Archive for February, 2012

The Yakuza Killings

February 17th, 2012 No comments

Scene of the crime.

Last night I hung out with Trey, and learned a lot more about the shooting that took place at Denny’s on Tuesday which sent my school into a panic.

According to Trey’s “sources”, the incident had something to do with the Yakuza, an organized-crime syndicate that controls just about every ‘seedy’ business in Japan such as strip-clubs, casinos, and snack-bars. I’d never heard the name before, but I researched them today and what I found was rather fascinating.

They’ve been around for almost 400 years, ever since the Edo period when members of the lowest social groups such as peddlers and gamblers began to organize and slowly accumulate power and influence. Over the centuries they’ve grown to become not just the largest organized crime syndicate in Japan, but in the entire world, with an estimated membership of over 100,000.

Unlike the mafia we’re familiar with, the Yakuza are not quite so underground. They have considerable influence within the Japanese government itself, and often work in coordination with the police when it comes to handling certain matters.

But it seems they handle most of their matters internally, which is probably what went down at the Denny’s on Tuesday. According to Trey, four members of the Yakuza were sitting together when someone they all knew came in and pulled one of the gang members to another table to have a private conversation. It’s unclear as to whether this fifth person was Yakuza himself or not. But after a few minutes, he pulled out a gun and shot the Yakuza member in the chest and fled the scene.

The injured Yakuza was rushed to the hospital where he did succumb to his wounds and die. There was a manhunt under way for the shooter for three days, until he just turned up yesterday in Kujukuri—the town where I always go to the beach—shot dead in the back of a van. The official story from the police is that it was a suicide. Nobody believes the official story.

It’s possible that the shooter had been Yakuza himself and under instructions to kill a member who had done something wrong, and was later killed by the Yakuza to keep him quiet. It’s also possible he was a member of a smaller, rival gang and the Yakuza killed him out of revenge. But he apparently knew all of the Yakuza in the restaurant, so I think he was also a member. It’s possible that the killing was not planned and the Yakuza killed the shooter for stepping out of line.

But Trey explained that it almost certainly was orchestrated by someone, as guns are incredibly difficult to come by in Japan—they are massively illegal—and the only way a person is going to get their hands on one is if they have strong reason to believe they’re going to use it.

The extreme dearth of gun violence in Japan makes this a relatively extraordinary event. Such shootings only happen one or two times a year in all of Japan. The shooting at the Denny’s a block away from my school was not just local news but national news. It’s no wonder the phones were ringing off the hook on Tuesday—parents must have seen or heard about it within minutes of hours of the story breaking, and given that in the entire country this shooting just happened to take place a block away from the school their child goes to it’s no wonder they would freak out. But the kids weren’t in any danger.

As for the Denny’s it seems I’ll never get a chance to eat there (not that I was eager to before). Whereas if there’s a shooting at a place of business in America it usually shuts down for a day or two and then re-opens as quickly as possible, it’s such a rare thing in Japan that there will forever be a shroud of fear surrounding the idea of the Togane Denny’s and that business is officially done with.

It’s crazy to think that the eyes of the entire country of Japan have been on my little town all week. News cameras were undoubtedly not just pointing at the Denny’s on Tuesday but at the school nearby. My little ol’ school was in the national news! While I was there! What are the odds?

So that’s the story of what is now being called “the Yakuza killings”. Pretty cool.

In other news, hanging out with Trey proved even more enjoyable than I think either of us expected. We talked a lot of politics, went out for dinner at Coco’s (right across the street from the Denny’s, now no longer a dining option), and watched a couple of episodes of Mad Men afterwards. He told me about trips he occasionally takes that are organized by foreigners who gather groups of foreigners and Japanese people—including girls who are interested in foreigners—to spend the weekend doing things like snowboarding. He invited me along on the next trip, but unfortunately these things cost a pretty penny and I’ve got to save my money for the sailing trip in May. But from what he says, these kids of trips are my best bet for finding a long-term Japanese girlfriend.

In blogging news, my recent piece “The Fictional Obama” is the first thing I posted to Open Salon in months, but it was made an Editor’s Pick and put on the front page where it attracted a lot of readers and comments. Apparently I’ve still got a knack for political writing so maybe I’ll get back in the habit of doing it more often.

