The extraordinary story of an ordinary guy
At almost every station in Tokyo, you've seen his face. Tokyo Station, Ginza, Nihonbashi, Asakusa, Ueno, Ochanomizu, Ikebukuro. Shinjuku, Shibuya, Roppongi and even Wakoshi station. Posted on the koban walls the poster of a man is seen but ignored by thousands of people commuting to and from work.
The plain, regular caucasian face of a typical American. No stunning features or distinguishing marks to him. He is the poster boy of ordinary. His expression is stoic and the black and white photo makes him look like a ghost.
He is missing but not wanted. He is misplaced but not lost. He is me.
My name is Jack. But for all intense purposes, it could be John or Jacob or Jason. Right now I'm sitting in a cafe near Shinjuku Station. Outside I can see a big screen flashing the latest J-pop video and a toy store with a 15 foot Snoopy on the wall. People have crowded all around, some sitting on the street corner, some on their phones, some walking or shopping. Everything and everyone looks the same here.
I could be anywhere in Tokyo. Either way, I'm sitting here in this small café with a plasma screen T.V. broadcasting some show with a panel of Japanese people laughing as a rod lowers down onto them. There's a countdown and the cute Japanese woman shouts answers as a clock counts the seconds. There's an explosion of sparks and the screen behind her reads "GAME OVER". Loud techno music plays in the background.
The cafe is dark but all the walls are lined with small colorful screens, video games, electronic slot machines, and strange paintings of black dogs on neon yellow sofas. On my table sits a beer, miso soup, and a ham salad. I'm alone. Only the bartender slash waiter sits on the opposite side of the bar writing something and watching T.V.
I came here to escape the street sounds of cars, horns, blaring stereos, screaming high school kids, and store clerks announcing today's specials. But it seems louder in here. Why am I here? Where did I come from? Where am I going next? The answer lies somewhere between my lost passport and the phone number of a girl named Yuki.
No, this isn't a story about love. Nor a story about heroism or conquering obstacles to find the true meaning of life. If it was, then maybe I might have written it down and sent it to a Chicken Soup publisher who could print it to give people guidance and hope.
No, this story is anything but happy. It's actually the furthest from it. It all begins and ends with that little piece of paper. The pink sticky memo with the word Yuki and her telephone number and email address. I wish I had never seen that name or paper. It has been a curse ever since I wrote it down. It has brought me nothing but heartbreak and disappointment.
Why didn't I throw it away? Or better, light it on fire. I guess it all stems from New Year's Eve. Three days ago. Three days that feels like 30 years. I was a different person. I was so innocent and nice. My biggest problem was what to eat for lunch.
December 31st was my 20th birthday. I was at home. Home was a rich suburban neighborhood where Greek construction workers, Italian restaurant owners, Chinese Dentists, and Jewish lawyers took up residence. Then there was me. Just Jack.
My parents weren't rich and we were the only plain, white, non-cultured family. The trailer trash of the area. The only reason we lived here was that we inherited the house from my grandfather, a comic artist who got lucky and ended up getting a full-time gig in the newspaper funnies section.
When he died he left us his house, his drawings, and a street full of ethnic families who strived for the "American Dream" and despised us for doing nothing yet ending up in the same place.
Our little suburb was anything but welcoming. Maybe that's why I wanted to leave so badly. I wanted to go anywhere.
My father was on business in Canada. Hee had some conference for accountants. My mother was off with her new boyfriend Frank, the car salesman, and my older brother was at a basketball tournament in Spain.
Here I was alone, untravelled, abandoned, unaware that life was going to change. My birthday celebration was just me and my only friend Patrick.
In our high school, us two white boys were the minorities. We both spoke only English, didn't have any racial obstacles to overcome or genocides to forget. We were the trouble-free, stres- free, motivation-free boys that would probably end up getting well-paid jobs based on our last names.
Patrick and I liked the same music (Brit Rock), had the same hobbies (movies and guitar), and shared the same tastes (Kraft Dinner and Scottish Beer). So for my birthday, we decided to do what normal 20-year-olds do. We decided to go to a strip club.
Tiger Lilies was where it began. I'd never been to a flesh club so I didn't know what to expect. But I was quite disappointed. The bouncer checked our IDs twice before letting us in, we paid 7 dollars for a beer and spent the next hour watching girl after girl take off their clothes in tune with Metallica songs. Even the table dance Patrick bought me did little to lift my spirits. When we left, we were lonelier, hornier, and more broke than when we arrived.
