Writer in Search of Self –The Soul of Japan

Writer in Search of Self –The Soul of Japan

Entrance into the Soul of Japan

“It includes my first trip to a sushi shop. Seiichiro took me,” Eric explained. We were sitting at our usual table in Terrell’s Bar. “I wanted to write something completely different.”
“Different from what?” I asked. Eric was brimming with excitement. You’d think he had put the finishing touches on the Book of Genesis.
He shoved the shot glass of Jack to one side and leaned forward. “You know, the usual travelogue adventures. This story will take you to a higher level. A spiritual, psychological level. A level that transcends the ordinary. A level . . ..”
“All that in only four pages,” I cut in before he could transport me to yet another level.
“Read it and you’ll see how I set the tone of the story.”
“How can I with you hovering over me like an albatross?”
“Sorry. Sorry. I’ll sit at the bar.”
Eric moved away and I picked up the four typewritten pages.

The Soul of Japan

Indulge me and imagine yourself in the situation that follows.

One night you go out eating and drinking with a colleague from work. He guides you along the back streets of the Noge district of Yokohama until you come to a sushi shop. “The master serves the most delicious sushi I’ve ever tasted,” your colleague boasts.
You go inside and sit at the counter in front of the glass case with fish stored on ice. “Let’s have a beer first. Later we’ll switch to sake,” your colleague suggests. He orders the beer and then asks you what kind of sushi you liked.
You confess you have never eaten raw fish before. “And you feel a little nervous?” he asks and with a mischievous gleam in his eye, he adds, “Leave it to me.”
You start off with the safer, saner sushi choices. Maguro, a slice of tuna on rice that melts in your mouth. Once you’ve washed that down with copious amounts of hot sake, you move on to bolder choices. “How about uni?” your colleague says in a breath heavily scented with wasabi mustard.
“Why not?” you reply. “What is it?”
“Sea urchin.”
“You mean those round things with all those sharp spines sticking out?”
“Don’t worry. We won’t be eating the spines,” your colleague assures you as he refills your sake cup.
The master places the uni sushi on your plate. With sake-induced bravado, you shove the sushi into your mouth. To your surprise, the taste delights and tantalizes your taste buds. You tell your colleague, “Order a couple more.”
So it goes as the evening wears on. One after another, you sample different varieties of sushi –Aji, anago, ikura, ika, saba. The names of which flow into one ear and out the other. The sake numbs your cheeks and the sushi stretches your stomach outward. “Enough,” you cry.
“One more. Just one more,” Your colleague urges. He beckons the master over and rattles off a string of Japanese words. You’re only able to pick out two: “Odori ebi.”
“I’m going to give you a glimpse into the soul of Japan,” your colleague announces.
Even in your numbed state you can’t help but chuckle at the idiocy of the statement. “The soul of Japan? Does it taste anything like fillet of sole?”
The master stands behind the counter impervious to your witticism in English. He waits for your colleague’s nod before placing a huge bowl in front of you.
You peer through the sides of the bowl. Inside, finger-sized shrimp dart and wiggle, struggling for breathing space and frightened by your gaping face, which the curvature of the bowl has turned into a grotesque death mask.
The shrimp squirm in frantic attempts to seek the shelter of rocks. But in the bowl, there are no sanctuaries.
The master lifts one up for your approval.
You stare at it and marvel. The only shrimp you’ve seen were frozen. You dropped them into boiling water or sautéed them in a deep frying pan with vegetables. But here you see a living creature held in the fingers of a detached god. Of course, your thoughts may not be that dramatic, particularly when the sake has deadened your rational mind.
“Your glimpse into the soul of Japan,” your colleague whispers into your ear.
You start to laugh, but the laugh freezes in your throat. The master has pulled the head off and peeled off the shell. Your first impulse is to run out of the shop, but you can’t do that, can you?
“Here!” the master says and holds the squirming shrimp up.
“Dip it into soy sauce,” your colleague prompts and refills your sake cup.
You force your squeamish fingers to take hold of the shelled crustacean. It moves and you nearly drop it. You cup it in your hand. It arches and writhes like the hairy caterpillars you held in your hand when you were a kid playing in the backyard. The remembrance causes the sea urchin in your stomach to regrow spines.
“Eat it before it dies,” your colleague urges and smiles conspiratorially at the master.
A tittering of laughter accompanies your colleague’s words, and you realize that the eyes of the other customers are riveted on you. No backing out now. You inform your brain that you’re about to place food in your mouth. The brain relays the message to the stomach. The message does little to soothe the stomach’s discomfort, but anyway it’s game.
You shove the writhing shrimp into your mouth.
“Now bite into it,” your colleague commands.
Slowly you squeeze your teeth together. The freshness and sweetness take you by surprise. You begin chewing with vigor.
“No, no!” your colleague cautions. “Swallow it.”
You stop chewing. Before your throat and esophagus have a chance to mull over the prospect of accepting a half-chewed wriggling shrimp into your bodily system, you swallow it. Quickly you wash it down with sake. And you don’t refuse the refill.
“Another one?” your colleague asks.
You make a lame joke, “One glimpse into the soul of Japan is enough.”
Your colleague turns serious. “Ah, but one glimpse is never enough. Someday you must go to Terrell’s Bar.”
You look at him, perplexed.
“Go to Terrell’s Bar for a glimpse into your own soul, or even into the future.”
You look at your colleague, perplexed, and wonder if he hadn’t drunk one too many cups of sake.

***

“What do you think, Charley?”
I had barely placed the final page down on the table when Eric came bounding back to the table.
“Interesting.”
“Is that all? Just interesting.”
“OK. Your descriptions were great. The sea urchins regrowing spines. The use of the pronoun you. I mean, it was great.”
“You didn’t like it.”
“Eric, I enjoyed it.”
“What didn’t you enjoy about it?”
“Not much of a preface. A preface is supposed to give some indication of what’s coming up in a story.”
“It does give an indication. Wait until you read the rest of the story.”
“And you said the story would take me to a higher level.”
“Right.”
“Terrell’s Bar a higher level? It’s like descending to a lower level.”
“What’s this about Terrell’s Bar?” Terrell set a shot glass filled to the brim in front of Eric. “Man, you came shooting over here like a rabbit chased by hound dogs. You left old Jack here behind.”
“He wrote a story,” I said, hoping to lighten up Eric’s mood. “He even mentioned your bar.” I handed the final page to Terrell.
Terrell held the page an arm’s length away and read. “Go to Terrell’s Bar. Now that’s the kind of writing I go for. But what’s this about souls? Seen a lot of tits and bare asses in here. But souls?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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