Monday, November 22, 2010

My NEW Favourite Person in Japan

Hi. I know I'm demonstrating alarming new zeal for frequent postings, but just roll with it. I was feel pretty tired all the time earlier in the month, I wasn't gaining any new followers or many comments, and the blog became a slog rather than an outlet and a pleasure, so I begrudgingly attempted to maintain the "one post a week" status quo without attempting to find any new inspiration. But! I am out of it now. The slump is over. Enjoy.

(Embarrassingly for me, I'm pretty sure the reason I have found new legs is because of a conversation with a friend back home, who told me I was his third most viewed page, and that he checked the blog a few times every day, and this pandered so delightfully so my writer's vanity that you're lucky I'm holding back from thrice daily postings).

So! If you enjoy reading these as much as I am now enjoying writing them, you have only this friend to thank for holding up a mirror and showing me Halle Berry.

The purpose of this post, however, is not to laud both this friend and myself (deserving though we BOTH are of laud..ation), but rather to TOTALLY OVERRIDE the former post. Those people are no longer my favourite people in Japan (I play fast and loose with my Japanese affections). Because last night I met, for certain, my favourite person in Japan.

Today is a public holiday ("Labour Thanksgiving Day" thank you very much), and as such last night night became much more of a Saturday than a Monday. Aravin and I and a few friends had our usual Monday night Japanese lesson, but rather than heading home afterwards, ventured out in Susukino for the delights of Hinode and nometabehodaii (it's like she's speaking another language...).

Hinode is a cheap and cheerful restaurant, frequented mainly by university students gearing up for a night out, so the atmosphere is rowdy and smoky, and feels a bit like someone hijacked a night club, filled it with tables and made everyone sit down and have something to eat. The servers are all notably attractive Japanese males possessed of the ability to carry no less than 10 beers at any one time (a "nomehodai" is an all-you-can-drink and a "tabehodai" is all-you-can-eat, so understandably a restaurant braving the realms of the "nometabehodai" requires waitstaff with strong forearms). As usually happens, by the end of the evening, at least one male from our table had been kidnapped by a table of giggling Japanese women, and at least one member of our group was on her feet drunkenly bopping to the J-pop in the background while neighbouring tables covertly took pictures on cellphones. We ate such culinary delights as giant shrimp, mayonnaise and sweetcorn pizza (don't knock til ya try) and fried rice, and sampled alarming combinations of alcohol (I myself was quite reserved, imbibing only beer, red wine and hot sake); and then, inevitably, the kick-out came once two hours had passed.

Out on the streets, the group proposed karaoke, but Aravin and I declined. JET is a wonderful institution, but its habit of placing couples further outside the city than the singles, thus forcing them either onto the last subway or into a $60 cab, does sometimes kill the fun a little early. So we took the subway homewards at about 11, drunkenly swaying with the motion of the carriages. Once we disembarked in Sumikawa (our homely, quiet neighbourhood)(when you live there you're allowed to call it "the Wa", but not before), however, we decided that our night was not quite over. We therefore decided to try one of the few underground bars that are scattered in the vicinity of the train-station. Now, I know this doesn't sound like any particularly brave venture, but you must understand that these places are SMALL, usually with room for only ten people or so; they are frequented almost exclusively by regulars; and the chances of finding anyone therein who speaks even schoolgirl Japanese is minimal. They are also UNDERGROUND, where no one hears you scream. So it takes a particularly ballsy or drunk foreigner to attempt to assimilate (Aravin was the former, I the latter, for posterity).

