Saturday, November 11, 2006

Eating a Motorbike

Eating a Motorbike

When I was a child, Suzuki, Yamaha and Honda were all motorbikes. These days, I think that if you were in New Zealand and said "I have a Honda" then you would be taken to be indicating that you possessed an automobile. But it would be my bet that both Yamaha and Suzuki would tend to signal possession of a motorbike.

Every Friday, as a rule, I drop in at the sushi restaurant after work. It's a conveyor belt place, or, to use the Japanese word, a kaitenzushi place.

There's usually some interplay between the staff and customers as customers order stuff or signal that they are leaving, and I listen, though not attentively, and occasionally learn something.

A man said one day "Go chi so san," which I took to be a less formal way of saying "I'm finished," which is more properly "Go chi so sama deshita." When I checked with my wife, she speculated that the speaker would have been a man, and an older man rather than a younger man, and this was indeed the case.

A while back I heard someone order "Suzuki" and was intrigued to know what this might be. I couldn't see. The guy was sitting down the counter a ways. So, the following week, I, too, ordered suzuki.

"Suzuki ichimai onegaishimasu," I said.

But they were out of it that day, and this setback threw my confidence so badly that it was a few weeks before I summoned up the nerve to order it a second time. This time I got it, a silvery fish, nothing special, not something I'd particularly want to order again.

Later, I heard a guy order a moriawase. He was sitting close so I was able to see what he got. A platter of assorted sushi, the platter being wood. It looked a bit expensive. Our neighbors are the Moris, so I was easily able to remember "moriawase" by thinking of the "Mori" sign on the gate of our neighbor's house.

The next week I said "Moriawase, onegaishimasu."

And, after a pause (the stuff takes time to assemble) I got the same platter. Then someone delivered a bowl of soup, which I thought had come to me in error, but it turned out to be part of the set.

And, to my surprise, it was cheapter than buying the same amount of sushi saucer by saucer.

Later I checked my wife. What exactly is a moriawase? I had looked in my big Japanese dictionary and the term was quite simply not there.

Dictionaries do from time to time omit words that most native speakers know, one example being "pay check," which you will probably not find in any dictionary which you have in the house. I found this out because, some years back, one of my Japanese students of English was very upset because his new English-Japanese dictionary, which was quite expensive, did not contain the term "pay check."

This term does not have an obvious meaning to anyone who lives in Japan, where checks are never used in daily life, payments being made either by cash or by electronic transfer from one ATM to another. Or by credit card.

Made curious by my student's problem, I checked out a bunch of dictionaries, looking for "pay check" and "pay cheque," and searching under "pay," "check" and "cheque."

My wife, as a native speaker of Japanese, was easily able to identify "moriawase" as being a set selection of food items. Often sushi or sashimi, but apparently a moriawase does not have to include fish, and you can just as easily have an icecream moriawase.

The moriawase has now become a standard part of my life, part of my ongoing adventure in Japan.

The adventure continued recently with a trip to Ueno Zoo, which i remembered as a cramped prison for animals. But the zoo which I remembered (perhaps as long ago as 1989) was not the zoo I visited this year, in November of 2006. It was much more spacious, but it still had pandas, just as before.

For my money, the giant panda is the most boring animal on earth, sitting around like a big liquorice allsort. But, while I was hanging back at the rear of the crowd with the pushchair, my wife and two-year-old daughter, up close to the glass, had the privilege of seeing a panda doing panda poop. This was the big excitement of the day.

If you are two years old then excrement is part of your cultural world, and there is quite a highly evolved children's literature dealing with the pooping of both humans and animals.

The next part of my adventure will be the routine tests which I have scheduled for the start of December, an eyesight check and another MRI scan of my brain.

And, after that, the adventure which will close out the year will be New Year at my mother-in-law's place, up in Gunma Prefecture, famous for high winds and strong women.