The plan was genius in its simplicity. When Cece returned from Italy, she would arrive in Tokyo before changing flights for Sapporo. But why not delay the change over? I would come down to Tokyo to meet her, and before the first day of work, we would have a chance at a holiday just for us. Romance, wine (or cola for me), and long walks into the sunset. All that lovey dovey rubbish. Then it’d be a cosy flight to Sapporo sitting side by side just in time for the first day back at work. Except the holiday turned out to be not quite as private as initially planned.
Cece wanted me to greet her at the arrival gate at Narita airport. Apparently that’s a romantic thing. I’m not entirely sure why an airport arrival gate is more of a romantic meeting point than say, a bus stop, or the information desk or one of those weird convenience stores that only seem to exist within airports (tell-tale signs of a conspiracy right there). Unfortunately we were due to arrive at the same time in different terminals. So naturally, in order to maintain the romantic tradition that I’ve inadvertently experienced many times with company colleagues, friends and family, I got off the plane and ran for the other terminal. Two bus rides and a sprint later I skidded into the gate to discover her flight was over an hour and a half delayed. Which was good of course. I had time time to evaporate the sweat beneath my clothes from running before she arrived.
Cece was not travelling alone. Her aunt was accompanying her, which meant the long passionate kiss, the leap into each other’s arms and even the twirling your girlfriend in the air while she wraps her hands around your neck trick (Love Actually has much to answer for) would all need to be toned down. Instead as she and her aunt came round the corner, we were reserved enough to a light peck and a hug before asking her, and her aunt, how the Italy trip was. Before we separated from her aunt, she rummaged through her bags to pick out the clothes from the suitcase and choose a coat, so that the rest could be sent ahead (I have no idea why multiple coats were necessary in Italy. Must be all the extreme sub zero temperatures you get in Rome). Cece decided to try on her coat outside to test Tokyo’s temperature, and I saw my chance at a proper greeting. So very casually I followed her out and as soon as the doors closed behind us, I took her in my arms (the obligatory ‘swoon’ moment) and showed her how much I really had missed her with a little more privacy. That privacy was far smaller than I had anticipated though. Mostly because when I turned back, I discovered the entire terminal wall was made from glass and Cece’s aunt could see us just as clearly as if we were inside.
On the journey to the apartment,we discussed what we wanted to do.
“If you don’t mind, while we’re down here, can we meet some of my friends who live here?” she asked, and I nodded.
“Sure, I wouldn’t mind meeting up with some of mine too”
“But let’s keep the holiday mostly to ourselves of course”
So we met some friends on the first night and wandered the Imperial gardens. On the second we saw some more friends and wandered around Nakano. On the third night, we went down to Yokohama to meet some more. Nothing more romantic than so much time alone together.
There were some other highlights too, including an apartment that would have been called just a tad slim for a mouse or other similar rodent (I’ve always wanted to test the phrase ‘can’t swing a cat in here’ and this might be the perfect place. I had no cats but it does sound fun to throw one about. Admit it. A cat ricocheting off the wall with a thump is a fantastically comical idea). But it had everything you might want; working kitchen, shower, washing machine, rickety ladder to the second floor and remote controlled light bulbs (because who likes wall switches anyway. You can’t lose a wall switch down the back of a sofa, and they’re not nearly as fun to find in the dark).
Presents were exchanged. We call them souvenir presents after christmas, but what they actually are, are ‘stuff we wanted to give you but it was too expensive before the January sales’ presents. There were lots of interesting things under the paper, including a plush hedgehog (complete with button nose) and laurel and hardy photos. But by far the best present was one for me. A satchel made from real leather, the kind that makes you feel rugged. the sort of thing to wear with a leather jacket and a bull whip and mutter to yourself “ugh Nazis. I hate those guys…”. So I got to spend my holiday walking around feeling like an adventurer from a film, carrying an empty leather bag that’s going to go very well next to a poncho I already own.
I wanted to take Cece to Yokohama. Not for regular sightseeing, but rather, for the grand Poncho tour (in other words, to see all the places I liked to frequent when I used to live there). So first stop had to be book off, in all its paper glory, followed by a nostalgic run over Yokohama station. We stopped off at a cafe for lunch, full of other couples that were surprisingly distracting. In Italy, similar to France or Spain, couples are a little more amorous in public and seeing this kind of behaviour can make you miss your own partner a little more. But you needn’t worry about that in Japan. Seeing a Japanese couple kiss in public is as likely as witnessing a unicorn reading the paper on the subway. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t distracting as we found out. On the table beside ours were a young couple still in their mid teens, but what distracted us was not their ‘amour’ but rather, their hysterically anti-social awkwardness. Cece stopped mid conversation first when she noticed and directed my attention toward them. That’s when we started to time it. They weren’t speaking to each other. Or drinking the coffees they’d bought, which rested undisturbed on the table. They weren’t touching hands, or messaging on phones, or doing much of anything at all. She stared at him with a vacant expression, while his eyes alternated between hers and his lap. We were in that cafe for more than an hour and almost nothing changed. When he raised his hand to adjust the surgical mask on his face, we nearly gasped. (If you find Japanese children cute, enjoy their company while it lasts. From the looks of things, the next generation in Japan won’t be making any of their own).
Tokyo isn’t Fiji but I was hoping for a little warmer weather. I tackle blizzards on a weekly basis and occasional risk of frostbite. I wasn’t going to walk out of Narita airport like I did in tropical Okinawa, dressed for the ice age. I dressed light and for the first time in months I wore my converse. Converse! I’d been wearing snow boots for so long I’d forgotten what the shape of my feet were (still inconveniently wide). Getting to the airport in Sapporo dressed this way was a challenge of course, if getting there with all my digits intact was the goal. But I did, and I awaited that glorious moment when I stepped into the Tokyo night air in nothing more than a pair of canvas trainers and a light jacket to brush off the cool breeze. Instead I met a biting wind and an average temperature of 2 degrees (better than the -11 in Sapporo, but still 2. Maybe other Hokkaido-vians call that a heatwave but I’m still a southerner at heart). So it was with some irony that I found myself outside an ice rink in Yokohama alongside my friends (it’s not as though I were unhappy to see a huge block of ice that we were to stand upon. Slipping and breaking my legs on the ice is by far my favourite pastime wherever I walk in Hokkaido). However, hand in hand with Cece (see how that romantic stuff keeps propping up in the most awkward of situations?) she was able to help me keep enough balance to circle the rink.
But not every waking moment was spent in the company of friends fortunately. There were more than one breakfast in the apartment spent in semi consciousness. I don’t remember the last time I had eggs for breakfast, but it was far too long ago (when dinosaurs roamed the earth, and opening trembling eggs was a risky business). It was here that I tried Fez-bread for the first time, an Italian-made sweet that Cece had brought with her. In Italy, its far less accurate name is Pandoro, a loaf of bread in the shape of a crème brûlée that is smothered in sugar before being shook in a plastic bag so that no inch is left uncovered in the white powder. This dessert item is served in the national hat of Egypt, the Fez (I’m not sure why. Perhaps the baker has a tragic backstory involving Egyptian hats which ultimately ended in the happily with sugary bread, as all the happy fairy tales end). So, removing the Fez we gorged ourselves on most definitely the unhealthiest kind of bread for breakfast before dutifully returning the Fez to the bread’s head.
Forget candlelit dinners, walks under the moonlight or grand proclamations of love. Real romance is sitting at a kitchen table munching on Fez-bread at breakfast, singing 20th century boy together and planning adventures in town.