Day 10 Wed, July 5
I forgot to mention the mixed feelings I had on July 4. I woke that morning to the realization that it was still July 3 in America, so I had a head start on processing. So much about America sucks. And while I was quick to proclaim my Japanese-ness this year, I also realized that I was, in fact, American. I was never going to be truly Japanese. I am so glad to have had this opportunity to explore this country with my family. I’m so grateful to Geri for making this happen, both logistically and financially. I am thankful for my friends who help me seek out and explore issues of identity and race.
On this last morning in Kyoto, I was thankful for a lot of things. Miyuki had one more shrine to see, so we took a bus to a crowded street of tourists and checked it out. The Imamiya Shrine looked like a lot of the other Shrines to me, but I don’t really have an eye for this kind of thing. I decided the humongous, noisy crowds negate all the majesty and peacefulness of these ancient shrines and temples. Unless I can visit one in the quiet of night, or in some out-of-the-way locale, count me out. Then we all went to the Nishiki Market I had visited the day before by myself. We got some food and snacks and then headed to the train station to catch our Shinkansen to Tokyo.
We arrived into Tokyo in the middle of rush hour. Yes, THAT rush hour. With all of our suitcases and backpacks, we jammed into a full train to get to Odaiba where Miyuki and the kids were staying in a hotel, and we were staying in a nice Air BnB. Except the train wasn’t full by a longshot. We made a stop and “salary men” were literally crammed into the already packed train car. I was pinned between two suitcases, a pole, and a poor woman sitting down. Full yet? Hell no. At the next stop, I was slammed by a sudden a crush of “salary men” against the pole, basically bending me in half lengthwise. I felt something crack where my shoulder meets my ribs. When I got my wits about me, I realized I was now about six feet from where I had started. My suitcase was somewhere else, and I could hear Geri and the kids laughing nervously. I couldn’t see them, though. Fuck. I knew we had to get off in two stops, and I wondered if my backpack had injured or killed the poor woman I had been standing next to. I literally couldn’t see her any more.
When we got to our stop, I heard Geri yell for the kids to get off. I shouted, “Coming through!” Yes, in English. I figured the furor of my voice would communicate what my words couldn’t. What happened next was amazing. This lifeless crush of pathetic humanity became like an intelligent organism and cleared a path for us to fairly easily get off the train. It reminded me of the Borg in Star Trek. One second I was pinned inside a sweaty, white-shirted game of Twister, and now I was sidling through a narrow, but clear passageway, picking up my stuff along the way and making my way out of the train. My arm was tingling, and I could tell I was injured, but damn, it was easy to get off the train.
In that fifteen minutes of Tokyo rush hour, I experienced a range of emotions. For much of those fifteen minutes, I fucking hated Japan. I looked at these sad fuckers who had probably just put in a 12+ hour day, their lifeless faces, their submission to being crammed like sardines into a train car. These sad saps were the economic engine driving the very Japan I had spent 10 days experiencing. I was literally face-first in the sweaty underbelly of Japan, along with a few armpits. And yet the order, both individual and collective, was impressive. It’s a double edged sword, this Japanese identity. The collective mindset is admirable, especially when tragedy happens. Unlike Hurricane Katrina when our American South became a lawless wasteland of chaos, Japan rallied around the survivors of the tsunami after the Fukushima tragedy. There was no rioting. No looting. The elderly and children were given priority. Sure, the government probably lied and downplayed the severity of the situation to the world, but they took care of a lot of people, efficiently.
And yet, it is this collective mindset that keeps the Japanese separate from the world. They are polite to everyone, but definitely suffer a kind of superiority complex. Marriage and dating are dying in Japan because of the work culture and the impossible divide between Japanese men and women. Of course I’m talking in vast generalizations, and I’ve met many beautiful people from Japan.
I often tell people I understood the English language much better when I learned Spanish. Seeing my native language in context of another language was enlightening. Similarly, I understood America better each time I have visited Europe. In this case, I don’t think I understand America any better after visiting Japan. I think I understand myself better. I am somewhat proud of my Japanese heritage. I don’t feel like I am a part of Japan and its history, but I do feel a connection. I don’t think Japan will ever let me be one of its own, and I’m ok with that. But it can’t deny me the heritage that is rightfully mine.
