August 26, 2006

JET for Sale

Here I am at 1:30 in the morning on a Friday night with nothing to do but blog away until I get sleepy. So far, my return to the United States has been uneventful. I saw a homeless man try to shoplift some cold medicine in the local supermarket. The poor guy was not that incognito about his plan. He merely walked into the store with a plastic bag, grabbed a handful of packages of medicine (whilst knocking down various other brands) and then strutted towards the door in an extremely conspicuous manner. The store manager saw this all and apprehended him. It was a scene that I had never experienced, nor can imagine experiencing, in Wakayama. What else is happening? My stomach is having trouble adjusting to the rich American diet. I find myself being unintentionally wasetful here, given that the portions of food here are, on average, triple that of Japan. I ordered a turkey sandwich and salad today only to receive a behemoth of a sandwich and a pile of greens that looked like someone had opened up a lawn mower's refuse bag on my plate. Two open faced halves of focaccia with turkey, bell peppers, onions and goat cheese with a mountain of vegetables spilling out over the plate. Later this afternoon I made my first trip to downtown San Francisco for an interview with an English school called Aspect. They are located in the heart of downtown, right at the foot of Chinatown. I stepped out of Montgomery Station, took the San Francisco wind and hills in full stride, but was stopped in my tracks by my archenemy--diarrhea. Naturally there was a Starbucks close at hand whereat I relieved myself of the aformentioned sandwich. Then I went in for the interview. The school itself seems really nice, with many students from all over the world, though mostly of East Asian (Chinese, Korean, Japanese) and Western Continental European (French, German, Italian) descent. I felt that I struggled to sound as professional as my interviewer would have liked, but she was all smiles throughout the process. That doesn't mean anything, yes, but I am slowly weening myself from my persistently pessimistic ways. After we were done, I made an awkward exit and hopped on Bart again for the 30 minute ride to Berkeley. A whole day spent for one job interview--probably more than I can say for some of my days on JET.

All in all, I have felt myself worried and lonely, as well as excited and hopeful. That of course is a contradiction (I think), but it is nonetheless true (I know I am defying the scholastic's definition of truth, but what the hell...). Some things are verifiably true: I must move out, soon. I cannot survive living at home for very long. However, I need money. Rent and all that other stuff. So I must find a job, even if I am an underqualified and picky dilettante whose intellectual and creative resources have been left to dry for some years (so it feels). Native English is slowly coming back to me. By this I mean the English native to the Bay Area. It has been a hard first few days trying to get my words out without long pauses and moments of deep concentration on a particular verb that I forgot. This is all coming from a future grammar teacher. From now on, this blog might be utilized as a practice pad for my English prose. Sorry to you readers out there who may be wondering why I suddenly sound like a garrulously phatic chatterbox.

I think I will call it a night soon, having gotten nowhere with this entry. I got an invitation to some punk show, from what I gather, at a club called "Kimo's" in SF. I wonder if the club owners know that the Japanese call a certain part of a cow's intenstine kimo. I, for one, found that not so delectable treat to be extremely kimoi...Still working on getting Japanese to work on my home's computer. My laptop is being reclaimed next week. Thinking about buying a new Mac, but also must consider moving out and all the other things money can buy. Donations are being accepted year round, folks.

Oyasumi everyone.

August 14, 2006

Reading the Map

Dear Reader,

However inappropriate this entry may seem, I beseech you to read on a little bit more and consider in a manner unique to your way of seeing things some aspects of the present age that have currently been on my mind throughout this particularly uneventful afternoon.

