The Gaijin and the Gorilla Lizard
by Robin M. English-Bircher
An incessant buzz rings through the crowded hallway. It reverberates off the walls, whines in my ears, “...move towards the shelters and take cover.”
I stumble about, looking around in a mass of people. There isn’t anyone I know, not a recognizable face in the group.
“This is an emergency. Please move towards the nearest shelter. I repeat …”
The buzzing steadily increases. A long screech, drilling into my head, is all I can hear. I can’t think. What’s going on? What were the directions?
Looking left and right, I find myself alone. It’s just me and the buzzing. I slump to the floor. What were those damn directions about?
The buzzing keeps going, echoing in the empty spaces. There is something else underlining the buzzing, like a door or wall rattling. There’s a loud bang followed by a thud. Is this an earthquake? a tsunami? The sound grows louder.
It’s an erratic thumping. “Warren! Warren you ass! Turn off your damn alarm!”
I look towards the far end of the hall. Did I hear a voice? “Hello?”
“Get up you and turn that fucking thing off!”
I sit-up. My blanket is a mess, tangled about my feet, and my alarm clock is rattling on the floor. The neighboring wall is shaking from a now steady pounding.
“You gonna turn that alarm off any time soon?”
I reach for the alarm, “Uh, sorry. Sorry.”
The pounding stops as soon as the alarm is quiet. I place the clock back next to my bed. It’s already past seven. Last time I remember looking at the clock it was nearly four thirty and I was flipping through my guide book and watching lights flicker across the skyline. Now sunlight filters through my blinds.
With my first real day off since arriving in Japan before me, I start to get ready. I peer through my drawers looking for underwear and only find socks. I search through the pile of clothes in the room’s corner. There are a few pairs there, but none I really even want to touch. I open the room’s one small closet and rummage through my nearly unpacked suitcase. Hidden in a pocket is a clean pair, if only a bit wrinkled.
I turn about no searching for my missing guide book. It’s not on the table by the bed, but there wasn’t anything there now but my alarm clock. I search through notebooks and magazines lying lopsided on the floor. Again, no guide book. Same goes for under the bed. So I look in my bag, my desk, even under my dirty clothes. Nothing. I open and empty every drawer and clear off every shelf looking for the illusive book, but it isn’t anywhere. As I pick up the tossed contents, my phone rings.
“Hey, you ready?”
“Huh, what? Jun. Oh yeah, sure. I just need a minute.”
“Good. I have to get out of here.”
I sit down on the edge of my bed. “Yeah, no, I understand.”
“So I’ll meet you outside.”
“On my way.” A sharp edge sticks into the back of my thigh. I jump, throwing the phone across the room. Pulling apart the twisted mess of my blanket, I unravel a few folds and find the guide book.
I finish pulling on clothes and grab a bag. I’m stuffing last minute items into my bag and fumbling with my jacket as I walk down to the lobby. As I try to stash the last minute items away, Jun comes up behind me: “Took you long enough.”
“What didya do now, lose your wallet or something?”
I search my pockets for my wallet. I sigh when I feel come across the bump in my back pocket. “Yeah, or something.”
“Now that you’re all together, can we finally get out of here?”
“Yeah, sure. I’m ready to see Japan.”
Jun leans in and eyes me closely. She smells like a fresh rain. “No, that’s not it at all.”
I pull back, “What do you mean?”
She smiles and begins walking towards the gate, “You came here to pick up Japanese women. We all know that they love tall blonde-haired American boys.”
“No. No way, that’s not it.”
She swirls around on the backs’ of her feet. “No? Than maybe? Ah, I know! You came over an entire ocean just to see that stupid monster.”
“It would be a once in a lifetime experience if I did get to see the gorilla lizard. And besides, it is said to be over 1000 feet tall.” I try to stand-up straight but find myself slumping forward and covering my head with my hand. I grow quiet as Jun stares at me, “It’s unusual, you know. Interesting.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever you say Mr. Carver. Interesting.”
