Tuesday, August 16, 2005
Del Mar is indeed a real place
Sunday night I was invited over for dinner at the house of one of the teachers I will be team-teaching with. He picked me up at my apartment and drove me back to his place, about 40 minutes away, where we ate with his wife, daughter, his father and mother, his brother-in-law, sister, and their daughter. As he warned me as we walked up into the alcove of his house, "You're going to have to speak all in Japanese tonight, because nobody else speaks English." Indeed, he was quite right. But of course it's not just the difficulty of speaking Japanese; entering into a family dinner is always tricky businesss - navigating a web of already joined exclusive relationships - but this is just exacerbated by the over-arching Japanese cultural system that puts one further on the outskirts. Walking into the dining room, despite the teacher having told his family a foreigner would be coming over for dinner, it was still hard to miss the barely-concealed shock on all of their faces upon greeted with me in all my glory. I suppose describing a foreigner to a Japanese person is kind of like trying to describe the face of God; words fail to do justice to its power and magnificence when one finally does see it, the experience reducing a person to a sort of gasping fetal state. Or perhaps a more apt analogy that more accurately captures the fear inherent in this experience while also commenting on my general relatively outlandish appearance here would be coming face to face with a grizzly after only looking at photos of grizzlies in National Geographic, standing quivering at the foot of the giant beast as it rears up on its hind legs to its full height, towering so far above as to block the very sun itself!
So dinner was a rather good mixture of sushi, barbecue, and fried fresh fish, but a rather stolid affair at first as everyone acclimated themselves to my sudden appearance in their home. But as usual, a bit of alcohol was all we needed to loosen my tongue and concurrently the atmosphere. The teacher grabbed a few beers for me and his brother-in-law, then he grabbed a couple more when we finished those. He told me he used to be a strong drinker when he was younger, but not anymore. Then he went and grabbed an old bottle of scotch and pretty soon the three of us were drinking scotch on the rocks. Yeah, sure, when you were younger.
After the scotch, he ran out to the back of the house, suddenly reappearing with a guitar and a songbook. Of Beach Boys songs. Which he then started playing at the table for all of us, to the delight of his family and to my great amusement. The Beach Boys, as part of the increasing trendiness of surf culture in particular, as well as the continuous fascination with American rock in general, are huge in Japan. The teacher said his favorite Beach Boys song was "Surfin' USA", and then asked me to sing along to the song with him as he played it. So we sat around the table singing the song. He was impressed that I knew the lyrics, since the song came out so far before I was born. So I explained, "Well, you can't really grow up in California, as the Beach Boys were from there, without hearing all the Beach Boys songs a thousand times." First, he said, shocked, "Wait, the Beach Boys are from California?!" I said yes, and then afterwards I pointed out that both Del Mar and La Jolla, mentioned in the song, were in fact in San Diego, quite near my house. To which he replied, incredulously, "Those are real places?!" Apparently he thought the Beach Boys had just made up all the names they were singing...
Not to make a point after every post, but that's a good illustrative lesson on the level of absorption of even American popular culture in Japan. If the Beach Boys can't make inroads here, what the hell am I going to be able to do?