Mata Ne

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.” – Robert Frost

At around 10pm the other evening, as I was trying to catch up on an exorbitant amount of sleep debt, I got a knock on my door. I live pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and so I was confused as to who it could be, but since Japan is so safe I wasn’t concerned about it being some potential assailant or diddler who wanted to mess with the foreigner mere days before he returned to America. I called out as I got dressed but nobody answered. Another knock came.

I approached the door and looked through the peep hole but I didn’t see anyone on the other side. I made my right hand into a fist in case I had to punch what I thought would probably be some late night delivery service man, but could potentially be something weird. I opened the door, unprepared for the horror that would move throughout my body like a jolt of lighting.

A terrifying creature leapt from beside the door frame and let out a primitive screech that sent me reeling backwards. He was holding a white board that something scribbled across it but all I could manage to read in my shock were the words “your ass.” Beside him in the darkness appeared a smaller person shooting firecrackers in my direction and laughing maniacally. I shouted and put my hands out, ready to accept the cruel and unusual end that was upon me. But when I was not stabbed or diddled, I looked back towards the horrible creature at my door only to realize that it was Sensei, and the little maniacal person beside him was his girlfriend, Misuzu. They were laughing uncontrollably as I thrashed around my hallway in relief. He was holding a sign that had a picture of the three of us and read “We’re gonna miss your ass.”

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They came inside and gave me little gifts that held significance in relation to jokes and experiences we all had together. I had said goodbye to Zu earlier that day, and they told me they weren’t satisfied with the way it felt, so they had gathered supplies and came over to scare the hell out of me and then make some candy sushi and hang out—a “proper” goodbye for Zu, as Sensei put it.

The past few weeks have been amazing. I have had so much fun and have spent time with so many wonderful people. While I’m excited to go home, I’m not as ready as I thought I would be to part with Japan. Throughout all the good times, laughter, and sheer nonsense that occurred this month, I have felt something below the surface that I wasn’t really able to articulate or fully grasp. But then Sensei and Zu nearly took my life and I realized what it was: I’m going to miss these insane, beautiful people. I have been so fortunate to meet the folks that I have. Some I have had the pleasure of sharing nearly all my experiences with, while others I wish I had been able to spend more time with. Back home I am surrounded by such good friends and family, but I realized that I now have that here in Japan, too.

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It’s going to be challenging to find words for this post that will do justice to my experience in Japan, but I’ll attempt to do it—and briefly, as I could probably ramble on for much longer than would be desirable to my target audience (I know you’re busy, mom).

After this post I will go back to being Jon briefly before assigning myself another nickname and dropping it casually in conversations in order to make it stick. Submissions for potential nicknames will be accepted and considered on a rolling basis.

Japan: What I’ve Learned

I’ve learned that bowing improperly can cause severe lower back pain and that bengay is not sold in Japan; I’ve learned that there are no real repercussions for violating the dance act and dancing well into the morning; I’ve learned that I’m not Usher and Sensei isn’t Channing Tatum but there are times when we’ve gotten dangerously close to believing that we were; I’ve learned that a lot of things transcend language and exist without the need for an explanation.

Japan has taught me that I know way less than I thought I knew, which is a lesson that really strengthens the relationship you can have with yourself. By knowing you know less than you thought you knew, you don’t have to think you know that you are a person you don’t actually know. Translation: you’re a lot more yourself when you can put down the defenses of thinking you have to know a whole lot. We’re getting there. Remember Rilke? The importance of the questions? It keeps returning. Additionally, it’s been great to learn that nobody else really knows as much as they claim to, except for the ones who claim to know nothing.

Japan has also been frustrating at times. Coming from an individualistic society to a highly collectivist society caused a lot of challenges towards the way that I think and do things from the way that Japan thinks and does things. I sound so boring. Basically, there were times when I put a box of Oreos in the basket and Japan was like, “No, Jon,” and so I had to take them out.

Japan has taught me the importance of teaching. Something I haven’t written about enough on here is the topic of my students. These are some of the funniest, smartest, and most hard working kids I have ever met. It was as if there was no language barrier at all with them this year. We were able to laugh and have a good time; they taught me so damn much and all I taught them was English. Even on my most difficult days, when I had accidentally used itching powder instead of baking soda or took estrogen pills instead of vitamin c, they would make me smile or say hilarious and irrelevant English phrases like, “You are very, very teacher,” or “I like dog.” Both of those are most likely true so I let it slide.

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Students were allowed one American goodbye hug on the last day.

More than anything my job was just be American Jon. American Jon loves giant hamburgers and goes to the mall with Justin Bieber. American Jon rides an eagle to school and starred in Step Up 2.  But it was cool to represent where I am from and show the kids something different. I have different views and beliefs and to have been able to share that with them is more valuable than any lesson on present progressive or uncountable nouns that I could ever dream up. I’ll really miss being Jon Sensei; not for the title but for what it allowed me to teach and learn. Hell, most of the time they just called me Jon anyway.

I guess what I’ve learned the most about Japan is the importance of experiences. They are there and you can have them if you want them.

Future of the Ashikaga Kid Blog (and other writing news)

I know some of you are terrified that this blog is coming to an end, and that most of you are planning quiet celebrations with your loved ones. Don’t buy the streamers yet.

