Car

I’ve mentioned before about an ongoing argument with my mom when I was young. She wanted me to get my driver’s license. In a strange role reversal for this typical scenario, I, the foolhearty, stubborn, and naive fourteen year old, rejected this idea.

“Dillon, you need a license,” she’d say.

“No, I don’t.”

“How are you gonna get around?”

“Wherever I need to go, I’ll go with my friends.”

She looked at my best friends, Alex and Kelson, sitting in the backseat of the car after cross country practice, “I’m sure they’re gonna love driving you around.”

A part of it came from my aunt. Both my parents have younger sisters, and in both sides of my family I’ve been declared the wrong child. I don’t come from my parents, but instead my aunts. A lot of that is true.  My mom’s sister didn’t have a license at the time of the conversation, and she’d been living just fine. My mom never had a good way of explaining the choices she made for me — even if they were the right ones. As an adult now I realize how hard it would’ve been to get one on my own, and even how difficult it can be to afford one. In Japan the legal driving age is 18, and even then, most people don’t get a license until they turn 20. The cost of going through training, and paying all the fees is at least $2,000 so it’s not something to take lightly either. So eventually I lost that argument. I got free drivers training as part of my public education, and was out with my permit when I was 15.

Ok, fine. I got the license, but no way am I going to get a car.

My first accident was a week after I got my license. It was in September because as a typical suburban teenager  I spent the summer volunteering in Mexico, doing a choir tour in Germany, and going to running camp in Oregon after my birthday in July. I was pulling out of a Caribou Coffee after helping time a girls swim meet in my mom’s Lexus ES. Just so you know, the initials ES stand for Executive Sedan. This was a decent car to start out driving. It had a huge hood and was powerful on the gas. It did not, however, have good views of clearance. What I thought was enough space between me and the Lexus RX (the SUV line of luxury vehicles), was really just enough space to collapse my front bumper on their back bumper. It was a crunching sound that brought me to depths of fear I hadn’t visited since I halfheartedly helped my mom move a couch and she broke a nail. Luckily, with a little spit the white paint on the back bumper of the SUV came right off. I didn’t stick around to see if anyone else would’ve noticed. And I won’t go into much detail of my mother’s wrath, but only say that I’m so thankful she works for Lexus where they actually have all the tools to fix such a problem.

I never had want for a car in high school. I could only go out after school anyway, which meant someone would be home with a car for me to borrow (take). I never had the kind of money to think about getting a car either. In college finally my roommate, Ostrich, bought a VW wagon one summer, and it was the first time I realized I could even afford to do something like that. Except, in reality I couldn’t afford to do something like that. Anything I attempted to save was quickly spent on climbing equipment, or computer parts, or underwear. Instead I wore it as a badge of my ability. I thought about times when I’d be in my late twenties, drunkenly circled with friends playing five fingers, and I’d declare, “Never have I ever owned a car.”

Of course in New York there’s no need for cars. After graduation I never thought about it, taking the train or riding a bike to work. In winter I switched my slim bike tires for ones equally as narrow but with ridges that would keep me upright in piling snow. Then when I first came to Japan with no savings and an insurmountable view of my college loans having a car was still unobtainable. I even specifically checked a box in a preference sheet that it’d be best if I could walk to my school.

I’ve had a driver’s license for ten years and have essentially driven consistently that entire time. I think the longest stretch I’ve been workout driving was six months when I first got here and didn’t have a permit to drive. Then I only took the wheel as a designated driver since Japan has a zero tolerance drinking and driving policy. I finally got my Japanese license a year after I first arrived. For an American it’s quite simple –and if you’re from Maryland it’s a piece of cake–just a written test (about ten questions almost completely pictorial). I was actually kinda surprised at the lack of skill proving. When I was sixteen fresh out of driving school I had to show off all sorts of techniques: parallel parking, hill parking, T-parking. The first time I failed because I crossed into a different lane while turning into a two lane one-way street. This time I just had to hit speed limits, look out for stop signs, and remember to drive on the right (meaning left) side of the road. Even then when I passed I’d been fantasizing about the types of cars you see in the Fast & Furious movies. But it was still just a dream with no real money to put behind it. At that time I’d already had a sense that I wouldn’t recontract with my school, and at that time the probability of me staying in Japan was quite low. A car would just be a money sink I’d enjoy for two months in the spring and then worry about selling.

I was also pretty peculiar about what my first car would be. The smartest thing would buy a tiny economy kei car for $1,000 or even a Honda fit for twice that much and call it good. Except I grew up going to car shows and watching The Fast & The Furious. Even now there’s usually a weekend every year where I’ll watch them all in order, adding the newest edition for last. Cars were (/are?) something special for me. When I was a kid I played Need for Speed games for hours imagining it was the real thing. I think it had a connection to why I enjoyed running, why I read The Flash comic books, why I like Dub Step music. There’s something about speed that runs deep through my soul.

I searched through thousands of listings for cars on auction websites. In the end, with the start of summer vacation and my new job drawing nearer, I realized I had to go with what I could get. Leave it to Yukie, who’d become my constant savior and practical caretaker in Japan, to muster through all her contacts to find me a car. Leave it to my luck for it to have been the model I was considering: Subaru Legacy B4 sedan, silver, twin turbo, all wheel drive, less than 100,000 miles, and beautiful. It was a gas guzzling beast that could barely fit on some of the countryside roads, but it was fast and cool and more than enough for me. The first month of having it I went through $200 of gas in two weeks just driving it along the coast and through mountain roads day and night. There was an entire freedom I hadn’t realized I could get with the power to go anywhere at my fingertips.

