THE ASSOCIATE – TOKYO
I’ll try to keep this brief as I can; but it might still be a little bit long. Just be prepared to do some reading. Grab a coffee, hot chocolate or whatever your vice is…….
It was approaching my 30th birthday and I wanted to do something incredible! Something which would be memorable for a long time to come; I figured a solo trip to Japan would tick the box…. After deciding on the location I started to plan. My usual method begins with Google searches, trip advisor, forums and lonely planet type stuff. I’d also mentioned my plans to few people that I know, including a connect here in Dubai; who mentioned that one of his friends from the UK now lives in Tokyo! Perfect! He says that this guy is a good friend of his and that he’d be more than happy to connect me. Since I was traveling solo I figured that a friend of a friend could be a good thing, after all this was Japan! I speak NOOO Japanese!
A few minutes later the Tokyo friend pops up on whatsapp and we start floating messages back and forth. He appears pretty cool, down to earth and similar to my connect in Dubai, so at this point I was happy that I’d found a local contact. I usually network through friends and connects anyway so this felt normal.
2 days before my trip while I was still finalising accommodation (Last minute Larry, I know) Tokyo guy is like “Mike, you can stop at mine for a few nights if you want”. Initially I thought “Perfect, I’ll get to experience Tokyo in a slightly different way from the perspective of someone who lives there. Then I thought ‘but I don’t know this dude’. I’ve travelled a few times over the years and I’ve learnt that in order to experience something new and memorable, we occasionally need to let go of the reservations/fear holding us back.
Back to Tokyo Guy. He offers me 4 days at his place which at the time sounded like a little too much; so I responded by saying I’d stay for two days and then make a move. This would give me enough time but not too much time, especially if say.. We didn’t get along or he was a weirdo or something. So 2 days it is!
TOUCHDOWN – TOKYO, JAPAN
Hop off the plane with only my hand luggage (Perfect for trips since you don’t need to wait at the carousel) and start to figure out how to get to the Capsule hotel in the city.
The area I’m staying in is called Shinjuku and the route appears fairly straightforward, even though there are hardly any signs in English. Every train is arriving and departing on the second! (I guess this is Japan) I get onto the train which is basically running like the circle line in London. As I get on it’s fairly empty, but as I get to closer to Shinjuku it begins to get packed with party people. Half of me wanted to go party, but I was so exhausted that all could think about was catching some sleep!. The train arrives in Shinjuku and after a few wrong turnings here and there I manage to find the hotel.
Shoes off, locker key collected; I quickly check out the capsule and then head to take a shower (In a public room full of naked Japanese men!), which is cool, apart from when you’re a 193cm gym going black man and old Japanese men are secretly trying to catch a peep at your penis! Anyway..
Fast-forward the Capsule hotel scene (Or you’ll be reading forever) I text Tokyo Guy using the wi-fi in my little capsule (Yeah, they have Wi-Fi in there) and let him know that I’m in the city but about to pass out because I’m tired; we arrange to meet in Shibuya the next day at 12.
Wake up, take a shower, check my backpack and make my way to Shibuya (It’s only one stop on the train from Shinjuku) Shibuya has a famous crossing where 100’s of people cross the road at the same time. It’s actually quite fun to watch; people coming from all directions.
Whilst wandering past the madness I noticed a Starbucks a few floors up, so I headed there to get a better view and use the Wi-Fi. NO FREE WIFI!! What is this! I was so annoyed that I ate my sandwich too quickly (Food got stuck in my throat, meanwhile my eyes are watering) then left to meet Tokyo Guy.
After about 25/30 minutes I find the Apple store where we’re meeting. I charge my phone, use the Wi-Fi and hang around waiting for ‘TG’ to arrive.
Now remember; my trip is all planned out, I’m IN Tokyo and will be staying with him for two days or so, there’s no going back now..
He arrives.. and…. well…..
I don’t quite know what I was expecting him to look like, but this wasn’t it. I didn’t even take into account how he’d look when we were communicating on whatsapp, but judging by the things he spoke about and the tone of his voice I figured he’d be somewhere between 25 – 35 etc. Although I had no expectations I wasn’t expecting to see the man that was standing in front of me; caught off guard completely!
