Today I met my friend from high school, “T”. When I was a sophomore, he came to live in my neighborhood, kitty corner behind me. We were on the swim team together and I was taking Japanese, and we became good friends – as good as an American girl and a Japanese boy can be when they are 15 and 16 years old. My mom used to drive him home from swim practice, and I remember once he was singing along to that song that goes, “I smell sex and candy”, and my mom was so embarrassed, and then he became really embarrassed.
In 2002 we met eachother again in Fukuoka. He took me to a Japanese pub and we got drunk and ate fried octopus and all sorts of other authentic food that no one in the West thinks is Japanese. Then he gave me a packet of cigarettes, wrapped, and told me not to open it until I got home (so my parents, with whom I was travelling, wouldn’t see). I was worried the whole trip home that I had lied when they asked me at the airport if I had packed everything in the bag myself. Oh, youth!
Anyway, I was a bit nervous in the morning when we were about to meet him. What if he was one of those people who wears a face mask and would freak when he saw that Kiddo´s nose was a bit runny? What if we ran out of things to say in the first five minutes? What if he was mad that I had forgotten 99% of the Japanese I had learned in high school?
It was all unfounded. I saw him sitting in the lobby and recognized him immediately and we had a nice hug and Kiddo ran away from him and we all laughed. He had thought that Hubby and his sister (who is visiting us here) didn’t speak English, so he had printed out a list of Norwegian vocabulary. I felt SO bad that I didn’t make it clear to him that they were fluent in English. I know how busy he working and being a new dad, but what could I do. Learn my lesson for next time!
He took us all on the metro to Asakusa (which I learned is pronounced Ah-SAK-(u)sa with a practically silent “u”) and then showed us the place where everyone goes to look at the cherry blossoms, which were in full bloom. Then we walked among the cherry blossoms for a while until we met up with his wife and baby at a tofu restaurant, where he had reserved a tatami room for us. It was kid friendly and a really nice lunch. I couldn’t tell you what it was called. I don’t think anything was in English there. We exchanged gifts, and I think we accidentally overdid it. Oh well, we are not used to the customs! We brought him some Norwegian chocolates, a bottle of sparkling Shiraz from Australia, and a stuffed Koala for his baby. I saw him talking to his wife frantically and mentioning the word “chocolates”. Cross cultural friendships can be hard!
Afterwards they took us to the Asakusa temple, a 100 Yen store since we had talked about it at lunch, and the temple gates. It was a really nice afternoon.
We were so tired from walking around that we had to crash in the afternoon, and then we went out to an amazing series of bars for dinner. The first was called Bulldog, and was a very overpriced beer place with the nicest, most fluently English speaking server we have encountered. She had studied in Canada and was totally enamored with Kiddo.
Then we tried to find another place, but it was closed, so we went to this yakitori street bar we had walked by the night before, which was a total riot. At the time I was not too happy, but after some mood adjustment, it was fun. Of the 20 items on the menu, over half were some sort of animal innards. Hubby was ecstatic and started ordering a ton of skewers: gizzards, heart, tongue, cartilage, chicken tail, and intestine. I felt like vomiting. I really really believe that if you are going to eat meat, you should eat the whole animal, though, so I was trying to get myself geared up. I thought I would order myself a bowl of “Japanese Beef Stew” as it was labeled on the English menu just to make sure I wasn’t starving after we were done. When it came, I kept thinking that each bite was awfully fatty. Except it wasn’t fatty, because it wasn’t thick or chewy. It was sort of thin and wrinkly and…intestine-like. It was intestines! We checked with the server, and with the people sitting next to us. Yup! Intestines! But I decided it was actually good and I finished the bowl. I was quite pleased with myself actually. And then I decided to try the gizzard. Okay, gizzard is eaten all over the world. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Guys. It was crunchy. CRUNCHY MEAT. No. Not for me. I could barely swallow it. Hubby says that cartilage was worse. I didn’t try it.
Hubby´s sister was still hungry, and to me honest, I wanted to eat a little more and I wanted Kiddo to eat some more, so we went in search of ramen. The man from the yakitori place walked us there because he didn’t trust his English skills in giving directions. (People are so nice!) This ramen place was amazing. They had an automated machine where you punched in what you wanted, paid, received a ticket, and brought it to the counter to give to the staff, who would then make you your food. It was hilarious! We had a great time. The ramen was ok. Man, that broth is fatty! Nice on a cold night though, for sure.
Lastly, we finished the night at Natural Lawson, a convenience store, where we bought ice cream. And some erasers for Kiddo to play with. It was a great day. Japan is totally hilarious.