Yesterday evening we went out for dinner with my wife’s parents and her sister and brother-in-law. We went to a nice, local restaurant. It was traditional in style, with a thatched roof and noren curtains hanging over the doorway. The dining area comprising several long low tables on tatami flooring. The restaurant’s speciality was eel and outside there was a small tank containing a number of the slithering creatures, oblivious to the fact that they were on death row.
When we arrived there were only two other diners, a thirty-something couple sitting a few tables away from ours. As I took off my shoes and stepped up onto the tatami, I spotted the guy saying something to his girlfriend. I couldn’t hear what it was, but I have developed a keen sense of knowing when I am being talked about – the slight glance in my direction and the furtive smiles are a dead giveaway. We sat on the cushions at our table, and I faced away from the couple. No sooner had I sat down than I heard, in awful pronunciation, a faltering English question being shouted across the room.
‘Haoo oad aah eeoo?’
I turned around and the guy was grinning in my direction as his girlfriend giggled.
‘What?’ I asked in Japanese.
‘ Haoo oad aah eeoo?’
I told him my age and the guy then began complaining in Japanese that I wasn’t answering him in English. I excused myself and turned back to talk to my relatives. My wife sensed that I wasn’t in the mood for entertaining people whose attempts at conversation were somewhere between impolite curiosity and piss-taking, but the rest of the family didn’t seem to think there was anything particularly rude or intrusive about the guy’s question. I didn’t say any more about it as I have become used to such situations and didn’t want to spoil the mood of our family dinner, but I tried to imagine them going abroad and finding a stranger shouting across a restaurant, ‘How old are you?’ in terrible Japanese acceptable behaviour purely because they were the only Asians in sight.
The meal was fantastic. We shared sushi, sashimi, yakitori, tempura, deep-fried octopus, udon noodles, and two different styles of eel and washed it all down with several beers and a few small flasks of sweet, chilled sake.
I still felt slightly on show, though. My father-in-law, you see, was indulging in his favourite hobby of using his video camera to record his own private reality show. He set it up on the next table and recorded the entire meal. This would be fine if I didn’t know that I would later have to watch the video. And so it was that after eating diner I went through the bizarre experience of watching myself eat dinner all over again. My father-in-law watched it with a zeal it is hard to understand, smiling over to me and saying ‘good’ at various points when somebody put some food into their mouth or took a sip of beer. It was all most odd, a kind of exceptionally dull voyeurism. My father-in-law really does find pleasure in watching absolutely anything he films. I just hope that we never find ourselves sharing a public convenience.