Daniel in Japaniel

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The Cutest Friendships

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Getting sick away from home is a difficult thing. Really it has been over a week now of this simple cold. It has worn off on me though. Though, I still wake up around noon to two in the afternoon to begin my now regular day. So today, on the twelfth day of the twelfth month I wake up at 12:12 (it was 12:32 actually) to continue my blogging journey.

First let’s talk about where I live. I am in a surprisingly quite neighborhood only twenty minutes from Shibuya (one of the most busiest pop-markets there are). Here in Soshigaya-ookura, students come in to the next door university (Nihon University) trading places with the commuting population boarding the trains in bound to the Yamanote-pack. Around 6 PM they change places once again. Students now head out for the standing bars, the furugi (used clothes) stores, or maybe the nearest Starbucks to grind away at homework.

Soshigaya-ookura is really known for one thing: Ultraman. Perhaps we iconically know Japan by Godzilla (close second would be Pokemon). However, Ultraman vastly outclasses Godzilla in the salaryman conversation circle. It is well known that in a battle to the death, Ultraman would reign supreme. No problem.

To this end, Ultraman can be seen soaring around Soshigaya. I have found five statues of him so far, and continue to find new ones each day. The latest discovery would be Ultraman-Cafe, which plays Ultraman-movie as long as they are open on their 60 inch plasma-flat-screen-what-not-what-not.

Little tid-bit for you, Ultraman’s creator said inspiration came from staring at Miroku-bosatsu, otherwise known as Maitreya, or the future Buddha foretold to save this world. Since hearing this, I make sure to clap my hands twice and bow whenever passing under the Ultraman-tori’s of Soshigaya.

It’s also been suggested that, on a cold day, one can find Ultraman sweeping up the yellow leaves and loose trash gathered around the Soshigaya-Ookura station. True story.

As for my homestay family, I couldn’t have lucked out any more. They are fantastic. Noe is hard at work on her first gallery opening. After returning from teaching classes and managing the studio space at her work, she comes back and tirelessly scans proof after proof onto her computer. She has not yet begun the arduous process of picking her favorite shot of each of the 200 babies. She has thousands of photos to go through yet. This doesn’t stop her goofing off with me while I cook, or come out with Yuki and I to visit the locals.

Yuki, her husband, is by all accounts brilliant. One of those guys who can talk endlessly about any topic if you pressed him, but humbly adds to conversation rather than dominating it. He met Noe at the same photography school (Noe was a teacher’s aid at the time), and after graduating, chose to continue work for the Tokyo fire department, rather than climb the salaryman ladder. Because of this he works every other day, and when he works he takes on a 30 hour shift. His return home is that like a soldier’s. Hugs fly around, lots of love.

Probably what I appreciate most about this homestay, is the love. Noe and Yuki are still a reasonably young couple. They chase each other down the hallway occassionally. They share smoke breaks. They cook for each other, Yuki typically making dinner, Noe usually making sweet little rice cakes for lunch.

This is the kind of place I have been living in, and it is fantastic.

Generally I have been catching up on other writing projects: one, a series of shorts on imaginations on Japanese life from the perspective of a homeless NOVA-er (an ex-english teaching company that attracted and then stranded many ex-pats here); two, an essay on Ramen culture here, heavy on the field research. I have also been plowing through my Japanese textbook in order to catch-up with my classmates state-side (this is actually harder than it sounds… forcing yourself to memorize kanji especially is difficult when your cellphone will intelligently predict the sentence you want to write). I have also found companionship in “Moby Dick”. There is no better novel to read cruising along the endless subway lines of Tokyo, than this Melville tome.

So that forms the basic skeleton of my day. I usually hop coffee shop to coffee shop lugging these essentials around with me. Now don’t for a second imagine some tasteful, coffee cove in some back alley. Usually, I find the most obnoxiously chain of chained spots- right by the train station, and watch commuters swipe their Suica rail cards while I dare foreigners to look me in the eye. (Side note: not sure if this sort of tourism-culture exists in other countries, but rarely can I talk to foreigners here on account that they like to suspend themselves in the “Lost in Translation” dream world- that they are alone among a viciously homogenous population. Not the case really, each subway car, I guarentee you has their fair share of Murrays and Johanssons. Actually, I picked up a “10 Ten Places in Tokyo” book the other day, and it has a special section on how one can retrace their fictional steps. True story.)

