Becoming Big in Japan / by Deborah Clague

"Excuse me..."

Normally I would continue walking. Or pretend to only speak and understand French. But the man was holding a clipboard. At the very least, I assumed he was soliciting for charitable donations and I didn't want to be rude. I am Canadian, after all. 

"I am with Tokyo TV and we would like to ask you a few questions. Are you willing to be filmed for television?"

I tried to hide my enthusiasm. HELLS YES, I wanted to be on Japanese TV!!! I wondered if a giant cartoon character was about to sneak up behind me. Or perhaps this would lead to an appearance on one of their infamously wacky game shows. I was up for anything. I demurely responded in the affirmative and inquired as to what type of questions I would be asked. I always like to be prepared and avoid looking like an idiot. 

"Just stand over here and she will ask you the questions."

A petite Japanese woman holding a mic stepped in front of me and made brief introduction. I noted the camera crew already filming to my left. I had no idea what was about to happen. 

"What do you know about soba noodles?"

And thus for the next five minutes, I was interviewed on a subject I know absolutely nothing about. I was on Japanese TV though…and that's all that matters. 


It was a long day. 

Not a hard day, but a long day spent at one of Japan's spa theme parks where I indulged in hours of relaxing in the onsen, getting a massage and facial, and even trying one of those "fish pedicures" where the species garra rufa eat away at the dead skin cells on one's feet (it was awesome, btw). Perhaps I was too relaxed. 

Afterwards at Tokyo Teleport station, I followed the signage to the track that listed Shinjuku, the area where my hotel was located and where I was returning. Shinjuku is the world's busiest train station with over two million people passing through it every single day. It can be absolute chaos. Ordered chaos, as is the norm in a society as structured as Japan, but still too overwhelming for someone from a small prairie town. The crowds had already started forming on the platform. I assumed these fellow passengers were also travelling to the hub to make further connections. I stood in line. A train listing Japanese characters that I couldn't identify and the word "Shinjuku" soon followed. Perfect timing, I thought. I boarded with the masses. 

It was so crowded, I could barely move. I longed for a seat but there was no chance of that happening. Besides, this ride would be at most 20 minutes. I climbed Mount Fuji the previous two days; I could endure this claustrophobic discomfort for that relatively brief time. As the train started moving though, I couldn't help but notice that it wasn't making any stops. Ten minutes passed, then twenty. 

I should be at Shinjuku by now, I thought. 

I stood on my toes and tried to catch a glimpse at the landscape outside. The buildings had become smaller. It was still an endless city, but this view didn't have the technicolour glamour of central Tokyo that I was familiar with. "Where the fuck is this train going?", I thought to myself. 

I turned to a man standing next to me and, shaking my head in defeat, feebly asked "Shinjuku?"

"Ooooooooh noooooo!!!" he cried and pointed in the opposite direction. 

And that's how I ended up in Yokohama.