Friday, January 27, 2012

Accepting Japan before Japan Accepts Me

Howdy Yall! Before coming to Japan I really did not know much of anything about this island nation. All I knew was that they make damn good TV's, cars, porn and have a thing for hyper fast pop music. Now that I have been in Japan for several years, I know a whole lot more about this semi-closed society. In fact, I know more than I ever wished to know about Japan. I could write about a lot of different things about Japanese culture. I could spend my time writing about some of the crap I used to write about; temples food and stuff like that. I cannot do that anymore. It is much better for me to be real with all of yall. Being real has made this blog much more interesting and true to my experience in Japan.

With that said, one of the hardest things I have never had to do is accept Japan as it is in it's current form. As anyone who has lived here for a few years can tell you, Japanese don't accept outsiders very easily. Of course, they have gotten much more accepting since the end of WW2 but they still struggle with the realities of a growing multi-ethnic society. To say that a lot of Japanese are filled with Xenophobic fear is an understatement.  Many Japanese go far beyond any Xenophobic or racist tendencies. Sadly, there are many J-folk who will go to great lengths to marginalize you simply because you are not Japanese. So many people have attempted to explain, or make reason, of Japan's unique form of exclusion. My take on it is just as unique as Japan itself.

It seems clear to me that Japanese are trained from a very young age to exclude people from their daily life. They don't just do it to gaijin; they even do it to each other. Yeah, I have met my fair share of outgoing, half crazy, fun loving Japanese. Yet, on the other hand I have met even more Japanese who would prefer to jump in front of a fucking JR train at rush hour then deal with others head on. One of the great failures of Japanese culture is to develop proper social skills to be able to at least handle social situations on their own terms as an individual. Some of them have been able to learn social skills in order to at least handle themselves as an individual. Although, this is not normal and you should not expect it at all. So, the big challenge is how to accept an ethnic group which is unable to even accept themselves. Well, for an outgoing southern guy from American who says crazy shit when he drinks too much accepting Japanese culture has very funny results.

I use humor daily in order to accept Japan before Japan accepts me. I have leaned to laugh at the out of hand things a lot of Japanese do to marginalize damn near everyone around them. Most of the insane things a lot of them do to avoid standing on their own as an individual deserves a poke from me from time to time. I just cannot help myself at times yall. If I don't rattle their cage at the right moment, I will seriously loose my shit. Let me give you a few funny examples of how I have learned to accept Japan.

The salary man who burns a whole though my head on the train.

This guy is epic. He clearly has something to say to me. It might be because he wants to make a new friend or he wants to get some shit started. I don't know why he is staring me down but it is not okay to stare at someone like that without saying something. He must be thinking he can get away with it because he is surrounded by other Japanese. Usually I just let it go because I don't want any trouble on the damn train. Yet, from time to time I decide to play a little game. I call it the 'motherfucker do I look funny to you game.' What I do is start making funny faces at the guy. The same kind of funny faces that little kids make at each other. Throws the guy off his game every time.  The funny part comes when he starts looking around trying to make eye contact with another Japanese so he can get them to look at me. His goal is to get them to look at me so he can create the image that I am a crazy gaijin and he did nothing wrong. I win this game every time because if he does get another Japanese to stare at me I make funny faces at them too.

Howdy! Let's be friends you racist bastard

From time to time I get a wild one of my hands. He has the support of a given group because he has gotten control over the group's thinking. I am just trying to be an open friendly American. He don't like that because he fears losing control over the group; as if I give a fuck about who controls what. So, he starts talking shit about English teachers and how fucked up and useless gaijin are to Japan. I know he is full of fear simply because I am not Japanese and he wants to maintain his ego trip. I say the same thing almost every time, 'You are a fucking racist buddy. I will go back to my native nation and tell everyone what a gang of fucked up backward racist Japanese people are.' That fucks with his head big time. The group usually laughs their ass off at him because the one thing that crushes most Japanese is to be laughed at by the group over something a gaijin said about them. Usually the guy gets a look on his face like he wants to kill me; but of course he doesn't do shit but turn his back on me and pretend I am a ghost(which partly explains the title of this blog).

Let's get to the point already!

Okay. I must admit this one is a bit brutal. I only reserve it as a last resort. One of my Japanese brothers and sisters deems it fit to attack me because they feel it will further their agenda. My non-Japanese status makes me look like an easy target. So, with the support of a group of course, they attempt to lay into me. Sadly, because they are so full of fear they are unable to attack me directly they speak in such a round about way that they are unable to really go after me. So, I simply ask the most direct question I can think of at the moment. Man, it really throws them for a loop. After that they usually back off a bit and start to deal with me on a more human level. I don't like doing that to them but sometimes I simply have to in order to snap them out of their trip.

