Chapter 7: A Couch Apart

David Taylor

David Taylor is the creator of the Forever Foreign Podcast. He's been a full-time liver and Part-time lover of Japan for... possibly too long at this point.
You are currently viewing Chapter 7: A Couch Apart

What’s in a couch? For most people, it’s an assemblage of springs, wood, and fabric. Something to snuggle up on while watching a movie or while reading a good book. And that’s exactly what Devon figured when he set out on a journey far from Hotaru to find the perfect one. The one couch to rule them all and finally tie his room together.

But when he goes shopping, Devon learns that there can be more memories and feelings wound up in a pile of pillowy softness than he ever imagined.

We’re talking about much more than a couch in Chapter 7 of Forever Foreign.

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Production Credits

Writing, producing – David Taylor
Sound design – David Armfield
Story Edits – Juan Olivares
Voice of Devon – David Taylor
Voice of Callum – Josh Leach

Sound Credits

Coming in a minute!

Chapter 7: A Couch Apart (Transcript)

(mario-themed knock on the apartment wall)

(We hear Callum stand up, sigh, and take a few muffled footsteps)


DEVON: Wanna sit in on a recording?

CALLUM: No. Not really.

DEVON: Are ya suuuuuuurrrrrre?

CALLUM: Pretty sure. Yeah.

DEVON: What better things do you have to do?

CALLUM: Flaying myself alive.

DEVON: Oh, come on… Take a break from whatever you’re doing.

CALLUM: (exasperated sigh)

DEVON: I’m taking that as a yes! Alright…

Saturday, August 17th, 2013

Dear Henrik,

CALLUM: Do you really need me to be here for this?


Dear Henrik, 

There are no alarm clocks in the Gulag. No wakeup calls. No, in this ramshackle apartment we wake up with the sun.

Each morning harsh rays pierce the anorexic walls and tired old windows on the eastern face of the building. Within seconds you can feel the temperature start to rise. Here, your surroundings quickly become hostile… combative. You have no choice but to meet it.

This morning I did my best to avoid it, though. When I awoke, I kept my eyes shut tight, wanting to stay in the dark after all of the vodka from the night before. Actually, it was beer, but… that’s not the point…

When you’re in a foreign land you need to prepare for the worst, and last night was my first one spent with the locals. Who knows what might’ve ended up in my drink? And who knows what the humidity in this forsaken place might do to a man trying to sweat out the spirit?

When I finally mustered up the courage to open my eyes, I did so slowly. Very slowly. One eyelash at a time. And to my surprise I found that not only was my head not searing with god’s holy light burning the sin away, I actually felt totally fine.

Henrik, do you remember my list of things to clear up from when I first got to Japan? Well, I dusted that bad boy off and wrote in a stylish cursive script, “No hangovers in Japan?”

CALLUM: Great. Can I go back to work now?

DEVON: Oh. Senpai. I ain’t even close to done.

CALLUM: I told you already, I’m not your senpai. That’ll be Mio and Victor whenever we see them.

DEVON: Alright senpai.

CALLUM: I’m not— I’m going back to work.

DEVON: What’s the rush? I thought you like sticking around for these recordings.

CALLUM: I do. Usually. It’s just that I’m in the middle of working on this game and I’m stuck.

DEVON: All the more reason for a little time off! (slight pause) Can I take your hesitation to mean that you agree?

CALLUM: Alright, I’ll listen, but not here. I’m coming over.

DEVON: Great.

(Callum gets up, leaves his own apartment, and goes to Devon’s here. 4-5 soft footsteps, CALLUM’s door opening, closing, 5ish more soft footsteps. DEVON’s door opening and closing, 4-5 more footsteps, sitting down)

So, like I was saying, I felt like a spring chicken this morning. Like I’d been through a detox that actually worked. An Asahi beer detox.

Feeling as good as I was, I turned on a little Steely Dan and danced around the apartment. After everyone saw my fit of moonwalking during the festival last night, there’s probably more pressure than ever on me to keep my skills sharp. So I flitted from one end of the room to the other, as light as you please. And as I moved about I realized that, well, I had too much room to move about.

