her.
Before you ask, this was at lunch on a weekday, and no I had not had made my first bad “it’s 5:00 somewhere joke,” yet.
The following weekend of Friday the 15th, was more or less tame, with only three parties on Friday and Saturday, and Sunday off. Did manage to not completely embarrass myself at Taiko too; which is to say, I only made mistakes two out of every three notes, as opposed to each time I hit the drum.
So, there could be worse introductions than partying seemingly every day. Apparently, August is the month for festivals here. I guess people need to get it out of their system, before the eight months of winter come.
Aside from the social gatherings, life has had its difficulties, but overall has been fine.
I have been essentially adopted by a local family, who have made several meals for me, and served as my local Japanese liaison/event coordinator/translator. Have felt like a cross between a politician and rock star, as I have been paraded around to my eight different schools and am always greeted with a round of applause for being able to speak three sentences in Japanese.
Toughest times have come trying to set up my bank account and cell phone, as they required me to write my name in Japanese, which is obviously not my specialty. People were so patient with me then and always here, though, so it’s been great. Japanese hospitality is insane. Left my keys at a sushi bar, and the owner got in his car and tracked me down in town.
Granted we live in an extremely small town, and foreigners literally do stand out like aliens – complete with an Alien Registration Card – but, that is a level of attention to the customer I have never before seen.
In closing, you probably have forgotten and did not care to begin with, but with regards to my first night in Tokyo, I may have stretched the truth a little.
The club I visited was owned by Mr. Sonic. While Sonic the Hedgehog is world-famous, Club Sega is nowhere a 23-year-old man should brag about attending. Especially considering, I had to have an attendant teach me how to play the arcade games. Also, the invitation came from a woman offering a massage. Though I could be wrong here, I do not think she really liked me for my dry-funny-once-in-a-blue-moon-sarcastic-style-of-humor. Nor my personality.
Écrit près Charlie Danoff | Homepage