This week I ordered a pizza over the internet. Big whoop, you say. Anyone can do that. Yeah? Go to the Domino’s website and try. Seriously, try it: go through everything, right up to the final click to confirm the order, and see how far you can get. (If you can read and understand Japanese, well, don’t.)
This isn’t really a big deal in and of itself – I figured out a few online forms with the help of a character translator (called Rikaichan, an incredibly useful tool if you have to visit websites written in Japanese), and got a greasy dinner. However, it’s an important boon for my confidence. I’ve been here nearly five months now, and I still haven’t been to a post office, or bought clothes, always doubting that I could communicate to the extent required. But here, I managed to communicate with a machine that only understood Japanese input. Surely, then, communication with a shop assistant would be less of a challenge?
My point is that I haven’t tried things in Japan purely because of a lack of confidence. Life here is very easy if you stick to the basics: supermarkets, convenience stores, the train system. You really could live here a long time without actually learning how to speak Japanese. That’s not good enough for me, though – I mean, the whole point of coming here was to be challenged in my everyday life, and it’s like I’ve erected a barrier around me to stop that from happening. Not anymore, though! The pizza may be just as greasy, stodgy, and regret-it-afterwards as back home, but with it at my side I shall conquer all!
Let’s keep talking about food – I went to a shabu-shabu restaurant for the first time on Friday. It’s something that I’ve wanted to try for a while, one of those cook-your-own type deals with boiling water on the table and an array of raw ingredients you dump into it. The place was Imahan in Asakusa, an apparently quite famous restaurant with appropriately famous prices (thank Christ for lunch menu deals). It was, to quote Henry Rollins, really fucking good. Fresh, delicious beef and veg, tasty sauces, good noodles… worth the $40, absolutely.
We then went to Kamiya, an incredible and widely-known bar, which was more like the dining hall at school than any other bar I’ve been to. As we walked in, an older gentleman called to us across the busy room and motioned for us to join him. My companion said we shouldn’t, citing some rubbish excuse about him being drunk and this area being a Yakuza stronghold. Bah. We had enormous beers that were a struggle to finish, then staggered home.
It was a day full of ‘here I am’ moments – like, this is Japan, and I am in it, I made it here. Standing before the massive gate at Asakusa shrine, shabu-shabuing at Imahan, looking across the Sumida River to the bizarre Asahi building… I’m in the foreign country, and things are all foreign, and I’m really enjoying it.