Japan By Male (Part 3)


Japan By Male (Part 3)

By Alexei Esikoff (Fukushima-ken, 2001-02)

(Winter 2005 Issue)

Here’s the third and last(?) installment of Alexei Esikoff’s novel about study-abroad student Peter Szeikaly.

Here’s the nutshell version to refresh your memories.  Peter: dork in the US, not in Japan. He’s starting to notice a girl named Satomi. In the last section, Peter and the other foreigners went out for drinks with some of the Japanese women in their class. When Peter got home, drunk, he pleasured himself thinking of Satomi.   (Go to the Summer and Fall 2004 issues on-line to read the first and second parts of the story if you missed them.)

In the morning a massive headache consumed me. I made instant ramen-for some reason my body wanted grease.

Around my futon were weeks’ worth of clothes. So much for order and appearance. I gathered them up in my arms-they reeked of smoke-and dumped them into the washing machine. (Yes, I had a washing machine. No, I had never used it. Yes, I was taken to cleaning my underwear in the sink with bar soap.) The clothing hole was tiny: I had to lean over and stuff everything in with all my might. My head spun.

Of course I didn’t have detergent. A trip to the 7-11 was needed. I think I single-handedly kept that place in business.

Outside I threatened the sun to stop shining. My poor eyes leaked and oozed.

The pimply kid was behind the counter. By now he was used to me. “Hello!” he said in English.

“What’s up?” I replied, also in English. The pimply kid said nothing.

Sure enough, in the batteries-and-fireworks aisle, there was a small blue bottle called Fabric Man. I recognized the kanji for cotton, and decided to that this was the right product.

Ravi came in as I approached the register. “Hey dude!”


“How you feeling?”


He slapped my back. “I know what you mean.” He nodded at the Fabric Man. “Doing laundry, eh?”

“Trying to.”

“I’m doing errands myself. Don’t you love you can pay your bills at konvinis?” He held up some envelopes.


“Didn’t you get a mobile bill last week?”

Brit-speak was becoming easier to decipher. “Oh yeah, sure, I took care of that already.”

“Not me. I’m such a procrastinator.”

“I hear you. Later.”

“See ya,” said Ravi, and he turned to the pimply kid and began speaking rapidly in Japanese.

Oh crap. I hustled up the stairs, against my headache’s will. Ignoring the directions, I poured two capfuls of detergent into the washing machine and hit the button that said cold (I was domestic enough to know that hot water and dark laundry was a dangerous combination. I made that mistake the first time I did laundry in my freshman dorm. Some of the grayish underwear had yet to be replaced.) The machine buzzed to life. I hustled to the desk/garbage pile in the kitchen.

Frantically I threw papers around my desk. I came across my boarding pass and name tag from orientation. Some welcome notes from school, endless 7-11 receipts, a letter from my grandmother (email being beyond her capability for new-fangled technology). Finally, at the bottom, a sealed envelope addressed to Pitah Seikai. Pitah Seikai, the man for whom even bill-paying is a daunting task. An agitated groan sounded from the bathroom, but I was too distracted by the 7,890 yen cost of my first keitai bill. How on earth did that happen? I checked the list. Three calls to Katherine, only one of which she picked up, made up the bulk of the bill. Thank god my mother always called me and not vice-versa. Local calls-one number appeared the most, so I assumed it had to be Maggie’s-made up the last third. Christ. I had to cut down on calling. Though I didn’t feel like I spent a lot of time on the phone.

The noise in the bathroom was getting louder. Upon inspection I discovered bubbles oozing out the sides of the lid. It didn’t seem panic-worthy: can’t a guy have super-clean clothes?

My wallet was lying abandoned in the corner by the Playstation. Three crumpled 1000 yen bills and a smattering of change were all it offered. Dropping the money on the coffee table I hurried back to the desk. At least my traveler’s checks were in the bottom drawer where I had left them, tucked into my passport.

It was Saturday. No banks were open. That meant the phone bill couldn’t get paid until Monday. I checked the calendar; Monday was the due date. I didn’t want to know what happened if I paid it late. Japan doesn’t seem like a country where people pay their bills late. Do they have repo men? Tough sumo-sized guys who come and break your thumbs?

The washing machine squealed, which I took to mean the load was done. I pulled out the first item-a blue towel, on which a soapy residue remained. Sigh. I gathered up an armful of laundry and dripped it across the kitchen floor. Out on the porch I clipped the wet clothing to the line, getting angry at the rusty hinges on the clothespins. It was still sunny but windy-the laundry flapped. Laundry, you are mine, and I say you stay here! It took several trips back and forth between the bathroom and porch to get it all up. The cigarette in my mouth became all ashy as I needed two hands to do this. On the way back inside I stubbed my toe on the porch’s mysterious clunky machine. “Ow! Fuck!” I took off my sock; there was no damage. “What is your purpose?” I asked the machine as I massaged my foot.