A year ago, when I first started this blog, I hated blogs and thought that they were just about pokemon, for some reason. It turns out that I was wrong, actually—about the pokemon thing at least. I really love to write, and Japan has evoked that passion more than any other place I have been. I’m planning on starting another blog, although I’m not sure quite yet what it will be about. If there is some topic you are dying to read about, let me know.

In other news, the book that I have been writing for a really long time and have told nobody about until now will be released…once I complete the daunting editing process and find a publisher. It could be a challenging road, so if you have any connections to publishers or any sort of leads, shoot me a message in the comments or email me at jonfain90@gmail.com.

Final thoughts

To anyone that is reading this, thank you. I loved who I met and the connections that were made, and it has made me realize that more than anything it is the people you meet that are the best thing about traveling. The temples and mountains and quiet moments were outstanding, but Chris McCandless said it best when he wrote that happiness is only real when shared.

It is the people that made Japan so great. Everyone I’ve met has been another ingredient that added to the incredible experience. To both my Japanese and foreigner friends, I can’t thank you enough for being the wonderful people that you are and making my life all the better. Keep it together, Fain…don’t lose it now, Fain. Thank you to everyone who made this the best year of my life.


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I don’t have the credentials to offer advice. My birth certificate does not say Dear Abbey or Ask Amy or Inquire With Ignacio. If you got anything out of the chaos of this blog over the last year of posting then I’m really happy, and if not then I’d understand. But, before I get too off topic again and further evade the inevitable closing of this blog, let me—credential-less Jon Fain, the self-proclaimed Ashikaga Kid for a few more precious moments—offer you one piece of advice: there is no right or perfect time to do something. There will always be things that you can point to as reasons to wait. Don’t wait; just go and do it. Do it unapologetically. You’ll find strange and wonderful people along the way that will change your life forever.

Or, of course, don’t. That’s the point. You have a choice.

Thanks for coming along,

The Ashikaga Kid

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God, I’ll miss this clown.

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Countdown (Not Beyonce)

“Come home.” – my mom

As the countdown to the end of my time in Japan becomes almost palpable, I’m taking some time to escape the chaos of the move back to the states by writing this month’s post. Graduation by Vitamin C has been synced onto my iPod and will be played when the time is right, but for now you are safe.

June has been another good one. It started off with an American festival that tested the foundation of my patriotism, then led me up a few mountains, and concluded with a final weekend in Kyoto with Hip Hop. There were a lot of moments that made me realize what I am actually leaving when I get on the plane in a month. Those have been coming a bit more frequently.

American Festival

Apparently, Americans like to flash mob once an hour. I was skeptical about this until Sensei confirmed it by jumping from whatever chair he was sitting in at the moment and dashing madly to the front of the stage to do a number of incorrect steps besides a group dancing startlingly in unison. It wouldn’t be the American festival without the most American guy there ruining the flash mob.

The Tochigi International Party came together and pulled off a really good time. It was fantastic to see the interpretation of America in the eyes of my Japanese friends. I like their America. It was fun and welcoming and there were even really good chili dogs. There were a lot less illegal fireworks and overly competitive volleyball matches than in my America, which was an interesting change.

Some of my favorite folks at the festival

Some of my favorite folks at the festival

I volunteered at the beer tent, which as everyone knows is the single best place to volunteer at any event. Sensei and Zu worked alongside Hip Hop and myself, although it was documented that Sensei did not pour one beer for anyone that day. He was too busy practicing his flash mobbing and leaping over tables to get to flash mobs. He wore an America cape and it was really bizarre. There were murmurs throughout the crowd of comparisons between myself and Tom Cruise in Cocktail. I could see it. We’re both really good bartenders and we both love mojitos. I’ve never seen cocktail. It turns out the murmurs were actually comparing me and Tintin from The Adventures of Tintin. My world slowly came crashing down upon me.

Once I was finally fired for drinking all of the imported Budweiser, I hit the dance floor. Sensei was already there, flash mobbing alone. Everyone quickly joined in as the DJ let some great American hits rip and that’s when I felt it. It was America, jolting through my body like lightning. Feeling loose after Tom Cruise served you one too many plastic cups filled with beer and one too many winks and so you had to toss your limbs around with the rest of the arrhythmic dancers swiveling about you: that is my America.

Nantai-san and Oze

Nantai-san is considered to be a sacred mountain, so naturally Dale wore Skechers to hike it, which is probably the most sacrilegious thing you can do.  Everyone knows Skechers are for lighting up movie theater aisles during power outages and giving Demi Lovato endorsement deals. Dale didn’t get the memo.

We kicked 500 yen to the god of the mountain—it was supposed to be 200 but Dale told everyone the wrong price, which I ended up being okay with because I was nervous about offending the mountain with the Skechers—and then we were on our way. What a fantastic mountain. It was challenging, steep, and really satisfying. The views of lake Chuzenji from the summit were incredible. We had lunch beside a temple at the top and looked down at the lake, Skechers dimly blinking, feeling the kind of small that only mountains have the power to instill in you.

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A little sword in the stone action

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The view from the summit

The next weekend it was Oze, a much easier hike but beautiful nonetheless. I went with one of my good friends. The night before we watched Jersey Boys and Frankie Vallie’s voice has been following me ever since. “Walk Like A Man” has been making me especially self-aware. We had a true alpine start, leaving at 1 am and hitting the trail at around 4:30 am. I was tired and a little groggy, but when we stepped out into the marsh I realized why we had gotten up so early…

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I leave Him Alone for One Weekend…

This is a small tribute to a man that has become one of my best friends and most respected and trusted confidantes…just as long as he is not left to his own devices for more than twenty four hours. There is something that you all need to know about my friend, Sensei. This man will do anything in order to dance, and once he gets there, watch out, things will heat up quick. If I’m Kevin Bacon, then sensei is John Travolta. Take that in for a minute.

