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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Happy Birthday Matthew

Let’s take a break from seeing the travels of Trish and myself to Kyoto all those many years ago when we were on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme, and instead take a look at my buddy Matthew who celebrates his… well… celebrates his birthday today.

Without a doubt, Matthew is genuinely one of the nicest people on the planet.

I met him in very late July of 1990 as we both were in Tokyo as part of the JET orientation for newbies. He was from a small place in New York state, and I came from the suburbs of Toronto.

Right away, he and I hit it off.

This gangling strawberry blond damn Yankee and by-chance Canucklehead of Indian decent struck up an immediate bond that lasts to this day and for what I assume will be a long time after.

While big brother Tom wanted me to really rub in his continued age accumulation, I can’t really do that here on-line. Sorry.

We have come not to bury Caesar, but to praise him.

That first evening in Tokyo, Matthew, myself, Californian Jeff and unbeknownst to myself Georgian Ashley sat down in a Japanese restaurant and were in awe at ourselves for actually being where we were.

We laughed our butts off as a drunk Jeff staggered off to use the washroom, and instead stepped in the porcelain bowl planted down within the floor… yeah, I don’t if Matthew would have done that, but thank goodness Jeff took that one giant leap for mankind and Andrew… luckily I have the bladder of an elephant.

It’s also true that I had no idea what Ashley’s name was that evening despite us making out like drunk bandits in Roppongi - Tokyo’s club district. I also admit that once Ashley took my hand to lead me into the place, I lost track of Jeff and Matthew. Sorry, guys… a real woman just showed interest in me.

After surviving the three days in Tokyo, we were taken to Utsunomiya, the capital city of Tochigi-ken, and were then divvied up and taken to our new homes in the prefecture by our bosses.

Arriving at my home in Ohtawara, and storing my stuff in my huge 3-bedroom apartment, with western amenities spread over the LDK (living room-dining room-kitchen), including the westernized bathroom and laundry area, my bosses took me downstairs to grab a bite to eat.

Sitting in the restaurant looking with intent at this strange language called Japanese printed on the menu, I hear a voice from behind me:

“Hey gaijin (outsider/foreigner).”

I turned around to see who the rude Japanese person was, and caught the smiling visage of Matthew!

I had no idea, but Matthew did, that we would be living nearby each other in this rural city of Ohtawara-shi… and that while I would teach at the junior high schools (then only seven) in the city, Matthew would have the more rural ones outside the city.


I know someone in my new hometown!

My joy soon turned to disgust as that bugger kept showing up at my place with beer, meaning I had to feed him. LOL!

It was a fair exchange.

Matthew already knew more Japanese than I did upon landing in the country, and it only got worse, I mean better with each ensuing day, as soon he was talking to me in Japanese phrases that he assumed I must have picked up.

Most often, that first three years, I would smile and nod my head like I knew exactly what he was saying. But I didn’t. Which is probably why he was always at my apartment or showing up at the local bar—The 4-C—when I was trying to get Ashley toasty drunk.

I’m kidding of course.

Matthew was always a welcome guest. He was the one who had the adventurous spirit (probably more than Ashley), and definitely more than me at (at least until my third year when I did try and do things like travel alone through Ohtawara).

(My initial experience involved a three-hour tour in the rice fields of Ohtawara, as I tried to fin Ashley’s apartment in the town next door. Keep in mind that there are no street signs, and even if there were, I’d have no concept of what they said. I was lost almost the minute I left my apartment, and only got lucky when a man stopped his truck to take me and my bicycle to the local police station where they called my parents, er Board of Education bosses to come and pick me up and take me home).

Matthew’s kindness at always trying to include me in things was legendary in my mind. I was a shy guy… and introvert pretending to be an extrovert… I know it doesn’t seem like it now (or then), but it’s true.

He hauled me out to local singing events, the Ohtawara International Friendship Society/Association, rode with me by train, bicycle and bus to area JET teaching gigs and speech contests, ordered food for me whenever I stumbled (pretty much usually)…

Strangely, we never traveled on a vacation together… probably because too much familiarity could bring contempt… or he was already aware that I snored like a jet plane with asthma… or he knew that whenever I traveled outside of Ohtawara, it rained. Always.

It was Matthew who named me Ame Otoko (Rain Man) and joked that JET should send me around Japan to places needing relief from a drought. I remember almost everything. 

