Asian Oldsters

There’s this recurring trope in the West about Asian cultures’ respect for their elders and reverence for the wisdom of the aged. This is invariably presented as some kind of positive. Generally in that slightly fucked way that Western ignoramuses use Asia to highlight and juxtapose what they dislike in their own culture.

It’s mostly true that Asians have a lot of respect for the aged and their elders. But why is this automatically regarded as such a good thing?

Sure, we should value and respect the aged. But there are limits.

It’s all well and good to value your elders, up until you’re dealing with a syphilitic oldster with a head crammed full of superstition and prejudice dictating how everyone in their family has to live their lives.

Think of your most ignorant, racist, and belligerent family elder, and then imagine living in a culture where you must take everything they say seriously. Where what they say goes. And you are expected to live with and care for them until they die.

I had a Japanese student who told me her aunt couldn’t get married because her fiance was from a part of her own town that her grandfather hated. He was convinced that everyone from “over there” were thieves and rapists. End of story.

Sure, she could have disregarded him and gotten married anyway. But she was a good woman and decided to respect her elders as she was supposed to do. These things cut both ways.

Just keep in mind that being Asian doesn’t make Asian oldsters any less unpleasant than oldsters anywhere else.

Just saying.

A Hard Truth

Okay, Westerners, I feel it is finally time to level with you about something. It might be tough to hear this, but I think you can handle it. Just know, I tell you this out of love and a desire to improve the conditions you live it.

You are eating salad wrong. Put down the fork. There is a better way.

There, I’ve finally said it, and I feel much better for having done so.

Seriously, people, the goddamned fork is entirely the wrong tool for the job here. Think about it. You get those last pieces of lettuce laying at the bottom of the dish; too thin to spear, too small to fold in half, just sliding around mocking you! And maybe some fucked-up sociopath put corn or some kind of beans in the salad. What then fork users? Huh?! What now?!

I tell you what now: you’re stuck there trying to coral those little shits like a toddler.

Don’t even get me started on cherry tomatoes. Little motherfucker skids out from under the fork points and sprays dressing up into your eyes as it does. Mocking you all the way.

But it doesn’t have to be this way! Chopsticks, I say! Chopsticks!

The correct implement for eating salad is chopsticks. You have now been told. If you persist in this fork nonsense, you have no one but yourself to blame for your suffering.

Now, the ethnocentric among you might be looking to get choleric and competitive about this, and I’ll leave you to it. That’s fine. I’ll even provide you with some low-hanging fruit as a balm for your wounded cultural pride.

Why is it that cultures that eat so much rice do so with chopsticks? Isn’t a spoon the right tool for the job here? (Shout out to the Thais for figuring this one out.)

It’s a good question. (However, keep in mind that rice is supposed to be sticky, and there are chopstick techniques to deal with the issue, so it’s not as clear cut as you’d expect.)

Be that as it may, this doesn’t change the truth I’ve laid on you today.

Put down the fork and eat your salad with chopsticks like a civilized human being.

The Giraffe Schoolgirl

Way back in my first English conversation class for Japanese high school girls, we were talking about “free time” and how we like to spend it.

One of my students announced quite boldly that she liked to go to the school library, get a book on giraffes, and then sit there looking at the book while pretending she was a giraffe. The other girls gave her looks ranging from bemusement to contempt. Meanwhile, the girl had zoned out with a happy grin on her face, and we all realized she was pretending to be a giraffe at that very moment.

She kinda looked a bit like a baby giraffe too.

I pretty much fell in love with her that day.

Over a decade later, I like to think that she’s out there somewhere, still giraffing it up like a gangly motherfucker.

A Visit With Nancy and Endi

I was recently watching sumo with my Canadian friend, Nancy, and her Japanese cop husband, Endi, at their place. They’re in their sixties and have just built their retirement home on Endi’s family property to replace the house that was bust up in the big earthquake.

Nancy’s from Nova Scotia and is one of those lapsed church ladies that can be incredibly hilarious and crass without ever saying a bad word. She was my original teaching superior at my first job in eikaiwa in Japan (English conversations school). Since then she’s become something of a surrogate mom for me.

Her husband, Endi, is an odd duck. For example, Nancy was complaining that while she was on her last solo trip to Canada, he rearranged the living room furniture so that all the chairs and sofa were facing a blank wall.

“He likes to sit and stare at the wall,” Nancy said. “He’s says it’s ‘berry nice.’”

He also collects rocks, which for some reason drives Nancy crazy. Not crystals or geodes, mind you. Rocks.

Endi used to handle the dead body inspection wherever he was stationed. He’d be the cop that would decide whether to have an autopsy or start a murder investigation when a corpse was found. With us being in basically rural Japan, it was generally a lot of suicides and solitary oldster decomps. He was also busy after the Great Tohoku Earthquake dealing with all the tsunami bodies. That got rough, he said. Not just the ocean water victims with the crabs and everything (although he said that was causing the military boys a lot of psychological trouble), but also dealing with families fighting over remains in the hopes of having something to have a funeral with.

Endi has all kinds of interesting dead body stories. He can be pretty callous, as is to be expected, so he can be fun to talk to about that kind of stuff. He never says much about active police work though. People for him tend to fall into two categories: “Nice Guy/Lady” or “Berry Stupid Guy/Lady.”

Endi’s also pretty intimidating in his way. He’s totally chill, but he’s got a face like one of those Japanese Buddhist guardian angels, and has black belts in kyokushin karate (hardcore full contact) and judo. Even in his sixties, he looks like he’s been carved out of wood like one of those temple guardian statues.

