In the meantime, here’s some pictures from Monkah’s (and my) recent trip to Tokyo to pick up this year’s new crop of JETs. Monkah and I have been going to Tokyo a lot recently, and with another two day business trip approaching at the end of the month, the streak only looks to continue. Monkah really loves Tokyo, but I have to admit I sometimes get strange looks whenever I stop and pull him out somewhere to take a picture (say, in a crowded subway). You’d think people would learn to respect the preciousness of the relationship between a boy and his pet French speaking Monkah. Is there no beauty left in the world?
Anyway, onto the pictures then. You can click on a picture for a larger image.
Monkah gazes wistfully out the hotel room window overlooking downtown Shinjuku and thinks about all the adventures he’s going to have that day. He’s also probably wishing he could be staying in the spectacular Keio Plaza hotel again, but since the prefecture’s being a cheapskate, he – and I – have to make do with a considerably more ghetto budget hotel nearby. You know things have gone from “ghetto” to “ghettro” when the hotel’s “restaurant” selection consists of a Family Mart convenience store on the first floor, and said convenience store stocks more pornographic magazines on its shelves than actual magazines – complete with helpful rating advice like “サラリーマンに大人気” (extremely popular amongst Salarymen) next to the various offerings.
At one point, I was trying to reach around a gentleman perusing the visual offerings to grab a thing of instant ramen, and I almost knocked over several others on the shelf. As I leaned in to keep them from falling over, my nose accidentally brushed against the magazine he was holding, and for a split second, it was like I was breathing on this naked boobie on the page. The guy didn’t even blink, even as I got my nose out of there as fast as humanly possible. He just sort of grunted then flipped the page and kept reading like nothing ever happened. I don’t know which unnerved me more – that I had accidentally (and literally) stuck my nose into someone else’s pornography, or that that person didn’t even care.
Monkah enjoys eating kaiten sushi (revolving plate sushi) somewhere in Shibuya. It’s always delightful to go out with people who have never been to Japan before – their energy and enthusiasm invigorates you and helps remind you what it is about Japan that captured your imagination in the first place. The perfect remedy for when you feel yourself teetering on the verge of becoming an embittered, cynical expat, as I’ve felt like lately.
Monkah poses with the sushi chef, a funny jovial fellow named Aoyama. Go somewhere in Japan with about a half-dozen white friends and it’s amazing the doors that will open for you, especially if you’re of Asian descent (and consequently generally ignored by most Japanese). But anyway, this guy was really friendly, and watching him banter with the newbies (with myself as the translator) even made the most cynical parts of me think that there still exists the potential for genuine, honest-to-goodness “grassroots cross cultural exchange”. But boy, let me tell you, do I hate the word “grassroots”. What the hell does that even mean, anyway? What a weird adjective to describe something.
At one point in the evening one of the newbies asked me “Are you ever embarassed going out with a bunch of Japan n00bs like us?” No sooner had I vehemently dismissed any possibility of embarassment and laid that whole “it invigorates me and reminds me of what it was about Japan that captured my imagination in the first place” spiel on them from above than – and I swear to god this happened – one of them asked the sushi chef to sign their chopsticks….! I was in the middle of translating and it just caught me completely blindsided – my face flushed a deep crimson and I couldn’t help but burst out laughing and turn away in embarassment as they held out their chopsticks – and a pen – out over the counter and waved it beckoningly at Aoyama. Seeing my face, the guy who asked me the question before started laughing – “What’s that you were saying about not every being embarassed by us?”
To his credit, Aoyama signed the chopsticks (it took us a while to find a pen that would work on the surface, all the while Japanese patrons pointing and giggling at us), commenting “I have been a sushi chef for almost 18 years now and this is the first time in my life I have ever been asked to sign someone’s chopsticks!!!”.
Monkah and I duck into a train station cafe for a cup of coffee to keep us awake. He avails himself of the opportunity to call my folks back in America, since he’s bored and has nothing else to do while we kill time before meeting a friend. We don’t talk long, since it’s expensive to call America on a cell phone!
Monkah and the lovely Jenofoz enjoy *another* cup of coffee at the famous Starbucks overlooking the JR station Hachiko exit in Shibuya. Jenofoz – back in Japan temporarily working the World Expo in Aichi – recounts the various horrors and slave-labor like conditions Expo workers are subject to. So terrible is it that she actually confesses she’s breaking her contract two months early and going home in a week or so. The moral of the story? In case all the stories of lame (and super-commercialized) exhibits, sky-high prices and mile long queues don’t dissuade you, take it from someone on the inside in the know – the World Expo 2005 sucks. Avoid it like the plague.
Monkah looks out at the people crossing the bustling intersection below and tries to figure out how he – meaning I – am every going to make a go of it in Tokyo. To say it’s difficult is an understatement and with the future rushing up behind me, the third year of a three year visa flying out from under me and reality crashing down atop of me, it’s getting to be crunch time with regards to figuring out what exactly I’m going to be doing in 11 months – stay or go, stay or go. If you stay, where will you live? If you go, where will you go? And in either case, what the hell are you going to do for a living?!
Monkah extracting my change from the JR ticket machine. The woman who stands by the machines to help people having trouble initially thought I was confused and didn’t know what I was doing. She stepped in to help and then suddenly stopped short when she saw me framing my shot of Monkah sitting in the change receptacle. “It’s okay” I said to her – “I’m just taking a picture of my monkey”. She gave me that awkward, goofy half-smile Japanese people do when they’re trying to be polite but clearly think you’re insane and then hovered (pronounced “hou-ah-vohhr” just for Karen) off to the side for a second until I finished the shot and grabbed monkah and put him in my bag. I tried to ask her if she would mind posing with Monkah, but not hearing me, she just sort of pointed the way to the platform entrances (located about 10 feet away and clearly visible). I thought about pressing the issue, but pausing for a moment to consider how the story “honest officer, I just wanted to take a picture of her holding my monkey” would sound to a policeman coming from a foreigner’s mouth at 12:15 at night I thought better of it and headed off back to the hotel. Monkah, he later informed me in his deliciously adroit French, was disappointed he couldn’t get his picture taken with a JR employee since he’s wanted to do that ever since seeing Vanessa’s wonderful picture of a train conductor a few months back.
Which way do we go? Monkah pauses for a moment to consider what train he should get on to go home. Actually, anyone who’s spent any time in Tokyo knows that there’s really only one way to get from Shibuya to Shinjuku via train(all of three stops away). Nonetheless, Monkah insisted on stopping to consider the map for a few minutes, perhaps searching for new and interesting places to go on his next journey to Tokyo?
Homeless people sleeping in the bowels of Shinjuku station. There were so many homeless people – all of them men – in the station, and walking down the long underground corridor leading towards the government district, I felt sad, seeing this temporary city of cardboard and blue tarps tucked into corners and jammed under stairwells. I wanted to take a better picture, but I couldn’t help but feel exploitative – my interest in documenting this little seen part of Japan was genuine, but I felt as if I was exercising the oppressive power of gaze somehow by photographing them. If I was in their position, I wonder how I would feel about someone taking a picture of me? Would I feel violated? Objectified? Like an animal in a zoo? I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing I probably wouldn’t want to be photographed like that – like pouring salt in a wound, and snapping that photo would be like taking the last of their dignity. That’s not right, and I was especially cognisant of the “point and shoot” nature of my digital camera.
Sometimes I think that having a “real” camera – with the lens, flash, that whole business – sometimes lets you do things you couldn’t normally do – it eases people in a way, like you’re a “professional photographer”. In this case perhaps they could participate in the shared mutual fiction – to reinforce the idea that the interest is “professional” and “academic” – it stops being the demeaning power of gaze and becomes instead a passive “documentation” of the moment – artistic, journalistic, whatever. It’s not so personal, I don’t think. But a 25 year old boy with a touristy point-and-shoot digicam walking down a hallway then pausing to take a picture of you sprawled out on a cardboard sheet with no shoes? It seems to me so…. offensive.
The lush greenery of Shinjuku park in the morning. The stunning Tokyo Metropolitan Government buildings rise out of the canopy of trees in the foreground. It’s still pretty quiet but in an hour or so, things will become very hectic in this part of town as the Tokyo – and consequently Japan – ruling elite make their way to work in identical, expensive looking black Mercedes and BMW’s driven by white gloved chauffeurs sitting on crisp starched linen doiley seat covers. I should add that the towers are more striking at night.
Anyway, that’s it. A more substantial update will (hopefully) follow sometime later this week. As will information on my supar fantastic quest to travel to China and hold a real live baby panda!!!! I’ve got my minions hard at work sorting out the details which I’ll post as soon as I get them. But for now, I’ll leave you with these images to tease your imagination!!!
Whenever I see a beautifully designed page like this – gorgeous layout, elegant semantic coding, masterful and innovative CSS – I can’t help but feel admiration (mixed with a slight twinge of jealousy and competitiveness!!). It may not be the most wonderful site out there, but it is a thing of beauty and the hardwork that he put into it really shows: it’s taking web coding from being merely this thing you do “to make a web page” and turning it into a legitimate form of creation – of art and design – in and of itself.
Oh and the music’s pretty good too (^_^)v