Posts Tagged ‘japanese train

10
Mar
09

Anti-Acts of Retaliation #1: Cock-Blocking Chikan

I could feel the awkward pressure against me, his subtle insistence that I move when moving was unnecessary;  ample space awaited him in the other direction I discerned with a glance. If this were NY I would’ve thought he was a pickpocket or nutcase…but this is Yokohama, and the mere fact that he was touching me voluntarily was a red flag in and of itself. What’s he up to?

At the next station the doors slid open and more people filed in. I am accustomed to being surrounded by what my boy EZ calls the “Gaijin Perimeter” (a perimeter Japanese tend to place around foreigners, regardless of crowding, in their effort not to come into contact with them) whenever I ride the trains. Sometimes this perimeter is huge, sometimes it’s pretty tight. The size varies from day to day but it’s always there, and I’ve learned that anyone who dares to enter my perimeter usually has an agenda. This guy did. Once the perimeter is breached, I’ve learned, then others will follow suit, as if the initial breacher had informed them using some secret Japanese masonic-like code, “come on in…the water’s warm!”

And, that’s how it went this morning. People filed in, glimpsed me, in all my conspicuousness, hesitated (or froze causing a logjam) then, noticing the breacher’s rather close proximity to me, decided I must be ok and bounded for any available space. To my left was a High School girl, traditional uniform, skirt hiked up rather high but no higher than can commonly be seen on any given day during any season. She favored one of the kids who had graduated from my Junior High School a couple of years ago, Kanako. Kanako had been a trouble maker but after a few bumps in the road we had gotten along very well. When she graduated she’d told me she will never forget me.  This girl kind of favored Kanako but it definitely wasn’t her. This girl was ferociously writing a text to someone, her thumb a tiny blur. The space to my right, previously vacant, was now filled by an office lady, one of the Women in Black, the uniform for freshmen office workers here. My rear was occupied by the breacher. As the passengers boarded, I could feel a stronger pressure upon me. A couple of boarders wanted to get by the breacher to the vacant space on his left, but his hand was holding onto the strap over my shoulder with a grip that would impress an undertaker. So, they had to squeeze around him.

The red flag became a fire alarm. With not only the option of moving but the insistence that he do so coming from his fellow nihonjin, he wanted to stay close to me?! What the hell?! I turned around for the first time to glance at this guy.  In sync with the turn of my head, he upturned his face and took a closer look at the train’s ventilation system. It fascinated him. He’d never noticed before how intricate yet practical its design is…at least his expression said as much. He was your typical salaryman, dark suit, striped tie, a little shabbily groomed but decent enough, 50-ish. He had a briefcase in his right hand and nothing in the left. Could he be a pickpocket? I couldn’t even imagine that if he were he would mark me as a target. Though my wallet is a little overstuffed and swells my back pocket, it’s mostly because of the 15 or 20 point cards I keep in there: Yodobashi camera, Bic Camera, Sakura ya, Yoshinoya, Jonathans, Gusto, Starbucks, Mister Donuts, KFC, my favorite massage parlor in Yokohama (no happy ending but really cute skilled girls), an oxygen cafe in Minato Mirai (with flavored air), etc, etc… never know when you gonna need a point card.

I turned and faced forward as the train pulled away from the station. I could feel his breath on my neck. It’s a very unusual feeling here, for me, to be breathed on. It smelled like this morning’s Nattoo, Miso and rice and fish…and I counted my blessings that I’m spared this torture most mornings (thank god for xenophobia…)

The girl beside me suddenly almost dropped her cellphone. She caught it, glanced at me kind of coyly, brushed the hair out of her eyes, and went back to thumbing her message. Which reminded me I need to send a text to my student to confirm our lesson that night. Suddenly the girl beside me jerked, almost indiscernibly, like she’d been pricked with a needle she’d been expecting, and sort of half glanced behind her, like if she were checking the shoulder of her blue jacket for lint.

Suddenly it all fell into place. His position behind me, slightly to my left, and his  resistance against being moved from the position he’d coveted. I knew what the perimeter breacher was up to.  At least I thought I did.

At the next station, a good number of people got off.  Some from my left headed by me for the door to my right. I watched peripherally the breacher make way for them, actually exiting the car and standing on the platform. After the last departing passenger had exited, he let a few new comers board before him. Without him there within my perimeter attesting to my civility, the first few people of the new swarm hesitated then fled to available spaces as far from the perimeter as possible. Once he boarded and headed back to his position behind / beside me, attesting to the safety of the area within the perimeter, the swarm behind him closed in. Again he grabbed the strap over my shoulder and let the swarm push its way by him, like a man holding onto a tree branch just before the cascading 100 foot drop of a water fall.

That was enough confirmation for me. He was chikan…definitely.

The high school girl was still thumbing away apparently oblivious to the efforts  this guy was making. I had actually been pushed closer to her so that now, involuntarily, I was up against her too a bit. My left hand, which held my briefcase, was against her thigh. Once the train started moving again, I tried  to switch my briefcase to my other hand so as not to be mistaken for the one enjoying this ride, but it was tightly wedged against her…as was his.  Judging from his height and hers, his hand had to be wedged in the crack of her ass. And with the shortness of her skirt he was probably wedged under it. How convenient for him.

I glanced down but all I could see was her navy blue skirt…then, when the train shifted a little I caught a glimpse of her white lacy underwear and a yellow hand on or in them. I couldn’t tell which it was so quick. So, I had to decide how much I wanted to be a good Samaritan (it has become an issue since I’ve been living here treated in a manner that makes me actually pause and question whether I should get involved or mind my business)

Suddenly the train jolted and I thought to use this opportunity to switch my briefcase to my other hand…but before I could another idea just popped into my head. Pretending to be thrown off balance I thrust my briefcase between the guy and the school girl, knocking his hand away from its position.  Then I  grabbed the strap above the school girl and held on as tightly as he had. I could feel his effort to get me to shift back to my previous position so that he could do the same and resume, but I held fast. A few moments later the train jolted again and I felt a strong, sharp, determined elbow against my ribcage telling me, “move motherfucker, this is my catch of the day!”  There was nothing passive about this guy.

The train was pulling into the station at that point so I relinquished my grip on the strap.  As it slowed, sharply (must have been a trainee driving the train) the elbow that was against my ribs thrusts into me…purposely, I suspect, but it could arguably have been an accident. It hurt. Hurt like it had been done by someone familiar with how to disable people with a blow. I turned around to face him but, suddenly, he realized he hadn’t finished studying the ventilation system yet. Perhaps he was some sort of engineer. I took a strap again, urgently, like I’d lost my balance again, only this time it was a strap on the other side of him, and in doing so I just missed elbowing him in the back of the head by inches. He’d ducked when I reached across him. Fuck!

The doors opened and I watched him get off. I turned to check the school girl, but she had queued to get off the train through another door. By the time I got to the platform the chikan was nowhere in sight.

Since this occurrence some time back this has happened a ridiculous  number of times.  I used to think anybody who touched me on the train was either crazy, or in an unavoidable predicament where they had to-either they were pushed by the passengers behind them or their simply was no place else to go, or maybe they were reading a manga or sending a text or something-not paying attention to where they were going and found themselves within my perimeter, or they had something more important on their minds…something that overcame the gaijin-fear instinct that seems to guide everyone else’s movements when in my vicinity.

But, I learned that day that i was wrong. in some cases, maybe once or twice a week, it’s to get close to some woman. And if I’m in the vicinity I cock block them…

sometimes…

Loco lite (-:

(Taste great, less filling)

22
Dec
08

10 ways NOT to go loco in Yokohama #10: Be You and have fun!

For my final tip I’ve decided to bring this series full-circle. I know I said in tip #1: Don’t be you, and I truly believe by discarding some of those things that you thought were so essential to being you you can enhance your experience here. Japan will surprise you and maybe even broaden your horizon if you stay here long enough and give her half a chance. But, in the end, you will never be Japanese, no matter how hard you try (even if you become a Naturalized Citizen). You will ultimately still #10 be you. So, just relax and have fun!


It’s Christmas time in Japan, y’all. Nobody does Christmas like the Japanese do Christmas. The above video captures Xmas here so well I had to share it with you guys. I’m not Christian and neither are the Japanese, so Christmas is just another work day after which you go eat chicken and cake…and if you like Xmas lights (like I do) you can go check out some cool illuminations (that’s what they call them anyway.)

Field of lights in Roppongi

The above is this year’s Illumination Show in Roppongi Hills. It’s a field of lights! Makes the certain constellations, and even a shooting star…Cool, ne. Like if the Hayden Planetarium light show were on the Great Lawn in Central Park. The Japanese go all out with their lighting. On my block back in Brooklyn, my neighbors were very competitive with their Xmas lighting schemes and designs. And, I loved it. People used to drive through my street slowly to admire their labor. It seems the Japanese are competing with Manhattan and Paris…and holding their own in many cases. It ain’t as garishly clever as Santa scaling down the side of a house like a burglar while all of the reindeer (full-sized) and the sleigh sit on a roof looking like their ready to speed off as soon as Santa returns with a sack of loot (my neighbor did that theme one year) but it’s kawaii (cute) and that’s the Japanese aim.

Anyway, back to business…

It can get a bit stressful adjusting to life in Japan (the biggest understatement of this entire series) especially during the holidays. So foreigners here, in their efforts to maintain their sanities, are known to do a lot of things the Japanese sometimes object to. Yep, in order to blow off a little steam sometimes you gotta rock the boat a little…or in this case the train.

Most Japanese people do not approve of steam releases like the Yamanote Halloween Party Train. The Japanese rarely if ever break the law, or rules, or guidelines, or even approach the appearance of breaking them. Mainly because the penalty for crimes in Japan are very severe and social penalties are stiff, too! And they always have been, so it’s ingrained in the culture now (the penalty for any crime back in Japan’s good old days was death.) The Japanese even go out of their way not to do anything that would disturb anyone else (anyone Japanese that is.) Thus Japan is an extremely rigid, anal, yet safe country. However, most Japanese believe that foreigners do not share the same respect for the law, and rules and guidelines as they do (thus jeopardize the safety and security and status quo of their country) so they are very afraid of foreigners. Especially if a large group of foreigners decide to get drunk and raucous in public.

And even some  foreigners here believe that such events are a blight and go against their endeavors to live here in peace. These events also make their efforts to assimilate more difficult. They believe, with good reason, that if Japanese see or hear about such behavior they will use it as an excuse to further ostracize foreigners, themselves included. They feel that their fellow foreigners here need to live by, at minimum, the same standard or up to a higher standard than they did back home. Some feel that we should, ideally, aspire to an even higher standard than the Japanese in order to make strides towards equal treatment and social acceptance.

I think it’s reminiscent of the African American struggle for civil and equal rights in America. The way African Americans initial inroads into acceptance were through over-achievement in education and overly puritanical and pious behavior in order to show whites that they were worthy of social acceptance by even white standards (which is ironic, since their former enslavers standards became their aspiration.) Followed by over achievement in entertainment and sports to show their artistic and athletic prowess as well as their marketability and profitability. In other words, to prove we were equally human. Because of this similarity I don’t blow off the disapproving foreigner’s concerns as simply puritanical nonsense. Maybe they’re on to something. Maybe there are some Japanese people sitting on the fence trying to decide if  foreigners should be respected and treated as human beings with the same foibles and need to release (sometimes even in public) their rage against the machine (so to speak,) same as Japanese people are, and, if so, events like the Yamanote Halloween Train push them off the fence into the decidedly, “no, they are baka kimoi gaijin” (no, they are stupid disgusting foreigners) yard. It’s very possible.

But, I suspect, that’s what makes it more fun for the party people. I’ve never done it…a little lame for me, but I understand the desire and need for it entirely. It’s a chance to be anti-establishment thereby releasing some steam and having a little fun at the Japanese

The First Breath of Tengan Rei

The First Breath of Tengan Rei

expense. If their behavior comes off as a little obnoxious by Japanese standards, like they say, syouganai jyan. Besides, if foreigners only did things Japanese approve of, personally, I don’t think it would make any difference. Most Japanese currently hold me responsible for something a couple of soldiers did on Okinawa to some little girl a few years back (there’s actually a new revenge movie out about it called “The First Breath of Tengan Rei”) and my being a model citizen (recently anyway) has not changed public opinion much.

So, I’ve decided to be myself (as much as I can). And if I was the kind of person that partied on trains back home, or the equivalent, I might join the party on Halloween, but that’s not my style at all.

Individually, the possibilities are great. I have met Japanese individuals here who are totally capable of tolerance, and then some. But, in general, I personally believe Japan will probably never be gaijin-friendly enough to satisfy gaijin and foreigners will likely never be Japanese enough to satisfy Japanese people. Their need for predictability, their style of intuitive communication, and their propensity to stereotype (among other issues) precludes the likeliness of Japanese ever becoming tolerant of those from a different background. I think the best that can be expected, at least for a long while, is what we have now: A small number of open-minded people who are so wonderful that they make a good number of foreigners’ stay here amazing experiences despite the treatment they receive from the public at-large.

But, maybe I’m being a little pessimistic…I’m a work in progress. (-:

I mean, if you asked an African American even 30 years ago if there’d ever be a black president they would have laughed at you the same way my Japanese student laughed at me when I asked him did he think there would ever be a Half-Chinese Japan-born Prime Minister in Japan.

I used to blow off steam by making Japanese people feel as uncomfortable as they made me feel. Kind of ridiculous, I know, but I wanted to teach them a lesson, and not an English lesson. A morals lesson; A you reap what you sow lesson…Something about the people here had unleashed something in me.  Something that had been dormant for years. I’m usually pretty rational. I am the type of person more likely to try to resolve problems with words than with violence. I really believe the pen is mightier than the sword. But, I know that there is also a self-righteous rage inside of me, angry and sensitive, impatient and intolerant, and I have to take care of it, like some vicious dog kept chained in a basement., with absolute loyalty to it’s owner and absolute contempt for people who it feels has wronged its owner.  It kind of scares me.

I’ve always managed to leash him myself. Occasionally, he’d peek his head out of my soul’s basement and let people get a glimpse of him and that would be enough. They’d back down or scurry away. So I guess you can say I’ve had a pretty blessed life. My sense of right and wrong is rarely spat at. At least not in person. Not until I came here.

But, living here, I’ve been fortunate enough to learn how I had been able to keep myself in check. In NY I had a circle of friends around me that supported me. I could talk to them and sort out complicated issues like right and wrong and all that gray in-between. Also, I had fun in NY. I had an assortment of ways to release. My anger is fed and empowered by self-righteous pressure built up without release. This pressure kind of pushes it out like a contraction pushes a baby out into the world. It needs release periodically. And harassing Japanese doesn’t quite do it. Nor did my sexual conquest in Japan. Nor did my sitting, drinking and complaining in Gaijin bars. Nor would drinking and gallivanting on Halloween do it.

I needed to really have fun!

My favorite ways to have fun are: writing, reading, studying, watching movies, playing basketball, going to Onsens and hanging out with friends. Pretty simple, huh? Staying sane in Japan is just a balancing act. The most important thing is to know yourself and be true to yourself and that’s difficult in any country. I’ve only found that here in Japan who I am is thrown into even starker relief, and thus I am able to appreciate and get more in touch with who I am and what makes me tick than at any other time in my life.

I can be me and have fun and that’s how I keep it together.

Well, that’s my top 10 list. I hope you’ve found it a useful and entertaining read. It was a lot of fun to write. And, sharing my thoughts and feelings with you guys is the ultimate way I keep loco at bay.

…so thanks a bunch! (-:

And, oh, Happy Kwanzaa, Merry Xmas, Happy New Year, Happy Hanukkah,

Yoi Otoshi wo 良いお年を,

Akemashite Omedetto Gozaimasu あけましておめでっとございます,

and all that good stuff… (-:

If you want to read my previous tips, here are the links: Preface/Disclaimer, #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, and #9

Loco

PS: Here’s a little something that always makes me smile, from those two comic geniuses Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy

11
Dec
08

Conversation (12/10/08)

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

Loco

08
Dec
08

10 ways NOT to go loco in Yokohama #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

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




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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