Archive for the 'teaching english' Category

20
Dec
08

10 ways NOT to go loco in Yokohama #9: Be patient

The Christians  say, “Be patient, therefore, brothers, … See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You too must be patient.” (James 5:7-11)

The Jews say, “The patient man shows much good sense, but the quick-tempered man displays folly at its height.” (Proverbs 14:29)

The Muslims say, “Verily man is in loss, except such as have faith, and do righteous deeds, and join together in the mutual enjoining of truth, and of patience and constancy.” (103:2-3)

The Chinese say, “In the struggle between the stone and the water, in time, the water wins.”

In Buddhism patience is essential to realize perfect enlightenment (bodhi) and in Hinduism patience is recognized by the Sri Krishna in the Bhagavd Gita ( Sanskrit Hindu Scripture)

Nietzsche said, “Passion will not wait. The tragedy in the lives of great men often lies not in their conflict with the times and the baseness of their fellow men, but rather in their inability to postpone their work for a year or two. They cannot wait.”

And maybe my favorite: Thomas Edison said, “I never failed once. It just happened to be a 2000-step process.”

I used to go to church on New Year’s Day. Which church didn’t matter. I love to bring in the new year listening to a great Gospel choir and an uplifting sermon. As the hour approached midnight, I would sit there in the pew, hands clasped, head bowed, eyes closed and pray for good health and prosperity for friends and family. Yet, I am not Christian, nor Jewish, nor Muslim, nor Buddhist, nor Hindu, nor even Shinto for that matter (though I ain’t above tossing a few coins, clapping, bowing and giving some kamisama a shout out at a Shinto shrine). I’m not a Nietzche disciple, either. I’m just your friendly neighborhood agnostic, who loves to read and write and learn new things. One of the things I’ve learned in Japan is that the Japanese have turned #9 Being patient into practically a religion in and of itself. The whole society is a church founded on patience. And my tip to you is if you’re gonna live here, whether you have a religious background or not, and if you are serious about remaining sane: consider converting.

In the US many people say Patience is a virtue. It’s been hammered into the collective American skull alongside other dubious tenets like distance makes the heart grow fonder (tell that to the girl I was seeing when I left NY…umm whatshername again? Starts with a K, I think,) two wrongs don’t make a right (but revenge is sooooo sweet,) and communism and Socialism are evil (I think the French, the Spanish and the Cubans might take issue with that though). Whether people believe it or not is another story. But, to the Japanese, it is beyond a virtue. The Japanese call patience, Gaman 我慢which basically means they endeavor to endure what seems to be unbearable or adverse circumstances beyond their control  and somehow manage to retain an expression of calm forbearance in the face of it.

In other words, Patience 5.0

I know I said tip #1: Don’t be you is the most difficult. But, being patient is the most difficult part of not being me. I was shamelessly impatient before I came to Japan and therefore I was not being me when I was trying to be patient with the Japanese. I was lying through my teeth. I was the biggest fraud on this tiny island and felt so every breathing moment. In fact, I felt that way up until relatively recently.

I also briefly mentioned Honne and Tatamae in an earlier posting. I have no problem with Honne…Honne is my forte. But, Tatamae arguably, requires a great deal of patience to attain. Well, I realized recently that I had basically acquired, through the ins and outs of life here, a modified Western version of tatamae. I think the Japanese (those who bother to even notice) can see right through my tatamae but, like they must do for one another from time to time, they pretend not to see the seething impatience beneath my plastic smile, and they send me some plastic cheese in return. God love ’em! 9-:

They say the first step to solving a problem is knowing of its existence (another one of those Western maxims reeking of l’air du cliche.) Well, the biggest problem for me was acknowledging that impatience is indeed a problem. In my life, impatience had been rewarded almost as often as patience; at least enough so that I knew it was often useful and not to be discarded out of hand. I was reared in an environment where in order to get ahead you needed to not only adapt yourself to the chaos around you but thrive within it. And, if you were able to feign patience, that feint was often enough to achieve whatever goals your impatience would have proven inexpedient in achieving. In other words, breaking rules was in the rule book much to an honest person’s chagrin. Cleverly breaking the rules was praised. Flagrantly breaking the rules was respected.

Patience was an ideal. Something people admired and when they happen to stumble across it within themselves say to themselves, “wow, it’s nice to know I’m capable of both.”

I guess I should make it clear what I mean when I talk about patience. After all, there are several senses of the word, aren’t there? The first definition that comes to mind is the ability and willingness to tolerate delay. Tolerate delay, hrmph. I don’t tolerate delay well. Not at all. At least I didn’t until after I’d been here for a spell . For instance, here in Japan, when there’s an announcement on the train platform that the train that would have gotten me to a time sensitive appointment in a timely fashion will be delayed because someone decided to take his revenge out on his family, and the society at-large that had made his life a living hell, by jumping in front of MY train. I know I should take a deep breath, call ahead to inform my party I will be delayed unavoidably and apologize profusely (though I’m not responsible at all) and then resume playing Tetris on my cellphone. And, nowadays I am likely to do just that. But up until recently that has not been the case. I would immediately audibly disparage this psychotic tendency of suicidal Japanese people to splatter their fellow commuters with their guts and brain matter into the ears of every Japanese person within earshot, while trying to figure out if there is an alternative route that will get me where I need to be when I need to be there. (This might seem like a strange scenario to use as an example but only to those of you who don’t live here. What I call Splattercide, or suicide by leaping in front of a speeding locomotive, may not be the number one method of doing oneself in in Japan but it is definitely the most sensational and in my experience the most common cause of rail delays on what is reputed to be the most efficient rail system in the world. The reason it is a way to take revenge out on one’s family is, believe it or not, the family must compensate the rail company, sometimes as much as a million dollars, as a delay fee.)

In NY, we try to make everything happen ASAP. There are whole industries built around ASAP. Delay is not expected nor is it in many cases tolerated. It either has to be there ASAP or it doesn’t matter when it happens. For example, the product my client just ordered either has to be there, like Paulie said to Adrian in Rocky, instamatically (via teleportation/beaming), by that day Close Of Business  (via Bike messenger), the following day first thing (via Fed-Ex), or it isn’t important so whenever it gets there it gets there (via USPS/Snail Mail).

Even suggesting to a client that they need to be patient is the equivalent of telling them that their business is not important to you and better left in the hands of someone who shares their impetuous values. Telling a customer outright to be patient is like telling them to shut the hell up! (“Sir, please be patient.” “Who you think you talking to like that? I wanna see the manager! Be patient. I got your patience right here!”) Telling someone patience is a virtue is an insult. (Patience is a what?? Yo’ Mama’s a virtue!) Telling someone good things come to those who wait begs for a sarcastic response.  (“Listen…what’s this? Our second date? I’ve been patient enough. When you get ready to part with summadat good thing, you give me a call, alright? Cuz I ain’t about to spend another dime on wine and dine! I’m out, peace!”)

Moreover, I was easily provoked, easily annoyed, misfortune or pain were only tolerated if necessary and always with complaint, my temper was short, I could become irritable at the drop of a hat, etc, etc…I was a goddamn case study in impatience. I had worked out some of it before I came to Japan. At least I thought I had. But, life here exposed the truth about me. I realized that I came to Gaman-Land with very little Gaman and was unaccustomed to and fairly intolerant of Gaman from others as well.

