Last Saturday was my neighborhood cafe’s outdoor BBQ— an event that I think I was first told about at the beginning of June, when I first started befriending the cafe owners.
I moved to my quiet little corner of Kichijoji almost exactly a year ago. I lived about a ten minute walk from my school before then, which put me about 5 minutes by train or 20 minutes by bus from Kichijoji, my favorite neighborhood in Tokyo.
When my apartment application finally went through, after several days of anxiety and an interview-type phone call with my landlord in Japanese, I was so excited that I took off for my new residence immediately from school, even though it would be a couple of weeks before my lease started and the keys were handed over to me. But despite knowing that I would be stopped at the front door, I couldn’t help myself from going on this phantom, lovesick walk from Kichijoji station, through the beautiful Inokashira park, and up through the winding street that turned onto my new apartment.
At the base of the street, in front of Inokashira Koen station, were a few tiny bars and cafes that I lingered in front of. I was particularly drawn to one cafe that had a gallery attached on its second floor, and coffee-making contraptions left outside so passersby could quickly grab some take-out coffee.
After moving in a couple weeks later, I would pass by this cafe and the 2 bars next door almost everyday, always assuring myself that I would go in and sit down by myself someday soon. But the cafe was small and intimate, meaning you couldn’t walk in without drawing all of the proprietors’ notice to yourself at once, and every day I couldn’t bring forward enough resolution to go in by myself.
Finally, in April, my sister visited, and one of the first tasks I set to us was visiting this little cafe and meeting the friendly-looking owners (an older married couple) whom I had been meeting for months without exchanging a word. It was a perfectly warm day when we visited, so we sat outside at one of the 2 tables they had provided that day. The owner showed us the coffee menu and offered some recommendations, but then, after bringing our coffees and coffee accouterments, left us to chat amongst ourselves pleasantly, thus ending my first meeting with them.
A few weeks after my sister left, I mustered the courage to go in myself, and managed to exchange a few words with the owner, being the only customer at the time. Our conversation was pretty minimal, but it was enough to establish a routine of saying “good morning” and “good evening” twice a day when I passed by his shop.
One evening, I was coming back from work a bit late, and the owners were lingering outside with a couple of customers/friends when I offered my customary “good evening.” This time they stopped me and entreated me to come in and sit down with them. The owner (Kaya-san) introduced me systematically to his wife/co-owner, 2 friend-customers in the cafe at the time, and his 2 dogs. Kaya-san asked me about my school, what brought me to Japan, where in the neighborhood I lived, and told me about the many young foreigners who live around here that he was anxious to introduce me to.
I think every time I meet Kaya-san he mentions a new young foreigner that he wants to introduce me too. I told him that I don’t really have any friends in my immediate area, and have never met any of the foreigners he insists live right near me. I was sitting on a chair next to the door and by the window one evening when I said this, and he replied that I should come by Saturday and resume sitting in the exact position I’m in now, and he’ll gently accost every person who passes by with the greeting, “Hello! Have you met my friend here?”
We never actually followed through on this plan, but over a series of evening chats on my way home from work, I managed to meet most of his closest neighborhood friends, culminating in the BBQ last Saturday which almost all of the principal characters attended. Gentle and exceedingly friendly, Kaya-san takes it upon himself to look out for all of the young people living in our quiet neighborhood, calling them all his sons and daughters. Halfway through the outdoor BBQ last Saturday, I wandered into the cafe in pursuit of one of his dogs, and was immediately stopped by Kaya-san and introduced to a young Japanese woman who had just arrived. He explained to her, teasingly, that I’m another one of his daughters. She laughed and said “Since when?” and I replied, “Oh about a month ago.”
Last week’s BBQ went on for about 3 or 4 hours. A small, portable grill was set outside, with grilling delicacies placed in heaps around it, including an endless array of grilled vegetables (pumpkin, potatoes, corn, tomatoes, onions, etc.), grilled chicken, grilled lamb and pork, and many varieties of grilled fish.
When the grilling finally came to an end, Kaya-san’s wife emerged with a giant bowl of yaki-soba (fried noodles), soon followed by giant slices of honeydew and watermelon. I invited 4 friends of mine to the BBQ, and had fun introducing each of them in turn to my kindly cafe owner friends. After all the guests were a pleasant 2 or 3 drinks in, Kaya-san brought out his 2 acoustic guitars, handing one to a professional musician friend of his, and fiddling around on the other himself. His musician friend, who did some very passionate, if questionably accurate, Beatles covers for us, is apparently somehow involved in the recording of the Japanese-version of Tim Burton movie soundtracks. Even those more fluent in Japanese than myself couldn’t get a completely clear idea of this story from him, though. I think the most concrete information I was able to extract is that he does not like Danny Elfman, which I found sad.
My friends and I were some of the last lingering guests, only heading home after a bored police man from the police box a few buildings down came over and reprimanded us for making such noise on the street. But surely he was just upset that he couldn’t join in on the warm, cheery festivities himself.