Posts Tagged ‘angry black man

06
Nov
09

On the couch #2

continued from On the couch #1:

Me: I mean, I like Japanese girls, but then again I like all kinds of girls….

Doc: I thought we were going to be honest.

Me: Ain’t I?

Doc: I’ve read your blog, Mister…I mean, Loco…I read ALL of it! Every post! Remember you sent me the link? You suggested I could gain some insight or at least see how your imagination works.

Me: I remember.

Doc: It was your idea.

Me: I know.

Doc: So, either you lied on your blog or you’re lying now.

Me: Me and my bright ideas.

Doc: Actually, it was. It was a great idea! Your writing has been more helpful than any ink-blot or psych-evaluation I could give you. I can almost diagnose you right now. That is, if it’s true…

Me: I always tell the truth…even when I lie. Haha. I mean, there are some areas where I took a little poetic license, but for the most part it’s spot on.

Doc: One thing I’ve noticed about your blog, which I find rather curious, is that you don’t talk about girls too often. Is there any particular reason why you avoid them as a topic of your writing?

Me: I hadn’t noticed that. I feel like I have written about them, though not extensively. I just have other things on my mind I guess.

Doc: But you came here initially for the girls, didn’t you?

Me: I don’t think so…

Doc: You don’t think so…

Me: Don’t get me wrong, doc. I think Japanese girls are awfully cute, and they do have a certain something that I find sexually appealing, but they are not the end all be all. They’re just women, nothing more, nothing less.

Doc: Did you feel that way before you came here or was that a realization you’ve come to since coming here?

Me: You got me, Doc. I figured that out here.

Doc: We’re just getting started, Loco. I Haven’t gotten you…not yet.

Me: Ambitious, aren’t we? Got me pegged, do you? Good. I need all the help I can get…

Doc: You wrote in your blog that when you went home you didn’t find any women attractive.

Me: I did, but I think that’s because I’ve gotten accustomed to a certain, I don’t know, form? I mean, the thing about Japanese girls is that, overall, their upkeep is far superior so I’ve probably gotten a little spoiled. But, I’m sure I could adjust back if that was all that was available. At least I hope I can. I intend to go home someday.

Doc: You seem to place a lot of emphasis on looks.

Me: So? Looks rule here. I’ve just adjusted to the climate.

Doc: Ok, listen, Loco, let’s not get into that just yet…it’s a doozy! Let’s start with something a little lighter, why don’t we?

Me: Anything you say.

Doc: Are you angry?

Me: Now, or in general?

Doc: In general…

Me: You’ve read my blog. What do you think?

Doc: I’m a professional diagnostician of mental illnesses. But if I based my diagnosis purely on your blog I’d have to conclude you were either Schizophrenic, bi-polar or suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder. Or all of the above.

Me:  And what a surprise! They are all treatable with pharmaceuticals. Lucky me. And those lucky pharmaceutical companies…they must love you.

Doc: Don’t deflect. This isn’t about me or the drug companies. 

Me: if you say so…

Doc: But, I would never base my diagnosis on your blog. Besides, certain entries in your blog have led me to believe that this “Loco” persona is merely an alter ego, a fictional shell you hide inside.

Me: Fictional?

Doc: I believe the events that you describe occurred but that these events are being depicted by this Loco persona. Loco is telling your story.

Me: That’s deep, Doc.

Doc: You think so? It gets deeper than that I’m afraid…

Me: Do tell.

Doc: Loco, I suspect, is a rather complex coping mechanism born of your need to entertain and your desire for approval. Also…

Me: Whoa, slow down, doc. Don’t you have any lubricants around here? Cuz I gotta feeling this is going to get unpleasant…

Doc: Sorry, Loco, am I coming on too strong?

Me: Keep talking like that doc and I’m gonna have to write you off as a quack.

Doc: Listen, Loco, I know what I’m talking about. I’m in the business of knowing. But I wonder if you do. You understanding your issues is just as, if not, more important than my understanding your issues.

Me: If you say so Doc. I’ve never done this before so I have to trust you, to an extent. And I have serious trust issues I’m told.

Doc: Uh huh.

Me: I mean, if I went to a hospital with a serious injury I would hope the doctors wouldn’t expect me to know as much about fixing me as they do.

Doc: Why do you say you have serious trust issues?

Me: It’s a recurring theme in my life.

Doc: I see.

Me: What do you see?

Doc: I see a lot, Loco. For instance, I see inconsistencies between your writing persona and the persona you’ve brought to my office.

Me: Hence the use of a pen name, Doc.

Doc: Considerable inconsistencies.

Me: I should hope so. I’m not here cuz nothing’s wrong.

Doc: Are you sure about that?

Me: I know nobody’s perfect. Perfection is not my goal. I just want to be able to get through the day without refraining from physically doing harm to someone.

Doc: Uh huh…

Me: It’s starting to hurt…the effort, I mean.

Doc: Uh huh…

Me: I’m serious, Doc. If I could do that my life here would improve 100 fold. Can you help me or not?

Doc:  Perhaps…

Me: So, let’s get started. Let the healing begin!

Doc: What don’t you like about yourself?

Me: Come on doc! I don’t want to stay in the shallow water. Let’s go snorkeling. Hell, let’s go scuba diving.

Doc: By your metaphor, loco, I’m all geared up! But you don’t even have a snorkel, let alone a wet suit and an oxygen tank. So, what do you say we get our feet wet in the shallows a while? Come on, Indulge me.

Me: Sure, Doc. Whatever you say. Ok, I wouldn’t say I was angry so much as I’m indignant, slowly approaching wrathful.

Doc: Thin line between angry and indignant.

Me: I don’t like that word angry. Back home there’s this whole archetype built around the angry black man. It’s become something of a cliche used to diminish a group of complicated people to a single mode of expression. And it kind of sucks…I guess I’m supposed to be more of a righteous black hero…which is a more acceptable stereotype. You know, cause oppression naturally generates moral fiber and what not…or maybe something  like a Morgan Freeman or Barack Obama.  But, angry…not so much.

Doc: I get that.

Me: And, if I had to choose something, I guess the number one thing I don’t like about myself is…

to be continued…

(-:

Loco

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17
Mar
09

Conversation 3/16/09 – I hate waking up mad, too

This conversation took place between myself and my boy EZ yesterday. Actually it was via my blog comment area but I thought it noteworthy enough to make a post out of it.

EZ: All right, here’s my amateur translation of Sora’s blog post (currently with no comments). I apologize for any errors:

“So I decided to sneak a peek at Loco-san’s blog after a long while. It was the one that introduced me to THAT (当) Blog and this video . Although he has had this experience back in NY, in Japan he has it much worse, saying that he goes through this terrible thing ten times a day, every day. The purpose of this article is to raise the problem of how he cannot hold this kind of dissatisfaction with Japan, especially in light of the fact that foreigners exist throughout Japan we find this type of behavior strange. There is much to learn from the blogs that allow open comments and don’t block opposing opinions since there are a whole lot of opinions to be had.

Of course, such dissatisfaction is good to say and must be said. However, you must take care on how you say it. If you made the same video, you would just get more antipathy in Japan since the seeds of fear for black people have already been planted.

If you are going to relate your opinion, you must stress that such avoidances makes you unhappy. Also, a good shortcut is for black people to make the impression to more and more Japanese people that they really, really want to speak Japanese normally with them.

The Japanese have made firm opinions that all black people are the same as Westernized black people, based on the actions of some black folks, and this is wrong. There are good and bad images of black folks available. Hollywood films and foreign newscasts will show black people as the same and over blow unusual characteristics. Because of that, there are negative opinions about black people in Japan. There are a whole lot of people that have not met a real live black person.

I think that even if there wasn’t such a history concerning Westerners, if black people in Japan were to give the impression that they are against Japanese people, then this new image will just take hold again. If the discussion among the population spreads, as well as the cultural exchange, then a lot of the images might change, however, the opinion that Japanese people have of black folks will probably remain low for the years to come.