So we entered. 'Tis a mark of my continuing drunkness that I do not remember the name of the bar. Will research later. Wen we arrived there was a dramatic lull in conversation, and then a chorus of Japanese welcome ("IRASHIMASEEEEEEEEE"). There was a party of seven out celebrating a birthday who left soon after we arrived (we are scary) and two men seated at a bar, where Aravin and I also sat. The bar tenders were youngish Japanese women who were quick to furnish myself with sake and manfriend with whiskey, each poured in quantities approximately quadrupling the average measure in New Zealand. Thus armed, I turned to the gentleman sitting next to me, and there I found someone purely delightful. Remarkably, his English was near fluent, despite the fact that he was remembering it only from school days (I have since decided that he was probably fudging this, and was a nightly participant in English classes, because no one is that good). He had not lived anywhere English speaking, though he had spent a year in Italy (not as uncommon as you might think). He was extremely interested in Aravin and I, and spoke so well and so nicely that it was a while before I realised how unbelievably drunk he was. The moment of clarity arrived when he asked me for the third time how Aravin and I had met in Japan, and for the fourth time how I had spent my three years in Japan. But! I was well into my sake, and not above a little repetition, and as he spoke, I was covertly observing him. He looked about 55 years old and was wearing a dark brown cord jacket WITH ELBOW PATCHES over a maroon and blue harlequin cardigan buttoned up and worn with a tie, and as I mentally noted this, I decided that if he was not either a university professor OR an author, then I had lost my touch in assigning fashion stereotypes. Drunk enough to ask him outright (can be considered a prying question in Japan), I discovered that he was, in fact, a dean at the University of Hokkaido, making him vastly my superior and well-dressed to boot.

We talked for at least an hour, about what I found difficult in Japan; what I liked about the culture; what I thought about the Westernization of the younger generation; how much I liked sake; where he should visit in NZ; why I liked Lady Gaga; why I had opted to come to Sapporo. It was easily the best conversation I have had with a Japanese person, thanks to his excellent English and obvious intelligence. Also thanks to the daunting quantities of sho-chu that he had imbibed, loosening the ordinary Japanese inhibition.

As a mark of our new friendship, he gave me his business card. Having no business card to respond with, I sang him Alejandro.

(Oh yes, most bars, no matter how small, will also be furnished with a karaoke machine. You haven't really experienced Japan until you've sung Bohemian Rapsody in an underground bar while the bartenders dance in front of you and the university professor sitting next to exclaims loudly "She is so nice! She is so nice!").

Since we remain vaguely terrified of Crazy Takashi, I think this may have become our new local haunt. Come, join us. The academia of Sapporo are there. Lady Gaga and Queen are there. Sake is there. Why aren't you?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

My Favourite People in Japan

It's no secret that Japan values anonymity and uniformity. It might be considered racist and culturally ignorant to state that they all the look the same - and it's totally untrue, given their penchant for unique clothes and crazy hair - but it's nothing but honest - indeed, complimentary - to say that they act the same. As I think I may have quoted before, 'the nail that sticks out, gets hammered down'. And it's a really big, government-sponsored hammer.

That said, there are those that stick out, and it those people that I notice. So this blog post will be devoted to documenting those Japanese people who, through no knowledge or deliberate action of theirs, have been mentally noted by me as being My Favourite People In Japan.

NB: Some of these are ironic. You'll probably be able to tell.

1. The Guy Who Dresses Really Well and Stands Up And Reads on The Subway

It's no secret that I'm a raging fan of the written word. The thicker the book the better. It's the basis of any dissatisfaction I experience in Japan - I simply can't READ enough, there being limited access to books written from left to right, and front to back, in an English alphabet. I can't even read the signs on the train, or the instructions on how to change the toilet roll in the public toilets. It's frustrating.

So I have an appreciation for those Japanese folks who demonstrably capitalize on the fact that they are living in the country of their mother tongue. Many people, myself included, face long commutes to work. Playing on ones iPhone can be unnsatisfactory, as tunnels and intermittent underground stops make for haphazard internet connections. So, often, commuters resort to the antiquated entertainment of the written word. This is nothing special if you have a seat. BUT it becomes considerably more hazardous if you attempt to immerse youeself in Steig Larsson whilst standing, given that spine support and page turning require both hands and all ten fingers. Lisbeth Salander wouldn't have it any other way.

My favourite Japanese commuter is therefore a man whom I witness nearly every morning, legs wide and braced, as he clutches his leather-bound book with both hands. To have the physical capability to surf the subway in combination with the mental capacity to absorb plot segues takes some superior left-brain right-brain co-ordination. And yet, there he is, at 7am, risking becoming a human domino for the sake of ten minutes uninterrupted reading time. AS IF THIS WERE NOT ENOUGH he is also always beautifully dressed. For example, this morning, he sported a heavy wool dark to royal blue trench coat, a fawn scarf draped casually across the lapels and a maroon tie, the colour combination of which might sound daring, but was pulled off with flair. His pants were pin-striped and straight-legged, and his shoes elongated in a patent brown with a square toe.

