Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Oh shit, Five-Oh!

Let me start by saying that I think that police are great, and I have nothing but contempt for people who say they "hate cops" or whatever. That's fucking ridiculous. For most people in the USA, saying that you "hate cops" is like saying you "hate oxygen". "Damn, Cletus, I just hate this fuckin' air I always gotta be breathin!"

Yeah, sometimes some asshole crop-dusts your table at Bennigans or whatever and you get some bad air, but simply put, assuming you're a law abiding citizen, you'd appreciate air, like cops, a lot more, if all of a sudden it weren't around.

Okinawan Microcosm

In Okinawa, there was (is) an area outside of base called Kinville. They call it Kinville 'cuz the city is called "Kin" (金武 - weird character combo 'cuz it's Okinawan). Kinville is a scumhole little town 3 streets by 4 streets or so with nothing but dives and drinky bars of varying degrees of scumminess. Since Kinville is literally right across the street from Camp Hansen and filled to the brim with underage, drunken, retarded Teufelhunden, there is a sort of "shore patrol" that walks around and maintains "order". Before a certain incident, I hated 'em. Camp Guard was made up of the dregs of Hansen -- really digging there -- consisting of people who had previously gotten in trouble by Camp Guard. A common punishment for mouthing off to Camp Guard or not doing what they told you was, well, assignment to Camp Guard every weekend for a month. All they ever did to me was tell me to "tuck my shirt in", which really pissed me off, especially when they'd actually enter a bar, come up to my bar-stool, and tell me to do it. You had to comply, though, or you'd be joining 'em.

Anyway, one week there was a typhoon that came through Oki and knocked down a utility pole outside base, blocking the front gate. Word on the street was that Camp Guard wouldn't be patrolling the 'ville. "Good," I thought, "It'll be nice not being devildogged* by some fucking PFC." Was I wrong. Without Camp Guard, Kinville was pande-fucking-monium, and I sat there and watched a group of guys run through a bar and beat the dogshit out of about most of the people in the vicinity. I think I avoided their meticulous, death-squad-like beatdown fest by just pretending like I didn't see them -- I turned around, saw three guys going to town on a bunch of people, and just spun back around in my bar stool and stared at my drink. "Yeesh," I thought, "Here we go again," because I've gotten blasted by a random, consequence free punch while trying to mind my own business a couple of times, so I just waited for my turn. The punch never came, but a friend of mine got a rocks glass smashed on her face, resulting in a nice big scar, and I learned a good lesson -- Don't take public coercive protection forces, i,e. police, for granted, because when left up to their own devices, people will run amok. This lesson was reinforced during my stay in Afghanistan, where I learned that it was important not to leave the police to their own devices, because they'll run amok too. Quis Custodiet ipsos custodes? But all things considered, things aren't so bad in the USA, and people who act like the USA is a police state are fucking retarded. "Police" aren't scary. "La Policia" are. Go to a country with "La Policia" and tell me how bad you think the USA is.

Japan is great police-wise, maybe even better than the USA, and the fact that organized crime generally doesn't involve outside parties makes it a really safe place to be. Over here, the cops hang out in these places called Koban, or "police boxes", where instead of having a huge precinct full of cops, each neighborhood had a few little buildings scattered around housing 2 or 3 cops, who are in charge of that area and know everyone around the vicinity. Japan also has an incredibly high prosecution rate, though some of their practices may be a bit questionable to Americans, for example the right to hold someone without charges for up to a little over 3 weeks. And not releasing until the last day for really stupid reasons, like "...oh you didn't show enough remorse" or "...we didn't like your attitude," both of which have happened to friends of mine. The cops here have the reputation for being real dicks, and I've had mixed experiences, but after last night I'm changing my tune.

Oh sheeeyuzeeyuhtt nyuhnkuh it's the Peaux-Peaux!

I was sitting in my car near my girl's apartment while she ran inside a bookstore to grab something right quick when all of a sudden a police car whizzes by, stops right in front of me, and 4 cops roll up on me with a sense of urgency. "Great," I thought as always, so I just pretended like I didn't notice them until they knocked on my window. I figured they were going to tell me that I was illegally stopped, which I was, but the policeman leaned in with a friendly smile and said, "...Are you doing some shopping?"