Recently, Mr. Loco made a post that included a videos his students graduating from middle school. The way he made his greetings without seeming bewildered was pleasant to see. This is the way black people, or any people for that matter, should relate to these kids. This goes for relating to adults as well.

However, cursing them and calling them hicks won’t open those doors.

Please say the following to the Japanese in their own language: “Hey, Japanese people, if there is anyone among you that looks at us black folks and runs away, doing so will make us very unhappy. We are just like you and we just want to get along.” Because I believe in the Japanese, I think just doing this alone will change things.

It would be good if the government or the administrations would do this, I think, the government and administrations are not as quick to act as we wish. Since we can’t see through a Westerner’s eyes, these tragic events will continue to accumulate. Of course, the media neither investigates it or pays attention to those incidents.

It all starts with a small voice. I’m sure that people that will cooperate will come. From that small voice they will gather into a bigger voice.

However, you must first get the Japanese people to join you. You must appeal to the hearts of the Japanese people. What you did will only inflame the passions of the Japanese people and turn them against you.

Because of that, the calls to cooperate from Debito’s blog are no good. Because of the reasons that can be found here ( http://blog.goo.ne.jp/kentanakachan/e/b06c3f2855a31c29161d62e486a03ad1 ) and the other things that he has written, and his is the only blog that is willing to cooperate, the sincerity and fidelity to this issue is held in doubt. It will just give another reason for all of Japan to hate the foreign-born.

In order for the Japanese society to someday be able to understand, or if possible, to be able to bring about the effect that you desire, by all means, work hard at studying the Japanese language because we really desire that.”

So what this dude is saying is that he also thinks Japanese folks should be mollycoddled when being called out on their racism and ignorance? Fuck that! If they won’t stand for that bullshit themselves (unless they do) then why should we stand for it?

All right, I guess I’ll make a deal. At first, I’ll get on the teevee, get all weepy and pull a Rodney King “treating us like criminals makes me saaaad! We’re just like you, can’t we all just get along?” and see if that sort of groveling to be treated as a human being actually works. If it doesn’t, then it’s back to kicking asses again, whether they like it or not.

Fuck, I shouldn’t wake up mad like this.

ME: YO EZ! My Man, 50 Grand! Thanks for the translation!!!! Otsukaresamadeshita… WOW!
Yeah, you said it, man, it’s a call for more mollycoddling. But, you know what…I’ve been doing some thinking (yet again, long and hard) and I’ve decided that I’m not going to fuel my anger, or allow them to fuel it anymore…enough is enough. The Iceman has cometh! I’m going to re-focus my energy on something more productive and let them be. I know it won’t be EZ (-; This issue is very complexed, and I’m hardly in the emotional shape to tackle it head on as much as I’d like to. I think my issues here are as much a result of the racial trauma I experienced back home as it is anything the Japanese have done, so for the time being I’m just going to deal with my own trauma, and if i can resolve that then I’ll be in a healthier state and better able to see the issues I’m having with nihonjin clearer, you know?

I mean I sat back and read a little James Baldwin (perhaps the most eloquent and intelligent man to deal with such issues) and Langston Hughes and WEB DuBois and then re-read some of the things I’ve been writing and I noticed some similarities but a big significant difference. They mostly came at the challenge the way Sora-san suggested. They Mollycoddled white people, sometimes. And sometimes they threw haymakers with the force of a Typhoon. It was all about timing, and knowing yourself, and knowing your target very well. Plus they were driven by the kind of passion that can only be derived from fighting for one’s home. And, while I live here, and pay taxes and have vested myself as much as one can in a place that one has no idea when they will leave, this is not home. The truth is, though I’ve been living here a few years, and i think I know Japanese people well, maybe I don’t know them as well as I should. So, I’ve decided to take a pause for the cause. Of course I’m going to continue writing…I love this too much to give this up…but, I too hate waking up mad. It’s bad for my digestion and my constitution and my general disposition, and so I’ve decided to go a lighter path for a while.

It’s funny though…I came to this epiphany a couple of days ago and I actually feel different already. I saw the same shit on the train today and my body tensed up but my mind was like “Yo, Dude! Chill!” The words actually almost came out my mouth. And you know what? I didn’t act out (well I did elbow this one asshole who was determined to keep his briefcase between us regardless of my efforts to avoid it coming in contact with me) I didn’t plot my literary assault (something I’m prone to do I’m sure you know) I simply chilled…and told myself something to the effect of “it must be a bitch being Japanese: intimidated by anyone and everyone, afraid of people who are not like you, stuck on a rock in Asia because your culture has made you unsuitable to survive off of it, afraid to look at or stand near a woman for fear of being accused of being Chikan, afraid of not being early for work and not staying late and not going drinking afterwards for then you may be labeled uncooperative…”etc etc. I looked around me and for the first time since I’ve been here…THE VERY FIRST TIME…I felt pity. It’s an awful feeling, feeling sorry for people, and I hated it. I’ve never really felt pity for people before, at least not healthy people anyway. But, maybe that’s it. Maybe I just realized that they are not so healthy, and neither am I. They’ve been traumatized by their society the same way I’ve been traumatized by mine. Mutually inclusive trauma…They see danger in my black skin…I see racism in their black eyes… They’re afraid of what they don’t know, and feel secure within the folds of the familiar, and I’m afraid of being persecuted and dehumanized for that’s what enabled the atrocities that have occurred throughout my life and our history in the US and I feel secure fighting against evil even if in some cases it’s only a delusion of persecution…
Yeah, EZ, I’m at a point right now where I just want to step back and NOT see what I want to see, or what I don’t want to see, but simply see what it is…and deal with it one moment at a time.

It’s the damnedest thing. I’m even having trouble articulating it…but I will, you can count on it. Whatever this is I’m going through, it’s changing the way I view myself and the people around me, for sure, and I think in a healthy, productive way.

But it could be that spicy (tasty) ass Ramen I ate last Friday…who knows (-;

PS: And thanks again for breaking down that post for me…
You are the most righteous…or you got too much free time on your hands between filling prescriptions and what not LOL

Peace

EZ: Nah, I ain’t filling no prescription yet, just applying to pharm school. If that 98th percentile PCAT score doesn’t put me in, then I’ll apply as a JET.

But you are right, though. Being an underemployed bum that I am, I do have too much time on my hand

But shit, though, wow. Hear you talk, you must have achieved the enlightenment of a Jesus or a Jackie Robinson. I don’t know if I’ll ever be that strong, I’d probably be binging at Roppongi bitching and pissing with the Army brothers stationed there.

ME: Tempting…bruh…tempting…sometimes the call of Roppongi (or shibuya or Kabukicho) is like a Siren’s cal lol

Shit, 98 Percentile??? you should be in no sweat.

Loco lite

Lyte as a rock

06
Mar
09

Lighten up, Loco

I’ve been doing some thinking…a lot of thinking, actually. For the most part I’ve focused my blog on Japanese people, culture, customs and idiosyncrasies, and the highs and lows of living among them, as well as the effect of xenophobia on the soul. What I have ignored to a large degree is the issue of other people living here who also have a significant effect on ones experience here: other foreigners.

I’ve touched on it several times. I’ve discussed why avoiding gaijin is in your best interest but in that post I focused primarily on the haters. The hex that Japan tends to put people under has long since worn off of these folks (assuming they had been enchanted in the first place) and they have become like dope fiends after the dope is all gone, only once it’s gone- this spell- it’s gone. And there’s no methadone to replace it with. Most turn angry. Angry and bitter! Angry at the people still under the spell (high) or in the process of being spellbound, angry at the people they hold responsible for putting the spell on them (the Japanese mostly), and angry at themselves for being weak enough to be taken in by what amounts to an obvious delusion. Some were that way already and just reverted to form.

Yep, I said it before and I’ll say it again: Avoid them!

