Hidemi’s Rambling by Hidemi Woods

Singer, Songwriter and Author from Kyoto, Japan.

Hidemi’s Rambling No.541

I came across a very nice restaurant that served an incredibly money-saving all-you-can-eat lunch buffet on weekdays, and I have been frequently there lately. The restaurant is inside a thrifty hotel but its interior and food is gorgeous since the hotel is also used as a wedding ceremony hall. The lunch buffet has mainly Japanese dishes that other buffet restaurants usually don’t serve because they are costly and time-consuming to prepare. In addition to common buffet items like curry, fried chicken and pasta, it has a wide variety of expensive dishes such as seafood, tempura, chirashi sushi and beef stew. They are laid out on the beautifully decorated buffet table in a luxurious atmosphere. Amazingly, the price is only $11, including soft drinks and desserts. It’s so unreal and I feel I must be in a dream or something every time I eat there. Maybe because of the surreal price, a line of customers is often formed in front of the entrance before the restaurant opens. It happened once that I couldn’t get in when the table got full in the middle of the line. About 70 percent of the customers are seniors, which is peculiar for an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant and I guess is due to Japanese food. As seniors are getting healthier, or they have too much time to spare, or human greed never decays, or for whatever reason, they devour and enjoy lunch immensely. Come to think of it, Japanese society has been aging rapidly and shopping malls and cafes are filled with seniors. Japan has a crazy pension system that seniors receive what young people pay. The demographic change of more seniors and less youth causes a serious shortage of the pension and the government makes up for it by a debt. Japan is tumbling down a steep slope by keeping such an unsustainable system. Thinking this country might be eaten up by senior citizens soon, I match them with my appetite at the buffet and eat gasping for air even after I’m full. I stay on until the lunch time ends and the place closes, and by the time I’m leaving, I end up running toward the bathroom. I have an upset stomach almost every time because I eat far too much there. The super-saving buffet may work against me after all, but I will feel like going back there by the next day…

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Hidemi’s Rambling No.540

My grandfather and I used to go to the department store together when I was a small child. He had a pass that entitled senior citizens to a free ride of the municipal streetcar. He usually said, “Not using the free pass is waste of money,” and tried to take the streetcar as much as he could although he had no place to go. As part of his useless effort, he often went to the department store where he didn’t have to go at all, and made me accompany him. While he didn’t have anything to buy, he strolled around all the floors. To get only one different floor he used the elevator that had an operating girl inside who would push the buttons and say the floor information, and the other girl outside who would close the outside iron door manually. It seemed he enjoyed the ride as a free attraction. His typical behavior was to ask a salesclerk the price whenever he spotted something expensive that he had no intention to buy, and to exclaim loudly, “How expensive!” He often looked into the costly merchandise that was on display in the glass case, asked the price, cried his ‘how expensive, and just walked on. When he was looking into the glass case of fountain pens intently one time, the salesclerk asked if he wanted her to take some pens out of the case and show them to him. He pointed out one by one and the clerk put them out on a sheet of velvet. He asked the price each time and at each answer he exclaimed, “How expensive!” “Outrageous!” “That much for a pen?”“Really, really expensive!” His loud remarks rang out through the quiet, elegant floor. After five or six pens were laid on the velvet, he just thanked the clerk casually and left the counter as if nothing happened. Even as a small child, I duly sensed his behavior was fundamentally embarrassing. That was why I hated to go out with him so much. In the lunchtime, he would order the most inexpensive noodle at the food-court-like restaurant on the top floor of the department store. He always ordered one dish for two of us and asked for an empty small bowl to divide the noodle into two. While I ate the smaller portion, he eagerly poured free tea, saying, ”Make your stomach full with free tea if that’s not enough!” We usually had a lot of free tea since we were hungry with only one noodle, and the huge kettle on our table went empty fast. The table was shared with eight people and each table had one kettle. He would start going around other tables for a full kettle. Many kettles were sometimes empty and he would go to the far end of the restaurant for free tea while checking the remaining content of every single kettle along the way. He would loudly say, “Those who pay for a drink are crazy when they have free tea!” right next to a customer who was drinking a glass of soda. In those cases, he would return to our table with a kettle in his hand as if he had hit a gold mine. Even a small child like me understood that his habit was extremely embarrassing and I really hated to go out with him. He did all of these things so happily by wearing tattered clothes and shoes with a hole, and he clearly enjoyed it immensely. I grew up and noticed there was a terrifying thing such as atavism. When I visit an outlet mall, I first go through price tags to see the percentage of discount, and if the percentage is big enough, start looking the merchandise itself. Last time, my partner asked me to quit that habit of mine. He wants me to look at the merchandise first, then the price tag. I don’t order a drink at the food court because it has a free water server. I also bring an empty plastic drink bottle from home and refill it with the free water for later breaks. “Those who pay for a drink are crazy when they have free water,” I usually murmur in my mind…

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