Thursday July 29 – I’d be lying if I told you that I used all of my time in Japan in the fullest. If there is one thing that I have always excelled at, it’s wasting time, and I waste just as much time in Japan as ever before. That’s what makes this story particularly interesting; I made the most of my night through absolutely no effort of my own—almost in spite of myself.
On Thursday, July 29th, it was the first week of my summer vacation and I had spent all day doing nothing worth remembering. To truly cap off my wasted day, I decided that I wouldn’t even extend the effort to cook my own dinner. Instead, I would buy a loser’s dinner of convenience at the Seicomart. Having procured some bento noodles, beer, and an ice cream treat for food, as well as a new bottle of sunblock (I can never be too careful, even at night), I began my short walk back to my apartment.
It was already dark out, and the summer air was warm and comfortable. As I passed by the house that our Tomosukai group had eaten lunch at during the Fire Festival, I noticed that the residents were throwing a little yakiniku party out of their garage. The kids were in the street playing with bubbles and fireworks, and one of them noticed me. “Lucas-sensei! Lucas-sensei!” she shouted to her mother, and before I knew it, the adults were beckoning me over to the garage.
They had quite an impressive barbeque going, with Jingiskan, yakitori, horumon, squid, clams, and plenty of veggies, plus several onigiri on the side. They asked me to have a seat, so I sat down on their wood plank bench and slid my bag of “groceries” underneath. I was offered beer, which I accepted, and was handed a large plastic cup which was immediately filled to the brim. Then I was told that they had too much food and that I should eat as much as I possibly could. I was giving wooden chopsticks and a paper bowl, and I started picking this and that off the grill.
I learned that this was Kida-san’s house, which made sense, since he had been working the Tomosukai dashi for the entirety of the Fire Festival. No wonder the group had had lunch at his place. I was gradually forming the impression of Kida-san as one of those organizer type people, the kind of guy who would take it upon himself to plan and execute events, much to the benefit of everyone around him. Almost everyone at this particular party was Kida-san’s coworkers. They all worked on the second floor of the town office, and surprisingly, they all worked on the local IP Phone announcements. The bear warnings that I seen morning after morning, that was their work.
They asked me lots of questions, about my family, about Seattle, and especially about my girlfriend. I got the impression that I was very interesting in their eyes. While talking, I did my best to grab veggies like onion and pumpkin off the grill, but the lady next to me kept insisting that I eat the meat that was almost getting overcooked. As a result, I ate a ton of delicious—but filling—Jingiskan. My beer was also constantly being refilled, not just when I emptied it, but when it got even half way down.
I recognized one lady at the party as the town reporter. She had photographed and interviewed me when I first arrived. Although I had imagined that she was a newspaper reporter, like the Shakotan equivalent of Lois Lane, it seemed that the IP Phone was a much bigger part of her job than I had thought. She told me that I was very popular in Shakotan and that my appearances on the IP Phone very always the most popular posts. I’m such a sucker for flattery.
Then she said that the IP Phone people would love to do a series of English lessons with me. She said that they would be really basic—like Elementary school level—English conversation points, and they’d be transmitted all over Shakotan weekly, via IP Phone. At this point there was a bit of awkward silence as I looked up from stuffing my face with barbeque-grilled mutton; everyone was staring at me. What sounded like an off the cuff suggestion had taken on the appearance of a serious proposal.
“Sure,” I said, “that sounds like fun.” Here I was, eating their food and drinking their beer, was I really going to say ‘no’? Besides, I did kind like the idea of having my own IP Phone broadcast; it was just a question of how many responsibilities I wanted to have in Shakotan. Considering the amount of time I had on my hands and what little I had done with it up to this point, a new responsibility would probably do me good. Everyone appeared pleased that wanted to do it. We started making plans for me to drop by the office the next day to get started on it. Once we got a template made, it would be really easy to create multiple posts.
The reporter lady’s daughter began making a fuss outside and she stood up to go check on her. Once on her feet, she fell back against the wall of the garage with a bang. Laughing embarrassedly, she said “chidoriashi” (千鳥足), a term I was familiar with that means “drunken stagger”. The thought occurred to me that everyone might forget this conversation by the morning and my IP Phone English lessons might never come to fruition. Either way’s fine, I thought to myself.
As the drinking and conversation continued, I was introduced to a gentleman named Iwaki. As luck would have it, Iwaki-san lived in my same apartment building, directly below me. He was a jovial guy, and I was surprised that it had taken so long for us to make an acquaintance. We talked about out small building and he told me that I could hear my guitar playing whenever I practiced. I tried to apologize but he said that I never played too loud or too late. I was more worried that my playing sucked. We speculated about whether residents had moved into all six of the building’s units. I thought maybe the place was full, but he hadn’t seen any new folks.
Then my phone rang. My phone didn’t recognize the number, but I answered anyway. Apparently the “nominacation” was working for me, because I was able understand the conversation and communicate back, all in Japanese. The call was from Sa-san, Yasuda-san’s sister-in-law. She was going to Snack Cocoro with her sister and mother for some karaoke, and she invited me come along. What were the chances, two surprise invitations on the same random Thursday? I told her that I would be slightly delayed, but I’d meet them there.
The timing was great, as the yakiniku party was just winding down. Kida-san and the rest weren’t offended by me skipping out to sing karaoke. In fact, my neighbor and new friend, Iwaki-san, decided to come along. Before setting out, I ran my bag of “groceries” home to the apartment, which was only just around the corner. To my surprise, I ended up running into my two new neighbors who had just moved into units 201 and 202. This was especially ironic since Iwaki-san and I had just been speculating if they existed or not. I think both men were fishermen and I remember that they seemed nice enough, although I had forgotten their names as soon as they told me. At that point, I was drunk from the bottomless cup of beer at yakiniku.
Iwaki-san and I walked to Snack Cocoro together, and I told him about meeting our new neighbors. I’m not sure if he believed me. At Cocoro, Ota-chan, Sa-chan, and Baba-chan were waiting for us. I sat down with them, but Iwaki-san, perhaps in an effort not to encroach on anyone’s space, sat at the bar close by. Yasuda-san’s family and I exchanged ‘hisashiburi’s (久しぶり – “been a while”, “long time, no see”) and talked about doing dinner sometime.
Singing karaoke was as fun as ever. The highlight of the evening was singing along with Sa-san on the theme from “Neon Genesis: Evangelion”. I had actually sung that song in choir at Iowa Central Community College, so I can phonetically sing through it pretty well. I’m pretty sure that I also sang the Beatles classic “Yesterday”, and probably Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”, but after two more beers at the bar, my memory gets a bit fuzzy.
By midnight, everyone was heading home. It seemed a little early to me, until I remembered that it was only Thursday. In a good example of chidoriashi (千鳥足), Iwaki-san and I staggered back to our apartment together.
The next day, I paid a visit to the second floor of the town office. As I remembered, I had agreed to do some English conversation points over the IP Phone and I needed to talk to the reporter lady about it. As it turned out, she wasn’t in the office that day. Kida-san apologized and asked me to come back another time. “Sure,” I said, confident that my IP Phone project was destined to be forgotten. It would be a few weeks later until I learned that I was wrong.