Monday, August 22, 2011


A foreigner is never truly lost if he can find a Mr. Donut on his road.
From 2011_08_13

On return, Mandi came up from Kagoshima, and it was a sort of non-stop dinners-with-NeoShiso fest, with break only for the quasi high-school-reunion that is a gathering of more than two 'wervs' in one place, that place being SummerSonic. After getting lost (what else is new?) along the way (I should probably invest in GPS if only I knew how to get this), we finally made it to the Osaka concert venue in time to stake out a sweet tarp-spot amongst the weeds.

I really did want to sit in the weeds.
From 2011_08_13

My solo excursion to see Blues Explosion
From 2011_08_13

I wandered off almost immediately and discovered the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, which I enjoyed for various reasons, and when it was over, I meandered back toward the Ocean stage, stopping for a bite along the way because the lady onstage before X Japan sounded a bit off-key and I was in no rush. The diversity of the lineup at the stage was cool though.. the metal band who started just as we arrived was followed by pop idol girl, followed by rock legends of Japan, followed by Red Hot Chili Peppers.

From 2011_08_13

From 2011_08_13

Wervs and I about to see X Japan, almost in range of the hoses.
From 2011_08_13

There's a lot I didn't know about X Japan, so I'll drop just a sprinkling of knowledge on you, being a serious n00b myself. Previously known as X, and around since the 80s, they're pretty foundational to the whole J-Rock thing. From what I'm told, Yoshiki, the band leader, is very particular ("he's a bastard, wervs"). It sounds like he has a lot of talent and ambition, and therefore perhaps a shortage of patience. He played those drums like a demon come to claim them (although I'm told he's toned it down due to the neck problems that has given him.. and he wore a brace anytime he was drumming), and with a look that said he just fucking loved every moment of it. Clearly intense, he was rather mesmerizing, and of course very pretty. He first waltzed out in black shiny pants and a long red jacket with lace on it.. soon he was shirtless though. I'm amazed to read that he's 45. Dude did not look 45. When he spoke to the audience, his voice was light and, as wervs and I chorused in surprise, kind of cute! He cried as he talked about how Osaka is kind of their home, and he talked about their deceased band members, and about March 11th. He called for a moment of silence which was actually achieved, even in that deafening place (the guy behind us in the crowd press kept shouting "Yoshiki! Yoshiki! Yoshiki!" ... like he can hear you, man). I had considered the X Japan part of the concert to be a mostly wervs (Mandi and Laureno) thing, but I really liked it. 

The breeze + Sugizo's outfit = phototastic. Oh, and violin + piano = awesome, while we're at this.
From 2011_08_13

Next of course was RHCP, and the crowd which HAD been merely a hot, uncomfortable mass of sweating humanity became an intense crush. Kam and I managed to get rather close to the stage, but it didn't matter, because we couldn't see any better for it. We held on to each other for dear life as the crush moved us around (seriously.. "Ocean Stage" felt rather apt), and we watched a guy launch himself into crowdsurf. After two songs, this deathgrip situation was no longer fun, so we retreated to the tarp to enjoy the music from there. We could actually see better from further out (well.. that's not necessarily true.. I accidentally pushed my contact out of place so I was kind of one-eyed squinty for the rest of the night), and there was cool air in motion out there, a freakin' luxury if we ever felt one.

I wish I hadn't screwed up my contact, because the visual aspect of live shows is half the fun. I also lost visual capacity on my camera.. the screen stopped working entirely. The RHCP banter was pretty hilarious, and having never been to see them in an English-speaking country, I don't know whether it was any different than usual for Japan, but they talked about Thanksgiving, and water, and Flea. They played a lot of great old favorites, and we swayed and sang along. They played some new stuff too, with the unassuming intro of "You ready? Wanna play some new shit? Let's go!"

My own videos are pretty craptacular, given the fact that I was using my older camera on its last legs, but here is a link to some other people's videos.. can't really vouch for their quality, other than that they seem better than mine! While I'm at it, here and here are video examples of some X Japan, just for kicks.

"Anybody wanna feel Flea's oats?" 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Not Without

On Turning Japanese:   There's a philosophical line that we discussed once in high school that goes something like, if something is real, you cannot destroy it, and if something is not real (and therefore destroyable), then it can never be made real. (The continuation of that being, the human soul/God-consciousness is real, but material is not, etc. etc.)

