More Tired Clichés on Japan

Because my last entry on Japan might have sounded overly negative, and also because the tone of the last few weeks is dangerously edging toward serious and mature stuff, here is something to bring back the balance on both counts.

Although on some level, this might read as yet another episode of Wretchedly Altered Dave’s Comical Adventures in Magic Tokyo, it is also a heartwarming testimony to a people’s confounding sense of honesty underlined by the epic struggle of a man with the evil power of pharmaceutical-grade narcoleptics. A modern tale of hope and pride, if you will.
This is what I will be solemnly citing in answer to the usual insipid inquiry regarding my inspirations for coming to this country. Of course, I couldn’t have cared less about this when I bought my plane ticket, but I sure ain’t telling people the truth about coming here to complete my lifelong collection of worn Japanese schoolgirls uniforms.

Anyway, this all happened about two weeks ago. I know this is no longer fresh news, but, as you might recall, I have been quite busy lately ensuring that I did not have to find a spot for my tent in Yoyogi koen. And after the move, NTT persisted in taking more than ten days to move an ADSL account that had been created in three days, thus ensuring my internet activities were limited to the most essential stuff (which oddly enough, does not include ranting on this page).

This actually happened right after we had found a place at the last minute and gotten approved by the owner: all that was left to do was bring the cash and sign the lease, on Saturday morning, and move in the following day.
On Friday evening, I had planned to go play a few records at Bar Tokyo with Miss Kate, which seemed like a great occasion to celebrate at the same time. Lease-signing meeting time was 10:30 in Ueno: that gave me ample time to get back home with the first train, take a quick shower, maybe even a post-disco nap and then head over to the agency with Nordine and Yoshiko (who had been enrolled as our personal scribe). NOTHING wrong with this plan, right?
Oh yea… one important detail: a conjunction of factors such as daily ATM withdrawal limit, the scarcity of ATM accepting foreign cards in this city and the presence of one such bank, open 24h, in Roppongi, had caused me to stop on the way there to withdraw the last leg of the rent/deposit/gift money we were supposed to bring in the day after.

So it was half past midnight, I had about 60,000 yens in cash on me, and I was heading toward some seedy bar for the night.

In retrospect, you probably see it coming pretty clearly, and, believe it or not: so did I at the time… On the other hand, my clairvoyance had little merit, since no latter than the previous week, I had managed to lose about the same amount, in about the same conditions, except for the fact that I had just gone for dinner and a quick drink with Sarah, before heading over to Shinjuku where I realized I had dropped the equivalent of 10 years of salary of a Ford Motors employee (assuming you replaced yen by dollars and 2004 by 1929) somewhere between Azabu Juban and Roppongi Hills.

So this time, while walking out of Citibank, I had a rather uneasy feeling of déjà-vu that prompted me to bury my money really deep in my bag, where there was no way it could just fall on the ground by mistake. I guess at this point, the smart thing to do would have been to go home, rent a movie, get a good night sleep, get that lease signed and party my ass off on Saturday evening. But with the consistency I’m famous for, I figured it was much more fun to act immature and jeopardize the whole thing.

Beside, Justine turned out to have just the right kind of medicine to take that edge off the anxiety…

Well, one xanax, countless gin&tonics and numerous other things later, I was dutifully celebrating, though I had completely lost track of what. Bar Tokyo was followed by an impromptu set in a newly opened bar managed by an old acquaintance, which was in turn followed by some more free-drinks hopping, until the point were, was my life to be a movie (and it’s probably not, or else it’s directed by some really shitty director), you would have seen the overused blur-to-black effect filling the screen, followed by a small “a few hours later…” in white letters on black background, and then another fade-in to the same character in a different location, less noise, more light.

When I’ll say that I regained consciousness toward that time, you should not be misled into thinking that I actually “lost” consciousness before that – otherwise, how the hell would I have managed to take the train and end up about three changes away from my starting point, in the exact opposite direction to my house – nor was I really “conscious” even after that… It’s merely the point whence I start having a few recollections… it’s also the moment where, in addition to realizing that I did not appear to be heading anywhere toward my house, I noticed I was missing a rather essential element of my personal belongings: in fact, I was missing all of my personal belongings, since the bag that contained them was nowhere to be seen.

It took me about two or three more stations to shake enough neurons up and compute that information, one more station to come to the important conclusion that, if I was missing my bag, I was also missing the records that were inside, as well as my cute little mp3 player, wallet, credit cards and… yesss, my rent!

