One month in, and I am feeling rather integrated into Tokyo life. Like I belong, and am in yet another home.
Gone is that flash of apprehension expressed weeks ago regarding a sense of being viewed as a suspect or threat, with people seemingly clutching their purses, fashion bags or book bags as I approach.
I think part of that feeling was hypersensitivity on my part, and another part a reality of being a tourist — and feeling, looking and acting like one — in heavily tourist-ed areas; and that many of those who appeared to be clutching their bags were tourists too, from other parts of Asia, Europe and the Americas.
And yet another aspect very likely was a carryover from life in the United States, as, just like in neo-liberal Manhattan, I find that I am typically a seat-mate of last resort on a crowded (subway) train car. One merely reasons that it is based on a lack of familiarity or simply prejudgment, and resolves it is their loss for those who choose to walk farther or stand.
I am back to the initial days here, when I expressed the goodness and kindness of being viewed and treated as a novelty, however much of the treatment is based on maternal or paternalism.
There is undeniably a greater sense of just “being” and oneness in Japan, compared to most parts of the world.
Granted there is a huge commercial, or business, component, but it is heartening to walk into a store or restaurant and be greeted with a very pronounced if at time perfunctory “Irasshaimase!” or “welcome, may I help you” by the staff of a restaurant or store. And hearing that greeting, as a notice that assistance is available if needed, from other staff as you walk through and around the establishment. And, then, as you leave, to hear all staff within view of you say “thank you” or the Japanese equivalent.
There is a certain grace to receive a bow after making a purchase, and then to bow in return. Or to initiate the bowing after receiving directions on the street to your destination from a total stranger, and that person dropping what he or she is doing to show you exactly where you need to go on a map, on a smartphone or on foot — even if it means walking you there over several city blocks. And having the good Samaritan bow back.
You are always grateful, but at times you feel the people have gone too far out of their way and you become resolute to better learn both Japan and Japanese.
Like when I was following phone navigation (which in walking-mode always tries to direct you over footpaths rather than streets) to the Ann Wigmore Natural Health Institute on Wednesday, and lost my signal while being led through a shopping mall. I stopped at a salad café and waited in a line to ask for help with directions. A large man (especially by Japanese standards) wearing a black-striped business suit and obviously hungry and on a limited lunch break walked in and queued behind me. I asked him directions, rather than wait to reach the café counter.
For the next 15 minutes, the man checked my phone navigation, retrieved his phone to use a more familiar software, and then walked me through the building, down stairways leading to a train station and along concourses until we were outside, where he continued to lead me several blocks until I could see Ann Wigmore Tokyo. Of course, he had to walk back to the shopping tower and then get back in line and have a salad before returning to his office. I gave him a very gracious bow.
RELIGION AMD COLONIALISM
I sense Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons here, as everywhere, love to see me coming, because they take notice even when I am in a crowd, and inevitably approach, smile, wave or speak. With JWs, I can simply escape by calling them “sister” or “brother,” as I learned they view each other after accepting invitations to their meetings while in Tahiti.
With LDS, invariably young men on missions, there is sometimes light conversation. I tell them I am on a mission, too. One to spread peace and love, through an exchange of experiences and ideas, as well as ideals such as total freedom and a planetary oneness that includes no wars or human divisions, as well as equality, respect and compassion for all forms of life.
One feels targeted, as the would-be missionaries see you alone in what is probably a strange place and offer you a kind face, a gracious greeting, a familiar place to meet and a family to join. It is akin to gangs attracting youths in need of a sense of home and family, no? Yet, I do plan to go to the LDS temple or tabernacle Thursday night for my first lesson in Japanese. Yet another way they try to bring you into the fold or flock.
As I explore European colonialism around the world, always integral is the Christian missionary role in that imperialism and hegemony. Both remain very strong and apparent planetary, to this day.
My brother noted in a comment to a short post regarding fasting the other day that it is important we actively resist the status quo in the United States — and by extension the world over.
I agree, and that resistance needs to be constant and consistent. In our everyday life, every decision we make, every action we take, is a vote for change or perpetuation of the status quo. Every time we do not needlessly or thoughtlessly consume, whether it be Porsche, Gucci, Apple, Coca-Cola, McDonalds or whatever commercialized and advertised product, we vote for change. I remember the axiom that if we really need something, and it was something of quality, there is no need for it to be advertised.
On a recent flight I viewed the movie “Collateral Damage,” which had good points regarding love and death and one that I have recommended. (I even appreciated “The Owner,” also viewed during a long flight.) But there was one line that screamed at me in which the Will Smith character promoted his advertising firm by stating advertisements do great public good by “illuminating us to our needs.” I think the writer was cleverly trying to get viewers to think, for advertising is the predominant behavioral control in our lives — getting us to buy what we do not need and to want what we even did not know we wanted.
