That man there… He’s a stripper!
In 2005 I finally achieved my High School dream of traveling abroad to Japan for school!
Imagine coming from suburban Illinois, surrounded by corn fields and cow farms and landing dead center in the heart of technological progress and advancement.
You could buy anything from the vending machines in Tokyo.
Ladies underwear, their phone numbers, beer and cigarettes, HEATED CANNED COFFEE!
That's what they told me when I received my assignment and boarded the plane.
Only I wasn't going to Tokyo.
In fact I wasn't even on the same island. I was in the little rice and chicken farm town of Okawa nearly 960 miles south west.
To say this was a disappointment would have been a lie.
In all honesty, I was grateful to not be surrounded by loud street, flashing lights, and the hustle and bustle of big city life.
The down side though was that I didn't speak Japanese and my hosts did not speak English. But this was a minor detail I overcame gracefully during my year.
My high school was all Japanese.
The shopping center and cafe were all Japanese, even the ducks,
Magpie and doves seemed to sound different in a very Japanese way.
I was at home. "In my element." As my father would say.
Right here in this little town by the bay.
My first couple days were spent walking about and getting to know my neighbors and streets.
My first of four host families owned a vinegar factory that had been in their family for 300 years.
"That's longer than your country has been around," my host brother boasted years later.
A good thing to know if I ever got lost.
I learned quickly where the coffee vendors were, how to walk to the dollar store and where to go to get fish scraps for the stray cats.
I was put in charge of feeding the koi in the mornings before breakfast and helping close up the storefront at night.
All the while slowly learning bits and pieces of the language and local dialect through hand gestures and air drawing.
Each night after the storefront was closed up and the wooden panels of the comparable doors were securely in place, I would take my seat at the table on the tatami floor for dinner.
One night, while enjoying some savory fried chicken and Japanese salad, my host grandmother was flipping through the channels of the TV trying to find something for us all to watch.
"O mai, mai!" My host dad suddenly said. (Go back, please. Go back.)
"Hai!" He stopped her when she reached his channel.
Then he pointed to a man on the screen and looked directly at me.
"That man there, is a stripper." He spoke in CLEAR English.
I started laughing hysterically as I looked between him and the television. Sure enough, there was a man in a rather flamboyant stripper costume dancing on a stage to "YMCA." by the Village People.
Turned out, the man was a Japanese comedian and good Samaritan named Razor Ramon, or his stage name... Hard Gay.
He was featured during my entire year in Japan on the national news, NHK, and even had a few special appearances.
I had fallen madly silly for him as he was quite entertaining, but always. just outside of my reach.
I even spent ¥1000 ($10) on a key chain of him that wound up and gyrated.
One of my favorite episodes of Hard Gay was his Ramen store episode, which you can see here. "Hard Gay Ramen"
I hope you enjoy it!