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Ibaraki English Teacher: Chapter 13

Author:Joseph Robbie, Issue: November 2001, Topic: Commentary

Keri Canyon and Rieko Kubota, the boss's wife, exited the ramen shop and entered Seibu proper. Riding the escalator to the third floor, they proceeded to browse the bookstore. Reiko picked up a copy of her favorite manga, "Love Love Couple", full of illustrated cartoon stories for adults. Keri decided to purchase a hard cover Japanese/English lexicon and a Japanese language study book with CD for beginners. In addition, for her reading pleasure, the latest Sidney Sheldon novel was located and considered.. The list price imprinted on the back cover announced a cost of $12, yet the price in yen equaled almost $20. Shoganai - so she bought it as well.

The buxom Canadian had inexplicably forgotten her watch back in Moose Jaw, so it was on to the jewelry department. What a selection!!! No fake Rolex here. All timepieces were genuine, as reflected by the attached tags. As it turned out, the saleslady spoke passable English and was eager to chat. She inquired as to Keri's situation, then welcomed her sincerely to the country. As they reviewed the array, it came out that Yumiko's boyfriend was a gaijin. In fact, he was manager and head chef at the only German restaurant in town, located on the sixth floor of this very department store. On a whim, she presented each of the girls with a 20% off coupon for the Elbe and suggested they talk to Dieter for a further discount by mentioning her name.

With this kind of hospitality, Keri felt obligated to make a purchase. After much hemming and hawing, she selected a brilliant Seiko for 10,000 yen and attached it to her wrist on the spot. Pleasantries were exchanged all around, then the basement floor's supermarket was the destination.

They selected a basketless shopping cart and added a plastic basket. Thus equipped, they began their foray. Keri needed all the basics, so they hit each aisle with gusto. Soon the basket was full and they rearmed. With two carts in tow, they continued the quest for sustenance. The young teacher felt herself bombarded by boom boxes and live vendors loudly announcing their bargains. The din was overwhelming. She loved serious cheese, but found the offering here underwhelming. Pasteurized processed cheese product seemed to be all the rage. The snack aisle included countless unidentifiable treats. Next Keri added to the cart two cans of tuna fish. Rieko bashfully informed her that pets were not allowed in the company apartment. Initially confused, the newcomer eventually realized that the cans were cat food and replaced them. The produce department was a veritable magical mystery tour. Fruits and veggies she'd never seen before abounded. Apples she cherished, yet individually packaged at $2 Canadian struck her as excessive. Don't even ask about the melons.

Just as she began to feel that the place was a total rip-off, she noticed the many employees stationed about offering free samples. So she tried sausage, gyoza, pasta, shellfish, salad, cake, and juice, as well as three small cups of beer on the vendor's insistence. Hoping to buy a gallon of milk, Keri found it only available in one-liter cartons, so she bought four.

Finally, they proceeded to the checkout counter. The tally for the two baskets was 17,000 yen. Keri was nearly broke after paying. Adding insult to injury, she had to bag the groceries herself.

Loaded down with the bounty, the young ladies schlepped their bags toward the elevators. Adjacent to the lifts was an extensive array of vending machines. Keri set down her burden to review what was on offer here. Quite a unique variety of goods was available for purchase. Many products surprised the Canuck; some shocked her. Among the more unusual items to be had were: live beetles, fortunes, beer, soiled panties, blood-type specific condoms, disposable cameras and horse race tip sheets. She decided to buy a fortune for 100 yen. Rieko translated it for her. Keri liked the part about upcoming romance, but was disappointed to learn of looming future financial difficulties. She laughed off the message as just another gimmick with no logical validity. But was it really?

After loading the groceries onto the back seat of the Suzuki, they drove down the winding ramp to the exit of the parking structure. Rieko handed her validated parking ticket to the lad at the gate and was awarded passage. Then she noticed the gas gauge glowing red and pointing to "E". Time to fill her up.

They cruised for a few blocks to a large, new-looking gas station. Standing near the entrance by the street stood three uniformed young people bowing to them as they pulled in. One of the workers motioned them to follow him to a pump, shouting, beckoning and finally guiding them into perfect position.

Keri offered to get out and pump the gas. Rieko just chuckled and explained that no one pumps their own petrol in Japan. Sure enough, as the window was lowered, the attendant stood there awaiting command. He was told to fill it up and was handed a credit card specific to that chain of stations. In the meantime, a 20-something girl proceeded to wash all of the windows and exterior mirrors, while yet another attendant took their garbage and also emptied and wiped clean the car's ashtray.

Keri knew that this country was renowned for good service, but she was still immensely impressed. Rieko got back her card and receipt, and followed a guide to the exit as the others bowed and chorused words of thanks and well wishes. The experience wasn't over yet. At the exit, the guide held up a hand, indicating "stop", as traffic was coming down the street. When there was no break in the stream after a minute or so, he stepped into the street and halted the flow so that the girls could safely exit. He offered a final bow, then they were on their way.

It had been an interesting and enlightening, albeit expensive, day for Keri. As Rieko dropped her off at home, the fresh gaijin was looking forward to a nap, as she was feeling a bit jet lagged. Then in the evening, she began to plan for tomorrow, her first day on the new job as an Ibaraki English teacher.

To be continued...

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