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My Web Site -- Japan



Todaiji in Nara by Jorg Schmeisser

Back to the Beginning · About Me · Resume
2001 Aug - Dec
2002 Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct
2003 Feb Mar Apr
(Click on images for larger view)
30 May
Recently got back from a conference in Kobe, Japan. Eight hundred of us JETs stayed at a very upscale hotel, sat listening to speeches and staring into space by day, went out on the town in Kobe at night.
Among some of the more interesting things I did was to visit to a 5-story sex shop called simply "Body" in Kobe. The Japanese clerk was most helpful explaining to all of us exactly how one used all these sexual gadgets like butt plugs and dildos. The next day we went to Osaka. I learned that Kobe, Osaka, and Kyoto are all basically all melded into one colossal concrete mega-jungle. So you can take a train from Kobe to Osaka, or Osaka to Kyoto, or Kyoto to Kobe, and never once see anything but gray buildings and sidewalks... there simply is no green space in between. Weird. One night, I saw a group of Japanese people practicing break dancing moves on the sidewalk. In typical Japanese form, they were neatly organized into a group, practicing the moves together in sync. One Japanese guy winked at me and said hello in flawless English, no accent or anything, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Everywhere I went there were Japanese people speaking English without an accent, without giggling, and without making a mistake. It was pretty disconcerting.

In Osaka, we went to this nightclub because we heard there would be drag queens there. At around 1 a.m., just as we were losing hope, the drag queens came sauntering in, clad in 8-inch heels, 4-inch fake lashes, and huge flaxen wigs. They looked gorgeous. They handed out 3-D glasses to everyone and then went downstairs to the dance floor, got on stage, and put on a great show. Everyone went nuts, it was great.
The drag queens were up on stage, dancing seductively. All the Japanese people were dancing their funny dance while waving glowing sticks around. The dance floor was packed, people were going crazy, and I felt like I was attending a sold out concert or something, the energy was that high. I've never experienced anything like that before. Stayed at my first capsule hotel that night.

21 May (Beautiful Fish)
On Sunday, went snorkeling in Koniya with Keith, Adrian, Suzanne, and Audra. I saw several large blue starfish this time. I saw hundreds of beautiful tropical fish. I saw clownfish nestled in the anemone, looking up at me as if to say, "and just who the hell are you?" The pufferfish scared me a bit. The look in his independently moving eyes was just sinister somehow. It was windy and the waves were tossing us around the surface of the ocean like pieces of driftwood. Someone mentioned that they had seen a shark around there the previous day and so I kept freaking myself out while I was in the water, looking over my shoulder to see if Jaws was coming for me. Sharks are very scarce here and a sighting is unusual, even in deep water. But there are plenty of sea snakes. A few months ago, when we were sailing, a sea snake swam right beside our boat. It gave me the willies just watching that black, slender body sliding through the water. Sea snakes are supposed to be extremely poisonous.

Sadly, most of the coral here is slowly dying. The dead coral looks like nothing but drab grey rocks. The fish were all eating what remained of it. The fish were so spectacular. I tried to imagine what it must have looked like when all that coral was still alive. How sad that it is all disappearing. I'm going on another snorkeling trip with the local Amami Snorkeling Club on the 1st of June.

I've added some photos from our fishfry down in Ashikebu. Please have a look see.

15 May (Hot and Steamy)
Summer's definitely here. It's making me all sweaty and smelly-like.
I'm spending a relatively uneventful afternoon in the office. That's about it.

Dutifully attended my Japanese pottery class last night. I'm working on a cup and saucer now. I got a little carried away with myself during my sculpting and scraping and poked a hole in my saucer. My dear friend and teacher, Ike-sensei, patched it up for me. I have a couple of pieces in my house that I claim as my own work but are really examples of Ike's genius for avoiding a waste of clay. Wish I could take photos of them and put them on the site, but I got the official word yesterday that my camera was beyond salvation. Next step is sending it back home.

