Friday, August 5, 2011

Lost In Translocation - Izakaya Blues In Melbourne

I am, in some ways, a bit of an anomaly amongst our married Aussie-Japanese friends - though I'm sure there's other words they might choose. Odd might be one. Or just-a-little-bit-crazy might be another. The main distinction however is not so much about me, but rather about my relationship with Japan. I found myself sitting in an izakaya in Melbourne last monday (trying to avoid getting a cold), when suddenly I found myself reflecting on the nature of my experience of Japan.

To give you some back-story... my interest in Japan started (way back in 2002) as vague, ill-defined feeling. Like many people I had very little idea about the true nature of the country. I purchased my first Lonely Planet guide to Japan and was starting to plan a solo holiday. I had even signed up for a Japanese language course. Then I met my future wife, T-chan.... right here in Adelaide... and my life changed in an instant. For the better, I might add.

And as it turned out, my first trip to Japan was with T-chan - and it's been that way for each of my eight trips there.

Now let's fast forward 8 years - to me sitting by myself in an izakaya in Melbourne called ChujiIzakaya are pub-restaurants, and are popular places for groups to socialise, eat and drink of an evening. They're also famous for their tapas or yum-cha-like sharing of dishes. I've often felt I would like to open an izakaya here in Adelaide, but Melbourne's already well and truly discovered the secret. Now Chuji's a great place - a great menu, good atmosphere and popular (not cheap however). But something wasn't right. There was a hole in the vibe that I couldn't quite pin down. When I should have been over-joyed at being in a great Japanese restaurant, I was instead feeling just a little down.

Then it dawned on me... I knew what was missing. It was that T-chan was not there with me. Going out to Japanese restaurants was natural for me now, but it was also something that I almost always shared with my wife. One went with the other. Suddenly, I keenly felt like a visitor to my own life.

Amongst our Aussie-Japanese married friends, I'm one of the few Aussie guys that didn't meet their partner in Japan. Indeed, nearly all of our friends met whilst the guy was teaching English in Japan. It's a very common story (and perhaps one I'll explore in a later post).  As such, my entire experience of Japan has been through the prism of my relationship with my wife. And that might explain why I have essentially an optimistic and positive outlook on Japan. But it also explains why, sitting in an izakaya in Melbourne, I suddenly felt uncomfortably alone and a little lost in translocation of the spirit. I missed her.

Was this an identity crisis? An existential crisis? Or worse - a mid-life crisis? Or just one of those moments experienced by people that have to travel often, and wonder, where do I want to be right now? With my family. Still, I was left with one thought. If it weren't for having met my wife, would I still be sitting here wondering - do I go with the gyutan shioyaki, sanma, or the geso karaage for starters? I look forward to returning to Melbourne soon, and to Chuji... with the whole family.

PS - Next time I'll take my camera.


  1. Great post and everyone of us has a different story to tell and relationship with Japan.

    Japan Australia

  2. Thnx - I think we do all have different experiences, and yes, there's none that are more important than others. I do have to admit however that not having lived in Japan does make for a barrier with those that have... even if it's a small one.

  3. Reading your blog, I just assumed you met your wife here and had lived here together. Guess I should never assume. But, one thing I could never agree with you on, I'm afraid. The geso. Just no, Ben. No. They're gross. ;P

  4. Ah - well, I've spent perhaps a year in Japan all up (if I were string it all together end-to-end). But, unfortunately that doesn't quite work that way either.

    At one level, I don't think it's how long you've spent in a place that determines what you get out of it in terms of a fulfillment. Though it does make a big difference in terms of how deeply you get to know it. I guess we shouldn't jump to quickly to judgement - even on ourselves.

    I have however met people that have lived a decade in Japan, and still don't know the first thing about the country, language or the people.

    The important thing however is... I really want to find a place that does Nankotsu... my all-time favourite izakaya dish. Don't ask me why, but I love'em.

  5. Hmm...everyone has their own unique experiences and different reasons why they're drawn to Japan. I guess yours is a call of fate. I'm still trying to figure out what mine is. You know, aside from fandoming boy bands. =)

  6. I think there's a lot of different stories out there. Fate does have a lot to do with my story. Now as for fandoming boy bands - that I can't help you with. I'm sure there are pills for that kind of condition however. You can recover.


  7. I envy you for your positive feeling toward Japan. I think that is very good for T-chan and L-kun, too.
    I have been to Vladivostok four times, and the gloomy place never attracted me (it could have been different in Moscow). Hence, I did not learn Russian. I understand it is a pity, but I cannot change my feeling.

  8. I count myself very lucky to be able to honestly say I enjoy going over to Japan to spend time with T-chan's family. Sapporo's a great city - and little by little, we're seeing more of Japan together.

    It's a shame that you didn't like Vladivostok; but sometimes places grow on you as well, over time.

    Of course, that's not to say you have to love someone's home city to love them. The important thing is that Vladivostok is very much a part of Katya's self, and her ties back are a very important part of her life. It's certainly good to be able to share that part of her life.

  9. I understand what you mean. I am glad that Katya is happy living with her family now.
    I wish I liked Vladivostok.