Sep 6, 2007

There and Back Again


I once had a student tell me that "Asakusa is for foreigners." I think he's right, but... most of the people who mill about one of Tokyo's most touristy districts are Japanese tourist, snapping pictures and buying plastic trinkets. But, it's sort of neat anyway, what with the big gate and all the rickshas and all.
To the left, is the lovely and wonderful Kori, and with her is Joseph, who came over for a whirlwind tour of Japan after I did a quick trip to the states.
Also pictured are Joseph, Josh, Eric, and myself smoking cigars in Portland, giving ourselves delicious mouth cancer at Sydney and Pete's wedding.
Bumming around the touristy crush of Asakusa and going to one of the two best weddings that I've every attended were two parts of a long vacation that consisted of me going to the States for many festivities, doing Tokyo with Kori and Joseph, and then hosting Joseph down at my place in Okayama. It was good to get off work for a while, see old friends, and be reminded how great it is to be over here. Some random snippets from the trip, as well as pictures of Asakusa and Kamakura:

Really, they should have been playing NWA


"This music," said the teenager, "has no dick."
And he was right. It didn't have a dick.
I was sitting in seat 39A of an NWA flight out of Narita, waiting to go back to Portland, and all the while my brain was in pain whilst the same three muzak songs were piped through the airplane. The two teenage brothers sitting next to me, though, made it all worth it with their perfect assessment of the soundtrack. The audiophonic accompaniment had all the verve and life of a Ken doll.
I find it a little weird, actually- airplanes, when you think about it, are pretty cool. We pile a bunch of humans into a metal tube and shoot it through the sky so it can transverse half the world in a day. Air travel is a wonder of modernity- the ancients would have shit themselves with amazement if they saw an airplane, and yet we fill these giant, superspeedy things with music that conveys exactly none of the awesomeness of transversing an ocean in a single day.
In fact, the whole experience of flying seems designed to be banal, boring, and beige. The food is bland, the movies are edited, and on this flight they closed the exterior windows midway through, rendering it impossible to look at the ocean or clouds.
I guess I shouldn't gripe- when I got to Portland Joseph asked me how my flight was. "Boring," I said.
"Oh good," he replied, "I've been on exciting flights. You don't want that."
Which is a good point, I suppose. But that doesn't give muzak any more dick.

Big Chilled

We were piled into Joseph's new (used) car, and on the way to the wedding Katie said "I feel like we're in that one movie where they all get together because someone dies and they're all older."
"The Big Chill?" I said.
"Yeah. Except without the dying." I've only seen bits of The Big Chill when it's been on TV, and Joseph had never seen it, but it seemed to be an accurate description. We were all older (well not truly old. I'm 26, and I like to think that's still young) but it had been some time since we'd all been in one place.
I've been in Japan (obviously), Joseph in Eugene, Katie and Michael in D.C., Lisa, Syd and Pete in Portland, Eric and Steph in Boston. I'd been away from the states for ten months, and hadn't seen most people for more than a year. I wondered what it would be like. Would it, I wondered, be this really dramatic thing where everyone has changed immensely and is now utterly unrecognizable? Would my old friends and acquaintances be different people, older shadows of the ones whom I used to know?
No.
No, not at all. Stepping into the wedding party, I was actually amazed by how similar everyone was. Certainly, there have been some sizable changes (I mean, Syd and Pete got married- that has to count as some kind of change) but I was pretty awestruck by the fact that I was able to walk into the room and all of a sudden I was snapped back into relationships that I'd been away from. I dare say, it rocked.
Meanwhile...
Nicotine, I hate to say, is awesome. I used to smoke, and am very glad that I've given it up. In Japan, everyone smokes and I'm proud that despite the easy availability of cigarettes and constant offers from coworkers, I've resisted the seductive lure of tobacco. But, Eric proposed we all light up cigars at the wedding, and I just had to take part. And, it was a really intense tobacco high. I hate to admit it, but I loved it. So tasty and cancerous. Now that I'm back here, I'm looking at the omnipresent cigarette vending machines with more suspicion than ever.
Anyway, now that I'm 26 and two sets of my friends are married, I've discovered that weddings are actually tons of fun when you actually know the people who are getting married. I hated them when I was a kid- Weddings were all about sitting quietly at the kids table.
Now, weddings are all about hanging with friends and celebrating lovey-ness in the midst of an open bar. Screw childhood nostalgia- adulthood is awesome.