But there are other types of foreigners here, and sometimes they’re just as relentless as the haters.  I won’t try to categorize them because in the end I’ll just look like a fool because no one fits nicely into any category, not even Japanese people. So, for the purpose of this entry, I will focus primarily on why they have given me pause- these others.

Yes, just like on that island on “Lost” we have us some “Others” here, too.

“Lighten up, Loco!” says one of these others. “We’re all in this together.”

“Stop behaving like a petulant child,” says another other. “That’s  so old hat.”

You are the problem!” says yet another other. “Japanese fear of you is warranted. You’re creepy!”

Some of the comments were in response to entries like those under “acts of retaliation” or any entry in which I express any negative thoughts about Japan or Japanese people, or, god forbid, retaliate in anyway. The responses seem to be designed to make me feel ashamed of myself, like somehow I should know better (I guess due to my 5 year tenure here or the aptitude or potential for good thoughts and deeds I’ve demonstrated in other posts I’ve written, or because I come from another planet where tolerance for impertinence and irreverence and inhumane treatment is a virtue), chastising me for behaving and responding as I do to Japanese disrespectful behavior. Some of them are just hate-filled because, well, let’s face it, some people are just fucking hateful.

Some of them seem to be pushing towards enrollment in the Kneel and Suck it like a Good Gaijin and Stop your Miserable Complaining Already College of New Hat Thinking.  Their school motto is: Japanese, regardless of their behavior, are not the problem at all! You, and pissing moaning malcontents like you, are the Problem. My retaliating and, in some cases, my very presence here is the problem and if  it weren’t for gaijin like me, gaijin like them would be 10 times better off…so I should join their ranks or, better yet, go home.

The other option is the Whisper Words of Wisdom, let the Japanese be University. Their school motto, which has a similar goal but slightly different tone as the other, is: Passive Aggression and Patient Positivity Produces Incremental Improvements…they maintain that by accepting life as it comes, and loving Japan as it is regardless is the only way…and if you don’t agree you should go back to your den of multiculturalism, or whatever rock you slithered out from under, and leave Japan to us significantly wiser folk who’ve managed to survive here for decades, without going Loco- thank you very much…

I ain’t mad at either of them, really. They both make good, if not, great points, and I value their feedback. I’m serious, I really do. And if you read my responses (and I do try to respond to everyone…I rarely censor unless it’s just noise or nonsense or blatant lies I’ll have no part  in distributing) you know that I take my time and try to be as thoughtful and thorough as I feel the comment is due.

But, sometimes…

There are foreigners here (no names…you know who you are) whose comments have lead me to believe that they think of Japan and Japanese as a country, people and culture to be protected, the way parents protect children…like they’re some kind of child race, or mentally challenged people. The benefit of the doubt is extended a little further for them due to their lack of exposure to the outside world (whatever the fuck that means in this day and age). Their inexperience with dealing with westerners entitles them to commit all kinds of indiscretions and transgressions…all excusable under the umbrella of inherent ignorance. An umbrella hoisted and held by some of the foreigners here.

And, if they feel that way, then what does that make me? That parent who spanks or slaps his children in the supermarket? The guy who walks through the streets with his mentally challenged daughter on a leash? The Special Ed teacher who kicks his students in the gut when they get out of hand? Yep…that’s the tone of some of the responses. I should be ashamed of myself. I’m almost criminal.

If my child acts out in the supermarket…you know what? I might pop him upside the head. My moms sure as hell did… And I learned.  I won’t spoil my children and I won’t spoil the Japanese, either, by pretending their ignorance is ok because they live on a tiny island cut off from the rest of the world by the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan….because it simply isn’t true. Not anymore. They need to stop trying to convince me that that is a valid excuse for treating me like a creature devoid of feelings.

And the foreigners here who echo that malarkey, who buy that baka banashi (drivel) need to cut that shit out, too.

Trust me…I understand…I live here, too. I know how you feel.  Day after day after day, you hear the same shit and pretty soon they wear you down, and you give in to the preponderance of ignorance around you. It’s overwhelming. You start to say shit like ‘They are a homogeneous people’ and ‘they are  unaccustomed to foreigners’ and blah blah blah fucking blah  and you really start to believe that these are valid excuses for dehumanizing foreigners… simply because 10000 Japanese have told you so.

On my blog I try to illustrate to the best of my ability what it is like for (and in no particular order): 1) a black man in Japan 2) A New Yorker in japan 3) A foreigner in japan.

I think the experience of being a foreigner in Japan is shared by every foreigner here, to some extent. I think being a black foreigner has a significant impact on that experience causing it to be much more, well, let’s just say it’s a different type of intensity than the experience of some other racial designations. And, I think being from New York, that multicultural den of dens, an environment almost antithetical to the one I currently live in, is also significant.  These factors are at the heart of most of my entries.

But, not at the heart of the responses.

Firstly, I need to point out some things that may or may not be obvious. If they are please forgive me.

While the above has happened to me a number of times in New York, it is a regular occurrence in Japan, both men and women, on streets, in shops, elevators, trains, anywhere and everywhere, at least 9 or 10 times a day, without fail. In fact, if it doesn’t happen I’m shocked and I wonder if nihonjin are sleeping on the job. But, I’ve de-sensitized myself as much as one can to such behavior. If you’ve never experienced it then you have no idea the rage that shoots through you, to be insulted and humiliated in that way… like adrenalin on adrenalin. Nor would you know the effort required to suppress it, to keep yourself from taking the offender by the neck and squeezing until they are quite dead…(mild exaggeration) The fact that I don’t is a testament to my good will towards man, even Japanese, and that highly coveted benefit of the doubt that I’m so often accused of not extending to Japanese people though i receive it rarely from them. It is a reward in itself, like surviving water boarding without giving up the location of your family and friends that your torturers wanted so desperately to retrieve so that they could go and kill them all.

But, make  no mistake about it, it is still an ordeal. Every friggin time!

I know some of you are (still) saying / thinking: get over it! or Focus on the good things. Or why don’t you just ignore them? They’re just ignorant. They don’t mean anything by it. Why don’t you just go back home if it’s so bad? Well, what would you tell that guy in the video? Why don’t you stop riding elevators with white people? Why don’t you move to another city where that kind of thing doesn’t go on? Where would that be? Where is this place where I can live without dealing with this?

No, like that pseudo-PSA, and like Richard Pryor, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle and many others, I tend to deal with serious issues utilizing humor. Moreover, as I’ve mentioned in previous post, I’ve decided to draw the proverbial line in the sand, right here in Asia.

However, not to disregard my readers who appreciate my giving them a prospective of Japan that isn’t devoid of the darker side of life here, I’ve decided to lighten up a little.  Yes, I hate winter, and maybe that’s as much a part of the reason I’ve been feeling really blue and especially sensitive lately as the atrocious behavior of the natives here, and in the spirit of the rapidly approaching spring and the Cherry blossoms that accompany it, I will endeavor to write lighter and brighter entries and keep my venom to a minimum.

…but I’ll never kneel and suck it (-:

Loco

29
Dec
08

Acts of retaliation #2: Joystick

A while back, in my efforts to maintain my sanity, I’d taken to avoiding looking at Japanese people by walking through the streets of Yokohama with my head down.

Sounds ridiculous, I know, but I’m dead-ass serious! I still do it, sometimes.

Enter, or sometimes even approach, a space currently occupied by Japanese and the atmosphere palpably changes. The Japanese body language of uneasiness ensues everywhere you look.  If I enter a confined space like a train car or an elevator, at best, the atmosphere becomes something akin to the atmosphere of a room where everyone is catching everyone else up on the latest bit of nasty gossip and it’s about me. I enter and the people around me transform into stiff and self-conscious caricatures of themselves. Faces turn from joyous to grim, or freeze into a plasticity that is painful to watch. That’s on a very good day. Typically, though, the space becomes a classroom and I’m a notoriously strict teacher who has been known to occasionally behead students in his immediate vicinity with no provocation; a mortified hush comes over the trembling student body as they silently pray to exit the classroom in the same condition they entered: with their heads intact.