I said goodbye to Patrick and decided to walk it home. It was a nice cool night, I was still thinking about naked girls and I needed to walk it off. No one walks anymore. The sidewalks are abandoned and left for early morning joggers or dogs.
As I headed down the long deserted street to my area, I saw something moving. At first, I thought it was a drunken couple making out. Two bodies swaying from left to right in slow motion, falling over and rising. But as I came closer, I could hear shrieking. Not loud but high pitched and not amused. I couldn't decipher the words but I knew she wasn't asking the guy for directions.
The man yelled, slapped her hard on the face, and grabbed her bag as she fell to the ground. Within seconds a car sped up to them, the guy got in and tires screeched leaving clouds of gravel. Then the car was gone.
If I was a real man I probably would have come in when they were still arguing. If I was smart, I might have ignored it and kept walking. But I was me so I tried running down the street to chase the car. I stood in the middle of the road and cursed.
Behind me, I heard sulking. Then I saw her. Sitting on the ground, legs
sprawled, hair long and tangled hiding her face, shirt torn, and a cut on her shoulder. I ran towards her and just before I reached her, she looked up and yelled "NO!" I froze. She had large almond-shaped eyes, tears plastered on her cheeks, blood trickling from her lip.
“Are you ok? I asked her.
"Ok." She said still suspicious of my intentions.
"I was walking and I saw that guy hit you. Are you hurt?" I asked as I crouched down to hand her the shoe that had come loose during the struggle.
"I'm okay. Thank you for help. Please...ok, I going to home now" she said in what sounded like some Asian accent.
"Where do you live? Can I call you a taxi?" I asked.
"Japan. Tokyo" I didn't think taxis could get there. "My vacation finish so I must leave to airport."
She seemed to feel better after she said this and even took my hand as I helped her up.
"Ohh..." I whispered as I touched her lip. A drop of blood landed on my finger and we both looked as it sat soaking in my skin. I searched my pocket and found nothing but some change and a receipt for gum from Walmart.
She took the wrinkled receipt and dabbed at her lip. We both laughed and started walking to the gas station up ahead.
"I'm Jack,” I said and held out my hand. She just looked at my hand and handed me the bloodied receipt. "I'm Yuki. Nice meeting to you," she replied.
"That's pretty," I remarked.
She used my phone and called a cab. We sat on the curb and for the next 15 minutes, Yuki told me about her trip to America, her visit to the aquarium, restaurants, and museum. She told me about her family in Tokyo, her part-time job at a kindergarten, and her love for The Beach Boys. We hummed Good Vibrations as the cab pulled up.
I did what any slightly infatuated guy who just sang beach boys with a Japanese girl would do. I got in the cab and escorted her to the airport. I thought she'd think I was crazy or desperate but she thanked me and told me I was "very kind person with deep heart". Since she got mugged, she had no money. Luckily her plane ticket and passport were in her money belt. But her suitcase with clothes, smartphone, souvenirs, and Beach Boys CD's were stolen. Also, her Luis Vitton handbag with wallet, cash, Japanese driver's license, and karaoke card were taken too. I offered to pay for the cab and she started to cry.
We walked into the airport and sat for an hour before her boarding call was announced. I know I should have felt happy that we could meet and proud that I could help out a fellow human being in trouble but the only thought in my head was how much I wanted to kiss her lips. Dried blood and all.
"Happy Birthday Jack," she said and gave me a coin. It was gold with a hole in the middle with a red string. “This is a lucky 5 yen coin” she explained. "Please keep to remember me forever," she said as she smiled. The coin equivalent to 5 cents, meant the world to me. Then without thinking I blurted out "I'm coming to Japan".
"What?" she said in shock.
"Not now. I mean I already have a ticket. I'm coming next month. To Tokyo and Kyoto" I lied. I couldn't think of any other Japanese cities.
"Really?" she said.
“Yes, but maybe I can switch the days and come sooner?"
As soon as I said it, I was expecting her to look at me and wonder if I was an obsessed stalker and make polite conversation until she could get on the plane and escape America and its bad men. But she didn't. Maybe if she had, my life wouldn't have changed.
Maybe it's her fault for being so nice and polite. She grabbed my hand, smiled a big smile, and pulled out a small Doraemon pen and pink notepad. She handed it to me and told me to write my name and email address. Then she spelled out her name and number for me to write. That's how it all began between me and Yuki.
A small blue Japanese cartoon character pen and a cute pink notepad.
Fast forward to Narita Airport. Arrival time: 2:55 pm January 3: The time difference meant I lost a day. How I got here is simple. New Year's night I left Yuki, got home, looked at the pink paper until it screamed at me to go to Japan.
