Travelogue - Home

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 school. 

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 social model. 

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 comfort food.

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 Ecuador.

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 resolves.

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....

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