Our latest escapade was a birthday celebration for our friend and unofficial tour guide, Danny-san. The event was held at a Yakitori (Japanese skewered meat) cafe just a short, 1-train-stop hop from the Fussa (pronounced “Hussa” in Japan, because there is no “F” in their language) station. I will confess up front that I was somewhat hesitant about this adventure because it was cold and rainy and a 15 minute walk was involved in getting to the train station. And of course, by the evening’s end I was reminded how inconsequential this tiny inconvenience really was.
We were to meet Danny-san at the Fussa station, and for the first time we arrived early. I was feeling pretty train-rider savvy so I went out on a limb and for the first time added money on my Suica card at the ticket machine. The Suica card looks like a credit card. When you add money to your card you don’t have to purchase a ticket each time you ride the train, you just swipe your card. At big festivals/events, etc it is a real time saver preventing you from waiting in a long line to purchase a ticket. Eric, Danny-san and I boarded the train a few minutes later for the short trip. Two minutes later we got off the train at the Ushihama Station.
The birthday venue was directly across the street from the station and from the outside appeared to be a neighborhood diner-type gathering place – very informal. As we slid open the door (sliding open a door indicates a REAL Japanese restaurant, I am told) the aroma of grilled meats surrounded us. The cafe was very small, 3-4 tables on our right (each seating four) and about 5 tables pushed together along the back wall for our party. I noticed the “chairs” at the tables were really stools and didn’t have backs, which concerned me. But we greeting the other guests, co-workers of Eric and Danny-san,we found seats. I sat down and was looking for a place to put my purse. The gentleman next to me helped me out by showing me that each stool had a removable top and a storage space underneath! What a great idea. It was then I noticed that the stools were actually plastic crate-type things which appeared to have held 2-liter bottles of soft drinks at one time. The tops were made of wood, (curved perfectly it seemed, to fit the human fanny) painted and lacquered with a shiny surface and fitting exactly right. Not only was the “fit” right, but for the 1.5 hours we were there, my back never got tired nor did it hurt then or later..
The food started coming and the fun began. This establishment, like many in Japan, was based on an all-you-can-eat-and-drink-for-”x”-amount of time. In this case, our time allotment was 1.5 hours. First we were brought bowls and bowls of edamame (soybeans) which had been boiled in brine, drained and sprinkled with salt – you don’t eat the pods, only the beans inside. This was our second experience with edamame and we enjoyed it just as much the second time! Then we sampled fluffy shrimp-based chips with a light, vinegary red salsa, also very good. One of my favorites of the evening was a salad made with Mesclun or Mizuna salad greens with chunks of grilled sweet potato and a fabulous light dressing. I didn’t know what the chunks of sweet potato were at first, and was shocked to find out it wasn’t some kind of grilled meat. It didn’t really taste like a sweet potato but the taste was fabulous.
Soon we were brought plates of skewered (what I assumed to be) traditional chicken meat, like white breast meat, dark thigh meat, etc. I was happily sampling and really enjoying one particular skewer of meat. As we were “communicating” with our Japanese friends, one gentleman kept sticking out his tongue and pointing to it. I finally realized that what I had been so happily munching on was tongue! Now obviously this could not have been chicken tongue, but was probably pork (poku) tongue. It was great. A similar thing happened when I was trying a different skewer of meat. This time our friend pointed to his abdomen and with some assistance, I realized that I was eating chicken gizzard. We were also served boneless friend chicken topped with strips of daikon. Of course the finale was the (Japanese) birthday cake which was not only gorgeous but also delicious.
Again, despite the language barrier, we all seemed to make it work. We got off on a “old TV show’ tangent at one point when one of our Japanese friends kept saying something along with the word “Lucy.” I finally said “I Love Lucy?” and he exclaimed, “ya, ya, ya…!” Then Eric did his imitation of Ricky coming home from work and saying, “Lucy, I home” and everyone seemed to recognize that. We all laughed and other old TV shows were mentioned… Starsky and Hutch (apparently a favorite), Charlie’s Angels, Kojak, Six Million Dollar Man and SWAT (at which time they had to do a rendition of the SWAT theme song) – apparently a “boy” kind of thing. He and Eric continued on naming characters on each of the different shows and the conversation moved on to Clint Eastwood/Dirty Harry. Our Japanese friend did a terrific imitation of Clint Eastwood’s “make my day” line and we all had a good laugh.
Toward the end of the evening I turned to Eric and said, “Is this really happening?” I just never would have believed that Eric and I would have taken the leap of faith to come to Japan and that we would love the people and the culture so much. How very blessed we are!