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Consuming Alone in Japan – Intrepid Occasions


A traveler in Japan finds a way of connection within the solitude of the nation’s many eating places that cater to solo diners.

There was a lightweight drizzle outdoors. I had left my umbrella in a locker by the door of the small Kyoto visitor home. I fumbled for the important thing in my pocket, felt its mild weight between my thumb and forefinger, and let it drop. The restaurant wasn’t far, and a little bit rain wasn’t going to harm. 

My hair was barely damp by the point I approached the door. There was a Japanese man smoking outdoors. He glanced up at me, extinguished his cigarette, put the butt in a bin, then opened the door and shortly closed it behind him. I caught a look of a small however busy restaurant, one counter, full of diners. Two previous males had been smoking. It seemed energetic and actual and — although I groaned internally on the phrase — genuine.

Standing outdoors an opaque door, alone, I questioned what sort of delights or embarrassments awaited on the opposite facet. What if the place was full and I used to be waved away? What if it was filled with guffawing locals who checked out me like I used to be some sort of imposter, intruding on their conviviality with my ungainly solitude?

I hesitated, made for the door, then turned again, rationalizing to myself… I don’t converse Japanese and would simply be a nuisance. The place was in all probability full anyway. I’d discover someplace with a menu I may perceive. 

About midway again to the visitor home, my hair was truly beginning to get moist, and I used to be hungry… and upset.  A fast flip. A deep breath. And again. I strode via the wood door as if I owned the place, assured on the surface… hopefully. 

The 2 previous smoking males turned to offer me drunk, bemused stares. I seemed. Each area by the small counter gave the impression to be full. A lady behind the counter fastened me with a stern stare and held up her arms in a cross, shaking her head. I turned and left.

***

I’ve been alone right here earlier than. Crisp winter air, alleyways lined with bungalows, electrical wire in some way solely barely marring the underspoken grandeur of Japan’s historic capital.

The primary time, a few years in the past, I stayed within the suburbs removed from the Chinese language vacationers dressed up as geishas and the westerners hollering Dwelling on a Prayer within the karaoke bars. Removed from the golden temple and the bamboo forest, in a small suburb the place folks had been simply getting on with dwelling their lives.

Circumstances had positioned me alone there for just a few days, within the empty residence of a buddy of a buddy. I knew nobody, spoke not a lick of Japanese, and had no agenda apart from to eat as a lot sushi as potential and hopefully bump into a narrative.

***

I stood outdoors the door of a small native bar. I breathed deeply and went in. A few dozen metallic chairs surrounding a white nylon bar, dim lighting, a middle-aged lady behind the bar refilling the glasses of quiet, stupefied-looking salarymen — it was arduous to inform if the suited males had come collectively or had been alone.

I requested for a beer — I could have realized simply sufficient Japanese to tug this off with out English — and the matron tried to make dialog. She appealed to the drinkers in Japanese, presumably asking if anybody there spoke English. Nobody did. She made a cellphone name. I sipped my beer. A couple of minutes later, a younger man arrived.

Barely greater than a young person, he seemed round shyly, greeted the lady familiarly, pointed at me and mentioned one thing in Japanese. “Hiya,” he mentioned to me, “I’m clean. Can I sit with you?” I mentioned sure, he sat down subsequent to me, requested for a beer. The girl raised her eyebrows, hesitated, after which introduced him one, smiling indulgently.

The boy was the bartender’s son. She had known as him and defined {that a} foreigner was right here. He had come to maintain me firm. We chatted for the following hour or two. He was an aspiring singer who left me with a chunk of paper with a scribbled listing of Japanese pop bands to lookup. He was excited to be there — regardless of being over 18, his mother didn’t let him drink in her bar, however that evening was an exception. 

Typically, this type of factor occurred while you compelled your self to enter the doorways. And generally you get kicked out. In both case, I all the time felt international, fascinated and grateful for the expertise of being there, but in addition like a grain of sand in an in any other case completely oiled machine. 

***

The very best journey moments typically occur in opposition to a backdrop of loneliness, loneliness abruptly alleviated by an opportunity assembly, loneliness regularly sublimating into worry after which into pleasure as a harrowing journey lastly approaches the yearned-for vacation spot. However in Japan, because the ungainly, unqualified outsider, loneliness appeared each one thing I introduced with me and one thing I discovered nearly all over the place I seemed. 

Japan appeared to bake loneliness into its very design. Brightly lit canteens have glass screens arrange across the counters, cocooning every particular person away from fellow diners. Males in fits, well-dressed girls in excessive heels, youngsters with elaborate haircuts, all sit alone, chopsticks in a single hand, telephones within the different, typically carrying headphones, taking part in video games or watching video clips. You order meals on a small display screen in entrance of you.

On the immaculately clear Tokyo metro, there may be silence. I can’t even keep in mind if the trains made noise — rationally, I do know they did, however the environment is one in every of pristine calm. Individuals stare straight forward, or sleep. A ticket machine I used to be utilizing as soon as appeared to malfunction, and the wall in entrance of me opened up; a panel swung apart, and an attendant popped his head out. He resolved my challenge politely after which disappeared once more, the wall sealing up, leaving no hint of the place he had come from

***

It’s late December, and my time in Tokyo is coming to an finish. I stand beneath the clear sky on a clear and quiet suburban road, wanting with hope and trepidation at a sequence of kanji characters, which, I’m guessing, point out the title of the restaurant that I’ve been searching for. 

It’s unattainable to see what’s on the opposite facet of the carved wood doorways, however I take a deep breath and can myself to go in. The proprietor waves at me and snaps one thing — I believe I’m getting thrown out however understand he’s asking me to slip shut the door behind me. 

Salarymen in impeccable fits sit across the counter, consuming with a centered detachment. I dangle my coat and slip my masks down as my glasses fog up. I shortly clear them on my shirt, the room going blurry, then place them again on and navigate to a free chair across the bar. 

It’s dim right here, the small room in darkly painted wooden lit by a few small bulbs. It’s nearly utterly silent as nicely, the opposite prospects — 7 or 8 males in fits, some sitting side-by-side however all giving the impression of getting come alone — will not be talking. One or two furtively glanced at me as I entered however shortly resumed their unhurried consuming. 

There are solely two workers, a person of about 60 behind the counter slicing uncooked fish and a lady of about the identical age. The girl brings me a mug of wealthy, syrupy inexperienced tea. The person units to work on my sushi. 

Quickly, a sq. plastic plate seems bearing delights that make all of the earlier nervousness and stress soften away. The wealthy, fatty tuna, the right orange circles of roe, the delicately pink salmon, the creamy texture and seductively pungent taste of the uncooked prawns.

I had crossed the brink, and for the following 30 or so minutes, I felt like part of the material. 

Though I’d been the final of the diners to reach, I used to be the primary to complete. I paid the woman after which left, closing the wood doorways behind me.

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