I've always said I would write this blog even if ONE person was to read it.
I'm Andrew Joseph... and for the first two years of my time in Japan (July 1990 - July 1992), I was a scared little boy just discovering himself.
I was 25 going on 26 when I arrived in Japan. I had one real girlfriend up until that time. I had lived at home while I completed five years of university (political science) and two years of college (journalism).
I didn't know how to cook, clean, shop, do laundry, sew, or look after myself. Oh yeah, I was virgin.
That changed within weeks of arriving in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken. I was a junior high school assistant English teacher on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme, teaching at one of the seven schools I had to visit for four days a week, with my Friday's reserved for an office day at the Board of Education office where I essentially wrote up a weekly report on my teaching activities (three classes a day on average of 'repeat after me') that took me less than 15 minutes to write.
The rest of the time was spent writing short stories to amuse myself and my friends, as well as letters to everyone back home.
Amongst these stories was the genesis for Japan--It's A Wonderful Rife, as I wrote three monthly columns for various prefectural JET magazines and for whomever else wanted one - I even got paid for it by one newspaper.
The stories were based on fact, but always showed me being stymied by Japan and its culture as I learned how to fit in as well as how to bend it ever so slightly to make it a better fit for myself.
It's why, by my third and final year on the Programme, I was more than adept at surviving whatever Japan could throw at me.
My one weakness... my krypotonite, if you will, was women.
Always afraid that my last exposure to a woman's caress would be my last--it has to be at sometime, eh--I was constantly drifting in and out of one-night stands, seeking out women more and more incorrect for a long-term relationship figuring that if I couldn't find a wife, I would at least get sex. Which even now seems like fantastic logic.
The female populace of Ohtawara didn't seem to mind that strategy, but all that changed the moment I laid eyes on Noboko, a Japanese teacher of English at Nozaki Chu Gakko (Nozaki Junior High School)... the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.
Regular readers are aware that from the get go she wanted nothing to do with the ever-so-slick An-do-ryu sensei, feeling that I was nothing more than a huckster in nice silk clothing with a diamond earring, well-coiffed beard and a pony-tail that made me look like a rich Colombian drug lord - at least according to the old episodes of Miami Vice. I probably was, but it was all a sham, except few people knew it but myself.
Luckily, the students of that school saw through my facade and somehow convinced her that I was a nice guy who deserved a shot with her. Noboko eventually relented to the wiles of myself and our students' pestering. They really did pester her with questions about boyfriends, and how An-do-ryu was a nice guy... She probably wondered just what it was that these kids saw in me that she didn't... and after a couple of weeks, curiosity got the better of her and we began dating.
When last we checked in, I had just spent an evening with her parents that went surprisingly well. The only problem, for me, was that Mom and Dad seemed to think I was just another lost angel in the city of neon lights and that their darling daughter felt sorry for me and was looking after me until it was time for me to go back home to Toronto by July of 1993.
I've only got three months left in Japan... and Noboko is afraid to tell her folks that we are in love. I've told her I love her and she has done the same to me. There is a smoldering passion and a lot of dry tinder. But why not admit the truth to her parents?
What's a boy to do?
I went out early one Saturday morning knowing that Noboko and the rest of the Japanese students had school until around 1PM... so I rode my bicycle out to the Nishinasuno train station, locked it up--only the gaijin seem to lock up their bicycles in Japan--got on a local train and rode south 20 minutes to the capital city of Utsunomiya.
Arriving at the station, I walked the same route I always walk when I get to Utsunomiya - mostly because I have no sense of direction and always get lost. This time, however, I knew where I was going.
A few weeks earlier, thanks to Noboko's prodding, we walked the city where I had never been before... and I spied shops and restaurants I had not yet seen... including a jewellery shop.
I walked in, saw the look of surprise on the staff--no big deal... I think that happens whenever a gaijin walks into any shop because it means they now have to dig up their high school English and try and serve me.
You have to hand it to the Japanese... they don't HAVE to try and speak English, but once they know you do, they do their best.
In this case... it was easy.
They welcomed me to the shop with their loud yelling group welcome in Japanese... I bowed slightly and smiled and walked over to the glass counter cabinets filled with glittering gems encased in gold, silver and platinum sheathes.
There! That's the one... a large dark blue sapphire ring and accompanying earrings - both in 18-carat yellow gold. The sapphire ring even had a couple of small diamond chips around the setting.
Sh!t... her ears were pierced, right? Yes... okay... this will work.
Miming touching my ear, and the slipping on of a ring, I asked the clerk to show me my choices.