The overall effect is it leaves me feeling like such a ruiner; the rain on the Japanese parade, the fog creeping over the hanabi, the typhoon threatening the hanami season. It’s a disheartening feeling because you’d like to ideally have just the opposite effect or, after you’ve been here a while, just to be ignored. It’s also a sickening feeling because you know it really has nothing to do with you personally. It’s spawned from an ignorance you have very little hope of addressing and there’s  little or no recourse. It’s an unavoidable aspect of  life in Japan. One of those syouganai things that require patience to the Nth degree.

That’s why I resorted to keeping my head down as often as I could. And, you know what? It actually helped a lot!

Back in NY, people who walk with their heads down or avoid looking at people are flagged as shady, dodgy, and potential evil-doers. Or suffering from some kind of mental derailment. But, here it’s quite the opposite. People tend to avoid eye-contact as well as any kind of confrontation or conflict as a matter of course.

I found that keeping my head down served two purposes. One, it impacted the behavior of Japanese people significantly.  A good number of Japanese people, it seems, feel better if they believe that they are flying below or above my radar; invisible as ostriches with their heads in the sand. The difference between those whose presence I acknowledge with even the merest glance and those I go out of my way to avoid acknowledging whatsoever is measurable. The behavior I mentioned above is reduced by at least half. They can walk past me with a reduced concern for their well-being.

The second purpose walking around looking like a mental patient (from my perspective) serves is if I’m not paying attention to them, then, if I really try hard, it is unlikely I’ll see the actions  they are almost certain to take to indicate their discomfort with both being seen by me and being in my vicinity and, consequently, I feel a lot less like a pariah and a killjoy on a daily basis.

It works like a charm usually!

However, walking around like this did not come natural to me at all. I mean, I’m not a confrontational person per se, but I don’t shy from it, either. And, conflict…well, it’s my belief that the best stories are derived from conflict (at least that’s what my writing teacher used to say) so why in the hell would I avoid it when I’m endeavoring to be a solid writer?

As I walked around, looking like I’d lost my winning lottery ticket somewhere, I’d ask myself questions like if they’re ignorant and xenophobic then why should I care what they think and do? I’d have arguments in my head. Part of me defending them, echoing the excuses they always spew in my ear like: our culture is homogeneous and we are shy and we can’t speak English etc, etc. And another part of me would argue on behalf of my creative self reducing Japanese, by virtue of overwhelming evidence, to simple statements like: If it slithers and hisses and sheds its skin like a snake, then it’s a snake.

But, whenever I could stop playing the blame game and take a recess from the courtroom drama playing out in my head, I’d think seriously, and rather selfishly, about my life here and the impact it was having on my character. I’m a fairly proud person and a really observant one. So, I had to make a decision: shall I keep my head held high and endure, or keep my head hung low and evade?

The idea of keeping my head down, thereby denying myself the visual stimulation that spurs my creativity, in order to appease ignorant people, was not only stupid, I’d concluded, but worse: counterproductive and counter-creative. Like a paparazzi photographer scared to take pictures of people without their consent. So, little by little, I started lifting my head again, and every time I did I told myself, “you can handle this. This is nothing. grandma went through worse. Take it like a man!”

The bombardment of offenses would still disturb me, somewhat, but the knowledge that I was going to use these emotions to spur creativity soothed me. Yes, it took a bit of soul searching but eventually I decided that this kind of ignorance I would not encourage nor reward, nor would I let it mold me into a bitter, cynical person. I decided I would face it head-on. They say whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger (god, I love cliches) so I started working on ways to keep my head up, to not let them beat me.

It was at this time that I stumbled upon something that made keeping my head up a little more fun.

I realized, quite accidentally, that I had the power to manipulate Japanese people into performing some pretty bizarre behavior simply by being near them.

One day, I was walking through Yokohama Station on my way to work, with my head held purposely up, exposing my chin, hoping it was not made of glass. A man was coming towards me. Our eyes met for a moment. I could see the recognition and the fear, the desire to evade, seize him. My temper flared a little. On his current path we wouldn’t walk into each other but he would pass dangerously close to making physical contact with me (our arms might brush or maybe our briefcases would brush one another’s) and this was apparently too close for his comfort. He suddenly stopped, looked around as if to non-verbally say ‘now, how the hell did I get here?’ Like he’d been beamed to his current location without his knowledge.  Then, just as suddenly, he displayed the body language of  “oh, I know where I am now! I need to go that way!” That way was out of my path…he darted that direction. I see this behavior at least 5-10 times a day so, though it vexes me, it hardly surprises me. However, in his hasty detour, he ran smack into a woman, dislodging her purse from her arm and almost knocking her over. I laughed out loud. This was something that happens occasionally but I never used to get much of a kick out of it. That day I found it hilarious, though. It felt like instant karma.

He apologized to her and kept moving. I tracked him visually, watched him make a another sharp turn back onto the path he’d detoured from a few feet past me. The woman had continued on her way, too.

That got me to wondering…if I shifted directions at just the right time could I cause the person trying to avoid coming near me to crash into another person? Could I actually cause a collision? Certain conditions had to be met for it to be possible, of course. First of all, it had to be a fairly crowded space. Secondly, the person had to be headed towards me at a fairly rapid clip. Thirdly, the person had to be of a mind to avoid me, as opposed to one of over a dozen other ways Japanese display their discomfort at the potential impending graze against me.

And, there had to be a third person…so the timing had to be impeccable.

I decided to give it a shot. The next day, as expected, I met eyes with an approaching salaryman…but he turned before I could find a third person. He only turned slightly, and not very abruptly, like if he were avoiding a puddle. A couple of days later a woman was coming my way and our eyes met. Fear. She stopped, and spun around slowly, timing her spin perfectly with my passing  so that our eyes would never meet again yet she could confirm I had passed at the tail end of her spin, and that she was once again safe to go about her business in the gaijin-free world that existed only in her warped mind. It’s a pretty drastic maneuver I unfortunately know all to well. I get it at least 10 times a day, but that day I did the unexpected. Just as I was passing her I stopped. When her eyes came around to confirm that I had passed, there I was behind her. She liked to have jumped out of her skin! I looked off as if I had stopped to see something off to the left. I didn’t even acknowledge her alarm. Then I continued walking.

This was going to be harder than I had anticipated.

It was a week of practice and failures before I was able to get to the next level in this game I had created. Nintendo, step aside. It’s Ningendo! (ningen means human) A man was coming my way. Our eyes met. He becomes a mask of utter disgust.  I looked for a crash dummy. Another man was approaching from his left…I veered right abruptly placing myself on a line that would take me to a kiosk and would make our passing that much closer. The disgusted man veered left suddenly and bumped squarely into the third man. I think their foreheads collided! Yatta ze! (I’d done it!)

I’d become a human joystick in a not-so virtual reality game!

Though I got a kick out of turning their xenophobia against them I didn’t like the idea of  involving an innocent person. So, I wondered  if I could make the offending person walk into an obstacle like a wall, or even stumble and fall, or something like that?

Well, it’s only been a a year or so since I started my game and I don’t play too often. Only when I need to release a little steam. And I’ve yet to make anyone walk into a wall or stumble or fall. I haven’t reached that level, yet. There have been several unintentional collisions, though.

And I relish each one.

Loco

(-:

PS: I’ve written, and am in the process of revising, a novel. It’s unrelated to my experiences in Japan. If you enjoy my writing and have a little free time please check out: Real Gods require Blood. I’ll be posting it chapter by chapter.

Thanks in advance

19
Nov
08

Acts of Retaliation #1: Retaliation Day

The following occurred three years ago…

I’m in the back of a long line waiting for the next train. It’s actually a pair of parallel lines before the position where each door will eventually be. The woman directly across from me glances my direction a number of times and looks very uncomfortable about where she may wind up once we board this train. How do I know? Let’s just say i know from experience. I watch these fuckers everyday. They’re as predictable as those crows that go through my trash. She decides she doesn’t want to risk it and switches to another line. When she arrives at the rear of that line she glances over at me to confirm she has a minimum safe distance.