If I were a Japanese man, I would aim to be him. As a Caucaisan woman, I aim merely to touch him.

2. The Man Who Always Talks to Me on The Elevator

Actually, this is not limited to one man, but this particular man is distinguishable by his tenacity. I live in an apartment building which is largely populated by 60+, who appear only to leave their apartments to dispose of rubbish and talk to me. I am therefore often accompanied in the elevator by one or may grey-hairs, all of whom come up to my waist, and all of whom seem deeply interested in my welfare. Upon my arrival, most were content to smile at me benignly. My problems arose when I gained the ability to say in Japanese which floor I wished to go to. I say it very convincingly, like a native, with conviction (I'm very proud), so they naturally assume that I speak Japanese. However, two inquiring sentences later, they quickly realise that it is all farce, and I am just a foreign as my hair suggests, and give up.

But not my favourite! Oh no! Each time we ascend or descend together, he rattles off increasingly long and complex sentences. H even walks me to the base of my stairs up to my apartment, commentating as we go. I suppose he is anticipating the day when all the study finally clicks for me and I am suddenly fluent, and we can have green tea together and discuss the vagaries of the Japanese economy together, and I will be like a CHILD to him, but I can tell you, little old man, it is not this day!

3. The Lady Who Got Angry At My Cereal

My local supermarket is just across the road, so it has a similarly aged population to my apartment block. These lovely senior citizens block the aisles and slow the counters at their leisure, going their own gentle pace. I respect this, as every time I go to the bank or post office, I take nine times as long as everyone else, due to my dangerous approach of simply agreeing with everything anyone says, whether I understand them or not, and whether it was a question or not ('What kind of postage? Express or regular?'....'yes'.)Therefore, anyone else who holds up the speedy progression of Japanese life I view with some solidarity.

However, as well as being slow, these old people are also nosy. They peer into my cart, looking askance at the persimmons, glaring at my Choco Pies as if personally affronted by the English packaging. One lady in particular took this to whole new levels, when she took my Frosties out of the bag I had placed them in (preparing for departure, having already paid, not as a precursor to shop-lifiting, whereupon her behavious might be villified) and started YELLING, loudly, in Japanese.

She gestured, she pointed, she waved them in the air.

I had no idea what was going on.

After about thirty seconds of extreme embarrassment, I decided that a packet of Frosties was a small price to pay for making my escape, and turned to depart, whereupon she thrust the offending cereal back into my bag with some force and turned back to her husband, who was watching sedately, as if this was something that happened everyday. Perhaps it does. Perhaps she is the Japanese Ambassador for Rice For Breakfast, and I was simply her latest target.

It didn't stop the Frosties tasting goooood.

4. (general category) Japanese People who Pretend They Don't Speak English But Actually Do

This is encountered EVERYWHERE, due to the dual intelligence and reticence of the Japanese people. Even if they speak the lanaguage to a level considerably higher than the average American (not so difficult, really), they will patiently stand, and wait, while you exercise your entire Japanese vocabulary (fifteen words) upon them in a desperate attempt to convey what you want.

After ten or so minutes of mime, charades and tears, they will apparently decide that you have been reduced enough that you are no longer threateningly foreign, but merely demonstrably illiterate, and will say, in perfect American accents 'Oh, you want soup! Of course. The soup corner is on aisle three. Please follow me'.

If you have ever tried to mime a pumpkin, you will understand my resulting frustrations. Alleviated in part by pumpkin soup.

5. The Man Who Stared At Me So Hard He Walked Into a Pole

No explanation really necessary.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Kaisei What?

I don't mention much of what goes on at school in this blog, primarily because I am always so exhausted by the end of the school day that everything I learnt/absorbed/experienced during the day ekes out of my ears and is replaced by Facebook status updates and La Roux lyrics; and secondarily (a word? perhaps) because at least one fluent English speaking Japanese teacher is an intermittent visitor at my humble URL, and sometimes I am subject to blog-vomit, whereby the censorship of material that could potentially get me ostracized/fired/deported is abandoned in favour of deference to my typographical gag reflex (that was a long sentence, but you made it, congratulations).

