Back and better (I hope)

So, the vacation is over, and I’m back in Tokyo, for better or worse. I didn’t write much on this trip, as I tend not to on trips where I have contacts in the region that I’m visiting. I had a lot of quality dialogues. I think that is the outstanding theme of this trip. I talked to Mark, I talked to Brandon. I talked to Adrian, I talked to Ken. I talked to Professors Knight and Jones. I also had several very prophesying dreams and in the end I somehow managed a rather eloquent soliloquy at the airport in Toronto, despite being at the height of exhaustion. I was firing on all four cylinders vocally, in Japanese mind you.

Most of all, I didn’t wake up once feeling the sick dripping nausea that plagues me so often on bleary Tokyo mornings. I want to really figure out why that is, but unfortunately the scientific method fails me here with not enough meaningful data and too many experimental variables. Why does Tokyo smell so comforting to me?

Tony performs in the optometry section of Wal-Mart. “Save the farm, Babe!” Happy pumpkin. Dad during a tight 7-1 loss to Tony in air hockey.

Narita kicks the stuffing out of every other airport I’ve been to. It’s compact, efficient, and you can get through it either way in twenty minutes. It’s a great introduction to everything that comforts me about Japan: quiet, efficiency, etiquette, and crisply energetic women.

As an amusing little “you had to be there”, when making my way from the gate to immigration, I decided to take the stairs to the quarantine check as everyone else was queuing up to board the escalator. This is nothing strange for me, as it satisfies several of my core principles associated with selecting manual over automated anything. But since I was the only one who did in this situation, burdened with a number of bags I drew a brief peppering of remarks and hushed comments from the elderly ladies riding the short escalator.

Wakai ii ne. Erai, erai! Etc. (It sure is nice to be young. Wow, [he’s] great, fabulous!)

The catch here is this prompted a handful of elderly men behind me to get out of line for the escalator and in a ruffled sense of pride, huff their way up the stairs as well. Yes, I’m home, drawing attention and savoring the Spartan nature of my life yet again.

Mr. Jefferson. Our national champion lacrosse team. The middle of a narrow victory over NC State. Rachael enjoying autumn.

Things well-practiced and new

I think that Final Fantasy VII has some of the best music in the series. Tifa’s pieces in particular are so full of angst and bittersweet reflection that I never tire listening to them. The piano arrangements are exceptionally moving. I hear these dulcet notes of beautiful regret and I cannot help but see my life with gentle acquiescence.

I am going home, currently off the southern coast of Alaska. Four weeks ago I thought that I’d be hitching now, working my way northwest for a week of solitude. But uncharacteristically, or maybe in a way long forgotten, I made an impulsive decision and now I’m following through with it. I didn’t plan on visiting America this year. I was just in the States for Brandon’s wedding last October, and my ten-year high school reunion is next May. Mom thinks it’s partly because of what happened to Randy, that I had the gut feeling that time was scant and I should be home if I could. I haven’t traveled inside Japan but once last winter to see Rodney before he moved, though I’ve already met my quota of two overseas trips this year, Seoul and Paris. There’s little left to go home to in Kyoto, all my friends are estranged.

I guess I can’t really say why I’m going home, except that maybe I’m tired, which is silly because the flight to America is incredibly taxing. I’d do much better to spend a week at home in Tokyo, but if I did I don’t think that I’d feel like I got anything at all done. I’m so exhausted from Tokyo right now. So much emotional stress this year, so many near breakdowns. However, it remains to be seen how restful this vacation will be. I have to check my email twice daily, and as I write this, above in the overhead compartment is my laptop and a several thousand dollar game development kit in case I need to debug my engine this week. Hardly a restful state of mind…