I choose her. Actually she selected herself.

Once she’s focused on the arriving train I switch lines, too. Thinking she has left the danger behind she doesn’t notice me pull up behind the man behind her. The train pulls into the station. It’s crowded. The man behind her glances back at me, then gives me the gaijin double take. I steady myself. He fisheyes me and then rubbernecks me again, and then his cowardliness gets the best of him and he bolts to another line, glancing back to make sure he isn’t being followed. I wish I could do him too, motherfucker, but she has first dibs.

The outgoing passengers have exited the train and the procession begins towards the doors. Now, I’m behind the woman that had switched lines. By the time she reaches the train the car is full. The next train is a full five minutes a way. She’s thinking, it’s this one or else, I can read in her body langauge. She decides to board and peeks behind her as she enters to see who’s there.

It’s me, baby!

Suddenly she shifts gears, she is going to enter this train and get as far away from me as possible, no matter who she has to go through to do so. Everyone facing the door has seen all of this going down. They see her, they see me, they see her reaction to me, they share her feelings: everyone of them. I can see it. I can feel it. The tension in the bodies around me. The effort not to look at me marks me as the draw of all their attention as much as staring at me would. She burrows into this mass of alertness and fear. A hole opens in the mass and snaps shut behind her, like a vagina. I’ve seen this hundreds of times before. Usually I grit my teeth and bear it, or pretend not to see it, or convince myself that ignoring it is in my best interest.

But, not today. Today, we will have none of that. Today, it is entirely unacceptable.

Today is Retaliation Day!

I shift gears, too. I thrust into the mob, but the mob resists. I thrust again against this wall. It gives a little than snaps back. I can feel briefcases and stiff shoulders pretending to be innocuous but forcing against me. A surge of rage infused adrenalin seeps into my veins and I violently slash through a weak point, some high school boy not as vigilant as the salarymen. I almost stumble with the give he allowed and I find myself right behind the woman. She is doing something with her cellphone, looking relaxed. She thinks she has escaped me. I reach over her head for the handle and in doing so purposely brush my elbow through her long black hair. She glances up at my hand and she sees it’s brown…not Japanese. She jerks her head around to find me up against her. Smiling.

“Good Morning!” I say. “Nice day, isn’t it?”

She’s mortified. Good!

“Can’t you speak English? No? Well, my Japanese sucks. You do know good morning don’t you?”

She smiles and smiles and moves her hair out of her face over and over and starts to shake a bit and looks like she’s about two seconds from having a conniption so I lay off. I feel somewhat satisfied. That’ll teach her ass, I hope. And, if not, fuck it, it felt good.

A shoulder rams me a bit harder than the rocking of the train would justify so I look around to see the back of a salaryman’s head. He wants to assault me, perhaps to avenge this woman’s embarrassment but he doesn’t have the balls to face me. I turn away from her and direct my attention to him. He fisheyes me and realizes that he has drawn my attention away from her.

“Good Morning to you too, motherfucker!” I say.

He peeks at me over his shoulder. Then looks away.

“Yeah, I’m talking to you. Throw your shoulder now, asshole, while I’m looking.”

He turns his whole body so that his back is squarely to me. I want to punch him in the back of his coiffed moussed head but that would be uncalled for, in Japan anyway. In NY, he probably would’ve gotten it already. He has really gotten under my skin.

“Yappari na,” I say. “Omae wa ge– mitai da na!” (Just as I thought, you fucking punk!) I think I’ve said it right.

The train jolts a bit but instead of reaching for the handle closest to me I reach for the one on the other side of this guy in front of me, and in doing so elbow him in the head pretty solidly.

“Gomen nasai, aho,” I say. (I’m sorry, you prick)

He ignores my half-ass apology and pretends to read an advertisement above his head, hanging from the ceiling of the car. Then he shifts to read another ad down the end of the car somewhere then he looks at his watch and searches his pocket for something…and then…Japanese men are a sorry ass site when they get all bumfuckled. I almost felt sorry for him. He is absolutely terrified when in reality he could probably hold his own if not kick my ass in a fight. I’m twice his age and half as healthy and he probably exercises daily and jogs and plays soccer on the weekends and studied Kendo and shit in school…obviously he has a little heart. He had enough heart to shove a shoulder at me. But, alas, he’s pussy! Fuck him.

I get off the next stop and as I do I tap the woman on the shoulder and say, “Bye bye, see you tomorrow, have a nice day!” Then I shove through the crowd like a half-back making a hole for his running back.

Loco

08
Nov
08

A little about me and Japan: Part 2-Kokujin Anjin-San

I’ve gone through several phases since my arrival here in the land of the Gods.

The first phase was, well, exhilarating. It was all wonder and surprise, discovery and exploration. The bloom was on the rose. During this phase I guess I could best be characterized as a Japanophile. I’d come here with a profound desire to start a new life; an improved me- Me 2.0. I like to call it my Kokujin Anjin phase.

I’d be that black guy inserting my two-yen into a Japan bashing session at a bar, saying shit like: “Man, how can you say that about these people?” or “You know what your problem is? You think your culture is superior to their culture. You have a superiority complex. You’re the reason you feel unwelcome here. Not them.” i took great pleasure in interjecting platitudes and cliches like, “Be part of the solution not part of the problem,” and “be the change you want to see here!” Yep, that was me. That guy whose head you wanted to crack your bottle of Kirin over.

My roommates didn’t know what to make of me. They must have thought I had gone loco already. I lived with two white guys, a Kiwi and an Aussie, both music lovers, one, a serious guitarists, the other a guitar enthusiast, two of the coolest guys you ever want to meet, both heavy drinkers and a little on the “fuck that, I pay rent just like they do” tip, and here I was, a Black guy…from Brooklyn New York, no less, scolding them for being disrespectful to our neighbors and of our host nation.

I came to the defense of the Japanese in almost any situation. My head was chock-full of Clavell and a wildly romantic image of a Japan that could be penetrated by a foreigner of some intelligence, skill, and with the right mindset; someone like, well, me. I felt I was in possession of the prerequisite disposition to tear through the silk curtain and say, “Heeerrre’s Loco!”

Hell, I wanted to be a Kokujin (black) Anjin-san.

Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t entirely delusional. I mean, I read Crichton’s Rising Sun, as well as Clancy’s Debt of Honor. Clancy and Crichton (may he rest in peace) are two of my favorite authors, but both I thought did a bit of Japan bashing. And I too wasted 2 hours and $10 bucks on Lost in Translation. Personally I thought it was a boring, pointless movie full of the type of people who could never be Anjin-sans. I love Bill Murray, but I thought his character in the film was too convinced of the cultural superiority of his own world to step outside of it and fully experience the opportunities that this new world, Japan, presented. He was too stuck on its strangeness, like some kind of xenophobe on vacation abroad. No wonder he was lost.

He was the kind of foreigner I didn’t want any parts of, which is why I detested Gaijin Bars. I felt about these bars the way Clavell’s Anjin-san felt about the place where his shipmates were being held, in the district where the “Untouchables”or “Burakumin” or “Eta” or “Hinin” lived. After he’d left from reuniting with them he shed his kimono and demanded a bath. This is how I felt about Roppongi, as well. It was the modern day version of this area, a place where Japanese allow foreigners to carry on like the barbarians they are thought to be. And where low-life Japanese go to consort with and handle the contaminated flesh of Gaijin. I felt about my co-workers the way he felt about his crew: ignoramuses, with a crude idea of the superiority of their respective societies, whether it be America, Canada, Australia, England, France or Germany.  European values, Christian morals, rigid, self-righteous, close-minded hypocrites, the majority.

I couldn’t even spend too much time with other black people. Most were military types who held nothing but contempt for the Japanese and thus were on a mission to be as Gaijin as possible, especially those who’d been here for a while. We call it “showing your ass” back in NY, and these guys love to show their asses. Downright embarrassing. Most conversations I’d have with these guys would inevitably lead to a shitload of bad experiences being spewed at me. They took great delight in what they considered an imparting of the wisdom they’d acquired. Most of these guys regarded the Japanese as unblushing racist as well as proudly, inexplicably and, in most cases, irredeemably ignorant of the world surrounding their tiny island.

The only black people I could talk to were the Africans, ironically. They mostly immigrated (and I use the term loosely) here from Nigeria and Ghana, and I’ve met a couple of Kenyans and one Ethiopian. The Africans are very different. They were not forced to come here, like the military guys. They came here with a certain eagerness to improve their lot in life. Thus, they don’t let racism and xenophobia distract them from their ultimate goal: Make Money! You gotta admire them. I’ve had a very strange relationship with Africans, dating back to my childhood…I’ll get into that in a later post.

As for the African-American soldiers, I can understand their rage. Here they are, fancying that they are the only thing standing between Japan and a Kim jong-il invasion, or Chinese vengeance for atrocities committed against their citizens during WWII, and they get treated by their protectorate like a disease.  Any day now, that crazy maverick Kim Jong-il could launch an attack, and these soldiers would be forced to risk and in some cases sacrifice their lives for people who have the audacity to refuse to serve them at Soaplands and “Fashion Health” parlors all over the country. But, at the time, I was all about making the most of this experience. I wasn’t about to let my brothers rain on my parade.

I wasn’t really a Japanophile, though. I was just being the Devil’s Advocate. Something I do to keep my mind open to the possibilities, to walk in another person’s shoes, so to speak. It’s something I picked up in America and it’s very useful in gaining some objectivity. Part of my motivation for coming here in the first place was to learn for myself about Japanese people and culture. Not to have it dictated to me by a bunch of disgruntled expats and haters.

Instead, it was my intention to take on each new circumstance and every new encounter unfettered by a negative predisposition. And that, to a certain extent, is exactly what I did.  And, I’m lucky I did because during this time I’ve had some of the most wonderful experiences and met some of the most extraordinary people I’ve met in my entire life. Aiko-chan, for one, who would become my greatest experience in this country. In fact, I think this phase ended around the time Aiko was taken from me.

Phase 2 was not pretty. Suffice it to say Kokujin Anjin came to the realization that Clavell’s novels, while thoroughly researched, were written about a different period and about essentially a different people than the ones who now populate this tiny group of islands and, upon this rude awakening, yours truly, to put it mildly, got a little vexed.

More to come…

21
Oct
08

The Crush

           I woke up to my chirping cell phone alarm at 6:30 feeling well rested. The crows were cawing, the bluebirds were whistling and Aiko was typing in the next room.

             “Ohayou,” I groaned, feeling a slight twinge in my back. I’d played basketball the day before at the gym, and though I don’t look it or feel it usually, I am getting up there in years.

              “Ohayou,” she sang. “Ne, ne,…eeeto, desu ne…” she said and paused which meant she was slightly hesitant to say the words that would follow. But, at the same time she had that distant, thoughtful tone she took on when she was working on something…and she was always working on something, which is one of the things I admire about her. The downside of this distant thoughtful time, however, is she tends to ask questions or say things she’s asked or said a 100 times before. But when she’s in the moment, she’s a slave to her rhythm. “Do Americans like Manga?”

              I felt the blood rush to my head. I opened my mouth to reprimand her… and caught myself. This took all of 15 seconds to do today. It used to take hours, sometimes days; marked improvement if I must say so myself.

              But before I could respond she added,  “chigau yone. Anoo, I mean, do black people like…chigau…anoo, is manga popular in America?” she crooned.

              I was beyond impressed! She had self-corrected a style of asking questions that I had been correcting her on for over two years without any success. For the past couple of years questions like those would really get under my skin, or rather, I’d let them get under my skin, and embrace the righteous anger that resulted. Almost everything else I’d told her about the English language and American culture, as I saw it, she’d absorbed readily, but this was an obstacle I was in the process of surrendering to. It seemed to be culturally hardwired into her psyche. But, I was wrong. She could learn to stop stereotypically thinking about the world if she applied herself. It wasn’t a hopeless cause but new evidence that anything is possible.

              I climbed out of bed, pecked her, seated at her desk, on the forehead and made my way to the kitchen. My routine is to get the coffee brewing first so that by the time I finish shitting, showering, & shaving the coffee would be waiting. But, on my approach to the kitchen the junkie in me relished in the caffeine in the air.

I let out a long “Eeeee!” of surprise and Aiko called after me.

“Nani?”

“Ko-hi tsukutta jan!” (Wow, you made coffee!)

Aiko isn’t a coffee junkie like me (so she says) but becoming increasingly fond of her lattes I’ve noticed, and had already brewed a pot. She’s the equivalent of an alcoholic who only drinks pretty cocktails with fruits and ornaments or a crack head that prides himself on his ability to maintain his job and his addiction simultaneously.

“Chigau yo,”(It wasn’t me) she giggled. “Chuugokujin kanaa.” (Chinese, I guess)

 

It was a running joke, one of our inside, intimate jokes. I once told her that all the problems in Japan, according to the newspaper, are caused by foreigners. And the foreign target of choice at one time was the Chinese living in Japan. According to the News, if you followed the paper trails of organized crime or the blood trails of violent crimes or the trail of discarded valueless contents of purses and wallets from the scene of a petty crime, they would all lead to foreigners, and in many cases, eased by their ability to blend in with the Japanese masses (more so than, let’s say, me,) to the Koreans and the Chinese. One time I accidentally left the back door open and when I arrived home, Aiko gave me an earful. I thought she was being ridiculous. We live in an extraordinarily safe neighborhood in an extraordinarily safe city in perhaps, statistically, the safest country in the world.

“Do you think some Chinese burglars are going to sneak in here and take…what…our computers? Or maybe some Chinese Otaku will steal your Manga collection,” I laughed. But, she was dead-ass serious and not finding humor in my carelessness at all. So, I straightened up and added, “With all these rich people around here, you really think the burglars would target us? You must really thing Chinese people are stupid!”

She laughed, and I could see in her face that she realized how ridiculous the notion was but she still felt compelled to hammer home her value of ‘safety first!’ However, from then on, whenever anything in our apartment was misplaced, she’d blame the Chinese.

“Who drank all of the Sake?” I’d ask.

“Wakannai!” she’d say. “Chyugokujin kanaa” (Beats me! Probably Chinese.)

“Who ate all the toufu”? she’d ask.

“Wakannai! Chuugokujin kanaa,” I’d say.

Soon, we began to use the joke for good occurrences, too. If I cleaned the house while she was at work and she’d come home expecting to have to tackle domestic tasks only to find they’d been done, I’d say, “Chyugokujin, kanaa…”

 

“Chyugokujin yasashi deshou?” she sang. (Chinese are very nice, aren’t they?)

“Sou desune,” I replied and headed straight for the shower. I opened the door to the shower room and eased my head through the threshold, inspecting the walls, floor and window for bugs. I hate bugs! And bugs always seem to find there way into the bathroom.  Actually I don’t mind spiders that much, but Goddamn slugs, centipedes and cockroaches- they’re the worst! Actually it has only happened a handful of times in the two years I’ve been living here, but one time is one time too many. And I was actually traumatized the first time. I was naked, of course, in a soapy, tile walled and floored room, vision impaired by soap, totally relaxed, singing about the good times with Al Green. Needless to say it was a rather vulnerable state to be in when a cockroach the size of a bat decided to take flight brushing me as it passed, making that nasty insecty buzzing clicking noise when in flight and landing with a solid thud on the opposite wall. Armed with a shower massage nozzle and a washcloth I practically broke the spring door off its hinges as I retreated providing my own cover fire aiming the shower spray at the creepy antennae’d multi-legged star of my nightmares. But, today, once again, the coast was clear.

After my shower, I brushed my teeth, taking note of their darkening shade. Tobacco and caffeine have been unkind to my smile, and for someone who loves to smile as much as I do, I was seriously contemplating using a bleaching agent.

Coffee and smoke within reach, I checked out MSNBC, CNN and even FOX news to find out the latest news on the man I credit with presenting me with an indisputable demonstration of anything being possible if you set your mind to it: Senator and  Presidential Nominee Barack Obama…his campaign providing a blueprint for success in virtually any arena and for most anyone, especially for a black man dealing with the ignorance I have to tolerate here. I still have a brief moment of anxiety as I wait for the MSNBC main page to open up, afraid the Breaking News headline will read something like one of the following:

“Obama and Farrakhan planning New Millennium Million Man March, claims the controversial Black Muslim leader,” or “These Crackers are Crazy!” says Michelle Obama on a recently discovered phone call between herself and Obama after the Pennsylvania Primary.” or “Obama Lynched as Secret Service looks on,” or some other kind of horror story. But, no, once again it’s the usual good news- bad news type stories, Obama’s up with this group, down with that group, needs to reach out to the other group, needs to consider so and so for such and such a position, was endorsed by so and so, blasted by so and so for flip-flopping on something or other, tweaked his stump for such and such a place, etc…

Relieved, I got ready for work, or rather for the world outside the relative sanctuary of my apartment. While I was getting ready Aiko was heading out.

“Nanji kaeru?” (What time you coming home?)

“Jyu-ji goro,” I said. “Anata wa?” (Around 10. You?)

“Konya shamisen kurasu wo shimasu. Dakara, jyu-ichi ji goro.” (Tonight I have my shamisen class so about 11.)

“Wakatta. Ganbatte!” (Gotcha! Break a leg!)

“Doumo. Ittekimasu.” (Thanks, later)

“Itterasshai.”(later)

I blew her a kiss and counted my blessings. Against her cultural judgment, she has stayed with me, listening to me for two years tout the virtues of a book I’m working on. It’s gonna be great, I’d tell her. But, every time she’d come home from work I was either watching the news on Obama or something else I’d claim I derive inspiration for this book from; real truth stretches like: I was re-watching “Raiders of the Lost Ark” for a sense of the heroic I wanted to imbue my characters with, or I was studying reruns of “Ally McBeal” for a sense of comedic timing and the effective use of absurdity. She doesn’t buy it, of course. She knew I was sitting there letting the days go by, stuck on stupid and oppressed and trying to hide from the anger I can’t seem to manage well (and the shame of that failure,) but she has hung in there like a mother would for her only son.

On the walk from my apartment to the train station, I encountered my first outside world nihonjin of the day. I could feel that old tension coming on so I inhaled deeply, and asked myself, what would B.O. (Barack Obama) do? My new mantra.

It was three boys, maybe 7 or 8 years old, headed for school, uniformed in khaki short pants, box-shaped yellow and black backpacks, as big as their backs, and bumblebee yellow baseball caps-altogether cute as all get out. They hadn’t seen me, yet, and so they were chatting and joking freely and easily, paying no attention to the well-traveled and predictable road ahead of them. One laughed raucously and in doing so glances ahead and noticed me. I braced myself for…nothing? No reaction? The usual would be for that kid to sort of stumble in the shock of seeing this incongruous being before him. Then, whisper to the other kids who hadn’t noticed it yet something either to the effect of “Don’t look now, but here comes a cool ass black guy,” or “be careful, ya’ll, danger at 12 o’clock.” However, he looks back to his friends just as naturally as he would if he hadn’t seen me at all, or if I were a Japanese person, or a lamppost. I waited for his friend’s eyes to dart my way- children usually being incapable of adhering to the subtleness and craftiness of a “don’t look now.” And then all the hilarity and animation in their conversation would vanish, replaced by something I’d become accustomed to seeing everyday in nearly everyone: extreme caution. But…nothing! I was shocked! Had he seen me? I was certain he had, but no reaction made me question that conviction. One of his other friends noticed me and he too registered nothing untoward or even unusual about what he beheld.

I was absolutely blown away then! It had to be a fluke.

I had long since given up on the adults doing what these kids had done but I’d held on to hope for the children up until recently. Their typical reaction was one I could easily attribute to fear of strangers, the way kids in NY might react to any strange man who happened to be following them around, or who offers candy, drugs, a lift to school, or something conspicuously dangerous like that. Encountering a black person, in Japan, is the equivalent for Japanese, I’ve come to believe.

However, these three kids passed without another glance at me, and…I don’t know…my heart started pounding a little and a lump swelled in my throat. I mean, I had truly lost all hope, and I didn’t know it until these three boys passed through my life without remark or reaction. I felt such an intense sense of gratitude. In Japan, it is stuff like this that makes or breaks my day. And, they had definitely made mine. Hell, they made my month! I wanted to, at once, turn around, catch up to them and show my appreciation, and also try to understand how they could be so different from what seems to me to be about 98% of their comrades and fellow citizens. But, I’m sure that move would have backfired. I probably would have scared them half to death and they’d never ignore someone who looked like me again.

Maybe the explanation was something simple like their English teacher just so happened to be black. Even so, I felt, for lack of a better word, human, and in feeling that emotional jolt I realized how intensely inhuman I had been feeling lately. I’ve placed such a high premium on being ignored, but as a black man in a yellow land, the raisin in the custard so to speak, I’m rarely if ever ignored. It’s the price I pay for being different in a land of likeness much the way I imagine celebrities must feel when they try to pass themselves off as ‘regular’ people, only my notoriety is not one of envy or amazement. Predominantly it’s one of fear, like if I were a panther strolling down the street. How these kids managed to ignore a panther strolling by them I may never know. But, man, did I appreciate it.

The closer I got to the station, the more people I saw. I live in an area with hills rising in all directions from a centrally located station at the bottom of all the hills, so all the roads funnel directly to it. I live in a duplex on one of these hilltops, nestled in an alcove, surrounded by homes owned by some affluent people. The hilltop road I take to the station is a two-way street but only the width of two very small cars at best, and is lined with large homes with manicured gardens and 2-car garages where BMWs and Mercedes are kept. It abruptly becomes a San Francisco-esque sharp slope that without strong legs you must run to negotiate downward and damn near need climbing equipment to negotiate upward. At the bottom is a rotary where 4 slopes converge into a single road with bikes and cars and racing people pouring in, jockeying for position, half running or trotting. Some of them have seen me before. Some have not. Not that it matters much. I’ve been living in this neighborhood for nearly 2 years and not a single neighbor has so much as said, “Konnichiwa,” so I don’t expect much.

Along this road there is a busy railroad crossing. And missing the light could cost you anywhere from 2 minutes to upwards of 10 minutes, depending on how many trains are passing at the time. As I approached the crossing I could see that a crowd had gathered and the queue of cars waiting to cross was about 10 long. Usually, as I approach, those that became aware of me would begin to maneuver themselves so as to stay as far away from me as they possibly can causing others who hadn’t noticed me to discern the disruption in the natural behavior of the people around them, which in turn would cause them to look around to learn the source of the disruption, spot me, and adjust according to their particular respective feelings about my presence among them. Some would shift, apparently, with the desire of not looking like that was their intention, god bless them, while others would do so unaware of what that they were inching away instinctively, and others would apparently do it as an overt snubbing, as if to say this is exactly what anyone in their right mind would do considering the reputation people like me have.

Today, as I approached, a woman was digging through her purse, looked up, saw me a meter or so away, smiled a little awkwardly, but returned to searching her purse without any excitement. A man in front of her turned his head to check the time on his watch, caught a glimpse of me in his peripherals, gave me a second take,-a little bow / nod, then turned back to face the train tracks before him. Like he wasn’t moved at all! This was odd, indeed. It’s so rare to meet an adult that doesn’t react to me. Even mild surprise or discomfort is the minimum I’ve come to expect. But, nothing? First the kids up the hill, and now…Well, I didn’t want to make too big a deal out of it. Maybe he had a black wife at home, I laughed to myself, for even though I’ve heard of it happening, and black men certainly don’t have a problem being with Japanese women from what I’ve seen and lived, in four years I’ve yet to see a black woman with a Japanese man. Or, maybe it’s simply that he works at an English School. Yeah, that would explain it. He works with foreign people everyday so of course I didn’t intimidate him at all.

With that self-reassurance that I hadn’t gone off the deep end or woke up in a country drastically changed from the one I’d gone to sleep in, I continued on my way to the station. Holding my head high and asserting the fact that I’m black and, though you might not think I have cause to be, I’m very proud. And, I smiled. Joie de vivre is my weapon of choice. I’ve been told my smile is infectious, disarming, and it’s my hope that it says to the beholder, “though I respect your right to be afraid, you do know that your fear is groundless and ignorant, don’t you?” It’s my latest in a series of efforts to deal with the xenophobia and out-and-out racism I’ve endured since my arrival here. It’s something I do more for my own esteem than for any affect it might have on the behavior of the people around me. It’s been only a few weeks since I’ve adopted this new approach, and it’s been effective thus far but I’ve failed so many times in the past that I’m not convinced yet that it will garner any better results those previous failed attempts. My esteem is plummeting.

The path to the station leads through a bicycle parking lot. One of the staff people there, an old man with ears that fan out like a monkey’s and a smile that always makes me smile, was smiling as usual. Several times over the past two years he has made an effort to engage me in conversation but he has very limited English and my Japanese, though improving, was still way too poor to have an extended discussion. We spoke a couple of times, but those interactions quickly changed into interviews, a series of questions to satisfy his intense curiosity specifically about foreigners, and in a general sense about Americans and myself in particular. There was a time when I was eager to answer questions like do Americans know how to use chopsticks and why do Americans like guns so much, but after a while I found myself coming face to face with not so much a genuine curiosity but a propaganda machine that confuses stereotypes and opinions with facts and statistics, and a questioner looking to confirm what he already believed to be true. And, fancying myself as some kind of American Ambassador, I found myself, whether I believed it or not, answering the exact same questions over and over, and I heard myself repeating the same rhetoric that had been shoved into my head over the course of my lifetime about diversity, like I were some kind of politician and this was my stump speech, and I felt myself falling deeper and deeper into an abyss of ignorance not only about what being an American means but about who I truly am.

He bowed and smiled at me as automatically as he would anyone other familiar face and I nodded and smiled back as I passed. It was kind of unusual of him not to single me out with a special greeting like I were a special guest in his neck of the woods but I was happy he didn’t. He couldn’t have had any idea how desperate my need to be treated typically was. Unless he was a mind reader, how could he? He simply accepted me as part of his daily life, I concluded.

The train platform was packed, as usual. I got on the line queuing before the 4th door of the 8th car because at the station where my school is located this door would put me closest to the escalator. Many people have the same idea so it’s usually pretty crowded but crowds are difficult if not impossible to avoid in the morning so I choose to be closer rather than farther away. Not that crowding affects me most often. Once my fellow commuters get a glimpse of me, a pocket of space usually materializes around me but only if I board the train with enough time to be glimpsed beforehand and if it is humanly possible to provide me this pocket. The pocket is sometimes only big enough for me to read a book or play Tetris on my cell phone (which is substantial considering the other people in the train car are packed so tight they appear to be merging into a single being) Sometimes it’s big enough to do calisthenics or perform a Savion Glover routine from “Bring in da noise, bring in da funk.”

Standing on line, I behaved conspicuously, coughing, clearing my throat, unzipping my briefcase bag audibly, nothing unusual, just enough to draw as much attention as possible, hoping people would have the usual response to my presence and move to another line or (in the case of the people in front of me in the line,) race headlong into the car in a effort to board quickly and get as far away as possible from the area they anticipate I might eventually reside.

As the train pulled into the station and I could see through the windows going by that it was packed, appearing almost as if it was being expanded outwardly like the walls in that hallway when Neo flexed his cyber-muscles in the 1st Matrix movie, until the train looked like a metal sausage. The sausage’s doors opened and people who had been penned against the doors kind of spilled out; some to transfer to yet another sausage, some only to allow others behind them to exit so that they jam back into the car and continue to their destination.

As I boarded the train something happened that had happened so infrequently in the past 4 years that I had assumed it was virtually unthinkable: I was pushed! I had noticed that it was common practice, and acceptable to an extent in Japan, to push one another but that custom was rarely extended to me. It was so surprising that I almost had a New York response to it. In NY, pushing, even on the subway, meant that the person was either out of their fucking mind or looking for a fight. In either case, the response is to turn prepared for an altercation of some sort. But, I didn’t. I’ve been here too long to expect a fight.

When I glanced behind me what I saw was that not only had a line formed behind me, but that they were coming towards me! And they hardly took notice of our glaring differences. They seemed not to notice anything about me at all. They were focused on cramming into this car, for the platform alarm had rung which meant that it was time for the train to depart- something that is taken very seriously here. I was shoved against the wall of people in front of me and I instinctively whispered sumimasens and gomen nasais and received nods and half-bows and Iies that indicated I shouldn’t worry about it. No one freaked out at the face of the apologizer or looked as if he couldn’t understand the English I wasn’t speaking, or acted like AIDS incarnate had entered the car, or gave me the fisheye. Or patted their back pockets confirming their wallets had not been tampered with, or anything else I had long since accepted as typical Japanese behavior when put into the unfortunate position of being uncomfortably close to a black man. No one at all!

No, all I felt was the crush; like a tightening vice, threatening injury. I could feel my back beginning to arch inwardly in an awkward way and the air being forced from my lungs, and I could hear the whispers of sumimasen in my ears, from the woman whose hand was accidently wedged between my ass cheeks and the guy whose briefcase’s sharp corner was damn near impaling my kidney…and in my conscience, above my annoyance at what would surely be a rough ride to Yokohama- for the next stop would only bring more people and wedge that hand deeper into my backside and that briefcase sharper into my kidneys, and push my mild claustrophobia to its irrational limits, at the same time I felt a sense of belonging, perhaps for the first time since I’ve been living in Japan. I was part of this society, a human member, at that. It was like the feeling I had had with the boys earlier only now it was more physically affecting. It said welcome home like the crush of a bear hug from a mother or your family upon your returning home from a prolonged war overseas in which you were held captured and tortured; like winning a championship after 20 years of underachieving and the embrace of a team who’d never stopped believing, and of all the fans who had turned on you and all but given up. I was lifted above the masses, riding on their shoulders.

I felt pathetic, suddenly; ashamed of my longing to belong. I’m not Japanese, will never be Japanese, and so to want this so badly felt not only like a cry for approval but like betrayal of everything I’d been taught over the course of my lifetime was just and true, a disloyalty to the rich culture from which I sprang. Which is ridiculous after all. Was it not my idea to come here? No one forced me. No one put a gun to my head and said, “Expatriate or die!” I simply wanted to get away from it all for a while, and that I have done, unquestionably…far, far away. So far that I wonder if I’ll ever find my way back to New York. Maybe I can never go back. Maybe that’s why I want to feel the crush so much. Because I know I’m here to stay.

Here to stay? Hmm, like that’s an option. Sure, I just got a three year extension on my visa so if I don’t get locked up for some violent crime I’m good till 2011. 2011??? I remember when 2011 was something you’d only see or read about in science fiction…now it’s a very real number.

Then, my alarm started chirping and I instantly realized that I had been half-dreaming half-sleeping. I opened my eyes and checked my cell phone. It was 6:30. The crows were cawing, the bluebirds were whistling, and Aiko was standing over me, looking at me…

“Nande waratteita? She asked. (Why were you laughing?)

“Wakannai.” (Beats me.)

“Okashi jan.” (You:re nuts!)

“Sou desuyone.”  (You can say that again!)




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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