It was a thought that occurred to me last night as well when I hosted Callum, Alyssa, and Erika in my apartment after the festival. Counting up all of the potential seating furniture to my name, I had a bed, two folding zaisus – that’s a regular chair but without legs where the seat goes directly on the ground – and… I had the ground itself. Erika and Alyssa took the zaisus, Callum nabbed the bed, and I got stuck leaning against the wall. Needless to say, it’s not easy to host in those circumstances. And, Henrik, I want nothing more than to be a good host. I’ve already got about a hundred ideas for Christmas alone.

I have no idea how the last person who occupied this apartment managed to live like this for a year or more. I guess it’s possible that they didn’t. They might’ve sold their furniture before returning to their home country, leaving me with only the two chairs.

CALLUM: At least they left you that much. All I got from my predecessor was a fridge full of moldy slop. The cunt.

DEVON: Wooooooaaah, take it easy with the cunts, okay?

CALLUM: You just said it yourself!

DEVON: I guess I did… Hang on. I need to write a note to myself so I don’t forget. (Writing on paper) “August 17th… Bleep out the word cunt. (sets paper aside)

Okay, let’s move on. Fueled by an unanticipated abundance of energy and a loathing for any interior design that could be referred to as Spartan, I prepared to embark on a journey. The destination? Better home décor.

The first thing I did was text my friends to see who might want to join me. Henrik, by now I probably don’t need to tell you that cagy old Bree ignored the text. Ever the people pleaser, Erika gave a cheerful reply, but was sadly unavailable. My next door neighbor Callum, here, politely declined, saying he was working all day. Aaaand I guess now I know what he was working on. Alyssa was the only one who answered the call to arms.

We met at Hotaru station for the 11 o’clock departure for a town called Soja. After talking to Erika last night about where to buy furniture it seemed like the best bet was in the bigger populations to the south. She said that I could try my luck in Hotaru, but the choices in our little slice of rural paradise would’ve been few and far between.

It was both mine and Alyssa’s first time taking the train, so we showed up ten minutes early to be safe. I was wearing one of the two pairs of shorts I owned along with a t-shirt. Alyssa wore almost the same, only her shorts were shorter and her top was white where mine was black.

If you were ever in need of a category by which to clearly delineate Hotaru’s four new arrivals, you could do far worse than dedication to fashion. Alyssa and I are obviously firmly planted on the low end of that spectrum, but neither of us were thinking about that as we stepped inside the entrance to Hotaru station. It was my first time in the building, and only my second inside a station of any kind in Japan, the other being Okayama’s. Comparing the two is… well… it’s like apples and oranges.

The lobby of Hotaru station isn’t much bigger than my apartment, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in charm. Where Okayama station could be mistaken for a shopping mall given its size and the dozens of stores and restaurants, Hotaru station’s claim to such extravagance came in the form of two vending machines selling drinks next to a couple of wooden benches. There was also only one turnstile where Okayama had around 10 for the local trains alone, not to mention the bullet trains.

I, for one, appreciated the humble station. Mountains provide the ideal backdrop, and nature serves as an incredible soundtrack. If you stop to pay attention you’ll notice the sounds of wind rustling leaves and frogs croaking a chorus between the click-clack of arriving and departing trains. I’ll take that over buildings and chit-chat any day. At least I will for now.

In the corner of the building was a counter that reached a little under four feet in height. From there it was glass all the way to the ceiling with a small perforated circle meant for speaking into. Behind that counter was a gray-haired man wearing a short sleeved button-up shirt with a gold pin on his chest that read ‘JR’. ‘JR’ being an abbreviation for the company name ‘Japan Rail’.

He should’ve noticed Alyssa and me as we approached the counter – in fact I’m positive that he did – but it wasn’t something that he acknowledged. Instead, he rummaged through drawers and moved stacks of papers about, never fully raising his head.

I could’ve just said Konnichiwa to get the man’s attention, but for whatever reason I felt the impulse to use a name, or at the very least some kind of noun. Unfortunately I didn’t know the Japanese word for ‘sir’, and the only other clue I had was the pin on his chest since he wasn’t wearing a nametag. So I leaned in and said, “Konnichiwa, JR san.”

The man halted in the middle of stocking his ticket printer, standing up straight and meeting my eyes. For what felt like forever, but was probably more like ten seconds we stood with our faces three feet apart, locked in some strange psychic duel that was separated only by a sheet of glass. His glare was long and stern enough to make me realize that I’d done something wrong. And in retrospect it’s not hard to see what that was. I had, after all, done the equivalent of referring to a burger flipper as ‘Mr. MacDonald’.

CALLUM: Dude, you’re such a dumbass.

DEVON: Not a drongo?

CALLUM: That too.

DEVON: Hey, I got his attention. And after that I barreled through the discomfort, fumbling, bumbling and stumbling through an attempt at asking which train would get us to Soja station.

“Soja ni… ikitai… desu.” I want to go to Soja.

It was like he was waiting for me to give the secret password, and if I didn’t he would tear off his shirt to reveal rippling muscles before tossing me out the front door.

I said it once more, this time less certain. “Soja? Desu?”

What had changed since the first time I asked, I can’t claim to know, but the man’s scowl softened. He pointed behind him to the train tracks and said, “Go ban noriba.”

I nodded confidently, and after buying tickets, Alyssa and I thanked him as we moved through the gate. On the other side, we walked down a set of stairs that fed into a tunnel lined with travel posters. There were two sets of stairs other than the ones we’d used with signs pointing out the different platforms. The man told us that we needed to go to number 3, so—

CALLUM: That’s not—

DEVON: Shh! The man told us that we needed to go to number 3! So, I took Alyssa up the middle flight of stairs. At the top, there was a single silver train car waiting.

“Are you sure this is the one?” Alyssa asked.

“That’s what the man said,” I replied.

“Yeah, but you don’t really speak Japanese, do you?”

I heaved a sigh, stepping inside the second car. “I speak a little. Enough to get on a train. Are you coming or not?”

She looked sceptical, but joined me. At least she was about to join me.

“Oooooooooooy,” a frantic voice called out. “Ooooooy!”

The elderly attendant was hanging out a window in the station, waving at the two of us. He jabbed his finger violently, pointing behind us at the furthest platform where a large, mustard colored train was waiting.

“Go ban noriba!” he said, holding up his left hand and all of its digits. “Go ban!”

“Ahh platform 5, not 3,” I said to myself as much as to Alyssa.

“Hayakuuuuuu,” he bellowed. That means quickly.

CALUM: (short chuckle)

DEVON: Well, you don’t need to tell me twice, and you hardly needed to tell Alyssa at all. She was halfway down the stairs by the time I’d stepped off the silver train.

“Arigatou gozaimasu,” I yelled to the man as I waved.

“Hayakuuuuuu,” he replied.

When I got to the bottom of the stairs, Alyssa was already out of sight. Even at the top of the correct set she was still nowhere to be seen, so I jumped inside the first open car I saw. No sooner had I landed than the door was closing behind me, and within seconds the train was rumbling beneath my feet, jerking me to one side.

Bent over, hands on knees as I wheezed to catch my breath, I looked around for Alyssa. And wouldn’t you know it? She was calmly sitting down without a care in the world.

“You said you were a volleyball player in college, not a cheetah,” I said.

The train was mostly empty, this being the first stop. If I had to guess, I’d say there’s enough seating in one of those cars for 30 people and plenty more standing room. At the time, there was only a pair of old ladies quietly chatting on one end and a lone boy looking to be in his late teens at the other.

I was still struggling to catch my breath as I sat down across from Alyssa, both of us in double seats that faced each other. She had a serene smile on her face as she watched a map on her phone.

“What are you looking at?” I asked.

“Just wanna make sure this is the right train,” she said.

“Of course this is the right one. The guy just told us.”

“Do I need to remind you about the silver train back there?” She raised an eyebrow, shooting a playful look my way.

I sighed. “No, no… No need to mention that to anyone.”

After a minute or so of watching the little dot that was our train moving south she seemed to be satisfied. The screen on her phone went black as she returned it to her bag.

“Do you really think I’m that clueless?” I asked.

“Yup!” she laughed. “Oh, come on. You can’t blame me. The festival last night alone…”

She had a point. I probably don’t come across as much of a steadying presence. Not like herself, or Bree, or ma’ boy Callum here…

CALLUM: Damn right. I’m a rock.

DEVON: Let’s not take it too far, Mr. “Hold me, Devon, I’m terrified of having to move my body rhythmically to music.”

CALLUM: Piss off!

DEVON: Sorry, maybe that was uncalled for…

CALLUM: Nah, you’re good.

DEVON: Great. Well Henrik, what I wanted to say is that I’m starting to realize that I might be at the bottom of Hotaru’s totem pole as far as leadership qualities go. I always thought of myself as a risk taker. A trail blazer even. Maybe that’s a recipe for instability more than anything.

