My Return to Japan

When I was in my late twenties I moved to Japan to teach English for two years. When I returned to Canada, I struck up a correspondence with a Japanese woman I had worked with at my school. She came to visit me for a few weeks and one thing led to another, as they do.

For the purposes of this piece, we’ll call this woman, Keiko.

After Keiko returned to Japan, our original plan had been for her to come back to Canada for a longer visit. However, family obligations kept her from being able to. Also at the time, my job was really turning up the suck, and I was having no luck finding anything better (or even comparable). So I realized that returning to Japan was the best thing for me romantically and professionally. It totally was, too. We’ll have been married for ten years next month.

However, outside of my immediate family, who were very supportive, there was a lot of resistance to me returning to Japan, and the different ways it was articulated was quite interesting.

I had been aware for some time about the bubble of altered reality that most white men in North America are equipped with. “Racism? Prejudice? These don’t exist!” I learned this fairly early on when I started working with a Sikh man at the gas station. Again and again, regular customers who I had always known to be polite and reasonable would fly off the handle in ignorant tirades at him over the most petty bullshit. Of course, as “polite” Canadians, they had been long since trained to avoid any overt racist language, so to my coworker they just seemed like plain old assholes. To me, I realized there was something else going on. It turns out there are a lot fewer assholes in a white male’s world.

So I wasn’t too surprised when Keiko and I would go out places and receive what I now refer to as my “inter-racial couple customer service downgrade.” But my friends are all reasonable and open-minded people, right? I mean, what complaints could they possibly have about this?

I expected flak from my more typically blue-collar circle of friends, but was surprised when Keiko’s visit was a wild hit with them. This was a trans-pacific booty call of epic proportions, and my status among them was upgraded to full-on player. Most of these guys remained completely positive about my relationship and my move to Japan. (“You mean they pay you to sit around and shoot the shit with Japanese hotties? Fuck man, go! GO! Go live the dream for all of us!”) However there were exceptions; ironically from the people who style themselves as more enlightened.

“How can you go back to Japan, with how they treat women over there?”

What do you mean by that? Not that there aren’t issues, certainly there are, but what do you know about them?

“Well, there’s all that foot binding!” (No shit. I’ve had this fucking conversation multiple times.)

Uhhhhhhh. No. That’s China. Or, was, actually, since they stopped doing it almost a century ago.

“Well, they abort or just throw away baby girls!”

Again, that’s China. They are different places, right? Babies of either sex are cherished to a degree that borders on mania in Japan.

“Well, they’re weird sexually.”

Really? How have you ascertained that?

“Well their porn is all rapey. How could you want to be with Japanese women, since they all want to be raped.” (No shit. People have said this to me.)

Okay, then, if we’re going to play the Let’s Judge Women Based on The Porn Men Watch game, how’s about we turn that around on North America? If you were to judge North American sex lives on the more vanilla porn produced there, giving a blowjob is the only foreplay women need for unlubed anal sex. Then, if you want to get into rapey predatory stuff, we don’t even need to talk about the full on rape fantasy porn, what about GirlsDoPorn and all the casting couch horseshit? Nothing unpleasant going on there? No? Okay then, we’ll just keep pretending that North American culture is totally perfect and normal. Nothing to see here, move along.

If you watch the vast majority of Japanese porn with the sound off, the only distinguishing feature is how bland and pedestrian it all is. Yes, those squeaky, “I’m being raped,” noises the women make is weird and off-putting, no doubt. What this feature of Japanese porn says about Japanese men’s fantasies and turn ons is certainly debatable and potentially significant in a cultural analyses, but it should also be remembered it is no more real than all the, “Oh! YEAH! Fuck my ass! Oooooo!” bullshit in American porn. It also does not mean that all Japanese porn consumers like it. It’s probably much the same situation as all the women in American 90s porn wearing high heels: it double loads a scene to cover a wider base of consumers. The shoe fetishists got something, and the shoes were easily ignored by those who didn’t give a shit for them.