But weird things happen there. Oh yes. Many things I can't explain. Some of them aren't even interesting enough, or striking enough that my brain makes a conscious blog-memo ("Blemo"), but they are, in fact, unusual. In this blog post I will try to recall some of the more poignant instances for your reading pleasure. I mean to pleasure you as best I can. For as long as possible. Take your clothes off.

1. The Fox on the Soccer Field


I am living in the fifth biggest city in Japan. Sapporo is home to the entire population of New Zealand (not literally, obviously, otherwise it would BE New Zealand). Geographically, it is fairly small, which means that all four million residents live on top of one another, like Japanese Jenga. And they all, every single one of them, have cars and schools and houses and garages and favourite restaurants, which means that Sapporo is an extremely urban city. There are many bridges, roads and highways. The school in which I work is located in an area called Motomachi, which is no exception to this rule, surrounded on all sides by supermarkets, apartment blocks and busy streets.

So you can imagine my surprise when, upon incidentally looking out the window whilst turning on the photocopier (I work HARD), I saw a large, tawny, bushy-tailed fox frolicking in the school fields. And he really was FROLICKING. He was making a positive SPECTACLE of himself. First, he played with the crows. Then, they got their friends and ganged up on him. So then he ran away from the crows. Then he got himself tangled in the soccer net (soccer cage? soccer goal? the place where you try to kick the ball). Then, he found a baseball and began playing with it. Dribbling it around the field and whatnot (exaggerating a little - he dropped it and accidentally kicked it, but you enjoyed the mental image didn't you?).

This was my first experience with a wild fox, and I really did expect it to occur on the mountains of Hokkaido. Something picturesque and Laura Ingalls-Wilder-esque.

I also expected, given the Japanese penchant for cleanliness and order, something more of a furor when said canine was discovered. These were, after all, fenced in school grounds. Children were due their PE lessons on the very grass on which the fox was standing. But when I walked past the principal's office he was laughing at the foxes high-jinks just as I was, and displaying no obvious concern for - oh I don't know - RABIES?!?! But what do I know?

Anyhoo, this was two days ago and Fantastic Mr Fox has not been sighted since, so I can only hope that he packed up his baseball and took to the road with his crow-nies (geddit?). I remain utterly bemused as to how he came to be in the middle of such a densely populated area, but no one seemed to share my concern. I even went to lengths of pretending to BE a fox in front of my English classes, but I think this may only have produced greater fear of ME rather than regard for the welfare of the fox. I labour in vain.

2. Someone Stole the Mouse Balls

That got your attention, didn't it? But this was not some biological experiment gone horribly awry, but rather a rare student prank. One of the classrooms (called the "Call Room". Like a hospital. For no obvious reason) contains about forty computers. And during one of my lessons, one of the mice (mouses?) was discovered to have its "ball" missing, thus rendering it useless. The SHAME of the ball-less mouse! The reaction of the teacher in charge of said ball was pure anger (very quiet, restrained anger. I had to imagine it forming and raging within him, like a little wee typhoon, because the only external reaction was slight downward tilt of the head). Apparently this was the latest in a spate of recent ball thefts (it's a CRIME WAVE), and it was the last straw. So what did he do? The only thing he could do. Secretly, without informing any of the other teachers scheduled to teach in this classroom, he removed the ball from every single mouse. And put them in bags. Who's laughing now, ball thief?! Anyhoo, the "Call Room" is now no good to anyone, the computers being entirely emasculated.

Everyone complains, but the balls have not been replaced.

Possibly the best thing? The bags of balls (ball sacks) are sitting on the desk at the front of the classroom. In plain view. If one ball was so tempting, should not the bag o' balls be removed from view? Imagine the trophy value of forty balls!

One could make a necklace.

(I am getting delirious).

