Saturday, January 3, 2009


Yes, you read correctly. I came within a stones' throw of starting a fight tonight, but I didn't realize it till four people were holding the other guy back.

The night began when I woke up from a late midday nap with no plans in hand, so I decided to trek to Diglight, the bar down the road that I've written so much about. After a quick dinner, I was on my feet walking down Meji Dori to Takadanobaba. Unlucky for me, when I finally arrived 40 minutes later, Diglight was closed for the New Years holiday. I felt like an idiot for not checking their schedule prior to walking the whole way. New Years in Japan is like Christmas in the states, everything shuts down for a few days.

I stalled for a few minutes and then decided to go to Harley, a motorcycle themed bar next door to Diglight that happened to be open. I didn't know any of the patrons there, but it seemed like a cool place to grab a drink, and I didn't want to waste a long walk for nothing. I worked up the guts and decided to give it a try.

When I say 'motorcycle themed' I mean in the novelty sense. The place is definitely not a true biker hangout. The atmosphere was if an anime artist had recreated an American Hells Angels hangout. The signs were neon, the walls littered with rock n' roll and biker memorabilia, the bar shelves loaded with every brand of whiskey known to man, and guarding the door was an old Harley Davidson motorcycle polished up nicely but doubtfully in working condition. Of course, the soundtrack for the evening was pure unadulterated 80's Hair Metal.

I sat down, ordered a drink, and began a little small talk. The Japanese people at the bar were friendly and I wasn't feeling too shy at all. Not much later, I invited an old Yale classmate visiting from Osaka to come by with another friend. Both of the girls know Japanese very well, so when they arrived, I had all the more reason to converse with people at the joint.

I introduced myself to a middle-aged woman who was sitting next to me and talked with her for a bit. She took a liking to my friends and I and ordered everyone in the room a shot of tequila.

Next to the woman was a fellow younger than her who I at first mistakenly thought was her boyfriend. He was more or less toasted and had his head down on the bar table, as if he was taking a little nap.

Feeling the amiable vibes of the bar, when he lifted his head up, I told him my name and said it was nice to meet him. For some reason though, he just mumbled something and kept giving me the middle finger. To me, this was fairly typical. I'm no stranger to obnoxious Japanese people, especially at bars. I figured he was just jesting with me in poor taste.
"What country are you from?" he asked.
"America, the best country on Earth." I joked.
"I'm Japanese."
"You're not Chinese? Not Korean?"
Then he began to stand up from his seat and utter something that I didn't understand one bit of. The woman sitting between us grabbed him and tried to push him back down. I was convinced he was just kidding around with me. I've been to more bars than I can count here and experienced quite a bit of crude humor. Not once have I ever seen anyone become even remotely belligerent.
"Do you want to fight me?" I said with a facetious tone.
He was becoming more and more agitated. Both the woman next to me and another patron on the guy's far side got up and grabbed him. Then the two Harley bartenders came over and tried to calm him down.

I didn't realize until then that I was in hot water. I became fairly nervous and the thought of leaving crossed my mind. My friends were still with me though, so I turned around and stuck with them, hoping that things would cool off soon.

They calmed him down and must have asked him to leave since he was gone about 15 minutes later.

The bartender apologized to me. "He's not a normal Japanese person," he said. I replied that I was sorry for starting trouble.

The woman next to me said the same thing, that the guy wasn't a normal Japanese person. She kept saying that he was "mendoukusai," a strong word for bothersome.

Considering that I most definitely asked the guy if he wanted to fight me, I felt like a bit of an idiot, but since he was giving me the finger and acting belligerent right from the beginning, it seems he was just another drunkard looking to pick a fight no matter what.

Of course I was being completely naive and overconfident about my ability to communicate. Unknowingly, my tone of voice may very well have tipped him off. I told my Japanese friend Kiyoto the whole story and recalling an earlier conversation, he responded, "See what I mean? People here don't get sarcasm."

The story has a happy ending though. What turned out as a stop for a casual drink turned out to be another late night event. The patrons were very inviting. We shared laughs and drinks till 4AM. Upon leaving, they all asked me to come back again tomorrow.


Adam Gold said...

i think it may have been the, "not Chinese, not Korean?" and the "Do you want to fight me" parts that got you into trouble... what were you thinking??? haha, this shit is crazy man.

Ethan said...

I'm not going to lie. It wasn't exactly my finest moment.