I guess if you live in Japan long enough then eventually—like a roomful of monkeys typing Hamlet—everything that can happen, will.
By Ken Seeroi, of JapaneseRuleof7.com
I was casually driving down the left side of the road last Saturday. It was drizzling, and I was going to pick up Setsuko, this girl I’d met in the supermarket seaweed aisle, for a date involving a countryside cafe and some tiny cakes.
“You’ll love this place,” Setsuko enthused. “It’s up in the mountains.”
“Actually, nothing wrong with Starbucks by the station. Just saying,” I just said.
“Oh Ken, this place is so cute. They have lots of little bitty cakes.”
“I’ll bring my tea set and collection of teddy bears.”
“Okay, see you at ten,” she said.
Sometimes I wonder if anybody in this country ever actually listens to me. Well, whatever. That morning I stopped and got a Starbucks Grande, since I figured if the cakes were so small the coffee might be too, plus a tuna-mayo rice ball from 7-Eleven next door, for good measure. Then I set off driving and listening to Japanese radio while casually flipping through kanji flashcards on my iPhone. I had that Grande in my right hand and the warm rice ball in my left, along with the phone. I’ve got exceptionally dextrous fingers. There was a lot of traffic. The DJ came on to helpfully announce that it was Saturday, raining, and there was a lot of traffic. The news is great like that. What’s it like outside? No way of telling – better turn on the radio.
And as I was chewing a delicious mouthful of warm tuna-mayo rice, I bit down on something hard and jagged, and immediately knew—human tooth. For some people, perhaps this would be slightly alarming, but not Ken Seeroi. Nobody’s ever said I’m not an excellent driver. Seriously, ask around. Nobody says that. I was like, Oh, there seems to be a tooth in my rice ball. Well, we’ll just continue at a constant rate of speed until it’s safe to pull over and – Holy shit, a tooth? A tooth in my mouth, what’s that doing there? I dropped the rice ball and phone, poured the entire Grande over my groin and was like Christ that’s hot while swerving into the next lane blowing rice bits over the windshield. The wipers flapped wildly and everybody started honking while the DJ droned on about the drizzling rain.
Japanese drivers have surprisingly slow reactions, which is good because everyone mostly froze in place, leaving me to weave around them. Seriously, when it comes to driving, trust an American, ‘cause I got this. I did a 180, followed by what I believe is known as a Frontside Air into a Benihana, then ground to a halt, threw the door open, poured into the rain, and coughed rice into my hands along with, yep, a human tooth. I was like, Sweet, Ken’s gonna be rich.
Lately, there’ve been reports of people finding gross stuff in Big Macs and fries – plastic, teeth, pretty much anything but cows and potatoes. And you know what that means: Jackpot. Because the moment you find one tooth it’s Happy Meals forever. Who wouldn’t love that? No one, that’s who. In my case, I was looking forward to a lifetime of breezing down to the corner store, filling up shopping baskets full of beer and spaghetti-stuffed hot dog buns, then stumbling home. Japanese 7-Eleven’s delicious, for real. The clerks would be all, Ah, Tooth Guy strikes again; he’s freaking untouchable. It’d be glorious. But as I stood there, drenched in rain, coffee, and tuna-mayo, I realized something else about said tooth.
How to Open a Beer with your Teeth
Now here’s an interesting thing: did you know you can open a beer bottle with your teeth? Actually, it’s pretty easy. Now let me tell you why that’s awesome. Because it freaking is. That’s all. I mean, you’re opening bottles with your teeth. What’s more amazing than that? Water on Mars? The hell. So when you’re 17 and your cousin Billy’s like, Hey Ken, check it out, I can open a beer with a Bic lighter, you can be like, Suck that Billy, watch this. And then you just jam a longneck into the back of your mouth and wrench off that cap and all the girls are like Dude, you rock. Well, actually no girl’s ever said that, but whatever, they don’t even know how great Starbucks is, so one can hardly expect them to appreciate the subtleties of opening beer.
The funny thing about being seventeen is, you think you’re gonna be that age forever, and so you open hundreds of bottles like it’s the world’s coolest party trick. Until years later when you go to some dentist and he’s like Uh, Mr. Seeroi, I’m afraid your molars have tiny hairline fractures. Any idea how that happened? And you’re like, Nooo…Maybe chewing too much? Exceptionally powerful jaws and all. And he’s like, Well, we’re going to have to replace them and give you crowns. And then, one day, far in the future on a road on the other side of the earth, one of those crowns gets pulled off by a warm, sticky rice ball and ruins your nuts and a totally good pair of khakis. Life sure takes some strange and unpredictable turns, I tell you. Truth is, I was mostly just bummed about missing that lifetime cornucopia of free 7-Eleven.
Going to the Dentist in Japan
Know what makes a better date than going to a cozy cafe in the mountains? Going to the dentist, that’s what. Japanese women are extremely helpful for finding healthcare professionals on short notice. Keep one or two on hand at all times. Conversations with Japanese dentists are fun too, because they mumble barely intelligible Japanese stuff at you behind surgical masks, while you try to answer with a mouthful of fingers and pokey things:
“Su Ken, wha sims tu beh da probum?”
“Mebe if yah luk, yull notis sumpin missin. Da’d be ma toof.”
“Hazabout ah jus glu dis ting bak in yah face?”
“Da’d be gret, tanks.”
Japanese dentists sure don’t mess around. it’s like an oil change – 15 minutes, 3000 yen, and you’re back on the road, tooth in place. Actually, I was kind of hoping that after the whole near-death car whirligig, emergency dentistry, and ruined trousers I’d get a pass on the cafe business, but Nope. Setsuko was having none of it. She was like, We’re going straight to Uniqlo and getting you a fresh pair of slacks. Which we did and then were on our way, with hardly an hour’s delay. I’ll say this for Japan: it sure is convenient. Nothing’s gonna stop you from getting them little bitty cakes.