So likewise, sometimes I think, you cannot become something you weren't already. So if I seem to an onlooker to be 'turning Japanese,' actually to me I feel like I always was a little bit Japanese. Which doesn't make any ancestral sense, so maybe just in the way that a person is or may be a little bit anything, or everything.

Aaaaanyway, now that that is cleared up, I'd like to turn to the other side of the coin, the things we do not "learn to live without" forever, being people.

As you know, I went to Amerika! And it was culture shocking! But that's not all it was. I got to see old friends, and have some new experiences. One of them was Isthmus Fest. This is a yearly gathering of AP kids from our high school, and this was my first year in attendance. People came from all over the place, close as right there in Georgia, far as New York, Yellowstone, Ohio, Japan. We built a fire on the isthmus and watched the Milky Way move overhead until it was 4am. I saw more shooting stars over that lake than I have in a long time. It was nice to hear the AP kids talk and argue and reminisce. We fled when we noticed the water was rising, and retired to the actual campsite to steal a few Zs beneath the dawn.
Josh ascertains that the isthmus is exposed.
From 2011_07_30

"the safest place for a fire, EVER"
From 2011_07_30

Oh what a beautiful mornin'
From 2011_07_30

The next day had us decamping until we were all sitting in folding chairs in a circle, no tents in sight, sipping beers and watching the trees thrash overhead. L and I managed to escape just before the downpour started. It was a good visit. 

My camera died on the Isthmus, so there's nothing photographic after that, until I got back. There were good times though, just hanging out with the family, lots of good foods, seeing people I hadn't seen for years (or a year, but you know), karaoke, dinners and dinners, swimming (goodness, I miss the pool!), driving Jill around, dogs and walks, coffee with cousins, and the hot hot hot of a Georgia August heatwave. L and I went to see Shannon, but she wasn't there.

There's never quite enough time to do everything or spend enough with everyone before it's time to get back to life on schedule in Japan, but that's the way of it. The more of anything you see or touch, the more you realize there is to see and touch.

It's always different, these visits back, and the people with whom time is spent tends to shift around from one year to the next. I mean some people, you see every year, because they are part of that, part of your yearly picture. The people you keep up with, even if only lightly, the people you e-mail and skype, your family. These are the people you make time for, and who make time for you, because you're back, for a limited time only. There are others, who just happen to be in town, just happen to have time for you, and you for them, and at the right time. Still others who were always around, but you never had (made) time for them, but you do, because why not, it's been 7 years, why wait until you are really "back" and it's then 8? 

But the truth is, the thing I look forward to most about being back isn't Mexican food or reasonably priced fruit or palatable beer or even air conditioning, or being able to read everything. It's having a month to hang out and catch up, not just a week. It's being just a car ride or no-more-than-5-hour plane ride from my parents (and their dogs). There are things we learn to live without because we reassure ourselves that we'll have more plenty of them very soon. (This is why homesickness for me isn't an initial thing to get over, but a fatigue.. my insides start to demand, after some time, how long is this so-called very soon, anyway?!)

So that's that thing. For all the very good reasons not to leave Japan (they are numerous and varied), there's one monumental reason not to stay forever. And for all that people teased me and said "What if you fall in love and never come back?" .. well, I always knew I couldn't never come back. Though I did fall in love, with the place itself.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Five Dollars Off Culture Shock

or, the Grocery Store.

My grocery basket, one summer evening in Japan.
From 2011_07_08

(In the car, on the way home from the airport)
Me: Sometimes, even though they're like $3 apiece, I still buy peaches in Japan because I just have to.

Brother: Well, here they're 99 cents a--
Me: Oh!
Brother: --pound.
Me: Oh, my God. How many peaches are in a pound?!

Being here the second time around has been different than last summer. Maybe it's what a two-year period will do to you. Maybe it's not having popped in during the winter months. Whatever the cause, I found myself feeling a shite sight more out of place this time around. I couldn't feel the groove of my old car. I couldn't look at restaurants the same way; I didn't crave Mexican food. Produce, now considered "a painfully expensive necessity," seems deliriously cheap. I couldn't have really changed, not who I really am, anyway. Just, you know, the way I look at things, and how I value things.

