It’s getting cold here. In the mornings I prepare for my bike ride to work, layering clothes that I will shed once I arrive at my desk, the base layers which I will sweat through by then. The hallways are cold and breezy; there is no heat and windows are opened to keep air circulating, apparently to prevent the spread of the flu.
I pass old men and women sweeping the sidewalks in front of their small shops, keeping up impressions that no doubt carry to the inside of those shops as well. A small, elderly man, armed with only a white trash bag, meticulously picks up each fallen twig and gingko leaf that had fallen the night before. I prepare to give a nod and smile as I pass, but he doesn’t notice me and I ride on.
Lots of things have been occupying my waking hours, which I’ll briefly detail below.
First, the band I’m in has had several shows this fall, most recently two this past weekend. Playing music with people who get along is always rewarding, and the guys in this band are no exception. Alex, the lead vocalist and guitarist – the front man, if you will – is a fellow Pennsylvanian who’s been living in Japan for six years or so. The bassist, Matt, is from the UK and is the baby of the group; 28 or 29 I reckon. Yosuke, the lead guitarist, is a reserved and polite Japanese guy from Tokyo and can rip on guitar but is as modest as they come, dismissing our praise as absurd. I’m the eldest, but of course people still assume I’m way younger than I am. Bless my full head of hair, or curse my baby-like features, either will do.
Last Thursday was a holiday here in Japan, and we were scheduled to play third or fourth on an early bill at a live house called Moon Step. It’s a decent venue with proper punk rock spirit and style. Matt, the bassist, expressed how it didn’t feel right playing so early, but as for me I love it. The idea of being home and in bed browsing Amazon for things I don’t need is incredibly appealing. As it were, I was staying at Alex’s place in Tokyo, as I sometimes do to save me the hassle of returning to Sano and riding my bicycle home at 1am. The gig itself was good, although it wasn’t the tightest we’re capable of playing. The crowd was lively and the room, to my dismay, was a smoky box. This fact has been consistent with every venue we’ve played, and likely most of the ones that will book us. As a result, I refuse to go inside until our set time, which leaves me hanging out by myself either on the street or a nearby café. In fact, Japan is behind the sensible times in this regard, allowing smoking in restaurants, bars, hotels, and just about anywhere else where people like me have to deal with someone else’s offensive habits and personal deficiencies. But I wrote about that separately so I won’t get into it here.
Saturday we played even earlier, at a prompt 3pm. Again I was hanging outside of the venue, unsociable as a consequence of my sensitive sinuses. The weather was quite lovely though, so it wasn’t too bad. I walked to the train station to meet a friend of mine who wanted to attend the show. We played, it was good but way too loud, and I split, going with my friend to Shinjuku so he could shop for cologne and I could catch a bus home.
The other thing that’s keeping me busy is a Japanese course I’m taking at a university in Tokyo. I had been feeling like I was hitting a plateau with my self-studying and I really wanted to be in a classroom again, mostly to motivate and direct me as I learn this complex language. Every Friday after work I race to the bus station to catch a bus, and then hop off when it arrives in Tokyo, then take a train about 15 minutes to the university, and finally hustle out of the station and to the classroom, often to be the last one to arrive with a minute or two to spare to catch my breath.
The class is small, which makes for an intimate and engaging environment. The first day of class started with about 12 students, which shrank considerably to date. When I was in college I sat top dead center of every class, provided nobody else had already snagged my seat. I do this for a few reasons: I like to show the instructor that I’m serious by not hiding in the back, I want to avoid distraction by phone-obsessed millennials and slackers, and I can’t hear for shit unless I’m up close in the action. It was always a toss-up who I would get to sit next to me. Half the time they were other diligent students, the other half they were kids who showed up too late on day one and had to take the only available seats, the ones which wouldn’t hide the inevitable texting and social media masturbation. My system went to hell within the first moments of class when the professor requested we create a semicircle to better interact with one another. Fair enough.
Naturally, I assessed (made a judgment) on each student in the class. Three middle aged women, I assumed from Spain, (they spoke English well but spoke Spanish with one another yet looked European to me, I don’t know) left the class within the first few minutes after realizing they were expected to already know some fundamentals of Japanese; none of them had yet studied any of the language, so they decided to instead register for the beginner class. A quiet guy from the U.S. sat opposite me and later would be the person I would sit beside. To my left was an Englishman with bright glassy eyes and enough sense of style, meticulous grooming, and posture to be cast as the token gay guy in name-your-sitcom. I don’t know whether or not he is, and I don’t really care; it’s just my observation. He’s friendly and jovial and I like him. To my right sat a Frenchman (I think) who could very well have been French solely assessed by his arrogant and cavalier demeanor and patent leather shoes. But I don’t rightly know, and I wasn’t listening when he said where he was from. He has however been in Japan for twenty plus years, and spoke fluent Japanese. I’m not sure what his goal was for the class. Down the line sat two American girls – friends – one of whom I quickly found annoying, if not downright obnoxious. Annoying Girl earns this title for a number of ways. She knows a fair bit of Japanese. That’s great; more power to you. But what’s not great is when every time the professor asks a question (or a student, for that matter) Annoying Girl has to make it known that she knows the answer, if not by shouting it out before another student has the chance to answer or the professor has a chance to explain, then by miming the action of the answer for all of us to witness. If I decide to take the next course in this program, I pray she is not registered for it. Further along is a mild-mannered, handsome man from Peru who I decided is my top choice if I was to get stranded on an island with anyone in the class. (Save for the professor; she’s super fun, friendly, and cute to boot)
About ten minutes into class the front door of the classroom swung open. A pale, skinnier-than-what-I’d-think-is-healthy girl in an elaborate getup inspired by Tokyo fashion and anime stood in the doorway, her hand propped against the doorframe and her expression practiced like that of a high school theatre student. The professor happily said, welcome, please join us, etc. Anime Girl then announces herself with, “I asked SIX people how to find this place!” and continued to ramble about her misadventures in transit or some other shit I didn’t care about. Now, there are dozens of ways you can enter a room. That’s not one of them. Let’s try that again, shall we, Anime Barbie? The disruption continued throughout the rest of the class as the think-before-you-speak gene either didn't exist in her or didn’t sync up with her stream of consciousness, and I was glad she was on the other side of the room with no chance of being my partner for any activities.
By the second and third classes, our numbers had dropped to six, then rose to seven, at which it stands. The newest class member seems friendly and modest and isn’t obnoxious in the least, so another win, eh. The Frenchman left, and the Anime Girl never returned; perhaps she felt the sharp piercing of my distaste for idiocy.
Most of my weekends are spent in Tokyo, as I often have band practice or some other arrangements a day or two after my Japanese class. It’s easier and cheaper (although not by much – I’m still spending more on transportation than the cost of my class) to just stick around town rather than going back to Sano.
What I thought was big news, only for my big news to be trumped by the results of the 2016 presidential election, (see what I did there?) is that I am now in the smart phone ranks. I gave in. I did it. I dug deep into my wallet (and scoured the internet for a sweet bargain so I didn’t have to dig THAT deep) and bought a new mobile device, something I often imagined had the probability of never happening. Well, a twelve-year run with flip phones and candy bars isn’t too bad, and I scored a heck of a deal on a data plan that my former provider couldn’t even come close to matching. Can I still refer to myself as a Luddite? Ah, it doesn’t so much matter.
On the other hand, y’all got an orange bigot to contend with now. Let's give it time to sink in, like chemical waste seeping into our soil and drinking water...