The bloggings of an Upstate NY-born Tokyoite. Now with 20% more verbosity!


Saturday, February 12, 2011

only mostly dead

Swan songs away, guys. Looks like this blog has met its end. It has been a fun run, and I will keep this on-line and always (or for as long as the host-site is running/as long as I am not running for office somewhere) hold this little eBook of sorts dear, as fond memories I had in the first 2 years and change in Tokyo, Japan. In the beginning, I had finally created a blog with a real, easy-to-understand purpose: documenting my transition into life in a new country. Previous attempts had included whiny, emo poetry, personal rants and more whiny poetry. (See sidebar on right for less whiny poetry) Perhaps the reason it has stopped is, well, the transition is complete. I'm used to life here. Things now aren't about buying dish detergent and mistakenly using it for body wash, or other quirky fresh-blood new-gaijin(foreigner)-on-the-street stories like that. I'm another strange face in the Tokyo landscape, undeniably out of place yet settled into his niche and routine. And the personal things I once spilled across blackscapes in electronic ink don't feel like they need to be spilled anymore. Without the motivation for this labor of love, it's going on the virtual shelf once and for all: 10 "chapters," and a part of my life which changed me forever. I love you on some days Japan, hate you on others, but even at your worst you blow away my old life in East Greenbush, New York. Here I am someone, I've found this new work, new friends, new msuic and a new life with more success than I would have ever thought possible.

Escape accomplished.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Life happens fast

"If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it" - Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

It's unbelievable this decade is coming to a close. I'm in a state of utter doubt. It is simply beyond my comprehension as a human being. Ten years ago I was 13, had almost no friends and spent hours after school playing the same E-A-D-A riff on my guitar in hopes of getting better some day. Shortly thereafter I started my first band and had some memorable, lifetime experiences. Smoking weed for the first time on my 14th birthday was one of them. Playing my first live show at the now defunct "Rensselaer fest" with our foul-mouthed singer (who got us banned from ever playing again with his stunning barrage of F-bombs) and covering Pantera while two of our friends moshed in the parking lot, and many parents sighed, mine included. I could barely lift my head up at that time to face the audience...

And now here I am, on the other side of the world, and I sing dance and entertain groups big and small on an almost daily basis. I'm talking about teaching kindergarteners here, by the way, at least for the singing part. With the adults I more often try to coax THEM into the singing. But at any rate, what I want to say is I no longer fear the crowd; I no long fear a future without companionship, and I can walk with my head up proud of who I am. It's a big change, and to be sure the next decade will be full of them too.

A very busy December has arrived, but it's the good kind of busy. I'm wrapping up the most hectic work week I have, but 3 weeks from now I'll be in Chiang Mai, Thailand, sipping a cool beverage and enjoying exotic foods in a much more beautiful environment than concrete-crazy Tokyo, praying to not contract traveler's diarrhea. There are a lot of things to do before that, most especially taking the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) Level 1 which will be conducted 48 hours from now. I'm not really ready, but with a little luck and some educated guessing I might just swing a passing grade! Which would be cool. I could get a job at any old Japanese company if I a) had the supplemental qualifications, ones in demand like engineering or programming (yea right!) and b) if I wanted to change jobs. But I don't. I'm content with what I do, except that I strive to become better. Stronger. Faster.

That's where the Master's comes in. Still looking into which University to attend, and anyone who wants to drop me advice on this big decision is welcome, but I'm going for my Masters in TESL through an on-line program starting in the fall of next year. I'll be more qualified, possibly make more money, but most importantly learn to be a better teacher. Lord knows I have improved by leaps and bounds since 2008, so I can only get better from here on! Tentatively, I'm planning to enroll in the fall of 2010.

Oh, and by the way, next month, if you're in the San Fransisco or Los Angeles area, come say hi, my band is playing SHORT FAST AND LOUD Fest and a subsequent show with Capitalist Casualities the following Sunday:

In F.I.D. news, new CD is being recorded this month, along with final preparations for the big California trip next month. I could go into more details, but I'll save it for another time.

Back to the present: After this little landmark test is over, I'm done with formally studying Japanese. I've done it (and pretty hardcore at that) a smidgen over 4 years, and I need to invest time elsewhere. Where exactly? Well, I want to up my knowledge of philosophy, American Contemporary and Classic Literature and overall "well-readness." Oh, and I want to learn another language and be able to speak it reasonably well by the time I'm 30. No biggie. =P

I've heard the theory some people are attracted to big goals? I am most definitely one of them. Eerily true to my star sign, I like nothing better than a project/task/relationship which takes a long, steady time to build up and is one that I can feel good and proud of. Don't misunderstand, I also enjoy my fast-food-style-whopper-with-fries-give-it-to-me-faster-FASTER-NOW-style things, as any good 21st Century Boy with a fleeting attention span should, but none of these can ultimately satisfy in the same way. I forget where I read it, but a veritable slogan for the modern American identity is this: "we want it faster, right now, for cheaper, and with less effort on our part." This works great when you're hawking used electronics or automobiles, but as for personal gain and getting somewhere in life, it isn't a very sustainable work-model.

