The thing about living in this gaijin bubble here in Japan is it doesn’t appear to exist in the real world. It feels virtual. And initially this virtual reality feeling lends itself to all kinds of mayhem and confusion.
Spiritually and otherwise.
There’s the onset of a fundamental breakdown of some of the ideas that were indoctrinated into you over the course of your life, as you begin to question things you’ve rarely thought to question before, or avoided questioning because doing so tended to exhaust you, or leave you with a feeling of being lost, or disturbed, or depressed.
And who needs that?
So, for a while, you allow yourself to be slowly seduced into believing that in this place, so far off the grid of any reality you’ve ever known, your actions can’t possibly have the same real world consequences as they once did. You attach a virtual quality to that belief in consequences that governed your life til that point, insomuch as it serves your needs in this place.
Without fear of consequence it’s likely the human race would descend into utter chaos and anarchy.
Spiritually and otherwise.
Through this transparent social membrane that separates you from the greater Japan, you observe a society you estimate is as much theme park as preserve, a society staggering along a clumsy line between Europe and Asia like a somnambulist on a tightrope; yet you’ll unlikely find a more veritable feast for the senses anywhere in the European-ized world from which you’ve likely come. You notice that the natives are constantly inspecting this sphere they’ve relegated you to, poking and prodding it curiously, for they find it, and you, more fascinating, compelling and frightening than anything you’re likely to discover in your travels here. Yes, the ironies abound, for as much as any fertility festival or fireworks fanfare, your bubble is a headline attraction in that same cultural theme park.
You’re emblematic of a reality they’ve never known.
But, minus that huge chunk of the fear you lugged around most of your life, there comes the approximation of freedom. More freedom than you’ve ever felt before.
And it feels good…
The temptation to stay in the bubble, to hold on to this freedom it revealed to you, besets you at all times.
The Bubble ain’t so bad…there are certainly worst places to be.
It’s ugly, yes. But, hell, you can schnazz it up if you like. You’re free to give it color and character, make it as tenable and comfortable a bubble as your wherewithal allows. You can attain fluency in the language spoken outside the bubble, you can marry a native and breed little half-native children, you can eat like a native, kampai (toast) like a native, read, write and think like a native…the possibilities are vast, and the bubble expands to include these things you add to enhance it. You can live a good life in here. And the longer you’re here the easier it gets, actually. Make some relatively minor alterations to how you perceive your environment, and voila! Avert your eyes from the gawking masses, mind your beeswax, and shut that hypocritical, judgmental mouth of yours for a change, and Japan will open like a cherry blossom in late March.
The bubble can indeed be blissful.
Spiritually and otherwise.
And almost everyone will support you. The natives, in my experience, will go to what appears to be great lengths to keep you happy in your bubble. In fact, Japanese hospitality and kindness, as it pertains to non-Japanese, is comprised of efforts to make sure your time outside their reality, inside your bubble, downright inviting. After all, the bubble was designed with your gaijin needs in mind (or at least their approximation of what those needs might be.) With a little effort, you can live out your scrutinized days in sumptuous solitude, surrounded by Japanese kindness.
However, if you’re like me, and God help you if you are, you might find this kind of kindness to be, well, kinda:
Anyway, by my tabulations, the price for all this kindness can be quite high. Sometimes you pay without even noticing, like being pick-pocketed by a hooker amid her making you feel so blessed you were born a man your agnostic ass finds religion. Sometimes you get hit with the bill when you least expect it, like being slapped with a surcharge, levied at a theme park’s gate as you exit with bags of souvenirs and that overgrown stuffed Hello Kitty you won for your woman in the shooting gallery in your arms.
In NY, unlike on previous visits home, I realized my pockets were lighter than expected, so to speak. Only, this time around, something unexpected happened: That emptiness was almost immediately filled with something more valuable than that which had been taxed. At the risk of sounding saccharine and prosaic, I didn’t emerge from this land, as I had on previous visits home, empty-handed with rabbit-ears for pockets, so to speak. On the contrary, I emerged hand-in-hand with a woman I’ll likely spend the rest of my life with, feeling a high-high, like I couldn’t lose for winning.
So, what is the price I paid for a decade in Asia?
That’s a complex question to answer, but I have a couple of theories.
My first book, Hi! My Name is Loco… details my exploration into one of these theories.
To summarize it, the price was the awful realization that, unchecked, fear of consequence erased, I was capable of anything. Which is fine, if you’re in the state of mind of doing things that are in your own best interest or something that will serve your family, friends and fellow human beings. But, if like me, you learn the awful truth that the opposite is true as well, that you have a tendency toward self-detrimental and profoundly selfish acts and deeds, you can find yourself in the unenviable position of being your own worst enemy. The book chronicled my journey through both, informed by what I experienced in both the US and Japan, and my interpretation of these experiences.
The other theory revolves around a slightly different idea, though. That the cost was the very identity I clung to when I arrived here.
I came to Japan with a view of the world, and of my place in it, some aspects of which were indoctrinated into me, and some acquired over the years like volumes of books in a library, inclusive of a self-image that, while I wasn’t 100% comfortable with it, and would now and again find holes in it, was mostly given the thumbs up by people near and dear to me, people I respected, and that felt good! So I embraced this image as much as a man skeptical by nature could.
However, once Japan got its hands on this identity, I’d like to think that it saw right through its surface to what lay beneath, proceeded to excavate, unleashing potential that had been caught in a landslide of fear of consequence, and a number of other fears and insecurities, before adapting my identity to suit its needs.
Adaptation can be a beautiful thing…
Put simply, life in Japan took this identity labeled Baye, ascertained that the Loco that lurked beneath the surface clutter was better equipped to thrive in the conditions present here , and did what it had to do to clear the way and position me to contribute to Japan’s future; a procedure as painful, rewarding and liberating as it sounds.
But, I suspect that ultimately this process couldn’t be completed in Japan. Some additional alterations had to be done by the country responsible for my original inculcation: The USA.
Last time I was in NY back in 2010, I was still in the midst of this adaptation process, that bubble very much still intact. Between that visit and this one, though, prompted by life here in this gaijin bubble and this process I’ve theorized, I’d taken significant strides towards leading the life I’ve always wanted to lead. I was a free man within a bubble. And, as they say, “Free your mind and your ass will follow…” Would this have happened without Japan’s involvement? Probably. Adaptation takes place everywhere. But I’ll never know. All I know is that once that bubble burst, there in Customs at JFK, it was like that caterpillar I wrote about in the introduction to “Hi! My Name is Loco…” transforming and emerging from its cocoon.
Spiritually and otherwise.