Turning Japanese, I Really Think So


Yuki Egami came through the front door with Rusty, and I gave him a hearty handshake and said, “Konnichi wa. Oishii sou!” Yuki set down his suitcase, then looked uncertainly at Rusty.

“Hello,” he said, with a slight bow of the head. I checked my iPad. I had just said, “Hello, that looks delicious” to our 15-year-old Japanese exchange student.

“Don’t mind him,” said Rusty with a dismissive wave. He twirled a finger at his temple, the international signal for “my dad’s a dork.”

We welcomed Yuki to our home and showed him to the guest room where he’d be staying for the next four days. The decision to host an exchange student had been a last-minute one, like virtually every decision that concerns our kids and their high school. This one, fortunately, didn’t require a lot of debate. We have a guest room, it was only for four days, and this would be a cool opportunity for all of to spend some time with someone from a different culture.

“Should we buy some Japanese food?” I asked Barb. “You know, sushi or, I don’t know, egg rolls? Rice-a-Roni?”

She gave me that look that says “I’ve married a man with a sixth grade education.” The information sent by the school said these kids love American food, and they all speak some English. The idea, Barb said, was for them to spend a few days experiencing life with a typical American family.

“Boy will he be surprised,” said Rusty.


Yuki might have beaten me at the Wii, but I totally outclassed him a the taco bar.

“What was that?” I said. “Ah, never mind. Why don’t you bring down some fresh towels and new soaps to the guest bathroom, Rusty. I have to finish writing a song about an abandoned truckload of rotten chicken.”

Yuki was exhausted from his flight from Japan. Missoula would be just the first stop, we learned, in a trip that would include visits to Seattle, and Vancouver Island in British Columbia. We kept him up until about 8:00 that first night, interrogated him, and fed him a traditional American meal of pizza and salad with French dressing, and let him go downstairs to collapse.

The next day he shadowed Rusty through all his classes, and stuck around to watch him rehearse for a play. Rusty is also on the lacrosse team, so Yuki stood on the sidelines watching a bunch of helmeted boys chasing a hard rubber ball around, whacking the snot out of each other with long sticks topped with shallow nets. When they got home for dinner, I asked Yuki if he felt like a stranger in a strange land.

“Stranger in a…?” he said, a forkful of spaghetti suspended over his plate.

“Stranger In a Strange Land. It’s an American Science Fiction book written in 1961. About a guy who was raised by Martians and then came to earth. Kind of a fish out of water on a different planet story.”

Rusty said, “Dad, I don’t think he’s read that book. I know I haven’t.”

“What is ‘science fiction’?” said Yuki.

I held up my checkbook. “This right here.”

Barb clapped her hands together and stood up from her seat. “Okay, who’s ready for dessert? I made a good old American apple pie.”

“You like apple pie, Yuki?” said Speaker.

“Yes. Apple pie. Hot dog. Baseball. Miley Cyrus.” The kids smilled.

“Yeesh,” I said. “Hey, why don’t we set up the Wii and play a few games?”

“First let’s give Yuki the gifts we got him,” said Speaker.

While we waited for Barb to dish up our patriotic treat, we presented Yuki with some American candy to take home. Rusty handed him three Atomic Fire Balls. “These are hot. Spicy hot.” He waved a hand up and down in front of his open mouth and bugged his eyes out as if to say, “Birds, do not fly in here!” Yuki read the wrapper, and held the candy up. “Radioactive?” Rusty laughed, told him no, just cinnamon. Yuki snapped it open and popped it in his mouth. “Mmm.” He nodded.

Rusty gave him a box of Boston Baked Beans. Yuki read the label, rattled the box. “Boston. Massachusetts. And beans.”

“Well, they’re not really beans. They’re not from Boston, either. They’re candy-coated peanuts or something.”

“Oh, okay,” said Yuki, probably starting to understand why the U.S. ranks so low in worldwide education standards.

“This thing is called an Idaho Spud.” I handed him the plain-looking brown package emblazoned with the pork chop-shaped state of Idaho surrounded with big, white cartoon letters. “It’s not really from Idaho. And it’s not really a spud.”

He looked at me, his eyes beginning to water. “Spud? What is spud?”

“Potato. But it’s not a potato either. You want some water?”

“Yes please.” His throat was beginning to tighten up. I remembered distinctly reading on the instruction list that none of the Japanese students was allergic to any foods. I handed him the water, and he gulped down half the glass. The he waved his hand in front of his mouth the way Rusty had done. “Hot.”

“Well, you can spit that Fireball out if you like.” As I held out my hand, he turned and spit it on to the floor. The dog was on it before anyone could react, and he sucked it up and went out to the back yard.

Rusty was laughing so hard tears were rolling down his cheeks. I shrugged. “Orokana inu.”

Yuki smilled. “Yes. Stupid dog.”

“Houdini will be sorry tomorrow.” Why? Yuki said. “Tomorrow. When he, uh…” I dropped down to all fours and grunted, my face squinched up with effort. I started patting my butt with my hands, howling in pain. “Help me! Help me! My ass is on fire!”

Yuki laughed while Rusty hung his head, covering his face with his hands. Typical American family. Right.

The next afternoon Yuki got a ride home from school, but Rusty stayed behind for play rehearsal. “Our presentation went well,” Yuki told me in his swiftly improving English. All the students in his group had given presentations on Japan that day. Yuki is shy, and speaking in front of crowds is not his thing.

“That’s great,” I said, clapping him on the shoulder. “Hey, are you hungry?” I rubbed my stomach. “Would you like a snack?”

He rubbed his own stomach. “No. Thank you. I am very full. Rusty take me to Taco…” He pursed his lips, trying to remember the name of the place.

“Taco Bell,” I said.

“Yes.” He pointed at me.

“Did you like it?”

“Yes, I had taco. I like very much.” Must’ve had the Doritos Tacos Loco.

“Well, sometimes we make tacos here for dinner.”

His eyes got wide. “Can we have taco tonight? Please?”

I laughed. “Sure, Yuki. You need to have the full-on American experience while you’re here. Maybe tomorrow we’ll make a stir fry.”

As we ate tacos and tostadas, Yuki told us how surprised he was at the freedoms enjoyed by American high school students. They could wear what they wanted, color their hair, insert fender washers into their earlobes, and come to school with tattoos. In his home in Kumamoto, they wear uniforms to school. He said the students stay in one classroom all day, and the teachers rotate to classes. There is no food or drink allowed in class, and no chatter is allowed.

I’m sure Rusty and Speaker gained some perspective on the freedoms that they do enjoy in their “typical” American high school. I’m glad we had this young dude with us for a few days, and it was pretty fun to learn a bit about Japanese culture. Jinya Ramen Bar was a must visit for us because it is one of the best ramen places in Houston. For instance, even 15-year-old Japanese boys are tired of hearing the phrase, “Domo arigato, mister roboto.”

   Check out all of Bob Wire’s posts in his blog archive.


Have an off-white Christmas with Bob Wire.Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an open mind.

Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.

You can hear his music on his website, or download it at iTunes, Amazon, and other online music providers. Follow @Bob_Wire on Twitter.


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