In my new home, it’s okay to drink the water but the critters that live in it: salmon, seaweed, snails and tadpoles: those are lunch. Out of necessity, I learned the use of chopsticks quickly. The blessing became more like a curse as time went on. People keep feeding me and feeding me and feeding me. One hostess began the evening by giving me a 2-liter jug of Coca-Cola. To say thanks for such a gift one must take a hefty sip and risk having to go to the bathroom immediately thereafter. Too many fluids get to me.
As I neared the bottom of the bottle, dinner became an increasingly strange affair. I sat between a woman who speaks English quite well and her anthropologist husband. They liked the way I pull oysters out of their shells with chopsticks. Most Americans just slurp them down. The woman ordered a fish for the three of us. Our hostess brought a platter, with what looked to me like a big dead fish on it. Its big dead eye glistened at me. It (the fish not the eye. The eye didn’t taste as good) was in fact, very prepared. It takes a master chef to make a great meal look like the untouched carcass from which it came. Still, I’m glad they don’t do that with beef.
The anthropologist explained his profession to me, in broken English. “I study ancient festivals. Bones… do you know bones? Things that are dead leave behind… yes, bones. Our ancestors come… to our world…from another. And they dance with them, people do, with bones.” It was all so very interesting. Also, I had to go to the bathroom. I had no clue how to ask for the bathroom.
Then came the octopus, and then came the squid. I ate them both graciously, and in generous portions. After all, I had coke to wash it down.
Nature’s call finally became unbearable. So I asked the lady next to me if there was a toilet nearby that I could use. Her husband smiled and said “My house” which was right next to the party.
An army of little shoes filled the foyer. The lady laughed a little and said “many many children”. She led me to the well-used bathroom.
On my way out, all I could see was twenty-four little bare feet. Most of the boys’ attached to those feet were brushing their hair James Dean style, with or without combs. Others were laughing at me, the American. They said “Hi” and “Hello”. The smallest one of the whole bunch puffed up and stood next to me, gaging my height. Yes, I am considered very tall in Japan.
By the next morning my tongue was swollen. Perhaps it’s an allergy to squid or octopus. I had fears that my taste buds were mutating into an octopus’ suction cups, but the fears, and the swelling eventually subsided.