Think what could happen if people around the world boycotted products and corporations doing the greatest harm to us and the planet. The names aforementioned and more, but particularly Coca-Cola and McDonalds which continue to slowly poison billions daily with their respective market dominance worldwide attributable to the aforementioned imperialism and hegemony.
A nice glass of water (not Aquafina or Dasani or Nestle) tastes so much better and is some much more better for us than a glass or Coke that has to be ice cold to even be drinkable and which slowly does the body tremendous harm. And how much better it would be to make a healthy meal with real food that throughout the preparation process we can select and monitor ourselves — such could be the glue holding together families rather than piling into the car or cars (with hardly any thought given to walking) for fast-food.
Resistance comes down to a personal level, as often unwittingly we are our own worst enemy; or we may be progressive-minded in one area while not realizing how indoctrinated we have been made in other very important ways. We have to see and resolve the contradictions within ourselves on a daily and even moment-to-moment basis to ensure we are not aiding to persist that which we would resist, for life is dynamic with change the only constant. As Amiri Baraka wrote and sang in language I will somewhat sanitize, “straighten out that ‘man’ inside your own head” and you will be on a path to both personal and world revolution.
Fasting for Peace was made easier for me this week, although I confess I am not really doing anything special — I should fast, say, three days, because I typically eat once a day except during marathon training. After lunch the other day my weekly, one-day fast began with a siesta in the portion of the Imperial Garden lawn open to public.
NO MORE WAR!
As I laid on the grass with my head cushioned by my computer backpack, I heard a familiar sound wafting across the green. “What? Is that the Negro national anthem being played in Tokyo? As I listened on I recognized the music as an instrumental version of “We Should Overcome.” I scrambled to my feet and pulled out my phone to record the sound as I followed it, however it kept drifting away as I waited at crosswalks for traffic lights to change.
The sound was soon gone, and I deduced it must have emanated from a sound truck, similar to those that ply the city on weekend nights playing songs by Japanese idols and pop groups. So, I sat in the park watching runners compete is an ekiden, or relay foot race (the Japanese have no qualm with running during the day, even mid-day; while I prefer the cool during the break of dawn). But I kept hearing a wafting sound, now and then, that I could not capture or dismiss.
Finally came the certainty there were loudspeakers being deployed and some activity not far, so I got up and walked in the direction of the sound. I soon came upon police officers directing traffic, the steel barricades used for crowd-control along sidewalks and then a crowd on either side of the road in front of the National Diet (Parliament). I had come upon a protest, and it took only seconds to guess correctly it was an anti-war demonstration.
The protest was at least 10,000-strong, and had a civility that included the courteous actions of police doing crowd-control and traffic duties. Unlike in most parts of the world, there was mutual respect and even cooperation between protesters and police. Protest signs that included English incorporated issues as broad as “No War” to specific matters such as “Freedom for Okinawa” and opposing racism while supporting animal rights.
Protesters were emphatic but also merry and light-hearted, chanting, clanging finger cymbals and listening to speakers from cities around the country.
Suddenly, with the serendipity of a peace rally, my Fasting for Peace took on an incredible lightness of being levitated by the atmosphere. Fasting became a no-body as well as a no-brainer. But, that evening I challenged myself; for if we do not regularly test ourselves to become more devoted, dedicated and disciplined in life, then the universe certainly will.
After leaving the natural food store across the street the day before, I had stopped by the Soul Food House just to say “hello” to the owners because I had not been there all week. I also wanted to ask them what they do on Sundays, because alone here last Sunday with little to do I thought about attending a spiritual service of some kind.
I was told they attend church service on Saturdays, and are at the restaurant for Sunday brunch; and that there would be a one-year anniversary party of the Japan Mass Choir, in which they participate, at the restaurant the very next evening.
I asked if I could crash, but noted I would be fasting and not coming to eat. “We’re not going to force you to eat,” I was assured by LaTonya, who added that I could meet their pastor at the event.
I had come down to earth as I walked to the party about 6:15pm, and felt my last meal before fasting was a poor choice because it was mostly cooked food including some fried soy meat and a potato casserole pie that sapped rather than gave me energy. I trodden on, thinking in the back of my mind that should I succumb to food at the event I would simply adjust my fast to the next 24 hours after that meal.
However, God or the universe is great, and always on time. I arrived at the event at the perfect time, as the dining ended; and as I sat at a table I saw only bones on plates that immediately turned-off any thought of food for me although the soul-food buffet bar was still open.
