During a brief lull between tracks from the bar’s speaker system my companion swung round to face me. ‘Sometimes I dread that I’m not about to wake up in an opium den with three months’ worth of beard and a missing ear,’ he said to me, his eyes pleading. ‘Sometimes I think that maybe this is all actually happening.’
‘Culture shock is a symptom of an inflexible mind. You should flex your mind, Tim, let it bend like a reed, not snap like a, uh…’ I searched my own mind for a suitably brittle substance: ‘…twig.’
‘I’m afraid your eloquent and insightful Eastern wisdom is of little comfort. I feel like human flotsam lost in a sea of madness. My only hope is that this whole experience has been a drug-induced fever dream.’ He gazed down into his tankard thoughtfully. ‘Whatever hellhole my one-eared body lies slumbering in will at least be comprehensibly terrible.’
‘Well, I think you’d wear the beard well,’ I said, taking a dismissive sip from my own glass. ‘Not sure about the ear though; you might want to invest in a hat. I think you’re overreacting to Japan a tad.’
‘Oh, really, well tell me then; what was the first thing we saw in Harajuku?’
‘A girl dressed as a unicorn.’
‘Yes, a girl dressed as a unicorn.” Tim replied with a mournful triumph. ‘She wasn’t advertising anything, she wasn’t running a marathon for charity, her only motivating factor was the pure unbridled joy of being dressed as a unicorn.’
‘Well, who are we to judge the strange desires that lurk in the hearts of men?’
‘And what about the temple at Nara?’ Tim grew more animated, punctuating his speech with gestures from his steadily emptying glass. ‘There I was, thinking: ‘Oh this will be nice and tranquil’ but then out of nowhere a herd of deer tried to sexually assault me!’
‘I think they were just after that food, man.’
‘You didn’t see the look in their eyes.’ He slowly swiveled round on his stool to gaze into the distance. ‘Plus there’s all these little things; beer in vending machines, communal bathing, ambulances that stop at traffic lights, bus drivers…’
‘I’m pretty sure we have bus drivers in England.’
‘Yes, but not like here. Here they have young and attractive women driving busses. Young attractive female bus drivers! How can you possibly come to terms with something so alien?’
‘I had a young attractive female dentist once.’
‘Really? God, what was that like?’
‘Just kinda awkward. You’re laid back in the chair and there’s this pretty girl rooting around in your mouth scraping plaque off your molars.’
‘That’s probably a fetish for someone.’ Tim snapped back round to face me, manoeuvring a full tankard in an artful swoop ‘This is all beside the point, you are distracting me from my cultural evaluation of Japan with tales of sexy dentistry. Now, take this fellow here.’ He gestured at the barman with his beer.
‘Yes, ‘Sushi’.’ He mouthed the word with suspicion. ‘Who is named Sushi? Nobody. So why won’t he tell us his name? Because he needs to hide his identity, he obviously has some kind of malevolent plot against for us in mind. That, my friend, is deductive reasoning.’ He took a deep drink to celebrate his mastery of logic.
‘I think Sushi is his DJ name. Besides, you told him that your name was Guy Incognito.’
‘Well, I need some defence against whatever sinister purpose he might have.’
I looked down at the amber patterns of light cast by my tilted glass on the bar top. ‘Do you think us having been constantly drunk for the entire trip played much of a part in forming these cultural perceptions?’
‘Very little. It does, however, currently play a very large part in my bladder.’ He moved his stool back and stood. ‘Which I will now go and rectify.’ Tim walked to the bathroom leaving me alone in Sushi’s company to contemplate the music and savour my beer. A hand slapped down on my shoulder and I turned to see Tim’s grinning face.
‘I just remembered!’ He said with puppy dog enthusiasm. ‘I read at the hostel that there’s a giant robot baby that breathes fire near here! We must go!’ By the time I had drained the last of my beer and smiled a goodbye at the barman, Tim had a foot on the top step of the spiral staircase. He turned round still wearing the same keen grin. ‘God I love this place.’