Thursday, August 12, 2010


(Toward) home

After fourteen months of travels around the world, I'm back in the city of my birth.  I've traveled in the USA, Israel, Russia, Japan, and Korea, and now I'm here again.

The first post in this blog was about Los Angeles, posted days before I was to leave for Israel.  It was an uncertain yet thrilling time in my life, having just come out of a sophomore year rife with challenges, looking ahead to months of travels, to satisfying my dreamer's itch to get out and explore, part of my personal character ever since I could crawl.  That first blog post is full of excitement and opportunity, wide open eyes and a sort of youthfulness that entices and endears.

I have grown and grown up a lot in the past year and a half.  I've grown more mellow, less anxious, more experienced, perhaps.  I have slowly satisfied some of that itch and learned over the course of many months, probably predictably, that I can't keep it up.  Besides the fact that these opportunities don't last forever, these months have taught me that it's important to have somewhere to go back to.

Moreover, LA hasn't been my home since the time I left for these travels, actually since before that.  During my first year at college this place became no longer my home, and I searched and searched and found my temporary home in the world.  Now? I feel transient.  There's a Japanese phrase 住めば都 (sumeba miyako) that means something like "wherever you live is home" and I had it posted on my wall in my room in Kanazawa, though even then it sounded strange to me, and now maybe I see why.  I've learned that I want to commit to a place.  I lived in Kanazawa for ten months, but really, that's just ten months.  If I'm somewhere for a year, knowing that I'll leave, I'm not a full participant.  And now that, more than just seeing places, is what I want.

I've done so many programs and adventures and classes and trips in my life already--some affect me more than others, sometimes I make more or closer friends than other times, some people or places affect me more than others, but always at the end of everything I have to say goodbye.  I'm getting to the point where I've had enough goodbyes, where I don't want to do that anymore.

An excerpt, slightly edited, from an email I sent to my grandfather about two weeks ago:
I suppose if I look back at how I felt a year ago or even before that when I applied for this program, it has been all that I hoped for and more.  I still don't know what I'll end up being or doing in the future, but the way so far has been rather an exciting and interesting experience.  I know that's putting it vaguely, so I'll attempt to explain--
It's almost surreal to look at my face in the mirror and see that I'm not the boy I was just a couple of years ago.  I look older, and I even feel older.  I think I've gained some understanding in regards to some things in life that are most important to me--certain kinds of sentimentality for which I have perhaps a fortunate weakness, points in my character that are strong and others in which I lack confidence.  I have amassed many friends, acquaintances, and contacts all over the world already, and only at 21 without a clear idea of what sort of business I may enter.  I have always felt sensitive to this kind of self-awareness, but as it has matured more with me I feel that it is coalescing into a collected imperative that compels me to do something meaningful and good.

My current interest seems to lie most in a mediacentric realm, concerning issues in international and domestic journalism.  Many things in the world are broken and yet still must work as well as they can, and I am certain that I will get involved.  Perhaps I'll go for an advanced degree in a few years in journalism, some sort of media studies, or some related field.  I keep coming back to my traveler's nature and innate proclivity to the natural sciences, so I'm sure that whatever I do will be some adventurous, hands-on kind of activity.  In any case, my plan is to spend two or three months in Europe as soon as I've graduated (that's mid-May 2011 in Boston, if you can make it!), studying some Spanish or French or German and visiting friends and experiencing some other sort of culture.  After that, I like the idea of teaching English or something for a year, going back in Japan.  One thing I'm certain I will do someday is to work as staff on board a tall ship or similar sailing-school vessel for at least a couple of months, so maybe it's best to do that first.  Maybe in ten years I'll be involved in broadcast media or something, maybe involved in performing arts on the side, and I'm sure I'll want to do some sort of hands-on sort of activity as well.  I love an adventure, but I've realized more and more that adventure is all the better with the company of another person, and for however many dreams I realize alone, they are always more memorable and meaningful when shared.

Anyhow, that's my current thinking.  I haven't been updating the blog much lately, really because as the year has started to come to a close here I have overwhelmed myself with distractions and every day here has somehow seemed absolutely packed, though I have started wondering where the time goes, and started feeling that the days are passing faster than they used to.  I have found some things in the world that are profoundly meaningful to me, and I will keep going along this path as it opens up.  Sometimes it's easy to get distracted and sometimes it's easy to lose confidence, but to organize these ideas in writing brings me focus, like adjusting a telephoto lens.


In nine months from now, I'll be a 社会人, a member of society, a full adult.  I'll graduate in May and I'm planning to go to Europe for a couple of months, and then after that maybe work as staff on board a sailing school vessel before going back to live in Japan for another year, before probably settling in the US somewhere and maybe looking at grad school perhaps somewhere down the line.  I don't know what I'll end up "doing" with my life, and for now I'm still sort of taking things as they come.  The contacts I've amassed generally fall into a sort of "media" category, and despite my interest in science early in life, the prospect of travel and culture and worldwide opportunity proved too good to pass up.  Now I speak conversational Russian and Japanese, I have a radio show again, two part time jobs in Boston, acquaintances and friends, contacts in business, and in nine months a university degree.  Whatever I do, I'd like it to have some sort of international flair.

But I need to have a home.
And if I go somewhere away from that home, I want to know, to be sure, that I'll come back.  I'm tired of disconnect and uncertainty and ambiguity.  Seeing the world has given me valuable perspective, the kind of perspective that cannot be manufactured, and I've learned that I will make my home through my own power.  I've realized a great many things about myself, and I feel a much stronger desire to be somewhere and make something, to contribute rather than absorb.

It's not so far ahead as it used to be.  I feel older, and the days are passing faster.  Life is short and precious, and I have come to see through more mature eyes how I might make the most of it.  I want to be somewhere, to belong somewhere, and soon enough I will no longer be bound by these educational imperatives.  Soon enough I'll really be out there, but part of me already is.

It's a dark night in LA now, and I can hear the freeway.

Saturday, July 31, 2010


wakaran dewanai. tabun.
"They don't not understand!  Probably."

The above phrase has a funny story behind it.  First, let me say that it sounds just as odd in Japanese as it does in English (being a double negative).  Anyhow, on Monday, I went with my German buddy to get yaki-niku (焼肉, grill-it-yourself meat) for dinner at a very "neighborhood" sort of place.  We go in, I say there are two of us, we get shown to our table, we get the menus, and the waitress explains to us how the ordering system works at the restaurant.  It's very familiar, like most any other yaki-niku place.  I listen attentively as she politely carries out her duty, wondering whether she supposes I can understand her, wanting her to trust that I do (truthfully, I understand about 85% of her instructions).  When finished, she leaves the table, and I happen to catch what she says to her co-worker.
"They don't not understand! Probably."
Needless to say, I thought this was hilarious.  I've been waiting the entire year to overhear someone say something like that here, and it finally happened.

It's my last Sunday in Kanazawa, and today I've spent a lot of time packing up my stuff.  I can't believe that this year is basically over now.  Is it just me, or are the days just going by faster than they used to?  It seems like this year has been so fast.  I've done a lot of amazing things this year, gotten to know some fantastic people, had many wonderful experiences, and I can speak conversational Japanese now (it's better than my Russian for sure now).  Packing up my room is a lonely experience, but seeing all of the souvenirs and everything I've accumulated over the year reminds me of what an awesome year I've had here, and it makes me all the more certain that I'll come back.

This fall, I'm signed up for advanced Japanese and advanced Russian at Tufts, as well as a senior thesis seminar.  I'll be busy and plan to study a good deal and keep up my language skills, but I want more than anything else to just have an awesome fun year.  Then next summer I plan to spend some time in Europe.  After that, I may go back to Japan or work on board a Sailing School Vessel or similar occupation.  Thinking that far ahead in the future is problematic at best, but it's good to have goals.  There are still so many things I want to do in the world, and I want to take advantage of the opportunities available to me while I still can.

I also feel that I've grown up a lot in the past year, certainly in the past year and a half.  The time since New Year 2009 has meant massive changes for me, and a lot of growing up.  I look older, too.  It's a strange proposition, growing older.  Maybe I've grown a bit less sentimental, but perhaps it's in a positive way.  I'm still sensitive to things like that, but the days have been going by faster recently.  I have some more specific ideas about what I might want to "do" with my life, but it's also possible to say that I still don't really know--so I keep learning, keep traveling, and keep dreaming.  If I ever lose that sentimental wonder, I won't be me anymore.

(News stuff)
Want to see an example of truly abysmally horrid news reporting?  Click here.  (I wrote a very stern email to the author of the article.  As expected, no response.)

I had saved the links below a while ago, all of which concern some serious issues in contemporary Japan concerning the "foreigner" population.  They may or may not be interesting.,8599,1918246,00.html

Here are some pictures from the past month or so, leading up to last night. (Not in order.)  For now, I'll let them speak for themselves.

News Comparison

Article about the same subject (Russian military testing that encroached upon Japan's northern territories) from Russia and Japanese news sources.  This sort of thing may become the subject of my research for my senior thesis in the coming year.  Read the official English version of the Russian side here.


読売新聞 - ‎2010年7月7日‎
仙谷官房長官は7日の記者会見で、ロシアが北方領土の択捉島で軍事演習を行ったことに対し、外交ルートで抗議したことを明らかにした。 それによると、政府は演習の事実が判明した5日、モスクワの日本大使館から露外務省に「北方領土に対する我が国の法的立場にかんがみ ...

"Восток 2010" - дело тонкое. Для Японии


Традиционные военные учения "Восток 2010" вызвали дипломатический протест в Японии. По поручению министерства иностранных дел посольство Японии в Москве вручило нашим дипломатам ноту протеста против "незаконного использования ее северных территорий". Этот парадокс требует некоторого объяснения.

Friday, July 9, 2010



I'm alive, yes!  And it seems that for a couple of months I've gotten swallowed up in trying to be too serious about studying.  Really what happened is I overextended myself, thinking too much and getting overwhelmed by the options that continued to present themselves here.  It's sort of a perennial issue and something that I had a mind to work on in coming to Japan, so I'd like to think I've learned a few things at this point.  With the program starting to wind down now, the smoke is clearing and I'm again seeing some things that are important to me in my life.

Here's a quick update:

• Traveled to America (New York / New Haven) for a week in a whirlwind journey that took me to my brother's college graduation and gave me the opportunity to feel like a real jet-setter sort of person, and do a bit of shopping.  Had some real reverse culture-shock.  Meant to write more about it but got too busy at the time!

• Japanese language skill has improved.  Today in class we had discussion groups with Japanese students as guests, and we talked about such topics as impressions of foreign people, cultures, and countries, foreigner discrimination, differences in cuisine styles, problems in daily life, and international travel.  I was the discussion leader.

• The weather in Kanazawa (and Japan in general) has FINALLY gotten warm.  With it has come the humidity, but I really don't mind it.
• Made a couple more trips to Kyoto and did more exploring.  Really a cool city!  And it's a ton of fun to feel much better informed than the majority of the foreign tourists, too! haha
• Sang at a live event with my A Cappella circle ("Melo Melo") at an off-campus club event.  Our group was called "The Roof Over" because of an uncanny similarity in pronunciation to a particularly delicious style of Japanese noodles, when said with a thick Japanese accent. (zaru soba!)  There's a video of it, but it's pretty huge so can't upload here.  Maybe YouTube later on.  We did one song a cover of "Secret Base," a well-known J-pop song by a group called Zone.

• Performed two songs with the rock band circle YFA at an on-campus live event.  There's a video of this too, but again, it's too big a file. We covered "Suspension" by Mae and "ささくれ" (sasakure) by HY.  I did vocals on both, and acoustic guitar for the Mae song as well.

• Been thoroughly enjoying my "Mass Media and International Communication" class, probably more than any other.  It's the most intellectual stimulation I'm getting here.
• Thoroughly practiced and then performed four songs at a well-attended off-campus live event with the other rock band circle "XXTRA!!"--it was awesome!!  I have a big video of most of it, and I should be getting a DVD with the whole thing in better quality at some point before I leave Japan.  I did the introductions and sang all four songs--also did acoustic guitar for one, electric guitar for one, and harmonica for one.
• Road-tripped with other Tufts students from my program north to the Noto Peninsula to Wakura and some nearby places.  We stayed the night at the renowned "Kagaya" hotel, known throughout Japan as having the highest level of service in the entire nation.  We were incredibly lucky to be treated to this experience, and I'll never forget being doted on like that!  I couldn't possibly stand too much of that.
• Cheered for Japan's SAMURAI BLUE at an awesome bar-party during one of the World Cup games.  Japan put in a good run but went out in the Round of 16.  I now own an officially licensed Samurai Blue towel.
• Participated in Kanazawa's biggest festival, the 百万石 (Hyakumangoku) Festival, celebrating the prosperity of Lord Maeda some 430 years ago.  I donned the 16th century garb of a member of the Archer Corps in Maeda's army and marched with many hundreds of other participants from Kanazawa Station to Kanazawa Castle, a distance of several kilometers.  All while wearing straw sandals that were roughly 8 sizes too small.  It was awesome!!!

I've also been thinking much about the future (at least, as far as a year or so from now), some important issues, and developing some life philosophies.  It's not exactly an atmosphere of intellectual stimulation here, but I realize I'm actually doing rather well, and in the month I have left, I intend to make the most of it.

Now for some pictures.

Assembled guests at Kagaya (加賀屋), wearing our borrowed yukata.

My samurai (archer) dress from the Hyakumangoku Festival.  I had the honor to join Lord Maeda's loyal retainers.

One of my first views of the USA upon my brief return.  Food court at Terminal A in the Dallas/Fort Worth airport, a place that is devoid of character by design.

Sushi being sold at Penn Station in Manhattan.

Going out for Jewish food on my first night in New York.  Here's stuff you won't find in Japan!

While shopping in SoHo.  I liked the jacket but my arms are too long.

A Real American Steak, part of celebrations for the brother's Honorable Graduation.

A Buddhist temple somewhere in Noto.

During preparations to march, I had a chance to do one of the most funny and rewarding things I've ever done in my life--that is, march through throngs of festival-goers, through Kanazawa Station, into a McDonalds, while dressed fully as a samurai, order a Teriyaki Burger to go, and then rejoin the army and commence eating.

Proudly wearing my yukata during the Hyakumangoku Matsuri (百万石まつり)

During the Japan-Netherlands game.  I wanted to buy one of those official shirts, but they're $100 each.

AMAZING yaki-soba in Kyoto!

Kamogawa River in Kyoto, a very summery scene.  Lots of people like to walk along or sit by the river.

Our stay at Kagaya featured an unbelievable dinner, featuring sashimi and sea cucumber ovary and beer and yuzu-sake cocktails and wagyu beef and shellfish soup, among other things.

During the demonstration portion of the march!

Japanese trains have no exits.  They are in fact so advanced that they have only entrances, and when you reach your destination you simply arrive, without any need to exit.  Actually, a better translation would be "This is not an exit."

For my Japanese Reading class, we read a recipe for niku-jaga! (It's a sort of meat-teriyaki stew with potatoes.)  Then we cooked!  It was delicious.

The Tufts program also treated us to dinner at this fantastic sushi bar.  Some of the best I've ever had in my life!!   Unagi to die for.  But don't do that.

It's such a thrill to see people dancing in unison in the street for as far as you can see, thousands upon thousands of them.  This was part of the Hyakumangoku Matsuri.

Also stopped by Nara again, to see and feed the deer with their summer coats.  Somehow they were even MORE pushy than they were in December.  One of them bit me on the thigh in his feeding frenzy (there was no food in my pocket??), and I was surprised to find that their antlers are warm and fuzzy, not cold and bony.

Sleep now!

Friday, May 14, 2010


TV Kanazawa again!


I was interviewed for a news program again today!

About twice every month I go to help teach English at a local women's junior college.  Today, the class consisted of a field trip to local historical houses in the Nagamachi samurai district of Kanazawa, and I was basically along for the ride as a tour-goer.  The local news crew happened to be there too, and I was interviewed for the evening news about my impressions.  The students were vastly nervous, but they managed to do what was asked of them.

I could launch into a whole opinion piece about English education in Japan (there's quite a lot to say), but I won't do that now.  Anyhow, it's a fun gig for me, and I learn quite a bit doing it too.


Article in Japanese

Article in English (Google translated)

Video (in Japanese)

What I said: "It was really fun and a good experience. // Yes, I understood everything."


Next week I'm flying to America for a weeklong break of sorts.  This is the longest I've been away from my country.  More on that later...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Cultural Capitol

(not "Capital," or is it a play on words?)

Check out my article in the latest issue of the Tufts Traveler magazine!  Got a photo spread too!  Download the latest issue.

Also check out my Japanese blog if you're interested, though you'll need a Mixi account to access it.  I have a Russian blog too (you'll need a VKontakte account to access it), though it hasn't been updated in a while.  That may change late next week, though almost certainly not before then.

Today I approached some unusual people on campus who were drumming up support for their upcoming rally downtown against the American military base in Okinawa.  It appeared that I had caught them off guard, and I got the sense that they hadn't actually talked to any real American people before.  Fortunately, my Japanese has gotten good enough now so that I was able to express my own opinions and find out exactly what their views are.  Although their posters all over certain regions of campus do seem generally anti-American (and Japanese students who study here also seem to have that impression of this group), that is apparently not, in fact, the case.  They support the tens of thousands of other Japanese who are actively against the base's presence, and generally believe that the base should be relocated elsewhere.  Furthermore, they are against the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they believe that troops should be withdrawn immediately, subsequently blaming Obama for continuing a failed war. 
(NY Times article)
LA Times article, from an earlier time when it seemed that the earlier agreement with Hatoyama to relocate the base to a new location on the island could still hold water, so to speak.  Clearly the US isn't "making the case" very well.

Grievances against the base include not only the right of sovereignty; it is a stereotype that American soldiers are sometimes not so "considerate" so to speak--that is to say, there have been incidents including rape and the "accidental" death of a local man.  When I visited the Marine base at Iwakuni last month, I learned that soldiers there get into trouble on a basically weekly basis, and they have to go and apologize for it all the time.  That all being said, it is not well understood why the USA needs or wants the base(s) at all.  True, there is the fuzzy issue of "Asian Security," but perhaps it more closely relates to the sphere of American influence, both military and cultural, and of course likewise economical.  Moreover, in the city of Naha for example (the largest in, and the capital of, Okinawa), the American military presence brings big money to local businesses.  Still, there has been more and more friction with the locals recently, and it doesn't wear too well.

All in all it was an educational experience to speak with these people and try to explain that the situation in Afghanistan has become rather too complicated to simply leave.  They're not "anti-America" or "anti-American," they told me, but seeing their posters in some places with pictures of thousands of people chanting against the wishes of my home government can certainly make me feel a bit uncomfortable.  As I left, I reminded them that it's good to talk about things, that there are several other Americans on campus here, and that it ought to be a good idea to talk with them.

A quick comment on circle culture at the university here.
I grew up feeling encouraged to cultivate many different interests, in fact to such an extent that I felt I was often spreading myself too thin.  Here, most students are in one circle (just one, though occasionally two), so that means one activity to focus on.  It seems to me different from the usual way in America to cultivate various "liberal arts" though neither approach is necessarily better.  The upside of the Japanese way is clear: cultivation of dedication, a chance to get really good at something, opportunity to become close with a singular group of friends who share a common interest.  It's something I vaguely sensed before I came here actually, and something I wanted to try.  So far so good, though coming from my home perspective of wanting to do as much as possible, it's a bit difficult to do everything.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


Dave Spector

Dave Spector is a Chicago-born Jewish-American TV personality who has been living and working in Japan since the mid-80s.  He's a regular figure several on Japanese TV programs, commenting usually on "foreign" news, though recently also occasionally on Japanese news as well.  Being a blond, white, American foreigner, he's rather a recognizable figure and household name.

 So what's the deal with Dave?

He's one of the most successful and certainly one of the more recognizable foreigners in Japan, that's what.  Still, to foreigners (i.e., Americans) living in Japan, he can seem very strange.  To me, up until I actually read about him and his career, I had seen him several times on TV here and thought him rather annoying.  True, I must admit I felt somewhat envious of his clear success with Japanese life (his Japanese is known to be perfect), but if you watch him then perhaps he might occasionally come off as a sort of stereotype of foreigners.  The thing is, he's got to be one of the top ten most prominent non-Asians on Japanese TV, so his presence also carries a lot of weight.  According to this  Japan Times article, part of his success stems from his ability to digest great amounts of information from the English-speaking world and then relate it to his Japanese audience--especially since, as the JT article claims (and in my experience, I consider it to be more or less true), Japanese news coverage of "foreign issues" tends to occasionally be somewhat lacking in detail or in-depth analysis.  That certainly seems to be the stereotype, and on a couple of occasions I have felt bemused at the style, angle, or amount of news coverage on certain topics while living here in Japan.

That said, why is Dave Spector one of the most reliable of the gaijin talent?  How has he done it?  It's another stereotype (that the JT article touches on) that Japanese people can be wary of or hesitant toward foreigners, whether for language difficulties, cultural differences, or mere stereotype.  The Dave Spector Wikipedia page talks about this idea, and how he responded to it with The Panda Approach.

 The Panda Method

This so-callaed Panda Method is the idea that something that you always hear about but may not know so well personally is much more approachable if you meet it in a controlled environment and it's doing something silly.  That way, you won't feel intimidated, and whatever reservations you have had about the meeting will melt away.  Take a panda for example: they're really wild animals that live in bamboo forests in China, but if you see one in your local zoo running around playfully or munching one of those bamboo shoots in utter cuteness, they don't seem so wild and in fact appear quite cuddly.  With this idea and an intuitive understanding and proclivity toward supporting the American value to stand up for oneself, Dave started out his career with bit parts on TV and worked his way up, doing silly stuff, acting like the hapless foreigner he wasn't (though of course, he appeared to be), all while gradually becoming, as it were, a part of the furniture.  As a foreigner who had grown up with American values combined with a mastery of the language (all three qualities being predictably unexpected), he played the non-threatening part that the culture suggested he play--while at the same time being in command of his career. The net result of this is that he has created his own quite comfortable place that previously was simply absent in the culture.  Furthermore, over the years, he has made the culture work for him, and he's gone from being the silly panda to gaining trust and playing more and more serious roles.

I can relate to a lot of these ideas, also being an American who is living in Japan.  Locals constantly seem impressed by my developing mastery of the language, and I find that people relax quite a bit around me if I act a little silly, which fortunately as far as I'm concerned is my nature.  Moreover, once people see that I can communicate with them in their language, the whole communication process gets a lot easier.  Still, built into Japanese language and culture is a certain "wall" of distance between people that can sometimes seem quite fuzzy.  That wall is inherent to the language, and it depends on the degree of closeness with the person in large part, which also has something to do with age and relative status.  It's not as concrete as you may read about and is certainly more complicated than a textbook will tell you, but broadly speaking, it's true.

When the wall breaks down, people become closer.  American values tend to stress openness, standing up for personal rights and beliefs, and various freedoms.  In Japan, things tend to be different.  A university student's life, for example, is dominated by one or two "student circles" of which one may be a member.  But these aren't your weekend Frisbee clubs or Tuesday-Thursday choir practices.  They also have nothing to do at all with any teachers.  Students tend to have fewer (yet more serious) hobbies, and friends tend to be almost exclusively one's clubmates rather than mostly those who live in the same building.  They're serious, and they meet often, commonly going to dinner together after meetings or having parties as many as several times per month.  I've joined two circles this semester, "XXTRA" (live rock band jam/practice/performance circle) and "Melo Melo" (a cappella circle), and so far it's been a fantastic way to get to know Japanese students, practice the language, and to really feel like I'm experiencing the culture in-depth.  Besides that, it's great practice for my music, something I've missed for too long.

The Other Side of the Wall

There's a new movie coming out in Japan called 「ダーリングは外国人」(My Darling is a Foreigner) that looks at some of these cultural differences from the Japanese perspective.  The movie, based on a manga of the same name, focuses on the relationship between a Japanese woman (Saori) and an American guy (Tony) living in Japan, and various issues that arise over the course of it.  Over the course of these events, various stereotypes are addressed.  However, the manner of addressing these stereotypes is also distinctly Japanese.  The concept of racism as it exists in the States just does not exist in Japan, and stereotyping happens all the time, even stereotyping of their own culture.  In fact, on more than one occasion I have found Japanese people to be surprised at the fact that rice is quite common in America, let alone the fact that Los Angeles is famous for its glut of sushi restaurants.  That's not to say it doesn't happen elsewhere too--in any country in the world, most people don't get the chance to travel, and there's no place like home, right?

On the subject of stereotypes, I read a memorable story in my compendium of Traveler's Tales: Japan that related the experience of a mostly black jazz band from New York City who arrived in Tokyo for a week of performances to find the place set with watermelon.  In America, this action would be questionable at best and could even be called racist.

(From "Department Store Panic" by Jim Leff)
     On the surface, Tokyo seems much like any other big city.  It's easy for a Western visitor to fit comfortably into its familiar urban facade, only rarely glimpsing the breathtaking exoticness that lurks just beneath the surface.
     Notice the mowhawked, body-pierced Japanese youth coming toward you on the Shinjuku sidewalk.  You've seen punkers before; he's hardly worth a second glance.  But watch as he bows to an elderly stranger out of respect for her age.
     You're not in Kansas anymore.
     I was there to perform with a mostly black jazz band, and was appalled when the promoter's welcoming party featured a table full of cut-up watermelon.  I was more horrified still--for different reasons--when I learned that off-season watermelons in Japan run a cool $100 per. was more an ostentatious show of respect than adherence to a stereotype.  Or was it?
     It's nearly impossible to say; East/West cultural correlations are slippery, and sometimes the more you probe and analyze, the less you understand. 

 I can even corroborate the bit about the watermelon.  I recently saw a cantaloupe for sale at the local supermarket--about a third the size of a normal American one--for about ¥2800, the equivalent of about $31.  For one melon.

The more international experience I gain (I have no love of the word "foreign"), the more I come to see how these stereotypes and cultural peculiarities differ.  So far it's been fascinating, and it's certainly a great education for whatever I end up "doing" in life.  I've signed up for classes this fall at Tufts, and that includes my plan to write a senior thesis, concerning something about international culture.  We'll see where that may lead.  Maybe I could become the next Dave Spector...

 Kanazawa University Foreign Students - Asano River Cherry Blossom Viewing Party
(金沢大学留学生 浅川花見)
( April 10, 2010 )