Archive for the ‘angelina jolie’ Tag

Dick Jokes and Pumpkin Carving   Leave a comment

 

I’m dressed as a spade, and I’m sprinting up a hill. Behind me, four small Japanese boys scream “Ashi hayai ne!!!”  (he runs so fast!) I crest the hill, and in front of me, is an army of little Japanese kids dressed like witches, goblins and ninjas. Giggling and screaming, they dart from place to place, in search of candy. The four boys behind me catch up, huffing and puffing. They point towards a thick grove of trees fifty feet away and we start running again, navigating between little bodies and screaming voices.

 

I’m a counselor at the annual Mikkabi Youth center Halloween camp.

 

Mikkbai is a quiet town about an hour from Hamamatsu by train. The vista I received after stepping off the train was exquisite. In the near distance I saw green rolling hills and fields of tall, dark grass. The surrounding had a panoply of plants and colours. The train station had a quaint touch; it was small and built of wood, and doubled as a bakery. The place immediately made me feel calm and relaxed.

 “From what I heard last time, the camp was a nightmare.”

Another ALT had told me this at a bar after a few drinks three weeks ago. At the time I hadn’t planned to go, and paid it no mind. But I had no apprehensions about doing the camp. At some points, I had envisioned a huge log cabin filled with wild young Japanese kids, screaming at the counselors and wreaking havoc. It wasn’t anything like that.

 

“This reminds me of Jamaica.” I said to Emma, another counselor. I ran into her at the station and we took the train up to Mikkabi together.

“Really? Why?” she replied.

“Well I realized something when I traveled to Osaka a few weeks ago. I noticed that when I got there I felt very calm and secure, but I wasn’t sure why. The Japanese people hadn’t changed, and nothing was horribly different but then I realized that in the distance I could see mountains. Then I said to myself, wow, I grew up for most of my life seeing mountains wherever I went. I even live in a community in the hills overlooking Kingston.”

 

My spiel revealed something else to me I didn’t realize either. Living in a foreign country has certain demands, which are mostly mental after you get adjusted to your work environment. Trying to escape for many people involves engaging in various activites to keep busy, but its not always garaunteed to make you feel that good.
For me I discovered that I had an escape. I just needed to find a place with hills.

 

The youth center was a large modern building that felt like a hotel. We were greeted by staff and a few volunteer high school students. Upstairs was a meeting room with several other counselors, mostly twenty somethings that lived in different parts of the Shizuoka prefecture. It was funny to see so many foreigners in one place. It had been weeks since I spoke much that English on a Saturday during the day.

 

As I sat there, watching the groups interact with each other, I got sudden flashes of the past from living in America and Jamaica; the fleeting glimpses of those memories a quiet echo of my western culture.

 

My charges were four young boys, whom I met at lunch. Kyoko, one of the founders of the event, explained to the children what the events would be. As we started singing songs and playing with the children, I felt more like the sensei  I had become.

 

Watching grown people play with children is always a little weird. In our adult lives we rarely do exaggerated things unless we are drunk or engaging in specific physical activities. Seeing tall young men and women running after little children, making smiling faces and gesturing wildly with their hands was interesting. In a way, I was looking at these people being parents, or practicing. I was seeing how humans are, and how our roles interlink from place to place. Our charges for the weekend were our kids, and we had to watch them and protect them, make them happy and not get exhausted in the process.

 

“Yes we can! Yes we can!” everyone chants after singing a halloween song. Outside, the sky is a cool gray, and the sea is near motionless save a lone boat sliding across its surface. In a gymnasium with one hundred and forty children, twenty counselors and another twenty staff, I feel quiet and at peace.

 

We do some early trick or treating and I change my costume three times before I decide on what I’m going to be, which is a Spade from a deck of cards. My guys are all dressed as a certain Japanese wizard, the name of whom I can’t recall. As night falls and Iget used to the routine of watching my group and playing with them, I learn about the people around me in soft sprinkles of information. The counselors are mostly from America and Canada with a couple Scots and English people tossed in for good measure. I am one of two Jamaicans in residence, which is pretty cool.

 

Later we make Jack-o-laterns. I’ve never carved a pumpkin before, and I take make sure to design the perfect pumpkin for my guys. Yutaro, a small, wide-eyed child with a man’s confidence is fiercely debating how we’ll make the eyes.

“Let’s use this stencil.” One of them says to me in Japanese, pointing at a stencil book.

