Finally Touched by Tokyo

I am quite horrible at this whole discipline to write thing. I enjoy writing. In fact, as I have social anxiety writing is one of the few ways that I can get my ideas and my emotions out to people so that they can learn that I’m actually a complex person who sees the world as complexly as they. People perceive us simply because, well, expressing our deep and complex inner selves would be just plain awkward according to social convention. In addition, I have Asperger’s Syndrome, and this creates a disparity between my social expression and my true experience of the world.

I have been writing. It’s just not been in this venue.

That being said, I have finally begun to truly enjoy my time in Tokyo. I no longer perceive my surroundings as hostile; I just simply exist here. I walk through the streets and take pictures like a tourist – not because I choose not to care but simply because I’m no longer self-conscious so the thought of its being stereotyped doesn’t even occur to me. As a result, instead of seeing Tokyo from the likely erroneous perspective of others I’m finally just existing and feeling the place directly, face to face, no perceived filters.

I’ve even taken down the maps that wallpapered my walls. It may look boring, but to me it’s refreshing and exciting as any manifestation of tabula rasa is.

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Today was a beautiful day in Tokyo. I stayed in my neighborhood – Suitengu – and wandered from one fanciful site – a newly discovered shrine, etc. – to the next – an unexperienced café, etc. – until I’d found myself lost.

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I’ve a propensity for becoming lost, but I’ve discovered that my talent for regaining my bearings is just as formidable.

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Today is Hina Matsuri in Japan, and Shinto shrines were decorated presumably in honor of the holiday which includes the tradition of setting up an elaborate display of dolls for the happiness of little ladies everywhere and the familial hope that they’ll get married off sooner than later.

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The culture shock is over. These sites that were once alien to me inciting the impulse of otherness are now interesting attractions. Perhaps ironically, post-shock I feel like a happy tourist more than ever, in part because I no longer feel the obligation to assimilate, so the pressure is removed and I can be eager and also proud of “otherness”.

I love Japan. I love Tokyo. It’s a city of such orderliness that I crave chaos from time to time although concurrently I am in awe of the concerted social harmony that has fossilized so.

Anyway, I have officially submitted my notice of resignation, and I will return to Appalachia just as the length of days is filling to the zenith of summer. I’m excited about returning home to my family, my continuing education, and my boyfriend, but a piece of me has melded with the earth of this crazy town so that I’ll always annoy my close acquaintances with “when I lived in Tokyo…” I hope to return here some day to reunite with the part of my spirit that will inevitably remain here, but I’ll be in a very different place in my life and thus Tokyo will be different to me then just as it is different to me now from when I first visited the place as a transient student who was simply passing through.

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Seeing and Believing

Instead of getting hung up on the past with this blog, I’m going to alternate stories of my settling and my present, daily experiences.

Today, after church, I walked outside into afternoon sun that was so clean and bright that the concrete and glass buildings of Omotesando were animated, like nothing was exempt from celebrating the light. One of my favorite buildings is Tod’s: the facade is white with sharp geometric shapes cut out at random into windows. It’s a very clean and interesting building, and especially today in the sunlight it looked like a sharpened, bleached pumice stone.

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Some of my favorite toys when I was little were either rounded and simple or wildly decorated. The joy of color and shape that is distinct from what you can see in nature is naturally alluring. At least in small part this relates to our original inclination to progress beyond what we have, whether this means with ornateness or unnatural simplicity.

It is amazing to see how much we can strip a visual object down to a most simple form until its basic-ness inspires transcendence into the ethereal curiosity that we knew as children. I think that since humanity has reached an apex of ornate aesthetic (Versailles, etc.) the sort of design that can take us to that curiosity of the unexplored that we experienced when life was new is the inversion of “adding on.” The pendulum has swung to find beauty in the most basic core of identification instead of heavenly romance. While both have the power of transcendence, it seems that traditional aesthetic focuses on building upon knowledge toward the sky while modern, minimalistic aesthetic puts weight on what we find within what’s already here.

