One of my favourite things about living in Japan is the way the most routine, mundane events have this magical ability to descend into absurdity.
For example, I was invited to yet another drinking party with my Japanese coworkers a few weeks ago. These parties are about as routine as routine gets. You eat, you drink, you listen to half a dozen speeches, you get hit on by all of the male teachers who are too shy to speak to you unless they are completely drunk. And, finally, you endure hours of bad karaoke before stumbling home for the night.
These parties were fun and exciting when I first arrived in Japan but lately they had begun to feel like a chore. So when my coworkers invited me to join them a few Fridays ago, I didn’t really want to go.
Sure enough, the party started out routinely enough. I ate, I drank, I listened to half a dozen speeches, I was hit on by the entire male teaching staff. But just when I was about to write it off as another ordinary night out, things started to get ridiculous.
The PE teacher, who had been sitting next to me all night, was getting progressively more drunk. The more she drank, the more she opened up. Eventually, she started talking about her son. I should mention that I am friends with her son. We play on the same volleyball team and he always drives me home after practice. He’s cute but he has a girlfriend.
This girlfriend, however, is the bane of his mother’s existence. Not only does she not like her son’s girlfriend, she is actually afraid of her.
“She has big muscles,” she said, making a fist and slapping her own rock-hard bicep. “Scary!”
She then did an impression of the poor girl, which led me to believe her son was dating a) a sumo wrester, b) an Olympic weight lifter, or c) a drunken gorilla.
Then she asked me where in Japan I wanted to go. I listed off a few places -- Hokkaido, Okinawa, Mount Fuji, Hiroshima.
“Let’s go to Hiroshima!” she said. “You. Me. My husband. My son. Together, let’s go! We will eat okonomiyaki! We will drink beer! We will stay in a hotel! Okay?”
I told her it was an excellent idea and then added, half-jokingly, “but your son can’t bring his girlfriend.”
The next thing I knew, she whipped out her cell phone and started speaking to someone in rapid-fire Japanese. The only words I could make out were “Hiroshima” and “Sarah.”
She hung up the phone and explained that her son was on his way to the bar to pick us up and take us to her house so that we could start planning the trip.
I looked at my watch. It was almost midnight. I hadn’t drank nearly enough to think that showing up on her family’s doorstep in the middle of the night and dropping a surprise trip to Hiroshima in their laps was a good idea. But there was nothing I could do. This runaway train had jumped the tracks five minutes back and, like it or not, I was going along for the ride.
I had time for a quick drink to steady my nerves before the PE teacher’s son pulled up in front of the bar. He helped his mother into the back seat and I rode shotgun. A few minutes into the drive, the PE teacher and her son started having an intense conversation. Once again, the only words I could make out were “Hiroshima” and “Sarah.”
With a trace of annoyance in his voice, her son turned to me and said, “So my mom says that we’re going to Hiroshima together but I can’t bring my girlfriend.”
I was mortified.
“I swear it was your mother’s idea,” I lied.
“Sure it was,” he shot back.
This was followed by an uncomfortable silence. But things smoothed themselves out by the time we pulled into their driveway. I was ushered into the living room, where I met the PE teacher’s husband for the first time.
All four of us sat on the floor with our legs tucked under a small, heated table. We ate and drank and talked for hours. I was worried the PE teacher wouldn’t remember any of this on Monday morning but she kept her word and we ended up going to Hiroshima last weekend. I felt like their adopted daughter the whole time.
This is what I love most about Japan. The random adventures and wonderful people that pop up when you least expect it.