logo version 4.0
Tales From Japan
One Year

There?s really something to be said for just sitting down and letting it
all flow out of you. I?m never sure where I?m going when I get up
in the morning, but by the time I get there, it?s like I?ve seen a
thousand million things flash by, and each one of them is something that I truly
would love to just spend an hour or eight appreciating and standing still for.
It?s like that, you see, when every little thing throws down your mind and
holds you open to the world. It?s a bit of a mystery as to why so many people
seem to think of all of this as a burden? it?s pure joy and there?s
nothing I?d swap for it in a million years. Step into the sunshine if you
don?t agree, it?s getting cold in the shade.
It?s raining outside today. Not pouring, not dumping, not horizontal?
just that soft patter that tells you it?s ok to stay indoors and hide.
It?s ok to get back in bed and pull the covers up, to be warm and safe
and held tight. It?s one of my favorite kinds of weather. I love to sit
at the window and watch it, to wonder if somewhere there?s another window
and another boy, another person content to observe quietly this morning. Afternoon.
Evening. Night. And all the patter on all of the cars that swish by with that
so familiar sound, slightly and subtly mixing with the music on my stereo, reminds
me just how much I love all things that are not just what they seem. How each
sound and each moment of your life is really something more than what it seems,
it?s something less than what it could mean. And that?s where the
rain comes in, like a curtain, calling me to sit still and hold on to you all
by your minds. So I try.
Now, with some different chill sounds (Faithless, Sunday 8pm) spinning round
in my room, I sit back down to write to you. What, you?re thinking, is
this that Wil has to say? It goes like this: it?s been one year, and I?m
not very near. To most of you, this is one of the first serious letters in a
long time. To some of you, I speak once a week. And to all of you, it?s
a new life every day we awake. Do I remember leaving? Yeah. Stepping on a bus
in Ithaca, sitting by myself scared as hell because someone always tells me
the scared-er you are the more you?re loving it. I don?t know if
they were right then or if they?re any more right now, but it never seems
to hurt to get really scared and really excited both at once. There are few
things in the world I like more than traveling by myself. Scratch that. There
is nothing I enjoy more. Days spent in airports, train stations, bus stations,
cars, roadside hamburger stands, rest stops, gas stations, ports, boats, trains
and absolutely planes are like gaps in our lives, times we?re allowed
to step outside ourselves, outside our lives, responsible to nothing and no
one except the destination, and in most of these situations destination is (directly)
beyond our control, especially trains and planes and boats. You?re not
driving, you?re not thinking about anything forced. You?re just
you and you?re watching and it?s an amazing view. And that space,
if unoccupied and correctly realized, allows me to be everything I?d ever
debate in one small little capsule in aisle thirty eight seat c peering out
into night looking down and hoping everything is alright wherever those sparks
of people burn bright. I love taking off and leaving a town that you know is
a world to some who never leave and watching everyone go to work so surprised
myself that I get to escape, to leave this bubble and enter another, where people
never think of what?s coming down out of the air to join them in their
daily routine. That?s why every time I see a helicopter I stare up wondering
who?s going where. I don?t envy them, don?t wish to be gone,
I just stand and appreciate how far we?ve come, where travel is possible
for even me and hopefully everyone gets this small chance to feel free. Arriving
at the terminal in New York, meeting friends there to greet me, making my way
back to their place, that?s one of those things that you can never do
too many times. There?s no feeling better than that of being expected,
nothing more joyful than seeing someone on the other side of that gate as you
make your way through hoping neither of you are too late. And after a day in
the city which I miss for it?s life and it?s bitterness, it?s
solidity and it?s similarly misconceived ethereality, a day I spent wandering
with Andrew and Bobert, finding Benny, Jason and Charles, eating wings, sleeping
in, shopping with a sense of abandon, playing pool, playing ping pong and drinking
a beer before sleep on a patio overlooking the world (if you grant that the
world is what revolves past your eyes). An early rise to find Charles and Bobert
awake, breakfast mixed with goodbyes and good lucks, knowing I?d see them
all somewhere else before long, and Andrew pulling up just in time to take me
and my bags to a flight. Talking while listening to mixes we love, unaware that
in just four days airports like this would be completely different places for
us? And stepping out at the door, pulling my suitcases after me and watching
my last friend pull away, I remember what this life is all about: breaking out,
stepping past what you know to what you can only imagine. One security check,
children loud at the gate while I sat and tried to write down the muddle of
thoughts in my mind (it isn?t easy to leave your whole life behind) and
I was ready to go.
