Monday, September 13, 2010

I, Gaijin: From Brooklyn to Tokyo and Osaka and Back Again

After weeks of hocking Gotham City Insider for news about his recent trip to Japan, as guest guitarist for another band of western, hardcore, metal brigands, he wrote back with the scoop on what it’s like to spend a long weekend traveling to and from the Land of  the Rising Sun. 

Since GCI, whose “the world needs a stronger blog” claims notwithstanding, appears to be on an intermittent, temporary hiatus, Deep in the Heart of Brooklyn is delighted to be able to share his notes on waning economies, an anthropological assessment of good manners in different cultures, fizzling innovation and, last but not least, hot dog buns... -- Brooklyn Beat

I, Gaijin 

 Been meaning to write you back about Japan… Honestly, I did not enjoy it at all. Out of all the places I’ve been, I liked Tokyo the least. I mean, I wasn’t kicking and screaming about a long weekend in Japan or anything but it definitely sounds a lot more glamorous than it actually is. All told, we did about 14,000 miles of traveling in 4 days… NY > Tokyo > Osaka > Tokyo > NY. The first flight from NY to Tokyo was non-stop, which in economy class, was traumatic. The Australia/NZ flights we did a few years ago were longer but for whatever reason, this was more brutal. After about 10 hours in, you almost start praying for a pulmonary embolism. Anyhow, Tokyo was just overwhelming. Immediately after we land, we sit in 2+ hours of dead stop traffic just to get to Tokyo itself.

Many a man transplanted to the Land of the Rising Sun returns with tales of culture shock and utter bewilderment – and, indeed, to me, a boy from the West, Japanese culture remains a mystery wrapped in an enigma inside a hot dog bun (more on that later.) There were just so many goddamn people – and it was just so insanely crowded – storefronts in alleyways, storefronts inside storefronts inside alleyways inside storefronts – people just living on top of each other – after about 20 minutes, I felt like moving to Montana and writing a few thousand pages on Industrial Society and Its Future. While I enjoy the “adult” Japanese culture – the refined Muji minimalism and all that – I’ve come to realize that I absolutely abhor the cartoonish, bastardized emulated depiction of the West. People dressed in Halloween costumes; people who look like living, breathing anime / kawaii / geinōkai magna characters. It’s all fashion and little to no substance. At times, I felt as if I were walking through an actual video game. It’s really bizarre and almost sickening – like eating too many circus peanuts. I dunno – something about it all just really rubbed me the wrong way. Xenophobia, perhaps? Ha ha.

The shows were good, the food was weird and the hotels were small. Typically what you’d expect. I think I may just be “over” my days of shotgun traveling and this break from my regular, focused routine really bothered me for some reason. Osaka was a bit better. We stayed on this main strip which resembled a Japanese St. Mark’s Place – but again, a parodic version of St. Mark’s Place. They really enjoy hot dog buns over there. You can have just about anything you’d like served up in a hot dog bun – from ice cream to lo mein – and you can get most of it at your local 7-11. We ate a few of these hot dishwater noodle & tempura houses which were OK. The rest of the time we ate a place called “Freshness Burger” because they had a pretty amazing veggie burger. Everyone carries an umbrella for the sun. It was unbearably hot.

I was in an elevator with two Japanese men and a young lady. Elevator gets to the lobby, Japanese men immediately exit; I pause and gesture for the woman to exit before me. She looked at me, completely puzzled, as if this had never happened before in her entire life – as if it were some sort of trick. I couldn’t believe it! She finally exited before me, but under extreme duress. Another incident – also on an elevator, I suppose this is where the class wars take place – the doors open up and it’s one of the hotel maids – she has like four sacks of dirty linen – I size up the situation and realize it’s going to be a good five days before she’s able to drag all her bags out of the elevator and I can get on, so I helped her… Two minutes later, as the elevator doors closed, she was still bowing to me for helping her unload the bags. I mean, c’mon: ENOUGH! How awkward it is being a gentleman or just helpful or polite when you’re treated like you’ve just saved a baby from a burning building afterwards – it’s too much.

