Lost in Japan
“Alex,” he waved shyly. “Long time no see.” His appearance hadn’t changed much. His hair was raven black and a little long for a guy, his facial features were soft and slightly round, and of course, he was taller than me. Everyone was. “ ‘Been a while since I’ve seen a Nats hoodie.”
“Huh? Oh, my jacket. Yeah, I just threw it on.”
“Your eyes are red. Everything okay?” He had always spoken softly, as though he had to slouch to get the words out.
“I couldn’t sleep at all on the flight.”
“For the whole flight? That sucks.”
“Have you eaten?”
“On the plane.”
“Gotcha.” You would have thought we’d have more to say to each other, but neither of us could manifest as much as a syllable. “Should we go?”
I lugged my suitcase through a strip of convenience stores and the occasional souvenir shop, then upstairs to the airport’s train station. Sean bought my ticket. I had never been on a train or subway before, my parents preferring to drive, but I had seen it enough in anime that the approaching lights and whoosh were a thrill itself. I was there. The doors opened with the gates. We sat next to each other in the center of the car.
“So,” I said, “you come here often?” Sean could hardly muster a ‘huh’ before I interrupted with my own laughter. He didn’t. “I’m joking. Ha ha ha.” The laughs were flat, ending in a minor chord fitting for my minor depression. The doors closed and there was a slight jerk. I had to wrangle my suitcase between my thighs. “Where did you say you lived again? Shibuya? That’s where that crossing thing is, right? You’ve really moved up in the world, living somewhere famous like that. Or anywhere in Tokyo; biggest city in the world. I mean, just looking out this window, it’s like, wow. I guess that’s every city, I wouldn’t know. So, you live in the fancy-schmancy part, how’s that?”
“I live in Tsukuba.”
“Not Shibuya? Which neighborhood is that? Is that the one Durarara takes place in?”
“Right, that was Ikebokoro or something. That doesn’t sound right. Have you seen that one? I’m kind of late to the hype, and only got through the first season, but it was pretty good. It’s got this voice actor from Naruto that I like. Or maybe it was Full Metal? I’m not sure. Eh, they cycle the casts anyway.” The same excitement that had kept me awake had vitalized an extroversion in myself that I had never known. Sean smiled amicably but did not contribute. He was like an elementary schooler cutting out scraps of paper for an ambitious collage while I scribbled with markers and crayons. “Sorry if I’m talking too much. I’m just so excited to be here and I was dead silent for, like, sixteen hours. Not that I need to talk, that’s cringe, but, like, I haven’t seen you in a while. We have a lot to talk about! Like, what’s going on in life? Me? Not too much. Not too much.”
“It was Ikebukuro.” He whispered.
“In Durarara. It was set in Ikebukuro”
“Oh, right. Where is that? North? Are we in northern Tokyo?”
“No, we’re south.”
“Heading to Tsukuba.”
“No. Tsukuba is North.”
“What? But you said you lived in Tsukuba.”
“I do, but—"
“So why are we going south?”
“To go to the hotel.”
“Hotel?” I had been under the assumption that we would stay at his house and then visit his grandmother for a few days in the countryside. Instead of voicing my confusion, I hid it within a joke. “Do you mean…a love hotel!” I spoke like a wave. Each time my voice rose, Sean’s eyes drifted to the other passengers in the car. “I can’t believe it. You’ve really matured over the years.” I jabbed Sean in the shoulder and he bounced to the side as naturally as the train taking a turn. “I mean, that’s quite forward of you. I’ve never even been to a love hotel--”
“I thought you were tired.”
The train stopped, jerking us to the side. Passengers disembarked with the same cold irritation Sean had spoken. I adjusted my suitcase. “Oh, yeah. I guess I am.”
His expression had remained cordial, but in the blink of an eye, it changed to worry. “A--sorry. I didn’t mean it to come out like that. I just meant that, like, you’ve got a lot of energy. That’s all.”
“It’s okay.” The doors closed with a hiss. The train continued. “So the hotel is…?”
“My mother booked it,” he whispered.
“That’s nice of her,” I whispered. “But, why are we staying at a hotel if you live here?”
“Tuskuba is a city north of Tokyo.”
We sat in silence for a while. It was awkward.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to ruin the atmosphere. You’re probably pretty excited.”
“Seriously, it’s fine. I should’ve listened to what you had to say. Don’t worry about it.”
“It’s just,” it was clear he didn’t have the heart to continue. I imagined he would say something like, actually, I don’t like you. You’re annoying. Please take the next flight back. I toyed with the green tag, bracing myself. “We’re not supposed to talk on the train. It’s rude.”
Rude? RUDE!? My hopes and dreams were slipping through my fingers like cherry blossoms falling off branches. But, how many scenes had I seen of high schoolers commuting to school and talking to their friends? Or of a chance encounter with a crush on the train? But wait, how many scenes were they completely silent! “Guess that’s what they call culture shock,” I whimpered. Sean chuckled.
I was determined to comply with their standards and silently vowed not to utter another word for the duration of the ride. A salaryman entered and anchored himself on a handrail. A group of giggling teenage girls entered, their laughter fading as the doors closed. Sean dozed off, arching the back of his neck against the seat.
A portion of the tracks ran above ground. The cityscape was an aperture of black concrete and fluorescent blue. It was no longer raining though it was overcast. The train announced the next stop.
“Huh?” Sean’s eyes flickered open. The announcement repeated. He nudged me. “We missed our stop.” He told me the name of the station and instructed me to wake him as he closed his eyes once more.
It was unnerving that Sean had felt it appropriate to bestow on me the responsibility of navigation, especially considering I was unfamiliar with the most common of courtesies. Furthermore, even if we had kept up relations over text, what did he really know about me? What did he know of my capacity to handle responsibility? Or of my ability to act independently? Yet, he slept peacefully beside me. It occurred to me that Sean was a rather suspicious person. He had been too eager to extend an invitation to visit --for I would not dare to imagine imposing upon his living situation, motivated by my own infatuations, as that would be nothing more than exploitation. Alas, he had. I could not blame him for his lack of consideration of my character, as neither had I of him until that moment.
I sought to distract myself and pulled out a book from my backpack. Not long after, my stomach began to growl and the words became unbearable, so I put it away. I looked at the advertisements; women smiling holding some product, businessmen pointing to some kanji, and sometimes a foreigner accompanied with English.
Sean awoke on his own. Our station had been announced, unbeknownst to me. We stood and gripped the handrails. As the train began to break, my suitcase slide down the aisle and flopped at the salaryman’s feet. Before I could retrieve it, the salaryman had bent down and handed it to me. Not sure what else to do, I pulled what I could from my anime repertoire. I bowed and muttered, “Are-re-gato.” He waved his hand, saying something I couldn’t understand. I bowed again and scurried off the train.
Sean was waiting by the stairs. “Wow, your Japanese is so good.”
“You think so?” I must admit I did indulge in the fantasy that my Japanese was approaching fluency.
“Yeah, you even bowed.”
“What can I say? I must be a language prodigy or something.”
“Come on,” he said, rubbing his stomach “there’s this great place by the hotel.”
He led me through the Roppongi streets. The moon, though hidden, had that powerful and bright quality that one could pinpoint its location and steady recession behind a clouded silhouette. My suitcase moaned through cemeteries that looked like parks, roadways that looked like alleys, and past bars, restaurants, and izakayas before we stopped at a crosswalk. I almost ventured into the street but Sean was standing before a shop on the corner. Its lights outshined the moon.
“This is the great place you mentioned?”
“Yeah.” He said, the light reflecting in his eyes. “It’s the best.”
It was a 7-Eleven.