Sunday, May 30, 2010

maxi dress!

I gave in to the inevitable. ¥1000. Have happily managed to avoid small flowers and stupid looking straw hats thus far. I'll stick to the "dark hippy evening wear" aesthetic, thanks.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Rainy season seems to be here.

A little cloudy, a little monsoony, a little sad. A little lonely, a little introspective, a lot of solitude. The absolute last thing I feel like doing is socializing with people I know. I'd rather chat anonymously to strangers or write escapist wank about fictional emotions.

Without the albums pictured above it would be much harder to keep myself in this artificially rendered fog. Thank you to the brilliant musicians out there who strive to capture the exact kind of melancholy that we all love to wallow in.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

How to take a compliment?

Last night was the big gig night, the "kind of a big deal" party I'd been waiting impatiently for. I gathered my (borrowed from the neverending generosity of John Crow) violin and stood in front of a packed-to-over-fire-hazard-capacity bar wailing away. I didn't really do my best since I was so nervous, but it wasn't embarrassingly bad or anything.

As tends to happen, people crowded me after the show and showered me with praise and compliments ranging from "YOU ROCK" to "I couldn't love you any more than I do now" and all I could do was DENY, DENY, DENY. Have I been in Japan too long, a silly island where it is considered uncouth to sing your wife's praises and the proper response to a compliment is "no?"

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Tokyo then, Tokyo now, and coming to Japan

Ah, Tokyo. The biggest city on earth. For years I stared at photos of the Hachiko scramble crossing in Shibuya, longing desperately to just walk back and forth along the zebra stripes under the dazzling neon. I watched "Blade Runner" and fantasized about how incredibly advanced and how very 1980s Tokyo must be. I read the "Fruits" photo books, drooling over each and every mismatched and too-brightly-colored outfit. Spent hours lying on my bed with my eyes closed listening to J-pop - so foreign and so futuristic somehow. Developed highly detailed fantasies of the night when I could finally walk the streets of sacred Tokyo. I would have Sennheiser or some other unaffordable brand of noise-canceling headphones, and through said headphones would play the 1991 "The Mix" version of "Computerliebe" by Kraftwerk, "Rydeen" by Yellow Magic Orchestra, and "Depend On You" by Hamasaki Ayumi. I was to be 100% alone. Just me, the music I love, and a brand new megalopolis straight out of that Daft Punk anime movie "Interstella 5555."

When I applied for and was accepted into the JET Programme, a gateway into Japan through which all new English teachers would first stop in Tokyo, the reality of it all struck me. I had previously held similar fantasy-feelings about Berlin, and they were fulfilled 200% and then so much more; Berlin is my favorite city on earth. And so I went to Manhattan and pretended it was Tokyo, walking up and down Times Square after dark with my music and hyping myself up for the Big Pilgrimage.

The morning of my departure, I woke up next to Walter in a friend of a friend's spare bedroom. We kissed "see you later" goodbyes and I took a car service to JFK, which is possibly the worst airport of all time. I smoked a few nervous cigarettes with a gaggle of beautiful Saudi Arabian flight attendants and went inside to check in. As I always do no matter where I go, I made a friend who suggested we drink beers for breakfast. And so I boarded the flight completely flushed with inebriation, passed out before takeoff, and woke up about an hour and a half later with a hangover. No more sleep for the remaining 12 hours of flight, doped up on Dramamine, flight attendants tried to give me the Japanese customs forms, almost 100 new JETs on the plane but it was hardly a social butterfly experience.

Needless to say, I was feeling posthumous by the time we landed in Narita; in fact I have no memory whatsoever of the customs and immigration procedure. I remember a bunch of overenthusiastic greeters in obnoxiously bright colored t-shirts shouting "WELCOME TO JAPAN" at us, I remember dashing to the smoking area, and I remember boarding a bus that would take us to our hotel. It was 3 pm or so but I wanted the Tokyo fantasy to begin. Over the excited chatter of folks on the bus, I blasted "Rydeen" and stared at the beastly concrete overpasses and skyscrapers against the sandman's wishes. It was too daylight and I was too tired. Fantasy fail.

