My next letter will arrive Sunday, May 23, 2021.
I will be taking a few weeks off in May to focus on adjusting to new-puppy life (and, of course, when the letters return, you can expect a full puppy update).
Thank you, always, for bearing witness to my journey. It means more than I can say.
Shortly after we were married in November 2018, we began to think about a honeymoon.
I had two weeks off from work at the end of March in 2019 and we decided that was when we would go on our trip.
“Japan,” he said. “Japan! Japan! Japan!”
He insisted that I would love it. The dates I had off from work also happened to align with cherry blossom season.
“It will be stunning,” he said. “I promise.”
I was less convinced. I’d had a dream of a beach and a white swim suit, a steady stream of margaritas with chunky salt on the rim. Still, he was so excited about the idea that I agreed.
“I better not be cold,” I warned him.
“YES,” he said. “You’re going to love it.”
I figured we had years ahead, plenty of time for me to attain the dreamy beach vacation. And, I was excited. I had never been to Japan before and it made sense, going to a place that was beloved to him and new to me as we started married life.
In the months leading up to the end of March, we planned. Eventually, we narrowed our itinerary down to a week in Tokyo, a week in Kyoto, and then three days in a private ryokan about 45 minutes outside of Kyoto. I applied for a few extra days off from work, which were graciously granted, and then we started drilling down into what exactly we wanted to see (and eat).
In order to book many of the places that we found, especially restaurants and the ryokan, he had to call as there was no e-mail or digital booking option. Because of the time change, we would wait up late, me hovering over him, as he wrote out the Japanese pronunciation for the dates we wanted, for the word ‘reservation.’ Then, he had to find a way of internationally calling through an online portal, which worked with varying success.
Sometimes, the connection dropped; sometimes, he was on the phone waiting for an answer for an hour. Often, he would be holed away in his study, and I would hear yelps of disappointment and frustration. But when things went right, when he got the bookings, the door would fling open and he would race up and down the apartment’s hallway cheering, “YESSSSSSS. I AM INVINCIBLE.”
Together, we sat in bed after work and scrolled through options for accommodation. He immediately pulled up the website of gleaming, glass buildings with five stars while I showed him cramped one-bedrooms where the bed took up the entire room.
“Budget,” I would say. “We have to consider it.”
“But,” he said. “I think we could go a bit big on this one. It’s your first time in Japan and our first time together!”
We went back and forth, in this way. Eventually we settled on a hotel somewhere between our two extremes in Tokyo and chose 2 hotels for Kyoto (one extremely nice, the other extremely affordable). For the ryokan though, we were in perfect agreement.
With the dates picked, most of the restaurants we were hoping to secure booked (with the exception of 2 which were closed during the time we were there), and the hotels chosen, we turned to the flights.
“First class,” he said. “Has to be.”
I pretended to look around the apartment, as if something had gone missing. He watched, grinning but unsure what I was doing.
“Sorry,” I said. “I was just looking for the money tree you clearly know about that I don’t.”
“Ha, ha,” he said.
He opened his laptop.
“Points baby,” he said.
He showed me the hundreds of thousands of airline points that he had been accumulating his entire life. He had never used so much as one point.
When we ran the numbers, we realized that two first class tickets round-trip to Japan would take all but a few thousand of his points.
“We can’t use them all up on this one trip,” I said. “You’ve been saving them your whole life.”
“This is worth it,” he said.
I tried for premium economy, for first-class one way, but he was not to be dissuaded.
“Pod bed,” he said. “Breakfast in the morning. This is how the honeymoon starts.”
Finally, I conceded. They were his points, after all. His to do with as he wanted.
But, for both of us, once we had booked the flights, and the points had drained away from his account, we looked at each other, and he gave me his ‘omg, did we just?’ grin. It was one where he clenched his teeth slightly and grinned but also almost grimaced, the edges of his mouth tight, his eyes always warm, though, always boyishly impish.
“That’s A LOT of points,” he said.
“Insane,” I said.
“Trip of a lifetime,” he said.
As the weeks counted down, we looked up museums, theatre experiences, gardens, shopping, pen stores, and more. He obtained a black carry-on wheeler suitcase and I bought a pale pink travel wallet, the color of cherry blossoms.
We packed and re-packed our carry-ons. We were only checking 1 medium-sized suitcase because both of us had stopped checking luggage several years ago. Mostly, he felt like we needed one checked bag just in case we brought back gifts, because those definitely wouldn’t fit into our internationally sized carry-on bags.
He was like that. I know you probably know, but he was. He was always thinking about what he could do for others, what joy he could bring them.
By the time it was departure day, we must have re-packed our bags three or four times. I’d had my hair done, gotten a manicure, fussed about whether to take a rain jacket or not. He, on the other hand, was, as ever, totally relaxed. Completely excited.
We flew first to Vancouver, where we had a long enough layover that we went into the city, ate vegan pizza at Virtuous Pie. It was his first time eating there and he didn’t believe me when I told him everything was vegan. He stared at his margarita pizza.
“No way,” he said. “No way this cheese is vegan.”
“It is!” I insisted, but he went up and asked the chef anyway.
When he came back, he was silent. He took another bite.
“Okay,” he said. “I think I can tell a bit.”
“Only because you asked the chef and he said it’s all vegan,” I crowed. “You thought it was real cheese!”
He had, he finally conceded.
When we returned to the Vancouver airport, the airline warned us that boarding would be 5 minutes late. The announcer apologized profusely.
“Classic,” my sweet man said, listening. “Welcome to Japan.”
Yet, when we boarded, it was on time. We settled into our seats, beaming around at everyone. Champagne appeared as we settled into our pod-seats which would become beds when night time fell.
“Cheers,” he said, clinking his glass against mine.
“Don’t get too used to this,” I said.
“Oh,” he wiggled his butt into the roomy seat. “I’m used to it.”
There was a moment, somewhere in the unknown dark hours of the long flight where I woke up and looked over the slight barrier at him. He was awake, watching a movie and eating ramen that he’d ordered off the late-night menu. He was the only person in the whole first class section that wasn’t bedded down, asleep. I didn’t say anything but he must have seen me stir in his peripheral vision.
“Had to babe,” he said holding up a long ramen noodle with his chopsticks. “It’s sooooooo good.”
I don’t think anyone looks good beneath low airplane lights, but he did. He looked unearthly handsome. I remember thinking about it as I settled back down, fell back asleep.
When we arrived in Tokyo, it was late.
He was the official navigator of the trip and his first job was to help us find the pick-up point for our wi-fi packs (these small black boxes provided us each with continual wi-fi, where ever we went).
After a few false starts, we found the pick-up and got ourselves connected, once again, to the Internet. Then, he got us train tickets.
“Wait until you see the stations,” he said.
Though I have no idea if I will ever return to Japan, if I will be able to go without him, beyond the emotional heartbreak of going to a place we loved together but going in his absence, another unknown for me is whether I could navigate anywhere.
I still don’t know how one person could be so calm, could discern how and where and what train or car or train-change or station or street to take. It wasn’t that he had an innate sense of direction (he didn’t), it was that he just worked to understand, as best he could, where to go. He looked at apps and maps and directories. He was just about never wrong — there was only one time in Tokyo, on the first day, where we got on a sleek silver train only for him to realize, a stop later, that we were going in the complete opposite direction that we needed to go.
Aside from that one train, everywhere else, even if he was sometimes unsure, we ended up at the right place with no need for re-direction. Every time we had to transit somewhere, which was all the time, I just stepped back and waited until he looked up from his phone and said, “This way, baber.”
Then, I would follow him and when we were on the train, I would zone out, or sometimes fall asleep, but I never worried. I knew he would always be there to put his hand on my shoulder gently and say, “Babe, it’s the next stop. We’re the next one.”
This was one of the more hidden ways about the two of us. Outwardly, I think it appeared to others like I was the one leading. I was louder, sometimes more publicly opinionated, certainly far more stubborn, but the reality was, the one I always knew, was that he was the one that I followed.
In Japan, especially, this dynamic was evident.
Without him, I would have gotten no where. I would have been utterly and totally and entirely lost. Or, I should say: I am.
There is, of course, so much to see and do in Tokyo. We walked so much, sometimes averaging as much as 14kms a day. For many of the days, I wore my platform Doc Martens which were incredibly comfortable but so heavy they strained the fronts of my ankles after a few days (at that point I switched to my Vans).
There was the National Park where I FaceTime’d my family to show them the stunning expanse. It was a short call because I quickly realized I was the only person talking. Mostly, people were quiet, strolling through the park where he and I saw our first cherry blossoms of our trip. He had picked the park saying that I—garden obsessed—would think it was the best thing and he wasn’t wrong.
I talked about that garden for ages. I think of it often. All that abundance.
I also talked about the deliciously crispy fried chicken from 7-11 non-stop and he would go on to rhapsodize about the deconstructed ratatouilles that we would eat at TAKAZAWA where we sat beside art dealers who were celebrating the sale of not two but three original Cecily Brown pieces.
One night, after we had spent the afternoon at a five course tea tasting where we sampled a variety of carefully brewed and prepared teas (something that we would jointly sing the praises of after our trip to anyone that would listen), he took me down a long, narrow set of stairs to a largely locals-only pub.
Smoke filled the room and we squished ourselves onto the long brown bench that provided seating. Everyone was speaking Japanese, except for us. The servers had told him, when he asked, that mostly tourists didn’t come here.
Still, he persisted.
I was flustered and frustrated, convinced that we didn’t belong in the space. He stared at the menu and laughed, but only a little because I was glaring at him. Even he, with his rudimentary Japanese, couldn’t decipher what to order.
“We should leave,” I hissed.
“I love this,” he said looking around, grinning, trying to get me on side. “Look at all these people.”
Eventually, a couple sitting further down the long, wooden table leaned over and asked, in English, if we needed help. It turned out they had been in Tokyo for over 20 years but were originally from Canada as well. The woman’s husband thought my sweet man looked like an actor from the new Star Trek.
Even though he had to look up the ‘new Star Trek,’ later that evening on his phone, he was still so thrilled to be mistaken for someone famous.
“See, babe,” he said, as the couple helped us order a variety of dishes. “It all worked out.”
I rolled my eyes but couldn’t argue. The food was hot, abundant, and delicious. And, though I didn’t say it at the time, or after, he was right. The memory of that dim, smoky pub where everyone seemed to know everyone, except us, has always stayed with me.
He was so open — in this way. So turned towards the world. So happy to just take a walk down a set of stairs and sit down at a table amid the seethe and rush of the world.
Near the end of our time in Tokyo, we saw one of his favourite buildings in the world, which was designed by one of his favourite architects in the world: Kengo Kuma.
He had seen it before, when he was in Tokyo previously, but he still insisted on taking photos of the building from every angle. I watched him run around, his limbs poking everywhere to ‘get the shot,’ and thought, not for the first time, how especially gorgeous he was when he was looking at art and architecture, when he was in the presence of that which he loved.
Near to the Kengo Kuma building was the Senso-Ji temple. The markets were so packed with people we walked one in front of the other and when we happened upon the area where you could draw a fortune, we did.
His was bad, so he let it go, but mine was good, so I kept it.
He would end up drawing only bad fortunes the whole trip. I was having such a good time, I didn’t think much of it, and neither did he — though retrospection makes me feel differently.
By the final night, I had long admitted—repeatedly—that he had been right. This was, by far, the most perfect trip to take for our honeymoon.
“It is cold,” I said though.
“Yes,” he admitted. “It was far colder than expected.”
In fact, it was unusually cold. Several locals would mention this to us as we moved throughout the city. Apparently, usually, it was much warmer.
“See,” he would say. “How could I have known it would be so cold?”
Yet, he found a local mall for me to go to where he patiently waited while I tried on different kinds of sweaters, finally settling on two that I still have and love. I would wear those sweaters all throughout our trip, their warmth only failing me one day in Kyoto, when I would get so cold I would end up openly bawling in public at the base of a shrine (more on that later).
By the final evening in Tokyo, we had exhausted all of our plans.
During the day, we had been at the digital arts museum TeamLab, which was as visually stunning as promised and our only notion for the night was to go for drinks at Bar Orchard, a bar recommended to me by a friend. After that, we thought, who knew?
That night, his favorite memory of the entire trip, while not my favourite (but only because of the crucifying hangover that levelled me for two days), is one I think of often.
It was the way we tumbled out of the restaurant we ate at after the bar, arms linked, weaving to avoid street poles, laughing at absolutely nothing but our own existence. The night lights of Tokyo were (are) so bright. I kept looking up at them and he kept lightly steering me around people and garbage cans. Every so often, he would call out Left, or Right, and he would turn us down a street and then an alley and then another street.
At the time, I gave absolutely no thought to our location. We could have been in any part of Tokyo. We could have been miles and miles from our hotel. I wouldn’t have known. I didn’t need to know. One turn at a time, I knew he would bring us home.
As always, you can reach me by hitting “reply” on the Sunday email or by leaving a comment.