That was enough time spent at home. I needed to have some fun.

The obon festival was the first matsuri I went to, and that was because I stumbled on it by accident. At Super Electron I purchased a James Bond game with the emergency credit card. On my way home from Mr. Donut, eating something round and jelly-ful, I noticed the parking lot next to my rice patty had people milling around. On closer inspection, they were wandering from booth to booth. I wasn’t going to stop (I wanted to play Bond) but then I noticed the turtle game (like our ping-pong-in-the-goldfish-bowl-game, but, you know, with turtles). I had to win a turtle.

The guy behind the booth wasn’t as creepy as an American carny: He had teeth.  However this Japanese carny used the same method as his American counterparts, cat-calling people to step right up. I gave him 900 yen, he handed me a single ping-pong ball.

I considered various methods for a while. Throwing overhand seemed too forceful, even for me. Tossing underhand, however, offered less control. (Have I mentioned how badly I wanted that turtle? I would feed him frozen shrimp and create a green leafy home for him, not some lame neon castle. I would name him The Fonz to be irreverent.)

Finally I settled in underhand. Pulling my arm back, ready to launch, I heard “Hello Peter!”

Of course it was Satomi.

She looked baggy-eyed and was wearing a short (short!!) pink skirt and heels. There was a guy with her. My face reddened. “You never said goodbye.”

She cocked her head.  “You were talking to your friend.”

“Ravi was drunk. I was helping him.”

“Oh. I am sorry. How are you?”

“Fine. And you?”

“I drink too much,” she offered playfully. “Do you want to win that turtle?”

“I hope I win it.”

She gave me a thumbs up. “Good luck!”

I pulled my arm back. I narrowed my eyes. I pictured a little red target over the bowl. I pressed the X button on my controller.

Of course I missed. Satomi oohed in disappointment.

“I suck,” I said, hoping to elicit pity.

She gestured to the guy next to her, who so far had contributed nothing. “Maybe Kenichi can win.” She handed Kenichi money from a tiny wallet. He took his turn behind the line.

She whispered in my ear, “Kenichi plays baseball.”

I hoped my scowl wasn’t visible. He wasn’t much taller than me but he was broad. “Good for him.”

And, of course, Kenichi bagged a turtle with a satisfying wet thunk. The carny dumped the turtle in a baggie with a twist tie. Kenichi held up the turtle triumphantly and Satomi oohed again, but a different, positive ooh. I wanted to hit her. Or better yet, him.

Kenichi handed me the turtle. “For you,” he said in English.

“You speak English?”

“Our father taught us,” he answered.

I’m an idiot. “You’re Satomi’s brother?”

“Little brother,” Satomi laughed.

“Taller brother,” Kenichi said.

Satomi said, “What name will you give to the turtle?”

Telling her that he was The Fonz was out of the question. “Why don’t you name it?”

She studied the brown critter intently. (Please, I thought, don’t name him Shelly.) “He is cute. His name is Frog.” She giggled with her hand behind her mouth.

“Frog? But he’s a turtle.”

“Yes, but one of my favorite English words is  frog.'”

Well, I wasn’t going to argue with her. I thanked Kenichi gratefully. Satomi suggested yakisoba (I was full from my donut but neglected to mention that) so the three of us went to another little booth, where a tiny lady was serving noodles into plastic containers. To treat, I bought everyone a serving. (My wallet threatened to bite me when I closed it.) We chatted a while-mostly Kenichi and Satomi asking me questions-until I realized Frog must be suffocating. I stood to go. Kenichi stuck out his hand and we shook. I realized I hadn’t thanked him yet, so I did.

“Are you sure you can’t stay? We dance for the ancestors soon,” said Satomi.

Dancing? That was out of the question. “No, Frog needs to go home.”

“Okay. Bye-bye.”

I walked towards my apartment. Frog was kicking around his bag. I stopped and turned around. “Hey, Satomi!”

She and her brother were still sitting on the bench. I noticed he was eating the remains of her yakisoba. “Peter?”

“Can you come here?”

She gave Kenichi a distinct glance and teetered on her heels over to me. “Yes?”

I was trying to get at my phone, but between Frog and my shopping bag I ended up dropping everything. Frog’s bag burst with a scum-y water stench and my turtle landed on the concrete on his fours. He was very slowly getting away.

“Frog!” screeched Satomi, scooping up his lucky turtleness.

“Oh shit,” I said.

(What I should have said: Satomi, how about I exchange Frog for your number?)

She handed me the turtle. “Be careful.”

“Satomi, can I have your number?”

