Date: second of August, 2003ish, edited 06-08-03
Time: 21:41, 01:02
Subject: Sociological Redux
The most profound experience has to be simply being in
this culture. The set-up is notable. Teaching English, so
to speak. Speaking, so to teach. There is a history to my
job. In Japan they have "hostess bars" where the hostess
is there to entertain the clientelle by being cute, genki. Genki
sorta means happy in the anime, merchandizable sense. Hello kitty.
only , in Nova, the mascot is the Usagi:
This is what I represent. I am a Nova Usagi; a rabbit.
I am a cute, lovable, knowlegeable rabbit. All's fair in love
and Corporate Japanese culture.
Its more and more difficult to write under these circumstances.
So, to move beyond the corporate iconography. I
guess the big question is, what is Japan LIKE. What is this society
that has been hyped beyond recognition. In truth I guess I can't
even pretend to answer this question. So let me drop into my most
recent, significant narative:
Thursday, I went for a walk. I decided to hike over
the top of Mount Hiei [He-yay]. Hieizan is the seat of the second
official Japanese religion of Buddism. As such, it little more
than a tourist curiosity these days. The Japanese, on the whole,
are a rather atheistic lot. They are Shinto on New Year's, Christian
for marriage, and Buddhist for funerals. Sometimes they go to
temple, but most often, they live their lives unfettered by the bonds
of religion. The first form of Buddhism to gain official recognition
was Theravada Buddhism. It was centered in Nara, and when the
capital moved from Nara to Kyoto, the religion changed from Theravada
Buddhism to Tendai, Mahayana Buddhism.
Japan is sorta a sexist society, sorta reminiscent of
the mid-sexual revolution of the seventies. The Women have by
and large engaged in a "work slowdown" a' la organized unionized
labor, whereby, they are starting to refuse marriage and procreation
in a very subtle protest against a society that refuses them rights
of procreation and simultaneous employment. Women still find themselves
in a situation where they have to choose one or the other. Only
today does society begin to open its doors to a dual-income family,
and empowerment of the woman. The glass ceiling is still somewhat
a concrete floor, where women are not in any way expected to stick around
during child rearing. The net result is a birthrate of 1.5;
this means a society who's young will not outnumber the old, and economic
collapse is looming. The economists and politicians are starting
to realize the situation is dire, but haven't yet accepted that equality
in the workplace is really the only solution. So many inevitabilities.
This is not a society prone to noisy revolution. Rather, revolution
takes on this understated quality. We will not procreate until
they submit to equality. Its not in our best interests, that is
all. Society expects of the woman that she can do what she wants till
thirty, but then she should abandon her career for a family. And,
the educated women are not having it.
Today I had a discussion with one of my students who was
an older man. He explained that his father died in World War II.
His mother was ill much of the time, and he would come home to his bed-ridden
mother and be alone. In broken English he described his broken
heart. He wanted his children to escape this, and insisted his
wife stay home to raise the children till they were in High School.
Ten years ago, she took a job selling insurance, which is a non-demanding
job, so she would be available if the children needed her. And
when his 24 year old daughter who is getting married this year came
to him for advice, he recommended the same to her. Daycare is
still a nacent institution in Japan, and there are not enough daycares
to supply the demand. There is also a cultural stigma surrounding
having children raised by strangers. Thus, the mother is still
compelled to raise the children; most mothers accept this duty,
and when it comes time to raise children, they sacrifice career for
the obligations of motherhood, at least until the children are in middle
Thus, classically, the only jobs available to women wanting
to work and have children are teaching and nursing. Both jobs
where there is little long-term responsibility, and one can come and
go from these careers with relative freedom. Society supports
this model, much as it has historically in the west. What is the
answer? A woman must choose between a family and a career.
Most women I meet still accept this dichotomy. I am
questioning college-aged women about their perception of this, and acceptance
of this social norm. These are not a people prone to revolution.
Furthermore, this is a society that lusts after youth.
Hello Kitty is the most profound social phenomenon. It really
is. This is not my western bias, but the statement of my students.
There is not a subculture for adults, but only subcultural marketing
to children. Most advertisements features nubile sixteen year
olds, or girls appearing to be sixteen. Marketing potential is
not seen in a mature woman. And while you can say the same for
our culture, you really have to factor in the Manga, or comic book culture.
Manga focus almost exclusively on the passionate, Romio and Juliet youthful
romance. Hence, to sell product, Japan focuses on the beauty of
youth. This has, in affect, resulted in a mature woman who wants
nothing to do with continuing the trend, hence, the "labor dispute"
of modern society. Pun intended. Women don't have adult
rolemodels, or mature social trends to follow. Women live at home
until married, out of concern for their safety, and the risks of a single
woman living alone. Nobody knows of the phenomenon of shared housing
for twenty-somethings which we take for granted in the west. Most
college students live at home while attending school, or live in on-campus
dormatories. For that matter, most men live at home until married.
But by their late twenties, a man is DEFINITELY expected to be supporting
himself, and is looked upon as a burden and failure if he still lives
at home. A woman, out of concern for her safety, is tolerated
around the house. In another bizarre twist, kids are not expected
to share in the housework, and a newlywed is often shocked at the amount
of work home-making involves. Clearly, a man would not be expected
to share in the home-making responsibilities. Overall, a traditional
Now, what about the men? What are they doing through
this all. Well, the less adept are marginalized, beaten down in
society, demoralized, and basically rendered ineffective, by their maintenence
of dead-end jobs. Those who are of any USE to society, those who's
lives have any MEANING are working six days a week, 10-16 hours a day.
Thus, you are either a productive member of society, and working every
concievable hour of the day, or you are a bum. There is no provision
for freetime to consider just how fucked up one's position in society
really is. The train home from Kyoto is packed; rush hour is around
nine P.M., and again at 8am in the morning...
But, you know, you kinda have to blame us for beating
them in their noble quest at pan-asian dominance.
Anyone ever hear of the Japanese fishermen who died in
the Bikini Atol as a result of our fifties nuclear testing? No?
Neither have the Japanese. They have structured their whole ethic
around maintaining relations with the USA, as to which their defeat
in war bound them by honour. Wierd. Hence, no raising a
fuss about a few dozen dead fishermen and some contaminated tuna.
Its really interesting. Occasionally I get a hair
up my ass and decide to confront the issue of Japanese hegemony in South
Asia pre-WWII. You really can't piss in the soup any more effectively
than to bring this up in an English. Yet, with delicacy, some
interesting results may be had.
Teaching English. What a hoot. Tomorrow, as
today, I will show up in the morning and have conversations for money.
I am becoming a master of small-talk, as the only way to "fail"
at my job is for conversation to find a lull. Thus I enquire about
whatever it is that I can come up with on the fly. The weekend,
festivals, sociopolitical phenomena, etc. Everything is fair game,
so long as they are speaking in English. So in hours of small
talk, I occasionally retrieve a gem or two about Japanese culture.
Whether its the business man who shares his impression that Japanese
colonization of China and Korea was the only logical response to French
colonialism in Vietnam; rather they get their first... Or whether its
30 and 40 year old women discussing the disgust at Hello Kitty and how
void pop-culture is for the middle aged. I learn more than I teach,
you can be sure.
But that's on thing, this is another.
Thursday I climbed mount Hiei. I took the train
to Sakamoto, which is on Lake Biwa. I then walked fifteen hundred
feet vertical to the top of Hiei, and down the other side to return
to Kyoto. Nobody does this. Its a dramatic feat by Japanese
standards. Nobody would walk that far. I hiked for six hours
or so, stopping on Hiei for a udon noodle lunch with Saki. I finally
put together in my mind the true ley of the land. Is that they
right lay? I donno. Anyway, I was able to finally piece
together where I'm living in relation to everthing else. I found
a sufficiently high vantage point.
God. I don't feel like I'm touching anything significant
yet. Would it help to mention there are wild monkeys in these here hills?
and I saw a deer and a snake and white butter flies with red-tipped
wings, and indigo butterflies, and many many varieties of spiders, and
that the mosquitos don't sting when they sting? Would it help
to mention that all the temples, of course, look alike? Would
it help to discuss the homogeneity of everything? The fact that
all the hills are pretty recently logged? The absence of old-growth
forests? What do you want to hear? Logging was extensive
in the reconstruction post world-war two; the old growth is mostly
gone. At least anywhere near Kyoto and urban Japan.
I donno. Its been an adventure, but mostly of the
internal sort. What does one do when sharing an apartment with
a sports fanatic, a diabetic U.C. Boulder grad, and my two computers.
What do you do when your 6' 8" roomate who goes running morning
and night leaves his sweat-soaked sweatshirt on the balcony indefinitely
and never washes a dish? What does one do, when, as by far the
cleanest of one's roomates, one uncomplainingly simply cleans everything
without discussion? Where do we go from here?
