… and why I may (or may not?) love Japan
Good day! The following is the short account of how I lost all of my money, as well as that of my traveling companion, and my passport, on the first – and last? – day of the trip.
We had left that very day, or by reason of international clockwork a full twenty eight hours earlier, though a mere eight hours of flight sailing over the virgin expanse of the Pacific Ocean, and arrived safely with no further concern or comment to be made at Tokyo’s international airport – a full hour ahead of schedule which is an always appreciable gain after eight, or twenty eight, hours of travel. A fellow traveler, M, and friend of my dearest, Coco, had flown that same day all the way from Europe and greeted us at the terminal’s doors – it was all a fine and dainty arrival.
We hopped on the Limousine Taxi, in reality an orange-striped coach bus, which would take us directly to the Station (fellow traveler beware of the skyscraping fees that may result from a taxi ride from the airport), close enough to Tokyo’s Central Station, where we were to meet at a previously appointed time the kind host who had offered to lend us a futon (and what would in fact turn out to be his very own bed) for the first nights of our stay in the land of the Rising Sun.
As winter must, biting weather and frosty wind whisked around as we descended at the station, under the polite eyes of the conductors and other official agents on duty. We were a full three and half hours ahead of our scheduled meeting, and sat down at the only reasonably comforting place in such circumstances: the bus station’s Mc Donald’s.
Despite fatigue, I respectfully, one might say stubbornly, refused coffee after coffee – a mistake not to be made again in comparable circumstances.
I was responsible for carrying four items: a regular-sized backpack, containing laptop and a few clothes, my camera bag – both of which I didn’t consider likely to misplace, though I had already once forgotten the camera bag stepping off the bus (fortunately caught by Coco); in addition to that, a linen grocery bag containing two towels, slippers and such odd items which could be disposable, and last but not least one of those small shoulder Manhattan pouches.
The latter was not of my own belonging, but I had elected to take it that morning to carry small – valuable – items.
If one were to unzip it, they would chance upon an envelope reading ‘Merry Christmas’ and a light but cozy wad of hundred dollar bills, forty-five to be exact, amounting to $4,500.
I had also decided to conceal my passport in the pouch “so as to make sure I don’t forget it anywhere.” And had added five hundred bucks from my wallet, for safety. And this despite the fact that I felt deeply uneasy carrying both that sum in cash, and having it in one all too losable bag – as I had casually remarked upon during the plane ride.
As fatigue and unrest mounted, we decided to venture out in search of a place where we could make a phone call to our host (several attempts from our cell phones and those of burger-munching Japanese people returned cryptic dial tones).
Carrying our multiple bags – though we’re traveling light, even in backpacking terms – we circled around the station.
Came upon a posh hotel, made a phone call from a booth, to no avail, returned to the station, considered sitting at another café, made another phone call with the same result, circled again, returned to the Golden Arch.
So there we sat for another hour or so, fatigue getting the better of me and notions of time slipping into the grease-fried air, till at last, at 7pm on the dot, Seishi walked up the steps and gave us a warm-hearted smile. The forty year-old greeted us courteously, a tad abruptly by Western standards, walking us to his nearby apartment (a typical Tokyo prowess of multi-functionality and miniaturization).
Seishi soon left for work, leaving the three of us to the ten by ten comfort of his dining-living-bedroom. We sat and sighed, happy to cool off, or heat up considering the freezing temperatures of the outside, and after a while decided to tour around for some drinks and such.
It was only then, after about an hour had elapsed, that I realized – instantly feeling a lukewarm wave of traumatic anguish sweep over – that a small black pouch was missing from our inventory.
We ran to the station, circled around our itinerary, gestured, grimaced and cursed at all the employees and bystanders we could find, in a language they could not understand (well, not cursed, but inside, y’know). Well, I did, M and Coco remained stoically supportive, hopeful.
That was the worst part of this ordeal: knowing I had already betrayed the trust of my beloved companion, and on the very first day, with all of our money, no less.
