No such thing as a stranger

WHEREAS one cannot possibly consider an abundance of space an important comfort; and WHEREAS the value of an experience may not necessarily be based on its relative uniqueness; and WHEREAS the mere act of looking at something is critical enough to necessitate three-hour-plus-each-way road and rail trips; BE IT RESOLVED that going to Yoshino, near Nara, in Japan, to view the cherry blossoms before the following day’s impending rain blows them away, is A GOOD EXPERIENCE and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that it is FUCKING DUMB. APPROVED, on this, the 14th day of April in the year 2010, by unanimous action of the Brandon, at his desk, fingers a-tappin’.

Racked with early Saturday-morning distractions (weird guys in spandex suits fighting monsters on TV, early registration for a Japanese language class, Oreo cookies with milk), we finally leave the house around noon, prepared for a trip that is going to take a while longer than we really figured.

Three-and-a-half hours later, halfway up the mountain, which is split by a winding road illustrated on our complimentary bus map (two-person fare Y700), I start listening to the young couple behind us, both peering out the window, and begin to decipher her Japanese language yelps of glee. They amount to “So pretty! It’s pretty, huh? Really pretty! Wow! Look look! Preeeeeeeetty!” Following this I become acutely aware of the fact that everyone else on the bus, the rolling definition of stuffed to the gills, sardines in a tin can, bursting at the seams, is saying these things too. For fun, I lean over as best as I can to Jessy, and say “IT’S PRETTY NEEEEEEE?????” She is not amused.

This is Yoshino, where “they” say you can see a thousand cherry blossoms in one view, one solitary gaze off into the distance. It would not be a stretch to say that if you were high enough, you could probably also see that many people milling about, waterfall-streaming from the bus drop off and bouncing around like the white dots of a badly received TV signal, pass the Chee-tos. The paths to wherever, where wherevers are places that you would be happy to unroll your tarp or blanket and sit, are lined with stores, restaurants, and (not) surprisingly enough, the houses of the poor bastards who have to actually live here and deal with the throngs of humanity pulsing in every spring for their shot at that hundred million yen view.

Salmon denying instinct, we push against the flow at one place where they’re grilling sticks of chicken meat slathered in sweet sauce on little metal grates over hot coals (the beloved yakitori). I can’t tell if it is an established business. I am leaning toward “some guy’s house” because the coal pits look kind of like emptied-out flowerbeds, and I think I can see into his porch. For a few hundred yen, I embrace the flavor. Later on down the line we stop into what actually is some guy’s concrete-paved yard, outside anyway, and feast on the goodies of the full-sized flat grill/deep fryer he’s standing behind. Hot, crisp tofu donuts (just like the ones from Kyoto that we love so much) and some sort of sauced, deep-fried tofu wedge open the way, and then I lust explicitly for one of the enormous hamburger steaks he has cooking, but the line has become far too long, and we have flowers to look at!

By the time we meet up with the people we know, we have already confusingly walked the perimeter of the village outskirts, cutely arriving atop a hill from which we can easily see the place the bus dropped us (we went north, and now we are south). They are packing up, some of our people, but not before I sample some homemade umeshu (this is a kind of sweet plum liquor) from a paper cup. I contemplate how early these people must have had to leave to get here, and then another friend arrives, having been ground to meat in the transport gears of Kansai, opting for the cable car instead of our bus route. Finally we’ve made it nowhere, and as I pass through a nearby cemetery confusingly littered with a handful of lost Yu-Gi-Oh cards, I figure looking ahead to the mountainside must be that hundred million yen view, sakura everywhere I can see, so long as I tilt my head up a bit to exclude the high-and-tight power lines. They are every shade of red and pink and lavender and white and eggshell and slightly pink eggshell and slightly eggshell red and all of those other ones and the hillside looks like hundreds of flowery birdshot wounds. It is pretty, and I left the house so long ago, and I figure that next spring I will find just one tree close to home, stick my head up inside the branches, and open my eyes. I joke with another person that I will merely tape glossy printouts of the sakura to my ceiling, which would be funny if I hadn’t been so close to considering what fun it would be to have such a colorful ceiling.