But, what do I encounter here: perhaps the most patient people I’ve ever metcomet_hale-bopp in my entire life. Eerily patient. Creeped me out, actually. They’d give that bible guy, Job, a run for his money. So, naturally, I found it confounding and a little freightening. Patient people scare me. They can endure what I can’t for some secret reason. Maybe they’re aliens or part of some Cult of Patrience waiting for Hale-Bopp to come around again cuz their mothership is hiding in its tail. Patience is borderline foolishness in my neck of the woods, so I felt like I had arrived in the land of Suckers. Why wait for a green light when the coast is clear for blocks? Why stand on line on a train platform when the odds of your boarding the next jam-packed train that arrives improve considerably if you rush the door? Why not elbow that asshole who pushes you on the train? Why smile when your English teacher is clearly trying to provoke you with his line of questioning?

Why ask why? The answer is simple: They are Japanese and that’s how they get down and if you’re gonna live here I suggest you forego your own way of getting down in favor of their way. Why, you ask? because the only thing you’ll accomplish with your impatience is more frustration on your part.

I’ll try to illustrate this using computer terminology (though I know squat about computers, I have enough general knowledge to make this modest analogy.) Think of Japan as an operating system. An OS written in the Gaman language. Sure, their OS was inspired by Western operating systems, so on the surface it might look a lot like your own OS. Has many of the same features and principles, like the difference between a MAC and a PC, or a Toyota Camry and a Ford Taurus. But, when you come to Japan and try to run your software in their OS, forget it! You’ll get all kinds of system errors. Keep it up and at some point you’ll get that Blue Screen of Death error and you’ll know you really fucked up! I know. I’ve gotten it at least once!

So, that leaves you with two options, metaphorically: Bring your own software and  live defiantly among others who refuse to switch OS and exist virtually outside the Gaman system by choice (There really is no complete escape from it but I certainly don’t fault the people who try…the Japanese level of patience is not for everyone, and besides there’s a whole industry in Japan waiting to cater to you if you do, but you had better be rich cause it can get pretty expensive to live in Japan that way,) or you can replace your Western OS with the Gaman Operating System.

I chose the latter.

I mentioned in #3 Learn that Japanese some words and phrases I think any foreigner living in Japan should be familiar with. But, I neglected to mention a very important one, and what an oversight!!! The phrase is: Syouganai. I guess the best English equivalents of this is: Whatchagonnado. Life’s a bitch! Can’t catch a break! It’s in the cards! My Mama told me there’d be days like this. Gotta take the bad with the good. It’s useless to complain about it, etc, etc… Only, in Japan, syouganai is almost a spiritual proclamation of hopelessness and an utter acceptance of the issue before them. It is a phrase born out of Japanese patience. Like a mantra against impatience that fuels the spirit and keeps their tolerance strong.

I found a post on the net written by a British bloat a couple of years back that captures syouganai so well I’m gonna refer you guys to him. SYOUGANAI! After you read his posts you will understand the level  of patience Syouganai captures and the necessity of patience if a foreigner wants to survive here.

I’m still not a whole hearted convert. Japanese society proselytizes about patience and yet I’ve still managed to retain my impatience.  Patience avoids me way too often to claim myself to be converted. I’m not even sure I want to be cured. I have to go home at some point and if at that time I’ve taken to being patient I’m afraid I might not be able to adjust back to life in the impatient city I call home. I have a hard time believing that patience would behoove me there. I suspect the spirit of Syouganai will turn me into a pinata in New York.

One of the most important things I learned through my interaction with Japanese culture  that I think will benefit me wherever I might find myself in the future (as well as those of you who live here or intend to live here) is that the reason Syouganai is so prevalent is because it consummately compliments Ganbaru or ganbatte (which I also discussed in #3 Learn that Japanese.) In other words, in theory, you can find solace in accepting the things that are out of your control if you are constantly doing your very best. You attain a certain amount of solace in knowing that there’s absolutely nothing you could have done to change the results or that the result is directly related to some flaw in your effort. It’s usually when you don’t strive for, at a minimum, competence and, at best, perfection that you feel intolerant of incompetence or imperfection. In Japan, the vast majority of the people around you are pouring their life’s blood into accomplishing something they deem valuable to their society and to the quality of their lives. And in this they feel (I suspect) a certain camaraderie with one another which binds them in a way you might find in groups and cliques in NY but rarely in the culture at-large.  It warrants and supports the respect for and patience with one another they all seem to possess. This is virtually impossible not to admire or at least stand in awe of. And, of all the things I’ve learned about Japanese people, this is the quality I wish to emulate and partake of the most.

Accepting Japanese tenets like Ganbatte and Syouganai and converting to the The Church of Japanese Patience feels like you’ve joined AA. Like that serenity prayer says:

God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, (syouganai)
courage to change the things we can, (ganbatte)
and wisdom to know the difference.” (Gaman)

God help me stay on the wagon.

Next up, last but not least, #10 ?????????

Loco

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15
Dec
08

10 ways NOT to go loco in Yokohama #8: Find a role model

For me, there was no preparation for the challenges I would face as a foreigner living in Japan. This country has tried me in so many different ways. It has forced me to come to terms with aspects of my character I hadn’t even known were there as well as confront demons that had been deviling me long before I decided to move here. In some battles I’ve been victorious, and did my Rod Tidwell dance in the end-zone.

In others, I lost, and found myself crying on the sidelines, towel over my head. Some battles are still waging.

I believe it’s been a blessing I may not truly appreciate fully until much later in life. Living in Japan, with its specific issues that have specifically provoked my specific demons, has been a trial I will never forget. And one I wouldn’t have had a dream of someday prevailing over if I hadn’t gone out and done #8: find a role model.

My role model was a long time coming…

I had already been here several years before I first encountered the man who would first convince me that change was possible and then show me by example how to bring about the changes I needed to make to improve the quality of my life. I was filled with misdirected anger and bitter frustration, with no end nor  escape in sight. I had to make a change, or loco was my destination for sure.

Everyone says, why don’t you go home if you don’t like it here. Sounds simple enough. But, these feelings were a part of me, so I knew no matter where I’d go these feeling would be there already, sitting and waiting, plotting yet more setbacks, wondering what had delayed me. I could no more run from them then I could run from my shadow. So, I decided to draw the line in the metaphysical sand right here in Japan.

I learned what ailed me, despite the scapegoating I’d done, was not initiated by nor was it tied to Japan. It was tied to me. America protected me by giving my ailment a multicultural environment where it could be practically ignored, I could pretend it didn’t exist. I could even argue its existence away if I felt like it. In japan that argument does not exist. In fact its imagined justification is most prevalent. My ailment did not lay dormant here, it was fully exposed for what it is: a tumor on my soul.

My role model taught me that this tumor was not necessarily malignant. It was only as malignant as I wanted it to be. It could also be benign and operable. So, I’d decided that I will go home a healthier person than I left or I wouldn’t go home. What good would I be anyhow, to anyone anywhere, if I couldn’t get it together? I knew what waited back home for me. The same person I’d seen in the mirror every day.

I used the above clip from Jerry Maguire for another purpose as well. Jerry Maguire (a movie I happen to love) to me was about inspiration and role models and the effect that role models can have on one’s life. Jerry had two. The first was the original sports agent Dicky Fox, who in Jerry’s darkest hour reminded him of why he’d become a Sports Agent in the first place and that the line between being a successful human being and a successful sports agent who can look at himself in the mirror without getting nauseous did not exist. They were one and the same.

