I no longer look like that. Despite being nearly twice as old as I was then, I started working out and got my chest 12 inches larger... got older and go my waist four inches wider... got a front tooth straightened... no longer wear a beard because it's no longer as black as it was... still have the same haircut - though I have had other styles come and go inbetween. I didn't even realize it until just now that I've come full circle. I still have that tie, but I don't wear ties any longer. And while I got that teal jacket back in 1992 and no longer have it, I wish I did - just a lot larger. Even though you can't see it, I still have the same watch. I still have the same hole in my head from an earring hole, but after my mother died in 1994 I never bothered again.
Truth be told, I never saw that look of disgust on her face ever again.
Let's start the story. I have no idea how long it's going to be... which was what she said. Probably in reference to my having an arm around her padded shoulder.
Just looking at the photo makes me think I can smell the apple blossoms in her hair. Or that I'm having a stroke.
There wasn't much time to agonize over it - which was probably a good thing.
I had just been invited by Noboko to come to diner the next night - with her parents.
Noboko, my 26-year-old Japanese girlfriend and an English teacher at one of the junior high schools I team-teach at in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken still lived at home with her parents in the nearby northern city of Kuro-iso.
I thought the whole thing rather odd… she and I were completely in love, lust, sever sexual like with each other, but I knew she was afraid to tell her parents that she and I were dating for fear of the social stigma she felt her father would endure should it become known that his darling daughter was dating (and thus sleeping) with a gaijin (outsider/foreigner).
I can dig it. But damn it… she's 26-years-old! She is only staying at her parents house after moving from Tokyo recently to accept a teaching position in Ohtawara.
Still… his house, his rules. His curfew for her… which back in the early 1990s and I bet even now… is still a fairly common attitude for young, single Japanese women living with their parents.
But I was in love with Noboko… and could see myself spending the rest of my life with her as long as her looks held out.
I'm a guy… I need that out.
Look… I'm kidding…. I'm a stupidly loyal person. Even when people treat me like crap. I suppose that's my fatal flaw. The other fatal flaw is that since I don't forget a slight, I tend not to really forgive it, either.
I'm a male Scorpio. If you are into astrology, you'll know what that means.
Anyhow… Noboko is supposed to pick me up at my apartment at around 5:30PM and then drive me the 10 kilometers or so to her parent's place.
We're not working at the same school this week - which is both a blessing and a curse. The kids at her school helped convince her that she should date me. She eventually listened to them - why? Who the hell knows. We dated a few times… and then we really dated a few times… and then the kids found out… and no one squealed… though I'm pretty sure every student in the whole city knew we were dating.
My bosses at the Ohtawra Board of Education (OBOE) did, too… they asked me if I was dating anyone (after the trouble I put them through with having to get involved with my stalking ex, Junko) - and since I didn't want to lie to them, I told them 'yes, I was dating someone'.
Even though they smiled at my honesty, it wasn't until later that I learned that they already knew I was dating someone… and that they already knew who that some one was… and I think they were impressed that I was dating her.
Noboko may not have been the most beautiful woman on the planet… but she was a close number 2. She had guys panting over her at the school… and while I won't talk about school boy fantasy, I do know that the other male teachers at my school were completely pissed off with her rebuffs.
Keep in mind that she also rebuffed me for the longest time as well… but I - and our students - wore her down.
So… as I ride home from school, I stop by a flower shop and buy an expensive and, in 20-year hindsight, a ridiculously large bouquet of mixed flowers for her mom.
I also go to my liquor store located handily two floors below my apartment and purchase a very expensive bottle of whiskey.
Kill'em with kindness.
To be fair, I also purchased a more modest bouquet of flowers for Noboko - a dozen red roses. I didn't give a crap what symbolism her parents saw in that. I loved Noboko and I didn't care who knew it. She knows it - and that should be enough… but for me, it's not.
The ride up in Noboko's tiny toy car is uneventful save that despite the plethora of flowers, I can still smell Noboko's apple blossom hair shampoo… and maybe subconsciously I can smell her pheromones… and man, I am popping one major boner all the way up to her house.
Whether it was the cold evening winds or sharp slap of reality in my face, immediately upon arrival the blood began to spread back to the rest of my body. I guess I don't want her parents to know just "HOW MUCH" I love their daughter.
I grab the flowers from the back of the car, pick up the bottle of booze from between my legs, take a deep breath while looking at Noboko who has done the same and say: "Okay, let's do this!"
I suddenly realize that Noboko hasn't said a word to me since I pawed at her back at my apartment when she said 'not now, bakayaro (stupid idiot).'
She is about to place the keys into the door lock when the front door is thrown open and her mother and father greet us at the door with large warm smiles and greetings of welcome in both Japanese and English.
Wow… I sure as hell didn't expect that.
Her mother bades me to remove my shoes at the front hall, gives me some plastic slippers that, by Crom, actually fit me - where the fug did she get these from?
She squeals in joy as I bow deeply and present her with the flowers - and as she runs off to the kitchen to vase them, I turn to her dad and bow long and hard - as though he was the Emperor, which I suppose he was to my princess… and with my head still down looking at his floppy turquoise plastic indoor slippers, I muttered a greeting and held out my present to him.
Even when he took it from my hands, I still had my head lowered.
He said something to Noboko and she translated saying that not only was he extremely happy with my kind gift, but that he was very much impressed with my Japanese manners.
Being Canadian, I apologized again, and he slapped me on the shoulder and dragged me into the living room where he had some pillows thrown around one of those ultra low Japanese tables meaning - you ain't gonna be sitting on any chairs tonight!
Damn! So… after he sat down on the pillows, and actually kind of laid down on them… I sat down, as well… in seiza, with my upper body erect as I sat in a kneeling position - hands placed neatly in front of me.
He looked at me and raised an eyebrow… looked again… and then lowered the eyebrow… and then made a hand gesture - that international hand gesture that implies drinking.
I bow deeply and grunt an onegaishimasu as the blood has already begun to pool in my legs and I get that tingly sensation that means that I'm going to fall over should I try to stand up anytime soon.
He shouts out to the kitchen - his wife answers and Noboko walks out with some snacks. I'd be lying if I could tell you what all those snacks were or even what we would eventually have for dinner - it was a blur.
I was all about not making an ass of myself. I had to make her parents like me. That was my focus.
Noboko places the food between us and asks me - in English - if it's okay for me to use chopsticks.
I look at her with a scowl and a raised eyebrow. I'm doing it right now as I write this.
WTF did she say? She knows I can use bloody chopsticks as well as anyone… why would she ask that? Her questioning look to me implies she is awaiting my answer.
"Hai… daijobu desu-yo," I say in a slangy manner.
She gave me a look that reminded me that I need to be more polite…
I'll tell ya…. for a chick that was only 5-feet tall and 95-lbs… Noboko could make me very afraid… probably because I knew I didn't ever want to lose her.
Her dad and I began eating - I think it was slices of pickled daikon radish known as takuan (see below).
"Oishi, An-do-ryu-sensei? (Delicious, Andrew Teacher?)"
"Yes, I am… uh, so desu… watashi-wa dai ski, desu! (Yes, I really like it!)
It wasn't just me kissing his ass - I really did and do love to eat takuan. I used to buy it for my own little snack - never bringing it out until others left. I know - selfish. But that's how much I loved to eat it.
I think it impressed him… because then he started reeling off every Japanese dish disgusting to gaijin and most Japanese with a working set of taste buds.
Thing is… I may not be a gourmand, but I have a pretty open mind when it comes to food and as long as I understand what it is I am eating, I generally don't have a problem in enjoying it.
I have eaten cooked locusts and bee larvae. I have eaten green tea ice cream and found it wanting. I have drunk Pocari Sweat which sounds worse than it is. I have eaten raw cow liver - and it wasn't on a drunken dare. I have eaten and love to eat eel - it tastes like fatty chicken and it's apparently supposed to be good for male virility - I don't need it, but it can't hurt. I have eaten bear (good for male virility). I have eaten snake (good for male virility). I have eaten dolphin. I have eaten whale (good for Japanese ego). I have eaten sea turtle phlegm (good for nothing). I have eaten sea urchin (also good for nothing). I have eaten raw fish. I have eaten seaweed. I have eaten ice cream from a vending machine. I have bought rice from a vending machine - just because I wanted to see if it was for real. I have eaten a 20-lb (9.1 kg) rainbow trout I caught in Nikko's Lake Chuzenji-ko. I have eaten dried squid (red squid - aki ikka) as I would buy a snack bag every few days and eat them like potato chips. I have eaten deep-fried dough balls containing baby octopus - on a stick - as snack food.
I have eaten stuff I have no idea what it was. I have eaten stuff that I have no idea what the animal was. I have eaten stuff where I have no concept if what I was eating was animal, vegetable or mineral.
I have eaten my way through to… well… there's a joke in there, but I'll keep it to myself for now….
Believe it or not… Noboko's mom purposely made a meal that even a gaijin could eat - meaning it wasn't dangerous…
And… after her dad pumped me in a manner as complete but wholly unlike his daughter had done to me numerous times, he soon came to realize that I wasn't your ordinary gaijin.
"Natto tsuki, deska (You like natto?)" he shook his head in disbelief knowing his statement could never be true.
"Hai… dai tsuki (Big like!)."
Uso-bakka! (You lie!)
Now… you should know that by now he was already drunk and I was getting there… but drunk or half-drunk, I love a challenge.
"Iie. Natto oishi desu. (No. Natto is delicious.)"
He mumbled something in Japanese… and a horrified mom backed away into the kitchen while Noboko, equally horrified said "he wants to see you eat it."
"Okay… but I need rice, a raw egg, mustard and soy sauce and some scallions," I smiled at Noboko.
