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Wednesday, July 19, 2000

WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST

Honeymoon journey a sore memory


Summer glows with sunshine, and so do my memories.

It is late July and time to chalk up another year on the marriage board, bumping our total to 21 and running. My mind harks back:

Our wedding . . . Our reception . . . Our honeymoons . . .

That's right: Honeymoons. More than one. My wife and I have enjoyed a total of six. A half-dozen cozy trips, sans the kids. Just she and I, off on our lonesome.

And why not? Honeymoons are fun. I would rather go on a honeymoon than do almost anything. On sleepy Sunday afternoons when my wife asks if I'm free, I always shout "Yes" and then suggest we go take another honeymoon, if only for 30 minutes.

I admit that most of those times I end up doing the dishes instead. Still, what better tool than a scouring pad to scrub up my recollections of honeymoons past?

In our case, the honeymoon that needs cleaning most is not the first (a steamy weekend at an onsen) nor the last (a warm romp through Sapporo's Snow Festival) but rather a journey my wife and I took in those last golden days before the invention of children.

A trip across the United States. By bus.

At the time I had seen more of Japan than I had of my homeland. The Greyhound bus lines, I figured, could provide just what I lacked: a coast-to-coast tour of the U.S.

"Uh . . . don't you mean a 'cheap' tour?" my wife poked.

"Be quiet," I countered. "Sit back and relax."

We flew from Tokyo to San Francisco, spent a night with friends and the next day found ourselves deposited at a bus station in Oakland, and plunged into culture shock -- American style.

First, a man strutted up to me and asked for money. I noted his poverty and his 50-cm biceps and emptied my pockets. What little change we had left was soon eaten by a vending machine. We entered the station cafeteria and were there munching toast when the place got robbed.

The excitement past, we staggered outside and gulped for air, only to be confronted by a man wearing the sour smell of alcohol and a hockey mask.

"You don't dare look at me, do you?" he spat. "After you killed my brother!"

"You killed his brother?!" my wife gasped. "When?!"

Rather than explain what I could not, I dragged her onto the safety of the bus, from where we watched "Hockey Man" accuse a half-dozen other passersby of murder. He still stood there when we rolled out, our adventure just beginning.

The first leg went well: a ride to Los Angeles for sightseeing and Mickey Mouse. After two short days we hiked back on the bus, heading east now for the Grand Canyon.

Already I was developing a body ache in a place I have never seen except in mirrors. My wife complained of similar pangs.

"But just look at the scenery!" I piped.

"It's night!" she snapped. "All I can see is the window!"

The next day the Grand Canyon proved breathtaking. Still, one's breath can only be taken so far. We had nothing to do but gape at the gash in the earth and await -- what else -- the bus.

"After this," my wife said, "I'm never going to sit down again as long as I live."

The bus plugged on across Arizona and into New Mexico. Outside we spied empty land and open sky, a view that never varied. Almost as if the bus were frozen on the landscape.

Inside, we massaged our rumps and turned our attention to games. Tick-tack-toe, connect the dots, 20 questions, thumb-sumo, mumbly-peg, rock-scissors-paper, real sumo, anything. We were losing our minds.

Texas began. Night passed. Morning came. Texas continued.

We perused our travel atlas. My wife memorized all the state capitals, then the state birds and the state flowers. And then several state constitutions.

Outside it was still Texas.

We drew a break, a meal at a roadside eatery. Till this time, we had stuffed ourselves with mostly chips and candy bars. Now, after begging to stand while we dined, we feasted on genuine Texas chili.

Delicious down to the last bite, except that the grease did not match our junk-coated stomachs. Our next lesson was that a bus is not the best place to encounter Davy Crockett's revenge. For the rest of the journey, we played tag with the toilet.

Texas continued. Flat, open land. Lots of it. And then some more of it.

I had a vision of eternity: We were going to be on this bus forever. My wife began to weep for children she now supposed she would never have. I dictated my last will and testament.

Then a miracle happened! A miracle named Houston!

We each made one quick sprint to the can and then lifted our brick-numb bottoms onto the bus station floor.

Together we blinked at the schedule board. Where next? New York? Miami?

Our decision was instant. Together we marched merrily back on the bus!

Straight to the Houston airport.

A plane would take us to my parent's home in less than two hours. By joint decision, our honeymoon was over.

Many years later, the happy marriage still remains!

As do, I confess, occasional pains in my backside.



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