In September of 2009, I still had a lot of friends in Tokyo. I had been living in Ogatsu for about two months, and needed to reconnect with people and things. Monday was Respect for the Aged Day, and I had yet to discover the glory of the Miyagi countryside, so I felt like I needed The Big T in my life again. I went down on Friday night, and I stayed at my go-to, the Hotel Listel Shinjuku. I spent that Sunday morning watching UCLA punk Kansas State on my laptop in the hotel room. That night, I gathered my college friends just down the street, near Shinjuku Station for some all-you-can-drink dinner and karaoke.
I only remember a few details of what happened at the party. My old classmate Danielle had to leave early. She was the double-cheek-kiss type. I was trying to get into that to feign class, but I didn’t have it down yet. On top of my inexperience, I was at an all-you-can-drink restaurant. She said her goodbyes, and I got up to give her a hug, because I was going back up north the next morning. I went to my left, she went to her right, and I kissed her on the eyeball.
Almost all of the conversation from that night has since floated away like my dignity, but we took some great pictures. After dinner, but before karaoke, we gathered out in the street to say goodbye to a couple other friends and decide where to sing. Eiji and Sam were there. Chris and Kiei showed up. Ayumi looked good. Arnaud also came. So did Tatsuya, but he left after dinner.
The pictures from the height of karaoke show a table covered in glasses. There were beers, cocktails, and fruity things. There was even water on the table, so I have photographic evidence that we at least tried to sober up at some point. It didn’t work, because the rest of the pictures are embarrassing. I’m passed out on the booth in the karaoke room. My shirt is rolled up to my midsection. My shoes are off, and someone stuck a microphone in my pants.
I rambled home and sent a “romantic” text message to Eiji. He was confused. The last thing I did before crashing on my hotel bed was send a follow-up, “Mistake. Not you.” Snap your fingers, and I’m awake with a flaming lump of dynamite crap for a head. The hotel alarm clock was shrieking and my vision was blurred.
When I was able to focus on the clock, I saw it was half past nine. Checkout was ten. My Shinkansen ticket was for just before eleven. I had work the next day, so I wanted to get back home in the early evening to prepare. I got on my knees in the bathroom and gave back some of my dinner and drinks. I managed to stand long enough for a shower.
I rested and drank water for about fifteen minutes, then began shoveling things into my bag. I somehow made it all fit, threw up again just before leaving the room, and went down to the front desk. I got checked out in time, and I rambled out to Yasukuni Dori, the main street in Shinjuku.
The walk to Shinjuku Station would take fifteen minutes or more in my state. I didn’t quite have any money saved yet, because I had just moved across the world. I hailed a cab to the station anyway. I somehow got my suitcase into the trunk, tossed my bag onto the seat, gave my destination, and rested my head.
I read the cab driver’s license info and addressed him by name, “How are you, (His-Name)-san?”
“I’m very energetic today. You don’t look too well. Did you drink last night?”
“Stop the car,” I said.
He pulled over and popped open the automatic door, apologizing for asking an inappropriate question. I leaned my head out of the car and dumped ugly dust all over the asphalt. I spat a few times and finally got back into my seat. “I’ll be fine. May I continue to Shinjuku Station?”
“Is that your destination?”
“For now,” I said. “I’m taking the Shinkansen back to Miyagi.”
“Back to Miyagi? Do you live there?”
“I live there. I’m an English teacher,” I groaned.
“So you must be going to Ueno Station.”
“Tokyo, actually,” I said. “I’ll take the Sobu Line.”
“No,” His-Name-san said. “I’ll take you to Tokyo.”
I told him that it really wasn’t necessary, and that I had spent too much money on this trip already. He was very polite in telling me that he didn’t believe I would make it to Tokyo Station alive. Catching a glimpse of myself in the window, I knew he was right.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ll turn off the meter. How about one thousand five hundred yen?”
