Japan: As odd as you think

Danyk gets help.

Last time I saw Danyk, we were underage drinkers on the wrong side of the river. We were at his father’s place, who really didn’t mind having a bunch of drunk (but incredibly well intentioned) 16 year olds hanging around.

There was nothing particularly rowdy about it – I spent most of the night talking about writing with his father. So almost 20 years later, it was a little odd to find myself talking about writing with Danyk. Even odder, considering he now lives in Japan.

You live in Japan – what the Hell?
Yeah. Japan. I’ve been living here for seven years now. Man, has it been that long? Like Charles Bukowski says, ‘The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses…’ Ten years ago, I was living in Korea for a year. Came back to Ottawa. Found a job teaching ESL downtown for two years. Met my wife (who’s Japanese) and decided to move to Osaka, Japan. Now I’m an English teacher at an all-girl’s private catholic high school next to Osaka Castle. What the hell, indeed!

Is Japan as weird as we all think it is? What’s with the robots and naked cartoon hotties having sex with octopuses? Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about, either.
Where to begin? The best thing about living here is that just going out of your house guarantees you’ll see something weird. Green tea-flavored Kit Kat bars, red bean-flavored Pepsi, girls in spacesuits handing out hyper-mentholated cigarette packs to bar patrons. They make space-age toilets but still squat over porcelain troughs. Here homeless people never utter the words ‘spare some change’ and they take their slippers off before entering the blue tarp homes they set up in parks…

Octopus porn: Don't try to understand

The foreigners here also like to contribute to the already alien view the natives have of us. Gregg Brown, a fellow teacher and magnum P.I. look-a-like, started a bocce league here six years ago. This European lawn bowling game is usually played on pristine level-ground playing fields, but not here! Grass is a rare commodity (all-kinds) and the parks are more gravely than green but that doesn’t stop us. We play it like a mini-putt version, beers in hand (it’s ok to drink in public), around obstacles like trees, turds, and tiny tots. Once a year, we have a tournament in Utsubo Park. Everyone dresses up in costumes, gets drunk on sangria, and we get the only Canadian-owned pizza shop to deliver a crate of pizzas.

And that’s just the PG-13 kind of weird.

I wonder if the etymology of the word kinky comes from ‘Kinki,’ the Japanese word for the area that includes Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe. Anime has got to be one of Japan’s biggest exports after cars, 3D TVs and Packaged Panties. Japanese people are perfectionists. They take the best thing a country or culture has to offer and try and improve upon it. That applies to pornography as much as it does to robots. In a homogeneous society, it’s hard to think different, let alone look different. So those that do have to really try to think outside the bento box. It will always defy explanation and definition when perceived by another culture, though. Just try explaining to an American why Canadians put vinegar on french fries or to explain how good bacon tastes to a Muslim. They just wont’ get it. Unless they try.

Ed note: kink: 1670s, a nautical term, from Du. kink “twist in a rope” (also found in French and Swedish), probably related to O.N. kika “to bend at the knee” (see kick). Figurative sense of “odd notion, mental twist” first recorded in Amer.Eng., 1803, in writings of Thomas Jefferson.
kinky: 1844, “full of kinks,” from kink + -y (2). Meaning “odd, eccentric” is from 1889; that of “sexually perverted” is from 1959.

What is it about leaving home that causes people to become artistic?
There are sayings like, ‘wherever you go, there you are.’ and ‘a leopard can’t change it’s spots.’ The implication is that you can’t change who you are. But then there are stories like that of the Ugly Duckling in which the moral implies that you are only as ugly as the people around you imply. What this means to the expat artist is that you can’t really shine unless you immerse yourself in a situation that nurtures your talent for creative thought and desire for reinvention. Here I’ve gotten work as a voice actor, an iJay (a term I’ve coined for djing with two ipods), I’ve also organized photo scavenger hunt exhibitions (Kameraoke), designed flyers and dvd covers. I am now studying Aikido and fronting a band called Union Trouble (acknowledged by everyone but the bassist). Performing and writing have always come naturally to me and being around so many expat artists just inspires one to express more, do more, see more, and be more.

Cheap Trick: Big in Japan

What’s the music scene like there? Are people still crazy for Cheap Trick?
…and Helloween, Extreme, Eric Clapton, Yngwe Malmsteen, Vai, Satriani, and all the other guitar greats. Why that can’t translate into an equally rich music scene here in Japan, I’ll never know. You’d go broke trying to hit all the shows played by the reunited bands of the past and all the new ones playing at Summer Sonic and Fuji Rock Festival. I take comfort in the fact that the next best thing to going to these concerts is saying you could have gone but CHOSE not to. What are you going to do when Bob Dylan and AC/DC are playing the same night at two different venues?

You have a quote on your page: “That wellspring of creativity don’t fill itself. Keep at it.” What do you do to keep the well full?
I write as often as I shit. Morning pages are what some people call it. Writing three pages every morning is like jogging around the track. It keeps you toned and ready for when real inspiration strikes. What I mean by morning pages is that you pick up a pen, a writing journal you pay no more than a dollar for and you fill three pages with flotsam and jetsam of the waking mind. You do this at the beginning of your day to purge yourself of all that prevents you from simply being. It’s a great stress-reliever. A fear written on a page is a fear easily diminished. This is my routine, or as close as I get to one.

I rarely go back and read what I’ve written, unless I’m looking for something specific. I also write in an anti-chronological way to prevent looking at things as ‘great-good-ok-shit-blank.’ Picture approaching a notebook the way Quentin Tarantino approaches a storyline: I write my first scribbles in the middle. The next thing I write between the front and middle. Then I write something in between the back and middle. That way, as the notebook fills up, I can find inspirational ideas next to shitty ones, but all the time I feel compelled to write more.


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