This past Sunday Aimee and I had our first visit to a Japanese beer garden. It was hosted by one of the schools Aimee teaches at and we, along with a friend and a couple other Western teachers, were the token Westerners attending the party. This afforded us a discount on the entry price (1500 yen instead of 3300) and the rockstar status most foreigners get when they're surrounded by a group of Japanese people who wish to speak English.
Beer gardens are all you can eat and drink so there is no shortage of entertainment in the form of Japanese children running around with heaping plates of food and Japanese men inebriated enough to try their best at picking up women. I saw more unsuccessful flirting Sunday night than at a high school dance. Keep high school flirting in your mind while you read the next paragraph (I'm thinking specifically of this scenario: You ask your friend to tell the friend of a girl you like to tell the girl you like that you like her... maybe... only if she likes you back).
Draw a tall, narrow rectangle. In the bottom right corner is M (for Mike) and the top right corner is K (for Kate, our friend). The top left corner is JM (Japanese man) and the bottom left corner is JL (Japanese lady). JM makes small talk with K before revealing the reason he introduced himself - JL would like to be introduced to M. K tells JM to tell JL to introduce herself then. JM smiles and says she is embarrassed. K interrupts my conversation with a different Japanese lady and introduces me to JM. We make small talk until JM tells me that he had himself introduced to me so that he could introduce me to JL. Two things should strike you as odd here. First: we are adults and should be able to make our own introductions. Second: JL was sitting closer to me than JM was (you can see this because you drew a rectangle). JM and I had to lean uncomfortably over the backs of our chairs to make the kind of small talk you make when you first introduce yourself to someone you like so that JL could overhear it ("Where are you from?" "How old are you?" "You have the most beautiful eyes in the world and I could be swallowed up in them..."). I found the whole episode quite humourous - I'm not sure that my tone has captured that.
JL and I talked (with JM translating a little since his English was pretty good) for a little while until Aimee came back from refilling our glasses. JL didn't lash out when I introduced Aimee as my girlfriend but I could tell she was disappointed. Brief aside: I've had numerous conversations with friends and girlfriends (ex and current) about the appropriate time to divulge that you have a boyfriend/girlfriend and have never reached a consensus.
Now, to continue my tale...
The garden is on the rooftop of a 6 story building in the heart of Nagoya. It was raining though so we were eating under tarped gazebo frames. This was a pretty stifling environment to be in. The food at a beer garden is cooked at the table on hibachi-like grills so there's lots of smoke which gets trapped because of the tarps. This smoke is mingled with cigarette smoke since there are no laws in Japan banning smoking in restaurants. Add to this a humidity level that is rivalled only by sitting in tub full of water and you get a recipe for a not-so-comfortable night. I had had a lot to drink the night before so I wasn't in an all-you-can-drink mood otherwise I probably would have been more comfortable than I was.
I'm also not as enamored with all-you-can-eat restaurants as I used to be. When you're a teenager they're fun because you have an appetite that could shame an elephant and no real understanding of how wasteful it is to eat a twentieth of your body weight in one sitting. The problem is that no one needs to eat 5 dinner plates worth of meat and 3 bowls of pudding. All-you-can-eat restaurants perpetuate the belief that people need to eat until they're stuffed when people actually only need to eat until they're not hungry. I think this message would fall on deaf ears here though (if I could even translate it into Japanese properly) because Japanese obesity rates are essentially non-existent when compared to obesity rates in North America.