Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

 

Sat here in a corner, in my favourite Mexican wrestling mask, listening to 90s metal, I thought I would take some time to write a few of my Japan experiences that I have not talked about before.

From a young age I have been fascinated by ninja. The mystical, magical, black-clad martial artists who can climb any wall and dispatch any foe with stealth, swordplay and agility.
Nowadays you can find ninja represented all over popular media, with a wealth of television series`, movies, games and books. Ofcourse, most of these are quite far from the truth.

When I was 17 I purchased my first seemingly-legitimate ninja outfit, since then I have added special ninja-shoes with toe gaps, padded soles and hardened tips for climbing. I`ve also added real shuriken (throwing stars), metal nunchaku and some other bits and pieces.

At the age of 19, after reading many Batman comics, I set about patrolling the streets of Plymouth late at night. During this time, I`m sure my parents must have thought I was going a bit mad. One particular week, I was convinced that the way to becoming a martial arts master was to punch the ground hundreds of times. So that is what I used to do every day for a little while. This had consequences. Namely, that my fists were covered in scabs that would not heal because they kept breaking when I went out to punch the ground some more. I was working as a barman at the time, and my colleagues were convinced I had become some kind of street brawler. My parents considered it to be a form of self-harm.

The truth is, I had been reading about a crazy Korean martial artist who trained himself so brutally, that at the pinnacle of his strength he could (and did) kill live bulls. This is the founder of Kyokushin Karate (a particularly gruelling type of karate), Masutatsu Oyama.

In my imagination, patrolling the streets of Plymouth would undoubtedly result in confrontations with obvious drug dealers and street thugs, so, to prepare, I would go to the parks near my house and practice Karate katas in the moonlight.

After two or three weeks of doing this, and also of not finding any drug dealers, I hung up my nunchaku. Nunchaku are those two sticks held together by a chain, which Bruce Lee often whips out.

It was probably good timing that I became a Christian at this point. Turns out that the best way to help criminals (people) is not by beating them up.

Fast forward to last year, I took the time to visit one of the hometowns of real ninjas, the city of Iga, in the prefecture of Mie.

From the books I`ve since read, and the time spent there, I learnt a number of things:

The ninjas were a response to the genuine need for espionage, assassination and sabotage during the hundreds of years of samurai warfare from roughly 900-1000AD to around the 1700s, and utilised the highest technological assets available throughout this time. The reason the area of Iga and Koga were strongholds for ninja clans was due to the availability of the natural ingredients in gunpowder : sulphur, potassium nitrate (saltpeter) and charcoal (from the expensive Japanese wood Hinoki, the same one used in onsens/baths).

Most of the time they did not wear black, but had a variety of disguises and outfits they would employ depending on the task. The ninjas had little or no allegiance, and worked for the highest bidder; profiting greatly over the chaos of the 100 year country-at-war period (sengoku jidai).

Typically, a ninja came from the lowest social group (hisabetsu burakumin = people from the discriminated community, or, less politely, hinin = non-humans) and if captured would face the most nasty executions. They were not allowed to weigh over 60kgs, as this would hinder their ability to climb, and refused to eat any strong-smelling food, including meat, eggs, etc. They employed a number of secret languages using colored rice, and even an ancient Japanese written language, which existed before Chinese-influenced characters.

The city of Iga has a fascinating ninja museum, and trick-house, which shows the many secrets and tools that were used. This included having every room in the house designed to grant an advantage against any particular weapon, i.e – low ceiling, pillars in the middle of the room, hidden daggers/tunnels/doors/staircases, lips in the floor to trip people. It was an ingenious array of tricks.

One of the gadgets I was particularly fond of in the ninja museum was a sort of metal clip that ninja would slap on a normal sliding door, while being pursued through a house, preventing the door from opening, and ofcourse the caltrops. These are little metal spikes, coated with poison, thrown on the ground as the ninja makes his/her escape.

I bought a translation of a number of ninja scrolls while I was there, and found some interesting material. For example, female ninjas (kunoichi), have a surprising variety of cringeworthy techniques to kill men through intercourse, which I will not delve into.

Most of the secret techniques and teachings were recipes to make things like sleeping powder, long lasting embers, dripping liquid fires and useful tools, but there was a fair amount of fantastical magical spells including heron heads and toad blood and making circles with arrows pointing at the moon with mirrors in different places and drawing nightmares so your enemy has a bad night sleep. So basically, you have to lose sleep for a week, catching herons and toads and other forest creatures to give your enemy one bad sleep. Not a good deal in my opinion.