The image is a frightening pair of eyes and a grisly smile.

“No, we need an original design.” Yutaro retorts, and they eventually decide on eyes that are shaped like Stars.

I’m proud of the finished product and so are my charges. They happily smear fake blood on the Jack-o-latern and disappear to their rooms before we head back to the gymnasium for some more games.

 

By the time the kids go to bed we get some good news. A local hotel, called the Ryokan will be where we sleep. One of the event managers knows the hotel very well; her family owns it. We walk down a quiet street that opens into a wide view of an inland lake. In the distance like a burst of colour, are the spinning lights of a ferris wheel. It’s chilly, and I made small talk with a girl from California, practicing my horrible Spanish.

 

At the Ryokan, the natural progression of events leads to drinking. We all sit in a large room, chugging beers and playing drinking games. As things start to wind down, everyone for some reason starts speaking about names.

“How do you get ‘bob’ from Robert?” someone says.

“How do you get ‘Bill’ from William?” a female voice chimes in.

“How do you get ‘Dick’ from Richard?” a guy name Mike says to me.

I pause, then I respond: “How do YOU get dick from Richard?”

Everyone laughs and this becomes a running gag for the remainder of the camp. The next morning, I wake up to the sound of my phone alarm. Ben, an English guy sleeping in the room with myself and two other guys, groans.

“It’s cold. It sucks” he says from underneath the blanket.

I stumble over to the window, which gives an amazing panoramic view of the lake in the morning. We stand there, the three of us, in our underwear for all of thirty seconds. “Time to go.” I say, rubbing my arms to keep warm. I slip on a sweater, grab my bag and prepare to head out. Ben, still putting his clothes on mentions something.

“I had a friend named Richard.” he said. “He never liked the nickname Dick. It really bothered him.”

“You mean Richard didn’t like Dick?” I said.

Ben laughed.

“I walked right into that one.” he said with a smile.

 

 

The day is a whirlwind of activity including a campfire, toasting marshmallows and trick-or-treating; all things I have never done. As the day progresses, the sun breaks through the gray bank of clouds shadowing the city and it gets warm. The kids feed on this weather with rabid enthusiasm. The day becomes a melee of running, Frisbee throwing and field games.

 

As the event comes to a close and we stand in a line to take pictures with our groups, two small Japanese girls standing in front of me ask to touch my hair.

“Cool!” they say to each other.

I respond to them in Japanese and they proceed to pepper me with questions, tickle me and teach me Japanese words like “bag”, “shoe” and “glasses”.

 

The camp feels like it ended a little quickly. I enjoyed my spirited conversations in Japanese with the energetic little boys, and barking their names whenever they got into mischief. I take a picture with the mother of Ritsuki, the tallest of the group, and she thanks me profusely for showing them a good time. I wave goodbye to Koki, the most shy of the group. Shintaro, Yutaro’s twin brother, gives me a happy high five before he runs to his mother. As they each go back to their parents and start walking away I smile. It feels good.

 

Kyoko’s house is both a school and a residence. It is clean, spacious and has a small back yard. The deck oversees train tracks and hills in the distance. The counselors eat sushi, chips and drink beers while occasionally singing along to popular songs (A counselor named Kat could play the guitar). I was horribly comfortable, singing along to Oasis, trying to play a Bob Marley song in between drinking and snacking on food. The high school students who helped out with the event were in residence too, chatting with each other and occasionally interacting with the counselors.

 

Watching the high school students help over the weekend was like taking a hot bath in Japanese culture. If you didn’t know beforehand they were students, you would think they were employees of the Mikkabi youth center. They did every duty diligently, everything was on time and no one had a sad face.

 

Before I went home I took one last look at the brown hills in the distance, looking at the tall trees which dotted their surface, and the undulating patterns and bumps along their breadth. There I was, standing on a deck in a far off place, and a sharp feeling of familiarity hit me which made me smile, even though I was nowhere near home. Happy Halloween.

 

 

Magnum Cock Size   1 comment

The bar is filled with people. They are swathed in dull amber lights, and the din of conversation floats out onto the street. I’m sitting beside a blonde Russian with a propensity for saying “Fuck you” as a response to almost any statement I make. In front of me, a tall broad-chested Japanese  man is standing up and pointing a meaty finger at me.

“Show me your magnum.” He says.
“What?”
“Show me your magnum cock size.” He says.

His eyes are furrowed into a make-believe expression of intensity, and he almost looked like a Who Wants To Be a Millionaire TV host, except one that’s really, really drunk. I’m getting used to the Japanese men’s ambiguously gay behaviour, but some nights it’s a little annoying. I’m having a beer, and the Russian is being a bit icy. “You are cool, ” I said to her. “You came here and you are taking care of business.” I said after a sip of beer. “Fuck you.” She replies. I say a few more things, and she keeps repeating those words.
I sigh. Tonight feels like one of those nights when I’m crawling slowly uphill in hot sun with a life preserver on. I leave the table. I go up stairs and chat with two girls, who I’ve labeled M and M. They are chatting to Texas, a cool guy I know who is from… Texas. M number two has an English accent. She has a small, very round face. The first thing I think of when I see her is a porcelain doll.
Today is a going away party for Eric, a guy who’s been in Hamamatsu for a year and a half. He’s  a small guy with dark hair and calm features. They call him Pepsi Boy. There’s a good turnout. Everyone is glowing with positive energy. Twice tonight, people would spill beer on me.
I head to another bar, Liquid Kitchen with M number one. We chat about nothing interesting in particular. I like M number one, but I explained to her my theory about women who are twenty-five years old. “Women who are twenty-five that I’ve met are a little crazy.” I said. “Either they want to sleep with everyone under the sun, or get married in a hurry… there doesn’t seem to be an in between.”
This obviously, means nothing. Liquid Kitchen, I say hello to everyone. A good crowd is in the house, including some of my fellow co-workers. I see a few English girls who were in my training program when I first came to Japan, and I make small talk.
“Marcus, I never see you!” one of them chimes in a heavy accent.
I smile and nod. The other English girl, always dressed in a cute outfit that connotes a somewhat ‘indie’ fashion sense, gives me a sly eye.  She has long dark hair with a set of razor sharp bangs above her eyes. When I met her, she said she loved Reggae music.
“I can dance like the black girls.” She had said to me those months ago.

At the time I’m not sure what I said. I think I probably chuckled, or said nothing, since I was still recovering from horrible Jet Lag at the time. One thing was certain though, the people in those initial groups kept in touch pretty well. I always ran into them, hearing stories about wild parties in Kyoto and Tokyo, trips to small Japanese Inns and people running out on Sushi bills. They were living the kind of Japanese lifestyle that seemed fun and natural for a foreigner. Stuff you laugh about over a cup of coffee or a few beers. They are going to planet Café tonight.
I decide to go.

I go a few minutes ahead of the group and walk in quickly, not paying. Inside, there is a small but decent crowd. Someone says my name, and I see a Japanese lady in a Kimono with a beer in her hand. I met her yesterday. “Marcus!” she says. “You are here… did you get my e-mail?”
“E-mail? I don’t think so.” I replied.
I fished out my phone and checked my messages. I frowned. There were two messages from her. One asking where I was, and then another about her being at Planet Café. She was a masseuse, with short brown hair and a nice smile. I asked her if she wanted to dance a little but she said no, she was too drunk.  She was in the company of two young Japanese guys, one of whom seemed a tad uncomfortable I was talking to her.

Seeing this lady wasn’t particularly thrilling. What eventually happened is that she proclaimed: “I never kiss someone I don’t know until a month. Maybe more.” She said this with a sly deceptive smile. I didn’t laugh. I had met a few of these Japanese women, who kept pushing a vague shield of super innocence, whether they were twenty, twenty-five or thirty. I didn’t ask to kiss her, and I wasn’t about to try and spend four to eight weeks trying to get one either. I told her goodnight.

On the dance floor, a sparse group of Japanese kids were standing up, watching the DJ. The music was okay, but I sighed at the observation of the social dynamics inside. See, Japanese people always face the DJ, seem to rarely interact with each other, and then leave in the group they came in. Occasionally I might break the mold and speak to someone on the dance floor, but it was so awkward (especially when everyone was facing forward and you weren’t ) that it required an extremely good mood and a desire to meet someone, both of which I didn’t have.
Back into the main area with the tables, I notice a few of the foreigners enter the bar. The English girl is sitting in a corner. I take a quick glance at her, wearing her black head wrap and boy shorts. She is chatting to a very effeminate looking Japanese guy in a red shirt. “She likes Japanese girly boys.” A friend tells me. I groan. This night is getting more lame.
I joke with another girl I know, a girl with an English accent who isn’t from England, and she seems bothered. I was teasing her about liking Japanese guys. She is standing with a very short, average looking Japanese guy (incidentally wearing a red-shirt too). “He’s my boyfriend.” She says looking offended.

