So my map has nothing in English on it. Just pictures of major buildings and lots of Chinese and Japanese symbols (they actually use a lot of adopted Chinese characters (kanji) and have for centuries, add the two Japanese scripts and that is even more challenging to learn than I had imagined!) I set out into the street clutching the map like a divining rod and turning myself with it at each corner. The streets are filled with people and traffic but it is SO quiet. All of the cars look brand new. People do not shout. At one point at a traffic light, I turned my head when I heard someone else cough (not quite the medical checkup method – guys you know what I mean) across the street. That’s when I realized how quiet the city was for such a bustling metropolis. Passing a pachinko parlor made up for it–deafening, like Chuck E Cheese’s on crack.
On this trip I am doing marketing for an English school WESLI so I don’t think of this as my typical tourist/travel type stuff. But in the course of this I do get to learn a bit about culture and how things work. There’s been a lot of bowing, I can say. The Japanese are consummately polite. They wouldn’t think of pointing out something that might embarrass a guest and in fact I am never sure if they agree with anything I say or are just being polite. I, on the other hand, am chronically slapstick, and have a knack for either intentionally or unintentionally finding physical comedy.
First example: I discovered that elevator banks in a 60-story building are divided in ten-floor increments. I wanted to go to 5, but unaware of the various banks, I went to the 40-50 elevator. I faced a Tokyo-crowded elevator and reluctantly forced my way in, only to look at the numbers and see that my floor was missing. The logic of it dawned on me just as the elevator doors closed on my coat. A quick but frantic tug avoided the imagined comic scene of me being dragged to the floor amid a dozen people who would pretend it wasn’t happening and only nod politely to me as my coat was ripped from my torso. But with tragedy averted I just rode until 47, got off with someone else, and baffled her as I turned right around and took the next one going back down to 1 to try again.
Second: My new suit pants have back pockets that are slightly off to each side. (Initially I thought perhaps the tailor really thought my ass was that wide, but realized this was by design. They say sitting on your wallet potentially messes up your back over time. Of course, this doesn’t take into account my Ultra Thin wallet–flat not by design, but by circumstance.) Anyway, I put my little pocket notebook in back careful that the spiral didn’t snag fabric. When I arrived at one of the agencies, I was shown a table and chairs and went to sit as the secretary went to fetch my contact person. The chair had hollow plastic armrests and as I slipped around to sit I came up just a bit short so that as I was sitting, the length of the spiral in that pocket off to the side dragged across the plastic through the muffling fabric of my pants and emitted such a long rumbling sound that, without investigation from the next room, could only have been determined to be a quite magnificent fart. No one noticed. But of course, even had they done so, no one would have acknowledged it out of politeness.
Lunch was with a personable agent named Koji who took me to a very local hole in the wall inside a clear plastic wrap around its sidewalk seating to keep some heat in. He ordered for me. I received cold soba noodles and some sushi cuts of tuna, salmon, grouper, and octopus on top of sushi rice… and with a raw egg laying as sunny side up as it gets right on the top. “Don’t worry, it’s fresh.” He tells me. Freshly cracked open or freshly laid? I did as he instructed, scrambled the egg over it all, and just ate it. A bit slimy, but I overrode all gag reflexes (one of my talents, I think–vomit control). It all tasted pretty good, but the brain had some trouble with that egg idea.
Just before my last appointment as I stood in the street trying to match up building drawings on my map with actual landmarks, a woman with a surgical mask stopped and asked me if I was lost. She didn’t wait for my reply but said — in a French accent — that she knew what it was to be lost. What was lost was 20 minutes as she told me her life story and why she wanted to leave Tokyo and maybe go live in Tahiti or Corsica. “The Japanese (her husband is) don’t SAY anything, they are always afraid to say anything. You Americans, this is what I like about you, you just come out and say whatever you are thinking.” I never saw more than her brown eyes, and judging from her hands and crow’s feet I would guess she was 60 or so. But her arms waved, eyes rolled, eyebrows knit, and at time’s she shouted through the surgical mask, tugging back into place after a squint slid it up a bit. She withdrew an English map from her purse and sent me on my way.