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Friday, September 25, 2015

Japan—It's A Wonderful Rife: What's In A Name?

Here's another adventure for you to mull over. It's Day three of my first time in Japan on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme in very late July of 1990, and the day after I met the hot Kay West who made me believe that I might actually get laid for the first time ever.

Introduction and Chapter 5 are available for a refresher. Not necessary to read, but both will entertain.

These are re-written, but still true adventures of myself in Japan, as I rewrite things for possible inclusion in a book I will probably complete one day. I do have 24 chapters written so far.

The following story is about a woman very important to me that first year in Japan, as well, dammit, a lot of the second year. I did have to re-edit it, as some of the material makes reference to previous and unpublished chapters.

Chapter 7
Groove Is In The Heart
I suppose I’ve always been a bit of a chowderhead. I have lacked initiative, but have fortunately had it thrust upon me by my parents.
To wit, they forced me into playing community soccer and into learning music with the accordion—everyone woman loves a shy, Brown guy with glasses who can play the accordion… sigh.
I did switch to piano at 16 and even if I may not have appreciated learning to play music, I was able to eventually teach piano and clarinet for money and play and also coach kid's soccer.
Thank goodness my parents forced my to do stuff like this.
Having these coaching and teaching skills directly led me to have skills that JET found valuable when hiring me.
Being a lazy sod, if it were up to me, I’d still be sitting in my parent’s basement watching re-runs of Star Trek while trying not to get the Playmate of the Month pregnant.
After that wonderful night of wandering about Tokyo with just Kay and myself (though I think there may have been a whole gaggle of other gaijin/foreigners there, too), all of us newbie AET (assistant English teacher) wannabees continued with our JET orientation learning about (yawn) and (yawn) and to definitely watch out for (yawnnnn) and to never, ever let oneself be involved with (yawnnnn).
Seriously, the most important thing I got out of that orientation was (yawnnnnnn).
I have no idea what anyone said – though there was one Japanese dude speaking with a Texas drawl – and that threw me enough where I know I spent his entire speech listening to the cadence of his chat, but not actually paying any attention to what he was saying.
And the rest was just - actually, I have no idea if it was boring or not. I was bored, so that’s all I can comment on. I think I was just trying to see if I could see Kay. Hey… if you see Kay, tell her I want her. Heh. I made a swear. You have to say it slowly.
I was/am so not ready for this teaching gig.
After more of the same, it is somehow now the third night of my time in Tokyo. Wow. Time displacement. It must be aliens.
This evening was to be another foreign affair for me – organized by the Tochigi-ken (Tochigi province, where I surmised I might be living) AETs already in place.
We were led to our first Japanese-Japanese restaurant by the stunning Gasoline—an AET returning for her third and final year in Japan. Apparently she was one of the first JETs ever. I did not realize that until I typed this sentence. 
Gasoline is a tall, beautiful blonde Canadian girl given that unfortunate nickname thanks to the inability of the Japanese people to pronounce her real name of Catherine. That’s what she told us, but surely the Japanese pronunciation can’t be that bad, can it?
Matthew from the east and Jeff from the left coast of the U.S. sat around me as we all delicately tried to figure out which end of the chopsticks to use. After copious amounts of beer, Jeff broke first and had to use the washroom. Excusing himself, he plodded off in a general direction—seconds later we heard a splash and a scream.
Hmm, it has always been my understanding that when one uses the bathroom facilities there is first a scream and then a splash.
Not wanting to stop drinking, we ignored the cacophony and waited for Jeff to return.
Featuring the soaker to end all soakers, Jeff explained that he had stepped into the toilet. Wow. How drunk do you have to be to do that?
Apparently three beers are not enough as Jeff explained that the toilet in this place did not have a crapper like what we Westerners sit upon everyday. No… this was a two-foot long by eight-inch wide mostly white porcelain bowl embedded in the ground that one is supposed to squat over.
A bunch of us guys staggered over to where Jeff had come from to take a look for ourselves.
Huh. WTF is that?
We found out later that in order to use said toilet, you need to remove your pants and hang them on the hook on the stall’s door and then squat using those great leg muscles all Japanese have developed since they were three.
