Archive for November, 2009


Is Loco sensei a nee-gah, too?

There’s a cute little Hafu, all of 13 years old, among  my 1st year students, half-African-American, half-Japanese. She speaks both English and Japanese fluently. After having lived in Mississippi for the past couple of years, her family has recently returned to Japan. She transferred to my school in August and seemed to be adjusting to life back in Japan and at our school fairly well…

That is, until yesterday.

There’s another Returnee in the same class, 100% Japanese this one, but his family lived in Saudi Arabia for several years and he attended an international school there, so his English is fairly fluent as well.

I learned yesterday that, beneath my radar, a bit of a rivalry had sprung up between the two.

I had noticed from our first meeting that the girl was a bit outspoken, compared to her Japanese classmates, and not shy about her English ability whatsoever. This is remarkable because generally the English-speaking students at my schools have only spoken to me in English when their friends were not around or totally buried the ability for fear of becoming outstanding or even ostracized (it’s been known to happen). But Risa (not her real name) seems to be unaware of these possible outcomes and displays conspicuous pride in her own bilingual-ness. The boy, Hideki (not his real name) is not as shy as most of his classmates but not as outspoken as Risa. Recently, according to Risa, he has taken to teasing and criticizing her and apparently it had gotten to a point where she felt compelled to bring it to my attention. Thursday, in the rest period just before English class was to begin, we had the following conversation:

Risa: Mr. Loco, Mr. Suzuki (Hideki) says I have an accent.

Me: Really? Speak, let me hear you talk.

Risa: What do you want me to say?  I don’t…”

Me: What does your father do?

Risa: He’s ah Petty Officer in the Navy. He’s been in the Navy since befo’ I was born. He’s from Mississippi and you kinda remind me uh him…

Me: Suzuki-kun is right, you do have an accent…it’s a southern accent, kinda like my mother’s. It’s only a slight one, though. But, big deal! He’s got an accent too. His sounds British…I have an accent too, though I might be losing it living here. Everyone has some kind of accent.

Risa: He said my accent was a black accent.

Me: How would he know? What does that mean anyway?

Risa: I don’t know, but he said it was black and the way he said it made it sound like a bad thing. Is a black accent bad?

Me: There’s no such thing. And if there were it wouldn’t be a bad thing, so don’t pay him any mind.

I should mention that whenever her and I have a conversation, all the Japanese eyes are riveted and ears are glued. It’s so rare for them to see two native English speakers go at it live, especially if one just also happens to be their classmate as well. I worry about how this might impact her school life- her being able to communicate with the teacher better than anyone in the school that isn’t an adult (trying to be nice here…she’s actually better than all the Japanese English teachers put together), so I try to keep our interactions to a minimum. Risa jumps at every opportunity to flash her skill, though.

As she reported her conversation with Hideki to me, I picked up on something in the tone of her voice. Though she presented all of this with a nonchalance and a giddiness that I can only attribute to her youth, I knew that what Hideki had said had upset her.

So, now Hideki was on my radar.

And, from my vantage before the class, I could see what was happening. I’d ask a question and, if it weren’t too difficult, several hands would rise but if it were difficult only two would: Hideki’s and Risa’s. All the answers were simple for both of them so I avoided calling on them as often as possible. It felt fair, but as far as they were concerned they had as much right to answer the questions as their uni-lingual’d classmates. Hideki seemed to grasp what I was up to though and refrained from raising his hand every time. But, Risa was oblivious. She continued to raise her hand every time (forcing me to call on her from time to time.) Moreover, she’d even raise her hand to ask questions or volunteer remarks (which she’d happily translate into Japanese for her linguistically-challenged classmates)- something that other bi-lingual students would rarely do.

Yep, I could see what was going on. It was older than the club. It was probably what prompted the use of the club as a murder weapon rather than for protection from beast in the first place: jealousy.

I decided I had better do something to dial it down but I wasn’t exactly sure what. I decided I’d speak with the staff at my company at the next monthly meeting to see if they had any suggestions because I suspected my Japanese co-workers would be just as clueless as to how to resolve this equitably as I was. I mean, it is such a rare thing. In the three years I’ve been working there, there have been a half-dozen or so English-speaking Returnees but,  by and large, somehow, whether through experience or intuition, they knew to downplay their ability as much as possible because that which might be cool and impress friends can also be intimidating for those lacking the ability. Not to mention it might provoke my personal nemesis: the ever-present Japanese Iwakan.

