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?


  1. I like this post, but I also sometimes worry about crazy Takashi. Can you please check on him? And then you can go back to this bar again

  2. Hello, Scar!

    My name is Olivia Park, I go to book club with dear Di White! I have gotten onto your blog and love it. I am constantly reminded of my times teaching in Korea, coupley years ago, and absolutely love it. The mentalness. The absurdities. The frustrations. I completely know how you feel! The random yelling on the subway, on the street, in taxis and randos pretending they do not speak English? Yes, I feel it. It is AWESOME though. I loved it. And I am envious of your journey in Japan. Your sake is my soju and it IS delicious and it DID hurt my liver a lot, but it was fantastic!I have been studying publishing and editing this year and my goal is to head back to Asia and find a job with Random House, Japan! Yeow! Anyway, Scar, I do love reading your neat blog and always laugh out loud and say to myself, 'Yes, I completely know how you feel all the time!' I miss Korea and I miss Japan. Thanks for the neat blog to read. I love it when I see the (1) in bold in my google reader! Take care, Scar!

    Olivia x