Hi blog! Haven’t seen you in a while. Been studying for a test – yes, the JLPT, N1, and I’m quite confident that I’ve failed it for the first time – and working full time, and also applying for a visa. That is an ongoing process I’m not going to talk about it here today. Maybe another time. Maybe never.
A couple of weeks ago I had a funny weekend that I want to share with you. You’ll need some back story first – namely, that I’m a musician and have on occasion done some performances singing and playing the piano around Hiroshima city. My friend’s mum, who is in a band, was participating in these events and invited me to join, which was nice of her. I don’t have a band in Hiroshima, and these have always been solo acts. I did one in February or March this year and didn’t enjoy it much, and decided not to do these any more by myself. But in June this year I was asked to do one on a Friday night.
A friend my age was organising an event in his local area, and some local acts including a DJ were doing a gig in a small gallery space, and they wanted one more act, so my friend asked me. It was a different group of people from the other events I’d participated in – younger, like, people in their 20s and 30s and a couple of families with kids. One of the families was on stage together, with their kids playing marimba, clarinet, keyboard, violin and singing. The dad was on the drums or bass, depending on the song. Another act was a singer-songwriter kid, 19 years old, in red bell-bottoms and an orange and white striped long-sleeved T-shirt, singing all his own songs, with a distinct sound. One group was made up of One Piece fans in orange T-shirts and straw hats who sang two Aimyon covers in a row. Then there was me, and then the DJ who played some great music. It was an interesting and fun event to be part of because everyone was so different. At the end one of the One Piece guys played a song someone had written about the area, Yokogawa. It was pretty catchy.
Some friends had come along to watch, so we went out afterwards to find somewhere to have a drink and something to eat. We tried to go into a cool-looking bar on the ground floor of a hostel nearby, but they were closing. Around the corner there was an Akamaru, which is a chain izakaya popular in Hiroshima. It was pretty full but there was a very friendly bunch of Japanese guys drinking with a bearded overweight white guy, all who looked to be in their early 20s, who encouraged us to join them or take their seats. They were sitting out the front of the place with tables and chairs on the footpath. They actually stood up and asked us to take their seats, but they and all their food and drinks were still at the table, so we didn’t straightaway. The staff brought out an extra bench to sit on and we eventually sat down and the 4-5 Japanese boys drifted away, but the white guy said ‘Can I join you?’ and sat down with us.
There were about 7 of us – me, an American guy, and 5 Japanese girls with varying levels of English speaking and listening skills. The American guy was between 2 Japanese girls nearer the other end of the table, but I was next to the bearded white guy. His name was Ron and he was from Canada. One of my Japanese friends wanted to ask him lots of questions but he didn’t really understand her English, nor she his, so they did a bit of communicating through me. It went something like this.
Friend (in Japanese): What’s his name?
Me: She’s asking your name.
Him: Ron, I’m Ron.
Me (in Japanese): His name is Ron.
Friend (in Japanese): Rob?
Me (in Japanese): No, Ron, like Ron Weasley. You know, in Harry Potter.
Friend (in Japanese): What’s that?
Me (in Japanese): You don’t know Harry Potter?
Friend (in Japanese): His name is Harry Potter?
Me (in Japanese): No, his name is Ron. One of the characters in Harry Potter is also called Ron.
Ron: What are you guys saying?
Ron told us that he had been travelling around Asia for a couple of weeks. He had been in Taiwan for a week and then maybe Korea, and Japan for a few days, and my American friend and I were the first white people he’d seen in a week and a half. He’d come to Hiroshima through Saga (Kyushu) and Fukuoka and there were no white people anywhere. We couldn’t know how happy he was to see white people!
This was pretty funny for me and the American guy. All the Japanese girls agreed that his story was impossible: maybe not in Saga, but there are lots of foreigners in Fukuoka. There must have been some.
No, he said, there weren’t.
We asked Ron what he did and he told us he worked for General Motors, which was a name we two westerners recognised but none of our Japanese friends did. They didn’t know Holden, Commodore, Chevrolet or Buick either. This was a bit of a surprise for Ron and, honestly, for me too. We all had to suppose that Toyota, Mazda, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Subaru and Honda are just really prevalent, and that other cars popular in Japan are often from Europe or the UK, like VW, BMW, Audi, Mercedes etc. You do see Fords though.
Ron had to repeat how happy he was to speak natural English with white people again. I could only think, hmm, he hasn’t lived in a non-English-speaking country before.
We all had fun meeting Ron and he seemed to have enjoyed meeting us. He might be back in Canada again by now.
The next day was Saturday and I had work. I was planning to go to lunch at a friend’s house on the Sunday and that friend had a new baby, so on Saturday after work I went with my other half to look for a nice present for the baby. We weren’t sure exactly what sort of thing we wanted to give, but we went to the baby/kids’ section of Fukuya, a department store, to see what was there.
About 90% of everything was pink/red or blue. I was appalled. The baby whose present we were looking for was a girl, but I didn’t want to enforce any gender norms on her, no matter how sure I was that everyone else would, as well as what she would see on TV, in shops, in books, in all media. We eventually found a nice soft teddy bear – NOT PINK – without a speaker or a peek-a-boo function, not too big, that I figured a small child would be able to hug.
Then we went looking for some yakitori, because it was dinner time and we hadn’t had yakitori in a while. It was raining and the first 3 places we tried were full, but we kept walking around and eventually found an empty yakitori place.
There was a dog on the counter.
The owner didn’t smile the whole time we were in there. He didn’t talk much either. He didn’t mention the dog, we didn’t mention the dog. The dog looked at us. We talked quietly and watched the TV that was on, up in the corner. The dog walked up and down the counter. Some show with some scary home videos. The dog went to sleep. The food was good. The one other customer ordered draft beer after draft beer and eventually left. The dog turned around and looked at us again. We decided it was time to go. The owner stepped outside for a minute without saying a word and I took the chance to snap a photo of the dog.
The next day was Sunday. I went to the lunch and gave the teddy bear to the mum – the baby was still 3 months old and might not be very interested in her teddy yet, but her big sister would claim it, because she’s really into soft furry things at the moment, according to her mum. Another dad who was at the lunch invited all of us to go to a haunted house he’s organising in August, on levels 3 and 4 of a building, upstairs from what you might be able to call a cafe/cabaret bar.
And that was that weekend.