So mainstream American porn producers think men want to fantasize that women love going mouth to ass to mouth and getting coated in semen, and Japanese porn producers think that men want to fantasize that taking their cock is painful. And keep in mind that porn producers are fucking idiots at just one remove from pimps, so let’s not take what they think too seriously, shall we?

Be all that as it may, I was suddenly in this weird position of defending an entire culture and country from the random ravings of people who had no idea what they were talking about. What was really going on was that they were sorry to see me go. They missed me when I went the last time, it looked very much like this time was going to be longer term, if not permanent, and they didn’t want me to leave. But, being men, they wouldn’t admit to any feelings on the subject, and instead adopted a bullshit, moral high ground position from which to be a cunt and vent their anger. I just had to suck up the worst for a little while, and once I was married I only had to do the, “Pardon me? Did you just call my wife a Jap? Well, she is Japanese, so I think you did,” routine the once before most folks got the message. Those that didn’t have not proved any great loss to me.

Another group that exhibited extreme displeasure at my move was almost all of the non-familial women in my life. At that time, I had finished picking up the pieces from getting dumped by my spouse of ten years and bottoming out in a spectacular, alcoholic crash. But I was now sober, employed, in good shape, and looking more and more like a prospect for at least some casual fun. A plague-rat no longer. Yay!

When I got into the long-distance relationship with Keiko, and let it be known that I was taking it seriously, I figured the attention I was getting would diminish.

Boy, was I wrong. It seems that in the North American sexual climate at that time, being a desirable male in a committed long-distance relationship was some kind of invitation to be used as a disposable booty call by every down-to-fuck female who could get near me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming them for it, and the attention was flattering. I guess it’s the same phenomenon that makes a wedding ring such a pussy magnet: fucking a married man provides sex without all the potential danger of male emotional entanglements and delusions (or, at least, it probably seems that way in the wishful thinking initial stages). In this way of thinking, a man in a long-distance relationship is even better: he’s guaranteed horny, and obviously has his long-term sights set on someone else.

That was all well and good, except for one catch: I don’t cheat. I never have. Not even a little bit. So you can tempt me all you want, I’m not going to bite. Just try not to take it personally; I aint fuckin anyone, but if I were, I would most certainly exchange some fuck faces with you on any timetable you cared to devise.

But they did take it personally. And when word got around that I was taking the whole “Japanese thing” seriously, oh boy was there a lot of hostility. I do run with a more educated bunch, generally, so the nastiness was never fully articulated, but it was there. I had a real feeling that it was coming from notions of competition: Team Caucasian vs. Team Asian in the strictly racial sense, and the slightly more philosophically evolved, Team North American Feminism vs. Team Patriarchal Foreign Paradigm.

This was pretty fun to fuck around with, I must say. I’d already run the gauntlet of full on ignorance with chaps prone to regarding a punch in the face as an acceptable stage of human interaction, so this was minor. I’ve also had a liberal arts education, so I can play your little games with the best of them, thank you very much. With the racial side, there isn’t much for you to say that isn’t going to come off as anti-miscegenation. With the more intellectual savvy types, you want to talk patriarchal society? That’s fine; I’ll just counter with cultural imperialism. Either way, it’s all just so much more posturing to tart up and cloak what you’re really mad about. And I don’t really know what that is, but I can venture a generalized guess. Maybe it’s a bit threatening when an attractive, respectful to women and yet masculine man gets completely fucked over at the buffet of North American monogamy, and he decides to say “fuck it, I think I’ll try something different this time.” Perhaps your white knuckled refusal to criticize a fellow woman, no matter what she does isn’t serving your cause in the long run, and you don’t like it when a specimen such as myself slips through the cracks. Or maybe not. Maybe you’re completely right and I am just a patriarchal douchebag who’s looking for a subservient stereotype to service my every need. Either way, I don’t really give a fuck. Peace out; it’s been a slice.

This takes me to my final observations about the negative reactions concerning my moving to Japan to marry a Japanese woman. These observations are more generalized, and not based on any specific instances; they’re more simply an attempt to articulate my long-term ruminations on the topic.