As a roundeye in Japan, there are many situations (like this) where we make a split-second decision -- Should I pretend not to speak Japanese or not? I try not to do this because it's shadey, and people play "dumb gaijin" all the time to get out of paying for shit, which I am whole-heartedly against, so I tend to bust out with the Japaneazy unless the person is being a complete asshole (which happens from time to time). But this guy wasn't. He was being horribly polite, and he totally took me off guard. I was expecting a dickhead cop with some bullshit officious tone, bristling up to me with some stupid demand to see my passport and ask me a bunch of stupid questions or imply that I was a criminal (happened when I was a student), but his kindness totally took me off guard. I had no choice but to respond in the native speaky.

"Um, no," I said, "I'm just waiting here for a second. My girlfriend is buying a book, but she should be out soon."

...At which point she came out, looking surprised to see her chariot and prince surrounded by the Po-Po. When she hopped in, Mr Po-Lease-Mayun said something like, "We've been checking cars recently because a lot of bad people have been cruising around with knives and whatnot in their car, so would it be OK if we checked your trunk? I'm sooo sorry to impose like this, it being Christmas and all..."

Lesser gaijin would scream RACISM! Oh shit, he saw my car, which is gangsterish by Japanese standards, or he saw my Yankee-plates, and he's persecuting me for being a roundeye! Fucking racist Japanese people! I knew this would fuggin happen!!! If Japan had anything resembling the ACLU I'd SOOOO call them.

I've seen it happen in stores, on the street, in bars, everywhere in Japan -- some asshole foreigner will feel slighted and pull the racism card. It's like they just got their racism card recently issued to them, and now that they're a minority they're just dying to pull it on someone. Or pull it. However the racism card exchange is transacted. Anyway, sometimes foreigners get so racism-card-crazy, they accuse other foreigners of racism, which is just classic. I saw this one dude at the door of a bar flipping out on a nigerian doorman because the bar was "racist". Sweet.

...but to be honest, it didn't really cross my mind that I might be getting profiled until I noticed that some Japanese guy was getting searched right behind me. "Oh, I guess they're searching everyone who's stopped," I thought, "I guess it ain't a gaijin thing huh..."

Since this cop was polite, jovial, and just all-around nice, it never crossed my mind that I was being "oppressed," and since I had nothing to hide, I opened my trunk and tried to be as polite as possible in return.

That kinda got me thinkin'...

That's the Christmas spirit, folks. Carrying out the plan of the day in a polite, professional manner, when you could (in the opinion of many, I'm sure) be a complete asshole about everything. He didn't have to be nice about it -- he was doing his job, and in keeping with my own personal philosophies, had every right to specifically target my car for searching, as it fits the profile for someone who might be "up to no good" over here. He didn't have to apologize to me. He didn't have to apologize to my girl, saying that he was sorry because "...it is Christmas, after all!" He could have been an officious prick about everything, but he wasn't.

...So here's to those folks who are out there doing shitty, thankless jobs to ensure that ungrateful slobs like me can protest the holiday seasons while enjoying the days off of work. It may sound corny but a little politeness goes a long way. I'm grateful there are dudes like Mr Xmas Popo running around Tokyo keepin' me safe, and it's good to see a copper who understands how disarming a little politeness can be.

Happy Holidays (again)!

* being "devil dogged" or "lifed" in the USMC is when someone corrects you in some superfluous, stupid way, in an attempt to alpha male you. The "lifing" (called "lifing" because it's usually issued by a "lifer") usually begins with someone referring to you as "devil dog". ex, "Hey Devil Dog, I dunno why you got your hands in your pockets." People of lower ranks do not call people of higher ranks "devil dog," even though some belt-fed mofrackies would beg to differ. Furthermore, people do not call each other "devil dog" in all seriousness unless they are complete douchebags. Despite it's cool history, it's a generally pejorative term when one person uses it to address another. (The word "Marine" is also used in a similar fashion, as is "killer".)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Holiday Update !