Wanting to steer the conversation with Alyssa in a different direction, I said, “Speaking of the festival… how much fun was that? Dancing around, eating tasty food, all the people.”

“It was so good,” she said, sounding a little surprised. “I had my doubts, but it delivered.”

“Doubts? What screams ‘fun’ more than a festival?”

She threw up her hands, defenseless. “For all I knew ‘Festival’ could’ve been Japan’s word for ‘formal ceremony’.”

“I’ve actually been meaning to ask you about that,” I said. “I figured I would be the low bar for knowledge on Japan, but it seems like that’s you. No offense. What made you wanna come here?”

“Honestly? I don’t know. I graduated college in the spring and could’ve interned somewhere, but a friend told me she was going to teach English overseas and it sounded like fun. That’s it. No lifelong dream. Nothin like that.”

“It’s not that far off from me, really,” I said. “I just got a head start.”

“I’m already feeling like I made a mistake,” she said. The joy seemed to drain from her face as she turned to look out the window.

“No way. Why?”

There was a short silence during which Alyssa watched the crowd of houses thin out as our train sped away from Hotaru. She pulled her gaze away, looking at me with a crease in her brow as she decided how much she wanted to divulge.

“Lots of stuff,” she said cautiously. “Like my boyfriend.”

“Ahhh a boyfriend back in Atlanta.”

“Yeah. The only reason I was able to come with you today is because he cancelled our skype date this morning. It’s nothing new. He’s been at the same job all through college. Sometimes he stays late if it gets busy.”

I must’ve had an overly sympathetic look on my face, because Alyssa was quick to correct any assumptions.

“It’s always been like that. That’s how it is working in restaurants. It just sucks because this morning was the only time we had to spend together this weekend. He’s got plans on his Saturday night and I’ll be talking to my parents anyway.”

“Sounds like you’re on the phone pretty much 24/7.”

“We’ve been here for two weeks, right? I guess I’ve been on skype seven or eight times in that span. What about you?”

“Not once,” I said.

Alyssa’s eyes grew wide and her mouth even fell open. Her reaction made it seem like I wasn’t simply not calling my family. I might as well have been actively trying to murder them with worry as far as she was concerned.

“Come on, it’s only been two weeks,” I said.

“Devon,” she said. And that’s all she said. That, paired with the heat in her eyes was enough for me to know that I was dangerously close to being thrown out of a moving train. I laughed, adding to the list of transgressions.

“It’s not like it’s been total radio silence. I message them. It just doesn’t feel right, calling them so soon after arrival. Don’t fret, Alyssa. I’m sure I’ll get in touch with them at some point.”

“What doesn’t feel right?” she asked.

I had to think about that, Henrik. It’s not really something that I’d ever put into words before, let alone made into a firm rule. It was more a feeling that I had. So I shrugged, not sure what to say.

“Well I think you should give them a call,” she said. “I’m sure they miss you, even if you don’t.”

“I don’t not miss them. I just…” I paused. It was a good long pause. Not the kind of pause that you might see in a movie, where the main character looks down at a hat in his hands that he’s been wringing. I didn’t have a hat. No, it was much less dramatic. Just your run-of-the-mill ‘thinking about an answer with your index finger on your chin’ sort of pause.

Finally, I said, “Have you ever wondered who you are, Alyssa?”

She laughed. It wasn’t the reaction I was hoping for, so I ended up joining her to avoid looking too weird. In retrospect, it might’ve been a little much for two fresh acquaintances on a train ride from Hotaru to Soja. But that’s where the conversation took us.

“Seriously,” I said. “Are you so comfortable in your own skin that you never second guess yourself?”

“Weren’t you listening? I’m second guessing myself 2 weeks into a 1-year contract.”

“But you even seem sure of your mistakes,” I said. “For me, it just feels like I’m still figuring things out. Being away from home is a part of that, and calling my mom every few days isn’t. She understands that. I hope my brother and sister do too.”

I guess the conversation was a little heavy, because it faded after that. For myself, it spurred on a lot of contemplation, and I can only imagine that Alyssa already had plenty on her own plate. While staring out the window at the river flowing below the train tracks I thought about my mom and my little brother and sister back home.