The hosts had told me I could come for the fellowship, and LaTonya made sure I met their pastor and his wife. I left telling them I had partaken of spiritual food. It was a nice, spirited gathering; but another religious event that left me thinking the essence of spirituality cannot be conferred by others, or any external element, nor the basis of it shared with another. It is like trying to tell your spouse or lover why you love them — you just do, and words cannot come close to describing that power. It is something we all possess within, our divine essence, and we choose whether it sizzles or only simmer.
I watched the choir perform with zeal and enthusiasm, and saw LaTonya testify and minister through song. Her devotion, dedication, commitment and belief were vivid and undeniable, and I appreciated it all while distinguishing her truth from mine, or her path from the one I am on. We all are to find our own path, and not follow another or judge the ones taken by other souls. There are as many paths to truth as there are people. People are constantly judging others rather than themselves, with many people claiming to read the Bible but few noting the verse, “It I not of the province of man to judge man.”
You know, we always make associations when we meet people for the first time by them reminding us of someone we already know. The pastor, Travis, reminded me of a brother-in-law, well cousin I guess, and I am letting his wife and my niece Jocelyn Joyner Simmons know that there may be something pleasantly surprising ahead because I sure saw her husband in the church leader. And, the first lady of the church strongly reminded me of a friend, Revonda Lynch. So… There was even a sense of camaraderie and universality in that one guy, who you might agree in viewing the pictures, reminded me of me.
Serendipitous once again, the Japan Mass Choir (which altogether totals about 1000 members) will be in the United States as a much smaller contingent next week, beginning 10 June, for performances in New York City’s Harlem and Brooklyn, as well as in Washington, DC. Last year it performed in North Carolina and Louisiana.
“SHOW ME YOUR PASSPORT.” WHAT?!?
My fasting was made easy again, and I was tested once again, as I approached my hotel after walking five kilometers or so from the party by a chance encounter, with a police officer.
I crossed the street a block from to hotel because the sidewalk was closed as a construction crew re-positioned a huge crane, and a policewoman on the opposite corner gestured for me to come to her. I figured she was going to say I jaywalked the intersection, and I was going to point out the sidewalk closure left me no choice.
But, she asked me to show her my passport.
I instinctively objected. What? I had never been asked to show my passport, anywhere in the world, except at border crossings. Of course a copy of passports are made during hotel check-ins, and I told the officer a copy of mine was at the hotel just to put off her.
A second officer soon emerged from the police box, or substation, on the street corner and backed-up the other officer, noting Japanese law states tourists must always carry passports.
I responded I had been in Tokyo a month, walked past the police box multiple times a day, including to go running most mornings, and had never been stopped before. They insisted I show my passport, and I resisted as a matter of principle and protest.
This would go on for some two hours and an additional seven police officers. The stand-off came down to me stating I was stopped on the basis of skin color, which the police of course denied but of course in Japan that is undeniable; and them supporting the rookie, policewoman who stopped me my pointing to the rule of law.
The policewoman looked humbled but otherwise emotionless, and never spoke, as I asked her why she stopped me when I was doing nothing wrong and had committed no crime. The station leader called an English translator, who stressed I had not been targeted because of color and urged me to cooperate.
All the officers kept pleading, “Just show us your passport,” and I kept resisting, asking “Is this Russia? Or North Korea? Apartheid South Africa?
After about 30 minutes I said “Look, let me go to my hotel, get my luggage and I will go show my passport at the airport as I leave to return to New York.” I was being humorous of course, and remained light-hearted but firm throughout the incident. And any hunger pangs from the fast were completely ceased during the engagement.
However at one point, after about 90 minutes of police officers asking me to stay until I showed my passport and me saying “arrest me, or I am walking to my hotel,” I clenched my teeth and, noting the time I had been there, expressed, “I am about to get An — -gry.”
The police officers persisted, “Just show us your passport,” and offered to walk me to my hotel so they can view the copy there. I said, “No,” adding that they were treating me like a criminal; with people on the street likely coming to that conclusion and so would friends at the hotel.
My demand to the police, who said I was not stopped discriminantly, was to “go two blocks to Ginza Street, stop a white tourist and ask him or her to show you a passport, and then I will show you mine.” I noted I had been in Japan for 30 days and not observed anyone being asked to show a passport.
My sense of it all is that the policewoman is a rookie who acted out of inexperience, with personal sentiment and conditioned bias leading amok her authority, given that it was only 8:30pm Saturday, right off the street most heavily trafficked by tourists and within a block of two major tourist hotels. Most police officers, probably not any other, I am certain, would not have challenged me. So, I am not judging the Tokyo Police Department.
I made compromises as the incident continued, opening my backpack so the officers could view the contents and showing them the old boarding pass that I had stuffed inside from the May 10 flight on which I arrived in Tokyo — as evidence that my 90-day visa is still valid.
