My partner and I were in West Shinjuku the other night, not far from Tocho, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. It was dinnertime and we wanted to eat Indian. We found somewhere nearby online and walked the 10 minutes there.
Just off Route 20 that runs roughly east-west through Shinjuku, the tiny rundown-looking Indian restaurant, only meters away from one of Tokyo's most prestigious business districts, may as well have been kilometers away down a back alley in grimy Ikebukuro or Meguro.
We'd come there and were hungry, so we just hoped for the best, stuck our heads in (surprising the waiter!) and took a table in the deserted little space. There was a high-definition TV on the wall, but everything else was old and tawdry, although with just enough decorative effort to keep it from looking exactly rundown.
We ordered: vegetable and keema curry, nan, long-grain white rice (the latter both bottomless, or tabehohdai in Japanese - but we weren't quite that hungry) - and it tasted better than we'd expected, although somewhat short on spiciness.
The waiter, a guy in about his early-30s, had been friendly and attentive from the outset, and after a while we got talking. The cooks at the place, he said, came from all over: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal. The waiter himself was from Pakistan. He'd been in Japan for 15 years. He was married, had a kid, and had even gotten Japanese citizenship. "How long did the process take?" I asked him. "About three months," he said. A record for naturalization in Japan if ever I'd heard of one!
We asked about his work. He said he was at the restaurant from 2pm to 10pm every day, but actually started work at 6 o'clock every morning at an automotive factory in a nearby city, and finished there at 2pm. He attached steering wheels or wheels to cars. He said most of the workers there were Americans, but that there were also Chinese and quite a lot of Brazilians, among others.
He said he made about 1,200 yen per hour at the factory job and a little less at the restaurant. He pulled out a calculator and punched at it for a minute before proudly announcing that between both jobs he made 360,000 yen a month, not an untidy sum - more than the average English teacher, for example, makes in Japan.
My partner's firm is looking for a driver, and so he asked the waiter if he had a driver's license. Yes, he did. They exchanged numbers and after finishing our chai and paying, we said our goodbyes and went back out into the night.
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