Twelve hours later, standing there completely unawares, unable to read or speak,
only able to stand and to breathe, watching the people filter to me, knowing
someone like this must be waiting for me in a house I couldn?t even imagine?
Two hours by train, feeling out, trying to make some friends, not even sure
if we?d see each other again once we got to wherever it was we were headed,
softly cruising through the shelter of night. One of the oddest things right
away, no daylight savings time, always dark by seven, six, five in the winter
and crashing down around us the quiet of the countryside reminding me what living
here might be like. And then we stopped in a city of light. If you?ve
ever seen pictures of Shinjuku at night you know what I mean, if not ask me
sometime and I?ll show you Ridley Scott?s dream, what Bladerunner
comes from and what neon really means. Times Square is insanity and very surreal
but it?s out of its league in comparisons here. Some things words create
in your mind but no matter what I say you?re still shocked, still rocked
back by the sheer magnitude of life and light that?s on display. After
one year it?s still one of my favorite places in Tokyo today. Another
train, one more swap, and met by a girl who lived in my building, walking home
looking around all sorts of confused and yet getting used to the gloom I realized
that it?s not all neon and bright, there are places where people can sleep
without being bathed in blue light. That?s not actually true though, because
even on my street there?s a giant blue billboard that does politely shut
off at ten but flashes and changes skin tones from five o?clock every
evening till then. Home to find my house all my own, looking carefully through
what I?d brought with me, bags set for delivery in the morning, heard
the door open and stood still for a moment getting ready, turned and met my
roommate. Jason, Chinese-Canadian and here for more than a year, turns out the
decked out room was his, tall, skinny and loved to cook, lots of advice about
dealing with locals of the female variety but quite unsure what to do with me.
Which was a surprise until I met Andy, American and here for two, but leaving
in four days and excited to have someone to talk to. I thought this friendly
and nice (and it was) not knowing till later that Jason and he never spoke?
he?s still here as far as I know, lives by himself quietly off in the
city? but the important part of this introduction I trust did not escape
you: four days. That?s right. Not even time to unpack. But Andy?s
last night someone messed with our sleep destroying buildings in a town I?d
just left? and then it was my room, tatami flooring and balcony view,
sliding screen door for a window and part of the living room. It?s great
and once I got some pictures up (hi Kev, Keith, Jef, Andrew Benny and crew?
and a small black cat too) it felt a lot like my room. A hoebie in the corner
never hurt anything either. And here I am, to the end of a couple of days, ready
to start my training and nervous again?
And of course thoughts that flow like this don?t come to you every day,
it?s been more than a month since the last time I sat down to talk to
you all. People have come and gone all over the world, buildings up and planes
down instead of vice versa, and we?re still holding on. That strikes me
as a slightly depressing way to think about it, which is both kinda not really
true and too true to be valid. One of the best moments of arriving somewhere
is the first time you step out on your own. I remember asking Jason on day one
what there was I should see here, having one weekend off before work began.
?Harajuku,? he responded without thought. Ok, I said to myself.
Where?s that? ?Where all the done up kiddies are.? Alright.
That?s sounding like something good enough to do my mind in. so I calmly
got on a train. Stopping somewhere unrecognizable again and again. Today that
ride still looks like nothing I could ever be prepared for. I love and adore
watching the sun rise on Fuji while I sleepily hop the train with the masses
headed for a city the size of all of our worlds. I love watching the balconies
which cover every building be in turn slowly covered by futons as housewives
begin their daily task of keeping the world sane while the husbands fight the
twin demons of corporations and business suits. I?ve never been able to
figure out who is better off, which side slips through life with less struggle,
less strife. But there?s one trick about marriage that I may be completely
too late to relate to you all, but I?ll try: you build only what you build
together. Yes, I?m now supplying marriage advice to people far more centered
than myself. Don?t be surprised by this, don?t be shocked. It?s
true. That?s how it works. Why do I know this? Because I get paid every
day to hold on to the pieces of people too distracted by their lives to look
at each other. And I do. Hello to the troubles that have run our lives since
the beginning of time.
