How I Get a Full Stomach

Kenji Tsuchiya

There is no justice in this world, at least not in restaurants. I can affirm it. I think no one is more qualified to affirm it than me.
I have had countless experiences of failing to have waitresses and waiters notice me and take my order at coffee shops and restaurants.@[*In Japan, customers usually find the tables for themselves, and afterward waiters or waitresses come to them to take their order. If you want to have waiters or waitresses choose the table they want you to have rather than the one you want, as in the Western countries, then you have to go to expensive restaurants.]
I suppose that anyone who enters a restaurant usually gets nervous to some degree. It seems to me certain that when one walks from the door to the table one gets at least nervous enough not to fall asleep. Especially when one wears new clothes, one gets so self-conscious as to fancy oneself a leading actor in a film which is, of course, not a slapstick comedy or a monster film, and unconsciously give directions to the cameraman. But the real problem is yet to come. The simplest thing -- that a waitress should come to me to take my order -- does not happen.
I am not requiring a waitress to give me a smile or ride a unicycle. I only wish her to notice me. Is there anything simpler than this?
My attitude may be too modest. But however unpretentious one may be, it would not be possible for one to be ignored as totally as me. I would not complain if waitresses and waiters were not there. I would not grumble at all if they were sleeping or had lost consciousness. I am saying about when, unreasonably, they are waiting for customers, prepared to wait on tables. Is it possible to have in one's visual field things of my size (Marilyn Monroe, a baboon, an overgrown aardvark, an undersized alligator standing on its head, or a refregirator) moving forward from the entrance, and yet fail to notice them. It is certainly much more difficult to fail to notice them.
I sometimes wonder whether I have suddenly become an invisible man. I would be rather glad if I really had become an invisible man, as I have wished to be an invisible man since I was a boy. But actually they never fail to notice me when I try to leave without paying the bill. Although the possiblity that I become an invisible man momentarily could not be ruled out, I don't want to be an invisible man if I become invisible only when I wish to be seen.
Of course it is not the case that I always fail to be noticed. Sometimes when I go to a restaurant avoiding the busy time, a waitress may come to me. But she usually comes to me to say, "Sorry. We are closing."
Generally speaking, we experience anxiety in restaurants. We don't know from the menu anything except the names of the meals. We don't know every ingredient of the meals. We don't know whether fermented soybens or zingiber which I hate are in the curry and rice, until it is served. Even if a fly or a shoe were in it, I could do nothing if they said that it were precisely the meal they intended to make. It is unreasonable that the ingredients of meals are not written on restaurant menus, unlike labels on tinned food.
In some restaurants, the photographs of the meals are on the menu. In such cases, it is easier to guess the content. But the sizes of the meals can never be guessed at from the photographs. The hamburger steak on the photograph might be a miniature meal the size of a soybean. Only a cigrette beside the steak on the photograph could reassure us. [*In fact, you will sometimes find a cigarette put beside an object on a photograph in Japan. This is a convention for informing one of the size of an object. Of course even with this convention, it is possible that the cigarette itself is a miniature or that it is placed far behind the object. But Japanese are not so evil as to think of such deceptions.]
One of my student once ordered, "Only curry please. No drinks". But she got anxious, hearing the waitress shout to the cook, "One curry! Nothing else", and asked her, "E.., excuse me, but does it include rice?". Thus there are worrying elements everywhere.
In addition to these possible anxieties, I am anxious that they might never come to me to take the order. My anxiety rises and rises to the point where I would rather leave the restaurant then and there, or hopefully do so after I eat up the meal, without paying the bill.
But my anxiety goes further. Even if I am lucky enough to give an order, being served the meal I order, which seems most natural and simple, doesn't come about easily. I have had countless experiencec of being served only after customers who ordered after me were served. I sometimes wish I could order after me if possible.
Sometimes I go to a restaurant with company. In this case, predictably waiters never fail to notice us. (Though if each member of the company were me, they would fail to notice us). But then, often, my meal alone fails to be served.
In such a case, all the time I am cheerfully talking with the others, my mind is completely occupied with the curried rice with a hamburger on top which I ordered. It is busy examining the possibilities: it might be that they have run out of curry and are making it now, but probably, eighty nine to eleven, or ninety one to fifteen, they have forgotten, etc. At last, when I can not stand it any longer and ask the waiter about my order, he usually hastens to the kitchen as if the truth has burst upon him, and I hear him saying "Curry with a hamburger and large rice! Hurry up!". This is typical of how my meal finally arrives at the table.
