Takae, Yoko, Keiko, and Tomoya

14Jun05

Richard and I were off on one of our relatively frequent jaunts to The Blarney Stone, which, as you might imagine, is an Irish bar in Umeda. It’s actually a really nice place to have a quiet beer and unwind — especially on off nights, or early on a Friday. Anyhow, Richard and I were at The Blarney Stone having a couple of beers, when who should we run into but our colleague Tom, a part-time English teacher at Osaka University. Tom, a.k.a. Thomas, is from Florida and on this particular night I think he might have been a bit sauced (forgive me Tom, if you ever come across this blog, for revealing such top secret information to the world) because for some strange reason he assumed I was English. Because he assumed I was English, he invited me over to the table he was sitting at to meet Keiko and Tomoya, both of whom are going to England sometime in July. Tomoya is going to be going to university at Cheshire, and Tom assured Tomoya that I could tell him all about Chesire. The farce of my complete non-Englishness quickly became apparent, but I assured Tomoya that Richard could probably tell him everything about Chesire and that we’d be back over later. About half an hour later, or so, Richard and I headed back to the table to talk with them and two freshly-arrived friends of theirs, Yoko and Takae, who are also leaving for England in July. Yoko will be going to Kingston for film studies and Takae will be going to Bath for a translation course. Keiko, it turns out, is moving to Wimbledon to study the art of backdrop painting. Anyhow, Takae, Yoko, Keiko, and Tomoya all met while taking language classes at the British Consulate. It also turns out that Yoko is a fairly recent graduate of Osaka Daigaku and was the student of one of my colleagues, Tim Gould (who has a sister who lives in Sebastopol). We all hit it off and Takae asked me for my number so the stage was set for future hanging out. And Yoko ends up living pretty close to Osaka U., so her, Richard, and myself all rode the last train back together. After which Richard and I engaged in some late night cheap eats — a strange meat patty in a sweety browny sauce of unidentifiable provenance.

Next week Takae and I met in the Kinokuniya bookstore at Umeda station and Takae took me to a lovely café — The Lucky Cat Café — for traditional Japanese sweets and green tea. We had mitarashi dango — grilled rice balls with a sweet brown sauce — and warabi mochi — which is mochi with a light powder of sesame? Wheat germ? Anyhow, it had a delicious nutty flavor. After that we walked around Umeda for a while talking and checking out stores, and then we went to Bagel and Bagel for a bagel since Bagel and Bagel is one of the very few places you can get a decent bagel in all of Japan. We had smoked salmon with cream cheese and capers and, embarrassingly enough, I couldn’t remember what capers were called, but Takae could. Unfortunately Takae had to head back after that, but Richard, Bob, and I had plans to meet up with Yoko at Shot Bar Orugan, one of the local watering spots in Ishibashi (the name of the town right next to Osaka Daigaku). We met Yoko at around 9:30 or so, and then we met up with Keiko and then all five of us went over to the Hummingbird Café, which is a reggae-ish bar in Ishibashi. Like any good reggae bar the place was dark with various black lights and bits of neon around, and it was pretty crowded. Bob left early, but Yoko, Keiko, Richard, and I had several drinks together and stayed out until latish.

Kinyoubi (Friday) next, I met Takae again, this time with her friend Shinobu, who is from Wakayama. We went for an early dinner at Kuruma (a word that means both ‘car’ and ‘wheel’ in English), a really nice izakaya in Umeda. We were led up to the second story where we put our shoes into shoe lockers and then we were led down the wooden center-path to our table, where we sat below floor level. Of course we had nama beeru and sake too, and a lot of really delicious food as well, including some of the best tofu I’ve ever had (several different types were served, none of which I can remember the names of). After Kuruma we headed up to The Blarney Stone where we met up with Keiko and Tomoya. We stayed there until around 10:00ish and then Shinobu and Takae had to leave, so I took off too, thinking to call it an early night. It actually became a very late night, however, because walking home up the path to campus I ran into Murakami-sensei who invited me to have some drinks with some Russian graduate students at Shot Bar Orugan. Pretty much all of the Russians at Handai (Osaka U. — it’s kind of like calling Berkeley “Cal”) speak excellent English. Which was a good thing because Murakami-sensei ended up going home early and I ended up hanging out with Sergei, Yvgeny, Dimitri, and Aya until about 2:30 or so, when I finally had to leave them because they were off in search of the next whiskey bar. In any case, Sergei, Yvgeny, and Dimitri — all graduate students in economics-related fields — are great guys, and Aya is an interesting woman who plays trumpet in the orchestra at a famous liberal arts college in Kyoto that I can’t remember the name of right now. Perhaps it was the one billion beers we drank at the Hummingbird Café after Shot Bar Orugan closed down for the evening.

While I didn’t end up hanging out with Takae at all this last week (she’s seeing tons of friends while preparing to leave for England), Yoko did invite Richard and I out to go to an izakaya with a bunch of her friends from college, several of whom are also leaving the country next year. We met in front of Big Man, the giant TV outside of the Kinokuniya bookstore, and then we walked down Ohatsu-Tenjin street, a famous entertainment street with lots of izakaya type places. The place we went to was called Rocky (in Japanese, of course) — not after Rocky Balboa, but after the Rocky Mountains. There are Canadian flags on the menus, the walls are made from raw-milled lumber, and the lumberjacks — whoops! — I mean the waitstaff, all wear ginghamy, flannely type clothes. The food, of course, was outstanding. We had tako-wasabi (that would be octopus and wasabi), various raw fish, various yakitori items, some kani (crab) croquettes, agedashi tofu, and more. And plenty of nama beeru as well, and some sake too. And then we all went to sing karaoke together. I think the pictures speak nicely for themselves.

In order of appearance, from left to right: Koji, who is a math teacher teaching his first year of junior high school; Aiko who is in medical school at Handai and who will be taking classes in San Diego this summer; Yuki, a student at Nara Women’s University who will be spending the year in Greensboro, NC; Yusuke, another Handai student: Tomoe, a Nara Women’s University student who will be moving to England to study feminist theory; Mai, who is working at her father’s company; Richard, my neighbor; and last but not least! — Yoko, the grand organizer of all these festivities.
Me and Koji!
Our order is taken.
Karaoke can be so sad. Or is that happy? I’m confused. Tomoe cries while Aiko claims victory.
Clearly, a torch song.
Tomoe in sepia.


Yoko and Koji.

By the way, our karaoke machine let us know how many calories we had burned after every song. I burned between seven and ten calories each time I picked up the microphone. Which I’m sure easily countered all of the whiskey and beer.


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