In haru of 1979, I went to work at a small Eikaiwa School called REC (Recre-Educational Center). The foreign staff once had a smirky laugh over the name when a student got up during a Q&A gathering and asked with a serious look on his face, “How did you come to this REC?” But REC was no wreck; it was a classy joint with classy students for the most part. In fact, Nitani Hideaki, (family name first as is Japanese custom) a famous haiyū, had started the school and had even taught there for awhile. You can read about him here. Located directly across the street from Nijo Castle, it was an easy bike ride for me from any location, i.e. no hills. I’d work either an eight-hour or a four-hour shift.
During ohiru or bangohan breaks, I often went to a tiny resutoran around the corner called Mugi-Tei. It was popular with a lot of factory and small business workers in the area. When you become a regular customer in such places, you often get to know the owner/chef. Eventually he would cook me my favorite dishes. In fact, he put my favored meal on the wall menu as “The Sara Special.” It’s a good pun, because my name in Japanese can mean plate. The Sara Special would have an tamago-yaki with a Japanese spinach salad and whatever else, I forget now. I once asked him if anyone actually ever ordered it and he laughed and said a few people had.
So, after awhile, I started to hang out with him after hours and then to pitch in as a waitress in my free time. The owner of the school I taught at absolutely hated having his gaikokujin sensei doing this. But it gave me new opportunities to meet less classy people. I was all about meeting the average jūmin and not just the people who were trying to learn English. As you can see in the photo, I was a very absent-minded waitress!
About a year later, I took a trip back to the US for a couple of weeks, and when I returned the resutoran was gone and the owner had disappeared into the night. They’d had a fire in the kitchen, and this is cause for huge disgrace in Kyoto where buildings were still mokuzō and close together. Reopening the resutoran would not have been an option. I remained friends with many of his customers, but we all had to find another place to eat in a neighborhood with few good options.
- haru – 春 spring
- Eikaiwa – 英会話 English conversation
- haiyū – 俳優 actor
- ohiru – お昼 noon, but often used to mean lunch
- bangohan – 晩ご飯 dinner
- resutoran – レストラン restaurant. There are many ways to say restaurant in Japanese depending on the type of food it serves. You would not use this for a cheap Chinese joint or an eatery that serves only soba. It implies Western-like food and probably came into popularity due to the 1970s invasion of “famirī restoran -ファミリーレストラン” like Big Boy and Dennys. Shorter still, famiresu (ファミレス)
- tamago-yaki -卵焼き Japanese style omelette
- gaikokujin sensei – 外国人先生 foreign teacher. If you’re a Western foreigner you get a special status as a teacher, i.e. higher salary than your Japanese counterpart. We call this privilege.
- jūmin – 住民 resident
- mokuzō – 木造 made of wood. Tokyo burned so quickly during WW2 because of all the wooden structures. And since homes and buildings are so close together in many cities, it’s important to know what your building is made of and if it is wooden or has some steel support, etc. Fire spreads when you live and work in tight quarters.