THE TOKYO BARTENDER WHO CAN’T SPEAK JAPANESE
(P1) Squeezed among HIGH-RISE office buildings in Kabukicho, Tokyo’s famous entertainment district, is Golden Gai, a LABYRINTH of narrow alleys filled with tightly packed bars. It’s a dark, mysterious world that only comes alive after DUSK.
(P2) MESMERIZED by the jungle of signs, red lanterns, and wires overhead, both Japanese locals and foreign visitors CAN’T HELP BUT do a DOUBLE TAKE when passing by one bar in particular: the Back House, where a 20-SOMETHING, blue-eyed American woman pours drinks while chatting away with customers in a MISHMASH of English and Japanese.
(P3) Of the 170-ODD bars in Golden Gai, only a HANDFUL are manned by bartenders that are foreign – and fewer still are women. Japanese is not the easiest language to master, so the majority of EXPATS come to the country as English teachers. It’s rare to find someone doing anything else.
(P4) However, a CHANCE ENCOUNTER pulled Jennifer Suttie out of the English teacher norm and into Tokyo’s QUIRKY, RETRO world. A few months after moving to the city to become a teacher, Suttie BEFRIENDED a BURLESQUE performer named Hanako who JUGGLED a few jobs, including BARTENDING at the Back House. Wanting to show Suttie more of Tokyo’s unique and hidden nightlife, Hanako introduced her to Golden Gai’s WARREN of tiny WATERING HOLES.
(P5) With Suttie’s previous bar experience, BUBBLY personality, and WILLINGNESS to do things outside of her COMFORT ZONE, Hanako insisted she work at the bar and introduced her to the owner. Between his BROKEN ENGLISH and her almost NON-EXISTENT Japanese, Suttie somehow LANDED herself a new job by the end of the night.
(P6) As TO BE EXPECTED, a few “LOST IN TRANSLATION” moments followed Suttie’s hiring. The first time a customer asked for SAKE, she served it in a standard glass – instead of the tiny ochoko cup – and was met with a HORRIFIED face. “No, no! Small!” he said. Confused, she quickly took it back and served it again in the same type of glass, but with a smaller amount of the drink. He almost looked OFFENDED. “No, no. Ochoko! She had no idea that he was asking for the SPECIALIZED sake cup.
(P7) And while Suttie learned words here and there like kōri (ice), okawari (REFILL) and haizara (ASHTRAY), she still endures humorous pointing and GESTURING as she and her Japanese customers attempt to communicate. She learned what a haibōru – a Japanese HIGHBALL – was by a customer MIMING the action of putting ice into a glass and then pointing to bottles of whisky and soda standing on the counter.
(P8) A little lost, maybe. But thankfully for Suttie, bartending knows no BOUNDARIES. Even in a megacity like Tokyo, drinking can be a UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE that brings people together. In the hidden DENS of Golden Gai, tight, intimate spaces provide the perfect setting for interaction between cultures – a welcome benefit for foreigners who struggle to speak the local tongue. And at the Back House, some Japanese locals might even get the chance to practise their English.
If you found the passage difficult to read or had problems understanding specific words or idiomatic expressions, please discuss them with your tutor. The following discussion questions should be answered in your own words and with your own arguments.
- Briefly summarize the content of the article in your own words.
- Do you know how to make drinks?
- Do you have any favorite DRINKING ESTABLISHMENTS in your city or town?
- Why can drinking be a “universal language that draws people together”?
- Do you like little OUT-OF-THE-WAY neighborhoods like Golden Gai?
EXPRESSIONS TO PRACTICE:
What do the following expressions mean? Practice using each expression in a sentence; extra points if you can use it in conversation.
- Can’t help but
- Double take
- Chance encounter
- Watering hole
- Comfort zone
- Broken English
- To be expected
- Lost in translation
- Universal language
- Drinking establishment