After an hour or two, which is all we have left if we want to catch the last bus to the station, excitingly departing at 6:00 PM, we make our way down the side of the hill past people who appear to have made the decision to wait it out, that pesky nightfall, and defy it like pitchfork villagers with rackets and badminton birdies, bags of Calbee consommé double punch potato chips, and, by now, mountains of empty beer cans, be gone knave!

My idea of food-based revelry comes to pass back in Osaka, with the most traditional of Japanese foods: Indian. I have been here before, and order the set and a half-price beer–spicy chicken curry and hot naan has tasted this good before, but not today until now.

We did it though, for the sake of doing it, for saying we did it, which I tell myself I am pleased of even though I am certain it is the same reason every other person in Japan went there. I wonder, have they seen sakura before? Is this their first time to Yoshino? I imagine a man, who, unable to deal with the concept of himself, attaches long strips of Velcro to his arms and fingers like jellyfish feelers and snaps at everyone wearing fuzzy coats just to pull them near, to be surrounded by a pulsing blob of mankind, and stands for a few hours, and decides to do it again soon. I am scoping out my tree already, a nice one with a view of my balcony.

HEY WANNA KNOW SOME THINGS ABOUT JAPAN THAT I FOUND ODD THIS WEEK?
– Too bad I don’t feel like thinking of any today
YEP THAT’S ABSOLUTELY EVERY LAST THING

As promised, classes have definitely begun. I had my first set of them at high school yesterday, the same awkward affairs of my arrival but honed by a wiser and more experienced hand: group work from the get-go, a brazen and unabashed class devoted entirely to Me, and things about Me and forcing the kids and their groups to come up with questions for Me dealing with things that pertained to Me. I do it so that to balance the karma, next week will be solely about Them, and Them talking about Themselves endlessly, the things They like, hate, and are indifferent to. I will use it as an opportunity to get their names (in both Japanese and English lettering) on papers with their student numbers, information cards of a Total Student Profile that I can consult easily any time I am tired of referring to a student as “yes, please” or “you.”
As we move forward I shall subject my kids to the rigors of my first year of work, those poor original guinea pigs, with all of the disgusting chaff cleanly nipped away and in its place polished shiny grains, morsels of streamlined edutainment, entercation, twenty-five minute action-packed fun-fests filled with me drawing cute elephants on the board and informing the girls that if they want to know my exact height (180.34 cm) or my birthday (I’m a Scorpio) that they had better bring presents.

My night school students, I am sure, will continue to not care about anything except cell phone e-mail.

Still, even though it’s initially a bit nerve-wracking to know I go up on display again, I can’t help but catch myself having fun from time to time, watching the minutes breeze by, enjoying how effortless it feels now to stretch two sentences on a class outline to an entire period, to gesture wildly, write Brandon in huge letters on the board without screeching the chalk.

WHEREAS I am finally in a position to carry out the duties of my job description; and WHEREAS spring pushes forward, leaving the fallen petals of the cherry trees in its balmy wake; and WHEREAS I am invited to two different school drinking parties in the next two days; and WHEREAS I finally start Japanese lessons in May; and WHEREAS we have some pals from Canada visiting the country soon; and WHEREAS I ordered an eBook reader and will finally be able to browse English-language manga on the train; and WHEREAS everything old is new again; BE IT RESOLVED that things are pretty NICE and GOOD; APPROVED, on this, the 14th day of April in the year 2010, by unanimous action of the Brandon, at his desk, fingers done tappin’.

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3 thoughts on “No such thing as a stranger

  1. bdaiker says:

    Nope I stole it from Google. But I am sure it looked like that up in the trees. Maybe.

  2. Cory says:

    Yeah basically that. You didn't take that picture, did you? What with it being devoid of the throngs you mention. It is so idyllic. Some kind of sub-etheral haze where the trees reflect off the ground itself, despite the ground being rough and opaque. Certainly impossible. Senbonzakura kageyoshi indeed.

  3. Matt Behrens says:

    That is such a beautiful picture.

    Oh I'm sorry did you have words too

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