As for the special occasions that have popped and propped up in my life lately, let’s start with last Sunday.

The afternoon was spent with Marie and Yuki at the “Visions of America” photography exhibit at the Yebisu Garden Place. A mix of famous American and Japanese photographers alike, the gallery was a meditation on American culture, the road, the protests and the wars.

Afterwards we took the subway the local girl’s college to see my friend Takahiro Momoeda’s male choir “The Wagner Society” sing Classical, in Japanese and Latin, then finish up with tribute to Porgy and Bess. Unfortunately I only could stay for the Japanese portion, though I was hoping to catch a little of “Bess you is my woman”.

I had to leave early because my roommate from this summer’s Keio CCC program, Ryo Kakinuma, got some of the student’s together for a “Welcoming Party” on my behalf. We met up in Shibuya, yelled our “久しぶり”s, and made our way over to “Doma Doma” a famous Izakaya chain. Izakayas, if we remember, sport a beautiful array of typical Japanese-style tapas, and, most importantly, cheap drinks.

Picture montage time:

Maybe an hour into our festivities, myself, well versed in how insufficient I am in Japanese, a certain on going internal monologue at this point of “wow, their speaking Japanese”, Toshi sensei, Ph.D. in American Literature, rolls in sporting his beauty and equal brilliance. We spend a good portion of the dinner chatting about the whale (what he wrote his Thesis on, actually) while he’d return back to the students making them laugh with his, I can only imagine, fantastic Japanese witticisms.

In his spare time from teaching nine classes, he enjoys writing for a popular music magazine here in Japan. Soon he’ll be spending his sabatical in the states, teaching.

After the meal was finished, Toshi dropped two mon-en (220 bucks) like nothing, and declined to join the second party of Karaoke.

Karaoke, a treat, as always, astonished me once again. My past experiences with the craft has only been with businessmen, typically more than twice my age. Their voices cracking as they croon away at Bob Dylan and Rolling Stones hits of their youth.

Now I was surrounded by pros. A generation that’s grown up never knowing a time without the inebriated past-time. Really born and raised to cover songs. And, damn, when Daisuke and the bunch started J-Rapping, I was really too embarassed to try my hands at Paul Simon covers. Though I did, sick voice and all.

The couple hours of singing cost fifteen bucks around, and we all said our “お疲れ様”s this time at Shibuya station, while everyone checked last train times with their Yahoo equipped cellular devices.

This night out was enjoyed after a rough three or four days in bed (futon) coughing and sneezing. It was the shining light that life in all it’s rhythms was picking up again. A reminder that time is too short to wonder what to do.

So the next day, I sat in the skyline cafe, Muriwui, sipping on ginger tea, eating fried potatoes, occasionally talking to the burger chef owner- who had lived 30 years in San Francisco. When I got up to pay the bill, I noticed the two girls who had been taking an English lesson in the corner of the room got up too. Wrapping up my red plaid scarf, walking down the stairs, I decided to pick up a few veggies for dinner. I turned around to grab some garlic, when I noticed the girls had followed me into the grocery store. I tried my tired joke “久しぶり” (long time no see), and we chatted while we picked up food. Little did I know at the time, that we were really shopping for the next nights dinner.

Rie, a local musician with her husband Daisuke, invited me over for dinner. The 25 and 24 year old couple (respectively) have a ballad duet with Hawaiiain influences called かのんぷ (Kanonpu). Daisuke sports a classical guitar or ukelele, while Rie is the lead singer and plays piano.

Here they are on a morning t.v. show actually.

Their apartment is unassailably cute, decorations reminiscent of their honeymoon abroad in Hawaii together.

We stuffed ourselves, bowl and bowl, trading back and forth between Japanese and English- correcting each other as we went along. There is no doubt, that I am slightly “cooler” simply on the merit of being a native English speaker. But that simply comes with the territory of being in Japan. After throwing sweet mochi cakes, green tea cookies, every which kind of shochu and nihonshu (sake), and a sample cd my way, we promised on another dinner date; the next time I would cook.