And so we walk away from our apartment building to the nearest subway station. Jun is quiet as we walk. I’m not sure what to say, so I walk quietly beside her.
A cool breeze comes at us as we turn a corner. My mess of hair is rumpled further by the breeze. Jun pulls her silver jacket tight against her. Suddenly I see a hint of pink glisten at her cheeks.
“You know the lizard is really 1200 feet. It’s just a bit bigger than Tokyo Tower, so I guess it is a bit impressive.”
I nod and smile. We walk a bit farther, away from the apartment and the office building we have been working at. We’ve been in Japan for just about three weeks and never got more than a few miles from where we have been staying. Instead, we’ve been stuck in training classes with no opportunity to leave the grounds.
“Huh?” I look up from my guide book.
“What do you want to do?”
I look back to my guide book. I have it turned to the gorilla lizard emergency instructions. “Well, I thought maybe going to Asakusa.”
“You’re joking, right? Asakusa? You know its pretty far inland with really no chance of getting a view of the gorilla lizard. That is, if it comes onshore.”
I close my guide book and put it back in my bag. “Maybe I want to see a real geisha, or go to Senso-ji.”
“Sure, sure, suddenly you’re on a pilgrimage.”
“I’d like see the traditional side of Japan while I’m here.”
“Okay, so let’s start with typical and work towards traditional.”
“And you are suggesting what?”
“I should have known, you just want to shop.”
“There’s nothing wrong with shopping. You can see real life ko-gals in Shibuya.”
My response is cut off by the arriving train. A mass of people sweep us onto the train. Squished between salarymen in their neatly pressed business suits, Jun and I stand next to one another quietly. In the pushing and shoving, she somehow ends up with her head in my armpit.
“Just don’t try anything. I know where you live,” she smiles.
Jun pulls me up and out of Shibuya station and onto the bustling streets. Middle aged women flit from store to store, eager to capture a good buy before the high school girls get here in the afternoon. We move away from their set lines of shopping and head towards a sort-of-square nearby. Jun pulls away quickly, almost skipping. She stops before the famed statue of Hachiko.
Again, we feel the wind whip up around us. Jun shivers, but tries to hide it. Instead she pulls up closer to the dog statue. Standing there admiring the statue of a loyal pet, we notice a younger women, about our age, strolling by. Jun elbows me.
“I think she’s checking you out,” she nods toward a short, rather slender girl in a crisp suit.
“Eh, not quite my type.”
“So what is?” says a smooth, raspy voice from behind.
A woman sways out from behind the stone dog, “My guess it’s cute American girls with snotty attitudes. At least, that’s how it looks from here.”
A quiet little screech slips through Jun’s pursed lips, “Yoshiko, you’re one to talk.”
Jun embraces the woman, who is several inches shorter than her, but sports nearly the same figure and most striking, the same eyes. Unlike Jun, her hair bobs about her face, a sea of green.
“I finally see the mysterious Jun-chan.”
“Not my fault. They keep us trapped up there.”
“Sure, whatever you say girlie.”
“You coulda come to visit you know.”
The woman, Yoshiko, brushes Jun off and wanders a bit away. She turns around in a slow, broad sweep, the ends of her long coat swinging in the breeze: “And leave all this behind for Chiba. No way. And besides, you’re only a cousin.”
Jun rolls her eyes, “You’re still full of yourself. I thought you’d outgrow that.”
“You know, I thought so to,” Yoshiko responds with a muffled laugh.
All this time, I just stand there, watching two beautiful women banter as if they only saw each other yesterday and I was no where around. I hadn’t realized how Japanese Jun really looked until Yoshiko showed up. I guess she always sounded like any girl I met, and well, acted like it too, so I never thought of her as being Japanese. She’s just the intense California girl I met on the plane coming to Japan.
“Oh damn, I’m being so rude. Yoshi-chan, this is my friend Warren Carver.”
I wave a bit.
“And this is my cousin, on my Mom’s side, Watanabe Yoshiko.”
