31 July 2008

Paris Hilton is Barack Obama

The New York Times is saying maybe going so hard and so negative this early is not going to work. There is nothing positive about John McCain in this. It's essentially, Obama is too popular and too young. And he doesn't support offshore drilling to bring down oil prices because offshore drilling won't bring down oil prices. He just doesn't get it.

Okay, but why am I supposed to vote for John McCain?

Today is best day ever

Free wifi at Freshness burger? I'm speechless.

There are two sides to Stephen:

There is the side that wins a competitive scholarship worth over $200,000 to work with the best scholar in his field in Europe.

Then there is the Stephen who drops his wallet in the McDonald's toilet stall and doesn't notice. The same Stephen that lost his cell phone outside his girlfriend's apartment. And lost his plane tickets because he was too worried about the Cuban cigars he was taking into the States.

The first Stephen really needs to talk to the other one about attention to detail. There is nothing worse than having to tell a cop how long you were in the toilet. I don't know, five minutes? Ten? And why do I think I lost it there? Well, I mean, my pants were around my ankles. Seems like the most likely chance for it to fall out. Yes, of course I washed my hands.


My wallet was returned. I would like to thank all the Japanese people, the whole Japanese nation, for this. If ever there were a reason to be proud of a your country, this would be it. People's first instinct is to give back rather than take.

30 July 2008

Profile picture

I just want to make clear that I only support the t-shirt based ideals of Communism.

Putting my life back together, or 忘れっぽい(`へ`;)

Here's what we know:

At 7:15, I bought a tall cafe latte at Starbucks and I am sure at this point that I had my wallet. I recall putting it in my pocket after I paid.
At 8:45, Greg and Erik and I went to the bank in Bandai, then to Yodobashi, then all the way to the bank in Furumachi, and then back to Bandai.
By then it was 9:45, and Greg and Erik left in Greg's car. I, feeling the need to use the bathroom, stood outside of LoveLa (the shopping center) waiting for it to open at 10:00.
At 9:50, I decided I wasn't going to make it and went to McDonald's. In the stall at McDonald's, I put my sunglasses down and thought, I need to remember to take those.
Then at 9:55, feeling much better, I exited McDonald's and road my motorbike about 5 km before thinking, you know, I wonder if I have my wallet. I often have this sense and it is usually just in my bag. I stopped my bike and realized it wasn't in my bag. Thinking it probably fell out in the bathroom, I went back to McDonalds. As I was going into the restaurant, a guy seemed to see me from inside and the run out, and when he rounded the corner (I could see him through the windows), he started walking again. Not convinced this had anything to do with me, I asked at the counter. No wallet. I checked the bathroom. They checked the bathroom. Nothing.
At 10:20, I went to the police box to see if anyone has returned it and they had nothing.
This is how I started my day

In Japan, you get really, really used to not worrying about stuff like this. Indeed, there is a high likelihood that my wallet will be returned in the next couple of days with all the cash in it. None of the credit cards have been used. But there is still some chance that this guy I saw had it, took the cash, and then threw the wallet away. Or somebody else.

I spent my afternoon on the phone with credit card companies and banks and the DMV, trying to piece everything back together with my shitty Japanese. Everyone is so helpful, but the process of getting a new credit card will take ten days. New bank card is 14 days. New Foreigner Registration Card is 14 days. The driver's license I can get immediately, but it is 4000 yen.

The wallet is really all that I want back. It was gift from Yoko's parents. It is the first real nice wallet I had. The cash I had in the wallet (about 8000 yen) would be nice, but not needed. I actually had to get a new cash card and foreigner registration card anyway, so the only thing I am wasting money on is the drivers license and the credit card.

The best conversation I had with someone today was on the phone with the DMV:
Me: Oh yes, hello, my name is Stephen Pihlaja and I lost my wallet this morning and it had my drivers license in it, so I need to talk to someone about getting a new one.
DMV Guy 1: Oh yes, of course.
Me: Thanks.
DMV Guy 1: Oh wait, are you a foreigner?
Me: Uh, yes, yes I am.
DMV Guy 1: Can you hold on a minute?
Me: Sure.
(Time passes)
DMV Guy 2: This is DMV Guy 2, can I help you?
Me: Oh yes, hello, my name is Stephen Pihlaja and I lost my wallet this morning and it had my drivers license in it, so I need to talk to someone about getting a new one.
DMV Guy 1: Oh yes, of course. What country are you from?
Me: I'm an American. (pause) But I just lost my drivers license so I need to replace it.
DMV Guy 1: You lost it? Your American license?
Me: No, no, my Japanese one.
DMV Guy 1: You have a JAPANESE license. Yes, then it's very easy. Did you lose it in America?
Me: No, no, I lost it this morning. (pause) In Niigata City. In Bandai.
DMV Guy 1: Oh yes, of course. (explains rules, hours, etc.)
Me: Thanks so much.
DMV Guy 1: So are you in America now?
Me: No! I'm in Japan. I'm calling from Shibata. I live in Japan.
DMV Guy 1: Oh yes, very good then you can come tomorrow.
Finally, not one to really put too much stock in perminitions — I believed for quite some time when I lived in Fukuoka that I was about to die in an accident — I put this out for what it's worth: Last week, just last week right around the time my Japanese visa came through and it looked like my paperwork was going to work out and nobody was going to try to stick me for my paper, I thought to myself, You know, I bet something stupid happens now like I lose my wallet. I gotta be careful.

