Knowing what happened after the last time I met my friends, the pressure was on. Aya’s parents had moved away from Kuki since then, and what made this visit a little more stressful is that I couldn’t walk home after going to the bar. I had to take the train back home an hour away. So the trick would be to not miss the last train for the night. If I missed the last train for the night, well, let’s just say that wouldn’t be a good thing. Aya’s mom gave me a curfew of 12:30am and said if I missed it, she wouldn’t let me in, and Aya wouldn’t be allowed to let me in either. She was joking of course… I think.
Before I left for Kuki, we went over the train schedule and they helped be pick which trains to take and where I had to switch. I only had to make one switch each way, so it seemed easy enough. I had the cell phone in my pant pocket, the phone number, my train route written down, and my man bag. As I left they said, “You know how to get there, right?” and I responded, “just leave a pillow outside the door just in case,” and I was off.
I had specific instructions on taking the train to Kuki. I had to take the Hibiyai line to Kita-Senju (I was told to be in the second car) then dash down the stairs, make a hard left, then go down those stairs again and take the Tobu-Isezeki line express train to Kuki. Oh boy. I don’t like the Tobu line. It’s like a train for the hill people. Every time I’ve been on it before, there was usually some sloppy drunk stinky guy that could barely stay awake and kept falling over on me. Most trains also have an English speaking recorded voice that announces the stops in addition to the Japanese voice. But the times I’ve been on the Tobu line, they only have a train conductor that mumbles the stops. “mumble-mumble-shi desu.” Huh!? What did he say!? Ugh, the Tobu line all the way to Kuki? I was getting worried.
Once on the train, they did have signage that flashed to English and had the English announcements. Phew. But the part that had me worried was that there is usually an announcement in English saying, for example, “Welcome to the Tobu line, this train bound for Kuki.” But they didn’t have that, it just said, “Welcome to the Tobu line, the next stop is…” But the Japanese announcement afterwards said all kinds of things then ended with “Kuki uki desu.” Kuki uki?! I want to go to Kuki, not Kuki-uki?!! Is that the same place? I sure hope so!
Well, I arrived safely in Kuki and later found out that “Kuki uki” means, “bound for Kuki.” OOOOhhh. Yes, of course. That’s what I assumed. Totally…
Once I arrived in Kuki, I went to the bar my friends and I were to meet at, and there they were, just like two years ago.
“HI! Konnichiwa!” we both said excited to see each other.
And then silence. Now what?
It was a little awkward at first as we still didn’t know each other’s language. So to break the ice, I showed them pictures of Ellie, and they made me take an English test on their iPhone. I’m happy to say I passed! We had some food and a few drinks and the conversation eventually picked up considering the language barrier. This mainly consisted of us asking each other questions. “What is your favorite Japanese food?” Or me asking, “Do you listen to American music?” Or me getting made fun of for liking Japanese Enka music (old people music), or me teasing them for liking Justin Bieber. Justin Biber?! Really? But then again, I found I like a popular girl group called Girl’s Generation. After a little while, they announced we were going to another bar. One even closer to the train station. All through this, I was watching my watch like a hawk, and they noticed. I need to catch the 11:04pm train. So they started watching their watches too.
At the other bar we chatted with a few more people, mainly about music. I was praised for liking Pearl Jam and Coldplay and was told I looked like Johnny Depp by two people. Maybe they think that about all Americans with facial hair and messy hair…I don’t see it, but I’ll take it as a compliment. And when it seemed like we should do something else or pull the plug, one of their English speaking friends arrived which helped further the conversation a little more. Still eyeing the clock like a hawk, I noticed the time was 10:38pm. I did not want to get in trouble. I figured I had till 10:55pm to get me to my train platform in plenty of time. It was a really small station and I was just a two minute walk away. But somehow without any of us noticing, the time jumped to 11:01pm. My train leaves in three minutes! I GOTTA GO!
My friends ran with me to the station and followed me in and just as I got to the bottom of the stairs, the doors closed right in front of me and the train took off. I missed it? I missed the train? Uh oh! I MISSED THE TRAIN!
I went to the other platform where I could catch the FINAL train to Kita-Senju. But after a few minutes my friends came running down the stairs shouting, “No, no, no! Don’t take train!”
But this goes to Kita-Senju, right?
“NO! Come here, take train to Ueno. Take Joban line to home. You know? Okay?”
The guy working the booth at the station came out and swiped my card and ushered me to the platform and said, “Run!” My friends came down, we said our good-byes and I was off. Hopefully I’m on the right train, and hopefully I’m getting home by 12:30am. I forgot to leave a pillow outside the door, I think to myself.
The original train plan was going to get me back to the train station at home by midnight. Her mom joked that I could even stop for coffee and make it home in time. So while sitting on the train glaring at my watch figuring out the time in my head I just thought, “As far as anyone is concerned, I just stopped for coffee.” But when it was 12:15am and Aya called the phone while I was still on the train, I began to panic. I couldn’t answer the phone for two reasons. One, no one talks on the phone on the train. No one. It’s highly frowned upon and people actually follow the rules and mind their manners here. And two, if I answered, she’d be able to tell I was still on the train. Yikes! I would call as soon as I got off the train and say I stopped for coffee and didn’t hear the phone. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do. But she called again just a minute later. Ugh! I was going to get caught!
I answered the phone as the train doors opened and started booking it home. By this time, I had to fess up to Aya, but I still needed to make it home by 12:30am, and it was 12:24am now. It’s normally a ten or fifteen minute walk to her parent’s building from the train station, then up the elevator to the seventh floor.
So I ran. I ran down the stairs, and started running down the street towards the apartment. Down the streets, through the neighborhood, through the front doors, in the elevator up to the seventh floor, down the hall, through the gate, and when I opened the door to the apartment pretending to not be out of breath. I looked at my watch. 12:30am. No problem!
My friends did not realize I wasn’t staying in Kuki this trip and was coming from so far away. I guess it was one of those facts that got lost in translation in my e-mail. But they agreed to meet me closer next time. Maybe I’ll even bring an English-Japanese dictionary and research all my other possible train routes. But what would be the fun in that?