Saturday, November 8, 2008

Confession of a Southerner in Tokyo

I never thought in a million years that I would be living in Tokyo. The likely hood of a guy like myself living in the far east is the same as the Chicago Cubs winning the world series. In some twist of fate here I am living in Tokyo, Japan. I used to think that am not suppose to end up living on the other side of the planet. After careful thought I have realized that my life has always been leaning in the direction of Asia in some shape or form. When I look back on my life I can see how Asia has always been apart of my life. All the way back to the early days. Nick Ramsay from recently tagged me in a post requesting to know more about me. I have had it on my mind to write a little tell-all about how I ended up living in Tokyo. Nick has finally inspired me to write this post. Well, here is my confession.

Born to Lose

I was born in West Virginia, USA. It is the poorest state in the union. I had the luck to be raised in McDowell County which is the poorest county in the poorest state in the union. Yes, I was born with two strikes against me. My father was a coal miner in a long line of coal mining, hard working, hard drinking men. My mother was the gentle native American type. My mother`s mother was full blood native American. This odd couple gave birth to me on January 5th 1980 deep in the mountains of West Virginia in a town called Welch. My parents loved Rock n` Roll which only fueled my rebellious nature from a very young age. My mother had Asian blood as my grandmother often said. My grandmother never really liked my mother and blamed my her for what she said was, `a very odd boy who spends too much time thinking and not enough time doing.`

Divorce Greasers and a Girl from Korea

As time went on tensions between the family factions lead to a lot of stress on my parents. This was made even worse when my dad had to stop working due to having an extra nerve on his heart. After going under the knife to `fix` his heart dad was never the same. This drinking and lack of a decent job lead to constant violence in the home. My mother finally had enough and packed her bags and left; taking my sister with her. So, dad and I were left on our own. Soon after my father and I started to refer to each other my our first names. We were no longer father and son. We were drinking buddies!

Due to the shock of dealing with divorce I became a misfit of sorts. I fell into a crowd of other teenage misfits and greaser types. I took an interest in playing football and building muscle cars. This is how I met a girl named Soon-Ei. She was from Korea and a greaser like myself. Her father`s company bought a controlling interest in a chemical factory in up-state West Virginia. Apparently, he hated his daughter and sent her to live with a redneck family in McDowell County while he attended to business in Charleston,WV. I first met her in shop class and we soon became hot and heavy for each other. This did not set well with most of the other kids in high school. I got labeled as the `weird kid who is sleeping with the yellow girl.` I did not care so much about what the others said because she was nice to me and a lot of fun to hang out with. Although, my relationship with her did get me into a lot of fights. A lot of guys in school liked to sexually harass her because she was very beautiful and not white. She took shop class with me and we build several kick-ass muscle cars together. We were even able to help show several rednecks in shop class the value of accepting people who look different. We got voted sexist couple at vocational school our senior year.

Sadly, after high school her father got transferred back to Korea so we parted ways. I lost contact with her. My relationship with her was my first taste of Asia(no pun intended). Little did I know it would not be my last.

College: Radio, Acid, and Japanese college girls

So off to college I went in the summer of 1999. My uncle bubba decided that the best thing for me was to go to college. Despite his name bubba is actually a real smart guy. He has a masters in Education and Engineering. He was always understanding of me and at times took me under his wing. He was the only person in my family who kind of let me be myself. He never gave me shit for anything. Well, he helped me though the process of getting accepted to Concord University. CU is a small university located in the mountain town of Athens, WV. My entire family was very proud of the fact I was actually going to college. I remember my grandmother saying, `Wow! The damn boy is actually doing something. Well, at least he is not in prison.`

When I first stepped foot on the grounds of CU I knew that I could never again live in McDowell County. College was my only way out of that redneck hell hole. They cursed me with a thick southern draw but they were not going to drag me under. I decided to major in journalism and minor in human personality. Seem like a perfect choice to me.

