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

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Friday, December 3, 2010

Life happens fast

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Holidays!
Ben Belcher

P.S.

A taste: Currently in the process of reading:

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

Books:
Frank Herbert - Dune

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

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Alt. blog

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

http://bennybinjapan.posterous.com/


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

Now, for real, see you next year!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Official Hiatus

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

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

Exciting things on the horizon:

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

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

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

Saturday, July 17, 2010

the vestibule of success

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

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

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

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

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

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

That's all.


"Everything flows; nothing remains."
- Hermaclitus

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Mission accomplished

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Thinning out

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

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

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

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

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

That's about it.

My new place is/has:

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The relentlessness which may be felt

The restlessness which may be felt when one hasn't written in over a month is not to be underestimated. It's as if I were scrawling out my thoughts on papyrus and tossing them into a river to dissolve, whilst a few special pieces catch rocks and somehow escape a fate of dissipating in an ever-changing body of water. What few scraps of papyrus I have retained I will share with you here. All I can say is it feels good to be blogging again, equitable to greeting an old friend or busting out the guitar after a week's hiatus.

This morning I escorted my mother to the Ikebukuro Metropolitan hotel, where she took the "Airport Limousine," an express bus that runs to Japan's main international hub: Narita airport. It wasn't a teary-eyed good-bye, but one that felt just right. Me and my Mother got to spend plenty of quality time together and she had the invaluable opportunity of experience a culture more foreign than anything she had ever known before in her lifetime. She was however missing her daughters and her cats and her normal Albany New York lifestyle as any sane person (a.k.a. anyone who is not me) would, and was ready to make the trek back home. I as well was ready to taste the sweet lightness and freedom I have become so addicted to, the stuff that living single in a big city is made of. And coming home to my apartment tonight to greet no one for the first time in over 2 weeks was a welcome change of pace! (love ya Mom)

Our vacation, which I will briefly describe in typical Ben Belcher pell-mell fashion, took place over Golden Week, which is for the uninformed a week of consecutive holidays in Japan where more people travel than any other time of year save New Years or O-bon (the August Summer holidays). Although in reality my mother had a few buffer days where I was working and I set her up with some tours, or some very VERY kind former students or co-workers of mine who saw to taking care of her. One such lady who goes by the name of Junko (once referred to in this blog in fact as my "Japanese Mom") took extra special care of my Mother when I was off doing my new kindergarten teaching gigs in the mornings - which just had to fall at such inopportune a time as when my Mom was in town - mashed together with my regular afternoon/evening job. Junko in fact took my Mother to a Spa, the movies and several restaurants in the few visits they had together, and treated her to the point that my Mother was genuinely a bit freaked out, not being used to such elegant treatment. However Junko's nonchalant response of "it's my pleasure" or "be my guest" may be a rather insightful peak into understanding Japanese culture for all you armchair travelers out there. This much-cherished Japanese custom of "gift-giving" - in the sense of treating one's guest to a "service" of some kind, (which sounds like a bit of broken English or a naughty innuendo) is a good way to wrap our Western minds around such practices. To Junko the privilege of showing around and entertaining "my Mother the American tourist" was just that, and a fun opportunity for her to use her English skills and make a new friend.

Was I talking about the vacation? Side-track, side-track. So that was a prime example of how some of my friends helped me in taking care of my Mom when I had work. There were a few others, most notably my wonderful Japanese teachers Nagasawa- and Yazawa-sensei (the latter of the town I incidentally just got hooked in Ben Folds...) Outside of that, here's a list that runs down how we slammed a full-on cross-country extravaganza into a period of 7 days:

- Thursday: woke up at 4:30am, took bullet train from Tokyo to Hiroshima, roughly 5-6 hours of train travel. Checked in, saw peace museum and beautiful zen gardens. Got "accosted" (or at least preached at) by two Jehova's Witnesses posing as little old ladies. Ate okonomiyaki. Took the wrong tram cars as a result of lack of rest on my part. Enjoyed a good nights sleep (my first in a few days after far too much work)

-Friday: woke up at 7 or so. Set out for Miyajima, a beautiful island off the coast near Hiroshima. Lost money in a UFO catcher (claw machine), but I almost had that damned giant Chopper doll!!! Got stuck taking the ferry with over 200 Junior High snots on a field trip. Saw lots of deer on the island. Saw the famous floating Torii gates. Saw the world's biggest spatula. Ate fried oysters. Went up a cable car to the top of Mt. Misen. Enjoyed it all.

Saturday: woke up early again. Went to Kobe, maybe a 1 1/2 hour trip if I recall correctly. We were rather tired but managed to drop off our bags at the hotel and make it (after some argument with a grumpy taxi driver) to the Sky Buffet, a nice restaurant on the 24th floor of a downtown building. The view of the surrounding Kobe area was quite stunning, and the food was decent too. There we met Akira, a former friend of mine from University at Albany NY who is attending grad school in Osaka. We discussed the blessings and curses of living abroad and having a broader perspective of the world; the downside being you don't really fit in in your home country or the new one. If truer words were ever spoken. Kobe tour was our next stop, it was a dinky thing with annoying elevators but worth the trip. Also went to the maritime museum, which I think the Mom had more interest in than me. Still a fun jaunt.

Sunday: in need of taking it easy for a bit, we left our hotel and shot out to Nagoya where my good friend Hiro (bassist of Condemned and Disconformity, both righteous death metal bands) picked us up from the station and drove us out to his family's home in the countryside. Hiro is a Buddhist monk, practicing under his father at a temple connected to their house. Needless to say the house was beautiful, as was the whole area which was as far off the beaten path as we managed to get all vacation (although where I come from, "the countryside" does not include urban areas a mere 10 minute drive away). The whole family - Hiro's grandmother, father, mother and himself - all treated us with the utmost courtesy and respect. Me and my mother both got the break in action we needed, she read quite a bit and I hung out with Hiro. We had a jam session and he showed me how he could play the entire Final Fantasy theme on his bass (among other things of course). Later we ate his grandmother's homemade miso soup, the best I've ever had, and deliciously fresh takenoko (bamboo shoots) plucked from the garden by Hiro's father. It was of course a fun chance for me to speak exercise my Japanese as well, since everyone in Tokyo seems to want to speak English. On top of everything we received copious presents including a yukata (summer robe) for my mother! As she said: "I felt like we were being treated like royalty." Such is the way of Japanese hospitality, and the especially sweet family that I will most definitely visit again should I find myself in the Nagoya area.

Monday: Visited the Nagoya World Expo Fairgrounds, a place beautifully laid out in the style of an amusement park with no rides (although one could see a Ferris wheel in the distance). There were however indoor ice-skating rinks and a water-park. Countless families went picnicking out in the open fields or just strolled around the area in the way we did, soaking in the beauty. Frankly, I would never want to be there during the actual World Expo for the same reason I ain't going to Shanghai this year: I'm not so fond of crowds. I ate ice cream and drank a beer at 11am. If it isn't obvious already these two days were the break in a flurry of vacation activities, and probably the most relaxing portions. We eventually left, stopped at a kaitenzushi (rotating sushi)
restaurant for lunch, where we tried such Japanese delights as seafood and mayo sushi, hamburger sushi and fresh octopus (among many other items more tasteful to my palate). Downtown Nagoya felt like Tokyo with 8-lane traffic, it seems I really underestimated the mass of this city! Although I've heard that, unlike Tokyo, the nightlife dies around midnight every night there.