What am I doing here? Am I happy? Is this as happy as anyone gets to be in their life? Why am I doing this? Why am I here? Why am I doing this? Do I do my job because I love it, or because I’m afraid I couldn’t do anything else? I’m scared, is that it? I’ve always had another ring in plain sight to reach up for, and now there’s nothing, and the one I’m on is killing me, or, more exactly I’m killing myself because of it. I only have vague ideas of what I want… and honestly, could anything else be as fulfilling? What I need is money to pay bills, what I need is time. The time to find myself again, or maybe for the first time. I think there are a lot of good things in me, things that may become beautiful. How can I make those things my life? Nothing is going to be a sure bet, or maybe even hold a lot of promise. But I’m not going to get any stronger or younger waiting for it to present itself to me. Maybe I don’t take anything seriously because I’m afraid of losing. If I never really devote myself to something, I don’t have to worry about it wrecking me when I lose. What do you want to be? I’m so tired and have lost faith in so many things, I don’t even know anymore. I don’t know what to do anymore. Everything is junk food and masturbation. I hate seeing myself in the mirror, I used to love it. I hate the way I look: always tired, pale, and older than I should.

I thought I wanted to make people happy. And I still do. But there is another way. There have to be many other ways.

I need to learn. I need to be in an environment where learning is the crux of what I do. Books, manuals, examples, libraries…

[I hate when I start sounding like every other blog out there. We all have similiar problems. It makes me feel less special, less advanced. If I can’t solve the same rudimentary problems that plague two-thirds of Americans, how can I expect to master anything advanced that I can really be proud of?]

No infamy, no frills, just buzz

This night may end in twenty minutes, after two hamburgers and a chicken sandwich, or it could be tomorrow at 8:30 with my haircut, but whatever, it becomes doesn’t matter. It’s mine, and a day I will remember. Like so many things it starts with alcohol, a glass of twenty-two dollar wine from my neighborhood liquor store. The only thing I had today was 650 yen worth of sushi before heading to Nakano in search of a wide angle lens for the A-1, so a generous glass of Bordeaux was enough to make beat-tired me happy and forego Resident Evil 4 for a little space. When is the last time I had a night to myself, really? So I’m in McDonald’s with a poorly mixed 20 oz. shouchu/tea cocktail and listening to ソルファ while reading the Book of Matthew and thinking about my life. I remember when I was a traveler, using places like this to write and put my feet up before walking twelve miles through some city not my home.

But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

[In the end, Saturday night was not a mistake, or a series of misadventures, but a controlled and mellow buzz into the late night. I sat in front of Shinjuku station’s north exit and while smoking the top of a Camel hard pack, watched some performing kids draw a large crowd. Then I wandered down towards Kabuki-cho, finished my chuhai and took an hour alone in Karaokekan working on some of my favorite hits. After that, it was about eleven-thirty and I was bushed so I went home, though I don’t really remember doing it. I finally went to bed after some more RE4 at two. Blah, blah, blah.]

Dry beans in a gourd

Today I’m feeling subdued, with several seconds of latency in my thoughts and communication. It could be that I’m tired from the undoukai yesterday. Or it could be that I’m getting sick. Elan would reply to these assumptions, “Yes.”

I went to Ootoya for lunch, which has apparently made a move about three-tenths of a point upscale to distance themselves from all the other picture-menu diner chains. You don’t pay when you order/enter, and the decor has been tweaked ever so slightly. Things are a more robust hazelnut hue, the lighting isn’t quite as garish, and a soothing mix of classical music and light jazz plays in the background. Maybe just because it was after two, but it seemed more quiet and pensive than usual. I’d say Ootoya got a brush of Starbucks. The only two points I can speak poorly of are the fact that tax is not included in the posted prices (virtually all other restaurants do this), and they still have long-tabled, cafeteria style seating to conserve space. The longer I work as a salaryman, the more I crave a quiet corner where I can sit with my back to the wall and be undisturbed. Today, by no small chance, another foreigner sat across from me. Since I’m a little more emotionally raw than usual today, it set me on end and kept me from the deep rumination I selected the restaurant for. He wasn’t doing anything, and it was all my problem, but I noticed things out of the corner of my eye. He spoke in uncharacteristically soft Japanese. He ordered natto with his grilled salmon. He cleaned the flesh from the bone meticulously. He brought his own chopsticks. This guy was good; real good.