This holiday season marks my 3rd holiday blogged, and my 6th consecutive Christmas spent outside of the Continental US. What progress. Here's a history:

2001 -- Hawaii (where I was stationed)

Some friends of the family came out so I hung with them, and I don't even remember New Years. Typical go-out-and-get-housed bullshit I guess.

2002 -- Hawaii

This was between my Okinawa deployments, and I had about a month to sit around in Hawaii and do nothing. People who just got off deployment or were about to go didn't have to do anything, so I was dual-cool in that respect, showing up to work, if at all, around 10am. The same family friends came out, the difference being that this time I got shitfaced in Waikiki and thought it would be a good idea to sleep in their hotel room (at 4am), so I woke em up and barged in.

2003 -- Tokyo, Japan

I had to come back to Japan for 4 days to get all my stuff. I scored a work visa but got a wicked offer to train folks as a contractor at Ft Belvoir, so I decided to try my luck in the beltway area. This ended up bad, as the guy who hired me in Japan told me he was going to sue me for breach of contract with his "Tokyo Lawyers", and the job out east fell through.

2004 -- Kabul, Afghanistan

A result of me using up all my unemployment benefits and not having any money. On New Years Eve we shanghai'd one of the company vehicles and went "over the wire" to an ex-pat bar in Kabul and got in a lot of trouble the next day. I remember thinking it was really weird 'cuz everyone was talking about how mad the upper management was at me, but they never said anything to me about it. My direct manager was saying stuff like, "You're gonna have a lot of explaining to do, so-and-so is livid!!" but nothing ever came of it. This happened about 3 times.

2005 -- Tokyo, Japan

Last Christmas was spent getting into a huge fight with a bunch of drunken thugged out Nepalese factory workers, resulting in me issuing a manslap and a follow-up tussle. I was pretty sure I was going to get shit-stomped on the way back to the station, so I took an alternate route and have been started to lay low a bit whenever I went to Shibuya. The Nepalese are some of the kindest people you'll ever meet, but don't let anyone tell you differently -- they can't hold their booze. New years last year was a good time though (read: boozefest)

2006 -- Here and there, Japan

I'll be hanging out around here this weekend with Shoh'ty, and next weekend I'll cruise down to her hometown in Mie Prefecture. That's right next to Osaka, and the people there are super nice. We're gonna hit up Ise Jingu and possibly Osaka to see a college friend of mine. The last time I was in Mie was for a job interview in October 2003, where I got humiliated and reduced to a quivering mass by a group of 8 Japanese kids during a "practical application" interview to see if I had what it takes to teach kids English. Apparently I didn't. I'm sure this trip to Mie will be a lot better, assuming I don't do or say anything stupid, or crash into something with a vehicle.

It's no secret that I'm not a huge fan of the holidays, except for the whole not-having-to-go-to-work thing. The only value of a New Years Resolution is "comedic", as the Earth making a lap around the sun isn't going to magically make someone change their slovenly ways or kick their addiction to nicotine. Still, while Japan is peopled by a barbaric, unchristian group of heathens, corporations and the service industry were keen to pick up on the whole Christmas thing for obvious reasons. You all think Christmas is corporatized in the States?? Hell, no one here is even Christian and they celebrate it! Japan is so corporatized, a company invented a holiday called "White Day", the Sadie Hawkins of Valentines Day. Kinda reminds me of the time a guy in my neighborhood had a "Half Birthday", when he turned 10 and a half, and his parents invited us all to come over and give him gifts. That seemed really weird even as an 11 year old. But I digress -- supply and demand rules apply, and this is a culture that loooooooves giving gifts.

