This weekend I tried to do something that I rarely do. It was Friday evening and I was bored. In the States, my leisure time revolved around whatever series was in my Netflix queue. I’d watch a few documentaries a week, some episodes of Star Trek. Now that I don’t have Netflix out here, and I’m no longer in school, I found myself with a lot more time on my hands. At the moment, it’s not financially feasible for me to take trips into Tokyo every weekend to visit friends. I thought: it’s about time I try my luck in the Ryugasaki bar scene. Maybe I’ll make some new friends. And get some nice Japanese practice in as well.
Two weeks ago I tried this: picking a random bar that seemed lively (none of them have windows so it’s hard to tell), and walking in, hoping the bartender wouldn’t have any ill will towards the gaikokujin (foreigners). I took a deep breath, gathering my confidence before entering. Expecting a surprised “holy sh** he’s not Japanese!” stare from whoever was waiting inside. Not knowing what else to expect afterwards.
My spider senses were off a little bit that night. The bar wasn’t that lively; only three people in the small place, including the bartender. Drinks started flowing and eventually the others in the bar started to talk to me. A half-hour later a crazy old ojisan came in, gave me the “HSHNJ!” stare then sat right next to me and started a conversation. A few plates of food and many more drinks later ojisan Watanabe says his goodbyes. After he leaves, I reach for my wallet and the bartender explains to me that Watanabe covered my bill (which was probably something over $50). This is the second time this has happened to me out here. A life in Japan can be lonely sometimes. We all want to have that human connection, that feeling of comfort and belonging among others. I think this was his way of showing me gratitude for connecting with him that night.
But here we are two weeks later. And I’m looking to establish new connections via the medium of inebriated communication (as well as practice my Japanese of course). I was going back forth with myself between staying in and going out. I kept making up excuses until I realized I was just scared to go out by myself again. In the U.S. whenever I went out somewhere, it was always with friends, or with the intention to meet up with friends. The concept of going out to actually make new friends was still a little foreign to me. Think about it: when was the last time you went somewhere alone, not knowing what to expect, or even knowing if you’ll be accepted at the place you’re going? I thought about that Will Smith quote; the fact that fear is something we create in our minds via negative thinking. I decided to go out.
I tried a different spot time, Nyan Peace (“nyan” is the Japanese version for a cat’s meow, so loosely translated Meow Peace?). Also, in no way related to this. I took another deep breath, prepared for the HSHNJ! stare, and walked in:
And wow, the bartenders were just as old as me! So far I have yet to find Japanese peers my age in Ryugasaki. And so the sake started to flow…
It was a fun time. A few others poured into the cramped space, some started to sing karaoke. Everyone had questions for me. The same questions like: where are you from, where do you live, why Japan, do you have a girlfriend, what do you think about Japanese women? I’ve answered these questions so many times before that they started to say I was fluent. But I wasn’t fluent enough to explain to them that people usually ask me these questions lol. As the night went on, one of the bartenders, Shota, started to catch on to my sarcastic personality. And so we became the comedians of the night. For longest time I thought that Japanese people were never sarcastic. That night I realized the language is filled with sarcasm.
Most of the bartenders were the grandchildren of the woman who owns Nyan Peace. She owns another bar in the neighborhood, aptly named, “World Peace”. Bartending was their part-time job, and they held other part-time jobs at Pachinko parlors, and convenience/department stores. I felt weird about asking them questions related to careers, life goals, and college. The countryside is a little different from the city. A fair of amount of junior high school students I teach have no intentions of going to college. I’m not trying to compare city slickers with country folk, it’s just two different perspectives on Life. But besides this, conversations related to future intentions may not always end well. It’s a touchy subject. In addition, I’ve grown to understand that lots of people (not all), go to work everyday doing some bs that they don’t like. But they’re so stuck in it that they don’t want to admit that they don’t enjoy it. They’re afraid to make the transition. I’m scared as hell of it too.
Before I knew it, it was 2:30 in the morning. 5 hours: that was the longest I’ve ever spent speaking almost entirely in Japanese. Progress.