The next morning I withdrew my entire savings, found my passport, bought a plane ticket, and took off. Narita airport was surprisingly easy considering I didn't speak or read Japanese. I just walked through.
Almost no check at customs, I exited the airport and got in a cab.
"Please go to Tokyo Station," I said slowly to the cab. And we were off. I didn't realize cabs in Tokyo were so expensive. When I think of how far I went to find a girl who hardly spoke English and didn't even know my last name, I almost decided to go back home.
But the pink paper in my pocket was emblazed in my mind and Yuki's big exotic eyes held me in a trance I thought would never escape. I wanted to look into those eyes one more time. I wanted to see her lips as they moved and said my name. I wanted to touch her soft light skin and smell her soft silky hair.
A plane ticket ($1200), taxi ride ($50), and a cheap hotel room ($40) later, I was in complete confusion. Now what? I sat in a miniature room, on the hard bed, looking out the window at a city of neon lights. I felt so lost. It looked like New York but it wasn't.
There were McDonald's, Starbucks, and KFC signs, but most signs were strange characters and symbols. I was lost in the Matrix. I was in some alien version of America with bright, glowing signs that made no sense.
I dialed her number. Sweaty palms, hot flashes, and a beating heart forced me to increase the volume control until the ringing turned into some strange answering machine voice. I waited for the beep then left a message.
"Hi. Umm... It's Jack. From America. But now I'm in Tokyo. I'm staying at a hotel near Tokyo station. It's called Fuji Business Hotel. I'm in room 306. Please call me. See you soon!" I hope that worked. I decided to go for a walk. Taking my shower in the little tub, banging my knees and elbows, I changed and headed out.
As I left the lobby, two Japanese men in stylish black suits stared at me.
"Hello!" I said.
"Herro!" they shouted and mimicked back. They laughed and joked with each other in Japanese and walked away. Feeling out of my environment and anxious, I walked around staring at the shops, bars, and restaurants. Everything smelled odd and everyone stared as I walked by. Finally, a man with wild blond hair passed. Tall and possibly American I said, "What's up!" He stared for a second before saying "Fuck Off," and walked away.
I was starting to wonder if anyone here actually spoke to each other. People on bicycles ringed their bells and screeched their tires as warnings for pedestrians. Teenagers held cell phones and emailed down the street. Even the street clerks yelled or handed out tissues without speaking to anyone in particular or making eye contact.
I decided to find some familiarity. I headed to Starbucks. I ordered a Tall Café Latte and sat down. I pulled out the pink paper and decided to call again. Before I could dial, a man sat across from me and slammed the table with his hands making my cup jump.
"I'm Tatsunori. But call me Tats! Your American ne? I love America. I lived in Oklahoma for 2 years. Nice to meet you."
He looked like the Japanese version of Steve Buscemi. Strange teeth and all.
"Hi. I'm Jack. Nice to meet you," I said relieved that someone spoke English.
"Jack in the box, yes? You're cool man. It's all right. Okay. Everything is great! Welcome to Japan, my friend!" A series of expressions exploded from his mouth.
"Thanks," was all I could muster up.
"Business or Pleasure, Mr. Jack?"
"Umm, pleasure. I'm looking for my friend!"
"Oh yes. Well lots of people in Tokyo, don't you think? It's a wonderful city no?"
"Yes, it's great."
"So, what's this?" he asked pointing at the pink paper. Before I could respond he grabbed it and pulled out his cell phone.
"Hey!" I yelled grabbing for the paper.
"Yuki? Oh, your girlfriend ne? She's super cute yes? Sexy girl Japanese is so. Let's call her."
"Wait..." I started but he dialed it quickly and put the receiver to his ear. After a few seconds he hung up."
"Well..." I asked.
“Oh... no signal Jack. Maybe she's in the chika. The underground, the Tube, the Metro yes?"
"Subway?" I asked.
"Yes, the subway. Try again later my friend. She is lucky girl I'm sure."
"Thanks," I muttered too annoyed to explain she wasn't my girlfriend.
"Today you meet her?"
"I'm not sure. She doesn't know I'm here."
“Excellent! Surprises are good. Japanese girls love this. Shall we go drinking before you meet?”
In ordinary circumstances when a strange man in a Starbucks asks you to go drinking, you say no. But, when you're in Tokyo city alone, no family or friends expecting you, and no purpose except for the chance you might meet the girl you helped get to the airport after getting mugged, even you would accept.
