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.

Overtime

If you’ve questioned my existence in the past couple of months, don’t worry, I’m right there with you. Truth is I’ve got a backlog of drafts to posts because I have been doing a decent amount of adventuring. On top of that, however, I’ve also been working. Really, at this point it’s hardly working and more like living. And although for the longest while it was mostly like riding a storm, I think there’s finally a rainbow in the sky.

For the past 19 days I’ve gone into work. It started on June 6, a Monday, but an unusual Monday because I actually technically had the day off. The previous Friday all the students had gone either Kyoto, Tokyo, or a campground for school trips (while me, my co-American, the secretary, and vice principal were stuck all day in the school’s teacher’s office), and since the trip would overlap into Saturday, we got the consecutive school day off. I thought I’d go in to work on the blank bulletin board outside our language room. I did actually pump out a couple of posters (grammar mistakes aside), but I also signed on for a much bigger project.

As part of my job requirement, during the summer I’m put into two English day camps. Last summer my experience with these were mixed, by the end of the day I was comfortably enjoying my time, but completely exhausted and not at all thrilled at spending half the day sweating in a humid gym full of teenagers. Turns out this summer there was even more to dislike. One of the English teachers at my school had been designated as director of this year’s camp, which handles the duty of going organizing materials and meetings. I suspect this is usually an easy process of distributing the materials from last year, tweaking the cover page, and the endless supply of typos. In fact, going over a binder that was passed down to me from the lead ALT from last year I found out that in the past 7 years nothing has changed. From the crappy WordArt text to the even worse and borderline racist/sexist clipart, it seems the only thing that had been shuffled around were some of the games for one of the workshop. So really, the collective of schools coming to this meeting each just had to approve this ancient text of DIY 90s design and be on our merry way.

However, there’s a flaw in this design because although the Japanese teachers a liable for the camp, they rely almost solely on the dozen or so ALTs to take charge of the groups, motivate the activities, and make the day a success. The fact that we ALTs are almost entirely not of Japanese culture and thus don’t accord to Japanese bureaucracy also means we don’t sit idly. As an American I tend to question everything, and as a person I’m typically the worst when it comes to agreeing with anything neutral. So, hardly flipping through the poorly contrasted pages of this mono-colored document I knew this year would be different. Even outside of the fact that I’m a control freak who doesn’t work well with others, this f-ing camp hasn’t been changed in SEVEN years! On top of that, each year there are pages of feedback precisely listed out for each moment of the camp. It’s like they looked at it, nodded a bit, and said whelp we’ve already got the material so no need to change it.

Now, I’ll take a breath and admit to being a bit crass. These camps are always extra work for teachers who are already working enough, and I can see the full reason why they would just want to get it over with. Especially since ALTs are typically not expected to do any work with the planning of the camp. But really to think that over the past decade no one has been capable to come up with some improvements or just try something new seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to step in. Here’s where I’m also really glad that I’m so chill with my English teachers. They don’t have a problem asking for my assistance or advice, or the way I want to be involved with the school just like every other teacher. So on that Monday afternoon when I was at school even though I didn’t need to be (with practically half the other teachers) and I turned to my neighboring English teacher poured over papers on his desk like he was filing taxes to ask “What’re you working on?” his short reply of “Oh, just the summer seminar.” got me wrapped up in this biz that I’ve only temporarily levied.

Usually I make it to at 7:15, not the first person but usually in the first crowd. I need this time to unwind. At the start of spring I actually was the first person to arrive, overestimating my biking time, and just hung out on the grounds watching the sunrise until someone else arrived and unlocked the doors. This behavior wasn’t planned entirely. I’d just slowly gotten in the habit at going to bed at 9 o’clock, and as a result left me waking up at 5 the next morning. Eventually I started naturally moving the time even earlier, and instead of being cooped in a small apartment decided I needed to just start the day. For a while I was running, until one time I went a mile into a run and got soaked in the heaviest torrent of biting rain I’d least expected. When I made it home three miles later I found my kitchen turned into a pool and my mattress was a sponge. I rushed to shut the windows and whipped out my space heater and recently acquired fan while draping bed-sheets and towels across desktops and counter-space.