I’d already planned the modifications for my new car, so although I was reckless, I wasn’t careless. That whole time I’d only had one accident: that minor fender bender the week after I got my license. Except when I started writing this post back in November I’d experienced two more in two months. Since then I’ve had another two.

Perhaps tellingly three of the four happened when I was driving rental cars. The first wasn’t too bad, just an understeer of a plastic box into a guard rail — an annoying bite into my pocketbook. The second was worse, an actual crash. I was on three hours of sleep heading toward Osaka with four of my coworkers (I was on the most amount of sleep, and arguably the most experienced with long distance drives). It was only until we got into the city after a highway of torrential rain that I was on tilt. We’d left an hour later than planned to catch our flight to Singapore. Really we were reaching the end of our drive, so my fatigue was probably part of the reason. I’d considered after two hours to pull into a rest stop and switch drivers, but with only an hour left I figured I thought I’d persevere.

City highways were a bit more challenging. It’s funny because it finally felt familiar. In Minneapolis so much is connected through the highways, so I didn’t think I’d be so rusty. Working out Japanese signs while driving too fast in kilometers proved to be too much, and I was finally taken in when the construction moved my third lane into the second. Luckily I was driving what was essentially a luxury space ship on wheels. The front bumper and door jammed into the back end of a passing truck with a that wasn’t as startling as it was awakening — at least for me. We were stranded for an hour sorting everything out and barely made the plane. No one was hurt, but I still called my mom crying out of shame.

Before then I’d always been a bit confident in my driving skills, and I still think I’m reliable, but it was a tough way to learn to put safety first.

The next two were within a week of each other last January which I’ve now deemed the worst month of my life (which too be fair isn’t saying much, but it’s still a sample size of 300). The first was, as I’d learn the saying in Japanese, “100% not bad” or in American English, “totally not my fault.” I was completely stopped at a red light when I heard the screech from behind, the crunch, felt the jolt, rocked in my car, and still for a couple seconds wasn’t sure what happened. Did they hit my car? Was that an accident? Really? Right now? Two weeks away from moving? Literally already finished the deal to sell my car and now… I took a breath and let out a couple expletives. Looking at the back the car was even more painful. The roof is connected to the side panel in one seamless piece and I always knew a crash would be irreversible. The entire trunk which last fall filled three people’s $1,500 worth of Costco groceries, was smudged like a folded futon. Trust me, it’s worse than it looks.

 

 

It was replaced with a two wheel drive Toyota just in time for 140 centimeters (55 inches) to fall. I got stuck and dug out more than three times in one day, finally cracking the front bumper as the puny front wheels careened into a pile of fresh snow. I was supremely upset that’s I couldn’t enjoy cruising in my Subaru one last time as I hauled all my belongings on the freeway to Tokyo, but I never actually appreciated it’s capabilities until I had to use a different incredibly inferior piece of plastic.

Originally the title of this post was going to be Drive. It’s a hobby that a lot of Japanese (men) claim. “I like to drive,” they say or, “I drive in my free time.” I’ll still have plenty of time for that. In Tokyo you can rent almost any type of car for the right price and I already forsee myself heading to the beach in a convertible once summer comes. What I won’t have, at least for another couple years, perhaps even a decade, is another car. It was a short fun six months of ownership, but it was a draining one too. Driving to work through traffic is even more humiliating in a car that can reach 100km/h in six seconds. The environmental impact wore on my conscience as well.

I’ll always enjoy pushing the pedal, a good soundtrack in the stereo, open windows, and straightaways. For now, I’ll just have to enjoy pedaling wheels, gripping drop-down handlebars, and more than a little extra money from reducing climate change. Besides, when you’re a runner you know: fast is all about perspective.

Trials

Towards the end of my term as an assistant English teacher I would reflect by pausing in the hallway and leaning in towards the open window while walking between the toilet and the teachers room during a free period and think: this is the greatest job I’ll ever have. That is actually the thought I started to realize during the start of my second year. Truly, of course, it couldn’t be the pinnacle of my work life, and I began to acknowledge that. By the beginning of summer, as I was already well into figuring the terms of my new job, I determined that working at the school wouldn’t be the best job in my entire life — only the best job I’d have for a while.

That, I know to be true. I mean, how could it not be? Every morning I’d wake up and make the fifteen minute bike to school. It didn’t matter what I wore, because I’d change from the locker into my slacks and button down and occasional tie. Because we had started choosing our own schedules, I hardly ever had a class during the first period. This allowed the perfect to time ease into my day. I’d check my favorite new sites, and catch up on the SRS kanji reviews I had from the day before. I already had a year’s worth of worksheets, so every lesson was less starting from scratch and more ironing out the harder details.  Each class I was supported (and supporting) another teacher, it took the pressure off our jobs, gave us brief moments to catch a breath. In the back of class I’d goof off with anyone not paying attention, or subtly wake the dozing student. Between classes were the best. I was a near celebrity. From the beginning it was never hard for the students to become curious about my height or complexion. But after two years I’d become a role model, a mascot, a friend. And none the less humble for it.

If I could stay young forever I would have never left. But that’s the funnier part about schools. Every year you’re teaching another generation, the material hardly advances, but you have to figure out how to improve. Except at the end of the year one group leaves, and so quickly they’re replaced. When I lived in New York, right before I left, way before I knew what teaching was like, I was talking with a roommate who was an associate poetry professor in the upper east side.

“You’ll go on to do great things, man, don’t worry about it,” he told me. This is a guy who only six months before had picked up a guitar and six months later had performed at bars in Williamsburg.

“How do you do it?” I asked. “Every year, teaching a new class, and then forgetting them by the next summer.”

