In Kyoto, there is a tiny little bar* on the third floor of commercial building packed with small businesses suffocatingly close to one another. The maximum capacity is probably about 30 people, shoulder to shoulder. It is dark and dingy, with a drum kit, guitars, and a beat up skateboard in one corner and shelves of well-loved books in the opposite corner (this was part of a donation effort to raise money for books in children in developing countries). In between these corners are scratched up old hardwood floors, walls plastered in various knick-knacks from countless cultures, and of course the patrons and the bar owner, a French man with a long beard who seamlessly transitions from speaking French to Japanese to English.
I found myself in this random, amazing little bar on Saturday night. Over drinks, Sean and I laughed with two other Americans, Sam and Ian, about how funny it was that earlier that morning we happened to meet on a bus and went on to spend the entire rest of the day with people who used to be perfect strangers.
We met as Sean and I stared at Kyoto city bus map that was written in English, but was so confusing it might as well have been a different language. Eventually, conversation started and Sean and I decided to head to the same bamboo forest as Sam and Ian. It wasn’t a very hard decision since we had just hopped on a bus with no plans and no clue where that bus was actually headed.
The bamboo forest was amazing and, trusting that our new American allies knew much more than us, we creepily asked if we could tag along with them. Surprisingly, they weren’t too put off by two college kids following them around all day. It turned out to be an amazing decision and the day was filled with exploring bamboo forests, temples, zen rock gardens, and marveling at the five story Toji temple through a fence and trees (turns out Japanese temples have closing hours- would knew?)
Throughout the day, we came to know Sam and Ian through stories of funny young antics, their engagement, wedding, and travels as a married couple. They introduced me to sushi for the first time and told me what I should eat as a first time sushi eater and what I might want to avoid at first (they suggested I let Sean eat the salt water Eel. I did not complain.)
We had some things in common, but for the most part, Sam and Ian had lives very different from mine. We would have never crossed paths in America and if we did, our interaction would probably cease very quickly. But somehow, four random Americans grabbing a beer in a weird French/Japanese/American type bar after a long day of exploration has become a really cool memory that I will cherish.
*Don’t worry the drinking age in Japan is 20