In school news, aside from Tuesday’s excitement it’s been a dreadfully slow week. The third-graders are still busy with end-of-year exams, and the first-graders had exams this week too. I had no lessons at all on Wednesday but Interac insisted I come in anyway, which meant I got to spend a solid eight hours in the teacher’s room doing little more than killing time. I was told the lessons for next week so I got to spend some time preparing for them, but unfortunately that doesn’t take as long as I’d like it to. Then today I was supposed to have four third-grade lessons back-to-back in the morning (followed by an empty afternoon) but Ms. S- decided at the last minute she’d rather give her students a test than have me do the game I’d prepared, which was bad news for both me and the students. At least I was able to do it in Mrs. T-’s class, thus making it the most enjoyable 45-minutes of the day by far.

There’s barely a month left in the school-year. I’m really going to miss teaching, but I’m definitely not going to miss these long-stretches of sitting in an office with nothing to do.

Gangs of Togane

February 14th, 2012 No comments

There was a bit of excitement around here yesterday, as a shooting took place at the Denny’s just a block away from where my school is.

The principal came on the loudspeaker second period to let everyone know that ambulances and possibly helicopters would be coming, so the classrooms should close their curtains in order to keep the distraction to a minimum. I found out between periods that there had been a shooting and the victim was in bad shape. Not only that, but the shooter had gotten away and the police were now looking for him.

Togane being a small town among many small Japanese towns, the shooting of course made the local news, and by the next period the phones in the teacher’s room were ringing off the hook with parents concerned about their kids’ safety. As if the gunner’s next logical move after getting away with shooting someone would be to continue on a rampage at the nearby Junior High School. But of course it’s always best to play it safe. All doors and gates were locked and police were patrolling the school’s perimeter. All afternoon classes were cancelled and the kids were allowed to go home as soon as their parents could come pick them up.

It was hard to come by any solid information, but from ALT-gossip on Facebook I gathered that the shooting was gang-related, in which case the kids were in even less danger than I figured. But as far as I know they haven’t caught the guy yet, and I don’t know if the victim survived, so it’s quite possible he got away with murder, at least for now.

The police still had a perimeter around the Denny’s when I walked home yesterday. I’ll never look at that place the same way again.

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The Fictional Obama

February 11th, 2012 No comments

Illustration by Gerald Scarfe

Listening to these Republican candidates talk about Obama, I often wish we actually had the kind of president they’re attacking. The paint him as some kind of progressive lion, zealously going after the super-rich on behalf of the working class, steadfastly holding to an ideology of civil liberties even if it compromises America’s safety, and systematically dismantling our empire abroad, all the while apologizing to the world for our previous transgressions. I don’t know who this person is that they keep railing against, but it’s not the Obama I know.

The fact is that the Republicans are banking on the majority of their base having a completely distorted view of the president thanks to conservative news sources like Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, etc. These media outlets have made a calculated decision to create their own narrative about who Obama is and what he wants to do, to emphasize every tiny little thing that supports that narrative and de-emphasize, ignore, or even outright lie about anything that doesn’t.

The Obama you see on Fox News is not a real person but actually a fictional character based on the stereotype of liberals that conservatives have in their minds. He wants to raise taxes, impose strict regulations on business, cut defense, eliminate gun rights, encourage more abortions and gay marriages, read terrorists their rights, and purge all religion from the public sphere. When the Republican presidential candidates talk to their debate audiences and the crowds at their campaign rallies about Obama, they’re talking about this guy, a radically liberal president who—unfortunately for them—doesn’t actually exist.

The real Obama hasn’t raised taxes. He’s far too timid to take the political risk. He’s cut taxes across the board and agreed to extend the Bush tax-cuts for two years. He says he’ll fight to let them expire next time, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

As for the idea that he’s imposing crippling regulations on businesses, that is simply absurd. Barack Obama is the Goldman Sachs president. His entire financial team and his last two chiefs of staff have been Wall Street insiders, and according to internal memos it would appear that they dictate his every move in that area. The “historic financial reform” legislation that passed last year is widely acknowledged by bankers to be a complete joke. Not one of the people who caused the financial crisis of 2008 has been prosecuted for committing fraud, and Wall Street continues to thrive thanks to taxpayer bailouts (which Obama supported) while the rest of the country struggles.

