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Crash Course In Japanese Culture (Part 1)

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Pachipro

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This true life experience took place some 32 1/2 years ago and will be in about 4 parts and is one that I still look back on with fond memories. This story is how I was introduced head first and with no life preserver, into the Japanese culture. In the the early 70’s the Japanese economy was just beginning to boom and the country, as a whole, was just emerging into being a major player on the world’s stage. A majority of households had still to feel the effects of this boom, but their income, livelihood, and standard of living was gradually on the rise.

March 16, 1973. Friday night. Party time!!

I was stationed at Camp Zama, a small US Army base (actually it was kind of a country club when it comes to military bases) located in the suburbs of Tokyo along the Odakyu Line. I had only been in Japan about five weeks when I met Sachiko. (To protect the innocent, that was not her real name.) We met at a night spot in the Honmoku section of Yokohama where servicemen from the Navy and Army hung out to party and with any luck, meet Japanese women as they were known to frequent this place and it was one of the ツ“hot spotsツ” for meeting them. It wasn’t a hostess bar or anything. It was just a place for drinking, maybe do a little dancing, and listen to some American music, and was opened until 4 am. They also served pizza, fries, ramen and such.

I had made Sachiko’s acquaintance maybe once or twice before during my previous visits, but this was the first time we had a real opportunity to meet and talk. She was remarkably good looking and was quite tall for a Japanese woman at 5’ 6ツ”, with long, straight, jet-black hair. How we exactly got together I can’t remember. I just remember us sitting at a table across from each other. Maybe we were introduced or I asked her to dance. For the life of me I can’t remember.

Anyway, my Japanese was nil at that time, but luckily, her English was fair and we held a pretty decent conversation. We talked about the usual things one does when first meeting a person and when the question of age came up, I told her I was 22. (Actually I had turned 18 about three months prior, and probably looked 16!). She had just turned 21. I had heard from friends that if you told a Japanese woman you were younger than they, that you would probably lose any chance with them as they preferred men the same age or older. I was told that that was the way it was in Japan. Since she was so good looking, I lied.

Anyway, we danced and talked the night away and hit it off pretty well. The songs I distinctly remember that we danced to were ツ“Color my Worldツ” by Chicago, and the everlasting ツ“Ebb Tideツ” by The Righteous Brothers. They are what the Japanese call ツ“cheek songsツ”. We also had something to eat and I clearly recall that I really loved the ツ“spaghetti soupツ” as I called it then. I was so green to Japan that I didn’t even know that it was called ツ“ramenツ” and I never even had the pleasure of eating it before.

As time wore on she asked me what I was doing that night and I said I didn’t know. ツ“Maybe go back to Zama with my friends as they have the carツ”, I told her. She then asked me if I would like to come to her place to spend the night. Silently pinching myself and thanking all gods past, present, and future, I thought, hell yes! ツ“Sureツ”, I told her.

Remember, this is the first night I got to know this woman and she was inviting me to her place for the night! However, don’t jump ahead here as Japanese culture is distinctly different as I was soon to find out, and things are not usually what you expect, especially in this case.

We continued talking and dancing till about midnight when she suggested that we leave. I informed my friends that I would be leaving with Sachiko and would find my way back to the base tomorrow - or Sunday if things went ツ“really wellツ”.

We went up the stairs and hailed a cab. It was maybe a half hour or so ride at that hour of night from Yokohama to Ofuna where she lived (about 15-20 miles). Being the gentleman, I paid the cab fare. It was about 3,000 odd yen. Cabs were cheap back then. At that time yen was 300/US$1 and the cab fare only cost about US$10. Today that same ride, at that hour, would cost about 10-20,000 yen! US$100-200!!

We were let off on a dark, narrow main thoroughfare. We walked down a narrow path lit by thin fluorescent street lights past quite a few houses on both sides that were closer than any houses I had ever seen. They seemed to be right on top of each other. A dog barked at us from one of the houses and I remember thinking that either she was wealthy and owned her own house, or her apartment was way in the back. After what seemed like a full minutes walk we came upon a house that was so close to two other houses that you could probably touch the other houses from the window or something. ツ“Coolツ”, I thought. ツ“She owns her own houseツ”.

She put the key in and slid open the sliding frosted glass doors which made quite a racket. She put her finger to her lips and said ツ“Shhhツ”. We went into the ツ“genkanツ”, entranceway and I followed behind her. The genkan was lit by a really dim light bulb. She whispered to me to take off my shoes and took out some slippers from what looked like a box on the left and placed them on the floor about a foot above where we were standing. I took off my shoes wondering why she was whispering and we stepped into the slippers and up into the house. The Japanese really do take off their shoes in the house, I remember thinking.

