Only In Japan

Friday, February 23, 2007


Me and my workmates are a sad bunch. There's 4 of us, and we're all single. I'm pretty sure it's because we're dirt poor (the boss pays us like North Korean shoeshiners) and Japanese women are only interested in AmEx Platinum Card holders. No better proof of this theory than the fact our boss is getting married this year, whereas us nebbish just laugh nervously whenever the conversation comes to Valentine's Day.

I was gloomily thinking about how many years I would have to work before I could get a Platinum Card (about 92, by the way) when it struck me: there was a way. We were not going to go down that easily. We were going to fight for the preservation of our DNA. We were going to have a gokon.

Gokon is something like "group blind dating". Two friends of the opposite gender decide on a date and a place, as well as the number of people in each team. Then they both invite a few people of their gender, making sure the numbers in each group are balanced. On the selected date, everyone meets at the restaurant the team leaders have picked, and you guess the rest: everyone introduces themselves shyly, and then they drink, eat, drink some more, lose their inhibitions, make fools of themselves, but still somehow make friends in the process. After that, if all went well, the party continues at a bar or karaoke. Everyone drinks even more, and phone numbers are exchanged; the really lucky chaps don't go home alone but spend the night at a love hotel with one of their new acquaintances, and become their team mates' hero.

Case in point (or not): my own gokon experience, 5 years ago, when I was still a young and innocent English teacher. There were 6 of us in the men's team. I had never met our team leader, but I had been persuaded to go by a friend of mine, an older guy with a wife and 2 kids. I pointed out that I was not single, and he even less; he just shrugged and said "Blah, just have fun, right?". I wasn't convinced, but out of curiosity I accepted. You guess the rest: I was the youngest and probably the only unmarried member of the team. My team mates were all balding middle-aged men with receding hairlines, and that unique smell of rank tobacco that accompanies older Japanese men wherever they go. Fine, fine. I got the picture: I was the "gaijin monkey" who would add a touch of exoticism into the charisma-impaired men's team. How pleasant.

We got to the restaurant early, whereas the girls' team was more than fashionably late. It gave everyone time to remove their wedding rings and gauge the competition; I just smiled demurely and pretended I didn't speak much Japanese. After all, both Sun Tzu and Machiavel agree that lulling your enemies into a false sense of security is the best way to defeat them... And this young Jedi listens to his masters. Anyway, they quickly lost interest in me, which was just fine.

Finally, the girls arrived; they looked rather young and nice, though their smile broke the moment they entered the room and saw our team. I got seated between two women in their 20's, one of whom was A REAL BABE!!! I thought to myself: "What would Bill Clinton do in this situation??", but before I could find the answer to this very difficult question drinks were brought and the self-introductions started. Everyone was a bit shy in the beginning, but things kicked off after a few "Kampai!". The girls next to me seemed delighted not to have to talk with the older chums, and especially the va-va-voom little morsel to my left seemed to really dig me (which was well reciprocated). The conversation was very pleasant, until the foxy lady asked me with a shy smile, "Do you have a girlfriend?"





Her face froze and she turned away. Now, no need to tell me I'm stupid; I know that already. Stupid and principled is still stupid...
Around us, things had already started to disintegrate. A few beers were enough to make the old men throw dignity overboard. Their jokes got more and more vulgar as they tried to sound wittier than the others while letting the girls know they had lots of money, a huge penis and the will to use it soon. Embarassing doesn't even begin to cover the situation, really. At some point it got so bad that the babe to my left uneasily started to make conversation again, just to escape the old men. It was awkward.

Unsurprisingly, after dinner was over, there was no karaoke, no love hotel, and no smile left on the girls' face. I was left to wonder how there were not more lesbians in Japan. A sad evening indeed.

To rub salt on the wound, 3 months later I had split with my girlfriend. I so should have listened to my inner Bill Clinton and answered "No"... Oh the regrets, the regrets!

So why do I want to have a gokon with my workmates? An optimistic nature, I guess. The feeling that with better team mates, a gokon could be really fun, and definitely more constructive than looking for single girls on the Internet. My workmates, however, didn't seem to think so. They just looked at me blankly, puzzled by the concept of meeting real women in real life. Finally one of them mumbled, "huh, difficult...".
Well, fair enough. Come to think of it, their idea of a perfect date probably involves Sailor Moon figures and lots of tissues, so do really I want to go to a gokon with these geeks?

Conclusion: I really need to make more money (><)

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Wedding, schmedding 2

We finally got to sit down at the lunch table, in a huge ballroom, at what felt like time for dinner. But first, a movie about the bride and groom's love story was projected, and I have to say it was quite cool. Funny and romantic, but not too much: just fine. And during the movie, they brought us bread! But before we could wolf it, the bride and groom made their entrance, strutted around for a few minutes, and we were summoned to see them cut the wedding cake. It was only slightly more interesting than watching paint dry, but everyone was clapping, cheering and taking pictures. Have I turned into the Grinch or what?, I thought to myself. Anyway, after the ordeal was over, we got to get back to our seats, and Champagne was served. That I can do with!

