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


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Home, home on the strange

Details, they can wait. You want to know what it was like to come back home? First, it was bewildering. Everything was bigger, people were louder (and statistically physically bigger as well), ethnic diversity exponentially increased, attitudes and cultures changed around me in a space of 14 hours. Instead of greeting me with a smile and a bow, I get a bored stair and almost no verbal response from the cashier when I go to buy a drink. Walking into Newark Airport this December is surely an experience I will never forget. After being disoriented the first night, I went through a quick "honeymoon stage:" two days of elation followed by a huge drop into confusion. Why did I leave, why did I come back? After about 5 days I was on an even keel again, once again acclimated to my home country. Do these symptoms sound familiar? They happened once before, and that's when I first found myself in Japan.

Culture shock, or in this case counter-culture shock, is real. I can say this having experienced it from both sides myself. I liken it to waking up every day to an alarm clock. When you look at the alarm clock's lights, making up its digital display, each is red, except one which is yellow. This repeats for a long time. Then one day, to your astonishment, all lights are yellow except one which is now red! Logically you can make sense out of it, but your brain has trouble reacting to this kind of immense change all at once. Take that feeling and times it by a zillion, and you have culture shock. Maybe that's why, (excluding safety and tradition) people used to live in the same towns their entire lives, live and die there as would their children and their children's children. The world has certainly changed since 1000 years before I was born.

Details, details. There is a lot to say. You word hungry blog-readers will be satisfied soon if you are interested in a detailed account of what I did with my Christmas Vacation. To summarize for the present, it was great. I've seen my hometown with new eyes, and can go back to Japan with much better perspective than I had. It was amazing seeing my friends and family after what felt like a very long absence. I missed authentic New York-style Pizza. Now the clock is ticking down, only mere days remain until I'll be thrown right back into the Tokyo Rat Race. I have a six-day work week to look forward to, starting 24 hours after I land. Should be fun. I'll make time to write too.

New Years Resolutions? Set higher goals for physical fitness, acquire some kind of extra work using Japanese with the credentials I think I'm getting from the test I think I passed (by the skin of my teeth).

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Secrets of time

or should I say secrets and time? We live our lives based on the clock, yielding to father time's inexhaustible might. I now hold several secrets that would make for exquisite blogging material, yet can't let out the spoilers for fear of those who may read before Christmas. Looks like this post will be shrouded in mystery.

Remember that test, the one I was studying for for, oh I dunno about 6 months and stressing over for so long? I think I passed it. I have a hunch anyway, and if I failed it then it had to be by an obscenely minute margin. So I must have passed. Yes. Nothing to do but try to forget about it anyway, I won't get the results until mid-February. =/

I also need to send a letter in this week to make sure that the JLPT Association doesn't make out any certification to Benjamin. Le Roy Belcher. Yes, they put a period in my name. Yes, I probably accidentally made a mark when filling out the application form. Yes, it's a pain and a hassle, especially when I'm so busy! Packing, banging out a last week of work, blah blah grumble grumble...

4 days from now I'll be somewhere in the sky. That's a strangely reassuring thought. There's a new movie coming out which I may see when I'm back home called "Up in the Air" which deals with the idea of living in the surreal world of flying, where we are truly alone with ourselves and a hundred other strangers. People get really reflect during these kinds of travels, I for one have undoubtedly always enjoyed them. Sometimes more than when I get to the destination itself, but that won't be this time of course.

My bag is full of things that should make people I know smile. I bounce between vehement anti-capitalist and completely giving in to the beast, as I abstain from unnecessary shopping most of the year but fall into a vicious cycle during Christmas. And I like to give people presents, better to give than receive and all that stuff. It's more fun this year than any other, since I live in a place with tons of cool albeit expensive stuff, and I have the best paying job in the history of my life.

Oh and I'm getting my right thigh tattooed, probably take 5 or 6 hours. Ouch much? But dang it will be awesome in the end. Oh yes. The onsen's (hot springs) will be putting up my picture saying don't let this guy in under penalty of blank stares.

Bruce Belcher memorial fund is HAPPENING, attention NY people:

I hope for a good turnout to raise lots of money for the cause (you can learn more at and if facebook doesn't lie than there should be at least 40 people there. Hip hip hooray!

Maybe my last entry before I get back home.

Hello vacation.

Monday, December 7, 2009


"Nightflesh," the first song me and the band created together (along with my good friend Ian who helped formulate this little ditty) being performed live for the first time ever at Studio UEN, Nishi-Ogikubo. Big thanks to bands and friends who supported the show, if only this was every weekend:

Tokyo people: January 17th, Shindaita @ Shindaita fever, crazy show with a lot of awesome bands, mine included. Come out, say hi, admit to lurking on my blog when you're bored and hang out!


OPEN 15:30 / START 16:00
ADV ¥2500 (+1drink) / DOOR ¥2800 (+1drink)


Saturday, December 5, 2009

I forgot the dramatic countdown!

You know, like I did over a year ago when I was building up to leaving Japan:

Days remaining until departure: 8.

Or something like

Time left on until I reach the land of Gold and Hamburgers: 8.

Or perhaps

Time left on this weird-ass island in 2009: 194.6 hours

Shucks. Well I'm heading home a week from tomorrow for a much needed Christmas vacation, and regardless of the lack of suspenseful blog buildup, it's been a real life climb to say the least. JLPT2 tomorrow. No way I'm ready, but I'm as ready as I can be. I learned a lot in 10 months, time to put it to the test! 発展できるぞ hatten dekiruzo (Time to strut my stuff/show 'em what I got)

I should be studying RIGHT NOW. And I'm getting up at 7am tomorrow, not looking forward to that. I've heard all kinds of impractical theories in regards to passing from my Japanese friends: wearing a "lucky mask" (whatever that may be), carrying this study/luck/pass charm my teacher gave me on the day of the test, or even eating a かつ katsu (pork cutlet) sandwich because pork cutlet and win have the same pronunciation in Japanese.

Me, I don't believe in luck. I believe in the undeniable power of the self.

And after the test, It's a end of year nabe (delicious stewed pot of goodness) celebration with my friend in F.I.D.! In Japan the end of the year party, or 忘年会 bounenkai is all about drinking your troubles away. The characters literally mean "forget-year-party." Also going to be a busy weekend, Monday is my last lesson of the year, and I've decided to meet my Chinese teacher on top of it since we haven't met in over a month due to this JLPT nonsense.

Ok, times up!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Into the void

You ever seen the movie Spaceballs? The part where Rick Moranis (a.k.a. Darth Helmet) says "Light Speed is too slow." And they crank this switch from light speed, to ridiculous speed, to ludicrous speed. That's how I feel right now. There shouldn't be stars flying by me at all angles, there should be streaks of plaid to do justice to the absurdity of the world around me.

People talk about the love/hate cycle expatriates experience in foreign countries. I've talked about this before, but I swear some switch in my brain is flipping between love and hate and it's gradually built up to the point of happening several times a day:

I love Japan.
I hate Japan.
I think Japanese people are cute and adorable.
I want to throw said people out of the nearest window because of their overwhelming indirectness and insincere politeness.
I love your Osaka-sense of humor.
Unless I have a piece of broccoli the size of Utah sticking out of my teeth, you have no good reason to stare so hard at me.
Your food is delicious and most of your women aren't obese here, awesome!
Texting and riding a bicycle while holding an umbrella with your two children while none of you wear helmets on a busy street might just be a teeny weeny tiny bit STUPID don't you think?

And so on.

This is all do to the insanity I willingly put myself into, and I love it. Keeps things interesting. Speaking of insanity, first show with the band/first show in Tokyo happened last Sunday. I know I haven't posted pictures here in ages, but I'm on my last legs tonight and don't feel like sorting through them and posting them. They'll be on the band site soon enough, and let's just say they are pretty righteous. I got to see grindcore legend Kurupino with her frog-puppet doing a solo S&M-style set with only a tom drum, a symbol and a mic stand. You really had to be there. Million Dollar Boys are also the best Tokyo band you never heard of, and the co-headlining band almost stole the show from us... well, they did in terms of streaking and ridiculousness anyway. CxPxSx donned their masks, make-up, underwear and little else and played a lewd set in the vein of "bad luck 13 riot extravaganza." I saw the soundguy grab the singer by the throat after he started hanging off of the lighting equipment, other than that it was just a lot of good clean fun.... well, as clean as it can get with a bunch of crazy Japanese grind-heads taking off their clothes and running into people while playing their instruments. One of my students even came out to see my band (the one I saw play in Shibuya last weekend) and he said the set was "pretty awesome."

All in all it was 大成功 "Daiseiko" - a great success. My fingers felt stiff at first but after the first few songs I knew the energy and high of the live show once again, such as I hadn't experienced for over a year... and what an addiction it is. I couldn't have pictured it going much better, except that my guitar got knocked out of tune for a bit. Might consider changing string brand/type, or going back to using 7-string sets on a 6 string guitar (since I play in B anyway).

The next day I took 4 hours of Japanese lessons (cramming my groups and privates together because I was busy with job training later in the week), which as you can imagine is pretty tiresome. I feel good though, and ready to put to kick this stupid test in the ass and bury it in the past. I'm obsessing about it way too much, I know, but as of writing this it's only about 60 hours away!! I should be studying right now... which is what I will go to, but first...

