Archive for the ‘shizuoka’ Tag

New Untemplater Article! “Triumph Over Tragedy!”   Leave a comment

Please checkout my latest article written for Untemplater Online, entitled, triumph over tragedy!

Click the picture to read the article. Please comment! Thanks

Five Questions for Marcus Bird   Leave a comment

As some of you know, I’m a writer. I’ve been fortunate to have my short story “Gaijin Girl”, published in Suzanne Kamata’s 2010 edition of her Japan-based literary Journal, Yomimono.

This is a short interview I did for her blog.  Click the picture to read the interview! Please comment! Arigato!

Suzanne Kamata is the author of Losing Kei (Leapfrog Press, 2008), the editor of Love You to Pieces: Creative Writers on Raising a Child with Special Needs (Beacon Press, May 2008) and Call Me Okaasan: Adventures in Multicultural Mothering (Wyatt-Mackenzie Publishing, 2009)

JIJ: Akiko Moriyako Photo Shoot mini-documentary   1 comment

Akiko is a talented Japanese artist I met through my travels here in Japan. A few months ago I went to the photo shoot and shot some pictures and video. This is what I produced as I followed her around during the photo shoot for “The Vibes”, her debut album to be released by Domo Records of the U.S.A.

あきこもりやこさんはじょうずのアーチストです。去年に合いました。二三月前に、もりやこさんの写真イベントえ行きました。このビデオは作りました。もりこさんのアルバームのなまえは、”The Vibes”です、ドーモーレーコードから。見てください!お願いします。

Jamaican in Japan: Me Playing Some Pool   Leave a comment

In Hamamatsu, I hang out at a weekly English meetup called “Eigo Mura” (英語村) (English Village). It’s right below a sports bar and this is some footage of me and my friend Yuki hanging out and playing some pool.

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.

 

 

Four Yukata Girls and One Jamaican   Leave a comment

Japan, I’m starting to discover, is a place that love fireworks and barbecues. It is summertime, and the days usually end with the sky a milky pink-white, with an armada of clouds slowly scrolling across the sky. After a great trip to Tokyo and Osaka on tour with my cousin Beniton the Menance and Maxi Priest I’m more open to heading to different places. I’m meeting up with Emily and some friends to go to the Kajima fireworks.

 Emily wants to meet at seven thirty to catch the fireworks, which start at eight-thirty. Since it will be a thirty minute drive to get there, it sounded like a good plan. However, Emi ended up calling me at ten minutes past eight to go, and it seemed like I’d miss the meat of the show. Still I went. Emi waved at me from across the street at Zaza city where we met up, adorned in an attractive Yukata. A Yukata is a traditional Japanese dress worn for these kinds of occassionas (not to be confused with Happis worn during Golden week).

The drive there is quiet, sprinkled with light conversation from Emi and her friends in the car. The fireworks are in Hamakita, just outside Hamamatsu city. As we near Hamakita, I can already see the flash of fireworks in the sky. A loud boom echoes through the air. I can just imagine the screaming crowds jostling to see what was happening. Emi was excited, more excited that I normally see her. “There is where my elementary school was.” She said, pointing towards a small building we drove past.

I tried to imagine Emi as a child, with the small smooth face, bone straight hair and endless energy. For her fireworks were a normal part of her life. She had invited me to no less than four viewings in a month and a half.

 We met up with some other friends of hers, all dressed in Yukatas and found some parking. We had a good walk to the river. Every fifty feet or so, I would see a firework explode in the sky, the boom sounding like quick thunder. Behind me, Emi, her friends and the other Yukatagirls walked and talked, smiling each time another firework exploded.

 Hamamatsu isn’t a very metropolitan area, and more than once I saw a few people looking at me for long stretches, wondering who I was. We were walking on the main road, which eventually diverted onto a small dirt path leading to an intersection below an overpass. We walked pass some tall grass and then came back to a normal sidewalk. There I saw several thousand people, many of them in Yukatas walking around. There were dozens of stalls sell food, fireworks and liquor. It was a frantic mess of lights, voices and bodies.

I made sure to keep and eye on the girls near me, because the Yukata girls around looked startlingly similar, with their hair in buns, walking with a similar, practiced gait. A few more people glance at me now (I think at this point its impossible for them not to, I am the only black person I have seen thus far in a crowd of thousands of Japanese people) and we walk up a hill. It is densely packed, but as we near the top, I can see the outline of the river below, and hundreds more people sitting around there. A structure on a small field is setup, and a voice says something over loudspeakers.

“They are going to show the final fireworks.” Emi tells me, darting to a spot with a good view. I stand where I am and take in the last of the fireworks, which are magnificent, brilliant and beautiful.

One the last of the glowing particles faded into nothing, the crowd stared moving. The group of us–four Yukata girls, one husband and wife and another friend of Emi’s who wasn’t wearing a Yukata, decided to eat some Chinese food afterwards. I groaned inside a little… I don’tnormally like the mixed outings because most people order beef and pork dishes, but we all chip in for the final bill. But I didn’t drive there, and it didn’t really matter. It was only nine o ‘ clock or so.

I met the other Yukata girls, Yuka and Emily who were also regular Salsa dancers. They were both very thin with mischievous eyes. I like something about Emily, who had a thin, long face and a bright smile. We snapped a picture by the car before heading to the restaurant and headed off.

I had never eaten Chinese food in Japan, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure if it really tasted that Chinese. I figured out a way to get enough chicken and shrimp dishes to survive, while chatting and laughing with the group. It was a good outing, and I was glad to take in the
fireworks as a start to my Friday night. Hopefully next time I’ll reach earlier to another such outing, and be able to see more of the stalls and mingle with the crowd.                                  

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.