6:30, freshly puffed streets with capricious slush line marks. Nakano’s first snow of the year woke Huckleberry with the sound of snow on snow; an unmistakable pattern known to any Wisconsinite. Pulling the curtains aside, the joyous site filled him with enough courage to leave the comfort of his three blankets to step out into the chillbox and start his morning. A pot of sencha tea, yogurt, and a bowl of oatmeal. While the water on his solitary stove top rustled from its own sleep, Huck threw a refreshing toss of cold water over his head. What he would give for a hot towel to dry off with.
Outside of the apartment, large clumps of snow leap off higher perches making great splashes down below, or on the balcony, even the walkway outside the front door. These Tokyo houses weren’t necessarily designed to house snow.
Breakfast he spent nested in the kotatsu which made good on its promises of undeniable warm comfort. Kotatsu heaters are that lover you just can’t bring yourself to part with even though you know deep down inside that there’s something ‘productive’ you should be doing. But sitting in the kotatsu gave Huck time to look back on the past month. “Back in Japan for two weeks already, how did that happen?” he thought. After last we gathered, Huck did in fact make it to the embassy the following day, did get a temporary passport, and finally arrived home after barely getting through customs in Canada on time to catch his flight to Chicago. On the ride home to the Wisconsin, the folks offered to take Huck to a steakhouse on the way. Huck hadn’t had steak for years. This would be good. Real good.
Not eating peanut butter for extended periods of time does something special to an American born son, but Huck hadn’t broken on through to that realm where near raw, fleshy, chewy, red steak is welcomed back into the system. The welcome is wary of course as the bacteria in his gut have moved on to other directions in life, and maybe their good old friend lightly-toasted-flesh-slab isn’t so compatible with their new found lifestyle. Huck wasn’t sure the poor things would be able to take the shock of meeting 6 ounces of bloody cow flesh so suddenly. But, hell, any time Huck travels people offer him adventurous foods and drink which he faithfully accepts – and how is this any different?
Sweet potatoes dusted with cinnamon. Mushrooms sautéed, and steeped in theirown fungi juices. Some rare breed of food much larger than any 6 ounces Huck had laid eyes on before. A White Belgian beer. This, his first meal back in the States after a year, was a real treat. Steak, had become the new sushi. People in the Midwest make a big fuss over raw fish but sashimi and sushi have nothing on steak. A good steak, that is. An overcooked steak is simply not steak, just as cooked fish is not raw fish. What I’m trying to say is that Huckleberry chewed and chewed and chewed with great curiosity as to how something so delicious could prove so difficult a challenge. It was edible, yet physically beyond the mechanics of his mandible masticating with abandon.
Getting to talk with the folks over dinner upon arrival was exciting. His parents were well into the rhythms of retired life and boy did they glow. Sure, it’s hard for Huck to keep up conversationally with them now, but despite the difficult speed of their flow, they both glowed wonderfully. Not that exhausted, mind on a thousand worries aura that one can so observe in young parents raising children – but that give-no-fucks do what I want, say what I want glow granted to the retired species. During the conversation Huck dined on another rare treat that you won’t find in Japan: politics at dinner. Oh, was it scrumptious. Throughout the duration of his stay at home, politics came up many times. The very same people who outspokenly disapproved of Huck’s interest in anarchism, communism, and socialism are now avid fans of Bernie Sanders ten years later. If the trend keeps up, Huck might actually have reason to hope for politics in the home land. Then again, ass hats like Donald Trump lead the opposing party in the Electoral Dope Show. Donald Trump’s ability to stay in the running is a testament to the poor state of our nation’s education. Are we so illiterate and spiteful of progress that a man such as Trump would get elected?
But, back to dinner with the folks. First meal back in the States: success. Plus, the folks brought Huck homemade Christmas cookies. That’s love, folks. They finished up and drove home where Huck was confronted with all manner of histories. Arriving to his bedroom he looked for a spot to lay his weary travel companions, Green Bag and Blue Bag. Left: books, instruments. Front and center: books, instruments, paintings. Right: more books, instruments, books about music, paintings, boxes and boxes of materials likely related to books, instruments and paintings. It was good to be home. Seeing these relics made it clear, though, that he’d spent a childhood hoping to find a way out of Wisconsin to see different parts of the world. Coming into contact with these playful ghosts reaffirmed that this wasn’t quite the time to sign off on those dreams just yet. Crude yet charismatic ceramics, letters from pen pals, Indian and Chinese souvenirs from family members, certificates of education, incense burners, journals, more journals, and deep somewhere in some box hidden away an incomplete binder for Kodak photos, partially filled out with memories captured with his first high school girlfriend.
A bounding ball of white fluff, the house princess Ruby-chan, flew into his bedroom interrupting the romance of his nostalgia. Golden doodles. Who would ever have thought a creature so silly could be so precious. Ruby was a symbol of the family’s current age. She hounded him to come down stairs and join in on Christmas festivities. The LP player was hooked up, the needle dropped, and the family enjoyed all time classics such as: “First Christmas Lights Viewing,” “Obligatory A Christmas Story Watching,” “Christmas Cookie Slam,” “The Eggnog Grog,” “The Ornament Ball,” and everyone’s favorite – “Us, Ourselves, and Bailey’s and Coffee.” The last track’s a bit complicated. It lilts more than the others, but if you’ve enough rhythm left in your shoes you’ll find caffeine and alcohol getting along swimmingly in your sugar plum-ed belly.
