Six years ago today, I was in the Jonathan’s of Chiba, deciding to stay in Japan.

This is a relative’s birthday, but for me it’s also an anniversary of another sort.

In May 2005, I went to Japan on a three-week trip. I wasn’t sure I’d stay the whole three weeks, so I bought a ticket where I could move the return date around.

It turned out that I liked Japan much more than what I had expected. I had studied the language in a rudimentary fashion, passed the Level, uh, whatever is the lowest level now (four? five?), and was involved in New York’s Japan Society. I took Japanese at Penn for a while, under the late Professor Bill Tyler, but like 90% of the class, ended up dropping sometime before the second year. (He was very driven.)

I had one of those wonderful Japan Rail Passes, the only thing you might want to trade your gaijin card for. For three weeks, I was a prince of the JR system, as long as I didn’t go on specific bullet trains. (Hikari and Nozomi, right?) The Yamanote line was free. The Narita Express was free. So I stayed at a hotel in Narita machi, and took my excursions from there. (See December 20, 2010 post.)

After having met with my friend Teruo Kurosaki, and seeing a bit of Tokyo, I would head back to Narita. Also, some days I just rode the Shinkansen. I rode all over the place.

Friday, the 27th, I forget where I had gone, but one thing was for certain, and that is that I was late out of Tokyo. (2005 is the same calendar as 2011. So the 28th was Saturday.) The trains don’t run all night to Narita, of course. So I ended up sort-of stuck in Chiba. But like a lot of my early Japan experience, what seemed to be, and what actually turned out, were usually two unrelated happenings.

What I didn’t appreciate about Japan is that in some places there is a 24-hour culture that has nothing to do with anything but killing time until the sun rises. That’s what the Jonathan’s of Chiba offered, and probably still does. Some of their clientele, every night, are people who missed the Last Train. Either to Narita, or Tokyo. Maybe someplace else. Or people who, for whatever reason, aren’t home.

So I stayed one hour at the Jonathan’s, and then I realized that I was under no compulsion to leave. I could order if wanted, or not. The seat was my seat. So I watched the many different Chiba-ites as they did their early Saturday morning things. I remember high schoolers sitting there coloring all night. There were two or three customers asleep. Some other people were there, had an order, and then left. (It made me think they had their own transportation.)

In 2005, I was doing project accounting work. So there was no need to “be” in America. Regular readers know that I never started a family, and so I didn’t have the kind of commitments that many forty-year-olds had. I could be here. I could be there.

I started thinking about how life goes. How life could go. And a lot of whys and why nots.

By about 4:30 or 5:00 I was ready to get the First Train, since by then I really wanted to hit the sack at the hotel. But it was at that Jonathan’s, and in the morning mist of the rice fields in early sunlight, that I decided that Japan was a rather nice place, and that I would try to stay.

Things in your life, you know? And you remember exactly when. Exactly when you knew something was right, or was good to do. For me, it was that morning. That was the morning when I decided that I would try to stay in Japan.

Sorry, the picture quality is not always the best with my camera. It could be me, too.

[Update: This was a delight. As I was unpacking stateside a few months ago, I found the actual receipt from that visit to Jonathan’s. It’s faded, but I was surprised that (at least last December) I could make out enough on it to show that it was from the visit. Today—probably because I removed it from the original book it was placed in–the date is unrecognizable. But there is enough there to show that it was from the pictured Jonathan’s. Also, that I did order something, although it’s hard to tell what.