From Tokyo, with Love and Soccer

I wrote this article last year hoping to place it as a feature in an Irish paper, went for it. res-asakusa paintingNo matter! On the occasion of my recent anniversary I decided to post it here. Read on!

I arrived in Dublin airport after a gruelling twelve-hour flight from Tokyo. As I stumbled through immigration, the clerk asked me my reason for visiting the country. 'I have an Irish boyfriend,' I said.

'Sure, we've all got our crosses to bear,' the guy answered, and stamped my passport.

It was August, 2002. I'd just flown halfway across the world to spend a good part of the summer with a man I'd known in person for less than a week. How had this happened?


student picIt all started with the FIFA World Cup, or perhaps it started back in 2000. I was slogging through a grey and freezing Toronto winter, when I saw an advertisement for a job teaching
194 15064866046 6873 nEnglish in Japan. 'The perfect escape,' I thought. A few weeks later I was on the other side of the world, singing and dancing for screaming two-year-olds as a very stressed and caffeinated version of Barney the dinosaur.

But after a year of this I signed on at a private girls' high school, and things started to look up. In fact being Sensei Janet was a blast. I had talented students and a great apartment overlooking the famous Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. I could watch Baby Crying Contests (two sumo wrestlers holding screaming infants face each other – the loudest child wins!) and Noh theatre from my balcony. The only problem was that I felt a bit isolated sometimes.

Then the Soccer World Cup came to town.

214 14884921046 2018 nJapan is on the whole a fairly insular society, in fact in 1853 the country had to be literally forced at gun point by American ships to open its borders for trading. Almost 250 years later, the sudden arrival of thousands of international football fans on Japanese soil was a very, very big deal indeed. At the high school, my students were sent home with notes advising their parents to take extra care in making sure that their daughters travelled safely to and from the school building while the foreigners were in Tokyo. A girl in my writing class told me in her journal, 'There are dangerous people about. They are called 'hurrigans'* . I am a little bit afraid.'**  Meanwhile the police went into overdrive training and preparing for the influx – they even invested in several hundred pairs of over-sized handcuffs to fit the meaty wrists of the towering, hairy brutes they were expecting. Nobody was going to mess with Japan.
194 14877291046 3893 n

This is what I tried to explain to the thirty or so drunken Irish supporters gathered outside Paddy Foley's Bar in Roppongi as they sang 'Come on You Boys in Green' while a line of riot police with shields and clubs stood close by, waiting for the mayhem to begin. Roppongi is Tokyo's infamous party district. (I've had male friends tell me that if it's a slow night there, the hookers will literally chase you down the street.) I was in the neighbourhood doing a pub crawl as part of a friend's farewell party. Our group passed Paddy Foley's and we stopped to talk to 214 14883596046 9019 nthe Irish fans, then somehow I got into a conversation with a curly-headed guy in a green baseball cap who told me that he was a journalist. By the end of the evening I'd given him my number. The riot police stayed quiet.

A few days later, I was settling down to mark a stack of exams and my phone rang. 'This is the hurrigan,' an Irish voice said. For the next week we were inseparable. By Sunday we were exchanging vows of love in a subway station and a few days after he left I booked a flight to Ireland, to spend most of August in the Clonmel rain.

In the spring my fella decided to leave his job and move to Japan. But finding work as a journalist in such a closed society wasn't easy and after a year or so he'd had enough. Where would we go next? Canada? It was a nice idea, but something stopped me – I wasn't through having adventures yet. So Ireland became our destination. Before we left, we decided to get married.

wedding 2A civil ceremony in Japan is not a romantic affair – the bride and groom don't even have to be present in the same room. We spent a few days filling out forms in Japanese, and then presented them to a baffled clerk at the town hall of the district of Ueno. There was consternation, a lot of whispering. Finally someone found us an English speaker. 'So, you want...a marriage license?' he asked us. 'But...why?' Still, he stamped our certificate, and it was a done deal. We put on the rings we'd bought from a vendor operating under a railway bridge and hurried off to the reception, which turned out to be two double cheeseburger meals at McDonald's. There was no time for anything else because we didn't want to miss the start of Return of the King, which was on at a cinema down the street.

Later there was a proper wedding in Athlone 194 14877326046 5903 nwith guests flying in from Canada and Japan. A few years after that, I got brave enough to apply to Trinity College for their creative writing programme and now I'm an author. Neat.

When people ask me what I'm doing in Ireland, I usually tell them that it's a long story. It isn't. I met someone – that's all you need to know.


**Later the girls forgot their fear when everyone decided they were in love with David Beckham.

(Pictures, clockwise: Lovely painting of my neighbourhood of Asakusa, at the Sanji festival in Asakusa, my fella and I in an unfortunate photo booth incident, wedding in Athlone, getting hitched in Ueno, view of Ueno, view from my balcony in Asakusa, student's impression of weird teacher.)

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