Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The adventures of a Tengu in Tokyo - Part 1/3... Naomi

If you ever wondered how an international relationship would work when she spoke no English and he spoke no Japanese. Naomi. Hope you enjoy.

Shibuya crossing - central Tokyo at night
He's standing at Hachiko outside Shibuya Station in central Tokyo on a Saturday evening. It's Blade Runner country, massive screens blasting messages at the thousands of people who make the crossing every ninety seconds or so. Hachiko is the meeting place in Japan, the statue memorialising a long since passed, though much loved, dog, there are hundreds of people around waiting for their friends to show. And he's waiting on a friend who has invited him to a go-kon, a kind of group blind date. Now what could go wrong with that?

Ebisu Yokocho - packed with tiny bars and restaurants
The venue they've chosen is in Ebisu, one stop away on the Yamanote Line. It's called Ebisu Yokocho, roughly Ebisu Alley, though in this case it's a converted old office building packed with numerous tiny bars each serving their own speciality. Dinner is going to bring together eight people in all, four guys who are connected by his friend and four girls, connected by his girlfriend. Apart from that, no one knows anyone and, ominously, no one can speak English. And Tengu's Japanese is rubbish. Translation App in hand and silently mouthing "in for a penny, in for a pound" he squeezes in and takes his seat.

Okonomiyaki - just awesome
Food is the great leveller in Japan. No one simply goes for a beer, there will always be sustenance attached and the bar they've chosen specialises in okonomiyaki, a favourite of Western Japan but popular in the metropolis of Tokyo too. It's similar to a stuffed pancake adorned with shimmering fish flakes magically swaying in the heat. This gives him a chance to join the conversation, asking, although knowing full well, and in awful Japanese, what it is. And over the course of the dinner, involving a little beer followed by a little more sake Naomi explains. At 25 it's the first time she's ever spoken to a foreigner.

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