I taught my private students after class and doing some serious xmas shopping for my friends back home, and got this really cool, giant, most likely genetically-modified apple from Fukushima (north of Tokyo), along with a Fukushima-specific Chopper keychain. Pretty cool. I also discovered - since these ladies are completely Dog/Disney-obsessed - that Lady and the tramp is called ワンワンの物語 "wan wan no monogatari" in Japanese, the literal equivalent of "The Bark Bark story." Who knew?

Now I really have to hit the kanji book. Until I go to bed. I'm not even bringing my D.S. with me on the train until this thing is over with. Now if only I could pry myself away from this laptop!! Make it 3 days from now already!

Oh, and thanks to the people who responded to the last post, I really appreciate your feedback!

"I am extraordinary, I am I am"
- Blacklisted

"We've all been tricked into loving some fool, not a person alive who hasn't wasted time"
- End of a Year

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What can you see from your window?

Every week when I work in Shinjuku, I find it fills me with a certain kind of rage. I spend the day by going to Iidabashi for my 2 hour Japanese lesson, and follow that up by going directly to work. A full day, which leaves me satisfied but somewhat fatigued. And the masses, inside and out, do something to the natural state of the human mind. The people's mentalities and the general coldness to everyone they don't know in this kind of big city really strikes a darkness of the heart I'd never experienced before my time in Japan.

I can't assume whoever is reading this knows anything about these places, so allow me to explain: Shinjuku is home to the busiest train station in the world, and a veritable center of the megalopolis known as Tokyo. It's busy, always. Walking through there means becoming part of a mess of people moving in every conceivable direction; pure organized chaos. When I get off work nigh on 9:30, the drunken businessmen vibe is in full effect as well. And it all just piles up. Perhaps listening to grind metal isn't helping the situation, but it feels so appropriate to the madness hidden behind the neon beauty of the city.

Suffice it to say living as close as I do to any city feels like a temporary thing. It couldn't last, it would drive anyone with a soul crazy, I think.

...that's a dark start isn't it? Kind of prose-y though. My attempt at a description of the feeling of walking through the streets of Shinjuku, even if it only happens 2 or 3 times a week, thank god. It feels like a little piece of my soul is stripped away every time I cross those anonymous masses, being scratched and clawed at by the empty aura of the stone metropolis, struggling to-

Yea that's enough of that.


Last Sunday was one of the best days I've had in a while. I did the following things:

11-1pm. Listening practice test for the upcoming JLPT (11 DAYS AWAY) with a nice Spanish girl named Lydia. Got a 50%, which is around my average. Hey, listening to Japanese is tough! Thankfully this is a smaller portion of the overall test grade than the other parts I do better at.

1-4. Special 3 hour band practice, busted ass to get there on time (through the dark torrents of Shinjuku once again) Fun practice, they always are. Laughed and wrote and played and replayed and corrected and played again and felt exhausted and poured it all into the instrument. Yea.

5-7. Did the language exchange thing with Kana (friend/bassist) and did surprisingly well with Japanese grammar points. I can feel the pieces falling into place.

8ish. Arrived in Shibuya - the trendiest, most over-glorified crowded sack of amorphous blobs of people (which deserves its own post) I've ever seen - went to see my student Toshi's band play. He had given me a free ticket so I thought what the hell, it'd be rude not to go! I was pretty wrecked at this point, but managed to find the venue which I realized I had visited last year. Despite this, It is a bit of a tuck away building on an imaginary "street," above a Harley Davidson shop on a seedy-looking corner.

I had timed it to come just in time for Toshi's band, the "Super Sonic Monkeys," since I knew it would be an all day fest of amateur bands which I could not sit through. Although when I arrived, the act finishing up was quite entertaining. Some lady in her 40s/50s in go-go boots and white vinyl doing a ridiculous dance alongside to a male-backed ensemble of beardless ZZ TOP wannabes in trench coats and Leapord jackets with a fairly cute Japanese girl as a singer. The guitarists were doing all kinds of lewd rock moves. There was a saxophonist too, but everything jumbled together and didn't sound particularly good. Visually 10/10, musically 4/10. Wish I had my camera for that one!

Super Sonic Monkeys were pretty good for a band that does popular covers. The did the whole guitarist/bassist harmony thing quite well, covering Blink 182 and Green Day and the like. They even had a fan club, a gaggle of girls which I thought was pretty amusing. Am I playing the wrong kind of music? (don't answer that)

After the show the whole group - groupies, friends, band and myself - went to an Izakaya (Japanese-style restaurant/bar) they had reserved. Really brilliant, as them there U.K. people like to say. I had a lot of fun. And besides meeting some new friends - who said they want to "go go to Ben's Live!" - I realized that my Japanese hasn't improved at all.


I have had my head buried so deep in difficult everything that I didn't even realize my comprehension of daily conversation (and ability to communicate) has soared since the last time I'd attended this kind of social event with a bunch of Japanese people, maybe a few months prior. I communicated smoothly with several people almost no problem. It felt good. I can't do the whole night justice, let me just finish with saying it was fun.

The next day I took a much needed rest, studied and watched Apocalypse Now! for the first time. The Redux version in fact, over 3 hours long. Heck of a movie, I like the specks of Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad that the director mixed in with a Vietnam-themed war movie. And I find myself saying "the horror... the HORROR" whenever the opportunity arises.


One more thing. This English teaching shtick. I realized in college that the beauty of studying English - despite its lacking somewhat in the practicality department, at least in my case and in the States - was that a good command of language can be universally applied to almost any field. If you are well spoken, or well written, this bleeds into so many different careers and facets of human life. My job now, it's not glamorous, it can be redundant, but I'm always working with real people. Talking with people one inevitably forms connections with them, of interest, curiosity, disdain, friendship, warmth, familiarity, etc. etc. I am able to learn so much from them, it has become an enduring strategy of mine to find something interesting in even the most ordinary or seemingly-dull persona. I can learn about Japan, or the culture, or get an unfair look at what this person's life is like while at the same time doing what I do very effectively. It is in fact my job to ask questions that border on personally intrusive ("Do you live alone?" is listed as an opening discussion question in certain books). The empowerment of it all gets some people drunk, I think. I want to believe I take full advantage of this position by gleaning what I can, while of course doing my job to the utmost of my ability and helping those who truly want to improve. Not everyone takes this kind of job that seriously, but I can't help it. I'm an all or nothing type. If I don't give a shit, I don't give a shit, but if I care at all, it's like I yanked the cork out of the Hooker Dam once I get involved. So I put my heart into it, and sometimes I get really amazing, intangible things back.

Or the occasional - but slowly becoming weekly - bag of delicious potato-salad bread, raisin loaf and other sundry bakery items from Junko. You are like my provisional Japanese Mom, THANK YOU ALTHOUGH YOU WILL NEVER READ THIS.

This clunkily segues into my last bit, the title. It comes from one sleepy new student's attempt to be creative today. In response to "Ask about my apartment," she asked me: "What can you see from your window?" I said I can see snoopy and woodstock in a window from my window, and several other buildings, but that's pretty much it. However, in the cogs of this thing we call a brain, this question struck me as so deep, so unintentionally profound and deep. How much does my viewpoint control my perspective? Where does the vision stop and the imagination begin?

What can you see from your window?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I'm inside your computer

Decided to do a VLOG, video blog, was kind of restless and sleepy at the time so forgive my state, however it's a wrapup of what's going on now. Some old info, some new, and what's it going to be like to re-enter my home country, I wonder...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Nothing to say? Say it anyway!

I greatly enjoy sitting in my underwear and participating in solitary activities (studying, reading wikipedia, listening to music) in my one room apartment. The walls are scaly and paper-thin, but I have do have two windows. And although the sun-absorption turns it into an oven in the summer, it provides me with some great "natural heating" when it starts to get cold, like right now. I'm looking at my "business jacket," and it's got more wrinkles than a part time eldery bag-lady at the local grocery store, but ya know what? I think I'll wear it to work today anyway. I never cared much for outer appearances.

I spent 5 hours studying, reading, and also did some song-writing trying to bang out another F.I.D. number today. Our time is limited - not that it ever wasn't - but as usual I'm being far too hard on myself, wondering if this riff fits the style, or is congruent enough, or will please old fans. This is something entirely new for me: Writing music for a band that has a fanbase. I'm doing my best, and the girls like it, and it's a departure from the first CD for sure, but I feel like in essence (and with 3/4 the same members, even though the old guitarist spear-headed most of the material) it's the same band. I can't wait to play a live show again, it's one of those addictions I can never quit. A kind of elation no drug can give, girls can't do it either, although their kind of elation is nice too.

And, to finish, I'm realizing how lucky I am to be surrounded by some amazing people in my life, be they co-workers or students. I'm so glad I have a job that forces me to interact with people when I tend to steer away from it, as I've garnered some amazing opportunities from it. More about them later.

"Now you see me, and now I am a shadow" - Small Brown Bike / Casket Lottery

Monday, November 9, 2009

Come back, kid!

