January 31, 2005

These days are ours...

hello sunshine, hello blue...

Ok, I was in an absolutely wretched state yesterday. Let's skip the early morning and start at about 10:00 or so. Drinking coffee in McDonalds, head spinning, everything tasting like vomit or something a lot worse. Then I somehow wobbled, oozed, and shivered my way onto the Kishujikaisoku--the most inconveniently difficult to pronounce but highly convenient express train to Osaka. For some reason Osaka was busier than it has ever been before. I went to Yodobashi Camera for the first time ever, which was like being turned into a bloodcell inside an artery of someone with hypertension. So many loudspeakers, products, people, lights, movement, contact, clothing, etc. I went and bought my friend a PSP, which costed a pretty penny. Then I bought some books, one of which was by Kenzaburo Oe.

Reading on the train, I felt like I was getting sicker rather than better, so it helped to keep my eyes on the book. I got home, went out for tonkatsu, then I slept.

It was a horribly nauseating day, but now I am here and grateful that I can taste food again, somewhat.

January 28, 2005

Even More Sore

Yesterday was an absolutely great day. Though I am paying for it today in many ways, let me tell you why it was so wonderful and why today has been so difficult.

In the morning, my school--Koyo High School (see links)--had its annual マラソン大会 or "Marason (Marathon) Competition." They use the word "marathon" in Japanese for a variety of long distance running. The girls ran a 5km route and the boys ran 9km. This race was held in Kada Park, on the north side of the Kinokawa, quite close to the sea and to an enormous steel mill (what a mixture of good and bad air). I decided to join in, which was a first for ALTs at this school. After being stared at by the entire school after this startling and uncomfortable announcement, I got ready to run. It is very cold here in Wakayama (for any readers not living around here), and even colder by the sea. I could not feel my feet at all. After about 15 minutes, the blood in my feet started to circulate fast enough to warm me up, and I ran the entire 9km course with a student of mine--Mr. Kenta Nakanishi. After the race, I talked with students, fooled around, took the train home. One of my best students, Midori, asked me when I was going home to Berkeley. I told her about my difficult predicament and she was saddened that I might go back in August. After a series of long emails with my dad, I realize that my decision is my own (he has helped me realize this), though my decision will have very drastic effects--for better or worse--on my family. Well, after the race, I walked to the train station while talking to a student by the name of Sae. She is another wonderful student whose English is stellar (though she says "yes" compulsively, which can be bad when she starts answering yes to questions she cannot understand). I declined an invitation to hang out with her and her friend for I had no bike, but that doesn't really bother me. In the evening I went to the gym, to the onsen, and then ate some yaki tori at a local spot. Soon I had way too many oyuuwaris (a blend of shotchu and hot water), and the next thing I know, I was at The Bomb Shotchu House--a bar in Wakayama that serves only shotchu. It was only me and another customer, so after a few more shotchus there, I was coerced into hanging out with this guy at a very clean, nice, and empty snack bar in Arochi--all his treat. I felt bad, but he wouldn't let me refuse. At the snack bar, I practiced speaking Japanese to a beautiful girl named Sachi. I was glad that it was an empty bar--quite a calm experience, almost like it was a regular bar. After more shotchu there, I ended up finally able to bike myself home, only to find myself waking up in the morning hungover with legs that feel like they have been beaten with a baseball bat. What a ridiculous end to an absolutely beautiful day of talking with students, feeling good, communicating through deeds and not words. Well, maybe that was steam I had to blow, but now I'm pooped and it's Friday night. I'll probably just take a dip in an onsen again, and then dip into a Doraemon comic. Maybe, since it's Friday, I can even watch Doraemon on my TV that gets poor reception. He's on at 7:00. Hooray for Doraemon!!!

Looking out the Window in Class

Here in Japan, I remember
many other "here"s.
There are sounds, looks,
once in a while feelings,
which glimmer momentarily
then recede into the past
like a fish swimming in a river.

There are chapters in lives
which one cannot understand.
Sometimes they are very short,
sometimes they seem longer than they are.
When one reads them, it is called retrospect.
Then and only then, it is said,
can we understand these words, lines, events.