Now With 100% More Lunar Eclipse!

Eugene is entrapping.
It was easy to live there. Very, very easy, actually. I had an alright job, good friends, a nice house, an okay car, etc. There was enough beer, fun, and sex to keep things interesting, and it took a fair amount of effort and willpower to leave. In retrospect, leaving Eugene was a little like getting out of bed in the morning when you're especially drowsy: you know you should get out of it, you would theoretically like to go do other stuff and such, but it's just too damn easy and comfortable. So, you linger.
I lingered in Eugene. Longer than I should have, really. I was eager to go back, but also a little apprehensive given my attitude about the place. Not the people, mind you (I love you, Eugene folks! You're awesome!) but the place itself. It seems that plenty of people have tried to get away, only to be sucked back into it, their attempts at escape frustrated by their own desire to stay. It's like the mythical land of Faerie or something. Hell, it even looks like the mythical land of Faerie, what with all the hippies and such.
The first thing I did was revisit the dysfunctional (but charming!) local bookstore where I used to work. It was the same old messy place with all manner of books on the floor, the same mess that I spent three years dealing with. Going in there made me quite glad that I'd left. I was worried that some latent flare of nostalgia would spring up amidst the books and whatnot, but instead I just felt relieved that I'm now in Japan. Weird.
At Joseph's place, we had a nice little get together wherein some of us stayed up to watch the total lunar eclipse. I think it's a bit fitting that my international comings and goings should be accompanied by trippy celestial phenomena. I'm just awesome like that.

Akihabara! Your One-Stop Choice for Hitler Dolls and Anime Boobies!

So, Joseph hopped on a plane with me to Japan, and Kori and I spent a few days bumming around the Tokyo area. I'd asked Kori to take care of hotel arrangements, what with her knowing Tokyo and speaking Japanese far better than me. The first night, she was unable to meet up with us because of work, and took it upon herself to book me and Joseph in a capsule hotel in Akihabara. Yes, my girlfriend's idea of humor is sticking her boyfriend into a small, confined space nestled in the otaku capital of the world. Funny girl, her.
Seriously, though, it was kind of awesome. Staying in a capsule was one of the many cultural experiences that I'd hoped to have here. It was a bit odd, but honestly it was less like sleeping in a cyberpunkian techno-coffin and more like camping. Except without the campfire. And in the morning you shower with a bunch of old, naked, grunting, hungover Japanese businessmen. And there's TV. But, other than that, it was a lot like camping.
Joseph and I hit Akihabara the next day, and it was a good deal of geeky fun. We checked out a bunch of shops that were redolent with action figures ranging from the awesome (Darth Vader as a samurai) to the kitschy (three foot high KISS dolls) to the downright strange (a lovingly sculpted foot-tall Hitler doll that was selling for an obscene amount of yen). And, of course, there were tons of soft-core porn figurines. Nearly every shop had model kits for robots and aliens in the front, and statues of mostly (or sometimes entirely) naked anime girls in the back. Before coming to Japan, I would have never really thought of action figures as a pornographic medium, but I suppose there's no limits to the inventiveness of the human spirit. Or something. Or maybe otaku are just insanely deprived of sex.
But anyway, we found an arcade.
Back in Eugene, Joseph and I devoted a rather ridiculous amount of time to playing Soul Calibur. First, it was Soul Calibur on the Dreamcast, and then SCII on the PS2. There were countless nights when we'd stay up far too late, drinking beer, and shouting things at each other like "Astaroth wants a hug!" (if we were playing as Astaroth) or "Fear my marshmallows!" (for Sophitia) or "Disco biscuit!" (for Maxi. I forget why this made sense.)
Anyway, we found an arcade, and it had SCIII. And, even though we were in the middle of an arcade and surrounded by Japanese gamer geeks, it was a lot like old times. Astaroth did indeed want a hug.
Joseph and I met up with Kori, and we proceeded to bum around the city a bit, get drunk, and go to karaoke.
I've already written about Japan's permissiveness with regards to drinking and the awesomeness of Karaoke, but it was nice to do it with an old friend. Even better, seeing someone who had never been to Japan before get acquainted with it was quite the interesting experience. A lot of Japan has become normal for me, so it was a nice change of perspective to see Joseph look at everything for the first time.