Off to Nara! This involved a transfer at the ever-busy Kyoto station, and by the time we got to the hotel we were exhausted. It was however a first-class hotel, and I can't remember the last time I was even in one of those things. Mints on the bed, classy overpriced restaurants, that kind of place. We decided in light of our tiredness to do the only right thing two Americans in a hotel room can do: order pizza! (My mother had been wanting to try the seafood pizza as well) This proved to be a bit of an ordeal, and after about 5 or 6 tries, including one to pizza hut where I promptly hung up when they answered (since I wanted pizza and not microwaved fast food), and also restaurants that looked great but didn't deliver, we found one that worked. It seems that pizza delivery to hotels is relatively uncommon in this country, or the phone-guy was a total n00b. At any rate I managed to convince him to deliver our pies to the untrodden, mysterious ground of... the giant hotel next to the train station. And when it came it was delicious. Incidentally, I watched the movie "Fear of a Black Hat" for the first time. I love cheesy spoofs like that.

Tuesday: Spent the day in Nara. I'll leave this one to your imaginations, but to summarize the place is beautiful and an absolute must-visit (over Kyoto in my humble opinion) if you ever come to the country. The layout, the parks, the famous giant Buddha, the temperamental deer, it just creates an atmosphere. I imagine Nara would be a fantastic place to grow up or live. I felt a kind of liberation being there, despite the crowds (including a 45-minute queue for a special exhibit we happily skipped)

Wednesday: I realized the night before that since Wednesday night we would be returning to Tokyo, a good shot at Kyoto as I had originally planned was infeasible. In lieu of that however I decided we do the next best thing: go to Fushimi Inari Taisha (Great Shrine) on the Southern outskirts of Tokyo. Avoid the crowds and the urban madness of the final day of Goldenweek and get to see on of Kyoto's best and most overlooked sites? Win-win in my book. My mother dubbed the place "the land of a thousand gates," and with good reason: orange to red and every imaginable tint in between-colored gates exist in what must be the 10s of thousands in that place. It's another see to believe kind of Japan-spot, and google the name for some interesting pictures. It does get a bit redundant with all the fox-statues and the gates after a while, but the stone-steps and the great view make it a fun climb (Well, not as fun in the climbing department for my Mom, but she pulled it off!!) Afterward we had some cold soba to stave our hunger on a hot summer-like day, and happened to stumble upon a matsuri (festival) by sheer chance. (The crowds and the horse's butt we saw sort of gave it away) The name escapes me, but we got to see a dozen or so Japanese men drunk and in full matsuri-garb hoist the giant arc-like object on two long wooden poles up in the air. Although by this point I've seen a handful of festivals so they've lost a smidge of the novelty, it was of course the first time for my Mom.

Mom: "What are they saying?"
Me: "Umm, well, the literal equivalent of: 'Good! Go! Go! Go! Push! Good! UGH!'"

A few hours and a crowded bullet-train later (I barely managed to get my butt in one of the non-reserved seats! The dozens left standing in the aisles for two hours back to Tokyo weren't so lucky) we were back "home." Home being my little walk-in closet.

And that's how I spent my Golden Week vacation. So here's to you Mom, as you are in a plane most likely somewhere above Alaska or the Canadian tundratic™ (I made this word up) wastelands whilst I write this. It was a fun time, and I have this strange feeling you'll be back one of these days, assuming I'm still here.

That felt long! I'm putting off shoving my over-sized book collection into boxes for the move. Got to get back to it. I also have a fun-tastic 13 consecutive days of work to look forward too! Although F.I.D. will have a sweet recording session in the middle of all that. Life is still pretty good, but busy. Next month will cool down a bit, I hope.

"There's not much to knowing cuz things change too quickly these days" - Small Brown Bike


P.S. I had this floating for a week waiting for a proofread. I just proofread half of it and said screw it. No one's paying me anyways!! =)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

An unfortunate (but not altogether unexpected) hiatus

hiatus |hīˈātəs|
noun ( pl. -tuses ) [usu. in sing. ]
a pause or gap in a sequence, series, or process
ORIGIN mid 16th cent. (originally denoting a physical gap or opening): from Latin, literally ‘gaping,’ from hiare ‘gape.’

It's much to my dismay that I write this post, but as the Japanese like to say: it cannot be helped! しょうがない (shouganai). Due to an impending visit from my Mother - her first time in Japan! - and all the other aforementioned extra work I'm in the middle of: 6 day work-weeks, a weekly morning kindergarten shift topped with a normal until 10pm shift and some business overtime classes, not to mention how I tend to use my free time studying Japanese as much as is reasonably possibly, I can't expect myself to keep up the blog this month. Better to out and say then leave the loyal devotees refreshing the page every couple of days.

There is reprieve for me however; a few days before the week of Spring holidays, properly designated "Golden Week," my Mother will arrive on this fair island. Which means traveling once again across the landscape of Japan, to Hiroshima, Kyoto, Nagoya and beyond. It'll be my first time taking the world-famous bullet train as well, which should be interesting! (I did the sketchy but cheap nightbus last time..... NEVER AGAIN)

I will make quick mention however that I've also decided, after a year and a half in my current location of sunny Tobu-Nerima (a suburb on the north-western end of Tokyo, near adjoining Saitama prefecture), I will most likely be moving within the next 2 months. For the sake of being closer to my work, a bigger apartment, my own private bathroom, and a change of pace. That may also clog things up a bit on the blog-front. I am however quite excited at the prospect of it all! If only I wasn't such a packrat, and didn't insist on keeping all these books, the dresser, the kitchenette, the fairly new acoustic guitar, the 4-foot disco lamp, the persian rugs, the gold-seated toilet... well it would be a much easier task. However I'm possibly going to get a friend to rent a car and help me move, which should help ease the financial burden and also provide fodder for an interesting future blog post.

Another year contract has been signed with my current employer, who I am happy to say I'm quite happy with. It's not every man who can say he has any level of satisfaction with his job. Recently I've pondered getting a Masters in TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) and possibly going career with it. It's not so limiting as it might seem; not only would I be more apt to get higher paying (not to mention more dignified) jobs in various other countries, Asian or European, but perhaps I could use it as a vehicle for experience. That is how I have seen my current position for quite some time, and I'm sure many others do as well. A vehicle for experience. You get paid to do a job which can be (although it certainly isn't always) fun and rewarding, and get to live in a foreign country and rack massive personal experience points.

Case in point: yesterday I went to Asakusa for the first time. An amazing place with tons of "the oldest _____ in Japan" going on - including the oldest chronologically numbered block,* something like 1丁目1番1, which if you can't see it on your computer or read Japanese basically says: "1 city block of 1 numbered 1." Anyhow, the point is this kind of job drives the experience train. There's no predictable end to the need of English education in foreign countries. In a way, I could see the world and get paid to do so. Hmm hmmm hmmm. I'd also like to imagine racking up massive language fluency as well, but realistically I don't think I'll ever consider anything besides Japanese my second language, although I'd like to attain passable Mandarin Chinese. Really I would. "One language at a time Ben!" Another teacher once told me...

*all blocks in Japan are sorted and number chronologically or clockwise around a center block, and there are no street names save for major roads. Sound confusing? It is. Read more here.


This has really all been a cleverly-disguised ploy to put off an eagerly awaiting virtual flashcard deck of 100 cards. Curse this mortal coil and faulty memory of mine!!

Thanks for reading. Until May folks!!

-Ben

P.S. Popular Japanese blog Hello Damage has posted some pictures from the latest F.I.D. show, in case you want to see cute Japanese ladies, dudes in messed up costumes (NSFW - NOT SAFE FOR WORK) or the funny faces I make when I play guitar. Thanks Steve!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Conversations with people in Japan (and the walls)

Many occur, few are documented.

