Friday, July 9, 2010

First real negative experience in Japan

So every Monday night, I've been going to this local izakaya (bar) to drink nihonshu (sake) and practice Japanese. After about two months of this, I've made some good friends there that have resulted in invitations and adventures outside of the izakaya.

Well, last Monday, I had a bit of a run in with one of the local guys. Probably it was just the alcohol and nothing more, but it was still rather disturbing.

I was talking with Hiroyuki, my "mentor" at the bar, and the new bar maid behind the counter. She is from China originally and was telling us her life story. She mentioned that she went to Musashino University, which is in our "city" (suburb) of Tokyo. I knew it was here but didn't know where it was. So, I had asked where it was located, and they were trying to tell give me directions.

Then, another regular, two stools down, leaned over to get involved in the conversation. He is a sort of rough, blue-collared guy, compared to the some of the office suits that come in.

At first I thought he was trying to help explain, but as his voice got louder and his tone angrier, I realized he was basically insulting me and calling me stupid to my face. I think he said something like, "You're a teacher at Asia University, and you don't know where Musashino University is?" Maybe he graduated from there...

In terms of behavior in Japan, which is usually very non-confrontational, this was really shocking. At one point, he was thrusting his open hand at my face, very close, and yelling, "Baka!" (stupid) In Japan, it is not often not the word that you use, but how you use it. This was a very extreme "use" of the word.

I also realized the other patrons in the bar and the staff were suddenly really embarrassed and were trying to distract him and diffuse the situation. I quickly stopped trying apologize and/or figure out what I had done to piss him off. I just looked straight ahead, drank my sake, and talked to Hiroyuki on my other side. The owner, Tabo, apologized to me quietly and discretely, saying the guy was "yopari." (drunk)

He kept grumbling and yelling at me for a little longer, but luckily another regular came in and sat down between us. He quickly realized what was going home and launched into a loud, "Boy, it sure it hot out there, huh? Man, I had a hard day at work!" routine that filled the void and let the bar regain some equilibrium.

It was a very strange experience. I felt a little shaky and nauseous. I honestly thought it might get violent, and as I've only been in one fight in my life (with the sister of a good friend, during college - don't ask), I wasn't sure how it would turn out.

I am definitely going back next week as I don't want the crew to feel bad about me having a bad experience. Maybe I'll buy the guy a drink! In Japan, usually whatever happens while out drinking is "forgotten" and never held against you...

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