Yoshiko smiles. I can see a few creases about her lips, but she’s still gorgeous. She bows rather stiffly and unusually low, “It is an honor to meet you Carver-san.”
I look to Jun; she’s trying not to laugh. I smile and bow back. “It’s very nice to meet you Watanabe-san.”
Yoshiko starts laughing loudly, gripping her belly. Jun chimes in. The two girls hold each other as they laugh, giggling till they are out of breath.
Between gasps Jun looks to me, “My god Warren, you are clueless aren’t you?”
“What do you mean?”
Yoshiko comes over and puts her arm around me and tries to stop laughing. She speaks between deep breathes, “It’s just a joke, you know. No need to be so formal.”
“Yeah, I get it. Sorry.”
“It’s kinda sweet though. I mean, you obviously knew how to act, more than most gaijin. And well, you seemed sincere and all. I’ll take it as a compliment.”
With a deep breath I sigh, “Thanks.”
Jun interrupts by grabbing Yoshiko by the arm and pulling her closer. “So, what’s up?”
“Not much. Wanted to get out, maybe see if I could find you. What about you?”
“Finally got a day away from work. Thought we’d start our sightseeing.”
“So, why are you in Shibuya than?”
I stare hard at Jun, “That’s what I wanted to know too?”
Jun stares back at me before looking back to her cousin. “I wanted to see if the old story was true.”
“You still believe in those things?” Yoshiko asks.
“Hey, you’re here aren’t you?”
Yoshiko uses her lose arm to grab hold of me. “Okay, you’re right. I’m here. You came here to wait for me, and well, I showed. My many thanks to Hachiko-san for reuniting me with my long-lost cousin.”
“You wanted to see the dog?” I ask Jun.
“Yeah. Now don’t tell anyone, okay?”
“Sure, no problem. So, do we really have to have to stay in Shibuya?”
“Nah, I found what I was looking for.”
“Great!” Yoshiko is beaming as she pulls us back towards the station. “I’m so in need of some really stupid fun. And there’s this place I just have to show you.”
I straighten as I am pulled forward, “So where are we going?”
“The most useless, superfluous, and ridiculous site in all of Tokyo.”
“Don’t tell me,” Jun says as she shuffles beside Yoshiko. Her voice gets low and monotone, “We’re going to Odaiba.”
We emerge from the train station with a small but determined group of people. Yosihko grabs my left hand; Jun grabs my right one. I feel a bit of heat in my face as I look to Jun, but it quickly dies when a cool breeze smacks as I twist in Yoshiko’s grasp. Before long a megalith of steel and brick looms into Yoshiko’s path. Worn murals decorate the rather bare walls. I faceplant into the door before I realize that Yoshiko comes up a bit short.
“So what do you think?”
I try to smile, “It’s big.”
I then notice she is looking at Jun, not me. Jun shrugs, “It’s okay, I guess.”
Yoshiko’s open smile diminishes quickly, “Really?”
“I mean, it’s just not a lot to look at,” Jun’s reply slowly grows soft.
I come between the two, “This must be just the outside. Reinforced and all in case of disaster, right?”
Yoshiko’s smile comes back, “Exactly. It’s a lot nicer inside.”
We are all led us into the mall, a spring back in Yoshiko’s step. As we enter, Jun and I simultaneously crane our heads up to see the story upon story of bright lights and outrageous store fronts. Inside, a new world greets us. A bright blue sky and long clouds stream above us on the ceiling. Off to the near east, a watery, yellow sun shines down. The hard, stiff building we saw outside opens up before us.
Bright signs and unique fronts come in and out of view as Jun pulls me down the main thoroughfare. Her haphazard movements from one side to another make it hard to stay near her, and the crowd occasionally separates us for a moment. I never quite have time to fully read any signs, but I think I notice a mini-theme park, a number of children’s stores, and family friendly restaurants. When we reach the first set of large glass elevators, Yoshiko takes Jun’s and my hands and leads us in.
