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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Wednesday: Dinner after the Shows

After the shows Wednesday night we went to dinner at the same pace we had gone to the night before. This time we did not sit on the floor, instead we were taken to a small room with a long table and many chairs. Many many chairs. And as friends arrived so did more chairs. Finally we were all piled into this tiny room, so many people that surely someone would arrive to tell us we were breaking every fire code in the city of Tokyo, but no one came except to take our order for sake, beer and fish.

Tsoyoshi was wearing a jacket that said “Don’t mess with me,” on it. We all thought that was pretty funny, but then he said he didn’t know what the words said or meant. So we taught him to pronounce the phrase, and then we all attempted to convey the meaning through mime and other similar phrases. He eventually picked up on it and we could tell he was pretty pumped that his jacket conveyed such an appropriate message.

We ate again like kings and queens. Now an old pro at hokke, I tore skin off of it with gumption, and ate things off the table without hesitation. A dish was brought to the table and placed on a heating unit. It bubbled and boiled right tin front of us, and when it was finally uncovered it smelled absolutely delicious. “What’s in that?” I asked. Ken and Naomi paused. Finally Ken gestured at his skin a bit and said a word that sounded like “coagulate.” Someone else explained that it was “skin jelly,” of a pig. I asked for the Japanese word, looked it up in my phrase book and came up with “collagen.” So … basically the skin jelly of a pig. I dug in, and congratulated myself on another adventure when yet another dish was brought.

This dish was smaller and contained flat breaded pieces of meat. Like chicken cutlets. But when we asked what it was Ken said, “whale.” A hush fell over the Americans. “Yes, yes,” Ken said, “we here in Japan…. EAT WHALES…..! Other countries hate us for it.”

I exchanged looks with my companions. There seemed to be something inherently wrong with digesting an endangered species. I had an adopted whale when I was a child. Its name was Spoon and the National Whale Preservation Society would send me updates on where she was most recently sighted, and sometimes, pictures. Spoon?

But I looked from the plate to the faces of my old friends and new friends and decided the whale on the table was already dead and that I would never ever do it again. And so I ate the whale.

It tasted like its own entity, neither fish nor fowl. And then I had to run to the bathroom.

Having satisfactorily stopped a full fledged panic attack, I returned to the table.

More food had arrived. This, Dave explained to me in quiet tones, was called “sobe.” After dipping a manageable amount of noodles into a bowl of miso broth, the goal was to slurp the noodles as loudly and with as much gumption as possible. He prepped me in low tones while someone else served me some soba. I prepared to dig in, and was making some pretty good noises when John helpfully yelled, “Keep Sucking!”

Well, friends, that ended that because I laughed. And when I laughed noodles flew from my mouth and landed right in the communal miso bowl for dipping. The entire table screamed with laughter. I was mortified. It was the kind of moment I had hoped would never happen. Dave put his arm around me and I tried to sick under the table, and glare at John simultaneously. The next day when the incident was brought up at lunch Ken nonwittingly invented the gesture that will forever commemorate the incident. It also became our own sign language for a cultural faux pas. In order to complete the gesture one takes ones hand up to the chin and then opens the mouth suddenly while splayed out the fingers of the hand, like soba noodles flying everywhere.

Ken told me however, that I should not be ashamed because it made everyone laugh a lot and they were happy. And later on the trip one of the girls told me the same thing. So I felt better eventually. I guess I’m lucky we were associating with improvisers in Japan and not the Emperor.

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