I was six months in Japan before I started work. My first job teaching English in Japan was for an eikaiwa. I had no preference for it over an ALT gig, it just was the first position offered to me, and I didn’t want to spend any more of my savings.
Some friends and I were taking turns talking to girls in Roppongi Hills. We took a break in McDonald’s. My first French friend, also a Japanese language student, and I would eat 100 yen crispy chicken sandwiches to save money. A friend of his was a New York Jew, a short talkative guy who would be fun to do mushrooms with. He used to be a teacher. I mentioned I was looking for a job. He sent an email to his old boss and I soon had an interview.
He was the second Jew friend I’d made. The first I’d made years before, when visiting Japan, and he was now crashing my sofa. I’d told him no problem, stay as long as you like, which was going to be three months, but I kicked him out after the first month.
I’d bought groceries. At the time I couldn’t read the kanji of everyday grocery items, plus I’ve never really cooked, always had women to do that for me, so the meat I was frying in pan of olive oil was a mystery to me. He came home. I offered him some “chicken,” what I thought it was. He took a bite.
His face contorted. I thought I threw water on the wicked witch or crossed my fingers in front of a vampire. “This is pork!” Shit, I didn’t know, and I’d forgotten he was a Jew. When you’re around the same people all the time, like the Japanese when living in Japan, it’s easy to forget you guys are different until when reminded—like when feeding a Jew pork.
I laughed a lot. He didn’t think it was funny. But he didn’t hold it against me. Fast forward to now, years later, about a couple of weeks ago; the same friend is visiting me in Thailand. I took him to a favorite restaurant, a favorite of many. It’s called “MK.” I ordered the two of us a big plate of crispy pork and roasted duck, forgetting he was Jewish and about the last time. He took a bite. The same contortion. The look of a vampire who bit garlic. He couldn’t even eat the roasted duck. He said it was strange, he doesn’t like eating strange food, and they don’t eat it in Israel. “So know one eats pork in Israel?”
“You have to try my mom’s pork chops.”
Back to the original timeline. I didn’t kick him out because he couldn’t eat pork. The truth is, he talks in his sleep a lot. Loudly. In Hebrew! I don’t know if you know what Hebrew sounds like but, when awoken in the middle of the night, it sounds like the devil. If I wasn’t afraid to get out of the bed, I would have grabbed a slice of raw pork from the fridge and slapped him across the face with it several times, saying “DEVIL BEGONE.”
I didn’t have the best sleep. It was the day of my interview. I put on my charcoal suit, my first suit. I’d bought it at JC Penny before leaving for Japan. I didn’t have time to have it tailored. The jacket was too big in the shoulders, the pant legs too baggy. I didn’t know how to tie a necktie. A friend had shown me in a bar. I also watched some instructional videos on YouTube. I liked the Full Windsor but I could only tie a Half Windsor.
I killed the interview. I think I’m pretty good at interviews if they are in person. It might have been the acting classes and plays and hundreds of auditions my mom made me do as a kid. It helped the boss was a young woman. I’d been cold-approaching women off the streets almost daily for six months. There were a couple of weeks I even had a date every day of the week. So it was easy for me to jump into talkative mode. And at that moment I really loved my life in Japan and when I talked I had this contagious positive energy.
The second interview was with the head teacher. The third interview was with the boss’s boss. He talked and looked like the Japanese man from Inception. My biggest strike, he said, was how fast I talked. Also I mumble, though not as bad now, and he had to remind me several times to slow down and speak clearly. This was hard to consciously keep in mind. Out of all the friends my Japanese friends made in America, they said my English was the hardest to understand.
Fortunately these two hadn’t spent much time in America, nor were they, like all Japanese people, confident in their English. I think you talk like a real American, he said. His ignorance helped me. They had Englishmen and Australian teachers, and they thought an American would be a good addition to their team, to help their students develop an ear for English as spoken around the world.
I got the job, my first teaching English in Japan. We met another night to sign the contract. They tried to do me dirty. Instead of the promised $2,500 a month, they wanted to pay me much closer to $2,000. They tried to deny the original deal, blaming their lack of English for miscommunication. But I had, which they’d originally given me, the printed job ad. It clearly said $2,500 minimum. They knew I thought them dirty and they looked ashamed, yet they still blamed miscommunication. And I learned for the first time that not all Japanese are as honorable as Musashi Miyamoto.