"One Cold December Day"
Busy Day - by Lyle H Saxon ITG #1
(2005/12/18 22:28)  It began with a late morning three-train trip up to Saitama to teach a large children's class.  The woman who teaches the kids, teaches them math and English (in small groups) throughout the year (running a juku in her apartment) and I come out once or twice a year so the kids have an opportunity to interact with a native English speaker.  The class went well, and I met the teacher's recently married daughter and her bright and shining husband (both of them still riding the honeymoon wave), since they were there to help out for the event.
Busy Day by Lyle H Saxon ITG #2
After the kids had gone home and the rented space had been put back in order, we broke out a few beers and relaxed and talked for about an hour.  The new husband talked of his three years spent in Italy, we all talked of crossing cultural bridges, etc. - and I think a good time was had by one and all. 
Busy Day - by Lyle H Saxon ITG, Tokyo, #3
Come 4:30, it was time for us to vacate the rented space and time for me to head towards Yurakucho to see JRG, a friend, play guitar at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan, so I walked over to the Keihin-Tohoku Line and climbed aboard a Tokyo-bound train that was just about to depart.

Most of the time in Tokyo, the trains are semi-full, full, really-full, super-full or ultra-full, but once in a while you find yourself in the happy combination of getting on a train going in a direction where, and at a time when, there are not many people on board.  Saturday at around 5:00 was just such a time as I took a seat in one of the corners in the middle of the train car (formed by the barrier between the edge of the bench seat and one of the train car's four - per side - doors).  I pulled out a book to read, but the warmth, quiet, and motion of the train soon put me to sleep - a restful, undisturbed sleep, with no untoward noises, no strange smells, and no jostling crowds.

I woke up just before the train reached Ueno, and in the settled frame of mind such a short, but restful sleep provides, I contemplated the next fork in the day's path.  As the train approached Akihabara, I remembered that the Blue Parrot bookstore's Akihabara shop was at the end of it's week-long closing sale, with just one more day to go.  I was leaning towards skipping it, but as the train pulled into Akihabara Station, I had a look at the time and decided that since JRG was playing at the press club from six until nine, there wasn't really any point in getting there right at six anyway, so I jumped off the train and headed for the Blue Parrot....

I had earlier mentioned to CGI, an Australian friend, that I would be going to the press club concert, and since he had called while I was working, as I walked through the falling yellow leaves riding a cold December wind on one of Akihabara's Ginkgo-lined main streets, I tried giving him a call to see if he would be dropping by Yurakucho.  I got his cell phone's voice messaging, left a message, and proceeded towards the Blue Parrot.

At an intersection while waiting for the walk light, I pulled one of the fallen hand-fan shaped Ginkgo leaves off of the windshield of a parked car and contemplated its shape and color while waiting for the light to change.  Whether due to the slower metabolism of a not-so-young body, a broader perspective, or just a new outlook, I found myself enjoying the moment of studying the leaf, its shape and color while the wind blew and the crowds rushed about.  There was a conscious appreciation of the moment being a good one - a focus on the present, not the past or future.  The light changed, I dropped the leaf to let gravity carry it down to join its fallen friends, and I completed the walk to the used English language bookstore.

I don't know what sort of sales the Blue Parrot's Akihabara shop had, but as they are closing it (last day today), conditions can't have been overly good.  The shop was (by the time you read this it'll be closed, so - past tense) located on a main street, but you had to walk down a side street to get to the elevator at the back corner of the building in order to get to the upper floor the bookstore was located on, so that alone might have been the main factor in its demise.  You would never accidentally stumble upon it, so probably the only customers were people specifically looking for it after reading about the shop on the Internet.

Inside the shop, I spent most of my time looking through their CD's, picking out some classical titles (Rubinstein, and some other classical stuff I bought due to the composer rather than the performer), and a disk called "Music from Ireland - Breaking Sound Barriers - Volume Seven", but I also picked up a couple of books - "The World is my Home" by James A Michener (for Y50) and "The Hungry Ocean" by Linda Greenlaw (for Y400).

While in the bookstore, CGI called and we arranged to meet at a (Japanese language) bookstore next to Akihabara Station.  I would have liked to have spent more time going through the CD's at the Blue Parrot, but time was running low and I probably shouldn't have been buying any more than the ten I bought anyway - half price or not - so I took my pile of half-priced things up to the register and had a short talk with one of the owners as he added up the stuff.  It seems that the Takadanobaba Blue Parrot is doing well and they are going to just focus on that one shop now.

