Here in Japan, I can’t necessarily say I’m experiencing anything like that, and I’m not even sure I’ve felt the honeymoon stage. I have had ups and downs, but generally as a response to the day-to-day hiccups that I’d expect anywhere. But I have acknowledged that there are plenty of things I miss back home, as fine and settled as I am here.
I miss music. Yes, I have a laptop chock full o’ songs and albums of artists I like, but I miss having music all around me. I miss playing with my band, and I miss my friends in that band. On that note, I’d like to point you to another friend’s website, joshgraymusic. Josh recently released an EP, and I really enjoy it. And it makes me happy to see my friends doing the things they love. The album has several original tunes, capped by an interesting and well-crafted cover of “Punk Rock Girl” by The Dead Milkmen. It's in compound time! I encourage you to check out his music, support him with a CD purchase or digital download, and go hug a friend. Following that, you should also see what our mutual friend, Joe Jack Talcum, is up to these days. He’s got some solo shows in the works, and the Milkmen have a Halloween show in Philly for those in the area. That’s another thing I miss, and I’m bummed I won’t be joining them for the evening.
I’ve also missed out on several friends’ weddings, and that makes me sad too. I like weddings. And I love my friends.
And, I do miss the familiarity of home. I miss knowing where I’m going, I miss the ease of verbal communication, and I miss understanding what’s on a menu. And finally, I miss: skateboarding with Donovan, Jeremy, Mike G. and Co., hanging with the ABG crew, walking around with my parents on their property, hopping in a car whenever I need to get somewhere instead of depending on a bus, writing music with Adam, Mike and Jason, occasional jams and chilling out with Adam H., Amazon shopping, (the Japanese version is a far cry from what the U.S. has) Vegan Treats in Bethlehem, chocolate chip cookies from The Seed, dinner at Rice and Noodles, lunch with the Development team at Tabor, dog sitting and babysitting for my last boss, walking around Philly or sitting around the house or playing Scrabble with my dear friend Joe, visiting friends in different cities and states, being able to always find shoes that fit me, dairy-free dark chocolate, my old roommates in Lititz, chatting with my brother about whatever, goofing around with restaurant servers where they actually get the joke, reasonably priced fruits and vegetables, and all the other little things and big things I can think of.
And now, what have I been up to lately? Let’s see.
School has been going pretty well, although I find that I am in the dark a lot of the time. I have learned that if I am not persistent and annoying about asking what’s going on, I will be forgotten. But I’m having fun anyway. The junior high school students really like me for the most part. In class they are generally polite and engaged, save for a few problem students who seem to be uncontrollable. At recess I make an effort to play with them, if they don’t ask me first. I usually play volleyball, but sometimes it’s basketball or soccer. I think I am generally a disappointment in basketball though, as I haven’t yet scored a basket. I believe they see my height as something of an asset, yet I haven’t matched that expectation. Half the time I can’t even tell who’s on my team since they all wear uniforms and they move around so quickly. It’s like we’re one big team, and I’m okay with that. When I pass the ball I just look for whoever seems most genuine and I figure, “they must be on my side.” Nobody has complained yet.
At my elementary school it’s even better, as the students are just thrilled to see me. And show me something that is cuter than a third grade Japanese student, and I’ll clean your house for a year. Throughout all grades, English class starts the same. The teacher greets the students: “Hello/Good morning everyone.” The students respond: “Hello/Good morning XXX Sensei.” I repeat. “Hello/Good morning everyone!” They respond in kind: “Good morning Marshall Sensei.” And let me tell you, hearing 30 adorable, enthusiastic, pint-sized Japanese kids in unison saying this line is enough to put a smile on John Boehner’s saggy face. If he had a real heart, anyway.
Last weekend my girlfriend and I visited Asakusa, an area of Tokyo with history and culture and rickshaw operators. We ate at an excellent vegan restaurant called Kaemon. It offers set meals, where you choose a main dish that comes with soup and various side dishes. A set meal is like a combo meal or value meal. Burger, fries and a cola, for example. They call them sets here. A set meal. Set.
The big attraction in Asakusa is Sensoji, a temple built for the goddess of Kannon, which was completed in 645. That’s a long time ago. There’s also a large shopping district, filled with local goods and Made In China goods. It’s a colorful, warm and crowded area. One notable takeaway is that despite the funnel of tourism in this area, there was nary a beggar or hustler to be found. The only complaint, and it’s not my complaint, was the number of rickshaw drivers competing for our business. Yes, they offered pamphlets and called to us to offer a ride around the city, but they were still polite and hardly obnoxious, and bowed and said “thank you” when we declined. In China I was hounded so aggressively by taxi drivers, tour guides, rickshaw operators, and other vultures that it made me angry and annoyed. At a visit to the Forbidden City, I raised my fist at a man who was pushing himself against me, blocking my way as I walked. He backed down straight away, but I don’t think in that moment I was bluffing.
After a visit to the Tourist/Culture Center, we watched some taiko performers on the street. Some of the drums played are so big that they are mounted on a tall frame, and the players’ arms are over their heads as they whack the hell out of them. The sound is thunderous and commanding. For those that are familiar with my drumming technique, imagine me trying to play a drum in that fashion. You’re smiling now, I can tell.
We also went to a drum museum, which I found particularly enjoyable as visitors were permitted to play a significant part of the collection. If the drum’s description had a little music note next to it, it was fair game. Beth and I were the only two people in the museum, which was contained in one big room, so we had a fun time tapping, shaking, pounding, hitting and thumping around. Drums, people. Sheesh.
For dinner, we found another vegan-friendly restaurant called Café Byron Bay, named after the Byron Bay in Australia. It was a small, cozy if not cluttered place, with a warm vibe. The staff and patrons sitting at the bar invited us to the conversation. The server, a young fellow from England, seemed a bit scattered, but friendly. He said there were only two copies of the menu in the whole place, and he couldn’t find the other, so he asked to borrow back the one we were given. The same thing happened with our carafe of water. Only one in the place, and he needed to pour some water. Our meals were amazing. I had Japanese red curry – garlic and onion free to my delight – and Beth had the yellow curry, different but equally delicious.
Before catching a train back to Sano, we returned to Kaemon for dessert: chocolate soy ice cream for me, and the coffee flavored for Beth. In case you cared to know.
Anyway, enough of this babbling. Have a look at the pictures below. Thanks for sticking around.