Return From Japan: In the Can!

      My friends are expecting a sentimental blog about my recent trip to Japan after nine years. I will save most of the sappy stuff for my Facebook author page, and write something painfully emotional as merely the preface to this blog. Then I’ll get to the funny shit. I mean, funny stuff.
      Living in Yen: How Not to Move to Japan Gracefully, chronicled my first year living in Japan. I spent two years there and as many of you know, met a very special friend. I don’t want to spoil it if you haven’t read it, but suffice to say that this very special friend passed away suddenly not long after I left Japan nine years ago. I had an ominous feeling as I flew away from Japan that last time, tearful and sentimental. Not only was my own health paired with some uncertainty at that time, but I thought it might be the last time I’d ever see Japan.
      Turns out that wasn’t true. But it was the last time I saw my special friend.
      My return after all these years was at the insistence of my friend Karen, who tends to organize these reunions. We had a coworker reunion in 2008 in Australia (not painful at all, considering there were no memories of my friend attached to Brisbane) but I knew coming back to Japan would be hard.
      Okay, having said that, I’m going to skip right to the funny shit.
      And the moral of the following story is: Nothin’ stops the tears like a tummy rumblin’.
      At 5:30am on the morning I left, Karen (who had arranged not only the home-stay where we set up camp for free for the previous few weeks, but also my shuttle ride to the airport) was kind enough to make me a protein shake for breakfast as I finished packing. We’d had numerous discussions about health, so I assumed she would use the soy milk instead of the cow’s milk to make my shake. Not that soy milk is much better, but animal milk does not sit well with me.
      Do you where this might be going?
      The shuttle service takes about an hour and a half to get to the Osaka airport, taking into consideration the others we had to pick up before getting on the freeway. So I’m riding on this shuttle, knowing this might be the last time I ever visit Japan, overwhelmed with the previous few weeks’ memories and the wounds they opened, and watching familiar places zip past my window. My old haunts. Beautiful Japan. The tears flowed freely as it all went past.
      About halfway into the ride (and right when we got on the bustling freeway, where there is NO place to pull over) my sentimental side was distracted by a little tug in my gut. Then another tug. Then a grip. And then, the frightening realization that my intestines were in full crisis mode. It could only be one thing… lactose intolerance!
      I turned off my iPod and gripped the handle on the back of the seat in front of me. Karen must’ve used animal milk! Shit!
      A thousand thoughts ran through my head. Would I be able to make it to the airport? What if I couldn’t? Was my Japanese sufficient enough to tell the driver I had an emergency? What would he even be able to do about it? Would he actually pull over somewhere when he has a truckload of Japanese passengers en route to catch a plane? The freeway was slammed with vehicles and oooohhhh there goes that death grip on my innards again!
      Without being too graphic here, this was pushing maximum capacity. My heart was racing. I hadn’t shit myself since the third grade! Was I about to break my streak?
Then I saw a sign for the airport. Hurray! Oh wait, NO! It says 30 more kilometers! Shit!!!
      I was in agony. I had to contort my body so that, if I actually did lose control down there, it wouldn’t ruin the shuttle seat. I could live with ruining my pants. I had another pair in my suitcase. Dammit Karen!
      I had to employ some zen tactics here. “You can do this,” I kept telling myself. “Sphincter, don’t fail me now. You can do it.” I was taking deep breaths as my stomach churned. It felt like someone was taking a vice grip to my lower abdomen and twisting, while simultaneously blowing up a balloon deep in my insides to create pressure I can only imagine is rivaled by having twins. Fat twins.
      We made it to the airport finally, after I’d just burned about 3,500 calories from the major sphincter workout I was performing. I bolted out the door before the others, elbowing several Japanese people along the way, threw my two-thousand yen at him, and rushed him to get my suitcase out of the back. He pointed at his watch and said, “Daijobu, desu” which basically meant don’t worry, I wasn’t in danger of being late for my flight.
      I was bouncing up and down now. “Uh… toire ikimasu.” And that, loosely translated, means, “I go to toilet.”
      “Ah, so ka.” It’s all good. He waved me on and I ran with all of my belongings bouncing alongside me until I came to the first bathroom.
      “We made it!” I congratulated my insides, as I dropped everything right outside the stall, totally ignoring the airport mandate that baggage must be watched at all times, and… well, you know what happened next.
      Japanese toilets are hilarious. Not only are they heated, but after sitting down on one, they give you approximately two seconds before they start playing little music. Some of them have the optional music button (which will sometimes come with the sign, “For mask embarrassing noise”) but this one had the automatic two-second delay.
      There was no way I was waiting two seconds. As soon as I sat down on that thing, a noise came out of me that would have scared me, had I not been preparing for it for the last forty-five minutes. It was an absolute roar, blowing away the musical chime that was supposed to mask my embarrassing noise. The cleaning lady scurried out after the first few seconds, presumably to go call the fire department or something.
      After the demon purging, I strolled out in triumph, like you do at the gym when you’ve just benched ten pounds past your normal max weight, only this was better. It was that feeling of accomplishment, plus the added benefit of knowing I’d just escaped what could have been a rather humiliating experience.
      There was an old lady and her daughter at the sink. The old lady reached in her pocket and handed me a piece of candy. Then she patted me on the shoulder gently, and reached in her pocket and handed me another piece of candy.
      Fortunately, that was the worst episode, but the purging continued. It even continued on the flight to Beijing, where the ONE time I had a window seat during this whole trip just had to be that morning. I sat next to the cutest little bald Chinese man who was more than happy to get up whenever I needed to go, which was about every ten minutes. I gave him one of the pieces of my candy, reckoning that he’d shared in my bowel adventures almost as much as I had. He was thrilled. All he could say in English was, “America!” What a sweet, happy man. I just wanted to rub his cute little bald head!
      Anyway, that was the conclusion of my trip to Japan. I like to think that my special friend, wherever he is, saw my tears that morning and said, “Oh hell no, you’re not leaving this country crying again. I’m gonna give you a good poo story instead.”
      Thanks, love. My friends and I got a lot of laughs over it.
      I’m still gonna kill Karen, though.

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