Last night I drank a souped up energy cocktail drink from the conbini (convenience store) full of ginseng and various extracts I couldn't recognize, most likely from the deepest regions of the congo and it seemed to do something good. I stopped taking the codeine and other prescription stuff this morning, I tried buying some over the counter cough medicine (Benadryl is illegal here) but the one that was the "least sleep-inducing" according to the pharmacist/cashier put me into nap mode after a few hours. I won't be taking any more of that too soon. I was at least able to come back to some semblance of a normal day, and although I'm not 100%, I'm back to functional, and that's good enough for right now.

I took the 15-minute train into town to meet some students for a lesson a popular cheap Italian place, ate some pizza and made 4000 yen (roughly $40) talking about dogs for an hour. Good racket. More important I made it through without feeling like trash, as it was a kind of test before going back into full on work. My week is busy and starts tomorrow.

1 week without the gym. First time since April. My muscles are pissed at me (especially my back) and my whole body feels really neglected. I'll try tomorrow morning.... we'll see. The physically drained feeling is still lingerning however.

I've been listening to a great reading of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" by Jack Finney, and while it isn't the best book it's some fun, pulpy, character-driven sci fi that has helped get me through this rut of a sick week. I'm just starting "No Longer Human" by Osamu Dazai, a best-selling Japanese novel even today, by an author who killed himself in 1947. It's a lot like the first emo before there was a word for emo however. "Woe is me I can't relate to anyone my life is pain etc. etc." I'm reading through trying to find the appeal, and I want to stop but it's mysteriously addicting....

Thoughts: being sick and stuck on my own in this little room with too much free time led to my usual over-philosophizing about life and the universe and my mediocre position therein and about my prospective career and my childhood and my possible days as an old man and how we all have to die some time, it's just a matter of when. I'd rather go backwards, not forwards. Regress into a child, de-age until I was a sperm and an egg and subatomic particles and disappear. It'd be a really original way to go.

See, this is why I keep myself occupied. Can't think freely for too long.

Countdown to home: 34 days.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Posting from the bottom

Dear internet-

Hello, how are out? I'm not so good. I've been sick for the past few days. Just on the tailend of a holiday weekend, I managed to catch a really nasty cold - congestion, splitting headache, ears ringing, fever, the whole shabbang. It feels like years since I've been sick like this. Since I was afraid it might be swine flu, I decided a prompt visit to the hospital was in order. To say I was nervous is correct, but thanks to my good buddy google maps (whose father google may turn into or already be Big Brother according to this guy) I found the closest general hospital. I always knew there was a plethora of clinics (small Dr.'s offices, often specialists) in my town, I never realized that a 5 minute walk in another direction from the train station would bring me to a legitimate general hospital.

Oh, but before that I had to hit up the chiropractor, because I'd strained my back trying to use that stupid exercise wheel again! I felt like the floor of a taxi cab but made my back-massage appointment, trudged down the road and went through the motions at the hospital, receiving a test for the dreaded swine flu.

The results? Tune in next week to find out!

Many foreigners have to seek out English-speaking doctors which is not only a hassle, requires traveling but will probably be more expensive, even in Tokyo. Despite how bad I felt I was at least happy that my Japanese was far along enough I could fill out forms and speak with the nurses, doctors and pharmacy people with little to no trouble. However, when asked about whether or not I wanted to take the Swine Flu test I heard a word I was unfamiliar with, some fancy medical way of asking if I wanted to "receive the test." Not knowing this one word apparently convinced the nurse to go the "bull by the horns" route and she tilted my nose back and shoved a cotton swab really, really far up it with like no warning. I felt like Shwarzenegger in Total Recall, when he gets the tracking device removed from his nose.


OK, I didn't have swine flu (quickest week of your life). However I have turned into a strange cross between the invisible man and a zombie. I'm approaching my third day of sick leave, and have been playing Grand Theft Auto 4 to pass the time, since anything that takes much thought or concentration really hurts my head.

Incapacitated on the Island,


Thursday, October 29, 2009

I'm about to pass out from exhaustion

But before that, behold in all it's glory:

Yep. My first show. Gonna be awesome. Feast your eyes and ears on the youtube goodness of some of these zonky bands:

Million Dollar Boys -
Geshurekt Organ a.k.a. Kurupino a.k.a. Froglady

Gotta say, Frog Lady is my favorite.

See you in 7 weeks NY, 6 weeks test, 5 weeks show.... my head asplode?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Paradigm Shift

What happened to me? Recently I've been taking a good look at the progression of my life, and it's stranger than you might think. Those of you who only know me from this blog, or not so well in real life, might think of me as a pretty serious or straight-foward guy, possibly funny at times, somewhat eccentric and obsessive about his "work." That is me, now. But who did I used to be? The longer time stretches on the harder it is to remember. Although that person will always be a part of me, it's just that, a part. Nothing more than a percentile. A widget on a pie graph. I won't go into details about it, but I used to be a slacker, an unmotivated sack of crud in my school days. It took serious changes in the world around me to shake my foundations: sweet, sweet liberation from 10 years of anti-epileptic, concentration-destroying seizure medication, and the death in the family. These things converged violently around the time I broke up with my last serious girlfriend and started studying Japanese. Weird, right? And that was, somehow, only a littler more than 3 years ago. It feels like I've stepped into a different life, and that was some distant thing in the past. The ancient past. The Gettysburg address and 1492 past. It's almost like I have to remind myself that some of the bad things ever happened. That I was ever so numb to the world, or isolated from my peers. It's weird, strange, and too personal to go into any real details about. At the moment. Maybe some day, but probably not in blog form.

So the world spins on, and my learning has also shifted. Depending on the subject matter, I can sometimes survive reading several consecutive pages of Japanese comics without using a dictionary. Many things that would have passed me by a year ago are being reeled in by Ben's Brain - V2.0. It seems to me that we teach our brains to filter out various sounds the world makes, and a lot of this meaningless noise has gradually acquired meaning to me. I can feel the shift, slowly, but certain, and if I keep pushing until the blisters break I feel like life could be one hell of a ride.

"Keep diggin, pail, dirt, hands calloused for what it's worth." - Rick Whispers

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Please fill in all the blank spaces

Posting will definitely decrease the next few months. T-minus 7 weeks until JLPT Level 2 test. 8 weeks until my epic return to Upstate NY (for a much needed 3 week vacation). I have to put my nose to the grindstone until I have nothing left. I must succeed.

I've been getting a little sick the past week, might be the change in weather, which is actually quite favorable. 70 degrees and cool in mid-October does beat NY this time of year, I'll give you that Tokyo. Otherwise the summers here.... Lets just say that next year I'm getting some astronaut-style suit with internal cooling mechanisms or just never leaving my room. Winter on the other hand will most likely be rainy and chilly, usually in the 40s consistently which isn't so bad. That's Fahrenheit (damn you and your difficult to spell name) to any of you who didn't grow up in the States, where we still practice backwards measurement systems such as miles and pounds.

Perhaps it coincides with the sickness, but I've been feeling a bit down on life lately. This place is a "roller coaster ride," (props Nick), one day it's all love the next day it's seething hatred. I cannot make up my mind. Days like today I'd feel better just relaxing and reading some comics and having a quiet day, but it's off to work in an hour. Sometimes my job can energize me a bit though, and Tuesdays are usually good, so we'll see.

Went to an amazing Okinawa-style restaurant the other night with some friends after band practice, that was a great experience. Tried 海葡萄, or "sea grapes," a kind of seaweed with little green balls that are sweet like grapes. Really strange. The pork was exquisite though. And the end-of-meal soups are always great at these specialty izakaya places. Would go again.

Not much else to report, gonna try and throw in a few last hurrahs towards the end of the year, but things will be slow on the blog front. Duty calls.

"Don't ever think you know why" - System of a Down

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Tornado of Books + Bowling Ball = .....

After much procrastination, I finally sorted out my books. Mostly Japanese comic books, the bulk of which I have yet to read. I can't believe I was quite so enthusiastic about buying them so fast a year ago - "OH MY GOD! IT'S ONLY 100 YEN, THAT'S LIKE A DOLLAR!!!!" - thank god I've calmed down.

This does not include novels and stuff, of which ther are like 50 more on my shelf.

I haven't posted a picture on here in a long time. This one is a pretty accurate symbol of my life, a swarm of information I want to absorb faster than is humanly possible. I've picked out some choice titles to focus on, like One Piece, Eyeshield 21 and JoJo, but for the moment I should really be studying for the big test in a little under two months. I'm acquiring vocabulary by reading these things, and I enjoy them, and they help my Japanese, but I'm 99% sure there will be no questions on the test with phrases like "Mind your own business," "Let's kick the crap out of 'em," or "do you mind if I throw a rock at them?"

It's amazing what a full time job working, studying 2-4 hours everyday, and trying to have enough downtime can be. Well, not amazing or anything, but throw in the band, mandatory weekly social engagement of one sort or another, and it's a full ticket. I'm having dinner with Maki and some friends tomorrow after practice, and attending a bowling party with some school people on Monday. Bowling, now that's something I haven't done in years.

I went to a school party the other night where this rather out-going gent (who, strangely enough had been half-asleep during my class) was busting out some serious 関西弁 (Kansai, or "Western Japan," dialect). I noticed it right away, as it's a distinctly different speech style from standard 東京弁 (Tokyo Dialect), although to be fair it has dozens of different forms depending on regions in the west. Anyhow, I asked this guy to teach me a useful phrase since I was interested in learning Kansai Dialect, and he said: なんでやね. His way of explaining this phrase was: "If I see a guy, and he has two pickles in his eyes, I say NANNDEYANE??" This, at the time, didn't quite click with me as a clear definition, but I looked it up later, and it can be roughly described as: "What the hell?" or "You gotta be kidding me!!"