Then, Friday, Risa, with a girlfriend in tow, runs up on me in the hallway, still her giddy and ostentatious self, and says:

Risa: Hi Mr, Loco.

Me: Hi Risa-chan, what’s up?

Risa: Well…it’s kind of funny, but not.

Me: What is?

Risa: Hideki called me a Nee-gu-ro.


Risa: It’s bad, right? I thought so…

Me: Well…uh…what…what did he say?

Risa: He said I was nee-gu-ro…

Me: Is that all he said?

Risa: He also said neee-gah, but I know that’s bad. I wasn’t sure about Nee-gu-ro, though.

Me: Ummm…Ah…did you tell your home room teacher?

Risa: No, I just wanted to tell you because I knew you’d understand.

Me: Actually, I…

Risa: I said to him…. I said, “Is Mr. Loco a nee-gah, too?

Me: What???

Risa: But he didn’t say anything…he just…

Me: Wait a minute…Let me get this straight. Hideki called you a negro and a nigger?

Risa: Yes.

Me: Thank you for telling me Risa. And, don’t worry, I’ll get to the bottom of this.

I walked away, a little bewildered and aghast. I mean, every time I hear things like this I’m shocked. One time one of my third year students, a girl, was caught on the roof giving some of the guys blow jobs…I couldn’t imagine any of my kids doing this, on either end of the blow job. If you knew my kids, their innocence, their naiveté, their utter openness and friendliness, you would be shocked, too…But, I had to remind myself that 1- these are teenagers. Experiment, raise hell and  break rules is what they do. It sure as hell is what I did when I was their age, and 2-As far as Hideki was concerned, he was not raised in the same environment as the other students. Who knows what he learned in British international schools in Saudi Arabia and Dubai. Whereas the non-Returnee might think the same thoughts as Hideki they are probably less inclined to voice them to Risa’s face (or at least I’d like to think so).

But, I might be wrong about that, too.

I went to the office and immediately reported this to The Japanese English teacher, who was appropriately angry and, in turn, reported it to Risa’s home room teacher, who was appropriately furious and threatened to send the kid home permanently…in due course he brought it to the vice principal’s attention and a huddle was held in the center of the office where the three of them, along with a fourth teacher, the head teacher of the first year students, decided what shall be Hideki’s fate.

The huddle resulted in a clarification session with Risa confirming the story thoroughly followed by Hideki’s being harshly scolded by his home room teacher, during which (I was told later) Hideki explained his racist remarks as being provoked by Risa’s character. The way she is always showing off her English ability made him feel like he was being ignored by the teachers. He explained that at one point he and Risa had had their hands up at the same time to answer a question and though I had called on him to answer it, following his answer, Risa had made some kind of remark in English regarding his response that he couldn’t catch, and that made him upset because he felt as if she were trying to best him.

I tried to recall the particular moment and it came back to me in living color. I was telling the class about my Junior High School life and explaining the differences between Junior High schools in NY and the ones here in Yokohama. For example, I told them that in NY on graduation day we wear a suit, cap and gown (and passed the pic on the left around to illustrate–they got a real kick outta seeing Loco at their age) while the Japanese tend to wear their same uniform and no cap and gown to speak of.

I also mentioned that we had to be at school by 8:25am but if you wanted to have breakfast, you needed to arrived by 8am and breakfast would be made available for you. Also, I told them that classes began at 8:45 after home room.

Hideki had raised his hand and mentioned that in Dubai he had to be to school by 7:30. His voice barely audible but his pride in having a different experience than his entire class was evident on his face. And, at that point, Risa’s hand had shot up and she, once I had looked her way(but I hadn’t called on her) added that at her school in Mississippi, classes started at 8am and there was also breakfast available…and she had some other remarks, related to something I had discussed previously in the lesson, about graduation, which the Japanese teacher had found more remarkable than I had. Risa picked up on that curious energy from the Japanese teacher and expounded, translating it into Japanese for her classmates, and they responded appropriately with oohs and aahs.

If I had been tuned into Hideki at that moment I might have seen the emotions playing on his face, the jealousy seething within, the decision being made to exact revenge on little resplendent Risa … And I might have even caught a glimpse of what the thought (or God forbid feeling) Negro or Nigger does to a child of 13 who understands what he’s saying, knows it’s something that he shouldn’t say, and says it regardless, intent on inflicting pain on another.

I’m almost glad I didn’t notice. Who wants to see that?



Happy Thanksgiving!

