風になりたい! Kaze ni naritai! 

A look at life in Japan through big, round, gaijin eyes. Relfections on life in Japan, America, from the faceless streets of Tokyo. Let's blogging!

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Memorable Events

Please add to the events listing on this post wherever, whenever. It currently reflects heavily on my experiences because I wrote it.

The nature of the JET program, and the people who we are around here at Kamo Danchi makes this Japan experience very unique. We always walk a thin line between being utterly lost and being our best, bad-ass selves. Often, foreigners in Japan over-compensate for their insecurities and end up knowing more about Japanese History, Culture, Economy, Media, etc than the average Japanese person. Its like, once we are here we have to work extra hard to validate our existence, because if we don't we are just another fat-headed American. Jeez, talk about stress, but living in Japan, if nothing else, does focus one's attention. Here are some of the bigger accomplishments of the past year...



May 16, 2004. Shizuoka Challenge Cup. Jason and Andy's first Karate Tournament. Andy fells first two opponents, loses by judges rule in 3rd round, makes it to best 8. Jason goes on to win beginner level tournament. Andy has trouble walking for better part of the next week.

May 29, 2004. Car Party. Jun and Andy receive their Japanese Drivers Licenses after many hours of tests over 3 months in Kofu.

June 13, 2004. Paul and Momi's wedding. Highlights include Paul in an authentic Kimono, Momi in 4 kimonos plus a western wedding gown, the warai-guntai act by Jason, Jun, Masa, Atsutomo, Andy, Jaime on clarinet. Rudy asking the captain how gay he is. Jun telling Rudy he is gay.

August 21, 2004. Lakeside Motosuko Party #1. 55 total party members from around Yamanashi-ken. 1 ton of yaki-soba. 13 shotgunned chu-his (by one mountain ougre). 7 hours of bonfire DJing and dancing. 2 hours of drunken sleep. Swimming in Motosuko. Karate Belt Test for 5 hours including Kumite (heavy sparing) same day. Jason and Andy level up to Yellow Belt ranking.

August 26, 2004. Hi-Matsuri 火祭. Taiko, and 9 foot tall burning stalks of bound wood. Dinner at Watanabe-Mariko's house.

September 5, 2004. Oi-Nippon. Andy's first nationally aired Taiko performance. You can kind of see him, if you look closely.

September 14-27, 2004. Andy to Seattle for Brother's wedding.

October 23, 2004. LAN party. Halo, 14 total competitors. 7 hours of eye blurring carniage.

November 4-5, 2004. ALT Mid-Year Conference. Paul and Jaime present "Living Well." Andy and Jason present "Workplace Relations."

November 18-28th. Jason to East Coast (USA) with Japanese girlfriend. Jun to Korea with Japanese girlfriend. Paul to Kyoto with Japanese wife. Jaime traveling with English boyfriend. Andy to Keio D2 for a new stereo shelving system.


Thursday, November 18, 2004

Daddy, what's a Kamo?

For my first entry in this blog, it would be natural to more fully explain how the Kotobuki Apartment Complex (Kotobuki Danchi) was named the Kamo Danchi. One crisp Monday morning last March (2004) I walked outside to my white car and found spots of what appeared to be blood all over the top, windshield, and hood. I looked into the sky, but found no answers. Fellow Danchi compatriot, Paul Nehls, parks next to me, so upon arriving at work in my blood spotted car, I called him to ask what happened. Quite nonchalantly he explained that there was a headless duck laying next to our cars earlier that morning. I must have missed it, or maybe I just zoned it out like the million flashing lights in Toyko, or the squeals of 50 elementary students who just caught their first glimpse of a foreigner. Perhaps headless ducks are a common occurence in Japan?
According to the police, headless ducks are not all that common. Nor are they reason to shakedown the neighborhood for possible foreigner hating cults or more likely, bored teenaged boys who saw an opportunity with decapitated foul and a nice white car. Headless ducks are however, a good reason to take pictures and create paperwork.
Kamo is Japanese for "duck." It was only a matter of time after the event that the name Kamo Danchi stuck, reminding us all that life not always what it apears in the arms of Mt. Fuji.

Monday, November 15, 2004


The only way to make Fujisan look more beautiful was to build Kotobuki Danchi in the foreground of this picture.

