Anyone who loves Japan shouldn’t read what I’m about to write. You should just go back to screwing your Japanese girlfriend, practicing your Kanji, starving yourself to fit into those bluejeans you saw in Shibuya or trying to remember why you hated your mom so much that it made you move here, change your identity and drop out of real life.

Oh, but I do love Japan. Sometimes. It’s so incredibly wacky that it’s funny, thrilling, creepy and childlike all at the same time. I guess it’s the country equivalent of the movie The Omen.

Up until last week, my over three and a half years experience in Japan had been limited to living in Tokyo and visiting Yokohama, Osaka, Kyoto and a beach in Shimoda. Not a very extensive list but a rather comprehensive one given the population of Japan and my unwillingness to visit any town that doesn’t have Western beds preferably without fleas, bedbugs or kittens being pecked to death by the Mothra-like crows they have here (I have a horrible story about a kitty in Kyoto, just horrible).

I went to Nagasaki with my partner rather reluctantly. Sure, I pretended that I really wanted to go. “Wow! I can’t wait!!” I even made all the arrangements. I love planning things. What the hell? It’s not like I’m working. And anyway, planning things feeds into my need for control and it prevents me from blaming my partner should anything go wrong (it never does).

Everyone we knew who had ever been to Nagasaki had nothing but great, not just good, things to say about it. From the people to the cuisine, the geography to the history, everyone just went on an on so much so that I started to wonder if Nagasaki was just too good to be true. Did a city like this actually exist in Japan?

The train down to Nagasaki from Fukuoka was new, comfortable and inexpensive–it’s rare to get all three in Japan. The track meandered through and between green hills and cloud-shrouded mountains. When we arrived in the city, a genki taxi driver happily helped us with our heavy bags and drove us to our Japanese owned Portuguese-themed hotel, Hotel Monterey–a real delight a short walk away from Hollander Slope, Oura church, Glover Gardens and Chinatown.

People in Nagasaki get around in trams not subways. They allow you to practice your Japanese on them if you allow them to practice their English on you. They smile! The women aren’t emaciated fashionistas hell-bent on horrifying you with their shorty-shorts. They stroll down the sidewalk at a leisurely pace, not strut down the street in a manic dash to get the last green-tea flavored cake before coffee time turns to happy hour time. And why? They’re just going to vomit them out later. The men are larger, beefier and more playful than their Tokyo counterparts, and more likely to be wearing a shit eating grin than a suit and tie.

Nagasaki is a port city and has been inhabited by Westerners from Portugal and The Netherlands since trading began. It’s small by Japan standards but decent-sized by American standards. The city straddles the long harbor and more or less faces the East China Sea. At night, the view of Nagasaki from Mount Inasa reminded me of the south of France. Hell, just walking down the cobblestone streets and narrow, uneven sidewalks reminded me of a Mediterranean city. I kept telling my partner, “When we get back to Japan…”

But we were in Japan. And the people were friendly and warm and like back in New York, they even knew how to walk on a sidewalk. God love ’em! Even my partner, who likes to insist I blow things way out of proportion, had to concede that Nagasaki was far and a way a lot better in many ways than Tokyo. We weren’t back in Tokyo one day before I heard him yell, “I wanna break that bony bitch in half!” I told him to be quiet and that he was sounding too much like me for my comfort.

I said, “Try to remember Nagasaki. They’re not all bad. It’s just her. By the way, which bony bitch are you talking about?”

On our last day there, I woke up very early and couldn’t get back to sleep. As quietly as I could, I got dressed and headed outside with my umbrella. It was six in the morning. I walked through Chinatown and saw an old man gladly pick his dog’s shit up off the ground. I walked through the covered shopping arcades and watched as proprietors got their stores ready for the morning rush. I loosely followed the river and heard the water rush towards the bay.

I put on my I-pod, selected Segovia and walked up this one particularly posh street (for Nagasaki anyway) and found myself in front of what I would later find out was Sofuku-ji temple. My feet carried me up the steps and even though it was raining, I didn’t hurry. I took it all in. I soon realized that I had this enormous historic temple to myself on an early morning in late spring and that I had my very own Segovia concert in my head. I took it all in. The red door. The ornate carvings. The ancient bell. The covered passageways. The views of the city below and above me. The green hills. The mist. I took it all in. And then I sat down, said thank you and cried.

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