It was now Thursday in Japan, and I woke up with a clear head and ready stomach. First things first, I checked my email for a response from Kamiguchi, and my Inbox was empty. Of course, I thought in a smug voice, What would the CEO of IBM need with 70 bucks?. I felt lucky, and guessed that he would write me back sometime during the day. Victorious and confident, I assumed the letter would read something like this: Dear Heather,
Don’t worry about the bill from last night’s meal. It was my treat, and we were all delighted to help you get home safely. Thank you for entertaining my party with your terrible but charming Japanese.
Sincerely, Sachio Kamiguchi CEO of IBM Lord of All Yen and Banks
I skipped off into the lobby for breakfast and read the paper in the dusty light of Tokyo morning. I skimmed a manga, chatted with my hosts for a couple hours, then spent fourty-five more minutes on the rooftop, cashing in on the cool breeze. I was sailing.
When I came back to my room after my shower, there was an email waiting for me from an unknown Hotmail account – something like pob187458. It had bypassed all my virus and spam guards, so I figured it must be from a Boom employee or a friend from back home.
Was I ever surprised when I opened it up and read:
From now on do not email me at work. Do not call me at work. Here is my cellphone number. Use this hotmail address for further correspondence.
Which hotel are you staying at? I will come there for payment.
I stared at the email for 10 minutes, dumbfounded, before I started to feel nauseous. The thought occurred to me again, this time in a voice far less smug, What would the CEO of IBM need with 70 bucks? .
He wanted my hotel address. Don’t use his work email. Oh god, oh Christ. He clearly wanted some other form of payment.
My day had been ruined.
Sitting alone in my room, with what must have been the gaunt look of true horror, I responded:
Thank you so much for your response! Don’t worry about coming to my hotel; I know my way around Tokyo and can find my way to your company without getting lost. I can drop off an envelope for you later today, but this evening I am busy ... I have plans with friends. Thank you again!
His response was nearly immediate.
Since I have a meeting, we’ll meet at the ANA hotel in Roppongi at 7pm. I look forward to seeing you.
What!?! The ANA Hotel!? 7pm!? Did he not understand the idea of an Envelope? Clearly, I meant paying him back with money.
My head swimming, I considered my options. One, of course, was to ignore the email and never show up to anything, ever, and spend the rest of my vacation sweating ice in my hotel room. Although an attractive idea, it would go against my principles. Kamiguchi had technically not done anything wrong, and perhaps I was simply misinterpreting his letters. He had paid for my dinner, after all, and loaned me his subordinates when I went searching for an ATM. Maybe the money was a cultural thing; maybe if someone asked to pay you back in Japan, you were expected to take the money regardless of your own personal wealth. A form of etiquette.
Of course, it looked like he wanted a date. Or at least drinks. Could I trust the CEO of IBM?
There was also the option that Kamiguchi and IBM were the yakuza, and that the five star ANA hotel was a front for a massive porn operation, funded with money from tech stocks. Nearly hallucinating, I figured the operation must be ignored by the police in return for free copies of the DVDs. Of course! No wonder the crime rate in Japan is so low! The crimes are never reported!
Get a hold of yourself. There is a sensible option. Don’t go alone.
There were only two people I knew in Tokyo. One was Reiko, who lived in Yokohama, fifty minutes to the south. It would be a terrible imposition to ask her to travel all the way to Roppongi just because I had an overactive imagination.
The other person I knew was C-J, the girl I had met in a bar earlier that week. Though the date was a wash, C-J wasn’t a bad person. So, it seemed like I was going to rely on one near-stranger to play defense against another.
I called C-J and asked her, "If you come with me to drop off an envelope at a hotel tonight, I’ll treat you to any dinner date you want in this whole city."
CJ agreed, and said she’d meet me at the Shinjuku Station at 6pm. I looked at the clock. It was 1:00.
Five hours left to sweat.
I threw on some clothes and headed over to 7-11 to get an envelope. I remembered reading somewhere that you were never supposed to hand money over without an envelope, and the large selection of fancy envelopes at the convenience store seemed to confirm this. I picked out the most elegant among them; white on black, with a silver ribbon, and went to the ATM.
I filled the envelope, dropped it in my purse, and checked the clock.
It was 1:15.
I wrote back Kamiguchi - I’d be by the hotel at 7 with his money, and that I might have to pick up a friend first because we were meeting up with some more people at 7:30. I downloaded a map to the ANA hotel, and checked the local area for ... well, anything. The clock read 1:30.
I was going crazy. Must do something. I didn’t want to sacrifice an entire day to worrying about some stupid envelope drop-off at a hotel with the most powerful man I’d ever met while relying the lesbian who didn’t like Japan.
I bit my lip and decided to visit the Imperial Gardens. It would take up some time, and it was in-between Roppongi and Shinkjuku. Before I left, I copied down Kamiguchi’s info and then left the business card in my hotel room with a note:
If I don’t come back, this is the guy who killed me and then bought off the police.