The other was Rod Tidwell. He counseled Jerry on how to love and, not just with words but with actions, taught Jerry how to love his wife and how to love his life.

I still well-up when I watch this movie.

Initially I thought my role model for life in Japan had to be Japan specific, but my selection was a little faulty. Unrealistic actually is a better description of it. I chose as my role model (don’t laugh) a fictional character: Anjin-san from the Clavell novel, Shogun. I have to admit that part of the image I had of Japan before coming here was molded by Clavell’s imagination. He painted a picture, in damn near 1000 pages, of a world where the right man with the right mindset could achieve great and wonderful things on this tiny island. I’ve read the book a half-dozen times. Each time I learned something new, some idea I had missed in the previous reading; another clue to understanding Japanese people and unlocking Japan.

Yes, I know, the flaw in my thinking is a glaring one. Actually there were several glaring errors (assuming you, like me, suspended disbelief when reading his books.) Two jump off the page:

1-It was fiction, loosely based on historical records of that time period.

2- Assuming he did channel some long dead Shogun or British sailor and the hearts and souls of a dozen other Japanese people, the Japanese in the novel lived in a time period before western infiltration so they would be totally different from today’s Japanese.

Nonetheless, I loved the book so much and wanted so much to believe that the Japanese people of today living in a culture derived from the Japan Clavell described in loving detail, couldn’t be that different.  Well, this might come as a shocking revelation to some of you but they are.

However, what I realized when I arrived here was that Clavell wasn’t describing Japanese people. He was just describing people. And the characteristics that he imbued his characters with are characteristics found in people from all walks of life. What I had loved about Clavell’s Japan was the depth of feeling, and the integrity and honor of the people he created. But, his characterizations were based as much on historical documents as it was on the people he met and the culture he encountered while he was researching the book. And those people and that culture still persists, as much as it did then (in that fictional time period.)

But that wasn’t the part that dissuaded me from using Anjin-san as a role model. The discouragement came when I realized that I had little in common with Anjin-san. He had a great deal of advantages that I did not. He was respected initially because he could do somethings that neither the Japanese nor the foreigners in the book could do: he could pilot as well as build ships. That made him extremely useful to powerful people. People in a position to enhance his experience in Japan. Also, he knew things about the world that they didn’t. So, the Japanese could learn something of value from him.

I came here with an English degree and…well…an English degree. Sure, I had quite a bit more life experience than the majority of the foreigners I worked with for they were mostly recent college grads while I  graduated over a decade ago, had already done time in the Army, gone to several countries, been a salaryman in NY, a journalist in Brooklyn, a novelist, a hedonist, a junkie, etc… But, of what use was my experience to the Japanese? I was only useful here because I could speak and teach English. At least that’s what I thought before I met my role model.

So, I soon discarded Anjin-san as a candidate for role model. And, went role model free for a while, feeling and groping my way around. At one point I met a Nigerian guy in Harajuku. I can’t remember his real name (for he never used it so I never used it) but he called himself Billy. He had a Hip-Hop clothing store- actually several- and was a wealth of information and opinions. Smart, clever, successful, a little arrogant but direct and from what I could tell honest. Especially once I’d established that there was no way in hell I was going to buy any of the “authentic” hip hop fashion he was peddling, for that wasn’t my style and his prices were out of control.

The day we met, we stood in front of his shop and talked for about 5 hours. In 5 hours he’d pretty much handed me the keys to his success in Japan:

1-Come here with a goal and prepared to work hard for it,

2-learn the language thoroughly,

3-Marry a Japanese woman (preferably one on the same page as you and understands her role; love is optional) to ease any immigration issues and to facilitate the business ownership issues,

4-Network like hell,

5- Stay focused on the money! Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by anything (girls, prejudice, girls, discrimination, and oh yeah girls, etc…)

And that was pretty much it. He was happy to share all the above with me. He said he’d been hoping to have an extended conversation with an African-American someday (he’d said nigger, though) that wasn’t all about Japanese girls. He theorized that African Americans didn’t come to Japan to make money and most were lazy or stupid and not all that interested in anything but getting laid. That they (I) were totally oblivious to the advantages they (I) had over Africans, as far as business is concerned, and that if he were American he would have been a millionaire by then, a la Antonio Montana- though I don’t think he knew the reference.

I listened to him disparage African Americans but I didn’t take it personally because, well, he also bashed Nigerians as well. He said a good number of them just come to Japan and expect everything to be easy. They want to be given a business and not work hard, like he had, for it. He said mostly the younger Nigerians were like this. Getting spoiled and lazy, he explained, like niggers.

I watched him almost all day, ordering his Japanese staff around. If he saw one of his ‘grabbers’ loafing off a little he’d tongue lash him (in perfect Japanese of course.) He could spot a potential customer in a crowd at 50 yards, much faster than his nihonjin staff. And he’d bark at him, ‘Go get that!’ (in perfect Japanese.) And when his people would pass by he’d kick it with them for a few minutes in their native tongue, then introduce me in standard English. (He mentioned humbly that he could speak a couple of Nigerian dialects, French, Japanese and of course English) And once they’d left he’d give me their MO and background. That one…He owns 3 stores. That one…he owns a bar. That one..he’s a lazy, useless fucking oaf.

By the time I’d gotten ready to go I felt like I’d come to Japan from Nigeria. We still meet occasionally, but Billy only gets off on talking humbly about his business I’ve learned, and aggrandizes himself in this way. My business is my life and thus I am successful. I respect his accomplishments but I don’t want to have them thrown in my face, ever so humbly, every time I see him. As a representative of the possibilities if one focuses on making money in Japan, he is a great case study, but as a role model he left something to be desired. For me, he is more intimidating than inspiring. Besides, I love money but I’ve never fully focused on getting rich. Making money was something I usually did because I had to.

Time passed. Time spent studying Japanese language and people and to an extent wasted pissing and moaning internally and externally about them.

Then, something happened in January 2008. I had checked my email and someone had forwarded me a link to a speech:

Before I came to japan I used to be a news junkie. But, after most of the American press became the ‘Embedded’ press (feels like ‘in bed with’ press) and went to war in Iraq with Bush, they lost all credibility with me so I turned my back on them, moved to Japan, and didn’t look back until 2008. But after I watched the above speech, no pun intended, everything changed.

I’d found my role model.

How powerful is the message, “Yes we can”? At first, it only made me sit back and say, oh my God, is he for real? So, I backtracked his career back to the Democratic convention in 2004 and I listened to that speech.

And I listened to all the speeches  between then and the New Hampshire primary. And, I decided, he is for real! My god, he could really win!

When Hillary Clinton and company said he was successful solely because he was black, he said nothing. When Hillary said I wouldn’t have sat in the pews and listened to Rev Wright’s hatefulness for twenty years he said:

and I cried like a child…I wondered how could I have missed all this? Had I forgotten that I was a citizen of a country that could produce people like this? Had I ever known? Am I not cut from the same cloth?

Whenever Hillary or the Press said anything to undermine his efforts he never took it to heart. He stood strong, with a vision more powerful than they could withstand. When McCain tried the same thing, Obama did the same thing…he believed in the people and the people believed in him.

