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Saturday, May 9, 2015

Noboko And Andrew: Stairway To Heaven


It's Saturday, September 11, 1993… and while I have no future knowledge of such horrific events in 2001, I am praying my date at Noboko's parent's house doesn't end in disaster.

For those of you wondering… this is indeed a true account of my time in Japan, complete with the appropriate date. It's not me trying to be melodramatic or anything to capitalize on such a tragedy… the date is the date… a date I hadn't really realized until I wrote the last blog episode.

If you are looking for back story, might I suggest you use the search bar directly underneath the blog title's black and white photograph, typing in "Noboko".

So… I'm dressed and pressed and laden with presents for Noboko, her mom, and her father.

This is my third dinner at their house, a rather unspectacular house, as I haven't bothered to describe it because really, nothing stands out to separate for any middle-class Japanese house you've ever seen.

Noboko's dad doesn't want her to be with me for fear it will jeopardize his work career and hers - simply because not all Japanese are as open-minded as others when it comes to such relationships.

Noboko arrives at exactly 5:30PM at Colin's house (where I am staying in Kuroiso for my two-week second stay in Japan)… she inspects me to ensure I am dressed perfectly… yes, I brought a suit and tie with me - two, in fact. She polishes my shoes for me - something I did not anticipate for, while I suck back half a tube of toothpaste and bottle of mouthwash, and a light dab of Alfred Sung cologne I was partial to.

I have an expensive bouquet of exotic Japanese flowers for Noboko's mom, have the sharable bottle of sake, and very expensive bottle of sake for him, and a bottle of Canadian Club Whisky I know he'll enjoy, as drinking whisky (I really want to add an 'e' to that word!) in Japan apparently makes everyone think they are cultured.

Personally, I never developed a taste for the stuff (whisky), preferring sake over any other bit of booze, but that's just me… In 2015, I don't drink… I mean I do, but I don't go out of my way to have a drink - it's been weeks or months (?) since I wet my whistle. But in Japan, I don't believe I ever turned down a drink or 12 several times a week.

The drive to Noboko's house is quiet, with my attempts at breaking the frost with a sharp bon mot met simply by a firm-jawed Noboko who simply said "Mm" to damn near everything I said.

While I am aware that a salesman should never word a question that could elicit a yes or no answer (opting for the more obvious - how many question instead), I realize that Noboko is quite nervous.

The thing is, is she nervous because of what her father will say, or because of what she might have to say to me?

Look… I know that because I am dining at her house, the last thing Noboko wants is for us to fall apart…

She knows that by coming back to Japan after my JET contract ran out after three years, that I am serious about my commitment to us, and that I wasn't merely using her for sex - though admittedly both of us wouldn't have minded if that was the only outcome.

Arriving at her home exactly at 6PM - the Japanese are nothing, if not punctual - the front door opens and a beaming Mrs. K stands there bowing and then waving at me. Mr. K stands just behind her, and gives me the barest of nods as I first give him a deep and long bow… his wife says something and he bows a little more deeply.

Oh crap… well… he's not necessarily happy to see me, but he's not exactly Hitler-angry, either.
Not Noboko's parent's but an eye-opening similar reproduction from the movie Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?

After a presentation of the flowers to Mr.s K, plus a bottle of white wine I didn't buy—Noboko!—we enter the house, where I remove my shoes.

I smirk at Mr. K as I see Noboko reach down and rearrange my shoes so that they are facing the door. That's something a wife would do for her husband.

He doesn't show any visible emotion at that, neither shock or awe, but I hope he understood the significance of Noboko's action.

Stepping forward  - almost onto the hallway of the place, I  pull out the bottle of less expensive sake rice wine first and present it to him while bowing, begging him to look after me - it's just something you do…

He bows and mutters the appropriate response - I have no idea what the hell I am saying or what he's saying… all I know it's just part of the rules of Japanese society to do such things.

He stands up and examines the bottle more closely and utters a "Yosh!", implying he's impressed with my gift.

But wait, there's more.

With Noboko's translation skills, we inform him that this (second) bottle) is also for him - but just for him.

He bows, mutters something or another, looks at the bottle, and sucks a lot of air in between his teeth.

It really was an expensive bottle of rice wine - Noboko says there are few more expensive… thank goodness… I brought a  lot of money to spend on Noboko, not on her dad.

Then… I bring out the big gun… a large bottle of Canadian Club Whisky - that cost about 10% of what that second bottle of sake cost. 

He doesn't even bother to bow but says in slow English "thank you", offering his hand for me to shake, as his left hand scratches the back of his head in confusion.

Food might tame the savage beast, but booze will tame the savage father - regardless of country of origin.

