I opened my eyes. Tuesday, 7 AM. Time for work? No. I rolled over and looked out the window. The sun was high in the sky and morning commuters scurried around below. My head throbbed slightly. Why? Then I remembered the evening before. Beer. I crawled out of bed in search of water. I drained two glasses and took a third refill back to bed. My bedroom was dark, cold and quiet. Ideal conditions. I laid back down. Just another hour of sleep. Then we’ll start the day. Only one… more… hour.
I opened my eyes. Tuesday, 10 AM. “So much for an hour,” I thought. Just then I remembered the water from earlier. I promptly made a dash for the bathroom. Refreshed, I returned to my room and opened the drapes. Time to get the day going. I then started like with my normal routine. Breakfast. Shower. Coffee. Brush teeth. The day before I had the ambition to climb a third mountain for a third day. However the late start on the morning meant that wouldn’t happen. What then could I do for the day. I opened my wallet and two flies flew out. Time to visit the ATM.
I made the short walk down to the bank. I slid in my card and pushed the “English” button. As I navigated the touch screen with simple English I was simultaneously being verbally assaulted. The prerecorded message was in Japanese and very loud.
“Hello. Welcome to the bank. If you have any questions or problems…”
My irritation with the recording turned to horror when I saw my balance. The number was much lower than what it should have been. It was low even for the week before payday. I printed my recent transactions. I stepped outside into the hot noon day sun and examined the numbers. Then I saw it, a massive withdraw had been made on the last payday.
I remembered ambitiously pulling out a large sum to wire home. I was going to budget judiciously before the holiday. Then have enough to have a good, but modest time. Forget modesty, I had spent the previous two weeks living like a playboy. Now I found myself up the proverbial creek without a paddle. I returned home. What should I do. Unsure of an answer, I laced up my tennis shoes and went for an hour run.
I returned home covered in sweat but with a clear mind. I would continue to budget. I had originally made plans for every day of the holiday. That was out. I would keep some plans and others would be abandoned. After an ice-cold shower I grabbed my permanent marker and approached the calendar. I started scratching off plans. When satisfied I finished and returned the marker. Today was going to be an at home day. This wasn’t terrible news as my headache from the morning had never fully left. I poured a glass of water and sat down with a Japanese textbook. Time to make the best of it.
Wednesday was similar to Tuesday, but without a hangover. I woke up earlier and did my routine. I then alternated between studying and watching movies. I took a break again to run another hour. Long after sundown I turned off my light and went to bed. I had successfully gone two days of vacation without spending a yen. So far, so good.
I opened my eyes. Thursday, 7 AM. Time for futsal. I packed my duffel bag and set out. I had been invited to play futsal with a new team. A student & friend of mine, Masaru, had put me in touch with his friend, Jin. I had briefly met Jin twice before and remembered him as a booze hound and a joker. So I took a train to western Tokyo and met Jin at the station. We greeted each other and made a pit stop at the conbini. (Conbini is the Japanese-English word for “convenience store.” There is no “v” sound in the Japan language.) Jin wanted to pick up some water and other items and I happily obliged. Having pack two liters of water and not wanting to spend money, I waited for my new friend at the counter. I was amazed when he brought up a basket full of beers. I looked at my watch, 9 AM.
“Alex, will you drink too?” He asked me.
“Umm, it’s 9 AM. I think I’ll wait.”
After the store we walked to the field and met his friends. I changed into a jersey and cleats and walked out to the field. It was hot. At nine in the morning the heat index was already at 38 C (100 F). I started jogging to warm up directly under the sun and the sweat began. The sweat wouldn’t stop the rest of the day. We then made a big circle and numbered off to make four teams. Normally a futsal match lasts only seven minutes. In such heat and sunlight we averaged only five minute matches.
At 11 the games wrapped up and we had finished. I excused myself and scurried off to the locker room. Fortunately the showers weren’t busy so I could take a long shower. I turned the shower head to ice-cold. What a treat! Satisfied I had cooled down, I climbed out of the shower and got dressed. No sooner had I dried off the water than my skin was again wet with sweat. I fought at my t-shirt to slide down my chest. Yuck. Finally dressed I joined Jin and his friends in the lobby.
