10 ways NOT to go loco in Yokohama, but I say…

…why the hell not???

I feel very fortunate that I didn’t meet someone like me when I first came to Japan. Someone who’d been here a while, knew the ins and outs and ups and downs of life in this tiny island nation, but could, without an excessive amount of cynicism or negativity, present me with guidelines to make my transition here easier and more enjoyable. I probably would have been grateful, but I would have missed out on a great growth opportunity by avoiding what may be the best thing to ever happen to me: going loco.

I might have remained the same person I was when I arrived here. Not that that would have been so bad, but…well, yeah, it would have been unfortunate, actually.

It’s my assertion that the rewards of going loco far outweigh the drawbacks. Sometimes when you lose it, you win…going a little nuts can be very liberating. Many people don’t relish the idea of achieving one’s liberation this way, but I not only think it’s the best way, it’s perhaps the only way. Any student of history can tell you that freedom always requires risk, struggle and sacrifice. It can’t be given. It must be earned or taken, or both. Especially in the case of mental liberation, which is arguably the form of liberation of greatest value.

Some foreigners come to Japan fully evolved, complete, and satisfied with themselves, for whatever reason. So, no matter what they learn here, about the world or about themselves, they will pretty much remain the same. That must be wonderful (I think.) But, for the rest of us who came here with a little wiggle room (if not a lot) I’ve found that Japan is tailor-made for self-discovery…but maybe I’m just speaking for myself and projecting. If I am, please let me know.

I came here with a lot of baggage, most of which I hadn’t even known about. I thought I had traveled light. I’d sold most of my belongings before I left NY and gave away most of the rest. And what I couldn’t sell or give away or store in my mother’s basement, I threw away. I squeezed 30 some-odd years of consumption into a couple of cheap suitcases. Once I got here and got settled, that’s when I realized that I’d brought a lot more than I’d packed. A virtual grab-bag of human drama had stowed away inside of me. Maybe I hadn’t noticed because I had been carrying all this shit around for years, maybe my entire life, like accessories. I wasn’t quite conscious of their weight, like one doesn’t often notice the weight of belts, socks, watches and jewelry. But once I got here I noticed, and how. Like dumbbells in my pockets.

There’s something about the very nature of life in Japan that inspires an epiphany. Perhaps it was the combination of isolation, glorification and stigmatization that I encountered here that acted as a catalyst. Whatever it was, it raised my already heightened narcissism to an even higher sense of self-awareness.

It’s an incredible gift, or a horrifying curse, to be certain. I could see myself with a frightening clarity. I could see every ingredient in this gumbo I call I. I could see what gave me my bitter taste, what made me sweet, what made me too spicy , what gave me my irresistible aroma. I could see which ingredients I had chosen, and which were chosen for me. Which I had borrowed from the Americana recipe book of life, and which were inherited or environmental.

With this gift I was presented came a choice: I could try to manipulate the concoction, try to make something remotely palatable out of it, or…I could throw it all out, and essentially start from scratch. I began to see myself as I’d never seen myself before. Not as one among millions upon millions, but as less than one. I was invisible here. People didn’t see me. They only saw whatever they projected. But I was a zero, and zero is a hard number to face. Zero can make anyone go a little loco, until you realize the opportunities, the miracle of zero. That takes time. Time well worth the taking.

First, I saw myself through stages, through the eyes all around me, through the mirror that is my life here, through the Japanese: Bigger, stronger, blacker, scarier, cooler…stupider, incomprehensible, shameless…less patient, more impetuous, alien, different, strange, bizarre…dangerous…passionate, emotional, surprising, unpredictable, opinionated…free-thinking, free-willed, free-spirited, free…


Was it true, I wondered. Well, I definitely wasn’t Japanese. No matter how hard I tried to fit in, that just wasn’t going to happen. They wouldn’t have me. Not maliciously. It was just inconceivable to them and thus impossible. And, I wasn’t American. In my mind, at least when I came here, America was a theory, an illusion, a motto on a bumper sticker, no more representative of me than Disneyland was.  I was free, sure, the way homeless people are free. The way refugees are free. A very unsettling freedom to say the least. And terrifying. I’d never known that type of freedom.

