Love Hotel

Excerpt from my book, BIG LIKE: CASCADE INTO AN ODYSSEY.

Tokyo, April 1996. Our fingers laced together, we mosey from the Imperial Palace through Hibiya Park to Ginza’s shopping avenues. She picks a café on the second floor, and we settle into Viennese-coffeehouse armchairs by a floor-to-ceiling window. I’m the only male in the place. On the menu, only the prices are legible.

“What’s this?” I ask about the cheapest item.

“Coffee.”

“Irish coffee with a double shot of single-malt whisky?”

“Black coffee.”

“For this much?”

“That’s Ginza.”

We order it. Well, she orders it. The waitress serves us two demitasse of coffee with utmost daintiness and angles the spoons on the saucers just so. But the coffee itself is oxidized filter coffee, barely better than dealership coffee.

“I’m so glad you came to Japan,” she says.

“Did you doubt I would?”

“People promise things all the time that never happen.”

“I don’t promise much, but when I do, I try to stick to it.”

“I like that.”

“I was worried you wouldn’t want to see me.”

“Not want to see you? Why?”

“You might have met someone, for example.”

“Yes, that could have happened,” she says.

We talk about her classes and about woodcarvings in Bali and about the Red Centre of Australia (“I’ve never been in a desert,” she says), and there’s still no discernable next.

I pay the cashier on the way out, which is what all the other customers have done. I don’t count the change because it may be considered impolite, my guidebook says. I just shove it into my pocket. I want to be a good gaijin. I want to follow the rules.

On the landing, the waitress catches up with us. She stretches out her right hand, palm facing up, and supports it with the fingertips of her left hand. On her palm is some money. She says something to Izumi, who nods. Something embarrassing has happened. They steal a glance at me. It’s my fault. Maybe I didn’t pay enough.

“It seems you forgot some money on the table,” Izumi says to me.

“Oh that. It’s her tip.”

“We don’t tip.”

The waitress offers me her tip. I can feel myself flush.

“Arigato gozaimasu,” I say as I take it off her palm, and I nod the way I’ve observed Japanese men nod. “Thank you very much” is the only phrase I remember from four hours of grueling class, but that may have been the wrong thing to say in this situation.

“Why didn’t you tell me at the table?” I ask once we’re outside.

“I didn’t notice.”

“You didn’t see the tip in the middle of the table?”

“I didn’t look.”

It’s dark already, and Ginza has been transformed into a sound-and-light show of brilliant billboards, signs, and storefronts. Pedestrians pulse through backstreets lined with restaurants, bars, and clubs. Touts bow and hand out cards to men, to Japanese men—not to me, and not to girls either.

Izumi chooses a dining bar. In Tours, I was in charge. Now she is. She translates the menu, and she orders. We drink wine and eat tapas-sized portions with knife and fork. She explains each dish. Familiar flavors are paired in surprising ways with exotic touches, and we ooh and aah with each bite. At some point, I suggest that I’d also enjoy eating Japanese food.

“This is Japanese food,” she says. “Japanese-Western fusion. We eat it a lot.”

“I mean the food you eat with chopsticks.”

“We’ll have plenty of opportunities,” she laughs. She’s happy to be here with me, happy with the status quo, with eating and drinking and laughing together, and nothing more. She doesn’t ache for my body as I ache for hers.

We’re back on the street. I want to peel off her clothes but can’t figure out the logistics. My apartment has zero privacy. We have to find a love hotel. I’ve read about them in my guidebook. But I don’t see any, don’t even know what to look for. I’m hoping she’ll suggest one, but she doesn’t. I’m wondering if I should ask her, but it would probably violate a rule. And we’re in Ginza station. It’s midnight. It’s over. There won’t be a love hotel. She makes sure I buy a ticket for the right amount.

“Follow the red ring,” she says at a fork in the corridor.

“Which red ring?” I don’t see it because I’m still thinking about love hotels.

“That one.” She points at a red ring half a foot in diameter painted on the wall. “Get on the train to Ikebukuro. From there, you know.”

“Can we get together tomorrow?”

She considers it. “Three thirty at the lunchroom?”

“Perfect.”

We kiss so lightly it isn’t even a kiss. Then she melds into the flow of dark suits and outfits, some staggering, others holding on to each other in the midnight rush to catch the last train home.

Excerpt from my book, BIG LIKE: CASCADE INTO AN ODYSSEY.

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