I woke up in a strange place

By Marc Heiden, since 1997.
See also: a novel about a monkey.

« August 14 | Main | September 15 »

August 28, 2003

I should preface this entry with a quote from elsewhere. I live in a house with a few other foreigners in what I think is a very nice neighborhood. There is a large river nearby, and on the other side of the house, there is a small canal with rickety bridges. The streets are quiet and narrow, and most of the other houses are very old, built in a traditional Japanese style. I think it's all quite nice. One of my housemates is also an English teacher. The first time he told one of his students where we live, this was her reaction:

Foreigners, brothels and yakuza, oh my! That place has everything that scares us!

There are, to be fair, a number of brothels around here. But they're good neighbors. They keep the fucking down to a perfectly reasonable volume, and their buildings are always very clean out front, thanks to the old ladies who run them. They have hidden entrances for customers, and the employees all live in nearby, so you never see them clocking in or out. I can't see why anyone would complain about the brothels, at least in terms of neighborliness. (There may be labor issues, such as vacation time or retirement funds, but I am not here to address those.) And the yakuza? Holy shit. Anybody who gripes about those guys hasn't been to the rockin' End of Summer street festival they throw in August.

"Are you taking your camera?", asked my housemate, normally a fiend for photos.
"I don't know. Should I?"
"Mm...well, if you do, just try to stick to crowd shots, if you know what I mean."

There is a "sports club" down the block where the yakuza hang out, watch baseball and talk business. They have minivans with decals from their club that are parked around the neighborhood. (I did not necessarily expect that the yakuza would be so fond of minivans, but I suppose there are convenience issues to consider.) Across the street from the sports club is an apartment block for the young, swinging bachelor yakuza. The festival took place in the intersection and the parking lots for the two buildings, branching off into the four streets in each direction, with a side festival for kids on the other side of the apartment block. Unfortunately, I missed the guy who was just walking around handing out envelopes of cash (10,000 yen, about $90) to random people, but most of my housemates scored. I did get a ton of free food and beer tickets, though. (I failed to use most of them, since the guy at the iced tea booth kept grinning and giving me drinks for free, and cotton candy was the only meatless item on display elsewhere.) There was a tall bandstand in the midst of the festival area, and a few of the senior yakuza, all wearing traditional dress, took turns singing half-hour long narrative songs while throngs of people danced in a circle around the bandstand. The dance was two steps forward, one step back, clap twice, one step forward, single clap to the right, and repeat. It was a whole lot like country line-dancing. Anyone was welcome to join, but I was busy trying to keep an inconspicuous tally of how many in attendance still had their little fingers. There were more than a few missing, but for the most part, I'd say this was a competent bunch of yakuza. (So as not to show off, I kept my own hands in my pockets.) It was a lovely evening. Everyone was in such a good mood. The yakuza like gaijin (foreigners), because they were originally the outcasts of Japanese society. According to an interview with the local boss, they're more willing than most legitimate organizations to employ Koreans and other immigrants. (So there, Sony.) Again, there may well be a number of valid complaints about the yakuza, particularly regarding the killing of people, but there are absolutely no grounds on which to complain about them as neighbors. Declaring summer to be over was a particularly nice gesture. Our electricity bills have been absolutely brutal of late, and if the yakuza say summer's over, it's over, or some fool is taking a bullet to the head.

The next night, I saw the Dismemberment Plan at Taku Taku, an old sake warehouse. There is something perversely fun about seeing a band from home when you're abroad. The Sea and Cake in Camden Market was a highlight of my trip to London a few years ago, and this show was memorable, too. I expected a bit more representation from the English teachers of the area, but there were only two other gaijin in the sold-out crowd of more than 200. It was sold-out before I got there. I used the stupid-gaijin trick to get in: just stare blankly at the Japanese person as if you do not understand and keep repeating your request in a stilted tone. Eventually, they decide it's easier to just give you what you want. Out of politeness, I stood all the way at the back, because nobody there was taller than my shoulders. The Dismemberment Plan have taken about two more lessons of Japanese than I have, but they stumbled through the between-song banter quite gamely, and the crowd loved them for it. I was the only person in attendance who knew to wave his arms during "Back and Forth", and I could see Travis Morrison's eyes light up when he saw it. That was a nice moment. (One of the other gaijin and a Japanese kid picked up on it for the second chorus.) There were some mighty cathartic songs. There always are at their shows. It's a shame they're breaking up. I will really miss them. Unfortunately, they were the opening band at this show, so they only played for 35 minutes, and that meant no "Ice of Boston", which did leave me a bit sad. (But maybe it'd be strange hearing that song without my friends, because that was always a "look each other in the eyes and smile because we're together" moment.) The headliners were a Japanese indie rock group called Quruli who were really quite good and were a good fit, musically. They could have been from D.C., were they not singing in Japanese. It's kind of fashionable for Japanese bands to have one line of English in the chorus of their songs. Quruli had one that went "I go back to China". The rest were in Japanese, though. At the end of the show, they did the standard rock-star encore. Then, in an utterly charming turn of events, after the house lights came on, the audience applauded until the band came back out to be thanked again. The audience didn't want another song; they just wanted to say thanks. I thought about saying hello to the Dismemberment Plan outside, but they were being mobbed by teenage Japanese girls, and that's a personal moment in anybody's life, so I left them be.

