I'm living in Kusatsu-shi, Shiga-ken for an undetermined amount of time and teaching English as a second language at a local high school. This journal is to document my experiences, thoughts, and to stay connected with others at home and abroad.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

1-year anniversary

It's been a while everyone. 久しぶり(Hisashiburi)––that's the best way I can think to express those sentiments in Japanese. So as of next weekend it will have been one year since I moved to Japan. I usually do not keep up with time well. I frequently forget people's birthdays until days or months after they've passed. If you are currently reading this and thinking, "hey that's me!", please accept my apologies. It's nothing personal, it's has more to do with the fact that I don't know the current date. As a matter of fact, the only reason that I remembered my Japan anniversary is because I when I heard the frogs all horny and croaking at night and saw the bats swooping around the rice fields, I realized that this seems familiar.

Familiar enough to already seem nostaligic. Yes, it's sappy and true. A year ago I was green and unable to contain my giddiness surrounding new uncharted territory. Twelve months have passed and now I have a lot of maps, two bicycles (at one point there were three), and several thousand kilometers on my four tires. Then I was foaming at the mouth about the wonders of temples, nature, festivals and fire! Quite obviously I was drinking a little too much coffee before writing my blogs and croping photos to only show people the images I wanted to show of Japan. Just a bit ;-)

Not that things are any different here. I just never knew because I hadn't gone exploring yet. A student who I tutored in extra English lessons said one day that I liked to explore too much. Touché, but my flesh is still young and doesn't follow orders well, so unless I break some bones or wear through my toes and fingers, I don't foresee slowing down. It's kind of a propulsion (neologism?) or an idiosyncrasy I have to run into misty, ocluded places; that and I constantly feel like I'm surrounded in a wall of fog so thick I cannot take a half-a-step without disappearing. It may sound scary, but it's more or less a routine feeling I get when I look out my windows.

Back to the point (though I love diversions), now that I've been sticking my nose into different areas of modern Japan, I've discovered a world of disturbing realities, as well as many truly wonderful things. Let's start listing!!

Disappointments in Japan that cannot counterbalance my aggrandized salary: (This is a disclaimer that certain things I am about to say may interfere with my pledged contract as a cultural ambassador between the US and Japan; however, I believe that stating these grievances is vital if there is to be any hope for amelioration of the current state of national and international mismanagemant by the Japanese people and government. AKA, I'm using my "get out of jail" free speech card.)

1) This one is a wretched victory of marketers and propagandists across the world: "Japan" does not care about nature. Bridges are needlessly erected on the false belief that more bridges are better, and that somehow having more choices will reduce traffic congestion. Katie and I live next to the "New Kusatsu River", and within a 1km radius of our house there are 6 bridges. I'm not bullshitting you at all. 1 of these bridges is for the Shinkansen (bullet train, which is surprisingly quiet). 5 are for automobiles. And to add molasses to the mix and make things even stickier, construction is underway to build a 7th bridge. I do not honestly know if there are enough roads to fill this bridge-use demand. The Pope has nothing on these guys; I think if the Japanese collected their efforts they could bridge the Pacific. I'm being sarcastic, but this situation is clearly askew. Covering soil with concrete is damaging, adds unnecessary eye pollution, and it paves over nature, literally. And bridges are not the biggest problem. Other construction efforts by the government have contributed to lining the beds of nearly every river, creek, and pond in the country with concrete. Even the Shimantogawa in Kochi Prefecture, where I went with Katie and friends for vacation recently, has concrete walls in places. Although it is hailed as "one of the only remaining free-flowing rivers in Japan", the Shimantogawa has been needlessly marred too. I should add that the reason it is called "one of the only remaining free-flowing rivers in Japan" is because almost every river, stream, tributary, creek, and moving body of water has been dammed. For what cause? In many cases, none at all. I have been hiking up in the mountains, over 50 kilometers from a convenience store (which is a tough feat, "convinis" grow like wild grass over here), only to find that, for some unexplainable reason, the creek has been plugged up. It's a bold-faced mockery of the images that Japan is an environmental sanctuary. I urge people to please come and take a look at these issue and start making those responsibile own up to their mistakes so that this vein of eco-terrorism does not continue. I have been observing these roadblocks on nature for nearly a year, thinking my ideas were novel and revolutionary, when my friend Carmen mentioned a book by Alex Kerr called Dogs and Demons:


Turns out other people have known about these problems and researched the matter in much more detail. I am currently reading it and I strongly suggest it to other. I believe that it's important not to let ideas be formed by stereotypes, because even when they are postively minded, mental shortcuts have tragic outcomes on reality.

2) This is a good thing. The Japanese people care about these problems––sort of. They care about it to the extent that if you mention global warming any person will arch their brow and pout their lips and say, "yes, that's too bad." But does anything sound strange about that reaction? Or at least, that it's so homogenous? "ちょっと=chotto" literally means, "a little", but it also doubles as a way of avoiding a topic of conversation that someone wants to gloss over. When I mention to other Japanese people the destructive approach their governement takes toward the environment, I often get the response, "ちょっと=chotto" or "ちょっと大変ね=chotto taihen ne". Translated into English phrasology I think it sounds something like, "that's too bad" or "that's a difficult situation". Basically, it appears that and I want to believe that Japanese people do care about what is going wrong. Unfortunately, at the same time, the Japanese cultural relies on a group consensus.

"And the people all said sit down, sit down you're rocking the boat."
-Guys and Dolls, Frank Loesser

Enough said. I believe many people are remiss about the fact that their rivers are stuffed with concrete and polluted, but they will not say or do enough from stopping the problem. And despite my words above, more needs to be said on this matter. For some reason I feel a strange responsibility to do participate. I cannot stand seeing the earth destroyed by carelessness and fear of social discomfort. People need to really decide what is more important: cultural values or the environment. As much as it saddens me to say so, it looks like cultural values are going to win that battle in Japan. I apologize for any moralizing or whatnot I may have subjected you to.

My point of writing this blog is to establish a new agenda for the next year. At least I think so. I am always going to do my best to tell the story from an level-headed perspective. Unfortunately this rash of rationalism has no room in my artistic endeavors, and there are also times where I am going to come across extremely skewed and, to be honest, insane. That's ok because I think the real power to an honest existence is in a little concept called suitability. My blogs are going to have typos for the time being because I simply don't have the time to edit them. My ideas are going to be sometimes biased and sometimes sensible and sometimes both. You can guess, and that will make getting through all this garbage a lot more entertaining and palatable.

As for being more honest and direct about my ideas, that's how I roll. Now that I've sniffed around Japan's cloud for a bit, I am ready to form more mature and experienced opinions about it.



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