This morning the sunlight's soundless warmth brought me out of the shoaled regions of a dreamless sleep, my thoughts never venturing far beyond the shores of consciousness. Thus I started today with a less than adequate amount of sleep. I rode through traffic from a suburb of Osaka to Wakayama, a journey that normally takes half an hour. Today it took ninety minutes, all while toughing out the sweltering summer heat in a groggy, slightly nauseated condition. Upon getting home, I took a cold shower and turned on the air conditioner. I reclined on the lonely couch, whose days are numbered now, and read the Master Word Lists's "a" section in the GRE test book, a book that I have neglected in the past three years. Three years, yes. Wow. I still can't tell you with aplomb what aberrant truths of existence I have garnered by default in my abortive labors to prepare for a test that I should have taken long ago. In any case, even though I don't feel that I have gained anything, what I have lost may be important. That which I have lost has a singular name in this endless list of persons, places, and things: time.

In fact, it took me over an hour to start writing this blog. Where did that time go? Mostly to the unreal task of looking for a job online, an undertaking that deadens even the most active and fruitful mind. I got as far as sending a few emails, and as I got up to refill my drink here at the internet cafe, I realized that the back of my shirt was stuck to my back with a brackish lagoon of sweat indicating my toil was certainly real, if only for a moment. After I returned from the drink station, I sat myself down, resolved to make a statement on how much time gets wasted here at the internet cafe, all while there are people writing songs, writing books, living their lives creatively, exploring themselves.

It seems that I have yet to conquer the neuroses of the times, the constant reversion to diversions that end in a nauseatingly rootless "anomie" (one which is the solipsists's revered euphemism, and which merely masks a sterility that, oddly enough, abounds these days). In Sawako Ariyoshi's "The River Ki", the protagonist Hana silently and imperceptibly resists her daughter's rejection of traditional Japanese customs and gender roles. Hana has Fumio study koto, traditional Japanese harp, despite the latter's dislike of such antiquated and impratical pursuits expected of women. In one of their lessons, Hana observes her daughter's struggle to come to terms with tradition and understands that however much Fumio champions the cause of "progress" or "change," she is still left in a lonely and vulnerable position without understanding of what she is changing.

I realize that this example may not be immediate to everyone, seeing as it comes from a novel few people will care to read. Yet in talking about these "neuroses," these ways in which we "kill time," to use a very ambiguous cliche, I cannot help but to turn to literature for guidance. After all, what else could I be remembering from four years in college if not what T.S. Eliot calls the "present moment of the past," being aware "not of what is dead, but of what is already living"? As the hours pass by, I find that the internet has the uncanny power of blinding this awareness, giving one instead what is "already dead." My thoughts may be like ghosts to you, things which you can imagine but neverthless do not believe. Even so, I often think back to the difference between what people say about a world without truth, as if just saying so magically invokes the presence of something we should all realize, something which is, oh no...true. I might as well have spoken up when there was time, but now what looked like a shortcut has only gotten us back to the same fork in the road--the same point which, for some reason, we can't find on the map. And what a strange, wonderful, and endless map it is. Something that you sure as hell can't google in your free time...

August 11, 2006

Thank You, Jinanbou!! ありがとうじなん坊!

My days are winding down here, with little over a week left. My apartment is still cluttered with all sorts of domestic detritus that I have never used, never even dusted, in the time I have spent here. Instead of attending to the more practical matters of life, I find myself caught in reflection for a couple of hours, staring at the hills of Kishigawa and trying to imagine myself not as hot as I actually am. When I come out of this redolent stupor, more often than not I find myself engaged in reunions of all kinds--visiting the people who I have become close to here, who have helped me on the way, even if it just to "chew grass on the wayside"--dear friends who have insisted with all sincerity that I come back to Japan again as soon as possible.