My friends in college were a few hippies, some metal heads, a crazy Russian and a gang of Japanese college girls. An odd bunch to run with but I have been odd my entire life. I had a few duties in college above and beyond attending class. I did the Friday night shift for the college radio station. I also earned a spot on the college news paper staff and later served as the A&E editor. These extra duties earned me a little attention on campus. It was weird but after a while I got used to people coming up to me and saying, `Are you the guy who does the radio on Friday night?`

Anyway, the hippies kept me pretty high in my free time. Hell, most of the time. It was hard to keep up with them. There was this one hippie guy named George Jones(just like the country singer). He had a thing for Asian religion and smoking lots of pot. I spent a lot of time with him in college and learned a lot from him.

It was also in college that I met the love of my life. Makiko Kono has been apart of my life since I was 19 years old. I met her while playing basketball during my first summer semester in college. Our story is way too long to tell here but lets just say that we have been connected at the hip from the time me met. The only reason I met her was because of this crazy as hell Harajuku gal attending Concord. She was the first person I met in college. I ended up usually having a gang of Japanese gals hanging around me way too often. I guess they took a liking to me because I was nice to them and helped them out whenever I could. You can image the oddness of being Japanese and attending college in West Virginia. My first apartment was with MK and a friend of hers. They really got me interested in Japanese culture. I think that was the jumping point which has led me to living in Tokyo today.

It is also worth noting that during my college years I experimented with LSD. I learned a lot form Acid. It really opened up my mind to new ways of thinking. I have my tales about tripping on LSD but I will not share them here. If you want to hear a few good Acid stories from me you are just going to have to meet me in person.

OK Things have Gotten Out of Control; Bye Bye America Hello Japan

For a few years after college I really did not know what to do with myself. I spent about a third of my time traveling to Japan to see MK. During these years I watched American turn into a real shit place to live. Don`t get me wrong I love my country but the damn government is acting like a pack of boot licking Nazi`s. With the Empire going insane and people behaving really weird I was finally fed up. On a winter trip to see MK we finally decided to get married. This was not an easy choice for me. I left everything and everyone I knew behind forever to come and live with MK in Tokyo.

So, here I am in Tokyo Japan. My southern ass is living in a place with has been calling my name long before I could hear its screams. I guess it will be many years before I return to America. I like it here overall. It is always interesting.

Ok Nick, and rest of the world, now you know a little bit more about me and how I ended up living in Japan. Maybe a few more people will understand me a little better. Although there will be those who will use this post as fuel for attacking me. I will just have to laugh at the assholes and thank those who find my willingness to share my little story interesting.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Eating Burgers and Hanging with Tommy the Painter

I don`t always write about my adventures with Tommy. I have written about hanging with Tommy a few times in the past but most of my adventures with him I usually keep to myself. I decided that maybe I should write about running around with Tommy more often. He is after all the first friend I made in Tokyo. Actually, he was one of the first people to even talk to me. In Tokyo I have found that it is rare for people to talk to someone they do not know. Tommy is different. He is friendly and always enjoys meeting new people. Although, this Thursday I had a dual motivation for heading into central Tokyo.

So, this Thursday I venture out into central Tokyo looking to get into something. I decided to try out this new shop in Omotesando which only sells the McDonald`s Quarter Pounder with cheese. I found out about it from Neil at I must give him credit and a big thanks for both finding and sharing this place with the rest of the world. It was a real trip for sure. It is set up to look more like a night club than a fast food place. Painted in all black the place is not as welcoming as a regular McDonald`s. The menu is very simple and straight forward. You get too options to choose from; Double Quarter Pounder with cheese set for 600 yen or Quarter Pounder with cheese set for 500 yen. Well, I just went with the Quarter Pounder with cheese set because McDonald`s really is bad to be eating in the first place. I have to say it was damn good! I have not had a Quarter Pounder since I left the states almost eight months ago. It was as good as I remember. So, if you want to try an odd place for lunch give this one a try for sure.

