Lost in Japan
After we said our goodbyes to Pickles, it had gotten late though not dark. We figured we could push off dinner and explore more of Akihabara. Neither Sean nor I could think of anything in particular to do, so we wandered into a store full of figurines locked behind display cases. There were six floors full of them and I recognized about a fifth, some of that proportion coming from having seen them on a previous floor. I had never been confronted so directly with the vast literary cannon of weebdom. How am I supposed to watch all this? I’m only seventeen.
Despite my apparent deficiency, I did feel the natural swelling of excitement and joy, occasionally gushing out, “Oh my goodness. Dude, look who they have! It’s so cool.” Or when hearing Sean say something similar, I rushed over to catch that glimpse of his favorite character. I had felt that simple, innocent happiness of accompanying someone and of being accompanied.
We both pointed out various figurines, but neither of us entertained the thought of obtaining one. Not until I came across Jotaro Kujo. He was my favorite of the Joestar Clan and one of the few characters in my mental top ten ultimate anime protagonists list that was not from slice-of-life. He was wearing his school uniform, with his leg spread and his long jacket billowing behind him like a superhero’s cape. His shirt mere paint over muscles. His visor cap masked his forehead down to the top of his eyebrows. I put my finger on the plastic. “Sean,” I said, but it became a whimper as my eyes met his stoic glare. He was not real nor close to life-sized, but there was something visceral about his eyes, a full sentient awareness that looked at me as I had looked at that old man. If I were a character in some anime and he was looking at me, surely he would have walked away.
“Yeah?” Sean said as he walked towards me. Jotaro pointed at both of us. “Wow, nice. He’s the coolest.”
“He is,” I said meekly.
“You gonna buy it?”
It was Akihabara. I had to buy something to prove I had been there and this figurine was one that I could less hesitantly put in my room without my brother asking too many questions, compared to say, Haruhi Suzumiya. Still, there were his eyes. “Nah,” I said, trying not to sound dejected. I resolved to buy nothing.
We walked back down to the first floor and, in the back corner, I saw something that broke my resolution. It was a cat plushie. It resembled a lucky cat statue though it must’ve come from some show. It was the perfect balance between weeb and cosmopolitan. If anyone asked, I could always affirm that it was a lucky cat and I could reveal the finer details of its origin among the appropriate company. Never mind if I wasn’t a fan of whatever show.
Sean asked the teller to retrieve it for me. When I paid, the cashier put it in a plastic bag which I then shoved into my backpack and forgot about. This would prove to be essential.
Sean said he was getting hungry and so we decided to head back to the hotel. We retraced our path back to the station, passing stores that fit into the familiar categories of weeb (the notoriety of which we had exhausted), food (the very thing we were looking for yet couldn’t quite get our feet in the door), or weeb themed food (an experience which we both apprehensive to give a second chance). There was one unremarkable exception. From a random window among the many blared a red light like the kind used in the black rooms for photography.
My stomach rumbled.
“Do you like McDonald's?” Sean said.
“Huh? Well, not--” I had almost finished that thought but stopped when I saw that he was pointing up the street. It was a triple-leveled McDonald's. “I mean…it would be cool to see how it compares to the US,” I said. “It’s supposed to be better, right?”
The line extended out the door and was full of highschoolers on their way back from club practice or cram schools. We ordered and took our food up to the second floor. We sat beside each other on a long bar that faced the windows. It had become dark from the revived drizzle and setting sun. There was a small plaza between the McDonald's and the next building, lined with trees beginning to bloom with a light green. The urban lights bounced off raindrops and flickered on the black-and-white tiles in a golden blue. Black umbrellas passed discretely to the street, to their stations, and to their home.
Sean ordered a lot and I got a small single-patty sandwich with no side. “That cat you bought is kowaii.” Sean joked, after finishing his first burger. “Are you a fan of the show?”
I had only taken a single bite out of my sandwich but he was already opening up his case of chicken nuggets. “No, I just thought it was cute. Maybe I’ll watch it. What’s it called?”
“Hmm. My sister might know. You can ask her in a few days.” Sean stacked two nuggets onto another then took a bite. “I’m surprised you didn’t get that Jotaro figurine. You’re a bigger fan of him than the cat.” I took a bite and got some sauce on my chin. “Oh, here.” He offered me a napkin.
“Thanks,” I said and wiped my chin. “You know, you didn’t get anything even though you looked at more stuff than I did.”
“I’m not into collecting things,” He said as though he had been asked before and was answering all those anonymous somebodies instead of me. “I like to look but I don’t end up buying anything. Too expensive. I’d rather spend my money on experiences.”
“Souvenirs are part of the experience.”
“It’s not a souvenir for me.”
“What about the fan experience? Isn’t buying merch a part of that?”
“I don’t know,” I began to say, feeling the weight of my plushie in my backpack strung over my shoulder, “I guess so. That’s how they're funded.”
“I didn’t think of that.” Sean finished his nuggets and moved on to his second burger.
“Then what kind of experiences do you do?”
He swallowed his food then sipped some soda. “Like getting food, going to the arcade, or a movie. That kind of stuff.”
I laughed. “Not what I would call an ‘experience’ but okay.”
Sean slurped to the end of his soda, then exhaled refreshed. “Yeah,” Sean chuckled. “You’re right.”
I had felt responsible for the ensuing silence. Somehow I always managed to keep pushing Sean, yet he wouldn’t fight back. He would accept it with such a short response that I knew he was thinking more but would only reveal it if I pried it out of him through passive aggression.
There were two different clusters of friend groups in the booths and seated at the high tables between the booth and the bar where we sat. Two friends here and some three or four over there silently playing mobile games as they ate. It occurred to me that Sean and I were doing the same. However, to them, this was a routine. An ordinary moment between this and that part of their lives. Perhaps not a daily one, maybe weekly or bi-weekly, but a routine nonetheless. To Sean and I this was abnormal, a rare chance to hang out. Yet, if some customer climbed up the stairs and surveyed the space, we would not feel out of place.
“You gonna eat your food?” Sean asked.
“Oh, yeah. Right,” I said and took another bite then set it down.
“Everything alright? You don’t like it?”
“Yeah, no. It’s fine. I’m fine. I was just thinking.” Sean tugged the lid of my box. I nodded and he slide it across my tray, bumping it over to his own. “This is a nice little experience, huh.” Sean was mid-bite, but his eyes widened a little as though I had revoked my permission. He set it back down. I shook my head and gestured over the burger. He nodded a few times before taking it again to bite.
It was a Teriyaki burger, exclusive to Japan.