When I went hiking in Oze, I had to leave Sensei alone. It was one night, and I thought he would be okay under the care of Dale, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I blame myself. Apparently, he went to the club in Tokyo and was turned away for wearing shorts. I think any normal human being would have gone to another club or, considering they are in one of the largest cities in the world, found a place to buy a cheap pair of jeans. Sensei stormed across the road to the convenient store and bought a pair of pantyhose to cover his legs as if modesty were the reason they had turned him away. While telling me this story, he expressed that he bought a pair of “hose.” I stopped him out of confusion and once he explained that he meant pantyhose I berated him for such a languid and irresponsible shortening of the word.

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He’ll never be forgiven

Spoiler alert. The hose were too tight. So instead of giving up and saying, “Well this was actually a really stupid idea and I am an idiot,” Sensei purchased several plastic bags and a roll of masking tape and covered his legs and lower torso with plastic bags, again, as if modesty were the reason this fancy club had turned him away. Then he went to the club.

The Pants

The Pants

The Walk

The Walk

The Shamelessness

The Shamelessness

Spoiler alert. They said absolutely not, get the hell out of here, man. So he rented some pants, which to me seems like an option you choose before resorting to covering yourself in plastic bags if you’re that excited to get into the club in the first place. I’ll miss not living a train ride away from that man-child.

One Month Left

The month is flying by and everything is bittersweet. I’m looking back at the goals I have met and setting some new ones. Writing has been something that Japan has given me a lot of time and ammunition to get after, and so I think I will remember this most as a place where I finally started something I said I would start for years. It also goes without saying that the friendships I have made here are invaluable. I’m most concerned now about returning from the safest country in the world to the not so safest country in the world, comparatively. In Japan my guard is never up, so look out for a story about being robbed or beaten in the near future.

At the end of anything I think there is a sense of urgency that spawns a series of questions. Am I making the right decision? Did I accomplish everything I wanted to? How am I going to fit twelve Hello Kitty lunch boxes into my suitcase? I’ve already touched upon the nature of questions in a previous post, but I’ll just reiterate that I think they can be far more valuable than the answers. So that’s what I have now, more questions than when I started out in Japan. And that’s okay.

One day, I will be gone. On the eve of that day, I’d really like to look back (willing that I’m aware of my own impending departure) and say that I made the right choices. And I think the right choices are the ones that scare the hell out of you.

America—working my way back to you, babe.

Jon

Climbing and Dancing My Way Across Japan

 “Don’t hassle me, I’m local.” – Bill Murray’s shirt in What About Bob

What a month. I’ll need to be delivered to work tomorrow in a wheelbarrow. From crack climbing at Japan’s best climbing area, to moonwalking across the floors of Tokyo’s finest clubs, to bringing folks together under the awesome power of Stevie Wonder for a night of flared pants and over-confidently unbuttoned shirts, this was a good one.

Ogawayama

I was graced with a visit from none other than the Rhode Island Tiger, Uncle Dom, during Japan’s Golden Week. Golden Week is week-long stream of holidays that allow folks to travel throughout the country and enjoy some well-deserved time off. Many people visit temples or take part in various cultural activities celebrating Japanese culture. But our trip didn’t really have much to do with any of that. Our focus was on a voyage to Japan’s Wild West where we would cruise the country’s most famous climbing routes. So, after snagging UD from the airport, we rented that tiny car I mentioned last month; picked up the Yokohama Cowboy and the Saitama Terror; packed the Toyota Passo with as much climbing gear, Pocky, and beer that the tiny vessel could handle; and the four of us rode off to Ogawayama in Nagano Prefecture.

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A little Japanese barbecue

Uncle Dom started off the trip in true Japanese fashion by giving me a gift of his size twelve 5.10 Quantams.  Needless to say I was stoked on the gift, especially because I’ve been climbing in 5.10 Huecos for over two years now, which would be fine except the left shoe has had a pretty big hole near the big toe for about a year now.  But despite just how grateful I was to UD for his cordial and culturally apropos offering, after a few climbs I ran back with feet screaming to my Huecos.

A word on Huecos: Although this shoe has been neglected by many and loved by one, the Huecos are not your average climbing kicks. This is footwear you sport on a first date. You thank her for picking up the check, tell her you respect her decision not to see you again, drop her back home, and then head to your local crag to send the hardest route without changing out of your tux. Some people mangle their feet with shoes that look like they were used in the San Gimignano torture chambers. They flail their disfigured toes in hopes of getting the optimal move on that one route they’ve been trying for years. I’ll stick with my Huecos…love my Huecos. On my wedding day, look down. Guess what I’ll be wearing. Thanks, 5.10.

After not being able to do much more than bouldering the past few months, I kicked off the trip with some fear management on a trad climb that I may or may not have done a little overthinking on. A few falls on gear and some deep breathing preceded my finish, but it was just what I needed to get excited for the rest of the week.  We got on some really nice lines and had some fun on a three star multi-pitch climb with a crux 5.6 pitch that made some Gunks routes look like climbing the birch tree in your backyard. When Aaron wasn’t cracking the guidebook code, Shoko wasn’t  biouvacking in sub-arctic conditions, and Uncle Dom wasn’t scaring away the neighborhood kids, they were climbing hard and earning every beer they had back at the campsite at the end of the day. Or, well, most of the beers. It was a great group to be climbing with.