-At the gym one of the older gym rats informs me about a salt-related penalty in NYC (he knows I'm from NY, hence I am obviously responsible in part for this horrendous act). Something along the lines of "without salt, what the hell can you even cook?" I agreed it was crazy and told him I would research it myself. When I did, and discovered that Assemblyman Felix Ortiz had actually proposed the idea of fining restaurants for using salt in the state of NY, I agreed that next time I saw gym rat that it was indeed absurd and a travesty that Mr. Ortiz suggested such a silly notion, but hey, he was the guy who advised banning cell phone usage while driving too, so what can you expect (in my much less verbose or articulate Japanese of course). The conversation ended with:

"This Ortiz guy, is he your Dad or something?"

"No."

-When people stare at me on the train, in the street, etc. (as happens daily), I often respond with a smile. Or a funny face. Or a wtf-eyebrow raise. Or just a return stare. But sometimes I want to grab them, shake them and scream "I'm the same as you underneath, my skin is just a different color and my build is slightly larger and I much more vaguely resemble Bruce Willis, that's all!!!!"

-This isn't so much a conversation as a list of questions and comments I've received countless times. My reaction varies between cute and annoying, in that special love/hate manner that only Japan can bring out in me:

"Those are HUUUUUUUUGE" (in response to my shoe size, 13 or 14 in America, 30 centimeters in Japan). I often respond by telling them I have trouble finding shoes back in the States too.

"How about Japanese food?" Often entangled with or followed up by: "Do you like Natto?" (Natto is a disgusting slop of fermented soybeans that smells like dirty socks and tastes like cat food gone bad, so of course I should be into it but just can't bring myself to like it)

"Why are you skinhead?" (In Japan, people think shaved head is skinhead in English due to their bastardized Japanese English. I've explained the difference countless times but I'm starting to give up on this one....it's because I'm prematurely bald, by the way)

-This one is slightly more serious. I met an older fellow at the gym, past 60, who is always quite nice to me. He smiles and bows and doesn't look afraid of me like I'm going to pillage his family and leave them for dead, so that's always a brownie-point earner in my book. I almost always keep to myself there (same as back in the States) but have a few people I say "hi" to, the aforementioned Ejiro-san being one of them. (Another retired fellow I call Mr. Baseball is among the lot, we've never had a conversation over 2 sentences or that didn't involve baseball or his drinking too much the night before) He would for whatever reason give me candy at random times in the locker room... wow does that sentence sounds terrible, but really it was a gesture of good will. So I allowed him to treat me to lunch one day (the who-pays wasn't my choice; in Japan there is no getting out of a treated meal, and that's a fact). The old guy doesn't speak a lick of English and I like that - Old men are hard to understand and it's something I need more practice with in general. Plus, he seemed like a nice guy who probably had a lot of time on his hands since retiring, so I figured he'd be tickled pink at the opportunity. Turns out he was a gym teacher who also taught the mentally disabled. He coached marathon running for some time, and even worked at camps in Mexico and L.A. training potential Olympics contestants. Apparently the locations were chosen for their air quality, dry air somehow being better for training. At any rate, sadly none of them made the final cut, but I still considered that to be an excellent achievement, having trained athletes in a foreign country. He couldn't understand my passion for music, and I likewise couldn't appreciate his passion for running, but we understood each other well enough.... I'll be honest, at times I couldn't catch a whit of what he was talking about. But for the most part it was good, and I didn't once whip out my phone dictionary for fear of losing face (and looking extremely rude). The dumplings and fried rice were also excellent.

There are more. There must be more. But I'm exhausted, so you'll get no more. This is what happens when real life is really busy. Vacation plans, overtime work, figuring out the new fiscal year, I could list enough excuses to color every stone in the sea with virtual ink, but I'll spare you all and myself of the unnecessary. The blog must suffer a bit. Good night readers.

"I want to take you far from the tethers of this scene, we'll cut our bodies free, start a brand new colony, where everything will change, we'll give ourselves new names" - Postal Service

"It's a battle on my own/machinery you can't control/people always complain about their worst/troubles you wish were your own/as the seasons roll on by you realize you're getting older/it's a battle on my own what have I learned?" - Ignite

Thursday, March 18, 2010

It will be mine

I know I've thought countless times in the last week "hey I could blog about this." Sadly my flux of ideas doesn't correlate to the time I leisurely sit in front of my computer typing up entries, so I'm sure much has been lost. I am only human after all.

As for how I think and do things, I've been schooled on my own high-rises and gutter-balls, and it boils down to a simple idea: I'm creative and great at coming up with ideas, but I'm not so great at organizing and executing them. This isn't to say I'm incapable of the latter, but it doesn't flow as freely as the former does by any stretch of the imagination. It comes out in almost everything I do: my erratic yet dutiful studies; my haphazard but relatively effective speaking style in Japanese; my teaching method of the same cloth; my admittedly random, somewhat sloppy but unique(?) take on playing guitar, and so on. Even here, where I post on an unpredictable timetable and a kind of "when the spirit moves me" mentality. And my posts are equally as disorganized as every fiber of my being, as they reflect my thoughts. It's the kind of thing that you don't realize about yourself until somewhat steps up and calls you out on your eccentricities, because you are always too close to yourself to have any perspective or know better. It takes others for me to step back a minute and realize what I'm doing, and I'm glad they do - I'm still trying to figure me out.

At any rate, I blame too much creative learning and my lackluster abilities in Math- and Science-related curriculum. Curse you post-hippy, free-thinking education system!!!

I bought a new guitar today! But why the sudden urge? Another backwards explanation is in order: the weather was so beautiful yesterday (Sunday) that even a nasty hangover couldn't keep me down. In fact in a somewhat sloth-like state, the whole outside world teeming with new life, I swam in sunbeams that semed a surreal paradise which time had forgotten. I looked at the stone bench on the gorgeous verdure-covered walking path near my apartment and thought how I'd love to sit in the shade and play an acoustic guitar in this perfect weather. (before summer comes and turns this whole damned city into a sticky and miserable jungle) I have an acoustic guitar back in the states, but due to obvious spacial constraints refrained from bringing it with me on any journey nigh on 7000 miles. It's a decent guitar, but it's slightly warped from slight misuse and always sounds slightly out of tune anywhere above the 7th fret. So I left the old girl behind, and the mild longing for a new one has been itching at my gut for quite some time. Itch relieved. I'll post a picture? Naa, I'll never get around to it, who am I kidding. It's a 30-year old Humming Bird in amazing condition with only a few scratches that I got in Ochanomizu from a used guitar store for under 20,000 yen (around $200). What a steal!!!! I'd heard that there were amazing finds to be made there, but holy crapoly. One look at that baby and it was like the scene with the Stratocaster in Wayne's World, minus any Stairway to Heaven. I tried only one guitar, and bought it 5 minutes later. No regrets here, my apartment is a much happier place now.

--

I wrote all of the above about 3 days ago (not going to to try and blend it seamlessly together, no point) but knew I didn't have a complete entry. Here goes le finish:

March is crawling to an end, the cherry blossoms are just starting to peak out in places, and there couldn't be a more appropriate time of year to be reading "Hokkaido Hitchhiking Blues." It's a solid travel book, and enlightening on Japan. I recommend it.

Lately I've been thinking of humanity's frightfully minor status in the universe at large, or to quote H.P. Lovecraft: "terrifying vistas of reality, and our frightful position therein." I think it's a combination of being heavy into this Moby Dick audiobook - a lot of philosophizing, sea-is-great-we-are-small kind of stuff, not to mention biblical sh*t goes down in it - and it being spring time. The world spins on and her seasons roll by and we are merely lucky to experience them by circumstance; it isn't like we help cause them, and if anything we pollute them with our humanity. Silly humans. But being one I can't really knock them- er, us so hard.