Still with me? I'm getting to the big point here! For 2010, or at least until I start college, I'll be undertaking my biggest New Years Resolution since not being a fat lazy inactive slob: THE BOOK A WEEK PROJECT, A.K.A. "The Reader The Better" (pronounced in the past tense like the color red + er) I've seen mentions of it and other people have done it and blogged about it, now it's my turn. It won't be so strict as it may sound, and I reserve the right to read 3 or 4 or 5 different things at once. Comics will be mentioned by won't really count. Audiobooks count. I'll blog what I've accomplished as I go, starting January 1st.... or 5th, since that's when I get back from Thailand. The best used bookstore in Tokyo, the Blue Parrot, is having a big sale next week so I'll pick up a ton of reading there. Also thinking about a Kindle next year.

The main purpose of this project isn't to hit the goal or exceed it or anything, just to give myself motivation to read more. I'm no speedreader either, I take my time and enjoy my books, so it'll be a hefty time investment which I am more than ready to make.

That's what's up!! My dork senses are tingling all over, and I'm looking forward to 2011, with it's 12 (er, 9) months of complete freedom to live, work, and read as I please. No more shackles in the shapes of Chinese characters, also not as crazy with extra part-time work (hopefully) and most definitely am not letting anyone else run my life but me.

It's 23 degrees in Tokyo today (around 80 for you Fahrenheitians), with gusty winds and almost two dozen train delays. This is a sign of things to come.

Happy Holidays!
Ben Belcher


A taste: Currently in the process of reading:

Shelly Kagan's "Death" - philosophy course from Yale Univeristy
Bertrand Russel - A History of Western Philosophy (made it past antiquity and to the part about the Papacy, and while history isn't my best subject and makes it hard to follow at times, it's still really fascinating and interesting stuff!)

Frank Herbert - Dune

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World - Volume 2
ジョジョの奇妙な冒険42巻 JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, volume 42 (in the middle of Part 4 of one of the most epic Shonen Jump series ever released!)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Alt. blog

This isn't a real post. Really, it isn't. Just a plug for my secondary blog "Bennyb in Japan," which I'll be keeping on the go from my iPhone with pics and videos and stuff. This will remain my personal, overly-verbose blog, no worries on that guys. But in case anyone else noticed how I got too lazy to put picture up here, this should fill the gap nicely. And hey, you can now visually stalk me too!

I'll try and jot a little something every day.

Now, for real, see you next year!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Official Hiatus

if you didn't see it coming already! Sorry to those who follow the blog regularly or were hope to see me reeling off the 'ole yarn of tangents for a few paragraphs. To fill the time gap, let me briefly state the last few months: sweat, hokkaido, more sweat, pased JLPT2 with an 80% (nearly 20% improved from last December), sweat again, finally it's feeling like Fall.

Lately my writing fuel has been going into poetry - I've got two readings this month, which I'm both very nervous and excited about. On top of that, work school and prepping for the JLPT level 1 are all quite time-consuming. Then of course there's my new left hand - I mean iPhone 4. Oh how it glistens. I used it to read H.G. Well's Time Machine, I play a scrabble clone with friends abroad as well as ex-pat locals, and I get near-hd streams of NFL games among other things (also getting big into NFL again this year... go Bills? :(). I'm enjoying being nerdy and on the techno-band wagon. Also been reading a lot as well, this "The Best American Non-required Reading" book Nick gave me is pure genius. I stuck a fork in Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" around 800 pages in, its repetitive nature and lack of an exciting plot just got to me. Maybe I'll finish it, some day, but there are better things to read.

