I was on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme between 1990 -1993. Very few of my stories deal with teaching, but rather deal with people, warts and beauty marks et al. At least time will not change the relevance of that.
I began last week with my proposed Introduction (HERE), and yes, although this is Chapter 5, no, you haven't missed anything. I'm just testing the waters with assorted stories.
Yes… everything that is written about my adventures in Japan actually happened to me. I'm a weirdness magnet… and things got weirder for me the longer I stayed in Japan.
The following adventure is my second day in Japan. It's part of the JET Programme orientation event. Man, I hope you get the jokes regarding my choice(s) of 'title' for this adventure.
On my second night at the hotel, I decided to venture down to the lobby to see if I could work up enough courage to walk a few feet outside the front door. As I walked through the lobby, I stepped out into the heat, the noise, the crush of humanity and the glow of neon lights that is Tokyo.
I wish I could tell you I moved from shop to shop and chatted up everyone and had a great adventure, but I simply tried to cross the street, then crossed the perpendicular street and then again and again so I ended up where I started.
I then walked around the block that the Keio Plaza Hotel sat on… and wondered what the hell I was doing alone in Japan.
So I worked my way back around and re-entered the hotel.
As I did so, an extremely pretty young lady stopped me and struck up a conversation.
Okay… what the hell is going on? This type of stuff NEVER happens in Toronto.
You won’t believe what happened to me while I was in Japan…"
Kay West, a Japanese-American from Washington DC, invited me to join her and some other new JET Programme people that she made friends with on her plane ride over (Hmmm, maybe I need to be friendlier) to go on a walk in the city.
Horn dog that I was/am, I quickly got over my rational fear of getting lost and said yes, losing myself in those big brown eyes. Plus she was stacked, a fact made even more impressive by her 5’-1” frame.
She caught me staring at her sweater puppets and looked me straight up in the eyes, pointed markedly at her chest and said she “got these from the American side of the family tree.”
God bless America. God bless Kay for being cool. You may choose or unchoose your own God as you see fit.
Kay had recently broken her right foot back in the States and was using crutches to get around, but she was obviously more adept at hobbling than I was at walking, as she slowed her pace to allow me to keep up to walk/hobble beside one another.
Actually, I was just trying to check out her butt (she later pointed out she had the flat Japanese butt... oh well).
Whether it was minutes later or hours, our group became awestruck by the flood of neon light surrounding us, not to mention the drunken Japanese businessmen in navy blue suits—and soon none of us was actually paying any attention to where we were walking/hobbling.
After yet another right turn, it became fairly evident that we were lost. Lost in Tokyo. How did we know we were lost? Simple. There was no more neon around us.
Take it from me, folks – finding a part of Tokyo that is not lit up by neon signage is not an easy thing to accomplish.
Looking about for the mellow neon glow of the city, I thought I saw an English-language sign advertising something called a Soapland across the street from us and decided to see if I could buy some scented soap.
I looked to the left and seeing no cars approaching, I stepped out into the street.
Why she did it, Kay still doesn’t know, but noticing I was about to become a hood ornament for a white car, she pulled me back to reality.
Did you know that in Japan they drive on the opposite side of the road from us in North America?
None of my pre-flight orientation mentioned that – or perhaps it did. I never actually read the orientation package. I think I still have that package, though. I’ll look at it later.
And as far as buying soap - uh, no.
It turns out that a soapland is a massage parlor where the male customer is bathed during the activity before a helping hand or two brings about a happy ending - and no, I have never been in a soapland, but I do like scented soap.
I’m unsure if this is an excuse or not, but not seeing that car as I crossed the road, part of my soapland tunnel vision was also taken up by the very obvious okama (transvestite) standing in the doorway of said soapland suggestively licking his/her lips and shaking his/her hips at my general direction.
While not my cup of green tea, I wondered if the plethora of businessmen running in realized this soapland was a sausage factory. I didn't see anyone running out, though.
So… what is Tokyo like? My initial feeling is that it’s:
- constantly moving;
- lots of people - all homogeneous Japanese with little other ethnic flavor;
- neon bright;
- full of packed Japanese restaurants;
- hot and humid;
- got white cars and only white cars on the road, and;
- every street corner is crammed with vending machines that sell darn near everything a person could possibly ever want (more on this topic later);
- seems to have a lot of sex-related establishments... and they seem ‘popular’ amongst well-dressed Japanese businessmen;
- it doesn’t smell of jet fuel fumes, but does smell of car exhaust fumes – just like Toronto – I’m home. But I’m not staying in Tokyo for my one-year and only one-year teaching contract.
I wanted to be able to become part of a community without being its focal point - hence the not too big or not too small placement.
I still have no idea what my home city will be like or even where it is or what the weather is like. I really didn’t do any research. Surprises are more fun... or perhaps I was still too lazy to care... who cares... it's Japan, baby!
Back to Kay’s front.
Hopelessly lost and hopelessly sweaty, Kay and I – now the de facto leaders (IE the ones with the biggest mouth) – nominated one of our group to ask a person on the street if they knew where our hotel was.
A bigger problem arose as no one could remember on what line of this chapter that I had actually mentioned the hotel’s name. Luckily I had a box of hotel matches with me, so it was easy for our erstwhile volunteer to point to the matchbox and shrug emphatically to any Japanese person.
Even if you don’t smoke, a box of matches is not only an excellent souvenir but in a foreign country it can also be a road map to home sweet home.
Our first victim – a navy blue-suited Japanese businessman looked at the matchbox and said in perfect English: “I don't speak Lark” and ran away from us into the soapland. Speak Lark? What the heck did that mean?
The next two men we asked also answered similarly in English and ran quickly into the soapland.
The fourth gent – although unable to speak English, bowed and gestured that we should follow him.
Forty-seven minutes later we stood in front of our hotel. We thanked him profusely, he bowed, muttered something about a soapland and left.
No one knew what his name was. But, if the rest of Japan could match his sweaty kindness, my stay in Japan would be smooth one.
Back inside the lobby of the Keio Plaza Hotel, a sweaty Kay and I gave each our phone numbers and addresses and then gave the other a wet hug that was probably too long for people who had just met, but in my defense, she had just save my life and stopped me from going into a gay soapland. Plus she had big boobs. Big sweaty boobs. And I think she liked me. Even a sweaty me.
Women don’t usually like me – at least in THAT way – they certainly didn’t back in Toronto.
I’m pretty sure the Earth moved for me. Something did.
My first physical contact with a woman in Japan was with an American of Japanese heritage. It wasn’t sex. There was no feeling up. There wasn’t even a kiss except for me giving her a big peck on the cheek (face). But there was full on clothed contact via a little-too-long-but-not-really hug. Japan rocks!
Now… if I only knew where I could buy lilac-scented soap.
Okay... that's Chapter 5... Japan has already become for me, the land of opportunity. If one beautiful woman could think I was handsome and cool in a non-thermal way... well... I had counted my chickens before, but maybe this time I would wait to see what plans would hatch first.