October 31, 1998
The following is based on a true story. All similarities between this story and actual events are purely intentional. You might even say that it is, in fact, true.
Last Friday, the junior high school teachers in Kiryu had a "Sports Day" to get away from the kids and hang out with each other. Basically, they congregated at several of the junior high schools and played volleyball. Thinking this would be fun, I happily joined my school's faculty and staff (we have one staff member, the school secretary) and went along. There were teachers from three schools there, and we played a round-robin tournament, where each school played the other two in a best of 3 series. Games to 21 points, and every point counted (as in, you did not have to be serving to score a point). This was not strict-rules volleyball. Well, let me rephrase that -- the rules that they had were very strict; they just happened to be different than those of olympic volleyball matches. There were nine people per side (so that more people could play), and men could not spike from closer than six feet away from the net. Also, men could not serve overhand. Sexist? Of course! This is, after all, Japan.
I played some volleyball in high school, where I was the varsity team manager during my freshman and sophomore years. Basically, I liked those short shorts they wore. So, I do have a modicum of skillz, and they put me right in the middle. I didn't do too poorly. We had fun, but unfortunately my school was the smallest one there, and the others simply had more talent. We got swept in both of our matches, although each individual game was pretty close. There are too many dependent clauses in this paragraph, and therefore I need to start a new one.
After the games were over there was a small closing ceremony. Everything in Japan has an opening and closing ceremony. Everything. I didn't really know what was going on, but I could tell that they went over the results of the matches. You see, nothing in Japan is really for fun. No matter what is happening, somebody has to win. We didn't. But, everybody had fun and that was what counted, right? OK, whatever. Anyway, my ears perked up when I heard my name, and with my limited understanding of Japanese I realized that I had just been named tournament MVP (Most Excellent Player would have been the direct translation). I think what they really meant was MFP -- Most Foreign Player. Everyone clapped for me, I looked embarrassed, and then we moved on. It was all very good-natured, but it was also a little weird. Afterwards, everyone came up and told me how well I had played. But come on, dudes, if I had played that well would we really have gotten swept in both matches? I mean, we came away with a big goose egg in the win column! I wasn't even the best player on my team -- I was just the tallest. But, so it goes in Japan. Singled out for commendations that you don't deserve. I can think of worse things to have to deal with.
The next day, a Saturday, I went to visit Jeff in his home town, Nakanojo, with Kristin and Angela. Nakanojo, by the way, means "Middle Farm." You can guess what kind of area this was. You'd be wrong. It is, in fact, a beautiful mountainous region, and I am very bitter that Jeff gets to gaze at such sublime wonders of nature every day. But then, he's bitter that he's not me. Yes, Jeff is reading this.
Anyway, we went to the first karaoke bar in Japan that was what I thought karaoke would be. You see, up to this point, I had been to three or four karaoke bars, and in each case our party got a private room, where we paid by the hour and sang only to each other. There wasn't even room to dance most of the time. And really, what is karaoke without dancing? This place, on the other hand, was an open mike type of place, where you sang in front of everyone, and there was even space to dance. We basically took over the stage there for a while, singing loud, badly, but in English. I think the Japanese people there loved it, if only for the spectacle. They didn't really get into it when we sang Metallica, though. Go figure. Jeff and I did some lovely duets, including Yesterday and Pretty Woman, and it would be fair to say that a good time was had by all.
However, the funniest moment came earlier in the evening when we were at McDonald's. Yes, we broke down and went. And I have to say, the McDonald's fries in Japan are better than those in America, although I don't really know why. Maybe it's just that they are always fresh. In Japanese, McDonald's is called "Makudonarudo." If you say "McDonald's," they look at you with a blank stare. McDonald's, by the way, is one of the more annoying words to type. "Makudonarudo" is one of the more annoying words to say.
So, we were sitting there eating when a guy who could
best be described as a grit came up to the table. He had long, somewhat
unkempt hair, half his teeth were missing, and the other half were gold.
They have a thing for gold teeth in Japan. He stood there smiling
for a moment, then looked at each of us in turn, landed on me, pointed
to me, widened his grin, and said in a loud, slow voice "You. Strong. Sex.
Magician." After an initial moment of shock, we all burst out laughing.
I mean, how did he know? I know that, a select few others know that,
but how did he know that? I am quite certain he was never one of
the aforementioned "select few." (No jokes about the word "fewÓ!!)
Here was the closest thing Japan has to a redneck, and probably the only
English he knew was that one phrase. However, you have to give him
credit for accuracy. I think he is some kind of soothsayer.