In any case, I was distracted and didn’t get through my thinking as much as I hoped for. This thinking is nothing trivial; well not trivial in the sense I don’t really need it, but it was trivial in the sense of twirling a pen over my fingers to calm me down. It’s my standard listing of all the things I think I need to do before some fixed point in time, forty to sixty percent of which will be accomplished, twenty of which are just “Yeah-ands” on the orderly bandwagon. It’s this closing of mental drawers in my mind that is a sort of intangible cleaning that gives me a feeling of control over my life. I take all the things that may or may not be on my periphery, or have slid lately, and file them away in neatly-pressed bullet points for consumption. It’s like looking around one’s room for stray socks or t-shirts: on the floor, over the chair, under the sofa.

Back to the food at Ootoya, it’s good. It’s clean and tidy like the rest of the restaurant. The best part is it doesn’t try to be anything unnecessary, like so many tiny cubes of tofu with perfectly-adjusted spice leaves. It is what it is, but it does it well and you notice the detail in the separate dishes that all have actual uses and compliment the flavors selected for presentation. A poster on the wall even says that their aim is to provide spirit-satisfying food. How rare to find an establishment that matches the marketing. Exactly. A non-phony commercial product.

I rolled a dozen pin-width thoughts in my mind. How I love karashi, but how it covers the taste of everything else. Much like A.1., which so long ago I entrusted with the grave responsibility of making brussel sprouts palatable, but later appreciated my father’s rebuke for dousing the true flavor of the meat he so delicately prepared on the grill. I need to write Rodney. I need a change of scenery. I need more music, more cooking in subtle yellow light. I need a room where I can feel the taut corners. Very few things that droop and curl with age are appealing.


Another way of running

Tokyo is a special part of Japan, apart from the forty-three prefectures, kind of like how the District of Columbia isn’t a state. It’s comprised of twenty-three special wards (and twenty-six cities, five towns, and eight villages), each of which is tantamount to a completely autonomous city. The cities run right up next to each other, sort of like the borough of Pittsburgh. I’ve lived in Shibuya ward since I came to Tokyo, though there are different regions inside Shibuya. I live in the area known as Honmachi, which is in the northeast corner of Shibuya, running up against Nakano and Shinjuku wards. Inside Honmachi is an even smaller municipal division, known as the choukai. Honmachi has eight, I happen to live in the smallest, East Honmachi. The East Honmachi village council is the body that arranges the annual festivals, bazaar and such.

Today I made good on another tradition, and a promise, this time joining this year’s undoukai (athletic meet). Two years ago I woke up with a terrible hangover and was barely able to join in the last event, the relay race. Last year I couldn’t attend because I was in the States for Brandon’s wedding. This year though, I was able to make a fair showing, arriving just at the start of the opening ceremonies and participating in a handful of events throughout the day. Much to my chagrin, my admission that I’m not fast was fresh in the memories of our team captain, and so I was registered for the distance run, the flag carry, and the chicken fight.

The other week at my company’s retreat I spent the first forty-five minutes of recreation time running laps inside the health center, which I figure must have been about four or five miles. So, I thought that the two kilometers of the undoukai distance run would be no trouble, and it wasn’t. However, I made two mistakes; one of pacing myself too slow (I wasn’t very tired after the event was over), and the other of not being able to count my laps accurately. So, I pulled up too soon and when I realized I had one more to go, I poured it on to no avail. Having someone to cheer me on and give some sort of hand signals as to how many laps I had to go would have helped. But, the experience taught me that I need to get to know my body a lot more intimately to race competitively (even if this even was more for fun and community than unabashed conquest).

The flag race was over before it began, as we had to carry our choukai banner less than fifty meters before handing it off to the next relay member. The chicken fight was pretty interesting, though again, my glaring lack of experience kept me in the dark and ended our tour rather quickly. Unfortunately I don’t have a picture because I was in the thick of things, but basically myself and two other adults locked hands while a young boy rode on my shoulders and swung a foam bat, in the hopes of breaking a balloon on the opposing “army’s” rider’s helmet, while they attempted to do the same to us. Long story short, I was a poor war horse and my rider was knocked out of action fairly quickly.

