Daniel in Japaniel

The Cutest Friendships

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Getting sick away from home is a difficult thing. Really it has been over a week now of this simple cold. It has worn off on me though. Though, I still wake up around noon to two in the afternoon to begin my now regular day. So today, on the twelfth day of the twelfth month I wake up at 12:12 (it was 12:32 actually) to continue my blogging journey.

First let’s talk about where I live. I am in a surprisingly quite neighborhood only twenty minutes from Shibuya (one of the most busiest pop-markets there are). Here in Soshigaya-ookura, students come in to the next door university (Nihon University) trading places with the commuting population boarding the trains in bound to the Yamanote-pack. Around 6 PM they change places once again. Students now head out for the standing bars, the furugi (used clothes) stores, or maybe the nearest Starbucks to grind away at homework.

Soshigaya-ookura is really known for one thing: Ultraman. Perhaps we iconically know Japan by Godzilla (close second would be Pokemon). However, Ultraman vastly outclasses Godzilla in the salaryman conversation circle. It is well known that in a battle to the death, Ultraman would reign supreme. No problem.

To this end, Ultraman can be seen soaring around Soshigaya. I have found five statues of him so far, and continue to find new ones each day. The latest discovery would be Ultraman-Cafe, which plays Ultraman-movie as long as they are open on their 60 inch plasma-flat-screen-what-not-what-not.

Little tid-bit for you, Ultraman’s creator said inspiration came from staring at Miroku-bosatsu, otherwise known as Maitreya, or the future Buddha foretold to save this world. Since hearing this, I make sure to clap my hands twice and bow whenever passing under the Ultraman-tori’s of Soshigaya.

It’s also been suggested that, on a cold day, one can find Ultraman sweeping up the yellow leaves and loose trash gathered around the Soshigaya-Ookura station. True story.

As for my homestay family, I couldn’t have lucked out any more. They are fantastic. Noe is hard at work on her first gallery opening. After returning from teaching classes and managing the studio space at her work, she comes back and tirelessly scans proof after proof onto her computer. She has not yet begun the arduous process of picking her favorite shot of each of the 200 babies. She has thousands of photos to go through yet. This doesn’t stop her goofing off with me while I cook, or come out with Yuki and I to visit the locals.

Yuki, her husband, is by all accounts brilliant. One of those guys who can talk endlessly about any topic if you pressed him, but humbly adds to conversation rather than dominating it. He met Noe at the same photography school (Noe was a teacher’s aid at the time), and after graduating, chose to continue work for the Tokyo fire department, rather than climb the salaryman ladder. Because of this he works every other day, and when he works he takes on a 30 hour shift. His return home is that like a soldier’s. Hugs fly around, lots of love.

Probably what I appreciate most about this homestay, is the love. Noe and Yuki are still a reasonably young couple. They chase each other down the hallway occassionally. They share smoke breaks. They cook for each other, Yuki typically making dinner, Noe usually making sweet little rice cakes for lunch.

This is the kind of place I have been living in, and it is fantastic.

Generally I have been catching up on other writing projects: one, a series of shorts on imaginations on Japanese life from the perspective of a homeless NOVA-er (an ex-english teaching company that attracted and then stranded many ex-pats here); two, an essay on Ramen culture here, heavy on the field research. I have also been plowing through my Japanese textbook in order to catch-up with my classmates state-side (this is actually harder than it sounds… forcing yourself to memorize kanji especially is difficult when your cellphone will intelligently predict the sentence you want to write). I have also found companionship in “Moby Dick”. There is no better novel to read cruising along the endless subway lines of Tokyo, than this Melville tome.

So that forms the basic skeleton of my day. I usually hop coffee shop to coffee shop lugging these essentials around with me. Now don’t for a second imagine some tasteful, coffee cove in some back alley. Usually, I find the most obnoxiously chain of chained spots- right by the train station, and watch commuters swipe their Suica rail cards while I dare foreigners to look me in the eye. (Side note: not sure if this sort of tourism-culture exists in other countries, but rarely can I talk to foreigners here on account that they like to suspend themselves in the “Lost in Translation” dream world- that they are alone among a viciously homogenous population. Not the case really, each subway car, I guarentee you has their fair share of Murrays and Johanssons. Actually, I picked up a “10 Ten Places in Tokyo” book the other day, and it has a special section on how one can retrace their fictional steps. True story.)

