This weekend, there were people everywhere – at a housewarming party for co-workers, and at an absolutely wonderful book discussion group I had the pleasure of joining this weekend. For someone who usually only sees her students, Japanese teacher, random strangers and her funny Irish neighbor – with smatterings of a fellow New Yorker, a delightful Englishman and a peaceful Japanese dude – this has been a head-spinning two days. New names. New faces. New accents. New stories. New e-mail addresses. New parts of town visited – the lake in Juchai is lovely, glittering in the moonlight, mere steps away from a co-worker’s new place; massive by Japanese standards, carpeted in a lush red, paneled with wood, and decorated with Buddhas, courtesy of the landlord, who did not even ask for her new tenants’ phone numbers before she agreed to let them move in. There was new information, too – did I know, for example, that the writers’ circles I thought were long defunct in Osaka are still thriving, welcome new members and will meet again in April? Did I happen to think that there was too much bad, awkward sex in Everything is Illuminated? Did I mind speaking a bit of Spanish to help classify my accent? Did I have any suggestions for books to read next month? Was I interested in joining group members in attending salsa parties later on in the month? Further, did I judge other members for having packets of phone company promotional tissue packets? Certainly not, since they came in handy when I needed to mop up my spilled lemonade. Besides, anyone living in Japan knows that you must always accept the packets of tissues crammed with advertisements from the hawkers on the street; they are [free] saviors for when you are caught in a public bathroom, confronted with a dreaded, dirt-encrusted squatter and an empty ring of toilet paper. I accepted business cards with the somber earnestness my time in Japan has taught me to employ, though the cards came from Europeans. Next month’s book: Out, by Kirino Natsuo – a detective thriller about a bento factory employee turned murderess. Fits in nicely with my recent obsession with bentos, which I stonily ignored for my first year here. Now I take great pleasure in scouring conbinis for the most tantalizing neatly-packed boxes of food combinations, militaristic in their approach to miniature, easily portable lunch. Thursday saw me enjoying a bento box of pickled plum-and-shaved-salmon-sprinkled rice, fried chicken, a slab of unidentified but tasty fish, a teriyaki sauce-smothered meatball, and a mini cupcake-holder’s worth of seaweed salad. I savored it while sitting in seiza, as I often find myself doing lately for no reason at all. I don’t know; it somehow feels right. I tuck my calves under my knees and arrange myself in a chair, huddled in the 5×5 cubicle that passes for a teachers’ lounge. Japanese staff members squeeze past me to punch in or out and giggle.
“Ribu san,” they say. “You are in seiza!”
I know I’m in seiza. I just don’t know why I am.