My first night in Japan after 11 years has stayed with me, coming back to make me smile on a regular basis. I was nervous coming into Japan after being deported and banned many years ago. I drank on the plane. I drank a lot of wine hiding the mini bottles like a good alcoholic. But I needn’t have worried. I entered without drama and met Mayu on the other side.
Lurching through the freeways of Tokyo in an immaculate cab with electric doors and a driver with white gloves on, the road swung left and right, up and down like a video game. We made it to Mayu’s favourite restaurant where she knew all the staff, hanging out like a barfly smoking and drinking wine. It was a cool place, not the kind I remember in Japan but I guess we all have to move on.
It was late but we ate and drank, intending to stay until the first train in the morning. Conversation was flowing with the wine. When I came back from the bathroom, the next table, two Japanese guys in their 50s were talking to Mayu about me I soon learnt. They were drinking heavily but were in a happy mood. I knew this was going to be fun.
I spoke with the guy nearest me. Brown skinned and balding, his face was round making his glasses small. His grasp of English was as shaky as my Japanese. You understand? he asked. Eeeerr no, I replied smiling. We ordered sake. Soon I was replying in Japanese and his round, red face laughed. He had no idea what I was trying to say. We ordered more sake.
His friend, someone who looked like he used to be a businessman, started drifting to sleep. It was 4 am now. They decided to go. He gave me his meishi (business card), clearly a personal design with a drawn self-portrait on it, shook my hand furiously and hugged me. I kissed him on both cheeks. He laughed uncontrollably slapping his friend. This guy was great.
After he left, he banged on the window and smiled a huge smile while waving one hand. The other held his bike, a rickety old contraption. He was riding home. We left an hour later only to find he had paid the bill for us too. I emailed him to thank him and we stayed in contact ever since. His English hasn’t improved. But his enthusiasm is undimmed and he’s invited me to meet his family next time.
The streets were empty and cold as we walked back. Very cold. The business towers loomed over us. The wide pavements told us nothing. Side roads lay deserted. The air was cold in our lungs as we reached the station and boarded the first train. We talked through the almost empty morning train. It was home time. Tokyo’s grey roofs rushed by, we left the train and got in the flat and fell fast, fast asleep.