3. Arthur Miller in Japan

My students are smart. No two ways about it. They know their shit ("shit" in this instance being a synonym for 'English"). The English room is therefore stocked with myriad texts to keep their spry minds occupied, should they desire. Abridged versions of every classic imaginable are housed therein (I should know, I've read them all. NB: Abridged "The Secret Garden" is JUST as boring as the full length one. A ridiculous book. What is with Dickon? No one loves the outdoors that much! NO ONE. Why has no literary critic discovered that he is clearly an undiagnosed sufferer of Down's Syndrome?).

While I was hunting for an unread butchered work, I came across the collected short stories of Arthur Miller. I was delighted. But stumped. Where did he come from? How did the leather-bound beauty come to lie in Sapporo? What misguided English teacher thought it the best prose with which to titillate the novice English learner?

Whatever his/her motivations, I thank you. Arthur has been a real gentleman to me. And reads much more smoothly than the Level One "Matilda" with which I had formerly been occupied.

4. To be continued. I am tired and this blogging is preventing me from consuming my fine $8 Chilean red. Unfair.

In summary: foxes, mouse-balls, Arthur Miller.

Just another day in the life of a JET.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A little Bit Camp #2

Wells, it is nearly the middle of November, and for those readers in NZ this means the end of university for the year, and either a move back home to recommence summer employment, or new and bright things with prospective future employers, or the donning of short shorts and singlets in preparation for three months largely spent on the beach. In Sapporo, it means the nearing of exam period for my senior high students, the purchase of leg and ear warmers and the first turning of the central heating. It also means the occasional pang of homesickness, as Christmas decorations find their way into stores. The prospect of a white Christmas is enduringly odd - everywhere I go I see the kinds of things that the story books tell me I ought to associate with Christmas - mountains covered in snow, green bushes thick with red berries, bare-limbed trees, icicles on window-sills, people rugged up in boots and coats and hats and scarves. In my mind's eye, though, the trees are thick, not with berries, but with flower, the weather is hot, and Santa wears stubbies.

The weather at the moment is truly painful. I was promised drifts of snow-white.... snow, but instead I have been blessed with near constant deluges of rain for the last two weeks. It is miserable. And Sapporo has proved itself Wellington-worthy in terms of wind, and I have been the murderer of many, many 300 yen umbrellas. That said, this has introduced an exciting (kind of) morning activity. It's kind of like counting dead possums on State Highway One, but instead I count the broke-boned corpses of umbrellas, all angles and flailing silver limbs. They're so sad looking. Like gothic baby dear. Or lots of little Kate Moss' in black dresses, after falling off the cat-walk. Hmm, I think I need breakfast. And maybe some old-fashioned NZ sunshine.

But: there is no time for homesickness! As my third-years starts to visibly freak out about entrance exams, I have my hands full marking essays and helping them practice for interview tests ('What was your scariest experience ever, and how did you cope with it?'...........panicked glance..... shortness of breath......'This interview!?") I also had the pleasure, in the last two days, of participating in the Kiyota English Camp, a two-day event during which 40 strong English students join forces with 10 hungover JETs in an effort to speak only English for the entirety of the trip. As this trip revolved around the incorporation of English in all aspects, it became an endeavour on my part to eat as many gummy bears, corn chips, Kettle chips and muffins as possible. I can count my personal success as considerable.

My group consisted of three girls and one boy. The boy was at first the quietest member of the group, perhaps over-awed by the feminine dominance (not that Japanese females are, as a rule, particularly dominating), but quickly came out of his shell, to the point that at the closing song of camp ('We Are The World') he got up, with no encouragement, grabbed a microphone, and performed a shrill solo harmonic role. Very loudly. Inspiring. It's true, we'll make a better place, just you and Daichi.

It was hard yakka, to be sure (Australian, then Irish - I am so multi-cultural these days) - especially at first, when the kids are petrified at the influx of foreigners and seem to forget every English word ever memorized. But these are 15 year olds, powered by gummy bears, and pretty soon inhibition was dropped, at which point it became apparent how much English they really knew, and how dedicated they were. We had black stickers to give out when the exchange of Japanese was witnessed, and I only ended up giving them to myself (I'm so Japanese these days, really...). They even had to put on a play, fully in English, the preparation of which included fight choreography ("Maaaaaad Mariko versus... Yuko the Unyielding!!!!) and the construction of props, which they managed to write, direct and perform without one serious slip. I was barely even necessary, except perhaps as impetus, and as a provider of stickers. (Not that it's important, but my group won the performance competition. MY group. And I got to wear a shiny sequined silver bow. Shame).

