The Shochu, The Yakuza, and the Hostess Bar
My New Year’s resolution was to exercise more, but it’s just not working out like that. All I could see was sawdust and screws when I opened my eyes this morning. It was like 4 a.m. Man, I gotta quit getting up so early. But for some strange reason the room wasn’t dark. So while I was trying to figure out who turned on the sun, I rolled over and there’s my PC, upside-down on the pillow next to me. And then I realized I’m still fully dressed in a suit and tie, minus one sock. Well, at least I don’t have to worry about putting on clothes all over again. So much trouble, really, getting dressed.
So I got up and it turns out my table had demolished itself in the middle of the night. Like one of the legs was snapped off and it had dumped everything onto my futon, along with screws and wood chips. Fortunately it’s a Japanese table, so it’s only about two inches tall. Like I don’t even really know why I have the thing—I could just draw a rectangle on the floor and it would be exactly as useful. And about then I figured out it was 4 p.m., not a.m., and I thought Man, I really gotta get me some breakfast, since I gotta be back at work in a couple of hours. So I put on my sock and went to 7-11. Japan’s a really convenient country. I got two rice balls and a can of miso soup. Actually, I should have stuck with corn soup, because the miso was awful. Whatever.
So while I was walking back home with a rice ball in each hand and a can of miso soup in my pocket, I started trying to piece together the previous day. I had a pretty clear recollection of my “Business English” class, which involves speaking English at these five Japanese business guys while they try not to fall asleep. At one point I was writing a sentence on the whiteboard and the fat dude who sits in front passed out, fell out of his chair, and landed at my feet. I was like, Guy, wear a helmet already.
So that was two hours of pure enjoyment the whole family, and once it ended I raced across town to an izakaya, which I believe is how you say “dive bar” in Japanese, where I teach this five year-old boy at a table in the back. It’s always smoky in there and I come out smelling like roast chicken. His dad owns the place, but the little boy never calls him “Dad.” Instead he just calls him “The Boss.” Kids are awesome. So I walk in and The Boss says hi and the kid looks at me and says “English, yuck!” and runs away. Only he says it in Japanese, which comes out as “iyada,” and makes it sound even worse. Great. So for the next hour I try to amuse him. Like I’ve got songs and games and puppets and shit, but all the little boy says is, “Can we finish now?” And I’m like, “No. Look, here’s the funny dog! What does the funny dog say?” And he looks at me and says, “iyada!“ Actually, I take back what I said. Kids are horrible, to tell you the truth.
So that was about the longest hour of my life, and afterwards I went straight to the bar counter. I figured I’d have just one beer and call it a night. But this old retired guy with bushy eyebrows started talking to me and pretty soon he bought me a second beer, so I decided I’d stay another ten minutes. Funny how that happens. Anyway, he used to be a nuclear engineer, for real. The thing is, he had no interest in learning English or anything, he just wanted to hang out and drink and tell me about nuclear fission in Japanese. And since I love learning anything new as long as it’s not in English, that made him pretty much the most awesome guy ever. And the more I drank, the more awesome he became. We really hit it off, and he kept saying, How about more beer? And I was like, Well, if you insist. And so we ate this whole live fish and a pizza and an omelet and he said, Want a glass of sake? And I’m all, Well, maybe just one. And so we had three, and ate some cold tofu and a pickled eggplant and some marinated squid parts, and he was like, You gotta try this shochu, and proceeded to pour me a glass. And I was like, Dude, you are the best! Seriously! Have I told you that? And he said, Yes, several times actually. And so we drank more shochu until this other old guy in a bright blue suit yelled to me, Want to play the shamisen? And I was like, Do I ever! This is pretty much my definition of the perfect evening.
