Sumo Wrestler Mealtime   Leave a comment

April 15, 2009

I’m holding a small Japanese child in my arms.

Her name is Nana, and she’s the child of Shuji, a man I met a week ago who I spoke to for only five minutes. He invited me to come to his house today.
Earllier, I walked to try and find out where Shuji lived, somewhere in Maisaka. I took the main road, squinting occasionally as blasts of warm wind hit my face. Every now and then, and old woman on a bicycle would ride by, her face covered with a white mask. I was tired, but I wanted to go to dinner with Shuji and his family.
I’m walking for about ten minutes on the highway, and then I see a car pull over twenty feet away. I get a glimpse of the driver and I realize its Shuji. He gestures quickly for me to come. I hop into the car.
“I have some work to do, but I can take you my house. Is okay?” he said.
“Iku.” I replied. (Let’s go.)

He laughs as he tells me that he saw me walking on the road, and turned around to get me while he was driving. I feel fortunate, because I would have kept walking and probably gotten seriously lost. We stop by his house.
“I think my wife and daughter, they might be sleeping. Can you wait here? I check okay?”
I say okay, and let out a deep breath as I watch him disappear up a staircase. For a second I say, “What am I doing here?” to myself. I met the guy one week ago for a few minutes. I was peppered with questions about where I was from, and then invited to his house the next day. I wasn’t able to make it that day, but I ran into him after school one day. That day he said his English friend would be coming to his house, and I should come.
“We will have big party for you.” He said. His expression was firm, but he exuded a firm warmth.  He was well traveled, having lived all over the world. I thought about this, and then I heard his voice. He was on the staircase.
“Marcus. You come now, okay?” he said.
I walked up a narrow staircase and came to a small door. A flash of movement behind a stained glass in door revealed Shuji. The door opened to reveal Shuji speaking rapidly in Japanese to his wife. She looked at me and nodded.
“Can you wait in the car?” he said.
“Sure.” I said.
I went back downstairs and flopped into the car. In front of me, was the skyline of Maisaka. Small to medium sized houses, and a sea of powerlines. I saw Shuji with a small bundle in his arms. His daughter.
“You hold her. Okay?” he said.
I didn’t know what to say but yes. I opened the door and held onto his daughter carefully. She was adorable.
I felt an odd touch of something. Was it cultural? A person usually wouldn’t let a complete stranger hold their child in the front seat of a vehicle. She felt like a small bundle of heaven, and I was filled with a sudden desire to protect her, more so because of Shuji’s trust.
We drove to his house, which is also where his family business is. I had to stoop to get into the house, but it was warm and cozy. I met his mother and grandmother. “Hajimemashite.” I said. ‘ (pleased to meet you )
“Hajimemashite, yorushku.” His mother replied.  (please to meet you, may we trust each other.)
I was in a tiny lobby area. The floors were made of a firm wood and The walls were made from thin wooden beams and stained glass. Overhead, small pipes threatened to touch my head when I walked, and I kept ducking. Shuji appeared from the kitchen. “You can wash your hand here, then please, sit.” He pointed to a room to the left.
He would say, “please sit, please relax” many times that night. His father would also say that. Relaxing was a big thing in Japan, and he gave me insights into why Japanese people love reggae music. “In Japan, people work very hard. Very long.” He said, “Relax is very important. Reggae is very good for relax.”
I had to agree. After only three and a half weeks, I was starting to see the intensity of the Japanese work ethic; the school I worked at felt like an investment bank. Reggae music must be like a chill-pill for the Japanese I thought, which would explain their fascination with the music and culture.
I sat in a room with a Buddhist shrine in the left corner and a picture of his deceasd Grandfather above it.  A small table no more than eight inches off the ground sat on a set of tatami mats, adjacent to a large flat screen TV. Nana was sitting wth her mother to the left of the table, and Shuji sat in front of me. He said he had lived in the house until he got married, and I could see that if he hadn’t been married he would still be living there. I was starting to understand. His entire family had lived there, including his grandparents, parents and himself and his sister. I met his Grandmother as well, an old woman with a slightly bent back and kind eyes. “SHE IS NINTEY-ONE!” Shuji’s father would eventually exclaim.
As the night went on, I ate taksan tabemono (a lot of food) and a joke would be made that I eat like a sumo wrestler. “We Japanese people are very small.” Shuji said. “Normally we eat one bowl of rice. I like two. But you eat three!” I laughed as he said this. With me having to duck to walk through the house, I really felt like the large, imposing Gaijin.
When his father arrived, he spoke in  a bright, loud voice with a smile on his face. I thought he would have a great career in television in another life. He spoke very good English. “MARCUS! HOW IS THE JAPANESE FOOD? ISN’T IT DELICIOUS!” he said. I nodded, taking a sip of a new Suntory beer, called “STRAIGHT’.

This is the second outing of this kind I’ve been on so far, and I like these events. Here I feel welcome and I can relax a bit. My days have been a mixture of trying to understand Japanese, dealing with ways to adjust to the culture and working. After we eat, Shuji snaps a picture of us. The entire family joins us for the photo.

Most days when I’m walking in the city, I get stares, but no hellos. I traipse around happily listening to music on my Ipod, but I’m blocking out the world around me. I can’t just go up to people and meet them. I play video games at araceds and hangout at Gaijin bars to keep myself level.
This dinner outing is a godsend. The family is very sociable, asking questions about Jamaica, my traveling experience and school. I practice my Japanese with them, and Shuji’s wife laughs as she says I speak very good Japanese. At some point, Shuji points out that I’m the only black person in Maisaka, so I will be very easy to find on the street. This tickles me to no end.

By this time, the English friend, a young man and his mother, have joined us. The routine continues, with drinks for everyone and loads of food. When its over, I leave the house bowing profusely, thanking Shuji for everything.
I walk with the young man and his mother to Bentijima station, nearby. We chat for a while about living in Japan on the train platform. It is brightly lit but at least twenty feet above street level, and I feel like I’m standing in the future. I step on the train and know I won’t need to go anywhere tonight. For now, my head is clear and I can sleep peacefully.

Until tomorrow.

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