Straight to drive by noodles. At Eleven PM, on occasion,
the music starts on the streets. Like the American Ice-Cream truck,
the songs eminate, only distictly more japanese. At this cue I
run downstairs and procure, for 550 yen, a bowl of soba noodles in fish
sause broth, with spring onion and beansprouts, a bowl of noodles.
Its great comfort food to go with the bottomless saki I provide for
myself. Drunkard as I am. The cicadas chirp in the
summer, and there is no more beatific song.
I sit here in my Yamashina dormatory-style appartment,
listening to Soul Coughing, (coffin?), courtesy of my CU grad roomate.
The bats fly outside at sunset over the ancient, neighboring temple.
Once a week I go to the gym. I lift heavy things
pointlessly. It helps me to reconsile myself with my sense of
self-improvement. Ultimately, the question returns, what am I
doing here, much as it does to say, "what am I doing anywhere"
And I am loath to respond, "living through another day."
Nothing more nothing less. Only whereas some can do so in the
comfort of a familiar society, I require a little more stimulation.
The impossible meshing of American and Japanese society, the absurdity
of myself, who cares little for the formalities of grammar, teaching
past perfect progressive to an audience eager to learn so that he or
she may further their career by improving their TOIEC scores.
I wear an 8 dollar shirt and 170 dollar shoes. Somehow the paradox
makes me smile.
Does this sound unnecesarily cynical? I just watched
the movie, "The Beats" wherein Kerouac revealed that he was
on the road for seven years, and wrote the book in three weeks.
I've been on the road for Approaching eleven years, depending on how
you count. I've been writing for at least half that time.
I realized in watchin the movie that I lived the life, that I've been
everywhere they filmed, that I've gone beyond the horizon of the beats,
of the hippies, and that I am still young. That I've avoided the
excess, that I've learned from their mistakes... " we are all in
some way or another going toReseda someday... to die..."
And again, I just finished watching "Smoke,"
a beautiful story about storytelling. "you're innocent when
you dream / when you dream / you're innocent when you dream."
Tom Waits tells it like it is... And what story I'm telling, and where
is the truth in what I write?
I don't know, where can I go from where I've been?
My life in Japan has begun to resolve around my time spent in the woods.
I avoid temples, and occasionally out of guilt, visit one or two, just
so that I can say that I didn't miss out on EVERYTHING. Right
now I sit, drinking unfiltered saki, creamy, milky, saki. I may
fix myself a grilled cheese sandwich. I've found a grocery store
that sells cheddar cheese; here its a delicacy, you realize; its my
Am I happy here? Would I Could I be happy anywhere?
I doubt it. Life for me has to be an adventure, and if that adventure
becomes the procurement of coffee and cheese, than so be it. At
least they have fantastic mushrooms here... six different varieties
in the general produce, then several more in the dried and gourmet varieties.
Fruits are by and large delicacies, except bananas, which come from
Another clue. Every travel I embark upon involves
a one to three month doldrums. I hit my stride, I completely shut
out the world around me, live my life irregardless of my surroundings,
and basically cloister myself inside myself. Then, after three
months, I being to emerge, to see the true beauty of my surroundings.
That means y'all should tune in around... say... October 19th.
What else is there to say? Well, for one thing,
I am loving it here. Life is Japan is great. I'm taking
a huge sociological slant. Since I conduct interviews for a living,
I am gaining insight like I've never had before into a culture.
This is the first time I've WORKED overseas. Hence, errr... since...
rather, now that I'm teaching English, I get to speak in my native language,
yet, correct people for their mistakes in MY language, rather than conform
to their errors. Also, the bi-directional cash-flow adds an interesting
spin to future planning. And beyond all else, seeing/exploring
Japan for two days a week, and following a routine the other five, encompasses
a bizarre time dilation. I have only "been in" japan
two days a week, the other five take on a dream-like quality wherein
gramactical (errr... gramatical?) exactitude is extremely important,
and knowing my gerunds from my passive-voices is critically important.
Life, she is strange.
Tomorrow I go monkey-hunting. I've learned that
on Hiei there are monkeys. I saw a deer and a snake and heard
cicadas, but saw no monkeys. I must see monkeys. Monkeys
and I get along great. We have a lot in common. More than
I and the average Nova teacher, I can tell you that.
Some day I dream of writing the unedited version of this
manuscript... But for now, I edit and edit again what is sophistically
time and date stamped. But I feel that life is worth communicating.
