Friday, December 30, 2005

Get a Haircut and Get a Real Job!

Up and out of bed. Time to write some more New Year's Cards before I do anything else.

I wrote a few, got tired of it, cleaned up, dressed and headed off to Matsue.

Matsue is the capital of Shimane Prefecture, and it's also the first place I lived when I came to Shimane as an exchange student all those (seven and a half) years ago. So there were quite a few people in town that I wanted to see while I was there.

First, I drove over to Isoda, a hair salon near the train station. I was introduced to the kind folks at Isoda by Dean, a guy who worked for one of the many English conversation schools in Matsue and who lived right around the corner from the salon. I got to know him through a mutual friend, and he told me about how great the haircuts were at Isoda. Shampoo, shave, scalp massage, shoulder massage...the works. And if you're lucky, you get a cup of coffee and something to snack on.

Needless to say, this description intrigued me. So one day, I went in with him, got introduced to the mother and daughter team that work there, and got a haircut.

Ever since that day in the spring of 1999, I've gotten my hair cut there (except for the year I was back in the States getting my degree). Great place. The day before I left to head up to Hokkaido, I swung by and got a buzz cut, so that I would be relatively comfortable during the humid humid humid nastiness that is summer in Japan. Even though there's a barbershop right next to my apartment, I held off from getting a haircut until I was able to go back to Isoda.

Today was that day. I went in, said hi and that I wanted to get a haircut. Unfortunately, they were backed up a bit, so I made a reservation for 3 PM and headed across the street to Butsudan no Harada to visit the Obamas.

How I met the Obamas is a weird story. I used to go drinking at a bar near Shimane University called "Gracias". One day, I met a guy who ran a construction company of some kind. He was pretty interesting and said we should go drinking again sometime. So, I gave him my phone number in my dorm room and figured that would be the end of it.

Nope. One day in February '99, I was sitting in my room, when my phone rang. It was the guy from Gracias, and he said, "I'm down by the bowling alley having some beer and sushi. Get on down here!" So I biked on downtown to where the sushi restaurant was. I went in, and sat down with him and his lady friend to enjoy some raw fish and rice. There was a family of three (father, mother, cute daughter) sitting over on the other end of the counter, but I didn't really pay attention.

They, however, noticed me.

Apparently, a white guy speaking Japanese fairly well in Matsue is a rare sight (or at least was). They started talking with us, and after a while, all six of us were having a good time eating, drinking, and chatting. As we were leaving, the father told me that he ran a butsudan shop nearby, and I should feel free to come by anytime.

Nice folks, fun time, but there was one thing that bothered me. When you study about Japan, you learn that there can be a big difference between what people say (tatemae) and what they mean (honne). So I took this "invitation" as a mere social nicety, and never took him up on it.

Fast-forward a few months. Dean (the guy from the hair salon story) and I went out drinking at Filaments, a really cool bar in Matsue. We ran in to some people he knew there. In the group was this really cute girl (who unfortunately, had a boyfriend who was kind of a scuz and was also there). We got to talking, and Cute Girl and her friend offered to take Dean and I over to check out a Buddhist temple with a really cool view of the city sometime.

Dean and I said...hell yes.

So the day came around and the four of us went out for some soba noodles (an eastern Shimane delicacy) and then we headed up to the temple. Fantastic view. You could see straight across to Matsue Castle and you had a gorgeous view of the whole city. Dean and Cute Girl's friend were walking around somewhere else, so I was talking with Cute Girl. I asked her why she was interested in temples, since most young people aren't, and she told me that her Dad took her there and she really liked it. She said that her dad worked for a company that was connected with a lot of temples in the area. He ran a branch of a company that sold butsudan. I asked her where. "Oh, right over near the bowling alley, over near where Dean lives."

Something clicked.

"Wait a minute. Your Dad sells butsudan at a shop near the bowling alley? Did you and your family go out for sushi in February some time and strike up a conversation with a nother group that was there? And one member of that group was a foreigner? And did your dad invite him to come check out the shop sometime?"

Her eyes widened. "Was that you?"

Yeah...it was.

So we had a collective freak-out moment at this temple overlooking the city. She told me that her dad had really meant it when he invited me to come over, and was really disappointed that I never showed up. A few days later, I took steps to redeem myself. I went over and visited them. Ever since then, I've got along really well with the whole family.

So we talked for a while. They told me they were heading up to Hokkaido for New Year's, which was pretty funny. If I hadn't gone over that day, we might have just passed each other in the air.

After talking with the Obamas for a bit, I headed over to visit Sakai Sensei.

Sakai Sensei was my advisor and teacher for the first six months I was at Shimane University, and although he retired from Shimane U. at the end of those six months, we have kept in touch ever since. He's always willing to teach me about Shimane and Japanese culture, which has helped me out when I've had questions or confusion about things here.

We went out for soba, and then headed back to his apartment and talked about life and different activities we're both involved in. One of the things he asked me about was whether or not I had any plans to get married. I said no, and although I appreciated his offer to help, I told him that it was something I still wanted to try and work out for myself.

I had a plan, you see. I wanted to meet up with Crab Girl. Wanted to see her. Wanted to tell her how I felt. Wanted to spend time with her. Wanted to talk to her about what had been and what could be. This was one of the main things I wanted to do while I was in Shimane. E-mailing and talking with her while I was on my way up to Hokkaido helped me have the strength to keep going. After I got up to Muroran and was feeling generally miserable about life in general, being able to get in contact with her helped keep me sane. Even though I have been through two miserable long-distance relationships and am very gun-shy about going through another one, I felt like if I was with her, we could make it work.

I didn't tell Sakai Sensei about this, though. I just told him that I wasn't quite ready to rely on help from others just yet. We talked until about three, and then I headed back over to Isoda to get cleaned up.

Haircut. Shave. Scalp massage. Shoulder massage. At the end, I was feeling good, and looking good. I paid, said goodbye, and boogied on back to Izumo.

I went back out to Ottachi to meet up with a former student and his family. His dad picked me up at Ottachi Elementary and drove me up to their house, way the hell up in the hills. We were in a huge van driving on these incredibly narrow roads. I had dinner with them (sukiyaki!) that evening, and we played cards and talked about the kid's foray into the world of youth soccer. He's pretty good. After chatting with them for a while, it was back to Lisa's house to feed Jiji and work on those New Year's Cards. No Daikan-cho visits for me that night. Those cards had to be finished.

While working on the cards, I tried to get in touch with Crab Girl. So far, my efforts to meet up had been futile. She had made plans to go to some concerts at the end of the year with a friend of hers, and unfortunately, these plans had been made way before I had bought my tickets to go back to Shimane. Some crazy things had happened with her family earlier in the month, so I knew she was busy with a lot of things at home, too.

But it just seemed like she was avoiding me. And it really hit me hard that night.

Here I was, back in Shimane, in a cold apartment, by myself, and all I wanted to do was meet up with her and talk. And I couldn't even do that.

I think I stayed up until around 3 AM. Couldn't sleep, depressed, wanted to cry. Finally, I ran out of energy and fell asleep. End Day Four.

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