Nights like tonight, I'm already jetlagged and I don't leave this country for 20 hours, packing up another apartment, the second in two months. Stomach sick from some greasy Japanese potato sticks that a new friend left in this old pad. She's late picking me up for a Three Day Stubble concert in Shibuya, and I'm glad. I wonder to myself, why did I choose somehow to stay in a perpetual state of motion while accumulating the media and artifacts needed to fuel participation in modern technology culture?
And it doesn't take me two seconds to remember that I'm having an absolute blast, and that's why I chose this. A freelance writer, learning Japanese, updating http://www.links.net/.
f o r e i g n s t a t e o f m i n d
Living in Japan is a wild challenge. Each moment is loaded with stimulation. A recent visit to the states seemed like sleepwalking in comparison.
This might be in part due to nature of this state as a narrower Las Vegas writ in haphazard concrete festooned with neon lights. But what's more enthralling is the very nature of being foreign, and having my entire basis for consumption and production challenged.
When I walk out of the door, I have to figure out what is a store, and what is a laundromat. I've been living in Uguisudani, a neighborhood where the signs aren't in English. Neither are the menus. I went to a local restaurant and asked for "number one healthy" and they served me grilled mackerel - salty, oily, I'm having my diet fundamentally changed.
It's the nature of immersion, and it makes a month feel like five, as my ability to learn and adapt is daily, nearly hourly reflected back at me by my failures or successes to satisfy my essential human needs and urges.
I'm fortunate to have picked one of the safest urban states in the world for my exploration. And what's more, this is a natural home for a technophile. These Japanese people are extremely literate. But they have some strange habits too.
I read Haruki Murakami's rich set of interviews with survivors of the Tokyo Sarin gas attacks from 1995. (Excellent, recommended; read about it here: http://www.links.net/vita/trip/japan/spirit/aum/). There were moments on the subways when the train was filled with a weird smell, people were coughing up blood and choking, and still no one raised their voice or fled. Most people kept their head down, averting their eyes from other people's inconvenience, hoping to get to work on time. I saw another example of this - a young woman silently collapsed in the subway as I waited for my train. A subway employee sat with her while other people quietly and quickly made their way away to stand and stare at a far distance. I found my natural urge to inquire and assist suppressed. Perhaps that urge is American and I was being more effectively Japanese. After all, I didn't want to embarrass this girl for having fainted.
Recently I was in the United States for Halloween. My sister and her family in San Francisco were suited up and ready to celebrate the holiday. Dressed in the woolen pants and wraparound top of a working Shingon monk, I shuffled along in sandals and split-toed socks as they scurried to Belvedere Avenue in San Francisco. Belvedere Avenue, as it turns out, is ground zero for a children's Halloween fantasy. A single neighborhood street made up largely of single-family homes is closed off. Garages are opened and filled with scary props - coffins opening up, as someone inside hands out candy. Amidst the props of horror, legions of American children parade about. Black, White, Hispanic, European, Asian. Cheap plastic masks, elaborate cardboard creations. Parents in goofy gear, a long-haired father with a TV showing the Yankees game.
It was a stirring street-level party. There was ambient warmpth, there was diversity, there was rampant participation. People were by and large engaged with this project of Halloween, and they were engaged in conversation with those around them. This is Northern California at its most radiant. And as I return to Tokyo I'm curious to find moments with a warm feeling here. Immediately, I realize that when I'm not in Japan, I'm not surrounded by polite voices encouraging and reminding me to do things or to avoid danger. I already miss that overweening sonic embrace. These people are a large family, taking care of each other on their island. I'm not yet sure how I'm related to these folks.
n o t h i n g t o d o
After December I have no plane ticket and no apartment. It's an open road.
My residence has been marvelous, in a working-class nearly-entirely Japanese part of town. For $1000/month I have rented a small studio near a convenient subway, with a high speed internet connection. To return to the states for two weeks of Thanksgiving and a wedding, I give up this apartment. Before my plane leaves tomorrow I hope to stash a bag full of books and suits in Tokyo.
In 1996, I asked two eccentric editors which path I should pursue with regard to study and work. Kevin Kelly advised that I leave school for a greater education in the world. Howard Rheingold recommended I return to college to learn to think and process and finish things. I was socially closer to Howard and with teacher grandparents, I found glory and challenge in keeping my ass planted in an east coast wooden chair.
But now I am a young man loose on the world. Howard recently pointed out that Kevin is working on another book compiling the thousands of slides and photographs he took as a young man, hitchhiking around Asia. I wrote KK asking about his travels; here is his reply:
"My advice for Japan is very easy. 1) Get out of Tokyo. 2) Hitchhike to youth hostels. It is an unbelievable adventure, and education, and relatively inexpensive and very easy to do. I did it for 4 months and knew less Japanese than you do."
This winter, I will leave my books and my suits in Tokyo, and take my laptop, camera and a few clothes on the road in a backpack, roaming up into Japan. I have no goal, other than to find more of the spirit of this country, learn better to communicate with these people, and test myself against the winter.
Cold months in the North of Japan: I figure the sight of a shivering wandering foreigner might elicit a different sort of response than someone travelling by in the easier months. It will certainly be better for my Japanese to be away from the Tokyo often-English sexyartcoolcafefashionallnightmobilespeedparty. After being headbutted by an angry Brazilian during a short barfight and glared at by Japanese mafia after I cheerily waved hello, I'm ready for a winter isolation vacation.
My work these days is freelance writing. I have a steady contract with TheFeature.com, a Nokia-sponsored web magazine about wireless technology. Articles about religion and culture are kicking around in my head, and often end up Links.net. I'm using the cushion of a sponsored writing gig to write for publications out there that want content and can't pay much cash.
I have applied to join the Foreign Correspondent's Club of Japan, which would make me a professionally accredited journalists of sorts. At least Koyama-san at the immigration office seems to think so.
For role-models as yet I have few male Japanese friends, and many more American expatriates I can see on the street and imagine myself as. That and some ribbing from my friends - do I intend to marry Japanese and become a white man dwelling in small apartments until my mind in the world is neither western nor eastern? It's a commitment question. Am I just visiting or do I plan to make my home here?
And it doesn't really matter, because by and large I'm having a total-brain-full good time and there's a million more things for me to do before I die, regardless of where I think I should be doing them.
c o n t e n t
There's a mess of stuff up on http://www.links.net/, as usual.
Much of it stems from here: http://www.links.net/vita/trip/japan/
I had a whiz bang week, with a fashion show, a full night in Tokyo's sordid nightlife district, meeting a girl with a car who drove me far too fast to a rave on Mount Fuji. I wrote about all of this and added over seventy pictures, and I asked folks to give money to read it early. I made $135. Now it's free:
TheFeature.com - Foreigner's Phone: The Internet in My Pocket
My first report on the wireless world of Tokyo; how I came to have a camera/computer phone and what it's done for my human relationships.
TheFeature.com - Winged and Wired
Worried that some folks might have a moment to themselves, several companies are promising to keep business travelers online in-flight. A survey of in-flight internet options.
TheFeature.com - New Developers on the Block
A survey of young and established game developers working with mobile phones.
n o t e s
I send emails out very irregularly to a mailing list. If you're interested in committing to this relationship, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org (mailto:email@example.com).
If you have any lingering curiousities about Japan or anything else after this whole spew, please email me.
Links.net is running advertisements for like-minded and heartfelt web projects. If you'd like to advertise something, visit http://www.links.net/share/tize/2001/160box/tails/ for more information.
Okay, Thanks again for your support.