Kamakura: Giant Buddha Statues Are Really Growing On Me

Later, the three of us went a bit south of Tokyo to Kamakura, wherin there are a few nifty temples and shrines. Like Nara, Kamakura has a Daibuttsu (Great Buddha) but theirs is smaller than the Nara Buddha, and also outside. As an added bonus, though, we were able to go inside the Daibuttsu, which was every bit as cramped, hot, and dark as you can imagine being inside a big metal statue in summer would be. Nifty, though.
We also made a stop at Kamakura's Hase-Dera, a temple full of, among other things, a huge amount of Jizo statues.. Kori informed us that the statues were dedicated to the lives of either stillborn babies or aborted fetuses. Given that abortion is completely permitted in Japan, I found such a dedication to be rather curious. The tiny statues were oddly compelling in their uniformity, though.
From a Western, Catholic-raised (but now secular) perspective, I find this a little curious. All of the statues depicted Jizo, the same figure and were lined up in identical rows. In a Catholic church, there's just as much iconography, but the holy figures are presented in a singular manner. Surely you'd never see row upon row of Virgin Marys lined up like the Bodhisattva was. Anyway, secular guy that I was, I found the rows upon rows of the Hell-dedicated saint oddly aesthetically pleasing.

In Which I'm Still Here

Before leaving I was mildly worried that when I got back to Portland, I'd end up missing everyone and everything all over again. I'd put a fair amount of effort over here into staving off homesickness and such, and had no desire to feel it bursting back onto the scene.
But, visiting actually had the opposite effect. Everything, everyone, was still there. Everyone was as awesome as ever, and Portland's still standing. My friends are all their stellar selves, irony and indie rock still rule the day in the City of Roses. Awesome.
I know, of course, that people change and whatnot- that there will be things that happen while I'm away that I won't be able to take part in. But, I don't really believe the phrase "you can't go home again." Home always changes, of course, but everything does.
Now that I'm back, I'm happier more than ever that I'm abroad. I know that I've changed for the better (this got mentioned a few times in Portland) and now that I've gone back to that which I feel is rooted, I'm all the more enthusiastic about going on flights of fancy out in the world.

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4 comments:

Sydney said...

I am delighted that you enjoyed the wedding so much! But I am insulted that you have forgotten the very erotic and sexy soft-core porno figurine that Pete and I brought you from Germany! It was a sexy nurse? With exposed boobies? And a pig's head? Ah, you remember! What I can't figure out is how it ended up back in my Mom's house a year or so later... Ah well, some mysteries were not meant to be solved.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Joe. Blogs are so much easier to read when they use paragraph breaks! Which is to say, spaces between the paragraphs which break them up the way indents - impossible in blogging - do in print!

Signed,
One Who Would Sign Non-Anonymously And Read More Were There Paragraph Breaks

PS. I suggested to someone else that he suggest you this, and he suggested anonymous commenting with threat of future comments. Er, but he didn't say threat. He said something more like "The temptation of further comments might work!" Maybe. And there might have been a book involved. And food. And furries. No, scratch that last part. Only Heinlein came up this time. Not the other topics that always do...

Joseph said...

I believe my suggestion was "You should leave an anonymous comment, promising that you will leave further, non-anonymous comments in future if he adds paragraph breaks." The carrot, you see, being the affirmation that someone he didn't know is actually reading his blog (see, so far as he knows, "anonymous" above might just be me, and maybe I'm just replying to myself...).

Thanks for posting the pictures. Always nice to see more.

Astaroth really did want a hug, though...

Eric said...

Hey, good friends are good friends. We had a great time seeing you! And maybe Steph and I will make it out there next year. (Not likely.) But if you make it back to the states, we'll be here in Boston for while longer...