When I was really gearing up for the move, one of my smarter friends gave me the best caution I received from anyone. I don’t think he was trying to talk me out of it, it was more that he wanted to be sure I was moving forward with my eyes wide open. This I appreciated, and his caution was well noted. He said that in an international relationship, the only practical outcome for its long-term survival is that one of the partners say goodbye to their homeland for all practical purposes. I can’t disagree, and I have made that choice. I already had, deep down inside, when he talked to me about it; I just hadn’t articulated it in those clear terms yet.

I think this truth is the missing puzzle piece on what was so disturbing for so many in my move to Japan. This was not a one thing leading to another, happenstance kind of thing. This was me, eyes wide open, making the conscious choice to leave Canada and move to Japan. This led to several conversations that went basically along these lines:

“When are the two of you coming back to Canada?”

We aren’t. The job market sucks for me, and is basically nonexistent for Keiko, so there’s really no professional incentive to do that. Keiko has said she is willing to live in Canada for a time, but was clear right from the start that she needs to return to Japan when her mother gets elderly and needs her help. She was also clear, in no uncertain terms, that she will not raise her children anywhere but Japan.

That last revelation has consistently been the one to really set people aback. It took me a while to get my head around what was going on, but another clue came from some other cautions people would give me when things were just beginning:

“Careful, she probably just wants an easy way to move to Canada.”

Yeah, but she doesn’t want to move to Canada. The overwhelming majority of Japanese people have absolutely no interest in living anywhere but Japan.

People in Canada really don’t like hearing this. Combine this reaction with the one to Keiko’s refusal to rear children in Canada, and we have our finger on a major revealing issue here.

You see, in your average North American’s mind, the rest of the world all want to be like them. Ours is the culture that matters. Our culture is the cock of the world that penetrates others and injects them with the seeds of our ideas and thoughts. All those foreigners want to move here and be like us. They should do things our way, think our way, and want our way.

Well, sorry, they don’t. Not even a little bit, in most cases. And when a white man in his prime of life decides to emigrate from Canada to Asia, this is deeply unsettling for many people. This is not how their world is supposed to work.

Just before Keiko’s first visit to Canada, many people liked joking about my mail order bride. However, when I was heading back over here, there were not so many laughs when I joked that Keiko’s mail order husband was on his way. This is not how the world is supposed to work.

Sorry, times change. There is no natural primacy to North American culture. The clock has already run out on that; only the perceptions of chauvinists lag behind the reality. Joke and pat yourselves on the back all you want about the lack of Chinese women, but do understand that the laws of supply and demand do not serve America alone. When the caucasian mail order brides start flowing that way, as they will, perhaps these notions of cultural supremacy so many North Americans cling to can start to implode.

This is the way the world works. Get used to it.

Fleecing Weeaboos: The New Art of the Samurai

I was watching NHK World News a while back and came across a pretty sweet nugget. NHK is basically Japan’s CBC, but with the suck turned way down. Their World News cable network is pretty good. They run through the same stories for ten or fifteen minutes on the hour, with full news broadcasts at certain times, and otherwise run NHK educational and cultural programs that have been dubbed into English. As a bonus, the news is actually very good. International with a slight Asian focus. Just the big international stories without all the star fucking and 24-hour news cycle hysteria of American outlets and BBC.

Anyway, they had this little show about some special dojo that’s operating up in the mountains in Japan someplace, where foreigners come to learn the “true art of the Samurai.” Smelling a rat right off, I settle in for a good show. I have been made aware of this trend in Japan, in particular with “Ninja schools” which claim to teach the secret arts of Ninjitsu. Basically, they are foreign Ninja fanboy fleecing stations and are almost universally regarded as a total joke by the Japanese who are aware of them.

Oh, so you’re a ninja, huh? So you’re an Edo era spy? That’s an impressive temporal feat, I have to say.

Anyway, back to the art of the Samurai. So the camera pans into this incredibly scenic mountain home, with the zen garden and Shinto shrine. Sure enough, there are glazed looking foreign men all over the property: scrubbing cobblestones, sweeping up, and no doubt detailing sensei’s Mercedes whether it needs it or not. Then we go into the dojo, where a bunch of students in really cool looking, pseudo kendo outfits, are going through their katas with real katana.