He took a train to the next town where we met more of Jin’s friends making a total of 20 people. It was lunch time! The restaurant was called “BBQ City” and it didn’t disappoint. We were guided to our seats and our order was taken. It was now noon and it was expected we would drink. Everyone around me ordered various cocktails. The server looked at me.
“Nama hitotsu, onegashimasu, (one draft beer, please.)” I figured it best to keep it simple.
After the drinks came the staff fired up three gas grills behind our seats. Then we started grilling. Each grill was quickly filled by two to three members of our party. They drank and cooked for us. I resisted my urge to take over a grill and show the guys how we cook in America. I turned my back on the grills and surveyed our tables. 10 people sat around in small groups chatting. “Time to mingle,” I thought.
I walked around to each clique and introduced myself. Fortunately I was the only non-Japanese person in attendance, so I was somewhat of a novelty. Of 20 people in attendance only two spoke English. Jin, my new friend and host was too busy entertaining to talk. The other person was a beautiful Japanese woman. Aren’t I the lucky one? She and I hit it off well and she helped facilitate my conversation with the others.
All this while the servers kept bringing us plates of food and our friends kept cooking. And of course the alcohol kept flowing. It didn’t take long for the drinks to start becoming mixed and matched. I saw beer followed by wine, followed by cocktails, followed by sake and back to beer. Amateurs. I started with beer and stuck with beer all day long. I say all day because our reservation was for four hours.
So at 4 pm I found myself sitting at the head of the table alternating between my beer and my water, favoring the water. My belly was bloated from so much delicious food and my brow continued to sweat. A server came over to Jin and handed him the check. Jin set the check down to divide the number per person. That’s when I saw the total: ¥ 89,200 or $ 1,160. For lunch. That was an impressive total. I paid my ¥ 5,000. The number was much higher than was anticipated. And it was going to be a set back in my budget.
After lunch we exited the restaurant and faced a dilemma. What next? It was decided we should go into Shinjuku and sing karaoke. To my ears this sounded like, “let’s spend money and then spend more money.” I looked at my new friends who were swaying from side to side. And they want to drink more. I took a rain check and said goodbye. Thank goodness I was counting my pennies, otherwise it would have been a very long day.
Back at home I took another shower and sat in the air conditioning. Even so I sweat just a little. Feeling exhausted I went to bed with the sun. Tomorrow was another day.
Thursday night was early to bed which meant Friday morning was early to rise. I followed my morning routine perfectly. I checked the forecast, clear and sunny skies. So I repacked my duffel bag and set out. I had plans to meet a lady and go to the beach. At 1pm I met my friend, Hikari, in Fujisawa. Having arrived early I stood near the station looking at a map on my phone. Suddenly I felt a finger push my cheek. I jumped back to see little Hikari smiling at me behind a pair of large sunglasses.
“Konnichi wa, Alex san,” she said.
“Konnichi ha, Hikari chan,” I replied.
And so we set out. We took the Enoshima electric car to Enoshima beach. The car is a cross between a train and street car. It’s very old but is fun to ride. We arrived at the station with many other people and moved with the crowd toward the beach. The hot sun bleached my hair and bronzed my skin. We navigated to a busy beach and nestled in. She and I helped each other apply sunscreen to our backs. The sun above our heads was ferocious. And the sand under our feet was scalding hot. We made a quick dash to the water and jumped in. It was perfect.
We then spent the next four hours rotating between the water and our towels. I thoroughly enjoyed Hikari’s company. She’s very upbeat and engaging in a way that many other Japanese women are not. So we exchanged playful banter and taught each other words and phrases from our own native tongues. Long before our conversation could stagnate the sun began to set. We packed up our camp and hit the bathroom. Hikari changed into a flowing dress straight from the 70’s. I continued to walk topless all the way back to the station.
We returned to the station and took the streetcar back to Fujisawa. We decided to eat an izakaya to satisfy our cravings for fresh fish, fried food and cold drinks. We were served and enjoyed the food whilst maintaining our conversation. One time I even spit my drink through my nose laughing so hard. Embarrassing but the sign of a good time.
After our dinner the conversation slowed. It was as good a time as any, I thought. I looked over to my friend and spoke very slow, clear English.
“Hikari, we’ve had four dates now. I have enjoyed spending time with you. You are funny and smart and pretty. I like you. Do you want to date me?”
