Miyamai, I think that was her name, and her two friends waylaid me almost upon entering the event grounds. I still have a hard time accepting Japanese youth’s interest in collecting random social media friends from around the globe. I instantly go defensive when I am approached that way.
In the Americas and large swaths of Europe, that is almost always prelude to some scam – or at least that is the assumption. Here, unless you are in a typically westernized part of town or staying at a well known hotel catering to Westerners, the more likely excuse is social media or checking to make sure you like Japan & tell others or just being friendly.
I was reflecting on my contact with Miyamai when Moe found me in line for beer. Out of nowhere he started asking me questions before even confirming that I spoke English. Occasionally travelers will talk to me in German, Dutch, or Swedish before realizing I don’t. Then the English kicks in and things progress. Miyamai spoke to me in Japanese, only switching when she had to do so.
I lied to her out of reflex when she asked me questions. By the time my brain actually kicked in I was too far gone. Me? From California. Heading home next week. Meeting friends at ⒉ Love the food at the festival but not hungry right now (that was true, actually). No data on my phone. Can’t find me on Facebook (which I couldn’t, accidentally on purpose). In the end, I could have just connected with her on Line, the popular messaging platform, and dealt w/ the obvious fact that most everything I said was false later.
I was reflecting on my contact with Miyamai when Moe found me in line for beer. His questions were about geography: “Where are you from?” “Where have you lived?” “Have you ever been to (Virginia | Maryland | Alabama | California)?” “Your English, are you Canadian?” I don’t know if I got a complete answer out before he asked the next question. Soon he grabbed my arm (unusual for Japan), smiled, and asked me to please come talk with him. He would buy me a beer.
Miyami did not grab me though she and her friends did a nice job of penning me in. As I entered the event space I took a few pictures. I moved off to the outside of one of the tents just slightly out of the flow of traffic to do some Instagram posting. Before I knew it, Miyamai and her crew surrounded me while she peppered me with Japanese. As we talked, there was an occasional wafting of something subtly distasteful on the breeze – bad breath?
Moe had no such problem, or at least not one I detected, as he pulled me through the crowd to the spot his family occupied. They chose well: a table under a tent next to shade trees away from the main crowd. There were two couples eating and an older woman in a folding chair watching three young children play on a blanket in the shade. It was now that Moe asked my name, introduced me to the group in one imperious pronouncement, and invited me to sit in one of the three remaining unoccupied folding chairs.
Miyamai, as it happens, was not the source of the slightly sour slightly off aroma that met my nose when we talked. It was something from the nearby food trucks. I did not know that while I was in conversation w/ her, so I incorrectly attributed it to her. Later, when Moe was pulling me to his encampment, I picked up the same aroma from other carts.
Moe talked the whole way to where his family was sitting, indiscriminately (to me) commenting on the people using the first thing that entered his head: “Disgusting.” “Stop stuffing your face, plump boy.” “Stand up straight or you won’t find a good husband.” He was half talking to me and half talking to the people to whom he directed these instructions. And yes, he was already well on his way to drunk.
Miyamai was another kind of drunk, one of sheer eagerness & earnestness. The more I fumbled through fake finding a way for us to connect she tried other ways. Eventually I shared a valid if rarely used phone number and took a picture of her number. Eventually, and I am not sure exactly why, she decided our interaction was done. She thanked me, smiled, and directed her posse on – perhaps to the next “friend”.
Moe was nothing if not true to his word: there was beer. He snapped an order and before I could take another breath two cans were presented to us. The two couples waited for a minute before Moe waved them away, back to their food and own drinks.
“Don’t worry about the beer. You won’t go thirsty,” he said.
For the next two-ish hours he held court on any number of topics:
- America (big fan)
- China and Russia are the new powers but not superpowers
- He can’t tell boys from girls any more
- Japan is too focused on fashion
- His son-in-law and daughter-in-law are terrible
- Why don’t I have a Japanese wife and at least 2 kids by now?
- Japan doesn’t make men any more
- Living in America was great & he misses his Corvette
- Clinton and Obama and most of G.W. Bush was terrible
- Afghanistan should have lasted three months
- Iraq 2 never should have happened
- Russia would never get bogged down in foreign wars like the US has
- Trump makes him laugh & he’s a good thing for the US in the long term & is stupid & is dangerous
- Moe is not his name but is what his American friends call him
- He wishes his son & daughter married better people
- He loves his grandchildren but is anguished about how they’re being raised
- Would I be willing to marry his daughter & give her strong sons? (Said in front of his son-in-law)
- America is the only hope from the old powers – Germany, Britain, Japan can’t do anything against China and Russia w/out America
- (Japanese Prime Minister) Abe is a “baby” Trump, or G.W. Bush w/o his Chaney
- Korea sucks (unclear which bit he meant, maybe both)
- Japan needs to mandate more children – the opposite of China’s 1 Child policy
- Boys today stay boys or become girls, so focused on being pretty. At least girls still become women
- American music sucks now – all negative and no melody
- Cheers is his favorite TV show
Through it all there was a ready flow of beer. As one reached empty another replaced it almost magically.
Moe’s English was flawless, even as he got more and more inebriated．His wife, the older woman watching the grandchildren, would roll her eyes and tut-tut and shake her head and audibly sigh as Moe went along on his rant. He said she didn’t speak English so we could talk freely, but it was clear that was a happy fiction between the two.
For his kids and their significant others, he would send one or two or all of them off on some menial errand for fun and spite. He would shift his conversation to how disappointed he was in them when they returned so they could just overhear．While they were gone, he talked about his daughter’s advanced degree and her violin playing. He talked about his son’s senior position in an up-and-coming Japanese business. While not exactly complimentary, he even said some nice things about his son- and daughter-in-law while out of earshot.
I was mesmerized by Moe. Through all of this, if I said 50 words to him & his family I would be surprised.
When Moe would head to the restroom he would ask if I needed to go (no) and would I please stay until he returned (yes). No one spoke with me other to make sure I was ok, so I would fiddle with my phone until he returned. Eventually I needed to step away myself and left my bag behind at his request, clearly as a hostage for my return. When I returned, he was sound asleep in his chair. His wife had put a light blanket on him and the mothers had taken the children to the play area down the way. The son and son-in-law were enjoying their temporary ascendancy, tho maybe they were enjoying a respite.
I was out of business cards but left my name and phone number for Moe on a scrap of the festival program. His wife, who’s name I do not recall due to beer, said she hadn’t heard him talk like that in a long time. She earnestly thanked me for “being so nice to an old man”. I asked her why or how he picked me. She confessed no idea.
“He has his way,” she said.