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Looking Back

Whats' in a name

 by Mike Delaney

As a young fledgling traveler in 1980, I was eager for adventure. I approached Higashi Sensei regarding travel to Japan for the purpose of training at the headquarters. Permission granted, arrangements were made. Time passed quickly as I busied myself with details of the trip. All too soon the plane landed at Tokyo airport. A few security checks and a plane transfer later , I arrived successfully at Fukoka airport. I was so relieved to find Soke waiting for me.

The next few days were spent familiarizing myself with the area. I soon found out that my twenty plus words of polite Japanese vocabulary, combined with karate terms were not enough to navigate across town....even with the proper bus ticket. I was a source of quiet entertainment for many those first few days, I am sure.

I was befriended by another student, Hideo Kugimea, who had recently returned from California for a short visit and was staying at the Headquarters as well. I became Hideo's personal mission in life and to whom I am thankful for providing opportunities for endless adventure and memories.

The first experience I had with Hideo's form of humor came within hours of our meeting. We had been walking, talking and shopping all morning. I was in dire need of lunch. Sensing this, Hideo suggested we stop for a bite.

Being quite new to travel, I was already longing for the familiar foods of home. I asked if he knew of any place where I could get something familiar to eat, maybe a hamburger, chile or taco.
"Tacos! I know just the place.", he said. How delightful. How kind. Having lived in California a few years, he must have acquired a taste for tacos as well. With reckless abandon and throwing care to the wind, I leapt at the opportunity.

Hideo ushered me into a nearby restaurant. There a smartly dressed chef in an extraordinarily tall chef's hat greeted us. Famished I ordered two of the largest tacos available. Hideo, being smaller of girth than myself, ordered only one. And a small one at that. The chef, bowing politely, walked from behind the counter. As he approached the rather large aquarium by the main window, I recall how strange it was for him to decide to feed the fish just then.

You could imagine my surprise when returning, the chef had two large octopus and one small one in tow. Wide eyed I sat, as the chef set himself to the task at hand. In a blink, two carving knives were produced and, what was outside was neatly deposited onto plates and what was inside was quickly disposed of. Bowing politely the chef left us to quiet conversation.

Conversation was short and sweet. "What is this? I thought we were coming for Tacos?", I winced. "Oh yes! In Japan, this is what we call Taco.", he said with a quiet smile and a warming laugh.

Silently we sat before the plates. He waiting for me to start. I waiting for a small hibachi to arrive. Time passed. Taking pity on me, Hideo called the chef back. Words were exchanged with knowing glances. The chef departed returning with two, small containers of dipping sauce. One for each of us. No hibachi.

We laughed about it. Ate. I chalked it up to experience and one for him. From this I learned that no matter how much you prepare for travel, the experience will be different than what you planned. Advice I've given to all fledgling travelers since.

As for Hideo, he was one up. The ducks were on the pond and I now had a job. But that's a whole other story.