So, almost nothing, except my personal self and all, right?

But even with all that, it wasn't jarring, and it wasn't shocking. That is to say, I didn't feel particularly culture-shocked.. til I brought my list and dispensed dollar amount to the local grocery store, was surrounded by friendly (and white) strangers (who.. spoke English), and found myself saying "sumimasen" as I just missed someone with my unwieldy-sized shopping cart. And there I was. Aisle after aisle of packages I could read, staffpersons to whom I could ask question, and baggers who bring your groceries to your car and, like, make small talk (this too in English) along the way. And it's not that it's unbelievable to me that my grocery bagger also went to Vandy.. it's beyond me that anyone around me has ever heard of Vandy.

And you have to understand something. When I go to the grocery store across the street from where I have been living, I walk there with one or two cloth bags. I carry around a basket, gather a few requisite things, and then buy them, take them home, and put them away. But I never buy more than two bags full because I only have two hands, and shit is heavy!

Also, MaxValu doesn't really have bacon. They have pork slices masquerading as bacon, but when you cook them, they turn kind of whitey-grey, like pork is wont to do. To get anything remotely like bacon, you have to cross town and go to Jusco and get the package that looks just-so (or else have a farmer give you a chunk of pig that comes from the bacon section of that animal). In the grocery store in the wide country, there are at least four brands of bacon on display. There are different flavors (the maple kind?), and types. You have turkey bacon, you have microwaveable meats, and pre-cooked meats, and all the packages are sorted into their hanging and setting slots, with their color-coded labels and brand logos, and their sizes. Feeding a family? Choose the jumbo option!

The yogurt section, with its wall of flavor choices, reminds me of life in Kansas, where we scrimped and saved to live within our means (this could be its own blog post, but I'll let it suffice to say I've never lived in the US while having a decent salary.. or salary of any kind, for that matter. That has happened only in Japan).

And the same goes for everything else. So many choices, so many neatly presented possibilities. It's enough to make your head spin. The salve for this madness is reasonably priced... well, everything; the way that Georgia peaches are especially good this year, and unlike at MaxValu where they are 200 to 400 yen.. apiece.. here, they are $.99. A pound.

But even then you have to be careful because there is more than one type of peach in that section, and some of them are like, from California, so they're more expensive or something. Don't get me wrong! I'm not saying any of this is a bad thing. It's a great and glorious thing! But it's also an overwhelming thing, if you aren't used to it. So maybe what I mean is, it's more weird not to be used to it. It's weird to get lost in the supermarket in your own hometown.

Now, I do feel the groove of my old car (and yes I can in fact drive on the right side of the road), and I can once again navigate the supermarket (I even braved Super-Wal-Mart so I could stock up on my year's supply of deodorant, toothpaste, facewash, and dark brown mascara... and as much instant oatmeal as I can fit in a suitcase). I may not be demanding Mexican food, but I have enjoyed it twice. I can definitely say that the heat of Georgia is hotter than Shiso's, but their AC is in full swing. Television, especially parents' DVR with OnDemand access to tons of movies and premiumchannel series.. is remarkable.

Not having my phone available for e-mailing is weird. Not sorting and separating the trash is weird. Laundry being just a few hours' event is weird. Looking at things in storage containers with no fear of mold is nice. Being carded, at all, for anything, is weird. I'm still totally paranoid about drinking and driving (but.. you won't be fined/fired/jailed/deported for being over 0.00?). Paying tips is weird.

They warn you about culture shock. They also warn you about reverse culture shock. Because we're human, so we can get used to a good many things, and it'll be just as hard to get un-used to them again; it'll take time. It's not going to be easy for people to understand why I feel lost without mountains most of them have never seen, why Southern charm doesn't always live up to fervent Japanese courtesy, or why it takes me forever to stare down one aisle full of choices in the cereal section. There are a lot of things I miss about the US when I am not in it, but they are every one of them things I have learned, however temporarily (and three years is a long temporary), to live without.

And all this is premature, I know, but it has come to my attention recently, how there's a sort of American sense of everything, and a Japanese sense of things too, and the ways that they're different, and how I have them both, now.

Next, I'll have to write a post refuting the assertion that I'm turning Japanese!