I hear over and over again that Obama has drastically cut defense spending. Simply not true. Defense spending has increased every year since Obama took office, it’s just that the rate of increase has gone slightly down thanks to the cutting of a few strategically unnecessary projects like stealth-fighters designed to fight the Cold War. Some might say that it’s merely stretching the truth to refer to a slower rate of increase as a “cut”, but I call it lying.

And as for the whole general idea that Obama is weak on defense, consider his doubling-down in Afghanistan and the recent foray into Libya. He withdrew troops from Iraq but only because he was forced to under a treaty signed by the Bush administration which he tried and failed to renegotiate.

On gun rights, Obama has not lifted a finger to do anything about it, other than quietly write an op-ed on the issue after the Gabby Giffords shooting, in which he did not endorse a single reform that didn’t enjoy at least a 60% approval in polls. And afterwards he did absolutely nothing to attempt to initiate those reforms.

On social issues, one can point to the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and pretend that Obama is the “fierce advocate” of gay rights that he claimed to be, but he dragged his feet on that issue for quite some time and he still refuses to publicly come out in support of gay marriage. And on abortion, what has Obama done? Nothing. He won’t even touch that issue with a ten-foot pole, so afraid is he of the potential criticism. But he will make it harder for young women to obtain birth control.

When it comes to the idea that Obama would rather read terrorists their rights than keep America safe, this is where the distance between the real Obama and the fictional Obama is at its widest. Not only has Obama continued the civil liberties abuses that began under the Bush administration, but he’s actually expanded them, to the point where now it’s written into the law that the president has the power to throw American citizens into prison without a trial purely on suspicion of ties to terrorism. He appeared to make a genuine effort to close down Guantanamo as soon as he took office, but when that failed he never brought the issue up again, and the prison remains open and could conceivably remain so for generations. He doesn’t do waterboarding anymore but he hasn’t prosecuted anyone responsible for that war crime, all the while bringing the hammer down on whistleblowers like Bradley Manning who dared to make the abuses of our military public. Finally, if you really want to know whether or not Obama is soft on terror, you can ask Osama bin Laden.

And lastly, there’s the matter of religion. Newt Gingrich told a crowd of supporters that as soon as he takes office, he’ll repeal every single anti-religious act passed by the Obama administration. That shouldn’t take long, as no such acts have been passed by the real Obama. The fictional Obama is the one carrying out this “war on religion” we keep hearing about. After all, that guy is secretly Muslim and born in Kenya, and obviously on a crusade to undermine America’s Christian moral foundation.

Running against a fictional character may work for the Republican candidates in the primary, but it’s going to blow up in their faces if they try that in the general election, which is exactly what Obama is counting on. If Mitt Romney accuses Obama in a debate of raising taxes, Obama will be poised and ready with the facts to prove that he has not. The same goes for the accusation that he’s cut defense, gone after gun rights, and so on. The major political advantage Obama has garnered for himself by going against his liberal base time and again on nearly every single issue is that the Republicans can’t make a fact-based attack on him for doing any of the things that liberal presidents are normally criticized for doing. The best they can do is say that he talked about doing such things in the 2008 campaign.

If they’re forced to run against the real Obama, there are plenty of things to criticize him for, but they are guilty of those same things themselves. Romney could expose every last way in which Obama has been a puppet of Wall Street, but he knows quite well that he’s running to be the next puppet of the very same interests.

But the truly funny thing is that aside from his ties to the financial industry, most conservatives would like the real Obama if they knew who he was. If you just changed the D in front of his name to an R and read off a list of the actions he’s taken since his term began, they’d understand him to be a moderate who is slightly left-of-center on some issues but right-of-center on most.

