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Report From Japan - 26NO99

Le BigMac in Japan

John Travolta says they call a Big Mac "le Big Mac" in Holland. Nothing quite that exciting here - but you know what they call "free coffee refills?" The sign at the local McDonnald's says, "another cups a coffee a free." Hmmm. Well I guess I should be thankful for whatever English I get. If learning Japanese is this difficult in Japan, I don't imagine learning English here is much easier.

While Japan is a world leader in technology, you haven't seen a list mail from me yet because I live in what is considered the countryside. The nearest Internet cafe is about an hour and 30 bucks away by train. So my email status is a little limitted for listmails. The good news is that I have easy abillity to send and receive email anytime and anywhere to and from INDIVIDUALS (like you) as long as messages are only text. I have a cell phone which for me is cool even though the 13 year-old girls on the train all take them for granted. So for email I plug my phone into this other doo-hickie about the size of a box of Goobers. So send away. I can write to you daily at this point.

Waiting a month and a half to start talking about Japan was probably not the best way to report accurately, but who cares about accuracey anyway...

My flight in was delayed about 7 hours. I was stuck in Miniappolis while a monsoon did its thing here. So when we finally arrived, it was pretty late, and they put us all up in a hotel in Osaka. By then four of us had gotten to know each other pretty well on the airplane. We hung out for a day and then all headed off to our hometowns. A huge majority of teachers are based in parts of Osaka and Kyoto. I requested a rural area, so I was sent to this beautifull town called Hikone. There is a famous castle on a hill here which is visible from almost anywhere in town. If you want to see it, I'm told it's in a crappy movie with Christopher Lambert called "The Hunted." The castle is really not the best part of town though. There are hills with little walking trails, and temples where you get to ring big gong-type bells to wake the gods up, oh and shrines - maybe that's where the gongs are. I still can't quite tell the diffrence between a temple and a shrine. Religion seems to be more of a hobby here than a full contact sport like in America anyway. The importnat thing is the stuff is cool with a capital "C" to look at. There are buddahs and draggons and snakes and a building made of Gold like on that episode of the Simpsons - well not exactly like that but like I said what's so great about accuracey.

There was one time when I was walking around in the hills and I found some chestnuts and a spider the size of a fist and a graveyard on the hill that I'm guessing was super old and some lady wouldn't let me pass the temple without praying to the White Dragon God. But it didn't seem like she'd have been offended. It was more like "hey - ring this bell pray to this god - you're gonna love it." Of course I have no idea what she ACTUALLY said.

The Snake, The Lake & The Earthquake

So after hanging out with the Whitey The Dragon for a few, I was off down the hill again. Suddenly as I was walking down, a four foot snake got all "look at me arching my back and being all hissy at you." So I - feeling like if the white dragon isn't gonna eat me, neither are you - pulled on some vines he was slithering on and he was like Pshew! off into the woods like 'I' was the bad guy. It's a fun place.

I also really like the Lake. Lake Biwa is the largest in Japan and tghe 3rd oldest lake in the world. It's a 5 minute walk - but I usually rollerskate to it. I go just about every night to sit by the water when noone else is there. Depending on the wind it can have waves big enough for surfing or be flat and silent like a big old mirror. Its about the size of Lake Michigan. There are some islands I plan to visit sometime too. People fish for black bass, jet ski, sail, windsurf etc. The weather is getting cool now though so you only see the diehard water sporties still at it. A lot of people say its too poluted to swim in, but I think I've swum in worse.

Yeah so the Earthquake - not too much to report. It was about like the one I was in my second week in Alaska. It was a big definitely an Earthquake kind of thing that woke me up at 3:30am but not one of those ones where you have to push the I-beams and gurders off your bed in the morning. It was fun. The students tell me it was the biggest in quite a while here - like 3 years according to one.

The food is good but expensive. I eat sushi almost every day, and a lot of noodles. Its pretty healthy. I also go to the gym, ride a crappy Japanese bike (with a basket, fenders, a kickstand and chainguard) for about an hour a day and rollerblade through the empty streets at night looking for gomi. So I'm feeling pretty healthy. What's Gomi you ask? Ah it's beautiful stuff. There's lots of it out there if your patient and lucky. In other places I've lived gomi hunting has been called "skuaing," "coming accross," "dumpster diving," "recycling," and of course, "trash picking." Oh the joy its brought me over the years. I could talk at legnth about all the great stuff I've gotten this way but focussing on Japan, let me just say if you want it I can get it. Piles of working TV sets, VCRs, stereos, furniture, bicyles, give it a name! I met a guy the other night who was an obvious pro. he was there with his wife and son and two cars. I said tomorrow in Japanese and he said electrical tape in Enlish and we bonded instantly. I now have a big pair of speakers and a stereo I was able to get working satisfactorily with my leatherman and some - you guessed it - paperclips. It's beautiful.