One thing I really liked from Iga was the ninja food! They make these resilient biscuits which a ninja would carry with him on long missions, and the biscuits are so hard that you have to break them with a rock. Even if you soak them in water, they remain solid.

If you`d like some, then just send me 20 big ones and I`ll get some for ya.

Have a great day, God bless you.

I am now listening to Mozart, like this:

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A poor, lonely, desperate Englishman, with nought but a dry bowl of rice and one chopstick has somehow survived a horrifying encounter with a ‘regular Japanese insect’. Unbeknownst to many foreigners coming to Japan, the monsters that appear in Godzilla movies of the 1950’s, 60’s and so on, are all based on factual encounters, and many of those inspirational creatures are still alive today.

I kid you not, the bugs here are pretty insano.

I like bugs, I have always liked bugs, and everybody goes on and on about how bad the bugs must be in Australia, and how scary they must be and so on, but here in Japan the bugs are so big that when you approach, you can literally see them turning their head around to look at you. Like a cat or a bird.
You sometimes see them in a field playing rugby or football, or digging holes or mugging/eating old people.

That is an exaggeration, but, it’s not too far from how I felt after first encountering one of them. The hot, subtropical environment of Japan, plus the varying degrees of radiation poisoning and pollution make this place the ideal incubator for giant mutated creatures. I don’t think Americans have realised that by using nuclear weapons to end a war, they have condemned the whole world to a far worse fate.

I was walking around a lake on my way to work, (a large-ish body of water) a pretty good lake too, filled with big fat carp and loads of turtles and ducks, and as I made it about halfway around, through the undergrowth to a clearing, a massive black thing flew past me. My immediate reaction was ‘WTF IS THAT’. I then tried to follow the creature. It was foraging around tree trunks, obviously not interested in me. When I got a better look, it seemed to be some kind of jet black bee or wasp. I’m not sure which. I was filled with a kind of wary fascination.

After that encounter, there have been more than a few occasions where I’ve stepped out of my front door into the blistering heat, only to leap back into the house at the sight of some small helicopter whirring around my tiny front garden. It’s always a surprise when there’s a helicopter in your garden, you know?
And like, the helicopter is still on. And nobody is going to get out, and the helicopter might not land anywhere and it might attack you too. It’s a very fast, erratic helicopter.
I realise all those things very quickly, and it is always a big surprise.

‘Woah there!’ I exclaim,’what are you doing in my garden?’
That’s how I react, except with more swearing, and more frantic searching for weaponry.

That black bee was just the first of many varying kids of massive beetles and wasps and bees and spiders and mantis’ and bugs that I would encounter. It is clear to me that Pokemon could not have been imagined in any other country. Even hundreds of years ago, a rudimentary version of Pokemon might have been a reality in rural Japan. You probably couldn’t get them to fight without one of them dying though. I can only imagine the fascination of the first explorers here!

As it stands, my bestiary is growing on a daily basis, but, I fear I will never complete it. Every foray into this dangerous new world is another roll of the dice.

One of the big bad guys here in Japan is called the Oosuzumebachi, which literally translates to ‘Giant Sparrow Bee’, or Giant Japanese Hornet, and it lives up to it’s name. Every year these big bastards kill 40-50 people in Japan. I’ve included a photo. Now you know what nightmare’s are made of.

James

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Japantown

Posted: May 20, 2016 in Japan, Non-Fiction
Tags: ,

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Japan, or as the locals say, Japah; the place where I expected to find the craziest bunch of crazies that ever walked the big blue earth.

Turns out they’re not so crazy after all, but they do do some weird things.

I’ve been here for a while now, not sure how long. The first week was difficult. I quickly found that my usual preparations for visiting a new country were, on this occasion, woefully inadequate.
Without even knowing it, my travels had lulled me into a false sense of security, thinking, surely every being here on earth knows English by now. What a fool I was!
The places I’ve explored, they were merely former British colonies! Practically my own back garden.
I was not prepared for a place that does not use the Latin Alphabet, does not understand me or my noises or provide much assistance in doing so.
It’s taken me until the age of 28 to truly empathise with foreigners in my own country. I cannot tell you how isolating and lonely and frustrating it is to start a language from scratch, a language which shares no similarities with your own mother tongue.