In the midst of this, I am packing boxes and realizing that 32 kg is a lot more than I thought.

Lost my wallet

How in the world did I lose my fucking wallet.

Matsuhama Church: Party #2

Matsuhama Church: Party #2
When: Sunday, July 27th after church

Where: New church building, Tayuhama, Niigata City

Who: Church members

Backstory: There is no place more weighted with meaning for me in Niigata than Matsuhama church. It is one of the first places I went when I came here. It is right in the neighborhood I then we lived in for almost four years. I met Yoko there. I was engaged there. The pastor married us. Despite all that, I have recently been feeling out of place there given my lack of belief and interest in anything Christian and feel rather detached whenever I find myself there. I also wrote about this party earlier and I was dreading it for what I thought would be long, boring speeches and needless drama. It was, in the end, nothing like I expected and I was surprised at how hard it was to say goodbye to these people who, as I said in my little speech at the end of the party, were really our family in Niigata. I even thought I might tear up when I was talking.

Food: Spaghetti and hamburgers and rice and watermelon.

Things learned: In her speech, Yoko said the most profound thing about her life the last couple of years — something I had totally missed. She said that when she came to Niigata, she had to come as a student and her title of sensei was lost in that process. And then she married me and lost her last name in that process. And then she had Naomi and lost her full name in that process because now she is primarily Naomi's mother. And now, as she goes to England, she will lose her language. She wondered, in front of the group, what would be left of her or who she would be in England — that she was happy to be blessed, but sad at the same time.

I, in my hurried preparations to get everything done, had missed this and watching her talk, I remembered the Yoko I fell in love with three years ago and how much older and more weathered we'd become in such a short time. I am disappointed in myself for not seeing it. It reminded me that moving forward is never easy or without cost and for as good as this move is, it is not perfect and it is not going to be easy for all of us. And although I guess I knew that going into the process, hearing her say it so eloquently makes me much more cautious.

29 July 2008

Old Men and Beer: Going Away Party #1

It's becoming increasingly clear that I will be going to going away parties for the next five weeks. So I will recap all of them.

Old men and Beer: Party #1

When: Friday, July 25th

Where: Studio 37, Niigata City

Who: 6 teachers from former high school

Backstory: I was never close with the teachers at my former high school, so I was surprised when they called me and asked if they could have a going away party. It turned out to be really cool because it was just the guys that I was probably the closest to at the school. I was like an hour and half late by accident, but they extended the party for me and we hung out for like three hours, harassing the younger teachers who are all like ten years older than me about why they weren't married, talking about sexy vs. smart vs. rich women, and arm wrestling.

Food: I don't know, I was late and missed it.

Things learned: 1) All the teachers at the party were extremely interesting and all of them had bigger dreams than what they were doing. 2) They cared about me more than I thought. 3) They all have very strong opinions when they aren't wearing ties.

-51 Days

There are two boxes open, one in each of the front rooms, but I haven't put anything in yet.

28 July 2008

Dreams and the dreams of dreams

'What is your dream?' is one of those odd questions you'll undoubtedly get asked by an English learner if you are in Japan for any amount of time teaching English. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about my dreams, but after finally watching this Randy Pausch lecture, the one by the guy who is dying and was viral for several months last year, I've been thinking about dreams I've had throughout the years. You have probably already seen the video, but if you haven't, it's everywhere online.

When I was a child, I wanted to be an archeologist. This was, I suspect, heavily influenced by Indiana Jones, but even when I talked about, I was quick to tell people that I understood archaeologists spent most of their time in the library and that was fine by me. It's what I wanted, I said. I suppose what I really wanted was to be intelligent, or at least perceived as intelligent.

I also wanted to be a writer. When I went to college, I had three very clear objectives. I wanted to be in the college literary journal, Catch. I wanted my own office in the library. And I wanted to graduate Magna cum Laude.

And when I came to Japan or in the first couple of years of coming to Japan, I dreamed of learning Japanese and working at a university.

Now, I suppose I really only want to publish a book on a respectable press. I suppose I want to publish two books: one of fiction and one of nonfiction.

For what it's worth, I don't think dreams are especially useful and would rather just spend my life saying yes to whatever comes my way. Stephen Colbert said that at a commencement at Knox a couple of years ago. You need to say yes as often and as much as you can. And I think Randy Pausch probably agreed.

27 July 2008

Jumped the shark

I think this is the week we will look back at as the week John McCain lost the election. He puts out an ad saying that Obama went to the gym instead of visiting the troops, while showing it a shot of Obama playing basketball with some troops.


White, teenage Americans bring salvation to Ikebukuro through cheap sales tactics and misunderstanding

Western Christian misunderstanding of Japan was on full display in Ikebukuro last week when I was passing through on my way home from the British Visa office.

As I was walking to buy dinner, I saw a couple of guys holding signs that said, 'Free 5 Minute English' and I thought, 'Well, that's a clever way to pick up private students. I wonder if it works.' I kept walking and noticed that there were many, many more young, bright-eyed Caucasians holding the same signs and shouting, 'Free 5 minute English!' Several of them were wearing Texas college t-shirts and I deduced after watching them that they were likely a church group. Having been a part of these sorts of things myself  — shitty street theater, street 'evangelism', English education for the Lord — the signs are telling. Sitting at the bus stop, I watched them interact with people and thought about how misguided and arrogant and ignorant the whole thing was.

Japanese religious practice is an enigma to the West I think and being unable to understand it, they are quick to pronounce it non-existent. Most Fundamentalists or at least the kind I spent most of my time trying to be and hanging out with in high school, have one understanding of religion: a personal relationship with God that is expressed in going to church, feeling God's leading in your life, feeling God when you sing songs, feeling bad about bad things you think you've done, and telling other people that they should do the same thing you're doing. There is a strong emphasis on what you feel, what you believe, and what sort of religious things you do or don't do — did you pray today, did you read the Bible

Japanese religious practice, and Buddhism as I understand it, is based in a completely different worldview with all its own traps and advantages. The big one that people who are trying to convince Japanese to become Christians miss is that you do not become a Buddhist. Conversion is not a part of the worldview — you don't need to become what you already are. Moreover, the basis of Christian belief is that you need saving; the basis of Buddhism is that you are already enlightened, you just need to realize it. And in Japanese culture belief in one thing does not rule out another. To say to a Japanese person, what do you believe, is sort of a ridiculous question. They are what they are. For a Japanese person to convert to Christian faith, they need to have their culture dismantled first.

Belief, as a Fundamentalist, Western Christian understands it, is not a part of a Japanese person's life, I think. A person in the West often maybe thinks of death often and fears it — the average Japanese young person doesn't. Instead, Japanese religious practice, it was explained to me once, can be seen in the passing of two bicycles on a sidewalk. The two riders are not paying attention, almost hit one another, but do not, and they continue on their way without getting angry because they did not hit.

The Christians come to Japan to tell, to instruct, and to try to shape behaviour they have no understanding of. The 16 year old giving the 'free' English lesson knows it all already: his belief is the only true one and this 45 year old Japanese businessman that he is talking to just doesn't get it. They only know enough about the culture to complete their two week trip, go home to their mega-church, show a powerpoint, have the sort-of long haired kid lead everyone in singing, and talk about the one conversation they had where someone seemed to 'really be thinking about what we were saying.'

Fortunately for the Japanese, most of them are smart enough not to be duped and will take the five minute English lesson and listen politely to whatever else they are told. There was a teacher at Meikun who had kept a religious tract he had been given because he said throwing it away would be bad luck. He, of course, wouldn't read it, but he kept it so no one would be angry with him. And I suppose that is something the youth group could put in their powerpoint presentation. The Lord works in mysterious ways.

26 July 2008

My clothes

After our clothes go through the washer, they smell like a small animal has peed all over them.

Live from somewhere in India

My brother tells the truth from India.


Not being especially into this sort of thing myself, I was surprised at Obama's prayer at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. It shouldn't have been published and by drawing attention to it myself, I am violating Obama's privacy too. But I think it is such a telling note because it seems so genuine and immediate. His first prayer is for protection, not of the State of Israel or world peace or whatever, but of his family and himself. I wonder how much that weighs on them. I thought for most of last week that I thought he might get assassinated when he was overseas. It all seems very much from the heart. And that is another reason I support Obama.

25 July 2008

The best thing

about Barack Obama is that the right attacks him as being too popular. 'John McCain would never attract 200,000 Germans to hear him speak. Why? Because he's an asshole. And assholes get things done. Obama is just a media pretty boy. I like that Europe hates us. They're all atheists.'

24 July 2008

There's something in my trackwheel

I can't get whatever it is out. WD-40 did not work. Made it worse.

Until I solve the problem, I will be scrolling with much, much less efficiency than normal.

Shake me awake

An earthquake woke me and Yoko up last night.

