Because the world needs more overwrought candour.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Small ending

I haven't written much lately because I've been depressed, flat out and strung. On Monday Kiyono downgraded us to friends, a nothing word considering we were not friends to start with. It's got to me more than I thought it would, made me realise how fragile, precarious the gaijin life is, balanced on the outskirts of society, looking in.

I have no intention of staying for a lifetime; I love Japan for its bursting life, vibrancy, the differences, the buzz and hum of the cities; I love Japan at night when the bleak concrete facade of Osaka is cloaked in neon, when people come out to play, to drink and stagger home, to flirt in alleyways beneath garish backlit kanji, when men bolster their egos with women like Kiyono, when everyone inverts themselves, a neat flip from obsessive perfectionists to the decadensia. But I do not want to live in a place where I do not know the rules and where I will never be accepted as an equal. This is the pain of every migrant; to know that your children will be natives, will begin to merge with the culture as you can never do, set in your ways, negotiating the culture via pantomimes, fixed smiles, stilted conversation. Every single foreign longtermer in Japan I have met - perhaps 30 people all up - endures by connecting with other longtermers, making a small ghetto, a place of safety on the margins.

But my main entry point to society, my fixed point, my warmth here, she has ceased, with a smile, she gave me a smile of farewell, warm, polite, but through glass. She was never my girlfriend, she was someone I needed and who was kind to me, who taught me to walk here, taught me to speak, almost motherlike in that sense, but she must have become increasingly uncomfortable with my need, my need to have contact, to build up a protective routine, an adaptation. Gaijin are largely male; and if they plan to stay, they quickly obtain girlfriends and then sleep with other girls on the side. But the primary girlfriend/caregiver, the homebase, she is crucial. For my part, I was faithful, but to an idea of her which was more than she wanted. I always wondered whether I should try harder to fall in love and now it is too late, or perhaps exactly the right time. She didn't show to my birthday party, offered a reasonable excuse and forgot about it, we argued via text message and she mentioned friends, confusion, coolness; Monday we met, it was her birthday the day before, I gave her something I wrote, a little snap of her in words, more flattering than reality, a farewell. The ex-boyfriend is back, in body and mind and my place, as the valley between two patches of rocks in their relationship, is over. The guy sounds like an clot but it's easy to love assholes, for the struggle, for the pain, for the thrill of the well-worn rollercoaster between love and hate. She was wearing a yukata, a light kimono, she was beautiful; I, in daggy shorts, a tshirt, sandals, and we were able to talk, laugh, drink to get drunk, bid each other farewell, and she talked of visiting Australia, which she won't, and we talked of going to Okinawa together as friends, which we won't, and she let me kiss her a last time as if there was still more to come.

I was feeling good this morning, liberated, dreaming of the future on the train. The children at the kindergarten had missed me (I was away for a week) and leapt into my arms. Then the afternoon lull, the pause in the breath of the day, and I mourned my lover and grew angry and sad and a song formed in my mind and I sang it to the children who stopped what they were doing and watched me as I cried.

Maybe I'll change my mind again, maybe I'll find someone else quick smart, take advantage of my exoticism once more, but I don't think so. I think I will come home, perhaps in two months, where living is easy, where I can understand nuances, where I can speak, where the easy familiarities, easy irritations, the ease will take me up into it. The global village is a myth, a vast overstatement. Culture and language and religion are far bigger dividers than the idealists believe; the tens of wars post-WWII - the war after which there could supposedly be no war - show it up as a desperate hope. I am an alien here, and I feel it keenly. No wonder the long termers all wear matching hangdog expressions; first generation migrants trying to break in to a society which has passively resisted outsiders for millenia, absorbing and improving good foreign ideas - kanji (China), the Industrial Revolution (Germany), postwar capitalism (America) - but not foreign people.

This evening, another train, the sun slowly extinguishing itself in the sea.

Childrens shrine, Miyajima

Cheap okonomiyaki in Hiroshima

Riverside, Kyoto

Daishoin temple, Miyajima
Little trip

My minor chord of heartbreak managed to coincide with the long awaited arrival of my parents; the same, unchanged, a little older. Roles inverted, Row and I flexed our Japanese for a week, touring western Japan by car and controlling the Family Agenda. Rural Shikoku, narrow roads and villages perched on the lips of valleys, clinging to hills; the swathes of vegetation dotted with massive concrete scars. Japan's construction industry is a massive force perhaps corresponding to the military-industrial complex in the States. Since Japan hasn't been trusted with an army for fifty years or so, the main job-creation engine in rural areas is construction. Massive freeways erupt from hillsides going nowhere special, a few token cars; vast concrete barriers pin back mountains to let the road go through. Japan's backwaters - overrepresented in the parliament - are paid back handsomely in jobs and largely pointless work. There are stories of roads being built only to be ripped up and rebuilt two months later, to keep the work coming. Seeing Japan by road made me more than a little sad; the countryside is often ugly, marred and pockmarked by a form of progress which resembles war on nature. It seems a lot of the Japanese personality is about controlling those things which are controllable and enduring the rest stoically. A sleepless night camping by the side of the road in Shikoku led to Hiroshima and the Peace Museum, a nauseating experience made surreal by emerging into the light to see the city stretching away in all directions; modern, new, busy. A Japanese-American couple wandered the museum hand in hand, awkwardly together. Hiroshima gave way to Miyajima, one of the Three Famous Scenic Spots in Japan, which largely lived up to its name. Inland to Tsuwano, where my father nearly managed to walk into a con; a Filipino woman and Japanese man inviting us to their town to stay in their house, so friendly, so inviting; he a poor sculptor, look at my sculptures, perhaps, and dad saying yes yes sounds great and mum and I baulking and sensing a push, a drive which didn't fit with their pleasant offer.

A gas station, my father opening the door and absentmindedly asking attendant to fillerupmate which was greeted with silence; sumptuous feasts of sashimi and sushi, nameless clusters of vegetables, finely cooked fish; a Buddhist temple-come-youth hostel, the owner, a grandmother and her small grandson, afflicted with spina bifida, dragging his useless legs around the table and worming his way into our affections; skindiving in 15 metres of water, the foreign underwater sounds of underwater, strange cracks and pops, terrified of sharks as always; a fisherman darkskinned and smelling of sea shinning down into a rock crack for us and emerging with fresh seaweed for us to eat.

It was great; it was a trifle stifling, like living at home again; it was my first time being a tourist, living off my father's job; I was depressed, awaiting final word from Kiyono. I thought a lot and perhaps from that I want to come home. I feel if I leave now, Japan has won, outlasted me, given the lie to my endurance, my strength, but I have the taste of the place in my mouth, I can walk the streets like a local, I will come back to live in Kyoto, the city of cities, a world city not in the sense of New York or Tokyo which are moneyed places, but a city which is steeped in culture and carries its years with pride. I want to come back when I can speak Japanese, when I have access to the culture in a way which I can only dream of now.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Two sketches from train

Casting about, fishing for conversations, an intersection with someone anyone, anything to use the yellow glaze of booze before his time expires. It's a late night train, of course; cheap watch, nearing sixty, skin much, much darker than the norm, a face like Suharto; squat, toadlike, or, more flatteringly, weathered, a face made to be captured in terracotta, jug form. His head in rolling arcs disrupts the train, the neat inertia of forwards-all, stopping no stations, collecting the shoulders of the two salarymen on either side. They conduct solo operations and mount shuffling campaigns to make him aware of his incredible awkwardness; they rise to their feet and slump back down, a whole body belly-dance, adjusting themselves and their papers continuously.

He's not polite enough to suffer unhappiness; bear loneliness quietly, not prepared to be subjugated beneath the logic of Train and Society, not going to go quietly; bag falling noisily; hawking and promising vomit which never comes. I dream his vomit for him: an huge ballooning eruption of hurt and disatisfaction with the whole life thing, covering the train and forcing them, us, to notice him properly for the first time.