I’d finally nailed the average of waking up, making scrambled eggs while listening to MPR/All Things Considered, showering and shaving, making a PBJ sandwich, dressing, and eating said sandwich, heading out the door, and arriving to school at just the right time. From there I’ll pull up three tabs on my computer: WaniKani for quick studying, Lifehacker for general well-being, and Bloomberg currency rates to see just exactly how much (until recently) I’ll suffer when I send money home. Then we have a morning chat for about twenty minutes.Each morning one class gets split into ten groups of three students to talk with me or my co-ALT. Usually it’s great, but it’s quite monotonous and if I’m unlucky the three minutes we talk will be a grueling roll of fishing for answers. Hopefully when the first bell rings, I’m not going to class, and if I am I only pray I don’t have class back to back. Any planned class activities or even periods are regularly changed which leaves me with a heap of last moment adjustments and worksheet creations. If my version of Microsoft Office wasn’t entirely in Japanese, I would be a pro by now.

At 3:30 there’s a bit of respite: fifteen minutes for mokudou, a traditional style of of the regular “cleaning time” ripped from zen monasteries where the students wipe down the floors and walls of school silently. It’s a brief relief since after that and a sort of cool down meeting they all zip off to their club activities and I gather with the track team outside the school. That practice usually lasts over two hours, yet we still only manage to run between 5 to 7 miles every day. I forgot how easy I used to have it with running. Our fastest guy can run a 4:30 1500m but most of them are struggling to break 5.

At least when it wasn’t June, now would be the time I go home. Actually, I’d rally a bit of studying in, mope around on Flipboard to figure out what global events I’ve missed out on, stop by the grocery store and then make it home around 7. Lately I’d gotten into watching Japanese anime (as “listening practice” for my upcoming test) while waiting for the next season of Mr. Robot to come out, but I’d also been trying to sit down and make sure I write for at least an hour each day. Well, that was before I signed on for this summer camp.

Every night for a week I stayed past 10 o’clock, and always left earlier than at least one of my co-workers. Then the following Saturday after an awesome start to the day with track practice — something I’ll write about later — I wound up staying at school until 11 o’clock. For the next week that became my new norm, but I didn’t exactly mind. I found out a lot more about some of my co-workers who’d go in and out throughout the night. A majority of nights someone brought in ice cream treats or snacks from the nearest conbini, and over such a span the workload became manageable. Except that was for me, the boy who started packing his dinners, got to exercise halfway through the day, and didn’t really have any responsibilities waiting at home. I figured I’d really be wasting my time watching TV shows anyway, so I might as well stay and be productive. Most of my co-workers, though, have lives. This is especially true of the English teacher leading the seminar (the same free spirit that took me surfing in January). He has two young boys at home and can hardly get the chance to see them before they go to bed at night any given week day. Apart from last Tuesday, the final marathon where we both were the last to leave a few minutes after midnight, I’ve never seen him leave school before me. That is the aforementioned bureaucracy I’m trying to combat. The mindset of overworking is embedded in almost all job I’ve come across in Japan, but that is especially true of Junior High School teachers. They act like surrogate parents, but to the extreme that they are more responsible for a lot of things the students do. So they stay at school and work because working from home is still a milestone many parts in Japan have yet to reach. It’s actually such a problem that the prime minister is rapidly working to change the culture. My guess is he hopes if more people can go home early then maybe more people will start having babies and solve the current population conundrum between the generations.

But, it’s really easy to fall into. Without really meaning to I just fell into the system. I’ve had Rhinna’s “Work” running through my head for the past week, and it’s sort of a sadistic meditation. I was averaging 12 hour days, seven days a week and thinking that finally I would make a permanent change.

And then we had a meeting for the summer seminar.

As I mentioned, it’s rare that ALTs have any part in the planning of the seminar and so showing up to the meeting was probably an uncomfortable surprise for the other teachers. I remember in high school and college hearing the foreign language teachers talk together in non-English while going down the halls and thinking how awesome they were. Here those instances are fewer. Of course, whenever one of the ALTs are around at my school all the teachers are well equipped to discuss in English, but I feel like the majority default to Japanese. So the meeting went, with awkward exchanges as some of the teachers tried to encourage the use of only English, and other stuck strictly to Japanese. I get how intimidating it can be to sit in a room with an official meeting of important things surrounded by your peers who can immediately judge your skill by comparing it to their own, but both me and the other ALT at my school (both far below the level of Japanese used here) were present so the lack of any effort was a bit annoying.