First off he was A LOT older than I thought he may be (Appeared early to mid 40’s) and he was fairly disheveled. He looked like he’d had a lifetime hard nights and little sleep, my heart sunk in my chest knowing that I’d commit myself to 2 days and I’d basically have to lie to not stay with him. (You know that feeling, when you were young and had to kiss that aunty you were scared of; yeah… that!)
I quickly got over myself, stopped thinking like an idiot and grabbed my big backpack filled with 12 days of ‘stuff’. I figured that I’d at least give him the opportunity to prove my perceptions wrong.
Since the bag was quite heavy I wanted to drop it at his place and then continue with the day. I figured we’d go to his place, drop my bag and then maybe check out some sights etc. So as we we’re walking I mentioned that I’ll need to drop my bag somewhere; he responds by saying that I can put it in a locker at the train station; since we’re in city a going to his place is apparently a little awkward and far (Which I can understand). We make our way to the station.
En route to the station we’re stopped by a TV crew!! A TV CREW! Holding a HUGE A** broadcasting camera, lol. Are these guys National Geographic or what! lol. This WOULD happen to me! My life is just one big nonsense and attracts this sort of thing; thankfully Tokyo Guy speaks Japanese so he’s doing the talking.
The TV crew point and shoot while TG (In fact, lets just say his name is Tokyo Guy) and the host are spitting Japanese; I’m just there smiling, not knowing where to look like a buffoon. I’ve never been on TV before so I’m feeling a little AWKWARD! One thing I do know is that you DON’T look into the camera. Under no circumstances look into the camera; never ever EVER look into the camera. What’s the one thing I couldn’t stop myself from doing! Lol I LOOK INTO THE CAMERA!! Couldn’t help myself. I must’ve looked like an absolute dumb fool to people watching at home (Hope it wasn’t live)
All of a sudden I feel the camera shifting its gaze onto me, the TV host is smiling and speaking to me in Japanese.. I look at Tokyo Guy like “DUUUDE! You know I don’t speak an ounce of Japanese, say something!” He translates saying “They want to know how you’re enjoying Tokyo so far” – I give them fairly a brief response about how I only landed yesterday but so far it appears to be an interesting place and hope to experience more etc etc (He translates)
TV Interview is over! We continue stepping towards the train station.
We finally arrive at the station and this bag is starting to feel uncomfortable. We find the locker area, squeeze the backpack in and then head back out; quick easy/painless process.
After leaving the train station and catching a few sights we head to meet up with another guy who’s also from England (Bristol). Tokyo Guy calls him to tell him that we’re around the corner. Once he’s off of the phone he tells me that we can’t go near the house and have to wait around the corner (ALARM BELLS) I’m thinking, “but why do we need to hide”. Then I just ask him the question about why is it that we need to wait around the corner. He starts to explain that Bristol Guys girlfriend doesn’t like him and doesn’t like him being around her man (LOUDER ALARM BELLS)
Now… Generally speaking, you only hear these sorts of things when a person has a bad reputation for ‘something’ or another. We all know these guys. They’re the type to take your car while you’re sleeping and knock over a pensioner or something. These people are constantly doing some sort of ridiculousness. Not a one off, but consistently doing something that they shouldn’t be doing. We ALL know them!
Bristol Guy strolls from some alley, I introduce myself etc, he’s joining us for the evening. Cool.
So now we’re en route back to Shibuya; Bristol Guy, Tokyo Guy and me. Turns out that Bristol Guy is actually a cool dude. We end up talking about a range of things; things of value such as what things could be implemented to move young men forward; how could we as slightly older guys influence the path taken by some of the youth etc etc. Not incredibly deep topics but conversations beneath the surface level stuff (I’m good with surface level too). As we’re talking I notice that Tokyo Guy is just in his phone doing nothing much, hardly speaking and almost zoned out. At this moment in time I’m picking up this weird sort of vibe from Tokyo Guy, I can’t quite place it. He’s pissed at something or just exuding his casual weird demeanour, either way it’s little strange.