There must have been 12 of these guys (not an Asian among them), paired up, pretending to sword fight in slow motion in a room about twice the size of a boxing ring. In a space that size there wouldn’t be room to have a proper dance class with that many people, and these guys are training sword fighting there?

I’m thinking this must be some kind of prep, but no. The narrator explains that only the senior students may participate in this training, with real katana, after several years of “rigorous training and philosophical preparation.” So this routine is the culmination of their art. This is what they aspire to do.

Then we get a one on one interview with one of the senior students. Turns out he’s in Japan doing his PHD on kabuki (Japanese traditional “opera”). Aha, me thinks. Style over substance all the way with this one; no wonder he has been attracted to this bunch. But boy oh boy, does he ever take the whole samurai thing seriously. I want to grab the guy by his meticulous kimono and tell him: you are aware that the last samurai were all using guns, right? They were soldiers, albiet in a caste, not mystical warriors who farted poetry and flower arrangements.

Finally, we get to Sensei himself. He’s going on about how his great-grandfather was one of the last of the samurai. How his family has handed down and preserved the super secret training scrolls of the art of the katana. Techniques so deadly that they must never be used. That kind of thing.

So, I was thinking, surely if these techniques are so awesome, wouldn’t you be the president of a nationwide school of kendo? I mean, it’s not like that fighting art disappeared. It’s widely practiced in a modified form as a sport. As well, doing katas and cutting bamboo mats with the real swords is a less popular, but not uncommon, martial art.

Ah, but not so fast! Sensei then explains that because his totally authentic techniques are so unbelievably, terrifyingly dangerous, before students may learn them, they must swear a sacred oath concerning a code of conduct. Rules number one and two are pretty standard: don’t talk about fight club, and don’t teach the technique. Rule number 3 was pure awesome: The practitioner must never, ever, practice the form or spar with people using other styles.

AHA! Of course. It makes so much sense. The style is so deadly that should one of its practitioners actually step into a kendo dojo to test their skills in a practical arena, they would surely kill the hapless fool who stepped before them; practice swords and pads notwithstanding.

At this point, I could only wonder which of the lucky adepts were given the great honor of tending to sensei’s daily full release massage.

One of the things I really like about the Japanese was exemplified so beautifully by how the whole little documentary was presented. Totally earnest. They let the participants tell it themselves, without any commentary calling any of it out. But edited so proficiently as to leave no question as to what is going on; it may as well have been a fucking torpedo. Truly good stuff. Artful subtlety with a unerring death blow. Now there’s your ninja at work.

Japanese Commuter Diaries

Intro here.

They are flooding the rice paddies now. The vistas of dirt fields are now filled with water; transformed into wetland almost overnight. In the evening light, they reflect the sky and mountains behind; like a placid lake segmented by the grids of paddy walls.

Looking down at the nearby paddies from the train, we can take in small, organic, squishy scenes. Muddy pools still, with baby rice seedlings poking up in their neat rows. Ducks and herons going about their business, clearly delighted. The little rice planting tractors at work, with the tiny farmer trucks supplying their trays of seedlings parked on the narrow roads between the paddies.

Later, these pools will become seas of deep green. And later yet, yellow: drooping low under the heavy burden of grain.

But for now it is water and mud. Ducks and rubber boot wearing oldsters in their straw hats going about their labors together.

The junior salarymen from my last instalment have put in another appearance. Just the youngsters, though: none of the managers are in attendance.

At first it was just two of them sitting in the booth opposite me on the morning leg. Nothing unusual here; with their pressed black suits, white shirts and striped ties, overly shiny patent leather shoes, briefcases and overnight wheelie carry-on bags. At the next stop down the line, however, they are joined by another of the lads. This one is different. He is rocking street clothes and has with him a full suitcase.

He sees his two compatriots are wearing suits. He expresses his concerned surprise at this with one of the many expressive Japanese vocalizations they use instead of words. (“ehh!?”)

