I walked through Osaka with the English Airbnb host.
He said, “I came to Japan to teach English after college, found another job after that, met my girlfriend, and then I just never left.”
I said, “Do you like living here?”
He said, “It’s isolating. People here don’t respect Westerners. There’s a word for it – gaijin. It means foreigner. It’s derisive.”
I said, “Oh, I remember that word. From The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.”
He said, “When I speak Japanese here, peoples’ mouths drop. They just assume all foreigners don’t speak Japanese, aren’t curious about Japanese culture, and have come to fuck their women.”
He seemed resentful about that last thing. I didn’t say anything.
He said, “The internet speeds are fast. Really fast. Second-fastest in the world after South Korea.”
I said, “That’s sick.” He said, “Yeah.” We walked for a while without saying anything. I couldn’t think of anything else to talk about and he was comfortable with silence. Luckily, I thought of something.
I said, “What language do you think in?”
He said, “Depends on who I’m talking to. If I’m talking to someone in Japanese, I think in Japanese, but if I’m talking to someone in English, English.”
I said, “What if you’re not talking to anyone?”
He said, “Depends on the situation, like the stimulus. If I’m on the subway here and the ads are Japanese, I think in Japanese. If I’m on the street in London, English.”
I said, “What if there are no stimuli? Just, like, laying in bed at night with the lights off, waiting to fall asleep?”
He said, “Probably Japanese.” I said, “Have you thought about moving back to England?” He said, “I’ve thought about it, but, like, what’s there for me now? I haven’t lived there in a decade. All of my friends have professional jobs, wives, some have kids. I wouldn’t know where to start.”
We got closer to Supreme. I explained some of my theories about the brand, including the underworld accessories theory and the intentionally unsalable clothing theory.
He said, “Have you considered that it’s just a bunch of guys who put things they think are cool on t-shirts and skateboards? And then people like you develop elaborate theories about why they are cool? But there may just be nothing there beyond people putting things they think are cool on t-shirts?”
I said, “I’ve considered that. But I guess it’s like really religious people – they must wonder, sometimes, whether God is real, right? Like, if you’ve dedicated your life to serving God by being a monk, you must wonder, at least occasionally, whether God is real, right? Or if the whole thing is bogus?
And there’s no proof for it, so they just choose to believe it’s real, because life would be meaningless if it wasn’t.”
He said, “But your life wouldn’t be meaningless if this Supreme brand was just guys putting things they thought were cool on T-shirts. You aren’t a monk for Supreme.”
I said, “I have a lot of eggs in this basket.” He smiled.
He said, “Where else are you going in Japan?”
I said, “We’re thinking about going to Kyoto next. ere’s no Supreme store there, but my traveling companion said it’s worth checking out. All the temples and stuff. She was there last year with her sister. I told her I don’t give a shit about Shintoism, but she still thinks it’s worth seeing. What do you think?”
He said, “one thing about the temples here is that once you’ve experienced one, you’ve experienced them all. It’s like the people.”
At Supreme, I touched all of the clothes again. The Airbnb host seemed intrigued by a t-shirt. He looked at it for a while.
I said, “Could I ask you a favor?” He said, “Maybe.” I pleaded, “Would you be able to ask one of the employees here a question in Japanese? I’m curious about what they like about Supreme, or, like, what they see in it.”
We went up to the counter. My host asked the question in Japanese and the guy behind the counter answered. My host turned to me.
He said, “He said, ‘I think Supreme, some day, could be like Ralph Lauren.’”
I said, “Can he elaborate?”
My host turned and asked the question. The employee answered.
He said, “He said that Supreme makes good clothes, they’ve made them for a long time, and they have a consistent aesthetic.”
I must have had a puzzled look on my face. My host said, “I’ll explain when we walk home.”
I said, “Can I ask another question? is might be sort of a stretch.”
My host nodded.
I said, “Can you ask him, like, where he parties? Or, like, where people who work at Supreme party? Or, like, where they will be partying tonight?”
The Airbnb host turned and asked the question and said a lot of stuff in Japanese. He talked for 30 seconds. I didn’t understand what he was saying. The Supreme employee behind the counter laughed. He took out a Supreme business card and wrote an address on it. They said more things back and forth in Japanese.
We walked out of the store.
When we get onto the street, I said, “Thank you. Wow, fuck. This is awesome. I can’t believe this. I’m gonna get to see these guys in their natural element.”
For the first time, my host looked at me like I wasn’t bothering him. He said, “No problem. I can understand where you’re coming from. Like, you’re obsessed with this. There’s a word for it in Japanese – ‘otaku.’ It means, like, nerd. And it doesn’t matter what other people think – it’s just part of who you are. I feel the same way about gaming – like, some people might think whatever about watching professional gaming, but fuck them.”
I said, “What was the thing you wanted to say after he said the Ralph Lauren thing?”
My host said, “Fashion means something different in Japan. Like, in America, or in England, fashion has some cultural connotation – a guy with dreadlocks and a beanie with the colors of the Jamaican flag is communicating that he’s, like, a Rastafarian. Maybe that he smokes weed, you know? Sees the world in a certain way? Or, like, in England, a guy with dyed black hair in tight black jeans and a leather jacket with anarchy patches and pins all over it – that guy is a punk. And he hates Margaret Thatcher, or the state in general, or David Cameron or Conservatives. Like you – you wear skate shoes, baggy pants, a hoodie – you’re, like, a ‘slacker’ or something. Or a hipster. Or you want to be seen as one, by communicating it through what you wear. You expose your ideology through your clothing.”
I said, “How is that different in Japan?”
He said, “In Japan, clothing doesn’t really have a cultural connotation the same way you think of it. Here, if you see a guy with dreadlocks, it’s because he thinks that’s a cool hairstyle, not because he smokes a lot of weed. In fact, weed is illegal here. Like, they’ll put you in jail. No one smokes weed here. You can barely get Tylenol. And if you see a guy dressed like a punk, it’s unlikely that he actually, you know, is an anarchist or something. He thinks it’s just a cool way to dress. So for these guys, Supreme and Ralph Lauren are somewhat interchangeable – Ralph Lauren might look like ‘preppy American gear,’ and Supreme would look like ‘skater American gear,’ but they’re not thinking of it the same way – they think of it aesthetically, but the aesthetics don’t mean anything.”
I said, “What were you saying to him when you were talking for like 30 seconds?”
He said, “I told him you were going on a trip to every Supreme store in the world. He said you were otaku. He said,
‘He can come to the bar.’” We walked along for a while as I smoked. The Airbnb host said, “People here aren’t rebellious the same way. Skaters here wear Supreme, but skateboarding doesn’t have the countercultural connotation it does in the US or the UK. It’s just another thing to do, like running or biking. And so Supreme doesn’t mean the same thing to people here as, I imagine, what it means to you. There is no counterculture. There is no political discord. A few weeks ago, the President proposed a major economic plan and the whole country was like, ‘The leader thinks this is a good idea? Let’s try it!’ They just follow the leader.”
I wasn’t sure if he was right, but I guess he knew better than I did.
He said, “People here think, if something is wrong in their life, that it’s their fault, not someone else’s. Not the state’s. They turn it inward.”
I said, “Is that, like, the people who stay in their houses for years at a time?” He said, “Yeah. Western-style rebelliousness is… Lost in translation.” We got back to his apartment. He went inside. I wandered around the neighborhood. I stopped at 7/11 and got a rice triangle and a piece of fried chicken and ate it on the street. I found another 7/11 and bought a small whiskey and drank half. I smoked three and felt uncomfortable, so I took an Ativan. I went back to the apartment.
The host was watching the video game championship on the couch. Camilla was still napping. I put on my Supreme Flower Pants. Soft cotton and covered in oral print. I crawled into bed beside her.
We went to the bar whose address the Supreme employee wrote down. It was on the third floor of a building full of bars. Very remote from the street. We stood in the doorway. I scanned the faces of the people sitting in the bar.
There were fifteen Japanese skaters dressed in Supreme and Stüssy, sitting on couches or at long tables. A skater with a beautiful voice did karaoke to a schmaltzy ballad.
Half of the skaters appeared to have girlfriends, sitting next to them, generally dressed in clothing of the same brand as their boyfriends. The guys and their girls sat very close to each other. Everyone was smoking.
I scanned the room for the Supreme employee. I couldn’t find him. Gradually, everyone turned and looked at us and stopped talking.
I whispered to Camilla, “I think they don’t see many Americans in this bar.”
Camilla whispered, “Y’all act like you’ve never seen a white person before, jaws all on the floor like Pam and Tommy just burst in the door.”
I looked around. I said, “How do you know that by heart?”
She said, “It’s only two lines.”
I saw a guy sitting on a couch in the corner of the bar, next to a window, without a girl next to him. He looked at us like he recognized us.
He stood up and walked over to us.
He pointed at me and said, “Shpreme! You love?”
I took a second to recognize that he was saying Supreme. I nodded and smiled.
He pointed to himself and said, “Also, love Shpreme. I working in Shtüssy.”
I reached out to shake his hand. I said, “I’m David.” He shook my hand. He pointed to himself and said, “Shogo.”
Camilla introduced herself. Shogo had trouble pronouncing her name. She said, “You can just call me C.” He didn’t understand. She pointed to herself and said, “C.”
He looked at her and said, “C. C. C.,” practicing.
I looked around again for the Supreme guy. I said, “Is the Supreme guy here? The guy who works at Supreme?”
He shook his head. He pointed to himself and said, “Shtüssy. Work Shtüssy.”
I said, “Ah, cool, Stüssy.”
He said, “You love Shtüssy?”
I don’t care for Stüssy but I didn’t want to offend him. Supreme or nothing. I said, “Oh, yeah, I love it.”
He said, “Yes, cool.”
I said, “Thanks for having us. This is really pretty much what I wanted to happen on a trip around the world to every Supreme store.”
He looked at me like he was trying to piece it together. I realized that he understood maybe one or two words I’d said.
I said, “Arigato,” and bowed, and he bowed back.
He beckoned to a guy sitting on a couch near him. The guy came over to us and said, “English. I study. I am friend Shogo. Our friend, work Shpreme, say you are coming. He say you go every Shpreme around the world. Otaku.”
I said, “Sweet.” We introduced ourselves to the translator. He was also wearing all Stüssy. I said, “Thanks for having us.”
The translator told Shogo what I’d said. Shogo said something back. The translator said, “He says you are welcome.”
I ordered a whiskey from the bar. I sat on a couch near Shogo, the translator, and a woman who appeared to be the translator’s girlfriend based on how close together they were sitting.
Camilla went to the bar and ordered a beer for herself. She came back to where I was sitting.
She said, “Hey, can you get this? I don’t have any cash.”
I said, “Sure. I have like $40. That should be enough for a while. Just tell him to put it on my tab.”
She nodded and went back to the bar, got her drink, and sat down on a couch across the room. She introduced herself to a couple and started drinking the beer. She wanted to make friends. I understood that.
I told Shogo and the translator where we were going on our trip, that we lived in Brooklyn, and asked them about themselves. The translator’s girlfriend didn’t say a word. When the translator didn’t understand what I was saying, I typed emojis into my phone. But it got tiresome. I felt like I was playing charades. And it was impossible to exchange any non-benign information.
I walked over to Camilla. She was drinking a second beer and talking to people in similar charades.
I whispered, “I can’t talk in charades anymore.” We went to the bar. I ordered a shot of whiskey.
She said, “Go back and talk to them. Or, like, just listen to them. If you didn’t try to talk so much, you wouldn’t have to do the charades thing so much. Don’t be rude.”
The bartender put my shot down and Camilla picked it up and drank it. I ordered another one.
We went back to our respective seats. I talked to Shogo about American music. I talked to the translator about how English is different from Japanese. Who gave a shit. I felt like I was in a group exercise in my high school French class. “An exchange student comes to stay with your family…”
Thee skater doing karaoke was singing loud. I slid a little closer to the translator on the couch so I didn’t have to yell or lean in to his ear to speak.
Shogo reached into his back pocket and took out his iPhone because, I guess, no one was talking to him. As he reached back, it tugged his long sleeve up a little. I saw that he had a tattoo, two black bars, on his wrist.
I pointed to it and said, “Tattoo?”
He looked surprised. He didn’t say anything.
I said, “I have a tattoo also.” I pulled up my sleeve and showed him mine. “Fuck Bush.” I’ll never forgive him.
He smiled and lifted up his sleeve to his elbow. His forearm was covered.
He said, “In America, tattoo, is cool?”
I said, “Oh, yeah, super cool.”
I said, to the translator to say to Shogo, “We heard that the only people who are in the Yakuza have tattoos. Is that true?”
The translator looked at me. He didn’t even turn to Shogo.
He shook his head.
I said, “Ah, okay. Good to know.”
Th e translator nodded. And then he spoke to Shogo in Japanese for a while as I sat there. Something was wrong.
I looked for Camilla to bring her over to show Shogo her tattoo. She was sitting at the bar and drinking another beer.
I came up to her and said, “Hey, the Stüssy guy has tattoos. And the translator says it doesn’t mean he’s in the Yakuza. Do you wanna show him your tattoo?”
Camilla said, “You asked them if they were in the Yakuza?” I thought about this for a second.
She said, “Like, point blank?”
I said, “Not exactly?”
She said, “You’re an idiot.”
I said, “I guess I just figured it would be obvious that I’m cool with them being in the Yakuza. And, like, they wouldn’t think I was a threat. Like, an undercover cop or something. Like, a cop wouldn’t just ask if they were in the Yakuza.”
Camilla sighed and took a drink. She leaned in close to my face and said, “Can we dance? I want to dance. I don’t want to talk anymore. It’s pointless.” Her breath smelled like alcohol.
I said, “You can. You know I don’t dance.”
Camilla said, “Why not?”
I said, “I’ll embarrass myself.”
She just looked at me.
I said, “I can’t dance. I’m a loser, have always been a loser, and will always be a loser. I just can’t. I’ll look like an idiot. You dance.”
She said, “Who gives a fuck? We’re fucking in Japan. You’re never gonna see any of these people again.”
I said, “I’ll see you again.”
I ordered a whiskey and water. I sat down on the couch with Shogo and the translator again.
They weren’t smiling at me anymore. I thought, “I shouldn’t have asked about the Yakuza.”
I watched Camilla dancing by herself. She was an amazing dancer. She looked like she was in Saturday Night Fever. For the second or third time on this trip, she looked happy.
I smoked another one. In Japan, the cigarettes were categorized by milligrams of nicotine. An American Spirit Blue had 16 milligrams. The Marlboros I bought had 1 milligram. I thought, “I could smoke those all night.”
Shogo and the translator kept looking at my Flower Pants and at Camilla, dancing by herself. They were putting two and two together.
I felt embarrassed about the Flower Pants. They were meant to demonstrate confidence in my masculinity, but suddenly, it seemed like I was just a guy wearing very effeminate pants.
The karaoke singer started singing even louder. I slid very close to the translator on the couch to speak into his ear.
I said, “Do you have any tattoos?”
Shogo reached out and put my hand onto the translator’s knee. He started laughing. He said, “Gay? Gay?”
I laughed nervously and said, “No, I’m not gay.”
Shogo pointed at me and the translator. Shogo laughed, and then he looked half-serious for a second, and then he laughed again.
The translator laughed too. He looked at me and pointed at his girlfriend with his thumb. He said, “My girlfriend.”
I looked at the translator. I pointed to my pants and said “Supreme” to justify them in case these flamboyant pants were why they thought I was gay.
He looked at Shogo for confirmation that they were indeed Supreme. Shogo nodded and said, “Shpreme.” Supreme has never made an article of women’s clothing.
I pulled out another one and lit it.
Shogo pointed at me and said, “Kissing?” and then pointed at the translator. I didn’t understand. He said, “You want kissing?” I realized it was because I was leaning in very close to the translator’s ear to speak.
I slid away from the translator.
I pointed to my ears and then pointed to the speakers. I held my hands up and opened and closed my palms to signal that the singing was loud. He said something to Shogo in Japanese. ey talked for a while. I knew they were talking about me. I didn’t know what to do.
I finished my drink. I stood up and walked back to Camilla. I brought her to the bar.
I said, “There’s something weird going on. They’re making fun of me. Shogo and the translator just joked that I was gay, like a schoolyard taunt. It was weird. And then Shogo put my hand on the translator’s knee and suggested I wanted to kiss him because I was leaning in to talk to him. Because it’s loud in here.”
Camilla said, “Why do they think you’re gay?”
I said, “Because I’m wearing floral pants and I was leaning in to the translator’s ear really close. And, like, I’m here with you. And we’re not, like, boyfriend and girlfriend. So, like, what’s the alternative?”
Camilla said, “What do you mean, ‘What’s the alternative’?”
I said, “What’s the alternative to us being boyfriend and girlfriend? Like, in the minds of the people here. It’s either we’re dating or I’m gay and you’re my friend.”
Camilla said, “Why can’t we just be two people who aren’t dating?”
I said, “Because two heterosexual adults of the opposite sex traveling around the world for pleasure…? That’s just, like, not a social configuration that exists in adult life.”
Camilla said, “That’s not true.”
I said, “It is true. It’s only because we met in college and became friends that we happen to now be two heterosexuals friends of the opposite sex traveling the world for pleasure. College is the last time this happens. But we’re 26 now. Like, when was the last time you met a straight man who you had no work relationship with and became platonic friends with him? Probably, like, me, right?”
Camilla looked like she was trying to think of a person who fits this description.
I said, “Adults want only money and sex. The only reason our relationship is exempt is because it was frozen into the friendship paradigm in college, when straight people were making new friends of the opposite sex. But the people in this bar don’t know that. And it would take like a half an hour to explain it.”
Camilla looked around the bar and exhaled. She didn’t say anything. She was frustrated.
I said, “I know what you’re gonna say. You’re gonna say, ‘Dip it in ranch, David.’ But I will not dip it in ranch. There’s something ominous going on here.” Camilla said, “You’re wrong. But I don’t want to litigate this with you now. Why do you even give a shit if they think you’re gay? It’s not like we’re in, like, Uganda. I bet we’re within walking distance of a gay bar.”
I said, “Because the Stüssy guy is probably a gang member. Because of the tattoos. And now he knows that I know.” Camilla said, “Let’s pretend for a second that you didn’t just tell me having tattoos doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in a gang—what does that have to do with it?”
I said, “Have you seen The Sopranos?”
Camilla said, “Yeah.”
I said, “You remember the episode where Junior doesn’t even want anyone to know that he goes down on women? Imagine if he was gay. They would kill him for sure. I mean, granted, he was in their gang, but, like… Gang members just don’t like it. I don’t know how Japanese gang members would react to an apparently homosexual American in their bar.”
Camilla rolled her eyes. She picked up her drink and looked back at the dance floor.
She said, “We’re fine. This is the safest country on the planet. You’re being paranoid.”
I said, “Probably.”
I finished my drink. I signaled to the bartender to bring me the check with the check-in-the-air hand signal.
She said, “Do you want me to pretend to be your girlfriend?”
I said, “I would rather just go home. You stay. This isn’t that fun.”
Camilla pouted. She said, “Can we just have one decent night out? If you leave, I have to leave too.”
I knew she was right.
I said, “You really wanna stay?”
Camilla nodded. She gave me a pleading look.
I said, “Okay, you can pretend to be my girlfriend.” Camilla looked relieved. She looked up at the ceiling. She said, “God, I don’t know what I did to deserve the honor of pretending to be this dipshit’s girlfriend so people don’t think he’s gay, but thank you.”
I said, “You don’t really think I’m a dipshit. You’ll secretly like pretending to be my girlfriend.”
Camilla rolled her eyes again. She kissed me on the cheek. She pulled away and looked at me. I guess I looked stunned.
She kissed me on the lips.
I felt a rush of uncomfortable feelings. It didn’t feel good. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. As she kissed me, I just sat still. I just wanted to leave. She kissed me again. I thought, “Why didn’t it feel good?” I didn’t know.
I put my arm around her and rubbed her back. My arm was stiff like I’d never rubbed a back before.
I thought, “If this woman were my girlfriend, how would I be acting? I’ve had girlfriends before, I know how to do this.” Camilla took my hand and dragged me to the dance floor.
She started dancing. I stood there.
I tried to dance – one foot, the other foot, my arms, my neck, moving in a rhythm. I had to think about every step. I hated dancing. I felt like I was at my Bar Mitzvah, dancing with my grandma. I knew the Japanese people around us were looking at me.
I whispered to Camilla, “Could you not be so good? I look like a fool.”
Camilla danced slowly, looking at me, pleading with me to keep going.
I said, “I can’t. But you should keep going.”
I walked over to the bar and paid for our drinks. It left me with about $5.00 worth of yen. Almost nothing.
I took my drink and sat down at the bar. I waited for time to pass. Read half a VICE story on Pocket. Thought about killing myself. I went back over to Shogo and the translator. I told them Camilla was my girlfriend. I went back to the bar.
I thought about Camilla kissing me. That shouldn’t have been how it happened.
I typed out responses to old emails on the Notepad to make it look like I was doing something productive and therefore had a reason to not talk to anyone. Always a lot happening on the phone for a busy guy like me.
I turned around and saw Camilla dancing with Shogo. I turned back, hoping they hadn’t seen me. I was a cool guy, secure and easygoing enough to let another guy dance with my girlfriend at a bar.
I went to the bathroom and into a stall. I pulled my pants down and sat on the toilet, hiding. The seat was heated and the warm felt nice. I gently lifted my nuts, slid forward, and put them down on the heated seat. I tried to relax. I smoked one on the toilet, hoping it would make me crap so I’d have a reason to be in this bathroom, but it only had 1 milligram of nicotine. I just wanted Camilla to tire herself out so we could go home.
When I got back to the bar, Camilla looked excited. She said, “Everyone’s going to this club in a minute! Can we go with them?”
I said, “Do we have to?”