Even more annoying was the inevitable fact that I didn’t want to back down from any of my ideas. I was extremely dismayed and bolstered at the shudder that went through the meeting room at the mention of change. Sure, I was biased toward my ideas, but some of the members were also biased against them. The part of the camp I was most critical towards was a moment were the students “travel the globe” and learn about other cultures. On the surface it’s not the worst idea, except this year 7.5 of the eight ALTs who can help with preparation are white Americans (myself included), while the remaining Jamaican — upon finding out she’d have to talk about her country’s culture — replied, “Oh, please don’t make me do that.” So the deepest concern is accurate representation. Especially from the current climate of American cultural politics ethnic stereotypes are something to avoid at all cost. When you combine that with a group of people who freely left their country for more than a year and add in the already abstruse diversity of American culture it’s really hard to figure out where to start.

In the end, the duel was worth more than the victory. I learned a lot about forming a compromise, how I could’ve approached my ideas more effectively, and accepting that maybe my ideas weren’t all that anyway. We did end up changing all the games to well rounded activities that focus on spontaneous uses of English in a group dynamic, and gave the student more freedom in creatively forming original ideas for a skit at the end. The cultural aspect remains, but I’ve given into an over-representation of part of my heritage can still be done respectably. I still have doubts about if teenagers from a country who’s 98.5% homogenized ethnicity can really grasp the fact that I’m Irish-Swedish-African-Native-American-and-some-big-unknown, but it helps that my area has a decent minority of Brazilian and Asian immigrants and even a few random ex-pats from Her Majesty’s colonies. If I really wanted to get into I’d point out how even that raises a problem because so often assumptions are made towards any given class of students as being entirely Japanese (like, “Let’s find out about another country’s culture.”), which even further alienates the ethnically mixed Filipino and Thai students in the bunch.

That meeting was the straw. Over the next week I amended the changes being made and my co-American ALT (who’d been gone over the weekends to meet her friends visiting from America) finally snapped me back to reality with a poignant, “Go home, man.” It was a bit of fun taking on the role of a true Japanese salariman, but also deeply disturbing that a significant portion of people live that way. Sure, I don’t really have any responsibilities in my life apart from work, but I certainly have better things to do.


So, with that I’m back. At least for now. I do have a couple of posts just waiting to be updated, and in the next couple of days I’m being visited by a friend from America and taking my first vacation days in order to show him around Kyoto and Osaka. If you’ll remember I foolishly let my camera get stolen which is why lately the posts are lacking in photos, but I’ll make a point of snapping some memories from now on. You still have yet to see my new haircut. Also I moved. Come to think of it, a lot has happened before I started this working streak. Look forward to it.

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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Recuperate

This weekend was absolutely indescribable. So much money spent, so many freshman mistakes. I can only be glad the ceremony and party was on Friday so I had both Saturday and Sunday to recover. First, the ceremony had all the pomp and circumstance that I went out and finally bought my first pair of dress shoes since the winter formal of my sophomore year in high school. Another couple of expenses for cool biz apparel and factoring the party for the night and I’d already broken in an eighth of my paycheck. Needless to say we’ll gloss over the night I don’t remember (apart from the two Japanese women who gratefully drove me home from a piece of torn off paper Emer had given me with her address on it).

The next morning was fantastically (and deservedly) cruel.

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It took us all a little while to get moving, the picture was taken at 1:00, but for me it was especially tough. We had an exquisite breakfast made by Emer and Ashleigh which I got to participate in towards the end. In the late afternoon we finally accomplished our goal of leaving the apartment and starting the day. We went to a bunch of stores to deplete our paycheck even more, but I was a little more stingy (with the aid of a kei car full of people and luggage). We went out to dinner after the errands and I finally felt lively, I was disappointed that I was finally coming to. As Atmosphere raps, “mad that I gave half the day to last night.”

Sunday I did little to nothing, except for visiting the dollar store and finally buying some essentials for the house (all but a refrigerator) and finally placed the order of my Amazon wishlist consisting mostly of American amenities and above all a nice pair of headphones. I don’t know if I mentioned that I left mine at home (like, didn’t even bring them to the airport), but it’s really had a subtle impact on my overall emotional state to the point that every time I get in a car with radio I can feel myself becoming more calm. It’s kind of like peanut butter, too. Magically, in this backwards land that has yet to discover peanut butter, Emer was able to find the smallest of jars at God knows what supermarket and shared more than a spoonful with me. You really don’t know what types of things you miss until you realize they’ve been missing from your life, and apparently peanut butter holds a huge place in my diet.

One thing I don’t miss about my Midwest of America is the overall lack of bugs. I didn’t ever think I’d say this, and actually it’s not true, but really the mosquito isn’t so bad compared to the excess of spiders, dragonflies, cockroaches, and various other creeps. For instance, this gal who just decided to post up outside my doorstep.

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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.

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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.

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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.