Lies, courtesy, and human compassion
If I didn’t start writing about tonight at this very moment it would be a crime to humanity, and a black mark on the very experiential existence I so often extoll. Though this post probably won’t get finished until the morning, I figure I’d give myself nine minutes and rough out the major points so it sticks in my mind.
Tonight I met Yamamoto-san for dinner and drinks. This is a fellow whom I’ve had the pleasure to know for nearly three years, a friend of Nobue’s who has long been an ardent supporter of my awkward attempt at a life in Japan.
We went to an izakaya (Japanese-style restaurant/bar), Toshi-chan, that I discovered while showing V around Tokyo last month. I happen to like this place mainly because it’s down-to-earth, cheap, and not so far from my house (maybe a fifteen minute bike ride).
Yamamoto-san had already done some drinking before he met me; he’d been hanging out with some old high school buddies earlier on to celebrate some soon-to-be-closed business contracts (he’s currently a real estate agent). As usual, conversation centered around sex, which is to say he talked about sex and I listened. Yamamoto-san is one of those “close to the soil” people whose boisterous attitude and beaming grin win him friends in all sorts of places. Seeing him in a good mood is gratifying enough to keep me entertained for quite some time. He seems to have the women market cornered, and through extensive trial and error has developed a pretty complete picture of the Japanese female psyche when it comes to ecchi (sex). Like I said, I mainly just listen and say, “Really? … Oh is that right? … I see…”, which is completely fine by me since he’s so effervescent in reciting his doctrines.
Though it was quite apparent he had plans to meet up again with the high school buddies he’d met before seeing me, he was polite enough to ask if I had any other particular plans for us in the evening. Since I was naturally short on cash I said no, and in turn we went to meet up with his (quite inebriated) comrades in Shinjuku.
These three fellows were an interesting sort. For one, the average age was about twice mine. For two, the leader of the group, Yamamoto-san’s senpai (honorific senior) was completely sloshed. He was falling down, shouting inspirational phrases at policemen/vagrants, and tripping over himself asking nearly every woman that passed how they were doing. He also did his best to break up an argument between a group of drunken guys on the way into our next watering hole. In addition, it seemed he had a thing for proclaiming the importance of male gentalia in the world, and I somehow managed to get punched/groped twice during some of his rallying exclamations.
Where we went is beyond description. I tried my best to reaffirm to Yamamoto-san that I had virtually no money at all, once I noticed the establishment had a doorman in a suit and our party leader asked for a certain lady by name. However, I was the guest and the boss took a liking to my verbal support of his affirmations on the gravity of samurai lifestyle, so in we went.
As I said, words cannot accurately describe this place. Did you ever see The Great Muppet Caper, where Kermit, Fozzie, and Gonzo go to this really swank supper club in London with a huge chandelier, a band in tuxedos, and ballroom dancing? It was kind of like that, but we had a cadre of ladies (bearing name badges with numbers to aid either our memory or the owners’) who joined us at the table to pour our drinks, rub our shoulders, and chat us up. It was like a sunakku for really, really rich businessmen. The lady that sat on my left was named Neko (cat); I’m pretty sure it was a pseudonym. She said she enjoyed soccer (like me, oddly enough), and in between falling into my lap, calling me “Deivu-chan” (Little Davey), and feeding me Pocky (chocolate-covered pretzels), she insisted that we play soccer together tomorrow. She even put my phone number into her cell phone’s memory dial. I’m not sure how far the “fantasy” goes here, but I really can’t picture myself playing soccer on a Sunday afternoon with some lady my wealthy, middle-aged friend paid a hell of a lot of money for. The hair dye stains and hole in my jeans further served to put me out of sorts. My suited friends brushed it off by saying it the style to be worn now. Boy, did I stick out.
While a dolled-up songstress in a sequined dress performed old Carpenters and Beatles songs, we got the whole nine yards in terms of company. I even got walked to the bathroom by one of the older ladies (probably the head of our service group), and she was waiting outside the door when I came out, so she could show me back to our table.
