Sunday, December 19th
After a fitful night of fabulous taiko, I once again had the opportunity to have my Osaka gents escort me to yet another concert, this time to hear the wonderful group Ikari play. First things first, however. I was on a mission to get my cell phone to work again, regardless of me having not paid the bill for month (how long does the gaijin excuse work…one, two months?).
So I marched to Yodobashi Camera in downtown Osaka, had my list of vocabulary all prepared and the longer I stood waiting in line watching hundreds of consumers purchasing new ketai’s, my confidence shrank lower and lower. My friends warned me that I might be SOL, but I thought I could try right?
Luckily a kind gentleman came to my assistance, and as soon I rattled off my problem in Japanese, he ran off to help me, leaving me anxiously awaiting the outcome. Unfortunately he came back with a car charger and a grin a mile wide, proud that he could understand my awful Japanese. I felt like Paul Newman in “Cool Hand Luke;” “what we have here is a failure to communicate.”
An hour and a half later, my cell phone back to normal, I met my buddy Alex and we ran the 12 blocks to Liberty Osaka, a museum recently re-opened to support local human rights movements, which happened to be the host of the concert. Just before the concert started, we were seated (I always love to make an entrance) and the proud, anthem-like drum beats filled our ears. It was so powerful to see groups of otherwise disenfranchised minority ethnic groups coming together to celebrate something so primal, so Japanese. It was moving.
An afternoon of taiko cannot end without wining and dining with the taiko greats. Or so my friends convinced me as we traveled to Nara to dine at the home of the leader of Wudaiko Hiryu, Minehide-san. This is a gigantic man, bubbling with crude jokes and a personality that could fill the Parthenon. I was so honored at simply being invited, but was even more astounded as Shingo, another member of the group, joked with us that his house was called Minehide-jo, or Minehide’s castle. I understood immediately what he meant. With Jeep Cherokees sitting in the garage and a three story home complete with 60-inch flat screen HDTV, it wasn’t a castle but a palace!
With open arms and plenty of sake to go around Minehide warmly greeted us and we immediately settled around the kotatsu, a Japanese table with a heater underneath, to warm our hands from the cold and begin the fabulous meal of nabe. Nabe (literally meaning “pan”) is a traditional Japanese treat, where a large bowl with a soup base is placed on the dining table and everyone partakes in adding ingredients like mushrooms, cabbage, beef and onions. Each one taking his or her turn to stir the pot and serve one another. It is the ultimate communal dining experience, and for a nation that prides itself on integrity and social discretion, it is wonderful to simply sit, drink sake and share a meal with friends where no one cares who has “double-dipped” (George Costanza from Seinfeld would LOVE this culture!).
Amongst many cups of sake, red wine and cold beers, we somehow got through the language barrier and erupted with plenty to talk about, from food to sports. It was so wonderful to be in a home environment, complete with dogs in Santa suits and children running rampant. Unfortunately, the scene got a little too comfortable when my friend blurted to Minehide-san that I had a small crush on one of his group members, a young man named Makoto. Well, when a loud, gruff, practical jokester is armed with information like this, the only thing he can do is call Makoto on his cell phone, tell him there’s a foreigner who’s in love with him, and to get over here ASAP. Literally.
So an hour later, as I was trying to convince everyone that I was supposed to be making my way to Kyoto to meet friends, Makoto shows up, joins us, and is egged on by Minehide-san. The class clown even proceeded to put in a video of one of the group’s concerts and every time Makoto’s image graced the screen Minehide would cry, “Kristin-san, you see Makoto…eh?” with a grin a mile wide on his face. I couldn’t tell if it was the sake or the nabe, but things were definitely getting warm in the home, so I decided to graciously thank them for the meal and leave for Kyoto.
Or so I thought. Minehide took Makoto aside and asked him to drive me to the train station. With Makoto chain smoking during the inappropriately long drive to the station, I began to realize that I had no idea where I was. This feeling hit me hard as the car stopped in a covered garage and Makoto got out of the van. “Well this is the nicest train station I’ve ever seen,” I thought to myself, and no sooner had the thought entered my head did I realize where we were. Makoto had taken me to a love hotel, Japan’s equivalent of a seedy place where couples get it on. Before I could demand he take me back, he had a receipt for a room payment in his hand and was holding the elevator with a look like, “c’mon Kristin, what are you waiting for?”
So I did what any rational, confident twenty-something feminist would do. I screamed at him to leave immediately and drop me off at the next stop or I would hurt him severely. Oh, and who did he think he is? As his smile turned into a look of pure fear, he ran to the van and I quickly got out my cell phone, yelling into the microphone what had just happened as my friends laughed on the other end and Makoto tried to find the nearest station.
Very long story short, I made it to the station, but decided to go home after the eventful night. As it turned out, Minehide had dared Makoto to take me to the hotel and the poor kid fell for it…hook, line and sinker. It’s certainly a night I’ll laugh about for a long, long while.