So, I talked to him…in my mind of course (he’s not that accessible) I said, “Senator Obama. You face a significant amount of adversity everyday. You deal with ignorance and bias on a daily basis on a level I have never experienced, and I applaud you for the incredible amount of tolerance and perseverance you’ve exhibited throughout your campaign. My name is Loco and I live in Japan. It’s a beautiful country and the people here are for the most part good people…the salt of the earth. But, a good number are, to put it mildly, pretty close-minded and fairly intolerant. I know it’s not personal. They don’t know me. They only think they do. My problem is I really like it here and I want to live here for a while longer but I don’t want to go nuts in the meantime. I know running for the presidency is a little different but some of the principles are the same. How would you face this intolerance and keep your wits about you? What would you do to balance your life so that you could find solace and peace of mind?

He answered me, believe it or not. He said:

I said: Really? Don’t you think you’re oversimplifying it a little? I mean the Japanese are not Americans. And, I’m not you. I don’t know if I can do that. Maybe I’m not as strong as you or as confident and self-assured. Sure, you always say “Yes we can” but those are just words. People always talk about change, and that’s OK for the easy surface stuff, but can people really change? How can I make the major changes in myself that I need to keep on keeping on?

He said:

Every time I had a question Barack answered me with words that inspired me. And that’s just what I needed in a role model.

Find yourself a role model, or you’re welcome to mine. The majority of my nation would endorse your decision.

And once you do find one, you must #9 Be Patient, (coming soon) and good things will follow!

Loco

11
Dec
08

Conversation (12/10/08)

Loco: How are you doing today?
Private Student: …I’m…I’m chotto, wakannai…
Loco: Are you ok? You seem troubled. How was work? Tough day, ne. Otsukaresama desu.
PS: No, I was not busy. It was quiet day.
Loco: That’s good, ne.
PS: Demo, saa…this morning on the train…
Loco: Ohhh no! Mata? Another chikan?
PS: Oh no no no! Chigau chigau…
Loko: What happened? Another suicide?
PS: No, not suicide. Chotto matteite. I want to say story in English.
Loco: Ok, ganbatte!
PS: On the train, it was crowded. And there was a black guy.
Loco: Uh huh.
PS: He was sitting anoo muko…across to where I was sitting?
Loco: Across from where you were sitting…
PS: Yes…across from me. Nobody sit next to him.
Loco: Sou da ne. So, what happened?
PS: That’s all. That happened.
Loco: Oh. Oh? Did it upset you?
PS: Hai! Yes it upset me very much. You have told me this happen to you but…eetooo…
Loco: But what? You didn’t believe me?
PS: I believe you. I just didn’t want to believe.            

Loco

08
Dec
08

10 ways NOT to go loco in Yokohama #6: Avoid Gaijin!

The Japanese do it, and you should trust their wisdom. If you follow #6: Avoid Gaijin (Gaijin bars, Gaijin friendly areas and the Japanese girls who dwell there) it can do wonders for your sanity. You would think in a country where the natives avoid you like the plague you might find solace among people who share your fate. Trust me, you won’t.

My reasons for taking such a drastic action have changed a number of times over the years. I mentioned before what I was like when I first came here. How I wanted to be the Kokujin Anjin-san. And so I wouldn’t sit and listen to foreigners bad mouth my new home. Well, clearly I was being a little facetious. Of course I hung out with Gaijin quite a bit in those early days. That’s how I learned that they are to be avoided…at all cost!!!

THIS IS NOT A TEST!!!

For one, I’ve found that when Gaijin get together there are three constants: Alcohol, anger-resentment-complaints, and misogyny (in the case of the men…don’t know many misogynistic women). Not that I hadn’t encountered any of the above before. Hell, America thrives on all three. But, I didn’t come here for more of the same. I actually wanted to escape from it a while. Especially complaining. Why? Because, of the Gaijin unholy trinity above, complaining is my favorite vice. Or, at least it used to be.

Everyone complained back in Brooklyn so your own complaints would more than likely get drowned out in the sea of complaints around you. To be heard you had to complain louder (which was not attractive at all) or raise yours to the level of art form (which was potentially attractive.) The idea was to be creative by finding a fresh angle on the complaint, something that made it compelling to listen to. Or, find the funny in it. Make it clever and witty and make people laugh so hard they almost forget you’re complaining.

I wouldn’t say I was an artist but among my friends I could hold my own.

Complaining, for me, was like a drug: euphoria-inducing and difficult to kick. I thought I might go cold turkey here in Japan. But, in the company of Gaijin, that is not possible. Accessibility is widespread. I’d have to truly lock myself in a room. I can get my complaint fix in any Gaijin bar or Gaijin friendly area in Tokyo or Yokohama, any time of the day or night; occasionally I breakdown, fall off the wagon (in person and on the web)  and indulge myself.  Sometimes I go just to listen to complaints, without participating… Like an ex-smoker sitting in the smoking section of a cafe, or an ex-carnivore turned vegan, dining at Peter Luger’s Steak House in Brooklyn, nursing a salad, salivating over someone’s sirloin…

But usually I avoid them.

And misogyny…fuhgetuhboutit. Many Gaijin here are out of control! The worst I’ve ever seen. Perhaps there’s something about Japan that can make man’s respect of women really tank.  I’m still trying to put my finger on the reason why. The level of misogyny encountered here even puts the level I experienced back home to shame. Mind you, back home I lived in an environment where epithets like bitch and hoe get thrown around like confetti.

Personally I think it’s because foreigners get treated, in general, like shit by Japanese people. A certain level of resentment for the people and the culture develops, and these emotions need venting. Abusing Japanese women is one way to vent, and they’re such easy targets. So, I think it’s partially about revenge. However, this creates a cycle of resentment, distrust and fear that I really don’t see coming to an end in the near future. I’m a little pessimistic so I may be wrong on that tip. But trust me on this one: Avoid Gaijin.

Of course I’m not talking about all Gaijin…they know who they are!

One night back in my early days here I went to Gas Panic in Shibuya after work. It was still early so when I arrived there were just staff people and bouncers hanging around and a couple of customers sucking down Happy Hour drinks. One was black the other was white. They both looked cornfed and had low-cropped haircuts.

The black guy spots me and gives me a healthy welcome. YO! What up, man?”

His greeting made me feel a little homesick. Or rather it reminded me of the part of home I’d gotten sick of and thus it was not a deterrent in any way to my leaving it behind. Plus he had a country accent. Alabama, Texas, Louisiana, maybe. I couldn’t name that accent in 4 syllables  but I knew I was in the right region. Country black folk have a tendency to make me cringe a little.  Even if I listen to Nelly or Master P I feel it.

“What’s up?”

“Ain’t no girls here so might as well kick it with us!”

“What’s up, bro?” the white guy said. Bro? I cringed a little but let it go.

We shook hands, exchanged names (Jason and Jeff) I pulled up a stool and ordered a beer.

“Where you from, Loco!” Jason asked.

“Brooklyn.”

“That’s what’s up!” he said. “I’m from Houston. My boy Jeff here, he’s from San Antonio.” He smiled. I could tell he’d had a few already. Jeff too. Texas ain’t nothing to be smiling about. Texas used to conjure images of Ten-Gallon hats and Oil Wells. Now I think of James Byrd Jr. being bound and dragged around by white supremacist in a pick up truck. Unfair, I know, but it was the most gruesome lynching in my lifetime. Jason here was probably too young to appreciate it and Jeff looked like he could be the Pick up truck driver’s baby brother.

