Bob Sapp is a big man. Outside of sumo wrestling, he's probably the most popular big man in Japan. A quick Google and I've learned that he stands in at 6'3" and 350 lbs., a former U.S. football player who switched over to the WCW and is now fighting in the Mixed Martial Art K-1 tournaments in Japan. He has a record of 3-1, he's bald and black and an admitted beginner in MMAs, and he goes by the sobriquet of "The Beast". And I just don't get the man. He's come to Japan to do what most gaijin do here: make ridiculous amounts of cash. We can call it whatever we like, but let's face it: unless you speak fluent Japanese and are trying to actually live as a Japanese, at least part of you is here to make money. And your employer will get into some sort of governmental or tax trouble if you don't. Sapp is here to make cash, and a cursory glance seems to indicate that the man is doing okay in the MMAs despite a busted fist. But when he's not fighting or training, he's making a frickin ass out of himself. What he does is play up the stereotype of the uncontrollable African monster. He engages in various food-stuffing contests and other ridiculous State Fair-type antics - putting the mouth of an empty plastic bottle in his mouth and then seeing who can crush said bottle the fastest by inhaling, f'r example - and generally doing his best to make Steppin Fetchit look like Martin Luther King, Jr. He's always accompanied by several Japanese, who play a timid and reserved role, which only serves to accentuate the "beast" that he plays. His routine is hits upon another major trend in Japan, the popularity of stateside "urban" style. Anything African-American is big here, to the point where trendy teens - Japanese teens, mind you, some with afro'd hair - are wearing shirts that say "Black and Beautiful." Sapp is definitely capitalizing on what's popular, and it's hard to argue with money. But the worst part is, some of Sapp's "Beast" antics are absolutely drop-dead funny slapstick.
It's a book by Haruki Murakami, not me looking for love in all the wrong and woolly places. Murakami is one of the most famous authors in Japan. Or so I'm told. In any event, he writes really farking well. Most Japanese literature, when translated to English, has a flow and a rhythm, a cadence almost, that I think is just the bee's knees. One of my journalism professors from college stressed getting the words to sing, and Japanese-to-English translations just seem to sing right off the page. Murakami takes the enchanting solo of J. to E. translation and turns it into a choir, enigmatic yet engrossing. "The Wild Sheep Chase" does have sheep, for those of you with ovine issues, but it's really about loneliness and being alone. No matter how strong your connection is to someone, they're not in your head, and you're not in theirs. Also burbling just below the surface is one of the most curious things about Japan: in a country practically overrun with people, a lot of them sure seem to be lonely. Yeah, it's a generalization that's probably true of just about everyplace on Earth, it's part of the human condition. But I find it particularly poignant here, where there are so many people that are so well-off in such a small space. The backdrops of crowded Tokyo and comparatively unpeopled Hokkaido provide interesting contrasts against which being alone is painted. And that's the nut of the book. Whereever you go, with friends or lovers or alone, there is nobody with you. And that's the way we all are.
This is a little thing I wrote up around the 7th. It's mostly me blithering on about what the bedroom in Ageo looked like, since I don't and won't have any pictures of it to share with you. Consider it a travelogue of a square, if you want. In practical dimensions, the room was six tatami mats. As I think I've mentioned here before, the tatami mat is the traditional flooring in Japan and a unit of measurement - something like 1.5 meters or so by 85 centimeters or so. So a bedroom whose floor is six of those things isn't so big, but it's not a Manhattan closet, either. The walls surrounding the floor, which was really hard wood covered by an unremarkable light gray rug, were some kind of stucco-esque material. I don't remember rightly if they were stuccoed or if they just looked like they had that same slightly rough texture to them or if my notoriously feeble memory has given them that texture, but there you go. The walls were an off-white as equally unremarkable as the rug's gray. The rug was slightly less than six mats, so it was invariably bunched up in one corner or another. The unremarkable gray-dirty-light-beige color was interrupted by thick cords of what some colorblind buffoon must've thought was a matching tan, running across the body of the rug like plaid. It looked like a really boring and overcooked stif-fry, and every time I saw it my stomach churned the same way it did when I was presented with a pair of linen pants. Dangling from the center of the ceiling was a lamp with two painfully bright circular halogens and a little nub of a circular night-light in the middle. Pull the string hanging down once, and you spend the next five minutes looking for those hideous square plastic sunglasses from the last time the optometrist dilated