Wed Aug 30 00:18:42 2000
To: chris, dad, yoko
From: "Peter M. Rivard"
Subject: More adventures on the far side of the world
Hello, friends, 8/29/2000
The landmark event of my last week of being paid for no work was tonight's dinner at my supervisor's house. If you remember, I had been dreading this because Inaba-sensei (not her real name) had told me that her father-in-law, who, of course, lives with her, is a senile war vet who still hates Americans. Actually, it went really well. The old man (and I do mean old--89, looks like 189, and his 3'10" wife of 87, which is 246 in American years--these two seemed centuries older than Dad's 80+ friends in Naples) was quite nice and actually seemed pleased to have such a bizarre houseguest. He seemed completely with it (American for "not senile"). Apparently, the news was broken to them yesterday morning, and the house has been in quite a state of excitement ever since--I was the first foreigner ever to cross the threshold. I could not understand the father-in-law; his voice was quite weak and strained. I could understand the mother-in-law a little bit. Mostly, Inaba-sensei repeated whatever I attempted to say to either of the old folks in Japanese a bit more quickly and with the local dialect (don't ask--I can't tell the difference yet; I'm happy when I understand "do you want to supersize that?"). The meal was wonderful--roll-your-own maki (raw fish wrapped in rice and seaweed), yakitori, homemade oshinko (pickles), and lots of other things. We started off drinking beer, each made at our own time the ceremonial switch to sake (the Japanese believe, at least hereabouts, that if you go back and forth between different types of alcohol you'll get much more drunk, so at some point you decide to switch drinks and you don't go back). During dinner, I was largely able to hold my own in conversation, but after dinner, after the old folks had retired, conversation got a more complicated (it moved beyond "do you like ____" and "hey, this is tasty"), and Inaba-sensei the husband and I had to rely much more on my boss Inaba-sensei the wife to translate. We seemed to get along quite well, and he was embarrassingly effusive about how much he liked me, though I don't understand how much is real sentiment, how much is sake, and how much is just polite convention. I don't think I've ever shaken my Northeastern sang-froid, so I was very uncomfortable at this and had no idea how to respond. I really did like the fellow, though. I think Mr. Inaba (I'm switching to the English system because having different titles of respect for different genders really helps when discussing a married couple--some of the conversations in my Japanese textbook read like Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First" routine) got much more enthusiastic than his wife was as the night (and the sake) wore on. He was the first to suggest pulling out the good stuff, which she seemed to discourage at first (underestimating how much I understood, for once), and he later insisted on setting up a tray of whiskey, "cognac," and mixers in the living room. After a clatter from the kitchen, Mrs. Inaba rushed off to see if he was OK (he was merrily drunk), and as she cleaned up, Mr. Inaba and I had quite a long attempt at conversation. Unfortunately, neither of us really wanted to say anything simple enough to work in the minimal amount of language we shared, but we had fun trying. Surreal moment of the night: Mr. Inaba used to play in a marching brass band, so at one point, I was sitting in a Japanese living room, watching a lively Japanese man conduct his stereo with a chocolate-covered cookie stick to an absolutely deafening rendition of "Stars and Stripes Forever." Intelligent comment from yours truly: "you know, that's American music." More serious "America and Japan"--type conversation followed, with Mrs. Inaba working very hard to translate. Most of what I gathered can be summed up as "never badmouth MacArthur in Japan." The American stereotype is that he's a god here, and at least among the older (but post-war) generations, he does command an amazing amount of respect (Mr. Inaba, maybe a few sheets to the wind, became very serious when he brought up MacArthur). He has always been derided at home for his ego, but here is a guy who was told by his government to go to Japan and be Washington, Jefferson, and Madison all in one. Can you imagine being given an entire ruined country, a smoking tabla rasa of 100 million people, and being told, "create an ideal country"? In essence, "see if you can improve on the American Constitution"? No wonder the guy became a megalomaniac. Anyway, the evening ended well. Mr. Inaba told me to come by whenever I "need a drink" and invited me to come to dinner again after his daughter has her baby (and invited me and my father to come to dinner when my father visits Japan--don't worry, Dad, I suggested we go out to eat so I can make sure you can get a steak or maybe a lasagna), and the Inabas sent me home in a cab with a bottle of red wine, a bottle of German beer (which I didn't discover until I got home), Japanese pears (unbelievably good--never turn down a Japanese pear), and, a last-minute addition, a bottle of really nice sake. It was an absolutely wonderful evening.
Tomorrow is my last beach day before classes start on Friday. Ostensibly, I'm going to the beach town with friends because that's where we need to go to get our passports stamped so we can get back into Japan if we leave, but that shouldn't take more than a few minutes. It's the last step in becoming almost like a real Japanese, officially. With this, I will be able to come and go and work in Japan for the next three years without additional paperwork. Also, when I come into Japan, I can use the Japanese line (which was two minutes long when I got here, instead of the three hour combat-ridden line I had to wait in as a complete foreigner). As a note to potential visitors, though, I should add that the three hour line was unusual--I was told that because some flights had been delayed, six planes had landed almost at once when only one was expected. You will probably have a much shorter wait and no fist fights.
One image for your amusement: on Friday morning (Thursday night at exactly 8 pm on the East Coast, 7 pm Central time--in Europe it's some time or other) and again on the following Tuesday (8 pm EDT [7 pm Central] Monday night), I will be standing in 95 degree heat and 95% humidity in front of an entire school giving a short speech in Japanese! Anyone care to take wagers on whether or not I leave on a stretcher?
That's all for now. I don't imagine any interesting stories coming out of my first day at work, etc. My speech is really pretty simple, even for me, and I've met pretty much all the teachers. I'm just looking for an opportunity to get the principal, vice-principle, Japanese English teachers, secretary, and groundskeeper aside to give them my "American" gifts (thank you, Suzanne)--I include the secretary ahead of the teachers of other subjects because, well, everyone who's been in a school or company knows who really runs things, and the groundskeeper because he was responsible for City Hall donating a second-hand bike to a needy American.
I have to get to bed now--a busy day of sitting on the beach awaits me.