|Following the most recent commentary regarding an Asian visit mired in Coronavirus concerns, there were some very special, lighter moments on the trip which occurred in Japan. The Japanese are known for being very structured, inflexible and not particularly friendly to westerners. However, that is not true when one comes to know individual Japanese which can develop into long-lasting friendships. By the way, the author did live in Japan three years so there is more than just a passing understanding of the place and culture. “Tomadachi” is the anglicized spelling for the Japanese word “friend” which is more comprehensible to most of us as opposed to the Japanese spelling shown in the title. For the two days prior to the lunar new year on January 25, we were able to spend time with some dear friends.
In Japan, friendships normally originate in the workplace or in commercial relationships. Familiarity and interaction can overcome the formal structure of Japan once the individuals get to know each other. On January 23, we spent a wonderful evening with Glenn and his wife, Masayo-san, that began with some sake and sashimi at our hotel followed by a sumo tournament and dinner.
Although the author has been in corporate sumo boxes near the ringside, our friend Glenn had to apply for the tickets in a lottery and hit the grand prize with a box on the last row as evidenced by the ticket shown below. The last row was key for two reasons: a great view and, perhaps more importantly, greater comfort for a westerner.
Box seats are designed for Japanese to sit on their legs for the duration of the tournament. Moreover, the boxes are not large enough to accommodate four westerners. Therefore, the beauty of this box was that it was on the last row and one could hang their feet over the side. Most people walking to the concession area would naturally make the turn to the main aisle exit before the cameraman, shown below, in the photo taken by Glenn. Moreover, the box is close to the concession area which provides ready sake replenishment. Therefore, we had the best seats in the house thanks to Glenn’s persistence which created a memorable experience.
Masayo-san, seated behind us, is from the same town as Shodai, one of the sumo wrestlers. Therefore, she held up a banner with his name on it and we went wild with our cheers to support him. He won his match and went on to achieve a 13-2 win record for the tournament. It turns out some of the adjoining boxes were also supporters of Shodai which created fist bumping and immediate bonding with our neighbors and offers of celebratory drinks.
As one does following a sumo tournament, we headed to a wonderful subterranean, hip Japanese restaurant we had visited the year before with our friends. This time we had the waiter capture the image below. You will note that the ladies had everything under control with soft drinks whereas the fair-haired boys continued down the sake beverage path, a favorite of sumo wrestlers. In fact, we were compelled to return to our hotel for another round of Shodai celebratory drinks.
The following evening the author met two Japanese friends who are well-known following years of oil industry contact in Vietnam and annual visits to Tokyo. Hashimoto-san on the left and Seki-san on the right were great fun reliving past years and making plans for the future. No matter what cultural differences we may have, we think alike, share common values and like the same beverages. We drank sake at dinner, walked back to the Aman Tokyo and decided we needed a night cap. Seki-san took the lead and ordered Jack Daniels on the rocks. It had been years since I had a Jack but, when in Japan, do as the Japanese do. We closed the evening by resolving to meet one year hence and expand the group to other colleagues.
Inclusiveness in a culture makes all of the difference in understanding the people. In the final analysis, we are all pretty much the same. However, it may take some extra effort to break some cultural barriers, but they are not real barriers, just something to understand and appreciate. Friendship and mutual respect can overcome just about most anything.