Wednesday, July 17, 2002

We went out to dinner that night with Jo and Michael and his wife and the kids, at a good French restaurant. We sat at a long table in the back and had spicy Australian wine and I had the lamb and it was all very good, and we talked about this and that and I admired Jo diagonally, in vain.

Then the next morning it was time to go, just like that. Kevin had to go to work and so Kate drove me to the airport and walked around the terminal with me a little while, killing time. We browsed a clothes store – it was odd to be engaged in such mundane behavior so soon before our separation. But finally I had to pass through the gate and we embraced and like always Kate said, "You're shaking!" and I said yes I know, I'm a trepidatious man.

I landed back in Tokyo nine hours later, at about 7:30 at night, went through customs, took the shuttle to the hotel, checked in, and there I was, in Tokyo with the night ahead of me. I went down to the lobby and noticed a line of taxis outside. I got in the back of a taxi and told the driver I wanted to go into Tokyo. He didn't understand a word. I wrote "Shinjuku Station" in my little notebook and tore out the sheet and gave it to him. I had read about bars and nightlife at Shinjuku Station.

He scribbled something and handed the paper back. It said "25,000." That was like, $250. I briefly considered giving it to him but figured there had to be a better way. He gestured with his hands and said something in half Japanese, half broken English, articulating how far away we were, how that was a normal price. I said no thank you and slipped out of the cab.

I was asking someone at the front desk how to take a train to town when a young English guy sidled up to me.

"You going into town?"


"So am I. Let's go together."

"Sure." I didn't want to say no. How do you say no to a complete stranger in a place that's strange to both of you? But I had fantasized about being alone in Tokyo, of having a solitary and unpredictable experience. And I was sorry to give that up.

We got our directions and took the shuttle back to the airport and descended to the lower levels of the terminal, where the trains were. The deeper you went, it seemed, the less English there was. At the bottom there was nothing anywhere but Japanese characters: exit signs, train schedules, poster ads, everything was a colored blur of lines and squiggles. I had a sense of truly entering a different world, where my reference points had vanished. We went to the ticket booth and with difficulty got the man to understand what we wanted, and we found a train to take. We could take the express or the cheaper local commuter train and the English guy, Roger, said he wanted to save money so I said OK fine, and we took the slow train, and I already began to regret having met him.