I arrived back in Japan on the 28th, just in time to pick my friend Matt up at the airport. He is staying until the 16th; almost 3 whole weeks. Look at those great, sarcastic smiles!
I wait several hours for his flight to arrive, sitting in a cart with my own bags watching the gate from the baggage claim. He fails to appear, or somehow sneaks past me, and I eventually get a call from him.
Matt: "Me and Yasu just got off the plane. Where are you?"
Me: "I am waiting right at the gate. Who the hell is Yasu?"
Matt: "This guy I sat next to on the plane and drank under the table. I think his name is Yasuyuki. We're friends now and he invited me to his parent's house in Nara. He's 30 years old!"
Me: "Okay...Well, I hope Yasu has his own place to stay, because he isn't living with me."
Yasu is a 30 year old Japanese guy who just got back from California, where he was living in his car for the last few months. He apparently makes elaborate leather bracelets, and has offered Matt both a bracelet and a place to stay in Nara. I'm not really sure how to deal with this information at the time.
Eventually we meet up. Matt is wired, both with the energy from being in Japan and from a potent caffeine/alcohol binge he's been working on for the last 12 hours. He's also really loud, because he's excited, has been drinking on the plane, and also is just not adjusted to the volume of Japanese conversation. It's a little frightening, this much energy, when I'm exhausted from my night flight from Bangkok with no sleep. We take the train back to Tokyo as he goes from napping straight into regaling me with a story about the hot stewardesses on the plane. In a preview of what is to come, he has taken 10 pictures of and with the women, most of which are blurry and perhaps one of which is necessary, but he insists on keeping all of them. For the rest of the night, he periodically veers up and down from comatose to manic.
We go out to dinner and then, after dropping our bags off at the nearby hotel, to the Asakusa temple which is lit up at night. This is amusing because Matt recognizes it from my pictures from two years ago, even attempts to reproduce my photo with his camera. We stumble back to the hotel afterward to get some sleep.
The next day is Harajuku, Shibuya, Takadanobaba and Waseda, Shinjuku and dinner in Shibuya. We walk around these varied neighborhoods of Tokyo but I wonder if it is at all differentiable to Matt right now, as overwhelming as the city is normally, not to mention when one is as jetlagged and disoriented as Matt is. We're in and out of stations and department stores, experiences that are so routine to me that I am unable to understand why Matt keeps taking pictures or wanting to look at the food at a department store. I am trying to be a bit of a tour guide, but I'm unsure if what I say is sinking in; whether he is deliberately ignoring me or just unable to concentrate. At least he seems to notice when I point out the costume that a popular tv character, "Hard Gay" likes to wear.
We have lunch with my friend Yumi who Matt met last year when she studied abroad at Berkeley. Matt takes a series of pictures that accentuate the ridiculous differences in height, shape and color that characterize Yumi and I side by side. Again, perhaps 5 too many pictures. Matt laughs at my outfit, but I maintain what would seem absurd in Encinitas doesn't go far enough here; my jeans aren't tight or my clothes flashy enough. We meet Maiko and have dinner at a traditional Japanese tonkatsu(pork cutlet) restaurant and then take the bullet train back to Hamamatsu.
The 30th is a day of rest for me, though Matt rides his bike around town like a maniac in the morning. He arrives back wide-eyed and eager to lay at my feet all the details of his exploits, which I endure like a weary mother with a kid she doesn't realy love. He does take a cool picture of the giant concrete jacks at the beach near my apartment that break up the heavy surf though.
We visit the city the next day, I show him the bombed out Soviet prison that passes for my school and we see Hamamatsu castle before returning back home. It's New Years Eve so we drink in earnest - Matt his 3 liter jug of Kirin beer and I a myriad of alcohols - and rush towards the city on our bikes in a whirlwind of drunken anticipation. Awaiting us is a vast expanse of closed bars and restaurants with a smattering of wandering revelers. The bars are closed on New Years Eve! I knew it was a bit of a religious holiday here - what passes for religion in Japan anyway - but I really didn't expect this. We eventually find a place however, and though surrounded only by a group of weird Japanese guys who get drunk too fast and too obnoxiously, we manage to pass the New Year in a sufficiently foreign style, coming home to lay down and sleep in until late the next day.
Matt wakes up the next day and goes swimming in the ocean. Nothing could possess me to do this, because it attains no special quality for being an ocean in Japan to me; it's too damn cold to be swimming regardless of place. He takes too long getting back and I begin to worry, wondering if I should go look for him. I don't worry so much that I actually do leave to look for him though. He later describes the water as so cold that he felt warmer getting out, in the 40 something degree cold and high winds. We spend a quiet day because we are going back to Tokyo the following morning...