On Saturday, The Rover and I booked a double room in Shinjuku’s fabulous “Hotel Lornstar.” Yes, “Lornstar.”


I made my final appearance at kendo that night and received two parting gifts: from Sensei, my refurbished and lengthened bamboo sword. From her son, a pair of pants that were too big for him.


Part of The Rover’s Master Moving Plan involved buying a pack of five JR day passes so my Aussie housemate (let’s call him The Australian) could get to The Village and back relatively inexpensively. I had kabuki at 1:00, but they would leave ahead of me.


We walked to the station with as much baggage as two people could possibly carry and I dropped another precious 10,000 yen bill for the day passes—or rather, day pass, as it turned out. The five passes were on a single ticket that was to be stamped five times. This was a problem. The Rover and I intended to use the rest of the passes to get to Tokyo, so the ticket needed to be back in The Village by Wednesday morning regardless of where it ended up at the end of the day. I made an executive decision: the two of them would use the pass that morning and The Australian would return and mail it to me as soon as possible. I’d leave my address in his room and pay my own way to The Village that afternoon.


The instant they were out of sight, I realized that The Australian was carrying the bag that had my new address written in it. I cursed him for not yet owning a cell phone.


The last bus from Shuzenji to The Village left at 7:20 p.m., and I estimated that I needed to be at Shizuoka station by 5:00 if I didn’t want to risk being stranded. Fully prepared to spend a full four hours at another epic kabuki rehearsal, I strapped on all my baggage in grand military fashion and set out the door. I was carrying particleboard shelves and other effects in Big Purple on my back, my laptop and suit bag on my right shoulder, and a pack overstuffed with bedding strapped between Big Purple and my left arm. I felt rather impressive.


When I got to the rehearsal location twenty minutes later, I felt very tired. I also felt quite confused: nobody else was there. I called Francis.


He told me the rehearsal was at 4:00.


I’d based my entire moving plan around kabuki at 1:00, and if it was at 4:00, I wasn’t even sure if I’d be able to make it at all.


When I dragged myself back two and a half hours later, I discovered that I had, indeed, had the time right, but they’d changed it at the rehearsal I’d missed while I was in Tokyo and nobody had bothered to tell me about it. When they heard about my plight (Them: “Gee, 1:00 would have been better, then, wouldn’t it?” Me: “Yes. Yes it would.”), the organizers rushed me through my part and even gave me a lift to the station at 5:15, where I bought a Shinkansen ticket and rushed onto a crowded train right before the doors closed.


The Rover called me from a pay phone as I arrived in Shuzenji, and I told him I’d likely be in by 9:00. He mentioned that he and The Australian had had “problems”, leaving me to wonder what items of luggage had been sacrificed to the greater good.

Fumbling in the Dark

When I arrived in The Village an hour and a half later, the buses had stopped running and there weren’t any cabs. As I started to load up for the apparently unavoidable twenty or thirty minute walk to my apartment, a lady came out of a nearby store and asked in surprisingly good English if I was all right. Then she and her husband offered me a ride.


When we arrived, I found a note on the door stating that The Rover had gone to look for me. It was 8:45. I was a little irked about that. It was the second time in a day I’d had a dilemma that could have been resolved in a second with a cell phone. To think I once despised those things.


As I was walking back toward town, a lady pulled over on the opposite side of the street and asked in Japanese if I was okay. I explained my situation and I was promptly offered my second ride in an hour.  


We actually found The Rover within about thirty seconds, after which I did some more profuse thanking and debated hugging The Rover for being so concerned and mangling him for creating an unnecessary complication. Then he told me about his day and I realized I had no right to complain.


Carrying my expansive luggage—including a duffel bag nearly big enough to hold a corpse—The Rover and The Australian had gotten onto a totally packed JR train that promptly stalled for about an hour. Then everybody got off and boarded a new train that became even more packed. Then they transferred to what turned out to be an express train on the eastern Izu line and were told to get off since they didn’t have the proper tickets. Then they had to transfer again when their train randomly decided to turn around and head back to Tokyo.


It had taken me two and a half hours to get to The Village, but by the time The Rover and My Aussie housemate got to their final stop, from whence they needed to take an hour-long bus trip to The Village, they’d already spent four hours on the train. Then they had to pay about 1500 yen just to get out since the day pass didn’t work on the Izu line, and The Australian realized that he wasn’t sure if he’d have time to deliver my stuff to The Village and still catch the last bus back. The Rover valiantly assured him that he’d be okay on his own with all the bags, so The Australian helped him load all the luggage onto the bus and turned right back around.


Now alone, The Rover examined the three seats he and my bags took up and realized that he was completely screwed.


When he got to The Village an hour later, The Rover entered the station office and pulled out his standard introduction: “Sumimasen. Nihongo wakarimasen. Demo… TAXI.” (“Excuse me. I don’t speak Japanese. But… TAXI.”)


When he told them where he was going, the desk staff indicated that he should take the bus, and they even helped him load my stuff back up. When the bus got to my area the driver stopped virtually at my driveway and even waited while The Rover took three trips to unload.

We're Not in Kansas Any More

The next morning, Company B’s regional branch manager came to show me around the local schools while the lucky Rover got to stay behind and clean. We’d already tried to clean my bedroom, but the walls had a texture like sandpaper that just tore the hell out of any cleaning implement we applied to them, and the sliding doors were made of paper that began to disintegrate the instant water touched them. The branch manager talked to the landlord about replacing the doors at my behest, but I made the mistake of adding, “If it’s possible,” which I worried would be interpreted as, “If it’s not too much trouble,” which, of course, it would be.


After diving back and forth and talking to the teachers at three elementary schools and the junior high, I asked the branch manager about the last school, which I recalled was somewhere in the mountains. He corrected that it was, rather, on top of the mountains. We then drove above amazing cliff-and-ocean vistas and turned up a mountain-edge road barely wide enough for one-way traffic on which we had to pull into one of the rare side lanes whenever anyone came down in the opposite direction.


That afternoon, The Rover and I watched eight big hawks gliding and diving about fifty feet away from us by some houses along the river, and when it got dark, we wandered downtown, checked out the video store and ambled to the hotel, where the water was up to the concrete steps that led down to the beach. We wondered why people came to The Village and what the people who lived in the town actually did every day.


I got a call from Blight’s foreign personnel department the next morning; they wanted to know if I could do overtime in Shizuoka. I told them I was three hours away and it was highly unlikely. They’d also called while I’d been horribly ill on the way to Izu with my friend and twice while I’d been training in Tokyo. As of the next day, however, my vacation time would finally end and I would never hear from them again.


That night, Socks, the high school ALT from England and the only other gaijin in town, came for a visit under the aegis of the man who had given me a lift at the station. I was embarrassed that I had neither drinks to offer nor anything to offer them in. Nor did I have seats.


They didn’t stay long.


Next >

April 2002