“Are you having a good time?” she asks.
I feel like this is always a more complicated question to answer than intended. But she’s not really asking me if I’m having a good time.
I’m in Japan with my wife who's almost seven months pregnant, trying to assure her that, yes, I am having a great time. I’m not complaining about the question. I consider myself blessed to be here, that I know the woman asking loves me, and that she’s the kind of person that would lug our unborn child halfway around the world and still be concerned with whether or not I am having a good time.
She bought the tickets a few days before we found out she was pregnant. When she called me at work and asked if we could take a quick walk, I knew what the news was going to be. We had been trying to get pregnant, but we were both convinced for some reason it would be more difficult than it turned out to be. We thought we had more time, and she had bought the tickets knowing that if we didn’t go before we had a baby, there was a good chance we never would.
Kat has been telling me she wanted me to go to Japan with her since we first met. The country has been instrumental in shaping who she is today, one of the strings that have resonated through her whole life. She first visited when she was in high school as part of the sister city program between Springfield, Illinois and Ashikaga City in the Tochigi Prefecture of central Japan. That was when she met her Japanese family, the Kurokawas.
It was years later while she was living in Colorado after graduating from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago that her mother sent her a clipping from the local Springfield newspaper advertising the need for English teachers in Ashikaga—a part of the sister city program she was involved with in high school. She had been looking for a new adventure and had always wanted to return to Japan, so decided to give it a shot. She ended up living there for two years teaching the students of Ashikaga school her native language as best she could while she learned about them, immersed herself in the culture, and took advantage of breaks in the school schedule to travel all over Japan and it’s neighborhood of the world—China, Cambodia, Thailand, New Zealand.
It was one of the first things we talked about when we met. My oldest brother, Aaron, had told me that she had lived in Japan, and told her that I had traveled in India when I was younger, so there was a natural conversation to be had. That was when she began telling me we should go to Japan together, and it always seemed just a little unrealistic to me. Little did I know that, although we would break up and she would move to LA and back and we’d have to start all over again from the beginning from different vantage points and positions, we’d eventually make it there.
We had a big decision to make on that brief walk around Milwaukee's Third Ward—Milwaukee Street to Buffalo, Buffalo Street to Broadway, Broadway Street to Chicago Street and back to the front door at 219 North Milwaukee seemed like an entire lifetime. The tickets were non-refundable, so we would be out a few thousand dollars if we didn’t go. But we were having a fucking baby! And we were going to go. We said good bye with a large, warm and world-embracing nervous hug, an excited little kiss, and kept our plans.
And so, after a long and not-so-linear courtship, getting married, a few big life decisions, a layover in Denver and LA, a flight across the world, and a short train ride, we arrived at a destination we had decided on when we first met. We walked out of Shinjuku Station in Tokyo at 5:30 in the morning and the first thing we encountered was a blind drunk businessman with his fly open stumbling past us. After taking a minute figuring out which way to go with the help of our iPad and a nearby map of the neighborhood, we walked south and encountered him again about 100 feet down the sidewalk. He was now on his knees, doing a face-plant on the sidewalk—completely still. He had obviously missed the train home the night before.
We found our hotel, the Sunroute Plaza, nearby and decided that with Kat’s ankles sore and swollen from the flight, we’d hang out in their comfortable lobby for a few hours instead of walking any more. We would have plenty of time for that later.
And then it was later...