A quick walk over to the area by the Hibiya Line exit found CGI, and then we jumped on a Keihin-Tohoku Line train and headed over to the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Yurakucho.  We took the elevator up to the 20th floor, walked past a frowning man at the reception desk (we were dressed casually) and rounded a corner - following the cool tunes.  I walked halfway towards a "Members Only" sign and saw JRG up on the stage playing his guitar in front of the band... and then did a quick scan of the room.  Impressions: Overly lit for a space being filled with cool mellow tunes; stern looking bartender in expensive looking outfit; few people there.., so we would really stand out in the empty spaces and under the (relatively) glaring lights and glaring eyes of the bartender.  So... I backtracked towards the lobby and went over the situation with CGI.  For my part, I was most concerned with the potential cost of ordering drinks there.  One expensive drink I was prepared to fork out for, but with so little to blend into and with the overly bright lights it would have been either uncomfortable sitting with one drink for too long or too expensive sitting there with the proper amount of cash outflow to the bartender.  From CGI's perspective, that "Members Only" sign was making him nervous, so - after looking over the pictures of famous people taken with FCCJ members that were hung on the walls of the lobby (amusingly captioned with only the correspondents' names!), we rode an elevator back down to the ground and found ourselves back out on the cold and windy streets of Tokyo, but feeling freer and easier....

I looked back up towards the 20th floor up there nearer the stars than I - and imagined myself strolling in there someday in an expensive suit tossing Y10,000 bills right and left as I took masterful possession of the room with my rich presence....  On the other hand, as a Google search link says about the club: "Private club of ex-pat reporters, professionals and diplomats to network and socialize."  It's not about writing after all, but about networking.  Maybe I don't really want that particular fantasy to come true.  An honest interest in writing might dictate staying on the outside.

Now what?  CGI mentioned the drinking place under the tracks that we had gone to before, which was fine with me, so off we went to the comfort of a noisy, crowded, cold and - most importantly - casual & cheap place to have a drink or two while eating yakitori (mini-Shish-Kabob).  We walked up and I confidently held up two fingers to the man at the entrance and he ushered us back to the very rear corner of the place - a spot I had never sat in before.  (Come to think of it - it was the moment I imagined on the ground while looking up at the 20th floor - just in different surroundings!)  I gleefully sat in the corner, with the very best view in the entire place - I could see everything without even moving my head.  As I looked out at the evening's stage, CGI sat on the opposite side - promptly banging his head into the ceiling - the underside of a support for the overhead railway where it curves down towards the ground/floor.  I'm not sure how he did that actually... being a smooth arch and in plain view, I don't know how you could miss the dimensions, but as one who has often banged his own head into one thing or another, I shouldn't say anything!

We settled down, ordered plum drinks with shochu as the alcohol base (sort of like vodka), and chicken yakitori.  As often happens at that place, we hadn't been seated more than five minutes before curious probes came from a pair of fellow drinkers sitting next to us.  The diminutive total size of the shop means that you are always in close physical proximity to others, and conversations typically develop.  Usually good, but not always.  In this case, the pair of drinkers were two middle-aged women who professed such surprise at my speaking in Japanese and knowing something about Japan, that it was slightly irritating.  At one point, I told my friend in rapid-fire-difficult-to-catch English that it was beginning to irritate me - only slightly, but knowing myself as well as I don't (not a typo BTW), I was on the verge of going rude, so I figured it was better not to talk to them any more.

Well... that's what I said and that's what I meant, but soon thereafter more probes drifted over from the side (my right, CGI's left) and I ended up talking in friendly, but rather direct mode, which is the easiest way to talk - bypassing the "Is this politically passable?" check phase, I just tossed out whatever I was thinking.  Then the catalyst of a burst of animated discussion popped out of the mouth of the woman sitting next to CGI.  From out of the smoky (from the grill) cold night she suddenly asked "Do you like young women?", to which I - operating in "Talk-first-think-later" mode answered: "Of course!  All men do!  That's just a natural thing!".  She gave me a look of disgust and muttered something about "All you men are alike..." and then I saw something large lurking beneath that initial question of hers, so I furiously back-pedaled by saying "Well - I just mean that they're nice to look at - like a beautiful painting or a nice car!  I'm too old to associate with them and they're too childish to talk to anyway.", which softened the woman who brought it up in the first place and seemed to go down very well with the woman on my right, who proceeded to be quite friendly thereafter.

All of this was fine and well, but the unfortunate aspect of the evening is that CGI doesn't speak Japanese and the two women spoke only rudimentary English, so even when I tried to shut up and leave the stage to the others, my friend would say something that they didn't understand, and I'd end up interpreting it and stealing the conversation again.

In the middle of all that, a phone call that I didn't answer came in from a company in Shibuya that I'd promised I would attend their bonenkai (end-of-the-year/forget-the-year party)... which prompted the woman on the right to inquire what my concentrated look at my phone's display meant.  I mentioned the bonenkai, but said I didn't need to go (thinking that I would go late, but trying to be polite).  Thirty minutes later, there was another call, and when I looked at my phone again, I began thinking that I had better go sooner rather than later, and the two woman seemed to pick up those radio frequencies as a clue that it was time to go home, so they said friendly good-byes and left, followed soon thereafter by CGI and I.