Sometimes I go throw B.S., I work my butt off, or deal with difficult people and situations, but I realized the other day that I've become acclimated enough to this place. I passed some unseen threshold when I wasn't paying attention. I'm not afraid of leaving, but have trouble imagining what it will be like. Also, I can't help wondering what getting comfortable like this could mean if I'm going to actually follow through on Graduate school or living in another foreign country. I can't deny, if I do attain a high level of fluency in Japanese, it might be tempting to just work for a company here doing translation or international relations, assuming they don't want me doing the 11-hour salaryman shtick. Especially if I end up marrying a Japanese broad like, er, every white dude in this country. But the future is something I'm as clueless about as any of you.

Getting back to Japanese for just a second, after much work my reading has improved quite a bit, but my listening is still lacking. I started listening to news podcasts (which make me feel dumb with my 5-10% comprehension of them) and, less depressing than that is watching some Miyazaki films without subtitles. He's the Disney of Japan, and I honestly haven't seen much besides Prince Mononoke and now Spirited Away again, but I want to run through more of his movies in the next few months.

I'm looking forward to this big test-hurdle being behind me, so I can focus more on learning fun japanese and less on words I'll never use, like "registered mail" 書留 or "servicing & maintenance" 整備.

Naturally, studying my butt off and then working can both be pretty brain-draining exercises, especially when work is especially busy. So my pill to "take as needed for pain," my weed in a wrap, my cure in a bottle has been nothing less than the NFL. In the last few years I've grown to appreciate watching football as an activity that fills a primal urge of seeing people smash into each other, while being entertaining from a strategic vantage point as well. I still have a deep-seeded dislike for jocky, block-headed bullies, which of course make up a good chunk of professional sports, but I do like watching them pummel each other, I must say. 4 weeks in, and I haven't exactly enjoyed seeing the Bills offensively fall apart, but otherwise, I like the Bears and the Steelers this year.

I won't lie, by slacking on the blog I have missed out on the opportunity to write what could be some hilarious stories for you guys. My bad. At the moment all I can think of is:

-a few 10 year olds started clapping the rhythm to Queen's We Will Rock You (or should I say lock you) in the middle of class and kept it going for around 15 or 20 minutes

- teaching "nod your head" has also turned into an air-guitar-shred/head-banging session in the aforementioned class

-I met a woman the other day whose brother had moved to Mexico. When asked why, she said it was to be an amateur masked wrestler. 0_0

-There was a sort of typhoon the other night, wasn't so strong, just some winds and rain coming from many directions, but I missed the bulk of it. However, working that night some idiot slammed the the wrong pedal at a railway crossing and smashed into an oncoming train. No one was killed or seriously injured, but 5500 people were estimated to have been effected by the stopped trains. I caught a local half-way home and walked another 2 miles or so, not too bad, but the funny part is as I crossed the tracks on the home stretch, I saw my train going by. So if I would have waited, I wouldn't have had to walk. Curses!

(The accident)

Integrity is playing here in a few weeks. I'm considering going to a sports festival the same day, since I know I'd be a great asset to the tug-of-war section...

That's all for now. Writing is fun, I don't plan to stop any time soon. Thanks for reading.

"These walls are paper-thin and everyone hears every little sound" - Modest Mouse

"If I never make it home tonight the streets will swallow me whole" - Trapped Under Ice

" What are your qualifications? #2- Ah well… I attended Juilliard. I am a graduate of the Harvard Business School. I travel quite extensively. I lived through the Black Plague and I had a pretty good time during that. I’VE SEEN THE EXORCIST ABOUT 167 TIMES…AND IT KEEPS GETTING FUNNIER EVERY SINGLE TIME I SEE IT! Not to mention the fact that you are talking to a dead guy. Now what do you think? Am I qualified?" - Beetlejuice

P.S. Ian, I know you always find some spare time to get on here, remind me to return your books soon dude.

P.S.S. Reading Kafka's "The Trial" for the first time now, it's awesome, so very very awesome.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

like having a dizzy spell cast upon you by a malevolent wizard

The more I read about Japan's last 150 years of history, the more I marvel at how everything has become so perfectly industrialized, as is now the standard. If I ascend the roof of my 3-story apartment complex, I can see nothing but buildings in every direction - maybe 20 of them apartment buildings, give or take. And I don't live in a very "urban" area, by Tokyo standards. I may have said this before, but the supreme wackiness of how everything is designed and put together here makes me think of a child with an infinite supply of legos: He just starts laying things into place pell-mell, without regards to the gas station next to the temple next to the research laboratory next to the preschool next to the bottomless pit. But I digress; I don't find buildings that beautiful. They can be awe-inspiring, as I re-discovered walking from Mejiro to Ikebukuro the other day, but it's a temporary effect, like having a dizzy spell cast upon you by a malevolent wizard. As embarrassing as it may be to say, I am a child of the suburbs, and kind of liked it there.

And yet, somehow, I am growing more and more acclimated to city life. Just thinking about how I've gotten used to these mechanical beasts that we all trains as my mode of transport was a mind-blow today. I compared that to the only real public transit option in Albany - the public buses, or CDTA, and shuddered at the thought.

I am going to plow through this "Modern Japanese Literature, 1868-present" book in all its tomeliness if it kills me in the process. Also reading Mother Night by Vonnegut now, that's exactly what one would expect from such a master of wit and pen. I started writing a bit more of my own fiction, although where that'll go remains to be seen. It feels a bit like bloodletting, but painful as it may be, perhaps it's necessary as well? Blogging is infinitely easier than creating worlds from bits of inspiration in my personal life.

Band practice was kick-ass today, no bones about it. Songs are getting tight. Trying to put together a proper set-list, which is harder than it was in punk/hardcore/metal bands. When every song is 1-2 minutes on average, you have to combine them and time them right, for maximum output. Gonna have a "studio live show" in November, which just means a relatively small studio space. I'll post a flyer or what-have-you when things get confirmed.

...Maybe it's less what I want to do with my life, than what life chooses to do with me?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Windows to the world

Stop what you're doing for a minute. Look around. How long has the computer screen held your complete attention? How much time do you spend with your eyes deadlocked on screens every day? We have an infinite plethora of information at our fingertips, and it makes us sit completely still. I have been using computers since the age of 3, sort of like a long-running heroin addiction, but a bit less deadly. It's far too late to stop now, as I rely on them so much. But I make it a point to focus my eyes on a book, or a window, or something not on a screen for at least some decent percentage of the time I'm home. There's something missing in the computer screen, a void that you can never fill no matter how much information you harvest, levels you gain or letters you type. And that's the knowledge that everything you're experiencing is second-hand and inherently vicarious. Make use of technology, but don't forget about the value of the experience.

Carry on guys.

"Do we really need to record every boring second of our lives to prove we did it? Doesn't anybody just experience anything anymore?" - George Carlin (I might be paraphrasing, quoting from memory)

"Do not resist, it is your destiny. Have we not all become the children, the children of technology?" - Carnivore

Friday, September 18, 2009


Today was a good day. I submitted my JLPT application (6000 yen the poorer for it), had amazing students and enjoyed the beginnings of fall weather. I saw people wearing what looked like winter coats (it was like 70 and cloudy) which cracks me up. I can't wait to see my hometown again, and breath in air so cold it my body rejects it. I hope it's covered in 3 feet of snow come December.

I felt like I made a positive different in the kids I taught today. None of them were trouble, some were tired or stubborn, but as for all of them, I wonder how my actions might shape their impression of the English language or Americans in the future. Granted they have a good chance of just forgetting my existence too, but hey, I can't help feeling like I did something right. Today was a positive day.

"Silver Week" showed up much quicker than anticipated. It's a slang term that appeared just this year, to match the long-standing Golden Week series of holidays in April/May. I only get two our of the four days off, but hey, better than nothin! Terror and Winds of Plague are playing next week too... gonna be complete chaos! (or should I say kaosu?)

I'm feeling pretty braindead, My Friday night/Saturday morning combo work schedule puts me at 12 hours of teaching in a 24 period, always leaving me a bit zonked. Half-way through it now, writing ye from the trenches. The days and weeks are flying by.

I'm reading:

"The Rape of Nanking - the untold Holocaust of World War II" A really poignant account of a tragic time in the history swept under the rug, not taught in schools and downright ignored and denied to this day by the majority in Japan. Some really gruesome, terrible stuff went down between Japanese soldiers and over 260,000 thousand men, women and children, the minority of which were actually soldiers (or at least soldiers over the age of 12). It's grizzly and disturbing. A human atrocity. It's one of those things I remember reading a small paragraph about in High School History class, like the "Trail of Tears." I feel like even then I wondered: if it's so tragic an event, doesn't it deserve more than an eighth of a page?"

And on top of that, as Nick informed me this morning, the author, Iris Chang, killed herself several years after writing the book, feeling that she would be hounded for the rest of her life by ultranationalists, critics of her work, etc. And haunted by a looming depression. From what I've read on wikipedia (just now) the book is somewhat flawed, especially in the author's bias and uninformed portrayal of the modern Japanese, but nonetheless, it doesn't matter of it's 100,000 or 200,000 or 400,000 deaths, it should be remember so as not to be repeated.