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If this trip had taken place in any other country, the recurrence of nudity may have been alarming. But finishing each day at an onsen was a reward that made me appreciate where we were all the more. Also, there is nothing that drives locals out of hot springs like three naked foreign men sitting curiously close to the tub’s jets.

We finished our trip on Japan’s most famous crack, the Ogawayama Layback. It was a climb that required little to no layback technique and was more psychologically daunting in all its eminence than it was technically difficult. So, come to think of it, the trip ended with a bit of fear management, too. But clipping the anchors at the top of the crack never felt so good.

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Ogawayama Layback

I can with confidence say that this was one of the best climbing trips I have been on. I had a blast and the trip really helped me to orient my climbing goals for the future. There is truly something special about getting back to what you love, especially when what you love has the potential to awe and, frankly, scare the shit out of you.  I’m looking forward to many more routes—hopefully some really big ones— and I’ll absolutely take the lessons I learned at Ogawayama along with me.

In addition to a great week out west, Uncle Dom snapped some beautiful photos at Nikko and we also got to do a bit of drinking in Tokyo. A truly memorable Golden Week, and one that lived up to the splendor of its name, which is kind of lame, but I appreciate it. Thanks 5.10. Thanks Uncle Dom.

Tokyo and Kyoto

By now I’m sure the notoriety of my dancing has stretched across the globe, and not just because I’ve consistently posted it in its own exclusive section on every one of my blog posts. On the weekends in-between rock climbing and Funkfest, I did a significant amount of rug-cutting, to the point where a rug-cutting organization could have been established, with ports in Tokyo, Kyoto, and New York City, and the only manufacturer being me as I cut away at thousands of rugs with tireless legs. Dramatic? Maybe.

In Tokyo we went to a club called Womb. I’m guessing it is called Womb because medical professionals will have to drag you screaming out of it at the end of the evening. I’ve been there before, and in any other country a club with the name “Womb” would most certainly be one to steer clear of, but let me tell you, this place is awesome. Except for the weekend we went this month. It sucked that weekend. Still, despite the surplus of predatory foreign men (I like to think that I am only one of the latter two adjectives) and trance music that made me feel like I was sixteen and in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, we still danced like nobody’s business. And it was actually business that nobody wanted to be a part of.  So despite the lame vibe we still had a good time. Plus, I always say that life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain. I always say that.

After the club took a cab to a famous fish market and waited in line at five in the morning—in the rain—to eat sushi. This was one of the worst ideas of my life. I am honestly still wondering how I did not predict the toil of this situation given the variables involved. Drinking all night. No sleep. Fish market. Rain. Waiting in line. Eating sushi. 0 times any other number is always zero and so is the outcome of all of these variable added together. There was absolutely no dancing in the rain, it was wholeheartedly an aggrieved waiting for the storm to pass. Sensei slept on my shoulder and I slept on Nith’s. People seemed happy and this only added to the nightmarish confusion that fell over me as the minutes passed. At one point Sensei left to go to the ATM and when he didn’t return for a long time I seriously thought that might be it for him. My mind went there. I thought he curled up next to a pile of fresh salmon and went into hibernation for the next half-century. Anyways, he came back, and thank god because I made him eat 70% of my sushi.

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5 am. Waiting to die.

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Sensei eating the famed sushi…at 6 am.

The following weekend I went to Hip Hop’s for a boat ball. I live tweeted the whole thing and the response was startling because there was none. I had a really good time, met some great folks, and at one point a young Japanese man who spoke very little English sang the most articulate version of “YMCA” that I have ever heard. I felt entranced by the spot on eloquence of his angelic voice as my arms shifted from the M position to the C position, the most difficult position in the sequence and one that is often done half-assed, in my opinion.

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Hip hop was unable to contain her excitement

After that it was, of course, time for a club. As a side note, I’d like to say that before I came to Japan I had been to only a handful of clubs. I was never a club guy. Yet here I feel as though I am Pauly D given the frequency of my club visits and dancing. The only difference between us, now, is that I doubt Pauly D asks the DJ to play Cher. If he does, I highly doubt he is offended when the DJ refuses. So we went to this club called World Peace, or something like that. It was a powerful message that didn’t quite deliver. The inside was filled with gyrating twenty-somethings and not altruistic nuns as the club’s title had alluded. But the DJ was pretty cool. After that I ate a helping of shwarma (I confess I had already eaten one before the club at Hip Hop’s suggestion).

Funkfest: Japan

For those of you who know me, you may know that one of my passions in life is throwing a party that I like to call Funkfest. I’ve been doing it both successfully and unsuccessfully since I was about seventeen. The inaugural party was one I’ll never forget, and a few of them were unintentionally and permanently forgotten, but each has been pretty good. Maybe.

I decided that I needed to have a Funkfest before leaving Japan, and so with the use of my good buddy Sensei’s apartment, the cooking talents of Chef Dale and the planning talents of Alan and Hip Hop, we threw what I’m convinced is the first and last party of its kind in Japan.