The shamisen is this crazy 3-stringed Japanese banjo that no matter what you play sounds like it should be in a kung-fu movie. It’s pretty easy to play something with only three strings because, well, it’s only got three strings. I mean, it’s simple except if you’ve just downed several beers, a sake sampler, and half a bottle of shochu. Like and all the sheet music is written in obscure Japanese kanji and this dude is explaining everything in Japanese and I’m trying to sing in Japanese and I can’t seem to put my fingers in the right places. But after a while it started to sound better as he poured me glasses of shochu from his bottle, and then we ate some German potato salad and raw octopus and steamed ocra with sesame seeds. Man, the food there really is tremendous.
And about that time, these two young dudes come over and start talking to me in Japanese. And I’m trying to read the sheet music and missing notes, but pretty soon we’re all singing and they’re pouring me shochu from their bottle and I’m like, You guys are the best! Seriously! What do you do? And they’re like, We’re gangsters! And I’m like, Yakuza? That’s awesome! Do you have tattoos? And they’re like, Do we ever! And they lifted up their shirts and they had these elaborate full-back tattoos. I was like, Whoa, just like in the movies! You guys are the most bad-ass dudes ever! Want some potato salad? And so we had some potato salad and grilled sardines and these hot mochi rice fritters. The yakuza and I really appreciate good food.
The Hostess Bar
About six glasses of shochu later, the yakuza guys suddenly jumped up and said, Let’s go to to another bar! And I was like, I’m so there! So we hopped into a cab and drove to some hostess club. A hostess club is this place where pretty girls pour you drinks and pretend to like you. And this one hostess girl with extraordinarily large breasts and a tiny skirt came and sat right next to me, put her hand on my thigh, and said, “You’re from America? I love America!” And I was like “Me too! Let’s fly there tonight! We can stay with my mom!” But before we went to America I really wanted to do some karaoke, so I was like, Do you know that song about God in the toilet? And she was like, Do I ever!
This song is awesome, seriously. It’s about some girl whose grandmother teaches her that God is in the toilet bowl. I guess like the Tidy-Bowl Man. At least such is my understanding of the Japanese lyrics. And so the girl cleans the toilet, I guess because, why? God’s stuck in there or something. Hell, I don’t know. Anyway, then the grandmother dies. Is this not the greatest song ever? It’s so popular in Japan, and the best part is it’s arranged as an American country ballad. Like, “Oh granny says God’s in the toilet, so gotta clean the toilet, oh no, granny’s dead, well, still gotta clean that toilet.” Okay, maybe you have to hear it, but anyway, this hostess girl and I sang it together and we sounded amazing.
About this time, the one yakuza guy takes my hand and puts it under his shirt and starts rubbing his back with my hand. And I’m all like, Dude, are you gay? And he’s like, No, I just like the way this feels. And I said, Well fair enough, but that’s pretty much my definition of gay. Anyway, he seemed to lose interest after a while, and so I went back to singing karaoke and having this hostess with enormous breasts pour me drinks while we made our vacation plans. It was very close to the perfect night.
The Part Where I Don’t Really Remember Much
And then instantly it was really late. The other yakuza guy just kind of wasn’t there anymore. Then the other customers weren’t there. Like one of those sci-fi movies where aliens are snatching people up. Then even the other hostesses disappeared, until it was just me and this one “I’m not gay but I like guys to touch me” yakuza dude, who was passed out and drooling on himself, and this hostess girl with obviously fake boobs who suddenly looked a lot older than she did a couple of hours ago. And that’s when I knew it was time to go home. So I paid my portion of the bill, about sixty bucks, which wasn’t too bad, considering. That is, considering that’s exactly what I happened to have left in my wallet. So I walked out and realized I didn’t even have money to get home, so I just started walking. And that’s when I realized I live about four miles away. It was also really cold. Whatever, I figured it’d do me good to walk off some of the booze. And after a while the sun came up, which was nice, and I guess I found my apartment. And today, now that I’ve had some rice balls, canned miso, and duct-taped my little table back together, I actually feel pretty good. I’m definitely going to start working out tomorrow. But maybe tonight I’ll drop by that izakaya again after work. Maybe just have one beer.