We get off on the last floor. Yoshiko, still holding on to us, leads us down one route and another as I glimpse one theme after another. After first, there is a set of what I guess are stores with a European feel. Around another corner, there is a Hollywood themed area; I notice a rather dilapidated Planet Hollywood with few visitors. Before long, there is an Edo period section, with screen doors and paper lanterns. I feel lost in the maze before Yoshiko suddenly stops.
She smiles at Jun, “So?’
Jun looks at the front, back to Yoshiko and back again, “Is this it?”
I stand there just staring. Before me is what looks like an old style ramen shop. There is a short curtain above the door. The sides of the door seem to be guarded by narutomaki, the pink spiral a neon light against the raised white background of the slices.
“Of course it is,” Yoshiko beams at both Jun and I.
Jun ducks under the fringed curtain. I have to push it aside to see as I enter. When we step in, a girl in with a long red ponytail and cross-shaped scar on her cheek greets us. This Kenshin starts to give the introduction but stops short when Yoshiko steps in. The young women bows to Jun and moves away.
“Do you work here or something?” I ask Yoshiko.
Jun slaps my shoulder, “She owns it.”
Yoshiko leads us past the front, where young people sit at booths decorated by more recent anime and manga paraphernalia. A female Naruto carrying a tray of drinks nimbly ducks around us. Towards what I think is the back is yet another door. Here, a green haired girl in a “Jun” costume opens the door. I can see her smile beneath her bird helmet and am amazed at the likeness to the Gatchaman doll I have at home.
This second room is lightly peopled with adults. A group of young American men flirt with a scantily clad Faye while the rest of her Cowboy Bebop cast man the rest of a long bar. Strains of the Yoko Kanno soundtrack are nearly drowned out by all the chatting. Yoshiko moves out and on to a patio that overlooks Tokyo Bay. The wind suddenly whips by us, and Jun nearly crashes back into me. Yoshiko plunges forward to a spot near the edge and sits down at the table.
“Great view, huh?” Yoshiko asks me.
Instead of taking a seat, I am at the railing looking out into the bay. The sun catches at the backs of small waves that grow and crash long before they reach the shore. The water seems to be a reflection of the sky; the small breakers are long and run ragged across the water’s surface, just like the clouds racing along the sky.
“I still can’t believe you wanted a spot with a patio. Aren’t you worried?”
Yoshiko just shrugs and hands Jun a menu, “Not really. We have had a few instances and the furniture takes a beating, but nothing much else.”
I sit down in a rather cheap plastic chair and pull up to a slightly warped plastic table. “I hope business makes up for it.”
“It does. I get a lot of people who just come out for the thrill of it all. They are always willing to stay and keep ordering, just in case.” Yoshiko stops and smiles wider, “And before long, they have a large bill and I have a nice profit.”
I start to look over the menu just as a guy with a thin braid and Chinese style clothing walks up, “What can I get you?”
The warm aroma of food entices me to the table. I sit there, looking at the varied items placed before me. My chopsticks hover over one, than another; steam rises from most of the plates, wafting in the light, consistent breeze. I don’t know which one to choose. I look up for a moment at the two cousins and wonder which one is more attractive.
Jun picks at the food she has put on her own plate. She grabs one of the fishcakes and dangles it out at arm’s reach. She sticks out her tongue and uses her free hand to close her nose, “This is gross! Why do you serve this stuff?”
“Because this place does better with more iconic Japanese things. You know, like the anime characters, the theme music, and the kaiju.”
I nibble at the okonomiyaki I decided on; the soy sauce warms my mouth. “This isn’t so bad; have some of it,” I push the rest of the food Jun’s direction.
“Yeah, this will work,” Jun says as she stabs at a mushroom. She turns to Yoshiko, “I still think this is a bit much.”
“Jun you are so spoiled,” Yoshiko pauses and winks at me, “and so American. Do you just eat cheeseburgers and pizza at home?”
Jun rolls her eyes, “I get enough of the traditional stuff at home. I just hoped there would be something a bit less Japanese. You know there is interest in other things, like French food.”