Uncomprehending for a moment (my stomach dropped) she then said, “Of course.” Easy as that, I found my keitai and took her number and shook her hand and gathered up my game and my turtle and went home and took off all my clothes and man, I was a whole lot quicker today!

So this gym thing. Like many of my early exchanges in Japan, it was a ridiculous

combination of embarrassed smiles and uber-politeness and my absolute inability to pick up on the fact that they couldn’t give me what I wanted:

(It was to become one of my comic set-pieces later.)

Picture a nice middle-aged lady behind a beige desk in a nondescript room. She’s having a normal day, filling out her paperwork on how many guests there have been, what time they came, what gender they were, and if any were burakumin. (No, that’s racist. I could get in trouble for jokes like that.) Anyway, she’s having a regular day, when in walks the Big Bad Gaijin.

Now I was prepared for this moment, or thought I was. I had taken the time beforehand to look up “membership,” “locker room,” and even (I swear) “barbells.” When I approached the desk, nice middle-aged lady abruptly stopped her paperwork and gave me that fake smile I was growing accustomed to. “Welcome,” she offered me in the typical singsong.

“I’d like to join the gym,” I said in my most politest Japanese.

“Join the gym?” she echoed.


“But perhaps you cannot read our paperwork.”

“I can read kanji,” I told her, hoping said paperwork wouldn’t go beyond my scant couple thousand.

She fluttered nervously around her desk and presented me with a form. It looked fairly standard. Name, address, date of birth. For place of employment I wrote, carefully, that I was a student. I handed it back to her and smiled. She launched on a spiel:

The gym is open everyday from 7AM till midnight. No food or cigarettes in the gym. Bottled water only. Wipe each piece of equipment after you use it. Please shower before and after using the gym. The women’s session is from noon until six every day. Men’s sessions are from seven till noon, then six till midnight-

“I’m sorry?” I interrupted, then felt rude about it. “Men’s sessions?”

Nice middle-aged lady look confused. “You must come to the men’s sessions only. Not the women’s.”

“There are separate sessions?”


“So if I wanted to come at four I couldn’t?”

Of course, she didn’t say no. What she said is, “That’s the women’s session.”

“Why can’t men go during the day?”

She flinched. I was too direct. “Men are at work during the day.”

So this was a manly thing, was it? “I’m a student. My school is around the corner and it is convenient for me to come during the day.” Then I slapped my money down and left. “Ha to you!” I yelled to the lady, to Japan, the world.

No, not really. I’m not that person. I didn’t even mumble under my breath how utterly inane that was. What I said was, “Wakarimashita.” I understand.

She continued the spiel. Pay per month, on the first Monday of each. Ichi man en per month (roughly a little less than one hundred dollars, which may seem exorbitant, but I was getting used to the idea of the debt I would return to in the US). The uniform must be worn at all times.

“Excuse me?” I interrupted again.

“You must always wear the uniform.”

“A uniform for the gym?”

If she was getting exasperated she didn’t show it. “We recommend buying two and rotating them.”

“So I have to buy a uniform from you and wear it every time I come?”


“And how much does the uniform cost?”

“8,500 yen.”-roughly $70.

“I see,” I said.

“And we recommend buying two.”

…And what kind of sucker am I that I went through with the whole thing? Laid out $240 for the first month and two uniforms (L sizu). Nice middle-aged lady probably rejoiced when I left. I faced the Big Bad Gaijin and emerged victorious! Ha ha ha!

Ravi and Bob and Maggie and I were watching TV in Ravi’s apartment and drinking Kirin out of large cans. He’d invited Maggie and me to watch this program he and Bob discovered. They called it “The Piss on the Gaijins Show” because that was a fairly accurate description of what it was.

A “reporter,” wearing a respectable suit, was approaching obvious foreigners (i.e. white, black, and brown) on the streets of Tokyo. “Would you liku to be in gamu show?” he asked them.

Most looked embarrased and said no. But then a heavyset Jamaican said yes. He then told them he didn’t speak Japanese, was this a problem? Oh no, the reporter assured, we’ll supply you with the language help you need.

There was a commercial break for Levi’s jeans starring a dreamy Brad Pitt (girls here call him Bra-Pee). I found him much more entertaining in Japanese.

Then “Piss on the Gaijins” was back with the Jamaican man in a somber suit entering an office building. The reporter went up to the man at the head desk and said he had an international chocolate expert (this was a chocolate company? It looked so uncandylike) who wished to participate in their morning meeting. With no hint of suspicion, the salaryman bowed a yes.

“Are the Japanese that gullible, or are they sadistic?” asked Ravi.

“I kinda missed what just happened,” Maggie said.

I said, “Isn’t it obvious from their body language?”