He scratched his head, but answered honestly and unabashed, “You just get used to it. I mean, some students will come back and stick out to you, but you can’t be best friends with them all.”

Even if it’s true, I can’t agree with him. Already I’m forgetting a lot of students names, their faces stick out, but I can’t remember if they graduated last year, or are still studying for the entrance exams. They, like so many people in my life who I’ve been trying not to forget, are moving forward. You don’t get used to it. You just have to accept it.

At least in my new job I don’t have to worry about those things as much. I’ve only been working for three months, and it feels like that only should be an already. On a team of four we’ve completed an anniversary video for the prefecture university, I made ten videos of contestants for (not just beauty) pageant for a magazine, we had a photo-shoot for an eyeglasses commercial, and I’ve had the amazing opportunity to help host a promotional food and culture event in Singapore and Hong Kong (and during the former I literally mean host as an MC). It is the type of job I would look for anywhere, and I got so lucky to find it so quickly and close to the place I’ve already lived an worked.

There are somethings awful to be said about the Japanese workplace, however, they are things I never felt or recognized during my time at school. I’m trying my best not to conform, while at the same time showing my co-workers that I’m contributing. But almost every night when 6:30 comes by it seems like I’m the only one to notice. I’ve already wrapped up my work, started packing, but then feel obliged to stick it out for a little while. Once I leave I still have to make the forty minute drive in increasingly wet weather home. I usually take this time to listen to podcasts, but only that will get me so far. This of course, leaves little time to explore my own hobbies or even rest properly at night before I have to get up and do it again in the morning. Of course, I like waking up later, but the morning commute doesn’t make it much of a difference, and leaves no practical time to run, exercise, or even properly shave like I used to (although the beard is starting to grow on me).

I am really thankful to find this kind of work, but everyday is a different task, and in the end I’m still not quite sure what type of work I’m doing. Am I a producer, a video editor, designer, a photographer, a writer, an illustrator… all are things that I would appeal to do, but I’m worried about developing an expertise. I’ve had the time to get educated, and even to get the base of my experience settled. Now it feels critical to figure out what I want to do, focus on it, and make that into a career.

Recently, I’ve got that opportunity.  I’ve been working on illustrations, and replicating this specific type of style, but in that case it’s the most frustrating thing I’ve had to do in months. In school there were times once or twice a year where we’d have to stay late in order to grade standardized tests. Except there was nothing standardized about the way we graded. In some ways is was a reflection of our own teaching ability. The first time it happened I actually cried after an tense debate(/argument) over one of the smartest answers, too clever it was hard to meet the right criteria (I wrote about that once, but a bit too embarrassed to link to it here). Now it feel like that every day, except the debate is with myself over what I’m going to do and if it’s even within my bounds to accomplish what I want.

One of the wisest men I’ve met once told me near my college graduation that when it comes to your job, whenever you’re asked if you can do something respond: yes.  This is a true philosophy in my life, as there’s almost nothing I’ve had to do that I haven’t been able to learn or problem solve my way out of.

These trials have slowly building up since I left school. I forgot what it was like to be without a job, to be out of money, to start new and be away from friends. I thought it would be good to stay where I’m familiar, instead of jumping completely into a new life. Now everyday I’m away from Tokyo seems like a waste of time. Luckily I have someone there who can also say wise things from time to time: it’s all about perspective, the opportunity that I have now is better than most.

He’s right, and if I really focus, if I don’t doubt myself, then I can do it. Even after 25 years my mom still tells me I can do anything. She’s wrong, but if she can believe, then maybe I can too for a little while. When my frustration came to a head while drawing, while trying to figure out how to paint in this particular style, how to make the shadows overlap and blend so perfectly that the transition between colors is stark but seamless, I took a break, I came back to my standing desk, plugged in Hucci as loud as I could, and figured out the problem.

There are a couple of idioms that keep running through my head lately: make your bed… spilled milk… if wishes were horses. With all the work and a bit of stress through the last month I didn’t really have a time to stop and pay attention to myself. Now that it’s the end of the year, it feel like the natural thing to do. I’m not only asking the questions like where do I want to go, what do I want to be, but I’m finding answers to them. They’re answers that mean tough choices, and risky results, but I’m solid in all of them. I may be stuck now, but it won’t always be that way, and it doesn’t have to be that way. I just have to tell myself I can do it, be thankful for where I am, and blast some dubstep as loud as I can.

 

Election

“Our constitutional democracy demands our participation, not just every four years but all the time. So let’s do all we can to keep advancing the causes and values we all hold dear; making our economy work for everyone not just those at the top, protecting our country and protecting our planet and breaking down all the barriers that hold any American back from achieving their dreams.”

–  Hillary Clinton, November 9th

For about a year I’ve been saying the only reason I have to stay in Japan is a Trump presidency. Since then, I’ve come to find more reasons in my life, but none that seemed to compete so much with that reality. I never considered it seriously, and I never thought I’d have to. I sent in my vote a month ago with a Hillary mark at the top. I’ve been following the election more than I think I ever would’ve in America, and I didn’t think the question was ever “would she win?” but “by how much?”

Then again, I remember having a truculent debate one night in New York almost three years ago after a couple tall boys over how Hillary would never get the presidency. The only thing is I was on the side of the Republicans. Of course, Hillary wouldn’t become president, history would prove that a republican would come after Obama — it’s the ultimate form of our checks and balances.

I really don’t think I would’ve minded a Republican winning this year. I was always more Hillary than Bernie — and than other option — but I wouldn’t see such a dismal future had someone like Rubio, Kasich, or dare I say Bush been elected. The GOP party platform is so far away from aligning with my views of the world, but actual republican systems of smaller local government is something I prefer on most cases. The thing is this time it isn’t a Republican leading the country, and it’s not really a wolf in sheep’s clothing (that title can go to Pence). I feel we’ve elected an entertainer because in the end the American body wants to be entertained. The concepts of efficiency and solving problems have been disregarded for pure showmanship. Wanting to change the system is not a bad thing, but defining it in a vote for a man as crude as Donald Trump might as well be like ordering off the dollar menu at McDonald’s in order to save money.

All day yesterday I tracked the results. Being fifteen hours in the future and a day where all my students had standardized test, I had the convenience of being awake and present for the whole thing. I had multiple websites tabbed up in my browser checking the plots, maps, and down ballot results. I refreshed at least once a minute. I watched as the 538 website varied around 78/24, to the Pennsylvania & Michigan stalemates that brought them to 52/48, and then the plunge as Florida was called and New Hampshire was still undecided. I held out all sorts of hope as her chances reached 15%, readying myself for a Arizona win. And then I finally had class, and went away defeated.

The hardest part was returning to the teacher’s room, and having all my Japanese co-workers ask me for the results. Now, everyone has their own reasons for supporting their candidate, and there are certainly a few valid ones for choosing Trump. But Japanese people (as I suspect most parts of the world outside of Russia) on a whole did not want Trump to win the election. They are worried about what it means for their country. They’re worried about the leadership in their own government, and how American relations could influence the populous into a negative cursory change.They follow this race at the same level I say any reasonable person should. That’s where this result really impacts me.

Every time there’s an election in my life (this would mark the fifth) I hear people saying they want to move to Canada. They say they’re getting out before the place goes to hell. In the end I actually think that’s counterproductive to their cause, and most don’t actually fly north for the four year winter. Except I have the actual excuse of being out of the country. I have to choose now whether I should go back, and I don’t know if I feel safe doing so.

I also think people tend to overestimate the drastic changes that will happen. Remember back when Obama won the first time and everyone (on the winning side at least) had such a feel good outlook that the Bush years would be immediately remedied and systemic inequalities and discrimination would be solved? Or that baffling movie put out by the conservative right that discussed how Obama’s anti-colonialist upbringing would lead to America’s demise by 2016? The thing is both of those outlooks, positive or pessimistic, didn’t really pan out how people expected. Obamacare is getting extreme (or eradicated), as is Syria, and George Bush tried to fix education while isolation the poor, but both of their plans only strained a system that was already running. My point being Trump might be sickening to some and a savior to others, but I’m not completely convinced he’ll be able to do much to the extent of what he says anyway. I still have faith that Paul Ryan is as sane and pragmatic as they come. I believe Hillary and Obama and Bernie and Elizabeth will cultivate support and change on their own. I think the machine that is the American government might need some repairs after four years but it will keep revolving.

So now I’m stuck, having to introduce myself as a Canadian at least for a couple of months, while I decide what to do. Frankly, I’m not comfortable going back to a country that has Donald Trump as president, or a majority that would elect Donald Trump as president. I really wanted to consider going back to America. I’m going to see what happens in the next two months. It could depend if all the global markets compete against the dollar, or if the yen falls into another recession with the lot. It’ll depend on American living and increase in job potential. It might have to depend on what civil rights will be revoked.

Until then, I have the privilege to carry on, worrying about it a little less because I’m in one of the safest places on earth.

To sum it up, or at least to give a little bit of sunshine, I’d like to point to Stephen Colbert’s conclusion to his live show on Election Night. I insist you watch it all the way through. I think his feeling is the most accurate state of America. His rare candor through the whole segment inspires hope that no matter the turmoil of the past months the humanity beneath it all will still be able to laugh together…

Renew

A first impression of this post’s title might be misleading. I should start out by explaining this isn’t the type of renewal that you’ll see on the side of face creams, but instead more like the renew that you’ll inevitably do three times for the library book that you brought home on a whim and will return without ever reading. This renewal is about the start another trimester, the end of summer, and the second year of me being in Japan.

Summer vacation was a bit latent in August, but came on full force with the last week. There were moments in the morning where I realized I was just falling asleep, and moments at night when I wondered if I was just waking up; I saw plenty of fireworks, both in the air and out of my hand; I did my own workouts swimming in the outdoor community pool, and relaxed swimming out into the sea. There were few moments involving alcohol, except for those when I would drink wine and grill on my neighbor’s porch.

067

The real take away came September 1st after missed connections home and a resignation to stay out of America for longer than a year was the new direction I needed to look towards. Mainly, whatever I would be doing after another year. I mean, I’m literally fourteen months and counting living outside of America without ever being back. This is the longest I’ve gone without contact home and sometimes it doesn’t seem more than a blink. Another blink past and I could be leaving this job and in the midst of an unknown.

018.JPG

I think this feeling first came with the end of the summer seminar. It finished, and the next day I woke up wanting to go in and continue working on it. I suddenly had a ton of free time, but wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it. The last time I’d really thought about the future seriously was applying for this current position. Re-contracting came pretty suddenly — without much thought, really, because I knew I was happy enough. But now after an entire year, I feel I’ve finally gone through the whole cycle, I know what’s coming and what to expect.

It really dawned on me after a morning conversation with Stefan, my roommate from college. He’s probably been working since I visited him last year in San Francisco on convincing me to move out there. It doesn’t help that I was already leaning towards the West Coast (Seattle), another friend of ours just moved out there, and most jobs that fit my professional aspirations exist there in some form. After an hour of talking, I kept thinking. My final destination was hardly certain to be San Francisco, but the horizon of the next step seems to approach at a dauntingly steady pace. I’m not quite settled on leaving my job come next year (I still have two months to decide), although, if that happens I don’t want July 2017 to come without any plan or destination.

