Friday, July 15, 2005

Visiting Saito-san

Meeting old friends
Saito-san (R) and Lee-san (L)

One of the pleasures of travel is to meet old friends that you haven`t seen in ages. Reiko, Yoko, and I all left for Jiyugaoka, an upscale part of town to meet Saito, his new wife, and Lee. Saito-san (I don”t know why we don’t call him by his personal name), I knew for over 10 years from the time I was studying in Hiroshima in 1993. Lee is a Korean student I knew from my days at Tokyo University. He had buffed out from all that weight training. It was great to see Lee-san after five years. He is in the final months of his Ph.D, and will soon look for a job. So he will have degrees from two of the toughest universities in the world to get into: Seoul National University and Tokyo University. He spoke fluent Japanese and put me to shame.

Saito-san and I comparing wedding rings. Or lack of. I lost my ring a few years ago while practicing jiu-jitsu. Call it a hazard of sports.

We walked to Saito’s apartment and met his wife, Satoko, who works as an Occupational Health and Safety counselor. She is very pretty, a polite conversationalist, and also a great cook. Ah, what a lucky guy Saito is! Anyway, Satoko wisely kept serving tea in between alcohol drinks, so her husband did not pass out after getting red faced from drink. In fact, his face color returned to normal after awhile. Saito also played his favorite music in the background: The Best of Kool and the Gang. We talked almost non-stop for six hours, reminiscing about our days in Tokyo five years ago. Below is a picture of Saito and Satoko-aren`t they a cute couple?

Off to Odaiba

By the early evening, Saito looked tired, so we bade him and his wife goodbye and left for Odaiba, a redeveloped oceanfront area of Tokyo. Now Lee has moved into a dorm for international students in Odaiba and so he knew the area like the back of his hand. Odaiba is built like a “Tomorrowland” and has monorails, and gleaming futuristic buildings, and lots of American-style shopping malls. Talk about putting Las Vegas to shame. Think of a futuristic Las Vegas and you have Odaiba.

We bought beer and walked around. I had forgotten that it is NOT a crime to drink beer in public. So I decided to drink and walk as much as possible and enjoy this experience while I can.
I spottedso many foreigners with their Japanese girlfriends. Japanese dressed casually tonight – even saw young men in tank tops. And this mall was full of so many global brands like the GAP. For a moment, I felt like I was in a Waikiki shopping center. Then I saw the can of beer in my hand and remembered that I was in a foreign country.

We entered Palette town, in which the interior is painted to look like an Italian village. The staff is so friendly, that I even took a picture with the female custodian/staff member dressed in a cute costume. She even thanked me after I took her picture. Ah, why can’t we Americans have such pride in our work? It is as if Japanese have learned from Disney and then improved on their concept of making the customer feel like a king.

On way back, I spotted a gang of Japanese teens in hip-hop gear causing a minor commotion, sliding down the escalator, and spitting on the station floor. Amazing how this would be commonplace teen behavior in the U.S. but they stood out as being so delinquent in Japan. I did not feel fear, as they were so reed-thin, and figured that Scott and I could have easily taken on the four of them if it came down to hand-to-hand combat. Then again, they could’ve been tough streetfighters so best not to find out. I guess just spitting can represent such a rebellious act that there is no need for young people to beat people up as an act of rebellion. Remember, adults should fight the small battles with youth so they don’t have to fight the big ones.

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