Sumo Sushi and Tatami

Here's the deal with my apartment... Before I got here, I was told I would be living with 2 Australian women. Foolishly, I hadn't anticipated any problems with that. And to be fair - in the past I lived with 3 very pleasant Australian women and one man. That was a very happy home. This time it was different. I think these two might have been the ones Australia didn't want. No real big problems at first - just a lot of whining and general unhappiness. After my first week, one moved out and was replaced by a rude drunkard from Scotland. He's the kind of guy who has no patience for sutlety or inuendo, if someone implies something about him at work, he sprays a skunky mist of nasty vocabulary right into their ears. It may seem like I'm describing a dastardly dirtbag, but ther is something innescapably honest and sincere about him. As much as he represents everything I would hate to be, he wears it with such pride, I just can't help but like him. He looks about 18 years old - but a bit too chubby and somehow sinister to be that young. His hair is a dark tangle that mocks the dresscode at work and when he skips a day shaving its hard to tell if it's stubble or a bit of forgotten dirt on his chin. He has maybe two pairs of pants and an old light blue shirt. He wears a plain black tie at work which makes him struggle every minute or so like a turtle trying to escape from its shell. It rather reminds me of a scene in Men In Black where the evil alien is twisting its neck to find a comfortable position after putting on a human's skin. But I stress again - he is a likeable guy. The women are like walls around him and it seems he couldn't care less.

Meanwhile the paper wall between me and my other roommate makes a failing effort to shield me from nighttime cellphone usage and chronic morning sneazes. The remaining Australian woman is a general interuption of peace. She is a nusance enough ways that my happines would be interupted to even write more about her than the next sentance. She was kind enough to go home last week.

Tonight my 4th roommate arrived - another Scottsman - this one named Scott (creative?). I cant tell you much about him yet except that he seems cool, is a vegitarian, and is not sneazing or using any electronics at the moment. In other words, so far so good.

The actual apartment is small but not as small as I thought it would be. I've been in less comfortable places. My room has a tatami floor. It's a kind of dense straw mat that you wouldn't even THINK of wearing shoes on. Well you don't wear shoes inside at all, but on the tatami, you wouldn't even think about it. My walls are those sliding deals like you see in movies about Japan and the limitted space has inspired me to go efficiencey crazy in my big closet. During the day I pack up my futon (which is actually just a big pillow that I sleep on) so that there is absolutely nothing in my room or on my walls. EVERYTHING is in the closet. It makes it seem like a bigger room and it's a good model for the abscence of thought and distraction that is the goal of some Japanese spiritual traditions. From our 3rd floor balcony I can see the Castle and some rice fields. TV is crappy gameshows in a language I am FAR from understanding, and occasional sumo wrestling. I started off cooking a little but nowadays I just wait for scraps from Euan or I eat sushi.

Hikone Radio and the Big Beat

The stars are upside-down, many are of the "shooting" variety, and I need new wheels for my rollerskates. The job is fun although my boss is doubtlessly the anti-Buddah. He's quite deffinitely intimidated by me although I've done nothing to perpetuate his fears YET! He's beedy and twitchy and all sideways like a broken little muppet or a crippled snake. If I didn't like the students so much, I would consider offering my well sought after assets to another employer. I could probably get used to not wearing a tie to work more easily that I got used to wearing one. I have in fact dipped it in a variety of Japanese items it should have steered clear of. It flaps in the wind behind me like Snoopy's red scarf when I ride my bike or skate to work. When students do particularly well in class, I sometimes take it off and offer it to them as a reward. Sadly, the end of the lesson always leaves it sitting on the table looking up at me as if to say "I'll be good this time - I promise." Oh Necktie, who IS tied to whome? I sometimes have thoughts of starting my own English School - "G-Dub's Outdoors, Learn English While Playing Frisbee/Get Ripped Off Here, Academy (no neckties allowed)." Maybe the idea needs some work. If your interested, I'm looking for investors.

Coming of Age

So yesterday I turned 29. It was the first cold windy day in Japan since I've been here. It rained off and on but there were large blue sunny bits in the sky all day. It's like that I guess - turning 29, and life in general - cold wind, and sunny bits all mixed together. I met some American friends in Kyoto and checked out some temples and such. It was beautifull, but my digestive system had some issues with the Nishi I ate. I won't give details except to say that a Japanese public bathroom is rather like an action/suspense flim - especially after nasty nishi. Have you ever seen Desperado with Antonio Banderas? Well that little excerpt ended and the day resumed on trains with cell phones and a movie at Kelly and Michele's place. I had brought the most beautiful women in Hikone with me and the couch we sat on to watch the movie was small enough that maybe even she would agree that it was a date. On the train home, I twisted her up one of the best paperclips I've done. I really put my heart into it. If that doesn't do the trick, I'm moving back to Alaska.