I've got a lot of real world stuff to do: Taxes, fleshing out Golden Week plans with my Mom coming to Japan, studying super hard for level N1 JLPT in December (and level n2 for kicks in July). As for the n1 test, I'm banking on surpassing a 50% score. The minimum pass is 70%, and maybe if I didn't have to work I could study enough to get that in a year, but it's doubtful. It's a huge leap in difficulty, and a pass = fluency (on paper), so it's no small task. No, my real goal is to pass this almighty personal benchmark by 2011, which would mean I've "mastered" the Japanese language in about 5 years. Then I'd be able to shift my attention to the true pandora's box (and possible money-maker), Chinese!!!

How I wish I had a better grasp of where I was going with my life sometimes. Things are good now, but they can't stay this way forever. Changes have to be made eventually, but it's a "maybe next year" scenario. Every year?? Hrrmmmmm who's got a time machine I can borrow? Some Back-to-the-Future 2 style action is in order... minus the Biff.

Concerning Golden Week, after much hotel-hunting I've managed to string it together: Two days in Hiroshima, one on the mainland and one on the gorgeous, deer-infested island of Miyajima. Followed by a day in the famous port-town of Kobe, then a visit to my metal brethren Hiro's family's home in the beautiful Aichi countryside (a.k.a. middle-of-nowhere Japan), and two days to split between Nara and Kyoto, both former capital's of Japan. back in the dizzay. Before and after that me and my Mom will be doing stuff around Tokyo too, although it's really hard to decide what to the put time into exactly. Got to hit the major stuff anyway, although I secretly long to emulate Mr. Ferguson's aforementioned travel book, purposefully skipping all big cities and seeing more of the real, quaint, reflections-of-the-old-world Japan.

At times I feel like living in Tokyo is psuedo- neo-Japan (which it is). I'm not saying I want tabi (split-toe) sandals and samurai's impaling themselves in the name of honor, just more ricefields and less people who aspire to conquer the world via computer chips, or who want to speak English because it's a business language. Gah. English is such a beautiful, artistic, arbitrary language that to learn it simply for business purposes (without scraping the surface, feeling it or looking into the how and whys, laughing at the gross inconsistencies or punny possibilities) is sadly missing the point in my opinion. Although I would have to say the same for Japanese.... and probably most languages now that I think about it, if I had any right to say that or anything at all about them.

Ramblings. If you want funny pictures of stuff with more wit and less personal drivel, check out my buddy Steve's semi-famous Tokyo Damage blog on the right side of your screen. Good stuff, and he's a solid dude as well with good taste in music.

F.I.D. shows coming THIS SUMMER IN TOKYO! The new jams are off the hook yo. We have a song about "Babies in China, Metaphysics and Men on the Moon." And one called "Mixed Fries."

Until I ramble again, cyberspacians.

"Remember when you said that things would never change / You liar / Because these days things in my life, they don't stay the same / You changer" - Small Brown Bike

Monday, March 8, 2010

March Madness

Before the fiscal year begins in April, chaos reigns over Japan. Deadlines loom something odious, entrance exams are finished, graded and returned to the delight or dismay of parents, and everything is a crush, a rush, a push to get through and make it out alive to see the cherry blossoms bloom. It's not so bad for me as, say, the typical salaryman or office worker, but I still feel the intensity building like a tsunami wave ready to crash the stubborn shores (the whole recession thing doesn't help). I'm doing heaps of extra job training this week for some Kindergarten gigs that should start up in April, so that'll keep me not only busy but also a little less in the poor house. Because the cost of living, having some fun and taking Japanese lessons 3 times a week on my standard salary leaves me without a satisfactory amount of coins to drop in my piggy bank. (You'd think you could just bash your head against some brick-blocks with question marks on them an voila! coins! But it is not so) So I myself am going through the metamorphosis, from teaching kids maybe 6 hours a week to an unknown increase, but I look upon this change with anticipation. The only thing is now it's Monday night and I'm dreading the long couple of days ahead of me. 我慢しかないね (nothing to do but grin and bear it) I just started reading a book called "Hokkaido Hitchhiking Blues," about a Canadian man who does just that from the southern tip of Kyushu to Hokkaido. Looks to be a light and fun read for a change of pace. (I'm getting near the end of Moby Dick on audiobook, and it's great, but it is one heavy mother)

Early night here folks. Between properly responding to backed up e-mails, inputting new Japanese flashcards in my study program and hauling a giant box of oatmeal home from Costco among several other heaps of "rare" goods after my Japanese class this morning, I'm pooped. My days off don't feel enough like days off right now, I need to take one next weekend that involves nothing but being a human sloth. I can't lie though, things have been great the past few weeks, I'm merely feeling the down that had to come eventually. Can't ride a cloud forever... unless by ride a cloud you mean be high as shit on Opium, in which case you can ride a cloud for quite a long time, but will end up a sickly waste of flesh as a result. I think I'll just keep my ups and my downs, thanks.

"We're on a road to nowhere
come on inside
We're takin that road to nowhere
we'll take that ride" - The Talking Heads

"Jokingly said you’d burn all that was mine in your place
With serious written all over your face
So I sleep in my clothes just in case
I feel the flames touch my face I can make my escape with grace" - Blacklisted

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Not gonna do it

I'll try really hard to get through this whole post without mentioning study or work. Here goes:

So I'm reading High Fidelity now. Almost finished. I saw the movie years ago and the main character (a vinyl obsessed, relationship obsessed owner of a failing record store recovering from a lifelong series of rejections) is pretty much the same in the book. More internal monologue and motivation and depth, but almost the same. I see a bit of my Father in him, but the High Fidelity guy is of course much more emo. What's interesting to me is that the book raises some thought-provoking questions, like this for example: "Do I listen to pop songs because I'm unhappy, or do pop songs make me unhappy?"

While I hardly listen to anything pop made after 1990, I was raised on 60s, 70s and 80s music nonetheless (again, hat tip to my Father, the only man I know to keep his own top 40 list 30+ years. I'm not being facetious either, I think it's cool!). I can relate a bit to the main character's escapist mentality: he gets in a bad situation, and runs away to listen to some music he can relate to. I've done that many times in my life, although I've been making earnest efforts to be more pro-active and not wallowing around waiting for problems to solve themselves.... even though there are cases where nothing else can be done. What's comforting about this kind of self-therapy - hearing someone else with similar woes or emotions to your own - is of course knowing that you're not alone; Feeling the connection with this person you probably never met, who has swirling thoughts in his head the same as yours. I recall someone as saying Cannibal Corpse was the first music he ever heard that "described what was going on in his mind." I say good for him! (I just can't like that band though, personally)

It's a process more exciting than it has any right to be, cherry-picking songs that fit my current mode. Listening to something depressing while I'm already depressed doesn't do much harm, it just emphasizes my mood but also soothes it in a strange, paradoxical manner... I don't think the ability to relate to others feelings, positive or negative is at all a bad thing. That being said, if I flip on, say, Neglect ("I wish I coulda been a coathanger kid/would've been the best f**king thing you ever did") or Joy Division ("Living in the ice age") I find myself smiling more at the absurdity of the lyrics than actually feeling down about life. It's empowering somehow, to know other people see the futility and desperation and insanity that surrounds our world every day... that has always made me smile. If you ask why, then you're missing the point.

