The average westerner tends to be a bit more aggressive in their conversational abilities, avoiding pregnant pauses like the plague.
But in Japan, the Japanese are a bit slower in their vocal actions—and I'm not just talking about their ability to speak English, I'm talking about when they speak Japanese.
This is NOT to imply that foreigners simply talk out of their butt with no thought given to the content (though I am sure there are times when that is what happens), or that the Japanese are MORE thoughtful before speaking… no wait… I am implying the latter. But I have no idea WHY that is, not being Japanese.
Now… I am one of those guys who hates the pause or lull in a conversation. I can recall a first date where the woman I was with became quiet. Fearing I had lost this pretty young lady, Alice, she told me that no, she was simply one who enjoyed NOT having to fill every millisecond of every moment yammering in conversational fragments.
She blew me away—unfortunately, just with that thought. I am a very quick thinker, often thinking several moves ahead of my opponent—oops, I mean conversational partner. See… there's that aggressive western thing. Opponent. I have long thought that most of the conversations I have every single day are, for me, a 'battle of wits against an unarmed opponent.'
I do take it as a challenge to come out with the best bon mot or quip, or head-scratcher or most intelligent fact, or most correct point in a conversation.
In my defense, I don't get upset when I don't—that happens often—it just makes me want to do better in my 'aggressive' conversational skills next time.
I think it stems from the fact that for the first 23 years of my life I was deathly shy, afraid to offer an opinion, preferring to keep my thoughts and jokes to myself or small cadre of other nerd friends.
I had only just come into my own 'personality' a couple of years before arriving in Japan.
Regardless… I was smart enough to realize that Japan was new, and that there were going to be lots of differences, and despite being loud and 'out there' with the other foreigners, and goofy with the Japanese students, around the adults… I was respectful that I was also an ambassador for Canada as well as myself, and did my best to shut my mouth and listen and observe.
Listen and observe. It's how I can write a blog for 5+ years on Japan, when I only lived there for 3+ years. Plenty happened. Plenty to learn. Plenty to tell. Probably.
Which brings us to my second dinner with Noboko's parents… now four years into being an introvert pretending to be an extrovert.
(Years later - now - I love how no one can believe I was ever shy, because I'm apparently so out-going, willing to talk to anyone about anything - like this blog… still, I maintain that shyness.)
It's Saturday, 5PM, and Noboko has arrived at my apartment in Ohtawara-shi, Toichigi-ken, Japan, to drive me to her parent's house the 10km north to Kuroiso where she was also currently living.
Although her Mom knows Noboko and I are dating, seriously in love and probably sleeping together, her father does not. Noboko is a teacher, as her father had been, though he has now progressed beyond mere academics into administering academic protocol, and for his beautiful Japanese daughter to be dating not only a gaijin (foreigner), but a popular gaijin whose exploits as a fun-loving goofball amuses the students turning them into something less than Japanese—well… that would cause a loss of face for him amongst his colleagues... or so Noboko explained to me weeks earlier.
Everybody knows that when a Japanese woman dates a gaijin, they must be screwing each other's brains and orifices to the point of soreness. Sex before marriage is FORMALLY frowned upon, even though it is far more often done than not.
I'm going back home to Toronto, Canada in a few weeks time, and I want to marry Noboko, but she is afraid to tell Dad anything about us… there is no us… we're merely friends, she tells everyone but myself (and Mom). It sucks.
But if we were going to get married, I would be on the very next airplane back to Japan.
I have purchased a large bouquet of mixed flowers for Noboko's mom, the most expensive and supposedly highest quality bottle of sake I could find for her dad, and a single red, long-stemmed rose for Noboko.
"I know it looks like I am giving more to your parents, than I am to you, but I am giving you my heart and my promise that I will fight for you," I growled at Noboko, in a even deeper more gravely-voice I create when I am nervous.
I guess I said the correct thing.
Needless to say we were a bit late in getting to her parent's house as she couldn't find a hair clip that had become lost in her underwear that I had thrown across the room.