A 15 minute walk later back to my homestay, I realized I had neighborhood friends again. Since their income is solely off the dozens of concerts they have a year, we’re sole mates in our excessively freetime. Here’s their website if you wanna check them out, http://kanonpu.eek.jp/index.html

The next day, I visited Marie at her part-time job at the daycare, where I’ve essentially taken up a volunteer position. There I sold candy, watched the drama that is elementary school romance, played with a dog, and heard my first imitation of my American-accent-Japanese, by a lovely little boy.

Photos:

Around 6, we all parted ways and Marie pointed me in the direction of a standing-space-only Ramen shop, for which I am incredibly grateful.

I then took a train out to Yokohama where Rie and Daisuke were waiting with a free ticket to see Hawaiiain pop at this American bar called “Thumbs Up”. Because of their sweet connections, I met two former Yokozunas (god-like Sumo wrestlers), and listened to set after set of much needed soulfull music.

Photos:

Like giddy children we texted each other throughout the next day and decided to have a Salmon-Burger night. This time I invited my homestay parents over. The Salmon-Burgers would be my treat this time, the delicious Nabe- theirs.

Yuki and I made the feast together, which would be: 12 Salmon Burgers with cilantro on wheat bread, Mashed caramalized acorn squash and grilled asparagus.

All of us garlic lovers, we pretty much made garlic burgers with Salmon for flavor. About 10 salmon cuts, one garlic, a few pieces of white bread, fried mushrooms, half an onion, black pepper, 3 eggs later, Yuki, Noe and I went over to Rie and Daisuke’s place (of course picking up refreshments along the way).

Needless to say I was as giggly as a cub scout on his first marshmellow bonfire. I could think of nothing cuter than a union of my host family and Kanonpu.

Yuki, Noe, working couple they are, had to unfortunately leave early. After they parted- Daisuke and Rie stopped everything. Daisuke looking at me seriously said, “Daniel, now is the time for a private concert. A concert only for you, and your memories”. They played me a new song, and one of my favorites “守りたい物” (Things I wanna protect).

We have the cutest friendship ever. No offense meant. We’re meeting up tomorrow night for an okonomiyaki party, Japanese style deliciousness.

That almost brings up to date. But actually, I met up with Sae Goizumi, my homestay-sister I hosted way back, 5 years ago.

We met up at Shinagawa station the next day, and it was just like old times- except our respective language skills grew, as well as our height. We rode to Yokohama, and spent a little less than three hours Karaok-ing together. “You can Karaoke at 3 in the afternoon?”, “You can Karoake whenever” she responded.

I’ll try and dig up a flashback photo, but really- Sae (for those who have ever met her) looks completely different, but she still has her goofy sense of humor.

We then met up with her friend, also an alumni of the Catonsville-homestay program (esteemed as that is), Saki. We ate dinner at T.G.I Fridays. Which is, exactly what you imagine it to be, except there is a dangerous amount of drunk touring Americans, or sweet-hearts reunited in the island’s navy port.

I grabbed the largest burger I could, while Saki and Sae got some shrimp and pasta dishes. With bottomless sodas and greasey plates, it was another giddy childhood moment. I could stop smiling. And then- they surprised me with an ice cream sundae.

Like I started, getting sick away from home, is a difficult thing. I am incredibly forturnate for the friends I sometimes feel I don’t deserve. As I come into my own here, it only reminds me of the times I am missing at home. This morning began calling up Olivia out of homesickness. What lasted to a forty-five minute call, ended with me reminded of all the open arms readily available, the easily found love of life. This may be Japan, but experience is inextricable from life. Hospitality is eternal.

At any rate, I just have a stuffy nose now. With my Uncle’s arrival this Friday, time in Japan is slipping away. But it couldn’t be any more polite in saying good-bye.

Written by Daniel

December 13, 2008 at 8:08 am

Posted in event, food, shopping, wandering

Hello Kitty has no mouth

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The ratio of dancing to sleeping this weekend would be about 2:1.  The ABS program was kind enough to bestow a “Free Weekend” to us. Needless to say, every moment was spent.

More about that in a second.

So yes, “academic” life… or rather just my schedule has been pretty packed lately. This week is another one of those. With preparing for Vietnam, a handful of papers to write, and keeping up with TAing, my last full week in Kyoto will be slightly difficult. Already, I am thinking about this weekend: farewell party, Halloween party at work, and maybe a night at a club with some friends. There are some gems to look forward to in this week though- though I don’t know them yet.

Okay, so Friday I finished up my class, my favorite class (actually) to TA. We go through the 9 pronunciations that “A” has… that I can’t even distinguish. Throughout it answering question “What is the difference between a tortoise and turtle?”, comparing our various electronic dictionaries, singing conversations, teaching phrases like “What are friends for?”, “You’re a natural!” and “Oh Heavens!” while I explain the ones I use “Too soon?”, “jk rowling”, and “weenis” (none of which translate well). After class I try and get some of the students to come out with me for the weekend, but, like many college students here, most of them are working at their part time jobs.

So after hanging out at Fukakusa campus for a little bit, headed home on the free shuttle to meet up with Julian. He, Dan and I headed North by way of the river to have a few drinks and eat diner Chinese food- waiting for a DJ circle to begin at a little club called Voodoo.

Kyoto University students were hosting this little event in an alley club just South of Shijo-dori. As soon as we made it downstairs, Julian goes “isn’t that…” and suddenly fellow ABS students were rushing us. Out of all the clubs in the area, we manage to run into each other. Go figure, Kyoto is pretty small.

They left a little early, just before DJ Bubble danced around with a fifth of Jack Daniels in one hand and a silver platter of shots in the other. Respect gained- we hung around for his set. Which actually was pretty good. As usual, there were many wall flowers or knee bouncing dancers. Julian and I cleared the floor (for better or worse).

Just as a note… or rather to build up the theme of this post, at one point in the night a guy started booty dancing with Julian. After a little bit, Julian asks curiously “are you gay?” The guy immediately stopped dancing, put his forearms in an X and went “oh No Noooo, iiieee,” and then paused for a second and asked “are you gay?” “Yeah, I am gay” Julian responded, “are you gay?” And after looking around the little club, the Japanese man leans into Julian and says “no, but I am bisexual… so I don’t hate you”

Not the first Julian’s had such a strong reaction, but certainly up there as odd. It’s right up there with “Gay Parade? Is that like boxing?”

Now it is easy to throw this in the steriotypes of “Shame Culture” or the “Sexually Repressed”. And, yes, quite often Japan is described as socially stuck in the 20s and 30s. But of course these generalizations are made to deal with these realities a little easier. A term is easier to control than a man telling you he doesn’t “hate” you.

At one point during this weekend, at a “famous” Gay Club in Osaka Julian turned to me and said, “you realize you are taking part in underground culture right now.” Looking around, at the disparity between hidden salary men in the corner, solo-act-drags lip syncing as well as Tokyo citizens in Godzilla movies, and Europeans visiting the scene, it’s a startling experience what you really are doing.

For me, Club Explosion! was like any other club. Aside from some grinding couples, dancing was relatively tame and asexual. There was the worse drag I’ve ever seen. And some of the most bizarre:

She starting bleeding from the mouth at around 3 in the morning on the stage, during a set of variety acts including: Mario interpretive dance, corny magic tricks, and some other scenes.

This was our Saturday night in Osaka. The preamble to the Kansai Rainbow Parade on Sunday.

Earlier we met up with Aki, Momoko and Dylan in Amemura. Friends from Fukakusa campus, I spend a good portion of my week hanging out with them.

Dylan, obviously not Japanese, is an Australia studying at Ryukoku right now. Momoko, the reverse. is Japanese, trying to study how to be an Australian. Aki lived in America for awhile and knows what’s up.

Unfortunately they couldn’t stay out with us for the night. We shared a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon at Junk Cafe, wandered around to an Arcade where we had a fantastic experience of Puri-Kura (photo booths on acid).

After blasting away some zombies with Momoko (who is a pro, by the way), we parted ways, and Julian prepared the redbulls for the night, not after seeing a monkey the size of nothing, though.