Exciting things on the horizon:

-Going to Thailand this Christmas. Going it alone. It's going to be a growing trip, for sure, assuming I come back with both kidneys intact. (j/kj/k, Mom, don't make that face)
-F.I.D. (my band) is doing something big, it's outside of Japan, and it's in January of next year, but I can't give details until everything is confirmed!!
-Several F.I.D. shows in Tokyo which are always fun
-Summer next year is the deadline for my studying Japanese formally at a "fulltime" rate - currently doing 200+ flashcards a day, 10 new words everyday, plus grammar workbooks reading activities and my two classes a week. I'll take the JLPT1 in December, and when I fail it (which I will, this is a benchmark kind of thing) I'll go for the gold in July of next year. But that's it. Because a year from now, fall of 2011, I will 100% definitely be enrolled in Grad School. The plan is to do on-line courses and score a Masters in TESL, while still continuing my current job, band, and lifestyle. Japanese classes will most likely come to an end, so I'll make the most of the next year to become a master of the Japanese language, or as close to a good imitation of one as I can manage.

One more thing. Your or I or both of us may wonder why I've put so much time and energy into the Japanese language (over 4 years now) - what's my goal? The truth is I still don't know. Translation looks interesting but very tough, and the gigs I've seen that I'd be eligible for next year with the right qualifications are 40-hour 9-5 office-type jobs (with an inevitable helping of overtime, probably unpaid if it's a Japanese company). I don't know if I'm cut out for cubicles, or the arguably worse Japanese equivalent, long, narrow community-desks. Shudder. I like teaching, so I might just stick with this kind of work, in one incarnation or another, for the long haul. But for every day I stay here, I wonder if I'll ever be able to make the plunge again, to start anew and submerge myself in a different international city, to learn about the language and the people while teaching English for bread, housing and booze. Beijing, Taipei, Seoul, Bangkok, who knows. There's so much out there in Southeast Asia that has little to do with Japan or it's culture, and I want to experience that too.

OK, that's the last of the report - and I'll be damned, tangential it did become. I think a break is good and spirits willing you'll see a new, re-energized "Escape From New York" in 2011. All the best my fellow netizens!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

the vestibule of success

Life is good. Almost finished with the post-Golden Week (Japanese Spring Break) push and onto Obon (Japanese August holiday), which is my favorite time of the year, as much as I hate the icky-sticky-greasy-sweatwhileyou'restandingstill-summer in Tokyo. Why? Two weeks of paid vacation baby! You can't beat that. The battle plan is an absurd 20-hour ferry ride from Ibaraki prefecture (neighbor to Tokyo) to Hokkaido, followed by a week of kicking it.

The northern-most island in Japan, once disputed Russian territory, including a city designed by an American architect and more country roads than you can shake a stick at, Hokkaido is a far, far cry from the cramped lifestyles of Tokyo. I'm eagerly awaiting going there with a few of my dearest European brethren, whom I shall refer to in abbreviated fashion: L, a sassy girl from somewhere in England that is not London, is a close friend and my bad influence a.k.a. drinking companion. We recently drew omake (4-panel comics) about two of our favorite school staff members at work, seeing as how we agreed they both deserve their own cartoon or something. Next is S, originally my Japanese classmate, a computer programmer and an altogether good-hearted individual with a passion for traveling the globe. Finally, a Welsh fellow I don't know well except that he seems cool and is in good with the others. Two of those three also happen to be licensed drivers!! If I miss anything from the States besides good pizza, it is most certainly roadtrips.... although roadtrips around islands aren't exactly an option where I'm from (and don't even open yer yaps, Long Island does NOT count by any stretch of the imagination) Should prove to be an interesting journey.

Before that, 3 more weeks of the work-crunch; although in reality a lot of my part-time work (namely kindergarten-stuff) from my second job is almost finished until September. I'm currently sifting through Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged when I have time for it. I recently caught up with Gantz, my favorite horror/action/pulp comic full of vampires and alien invasions, and am now reading JoJo, a cult classic of Japanese comics full of quirky and unique characters and superpowers named after bands. And lots of blood!

Musical taste has taken an unforeseen dive into screamo, post-hardcore and hip hop lately: At the Drive-In, Wu Tang, Eric's Trip, Modest Mouse, Maudlin of the Well, Small Brown Bike, End of a Year and Ceremony (the one hardcore band on the list), just to name a few. I feel like 11 years of metal is finally starting to burn me a bit and I need to look to other things. Why can't more bands just have good, unique vocalists like all of the above? Such is the way with anything I suppose: If there's a lot of it, most of it sucks.

I think I rocked the N2 JLPT, (new-format level 2 Japanese Language Proficiency Test) a few weeks back, but I won't know until September. The whole experience was worlds apart from the autumnal/winter isolation and late-night crams that went into Decembers finger-of-god, skin-of-teeth passing grade, and was in the spirit of summertime an exciting romp through the land of new things, namely being able to listen and read a lot better than I could 6 months back. Dating someone native in Japanese might have helped the former, and no question my addiction to text and imagery definitely aided the latter. But really it teaches me the greatest lesson of all: all things take time. I want to be better at Japanese today, and I can be, but only by seemingly invisible increments. So inch by inch I crawl towards some unknown vestibule of success. What is success? And why on earth is it contained within a vestibule? Such are the questions that no man can answer.

