Wednesday, April 04, 2007

"Smoke Rant & Glorification - Final NWSR Friday Night"

Forward: This begins with a rant against smokers in the first paragraph, goes to a glorification of smoking in the second paragraph (both without... much... sarcasm), and then gets to the original reason I pulled out my notebook and began writing on Friday, March 23rd, 2007 - the last Friday night that the New World Service Restaurant was open for business. It was the first "last" in the restaurant's final week, as they closed for the last time after lunch on the following Friday, March 30th.... Now - to the text written by hand from a comfortable corner table near the kitchen and the base of the stairs to the second level.

(2007/03/23, Friday, Sanshin Building - New World Service Restaurant.) Cough-cough.... Smoke - I've gotten used to not having to ingest it from the leaf fires of those with the peculiar addiction of buying rolled leaves, lighting them on fire, and ingesting the smoke for the drug high of nicotine. As I breath the smoke being generated in this way, I wonder why, if these leaf-smoke people really need to drug themselves, why don't they do it with a hypodermic needle or by taking pills or something. And lest someone make the inane comparison of people ingesting alcohol with people ingesting smoke, allow me to point out that when someone drinks, they don't grab the heads of everyone in the room and forcibly pour alcohol down their throats - which is what they would have to do in order for the leaf smoke & alcohol comparison not to be inane.

Phew! Now I suppose I'll get hate mail for sounding off in in an infuriated/infuriating way. I should admit that I actually do understand the allure of smoking - from a single experience: A few years back, there was a barbecue by a river on the fringe of Tokyo, attended by a mix of nationalities (mostly long-term foreign residents of Tokyo), and I found myself standing by the barbecue jovially talking with a man from... one distant country or another, and he offered me a cigarette. It seemed perfectly natural to accept, and I smoked it, I stood there feeling... not cool... not manly... what? There was a feeing of connectedness with everything - with the earth, the sky, and the timeless history of humanity sharing a smoke by the fire and enjoying life.

It really was a good experience, but when I'm inside buildings with leaf fires, smoke burns my eyes, gives me a sore throat, and eventually a headache.

The Sanshin Building... due for destruction; and the New World Service Restaurant is due to close one week from today. In between writing the above sentences, I had a steak - one of the few things on the menu not sold out today - with a salad, soup, and a cup of coffee afterward.

After the coffee, I didn't feel ready to leave, so I ordered a beer (Asahi Super-Dry) - which I'm drinking as I write this. As I take a couple of photos of my table for posterity (the group off in another corner is doing the same), I note that there are smokers to the left... smokers to the right... but it's not bothering me much now - aside from slightly burning eyes. Maybe an exhaust fan was turned on, or maybe I've just gotten used to the leaf smoke. Come to think of it - the scene is perfect in a way - you can't smoke in most restaurants now, so this completes... no, not completes... "adds to" the trip back in time that this restaurant and this building provide.

Second beer - closing time approaches. The manager (and owner I think) of the shop has been running this restaurant for over 60 years. I would really like to interview him about the changes he's experienced from generation to generation, as he's seen more than a few generational changes in his life so far.

I ask the manager about next week, and am told that - at the latest, they'll be closing after lunch next Friday, so this is the last Friday night for this restaurant... after sixty-something years. Tokyo has no respect for tradition! Is it old? Smash it into rubble and build something new!

8:01 p.m. - And several of us customers are still here. Normally they would have pushed us out right at eight.... The last Friday night... but it shouldn't be.

The music just stopped... the manager is going from table to table politely telling people it's closing time. "The music has stopped." How symbolic can you get. Am I making too big a deal out of this? Maybe - but Tokyo is nearly devoid of anything old... if you haven't experienced living here, you probably can't imagine how hungry for history you get as you watch - continually - everything older than a few decades smashed into rubble to continually build something new - always something new. When the new bits are better than what they replace, that's good I suppose, but the destruction is indiscriminate - good, bad, culturally significant - no matter, it all has to go!

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

PS - The restaurant always featured music by Wong Wing Tsan, and much of his (piano-based) music is perfect as background... mood music? I'm not sure I like that term, but it does evoke a certain mood, so I guess that makes it mood-music? Of the two CD's I've carefully listened to (they sold them at the restaurant), one is piano with a synthesizer, and the other piano with jazz instruments. The website for the musician is here:

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