I wake up extra early, the sun is already up. Meditate, iron some shirts and pants. I pack my backpack, water my plants, (the sunflowers I planted only a few days ago are already so big), clean up a little, do the dishes, put out the trash (today is plastics). I eat some cereal, protein powder and soymilk, put away my futon, and vacuum my tatami. 8 AM, I ride my bike to the train station, sun in my face, backpack sweating my back, I have my shirt and tie on, my nicest shoes. I park my bike and sit down on the bench in front of the station. A dirty blond dog walks over to me, looks into my eyes, then plops down in the sun and falls asleep. I open Kafka on the shore, read a few pages, until a boy who looks a little mentally handicapped sits down next to me. ‘Hello” I say.” Hello” he answers. I return to my book, not really wanting to talk to anyone right now. I periodically raise my head and open my mouth to drink the sunlight.
“The Yamane bus” the boy next to me suddenly says in a louder than expected voice as a bus pulls away from the station. “Yup” I replay, and then look back down.
A moment later, without warning, he says “The Matsuyama bus.” I look up and see him smiling at me. I think he might be telling me what busses are coming so as to help me not miss mine. I smile; loving him, feel kindness inside. The dog next to us gets up and moves a little closer to our bench. The boy’s bus arrives and he says goodbye. I wave, put my book down, close my eyes, look up at the sun and stare into the pink insides of my eyelids. I imagine the sunshine filling me up with light and pure energy. I breathe in a deep breath of sun and space, breath out with the wind.
When my bus arrives, I see in the window high above the ground my friend Richard, who lives a few towns over, holding the book “Kafka on the Shore” up to the window, laughing. I hold up my copy, laugh, and then get onto the bus. A great surprise, I must say. Not only because Richard is on my bus, but also because we are reading the same book. We are even at about the same part.
For the next three and a half hours we talk about all sorts of things. I tell him about the Big Mind therapy session I watched on Integralnaked.org and how amazing it was. The bus soars over the huge bridge connecting the island of Shikoku to the mainland Honshu. We are taking the same rout Kafka takes in the book sitting in our laps. How odd.
Arriving in Kobe, I see a hundred foreigners at the bus stop. Almost everyone looks so happy, loud conversation and laughter hanging in the air above the quite Japanese people standing near by.
Kobe is a big, beautiful city sitting between the mountains and the sea. It is clean and bustling with all sorts of people, young and old. I smell waffles and hear music. I immediately like this city, don't know why. Maybe everyone is moving at a slightly slower pace than I expected. Everyone seems to be more relaxed. I can’t explain it, really. And there are a lot of friendly young people, many of whom I met on the train and at the bars.
The conference is at a very nice hotel, must of cost a fortune putting up about a thousand foreigners there for two days. After checking in I am surprised again to find that Richard and I are roommates. odd again. Outside our window sits a deteriorating old amusement park and the bay. Turning my head, a corner of city and the mountains.
The first workshop I go to is called “Issues Facing Female Jet’s.” I’m one of four guys attending with about 50 girls. One asks me why I'm there. “I want to increase my sensitivity,” I say with a smile. I feel like a smartass for saying that.
A very energetic, beautiful woman presents infromation, periodically interrupted by an older woman in the audience complaining about her generalizations and exaggerations. The workshop was really fascinating. Did you know that only about 1% of Japanese women use birth control pills, while over 50% of Americans do? Also, in Japan an individual has sex an average of 45 times a year, as apposed to most other countries that have sex from 100 to 120 times a year.
Another interesting Workshop was called “Global Issues in the Classroom” which was presented by a beautiful Chilean man from Okinawa who reminded me of my friend Damien. This workshop proposed different ways to incorporate global issues (such as war, the environment, violence, discrimination, poverty, aids) into a language lesson or warm-up game.
The last workshop I went to was called ‘Trading Places-Thai,” which was an introductory Thai language class conducted completely in Thai, with a little bit of Japanese. This was supposed to show us what it’s like to be in an English class for many Japanese students. made me realize I really need to slow down in my lesson, and repeat more.
I also went to a workshop given by a Psychologist. He said that when we return to our home country we will naturally gravitate toward other people who have lived in another country, for they will have a reference point to understand our experiences. Other people will not really know that there are different ways to organize the world. And not just the social world, but also the inner world. It’s not their fault, of course. The Doctor reminded us that its because they will have absolutely no point of reference.
“Also, you will notice that most people, after asking you “so, what was it like living in Japan?” after about five seconds will loose interest and you will see their eyes kind of glaze over.” Interesting. He adds, “You may also find that although your family is happy to see you, they will also be a little frustrated that you weren’t there with them during some important family events.”
He also told us good ways to prepare for leaving Japan. Giving people we love the right amount of attention and closure. He said that it is common for people to pull away from you sometimes months before you actually leave, while others will cling to you closer than ever until the moment you leave. Some people started to cry.
After the 3-day conference, one of my friends, excited to leave, said, “Yes, get me away from all these foreigners and back into my secluded Japanese town where I belong.” It was quite a change for most of us, spending almost a year surrounded by only Japanese people, and then, suddenly, being expected to be social and friendly to a thousand foreigners. And to others it was a big relief, a party.
I met some amazing people. A beautiful man from South Africa. A shining woman from Jamaica. And, on my last day, I spent time with this beautiful dark black woman from South Africa, Fumi. She reminded me of Osceola, a nanny that helped raise my entire family. She said she was fifty, but I didn't believe her, She looked more like she was about 35. After the conference Fumi, Robert and I follow Richard to the bus stop to buy his ticket and while waiting we play with legos at a kid’s table. Fumi takes my hand and begins rubbing it, squeezing it, pulling and squeezing my fingers. Then, she brings my hand up to face and presses the back of my palm against her cheek.
This felt amazing. And for her too. She said in her deep, warming voice, “doesn't it feel great to touch hands after so long!”
On the bus ride home I meet Ken, a beautiful Japanese boy sitting next to me, 22 years old. He is reading a book called “200 greatest Motown albums.” I strike up a conversation and we talk all the way to Ehime. He works in Oosaka for a nursing home, says he loves helping grandma and grandpa (the words for old lady and old man in Japanese are grandma and grandpa.). He says that most of his grandparents are in their 90s. He helps them eat and bathe and exercise. I obviously fall in love with this man who's got a huge heart. Every year he goes home for three days to see his family. Ken speaks no English, so I learn more Japanese on that three-hour bus ride then I think I ever have. I took many notes and he filled in the kanji.
Ken got off in Mishima, the stop before mine. He gave me his address and asked me to write him a letter. I will.
After the bus arrives in Niihama, I spend a few minutes finding my bike in the dark lot next to the station. It was moved so I had a little trouble finding it.
I usually sing while I ride my bike, and to my pleasure, I find that the girl riding a few meters in front of me is also singing into the night. I listen secretly.
When I get home, I find a letter from Eli and one from Molly waiting for me. I almost cry with happiness. Eli sent me this photo of a cicada drawing I sent him transformed by Kansas rainwater. "I am going to put this in my show," i think. I make some herbal tea, draw some crows; listen to the mix cd Eli made me, and then fell fast asleep.
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