The real Obama governs like a moderate Republican of former days, before the party drifted off to its right-wing fringe. The real Obama would win a national election against any of these clowns the Republicans have put forward in this primary, and they know it. That’s why they have no choice but to run against a fictional character instead, and it’s why they’re going to lose the general election when the curtain is pulled back and independent voters get a good look at who Obama actually is.

In the Land of the Herbivore Man

February 10th, 2012 No comments

On an episode of The Young Turks last week, one of the stories in the social-commentary hour had to do with a growing trend in Japan regarding the lack of interest in sexual activity among the Japanese youth. In a survey of young Japanese, 59% of females said they had little or no interest in sex or relationships, and 36% of males said the same. I was bothered by the uncharacteristically unreasonable commentary on the story from Cenk Uygur, who completely ignored the fact that 59% of women aren’t looking for sex and blamed the men who’ve given up on finding a sexual partner (for whom the term “herbivore men” has been coined) for their failure. I couldn’t help but write an e-mail to the show, and I might as well post it here:

I know it’s been well over a week since you guys discussed the story of the lack of interest in sexual activity among Japanese youth and the “herbivore men” but as someone who lives in Japan and has had some first-hand experience with this issue, Cenk’s egregious oversimplification and mischaracterization of the situation has stuck in my craw and I just need to say my piece.

Before I do I just want to mention that as a junior high school teacher, I actually find this lack of sexuality among young people to be a good thing. It wasn’t too long ago that I was a middle-school student in the U.S., and while I get the impression that American kids that age have become even more sexually active since the late 90s, even then there was some sex going on and at least a preponderance of puppy-love “relationships”. But Japanese students age 13-15 don’t seem to have any interest in the opposite sex whatsoever, which for their age I couldn’t be happier about. I love these kids and I want them to stay innocent as long as possible.

But when it comes to young adults for whom sexual exploration and romantic relationships are supposed to be the norm, it’s a completely different story, and Cenk is far too harsh on the Japanese men who are victims of the situation. He seems to think that the only reason 59% of young women are not looking for a partner is because the men are all sissies and no one appeals to them.

The 59% of young women in that survey who said they had no interest in sex are not sitting at the club waiting for a manly man to come sweep them off their feet—they’re sitting at home watching TV. Of the 41% who are open to sex and relationships, at least half of them—probably more but let’s be conservative—have boyfriends. That leaves roughly 20% of the female population for the remaining 80% of men (leaving out the lucky 20% with girlfriends) to compete for. To blame them for getting discouraged is like blaming the American unemployed for their plight when there is only 1 job-opening for every 5 job-seekers.

Statistically speaking, there are bound to be failures. A significant percentage of Japanese men are doomed to fail repeatedly (“again and again and again”), especially those who through no fault of their own lack the dominant-male gene. With every failure they get more discouraged, feel more and more worthless as human beings, and more likely to just give up altogether and attempt to find emotional and sexual fulfillment in a way that doesn’t require another person. Given the statistics it’s surprising to me that the number of these herbivore men is only 36%.

As an extremely self-confident guy who has had plenty of success with the ladies, it’s very easy for Cenk to sit on his high-horse and preach about going in strong and never giving up and that success will come eventually, but he’s never walked a day in their shoes.

Yes, there’s virtue in that attitude and it would be better for Japanese society if more men had that confidence and more women were open to it, but you have to understand the historical context. The alienating effect of modern technology plays a huge role, but you also have to consider that for thousands of years, women in Japanese society were treated as little more than semen-receptacles, and now that they’re more empowered it’s no wonder that nearly two-thirds of them reject that role and choose a non-sexual lifestyle. As for the men, it’s no wonder that many of them are rejecting their own role as the dominant-male and choosing a lifestyle that is the polar opposite of subjugating women. Perhaps that’s over-reactionary on their part, but it can’t be so easily dismissed as something done out of weakness, cowardice, or laziness.

Finally, regarding Cenk’s comment about how if he were young and single again he’d be teaching English in Japan and scooping up all the girls the Japanese men are too sissy to get, I wish he could somehow give it a try and see how he does. I’ve been a bit of a herbivore myself for most of my life but nowadays I’m much more confident, but in Japan it’s just not easy for anyone these days. Casual sex is one thing and if you try enough times you’re bound to succeed eventually, but if what you’re actually looking for is a long-term relationship, that is next to impossible in this climate unless you’ve got money or power, and foreigners who teach English for a living have neither.