His two chums are surprised too. You’re not in your suit? (“Sutsu? Sutsu?”)

Oh dear. Buddy in his trendy ripped jeans and rocker shirts whips out his smartphone and hurriedly accesses the email that summoned all of them on this excursion. He’s almost frantically scrolling through it now, looking for some way out of this nightmare. Perhaps the two guys in suits are the ones who misunderstood.

His two mates look on with a mixture of amusement and sympathy. Of course, there is also the subtle edge of predatory satisfaction over the failure of someone who is nominally your competition.

No salvation in the email, the street-clothed fellow sits with a stricken look as he contemplates whatever situation awaits him at the other end of the journey. Will he have time to change into the suit he has carefully packed away in his suitcase?

Not likely.

His pre-trouble embarrassment is not over yet, however. At each of the next two stops, another young colleague boards the train and joins the crew. Both of these fellows is, of course, wearing his suit and has a small overnight bag for his toiletries and street clothes.

Oh dear, oh dear. The one odd man out in the five. Not good.

Later, on the terminal platform, I watch the crew. They have been met by an older gentleman salaryman I have not seen before. He leads them off to their destination. The street-clothed chump with his oversized suitcase takes his place in the duckling procession following in the manager’s wake. Stone faced expressions all.

The manager has made no mention of the lad’s fuck up. Probably all the kid got from him was a raised eyebrow and a cleared throat. Maybe a cough.

This doesn’t mean he aint fucked, though. If they are on their way to meet a customer and don’t have time for him to put on his suit before they do, the manager himself is going to have to bow and scrape to Customer-sama for this breach of etiquette.

The subordinate’s fuck up reflects on the manager, you see. It is his responsibility. His bad.

But being anything other than five minutes early for an appointment is not an option either. Do they have time to handle this? However this plays out, it will not be forgotten. Careers have been torpedoed for less.

Oh well, sucks to be him. It’s the kind of fuck up that the managers will all happily bust a gut laughing about at the post-work drinking party, once the acute tension of it has passed. A “shit happens” incident that won’t truly upset anyone too deeply.

But that doesn’t make the youngster any less fucked.

This is Japan.

Japanese Commuter Diaries

INTRO HERE

On the train.

Today I decide to change it up: sit in a seat other than my normal one. I can choose because I always arrive early enough to get the seat I want.

My normal seat is usually in the last booth on the train (my commuter train has two cars, generally), on the left side. I usually sit facing forward.

However, I have found that it’s nice to change things up. Usually I stick to the left side of the train, since that is the less sunny side, but taking a rearward facing seat on occasion is a nice change of scenery. When you’re used to watching what’s coming in your journey, it’s a new perspective to see those same scenes in reverse. A contemplation of where you’ve been, watching things drifting off into the distance.

Today is overcast, so I decided to really change it up. Right side booth, rear facing. Totally different world now. Like they say: sometimes a change is as good as a rest.

Waiting for the train to depart, a group of seven salarymen get on the train. It’s a whole crew. The dynamic with which they do this is interesting.

First, the point man: junior manager. He snags my usual booth, but takes the rear facing window seat. He is followed by four juniors: young, fresh-faced keeners; all obsequious eagerness and jumpy bowing. They occupy the four sideways facing seats by the rear doors. Totally separate area from their manager. The train equivalent of the kids’ table at a big family function.

This remains the entirety of the crew for some time. Then, five minutes before the train’s departure, the two big dicks present themselves. Turns out, junior manager has been holding the booth down for them.

Middle manager takes the rear facing booth seat next to the junior manager, at the aisle. Then, senior manager gets the front facing window seat to himself. His backpack gets the empty seat to his right.

Bossman is the only one with a backpack. The rest have the ubiquitous salaryman briefcases. Bossman, however, can allow himself this small breach of professional dress code.

It is a very nice backpack. Black and grey. Has the logo of some prestigious international business conference or another. The wooden handle of an expensive, folding umbrella protrudes from one of the backpack’s side bottle pouches.

