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


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