This is a Special Two Chapter Summer Editon
The newly arrived Canadian cutie, Keri Canyon, answered the doorbell to greet with relief Rieko Kubota, wife of her newly appointed immediate supervisor. They were on for lunch and shopping. After ten minutes of chatting, they went out to the Suzuki two-door, which had been left running in the parking lot.
"Oh. Did you forget to turn off your engine?" Keri inquired.
"No. Why?" was the response.
Keri let the matter drop, repressing her urge to lecture about wasted energy, pollution and possible theft. In the weeks to come, she would notice many unoccupied cars with idling motors. She figured it must be a cultural thing.
The sky was clear and the temperature high as they drove the few blocks to central Tsukuba. An elderly parking attendant attired in police like manner waved them smartly into the six-floor parking structure where they quickly located a space marked for yellow plate (small) cars only. Reiko backed the vehicle into place, as was required.
While they walked toward the elevator, Keri heard two young children crying inside a locked and hot Toyota. "Where are their parents?" she asked.
"Probably playing pachinko at the parlor across the street", was the reply. Keri was shocked. Where she came from it would be grounds for parental arrest.
The pair rode the elevator down to the first floor of Seibu, the main department store in town. They exited and passed through the jewelry section. Keri eyed the stylish collection of watches, surprised that they didn't cost more. But shopping could wait. Right now, they were starving.
Rieko led the way toward an aromatic entrance with short red curtains, a crimson lantern, and a waving black cat inviting them in. As they parted the curtains and stepped inside, the cooks and waitresses all yelled something at them. Keri didn't know how to react to the enthusiastic greeting, so she followed the lead of her accomplice and ignored it, and them. They were shown to a smoking booth, as Rieko needed her strong Golden Bat cigarettes on a regular basis.
The girls examined both the menu and the very authentic looking plastic food models of the dishes available. Since this was a ramen shop, Rieko decided upon a Sapporo style miso ramen with roast pork. Keri went for the spicy Kyushu ramen with pork, mushrooms and some kind of brown egg. In addition, Rieko suggested one plate of gyoza, a sort of meat and veggie filled pastry. The local showed the greenhorn how to select meal and drink tickets from the illustrated coin vending machine, then hand them to the help by the kitchen, an act that elicited gung-ho yells of excitement from the cooks.
Their iced teas were delivered to the table with lemon and little containers of sugar syrup, in lieu of sugar. Keri thought it was nice the way they were presented with hot white wet cloths to clean their hands. Keri couldn't resist placing the steaming mini-towel over her face. It was most moist and refreshing. She didn't notice the stares.
The ramen arrived. To Keri's eyes, the bowls seemed huge. The aroma alone set her mouth to watering, and the sight enhanced the process. They dug in. Keri first grabbed her cool porcelain spoon, dipped it in and, after blowing on it a bit, tasted her first real Japanese ramen, which was really Chinese, if you want to get technical. Delicious!!! Rieko mentioned how good the hot broth felt on the back of her smoker's throat. She also opined as to how ramen has served as a bridge between past and present, as well as between East and West.
As the Canadian continued her meal, she became aware of strange, somewhat disgusting noises all about her. Suddenly, she heard it coming from Rieko. Looking up, she intently observed as Rieko snared a large number of noodles with her chopsticks, lifted them halfway out of the bowl while maneuvering her mouth downward to conclude the rendezvous. As the chopsticks reached her lips, the pile of noodles was inhaled and disappeared with a loud, wet, sucking sound. Keri was embarrassed for her friend and hoped nobody had noticed. Then Rieko did it again. The sucking came from all sides. Keri realized that the other customers were eating in the same manner, with no manners, in her opinion.
Keri managed to get about five noodles between her chopsticks, put them to her mouth and then daintily bit off the potion that did not conveniently fit, letting the severed halves plop back down into the bowl, Rieko disapproved and attempted to instruct the novice in the proper art of slurping this ancient treat, "When in Rome,,," Keri figured and gave it a shot, With a mighty slurp, the noodles entered her gullet, but not before some of the less disciplined ones had thrashed about wildly to and fro, slapping her face and staining her blouse. She tried again with predictably similar results, This seemed like too much work, so she returned to the spoon.
The gyoza was brought to the table on a plate containing six large ones, Rieko prepared the sauce and taught how to di p and nibble, Keri was delighted, and devoured five of them with Rieko's blessing. Sated, though stained, Keri declared the meal a nominal success and they rose to depart. Next up - shopping!!!
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