1. This is an older post that I dusted off this morning because a friend of mine mentioned it to me recently. I’d forgotten about it.
2. A couple things before we get started. Game writers have two fundamental fantasies when they get into this business. One is to go to E3 in L.A. The second, somewhat more far fetched fantasy is to one day travel to Japan for the Tokyo Game Show. I’ve been fortunate enough to go to Tokyo—pre-devastation—three times in the last few years. Each time, without fail, I returned to North America wondering if I actually went to Japan or if I dreamed the whole wonderful, terrible, surreal episode. What follows is an account of one of those moments that I am reasonably certain actually happened to me. Enjoy.
3. The “devastation” I refer to above? It’s Fukushima.
While waiting for colleague John Teti to arrive in Tokyo for our Tokyo Game Show Adventure, I had a day all to myself in Shinjuku. I decided to sleep, eat, drink lots of water, read, monkey with my computer, play GeoDefense Swarm on the iPhone, and generally attempt to recover from the 10-plus cruel and unusual hours that I spent yesterday folded into that coach seat on my JAL flight from Vancouver to Narita.
I’m single, as the entire goddamned world knows by now. Without a wife or a girlfriend to chase after me with her rolling pin or make me sleep on the couch tonight, I have no one to answer to these days. I can do what I want and not have to fuss over messy guilt or hurt feelings on the far side of it. That being the case, I believe it’s a universal law that if you’re single and your hotel room telephone has a button with the word MASSAGE printed on it, one must press said button and see what happens.
So I pressed it.
A nice-sounding Japanese girl answered on the other end. Her English was terrible, but she understood what I was asking for: I wanted a one-hour massage. I have enjoyed my fair share of massages in my life, enough so that I’m no longer confused by the underwear-on-underwear-off question. (Answer: Always underwear-off.) I wrapped one of my room’s postage-stamp sized towels around my naked waist, then put on the hotel’s complimentary paper-thin robe which made my shoulders itch. I was fairly confident that this was an appropriate outfit for an in-room massage. I also cued up Leonard Cohen at a very low volume on my MacBook, as I imagined the silence during my forthcoming massage could be rather oppressive.
Then I waited.
While waiting for the massage person to arrive, I attempted to calculate the sleaze factor involved here. According to the little card in my room, massages begin daily at noon; and the last massage is at 3:00 a.m. Who offers massages until 3 a.m.? That did seem a bit sleazy to me. I sat on the tiny bed, nervously looking at the clock. My massage-ist was due to arrive at 1 p.m. I thought, Maybe she will be a cute Japanese girl. She could scratch my back with her long finger nails and say things to me that I can’t understand—I love the sound of Japanese being spoken, even though I don’t understand a word of it—and maybe she would like me a little, and I would like her, and she wouldn’t steal any of my valuables (I had put my PSP and my new camera in the in-room safe, just in case) and she would give me a chaste kiss at the end of my back-scratch/massage, and perhaps later on I would meet her out for some udon and sake.
I obviously have a very active imagination.
One o’clock, the doorbell rings (note: all hotel rooms in Tokyo have doorbells, FYI). I open the door to find a 4-foot-tall, 55-year-old homunculus of a woman wearing a double-breasted white lab coat thing that makes her appear as if she’d only seconds earlier vacated her subterranean laboratory after shouting the words, “IT’S ALIVE.” The woman speaks no English. None. I start to remove my robe. She panics. She blushes and turns away. She clearly wants me to keep my robe on. “OK, OK, I get it, robe on, yes, yes. Ha, ha.” Suddenly, the Leonard Cohen song playing in the background—”I’m Your Man”—sounds impossibly suggestive. Understatement of the day: This is not going well.
I’m nervous. The woman is nervous. Nervousness, I realize, is a universal language. She motions for me to lie down on the bed on my side, saying words to me in Japanese that I do not understand. I try to relax, try to breath. She is poking at me, hurrying from limb to limb, working quickly. It feels like obese squirrels are crawling all over me.
In seven minutes, she is basically done with the entire massage. I imagine this is what it would probably be like to get a massage from my Accountant: rushed and mechanical and cold and somewhat resentful.
With 53 minutes remaining of our time together, she proceeds to repeat what she has already done a second time. And once she is done with that, she repeats it a third time. I try to breathe through it all—inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale—wondering if I should go ahead and ask her/motion for her to leave. But then parts of the seven-minute routine are actually kind of therapeutic. So I let her continue.
She then decides that she wants me to do something different, but because of the language barrier, she has no choice but to act out what she wants. She lies down next to me in my tiny hotel room bed. She is face-down, with head on the pillow. I notice that she has her shoes off at this point. She is wearing tiny black socks.
I make an “Ah-ha!” sound, which I’m certain, like nervousness, must transcend all languages, and I get into the position she has demonstrated for me. She works her hands into hard little hammer shapes and begins pounding me on top of the head. She wails away. It hurts a little, but it also feels good. Then she uses her hammer hands to pound away at my back. Again, it hurts, but some of it feels good, (maybe about 10-percent of it), so I endure. I notice at this point that she has a smell about her—she smells like dried wax and cold hot dogs.
Then, with her shoes off, she begins to walk on my legs.
She’s surprisingly light. Her weight barely registers. I can’t believe what is happening here, that I am in a tiny hotel room in Tokyo with a four foot-tall woman walking back and forth, again and again, across my back. This is too much. It’s like some sort of joke-y, inverted, surrealist version of Godzilla. I start to laugh a little as she walks on me, stomping back and forth, working her toes into my back. She stops walking and peers down at me. She pauses, apparently waiting for me to stop laughing. I stop laughing. Seeing that I have stopped laughing, she continues walking.
Once the time is mercifully up, she climbs down and puts on her shoes. It’s hard to tell which one of the two of us is more relieved that this is over. Her breathing is laboured. Her breath smells like medicine. I sign a slip of paper confirming that, yes, I have just received a one-hour massage for 6,300 yen (about $60).
After she’s gone, I look into the bathroom mirror and start laughing again. Moral of the story: Just because your hotel room phone has a MASSAGE button does not mean that one should always press it.
Also, if you haven’t already, watch the Gamers Heart Japan documentary. You’ll be glad you did.