Swaying

Axel accompanied me to the new FASID office to say hello to our Japanese friends and be on his way to explore Tokyo while I prepared for tomorrow’s workshop with my Japanese co-facilitators and a new program officer who was going to take care of the logistical and administrative arrangements.

The first issue we had to resolve was a linguistic one – the course title was not the correct translation of what the ministry wanted but at the same time, when translated from the Japanese, the course title was long and convoluted and made no sense to me. Luckily we didn’t have to change the content, only the title. Now, instead of productive communications, a title earlier conveyed to me, we are having ‘efficient communication in cross-cultural environments.’

We reviewed the 30.000 feet view on the two day workshop and then descended into the weeds, trying out each session ourselves so everyone could make an informed choice about where and when they would be leading or co-facilitating.

At the end of the day I returned to the hotel where Axel soon joined me, exhausted and excited from a trip through the Asakusa section of Tokyo. I was given a private slide viewing with a running commentary.

And then, suddenly, everything started to sway – earthquake we said to each other, grabbed our stuff and headed four floors down through the staff stairwell. When we re-emerged in the lobby people were coming and going as they would at any other time. No one seemed to be in the least perturbed by the earthquake or looking at the still swaying chandeliers. It was as if we had walked into a Bunuel movie. Axel asked the concierge whether we should be concerned and the answer was clearly no, the epicenter was someplace else, not near the hotel.

Later, checking the USGS map I learned that there had been over 30 earthquakes in Japan alone over the last few days – most below 4 on the Richter scale but not all. But then again, there had been just as many in California.

We took the elevator back up, packed our stuff and headed out for another night entertainment center (culture-vulture) in Roppongi to a soba noodle restaurant that used to be in New York and came back. It was tiny and spectacular. The maître d’ was able to squeeze us in at a large table across from a young couple and an older party. Axel’s neighbor proudly told him, in poor English and with a ‘sake-heavy’ voice that he liked America upon which Axel replied he liked Japan creating a round of grins and smiles and more sake.

After an unfiltered wheat beer and some dainties recommended by the chef (grated mountain yam with fish eggs in broth, a ‘lightly fried oyster, chicken meatballs, lightly fried with sharp mustard and shuya), we joined our table mates in drinking sake out of a wooden box. The box was filled to overflowing which reminded me of the Zen story about the overflowing tea cup. It was served with salt, just like a margarita. We ended the meal with a steaming bowl of soba noodles with all sorts of interesting things floating inside it and the most delicious broth. It was nice to have people we could ask our thousand questions to, even if it was in contorted English. There was much bowing and even some hand shaking at the end of the meal, and another huge bill.

During the night more tremors – probably not even qualifying as earthquakers for people here, but very unsettling to me. Each time I would get up and look out of the window, expecting to see people gathering in their pajamas and kimonos but all was quiet and calm, not a soul to see. It was just another ordinary night in Tokyo. Luckily Axel slept through all of them.

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