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I continued to walk through Omotesando toward Harajuku when I saw a little restaurant that had a red, rustically decorated facade that contrasted against the surrounding neutral buildings. Its western quality of quaint disorder drew me through a maze of parked bicycles and to the menu board; it was a French creperie.

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The sun was warm and people filled the alleys with happy, weekend lightness that I absorbed, and I waited on the porch for twenty minutes until my table-for-one cleared. I ordered the cheapest entree (crepe provencal, ¥1000) and the cheapest red wine on the menu (a cabernet sauvignon of which I didn’t catch the label, ¥600).

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It turned out to be a favorite experience in Tokyo so far. The place seemed genuine: the owner of the restaurant must have spent much time in Europe if (s)he isn’t from there. It refreshes me to see quirky, weedy charm that has grown from some unique soil in a culture that generally prides itself in aligned, sterile rows.

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By the time I returned to my apartment later this afternoon, I was warm with the satisfaction of a day that had been made meaningful.

First

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First thing I did when I slid closed the door to my new room – throw my backpack onto the floor, wrench out my laptop, and hook up my ethernet to call Mama and Daddy. I took this picture within fifteen minutes of my arrival. After 22 hours of travel, I was yearning for a 22 hour nap (and shower!).

Inconveniently Lacking the Ideal

I had every intention of recording my mercurial adventures in the land of sushi and anime, robots and kimono, tea and sake from the time my Japan Airlines plane pulled onto the tarmac in Atlanta.

When I looked out of the airport window at the monstrous white tank creeping toward the gate, its tail emblazoned with a Rising Sun seal, I had no motivation to record my feelings as they were surprisingly flat. “Apathy” is an appropriate word, and at this point I felt concerned as I had committed myself to a year in that land, which was no small matter. I realized that I didn’t consider the place where I was going any more desirable than the seat in the echoing, gray terminal where I sat. I was home, and I would soon not be there.

(On a side-note, how could we ever compare this feeling to that peculiar moment that pre-flight-technology travelers must’ve felt when they stood on the wooden decks of their ships, the boat swaying with the swelling sea – that moment when they realized the ropes would be untied, the anchor would be lifted, and the ship would be let loose towards days and possibly weeks of maritime limbo?)

I decided that maybe my eagerness had been dulled with my past experience: maybe I’d developed the trait of aloofness. As I considered my self to be an almost comically easily impressed person (like a puppy in a room of balloons), I thought that maybe I was turning into one of the cool, worldly people, and I reasoned that, as I was unfamiliar with such disinterest, maybe it should feel a little like apathy. I guess I’d always admired unimpressed people because they were mysterious to me.

Though I decided that “reality would hit” any moment, this feeling (or un-feeling) remained through several weeks before my embarkment and even through the two days of travel until I stepped into my room: a nine-square-meter traditional-style Japanese room that was to be my home for the next year. It smelled of moldy straw, it was empty, and it was cold.

I realized with a cold wash of horror that this had not been a feeling of worldliness. Rather, I believed that signing a contract and moving to Japan had been the wrong decision, and the way out was thousands of dollars and many more miles away.

Japan Passion, Part 2

First off, I‘m so sorry that I’ve taken so long to post! The fact that I’m busy does not excuse my hiatus. See, that was an attempt to subtly inform you that I have a bit of an excuse after all, as I have indeed been busy. But! I hereby guarantee that I will post more consistently from now and out.

That being said, on to “Part 2.”

One of my majors in college was English Literature. This and my good grades apparently afforded me the credentials to work in the department’s writing center, where I sat for a couple of hours at a time, taking one student at a time as she walked into the office looking to me to correct her paper to an A. Naturally, some of these students did not speak English well at all; these situations were interesting as I had to prod their word usage, omit their comma splices, and correct their conjugations without being able to communicate with them why I used my red pen so liberally. The thing is, I wanted to teach them why one says “He speaks loudly” and not “loudly he speaks.” Thus, the seeds of learning TESOL principles were planted (touching, no?).

Now, I’ve mentioned this before, but I became friends with some otaku. Through college I worked in a book store that sold manga, and  some of my coworkers were experts at the genre. Funny enough, I couldn’t understand how they like the stuff while I worked with them, but after I’d become enamored with the likes of Kurosawa and Ozu (approved by even the most pretentious of high-brows) I thirsted for more of Japan.

I knew just the people to educate me in me in more modern Japanese entertainment – in the animation and the costumes and the funny obsession with cute among other things – and they were awesome enough to take such a novice under their wings, even paying my way into one of the USA’s largest anime conventions, which turned out to be one of the most memorable weekends of my life. This society that was familial because everyone loved the same far-out shit as everyone else and accepted obsession and strangeness the way a good subculture does proved to be a bit magical to me, even though I was an outsider as a bonified noob. I bought some t-shirts, picked up some flyers, and looked forward to my trip to Japan where this stuff would be autochthonous and not exotic.

By this point I had already planned my trip to Tokyo to earn a TESOL certification, and I was obsessed with imagining this trip. Much of this obsession was founded in fear. I had no idea what to expect; I was terrified that I would end up in an Ikebukuro ditch or a Yakuza trunk, never to see my loved ones again, a victim of my own naïve spontaneity.

To make a long story short, this did not happen. My glorious six weeks in Tokyo only affirmed my admiration for Japan’s culture and my ambition to live in it. I’d gone to Japan thanks to obsession, but I fell in love with the place because of the general, nonsensational culture that I encountered.

Now I’m preparing for my dream of a second, more permanent trip to the Land of the Rising Sun.

Intermission Purikura

This is my dog Amy! Kawaii desune?

Japan Passion, Part 1

My first memory of Japan comes from the summer after my ninth birthday when my dad returned from a business trip to Japan. He brought me back a pair of slippers and a wooden scroll, and since he packed them with a box of incense, they smelled spicy and sweet, and I still associate such smells with Japan. Years later, my brother brought home a girlfriend from Nagoya, Japan, and her cool fashion sense and absolutely considerate personality made her my favorite of all his girlfriends (until his current wife, of course). These were my introductions to Japan.

During my junior year in college, I read a book (The Elegance of the Hedgehog if you’re interested) that described examples of Japanese culture, including the works of filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu. This is when a light went off in my mind, and I finally started to understand the sublime simplicity of traditional Japanese aesthetic. The use of space in architecture, literature, and art predated modern minimalism in the West by centuries upon centuries. I read haiku, I rented Ozu and Kurosawa films, and a local otaku introduced me to the wild world of Japanese popular culture, including manga, anime, and visual kei—a sensory extravaganza that seems to contradict the minimalistic and naturalistic simplicity of traditional aesthetic. By this time, I decidedly wanted to go to Japan.

Part 2: Tutoring adventures, an anime convention, and an expedition to Nihon!

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Follow the Light

I’m trying to escape the middle of nowhere that’s perched atop an Appalachian hill. I want to go to the Land of the Rising Sun.

I’m MK, and I’m fulfilling my dream that gets my whole town in a tizzy: I’m moving to Japan. For those of you folks who germinated in places of old movie shows in the park and underground music scenes and fair trade markets, your trip to Japan will be different from mine. From the days of floppy disks and Hillary Duff, one of my biggest dreams has been to move from this town of cow pastures and church dinners to live in an epicenter of civilization. Within the last year I chose Tokyo because it’s loud with technological progress and avant entertainment, and a creaking vertebrae runs from the mercurial lights of Shinjuku down to the misty zen gardens of history.

Welcome to my blog, where you will read the adventures of an early-twenty-something girl from a tiny southern U.S. town (called “The Friendly City” on its welcome board) trying to find her expat way across the sea and onto a shearingly fast train to settle onto a real tatami with Japanese neighbors with whom I can spend evenings eating ramen and smiling silently as we are polite for not understanding each other’s words.

Well, it has been the time for dreaming, but I’ve got a few months to make reality resemble this diaphanous stuff in my head. Gambatte to me.

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Hello World

I’m opening my eyes and the sun is rising. I predict that someday if I look back to read this first little post, I will contrast the girl who wrote it with the girl who is reading it, and for better or for worse I’ll be amazed.

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