Shalman Rushdie - "Shalimar the Clown" My 3rd Rushdie novel, this guy is intelligent and somewhat of a snob in his writing, but he's also surreal and convoluted in his plot constructions, which I enjoy very much. This is good so far, although it occasionally hurts my brain.

I dunno why I felt the need to write all that, but I did it anyway! It's my blog, I can do whatever I want! BOW BEFORE ME MERE INTERNET MORTALS.

...oh. You're still here? Why are you still here? You want to know about my secret plans for the future? What the hell is Ben gonna do after he is finished with his English-teaching Time in Japan?! I know you're dying to find out. Or at least I am? Hmm. Well. Recently I've been thinking about something along the lines of getting a masters in East Asian language translation.... if such a thing even exists, and studying abroad at a University in Shanghai or Hong Kong or something. I want to be fluent in speaking and writing both Japanese and Mandarin Chinese someday. I don't know why exactly, but maybe, just maybe all of this time in Japan is giving me such an uneven balance of what Asia actually is. This taste of living in a different country, it makes me want more. I want to experience living in another completely different country, and be shocked and humbled by my lack of knowledge about how things go down all over again.

It's OK mom and Dad, I'll pack my toothbrush.

"Everywhere's story is now a part of everywhere else" - Salman Rushdie.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

nabebugyou - he who controls the hot pot...

Nabe is a kind of traditional Japanese "stew" or "soup," popular during the winter and at izakayas (pubs/eateries), where the customers put in the raw ingredients themselves. I was having dinner at a namahage-themed izakaya (that's a Japanese demon from Akita who scares children into behaving correctly) with my students the other night, a sort of sayanora-party for one who is leaving the class, and nabe was among some of the delicious foods we ate. I've always enjoyed soup-based dishes, a good broth, and one with lots of delicious vegetables and meat is a great finish to a nice meal. There was even a nice post-nabe meal, the name of which escapes me, where extra broth is added with rice and an egg. I had an excellent time, but the main reason I mention any of this: there were two pots on the table, and each one seemed to have a kind of nabe-master, a self-proclaimed individual at the table who presumed to know the correct heat of the portable stove, when to put the ingredients in, and when to serve. I was informed by one gentleman about nabebugyou, or "he who controls the nabe," which used to be a term for an administrator to the shogunate back in the Edo period. Nowadays, it has turned into a kind of idiom for someone who takes charge of a situation. I thought that was interesting.

You can read a little more about Namahage here.

I was listening to an interview with George Carlin called "On Comedy," where he talks about his inspiration, techniques and such. I really enjoyed his talking about how "the subconscious does most of the work for us, like a potato coming up to the top of a boiling pot. 'Hey, look at that, a nice potato, let's have that for dinner.'" While I know this isn't originally his idea, it got me thinking about how I work on a creative level. I know from experience you can't force good output, it has to be there waiting to come out. All my potential in writing music or writing these words is merely the culmination of my having put them together in this broken format from the pure recesses of my subconscious. One reason I do this is for fear they'll be lost forever otherwise - which many surely are. Some people describe the creative process as a joyful one, others a pain. For me it really varies, sometimes it's a matter of "I must do this" and other times I genuinely want to express myself somehow. Blessing or curse? More like necessity.

I don't understand how people can live an enjoyable life without some experience of "the arts." Whether it's books, or music, or movies, or poetry, or painting, or even fashion, I can't comprehend an individual who lacks this need for something outside of the mundane, mathematical and wholly predictable. I like Carlin's comedy because it's shocking and insightful; I like Murakami, Rushdie and Lovecraft because they are surrealist authors who's works maintain a delicate balance between poetry and absurdity. I love my music because so many of the lyrics speak to me, or the ways I've felt or feel now, or maybe the sound of the instruments is just really well crafted. Or both. To keep myself happy, I need a slew of these things to be ever-present in my life. I'm not here to judge others, but I will say that people who are content without any of the aforementioned items or some extension of it completely blow my mind. And I meet them on regular basis. Is the world there for you to experience it, to ponder and love and wonder at it, or for you to sit listlessly as it all goes by? Maybe it sounds like I'm talking about two different things - taking action/living life and experiencing the arts, but I see them as going hand-in-hand. Living life by being a "suit and tie guy," and just doing everything you're told is hardly a life at all.

This is all a bit serious. I think about things like this a lot though. Also a lot about "next steps." A bit too much, sometimes to the point of paralysis, as I've already mentioned.

To break the intensity a bit: NFL season has started. I find watching 1 game a week to be a great exercise in turning off my brain and enjoying a strategic, brutal and unrelenting sport that is emblematic of the American spirit: Smash, take, gloat. It's a guilty pleasure, and probably the only sport I can enjoy watching, save college Basketball on occasion.

I finished my first complete "practice test" for the big Japanese exam in December, and got a 65%. Only 60% is required to pass, so this pleased me greatly. If I can hit the 75-80% margin on practice tests by November, passing will be a safe bet. And that'll be one more notch in the walking stick, so to speak. After that there's the level 1 test, which is a greater challenge in so many ways... After that is Chinese... After that is...

"Can't nobody hold me down, I gotta keep on movin"

Sunday, September 6, 2009

That's not bad, it's baaad yo

I recall when I was 14, 15, 16, and I used to listen to Angel, the singer of my high school band My Own Demons, describe bands to me: "That band is baaad yo." This always perplexed me. I mean, if he showed gesticulations indicating favor towards the band, then I could assume he was misusing the word bad as slang, or short for "bad-ass" or something. That was clear enough. But then, when me and James and Dan (drummer and bassist respectively) would write tunes, and he said "that's bad!" I was always terribly confused and in need of clarification.

Last night, when I saw Bishop and Loyal to the Grave at Club Era in Shimokitazawa, I was talking to Akira, who I have mentioned before in this blog. He's a devoted troycore lover and general fan of 90s-era New York Hardcore - he especially worships Cutthroat, who have a special place in my heart as well. So we were talking (in Japanese) and I asked him what bands he likes nowadays, since all his favorites are at least 10 years old - Stigmata, Dying Breed, etc. Here's a rough transcript:

me: "Well, for example, I think Terror is the best hardcore band going today."

Akira: "Terror, no I don't really like Terror"

"Really? But don't you like Buried Alive?"

"Well, yea."

It's the same vocalist! They destroy! They are so good live.

Yea, live Terror are bad.

What? In other words you don't like Terror?

No, that band is just really bad live

Wait, "bad" means you don't like them?

No, "bad" means they are sick/cool/good

Talk about across the globe high-school flashbacks.

I also had a fun time at the show, got called "crazy" for dancing just like I always have back home (I think being the only white guy in the crowd and my size has something to do with it - lots of Japanese dudes gettin down too), and left with a slighty busted nose. All in all a good time. As an added bonus, talking to Akira and some other dudes, I got to practice my manly Japanese, which is a hell of a lot harder than it sounds - a lot of different word shortenings and speech patters are used by men only, it's a much more gender-defined language than English, in my opinion.

Today was an amazing band practice. New songs being wrapped up, studio time in the near future, and show dates being planned. January 17 is a definite, details T.B.A. Also some heavy news about the future of the band, or at least that it will be on haitus for a while next year.... :/ But I can't talk details, not yet. Still, whatever happens, it's a wild ride, and F.I.D. are 100% solid people, and some of my best friends in Japan.

This talk of change though, it makes me think about how I'm actually leaving this country behind (permanently?) some time in the future. Weird.

"Stay cold! You can't hurt me anymore" - Trapped under Ice

"Pushed to the limits of functioning human condition, my brain stem snaps from the pressure" - xBishopx

Friday, September 4, 2009

All I need's a good swift kick in the ass!

I've been trying to vary my "training" at the gym lately, and I really did it this morning. Working out in the morning and working a 4-10 shift can be risky, and sure enough I was sleepy all day today. I somehow managed to pull through. I literally took a 15 minute power nap in the break-room (better called a break-closet, it's literally big enough for one person to sit down in).

No, I'm not turning into one of those bros who talks about his work-out routine. I still hate bros and jocks, that was founded in junior high and high school and will never change. I hate bullies more though. So what do I do when I see kids in my own class bullying each other? I can't very well grab him by the collar and enact street justice, now can I? This is just a broken side-rant, but dammit, dammit, dammit, I don't want to teach kids. I don't care how cute or fun they can be sometimes, I hate all the baggage that comes with it. Emotional, disciplinary and otherwise. And I'm also not a big fan of teaching rudimentary stuff, when it comes down to it. I like talking about the philosophically unknowable, the incredibly inane and the highly inappropriate. I did explain to a student what Jehovas Witness, the Amish and Mormons are the other day. That was very stirring (at least for me)

I forgot to mention I had an attempted kancho done to me for the first time the other day too. While substituting for another teacher. For anyone who doesn't know, a kancho is when you make a "gun" with your pointer and middle finger of each hand together, and try to poke the other person in the anus. As a practical joke. No, I'm not making this up, look it up if you want, I can't make this s**t up. Thankfully it was a failed attempt... I certainly don't need 6 year old girls violating me, that's wrong on HOW many levels??

