Located my house for the next few days, from AirBnB. It's on 'Orchestra Road', in Hakata district, which seems to be a happening place. It's a traditional little unit within which you lose your sense of direction, such is its layout. And I sleep on the floor in what must be the most surprisingly comfortable tatami.
I feel considerably lost. I've been in China for over a year and although mastery of that language lies on a distant plain, I see now that I took for granted what I was able to achieve through communication. Now, in a notoriously over-polite society as Japan, I can't help but stare at the floor as I perform the most basic tasks as buy a bottle of water. Politeness structure isn't so rigid in China. In fact it doesn't really have a protocol. One can do almost anything without such a repercussion as a raised eyebrow. I made a faux-pas here today by 'jaywalking' a 6-foot narrow alleyway whilst everyone waited for the green light!
Before meeting Toshiya who was to cook me dinner on my first night, I stopped by a local establishment based on its promise of beer (judging by the 5 foot high illuminated beer glass situated outside the front door). As I was trying to invisibly sit in the corner by the coats and dripping umbrellas, they ushered me to the central seat to sit alongside the local crowd, each more enthusiastic than the last to use their various apps to translate Japanese to English in order to convey to me basic greetings and formalities. This process, accompanied by the most loveliest exaggerated gestures and offerings of potato and sake from neighbouring tables, took over an hour.
You know those apps where you dictate in your language to the microphone what you wish to be translated, and then Siri-voiced robot woman says it in another language? As 56-year-old Aichi looked me in the eye speaking into his phone, I could only look upon the moment as someone in the next 50 years might. That communication was once so difficult and bad-90's-movie awkward between nationalities will seem absurd. All the same, eventually, mutual understanding was met.
During this early stage of my stay in Japan I decided to see if, when written, Chinese characters perform the same function as 'Kanji' (borrowed Chinese characters in the Japanese language) when directed to a Japanese reader. So for a while we discussed some basic information through my greatest exertion of writing, and their greatest exertion of understanding, before it was clear that it will barely ever express a point clearly. Looking back it was a dumb assumption, but a drastic measure to show goodwill. However, one instance where it did perform to satisfactory effect was when the 72 year old wife of the head chef was introduced to me. I naturally wrote down '美', and before I knew it, sake had been poured for everyone in the room.
Along with the numerous cigarettes offered me, the sake was making me feel a bit lightheaded. Enacting what has been commonly referred to as a fault of my personality I left promptly after paying my share, to the great bemusement of those gathered, who probably expected me to stay the night. The fact that I am still fretting over it conforms to my fear of being impolite at any occasion, which lies in constant battle with my base instincts.
So I trundled off down the road to meet Toshiya with whom I had become acquainted through Couchsurfing, a website I can't recommend highly enough. People are often suspicious it could be unsafe, but if you use your common sense and best judgment you will always end up in interesting situations.
As was the case last night, where the squid I took round was promptly sliced and prepared into sashimi to be served with Tofu, bonito, kimchi, sous-vide cooked garlic chicken and soup. He is someone who identifies themselves as a concept on CS rather than a person - you come across these people occasionally. His entire living is food - and although not currently a chef per se - he is in a position which allows him to go all over the world to start up sushi restaurants and train locals. He is currently looking at Caye Caulker, Belize, which I have been to. So we had a long discussion on the prospects there.
Of all the philosophical food-related statements he made, what stuck with me was his idea that travelling has much more to do with food than we really consider. Our bodies are changing all the time based on the food that we eat, and so, when we are in another country, we begin to become that country when we eat their local and locally sourced cuisine. As I was digesting the raw squid, he explained to me that my body was becoming Japanese.
It got me thinking about how much time I have spent in a country with famously poor sanitary standards. And I have always been one to snack on the cheap stuff on the street corner in order to get a better understanding of the regional delicacies. And to save money for other vices. So, I am currently undergoing a change from Chinese to Japanese, both inside which I can't see, and outside manifested by my poor social skills!