Thursday, August 14, 2008

Uchi no Fushigi na Sekai

i'm in america, and everything is weird. people talk faster, louder and more often, food bubbles in my stomach for hours, i keep impulsively speaking japanese to people that have no idea what the hell i'm talking about, and even money looks and feels strange. i can read every menu. nobody says "irashaimase" when i walk into a store... most of the time i want to go back so i can take a walk in the woods or ride the train into the city a few more times before i really have to accept re-adjusting, and the rest of the time i'm excited and nervous about whatever the next few years of my life will turn out like.

being here in portland for a few days is a perfect little buffer between the last year of my life and whatever happens next. i get to be around some of the hugely motivated, brilliant, constantly creative and positive people that have always helped me appreciate my life and keep trying, and it's a chance to relax and have zero obligations while i slowly (very slowly) re-acclimate to the way americans live. so, while i'm here, i'll be walking all over, poking my head in all of portland's warm shops and galleries, and trying to get comfortable.

during my last few days in japan, i had plenty of last dinners and parties, went to the kanto festival, and spent a couple days in tokyo with one of my closest friends from the last 4 months. kanto was pretty amazing. we went out to the city on a really cold and rainy night, and stood out on akita city's main street with the rest of the prefecture while about 50 or 60 teams of taiko players and kanto pole lifters paraded out and got into position. then there was a starting announcement, and all the teams started whacking on the drums, chanting, clapping and hoisting the giant poles in the air. the strong winds and rain sent all the lifters staggering around trying to keep the poles up, and most of the time they were crashing over into the crowds or getting tangled up with eachother. the night ended early, because everyone was getting drenched and freezing, and the poles were impossible to keep up. some of us went out afterward for our last nomihoudai and midnight wander through akita city's night life district, the details of which are a little spotty. an okinawan themed bar, and everybody's favorite rockabilly joint were visited.

in tokyo, i stayed in a little flophouse a long walk out from the heart of shinjuku. i only had two days, enough time to wander around shinjuku and find a pretty good record store filled with tons of bands and albums i could only ever read about before, several of which there was no way to be restrained from buying. we also walked through shibuya's massive crowds, went to harajuku to squeeze down its main shopping street past kids in maid costumes and boots with six inch thick soles to the design festa gallery for another gawk, and went out to ueno koen on the hottest goddamn day in the friggin universe to meet another friend from school, walk through some temples, and eat icecream.

leaving was really fucked up and difficult and hurt a lot. it feels too abnormal to become a part of someone's life and then be forced out of the ability to remain an immediate part of it. in japan, despite massive social problems that can leave people feeling irrevocably shut out, or following along with something they're not comfortable with in order to avoid that total isolation, there is that connection with time and the earth and whatever intangible thing i'm trying to define here that was always calming and reassuring, and it's something i've never felt in america outside of my circle of friends. i am excited about the future, though, and it's worth all the confusion just to see what might happen next.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Chikubi ga Tatteiru

the lavender field; arriving, exhausted, at tokyo station; looking down the bastard mountain at the endless trail; sunrise from about halfway up; and this last picture is the design festa gallery, the place in harajuku i have wanted to see for years and spent half a day looking for last winter. finally found the thing at the end of a cramped little lane called "cat street", but didn't have so much time to poke around in there.

Kodomo no Toki, Ryoshin wa Yasai wo Tabesaseraremashita

yes, well... it has been a ridiculous month, and now it gets even more ridiculous with every day being the last time i will see someone i've seen every day for the past year, some of whom have really helped save a few of those days from being unbearable. so what the hell have i been doing this month...

waaaay back at the beginning of july, i went out to a nearby town called omagari to see some oft lauded magical field of lavender flowers with friends from norway, singapore and japan. it's a local tourist attraction, but for some reason, the closest we could get was about an hour walk after taking a train and a bus to get to that point. we staggered most of the way there through some crazy heat, and eventually got a lift for the last few hundred meters. when we got there, it was basically like a big parking lot with a few purple plants in it. i had a fine time, sure, but jeebus, it sure didn't look like the poster. on the long walk back to a convenience store where we could call a cab to the station, we almost got attacked by a pissy little cow drooling in a dilapidated barn.

went back out to the zoo with some folks on another hot day and engaged in some deep commune with a chimpanzee, who was sad and angry just like all the other animals there. i would knock on the glass, and then he would knock on the glass, and we did that a few times until a tennis ball or lump of crap or something seemed more interesting to him.

not too long after that was the school tanabata party. "tanabata" means "seventh night", and it refers to an old japanese folk tale that has something to do with two lovers who were banished to either side of the milky way, and can only meet once a year, on the seventh night of the seventh month. if it is cloudy on that day, they can't cross the milky way and they have to wait until the next year. so on this night in japan, people wear yukata, or summer kimono type dresses, and have parties and whatnot. a few bands played, and there were a few games i think, and then a bunch of people left early to eat and drink outside.

