If You Happen To Be On Your Way To Japan
by Dan Kennedy
You don't need to spend the weeks prior to your departure studying sushi menus in hopes of being presented with endless opportunities to make small talk with beautiful Japanese women about dinner. Almost nobody will engage in these conversations with you. Most people, with the exception of one very drunk older Japanese man who keeps saying his "American name" is Cliff and then laughing and coughing, will be made uncomfortable by your excessively polite attempts to talk about food. While we're on the topic of preparation for your travels to the land of the rising sun, you can also forgo watching the movie SHOGUN over and over again in the hopes of being able to make counter culture friends with an off the cuff inside joke about the film. I can also tell you that regardless of how excited everybody in the audience sounded on the 1978 Cheap Trick album LIVE AT BUDOKAN you can forget about anybody acting like they know what the hell you're talking about or doing when you relive your favorite moments from the record alone in a small bar near Kyoto's old Geisha district. Which brings me to an important aside here: when visiting the old Geisha district of Kyoto, refrain from drinking too much and referring to the Geishas as "mime girls". I know you are just tired and disoriented and short of finding the right words, and you know that, too...but the general perception will be that you are showing blatant disregard for a cornerstone of the culture. You should also be aware that acting like you're going to light a cigarette in a trendy new age oxygen bar is the equivalent of yelling "bomb" in an airport here in the states. "I'm sure. I was only goofing around. God," you'll be saying over and over again against the wall that a burly bouncer type has you pressed face first against. Resist the temptation to simply add a long "e" sound to the end of any English word that describes what you are hungry for, looking for, eager to see, etc. There is no way around not speaking the language. It's not that type of language where you can kind of figure it out as you go around like, say, French. All of the words will seem misspelled and sentences will sound like cheerful spasms shot forth in tiny seizures of smiles that are designed to keep you in the dark about whatever it is you shouldn't know. Until you've been there for week or so... then the words will seem spelled correctly and the sentences will actually start to have a sophisticated staccato rhythm to them, and you will be left feeling behind the curve like you have felt all of your life. A little slower than the others and not quite getting what is going on around you. It will be just like you feel here in the United States... little lonely you, confused by most of what anybody says. You thought that would change if you drove to California that one time.
Well, you can't outrun yourself no matter how far west you go and no matter how fast you get there. Thank God for that, in the long run. Yes... Domo. