Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Shoko's Sleepover

Just to recap briefly: I finished the job up in Gifu, and am currently freeloading at Shoko’s place for about a month or so.

Last week Shoko asked if one of her co-workers could spend the night at her apartment as well. He usually worked at the Ajimu winery, but was coming out to Hita for a special event they were having. Since it’s a long drive between Hita and Ajimu, he wanted to spend the night at Shoko’s place in Hita.

This particular co-worked has a complicated private life, and of course I won’t write all his private details on this weblog….

Oh, what the hell? He’ll never read this: He’s 34, married with a 5-year-old child, and also has a 23-year-old girlfriend. The girlfriend was also going to be spending the night at Shoko’s apartment.

I always get in trouble when I engage in cultural stereotyping, but it seems a lot more acceptable in Japan for married men to have girlfriends. A number of Japanese men have casually admitted their marital infidelities to me without any shame, guilt, or even concern about whether I was a trustworthy confidant. (I’m not, by the way).

I have often brought the subject up with Shoko, and she has made it clear to me that many Japanese women do not tolerate cheating, and that she is among their number, and would never forgive any affairs on my part. But then she opens her apartment up to a married man and his girlfriend, and asks me to help play host. Is that sending mixed messages or what?
The guy’s not doing bad for himself. I don’t know what the wife looks like, but the 23 year old girlfriend is a professional model who is moving out to Tokyo in a couple months to work for nationally distributed magazines.

Knowing myself like I do, I would be worried about this if I were Shoko. But Shoko, rather than be worried that my attention would be distracted by the model, seemed very excited to have such an elegant person grace her apartment.

Shoko cleaned the apartment very thoroughly before they arrived. “Did you clean this much before I came?” I asked.

“That’s different,” she said. “This is a co-worker. I don’t want people at work saying my apartment is dirty.”

This seemed like an ungracious way to return Shoko’s hospitality. “Would they really say that?”

“They would tease me about it,” Shoko said. “Everyone at work is always teasing each other.”
Shortly afterwards she added, “One more thing. My co-worker will be bringing some wine that he bought for us to drink. Because he bought it for us, I want you to have at least a little.”

“I’m not drinking it,” I said.

“You have to. He bought it because he knew you would be here. Just have a little bit.”

“I’m not drinking it,” I repeated.

“Just a little bit.”

Given how many other bad things I fill my body with, my resolution not to drink alcohol may seem like just a pointless line drawn in the sand. And maybe it is. But I refuse to be pressured into doing something I don’t want to do. I think it’s a sign of weak character. If you give into little things, you’ll give into big things. “Shoko, in this world, many people will try and get you to do things you don’t want to do….”

Shoko has been around me long enough to be able to tell when a lecture is coming on. She usually tries to cut these off when she sees them coming. “Okay, okay, okay Joel, okay.”

I wanted to finish my thought out though. “…And you have to follow what you believe in. If you let other people pressure you into things you don’t want to do, than you’re not even living.”

“Okay, but I want you to promise me that at the very least you won’t tell him that you think alcohol is bad. Japanese people won’t understand that, and he works at an alcohol company.”

I never like these gag orders, but Shoko really put her foot down on this one and eventually forced the promise out of me. “Okay,” I said reluctantly. “But what if he asks?”

“Just tell him you don’t like the taste or something.”

“Could I mention that Che Guevara didn’t drink alcohol?”

“No, because Japanese people don’t know who Che Guevara is, and they’ll think it’s very strange if you suddenly drop him into the conversation. If Che Guevara comes up naturally in the conversation, than you can mention he didn’t drink alcohol.”

“But he’s not going to come up naturally in the conversation,” I said. Shoko just smiled smugly as if that was the point.

Eventually the co-worker and the model arrived. As expected, one of the first things he did after we had all sat down was to pour everyone a glass of wine. He was naturally confused when I turned it down. “What? You don’t drink? Why?”

“Do you know Che Guevara?” I asked.

