Walking past the receptionist desk, Saori, one of the university students who works here, informs me that the hostel will be hosting a tempura party that evening for free. Yes please, I would be delighted to attend.
In the kitchen the owner is already there cooking up a storm I preparation for the party. Piles of veggies sit on the ciunter, skinned and cleaned, some still whole, others chopped up and in bowls waiting to be battered. He greets me and asks if I will be at the party.Seeing those bowls like that, I know damn well I will be.
But first a nap.I pass out almost immediately and wake up to my alarm a minute past 7. I slosh my way out of sleep and tumble into my shoes, and then into the hall, trying g to wake up. My body feels defeated but I smell tempura the air and move to the lobby in search of fried food, waiting to be be replenished.
The benches have been moved aside to make more space. A table has been set up with jugs of juice and a curious looking bottle of wine. Something about the snow flakes on the label make me think of Christmas. What would that be like in Japan?
For the first time in a long time, I’m not alone. Despite being in a cut of 35 million, everyone else apart from the staff at the hostel have just been nameless faceless bodies, melding I to one another and the walls and ads and other scenery. Or they were the rude germans I shared a dorm with. But this timd, m the room was filled with the faces of the other guests at the histel, a mix of people from all over, and it was a time to socialize.
Put of me had almost forgotten how. For the past few days, my longest conversations were about where to find vegetarian food with Saori or asking one of the laundry gents for all towel Apart from that, out in the city, I had gotten by just fine with one word English descriptions, grunts, gesture, smiles and a patterning of terrible pidgin Japanese that fell from my lips from time to time.
It was a bit of a relief to discover that breaking the ice seemed to be a challenge everyone was equally facing. Fortunately, the tempura helped get the conversation going. Even if the hodge podge of travellers in that room might have had little in common, we shared our appreciation for tasty fried food.
I spoke intermittently with other guests. One was a shy man from Turkey working on his PhD. There were a couple from France, another from Washington state, and a Swiss software designer named Matt who looked as Asian as the staff but whose family had emigrated to the West. He knew a half dozen European dialects, but didn’t speak the local language.
Then someone connected an old Super Famicom game system (the Japanese super nintendo) to the television. It was a bitch tomget working, but after a few shakes of the cartridge the couple from Washington got it working and we were playing Mario Kart in Japan.
The controller went nar out the room. I was eventually challenged by the man from Washington. Fuelled by the bizarrely spicy taste of the Christmas wine we had a few fiercely competitive races before the system went red screen on us and that was the end if a functioning Mario Kart.
So we put Super Street Fighter II in the console. Mario Kart was a fair fight, but this was a beat down. Street Fighter isn’t one of those games that leaves your system and makes you forget how to play. It soon dissolved to silliness, with no one taking it serious and we were still laughing when the console gave up the ghost on us.
The night winded down, the tempura supplies dwindled and people faded away. Soon there was only Matt from Switzerland and myself drinking Asahi and talking about Japan. He told me is plan to climb Mt. Funi and to do it fast enough that he won’t need to bring a set of thick clothes for the high altitudes when the temperature drops. I’m not sure if that’s how climbing works.
He also told me his travelling philosophy. There are five questions you never ask a person, because ultimately the answers don’t matter. Where are you from, where are you going, how long have you been travelling, do you like such and such place, and what is your name. He’s had beers and went on more day trips with people without anyone ever being introduced. You just get along and go for the ride. Surrendering his name at the party felt like a concession. Funny that I remember his bug not the couple from Washington, France or that of the Turkish fellow.