Bossman’s number two, the middle manager, leaves his seat and heads back to the kids’ section. He hunkers down in front of two of them, like a peewee baseball coach instructing his youngsters. I can make out a few words: “customer,” “office,” “meeting,” “presentation.” His juniors are all attentive heads bobs and squared shoulders. Coiled springs at tension, ready to engage.

His people primed, his duty done, middle manager returns to his seat.

Bossman acknowledges none of this. He has not looked at the youngsters behind him once. Nor will he.

Bossman is in his early fifties, with a greying crewcut. Fit. Very low body fat. Square jawed. Dark black suit. Purple and violet tie with a broad, interesting striped pattern that probably set his wife or daughter back a minimum of ten thousand yen (a hundred dollars). He is calm. Like a cat on its favorite perch, he watches quietly with placid eyes. Sure of his superiority.

Bossman likes gum. He works it like it is premeditated murder, with violent stabs of chewing. The base of his jaw thickens as he chews; the muscles there overdeveloped. Sinews and tendons spring out of his jaw and neck. Not just a gum chewer, then: a nighttime tooth grinder too. Unsurprising.

Bossman hands gum out to his two underlings seated opposite. They dutifully take it. He likes gum, so you like gum. Halfway through the train ride, having swallowed his first batch, Bossman hands out more. He actually throws a stick of it at the middle manager, who has to move fast to catch it in his open file folder.

The managers don’t talk. They spend the first part of the trip going through some paperwork quietly. Reviewing files and business propaganda materials. The Bossman has an interesting looking notebook in which he has glued papers and pamphlets amongst his handwritten notes, like some kind of weird scrapbook. Then, once all their preparations are done, they put their materials away and sit in silence.

They sit in silence because the Bossman wants silence.

When we reach our destination, Bossman and his two subordinates leave the youngsters in their wake, paying them no heed as they move to the escalators to get to the bullet trains. A little later, moving through the station myself, I am able to watch their procession heading up to their platform.

Bossman leads the way, talking amiably with the middle manager, who follows one step back and to his right. Then, a good two meters behind, follow the rest. The junior manager who held the booth seats leads the four ducklings, who follow along, two by two.

Bossman leads the way. Kicking ass for his company. Not a doubt in his mind that his people follow behind, doing everything exactly the way they are supposed to.

This is Japan.

Japanese Commuter Diaries

INTRO HERE

On the train.

In the daytime, the outside world offers itself as entertainment. Always something new to be seen. Some subtle thing about a place that I missed before.

This is my morning leg.

But what of the night? In the dark, the outside view is gone: obliterated by the bright light in the carriage and the reflections it casts on the windows. What to look at here?

Nature abhors a vacuum, though. So too does our mind. Denied the wide vistas to engage itself, our mind collects more detail from what it has to engage with. We can examine our fellow passengers in more detail now. Furtively, of course, with all the decorum that the social harmony of the car requires. What do a person’s shoes say about them? Their jewelry, or luggage? How do they choose to present themselves to the world, and what telltale signals of their inner self have slipped through?

The seating is the booth type on my train. Like restaurant booths without tables; two person sofas facing each other. When I get to the train early enough, I can get into a booth first. Then, later passengers will tend to avoid sitting in my booth until there is no other choice (they are still skittish about gaijin up here in the countryside). Even then, usually only one will sit; always on the opposite couch, and not directly opposite. Plenty of leg and elbow room still.

Like I said before: in the boondocks here. We are not overcrowded.

On the night leg, the window reflections become mirrors with which to watch fellow passengers. More opportunities present themselves this way. This can be both entertaining and titillating. Here in rural Tohoku, there are not that many gaijin around. And in this country, bedding a white person is still pretty high up on many people’s bucket list. This, along with me being something of a sexy bitch, makes me popular with the racial fetishizing crowd over here (yes, that goes both ways; and you won’t catch me complaining about it). Not bragging; it just is what it is.

As demure as they might seem, Japanese women do find ways to let their interest be known. Surgeons with the coy glances, they are. A nice hour of languid eye fucking, I have found, is a lovely way to end the public portion of my day. Harmless fun.