I saw Cocobat the other night. I was blown away by how great they were, they must all be age 37-43 judging by the age of the band itself (almost 20 years), and still put on a powerful, energetic performance. If you can imagine a kind of post-bad brains, pre-metalcore approach to heavy music, with original melodies and unpredictable rhythmic shifts, and tons of slap bass, that is Cocobat in a nutshell. See for yourself:


cocobat live at shelter 2010-2-12 pt3

COCOBAT | MySpace Music Videos


It was kind of a strange night. I had worked until 4:30 at this new school my company opened up, and after changing my clothes I dragged me and my duffle bag down to Shibuya. After some rummaging I found an empty coin locker (hard to come by at that time in the evening, only one was left out of 200) to dump my stuff in. Finally free of that burden (bringing lunch, textbooks, and a change of clothes including sneakers to work then lugging it all on semi- to fully-packed trains can take the wind out of ya) I meandered to the venue, in no particular hurry. As usual the map from the "live house" (japanese-english for concert hall or venue) website was terrible. I later figured out it had the street names wrong - something about the Japanese and street names, eh? - but I found it sure enough. I got a burger from Freshness Burger, the best hamburger chain in Tokyo bar none (I invite anyone to suggest otherwise). I realized I hadn't eaten that kind of greasy goodness since I'd been in the states two months back. I've been eating healthy lately, lots of greens and soba noodles and less meat and all that. This made the experience that much more enjoyable. In short, it was an excellent cheeseburger.

As for the show itself, when I arrived there was a jpop/jrock act opening the gig, which to me seemed downright bizarre. I'm all for mixed bills, but I don't make spaghetti and ice cream sandwiches. I mean honestly, Cocobat is (to use great liberties in appellation) at least an "alternative rock band," whereas Edge of Spirit who played second is complete metalcore, and not the radio-friendly stuff either. Closer to NYC's Irate or Through the Discipline or some such thrash. I though they were great, and had to mosh a bit, even though it wasn't that type of crowd.

Speaking of moshing, and moshpits in general (which I used to be really into and still dabble in occasionally when I'm in the right mood), it's a subcultural phenomenon I could blog about for a while. Let's simplify and leave it at creative expressionist dancing to heavy music, and say it evolved dramatically in the last 30 years, from Slayer-esque pushpits and "slam-dancing" to karate-kicking and dance moves and all that (there is also gang-mentality B.S. that taints it, but lets ignore that for now) I like all styles really - the idea of the pit is to do what you want to the music without any rules or restrictions, so doesn't that make classification somewhat pointless?

Still, for a quick lesson on "mosh," I advise this educational video:



I'm still quite partial to the pizzamaker myself.

This is all of course a late 80s "NY"-slant on things, and there are many different scenes and styles and yadda yadda yadda. But back to the main point: what struck me at the Cocobat show was the pit was comprised 5 or 6 dudes probably as old as the band, all wearing Cocobat shirts and running a no-rules circle pit. They looked they were having a great time, and I had to join them a bit myself. It was that kind of feeling, when the music is so good you can't sit still, that reminds me why I still see bands and go to shows. It's worth it for that experience. This pit was like stepping into a time machine to me, as the style and atmosphere were so far removed from everything I grew up around, more like things I'd seen in old tapes of shows from when I was still a wee one. It was very cool.

And Cocobat is probably one of the best bands in Tokyo still playing. I rank them up there with Slight Slappers. I now have two really awesome bands here I hope to see again. Here's to finding more!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Using colors to describe sounds?

Hey all. It's been busy times, per usual. I have upped my Japanese classes to 3 sessions a week, 2 hours each, 2 of which are on my working days, and have formally began studying for the level 1 JLPT. It will be another long hard road to follow, but nothing that's worth doing is ever easily accomplished. I could complain about how difficult the grammar is or how the test is even difficult for Japanese people, but I am determined to make this happen, so it will happen. Here's the battle strategy: Study hard, take the test in December with hopes of breaking 50% (minimum pass is 70%), take it again in July of 2011 with hopes of passing. As my teachers have informed me, there are many students (especially Chinese, due to the similarities of the written language) who pass the test but can barely speak at all. So I am trying to better my Japanese all around: reading, writing, speaking and listening. If I'm not getting better at Japanese, why the heck would I live in Japan? This seems obvious to me but is of course not the case for everyone. Sometimes (or perhaps I should say often) Japanese people ask me why I bother to learn the language, since it's not the global business language that English is. My answer is two-fold: I live here and it's important to know/understand the world around you; Also there aren't comic books and novels I want to read in any other particular language at the moment.

On that note, I've been sort of/kind of seeing a girl recently, and I found out she also owns and has read all of One Piece. That's a good sign!

Aside from languages and women, I have been sketching out my upcoming Golden Week vacation (a series of holidays in late April/early May in Japan, reminiscent of Spring Break in America). My Mom is coming to Japan for the first time, so we have some sites to say. Those will include (but not be limited to) Asakusa, Ginza, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Hiroshima, Gifu, Miyajima, Nagoya, Kyoto and maybe Kobe. It's going to be dumb crowded everywhere, but luckily my bro Hiro (from the awesome band Disconformity) has offered to hole up me and my Mother for a day in the midst of the madness, so that should be a nice escape from the masses. The better, cheaper places are already booked solid for Golden Week (especially in Kyoto) so I'm scouring the internet for reservations now. It will be a fun time, however I must remember not to overbook allow plenty of time to do things and enjoy them, as it's been my habit in the past to cram too much into one small vacation.

I'm almost finished with Haruki Murakami's "Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World." I've heard from numerous (mostly Japanese) fans that this is his best work. About 20 years old, the translation is not the best - especially compared with the scholarly works of Jay Rubin on "Wind-up Bird Chronicle - but I am enjoying it quite a lot anyhow. It's very, well, weird, surreal and over the top, with intriguing characters. A.K.A. Murakami's style.

This post does not feel exciting to me. I'm falling asleep writing it! I had better ideas yesterday, I swear, but no time to write them down. Grr....

F.I.D. is doing quite well, trudging along throug the somewhat tedious but beautiful process of songwriting. Much like bloodletting.

The weather has been turning to Spring, and February isn't even over yet.

I'm going to see another 20 year old legendary but relatively unknown Japanese metal band this weekend, Cocobats (Thanks to Rennie!). I'm working all weekend, so I consider this the definite highlight. OH, how about last weekend, I can talk about that! (you can tell I put loads of planning into this)

Last weekend I went to see Slight Slappers after band practice and working out. I was really exhausted, and just coming off the end of a stupid-busy week, so I wasn't really feeling the atmosphere; but I had traveled to Waseda (famous college town) and was determined to see this most excellent powerviolence band. From the moment I walked in the venue I knew just being there pissed me off: It was a total crustfest. By crusts, I mean dirty kids who call themselves punks but really they come from well-off families and wear dirty clothes and never shower. Add to this the venue having poor ventilation, no re-entry, being smoky as shit from the beginning and everybody drunk off there ass - well, it would sound like a pretty great time to some people. Maybe even me, but not at that time, I wasn't feeling it. So I watched the first band, Baddirtyhate from Osaka. Typical, by the numbers boring crusty punk. Well executed, but absolutely nothing exciting about them. Next was another band in the same vein, NK6: Shitty, blown out guitar sound, boring and predictable song-writing. At least the singer was kind of funny and had a bit of a weird voice, but otherwise, absolutely nothing special. I literally sat in a dark corner of the venue reading my book, hating all the stupidity around me - "Aren't there ANY other musicians in theis place who see how atrocious this crap is" I thought - not wanting to be there but having paid my money and knowing that Slight Slappers would be good, I stuck around. Also there was no re-entry, and bear in mind the place was packed, stupid packed. I was lucky that they let me stow my guitar and bag from band practice in the band "room" (closet in the corner with no door) without asking any questions.