So yeah. I hope everyone has a good time this Christmas weekend, doing whatever it is you do to either celebrate it or boycott it. I will be cooking dinner (read: tacos, stir fry, or frozen pizza) and maybe cracking a bottle of wine. I'm looking forward to next week because the Japanese staff gets like two weeks off for the holidays (New Years is a big deal in Japan ) so I'll be able to chill a little bit, catch up what I need to catch up on, and not field ridiculous questions like:

I have to fill out this application, what should I put for my eye color? I'm Japanese and have black eyes, but if I put "black," I'm afraid they will think I was punched in the face and suffering from a black eye. But as a Japanese person, I think my eyes are darker than brown (they say their eyes are "black"), and I wouldn't want to lie on an official application. What should I do?

No joke. Mind you, my job has nothing to do with administration, and this person has been working here since I was 3 years old. Probably not the first application ever filled out, but whatever. I'm going to enjoy my time off from work and my time off from the insanity that always ensues here in Adventurepan.

Have fun!

Monday, December 18, 2006

I coulda been a...............

Well, this weekend I entered my first BJJ tournament. I figured "what the hell?", right? I'm a relatively new blue belt, so I figured I'd give it a shot and see what happened.

Let me begin by saying that most people, especially in Japan, it seems, will not enter a tournament just for the hell of it, so what you end up with are people who are really good.

Like... People who have been a blue-belt for 6 years.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I got my ass handed to me. The following is a pretty good summation of what occurred:

I love competing, and competed all through college and in some capacities in the Marines. College was rowing, which requires an insane amount of team work. And not the type of team work required for a sport like football or soccer. I'm talking about taking 4 or 8 people and making them do the exact same thing at the exact same time with the exact same balance and trying not to have them kill each other. I'll never forget what Brando said the first time we got off the water in the Fall of 1994:

I just wanna punch someone in the face right now.

The boats list really easily, and if you're not careful you can easily end up in the drink if you're in a single or a double, which Brando and I also did once. Then we went to Perkins and had breakfast all soaking wet, and when I was shivering Brando said another memorable quote:

You're cold? I thought you were a meat eater.

(That was pre-USMC, by the way)

In any case, rowing was always frustrating because it always felt like someone in the boat (never yourself, of course) was fucking everything up, screwing up the set, and slowing you down. Some people obviously sucked worse than others, and like any other sport, they seemed to not only be unaware of how bad they sucked, but under the impression that they were actually really good. Or even the best. When the boat isn't set, the oar hits you in the stomach or slams your fingers into the gunwales, both of which hurt... and cause blind rage. Then the person who is causing it is making snarky comments about being stuck with a shitty crew. Then you have a coxswain who doesn't know how to shut her stupid mouth. Then people don't come to practice and you have to do two hours of land training. At 5:30am. Do this for 4 years of college, then have people in your boat quit right before a race your senior year.

Collegiate rowing was easily the most thankless, grueling, heart wrenching thing I'd ever been (and have ever been, maybe) a part of. We couldn't get NCAA status (ooh-rah Title IX!) yet we competed with NCAA teams who had NCAA funding. We had shitty gear and sometimes even shittier coaches. It was a chewing-gum and shoelace operation, but it was without a question the most important pivotal event in my life up to that point. A crossroads -- something that for the most part de-pussified me, taught me a lot about people and commitment, and formed the basis for most of my outlooks and philosophies on life and people today. The ironic part is that if I joined the same organization now, I wouldn't stay with it because I'd immediately recognize that the people were flakes, the operation was fucked up, and it would end in nothing but anger.

Aah, the bliss of youthful ignorance, how I miss thee...

A few years ago my mom asked me if I ever missed rowing. "Fuck no." I wanted to say, but I just shook my head (cuz I don't swear at mom). Sure, I miss being out on the water, and there's no better feeling than when you have a crew that's bangin' as one and gliding through the water.. But when I think about rowing I think about all the heartache that came with it -- not because of the sport itself -- but because of the people involved. In a crew of 8 people, 7 guys could train their asses off and have flawless form, but 1 guy could completely wreck months and months of practice because his attitude sucked or because he insisted on smoking weed all the time.