For a point of reference, Henrik, my sister’s starting university this year and my brother’s in grade 11. Knowing that they’re both still at home is the only reason I felt comfortable enough to leave for Japan in the first place. My mom has friends and family, but… Ahhh I don’t wanna think about that right now. Let’s get back on the train.

The route from Hotaru to Soja takes slightly more than an hour, and along the way we came across stations that made the one we started at seem gargantuan. Some were no more than a tiny box overgrown with weeds, cob webs, and mold. The areas surrounding those smaller stations were quiet and sometimes didn’t even have a single passenger waiting to board the train.

After half an hour the stops got marginally bigger until we ran into a town called Takahashi whose station is two or three times the size of Hotaru’s. As we left that town, the lack of humanity became a theme once more. It makes sense when I think about it. It is the countryside after all. Can’t expect the city to cover everything.

That’s what I was thinking up until we finally arrived in Soja, anyway. Looking out the window I saw a sprawl that would rival the one I grew up in back in Edmonton. Well, rival might be a strong word.

The train comes in from slightly higher ground, so you can see it all. Greenery melts away into a tide of concrete, mostly houses, but the occasional factory or school can be seen too. Soja is a flat city, with nothing rising more than four or five floors as far as I could tell. But it is wide.

The train pulled into the station, and as I stepped off I could hear the sounds of birds chirping. It took me a minute to realize that they weren’t real birds. Rather, it was a recording of birds meant to help guide blind people, just as the grooved yellow tracks in the ground were meant to do.

Alyssa and I followed the peaceful sounds up a set of stairs where we were met with a set of four gates. My ticket was sucked in by a mechanical mouth and the doors to that gate soon swung outward. One more set of stairs and we were outside next to a station front drop-off area full of taxis.

The shop I had in mind was nearby, almost a straight shot down the road, so we decided to walk. It was only ten minutes, but ten minutes in Okayama’s August heat is more than enough to turn a black shirt into a death trap. My forehead had a solid mat of wet hair stuck to it by the time we walked through the front doors, and every time I bent my arm I could feel a stickiness in the crook of my elbow.

Before leaving Hotaru I spoke to Erika, getting her recommendations for places to buy furniture. She gave me a few, but the one I was most excited for was a second hand shop called Tiger. Actually, in Japan they’re called recycle shops. Neat, right?

CALLUM: You guys went to Tiger? Ahh maaannn… If I would’ve known you were going there I might’ve gone with.

DEVON: Oh, I’m down to go any time, don’t worry.

Tiger had two sets of automatic doors, forming a sort of lobby in between where used bicycles were on display. Stepping through the second set brought aisles and shelves full of used goods into view. To the right was a collection of tents in what must’ve been the camping section and dead ahead was a fitness area full of weights and exercise bands.

Henrik, it’s only just occurred to me now, but I feel like going into a second hand shop with someone is a good test for their personality. A good bar to meet. If they don’t at least want to go inside and have a look it’s a sure sign that they’re too snooty for me. If they’re excited to go – like Callum here – it means that we might be best friend material.

Alyssa took tentative steps forward, pulling some kind of rolling pin with a treaded wheel off the shelf. “Erika recommended this place?” she said.

I nodded, eyeing her carefully.

“Pretty cool!”

Test passed. Simple as that.

While I was on a mission for furniture today, it was a pretty casual one. Definitely nothing requiring Ethan Hunt or James Bond’s skills. And with so much to look at, it was impossible not to spend an hour inside the walls of that place anyway, so Alyssa and I settled in for a lengthy stay.

The first thing to catch my eye was an entire area dedicated to toys, many still in their packages. There were musclebound Dragonball Z figures in mint condition, slightly faded Super Mario bath toys, and a hundred other characters that I’d never seen before. It was a feast for my inner child as much as other sections were for a more mature side of me.

CALLUM: You’re trying to make me jealous, aren’t you?

DEVON: Excited, not jealous! One aisle over, vinyl players were available next to boom boxes, crates full of microphones and electrical cables all tangled up. You could find a weird number of old B-movie DVDs, every sporting good from baseball bats to boxing gloves… There was also a section for clothes with a corner full of old shoes that even I was skeptical of. That’s not to say they weren’t clean. Everything in that store was in remarkable condition for being second hand. But, ya know… old shoes are old shoes.