“I’m sure it’ll turn up, they’re honest people,” they patted me on the back.
My spirits were sinking by the second.
“Not with $4,000 in cash they aren’t, who could be…” I grumbled, and so on…
After some hours of unsuccessful circling, haranguing and threatening, fully depressed, I let the girls go out that night, and slumped onto the bed lifelessly, in a fetal position and very nearly sucking my thumb.
The girls later returned with some takeout plates from the nearby 7-11 (noticing a pattern here), which I declined, though grateful, and kept to the comfort of my slumber.
The night and its dream-like states wrapped around me welcomingly, only to awake at intervals with the bitter realization of the realness of my loss.
Yet I awoke the next day with the strange but altogether healthy acceptance of this mishap, of its relative inconsequence in the Grand Scheme of Things, and of the one may be tempted to say positive impetus that it had brought to my mindset: as I said to my companions, “I guess this just means I’m going to have to work extra hard.”
And so I left the apartment in the morning, with the intent determination to get to work, and to put off any lingering regret or anger about the albeit painful blunder, and as importantly, to get coffee for all three of us. This is about when I realized that it can be difficult to acquire a cup of hot coffee in Japan – at least when within some distance of the multitude of coffee houses beloved by the local population – though to get an aluminum can of iced and incredibly dull black coffee at any one of the millions of vending machines is as easy as losing at Pachinko (I got iced coffee once and learned my lesson – may this advice be heeded by those other losers).
I returned in direction of the train station and first headed for the bus stop, only to meet the same workers I had interrogated the night previous (Do they work twelve hour shifts here?).
They recognized me at once and brought me into a small room. The guy opened a drawer and produced the black bag.
I unzipped the pouch, fully expecting it to be empty, but hoping it might at least contain my passport, perhaps of no use to the lucky soul who’d happenstanced upon the “Merry Christmas” envelope. There was no passport.
And yet, there was the envelope. Could it be…?
Now, I had more or less overcome the loss psychologically, and as would any self-righteous artsy type, I take some pleasure in spitting on cash (only in public). But damn it felt nice to smell the sweet green scent of Ben Frank’s crooked smile!
Seeing no use in bothering to count them – as who would be crooked enough to remove a bill or two and return the rest, one may be corrupt, but to be corrupt and not exercise the full extent of one’s self-servedness is seldom heard of – I fell to my knees and sang my gratefulness to the country and its honest folk (dramatization, do not attempt).
I left the bus stop, singing still, but curious as to the whereabouts of my passport, I headed to the nearby hotel – just in case. Upon arrival, the manager promptly ran me back to the security post at the bus station (with whom I had checked in minutes before, but language and photographic memory being at times opaque barriers, they had failed to recognize I was the bearer of the lost passport in their possession).
I returned to M and Coco. Sometimes you luck out. Just be grateful, remember your lesson, and show some appreciation for what you have while it’s there.
The details never fully emerged as to whence my (ir)retrievable forgetfulness occurred, but my best guess is that it may have been at the hotel, considering the instant reaction of the hotel manager that morning, although he may have well been informed by the people from the bus company, or the station. Who knows… Ah, how I swallowed back the curses I may have had for this gentile country and its people!
And praised be Coco for her Siddarthic patience with the dear fool that is yours truly: this has thus been the account of how I lost all of my money, hers, and my passport, and unbelievably retrieved both in their totality, on the very first day of this trip.
O Japan, how quick thou winst the heart of your grateful guests!
It’s been a while! Wondering where we’ve been? After Japan, we moved through South Korea and into China, only to find ooaworld was blocked there – for what reason I cannot fathom. So the bad news is that we just left China and I haven’t yet had the chance to post the many stories we’ve been through; the good news is that there are plenty, including photos, videos, diary stories and short stories, so will shortly be updating the itinerary and posting these more regularly, as well as respond to comments, we’ll be caught up in no time! Thanks!