So finally it came: two guitars with *gasp* coherent, crisp and fierce guitar tones could be heard warming up. And a man with a black stocking enclosing his face emerges from the crowd, takes the mic and says: "WE ARE SLIGHT SLAPPAAAASSS" I was foolish to think I could stay in the back, it made me smile and reminded me that there are good bands out there still, all is not lost. Powerviolence is a genre typified by really fast short songs, and wild showmanship, similar to grind but less technical, I think (someone correct me if I'm wrong here). There was insane dancing on the stage, guitars thrown and rubbed against the floor, the speakers, the drums, and guess what? It was all immaculately executed. I managed to bash my knee against a speaker cab and bruise up the side of my hand real good, but you know what? Despite limping home, I felt so much better after that set. Like I was really alive, and had just witnessed something amazing in the way of intense musical performances. I should mention this band has been doing there thing since 1992. So crazy they're still around, I feel lucky to have seen them.

Another mediocre (but slightly better) punk band called Gauze played afterwards. I know people like these bands, and maybe I'm just not so into punk, but I really can't understand the appeal. The musicianship and song-writing just isn't there for me. So I watched drunk people stagedive like mad from the doorway and left after that. And that was my night in general.

Life is looking up, I gotta say. I will see many more excellent live performances this year than I did last year, no question! Altough I'm skipping Isis and Baroness next weekend. 6000 yen, REALLY?? That's a $15 show where I come from buddy, I ain't paying $65.

Hooray for Cocobats.

P.S. I feel like things are changing. Let's throw caution to the wind and haphazardly begin chapter 9. OK!!!


"The thoughts of anyone but you never crossed the landmines in your mind. You're just pretending to be naive, you can't really believe that this is about you. YouyouyouyouYOU." - Blacklisted

"I'm crazy and I'm hurt, head on my shoulders, it's going berzerk" - Black Flag

"These roads don't move, you're the one who moves" - Ben Gibbard & Jay Farrar

"No one else will break the walls that are in your mind" - Ignite

Monday, February 15, 2010

Important things that children know

which we may often forget:

-How to laugh
-How to have fun with absolutey no inhibitions
-How to express oneself
-How to be amazed by the beauty of the world around us
-How to be terrified by the immensity of the world around us
-How to play games
-How to cry
-How to make someone else happy
-How to make someone else upset (maybe we don't forget this one so much)
-How to rely unwaveringly upon someone else
-How to run with the wind
-How to wish and believe and dream

Pick one of these and try and do it today.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but this is a list of things I've noticed in the last two years of teaching here. For what it's worth, my limited experience with children has exploded exponentially since I took this job. No, I never especially wanted to be a kids teacher, but from the experience I've gained I can now deal with/entertain kids of various ages. I can even identify some of the more subtle things (you know, like when they have to pee or are about to cry). They can smell bad, be annoying, be loud and completely suck the life out of me, but they have their good points too.

And no, I've still never had a Japanese kid kancho me thank GOD - although one tried and was shut down immediately. And if you don't know what that means, google it, I'm not explaining it here.

Life is good at the moment. Taking pleasure in the ordinary stuff and the world around me. I had my first good Valentines Day in, uh, oh yea, ever. Meaning I wasn't in grade school getting fake mandatory ones from girls who never talked to me, or dealing with a bad relationship or being single. Nope, I actually had a date, and it went about as good as they can be. I even got chocolate from said datee and my band members. But in Japan as you may or may not know, girls give boys chocolate on Valentines Day, and boys return the favor on White Day in March. Good thing I still have a sack of recees peanut butter cups I brought from home.

No quotes today. Listen to Cat Power, she's so good, and you need to hear her voice to understand why.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Bilingual Baka Band

note: baka is Japanese for idiot

Today I'll be writing about something that separates my Japanese experience from others: the band. I've done perhaps 5 or 6 bands in the last 10 years, each one carrying different dynamics of personality, interaction and chemistry between the members, ultimately leading to what kind of sound we were able to create. Nothing however could have prepared me for F.I.D., as it has been the greatest collaboration I've had the pleasure to take part in, but at the same time requires the most care, hard work and even multicultural awareness!

(This is starting to sound like a bad PBS special or VH1 documentary, but it gets better I promise.)

I can only repeat myself so many times, but for any random or new readers I joined F.I.D. late 2008, shortly after coming to Japan. The band was originally an all female grindcore act, but they were willing to sacrifice their novelty (which was never their aim in the first place) to get some fresh blood into the equation. Their had a falling out of sorts with the last guitarist, and I filled the gap. Since then it has been a steady uphill climb from 9 months of practicing to old MDs (digital recordings) with no drummer, due to Tomoko's pregnancy, all the way to our recent shows and finally now our writing new songs. It has been a wild ride and I feel like it's still in the early stages. We have all become good friends and there are no egos raging out of control and ruining the creative flow, as has been known to happen amongst bands in the past (firsthand experiences here). I personally have always gotten on well with girls as they tend to be less competitive and self-absorbed than most guys I've met in my life. And they are after all Japanese no less, but attitudes take it beyond all that gender and ethnicity stuff: These girls are in it for the right reasons, namely to write music, play it and have fun. That is first and foremost I love this band.

But it's not all ice cream cupcakes and puppy dogs in the park; Nothing worth doing is easy after all. Anyone who has been in a band knows that to practice every weekend is a lot harder than it sounds, not to mention other sacrifices of free time, energy and finances that come into play. Me and the drummer both travel about an hour to practice every Sunday - carrying our instruments on the subway, which for me took some getting used to but I do like it better than lugging stacks of speakers in my jeep..... though I miss my 5150 and mesa-boogie pre-amp combos!!! Sigh.

And then there is language. Oh what fun it is to interact with people from other cultures, but what a challenge it can be as well. The majority of our dialogues are all in Japanese, and the singer Makiko is the only one who speaks English at a nearly fluent level, hence some things going over my head, some misunderstandings, etc. (not to mention countless times I have to ask Maki to explain what the hell everyone is talking about) If I had a yen coin for every time I wanted to say something simple like: "Ok stop here, then put it some kind of fill, whatever you feel fits and then we will all come back in together for 3 measures until the wawowaw part," but was stopped dead in my tracks by a language barrier, I would have lots and lots of little yens. Granted my Japanese is decent, so I try my best to convey these in my second language, but it's tough and can also (if not often) be difficult to communicate sometimes even the simplest of things. I do greatly enjoy it on the whole, and we definitely make it through, things just take longer.

This segues nicely into another cultural point: Japanese people tend to speak in a vague and roundabout manner and as such are often typified (and not without reason) as indecisive by Western people. I've had my share of Japanese cultural experiences just living here - memories of prolonged conversations to achieve the simplest ends at the bank or the post office come to mind - but nothing compares to the band dynamics. The main difference between this band and my experiences in America is that everything is considered thoroughly before it's acted upon. For example, if I say: "We should speed up that part, what do you think?" It may result in a 5-10 minute debate before we actually just play the part and see how it sounds. While this isn't inherently bad - putting thought into things instead of charging pell-mell into them has merits - it doesn't exactly make for the timeliest song writing. I often find myself (and to be fair sometimes my bandmates are the ones to say it too) saying yattemiyo (let's try it and see). I feel the need to throw around my hasty and arrogant American bluntness at times, while others I flow with the girls in a more Japanese state of mind pertaining to caution, detail and delivery. A mix of both has a lot of virtue I think.