February 6th, 2012 No comments

It was quite an interesting weekend for me. After getting off work at 4:15 on Saturday, I immediately went home and changed and got ready for party-mode. Trey picked me up shortly after 4:30 and drove us to Tateyama, a city near the southern end of Chiba prefecture. I was surprised at how big Chiba is, as the trip took almost two hours. The second half was littered with tunnels, revealing that the south of Chiba is far more mountainous than the north where I live.

After some minor logistical difficulties we met up with Victor—Trey’s friend from New Years’ Eve—and his friend, an Indian-Canadian guy named Anand. All three of them are JET ALTs, and Victor was stationed in Tateyama. He was very lucky in terms of the residence they put him in, a giant house he has all to himself, but unlucky in terms of its location, about a 20-minute drive outside of town. The plan was to go to a Valentine’s Day party in Tateyama that was being thrown by some friends of Trey and Victor, then invite a bunch of people back (and by “people” I mean “women”) to Victor’s place for an after-party. Victor and one of the guys in one of the bands at the party had spent the whole day getting his place prepared for the after-party, getting the place spotless, rearranging furniture, re-working the lighting, and even setting up a beer-pong table. We were quite impressed, and found ourselves looking forward to the after-party even more than the party itself.

Trey wasn’t drinking because he’s losing weight for an upcoming fight (he does kick-boxing) so he was the designated driver. We took two cars there, which meant we could bring two back-seats full of people back as long as there was another designated driver. But Trey was very skeptical about the distance-issue, thinking Victor’s place might be just a bit too far away to bring people back to. He said the general rule-of-thumb is that an after-party should be close enough to the main party to stumble to—not take a 20-minute drive. Victor refused to get discouraged, so determined was he to make the night a success.

We got to the place, a club called Bliss, shortly before 9:00. It cost 2000 yen to get in, which was a heavy price to pay but at least not as much as clubs in Tokyo. It was a Valentine’s Day party, a repeat of an event they’d done last year which had drawn a good crowd of singles there for mingling, which is why Trey was so enthusiastic about going. Upon entering you had to choose between a red or blue bracelet depending on whether or not you were available. Red meant “stop, don’t bother flirting with me because I’m taken,” while blue meant, “I’m single and looking for love.” I would have preferred another color signifying “I’m single but not sure I’m looking for anything” but I had to go with the blue like the rest of the guys.

On the drive down, Trey had given me some advice for when it comes to the ladies. The main gist was that I shouldn’t just talk to and focus on one girl, but divide my attention as much as possible. Girls want attention, he said, so if you pay exclusive attention to them they’re satisfied, they got what they want from you, and they have the power because they feel like they can have you if they want you, and that leads to them not wanting you. You have to keep them guessing, give them some attention but always leave them wanting more. As much as I hate these stupid games, that’s just how it is. It’s a totally different matter once you get to know the person and your real personality takes over, but at a first meeting it’s all just animal instinct and you have to project coolness and confidence—two qualities that I’ve always lacked in social situations.

Upon entering the club Trey immediately spotted a group of six female ALTs standing in a circle on the dance floor and drinking, all of them equipped with blue bracelets. I was introduced to all of them and the mingling began. The fact that none of them were particularly beautiful put me at ease right away. The other guys were free to work their game on any of these girls—I’d much prefer someone a little more…Japanese.

I ordered myself a whiskey on the rocks and proceeded to loosen myself up a bit, lightly dancing in the circle with the girls and guys. I glanced around the room and took note that currently, nearly all of the Japanese people there were sitting at the benches and tables along the wall, just talking amongst themselves. I noticed one very cute Japanese girl who seemed a little tipsy, and when the first band started playing she was up on the dance floor. Trey pointed her out to me and told me to get in there and “do my thing”. What thing? I don’t have a thing.

I was supposed to dance with her, but I wasn’t nearly loose enough for that yet so I settled for dancing near her. Early on at one point she turned toward me for a split second and I used the opportunity to clink my cup of whiskey with her cup on whatever-it-was and say “kampai” so that “broke the ice”.

