I reached Toronto fully prepared for my 4 hour layover. I sat contently in a vast and empty gate area reading the opening chapters of Japanland. It’s an enjoyable travel novel written by Karin Muller that I would recommend to any Japan goer—or free-spirited woman with a bone for adventure, new people, cultural adversity, and kicking aa—I mean judo—Elwood (cough, cough).
It seemed as if the Toronto Airport was just starting to open when I arrived. The waiting area was empty except for a Japanese man and me, sitting at complete opposite ends of the gate with a slew of seats in between us. Then a short, bright-eyed Irish Woman waddled over toward where I was sitting with her seem-stretching-stuffed backpack on her shoulders. So as not to make it too obvious that she was looking to make early morning conversation, she sat a whole two chairs over from me in the sea of measly padded chairs.
Forces beyond my comprehension coerced me to make eye-contact with her.
“Hiiiiiiiiiii!” Her cheeks turned red with glee when she smiled. “Are you on this flight?”
I could have said no, but she seemed completely harmless.
We exchanged introductions; her name was Kelly. Then I learned something quite advantageous. She handed me a golden ticket to really start messing with her. Not that I normally would care to mess with complete strangers, but I was bored and had a whole four hours of her to look forward to. She was journeying to her boyfriend’s motherland to meet his parents for the first time.
“Woah,” I said, “You’re nervous about not being able to speak Japanese, when you’re about to meet his parents?”
“Why? Should I be nervous about meeting them?”
“Hell yeah.” I raised my half-closed book, “I’m only a few chapters in, but I already know how serious of an engagement this is.”
“What do you mean?”
“In Japan, everything about relationships is sort of reversed. When a girl is introduced to the parents, it’s as nerve wrecking as a boy meeting a Jersey girl’s father who happens to be like the Chief of Police. Women have very specific roles in Japanese family’s and households. His mother is probably going to be evaluating you, your whole visit, like to see if you’re good wife material or something.”
Her eyes widened with panic.
We found ourselves at the terminal’s Bacardi Bar, continuing our conversation. By the time she had her second drink, I had easily convinced her I was a wealth of Japanese knowledge. She asked simple questions like “How should I act?” and I answered with, “Well, Japanese mothers like women who can keep a house so don’t expect to be catered to. Help out in the kitchen, with dishes, make your bed, stuff like that.”
She eventually requested a seat change to be next to me, under the impression that she would need a 13 hour crash course in Japanese ethics during our flight over… Truthfully, I was just about tapping out of the random knowledge I had been picking up. But whenever I felt her insecurities waning I would rekindle them with scary revelations—my best being, “Holy shit, I bet he proposes.”
Four drinks deeper, my hypochondriac companion could barely get out a question before needing to whisk off to the lady’s room. When she returned, we were joined by a young man who was wearing yellow reflective shades. He sat right next to Kelly and began drumming on the counter top of the bar with both index fingers. As soon as he got our attention and we looked over, he turned his head to us, smiled a bright white smile, raised his sunglasses on top his buzzed head, and greeted us with a vigorous “HEY!”
Oh Joy a crack addict to add to the mix. Little did I know that I would be spending the next two nights with him in Tokyo. The three of us got talking at the bar. What I had originally mistaken as a drug addiction turned out to be a genuine excitement for life—and he had every right to be excited. He is an aspiring dentist who was recently accepted into his medical program, he looked shockingly like the belated Heath Ledger (Joker RIP) when his glasses were on and his mouth was shut, had a bad case of yellow-fever, and was fortunately heading to Japan, where yellow, as you all may know, is the predominant color.
After Kelly’s, 5th—um 6th—eh 7 ½ish–some high number of drink we were called to board our flight. I told Eric I’d stop by on the plane, and Kelly and I got in line with the rest of our section. Behind us stood a pretty girl with a backpack like mine. Kelly, overly toasty and friendly, asked if she was excited for Japan and high fived the complete stranger. I laughed. The line was in a standstill, so we got to talking. Jackie was from Boston visiting her boyfriend who had been working in Tokyo for 8 months. In that time, she had managed to visit him 5 times on his dollar. This visit was special one however, because this trip encompassed the day that marked their third anniversary which they would spend in China together. Lucky Girl. Oh, and when she wasn’t traveling to exotic lands with Mr. Perfect, she was relaxing in his high-rise apartment in Tokyo that could see Mt. Fuji on a clear day. But truthfully, Jackie, was a nice girl. This Harvard graduate just finished her first year of medical school and didn’t give off the slightest sense of snobbishness.
Then we boarded.
The plane ride was pretty uneventful, spending most of my time watching free movies or sneaking back a section to sit next to Eric while we loaded ourselves on free Johnny Walkers.
Kelly slept a good portion of the flight, having no hesitation to use my shoulder as a pillow and drool towel—which was part of the reason I decided to visit Eric as often as I did. I didn’t mind him too much at all. It’s just he was as excitable as a puppy. In fact the first time a walked back to see him he smiled and sprung up so fast that he cracked his head on the seat in front him—hard enough to wake the man sleeping in it.
“Owe, ah, that sucked.” He rubbed his head and offered me a seat. Eric and I had a lot in common: crazy x-girlfriends, open mindedness when it came to politics, a sport we held dear, we owned our own dogs, possessed the inability to sleep on planes, and were born with a stomach for whiskey.
After the flight attendants cut us off at about our 6th mini-bottle, I must of made some sort of a good impression with Eric, because before we were even halfway to Japan, he had promised me that if I was up for it, I could chill with him and his friend Ryan in Tokyo for the first evening and crash in their hotel room.
When we landed at Narrita, Kelly was quick to get to her luggage. I waited for Eric and followed him off the plane. He was walking right in front of Jackie, leaning back, and talking with her. Though, it was obvious they hadn’t met on the plane. Jackie smiled when she saw me.
“How was your flight?” she asked.
“See you met Eric,” I said.
The three of us chatted away for a bit, waiting patiently for our luggage. We followed each other through customs and navigated to the waiting area. Jackie said good-bye and surprisingly wrote down her email for me. “Send me a message if you get bored in Tokyo.” I took it.
Eric nudged me in the ribs with his elbow when she was out of sight. He raised his eye-brows and smiled, clearly missing the fact that she had a boy friend, or that he was too hyper to get her email himself.
Finding Ryan wasn’t hard. He was average height for a white male, naturally standing about four to six inches taller than anyone else in Japan. He swam through the mob of Japanese toward Eric, who introduced us. His greeting was polite but had an aftertaste of indifference. I was an addition he could have obviously done without, but it still meant I had a bed to stay in tonight. I’d have to just give him time to warm up to me.