We moved all the furniture out of Sensei’s two main rooms, revealing what has become my new favorite material to dance on, tatami. I’m not sure that tatami has ever seen so much groove as it did at Funkfest. There were times that the friction of dance most certainly could have set it ablaze. But it endured. Funkle Joe takes the award for best dancer of the evening. I tried my best to keep up but was slowed down remarkably after trying to imitate a split that he made look easy. This imitation resulted in a groin strain and a violently bruised ego. However, it proved to be a blessing in disguise as it saved me from potentially shattering my pelvis later on when I declined to do the worm despite resounding chants. It was the first time I have ever declined the worm and I like to think that this was a step towards adulthood.

After having learned so much about culture and traditions in Japan, it was nice to tarnish my own culture by sharing Funkfest. I think it is notable to mention that at one point in the evening we felt the tremors of a sizeable earthquake that had hit off the coast of Japan. I’m not an expert in seismic activity, but I do think that Funk had something to do with it.

Winding Down

With only two months left in Japan—and, coincidentally, two more posts left in this particular blog—there is definitely a lot on my mind. The rest of my time here will fly by, as I’ll have a lot of preparing to do before I head home and because it takes me at least two months to say goodbye to anybody. Japan is a place where I truly learned a lot about myself and about people, time, and the nature of happiness. It has changed my plans and taught me to appreciate things I may have taken for granted before. But, more about that next time.

Get down on it,

Jon

The Pizza Hut Escalation

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

Hey all,

Posting this one a bit early, as I’ll be off the grid climbing later this week in Nagano. Really looking forward to this upcoming trip. I’ll be able to focus for roughly a week on climbing some of Japan’s most famous routes. It’s a good chance to keep training in order to do some big stuff down the stretch. We rented a tiny car for the trip, almost small enough to be remote controlled. The remainder of our funds will go to the “Papa project,” a small kickstarter with a goal of making everyone in Japan call me Papa.

Pizza Hut

I was in Shiga not too long ago hanging with Hip Hop Nith. On Saturday we decided to get some pizza, because we so rarely get it in Japan and we were both craving some. In Japan, Pizza Hut is a big deal. It’s a night out; a close a million dollar deal with some cheesy crust type of restaurant; a propose to your girlfriend at the salad bar type of place. Coming from America, where Pizza Hut is only an option when there isn’t another pizza place within a 50 mile radius, I was surprised to learn about Japanese Pizza Hut Culture (hereafter referred to as JPHC). So after Hip Hop told me about all this, I threw on the tuxedo, hired a limo, and we set forth on the eight minute journey to Japan’s premiere Italian Ristorante.

Upon our arrival we realized there were no seats or tables. What we had stumbled upon was some sort of Pizza Hut take out hub. Needless to say I was devastated. There was none of the anticipated class, yet three times the price of a reasonable pie in the states. I suppose pizza is one of the things I’ve taken for granted, especially growing up near New Haven. I’m trying to make a point to justify the two paragraphs that I just wrote about Pizza Hut, but I can’t.

Purposefully Lost

This past weekend Sensei and I went down to Tokyo with a friend of his, where he proceeded to lose me within a matter of minutes and then ride the train in every possible direction but the one we were trying to head in. We were going to meet with friends that we hadn’t seen in a while and we told them originally that we would be there at 8. That time changed drastically after Sensei said he would “meet me at the track.” Mere seconds before our train’s arrival, I received a frantic text saying “don’t get on the train!” I complied and watched as the train pulled away, and then received a casual phone call: “Hey man, we are on the train.” The very train I was commanded not to get on.

Well the joke was on him, because even though I had to wait 15 minutes for another train, I still managed to beat sensei there by fifteen minutes, a seemingly impossible feat that only came to pass because the train that Sensei had abandoned me for was actually headed in the opposite direction. So while I was at first mocking him for my mistake, quickly the joke was placed, yet again, back on me, as I waited for his train to arrive. But we made it and had a great time.

Reflection

Too often when I’m skimming a blog or an article the author comes off as some all knowing being that has five steps for the perfect life. Either that or the author is claiming to know, at like age 23, all there is to know about being happy and fulfilled. I was 23 just two years ago and I’ll tell you from personal experience that I did not have the degree of enlightenment that it takes to get published by Elite Daily. But a lot of these posts are narrow minded and make incredible assumptions about what people in the world can and cannot do. Not everyone has a passport that allows them to just up and leave, and not everyone has the luxury of just getting up and leaving. But I’ll give it a try. Here are five things that will make you have a better life:

1 – Stop

2 – Reading

3 – Senseless

4 – Clickbait

5 – Articles

I think if you work hard at something, you can make it happen. That doesn’t necessarily mean it will be in five steps, though, unless you have the privilege that a lot of the people who write those articles do. I’m aware of my own privilege in society, and in having that, I think there is a responsibility to acknowledge it consciously when writing.

For people who can’t run off to another place, please don’t think that you’re doomed because someone with an easier path thinks they know all the answers. This week’s quote by Rilke is something that I’ve always thought is extremely relevant and well said because it embraces questions. I have such a hard time with the unknown, as I’m sure many of us do, but thinking of them as books written in a foreign language is something so incredible; because no matter how difficult the language might be, the ability to learn it is never out of reach. So instead of looking for answers, it’s okay to be comfortable in your questions.

What a roller coaster ride of emotions that was.

