Posts Tagged ‘xenophobia

12
Jun
09

Anti-Acts of Retailiation #3: Team Chikan

This morning, as I passed through the ticket gate, I could hear the train pulling into the station so I sprinted up the endless staircase taking the steps two at a time. By the time I reached the top the passengers had already boarded and as I rushed towards the nearest door the passengers facing my approach liked to jump out of their skin. I had to touch people a little to get on…something that was never really an issue until I came to Japan. Now I avoid it whenever I can… A woman on my left and a man in front of me decided this was entirely too close for comfort and hopped off the train running to the next door which was equally if not more packed.

This gave me a little breathing room so I was grateful for their iwakan. I needed it. Being a smoker, I was winded by my climb, full-tilt up Mt. Fuji jr., to catch this sucker.

I was facing the door. Someones briefcase was being shoved against me. I peeked left and right to see if there were any way he could put his briefcase where it wouldn’t be up against my back. Of course there was space. He was using as a barrier between us.

Typical…

So I turned around to face him, daring him with a glare to put his briefcase against my stomach or chest. He didn’t dare. Rather he avoided looking at me and turned his body so that his shoulder was now wedged between us.

Actually, not typical…

Typically Japanese men are not even this aggressive. Japanese men that actually get physical with me scare me a little, to be honest. They behave as if they have something to prove. Like they know they ought to be intimidated by my size, or my strangeness, or even my color. But defiantly go against that inclination, somehow blaming me for producing the fear they feel. Of course all of this is conjecture based on my interpretation of body language, which I’ve learned since I’ve been living in Japan is notuniversal, so I could be misreading theirs. But, avoiding looking at me while directing a menacing stiff shoulder towards me, in my face vicinity…hmmmm, I wonder if some body language is universal.

Fortunately, the next stop was only 2 minutes away. I can ignore him for 2 minutes, I told myself. And then I can move. We pulled into the next station and I prepared to do just that. A good number of people got off  including my aggressor. I wanted to trip him but I didn’t. I waited until they had all exited amid the line of passengers waiting to board…as Japanese etiquette decrees. Some of the waiting passengers scrutinized me and retreated to other lines extended before other doors, as, apparently, Japanese prudence decrees.

I took a deep breath of patience, boarded, and made my way to a strap near the corner to the right of the door between the cars. I whipped out my cellphone and started playing Tetris. I try not to look at Japanese people as often as I possibly can. It’s the only way I’ve learned to not start to really hate them. I know what they are going to do, that they really can’t control it…most of them. It’s instinctual like blinking when something is headed towards eyes, or ducking when something airborne approaches your head.  It’s even predictable that one or two people might do something unusual like stand comfortably near me…like I’m a regular person. It happens often enough. I used to feel hope at those moments but it’s mostly fool’s gold. So I really don’t need to see it- the good nor the bad…Something inside me wants to see it…some feeling inside me wants to be felt… But in a self-therapeutic measure I’ve chosen Tetris over torture. I don’t need to play with that scab, rub that itchy eye, scratch that itch.

As the passengers boarded and the car became more and more densely crowded I noticed something peripherally that drew my attention away from my high scoring session with Tetris. A high school girl entered with a Salaryman on her tail practically glued to her. Maybe he was even holding her. I couldn’t see his other hand.  Yappari, chikan, I thought.

Typical…

I wasn’t far from him… They had been pushed along until they were practically standing behind me, separated by one man in-between us. I considered cockblocking, running a little interference. But, I was still fuming a little over the behavior around me and besides I actually hadn’t seen him do anything aside from be pressed against her and considering the compactness of the car, and all the pushing and shoving that goes on, it’s hard to distinguish between the incidental and the intentional. I moved a little to the left to see if I could catch a glance of his other hand. I could see her sailor uniform- her navy blue skirt -very short-  rolled up high on her thighs. She wore the thick white socks bulging around her ankles and she was standing on the backs of her penny loafers, wearing them like house slippers. Her hair was bleach blond and long and the wire for her I-Pod snaked out of it.

