Daylight was fading fast and the buildings of this unfamiliar city loomed over Chase Virgil’s head like the futuristic monoliths of another world. A quiet young man from Nebraska, Chase never dreamed he would be staring up at the brilliance of downtown Tokyo. Yet as exciting and new as this all was, he’d never before felt so alone.
The city streets were bustling with activity. Many leaving work, going to work, or headed out for drinks with colleagues and friends. It was a chaotic whirlwind of motion that threatened to send Chase’s head spinning. A few blocks in Tokyo contained more people than his entire hometown. A fact he knew when he planned this once in a lifetime trip. But it was something he wasn’t able to fully comprehend until he found himself standing in the middle of the city on this cold Friday night.
“Uh, sumimasen.” Chase stopped a random man walking by using one of the must-know Japanese words he’d learned online. “Do you know where, uh, the Goru, um, Gōrudenparesu Hotel is?”
The man stared back at him with a blank face. His cheeks were slightly flushed and he wore a wrinkled blue suit that sported a few wet spots going down one side.
“Hotel. In Ginza?” Chase followed up.
Even though his Japanese pronunciation wasn’t too bad, his Nebraskan accent seemed to hit Japanese ears the wrong way. Even the English speakers he’d met struggled to understand him.
“Um,” Chase pulled out a small notepad from his pocket and flipped through a few pages before stopping on one. “Matsu, uh, Matsuya dori,” he said, pointing to what he had written on the paper.
He was already cursing himself for letting his cell phone die. If he could look up the street name on Google Maps he wouldn’t be making a fool of himself like this.
The older Japanese man, who was much shorter than Chase and looked almost childlike in comparison to the sturdy country boy, leaned in and studied the paper for what felt like several minutes.
“Īe, bīru ga hoshīdesu!” the man suddenly blurted out, throwing his hands in the air like the overexaggerated host of a Japanese game show.
Bewildered, all Chase could do was stare at the man and try again. “Excuse, um, sumimasen?”
“Bīru! Bīru!” the man started chanting.
The man’s face took on a deeper scarlet color which spread down to his neck. His pupils were enlarged and gave his brown eyes a dull glassy sheen that clashed with his jolly and overly excited demeanor. As the man chanted, a pungent blast of alcohol vapors stung Chase’s nostrils. Judging by the smell, he had probably been imbibing on something a bit stronger than beer.
“Please, sir. Where is Matsuya dori? Chase tapped his finger once more to the street name written in his notebook. “Matsuya dori?” he asked in a raised voice to penetrate the barrage of bīru chants.
The man stopped chanting. He furrowed his brows and cocked his head to the side as if he were deep in thought. “Hmm, I wonder?” the man mumbled in rough English, scratching the graying stubble on his chin. He looked toward the ground and began shaking his head side-to-side in a slow, almost robotic motion.
Chase’s focus shifted to the way his heart pounded in his ears and the feeling of cold sweat trickling down his armpits. He was hyper-aware of how many people were now walking past him from all directions. It was as if a fleet of buses had let out. There were few times in life that he’d experienced such a feeling of intense claustrophobia outside.
It reminded him of when he was a boy and his father had taken him to a Cornhuskers game at Memorial Stadium. At the time, it was the farthest he’d ever been away from the family farm.
Staring out at a sea of red t-shirts brought on both excitement and fear. The chanting, trumpets blaring, yelling, stomping, and cheering of nearly 90,000 people was overwhelming. The only thing to get him through that first trip to Memorial Stadium was the strong grip he had on his father’s hand throughout the game. It was only when they were in his father’s old pickup truck on the way back home did Chase dare to let go.
Now, in the chaotic streets of the Ginza district in Tokyo, there was no hand to squeeze. There was no safety net to protect him from the crazy world or the nameless strangers that inhabited it. For the first time in his life, Chase was all alone. Well, except for the drunk Japanese man standing before him.
“You go,” the Japanese man’s sudden use of English snapped Chase back to reality. The man paused, then pointed down the street toward a tall building in the distance. “That way. Bar, High Five!” The man threw his open hand in the air and waved it around wildly like a tree branch in a storm.
