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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Noboko And Andrew: Yearning To Be Free Of Sports

Somewhere - somewhen - I've got my dates all screwed up.

But that's okay… except for this blog, don't believe everything you see on the Internet. I did, and I'm outtatime.

It's the day after badminton, and despite what I may have written earlier, it is Wednesday, September 8, 1993.

This is my second go-round in Japan, after a scintillating three-year stay on three one-year contracts as a junior high school assistant English teacher in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching Programme).

Towards the end of my initial stay, I met Noboko… a JTE (junior high school Japanese teacher of English) at one of my schools and fell madly in love with her.

I've come back to Japan to see her and to convince her that she and I belong together forever.

She knows we do, too, but is torn between us and the whims of her father who doesn't want her to marry, let alone date me - the gaijin… the outsider.

This has nothing to do with racism against the color of my skin, but rather racism against the fact that I am not Japanese.

It doesn't matter what I want or what Noboko wants… it's what he wants, nay demands to ensure he isn't prejudiced against in his quest for future job promotions within Japan's education system.

No one wants to be screwed over for job futures, I get that, but… at the risk of screwing over his own daughter's future happiness?

Father of the year… and not the good type.

I'm staying at Colin's apartment in Kuroiso-shi just 10 kilometers north of Ohtawara-shi. It's Noboko's hometown, where she currently lives with her folks - after spending many a year away from their clutches in Kobe and Osaka working in various capacities for a couple of shipping corporations.

Noboko's English is damn near perfect, or as damn near perfect as I, a gaijin too dumb to learn Japanese could ever hope for.

In my defense, though I did try to learn the language - and flamed out owing to more of an interest in sleeping with women - gaijin and Nihonjin (Japanese person), and being successful at it for reasons that confound me to this very day - I did successfully learn a fair bit about Japan's culture.

I'm a pretty easy-going, happy fellow - always have a smile on my face - and so people tend to trust me, what with me being a nice guy and all… so people will take the time to explain things to me, answering any and all weird questions I could muster, and I do the same for them.

In the past, while trying to resolve this whole daddy-issue and Noboko, I chatted with a few female Japanese friends that I would indeed have slept with, but who didn't want to sleep with me. I never understood why, as Japan has a funny way of messing with one's ego - both good and bad.

Keep in mind that in each case, these women had all asked me advice on how to proceed with their boyfriend - all foreigners - and I gave multiple answers to each as it was impossible to truly provide the be-all and end-all answer, not being in THAT guy's shoes.

All of the women sucked in air between their teeth after I explained my living, loving made-in-Japan problem…

Each understood Noboko's problem of having to satisfy the wishes of her father… and to a person, without kicking me in the nuts, each tried to gently explain that the Japanese do what they have to do regardless of personal satisfaction.

Noriko was one of those JTE's I trusted. Yes… many people knew how much I was troubled (when I wasn't smiling) and may have been pleasantly surprised when I told them exactly why - something the Japanese never do, except at some drunken after-work office party or get-together.

I'm not Japanese, so I didn't follow protocol, which, to women like Noriko, was something they craved.

In my opinion, they wanted to escape from the confines of rigid Japanese structure… yearning to be free… and having a foreign boyfriend and/or husband was an excellent way to achieve that. And they were in love, too. That always helps.

I think I did make a few of them jealous, however, when I described all the little things I would do for Noboko - things that even their foreign boyfriends weren't doing (I'm not talking about sex, either), but I am, at heart, a romantic when given an opportunity to express myself.

It's why each was so reluctant to disappoint me.

They were still Japanese enough to avoid saying something negative to me to disappoint me, but as I mentioned earlier… I knew a fair bit about Japanese culture because I wasn't afraid to ask any question that came to my mind.

I don't know if being a newspaper reporter helped, but I suppose it couldn't have hurt.

So… I knew these women - even Noriko - didn't believe I had much hope in Buddhist Hell of convincing Noboko to ignore everything she was brought up to believe to take a flyer on me.

My buddy Vince put forth the proposition that I have really tried to take the mickey out of Japanese culture with my blogs about Noboko and myself—and it's true… I have.

It's like society has dictated that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Stoopid Vulcans.

Sure, if it means being brave enough to try and save scores or even one other person from dying or being hurt or sick…

But, if I channel my inner Allan Iverson, we're talking love. We're talking 'bout love… I mean, it's love. C'mon, we're talking about love. Love, man. Love. I mean come on… love.

Maybe I had all of this going through my head, but as it turns out, Noboko was unable to see me today until 4PM, and Colin took the day off… so we went to a public gym and played some 1-on-1 basketball.

Colin is around 5'6" (1.68 meters) tall and overweight - though he is a physically powerful and brilliant man with an artistic streak - at night he's carving a Japanese-style chest, and it looks as real as anything professionally built in Japan.

I'm 5'-11-1/2 inches, officially, though I have noticed that I don't appear to be that tall any more, now coming in at 5'-11" (1.80 meters). My driver's license says I'm 1.83 meters (6') though I swear, you could write any number down and they would still issue you a license. I'm also fairly svelte, and not muscular - except in the lower half, thanks to years of playing soccer.

You would think a guy five inches taller would have some sort of advantage, right?

Well, I did.

I could leap high, and get up close to almost touch the bottom of the net... that was my advantage... it just didn't matter.  

Apparently the air up there was thin, and my brain was filled with thoughts of Noboko and how I was not going to lose her and how maybe we should just elope and come back and just be - and then see what her father does next…

Hmmm… that's a plan.

I can and will sit an run through 10s or 100s of different scenarios, but nothing I've thought of has been particularly successful or unsuccessful... it seems to make her want me more, but... no... this seems like a good enough idea, even though it scares the crap out of me. 

With my head clear, my basketball play improves, but I'm still so lousy at the damn game that I get maybe three baskets to Colin's 40.
Hmmm… the fact that Colin wanted to play basketball should have been a clue to me that I was going to get my ass kicked.

Y'know, for a guy the Japanese folks deemed 'sportsman', I've had my ass kicked in consecutive days by Noboko in badminton, and Colin in basketball.

Oh god... what sport will I be forced to endure tomorrow?

We shower at the facility, dress and head back to his place, stopping off at a 7-11 to stuff our face with tuna rice balls and Coca-Cola.

At 4PM on the nose and keeping with the Japanese tradition of always being on time - even though time doesn't exist except as a man-made construct - Noboko arrives with a gentle rap on the door even though a doorbell is handy.

Noboko is a strong woman - just not physically, so even if I didn't know to expect her, I would have recognized that door knock anywhere.

She comes in, bows to Colin, bows to me… I scowl and smile (not that hard to do, actually), and she blushes and moves forward to give me a hug.

Before she does, I embarrass us all by intercepting and kissing her on the lips instead.

Nothing long or too lingering, because I don't want to embarrass Colin, but Noboko doesn't seem to mind, and instead lunges forward, jumping up and wrapping her legs around my waist.

"Holy cow," Colin mutters.

And he's right.

Yearning to be free, my Noboko is.

With my right hand cupping her bum (away from Colin's shocked stare - he's never seen a Japanese woman act this way in public, I guess), I pull my head back as she pouts, slowing lowering her the floor.

I'm up… let's leave it at that… so I suggest to Noboko that we get out of Colin's way and go for a walk or a drive… though both appear to be difficult for me to enjoy at the moment.

I'm also yearning to be free.

Crushed, Noboko opts for the car-ride, and when we get somewhere quiet, I'll casually suggest my suggestion.

Somewhere with a plan,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Image above from: http://juneauempire.com/local/2012-03-10/playing-prove-point 

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