So I’ve renewed my position. At the same time, everything has changed. The Sports and Culture festivals this year were not nearly as fun as last year and if anything bordered on nostalgic. They also seemed over in a flash. Teaching has been easier to manage, but at the same time I can quickly scrutinize the parts that are wickedly flawed or inefficient. It’s certainly more demanding because a lot more can be expected from me.

168.JPG

 

After the summer respite I really began to look around at what to do next. Or at least try to figure out what I want to do next. I’m so torn between writing and design, and a mix of other things. I kept telling myself if Trump wins the presidency I would be able to narrow down the next step to places outside of the United States, but now it seems like all those options will (thankfully) still be in the mix. Add onto that my friends are currently spread out so far across not only America but even the globe, and I have no clue where I want to end up. Last month I ended up visiting Carmelo, who left the neighborhood for good and moved to Tokyo. I ended up having a fantastic time. I’ll end up writing about it soon, so I won’t go into detail, but Tokyo has ended up towards the top of my options for what’s next. I feel like I’ve started to invest a lot into this country and language that I can’t just give it up now.

At first glance of this post’s title I wonder if you thought it meant the type of renew you use to describe the smell after rain in April when spring flowers are finally blooming. I’m not entirely convinced it’s the type of automatic renewal of your Netflix subscription you never think about but still exists there on the credit card statement you never see because you do all your banking online. Maybe it’s more like the renewing $10 I give each month to Minnesota Public Radio. It’s not something I feel bad about doing, and I’ll definitely continue supporting the cause, but when I leave, the system won’t fall apart and I’ll still contribute to the connections every now and then.

I guess this is just a mid-millennial crisis way of pondering: what the hell am I doing with my life? For now I’m here, and I’m content, but an impermanence that has always been present is finally speaking up to ask: what next?

 

Nagoya

The title of this post is a bit misleading because even though I’ve been in the city a night and a day, the reality is I’ve hardly experienced or even seen any of it. Remember the rain Friday night delayed my arrival and any chances of going out, and the entirety of my Saturday was spent at an event center full of folding chairs and two thousand men.

Thus, it comes down to Saturday night. Blake drove me back downtown closer to midnight than I was expecting, and I met some of the other ALTs he traveled with at his hotel. I half considered crashing on his floor, but I wasn’t quite sure what my plans were for Sunday (if I’d go back to the tournament) so in order to avoid being a hindrance I headed back into the night. I didn’t have much of a plan or clue on what to do. Luckily I’d charged my phone in his hotel so my GPS was useable, and of course, this was far from my first time wandering in a big city. Very much like my time over Silver Week in Tokyo, I headed first to find a place to stay at one of the elusive capsule hotels.

I say elusive because really, even when they’re on a map, they’re hard to find. Like most cities in Japan the shops are built vertical. You’ve got to constantly glance up at the unreadable signs to make sure you don’t miss anything. Even when you have a map, the shop or place you’re looking for could be on the third or sixth floor and you can easily miss it. For foreigners I’ve found this to be one of the biggest problems in enjoying time out.

I reached the first capsule hotel quite easily, but tentatively walked in after passing a chalkboard sign that I was quite certain read “no vacancy.” The small lobby was brightly lit and pretty extravagant for a capsule hotel so when I reached the desk my suspicions were confirmed.

Wanting to conserve my phone battery I asked the woman behind the desk if she knew where else another hotel might be and she pulled out a mapped and started circling a couple places. “But… probably, they’re all full,” she said in polite Japanese. I knew the probably was unnecessary. Still, lugging around a bag and tote full of clothes, cards, and camera finding a place for it all was the only mission I had.

Somehow I made it to the heart of the downtown nightlife, to a district that used the kanji for princess in its name. As I approached I was a bit surprised by all the light and sound, and even amount of people still strolling the street. Most of them were drunk, in some pretty risque fashion for January, and I was wondering if my second plan of going out would be too late. In general I think Japan’s nightlife starts early ends early, or else goes all night, without much in between. The fact that most metro systems stop around midnight probably contributes to that lifestyle. It can be a hassle, but also a pretty brilliant way to encourage both responsibility and indulgence.

Anyway, these are the things I wondered about as I wandered clearly not going anywhere specific and without many options. This was becoming less like Silver Week where I had four hotels before I could find a room, and more like my first night in New York where I spent most of the night exploiting the subway system.

Maybe that’s what led me to find the post office that was still miraculously and a bit strangely open even after midnight. When in doubt you can always count on government services (I do pay Japanese taxes, after all). So, walking on set to what seemed like a Stanley Kubrick movie, I sat down at one of the open tables and unfurled. It was a small area, more like a lobby, with an alcove of metal P.O. boxes and an escalator that was turned off. I sidled against a column and stretched out my legs hoping to be as discreet as possible.

There was a sole open post counter framed between the P.O. showing a slice of the ghoulish fluorescent office behind. Occasionally there would be a shuffle or loud mechanic noise, but for the most part it was subdued. For a while, except then someone came in from the dark and went to the counter. A woman appeared and they exchanged some words and then both vanished again. The threat level of my scene was diminished (no lurking anomalies to worry about as long as the worker was around), though now my film seemed more like a David Lynch feature. Again a man came in carrying a big cardboard box of what looked to be the latest sell off Amazon or eBay; an older woman purchased stamps and sat down at the table across from me to glue them each to a stack of envelopes; a slew of other people for whatever reason decided to make it to the post office at two in the morning to deliver their letters.

