Sunday, September 25, 2005

These are the days of my life...

Well hello there, devoted readers.

I apologize for my absence from the blog as of late. I know it’s been some time now since I last posted; over two weeks to be exact. Some of you might be asking yourselves if I’ve lost interest, or if I’ve been too wrapped up in exciting happenings in my life here in Japan to inform you all. This could not be farther from the truth. In fact, it’s just about the opposite. The reason I haven’t been posting is that my life has been rather mundane these past few weeks. There’s really nothing of any real significance to inform you of. I work, I come home, I chat on the internet, I watch movies, I play my guitar and I read a heck of a lot. I suppose this last part is worthy of some mention.

When I say I’ve been reading a heck of a lot, it might actually be more accurate to say I’ve been devouring books at an incredible rate. If you lived in Fukuroi too you might understand the reason for this. I think I’m almost at 3 books per week. That’s kind of scary, especially for me considering I’m going to run out of books in a month or so if I keep going at this pace. Now, I don’t want it to seem like I’m a shut in, although I am home a lot of the time. It’s not really by choice, but rather by situation. I do have some activities that I’d like to be involved in, like a martial arts class, but finding the dojo and figuring out a class time that would work with my schedule has been more difficult than I would have thought to accomplish.

While I was in California living with my folks for a month before coming to Japan I had what I suppose might be considered a breakdown of sorts. Of course I know how stressed out I was at the time, but this was the result of something far larger and more existential in nature. Questions of worth, meaning and direction were battering the inside of my head and refused to subside. One night, during a discussion with my folks, my dad made a very valid point which was that I was thinking too much and not actually doing enough. The more time I have alone to mull these often unanswerable questions, the more I sink into the mire. And unfortunately as of late I feel myself being pulled back down that road.

Luckily, I refuse to go down. Like I said, I’ve been doing a lot of reading, and I’ve been trying to choose my material carefully. Here are some of the books I’ve read since last posting here: Ishmael by Daniel Quinn, Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Coupland, The Alchemist by Paulo Cohelo, Lamb by Christopher Moore, How to Be Good by Nick Hornby, some of A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking and I’m now halfway through Life of Pi by Yann Martel. I would heartily recommend them all, especially The Alchemist and Ishmael. These are books that are essential reading for everyone on Earth. What I have noticed is that there is a common thread running through almost all of them. Some are more light, and meant for entertainment, and some are most definitely deeper and filled with a light of knowledge that is powerful and inescapable. All of them seem to be pushing me towards something I haven’t fully been able to identify, but I have come to realize has been with me for years now.

During that time, as I said, I have been almost constantly plagued by my thoughts. I don’t really consider them a plague though, it was just a nice cliché to throw in there. These are massive things in and of themselves, and I often feel overwhelmed by them and their implications. Along with these books I have been reading lately I have gotten into a spat of watching documentaries consisting of a variety of topics. Regardless, they all point to things that are going on in this world right under our noses. Things that actually might not even be hidden, but things we have been conditioned against caring about, or at least convinced that we can do nothing about them. One question that has been pounding and pounding is how I just don’t understand why people put up with lies. How can we let ourselves be misled so horrendously and not even care enough to do anything about it when we find out that it is happening? What has happened to our sense of outrage? If anybody has seen the film Hotel Rwanda (and if you haven’t, get out there and watch this amazing piece of cinema) they will remember the scene between Don Cheadle’s character, Paul, and Joaquin Phoenix, the reporter. The latter has snuck out of the barricaded hotel grounds to get footage of the violence, and returns with video of the slaughter that was happening right outside their doors. He apologizes to Paul for him having seen the footage, but Paul thanks him because now the world will have to recognize the issue at hand and do something about it. Phoenix sadly shakes his head and says something about how he thinks that people will be watching the news and see the footage and say wow… that’s so horrible, and then just flip the channel back to their favorite sitcom.

That’s how I feel about what’s going on with us in these times. We are so focused on our own lives and furthering ourselves financially and materially that we forget that the most important and integral thing we can do is remember that we are a part of this planet and a part of a greater unit as humans and therefore are responsible to do what we can to improve conditions in general, not just for ourselves. In saying this, I am not in any way claiming that I am a shining beacon when it comes to this. In fact I’m saying it because I have finally realized how far the other way I had gone. Of course it’s difficult. Every aspect of our culture reinforces individualism and selfishness. But the more we can keep our heads clear and willing to accept a greater truth, not what we are being fed, the better off we will be.

