There’s a standing-only 居酒屋 in the same building as Tamachi Station called やまとや. I’d passed by it countless times — though not every day, since it’s at street level and I enter the station at ticket-gate level — but I’d never gone in. A little over a month ago, I decided to try it. The clientele is entirely Japanese (with one obvious exception), and it’s always busy when I go — though there’s always a spot for me somewhere. My first time in, I met Ryousuke, the guy I mentioned before. I went a couple times after, but the one other time I saw him there, he was busy with coworkers, so we just smiled and waved.
Last week, I stopped in and had just ordered a draft when Ryousuke came in. He said he was there with his 先輩 — his senior coworker — and probably couldn’t talk. He moved to the far corner, and was soon joined by a very pretty Japanese girl (the aforementioned coworker). Within moments, they waved me over, and we switched to a table. Not long after, another of his coworkers (also female) joined us. Conversation was lively, everyone had a good time, but what really stood out was that they were really impressed with my moderate Japanese, and said so many times (including one of the servers, a Chinese girl). They also decided that I resembled Tom Cruise (not the first time I’ve heard that). I left feeling pretty good; nothing like praise to boost one’s ego.
On Tuesday, I went back. There was a large, obviously-foreign guy toward the back of the room, drinking with a small, old Japanese businessman, the latter of whom waved in my direction. I waved back, but he motioned like he’d been waving to someone behind me. I then spotted Ryousuke, who said he’d been there for maybe five minutes. I switched to his (standing) table to talk. Within a couple minutes, one of the servers brought me a mug of some sort of alcoholic sour, and said it was courtesy of the big guy. I looked over, raised my glass, and nodded in thanks, and the two men nodded back. Right about then, Ryousuke had to take a phone call outside, so I went over to thank the men. The large guy greeted me and said (in excellent English) that he was from Bulgaria. He asked me where I was from, and when I told him West Virginia, he said he was pretty sure he’d driven through it before. The Japanese gentleman also knew WV, saying he knew all fifty US states. The reason they’d bought me a drink, they said, was that they didn’t see many non-Japanese in Yamatoya, and noticed that I spoke pretty good Japanese. We spoke a little longer, and I thanked the two of them for the sour before heading back to Ryousuke.
The second of his coworkers from the week before — whose name escaped me even then — arrived shortly after. The two of them told me I had achieved a small measure of fame around their office, due to the three of them telling their coworkers about the American who spoke Japanese, as well as Ryousuke showing a photo he’d taken of me (which prompted another photo or two right then). There was more conversation, more compliments on my Japanese, and they even brought up again how much I looked like Tom Cruise (which is always flattering but entirely false). Eventually, the Bulgarian guy and his friend left, and as they passed us by, I got the former’s LINE information. His name is Liubo, he lives near Shinjuku, and he’s married (though he didn’t say what ethnicity his wife was). We agreed to meet again sometime, and I said the next drink was on me.
Honestly, it’s a wonder my head fits through the train doors after leaving that place.