Shinki-bus stinks like wet country, but I take it–it services the rather remote area where we’re to be trained for three days by the Board of Education. I leave from Sannomiya station, a multi-level transport hub bigger than Sears and busier than Krispy Kreme. It’s an hour-plus trip that stops to pick up old ladies from isolated benches roadside amidst Maxvalu supermarkets and rice fields. As with all places I’ve so far been in this country, the cicada calls are deafening and, in conjunction with impossibly high overhead power lines, virtually define the landscape. I step off Shinki-bus and there they are, out here in Yashiro, ree-ree-ree-raaaaaaawwww.
I refuse to concern myself too explicitly with the occasionally redundant training seminars, satisfying my requirement of compulsory attendance but preferring instead to let my thoughts drift to our meals, which are frequent and enormous. By day our chefs, one older and with a shagtop haircut and classic ‘stache, prepare curry, shrimp katsu, and strange “tofu hamburger,” then at night when the Kirin flows pull worn acoustics from god-knows-where and hammer out 60s and 70s rock like there aren’t 45 English-speaking 20-somethings clapping and singing along. One of them, the younger one, rolls a pack of cigs into his black t-shirt sleeve like an anachronistic 5’4″ James Dean.
Between songs we are mindful of our poker hands, elements of a foolish no-limit game played with toothpicks broken in half and devoid enough of any value to prevent anyone from folding their shitty cards. 4-5 offsuited takes a pot before we forget about the game all together.
Their repertoire is dumbfounding. When they play Johnny B Goode to heed our rabid calls I see the young one morph into Michael J Fox from Back to the Future, kicking the air to cheers, thrusting the guitar around the like some sort of primitive implement. The kitchen becomes a concert hall: I sip beer and rest my elbow on a plastic milk crate containing a dirty chef’s apron, figure this is the strangest venue I’ve ever caught a show, industrial food prep in governmental training compound, rural Hyogo prefecture Japan, 1-2-3 o’clock 4 o’clock rock.
The morning after, one man from the Board of Education rubs his face in fatigue as though tenderizing choice Kobe beef, having imbibed far more than the requisite beer the night before. The other staff and teachers vary: half-asleep, half-awake, toeing the line between feeling patronized and liberated.
As we finish our dichotomic breakfast (rice and miso soup among American-style bacon, french fries, and coffee), I carry my tray back to the kitchen and there’s our shagtop rockstar for a night, two hands on a paddle stirring an honest-to-god cauldron, sweet aromas. He gives me a nod. I rinse ketchup off my chopsticks.