The first band was all Japanese guys, the lead singer a small guy who took his shirt off apparently to show off his abs. His whole thing was to get up there with the mike and shout things like “Say what” and hold the mike out to the audience to repeat “what!” and then “Say what what” for us to go “what what” and “Say what what what” for us to go…you get the idea. This seemed to go on for eternity, and it wasn’t just one song, so that whole “what what what” thing seems to be the band’s entire signature, and I certainly don’t remember anything else about them.

As I was dancing near that girl she’d occasionally lose her balance a bit so I’d use my free arm to keep her on her feet, and she’d turn and thank me when I did. So it felt nice to actually make physical contact with her and I definitely got vibes of friendliness and possible interest, but after a short while I noticed a red bracelet on her arm. So much for that possibility.

But I heeded Trey’s advice and went around talking to a whole bunch of people, both male and female. One of the girls helping with the event, upon hearing I’d lived in Germany for awhile, pointed out a guy sitting at one of the tables and told me he was German. So I went and sat by him and started a conversation in German, which reverted to English after a few sentences but he definitely wasn’t expecting to hear any German that night. His name was Timo and he was there with his friend Stephen who is Canadian but “born and raised” in Japan. They were both really nice guys and I talked to them on and off throughout the night.

I also turned to a Japanese girl sitting at the seat next to me and spoke to her in Japanese. I was able to do my whole self-introduction, as well as ask her basic personal questions about herself like where she was from and what her job is. I couldn’t have taken it much farther than that, and I didn’t have to anyway because she was wearing a red bracelet. When her boyfriend came back I met him too.

The night got later, I got drunker and looser, and I was as resolved as it gets to have a good time and enjoy myself no matter what. I hadn’t been expecting to succeed with a girl so I felt good enough just interacting with as many of them as I could. Once I was loose enough I even got a few of them to dance with me, even though they all had red bracelets.

It being a Japanese party, there of course had to be a round of Bingo. We’d all got a Bingo card on our way in and whoever won would get a chance to draw a random prize from a bag, among which was a pair of tickets to Disneyland. I didn’t even come close to winning, but near the beginning of the game I noticed the really cute red-bracelet-wearing drunk girl also not getting any numbers called, and I pointed out with hand-gestures that we were both having terrible luck. She came over and stood by me for a few minutes then as we listened to the number-drawings together and waited for one of us to finally get one called. That felt nice, but she didn’t stick around for too long. She was pretty drunk at that point and might have had to throw up or something.

I later found her nearly passed out on a bench in another room, her boyfriend tending to her. I met him and he turned out to be friendly enough. I even remember his name—Akishiro, who happened to be the “what what what” guy from the first band.

The second band of the night was a Red Hot Chili Peppers tribute band, and as I happen to love the Red Hot Chili Peppers and happened to be pretty buzzed at that point, I really enjoyed the hell out of them. I’d dance and sing along with everyone else, getting lots of smiles and high-fives and whatnot from the Japanese guys in the crowd who were also digging it.

But unfortunately, the rest of my party was not on the same page at all. Trey had gotten discouraged from the very beginning when the only available girls there were those female ALTs, only two or three of which were somewhat desirable and even then not particularly so. There had apparently been a lot more single Japanese women there last time, but this time there didn’t seem to be any. The only girls at the whole party who were wearing the blue bracelets were the ALTs, and they were—as Trey later put it—“not conducive to having a good time.” They were standing around talking among themselves for the most part, and they seemed to deliberately keep away from the four of us as though we were a group of predators who couldn’t wait to take them back to our lair and have our way with them.

Of course they were invited to the after-party, but the main reason was to give it legitimacy to try and draw other people—perhaps some Japanese girls—there as well. But they refused to come so nobody else wanted to come either, with the exception of Timo and Stephen whom I mentioned earlier. They didn’t care that there wouldn’t be any women there and I certainly didn’t care either, but it was Victor’s place and he told them not to bother coming, that we were all just going to go home and pass out and try not to think about this utter failure.

And that’s all we talked about for the rest of the night. Victor could not stop going on about how much work he’d put into the preparation for the after-party and how pitiful it was that absolutely nobody—not one single solitary girl—had come to it. Trey kept explaining in perfectly logical detail all the reasons why that was the case and why it wasn’t really our fault.

If we’d done anything wrong it was to not get a solid group of people—male and female—to agree to go to the after-party beforehand. By just going and expecting it to all work out, we’d opened up the door for failure. But we had no way of knowing there would be so many fewer people there than last year and that the only single girls at the party would be foreigners like us who—to be brutally honest—sucked at having a good time. I didn’t waste much time on them, but they gave off the impression that they were actively trying not to enjoy themselves.

I, on the other hand, steadfastly refused not to enjoy myself, and I’d had a great time. One of the major advantages to being so woefully unexperienced when it comes to women is that I’m now virtually immune to disappointment. Those guys had been expecting to bring some ladies home and get some action. I had expected to be politely shot-down numerous times. What actually transpired fell far short of their expectations, whereas I greatly exceeded mine. I’d been loose and happy the whole time, projecting all the coolness and confidence I could muster and discovering there’s a lot more there than there used to be.

And while it didn’t actually pay off in any concrete sense, the few minor successes I had were enough to put me in good spirits. That really cute drunk girl definitely liked me. So what that it couldn’t’ have gone anywhere because of her “what what what” boyfriend? I successfully introduced myself and carried out small-talk in Japanese with several girls, all of whom were as friendly as can be and gave off no vibe that I was imposing on them at all. I even danced with a handful of girls, almost all of whom seemed to enjoy it (the ALT chicks were the only ones who didn’t). Having done that and seen how easily I can do it, it’ll be that much easier to do next time and the time after that. My confidence shot up a few degrees from that experience. Perhaps in a few years (or decades) I might actually be confident enough to succeed. Perhaps.

As for those guys, they were not happy about what had (or rather, what hadn’t) gone down. When we got back to Victor’s place we hung out for a couple more hours, ate some of the snacks that had been prepared, and continued to talk about the night’s disappointments. Well, Trey and Victor did. Anand and I mostly just listened and laughed. The discussion wasn’t morose or depressing—it was actually pretty light-hearted and full of humor. The group wasn’t brooding over our failure but laughing about it, though inside we all knew Victor was genuinely upset and Trey was a little angry too. But Anand and I had a good time anyway. He struck me as the kind of guy who also doesn’t have much experience with women. His expectations had probably been almost as low as mine, and so he too was shielded from disappointment.

I tried to tell Victor that he needed to stop focusing on what could have been and just appreciate what is—here we were, a good group of guys who enjoy each others’ company just hanging out and having a good time. His only response was yeah, but it could have been a much much better time.

Perhaps, but probably not for me. In any case, it was ultimately decided that the fatal flaw in the plan had been to make Victor’s place the after-party as opposed to the party itself. He stands a much better chance of attracting a crowd if he has the party in warm-weather, making use of his large yard for a barbecue, or his close-proximity to the beach for a beach-party. If the party was to take place elsewhere, it would have to start at his place, relocate there, and then end up back where it started. He’s got a great place with great party-potential, but the stars were just not aligned properly that night.

Trey and I drove back to Togane the next morning, him telling me that the next time we do this we’ll do it right. That basically means going clubbing in Tokyo, where if one place is dead there are eight hundred other places to choose from. (In my case, it also means there’s no pressure to bring a girl home—you just get her contact info and take it from there).

But he said he was glad he brought me because I had a good time and that made it a good enough time for him. He said he feels like we may have a budding friendship, and we’ll probably actually start hanging out more often instead of just talking about hanging out more often.

I hope so because he’ll be a valuable friend to have. He’s only 23 now so he’s just starting out his life. He was just accepted into Vanderbilt law school and has applications at places like Stanford and Yale pending. His plan is to get his Master’s or Ph.D. in law and then go into politics and probably run for office one day. He’s already got connections in Tennessee politics, having met both the mayor of Nashville and the governor. Of all the people I’ve ever met in my life, he’s the most likely person to become President of the United States. That’s not a job I would ever want, but maybe he could make me his ambassador to Germany or something.