I took a train across the city, and walked through the central park with the lethargic steps of a death-row inmate. Wow, I thought glumly, look how pretty. Oh, great, here’s a nice picture. Yippee.
I shot some stills and then sat down on a ledge overlooking the areas reserved for the royal family. It was 3:00.
I couldn’t even tell you how I wasted the next few hours. I think I might have ordered lunch somewhere, and then let it sit at my table. I may have taken the train back to my hotel and laid down to stare at the ceiling. Maybe I just went to Shinjuku and played video games while waiting for C-J to meet me. Regardless of how I went through the afternoon, time did eventually creep by until the clock at the station was marked with the vertical slice of six.
I looked around for C-J. Nothing.
6:15. Still no C-J.
Oh my god, what was happening? Was I going to have to go alone!? Had she stood me up? What the hell was happening?
The nearest public phone was a good 10 minute walk away. I had to risk it; maybe she was somewhere else in the station (unlikely) or just didn’t realize how desperate the situation was (probable). I jogged out to the phone and called her cell, furiously left a message, then dashed back to the meeting point and waited some more. Roppongi was on the opposite side of the city from Shinjuku. I needed at least 20 minutes to get there.
It was 6:30. I would wait till 6:45, and then call both C-J and Kamiguchi. Please, please, C-J, don’t make me do this alone.
At 6:45, with still no sign of the girl, I ran back to the phone to place my last two phone calls. If C-J didn’t pick up, I didn’t have enough change to call her back again. I called C-J ...
... and left another message.
Then I called Kamiguchi. His now-sickening perfect English slid out of the phone and all over my ear. Or at least, that’s how it felt.
He laughed when I told him I’d be a little late, and repeated, "I can’t wait to see you."
Defeated, nervous, and now grossed-out, I walked back into the train station and headed through the turnstile.
And that’s when C-J tapped me on the back.
"Hey! Sorry I’m late," was all she offered. I didn’t care. I was so overjoyed, I gave her a huge hug before grabbing her hand and pulling her into the train.
I explained everything on the way, and with a furrowed brow she asked, "Why don’t you just ignore it and keep the money?"
That wasn’t the point, I explained. So far, everything that had happened was subject to interpretation. The only fact was Kamiguchi had saved my ass the night before, and now I had to pay him back. If he didn’t want the money, fine, I’d leave with it. But I had to offer it to him; I had to do the Right Thing, regardless of the strange circumstances surrounding the drop-off.
I had covered all my bases. If he offered to take us out for a drink, C-J would say that we had to head back to Shinjuku to meet more friends. If he wanted to give me correct change, (I had provided 80 bucks for the 70 he had forwarded, again, out of principle), I would refuse and say that it was a small gratitude for his great generosity. I wasn’t going alone, and had another remaining card up my sleeve: I may look like a stupid college girl, but I’m an improviser. I could probably handle any social situation he threw at us, and escape.
Finally, we arrived at the ANA Roppongi. With carefully chosen steps, I walked into the lobby with C-J in tow. There, sitting in a Red Velvet Chair that seemed to have been brought in by his personal prop department, was Kamiguchi. He smiled, and stood to meet us.
It went exactly as I thought it would.
First, he was happy to see me, and then disappointed when he realized I had a friend.
I pulled out the envelope, and offered it to him with a bow.
Kamiguchi stared at the envelope in open disgust. Ha, I thought. Gotcha.
Sachio asked, "What is this?"
I replied, "It’s the money, for the dinner last night."
He paused. "In the envelope?"
Kamiguchi’s eyes narrowed, and gingerly, almost apprehensively, he took the envelope and stuffed it in his breast pocket. Then he asked how much was inside.
I replied, 8000 yen, for his trouble. He offered to give me change, and I refused.
Cue C-J: "Sorry, we have to go if we’re going to meet up with our friends. We’re already late."
I thanked him again, and we scurried out, leaving his disappointed face behind us. Together, C-J and I ran to the sidewalk and around the building, before bursting into the laughter of relief. The debt was repaid, and whatever plans Kamiguchi had, we had thwarted. Though, strangely I felt a little guilty, there were more than enough peculiarities to the whole event to justify my suspicion.
I owed C-J a meal, and she wanted duck. We went to a Chinese restaurant called Eight and dinner was either really incredible, or my relief was so potent that it popped the flavor of every dish. After the meal, we wandered around Roppongi, still giddy, and ended up at an art museum overlooking the city.
When I got back to my hotel that night, there was an email waiting from pob1759235.
Thank you for the repayment.
I thought I should explain to you. My daughter went to college in America and had a lot of troubles there. Thankfully, so many people helped her that she was never in danger. When I saw you at the resturaunt last night, I thought of my daughter and wanted to help. I hope you have fun in Tokyo, and next time perhaps we can get a coffee.
Also, you should know that the envelope you gave me was for funerals only.
In my room, my emotions bubbled up in a mix of sadness, delight, shame and skepticism. I laughed so hard that I must have woken up all the other guests in the hotel.