Of course, at the time, not in small part due to the power of modern psychiatric medications, I had to focus really hard to keep my mind on the potentially negative consequence of this loss, let alone get worked-up over it. That’s the good side of it: at least I can’t say I was freaking out. I was actually feeling quite content about it.

In what will go down in history as one impressive victory of the power of the mind over pharmaceuticals, I did manage to pull myself out of the cozy and warm interior of the train to go half-heartedly inquire about my bag. Another interesting side effect of the chemicals is that, even though my brain was swimming in cotton and had forgotten until the name of the city I was living in, I seemed to have gained perfect Japanese fluency in the process: I don’t think I’ve ever spoken Japanese so well in my life, and I’d even doubt my recollection of that part, if not for unmistakable evidences I was left with.

That’s how I went over to the first hapless station agent: explained I had lost my bag, answered a few questions regarding color, size and content and waited while he was contacting Lost Objects mothership through the phone-shaped communication device sitting on his desk. Approximately 30 seconds later, he was taking a subway map out, circling a station on the extreme other side of the map and merrily sending me on my way.

The trip, from what was probably the vicinity of Ueno station, all the way to Tochomae has not left much memory imprint, as I think by then, my brain had decided to take another recess time and leave it up to the legs to find the way on their own. And apparently they did, because I made it and was knocking at the ekichoushitsu (Stationmaster’s office) less than 90 minutes later (let’s not forget as I did at the moment, that I was also supposed to be insuring my housing future rather early that same morning).

I don’t remember exactly, but I think I barely had to start describing the bag for them to take it out of their inventory and bring it over: I guess they’d been warned about that weird gaijin coming their way on his improbable quest for a black bag full of stuff. But the quest was not over, as a visibly worried agent handed me a paper while explaining that, before I could take the princess home, I had to fill up a discharge with name, address, color of my shoes and metrics of my retina:

Romajimo daijoubu desuka?
– Yo, that cool if I write this in roman letters?

Slighty worried station guy:「えっと、漢字の方がちょっといいですね。済みませーん」
Ettoh… kanjino houga chotto ii desu ne. sumimaseeen…
– Huh… If that’s all the same to you, I’d prefer kanji. And when I say I’d prefer, rest assured that I’d prefer nothing else than ensuring this won’t last about 5 hours, but you see, there are some really smart people up above who figured that anybody who could afford to lose stuff in the subway could afford to write a few lines in the local scribbling fashion (I really haaaaate them)…

aa, soka soka
– ah, I see… (man, I really hate them too)

And that’s where the magical power of chemistry kicked in again, because, while I’m usually barely able to spell out my name in katakana in less than half a dozen attempts, I flawlessly spat out the kanjis for name, address (pretty useless since I was moving the following day, but whatever) and country of my ancestry without blinking twice. If you ask me, I might very well have written the whole thing in greek letters and remember it all the same, but it seems like I did indeed use kanjis, since it even prompted a polite 「上手ですね」(jouzu desune) from the japanese assistance, that can usually be translated by something halfway between “this really sucks, but it’s not so bad for a dirty gaijin” and “keeping in mind that you are a foreigner, I shall say this is a bit above what I’d have expected”… All in all, proof that what I wrote was at least partially legible Japanese and that I should definitely take massive doses of pharmaceuticals just before the JLPT exam next year.

And the moral to this story?

Don’t do drugs, kids!… ha, ha, just kidding:

Well: inside my bag, not only were every single record, electronic gadget and miscellaneous items of value I had been stupidly carrying than night, but also, not missing a penny nor a yen, the whole 60,000 rent money…

The only reason why this little anecdote is somewhat worth mentioning is that this is nothing out of the ordinary here. It happens all the time. Every Tokyoites has a few similar stories: drop something anywhere in the street and you stand fairly good chance of getting it back at the local koban 20 minute later, be it a bag, a wallet or a load of 10,000 yen bills held by a clip (I’ve seen it happen).

And, this, to quote Eriko, “is why I love Japan”… well at least it could be, if the fact you can buy used panties at vending machines and openly drink your beer on the subway was not already enough…

1 comment

  1. Wow. If that kinda thing happened to me, you can be assured I’d be looking for a fresh pair of pants.

    Great story, and I am actually hoping to learn Kanji, and then 2 years later or so take a trip to Japan. How many Kanji symbols do you know? And how long did it take you to learn them all?

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