Saturday, July 10, 2010

Gimme Some Lovin'

I have spent a lot of time talking about Japan, but very little about Ohtawara, which is fine, but Ohtawara is my home for the next little while, and I think it's only fair I show you around.
The following takes place on Monday, August 20, 1990. It's my third week in Japan.
The players for the next three years are Matthew Hall from New York, my girlfriend Ashley from Georgia, and Kanemaru-san, Hanazaki-san who work at the Ohtawara Board of Education (OBOE) and are my co-supervisors--it really means they are reasonsible for my well-being while I am working and living in Japan.
Today is my official welcome to Ohtawara party. Sitting in the office, at 1PM Hanazaki-san drives me to the local Ashikaga Ginkko (Bank of Ashikaga) where I get an ATM (automated teller machine) card and a quick lesson on how to with draw money. I take out 50,000 yen in five bills. Apparently that's $500. Yeesh. He drives me to my apartment at 1:30 to try out the new bicycle they have bought for me and just had delivered. It's a large blue 18-speed bicycle - much better than the tiny Zero-speed bike my predecessor, Cheryl, used last year.
I decide to ride out to Iseya and do some shopping. I purchase a cereal box that's a hologram--the entire box--and some much needed Coke. It costs the equivalent of $18 and will last me four days. Milk, cereal, and sundry items like eggs and beans that I know how to cook.
Oh yeah, before I left the office I mentioned to Hanazaki-san that I had lost some weight since arriving. I was 80-kilograms when I left Toronto on July 28, down to 78 kg on August 10 and again down to 74kg on August 17.  (176 lbs-171.6lbs-162.9lb2). While I think it's great, the OBOE are aghast.
After shopping and going home, I head back to the office. I walk through the front door and notice people are still trying to take up decorations for the party. I look away - and head up to the second floor via elevator of the three floor building. It was a week later that I discovered an outside spiral staircase that leads directly into MY office area.
At 5PM, I'm led to an OBOE meeting hall for the reception. I meet Tomura-sensei for the first time - he'll be my interpreter. His English skills are superb. I go over my speech with him to make sure there aren't any surprises.
At the reception on stage, I'm introduced, and here Tomura-sensei translated for me the words sportsman, musician, always smiling and making jokes. I almost blush.
Next Masayoshi Arai, the deputy mayor of Ohtawara makes a speech - apparently it's similar to the first as Tomura sensei translates into English: "It's the same as the first speech", I laugh, but I appreciate it.
Lastly, Izumi Fukasawa, the OBOE superintendent tells me how handsome and nice I am. I guess the bottle of booze (Canadian Club!) I brought from Toronto for him worked wonders.
I receive a large bouquet of flowers from the bespectacled 40-ish Mrs. Akutsu-san (always nice and smiling, too), and then it's time for me to give my speech.
I expected Tomoura-sensei to be standing next to me, but no, they moved him well off to the side so as to give me the entire stage. Unfortunately, he was so far away that he couldn't hear me well enough to translate as well as we'd practiced. It was already a speech Jimmy Stewart would have been proud off (see Mr. Smith Goes to Washington... really... go rent it or buy it), but it was made even longer by Tomura begging me to go slower or asking me to repeat things.
It's all cool. To me it's the perfect revenge for what they made us gaijin go through during our initiation at the Keio Plaza Hotel in Tokyo when we listened to a speech by Phil A. Buster (see the Jimmy Stewart movie).
Anyhow, I thought they'd laugh when I mentioned my dramatic weight loss since arriving here, but it didn't get the laughs I expected - maybe the joke was lost in translation or they though I was sick or something. I also joked about not knowing how to cook (that's why I was losing weight!) or how to do laundry. Again, no laugh. Tough crowd. But they said they liked that I was always making jokes!
When it was over, they made an opening toast, people kept topping off my beer every time I took a sip, so I have no idea how much alcohol I actually consumed. The guests whom I talk to, are all my English teachers, and they are all very, very nice. The only lady I'd consider exceptional was newly married, so I think I may have to stick with Ashley. Besides, she's gorgeous and things are going stupidly well.
The party that began at 5:30AM on the dot, ended two hours later at 7:30AM on the dot. It was mentioned in Toronto that the Japanese were  punctual, but this is ridiculous.
Because I had to talk to everyone (wanted to to talk to everyone), I didn't get to eat much, and my growling stomach tells Hanazaki-san as much. He quickly orders Mr. Iso and Akutsu-san to get me bento boxes of the banquet's leftovers to take home. Hanazaki-san he powered chugged several bottles of beer down (it's free, and I would do the same if I wasn't busy eating now).
Home stretch now.
I discover it's going to be impossible for me to carry all of the food and a few ginormous bottle of Kirin biru (Kirin beer), the huge flower bouquet while trying to ride a basketless bicycle in a three-piece suit in some humid 30C+ (40+ with the humidity and 50+ with the suit on).
Iso-san places my bike in his white car's trunk and drives me home, helps carry stuff up with me, comes in to place things in the kitchen, sucks a tonne of air between his teeth when he notices I didn't take my outdoor shoes off and replace them with the floppy indoor slippers, bows and leaves.
I call Ashely at 7:50PM, but she's not in, so I try Matthew and get some Japanese man twice. I eat a couple of tiny lobsters (crawfish) (ommigawd it's tasty) and try calling Ashley because I'm in love with the fact that I lost my virginity with her the night before.
We talk for three hours, hanging up at 11:30PM - I ask her to come by tomorrow for a spaghetti dinner.

Somewhere eating the first good meal I've had in a week - tiny lobsters!
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is by the Spencer Davis Group (and so is tomorrow's) - SO GLAD WE MADE IT.
PS - I know I wrote about this day before in an early blog, but I was going on 20-year-old memory. This time, well, let's just say I found the 1990 National Geographic calendar with jotted daily notes plus the pages of fully-scripted diary entries of July 29 - October 18 that I thought was lost.
PPS - The next couple of month's diary entries have pretty detailed descriptions of life including my sexual exploits. Innuendo will have to suffice because I may be a jerk, but I ain't no pig. Anyhow, just trust me that you'll read about cooking, Ohtawara's schools and go on a drive with me all over this beautiful city of Ohtawara.
PPPS - I'm only going to do detailed entries like this one if I think you might use it to learn more about Japan. Hey, you learned about parties (enkai) that last to the wee hours of the evening; how one never knows how much one drinks; presents are an excellent form of bribery; white cars; the fact that pretty much everyone in the audience except the deputy mayor, my superintendent and the OBOE office (less Hanazaki-san) all understood my speech without translation because they are all superb English teachers! You also learned the importance of indoor footware; the timing of jokes; that I'm in love/lust with Ashley; and my office cared enough to have a bicycle shop cobble together parts to make an 18-speed built for a giant Nihonjin (Japanese person) or one normal-sized gaijin (moi). You also learned about the weather and punctuality.
Come back tomorrow for another installment, and don't be late.
PPPS - Photo is of the City of Ohtawara office.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...