Harajuku. I knew there was something I was attempting to get to. I made it,
albeit a bit confused by the constant barrages of helpful information I seemed
to be unable to understand and the assistance of friendly signs I could not
read. Actually, as most people will confirm, it?s much better than that,
and the amount of English printed every day increases. It makes the other small
tasks of learning a language so much more? ?complex? I can?t
really say. Yes, I?m lazy, but that?s neither here nor there, since
you?re on one side of this gigantic ocean and I the other. Harajuku is
the youth district, if that?s an actual term, that sits between Shinjuku
and Shibuya, the real serious shopping districts of Tokyo, and is filled with
small cafes, nice little stores that hold handcrafted British imports as well
as strange Japanese originals, and always more of those deftly clad people and
their bejeweled cell phones. Ketai. With brilliant color screens, cameras, internet
access, video games, text messaging, and other goodies that aren?t suitably
translated for me to comprehend. They?re EVERYWHERE. I have had two students,
both old women, in a year who admitted to not owning phones, and all the other
students treat them like they?ve got some horribly contagious disease.
Which in some ways they do. They?re utterly cut off. They cannot communicate.
They are not instantaneously aware of Keiko?s new hair, with pictures
& now movies. How hard that lack of connection stuns the younger side of
my student time line. How strange to be continually alone with your thoughts
instead of frantically typing them out to ship off in small chunks to people
you see every day. These may not be things that you realize as valuable assets,
though I doubt it because I know who this letter?s going to, but it will
shortly be part of your life too. Think how this would have shocked your great-grandparents,
and then never tell anyone again that we live in a boring age where everything
has been accomplished. Because each morning is made more beautiful by the smog,
except for when it?s totally obscured. And that just makes the occasional
blessing so much more deserved.
I?m back. Beth Orton plays on my computer. Softly, yet biting because
of the truth in her mouth. Amit?s also back, from three weeks in India,
and my goal with this writing has transformed, as all goals do, from something
to have finished eventually to something I have to be able to take home to you.
That?s because I get to come home. I get to walk through places I know.
And that, though slightly non-sequentially, brings me to our next moment in
life. The moment when you realize you?re at home in a place that is not
your own. I?m here. I?m standing in the center of Shinjuku, I?m
walking through the crowded streets of Ebisu, I?m roaming quietly through
shipping zones along the docks of Yokohama, and I?m thinking of you. Why?
Because this is now my home. This is where I live, what I identify with, and
I love it. It allows something in me to be free, some part of this little person
that you?re all fairly well acquainted with the chance to look around
without having to worry about who?s looking back. Because most people
are. They?re looking at me for reasons I?ve never been seen for
before. So I can just shrug it off and appreciate the view. I hope some day
you all get to understand this feeling, of being completely comfortably alone
in a place that is not yours but is home. I hope you appreciate it when you?re
there, and I hope that you think of me and remember that there?s another
person who?s watching the sun rise above strange apartment buildings that
look like stairs, above trees that shed their pink blossoms into snow-white
air, drifting slowly down across streets that sport sidewalks lined with yellow
ridged stripes to help people who can?t see. And that person, wrapped
in warmth and small in stature but with wide eyes, he loves everything he sees,
and he desperately tries to convey wonder to his friends.
Telling you stories. That?s what I?m doing. That?s what
this is all about. I could tell you stories simply, of standing in a bridge
(in because it?s enclosed) over a bus station connecting a department
store to a train station kissing a girl and promising her, if not the world,
then at least my services until such a time as they should be displaceable.