Ok… I’m running out of steam here. And I think you get the idea. Please don’t think that I’ve sunken into this hole of anger, because it’s exactly the opposite. When I go for a walk or bike ride around Fukuroi, or wherever I am, I look around at the constant marvel of life and appreciate how beautiful it all is. Today was wonderfully sunny. Riding my bike back from the restaurant I took it as slow as I possibly could so that I could appreciate everything around me. Looking up to the sky I was astounded by what I saw. In the west it was nothing but clear, azure sky, but then looking to the east, the most ominous and dark clouds filled the sky as far as I could see, all the way to the mountains in the distance. I couldn’t believe the difference from swinging my head right to left. Just like many things around me these days I am reminded that magic does exist, we just have to have our radars out to receive its grace and glory.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Under the Bridge and Far Away

There was some kind of palatable substance to the atmosphere as I left the classroom this evening. As I walked down the street towards Kakegawa station, I could hear a massive blossoming of noise overhead. The street is lined with lush green trees, and countless sparrows or other such small birds were flitting here and there among the branches and from tree to tree. The communal sound they made was a wonderful din, bringing me immediately back to Davisville park in Toronto. Out behind the subway station there is a park complete with tennis courts, jungle gym, baseball diamond and wading pool. Between two of the main paths the trees grow thickly together, their upper branches lost in a tangle that no one could sort out. In these trees during the summer months there is always a massive flock of sparrows making the same exact clamour.

Once I got to the main intersection outside the station I could see thousands of these birds in the trees and in the skies surrounding the entire area. Above me it was mostly clouded over, and as the sun was sinking from the sky it coated everything in a pink glow; it was like wearing colored lenses over my eyes. As I approached the station itself, I could hear what I thought was an animal wrestling match, perhaps two cats or raccoons or something of that nature. When I reached the steps I could see a group of people clad in green uniforms across the parking lot and one of them was holding a pole with a speaker attached to the end: the source of the screeching noises. They were trying to scare away the birds, but I can tell you that their efforts seemed to be in vain. Maybe with twenty such speakers-on-a-pole they could have rousted half of the birds present.

Now I’m going to step back for a moment and describe a few of the goings-on in my life within the past week. Just this last weekend I went down to Hamamatsu to visit my friend Christine, one of the other Peppy Kids teachers. I had recently bought a guitar and she had recently bought a keyboard, so we thought we would have ourselves a little jam session. As we were heading to a party later that evening she had invited our friend Koichi along as well. We hung out for a good while and enjoyed making music while Christine whipped up some home-made alcoholic drink that was actually quite tasty. Stepping out after a few glasses we got ourselves to the train station and went to meet up with Christine’s Brazilian friends who were taking us to the party.

I didn’t know what to expect. I only knew where we were going once we got in the minivan with them. What a ride that was. We were peeling out through suburban roads somewhere in Hamamatsu or Tenryugawa, and the seat Christine and I were on was not firmly attached to the floor, so we rocked back and forth at every turn. Being somewhat tipsy, this was absolutely hilarious at the time. We drove around some back roads looking for the party and finally saw some other cars pulled off at the side of the road. We got the minivan down where the rest of the cars were parked and saw just how many of them there were. Now this was an interesting surprise; I didn’t know that this was going to be such a big party. Once we got clear of the cars and into the main space I saw what was happening. This was a serious party going on! The entire party was taking place directly under the TOMEI expressway, one of the biggest highways in Japan. The organizers had set up a full stage under the bridge with a nice sound system, and even a computer that was projecting visuals on a screen behind the DJs. There were booths set up around the side, and even fire dancers in the back. Throughout the night I would say about a good 200 people went through that party. And it was hard psychedelic trance music all night long. Not exactly my favorite, but all in all it was good times. I was there with Christine and Koichi, and they’re good people, and we ended up meeting a crew of cute Brazilian and Japanese girls who we partied and danced with for the rest of the evening. There’s a whole host of pictures up on my online album, taken with my brand new digital camera. Feel free to check em out, the link is on the right side of this page.

