Taking a Japanese Bus Tour. Rule #1: Beer Helps

So I went on this Japanese bus tour last weekend. I don’t really know why. Apparently Japanese people are wild about the bus for some reason, and so I figured eh, maybe it’d be cool. The whole thing started when my iPhone vibrated and The Tanuki was on the other end shouting in rough Japanese,

“Found a great bus trip! You up for it?

I call him The Tanuki after those adorable statues you see in front of rural Japanese shops, grinning like mad above a pair of giant testicles. This is actually a Japanese “thing,” and unfortunately, it rather accurately describes my acquaintance. What can I say, we take a lot of baths together. I know that sounds kind of gay, but that’s how Japan works, with men going to hot springs and getting all naked together. Anyway, the dude’s got giant balls. That’s what I’m saying.

Those notwithstanding, I’m always suspicious of The Tanuki’s ideas, ever since the night he passed out drunk in a karaoke club and I had to sing until dawn with this old bat at the bar. He does stuff like that a lot, but at least we have something in common.

“Bus?” I said, “to where?”

“rnmunmrasan,” he said. “Know it?

“Yeah no, not exactly,” I said.

“It’s near sassafrasasasan.

“Oh, okay,” I said, “And what’s there?

“All-you-can-eat nmunm.

“Say what?

“nmunm!

“Uhh . . . drinks included?

“Yup, for eighty minutes.

“How much?” I asked.

“7000 yen. Next Saturday. Call you later!”

And he hung up.

The Fog of Japan

If you live in Japan, then I know you know what I’m talking about. Lots of time is devoted to going somewhere with someone to do something, without ever being really sure about any of it. So then later I had to explain this to Akiko.

“Let’s go on a drive tomorrow,” she said.

“Can’t,” I said. “I promised The Tanuki I’d go on this bus trip.

“The guy with the big nuts?” she asked. “To where?

“Um, I don’t know.

“Who else is going?

“Yeah, I’m not really sure.

“Are you staying overnight?

“Mmm, don’t think so, but possibly.

“Well if you don’t know where, why are you going?” she demanded.

“I guess to eat something.

“What?

“Maybe crab or something, I think.

“When do you leave?

“Um, in the morning, I’m pretty sure, but he didn’t really say.

“How can you live like that? Do you know anything? Do you even know my birthday? Do you even know my last name?

“Yeah, it’s got like ‘rice field’ in it, and something that looks like ‘fire.’ Ummm . . .

“I’m not speaking to you any more,” she said, and hung up. That happens to me a lot. I wish Japanese people would work on their phone skills.

One Long Japanese Bus Tour

I was still trying to suss out her name as I boarded the tour bus the next morning. The Tanuki was there, along with this dude Imada-san. I was mumbling “Hmm, fiery rice field . . . rice fields ablaze . . .” as Imada-san handed me a beer.

I looked around. “There’s no bathroom on this bus,” I said.

“Ah, good point,” he said, and took the beer back. “Better drink sake instead.”

It was 8 a.m., and by 8:30 the three of us had knocked down a bottle of sake, at which point we launched into three tall beers.

The thing about Japanese bus tours is, if you can’t understand Japanese, the tour guide’s explanations are just a lot of noise. But if you can understand the language, well yeah, okay, it’s actually about the same. It’s always some middle-aged lady droning on for hours like, “See that hill? It used to be a castle a thousand years ago. And on your left—-okay, that’s parking lot, but it used to be a village like a million years ago, with a bunch of huts where the CostCo now is.” Wow, bus tours are fascinating. Now you can be glad you spent ten years learning Japanese.

So we drove around, a lot. I guess that’s kind of implied. Finally we stopped at this factory and ate ground-up fish, and peed. Then we drove over some mountain and on this big highway somewhere eating fish cakes and drinking beer. Then we stopped at some flower orchard and looked at flowers and peed some more. Then we ran out of beer, so we switched to malt liquor. Then went to sleep, woke up, drank some sake, and stopped for lunch. At which time we peed again.

Time in Japan

The thing about Japanese lunch is, you have a full hour to eat it, so you know what that means. The moment the tray hits the table in front of you, you must devour all food items as quickly as possible. I crammed in a mouthful of rice and fish, slugged down a cup of miso soup, and started shoveling in pickles and salad. Already I could see The Tanuki was way ahead of me, but I was beating Imada-san, so I felt okay. We were at this table with thirty other people inhaling lunch like mad, because you don’t want to be the last one done. I don’t know why. That’s just how it works in Japan. I was chopsticking like crazy, plus we’d ordered three big bottles of Kirin, so I was trying to slug that down but the rice kept blocking it. Then just when I figured I was going to finish on time, suddenly Imada-san pushed his tray forward and announced, “Ah, I’m full!”