“You in the service,” he asked with a look on his face that said he doubted it.

“Nah,” I said and left it at that.

“Where all the bitches at?” Jason blurted suddenly. “Shit, I came all the way over here from Yokohama for the bitches! Right Jeff? I heard there be  a trailer load uh hoes up in here. Where the fuck they at?”

Jeff nodded his agreement. They were both looking at me like I was a pimp with the answers or something.

“Yo, I’ll be back…” I said and headed towards the bathroom. I passed the exit on the way and made a detour. Once outside I took a deep breath, and headed for the station.

Another day, I stopped at The Hub in Shibuya, again, for a beer. At the bar were a couple of white guys dressed in business suits.  I sat down not too far from them and ordered.

“How’s it going, bro?”

“Hanging in there, ” I said after pausing appropriately for station identification. I don’t know who gave white guys carte blanche to call black men bro but it’s a done deal. They seemed friendly enough though so I let it go.

“You see them girls over there?” the other one said. I followed his thumb to two girls sitting in a booth in the back chatting and giggling. They were awfully cute.

“Yeah,” I said.

“We fucked them two weeks ago, didn’t we Joe? Took them to a love hotel around the corner there and fucked the shit outta them…”

I didn’t say ‘that’s nice’ but I’m sure my face said it. What always bothers me is that some white guys tend to think it’s ok to use the worst fucking language when they talk to me. Not that the language bothers me. It’s just the presumptuousness that I would indulge that kind of vulgarity. Some black people do it, too, but I don’t get sanctimonious with black folks.

“How were they?” I asked cuz they were still looking at me waiting for a reaction.

“What the fuck you mean, how were they? They were fucking great!”

“Then why the fuck they over there and y’all over here? Y’all had enough?”

“We’re waiting for these other two babes now,” the other one said. “They meeting us here in about an hour!”

They grinned egregiously and gave each other some kind of secret pound and grinned at me as if to say, ‘how you like me now?’

I didn’t. Besides I’m not keen on having sex with other guys in the room. I’d only done it twice in my life and the second time I had debilitating performance anxiety. The first time I came in about 15 seconds.

“I’ll be back…”

Another time I went to TGI Fridays in Roppongi. There were three black guys at the bar. Definitely military. I used to be military right out of high school so I can smell a soldier like a fart in a sauna. Plus their conversation about the restrictions placed on them after yet another incident involving a soldier and some hapless Japanese girl was a dead give-away.

“Yo, come over here!” one of them practically ordered upon noticing me. He was drunk. I obeyed. They had a pitcher of something with a head and poured me a glass.

“Here’s to this fucking country!” another said.

“Fuck them!” the third said.

A Japanese waitress, who apparently could understand English a bit, was standing by, smiling. I felt her embarrassment.

“Yo, you restricted?”

“Me? I’m not in the military.”

“What you do?”

“I’m an English teacher.”

“That’s what’s up!” another said. “At a High School?’

“Nah, at NOVA.”

“Man, I would love to teach at a High School here.  All those fucking mini-skirts and…”

“NOVA? Man, you must be getting mad pussy! How the fuck you get that gig?”

“Just applied and interviewed and what not.”

“How they treat you over there?” another one said. They all just kinda blended into one. That’s the goal of military training and it was a raging success with these three. They were a unit. I almost said ‘can’t complain’ out of habit but I might as well have said ‘y’all know how it is’ cuz they reacted like I had.

“These fucking Japanese, right?”

“Make you wanna choke the shit outta them!” Another said.

“After you fuck the shit out of them!” the third added.

They all laughed kind of lewdly. The waitress was still smiling. 100  buttons all over her uniform. One read “Kiss me I’m Irish.” Another read, “English OK!” Our eyes met for a moment and I saw a flash of irritation, then it was immediately replaced by her ‘would you like to order some appetizers’ customer service smile.

“She’s cute right?” another said. “I’d like to choke her with my dick.”

They all laughed. I grimaced.

“You know what fucks me up the most? I can clearly see why we shoved two nukes up their asses! They’s about some arrogant mother fuckers, ain’t they?”

“Word!” another agreed. “And the only thing standing between the Dear Leader- Kim Jong- whatever the fuck his name is- shoving a couple more up that ass is us! And they got the mother fucking audacity to be putting on airs with me. When they should be worshiping my ass like the Buddha!” He looked in the direction of the waitress standing by. “That bitch there…you know what she did?”

I almost said ‘what’ instinctively, distracted by my musing about a trip to the “bathroom”. I looked at him and I could tell he was waiting for the ‘what.’ I’d fucked up his rhythm.

“I’m sorry. What?”

“Man, stop your fucking whining,” another one said. “Can’t you see the man ain’t trying to hear about your failed conquest? Nigga fucked one waitress at Outback’s one time and now he think he’s the fuckin’ mack. Motherfucker, it was luck!”

“And,” the other added, “As many bitches as there is up in here. you need to stop whining over that button chick and get back in the game, nigga. You embarrassing yourself, and us. Shut the fuck up about that bitch already!”

“You right, you right! But that was some foul shit she said!”

“Bitch don’t know English good…what the fuck? Cut her some slack!”

“She supposed to be the mother fucking ‘English Ok‘ bitch up in here! How the fuck they gonna claim they got English speaking staff while they got this bitch and she don’t even know the difference between mother fucking…”

I whipped out my cellphone and snapped, “Moshi moshi!”

“Ima doko?” Where you at?

Roppongi ni iru.” I’m in Roppongi.

“Hai, wakatta. Mata ne.” All right, got it, later.

“Well, fellas…booty, I mean, duty calls. Gotta run! Thanks for the brew!”

They bought my fake call, I think. I didn’t care. I left.

Another time I was in Roppongi, at some bar. There were two cute girls sitting at the bar chatting and giggling and looking entirely approachable. So I approached them.

“Hello…”

One turned, looked me up and down, winced a little like some foul odor had invaded her nostrils and turned back to the other without any further ado. What the fuck! I looked myself up and down, gave my underarms a quick sniff… No odor, nice suit, decent shoes, and I had a fresh shave and a haircut. The look she’d given me reminded me of the look some Japanese people would give me on the trains…a snub that wanted to be seen and felt. It also was reminiscent of the look club chicks in NY would give me. I’d accept it from the chicks in NY, but from these Japanese chicks? They had to be outta their fucking minds…

“Fuck is your problem?” I shouted. “Motherfucker say hi to y’all, respectfully and what not, and you give me your ass to kiss like you all that! Bitch, you ain’t shit!”

They were both looking at me, a bit stunned at my outburst. I wasn’t even sure what had prompted it. I’d never done anything like that before. I was more likely to walk away with my tail between my legs or pretend I hadn’t said anything to them. I’d never gotten aggressive with women in clubs before. Never! In NY it wouldn’t have been wise, anyway. Might get your ass maced.  Something about these girls just rubbed me the wrong way.

The bartender came over and said something to the girls in Japanese, they kind of offhandedly indicated in my direction as if to say but this one over here can’t take no for an answer…

The bartender was your typical skinny, friendly, perfect hair, half-gay looking Japanese guy. But the bouncer he’d signaled to come over to the bar was big and black and mean looking.

“Yo, is there a problem?” he said but it felt like he said ‘do YOU have a problem?’ His voice sounded like he had a zero-tolerance policy that had nothing to do with the bar’s policy. It was his personal policy.

Still, I didn’t like the way he presumed I was the problem and not these innocent fucking Japanese girls.

“Why don’t you ask them?”

He looked me in the eyes, deep. And he seemed to move a step closer to me, though I don’t think he did. “Cuz I’m asking you!”

I don’t know why – he was twice my size and obviously not accustomed to being challenged by sober people- but I didn’t back down. “Yeah, there’s a problem. You the problem solver?”

“That’s what they pay me for!” he said, but he had lost a little of his edge. “Why don’t you let me buy you a beer and we can talk over there.”

I liked his tone now. “Sounds like a plan!” I said. “Smells like rotten sushi over here anyway.”

We walked over to his station by the door. A waitress brought me a beer.

“Where you from, man?”

“Brooklyn,” I said.

“Word! I’m from Newark!”

“Fucking Jersey?” I almost laughed. New Jersey is a joke, and the punchline, to New Yorkers. But, Newark ain’t the funny part of Jersey. Newark is to New Jersey as Brooklyn is to NYC. “We’re practically neighbors. How long you been over here?”

“Too long!” he said. “But, ain’t shit happening in Newark so what the fuck!”

“I feel you, bruh,” I said. “What up with them chickenheads over there?” I said referring to the two girls I’d practically accosted.

“Man, don’t fuck with them. That’s this Yakuza cat’s daughter and her friend. They ain’t worth it. They like to come up in here, mini-skirts up to here, thongs showing, dancing like freaks on ‘X’ to Hip Hop and dick teasing motherfuckers. But, everybody know who they is except niggas like you just come through for a breather. So, sometimes I gotta straighten some niggas out, but, you seemed pretty real,  and you ain’t been drinking so…”

“Damn, yo!” I said. “Good looking out!”

“You lucky they don’t know English,” he said, and smiled.

Loco

Next up:#7: Escape fromYokohama!

30
Nov
08

10 ways NOT to go loco in Yokohama #2: Props and Camouflage

As I’ve mentioned, #1: Don’t be you, is by far the most difficult step. A lot of water has to pass under the bridge before that kind of transformation can occur. So, what do you do in the meantime? My mother used to say, “fake it until you can make it!” In other words, pretend not to be you. This is much simpler.

I used to work for NOVA. Those of you who live here know of it, I’m sure. For those of you who don’t know, it used to be the biggest language school franchise here in Japan, focusing primarily on English instruction since English is in the greatest demand here. I won’t get into my life at NOVA. It’s not essential for this post (maybe I’ll tackle it in later post.) What is relevant is that the uniform for Nova instructors was at minimum slacks, shirt and tie, but they preferred you wear a suit. And so most everyday I left my house dressed very conservatively. This was not my preferred mode of dress.

Before I came to Japan, I used to work at a reputable company in New York and there, too, the expectation was for all account executives to wear suits. And, so, for the money, I did.

At first, I loved it. I loved the way wearing a suit made me feel. Like I was successful. Like I had made it, climbed out of the ghetto, scaled above the low expectations of the people I grew up among. I was a suit, goddammit, you better recognize! I loved the attention…some of it anyway. Girls went crazy for guys in a suit. Yes, I work somewhere where the requirement is that I look like this on a daily basis… What a statement to shout at some cutie looking to upgrade from the lifer she’d just sent two pairs of Timberlands and some Long-Johns to Upstate. (aka Prison)

But, it wasn’t long before I started hating suits. My hate was prompted by a number of factors. I didn’t particularly like the way my suit spoke to people on my behalf without my permission, sometimes without even my knowledge. It confessed  things I’d rather people didn’t know with a glance. It told people things about me that weren’t necessarily accurate. Things i often found myself having to retract or modify. Sometimes it even told all-out lies and, inexplicably, people would eat them up. It whispered to girls that I had money and security, education and standing. It yelled at my friends and people in my neighborhood that I was pretentious and thought I was better than them. It told salespeople and con-artist that I was an optimum target. It told some people, “He’s a hustler…so, you better be careful,” and told others “He’s a Jehovah’s Witness…get ready to get solicited!.”

Not unlike a soldier in uniform, a Police Officer or a Firefighter, unless you knew me already, I practically ceased to exist in a suit, the symbolism was so powerful. I used to practically tear it off of me whenever I’d leave the office for the day. When I quit that job I swore, unless necessary, I would never take a job where a suit was the uniform ever again.

But, I wanted to come to Japan and NOVA was my opening so I broke down and broke my promise. Their explanation being that in Japan, as in other countries, a suit says professional. that was understandable.

Now, here’s the thing: While I was working for NOVA, I lived in Saitama and, of course the same offenses that occur now occurred then. Japanese people behaved the same way in Saitama as they do in Yokohama. But, to a significantly lesser degree. After I quit NOVA, I had to move out of the apartment they had furnished, and eventually made my way to Yokohama. I was told (by Japanese friends) that Yokohama people are accustomed to foreigners, what with all the military cats and whatnot. A Gaijin-friendly environment that won’t set me back considerably? Hell yeah, I was in. I started working at a Japanese public school, which is an entirely different environment than the one NOVA provided. And, in this environment, to my extreme delight, suits were not required. That was a bigger fringe benefit than the six-week vacation in the summer. At the same time, I noticed that the Japanese in Yokohama were not as tolerant of me as the Saitama Japanese were. Which went contrary to what I was told.

Well, you guessed it by now, I’m sure. It was the fucking suit! It took me a few months to catch on, though. And an even longer time to breakdown and wear one again. The idea of being forced to wear a suit just so that Japanese people would feel more comfortable around me was offensive as well. If your child is acting out in the supermarket over some candy they simply must have, sure you might go ahead and buy it just to shut them up, or you might pop them upside the head, like my mother would do, and they’ll learn how to behave out in public. if your dog shits in your slippers, you might give him a Scooby snack or you might put your foot in his ass. I felt like I was betraying a rule of nature. It felt really wrong, soulfully wrong, to reward the Japanese misbehavior.

But, in the interest of maintaining your sanity (and your freedom), and unless you think you’ll get a kick out of putting your foot up dozens of asses and popping dozens of Japanese upside the head every day (I’ve been there and trust me your foot and hand, metaphorically, will get very tired and in the end they’ll just be more asses to kick and heads to pop), you had better take tip #2: Props and Camouflage to heart. It can put a big dent in the number of offenses you incur daily. Trust me.

Of course, if you wear suits daily anyway, you’ll be glad to know at least partially why you haven’t experienced the obscenities that prompted this tip making the list.

In addition to a suit, I’ve experimented with a few props that you might find of use. One of the most popular reasons Japanese give me for their behavior (yes, I’m an inquisitive mofo) is due to the fact they can’t speak English and they’re afraid that foreigners might try to communicate with them and create some kind of embarrassing international incident. Fine. Unacceptable, but fine. I didn’t believe it, however. I thought it was my skin color for sure. So, I put it to the test.

Let’s see now…how could I make it clear to the people around me that I could speak Japanese? That way, I could see if their manners would improve.

There are a few ways, some more effective than others.

While I’m standing in line and the Japanese in my vicinity begin their dance of discomfort, (and in lieu of doing my daily dance of despair and disillusionment) i whip out my cellphone:

“Moshi Moshi!” I stage whisper.

No answer. Of course there’s no answer. It’s a fake call. I’m actually talking to everyone standing on line.

“Ah sou nan da!….Eeeeeto ne…Honto ni?… Maji de?… Ja, kinyoubi yoru hachi-ko de aou ka? ku-ji goro? Ii naaa. Ii naa…Hai! Hai! Sou sou sou sou. Hai! Wakatta! Ja ne, bye bye.” You don’t say! Well…really? Seriously? Ok, let’s meet at that famous statue of a dog in Shibuya on Friday night…about 9? Cool! Cool. Right, right, yeah yeah yeah yeah. Alright. You bet! Later.

While you’re having this conversation with the people on line, via yourself, you might notice some of them, upon hearing your fairly native sounding Nihongo, visually relax, like they’d been waiting to exhale ever since they first noticed you. Try not to laugh. It’s important to learn some native sounding phrases and practice them over and over until they feel natural to you. Some of the people on line couldn’t care less if you were fluent or not. But, you’ll relieve the anxiety of a handful, guaranteed.

And that’s what these tips are all about: reducing the number of offenses, which will increase your chances of keeping your sanity intact.

Also, you might try picking up a Japanese language newspaper at the newsstand. I know, feels like a waste of money, but it does wonders. Make all kinds of faces like you’re comprehending what may to you be totally incomprehensible (actually I can read a little now so my facial expressions have become pretty authentic.) You know, go through the motions. And, make sure you read from the top to the bottom of the column then start at the top of the next column, right to left, otherwise you’ll expose your deception in the most embarrassing way. Might even draw some snickers. (Been there, done that) It sounds silly, and you might even feel loco doing it at first. But, compared to the daily feeling of repressed rage and the stress of not opening up a can of whup-ass on someone who has given you clear indication they need it bad, It’s a marked improvement. It might even inspire someone near you enough to do something as neighborly as speak to you–which could backfire if you can’t speak any Japanese.

Which leads me to my next tip: #3- Learn that Japanese!

Loco

19
Nov
08

Gaijin hijinks

There used to be a hilarious English comic strip in Japanzine magazine, very popular in Japan, about a loser from Canada who comes to Japan to teach English and, by virtue of being un-Japanese, becomes super popular. It was called Charisma Man. This was before my time (I arrived here in 2003charisma-man) but it remains kind of an icon among expats over here. The idea being that Japanese people, women especially, dote over unworthy foreigners simply because they are different, and in doing so transform these losers, inflate their egos and create superheroes, at least in the Charisma Man’s mind. Man, does that comic strip ring true.

I won’t say I was a Charisma Man but I confess I got more action over here and…better quality is overstating it a bit, but let’s just say the J-Factor unbalances the scale and the mind, and gives Japanese girls an unfair advantage over anything I got back home in NY. And, it was comparatively easier to get and easier to maintain. So, yes, sometimes even I made the mistake of believing that my so-called conquests here had something to do with me personally. Like a fool.

It didn’t take very long to realize that in this land of monotony, I was attractive solely because I was considered exotic. You learn that once you’ve seen enough Japanese hotties holding hands with guys you know have never even seen a pussy back home unless it was strictly a cash transaction. In NY, there’s a lot of everything so, for us, exotic is a tall order. We settle for slightly unusual. Maybe that helped me regain my balance quicker than some others. The bliss I was mainlining was derived from my idea of exotic. Asian women remained in that category simply because in NY they were virtually inaccessible.

But, not here.

The Charisma Man phenomenon can get pretty ugly when you go to a bar, let’s say some Gaijin watering hole like The Hub, and there are about 100 or so of these superheroes, some aware that they are Charisma Men, some completely unaware, bumping heads and dicks over the buffet of Japanese college students and office ladies who came there to be entertained by gaijin hijinks, practice English and satisfy their curiosity. It’s a madhouse. That’s Tokyo on any given night.

The other thing is I’d come to believe that the consummate Charisma Man, to Japanese eyes, looks like that picture above, and I decidedly do not. So, while he is doted over disproportionately (no wonder he loses all perspective), I was relegated to the Hip Hop Hoes who are usually attracted to the images they see of black guys in music videos, which, in their eyes, I do resemble. Rarely did I come across a girl who was interested in anything about me after they established that I wasn’t in Tokyo producing a music video or performing or dancing in one. Unlike that charasmatic hero above, I was never asked was I an Investment Banker or any kind of businessman. Always sports or entertainment…or worse: military.

“You are English teacher? Ah sou nan da. Sugoi! Oshiete kureru no?” (You don’t say. That’s wonderful! Can you teach me?)

“Moshi nihongo oshiete kure nara oshiete ageruyo…” wink-wink. (If you teach me Japanese, sure I’ll teach you.)

Add a bunch of banal questions about Hip Hop and about New York ( I wasn’t above producing my NY Driver’s License as exhibit A either, because, well, NY is a good conversation piece and selling point, not to mention a lot of African cats claim NY as their birthright, as well, so bona fides can help seal the deal) and, basically, that was the extent of the game I had to bring to get the majority of the action I got. The rest was just a matter of setting up the first date, if necessary, which often had a happy ending at a Love Hotel or an Internet Cafe where she can fantasize she’s fellating Snoop-Dog or Nelly and I can notch my belt and have something to write about. No language exchange takes place unless you count my explaining how to talk dirty in English and her hollering “Iku!” (I’m coming) But, everyone goes home happy and none the wiser…

Or, do they?

The ease with which this transaction transpires can have an adverse effect. You come to take it for granted. And, in a society where many of the girls tend to look, dress, act and think the same, you come to expect the same results each time out. Also, you begin to see all Japanese girls as the same, which is far from the truth. You don’t notice cause you’re having the time of your life, but in reality you’re standing at the apex of a veeeery slippery slope. One false move and down you go, and where you’ll stop, nobody knows. Your soul is on the line. Many foreigners here say fuck it and go for a ski.

And, so did I.

I can’t speak for all foreigners over here. Different people have different experiences here. It all depends on how they choose to deal with the challenges they face here. One such challenge I think we all face is saying no to booty. If cuties throw booty at you simply because you’re a foreigner, you could say no. You could ask that booty throwing cutie, do you like me for me, or do you like me because you think I dance like Usher, sing like R. Kelly, pop it like it’s hot like Snoop? Because my skin is dark and chocolatey, and you think my dick is bigger than a liter coke bottle? It’s your choice. And, in doing so, you may retain your self-respect.

But, to me, in Japan, that’s gay! (-:

Loco

18
Nov
08

Me and Japan pt 3: Vexation and Vigilantism

…and once I get vexed, well…what can I say? I’m a New Yorker. I have to represent. If you violate personally you should expect some kind of personal repercussion. That’s a simple maxim, and a universal one, I thought. And even if that maxim doesn’t mean a thing in Japan I’m pretty sure Newton applies here…evidence to the contrary, Japan is still on the planet earth, so it ought to be understood that: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Y’all remember Death Wish, right?

I think there were 5 sequels. I’ve only seen parts 1 and 2, but that was enough. Charlie Bronson was violated, and he reacted! I think he overreacted a bit. All of those crooks didn’t have to die. But, they needed to be taught a lesson. I came to Japan to teach English, but, like Charlie, I felt thrust into the role of teaching something else: A little common decency; American style.

I ought to apologize, though. I probably made the lives of a number of foreigners in the Tokyo / Yokohama area a little harder…their experience here a little more intense,…the Japanese a little more afraid of them, especially the black guys. Gomen ne. (Sorry) But, living in Japan had become a daily vexation…if you’ve read some of my other posts (an empty seat, the crush, Shaking Shit Up, etc…) you have an idea of what I’ve been tolerating on a daily basis: Basically, the intolerable.

I thought a little retaliation was in order. At least i thought so in this 2nd phase.

Granted, I was warned. By people, by books, by movies…the word was out: Japanese people are shy (a pleasant little euphemism for xenophobic and/or racist) and not prone to displaying their true emotions. I could have come here and accepted their “shyness” on face value. I actually tried. But, I’d never seen such active and aggressive shyness before. It was fascinating at first. Almost comical. Until, come phase 2, when I lost my sense of humor about it entirely. I mean, sometimes it’s just offensive, and that’s barely tolerably in itself. And, other times…well, it’s taken to a point that no man with a sense of his own humanity can stand, that anyone with feelings can bear. It’s taken overboard.

Innocent or not, it had to be addressed.

I tried to understand it, first. To find some rationale for accepting it aside from this is their country and if I don’t like it I can go back to my own country. That’s certainly a sentiment a certain segment of Americans would spit at foreigners complaining about being abused. So. that one held me in check for a long time…until I paid a big fat tax bill, and then another and another and another…And I graduated my third-year students and found myself in tears, and helped carry a shrine through the streets of Yokohama, and had run into a former student from a few years back on the train and been told (with eyes welling and in pretty damn good English) that I was the best English teacher she’d ever had and thanks to the advise I’d given her she was able to secure her dream job as an English language tour guide in Japan, etc…In other words, I LIVE HERE, TOO.

Yep, the flame of self-righteous indignation was ablaze.

In my effort to understand it, I went into a long period of deep observation and experimentation. The results of which I hadn’t truly finalized until phase 3 (which I’ll discuss in later posts.) They say, don’t drive mad. Well, don’t research mad should be a saying, too. It can really bungle your results something awful. I mean, I should have started my research with a more careful examination of my own issues. But, at the time, I was seeking blame externally, and only incorporated any internal issues that supported the conclusions I wanted to arrive at, the foregone ones.

I asked myself a series of leading questions. For example: Why are Japanese so insensitive to my feelings? Can they be so obtuse as to believe that since I come from a different country and culture that I don’t share the capacity to feel as they do? I thought this, mental pen and pad in hand, while I watched (without making it obvious I was watching…like a Conservationists observing some endangered species’ mating rituals in the wild) an occurrence that takes place about 5-10 times a day: a man on the train shifted to an unnatural angle in order not to have me in his direct line of sight yet still be able to observe me peripherally, like a fish. Another man on the other side of me is stealing glances when he thinks I’m not looking and when I glance up purposely to test his reaction, he, as expected, darts his head away, like a fish when you tap your knuckle against the bowl. I generously chalked this kind of behavior up to their curiosity overwhelming their decorum. They know they shouldn’t be staring, and in their misinformed, stereotype-plagued minds it’s actually dangerous to do so, but they can’t help themselves. Even at the risk of being rude they feel compelled. They would prefer to be natural, to look or not look and feel no ways about it. But, because I’m not Japanese they are placed in this awkward situation. So, I wondered: Do they blame me? But, that would suggest that they weren’t insensitive to my feelings. That they were well aware that I possessed the same feelings as they but somehow this was retaliation. I’d made them uncomfortable by being in their vicinity so they were going to make me uncomfortable by treating me like a spectacle.

Was that the rationale? I didn’t jump to conclusions, though. I’m a piss-poor researcher for sure but I’m not an idiot.

When there’s an empty seat beside me on a crowded train, which occurs quite often, I pretend to read my book (it’s just a prop when I’m in research mode) and watch as well as I can the reaction of people on the train to the seat. Sometimes a man will board and see the seat. Though I avoid looking up at his face, I can tell by the position of his feet that he is facing it. He’s close. He’s huffing and puffing, making guttural Japanese noises I’ve learned indicate annoyance. Annoyance at what, I wonder. At being put into such a position by my mere presence? Annoyed at an empty seat’s shout of, “sit on me you asshole!” exposing the things he’d rather not know about himself, and about his brethren? It yells “you are all cowards at best, racists at worst.” It sighs, “you are so easily manipulated.” It belittles him. The empty seat ridicules them. Hell, I would get angry too if a seat made me feel like shit.

But, this was all projection on my part. I needed confirmation.

My first experiment was performed in order to confirm that they shared my feelings. One of those values embedded in Western culture is “do unto others as you would have done unto you” or something like that. Well, I decided to do some doing unto them. See how they like it. So, for a few months, I pretended to be Japanese. As soon as I began this experiment I knew it was going to be a total failure.

On the first day, I was nervous. I felt…bad. But, hell, they needed a taste of their own medicine, i just didn’t know if i was up to the task of administering it.

buckwheat-poster-card-c10230417

Buckwheat

Maybe you’ve seen me. I was that black guy on the train not sitting next to a Japanese person. Funny, right? If anything, they were relieved. So, I had to be overly overt. I’d rush to an open seat, get half-way into the seated position, time enough for the person sitting beside it to notice that a Gaijin was about to sit beside them, and then I’d look at the person, and pretend to be shocked to find a scary-ass Japanese person there, donning the best look of fear I could muster. I must have looked like Buckwheat in the haunted house. I probably scared them more than I was pretending to be afraid. Tell me I ain’t going loco. The person looks and visually is so relieved I didn’t sit down that they actually exhale audibly “Phew!”

Have you seen me? I was that black guy on the crowded train surrounded by Japanese people, looking terrified (see picture again)  bouncing from person to person, with a look on my face and a manner in my body language that indicated I believed coming into contact with any of them would expose me to a lethal disease that kills slowly and painfully and for which there is no cure…and receiving the most bizarre looks you can imagine in return. My fear scared them more than my book reading and Tetris playing ever did.

Sometimes I’d strike pay dirt. Like if some guy would bump up against me on the train, I’d turn around and give him a dirty look and then, most conspicuously, pull my wallet out of my back pocket, gesticulating a bit to draw attention (as if that were necessary), repeatedly peeking back at him, with a lot of tooth-sucking and eye-rolling, check its contents, and then place my wallet in my front pocket and give him one last dirty look. You know what pay dirt looks like? He’d wince ever so slightly, like maybe someone stepped on his toe. He wouldn’t even acknowledge me. That’s the most reaction I’ve ever gotten.

Yes, it failed miserably. Yappari, deshou? (As expected, right?)

This vexed me further. How the hell could someone ignore what I’d been doing? Acknowledge me goddammit! I mean, I’d mimicked their most offensive reactions to me as best I could. It was really difficult. I’d never really snubbed people before, not conspicuously anyway. I’ve had precisely zero experience doing this kind of thing. I’ve never even had cause to treat people with seething contempt or malice… And, I’ve never been afraid of a people, per se. A person, sure. But, not a whole race, and of course not any race other than my own. That’s just too absurd a notion for a New Yorker.

I wanted some satisfaction! It was time to take the gloves off.

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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