Then, a couple of nights ago I had quite the chat with Christian. We were discussing a glut of strange information and documentaries we had downloaded recently. Christian showed me a link that had a story and video clip from a rave in Utah. This was a massive outdoor function that the promoters had sunk a lot of money into. The proper permits were obtained, and the party was completely legal. This didn’t stop the authorities, however, who raided the party. They arrived in helicopters decked out in full camouflage and brandishing assault rifles. Attack dogs were unleashed on party-goers, and several people were attacked by the raiders themselves, including a tiny girl who was kicked in the stomach. Here’s the link:

We also got to talking about several conspiracies that have been floating around for some time; specifically issues pertaining to space phenomena, and allegations of US government involvement in the 9/11 attacks. The documentaries and websites I have examined all point to some very shady behavior on the part of governmental agencies. There was also an astounding package I downloaded that contained video and information regarding Stanley Meyers. Whether or not what he did was a hoax is still questionable I suppose, but why would the Arabs have offered him billions of dollars to sit on his invention? Why would the US government appropriate his patents so that the military or NASA could use his inventions however they pleased if the work he was doing had no merit? And what about his assassination? This man was trying to come up with an alternate fuel source and he was killed for it. Obviously the capitalist fatcats and their pocket padding is far more important than the plight of EVERYONE on this planet. In the end what all this recent information points out to me is further evidence that the US government believes it is in the position to do whatever it wants. And it sickens me. To those of you reading this that aren’t currently living in the states: STAY AWAY! And to those of you who are, please question what you are being fed by the media. It’s scary how much control they are trying to exert over you.

Well… I didn’t want to end this on such a low note, especially considering I started it off with something much nicer, so I thought I’d tell you all what my latest plans are post-Japan. If the money flow is working in my favor I intend to do what I had planned before even coming here, which is to tour southeastern Asia: Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Once that is done, however long it takes, I’ll be heading back to California to regroup for a little while before heading up to Vancouver to live for an indefinite amount of time. I have decided to continue my education, and I believe that I am being called in the direction of sociology, so I am going to attempt my master’s degree at the University of British Columbia. Strangely enough, it seems I am not the only one who has decided that Vancouver is the place to be these days. At least a half-dozen of my friends are planning a move there in the next year or so. This makes me all the more excited for the possibility of making it my new home.

And this is a special shout out to Mr. Kevin Keast, if he’s reading this:
CONGRATULATIONS! The first member of the AWC to be betrothed! Way to go. I wish I could be there in person, but I’m hoping Bruno can cover for me as my representative from Japan. You and Sarah have been great for so long. I know this is the beginning of something even greater for the two of you. Much love, my friends.

And to everyone else, I hope you are all doing wonderfully wherever you are. Keep up the good work, and keep smiling.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Tokyo Tales

My first time in the big city. Hah. Big city. That’s a joke. We were still at least an hour’s drive from the hotel when we were already within the city limits. Tokyo is massive beyond belief, and I only got to see a small fraction of it on this, my first journey there.

Keiko and I left Fukuroi at about 7:00 p.m. Saturday night after my last class. I had burned us a few CDs to listen to in the car, and as soon as we hit the highway the tunes were playing and we were happy to be on the road. Luckily we were able to avoid traffic the whole way until we got to the Tokyo expressway. From my apartment to the hotel it took us less than three hours. We hadn’t brought a road map with us, so luckily we picked our way to Iidabarashi St. where the Grand Palace hotel was, and again luckily, I remembered what it looked like from the picture on the website where I booked the hotel room. And there we were. Painless as it could be. The room was booked in advance so I just filled out a form, was handed a key and we were in room 2005 lickety split. We took a few minutes to relax, then each jumped in the shower, changed and were ready to hit the town by 11:00.

Tokyo has an incredibly vast subway system, with at least 16 different lines criss-crossing in every direction possible. Although the route map we had was color-coded it was written in Japanese, so I was lucky to have Keiko along. In all modesty I have a fairly good sense of direction, but without being able to read the names of the stops I would have been lost. The subway is also impeccably run; very clean, and extremely efficient. The longest wait we had for a subway all weekend was about 3 minutes. We hopped on the Hanzomon line and rode the five stops to Shibuya station. Shibuya is a major district downtown, home of many department stores, clubs, and a veritable mecca for the young adults of Tokyo. Unfortunately for us, I had done some preliminary research, but I forgot to print out a map to the club that I wanted to go to. We had to ask some people on the street where to go, and even once we got to the right area we couldn’t find the place. We asked about a dozen people where Club Womb was, but no one seemed to know. And I thought this was a fairly large and well-known establishment. Finally, we ended up asking one of the girls working the door of another club in the area and she pointed us in the right direction.

