Yesterday, armed with a dictionary, a copy of their information pamphlet I spent over an hour translating, and a deep desire to go swimming I headed to Central Sports. They're a national chain of fitness centers. Things went very well, at first. The employee who drew the short straw sat down with me and, between hand gestures, drawings, the dictionary, and her occasional communications with other workers, we got my information form and health questionnaire filled out and I understood how much it would cost and my start date for going to the gym. It took us about an hour and 15min. Then came the final contract, which was in English, which explained, among other things, how much I was agreeing to pay, when I could cancel my membership and the rules I had to follow. This is when things turned south. The second point on the contract was that tattoos are not allowed and there is a financial penalty, and your membership would be revoked without refund, for having one. I pointed to the word tattoo and then pointed to myself. She looked very surprised. I then showed her the dragon fly on my lower back. She held up her finger in the universal "one moment please" gesture and headed to the office. She came back less than 30 secs later and said "sorry, no tattoo" this time crossing her forearms in the Japanese gesture for "NO." I managed to ask why and, eventually, she manged to communicate "tattoo scare grandmothers." So, then I asked if she knew of a fitness center or pool that allows tattoos. She wrote "fitness, pool, gym" "no" and "tattoo" on a piece of paper and then said "in all Japan." She did go and talk to some colleagues who think that, maybe but probably not, there is one gym in Kobe that might let me in with my tattoo. She seemed truly sorry about it all. We think it has something to do with tattoos signalling you're a member of the yakuza, organized crime, but I really doubt they're getting dragon fly tattoos. I suppose I could have lied and tried covering it up but I bet those "scared" grandmothers would have had no problem narking me out since it is pretty obvious I'm not a gangster.
A few people have commented on how food centric this blog is. I've got two responses to that. The first is, once you've ordered, food is pretty easy to understand. I can see it, smell it, taste it and not have to talk to it. The second is that Kobe is full of restaurants. Case in point, last night we went to a sushi restaurant with Naoko, our patron saint, and Hazuki, another woman from her office. I asked them what they do in Kobe when they have friends or family visiting. Hazuki is Canadian Japanese and has been living here for a number of years. All of their answers had to do with going out to eat. Finally, I said, "OK, you've taken your family to lunch, now what do you do in Kobe for the afternoon." They said there really isn't much except shopping. They recommended things to do in Osaka or Kyoto or Tokyo. So, since I don't have to try and communicate with my dinner and eating is a major thing to do here (despite all the women being malnourished) I will be writing about food.
We went to a little sushi restaurant that's been around for 80 years. The woman working there was second generation. The place had only 8 seats and was attached to her house. We sat at a bar facing her and she would prepare each piece in front of us and then set one on each of our plates. She would also tell us if we should eat the piece plain, use the soy sauce, sprinkle a little salt instead, or squeeze the lemon wedge over it.
The menu is the wooden slates on the wall with hirogana written on them. We were grateful for our Japanese speaking dinner guests.
We ate flat fish, bonito, mackerel (two kinds, one with the skin so fattier and one of just meat), tuna, grilled sea eel, salmon eggs, sea urchin, white fish, octopus, marinated white fish, and marinated mackerel. We finished with a traditional red miso soup. It was all delicious, although I don't like it when the eggs pop in your mouth. The woman working there was very impressed by our willingness to eat the sushi. I need to find the foreigners that have made Japanese people think we're all a bunch of food sissies and give them a talking to. According to Naoko and Hazuki is was also reasonably priced. However, I know I'm related to some of these food sissies and they made an excellent recommendation. When you come to visit, since you can't come all the way to Japan and not have sushi, we'll take you to kiten zushi restaurant instead. There, pieces of sushi roll pace you on a conveyor belt and you can choose what you want based on appearance. There are also more cooked and vegetarian options so you don't have to eat raw fish.