Friday, March 31, 2006

March into April

Sunshine in my kitchen;
Daisen sheds its winter skin

On the turntable: Paul Simon, "One Trick Pony"

Thursday, March 30, 2006


White snow
Pink plum blossoms
Dark brown earth.

I wanna eat ice cream.

On the turntable: Geoffrey Oryema, "Pure Moods"

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

At what age does cool die?

On Sunday night, I went to a masquerade party at DoDoDo. I liked the premise, and since I'd never been to one, I decided to go. A handful of foreign friends were there, wearing butterfly-shaped masks, just like everyone else in the place. It was only the second time since New Years since I went out, and I was happy catching up. For awhile. At many large Japanese social events, here is a tendancy to schedule games or activities. Usually, these are good, drunken fun. But on this night, the staff came around to all the tables and made us join in. I didn't care for this, especially since the party was moving along at a nice pace until then.

So stood off to the side with Cian, heckling the whole thing. In my slightly annoyed state, I looked around the room at all the people having their enforced fun. More than enjoying themselves, the majority just stood around trying to look cool. There was no need to hand out masks here, everybody seemed to have brought their own. I used to really enjoy this place, which stands at the pinnacle of cool in the 'Nog. But it seemed hollow tonight, a reminder of what bothers me about this city. When I first came here, I was amazed at all the hip looking people around, but was soon told that for the most part, it rarely goes deeper than fashion. Yet another uniform in a country that thrives on them. It took time to find the depth, and before long I had found an interesting circle of funky Japanese friends who never fail to stimulate and challenge me. None were here tonight.

But am I so different? If it hadn't been a masquerade party, I wouldn't have come out at all tonight. And I know of course that uniforms are not specific to Japan. A long while ago, I came to the conclusion that cool is just a commodity, bought and sold in terms of the right look, the hippest music, the trendiest film. If you think that you're cool, you've been sucker-punched by advertising. I prefer to measure my life in terms of growth and depth.

Or maybe it's just that I'm getting old. And increasingly pretentious.

On the turntable: Jeff Buckley, "Grace"

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Night has a Thousand Ears

I heard my neighbor yelling last night. It must've been loud, for it was cold, and the windows of both our houses had been closed. I looked at the neon clock. Just past one. So I sat up, craning my head like a dog, trying to catch a little of what he was shouting. But all I could hear was the monotone bass of his voice, and a higher voice, a woman's voice, calling him an idiot. Who was she? It used to be that he'd fight with his wife, the mother of his child, the woman he'd knocked up. But she must've reached her limit with him, because I haven't seen her or the daughter in a couple years. The guy himself was gone awhile, caught breaking into a scuba shop up the coast. These days I rarely see him, except when he's walking quickly past our houses, head studying the pavement. Shame is the hammer that pounds the nails around here.

But I notice him now, his voice cutting through the night, through the cold rain. And the banging, like furniture being flipped over. Suddenly, there are two loud pops which make me jump. If this were the States, I'd assume someone got shot. I sit quietly, waiting for screams, for sirens, for helicopters. But all is still. I roll back to sleep...

On the turntable: Grateful Dead, "American Beauty"
On the nighttable: Lowell Sheppard, "Chasing the Cherry Blossom"

Monday, March 27, 2006

Thinking of Woody

All the trains on my local line have a neon scroll telling you the final destination. It starts with the words, This Train is Bound for...", and the voice in my head always says, "Glory" before the next word appears.

On the turntable: "Blind Faith"

Sunday, March 26, 2006


It starts with the sky a uniform blue.
You inhale deeply,
bringing the green out of the long-brown grass,
drawing up the new sprouts between the blades,
bloating the plums trees into a puffy white,
pulling out all the sweet scents into the air,
nudging people to shed their heavy clothes and their houses,
turning the volume up on birdsong,
wringing the frigid from the sea,
which rises into the warm air,
birthing a mist which smudges the sun into a yellow thumbprint.
And the cool returns...

On the turntable: Wings, "Venus and Mars"
On the nighttable: William Nicholson, "The Society of Others"

Saturday, March 25, 2006


The breeze blowing through trees.


