Posts Tagged ‘travel


10 ways NOT to go loco in Yokohama #7: Escape from Yokohama

I was trying to find a clip that captures how I feel when I’m able to escape from Yokohama for a weekend or even overnight.

Loco crawled to freedom through 500 yards of shit-smelling foulness…

A little dramatic, I know. But, that’s almost how I feel sometimes. The best part is it makes the escape just that much sweeter!

My favorites?

1- Kusatsu – In an earlier post I mentioned Kusatsu. It’s a popular onsen area in Gunma Prefecture. My spot is up in the mountains. A little place called Shiriyaki尻焼き. Yes, that’s right


Onsen in Kusatsu

Kozansou Hotel

Kozansou Hotel

(for you nihongo-literate people) it means Burnt Ass. It’s in a river, free, open air and co-ed. Best time to go? After a snowfall. It’s so damn picturesque! If it feels like paradise and looks like paradise then it ain’t Disney Sea. The hotel I stayed at was called Kozansou (光山荘) It wasn’t particularly all that- a little low tech, but it was decent and the food was pretty good.

2- Nikko – It was difficult to make Nikko number two but only one can be number one. Nikko reigned supreme until I visited Kusatsu. I’ve been to Nikko a number of times. It’s convenient as hell and there are things to do aside from soak your bottom.  You can go see the monkeys, for example. Okay, it’s not a thrill a second but it’s something. The monkeys there have been known to mug and/or assault people so I call them the gangster chimps.  Here’s a video I found on the tube to illustrate:

There are also some caged monkeys, but I hate to see caged animals (or people for that matter.)

Then there’s Kegon Waterfall, but don’t take a taxi to the top…do yourself a favor and hop on a bus, unless you’re okanemochi (rich.) I did.  Big mistake. There’s usually a traffic jam and it wound up taking 90 minutes and costing damn near $100. Kegon is no Niagara Falls (I’m a New Yorker, you know I had to go there) but it’s chyo kawaii (sooooo cute!) (-:

Also you can check out Lake Chuzenji or make your way up Nantai Yama. It’s awesome!


Kegon looks better from afar doesn’t it? (so do I for that matter)


And of course there are a hundred friggin shrines and temples everywhere but if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all (-: Just joking, kinda. Actually Nikko has some of the most beautiful and colorful shrines I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen quite few.)2619642337_c5f1c2575f_o

And of course there’s the Onsen. I’ve been to  several and I honestly can’t tell you the name of the hotels I stayed at but they were all great. Each had a different type of onsen. My favorite was one tucked into the side of a mountain.

3- Kawaguchiko-Mt. Fuji– New year’s eve 2006 I popped over to Kawaguchi-ko. WOW! It was friggin cold! But, the onsen was wonderful and if you can catch the reflection of Mount Fuji off of the lake it’s really something to see. Of course when I went it was a little cloudy so the top of Fuji was hidden. That night however I could see it clearly, but my 1998 Sony Cyber-shot with the 2 megapixels was like, “And? Mofo if you wanna be Jimmy Olsen you better upgrade!” So I had to clip one from a most generous blogger (thanks!)




Well, what else can I say? You gotta escape Yokohama as often as possible to keep your wits from escaping you! And Onsens do it for me. You’ll come back to the city refreshed and ready to swallow all the obscenities they can throw at you, for a couple of months at least (-; I’m trying to book a holiday escape right now.

Next up: #8: Find a Role Model



How I learned to bow

I was on the way to work my first week in Japan, when I saw this gorgeous girl giving me the eye. I mean really beautiful. In America she wouldn’t need a stick to beat them off, she’d need Chuck Norris.

I was reading a Japanese textbook…ok, I’m lying. I was reading a book on pick up lines to use on Japanese girls, Nanpa it’s called, and when I looked up, she was across the car from me ogling me. I gave her a little smile of acknowledgment, kept my cool, though my heart and brain were racing. I scanned the book quickly, trying to find just the right phrase, but the book must have been written by some corny-ass, no pussy-getting-ass Canadian or something cuz the closest phrase I could get to what I had in mind to say was, my, what a beautiful handbag. I like your style, when what I really wanted to say was more in the spirit of “players wanna play, ballers wanna ball, rollers wanna roll…” Maybe I should write one of these books. Once I learned the language I’d certainly think about it.

When I looked up again, there were those eyes again.

They were heavily made up, like a porn star’s and they made me want her even more. I’d been a big fan of Japanese porn for as long as I could remember. I can attribute the broadness of my triceps to them. Her skin was tanned like Malibu Barbie. She smiled this time and her teeth, a little crooked and one seemed to protrude from her gum a little, but the smile took about 5 years off of her so that she looked about 13. Her blue jeans hugged her curves like latex and even seated I could tell she had a body. The Tim boots and the Yankee baseball cap on her head reminded me of how a girl back home might run out to the store on the spur of the moment to get some grits for breakfast on a bad hair day. Only her hair was unmistakably done, and her look was plainly on purpose. She was a Hip Hop chick, I realized…minus all the glam of the excessive make up and perfect hair and the cubic-zirconia studded crucifix dangling from a faux-platinum chain over her miniscule cleavage, she was trying to impersonate a black girl…even her fingernails were an attempt at ghetto glam. She looked like Lil’Mo in a music video.

Maybe she was trying to find herself a FabOlous.

It didn’t really matter though because if I knew me, and there are some things I know about me, I wasn’t going to say a word to her. My MO is to gas myself up then drive around aimlessly and hope to God I crash into something interesting. The book was just for entertainment purposes, mostly. So, as the train pulled into Yokohama Station, I shoved my little passport to Asian booty, replete with useless information and whack ass lines, and queued with everyone else to get off the train. I glanced at my cellphone and saw that I was about 20 minutes early for work. When I glanced up I noticed that she had worked her way to the space beside me. To look at her you would think it was purely coincidental. She was eying me peripherally with a knowing smile on her face. She just knew she was about to be hit on, and to me the smile meant Green Light. This time I inclined my head in a bow she returned it. Wow, this bowing shit works, I thought.

“Hi,” I said.

“Hello,” she replied a little too eagerly…she’d lost all of her coyness so abruptly that I didn’t know what to make of it.

“What’s your name?”

“Atashi?” She asked, pointing at her nose.