After getting myself all bloated off of a big nasty burger I needed to walk around a little. It is so easy to go on a little walkabout in Tokyo. There seems to be an endless amount of sides streets and back alleys to explore. I headed into the back section of Harajuku. I do not often go that deep into Harajuku but from time to time I like to see what is going on around there. It is usually not all that crowed in the back section of Harajuku. Most people stick to Takashita street, the bridge at Yoyogi park, or the main side streets across from Takashita. The far end of Harajuku offers some really nice coffee shops along with some mid-scale fashion shops to explore.

The only thing out of the way I saw on my little walkabout was this odd little man pacing up and down the street with a compass and a writing pad. He kept walking and staring at his compass. Ever so often he would stop to write something on his writing pad. I have no idea what the hell he was doing but he seemed to be enjoying himself. He was going at it hardcore. I was wondering when a sparse car would come by and crash right into him? I also wondered if he even cared if a car hit him? Maybe he was trying to map out something. In my twisted thought process I stood around watching him making up little explanations for his strange actions. The craziest one I came up with was that he was trying to decode a special message giving to him by aliens so he could join them in space. After about 10 minutes or so the entertainment factor of watching the compass guy wore off and I made my way to the bridge at Yoyogi to see if Tommy was hanging around.

Sure enough as soon as I stepped foot on the bridge there was Tommy with a smile and a big hug. Now Tommy is a keen type of guy so he started talking at the speed of light about what has been going on since the last time me met. He usually does this until I start talking at the speed of light eventually leading to both running out of things to report on. He always has some interesting news to report about Yoyogi and Harajuku. The weekend festivals and the cops are two of his favorite topics. He is the expert when it comes to knowing the movements and behavior of the fuzz in Yoyogi park and Harajuku. I enjoy listening to him talk about what the cops have been up to as of late.

After helping him store this paintings in a locker in the subway we walked over to Shibuya for a little while. Tommy was hungry so we stopped at one of the many great curry shops he knows about. I think he might know about every good curry shop in Tokyo. Every place he has taken me to or suggested offered damn good curry at a great price. If you want to eat good curry in Tokyo just ask Tommy. Anyway, we went into this place and he ordered a chicken soup curry. I did not order anything but he was nice enough to order an extra side of rice and share some of his curry with me. It was really tasty curry!

After eating he wanted to show me a `better place` to buy that odd little, and 100% legal, herb we enjoy called spice. The usual head shop to buy the stuff is really expensive so Tommy found another head shop with much lower prices. He got a big packet of the stuff for only 3,000 yen; the other place charges over 7,000 yen for the same amount. After buying it we went back to Yoyogi park to hang out. Along the way he bought some beers. There is nothing like hanging out in Yoyogi park after dark drinking.

We went to an area in Yoyogi park over looking the pond. It was a nice view even though it was pitch dark. So, we sat there drinking some beer, smoking spice, and listening to some music from Vietnam provided by a little tape player. We talked a lot about life in Tokyo. We are both in agreement that a person cannot be normal and live in Tokyo. People who try to live normal in Tokyo end up going half crazy. I think this is very true in many ways. I believe that most people in Tokyo do stuff that they do not tell most people about. Just go to Shinjuku for proof.

It was a good evening but I could not hang out with Tommy all night. I had to go home and attend to my gal. She has been feeling a little under the weather as of late and needs me to make her feel better. Good thing I actually enjoy being at home attending to her or it would drive me nuts!

As always I look forward to hanging out with Tommy again soon. I never know exactly what we are gonna get into.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Balzac Brings `The Terror` to the Earthdom

This past Monday I want to see one of my favorite Japanese punk bands; Balzac! In the world of Japanese punk Balzac are legends in their own right. The band takes a heavy influence from the American band The Misfits. Balzac has taken what The Misfits started with the idea of `Horror Punk` and taken it to a much more dark and twisted place. Often, when people ask me who is Balzac I say they are the Japanese Misfits. Although, Balzac is much more than just a Japanese take on the classic sound and image of an American punk icon.