So we toasted, and I was starting to ogle my bread when the first of about 70 speeches began. So I glumly sipped my bubbly while the groom's father revealed us the secrets of a succesful marriage (never contest your wife), gloated about his son, and generally tried hard to be funny. Not a great speech, but still almost Churchillian compared to what was to follow: the bride's 6th Grade teacher's speech. The absolute low point of the day, it was something like "she was so cute, and she was a good swimmer, and she was always smiling, and everybody liked her, and she was kind to everyone, and she was a very good girl, and..." I started to feel my eyes glaze around the 18th minute of his speech, but fortunately a pair of security guards physically removed him from the mike.

No, sadly that's just a joke.

When he was done though, food was served and we got a brief respite from speech hell. Everyone was so hungry that the entrees were inhaled more than eaten, and the bread wasn't long to follow. The next hour or so is a blur of insignificant speeches, tiny servings of French food on huge plates, cheap French table wine, and polite clapping. The only thing that stands out in my memory is a videobiography of the bride and groom, which once again was very well done. Anyway, everyone started to relax once they had had some food, and I could finally chat a bit with the people at my table. They were nice, but once dessert was over I felt their attention slipping from the conversation: something big was coming, and my spidey senses told me that it involved large servings of schmaltz. And indeed... It was time for the Tear-Jerker Speech.

The Tear-Jerker Speech is the last speech of a wedding, and is made by the bride. It always goes the same way: "Dear Mother, sniffle, dear Father, sniffle sniffle, thanks for taking such, sniffle, good care of me until now, sniffle, I will never forget everything you did for me, sniffle, blah blah blah". As my friends say, "if the guests are not crying during a Tear-Jerker Speech, then it wasn't a good speech". From that point of view, it was a great speech; but as for myself, I almost puked. Fortunately, it was all over a few minutes later; I ran home and watched Kill Bill 1&2 just to wash away that horrible experience. Thanks Quentin, you saved my day.

It might sound strange, but my boss's wedding, next Autumn, I quite look forward to. In a tuxedo, he will look like the cutest little penguin ever. I can't wait.

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Wedding, schmedding

I guess I'm getting old: over the last few years, my friends have been getting married left and right, having kids, investing in real estate... And asking me when I'll be doing the same. When I feel snide I tell them they should be happy I'm still single, since that means I'll have time for them when they're recovering from their divorce. They just laugh in a carefree sort of way that makes me feel that actually, we're still young.

But anyway. Last Sunday, I went to a friend's wedding, at the Ritz-Carlton here in Osaka. Although I'm almost 30, it was the first time I attended a wedding, and I was a little nervous: this being Japan, there's bound to be rules I don't know, faux-pas to be made, and polite speech expressions I had never heard before. But relax, I told myself, you've made a fool of yourself many times before in this country, one more time won't kill you. My friends also did their best to reassure me, the general advice being "go with the flow, and everything will be fine!"

I got there early in my nicest suit and tried to smile to everyone, eventhough I only knew three people out of the 120 guests: the bride, her sister, and the sister's two-years-old kid. The kid started crying the moment he saw me, but that didn't faze me. Being gawked at by most guests didn't faze me either. After six years in Japan, you get fairly thick-skinned! So I just smiled, looked at the beautiful kimonos and party dresses, and waited for things to kick off.

Finally, sometime before 11:00, we went to the chapel, and the show began. Some blond dude was playing the priest with only the slightest hint of embarassment, but it took all my self-control to keep a straight face when that faux priest started marrying the non-Christian bride and groom. Around me, the bride's friends were crying softly at the beauty of the moment. Needing to cool down, I tried to think of something horrible, and the first thing that came to my mind was George W Bush. It did cool me down... Until I started remembering some bushisms ("they misunderestimated me!"), and it was back to square one. Fortunately, it was time to read psalms, which I had never done before; concentrating on the archaic Japanese the psalms were written into took my mind off the comedy that was taking place onstage. Then the bride and groom exchanged rings and kissed. It made me feel warm and fuzzy inside, because that meant we were going to have lunch soon!

Boy was I wrong. After the schmaltzy chapel show, we had an open air photo session, a throwing-rose-petals-at-the-bride-and-groom session, an indoor photo session (I skipped that one), and then a short break to get a drink. It was actually so short that by the time I got my liquor we were already being summoned to the next stage. I guzzled it quickly, and well right was I! The next step was to line up for 15 minutes to sign our names in the wedding register. It wasn't that bad; I finally got to chitchat a bit and got introduced to a few nice people.

And then... Will our hero finally get lunch? The answer next week!

Labels: , , , , , ,