We're heading out today, back to the bosom of NY for 3 weeks.
After 6 months in Japan, and more recently, one week in Tokyo, I wonder how the chaotic filth and wonder of there (NY) will stack up against the chaotic wonder and cleanliness of here. When we were living there and would return from vacations or just time away, I would always welcome the squalid glamour of the place with a kind of wistfull, melancholic glee (if that makes any sense). Or, alternatively, a kind of hardned, ironic pleasure in taking in a big lungfull of the stink and letting the waves of stress wash back over me like embracing some crazy, sexy, fucked up girl friend. Well, I guess we'll just see....
One thing's for sure though, we're gonna stuff ourselves like pigs.
There's been a story all over the news here lately about some crazy lady in Nara who had been terrorizing her neighbors for the past 10 years (!) with shouted obscenities, loud music 24 hours a day, tearing around the 'hood in her car honking the horn and beating her futon clean over the balcony at the ungodly hour of 6:30 a.m. In fact the whole thing started when a neighborhood asked her if she could clean her futon at a more reasonable hour. Apparently this was enough provocation to set her off on a ten year bender.
Clearly this was a woman consumed by rage and in need of a hobby, and antagonizing her neighbors was just the thing. The astounding thing about all this is that there are no laws in Japan to restrict this kind of behavior. I guess it's just doesn't happen enough to warrant implementation. The only recourse the aggrieved neighbors had was to sue the beast for emotional damages and when she refused to both stop and pay up, the cops hauled her away. Why it took the neighbors 10 years to work up the nerve to take action amazes me, but it speaks to the whole non-confrontational nature of Japanese social behavior.
But the thing I find most charming about this little tale, is that the music the crazy lady chose to terrorize her neighbors with for 10 years was a mix of Beyoncé, Maria Carey, Whitney Houston, Usher, etc. All you're basic smooth R&B, Diva stuff.... the kind of stuff that really sets my teeth on edge. Guess the crazy lady wasn't so crazy after all.
I came across this while going through my iPhoto albums. I had forgotten about this... but when our friend David came to visit us a few weeks back we went out for some local (very local) fare. What you see before you is a bowl of baby bees. Yes, baby bees, not Klingon food.
Not so bad really. Kind of tasted like chicken. I swear.
*rimshot please*.... it's sakura or cherry blossom viewing season. So the flipside to yesterday's dire post about out-of-control cedar trees spraying out cubic tons of allergic pollen in a reproductive frenzy, is that the same wild urges bring forth the pink tinted pleasures of hanami. And the Japanese know how to appreciate it; it's practically a national holiday. The daily newscasts track the progression of the blooms as they travel with the warming weather, starting from down south in Kyushu and sweeping northwards through Honshu (the island where Tokyo is located... Japan is made up of 4 big islands, Kyushu, Honshu, Shikoku and Hokkaido).
We're heading down to Tokyo in a few days to start the beginning of our trip back to NYC. A week in Tokyo, then a week with the folks back in Upstate NY, then 2 weeks down in NYC proper. When we're in Tokyo I'm hoping we can celebrate hanami in the time honored Japanese tradition of heading to the nearest park, spreading out a blanket under the blooms and then proceeding to crack open can after can of Kirin lager. Because another great Japanese tradition is to get totally faced while appreciating the subtle charms of spreading petals. And I can totally get down with that.
There seems to live in the common imagination of the West a version of the East, and more specifically Japan, that co-exists in Total Harmony with Nature. Some fuzzy headed notion of an innate mystical insight into the Force or New Agey "higher meaning" or any other Buddhism Lite concept.
Questionable mystical beliefs aside however, the Japanese do seem to have a greater appreciation of the rhythms of nature. I mean there are actual seasons here and not just the common variety of 4. Food follows the seasons. There are actual times when you CAN'T get any fruit or vegetable you want. Sorry, but you can't have strawberries in the middle of winter. I actually like this better than the 24/7/365 nature of food shopping back in the States, where anything can be delivered via deep freeze anytime, anywhere. It seems more real here, more in tune with the yearly cycle to be restricted in your choice of fresh produce by how your particular patch of Earth is spinning, just then, in relation to the sun. Every seasonal reappearance of your favorite fruit or vegetable is a cause for minor celebration.
