We usually opt for a downtown izakaya (a cozy Japanese pub) to go out for drinks and delicious yakitori (a Japanese type of skewered chicken). We live in the suburbs of Kobe, so downtown for us means a visit to Motomachi or Sannomiya. We didn’t feel like going downtown yesterday and chose a local place within walking distance instead.
Takashi called to book our spots because an izakaya can be tiny and quickly filled on weekends. He read some Google reviews and discovered the chef was a friendly fellow. And, it’s vital information because a friendly chef in a small izakaya can make your night much more fun!
Because we went to Kyoto the other day (a new blog post on it is coming soon!), I had to dedicate my Saturday to my studies. So I was thrilled to have yakitori and a beer in the evening. Once we entered the tiny izakaya, the chef beckoned us in and hollered the famous Japanese greeting: Irasshaimase!
There were three people other than us, and they soon started chatting with us and asked me questions about my country and life in Japan. I joined the conversation as much as possible since my Japanese is only conversational. It felt as if we had been a part of that izakaya for many years. Everyone made us feel welcome, including the chef.
He cracked us up with his jokes and teased Takashi. I like it when someone teases him because he easily gets caught off guard and utters embarrassing things. It is like watching a child interrogated by adults. I am no different: I behave awkwardly around new people in Japan because of language barriers and age differences.
As the night progressed, another couple joined us, forever changing how we see our neighborhood.
I dare you!
We played rock-scissors-paper to decide the “loser” who was supposed to chug sake. I won the game, but I couldn’t avoid drinking sake. The couple treated us to some quality sake from Niigata Prefecture, which I rarely drink since Japanese alcohol can be intense. Yet dismissing their offer would not be polite since they were genuinely interested in us and our stories.
We talked about the places we visited in Japan and compared our experiences. They also recommended new places and urged us to visit Aomori Prefecture for a reason I can’t remember. At some point, I checked Google Maps to see how long it would take from Kobe to Aomori Prefecture by car: 14 hours! Totally doable when you are reckless and plastered!
We gnawed on delicious yakitori and continued our chat with everyone in the izakaya. The lady whose husband treated us to sake said she had been a “goshuin” collector like me. Goshuin is a seal stamp you can collect from Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in unique books called “goshuincho.” Each temple and shrine has its unique stamp and calligraphy, and that’s why it is a collector item. I am a new collector, so my goshuincho looks like this:
See you very soon!
The goshuin collector casually said, “Ohh, why don’t you bring your goshuincho next Wednesday? I will bring mine, too!” And the other couple chipped in, “Our daughter is returning to Japan. I want you to meet her. So why don’t we gather next Wednesday at the same time?” How can you turn down a goshuincho challenge started by a friendly Japanese lady and a potential friendship with someone who travels abroad?
You don’t. You take the offer although you must go to work the next day! That’s how you invite surprises and new people into your life: by saying no to saying no. The challengers left the izakaya, so we decided to check out, too. And we had the night’s biggest surprise: the goshuin collector and her husband had already paid the bill!
Now that’s wild! I have been in Japan for four years, and Takashi has been here since birth, but neither of us had ever met such generous strangers. The chef said the challengers (that’s what I will call them from now!) usually did that for first-time customers to welcome them. We were moved by their kindness and promised to come back next Wednesday. We have no choice now, do we?!
Given my neighborhood’s serenity, it’s hard to juxtapose it with the word “wild.” But I feel I should define “wild” here. It was a wild night in the sense of learning something new about a place I thought I had already known well! I hadn’t had the faintest idea about my neighborhood until last night.
The night fell on us with its mighty winds, sending shivers down our spine. But our hearts were filled with warmth, and our bellies with yakitori and sake. We had a revelation about our neighborhood: it was cordial and unassuming. It can seem “ordinary” to those who don’t know how to look, but my “wild” neighborhood keeps secrets and reveals itself only to those willing to see it.
I am glad to be let in on this secret now and officially be a part of this neighborhood.
What is a revelation you have had about your neighborhood? Do you think all places in the world have their quirks?
Leave a Reply