I pause at the station to try and capture him before he leaves, steal a little of him but he's at my station too somehow and nearly tripping over my feet, muttering to himself. I wonder what his brand of unhappiness is; why he loiters talking to the young un's congregating beneath the station, why he makes his way home slowly. Unhappy marriage? No marriage? A taste for drinking?



Fat schoolgirl, resting on her chest, self-contained, a barrel of flesh. But her eyes! A little sunken, her cheeks threatening to overgrow and bury them. She peers out of her flesh wall - fat, rare - with eyes that speak and say their owner will never be happy, eyes that float around the train, skittish, fearful of landing in one place for too long and drawing attention to herself and her bulk and presence, her skirt billowing out as she leaves the train, a lumbering, measured gait.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

The Hotels of Luurve

I hadn't realised exactly what I'd been missing out on until I found this. Just ignore the dubious sexual puns. God, the love hotels that I've gone to so far have been positively drab in comparison. You should also go here if you want to be a little bit shocked. My favourite is the "Sexy Cross" bondage unit. I don't think the Pope will be particularly pleased.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Vitriol and girls

The rainy season is overdue. June is meant to be charged with humidity and buildups culminating in massive downpours, but so far, zilch. Today was the hottest day since I've been here; sweating in airconditioned spaces, the sense that the air is still and pregnant, growing. Then, on the train home I saw it - a giant cloudmass, grey, roiling over Osaka-proper.


I had an enlightening, rather stereotypically male conversation with T, one of my students at the conversation school I moonlight at. T speaks pretty much perfect English, so this time we talked about his lovelife. He'd been wary of women since his last live-in girlfriend left him an envelope and a key on his table after finding out about his indiscretions once too often. He'd been seeing about ten girls, most as a casual thing. Astonishing, I said, is that normal? I mean, I know Japan is free from all the Christian hangups about sex, but this is quite extreme. Not common, he said, but people are freer these days, even girls. Women used to be fiercely loyal to their boyfriends while their men often strayed, but these days, infidelity is equalising.

He mentioned that he'd dated an Australian girl and my interest was piqued. White-guy-Japanese-girl is a relatively common combination; white-girl-Japanese-guy is damn rare. His face turned a trifle rueful. Everyone used to call me hero, he said, it was very embarassing. Hero? Is that because Japanese guys resent Westerners dating Japanese girls, I asked. No, not really resent, he said, but, you know how it is. Anyway, Western guys have completely different tastes in girls anyway - they go for girls with more traditional features. The conversation shifted to Kiyono and he asked why she wouldn't come back to Australia with me, and I said it's because I think cross cultural relationships are damn hard work, long term, you see all these jaded married gaijin hanging round Japan looking uncomfortable, never quite at home. The lesson finished and I sauntered out, happy and intrigued, only to realise that the rest of the teachers and my boss, who are all married to Japanese women, had been listening in. Changing my saunter to a skulk, I left hurriedly.


Last weekend Row and I tried to hitch to Shikoku. We failed, miserably. We caught the bus as far as we thought necessary and jumped out, keen. A cardboard sign, a giant smile - who wouldn't want to pick us up? Unfortunately, we'd managed to find our way to Limboland, a nowhere place, and cars trundled by every five minutes with the drivers looking curiously at us. Two hours went by, and we decided to give up and catch the bus. The bus driver drove straight past, ignoring our frenzied waving and we slumped back into our little concrete hellhole of a bus shelter. The sun was blistering, and the shadows slowly lengthened as we waited for the next bus, two and a half hours away, with no real idea what we'd do if this one failed to stop too. The bus arrived, and disgorged some passengers. Wait, we shrieked, wait, please, and the driver said sorry, this place is drop-off only, and we begged and pleaded and made pathetic noises and clawed at the earth and he relented. We were nearly the only passengers and once our fellow passengers left, our driver turned to us, gave a broad smile and charged us a miniscule fee. So in a way we hitched after all. Then he turned private tour guide and took his massive bus down the side streets of Naruto to show us points of interest which were certainly not on his Defined Route. That night, we camped in an overgrown cemetery/playground, found a karaoke joint and sang horrible (we weren't drunk) duets to Grease before serenading each other with the likes of Maroon 5, Oasis, Radiohead, anything British and suitably loaded with emotion (you feel good after singing those type of songs). The next day we saw some whirlpools - strange seeing the sea acting like a river, with eddies and massive outflows - and caught a slow train to Hiwasa. This was traditional Japan; the train wound around lotus root paddies, past farming towns and rice paddies, small figures bent double, planting rice (gohan means both 'cooked rice' and 'meal'); thick rainforest. The heavens opened as we reached Hiwasa and we took refuge in an onsen, steaming ourselves outside while rain chilled the air. We swam in the sea; tried to espy the elusive sea turtles who came to lay eggs on the main beach with no success and pitched our tent at night, waking in the morning to discover we were on the main path leading to a temple.