Now something feels wrong. Living here in Japan is living between the extremes of social interactions with different people. This is the land where short effeminate men dominate the bars and clubs. In America I feel sometimes tall and skinny, but here I feel like a looming beast, intimidating and overbearing. I take one last look at the crowd, and leave.

I go back to KK house, and sing Karaoke with Eric and a few of his close friends. I sing two Linkin Park songs, screaming into the microphone to drown my sorrows. After the last song, I stand up and the crowd applauds. Then I realize, everyone sitting down is a couple. I sigh, and leave. Downstairs, men are reaping the fruits of their labour. Guys are getting numbers and things seem to be progressing. I walk outside into the night air, and hop on my bike. I try to get into a club for free nearby, and three bouncers almost jump me. I am a head taller than each of them, but they exhibit that telltale bouncer behaviour; the arm around the waist, and one kept saying “Let’s talk outside.”

I left the club and went home, flopping onto my bed. On my computer screen, is a frozen image of the movie Back To The Future. Seeing it makes me smile. I let out a heavy breath, and hope tomorrow is a better day.

Skinny Jeans Beach Clean   Leave a comment

June 7th, 2009

In Skinny jeans and shoes unfit for sand, I’m helping to clean a beach.

I’m an unofficial member of Surfquest, run by a tall manly-man looking guy named Mike, who’s responsible for thirteen miles of beach in Hamamatsu. I’d met him once in the city. He’s a builder. He built his house, skateboards and has plans for a lodge beside his house to sell books, house wayward surfers and have events.
The beach clean is pretty popular. Afterwards we have a barbeque and there is a book sale for those of us fiengning for English novels to read. When I arrived, I saw a couple fellow employees and familiar faces from around town.


We grabbed bags and went through an enclave of trees to the beach. Seeing the ocean for the first time since I’d been in Hamamatsu washed me with a sense of calm. I felt quiet and in touch internally as I walked and talked, happily picking up garbage and sorting into different bags. We had red bags and blue bags. “Red is for unburnable, blue for burnable.” Mike told the group earlier. We were all commissioned straw hats, little dirty gloves and a few plastic bags each. With only two colours of bags, people still asked during the clean which was which. I was putting the non burnables in the red bag, which luckily for me, was correct.

In terms of my life I didn’t know how I was feeling. The days still seemed a little fuzzy, and I often wondered what I was doing in Japan, so far from everything and everyone I know. This event helped my mood significantly. I fed everyone around me with questions, made jokes and played racing games with Mike’s dog, Chai. I felt free.

Later, there was a veggie barbeque at Mike’s place. Darkness started to fall, and I was eating loads of curried beans, peppery black beans and chips. There were lots of beers and green tea. Somewhere around this time, I met a girl. I’ll call her Z.

She wore a white a purple skirt that fitted her form perfectly. She was small, but more curvy than the majority of the Japanese women I had met so far. I recognized her immediately. I met her one night I had a DJ stint at a local bar. My buddy had been chatting her up, but I had no idea if he succeeded.
I liked her face. She was cute, with round bright eyes and a button nose. Occassionally her eyes would slant and a spark of sexuality would spread across her face. Then, like nothing, it was gone. I had seen her tipsy, and that look remained in my mind as I saw her the first time. She spoke great English. Her family traveled around. She also had a playful sense of humor.
I pretended to look through books in the book sale room to chat to her. We did small-talk. As I gauged her interest, I started to feel that she was someone worth some kind of effort. I puffed myself up somewhat, demonstrating my interesting life and telling lots of anecdotes, bridging the gap between my raging passions for certain things, with subtle hints about my sexual proclivities and love life.
She’s the kind of girls that foreigners here love–a well traveled Japanese chick who speaks English. The benefit of these women is three fold. One, they are open minded. Two they have probably been ina relationship with a foreigner (which can remove oodles of awkward situations), and three, they themselves have a different perspective on Japan after leaving it. She had been to America, Asia and Europe