After being dropped off at my place of residence by my new employer, with no japanese mobile phone number and no smart phone (in hindsight, not a smart decision), I was left to fend for myself, a task I have never found particularly difficult.

So, after a night of rest, I began my quest. The first thing I found was that my house was hidden away in back streets, and in fact, everywhere in japan is hidden away in back streets, even the cities and big buildings and trains, all in a muddled back street (unsurprisingly perfect for ninjas), and my house was difficult to find. It had taken my employer and me over two hours to find the place.

The reason for this was that the street numbers here make no sense whatsoever. The ward (like a suburb) I live in is separated into large square-looking areas, which have a given name, then within that area the houses are given seemingly random numbers, which do not relate to the house next door to it or the street. They seem totally random. There do not seem to be any street names, except for main roads. So, I was worried to stray too far from my house, fearing that I would not be able to find my way back. But, I had to get food, and on top of that, I found that there were no adaptors available for australian plugs that have three prongs. Some australian devices have two prongs, and there are adaptors for those, but my laptop charger for example, had three, and so I had no means of contacting anyone or finding anything or looking at google maps.

So, I picked a direction and started walking. I was tempted to leave a breadcrumb trail, but had no bread at the time. I walked for hours looking for a place to buy a map or a dictionary or a computer shop, (not knowing that there was a massive shopping centre 5 minutes from my house in the opposite direction). Eventually I found a place to buy a map, but all the names on the map and in the directory were in japanese script, and so, the map was useless. It took me the first week to find out where the hell my house was on the map of Nagoya. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I became lost many times and have had great difficulties due to not being able to read anything around me. It truly is crippling not being able to read.

Going to the supermarket for the first time was like going to a tropical zoo. I knew only a few phrases in Japanese, and one of them was ‘kore wa nan desu ka?’ which means, ‘what is this?’ I must have said that twenty times on my first visit to the supermarket.
Even now my supermarket trips take me atleast an hour as I try to figure out what the hell things are and whether I can or should eat them.

I live in a town called Arimatsu, which, as far as I can tell, does not get many foreigners. I figured this out rather quickly, due to the gawking stares and gazes of wonderment. I’ve had some rather extreme reactions though. I’ve had two occasions now where a person has seen me and fled, presumably for their dear lives. I’m sure it wasn’t the Godzilla t-shirt I was wearing. I’ve also had students who have burst into tears upon realising that I was their new teacher, and/or refused to enter the classroom.
I’ve actually got one class who have cried for the last four weeks straight. Every time they line up for my lesson they start to tear up. I’m really not strict or mean or anything, I’m just huge and white and terrifying!

You don’t have to spend much time in Japan to see the effects of the hundreds of years of isolation. For a long time the military leader of Japan, the Shogun, made it illegal to leave Japan, or for foreigners to enter (punishable by death), and this law only ended in the 1800’s at the intervention of the American navy.

One unpleasant experience I have had recently was at an onsen, or public bath. It’s quite normal here to go to the public bath on a regular basis, and my housemate was excited to bring me on my first try.

You strip off completely naked and get into a bath with a bunch of other dudes.

Me and my housemate, Dae Ho, went outside to the hot bath area, and I had two japanese guys sat on either side of me, not even trying to hide their awkward staring, and one nine or ten year old boy stood at the edge of the water staring down into my crotch. Previously I had been under the impression that everything down there was rather normal, but apparently not.
It was very uncomfortable, so I just had to close my eyes and pretend they weren’t there. Maybe I should have jumped up and down and shown them the dance of my people.

People in Japan are very polite, and will often try to help, and when you do meet a Japanese person who can speak some English they are always super keen to speak with you. The people are so polite that you can often find yourself having bowing/thankyou matches with shop staff, just seeing who can out-bow the other one. It’s a little ridiculous. Sometimes it is quite nice though, like, even people in cars will often bow to you while driving past you, and they often give way to pedestrians/cyclists. In fact, I’ve liked every Japanese person I’ve met here. But, you never forget that you’re a foreigner.

There is so much more to say, but I don’t get paid to stay up late writing long blog entries, so it will have to wait til next time. If you have any questions in particular, or anything you’d like to know, feel free to ask me and I’ll address it in the next entry.

Sayonara