Eventually the strangeness was upon me, and not willing to commit to sleeping there I wrapped up my stuff and headed back into the night. I followed my phone in search of a net cafe, but had no certainty about the turns I was making. Somehow I wound up around Osu, a huge covered intersection of streets flooded with shops and arcades and hobby stores. It’s also referred to as Kamimaezu which sounds a lot like it translates into “Maze of the Gods.” At this point the streets were vacant and I felt like I’d entered Twin Peak’s red room. The paint off the wall literally gave everything a rose hue, and as I kept walking I wondered if I’d ever find my way back to the street. It’s hard to believe I could just stumble into such a place without realizing it, but it also seemed like a good reason to stick around and explore that part of the city in the morning.

I made it to the net cafe (open 24 hours of course), emerging back to the midnight blue streets. I went inside, but even as I walked down the stairs to enter  I was calculating the amount of money it would set me back. Even if I only stayed for the five hour minimum, I’m not sure I’d feel any better. My leniency while shopping at Costco the weekend before was coming back to haunt me. After looking at the nonsense paperwork I’d have to fill out just to get a membership card I exhausted said no thanks. Back on the sidewalk, now facing the way I’d come, I saw my respite.

Like some sort of mirage in a Vegas desert, illuminating the hollow street in yellow light was a great big sign with retro style font reading in plain English: Denny’s. If I’d cared to wonder why on earth there was a Denny’s in Japan, it came second to me being thankful that even in a foreign country  some habits never change. It’d been a while since I’d been for breakfast so late at night — if only Nico were around — and although I was guaranteed this wouldn’t be as good as the hash browns in Fargo I’d had a week before I left the states, after forgoing a proper lunch and dinner it seemed like breakfast in order.

The place was doing a decent amount of business which a strange crowd. Groups and couples of all ages who’d mostly looked liked they’d left the nightclub, but I even saw some people playing Magic. Had it not been for the lack of sleep and probable body odor I would’ve attempted to join them, though, at that moment I could barely focus on anything other than ordering.

I got a set with tea. The first plate was a salad dressed in fruit, followed by a hamburger patty drizzled in sauce with both fries and rice. The cap was a dish of ice cream with strawberries, whipped cream,  bananas, and chocolate sauce. It revitalized me a bit, or at least made the night worth it. Not as good as the Perkins I was expecting, but fine for a close substitute for home.

Really, in the corner of the restaurant I was in, I doubt it would’ve been a problem if I’d just laid out in the booth and passed out there, but being the civilized young man I am I headed back to the Post Office to finish out the hours before sunrise.

This time even the P.O. window was closed, though, that didn’t stop people from coming in. I didn’t really fall asleep, or maybe I did. I wasn’t exactly tired throughout any of the night. Luckily the stamina from cross country running can be used in many ways. I think I just tried to preserve any amount of brain power I had. Being in Japan helps, too, because I didn’t really have to worry about any mess of problems I could encounter in America (but even those are mostly irrational).

320

In the early light of the morning I went back on the street. With the disheartening realization that most of the shops would still take two to three hours before they would be open, I headed into a coffee shop that is supposedly famous in Nagoya. There I recuperated the rest of the night and tried to make my day’s decision. I looked through the program from yesterday’s tournament and found the list of side events. In poor translation I figured out another mysterious game titled “Super Sunday Melee” with a couple of rules in bulletins I couldn’t quite understand. The sign-up started at nine, which was still before the rest of my days was planned to begin. Really, I’d come to Nagoya to play Magic so I figured I might as well do just that. When I want to enjoy the city I’ll come back and do it with proper planning.

When I got back to the convention center I was fully awake. I signed up for the tournament and even got to see the Day 2 main event start. After last night, I’m a bit relieved I didn’t have to go through another nine rounds today, but it also gives me something to work for. There’s another tournament in Tokyo over Golden Week and then in Kyoto in the fall. What was the most impressive was being able to see some of the well known pro-players. Especially this guy named Yuya Watanabe who’s one of the greatest currently competing.

314

The game that I was joining in was the most bizarre format that I’ve participated, and it will probably remain that way for a while. At the last moment I had to rush and get a playmat because it was a requirement to play. They setup everyone at a long row of tables and handed out masks to every eighth player or so. In total there were over thirty people, and among my crowd I was definitely the only English speaker. Like the day before we were given six packs to make a new deck, but this time we would be competing with the people on either side of us. When someone lost, then they’d leave the spot and everyone would squish together — hence the melee. The catch is you could only play offense toward the person on your left, defend against the person on your right, while targeting both of them with other effects.

322

There’s a format called EDH/Commander, which is touted as one of the more socially enjoyable ways to play. I imagine this was like that on steroids, but was actually some of the most fun I’ve had playing the game. It was just ridiculous to have to worry about if the guy six seats down from you had just hit ultimate on Kiora while encouraging the guy you’re supposed to attack in the future to attack the guy on his left. The masks were used as place-markers and being required to use them only forced the silliness that much. (Don’t worry, they were worn like hats instead of actual masks, no fear of the flu, maybe just lice.)

I lost just about the time one of the guys I’d driven with came and found me. Surprisingly he also had a bundle of packs in his arms he said he’d won from other side events. Seemed like I’d been playing the wrong games, since I’d won nothing but the belittlement of Japanese players much more intense than I.

I guess there’s not much more to this story than to say I also lost my backpack. Well, at least that’s kind of what everyone seemed to assume when I said someone took my backpack. I caught it when I was starting the melee and looked under my chair to find it vanished. Quite impressively too since it had my rain jacket, yesterday’s clothes, my lucky shirt, iPad, headphones, DSLR camera… Like me alone lugging it around was a feat, but to make off with it unnoticed is skill. I told a judge, who got event staff, and I went to lost and found, I backtracked everything, and despite everyone else’s disbelief I was certain it was gone because of someone else’s accord. I mean, yes, in Japan crime rates are lower, but not invisible, and at an international event like that with so many temporary people it’s not hard to believe. I definitely was a bit too lax about it, too, with too much trust in the system. Perhaps my best and worst quality is my faith in the “it can’t be helped” mentality, and when I started the melee I tried not to let it wreck my experience.

Honestly, though, the most annoying point was seemingly everyone putting the fault on me. Even when I searched out among my coworkers the word for stolen in Japanese no one seemed to believe that I hadn’t just lost it. Yes, plenty of fault on me for not keeping it connected to me at all times, but I mean clearly I hadn’t lost it right? I was starting to even doubt myself.


My vindication came almost two weeks later when my school got a call from the local bank. My adviser told me the police had found my backpack outside a train station, and found my bankbook (which only works in Fukui and can’t withdraw cash anyway) that has my name on it. Afterward the bank called the school, and we called the station.

I stood dreadfully trying to listen in as I asked my adviser to ask them what else they found.

“Oh, a jacket,” he translated. “And headphones.”

“What about a camera?”

“A tablet.”

He asked about the camera.

“No, no camera.”

Exhale. Damn. Strange and impractical and thankful, only one thing, but also the most expensive to replace by far. At least I’ve got my lucky t-shirt. I suppose this makes it even luckier.

They were even able to mail everything back to my apartment instead of me having to go back there just for it. Still my only backpack and rain jacket (hauled through Thailand and New York), and it was a pretty big hassle to go without them — especially now that winter is ending and spring is starting.

So, yeah, another trip outside the safety of Fukui complete and when all is said pretty successful. My faith in the system is restored, my acceptance of my nerdy habits is complete, and my ability to travel alone became a bit stronger. Although, being the beginning of the month, I really didn’t budget very well, and it became a bit of a problem stretching out what cash I had left before the next paycheck so I don’t know how soon it will be before I get off on another adventure. Spring break is still a month away.

 

Play

What a ridiculous past week it’s been. I don’t even know where to begin. Let’s just say it started out great. I came back to camp all riled up and ready to go. We had half days at school on Thursday and Friday and our supervisor took Coral and me to Nitori (which is basically Japanese for Ikea), and I loaded up on a lot of things for my apartment. In the end I budgeted ¥40,000 and spent ¥39,200 which worked out perfect. Although, that night I started going through everything I had and organizing it all, and sadly once I got it all into place I really was sort of back to square one with an empty apartment. Basically everything I’d gotten just when into a closet of some sort. I still don’t have a refrigerator, couch, any sort of table or chair to sit and work at. In fact, the only necessity I purchased (which did end up making up half the budget) was a bed and sheets. But even then, I only got a futon that goes on the floor and can fold up and get placed in my closet. (It’s a surprisingly comfortable bed for it’s design, but that’s beside the point). I’m definitely getting cabin fever over the lack of anything to do in my apartment, and if it weren’t for the view I think I would really consider trying to move.

IMG_2074But as far as views go, this one’s hard to beat. The sun sets pretty quickly, but if you watch it just right the amount of colors in the sky are spectacular. So I’m happy with or without the amenities. Like all things that are slowly applying to my life: once I get paid, I’ll be much better off. Especially after this weekend.

Throughout this week I’d been talking with another ALT named Carmelo about going to a beach in Kanazawa for the weekend. Carmelo is on his second year and it seems is always in the know about the best places to be. Such it seems was this weekend. Him, another new ALT, and I left a little past noon on Saturday for the three hour drive to the northern beach in the Ishikawa prefecture. Along the way we swapped cars and met a Japanese friend of Carmelo’s who’d drive the two hours from Fukui city.

IMG_1794

I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, but as soon as we arrived at the beach I new it was going to be a whole different experience. The view from where we parked the car was pretty awesome, but from the moment I stepped out I was blasted with the bass of house and dance music. It was so strange to have this scene and the middle of the day cut by what you’d typically hear in a club in Roppongi, but hey, it was already three o’clock. The place was a bit peculiar, but would only increase in population and fanfare as the night set in. For a while we avoided the dance floor, instead setting our things down, making a toast, and heading toward the beach.

IMG_1796

IMG_1798

I think there’s a joke that could be made about how an African-American, Russian-American, and Mexican-American all go to a Japan beach, but I’ll just skip over it for PC sake. Because the Ocean, man, the ocean. It’s been a couple of summers since I’d been in one, but that was nothing like this. The water was perfect, fairly clear, and a pleasant temperature. The waves were just large enough to lap over you, but not strong enough to knock you over. We all split up and started to talk to whoever we could (read: women). It’s funny how easy it is to approach strangers here, I mean, I still think there may be the idea of “stranger danger” that we use in America, but for me it’s like obviously I’m a foreigner, so obviously I must be a n00b and probably non-threatening.

Apart from a beer in the car (because yeah, that’s legal here), and a couple of swigs before our toast, for the rest of the night I don’t think I had any alcohol, which considering how giddy I was is pretty surprising. Once we left the ocean, plenty of people had gathered back at the stage, and they were rounding off sets of using the foam machine. At first the four of us mostly stood back and watched, but eventually (maybe once we saw how everyone else did it) we joined in the fray. One of us even got up on stage (though, he was quickly brought off). So I guess, drenched in foam, pumping my first in the air, and bouncing up in a down, in the center of a crowd singing BigBang’s “Wow, fantastic baby,” I should’ve expected something wrong to happen.