If it weren’t for Alyssa I might’ve come home with a suitcase full of stuff. As it stood, she was the voice of reason, questioning whether I really needed a red moped helmet, or a single leather glove with metal studs, or that Godzilla lamp. To tell you the truth, she was completely unreasonable with that last one. Obviously I wasn’t not going to buy a Godzilla lamp. It’s about a foot and a half tall and the fire coming from his mouth is the light source, if you’re wondering, Henrik. Totally. Awesome.

The greatest find of the day, though, was a set of coffee mugs with inspirational phrases in Japanese. One of them read ‘ganbare’, meaning do your best. Another simply said ‘faito’, meaning… Wait, Callum! Let’s give Henrik a second to guess…

It means fight, Henrik. Fight. From now on, my morning coffee will be telling me to kick ass! Although the context is basically the same as ganbare, so I guess you could say that ‘fight’ in Japanese also means do your best. That fair?

CALLUM: Yeah, close enough.

DEVON: A few other mugs that I haven’t had time to translate ended up in my basket, and just when I thought the store couldn’t have served me any better, I came across a percolator a little way down the same shelf. As I wiped a thin layer of dust off the top of the metal jug I thought I’d never need to shop anywhere else again. Alyssa even had a few items of her own, that strange rolling pin exercise device among them.

Deciding that I had a good enough haul for one day, I went to the corner of Tiger to do what I’d come there for. Most of the pieces of furniture were coffee tables and shelves, none of which I really needed. In the entire store there was only one couch, and when I saw it I had to pinch myself. It was a love seat upholstered with an eerily familiar shade of red. The ridge of the back cushion crested in the middle like a symmetrical wave, and six-inch straight wooden legs were covered by skirts along the bottom.

I don’t know how you feel about kismet, Henrik. Serendipity. Fate. For me, it’s never been something I put much stock in. But I had to think long and hard about re-evaluating my entire philosophy as I stared at the assemblage of cotton and lumber in front of me. Even talking about it now, I can’t believe it. The couch was the exact, same as the one in my mom’s family room in Edmonton. Down to the very pattern of the threads.

Wanting to see if it felt the same, too, I lowered myself down at one corner. The tired old springs didn’t have much room to give, and the cushions were just as stiff. Under my weight, dry, dusty air was released from inside, tickling my nostrils. When I breathed it in… I was home… I don’t know how else to put it.

Several feet away Alyssa was inspecting an end table, oblivious to my revelation. I covered my eyes, then uncovered them to see if she was still there and not just some conjuring of this dreamscape. I did this several times until she noticed and made her way closer to me. When she was at my feet she tilted her head, as if making an inspection.

“You’re not seriously thinking about buying this,” she said. “Do you really want another person’s sofa? Someone might’ve had sex on it.”

“You’re right,” I said. “Let’s go.”

I don’t know whether Alyssa is an empath or not, but she came at just the right time. I shudder to think that I might’ve bought that red couch.

We paid at the front for what we did have in our baskets, my total being quite a bit higher. And as we walked out the front door I couldn’t help but turn around for one last look at the sofa in the back of the store. I’ll be shocked if it doesn’t haunt my dreams. It certainly haunted my thoughts as Alyssa and I went back the way we’d come.

There was one other place I wanted to try in Soja that day; a store called Nitori that’s dedicated to furniture. It’s on the third floor of a shopping mall near the station, and if you’re ever in need of furniture I highly recommend it. If you’re from Sweden like I imagine you are, Henrik, you might have even more reason to love it. It’s basically the Ikea of Japan!

I’m more than happy to say that at no point did I encounter any doppelganger furnishings within the walls of that fine establishment. There were things of similar shapes and sizes, of course, but nothing that made the hairs on my neck stand up. Actually, I did my best to stay away from anything that reminded me at all of my birthplace. That led me away from any sofas with visible legs first, then the legs were removed altogether which introduced me to a whole new genre of furnishings.

Henrik, I’d like to ask you to go back in your memory 20 minutes or so to when I talked about something called a zaisu; the chairs that have no legs, with seats that go directly on the ground and adjustable backs. Well, there are many versions. The ones in my apartment are single seaters, and not all that comfortable. But there are bigger ones. Chair shaped clouds that make what’s sitting in my apartment look like slabs of cardboard by comparison. And that’s not all. There are zaisu sofas and sectionals, too!

Dig back a little further, Henrik, and you might remember me talking about my kotatsu. It’s basically a square coffee table with a heater underneath. The top is separated into two sections so that you can fit a blanket between. It droops down over the sides, trapping in the heat. The sofas I was looking at were a perfect match for kotatsus.