Enjoy yourselves, and enjoy your birds…and may the Creator’s blessings be upon you and yours this holiday season

Know that I’ll be enjoying your bird (and the fixings) vicariously in this turkey-free land




Waikiki via Japan pt.4

Waikiki is really beautiful despite the efforts of commercialization! I could almost see what it used to be before it became what it is now. Like the original wood moldings carved by Italian artisans in the late 1800s that resides beneath the atrocious peeling lead-based paint in a Brooklyn brownstone.  I would have loved to have experienced that Waikiki. But, it’s way past too late…Now, like NY and cities across the USA and the world over, including Yokohama, it’s a corporate clusterfuck: Starbuck’s, Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch, Old Navy, Walmart, etc… 


Well, if you’re a coffee junkie like me you stop for a caffeine blast at one of the 20 Starbucks within walking distance of Waikiki Beach. And while you’re sitting in the outdoor cafe basking in the restoring pacific breeze, the sun warming your soul and renewing the luster your skin  lacked, luxuriating in all the beautiful diversity around you that you’ve missed so much, the Blacks and Whites, Asians and Polynesians, while you’re savoring life and wallowing in its glorious potential, you hear a familiar word. It cuts through your solace like a fire truck’s siren or a gun shot: Gaijin. (foreigner)

Two Japanese guys are sitting near you, also basking, glowing like two million dollars, enjoying Hawaiian beneficence, chatting  about the previous night’s entertainment.

One guy (In Japanese):  That party last night was great, wasn’t it?

His Friend: Yes, it sure was, wasn’t it? But I wish there were more foreigners there.  All the girls were Japanese. I’m tired of Japanese girls. I want to meet some  foreign babes.

One guy: You’re right, of course. But, the foreign girls can’t speak Japanese and your English sucks.

His friend: Mine is better than yours, but you’re right, it does suck doesn’t it? And, it would have probably been dangerous if there were foreigners there. Oh, but how I love foreign chicks…especially the blond-haired, big breasted…

Me: Pardon me!

The guys turn and show surprise at my ability to say pardon me in their language.

So, I add, in Japanese: Do you know what country this is?

Guys: Of course, (then in English) this is America.

Me: That’s right! (still in Japanese) And, here, in this country, you guys are the foreigners, right?

Guys: (blushing, trying to respond in English) You are right….(switching to Japanese) we are so sorry if we offended you. (back to English) So sorry!

Me: (still in Japanese) You should say Americans are dangerous people, and that you want to meet some American girls because they have big breast and blond hair…

Guys: (they finally give up trying to speak English and say in Japanese ) That is very true…very sorry!

Me: No problem…There are so many Japanese here you probably forgot you are the foreigners in a foreign country.

Guys (Still dumbfounded and flabbergasted) You’re right, of course.

Me: Well, enjoy your stay in America. And if you really want to meet American girls, why don’t you go nampa (pick up) some of the staff girls in these shops around here? They all seem to be able to speak Japanese and some of them are cute.

Guys: That’s a good idea…thanks.

Me: No sweat.

No sweat. I lied. How dare these mofos come to my country calling my people foreigners and dangerous! Mannnn….

Tokyo humorists have given Hawaii a nickname which it retains. It”s called 二十四区 which means the 24th ward of Japan’s capital city (Tokyo has 23 wards), reminiscent of jokes about Japan, in the event of another war with the US, not bombing the West Coast states because it already owns them.

Walking around Waikiki you can hardly laugh, though. I probably wouldn’t have noticed the obscene number of  Japanese if I hadn’t lived in Japan for so long. Or, even if I had known they were Japanese it wouldn’t have bothered me because Japanese tourism was a big part of NYC life, too, and they never bothered me then. But now… I can smell Japanese like a fart in a car and I was a little vexed that I would have to spend the remainder of vacation with them when being away from them was part of the reason I needed a vacation in the first place.


There are many interesting things to do in Waikiki and I tried to squeeze a few of them into this holiday. I hate to be hectic on vacation, though. I prefer to take it easy and relax…sleep late and walk slowly. But, I had to get some jet skiing in and a ride in a submarine caught my eyes, as well as a traditional Hawaiian Luau.

Well, it rained on my luau and on my jet skiing, but, though my claustrophobia kicked in and I almost had a panic attack, the submarine ride was out of this world!

The best part of all was that during these activities I was able to be the natural me. I was usually accompanied by people traveling from around the states, or other countries around the world, besides Japan, and none of them had that iwakan (違和感) thing that Japanese people have so we were able to enjoy each others company. Japanese kept conspicuously separate. While everyone else seems to mix and mangle, the Japanese had their own buses, their own tours, their own everything…and had the nerve to bring their iwakan to my country, ducking and dodging me at every opportunity because, unfortunately, in Waikiki they can actually engage in a variety of activities and never have to use English or encounter “foreigners” or rather Americans nor travellers from any other countries.