.
I fed her story after story, wondering in my mind how I had morphed from my bumbling, sorry self of two days before into a person with what I call “life fire”. Time was dragging on, and I wanted to catch the last bus back to the city. K and a few other people wanted to take a walk on the beach, meaning we’d catch a cab home. I didn’t travel with much money on me that day, but I was down. I was enjoying everything about the evening, especially talking to K. Most women I had met so far were either shy or distant with language, or immediately proclaimed their status as taken.
A full moon was out and it lit our way as we made our way back through the enclave of trees to the beach. I will still chatting to K, and felt my sappy self coming out. I love beautiful moments in life, the kind that are priceless and are extremely simple. Standing with someone you care about on a beach somewhere, or in a mall holding hands waiting for a movie… these things always go straight in my subconscious as things I value. This was no different. The blue moonbeams illuminated the forestry around us, giving the dark leaves a touch of watered down indigo. Me, four other people and a cute girl were going for a moon-lit walk in Japan. It was a drop of heaven.

We when exited the forest, my jaw dropped. The sky above me was brightly lit; wrapped by a belt of puffy clouds beneath the shining moon in a semi-circular arch. Breathtaking, I thought. Now I was holding K’s hand, feeling her soft skin against my palms, smiling fiendishly. We stopped at the seashore, near the tall shadows of tetrapods, where a few Japanese guys were lighting fireworks. There we stood the six of us; Mike’s tall silhouette about fifteen feet away with a friend. Behind me, another couple held hands and quietly took in the vista. Me, I was standing with my arms outstretched and my eyes closed, feeling warm ocean breeze caress my body like a thousand hands.
“This is what living is all about.” I said to myself. “This is life.”
I was lost in thought, and completely overwhelmed by the beauty of the ocean and the moon. I stood there for a while, until I felt a hand touch me. It was K. “Don’t get left behind.” She said with a smile.
I was happy to see the moonlit beach. I was happy to spend time around people with good energy. I was happy to meet K. As usual, the work week loomed ahead like a burly taskmaster with a whip of chains, but at least for a moment, I could say I smiled for no other reason, than to smile.

Japanese Rock Education; the Nagoya roadtrip   Leave a comment

I’m on my way to Nagoya.

I’m in the Hamamatsu station, looking out for Kori, the guy I’m traveling with. My phone rings, and I hear a voice ask for me. “I am here, where are you?” he asks. I raise my hand. “Ah, I see you!” he shouts into the phone. I hang up and a short man with a very angular face runs up to me. His smile is so big it recedes into his face, making his eyes tiny and white. It frightens me for half a second.
“Are we ready to go?” he says.
“Yes.” I reply.
We go into his car, a small red vehicle , and drive off.
My Nagoya trip is the culmination of a few random events, and a few not so random events. One year ago, I went to the Cannes film festival. During the crazy two weeks that is Cannes, I was shooting a short film and somewhere during that, I ran into Daiki, a slim Japanese fellow with a calm demeanour. He was holding a small, expensive camera and helped us out with the shoot. At the time, I could barely communicate with him. My Japanese was below basic. Even so we still made a connection. “If I come to Japan, ” I said back then, “I’ll link you.”
Now, I’m making that link.  Kori is Daiki’s friend who happens to live in Hamamatsu, where I live. Daiki is having a film event in Nagoya, and I’m tagging along for the ride.
Our first stop is small café where Kori buys some, onigiri. “This is Japanese fast-food.” He says. The café is at the foot of a small hill on the outskirts of Hamamatsu. Inside feels very comfortable and artistic, with the smell of incense and wood. I sit at the counter, and I pause.
I see a young woman busily making some food. She is tall, with lovely eyes and a face that reminds me of an actress I saw somewhere. Her skin is bronzed dark. As she moves, oblivious to me watching her, I feel like time stops. She is intensely focused on the food and moves around the kitchen expertly. Another woman, and they move in unison, occasionally chatting to each other about the food they are making. Then, she walks past, her green skirt swishing and swaying. I paused for a second and started breathing again. Her name was Umi, and she was beautiful.
I don’t often feel this way about women I meet initially, but this is the first time in a while I remember just staring at someone. Her outfit wasn’t risqué and she didn’t seem to have a shy bone in her. I was intrigued.
I chatted with Umi and the other lady in my most chill Japanese (meaning I spoke at a regular tone with no pauses) and found that they were mother and daughter. They owned the establishment, which made a select set of clothes along with food. “I’m a  designer as well.” I told them. The mother seemed very impressed. “Her name means beach,” her mother told me, in reference to Umi. “I know.” I replied as I left.
We hit the road, leaving Umi in our wake.