I noticed there was another man on her left and he was closer to her than it appeared to be necessary. Or rather he didn’t appear to be trying to conspicuously stay away from her which is what half the Salarymen do when they are in close proximity to schoolgirls on crowded trains. They like to keep their hands where they can be seen at all times, in order to avoid any accusations or even suspicions. You’ll see them reading Manga (even if there is no room to do so smoothly they’ll have it almost pressed against their faces) sometimes they hold on to straps with two hands, cellphones are always held high so people can see, sometimes they even just play with their faces or put their hands to their mouths as they pretend to read advertisements…anything not to be mistaken for a chikan. Which makes chikan easier to spot. They are among the minority whose hands are not visible. And even from a rather close distance, this guys right hand was not visible. The first man’s hands I couldn’t see either but from his shoulder’s position I could tell he was doing something with his cellphone. Maybe I was wrong about him. The man between us suddenly opened his newspaper fully and began reading, only the top of his head was visible. This pretty much prevented me from seeing anything. He seemed to be unaware that he had accomplished this so I didn’t think anything of it.

At the next stop, a bunch of people got off. But the HS girl and her parasite remained, as did the other man. I could see her face for a moment.  She wore heavy eyeliner and and long fake eyelashes and had really shiny glossy lips. She didn’t appear to be in any distress…but, like I mentioned, Japanese body language can be misleading. I turned away and noticed there was a long line to get on, so I decided I would use the surging boarding crowd to adjust my position and get closer to the girl and see what was happening and possibly in position to intervene. As I maneuvered to the spot where I would be pushed towards the girl if the surge had proceeded naturally, as I should have expected, upon seeing me, the surge diverged like a river around a rather large rock. A river of people pretending not to see me. Suddenly the river ran out of space and burbled awkwardly towards me like the tide lapping at the shore. I turned away from the door and faced towards the girl, the crowd lapping at my back. I couldn’t use the crowd to inch me in closer because they wouldn’t touch me. Great.

But, now I had a different angle and I could see what I couldn’t see from behind the guy reading the paper. The girl was  hemmed into that location by the first guy who was still glued to her and appeared to be rubbing her breast  through her white cotton sailor blouse while holding his cellphone against her, but I wasn’t 100%, and the second guy was still extremely close to her…and his hand was sliding up and down her thigh…of this I was sure. Two chikan!.

Not typical…

I’ve seen two chikan in a car before. The Saikyo line was infested with them. But, they always worked separately. These two…they seemed to know each other. They seemed to be complimenting one another, covering for one another. Of course the people around who could see what was happening more clearly than I were pretending to be oblivious. Then the guy with the newspaper moved slightly into my path again and I suddenly I realized something. The man with the paper had his back to the girl…and his paper was making it difficult to see clearly what was going on. Oh man! He was working with them, too!!! A three-man team, or was there another man? I started looking around for other possible accomplices…There was another guy on the right with a newspaper. It wasn’t opened and he seemed to be…I don’t know…solid, like a solid citizen. He was dressed as a Salaryman. In fact, they all were. There was nothing distinguishing them from regular Salarymen.

The first guy’s shoes were a bit worn down and the other guy, the thigh rubber, his sports jacket was a little threadbare, the guy with the Newspaper was flawless…maybe he needed a shave, and this new guy, his briefcase had seen better days. But that was it. Otherwise they were your typical everyday Salarymen.

I’m not a fool. I wasn’t about to play hero when there was clearly a gang at work here. I mean, shit, this is their country and their turf and all these cowardly fucks are just standing around, afraid of me, afraid of these three (or four or more) chikan plying their perverted trade right before their eyes. If they go out of their way to avoid touching me now I know they wouldn’t lift a finger to help me if I were dying, especially since they won’t even help the most helpless of their people, their women (or in this case adolescent.) So, I was tempted to just let it be…mind my business… to write the whole scenario off as one of those When in Rome…things the way many here have written chikan-ing off as one of those Shouganai  things like atomic bombs and Perry’s Black Ships…

But was I allowing my experiences here in Kawaiiland to diminish my personal sense of common decency? Probably.

At the next station many people got off and another mob was waiting to get on, but  Team Chikan hadn’t budged. In fact, even when people tried to get by they wouldn’t budge. The 4th guy with the newspaper had gotten off so there were at least 3. The crowd waiting to board took a gander at me as they prepared to board and I could see the distaste in their faces, the raw fear, the desire to evade…and it gave me an idea.

I quickly moved over to where Team Chikan was. The Newspaper guy only had one direction covered so without a good crowd encircling them they would not have the privacy they obviously desired. So I stood in the area which would have given them optimum cover and privacy, and the predictable Japanese went the opposite direction scampering as far away from me as they could. One man boarded, saw me, started finger fucking his face and then turned around and started walking backwards like he was a mentally challenged crab. A woman literally took to her heels and ran…maybe she owes me money, another man…etc, etc… I’m sure the chikan behind could see what was happening and the reason but I don’t think they knew I was doing it purposely. I turned so that I could see them and their hands. The first guy was sending an email or something on his cellphone but now that he had no cover and could be seen very clearly and easily, here in the gaijin perimeter I enmeshed them within, he lost his confidence and had released her breast. And the thigh rubbing second guy was looking at me like he suspected something. But his hands were nowhere near her thighs… And the newspaper guy, well, he just read his paper.

The girl looked exactly the same way she had when the chikan had had their hands all over her body…

…like it had never happened…

dou itashimashite (you’re welcome)

(-:

Loco

06
Mar
09

Lighten up, Loco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, sometimes…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, not at the heart of the responses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

…but I’ll never kneel and suck it (-:

Loco

06
Mar
09

The Homogeneous versus The Homo Sapiens: Conversation 3/5/09

Student: I read your blog about the empty seat on the train. Is it fiction? I can’t believe it.

Me: Can’t believe what?

Student: Is it true?

Me: Well…I guess it does sound incredible. I’ve gotten used to it, though.

Student: You seem tired.

Me: Some days are rougher than others

Student: I really can’t believe it! I’m so sorry…

Me: No, no, don’t be sorry. It’s, uh…well, that’s just the way it is.

Student: I think it’s probably because of the media.

Me: Is it? I don’t watch the news here.

Student: The news always says black people are criminals.

Me: Yeah, I’ve heard about that.

Student: Especially soldiers. Like those soldiers in Okinawa, always doing crime.

Me: Always? What kind of crimes?

Student: Raping girls.

Me: There are a lot of rapes in Okinawa?

Student: Not a lot of rapes. But a lot of news though.

Me: That’s why Japanese people in Yokohama are afraid of me, you think?

Student: Probably. Japanese people believe the news.

Me: Do Japanese men think I’m going to rape them, too?

Student: (LOL) I don’t know…that’s funny.

Me: I guess so…Are Chikan (subway perverts) discussed on the news?

Student: Yes. Many stories about Chikan.

Me: 100% of them are Japanese men.  Why aren’t women afraid of  Japanese men?

Student: Ee! I don’t know. Never thought about that. Maybe they are.

Me: But they sit next to them and stand next to them…

Student: Yeah, well…

Me: And the media shows good images of black people too, don’t they? Sometimes?

Student: Good images?

Me: Yeah, you know, like…I don’t know, Barack Obama, Stevie Wonder, Oprah Winfrey, what’s that Enka singing guy’s name Jello or something? People like that?

Student: Yes. Je-ro…He’s very popular. Stevie Wonder too…and of course Barack Obama…

Me: Then Japanese actually choose to trust the negative images over the positive ones?

Student: Well, I don’t know…seems so.

Me: Yeah, well, anyway, media in America isn’t so great, either.

Student: (looking perplexed) Also, we are homo…homo…

Me: Homogeneous

Student: Right! That’s right! Japan is a homogeneous country.

Me: Yep. Japan is homogeneous. I have a question? If we are all homo sapiens, what difference does homogeneous make?

Student: Homo sapien?

Me: Modern day human beings

Student: Oh.

Me: UnlessJapanese think that human beings are like dogs, with different breeds…like Japanese are Chihuahuas and blacks are pit bulls and whites are poodles, that kind of thing… or maybe they don’t consider other people human beings…onlly Japanese are human.

Student: Ee! Everybody is human, of course.

Me: Do you mean just biologically, or mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as well?

Student:  All the same.

Me: Then Homogeneous means nothing. We all eat, drink, breathe, fart, rape, steal, kill, lie, cheat…We all, or at least most people love their children, want a good life, work hard and…well, you know what I mean…

Student: Yes.

Me: If I treated you like a leper would it bother you?

Student: Leper?

Me: Hmmm….like a diseased person. Someone to be avoided at all cost.

Student: It would bother me…

Me: So it’s safe to assume that if we are both human then it will bother me, too.

Student: Uhh…yes?

Me: So, if Japanese know that what they are doing will bother me they either aren’t aware of what they’re doing, trying to be offensive, or don’t give a damn how I feel. That’s my conclusion. And if they aren’t aware they need to be made aware. And if they’re trying to be offensive then…I really don’t know what to say to that. And if they don’t care about my feelings at all then,well….

Student: I understand. I can imagine how it must feel.

Me: Sorry, I don’t like to say such things but that’s what was on my mind.

Student: I think most of Japanese don’t know what they do.

Me: Really?

Student: I don’t know. I think so. We are…We’re not…

Me:…used to foreigners?

Student: Yes, that’s right.

Me:  Ok

Student: So…well…

Me: Are you used to foreigners?

Students: A little.

Me: Would you sit next to a foreigner on the train?

Student: Of course.

Me: So if you can do it, then it can be done.

Student: Yes, but most people are not like me…

Me: This is true. You are rare in Japan. You work for a foreign company and use English everyday…

Student: Sou desu ne

Me: Ok…well, syouganai ne. (nothing can be done about it) Let’s start the lesson.

Loco

03
Feb
09

Hiro, her Hero

Y’all know me by now. Every now and then I gotta release. And since I’m non-violent  I use my keyboard like a punching bag. Poor keys!

Anyway, last night, I had to exercise such restraint, when I boarded the train at Kikuna Station and a guy was standing near the door with a girl, perhaps his girlfriend or classmate… The train was a little crowded and about to get a little more so once the people on my line got on. As usual the people who boarded ahead of me sprinted away from the door so they wouldn’t be near me and the people behind me I was sure would board and go the opposite direction from the one I took. It’s the norm.

The girl’s back was to the door and the guy was facing the door. She didn’t budge until I reach the door. The guy noticed me, all of the cheer in their conversation vanished and he swung her around so that he was now between her and I, stiff shouldered and what not. Glancing over his shoulders out of the side of his eyes, and adjusting so that he was squarely, mathematically so, between us. You would think I was attempting to reach her by his behavior. The sudden swinging had alarmed his protectee so much she peeked around him expecting to see a Machete wielding maniac, but it was just me. But you wouldn’t know it by the look in her eyes; feeding his rationalization for acting out like he had and was.

She turned into a damsel formerly in distress, the ever-so grateful Sweet Polly Purebred.  Hiro, you’re my Hero.

As she awaited further guidance, if necessary, her eyes warmed over with gratitude for his having demonstrated his manhood and willingness to put himself between her and a clear and present danger.

Yes, me.

So, he used me to get laid, basically. It’s actually kind of clever…

I know,  I know, but I can no more ignore that kind of crap than I can ignore someone shoving an ice pick in my ear.

But as long as I can rationalize I’ll keep it together (-:

Loco

29
Dec
08

Acts of retaliation #2: Joystick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It works like a charm usually!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was going to be harder than I had anticipated.

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

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

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

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

And I relish each one.

Loco

(-:

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

Thanks in advance

29
Nov
08

10 ways NOT to go loco in Yokohama, but I say…

…why the hell not???

I feel very fortunate that I didn’t meet someone like me when I first came to Japan. Someone who’d been here a while, knew the ins and outs and ups and downs of life in this tiny island nation, but could, without an excessive amount of cynicism or negativity, present me with guidelines to make my transition here easier and more enjoyable. I probably would have been grateful, but I would have missed out on a great growth opportunity by avoiding what may be the best thing to ever happen to me: going loco.

I might have remained the same person I was when I arrived here. Not that that would have been so bad, but…well, yeah, it would have been unfortunate, actually.

It’s my assertion that the rewards of going loco far outweigh the drawbacks. Sometimes when you lose it, you win…going a little nuts can be very liberating. Many people don’t relish the idea of achieving one’s liberation this way, but I not only think it’s the best way, it’s perhaps the only way. Any student of history can tell you that freedom always requires risk, struggle and sacrifice. It can’t be given. It must be earned or taken, or both. Especially in the case of mental liberation, which is arguably the form of liberation of greatest value.

Some foreigners come to Japan fully evolved, complete, and satisfied with themselves, for whatever reason. So, no matter what they learn here, about the world or about themselves, they will pretty much remain the same. That must be wonderful (I think.) But, for the rest of us who came here with a little wiggle room (if not a lot) I’ve found that Japan is tailor-made for self-discovery…but maybe I’m just speaking for myself and projecting. If I am, please let me know.

I came here with a lot of baggage, most of which I hadn’t even known about. I thought I had traveled light. I’d sold most of my belongings before I left NY and gave away most of the rest. And what I couldn’t sell or give away or store in my mother’s basement, I threw away. I squeezed 30 some-odd years of consumption into a couple of cheap suitcases. Once I got here and got settled, that’s when I realized that I’d brought a lot more than I’d packed. A virtual grab-bag of human drama had stowed away inside of me. Maybe I hadn’t noticed because I had been carrying all this shit around for years, maybe my entire life, like accessories. I wasn’t quite conscious of their weight, like one doesn’t often notice the weight of belts, socks, watches and jewelry. But once I got here I noticed, and how. Like dumbbells in my pockets.

There’s something about the very nature of life in Japan that inspires an epiphany. Perhaps it was the combination of isolation, glorification and stigmatization that I encountered here that acted as a catalyst. Whatever it was, it raised my already heightened narcissism to an even higher sense of self-awareness.

It’s an incredible gift, or a horrifying curse, to be certain. I could see myself with a frightening clarity. I could see every ingredient in this gumbo I call I. I could see what gave me my bitter taste, what made me sweet, what made me too spicy , what gave me my irresistible aroma. I could see which ingredients I had chosen, and which were chosen for me. Which I had borrowed from the Americana recipe book of life, and which were inherited or environmental.

With this gift I was presented came a choice: I could try to manipulate the concoction, try to make something remotely palatable out of it, or…I could throw it all out, and essentially start from scratch. I began to see myself as I’d never seen myself before. Not as one among millions upon millions, but as less than one. I was invisible here. People didn’t see me. They only saw whatever they projected. But I was a zero, and zero is a hard number to face. Zero can make anyone go a little loco, until you realize the opportunities, the miracle of zero. That takes time. Time well worth the taking.

First, I saw myself through stages, through the eyes all around me, through the mirror that is my life here, through the Japanese: Bigger, stronger, blacker, scarier, cooler…stupider, incomprehensible, shameless…less patient, more impetuous, alien, different, strange, bizarre…dangerous…passionate, emotional, surprising, unpredictable, opinionated…free-thinking, free-willed, free-spirited, free…

Free?

Was it true, I wondered. Well, I definitely wasn’t Japanese. No matter how hard I tried to fit in, that just wasn’t going to happen. They wouldn’t have me. Not maliciously. It was just inconceivable to them and thus impossible. And, I wasn’t American. In my mind, at least when I came here, America was a theory, an illusion, a motto on a bumper sticker, no more representative of me than Disneyland was.  I was free, sure, the way homeless people are free. The way refugees are free. A very unsettling freedom to say the least. And terrifying. I’d never known that type of freedom.

Nevertheless, before I could make the transition from living life according to the mores and truths that have been impressed or forced upon me, or presented to me as self-evident, to living a life with my own flavor, where my only allegiance is to the personal mores and truths that I’ve decided upon of my own volition, a crisis of identity occurred. Yes, before I could decide what was best for me, I had to figure out who I was.

And during such a crisis, yes, there will probably be a time when you appear, and indeed presume that you’ve gone, for all intents and purposes, loco. I know I did. But, in the end, you can look back at your transition, your liberation, your gumbo, and see that clearly it would not have occurred, at least not in a profound way, without first relinquishing your grasp on this so-called sanity that’s clung to so desperately, and cherished so recklessly.

it is a heavy price to pay. Most cannot afford it for they are heavily invested in their lives as they are. Their portfolios are chockful of this sanity.  Some are literally trapped within the cultural constraints of their society’s expectations and beliefs, a straitjacket on their souls. Some are so afraid of life outside the straitjacket that they’ve totally submitted to it, reconditioned their minds to not only accept it as natural (and reject anything contrary as unnatural), but foster submission. They proselytize, offering straitjackets to everyone they encounter, wholeheartedly believing it’s in their best interest. They wear their straitjacket proudly like a coat of arms, or thrust before them like a standard.

Going loco, I’ve come to believe, is the only way to pull a Houdini, shed that straitjacket, and ultimately discover (or uncover) the real you.

However, despite my disclaimer, if you still want to hear my 10 ways to keep it together here in the land of the Gods, stay tuned. I’ll hit you off ASAP.

In the meantime give me a shout.

Loco

28
Nov
08

When it rains we all get wet…

Many Japanese, when walking towards me, have a tendency to (upon noticing me and while at the same time noticing that there is little room or little time to make a run for it) put a hand up to their faces, like one might do if the sun was in one’s eyes. Only, I’m the sun and since I’m not above them but ahead of them and oncoming, the hand goes between their eyes and me, as if to block out any hypnotic suggestion I might be trying to transmit or worse, to blot me out of their world view. This is primarily done my men, but women do it, too. The women do it coyly, however, while the men more aggressively.

I call it the tic because it appears to be involuntary. I can walk past ten people in a row and 7 of them will perform this tic. It has other manifestations. Sometimes the arm between us swings up in an “I’m prepared to protect myself from you so don’t even think about trying anything” kind of gesture. The ones ashamed (I guess it’s shame) of this instinct catch themselves and try to make it seem like they suddenly had to know the time or check the sleeve of their suit for moth holes, elbow held high and defensively. These people used to make me so angry. I wanted to justify their fear so badly, but i usually didn’t.

That is why I love rainy days in Japan. With an umbrella obscuring my features (and by features I mean me) from the oncoming pedestrians I’m just another human being trying not to get wet. I can be virtually anonymous. I don’t have to endure the daily onslaught of offenses, at least not on the streets. But, I have to make sure that I have a colored umbrella. Sometimes, when the rain comes unexpectedly I’m forced to borrow a cheap umbrella from the collection of discarded umbrellas that sit in the umbrella rack in front of my school for just such an occasion, and most of them are the cheap umbrellas you can pick up in the convenience store for anywhere from 100 to 500 yen. Unfortunately, they are typically transparent. These umbrellas do not offer as much sanctuary.

It’s raining in Yokohama today. I’ve always been a big fan of rain. Long walks in the rain with a special someone always makes me feel closer to the person. Making love while it’s raining always seems more romantic and intense. I love water. Rivers, lakes, oceans, beaches, showers, baths, Crystal Geyser (until recently), onsens…something about water makes me feel in balance with and connected to the Universe.

Japan has given me a new reason to love the rain: Anonymity

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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