oh, hey, yeah, and then i climbed the biggest damn mountain in the country for some stupid reason. sounded fantastic at the time, but it was a baaaastard. a group of seven or so of us took the night bus which travels all night long from akita station to tokyo station, and gets to tokyo around 7 am, and is absolutely impossible to get any sleep on. our bus was called "kila kila hotto dogu" which means sparkling hot dog. so we got to tokyo, completely exhausted, and sat around shinjuku park for a while wondering how to spend the time until we took another bus to the mountain. we all ended up going to an internet cafe in harajuku to sleep some, which was also not all that possible. we could at least take showers there and relax a little. so eventually got on the bus which we thought would take us to the mountain, but actually brought us to the train station closest to the mountain, which was still more than thirty kilometers away. the only option was to take a few taxis, waiting there at the station like a couple of starving vultures, and pay the 4000 yen apiece. we got to the mountain around 11pm, when most people start climbing because you can see the sunrise from the top, and hauled all the hiking stuff out of our bags: warm clothes, head lamps, water, suchlike, and started climbing. my rickety old ass got exhausted pretty quickly. there are endless trails heading at a steep incline over switchbacks during the first section of the climb, and i was moving slower and stopping more often than everyone else. i finally stopped and told them i was going back down to find a place to sleep after about an hour of steady trudging, so they kept going and i sat recovering for a while. i settled myself enough to decide to keep trying for a while, and came to the second section which is basically hands and feet crawling over rocks between frequently interspersed rest huts, which of course in japan, try to sell you souvenirs while your clibing up a damned mountain. i stopped after a few hours of that, and sat at one of the rest stations talking to a guy from england about teaching english here and some of the things that we've done while we've been here. he told me it was another 3 or so hours climb to the top, and that it was extremely cold and difficult to breathe, so i figured i had enough and started heading back down very slowly. one of the old fellers working at one of the huts saw me freezing my ass off and told me i could wait in a little toolshed with some kind of warm generator deal in it until the sun came up. so watched the sun come up from halfway up mt. fuji, and bounced back down to the bottom to wait for everyone else. for the rest of the time in tokyo, we all just tried to get some sleep back at the internet cafe in harajuku, and then stank our way back to akita on another night bus. most of the time on this trip was spent feeling pretty uncomfortable and exhausted, but it was worth it to be able to burn something like this into my memory.

but we're only halfway through the month here... the next weekend i became thirty goddamn one years old. my gut expanded and a few more hairs fell out just thinking about it. thirty effing one. i'm no longer 30, i am now "in my thirties", and that is lame as hell. i had a great night, though. first, went out to dinner with a few people, and then came back here and sat in a corner of the cafeteria with 20 or so folks drinking and eating and getting weird presents like an ear pick and towels shaped like monsters or some such. we lit some fireworks and then kind of drifted into another party out by the student apartments, which was a jolly time.

what else... a few karaoke sessions, one of which lasted all night, until the first train in the morning could take us back to the local station, and a farewell party thrown by the school a few nights ago, with huge plates of food, speeches, a few performances, and people scrambling everywhere trying to get to all the people they want to see as much as possible before they have to leave.

so, a very odd month for me. it seems so unnatural to be forced to pull away from people that have shaped my life for the last year. i don't know if i can explain it beyond that, just a dragging, confusing, lethargic kind of feeling. i know i can keep in touch with everyone, though, and now i have friends i can visit in about 6 or 7 countries. of course i am also really looking forward to seeing all the people i had to leave behind when i came way the hell out here, and also frankly, i'm looking forward to that first giant ass burrito after touching down in the imperialist schweinhund motherland.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


a shot of towadako, making some candles with the chillunz, more fireworks, a huge taiko at the tree planting ceremony, and the guy that works at aoi tori, back in the little kitchen area.

Me ga Mabushi Sugiru

the attendees at the little dinner out by the damn mall, the birthday girl mei-ping shooting off some fireworks, a couple of the creepy cracks and tunnels in the copper mine, and a feller painting the creek near aomori.