*  *  *  *
One of the most interesting things about traveling are the experiences you have meeting people. For, me conversation is always the treasure. When I was in Germany, I chatted with a politician about his music (he was a part-time house DJ). Today I’m talking to Kori about religion.
“What is your religion? If you don’t mind?” he asks. I tell him that things are mixed in the way I grew up, that Jamaican is a relatively conservative (yet not ) conservative society and my perspectives shifted as time passed. Like anyone, I said, I’m still searching. Kori was similar. He had spent ten years traveling through different countries. He loved rock and Jazz. “ACDC is the best ever!” he said to me with his super smile. He had the sinewy, wired body of a person who is very active. This was confirmed when he told me he was a surfer. “I went to Australia for school, but then I realized that surfing is my life.” He said. His English is very good, and I asked him where he studied. “Listening to music is one of the best ways to learn language,” he said. “Axle Rose was my first English teacher.”
His car was a mirror of his lifestyle. A guitar was wedged in between a tattered biker jacket and a skateboard in the back seat. Beside the skateboard was a mid-sized plastic box was filled with CDs and minidiscs. Rock paraphernalia, little cups and empty boxes of cigarettes were everywhere. We drove along the highway listening to Kyioushiro, (the Japanese John Lennon). Every twenty-five minutes we made stops. “I have to get coffee.” He would say with a laugh.
We listened to ACDC’s back in Black, a Lenny Kravitz CD and Velvet Underground.  I was getting a rock education from a Japanese surfer. When we reached Nagoya, we hung out on the roof of a SEIYU supermarket while we waited for Daiki to arrive at the Café where the film event was being held. Sayuu is  a chain of large supermarkets in Japan. On the roof, I could see Nagoya’s landscape; a sea of angled roottops and cream colored buildings. Far away, I could see hills. The sky was a quiet blue and cotton ball clouds lazily coasted across the sky. I slept for a few minutes. I grabbed Kori’s skateboard and did a few lazy ollies, alternating between that an Mafia live on my Iphone.
Kori’s phone rings.
“It’s Daiki, ” he says. “He’s here.”
We hop back into the car and it comes to life with a growl. Ten seconds later, we are at the Café. I see Daiki, and remember him immediately. When I saw him the first time, he had a goate and a moustache, and was wearing what I’ve dubbed the Japanese “superV” t-shirts. Its like a V-neck, if a V-neck exposed your entire chest. Now he was clean shaven, but was instantly familiar. The last time I saw him was in France, now I was in his hometown in Japan. Life is funny.
We drink chai tea and catch up. The film event is a mixture of traditional Japanese story telling and Daiki’s Miru movement. The idea is simple. You shoot some video,  and do one take. It has to be a minute long and silent. That’s Miru, or roughly translated, “Seeing”.
The presentation is in a studio beside the café, and I walk inside a quiet place with wooden floors. I’m instantly reminded of any dance movie I’ve ever watched, or old episodes of Fame. I take off my shoes and slip into some tiny indoor slippers. After a minute or two, I sneak to the bathroom to wash my feet. Even though I washed my socks a few days before, they were  a tad smelly. I didn’t want to be the smelly foreigner. In the bathroom, it took me four minutes to figure out how to flush the toilet. There was a touch screen panel with instruction in Japanese, no less than ten buttons and and white exterior housing that resembled a large thermostat.
The toilets just get more complex and feature-ridden. I sneak back inside, (my feet smell like hand wash now) and I watch the first show. I’m not entirely sure what the story is about, but I think it had something to do with dragons that like oranges. A little girl cried throughout the entire performance. Daiki showed some Miru films, and we sat in silence for a few minutes, watching grainy videos on a large screen.
A play started, following the narration of a storybook illustrated by Eric Carl, the Canadian artist. It was an interesting experience. Afterwards, we ate curried chicken and chatted about nothing in particular.

The night was winding down and Kori said he probably wasn’t heading into the city. I have a rule about new cities; I cannot go into one without experiencing  the night life. I did a quick change in the bathroom, slipping into the nice pants and a slim tee.
“You need to go to Sakae,” Kori told me. “That’s where people party.”
Like Tokyo the week before, I was ready to go. I wouldn’t be able to take a train back to that area in Nagoya until seven in the morning, so I had no choice but to have fun. Kori and Daiki dropped me to the station. He gave me some quick instructions on how to get to Sakae and I ran into the train. I was immediately lost, but a nice girl helped me figure out where I was, and where to go. In a few minutes I would be in Sakae, and it would be a great night.