On the turntable: Ron Carter and Jim Hall, "Live at Village West"

Friday, March 24, 2006

Have a Day!

I'm sitting at the edge of Lake Togo playing djembe with Alama. The lines I'm slapping down are relatively complex, but he's literally playing figure eights around me, wrapping his rhythm around mine and meeting me on the upbeat. As my mind and ego shut down I begin to play unconsciously. My attention is drawn to the lake. It's a windy day, the waves pushed into small chop. I begin to accent my playing whenever I spy a whitecap.

Lately, my attention is drawn to the shape water takes. This cold winter, I watched a dozen or so surf films. Whenever I drive along the coast, I start to check out conditions. The funny thing is that I haven't surfed in twenty-five years. This stretch of coast is famous for winter swells, bringing surfers from across the nation who try to ignore how friggin cold their faces are. When summer comes back, I may go in myself.

My thoughts here are much like waves and as they move of their own volition, oblivious to obstacle, I digress. Earlier when I picked up Alama, I realized, embarrassed that I'd been playing his CD in my truck. I quickly replaced it with "Pulse! A Stomp Odyssey." He seemed to enjoy this aural document on drumming from across the world. Then as one track came on he said happily, "These are my Friends!" The National Drummers of Guinea.

At home, I pulled out my latest read, "Tuesdays with Morrie." The book came to my attention when I noticed it on the bookshelf of my dad, then in his final months. For years afterward, I'd often see the book in airports or restaurants back home. Reading it was like wearing a badge saying, "Someone I love is dying." But we're all dying, and the book's message echoes what I said this week. Embrace Life. Give it a big fat wet sloppy kiss too.

On the turntable: Alama Dioubate, "Femmes du Monde"
On the nighttable: Mitch Albom, "Tuesdays with Morrie"

Thursday, March 23, 2006


Spring comes
one plum blossom
at a time

On the turntable: Sonny Rollins, "Sonny Rollins and Friends"

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Rites of Spring

I got a panicked call from a close friend (who wants to remain anonymous). Her cat had died suddenly. She'd had this cat for most of her adult life and was having a hard time with it. So I decided to go with her to a pet cemetary up near Daisen. Being O-Higan, it was busy, with quite a few people having brought small dogs with them, visiting the grave of the predecessors. The people running the place were almost cold in their efficiency, allowing little time for my friend to process her loss. Literally seconds after cremating her cat, they asked for her thoughts on a burial plot. The questions came out like a sales pitch. My friend seemed upset and needed some time to collect herself. So I took her hand and we walked quietly up a small hill toward the forest. It was a gorgeous day. The sky was empty and the trees were rife with birdsong. Enjoy this, the day seemed to be saying. Then it dawned on me that it was the Vernal Equinox. Day and night, light and dark, in perfect balance. From here, each day will grow brighter and warmer, rushing toward summer and all its joyous vitality.
Heading up that hill, into the beauty of the day, we were taking small steps away from death and choosing to celebrate life.

On the turntable: Dizzy Gillespie, "Afro-Cuban Jazz Moods"

Monday, March 20, 2006

On approach

Light folds around towering storm clouds
Bouncing back up from layers of smog below.

Flying into Bangkok, you pass over much water. If the sun is right, the water will light up with fantastic pyrotechnics.

On the turntable: Kings of Convenience, "Riot on an Empty Street"
On the nighttable: Henry Miller, "Quiet Days in Clichy"

Sunday, March 19, 2006


The other day, Nico asked me to expound a bit more about my going to check out the warehouse. I aim to please. Here's the extended director's cut.