your eyes. The possibility of permanent retinal damage flickers across your mind. Another pull and one of the two solar-strength halogens mercifully goes dark. A third yank turns both off and leaves the little erect nipple of a nightlight faintly glowing a nauseating tallow. There was a brown wooden door with a cheap and heavily tarnished L-shaped handle. The room was only slightly rectangular, so place the door on the western wall in the northwest corner. The door opened inward from a short, narrow and dark hallway that connected the living room and kitchen with the front door. On the other side of the living room were two more bedrooms. When the brown door was fully open, it banged against one of two metal doors on the northern side of the room; they were the frigid sentries to my spacious closet. My futon laid flush against the southeast corner. Futons in Japan are more simple than their Westernized counterparts. There's an undermattress that's firm with some give, there's the mattress itself - a kind of thick, dense, less flexible quilt. The sheet for it is more like a comforter cover than a fitted sheet. The futon quilt is unremarkably standard. My futon was comfortable enough, although the pillow was a bit flimsy for my tastes so I procured a second. Looked at from the side, you've got a long, thin layer cake of bedding. Notice the lack of fancy frames that easily convert into couches for Western consumption. Above the futon and stretching across the southern wall of room was a window. Directly above the window was a heater/air conditioner unit. Given the Japanese penchant for eschewing insulation in their buildings, and given the physics of hot air, and keeping in mind the location of the heater vis-a-vis the window, the room was a goddamn pain in the ass to get warm on those cold Saitama nights. It got so cold in late autumn that I'd just leave the poor heater on all night, a big contrast to those oil-burning days in Boston. There, I'd turn on the heat when I got home from work, and it down to 60 degrees F or just off when I went to bed. Truly, a fugly room. Now, back on January 7th, I was in a bit of a funk and the emotional weather forecast would've sounded like a typical Boston winter day: gloomy and dark, the the colorless gray wash of inner city housing. I certainly didn't feel like writing, yet when I put pen to paper the above drivel is what came out. This marked a drastic change in my life: before, if I didn't feel like writing, I didn't. There were points in my adolescence (which by my calendar ended around age 22 and my parents think is probably still going strong) where I went years without writing. And yet I found myself committing the act. All of which means that you may see more ramblings describing the banalities of everyday life here. Or you may not.
Strangers often come up to me wherever I may be and offer little nuggets of advice. Hearty suggestions like, "Where are your pants?" or "Please stop touching me there!" But today was different. Today I was the normal, the standard for appropriate behavior. On a walking tour recommended by my tour book, I set out to unleash myself upon Nishi-Shinjuku. Since the place where I pay my monthly rent was also located in West Shinjuku, I figured this would make a decent day trip. (Well, half-day, since I still can't be asked at 25 to get up before 12.) So, I'm standing at the crowded intersection to a busy street close to Shinjuku Station and this Japanese man, accompanied by an elderly woman, approach me. In what sounded to me as rather good Japanese and rather mangled English, the Japanese man asked me, "Where you from?" I was impressed, I must admit. Most beginning students I get don't really have a grasp on the "from" bit. I've gotten rather used to hearing "Where you?" and just sort of responding, "I'm from the United States." Anyway, he got across that he wanted to know whence I came. The woman next to him looked at me plaintively, then back at him, and to me again. I looked at the red streetlight and saw that there was no way out of this. "I'm from the United States," I said. Without missing a beat, he replied, "Los Angeles?" I was shocked. Do all people wearing motorcycle jackets and sunglasses look like la-la land demon-spawn? "Dear god man, NO!" I said. "Los Angeles is Hell on Earth, a warmed-over water-sucking cultural vacuum that drains your life-force and encourages thumb-sucking. It is exactly the kind of place you should avoid at all costs. Even Detroit is better." At which point he said, "Dee-trot?" and I said, "No, I'm from San Francisco." He had a brief conversation with the old woman and said, "Ohhhh, San Francisco." Kind of the same way that Cartman from South Park says, "Ohhhh, rainbows. I like those." The Japanese man continued, "Nice city." "Yes, it is," I said, and the light turned green.
So the blog here is in a bit of a holding pattern as it awaits home DSL internet access. I've got a really nice housemate who's letting me ride the coattails of his 'net connection for now, but it's not the speedy 12 M pipeline he and I will be sharing shortly. Which a rather long way of saying there might be minor tweaks of the site in the next few days, but sorry, pictures won't be available quite yet. Patience, young Jedis...