I've decided to start the Fuckhead Gaijin Files because I have a large pool to draw upon and it makes me feel better. So: Matt B, you're first.

It was to my complete and utter dismay to discover you working at my kindergarten. I found you objectionable within ten minutes, and horrible after a day. I waited out the two weeks you were there patiently, safe in the knowledge I'd never have to see you again. Can I perhaps remind you of some of your more dubious statements. Remember when G was walking ahead of us up the escalator and you said nice ass, but you'd have to cut out her voicebox. Or when you thought it a good idea to boast of your laziness and of how easy the job was to the exact same people who had to make up the slack, you worthless fuck. Yes, you were charming, but like many charming people, you had it neatly counterbalanced with the nastiest underside of any creature I have ever encountered. Why did you get married? It's not like you regard it as a constraint on your sex life. Was it perhaps for the visa, to gain access to this supposed Land of Easy Pussy? Dare I ask, have you ever had a female friend. No, fucking someone doesn't count as friendship. It's when they're more than meat. What else? Misogyny, stupidity, plain nastiness, bitchery. Ah! Racism, of course. Everything and everyone is stupid here? Then please, go home and die.

Phew. I've been holding onto that one for a while. What a complete fuckhead. Of course, he's good friends with the atrocious Ponyboy. Sigh.

Who else, who else? Well, misogyny and racism are popular pursuits, with a sideline in violent homophobia. What was it D said recently after being ticked off by J, who's Filipino? In my country, she'd be washing dishes or cleaning toilets her whole life. Who's she think she is to tell me off? Who else? Ah! Of course. P, the rapist. Now one of the single mothers at the kindergarten is worried she's pregnant. She used to be in love with you, you know that. You know her silence meant no. Didn't you?

Right, enough vitriol for now. But god almighty, So Many Utter Fuckwits.


A guidebook is quite a lot like porn. Often, when I descend from its lofty fantastical depictions of reality, I realise I am already in Japan, on a Japanese train surrounded by Japanese people, and I am being very, very mundane. Fuck, I need money. I've been offered the possibility of doing a medical experiment for 5000 bucks in October. Will I do it? Of course.

Them crazy tshirt designers. Is nothing sacred?

Unusual vending machines, Hiwasa, Shikoku. The orange lighting is so turtles aren't attracted to the light.

Sunset over supermarket, Shikoku.

Nikkabokkas, working-class wear. Looks a trifle dangerous, but god, it permits an awesome swagger. Hence, I had to be all covert and take the picture from behind.

Early morning light. The school uniforms here are supposedly modelled on 19th century Prussian school uniforms. They look it.

The eerie spider crabs at Osaka Aquarium

I've been puzzling over what the word 'cute' means and what it evokes for a while now and I reckon I've finally cracked it. Men use 'cute' in reference to girls, small furry animals and children. Women tend to use it more for children and animals. But the emotion which the word describes is the same - it's protectiveness, a biological defence mechanism. So cuter children get more attention and do better out of life - it's in their interest to be cute. This is taken further when girl-children grow up and find that it's well and truly in their interest to be cute, to evoke protectiveness in men, because then they get more attention and presumably better protected, in an evolutionary sense. In that sense, makeup is an evolutionary strategy, as are clothes/plumage.


