Japan Revisited 25 Years Later

Laughlines by William Thomas

It was 25 years ago that I toured Japan with a very good men’s basketball team called “POITS” (Piss On It Tomorrow’s Saturday!) Whereas Portugal is similar to Spain and Chile might remind you of Argentina, Japan is a lot like Saturn. Fascinating, exotic and illogical. In Tokyo you won’t see a gum wrapper on the street, but if you go to the beach, they’re burning huge heaps of garbage.  Vending machines contain so many products from vodka to socks, there’s no need for stores.  Japanese men wait months or more just for a tee-off time … at a driving range.  They keep birds caged everywhere, yet they place boxes of crickets in the subways to give commuters the sound of nature.

Seaweed and salmon eggs for breakfast?  Uragiyas are riverside restaurants where uragi are grilled on barbecues and served over rice.  They’re very, very tasty until translated.  Then they’re eel which to a Canadian is a snake that is really good at holding its breath under water.

Our diets are different. What we would normally take care of with pest control, the Japanese serve up as a side dish on a bed of mountain fern. Nonetheless, they are thinner, healthier and live longer than we do so …

The Japanese are such gracious and generous hosts that the mere mention of almost anything means it will be found wrapped and in your suitcase before you leave for the airport.  Hence, a good word to avoid in Japan is koi (carp).

Tokyo businessmen are oh so polite and efficient until after work at eight in the evening when many of them hit the bars and binge on sake, whiskey and beer.  Late commuter trains from Tokyo to the suburbs are known as The Vomit Express.

Normally, spending time with ordinary Japanese people would be infinitely interesting, except that I spent a lot of time with Dale Hajdu, POITS captain, my roommate, my accountant.  In Japanese, this is known as chotto-matti – punishment for having done something terrible in a previous life.

Dale and I spent four days at the home of a boy named Sue who had never even heard of Johnny Cash. Tsuda Yashushi, a graceful athlete on the All-Ishikawa Prefectural Team, picked us up at the train station where television crews and print reporters covered the arrival of the Canadian team like an Olympic event.  What a country, we thought.

Our room at Sue’s parents house in Kanazawa, was was so tiny, our luggage had to remain outside the door.  Two mats side-by-side on the floor represented our double bed! Now I’m not above bribing an accountant for a better tax return, but if anybody had ever suggested I would one day sleep with mine, I’d have shoved a bunch of T-4 slips up his nose.

Now we’re sitting cross-legged in the living room, not having slept for nearly two days, when Sue emerges from the kitchen with a tray of cold beer and snacks.  And just before we all dive into the sushi and cold shrimp with our chopsticks, Sue says:  “Grass?”  And I said:  “Grass!”  And Dale said:  “Grass?”  What a country!

Cold beer, exotic food and now he wants to smoke a bit of weed.  When Sue returned from the kitchen to give us each a glass for the beer, Dale and I were noticeably relieved.  We’d been ripping through the Japanese dictionary for the term “bail bond.”

I doubt we’ll ever be invited back because instead of just saying ohaiyou (pronounced “ohio”) or “good morning” to our hosts, Dale, a basketball fanatic turned that into “Ohio Buckeye.”  Correctly translated, we had been greeting Sue and his parents with:  “Good morning you stupid SOB” each and every morning.  Sorry and remember Dale did that, not me.

For comments and ideas, or a copy of The Legend of Zippy Chippy, go to www.williamthomas.ca.