鴨団地へようこそ・Welcome to Kamo Danchi

天国じゃなくても、 tengoku jya nakute mo,
楽園じゃなくても、rakuen jya nakute mo,
あなたに会えて幸せ、 anata ni aete shiawase,
風になりたい kaze ni naritai
-THE BOOM

In the shadow of the tallest peak in Japan, pinned between the imposing face of the giant to the south and the line of gentler slopes on either side, a valley winds its way down northward between two ridges of green covered, rolling mountains. Splaying down that triangular valley, still very much on the northern foot of Mount Fuji, lies the city of 富士吉田 (Fujiyoshida), which means the lucky field of Mount Fuji. Where spurs jutting out from the ridges form a narrow narrow neck for the valley, they call it 暮地 (Kurechi), the land of the setting sun. When the sun sinks behind the mountains, still early in the evening, long shadows creep over all of Kurechi, but the orange, red, and purple glow of the western sky over Fuji can be breathtaking. In the upper section of Kurechi, there is a lonely train station, little more than a pair of benches under a little shed, called 寿 (Kotobuki) station. Kotobuki means "Celebration! Long life!", and across the street from the station, there's a residential area that shares the same name:寿団地 (Kotobuki Danchi). Well, actually, the danchi (Japanese for apartment housing/housing project) is on the other side of the 711 from the station, across the two-lane "National Road 139," past a row of shabby looking, already shuttered up or failing businesses, and then across the street. And since Kotobuki Danchi is uglier than sin-- a flawless yet horrible representation of Soviet block style housing that was diliberately exaggerated by someone with a cruel sense of irony about names or completely oblivious to aesthetics in the pursuit of utility--those of us who live there found another name for it. We call it "the duck apartments," or rather 鴨団地 (Kamo Danchi), in memory of a fantastic act of vandalism, or act of... something that happened last year. This will be a look at Japan through the big, round eyes of a 外人 (gaijin) who lives at the Kamo...
Let's Blogging!

So here we go. I hope this is gonna be fun.

I've been wanting to write about my experiences in Japan since I first got here. If anyone reading this knew me back when I was travelling around New Zealand, you know that I had a blast sharing my adventures over email. Since a few weeks after arriving in Japan, however, I've hardly written anything about my daily life. For a long time I found it almost impossible to express my experiences here. A lot of it defies description without a pretty deep context. It's easy to talk about with other people who are going through it with you, but hard to explain things to someone who has never been to Japan and is completely outside of this environment. And when you talk about Japan, you are definitely dealing with "inside" and "outside" perspectives. That I happen to be "outside on the inside" is one of the weird things that you have to get used to if you come here from overseas. So much here is so subtle that I have been and will be frustrated trying to make that aspect of Japanese life come alive in words without making a farce of it.
In contrast to how difficult it is to capture Japanese culture and life in accurate detail, it's easy to paint with broad brush strokes. Every foreigner here is an expert on Japan, it seems. It's a big culture gap, and for a gaijin, it's natural to sit back and take potshots at the Japanese and their way of life without making any attempt to look at things from the other side. Or, if you read a few kanji, it's no big trick to fool yourself into thinking you've got it all figured out. The truth is, trying to make sense out of things without judging them (too much) takes a lot of effort. Before, I didn't feel comfortable writing about my life in Japan without some sort of understanding of the people around me. Now I realize just how much I will never understand, so hopefully that's enough to keep me honest. Despite all the criticisms I have about living here, I have come to love this country and I hope a bit of that comes through in my writing.
My vision for this blog is to make it something of a memento for me, while hopefully writing enough interesting stuff so that other people will still want to read it. I also want to get back into the practice of writing in English. I'm already a veteran in Japan, I guess, so this is not just going to be a travel journal about the sense of awe and wonder of encountering marvels I've never seen before in a new and magical place. If something cool happens, like headless ducks in the danchi parking lot, or the monkey olympics down in Shiraito machi, then for sure I'll write about that. If not, I've got two years plus worth of material saved up to write about so I should be fine. Besides, after all this time, there's still a bit of awe Hopefully this thing will evolve in such a way that everyone has a good time. At the very least, once I remember how to write in English again, I'm hoping my posts get a lot shorter.
I've got a few gimicks in mind for this space as well. I'm going to talk to some of my friends here and see if they want to contribute to this blog too. It'd be pretty cool to get the whole Kotobuki crew involved. If that happens, the web address and probably the title will have to be changed. At the very least I'd like to have some guest bloggers from time to time, so that things don't get too stale.
Lastly, I'd like to thank my friend Ian Gordon, who has always pushed me to write, and has shown far more belief in me as a writer than I've ever shown talent or desire. The brillant, hillarious blog he is writing while on a Fulbright in Venezuela inspired me to use the hours of free time I have every day at work to try this out. Plus I accidentally signed up for this blogspace when I made a username to post (absurdly long) comments on Suburban Macondo, his blog. Most of the stuff I want to do here was his idea first. http://iangordon.blogspot.com. Check it out!

Mata ne,
Jason