Back to the capsule hotel I went, almost skipping with glee. I dropped my shoes in a locker this time, dropped the locker key at the front desk, retrieved my wristband key from one of the desk clerks, and rode the Super Fun Luxury Lift to the 6th floor. I figured I’d drink a couple of Asahis, then go exploring.
Back at the room, I closed the accordion door, climbed the metal ladder into my top-bunk capsule, leaned back, switched on the TV that protruded organically from the plastic wall of my coffin, cracked a can, took a deep and almost orgasmically satisfying pull of my long-anticipated Asahi, set it down on the little extruded-plastic shelf to my right, grinned and sighed.
Pushing a little metal chicklet set into the airliner-like control panel cycled me through the TV channels on my 7-inch monitor. There were a couple of scrambled stations in the line-up, tantalizing, flickering shards of heaving pink and purple meat, the audio tracks for which were subdued sighs, gutteral man-grunts, and the occasional squelch. Either the Abbatoir Channel, or The Legendary Japanese Porn, apparently. The girl at the front desk hadn’t been taught how to say ‘You want porn with that?’ in English, I guess. I was briefly disappointed, but I figured drinking and smoking were vices enough for a short 12 hours in-country. No big deal, and although I can’t say that I wasn’t curious, I also wasn’t curious enough to go down to the desk and ask, possibly in pantomime, please may I have some porno?
I spent the first beer fiddling with switches (something from which it is apparently in my genetic code to derive great pleasure), channel-surfing, adjusting the air-con nozzle just-so, and the second beer watching some kind of top-20 countdown of neat shops and restaurants in (I believe) Tokyo.
It was time to explore a bit, I reckoned. Also, I had to take a crap. You know how that is.
There were a few more guys around, sitting in front of the pedestal ashtrays in the smoking lounge near the elevators and getting drinks from the vending machines, than there had been before, and they were all wearing identical pajamas. Ding! A light went on, and I suddenly realized what that pile of cloth had been, the one I’d dumped on the tiny desk in the room in my rush to climb up into the capsule and play around. I went back to my cubicle, stripped down to my boxers, and put on the 3/4 length jammy bottoms and v-neck top. They actually fit pretty well, which surprised the hell out of me. I am not a small man, and I’ve been lifting weights again for the last couple of months.
Suitably attired, and feeling like a million bucks, I made my way back to the toilets. You could have eaten off them. No, seriously. If there’s anything I like better than a cold beer, it’s a clean bathroom. I blame my mother for this minor quirk. She’s a very clean lady.
Attached to the side of the porcelain pot was one of those electronic bidet machines that are getting so popular in Korea, but that everyone (or possibly just me, I don’t know) associates with weird Japanese poophole fetishism. I’d never used one, although I’d tried the low-tech variety of bidet in Europe when I was travelling there, with, shall we say, mixed results, usually involving too-cold water and Extreme Scrotum Tightening. (“Next up on ESPN : EXtreme Scrotum Tightening! Brought to you by Asahi Beer!”)
I was feeling adventurous, and mildly euphoric from the first couple of Very Large Cans. After nature had taken its course, I centred myself, as it were, chose a button at random, and pressed it.
Wahhhh-ahhhhh! The angelic choir descended, I’m telling you. The portal to a new world opened briefly, as water warmed to a perfectly refreshing temperature cascaded and burbled playfully around my grateful sphincter. It was pure bliss, for about 20 seconds.
Aware that it would sound a bit strange (and that I might be arrested) if I were to just sit there and hit that button over and over again for the next several hours, like the wirehead monkey hitting the button for the electrical jolt to his pleasure centre, oblivious to the world, I reluctantly patted dry and padded out, casting wistful glances back at the stall. Maybe I’d need to do a #2 again later. Maybe. Hopefully.
Walking with a new spring in my step, I hopped on the elevator, and rode up to the 11th floor. As expected, the shower facilities were well-stocked with towels and lotions and unguents of all sorts, spotlessly clean, and brightly lit, in a welcoming, warmly incandescent kind of way. Not only that, but there was a sauna, all marble pools and steam and cascading water, which I vowed to try in the morning, if I had time.
The restaurant on the floor below was similarly excellent in appearance, with a bar and a menu card chock-a-block with enticing-looking dishes.
I had an appointment with 6 more rapidly warming cans of beer, though, and beer trumps food, always. Besides, the shouted greetings from the employees anytime someone came in the door, as in Korea, put me off.
Back in my capsule, butthole absolutely singing, I cracked another can, and switched the TV on. It was about almost 9pm by this point, and although I had to get up in less than 9 hours, get on a flight back to Seoul and convince immigration that they should let me in again with no visible means of support, I was feeling frisky, if not frisky enough to do anything but drink in bed.
That’s when Japan suddenly became the Greatest Country In The World, a status for which, in my mind at least, it had already been building a good case for candidacy.
There was a show on for about an hour that involved really goofy costumes, senseless violence, public humilation, sumo wrestlers, fat guys dressed like sumos wearing Elvis wigs and riding motorcycles in quarries, more random violence, and it was the funniest.thing.evar. No, really. Dumber than dumb, but beautifully so, if you know what I mean. One segment involved one of the fat shameless guys wearing a radio earpiece and acting out the instructions of his controllers in front of a department store, which would be less funny and more of The Usual TV Crap if the people watching weren’t Japanese. That somehow made it comedy gold for me, as did the fact that half the time you almost couldn’t see the poor guy through the crowds of onlookers, every single one of whom was pointing their mobile phone camera at him, snapping digital pics like no tomorrow. I laughed until tears came, and that doesn’t happen often, dour bastard that I usually am.
But for all the fun inherent in that program, the moment of truth came afterwards. This is primetime Saturday night, keep in mind. The show, which lasted two hours or more (things got a bit fuzzy there towards the end), was called The Poetry Bout.
It was a tournament, with the loser of each two-person bout knocked out and progressing to the next round, of Poetry Reading. Poetry! On a Saturday night! On TV, with flawless high production values, in front of a rapt and appreciative live crowd! With (what I presume were) celebrity judges and just-plain-folks, singly and in groups, in bars and homes, butchershops and schools and street-food places all over the country, via live video, giving their own commentary and votes for the winners of each round. The contestants were anywhere in age from middleschool to retiree, male and female, some eliciting laughter, some tears, some a kind of liquid silence, all clearly in love with language.
It was riveting. I didn’t understand a goddamned word, but I was glued to the set, rooting for my favorites, for a couple of hours and several more of those Very Large Beers. As the winners of the preliminary rounds went on to challenge winners of other heats, I began to become familiar with their style, and was surprised for example when a happy funster would change strategy, and pull a change-up with a poem all serious and heartfelt, instead. This, the beer was telling me, was the way poetry was meant to be appreciated – not on the page, all dismembered and nullified with dead-soul dissection, but as music, incomprehensible, glorious music, in front of a crowd that laughs and cries and farts along with the poet.
The final round, although some of the oldsters and art college types had put in a good showing, was between a teenage boy and a teenage girl. She, I think, for no real reason that I can tell, was the better poet, but he frequently made his listeners both laugh and shed a tear in a single poem, and, although shy and involuted, was clearly their favorite.
When it was over, I had to go out to the lounge and smoke a cigarette, and think about what I’d seen. It seemed to me if as I’d seen something about Japan, no doubt glamourized and stage-managed and cheapened in the way that television does, but something that I had not expected. I couldn’t imagine the same thing happening, or being watched, in Korea, where the fake, the maudlin and the sentimental trump the real as a matter of policy, and though that’s what Canada may be like in my distant, half-fantasy memories of the place, I know for truth that the latest tits-and-explosions import from America is more likely to be greeted with enthusiasm there.
This wasn’t a niche show, for intellectuals and fruitbats – there were people from all walks of life watching this thing, cheering and high-fiving, of all ages, and it didn’t look like they were doing it to the insistent flashing of APPLAUSE prompters, either.
I stayed up, smoking in the lounge and finishing my last couple of beers, and thought about it a bit, and decided that I would have to write about it, start writing yet again, because, damn it, I realized that I wanted to be one of those poets too, up in that ring, and I wanted to try and make people laugh and cry with my words.
And so here I am, back in the saddle. I hope you like my poem.