Golden Week Part Two   1 comment

It’s the third day of Golden Week, and I’m in the middle of a crowd of people, all chanting and soaked from running up and down all day in the rain. Their voices are brittle screams. Two days ago, the Golden week felt very normal and organized, more tradition than crazy, but now the real side of the event was rearing its head.

It was raining, which normally kills things like parades out west, but here, it didn’t matter. The scattered groups I had observed the night before marching and chanting had doubled. Dozens of men and women in Happis ran around, chanting and drinking. It was a smorgasbord of excess. If they groups weren’t chanting, they were sitting on the sidewalk, wolfing down Japanese snacks, or sipping on Sake until they got up again.
As a foreigner, I feel completely out of place. So far my days have been quiet and somewhat lonely, and this sudden eruption of outgoing Japanese before makes me smirk more than anything. I’m riding my bike through the city, cursing myself that I didn’t bring my camera. Even though there is a slight drizzle, I always forget my semi-waterproof camera bag.
I stop near a group of people sitting on a sidewalk.
One person, a young man, catches my eye. He runs over to me. “Yo issho! Yo issho!“(together! together!) he shouts. Within second, a group of twenty young men are around me, chanting the same words. One pulls out a two litre bottle of sake. I drink almost half the bottle, while their chants float into the nighttime air and I get pats on the back.
“I’m Marcus.” I say in Japanese. “This is my first Golden Week.”
I’ve only heard snippets of things about Golden week through the grapevine–the ten of thousands of drunk people, none stop parties and all out madness–but experiencing it first hand was interesting.
Golden Week is a collection of Japanese holidays bundled at the start of May. People celebrate different things. Some celebrate the birth of their first child, others simply enjoy the time honoured tradition of getting completely drunk with a thousand of your closet friend in public view. For some Japanese people, these three days are their only holidays for the entire year, so they make it count.
The festival is more that just people getting drunk. Entire villages of people coordinate routes to run and chant through the city, while task masters make sure people don’t’ get too drunk and left behind. Shouting “Yaisho!” revitalizes the group and keeps the party going… for four days. In the morning you can hear the whistles and trumpets from somewhere in the city, accompanied by dozens of footfalls.
On the second day, I went to a street party. Darryl is a friend of mine who teaches English in Hamamatsu. His friend is celebrating the birth of his son. Here I was pulled in as the meek foreigner. A large Japanese man with a broad chest and  bright smile pulled me into a raging group of men shouting. I got into it, shouting myself and jogging rapidly. Behind me, was a platform with a large tub of Sake. As people chanted, young men would drink constantly from the tub. To see people so actively celebrating the birth of their friends son, as well as their own livelihood and happiness was  touching. A man came onto the podium. He was short, with bright eyes and had a warm smile. I could tell he was the father. People screamed louder and as he drank from a wooden cup that looked like a large spoon, then all the Sake was thrown on him.


Yo issho indeed.
I also saw a few girls I knew from my program. They were three English girls and two Aussies. As thrilling as running with the crowd minutes before had been, I started feeling cold and alone as I watched the bodies walk off in the distance, chanting under a blanket of raindrops. I walked with the English girls for a little while, following the group. Two adventurous Japanese guys were trying to talk to them the whole time, and I eventually rode away, heading to another part of the city.

The spectacle is amazing, people pulling carriages with ropes, and the carriages lit by lamps, glowing in the nighttime.

However, my chest felt tight and I felt bad. There I was, in a town were everyone was happy and celebrating, and I felt like the odd man out. I couldn’t be sure if it was simply culture shock, or the fallout of bad relationships, or an uncertainty about my near future. With my shirt sticking to my skin and the sound of whistles and voices blasting my ears, I rode around on my bike, in no particular direction.
I got many free beers, and once or twice I chanted Yo isssho! with a few people. I tried to imagine myself in their eyes, with my dark skin and curly hair, my height and my different features. What was me saying Yo issho! To them? It must have been bizarre. I wished in that moment I could have experienced a catharsis, with tears running down my eyes, masked by the rain as I lost myself in the tradition.
But that didn’t happen.
When I was tired and a little buzzed, I rode back home. It was chilly and I was looking forward to hop into my warm bed. As I neared my apartment, I heard whistles and trumpets. The reflection of a very bright light illuminated the street, and I heard voices chanting. People near my apartment are shouting and celebrating with the gusto of men going to war. A large light had been erected only a few feet from my apartment, and close to the light were about three hundred people.