Womb was suggested to me by one of my supervisors, Brad, who shares the same taste in dance music as myself. I’m glad he did. It was a very nice place. Four floors all told, the first floor being a bar and small dance floor where the DJ was playing some groovy techno. The second floor was the main stage, and it was a very large room, complete with the biggest disco ball I’ve ever seen suspended from the ceiling, an excellent lighting system, and a massive quadraphonic speaker system. The third floor was a lounge with windows that looked down into the main dance floor, and at the top was another bar, the VIP lounge and a small dance floor where the DJs were playing drum and bass. The way it worked out Keiko and I spent about an even amount of time on each different floor, and generally just got our grooves on in a good way. I had brought a couple demo CDs with me, and I was lucky enough to find the booking manager, so although I’m not going to get my hopes up, it would be fantastic if I could get a gig spinning at this place. I’m just imagining being able to tell people: “Hey! I’m playing in Tokyo this weekend!”

The next day Keiko and I went to Akihabara, which is another district in downtown Tokyo, and famous for being a massive neighborhood comprised of electronics stores. I had come to Tokyo with my heart set on finding a good deal on a digital camera. Once we got the main drag in Akihabara I could see that it would take us quite a while as electronics stores lined both sides of the street. They had actually closed off the entire area from traffic, so people were thronging in the middle of the street from sidewalk to sidewalk. I couldn’t tell you how many shops we went into, but I was on a mission. I was offered a few deals here and there, but nothing really grabbed my attention. We had walked up and down both sides of the street, and I had gotten a good idea of the camera I wanted, but I was looking for a really good deal, and finally I got it in a little shop where the manager gave me the “nice face” discount. She said she could tell I wasn’t Japanese from my face. I was thinking to myself, “Thank god! I was starting to worry there. Maybe I really AM turning Japanese!”

After the arduous shopping trek we stopped for a late lunch at a little tempura place around the corner. Then it was on to Harajuku, yes… another large district downtown. This is the home of the trendy youth of Tokyo, filled with all kinds of shops from upscale places like Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Tag to vintage clothing stores. We walked down a street lined with all the upscale joints to Harajuku station where there was a massive throng of people gathered for some kind of festival. Troupes of people were dressed in beautiful and colorful costumes, all focused on the large stage beside the station where a presentation was being made. Keiko explained to me that it was a Yosakoi festival, and the different troupes were all there for a dance competition. For me it was another moment when my lack of Japanese language skills really burned me, because I wanted very much to understand what was going on. We made our way through the mass of people and past them so that we could get to the Meiji shrine, a major shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji, the first Emperor of Japan when the power shifted from the feudal Tokugawa government in 1868. It was a beautiful walk through the woods and passing through several massive torii gates we arrived at a large walled plaza. We washed our hands, as is typical custom at shrines in Japan, and then payed our respects at the shrine itself. Unfortunately it was already late in the afternoon and we had to leave almost right away because the shrine was closing.

Once back on the street we took a long walk through Harajuku. It reminded me very much of Kensington market, for anyone who’s been there; lots of boutiques and clothing stores everywhere. The streets are very narrow and there were teenagers everywhere. We pushed our way through Takeshita street to Cat street where we proceeded to get lost. It was fully dark and we were both exhausted by the time we made it back to the subway, and again because I had forgotten to get a map of the area we were unable to find the used bookstore I was looking for. We took the subway back to the hotel where the plan was to check movie times and then head out for the flickers, but by the time we were laid out in our beds, neither of us wanted to go. We ended up falling asleep by about 10 p.m. that night. I guess that’s what you get for partying till the morning light the night before.

The next day we checked out of the hotel and then hopped down to the Lloyd’s of London headquarters in Tokyo so that I could set up an account to send money home. That was sorted out quickly enough and then we got back on the subway and went back towards the hotel but got off a little ways away so that we could tour the Imperial Palace. We walked the grounds for some time, and I got plenty of snaps with my new digital camera, which you can see on my photo website, (the link is on the right side of this page). We passed by the Tokyo Museum of Modern Art, which I had wanted to see, but unfortunately Monday is the only day of the week it happens to be closed. We walked all the way from the south end of the palace grounds to the north where we passed through the gardens, stopping to look at the Tokyo Science Museum and Budokan music hall on the way. After coming out on the other side of Budokan we were about two blocks away from the hotel. We picked up the car and were on our way back to Fukuroi by the late afternoon, and I was feeling very satisfied with my first trip to Tokyo. I am already looking forward to my next visit. There is so much that the metropolis has to offer, and I only got to see a quick glimpse. Yay for being so close! I’ll be back soon enough, Tokyo. Get yourself ready.