I look up, “And French wine, like that manga,” I pause.
“Drops of God,” Yoshiko finishes. “If you want something like that, you should have said so.”
I continue to dig into the food. Japanese food never tastes this good back home, “Honestly, I’m fine with the local stuff.”
Jun stretches back in her chair, pushing away from the table. She looks out at the water and then back at me, “You can’t get enough of the local stuff. Like the monster.”
“It’s all good. Back home most of the Japanese food is sushi or pre-packaged crap. And of course, there are no kaiju, except for the stupid jacked-up trucks being driven by drunk guys.” I look out at the water and notice the ships coming and going, “It is all a part of what Tokyo is.”
A strong wind picks up and sets the food on the table shaking. Jun’s chair sways precariously; I grab the arm just before she and the chair topple over. I right Jun just as the soy sauce rolls of the table and the fresh wasabi tumbles after it. I try to grab the small dish only to have the green paste coat my hand.
Yoshiko grabs a glass of water and washes the wasabi off, “You didn’t need to do that. We can get more. And besides, it has to sting.”
I wince a bit, “It’s fine. It’s just that real, fresh wasabi is hard to find back home.”
As I wipe the watered down paste from my hand, a second gust of wind rears up and barrels along the balcony. We each grab at the food to help it stay on the table. The wind is abrasive, leaving behind a bit of salt on my face. We all look out into the bay. Some of the larger ships rock now, while the smaller ones are bobbing furiously on the now choppy waves.
“So, are most of your cold fronts from the Pacific?” Jun asks. “I always figured they came more from the north or northwest.”
“You never know. These days the Pacific is a mess.” Yoshiko responds as she calls over someone to start clearing our plates and cleaning up, “We probably should go inside.”
I can’t help myself; I move towards the railing and look out, “Is it the Gorilla Lizard?”
“Don’t sound so happy,” Jun remarks as she stands. “It’s probably just the weather.”
Yoshiko smiles at the girl that is clearing our table, “The monster has only come ashore twice since I opened the place and both times it came out further along the bay. I have never seen it from here. You can hope Warren, but I doubt it.”
I lean over the rail a bit farther, squint, and try to see beyond the bay. The wind settles down and the waves soften, “You’re right, probably just the weather.”
I’m downcast as we start to head in. Then the concrete platform beneath me shakes a bit. Yoshiko turns to the bay, and we follow her eyes. A sudden ripple appears, growing wider and wider. The edges turn into swells. Yoshiko looks around the balcony, “I guess we may need to head to a shelter.”
Yoshiko starts to move the other visitors into the bar and starts whispering orders to the staff. Jun looks around, a bit puzzled, “C’mon, why are you so worried?”
I didn’t realize that I had been heading back out and to the rail, “Look! See! It is the Gorilla Lizard!”
Yoshiko grabs Jun’s arm, “You really need to head to a shelter now.”
“Why? Is it really that bad?” Jun asks, looking out at a mat of hair, or fur, slowly lurching from the ripple.
A chime goes off three times followed by a soft, female voice providing clear instructions. I know we are supposed to go the shelters; Jun looks at me, saying something I just don’t hear. I turn back to the water, a bubbling feeling of excitement growing in me that squashes the nagging sense that we should leave.
“Warren let’s go! You can’t just watch,” Jun urges me as she reaches for my arm.
My eyes are fixed on figure rising in the distance. Beneath the fur I can see a scattering of scales about the forehead. The fur sticks out between the scales like weeds between each piece of sidewalk. The Gorilla Lizard seems to slowly breach the water, as if in slow motion.
Jun tugs at my shirt, “We have to go! Everyone is going!”
I haphazardly push away her hand, “A few more minutes; I just want to see it first.”
The ships in the bay are quickly shuffling and heading out into the deeper water. The bay is quickly emptying out so the kaiju can have all the space it needs. Now a pair of kelp green eyes break the surface and stare at the empty shoreline. From off into the city, a whistling sound comes racing out over the bay. There is a thud and large splash in the water just to the right of the monster. An even larger splash, like a geyser, shoots up.