Night is where humans make their own light. Osaka is utterly different at night than by day. A serious city, the swarming working heart of Japan by day; a neon paradise by night. People here work hard and play hard; the city inverts itself neatly every 12 hours, a tidal shift in the mood.


I was thinking about hostess work and where it came from and then it clicked (god, I'm slow) - hostesses are the continuation of the geisha, the famous entertainers of men. Hostess bars are cheaper, more affordable and hostesses don't devote their lives to it. The work is looked down upon, but it permits Kiyono independence from her family and from men, if she so desires, which is a rare thing.


I finally had a satisfying showdown with my fool of a boss last week. I wasn't planning it, but J (my sole fellow Australian) and I had been conducting whispered seditious conversations between our classrooms about Working Conditions, shit pay, the fact that a number of the other workers had seen the light and abandoned our kindie for a better paying one. So I was determined to Bring It Up with my boss when I went in to renew my contract. I was surprised at myself; because I don't respect this man at all, I went a lot further than I anticipated. I still have a job, but that's because he can't find anyone to replace me. I don't think I've ever been this honest with a person with some authority over me before. My opening gambit was this: the working conditions are bad, and that's why your staff keep leaving for better paying jobs. He sputtered a little and made some noises about how in any organisation some people are always unhappy but most people were happy with the wages. Here, I vacillated for a while before deciding to push on. Yes, I said, but most of your staff are not native speakers of English, and they're just grateful not to be doing sex work (the Filipinos) or biding their time waiting for professional jobs (it's the most overqualified kindie imaginable; three Nepalese with Phds, my fellow teacher, C, with a Masters in Early Childhood Education from the University of the Phillipines and there was a Nigerian scientist for a while as well). Hence, most of them can't get better paying jobs. But your native English speakers, such as myself, can easily get more money. And you need a smattering of white faces just for looks; sure, everyone speaks English well, but if you want to look like an English kindergarten, you need some native speakers. This wasn't received particularly well and he started smouldering. You know, he said abruptly, you're lucky I'm a nice boss. If you said this to your boss in Australia, you wouldn't have a job. (Nice veiled threat). For some reason, I didn't give a shit. It was a thrill, baiting this man, because he knew I didn't need the job anymore, not like I once did when I first arrived, poor and desperate. It was almost brinkmanship. My next move was to subtly introduce a nasty idea. Yes, I said, but in Australia I'd probably have a union I could turn to, to counterbalance the power of you-the-Employer. You know, it's in these sort of conditions that unions form (as if unions are a type of bacteria that need to be oppressed under just the right conditions). This was not well received and the conversation swiftly ended in stalemate, as he claimed to be unable to change pay rates and also to be ignorant of his promise earlier this year to lift wages and potentially introduce sick and holiday pay for long term staff (there's an idea!). I couldn't push it further, and the conversation died in a heap. There was an odd sense of compromise in the air, as if we were a couple and had just had a fight about a Serious Issue, and we danced around each other and made small talk and at the end, he wavered for a little while before ducking off and returning with goman, 500 bucks of contract deposit money I had given up all hope of seeing and that bought me off and mollified me nicely, I can tell you. I'll quit in a month or so, but I'm glad I was able to say what I thought. He did have one good point; the wages aren't bad if you're a Japanese woman, about on average. But I'm not and I don't have a Japanese salaryman to keep me in the manner to which I am accustomed; I haven't even stooped to sponging off Kiyono yet.

I've been deliberating about Kiyono recently, trying to figger it out. See, I know I've got to leave and that cross-cultural relationships are damn hard work long term (the hangdog faces of the long-term married gaijin tell me that, worn down by years of never quite feeling at home) but for now I want to be in love in the knowledge that it will end, to heighten the now. But I think Kiyono wants to insulate herself; be close, but not so close that it will hurt when I leave. I know it's wrong and irresponsible of me to want both things - love and freedom - but I do, I want her to love me and I her and for this to happen in the light of the fact of my other life back home, away from this dreamland. She asks, drunk at her favourite bar, if I love her, and I give perhaps the limpest response to that question that I've ever given. I think I will, I say. Five minutes later, I upgrade that weak response to yes. I'm an idiot. But I need her, and perhaps she needs someone like me now, a rebound temporary boyfriend. Later, perhaps as punishment, she tells me she loves wrestling and literally throws me across the bar, pinning me down with surprising strength.

