In my view, there are two “problematic” types of foreigners populating Japan today. One type consists of those who view Japan as their country, seeing any other foreigner as a pollutant ruining the natural beauty and ancient history to which only they feel entitled. They tend to be pretty harmless, albeit not very friendly. The other consists of those who spend all their time goofing around exclusively with foreigners, never bothering to learn the language, understand the culture, or make local friends. These are the ones who sometimes cause trouble and present a less-than-favorable image to the locals.
I’d like to consider myself somewhere in the middle – I put forth an effort to continually improve my language and cultural understanding, yet I do spend a fair amount of time speaking English and hanging out with Westerners as well. I’m nearly as likely to be seen studying kanji under a tree in a 2000 year old temple as sitting outside Starbuck’s laughing about some idiotic situation resulting from a coworker’s blind following of meaningless rules.
Maintaining an acute awareness of this “gaijin scale,” I always endeavor to make friends with those who rest at a reasonably central position. Last week I met one such individual. A friendly-looking foreigner who I’d never seen before found himself using the flat-bench just next to me at Gold’s Gym, and we got to talking. As it turns out, the 31 year-old Norwegian programmer, Peder, is just about the most similar person to myself I’ve ever met:
He’s completely travel-obsessed, and spends about two-thirds of his time working for various software companies while saving money to spend the remaining third backpacking around the world. When he travels, he attempts to get himself into more and more unique and interesting situations each time – the best fun always occurs unexpectedly. He lifts weights religiously, studies tirelessly, and loves staying out all night clubbing or bar-hopping on weekends. He’s extraordinarily social and enjoys making and maintaining contacts wherever he goes (after one month in Japan he’s already introduced me to two Osaka bar owners). Sound familiar? Even his hand-written “lifetime to-do” list matches mine almost identically – everything from the skydiving license right down to the “learn to do a backflip.” And it just so happens that his next two international trips overlap mine precisely – both in time and location (I haven’t revealed these publicly yet as the reservations aren’t quite finalized). Talk about an overwhelming set of coincidences.
Needless to say, we hit it off right away. He’s now been crashing at my apartment for the past week, traveling during the day while I’m at work and partying at night after I get off. Our exploits so far include Indian Summer (an outdoors concert/party at Biwako), a night on Kiyamachi at all the regular spots, participating in the chaotic Kurama Hi Matsuri until the early hours of the morning, and attending a John Digweed live event at Sazae in Osaka.
(I usually have a rule to never go out on weeknights, but this was John Digweed, and as we’d just gotten through a major deadline at work I figured a single exception could be justified. It was quite an experience. I literally ended up riding my bike straight from the train station to the office after leaving the last club somewhere around 8am. Good thing I remembered to remove my still-glowing neon necklace and bracelets before exiting the elevator. As far as I know, the only guy who noticed was the programmer next to me – who pointed out that I smelled like cigarettes (not mine), whisky (mine), and lack-of-sleep. My attempts to fix behavioral bugs in a number of enemy AI subroutines weren’t quite as successful as they otherwise may have been.)
Next up is Halloween weekend.
I originally named this post “Pain,” intending to write briefly about two recent injuries:
1) On the way back from Indian Summer, while roughhousing with Peder on the JR train to Osaka, I took a smash on the face that somehow managed to rupture my eardrum. It wasn’t as painful as it may sound, and 3 weeks later it’s almost completely healed. But what an incredibly weird feeling – to sneeze and literally hear the air seeping out of your ear! Or to put on a pair of headphones and experience no bass whatsoever on the left side. Bleh. Hopefully it gets back to 100% quickly, as my next travel plans involve a nontrivial amount of SCUBA diving…
2) While biking home from work about 2 weeks ago, the chain jammed and I found myself plowing face-first into the pavement less than ten feet from my front door. Because I’d been wearing flip-flops, I accidentally left several square inches of toe skin behind. Which is unfortunate, because the inability to wear shoes during subsequent weeks in the rapidly dropping temperature proved even less pleasant than the pain from the injury itself. Bleh again.
To everyone who expressed concern for my family in San Diego, thank you – I was shocked that news of the wildfires made it all the way across the world to Japan.
Although my grandparents were briefly evacuated from their home, things in the immediate area seem to have calmed down for the moment. They’re presently back tending the rose and tomato gardens as always. Please keep your fingers crossed that it stays that way!