Walking Japan: From Akashina to Fuji
Japan: The England of Asia
My first night back in Japan began in Morihito’s izakaya and ended in a gay bar, the first by choice, the second by accident. Really. During my two weeks in Mongolia, especially as the novelty of lamb dumpling soup wore thin, I’d cheer myself up by picturing myself walking through the doors of Morihito’s izakaya, to be welcomed with warm hugs, big bows, cold beer, and food that wasn’t overcooked fatty meat.
That’s what happened, and the first night back played out almost exactly as I’d imagined it would, with one exception. I’d also hoped to catch up with Mayumi, the hot mess I’d nicknamed “Long Island Iced Tea,” and who I had grown to like. As the night wore on, and she failed to show up, I finally showed Morihito a picture of her, and he lost his smile for the first time, ever I think, and crossed his arms in an X. His Japaneses diatribe that I translated based on vibes alone, was “I banned that no good for expletive expletive expletive expletive expletive.”
I was disappointed, but tickled to learn that if there is one cultural universal, it’s that hot messes are going to hot mess, not matter if it’s in Taito City, Brooklyn, or Liverpool.
My interest in returning to Morihito’s wasn’t entirely about friendship and good food. I’d also come to ask for a small favor. I wanted to store a bag of stuff, mostly clothes I’d packed for the cold of Mongolia, so I could walk across Japan with only my small backpack.
Morihito agreed to it without hesitation, and then, despite my explaining (via another regular acting as translator) that I was doing it to have less stuff for my walk, he proceeded to start giving me going away presents, at the rate of about one per half hour. They were small things — hand fans, pocket-sized statues, bags of chips, a poster —but as the pile grew it was clear he missed the entire point of my asking for the favor.
It became enough of a problem (I’m still traumatized by carrying his Stay Puft half way across Japan in June) that I had to leave before the pile got larger, so I said my thank you, did the whole bow and walk backwards out the door thing, made harder by juggling his gifts, and went to find another place to have a few more beers.
Given I had to get up early, ride a train for a few hours, then walk twenty miles, I should have gone straight back to my tiny hotel room and went to sleep. But I was wound up and excited from being out of Mongolia.
I wandered for about half an hour, unable to find anyplace where you could drink without buying food or paying for company1, neither of which I was in the mood for, and then I found the gay karaoke club, or it found me, by the same klutzy process I’d discovering Morihito’s izakaya three months earlier, by getting too close to the automatic doors in an attempt to figure what the venue was. Like the other time, the doors whooshed open and everyone inside looked at me expectantly, forcing me to go in out of guilt, and then staying out of more guilt, when the bartender said, ‘you know this is a gay bar’ and looked at me in a way that made me think he thought I was shocked and repulsed and wanted out, which I wasn’t, and so I had to prove to him I wasn’t. Even though it wasn’t my scene, not because everyone was gay, but because everyone was smoking and singing and I don’t like either.