Gonna go see a good show tomorrow night too. And no stinkin kids to teach tomorrow. And band practice and hiking a mountain this weekend. Could things be on the up and up?

"Save yourself, don't make a sound." - Starkweather

Thursday, September 3, 2009

I want the world and a side of fries

or make that potato salad. And some turkey, and mashed potatoes, and stuffing, and generous portions, and big roads, and large cars, and bigger yards, and larger communities, and SPACE, and big fat smelly egos, and 18" pizzas, and old friends, and feet of snow, and cold winters, and mild summers, and places to drive, and a chance to listen to music with my friends.

3 months until I get back to the right side of the world. I need an asia break, stat! =/

Monday, August 31, 2009

Time well spent (is?)

I often have been too forward-looking. It's not a trait common in younger people, as far as I can tell, but it's how I've functioned and seen the world for as long as I can remember. Being a planner (and the slightest bit of a control freak) has its advantages: being relatively organized, spending time efficiently, feeling like my life is in order. But it also prevents me from "living in the moment" sometimes. I went to a show the other night, the first one I've really experienced in a long time (excluding something last weekend - I'll explain later). There's something still a bit awkward about being at a hardcore show - and it isn't that everyone is Asian. Yet I felt a kind of release and lack of time awareness that one can experience only through their own passions. Things that eat you alive they are so enjoyable. Things that suck up all of your mental processing power. I live for these sorts of things: reading, music, studying, exercise, spending time with friends and enjoyable conversations. Outside of these activities, I sometimes get stuck in a kind of stagnancy, thinking too much about the future or the past. Even as I write this, in the back of my mind I'm thinking about the books I put down to do so. I'm halfway through watching the Goonies as well - that's how important this blog is to me. :)

This time-management obsession is something that's part of my personality, and I don't see it changing any time soon. I can only remind myself to not let it control my life.

I woke up the other day to "salsa's here." Nick, my neighbor who moved out 4 months back, showed up unexpectedly around 9am with a jar of salsa from California, per request. I knew he was coming back, but didn't know when. It's almost surreal, and another example of how the world moves like crazy around me, but my routine and place of living have stayed the same. I like that reliability. Anyhow, Nick is back, if only temporarily before he moves for his job/school. Going for his masters in TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) at Temple University, and I say more power to ya buddy.

Last weekend, I had a ticket to see Madball. I was excited about this. Before that, I went to the gym, then went to the going away party of someone who has been here 15 years, but had to leave for job and personal reasons. He's a real cool dude with good taste in music, and for what it's worth, he was the first trainer I met when I moved to Japan (as he used to work for my company). I remember that day, so nervous, so unsure of what to expect and how it would all go down, and he made me feel strangely at home at 7pm in a bleached-white classroom setting, doing some kind of "favorite food/favorite song" survey activity, meeting my fellow trainees. A good guy, and I went to his farewell thing in Yoyogi Park to wish him the best of luck. That was quite nice, I played frisbee, watched the Yakuza and 50s-pompadour-style guys and gals dance it up in the park, and had a few drinks with some co-workers. After a while it was time to hit up the show.

But when I got there, I felt like complete shit. I had been in Yoyogi earlier, and Shibuya holds no less crowds than Harajuku on a Sunday; they are both incredibly trendy and popular spots. Not that I care about trendy or popular, but that's where the parties and hardcore shows happen. And as an important aside, I don't like big crowds. My only real experiences with places jammed with people was ever was at shows back home. Fair enough. But here, it's like crowds lurk around every corner, and when I arrived at the show to find it crowded to the point of difficulty getting around - the bottle-neck design between the bar and the merchandise tables to the main stage didn't help - I felt suffocated. Not that I'm claustrophobic, or agoraphobic, I just didn't feel like being there at that time, I'd had enough. It might have been the mid-day beer, or the lack of caffeine supplementing it, but I knew my mood and mind was set. I watched 2 bands, wasn't feeling it at all, and headed home. 4000 yen and a chance to see an NYHC band wasted, but I knew that getting away from the throngs was what felt right at that point in time.

See, I'm the kind of guy who needs my space. Seriously. I know what you're thinking: "smart move coming to Tokyo," right? Well, for the record, on my job application under desired location I wrote: "anywhere in Japan." And I prefer Osaka people and their over-the-top sense of humor to Tokyo seriousness any day! But that's besides the point.

So I was a little bummed and felt like I had wasted time and money. In retrospect though, I'd seen Madball nearly 5 or 6 times back home anyway. This weekend, I made it up by playing with kids for 3 freakin' hours and making them circle pit (they call it musical chairs, but I see a lot of resemblance), and then going to see Loyal to the Grave, Maroon and the Acacia Strain and pit it up there. This was at the exact same venue as last weekend, mind you. But my mood was entirely different. I missed xBISHOPx who I wanted to see, however they're playing Shimokitazawa next Saturday, and I'll be there with bells on. The show was an awesome time, I got to vent out my frustrations and felt a lot better.

Oh, and Sunday (yesterday) I was supposed to have band practice, but canceled it for other plans which got canceled. Do'h! Not all was lost, as I finished Remembering The Kanji volume 1!!!! That's 2043 kanji I can write. Boo freakin' yah. I expected confetti and streamers to magically appear at the time of my completion, yet none did. I love hitting milestones like this. I also finished a vocab book of about 1500 words, and will be done with my grammar book of no less than 180 grammar points this week. 3 months until the big test. I have to keep up this pace to stand any chance, so there's nothing to do but stay pumped on Japanese for the next 12 weeks. A week after my test, I'll be visiting home. I don't know if I've ever looked forward to any Christmas more in my life.

"Don't you realize? The next time you see sky, it'll be over another town. The next time you take a test, it'll be in some other school. Our parents, they want the best of stuff for us. But right now, they got to do what's right for them. Because it's their time. Their time! Up there! Down here, it's our time. It's our time down here." - Goonies

P.S. This marks the beginning of chapter 7. Why? Because it's typhooning a bit outside.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

It's not Gaijin, it's Gaikokujin!

Gaijin: 外人. Written with the characters for outside and person. Shortened from Gaikokujin, 外国人, literally outside-country-person. While it's become popular slang to call foreigners the former, it isn't quite "politically correct." (let us suspend disbelief that such a concept could actually exist in Japan) Literally translated it means "outsider," but more often than not people see it as a harmless term for foreigner. Popular usage, the in thing. Many foreigners happily refer to themselves as this; our I.D. cards are called "Gaijin cards" by most; and I've even heard other foreigners talk about getting "gaijined," meaning stereotyped or some such thing. Ex: "I got gaijined on the train again, when I sat down the lady next to me got up and moved to another seat." It's got to be one of the first words a foreigner learns here. I even saw a video recently of youtubers sharing their favorite Japanese word, some of which was funny, some of which was just plain sad. What sticks in my mind is a guy saying: "My favorite word is Gaijin, because that's what I am." I thought to myself: How many people have no idea of the possible implications of the word, or that it's even slang, and not proper Japanese?

Some background on this entry: A few weeks ago I was having dinner with a Japanese friend, and her other "gaijin" friend. This girl was part Filipino, part-Chinese, and part-something else I don't remember. She had grown up in Japan, most likely experiencing a lot of discrimination due to her being so incredibly different and not Japanese - although, to the untrained Western eye she would hardly look different at all. She is the one who got me thinking. While we were eating, my Japanese friend said Gaijin, and the other girl somewhat sternly corrected her on it. "Gaikokujin." At first I thought "what's the big deal?" But I got to wondering what Chinese, Filipino, Brazilians or any other creed for that matter must experience growing up here. And how much weight language can carry, oblivious to many who use it, propelling ideas or even stereotypes they are totally unaware of. Think back on the term nergo; Does anyone say this anymore? No. Why? Because it's genuinely offensive and carries with it older ideas about segregation of blacks. I've seen Japanese referred to as "Japs" only in fiction, (Jappu ジャップ) but apparently that word still carries some weight. I can only imagine what the old WW2 vets would think if they heard it being thrown around.

As for me, Gaijin is not an offensive term. This is the case for most foreigners. But next time you use this word, or any word, think about the implications it may have to those around you. I mean, I used lots of slang in my speech, I especially enjoy comedy that deals with racy issues, like race, gender, class, society, etc. I've been on a huge George Carlin kick lately. But that's besides the point. Just take a minute to think about where what your saying comes from, and how it might be received by the other. This isn't about being completely P.C., it's about not being completely ignorant to the world around you.

"We're just a bunch of monkeys spinning on a rock around the sun."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bear with me while I bear with me

Summer vacation is over as of tonight. It was a full 2 weeks, so I should feel satisfied. I went to the beach in Zushi, Kanagawa prefecture on Saturday, and spent 2 days in Nikko. I got to see some famous things, like some waterfall named after a dragon and lake Chuzenji. And Toshogu temple. There was NemuriNeko (the sleeping cat), sansaru (the three monkeys - hear no see no speak no evil), and exotic food called yuba, the skin off of tofu. The mountain air was crisp, cool and refreshing. I took some pictures with my cell phone, having forgotten my digital camera, but I don't feel like uploading them right now. Mwahahahaaaaaa!

Man have I gotten lazy about pics or what? Sorry guys. It was easy when everything here was shiny and new and I didn't have so much else on my plate.