We shouldn't have done that. Aside from the contented, confused, relaxed look on our faces that some recognize as the 'we-just-had-hot-sticky-sex' look, a former girlfriend/then friend (Ashley) who visited my house once remarked after my current girlfriend (Junko) had spent the night, that not only did my apartment smell of sex, so, too, did I. I think Noboko and I looked and smelled like sex.
Despite Noboko constantly having to slap my sliding hand away every few hundred meters, we arrived at the house.
She rang the doorbell.
Let me repeat, she rang the doorbell. She lives there.
Mom came racing to the door, threw it open and welcomed us. Dad sauntered more slowly behind mom.
I quickly slipped out of my shoes without using my hands, but before I could bend down, Noboko had already flipped them around for me—like a Japanese wife might do for her husband.
While Dad seemed mildly surprised at the almost comical size bouquet I presented his wife while bowing, he was blown away when I bowed longer and deeper (that's what she said) to him while I held out the booze as a
His smile told me it was money well spent.
I should reiterate, that Mom and Dad don't apparently speak any English, and that Noboko, a Japanese teacher of English who works at one of my junior high schools, speaks near-fluent English with near-perfect pronunciation, and would act as my translator - which also means me having her really tell her dad things I am really saying might be tricky.
Dad, Noboko and I sat on throw pillows around the low Japanese dinner table, while Mom brought out the food - strips of thinly sliced beef that we would boil/dip ourselves into a bubbling broth already placed in front of us—this is shabu-shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ).
Throughout it, I insisted on pouring the provided bottles of beer for the three of them, while Noboko did the honors for me.
I was, remarkably, slower in downing the booze than they—all according to Hoyle and Andrew.
Mom staggered off eventually to get some dessert and sake cups, while Dad, careful and red-faced from alcohol consumption, opened up the sake bottle that had foil wrapped around the head and neck like it was champagne.
I love sake. And despite an ability to get drunk on sake, I can still drink an awful lot of the stuff and not become obnoxious, unconscious, barfy or hungover. But this evening, I was pacing myself. Certainly after three years of parties in Japan, and then hanging out at bars on my free time (I had lots of free time), I had built up a high tolerance for the stuff before I became drunk.
By the way, for the uninitiated, the majority of Japanese have a slight allergy to alcohol which turns the face a ruddy red. It's not just the Japanese, however, who have that slight allergy, as I have observed it on many an Asian.
Noboko and her mom were already drunk—Noboko was a waif-like, standing a shade over 5' tall and 100lbs, so I think she was drunk from just smelling my breath. Dad... he nearly dropped the bottle of sake—twice, both times he handled it.
Maybe because I was concentrating on the situation rather than having a good time, I felt like I was in complete control of myself.
When Noboko got up to go get a towel to wipe up some of the spilled booze, I made an excuse to use the facilities, moving around quickly to the kitchen where she was.
I grabber her from behind in a big hug and pressed my body up against her, with her pressing back and moving her hips, grinding her butt hard into my groin which caused another chemical reaction in my pants, which she felt, quickly turning around, glancing to see if anyone was watching, and stood up on her toes to wrap her arms around my neck and to kiss me, tongues a-flicking. I knew what I was doing, and had taken advantage of her drunkeness, because she sure as heck wouldn't have let this happen in her parents house if she wasn't.
Well, guess who walked in?
Mom AND Dad.
Only I heard the movement behind me, as Noboko had her eyes closed and was blocked out effectively by my wider body.
The jig was up.
I smiled inwardly as I suddenly turned to face the music.
Noboko opened her eyes and pushed herself away from me nearly driving herself into the fridge.
Mom just smiled.
Dad… Dad's face turned redder, like he wanted to scream something.
Instead, he lightly shook his head and staggered back to the dining room.
Phase one of Mission Impossible - accomplished.
Noboko just stared at me like I had planned they whole thing, which I had, of course.