“Your name is Atashi…that’s pretty…” she looked unsettled. “Atashi,” I repeated because I didn’t want to forget it. She giggled for some reason. “My name is Kevin,” I said, pointing at myself.

“Ke-bean?” she asked, still giggling and blushing, all of her coyness returning just as suddenly as it had left. “Ke-bin! Ah, sou desuka. Nice to meet you, Ke-bean-san, Atashi wa Natsumi desu. Anooo…my-namu ee zu Natsumi.” And, she smiled some more, and brushed a couple of stray strands of hair from her the edge of her face to the side of her head with a stroke of a cluttered fingernail.

I’d learn in my class that the Japanese have trouble with the pronunciation of certain sounds like Vee so I wasn’t surprised by the distortion of my name. And, I didn’t care anyway because she was so fucking cute and had a banging ass and I didn’t care what I had to do, I was going to get me some of that…WHAM! My head versus the doorway! It lost! She turned to look, as did everyone, and guffawed, covering her mouth, as I stood there rubbing my head like a Aladdin’s lamp and going through the motions of “it’s not that bad…” for my ego’s sake when what I was really feeling was a needle-sharp agonizing stab of hurt. The ledge I’d walked into was metal and sharp and there was a strong chance there was going to be some bleeding, but my desire to make a move on her countermanded any idea I had about immediately seeking medical attention, she was that fine!

I could tell by the “how do I convey concern?” face she was making that she was English-free. She kind of pantomimed “are you ok?” and I nodded, feeling as far from ok as Marselis Wallace was in Pulp Fiction after getting raped by Zed. I checked my palm for blood, there was none, but, my god, there should have been. This much pain without the accompaniment of blood is almost an obscenity.

I couldn’t think, much less think in Japanese, so I just stood there. “Kimi no kabin ga totemo kawaii desune…” That Canadian’s words were the distraction I needed to clear my head. We had an awkward moment of silence while the train announcements said incomprehensible shit and thousands of people raced around and between and nearly over us. And then she looked around and her body language was like, well, it was nice almost meeting you, and sorry about your head but I gotta go… And I thought: hell maybe this happened for a reason. Maybe I should just let her go. Maybe this was the Creator’s way of telling me that she was a no-go. Maybe she’s a transvestite, or has herpes or AIDS or something, and the Creator is trying to look out for me.

One of the first things I learned to do was bow. You would think that learning the language would place prominently in the hierarchy of things to get out of the way, right? So did I. I tackled Japanese for 3 months before my departure; got all that Konnichiwa-ing and Sayonara-ing out of the way, and I was ready for the show…or so I thought. But, right out of the gate, bowing bogarted its way to the front of the queue like a gorilla on meth. I know what you must be thinking: Does Japan have some sort of roving Courtesy Patrol enforcing their customs? Up against the wall, punk! -Gut punch- Oh, now you know how to bow!

No, nothing like that.

It would be unnecessary anyway. From what I’ve seen so far, bowing is as instinctual here as it is for my boy, Darryl, back in NY, to critique every ass that passes by. Some people even bow when their talking on the phone. No, Japan has other ways of commanding your capitulation, and trust me you learn them right quick if you’re 6 ft tall or more. Now, 6 foot ain’t shit back in my neighborhood. It’s average. If you got a wicked crossover and hops like Spud Webb maybe you can make point guard on a junior varsity squad in high school. Don’t get me wrong; no one’s going to call me Shorty but I ain’t raising any roofs, either.

Saying I had to learn how to bow is a little facetious. Tongue in cheek aside, I had to learn how to not get a concussion on a daily basis. I had to pay careful attention to where I was going and what I was doing, at all times, even more so than when I was home in Brooklyn. Why? Because many of the things I took for granted back home- from complicated ideas like the general direction danger comes at you from (primarily from the left, check me if I’m wrong),  to simple ideas like the height of doorways- could not be taken for granted here. And so upon entering restaurants, trains, homes, anywhere with a doorway, I often have a Gandolf at Bilbo’s crib, Lord of the Rings type experience. Like most things in Tokyo, the price for not staying alert is high, and the scar tissue on my head can attest to that.

Even if a Japanese person is cursed with the height of a foreigner, by the time they’re adults they are so accustomed to bowing that low clearance is a non-issue. But, I’ve never bowed, except as a joke or in mock humility. I can see myself as a child performing before an imaginary audience, strumming, blowing or hammering the keys of some imaginary instrument, singing a song so heartfelt, so lovely that the crowd in my mind roars and applauds their gratitude. I’d bow low and thank them. “You’re too kind!” I’d say.

But, the doorways here in Japan are not kind, and too frequently I find myself on the losing side of a clash: the forehead of my 6 foot person versus a doorway an inch or two shy of my height. It is remarkable how deceptively adequate a 5’11 doorway looks. Your brain tells you, it’s a doorway, by God, designed for care-free entry and exit. And you trust your brain, don’t you? That 30-something year old bundle of pink and gray matter you’ve grown to trust and distrust, adore and despise, who, along with your heart, has conspired to bamboozle you into believing you are at the helm, and that you make of your life whatever you set your mind to and put your heart into. Equipped with this consummate hard drive of veins and nerves, slow to acclimate and accustomed to rooms that offer, at least, minimum clearance and virtually unfettered access to subway cars, you rush head long into a collision so painful that it’s all you can do not to scream murder.

A pain as merciless as sitting on a ripe boil on your ass that’s dying to be lanced, as ruthless as the scolding spray of your own shower if someone flushes the toilet depriving your perfect mixture of cold and hot water of the cold in a brownstone. It’s the kind of pain that clears your mind of everything, aside from the pain. First there’s a paralytic silence for an incalculably brief moment during which you try to will the synaptic responses of your nerves to take a coffee break- just this once, PLEEEEEZE- and not perform their sworn duty to alert your brain to any and all sensations…this moment is just long enough to wish you were Paul Maud’dib, the Kwisatz Haderach, with your hand in that box of pain, chanting the Bene Gesseritt litany against fear, opening your mind, expanding your consciousness, and sometimes, yes, sometimes, enabling your often disabled link to the Creator…yes, suddenly, your spiritual inbox has one unread message, you’ve got mail from the almighty himself: Call it what you will, a sign, a signal, an overactive imagination…

And its timing is often impeccable. Don’t let me be planning to do something of dubious morality, or in the middle of doing something that my conscience had been pinging me about. For instance, like that booty-call I’d just made and succeeded in setting up, and while rushing around my bedroom getting dressed to go do the deed, wondering if I should do at all, knowing that my girlfriend would not approve at all, and this is just the kind of thing that has lead to the lost of most of my previous girlfriends, one of which attempted suicide as a result of my betrayal, and that’s when I would stub my corned pinky-toe on the razor-sharp wooden foot of my bed frame, or bang my knee-cap on the solid oak TV stand, the one with as much give as the IRS. Well, while I’m gritting my teeth and my eyes are popping out of my head, and I’m kneeling– prostrate in this temple of mind-numbing pain, searing, throbbing agony, tears threatening if not streaming, so alive, too alive, mind cleared of all delusions—at this, of all times, clarity makes a rare appearance, like a message from the Creator. Actually I shouldn’t say appear…I should say that’s when I tell myself that whatever dastardly deed I was about to embark on, or whatever mischief I was involved in was something I ought not to, for there’s no evidence whatsoever of any other intelligence involved. And, sometimes, depending on the severity of the pain, or the clarity that follows the pain, I would postpone or even refrain from the act I was about to commit.

Yes, my private little superstitious practice; to hell with black cats, broken mirrors and ladders. I couldn’t care less about them. Pain was my primary prognosticator.

This clarity had saved my ass on many an occasion so it’s infallibility and perhaps its divinity is rarely questioned.

That is, not until I moved to Japan. Now I question every goddamn thing.

Here in the land of all that is Meek and Humble, the kind of pain I attributed to clarity happens regularly, so my superstition has subsided some. It wasn’t easy, I tell you. I still connect that omniscient pain with future events, but just as often I connect it with the failure of my brain to adapt to the challenges of a new environment and remain alert at all times.

Case and point: my home, full of doorways and furniture and appliances which require a bit of stooping, kneeling and bending on my part which means, basically, that I have to genuflect before entering my apartment and any room within. Just a little bow for the toilet bowl, show some respect for the shower room, a little obeisance for the bedroom, a little curtsy for the contents of my closet; the kitchen sink is lower so I have to defer to the dishes; the table is about a foot from the floor so I have to be meek to eat, humbled by hamburgers, show humility before hanging light fixtures… I don’t have a problem with the cultural differences…well not a big problem and, I guess, what must be the worst kept secret is that I want to fit in here and be respectful, as well. I have this idea about other cultures: They are to be shown the same respect that you would expect your culture to be shown.

And I want to learn…Though all I’ve known throughout my life is the Eurocentric idea of civilization I’m not convinced that theirs is the best (and not for lack of their trying either.). In fact, knowing historically that my people were forced to adapt to these Eurocentric ideas, and that it’s unlikely I’ll ever learn my actual ancestor’s ideas, I’m extremely open to other ideas, if for no other reason then to spite the ideas that were forced on Great grandma and grandpa. I grew up in a household that held these ideas in contempt, as much as one can do so in a Eurocentric society. My mother was as African as an African American separated from the bosom of her ancestry hundreds of years ago, living in a Europeanized culture that equated Africa with primitive, savagery, barbarism, and cannibalism can be. We didn’t eat with our hands or anything but you better believe I was wearing Dashikis and speaking Swahili at home.

And, from her I learned not to judge to harshly another’s culture for that’s exactly what was done to ours. Yet and still, my relationship with my Creator or my superstition, was mine, and not easily discarded. So, with the pain in my head acting as my guide, I bowed good bye to Natsumi.



The Dance

Maybe the problem is I’m too sensitive and wayyyy too observant to live stress and anger free in Japan. I mean, I have a tendency to notice almost everything. Great for writing – terrible for living.

The one thing that vexes me the most about Japanese people is something I’m sure many foreigners living here don’t notice. Or, if they do, it simply doesn’t get under their skin the way it gets under mine. Because, if it did, I wouldn’t be reading so many weblogs from foreigners living in Japan gushing about how great their lives in Japan are and how wonderful the people are, in general. Maybe they’ve found some way to ignore this thing. I, decidedly, have not!

Japanese call it shyness, but it certainly looks more like terror. It’s not only that they avoid contact with me but the incredibly insensitive ways they go about this tactless task.

Case and point: Today, I was walking from the station to my job. A ten minute walk I take the same time every Monday through Friday. On this walk I must pass a couple hundred people going the way I’ve come. The sidewalks are pretty narrow on certain streets. Barely enough room for two people to pass one another without one giving a little way. And If I were Japanese that’s exactly what would happen. A little way would be given by either myself or both of us in the spirit of keeping it moving. I know this because I observe this daily. I wish I didn’t but I do. But, I am not Japanese.

So, daily, I have to watch a couple hundred people do variations on the same dance I’ll call for the sake of this article, The Xenophobic Waltz. Picture one of those waltz scenes from a movie where the dancers have blank faces and they bow, join, turn, step and twirl and everyone is just as tranquil and syncopated as syncopated swimmers. Synchronization is so important here, as is predictability. The salaryman bullying through two office ladies in a mad dash is as expected and accepted as the schoolgirl paying more attention to her cellphone than the car, though in the right, waiting for her to cross the street without even touching his horn. That’s Japan. You can almost hear the waltz playing in the background. Everyone doesn’t do it the same way, but it’s the rare person who doesn’t participate in this dance at all. The essential elements to this dance are the facial expressions and the accompanying body language. It’s all about attitude. Ask any dance instructor or choreographer.

I can’t dance, by the way.

Now, imagine something totally incongruous entering that ballroom. Something scary yet… Man, it’s not easy to explain this. I mean, if a wolf was in the ballroom, then people would run. That would be the logical reaction. Rarely do people actually run from me. It’s more like if there were a deaf, dumb, clumsy, mentally-challenged dancer among them that no one knows but everyone believes or has heard is prone to do something stupid, unexpected, or in some cases even violent, and this is horrifying for it is a distraction and ruins the syncopation that generations of rehearsal have honed into a rhythm most know by rote. At best he is representative of that which is strange and potentially dangerous, like two left feet or the weak link. At worst, he is the anti-Shinto, and goes totally against Natural Law.

