A Farewell Reunion

Just got back from our Saturday reunion party with The Politician and The Author!  The Politician had been too busy with work and leaving and soubetsukai that the game plan was pretty simple:  We met at 5pm at Asakusa station. We got a coffee and hugged each other for about 15 minutes and then walked over to the apartment of one of The Journalist’s friends where we ate and drank a little while watching the biggest hanabi in Tokyo from her roof or her window.  We were inspired.   After the fireworks end, we went to the train station and to try to beat the rush of half of Kanto trying to crowd on to the Ginza line. Even though the fireworks were supposed to end at 9 and Shibuya is only 40 minutes away, we planned on arriving at 11pm. Since we’d never had a chance to get drunk on a train, we thought this would be the ideal opportunity.

We told all of our fun / interesting / cool friends to meet at the Starbucks Coffee at the Hachiko exit of Shibuya at 11pm. Until this point, it had been our small group but from there, we went to do a big group karaoke for just one hour because this is something The Politician just cannot do in the US and something we will all miss about Japan. The Author wanted to enjoy Tokyo on a small budget after bloody expensive London, so the night will flowed in the way that drunken stupidity flows. Yoyogi park, dancing in Shibuya – like the great kamikaze pilots, we knew that we would likely all crash and burn at some point in the night, but thankfully none of us got arrested or into fights.

Everything went off perfectly tonight and I even managed to meet a new friend from the UK on the subway ride to Shibuya .  I remember vaguely arguing about the validity of quantum physics with her last night.  Jesus.  And this happened:

Tonight was drunk and messy and funny, which is a good last image to have of each other, but tomorrow we’ll have a more relaxed dinner in Iidabashi to say our last farewells!

The Last Domino

Last day of teaching was last Wednesday!  Prepared a brief report for all the schools I worked with and sent in my last timesheet.  If The Political Scientist were still here we would have gone to yakitoriya to celebrate.  That would have been really quite nice.  I think rainy season has ended.  It is fucking hot but the semi never really appeared despite some chirping last week.  Still waiting to make their big appearance, I guess.

The best part of my days is going to the gym… it crept up from 3 hours a day to 4 and now I am at 5.  I’m basically living there and training is going OK.  Yesterday kind of sucked, so I didn’t bother training very hard, just played around and had fun.  I’m taking today off.

I work when the internet is on, and access seems more stable now.  It might be related to the fact that we have people living next door in 201 again.  The crazy Filipinos or Koreans in 102 were screaming like they were getting beaten last night, but they were just running away from a gokiburi.

When internet is down I read, or practice Chinese.  I’m still trying to write as much as possible, but it takes time and I am being harder on myself.  not happy with what comes out.  moments are ok, but at the end of every piece I feel “so what?”

Didn’t get the science job in Hawaii.  I just start to feel useless.  I feel like a waste of talent and a waste of life.  Maybe all that will change, but it was a lot easier to deal with the manic depression of my lifestyle when I had her hand to hold through it all.  I just kept getting fucked over and over and over, and it is no good.  Bad for the heart.  Money is hard, eating is hard.  Waiting to leave, and that’s about it.

Leaving Tokyo sucks in a way, all the things I wanted to do on my last week in town, well, there’s no money left.  For now, I am packing everything up to get ready to take my big suitcase over to a storage locker and just live out of a backpack wherever I can find a space in Tokyo just like back in Hamamatsu.

I figure if worse comes to worse, I will just have to come back to Tokyo and teach English, but really just to make money, you know?  Just in case, I’ve asked the English company to write up a recommendation for me based on my work over the last four months to help me secure short-term English teaching work in Japan if needed.  But honestly, that would be a disaster.  I would rather go back to school, and soon.

The Model leaves in four days; I think she is the lucky one.

Last Week’s Odyssey

I wrote this last week but I am only getting around to putting it up now.  It is meant to follow this post directly.

I enjoyed a real Guiness for a little too long at Heaven’s Door in Shimokitazawa last night.  The conversation with the English barman, Paul, was so quick and refreshing that I didn’t notice how long I had been sitting there.  I finished my drink, Paul told me it was on the house, and I caught the Odakyu train to Shinjuku.