Turning to Alyssa with a dreamy look in my eyes, I said, “Picture yourself lounging on one of these. Legs and hands toasty warm beneath the kotatsu blanket as our little group of friends snuggle up to watch a Christmas Carol on December 25th. Maybe we’ll have some hot buttered rum. Egg nog. Candy canes. I don’t know if they do turkey here, but I’m sure we can make something happen.”

She was rolling her eyes halfway through that speech, of course, but I absolutely caught her smiling as she turned away. No doubt about it.

That smile settled things. I chose a long couch that could easily fit three or four people. They offered it in red, but I went with midnight blue instead.

There were small cards with barcodes next to all of the pieces of furniture that you bring to the counter when ready to check out. Grabbing one, I followed Alyssa who was set on going up and down every aisle before leaving.

“You sure that’s the sofa for you?” she asked as she studied a salad bowl.

“Positive,” I said.

“Laying on the floor like that just doesn’t seem very relaxing,” she said. “I need a foot or two of clearance.”

“Maybe I’ll hate it,” I said. “Seems like a fun thing to try, though. What about you? Are you getting anything?”

I pulled a set of chopsticks from off the shelves, waving them under her nose.

“Nothing’s caught my eye yet.”

If you’d asked me to put bets on what would’ve caught Alyssa’s eye I might’ve said Tupperware for meal prep. Maybe a bottle for protein shakes. But when we finally got to the register to pay, she had a pillow shaped like a piece of white bread under her arm. There I was thinking that she would never associate herself with anything high on the glycemic index.

CALLUM: (short chuckle)

DEVON: When we were ready to leave there was some confusion about the sofa I wanted. I clearly needed them to deliver it, but struggled to get that across. Moments like these are starting to become regular for me, though. Sort of a specialty. Where previously I might’ve broken into a flop sweat, I took a deep breath, coolly showing them my address and looking up the word for delivery on my Japanese dictionary app. It was relatively painless, and because of the exchange I now know the word haitatsu.

Nnnnow that I think about it, though… I was just as sure that we were getting on the right train this morning. Oh god, my couch is probably going to Bangkok, isn’t it?

CALLUM: Probably never gonna see that thing in your apartment.

DEVON: Ugh… guess we’ll find out on Monday.

It was past 3 PM when we left Nitori, so Alyssa and I walked back to the station and got on a train for Hotaru. Thankfully there wasn’t any trouble finding the right one this time. I don’t know if it’s a hard rule, but it seems like all of the carriages that run along the line from Soja to Hotaru are the same mustard yellow. Makes things a little simpler.

The one we were in for the return trip was a lot busier than what we’d ridden that morning. Alyssa and I actually had to find seats in separate sections. But once we stopped in Takahashi, a lot of them got off, allowing us to sit next to each other.

Plopping down next to her, I saw she was glued to her phone, this time looking over some messages. “Boyfriend?” I asked.

“What gave me away?” she said.

“You have the same look on your face as the one from this morning. I also happened to see that you’re talking to someone called bae. Figured it wasn’t your dad. What’s the lucky guy’s name, anyway? It can’t possibly be bae, right?”

“His name is Isiah,” she said.

“What’s Isiah like? Paint me a picture.”

“We met at Georgia Tech in my junior year. He was a sophomore.”

My face was totally blank. I don’t know why Americans need special names for each year in college other than to confuse everyone else.

“I was in my third year, Isiah was in his second,” she explained.

At my prodding I learned quite a bit about this Isiah character. He’s a history major, which automatically put him in my good books. He’s also great at cooking, comes from a big family, and is a subpar athlete, at least by Alyssa’s near-professional standards.

As we roared through tunnels and along forested river banks the thing that I learned above all from the girl sitting next to me was that she’s in love. So much so that it made me wonder why she would ever leave the guy for a year. But I didn’t want to ask. She was already struggling enough with her situation.

“Isiah sounds like a really great guy,” I said.

“He is. And it looks like he’s still up. I should be able to get in a little call after we’re back.”

So we’d returned to the issue of calling home… I get why she’s doing it, Henrik, but her situation and mine are completely different. When I mentioned getting to know myself better I wasn’t just blowing smoke. I take it very seriously.