The first outing I had with Nancy and Endi was with my wife. We went to a Buddhist temple that had two really fine guardian statues inside the entrance gate, flanking the portal. Endi kept sticking his head into their space and smiling up at them saying, “guard. Guaaaaaaard. Guuuuuaaaaaaard,” in a really low, guttural tone, like a growl. Then he looked at me with basically the same smile that the statue had. Message received.

Not that I was too worried; Nancy had already told me that Endi said I was a nice guy.

He’s semi-retired now, which means he got transferred to his home town and will be driving a desk at headquarters until he’s 65. To prevent corruption, Japanese cops get transferred every few years from town to town within their prefecture. This has given me cause to see much of Fukushima that I wouldn’t have otherwise, since my wife and I tend go to visit Nancy and Endi every couple months.

At their house last weekend, in breaks between sumo bouts, I was asking Endi what work’s been like. Apparently, guys in his position are used to handle the “problem customers” that police face. Endi’s regulars are old ladies with dementia who live alone and use filing police reports as a form of entertainment. One in particular is a widow whose husband used to be police. Every week she comes in and tries to file one of two reports: either her home has been burgled and her money’s been stolen; or, her home has been burgled and she has been raped. Endi says his duty is to listen gravely to the old ladies, take notes with all his years of report taking experience, assure them that all investigative measures will be taken, and then throw away the notes as soon as they leave.

Endi loves sumo, so it was interesting to watch it with him. Between bouts he was happy to tell me all about the personalities, rivalries, nuances, and conventions. He’s very impressed with sumo wrestlers. One time he was at an onsen (hot spring spa) and there was a pro sumo wrestler in there with him. Endi offered to wash his back for him, and was allowed to do so. It seems that this was his proudest moment in life.

From Endi I learned that it is true that sumos have subordinates wipe their ass and wash their hind parts for them. This is an honorable and useful endeavor for the youngsters, I was assured (”Berry good, yes. Berry berry nice for them.”).

It was also fun watching sumo with Nancy, since she likes having me around to crack jokes with. She’ll trot out her English master’s degree grammar to say wickedly funny shit over her husband’s head. They both liked it when I referred to one sumo move as “the titty grab.”

It was a fun visit.

Inverse-Dysmorphia and North Americans

My post last week about my Japanese student’s observation that most white people are the shape of Doraemon, the Japanese Garfield, got me thinking about something I noticed a while back while I was visiting my original home of Canada.

As someone who’s lived in Japan for over ten years now, I’ve found that most North Americans are suffering from a kind of inverse-dysmorphia. It is not like dysmorphia, such as anorexia, where they think they have a body flaw when they don’t, but rather that they think they are far less flawed than they are. Particularly in terms of weight.

Normal people are thought of as skinny; chubby people think they are normal; fat people think they are chubby; and obese people might, at a stretch, admit that they are fat. And the morbidly obese are now afflicted by a disability completely beyond their control

I observed this phenomenon at a big barbecue. One woman said to another, “No, I won’t have any cake, I’m trying to lose a few pounds.” Another woman responded with, “Oh, don’t worry about it, you’re just a little chubby.”

In looking the two women over, and everyone else there, I could not help but think:

“No, you aint chubby. The both of you are fat. Everyone here is fat. Ya’ll are real fat.”

Now, don’t get me wrong: I was and am fat too. So I wasn’t going to say anything and upset the whole delusional scene everyone had set up for themselves. But at least I know where I’m at.

And if I were to say anything, the most reasonable response to my observation probably would have been something like:

“Oh, but you’re just used to living in Japan were everyone’s too skinny. It’s not healthy being that skinny.”

No. Just, no.

The way people look in Japan is the way humans are supposed to look. Check out the family photo albums of your oldsters if you don’t believe me. People were not all shaped like balloon animals back in the day.

It is not like there’s some inherent racial reason that Japanese people in Japan are thin this way, either. I recall when my father was visiting us in Japan a few years ago, I was waiting for him to arrive in Narita airport. His plane was late, so I was watching other planes’ passengers coming through the arrival doors. Lots and lots of Asians, from all over Asia. All normal shaped. Then, a load came through the doors: about half East Asians, twenty percent South Asians, and thirty percent white people. Almost everyone was fat.

“Ah,” I said to myself, “this is the flight from Vancouver.”

Sure enough, it was my father’s flight. He’s also really fat, by the way.

I make all these observations not to be mean. It is simply a curious thing that North American society has collectively slipped into this mode of thinking that willfully ignores what is healthy for what is comfortable and comforting.

You can move the goalposts on what is normal, or beautiful, or natural, all you want. This will not change human physiology. Being obese is unhealthy. It leads to hypertension, heart disease, stroke, and physical infirmity. It is also a major comorbitity in corona virus deaths.

Suit yourselves. Everyone has the right to abuse themselves in whatever manner they want. I do! But I’m not kidding myself about what I am. And it couldn’t hurt to pull our perceptions out of our bubbles once a while and find out how we and our culture are perceived by others once in a while, could it? Particularly when, in many people’s cases, their bubbles are delusional and killing them.

Just an observation.

White People’s Gift

Tonight in one of my English conversation classes (here in Japan), we were discussing eating habits and weight gain. One of my students proclaimed that it’s okay to get fat; especially for white people.

“Most white people look Doraemon shape,” she said. (Doraemon pictured below for reference.)

“But,” she went on, “it’s okay. It’s a gift!”

What? Really? What do you mean?

“It is! it’s a gift! Their organs are so strong! They can eat so much bread and get so fat, and it’s okay! They are still alive! If Japanese people get so fat, most of us will die.

“White people’s organs are so strong! They can drink so much, drug so much, and get so fat, but still they are alive! It’s a gift!”

Well, lady, when you put it that way, I guess you’re right. White people certainly do appear to be quite gifted in that way these days.

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


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.