Other topics of relevance to my life which remain yet unmentioned: discovering a good American crime-drama a.k.a. The Wire (8 year late-pass please); coming to find hipster-infested, gyaru (blonde-hair barbie-doll type girls)-ridden Shibuya is my favorite hangout spot in Tokyo; a slight grimace at (but overall of) enjoyment of the single life; a dive back into some junkier foods and not having enough time to do proper workouts as of late; thinking what a shame it is the days can't be like the nights in the summer in the city; and wondering why other countries don't have genres upon sub-genres of comic books for every conceivable notion from robotic monsters to making a band to raising children to old people exploring the moon to whatever else the imagination can whip up.

That's all.

"Everything flows; nothing remains."
- Hermaclitus

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Mission accomplished

Here I am in my new place. There are trees outside, the air is noticeably easier to breathe, the streets wider and the whole atmosphere of the town much less busy than before. To think I moved about 6.6 kilometers and 4 stations away! (although I am now technically in Saitama prefecture and not Tokyo) But that's the difference a little distance makes in this cramped corner of the world. I went from cement-box city and living in a crappy one room apartment to a spacious 2DK (3 rooms, including a full kitchen) with a park visible from the window. There's a baseball diamond and a running track in the park, not to mention tennis courts I'll never use. The public library, post office and public gym including basketball courts (!!) are all a stroll away. I haven't played basketball in almost 2 years, and I hear there's a club here, I might just have to join. They know they want the tall white dude on their team. Oh, and the kicker is since it's a public gym it's only 100 yen per entry, about a dollar compared to the 9000 yen monthly I was paying before, close to 100 dollars!! Goodbye Tobu-Nerima. In fact the the night before I moved, having pushed myself to attending a friend's closeby concert even though I new better I remember walking home and cursing out every corner of the city. Ya know, because I could. Suffice it to say I'm already much happier here.

Speaking of happiness, I broke up with the girl I was seeing last weekend. That was my first real breakup over here, and we dated for almost 4 months. It's all for the best and I'm better for the experience and all that wash, but what I learned more than anything else - besides the fact that my lack of of passion for rabid consumerism a.k.a. not loving "going to shopping" kills my chances with about 99% of the women in this country - is what it's like to date in Tokyo. One word: busy. I've grown to dislike that word ever since I first moved her but most especially while I was dating this girl. People put themselves through impossible schedules here, and this particular lady was working two jobs simultaneously both of which were her own business ventures. I thought that was pretty cool at first... until I realized it meant the chances of seeing each other at least once a week (or even twice a month) was comparable to the likelihood of icicles forming in a volcano. We had fun anyhow, and I'm over the bummed out phase which follows any breakup and enjoying my newly re-discovered freedom. I could say a lot more on the subject (I sort of let it overtake my life for a while because I'm gullible like that) but I'm not the kind to flood my blog with such "emo" posts. Not when there are much more urgent things to write about, like....

-how I'm enjoying working at kindergarten's more than I had expected. Not only is the supplemental income quite a nice bonus, but the work is hands-on, high speed and excellent life experience to boot. Definitely a young man's game though, so best be wary of how long I wade in this pool (and how yellowish the water is)

-how I'm reading Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, not because it's over 1000 pages... ok that's part of it, but not JUST because of the density and my attraction to ridiculously huge goals (see: mastering Japanese and becoming competent in Mandarin Chinese before 30; teaching at colleges; world domination) I'm intrigued because a) I like anything remotely philosophical and b) so many people love and hate this woman. I specifically remember an episode of South Park where I think Officer Mackie calls it the most boring book ever or something to that effect. Never one to blindly accept opinions, I had to see for myself. Plus the Singaporean kid who sold me all his awesome furniture for really cheap gave it to me when cleaning out his apartment. A double win situation.

-how my new place is pimped out. I can cook now: 3 burners and a decent-size fridge at long long last. I just came back from the supermarket with a haul of vegetables and meat and I am elated. My diet and workout have went to crap in the last 2 months, really got to get back into the rhythm now that I'm almost settled in.

