Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Japanese are Lovely. The Japanese Are Demons

The following is the verbatim transcript of an email I typed and sent to my immediate family last week. At first, I didn't want to add it to the blog, but I had a few requests to upload this rather unusual story.

I call this piece, "The Japanese are Lovely. The Japanese are Demons."

It is currently 1:40AM on Friday night/Saturday morning as I start this story. By the way, 80% of the following occurred in Japanese.

Imagine a person you have more respect for than anyone in the entire world. Now imagine that person with squinty eyes. The person you see is Professor Takahashi from Tokyo's Keio University.

I first had the pleasure of meeting Professor Takahashi (I address him as Takahashi Sensei) after finishing introductory Japanese at the end of sophomore year. Some of the students in our class had the idea of taking our teachers out to dinner to celebrate and thank them for a good year. One of the teachers invited his close friend Takahashi Sensei to join us, since the professor was visiting the States that week.

At the time, I was preparing for my first trip to Japan and had many reservations about the upcoming experience. Talking with Takashi Sensei put all of my worries to rest. His personality was so warm and he was so enthusiastic about his home country. He even gave me great recommendations of places to visit, at least one of which I followed. It was one of the first times I realized that with a little effort, I could communicate in Japanese.

Three years later, during my senior year, Takahashi Sensei visited Yale again with his daughter Akane. We all went out to lunch and afterwards my friends and I showed Akane around town. Literally all of my Yale friends who met him got the same warm impression.

For the past 6 months, Takahashi Sensei and I were in touch over email. He was one of the first people I tried to get in touch with when I arrived here, yet he was so incredibly busy that we truthfully weren't able to meet until tonight.

This past evening, we met at the foot of a famous bookstore in Shinjuku. Once again, his easy-going and friendly personality was quick to put me to rest. You really should meet this guy. He is just so incredibly genuine. We started with the typical small talk about what we had been up to in the past few months. I asked him about his job and his family and he asked me about my trip in Japan and my experiences as a Yale music major. Then he told me that we were heading to a Japanese restaurant owned by his friend whom he has know since high school.

Here is where things start to get a little out of hand. We go to the restaurant and sit down. It is clear that Takahashi Sensei is a regular there since even the waitresses call him "Sensei". We continue our conversations about all kinds of topics for a while. A little bit later, the owner comes over, introduces himself to me, sits down with us, and orders us drinks and food.

We start talking about what food I like to eat. I barely had the guts to tell them I used to be a vegetarian so the owner orders all kinds of Japanese delicacies, raw cow liver, raw fish, pork heart, beefy stew, suction cups from octopus tentacles; things that make the inner Jew in me (and inner tree hugger) cringe with disgust. The two of them at least get the idea that these things are new to me and encouraged me to eat just a little bit at a time. I made sure to down a few cups of sake before I dug in to the real stuff.

For whatever reason, the owner of the restaurant takes a liking to me. He's literally talking non-stop about all kinds of things. I'm so incredibly confused that I keep looking at Takahashi Sensei to translate for me but Takahashi Sensei doesn't speak English fluently, so he can only transfer things into simpler Japanese! The night continues on as such.

Later on, the owner's daughter comes by and sits with us. She's slightly older than me (but looks 5 years younger as most Japanese do), has a bit of a nerdy yet attractive vibe about her, and is also extremely friendly. Once again, her father would relay all kinds of stories to me, yet she was forced to translate his difficult Japanese into simpler Japanese. The daughter and I had a few things in common. She too is artistic, likes manga and anime and the like.

I'm not kidding when I say the owner was difficult to understand. He had a truly interesting sense of humor, but it was definitely of the older Japanese style. He was telling me jokes that he told me were in the style of Rakugo, an antiquarian style of comedic theater enjoyed by the older generations. Each joke has a punch line, but once again, his daughter had to explain the humor.

As the night went on as such, the owner kept ordering more sake for me. Takahashi Sensei had business to attend to in the morning and left around 10PM. The owner's daughter took off around the same time.

I was left alone with the owner, a Japanese guy who I could just barely communicate with. Once again, every time I finished my glass of sake, he would instantaneously refill it and tell me more stories. By the time I finished the jug, he would shout out to the waitress for a new one. I put my hand up to refuse. "No, I've had too much." I said. You all know that my tolerance for alcohol isn't too much stronger than a teenage girl (Sarah ahem ahem). He would then insist. How could I refuse? The owner of a classy Japanese restaurant was treating me to drinks and food. Our belabored conversations continued.

Finally, he asked me if I had any dates planned that night. I took the cue and said I was heading to Shibuya to meet some pretty girls (which was more or less the plain truth). He said I should drink more to ease up for them and didn't let me go till I finished what was left in my cup. As cool as he was, I didn't want to be stuck with him for the rest of the evening, and I knew he had his customers to attend to, so I finished my sake, thanked him for everything, and left for Shibuya.

I was more or less drunk as a skunk when I left the restaurant. I'm not sure if it was a good or bad feeling. Generally, I exhibit far more self control, but given the predicament, I felt obligated to keep drinking. I stumbled to the subway and off to the Ruby Room where a few of my friend's bands were playing. I arrived just after the show was over, which is like the rudest thing a musician can do. I ended up spending the rest of the night with Saki, Taka, Miyuki, Kayo, Toshi, and Toshi's mom (she's wicked cool, I swear).

Now, I'm going to sleep. I'll try not to throw up tonight. If I do, the creature that will spawn on my floor will be a mutant with a pig's heart, fish muscles, octopus tentacles, a cow's liver, and Japanese rice wine for blood.

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