“What, uh, sumimas—”
“High Five! We go now.” The man’s eyes widened like that of a wild animal. “Drink.” Chase knew what was coming before the man said the word. “Bīru! Bīru!”
The man tugged on Chase’s arm, trying to get him to go in the direction he had pointed to a moment ago. When Chase didn’t budge, the man clicked his tongue loudly and shouted something in Japanese. He continued his chant as he skip-walked through a crowd and made his way down the street. It surprised Chase how few people paid the strange fellow any attention.
The distant crowd swallowed the man, who even in Japan would be considered short. Chase looked around the congested street and thought about what he should do. When he’d left the hotel in the early morning, he hadn’t expected to stay out so late. Which is why he didn’t bother to bring his phone charger with him.
With his first full day in Japan, Chase had planned on a fun jaunt through the city: going to an art museum, checking out a popular sushi shop, taking pictures at a sculpture park, and a few other touristy things he had found online. He thought it would be easier to play things safe by following a typical vacation itinerary until he got a feel for the city.
For over a year he’d read up on Japanese customs and watched countless videos about the culture and what a foreigner should and should not do in the country. But even with all this preparation, the language barrier was an enormous obstacle to overcome. Though many in the city could speak some English—and there was English on a lot of the street signs and storefronts—someone like Chase coming from a small rural town was sure to get hit extra hard by the culture shock.
That morning he’d managed to catch a taxi to the museum and was able to walk to the sushi shop just fine. He was even feeling pretty good about himself after speaking to and befriending a group of local university students at a sculpture park. But when it was time to go back to the hotel to charge his phone and prepare for the Tokyo nightlife, he’d made the mistake of checking out a pachinko parlor first.
It was supposed to be a goof—an excuse to take a few funny pictures of “crazy” Japan for his recently created travel blog—but he quickly found himself immersed in the bright flashing lights and the cacophony of bells and whistles. He’d only planned on looking around for a few minutes, but then he bumped into a kind old woman who was insistent on showing him how the games worked. Between her broken English and his nervousness about coming across as rude, Chase ended up staying much longer than he’d planned. Five minutes of funny footage turned into over an hour of wacky games and lost money.
By the time he’d gotten out of there, it was late afternoon and traffic was picking up at a tremendous rate. More troubling, when he’d tried bringing up the map on his phone, the battery flashed a dreaded 3%. Somehow, he had hit the video record button after he’d finished taking pictures of the parlor. Now he had a solid hour worth of footage featuring the inside of his pants’ pocket saved to his phone.
Even though the map wouldn’t load at such a low battery level, he used the final minute of juice to write down the name and address of his hotel. He scribbled the info frantically into his notebook—bringing it along was one of the only smart moves he’d made today—but the phone died before he could make sure everything was written down correctly.
That was nearly two hours ago. In that time the sun had set and Chase had walked in what he assumed was the correct direction. He’d stopped in a few convenience stores to ask for directions but nobody spoke English well enough to help him. Though everyone he’d talked to was nice enough to try to find him some assistance, his thick American accent and poorly written information made the undertaking too daunting.
Coupled with his introverted, “don’t want to be a bother to anyone” personality, and Chase soon realized he was a perpetually lost 23-year-old gaijin wandering alone through a busy shopping area of Tokyo. Fortunately, a clerk at a sunglasses shop had informed him that he was in the Ginza district of Tokyo, so his hotel was somewhere nearby.
With that news, his anxiety eased up and his panic had diminished. One of the tall buildings in the distance had to be his hotel; a hotel that happened to be way too elegant and beyond his budget. He had booked it on accident, thinking it was one of the cheaper hotels in the area. Though, much to his dismay, he found out after checking in that there weren’t any “cheap” hotels in the immediate area. His was the cheapest in the high-end Ginza shopping district, but the price was still higher than what he wanted to pay. So after clearing things up with the concierge, it was decided that he’d stay one night in Ginza and then head south the next morning so he could check into a cost-efficient capsule hotel for the rest of his stay in Japan.