Nowadays I order the same meal as the others do, as long as it is edible to human beings. In this way, especially when I am with my subordinates or students, it is impossible for the staff of the restaurant to fail to serve only the meal I ordered. Even though the staff intends to serve another of my company, the malice of the restaurant cannot affect me, since I am the first to be allotted the meal in my group.
Once I make secure the first served meal as mine, I become very calm and regain my composure enough to give others advice on not worrying about trifles. But even in such a case, the meal served subsequently is invariably larger in amount or contains more meat.
But this is not the end of the story. In baseball games and meals at restaurants you can never feel at ease until all is over. This was true the other day when I had a Nabeyaki-noodles, a bowl of noodles with a fried prawn, duck and various things in the soup. That day, the waitress came to me to take my order in unusually short time after I entered the restaurant. The Nabeyaki-noodles arrived in an equally unusually short time. At that time, the state of my mind was, "The sunny and peaceful day has come to me at last. If one does not lose his hope and is patient however unlucky one might be, one will be rewarded someday. After all God exists." So happy was I that I offered a prayer of gratitude to God, forgetting that I was a pious Buddhist.
To finish a Nabeyaki-noodles by eating duck which has been kept to the end carefully, is bliss. But that day, the duck I had sincerely been looking forward to eating could not be found however hard I searched the soup with the chopsticks. This is not a simple matter such as the prawn being rather small or the fish paste thin. It is a matter of 'omitting the finishing touch' or 'ploughing the field and forgetting the seed'.
In such a case, even a gentleman would complain to the staff of the restaurant. I am a gentleman. Therefore I complained to the waitress. She went to the kitchen and after a while came back to me and said,
"We are terribly sorry, sir. Could you forgive us and we'll reduce the price?"
If one were told this and yet did not forgive them, one would not be a gentleman. I forgave them generously, considering that if the price is reduced, I could pretend that I had had simply noodles with a fried prawn.
After I sipped the last drop of the soup, I went to the cash register, and was told, "It's 950 yen, please". That means the reduction was only 50 yen, since the original price is 1000 yen. A gentleman would not demand at this stage that the price be reduced by another 50 yen. I am a gentleman. Therefore I paid the bill without any complaint and left the restaurant. And as soon as I got out of there, I shouted, "Damn it!"
The cost of the duck might be 50 yen. But does one have only to refund the material cost? The whole bowl of Nabeyaki-noodles costs propably about 200 yen in terms of material cost. If the restaurant has only to refund the material cost in such a case, then we would have to pay 800 yen if they forgot to put in all the ingredients and served only the bowl.
Of course the price of 1000 yen includes a service charge, but 800 yen is too expensive just for a service charge. Nobody would pay 800 yen for being served an empty bowl. One would rather serve oneself and pay 200 yen. If I had only to pay 200 yen, I could cook it myself.
Supposing that the material cost is 200 yen, the service charge is 100 yen and other expences are 200 yen, we are having 500 yen stolen unconditionally, that is, even if we order nothing, even if we do nothing other than passing by, we have to pay 500 yen. Or we have to pay it when we don't pass by, if we are not careful enough. If that is how they do business, it is a business I would like to be in.
Some people might think that missing some ingredients is nothing to get angry about. But actually it is something of great significance.
For example, if they forget to put duck in, then you are not 'eating a bowl of noodles with duck', but simply 'eating a bowl of plain noodles'. If they forget to put noodles in, then you are not 'eating noodles' but merely 'sipping sauce'. If they forget the sauce, then you are merely 'tilting the bowl'.
Thus, the difference in ingredients determines what you are doing. This is not trivial, at least not a matter which can be settled by a reduction of 50 yen. I think it is a matter which can only be settled by a reduction hopefully of at least 200 yen.
The damage I suffered is mainly mental. It is true that I have got a full stomach somehow. But the thought, "What a poor meal made my stomach full!" makes me regret having got a full stomach.
The expected bliss being broken to pieces, the budding faith in God nipped off, I was left with a sad full stomach.

Can anyone who has always suffered these experiences admit the justice in restaurants? Can he think that a full stomach is easy to get? For me a full stomach is that which can only be got at the cost of my tears.
There may be some people who naturally wonder why I usually choose to eat out when I have had many such bitter experiences, and moreover, when I have a wife who is ready to cook for me. But I don't want to answer the question.