5AM. My phone rings. Marvin Gaye’s voice wakes me up from where I passed out on my friend’s floor. On the phone is my mother, she wants to know where I am.
On my way home, I say. Then I stagger up and head to my car. It’s time to go to Japan.
This might not sound like the ideal way to start a trip across the globe but it’s exactly how my trip to Tokyo began last summer. These parties are always memorable because you have the feeling that you’re standing on the edge of something new and epic. This party didn’t disappoint, at least until I woke up with a monster hangover and a twelve hour flight ahead of me. Trust me when I say that it is always better to be at these parties when you don’t have to deal with airport security and in-flight movies the next day.
Four magazines, two coffees, and one dead iPod later, I landed in Japan with three weeks of foreign fun ahead. My friends and I were lucky enough to be staying at a friend’s place, which was great for two reasons. One, he happened to live just a ten minute bus ride from Shibuya, Japan’s answer to Times Square. Two, who wants to pay for a hotel when you can sleep three across your friend’s sister’s room on the floor? With this setup we were determined to dive into the carnival lights of Japanese nightlife for three inebriated weeks.
Nothing can really prepare a Californian for the humidity in Japan. Our first day was spent in a grueling journey from the airport to my friends pad. Carrying around three weeks of luggage for three hours from train to train across Japan in 95 degree heat and extreme humidity is how I now imagine hell to be. Needless to say we were ready for a drink that night and drink we did. We started with an all you can eat and drink dinner followed by an all you can drink session of Karaoke. Karaoke in Japan is not how it is usually imagined in America. It’s even better. Forget your illusions of a large stage with one person singing. Imagine instead a smaller room with ten of your closest friends, unlimited pitchers of beer, two microphones, and as many songs as you can sing for two hours. Take your best session of RockBand ever and multiply that times ten and you’re there. After three hours of open bar drinking it was only nine o’ clock and we were feeling great. I learned how to say “all you can drink” that night and it was the most useful phrase I would learn in those three weeks. The night climaxed when my friend hooked up with a dirty looking middle aged Japanese woman in a park. That story deserves to be written on its own accord so luckily for my friend I’ll spare you the details.
Reflecting on my first night in Japan I wondered if it would be indicative of how the following weeks would be spent. It was, and after a week or so of drinking all night and sleeping through the day the lines between Japan and IV were suspiciously blurry. You can only sing “Wonderwall” and “The Bicycle Song” so many times before it all starts to feel the same. It was time for change, a trip within a trip. That trip would be good but it’s the way I started it that made it good.
The night before the “trip within a trip”, was coincidently one of the best nights of the whole trip. Just one of those nights that puts a twist of anticipation in your gut. Or maybe it was that we decided to just buy 8 shots each all at once because, you know, we got there late. I spent my time talking to a Korean girl about how she wanted to make out with me. Bars do close though and we had to go home, so we rode the train to a near by house where we were going to crash. We all stumbled home and one of the guys tried to give me directions to the train station I had to be at around five in the morning. Some time passes and someone passed me what looked like the most amazing bento box I had ever seen. I tell my friend I got to get me some of that and as luck would have it he says that it came from a place right next to the train station. Perfect, I thought, I’ll get some Japanese Freebirds and scope out the station for tomorrow. I set off alone.
Going alone was a mistake. I was lost faster than I thought possible. Standing in that hot Japanese air I saw a young couple approaching. I used my limited Japanese to ask, “Doko train station?” They lead me to the station as we swapped sentences in each others broken languages until I thanked them one last time and we departed. I had reached my destination so I shelled out some yen grabbed my grub and started my walk back. Soon enough I was lost again and when I looked around this time there was now no one in sight. I wandered for an hour before my hunger got the best of me and I sat down to eat. I had no functioning phone and I knew absolutely no numbers to call. None of this seemed to phase me, I told myself I have all night to find the house, or at least until six am when my train leaves. A sense of benevolence seemed to hang over my head as though no matter what I did it would be alright.
After my bento box feast I rose again to renew my search. Before I had taken a step a heard a girl’s voice calling my name and saw someone running down the street to meet me. By chance I had wandered into the path of the same people I was to meet at the train the next morning as they were trudging back to their place. They had received a call from my friends telling them I was lost. My mind spun on its axis as I processed the divine intervention, or random coincidence, that pulled me out my predicament.
We caught a bullet train to Kyoto the next morning. I spent the entire trip sleeping so in effect I had teleported to another land. I spent the next days traversing ancient castles and Buddhist temples. I felt that I was in a more authentic place, a place with soul, so I thanked whomever or whatever reigns over the island for helping me get there and I took another sip of my beer.