A man barked commands into a loudspeaker, then the whistling began and the shouting. Girls barely able to walk held on to each other, their Happies so large they look like hand-me-downs. I stood on the corner of the street, feeling quite challenged. Could I run into the group, start chanting and meet everyone in my neighbourhood? Or would they see me coming and stop everything, making me feel ridiculous. In that moment I felt far, far, away from everything I knew. As the people chanted and reveled, none of them looked at me.
I sighed, and went into my apartment, falling asleep with the sound of Yo issho in my ears.

Golden Week Part One   Leave a comment

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In a Room, On a Beach   Leave a comment

April 16, 2009

I’m reading a Superman comic book at my workplace.

I sit in solitary silence, in the spacious Eigo Room. This is where countless students have been taught English. The room is empty. I’m sitting near the front of the class, away from the windows so no one can see me. The door windows are covered with paper, giving me an added touch of privacy. I close the comic book for a second and close my eyes.
In moments like these, I remember why relationships are necessary.
Many jobs have a monotony inherent to their inner functions. Twice a week you have meetings. You teach the same classes every Thursday and Friday. Happy hour is on Wednesdays. Your mind gets programmed to this routine, and your emotional expectancies are aligned to your job. But then, one day you go home and you get horny.

Or bored, idle or frustrated. You realize that your rigorous schedule is sapping a portion of your life experience. The work you do to ensure that you have a place to live and eat is also the bane of your existence. Some days might be fun, but they all won’t be. There will be days you want to toss your files into the air, throw your tie in the toilet and hit flush. Then you’ll want to run outside, smiling gleefully and run naked through a public park. You won’t do this, but you’ll think about what you want to be. Your’e still young, you say. There’s still time.

Maybe you’ll be  a rock star or a famous writer. Maybe you’ll spearhead a new tech company and be a billionaire in a manner of months. You could be a travel writer that does dangerous assignments, and joke in broken Portuguese with guys you barely know about that girl you slept with in high school.  Or you could take that really interesting route–TV personality. You could be the next Howie Mandel or Chris Rock, getting a thousand hits on a grainy YouTube video where you chat about that time you got booed at a comedy club in Philly.
Or maybe you’ll be a game programmer, like those MIT kids who came up with Guitar Hero. Maybe you could just be a bum after winning the lottery, sitting home idly buying whatever you feel like, and only date women in Paris, even though you live in New York. Maybe you could do all these things, but then you wake up.

You are at work, and you’ve been fantasizing. The voices around you coalesce into an onorous din. Closing your eyes doesn’t help, and thinking about escaping wont’ help you either. Someone walks beside you and taps you on the shoulder. “Hey, we have a meeting in ten minutes,” they say. You smile and nod, but inside you want to be in Bali, walking with a cute chick on the beach.

You want to be in Senegal, snapping pictures of dancers with crystal dark skin. You want to be in Germany, running your hand across the Berlin wall, snapping pictures with tall blonde people and asking questions from a five dollar phrase book.
Alas, you can’t. You are at work, and you have a contract.

The most you can look forward to are holidays and weekends, and you eye the calendar with anticipation as each day crawls along. You can plan ahead, and squeeze some trips into that three day week, or that five days of sick leave you never take. You sit happily and fantasize about that two day trip to Disney world you’ll take, but know you’ll probably just sleep in. You sigh as inevitability hits you. This office is as much your home as your actual one.

I’m not at this point yet, but sometimes I fear reaching there. A relationship can make that easier. You go through your day of repetitive activity, but out there, somewhere is someone thinking about you. She wants to feel your touch at night, and smell your body next to hers. She wants to have those fleeting moments with you, even if work is at 8 a.m the next day. For her, you will be a priority, and that might make things more palatable.

You’ll sit in a meeting and smirk inwardly about the comment she made the night before when you went out to dinner. You will blush when raw sexual memories spring up at not-so opportune moments.  You will let out a heavy breath when something happens and you get pissed off, but you know that your baby will be there to make you feel better. You will wake up at the crack of dawn, ready to work, knowing that under the stillness of the morning sky, when we come to life, she’s out there, and maybe after she brushes her teeth, a thought of you will pop into her head, and she’ll smile. This keeps you going.

Sometimes.