Aside from the obvious AJ, that was the first nickname I ever had. AJ is hardly a nickname… it was a way for people to initially recall the order of my names. Probably. I don’t.

We dragged me out to celebrate Canada's birthday and America's day of independence, finding fireworks - setting them off and nearly having one shoot right at us... each of us swiping a flag from a park where they were celebrating some community event... at least I did... a Canadian flag that was too high for me to reach... but not Matthew. He enabled me.

He also got me into some Ohtawara cooking class that we would each teach... he explaining how to make Ice Cream Cake, and me my famous Chilli con carne... a dish that had helped keep the stomach's of Matthew, Ashley and myself sated.

I would cook it once a week... and somehow... word got out... so he were paid to teach the local women of Ohtawara how to make our respective dishes.

We got paid. That makes us professional chefs. Semi-professional cooks at any rate.

If there's one great thing you can say about Matthew when he came over for a free meal—he always brought beer. I got other things from Ashley.

Speaking of women and alcohol...

Matthew... most importantly, picked me up when I was down. Which I’m not proud to say, was often. The one thing that ever got me down while I was in Japan, were women.




I was so unsure of my own self, filled with doubt and self-loathing, that every time Ashley and I broke up or had a fight, Matthew was right there to make sure I didn’t fall into that pit of despair.

I would never have done anything to myself, mind you—but Matthew didn’t know that.

He looked after me.

This guy younger than myself, was like the big brother I never had… a true friend.

And so… I just wanted to say… thank-you (again) Matthew for being my friend all these years.

Oh… and for almost killing me by introducing me to the most intoxicating alcoholic drink I have ever had: the Flaming Blue Lamborghini.

A Flaming Blue Lamborghini was the drink of choice whenever I wanted to get blitzed. One drink would get you drunk. Two drinks will get me really hammered. And three - well, according to New Zealand dude Mark the bartender - no one has ever had three.

Challenge accepted I had three in one evening after working my way up to it for the weeks previous. It was messy. I was fall-down drunk… probably should have eaten that evening.

Here's a recipe for the drink: Flaming Blue Lamborghini- please note that there are many different recipes for this drink (I spotted several)...

1/2 ounce of Kahlua;
1/2 ounce of Blue Caracao;
1/2 ounce of Galliano;
1/2 ounce of white Sambuca;

Layer the Kahlua and Galliano in a martini glass. Pour the Sambuca into a shot glass and light it on fire. Pour the flaming Sambuca into the drink (ooooohhh ahhhhh pretty blue fire. Yay!) and throw a pinch of cinnamon over it for the crackling fireball effect. Douse the flames with cream and drink.

This is just one of several recipes on the Internet. I believe that Mark would use ice and Cream, puree it with the Kaluha and Galliano and then pour it with the Sambuca into a martini glass.

Instead of setting the Sambuca on fire, Mark used Spiritus vodka - a Polish vodka that is 95% proof - this was atop the other alcohol in the drink and it was all set on fire. While Mark them poured in the Blue Caracao, I would would be sucking the drink back with a straw - while the drink was still on fire. Many a time I recall searing my throat with fire, but the discomfort went away quickly as the alcoholic affects quickly hit me.

Oh... no cinnamon was harmed in the making of my drink... meaning none was used.

Anyhow… there was Matthew helping - practically carry my drunken a$$ back the five minute walk (now a 47-minute stagger) back to my condo.

As for women… that bugger lucked out… or is it lucked in? I don’t know how that stupid saying goes.

While I had the girlfriend first, Matthew got himself a Japanese girlfriend first (and second and third) and then got married.

Matthew was my gold standard… I wanted to be like him… to find that true love and trap it and force it to marry you. I’m kidding about the choice of words, but not the sentiment.

What Matthew had with Takako, that’s what I wanted with Noboko.

While it was never a contest between us—at least none that he knew existed , I always felt that I lost and Matthew won.

Nowadays, I just feel like Matthew won.

So yeah, baby… thanks for making me feel inferior for those three years, ya bastich.

Happy Hawaii XX, Matthew!

See… I could have said how old he is, but I didn’t.

For the record... after knowing Matthew for almost 27 years now, I’m still older. I guess I win.

Andrew Joseph


  1. Still trying to catch up to you in years - thanks for the kind words!

    1. Ha! Happy Birthday! Hopefully you don't catch up to me for a long while.
      Talk soon!