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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

My Dinner With Ceigen


We walked into the downstairs restaurant, a place filled with smokey, chickeny aromas, where the man cooking the deceased poultry looks up and yells 'Irashai!'. The word for 'welcome' in Japanese is 'Irashaimase' or 'Irashai', which is a shortened form. The way the chicken-cooking man says it though, is the way you would hurl a boulder at enemies. It is a weapon, an attacking thing. An escaped lion that rrrrumbles the 'r' and launches the rest of the word at its prey. The guy cooking food next to him, not to be outdone by his colleague, rivals now, lets out an 'Irashai!' of his own, a runaway locomotive. An uppercut from a giant. The third guy has his work cut out for him and throws an 'Irashai!' of equal volume and intensity. 'I shall leap over the counter and shove yakitori skewers down your throats!' is what I hear. We back off a pace, startled. I can taste adrenalin in the back of my throat. 'Table for five?' asks the chicken-cooking man. I like this place already.

Ceigen is an old buddy of my mothers and every time I come to Japan I try to look him up. When I told him that my friends and I were dropping past to Nippon on the way to Vladivostok he insisted in taking us out to dinner. He also generously got us a hotel room since we didn't know where we were going to stay in Tokyo.

'Soooo,' says Ceigen (not his real name. I've modified it slightly to protect his identity) ',Russia huh? Going on the Trans-Siberian express.'
'Yes Ceigen. It should be a blast.'
'Make sure you don't come back as Com-u-nists.' Ceigen spent several years in Poland. Several times throughout the night he asks us to be wary of Communism and Communists.

His wife is on the other side of me and pours me a shot of sake, cold. 'Skoal!' I shout and down the sake in one. 'Tra-di-tionally in Japan we sip on our sake.' informs Ceigen.
His wife pours me another shot of sake. This one is warm. 'Drink, drink.' she insists.

Yakitori chicken skewer after chicken skewer, shot after shot of sake, we progress through the meal. Hanna, Ceigen's daughter, is on the way to join us. Should be here in about twenty minutes, they say. The chicken-cooking man produces something else from atop the hot coals. It looks like mushrooms on skewers. 'Eat, eat.' insists Ceigen's wife. Chris, Nick and I start eating. She then informs me of what it is in Japanese.

'We're eating mushrooms called 'Matsutake'.' I tell them, 'How does it taste.'
'Pretty good.' says Nick.
'Nice.' says Chris.
'The three thin slices that we're eating now; they retail for about a hundred Australian dollars.'

They both stop eating mid-chew. If they're anything like me they are probably thinking the same thing: If I can spit out what's left in my mouth and sell it will I be able to at least get $50? The moment passes. We gulp down the mushrooms. 'Such a silly thing is it not?' asks Ceigen's wife, 'Ten thousand yen for some mushrooms. But it's what we Japanese do to spoil ourselves. More sake?'

You must be 'shrooming,


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