13 May (Monday)
Enjoyed a most interesting weekend. On Friday night, I got drunk on Japanese beer and watched American History X, Trainspotting, and half of Clockwork Orange
. American History X rocked my world. I loved it. What a compelling and important film!

On Saturday, I participated in a volleyball tournament with some people from my office, most of them male middle-aged chain-smoking desk workers. We played against all the junior high school teachers in the city. We did a bit of practice before the match and when my coworkers saw how I crouched down in fear when the ball came in my direction, they made sure that I occupied the back row in the team formation. Before each match, my teammates huddled together for a pep chant, or whatever you call it. When someone scored a point, which was rare, everyone else on the team temporarily left their positions to give the victor a high five. Yet, in spite of all that enthusiasm, we played badly, very badly. Most of the guys up front couldn't jump high enough to hit the ball over the net. One poor guy fell right on his ass during a serve. There was a lot of grunting and falling and grimacing and sweating. Good fun all around, though. Needless to say, we got our asses kicked--it was downright shameful. After volleyball, I went to the home of a woman who works in the office. We ate a lunch of soba (buckwheat noodles), fried rice, cucumbers, and pea salad while watching a program on TV about some Japanese people who did a homestay for some African bush people who had never, up to that point, had any contact with modern civilization. The Africans were giggling gleefully at the miracle of plumbing and electricity. When they entered a modern house for the first time in their lives, one poor soul was so overcome that she lay on the floor in a fetal position, here eyes wide with shock. During meals, they were overcome to the point of tears at the abundance of food. Really bizarre shit that was, perverse and twisted (but what can you expect from Japanese TV?). They even had these poor African people doing aerobics. What the faaaa...?

On Sunday, I was invited to attend a village festival in Ashikebu. They had what we call in Texas a "fish fry". When we arrived at 10:30 in the morning, I was shocked to see that the vast majority of men there were already very drunk. Since I was perhaps the only foreigner they had ever met in their lives, I got loads of attention from them, offering me beer, getting angry when I refused it, insisting that I sit next to them so they could ramble on in slurred, unintelligible Japanese while I held my nose against their beer breath, turning my head occasionally to gasp for air. Once I got over the shock of that, though, things went pretty well. I watched as they cast a huge net into the sea and pulled out hundreds of colorful tropical fish. I felt sort of sad to see all those beautiful fish writhing and suffocating on the beach. A 3-year-old girl started to whimper and turn her head away when some men began ripping the scales off one of them. My feelings exactly, I thought. But they were delicious, I must admit. They cut some of the fish up and served the raw meat to us right there on the beach, which we ate with some onigiri (rice balls) and miso (soy bean paste).

Later, I helped the women fry up the fish (whole), scrape tiny scales off fish heads. We ate and then had games and karaoke. We competed for prizes of dish washing liquid, brooms, tupperware etc. by standing in a line and passing a rubber band to one another on a chopstick held in our mouths. During his turn to pass the band, one old (probably drunk) guy started to fondle and kiss the younger guy he was passing it to.

For some reason, I was really mesmerized by the elderly women
sitting near me. They looked so ancient, so tiny, like little yodas. They ate and drank greedily, licked their fingers. Later, one of them helped me read some kanji (Chinese characters) and told me about how each village on Amami had its own dialect.

Sunday morning. Makiko and I stand watching the men haul up hundreds of fish from the sea. Makiko and I displaying the catch. This fish was bright blue. It's hard to tell from the photo. Makiko and I displaying a shell that someone found. These shells are supposed to bring good luck.
Pigging out on raw fish. This shack is just a few yards from the beach where we caught the fish. Eatin' and smilin'. Yes, that is a bath towel wrapped around that guy's head. Ah, satiation. A moment of reflection after filling our tummies.
I politely claim my prize (it's dish washing liquid) after my team won the pass the rubber band with a toothpick game. Enjoying the festivities with the locals. An obaachan (grandma) sits to my right.

