By Jimmy Widgrin
I was returning from work on an ordinary Tuesday last month.
Being possessed of no cooking ability to speak of, (even my instant ramen is lacking) I ate out that evening, as I frequently do. The name of the first restaurant I patronized that night escapes me, but on the way home after a light meal, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to drop by Yagobe, a hole-in-the-wall yakitori joint that I had first visited one week prior. The chicken, pork and vegetable dishes on the menu there aren’t the best yakitori I’ve had in Aomori, but the establishment’s location (directly across the street from where I live) was and remains a strong point in its favor.
Ducking under the curtains and sliding open the door, I entered the dimly lit restaurant and sat down at the counter, greeting the owner with an unenergetic “domo”. I drained a mug of beer, passing on the “otooshi” (small snack many restaurants put out when a customer orders a drink) and proceeded to order the last type of nihonshu on the menu that I had yet to taste. I was lazily watching the television located in the farthest corner of the room while drinking this sake and nibbling on a few skewers of yakitori when three men entered the restaurant and passed behind me to the tatami area. My attention returned to the television after a moment’s distraction, but within five or ten minutes, a rough, loud voice called out to me from behind.
“You like nihonshu? What are you drinking?”
It was the older heavyset man of the group. I answered with the brand and explained that it was the last type of nihonshu I had yet to try among the types available at the yakitori place.
“I know something much better. Wait.”
The man pulled out a cell phone and called someone, and then ordered the person on the other end of the phone to buy a type of nihonshu called Shichiriki and bring it to the yakitori place. After a few minutes, a fourth man arrived, carrying a large bottle.
“Drink,” said the heavyset man tersely.
The man carrying the bottle brought it over to the counter, where the restaurant owner opened it and poured me a glass. I raised a toast to my benefactor and sipped the new drink. It was good, and the heavyset man told me to order any food I wanted because he would cover the bill.
I ordered more yakitori and moved over to the table at the tatami area where four men were now seated. Enjoining conversation with the group, I discovered that the heavyset man was the president of an Aomori construction company, and the other three men were some of his employees. Even the owner of the yakitori place turned out to be a former employee of the construction company.
The conversation began with the normal initial topics (how long have you been studying in Japanese/living in Japan, etc) and as it branched out, I came to realize that the employee who had been summoned to bring us the Shichiriki was the same man that our own Dave Herlich had fought in a mixed martial arts match last fall. Then the shacho (company president) made the conversation political, and eventually asked me to rate Japan on a scale of one to ten. He had already stated vehemently that he loves Japan but hates the Japanese government.
I gave Japan a ten and went on to explain my reasoning while the shacho listened closely. When I finished, he nodded and said in Japanese “ki ni itta” (I like you), and invited me to tag along on the company trip to Iwate which was coming up the following weekend (with all expenses paid). The roster for the trip would be the shacho, the employees of his company and the family they would bring, and his friends, which now included me. I accepted gratefully, and would later have an amazing time that next weekend.
Eventually the shacho left, after which I got in a taxi and went out to the Honcho area of Aomori City with two of the company employees. There was much fun had before I made it back to my place at around 3:30 AM.
In conclusion, eat yakitori, drink alcohol, (nihonshu is best) and be friendly to strangers that strike up conversations with you. It works for me.