My Life as a Gaijin in Tokyo, Part II
Keith traveled often on business trips during our first two years in Tokyo. Having no responsibilities, I was afforded the luxury of tagging along during those business trips to Asia. We went to Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, Beijing, Taiwan, and often going back home to the Philippines. In one of those trips to Taiwan, I met Noriko, who was also from Setagaya-ku (the prefecture where we lived). When we went back to Tokyo, she and I instantly became good friends. There were times when Keith went on a trip without me, Noriko would keep me company and stayed in our apartment. I met Kaori through her and later Kaori and I became closer friends.
When we weren’t travelling, Keith’s co-workers often invited us to their homes. They also took us several times to trips to Izu (a resort that is a couple of hours away from the city), where Anristsu (Keith’s company) owned apartments for their employees. Often we ate out, went to different izakayas (a type of Japanese drinking establishment which also serves food to accompany drinks. They are mostly casual places for after work drinking). One thing I learned about the Japanese “long work hours” usually included the after work drinking and it lasted until about midnight every night. I was probably the only wife who they ‘allowed’ to go out drinking with them. They knew that if I wasn’t with them drinking and eating, I would get angry and demand to repatriate back to the USA. For them, Keith was actually valuable to have around and so they accommodated us as much as possible.
Akihiro Sakurai was Keith’s favorite co-worker and he became our very good friend. His parents were rice farmers from Sakura, a country side ninety minutes by train from Tokyo. They often invited us to spend weekends with them and they became our surrogate family. Their house was a very typical Japanese home where every room had tatami (a type of mat used a s flooring material in traditional Japanese style rooms). One of the tatami rooms, next to the kitchen, where everyone usually stayed to eat, take naps, or watch TV. During the colder months, they had a low table that had heat and it’s draped with a comforter. We placed our legs inside the table for heat. It was a very interesting concept that I wish was common here in the U.S. Akihiro-san’s mother was a robust lady who at her age still worked at the rice farm. She was always cooking and fed us all the delicious homemade Japanese food. When it was time for us to go back to Tokyo, she always had a bag of rice and fresh vegetables she picked in her garden for us to take home. In the beginning, I didn’t like Japanese rice and always secretly bought an expensive bag of Jasmine rice. Until one day, I ran out of rice and was lazy to walk to Peacock, our neighborhood supermarket, so I was forced to cook the Japanese rice they’ve been giving us all that time. Well, let’s just say, my love affair with the Japanese rice began as soon as I realized that Filipino food was better paired with it.Keith found a small church in Ropponggi where Catholics from all over the world went for service. We met Father Jacques, a French Canadian priest, who was actually still a “brother” back then. The church’s parishioners were mostly American or European expats and overseas workers from the Philippines. We met a few interesting people, including a French couple, who I heard were royalties. They were working on getting funds for the poor people of Cambodia at the time we met them. Their charity work later sparked an interest on our side to start a fund raising for the street children in the Philippines.
After a year of living in Jiyugaoka, we moved to a two story, three bedroom house in Higashi Tamagawa, awaiting for our first child to be born.