So, as a salaryman approaches me, and I’m in observant mode, like some kind of glutton for confirmation of my long since confirmed belief that the Japanese people are cowardly xenophobes and racists, I watch his every move. I watch as he passes people ahead of me, confidently in stride and uneventfully. I watch as he finally notices me. The recognition of “the other” in his eyes is plain to see. He glances across the street, considers crossing, checks me to see if I’m watching him and on seeing that he has my undivided attention puts his hand up to pick something out of his eye, turns sharply and crosses the street without checking for traffic and causes a car to have to stop a little short. The driver of the car notices me and glides his car as far away from where I’m walking – on the sidewalk mind you- as possible. I guess the suddenness and carelessness of the the other guy’s crossing made the driver sense a danger about. And upon seeing me decided I was that danger. His glide away from me causes the oncoming traffic from the opposite direction to slow, and the driver at its lead looks around to see what caused the other driver to perform such a dangerous detour, sees me, and nearly pulls on to the sidewalk.

I shake my head and keep moving. This kind of shit goes on daily, I swear.

A woman further up the road, missed all of that and is still coming towards me, she notices me and suddenly has a intense desire to check her cellphone for text messages. She whips it out, stops, turns her back to the area where I was to pass, and fish-eyes me until I reach her. Exactly as I pass, like if she were facing me, her body arches forward in order to avoid any possible contact and her head turns to confirm that I had passed. Once I’m pass, and the danger I represented to her has passed, the message she had to see suddenly wasn’t so important anymore, at least not as important as making up for the few seconds she’d lost by stopping, and she ran to catch up to where she ought to have been if it weren’t for, well, me.

Another man is approaching. He notices me and places his back against the wall and aims his head at the sky, while at the same time craning away from me like if I had a chainsaw sticking out the side of my head with the blade aimed at his neck. All of this while he is somehow still moving forward. He never stopped, like one of Spike Lee’s signature shots in his films where characters appear to be moving without walking,  kind of floating down the street.

A woman approaches with her child. I brace myself, emotionally. I can almosttolerate the older people and their ignorance, but when they impress it upon the next generation, like it’s some kind of common sense, that really hits me where it hurts. I can almost hear them spewing ignorance. “Be careful of gaijin,  Hiro! They are dangerous!” I really hate this stuff, when the kids are purposely infected with this disease. She picks up the toddler, at least he appeared to be a toddler, and steps off the sidewalk, walking along the gutter with her head thrust towards the opposite side of the street until she’d passed me, and then gets back on the sidewalk, places her son back on the ground, glances back at me, sees me watching her behavior and shifts her glance to the cloudless sky, then turns back around to continue on her way. Her child never noticed me, thank god.

Another woman is coming towards me. She is texting on her cellphone. I wondered if she’d seen me while I was looking around at the previous woman. I hoped so. I hate to come upon people without notice. It’s almost worse than than coming upon them when they have preparation. She’s dressed in a black pants suit, thin, short, pretty cute, pushing her mid-thirties. Pretty typical looking Office Lady. A couple of feet from me she glances up and her our eyes meet. I register. Her eyes wander around in her head as she tries to figure out what to do…has to do something…what can she do…life flashes by her eyes…two steps away…will he kill me…rob me…touch me…help me, Buddha! She stiffens, braces for the pending assault….passes without incident. I turn around to see if she shows sign of shame for clearly overreacting, an inkling of the offense she’d just committed against a relatively innocent man. Nothing. Just relief. She regains her composure with a deep breath, not slowing her pace at all, glances back at me, meets my eyes again and turns head back to face what lies before her.

I can just hear her telling her co-workers later about her terrifying encounter with a foreigner on the way to work, and how she was lucky to escape with her life!

By the time I get to the school, each day, I’m in no mood to deal with the foolishness I have to with the people I see everyday.

But, here in Japan, the foolishness never ceases.


King Kong VS Godzilla

Typically, when I put together a lesson for JRHS students, I begin it with a listening exercise, followed by a matching exercise and then finish it up with an opportunity for them to practice the English I’ve just taught them. Of course, the emphasis is primarily on Grammar, but there’s a bit of propaganda incorporated into their lesson, too.

The textbook used by the school is filled with little biased cultural references. Very subtle stuff. I almost feel paranoid even detecting it. Though it tries to paint a colorful, multicultural world outside of Japan, it still reinforces the idea of “They are different and we Japanese are better / special!” I guess that’s ok. What the fuck, it’s not my job to tell them what’s wrong with their cultural misrepresentations. Or is it?

Like today, I was co-teaching a lesson on comparatives and superlatives with Yuki-Sensei. She’s this sweet girl, not far removed from the University where I presumed she studied as hard as she could to become a top notch English teacher. Her grammatical knowledge is solid, probably better than mine but from a lack of exposure to native speakers her spoken English leaves much to be desired. She’s about as kind and gentle as people get in Japan which is saying a great deal. She has a tote bag with Peanuts characters on it. She loves herself some Snoopy.

So, to illustrate the grammatical functions of er vs est and more vs most she writes on the board “Godzilla is stronger than King Kong,” followed by “Godzilla is the strongest of all.” It’s the example used in the textbook. At first I just want to dispute her on her Hollywood trivia misinterpretation. If I remember correctly, and correct me if I’m wrong, Godzilla had his ass handed to him by King Kong. But, I remained silent. The power dynamic in the classroom demanded that I do so. She is the teacher, after all, and I am just the native speaker there to support her. So I took a deep breath and sucked another load down for the team. Then she has me read the sentences aloud so that the kids could hear how a native speaker enunciates the words “King” and “Kong” versus the Japlish version which sounds more like “Keengu koonggu”. The kids are aghast at the difference. Then, Godzilla, which is a Japanese word in the first place (no matter America’s adoption of her as a hero and symbol of nuclear fears) and thus is pronounced incorrectly in the West, I draw laughter. The Japanese pronunciation, and in this case the correct pronunciation despite America’s confiscation is more like gojeera (there’s no zil or la sound in Japanese) so I’m the butt of a few jokes, fanning the flames of my simmering anger.

Then, she comes with the more/most example, which happens to be more of the goddamn same: “Godzilla is more powerful than King Kong” and “Godzilla is the most powerful of all.”

And, I realized, suddenly, why I resented this comparison and superlative: When I was a child, I related with King Kong on many levels, several of which I wasn’t even conscious of until that very moment. On the surface, my offense came from the fact that King Kong was a hero of sorts. I mean, he was a victim that fought back and was killed for it. Kidnapped from his native land in the jungles of some crazy island where the natives reminded me of every Tarzan episode I’d watched when I was a kid. An island where he was worshiped and nurtured and feared and respected…where he was in many ways a King, a master of his fate, living in harmony with the inhabitants of this island. Then, some white men came and discovered him, And since he’d only been exposed to that African pussy the natives had been sacrificing to him periodically, when he got his first whiff of some Caucasian pussy, he went crazy and had to have it. So, they used a white woman to ensnare and entrap him, chained him up in the hull of their ship and brought him back to the new word to exploit and make themselves rich.

The story sounds familiar because it is. I didn’t make the connection when I was a kid. I can’t imagine why, it’s so blatant, unless it’s a recurring theme, a theme so redundant, especially in Europeanized societies, and that to associate it with one particular crime against humanity is to minimize and limit its scope.

But, I don’t think so. The King Kong story is a metaphor for the European slave trade, no question. Replace millions of Africans with a giant ape, throw in a damsel in distress, a little interspecies erotica, some stop-action special effects, and you have a Hollywood blockbuster.

“King Kong won,” I blurted out, uncontrollably, shocking the students and the Japanese teacher. The students didn’t understand me, but Yuki-sensei did.

“He did?” she asked, letting my strong emotional response roll off of her but probably recording it in her memory for future use.

“Didn’t he?”  I asked, because she looked perplexed.

“I don’t think so,” she said.

“Anyway…it’s not important,” I said when I realized that the students were eying this interchange with a great deal of interest. And she let it drop.

Later I checked on the Internet, intent on showing her documentation to support my position and justify my outburst, as if that were at all possible.

Guess what I found out? (The following was clipped from Wikipedia)

Dual ending myth

For many years a popular myth has persisted that in the Japanese version of this film, Godzilla emerges as the winner. It isn’t known where this myth of the dual endings actually originated, but it’s been reported as far back as Famous Monsters of Filmland in the early 1960s. Decades later in the 1980s, the myth was still going strong. The Genus III edition of the popular board game Trivial Pursuit had a question that asked Who wins in the Japanese version of King Kong vs Godzilla, and states that the correct answer is Godzilla. As well, through the years, this myth has been misreported by various members of the media[15], and has been misreported by reputable news organizations.[6]

But as more Westerners were able to view the original version of the film especially after its availability on home video during the late 1980s, the myth became dispelled. Both versions of the film end the same way. Kong and Godzilla crash into the ocean, and Kong is the only monster to emerge and swims home. The only differences between the two endings of the film are extremely minor and trivial ones.

  • In the Japanese version as Kong and Godzilla are fighting underwater, a very small Earthquake occurs. In the American version, producer John Beck tacked on stock footage of a violent Earthquake from the film The Mysterians to make the climatic Earthquake seem far more violent and over the top destructive.
  • The dialogue is slightly different. In the Japanese version onlookers are speculating that Godzilla might be dead as they watch Kong swim home, and speculate that it’s possible he survived. In the American version, onlookers simply say “Godzilla has disappeared without a trace”, and newly shot scenes of reporter Eric Carter has him watching Kong swim home on a viewscreen and wishing him luck on his long journey home.
  • As the screen fades to black and Owari (The End) appears on screen, you hear the roars of Godzilla followed by Kong’s. This was akin to the monsters “taking a bow” or saying “Goodbye” to the audience, as at this point the film is over. In the American version you only hear Kong’s roar on the soundtrack.

Ain’t that something? Don’t you just love the Internet? Well, after reading that I decided not to present my evidence and instead went to Yuki Sensei and apologized for my irrational outburst. She accepted but I’m sure she’s going to walk very lightly around me for a while. I think I scared her.

But, hell, King Kong was my hero. I wasn’t about to stand there and listen to him be disparaged.



An Empty Seat on a Crowded Train

Just relax and ignore it, I’ve told myself umpteen hundred times since my arrival here and today was no different. It was just too blatant! The empty seat beside me, on the crowded train, exclaimed what the people and the culture would find unseemly to say verbally: we don’t trust you, we don’t like you and we don’t want you here.

I thought of ways to avenge myself, to appease my fury…a gesture both satisfying and effective. I thought hard. Many wicked thoughts went through my mind. Thoughts so venomous and downright malicious that even contemplating them should’ve brought the Thought Police crashing into that train car brandishing weapons with orders to shoot to kill. Just thinking such thoughts made me feel a whole lot better. You might ask, why the hell am I so angry? Well, I’ll get to that later, if it’s necessary. I mean, I’ve always had anger issues, ask anyone who knows me well. But, these people had no idea what kind of explosive they were tampering with. I almost warrant their fear, epitomize their stereotypical image of my kind. Only a couple of obstacles stood between me and really anti-social acts, almost sociopathic behavior: My wickedness was held in check by an awkward mixture of curiosity as to what makes this system work, envy of a people who managed to maintain their culture, somewhat, against incredible adversity, fear of the consequences of following through on these thoughts (not only to my person, but to my soul as well) and, ironically, a little shyness.

The train pulled into a station and many people got off as many others filed in. Some seats had opened up and, with a maniacal surge were snatched up. It’s like an aggressive game of musical chairs (only imagine the game if there were dozens of contestants, one chair, and they were not allowed to touch one another). Two businessmen and an Office Lady were on a beeline for the empty seat beside me…all were both focused on the seat. The woman was in trouble: chivalry hasn’t passed away here…it has never lived here. In fact, the opposite of chivalry has been the order of the day since time immemorial. She noticed the two guys and stopped short. Then, one of the Salarymen looked up, at me, and rather startlingly by-passed the seat in favor of a pole a good distance away-from me. The other rushing Salaryman noticed the first’s behavior, and then, peeping at the cause of it- me- briefly showed his true feelings on the matter, with just the barest momentary eye contact with me. I’m not great at reading the emotions of these people…or any people for that matter, but I’m pretty sure I saw shame. What he felt ashamed of is a mystery, but I’m not above speculation. Maybe it was the flagrant rudeness and/or bigotry of his countryman…but that would just be wishful thinking on my part. It was more likely that he was ashamed of his countryman’s fear. His body language all but hollered, “I am not afraid of you (even though I should be as everyone else clearly is)…not even a little bit! I saw that footage of flood-ridden New Orleans and the behavior of those “people” in a time of crisis. I’ve seen you coaxing my fellow Salarymen into those Yakuza hostess bars. I’ve seen what your people have done to one another in Nigeria and in Los Angeles, on TV. Hell, everything I’ve seen and heard about you reeks of un-civilization and danger, or at the very least unpredictability, which is almost as bad. Yes, I know you and yet I refuse to be afraid of you- Not here; not in my fine country, arguably the safest country in the world until we started allowing your kind in.” And, with swollen chest, and masculine care-free gesticulations, with chin thrust forward and with a violent plop, he landed in the seat beside me.

People were aghast, and by aghast, in the “it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the oil,” or more appropriately “the outstanding nail that gets hammered down” cultural context of the people here, I mean he drew attention to himself! At least the people whose glances I managed to catch looked aghast. But, every time I tried to gauge the other passenger’s reactions, the eyes of the quicker people, those who’ve become quite skilled at avoiding eye contact through a creepy intuitive anticipation of movement, suddenly seemed to find the ubiquitous cell phone, Manga comic book, appointment book or make-up mirror of immense interest, and the slower folks awkwardly found things in the vicinity of my person of immense interest…like the advertisements just above my head, or the window behind me- the one with the shade pulled down to ward off the sun’s glare, or the pattern on the tiles of the floor near but not quite beneath the tips of my shoes, or the hand of the man standing nearest to the standing room in front of me that noticeably remained vacant, or hell the atomic particles in the space between us, the vacuum of air that encircled their heads, eyes glazed in a Zen-like state. It’s really something to see.

Well, with the seat beside me now taken, as well as the extra room I take for granted most of the time, distracted by my humiliation and rage, I’d had to unfold and close my legs. A child nearby was playing with his father’s hand. Oblivious to the annoyance of overcrowding, a glee that I presume was derived from the fact that his rarely seen father was on his annual summer holiday and foregoing the chaos of traveling abroad during this peak season, opted to spend this precious father-son time fairly locally at a water park or some such a place. He hadn’t noticed me yet, I knew. It was the rare child who could resist gawking at me…they are simply the most honest people in this as in any culture. He must have sensed my eyes, because he suddenly turned around and looked. His shock was open. If he had a heart condition, he would be a goner. If an octopus was climbing out of my nose, he couldn’t have looked any more frightened. He grabbed his father’s leg so suddenly and fiercely that it triggered a protective instinct in Dad. He turned, prepared to defend his child’s life against what obviously had to be a clear and present danger. When our eyes met, there was instant understanding, for I was nowhere near his son, and the alarm subsided a bit, and suddenly Dad, too, found the advertisement for a new breath-freshening chewing gum, the one just above my head, most mesmerizing. No more mesmerizing than his son continued to find me. Not hard-wired into the matrix of cultural do’s and don’ts, he stared unabashedly. I tried to extend a smile that as much as said, “I won’t bite you, I promise. I might look different than you, or than anyone you’ve ever encountered in your short life, but underneath this unusual exterior beats the heart of an Ambassador. I’m here in your neck of the woods on a humanitarian mission of sorts to introduce your culture to the outside world. And give you an opportunity to grow up in a country that doesn’t view difference or change as dangerous, but simply as natural. So, reward my efforts with a smile why don’t you? And show these grown-ups that the next generation won’t be half as xenophobic as they are…” But, maybe my gap-toothed, tobacco and coffee coated smile was a little too much for the tot, or maybe my subliminal message went over his head…I don’t know, because he didn’t smile. He seemed to get more comfortable staring, however, so maybe I had successfully transmitted my conflicted and contradictory message of Unity, Peace, and the dental hygienic consequences of caffeine and nicotine addiction.

I needed a distraction desperately. And, then I remembered my Kanji cards. Kanji is one of the three written languages, not including English, used here. It’s an ancient written language, used by the Chinese for centuries before it made its way across the sea separating these two historical foes some time ago. I find studying Kanji very gratifying. The only thing more aggravating than the shit I have to put up with on the train on a daily basis is the loss of my independence. Back home in New York, of course, I was very independent. And why shouldn’t I be? I could read, write, and speak fluently- three capabilities I’ve added to my long and growing list of things I’ve taken for granted that I’ve been keeping since I’ve been living here in the land of all that is cute and small. The truth is, that little boy who couldn’t stop staring at me if there was a gun to his head was more literate than I. I couldn’t even read that gum advertisement behind my head that everyone seemed to find so compelling every time I looked around. I’d stared at the various characters, the 3 written languages used to concoct a message oh-so-subtly associating sex with fresh breath, (if I was reading the message in the eyes and smile of the slightly suggestively dressed girl in the ad correctly,) and I couldn’t understand it for the life of me. So, I’ve undertaken the fairly insurmountable task of studying a foreign language, spoken and written, so completely different from the Romantic, Germanic, Greek and Roman based languages I was reared on and exposed to as a youth that I literally have to change my way of thinking, the goddamn polarity of my brain just to comprehend it. It’s a challenge, to say the least. But, I love a good challenge, sometimes.

So, I whipped them out.

By the way…need I mention that everything I do, every move I make, every thought I think, every feeling I feel, what I wear, what I eat, where I live, how long I sleep, and in what position, what I do in my free time, what I did before I came here and most importantly why the hell did I come here in the first place, is in the forefront of nearly every mind in my vicinity? I do? Ok, consider it mentioned. I should also mention that in addition to speculation I’m not above exaggeration, either. Hell, I’ve always been a little on the dramatic side, and accused of thinking too much, so speculation and exaggeration suit me. However, I don’t believe I’ve exaggerated thus far and don’t intend to exaggerate moving forward, but I might. I know what they’re thinking because I’m asked these questions and many other similar questions so often that I’ve taken to playing with the answers, flirting with absurdity and even with brutal honesty depending on my mood, just to see the reaction:

“Well, I came here because I’m infatuated with your women…they’re so damn cute. Everyone back home wants one but they’re virtually inaccessible or completely Americanized, and who needs that shit? But, here, I can’t keep them off of me!” “I came here because you’re country is so friggin’ safe! I’d be lying if I said I didn’t live in constant fear for my life back home in NY. Thank god for Guiliani! He really cleaned it up, but there’s still too much crime for me.” “I eat Macdonald’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner…sometimes I make Macdonald’s microwavable meals at home, when I’m feeling lazy, which is often as you all well know. By the way, how is the Mickey D Corporation doing in this market?” “Well, I like all Japanese food except two things: Natto and Goiya. Oh, you love Natto? You eat it everyday? It’s very healthy, is it? Well, as we say back home, if it smells like shit and taste like shit…” “On my days off I go to strip bars and pay inordinately large amounts of cash for pretty girls desiring Louis Vitton bags and cute doodads for their cell phones to drink and do karaoke with me, and treat me like a king after a day of long hard slave labor…and then I go home and whack off to mosaic-ized censured videos of these same girls dressed in schoolgirl uniforms performing fellatio on farm animals. You, too? Stop lying!” “Actually, it’s about a foot long…sorry I don’t know metrics. Like a baby’s arm I suppose would be the best image…No, a Japanese baby’s arm, I’m afraid.” “Yes, I can speak a little Japanese and I’m studying Kanji. It is difficult, isn’t it? Yes, the English ABCs are much easier. And, I’m pushing my limited attention span and intellect to the limit just to be able to read at the average Japanese child’s level.”

Yes, like Natto, Kanji is one of those Asian things that is held up as virtually indigestible by western minds and taste buds, which I gotta tell you, motivates me all the more to tackle it. Whipping out the Kanji always causes a stir. I can only feel the tension around me, thick as molasses. I wish I could view it through a hidden camera. So powerful in fact that the businessman who’d so fearlessly claimed the seat besides mine felt compelled to take it further than anyone had in my 2+ years.

“You’re studying Kanji, aren’t you? How wonderful!!” he said in Japanese, presuming I must be able to speak it if I was endeavoring to read it.

I smiled and nodded, “yes, I am,” in Japanese. “But, I’m not very good.” Humility is the rule of the day I’ve long since learned. But, by using Japanese I’d made a mistake. Maybe I was in shock that someone had actually spoken to me, in Japanese. It was the rare occasion that a stranger spoke or even replied to me in any satisfactory fashion. But I’d forgotten my golden rule; a rule I’d set for myself, which should have made it all the more memorable: Always speak English in a confrontational situation. Language is power, and in Japanese I remain essentially powerless. But, in English, in this English-crazed society, lay my power base and I had stupidly forfeited it.

He proceeded to tear into me in Japanese, at natural speed. And though I could grasp the gist of his speech, and the soft reprimand in his tone, I certainly hadn’t comprehended enough to reply substantially. He was talking about how foreigners usually don’t try to do something, and how very few are able to do something, and how he used to do something, etc…You can probably tell where my weak area is in Japanese. It’s my vocabulary, especially nouns. Subjects and objects get entangled in a web of complex sentence structures, honorifics, and a whole host of particles with multiple meanings. Yeah, I was caught in a web and he knew it. He’d humbled me, I felt, though I doubt anyone else in listening range felt gratified aside from him. I’m sure my face said “I’m embarrassed that I don’t understand a goddamn thing you’re saying,” but my mouth said, “Yes, that’s right, isn’t it?” A typical non-confrontational response I’d picked up from listening to conversations on the train and what-not. And, in doing so, I’d broken my golden rule #2: If you don’t understand, by no means should you pretend to understand. And from his smile I could tell I’d given a totally inappropriate response to what he’d just said, illustrating my ignorance for all to see and hear, or that I had confirmed some stereotype about westerners he’d proclaimed in all ignorance.

Now, I felt like shit, and was angry enough to eat glass. But, I held fast to golden rule #3, which is to smile at all times, which was a mistake as well, for after breaking rules 1 and 2, rule #3 became a moot point. Smiling was a way to alleviate the uneasiness Japanese have with communicating with foreigners. Our propensity to display emotions, especially anger, disgust, or confusion, went totally against the basics of Japanese communication methods. The smile is an essential communication tool. A Japanese person could be talking about anything from root canal to the recent death of a loved one after a 10 year painful battle with cancer, and smile through the entire story. And if they did have a lapse and exposed their true feelings on the matter, would apologize profusely for upsetting the listener. One of my students had brought this to my attention when I explained to her my frustrations with constantly being misunderstood when I tried to speak Japanese…she suggested it was because I was displaying too many emotions and should try to default to a smile at all times. Not a crazy shit-eating grin like some kind of puppet but just a look of pleasant interest, or unperturbed tranquility, or just plain good humor. But, this was not the time for any of the above. This asshole had just tried to humiliate me and I should have come at him with both barrels blazing…but I didn’t. Why? Because I really don’t know what he said…for all I knew, he’d said that he really admired me for undertaking the study of Kanji, something most foreigners would never attempt. Maybe my studying had changed his whole view of Westerners and from now on he’d be able to see foreigners as individuals rather than as a group. Maybe he’d spend the rest of the day re-evaluating all of the judgments he’d made about westerners, questioning the stereotypes he’d held up as truths, and actually share his thoughts and this experience with his co-workers or family. Maybe one day when his teenage daughter comes home talking about her new gaijin boyfriend he won’t kill her, only beat her senseless, then disown her…

And, that, I decided, was why I was angry. It was because, after 2.5 years here in the Kawaiiland, living among these cultists, I still don’t understand a goddamn thing! (Now, that’s an exaggeration…)

At the next stop, there was another mad revolution of passengers, incoming and outgoing, including the man who’d been sitting beside me. He bowed to me a bit on his way out, extending me a courtesy that I found to be both exhilarating and ironic. And, once again, the seat next to me was free. I waited to see who the next brave soul would be. It turned out to be a girl this time. She was tall, in heels, and mulatto tan, possibly from the beach the likely from the salon. She gave me “the glance-” a once-over where the dangers of coming near me are pondered. She stumbled a bit in her pumps in her hesitation, but, to her credit, at least she didn’t jump out of her skin (watch “Scooby-Doo meets the creature from the black lagoon” for an illustration of this) like most people do. She peeked around to see if there were any other seats available, and upon finding none, and with the body language equivalent of “Fuck it, I have a long ride and I want to sit down,” she gingerly planted her sweetness beside me. And I do mean sweetness. She could have been 16 or 32, there’s no way of knowing for sure…unless you’re Japanese. White silk ruffled mini-skirt riding high on her upper thighs, long, slim, hairless legs down to there (knees locked, to the point of buckling, which was the norm,) hanging from the crook of her arm- the ubiquitous Louis Vitton mini duffle handbag overstuffed with shit, mostly pink, mirror and cell phone jutting out of it, Pikachu or some weird cartoon character dangling from it, tiny pictures of her girlfriends posing, flashing the “peace” sign surrounded by tiny pink flowers and Kanji (I couldn’t fucking read) all over it, designer shopping bag from “Pinky Girls” in her other hand…super–padded wonder-bra enhanced cleavage peeking from beneath a barely-enough pink blouse that matched her pumps. Hell, she even smelled pink.

Her skirt rode up so high when she sat down that she had to place her bag in her lap to keep her panties from becoming part of the spectacle that she obviously wanted to be. At least in the NYC subway she could accurately be described as seeking attention. Hard to tell what the girls here have in mind, drawing attention generally speaking being such a cultural no-no. And this kind of style and dress- so prevalent here in Tokyo- for some reason, (as a full-blooded man, I can’t explain,) often goes ignored.

The flesh of her thigh was against mine, and lusty thoughts entered my mind. I peeked at her sideways. I could just barely see her eyeball peeking at me from the corner of her socket, for she was looking down, and when people look down here it often appears their eyes are shut. I always wonder why the Manga characters in the cartoons and comic books always look all big-eyed while the life-like characters on official stuff, like post discouraging public drunkenness, and request for courtesy for the elderly and pregnant, always had eyes that looked closed. The latter seemed more accurate while the former seemed to be the goal of the younger girls. She was digging through her LV bag pulling out little pouches of make-up and utensils to apply it, and then began doing so. She planted a mirror, that seemed too big to have fit in her bag, on top of her bag, and got to work. Teasing eye brows, attaching false eye-lashes, applying powder, and sprinkles, and lip stick and liner. All under the scrutiny of passengers displaying little or no emotion. She obviously didn’t care what people thought. This was the style of late. And she was definitely in-style. She could’ve been a spoiled rich girl or a hostess going to spend last night’s hard earned loot. Office lady or student seemed unlikely.

She reminded me of one of the two “Pinky Girls” I’d been able to pick-up since my arrival here. One, Tomomi, I had had an episode with last year. She wasn’t a hostess, but a spoiled, rich girl. She could speak English enough to understand and use some chosen erotica I’d taught her to use when we were together. I’ll never forget our first date. We went to dinner. She insisted on paying. Then we went to an internet café, with private booths, so that I could show her some pictures of my family and hometown, and wind up staying there all night- me, watching movies with headphones, drinking coffee and smoking Black & Milds, while she performed fellatio on me until I was drained several times. This girl could be a carbon copy my erection informed me. I tried to keep my lascivious thoughts at bay, and focus my mind on penetrating this written language, but the warmth of her thigh rubbing against mine and her periodic surreptitious glances at me through the reflection in her mirror were distracting me from my Kanji study.

Finally, I couldn’t hold back anymore and, driven by visions of another Tomomi moment in an internet café I turned and asked her could she help me out for a moment.

“This Kanji is so difficult,” I said, in formal Japanese.

“It is, isn’t it?” she replied, turning red and smiling, exposing what had to be the most busted set of choppers I’ve seen in this land of busted choppers. She had the triple threat: Egg-yolk yellow, crooked and those double layered numbers that are so common here.

I pressed on…I wasn’t going to let those choppers stop me. Shit, even Tomomi had the back-up choppers, but they didn’t affect her oral skills whatsoever.

“Can you speak English?” I asked.

“I’m sorry, but my English is terrible,” she said.

I couldn’t tell if she was being modest or trying to hold on to her power-base. The women here may be cute and shallow but what they lack in imagination, they more than make up for with- hell, I don’t even know what to call it, but it’s as effective as anything I’ve encountered in the US. There’s really no way to tell what they’re thinking…I wonder if it was the same in the US. I really can’t remember. But, one thing is for sure. Talking to a stranger on the train- especially a stranger from another planet- an uncivilized planet at that, where people carry guns and steal from one another, and have strange, deadly diseases, and openly show their emotions and have no shame whatsoever- was definitely not on her to-do list. Well, maybe definitely is too strong a word. Of course, the order of the day is politeness and tolerance of my flagrant rudeness so I just capitalize on that notion and sometimes it pays off. Politeness can lead all the way to the Internet café or a Love Hotel here, and has on several occasions.

“Really,” I said. “Well, my Nihon-go is terrible too.”

“You are really skillful at Japanese,” she said, exposing those choppers again. “How long have you lived here?” she asked, pressing on herself.

“About 2 years, but I still can’t speak.”

“You are mistaken, I wonder,” she said, I think. “And you are studying Kanji, too? That’s wonderful! I can’t read Kanji well.”


“It’s the truth.”

Everybody says the same thing when they learn I’m studying Kanji. I found out what it really means through my constant questioning. What that means is: I can only read and write the essential Kanji, roughly 2000 or 2500 or so. Or, it means, I don’t write Kanji very often because I’m always using a cell phone or the computer, and I’ve forgotten many because I seldom read books. Only magazines and newspapers which pretty much stick to the essential Kanji. In other words, it’s a bit of humbleness. Only being able to read 2500 Kanji is like a New Yorker saying I can only read anything you put in front of me but I may need a dictionary for some of the technical jargon or rarely used words.

“Well, do you know this one?” I asked.

She glanced at it and was about to tell me when a cell phone started playing a cute little J-Pop jingle. “Please excuse me for a moment.”

She answered the phone and started talking a mile a minute in muffled tones to a girlfriend about something I couldn’t quite catch. I did hear the words “foreigner” and “cool” several times, however. Abruptly, as we pulled into Shinjuku, she leapt up and begged my forgiveness. “I am very sorry, but I get off here. Do your best with the Kanji! Take care, see you again, maybe.” She gave me a little bow and made her way, heels clopping, knees knocking, to the exit, along with most of the people on the train. I was headed to Shibuya, so I didn’t get off, as tempted as I was to follow her and get her e-mail address.

I sat there a moment mourning yet another lost opportunity. And then I looked around at the many seats that had become available wondering whether someone from the next swarm of boarding passengers would throw caution to the wind and fill the seat beside me.

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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