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


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! =/