For our first dinner in Japan, we wanted to search for ramen (yeah, we’re such typical tourists but we were itching for good ramen!), so we decided to take to the internet’s review! We eventually stumbled upon Kiraku (a ramen shop relatively nearby) during our search!
Trying to get a table for seven people in a typical Japanese restaurant (that boasts two floors of extreme, and I mean extreme, spacial economy) was already a challenge, never mind the language barrier. So during this ruckus, I presumed the woman we were trying to communicate with had a slight racial hint that I was indeed Chinese and attempted to converse in mandarin (which I am very limited in fluency). So after another struggle of language, I noticed her pronunciation of a word and it was in Cantonese (in which I am a lot more profficient in). I immediately jumped at the opportunity to switch the language channel and there was success.
Finally managing to organise a table and a short wait (not important don’t worry, no adventurous memories to be told) we sat down and began browsing the menu.
During the course of our visit the woman that served us began a conversation with us (I was translating so the whole group could ask questions and it actually got very interesting). We learnt that the ramen shop we were eating in, opened it’s doors in 1950. It was opened by Taiwanese migrants and it is still owned by the same family to this day. With no major redecoration or renovations, the interior is very much the same to what it was when it first opened.
But I think the most interesting part of our meal was learning about the origin of the lady that was serving us; she’s in her fifties and moved over to Japan from Malaysia nearly two decades ago. With no knowledge of Japanese culture or language she decided to make the move. She learnt the language through working several jobs over the years and now she’s been working in Kiraku for over two years. She knows four languages; Guangdong origins means she knows Cantonese, she learnt Malaysian from being raised in Malaysia, she knows Mandarin and Japanese from working life. She also expressed concern for one of our friends when she saw his eczema and began offering advice on medication. For a complete stranger to express concern and engage in conversation about a strangers health was very ..new to us. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to ask more because it was quite busy but it was interesting addition to our first official day in Japan.
I have been very fortunate to be able to experience holidays all around the world but perhaps due to age or company, there has always been a lack of ‘depth’ or sophistication to these trips in terms of my authentic appreciation for local culture, people and their stories. Perhaps it was immaturity, lack of interest or maybe just ignorance but I feel this is a wake up call.
Social conventions today that have been engrained in me, dictate that it’s embarrassing to approach people randomly, it’s ‘awkward’ to ask about people’s stories, it’s too risky to just act and not think but these seem to limit these spontaneous opportunities that could create life changing moments. I want to, perhaps maybe even inspire or light a spark in some readers, take opportunities and appreciate moments like this because I feel life is honestly too short to have to be so careful about what people think or how they judge you.
Perhaps there may be some readers that think this is all a load of *insert any foul language* but perhaps take it with a pinch of salt if you think so, we should strive to please ourselves and appreciate what we feel is right to do (just don’t go offending or causing negativity).
Oh also! The ramen was really good as well, make sure you visit if you’re ever in Shibuya!