This is complicated by the fact that my brother is leaving for home in a month and a half and things must change. Either I move in with Kiyono for love and economic reasons (haven't asked yet) or I take off north and hitchhike to Hokkaido to weather the summer, working as a WWOOFer. I'm leaning towards taking off north. The seasons in Japan are heightened versions of Australian seasons; we've got nothing to compare. Winter is brutal and summer is just plain nasty; stink hot at 6 am, humidity hanging over the city like a cloud. Kyoto has the most extreme weather in Japan, followed by Osaka. I sweat profusely on the airconditioned train, I sweat at my airconditioned work. I can't stand humidity; I'm ready to move on, ready to say goodbye to English teaching and nappies for a while, and I don't think Kiyono will come with me. This is going to be difficult.

Rats in a new environment suppress their extraneous urges (breeding) until they are settled; perhaps this is me too, in terms of love. Love is not so much the luxury of does she or doesn't she, it's more of a mutual need, here. If not for Kiyono, I'd feel terribly lonely, adrift, a tumbleweed flipping through the days of my visa. But, I need newness, I want to learn Nihongo (something to take home, a way to return), so off to Hokkaido. I didn't come here to be comfortable, I came to be uncomfortable, to learn. I don't want my mind to settle over a place like a cloud and obscure the remarkable everyday. It's happened already in Osaka; I rarely notice my surroundings on the way to/from work, to/from Kiyono's. I want to notice things again. But a job demands settledness. Will Kiyono come? She's settled here.

See, I really want to learn Japanese, to be able to speak so that when I come back, I can actually communicate. But teaching English means using English; if I live somewhere remote, English won't open any doors. Japanese only. And that means I'll actually learn. Learning Japanese is like slowly gaining a map of this place, really really slowly. The strength of Japanese culture is, I think, at least partly maintained by the difficulty and difference of the language. It's like a massive party of a hundred twenty million or so to which I was not invited but gatecrashed and now I stand awkwardly in the corners of the society while the main thrum, everything, life goes on all around me. I can start and leave conversations now but I have nothing to fill in the middle. I've transplanted myself to a place where many things are familiar - high-tech modernity - but where the underlaying layer of culture, tradition and above all, language, is different. I feel like I'm starting again, and I am, I suppose. Reconsidering journalism; perhaps teaching? a book? If I wrote a book I'd want to avoid writing a shit one. Too many of those. But here I am, illiterate and wide-eyed standing beneath huge hotels and train stations the size of an Australian airport. I don't know the relative strength of words - "tabun" I was using as 'maybe' when it's closer to 'probably'. It would take me twenty years to be able to understand nuances. But the real challenge is words without equivalents, slight variations in the way Japanese people perceive the world as compared to my English viewpoint.

I love that when Japanese people speak, the particles are emphasised - wa, to, mo, ni - and they sound like linchpins, pivot points on which the conversation turns.


I want to live my life forcefully, as if I'm going to die tomorrow. Hence, I'm in Japan, a place which is new to me. I want to live intentionally, rather than drifting. But it's hard work to remain conscious, and I usually just slip back into the waking dream which is the safe way I live my life. Real, intentional life is terrifying. Sometimes, I manage not to care about the inevitability of my extinction and the end of all things, which deflates my (modest) ambitions instantly. But most of the time I just do what everyone does and ignore it, ignore death, concentrating on my succession of nows, head down. It's as if our minds veer away from sickness/death, a large blind spot of discomfort. Look there's a wheelchair, a cancer patient - and my mind blocks out the importance of this fact because I don't want to know. Like nature, really. You see shoals of fish fleeing a predator, not looking back. The fish know that on the margins, they are losing some of their number, but they rarely look back, only snatching tiny terrified glances before locking their sights on the horizon, hoping they won't be the next to be silently engulfed as everyone races together.