“What? … You mean girlfriend and boyfriend,” she asked.
I sipped at my drink and nodded yes.
“What?” I could tell by her face that she was caught off guard by my request. “Thank you, Alex. I like you too. But, why?”
I couldn’t hold back and laughed out loud. “Why? Because you’re fun and I like you!”
Through more short sentences I learned she was very surprised by my question. She was concerned about her age and the distance between our homes and other things. I reassured her I had considered everything and I wanted to continue seeing her. I requested the check while she was thinking, paid it and we left. We walked to a small park and took a seat.
I could tell the girl was internalizing many things at once. So I thought I would help.
“Go ahead, speak to me like I know Japanese. It will help.”
And she did just that. She spoke so fast I couldn’t even pretend to understand the words. Eventually though her speech slowed down. She looked at me with big eyes and said; “Okay, yes. Let’s try it. Let’s have an adventure together!” And with that we were official. I saw Hikari off to the train and took another back to my home. Her reaction wasn’t at all I what I expected. A simple “yes” or “no” would have sufficed. But in the end she said yes, so I suppose it’s a victory.
Now it might be good to explain the awkward situation that I just described. Dating in Japan is a little different from dating in the States. In Japan it is expected that men make a declaration to begin dating. As I understand it, a man and woman will usually have anywhere between two and five dates before there is a “confession”. They call this proclamation, “confessing your love.” Essentially you’re being very direct about your feelings and your intentions to pursue a serious relationship. This doesn’t seem like such a foreign idea. But if you’re familiar with dating in the US, you know it is.
Since Hikari is Japanese, I thought it best to play by the book and “confess my love.” Too bad it didn’t go as smooth as I had hoped. However I am excited about moving forward with Hikari. At this point our relationship is still very new and unknown. I hope I’m not jinxing myself by blogging about her too soon. But I thought the story would be fun to share!
Friday night I returned home with happy about the day. A good day indeed.
Saturday and Sunday I returned to my extreme budgeting. I stayed inside my apartment only leaving to go for runs. It wasn’t fun staying in during my holiday, but it was necessary.
Monday I woke up early to conduct a fantasy football draft with my friends back in America. It was fun to talk about football and to rib each other from afar. It also served to make me very excited for the coming football season. Go Big Red!
After drafting and lunch I hit my Japanese textbook. After studying I took a train south to meet Hikari for dinner. The two of us on a budget opted for something cheap: McDonalds. I enjoyed the current limited edition burger and a tall iced tea. After dinner we visited a bookstore. Hikari looked at magazines preparing for her trip to Guam next month. I looked at maps of mountains I intend to climb. Although this was something I could have done alone, it was nice having someone to do it with.
Unfortunately it soon grew late and we both went home. I denied myself a sweet treat from the conbini to save my money. The next day was going to be the last of my holiday. And it could be very expensive.
Everyone in Tokyo carries a bag. Men, women and children. Some carry backpacks, some carry purses, and then some men carry man bags. A man bag, in the States, is a purse. In Japan, it’s a fashion accessory for the discriminating man. And fashion is fabulous.
These man bags are also very convenient. This is a society where cars are a luxury. Since cars often mean mobile storage space, many people are denied this option. To improvise, most people carry bags. It makes sense. When you leave the house for the day, you need to be able to carry some things with you. I get this. And so I typically carry some kind of a bag with me too.
My bags depend on the occasion. I have a duffel bag, a hiking backpack, a messenger bag and even a sporty shoulder bag for smaller items. All of them look masculine and they are all functional. I have occasionally received rude comments from other foreigners about my bags. This really doesn’t phase me. They’re idiots. I’m buying in to Japanese culture. I live here. And besides, it’s functional.
What really makes me laugh though, are the man bags. What distinguishes a man bag from another bag is functionality. Some of my good friends wear these bags around. I’ve never seen anything besides chapstick come or go from the bags. They seem only to compliment the outfit of the wearer. Oh yeah, and they look like purses. Sometimes I’ll stand behind a man wearing a bag like this. The bag, his clothes and his body posture is enough to crack me up. What are some of these guys thinking?
In conclusion, I enjoy carrying a bag with me most everywhere. It’s very convenient. And as they say, “when in Rome…”