Seven Foot Square
It’s hard to be expressive when you are living in a room just seven foot square. I have tried to grumpily pace, but covering the length of the room with one stride really defeats the object. I have also tired sulking in the corner, like some petulant child, but as that would mean removing the bed or the desk it doesn’t really seem worth it. So instead I lay on my bed, head resting on my rice filled pillow and brood. Japanese business hotel rooms are quite excellent for brooding.
Outside it is snowing. Big, crisp flakes of snow are tumbling lazily down. They hit the street, linger for a while, and then, as if deciding that a holiday in Japan really isn’t what they were after, melt away. By the time I motivate myself to go for a drink the streets will be like sheets of glass and I will slip, slide and skate my way to the nearest izakaya. Perhaps, if I am lucky, I will find a quaint little back street bar which serves warm sake and steaming pots of nabe where I can dissolve into a dark corner and be alone with my thoughts. I cling to this idea for a tantalising few moments before reality strikes me: what ever place I end up I will be an object of fascination and perhaps ridicule. Beautiful women will want to take me to a Love Hotel and sleep with me, Salary Men will want to buy me a drink and impress me with their bottom-of-a-bottle wit and wisdom, bar owners will want me to sit in the most prominent seats and act like I am a regular and inebriated university students will want to practice their excruciatingly bad English on me whilst secretly praying that I don’t steal away their girlfriends. No one will really want to hear my story or listen to my woes or even flick through the pictures of my son I carry in my wallet. No one will really ask: who are you and what defines you? They will spread the thinnest veneer of human compassion on our brief meeting and then, when they have amused themselves sufficiently, move on to find another foreigner to defile. Each time I head out into the night in Japan I am staggered by the shallowness of my fellow drinkers and Shangri-la searchers. Each night seems like the first day at university: who are you, where do you come from, what were your grades and then move on, ever hoping to find a connection which is never going to be there.
Just for a second I would love to penetrate the Japanese mind and rummage around in the lingerie-drawer of their thoughts. Is that weary young guy with the group of drunken business men in the corner really basking in group camaraderie or is he secretly wishing he could be at home with his pretty young wife? Is his boss knocking back the sake like it is going out of fashion because he enjoys his work-mates’ wit and anecdotes or is he as lonely as I feel tonight and just trying to numb the pain? Is that pizza-hipped and Disney-shirted girl talking animatedly into her mobile phone at the bar conducting a passionate love affair with her boyfriend, who will arrive here any second with four dozen red roses, or is she on the phone to her mum saying: Friday night and he is at work again. I can’t possibly begin to imagine her life or how she feels right now.
Just then a friend from past trips to the Land of the Rising Sun calls me. Her husband is working late again and her daughter is getting cranky. “Why are we all so alone?” she asks and I have no answer for her, but look for it anyway at the bottom of the next bottle. Around me, it seems everyone else is doing the same.
After my third drink I reach that point where the harder edges have been knocked off my world. My sense of proportion and perspective have been subtly aligned and I feel warm and slightly fuzzy around the edges. My loneliness hasn’t gone and I have merely painted it over with a shade of alcohol. I order another drink and an Office Lady, smart in her company uniform, slides over to me.
‘Excuse me,’ she stammers in text book English, ‘but what is your blood type?’
I tell her, down my drink and leave. Getting picked up by Japanese women is like stealing candy from babies and something I leave for the next poor foreigner to come along. Besides, I am too much in love with my girlfriend and son to be in the need of a physical encounter.
Wandering in the general direction of my hotel I stop outside a video game arcade and catch my breath. Inside is packed with high-school children blasting Orcs to kingdom come, scoring the winning goal in the World Cup or feeding steel balls into gaping pachinko machines. It’s close to midnight and yet the arcade is still packed. I wonder why the children aren’t at home tucked up in bed with a book or a teddy bear. I want to ask some of the children if they are lonely and so I dive into the arcade. I want to ask them if they ever think about their parents and, just to hear the sound of their voices call home unexpectedly like I often do. But they are more interested in my game playing skills. I spend a relatively happy hour thrashing them at football and finally feel, to some small degree, a sense of communion.
When I finally make it back to the hotel the receptionist smiles beguilingly at me and asks if I have had fun. It’s hard to say, I tell her. She blushes saucily and we both mull this over for a heartbeat before I pocket my room key and turn towards my room. As I wait for the elevator she calls out to me:
‘Philip-san,’ one more thing,’ I was just wondering…’
‘AB negative,’ I reply automatically.
And I step into the lift: destination dreamland.
Philip Blazdell has been travelling for the last fifteen years and would like to stop now, thank you very much. His travels began when he followed a girl in nice purple pyjamas to Istanbul and got into all kinds of trouble with her parents. Despite marriage proposals in Las Vegas, arrests in Germany, and lust in the dust in more than one third-world shit hole, he has never looked back. Well, not that much really.
Philip currently divides his time between his home in Middle England, SFO International Airport and some grotty little town in the Netherlands that is best not spoken about in polite company. He constantly worries about using the word ‘awesome’ too much whilst in the USA and dreams of a day when he can go a whole day without resorting to Diet Coke. His greatest ambition is to raise his son to be a much better person than himself and to see Liverpool string a run of wins together. At least one of those, he believes, is possible. He can be contacted, when not bouncing around the world at 32,000 ft: nihon_news at yahoo dot com and his own personal homepage, www.philipblazdell.com, is updated daily.