Hours before my scheduled Mario Kart tour, Tokyo reminded me of the serendipity that keeps me coming back here so often.
“You have to tap your card there,” a vaguely French voice advised me—in this particular hotel, it seemed, non-guests were forbidden from entering the elevator, let alone going to guest room floors.
During our brief ascent together (my room was one the second floor), I learned the name of the man to whom the voice belonged was Jean, and that he was from Cannes. It was an unexpected flirtation (he also complimented me on how my polo shirt brought out my eyes), though I was mostly being polite when I bid him farewell. “I hope we meet again.”
What I didn’t tell Jean was that I’d previously pursued a man from the Côte d’Azur who’d been taken by the ways a blue polo brought out my eyes. There was a TMI chapter in that particular tome, though I’ll leave it to your imagination to speculate about what it might’ve entailed.
To be sure, I didn’t have time to wait around the lobby to see if Jean would come down from his room, or to invite a TMI moment between us by going to the 18th floor onsen to see if he was there. Exiting the long entrance corridor of the ryokan, a recently refurbished lodging I imagine is the only such property in Shinjuku, didn’t help me proceed according to plan: It was drizzling; and it was boiling hot.
Apart from my 8 pm Tokyo Go Kart Tour, city attractions I wanted to re-visit included a pedestrian bridge near Shinjuku Station with a particularly good view down Yasukuni-dori, and Akabanebashi Station, which offered a view of Tokyo Tower I’d long coveted, the Tower’s polarizing nature notwithstanding. It was 7:30 by the time I packed my camera and tripod up along Sakurada-Dori—I do everything last-minute in Japan, in spite of being way too early most anywhere else on the planet I travel.
Having sprinted from the west exit of Asakusabashi Station to the go-kart shop (I almost thought I’d heard a bystander shout “Run, Forrest, Run!”), I arrived to find two pungent and clearly hungover Australian bros sulking—due, I assume, to the fact that I arrived four minutes after our scheduled meeting time. Not so. “We’re actually waiting on three others,” said the friendly Filipina, who was smiling and bubbly in spite of the aggressive innuendoes in which the Aussie bros were dousing her.
Tokyo Didn’t Like Us
I was thrilled when the trio of Belgians arrived, and not just because I couldn’t believe the topic of STDs and safe sex had been breached, let alone because the young men who brought it up seemed to assume this line of conversation would arouse the woman they were pursuing. The six of us quickly donned our costumes (which, I should note, had nothing to do with Ninetendo as a result of a 2018 court case ruled in the video game maker’s favor) and, after watching a safety video that was too long and repetitive to be of much use, were speeding through the streets of Tokyo in no time.
Dressed as Eeyore, I was positioned fourth in our Tokyo go kart tour lineup, though I didn’t dare speed as fast as the guide and the Belgians—at 34, my invincibility complex has long since evaporated; moreover, I’d rented an action camera, which came closer to slipping off my head the faster I drove. My slow (read: safe) driving angered the Aussie bros, who talked some Bogan-accented shit from time to time, an anger that probably also resulted from the fact that their chances of getting laid were decreasing by the second.
Which is not to say the experience was scary, even if it is shocking to me that such dodgy vehicles are allowed on the streets of a city as crowded as Tokyo in a country as safety-obsessed as Japan. Certainly, I felt like a celebrity—several locals and foreign expats waved and honked at our group as we passed and one, a man of Indian origin, even stopped to take a selfie with the group; all of this stood in contrast to the guide’s instance, that people on the streets of Tokyo didn’t “like us.”
My main regret is how difficult it was to take good pictures (I still haven’t watched the video) and how, in spite of having been fully present in the experience of speeding past Senso-ji, around Tokyo Sky Tree and through Akihabara, there’s no particular record of my having sped past, around and through those places (except my memory, of course).
Trapped Safely in the Past
By the time I finished my Mario Kart tour, Tokyo was in the interstitial period between salarymen returning from work and night owls heading out to paint the town. I didn’t have any desire to visit the onsen, though I probably could’ve benefitted from a soak.
Morning came quickly—and not just because of how poorly I slept for at least half the night, no doubt in part because I’d skipped out on relaxing in the bath. As I began my morning run, which first took me past a hostel I also imagine opened rather recently, one of the still-drunk bros on its porch (this one, thankfully, not Australian) shouted a phrase at me. You won’t believe what he said.
“Run, Forrest, Run,” he laughed, blissfully oblivious to how badly his swollen body was in need of cardiovascular exercise, or how pathetic it was to be 40-plus in Tokyo, staying in a hostel and inebriated after the sun has risen. I thought of pointing out one or all of these facts, but instead I just smiled: This further reinforced the serendipity that keeps me coming back to Tokyo.
By the time I returned, having slogged all the way to Shibuya Station and back, echoes of the cuckold’s attacks had faded as far into my memory as my Tokyo go kart tour from the night before. It was brighter by this point; a blue sky revealed that the rain, too, would stay trapped safely in the past.
Jubilant as a Muzak Sax
Upon cooling off under my room’s powerful air conditioner, I decided I would finally check out the 18th-floor onsen—but first, I would head down to 7/11 and get some breakfast. As I entered the store, which was delightfully empty for a kombini in Shinjuku at 6 am on a Thursday, a cheesy, almost jubilant Muzak version of the Human’s League’s only memorable song began blaring over the speakers.
I wondered, as I made my way across the street, through the long entrance corridor and into the most secure elevator in Tokyo, whether the man from the south of France might be waiting for the boy in the blue polo, though in spite of the requisite nudity wouldn’t change characterize any of my thoughts or speculation as being of the TMI variety. Taking a seat in the scalding bath, which offered a surprisingly perfect panorama of the Shinjuku skyline, I thought back on my Mario Kart tour, Tokyo apart from that particular excursion and Jean, who clearly wasn’t coming.
I wasn’t sad or disappointed—at 34, a passing flirtation from a handsome stranger is at least as pleasurable as a week-long fling with a slightly more handsome one at 28. In fact, I was as jubilant as a Muzak sax as I sang under my breath. Don’t you want me, baby?