I suppose most aspects of the military are a "team sport" too, but after I graduated from college (and rowing) I took on a much more selfish approach to physical fitness. If I blew a fitness test, there was only one person accountable for it -- ME -- and I liked that. If I couldn't get 20 pull ups, it wasn't because 3 seat was dragging his oar, it was because I didn't workout hard enough at lunch. If I was gassed during a run, it wasn't because the coxswain didn't know what she was doing, it was because, well, I didn't run enough. Likewise, I didn't put up with people bitching about being in bad shape, and I didn't really go out of my way to try and get malingerers to a higher physical fitness. They acted like I was privy to some special secret on how to get increase pullups or have a faster runtime. "How can I get more pullups?" theyd ask, and I'd say "Do a lot of pullups". They'd ask, "How can I improve my run time?" and I'd say, "Run a lot." They didn't wanna hear that though. They wanted something like, "Burn the hair of a scandanavian whoremonger, along with with two newt eyes, and increase your pullups most certainly will, gaining much applause and surprise!" ..or something.. Anyway, I figured if they don't wanna get up and put in their time? Fuggem. They're just gonna drag me down, and it reminded me of college a lot. Putting on running shoes and running my ass off was free of collegiate sports politics, and I never had to worry about shitty coaches, people not showing up, or the motor on the coach's boat shitting the bed. There were no witnesses to my early morning runs. The only evidence left behind were countless pairs of worn down running shoes, and while my efforts were also a decidedly thankless endeavor, all I needed was the road to run on, and he'd never fuck me over. He was never late for practice. He was always there when I needed him, never asking for anything in return, always challenging me to push myself harder.

While my running companion these days is the treadmill and I run a lot less, Brazilian jiujitsu allows me to continue with the "accountable only to me" philosophy. If someone beats me, they are better than me. Easy peasy. Even if there was a questionable call or it was "too close to tell," well, if I were better, it wouldn't be an issue now would it? I got my ass handed to me by a much more experienced guy than me this weekend, but being served my ass on a platter with a side of fries has always been something of a wake up call for me. My friends / training partners were like "whatever man, the guy was good", but fuck that. He didn't win, I lost, and there's only one person who is accountable for that, and only one person (with the help of my ninja training partners!) who can fix that and who can take responsibility for that.

Time to step it up a notch, bitches. Getting armbarred in front of 100 people is the Ghost of Dioxippus's way of telling me to increase the training a bit and keep from getting embarrassed again. Wish me luck.


Sorry about the bullshit self-exploratory nature of the last couple posts. I'll get back on track after a few shots of Turkey and a healthy dose of hate crime.

Just kiddin' bout that last part.

I'll leave you with this great video of Tokyo that someone made. Enjoy..

I Love New Tokyo

Friday, December 08, 2006

Introducing E. G. May!

Who is this E. G. May fellow, you ask? Well, it's not really E G May, it's how you pronounce "ijime" in Japanese, which means "bullying" (it's more like /meh/ than /may/ I guess..). I use it a lot at work to tell the Japanese staff to quit picking on me, but in all seriousness, it's a problem everywhere I think, and has been getting a lot of press here in Japan.

Ijime, a Personal History

I got picked on a lot when I was younger, for a number of reasons. I guess it all started when we moved to Australia because I spoke like a bloody yank, but that didn't really last too long because I picked up the accent in no time. Pretty minor stuff, mainly making fun of the way I said "are". But being smaller than most of my peers, moving around a lot, and a having a big mouth, as the years went by I started feeling the heat pretty bad.

Being on the chubby side certainly didn't help, and by the time I hit high school I had turned from being outgoing and generally happy to being pretty withdrawn. I never went to Homecoming. I never went to Prom. I didn't play any sports. I had maybe 4 or 5 friends, 2 close ones, throughout the entire 4 year ordeal. I wondered how people could be nice to me one on one but so cruel when they were in groups -- your basic Breakfast Club bullshit -- and it made me really angry. The only reason people remembered me was because I punched someone in the mouth in the middle of class for making a holocaust joke (and attacking me), which led to a lot more inner turmoil. All of a sudden people who I had known since 5th grade but who were "popular" and had treated me like a subhuman were being all friendly and cool and wanting to talk to me -- just because I blasted some hilljack in the teeth. "That's fucked up," I thought, and it made me hate them even more. Still, I stood up for myself. I didn't let it go. Someone tried to physically intimidate me and I made blood go everywhere, and while it was too little too late, people treated me completely different. I guess it was my first class in the University of People-Will-Shit-On-You-If-You-Let-Them, where I learned that sometimes in order to be treated like a human, you need to act like an animal. The irony of it troubled me. It was really overwhelming, but I still found myself wondering why I didn't punch someone a few years earlier.