I only realized how late it was when I made it to the Yamanote line platform: 12:30AM.  At that time, my homebound train only takes me halfway there.

In happier times I would either split a taxi with Indre or we would walk the Arakawa streetcar tracks together.  This time, broke and alone, I decided I was going to follow the Yamanote line tracks all the way home.

1:00AM

After the last train, the tracks just north of Ikebukuro are a cross-section of Japanese nightlife.  Homeless men on cardboard boxes vie for the best sleeping spots in miniature Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines.  I see a tall, blonde foreign girl talking with a balding subcontinental man.  They are talking about Oji, the station where she lives.  "That’s not far from here," the man says.  They have just met.  A Middle Eastern man accosts me in polite Japanese, "Excuse me, may I ask you something?"  "I’m sorry," I reply.  He thinks I misunderstood.  There is a toylike Japanese girl dressed in pink with her two pets, a toylike poodle and a toylike boyfriend.  The poodle runs and yaps and pisses.  The boyfriend is leaning in, gazing at her.  She is looking at her nails.

I’m lost.  The train tracks intersected with a freeway a while back so I had to make a detour.  I walk into a convenience store and pretend to browse violent Japanese pornography when actually I am flipping through a map of the metropolitan area.  I get my bearings and head out of the store.

I have found the tracks again.  It is the first time I have seen the Yamanote line after hours.  I consider jumping the barbed-wire fence to walk the tracks, but decide against it.  Partly because I don’t want to get caught and partly because I like the idea of following the tracks as they weave through residential areas.  I want to pass through the blur that speeds by me twice every day.

1:30AM

I make it to the first of the four stations along my way.  It’s a good thing I didn’t jump the fence because the stations are almost as busy after hours as they are during the day.  Men in hardhats are inspecting the tracks in teams.  In true Japanese style, there are 15 people doing the job of two: two people to walk along the tracks holding blowtorches, and 13 people holding the flashlights.

I have a lot of oportunities to walk away with people’s unlocked bikes, but I don’t.  Again, part of the reason is morality, but part of the reason is the fact that I want tonight to be a pedestrian experience.  I come across one unlocked bike that looks like it is about 50 years old.  I touch its leather seat and spin its wheels.  I sit next to it for a few minutes.  This city changes so quickly.

Tokyo is a city of cities of towns.  Tokyo is a world in itself, and exploring it is as rewarding as it is baffling.  Vaccant lots filled with rubber and wood and glass conceal 24-hour laundromats.  I see young Japansese people kissing in the streets.  I pass a hundred convenience stores; about one for ever strak cat that glowers at me as I pass by.

Once again, I am glad that I stayed off the tracks – a maintenance train rumbles by me on the tracks below.

2:00AM

I am at the second train station now.  I realize that love hotels and karaoke bars always herald the appearance of the next station, like palm trees around an oasis.  Between stations, there is a surpising dearth of neon signs and gaudy architecture.  I realize that 99 percent of my time in Tokyo has been spent within 1 kilometer of a train station.

Between these hubs of activity and commerse, Tokyo reveals it quieter, quirkier residential side.  I see architectural anomalies, decadent three-story houses with European fascades, dreary, underground offices.  There are a lot of lights on in the houses I am passing.  Flickering TV sets.  What are you dreaming of tonight, Tokyo?

I feel like I am following the Mississippi north to find its source.  I have to make detours from time to time.  The road dead-ends.  I realize that the Yamanote cuts Tokyo into an inside and an outside.  Inside the Yamanote loop, you are under the city’s skin.

I have not been alone once during this entire trip – there is always someone walking in fornt of me or behind me.  I haven’t really been alone since coming to Tokyo.  Empty streets are a rarity.  When I went back to the US for a couple of days in March, I felt like I was in a deserted country.

2:30

Komagome, the station before my home station.  I am almost there.  I have decided that this is the way I want to spend my last four days in Tokyo.  I want to be an urban camper – travelling the city’s major arteries at night with a backpack and a camera.  To see what it feels like living skin-to-skin with one of planet Earth’s great cities.

This particular impasse is frustrating enough to make me jump the barbed-wire fence and walk along the steep embankment.  I pause a minute, perched on top of the fence, and feel the night air.  This is what Tokyo smells like.  It smelled this way 15 years ago, and it smells this way tonight.  The whitish-gray dust on my hands and shirt is the same that I wore as a child.  It has been raining on and off.  I tell myself that if it starts raining enough, I will steal someone’s umbrella.

After all, everyone in this city has more umbrella’s at home than they could ever use.

I trip and fall, the barbed wire ripping into my leg; peeling the flesh away to reveal shiny white bone underneath.  I hit my head so hard that a copper taste fills my mouth and I lose conciousness.

Just kidding. 

I’m an acrobat, you know.

I do a double backflip with a full twist and land on the embankment.  It is so steep that I have to swing one-armed on retaining posts to keep from sliding downhill.  All of a sudden, I am hit with a feeling of recognition.  It is exactly the way I knew it would be.  One instant I am in a part of Tokyo that I have never seen before in my life, and the next, I am on my home turf.  On foot, I have drawn a connecting line from Ikebukuro to my house.

On foot, we see a city at its highest resultion.  Ladders on the sides of buldings, an out-of-business love hotel, a secret enterance to a hostess club.  Men in underwear, tiny manicured gardens, college kids playing drunkenly on see-saws.

I get my bike at the station, and bike the last seven minutes home.  The back way.  The way I always go when I want to remember and think.  The way I am never alone.  I see a feline threesome, and they disperse with indignant shame.  A frog has been split open by the wheel of a car.  I pass a tall woman who walks nicely; I think she is Taiwanese.  She is with a guy who walks normally.

Tokyo was a different city for me tonight.  You know when that bitchy colleague from work surprises you in with an invitation to an all-night party for two at her place… then when you get there you just sit together on her balcony sofa, talking about life, drinking fine wines, and touching fingers until sunrise?  It was like that.

Tokyo, more than any other city, can project itself along that fourth dimention of time so that it exists in all times at once.  On a night like last night, I feel like I could find myself face-to-face with thirteen-year-old me who had snuck out of his room to explore.  It’s nice to think about things like that from time to time.  Turn corners boldly!

The Right-Wing Festival of Peace or War: When Semantics Meets Antonym

I went to the bon-odori (Dance of the Dead) festival at the infamous Yasukuni Shrine with my good friend Arthur and my new friends David and Koichiro.  It was by far the most expensive, expansive, and crowded festival I have ever seen in Japan.  Considering the very strong (but impossible to detect) right-wing aura of the place, the acres and acres of lantern walls (each lantern representing sizable monetary contributions from citizens or organizations) Yasukuni_torii Donor_lanterns on either side of the walkway leading to two military-looking searchlights contributed to my creeping feeling of unease.  It is hard to describe the sensation. 

Some Japanese contend that for the average citizen, this shrine is no more signifigant than any other, but when you visit the on-site revisionist war museum, take into account the fact that convicted Japanese war criminals were surreptitiously added to the list of the symbolically interred, it feels like the source of an invisible reactionary ether that provides a chilling backdrop for the antics of Japanese nationalists.

Imagine a similar site in Germany, for example.  Why is such loaded ambiguity tolerated in Japan?  To me, this is really one of the great mysteries of international affairs.  I know people who have dedicated their entire academic life to studying the issue, and they feel like the more they know about it, the more convoluted the whole affair seems.

It was a great, time, though, if you could shake off the dirty feeling that comes from knowing the place’s history.  People were in traditional dress, spirits were high.  Right-wing girls are the most beautiful Japanese women I’ve seen by far.  We followed one frustrated twenty-something guy who was spending his evening trying to pick them up, passing from group to group with self-concious bravado and failing miserably.  It didn’t help his case that he never stopped shifting his weight from foot to foot – a very strange social tic.  When we left him he was trying his luck with some uninterested middle-schoolers.  Hope springs eternal at Yasukuni Shrine!