This was my first experience with anything of real Japanese culture. Prior to this day I had only visited gaijin bars, a restaurant or two, a love motel, rode the trains, but never really experienced any real Japanese culture never mind actually visiting a real Japanese house. Living on base was no different, culturally, than living in the states, except that many Japanese worked there.

The first thing I noticed was how cold it was. It seemed there was absolutely no heat in the house and the outside temperature was about 40 degrees F. There was a room off to the right that had its sliding doors closed and we entered the kitchen where she turned on the fluorescent light.

The kitchen was small (at least to me), with a stainless steel sink at the far end with a white contraption over it with a hose coming down. (This was the hot water heater.) To the right of the sink was the smallest, what I figured to be a stove, I had ever seen. It was just a silver thing with two burners. To my right was also what I assumed to be a refrigerator, but it also, was the smallest one I had ever seen. There was a brown table in the middle with five chairs that seemed to take up the whole room. To my left was a cabinet with dishes in it. To the left of the cabinet was a door that led to the outside. It seemed you had to step down to exit the door and there was a pair of slippers on the concrete floor in front of the door. The kitchen floor was polished brown wood. As I sat in one of the chairs Sachiko bent down to a funny looking metal contraption that I soon came to know as a kerosene heater. (I had never seen one before.) She turned a knob, lifted the flue and lit the wick with some wooden matches. The room started to smell of kerosene and she opened a window.

She asked if I wanted a beer and I said ツ“sureツ”. I was already feeling the effects of the previous beers, but I didn’t care. I was just anticipating what was to come! I noticed there was clock on the wall above the sink. The time was 12:50am.

She opened the ツ“toy refrigerator.ツ” I mean it was really small; maybe 4-5 ft tall and 3 ft wide. Compared to what I was used to, this was SMALL! She took out a large bottle of Kirin beer, placed it on the table, opened up a cabinet and brought out two glasses. She retrieved a bottle opener from a drawer, opened the beer and poured it into the glasses. She then took out some packages from a cabinet and put the contents into a plate and a small bowl. She told me the white stuff was dried squid and that the small brown things were rice crackers with peanuts. Squid! I had never eaten the stuff before and was quite repulsed at the thought. We sat facing each other and drank the beer while having small talk. The room started to heat up and I welcomed the warmth as we both still had on our coats.

I glanced around the room and realized that this place seemed quite old. The walls and ceiling were faded from age and I also found it odd that there was no central heating. Maybe she’s poor and can’t afford it, I thought. I didn’t know at the time that 99% of Japanese houses in this area of Japan didn’t have central heating like I was used to in the US. Anyway, I was just amazed and dumbfounded that I was actually sitting in a real Japanese house with an extremely beautiful Japanese woman. Talk about a culture shock!

I asked her if this was her place and she said that no, it wasn’t; it was her parents house. Thinking that her parents owned the house and she just lived there, I didn’t give it much thought. I mean how many women would take a strange man they just met home to their parent’s house? She urged me to try the squid and I reluctantly gave it a try. Hmm, I thought. A little salty and fishy, but not bad. Not bad at all. While we talked I noticed that she kind of kept her voice down and I did the same thinking that maybe the neighbors might hear us or something.

After a while I mentioned to her that I had to go to the bathroom and she directed me to a hallway behind me. She turned on a light to the left and said it was here. She slid open the door and motioned to the slippers on the floor and I stepped out of my ツ“house slippersツ” into the ツ“toilet slippersツ”. (These are the special slippers, usually vinyl, that are located in every almost every Japanese restroom in Japan. Please, whatever you do while in Japan, do not forget to step into these slippers! It’s akin to a sacrilege if you don’t!)

I entered the room, closed the door behind me and was surprised at what I encountered. The room was really small, maybe 4ft x 4ft and was dimly lit by a really small light bulb. The walls were brown wood and there was a small porcelain Japanese toilet on the floor over an open hole that had water in it. I mean it was flush with the floor. Although the hole was small, the ツ“depositoryツ” must’ve been about a meter square and about 2 meters deep.

Man did it smell horrible in there. And it was cold! I had never been in a ツ“realツ” Japanese restroom before. Sure, I had seen Japanese toilets in the bars and such, but they were always the flush type. I’ve heard of outhouses in the states, but growing up in New York City I never saw one before. I guess you’d call this an ツ“inhouseツ”.

Even though there were about three or four ball type ammonia type air fresheners tacked to the wall, I still had to hold my breath as I deposited my ツ“beerツ” into the hole. I mean you could see ツ“everythingツ” down there. I didn’t know how one would do ツ“Number 2ツ”, but I soon found out that you had to take everything out of your back pockets and squat! If not, you would probably lose your wallet. I was really amazed at this new experience of no flush toilets. Later on I discovered that, at that time, that less than 50% of Japanese dwellings had flush toilets.