Here's the thing. Natto is rotted, fermented soybeans that the north east part of Japan might eat, but the central and west think is just pig fodder.
I was constantly told that no foreigner would ever eat natto - and that's an exaggeration, but it wasn't far off… so I made it my duty to eat and to pretend to enjoy it… thing is… I actually got to the point where I would eat it at my own home without any Japanese or gaijin person around to impress. I like natto.
It is high in protein and is very good for you… but it smells bad and tastes bad.
After mixing those ingredients in with the natto and pouring it over the rice - well… eating it can give you natto breath… so there was a very good reason why Noboko didn't know I could eat natto. I wouldn't want my breath to gross her out.
She knew I could eat a lot of other things, but natto?
This was going to be fun.
My ingredients were placed in front of me… the natto delivered in the brand I secretly enjoyed… a small styrofoam square with a thin plastic film over the top…
I removed the film, broke the egg in, squeezed in the hot mustard that came in a plastic pack, added the soy (soy pack - just think ketchup packs), added the scallions that were sealed in a small plastic pouch… stirred it up with my chopsticks and then poured the mess onto some steaming rice (which always seems to be available in any Japanese kitchen)... and went to town shoveling the goopy mess into my maw.
There were gasps and groans as I proved everyone wrong about gaijins and myself… and perhaps also groans because watching someone eat natto can be disturbing.
I ate it in a few minutes and licked my lips as I placed my chopsticks down on the plate in front of me.
Her dad just looked me and said something… to which I looked at Noboko, who smiled as she informed me that "he thinks you are more Japanese than the Japanese."
Yer damn right I am. Watashi-wa Canada-jin. I am Canadian! I don't know what that means.
Noboko's dad then called for and received some sake (rice wine)… apparently the good stuff… he poured me a cup with his head bowed and shook me off when I tryed to return the favor.
He then made a toast in Japanese to me, which was translated instantaneously by Nokoko.
"Andrew… you are our most honored guest in my home. I am glad you are here. I hope you have enjoyed your time in Japan. And we will be sorry to see you go in a few months. Until then, please enjoy Japan."
Noboko doesn't want to tell her dad about us because she thinks I am just here for a short time and that I'm going back to Canada once my contract with the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme is up.
I thought I told her I was in love with her and that… no… I think that's all I ever told her.
But surely she knows what that means.
After the good nights, and another slap on the shoulder from her very drunk and very happy dad, her mother tells me to please come again.
Noboko pours me into her car, and drives me home.
I might be drunk, but I'm not stupid. I don't discuss the weird stuff with her at this time.
I do tell her that I had a great time meeting her parents - and that despite everything she said about her dad, he and I seemed to get along great. Especially after I eat the natto and ask for more.
"My mom and I were both scared for you because we thought you were just joking… but my dad thought you were making a false claim."
I shrug my shoulders as she walks up with me to my apartment.
I invite her in, but she says no, she has to get back home - her parents…
Yeah… I know…
So... I lean forward to give her a kiss, but she pulls away quickly.
"Eh? Nani (Huh? What!)" I cry out shocked… what the hell did I do wrong?! Is she breaking up with me?
Somewhere gargling for hours,
PS: The whole guess who's coming to dinner thing is something I bet has followed me around a lot.
I've chatted up more than my fair share of women over the phone - I met my wife on a telephone dating service. I have a fairly deep voice that doesn't sound like a truck backing over crushed glass, but is perhaps more like a chocolate smoothie, if I should go to a food analogy. But when people meet me, they are thrown by the fact that I'm not White. I don't have accent... I'm tall and wide. I don't wear a turban... Along with having a 'non-traditional name for someone whose family is originally from India, I'm not built like a skinny Indian... dress fairly western... and well... basically... Myself and many other Canadians et al of Indian background... we're just here to blow the stereotype out of the water. Although... having said that... there certainly are many Indians who look and sound like the stereotype. But some of us don't.
That's why it was fun to blow Noboko's dad out of the water with his traditional Japanese stereotype on gaijin. Of course NOT all Japanese think like that. Many did. It was part of my duty to blow those misconceptions about foreigners right out of the water.
I wanted him to know that I could be as Japanese as he himself was, minus the language, schooling and culture.... okay... I wanted him to know that I might be a foreigner, but that doesn't mean I'm an outsider.
I really love Japan and its culture.
While I do not speak the language, I wish I could... but I'm lazy and lack the knack.
But... I really, really do love Noboko. And I know she loves me.
Now I just have to figure out how get her to believe that I love her as much as she loves me.
I'll come back to the story shortly.
I don't think what happens next is that interesting, but others seem curious... so while I recover from another emotional trip down memory lane, I'll have to see if I can did up something interesting for tomorrow.
PPS: As for my Japanese writing in this episode... I have no idea if it's grammatically correct or even if I used the correct words... I used to know the words, limited though my vocabulary was... but let's just say I, myself, haven't visited Japan in several decades.