We hop off the train, take a few wrong turnings and then finally arrive at the restaurant. I’m introduced to about 10 people already there; guys from Canada, ladies from China and more people from a few other places that I forget. Everyone’s super friendly and happy, but in the midst of all the fun and jokes Tokyo guy seems to be knocking back the beers more than anyone else. Then he proceeds to get SUPER loud, then promptly starts making a bit of a fool out of himself (Uh oh). I quickly realise that there’s someone here who doesn’t quite fit in here..
Tokyo Guy is the loudest, the busiest, he’s here, he’s there, he’s… I feel embarrassed for him, but he doesn’t. I can see on peoples faces that they just ‘tolerate’ his presence but really they probably don’t see him as the guy they’d invite over for dinner. I’m picking up a feeling that although these people like him and probably enjoy him being around, it may be due to the fact that he’s the class clown and they can laugh at him, rather than ‘with’ him. After all, who doesn’t find the class clown funny?! Apart from the teacher of course…
Rmember, this guy is mid 40’s!
I’ll fast-forward some scenes as otherwise you’ll fall asleep reading..
…..Several hours later we end up at some club apparently owned by the Yakuza Mafia called ‘Origami”. It’s a House night and the music is PUMPING, the vibe is SUPER underground and I’m loving every moment of it! Not loving the fact I’ve been in these clothes all day though; as well as the fact because Tokyo guy lives so far as I couldn’t grab a shower! I don’t stink but at the same time I’m not entirely comfortable, But whatever, what can I do, I’m on vacation and I have no options; one day wont kill me.
Tokyo Guy is BOUNCING around the club. When I say bouncing, I don’t mean the old school hip-hop dance, I mean the ‘is that guy on cocaine’ type bouncing. If the entire club is on say… 100, he’s on 500!! *Gulp*
It gets to about 2am when Tokyo Guy comes over and says “We need to stay until 5am when the trains start” I’m like ‘WHAT!” we’ve been partying since 8pm.. I ask him how far he lives from here. To which he responds…
5 HOURS!! Just pause for a moment soak in what was just said…
5 HOURS! Are you serious (I ask) he carries on dancing, then disappears (And so it begins…….)
This is going downhill fast. Not only has he been drinking for the last 6 hours and looks like he’s on the most potent of drugs found in the himalayas produced by a gorilla that speaks Arabic. He lives 5 hours away!! (I can’t say he was on drugs because I didn’t see him take them, but his behaviour sure appears like it)
I ask him how we’re getting to his place and he tells me that he’s driving*exhale*
I tell him that I have an issue riding passenger in a car with a guy who’s been drinking all evening (In fact, I have an issue riding with anyone who’s been drinking) We briefly talk about it and he tells me how he has a new car which basically is set to Auto via Google Maps and there’s a route which the car basically drives itself etc (I don’t know why the hell I believed him – Who believes a drunk druggie) being in the middle of Tokyo I somehow didn’t feel like it was the most impossible thing in the world, after all, the Japanese are “light-years” ahead with technology, so at that precise moment it just didn’t sounds as stupid as it does right now as I’m typing it. (I’m actually laughing at how stupid even entertaining him saying that was) I genuinely couldn’t comprehend or ever think that someone would be so misleading for no apparent reason; even under the influence. Especially since I was coming through a friend of his; I basically took that as some form of guarantee he’d be straight.
We leave the club and I immediately remember that I need to pick up my backpack from the train station (long) after a 25-minute walk, two trains and a 10 minute walk we get to his car.
My immediate reaction when I seen the car: THIS CAR CANNOT DO ANY OF THE THINGS HE SAID! Not that I care what car people drive, but this car was not made in an era of such technology. At that moment I was so angry I wanted to go into a corner and punch the air.. Shadow box or something!
Picture the scenario: I’m in Tokyo ‘somewhere’ with a guy who’s 40+ years old but acts like he’s 18, I speak no Japanese, I don’t know where I am, I don’t know how I’d get to where I need to go even if I wanted to go anywhere. It’s 7am on a Sunday, nowhere is open and I’m falling asleep on my feet.. (I’m feeling like an idiot at this point – rookie errors galore!)
I reluctantly get in the car. Immediately I go off at him how I’m p***d at him for BS’ing and lying about his ridiculous auto drive Google thing. His response is: “yeah, but if I told you the truth you wouldn’t have come”… Erm… EXACTLY!By this point I’m literally beginning to question this mans sanity, this is ridiculous, his brain isn’t operating correctly I’m sure.