Of course, camp wasn't all the dedicated consumption of American food. A significant portion was also dedicated to the consumption of Japanese beer, which we did with gusto. Yes, gusto. Although, at an interesting party, where there was all kinds of interesting types of alcohol ad interesting people, I spent the majority of my night playing coin rugby. Why? I haven't played coin rugby since I was twelve? Anyway, I WON THAT TOO. Clearly on a winning streak. Which then ended when I threw a beer-induced hissy fit when my gaming partner started insisting that it was legitimate and lawful to play English drinking games with Japanese words. Hmph. YOU CANNOT PLAY WORD ASSOCIATION WITH JAPANESE WORDS. Anyway, you can see that the hissy fit endures. Apparently I am a sticker for rules. Though probably only when the breaking of them results in my losing. That said, 'twas probably a good move that I went bedwards when I did (1.30), given that breakfast the next day was at seven, and, my friends, you do not want to miss out on tiny omelettes and tiny sausages for breakfast now, do you? No, you do not.

Far too much coffee was the drug that got me through the rest of that day, that and the high of my group winning. That, and cake.

I write this now from bed on a Saturday morning, with only vague plans to leave this comfortable position at some point. I am bruised from playing volleyball, have a seriously sore stomach (and an entertaining mental picture of myriads of multi-coloured gummy bears lined up in single file all along my large bowel) and heavy eyes. So any deficit in writing skill evident in this blog can be explained away by my many and various handicaps.

But good times are a'coming, my friends, in the form of one Nicole Paterson, less than two weeks away from being en route to my neck of the woods.

Pack some thick socks, Nicole. And perhaps a sturdy umbrella. It's definitely not summer here.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Crazy Takashi Strikes Again

The Japanese have a reputation as one of the hardest working races around. They work long hours, they almost never take weekends off - and even their packed lunches often look like they took hours to create. Seriously, this it not unusual:

I imagine that this is why Japanese apartments are so small - they are simply never there. They are busy falling asleep at their desks or coaching nine hundred baseball teams. However, there is a little known fact about the Japanese calendar which explains why they manage to work thusly without simply dropping, quietly, dead upon the extremely clean footpaths. This fact is the abundance of National Holidays. In New Zealand, I feel like these come around about three times a year. Off the top of my head can think of Labour Day (where we celebrate Helen Clarke) and Anniversary Day, were you pretend to celebrate the wonderfulness of the city you live in (Kawakawa Anniversary Day anyone? Huzzah!). I do NOT count Waitangi Day because I feel like in the 22 years I have been alive, it has fallen outside a weekend maybe TWICE. Is this even possible? Feel like perhaps someone must have conspired against Pakeha's celebrating the shamelessly usurping of an entire landmass from the indigenous by sleeping all day and eating chips. How rude.

In Japan this would NEVER happen. Their National Holidays are always orchestrated to fall either on a Friday or Monday (thus giving you a long weekend, during which to prepare your lunch box for the next working day) OR on Wednesday, thus giving you a welcome break in the middle of a tiresome week. The best part about these holidays is that they do not celebrate any particular historical event, or even any suitable seasonal shift. They are TOTALLY MADE UP. That's why they can make them fall on whatever day suits best! They celebrate things like "Greenery Day" (during which day, you must spend ten minutes worshipping leaves) and "Marine Day" (during which day you must spend ten minutes worshipping dolphins) and even "Substitute Holiday" (during which you worship... substitute teachers?). While my explanations of these days may be a little suss (that is, 100% fabrication), these holidays are genuine. "Respect for the Aged Day"! "Health and Sports Day"! There is even a "Children's Day", which shows my Mother up nicely for claiming that "Every day is Children's Day". Sorry Mum, it's actually May 5th. Write it down. Why this subject matter? Because I write to you on a Wednesday, from the comfort of my own bed, enjoying, in my own unique way, "National Culture Day". One might imagine that on a holiday thusly named, I would be inclined to visit a museum, or a heritage site. Instead, so far, I have booked flights, watched The Simpsons and eaten Choco Pie's. My most impressive accomplishment to date has been showering. And I didn't even wash my hair.