Jon

Good Thaimes

“You can either watch the movie, or you can play in the movie.” Nui

Hey all,

Got back from Thailand late last night; just in time to keep on track with a monthly post. Easily one of the coolest trips I’ve taken: good food and great people, and some climbing and beautiful views. I’m excited to write this post and share some of the things we did and saw. Also, I think I’m finally getting used to WordPress, as my pictures are no longer just thumbnails, small victories.

Bangkok

We stayed at iDeer hostel in Sathon. It was a nice place and within close proximity to some cool things to check out, one of which was a sky bar that provided great views of the city. Mango the cat and Ralph the dog definitely were a great addition to the environment, although Mango had it out for sensei and clawed through his possessions on several occasions. Luke felt the need to express his dislike of the cat to the cat but to no avail because  it was, in fact, a cat and not a human.

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Really beautiful Buddha statue at Wat Pho

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Reclining Buddha has to custom order his Skechers

We were able to checkout some cultural sites in the city, the most memorable being Wat Pho temple. It had a massive reclining Buddha and some really beautiful architecture. Compared to temples in Japan, Thai temples are extravagantly colored and feature much more gold. 

We were only in Bangkok for two nights to and so we had to check out the infamous Khao San road. The insanity that persisted exceeded my perceived notoriety of Khao San. It was a giant party with bars, clubs, live music, and not to mention shady offerings that were ubiquitous throughout the stretch of the road. We did some drinking at a safe distance from the madness at a little bar with great music before plunging into the vortex of chaos that set me several years back on my pledge to cut down on dancing. I wore through the twelve dollar Birkenstock knock offs that I had purchased earlier that afternoon in just one night.

Krabi

In Krabi we stayed at the Laughing Gecko Bungalows. The owner Nui introduced himself with the quote at the top of this month’s post. It really set the tone for the trip and reminded us why we were all there. The accommodation was simple and perfect. It is one of my favorite places I have stayed on any of my trips. Nui is cool as hell.

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Deep water soloing. I’m the pale one off to the right.

On the first full day I was able to go deep water soloing off the coast of Tonsai with the crew. This is something I have always wanted to do, and while it was a little crowded and there were a few clowns lacking the possession of any climbing etiquette, I had a blast soloing routes and jumping from the finish into the ocean. It’s definitely a little wild climbing without ropes, as the higher you go the higher you need to jump down into the water. My buddy, Ryan, went up about three stories. I was sure he would down climb a bit before jumping, but out of nowhere the madman leaped from his position–leaving enough time in the air for me to play a terrifying Beethoven concerto on the violin–and hit the water. He survived. One particularly pale fellow clung trembling to a route roughly three feet above the water as the sun cooked his back. After enough people screamed, “Jump, man!” and, “You’re frying! You need more sunscreen!” he jumped screeching into the water. When I look at my own sunburn in the mirror I think of him and pour some aloe out.

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Looking out from Phra Nang.

Everyone but Ryan and I went on an island tour on the second day, leaving the two of us go full Thelma and Louise on several beaches. A series of game time decisions led us to Phra Nang beach, a small but beautiful beach that offered cave exploration and some great boulder routes. We gallivanted around here for a while and swam five minutes to another island. Some guy told us to get off a resort and I’m convinced it was my mustache that gave away our otherwise flawless high-society disguise. Either that or the Bangkok-beaten “Birkenstocks” that were hanging from my feet. Around noon we decided to catch a boat to Railay for some lunch. Once we reached the island we crushed some shawarma and made for a lagoon that we had heard about.

If Japan has taught me anything it is that monkeys should be feared. Before reaching the trail to the lagoon we came upon some monkeys. I made no eye contact and kept going, but several other travelers decided to approach the situation differently. One woman got down to eye level with this pretty big monkey that I thought I could probably take but not before losing a finger and at least 3 pints of dignity. As she went to snap a photo the monkey palmed the camera, dazing the woman, and then snagged her water bottle and bolted. As he retreated to the safety of the canopy he screeched something that could probably be translated as, “Not this time.”

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A portion of the descent to the lagoon

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A look at the lagoon.

The lagoon was the highlight of this trip for me. It was challenging to get to; we had to descend a few steep, polished drop-offs on fixed ropes, but the approach was half the fun. Ryan mentioned that the lagoon was one of those things you always see maybe on the internets but never expect to experience. We swam out into the middle. The shape of the enclosure resembled an eye but one person down there insisted it was “elpisical”, a butchered word that reminded me that as long as three dudes were on consecutive ellipticals at any given time, it was okay to hop on. We bouldered a bit more and then met a friend for a drink before heading back to the bungalow to exchange stories and eat an amazing dinner cooked by Nui.

 

Now, on the last morning I decided it would be fun to take a Muay Thai lesson. It’s not like you sign for anything in Thailand– no waivers or slips–you just sort of show up or reserve a spot, and so that fact alone should have foreshadowed the beating I was going to take. I showed up with Judy Cruise and almost immediately got in the ring. I used what little I knew from boxing and such and tried to keep up with the instructor, Bon. Well, Bon essentially kicked the hell out of me, smiling and encouraging me the whole time. Meanwhile, I didn’t see Judy getting front kicked in the chest or swept or punched in the face. No, I only caught glimpses of her laughing as she continued on with her enjoyable training. We finished with some sparring, which was not so much sparring as it was a display of Mortal Kombat if one dude left to go to the bathroom and his buddy un-paused the controller and went to town with a series of kicks, knees, and elbows on the defenseless character. It was type two fun for sure, pushing on type three if that’s such a thing. But I really enjoyed it and Bon was a good guy, as I know he was only going at about a quarter of his capabilities, if that.