That was a twenty-minute, six mile taxi ride. Normally it would have run four thousand yen or more. He was offering to usher my hung-over ass all the way to my luxury train, by taxi, and it basically cost me ten dollars more than walking to the station, taking the train, and transferring inside a jam-packed mega-hub.
The next part is where he really blew my mind. We were somewhere near Yotsuya, smack in the middle of the city, when he stopped the car on the side of the road. He asked if he could pop out for a quick errand, and since he was actively saving my life, I granted permission.
I waited in the idling taxi for what seemed like an hour, but was really less than five minutes. The door opened and Mr. His-Name sat down. I heard the rustling of a plastic bag, and opened my eyes. He was handing me the contents, one bottle at a time.
Aquarius (an electrolyte drink).
I held out my hand and took them from him, one by one. I had no Earthly idea what was happening to me, and I tried to opt out of the dream. I pinched and pinched, but I was awake.
“You need to drink these.”
“Are you kidding? Thank you so much,” I said. “You’re the best taxi driver in the world.”
He chuckled, and I told him I would never forget him. I repeated his name and told him that I would remember it for the rest of my life. He thanked me. I told him not to thank me for anything ever again, and I asked if he had a daughter. He laughed, and said, “Sadly, no.” No sister either.
I chugged the Aquarius, took a gulp of the tea, and sipped the water. I answered some questions about Miyagi and my background. He was entertained. We came down Shinjuku Dori and swung around that there moat. The Imperial Palace grounds came into view, so I knew we were close.
He parked at the taxi stop in front of the Yaesu Gate at Tokyo Station. I gave him the fifteen hundred. He did not open the door, just told me to wait. He opened the trunk, hopped out, brought my suitcase to the curb and opened my door. He held my hand and helped me onto the street. I was in awe of this man.
I stood at the curb and he bowed to me. He was smiling like I made his month. I could not let that be that. No way.
“(His-Name)-san!” I grumbled. “Wait.” He came back around to the curb and I took out one thousand yen. He refused. My Japanese wasn’t stellar back then so I took a deep breath, and did my best to convey something like, “You’ve been extremely kind to me today, and it was at a moment when I really needed some random kindness. You have represented your culture very well, and I want to share a little bit of my culture with you. In America, we tip. We tip at restaurants and we tip taxi drivers. Let’s call this a cultural exchange.”
He refused again, bowing and saying that it was his pleasure, and he will enjoy the memory. His-Name-san was good, but I knew my angle.
“I understand. How much for the drinks?”
He smiled at me, and I laughed. He took the ten dollars in yen from me and bowed once more. I had seen bowing contests between businessmen where nobody would yield final curtsy. I was definitely getting the last one. I put my head between my knees until he took a step away, and when I came back up, everything looked red.
I waved him off into the scaffolding and mechanical wilderness, and I turned to find my train. When I got on board, there was almost nobody else in my car, so I casually placed my bags on the next seat and reclined. The train got moving right on time, and Mr. His-Name was correct, I never would have made it without him.
I almost made it all the way out of Tokyo, but as we zipped away from Tokyo and Ueno, I stood. I turned to the bathroom section behind my back-row seat and walked briskly, as I was pressed for time. There were three bathroom facilities: a women’s room (for women), a unisex room (for men “and women”), and a urinal room (for big boys who plan ahead).
The women’s room was open, but I have a bad complex about doing things that could make a Japanese person think, “Fucking aliens.” I looked to the unisex room, but it was occupied. I tried desperately to wait, but it wasn’t happening. I didn’t have time. The urinal was not an option because there was barely enough room to stand straight up. Two of the three toilets were unoccupied but I couldn’t use either of them.
Nobody was around so I turned to the sink that was also in the bathroom area. I vomited light brown and red at an angle calculated specifically for minimum splash-back. I quickly washed it down, and even pressed a couple chunks into the drain with my bare fingers. As I was doing this, the person occupying the unisex (men’s) toilet stepped out, passed the empty women’s toilet, and approached the sink — a distinguished woman.