But I am glad of National Culture Day, for it gives me a chance to blog to you fine people about the weekend just been.

As you may have garnered from the title of this post, Friday night was spent, once more, in the company of my favourite crazy Japanese man. That said, I feel I must warn you that this might be the last post with him as the subject, as I fear we may have killed him. The night started tamely enough, with gyoza at a local restaurant. Aravin and I rugged up and walked the three minutes to the small restaurant, where we were happily surprised to encounter two friends. We sat down, and Aravin was immediately engaged in "conversation" with a Japanese man seated to his left, which involved said Japanese man waving a newspaper depicting the Japanese baseball draft (v important here, apparently) in Aravin's face and gesticulating wildly, possibly bemoaning/celebrating the outcome of the draft, and Aravin alternately nodding and shaking his head emphatically. He makes friends very easily here. Gyoza and Asahi and miso soup were copiously consumed, and we decided to introduce our friends to Crazy Takashi, who up til now had been a discovery of ours only. When we entered his bar, it was apparent that Friday night does not necessarily mean raging custom for Takashi, we being, once more, the only customers. Nonetheless, he was pleased to see us, especially when Aravin gave him his coat. See?

Why does Crazy Takashi make Aravin behave like a teenage girl, in that, the minute they encounter one another, they start trading clothes?

I do not know.

But, it did seem to inspire the spirit of generosity in Takashi, who immediately placed a bottle of shochu and a bottle of plum wine before us, and invited us to pour our own drinks, managing to communicate that it was far too expensive for us to drink by the glass, and that we should therefore purchase the bottles in their entirety. Can you imagine this happening in a bar in NZ? "No, no, don't buy a shot of tequila for $8, that's just ridiculous! Here, take the whole bottle for $30, that's much more sensible, there's a good girl now..." Anyway, we were amenable, it being Friday and we being impressionable. As the bottles got low, conversation flowed more freely, the language barrier apparently not being immune to a tide of liquor. Takashi was enjoying himself immensely, drinking a good three glasses of spirits to every one of ours. He was having such a good time, in fact, that as soon as the bottles looked ready to be empty, he presented us with a free bottle of whiskey, so best to prolong the evening. It was now 11.30, and looked like the party might go on in to the night - but then Takashi hit the wall. He staggered to the two tables in the restaurant and lay down across the seats and appeared to pass out immediately, glasses askew. We gaijins looked at each other - this was clearly an invitation either to depart, or partake of a restaurant sleepover. We decided upon the former. After quick consultation, we left thrice the proposed bill in 1000 yen notes on the bar, $20 just not seeming to be an adequate charge for three full bottles of alcohol. Aravin roused Takashi just enough to indicate the money to him, with the intention of soothing his mind of thoughts that he might have been robbed by four tall and unruly foreigners. But when he saw the money he seemed to become insulted - I don't really know, my Japanese not being great at the best of times, and considerably impaired by plum wine. At any rate, he then began to slap Aravin across the chest and face, yelling in slurred Japanese.

Aravin mananged to extract himself, whereupon Takashi collapsed back upon the seats, and we all left together.

We have not been back since.

So you see my dilemma... We love Takashi. He is a nice man, with slightly crossed-eyes and a text-book drinking problem. He wears yellow pants, and this is endearing. But we never know what to pay him, and we never know what to expect. We also don't know how he manages to stay open, when he only has two customers, and he never properly charges them.

Oh Takashi. NB: Readers, I will let you know when I summon the courage to revisit. Am aware that chances are high that he doesn't actually remember that we were ever there.... Or that he owns a bar... Or that owes Aravin a coat...

After Friday, came Saturday (it usually does). It being October 30th, that night there were numerous Halloween parties at the numerous foreigner bars around the city. Judging by the costume stores that I visited, most Japanese women take this as an occasion to dress up variously as a french maid, a dirty nurse, a school girl or a bunny rabbit. Since these costumes would fit around maybe half of one of my thighs, and get me banned from the subway, I went like this:

Gave a few older Japanese women heart attacks. Also made these children cry: