It would seem I have gotten ahead of myself. My enkai wasn’t actually my first rodeo with drinking in Japan.
Let’s flashback to my first week in my village. I spent lots of time traveling to my schools, meeting new people – lots of new people with difficult names – and playing with children – lots of children. Before work each morning my neighbors’ kids would ring my doorbell and ask me questions such as whether I preferred baseball or volleyball (volleyball) and what my favorite color was (green). Soon, we would become tag buddies and I would learn to appreciate the obvious superiority of Japanese physical education. That’s a story for a different day though.
The week flew by and it was Friday. I had no plans. On Saturday, I knew I would meet up with some fellow JETs for Indian food (yum). That particular Friday night, however, I had nothing. I put on my rough (casual) clothes. I cooked dinner. I didn’t burn it. I celebrated. I returned to my living room. I turned on my computer. I remembered that I didn’t have internet. There was silence. If I had a clock I would have heard it ticking. Then, the doorbell rang.
My clock tells me it is 9:30p.m. This is too late to be the children and no one else really knows where I live. I am confused. I am also bored. I stand up and walk to my door. I look through my peephole. I don’t recognize any of the people. I open the door anyway (mom and dad if you’re reading this I swear I make good decisions…).
The conversation that followed brought three particular items to my immediate attention: First, these were my neighbors. Second, they wanted me to follow them somewhere – presumably to their house(s). Third and perhaps most importantly, they were drunk. Very drunk.
“Just a moment,” I said. I grabbed my keys, locked my door and followed them into the night.
We walked down my walkway and through the garden that sits between four different houses. We stepped (carefully) over the gaijin trap (an alternate name for the deviantly hidden open air drains that foreigners like me always manage to fall or drive into. Stay tuned for stories on those.)and walked under their house into an open aired garage and kitchen. At the center sat a table that was buried under mounds of food.
The beer, which they immediately handed to me (I love Japan) was ice cold. It was the first cold anything I had had in a while. Its name translated to “The sensation you get in your throat,” as the proud owner of a dirty mind, I thought this was hilarious.
The food they offered me was delicious. They had chicken wings, friend vegetables, more vegetables, fruits (coming soon: a love sonnet in iambic pentameter dedicated to nashi: the Japanese Pear) , and much more. Then came the Sweet Fish.
Now, the sweet fish is a funny thing. Everywhere I have been in Japan has had sweet fish and every person that has offered me sweet fish has emphasized how the aforementioned sweet fish is a delicacy and special to THEIR PART of Japan. In all cases they have looked and tasted identical. Everyone everywhere has sweet fish. It would be like trying to say that white rice was special to an area. Of course, I would never say this to anyone. I bit in and mumbled “ah, oishii” (ah, it’s delicious!).
This, of course, lead me to the next part of eating sweet fish: the head. A sweet fish is served as a whole fish, usually fried and often on a stick. This means you eat everything: bones guts, head, and the EYEBALLS. Every time I have eaten Sweet fish (seriously they’re like the French fries of Japan) I have managed to get around eating the head. I usually eat it slowly enough so that another course or set of food appears before I have to finish it or say that I’m full (even when I’m not). Many of my Japanese friends have told me this is a shame because the head is the most delicious part of the fish. They tell me the eyes are juicy and delicious. This makes me want to vomit. Every time I imagine eating an eyeball I imagine teeth (wide and dull with coffee stains) biting through my own eyes and imagine what the passage from a mouth to the stomach would look like. Then, I imagine that the protective film over the eyes would squish and squirt nasty liquid everywhere when I bit in. Needless to say, I lied and said I was full.
Throughout the Sweet fish ordeal, I got to know my neighbors. Since I am still in the process of becoming conversational, there are specific topics I like to talk about new people. I find the questions “What do you like to do,” “What are your hobbies,” “do you like ____” are readily understood and answered even if I have no idea what their reply is. Naturally, I turned to these. My female neighbor explained that her hobby was getting drunk. Her favorite thing to do was to drink beer. She liked many different types of beer and sometimes liked wine too. I told her I thought she was awesome. Soon, her husband (also very drunk) joined us too.
Mr. Neighbor sat down next to me and introduced himself. He was very red faced and very smiley. I introduced myself back. I asked him what sorts of things he liked. His answer was very long and very fast and his regional accent was very, very thick. As a newbie to the Japanese language I often find myself in situations where I don’t understand all of what a person is saying to me. Usually, I try to pick out particular words and figure out what they’re saying. For example, while a person is talking I may pick out “ park….. often….. children….” This tells me that this person at some time or another has encountered children at the park. If they seem friendly or nice I assume they take their children to the park or play with kids of people they know at the park. If they are creepy I may imagine the “Sex and Candy” music video that was popular in the 80s (maybe the 90s). Usually context clues help me figure things out.
However, there was no context and I could pick out no words. In fact, I couldn’t pick out a single syllable. I couldn’t even hear a “desu” that indicates the end of a sentence. I sat there for five minutes and eventually started laughing at the ridiculousness of my predicament. This laugh was aloud and soon Mr. Neighbor started laughing too. Then, he said “Ah, she gets it! [Literally he said “she understood it].” Of course, THAT he annunciated perfectly. My neighbors now think I’m some Japanese genie that is so good that I can understand puns and jokes (or at least that’s what I think my co-worker said that they said about me. There’s some room for interpretation on that. The phrase good at Japanese was in there somewhere.).
Eventually, Mrs. Neighbor disappeared into her house. She was gone for maybe four minutes and she and her daughter/niece/younger female friend reappeared with a toy. There was a yellow cat standing on a stand. He wore a top hat and a bow. There was a button. They pushed it. The cat started shaking its butt. Music started playing. It was Shania Twain’s “I’ll Get you Good.” The cat’s mouth started moving to the words of the song. I cracked up and then started singing along. They were impressed by this. They asked me to dance too. I asked them to teach me to dance. They taught me the female part of a traditional dance that I won’t even try to name. Mrs. Neighbor added in some extra moves (I’m assuming that butt shaking wasn’t part of any traditional dance in Japan – maybe I’m wrong). I copied and they cheered.
Later that night we played with sparklers, ate a delicious nashi (pear) dessert and I was able to meet one of the women in my Eikaiwa class. Needless to say, my first rodeo was a success.