As for the special occasions that have popped and propped up in my life lately, let’s start with last Sunday.

The afternoon was spent with Marie and Yuki at the “Visions of America” photography exhibit at the Yebisu Garden Place. A mix of famous American and Japanese photographers alike, the gallery was a meditation on American culture, the road, the protests and the wars.

Afterwards we took the subway the local girl’s college to see my friend Takahiro Momoeda’s male choir “The Wagner Society” sing Classical, in Japanese and Latin, then finish up with tribute to Porgy and Bess. Unfortunately I only could stay for the Japanese portion, though I was hoping to catch a little of “Bess you is my woman”.

I had to leave early because my roommate from this summer’s Keio CCC program, Ryo Kakinuma, got some of the student’s together for a “Welcoming Party” on my behalf. We met up in Shibuya, yelled our “久しぶり”s, and made our way over to “Doma Doma” a famous Izakaya chain. Izakayas, if we remember, sport a beautiful array of typical Japanese-style tapas, and, most importantly, cheap drinks.

Picture montage time:

Maybe an hour into our festivities, myself, well versed in how insufficient I am in Japanese, a certain on going internal monologue at this point of “wow, their speaking Japanese”, Toshi sensei, Ph.D. in American Literature, rolls in sporting his beauty and equal brilliance. We spend a good portion of the dinner chatting about the whale (what he wrote his Thesis on, actually) while he’d return back to the students making them laugh with his, I can only imagine, fantastic Japanese witticisms.

In his spare time from teaching nine classes, he enjoys writing for a popular music magazine here in Japan. Soon he’ll be spending his sabatical in the states, teaching.

After the meal was finished, Toshi dropped two mon-en (220 bucks) like nothing, and declined to join the second party of Karaoke.

Karaoke, a treat, as always, astonished me once again. My past experiences with the craft has only been with businessmen, typically more than twice my age. Their voices cracking as they croon away at Bob Dylan and Rolling Stones hits of their youth.

Now I was surrounded by pros. A generation that’s grown up never knowing a time without the inebriated past-time. Really born and raised to cover songs. And, damn, when Daisuke and the bunch started J-Rapping, I was really too embarassed to try my hands at Paul Simon covers. Though I did, sick voice and all.

The couple hours of singing cost fifteen bucks around, and we all said our “お疲れ様”s this time at Shibuya station, while everyone checked last train times with their Yahoo equipped cellular devices.

This night out was enjoyed after a rough three or four days in bed (futon) coughing and sneezing. It was the shining light that life in all it’s rhythms was picking up again. A reminder that time is too short to wonder what to do.

So the next day, I sat in the skyline cafe, Muriwui, sipping on ginger tea, eating fried potatoes, occasionally talking to the burger chef owner- who had lived 30 years in San Francisco. When I got up to pay the bill, I noticed the two girls who had been taking an English lesson in the corner of the room got up too. Wrapping up my red plaid scarf, walking down the stairs, I decided to pick up a few veggies for dinner. I turned around to grab some garlic, when I noticed the girls had followed me into the grocery store. I tried my tired joke “久しぶり” (long time no see), and we chatted while we picked up food. Little did I know at the time, that we were really shopping for the next nights dinner.

Rie, a local musician with her husband Daisuke, invited me over for dinner. The 25 and 24 year old couple (respectively) have a ballad duet with Hawaiiain influences called かのんぷ (Kanonpu). Daisuke sports a classical guitar or ukelele, while Rie is the lead singer and plays piano.

Here they are on a morning t.v. show actually.

Their apartment is unassailably cute, decorations reminiscent of their honeymoon abroad in Hawaii together.

