I stand at the bar, swirling around the ice in my Black Russian, searching for meaning in the swishing. I like the Black Russians. When you’re paying ¥500 for whatever’s on the menu, you might as well go for a shot of booze and a shot of lesser booze to help it along. At least it has a legitimate name.
I taught the bar how to make’em and it wows the Japanese clients, who often buy me one as they try it out themselves, the perks of being a celebrity in Japan, also known as being foreign. I never thought I’d live in a world where men bought me so many drinks, but I’m a humble man, and accept what’s given to me with a wink and a nod.
The bar’s an emerging trend in Japan. Men used to frequent ‘snacks,’ paying copious amounts to be worshipped by girls in prom dresses that light cigarettes and pour drinks like doting slaves. The old salarymen still carry a torch for such shenanigans.
The cynical young folks though, they”re saving their money (for Godot) and don’t have ¥5,000 to ¥20,000 to throw down on a night of entertainment. These kids go to lady’s bars, pseudo-snacks where bartenders ply the men to buy drinks for them to up the revenue. Sometimes there’s a sit down charge, but perhaps this bar lacks that fee because of our inability to actually sit down.
Rats run across the upper structure of the bar as the sun begins to shine, destroying the black-lit purity our imagination.
He’s next to me again, blabbing on about the job. He’s taken my advice about ‘attacking shit’ to heart, but he’s turned his sights on me. He fires volley upon volley of complaints about our boss, our coworkers, women, life, the world, the universe, and the pursuit of happiness.
I’m stuck here in a never-ending cycle of affirmations and head-nods. Such is the life of those who find themselves drinking on Wednesdays.
It’s times like these where I spout out the lyrics to songs that may or may not have anything to do with the given situation. Drunks never notice.
“Sometimes relationships get ill, do doubt.” (The Roots)
I nod my head strongly to add strength to my argument. A strong nod always helps force Japanese folks agree, despite whether or not they actually understand you.
He’s taken my advice of ’absolute victory and honesty,’ but I can go buy ‘drunken honesty’ in a bargain bin. He’s missed my point. A man can spout off all kinds of shit in his inebriation, but if he’s not honest enough to act on them sober, then he’s as good as nothing.
Standing here next to me, pissing out every damn feeling under the sun about how he’s getting shit on at work, with a fair bit of flattery ‘dick sucking’ that I warned against towards me, he’ll be as docile as a Hindu cow when the sun rises.
He interrupts both my ice-staring time and chatting with the Chinese bartender . He asks for some cash for future drinking (these places demand per drink). I support him, toss ¥5,000 his way but write a drunken, arabic-like nonsensical scrawl of a receipt to him, demanding ¥7,000 for his ¥5,000 investment.
I both jest and test.
Later in the night, as I debate the finer points of ‘shiofuki‘ with a random Japanese bunch over udon, he’ll ask me how I navigate so well with rough Japanese and a shitty understanding of the language.
I stare at him blankly, jaw agape.
It’s then that I get it. It’s then that I understand that no amount of coaching is going to change him. He’s tried so hard to understand my philosophy, he’s taken it to heart.
He gets how Western-folk operate, but he’s still going about it like a scholar of a dead language, like those first-year Kyūdō kids that practice form for a year and never fire an arrow from their bow.
“You’re not studying sharks in a book, you’re swimming with us my friend, so open your eyes or we’ll eat you alive,” I say, loving the art of the cliché.
I try to take his whole confusion about how I could interact with other members our human race without a firm grasp of their language with a grain of salt.
After that night he avoids me for 7 days, knowing I’m waiting for my payback, but unable to interpret that I’d far prefer the “I’ll getcha payday” to ‘I’ll avoid you until payday.’
I’ve disregarded his first night out (for the gods’ eyes only), but count the two previous strikes (now committed to record).
One thing our cultures can agree on is the rules for baseball, right?
I want him to step up to the plate, I want him to hit home runs.
Well, step up to the plate my friend, because the game is on the line.
(A three-part, continuing series on a Japanese man’s trials and tribulations to make sense of western-biz, written through the eyes of the man watching him gasp for air in rough seas. Part 1 can be found here)