Stephen's Inferno

As long as I define winning as being able to go to England and not on hours spent on bus, or hours spent in visa office, or money spent on visa, or money spent traveling to Tokyo, then today I won.

I also got RAM for my tiny netbook, and an elbow connector for my iPod that I have been looking for for about six months, so I would say today was a raging success. Plus, I got to see Neal and read a lot of Dante's Inferno. More on all of this later. It's 11:38 and I have been up since 3:20.

22 July 2008

The moon will be back up shortly

I think the website is coming back any second now. If you see the flash again, it's all okay.

21 July 2008

Like an ignorance fountain

Yesterday, I made this post including this video which covered the racial aspect of things. There was so much to comment on in the video, however, that I felt I had to make this post, too, covering economic issues and the Socialist wasteland Comrade Obama is set to bring on our flourishing free market democracy. So, again, you have been forewarned.

20 July 2008

The N-word

So apparently, Jesse Jackson was overheard saying the n-word on the TV the other day. First, a note on words. The n-word is a word like any other word, that gains power and meaning when it is said in a context. If Jesse Jackson said it, and I am referring to what he said and not calling anyone anything, I'm going to use the word as it is in the same way that I won't say 'the f-word' for 'fuck' or 'the sh-word' for 'shit'. We all know what you're saying — let's admit that there are no bad words, only bad uses for words.

Now, the n-work is one of those words that I agree white people should not be saying to refer to black people. Period. There's no reason to use it in that way because it will only hurt someone and there's no way I can conceive of a non-black person calling a black person this and it being okay. You are free to comment with a situation if you think of it.

Whether or not black people should call each other the n-word is something that was being debated on The View the other day, and it caught my ear because everyone was picking on the hot conservative woman they have on the show who was saying that black people (Jesse Jackson) shouldn't be using this word to refer to other black people and everyone was telling her she was an idiot and couldn't understand and she started crying.

My opinion on it is quite simple: it's not my place to say anything about how another ethnic group should or shouldn't refer to people in their own community. My opinion (as a non-member of any other community) doesn't really matter and it's a waste of time to think about it. Hassleback has no business telling anyone what they can and can't call each other.

Last week, I saw another something on YouTube that ties in. Some reporters were asking a bunch of suburban white women who were waiting to see John McCain speak what they thought about Barack Obama. One woman, who said just a mouthful of unintelligent bullshit, said something particularly ignorant that I wanted to highlight. In commenting on Obama's former pastor, she said, If a white minister said any of that stuff and she didn't specify what she was referring to about black people, he would be stoned. No one would stand for it. Ah, yes, ignorant, white suburban woman, No shit. You hit the nail on the head. Minorities and majorities are different.

I don't get this mentality that people like this seem to have that now A) things are equal and B) slavery and segregation and racism are all in the past so black people should just get over it. It's just a fundamental misunderstanding of history, and if you don't understand the difference between Jeremiah Wright preaching about the Tuskegee Experiments and David Duke talking about White Supremacy, someone should take your driver's license away.

Also, by the way, I remember reading a Times article about the disparity about income between men and women and it starts, apparently, with the fact that men are much, much more likely to negotiate a contract and ask for a higher salary than women. But I digress.

Frankly, I think white people in America should stop talking and just listen a little bit when it comes to race relations in the States. Why in the world would you get all hot and bothered and cry foul when a black person uses the n-word? Are you really that terrified of reverse racism? Do you have any idea what racism even is? Some of us white people have worked hard, I agree, but we are the benefactors of a whole system which hegemonized/ hegemonizes to our benefit. Being able to attend well-funded good schools is not the same as being a poor, hard-working minority student attending a poorly-funded, shitty school with a special program for talented students. Just because you have a black friend who lives in the suburbs with you and works at the same company as you and likes George W. Bush does not hold water as 'evidence' against the statistical proof that minorities in America have not yet reached any sort of equal status.

But I'll tell you what — a President Obama is certainly a step in the right direction.

More to say

I am briefly back in Shibata.

I said earlier that I was going to the British Embassy for my visa, but it turns out that it was not actually the embassy but a Visa Services Office run by a private Japanese company. I suspected this when I emailed a couple of times and asked what I needed and the responses I got back were obviously from a less than competent English speaker. I looked at everything on the website and brought the items that I needed for me (the student visa) and then for Yoko and Naomi (student dependent). There were two separate lists of what documents were needed.

We had an 11:50 appointment, so we went about thirty minutes early. The man who was checking people at the door was Japanese and I suspected from his mannerisms that he probably wasn't going to speak to me in English. When I got up to him, I spoke in English and he didn't understand what I said so I had to speak in Japanese, which probably frustrated me more than it should have. Still, though it's the British visa services office for fuck's sake. He started looking through the documents I had and asked where the applications for Naomi and Yoko were. I said again in Japanese, 'An application is not on the required documents for them. There's an application?' There was a large part of my sixteen page application about my dependents so I suspected that this covered it. 'Oh no,' the guard said, 'you need to bring all the documents for student and dependents for the student dependent visa. You can fill out the application inside, but if you don't have everything else, you'll have to come back some other time.' I was pretty upset because nowhere on the website did it say that. I said, 'That's not written anywhere on this list.' The guard became even more mechanical in his responses something that happens in Japan sometimes and means, 'I am not going to help you anymore', so I gave up.

