My apologies to the group of Japanese people in this photo. I don't remember any of your names and I am now posting a picture of you on the internet. If you want me to take it down, please leave a comment!
This is a bit of a long story, but since it's Golden Week and I don't have to work, I might as well take the time to share it. Awhile back, I was waiting for Blammo in his office building's Starbucks. As I nursed my soy chai latte alone (what a loser!), a Japanese girl around my age sat down next to me. I apparently smiled at her, but I don't remember that. She remarked upon my iPhone and when I ran out of Japanese phrases to spit out, I quickly told her that I didn't actually speak Japanese. She then busted out some of the best English I've heard from a Japanese person since moving here.
Turns out, she had studied abroad in the United States. Where exactly? Hayward, California - near, but thankfully not too near my hometown. Now, for those of you not from the Bay Area, Hayward is...shall I say, kind of a dump. No offense to anyone from Hayward, but let's be real, it totally sucks, right? But Japanese foreign exchange students get sent to some wacky places in America and they always come back with glowing reviews of these small towns and funny American accents. We kept on chatting, flattering each others' language skills and sharing stories about living abroad. Eventually, we exchanged numbers and went our separate ways.
This exchange might not sound abnormal to you, but every time I tell someone in Japan about how I met my Starbucks friend, they flip out. That's because you just don't talk to strangers in Japan. Not in a, "don't take candy from a stranger" kind of way but it's just not common for strangers to intrude into each others lives like that. Also, for foreigners in Japan, it's quite common for Japanese people to hunt you down like prey, in hopes that you'll tutor or help them practice their English.
In any case, she didn't seem like the serial-killer type to me and her English didn't really need any help. We hung out a couple of times afterwork, getting drinks once a month and recently, she invited me over to her house to make curry rice together. I thought it was going to be a relaxing girls night but when I showed up, so did 20 of her friends. I had just been bamboozled into a Japanese home party!
A home party, if you didn't already know, is the Japanese phrase for a house party. I think it's more like a house party meets dinner party because it's more about eating dinner than getting wasted and doing keg stands. Of course, none of them spoke English so my Japanese was really put to the test. I was asked lots of softball questions in the beginning, like "Where are you from?" and "What do you do?" but as the night progressed, the questions got more and more complex.
"What was your image of Japan before you moved here?" -- I thought it was cool, had good food and lots of robots.
"What did you think of the Mona Lisa?" -- It was really small.
"What are American home parties like?" -- Everyone stands, it's really loud and you drink a lot.
"What's the difference between East Coast and West Coast rap?" -- Umm....
I was also put on the spot and forced to come up with an "American-style" appetizer. If it were up to me, I would have totally busted out some pigs in a blanket or another Rachel Ray 30-minute meal (just kidding, I hate her), but I was handed a packet of spaghetti and various vegetables. The pasta salad I made was pretty flavorless but it looked pretty and everyone was nice to enough to eat it and pretend I was Mario Batali.
The main course was curry rice, a Japanese staple and favorite to many. Japanese curry is very delicious, but tastes nothing like Indian, Thai, Vietnamese or any other kind of curry you've ever had. It's pretty sweet, thick and not spicy at all. You can throw anything into curry rice and it will taste good. This variation had carrots, beef, chicken, mushrooms, onions and pumpkin. It was very tasty and much much better than my spaghetti salad.
And of course, like most Japanese gatherings, there was some drinking too. This I'm sure is what led to some of the funny questions thrown my way. Though a bit stressful, it was a great first home party experience. It was unique in that my friend's apartment is actually a family style house shared by 5 girls. Again, this is not new territory for us Americans, but in Japan, sharing a house with complete strangers Craigslist style is virtually unheard of. You either live alone, in a dorm or with your parents. Shared housing and having roommates seems to be getting more popular, especially for Japanese people who have lived abroad. I shared this story with a few friends of mine here and they all commented that the only people they knew that had roommates were friends that had studied abroad in Europe or the U.S.
And this concludes my Japanese Cultural Studies blog post. The floor is now open for questions.