“She owns a piano bar,” the Japanese homestay coordinator told me. Anxiously, I sat in the hotel lobby, fidgeting and wondering where my hostess was.
As soon as I felt like an abandoned child, a woman confidently walked into the lobby. Her glittery gold top sparkled with each step and black leather pants showed off her petite frame. I knew she was my hostess.
We exchanged pleasantries and I read the note she handed me. In English she had written how her piano bar and wedding planning business were based at the Grand Hotel Hamamatsu. Because her apartment was so small and much of her time was spent at the Grand Hotel, I would spend the week there as her guest.
My days were spent learning about Hamamatsu’s government and economy while evenings were spent with my hostess in her piano bar. The dim-lit bar was warm and cozy, accented with Western European influences. A mural of a French castle was the backdrop behind the Yamaha grand piano. Sometimes I sat on the soft, mauve velvet couches next to the pink chintz wallpaper, but spent most of time at the pink-hued marble bar that encircled the piano.
On my last evening, two gentlemen dressed in grey suits joined me at the bar. They ignored me until their third whiskeys, when the taller of the two asked, “Excuse me, are you American?”
“Yes,” I answered.
“Then, may I ask you one question?” he continued in excellent English.
“Oh, no,” I thought. Here it comes. I’m in Japan on a mission to create pockets of peace and strictly forbidden to discuss politics. With a week away from the presidential elections, I’m sure this guy’s going to ask me who I want for president, Bush or Kerry.
Smiling over my sake I replied, “Of course.”
“Why don’t you Americans…” he began.
“Here it comes,” I thought. “Jimmy Carter” was going to roll off my tongue as soon as he completed the sentence.
He continued, “…say ‘you’re welcame’ but say ‘you’re welcome?’ You have ‘come’ and ‘came.'”
I was relieved at his question but perplexed how to answer it. I had never given it much thought.
We delved into conversation and learned this mystery man had spent six years living and working in England, returning to Japan two years earlier. He had visited the U.S. a few times but since returning from living abroad, he hadn’t had many opportunities to practice his English. I was the perfect candidate to help him brush up his skills. His companion sat quietly listening, claiming he didn’t understand English. I just think he was shy.
During two hours worth of whiskey and sake, our conversation twisted and turned in many directions concerning American life. I entertained him by talking with traditional New York and proper Southern accents. We discussed the similarities and differences between Dallas, Texas and “Dallas” the television show. Together, we asked the pianist to play our favorite Peter, Paul and Mary songs and we sang along.
When the night came to a close, we exchanged meishi. My card indicated I was from Florida participating on a cultural exchange program. His indicated he was the vice president a major, internationally-known, electrical manufacturing company. It’s true, you never know who’s sitting next to you.
Where to Stay in Hamamastu
Grand Hotel Hamamatsu
1-3-1, Higashi Iba
By Train: Hamamatsu is located 200km west of Tokyo. From Tokyo, take the Tokaido Shinkansen to the JR Hamamatsu Station. The hotel is less than a 5-minute walk.
Western-style accommodations were modest yet comfortable. A simple robe awaited me each night along with comfy slippers. There are two sections to the hotel, one with simple rooms and the other with plush accommodations and suites. The hotel is self-contained with a nice assortment of restaurants and bars.
Hamamatsu has an energetic, young vibe. It’s known as the “City of Music,” since Kawai, Suzuki and Yamaha are headquartered there. Be sure to visit the Museum of Musical Instruments with more than 1,000 instruments collected across the globe.
The city has a strong Portuguese population and signage can be found in Japanese and Portuguese.
The best place for a drink is Hanchar’s, a tiny conversational and dining bar tucked below street level. The banana daiquiris are smooth and yummy! ( B1 Tonkatei Bldg. 318-15, Kajimachi, Hamamatsu)