See the introduction to this series here: Letting The Chips Fall Where They May
Tip #1: “You is a very Fluid Concept”
Tip #2: “Man the FUCK up!”
Tip #4: Let Your Smile Be your Guide!
Tip#5: Be A Baller!
Tip #8: Do Something Beautiful
And now for the grand finale, Tip #10
In the original 2008 series “10 Ways NOT to go Loco in Yokohama” tip #10 was: Be You and Have Fun! wherein I contradictorally advised readers to forego the first tip of that series, Don’t Be You” and go ahead and have fun being yourself. It was an attempt to bring the series full circle and in re-reading the post I think a pretty solid one at that. It was about steam that builds up in foreigners as they make their efforts to fit as much as possible into japanese society and build a life here, and the necessity of periodically blowing off steam and the dire consequences that might result if that steam is allowed to build up beyond safe levels. Like a steam engine, the right amount of pressure can generate amazing results, but too much and derailment and explosions occur. I shared a lot of my thoughts about how I’ve witnessed people here turning the release valve, so to speak, including myself:
“I used to blow off steam by making Japanese people feel as uncomfortable as they made me feel. Kind of ridiculous, I know, but I wanted to teach them a lesson, and not an English one. A morals lesson; A you reap what you sow lesson…Something about the people here had unleashed something in me. Something that had been dormant for years. I’m usually pretty rational. I am the type of person more likely to try to resolve problems with words than with violence. I really believe the pen is mightier than the sword. But, I know that there is also a self-righteous rage inside of me, angry and sensitive, impatient and intolerant, and I have to take care of it, like some vicious dog kept chained in a basement., with absolute loyalty to it’s owner and absolute contempt for people who it feels has wronged its owner. It kind of scares me.
I’ve always managed to leash him myself. Occasionally, he’d peek his head out of my soul’s basement and let people get a glimpse of him and that would be enough. They’d back down or scurry away. So I guess you can say I’ve had a pretty blessed life. My sense of right and wrong was rarely spat at. At least not in person. Not until I came here.”
Yes, once again, I stand by that post 100%!
However, since then, and as a result of a method I use to release steam, I accidentally discovered something that helps me navigate the shit-strewn path of public life here without too much of it collecting on my Timberlands. In fact, like that 2008 Tip #10, this tip as well has allowed me to bring these Re-Mastered tips full circle.
My father, in addition to being a truck driver and a jazz guitarist, was also a photographer. Not a professional (at least I’m not aware if he’s ever gotten paid for his work) but a serious hobbyist. Everywhere we went, his camera was always handy, and he’d shoot anything and anybody at anytime. And my mother, in addition to being a home maker, interior designer, bookkeeper, hairbraider and, in general, miracle worker, is a Collagist (is that a word?) Anyway, she makes collages, professionally. That is to say that she has been paid for her work and that she has had her work displayed in museums.
So, in retrospect, it’s no wonder I became interested in Film and Photography at a young age and wound up studying it in University. I was getting serious at one point in my life, went out and bought a sweet 35mm camera, all kinds of accessories, lenses and filters, and would go out shooting on a regular basis. I’d even develop the prints myself (black and white) in my school’s lab on the weekends. Some of my prints wound up on display in my University’s Gallery and may even still be there for all I know.
I was that into it.
I actually can’t remember when or why I stopped. Maybe it was when I got more interested in writing and picked it up as a second major in University. I think it became too time consuming and I felt my time would be better served writing . Maybe I never really stopped. I just put it on pause for a while.
A long while…
Before I knew it a whole damn decade had passed and digital came along. Instant gratification and photography collided in my hands. And I took up shooting again…but with much less satisfaction with the process. The digital cameras I could afford offered much less control over the photo. While it did offer different ways to manipulate the photo once it had been taken, it offered very little to no control over F-stop and aperture, and the zoom features were mostly annoying. So, I kicked that to the curb, as well. And it probably would have remained on the curb if two extraordinary things hadn’t occur:
1- I moved to Japan,
2- The iPhone came along.
One day, I was headed out to Yokohama on the Toyoko line, and was standing there in fairly crowded conditions not far from the door, playing a billiards App on my then new iPhone, surrounded by “The Perimeter” as per usual. Japanese are nothing if not consistent and predictable. Syougannai. The train pulled into Hiyoshi Station and the doors opened before a couple of fairly long parallel lines of passengers waiting to board. I glanced around to see where I could move to make room for the newcomers, who would turn the mildly crowded condition into a perv paradise at any moment. As I peeked at the door I noticed one of the first few passengers to board was this one guy who looked up and took a peek at me, and I coudl hear (with my eyes) that he didn’t like the idea of being the sardine next to or anywhere near me in this can, so he back pedaled and left the line heading to another door, no doubt. It happens fairly regularly here but it still tightens my stomach into a little knot of hate every time.
Someone behind me who’d probably been asleep or distracted suddenly wanted to exit and began to shove people out of his way, including myself, hissing, “Orimasu!” (I’m getting off!) Instead of being shoved aside (I hate to be shoved by unapologetic people but it happens often here) I made way for him by exiting the train myself. I happened to notice the other guy who had abandoned the line about to board at the next door, into an equally crowded entrance. I smiled and eased up behind him and re-boarded the train winding up right in his face. he was cool until he looked up, and saw me. I pretended I hadn’t seen his earlier evasive maneuver and that this was all some strange turn of events beyond my cognizance. I was just another passenger. I pulled out my iPhone and resumed my billiards match against the computer.
Peeking over the iPhone surreptitiously, I could see the distress on his face as he tried to inch this way and that in a crowd with no give. Actually there was push back, because others in the vicinity recognized that if he were allowed to creep away that would remove him as buffer and force one of them to replace him as the unlucky passenger crammed closest to the gaijin in their midst. This too could be ascertained by body language believe it or not (see Tip #9). So, trapped as he was, but instead of accepting his fate with calm resolve, he began the annoying first steps of the Japanese traditional folk dance I call the Iwakan.
What an asshole!
It was about then I had a flash of devious brilliance:
I’ve talked about this Iwakan a number of times on this blog, and the kind of behavior that accompanies it. I go to great pains to try to describe it in vivid detail for readers, so you guys can really visualize and perhaps feel what it’s like to be thought of as its cause. But, I feel like I fail to do it justice quite often. Sometimes the comments on these posts have lead me to believe that readers felt either I wasn’t doing a good enough job or that it was a figment of my imagination.
But…if I had visual proof, supporting evidence, exhibit A, B and fucking C, then all of that could be put to rest once and for all.
And there in my hands, I now had a device that could do it all: video, audio, photographic, etc… I had in my hands the potential power to move my profile from beneath the shadow of the doubt to beyond it. Readers with lingering skepticism would no longer have to suspend disbelief for the duration of a post. They could see what I see.
I closed that billiards App and opened the camera app…
And I shot that fucker in the face!
I cared about that shudder of suspicion, that wave of vexation, that swept through the subway car at the sound of the “Perv Shutter” noise the iPhone cameras here in Kawaiiland generate no more than anyone around me cared about my feelings when they began their Iwakan dance. I knew, from experience, that the general public held in high distaste being photographed in public which would explain the lack out of outcry about there being a perv alert built into every camera phone. But, I felt justified. More than that, I felt vindicated in advance. It was the most satisfying act of retaliation I’d undertaken in my entire time in Japan. I could feel superheated steam rushing from areas where it had been stressing seals and threatening a meltdown, and being funneled into blastpipes and escaping through my stack, so to speak.
I waited for his response…maybe a little chastisement or even — for the first time — something formidable, but he was in shock. Even his iwakan dance ceased.
In the days and weeks to come, though, I would use this tactic whenever someone’s behavior crossed the line. Just the most offensive, utterly unacceptable even for Japanese level stuff. I mean, I’ve re-drawn my personal line on what’s acceptable a number of times in Japan mainly because I felt it was in my best interests to do so. Otherwise I’d be walking around pretty pissed off at most people most of the time. But, little by little, the list had shrunk to basically a handful of things that would have been worthy (in mine and many people’s minds) of justifiable physical assault back in the States.
The list was as follows:
1-Discernible criminalization of ANY kind!
2-Guys provocatively and blatantly becoming over-protective of their women
3-or Any blatant and aggressive efforts to humiliate or dehumanize me
In my mind, the above three offenses qualified the offender to a retaliatory strike of some sort, dependent on my state of mind at the time.
And, my early iPhone shots were mostly of these offenders…it turned out that shooting Japanese made me feel better and left me less guilt ridden than my previous methods of retaliating (pushing, shoving, stalking, sneaky elbows, kicks, tripping, and verbal harangues in English or Nihongo) on an all-too often passive or oblivious recipient. But, this assailing by iPhone left me guilt-free, legally safe and somewhat gratified.
I wasn’t too keen on posting these pictures for others to see, though. It turned out that the photographs that resulted from these photographic aggressions were not much to look at, and did not tell much more of the story than I could in words.
But I had grown accustomed to keeping my iPhone handy at all times when I’m out and about, trying my best to be prepared for these violations, the worse of which always seemed to catch me off-guard. Or, at worst, just catch Japanese engaged in foolishness; something I could use to compliment a post casting them in an unfavorable light.
However, walking around in this state I’d often come across something un-offensive, but interesting nonetheless:
Everyday People doing Everyday Shit.
And for some reason I’d find these folks in my crosshairs, and I’d take a shot at them, too.
And, that’s when something strange and totally unexpected happened:
Somehow my dormant love of photography had been roused.
I was visited by visions of my father, leaning out of the window at a red light while he was driving, horns blaring behind us, as he took a shot at some girl crossing the street, or at a building, or even another car…his zoom lens like some machine protruding from his head. I could see him emerging from his red-lit dark room (actually a closet) smelling of rotten eggs, with some freshly dried prints. And, there were my mother’s collages replete with people from a dozens papers and magazine, smelling of fresh glue, scissors and blades scattered about her workstation, photos of women from Ghana dancing as part of a tribal ritual, calabash in hand, scarred faces; photos she’d clipped from the HUGE collection of National Geographics she kept, juxtaposed with photos of westernized black women she’d taken from Jet or Ebony or Essence magazines and arranging just so… You’d swear the women were all from the same tribe! And, the truth is, THEY ARE!
We ALL are.
And this too I would see, and continue to see, in the photos I was taking of strangers here in Japan.
Photography captures our common humanity in a way I continue to struggle to do in prose. A picture says a thousand words? I never fully understood that cliché til now.
To some my photographs appear to be in violation of some covenant of privacy people should be able to expect in a public place. Well, I’m sorry to offend you guys but I disagree (and so does the law to my understanding). Really. Moreover, I believe that not only people here but people everywhere stand to benefit from the humanity I attempt to capture in my photos.
No posing, no peace signs, no cheesing…no nudity, no upskirts, no embarrassing moments, no “Japan is so fucking weird and crazy” shots (OK, maybe sometimes, kinda hard to avoid that…)
Nah…I just shoot Japanese!
And like the previous 9 tips, I recommend that you too find a way to harmlessly get in touch with the humanity we all share.
You see, this fluid concept that I call Loco informs me that in order to truly man the fuck up and make time serve me (and not vice versa) I should proactively seek and participate in deeds that (both selfishly and generously) give me cause to smile! To me, this is what it means to be a baller, and thankfully there is a great and growing number of people who share this ideal, people who I would call friends, and help me (as I help them) to remain sane against incredible odds while being ever ready to take risks and plunge into the depths of the blues to maintain a healthy sense of humor. Capturing on film the human language we all speak, yes even Japanese, is my effort to do something beautiful and leave this world better than I inherited it.