The bastard. Half his rice and fish were still untouched. He and The Tanuki then proceeded to slam the remainder of their beers and sat there looking at me, waiting. They had nothing to drink, nothing to eat, and nothing to say. They just waited and looked at their watches. And they looked at me, and they said nothing. I quickly grabbed everything in front of me, pickles and rice and fish and salad and shoveled it all in my cheeks and kept cramming like a chipmunk, then poured in the rest of my beer and said,

“Rezzgo.”

At which point we all jumped up, walked thirty feet, sat down at another table and ordered beer and dried squid. I was still chewing salad. The tour guide said to be back at 12:30, and when we finished our beers, it was 12:20. Well, ten minutes to spare, I figured, so that’s good. But when we got back on the bus, everybody was already sitting there silently, waiting for us, staring. So then we drank a few malt liquors, fell asleep, woke up, drank a couple more, stopped at some museum, saw art, and peed.

Then we got back on the bus, at which point I had a revelation. This happens a lot when I drink, which is the great thing about alcohol. Like, let’s play a game, okay? Okay. I’ll say a form of transportation, and you say the first word that pops into your head. Ready? Airplane.

“Fast,” you’ll say. Okay, that was an easy one.

Train.

“Orient Express!” Well, that’s two words, but I’ll let it go, ’cause I know what you mean.

Bus.

“Oh God, please kill me now. Just let me pee first.”

Right? Like who’s ever said, Let’s go Greyhound!, and you’re like, The bus? That freaking rocks! Yeah, no one ever, because the bus is like getting a lobotomy on wheels plus a bunch of snoring old people. Okay, maybe that’s not much of a revelation, but hey, I was drunk. Anyway, I guess I should have thought about the whole bus thing before signing up, but well, eh, life’s full of regrets. Whatever.

Japanese People Love Strange Things

But Japanese folks, man, they adore bus trips. They’ve got all these colorful flyers talking about how you can see tons of historic places and visit museums and orchards and fish factories and basically they’re just throwing together a bunch of shit that you wouldn’t want to do anyway but everyone’s like Wow, a fish factory, awesome. Yeah, the trip was so awesome that eventually the sun went down and all the stars came out and still we drove over mountains for like two more hours and The Tanuki kept making this joke about tying a rubber band around his dick because he had to pee so bad and then finally we stopped for dinner, which was an all-you-can-eat and drink buffet. I was completely full and ridiculously drunk and all I really wanted to do was lie under a table and sleep, but since I’d paid like seventy bucks I figured I might as well get my money’s worth. You can’t argue with economics.

You know how people say Japanese folks are all polite and everything? Yeah well try putting a steaming plate of crabs in front of them with an 80-minute time limit. Elbows and crabs went everywhere as all these grannies grabbed massive armloads and started clawing back to their tables. It was ugly. I tried to reach over this old broad and she snatched a crab leg out of my right hand, so I went left under somebody’s uncle who pinned my elbow in a kung-fu maneuver until Boom, instantly all the crab was gone. I was like, daaaaamn, Japanese people. Meanwhile I looked over at Imada and The Tanuki and they were already at a table with about sixteen beers, furiously slicing up crab legs with scissors. Freaking pros.

Eventually more crab arrived, of course, along with piles of fresh sashimi and scallops grilled in their shells and vinegar-glazed gyoza and ramen noodles in miso broth and potato cheese balls and we all had half a dozen more beers and went to the bathroom two more times and then got back on the bus and immediately fell asleep. Then suddenly we were back at the station. I sent Akiko a text.

“Made it back,” I said.

“Welcome home,” she replied. “Can you come over?

“Okay,” I said. “Give me like five minutes. The Tanuki and I are just gonna have one more beer.”

Then three hours later, I started heading her way on the last train. I was all full of crab and beer and felt immensely happy. Oh man this, I thought, has got to be the greatest way to travel ever. Gotta love the train. And I was so naturally relaxed that I fell asleep and missed my stop and had to take a taxi to her place. But still happy. At least it wasn’t the damn bus.