I should mention that I have become really fond of Chang beer. Some might say it’s the Bud Light of Thailand, but I would argue that it is the Pabst Blue Ribbon of Thailand, and I believe that argument is strong and worth making. I’m not a huge beer t-shirt guy, but I had to buy a chang-top because this is a product I believe in. Chang, Chang-ing the way you look at things.

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Kickin’ it with Nith

Those are some of the highlights. There are a lot of other stories, some of which I’ll put into writing and the rest of which will go into the vault–unlocked only by Changs.  We made some great friends in airport security lines and on crazy boat rides who joined in and added to the fun. Thailand definitely recharged the batteries and I would say gave me a fresh perspective on what I want to do next. It was great to do some climbing, and with the weather getting nicer in Japan I’ll be able to get back to training harder for some harder climbs and I won’t have to pump myself up as much to get the motivation to write.

Other than that, Incubus was sweet. We got close enough to scream “I love you, Brandon!” to make Brandon Boyd uncomfortable. The opening act was god awful but nearly every Japanese person in the crowd knew each synchronized dance move. I tried but it only led to a beer retrieval shame moonwalk.

The cherry blossoms are in bloom and I’m looking forward to checking them out when Nith comes over to Ashikaga next weekend. A few more months in Japan which means a new adventure is on the horizon. Whether or not that horizon is Jade or not is yet to be determined. If you get that particular joke then I’m excited to have a beer with you in a few months, and if you don’t then let’s have ten beers and I’ll explain it. Thanks for following, all, I love to share my stories and to hear yours.

Jon

Naked and Afraid

Humanity takes itself too seriously. It is the world’s original sin. If the caveman had known how to laugh, history would have been different.”  Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Hey babe,

Hope my friends in New England are surviving the snow alright. How about those four seasons? You’ve got to love New England’s four seasons, one of which will literally launch your car off the road and into a snowy embankment outside of Dunkin Donuts if you’re not careful. That being said, I miss New England and all of you.

After being in Japan for all this time, I’m really disappointed in myself for not writing more about onsens. An onsen is a Japanese hot spring where people gather and nudely submerge their bodies into scalding hot water. It’s usually more relaxing than my description made it sound, but in my opinion it can either be an amazing experience or a nightmare. I’ve encountered both.

Last weekend some friends and I drove up north to Zao in Yamagata. The company was great, the weather was perfect, and the weekend was filled with skiing beautiful trails that overlooked Zao’s famous snow monsters and the countless mountains of Yamagata. After day one on the slopes (whenever I say “the slopes” I picture a man skiing on two by fours latched to his 1982 Flock of Seagulls Edition ski boots and wearing jeans over a leotard. He has long, bleached blond hair and some of those really clown-esque rainbow lens sunglasses, swinging his hips violently from side to side as he runs into children and listens to Depeche Mode on his walkman) we drove over to our cool little Japanese style hotel. Zao is famous for its onsen and after rumor of there being one in the very basement of our hotel, we had to check it out. And we did. And it was fantastic. The whole place smelled like cedar, and we had the onsen to ourselves. A few minutes in the onsen completely relieved any soreness felt after a day of skiing. Keep in mind that you only stay in for short periods at a time, or else you’ll pass out and eventually come to as a shriveled, helpless version of the person you once were.

Pals at the top

View of the mountains from the gondola

That particular event would be categorized under an amazing experience. Now allow me to inform you of a nightmare. A few weeks ago, Sensei and I were on our way back from a business trip in Tokyo. We were tired and decided it might be nice to try and find an onsen on our way home. Let me precede this story by defending the Japanese onsen because what we ended up going to was not technically an onsen. It was a sento, which is essentially a Japanese bathhouse. Sento have been declining in Japan ever since people got their own bathtubs. At the train station we found an information desk. Sensei asked if there was anywhere around there where a couple of dudes could take a bath. The women looked horrified at the question. She told us there was a sento nearby, and described is as an “old, dirty bathhouse”, and was visibly uncomfortable when what she had thought to be an obvious warning of not to go somewhere was met by two vigorously nodding heads asking her how to get there. She drew us a map and bid us farewell, forever.

On the way there we stopped to look at the map and a man asked us if we needed help. We asked him where the sento was and he said that if we followed him he would take us there. He was our sento guardian angel, and went about ten minutes out of his way to make sure that we had the experience that was coming to us. We entered the sento through a door that was clearly marked for males, and were greeted by an old women sitting on what ironically resembled a judge’s bench in front of a wall that divided the male side from the female side. All rise for the honorable Judge Sento. We paid her the sento toll and she gave us tiny towels. We quickly realized we were the youngest attendees by roughly 83 years. The woman at the information desk was right. This sento was both old and dirty, but Sensei and I never back down in any situation, because one of us always uses guilt to prevent the other from doing so. This time it was Sensei.

I hesitantly undressed in front of the old woman, feeling as though I had paid 400 yen to violate myself. Sensei oddly seemed be in good spirits, stripping down and prancing around like he owned the place. Prior to this, our experiences in the natural hot springs of Japan had been delightful. But this was not natural hot spring water. This was more like rain water collected in a barrel and placed over a giant stove. Before we entered the “bath” we had to shower, as is customary. I sat and doused myself in water from the showerhead, and when I squirted a little soap into my hand, I was berated by several men who were already lounging in the bath. I could not understand what they were saying, given my lack of knowledge for bathhouse Japanese, and so I bowed awkwardly and continued to soap myself but was again scolded until the men lost their patience and came at us, naked and in full force. My view of sensei was obstructed by dangling extremities as the men rummaged through their bags to get us some soap. I was kindly handed a bar and it was then that I understood what was happening. In onsens, soap is traditionally provided, but it is different in sentos. Sentos are BYOS, and Sensei and I hadn’t received the memo. When I caught sight of Sensei again he was soaping up his hair while an older man worked on his back. He screamed in glee as several naked, old men tossed buckets of hot water on him.

After we were bathed we got into the tub. The men asked us if we were too hot and turned on the cold tap to accommodate us. While the uniqueness of the situation had initially caused me to be uneasy, the nightmare dissolved and all that was left were some nice old dudes who went out of their way to help a couple of clown foreigners that had stumbled awkwardly into a sento. We were on their turf. They didn’t need to accept us, but they did and we really had a blast because of it. We said thank you, got dressed, and when we left I could have sworn that the old woman on the judge’s bench winked at me. There had been some judging going on after all.

Things are good in Japan. I’ve been running the blog and social media for the Tochigi ALT Network and working on a few pieces; other than that, just work and traveling. The end of this month and March are looking good: rug-cutting in Osaka, Incubus in Tokyo, and some climbing in Thailand. Bound to be a few stories in there somewhere, but we’ll see what happens in the next post.

If the towel is too small, don’t bother to wear it.

Jon

Ni Ju Let’s Go

“It is hard to notice what you see every day.” H. Incandenza 

Hey all,

A belated happy 2015! I apologize for all of my holiday well wishes being belated. The new year has commenced excitingly, and while the bowflex I purchased on craigslist has already become a fedora rack (the “wear more fedoras” resolution hasn’t faltered), I’m confident that this is going to be a great year. Last week I turned 25— ni ju go (二十五)— and I’m proud to say I haven’t read anything titled:

  • “Ugh, You’re a Quarter Century Old”;
  • “25 Ways to Know You’re 25”;
  • “A Man Gives a Cat a Hundred Dollar Bill, What Happens Next is Unbelievable…”.

I think I’ll choose to keep my feelings as unsullied as possible.

A few weeks ago I checked out Harajuku. There were significantly less holler backs than I expected. Gwen Stefani was nowhere to be found and my Pikachu full body suit had been worn in vain. Everyone there was sporting jeans and Uniqlo jackets except for the man dressed as Sailor Moon who winked at me. Before this major disappointment we spent the the afternoon in Ueno park, which was beautiful.

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Ueno Park

Last weekend Nith and I visited Nara for the Yamayaki festival at Mt. Wakakusa. In Japanese, Yamayaki translates to burn the mountain, which is not some sort of allegorical title, but rather a very literal reference as to what was coming later. We got there early to check out some temples, the highlight definitely being Todaiji, a temple that was reconstructed a number of times and, although now smaller than it was originally, is said to be the largest timber-framed building in the world. The world! Inside Todaiji there is a massive Buddha that is raising a hand in a “no big deal” fashion. But it is a big deal, because although incredibly humble he is the world’s largest bronze guilded Vairocana Buddha statue. Within the Todaiji temple there is also a small hole in one of the wooden columns and the story goes that if you can crawl through the hole you’ll come out enlightened on the other side. I was desperately eager to try but after seeing a boy about 1/3 of my age and size get stuck in the hole, his legs flailing as groups of adults around him took pictures , I decided that enlightenment was overrated. He eventually exited looking more frazzled than enlightened. I should also mention that deer roam freely throughout the city of Nara. They are everywhere. Historically they were observed as messengers of the gods; now their only message is that they are hungry enough to eat your coat.  People occasionally feed them and grandmas are occasionally headbutted.

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A little too much light

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Talk to the hand

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Todaiji

We got some shawarma for dinner and made a few terrible puns before heading over to the park to wait for an act to be committed that seemed totally irresponsible but was deemed acceptable in the name of tradition. The night was cold but we were really stoked to see what was going to happen. There were some fireworks that one guy in particular felt the need to express were fantastic, screaming in monosyllabic disbelief every time one was set off. This man most likely died from excitement because when they lit the mountain on fire I heard no more cries from his direction. Within minutes of setting the grass at the base the mountain ablaze, Wakakusa was completely engulfed in flames. Nith did a little research later and found out that this annual tradition actually started as the product of a feud. I guess it was so great that decided to just keep doing it.

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A note on chips: In Japan there are cylindrical canisters potentially harboring millions of chip fugitives. Chip Star looks and tastes suspiciously like Pringles. It’s as if the guy on the cover of the Pringles can shaved his mustache, stopped parting his hair in the middle, and tried to push Pringles abroad under the guise of a different can. And when someone was like, “Are these Pringles?” he panicked, took a look at the chips and a glance at a Justin Beiber 2013 Never Say Never tour poster, and decided on the name. They’re Pringles.

I don’t even want to get into the dancing.

I love January because it is a definite marker for a fresh start. Sometimes this means huge changes that happen almost instantly, but the majority of the time I believe it denotes small changes that require dedication in order for bigger changes to occur. The most difficult part of it all might be the realization and acceptance of the fact that we are equipped with everything we need to get started–sort of sounds like the start to a Tony Robbins cassette tape, but I believe it.

Jon