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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Japanese culture insignificant to hordes of partiers

    Andi Berlinarts columnist
    Andi Berlin
    arts columnist

    The second half of the buffet was just like the first: salmon, yellowtail, tuna, some fried thing with a pepper on top, a flakey cylinder with a splattering of sweet eel sauce, California roll. I felt a pang of disappointment, but then pushed it back.

    The whole party was free after all, and the least I could do was be grateful. The revamped Benihana on North Oracle Road and East Orange Grove was pulling out all the stops to show off its redesign, including an open bar and Japanese karaoke.

    I looked up and saw a gigantic pink foam circle with what looked liked cursive letters and saguaros hanging from the ceiling. But it might have been kanji. I had been to Benihana on my birthday last year, and this was definitely new. The walls were a little different, too; they looked like plastic and had blurry red designs on them. They reminded me of a high school auditorium, but I kept quiet and reached for a cold meatball on a different table.

    A woman was strolling around with trays of colorful cocktails, but when I asked what was in the bright blue ocean-water-looking one, I was told she didn’t know. I grabbed a strawberry champagne instead.

    “”Everyone, everyone, the ceremony is starting,”” announced a Hispanic businessman at the front. “”I’m pleased to introduce to all the Benihana community, and investors, the new look of Benihana.”” Suddenly, everyone held up a sake glass and clapped voraciously. Then, the only Asian man in the entire room stood up and began to talk. I looked around the hoard of overly made-up Stepford wives and crusty old men, and realized almost nobody was paying attention. People were chatting and attempting not to scowl with their sips of sake, and their faces were all turned in different directions. Maybe they were checking out the new look, but it seemed like their gazes were more focused on everyone’s blouses.

    But that all stopped when the Benihana karaoke queen took the stage. Recorded keyboard music began to play, which made the traditional Japanese song she was singing seem less convincing. At the last note, a series of teppanyaki chefs piled around a multitude of tables and poured loads of meat and vegetables onto the stoves. I was expecting to see them create a three-foothigh fire like they usually do to show off, but these guys were down to business. They grilled the shrimps, steaks, chickens and veggies, and then shoved them into a buffet trough to hand out. My friend wanted dessert, but there was no way I’d pass this up.

    After I’d crammed an entire menagerie of animals into my belly, it was becoming harder and harder to get drunk. Every Sapporo I downed just made me more stuffed, and my friend was looking at her watch. There was only one more thing we had to do: karaoke.

    We took a step into the bar, and that’s when it occurred to us that we weren’t actually the youngest people there. Now I’ve never been to a sorority function before, so maybe that’s why it took me by surprise. I always knew they had the same hair, but seeing six of them in the same place was nothing short of miraculous. It was like going to a circus and seeing all the clowns with afros line up in a row to juggle. Except despite the fact that the color was fake and unnaturally dry, their hair looked pretty much real. They were all crowding around the bar and cheering for another one of them who was belting out “”Lady Marmalade”” and waving her hands up and down like Mariah Carrey. She was getting really into it, and the Japanese karaoke queen was accompanying her by singing the “”heys”” in the chorus, but extremely off-key.

    “”You know what, maybe we should just get our gift bags and leave,”” my friend said.

    “”All right,”” I said. When we fished through them in the car, we found a T-shirt, a pen, chopsticks and a $10 gift certificate. Even though a meal there is at least $30, I figure I’ll give it another try. My birthday is coming up a month from today, and last time they took my picture. If only they had that $20 all-you-can-eat special like Sushi Hama.

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