By the time the third day came around I was so tight with self-righteous furor that I needed to let off some steam. A fellow tourist recommended a gun club.

A gun club?

Works for me, he’d said.

I’d never gone to one before and I couldn’t imagine it could do anything to my stress level aside from increase it. But I gave it a shot, pun intended.

The Waikiki Gun Club is where I went and it turned out to be the best move of my vacation.

When I arrived, the receptionist was helping two Japanese couples ahead of me, in Japanese, but I could hear her accent: Chinese. By the time she got around to me she looked wasted.

Me: You’re not Japanese, are you?

Staff: No…I’m from China.

Me: I thought so.

Staff: But I can speak Japanese, Korean, and English too.

Me: Cool!

Staff: First time?

Me: Yes it is.

Staff: Yeah, I can always tell the first timers…You should try one of our premium packages.

Me: Really? Isn’t it dangerous for a beginner to fire one of these? (I point at the 44 magnum)

Staff: Not at all…I do it often and look how little I am. And you’re a big strong man!

Me: Ok, fine. I’ll try this one with the Tec 9 and the M-16.

Staff: Good choice! Which kind of target would you like? We have bulls eyes and silhouettes and here we have Osama Bin Laden…very popular. But you can’t aim at his head…

Me: Why not?

Staff: You just can’t…club rules.

Me: Probably couldn’t hit it anyway…Do you have any Japanese targets?


Me: That’s was just a joke.

Staff: A good one!

Me: I’ll take the silhouette, then.

Guns always just seemed like something that it would be nice to have in an emergency but the thought of purchasing one, owning one, carrying one, or firing one had never seriously entered my head…until Hawaii. I could never really understand the appeal of guns…for fun. I’ve never hunted and aside for Basic Training back in the late 80s I’ve never even fired a weapon at a target. I was a Sharp Shooter in the army though…I used to imagine the silhouettes were my drill Sargents.

I watched movies like “Bowling for Columbine” (perhaps the best documentary about modern day America ever made) and I saw those “gun nuts” and I said to myself geez I’m glad I don’t live in middle America.

I mean what kind of person puts a gun in the hands of a seven-year old, for fun?


You know, when I fired the first couple of shots I kept thinking what if the kick breaks my arm or what if this, though well-maintained, not-so new looking handgun backfires on me. Then what? Can’t write! But, I told myself, as I usually do when I’m afraid to do something, just do it.

And I did it…

I didn’t see these pictures until later…and when I saw my smile I felt a shiver up my spine.

I mean, what does pure joy look like anyway?

When I walked out of the Waikiki Gun Club I felt transformed! I understood police officers and the NRA, Charleston Heston and Cowboys and every friggin’ gun-toting image I have lurking in my subconscious. Even the ones that used to make me cringe…scary how fast that shit can happen. I actually thought about skeet shooting and hunting. Outside the club in the streets of Waikiki, I had nothing but love for everyone.

And for the remainder of my vacation the Japanese would not even approach vexing me…My high lasted until I got back to Narita Airport.

Man, if I find a gun club in Yokohama that might spell the end of Loco. 

Loco (-:


Waikiki via Japan pt.3

The thing is, since I’ve moved to Japan, in my heart and mind, America has become this oasis of tolerance in a desert of bias, a harbor of  humanity in a stormy sea of chauvinism and xenophobia, and, at the risk of sounding President Bush-whacked, a beacon of freedom and diversity in a dark, putrid, pit of prejudice and ignorance.

I know, I know, I know…

But, for me, this is one of the side effects of life among the xenophobic.  The downside of life in Japan can make even the downside of living in America pale in comparison.

So, when I come HOME and I see that my Japanese GUESTS have not only brought their swimwear, cameras and credit cards to my country but have decided to show their asses and smuggled in what amounts to contraband: namely their predisposition to unabashedly project and display fear and/or terror in the face of people who look different from themselves, and particularly people who look like me, well, unlike the anger I felt back in their country, which can be and has been, at times, dismissed with the words  “you can always go home if you don’t like the way we treat you” I felt a righteous anger. You can do whatever you want back it Yokohama, that’s yo’ shit! But here? In my neck of the woods (so to speak)!? Like my Moms used to say when I was a kid and I’d act up in public:

You must be out of your natural mind!

I’ve never felt such a posessiveness about America before…at least not while I was living in America. I mean, most of my life I spent feeling that my country, along with most of Western Europe, were the greatest evildoers in the universe. But, the Japanese have provoked something dark out of me. And though I feel compelled to keep it at bay in their country, man oh man, you better believe I don’t feel that way in my own. It’s like when guests come to your house. They should know not to do certain things without invitation. They should know to keep their feet off of my coffee table, keep their eyes and hands out of my medicine cabinet, keep their faces out of my refrigerator, keep their asses off of my bed, etc… That is, if they have manners or intend to ever be invited over again. I think it should go without saying that if you come to my country you have no right to treat me or anybody else like an object of fear.

And that’s where the provocation comes in. It’s not like I came to Japan and disrespected the shop they got set up over here. Hell no. I’ve tried to make their lives as easygoing as possible considering they find me terrifying for some reason. I’ve tried to live within the guidelines they’ve laid down. I’ve been a model foreign citizen (well almost anyway) since I’ve been living in Japan…tolerant, for the most part, of the virtually intolerable, patient when my patience is tried daily. I even refrain from abusing their generosity and ignorance…most often. (-;

So, when I went to breakfast in my hotel’s cafe the second day to indulge myself in the breakfast buffet, I expected my country’s guest to behave like they got a little sense in their heads. When I had a seat by the bay windows near the Japanese couple with their two young kids, then went to fill up my tray with waffles and bacon and all kinds of fruits and breads and returned to my seat, I rightfully expected the family to be sitting where I’d left them. Not to have moved to another area of the cafe…suddenly. Yes, circumstantial evidence, but I’ve seen so much daily circumstantial evidence in Japan that I don’t think it’s circumstantial evidence  anymore. It’s a fact, now.

So I, just as suddenly, decide the morning Hawaiian sun is too bright for the hangover I’m nursing and move to another table myself, a table that just happened to be next to theirs. This done without even acknowledging their existence.

Now what! I said in my head and spread some jam on my croissants. I could hear mother hiss, the father suck his teeth. The son kept looking at me the same friendly way most kids do in Japan. I smiled and played eye games with him. His mother noticed and put that shit to a halt. She hissed something I couldn’t mae out, I think “Abunai” (dangerous) at her son and he looked so frightened suddenly, not of Mom but of me, that my stomach churned.

Fuck this!

“Good morning!” I snapped at them.

The mother looked shocked like I’d picked up a knife and aimed to throw it at her. The father turned and gave me a plastic face of amusement.

“Good morning? Hi…hello…aloha…can you speak?”

“Sorry…good morning…eeeeto….hi.”

The kids responded to my smile with nervous smiles of their own. The parents sweat.

” Welcome to America! Sweet land of liberty!” I felt like Mr. Roarke on Fantasy Island.

“Thank you,” the father said. “We are Japanese.”

“That’s no problem…this ain’t China…and this ain’t Japan.  This is a free country. MY country, and we take all kinds here. Even Japanese. So, enjoy your stay…ki wo tsukete ne!” (be careful) I smiled and winked.

And, with that, I returned to my breakfast and ate heartily grinning ear to ear.

But, unfortunately, my country’s Japanese guests were just getting started…

…and so was I.


to be continued…


A strange thing happened on the way to Yokohama…

This morning I was on the train checking my emails when we pulled into the station. It was packed to the teeth and about to get more so judging from the lines on the platform before the door near me. I turned around and braced for the surge. And it came.

As usual  the surge swirled around me as much as it could, avoiding making contact with me as if I were a tree in the path of a stampede, but soon all the available space outside of the Gaijin bubble around me was filled and the surge- that is, those who hadn’t decided to go to another door- began to brush against me and eventually one man turned completely around and jolted me from my position with an almost vicious shove.

All par for the course, until…

A high school girl, in the mix, was shoved against me, backed away a bit and apologized. She was dressed in the standard fare: sailor uniform with the skirt hiked up pretty high on her thighs. She wore a mask like many people, probably to avoid spreading germs or catching the flu that’s going around. Her eyes looked a bit frazzled, though.

She was aggressively jostling herself and I realized it had nothing to do with me. Not this time anyway. People often, upon realizing they’ve been shoved into my vicinity, make strenuous efforts to remove themselves, but this girl’s efforts I discerned were not to evade me but to escape from the man behind her.

Chikan…yappari (Pervert, no surprise there…)

He was a short salaryman, shifty eyed and aggressive himself. The girl slid in front of me, perhaps thinking my gaijin-ness might dissuade her assailant.

It didn’t.

At least not much. I mean, he looked at me and reacted appropriately, for Japanese, like a deer caught in the headlights. But then he too tried to slide in front of me, between  the girl and me. I closed the gap between us by allowing myself to be swept with  the surge closer to the girl.

He didn’t like that. Maybe he thought I was trying to move in on his action or something. But, my gaijin-ness wasn’t much of a deterrent for he too tried to use the continuing surge and his briefcase to wedge himself in front of me. This behavior was very noticeable not only to me but to everyone in the vicinity, but instead of focusing on him and his oddly aggressive endeavors to get behind the high school girl, they kept their indirect and suspicious (fish-eyed) focus on me: the conspicuous threat.

Shit like this tempts me to say fuck it and let whatever will be just be. And, taking advantage of  my moment of indecision, he wedged his arm between the girl and I.

As the train left the station I could feel his arm between us adjusting with the movements of the train, only with determination. He was re-positioning it and in doing so was angling his briefcase into my groin to make space.

Fuck it. Here we go again…

He was on my right side. I was holding a metal strap with my left hand. I switched to a strap on my right side and as I did my right elbow caught his squarely in the forehead. It didn’t so much hurt him as it surprised him.

“Gomen nasai,” I whispered and nod/bowed. He ignored my apology probably sensing that my assault was done intentionally. A perceptive perv.

But his hand didn’t budge.

My elbow was now above his head. Switching hands had actually made his access to the girl easier. I had anticipated he’d back off after I’d shown him my intention to intervene. He hadn’t and, as a result, now had an almost unfettered and well-concealed entree to her.

The train swerved a bit and everyone was tossed to the left. Myself included. He apparently had been anticipating the swerve and used it to slide closer to his prey. He wasn’t going to use his hands, though, I realized. He’d wanted to get directly behind her for some reason. And now he was, as I had been shoved further to her left by the swerve.

I couldn’t see what was going on below but I could tell by his face- he was trying to look nonchalant- that something was up. The girl had ceased all struggling and jostling and had accepted her fate, whatever it was. She was looking at her cellphone, eyes frozen to it. His eyes kept looking down. The eyes of some of the other passengers would occasionally check him out but most kept re-confirming their proximity to me, or feeding their curiosities to satiety, or relieving their suspicions as to what my motives might have been for riding the train among them.

The train pulled into Yokohama station and as the doors opened I saw something but I’m still not sure what.

It looked like the man suddenly snatched something from the girl. They tussled a bit to separate like their headphone wires had gotten tangled. He tore away, however, making it appear like a classic NY-style purse snatching, but all the girl had was a school book bag and she was still holding that. He did something wrong, that’s for sure…and bolted away, shoving  through the swarm of commuters for the escalator. The girl realized he’d done whatever he did immediately and took off after him. He had been so close to me that I instinctively patted my back pocket to make sure my wallet was still there. It was. When I reached the escalator the guy was nearly at the top running full speed and the girl was hot on his heels. She must run track.

By the time I reached the top of the escalator I saw a few heads turned in the direction they had run but the man and the high school girl were gone.

I wish I had had time to learn more but I had to get to work.



Waikiki via Japan pt.2

It’s my fault, though. I made a couple of glaring mistakes.

The first: Whenever my Japanese friends have told me about their trips to Hawaii, they invariably mention that what held the greatest appeal for them, what alleviated most of their anxiety about traveling to a foreign country, is that Japanese is spoken everywhere. Hotels, shops, police officers, you name it.

I thought it was a bit of an exaggeration.

I mean, come on. I come from a very tourist friendly city, too. New York does what it can to accomodate any one with the money to visit. Signs in major tourist areas are often in a number of languages including Chinese, Korean and Japanese. Information booths are staffed with speakers of the most popular languages to visit those locations, etc…So, I imagined that Hawaii was similar.

I was wrong. Hawaii is friendly to three languages: English, Japanese, and Hawaiian. (and I didn’t hear much of the latter.)

I’m not much for shopping. I go shopping about once a year, for clothes that is. When I do go shopping I like to get quality stuff that will last, durability and style-wise, at least until the next time I go shopping and hopefully beyond. I’m not a brand name guy but I have had very good experiences with the clothes from Ralph Lauren so I’ve been a regular shopper there for years. There are a couple of Ralph Lauren shops in Waikiki. The one I went to had some really eye-catchy stuff in the window. POLO stuff. I went in and noticed I was the only person not of Asian descent. I’m talking customers and staff.  And I’m not including Polynesian.

When I was young, back in NY, if I went shopping in a store like this I would be followed around by plainclothes or uniformed security as a matter of course. I’ve worked at Macy’s in NY as a security guard and though I was never told directly that this was store policy, it was suggested that people that look like me were to be watched carefully or I wasn’t doing my job. There was no security, as far as I could detect, in this RL shop aside from the obligatory cameras and alarm clips on clothing. I didn’t even look hard for any. I was busy checking out the sweaters. 

As an adult, however, I’ve grown accustomed to a certain amount of pandering and solicitation from staff people. I had been looking forward to this. I hadn’t had my ass kissed in English in a long while. Their mission is to make sure my wallet is lighter when I leave than when I arrived. How light depended solely on their skill, their persuasiveness as salespeople. Especially in high-end shops. 

Most of the customers were Japanese. They were walking around the store carefree like they owned it or had controlling stock shares in it, with staff people following them around and pandering in that kiss-assy way that staff people pander in higher end stores. I was reminded of Pretty Woman, the second time Julie Roberts went shopping, with Richard Gere and his cards in tow. The staff were speaking Japanese but I suspect they were Chinese or Korean…they had kind of an accent and flubbed the keigo (super polite service Japanese) in a way that would be almost unacceptable in Japan.

I found the sweater I wanted and was looking for a dressing room to try it on. I flagged down a staff person that didn’t appear to be stalking a Japanese customer and asked where it was. She smiled politely and pointed to an area in the rear. It reminded me of Japan when staff people would use pantomime and broken English to respond to me despite my having spoken to them in Japanese.

I made my way to the dressing room and tried on the sweater. It fit like a glove. I threw it over my arm and went searching for more. Where were the caps and slacks?

“Excuse me?”

“One moment please…” a sales person snapped and re-inserted her nose into the asses of the Japanese customers she was standing behind. They were just browsing. No conversation was taking place. No sells pitch was being pitched. She was just posted at their beck and call. I looked around for another sales person. They were all situated as such. Then I noticed one free staff person re-folding blouses.

“Excuse me…”

She turned, smiled, and came over to me. “Yes?”

“Where are the caps and slacks at?”

“Caps are on the second floor….slacks are over there.” She was almost on her way away from me before she finished the sentence. I pushed the issue.

“Over there where?”

Once again, she pointed. I guess I’ve been spoiled. In a Japanese department store, the staff rarely say, “Over there.” They will personally take you over there ot they’d have over there brought over here for your convenience.

“Thanks,” for nothing. 

I turned away. I was on vacation. I wasn’t going to get upset. She was just having a rough day, I told myself as two Japanese girls approached me giggling and Kawaii-ing each other’s selections and shopping acumen. Then they saw me, tensed up, like they do back in their country, sharply changed directions, like they do in their country, and one looked back as if to make sure they weren’t being followed and whispered to the other the all clear, like they do back in Japan.


Between the staff and the girls my Polo high was dead. I placed the sweater on the nearest rack and headed for the exit.

The second mistake: I booked my trip through HIS, and they recommended the hotel. I Should have known better. I Should have remembered from my experience with KNT on my trip to China what to expect from a Japanese travel agency. The hotel staff was great. The service was excellent. The accommodations were superb. Everything was clean and orderly and safe.


The hotel was like the Japanese Embassy…and some of the Japanese guests behaved as if they had diplomatic immunity. Immune from having to behave as if they weren’t home…immune from having to be on their best behavior.

The first day, I got on the elevator to go up to my room and before the door could close a Japanese couple boarded, vacationing, happy, carefree, and…oh shit! They take a gander of me. Suddenly, Papa-san decides that it’s in his best interest to turn his back on me and pretend I’m not there, like I was a bellhop or an elevator operator or something. I was standing near the buttons so in order to press his floor he needed to face my direction. He chose not to, and kinda reached his hand over blindly for the buttons…just like they would do in Japan…

I took a deep breath…

“Nan kai desuka?” What floor?

His wife, who had been watching her husband’s bizarre behavior like it was the most prudent thing, her eyes liked to pop out of her head…

“Nihon-go ga jouzu desune!” (Your Japanese is very good) she sang at me informing her husband who, too, had decided that it was less of a risk to actually look at the button he was pressing because I could say something in his language…perhaps I was a staffperson in the hotel he probably told himself. The couple kind of nod/bowed and visibly relaxed.

I envied them.


to be continued…


Waikiki via Japan: pt.1

Me: Have you ever been to America?

1000 Japanese People I’ve spoken to over the past 6 years: No, I haven’t. But, I have been to Hawaii.

Me: Hawaii is in America, you know.

1000 Japanese People I’ve spoken to over the past 6 years: You know what? You’re right!

Me: (To myself) Damn right, I’m right!!!

And then one day you pack your stuff and you board a JAL flight to Hawaii and 7 hours later find yourself on the island of Oahu, in the city of Waikiki…and you look around your hotel, and the beaches, and the shops, and the streets, and you listen to the language being spoken around you, and the language used on signs and advertisements and on three of the stations you can pick up on the TV in your hotel room, and you can’t help but check the stamp on your passport to make sure you got off the airplane in the right country.

Because all of the above is replete with Japanese.

Which would be all well and good if one of the highest highlights of vacationing away from Japan wasn’t getting away from Japanese people, language and all the foolishness you have to tolerate as an ex-pat in Japan for a spell, a mental breather, a hiatus so to speak.

Yes, if no one has made it official yet, let me be the first: Waikiki, which by all means is not the entire island of Oahu, but is the most popular area, is a Japanese colony in America. And if, like me, you live in Japan and vacationing to you means a brief respite from the Japanese, do your yourself a favor and avoid Waikiki at all costs. Because, at the risk of exaggerating, slightly, I will say there were as many Japanese in Waikiki as there were Hawaiians…

If I wanted to see an overabundance of Japanese in an exotic tropical locale I would have gone to Okinawa or Saipan.

Not home.


I must admit, though, I never really thought of Hawaii much, certainly never thought of it as home before. When I thought of Hawaii, like most mainland Americans, I would think of, first and foremost. Pearl Harbor. As a WWII buff Pearl Harbor holds endless fascination for me. After that there’s also Hula, surfing, pineapples and, of course, Hawaii Five-O!

Tell me Jack Lord wasn’t the coolest cop in TV history (besides Columbo). And tell me that wasn’t the coolest theme music to a TV show ever.

Probably because I’m from the East coast, Hawaii has always seemed just a little too out of touch. When we Nor’eastern folk think exotic, tropical island, we don’t think umpteen hour flight across the country. We think 3-5 hour flights to the Caribbean. Jamaica comes to mind…

Not to mention Bermuda, The Bahamas, The Cayman Islands, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cuba, St. Lucia, Trinidad, etc,etc, etc… I can’t speak for Californians and those west coast folks but on my side of the US, Hawaii rarely comes up in travel plans. Not even on a Bucket List.

That is, until Obama came along.

He’s from where? Hawaii? Say word?

Which, I must admit, is what put Hawaii on my radar as a possible vacation spot. That, and the recommendations that have flooded in since I’ve been living in Japan. It seems virtually every Japanese person has been to or will go to Hawaii in their lifetime. And their reviews of Hawaii  are always chockfull of superlatives: The best this and the greatest that, most beautiful this and the most delicious that.I’m not exaggerating.

And MOST will probably never think of it as a trip to America.

One of my favorite Tom Clancy books, Debt of honor, is in part about an ill-advised bloodless Japanese  invasion of the island of Saipan ( A US commonwealth located in the Mariana Islands of the Pacific), among other things. Until the battle of Saipan in 1944, Saipan was a Japanese territory. After that battle it became an American commonwealth. The fictional invasion from the novel was executed with 30,000 Japanese soldiers who would constitute immigrated citizens. Then once an election is held and these immigrants vote the Japanese criminals in the story would regain political power in the Marianas.

Silly, really, and a bit of Japan bashing to be sure but overall it was a great read. Mostly because Clark and Chavez are so damn cool.

Anyway…walking around Waikiki I was reminded of this book. It seriously felt like the island was under siege…and to make it worst, the natives (The Hawaiians) seemed to be in on it and welcomed it. It seems that Japanese tourism is a big part of the economy in Hawaii, so most businesses, especially in Waikiki, cater and pander to Japanese.

Which is all well and good until some goddamn tourist in my country, by virtue of the fact they have been made to feel very comfortable in my country by my fellow Americans (of Pacific Island descent), starts to get the idea that they can treat me like they would in their country…

Then we got problems!


to be continued…

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
I love you for who you are
Not the one you feel you need to be
Ever catch a falling star
Ain't no stopping 'til it's in the ground
Everybody is a star
One big circle going round and round

Words by: Sly Stone

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