I’ve gone through several phases since my arrival here in the land of the Gods.
The first phase was, well, exhilarating. It was all wonder and surprise, discovery and exploration. The bloom was on the rose. During this phase I guess I could best be characterized as a Japanophile. I’d come here with a profound desire to start a new life; an improved me- Me 2.0. I like to call it my Kokujin Anjin phase.
I’d be that black guy inserting my two-yen into a Japan bashing session at a bar, saying shit like: “Man, how can you say that about these people?” or “You know what your problem is? You think your culture is superior to their culture. You have a superiority complex. You’re the reason you feel unwelcome here. Not them.” i took great pleasure in interjecting platitudes and cliches like, “Be part of the solution not part of the problem,” and “be the change you want to see here!” Yep, that was me. That guy whose head you wanted to crack your bottle of Kirin over.
My roommates didn’t know what to make of me. They must have thought I had gone loco already. I lived with two white guys, a Kiwi and an Aussie, both music lovers, one, a serious guitarists, the other a guitar enthusiast, two of the coolest guys you ever want to meet, both heavy drinkers and a little on the “fuck that, I pay rent just like they do” tip, and here I was, a Black guy…from Brooklyn New York, no less, scolding them for being disrespectful to our neighbors and of our host nation.
I came to the defense of the Japanese in almost any situation. My head was chock-full of Clavell and a wildly romantic image of a Japan that could be penetrated by a foreigner of some intelligence, skill, and with the right mindset; someone like, well, me. I felt I was in possession of the prerequisite disposition to tear through the silk curtain and say, “Heeerrre’s Loco!”
Hell, I wanted to be a Kokujin (black) Anjin-san.
Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t entirely delusional. I mean, I read Crichton’s Rising Sun, as well as Clancy’s Debt of Honor. Clancy and Crichton (may he rest in peace) are two of my favorite authors, but both I thought did a bit of Japan bashing. And I too wasted 2 hours and $10 bucks on Lost in Translation. Personally I thought it was a boring, pointless movie full of the type of people who could never be Anjin-sans. I love Bill Murray, but I thought his character in the film was too convinced of the cultural superiority of his own world to step outside of it and fully experience the opportunities that this new world, Japan, presented. He was too stuck on its strangeness, like some kind of xenophobe on vacation abroad. No wonder he was lost.
He was the kind of foreigner I didn’t want any parts of, which is why I detested Gaijin Bars. I felt about these bars the way Clavell’s Anjin-san felt about the place where his shipmates were being held, in the district where the “Untouchables”or “Burakumin” or “Eta” or “Hinin” lived. After he’d left from reuniting with them he shed his kimono and demanded a bath. This is how I felt about Roppongi, as well. It was the modern day version of this area, a place where Japanese allow foreigners to carry on like the barbarians they are thought to be. And where low-life Japanese go to consort with and handle the contaminated flesh of Gaijin. I felt about my co-workers the way he felt about his crew: ignoramuses, with a crude idea of the superiority of their respective societies, whether it be America, Canada, Australia, England, France or Germany. European values, Christian morals, rigid, self-righteous, close-minded hypocrites, the majority.
I couldn’t even spend too much time with other black people. Most were military types who held nothing but contempt for the Japanese and thus were on a mission to be as Gaijin as possible, especially those who’d been here for a while. We call it “showing your ass” back in NY, and these guys love to show their asses. Downright embarrassing. Most conversations I’d have with these guys would inevitably lead to a shitload of bad experiences being spewed at me. They took great delight in what they considered an imparting of the wisdom they’d acquired. Most of these guys regarded the Japanese as unblushing racist as well as proudly, inexplicably and, in most cases, irredeemably ignorant of the world surrounding their tiny island.
The only black people I could talk to were the Africans, ironically. They mostly immigrated (and I use the term loosely) here from Nigeria and Ghana, and I’ve met a couple of Kenyans and one Ethiopian. The Africans are very different. They were not forced to come here, like the military guys. They came here with a certain eagerness to improve their lot in life. Thus, they don’t let racism and xenophobia distract them from their ultimate goal: Make Money! You gotta admire them. I’ve had a very strange relationship with Africans, dating back to my childhood…I’ll get into that in a later post.
As for the African-American soldiers, I can understand their rage. Here they are, fancying that they are the only thing standing between Japan and a Kim jong-il invasion, or Chinese vengeance for atrocities committed against their citizens during WWII, and they get treated by their protectorate like a disease. Any day now, that crazy maverick Kim Jong-il could launch an attack, and these soldiers would be forced to risk and in some cases sacrifice their lives for people who have the audacity to refuse to serve them at Soaplands and “Fashion Health” parlors all over the country. But, at the time, I was all about making the most of this experience. I wasn’t about to let my brothers rain on my parade.
I wasn’t really a Japanophile, though. I was just being the Devil’s Advocate. Something I do to keep my mind open to the possibilities, to walk in another person’s shoes, so to speak. It’s something I picked up in America and it’s very useful in gaining some objectivity. Part of my motivation for coming here in the first place was to learn for myself about Japanese people and culture. Not to have it dictated to me by a bunch of disgruntled expats and haters.
Instead, it was my intention to take on each new circumstance and every new encounter unfettered by a negative predisposition. And that, to a certain extent, is exactly what I did. And, I’m lucky I did because during this time I’ve had some of the most wonderful experiences and met some of the most extraordinary people I’ve met in my entire life. Aiko-chan, for one, who would become my greatest experience in this country. In fact, I think this phase ended around the time Aiko was taken from me.
Phase 2 was not pretty. Suffice it to say Kokujin Anjin came to the realization that Clavell’s novels, while thoroughly researched, were written about a different period and about essentially a different people than the ones who now populate this tiny group of islands and, upon this rude awakening, yours truly, to put it mildly, got a little vexed.
More to come…