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"Now, I have been in Japan for a total of about nine months. During that time, I have used chopsticks around 503 times. Of those 503 meals, I have been complimented on how well I use chopsticks 497 times.."
- Ryan Roling

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If snow were water
by Ryan Roling, 25, Asahikiwa, Japan
Mar 6, 2000

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By this time, my co-workers had been drinking for a good two hours. They actually started drinking just as we pulled out of the high school parking lot, and all during the hour and a half bus ride. So, miraculously, many of them started speaking in tongues. Thankfully, they've been blessed with the tongue of English.

It is a custom to pour the drink of the person sitting next to you on either side. In fact, they believe it is rude and bad luck if you pour your own drink. So, at this point everyone was eating and pouring and drinking. Some of the guys would go around and pour everyone a drink. It didn't matter if your cup was full, they simply waited for you to take a sip and then filled it again. They knew I wasn't especially keen to alcohol, so whenever they came to my place, they would grab a bottle of o.j. or tea and fill my cup. It didn't matter what you were drinking, just that you were a part of the group.

Now, I have been in Japan (counting my time in Sendai) for a total of about nine months. During that time, I suppose I have eaten with other people and used chopsticks around 503 times. Of those 503 meals, I have been complimented on how well I use chopsticks 497 times, beginning with the first time I ever picked up a chopstick and could barely hold it in my hand. The standard compliment is something like this, "Oh, Ryan (pronounced "Lion"), hashi wa jouzu desu ne!" Roughly translated, "Oh Ryan, you're awesome at using chopsticks." Now, you may think this would get a bit tedious, but I have really come to like it. They don't really think that I am an All-Star Chopstick User, but what they are doing is beginning a conversation with a compliment. They like to open things on a positive note. It's about the same as asking yourself if you really mean it every time you ask someone "how are you doing?"

So, me and my chopsticks were doing well, and the evening progressed in that manner. At one point a half drunk Japanese history teacher asked me who I thought was the most important man in Japanese history. Now stop! How many Japanese men can YOU name? If you're anything like me, you're lucky to pull one name out of your hat. So, I pulled my one name out, and he was stumped. Oh yeah. I said, "Sadahara Oh." He said, "Who?!" I said, "Sadahara Oh. You know him don't you?" He didn't so I had to go on explain that he is Japan's home run king with 868 career home runs. Some history teacher.

He went on and told me all about some dude named Hirohito, but as far as I could tell, he didn't hit a single home run in his whole career so I was less than impressed to say the least.

Then I asked him who he thought the most important man in U.S. history was. He said, "Makata." I said, "Who?!" He said, "Makata, you know him don't you?" Red faced, I said I did not. He went on to tell me about his involvement as a general in WWII. Sooner or later I figured out that the drunk Japanese man who teaches history was talking about General Douglas MacAurther (I don't even know how to spell his name, but it doesn't really matter because as far as I know he doesn't have a single career home run either.).

After dinner we went back to the onsen where I enjoyed two hours of encouragement from my co-workers to get a girlfriend. There is a 25 year old English teacher, who just happens to be quite attractive, and they repeatedly told me to "Attack! Attack! Attack!" Sitting in water up to my chin I thought, "Don't hold your breath. I'm a shy pacifist."

Where are we moving to next?

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