All in all, it was a good day– good weather, good food, and I got a load of laundry done before the heading to the uchiage (closing party). There we briefly licked the wounds of finishing last overall, and there was the occasional muttering about some rival choukai using spikes to gain an advantage in the events. For the most part, though, it was business as usual. Things started out awkward. I wished I didn’t come alone, I tried to eat as much oden as possible, my elderly neighbors pushed “rice water” onto to me amid a growing torrent of backslapping humor. I haven’t had any hard sake in years, and it showed as I could barely taste the stuff while my partners put down glass after glass of it. Luckily, they felt a little sorry for me and so I was given far more than my fair share of beer. At the end when our district politician Yabe-san showed up, I was quick to loudly welcome him to the celebration.

I really should be cooking this week’s lunch rations or cleaning the house, but I’m pretty worn out so it’s just going to be a night of half-motivated blogging and a corny remake of The Poseidon Adventure on TV.

More lost days

Last weekend I finally got two days off in succession so I was able to get out to a party in Sagami Lake. I wish that I could average more than two raves a year, but ever since I’ve started working in Tokyo, I’ve had very few empty weekends. Rave culture seems to be just as warm and close-knit in Japan as the States, if not more so. Ravers often know most of the people at the party, and those that they don’t, friends are made quickly. Everything is shared, and intimate relationships blossom and grow like wildflowers. I was lucky enough to bear witness to a rave wedding this time. A young couple who originally met a rave and fell in love exchanged silent vows in front of the group, sharing a special cake while being serenaded by a tender vocalist.

[The first manga series I read, Dr. Slump, is having a revival this year, and reprints are being issued. It’s a strange kind of nostalgia for me to see something that I cut my teeth on resurging in pop media.]

Despite my best attempts to keep warm, once again the bedding wasn’t thick enough, and I didn’t sleep so much as just shiver and turn through the few hours before dawn. There’s a blissful kind of discomfort that comes from the slapdash camping of amateur raving. So cold at first, those hours four to six: you pile on clothes, sweaters on shirts and extra pants; rolling over a blanket and a too small sleeping bag, the ground hard under a thin nylon tent bottom. You mutter to yourself that you really should have brought another ground roll before finally falling asleep, and the next thing you know fatigue is keeping tethered, out of the reach of consciousness that grows with the gradual discomfort of an incredibly hot tent from no fresh air and circulation.

I let things just go, this weekend was never my plan, but I was happy to help out. I was tired and gritty, just like always, but it was satisfying and a warming escape into humanity, like always.

Fuck machines.

Things long overdue

In the days following Geisai, I seem to be reluctant to do much of anything. I sleep, but I’m tired. Things are intractable, I don’t have the power to overcome the inertia of anything static. I did, however, recently get out to see an attraction that I’d been meaning to experience for a number of years. Nekobukuro (literally, “cat bag”), is a section on the seventh floor the Ikebukuro Tokyu Hands. Essentially this is a place for people to congregate and play with cats. I had a grand image of the space spanning the entire floor, but it’s just a couple small rooms lined with colorful cat-themed furniture and puns. A rotation of about three dozen animals “work” various days of the week, and are generally happy to be fed treats or chase after balls of string. The remainder of the time they seem to enjoy sleeping. Aside from the occasional overzealous child, it must be a pretty sweet life.

I actually used to hate cats, mainly because I was incredibly allergic and their saliva-coated dander made me a bleary, puffy-eyed, sneezing mess. However, in recent years I have come to more and more respect them as animals, and now considering my streamlined and evolving philosophy, hold them in even higher regard than dogs. Luckily, as I tend to become stronger and more badass about things as I get older, my allergies have, for the most part, waned as well. Hayfever and ragweed are non-factors for me, and it seems that I can play with cats for a relatively long period of time and not be affected much. If I choose the right breed, I may in fact actually be able to live with one and avoid developing asthma.

First I need a life where I can actually have time to be around the house to interact with a nascent family, though.

[Forgive the blurry pictures, the residents of Nekobukuro understandably asked that I refrain from flash photography.]