Midway through thinking of a new plan I fall asleep in the car (I didn’t even realize) I wake up even angrier than when I got into it, but by this point we’ve been in the car for about 60 minutes and I have no concept or idea of where we are. I look over to see him singing dancehall, getting OVERLY involved in the lyrics, dancing in his seat. I say something serious to him and he responds in what I can only describe as a baby voice in an accent from a place in England called Liverpool. Not only is how he’s responding strange, he’s switching his accents every 2 minutes, talking with the vocabulary and colloquialisms of 13 year old. (This man needs help)
I tell him that I want him to drop me off at the nearest station and I’ll make my way back into Tokyo to book a room (I don’t know where we are) he explains how the route back to Tokyo will take me about 2/3 hours since the trains aren’t running on the usual schedule due (Sunday Service).. I don’t know what to believe from this man. To say I felt vulnerable was an understatement. Plus with speaking no Japanese, being outside of the city areas where the people will only have a ‘little’ command in English and being in the sticks, anything is going to be difficult. I honestly wanted to scream, half because I knew he was right about me having little to no chance getting back, but also half because I knew this whole thing could have been avoided.. I basically felt like I was being voluntarily kidnapped. Sure I could’ve gotten out of the car, but then what….
I can obviously handle myself, however imagine being dropped into a place where nobody speaks the same language as you and you’re reliant on a guy like this! I might as well have been on mars! I couldn’t believe it; I felt like I was being set up or I was on a weird crazy reality TV show. I thought back to my friend in Dubai and why he’d connect me with a guy like this in the first place; however I arrived at the conclusion that he couldn’t have known the depths of ridiculousness to this guy.
After another semi-heated conversation we decide that I may as well squash trying to get back to Tokyo city. It’s not impossible but probably riskier than me going with him (Assuming he doesn’t chop me up) I’m mindful that I can’t go OFF on this guy as much as I’d actually like to, as I may potentially be staying with him for at least a day before I can step back towards Tokyo. I’m not trying to wake up with him standing over me butt nekid with a meat cleaver or something!
We continue heading to his place and after what felt like a lifetime we pull up to an empty parking lot, he says that “we’re here, get out”. I grab my bag and make my way into his place.
It’s small (fine, not an issue) but it’s also quite dingy and depressing. The bin is filled with beer cans and next to it there are plastic bags also filled beer cans. The area we’re in is very, VERY quiet and there is absolutely NO buzz. Even the cars that driving along the road appear to be lonely. The area we’re in is called Kiryu, Gunma, A sleepy Japanese town with little to NOTHING going on but a few restaurants and pachinko. This is not what I was expecting! When my friend originally said that Tokyo Guy lived in Tokyo (which technically he does) I didn’t think it would be Greater Tokyo in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do!
Now I consider myself the type of guy who can deal with anything and sleep wherever, I don’t disrespect peoples’ places or spaces but this is pushing my limits for various reasons as you can imagine, but I’m tired and by now it’s about 12.30pm (The drive took 5 hours) and he’s just given me a sleeping bag to lay on top of (pause)
I’m so tired I can’t even think. I lay down frustrated, thinking that as soon as I wake up I’m gone! I’m getting the train back to Tokyo city (Civilisation) to figure things out and reassess what the hell is going on.
I wake up after about an hour or so, check the time.. It’s 5pm (I’ve been asleep 4 hours) the rain outside is unbelievable! Torrential rain.. It’s raining so hard that the roads are empty and mini rivers are making their way down the road. At that point I knew that going anywhere today or even getting back to the city was going to be impossible; especially since the trains weren’t even running properly, it’s still Sunday..
I’m a fairly resilient guy but this was honestly testing everything about me. I know the point of the trip was to find out who I’d become and all. But this! I was about to become an assassin if I didn’t get some space from this man soon.
