This past Saturday I decided to indulge in some traditional にほんしき キュイジーヌ (Japanese Cuisine). I met up with my friend, まきさん in the Ebisu section of Tokyo, about a half hour from the Ontakesan Dorm. When we got there it really hit me that this was a very non-touristy restaurant. Since Tokyo is considered the capital of Japan, there is a lot more English within in the city than one would expect. Albeit it is nowhere near as much as an English speaking country, but just enough for foreigners to make their way around the city. Therefore, a significant amount of restaurants have partially English menus. 松玄 (Matsugen) had no English whatsoever on their menu.
The waiter escorted us to a table, long enough to fit eight to ten people comfortably. There were already four people at the other end. Thinking they were friends that Maki forgot to tell me she invited, I began to make my way down the table opposite of her. Then I caught her glancing at me, with a small look of concern. She motioned for me to come to her side of the table. In this particular restaurant you sat next to whoever you came with. The others who were sitting at the end of the table were totally different parties. The sense of privacy is different in Japan, something that has catches me off guard every once in a while during my travels. In America it seems like we are much more concerned about who is in our “space.” You’d be surprised by how much “space” we have that we really do not need.
Since my Japanese is limited, I suggested that Maki do most of the ordering, instead of reading every single dish on the menu to me. I told her beforehand that did not know much about Japanese cuisine, so she was more than determined to make me try anything she could think of. I finally realized the reason why we had to sit next to each other in the restaurant: every course we ordered had to be shared between us. Before each course, Maki would show me the correct way to remove the food from the main plate and prepare it with various seasonings and spices. Then I would make a clumsy attempt with my chopsticks to match her elegance. Realizing your incapacity to accomplish tasks so simple to others is a very funny, yet enlightening, experience. In between eating we would talk in English, and sprinkle bits of Japanese in between. Maki kept her e-dictionary handy just in case I brought up words that she did not yet know. During conversations, I began to notice how abstract some words really in are in the English language. It took me a good five minutes to figure out how to explain the word “motivation” in a way that Maki could understand. It was not because her English was lacking; it was because motivation is a concept of American society. Since we develop an understanding of it just from living in society, it is much harder to explain what it is. What I am trying to say is that you can’t really teach someone a feeling. Everyone thinks about and feels motivation in a different way. I am sure there is a word in Japanese that has a similar meaning to motivation, but not the exact meaning though.
I enjoyed the food so much that I forgot to take pictures of it all! We snapped few during the end of our meal: