Sunday, February 19, 2006

Happy Japaniversary!!

I swear to all that is holy that if that goddamn smiley tells me that he's counting the minutes until he can be with me again one more time I will find the first person who ever thought 'Jeepers, if I put a colon and a parenthasi (singular usage?) next to each other it kinda looks like a sideways face.' and when I do, I'm gonna stab them in the neck with a #2 pencil over and over, urinate on their computer, and when I leave I'll toss a lit matchbook over my shoulder and light the place on fire.

ahh, sooo, anyway...

Today marks three years since I stepped onto a plane in Sea-Tac and stepped off in my adoptive home, Osaka. Well, actually it was a man made island off the coast of the Wakayama Peninsula, and that was only after stepping off in LAX, getting some pizza, taking a nap on a bench and getting on a different plane. But all that lacks the poetic ring that people can raise a glass to, so incorrect absolutes it is. (funny how often history ends up that way)

Commemorating something begs the question, "What makes this significant? Why should February 19th 2003 hold any meaning today?" And perhaps for most of you reading this, it shouldn't. But for me, today is my chance to look at a single choice I made years ago and see how that one decision synthesized the person I am today. I'd know I wanted to live in Japan for at least a year when I first went there in 1997. What started as a love of Japanese Animation drew me to discover the culture, people, and aesthetic that has had a prominent (some might say dominating) influence on my adult life.

When I left America I was still recovering from surgery, I was walking into my first real Job, an overeducated (if such a thing is possible) and undersocialized kid (see: Nerd). Unlike my time at Evergreen I couldn't go home every weekend to mow the lawn, snuggle Max -my Lab-Pitbull mix- , and play D&D with the gang. And really, that was the point, so long as I was able to get by with my slacker lifestyle, I would never grow up. I didn't realize it at the time, but I had come to Japan to become the person I wanted to be.

Am I that person now? Certainly I've changed a huge amount in the intervening three years. I've lost a lot of hair, gained a lot of confidence. I've discovered so many wonderful, ugly, bizarre, and captivating things. And met so many incredible people.

Howie, my first roommate in Japan, likes to tell the story of our first meeting: He was resting after a frenzied cleaning of our apartment in anticipation of my arrival and was feeling kinda excited about the prospect of playing mentor to a fresh-off-the-boat kid. I was led in by Bruce -our landlord- shown around, signed the lease and then Bruce took off. I turned to Howie and asked, "Y'know where I can get a good Curry Udon?" completely deflating his fantasy.

Little did Howie know that he would indeed show me the ropes, though they weren't the ropes he expected. If any one person is to thank for what I've gained in the past three years then that person is Howie.

Living as a foreigner in Japan is a study in transience. Everything is on a temporary basis, your visa, your job, your friends, everything. No gaijin is expected to stick around for long. Why would you? You don't belong here. People slide into and out of focus, one day a grin wisecracking over a beer after work, the next a pang of regret that you didn't hang out with them more. The sheer number of people that I've known that I would have liked to know better gives me hope for humanity as a whole, and the few people who have stuck around as figures in life are now and forever family.

The things I've discovered here, the art, the music, the cafes, bars, and all the other little material experiences have informed my identity as well. One of my favorite things to do now is just to go walking around new areas with my girlfriend or my buddies and just pop into interesting places all day.

My commitment to writing has blossomed in the past three years. When I lived in America I was a person who talked and thought about being a writer, now I've realized that that Billy Crystal line in Throw Momma From the Train couldn't be more correct. Writers write. That's what it takes. And if you want it, you have to sit your ass down and put some words into an order on paper or a computer screen that means something. Now, sometimes I'm still just a guy who talks and thinks about writing, but more and more often, I really am a writer.

So if you faced me with the classic existential conflict of being judged by my former self, I think I'd be a surprise to the Llyw of three years ago. But I also think that I'd approve. And after I leave Japan, I think I'll start moving towards becoming another cool person.

I can't wait to meet me.

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