And on and on I can always go. More writing means more to proofread though, which in turn means the less chance I'll actually do the proofreading and then you won't ever be reading this at all so I'm cutting the line soon. But before that, one more thing: My work schedule is heavy lately, that's my excuse for not putting as much into the blog.... but I've realized something very very important in recent days. Dire. On the verge of epiphany even: I like the busyness. Am I becoming a tokyo-ite like my workaholic of an ex-girlfriend? Not the case at all. I have this habit of getting trapped in my head and over-thinking in roughly 23 directions at once, and the only way to stop this train without hooking myself up to a morphine drip or going into a coma is to keep myself moving. Almost constantly. When I'm teaching, as grueling or tiring as it can get at times, I'm engaged in a dialogue with another human being(s) that has a distinct purpose. I was telling myself over and over that I had taken on this extra workload for the money, save for college this and that but it's really all secondary. What's first and unalterabley foremost is I've found work I enjoy doing! Not to mention I'm young and full of energy I need an outlet for, so I've wedged myself into the system. Sort of like that last tetris block that needs an extra bit of toggling, I didn't go quietly or without a struggle but here I am. In the machine. Part of the system. A cog in the beastly machinery.

Here's an uplifting poem I wrote on the train home today:

And I leave you with this note to all listeners of anything remotely metal: Starkweather's "This Sheltering Night" is the best record of 2010, period. Go buy it. Good day to you all.

"Father pestilence rasps in cicada speech / His countenance crowned in a halo of flies / Multifaceted gaze transfixed on the hourglass / Tactile sensory perception in crepitant hands // Reveals flaws in parchment derma / A regalia of weeping sores / In this place where the air is stagnant with the weight of disinfectant and decay / An unknown geography to place his head to the ground / Commune with all creatures damned and divine / Teeth rattling tremors emanate from approaching footsteps // Time has always been the enemy / I wish to slip this skin for rebirth" - Starkweather

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Thinning out

Much like my unfortunate hairline (rimshot) you can see a the blog updates here becoming more and more sporadic with time. I think this is natural with any project: it starts off with a bang and slowly loses steam. The real challenge however is to keep it going, and that's what really matters. So some months there may be only 1 post, sometimes 10, but more important than anything else is that I won't just leave it one day and never return, which is a fate left to many blogs and strikes me as a bit of a slap in the face to those who may have enjoyed reading it.

Moving is the word of the month. Everything I do seems to revolve around it. Overtime is arguably the second word of the month. Excluding the week of public holidays when my Mom was in town, I've had something like 6 actual days off in a 2 month period. That's not so much fun. Also working a lot of long days, like a 10am kindergarten gig over an hour away, and a following shift an hour in the opposite direction that goes until almost 10pm. The work itself is fine, it's the hours that can get to me a little. I try to make the best of my hours on the trains by reading or studying or vegging on the Simpsons season 5 which I just put on my iPod. Guaranteed good times.

Last night, while wrapping dishes in bubblewrap and filling boxes and other unfun activities, I lightened my mood by cooking some beef and chicken wings which I threw over bread in an open-face hot-sandwich style and downed with a bottled Heinekin I bought from Donki (a walmart-like store in Japan with a cute penguin for it's mascot). This may seem rather mundane, but it is a vast change from a) drinking Japanese beer (which is fine but entirely different) and b) my healthy diet I was adhering to for the last few months. In fact, my plan to eat lots of vegetables and less fried food, which was going very well for since January or so, has went to the dogs recently. Not 100%, because I still eat what fruits I can but I can't do any real cooking for a week or two. This is a nuisance but I'll just have to live like one of these usual Tokyo-slobs and eat convenience-store food and general shit for a while. Isn't the worst thing in the world.

What will I miss about my current neighborhood? Certainly not the crappy apartment itself, or it's *shudder* shared bathroom facilities. How about....

-my friend and neighbor Nicholas, the punk-rock English teacher
-the gorgeous walking path that helps me forget I'm in the middle of an urban wasteland
-the 100 yen store, grocery and department stores all very conveniently located next to the station
-the crazy lady who talks to her dog while he squats in a special baby-carriage-looking-thing she pushes him around town in.

That's about it.

My new place is/has:

-a spacious 3 room apartment with kitchen, shower etc....
-a balcony
-a view of the park I can walk to in 2 minutes
-located 4 minutes from my station, which will also give me access to 4 train lines and not just 1.

There's a look at it. Now back to the endless piles of paperwork and things I'm preparing. I'll have the world know that I set up my internet installation on the phone in Japanese without making a putz of myself either. Ha HA world, ha HA.

"It's one fast move or I'm gone" - Ben Gibbard and Jay Farrar

P.S. I do make liberal use of my P.S.'s here, don't I. Recording studio in 3 days. No nervousness here. I only have 2 riffs to play and a minute to record, but it'll cost over $100 easily and take 5 hours! WOOHOO!!!!