Voices | Fiction

Leaving Happy Road: On a Sunday

by Andreas Neuenkirchen

Contributing Writer

Chapter 1

Franz’s sausage roll breakfast at the local Vent de Ludo on Happy Road Oyamadai reminded him of Sundays. Not Japanese Sundays, filled with frantic quests for overcrowded quality time, but German Sundays. It wasn’t the sausage. It wasn’t even that today actually was Sunday. It was Happy Road. Here, every day felt a bit like a German Sunday. In a good way, to his own surprise.

In Franz’s home country, Sundays were generally loathed. The city centers were like ghost towns in spaghetti westerns. You couldn’t find a doctor or a repairman unless it was a dire emergency. Everybody was bored out of their wits, longing for the weekend to finally be over. When he still lived there, he used to rant: “State and church are supposed to be separated in this country! How can the state order us to play God and rest on the seventh day?!”

After several years in Japan, he missed that old Sunday tranquility. He did, however, still enjoy riling up his parents with his obligatory long-distance calls at the end of the week, relaying all the things he had achieved on that particular day: Having his beard trimmed or his teeth checked, finally getting the air conditioning fixed, indulging in a massive shopping spree. Every week, his parents would exclaim in shock: “On a Sunday?!” It was unclear whether their reaction was still genuine, or if they were just playing along for their son’s amusement.

He loved Happy Road. He loved his halfway-decent sausage roll breakfast, he loved to smell the coffee at the fancy Maruyama coffee shop (buying was above his budget). He couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. If nobody poked him with a selfie stick at Shibuya Crossing ever again, he wouldn’t die an unhappy man. He could very well live without the utter despair of Roppongi’s nightlife, and he had lost all patience for queuing behind busloads of guided tours before being allowed to enter national landmarks, like the Uniqlo store on Ginza. True, the Tokyo of capitalist chic had been his first crush. But the Tokyo of Happy Road Oyamadai had become the love that lasted.

After breakfast, Franz headed back to the manshon beyond the railroad tracks where he lived with his wife in one of the three apartments that were crammed into it. “Royal Diamond Plaza Eternality” it said on the shiny sign above the front gate. He sat down in his book-filled study. Which was also the living room. And the dining room. And potential nursery — there had been talks and agreements.

With his love for languages and his lack of passion for teaching, or regularly showing up at workplaces, it was inevitable that he became a freelance translator. Japanese wasn’t the only language he had mastered. It came almost as an afterthought, a playful challenge in the final stretch of his youth. His teacher in Hamburg had been a middle-aged, angry alcoholic from Tokyo who frequently forced his students to go drinking with him after class, claiming it to be an old Japanese tradition. After a couple of beers, he would boast about his connections to Tokyo’s underworld and several minor members of the imperial family, challenging any of the shy, unhappy kids around him to voice the first doubt, his face reddened, fists raised. Franz was so intimidated by his presence that he learned the language’s basics in no time. What he didn’t learn from the angry alcoholic, he gathered from binge-watching Kinji Fukasaku’s yakuza movies. This and his teacher’s eccentricities were to blame for him sounding very much like a postwar gangster on his initial trips to Japan, but eventually the rough edges were straightened out.

Hina had no small part in that. He met his wife when she had been producing a documentary about his profession for NHK. They met professionally, they met again casually, they moved in together, and now, at his desk, he could feel her standing behind him. “What are you working on?” she asked.

“Subtitles for ‘The Armageddon Rejects’ on Netflix. I’m also translating a study on Masana Maeda for Meiji University Press.”

“Who were they again?”

“‘Rejects’ is based on an obscure comic book series from the 1980s about a dysfunctional group of reluctant superheroes. It was quite groundbreaking. Maeda basically invented toilet paper. At the Paris International Exposition in 1878, he left some Japanese paper in the toilets there, and that’s when Europeans began wiping their butts with something other than old newspapers.”

“So, he wasn’t the inventor of toilet paper so much as the one who improved it.”

“Still it’s a great story. Should be a movie.”

“I don’t really see how it lends itself to visual storytelling. At least not for mainstream audiences.” She changed the topic. “I have good news.” There was a strong implication of bad news. “I have found us a bigger place, at an affordable price.”

“What’s the catch? No washlet? Far away from the station?”

“Two washlets. Manageable distance.”

“Then let’s pack.”

“It’s not this station. We’ll have to leave Happy Road.”

There were so many ways to reply. So many things he wanted to say. But the only thing he could come up with was: “On a Sunday?!”

Read Chapter 2 The Rise of O.G.

Andreas Neuenkirchen is a German novelist and essayist based in Tokyo. “Leaving Happy Road” is a work of fiction. Some of the names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.