Ketsumakuen Yabe!

well, shoooo... many things have gone down and transpired and happened over the last few weeks. among the things that happened was a morning when the entire damn earth wobbled and rocked like jeebus hisself was dribbling the globe like a big ass basketball. i scrambled out of my bed and ran out into the lobby in my unnerwears, and everyone was just strolling to breakfast like that kind of thing happened every day, gawking at my disshevled arse until i woke up enough to realize i should probably go get some pants on. the earthquake wasn't so severe here in akita, but in the next prefecture to the east, there were some roads and bridges destroyed, and a few landslides. so that was my first earthquake...

other happenings...went to a friend's apartment out in a neighborhood not too far away from the damn mall, and she cooked a whole bunch of food for us three visitors. just sat out there jabbering, eating, playing her piano, talking to her mom on the phone, making cookies and lounging about for a few hours, a lovely time. this friend talks to me alot about how living out there away from the school feels really strange, and i think i end up talking alot about how being stuck in the school sometimes feels really odd, so we whipped up this little plan to hang out and make some food. delightful, no?

a few days later was the birthday party for a friend from singapore, a lovely affair with snackie-poos, drinklie-winkies, and a jaunt over to the park to shoot off some fireworks. well, not really 'shoot off', i guess, japanese fireworks basically fizzle for a while and then shrivel up and blow away, but they're still friggin fireworks, so i shant cry foul.

nearly burnt eachother to a crisp for a while out there at the park, then went to bed relatively early, because the next day, there was a school trip out to an old copper mine, lake towado (not to be confused with tazawako), and a long, rushing stream right on the border of the next prefecture to the north, aomori. we spent almost 3 hours getting up there, and first crawled off the bus into the copper mine, a dank labyrinth of tunnels and creepy lights running throught the center of a mountain. there was a small shrine in there, a stock of sake and wine, and some of the tunnels were lined with flashing christmas lights for some reason, like a cockamamie science fiction movie. crammed ourselves back on the bus for a few more hours and drove up to the stream, slowly passing by plenty of interesting spots with rushing rapids or quiet walking paths, and stopped at a relatively uneventful little shallow spot to walk around for about 20 minutes. saw a feller painting a big canvas, and trotted along smelling the mossy rocks for as long as i could before i had to turn around and get back on the bus so we could go to towado lake. the lake was cold and choppy when we got there, a few tour boats winding around out there on the waves. the lake is pretty big, much larger than tazawako. we were just on a little bay with big green bluffs holding it in. tottered around there for a while, and sauntered back to the bus again to come home.

the next day, i joined a volunteer thing in the wada neighborhood to make candles and play english games with a bunch of kids from the area, most of whom were reluctant to talk to me, because at the time i had a big red eyeball on account of the trees blooming and whatnot. at least i learned the japanese word for 'conjunctivitis'. we sang songs, melted some crayons and stirred 'em up for the candles, and one kid taught me some kanji for a while. i walked back to school with a few people, taking the long way through some rice paddies and a shrine, working up a beastly sweat. later that day, had a picnic out in a little patio area, and lit off some more fireworks. this time some of them whistled, spun, and bounced around.

the next event of note was a trip out to a tree planting ceremony somewhere out in the middle of the prefecture, a big deal whith the emperor attending and everything. we all had to wear our ridiculous official event baseball caps, badges, and prove to security guards that our cameras were not in actuality secret spy bomb devices. so sat there in the damned sun for several hours while people danced around or sang and whatnot, all of which i could not see behind the thousands of people wearing the ridiculous official hats. then the emperor came out for a while, and we all went bananas, waving around little paper japanese flags. after that, we were ushered over to the tree planting area to spread some dirt around, and filed back on the bus for home. when we got back to school, i had exactly 9 minutes to get ready and run back out to the bus bound for the station for some plans i made with 3 japanese ladies (yeah, thats right, me and three lovely japanese ladies, people). we went out to a really great little cafe/bar/restaurant place called "aoi tori", or "bluebird". it was a quiet old place with scuffed up wooden furniture, book cases and plants along the walls, and a strong smell of chocolate wafting out from the little kitchen area in the corner. we had a big, multi-course dinner of italian-ish stuff (pasta and pizza, but with japanese ingredients, like full wasabi leaves in the salad) and just relaxed and talked about general whatnot for a while - studying abroad, differences between japanese and american people, and my abiding little crush on the country as a whole, and most of its people individually.

some other stuff what happened was yet another birthday party for a taiwanese friend, a surprise deal with a treasure hunt and everything, followed by about ten plates of appetizers, strange card games, and some running around out in the dark playing some half assed tag. also, recently, because it's getting so damned hot here, i went off to the local river to wade around in the water for a little while, sliding around on the rocky riverbed, and finally getting a little use out of the snazzy swimming trunks i brought with me.

coming up soon, what the hell.... erm... party tonight for someone from fall semester who's here for a few days visiting, and also, there is a little clump of 'summer program' people who have dropped in for 6 weeks of japanese study, mostly from singapore, so maybe i'll get to talk to a few of them. kind of a wierd time for a new group to be coming in, right when most people are thinking about the end of the semester, which is coming way too fast.

Saturday, May 31, 2008


these pictures: indoor picnic party in the cafeteria for one of my taiwainese friends, party in the little student lounge for a mongolian friend's birthday, the monkeys lounging about on monkey mountain (or "saruyama" in japanese), another party (one of maybe three or four) for the mongolian guy, and the middle school kids welcoming us.