I had to go to immigration in Sakai to deal with my visa. Miki had some business at Customs next door, so I went along. We were met by a guy in a suit and hardhat, perhaps one of my favorite fashion combinations. I wasn't as fancily dressed, though I did have my white gloves and a crowbar, with which I began to crack open the slats of this cheap wooden crate. (In the Golan-Globus version, I'm a Columbian cocaine dealer, looking to poison the minds of young Americans. In the modern Bruckheimer version, I'm a Muslim fundammentalist looking to poison the water supply. The beards remain the constant.) A couple other officers started their Keystone Kustom Kops act, arbitrairily taking out bags and making sure that the merchandise matched what was on the invoice. After watching for a few minutes, it dawned on me that Customs officers are the lowest rung on bureaucracy's ladder. The older, sterner of the two (let's call him Hardy) held the bags open with his left hand while he wielded a metal detector held in his right. It beeped. With a puzzled look on his face, he ran the detector over the bags again, with the same result. Beep. Again. Beep. Finally, his younger, greener partner (who we'll call Laurel) brought an important point to his attention. As he waved the wand, he was swinging it over his wristwatch. This is where my private S&M act kicked in, biting my check in order to stiffle the giggles. And with each subsequent action on their part, my inner mirth increased, nearly bubbling over into guffaws when Hardy held up a pair of shoes he'd been examining and said with all seriousness, "You know, these would go well with that dress you brought in last month." This day was no doubt the best time I've ever had at Customs.

My worst was when I came back from Sri Lanka. I'd decided to celebrate my last evening in country by sitting on the patio of Colombo's Galle Face Hotel, dining on lobster thermidor and watching the sun slide into the Arabian Sea. The menu carefully listed the spices used in the preparation, but it neglected to mention a certain micro-organism. My flight left at 2 am (all flights departing Colombo leave after dark, in order to avoid surface-to-air missle attacks), the first of 4 two-hour flights, from Colombo to Bangkok to Hong Kong to Taipei to Osaka. I was running a low fever by the time I hit Thailand, vomited in Hong Kong airport. This was at the time of SARS, so I was really worried that I wouldn't be able to get back into Japan. However, I cleared quarantine and immigration without problem. Then I hit Customs. Let me interject here that my appearance isn't the usual "token language walla" look found on most NOVA posters. I've had my bags looked through on many occasions, but this was the first time I'd actually been pulled into my own special room of simply a table and four white walls, one for each of the agents, I guess. The senior rambled off his questions while the others looked through my gear. On this trip, I'd picked up some pretty unusual stuff, the kinds of things that are probably used as props in Smuggler's 101: hollow Buddhas, bamboo flute, coconut hollowed out to contain rice, and a novelty mystery box which I'd forgotten how to open. It was almost a cliche on places to stash dope. The senior guy kept things light, and we actually talked yoga for a good portion of the twenty minutes I was kept. Luckily, my body cavities were left unliberated. But as I stood, one young officious punk suddenly slapped my front pockets. "What the Fuck!" I was pissed but was right in thinking I'd get home sooner by keeping my mouth-- like all my other orifices-- shut.
By that point, I didn't have the energy for the four-hour bus ride back to the 'Nog. I made it as far as Namba, where I crawled into a capsule and slept like the dead for fourteen hours.

On the turntable: The Cluster Pluckers, "Just Pluck It!"

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Unlike Me, The Dead Are Never Lonely

I've always been somewhat skeptical of these newfangled mental disorders that always seem to originate in the States. Yet I'm starting to wonder about SAD, which until recently always reminded me of a type of clown. The weather here on the Sea of Japan really can drag you down. There are occasional periods where cold rain falls for ten straight days. I mentioned before that this is my first full winter here in three years, and I've seen my mood darken steadily since late January. In splitting my week between the 'Nog and the Kyo, I thought I'd be able to enjoy the latter city's fairer (though cold) weather. But this week, I seemed to time the rain perfectly, and by today was pretty cranky.
The train ride home wasn't much help. I forgot that it was O-Higan, and everything was full. (Interesting to watch the demographics. College students on spring break de-trained in the cities, while the grave-visiting old timers chose the backwater stations.) My usual three hour-plus bus ride became five by train. I had three people change seats once they saw that I wasn't "from 'round dese parts." C'mon people. I showered, brushed, deodorized, and kept my volume at low levels and my eyes in my book. Time to face the future...

On the turntable: Tom Waits, "Swordfishtrombones"
On the nighttable: "'s Wanderlust"

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


Mother Nature continues her schizophrenic ways. Last night, as I lay me down to sleep, I heard a flock of migrating geese fly over my house on their way to warmer spring climes. No doubt they were squalking, "What's the deal with all this snow!"

I'm a bit schizophrenic in winter myself. The last three years, I tried to avoid it completely, spending two or three of the coldest months in warm places. But this is shaping up to be my last winter in the 'Nog, so I decided to tough it out. Naturally, we had one of the heaviest snow seasons on record. I did allow myself a week in Thailand, Ko Phanghan in particular, at a place called The Sanctuary. A week of loafing on the beach, with three daily yoga classes, on-call masseuses, and incredible vegetarian cooking, plus my own jungle bungalow called Weemarn
Baan. It is supposedly the place that Alex Garland based his over-rated book on. Check the link and envy...

On the turntable: Songs: Ohia, "The Magnolia Electric Co."
On the nighttable: Amulya Malladi, "A Breathe of Fresh Air"

Monday, March 13, 2006

Life Imitates Cliche

I spent a bizarre afternoon Monday standing in a cold customs warehouse in Sakaiminato. It felt like I was in the final scene of a bad action film, watching a guy crack open crates to reveal illicit contraband. Cue Chuck Norris, moments after he says to his disposable sidekick, "It's time to check out the warehouse." In this scenario I would've been an uncredited heavy, complete with beard, pastel Italian suit, and lightweight machine gun, who gets off a few rounds before taking a boot to the head.

I saw far too many Golan-Globus movies in my youth.

On the turntable: The Smiths, "Meat is Murder"

Sunday, March 12, 2006

And when the snow hit... hit with a fist. Driving back from Tottori just past midnite, with normal tires and 4WD, into blowing sideways gusts, losing sight of the road completely where it edges the sea, turning off my lights to find the grooves left by other drivers also foolish enought to be out in this gale. Hard pumping techno pushed me deeper into the spines of this violent, albino sea urchin.

On the turntable: Suara Parahiangan, "Sabilulungan"

Saturday, March 11, 2006


Ten hours on the nod mean that I'm finally catching up on sleep from back to back week-long trips to Thailand and Tokyo. Before opening my eyes this morning, I could sense the room was bright. Then a long sought-after sound brought me to full conciousness. In my garden, a bush-warbler was warbling it's annual mantra meditation to spring. O praise Amidha! Looking through the glass, my breath leaves me in surprise. A tree in the garden is garlanded in flowers of a bright red, thumb-sized petals extend from freckled yellow navels. In the eight years, I've lived in this house, I've never seen these tsubaki bloom before. I'm simply stunned. Mother nature always wields the thickest keisaku.
Humming a Biz Markie tune, I grab my cuppa and sit at the computer to check the weather. Today, 15 degrees C. From tomorrow night, three days of snow.
(Cue Charlie Browne frustration "Aaaaaaaarrggghhh!" here)

On the turntable: Led Zeppelin, "How the West was Won"

Friday, March 10, 2006

Old whine in new battles

One good thing about living in the 'Nog is the Tottori Exchange. It's the cyber pony express of the day, where we digenous (well, why not?) folk keep atop the zeitgeist. This morning an item came through, guaranteed to provoke outrage: the current initiative to fingerprint foreigners in Japan.

It's old news people. When I first arrived here 12 years ago, getting your thumb inky was de rigueur. While my gaijin card no longer carries the mark, no doubt it is still on file somewhere amidst the bureaucratic paper fortress of City Hall. Which brings to mind a story.

Burnicle and I were drinking beers in the back alleys of Tottori City. I'd make the trek across the Ken a few times a year for a night reserved solely for talking shit. (The boy had The Gift, until Brotha Cancer took him far too early at 29. More stories to follow.) On this night, he was telling me about how he came out of a bar one night to find a taxi idling there in front of him, driver nowhere in sight. Burnicle being a man of quick thought and even quicker action, jumped into the car, drove around the corner, and left it idling on the next block. He was laughing as he told me this, until I said, "Betcha didn't think about how your prints are on file." His face went completely white, taking on a shade far lighter than what is considered (in many cases anyway)the basic requirement for the card in the first place.

On the turntable: The Pretenders, "Learning to Crawl"
On the nightable: Peter Urban, "The Karate Dojo"