They demanded to see my passport, and I refused, in a battle of wills. Finally, the officer who was the friendliest and spoke English best went into his pocket and produced his police identification and badge, and asked me to reciprocate. So, I showed him my New Jersey driver’s license and noted it is proof of identification.
That did not suffice them, and the stand-off would go another 10 minutes or so. An elderly European-looking lady passed, and I am sure she heard me because she looked bewildered as I told police, “Ask her to show her passport, and I will how you mine.”
About that point, as the police alternated between “ID card” and “passport” in their demand, I again firmly held out my driver’s license, which the whole group of nearly a dozen officer viewed, one with a miniature flashlight.
With that still not being enough, I had had enough. I walked away from them and headed home to the hotel. I heard no footfalls behind me for a short time, then the sound came hurriedly. Two officers caught up with me, and one said, “Stop.”
I stopped. They both got in front to face me, and the oldest and presumably ranking member of the contingent said, “You can go now.” I nodded, took a step, then turned around and shook hands with him and the station commander. I went to the hotel, feeling like nothing happened but a moment it time. No anger. No fatigue. No hunger. No quit. Nothing. Just life.
The last couple hours of a fast always are the hardest. I added to mine the test of walking about 10 kilometers to break it at the organic vegan French restaurant I had found closed Monday after failing to check its operating schedule.
I arrived today after trudging through a concrete jungle nearly two hours to find the café closed, although it is scheduled to be open on Sundays. In the store window was a poster for the New Life Festa Tokyo 2017, an event much like the Whole Life Expo that was held across the United States during the 1980s before New Age capitalists ran the circuit in the ground and courts with a pyramid scheme. I figured the owner was at the event, selling bake goods she typically offer at the café.
So, I had a ready back-up and went just a few doors away to the organic vegan buffet restaurant, Kaemon Anakusa, where I had eaten twice before and my favorite offering is an enzyme rice dish — sticky rice with azuki beans. As I was completing my meal, out of the ether the hostess asked if I would consent to an interview by a TV journalist, and I said “Sure.”
A film crew soon arrived, and I became part of a shoot on buffet restaurants in Japan. There are not many, so I assume it is a trend. The interview was expansive, with me noting that buffet restaurants in the United States typically are Chinese eateries with food that I inexpensive but not much better than fast-food outlets. That you find few if any buffets at natural or vegan restaurants. I also spoke on Japanese culture, and my embrace of aspects — from macrobiotics to tatami mats and shoji screens — for years.
I did not ask when the shoot will be broadcast, but will find out from the restaurant, which is featured in it. The restaurant was sparsely filled when I was asked to interview. I have not really speculated on why I was asked, but it all was quite natural and I was very much in my element. Well, maybe not the buffet part. I had enjoyed Indian restaurant buffets for years in New York City, but not in years and notice their decrease in number. I recently had buffet at an Ethiopian restaurant in Greensboro, NC., and I have seen a sign promoting its buffet at Rahel’s Vegan Ethiopian Restaurant in Little Ethiopia in Los Angeles. But that is the extent.
However, I have read, and it makes sense, and maybe that is why it is news, that buffets are the only way to get full or satisfied at a restaurant in Japan without your bill being very high. I must be adapting to that reality, for I just realize I had buffet at Milan Nataraj , and Indian restaurant, on Friday, at The Loving Hut yesterday, and with the French vegan café closed, again today at Kaemon Anakusa.
Leaving the restaurant, full and contented, I walked and walked until I found the venue of the New Life Festa. The café owner was there, and had sold out of baked goods at her table or stand. However, remembering me from visits to purchase a brownie and vegan cupcakes, she presented me a cookie she had put away.
It was an interesting event, though on a smaller scale than the Whole Life Expo held in large hotels in New York City. And there was much less corporate participation. More grass roots? Well you cannot really call crystals and reiki that, I realize; but the only corporate presence was Alaskan Glacier Water. I took advantage of a “healing” session that came with the ticket the hostess at Kaemon Anakusa gave me after I noted the poster in the window of the vegan café and she was unable to attend because she was working. It felt really good and peaceful, if not healing, to have another person lay their hands on my shoulders and neck. Well, a woman. It reminded me of intimacy, something I have lacked the past month, and the healing power of touching and being touched.
I would be touched in another way just before leaving the event. The hostess, who greeted me as I entered and stamped my ticket, presented me with a small bag of miniature muffins she had purchased, saying she had bought numerous before they sold out. Apparently the café owner had mentioned me to her or vice versa. Whatever, I left the event feeling liked I belonged there although I very much was a novelty and their welcoming may have been universal consciousness or just a variant form of maternal/paternalism.