I have pretty good leg muscles thanks to all that soccer and accordion playing (mostly just the soccer, though), so I might be able to survive Japan.
Jeff said that in his first attempt to find the washroom he accidentally stumbled into the kitchen and was chased out and into the bathroom—it had no outside door or lights, but he didn’t know that. Fumbling for a light switch, Jeff performed his naval maneuver like a true sea man.
None of us laughed at Jeff—we all knew that any one of us could be the next victim of cultural indifference. Still, it was funny enough for me to take notes on some handy napkins.
My plan was to document everything I came across in Japan... then, I had no idea why.
Back at the table, Jeff, Matt and I became quite inebriated on Japanese beer—so much so that none of us three noticed that there was a cute young lady sitting opposite me who had been keeping up with us in the booze department. Wow. How drunk does a virgin have to be to not notice that?
Apparently seven beers plus will do it.
Since this was a Tochigi-ken JET event, the dinner was paid for by the returnees—which I didn’t realize, so I felt quite badly about that seeing as how I drank a lot of booze. I should make that up to that Catherine chick. Maybe give her a tip much bigger than a dollar. Yeah... she's hot and the more I drink, the better looking I get.
Next on the agenda, Gasoline and the others walked us around Tokyo, showing us the sights and sounds of RoppongiTokyo’s dance club area.
In Toronto, our dance club zone consists of maybe 30+ places and is spread out over the downtown core. But here! Oh my! Roppongi is a clubber’s paradise with quite literally 100’s of bright neon-lit clubs from which to choose, with heavy-bass sounds thumping out from each.
Despite having classical music training and preferring to listen to hard rock and punk music, for some reason I can’t dance. Oh... wait...
Before I left Toronto for Japan, my mother suggested I just move as much of my body as possible and keep the beat—the latter being easy enough to do with my skills playing polka music on the accordion.
Gasoline took us to a club called the Java-Jive where we were told that you could only enter the establishment as a male-female couple.
While I was about to quickly rush forward to stand beside the inviting and waiting Gasoline, a warm hand grabbed hold of my left hand and dragged me happily into the place.
I still had no idea who this pretty brunette with the squinty eyes and Southern drawl to drool for was, but it was the same cutie who was drinking near Jeff and Matt and I at the restaurant.
There were quick introductions. Her name was (alcoholic induced stupor), and she was from Augusta, Georgia – that place in the U.S.—not the one in Europe. Although… that would have been very fine, too. Dasvidaniya, baby!
Quickly going through the coupons for free alcohol that we were given up entering the establishment, she earned my fealty by buying me a couple of those vodka screwdrivers drinks we were both enjoying in copious quantities.
Not only was it hot and humid outside, but it was the same inside the club, more so with the dancing and need for booze in a strange city in a strange country all alone with no friends or family and the booming music and all of a sudden with poorly-written English, (alcoholic induced stupor) and I were now kissing and grabbing at each other like there was no tomorrow.
Japan is effing great!
What the fug is her name? Man… she mentioned her name twice to me but it was like gone with the wind.
Finally able to peel our eyes and our tongues away from each other, we noticed that we were the only two foreigners left in the place—where the hell had the rest of our JETs gone? After we spent several minutes decoding the Japanese numbering system (why are Japanese clocks sorta blurry?), we determined that it was 2:30AM. Actually, their clocks are just like ours (I did learn, however, that less than 150 years ago, that wasn’t the case – more later).
Since I still had that box of matches with me from my Kay adventure– road map, et al—we knew how to get back to our hotel – or rather, we had the name of the hotel written in Japanese letters on it.
Flagging down a cab – which had its rear passenger-side door open up automatically, I handed the driver my matchbook and said “Hotel” to him, and fell back into my fugue state with my new girlfriend… what the hell was her name? Seriously, I had no clue. She knew mine and was using it in every sentence she spoke.
In my pathetic defense, if y’all will recall, at the restaurant I was talking/drinking with Matthew and Jeff, and prior to entering the Java-Jive, I was going to make a failed play for Gasoline.
My new companion had never actually introduced herself to me… and while I am sure I queried her at the club, the song Groove Is In The Heart (released in August of 1990) drowned out her response—probably the only non-Caribbean song they played that night. In their defense, it was a brand new song then.
