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


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?"


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!


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Because writing takes so long

I posted two new videos:


Me reading 3 of my poems

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

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


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.