On the second night of my trip to Japan I find myself increasingly unable to sleep. It isn’t the accommodations; they are quite to my liking. Clean, efficient and truthfully much better than any hotel room I visited back in the States. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but my rhythm is off- kilter. I toss and turn in the bed. I sit up and look at my watch. 3:50 am. I rise and walk to the large glass window. I am thinking of my daughter, sleeping soundly, literally on the other side of the Earth. After a few moments I get dressed and walk downstairs and out into the street.
Although our tour has recommended against it, I take to the Nagoya downtown streets alone in the middle of the night. I make a careful note to myself of the approximate location of my hotel. My Japanese is barely sufficient to order food, let alone navigate an unfamiliar city in the dark. After a few blocks I come upon a karaoke club called Joy Joy. Unbelievably it is still open so I walk inside. An attractive female attendant asks me if I would like a booth. I make a few halting attempts at conversation and before long we are laughing it up in the lobby. In the distance I hear the unmistakable sounds of people butchering their favorite songs. For some odd reason this comforts me. We talk and joke for a half hour until she politely explains to me that the club is closing. I say my best goodbye and head back out into the night.
I come upon a convenience store. An incredibly tiny pickup truck is pulling up to the entrance. I mean, this truck is literally not much bigger than a motorcycle. It’s the smallest truck I have ever seen, and it is here delivering what looks like the day’s fresh lettuce. The door jingles as I enter the store.
“Irrashimase!” says the attendant, but he is eyeing me warily. Gaijin are a little suspicious at this time of the night. I ask for an English newspaper and he looks at me like I have two heads. After a few attempts, I realize I have asked for an English “talking” newspaper, instead of an English language newspaper. We both laugh as he pulls me a copy of Asahi Shimbun. The front page is plastered with gruesome images of the latest train crash. Apparently it’s a pretty bad one. On my way to the refrigerator I notice a young salaryman in a rumpled business suit passed out face down unconscious in one of the aisles. I stop in my tracks and glance at the shopkeeper. “Daijobu? Is he ok?” The shopkeeper waves his hand dismissively. “Sake….” He says, and rolls his eyes. I grab a bottle of Aquarius, my favorite new drink, and pay my tab.
I attempt to watch television, but the choice of programming is bizarre even by my standards. Apparently tonight’s choices are two different kinds of black and white samurai soap operas, the Matthew Snellick show (that crazy guy from Lost in Translation is real!) and some genuinely disturbing rape Pornography. I sit wide eyed at this sordid array of choices. I watch a little bit of a game show in which a man uses a magnifying glass to focus sunlight in order to burn another man’s nipples. Both men are wearing diapers for some reason. After the nipple burning, they start putting live eels into each other’s diapers. I take a deep breath and head for the downstairs bar.
For the next five nights this becomes my habit, drinking myself to sleep. I love the country but I cannot make the necessary adjustment for conventional sleep. During the days I visit Buddhist temples and Nijo castle, ancient and dusty. Just about the time I am really getting the hang of the language it is time to go home.
We board the plane headed for America. Everyone is laughing, jovial with the thought of home. The flight is brutally long, almost an entire day in the air. As we descend into Baltimore, I listen to Fountains of Wayne on my headphones as the twinkling runway lights come into view.
After a few moments I realize I will never experience this sensation again. As I arrive in Baltimore, my daughter rushes through the gate and jumps into my arms. My wife is almost tearful with joy. She asks me how it was. I begin to describe it, but for the first time I really realize that none of this will make any sense. The language barrier, the alienation, the crushing loneliness, the unspeakable beauty of the Orient. It is impossible to describe.
“It was great.” I say, and hold her tighter than I ever realized I could.