Anyway, that was this past weekend, an experience from which I drew two valuable lessons: 1- I’m waaaaay more confident than I used to be, and 2- It still works to my advantage to keep my expectations low.

Another Year Older

February 4th, 2012 No comments

My birthday was this past Thursday, and while there was nothing particularly special or interesting about the day I might as well document what I did.

I’d invited about ten or twelve people out to dinner on Thursday evening at a place called Dohtonbori, the okinomiyaki restaurant near Ben’s apartment that a bunch of us ate together at a couple of months ago. Only a few people could make it, so it just turned out to be five of us: me, Ben, Fred, Jack and Lily.

Fred and I met Ben at his place an hour earlier to have a couple of beers, get caught up on the month-and-a-half it’s been since we’ve seen each other (the Christmas party was the last time), and shoot some darts on Ben’s new dart-board. I had some serious amateur’s luck, as I not only shot a perfect bull’s-eye on my very first throw, but I ended up winning the entire game of cut-throat.

At 7:00 we took the five-minute walk to the restaurant, got a table inside (one of those deals where you have to sit on the floor) and Jack and Lily arrived a few minutes later to join us. They were nice enough to bring me a present: a pen and an empty journal for me to write about my experiences. I appreciated the thought, but for someone who already writes about all his experiences by typing them up in an online journal (and who can type about 67 times faster than he can write), a paper journal is somewhat superfluous. But blank paper is never useless—it can be my next Japanese-writing-practice notebook.

What’s to say? The okinomiyaki was delicious and the conversation was fun and interesting. Jack and Lily are on a two-month semester break from college starting next week, and they’ll first be visiting Thailand followed by a month in Jack’s hometown of Boston. Ben lived in Thailand for six months so he gave them a bunch of useful tips. It sucks that I won’t see them again for a full two months, but I’m sure we’ll see a lot of each other when they get back.

When we parted ways after dinner I told both Ben and Fred that I hope another two months doesn’t go by before I see either of them again, and they said we’ll try to hang out more often.

But there’s plenty of socialization to come, starting with tonight. Trey, who couldn’t make it to dinner on Thursday, has invited me to a party one of his friends is throwing in the south of Chiba tonight. When I get off work (yes, my school was open on Saturday instead of Friday this week—welcome to Japan) he’s going to pick me up and drive us down there, where we will presumably be drinking and flirting with women, then spending the night and driving back tomorrow morning. I’m as apprehensive as ever about the flirting-aspect, but whatever happens it should be interesting.

In other news, I decided to spend the money required to join my Dad on his bi-annual sailing trip in the Caribbean this year. I was able to go four years ago as a Christmas/birthday present during my brief transition-phase from California to Germany, and it was pretty clear that that was the last time my parents were going to pay for me. I haven’t really been able to afford to pay my own way until this year. They’re covering my share of the boat-rental as a birthday present, but I have to pay for the flight and all the expenses while we’re down there. The flight is the real killer, but since this opportunity only comes once every two years and it’s unlikely I’ll be living anywhere closer to that part of the world in 2014, I figured I might as well go this year. It’ll be in the British Virgin Islands, which I haven’t been to in ten years (for my second trip, a graduation present in 2002) because the trip four years ago was in Antigua. I can’t express how excited I am to be able to go again, but suffice it to say I’m really looking forward to it. Plus, as an added bonus I’ll have a 16-hour stopover in Newark on both the flight over and back, which means I’ll get to spend those two nights at my parents’ home in Glen Gardner. It’ll be extremely weird to see my Mom for just a couple of nights and a week apart like that, but I’m looking forward to that too.

On the school-front, I’m back in the normal swing of things. The past two weeks have been pretty fun as it’s almost been exclusively full-class review games, including my personal favorite—Jeopardy—which never fails to get every last student involved and excited.

On turning 28, it has a bit more of a psychological impact than I’d expected. At 27 I was in my mid-twenties, but now I’m officially “pushing 30”. My youth is almost over. What the hell have I been doing all this time? Oh yeah—stuff I love.