I take a shower, check my fb and make some updates. Knowing that I couldn’t post this experience in real time (Imagine how worried my family would be! My mom would’ve probably had her entire church looking for me, haha) I think about how I’m going to get through it, Lol. I’m laughing as I type this next part, simply because I’m back in ‘my world’, however at the time.. It was emotional! Lol. I remember looking at my blog like “F that blog”, lol.. I knew my trip would get better and this experience would ultimately build character and depth, but at the time, in the moment, it was CRAAAAZY! And there was no thought to update my blog, I was just trying to survive, lol.
KIRYU, GUNMA – 8pm:
The roads are quiet and desolate; it’s super quiet after the rain and nowhere appears to look open; however I’m hungry and he doesn’t have anything to eat in his place. All he has in the fridge is alcohol and old food that really needs to go in the dustbin. I mention that we probably need to make our way to eat to which he responds that he knows a little place that’ll be open, we can head there for something.
We arrive at the place and grab a table. By this point I’ve managed to manage my emotions and shake some of the feelings of frustration, especially since I know that it’s not going make anything better. I’m here! Deal with the situation basically.
As we’re eating he starts to open up and begins telling about me his experiences in Japan; how tough of a time he’s had, how difficult he’s finding being there lately. How he has a daughter with a Japanese lady that he’s not allowed to see (he shows me a photo on his phone) It’s a weird experience because after the last 12 hours I can understand why someone wouldn’t want this man anywhere near a child! heck, I actually didn’t think he should be around adults! He clearly didn’t appear to hold any ability to make logical decisions. Some of his decisions over the last few hours were completely selfish. However at the same time, I can’t say that it’s comforting to hear that a parent who wants to see their offspring isn’t allowed to. I don’t know whether to feel sorry for the guy, counsel him, or just punch him in the face for putting me in this situation in the first place.
Japan has basically chewed him up. His social skills are on minus 100 but deep down he’s a regular guy, living in a place where nobody accepts him and for whatever reason he can’t return home. He doesn’t have any real friends, he lives 5 hours away from the nearest people who’ll accept him (even if it is just to laugh at him) . He travels to Tokyo on the weekends to get drunk and temporarily forget about all of his problems; he repeats this lifestyle most weekends.
Considering his whole life and being I can now see why he was so keen to have someone visit him. When the opportunity came up to host someone flying in from Dubai (Me) and through a friend of his, he leapt at the chance to get some form of human interaction. Offering them to stay with him at his place for as long as they’d want.
I like to consider myself someone who’s able to look beyond certain things at times, even if I’m super angry, since anger disables us in making any logical or tactical decisions. The more I thought about this entire thing, the less it became about me and the more it became about him. I mean, I was heading back to Dubai after my Japan trip, then probably onto somewhere else in the world. My life is fairly good and for that I’m thankful. This situation though, it proved as a reminder to me that there are a lot of people out there with various struggles. I know we know that’s the case, but coming up close and personal to it is definitely a different thing.
The above really forced me to ‘check myself’. I basically let go of how we got to the point of me being in the middle of nowhere and started to focus on how I can make the most of out it for the both of us. From then on, the trip got better.
After dinner we headed back to his place and he began to describe the tourist things which are not too far from him which he wanted to show me. He described a lake which formed in the mountain from a previous eruption 100’s of years ago; he described a place called ‘Nikko’ which had amazing shrines, he told me about the singing road on the way there, this was a road where there had been grooves cut out of the concrete so that it whistled a tune as cars went over it.
After listening to him speak about all of these amazing potential experiences (Which is what my aim of staying with someone who lived in Japan in the first place!) I decided that we could maybe do some of the things the following day instead of me shooting back to the city first thing in the morning. I mean, I’d already come 5 hours into the middle of nowhere, what’s 60 more minutes. Especially since I wasn’t as angry anymore.
NEXT DAY – 7AM
We head up towards the mountain in his car and spend the day taking photos, checking out shrines, meeting new people and checking out some amazing sights. Overall I had an absolutely amazing time and made some memories which I’ll never forget…
Despite how we’d gotten to this point I was thankful that he took the time to show me things I may not have otherwise been able to experience otherwise. It’s definitely one of the most bizarre experiences I’ve ever had; however life is crazy. Shit happens. We experience, we learn, we grow….
Here are a few photos of my day… I bumped into tons of people seeking out memories of a lifetime..
Life goes on…