At mixed speeds judgments hailed down from family members about Huck living in Japan. Of course, not explicitly; there were no swears integrated into the transparently intended to be cleverly wordsmithed weapons of come-back-to-America steel. Americans have fallen under a special hypnosis by which they believe their speech patterns adequately conceals their thinking. Everyone also happens to believe themselves a genius in some regard, or – at least – special and important. These misperceptions contrast starkly with reality and subsequently make dealing with Americans a total bother.
Now, on the other hand, he brought back umeboshi and otabe from Japan as exemplar popular snacks and souvenirs from Japan. These were met with general disgust by friends and family alike, but these reactions were honest and sincere, pleasing Huckleberry a good deal. In a similar way, Huck found himself reacting quite different to the copious amounts of cheese and carbohydrates present in everything. What the Wisconsinites do to their bodies is simply unnatural.
Beyond the cheese freights and meat splatters that reigned the duration of his stay back in the States, on several occasions he was asked about culture shock. Apparently the image people have of Japanese society is one of extreme repression. Repression isn’t really a thing here. Retention, more precisely anal retention, might be worth talking about – but repression is more of a United States pandemic. Repression is simply a thing back in the states and it leads to all sorts of curiously aggressive behavior. On a related note, the most immediately striking culture shock came by way of simple conversations.
In the States, people are solely interested in the known universe that recognizes them as correct, relevant, and informative. All else should be pushed out. Therefore we go on constantly updating each other’s verbal wave patterns with those purposes on high priority. To be the most recently correct even at the cost of merely perfectly repeating the previous utterance as our own. Better to double up, cop out, and copy-paste someone than to bear silence which in very few steps leads to the horrific oblivion of total annihilation. It’s a slippery slope in the States, miss your chance to consciously talk over, under, and through other people and in no time you’ll simply disappear never to return, never to be heard of again; and to never be heard means never being recognized, never receiving approval or attention, as well as several other less mentionable evils.
A comparable unbearable of course is: the burden of phonyism. ‘Americans’ are essentially phonies. They’re totally hooked on..phonics. We sell ourselves as aggrandized versions of our romanticized and misguided understandings of ourselves. In turn we buy other people’s bullshit in so much as it brings returns, profits, or at least a freebie somewhere along the line. We accept in others only what fits into the set of bounds we’ve projected out for the conveniently sterile iAccept universe. These inflated phony personalities are the grounds by which we judge and rule each other in perpetual power plays. Friendship is just another business, and for quite some years – let’s be honest – the economy hasn’t been good. Tough times, yeah?
The above comments more or less capture the feel of how Huck responded to friends when they asked him about culture shock. Pretty intense way to respond to people I suppose, but Huckleberry never was one to throw sugar into his coffee. Now, cream, on the other hand, has its place he found. When served a rich brew of deep coffee hues, just the right amount of whole cream is all it takes to swing an election. Watching the drops of cream disperse into the coffee is a charming benefit.
Being able to see old friends at home was indeed rich, and seeing them now a year past holds similar charm to the patterns of transformation cream takes in coffee, clouds take to mountains, generations of fish schools take to the ocean, valleys take to the earth. People back home are making very cunning moves, creative leaps which seen from afar weave all sorts of beautiful tapestries.
The promise of food and drink in good company provided the stage for various family and friend gatherings during which the majority catching up and story telling was done.That’s something that just doesn’t happen for Huckleberry in Tokyo. He’s just not living a social life that makes that happen regularly. Most eating he does alone, and the majority of drinking he does involves familiar regulars who, like he, meet up at the same places – but no one seems to hold relations outside those spaces. While Japanese culture is very social when it comes to food and drink, Huck’s not a part of that culture. So, Huck tried to make the most of those moments during the stay at home, despite his reverse-shocks, judgments, and distracting perceptions.
Suddenly Huck was a week into work, quickly reacquainted with Tokyo’s various smells and suspicious gases. He was on the metro back towards home after putting down a few shots and a couple pints with co-workers in celebration of starting off the New Year. Huck counted down the stations until ShinNakano by the gusty inertias cobwebbing into gooey balances in his liquored insides. Yet, he arrived home and after some gentle doctoring by yours truly cautiously lowered himself into bed so as not to further disturb the undulating universe he was hoping to sleep away.
All the pleasant neighborhood smells came to greet him at 9:24 with curtains full of sun in their sails. It was gonna be a good day. Huck rose to play out the day in this world. Lots to do, lots to do – horrible schedule with which to accomplish it timely. Tokyo, unlike Wisconsin, has no excess time. It doesn’t exist. Sooner or later, you just come to realize that there is only the time. It’s flow clocks in at half past cliché not a moment sooner or later than the Japanese standards can forgive.
That’s one thing about life here. More so even than other highly developed nations the workings of this city are entirely reliable. Everything is in its right place. No one promises more than they can deliver on, and no one delivers anything more or less than is promised. The Tokyo universe is, fundamentally, a reliable machine which suffers constant maintenance. This of course gives birth to the ungodly labor hours and inhumane standards of ‘work ethic.’ The 2020 Olympics in Tokyo might do well to make use of Pink Floyd’s hit single and sling around the motto, “Welcome to the Machine.” It wouldn’t be too far from reality. And Huck was just about to capitalize on this reliability, to get his classical guitar some maintenance before going to work after lunch.
He gathered the necessaries, straddled up, and set out for the station.