So why am I talking about this? I read this here article about some Japanese kids who kicked the shit out of another 17 year old in the park, made him strip, and took pictures of him with their cell phone cameras. The kid was an orphan, and was tormented by these kids with stuff like "You stink because you've got no parents." But that's not what got me about this article. The last paragraph was:

Two times, in June and November this year, the victim approached his teacher, saying he was being harassed. One of the youths got angry and accused him of "squealing" on them. To avoid trouble the teacher reportedly contacted the youth's guardians and explained the situation, recommending that the 17-year-old stop coming to school.

Recommending he not come to school? That was the teacher's solution. Awesome.

"Um, hi, this is Mr Fujiwara. That orphan of yours came to me yesterday and mentioned that he'd been getting picked on all the time? Yeah. Mmmhmmm.. Anyway, the other children have been spending a little bit too much time tormenting him these days and their school work is suffering, so if you could just go ahead and not send him to school anymore, that'd be greeaaaat."

Nice work, sensei.

In the US of A, we have the saying "The squeaky wheel gets the grease," meaning that if you bitch about something for long enough and loud enough, someone will placate you. In Japan, they have a saying for a similar situation, but it means the exact opposite -- "deru kui ha utareru," which means "The nail sticking up gets hammered down."

Welcome to the Land of Socially Institutionalized Bullying and Self Loathing. Leave your sense of self at the door. It'll be returned to you if you leave the country, but we'll be needing it back if you ever return home..

Still, there has been a lot of press about bullying in Japan lately, mainly because teachers are getting in on the action. Yeah, teachers are picking on the kids. Joining in the fun. Smacking down those pesky nails that insist on sticking up. Recently a middle schooler killed himself after being bullied by classmates and a teacher, and the smug looking school administrators with their half-smiled apologies on TV made me want to throw up. They pay a lot of lip service to solving the problem, but it's a socially endemic fact of life here in Japan. I see it at work all the time among adults even. Standing up for one's self in Japan is seen as being "the nail," conformity is demanded and enforced, and creativity and originality are almost non-existent.

"Hey everyone, look at little Hiroshi, he wants to draw something different than everyone else. C'mon Hiroshi, just do what everyone else is doing. It's better that way. Now, aren't you happy? Can I get a thumbs-up?"


Again, since I got picked on a lot in school I understand that Japan isn't alone in its bullying problem, but the motivations and results of it are a little different than in the USA, which is interesting to me. And, as always, this is Adventurepan, where we sometimes talk about Japan. Either way, when I think about all these Japanese kids who are going home at night and living in a personal hell of non-acceptance in what can be a very cold, cruel society, it makes me pretty sad. Japanese people have an infinitely larger capacity, almost desire, to put up with hardship than Americans do, and will go through enormous efforts not to be burdensome. That a human being at age 14, with all their potential, should feel that their very existence is too burdensome for society to handle and should therefore kill themselves is one of the most depressing things I can think of.

I reckon I'll have kids one of these years, maybe a little half-breed of my own, who will likely face some bullying of their own -- all my friends' half-breed kids do. I hope that I'll be able to give them the tools to deal with bullies on their own terms -- through violence; there's no other way -- but the integrity and wisdom to recognize it and put an end to things before it becomes a problem. Fortunately I don't have to deal with that problem now, but for the time being, I'll continue running around and freaking out whenever I see someone getting picked on, and making a complete fool of myself and yelling at children in public whenever they're ganging up on another kid "for the cause." Don't stifle different and creativity -- afterall, without creativity in Japan, we wouldn't have this: