Posts Tagged ‘hip hop

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

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!

08
Dec
08

10 ways NOT to go loco in Yokohama #5: Make Japanese friends!

Making Japanese friends is important, and can have the added benefit of helping you maintain your sanity. Here are my top four reasons why:

1- If  you’re studying Japanese, they are an invaluable resource for natural nihongo.

2– They can help you with the array of things you have to do to maintain your life in Japan

3– If  you want to experience Japan away from the typical Gaijin friendly places

4– Being with a Japanese person relaxes the other Japanese around you.

1-Studying Japanese will help you preserve your sanity, as I mentioned in #3 Learn that Japanese. What I neglected to mention is how Japanese friends can help. They are native speakers, so obviously they can speak fluently, duh! But that doesn’t necessarily mean they can teach it. I’m an inquisitive mofo so anytime something doesn’t make sense I always ask the magic question: why? Why is a question only a teacher or someone who understands the language, culture and history very well can answer. Most Japanese cannot answer why about anything having to do with their language, I’ve found. So, I did what any inquisitive mofo would do: I read books and searched the net for answers. Now, sometimes, I feel like I know more about their language than they do.

To be fair, the reverse is true too sometimes. Have you ever tried to take the TOEIC Test? If you have an ego about your English proficiency or grammar knowledge, do yourself a favor and don’t. It’s like something most of us native speakers have never seen. I have so much respect for my students who scored high on that test. Or, if you ask anyone who isn’t a wordsmith with a thorough knowledge of etymology to explain why, for example, in the word photograph the first syllable is stressed while in the word photography the second is stressed,  I’m sure they’d look at you and say, “Why is the sky blue? Why is water wet? How the fuck should I know?” These were the kind of why questions i was asking them.

As I mentioned before, one of my initial reasons for pounding the Japanese books was so that I could do some nanpa. Nanpa is basically flirting or picking up girls and frowned upon by Japanese, but as you know I’m not one of them. My first male Japanese friend was

Fuyuto

Fuyuto

Fuyuto. We met through an American friend of mine. He could speak English a bit and was kind of cool. He was a Salaryman, but a rock star in his dreams, so he moonlighted as lead singer and guitarist in a punk rock band. Life as a salaryman was plan B so he had tattoos on his fingers that he had to hide everyday by wrapping them with bandages. He was in love with white girls, any white girl. He fancied some bleached blond from Alabama he’d met on the internet and took to obsessing over her til I couldn’t stand him anymore.

He taught me my first nanpa. I can hardly remember it now. Something about Ocha shimasenka (Shall we have tea?) which was supposed to be code language for let’s get to know each other better right now, and kimi wa ichiban kawaii nanto ka nanto ka (You are the cutest girl…and something or other) Before Fuyuto  the only Japanese I knew I’d learned from books like Japanese for busy people series (which are pretty good actually) and the likes. But, were useless when it came to my new goal: getting my hands on some of this Kawaii-ness running around half-naked all around me.

I should’ve known Fuyuto was useless in this regard. While I was breaking my neck with every step at the over abundant eye-candy, he hardly noticed. He had about as much interest in Japanese girls as I had in Japanese guys. Having watched this movie I was watching for the first time for his entire life, perhaps it was difficult for him to get excited about it. What was exotic to me was totally commonplace to him. We started drifting apart. I needed someone on the same track as me, and so far that had only been my fellow gaijin.

Before we went our separate ways though he did school me about a few things. I’d been seeing a girl at the time and she’d taken to helping me with my Japanese as I helped her with her English (surprise surprise, eh). I’d listen to how she spoke and I mimicked her sentence structure and what not. She’d say things like: Oohhh! You sound like a Japanese! I’d smile ear to ear. (I’d later learn it was Oseji –apple-polishing flattery) When I got with Fuyuto I’d use some of that Japanese sounding Japanese I’d learned.

“Samui yo!” It’s cold!

Fuyuto smiled. I could tell he was trying not to laugh.

“Fuck you smiling at?”

“You sound like a girl!”

“Really?” I shouldn’t have been surprised but I was. “My voice?”

“No, your words. Don’t use Yo like that. Girls talk like that.”

That fucked me up. In Japan, you hear “Yo” and “Ne” all the damn time. Back in NY we use Yo for everything, too, so I thought I had found something that I was already comfortable with using. The text book says that “Yo” places a stronger emphasis on the preceding words so I thought “Samui yo meant something to the effect of  “it’s fucking cold!” But, according to Fuyuto it did just the opposite the way I’d used it. It made it softer. I sounded gay, he said, and finally released the laughter he could no longer contain.

Great. Him, with his perfect hair he spent half a day in the hair salon getting done, calls me gay. But, he had explained why I had been getting giggled at by my students and being called Kawaii by all the girls I’d spoken to before gleaning this info from Fuyuto. Most Japanese won’t tell you if you’re making an ass of yourself because you’re a foreigner and the expectations are very low for foreigners here anyway. And, this illustrates my point about the value of Japanese friends: They can give you the inside dope that those textbook writers may not be privy to or overlooked. Thanks Fuyuto-san!

2- When I first came to Japan, I came under the aegis of NOVA. They were totally responsible for me. And, as a benefit I totally took for granted at the time, they took care of everything from getting me an apartment to arranging my healthcare benefits. They even got me my first Japanese cellphone. Very convenient. Of course NOVA had relationships with these Japanese companies which gave them an unfair advantage over the competition, but that’s  how it goes. It also cost us instructors a little more for we could have gotten these services for less money in some cases if we could speak Japanese and had shopped around…or if we had friends who spoke Japanese. But few did. So, the headache / expense ratio was acceptable at the time.

After I met my first true friend in Japan, Aiko, I learned most of this. I told her about my cellphone and how much I had paid. she laughed and took me to a another company where I got a better deal and a better phone. She handled all of the conversing and I signed  all the contracts. I told her about how much I paid for rent and she laughed and took me to a neighborhood realtor so I could learn that my Japanese neighbors were paying in most cases a third less.

Mamachari

One day, I had taken a nasty spill off of my Mamichari and had to go to the hospital. Aiko was right there beside me explaining everything to the doctor and to me like my handy translator. Another time I threw my back out. If you’ve read “ducking and Bobbing” you know my drama with my back. Aiko’s mother also used to have back problems. Until she found this Chiropractor / miracle worker out in Saitama. Aiko brought me there and he, using a combination of Western & Eastern techniques he’d learned in China, sent me home feeling like a new man.

I was a very independent person in New York. As a bachelor, I did everything myself for many years. Whatever I didn’t know how to do I could learn how to do or hire someone to do for me. But, in Japan, I felt like an invalid. A man stripped of his ability to see, hear and speak. A friend like Aiko took the sting out of this feeling so much. I wish I could have done half as much for her as she did for me but she was a totally self-sufficient person.aiko-chan1

Now, that I can speak a little I can handle some of the above tasks. I still can’t handle a good number of the tasks required for a full life here, but I haven’t given up. I’m still studying and practicing whenever I can.

Thanks for all your help, Aiko-chan! You were the best!

3- I used to ask my students of a certain age for recommendations of cool places to hangout in Japan.

“You should go to Roppongi,” the majority of them would tell me. I’d already been to Roppongi of course. Not a foreigner in the Tokyo area hasn’t. But, I wasn’t keen on the place, for a number of reasons. It’s a dodgy place, first off. It’s the Tokyo version of Bangkok, only much more expensive and you get less for your money. Secondly, it’s full of foreigners and the Japanese girls who prey on them-usually pretty skanky. If I wanted to hang out with Americans and skanky girls I wouldn’t have come to Japan to do it. There’s plenty in NY.

“Why Roppongi? Do you like Roppongi?” I’d ask them. “How often do you go there?”

“No,” they’d inevitably say. “I  don’t go there.” Of course they didn’t. Only skanky hostesses and future skanky hostesses or girls that had been dragged there by their skanky hostess friends, or Japanese guys who like skanky hostesses and are willing to confess that to me go there.

“Why?”

“It’s so crowded!”

“Oh, I see.”

“Abunai, deshou?” Dangerous isn’t it?

“Why would you recommend that I  go to a place you don’t like and you don’t go to?”

“You are foreigner, deshou? Many foreigners go there. Foreigners like Roppongi! And many beautiful girls go there to meet foreigners dakara.”

I’d let it go…sometimes. These conversations were my first insight into the Japanese mind, especially when it comes to foreigners. The fact that the person didn’t see any problems with what they’d just confessed about themselves and about their culture spoke volumes to me.

Sometimes I didn’t let it go.

“So, you recommend I go to a place you think is dangerous? Do you think I like dangerous places?”

“Eeetooo.” Well…..

“Oh, wait! I understand now. Because there are other foreigners there, and beautiful girls, I won’t mind a little danger…is that what you mean?”

“Eeetoooo” Well….

I refrain from confronting Japanese about their bullshit nowadays, because maintaining a smile while discussing something like this is still a struggle. Some kind of emotion peeks from behind the smile and spits at them. I wind up unintentionally showing some kind of feeling and then they get all uncomfortable and shit goes downhill from there. But, back in the days, I used to get a thrill out of it. it was like getting revenge on them for the ignorance and offenses they had no problem flagrantly displaying before me.

But, if you make a friend, then you can get some solid recommendations.

They’ll hip you to some places that’ll bend your ears back. Every onsen I’ve ever been to was recommended by a friend (who usually accompanied me). Every cool bar or club, not located in a gaijin-friendly zone, I was directed to by a friend (often accompanying me.)

Satoshi: Coolest Mofo you ever want to meet. I was looking for a cool ass nihonjin- male for a change– that I could hangout with and could hip me to some cool places to hang out (I’d had it up to here with Roppongi and Shibuya and the other gaijin-friendly places.)

There was a beauty salon next door to my job. Sometimes when I’d go out to the smoke area there’d be this guy who worked at the salon out there puffing his Seven Stars. seven-starHe had perfect bleached dirty-blond hair, a big smile and a goatee. One of them cool guys I’d see around Tokyo who’d whisper to each other like girls whenever I pass by them. When I’d see him through the salon’s main window, massaging conditioner into some cutie’s hair, I’d say to myself, “Now there’s a job that’ll- if he isn’t gay- turn any man misogynistic after a couple of years. Chances are he’ll have an edge.” I like people with an edge. Most New Yorkers are edgy in every sense of the word.

It wasn’t long before we bumped heads in the smoke area and he said what’s up. And, over a smoke, he asked all those typical When nihonjin met gaijin… questions, or rather, When Nihonjin met kokujin… (When a Japanese met a black man) cause he seemed to zero in on what seemed to be race-related inquiries. I’d gotten used to it. It’s my selling and repelling point in Japan. He couldn’t speak a lick of English, though, which was good.

I’ve found that most of the Japanese people who can speak English tend to be overly arrogant. Like their English speaking ability makes them special (which, unfortunately, it does in Japan) and that having been exposed to the West (which is, I’ve found, the only way a Japanese person can learn English to any significant degree) they feel obligated to show you in an overt way that you don’t intimidate them at all. Perhaps to compensate for all the years they’d felt intimidated by English speakers before they’d gone bilingual.  And, God forbid, their exposure to the West was in England. FORGET IT! You want to throw them thru a fucking window, they’re so goddamn arrogant! (No offense to my British readers…gomen ne!)

“You like Hip Hop?” He asked, while I grimaced inside.

“I guess so. You?”

“Of course.”

“Who do you like?” I asked, bracing myself to hear Emenim or Snoop Dog. At that time, I’d spoken to several Japanese Hip Hop heads who knew Eminem very well but couldn’t tell me who Slick Rick was if I’d shoved my I-Pod up their asses.

“Rhymester. Do you know them?”

“Rhymester? Nah, never heard of them…”

He whipped out his handy I-Pod and plugged me in. It was Japanese, with a lot of English mixed in, and the shit sounded tight, like old school Hip Hop. I started having visions of myself rapping in Japanese. he obviously had decent taste in Hip Hop but I had one question I asked of any Hip Hop head:

“Who do you think is the best Hip Hop artist of all time?”

I told myself, even if he says Tupac, which I would whole-heartedly disagree with, I’d give him a pass.

“Nas,” he said without hesitation. My jaw dropped. We were going to be friends.

“No, make that Rakim!” he said. Make that Best Friends, I thought.

The next weekend he invited me over to his crib. His roommate, Takuto, from Hokkaido, is a DJ, and they had cartons of albums, two turntables, a  mixer with a chalice on top.

Satoshi & Takuto

Make that REALLLLLLY good friends I decided then and there.

dsc04591

We got lifted listening to some 80’s Dancehall reggae I’d hipped them to. Just like I used to do with my friends back in NY. Sometimes they come over to my crib and we just hangout, bungle communication and laugh. I love these guys!

At a time when I was coming to think that Japan just didn’t have any cool people (just nice people) cool places (that would let me in the door) or anything worth listening to, I meet Satoshi and Takuto and they prove me wrong. If you hang around long enough, Japan will surprise the hell out of you. Big shout out to my boys, Toshi-kun and Tak-kun!!!

4- I was kicking it with Satoshi one day on the train to his apartment. He was standing against the door. A women beside him was writing a text message. A TV above his head was showing this commercial:

A man beside me on my right was not flinching. A woman on my left was standing against me and not looking freaked out about it.  He noticed me looking around and nodding my head and asked me what was I thinking about.

“My life in Japan,” I said.

He asked me, for the first time, what did I think about Japan, so I told him quite directly since he was my friend, “Japan would be great if it wasn’t for Japanese people.”

He laughed. The woman besides him smiled, too, revealing that she was listening to our convo though she appeared to be engrossed in her cellphone. Satoshi likes my sense of humor and he’s getting to know me well enough to know when I’m fucking around and when I’m serious. He knew my answer was half both.

“What’s wrong with Japanese people?” he asked.

I didn’t know how to say, “nothing a little waterboarding couldn’t fix” in Japanese so I said “Nothing right now, because you’re here.”

“Eeeeee!”

Something was happening at that very moment that he couldn’t notice because it was way below his radar. But my antennae are always up and alert like a cockroach’s. Anyone who’s read my previous posts knows what the trains are usually like for me, but to sum it up: daily hell. But, the difference between my daily experience on the trains every morning and that moment right then was I was with a Japanese person.

When you’re with a Japanese person Japanese people react differently to you. Mind you, it’s no less offensive because of the contrast with how they behave when you’re sans nihonjin. It’s like by virtue of your being with a Japanese person, it suggests to the Japanese in your vicinity that you’ve been vetted, appraised by a trustworthy authenticator (one of their own) and found true.  Actually, I’m trying to be nice. It actually feels more like you’re some type of animal that if allowed to roam free is dangerous but in the hands of a master trainer (one of their own) you’re safe to approach and in some cases even pet. I’ve noticed this phenomenon hundreds of times over the past five years so trust me this one is a sure bet. If you can forget the statement this change in behavior makes and just luxuriate in these moments of normality, it will do wonders for your sanity.

I couldn’t express any of this well enough in Japanese, either so I just told my friend, “You’re so ugly you make me look good.” (-:

Loco

Up next: #6 : Avoid Gaijin,  Gaijin Bars, Gaijin friendly areas and the Japanese girls who dwell there

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




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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