By the end of the night, we found ourselves on a local train to Kyoto. Not Kyoto-eki, it would turn out. The hour and ten ride brought us a forty minute walk from home. Luckily an ivory taxi was idling for us, we got back… slept- woke at 11 and returned to Osaka.

There we met up with Osakan and  co-worker Sachi (pictured below)

She works 3 three jobs  (mine, a restaurant job at Kobe, and a translating gig) and only gets sunday off. In anticipation of Vietnam, we went to a restaurant by her translating job. Unlike Vietnamese restaurants back at Baltimore, the place was covered with Vietnamese art and knick-knacks. There were no quacking ducks heard from the kitchen.

The Japanese influence was subtle but there. Flavors and ingredients popular in Japan were exaggerated a little more (seen mostly in the desert menu, where , while stronger tastes like Nuoc Mam were made less fishy and more miso base. Pickled raddish and carrots still had their vinegar crispness, but they were cut in heart and star shapes (so Japanese) instead of strips. Also, like Shojin ryori, the entrees were separated into small dishes, so you could personally make them. Being able to make your own bowl of Bun Cha Goi, added the homely touch this nostalgic adventure was seeking.

We picked up the reasonable check, and made our way to the Kansai Rainbow Parade.

I am debating how to really begin this. So, let me present it the same way they do- here is a quote from the literature for the event:

Ojective of the parade

More and more sexual minority issues have been recently featured on mass media in Japan. The population of sexual minority people is estimated to be approximately a few percent to five percent in every society. This means you probably have one sexual-minority classmate out of thirty in a school class. Most people, however, rarely think a relative or friend of them may be sexual minority.

In this parade, sexual minority people and their allies proudly walk in downtown Osaka. We sincerely hope that the parade will help all people to realize that sexual minority people are here. And we also hope that our society will become more and more open one enough to respect sexual diversity.

Caution

There is possibility that your photo is taken during the parade(*). When you do not want to be on the photo, go to the pictures-prohibited zone. However, it is not always guaranteed that you never be on the photo even if you are in the picture-prohibited zone. Take protective measures, such as wearing sunglasses or caps if you want surely not to be shot.

Meaning of the rainbow

…Not only the rainbow flag uses multi colors but also the Olympic flag consists of five colors, which represent diversity and equality of races in the world. Same can be said for the rainbow flag; each of us have diverse sexualities including diverse sexual orientations or gender identities just like a six-color rainbow. We hope that our “Rainbow Parade” help all people to respect the diversity and try to live together.

Now before arriving, we joked about our low expectations. I had imagined about 20 people, 18 of which Euro/Aussie, while the other two, Businessmen hidden behind spread newspapers. What we found was a modest 1,200. Obviously no New York or Amesterdan numbers at this parade.

Still it was a powerful experience. Everyone was polite and, aside from the float blasting dance music, people peacefull marched alongside of streets lined with confused bystanders. The parade was so polite, in fact, we even stopped at traffic lights!

However, despite whatever my Western perspective depreciates this experience, you couldn’t deny that this parade was as effectual to the Osaka bystanders as one in San Francisco. Again, we felt part of a grass-roots counter culture moment. Children cocked their heads, while mena dn women watched from buisness windows at the cosplay and drag dressed participants.

If you frame by frame the video, you can see the variety of just confusion. From my short time here, seeing the reactions in general about gender concepts, I can say that a sight like this parade was a voice that Gay culture rarely ever gets here.

The Kansai Rainbow parade met up to its objective.

At the end of the two hour parade, we convened at no Central Park, instead this dingy children’s park between two department stores.

There a brass band played a final song, while everyone picked up balloons. A count-down led to the loudest everyone got all day. The energy of the march was put into that one moment where everyone shouted in support and let go.

There was a follow up party at Club Explosion, but we ended up savoring the moment at the harbor view in Osakako

We then hit up an Izakaya (cheap beers and tapas) by Umeda station, laughing and relaxing after the day.

As failure would have it, getting on the wrong train the other night left us with a free return trip home from Osaka (one less expenditure). So with forty yen in my pocket- Julian and I got back from the weekend at around midnight.

Written by Daniel

October 20, 2008 at 4:10 am

Posted in event, food, wandering