Now it could be this way for a variety of reasons, one being that the Japanese only relatively recently (past 150 years or so) were primarily an agrarian society. Or it could be that restrictive tariffs and import policies throttle the importation of foreign foodstuffs. Fresh produce is certainly very expensive here. But whatever the reason, there seems to be with food, a greater connection to nature. So on this count, the Japanese seem to have gotten it right. However, they can also get it horribly, horribly wrong.
We are now entering the kafunsho season, or the "cedar pollen" season. As part of the post war rebuilding effort, millions of cedar pines were planted and harvested for the wood. In doing so, many other species of tree were crowded out, the result being a scary uniformity when looking at a Japanese hillside. And now every Spring those millions of trees in a reproductive frenzy squirt out tons and tons of pollen onto an increasingly allergic populace. It's not only a health issue, it's increasingly becoming an economic one as well. It's gotten so bad that "pollen free" sanctuaries are being established and families are making month long trips to either Hokkaido or Okinawa (both at the extreme northern and southern ends, respectively, of the archipelago) to escape where there are very few trees.
Around this time of year whole families start sporting face masks and goggles. The streets are full of people walking around like extras from the movie "Safe". Like refugees from some apocalyptic natural disaster, which in a way they are, but one with a very human cause. It's one instance when the Japanese just massively didn't "get" nature.
There used to be a game that was played, among a certain generation of Jews, that was like an ethnocentric version of "Where's Waldo". I can remember my parent's friends playing it. The rules are simple and the game can be played by only 2 players upwards to a million. Basically, it would involve one player offering up the name of a celebrity or equally famous public person and then identifying that person as Jewish. The other player(s) then express agreement, surprise, admiration, shock or some combination of these feelings. That's it. It was informally known as "Who's the Jew". It was a way for us to reaffirm our influence as an ethnic minority; a way to say "We may be small in number, but we are mighty". Watching this morning's newscast, I was struck by how the Japanese seem to play a similar game.
At least once a week, there's a recap of how various Japanese athletes around the world are fairing. Not just well known baseball players like Hideki Matsui (above) and Ichiro Suzuki, but various soccer players around the globe, as well as others. Interest in these players seems to generate from the fact that they're fairing so well outside the Homeland, away from the Mother ship. That they're passing so well. How they can navigate the world outside Japan as fully international citizens. Similar to how my parent's friends would marvel at how Michael Douglas (that's the dude above next to Matsui...) could move so effortlessly through the world of the goyim, how he could be accepted as America's sweetheart (for a time, at least.. ah the cruelties of a fickle public, now he's best known as the ex-Mr. Zeta-Jones). The Japanese seem fascinated by the spectacle of one of there own making it out there, like Jap-o-nauts in alien space.
The Japanese seem like Jews in this respect, how ethnic identity, nationality and genotype get all mixed and combined in notions of self-identity. And how, even though both groups are incredibly influential in comparison to their size, still seem to have a chip on their collective shoulders. Jews, now perhaps, less so ( thanks I think in part to the popularity of "Jerry Seinfeld"... Yeah, that's right, the character was clearly a Jew and clearly loved by millions). The Japanese aren't quite there yet and, while it's true that to succeed outside of your birth country generally does require some exceptional ability, the barrier for exit seems higher here. That the world would come to Japan is accepted now (after that whole Perry and the black ships incident), but the notion that a Japanese could make the opposite journey still seems to amaze.
Apparently my last Mahikari post must have gotten googled recently. Either that or Mahikari central must have found out, judging by the flood of comments the post has received over the past couple of days. This has lead me to temporarily (I hope) turn off the anonymous commenting feature.
A roomful of Mahikari acolytes would probably be pretty loud, as most of the commentators have a penchant for TYPING IN ALL CAPS. Loud, but I must say very polite, even when condemning unbelievers to a fiery hell. In this regard, at least, they're right in line with most of the worlds major religions.
OK, so I take it back the, it's NOT a cult. Just another very fucked up religion.
mckible (aka "mckibillo") in nihon...
Hence "mckib in nihon" (go figure), where I'll strive to provide the occasional, piquant observation on the life of a gaijin in the mountains of Japan.
Since November 2004, adding to an already crowded field of ex-pat observation.
is Josh McKible. I'm an illustrator living and working in Kanagawa, Japan. My work has appeared in the New York Times, Esquire, GQ and many other publications. For more information please visit my portfolio site. For commissions, collaborations or just to say "hi" please email me. Thanks.