I have to say, it is entirely too cute when Tomoko - who on the surface appears to be the sweetest, most innocent and harmless looking lady you could ever meet - and us are discussing a song, and something comes up like: "you can put a quick fill in there before the next part!" She will sit there and ponder, drum stick or hand lightly touching the chin in a thoughtful manner before blasting out something completely amazing. Kana as well, sometimes a bit fuzzy from doing other band practices, a brutal 6 day work week full of overtime or a late-night drinking party will always put in 110%. She is a bit more tom-boyish, often using the pronoun boku to refer to herself, which is something only tomboys and musicians do and I think is individualistic and also very cute (Japanese are good at the cute thing). She is so much the opposite of Tomoko's seemingly traditional sense of self that it makes for interesting times and great writing. Case in point: Tomoko wasn't 100% after not playing drums for like a year (and who would be after a pregnancy, that's some hardcore stuff!) and I said one day something along the lines of: "Hey, your drumming skills are really coming back eh!" Which doesn't sound so bad in English but was much MUCH too direct and rude in Japanese, to which Kanako said dare omae? (Who the hell do you think you are?) And we all burst out laughing. In fact we have fun interactions like this quite often, and it helps to keep things fresh and interesting when playing a song for the 20th time in one day wears us down.

In closing, let it be known I am in a band with some very talented people and am far luckier than I deserve in that respect. I know I am not a great guitar player, however I am confident in my ability to construct good songs and churn out somewhat original or unexpected ideas. This goes a long way and will ultimately make F.I.D. a stronger band with broader horizons than before, while still maintaining the intensity that it has come to be associated with in the underground music arena.

Whatsoever it comes to in the future - playing shows in Tokyo, recording, possibly even traveling abroad to play a festival or 2 - I am having too much fun to stop any time soon. And I believe the girls feel the same. That is we work our hardest to achieve BBB - Bilingual Baka Band!!


"She she she she's a bombshell" - Operation Ivy

"So you're saying that girls only listen to ballads and love songs? The girls that I know wouldn't think so. But according to you a song should separate all the girls from the boys" - Polar Bear Club

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Thank you George

"Scenepoint Blank: Do you think hardcore gets a rep of being lowbrow culture because of the aggression associated with it?

George Hirsch: Naturally my answer would be yes. Anything associated with aggression is almost always automatically labeled as "macho," "jockish," etc. It's sad. In my opinion hardcore is defined by that aggression and volatility. I do not condone unnecessary acts of violence, but I would have to say that hardcore for me stands out musically at its most violent, its most unpredictable. You want something that you can feel and lets you know that you are there. When you are in a room with four-hundred kids and people are just diving off of everything and sweating and screaming every word, that intensity is what hardcore is about for me. So honestly anyone that writes hardcore off as "lowbrow" because of that just doesn't understand it and honestly shouldn't even be checking the music out anyway, At least the music I am a part of. For people like that there is always the cute stuff they can listen to on the radio. If they still have an interest in hardcore they can always go get a crew cut and listen to The First Step."

-Scenepointblank interview with Blacklisted.

I'm not getting into any epic debates defending the kind of music I love, the meatheads who ruin it, those who can't wrap their heads around it or simply refuse to understand it. Not today. But reading this pretty much smacked the nail on the head for me; It speaks to what I love about the music, the style, this community and sub-culture that has been created, and despite being bastardized and turned into a form of big business in safe and easily digestible doses (much the way of metal and its various sub-genres), it still exists in an underground manner that is alive and breathing to this very day. I really need to get to a good hardcore show. I told these guys they need to come back to Tokyo. Here's hoping.

By the way, my life right now = spreading my tentacles out every which way, meeting new people, trying/doing new things and having fun a bit more. Studying will take an official backseat until March or April. This is good, you were right Kyle, I worked hard for a good 6 months so I should play hard for a little while longer. Also, while I'm direct-responding to readers, Tokyo-Working Girl, sorry I'm late on this - why don't you message me on Skype when you have a chance? The only Ben Belcher in Japan. We can discuss jobs and what yours is like there, I'm curious. Also if anyone else is really dying to have a chat with me for whatever reason, you can look me up on the aforementioned program, but I only accept messages from people I know so please identify yourself properly, thanks.

This week I feel like going back to school for a PHD would be a waste of time and a delve too far into academia for my tastes. There must be more options out there in the world of education. Maybe a terminal M.A. would suit me better, though I still don't know what exactly it would be in. The more I think the harder it gets to move, so here I will stay where it's cozy and I am happiest. For now! I can work while having ample time to explore music, books and my own interests. Can't ask for much more, save a bigger paycheck. Except that I remember thinking from a young age that when I finally grew up and got a job, I wouldn't become obsessed with the monetary value, but focus solely on how much I could enjoy it. No point in being a lawyer if it makes you miserable. So by that logic, I'm doing the right thing right now.

In case I'm being to ambiguous: all I want to do is be a teacher. I'd ideally like to teach higher level education at some point, I think. Either way I was right when I blogged it almost two years ago: "here's to being a teacher forever." Maybe I'll feel different 5 or 10 years from now, bitter and old mannish about the whole shtick, but it's hard to imagine.

The human brain didn't evolve with this many decision-making synapses in mind, constantly pulsating and driving ourselves crazy. This is why the modern world overwhelms us all - we are merely animals with far too many extraneous factors besides eating, sleeping and procreation keeping us busy.




"I'll be grazing by your window/Please come pat me on the head/I just want to find out what you're nice to me for/When I look up don't think I don't know/About all the scabs you dread/
It's hard to stomach the gore" Dinosaur Jr.

"Wish I knew safety/Wish nothing phased me/ Wish I felt more than just feelings of unrest/Wish the darkness didn't cloud me/Wish I wasn't an emotional wreck" - Blacklisted

Saturday, February 6, 2010

In the wee hours of the morn

When I start one of these badboys, I want to have an idea in my head of what I'll write about. I've still got a few bouncing around, but to be frank they all feel like they'd take way too much time and effort to articulate. What a copout! I even have a half-finished entry from last weekend that I may or may not get around to finishing up. Lame right? But it's my blog, and I have total control over it so I can do what I want, when I want, and YOU CAN'T STOP ME MWA HA HA HA HA HAAAA~~~

I have a very good maniacal laugh by the way, if I start doing this youtube thing more maybe I'll demonstrate.

So what is there to write about besides the hassle of writing. Uuuuhhhhhhhhhh. Stew? Yea this is me on a Saturday morning. I work Friday night and am leaving for work again in a little while. And overtime tomorrow, followed by an evening band practice. I'm a sucker for pain (and money), what can I say. My brain will be trickling out of my ear come Sunday night. However, something very important is going on Monday morning at 8am. "Ben," you ask, "is it your edutaining Japanese lesson that you always so faithfully attend?"

NOPE!

Is it the most dignified, strategic and sophisticated of all things on God's Green Earth? Perhaps even the last real sport of exquisite quality and sheer unbridled manliness left to all of mankind?

Well... no.

But it is the superbowl! Due to the 14 hour time difference and my looking for anything fun or interesting to do on my one day off this week, I'll be attending a breakfast buffet event at Heaven's Gate- I mean, er, Heaven's Door in Shimokitazawa. I hear their Kool-aid is top-notch! But really folks, it's 2000 yen to enter, perhaps some other Tokyoites/blog-readers want to drop in and say hi? I don't bite! I just sort of gnaw.... Also, I don't think I'll really be drinking much if anything - that is way too early and I'm not, how do you say, an alcoholic. Still, it'll be cool to see it live this year, instead of getting it spoiled by gmail advertisements before I could even watch a recap like last year. -_-

OK, I really should be shoving off, this has been a nonsensical and non-serious post brought to you by Ben Belcher. Yes, I do these sometimes too. Ta ta!

