"Coming to Japan was the best decision I've ever made," says Stefhen Bryan, loud and enthusiastically, contrasting with the frown he was making a moment earlier at the miso-flavored ramen he'd ordered and just tasted. "Should've gotten the salt-flavored."

I had ordered the salt-flavored, and offered to swap with him. His spirits rose as we exchanged bowls, while the attractive waitress at this popular ramen shop in Jiyugaoka stood by watching this transaction with a bewildered smile painted on her face. Glancing around, you wouldn't have known we were the center of attention amid this bustling shop filled with people who were effectively pretending as if they hadn't noticed us at all. But we were.

"Best decision ever?" I say. "Why's that?"