Sunday dawned cool and sunny. It was a perfect day for our early-morning Japanese tsunami drill, so when the sirens sounded we all strolled up to the park and watched the fire department explain how to use a fire extinguisher for half an hour. Then we played some “ground golf” and sat around eating pig soup and drinking shochu. I was like, man, if this is what tsunami’s are like, I can’t understand why people aren’t more enthusiastic about them.
Japanese Pig Soup
Pig soup, by the way, tastes exactly as delicious as it sounds. It’s a staple of Japanese neighborhood festivals, where a bunch of witches stir up a massive cauldron you probably don’t want to gaze into. Inside are trace amounts of carrot, burdock, and onion, plus plenty of unfortunately identifiable parts of Wilbur the Pig. Anyway it was both free and compulsory, so when the witches came around with bowls I obligingly took one.
Ground golf was a little better. It’s exactly like real golf, except with all mental and physical challenges removed. You just lope around hitting these big colored balls with wooden mallets and every hole’s a par four regardless of distance. So it’s basically golf for retarded people. Anyway it was good to be outdoors and at some point beers started being distributed so I was completely happy.
A Rough Saturday in Japan
The Saturday before also dawned cool and sunny, but it was far from perfect. It started off well enough though, with my girlfriend and I getting Vietnamese sandwiches from the little shop that sells, well, Vietnamese sandwiches. We took them to the park, played frisbee, and had a picnic. We spread a yellow plastic sheet on the grass, the sky was blue, I had a couple beers, then we came back home and our neighbor was dead. So that kind of sucked.
Actually, Kato-san had died a few days before and had already been cremated, so everybody was going in and out of his apartment to pay respects to his wife, plus adult son and daughter. So my girlfriend and I quickly changed from shorts and t-shirts to funeral wear, then hustled to 7-Eleven for special funeral envelopes and the special funeral pen. Then we used the wrong end of the stupid double-ended pen and the ink was too dark, so we had to rush back out and buy two more special envelopes. Celebrations, black ink; funerals, dark gray ink. Everybody knows that.
Buy a Black Suit
Now I don’t give a whole lot of advice about Japan, but I will say this: if you plan to live here a while, buy a pure black suit. I only know this because I never have, so every time this happens my girlfriend’s like, You can’t wear pinstripes to a wake! And I’m like, Well, it’s this or the Speedo, take your pick. And apparently my white shirt’s too shiny, although I’m pretty sure Kato-san would appreciate such fine Pima cotton. What can I say, I’m fashionable. Anyway, Ken Seeroi always ends up being the only guy at the service looking like he’s ready to make you a screaming deal on a new Mustang.
Whatever. I knelt on the black cushion before a smiling portrait of Kato-san and laid my envelope with a measly few thousand yen on the small stack of other envelopes, then lit a stick of incense and the floodgates opened.
A Japanese Wake
It was pretty sad sticking the incense it into Kato-san’s ashes, and he wouldn’t stop smiling so I couldn’t stop crying because damned if he wasn’t the only guy from our bunch of neighborhood drunks whose Japanese I could actually understand. He spoke clear, polite Japanese and treated me like one of his own. He was just a really nice guy. My girlfriend and I knelt and talked with the family for a while, and they gave us food, tea, and gifts, then we went back to our apartment and changed into jeans and headed out to the park where the old men and women were already drinking shochu.
In the Gathering Darkness
We sat around the picnic bench and laughed and cried and got drunk and talked about the next day’s tsunami drill and festivities, until after a while Kato-san’s wife, son, and daughter came by with two massive bottles of shochu and we all laughed and cried together and got more drunk until the sun went down.
Then we sat in the quiet of the night until the old dude at the head of the table said Let’s go home and we all did, drifting apart in the darkness. And that night, I dreamt of a crashing tsunami that we’d leisurely outrun, then play some ground golf, eat pig soup, and relax with beers in the park. Everyone, except dear Kato-san, who for some reason got caught up by the wave. Japanese folks say God’s fickle, and I guess that’s true. Because why some of us make it while others don’t, I sure can’t understand.
The Aftermath of the Tsunami
But then Sunday rolled around fresh and bright, and everything was, well, kinda all right. The Kato-sans came to the tsunami drill in shorts, and although they didn’t play any ground golf, they ate pig soup, which one would assume has at least some nutrition. So that was good. The sun was out and soon the dew dried up and it felt good to be alive. Japanese children were laughing and chasing each other in a circle on the grass, and life, life moved on. The world sure is strange like that. Or maybe it’s just Japan, although I assume not.