Jun is now pulling at my arm, “This isn’t a movie Warren. That was a missile. We have to go!”
I can only imagine my eyes growing wider and a smile spreading across my face, “Do you see this? This is incredible!”
I can’t hear Jun’s response over the screech that fills the air. The monster opens its mouth up just as it rises above the water. Jagged teeth, some sharp and others more flattened, are clear in the bright sunshine. I think Jun yells again, but all I can hear is a long, wretched howl.
“It’s the kaiju! It’s the Gorilla Lizard!” I turn to see Jun, her hands covering her ears and head as she hurries inside and away from the scene.
The ground begins to shake more as more of the kaiju comes out from the water. I grasp the railing tighter just as an aftershock quakes through the ground beneath me. I push down with all my weight and grip tighter, but the ground just keeps quaking; my fingers slip loose of the rail.
The Gorilla Lizard takes it first full step out of the water, sending a tidal wave of seismic energy through Odaiba. I lose my balance as the rail and part of the wall break before me.
I fall over the broken ledge.
I find myself on the balcony below; about me is a mess of concrete and jagged metal. I try to stand but my left leg hurts. I pull myself up on a broken piece of wall and look to head inside. The door before me is blocked by some of the balcony from above. I begin to head towards the fire escape. It is swaying like a blade of grass in the wind, but I have no other choice. I head down.
As I near the bottom, another pounding wave rattles the area and several of the steps fall out. I try to hold on, but the ground comes racing up to me. As I hit the ground, I can hear a crack in my leg as everything goes red and then black.
A smell of gunpowder, salt, and fish is everywhere; the smell of wet fur causes me to choke. I open my eyes, and it is dark as a shadow seems to block out the sun. I push myself backwards towards the building. A cloud of dust comes rushing down the street and over me; part of the building across the way has crumbled. I notice the wall that I am inching to is shaking furiously.
Two pairs of hands grab at my shoulder and yank me up. I don’t fight, but I can’t turn away. The Gorilla Lizard stands nearly before me. The ungainly arms swing about, and the thick legs are a mess of fur and scales. But what I can’t quit looking at is the genitals; they never show this much on TV. I never knew the Gorilla Lizard was female.
More dust blows up and gets in my eyes. I blink, but there is just too much. Through the haze, I do notice two gangly breasts jostling as the kaiju moves; I never noticed these before. And with that step, the ground beneath me shivers and slaps my backside as I fall again.
“Careful,” I hear Jun say.
I look up at her. She is a mess, covered in a filmy grey, “You just had to see the damn monster!”
Yoshiko pulls me back towards the mall, “We really need to get to a shelter now!”
As we move back into the building and a quietly screaming mob, I see a golden trickle flow down to the ground. The smell of ammonia hits me as the partially broken doors close.
Our mob moves along in a strangely organized way until we start moving down into the shelter. We thud down a flight of stairs and along a hall into a packed room. People fill most of the space, but they make room once they notice I’m hurt. Yoshiko gets two chairs, and Jun works to sit me down and prop up my broken leg.
Yoshiko slumps against the chair my leg is resting on, “We’ll be alright now.”
Jun punches me in the shoulder, “No thanks to you.”
“I didn’t realize.”
“You just had to see. This is real; it’s not TV.”
I can’t find the right words to answer her. As I try, an attractive and well-dressed Japanese woman appears on a TV before us. She says something about Odaiba as the screen turns and shows the monster’s demolition along the streets. The camera pans and sets its sights on the monster, plodding into the city. We get a quick glimpse at the mall, which appears to be a bit dented but none the worse for wear. Yoshiko sighs deeply.
Jun crumples onto me, her head resting on my shoulder and her arms spread out over my chest, “I guess you got to see the Gorilla Lizard.”
I try to look up at her but I can’t; instead, I watch the TV, “Yeah.”