Japan’s a never-ending list of woulda, coulda, and shoulda’s. And chart-topping that vertical-ruled kanji notepad is: Shoulda remembered how I felt about Disneyland.
But hey, hindsight’s 20-20, Mickey Mouse. Go on wit’ yer oversized hands.
Living in Japan
When I first got to this nation, everything was amaaazing. I sat in Starbucks overlooking Shibuya scramble and marveled at the 4-way confluence of humanity weaving its way across Tokyo. Somehow I found myself talking to a cute girl with orange hair from Korea and we took polaroids together. Then a couple of beers later, the bronze statue of Hachiko the dog, a random hostess bar, dancing in Gas Panic, weaving drunkenly through seas of neon and Chinese prostitutes until finally eating bowls of glowing ramen in some ramshackle late-night noodle shop. It was brilliant.
“Man, I could never get tired of Japan!” I actually said this to my brother on the phone the following day.
“Dude, that’s what you said about California,” he replied.
“Yeah, but Japan’s different,” I said. “You don’t understand.”
I really gotta be more careful in my pronouncements.
Getting into Disneyland
You know, people spend hundreds of dollars for their families to have a day at Disneyland. They even blow cash on planes and hotels just to get there and line up for hours. It’s strange, but hey, that’s love. They’re all, “Man, we could never get tired of Buzz Lightyear!”
So Japan’s the same way. It’s great to visit, it really is. But fall in love too deeply and you start thinking you can live there forever. Then it’ll be Cinderella’s Castle 24-7, land of dreams, move in and lock the gates behind you. Nothing could ever go wrong with that plan.
Maybe that’s what I thought as well, to the extent I considered it all all. After that, the ante goes up quickly, not only because you’re locked in, but also because nobody sails Finding Nemo’s Submarine for free. So you take some mindless job sweeping up the concession stand or teaching English that sucks up 40 hours of your time and energy. And after that and doing all the attractions over and over for a couple years, you wake up hungover on Saturdays thinking, “Screw Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride; I’d rather stay in my underwear watching YouTube.”
Nothing wrong with that; it’s mighty comfy. But pretty soon, it becomes every Saturday, and Sunday. Until finally, you make an effort. Blast on some deodorant, excavate a pair of Levi’s from the laundry, and head out. And when you get to Splash Mountain, the old lady working there says,
“Maybe you’d prefer Pinocchio’s Daring Journey?”
“No…,” you reply, “I’m pretty sure I wanted Splash Mountain.”
“The Mountain requires that you read these instructions, which you’re undoubtedly incapable of.”
“Uh, and what makes you assume that?” you ask.
“Because you don’t look like Mickey, Minney, Donald, or Goofy.”
“Look, Mabel,” you say, “Ya see me here every day. What part of I-live-in-Disneyland do you not get?”
“Perhaps you’d like Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon?” Mabel says helpfully.
So that’s every ride, but still you queue up for them. Partly because, well, there’s not that much else to do. And then some random guy sidles up beside you and says, “Hey, where you from?” And you’re like “Disneyland! What?” But he turns out to be an all right dude, so you figure eh, maybe the folks here are actually okay and nice. Simple, friendly people. Salt of the earth.
But then, every time you’re in line, the same thing happens. It’s weird. They don’t stand next to anybody else. It’s always, “Hey, where you from?” or “Oh, you line up so well. Just like one of us.” And you’re like, “Um, I live here. Not United Kingdom, Magic Kingdom.” Until it starts to dawn on you: maybe these folks aren’t really all that friendly. Maybe they’re just talking to me so they can advance their position in this long line.
Ah, don’t be so skeptical.
And then one day, a pretty girl starts talking with you. She’s got great eyelashes, and with legs and a skirt like that, hell, you’d let her cut in your line any day.
She doesn’t even ask where you’re from, or comment upon the fact that you can eat the spiral-cut fries. And as you’re chatting, she casually says, “Hey, you’ve got the key, right?”
“Key?” you ask, “What key?”
“You know, to the gate,” she says. “You could leave, right?”
“Yeah, I mean, I guess,” you reply. What a strange question. Can’t everyone?
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
So you start hanging out together. She’s a lot of fun. You ride the Matterhorn, have dinner at the Rainforest Cafe. And then after one particularly big night of sashimi, Thai spring rolls, multiple cans of chu-hi, and a couple hours of karaoke, you wake up and can’t find the key. You frantically check all your pockets, turn your socks inside-out, look under the futon, but it’s nowhere to be found. So over a breakfast of rice, salad, and tamagoyaki, you ask as calmly as possible,
“Hey, um, don’t suppose you’ve seen the key anywhere, have you?”
“I’m two weeks late on my period,” she replies.
Oooh. Guess Pinocchio shoulda kept his little, pointy hat on. Now you ain’t going anywhere, at least not by yourself. Looks like you’ll be spending the next thirty years wearing mouse ears and looking forward to a weekly paddling of Davy Crockett’s canoe.
And that, in a nutshell, is Japan. It’s pretty clean, the workers dress all funny, act polite, and it’s reasonable safe. Not many people getting murdered at Disneyland either. But you pay to ride, and nothing’s fun forever. Of course, whether you choose to permanently sew yourself into the Mickey costume or not is up to you, but you might want to hang on to that key, just in case. Swallow it with a big gulp of malt liquor or something. ‘Cause you never know when you might need to pull that out of your tail.