It didn't start out well.
I arrived in Osaka with no idea of what time it was. A 17 hour time difference required math that I wasn't prepared to do when I was profoundly jet lagged. All I know is that it suddenly was the next day and I was on the other side of the world and the other side of the world appeared to be made entirely of neon and concrete. The city was sinfully ugly.
The taxi brought me to an apartment complex that was to be home for the next three months. I was greeted in the lobby by a blandly handsome American who showed me to my apartment. It was unremarkable with the exception of the bathroom and separate bathing room, which took up exactly half the apartment's square footage.
The Japanese take their bathrooms very seriously. There was a Toto toilet that had a dozen buttons on the side - god knows what they were for. The seat opened automatically when you walked in the room. It was one hell of a toilet. One point for Japan!
After dropping my bags, I was shown my bike. My guide told me we were riding to the 99 yen store. I hadn't been on a bike in decades and after practically time traveling my way across the world I was in no mood to try. But he insisted.
This is how jet lagged I was - it took me two days to realize that everything in the 99 yen store was 99 yen.
The next day I met my coworkers. Little did I know I was meeting someone who would become one of my all time most favorite people in the world - Digger. This is Digger:
I also heard a story from a particularly talented singer with a bit of a sketchy past, about falling asleep in a crack den and waking up with a mouse SLEEPING IN HER MOUTH.
There were interesting people at this place.
And the food was mind-blowingly good. And the people were incredibly gracious. And I came to love the neon and the concrete and most of all I came to love my bike.
Don't get me wrong, I was horrible at riding it. Once, when I was biking home with Digger, I fell off my bike while we were waiting at a red light. As in totally stopped. He turned to me, lying there on the sidewalk and said, "We will never speak of this again."
Our show was only about a half hour long, so I had a lot of time on my hands, and I spent quite a few of them at a bar not far from our apartment called Urizon. All drinks were 300 yen - less than 3 dollars in those days. The bar was a long, dark narrow room with old couches and broken furniture and it was always full of singers. For some reason there were glasses filled with dum dum lollypops all over the place, so between the alcohol and the candy, I was consuming a shocking amount of sugar every night.
The Japanese take biking while intoxicated very seriously. We were warned repeatedly not to drink and ride. My problem was I rode like I was drunk on my way TO the bar. You can imagine the ride back.
One night, after clipping some bushes and bouncing off a trash can, I face planted on the sidewalk, so tangled in my bike I literally could not get up and I couldn't stop laughing. I remembered thinking about the old Smith's song That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore when Morrissey croons "It suddenly hit me/I just might die with a smile on my face after all."
I loved Japan. I loved the people I met there, and the leaves in Kyoto, and the deer in Nara, and the food in Tokyo.
So when the leaves turn and the air is cold, I miss Japan. Especially Digger. And my bike. And that toilet, too.