He is still holding my hand and pulls me into his home, and moves that left hand from the back of his itchy head to around my waist… still gripping my hand in a handshake… but he's not squeezing.

"Durink, An-do-ryu-sensei?"

I don't have the heart to denigrate myself by telling him I'm not a sensei/teacher anymore…

"Yes.. hai! onagaishimasu!"

He reaches for the whisky, but on cue his wife and Noboko both yell at him to save it until much later in the evening.

He seems put off, but doesn't say anything, knowing they are correct.

He reaches for the very expensive bottle of sake, but I glance at the women, who are completely in tune with the world as they shake their collective head at him.

He picks up the first bottle and is about to open it when I catch him looking over at his wife, who simply turns away… seeing as how she didn't say 'no', he unwraps the foil from the bottle top and unscrews the cap… and before he can bellow for the sake cups, Noboko is there with them in her dainty hands, proffering one to me first, and then her father.

I don't know if that was done because that's what she wanted to do, or because I was a guest, or because I'm the guy she's going to marry… no clue… there's probably a Japanese rule for it, however.

Mea culpa here… Mr. K (dad) and I got drunk.

To be honest, I have images of us having our arms around each other's shoulder in a buddy-buddy way, toasting umpteen times on beer, sake, and even whisky - that's how I know I was wasted… whisky.

But that was the point, as far as I was concerned.

I was ingratiating myself into his good graces with the presents, and by being every bit the fun Japanese guy he hoped his daughter would marry but never have sex with. I really messed up on two of those three things (being Japanese and the keeping her virginal), but I did have a shot at marrying her…

Personally, in 1993… I really disliked Mr. K.

He was the thorn in my side. He was, in my westernized view, everything that was  wrong about Japan… greed and prejudice (even if you witness prejudice, and do nothing about it, that ain't cool), and the workaholic father who did what was expected of him, except provided little but money to the running of the home and household...

I had noticed back then that the Japanese are a totally different animal at enkai (parties), but didn't really realize that it was a time to let down the hair, drink, act like an ass and even to beg for favors… all with the knowledge that any naughty behavior would be tolerated until the party ended, and that no mention of such behavior would be thrown in one's face at a later date.

I had always thought it was just people not being able to hold their alcohol as well as others… but now I realize it's an accepted way of conducting business.

Because I'm not a complete knob, I suspect that after Mr. K cracked opened the bottles, and I must have poured drinkie-poo's for him… and though it must have pained him, I am sure he poured for me first.

I was still a guest in his home… even if I was the unwanted guest.

Oh gods… I just recalled that he began singing some of those awful Japanese songs of lament… of days gone by… and I was applauding after sitting with wide-eyed rapt attention…

Man… I hate that music. I respect it, but what's the allure?

That's like everyone gathering around to sing songs about America's slave days, specifically mentioning 'darkies'.

I don't expect the old guys to be able to sing along with Britney Spears - hell, I couldn't (though I still think she's hot)… but surely he grew up during the 1960s and 70s as a young man… didn't Japan have cool music then? I'm pretty sure they did!

I know they had access to that stuff… so what's the deal about all these songs about lost times?

If I had a clue as to what he was exactly singing about, perhaps I would have been worried, but I didn't, and I don't…. and all those old songs still sound exactly alike to me…

I might sing like I'm tone deaf, but I am a classically-trained musician in brass, woodwinds and keyboards… I'm not great or even good, but I could teach it.

It's not a prejudice against Japanese music… I could sit for minutes and listen to musicians plunck away on their ancient enka music… and yet I marvel at a society that always seemed so rooted in the past.

Ancient kimono-style fashion? That's like North American women wearing hoop skirts or something older. I know it's only done for fancy occasions, and women can look fricking stunning in them, but it's so old-old-old-old-old-school. I think I left out a couple of 'old's'.

Samurai dramas all over TV? That's like having westerns on TV in North America... nothing wrong with it - I love westerns... but sometimes things go out of vogue... but not the samurai drama!

Anyhow... memory of internal drunken rant aside...

The evening is over apparently… and Noboko helps me up as her mother help's Mr. K up.

He and I bow to each other… but he lurches forward completely off-balance! I catch him around the shoulders… and he puts his around mine.

"You… you berry goo ma. I lu-rike you berry machu."

With that, he turned and stumbled away, or was dragged by his shirt collar by his wife… who turned and nodded a Japanese goodnight to me.

Okay… I'm pretty sure the Andrew of 1993 has to use the washroom, so let's end it there for today. I'll publish the next part tomorrow…

Somewhere wondering "who said you can't buy happiness?",
Andrew Joseph

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