It’s taken all of 3 months but today I finally plucked up the courage to venture into a local establishment alone. Up until now a pervasive sense of awkwardness, fear and shame (‘I’m a Western idiot that’s gonna make you speak to me in MY language, because I don’t speak your language’) makes the prospect of walking alone (and sober) into any place that requires real time interaction with real Japanese people… terrifying. The place in question is a small café/bar in the foothills of Mt Haku. I’ve passed it a few times and I’ve also clocked Google images of vintage tea sets which, quite frankly, really speak to me. Upon arriving, I realise that the place is about to close (it’s 4:15 pm… and apparently it’s also closed on a Saturday. I DO NOT UNDERSTAND OPENING HOURS IN JAPAN). I turn on my heel. Oh well, I tried. Unfortunately the excitable waitress has other ideas and runs outside to usher me in, emphasizing that it’s ok, ok, ok! Oh god no… Doesn’t she understand that I don’t actually want to come in, I just want to be able to say to myself afterwards that I tried. But she insists. I insist back and we have a daijoubu off (‘daijoubu’ = ‘it’s fine’, ‘no worries’ ‘ok’) until I eventually relent. Fuck. I have to actually go through with this now, I can’t just go home, sit in my pyjamas and finish Season 2 of Big Little Lies like I came to Japan for.
What happens next is so ridiculously close to my expat fantasy that it’s almost jarring. Inside is a smokey room decked out with a cool eclectic mix of weird furniture and trinkets (I’M BASICALLY IN DALSTON) as well as two local musicians who speak a little English and are a bloody hoot. They befriend me and play me their songs and I drink chai, share a couple of their cigs and we talk about music. One of them loves Eric Clapton, Jimmy Hendrix and Sting and they invite me to their gig next month. Is. This. A. Joke?? One of them keeps tacking ‘in the world’ onto everything and finding it hilarious (‘No problem… IN THE WORLD’, ‘you’re welcome… IN THE WORLD!’, ‘my English is the best… IN THE WORLD’ [OK yep that one does work, well done]). I find it fantastically weird and funny, like I do most things here, and we all laugh and I’m like… have I just made some local Japanese friends? This is the dream, isn’t it? However, I can only feign knowledge of rock artists’ back catalogs for so long, so I quit while I’m ahead and leave on a high after an hour. As a reward for my bravery I take myself for a sushi supper that I can’t afford.