Remind me to write a post about empathy in Japan sometime.

At this point I'm panicking because we spent about 30,000 yen to get down there and Yoko was taking a day off of work, so I said to the Robocop, 'Hold on a second.' Yoko and I looked through what we had and it seemed like we had everything except photos of Yoko and Naomi and their applications and although we didn't have a photo of Naomi, Yoko ran off to get her picture taken. I went to the door again and told the guy what we were doing and he said, 'Oh you can have your picture taken inside.' And I said in my head, 'Why didn't you say this earlier.' He went back looking at my documents and said, 'Oh, you need a copy of your bank book' and I said, 'It's right here.' He looked at it and said, 'No, no, you need copies of the last six months of transactions.' By now, I'm looking at my list of required documents from the website and it says nothing about any of this, which I point out to the guy, but he doesn't read English anyway and is showing a John McCain-like level of knowledge about the Internet. I ran downstairs to copy some more.

By this time, I was trying to call Yoko, but her phone was off because we were in this office, and I'm copying in a convenience store and realizing that we are getting dangerously close to missing our appointment. I ran back upstairs, Yoko showed up with her pictures, and at this point, the guy at the door just waved us through. Yoko was up, I'm was upset — we're trying to fill out this sixteen page application in ten minutes. Finally, we get it done and take a number to wait.

And then we wait. And wait. Apparently the appointment was only to make sure that not too many people come to the office at once, but had nothing with us actually being seen at the time we were planning.

I watched people talk with the interviewer and realizing that everyone is Japanese, talking in Japanese, and I am thinking to myself, there is no way we are going to get through with the documents we have because we're still missing like half of Yoko's stuff. Oh, and I had given up on Naomi's application as we had no picture (this will become important later) and resigned myself to making another trip next week. If, I thought, we at least get Yoko's stuff done, she doesn't have to come back, and because Naomi is under 5, she doesn't have to come anyway. I'm thinking, though, that I will have to submit and give to the office all the documents I will need the next week for Naomi's application and given my experience up to this point, I probably won't even be able to get through the door into the office without the originals.

Finally our turn comes and to my surprise, even though the interviewer is Japanese, she's an English-speaking, competent person who seems willing to help me and shows a little bit of empathy. I explained the situation, and she said that everything would work out because I could come back the next week for Naomi with copies of the documents I had. There wouldn't be a problem and she immediately made an appointment for me. For the copies of originals I was still missing, she gave them to me to give to Yoko to run out and copy, and basically did everything in five minutes. Yoko and I were able to take our pictures (in addition to the photos we submitted) and give our fingerprints and pay our 46,700 yen and finish our applications.

They kept saying you can't mail anything — can't be done, you have to come in. This is why I resolved myself that Naomi wasn't going to get done. The last thing the guy and this is the same guy from the door tells Yoko is that her photo has the wrong color background, but not to worry, if it doesn't work, they will call and she can just mail in another picture. Mail in another picture.

Given 24 hours to think about it, there are like fifteen things I could have done to get a 'photo' of Naomi, by photocopying her passport and if it didn't work, I could have mailed in another. It's one of those obvious things that I should have thought of, but I was under so much stress and trying to figure out what to do to get at least my and Yoko's passports done, that I didn't think of it.

At the end of the day, the US, Japanese, an UK governments will have taken about 80,000 yen from us for visas and passports and everything else, not including all the money spent getting to Tokyo. And yet, we are going to make it to the UK. I think.

Tokyo has been great. Saw N and M, newly married, and H and her brilliant boyfriend C. Had an amazing dinner that I was too tired, but drunk enough to enjoy. N and M have a great apartment near a station in a quiet part of Ikebukuro. The whole weekend made me very hopeful about the future of myself and my friends. Everyone's getting out of teaching English, and using the experience to move forward.

So next Wednesday, I will take a bus at five in the morning to Tokyo, get Naomi's visa done, and be on a bus back to Niigata at five in the evening.

19 July 2008

British Embassy

was a fucking disaster. I need to come back to Tokyo next Wednesday. Waste of time, waste of money and I blame the British.