Walking to the station, I called Shibuya and said I was with a friend and would it be okay if they came with me?  "Sure!  Bring them along!" was the answer (in Japanese, when you say what I said, there's no "he" or "she" in it, so I'm avoiding those here for that reason), but CGI didn't want to come, so when we took the Yamanote Line around, he got off in Ebisu to get on the Hibiya Line there and I continued on to Shibuya.  (For those of you familiar with Tokyo's train system, yes, that's not the fastest way to go to Shibuya or Ebisu from Yurakucho!  I was feeling too lazy to think about it, so I just did the easy thing - jump on the Yamanote Line at Yurakucho, the nearest station.)

In Shibuya, I wondered how the rest of the day would go.  There are bad days and there are good days, and as I contemplated what a good day it had been so far, I almost got nervous... afraid to think too much about it having been a good day and then turning it into a bad day somehow, so I shut down that line of thinking and just focused on the present.

Arriving at the Shibuya bonenkai (which was - fortunately - held at the company and not in a restaurant), I walked in a bit late, so the (remaining) pizza was cold, but when I was offered a glass of beer, I noticed there was a bottle of wine on the table, so I homed in on that and someone poured me a quarter glass (paper cup actually) of it.  I looked at the mouthful of red wine in the paper cup and thought "Strange..." but didn't worry about it - instead I downed that, grabbed the bottle and filled it up myself.  While drinking that, I began to acquaint myself with the room ambiance.  It was pretty typical for any kind of office party.  A certain amount of nervous radio waves in the air and people standing in small groups with like-minded others talking, drinking and eating.  That was about it for the hour I spent there, except I ended up finishing off the bottle of wine and soon thereafter my attention was grabbed by a man standing on the other side of the table - standing there with the empty wine bottle in hand and an unfriendly and very displeased look in his eye.  I refocused on him with a feeling of surprise and listened to him accusingly state "It's empty".  "Oh, sorry!  Isn't there another bottle?" I responded, to which I was told "No.  Just this one, but don't worry, it only cost Y1,000..."

What-what-what?  I was thinking, when someone filled me in with the information that he had brought that to the party on his own and it wasn't company-supplied.  The light bulb over my head blinked into full illumination and I responded with "Then that was your bottle?!!  Sorry!  I had thought that was from the company and that there were other bottles on the sideline waiting to be opened...".  He responded politely to that, but was obviously none-too-pleased about his bottle of wine having gone empty.  Well... that's what I get for arriving late and not seeing the initial setup!

Then... there was a call from Shinjuku!  I had also promised to attend another bonenkai in Shinjuku!  I had originally planned on going directly from Saitama to the Shibuya bonenkai (on time), and then leaving there for the Shinjuku bonenkai, but since I got to the Shibuya one late, I figured I would call Shinjuku and apologize and say that I couldn't make it.  Trouble was, I forgot to call, so when I got the phone call from Shinjuku, I promised that I'd be there in 15 minutes.  So - with a couple of hasty good-byes said, I headed for the door - coincidentally - just after Mr. Wine.  I saw his retreating back as I got off the elevator, and then - magically - when I stepped outside, he was quite far away.  "No... he didn't actually run in order to distance himself from me, did he?" thought I.  Hmmm... he might have, but I hope he wasn't so upset over the vanished wine that he would actually break into a run rather than have to talk to me....

On the way over to Shinjuku, as I got on the Yamanote Line in Shibuya after a young couple, the man immediately and gallantly repositioned himself between his girlfriend and me.  I put on a face of stone and thought "Yeah... okay.  That's nice.  You're such a gentleman!  Three complaints though - 1) I'm just standing here minding my own business, 2) There are people pressed up against me on all sides here, I can't move anywhere and 3) Why are you seemingly concerned about me but unconcerned about the man standing up against your girlfriend on the other side?".  Not to worry though - such is the life when you are an alien in a space suit (i.e. wrong skin) in a foreign country.

Disembarking from the train in Shinjuku, I fell back under the trance of the wine I suppose, because - Ho-Ho - the spirits had put me in good spirits - Ho-Ho!  Then, when I arrived at the Shinjuku bonenkai, I found a mood that was quite a bit different from the Shibuya bonenkai.  The were many more people, the atmosphere was considerably more relaxed (with fewer nervous people in the room), and I rode the wave of good feelings in the room like a surfer who has successfully caught a big wave to joyously ride in towards the beach.  I made the rounds and talked to as many people as I could before the end of the party - marveling at how different it all felt.  At the end, as everyone was leaving, one of the employees asked me what I was going to do after the party and I responded, "What am I going to do now?  I'm going to China!  .....  I'm going home of course..."  Whereupon I discovered that they had missed their last train and were apparently looking for other late night people to... go to a karaoke room I suppose.  That probably would have been fun, but I was a bit tired at that point and more in the mood to go home than to do anything else, so I gave a "Maybe next time" and headed towards the station and the first of the last set of train rides for the day.

Copyright 2005 by Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon, Images Through Glass, Tokyo