Anyway, I finished my business and went back into the kitchen. Not realizing I still had on the bathroom slippers she laughed and said I shouldn’t wear them outside of the restroom. She brought them back to their proper place and brought me the ツ“house slippersツ”. She then got a cloth from the sink, wetted it and proceeded to clean the floor where I had walked from the restroom to the kitchen. I remember thinking to myself that I had really made a mistake and that the Japanese really must value cleanliness. No shoes in the house and separate slippers for the restroom. One thing I really noticed was that I didn’t smell anything from the restroom. How strange, I thought.

We continued talking and I discovered that she was the fourth of five children. She had two older sisters who were married to US Navy men that used to be stationed at Yokosuka. One was living in California, and the other was in Spain where her husband was stationed. Looking at her and realizing how pretty she was, I remember thinking, ツ“maybe you’ll be number 3ツ”. She also had another older sister who was still single and a younger brother who was 17. She was the fourth of five children. I guess that after the parents finally had a son they stopped. She also worked as a bank teller during the day.

We talked for about an hour over another beer and I really enjoyed the squid and rice crackers. Then it was time for bed. Finally! She turned off the kerosene heater, closed the window and I followed her through the small hallway, past the restroom, where she opened another set of sliding doors into a room that was dimly lit by a tiny bulb in the lamp hanging from the ceiling. We took off our slippers before entering the room which felt strange to my feet. I had never felt tatami mats before. When my eyes adjusted to the light, what I saw in that room stunned the hell out of me!

To Be Continued.........

If these parts are too long, let me know and I can cut them down a bit for easier reading.
 

Mycernius

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Another story. Hope it is as gripping as the one about drugs. 👍
 

Kara_Nari

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NOOOOOO DONT STOP THERE!!!!
Whens part 2 coming?????
Hehehe, Im starting to imagine things that it could be....
 

Kun

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Please finish the story!! I joined this site just so that I could post here to tell you that!!!
 

Nuala

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I envy you for having the oppurtunity to do that.
 

dangdaga

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Another story. Hope it is as gripping as the one about drugs
60158873350585tu-1.jpg
 

Ermac

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Damn, I was really getting into that.
and to me, its pretty obvious that you don't get 'lucky' XD

Damn good story dude, hope to hear the rest of the story soon.

*bookmarks page*
 

Rich303

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Keep it comin' Pach !
It really reminded me of my first experience in a traditional japanese house.
Your stories are always real 'page-turners' - 'mouse nudgers' if you will.
 

Swordheart

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窶堋キ窶堋イ窶堋「ツ|

Amazing story! I am searching for part 2.
 

Innocence

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haha wow! sir, you should be a writer, your post is old so i dont know if you'll ever see this but haha yeah! be a writer, you're professional.
 

Pachipro

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Thanks for the kind compliment Innocence. Glad you enjoyed it.
 

Pachipro

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It's amazing how some things make their way around the internet. At least they had the kindness to acknowledge the source as being Jref!
 

Uncle Frank

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It's amazing how some things make their way around the internet. At least they had the kindness to acknowledge the source as being Jref!

Now I know where to go for sex-ed lessons ! Congrats on being a Prof. of Love !

Uncle Frank

😊
 

Pachipro

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Uncle Frank said:
Now I know where to go for sex-ed lessons ! Congrats on being a Prof. of Love !
I wish that was the case. Someone else on that site linked it to Jref and I was just as surprised as anyone to find it there when kawasaki posted it. Hey, at least the Jref name is linked there!
 

spongebob101

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It is really an interesting story... You will learn a lot about the culture of Japan in late 70's... How about the Part 2 sir? When will you post it... If is has...
 

Brownbo

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Hey that was really quite nice. I sometimes feel like I was either born to late or to early, but then I have to remember that we are all born when we are born so that we can create the issues in our lives we need to learn how to solve in order to evolve. I started the second part...keep writing my man. Cheers.
 

edwardreed037

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Last weekend I was lucky enough to attend the annual Japanese Cultural Festival here at the Utsunomiya City Hall Building. It was advertised to the International community so I was hoping there would be a bunch of English speakers there.
 

Mike Cash

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Last weekend I was lucky enough to attend the annual Japanese Cultural Festival here at the Utsunomiya City Hall Building. It was advertised to the International community so I was hoping there would be a bunch of English speakers there.

That's all it would take to send me running for the hills just as far on the other side of town as I could go.
 
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