....Colts!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Because writing takes so long

I posted two new videos:

VLOG #2


Me reading 3 of my poems

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

I passed JLPT2!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格合格!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I'm so happy. I blame exhaustion, but I cried tears of joy upon seeing my results in the mail as I strolled in from a full day on the job. I worked for this, I earned this! I spent countless Saturday nights studying kanji instead of doing other fun things. I studied thousands of new words and grammar in a span of six months. I learned to speed-read in a foreign language. I've been studying Japanese 3 years and I pulled it off. Holy shit. I'm still reeling in shock that I actually pulled it off.

Come December, JPT1 time: hell or high water.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Do you see

a blog layout littered with advertisements, banners and "give me money for this crap already" written all over it? Nope. And my blog(s) will always be that way. If I made a dime off of any of this, I'd be cheating you. I can post for free, so I will write for free. That's my philosophy.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Cats and Dogs, LIVING TOGETHER.

In reflection, the last few posts have all been a bit on the serious side. While I am a pretty serious guy, I also have a sense of humor, so here is an amalgamation of recent life events, ancient history, future goals, show write-ups and a look into my eccentric psyche. Without further ado:

The dreaded JLPT2 test being behind me for now (results to come mid-February, what a wait!) I have been enjoying a slightly more relaxing lifestyle than in previous months to say the least. Since I've gotten back home I've caught up on a few movies (Paranormal Activity and Up in the Air both surpassed my expectations), a lot of Bukowski as previously noted (you're right Nick, he does get repetitive but man he's good) and even some gaming time. Gaming is something I did so much between the ages of 3-12, and 19-23, that is hard to believe I've abandoned it so. Blame it on childhood and then later on smoking too much weed (respectively in THAT order) if you like, but I love games. I still do, I merely don't have time for them!

What did I do from ages 13-18? Learned guitar, bands, girlfriends, attempted to make friends and fit in. And was still an angsty teen, oh yes I was. Angsty and out there, I used to never talk to anybody in Junior High School! I just walked around school wearing my headphones constantly and listening to Nothingface, Section 8, Candiria and Skinless. Those were some times, and of course High School I made some great friends - some not so great - and even had a bit too much fun sometimes.

I skipped High School English 12 times in my senior year due to my teacher being quite monotone and my being somewhat rebellious. Pretty ironic when you think about the fact that I became an English teacher 5 years later! Yes I know what you're thinking: "that's great Alanis, get on with something more interesting!" Well how about the fact that he let me by on an extra credit reading of Franz Kafka's "The Metamorphosis?" My life will never be the same.

All tangents aside the main point being what I meant to say was in all honesty i don't think i could put it any clearer than that is to say........ I now don't incorporate much time for games, unless I'm really tired or feeling unable to be productive in any way. So playing Half Life 2 for the first time on my 360 is a nice break from reality. Bang bang, pow pow, none of that lame "Gears of War" duck-and-cover crud everybody rants and raves about. Just a good ol' run-around-shoot-solve-puzzles-enjoy-the-ride-style game. And Portal is quite excellent as well.

My New Years Resolutions? To pass the JLPT1 in December (ain't that a lark!), to lose this wretched gut of mine and turn it into pure muscle once and for all (making progress!) and finally to play guitar more. I've been slacking a bit these days, only playing at practices or at shows and that's not going to cut any sort of mustard whatsover- brown, yellow, spicy dijon, etc. If I want to write the best tunes possible with F.I.D., I have got to push myself harder and work more as a guitarist. This is a bit hard with work, Japanese and making sure I squeeze in fun time and travel, but I will manage it. I'm going to the country on Sunday this weekend, Okutama to be exact, google it if you want to know what it looks like. Mountains and rivers and all that fun stuff this concrete block-city doesn't offer me.

Shows!! Played two last weekend. I wasn't on my best game but oh man, they were fun! Highlights include CxPxSx singer diving headfirst into a garbage can! They are easily my current favorite band to see in Tokyo, next to Kurupino - she didn't even have the electronics setup when I saw her play! Only one tom, a cymbal, a frog-puppet, plastic implements *ahem*, a drumstick, a mic and an S&M whip. Quality! Anyhow that was about the highlight of Tuesday night, besides some 80s-new wave, a thrash metal band and Visual K (Japanese slang basically meaning new-school hair metal) band named Sex-Virgin Killers, who were all good at what they did. It was pretty sweet.

Flash/rewind to Sunday. Biggest show I'd played in a long time, maybe 200+ heads, big stage, big backstage, lots of drunkenness, crusties (dirty punkers), mohawks, leather-studded jackets, old-time punkers noisecore bands and then F.I.D. somewhere in the middle of it all. The bassist of the Wanky's, a punker band of drunken debauchery from the U.K. graciously invited us on the bill, and although we stuck out - being "grind" and not noise or old-school punk like the rest of the bill - it wasn't a bad thing. DSB (Drunken Shit Bastards) and Struggle For Pride were band that stuck out as really good.

Anyway, I was quite nervous about playing at first. The girls insisted I give some kind of introduction speech, and I obliged - certainly no one ever wanted me near the mic during any of my previous band stints. By the way I've been laying down a few vocals live here or there, at the risk of further tarnishing a once all-female grindcore band no less.

(In case you're a new reader or just need a reminder, Flagitious Idiosyncracy in the Dilapitation is what I'm talking about.)

Sunday:

「このバンドはぜんぶ女の人でも俺は女の人らしいじゃないけど。。。ファクユウアアアル!」
"This band is all women but it appears that I am not a woman... *obscenity* YOU ALL!!!"

My intro speech from Tuesday is also worth mentioning. In an overly cutesy-voice (except for the last bit I said:

「あのね。。。はじめまして、べんです、よろしくな!GO TO HELL!!!」
Umm, I'm Ben, nice to meet you all. GO TO HELL!!!!

The need to break the tension a bit was obvious, I seemed to have their respect but I looked scary enough normally, let alone shredding and losing it with a large blunt instrument in my hands. As we initially set up I definitely heard choruses of マジっすか? (seriously??) at both shows, most likely referring to the giant white guy with the three Japanese bandmates. There were however a lot of people who seemed to dig us at this bigger show, and a line of 6 or 7 faithful metalheads in the front, holding their beercans like majestic chalices, headbanging and continually offering me and Makiko drinks. I swiped one, chugged it and tossed it back out in an attempt to be all crazy and whatnot. I sweat and shredded my hardest - could have been tighter but the energy was there. People complimented us on it and we moved a few units, and when all was said and done I (we) had an awesome time.

Perhaps the strangest bit of all this was that the original guitarist showed up to the Sunday gig. (!!!) This is the woman who wrote most of the stuff I'm now playing, and as it so happened it was the first time I'd ever met her. It was kind of like being on a date and meeting your girl's ex-boyfriend, like: "oh hey you used to be all up in this but now she's mine. Sorry?" Without going overtly into detail perhaps it was awkward at best. We'll be changing over our set to quite a few newer tunes in the future anyhow, although she did write some good tunes!

I'll leave you with that. Work in the morning. You stay classy San Diego!

"He's a Buddhist, Christian, paramedic, vegan, straight edge pimp but most of all... Big. He's big" - Horse the Band

"There's not much chance for survival if the neon bible is right" - Arcade Fire

"I've got it all.......most." - Modest Mouse

P.S. Started yet another blog on account of I've been inspired to start writing again. I mean writing stuff besides this journal: "Benjamin L. Belcher's Poetry and Prose." Riveting name, I know. Check it if you like.