Every trip to Japan, Aya’s family usually has some sort of reunion.Â I guess it’s pretty rare for families to stay in touch as much as Aya’s family does, and it’s really cool that they use our “home coming” as an excuse to get together.Â Since they are all spread out around Japan, the reunion location is usually somewhere in the Tokyo area.Â Aya has a lot of aunts and uncles, and tons of cousins. Â Most of her cousins are now married with kids.Â They all have a great sense of humor and love to have fun.Â So combine that with some good food, a few drinks, and one guy who can’t speak Japanese…it makes for a great time.
The reunions are usually at a meeting room or a hotel, or a banquet room at a restaurant, and are about two hours long.Â We usually have a buffet for food, and then beer and wine for drinks. Â This year’s buffet had a taramo salad (potato salad with cod roe), smoked salmon and capers, sausages, steak, breaded pork sandwiches, fried shrimp, a huge plate of sushi, and mini dessert cakes.Â Can’t complain about that!
Seeing Aya’s family is a time when I totally wish I could speak Japanese.Â They seem like such cool fun people, and it can be frustrating that we can’t properly communicate.Â But I figured this year with Ellie, I’d have a buddy to keep me company while Aya mingled.Â Well, she was at first when she was being shy with all the new people, but once she warmed up to them, she made friends and totally ditched me!Â Good thing there was a bunch of food to keep me busy.
Ellie latched on to one of Aya’s cousin’s kid Ami, and followed her everywhere.Â From what I’m told, it’s not typical to openly hug or be affectionate in public in Japan, even with relatives.Â (When I hugged Aya’s cousin when she arrived they all laughed at me.)Â Well, I’m a hugger, and so is Ellie.Â Ellie was all over the place hugging Ami and the others and even tried giving out kisses too.Â She is half American too, ya know.
The reunions typically have an activity, which most often is bingo.Â It’s a fixed version of bingo where everybody wins a prize.Â Everybody brings a prize to contribute and hopefully you go home with something you didn’t bring.Â But this year there was no bingo.Â We usually bring a giant bag of American candy for prizes, and even though there was no bingo this year, we still brought some.Â Aya had also told me to pick up something gross and “American” so I found a package of Halloween gummi sushi candy.Â It had candy fingers and eyeballs on top of candy rice.Â I thought it was super cool, but no one wanted to try it?!Â You people, (yes you people), eat real fish eyes and raw crab brains, but you’re afraid of gummy sushi!?Â What!?Â Finally, one of the kids lost playing rock, paper, scissors and had to try it.Â He ended up liking it too.
When the time ran out with our room, the official party was over.Â But that didn’t mean the festivities were.Â The aunts and uncles split off on their own while the cousins and the kids went out to for karaoke.Â Karaoke is very different in Japan than in the U.S.Â The word “Karaoke” is actually Japanese, and the Japanese take their karaoke very seriously.Â It’s not a bunch of drunk people at a bar pretending they are rock stars, its all in a private room you rent per hour.Â The rooms come in different sizes depending on how big your crowd is.Â They have touch screen pads to select songs, pitch, speed, analyze your singing, give you scores, you name it.Â Each room has a phone where you can call a server to order drinks and food.Â So you can still get drunk and pretend you’re a rock star, it’s just not in front of a bunch of strangers.
My first karaoke experience was a few trips ago where I sang Neil Diamond’s Coming to America, followed by It’s Not Unusual by Tom Jones.Â I chose these tunes on purpose because they were cheesy, funny, and I could halfway sing them.Â I even tried to cheese it up so I could get into it.Â Snapping my fingers, making my voice cheesy sounding like I was a lounge singer from the 70s.Â But since nobody knew the songs, or the words, they just stared at me… in silence.Â “What is this guy doing?Â This is the American music he likes?”Â Gulp.Â The more I sang, the quieter it felt in the room, and the more I began to sweat.Â I looked at Aya with eyes that said, “Call the waitress and order me a drink STAT!”
Luckily for this trip, I chose not to sing.Â Ami and her cousin Yuina were the main singers choosing J-pop songs where I even knew one of them!Â I didn’t know the words, but I knew the song.Â And then Ellie, wanting to copy everything Ami did, wanted to be a part of the action and hold the microphone.Â She didn’t want to talk or sing in it, just hold it.Â Ami thought Ellie was cute until she started climbing all over her trying to grab the microphone while she was singing.Â “Let’s sing together!Â Kiss kiss!”Â Ami was very serious about her time with the microphone and barely paid attention to Ellie while doing so.
Ellie did really well with meeting all her relatives.Â And there were a lot of them.Â All at once.Â She played, she smiled, she danced, and she was loved.Â She wasn’t able to meet all of Aya’s cousins this trip, but maybe next time.(I haven’t even met all of them yet) Â It was really sad saying good-bye to them but Ellie finally got to meet her other half.Â Just as they welcomed me into the family with open arms, (well, not literally since they aren’thuggers…more like with warm smiles and open hearts), it was great to see Ellie welcomed into the family the same way.Â And even though I can’t communicate with them, I know one day Ellie will.Â Something tells me she won’t sing Tom Jones with me, but maybe, she can be my translator.