Flamenco Date

The flamenco show in Shinjuku with The Flamenca from the gym was a very famous flamenco troupe that she used to perform with, and they were really quite good.  Not quite as showy as Expo, but not as much technique, but I liked it anyways.  It was in a very expensive Spanish restaurant, and I drank for free.  They were going to have a nice Spanish meal for me as well, but because of a misunderstanding, we ended up meeting very late, and didn’t have time to comer.

After the show, The Flamenca was acting very Japanese, saying, “ikimashoo?” and I said, “Are you crazy?  We stay and drink and talk with your friends!” so I stayed out till the last train talking with all these older flamenco dancers.  It was all in a Madrid Spanish dialect, so I understood only about 25%, but with my heart, I understood just about everything.  These Spanish girls were very flirty which I didn’t mind.  They wanted to talk about what I thought of their show, how it relates to what I do in circus… supposedly they are all coming to the gym soon to watch my number.

I guess it was a ‘date,’ of sorts, and I’m liking going on a lot of dates with interesting people.

Seeing The Flamenca at the gym now is fun; I guess she is the new friend that will take me to the end of this stay in Japan.  It is clear that we have a fun flirtation and mutual interests, but that we have a ‘working relationship.’  I will go see the flamenco show again with her before I leave.  The Importer is organizing a big meal this Sunday for all the gaijin gym members so we will be having gazpacho and Sri Lankan food and wine and Japanese foods at a big house in Tsukiji.

I have two more days of work; just five classes total.  then, who knows what is going to happen.

Tonight I’m going to the Yasukuni Shrine matsuri with The Journalist who’s about to leave to study at Johns Hopkins which I guess has a really well-known school for international studies/foreign relations.

Catching My Breath

Outside of Taiwan at least, things seem to be going ok with all the projects.  I am relaxed for the first time in a while.  I hope I have hit the bottom of the bad news about the festival fee and that I’m due for nothing but good news in the near future.

I’ve just learned that the National Theater of Taiwan will be using a silhouette of my handstand for the poster for the whole festival.  Reminded me that I should start researching a place in Taiwan where I can continue training my handstands once I arrive in Taipei (assuming I don’t go hungry) because one great thing about that project is that it represents three months to perfect my fucking number.  Technically, I am already stronger than I was before coming to Japan, so if I can boost the artistic side and make it easy as hell to perform it every day, then the world is my oyster.  Despite all this financial uncertainty, I have to admit that I am looking good right now.

Racial Profiling

Does it still count as racial profiling if they admit it?

Last night, the police stopped me on the street (again).  Reason?  They told me that I don’t look Japanese.

Does this happen so overtly in other G8 countries?  Are you subject to search on the street in full of other pedestrians for ‘not looking American’ or ‘not looking German?’

For the first time, I did not present my identification.  I just said my Japanese last name.  He was surprized (Police here have mistake me for Arabic).

‘Are you Nikkei-nissei (second generation Japanese) ?’

‘Actually, fourth generation.’

He paused, confused.

‘So you don’t need an alien registration card?’

Actually, that law only applies to third generation or under – he’s targeting immigrants and doesn’t even know immigration law.

‘Yes (This is a potentially ambiguous answer, a trick I learned to exploit in Japanese).’

‘What is your country?’

‘America.’

And for the first time, they let me go with out searching my belongings.  The terrible thing is is I has said I was second-generation Japanese-Brazillian, or if had been Russian, Chinese, Korean, or Arabic, I might very well have been taken to the police station for refusing to produce my ID.  Depending on how things went there, I might have even been arrested.

The law is foggy on this point, I find.  Foreigners in Japan are required by law to have identification on them at all times – a passport or an alien registration card.  What is unclear is under what circumstances the police can demand to see that information.  I have been a good gaijin for a long time, but last night was too much for me.  It was a stupid gamble, but I fought the law and the law confused itself, ran in circles, scratched its head, and finally backed down.