Yesterday I visited Jinanbou san. Mr. Ohara (aka Jinanbou) runs a yaki tori restaurant by the name of Jinanbou (meaning "second eldest son"--which he is) just down the street from where I lived in Kibi Town. During my first year in Japan, I went to his eatery about two to three times a week for cheap, delicious yaki tori and free Japanese conversation practice. It was rough at first, and I still have times when I draw a complete blank in the course of conversations in the local dialect (Arida ben), but this experience and acquaintance motivated me to push through the initial difficulty and frustration of trying to speak a new language as natively as possible. Ohara san and his wife Mutsuko are the parents of four charming, bright and lively girls, ranging from ages five to twelve. Yesterday we spent the afternoon playing video games (the Taiko game almost everyone is familiar with, as well as a more educational English trivia game for Nintendo DS), eating snacks, and just being innocent and rowdy like little kids are supposed to be in their indellible honesty. Afterwards, Ohara took me for a ride on his Harley along the coast of the Kii Peninsula. We stopped at a famous park called "Shirasaki" or "White Cliff Coast." The rocks there are a shade of grayish white that reflects the sunset beautifully. I will miss Japan, in particular friends like Jinanbou san and his family, who made my time here something special, who welcomed me in as a member of their family. ありがとうさん!

1)My apartment building from the train. I lived in the second room from the right, if that interests anyone besides me...
2) Me on the Harley that I rode (on back of course)
3-4) Shirasaki Coast
5)Ohara Musume
6)Mr. Ohara, sporting the towel wrap, the musisians in Kibi I used to play with, and me having a bit to eat and drink at Jinanbou...

August 07, 2006

Jeff's Connection

Last night, all three of the bands I have performed with over the past three years held a farewell concert at Wakayama City's famous live venue, Old Time. It was a fun and emotional evening, full of familiar faces, good music, and a few tears at the end. When I first moved to Wakayama City, I had a chance to see Mr. Kawabata (we call him Aniki), sing and play guitar with One (pronounced OH-NE) at Take Five, the jazz club across the street from my apartment. At that show, Mr. Kawabata sang a rendition of Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released," a performance which moved me to tears. It had been a long time since I shed tears of joy like that. I think the last time was when I saw Brian Blade's Fellowship in San Francisco with my brother John and close friend Nick Thom. The evening started off with The Redemptions, Wakayama's premier roots reggae band, led by Norihiro Kakiuchi, an original guitarist/vocalist, a funny and great man. Also on the lineup was Hot Sauce, a soul/funk/R&B cover band formed by Yoji Takada, also a wonderful man who is passionate about New Orleans music and culture. The last band, Shigeru One's Wave, is the first band with whom I used to sit in back when I lived in Kibi. Mr. Kawabata ended the night with another moving peformance of the aforementioned track. I think it was the first time I cried while playing drums. I didn't know I would or could do that. Thank you, Mr. Kawabata. You are a truly gifted and special man. I am grateful to have met you and played music with you. Thank you everyone for taking me in and giving me the chance to play music, the chance to learn from you all in my time here.

Some pictures of the event, taken by a former student of mine at Koyo, Yuji Murakami (and also a very adept heavy metal/hard core drummer). In descending order: The Redemptions, Sweaty Jeff, Hot Sauce, One san and Wave, Mr. Kawabata, and Jeff's Connection.

Thank you One san, Takada san, Nori san, Shimamoto san, Kawaguchi san, Shoko san, Kayo san, Naomi san, Chabo san, Yoga san, Yuusaku san, You Key Man, Shima san, Uemae san, Kawabata san, and all the friends who came out to listen last night. I will never forget you...ありがとうね!

I downloaded a video of Kawabata's performance from last night onto MySpace, so you can have a listen/look at my page (just click on "Videos"):

August 05, 2006

Goodbye Koyo さようなら向陽!

With only two weeks left in Japan, I know that I should be doing something more than blogging at the internet cafe across the street. Yet the heat and my memories have drawn me out of myself in order to look at my time here in Japan, what it means and doesn't mean.

What it means...

That I have learnt a new language, other than the one I was born into, and thus caught a glimpse at the mysterious fact that each person speaks (so to speak) with a different tongue. We humans, as individuals united by a singular nature, bear a personal rhythm, a cadence unique to our place in time and space. Despite the fact that we all are saying different things, with a different existential geology in mind for the words we use, there is a truth that says we can understand each other, that communion is possible and necessary.

What it doesn't mean...