This learning Chinese one day a week thing is certainly interesting. I go to work a few hours early (or rather the city I work in that day) to meet my teacher, and we do a language exchange. So far I have learned the general rules of thumb for reading Pinyin, "the standard system of romanized spelling for transliterating Chinese." I'd like to spend more time focusing on it, but really I practice only once a week. I hardly feel guilty or anything, since I spend so much time on Japanese.

My friend and neighbor who was in my training group has moved back to the States today. I was kind of bummed out, as this now makes zero white people or friends in my building - not that I have anything against my Japanese neighbors, but they are all really shy - and Dayn has been here for the exact same duration as me. Watching people disappear, and soon watching new people pour in, as there is a new training group starting this week, is certainly odd. I don't really know how to describe it.... maybe a dual axis. The world is spinning fast enough around me - I live in Tokyo for pete's sake - but relatively speaking everything stays still. I stay still. And people come into my sphere and leave almost haphazardly, whilst I go about my business. It's disorienting in a way, and I fail to see how anyone could get used to this.

It was quite a shock to be in Nikko, in a place where trains run only once or twice an hour. I'm used to every 3-7 minutes. I'd been thinking for a while how much of a pain this city can be, and how I subtly wished for a quieter life in the country, but this really opened my eyes to the reality of how boring country life appears to be. It looks gorgeous on the surface, but in comes the feeling of being trapped out in the countryside.

Here is where all the opportunities are. Here is where I am employed, have a band, and have a few cool friends. So I should be happy here, for the time being.

I've almost learned to write 2000 kanji. I can taste impending victory. According to Anki, my friendly flashcard study tool, I've spent 2.59 days on this deck of cards. (I have others...) 12,052 reviews, counting each time I reviewed each card. !!

My teacher noted today that I'm making less mistakes than before with my grammar practice. And I'm noticing things like comics becoming gradually easier to read, and sometimes I can go through quite a few sentences of Japanese text without needing a dictionary. It's like all I needed was this vacation and a few days off to really look at the progress I've made. Still, gotta keep the motivation up, and pass that JLPT2 test in December. Or die tryin!

There is one F.I.D. show planned, though it isn't until January. It's a long ways off, and probably there will be something before that. We are close...

I am close. Closer to comprehension of a foreign language, closer to finally playing a show, closer to breaking through this stage of my life.

"It was always worth it, that's the part I seem to hide." - Modest Mouse

"Uuugggh.... Turn that treble up!!" - Loss of Reason

"You wanna see pissed off? I'll show you pissed off like you've never f**kin seen!" - Burnt by the Sun

Friday, August 14, 2009

I won't stop screamin'

Lately I've been getting in touch with friends back home for the first time in many, many long months. My life over here has, for lack of a better term taken on a life of its own. I have made some good friends out here, but of course NY and my homies are still number 1 in my heart. Now that things have slowed down at last with vacation, it's just good to be reminded that home still exists outside this place... since living here everyday makes it rather easy to forget about the rest of the world! (At least when one is busy, as I have been)

Has my posting been melancholy, or emo or something? Well, since Ian hugged me, there is now nothing I can't accomplish. Maybe it's the beef and onions I just ate talking here, but the next few days should be really sweet. Meeting a lady friend tonight (ooOOoo), going to the beach in Zushi (an hour from Tokyo, in Kanagawa) on Saturday, and going to Nikko from Sunday to Tuesday. It sounds a bit busy but it should all be quite relaxing, I'll get to spend time with friends, and most importantly get out of this city!!!! It's so necessary to stay sane.

Other than that, my downtime has been so needed. I've been reading Haruki Murakami's "The Wind-up Bird Chronicle," and I'm totally into it. Too bad it's 600 freakin' pages, a.k.a. too fat to lug around on trains, and too long for me to finish any time soon. But I'm tryin!

Studying has become really burdensome. Maybe without mind-numbing work to balance it, it seems like more of a chore, I don't know, but I'm feeling in danger of burnout. I look at my flashcards and don't want to look at them (hence this post). It could be a result of me trying really hard but not seeing visible improvement that I want - a problem frequent at the schools I work at, where people study English full-time. But we can't expect miracles can we!

Really, I just want to be able to understand what people are saying in everyday conversations. But it takes years to get that good. My reading is actually pretty decent by the way. I read a 700-page manga monthly serial almost cover to cover, minus 3 or 4 series. I was very proud of myself. :D

Let's make this a posi-negative-posi sandwich: I am also setting up a benefit show for research about the disease my 2 sisters have, NBIA. I haven't yet mentioned much about it in the blog, although of course it's a big part of my life. You can read more about it at The only lab that does major full-time research on this rare genetic disease is in danger of shutting down, and we're trying to raise a whopping $250,000 to save the lab. It sounds near impossible, but 10,000 is already in. And I plan to get up to 5,000 more at the benefit show this December. More details coming soon, but I expect ALL my friends from back home to be there. :)

That's all folks.


analyze the devices
war with thee
pieces of your destiny corrupted
can you verify the lost contents


gravel lodged in your throat
flesh box cavity
gradual eruption probe
one that feeds
hands that caress a crooked spine
absorbing bi-products
prompt exchanges
that will deconstruct


move on forward
signs that will pierce like labor pains
ways of a drunkard
the dogs shall devour and lap up their blood


the prime suspects will not restrain
with affection
final effects of a broken hope
of a broken shell
of a broken yoke
walk and learn from these
loss of wealth
quarantine the divisions
the double edged sword
depth incision


glutton eat your fill
divination is that of a swine babbling in their filth
beware of the things hibernating in your skull
reeking havoc
malignant cells still active
schemes that will inflict my son
schemes that run rampant


if the disease of self
leaves a heavy burden on your soul
it must be removed
like bricks in the belly
you will sink in to the depths" - Candiria, 300 percent Density. (still one of my favorite albums of all time)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Stuck in "teacher mode"

Everyone knows "you are what you eat." When I was a kid with epilepsy, I liked the stickers that said "epilepsy is what I have, not who I am." Today's post has a little something to do with both. Being on vacation - an almost unreal experience after working so much and being in such a steady routine - has given me some time to reflect on an issue of autonomy that's been bugging me for a while: People stuck in teacher mode.

When teaching a class or a small group, a person is more often than not forced into creating a kind of psuedo-personality. This is done to entertain the group and to draw attention to the points being taught. At my company they call it: "turning it on. No matter how tired or sick or down you may feel, you have to be able to just turn it on." I've gotten pretty good at this. It's like hitting a switch in my brain, where my goofy personality becomes more extroverted, and I become more interested in what students have to say than I would be were I listening to them off the clock. (Bear in mind that English conversation school are more about getting students to talk than giving them lectures)

This kind of listening-to-people-talk-about-whatever-they-want can sometimes lead to touchy topics - I've heard our job jokingly referred to as underpaid psychiatrists; Although in actuality, it's quite true. There are times I've heard of students crying in classes about recently deceased relatives, hugging teachers, a lot of reaching out and things that obviously don't belong in the language classroom in theory, but find there way there in practice. There are people who are lonely and have no one to talk to. There are mentally disturbed students whose family won't pay them heed, and who find solace in the classroom, where for 40 minutes they are 1 to 1 with another human being. I heard a story of a female student who would make breakfast and dinner for her husband, and in between those 10 hours she would just ride the yamanote train (the main circular line around Tokyo) around and around for hours on end, until her English lesson. Then ride it for hours again.

It takes all kinds. You get lots of interesting people, and lots of needy people, and a few downright weird people in this job. An example of the weird: There's a warm-up activity I do, a word game where you make a new word with the last letter of the previous word. Like cat -> tree. I had an incredibly quiet and shy student, I started with something like trick, and he put down knife. KNIFE. That isn't even a k sound!! Can you spell "sociopath?"

So how do the teachers adjust to this, and how does it effect our lives and personalities, is the question I'm concerned with today. I know one guy in particular who has been doing this job for over 15 years - the type who has a family, kids etc. Talking to him is like talking to a brick wall. Maybe it fools students, but the kind of "uh huh, uh huh" response I've gotten almost any time I've said words to him has been like an overly dignified "I'm pretending to listen but have absolutely no interest in what your saying" response. Then if you do manage a sentence out of him, it's like a rushed barrage of words with the purpose of denying his involvement in the conversation in the first place. It wouldn't come across that way to a lot of students, so I wonder if he's even aware of it. But to me it's a classic case of letting your occupation become who you are, and applying your teacher-mode excessively outside of the class room. The same kind of problem as a smarty-pants know-it-all type who acts like he always knows more than you about everything and is always talking down to you. No one wants to be friends with that guy.

It doesn't end there, and it's not an isolated case. For my own part, all this work with "English conversation" has gotten me thinking a lot about how conversations work. Sometimes outside of work, I feel like a conversation is arduous, or like I'm teaching a lesson. I even glance at the clock like I do at work, trying to figure out how to budget my time, which is totally out of place and wrong. I have to remember to separate my work mode from my own personality. Otherwise I'll end up just like that guy, never receptive, always putting on airs in social situations, leading to unnecessary friction and blocking communication.