And it was then, while my feet were sloshing in the foam soaked sand, sinking even further with every up and down, that I felt the simple slide across the bottom of my foot of something that shouldn’t have been. Through the adrenaline it took me another jump before I decided to reach down and feel the arch of my left for assurance. When I brought my hand back my fingers were splashed with blood barely visible in the laser and torch lights. It’s sad how sober I can become in situations like that. Not even panicked or frustrated, just efficient. Knowing that I was standing in a vat of sand and soap and sweat, with god knows whatever sort of rust and diseased covered sharp object sliced through my foot, I snaked my way through the crowd, already beginning the limp, to head to the restroom.

Once I was there (literally a shack with a tiny flap over the open doorway with the kanji for man on it) it’s amusing how quickly things went into action. Outside I passed a couple of girls waiting for the women’s stalls to be open, but once they saw me limp they rushed into the men’s toilet with me. Both clad in bikinis, one held my shoulders while the other grabbed my foot and brought it up to the sink to begin flapping it with water. It seems, or at least in my mind, that this was also the time all the men decided to take a leak because I swear at least eight more guys entered the room in the next five seconds. Some stared, some went about their business, but eventually I had to escape (even though the one was still splashing water on my still bleeding foot) and I hobbled outside to a barstool.

I got some weird looks. People asking me “daijyobu?‘ and a lot of whispering. I defiantly smiled back wearing nothing but short plaid swim trunks, while cursing my bad luck. I think at that point I knew I’d need stitches, but I didn’t really have a choice in the matter of getting them since none of us would’ve know where the nearby emergency room was (let alone, I don’t even know what type of operating hours emergency rooms might have out here). Instead I eventually waddled back to the ocean, a plenty distance away, thinking that salt water was probably the best option I had in making sure my new wound wouldn’t get infected.

The water was still impressively warm, and I waded in to my waist and stayed there for a while. Even in the darkness, with hardly any stars, I could hear people out there, see some silhouettes on the beach, and the occasional flash of fireworks. It was truly an OK situation for me, and even with the cost, I’m glad I broke away from the flash of the foam party to experience it. By this point it wasn’t even midnight, and I still had a long night ahead of me. I hobbled back to the main part of the beach and fell into one of the hammocks that were placed up by the stage. At least I wasn’t the first who’d be passing out.

I woke up over two hours later, and went to check and see if the car was still there. From the hammock I’d tried to keep an eye out for the guys I was with, but eventually I dozed up. Luckily I caught them as they were on their way back from the car to do one final sweep for me. We got in an cruised the ride back, stopping once at a Seven-Eleven and momentarily conversing with the odd crowd that frequents a conbini at three in the morning.

When we got back to the apartment complex, I knew (from the oozing redness around the crusted blood) that I’d have to go into the hospital. But at that point I told them to get some sleep and Carmelo offered to take me to get my foot checked whenever I woke up. It was five in the morning, and all I could do when I stumbled up the stairs and into the apartment was stick my foot into yet another sink and try to wash all the rest of the crud off. I stuck a sock on it so it wouldn’t bleed all over my new sheets, and went to sleep for as long as I could.

I woke up five hours later, and thankfully Carmelo had just woken up as well. We drove to the hospital and I hopped in while he parked. Now, I think my three years of Japanese classes will get me through most day to day situations I’ll encounter here, but visiting a hospital was definitely not something I’d studied for. Luckily my ailment was external and so all I had to do when I approached the receptionist was point to the bottom of my foot. She got me situated and after enough repeated successfully determined that I’d probably cut it on a can, I’d washed it several times, and had no allergies to any medicine. When we got to that last point it really hit me how screwed I was for not knowing how to communicate. Like, luckily I’ve been healthy enough not to have any lasting concerns, but if I did how the hell would I know how and when to tell them.

Inside the (for lack of a better word, or maybe it’s the right word anyway) operating room, I met the doctor. There were at least five nurses all dressed in scrubs, and my doctor is sitting at a desk wearing a moss colored t-shirt tucked into blue jeans. I mean, I know it was Sunday, but still it took me off guard. They quickly laid me down on my stomach and the doctor said the word “painkiller” in English. Thank god the cut was on my foot, because I looked back enough to see him pull out a needle and then didn’t look again. The painkiller was the worst part, though, as he had to poke me several times around the cut. “Painkiller is the worst part,” he said, again in English. I got a couple more “daijyobu”s from the nurses before they went to work. It was actually quite an easy process, and despite the anxiety, didn’t hurt at all. On the way to the hospital actually I kept thinking I would vomit from the pain, but once my foot went numb I felt normal again.

In the end I got “seven stitches” again in English, “it’s a lot, no?” The hardest part was probably what came after. I got handed a couple of sheets and figured out that they wanted me to come back in the morning to get it changed again. I also had to pay in full since my health insurance hasn’t kicked in yet. It’s shit like this that we need Obamacare for. After paying for the apartment, amenities, food, I had to give in all the cash I had left on me. In US dollars it only equated to about $200, but that was the money that was supposed to last me through the next two weeks. After I paid they directed me to the pharmacy to pick up medication. That has got to be the most confusing conversation I’ve ever had in Japanese. The pharmacist just wouldn’t slow down using his Japanese and if I didn’t know the words “hitotsu” and “hirugohan, bangohan, asagohan” (otherwise no Japnese language) I probably could’ve just packed up and hoped they didn’t have to amputate after an infection. But hey, I was fixed up, the painkillers were still working (and when they stopped, I would know), and I had gotten over the first real life crisis of my time in Japan. All that, and I’d only been here two weeks to the day.