And I would tell you that story. Because she deserves nothing less than to have
stories told about her. Excellent conversation, vibrant romance, and company
both bitter and joyful, mature and thrill-loving is too rare to have no note
taken of it. But right now is not the time or place to relate the memories that
accompany those pictures, no matter how pretty they may be. Now it?s time
to tell you of a day at Disney Sea. Not that it?s sequential at all. Said
day takes place on a Wednesday in mid-July, clearly some time has gone by. I?ll
get back to that when I can see clearly the people it contains. Disney Sea,
on a Wednesday, where I woke up half sober after surviving one of those nights
that rendered both Seth and myself unconscious too often? Disney Sea,
on a Wednesday where I met a group of people in Akabane station for a ride to
Tokyo station crowded (at 7.30 am) with business men in their suits frowning
at the gaijin group that had gathered to initiate them into the small, select
circle that DOES know what should be done with Wednesdays. Filled by gifts of
pastry, small laughs that accompany true friends responses to attempted early
morning humor, and the general beauty of wearing orange t-shirts, we proceeded
to a land known for it?s purity. That?s right, it?s run by
a giant corporation. That?s fine. Hate me for supporting it if you will,
but do, please do, realize that it is a giant corporation devoted TO MAKING
WIL HAVE A GOOD TIME WITH HIS FRIENDS. That?s enough out of all of us
about Disney. I?ll see what I can come up with about the actual experience
at a later date. Right about now it?s twenty minutes till payday and I?m
thinking about some things?
Of course I?ve now realized that the above paragraph contains no information
about Disney Sea, and that I?m in no mood to elaborate upon it. Strange
how the moments of my life that I really do enjoy are perhaps the most difficult
to remember. I was thinking of all the other moments I wanted to let you know
about that I never have, all the even smaller moments than those, where I barely
remember my name because the world is not the same. To tell you of wandering
Shinegawa with Amit one day and looking at the boats sinking slowly from long
disuse into the river. Looking at other boats hours later and realizing that
although they looked less than inviting they were probably used every day. Realizing
the economy of scale that keeps me teaching and keeps you painting air. Because
each one of us is blessed with a gift and a touch, and somewhere on a corner
close to you are a million people just like you except for the life they?ve
led, and that means more to me in my head than it may on a screen far away,
but watching those boats which I?m sure had traveled places of which I
don?t even remember to dream sink into mud not from lack of maintenance
but because they?d been worn down to their fibers the way my jeans always
collapse into my knees? that reminded me of the importance of every day
and the value in all things you watch drift by. I would also tell you of inspecting
Ferraris in a dealership later on that afternoon, but that?s something
that anyone can do, though it is highly enjoyable, more so I assume in baggy
pants and as the only boys in the room full of men in luxury suits paid for
by companies that consider Porsches a travel expense. I could tell you of a
long walk through a part of the city too beautiful for my life with a girl I
felt like I knew all of my life. Not because we were close, not because she
was like me, but because for just that one afternoon of desire and joy she was
every girl, and I? ?almost every boy. And as the night fell and
the darkness swept around us, we sat on top of stairs too steep for even the
cats, though they stalked slowly round us in the middle of their climb, and
held hands like you wish you could do for all time. Parting is better after
afternoons like that, for you will never manage to recapture those moments,
and you?ll doom the rest of your relationship, however long or brief,
to their shadow. Best instead to separate knowing in your eyes this is the end,
this is goodbye as this afternoon was hello, and walk into your separate lives
gladder for the smile you left with. And so we did. These are the stories I
could tell you. Of standing in a station waiting for some friends, and when
they come you realize that you?ve left all else behind, this is it and
these people are your world in so many ways? These are the strangest things
I?d take you through. On my bike one sunny afternoon, picking Seth up
and racing schoolgirls, who have infinitely more practice riding coupled than
either Seth or I, to the pool where we found ourselves lost in the water and
only surprised by the occasional child and the lifeguards buddy check whistle
clearing the pool? drifting lazily around the lazy lake until we were
rosy red and ready for ice cream. Riding and walking, thinking and talking,
realizing how lucky we were to watch these children so much like us not so long
ago relax in the sunshine that turned into shade as the skyline of balconied
apartos overshadowed our chairs. Around the soccer stadium watching future stars
dream of scoring that goal and bouncing ball off of concrete, pavement, and
self, concrete, pavement, and self, and concrete, in a loop so perfectly etched
in our minds that I?ll know those children when they?re forty and
watching their kids practice too. Those days, which often ended with wine in
the park watching playful fountains dance, those days reminded us just how close
we all really were, despite this massive language barrier that kept our childhoods
apart. Or was that an ocean and a massive historical disagreement? I?m
never clear on the details, because I?m feeling more and more that they
don?t really matter. Do you remember a day drinking chu-hi in the winter
and reveling in new-found friends and their incredibly appreciated cooking skills?
