Sunday night I met my friend Takuji in person for the first time.
We'd become friends through the online community of Lomography, and often over the past couple years I would forget that we hadn't ever seen each other in person; the same goes for the small handful of close friends I've made through this community, all situated in a variety of areas around the country and world, and all sharing my reckless enthusiasm for film.
Takuji is the boss of all things Lomo in Japan. Literally. ("So you're the boss of the store?..." "No, all of Japan!"). I knew he worked for the Tokyo Lomo store, but I had no idea he had moved up so high on the ladder. He's not much older than me, and he has lived in Tokyo for almost his whole life (he's visited a few places in America: Eugene, Boston, and Arcata, California; in regards to that last one, when I asked him "Why?" he responded "Yeah, I know. Why." and explained to the other guests at our dinner table that it is a place "known for the weed.")
We met him Sunday night at 6 p.m. in Shibuya, in front of the train station and famous huge intersection. Being the gaijin that I am, I was nervous about whether or not we would recognize him, and I knew that the hundreds of people constantly flooding this crosswalk weren't going to be working in our favor.
But we spotted him right away (and of course we weren't too hard to pick out); being able to shake his hand and introduce ourselves to each other was amazing. It was him, his absolutely lovely wife Sachi, one of his co-workers and friends, Nao, and a girl named Katharina who works for the Lomo store in Austria and is here for two weeks--her first time in Japan, just like us--helping to build the new Lomography shop (the grand opening of which is December 17th, meaning we will be attending the party! Me: "what usually happens at the opening parties?" Takuji: "Free beer!") I cannot begin to describe how nice all of these people were.
Takuji then led us to an izakaya--a type of traditional Japanese restaurant that I'd heard Anthony talk about since before we'd even left America. Walking in, the entire place was heated like a mild sauna. I swear, heat emanates from EVERYWHERE in this city: inside stores, from toilets...I swear I felt my seat on the train today giving off heat, and Anthony is certain the sidewalks have heaters in them. It's actually kind of genius.
We were led to a seating area for the six of us, and because it was so warm we took off our sweatshirts and jackets and hung them on the wooden coat hangers surrounding our little space. Takuji took care of all the ordering, and Nao, sitting across from me, helped me decide on a drink. I had a glass of plum wine. Then I had some really good cold sake. Different plates of different sizes kept routinely being brought to our table. Being a vegetarian, I couldn't try everything, but I promise I was just as ecstatic about the courses as everyone else at the table: a dish of tamago that came with a small pile of pickled radish, and you placed the radish on top of the egg with each bite; a tofu salad that puts any American salad from my past to shame; some kind of marinated bean sprout dish that I could live off of for days. The plates kept coming. There was a burner in the center of the table and after a while a large plate of all kinds of stuff was placed on it, and the young girl waiting on us kept coming over and stirring the food, adding spices, and cooked it until it was ready. Everyone passed their small dishes around and enjoyed.
We learned about Takuji and his wife, about how Nao and Katharina got into Lomography and what each person does for the company. In return, they learned about us--where we are from, our schooling, our journey through Japan thus far--and between the atmosphere and the drinks and the warmth and the great conversation, the evening passed so wonderfully. I made four very good friends in that izakaya, and in a way that I don't recall ever making friends before; something about the sincerity of our interaction makes me so, so grateful to have experienced it, and makes me feel that even if I were to never see any of them again, I have still gained so much from that one meeting.
When our glasses and cups were empty and our stomachs were full (but not sickly full...I have yet to experience that even once on this trip, even considering how often I'm eating!) we gathered our outer layers and walked outside. Our friends kindly offered to walk us back to the train station, but Anthony and I were feeling so good that we wondered around Shibuya and extended our night a bit longer. The lights outside were so beautiful.