And yet, I will always been seen as an immigrant in America. Fuck. What’s India like?
Odaiba is built on this man-made island as this kind of Dubai-like ode to capitalism. It’s a series of malls, museums, and technology companies. But it has an amazing panoramic view of Tokyo. In the tourist information, there is the claim that it is a great place because it is easy to get to from the airport. This is a lie. It’s not really easy to get to from anywhere. And a simple trip into the city is at least two trains, $15, and 40+ minutes.
But those were some of the coolest malls ever. The Aqua City mall has a food court with some great restaurants. One is a sushi spot that gets its fish from the famed Tsukiji fish market every day. For about $10 US, we got large bowls of fresh tuna on sushi rice. Back in the 90’s when my brother lived in Japan, things were ridiculously expensive for Americans. Today, food and most expenses in Japan are very close to what we pay here, with seafood being a little less.
Day 11, Thursday, July 6
Miyuki flew home with the cousins, and we had 3 and half days to chill in Tokyo before heading home. I had gotten in touch with a facebook friend I had never met in person. Christopher Warren was a friend from several social justice groups, and we had talked extensively on facebook. He has lived in Japan for the past 12 years and is married to a Japanese woman. We met in Shinjuku for an afternoon drink. He took me to Café Lavanderia, a Cuban-themed coffee shop/bar for the leftists/socialists of the area. The place is so well-regarded, they invited Noam Chomsky to hang and talk, and he accepted. His signature is on the wall under the bar.
It turns out the café is connected to the recent Latino music craze in Tokyo, with music promoter Shin Miyaki being a regular. Shin Miyaki has promoted shows for Chicano Batman, and my friends in Las Cafeteras and El Haru Kuroi. The bartender/barista was an older gentleman who was big fans of Las Cafeteras. It was cool making this connection.
Hung with Chris and then we met Geri for dinner. The kids were situated at the swanky apartment we had rented, so Geri took the train out. Chris took us to a little neighborhood called, Koengi. It was a great little neighborhood with narrow streets and lots of izakayas and bars. We ate a ton of food on sticks and deep friend stuff. Great hang.
Day 12, Friday, July 7
Took our last excursion of the trip to Yokohama. After the usual 2 hours of getting kids up and ready, we took the hour train ride south. Ate lunch at a nice steak house and then rode the fastest elevator in Japan up 86 floors to see the city.
Did a little shopping and headed back to Tokyo, where we came out of a train station to encounter the worst thing we ever saw in Japan: A pro-Trump rally. Mostly older Japanese people were standing there with banners and flyers. A woman was droning on in front of a big “Japan Loves Trump” poster. I lost it. I started booing first. No one was really paying attention to these assholes, but I wanted them to know that this American, or whatever the fuck I was, did not, in fact, love Trump.
I started shouting at them. I yelled, I called names, I cursed. Like the pro-Trump assholes, no one paid attention to me, either. Japan is not really about individual expressions of dissent. I was being painfully American. Then I remembered that Christopher Warren had told me the right wingers were run by the Yakuza, so I shut up and we moved on. Still, it felt kind of good to shout out in public and basically declare my warped patriotism.
We met up that night with an old friend from the APU APASO days, Ahjon Veney. Ahjon was one of my favorite people from the Asian club, and it’s worth noting that Ahjon is black. He was on leadership, and I had no doubts or regrets putting him on leadership for the Asian club. He was and is a culturally sensitive and astute student of people and cultures. He’s doing great teaching in Japan, and it was great to see him after 7 or 8 years. Ethan and Audrey remembered him as the lovable guy they loved to tackle every time they saw him. No tackling this time. Nothing but love.
The trip was winding up slowly and quickly. We had seen and done so much, it was overwhelming to look back. Writing this blog stuff has helped get down a lot of what I saw and was thinking about. For the first time on the trip, I was missing home. I missed Puebla Tacos. I missed my bed. I missed being able to understand people talking. It was sad to think about leaving, but I was ready.