So I thought that to promote the release of my third book, Andy the NInja, I would publish the first chapter here on my blog. If you like it I hope you do hop over to Amazon and order it. You can find the link to the book here.
This was a time before the war, before the fear, before the questions. Four young men touched down on the tarmac at Tokyo International Airport. As they expected, customs searched their bags and stamped their passports with friendly smiles. The young men knew about the strict drug laws in Japan, but aside from Porno Bob, none of them needed to worry. Even Bob wasn’t stupid enough to bring anything with him, not even to help his creativity. Spice was enough. And besides, they wanted to spend their student loan money on the best in gaming from Shembuku and Akihabra.
Other gaigin had Frommer’s or Lonely Planet to help, but the young men of Clan Fainaru Kage – Clan Final Shadows – had memorized the city from message boards and late night Vent conversations with others in CS, EQ and UO. They knew their shrines like pilgrims. Should something miraculous interrupt their journey to Otaku, they could choose a new route among these famous, and in some ways infamous, places.
Andy was shorter and thinner than the others and a touch of Texas-blonde still crowned the tips of his hair, which was dark at the roots. He smiled as he inhaled the city air for the first time. There was an energy in Tokyo that he had never felt before. Cabs carried businessmen returning home from abroad and women herded their children along the sidewalks. Not everyone embraced traditional family roles, however, and a close look revealed that many of the young Japanese had already begun their marriage boycott. People shoved past the four white kids from abroad, whose age and gear made them stand out. They looked like gamers, but American gamers. The uniform in Tokyo was different; they felt it immediately. People were courteous. If English had had an inflection expressing courteousness, they would have used it in speaking to those who pushed by them.
The men stood under the fluorescent lights of the arrival gate. Tokyo cabs rushed passengers by at speeds that would not have been tolerated at JFK or DFW. They seemed tan under the lights. They held their bags, the weight chaffing their palms. Like true pilgrims, they could feel the same sting as those who had come before them and those who would come after them. Verily, they were pilgrims in a far off land.
“Did anyone bother to check how to get to our hotel?” Bob inquired.
“I didn’t. I assumed the cabbie would speak English,” Coby replied. He wore a cowboy hat of tan suede so people would know they were Texans, not mere Americans. The hat was like a punctuation mark on the man’s attire, which was not entirely of either world.
“Wa tashi-wa amerika-go desu ka?” Andy said.
“What does that mean?” asked Coby.
“I think it means, ‘Are you American?’ ” The guys laughed a little, but they knew the ineptitude the phrase demonstrated could be useful if they were ever harassed by the ever-present Tokyo Police.
Andy’s eyes were open wide. The guys were hungry and could smell food from the airport, but they were more interested in finding a native joint to grub in. No one seemed to be signaling cabs with their hands. It was as if there was a system of magic at play between cabbies and passengers.
“Maybe we just…get in one,” said Bob, shrugging.
“Yeah, might as well try that,” Andy replied confidently enough.
Coby removed his hat and the men headed for the back of a big, yellow cab. They were almost hit by another cab in their hurry. The driver was pissed, blowing his horn and swearing in English. The guy in the backseat couldn’t be bothered to look; his eyes were on his new Blackberry.
“Sorry!” yelled Andy, and then “Damnit sorry again!” to another cabbie. They finally made it to a cab with no one in the back, but the sign flicked off and the driver wagged his finger at them, shaking his head: “no no no.” Andy released the door handle and looked around. The light on the cab switched back on. Bob reached into his underwear and grabbed at something. He rubbed whatever it was on the cabbie’s windshield, gave him the victory sign, and then rubbed his tongue around it.
“There!” exclaimed Coby, pointing at a man waiving them over. They had found their cabbie.
Getting out of the airport took nearly thirty minutes. It was almost 1:30am CST, but the sun had only just gone down over the Nihonbashi bridge memorial. Thankfully, their cabbie spoke English. When they asked his name, he replied, “My family calls me Gohei.”
“What does that mean?” asked Coby.
“It means, ‘the cabbie we tipped well’,” he laughed. His face was pockmarked and he was missing a tooth on his right side.
The fluorescent lights and the tarmac disappeared behind them, as did the roar of jets taking off and landing. Gohei turned on the overhead light so the guys could see the map they had made.
“I think we should go to Akihabra first and get a hotel there instead of sticking with what we planned,” Andy said, holding the map closer to the light.
“What’s wrong with the one in Kagarazaka?” asked Coby.
“Nothing, per se,” Andy replied, “but we want to be by the action.” Porno Bob made a lewd gesture. “Not that, Bob. I mean that by the otaku we would be closer to the gaming convention and the cool shops. And if we are lucky, and if someone gets a little yellow fever while we’re here –” Bob was making the gesture again “– yes, we’ll be closer to that too, so we won’t have to spend as much on cabs and stuff. We can get the real gamer experience there.”
“That’s a good point,” Coby interjected, “and we will also be closer to gaming headquarters in case we don’t get picked up at the convention.”
The others nodded in agreement.
“Excuse me,” interrupted Gohei. “Are you gentlemen in town for the gaming convention?”
“Yes, we’re developers from Texas. Clan Final Shadows at your service,” Coby said, sticking his hand over the seat to shake with the cabbie.
“I’ve taken a lot of people from Texas all over the city. If you need me,” he said, producing a card with a lot of Japanese writing and numbers on it, “don’t hesitate to call.”
“Thank you, that’s very generous. Thank you indeed.” The men agreed it was most unexpected: others had taught them that the Japanese tend to keep to themselves. Gohei must have learned some Texan generosity, they thought.
Andy introduced himself next, followed by Coby and Bob. Then they pointed at Joe, who had fallen asleep in the passenger seat. Bob said, “He’s not really a Texan, but he’ll give you a good laugh.”
“Well,” Joe interrupted, fully awake, “in a way, I’m more Texan than all of them put together. See, my family is from Plsin in the Czech Republic, and Czechs settled the area around Austin all the way up to West,” he paused, “Texas. Most Texas beer is still Czech in origin.” Joe M. Momchil was short and had a vague Czech accent he had brought to Texas from his hometown. He packed light and held his bag on his lap.
“That’s all you brought?” asked Gohei.
“I’m like Bilbo: pack light for an adventure and expect to bring home some souvenirs.”
“So, where to? Akihabra or Kagurazaka?” Gohei asked. He had stopped at a sign with arrows pointing in opposite directions. They convened for a moment, finally settling on Akihabra.
“Good! I can show you about!” Gohei said as he sped around the corner. “And I know all the shortcuts to the good stores.” He handed them a cell phone. Bob looked at the phone for a moment and then looked back at Gohei. “It’s called a cell phone. You flip it open, then call. Call the first number listed, it’s for a hotel for youth in Akihabra. I told you, I know all the good places to go for otaku.” He slipped open his shirt sleeve to reveal a tattoo of Super Mario and Bowser fighting for Princess Peach. It was in the ukiyo-e style. The guys laughed, smiled, and high-fived Gohei. Then Joe showed a bit of his ink: a triforce on his triceps and a double dragon on his back. Truly, they were among friends.
Bob got off the phone and gave Gohei the green light to take them to the hotel.
The place Bob had booked was beside a strip joint, and neon flashed constantly outside of their twelfth-floor window. They could see the lights of arcades, and a shopping center’s digital billboard advertised an energy drink that Bob said was made from squid parts. He had gotten a B- in Japanese, but he was the only one who had taken it and no one could contradict him.
Almost as ubiquitous as the electronics at night were the doozer-like constructions during the day. Laurel Forest Construction, established in 1680 by Korean immigrants and passed down through four centuries of heirs, took the largest space on the street approved for electric billboards. Andy paid it no never mind. Besides, the Consumer Electronics Show would be starting tomorrow and they needed their sleep.
Laurel Forest was the parent company of several electronics companies and the largest shareholder in the Japanese digital gaming league. It was also a co-sponsor of the electronics show. Coby had set up a meeting with Laurel Forest’s top electronics buyer the night before their flight to Japan. Laurel Forest did not give developers a great deal, but when you’re indie, sometimes it feels like any deal could mean the world. Joe just wanted a chance to show what Clan Final Shadows could do in the e-sports world, which was only just emerging in Japan.
But it was late, and it was time to turn in after they got a little dinner. Joe, Bob and Coby all went out for the night. Andy stayed in and ordered room service.
Andy stayed awake all night and into the next morning. The others came home, all ladyless, and tried to get a few hours of sleep. They dropped their bags so that Andy could not read the Kanji on their sides, but it was no secret that they were buying what they hoped would be collectable toys. It was 5am Tokyo time. Andy watched the neon signs fade like sunset as the guys crashed on the other three beds.