It was a season of long days, heavy rain, loquats, hollyhocks and hydrangea.

He was not hungry for loquats, and an afternoon downpour had cooled the June air. So, thinking of the unlimited, free miso shiru (miso soup) and green tea, he ducked into his favorite kaiten zushiya (rotary sushi bar).

"Irasshaimase!" The typical greeting — meaning "Welcome!" — from the staff in the shop. That full-throated chorus had made him nervous when he first came to Japan. Workers at convenience stores, fast-food joints, coffee shops — always they'd shout "Irasshaimase!" together whenever you walked in the door. It always felt rather embarrassing. Then they'd follow it with an equally forceful (if tutored) "Arigato gozaimasu! (Thank you very much!)" when you left.