I’m pretty sure I was able to shake ma groove thing to this song quite adequately, enough so that I didn’t embarrass myself and have her seek out someone more coordinated.
The taxi driver got us back to the hotel in 30 minutes. Glimpsing the meter, I tossed him five ¥10,000 (yen) bills and told him to keep the change. Both he and she nearly had heart attacks at my generosity, as ¥50,000 is about Cdn $630 or US$500. I had thought that the ¥10,000 bills were ¥1,000’s—okay, I really had no idea what the exchange rate was—damn that JET orientation package that I should have read.
Even if (alcoholic induced stupor) hadn’t been there to correct me, the taxi driver would have. Unlike anything else I had ever seen in my limited travels around the world, the people of Japan are excessively honest.
The taxi driver emphatically said, “No, no, no!” (in English!) and handed back my money.
Confused, I asked him: “Free?”
He said something in Japanese, and then began pointing down at my pants and saying dozo (please) – which my female companion quickly translated for my benefit.
Several embarrassing moments later, I figured out that he wanted my wallet and handed it to him. He opened it up and took the appropriate amount out and gave me back some change.
When I tried to tip him, he would have none of it, exited the vehicle, came around and personally opened up the rear door of his car with his white-gloved hands and said in perfect English: “Hello” and bowed to us both. We bowed back.
I knew what he meant, though. Hello new life.
The next day, all of us AETs were forced to go to an orientation meeting. I looked about for that girl I was with the night previous—saving her a seat next to me – not that anyone else wanted to sit near a guy sweating profuse amounts of beer and vodka and orange juice, but since I don’t get hangovers—ever—my tasty sweat did make a nice refreshing hair-of-the-dog break for me.
Matthew and Jeff wisely sat upwind of me and handed me a list of AETs in our prefecture. I asked them, but they didn’t know who the hell I had been snacking on at the club last night either.
I looked at the AET prefecture list for a name that sounded somewhat familiar and southern, but aside from Rhett and Scarlett, I had no idea what a southern U.S. name was.
At the orientation, all of us AETs were wearing stickers on our shirts with our name on it… it’s probably why I was able to figure out which one was Jeff, which one was Matthew and what the hell my name was that morning.
Just as the orientation was ending, my mystery girl popped by my side and sat down smiling at me in what was a smug smile.
Keeping with my luck, she wasn’t wearing her name tag and I was quick to point that out to her.
She smiled and drawled, “At least ya'll know what it is—and that’s all that matters. And besides, (breathy breath) for everyone else I just tell them to think of Gone With The Wind.”
Oh man. Now I can’t even ask her. It’s not Rhett, is it? That’s a boy’s name, I think. But there is that actress! Whatshername! Crap! I’ve never seen the movie—but if I wanted this relationship to work, I was going to have to rent the movie as soon as I got a chance! Am I in a relationship?
Why hasn’t anyone invented the Internet yet?!
We walked around the hotel together—strangely enough, she was little Miss Social Butterfly, as she seemed to know everyone, and everyone seemed to know her.
They seemed to know me too, because I was getting the cold shoulder of indifference. Or maybe it was paranoia.
You might think that I now knew here name, but unfortunately, all of the women were saying: “Hey, girlfriend!” Or the guys: “Darling! Make sure you call me.”
Seriously?! WTF?! I was too confused to be jealous.
Hungry for answers and for lunch, we went to the hotel restaurant. When my unknown companion excused herself to go to the washroom, she left her purse on the table beside me. I’ve never seen a woman do that before. Of course, with my limited dating experience, I hadn’t seen a woman do much of anything before.
Quick as a bunny, I grabbed her purse, opened it up and began looking for some ID. There it was—a driver’s license issued to Ashley B.
Weeks later, she told me that Jeff had earlier told her my conundrum so she had let me off the hook by purposely leaving her purse on the table.
She knew I would go through her purse.
And she was cool with that. Damn.
Oh well. At least I didn’t have to watch Gone With The Wind until years later. It wouldn’t have helped. In the movie (as it was in the past), Ashley is a man’s name. I even know a man with the name Ashley!

Okay... that's the end of that chapter and the full story of how I first met the woman I would fall head over heels in love with.

Who goes to Japan to date an American woman? I did. No, I couldn't ask for another.

All's well that end's well, right?

I'm not a well man,
Andrew Joseph

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