Part of the whole scene was somewhat depressing also – now that China has usurped Japan as the #1 economy after the U.S. – Japan didn’t have that feel of “innovation” anymore. I saw signs advertising the new iPhone 4 but most people are still using these gigantic flip phones. I know they say Japan still enjoys health, wealth and comfort and that Tokyo has more Michelin-starred restaurants than Paris – but I didn’t see any of it. I saw an empty Hermès store across the street from a bustling 99 cent store. The economy in Japan has been stagnant for more than a decade, and knowing this, it was truly evident. We went into a Best Buy-esque electronics store and saw none of the futuristic Jetsons innovation you would have expected to see years ago in Japan. Gone are the days of the stereotypical rich, Japanese businessman.

If a country can’t reduce its debt to GDP ratio, it means they can only refinance but can never repay its debts and honestly, with all I’ve read on – and now somewhat seen in – Japan, I don’t see how they can avoid a government default or inflated Yen death spiral within the next decade or maybe even less??? Ayeeeeeeeeeeeee. I read some World Bank stat which said over the past decade Japan's economy expanded 5% while China's grew by 261%... It’s crazy and there appears to be no real consensus about what to do…
--Gotham City Insider

The Brooklyn Griffin

Photos by Brooklyn Beat

Waterbury and Meserole Streets in Williamsburgh

Current Reading

  • Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War- Tony Horwitz
  • A Sultan in Palermo - Tariq Ali
  • Hitch-22: A Memoir - Christopher Hitchens
  • Negropedia- Patrice Evans
  • Dead Funny: Humor in Nazi Germany - Rudolph Herzog
  • Exile on Main Street - Robert Greenfield
  • Among the Truthers - A Journey Among America's Growing Conspiracist Underworld - Jonathan Kay
  • Paradise Lost - John Milton
  • What Is Your Dangerous Idea? Thinking the Unthinkable - John Brockman
  • Notes from the Edge Times - Daniel Pinchbeck
  • Fringe-ology: How I Can't Explain Away the Unexplainable- Steve Volk
  • Un Juif pour l'exemple (translated as A Jew Must Die )- Jacques Cheesex
  • The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins
  • Pale King - David Foster Wallce
  • David Bowie: Starman bio - Paul Trynka
  • Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat - Andrez Bergen
  • The Future of Nostalgia -Svetlana Boym
  • Living in the End Times - Slavoj ZIzek
  • FIrst as Tragedy Next as Farce - Slavoj Zizek
  • How to Survive a Robot Uprising - Daniel Wilson
  • Where is My Jet Pack? -Daniel Wilson
  • Day of the Oprichniks - Vladimir Sorokin
  • Ice Trilogy - Vladimir Sorokin
  • First Civilizations
  • Oscar Wilde -Andre Maurois
  • The Beats - Harvey Pekar, et al
  • SDS - Harvey Pekar, et al
  • The Unfinished Animal - Theodore Roszak
  • Friends of Eddy Coyle
  • Brooklands -Emily Barton
  • Abraham Lincoln - Vampire Hunter - Seth Grahme-Smith - Entertaining and historical
  • Dictionary of the Khazars - Pavic
  • Sloth-Gilbert Hernandez
  • War and Peace- Leo Tolstoy
  • Charles Addams: An Evilution
  • Life in Ancient Greece
  • Time - Eva Hoffmann
  • Violence - S. Zizek
  • Luba - a graphic novel by Gilbert Hernandez
  • Life in Ancient Egypt
  • Great Apes - Will Self - riveting and disturbing
  • Lost Honor of Katherina Blum - Heinrich Boll - could not put it down
  • Yellow Back Radio Brokedown - Ishmael Reed (author deserving of new wide readership)
  • Living in Ancient Mesopotomia
  • Landscape in Concrete - Jakov Lind - surreal
  • 'There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried To Kill Her Neighbor's Baby'-Ludmilla Petrushevskaya - creepy stories - translation feels literarily "thin"