"Sure," I said.
Tats drove a black Mercedes with tinted windows. We drove fast down narrow streets and alleyways down roads with signs advertising everything. Udon, Sushi, drink bars, snack pubs, member's clubs, yakitori, Suntory whiskey, Yoshinoya, 7-11, Family Mart, Denny's, and strange Japanese clothing shops. We must have passed hundreds of karaoke bars.
Finally, we stopped and parked along a side street. An old woman no more than 4 feet tall with a hunched back was collecting change out of the cigarette vending machines.
“This way man!" Tats directed.
We headed into the Kiss's Kat Bar. A lit billboard outside advertised pictures of girls with their faces blurred out. Inside a woman of maybe 50 years bowed and greeted us. She held Tats' hand and stared at me. She spoke something in Japanese and smiled.
Tats translated "She said you have blue eyes. Sexy".
"Thanks," I whispered as we went down a dark corridor into a small room with leather couches and a karaoke machine. As we sat down, 2 girls in evening gowns poured us whiskies and sat on either side of Tats and me. The lights went off, the blue light came on and so did the karaoke machine.
Tats selected a Beatles song and began to sing. With the room dark, Tats singing "Hey Jude" and I on my 3rd or 4th whiskey straight, one of the girls unzipped Tats' pants and lowered her head. Tats nodded to the second girl and she unzipped mine and did the same.
For a split second, a shock ran through my body. Then a warm sensation emanated through me. But suddenly, feeling guilty and thinking about Yuki, I stood up. I lightly pushed the girl away, walked out of the room, and left the bar. Unfortunately, I forgot my bag containing my wallet, map, and toiletries. I kept walking until I was good and lost.
Somewhere in Tokyo, outside a 7-11, I dialed Yuki's number and she picked up.
"It's me! Jack!"
"I'm sorry," she replied.
"Sorry? No, I'm in Japan!" I blurted out.
"I'm sorry. Thank you, bye-bye."
What was going on?
"No. wait. I don't understand. I'm in Tokyo. It's Jack from America. Do you remember me?" Of course, she remembered me. I met her three days ago.
“Yes. Thank you. See you." She seemed to be trying to get rid of me.
"But I came to Japan. Can you meet me?" There was silence. "Hello?" I asked.
Finally, a clearing of the throat, then "No. Please enjoy Tokyo. I'm sorry. I'm busy. Thank you again. See you later."
“Okay, look...I'm outside somewhere at 7-11. I tried calling you. You can't meet me?" I pleaded desperately.
"Okay. Thanks again. Bye!" she said and she hung up.
I stared at the phone. Did this really happen? Did I really get completely rejected after flying 15 hours in an airplane to a country where nothing makes any sense?
And that's how I ended up in Japan and eventually at this cafe.
Ordering beer after beer, drinking myself into a haze where the beeps and blinks of the machines melt with the high-pitched animated voices from the T.V. which mesh with the laughter and banter of Japanese patrons.
Yuki doesn't want me. Nobody knows I'm here. Here I sit in a stupor staring at the miso soup in front of me. In my pocket sits the crumpled pink paper which brought me here, some Japanese coins, and the good luck coin that sits next to the beer. In my back pocket remains my last 1000 yen bill ($10).
My plane ticket back to America and passport with my suitcase are sitting on the bed at the Fuji Hotel. However, in about 30 minutes a couple will walk in.
They were accidentally given the same room and the double booking has erased my record. They leave the luggage outside the door in the hall. An old businessman, drunk from rounds of sake will pick up the bag and take it to his room. He will fall asleep and the next day will leave it under the bed.
The maid will change the sheets and clean the room forgetting to check under the bed and the bag will remain unnoticed. Almost a week later, a horny couple will find it, keep the clothes and throw the bag and passport out the window. The rain will soak the plane ticket and a homeless man will keep the passport and bag as a souvenir of foreign belongings.
Of course, I know none of this because it hasn't happened to me yet. I also don't know that Tats will find my bag after his oral pleasure is finished. But first, the woman who I left will take my wallet, remove my cash, throw out the ID and place the bag next to Tats to find.
Tats will take my bag to decide to the Starbucks where we first met.
The clerk will hold onto it and put it in the lost and found for 30 days after which if it isn't claimed, she may keep it. So Miss Yukiko of Starbucks will take the bag and give it to her little brother as a gift. He will keep the toiletries but will trash the empty wallet.
But before all this happens, I am stuck in the bar. I only have 1000 yen but my bill has probably risen way above that after all the beers. I think I've drunk more than 7 so far.
