The invitations for the aforementioned Housecooling Sayonara Sale have been sent, the ryokan for the Snow Monkey Onsen in Nagano is booked and the “To Do” checklist has been drawn up. Today’s mission: Donate Unwanted Clothes to the Salvation Army.
I tried to do this before, a couple of months ago. I crammed a suitcase full of clothes that a) I brought from New York, believing I’d have to wear suits to work every day and b) I bought in Japan, foolishly believing they’d look good on me. My first attempt to unload the clothes had failed because after 2 years in Japan, I still have trouble finding places on a map. I’ve never been good at following directions or maps – period. Add scores of unmarked, skewed streets to my slow Japanese-reading skills and you’ve got one perpetually lost, clueless gal.
After dumping a few of his unwanted pairs of slacks into my suitcase, Sean drew me a map that he copied from the Salvation Army’s website.
“Sean, this is all in Japanese.”
“Couldn’t you just add some romaji subtitles so that I can read it faster?”
“You should be able to read this by now. They’re simple kanji.”
“I can read most of them but it takes a long time. Can’t just you make it a little more E-friendly?”
“Fine,” he said and scribbled the word “Izumiya” in romaji. “You need to go straight and then turn here, at the Izumiya supermarket.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I was hoping you’d translate some of the kanji you’ve scrawled but sure – translating no-brainer katakana is nice, too.”
“You’re welcome!” he said sunnily. “And don’t forget – you need to go to Te
So I went to the train station and stared at the map. No Tenmabashi on the JR Osaka or JR Loop lines. Sean must have meant to take the subway. So I did, lugging my heavy suitcase up and down the stairs. When I arrived at Tenmabashi, I compared the station’s map to Sean’s map and found almost no similarities. It was a Bad Japanese Day so I didn’t dare risk asking anyone which direction I should head. Instead, I lugged the suitcase up and down the mainstreet a few times, staring at each office building in hopes that things would start looking familiar or that the kanji for Salvation Army would leap out at me. When it never did, I gave up and went home. I still had time to find the place, I said. Plus, my arms ached.
This morning, I made up my mind that today would be Salvation Army Day. Sean had since laughed himself silly while informing me that I needed to go to Tenma, – not Tenmabashi as he’d told me – so that was my (actually his) mistake. No wonder I couldn’t find the place! As I hoisted my suitcase yet again, we went over the map a few more times together.
“Don’t forget,” he said. “Turn at the Izumiya. Just look for the supermarket and you’ll be grand.”
I started to feel nervous, envisioning myself dragging my suitcase up and down the streets yet again.
“Oh, Sean,” I pleaded. “Can’t you just go yourself – or come with me? You’re so much better at finding places on maps than I am and this suitcase is heavy for me.”
“Now, now, you’ll be fine.” Sean said. “Just use your logic.”
He didn’t have to gloat quite so much at that last part but, fine. I’d go and I’d show Mr. Smugpants that I could find a landmark on his fuzzy map. I went to the JR station, plunking in my money for the correct stop, and headed to the elevator with the heavy suitcase.
An hour later, I was completely lost. I’d walked down a neon-lit shotengai for 40 minutes and had seen hide nor hair of an Izumiya. Furious, I called Sean.
“Didja find it?” he chirped.
“No!” I shouted. “Your map doesn’t match the one at the train station – again!”
“Of course it does.”
“It doesn’t! And then I went to the Ward Office to see if they knew where it was -”
“How did you end up at the Ward Office?”
“It’s right next to the train station. So I asked the information desk and they called City Information and she told me I had to keep going straight down the shotengai and I’ve been walking and walking and there’s no Izumiya!”
“Are you sure now that’s what she said? Are you really, really sure?”
“Cause, you know, you do tend to misunderstand people when they speak to you in Japanese.”
“Well, I sort of understood her! She said to go zutto down the shotengai and I’ve been going freaking zutto for 40 minutes and there’s just no Izumiya …”
“Calm down, calm down.”
“… and I’ve been dragging this stupid suitcase for an hour and I just feel like an idiot.”
Maddeningly, Sean only chuckled on the other line.
“Oh, E,” he said. “You really can’t find anything on a map, can you?”
“I guess I can’t!”
“Calm down, calm down. Okay. Why don’t you come home, so? I’ll just go myself on Thursday.”
Finally – the words I’d wanted him to say in the first place.
“Okay,” I said miserably. I yanked the suitcase around and faced the direction from which I’d just come. The shotengai’s ceiling was decorated with shrine torii in blues, greens, and reds. Tasty-smelling restaurants and bookstores beckoned me from every side. I began to drag my suitcase again and as I walked, I stewed. Even if I was having a Good Japanese Day to begin with, getting lost again made me feel hopelessly stupid. Moving Day is coming so fast it’s making me dizzy and I no longer have the time to mess around, hoisting heavy suitcases through busy side streets, looking like a lost tourist. And Sean – always so smug. I could hear his Cheshire Cat grin spread across his face even through my cell phone. I glanced again at the map he’d drawn for me – clutched and smeared by now – and felt glum. Why were things like this so easy for Sean? The man has a nose like a bloodhound; two days into his life in Japan and he was already leading Meir and I around town by the hand. Logic and symbols make sense to him, whereas all they do is set my mind spinning. No wonder he majored in Math and no wonder I spent my college days deconstructing novels.
After I’d walked for about 10 minutes, I decided to cheer myself up a bit by playing a round of Taiko Drum at a nearby arcade. Then I browsed a bookstore and had a friendly tete-a-tete with a smiling yellow pooch at a beauty supply boutique. My mood – if not my suitcase – was beginning to lighten and I tried to make the best of my afternoon. It was dinner time and my stomach growled. I peered into restaurants, wondering which would cheer me up more – sushi or nabe? I stood in front of a sushi bar window, gauging the prices of their nigiri sets when I saw it: the restaurant’s name.
Izumiya? Like the popular grocery store chain?
Wait a second.
I craned my neck into the alley just left of the restaurant. Trumpets blared, angels sang, and clouds parted – there, just a few meters down from Izumiya Sushi Bar was the Salvation Army. Fifteen minutes later and one suitcase load lighter, I set home – my chest bursting with pride. I rolled my suitcase faster, giddy with its lightness and the satisfaction of having completed an important task; number 4 on a monster checklist of items, a task that had gnawed at me for weeks. Izumiya restaurant! I giggled madly to myself. Not Izumiya supermarket!
And in all this, my greatest bit of comfort was that cool, logical Sean would have gotten lost, too.