7. Mr Uematsu and Mr Ron Fast
Mr Uematsu was an awkward sorta guy who was about 45, whose jet black hair was starting to thin, and who wore god awful glasses with lenses that were almost as big as his cheeks. I met him in the foyer of the Keio Plaza as he stepped forward and reached for my hand after we were introduced by one of The Programme organisers. He had come down from wherever it was I was going to live to collect me. It was an awkward introduction, with hands being offered for shaking but the shake being too limp for me, too firm for him. I tried to make eye contact, as is customary during a handshake, but he bowed his head away from my gaze. Guessing that maybe I should bow too, I nodded my head with a nervous caution that made my effort laughable by native standards. The Programme had primed us with a few basic Japanese greetings, and I was prompted to make an effort by his use of a Japanese 'how do you do'. Of course I completely fluffed up my reciprocal 'dozo yoroshiku onegaishimasu', mainly due to a lack of attention during the language briefing, but not helped by a jet-laggy hangover. 'Daniel-san', he said to me, sucking his teeth in the way that Japanese men do when they are being highly polite, 'this is Mr Ron Fast'. I looked to my left at the tall slender Canadian guy who had been waiting at the side. Things picked up a bit as Ron shook my hand in the correct manly eye-contacting way, avoiding the text-book English greetings and asking me more spontaneous questions, 'How was your journey?'.
We must have stood around talking for about five more minutes before Mr Uematsu prompted us to pick up the luggage to go and catch the train. With my one hundred or something kilos of snowboard and tent and CDs and clothes strewn one bag or case each between us, we three strolled out of the Keio Plaza into the humid air and along the shiny pavements, our bodies absorbing the heat and our shirts sticking to our backs. It wasn't much more than one hundred metres before Mr Uematsu decided that we should stop in a coffee shop. This one was of the Doutor chain, a small little place stuck on the bottom floor of a twenty story building covered from top to toe in grey tiles and neon signs. As we entered the air conditioned atmosphere hit me smack between the eyes at the same time a chorus of 'irashaimasayyyyyy' hit me between the ears, the waiting and counter staff crying out welcome. As we sat down a girl dressed in a tidily pressed uniform with a knee length skirt and a brown and yellow shirt of the corporate colours came across with a tray to serve us each small glass of water and a hot steaming hand towel. It might have been meant for my hands but that thing went straight across my sweaty brow, attracting what I noticed was a slight look of surprise from Mr Uematsu. Wiping one's face was obviously not the done thing. We chatted as Mr Uematsu ordered three ice coffees, or aisu kohi as they are better known over there and, seeing I was hot, handed me a plastic and paper fan that I thought was a gift but which I later found out was a form of free advertising he had been handed on the street. The polite chat continued with stuff he had obviously and surprisingly read in my long forgotten application. With my own questions I found out that Ron had been there a month already, that he was 30, had worked in Korea as an English teacher before, and wanted to save money before starting a post-grad programme back in Canada. I also gleaned that we both had quite luxurious one bedroom appartments already lined up and supplied at a nicely subsidised rent.