Maggie answered tensely, “You know I don’t speak as well as you.”

“You got this was a chocolate company, right?” Ravi asked.


“So the reporter has talked the Jamaican into participating in a meeting…”

Bob continued, “…by claiming he was an international expert.”


“Thank you,” Maggie said.

From the back of the conference room was a view of twenty men in identical suits and plastered hair sitting at an oval table. Head salaryman came in and announced they had a very distinguished guest. All the men stood, and if they were surprised when a black man entered the room, they didn’t show it. They bowed deeply and in unison.

Ravi walked the three steps to his fridge and removed more Kirin. “This ought to be good.”

The Jamaican read a speech phoenetically. “My name is Al Monroe. I work for Adult Toys International. If you have any questions about adult toys, please ask now.”

(Because he didn’t know where one word ended and another began, it sounded like “Myna-meis-Al Monroe Iwor-kfo-radu-ltoys.”)

The businessmen didn’t flinch. The head salaryman said, “We are most pleased to have you with us today. Please, tell us about your company.”

So far, so good. Bob and Ravi were already laughing. Maggie looked confused.

Al Monroe said in halted, oblivious Japanese: “We specialize in the needs of the penis.” (He used the vulgar slang for it-chin chin.)

“I know what that word means!” Maggie giggled.

Al Monroe: “If your wife is not giving you enough pleasure, we can enhance her performance.” The head salaryman went over to the reporter, stony-faced in the corner, and whispered something in his ear.

“Why aren’t they rebelling?” Maggie asked.

“This is the best show I’ve ever seen,” I said.

“We have plastic and latex and nylon. Red and blue and purple!”

“This is ridiculous,” Maggie said. On the screen a few of the businessmen were stalking out of the room.

Maggie stood. “I’m going home so I can call my dad.”

“You’ll miss the ending!” Ravi exclaimed.

“That’s okay. I haven’t talked to my dad in a while.” She left.

“Bye,” I called.

Al Monroe was getting flustered. It must have dawned on him that he was offending people. “I’m sorry!” he yelled in English as the rest of the businessmen filed out of the conference room. I was getting drunk and laughing. Ravi was too. (He had half a foot on me, but as he put it, “Brown people ain’t got no tolerance.”) The “Piss on the Gaijins” reporter filled the screen again. “Another successful meeting at the Apollo Candy Company. Coming up next week, we take this woman”-they flashed to a Western lady-“and see how she fares teaching tea ceremony.”

“Pretty good, eh?” Bob said.

“Amazing in a horribly racist way.” I agreed. I stood to leave. “Thanks for the beer.”

“Any time, dude.”

At the door, I stopped. “If you guys want to use my Playstation, you can.”

“You have a Playstation?”


“Yeah then, definitely.”

“Later,” I said and went down the stairs to my own apartment. I tripped on the genkan step. I pissed a long time and had a cigarette on the porch. (By that time I had purchased a bean-bag-like sack to sit on while I smoked.) From my pocket I removed my keitai and flipped through the alphabet until I came to S. Satomi. I looked at her name a few moments before I hit send.

Moshi-moshi Peter.”

“Hi Satomi. Genki?”

Hai genki desu. How are you?”

“A little drunk,” I admitted.

“Bad boy.”

“That’s me,” I said without irony.

She laughed. Then nothing.

“Satomi…” I started.


“Would you like to have dinner with me tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow… yes, but short notice. I’m supposed to-”

“Oh, then, it’s okay-”

“No, I can talk with my friends.”

“You don’t have to.”

“It’s not important.”

“Okay -can you meet me at the train station at seven?”

“The train station? Where?”

Where? Where was my brain? “Uh…in front of Mr. Donut?”

“Yeah. No problem.”

“Great! So I’ll see you tomorrow.” She had barely said bye when I clicked the phone off. With shaking hands I lit another cigarette. Across the street a boxy figure went into the convenience store. When it came back out in the neon light I made out Maggie, clutching a plastic bag. I leaned over the balcony and with the butt still in my mouth yelled, “Hey! Maggie! Up here!”

She looked up. “Oh, hi Pete.”

“You missed a funny ending!”

“I’ll live.”

“What didja get?”

“Just some ready-curry. And cigarettes.”

I held up my smoldering butt. “All right! Cigarettes!”

She stopped underneath the balcony. “Are you drunk?”


“You seem too happy.”

“This cigarette’s pretty fuckin’ good.”

“Right.” She shifted her groceries to her other hand. “Why don’t you go back inside?”


“I’m afraid you’re going to fall.”

I woke up a little then. I was sort of horizontal over the railing. “Thanks for the advice! Have a good night!” And wouldn’t you know I woke up in the morning still in my clothes?

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