Nevertheless, before I could make the transition from living life according to the mores and truths that have been impressed or forced upon me, or presented to me as self-evident, to living a life with my own flavor, where my only allegiance is to the personal mores and truths that I’ve decided upon of my own volition, a crisis of identity occurred. Yes, before I could decide what was best for me, I had to figure out who I was.

And during such a crisis, yes, there will probably be a time when you appear, and indeed presume that you’ve gone, for all intents and purposes, loco. I know I did. But, in the end, you can look back at your transition, your liberation, your gumbo, and see that clearly it would not have occurred, at least not in a profound way, without first relinquishing your grasp on this so-called sanity that’s clung to so desperately, and cherished so recklessly.

it is a heavy price to pay. Most cannot afford it for they are heavily invested in their lives as they are. Their portfolios are chockful of this sanity.  Some are literally trapped within the cultural constraints of their society’s expectations and beliefs, a straitjacket on their souls. Some are so afraid of life outside the straitjacket that they’ve totally submitted to it, reconditioned their minds to not only accept it as natural (and reject anything contrary as unnatural), but foster submission. They proselytize, offering straitjackets to everyone they encounter, wholeheartedly believing it’s in their best interest. They wear their straitjacket proudly like a coat of arms, or thrust before them like a standard.

Going loco, I’ve come to believe, is the only way to pull a Houdini, shed that straitjacket, and ultimately discover (or uncover) the real you.

However, despite my disclaimer, if you still want to hear my 10 ways to keep it together here in the land of the Gods, stay tuned. I’ll hit you off ASAP.

In the meantime give me a shout.


10 Responses to “10 ways NOT to go loco in Yokohama, but I say…”

  1. 1 ted
    December 1, 2008 at 7:26 am

    I figured this one out a while back. Most people upon seeing me will immediately judge (and dismiss) me as gaijin. Beyond that, I’ve got tons of room to do my own thing. I wouldn’t have such freedom in the States, for all the reasons you mentioned.

    I think it’s funny that you chose the ‘loco’ persona. I’ve been playing coyote–trickster–for years.

    Enjoying your writing, as always…


  2. 3 Locohama
    December 1, 2008 at 7:51 am

    Thanks ted (-: freedom is something else aint it (-;
    Hey Reason2 (-: Thanks, as always, for the shout.


  3. 4 LoudLight
    December 1, 2008 at 10:57 pm

    I have been following this blog for a while…kind of like the curiosity of the train wreck. While I have appreciated your struggle to live here, except for your focus(obsession)on people who won’t sit next to you on a train and your unethical use of your students,I have found myself wondering if you have found a place here that you would fit into?

  4. 5 Locohama
    December 1, 2008 at 11:39 pm

    Thanks for the shout Loud Light (-:
    A place to fit into? Not sure I know what that means…But if it means do u have friends and a job and a sports club and bills up the wazoo and half a life, the answer is yes.
    Thanks for the concern (-;


  5. 6 愛万多
    February 11, 2009 at 11:47 am

    Nice, sounds like it was a great experience. I think I’d like it, but, who can tell till they’re there. Some really interesting deep things there, about who you are as a person, I really like your ue of illustrations, like seeing the spicy side, bitter taste, and environmental influences etc.. Really opens up ones mind eh? I mean as a reader, I really visualized your struggle.. Words like poetry..makes ya think.. And the straightjacket thing, oh yeah, totally picture that. Nice.

    • February 12, 2009 at 9:31 am

      愛万多 (10000 loves?) san, thanks for your numerous shout outs! Wow! I’m overwhelmed. i will try to respond to each one in due time. Thanks for the kind words and props.


  6. 8 ikari7789
    March 2, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    Wow Loco, just… wow.

    I completely agree with this article of “going loco.”
    I went to Japan for two weeks back when I was in high school and got just a glimpse of what you saw/felt. And now that I’m in college, I’ve started to do somewhat of the same thing. I realized, that, just coming from high school, I had quite a bit of baggage from the drama. I know it’s nothing compared to what you would acquire over the course of 30 years, such as yourself. For me, it’s more like someone has loosened the knots on that straitjacket, and I’m starting to loosen them more as time goes on.

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Copyright © 2010 Loco in Yokohama / All Rights Reserved

Please know that this blog is my original writing and may not be reproduced in any way without the expressed written permission of the author (that's me!) Thanks!

Words I love…

Everybody is a star
I can feel it when you shine on me
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Not the one you feel you need to be
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November 2008

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