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Saturday, Aug. 15, 2009

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Appreciating a sense of space — a Japanese fine art


"Your relax space," "Life style space," space this, space that. What was I saying?

I used to laugh at the Japanese use of the English word "space." But not anymore. I've learned that space can be a very lucrative thing in Japan.

When I first opened my Moooo! Bar and Moooo! Calfe on our island's beach, I put out tables where people could sit and drink their moogaritas and eat their ice cream. It was a nice shady area I had created with stools around. But San-chan, who runs the restaurant next door to me, said, "Why are you doing that?"

"Uh, well, because they're customers. I should provide some tables."

"You should charge them to sit there!" he said.

"I should?"

Charge people to sit and drink alcohol and eat ice cream they've bought from me?

So the next year, I made even more tables and constructed a nice bamboo shade structure above them and started charging ¥500 per person. People loved it!

But San-chan doesn't understand why we go to so much work to provide nice tables. He just puts some old windsurfers (with no masts) onto upside down milk crates and calls them tables. Then he puts some planks of wood on top of upside down milk crates and places the planks alongside the windsurfers to provide seating. He then strings a flimsy tarp above to complete the whole contraption, and charges ¥500 per person. People love it!

You can fit a lot more people around a wind surfer than you can a table. He makes a lot more money than we do.

Yet I still feel guilty charging for space. People come over, discuss the price with me in low voices, look in their wallets, glance over at the tables and back into their wallets again. It all seems kind of shifty to me.

Until they smile while forking over $30.00 for a table for the day. Incredible!

Sometimes I feel like a parking attendant using those big arm signals to direct people to open spots. All I need is the red flares. Especially during the really busy times of the year, when people battle each other to get a table before they fill up. One person from a group will rush over to save a table for the rest of them.

Once they've settled on a table, you'd swear you were on the top of Mount Fuji, the way everyone gets out their mobile phones and takes a picture to send to their friends. (Cheezu! Click.) "Look where I am — the beach!" (Cheezu! Click) "Look — me with a gaijin!''

During such times, I really should auction tables off. "Do I hear ¥3,000 for the table on the water? Imagine yourself sipping a moogarita while the waves come up and tickle your toes. It doesn't get any better than this folks. Location, location, location!"

But I don't even have to do this.

Once they settle in to their tables and have taken a few photos, out comes the vinyl sheet. While many beachgoers use the vinyl sheet to put over the sand to sit on, since these people have a table to sit at, they use their sheeto to put their bags on. If they didn't bring a sheeto, they'll pile their bags on top of the $30 table in what is the bag priority seating area. Don't laugh. If you had a Gucci beach bag you only used once a year, you wouldn't put it on the sand either. That $30 table is starting to sound a lot cheaper now isn't it?

Then they start ordering Moogaritas, Pina Mooladas, ice cream and cheese cake from the menu. They come over and shop in the Moooo! Shop for jewelry, sarongs and beach wear. All this they do because I have charged them $30 for a table!

Throughout the day, they return all their dirty glasses and ice cream dishes to me at the bar. They even bring me their used ashtrays. And at the end of the day, they never fail to leave without bowing and saying thank you, often while carrying a large plastic bag full of garbage they'll take home with them on the ferry.

After enthusiastic goodbyes and promises to come back, I turn around to clean up their table. But, of course, it is already spotless.

Space — one of the Japanese fine arts.



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