So yeah, I have learned to use humor to accept Japan before Japan accepts me. One day I am sure Japan will be okay with me and we will not have to have these odd funny run ins with each other. Hell, Japan has already given me permanent residence. It is only a matter of time before Japan learns to love me just the way I am.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Mad Tokyo Cows and the Joys of the Gaijin Bubble

Howdy as always yall! You know, everyone needs a good laugh. It is laughter which has got me though some shitty parts of my life. It is also just good fun all around. Although, as you can guess finding English stand up comedy in Tokyo is not an easy mission. Naturally, most live comedy is done in Japanese. To be honest, I don't really find Japanese comedy all that funny. The natives laugh at J-comedy but I usually find it to be a little silly. With all that said, there is a underground traveling stand up group in the Tokyo area known as Mad Cows of Tokyo.

I have heard about this group for a while but it was not until last week that I finally made it out to one of their little events.  I was encouraged to attend the event by a gal I met in a bar in Shibuya. She was upbeat and full of conversation topics, so when she not only invited me, but sent me several emails reminding of the event, I really had no other choice but to attend. It seemed a big deal for her that I show up and watch her sing a funny song. So, being the Southern gentlemen that I am, I left work in Yokohama and traveled to Daikanyama to see for myself what all the fuss was about.

This gal really made a big deal about my attendance. She gave me a few texts while I was at work and even had me text her when I arrived at Daikanyama so she could meet up with me. Her warmth and care for my safe and speedy arrival was a refreshing  change from the usual attitudes a deal with daily. Anyway, after we met up we went, arm and arm, around the corner to a coffee shop which hide itself in a maze pretending to be a building. Tokyo has a lot of buildings like this due to a limited amount of space and inflated land prices.  It is not all that hard to get lost in a three story building. It took us about 15 minutes to finally find the actual coffee shop.

It was a mellow little coffee shop which sold hard drinks about the sun goes down. Judging from the layout of the joint, I guess that they go after the working class during the day and aim for the tired business folk after sunset. Overall, it was a nice little place except for the overpriced drinks and low lighting. I kind of had to focus to get a feel for the surroundings because my new friend made it a point to introduce me to everyone she knew. Apparently, she is a regular on the underground English comedy ring in Tokyo and knows all the other comedians. I got to meet everyone and I quickly felt that something was out of place. I could not tell what was off with these people at first but something seemed forced and unnatural. An odd kicking distance which was so strong that I was almost taken back by it. Yet, it was hard to focus due to my escort having me jump from one person to the next. It was fun meeting so many people at once all the same.

The event was actually meant to be a little contest of sorts for a bigger planned event. The winner from this event went on to a larger event with some sort of prize involved. I was not exactly clear on the details. It seemed that most people did not really care about the contest and just wanted to get up in front of the small crowd, tell some jokes and just have a few laughs. Most of them were okay and I found most of them to have at least said a few funny things. The comedians were from several different backgrounds, including a few Japanese, so it was fun to hear jokes with a different perspective. Overall, they made me laugh enough for me to say I enjoyed the stand up. Although, it was only after the performance that I got a better sense of why I felt the strange distance.

It was more than just the natural awkwardness of meeting new people. I was a gaijin they did not know and I was also someone who is not out and about all the time. Only one or two people could place me at any other place before. My buddy Paul,who is different from the other gaijin at the event, was there so he knew me. The gal that invited me to the event knew we as well. After about 15 minutes of listening to everyone else talk, it became clear to me that most of the comedians had been living in the gaijin bubble.

For those of yall who don't know what the gaijin bubble is please allow me to explain. A gaijin bubble is when someone avoids regular direct contact with native Japanese people. Instead, go to places in which English is often spoken and most of the things they do involve other foreigners. I will never knock such behavior because Japan is a tough nation to get used to and having people around ya who share a similar background can really make life easier. The thing is, I am really not used to being around these kind of folk.  The social rules are totally different from the kind of foreigners I usually hang out with. You cannot say certain things around these folks and expect to win their favor. For example, you cannot say anything positive about Japanese people or Japanese culture. Due to the bubble they live in, Japanese culture looks like a backwards off putting concept to them. Also, it is not a good idea to speak too much Japanese around them. Speaking Japanese to other native speakers of English is very odd for someone who lives in a gaijin bubble. I can totally understand the kinds of feelings these folks have about Japan. The culture here is hard to adjust to and it is even harder to fit in a homogenous society. A lot of people do come to Japan and quickly realize the uphill battle of being gaijin in Japan. It is real easy to surround yourself with people of a similar background and create a bubble.  Now, I am sure that not everyone performing that night lives in a bubble. I am sure that several of them deal with Japan head on everyday. Although, there were enough people there who do live in a bubble to call it a majority.

Yeah, it can be very hard living in Japan. From time to time, I even put myself into a temporary bubble just to get away from the up tight lifestyle in Japan. So, that is why the Mad Cows of Tokyo are cool. You can hang out with people who have a strong sense of their own culture and have a good laugh as well. In fact, they are having another little mini event at my buddy Paul's bar Vega Wine Bar on Jan. 25th Tokyo time. It was good to see Paul again and I miss going to his bar. So, if you got nothing to do in the 25th then you might just find me at Vega Wine Bar in Ebisu. Click here for the Vega bar website so you can get more details. BTW Monday is Wine Viking night which means for 2,000 yen you can drink all of Paul's fine wine you like for two hours. Also you can click here to check out Mad Cows of Tokyo website to learn a bit more about what they do.