We all gathered around Fielding’s house somewhere near the suggested time of six thirty. Some of us showed up early, others later. Mason broke into an amusing introductory story about how he was first introduced to tequila while some straggling members of the party brought up the last of the group. The safety plan of attack was initiated, the duty drivers named, and the engines were started shortly after that.
It was a swift drive south to Hachinohe where we parked at a 24-hour parking lot and regrouped just outside the gate. Fielding led the way to our first stop – an izakaya in the basement of some building. Our group comprised eleven people (with two more showing up later in the evening) so we were given two booths on the wall opposite the register. It was smoky, aromatic, and full of the common sounds of any given Japanese local bar. The cooks were almost too busy to keep the orders straight, the waitresses dealt with pressure with the obligatory smile and the food arrived in front of us as it would have were we in Spain at the average tapas bar – on a saucer and just enough to whet the palate of a solitary individual.
The groups harmonized at each respective table, making decisions on menu items by either closing their eyes and pointing or trying out their Japanese in short circumlocutory utterances hoping to get something that didn’t take them beyond the bounds of their taste buds. The time drifted on and after several tall 大きいサイズglasses of Sapporo beer or requests for 地酒 (jizake – local sake), there was a consensual plan to climb up the stairs from whence the group first descended and move forward in the evening.
We moved on, at Fielding’s instruction, to the 八戸みくろ (Hachinohe Mikuro) Izakaya Lane, where patrons of the small evening food-and-drink shacks (the Japanese ‘izakaya’) meandered through the prominent narrow lane to find their seats, have a beer, and snack on delicacies whilst engaged in gossip of the goings-on about town. Bacon, a spicy favorite of locals, wrapped cheese, asparagus, and fermented soy-beans, finding the entire mouthful on thin skewers at the bar. Those who weren’t used to chit-chatting with the Japanese were able (after several orders of local sake) to strike up conversations with topics ranging from Gundam to “can you read my tattoo for me?”
Drinks, smiles, laughter, and company fueled the evening, and though some had to depart the group early, having spent all their fun money in one swift spurt, the others pressed on searching for more culinary surprises, new faces, and evening adventure.
We met quite the hodge-podge of people in the latter half of the evening – including a couple of hockey players who were thankful to meet anyone else who could speak English. They had only been here six months. Maybe hockey messes with your patience. The servers and cooks were all more than welcome to please and their smiles and warmth was so good, it was thought they practiced well in advance. In one flash, it was over, though. It was back to the cars, back to the house, and for most, a relatively early evening. For others, the host kicked them out at four.
Damn. I love Japan.