Things really got going when we were joined by a Russian hostess, who seemed to be a favorite of our boss, presumably for her cleavage. I nearly had my hand thrust into a pair of surprised bosoms by our noble leader before I managed to wriggle my way out of the embarrassment. I always feel kind of uncomfortable when I’m around non-Japanese people in Japan, especially those in service roles. It shouldn’t matter one damn bit but it’s like I have a switch in my head I have to toggle for how I act: a) polite and humble Japanese, b) abashed, awkward American.
I didn’t know what the hell to say, and external drunken insistence that the lady marry me made it all the more strange. At first I tripped over the few words of Russian that I knew (in a horrible accent, no doubt), and after that just gave up and spoke English, though that proved to be a bit of a challenge for the woman as she had been living in Tokyo for eleven years and dealt with Japanese businessmen every night. So of course I then fell back on the same material I use any time I’m nervous around a woman who’s paid to provide intimate support, and I completely failed in the whole practiced flirtation thing by asking about her life, if she was happy, what her family was like, etc. This is probably the worst kind of stuff you can ask a hostess because as honest and good-intentioned as it may be, it most certainly depresses the hell out of them. How many times do you get an answer along the lines of “Yeah, I love having drunk guys fondle and drool on me nightly”?
This lady was no different. She was a single mother with a five-year old son, who wasn’t sure if he was Japanese or Russian. She was torn about how she got upset with him every time she needed to scold him and he could only reply in Japanese. She didn’t really like Japan at all, and just lived here because it was safer than Russia, and so feeling pretty awful in general. I tried to console her by telling her how much I admired her for toughing it out and surviving in a foreign country and raising her son so well, and how someday he’d tell her how much he loves her, and is thankful for all her years of caring, much like the way I’ve felt about my mother since growing up. I guess it didn’t really work, and I felt like a real rat after she mentioned that the club had bingo at 9:30 and climbed over the seat to leave. I should probably just stop talking to women in men’s entertainment all together, because all I ever seem to do is depress them.
After closing time at the bar (I think it was called Club Heights, or something), we shuffled our way to a yaki soba (fried noodles) restaurant in some basement [I had no IDEA why the hell it was still open]. At this place we ate and drank a little, and listened to our leader talk about samurai and balls some more (by this point I had my hands folded across my lap out of instinct). I’m not trying to make this sound trivial, I mean he was a really nice guy and all, and he said he really took a liking to my spirit and we had to meet up together at next week’s drinking party (making a point I should wear a suit). He was just rambunctious when inebriated, that’s all.
We did this for a couple hours (during which I was asked to recite British romantic poetry), and then we all said our goodbyes more or less. One of the other businessmen (a network engineer coincidentally) lived nearby, so we took a taxi to his house and intruded on his wife watching Ally McBeal so we could all have a talk. I got Domino’s Pizza and chicken wings (I can’t tell you how surreal this was, besides the fact the pizza was topped with baby shrimp, squid, and bacon), and while I played with a some stuffed animals lying around [see the Kappa, above], the three “adults” had a long conversation about different things including samurai, business, the recent Indian Ocean tsunami, and of course my history. Yamamoto-san has to inevitably explain our relationship to everyone we meet, and I have to endure (somewhat painfully) another summary of Nobue’s and mine’s tragic breakup, and how it went wrong and that I haven’t been the same since. This isn’t entirely accurate, but it’s a well-told tale that invokes a lot of sympathy and makes for a good story from his point of view so I rarely comment on it.
In the end (after reciting Wordsworth for the second time in the evening) I was asked how I feel about war and patriotism and such, and I did my best to explain my ignorance of world politics and thusly my personal reliance on human-to-human ethics in an interdependent and compassionate sort of way (which always ends up sounding like popular Buddhism). Yamamoto-san fell asleep (understandably) in his chair at some point during this, and I politely declined my hosts’ offer to sleep on a guest futon in their lovely new condominium. I got walked out to my bellwether of western Tokyo, the Kanda river, and sauntered home in about half an hour, trying to avoid loneliness by whistling and dragging my umbrella through the bushes along the way.
It has now been exactly one hour since I started typing this and I seem to have broken my promise to just take notes and go to bed, as it is now nearly five o’clock. Somehow, I can’t see myself getting up at eight as I initially envisioned to run and study Japanese, but you never know. I made it last Saturday on two hours’ sleep, so I suppose I have the potential to do it again.