Saturday, May 31, 2008

An Unexpected Tokyo Funeral

I have learned from experience that Tokyo will always provide an strange twist to the human experience. The strangest twist Tokyo can throw at a person come in the late hours of the night. After hours in Tokyo is a brave and odd world. Case and point is how I spent this past Friday night.

Recently, I have made a nameless friend. I call him nameless because I am still as of yet unsure of his name. I met him at a bar late at night recently. He is a night crawler like me. He is odd for sure but he is also harmless enough and nice to me. He speaks very little English but that does not stop him from wanting to be friends with me. He likes to drink, hang-out, and wonder around Tokyo late at night looking for something to get into. He is my kind of friend for sure.

My nameless friend calls me at 10:30 pm wanting to meet and hang-out for a while. He is able to tell me that his uncle just died and he wants to hangout. He seems not too upset about the death of his uncle. His main concern seemed to be a desire to hangout with me. We are able to communicate and agree to meet at the Asakusa station; which is about a 20 minute walk from my apartment. When I actually get to the station he is not there yet. I hang around for about 5 minutes before my cell phone rings. My nameless friend is on the other line and he struggles to tell me that he will be at the station soon. I tell him to meet me at the Denny`s in front of the station. Ten minutes later he shows up half drunk and with a big smile on his face. He then tells me that we are going to a `heart warming party` at a funeral home.

`This crazy bastard is taking me to a fucking funeral home in the middle of the night to drink!` I think to myself. I hold back my culture shock to simply smile and agree. It seems to make him real happy that I agree to go with him to a funeral home for drinking. He say to me with much glee, `We get free drinks no pay.`

Due to his drunkenness the walk to the funeral home was a eventful one. He had a half empty bottle of sake with him. He found it very funny to be drinking on his way to the funeral home. I found it a little odd to be drinking while walking to a funeral but I have learned from experience to just go with the flow in Tokyo and everything will be ok. Sake can get a person drunk real fast. The stuff taste like backwash but the effect is well worth the less than pleasant taste. We quickly found ourselves wondering onto the road and avoiding traffic. Every time a car almost hit us we burst out into laughter. It did not take long for my nameless friend to become lost. We came onto a Koban station. My friend has very little respect for the police. He laughs at the police as we come up to the Koban station. He says, `Japanese Cop weak. He will tell me where funeral.` My first reaction is to hide the bottle of sake in my jacket pocket but my friend grabs the bottle from me. He walks into the little Koban station with the bottle of sake, puts his arms around the cop and demands directions. To my surprise the cop does not try to arrest us and offers to tell us where we need to go. He proved to me that Japanese Cops really are weak. In America we would have been arrested and got a free night in the drunk tank.

After harassing the cop we walk a little more until we get lost again. We stumble into a noodle bar and ask for directions. The guys at the noodle bar are even more drunk than we are so they could not be of much help. We then cross the street, and almost get hit by two cars, to the 7-11. People who work at the many 7-11`s around Tokyo are some of the most helpful people in Tokyo. The guy working at the counter is more than happy to give up detailed directions to the funeral home. I buy a couple of cokes and say thank you for the help.

As we make our final descent to the funeral home we get lost again. It is late at night and there is almost no one on the streets. As luck would have it some random cute gal in a business suite comes walking towards us. My nameless friend tries to talk to her but it scares her very much. I calm her down my bowing and offering her a drink of my coke. She accepts and my friend asks her for directions. After thanking her several times we finally find the funeral home.

We find ourselves in front of the building across from a low down dirty looking bar. We try to enter the building but it is locked. My friend to force the door open but it will not give. He says to me, `Wait. We will get in this fucking place.` He makes four phones calls. No one answers. He becomes a little pissed and considers calling the whole thing off and going to the bar across the street. Before he totally gives up he makes one more phone call and talks to someone. After the short conversation he turns to me and says, `We good now. Office man come.` After a few minutes this old man opens up the door and starts talking shit to my friend. They have a short heated conversation before we are allowed inside. As we stand in an elevator my friend says to me, `No problem. Fucking mean old man.` The strangest had only just begun.

When we arrive on the second floor I am told to wait. At this point I become a little worried. I hate funerals. Even worse I don`t even know the person who died and have no connection to the family other than my drunk nameless friend. My friend goes down to the end of the hall and enters into a room. I am left alone with the mean ass old man staring at me like I am the devil. He looks at me like me wants to kill me. A sudden feeling raises up in me to haul ass and get the fuck out of there; but I stay put just to see what is going to happen. Eventually the old man smiles at me and invites me to enter a large room which is set up to look like a some kind of shrine. There it is! A dead body in a wooden box!

There is a table with candles and a good smelling sticks for lighting. The old man lights one of the candles and points to the sticks and motions for me to light one using the candle. I have no idea what I have just gotten myself into. In the spirit of going with the flow I light a stick and place it up right in a holding tray. At this point I assume that I am to pray or something. I do not know how to pray for a dead body in Japan so I fake it. I put my hands together and bow for a few minutes. That must worked because the old man seemed to be pleased with me. I stay at the table for a little bit to check out the morbid scene in front of me. In front of the table there are lots of flowers of various colors and types. The flowers are very pretty. Most of the flowers are purple and white but a few are red and yellow. What I noticed to be very odd was the offering of food. There are reef with many different kinds of strange little packs of food attached. I guess the Japanese figure that the dead might want a little snack in the after life. The guy in the box looked very peaceful for a dead guy. The photo in the center of all the flowers was of him with his beloved flute. If he liked to play the flute then he must have been an ok person.

Suddenly my nameless friend returned and takes moment to pray. After he is finished he motions for me to follow him. He says, `Come. Free Drink.` I follow him to the end of the hall and into the room he want into earlier. I am greeted by a host of smiling Japanese faces. They seem just a little surprised to see me but they are happy with my company all the same. I really did not know how to react. I felt like a fish out of water. I greet everyone and take a seat on the floor. I do not know any of these people and do not know me. I very position to me indeed. I am attending the funeral of a man I do not know and having drinks with a family I have never met.

They must have noticed that I felt really out of place because they start feeding me drinks. Within two hours I have drank at least 12 beers and attempted to explain a little about myself several times. Oddly enough these people take a special interest in me. They enjoy my company and thank me for coming to pay respect to the dead guy in the other room. Before I left all of us went into the room with the dead guy. They showed me how to pray for the dead. We all put our hands in the praying position bow and chant some words which proved very hard for me to repeat. I did this the best I could.

This had to be one of the strangest night I have never experienced in Tokyo. I seem to run into things like this all the time in Adachi-ku(the section of Tokyo I live in). I never expected in a million years to be running around with a friend with no name getting drunk at a funeral. Gaijin life in Tokyo is one hell of a trip sometimes.