She was a Pink haired, Puerto Rican who worked in Publishing. Alliteration is one of my little tricks to remembering people. Okay, that’s not true.
We met during a food tour in Shinjuku over takoyaki balls and an alcoholic drink that made my face fall off. No, not sake. Whenever I drink hard liquor, even within a sugary cocktail, I make this reflexive...face. It’s ridiculous. She let out a whooping laugh and said, “Never trust a girl who drinks something like that and doesn’t make a face!” I fell over laughing heartily.
Her husband was an officer in the US Navy. Bespectacled with his arms permanently crossed, he was surprisingly friendly. Among the middle aged Canadians, the smile-less Scots, an elderly New Yorker, and our Japanese tour guide, Officer Soldier captured my attention whenever he chimed in with anecdotes from his various deployments throughout the world.
He struck me as a cornfed, good ol’ American boy serving his country. The Pink haired Puerto Rican Publisher on the other hand…clearly she had done some magic. Hers was a voice louder than mine with energy to match, complete with an enormous wit. I wanted to be her when I grew up.
Officer Soldier was telling me about the good ol’ boys serving with him in the Navy, portraying them as the kindhearted redneck troublemakers they really were, many of whom had never left the United States before. He empathized with how exotic a place like Tokyo must seem to a small-town white American kid who has quite possibly seen very few, if any, Asians in his life.
As we chatted, I noticed from the corner of my eye the elderly gentleman from the Upper East Side (not The Heights, as he corrected because -real talk- I don’t know Manhattan by neighborhood and anything between 14th and 120th is Midtown to me) slowly slipping from a lifeguard chair in front of the Robot Café.
(I really can’t make this stuff up.)
“Oh my god, that old guy is gonna fall!” exclaimed Pink Hair. Officer Soldier and I snapped out of our conversation to see if the elderly gentleman was okay.
He was. He laughed it off.
The Robot hostesses out front were not amused.
Over okonomiyaki, the Scots man shared his observations about Japan with me. He brought up Tsukiji Market and made a face. What was that face?
In 4 visits to Tokyo over the span of 9 years I never once made it to Tsukiji Market and kind of felt bad about it, like I was “doing” Japan wrong. It’s one of those places featured on every Top 10 list about Japanese travel, and I never got around to it because, well, I didn't want to. Tsukiji Market is a fish market dating back to 1935 popular for its pre-dawn tuna auctions where giant fish sell for thousands of dollars. There are lots of photo opportunities, sushi, quick moving merchants, and yelling.
The Scots man said he wouldn’t recommend it.
He asked if I was a morning person.
He asked if I liked crowds.
He asked if I liked wet floors and dead fish everywhere. *sigh*
At 9pm on Friday night, our guide led us to a bridge with a scenic view of the Shinjuku skyline vibrantly lit with colorful neon lights and the ubiquitous office light radiating outward, like a beacon for distant office employees. He explained that any light still on meant people were still working inside.
“Even though it’s Friday?” asked Pink Hair. Our guide shrugged, and with a half smile explained, “Its normal for Japan. We work long hours. We can’t just leave.” The conversation moved onto the dreariness of Japanese office politics.
“Hello. I see you. I know you’re in there. You’re doing great!” said Pink Hair, facing the monolithic structures.
And I really believe each person in those buildings felt it.