Not an everyday occurrence, certainly, but frequent enough to be a feature.

I do so love my commute.

Japanese Commuter Diaries

Intro here.

On the train. Between my terminal stations, there are multiple stops on my train ride. The “rapid” version has about five stops. The regular, more.

Three of the stops are fairly big country stations. Two are for towns. The other is for an onsen resort village. Onsen are Japanese hot spring spas. Basically gender segregated, communal (sometimes private) hot spring baths that people soak in. The hotels attached to the spas are usually pretty big, and a popular holiday destination for Japanese folk of all ages.

As my train passed through the onsen village this morning, I happened to be staring out the window at one of the bigger hotels. It’s wide, with at least fifteen stories overlooking the whitewater river. Big and nice.

Most of the room windows had their blinds drawn. My eye was drawn to a window about halfway up.

A man was standing sideways at the window. A woman was seated in a chair right in front of him, clearly giving him a blowjob. Her head bobbing away. Him leaning back in a lower back stretch, watching the train go by underneath.

Predictably, I suppose, the man was wearing a track suit.

Commuting on the Local Japanese Train

I live in the mountains of central Tohoku, Japan. Every workday, I commute about an hour each way by local train. The line I take cuts through numerous rural villages and natural areas, including a scenic volcano with ski resorts. It’s beautiful.

There’s a rhythm to the train that I love. The rocking of the cars. The way it seems to breathe as its pneumatics operate. The energy of the people, all in their own private bubbles, yet sharing this communal space together. Forced into each other’s worlds, if even just a little, we share this mundane daily ritual together.

I suppose I would be a lot less enamored of the experience if I had to commute in just about any other country. But this is Japan. Polite and orderly to a fault, the Japanese are ideal commute companions.

It helps that have no lingering distasteful associations with trains from my previous lives. Growing up in Alberta, Canada, I never had much a chance to experience passenger trains. Buses are the mode of transport that I loathe. I hate their smell. Their motion. I hate waiting for them, and I hate being on them. Buses have been ruined for me by too many hours of being crammed into them going to and from school; packed in with bullies and random big city psychotics and smelly geriatrics that want to talk. Being on a bus always makes my skin crawl just a little.

But trains? No problem. They carry with them all the romanticism of bygone eras and international travel experiences. I’ve always loved trains. I grew up near the rail yards and the middle of the night booms of the freight cars being shunted was always a comforting sound to me. My friends who slept over thought the sounds were monsters. No, it’s just the trains, I’d tell them.

When I agreed to take the job that would require this commute of me, I realized that the train ride would become the anchor of my day. Each leg a stable bookend to compartmentalize my work life from my private. It has been just so.

But what to do in during this time? You see, I have no smartphone. No tablet. Is this a modern purgatory I subject myself to? No. It is a precious chance to unplug. Unplug from my family responsibilities. Unplug from my coworkers and work life. Unplug from my online personas and the steady stream of toxic news that otherwise pollutes my consciousness.

It is a time to plug into myself. To listen to that inner voice that gets drowned out in the barrage of those other incessant commotions.

It is a time to stare out the window. To gaze at the snowy hills or mountain; the little roads winding through the rice paddies; the dilapidated towns nestled amongst the trees and hills. A time to people watch. Maybe send something back to the woman who’s been eye fucking me from across the car since she sat down. To wonder what the interesting looking person opposite me is writing so furiously in their notebook with a twenty year old mechanical pencil.

A time to zone out and let my mind wander. Be entertained by whatever nuggets of memories wash up, seemingly at random; the snippets of songs I haven’t heard in years; the lingering images of last night’s otherwise forgotten dreams.

These are all internal pleasures that are being lost to us. Obliterated in the steady barrage of internet product we subject ourselves to constantly. Well, not so much anymore for me.

Then there’s my plan for what to do with my time. My plan to turn it to my use in a more explicitly productive way.

I write.