"Look out, see life goes around you, the routine becomes what you are. Look out, see all the mistakes, that you'll be makin 100 times more" - Sick of it All

Saturday, August 8, 2009

"Now that's hardcore"

Hardcore has become a label for a subgenre of somewhat trendy music. The idea came from separating it from radio-friendly trash or wanna-be hair-bands in the 80s though. I forget where I heard it, maybe the "American Hardcore" documentary, but it was something along the lines of: "Yea, you'll like this band, they're really hardcore." Hardcore punk just means real punk. Not something with an image for the sake of it, not a cash machine, but something you feel with all your heart and do because you love it.

I've come to realize in years though that the line between faking the punk and living hardcore is not so black and white. Tonight, I went to my first hardcore show in almost 6 months. That's amazing, because back home I used to go to a show almost every weekend - granted I cut it down to once a month, once every other month at times - but I'd been steadily attending shows and "part of the scene" if you will ever since I was 17. And in fact I'd been going to shows since I was 14, but not having a car or money can be a surprising hindrance on making it to gigs.

Anyway, I must have seen over 1000 shows if I add them all together. Tonight was something like my 7th or 8th in Japan. I got offered a guest list spot by my friend Koba - or as I have named him COBRA - so I decided why not see some new bands. I was especially interested in Doggy Hoods, a band sounds kind of like Bulldoze and other oldschool NY hardcore bands. But I'll get to that later.

It's been sweltering, and I mean it, 90 degree heat with 90% humidity, for what seems like an eternity. I really had to push myself to even leave the apartment, but thanks to my patented Gaining Ground tank-top I felt slightly less hampered. I made the trains, and walked into the belly of the beast, downtown Shinjuku, a.k.a. Kabukicho. That's where ACB, the venue is located, and it also happens to be a district infamous for it sleaze, Visual-K acts (poofy-hair boy bands), host and hostess clubs, and even more sleaze. It oozes it. Also it's always dumb-crowded, at least 10% with tourists. I saw a line stretching around the corner and coming back again of over 100 people waiting to get into what looked like a new McDonalds. I laughed out loud, unable to control myself, at the sheer ridiculousness of it. This is a sub-rant about how, deep down, I loathe the big city and secretly wish I was living anywhere else in Japan. It's the place with the most opportunity, but at the cost of many souls I should think.


So I got to the venue. The club, or "livehouse" if you wanna use Janglish, is 3 stories underground, my biggest qualm with the place. Otherwise its great: no security, a knee-high stage perfect for diving, and a nice dance floor. About the size of Valentines back in Albany, for you NY people. I saw 3 or 4 bands that can best be described as melodic hardcore - all interesting enough, but none of them striking my fancy. I hadn't been to a show in half a year and thought hey, I need to mosh, it's long overdue. Give me something that sounds closer to a sledgehammer breaking a watermelon in half on a concrete cinderblock, not this boy-girl makeout music. (Not that it was that soft, or bad, but I wasn't feeling it)

Then Doggy Hoods played. The sampled a rap song and walked out with custom Nike sneakers hanging by knotted laces around their necks. They all wore matching shirts with a crown design (incredibly campy by American standards but it seems to be cool here). The singer at one point busted out into a freestyle which had me laughing in tears. They had a big fat guy drinking a cola surge energy drink on the side of the stage, almost just for the sake of standing there and grooving (maybe he's a former sumo wrestler or something, I dunno but he was slapping his gut every time he laughed). They were heavy and tight, and even covered Slayer's "Reign in Blood," which I got a kick out of.

My main point in all this is Doggy Hoods were almost exactly what I expected. They played fast and slow parts, I danced and a lot of the crowd got down, it was crazy and wild and all that. But hardcore? What's passionate about neon-green sneakers? What's truely moving about wearing matching clothes and dog tags around your neck? Just like in the states, I thought to myself, it's a fashion before passion wasteland.

I've come to realize however that fashion and image is a necessary evil with any genre of music, or any band. People have expectations, and if they are fulfilled to the nines, they are much happier than they would be with a surprise 20-minute freeform Jazz odyssey. Go figure.

Even I was happy. But, I think I'm growing up. Dammit. Seeing kids pile-on for sing-alongs and do stagedives still makes me smile, but unless it's a band I'm really into, I don't feel the same passion I used to a few years back. It's like a spark that faded little by little, coinciding with the disillusion of adulthood. I think there's great merit to people singing alike words with perfect strangers (even if there's no melody, DAD), dancing and doing what feels right, just letting lose and forgetting their troubles in creative expression for a while. It goes back to our primitive roots. But the real wacky part is, like I said to one guy, almost everyone in Tokyo moshes just like people in NY! It's like Bizarro Albany where everyone is Asian!

Now that I've spoiled the brooding mood and seriousness of this post, allow me to end with an extra special anecdote or 2.

1) I pointed out to a guy in a Boston redsox hat and black shirt with Brooklyn on it the irony in his clothing, but he didn't get it. He did proceed to say "You look like Raybeez" and to call me Raybeez for the rest of the night. I took that as a compliment.

2) As I mentioned, I was wearing my Gaining Ground stuff. My buddy Koba knows em, but I didn't expect anyone else to. (Koba and the Loyal to the Grave dudes love NYHC) But I met one guy who recognized it, he even knew where they were from! ALBANY! HE KNEW ALBANY! At which point I looked to the sky and thanked God for all his good blessings. Oh, and did I mention it's really annoying how no one here has a concept that lives down the street from a parsec of a clue as to New York outside of NYC? And how I try to avoid saying where I'm from, because countless times I've gotten the "I think, New York is such big city, how do you live there?" response which makes me want to cry and scream at the same time? No? Well, that's the case.

ANYWAY, this guy knew GG, and he had seen them in concert in Canada last summer. This is a fairly local band who have only done one major tour outside of the U.S. at all, and this was a Tokyoite 6000+ miles from home I was talking to, so it made me happy. That concludes our broadcast.


can someone explain to me
why we dedicate a day
to a fucking rapist
are we that disillusioned
that we've forgotten how to read
and when we do
we look past the facts

as a whole
we refer to knowledge learned in basic education
reciting songs
of faithful voyage
and sugar coated exploration

and we continue to celebrate
and we continue to praise his name
but we look past the genocide
we look past the fucking rape

but why dont we teach our children
why do we plague them half the fact
they see a loyal captain
i see a filthy fucking rat

were cultured to be content
were brought up to abide
the aincient ropes that tie us together
are made of rotting lies

with our minds
so young
we become
so numb

social manipulation
we continue to celebrate
social manipulation
and we look past the fucking rape" - Gaining Ground

Friday, July 31, 2009

What in the worlds?

My eyes feel like they're on fire - it's really just the results of not enough sleep and being stuck inside with florescent lighting all day. And perhaps the 2 hours of commuting I did today. I love the school I work at on Fridays, everyone there is really sweet, even the little brats are downright angelic. But I got to thinking about how, when all is said and done, it's something close to 100 hours of my life I will have spent on those trains, just for one day of work, in a year. Crazy.

But I keep myself occupied. I've been listening to a Professor's series of lectures on Viking history which has me intrigued. Learning a little about Norse mythology, to say nothing of its immense impact on Tolkien, all kinds of fiction and popular culture as a whole, is really interesting, and makes me want to learn more. I've always had a kind of fascination with oral tradition, and I think undocumented story-telling is still an amazing and under-rated kind of art form. I do it quite a bit, on the job and off - Although some may call them anecdotes. They are hardly epics, anyhow.

MMbbeeewwe.e I have 3 more working days until vacation. Almost home free, except for the not going home part. (Not till Xmas) I survived unhealthy amounts of overtime, and I'm thinking of how to pick up some part-time shticks on my vacation... am I insane? Possibly. Do I enjoy the idea of saving for Graduate school? Probably. Do I ask an unnecessary amount of rhetorical questions to push this entry along? Poweruply.

I have been taking note about some really interesting Japanese loan words, words taken from English, that somehow didn't retain their original meaning. Examples include:

kaninngu, from cunning. In Japanese it means a cheater. I found out by incorrectly using it and almost hurting some poor lady's feelings in the process.

yubikitasu, from ubiquitous. It is strictly used for Ubiquitous computing, something I knew nothing of until Wikipedia enlightened me on the subject.

puchi. Petite. This one means the same thing, it's just a funny adaption.

That's just a small part of the mysterious pandora's box I opened when I began studying Japanese. When asked to explain my passion for the language, I overuse the term snowballing to be certain. But it fits. Who knew it would snowball to such great heights as it has, slingshotting me halfway across the freakin world, Where on earth would I be now if I hadn't taken Japanese on a whim thanks to Rich's suggestion and my anger at buying Yu Yu Hakusho VHS tapes on ebay with Chinese subtittles. (That's a partly true story)

I'm going to a shabu shabu party tomorrow night. Shabu shabu is a kind of thinly sliced meat boiled quickly and dipped in a sauce, and is also a kind perverse Japanese slang which I won't get into.

I hope this entry has been entertaining. I feel like so much of my energy has gone into other things, this blog has lost some of it's luster. I can get it back if I put some effort into it though. Sweet dreams, world at large.

"This time I won't let em have anything from me." - Guns Up!

"It was only a kiss, how did it end up like this?" - The Killers

"Then against my better judgement I went walking out that door
I smiled at one person then I nodded to three more
One man asked me for a dollar, I asked him, "What's it for?"
He said, "I have seen them" I said, "OK, it's yours"" - Clutch