Japanese kids are so much more touchy-feely than we are, when playing with their own sex. There is a famous prank which involves jamming a thumb up someone's arse to see the response; like the classic rugby tactic. Foreign teachers are by no means immune; I've had it done once to me and I nearly died.


How cool are the kids here? Fucking cool. Notes on guys: a New Dork tshirt; a fuckyoufuckingfuck cap, a proliferation of chains (not lame skater wallet chains but a crosspollination from the bondage underground), innumerable studded pouches coupled with true cowboy boots and shirts dipping down to pecs; tanned skin, lightly muscled. Obscenely playful hair. Beyond metrosexual into a full acceptance of male fashion and equal vanity on behalf of both sexes. Not everyone is ultra-trendy, but most people dress better and crazier than Australians do. One leg up one leg down jumpsuit. Nikkabokkas, massive flared pants, working class wear, with two-toed boots. Tight tanktops and headbands; svelte hoodies with stripes. Girls: Girls hair here is amazing, like a cascade, thicker hair, an explosion out from the scalp. Subculture fashions - tanned girls with hair a little bleached and frothed, going against the mainstream wish to be whiter than other Asians (hence widespread use of umbrellas in summer). Waif hippies; beret-toting girls decked out in glittering stones, peaked beanies, silk belts, heavily distressed jeans, modified with anime overlays on the jeans, gothic lolitas, dark goth mixed with ye olde dresses almost like corsets, self-modified jackets, waistcoats. And both guys and girls decorate their mobiles with trinkets, sprigs of jewelery, plastic figurines, pictures of themselves and friends dotted around the screen.


It's late in rice planting season and if you walk through Osaka's suburbs, you see an occasional farmer plowing his field, ten centimetres deep in water. At night, I can't sleep because ten thousand frogs croak in frenzied bursts from the water below. Only in Japan.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Shameless plug

Erm. So, ah, next weekend is my birthday and you know how when people are overseas they sometimes get all misty and nostalgic on their birthdays and want emails of, y'know, happy tidings and an overuse of capital letters? If you're around Kyoto, you can drop into Bar Moonwalk this Friday night but otherwise, um, yeah. I know this is low, but I want to feel wanted. So, want me.

Here, it's not so hard. Just copy and paste this one:

Dear Doug
Happy birthday! I/we really miss you. You've been gone for sooooo long. Gee, Melbourne just isn't the same without you. Yup. (Insert personalised message of grief and longing here).

Love, YourNameHere

See? Easy!

Thursday, June 02, 2005


Coming home from work last night in Kobe, there was a disturbance in the street. Everyone froze. This is Japan; there is no civic unrest. A man was beating a woman around the head, snarling at her before delivering another solid blow. She was protecting herself but not running; a bag of rubbish still held in one hand from her donut shop. At first, I thought it was her boss, berating her for some mistake and becoming violent, but after a few more cursory blows, he walked off, cursing her at high volume. The street slowly uncoiled. No one had done anything. We were all paralysed. Slowly, timidly, a few of the patrons in the next door cafe edged over to the woman, who was cradling her head, stunned. I was on the other side of a busy street, and I couldn't do anything. Short mad visions flashed through my mind - how dare he! why didn't anyone do anything? why were we all paralysed! - and I fantasised about following him and kicking him in the balls. He must have bumped into the bag of rubbish and lost it - but what anger!

My mind flashed on - not a salaryman; white pants, but he carried himself as if he were important, as if he were someone - and then I thought I knew. Japan's largest yakuza syndicate, the Yamaguchi-gumi, has its headquarters in Kobe. When the Great Hanshin Earthquake savaged the city ten years ago, it wasn't the government that responded first, it was the yakuza who provided emergency assistance. That might be it. My anger dissipated quickly - to try to punish a possible yakuza member righteously would be death.

I was quite shaken up by it - I've never seen someone beaten in public, let alone a man beating a woman - and more so because of my complete powerlessness.