Shoko started laughing nervously. “I’m sorry,” she said. “He’s always talking about politics.”

It turned out fortunately he did know about Che Guevara, so I continued. “Che Guevara didn’t drink alcohol at all. Nor did The Black Panthers, or a lot of other people concerned about social change. They believed that alcohol, not religion, is the real opiate of the masses. If people are always getting drunk their not focusing on the social problems around them.”

“But alcohol makes us happy,” he answered.

Japan is a drinking culture, and the belief that happiness a truly fulfilled existence cannot exist outside of alcohol is deeply ingrained into the Japanese psyche. I just let this one pass.
He tried to move the conversation on. “You’ve been in Japan five years,” he said. “You must like it.”

“Well, there are both good and bad things about Japan,” I answered.

“I’m sorry,” Shoko said quickly. “He’s a foreigner. He says his own opinions very clearly.”

Sensing that I had committed some sort of faux pax, I tried to correct myself quickly. “I mean there are only good things. Only good things about Japan.”

Fortunately he decided to be gracious and over-looked this. “It’s okay. I agree. There are a lot of bad things about Japan. One thing I hate is how many Japanese don’t know anything about their own culture. Foreign people in Japan know more about Japanese culture because they have an interest.”

I decided it would be tactful not to openly agree with this statement to strongly, but this was my opinion as well. Among us foreigners a popular joke was, “If you want to know something about Japanese culture, ask another foreigner.”

The conversation eventually turned to wines. “I’ve never tried it before,” I said, “But I understand there’s a wine from Australia called ‘Swagman’s Kiss’. With a name like that, how can it not be good?”

The co-worker, something of a connoisseur, said ‘Swagman’s Kiss’ was also available in Japan. “It’s quite good,” he said.

I gloated over this briefly. “Ah-ha. I bet those no wine named after Shoko’s kisses.”

The co-worker soon got drunk, and the conversation disintegrated. “He likes to drink,” Shoko explained to me, “But he’s very weak with alcohol.”

Near the end of the night as everyone was getting ready for bed, the co-worker approached me. “It’s good that you’re interested in politics,” he said. “But remember YMCA is bad.”


“YMCA. Like Kennedy, Oswald, John Lennon. Bang Bang.”

Obviously he had somehow gotten the words for assassination and YMCA mixed up. Once I figured this out, there was nothing really left to do but agree that YMCA was very bad.
This is why I hate talking politics with Japanese people. They always make very obvious statements like, “Terrorism is Bad,” or “War is Bad”. And then when you agree with them, they act very pleased with themselves for bringing the foreigner around to the side of reason. I always find the whole thing very patronizing. (It could be that this isn’t so much Japanese as just the way that drunks always talk politics, and most Japanese people don’t talk politics unless they’ve been drinking).

The following morning Shoko and the co-worker left early to go to work. While our respective partners were working, the model and I were left to entertain each other.

The model slept very late, and I didn’t feel it was my place to wake her up, so I read my book in the other room until she woke up around noon. I made breakfast, and then we went to the event at Shoko’s sake brewery. We wandered around for a while and got the whole tour of the place. But there was only so much time we could kill at the brewery, so eventually we left to go sightseeing.

The model knew a place where we could get “Wasabi Ice-cream.” Wasabi Ice-cream didn’t sound very good, but the novelty of it appealed to me so we went. Once we got there I realized I had forgotten my wallet, so the model had to treat me.

Afterwards we went for a walk along the river. We bought lunch from a convenience store and at on the river bank (the model had to treat me again).

I didn’t know what else to do with the model, and I didn’t want to suggest anything with no money. So we just went back to Shoko’s apartment and put on a video while we waited for Shoko and her co-worker to finish work.

Shoko was less than impressed that the model had paid for everything. “In Japan, the man usually pays for the woman,” she said. I tried to explain that I would have liked to, but what could I do when I forgot my wallet? She still gave me a rough time about it though.

Link of the Day
Former US general says Rumsfeld should quit over Iraq

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