On Friday night, I met up with my neighbour (Yumi on her driver’s licence, Yun to her friends) and we went to a local izakaya (pub? tavern? there’s no real translation) to catch up, eat cheap food, and drink beer (good izakaya atmosphere is one of the things I miss about Japan whenever I go back to Canada). The place, recently opened near Nagai subway station, is probably part of a franchise, but gives the air of being burnished, lived-in, homey. Granted, it’s about as authentic as one of the many Dublin-in-a-Kit Irish pubs in Toronto, with its vaguely pre-war layout and décor which I saw being installed (and “antiqued” by some young women with blow-torches, paint and lengths of chain) three months ago, but gets away with it by at least being in the right country and hiring friendly staff. Like personality, this goes a long way.
In the course of the evening, after a good natter and bitch about work, we got into a conversation with the friendly young couple at the next table. The connection was their cute, two-year-old daughter who was wandering back and forth over the tatami between our tables, peeking, then waving at us and marveling at our English (or as a two-year-old would have it, our gibberish). Polite apologies for the child’s intrusion, polite “not at all”s, the usual small talk about a kid whenever a kid is in a room, leading into chat amongst the adults. They could easily guess what Yun and I did for a living, but the mom was a seamstress in a clothing factory (they haven’t moved them all to China yet, it would seem), and the dad was a carpenter who also tended bar part-time over in Harinakano (on the other side of Nagai Park). Two busy people, but Friday night was a designated Family Time (he used that very expression – famirii taimu, ファミリ–タイム).
Now, you might be forgiven, when seeing the OLs shopping for Chanel in
New York, (Paris,shurely?!) for forgetting that Japan does have a working class, but my neighbourhood and the adjoining ones are pretty much working/lower-middle class (gradually and regrettably being supplanted by young yakuza-wannabe yobs and chavs, but that’s another story). English lessons are not cheap in Japan, so the people I deal with in the run of the average day are – with some notable exceptions – fairly well-off (or their parents are). Their concerns (Will I get to Tokyo Disneyland again this year? Does this dress make me look fat, or even un-emaciated?) are not those of the young family we spent time with on Friday night.
We didn’t talk about anything earth-shattering (mostly respective jobs and the neighbourhood, like regular folk do), but it was that increasingly rare thing: a relaxed, convivial conversation between strangers. With some prompting now and then from the fluent Yun (and the six beers didn’t hurt), I was able to hold my own in the roundabout drift of informal Japanese conversation, but was mostly just happy to listen and do high-fives with the daughter, who had more or less adopted us at this stage, as well as another child, a toddler, whose parents were sitting on the opposite side of her folks and whom the daughter had led over to us, to no visible sign of concern from his parents (since we were sitting on tatami, the children were at eye level with us, not being towered over). Everybody felt at home, I guess. Even the waiters and waitresses were playing with them between food deliveries – extraordinary kids. In the end, we said our goodbyes, Yun promised we’d check out his bar some night, and after picking both kids up and waltzing with them a few last times (they kept climbing onto me – most Japanese kids are very shy at that age), I tottered contentedly home, happy to have interacted, without feeling – like I often do here– like the default floor show. We’ve possibly discovered a new local.
I ate some ice cream (why do you always come home peckish from a pub?), showered (because it’s still Japan, and you come home reeking of cigarettes no matter where you’ve been) and was in bed by midnight, the alarm set for 8 AM the next morning, a workday. All in all, a lovely evening.
And then you wake up. But more of that later.