The long series of meetings ended tensely at 19:00. The Japanese and the Americans had spent ten hours straight trying to overcome cultural and language barriers, with limited success. As we wearily stood to leave, one of the Japanese managers bolted from the room and re-entered, wearing a clown wig and a rubber nose. “Hello!” he shouted.
What the hell? I wondered.
“I am the See Eff Oh!” he said, brandishing a large handwritten business card. “Chief Festival Officer!” Everybody laughed happily.
Party games followed. Cases of Asahi and Kirin were opened; somebody strapped a sumo wig to my head. I was made to put my hands behind my back and my wife, just arrived off the subway, was made to put her hands underneath my arms, as though her hands were mine. The CFO put a wodge of strawberry cake into my wife’s hands.
“Please eat!” he said. I slammed my face into the wodge of cake and everybody screamed happily.
Music followed. Someone played the violin; another played the flute. One person played a shamisen and sang beautiful sad songs. Someone else set up a synth keyboard and respectfully motioned me to the keys. He layed out Xerox copies of the sheet music he had in mind, but I didn’t need them in order to play this particular song.
And thus I sang “Country Roads” more or less in unison with thirty Japanese salarymen. They tapped their feet, and wiggled their beers, and crooned pleasantly about a place none of them had ever seen. “Moumtem mamaaaaaa, take we hooooooooo, country rooooodes!”
And I thought, as the shamisen joined me for the second chorus, I have now seen and heard everything in the world.