  • Mythologies - William Butler Yeats (re-read again & again)
  • How German Is It ? - Walter Abish
  • The Book of Genesis - illustrated by R. Crumb - visionary
  • "Flags" - an illustrated encyclopedia - wish I could remember all of these. Flag culture
  • Sirens of Titan - Kurt Vonnegut
  • Ubik - Philip K. Dick
  • Nobody's Fool - Richard Russo
  • Hitler's Empire - Mark Mazower
  • Nazi Culture - various authors
  • Master Plan: Himmler 's Scholars and the Holocaust - Heather Pringle
  • Eichmann in Jerusalem - Hannah Arendt
  • Living in Ancient Rome
  • Traveling with Herodotus -R. Kapuszynsky
  • Oblivion - David Foster Wallace - Some of his greatest work
  • Infinite Jest - David Foster Wallace - still wrestling with this great book
  • Netherland - Joseph O'Neill - staggeringly great read
  • Renegade - The Obama Campaign - Richard Wolffe
  • Mount Analogue - Rene Daumal
  • John Brown
  • Anathem - Neal Stephenson - love Stephenson but tough slogging first few chapters
  • 7 Deadly Sins
  • ALEX COX - Alex Cox
  • FIASCO by Thomas Ricks
  • I, Fellini - Charlotte Chandler & Federico Fellini
  • Best of 20th century alternative history fiction
  • Judah P. Benjamin - Eli Evans - Confederacy's Secretary of State & source of the W.C. Field's exclamation
  • Moscow 2042 - Vladimir Voinovich - Pre-1989 curiosity & entertaining sci fi read; love his portrayal of Solzhenitsyn-like character
  • Gomorrah - Roberto Saviano - Mafia without the It-Am sugar coating. Brutal & disturbing
  • The Sack of Rome - Celebrity+Media+Money=Silvio Berlusconi - Alexander Stille
  • Reporting - David Remnick - terrific journalism
  • Fassbinder
  • Indignation - Philip Roth
  • Rome
  • Let's Go Italy! 2008
  • Italian Phrases for Dummies
  • How to Pack
  • Violence - Slavoj Zizek
  • Dali: Painting & Film
  • The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight - Jimmy Breslin
  • The Good Rat - Jimmy Breslin
  • Spook Country - William Gibson
  • A Blue Hand - The Beats in India - Deborah Baker
  • The Metaphysical Club - Louis Menard
  • Coast of Utopia - Tom Stoppard
  • Physics of the Impossible - Dr. Michio Kaku
  • Managing the Unexpected - Weick & Sutcliffe
  • Wait Til The Midnight Hour - Writings on Black Power
  • Yellow Back Radio Brokedown - Ishmael Reed
  • Burning Down the Masters' House - Jayson Blair
  • Howl - Allen Ginsberg
  • Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Palace Thief - Ethan Canin
  • John Adams - David McCullough
  • The Wooden Sea - Jonathan Carroll
  • American Gangster - Mark Jacobson
  • Return of the King - J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Gawker Guide to Becoming King of All Media
  • Jews and Power - Ruth Wisse
  • Youth Without Youth - Mircea Eliade
  • A Team of Rivals - Doris Goodwin
  • Ghost Hunters -William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death - Deborah Blum
  • Dream -Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy - Stephen Duncombe
  • Love & Theft - Eric Lott
  • Exit Ghost - Philip Roth
  • Studio A - The Bob Dylan Reader

Current Listening

  • Alexi Murdoch Wait
  • Wilco Summer Teeth
  • Wilco The Album
  • Carmina Burana - Ray Manzarek (& Michael Riesmann)
  • Polyrock - Polyrock
  • 96 Tears - Garland Jeffries
  • Ghost of a Chance Garland Jeffries
  • Yellow Magic Orchestra
  • Mustang Sally Buddy Guy
  • John Lee Hooker
  • Black and White Years
  • Together Through Life - B. Dylan
  • 100 Days 100 Nites - Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings
  • DYLAN: 3 disc Greatest...
  • Glassworks - Philip Glass
  • Wild Palms - Soundtrack -Ryuichi Sakamoto
  • Dinah Washington - Best of..
  • Commander Cody& His Lost Planet Airmen Live at Armadillo