The choice she thought she'd never have to make:

Between the one who taught her how to live...

And the one who taught her how to love.

My prediction: the movie ends with Godzilla wandering back into the sea, alone, tears streaming down his face, as "Just Once" blares on the soundtrack.

Unfortunately, there will be no more pictures for a while unless I decide to dig out some of the old ones I haven't used yet. I came home to find my mutant digital camera feasting upon the bloody entrails of yet another dead battery, its third victim. Just as it did after the first two, the camera pleaded with me, claiming that it could control itself, that this was an accident. It hasn't been right since I fell down a mountain with it in the Badlands a few months ago. I restored it to life with a hairdryer, but now it kills rechargeable batteries, which are expensive. It can't help itself. I may buy a new one with my next paycheck if the exchange rate is favorable and I have enough yen left over after the bills are paid.

Now, I realize it's unethical for me to try to sell the camera to somebody, but is it unethical for me to give the camera to a hobo for him to try to sell? I am a friend to hoboes.

I woke up in a strange place is the work of Marc Heiden, born in 1978, author of two books (Chicago, Hiroshima) and some plays, and an occasional photographer.

Often discussed:

Antarctica, Beelzetron, Books, Chicago, College, Communism, Food, Internet, Japan, Manute Bol, Monkeys and Apes, North Korea, Oregon Trail, Outer Space, Panda Porn, Politics, RabbiTech, Shakespeare, Sports, Texas.


January 2012, December 2011, January 2011, September 2010, August 2010, June 2010, March 2010, October 2009, February 2009, January 2009, September 2008, August 2008, March 2008, February 2008, October 2007, July 2007, June 2007, January 2007, September 2006, July 2006, June 2006, January 2006, December 2005, September 2005, August 2005, July 2005, June 2005, May 2005, March 2005, February 2005, January 2005, December 2004, October 2004, July 2004, June 2004, May 2004, April 2004, February 2004, January 2004, December 2003, November 2003, October 2003, September 2003, August 2003, July 2003, June 2003, May 2003, April 2003, March 2003, February 2003, January 2003, December 2002, November 2002, October 2002, September 2002, August 2002, July 2002, June 2002, May 2002, April 2002, March 2002, February 2002, January 2002, December 2001, November 2001, October 2001, September 2001, August 2001, July 2001, December 1999, November 1999, October 1999, May 1999, February 1999, January 1999, December 1998, November 1998, October 1998, June 1998, May 1998, April 1998, March 1998, February 1998, December 1997, November 1997, October 1997, September 1997, and the uncategorised wilderness of the Beelzetron era: 010622 - 010619, 010615 - 010611, 010608 - 010604, 010601 - 010529, 010525 - 010521, 010518 - 010514, 010511 - 010507, 010504 - 010430, 010427 - 010423, 010420 - 010416, 010413 - 010409, 010406 - 010402, 010330 - 010326, 010323 - 010319, 010316 - 010312, 010309 - 010307, 019223 - 010219, 010216 - 010212, 010209 - 010205, 010202 - 010109, 010126 - 010122, 010119 - 010115, 010112 - 010108, 010105 - 010102, 001229 - 001224, 001222 - 001218, 001215 - 001211, 001208 - 001204, 001201 - 001124, 001124 - 001120, 001117 - 001113, 001110 - 001106, 001103 - 001030, 001027 - 001023, 001020 - 001016, 001013 - 001010, 001006 - 000927.

Written by Marc Heiden, 1997-2011.