Whether it’s moonwalking in the middle of a festival parade, nearly getting onto the wrong train, or just setting up my apartment in a way that’s different from what I’ve always known, every day over here brings me a little closer to… me.

When we got back to Hotaru station, Alyssa and I walked with the handful of other returnees through the short underground tunnel that runs beneath the train tracks. Up the stairs on the other side was the same old man behind the ticket booth, and when he saw Alyssa and me he waved, gesturing for us to stand off to the side.

We waited for the fifteen or so passengers to hand their tickets over, wondering what the whole thing could be about. When he beckoned us to come to the window he crouched down in his little room to grab a piece of paper, which he laid flat on the counter. I can read it word for word since he asked me to take it home. Actually… Since you’re here, why don’t I get you to read it, Callum?

(handing paper over, unfolding paper)

CALLUM: Ahem. “The name of company that operates Japanese domestic railway is ‘JR’. The badge pin on the shirt is not a name tag, it’s just a badge pin. Please know it. My name is not JR. I am… Village God?”

DEVON: Read the last bit.

CALLUM: Beneath all of that it says, “By Google translate.”

(tossing paper onto table)

What could Village God mean?

DEVON: Maybe it has something to do with the kanji in his name? Here, he gave me a business card.

CALLUM: Ahhhh Murakami. Mura is village and kami is god.

DEVON: Mystery solved! So after reading all of that I thanked Village God for saving us earlier in the day and apologized for being trouble. He seemed to understand everything I said, but who knows?

Once we were out of the station Alyssa waved goodbye as she skipped off for her apartment and the call that awaited. Slinging my bag full of secondhand items over my shoulder, I walked to the bridge down the road, pausing in the middle to look westward.

It wasn’t late enough for the sun to be setting, but it was at a lovely angle just above the river and mountains. A breeze blew, brushing cool against my cheek, and beneath my feet the water softly murmured. In that moment, I thought about how lucky I am. It’s something that’s easy to forget, Henrik, and that’s why I try to stop to think about it as often as possible.

After a few minutes of reflection I walked back to my apartment where I unloaded my things, the first being the Godzilla lamp. Plugging it in next to my nightstand, I stood back to evaluate the new addition. The blue flame coming from his mouth was as bright as I could’ve realistically hoped for; more of a grisly mood setter than a reading lamp.

While I was there, I tried to picture what the room would look like once the floor sofa arrived. Some things might have to be rearranged. Maybe the bed would go to a different area, the TV could move next to the dresser… However it turns out, the atmosphere in my apartment is gonna be completely different!

That’s pretty much everything I wanted you to hear, Callum. Gonna head back to work on your game?

CALLUM: Nah, you’ve got my head out of it. Wanna grab some ramen?

DEVON: Hell yeah mate! I’m starving!

CALLUM: Don’t bother trying to use mate in a sentence ever–

DEVON: Lemme just put a bow on this. We’ll talk about that later.

I washed my motivational coffee mugs at the sink, dried them off, and put them on the counter top. Setting the percolator down next to them, I had one last fated epiphany.

I don’t know how I didn’t notice it at the recycle shop, but now that I’m back home I can’t help but see that what’s on my counter is just like what I used to make coffee back home. The same as the one I got from my grandpa along with the coffee mill. They’re both pretty ordinary with no markings of any kind, but the resemblance… It’s suspicious.

I’m not gonna toss the thing just because it reminds me of home, though. I couldn’t. Especially not when the universe has gone to such lengths to bring it to me. No, I’ll definitely have to hang on to it. Every morning it’ll get me started, and every day it’ll serve as just the tiniest reminder not to forget where I come from.

After all, there’s no scraping away your past, Henrik. No such thing as a completely clean slate. And that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Where we come from is important. For me, it’ll always be a part of who I am. Probably the same for you, hey Call—

CALLUM: Ahh mate, you should’ve left it at that! You had the ending just right.

DEVON: I can always cut this out.

CALLUM: You actually edit these things? I thought you were joking… Well, to answer your question, there’s no running from Adelaide for me either. Actually it’s part of the reason I was such a bogan when I stepped into your apartment today.

DEVON: Whadya mean?

CALLUM: Chat with my parents. They were just getting all over me about what–

DEVON: No, no… I mean, what’s a bogan?

CALLUM: I’ll tell ya over ramen if you really wanna know. Let’s go.

DEVON: Alright. See ya tomorrow, Henrik!