Shinobu Hashimoto

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I hardly even had my first bite of crab in my mouth before the server was right back at my table. "Um... is your name Fujiyama?" The woman didn't look very confident that she was at the right table.

"Is there somebody looking for me?" I asked her in return.

"I don't know... a serious looking woman asked me to come to this table and give this to somebody named Fujiyama." It was an ordinary envelope, with nothing written on it, but sealed with wax and stamped with a familiar looking family crest. I was sure I'd seen it on some guy's lapel, once.

"Then, yeah, that's me. Thank you."

The server made to leave, but stopped only a step away. "Pardon my asking... why is your name Fujiyama?"

"I took my husband's name."

"Oh! I'm so sorry for prying. I'll leave you to your meal." She gave the traditional "customer service" bow, and disappeared into the kitchen. The question she didn't ask, was "why is your name Japanese, when you're clearly a gaijin?" Attitudes around here were not terribly welcoming towards folk like me as it was.

I plopped a bit of crab nabe in my mouth and opened the envelope carefully, taking a close look at that seal. The distinctive lined wreath of the Omi Alliance formed a circle around two traditionally brushed kanji, 橋本 (Hashimoto). _The origin of the bridge,_ my new smartphone told me. A name that'd been around for probably centuries. Just like the Omi, or so my contacts had told me.

Inside the envelope was a hand written letter on rice paper. Jesus, they like to make this really official and traditional, don't they? "To Fujiyama Ruby, Yours is a respectable job to an important crowd. Japan has been part of the stage of the world for over a century, and it has been largely thanks to involvement by the Americas, since the Bakumatsu period. It is important that certain parts of this glorious nation be welcoming to the people of yours." ... What, are they trying to brown nose me? "But this is not the place. If you wish to discuss this, in a manner befitting our respective businesses, we invite you to a dinner tomorrow night at the Kitamura restaurant in Osaka. There will be much to talk about." The note was signed with the same stamp as the wax seal, the crest of the Hashimoto Family of the Omi Alliance.

Somehow, the Kitamura hadn't been on my list of places to review yet, and one look at the existing online guides told me why: it was the most expensive place in Osaka to get luxury wagyu beef. Also the most consistently highly rated, but the reviews had all been written by very well established Japanese food critics, praising it for its adherence to tradition.

(Tomorrow night...)

I was met at the door by a heavy in an expensive-looking white outfit. He bowed to me, which I was careful to return, and without a word, he escorted me inside the restaurant and up a flight of stairs. We carefully stepped through a sliding door, the kind you'd see at the Osaka Castle, and he stood aside and bowed to... a boldly dressed I-didn't-know-what, in a silk button shirt with a pattern of a cityscape at sunset, hair done in a rough bun and secured with what looked like a tanto in its scabbard, half moon sunglasses, and leather-gloved hands smoking a pipe that was at least as long as their forearm. Eriko might have called it "non binary chic" if she had any idea what that meant before she taught it to me.

"Come," they told me in formal but terse Japanese, "sit down with me." The voice was markedly soft, yet matronly. The heavy, along with the two other men flanking their boss, motioned to the silk cushion at the table.

I obliged them quickly but as respectfully as I could. "I am to assume you're Hashimoto?" I asked the figure at the table.

"That is correct." Hashimoto puffed some smoke out the pipe in the direction of one of the bodyguards. "Hashimoto Shinobu. Third of my name, and the matriarch of the Hashimoto Family."


"You seem to already know me, but I'll go through the formality anyway. My name is Antonia Fujiyama." I bowed, not easily from sitting on my knees, but I managed it somehow.

"I know you, yes. I am well aware of your husband, as well."

"How, might I ask?"

"It's no secret, if I may be frank. Yasuyo Fujiyama is a soldier of the Hasegawa Family, a family whose Patriarch was sworn brothers with my predecessor."

"Right. So why contact me, and not him? I'm a civilian."

"That is what makes this especially difficult, but no, it has to be you, because this concerns you directly."

"Everybody's telling me that, this month."

"It concerns... well, how do I put this politely... It concerns reviews you've written, to the online journal, MacSiv Abroad."

"I don't make it a habit of badmouthing Family establishments."

"That is precisely the problem I have with your reviews. They're too good."

"Too GOOD? Look, I'm being honest here, I don't want to drive people away if a place is good."

"You know who reads these reviews, yes?"

"Expatriates, work-visas, tourists."

"Gaijin," she said, exhaling a cloud of smoke at me. Not the word I would have preferred, but the way Hashimoto spat it out made clear what she was getting at. "You see, the Hashimoto Family have long made their business in the realm of classical restaurants, upholding cooking traditions that trace their lineage back as far as the Edo period. Legend has it these very eateries - this one included - have dined the likes of emperors and folk heroes. Miyamoto Musashi ate here, it is said."

"And you're mad that a bunch of Americans are coming in and ruining the atmosphere?"

"In so many words, I suppose. And your reviews are part of that." Hashimoto handed me a sheet of printer paper. It was a printout of a forum post, probably from FOOD TOURISM HEAVEN!, it loudly declared, DINE AS THE DRAGON DOES!, and included a link to a MacSiv Abroad category linking to all of my reviews for the Sotenbori area. "The restaurants that my family funds, that are operated by the heirs to the heirs of traditions past, are being flooded with Americans who are just there because some... famous guy, in some American video game, ate there once. And your reviews are serving them as a pilgrimage manual, that they follow blindly, and utterly fail to understand the weight upon the traditions that these people uphold."

Hashimoto had said "tradition" enough times that a certain Tevye the Dairyman came to mind. "So, what do you propose that I do instead?"

"Relocate. Take your reviews on the road. I hear Okinawa is more welcoming to Americans... especially with all the military bases."

"Out of the question. Kansai is where I'm supposed to be."

"You could always seek out other work, then. I hear Smile Burger is hiring somebody that's authentically Western to flip their burgers." She chuckled a bit, exhaling more smoke towards me.

"I don't have to take this crap," I muttered in English, and got up from the table. The heavy that showed me in moved to block the doorway.

Hashimoto called after me. "I do not want to make you regret your choice. I'll give you time to ruminate on it." She abruptly switched to English, with only the barest hint of an accent. "You had better choose wisely." With this, she motioned to the door man to move aside.