We stuffed ourselves, bowl and bowl, trading back and forth between Japanese and English- correcting each other as we went along. There is no doubt, that I am slightly “cooler” simply on the merit of being a native English speaker. But that simply comes with the territory of being in Japan. After throwing sweet mochi cakes, green tea cookies, every which kind of shochu and nihonshu (sake), and a sample cd my way, we promised on another dinner date; the next time I would cook.

A 15 minute walk later back to my homestay, I realized I had neighborhood friends again. Since their income is solely off the dozens of concerts they have a year, we’re sole mates in our excessively freetime. Here’s their website if you wanna check them out, http://kanonpu.eek.jp/index.html

The next day, I visited Marie at her part-time job at the daycare, where I’ve essentially taken up a volunteer position. There I sold candy, watched the drama that is elementary school romance, played with a dog, and heard my first imitation of my American-accent-Japanese, by a lovely little boy.

Photos:

Around 6, we all parted ways and Marie pointed me in the direction of a standing-space-only Ramen shop, for which I am incredibly grateful.

I then took a train out to Yokohama where Rie and Daisuke were waiting with a free ticket to see Hawaiiain pop at this American bar called “Thumbs Up”. Because of their sweet connections, I met two former Yokozunas (god-like Sumo wrestlers), and listened to set after set of much needed soulfull music.

Photos:

Like giddy children we texted each other throughout the next day and decided to have a Salmon-Burger night. This time I invited my homestay parents over. The Salmon-Burgers would be my treat this time, the delicious Nabe- theirs.

Yuki and I made the feast together, which would be: 12 Salmon Burgers with cilantro on wheat bread, Mashed caramalized acorn squash and grilled asparagus.

All of us garlic lovers, we pretty much made garlic burgers with Salmon for flavor. About 10 salmon cuts, one garlic, a few pieces of white bread, fried mushrooms, half an onion, black pepper, 3 eggs later, Yuki, Noe and I went over to Rie and Daisuke’s place (of course picking up refreshments along the way).

Needless to say I was as giggly as a cub scout on his first marshmellow bonfire. I could think of nothing cuter than a union of my host family and Kanonpu.

Yuki, Noe, working couple they are, had to unfortunately leave early. After they parted- Daisuke and Rie stopped everything. Daisuke looking at me seriously said, “Daniel, now is the time for a private concert. A concert only for you, and your memories”. They played me a new song, and one of my favorites “守りたい物” (Things I wanna protect).

We have the cutest friendship ever. No offense meant. We’re meeting up tomorrow night for an okonomiyaki party, Japanese style deliciousness.

That almost brings up to date. But actually, I met up with Sae Goizumi, my homestay-sister I hosted way back, 5 years ago.

We met up at Shinagawa station the next day, and it was just like old times- except our respective language skills grew, as well as our height. We rode to Yokohama, and spent a little less than three hours Karaok-ing together. “You can Karaoke at 3 in the afternoon?”, “You can Karoake whenever” she responded.

I’ll try and dig up a flashback photo, but really- Sae (for those who have ever met her) looks completely different, but she still has her goofy sense of humor.

We then met up with her friend, also an alumni of the Catonsville-homestay program (esteemed as that is), Saki. We ate dinner at T.G.I Fridays. Which is, exactly what you imagine it to be, except there is a dangerous amount of drunk touring Americans, or sweet-hearts reunited in the island’s navy port.

I grabbed the largest burger I could, while Saki and Sae got some shrimp and pasta dishes. With bottomless sodas and greasey plates, it was another giddy childhood moment. I could stop smiling. And then- they surprised me with an ice cream sundae.

Like I started, getting sick away from home, is a difficult thing. I am incredibly forturnate for the friends I sometimes feel I don’t deserve. As I come into my own here, it only reminds me of the times I am missing at home. This morning began calling up Olivia out of homesickness. What lasted to a forty-five minute call, ended with me reminded of all the open arms readily available, the easily found love of life. This may be Japan, but experience is inextricable from life. Hospitality is eternal.

At any rate, I just have a stuffy nose now. With my Uncle’s arrival this Friday, time in Japan is slipping away. But it couldn’t be any more polite in saying good-bye.

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Written by Daniel

December 13, 2008 at 8:08 am

Posted in event, food, shopping, wandering

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