US Embassy

When Yoko and I were married, we were married in Japan and obviously in Japanese. To prove that we are married in English, we had to translate our marriage certificate, which is no problem because the US Embassy in Tokyo has forms pre-printed for this specific purpose. You just fill in the missing information and when I did this for a report of Naomi's birth, they reprinted the translation nicely on some official looking paper. Because we were going to be in Tokyo this week, I thought I would finally take care of having this translation certified and filled out the form. When I was waiting at the embassy, I noticed that I made a small mistake and just wrote over it. No big deal, I thought, as this was all just getting transferred to the official looking paper. It turns out, what they do is just staple that form, the one I filled out, to the back of our marriage certificate. Now we have a very beautiful Japanese marriage certificate with my bad handwritten translation stapled to the back with the notary seal.

Now, I'm headed to the British Embassy and hoping it goes better. Yoko almost missed her train. It seems like we are going to England all beat up and bloodied, but alive and ready to study. I'm still waiting for the other shoe to drop — still wondering if this is real at all, that it might all fall through, that somehow I was mistaken and I didn't really get into the university and it's not really what I thought it would be.

17 July 2008

Tokyo comes to you

I, a pile of passports, a marriage certificate, and my new backpack are going to Tokyo now. Yoko will meet me tomorrow, we'll get some fingerprints taken and hopefully get visas for the UK. After that, we will have almost six hours in one of greatest cities in the world. One of my friends said yesterday that there is nothing to do in Tokyo. I, respectfully, disagree.

E. E. Cummings said it, I believe it, that settles it


a politician is an arse upon
which everyone has sat except a man.

14 July 2008


My career as an English teacher is effectively over as of 3:40 this afternoon.

13 July 2008

Things I'm not going to miss in Japan

I had a conversation last week in church that really illustrates the foreigner experience in Japan. The conversation started when one of the older women from the church came up to me and Yoko and asked me what I wanted to eat at the going away party the church is having for us. Now, the going away party will be attended by mostly the older folks from the church and as is the case all the time, I will be the only foreigner there. This question about food has only two answers: I can say what I really want to eat or I can tell them to make whatever they want.

In this sort of situation, I always go with just saying what I know someone wants to hear because I know that what I want to eat is only going to perplex and confuse and probably reinforce whatever stereotype they already have about foreigners eating only junk food and not liking fish. And, most likely, even if I do say what I'd like, I'll get some bastardization of what I really want which will be worse than whatever it is that everyone else is getting anyway. So I answered, Oh, whatever you cook will be great. Anything is fine.

Yoko interjected with, 'Tell the truth. Tell her what you really want to eat. This is your chance.'
Not being able to explain to my wife what I just explained to you, I stuck to my guns, 'No, no,' I said, 'Whatever is fine.'
By this time the woman gave up on me and started asking my wife, 'What does he want to eat?'
'Curry,' Yoko said. 'He likes curry.'
This elicited the stereotypical reaction I was hoping to avoid — the shock and surprise and delight a stereotypical older Japanese person shows when they hear something new or exciting or strange.
'Really?!' she said, 'Curry?'
'Or hamburgers,' Yoko said.
'Of course, of course,' the woman said, jotting it down.
'French fries,' Yoko continued, 'You know, like a kids menu.'

It's hard to explain how this sort of situation feels, but I suppose it's much more universal and much, much greater for minorities living truly as marginalized minorities. For me, on a small scale, I hate being excluded and set apart in a way that brings amusement to others, especially when they don't realize it and are unable to realize how uncomfortable they have just made me feel. I don't like eating what you like eating and what I eat is strange to you and immature. How small and big it seems at the same time.

Or when we were walking downtown and ran into one of Yoko's coworkers who, upon seeing Naomi, said, 'Her white side is very strong, isn't it?' From my American perspective, this is just completely unacceptable, but in Japan, we have to smile and nod and say, Uh-huh and just accept that the person who said it is ignorant and pointing out their ignorance would just make them uncomfortable.

I don't mean to be one of the people who bemoans Japanese culture as ignorant and underdeveloped and archaic. The Japanese that I have met and interacted with have been by and large good-natured and cautious about racial and cultural issues. I will say this though — I am looking forward to being in a multicultural environment and I am looking forward to my wife and I experiencing this sort of exclusion together as opposed to one of us being a part of the excluding group.

Just tons of crap

Moving internationally with no plan of returning in at least five years gives you pause to think: What the hell am I going to do with all my shit. Because, whether you like it or not, all your shit — and by shit here I really just mean stuff or junk or the things you have that you never use or think you might use sometime but haven't used in the last two years — has to be sorted into one of four categories: what goes, what gets given away, what gets sold, and what gets thrown away.

There is no other category even though there's nothing more I want than a purgatory category. I want a category where I can put something like my snowboard boots and bindings. Might want them in the future, can't think of when, but it's hard to put them in the give away or sell category. How about that cup. How about the apparatus we hang laundry on to dry.

There is a half category which is stuff I can leave in the apartment for the next teacher, but given that I am skating on thin ice at university already, I don't really want to bring up this category with my supervisor as she might think that I am just looking for another way to screw the school which, of course, I'm not.

My room at home, when I left five years ago, was a museum of sorts, but the worst kind of museum: a museum to my first real failed relationship. I had saved everything: notes, poems written on napkins, brochures of places we had been. I remember how hard it was to throw it all away, how every piece in the collection was a good memory turned bad and how heavy a napkin with the words 'Always ****' felt. It took me a while to go through it.

Now, my room at home is still filled with shit that I should sort. Like my mother called the other day and asked, 'What do you want me to do with your typewriters?' Ah yes, my typewriters. I had bought like six typewriters in college because they were cheap and I liked how they looked. How about my parka from college? How about this? How about that?

Today I pawned a ton of our shit at the local Hard Off including most of the things in my purgatory category. We got about 5800 yen, which isn't bad. It was mostly from Yoko's old CDs. My boots and bindings sold for 300 yen. 300 yen was all they are worth?

Which brings me to an ending. All of our things, at one point or another, fall into two categories — what we need and what we don't. Moving cheaply just accelerates that realizations and makes you wonder, Why did I ever buy this thing in the first place? Now, as we start over again, maybe we can remember all this before we start acquiring things again.

I was a very emotional 15 year-old

When I first discovered women rather late in life, I found the whole experience to be troubling and wrote a series of short vignettes about how miserable and confused I was:
She said goodnight as she turned out the lights on his heart.  Not quite all the way off, but it was pretty close.  His heart has a dimmer switch, but she broke it.  If you were watching closely and you could see the exact moment she moved it from bright shimmering orb to a small, dull, dying reflection of his pain.  It was right after she said, We need to talk.  He had donned his best pair of corduroy slacks, hoping she might notice, but he doesn't think she did.  At least she didn't say she did and she normally comments about these things.  She dropped the words like an atom bomb and now he's sitting in his walk-in closet crying like a baby.

11 July 2008

Things I'm looking forward to in England

Hyde Park, to see what Septimus saw.


true lovers in each happening of their hearts
live longer than all which and every who;
despite what fear denies,what hope asserts,
what falsest both disprove by proving true

(all doubts,all certainties,as villains strive
and heroes through the mere mind's poor pretend
-grim comics of duration:only love
immortally occurs beyond the mind)

such a forever is love's any now
and her each here is such an everywhere,
even more true would truest lovers grow
if out of midnight dropped more suns than are

(yes;and if time should ask into his was
all shall,their eyes would never miss a yes)

-e. e. cummings

09 July 2008

Great lesson

In a lesson on describing processes today, I told the students how to ask a someone on a date.

2 year anniversary notes

Yoko and I had a pretty good day, much better than our last date. We went to a Japanese Korean-style BBQ. We also had coffee and flowers and a good time with the Polaroid camera I found in the closet. The film was from the wedding, so it was older and it took the most fabulous pictures, like it was 1974 or something.

Things are quiet though as I only have three or four days left in the semester and then a couple of seminars I am organizing during the rest of the summer. I'm going to do several seminars at Yoko's university on writing abstracts for academic journals in English and maybe a couple of one-week English courses. This will be a little difficult as I imagine I will have to do the abstract writing course in Japanese, and I haven't really lectured in Japanese for an extended period of time. But it will be good practice. It should bring in the yen though, which is growing weaker by the hour against the GBP.

07 July 2008

Getting worse before it gets better

I don't think I can manage to write anything these days that is not woefully sentimental about leaving Japan and all the bitter-sweetness and anxiety and excitement that seems to have flooded our little apartment. We swing between all of these feelings, sometimes within a couple of minutes. And maybe I shouldn't say we so much as I. Yoko and Naomi hold up well, not fearful or anxious, probably because their responsibility in the whole thing is rather small. I, on the other hand — I am the one moving my little family clear across the world to follow my dream and even though I am convinced that it is right and necessary and good for us in the long run, it is very hard.

When I came to Japan, I famously had two bags and my guitar. One of the bags had about fifteen hangers in it. Hangers, I thought, would be very important when I touched down and needed to look good and not wrinkled before our guests. I wasn't sure if I would be able to buy them easily.

This time is the opposite. Everything gets thrown out — we'll get it there, whatever it is. We are making plans to live life without a car, a choice that will make aspects of our life difficult, but will ultimately allow us to survive as I suspect the cost of gasoline will continue to increase and we could quickly get to a point that we are insuring a car that we can never use anyway. This means we have to find a place close to shopping and relatively close to the school, but I don't think that will be that much of a problem. I've seen a couple of nice places near the city centre that are not too expensive. We are going to do one bedroom instead of two, I think. Try to start out small and figure out what we can and can't live without before buying anything.

The university is giving us very little help in getting over which is something I suspected would be the case. The Universities of Leeds and Birmingham both have very elaborate programs for helping international students with housing and bus routes all mapped out. The OU being so small is really not equipped for that. You'll just have to figure it out, it seems. Do your best and hope that no one takes advantage of you.