"Garo-friendo?" I was asked (Girlfriend).
"Hai, so desu." (Yes.)
Smiles from the female staff who all charged around the young lady helping me - all wanting to see what it was I had chosen.
More smiles and side chants of 'sugai' (wonderful) abounded from their pretty red lips, as the white gloved young lady who first served me placed the jewelery onto a white velvet swatch for me to handle.
"Wha-to saizu rin-gu?" I think you understood that. I did.
I'm no idiot, despite being in Japan for two years and only developing a kindergarten level of Japanese language skills--unless I was trying to pick up a woman... then I knew all the set pick-up lines... but I always seemed to have the bare minimum Japanese language skills to survive, if not thrive.
A week earlier I had wrapped a string around Noboko's wedding finger while she slept naked in my bed, all tuckered out from all the shagging. Me? I'm full of caffeine thanks to a Coca-Cola habit that only caught up to me last year in the form of diabetes. Enjoy! But use moderation!
I held out my string of measurement, and there was much chattering as someone brought out a manikin hand and we placed the noose around the middle finger.
"Iie (no, pronounced Eee-ya), chigao (wrong)," I said and pointed to the ring finger and hummed 'dum-dum-da-dummm'.
There were a few scowls, which I understood.
"Atodai, di-a-mondo (later, diamond)," I added quickly, which got all the women back on my side.
I told them her birthday was in September, and that as a Virgo her birthstone was sapphire... that it was just a present.
I shrugged my shoulders and said "Kinyobi" (Saturday) and smiled my goofy smile. It was just a present for her because I felt like getting her one this Saturday... actually, I knew it was more than that.
Turns out the ring on display was the perfect fit for Noboko's delicate digit.
Now, six figures of yen later - yup over $1,000 - I had my sapphire ring and a pair of matching sapphire earrings. It's always important to ensure that the gemstone's color is an exact match, and that the settings and stone cut are the same.
This would be my pre-engagement ring to Noboko. To express to her that she was my girl and that should she be able to tell her folks about my deep love for her, I would promise to later get her that engagement and wedding ring to break my bank account.
I knew there was no such thing as a pre-engagement ring officially, but...
I wasn't planning on just staying here three more months on the JET Programme... if she would allow it, I would spend the rest of my life with her here in Japan.
I would do whatever job it took to be with her here in Japan... there was a second catch, however.
Along with her having to tell her parents about us... I wanted her to come with me to Canada... not to live, I told her, though I secretly hoped that would be the case... but rather just for a vacation... a visit...
I also hoped she would see how easily she would fit in in Toronto... but I really wanted her to meet my brother, my father, but especially my mother whom I know did not care for Ashley all that much when she visited me in Japan the year previous. Ashley had gone back home the previous summer, and aside from me Googling her once five years ago, I never laid eyes on her again.
I didn't need my mother's approval or anything like that, I wasn't that type of a man-boy... no... I just wanted to show Noboko off... okay, maybe to get a bit of approval...
That still sounds wrong... but hopefully you all know that I was extremely proud of myself for having snagged such a classy woman in Noboko... and I just wanted to shout to the world that she was mine and I was hers.
I tucked the invoice away in my wallet just in case she laughed in my face and I needed to return it or sell it somewhere else should I be ashamed to show my face back in that jewelery shop again.
It was only 10AM on the Saturday... I could still get some breakfast to eat, play a few video games at the nearby arcade and make it home by 1PM in time for Noboko's expected arrival at my apartment at 1:30PM.
But, since you are expecting me to lose the jewelery, and I was expecting me to lose it, I tucked everything into my coat pocket and placed it onto my accompanying backpack and made immediately for the train station and home. My mom didn't raise a complete idiot.
Back home, I had 30 minutes to spare, so I had a quick shower to wash the dusty roads off myself and placed the wrapped up jewelry box behind one of the sliding cabinet doors on my queen-sized bed's headboard.
Oh yeah... my board of education office really loved me and took care of me as though I was their son, best friend and visitor to their city - all rolled into one. But, just recall that for every JET, every situation is different. I was treated like a GOD (Gaijin On Display), and I loved it.
Noboko arrived at my place looking resplendent in a white sun dress, that had me wondering if she wore that see-through thing to school, but I knew she always managed to stop off somewhere and change before arriving at my place. I think. Otherwise... holy crap.
Rife with anticipation, we kissed hello, and I hugged and held on to her forever.
More in a day or two - no, really.
PS: Image above is of a resplendent Noboko posing in front of one of the boat rides at Tokyo Disneyland.