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Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010

WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST

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"I'd open up a bar."

That's the answer. Here's the question.

What's your dream scheme? Your pie-in-the-sky plan to stay in Japan without the grind of having to teach, translate, and otherwise scratch out a living off your English skills?

For English has always served as the Western resident's economic safety net. Or — depending on the person — their bane, as some people enjoy classrooms the same way that fish enjoy frying pans.

But take the English angle away and what would you do? How would you make it big here without it?

"Like I said, I'd open a bar."

Which is exactly where we were, four veteran foreign residents, trading tall drinks and taller stories in the dead of a Tokyo night. The first guy continues . . .

"I'd call it the 'Nomi Hodai' and I'd use 'nomi' as a motif."

For the uninitiated, "nomi hodai" means "all you can drink," this particular foursome's favorite phrase. But the word "nomi" can also mean "flea."

"First, I'd have this big electronic flea over the entrance way, with its legs rolling around to wave in customers. And inside I'd have flea art on all the walls and flea-shaped drink coasters. Plus all the waitresses would dress like fleas. You know, tight little flea costumes, with feelers on their heads and extra arms coming out of their backs. Who could resist?"

We look at him. No one speaks.

Finally someone tactfully asks, "What in god awful hell is 'flea art'?"

"You know, pictures of fleas."

No one speaks.

"Oil paintings. Maybe something in velvet. Whatever looks good."

We drink on that. Then the second guy starts.

"My plan is to open a lingerie store for young women."

"Oh." We all lean in.

"Japanese women love lingerie, but they also tend to be reserved. So I envision a store without a display window."

We all lean back.

"Just a front door. With a peep hole. And above that the sign. I'll call it, 'No Mans Land.' Or maybe, 'The Treasure Chest.' "

"Japanese won't get those names," says guy number three. "They're too cultural. Use something that rhymes with 'lingerie.' "

"Like what?"

We drink until the muse strikes. Which it soon does in a series of thunderclaps.

"A-OK Lingerie!"

"Milky Way Lingerie!"

"Lingerie, S'il Vous Plait!"

"Or, or, or!" It's the first guy again. "Go in a completely different direction with something like . . . 'Underwear in Tupperware'!"

No one speaks.

"What? All women love Tupperware. It's in their blood. Throw in some undergarments and you'd make a mint."

"My idea," now it's the third guy speaking, "is to open an American-style breakfast joint. I'd make it as Mid-Western as possible and call it, 'Ohio Breakfast.' Get it?"

We do. Except for the first speaker, who is still on lingerie.

"OK, how about 'Judgment Day Lingerie'! You could then sell some really wicked stuff. Like my flea costumes."

"What would be your menu?" I ask.

"Well," says speaker number three. "I'd offer all the old standbys. Eggs, pancakes, bacon, ham, toast. Lots of butter, lots of syrup, lots of good ol' American grease."

We nod. "Grease is good."

"And," he adds. "All the coffee you can drink."

Uh oh.

"Then . . . Use my nomi sign."

No one speaks.

"C'mon, I don't want to waste it."

Guy number three clears his throat. "No one is going to enter an eatery with a huge flea dangling over the door."

"But it's a pun. Japanese love puns like Americans love grease. And they're nuts about character figures. Just give it a cute name. Like 'Larry the Breakfast Louse.' "

No one speaks.

"Or Terry the Tick."

"My idea," I say, "is to open a clothing shop aimed at the aging population."

"Foxy Gray Lingerie!"

"No, no, something with items only for old Japanese men. You know, with one corner for fishing vests and another with belts that can loop around the waist twice and then maybe another of mesh baseball caps stitched with the names of U.S. battleships."

"That still leaves one corner. What goes there? Little old ladies?"

"I got it," says guy number three, with eyebrows arched at guy number one. "Why not fill it with a giant flea? That always attracts a crowd."

"You're jealous, that's all. You just wish you had half my marketing sense."

"You mean your flea marketing sense."

"In the fourth corner," I say, "I'm gonna sell really big cameras. I figure the old-timers will be crawling all over."

"Like fleas!"

"And," I continue, "I'm gonna call the place, 'Geezer Teasers.' "

No one speaks.

"You might be wise," says speaker number two, "not to stop teaching just yet."

We all drink to that.

"OK," I say, "How about this one? What would you do if after all these years in Japan, you had to yank up roots and go back home all at once? What would you do then?"

We drink and think.

"I know, I know!" says speaker number one.

We turn to him.

"I'd open up a bar!"

No one speaks.



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