I do. Dave making traditional Japanese dishes, me repairing them with bottle
after bottle of Tabasco sauce, both of us holding each other together against
the biting winter air which is dangerous not because of it?s chill but
because of the echoes of despair brought to you from people & places you
can see. Because never believe me if I tell you that it?s all green and
easy. Thinking your way through your days requires as much energy as fighting
through walls, as much support as holding up earth. That?s the other trick
I think we?re seeing performed? this whole idea of living is one
majestic conjuring act we?re witnessing being performed unknowingly by
every one of us simultaneously. And I?m occasionally not participating,
I?m just reveling.
So I?m here. Sitting on a bed I?ve slept in so many times, in a
nicely kept house in an affluent New Jersey suburb waiting to be called to a
truly American feast, Thanksgiving. Coming home for this short time is one of
those experiences that is hard to sum up. Everything is a bit overwhelming.
Everyone is too tall and too loud and I understand way too much. And the result
of this imparted understanding based on speaking the same language would surprise
you. The result is that I pay less attention to anyone and everything. I was
driving around today (a great pleasure in a borrowed car lent to me by an aunt
who looks out for my every need) and it took an immense amount of effort to
build myself enough mental strength to remember to notice stoplights. Why? Because
when nothing ever really makes sense, then I need every little bit of strength
to be able to comprehend what I?m faced with. But when everyone speaks
my language and my appearance is only partially shocking, then it?s something
that I take for granted and never truly remember to appreciate. So I?m
a constant danger to the rest of the world, which is good for both of us.

Strange. Two weeks, and I?m back here, in my cozy little apartment, sitting
cross-legged on the floor. I can hear the girls next door waking up for work.
And I feel? as confused as someone who slept for three and a half hours
uneasily after a long two days on an airplane should feel. But I know there?s
more to it than that. A big part of it is the shock of keeping up with myself
and the world after the changes we?ve been through. A few days in Ithaca,
meeting new cats, old friends, and small places I?m accustomed to, were
wonderful. It?s rare to go home and find the people that I really miss
so easily available, especially considering the lack of notice. The same can
be said of New Jersey, where I saw as much of my family as I?ve seen in
any one place in my entire life. It was amazing. Some people you really do love.
Then I busted up to NYC to see about half of the other people I really miss
in the world. It?s true, there wasn?t enough time to really get
through to some people, and it was rushed to the extreme, but it was beautiful
and I like flaws in my life. No, I didn?t get a chance to buy anyone presents
(for people in Japan), no I didn?t go to any museums or clubs. That?s
ok. I can do those things in Tokyo. What I can?t do here, though I wish
I could, is wander cold and windy streets with Andrew, Benny, and Bobert. Spending
time with you guys is never second best. Thanks. Also had a nice chat with Kev
via phone, which breaks our wallets if it crosses oceans, so one simple continent
was no obstacle. And here I am back, preparing to go to work, not knowing my
name, and reveling in the confusion I create. Sitting here waiting for me when
I arrived were two letters from Vassar asking for money (no) and one letter
from Seth in China letting me know that I?m not the only kid out there
on my own in another country looking at the stars and realizing that it?s
a bigger world than what is contained in our own heads. These are the days &
ways the world takes on more shades and our lives fade, as threads into tapestry
built out of ages. Best wishes all of you for another great year. Rocks.
-Wil, August to December 2002