Tuesday, July 1, 2008

365 days in Japan

Today is the one-year anniversary of my move to Japan. It snuck up fast. Here, Father Time wears a black hood and pads around silently in split-toed tabi, only to suddenly shoulder-roll into view and embed a shuriken into your forehead.

I felt nostalgic after realizing it was my 365th day here and read through some old journal entries from last year. At the time I was 2.5 kids and an outdoor grill away from being a fat suburban loser. Every morning I got into my Honda Civic and commuted 25 minutes through highway traffic, listening to the soul-eating banality of drivetime corporate radio. Thank god I worked with interesting people at the time, because after work I would settle back into the Civic and do the commute back to the 'burbs, only this time--and I hesitate to even admit this--I'd listen to Tom Leykis's crappy talk show filled with "amazing" dating tips like "pump 'em and dump 'em" and "your goal should be to get more ass than a toilet seat."

Arriving home to my featureless white apartment, take-out burrito in hand, I would sit in front of my computer and read the news. Most nights would be accompanied by a half bottle or so of 3-buck Chuck and a fistful of candy. I was an authoritative 224 around the time I left. After dinner I would usually go to the apartment complex weight room and put in a half hour on the elliptical, while watching Mexican telenovellas without sound on the wall-mounted TV. I was reduced to a piece of workout equipment designed for pregnant women and asthmatic hemophiliacs.

It started to dawn on me that we are nothing more than an aggregate lump of the choices we've made. At a certain point, you can't claim to be a good guy who lies sometimes--after a certain number of lies, you're a liar. You're not a struggling novelist with a day job if you never produce--you're a barista with delusions. By the same token, I saw myself as a risk-taker, an adventurer, philosophically different from the people shuffling in and out of Blockbuster with the latest Tom Cruise movie "the Man" has told them to watch. Made of sterner stuff.

But there I was, drinking the same Starbucks, watching the same summer blockbusters, driving in the same bland Japanese econo-box. So when the chance came to go to Japan, I took it. It meant leaving all my family, my friends, and my girlfriend of four years to take a job I had no experience in in a completely foreign country. A different alphabet, a different culture, different everything. When I first got to Japan I didn't know how to ask for a glass of water. It was an epic cultural kick to the scrote for a good couple months.

The switch was comprehensive. I spent the last year with no cell phone and no car. All my bills are on auto-pay and my paycheck is on auto-deposit. I only physically have to pay my phone bill, and I can do that at 7-11. I buy almost nothing except for food. I read a lot. I don't watch TV. I walk about an hour a day, lift weights in what looks like a prison yard, and jog past rice paddies. I spend a lot of time alone, at first by default and now by choice. This year has been a complete 180 from the one before it.

Not everyone has to have a major freak-out and leave the country to feel fulfilled. There's plenty of anarchists and avant-garde art freaks who do just fine in the same suburbs I felt closing in on me. At the end of the day you just have to decide what kind of person you want to be and do things that correspond with that image. So after a year out and some pretty significant emotional wreckage as a result of my decisions, a lot of highs and lows, and uninterrupted change of all kinds, I'm ultimately satisfied that I had the balls (and that's all that matters--just ask Tony Montana) to do this, and will hopefully continue the momentum. I would have changed a lot about how I executed this particular little adventure, but hindsight is hindsight, isn't it?

Alright, I swore I wouldn't let this blog get too self-indulgent, so thanks for reading if you did, a pox on ye if you didn't, and now I'm gonna get back to kancho jokes and half-nude fantasy bird paintings.