So today I was rollerblading like I often do (infact I'm pretty sure the locals call me roller-whitey when they don't think I can hear). And just after crossing the Castle's outer moat, I - for the first time ever - whiped out BIGTIME! It was as if there was a period between the slip and the slap in which I was lifted about 10 feet in the air. Slam! Hit hurt so much I had to drag my self to the curb where I spent about 15 minutes, sweating, bleedin, head in hands, ears ringing, short of breath, feeling small, trying not to pass out. I don't think I passed out but damn if this is what 29 is all about I'm going back to 18. I'll be needing a thread and needle for my jeans now, and my body, and my spirit.

My roommate Euan gave me a huge box of paperclips for my birthday. What a guy.

Tonight there is supposed to be a meteor shower at 4 am. If the girl who emailed me from the university is up for it, I won't be getting any sleep. Those two sentences are related to each other.

24NO99 - All About Oanna (to Oanna)

As if rocketed to instant stardom - as if you had won the lottery moments ago - as if you sensed my thirst for every single sylable from your lips, you recited the story of your childhood. I was caught as if in the tarry substance of a dream-run road, unable to escape my own gluttony for the contact you provided. With the joy of a little girl, you played in the Ocean. With and like the waves, you would advance and retreat, as I watched and felt my heart beat. I tried to suck you into my soul through my camera lense and my microphone, but you would no sooner allow me to keep you than you would allow the wanting Ocean to swallow you up forever. No, as alluring, as tempting, and magnetic as you were, your mastery of your own magic held the Ocean and I in check - imobilized, helpless. Your big bright, upward peering eyes, your sexy sway like a 007 counterpart, your pouty spells cast with acuracey cut to the malest region of my heart and comanded me. Your awareness of your own power shined above everything and mocked me, and mocked the Ocean and the sun and the sand and the misty rain that day. That you would ask if I remember you is a continuation of the taunting tease that you victimize me with...

Hello again. Nice to hear from you. GW

the latino-japanese subculture and me

I was surprised early on by the existance of a big Brazillian population here. Many Brazillians come to Japan, in search of work they can't find in Brazil's vulnerable economic environment. Since my Japanese is pathetic, I have been practicing Portuguese with a few Brazillians at the Gym. Saturday night, two guys named Marcello, but one of whome I call Martello ("The Hammer") picked me up about the time I normally go to sleep. We cruised in their lowered, tricked out, stereo-booming, tinted windows, skull-and-cross-boned, modified, racing Honda to Nagoya. Nagoya is the third largest city in Japan, and with a radar detector it's an hour's drive from Hikone. We went to an old movie theater that had been completely converted into a modern dance place. There were bunches of high tech Japanese sound and light and video stuff and a bar etc. After about an hour, the place was pretty crowded. The population density of Brazillians was amazing. Even on the street, strangers in passing (including me) would speak Portuguese to each other assuming it was the local language. Because of their genes, about half of the Brazillian Japanese look like any other Japanese people. But many don't even speak Japanese at all. Portuguese was the language of the DJ, the music, the tickets - everything. The whole scene just seemed doubly foriegn. Adding more voltage to the subculture-shock was the obvious and drastic differences between the ways the two cultures typiclly interact socially. Both are very different from America but in opposite directions. Where in Japan I have sometimes felt crude jesturing to shake hands with a stranger, a Brazillian man will often grab at the long hair of a passing woman with no protest from her! The Japanese follow strict rules of politeness. The Brazillians follow liberal traditions of friendlyness. The Japanese are so polite it's often difficult to grasp their true feelings. The Brazillians are so forward, it's hard to pretend you don't understand their feelings...

Japanese woman: I will come with you to diner because you invited me [bows respectfully].

Brazillian woman: My name is Claudia. You are beautiful. [pulls my body against hers and forces samba dancing upon me].

Both cultures have obvious adantages. as the night went on, techno music switched to traditional Brazillian country. There was a staged demonstration of cavalliero (cowboy) dancing and some kind of beauty pagent. By 3:30am the Hammer was trying to GIVE me a woman while another was cutting out the middleman. I opted for the conservative/cautious route and exchanged nothing more than dances, phone numbers and paperclips. We didn't leave Nagoya until a post dance hotdog and a couple Guaranas at 6am. I got home at 7:30 and had to work at 11:30. I'll be catching up on my sleep tonight and catching up with life in Little Brazil as soon as possible![28NO99]


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