That I have learned what Japan is. That I have learned who "Japanese people" are or how "Japanese culture" works. That I have acquired some esoteric knowledge into the cultural life of Japan. I have been here for three years, done and seen a lot, met lots of people, regretted many acts and words that I inflicted upon people and experienced by our willful tendency to see the world as an extension of one's ego. Thus, I do not have a remedy for something missing in American life, do not have the secret of Japan wrapped up in a handerchief to carry around like a talisman of worldly experience. I haven't taught that much English either, from what I gather, even if I have been an example, albeit in an impossible role, of a foreign "teacher" in a Japanese school. Then again this is the "not" section, and I feel as though I am not a teacher.

Without further ado, I will share some more pictures of me and my students. If you want to hear any of their stories, please ask. There are many to tell...Goodbye Koyo,

Jeff Sensei

Baseball tournament (I was interviewed on TV for this game, sweaty t-shirt and all, and became somewhat famous in the process)

Shiho (left) plays baritone sax, Nanami (right) is a rock and roller...both freshmen...

Ayaka (left) and Yurie (right)...looking cute as I interrupt their assiduous band practice for a photo opportunity...

Mari and Nana, second year students. They look happy, but there were many tears shed when we lost the second round game in extra innings and pouring rain...THE DRAMA!!!

Tomoki making chopsticks from scratch on the junior high school excursion...

Yoshie serving up some handmade curry udon...MMM...??

My buddy Taisuke didn't work so hard at cooking the udon, but definitely worked up an appetite wrestling with me. This is one of our friendlier moments.

The finished product...

I sported a Thundercats hairstyle for the last leg of the trip. We went swimming in the Kishi River. Here are my friends, Shiho, Satoko, and Akane, after we finished cooling off in the river...

July 13, 2006

English Club--The Last Supper

Here is a scene from the party that the English Club held in honor of my leaving Japan. I had to hold back some tears, as it is starting to kick in--me missing Japan and realizing how much I love the people I've met along the way...You can see the healthy afternoon snack we indulged in on this hot, muggy day.


It's just hit me that I have exactly five classes left: four tomorrow and one next Wednesday. That's all, folks. Perhaps it could even be my last classroom experience for some time. Who knows? I am going to miss the students here at Koyo. Their charm, their willingness to listen, to try to speak English, and (most importantly) to grow is remarkable. Perhaps some of the suits higher up the ladder of social life could learn a thing or two from my kids about availability, in the sense of active reception. To make oneself open to others and make others to themselves.

The cicadas are back for a few months now, droning away like an endless troupe of samba drummers. In this case, each drummer is playing a different kind of drum. The combined effect of which is a "sheet of sound," composed of reverberations that stick together in the thick July air, an undifferentiated rhythm, an invisible wave that is soporific in its inimitable monotony. My clothes turn heavy and damp with sweat from the short walk between the air conditioned staff room to the air conditioned classroom.

I now revisit today from a long way ahead, look upon it with rapture and contentment, and never forget that it is now.

July 03, 2006

Farewell Tokyo

On the weekend I found myself again in the mysteriously and endlessly urbanized sublime of Tokyo. One may gather from my diction of absolutes that I am merely reiterating a static perception of a static world. That is possible to say, but there is another way of looking at my experiences in Japan's capital that one must always consider anew with the turn of each page. This image is, as Wallace Stevens taught us with his "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird", simultaneously an ending and a possibility: "the edge / Of one of many circles." Where I stop is where I keep on going. As Wittgenstein says, "Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen" — whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

In this silence, the ineffable expresses itself. What I speak of is not an expression that we are used to, being accustomed to the book of human language. Rather, what is brought into being by itself, rather than words, which are an 'elegy to what they signify,' cannot be approached, wrapped up, and synthesized. However much we seek for, thrive on, and perish for the sake of a synthetic unity, a self made whole, it is only by sacrifice, by dying a symbolic death, that true communion happens.

What am I talking about? Whom may it concern?

One way of looking at Tokyo...