She wasn't furious, but she was in shock. But one of the many things I loved about Noboko was one of the things I am proud of about myself: When crap happens, deal with it and resolve it, rather than waste time playing the blame game.
She walked to me, grabbed my hand and drew us both back into the dining area.
Dad was pouring himself a larger glass of sake, and after I had slid back down, he handed another glass to me and poured one for himself. He didn't spill any.
Finishing, he tilted the glass in my direction and muttered a muted (shocked?) "kanpai (cheers)", to which we both took a healthy swig, swallowed, blew the alcohol heat out of our noses and uttered a simultaneous ejaculation: "ahhhh."
I should mention, that out of habit, Noboko translated 'kanpai' for me into English—but I'm an experienced Japanese drinker, so while the effort was appreciated, it was, of course, unnecessary. Then again, I think Noboko was in shock. Drunk shock, that there was no yelling or screaming in her general direction.
Mom, peeking out from around the corner of another room—perhaps satisfied she had now hidden all of the thrusting and heavy blunt weapons—saw we were sharing a drink, sat down, took the bottle from him and poured all four of us more sake.
Mom said "kanpai" and Noboko translated again, as I joined in. Dad, did not say anything, but did lift his drink in the direction of Noboko (and myself), and sucked his back in one gulp.
This process went on for a few more drinks over the next 10 minutes, and in-between, no one said anything—me being fully aware that there was no need to poke the bear any further.
It was at this point in time that I noticed it was around 10PM, and while not late, I did wonder how the hell I was going to get home, what with my ride, Noboko, being drunk.
Sensing the time, Dad suddenly yawned, murmured an "oyasumi nasai (I leave before you)" and staggered down the hall to the bedroom or bathroom.
Mom and Noboko and I just stared at each other in relief.
"So… Noboko… do you want me to sleep in your room or what?"
Even though Mom didn't apparently speak English, she appears to have some understanding of it, and laughed, placing a hand on my upper arm and uttering a friendly "bakayaro (stupid idiot)" in my direction.
She then spoke some pretty rapid Japanese to Noboko, who simply nodded and gave a slight, "Unh" sound.
Mom then left us alone. I could hear the front door open and close.
I took Noboko's hands in mine—wondering what the fug her mother had said to her—and stroked the back of her hand with my thumbs. She didn't pull away, was warm, but only glanced up at me before looking away.
I said nothing, and neither did she.
Mom came back two minutes later—we dropped our hands when we heard the door—with some 40-ish Japanese woman in tow causing Noboko to quietly tell me: "Let's go to Ohtawara now."
I had a ride back to my place from the neighbor. Noboko squeezed into the front passenger seat, and I squeezed into the white car's trunk, which apparently doubled as the back seat.
Back in Ohtawara, Noboko walked with me up the stairs to my third-floor wing apartment, waited as I jiggled the keys and walked in with me.
As she jumped up and grabbed me about the neck and pressing her face close to mine, her legs wrapped tightly around my waist, she whispers:
"I don't want to go home."
"Afraid? Or do you miss me?"
"Then stay," I suggest.
"I can't. My mother told me make sure I didn't stay no matter what you say."
"I'm not saying anything. Stay."
She swore at me—I think—in Japanese, dropped down to her feet, stared up at me while she grabbed at my pants, pulled down the zipper and thrust a hand inside.
A few seconds later, she pulled away, and turned towards the door.
"Now you know how I feel. I must go back to my mother and father."
"Will you call me tonight?"
"No, but if I survive tomorrow morning, I'll call you and we can spend the day together."
After she left, I went to sleep, awoke the next morning with a dry mouth, but otherwise none the worse for wear and waited for Noboko's phone call.
She didn't call.
... and I... I just sat by the telephone and waited and listened.
Here's an old joke:
Q: Who paid for the last supper?
A: Jesus got nailed with the bill.
PS: Image taken from: http://beta.diylol.com/posts/287626-jesus-says-relax