Fast forward through the orientation with its lectures and vegan lunch meats, somehow all my friends who were studying in Tokyo had contracted food poisoning and couldn't come out to play. This left just the professor, Hiraku Shimoda, who was the indisputable heartthrob of the history department at Vassar. He swung by the Keio to pick me up, and we wandered around with no particular objective. I said I wanted to go to Shibuya, so to Shibuya we went. Japanese summers, especially in concrete jungles, are oppressively hot and humid. I remember sweating my way across that scramble crossing while trying to get Prof. Shimoda to take flattering pictures of me and also snapping stalker photos of people I found interesting on sight. It was not unlike the first time I saw the Eiffel Tower: "Oh, so this is it."


I've been in Japan for almost two years now, and I do not "know" Tokyo as a city. I've been back twice since JET orientation, and I am not terribly eager to get back. The futuristic paradise of promise, robots and gothic lolitas is now synonymous with "transportation clusterfuck," "boring people," and "shitty nightlife." If I have money to spare and a free weekend, you can bet that I'll be spotted in Osaka, not in Tokyo.

Tokyo is the loneliest place on earth. I spent an hour or so alone in Shibuya last May, and it was such a long hour. It's not "Lost in Translation" lonely since I have been here for a while and the language barrier isn't a big problem - it's just lonely in the same way that New York City is lonely. No one knows you, no one has your back in case of an emergency, no one is going to approach you who isn't selling something, and there is no way you are going to run into someone you know unless God has been proven to have a bushy beard. Tack onto this the impossible-to-navigate system of trains and subways and the sheer number of neighborhoods and stations, and it's quite discouraging to "explore the city" when you have some time to yourself.

Loneliness aside, in being so massive and all-powerful Tokyo seems devoid of personality or defining characteristics aside from the fear and wonder surrounding it. There is no flavorful local dialect, most people range from lukewarm to frigid, and there are too many tourists and visitors. The freaks and goth kids on Takeshitadori in Harajuku are so well-known that there are now large Nigerian men hawking lolita outfits to rabid hordes of overweight white girls with lip rings. Go out for a night on the town, hit up Atom or Womb, and you will find unpleasantly strict doormen and a bunch of party people who are totally disinterested in speaking to anyone they didn't show up with.

Unfortunately, the magic of a place dies when you live in it. I am about 500 miles from Tokyo here in Tagawa, but Japan is the same all across the nation. Now that I understand Japanese people, I understand Tokyo well enough that it has ceased to be the fight scenes from "Kill Bill," Ridley Scott's 2019 vision of Los Angeles, or even a Yellow Magic Orchestra song.

Sometimes I hold a small funeral in my imagination, remembering the innocent days of yore before I ever laid foot on Japanese soil.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


I always feel a little bad saying this, but James Malone of Arsis looks so much better now that he's thin. Yeah I know he's anorectic, crucify me.

Friday, May 14, 2010

A Scottish memory

This is the first photo I ever took outside the United States, taken from on top of the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh at the end of May 2006. Edinburgh was my first international destination, the first of several stops on a "Best of Britain" package tour with my mother. The evening of the day this photo was taken, I wandered across the street from our hotel to "The Globe Backpacker Bar." It was my first time legally being in a bar, and the first legal alcoholic beverage I purchased. Being naive and 19, I ordered a Guinness, and within five minutes had friends for the evening: soldiers serving in the (now-defunct) Royal Scots from South Africa.

A German memory

Delirious with the flu and a cough racking my entire body in Heidelberg, Baden-Wurttemberg, August 2009. We had spent the day with my mother sightseeing, climbing mountains, and downing a few beers at an Irish pub. She hobbled off to bed in her old age, and we sat by the bridge getting reacquainted as we had not seen each other since the year kicked off. It was a chilly night and you wrapped me in a rain poncho and then made fun of me because I looked ridiculous. I coughed and coughed like a terminal lung cancer sufferer and you took me to a shot bar to drink chocolate rum. Spirits were low as I had to see my mother off in the morning, and my fever was steadily rising.........

