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 (><)


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