My venture into the dark heart of Balzac started with a bee line from work. I did not have time to change out of my suit and tie. I knew that I was going to stand out like a sore thumb walking into an underground punk bar but I did not care. The chance to see Balzac cannot be passed up no matter how I am dressed. I was mindful enough to wear a black suit and tie so I would not look too out of place. The train ride to Shin-Okobo was, to my surprise, very short. It only took me seven minutes to get to Shin-Okobo once I got to Ikebukuro. This gave me time to relax a little bit and get my wits about me before entering the Earthdom.

There were plenty of punks hanging around on the streets. This is usual for an evening when a good punk band is playing at the Earthdom. They like to hang out in the many sides streets drinking and picking up gals. Balzac brings out the more twisted punks from the underground punk scene in Tokyo. I do not see the more dark side of Tokyo punks so often. In fact, I had not seen any live shows in months! My working schedule has kept me from having the chance to get out to a show. Being off on Thursdays and Friday is not good for someone who likes going to punks shows in Tokyo. A lot of the best shows go down on the weekends, but Balzac played a very rare Monday show on a national holiday.

I entered the Earthdom about an half an hour before the the show started. The crowd was still lean as few people had an interest in seeing the opening act. I must admit that only reason I was there was to see Balzac and not some other band. Although, there must always be an opening act to get the crowd all warmed up for the main event. The first band was not too bad actually. They rocked as hard as they could. I think that front man was a little drunk. He fell over twice and slurred this words just a little too much.

About half way though the opening act`s set I kind of lost interest and headed into the bar area to chill for a while. I have always really liked the bar area at the Earthdom. Its got this relaxed vibe that is unlike any other rock bar I have been to in Tokyo. Even the bar area of the Shinjuku Loft does not have the same kind of relaxed vibe that the Earthdom bar offers. People lounge around on couches which should have been thrown away a long time ago. Casual conversation can easily be had and most people just do their own thing.

While I was having a good time hanging at the bar it soon came time for the mighty Balzac to take the stage. I had not seen Balzac play in several years so I was really excited to see them play again. The last time I saw them play live was at a music fest at Tokyo speed way a few years back. Kiss was the headliner and Balzac was playing on a second stage. It was a damn fine experience but I had never seen Balzac play a small underground place before. I found myself a semi-safe spot to the side of `the pit` and soon enough Balzac took the stage.

The kids went crazy as soon as Balzac played the first note. Fans of the band are known to be hardcore loyal. In their eyes there is no band other than Balzac. Many fans dressed up in classic Balzac Skull&Bones jump suits. The gals at the show love the guys who go all out for the kings of Japanese Horror punk. If you want to make a Horror punk gal wet in Tokyo just wear a Balzac jump suit and she is all yours.

The front man started things out with the classic Balzac megaphone bit. He sang into a megaphone which was blood stained and had Balzac plastered on the side. It provides for an interesting sound live. The small venue also made the sound of the band much more intense(I still am having trouble hearing very well). They really go crazy live as compared to just listening to a CD. In the studio Balzac likes to experiment with tech-o beats and samples which makes their albums a musical adventure. Balzac live is a horse of a different color. They go balls out wild with a sound so intense it defies all similarities to punk rock. One might mistake them as hardcore rather than Horror punk. Their loyal fans seem to love every minute.

The one song I was really happy they played was `The Day the Earth Caught Fire.` This song was covered by none other than The Misfits as part of a split album with Balzac a few years back. It is a great Horror punk song! The fans at the Earthdom went crazy for the song and for good reason.

It was a great performance by Balzac and one I will not soon forget. They pulled out all the stops and gave everyone a great show. They even did too encores just because the fans demanded it! Most bands will not even do one encore much less too! Balzac will be playing around the Tokyo area for a while so if you can go to a show I really suggest checking them out. If you like intense Horror punk you will love Balzac live.

I must say sorry for not getting any photos. The crowd was just too wild for me to get any decent pics to share. You will just have to go too this band for yourself.