I don't have enough money, no wallet, no passport or plane ticket, no place to stay, no luggage, and no way to get any help. And to top it on, I'm drunk. Eyes glazed, legs heavy, bladder full, I make my way to the bathroom. The window is too small to run away. What do I do?
I decide to stand up and walk straight out the front door. As I walk to the exit, the man smiles, puts out his hand for the bill which I'm holding, and starts punching in keys. Just as he announces the cost, a loud crash comes from the back of the restaurant.
Apparently, the stool I was sitting on has fallen over and brought my beer glasses crashing to the ground. The man looks confused, says something, waves his hand, and runs over to the fallen glasses.
Through dumb luck, I decide this is my only chance. I run outside and escape. My legs are wobbly, my vision slightly blurred and my stomach feels like it's about to explode. I want to run but all I can manage is a quick hobble. I turn my head to see the man in the restaurant standing at the door screaming. He's contemplating if he should leave his bar unattended and chase me or give up and call the police.
As I turn to look forward I hear a loud honk and through the peripheral vision in my left eye, catch the blur of a big red vehicle. My legs lose all balance and I'm in the air.
Police will be told I was running across the street escaping the bill of 4500 yen. As I was running, there was a car speeding trying to make the light. They will be informed that the car hit me, head-on, and I was flung over the hood and rolled over the car to miraculously land but then be hit and thrown by another car.
The doctors will find I broke my left leg, left arm, 2 ribs, my pinky finger, and dislocated my shoulder. I will be stitched up with 25 stitches around my eye and remain in the hospital for 2 days for the possibility of a concussion.
Without i.d., money, and me being in and out of consciousness, the doctors have no choice but to wait until they find out where I'm from before calling the appropriate embassy.
Back in America, my brother is back, so is my mother. My Dad's still out but he will arrive home shortly responding to the call of my disappearance. My friend Patrick will be called and will tell everyone we just went to dinner at Pizza Hut and went home because he doesn't want his parents to find out we were at a strip club.
A search of my credit cards and bank accounts will be done. Finally, a statement showing the withdrawal of all my funds will show I emptied out my account. Flight records will show I bought a ticket to Tokyo, Japan. Then all records will come to an end.
No record will be found at the hotel as the double-booking wiped out my name and all knowledge of my checking in. But finally, a member of the U.S. embassy will receive a call and will inform the police of a possible John Doe who might be American that was brought into hospitals after a massive car accident.
The hospital will report the incident but will be shocked to find the patient got up and walked away without checking out or even taking his clothes. Somewhere in Tokyo walks a possible American in hospital attire nursing several bandages, stitches, and cast.
A cop in Tokyo will be told by a passing old man that a foreigner with light blue pajamas was walking around with something pink in his hand. The description will be recorded and reported.
The parents of Jack will board a plane, reach Tokyo and meet the Tokyo police. Police will send out cruisers around the hospital and surrounding Tokyo streets asking homeless men, hostesses, and store staff if they've seen anyone matching the picture police have been given by the parents.
All traces of a man named Jack will come to a standstill. After a few days, the parents will head back home and U.S. authorities will file the missing person's case unsolved but keep it open. The U.S. embassy will post a picture and description of Jack asking for his whereabouts. A cash reward of 2 million yen ($20,000) will be offered.
Where did Jack go? The police, the family, friends, Tats, Tokyo, no one knows where Jack has gone. No one can find him. Is he somewhere in Tokyo?
Lost in the crowds of blonde-haired, tanning salon-skinned Japanese teenagers in Shinjuku? Is he wandering amongst the gothic kids near Harajuku Station? Maybe he is looking for something high above in Tokyo Tower or searching for an electronics item in Akihabara. He might be cruising the streets of Roppongi Hills trying to blend in with the hundreds of other foreign American men who have made the land of the rising sun home.
There's an off chance you've seen Jack playing PSP in Ginza at the Sony building or throwing some yen into the temple at the Asakusa shrine. In a city of almost 14 million people, Jack can be anywhere. Is he even alive?
If Jack hadn't broken his phone in the crash or had access to a computer, he would have received an email from a girl named Yuki. He would have read:
Thank you for call to me. I was very happy hearing your voice. Today my father is angry. I buy new hand bag because mine stoled. But he mad because I got stolened. When you call he listens. He hate foreign boys. No trust, maybe I get stolen again.
Sorry. Please meet tomorrow at Ueno Zoo? We see cute Panda together. Thank you much for coming to see me. Lets be friends together.
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