Today was just like any other day in Japan.
Which is to say, it started out badly and ended by blowing my socks off so fast they spun the earth backwards on its axis, simultaneously leaving me breathless and saving Lois Lane from dying in some idiotic deus-ex-machina landslide/earthquake.
I'll get right to it. Bike tire was flat when I woke up, this makes me mad for reasons not worth getting into, except that it involves me getting splashed with rusty rainwater, etc. etc. No lunch break leaves me exhausted, I leave school in a sour mood, and because of the bike, don't get to the temple before it closes, whatever.
SOOO...I go shopping at Canal City Hakata, which is sort of a trendy spot with lots of expensive shops and gift items. Wandering through, I accidently run into a movie theater, and reading the titles I realize they are showing the new release of Neon Genesis Evangelion - ok, now skip the rest of the paragraph if you are not an anime fan. It was freakin' awesome, the theater was packed, and interestingly there is now significant product placement in Anime - Panasonic, DotComO, etc.
Movie was great, and looked amazing.
So, back to my story. I leave the theater with little idea of what to do, except to walk down this street by the canal and see what's up.
It's a series of Yatai (street food vendors) set up on the left, with the Canal on the right. The night is beautiful, it's 9:30, and I have no idea of what to do, except that I have only 2 more days in Japan after tonight.
But I'm starting to think that I've done it all. In fact, I'm starting to be concerned that the whole thing was a mistake - staying in Fukuoka the entire week. A couple of guys are taking the Shinkansen to Tokyo tomorrow and I'm thinking of joining them. What more could I do here, after all?
happens next....well, give me another 2 paragraphs. I promise it's good.
This next vendor catches my eye. It's a bucket of Unagi (eel) and a woman with a tiny grill. The idea is immediately obvious. Catch your own eel, and eat it. 500 Yen - 5 bucks.
OK, Japan, let's do this.
I go fishing.
Now, I'm not a fisherman; I've never been fishing. And that becomes immediately obvious after I break two of the fishing rods. The woman finally cries out "Dam-e!" which translates into "cut it the F*&# out you idiot foreigner."
So anyway, this guy next to me looks sympathetic and steps in to show me how its done. His technique is actually quite good and he catches an unagi quickly - but returns it to the tank. In the meantime, he notes that I am wearing 5.11 pants. That I find VERY unusual. Normally only military, law enforcement, or holster-sniffers thereof know what these are. In Japan it almost knocks me over. So he and I chat some, and I start to realize that the people there are treating him with a level of respect that is palpable. He is also conjugating his verbs in a very unusual fashion.
So I ask him what he does for a living...and he refuses to answer the question. He just sort of mumbles and looks away, in a way that only a Japanese person can.
"Oh crap," I think "I think I'm hanging out with a Yakuza (gangster.)"
Then again, it's Japan, so what do I care?
The respected man is handed Unagi that I never see him pay for, and in turn he offers it to me. It was absolutely amazing. Delicious. So we sat down on tiny stools and talked over fresh grilled eel.
Anyway, you have no idea how hard it was to figure out, using my Japanese, that the man was not a gangster at all. He was the Sergeant in charge of gang investigations for the Fukuoaka Police Department (something he only admitted to me after I told him what I do for a living.)
OK - I know, I know.
I'm a prosecutor, for goodness sake. I KNOW that he could be making that up. He gave me his card, but that will take me 14 months to translate. He had a badge, but he also has internet access. So sure, it could have all been a lie.
Until he offered to take me out for Sashimi.
"Sashimi wa daijobu?" (Is Sashimi OK)? Keep in mind that in America, I won't eat a tuna sashimi, and I know what's coming. In fact, I have almost never eaten real sashimi. So of course, I happily reply "Daijobu!" and followed him down alleys and back stairs until we entered some basement restaurant in Hakata.
Close your eyes for a moment, and think about what you think would happen when the chief inspector for the gang investigation unit of the prefectural police walks into a Sashimi joint in Asia. Got that in your mind?
THAT is what happened. The staff almost tripped over each other trying to get him a table, and quite nearly threw out someone who was at one table because they needed the space. The Japanese can be obsequious and phony, but what I saw was no act.
But the Inspector was fantastically kind, generous, and patient. We talked for hours and stayed well after closing. The staff there apparently are quite fond of him, and by extension, me, at least for the night.
I cannot convey to you how amazed I was at this entire experience, except to say this: we sat and talked for 2 hours, and had an amazing time, and I was so blown away by everything that I barely noticed that I was eating a fish called, according to my dictionary, a "Stinger Fish" while it was still breathing and looking back at me, occasionally audibly snapping its mouth while we ate its flesh. I barely blinked while eating Fugu (blowfish) that is actually WORLD FAMOUS for being deadly if not prepared correctly.
One inevitable question is, what can you talk about for hours with a man who speaks almost no English and you speak terrible Japanese. All I can say is that there are certain experiences that all law enforcement share. Bad judges, retirement issues, chasing around bad guys who are always younger even though every year you get older, etc.
Plus, it being Japan, he is also a Kendo instructor and studies Jujutsu. Most Japanese Police Departments have a Kendo school, in fact. So at the end of the night, we talked kendo some before the wait staff decided to come hang out with us and they all taught me Hakata street slang and laughed as I tried to pronounce it.
So there you go - Japan is more astonishing than eating another living creature while it looks back at you.