Morning, the First

Good Morning.

I’m afraid it’s just too cold these days to sit outside around the fire at night, as we’ve regularly done thus far. That’s why I’ve invited you all out for some morning coffee. If the coffee is good, and the vibes stay true, then I’ll consider making this more of a morning event.

It’s almost my thirteenth month in Japan. This is the longest I’ve been in any one place, or country for that matter, since 2013. The subterranean waterways still reek like a vulture’s paradise but the smell of pine reigns here in this shop. Pine, ground coffee, the taste of dried fruit and this “Norwegian Wood” styled interior ; quite a comfy alternate setting we’ve found, haven’t we?

Yesterday the N2 JLPT finally came around which ended a fairly mechanical routine of test preparation that started back in July with school by day work by night. Having cleared that milestone, my mood is as lovely as Tokyo’s incredibly pleasant December sunshine today; and, while my back still aches a bit from lugging around my test prep burdens, I’m not much more than a cartoon perfect Mr. Smiley. This morning I listened to the easy listening of J-Pop’s electronic scene via this year’s Serph album. The whole album is horrendously well suited to taking walks around Tokyo. It pairs well the glories of the oppressively accessible with those of the orchestrationally undeniable. It makes good cleaning music as well, which added pulse and pace to my winter cleaning before coming to talk with you here this morning. What can I say, you n’ me both know that I’ve always been up with the sun. And people think vampires are cursed.

With all things testy out of the way I hope my Shakuhachi learning gets some well deserved easy breathing. So far I’ve enjoyed a great deal of the challenge offered from learning a new instrument, and from now on I’ll have much more time to piff, puff, snonck, skit, squeak, pftt, and fuddle around with this new instrument. Sometimes, I’m really rocking it – but the last two times I’ve gone in for a lesson I just haven’t been able to get the sounds I’ve grown accustomed to hearing either while practicing in the local parks or in the comfort of my expansive 1K kingdom. (A 1K apartment has roughly three twin size beds worth of floor space, a closet, and an entrance hallway where you have the kitchen and the bathroom packed in. And by kitchen I mean a petite sink coupled with one electric stove top.)  But that’s just how the learning process goes. At first you suck. Except in this case it’s a bamboo flute, so when you first get going you actually blow pretty hard. Sucking is only for those who relish in avant-garde extended techniques that remain beyond the palate of our musically illiterate global society.

New goals? Eating less ramen. And by that I mean look into not just where my Japanese can take me as far as teaching classical guitar (or something more related to my abilities and expertise than teaching English), but also to see if my Japanese skills can take me into working for those who are doing exciting things like environmental work. I’ve got no science credentials past those required by the University of Wisconsin Madison, which I tested out of during High School anyway. Therefore, I have no credentials; but, that doesn’t mean I have no employable value. You never know. So I’m gonna gently put my antennae out there while searching for what’s next. Nothing is set in stone, no reason to block anything off. I’ve got time, and financial security which help immensely.

My this coffee is good. Speaking of which, I recently visited an old haunt of my back in Okubo. Remember Okubo? When I moved into Shin-Okubo in November 2014 I quickly sought out the available coffee options. The only Okubo one that really remains with me today, is Tsune which is right next door to that questionable looking Kyabakura bar just outside JR SOBU Okubo’s south exit (Southwest side). That neighborhood actually has quite a few of my favorite Coltrane standards. There’s the unbelievable seafood broth, pickled cabbage topped ramen – there’s the ever enjoyable Art Space Bar Buena – there’s my favorite, favorite curry shop in Shinjuku – and there’s the coffee shop Tsune.

Tsune’s clock adorned interior reminds me of a story my brother once told me about his professor’s house. In that house, there is an enclosed space inside of which an innumerable amount of tick-tock’s can be appreciated. Tsune has quite a large variety of pend-und-ulating goodness hanging around the miniuature interior. Everything about their coffee is done well. It’s old school, that’s for sure – like old school Kissaten style – but some of my favorite coffee in Tokyo is this coffee, and in particular the coffee at this shop. The guy who’s almost always working there not only knows his shit, but every cup he’s prepared for me has consistently hit all the marks. (For incredibly consistent high quality coffee that’s beyond both the chains and poser-baristas literally posing away at well financed third-wave-esque coffee shops that plague the land here, I highly recommend Muto Coffee Roasters, Plus 90, and Tsune.)

A return to Tsune before taking the JLPT this week reminded me of just how much has changed in the short time I’ve been here. In celebration of this year’s accomplishments, I finally started tackling my long untouched and high piled stack of letters which I put off responding to for months. But, when the time is right, yeah?

I’ll be home in Wisconsin for a swift week at the end of December. I’m already feeling the nostalgia for Christmas at home, as well as nostalgia from winter in Caceres and last year’s Japanese winter. Winter is such a lovely time, but it shouldn’t be suffered on principle. It has the potential to be a truly magical season just as pleasant as any autumn, spring or summer.

How have things been? From my limited real-news and poorly informed social media newsfeeds, I can’t help but feel grateful that I’m not in the United States. I love my family. I love my friends. I love the nature. But, The United States’ performance as of late is simply pathetic. Not that any governing body of the last century has ever been on their A game, but the U.S.A. is not even in the game. It’s like the Singing Santa doll that died slowly over the last decade at our home in Wisconsin. Year by year the battery faded causing Santa to howl the most horrifying key changes and unexpected modulations. In his end days, none of his hellish yelps resembled anything human. Just a visceral high pitched greel as Santa vomited up of all his digitized body and soul. He makes no sound anymore, and we easily see that his body is a bundle of fluff, wrapped in cloth. That’s what the U.S.A. seems to be from afar.

I acquired a nasty habit this year. I’ll have to confess. You see,

I’ve started reading short stories. It all started last winter, when I picked up some literary magazines featuring mainly short stories. Since then I’ve just grown fat in the flat with books up to the brim dealing in all sorts of episodes. My leisurely reading time is largely possessed by a dreamy episodic wonderland. I referenced one of these short stories when writing an overdue correspondence to some lovely folks in Detroit. Speaking of this tortured soul, our poor Santa, I’d like to bring up the story again this morning.

You see the story revolves around the relationship between two girls. It’s not even that strong of a relationship. Its fragility already destroyed it on some levels and its firmness held it together on others. The character was sent at her parents’ behest to California, hoping some time away from Japan would help work out the unworkable: adolescence.

As she gets used to life in the U.S.A., she notes one major difference between life in Japan and California. If you don’t make a noise in Japan people still acknowledge that you exist. They still factor you into the equation. If you don’t make an effort to be noticed, people still notice you: you still exist. However, she found that if you don’t make sure people notice you in the U.S.A. – it’s not so much that people don’t notice you – you simply disappear, you don’t matter, you don’t exist.

The social feedback loops created by our obligatory self-assertion eventually get to us all like they got to our poor soul, Singing Santa Claus.

The rest of the short story was fantastically well written and can be read the literature journal called, Monkey, in the issue called ‘On listening to music.’ What can I say, I’m a consumerist sucker. Monkey + Music + Short Stories. It just adds up to all sorts’a goodness. Anyhow, that’s a little gem that’s been on the backburner in the kitchen.

That’s all I’ve got time for this morning. I’m glad you could make it out. I have a feeling that the next morning’s chat over coffee won’t be too far off. How about sometime later this week?