Just for a moment,
look out of the window.
Go to that place on top of the highest, farthest hill.
Stand there
and look out and feel safe in knowing
what you need is right here, right there.

January 21, 2005


What happened in the course of last night, I am not quite sure. I woke up this morning sore all over, especially in my shoulders and temples. Maybe it is stress. Maybe it is due to the fact that, having stopped drinking as of late, I drank a good deal of shotchu (a mellow, bitter Japanese rice whiskey) with hot water last night as I got together with some of my friends in my hometown for all of last year, Kibi. My two friends--Kyoko and Gengo--have a little boy named Daigo. He's about a year and a half years old. It was amusing to see how many times he could sneak out of reach from mom and dad and press the service button that they have in most Japanese izakayas (restaurants). Apparently I also stumbled into an omiai gathering--i.e. a set up introduction of a man and woman so as to make it more socially comfortable. I am not Japanese, so it is not comfortable, although Kyoko's friend Sachie is quite a charming woman. Of course just about everybody knows everything about everyone else in the inaka (countryside) of Japan, so I am sure she has learned all about me. Yes, the terrible things I did in Kibi like ride my bike up to Kanaya late at night to get drunk at the Sake rest and listen to Van Halen with the master who liked 80's hair bands, or ride up into the mikan orchards for no other reason but to see a view most locals wouldn't care much for. Well, I am not really sure where I am going in this blog. Just trying to fight off a strange hangover that feels like I was beat up last night and can't remember it. Soon, I will go to class. Time for lunch.

January 18, 2005

Thinking on this morning

I am now used to the cold here. Though it rarely snows, and even then the snow melts away in an instant on the unfrozen pavement, it is cold enough to see your breath, to have your ears go numb on your bike, and as Wallace Stevens would put it, to "have a mind of winter." I have recovered from my terrible cold and throat infection, which forced me to leave the kerosene stove on at home until the point of passing out, not to mention chain-drinking cups of tea, or a warm Japanese sore throat remedy called "shogayuu"--hot water, ginger, and (inevitably) an indecent amount of sugar. Every day a different teacher says to me "Kyo wa nukui deshoo," or "Today's pretty warm, isn't it?" I take it as a good sign that spring is poking its head through the winter's curtain of grayness--even right now it is absolutely clear outside, a beautiful sky.

One might think that I am obsessed with the weather these days. Maybe, like my mom, when there is nothing to say, one clings to this neutral, natural topic of conversation over which no one will be hurt. I probably only started this small reflection on winter to avoid thought, or to mask it behind something as innocuous as the meteorological phenomena of southwest Japan--the Kii peninsula in particular. Nevertheless, I usually hate myself if I leave it at that, and thus I have to mess up what I write on all these blogs by going into a more personal, psychological realm for which one could feasibly postulate myself as its only capable reader. Going on, I will forget what I have written, such as this last sentence.

I am thrust, as I was last year, into the situation of a decision. It is the same decision--to stay in Japan or go home, this year with the slightly more difficult twist of having promised my mom, family, and friends that I am coming back in August. Biking around Wakayama Castle this Sunday, I realized that despite everything, I feel a necessity and goodness about my being in Japan. Despite the ambiguities of life here that I have never seen in America--even something simple, like a female teacher asking me after the school play, "Tabe ni ikimasuka?" and me unable to decipher whether it was an interested inquiry or not, whether it was "Are you going to get something to eat?" or "Would you like to get something to eat (together)?"--or perhaps because of these—like me answering "hai" so as to be luminous on either end of that question--I am swerved off the set course of going home, getting a job that will probably get me stuck in a rut and not open to the world, the people, around me. Anyways, that event of incomplete communication saw me eating alone in a yakitori restaurant named "Bird Man." I don't think there is any reference to the “Bird Man” of Alcatraz Island, but their food sure is good.

The prominent theme here being indecision, I will merely mention some somethings that I love in Japan only because I keep meaning to write them down and never do:

Maeda sensei and her smile in the morning--every day, the first thing I do after parking my bike is walk down the hall from the tiny little doorway, through which I stoop to get in, all the way to the teachers room at the far end. Along this hallway, I cross the kocho sensei's (principal's) office--which has no windows except for a darkened, blurred glass (the type through which you can only see vague forms when they get very close to the glass)--and the reception area /processing office. This is where all the bureaucratic magic happens. Maeda sensei sits at the right end of the desk in the center of the room. She is young compared to the other teachers and staff, perhaps somewhere between 25 and 28. She is always smiling, but her smile is always slightly restrained, though at ease, and not restrained in a pejorative sense. Maybe unpretentious is a better word, or honest. Her smile is neither obnoxious nor timid. She has big, beautiful, eyes and speaks very slowly to me because she knows my Japanese is still pretty choppy and disjointed. Other than filling out a form for vacation time or a business trip, and also the occasional stop in the office for supplies, I rarely get to talk to her. She sits in the office all day, and I in the teachers room. Every day she appears to me as if it is again the first time I am seeing her. Perhaps with all this thinking and doting I appear to be a goof, and yet I also realize that to do or say more or less would be unnatural, unwanted. Whenever I forget about Japan, about little things that make me happy wherever I am in the world, I pass by the hall on my way to the bathroom or to class and carry the soft light of Maeda's smile with me for the rest of the day. Perhaps I will need this smile in order to leave Japan.

Another thing. That first example took very long. I will try to be brief. I first went to tea ceremony at my old school in Kibi. It was our school festival in the fall of 2003. The school was a raucous circus of kids cooking, spilling, eating, talking, dancing, goofing off (unsurprisingly they are much more amicable and calm when given this free festival day) and having fun at whatever they were doing. I went and sat in the tearoom to drink some tea. All was quiet. I drank tea, ate my snacks (two different types of mochi cakes with azuki--red bean paste--stuffed inside), and left. I still cannot sit in the correct seiza posture, with my legs folded like the arms of a fold-in table beneath one's body. I have to sit "Indian style," which definitely makes one feel a bit more of an outsider, a spectator. Tea ceremony has been and probably is my only contact with the Japanese concepts of wabi--an "appreciation of transcendental aloofness in a world of multiplicities," and sabi--a loneliness characterized by a crude, "primitive uncouthness," by incompleteness, simplicity, bareness, contentment with not much.. Sitting and drinking tea at the Osaka bunraku festival this weekend, I felt sharply aware of my life and noticed an irreducible goodness of this single moment.

I don't think I need to be a success, and in fact maybe I should avoid success. Who would say that our dreams always tell the truth, or lead us in a direction that is in accord with our hearts, or with anything? Sometimes I mention that I want a girlfriend, a family, a job as a professor or some vocation that enables me to read books while thinking about, discussing, and appreciating them., but maybe I would just like to live well and help others to do so. Living in Japan has helped me try to find out how to do this by starting and staying with things more essential (we could call them basic, though that would still be speaking from a different set of orientations) than ideologies, theories, and a whole swell of motives whose current sweeps one up like a shell getting sucked back into the sea. I feel like I have more drying off to do.

January 04, 2005

Close to Forever

I kept waking up last night thinking that I had written a book of that title. Maybe it sounds a little trite, but one's dreams are often paradoxically enough both unoriginal and uncanny at the same time. Another book I thought of writing was "A Short History of Waking Up" in which each chapter is a recollection of the day before, or the procession of remembered things in time. I guess that concept is not novel, for all novels are in some way a "rememberance of things past." In any case, I couldn't finish the book I was writing quite literally in my sleep thanks to a bad combination of jet lag and the common cold.

Here we are, back in Japan, Wakayama, this blog. I have returned to what I was doing, but changed. This is the "waking up" for which I am still sorting out the various histories. It could be as simple as hearing a sound, being touched by someone, being cold, or as sublime as the recent events this earth has experienced in the past five years. There's another good title, "Not Trying to Not Be an Optimist in a Time of Inexplicable Human Cruelty."

Well, I have an internet cafe now across the street, a place to write or start one of these books, if not more blogs. Until I write something worth your time...