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A French memory

Sarlat, Dordogne, France, early June 2008. A rather modest sized city smack dab in the middle of duck confit and foie gras country. Pristinely maintained cobblestones that hurt the feet, more than one's fair share of slow moving tourists who are only there to buy olives at the market, a well hidden medieval shop with friendly (and very nerdy) employees who are more than happy to share mead and wine samples with young female customers, and an interesting underbelly ice cream shop that doubles as a shot bar for addicted young people during the wee hours. A tattooed guy wearing leather chaps and gauged ears plays bagpipes at the main square several times per day. At Bar "Les Iles," Renaud flirts like the devil, and there is a half-Japanese waiter at a neighboring bar. Beware of the too-friendly American expat woman who will demand your email address.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Candid stalker shots.

From Hiroshima Flower Festival and Iwakuni Friendship Day. My new favorite hobby is amassing candids of people I find to be interesting or stylish, and over Golden Week I managed an enormous collection, most of them not actually that cool in 20/20 hindsight. :)

Golden Week was amazing, by the way. I'll put up some tourist photos later. As dictated by coworkers, I ate Hiroshima style okonomiyaki with udon noodles inside and a fried egg on top, visited Miyajima and battled thousands of other tourists for access to the friendly deer, and gorged myself on Taco Bell at Iwakuni Marine Corps Base. I hadn't eaten Taco Bell in something like two years, and it definitely took its toll on my body, but the masochist American in me enjoyed the flecks of blood spotting up the TP.

Unfortunately for me it was a bit tricky to find interesting women to shoot, as the Japanese female population seems to be wholly enchanted by the current (and tragic) trend of boater hats with twee florals and extra light denim jackets and skirts. Still though, as a rule you are far more likely to run into interesting fashion statements in a large collection of Japanese people than in sweet home upstate New York where the hambeasts in jorts run wild and flats are considered high shoe fashion. I think I'll be standing around stealth shooting like a creep more often. Stay tuned for more posts like these.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Importance Of Being Polite

(Written for Flights From Hell)

When you think about it, we are all just big babies who have been potty trained and conditioned to suppress our tantrum urges. The frustrations of air travel are abundant and impossible to ignore: waiting in line just to be told we were sent to the wrong line, weather delays, stupid people everywhere, harried staff that come off as rude, what have you. All these things encourage us to let out the shrieking man-baby within. Wouldn't it feel great to just punch the smirk off that smarmy counter agent's face, flush the screaming newborn down the lavatory toilet, recline your seat as violently as possible into that tall guy behind you simply because you don't like his looks?

Don't do it. Fantasize away, but now you are grown and you must act accordingly. For the love of all that used to be posh and civilized, you will be rewarded if you exercise restraint by knowing that you have made someone's day a bit easier. Be considerate and helpful to flight attendants and airline staff - chances are you make more money than they do, and stressed/irritable passengers are everybody's problem when you're working as an airline team. I can't count how many times I have been thanked by airport and airline personnel, indirectly via a smile or extra peanuts or with a "thank you for being patient," simply because I am polite.

There is surely truth in the most recent post about expectations and whatnot. While Japan still refers to customers in the humble polite tense and bows to every single passenger as they deplane, it is a fool's hope to expect that same kind of treatment from U.S. airlines, and so we lower our expectations. Some employees ARE genuinely rude and deserve to be demoted to family-oriented Disney World Orlando flights, but it is my belief that American airline staff have grown cool and curt at least partially as a reaction to the way passengers treat them. They too have lowered their expectations. I've seen middle aged men snapping their fingers at busy flight attendants, young moms losing it and screaming at gate agents in front of their children, and all sorts of customers ranging from difficult to deserving of death. Most people are decent (by "decent" I mean they refrain from throwing tantrums on board or at the airport), but unfortunately many of the memorable ones are the indecent ones.

Think back to the jobs you worked - surely anyone without a trust fund has some customer service-related work experience. Remember those jerks who yelled at you and insisted on speaking to your manager when there was nothing to be done? But I'm sure you also remember at least a few nice people who chatted with you at checkout, complimented your haircut or your earrings, and thanked you like they meant it. The folks who tricked you into thinking "I could ring register my whole life if everyone were like that!"

If in the turbulent throes of our travel woes we cannot actually kill people, why not do the second best thing and kill them with kindness?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

iPhone love

Is this the future of international romance?