I feel documentation is important.
Today (Tuesday) I taught some students how to spare
change. I taught them when they are in San Francisco, and they
are on Haight Street, and somebody comes up to them and says, "Spare
Change?" They should respond, "Get a Job, Hippie..."
I stopped just short of telling them that I was that guy once.
I taught another promising student the finer details of the usage of
"hanging out." I'm also desperately trying to teach
the proper use of "Dude" and "Yo" and "Totally."
These are amazingly elusive to explain. I try to relate the sociological
context, the proper intonation, the utter meaninglessness of the words,
and the critical importance of intonation. I try desperately not
to give out my email address, but have started dropping URL's.
My URL. They may find the link to my email address, and, well,
that's not strictly speaking my fault. I have not violated the
contractual agreement; though I am baiting them with links to tongue
twisters and buddhist studies.
Buddhist studies. It still is the only meaningful
thing I have to talk about it. My rhetoric is getting more refined,
the more drunken nights I sit discussing with my boss Aaron, my coworkers,
my pen pals, the Buddhist Redux. In the end it comes down to the
four noble truths, the eight-fold path, and the twelve-step dependent
origination. In the end, that is the schematic of Buddhist Philosophy.
Aaron studies Aikido, and came to Japan with a mind tilting toward Zen.
After a three-day retreat, the monks felt sorry for them. Since
they didn't crack as they were supposed to, the monks offered to show
them around the temple grounds. Their tour guide nearly cracked
when he stepped out the door, though. He said something to the
effect of, "The Outdoors. Long time no see..."
He apparently had not left the building for three years. After
that, Aaron was turned off by Zen. How could you consider never
stepping outside to be a spiritual pursuit. I joined in the chorus
to suggest that Buddhism has strayed far from its original intent, yet,
I am a Buddhist nevertheless.
I mean, what is the point of all of it? I try to
express the pointlessness of scholastic study, and yet consider my scholastic
study my highest methodology. I talk out of both sides of
my mouth. I am a walking paradox. The words have no meaning,
but they're all we've got to work with. They are a pharmakon.
A poison and a medicine; and neither side of the equasion reduces or
A friend of a friend, Peter Christopher is drawing me
into a painful discussion. Just as I am contemplating re-enrolling
in Architectural graduate studies, he is confronting me unintentionally
with a verbatim exposition on my original reasons for starting those
studies. The community. The Land Trust. The quasi-communal
dream. The pseudo-suburban agrarian idealism. Its too painful
for me to read. I remember when; and I see where I am now.
And I contemplate going further, but shit. I've lost my thread.
I cannot for the life of me imagine why I ever thought the "Intentional
Community" was a good idea. I've become a total stranger
to myself of five years ago. I broke up with Cara because I could
no longer abide by that ideal. Now, once again, thousands of miles
from that dream I am once again confronted with the dream "We"
share. I see the dream at the bottom of my soul, and I am more
terrified of wanting that than I am of death itself. Death no
longer scares me. Ideals scare me. Dreams scare the fuck
out of me. I can't bear the feeling of a dream. I can't
stand the idea of wanting something. Disappointment and
dispair so overwhelmed me that I have taken wing and want for nothing.
I can no longer harbor an ideal, a dream, a Lover, a relationship, natural
human emotion. Yet I can bear any weather, I can carry any
load. I am a dead man walking, one who has nothing left to lose.
An abomination of the soul. I have found complete solopsistic
abiding... as in, "The Dude abides."
Mars is the closest to earth it will ever be. Mars,
in Pisces, which is pretty damn ambiguous; vacilation in will.
The red planet sits high in the Southern sky right now, plainly visible
from my back porch. The planet is so bright it pierces the sweltering
summer haze like an orange floodlamp. Nearly conjunct Uranus,
opposite Mercury. Wow, dude. Need I say more.
Ah Japan. The sushi-go-rounds (Kaiten Sushi) makes
it all worthwhile. I trimmed my own hair today. Trimmed
the "wings". I fear I'm halfway to a mullet. But
the Japanese mullet is fantastic, and with my curls, I fear I may just
be able to pull it off. We shall see. We shall see...
Strom Thurmond and Barry White are dead. Colin Powell
has announced his resignation. A monkey is still in charge of
the "free" world. Gov. Davis is being recalled, made
a scapegoat. My job is Branded by a snobby rabbit. I find
myself defending things like hunting Minke whales, and single-income
households. Go ask Alice what the doormouse said....