Writers write, they say. Too many aspiring writers, however, fetishize the process of it. “If only I had the ideal writer’s nook to work in and inspire myself, then I could write!” they tell themselves. Typewriters and cluttered desks with rustic views; leather-bound notebooks and fountain pens: these are like smut to the aspiring writer. What perfect combination of materials and circumstance will finally allow these dreamers to pursue their craft? If only that could be found!

Well, there is no such formula. They have the wrong idea. Writers write. So grab a pencil and some paper and fucking write already. You write wherever you happen to be when you have the time to do so. Steal the moments from the bitch tyrant of time whenever she leaves you the opportunity. There is no other way.

Fucking do it. Or don’t. It’s not my problem.

As to my writing time on the train commute, it took me about three days and five legs to get comfortable with it. Every word was like pulling teeth until my mind adjusted to the reality I was forcing upon it: this is where we write now, bitch! Now, perform!

Once I was used to writing on the train, it fast became the ideal venue for me. On this vehicle I have no means to distract myself from the writing goals I have set out for myself. I’ve never had a more productive time. (In case anyone is wondering, I am presently working on a fantasy novel. More on that as it develops.)

Before, at home, I had to attempt to schedule writing around my family’s schedule. Less than ideal, with a toddler and an exhausted wife to deal with. And when I did have the chance to sit down and focus, the tool of my craft, the PC, also doubles as my main vehicle of procrastination. When I hit those dull, low moments in the writing process, where every ounce of my being hates the work, it is all too easy to click open a browser. To check those feeds.

To plug right back into the sea of noise that sweeps away those vibrant little threads inside that must be carefully plucked up and woven together into notions to be explored through the written word.

Not so now. No Wi-Fi on this motherfucker; we’re in the boonies here! Now when I hit those low moments where I don’t want to write, all I can do is look up from the screen and engage with the train and its journey. There’s always something to take my mind off my creative issues. Oh, how lovely! Snowy mountain in fog. Pretty Japanese lady peeking at me yet again, eyes a sparkle of shy desire. Salaryman checking his tablet and nose breathing angrily; I wonder who’s all up in his shit today?

Then, soon enough, my brain resets and I begin writing again without any thought. It’s natural, after all: my laptop is open right in front of me. I’m bored with looking out the window, or checking out my fellow passengers, so I may as well hammer out another couple hundred words.

As I have just done now.

The soft clicking of my keyboard disappearing into the racket of the train and the murmur of the people on it.

Catchunka-chunk… Catchunka-chunk…

…and on and on we go.

Dislocated

I’ve never fit.

I never had a sense that I was going to be anything other than wasted potential in the eyes of anyone that matters in this world. That I would ever have a chance to become anything. That there would ever be a place for me.

It was always made abundantly clear to me that I will never belong anywhere.

This is why I prefer living in Asia. Already an other here, I can be more myself.

Here there are clear ethnic, cultural, and linguistic reasons for my lack of belonging. Here my dislocation from everything around me can be camouflaged in practicalities, and I feel altogether less alien than I do in my parent culture. It’s not any less lonely, but it is a lot less alienating. Since belonging isn’t an option, I don’t have to worry about why I don’t.

Not a fix for everyone, sure, but it works for me. And am I supposed to be selling road maps here?

Moat

I almost fell off a castle parapet into a moat late last night. No joke; it was really close.

castle fall

This pleases me on multiple levels.

Whether the fall would have been fatal or not, at the moment when my foot went off the edge into the abyss, I wasn’t assuming a good result. Time slowed to crawl and I realized that this could be the end of it for me. Then my ass hit the stone of the edge and I managed not to go over.

What a feeling! A good near-death jolt every now and again is good for the psyche.

I think I was saved by all the years I spent fly fishing rivers of the Canadian Rockies’ east slope. Walking scree slopes and cut banks give you a good muscle memory for falling back onto your ass when a foot goes out.

Further, it is very pleasing to me that here in Japan they allow people to wander up onto a castle parapet without any barriers or safety considerations at all. If you want to be a dumbass and fall off the wall into a moat in the middle of the night, that’s your prerogative.

Finally, I think it is marvelous that I managed to almost kill myself in such an anachronistic manner.