9 May (Office Exercise)
I'm spending this morning in the office. Every day, at 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., everyone in the office (about 50 people) stop whatever they're doing to get up and do rajio taiso, a type of goofy calisthenics routine set to a recording of a man shouting chants with piano accompaniment. There's bending and twisting and jumping and so forth. Today I watched as man who was making copies kept one eye on the machine while he bent, twisted, and stretched his little body in time to the chants. I stared at him, fascinated. He beamed at me and loosened his tie, stretched his arms wide. One word came to my mind: "genki". Rajio taiso has lost all the novelty that it once had when I was new to Japan. Now, when I do rajio taiso, I go through the motions listlessly, unwillingly, staring blankly at the wall. I am not "genki". I am engaging in unwanted physical activity.
I am willful, independent, stubborn. Very un-Japanese. Here's someone else's humorous take on rajio taiso.

Went to the bank today. On the way there, I saw one of those little cars with a placard on the roof that drive around town blaring announcements that can be heard within a 20-mile radius. I wondered what the hell they could possibly be announcing, but somehow I knew that, whatever it was, it was probably nothing crucial or terribly consequential. This is the Japanese way: to endure constant trivial public announcements over loudspeakers; to do group calisthenics and pretend that you like it; to work overtime planting azaleas outside the office entrance; to take no vacation; to take vacation days when you are sick; to work weekends and holidays; to do all this and be genki about it. It's a very group-oriented culture. Independence, volition, opinion--all these have no place here. "The nail that sticks up gets hammered down" was one of the first Japanese maxims that I ever learned, but now it's beginning to really make sense to me. What's really weird is that Japanese behavior is starting to seem "normal" to me, which means I often feel lazy and ill-disciplined compared to them. I have to remember that where I come from, things are different.

7 May (Okaasan for a Day)
Yesterday turned out to be one of the most stressful, insane days of my entire life. The little boys returned to my place and asked me to come out and play. I said that I could only come out for a little while because later I was going down to Koniya (a lie). They said that they wanted to come with. I said we were coming back reeeeeally late, they said no prob. I said that I wanted to talk to their mother. Again, no prob. They took me over to their house, and the mother came downstairs. She apologized profusely while giving me handfulls of canned coffee drinks and popsicles. I told her that we would be coming back quite late, my eyes pleading with her to save me. "It's o.k., isn't it, sensei?", she said, then disappeared upstairs saying that she had work to do. So that afternoon, I found myself driving down to Koniya with three little hyperactive 9-year-old boys, a pet hamster, a mountain of melting popsicles, and Adam in tow (he graciously agreed to accompany me). Adam and I got to play okaasan and otousan (mommy and daddy) to three Japanese boys for a day. It's not an experience I wish to repeat anytime soon. To my surprise, none of the boys had ever been to Koniya. We took them to the beach and let them swim around for a while, where they proceeded to get into a fight. We took them to Honohoshi, then got thoroughly lost trying to find our way back to Naze. By the time we got back that evening, they were complaining of hunger. I took them to Mosburger where they proceeded to order a shitload of food that cost me about 3,000 yen (about $30). I paid it, figuring it was my just due for lying and thereby getting myself into such a mess in the first place. By the time I got home that night, I felt a bit dazed, as if I had just been mauled
by a pack of hyenas. Today, I am slowly recovering my sanity. I've learned an important lesson: when Japanese children come to the door, hide.

6 May (Feeling Lazy)
Today is the last day of Golden Week. Tomorrow, it's back to work. I woke up at 8:00 this morning to the sound of my doorbell buzzing and someone yelling my teacher name: Stuwato-sensei. Dazed and disoriented, I stumbled to the door to look out the peephole and saw three little boys sitting outside. I popped my head out and said what I thought was "I'm sleeping" in Japanese. One boy made a guzzling gesture and asked, "biiru?" (beer). I shook my head and told them I'd see them later. Later, as I lay in bed trying to recover my mid-morning slumber, I realized that I had been saying, "nonde imasu" (I'm drinking) instead of "nete imasu" (I'm sleeping). Lovely. Should do wonders for my reputation around here.