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curiouser and Curiouser 
a mystery dinner party in Japan by Luciana Lopez
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But now, waiting for my guests at the east exit of my local train station, I began to wonder if I'd done enough, if I'd forgotten anything. Clean dishes? Sufficient numbers of floor cushions in my tatami mat living room? Before any hostess-syndrome paranoia could overwhelm me, Tsuyoshi and company arrived, conducting hasty introductions. Kaito, Yuka, and another, younger Tsuyoshi. I repeated their names to myself, trying to commit them to memory.

Contrary to my expectations, my new acquaintances had no groceries visible on their persons. Tsuyoshi suggested we head out to the nearest Daiei, a chain department store, in order to pick up food at its basement-level supermarket, a common feature of Japanese department stores. The Daiei was less than two blocks from the station, convenient for commuters to pick up dinner on their way home. As the men canvassed the store, I chatted with Yuka, the only other woman in the group, picking up items whose labels I couldn't read and whose contents I couldn't guess.

A short ten minute walk later, we arrived at my second-floor apartment, removed our shoes in my genkan, or entranceway, and transferred the plastic bags to my kitchen. For a single 25-year-old woman in Japan, my apartment was generously large an eat-in kitchen, a room floored in reeded, one-inch thick tatami mats (which I used as my living room), and a bedroom. My guests were amazed; despite their own age ranges of 22 to 25, they all still lived at home, the norm for Japanese young people. In the world's most densely populated country, real estate is almost prohibitively expensive. My own rent was subsidized heavily by the local board of education, which employed me to teach English in the local public junior high schools.

I was quickly excused from cooking duties on the basis of my ignorance I couldn't even read the cookbook my friends had brought with them as a guide. Since my kitchen is relatively unimpressive, my guests and chefs for the night had little problem learning their way around: my microwave (which happily also has a bread toasting function), rice cooker and two small gas burners are the only cooking instruments, ovens being rare in Japanese kitchens. (This had proven disconcerting at first, when I'd wondered how I would ever cook without an oven, but Id quickly adapted and begun making stews, curries, and stirfries regularly.)

Now, tea in hand, Yuka joined me in a corner with a photo album. When the time came to stuff the gyoza, or pork dumplings, that were to be our main course, we stopped our conversation to join the group effort. The work went quickly, and soon there was a large pile ready for either boiling or frying.

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