Still, I am trying to take in Japan for the time I have left here. Look at things a little longer than I usually would and savor what it is I think I will miss. We are going to see Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto, and Nagoya in our swing down south, so I should be able to at least have those memories to access when people ask what Japan is like. I can say that I have been all over, seen a lot of it.

05 July 2008

Good vibes

I was coming back from immigration yesterday, over the Matsuhama bridge where Yoko and I used to live. I spent three years living in the same small apartment in Matsuhama, and though it was drafty and old and small and poorly equipped for family life, it was home. As I rode my motorbike across the bridge, I felt myself reaching back to last year in my mind and wishing to go back, at least to that place that was in the city and surrounded by everything I knew. My current apartment has been filled with bad vibes for the last month, something I suspected, but hoped wouldn't happen, if London ever ended up working out.

There are only two months left and this place will quickly become one that I forget, a bump in the rode on the way to somewhere bigger, wider, better. But Matsuhama, and this bridge in particular, will always be in my heart — running in the snow, with no future, and then engaged, and then married and then pregnant and then with Naomi. All of those things came to me in those three rooms, filled with light and always condensed and condensing. I already miss it.

04 July 2008

Manly firmness

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.

Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature.

He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states:

For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing taxes on us without our consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury:

For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses:

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies:

For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments:

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have we been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.

We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

Massachusetts: John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Connecticut: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York: William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey: Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

Pennsylvania: Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Delaware: Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Maryland: Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Virginia: George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Georgia: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton

Source: The Pennsylvania Packet, July 8, 1776

Does battle, wins Round 1

My new passport is here and after a couple of days running around town, making phone calls, and arguing with my wife, I was able to make it to Japanese immigration today with my library of documents and apply for my visa extension. We'll see how long it takes them to do this one. I'm just happy to have it off my mind for the weekend.

The people at immigration were actually not that bad. They seem to know what they're doing more than the people at the city office. The people at the city office are notoriously bad. So bad, in fact, that Yoko has had negative things to say about them. Perhaps bad is the wrong word. Incompetent is maybe better. They aren't rude or mean or anything.

02 July 2008

Documents for the government

One of the biggest perks of living in a country where you are a citizen is being able to live and work without having to prove with a flurry of documents that you are who you claim to be and you pay your taxes. I am now starting the process of getting all my documents together to make yet another application for an extension of my Japanese visa as it will run out before we run out. I also have to get the UK visa. It helps if I think about it in steps:
  1. Last week, I decided to get a new passport (to assure that I would be able to get long term visas in Britain and Japan), so I sent in my old one and an application for a new one to the US embassy. Given the new world order we live in, now passports have to be printed in the States, so mine should be coming back sometime in the next two weeks.
  2. After I get my new passport, I have to go to Japanese immigration and get my old visa moved to my new passport and, hopefully, apply for my new visa all at the same time. I have had to renew my marriage visa every year, bringing in the same documents for the last three years and paying about 100USD.
  3. After making that application, I will go down first to the US embassy to have our Japanese marriage certificate certified. Then we will go over to the British embassy with this certified document and with my new passport and old Japanese visa and apply for a student visa for myself and student dependent visas for the ladies. We have to have our fingerprints taken and give the embassy our passports and about 600USD.
  4. Three weeks later or so our passports should return to Shibata with our British visas and then I will be able to go to the Japanese immigration office and get my new Japanese visa added to my new passport.
  5. After all that, I have to to the city office in Shibata and update all my information and then back again to inform them that I am leaving the country.
  6. Then I die.
At the end of the day, we will have paid about $1000 to make everyone legal in two countries and I should be able to travel without any problems. One day, if we ever decide to return to the States, this will be even more complicated as we would likely apply for Yoko from the UK. I don't even want to think about it.

01 July 2008

No more dressing like I work at Blockbuster video

One of the things I am going to promise myself after I finish work in the middle of July is never tuck a polo shirt into a pair of black/ khaki pants. It's unacceptable, but I'm so lazy right now to really think about what I wear or how I look or how inexcusable my fashion choices have been this summer. It's just laziness, plain and simple.

I really have only myself to blame. Everybody in Japan runs around self-importantly in neckties, slacks, and lack of innovative thinking. My polo shirt-slacks combo isn't even coming close by this standard. However, I'm through looking the part of middle management in some dumb US cubicle job. I'm going back to school where I was truly myself and where I can truly be myself again, with a focus on ideas and publishing and writing. And I couldn't be happier.

So I resolve this: I'm wearing jeans from the UK on out. If I need to dress up, I'll put on the sport coat, or worst case scenario, the suit, but no more polos in slacks.

16 pages

The student visa form for the UK is a pain.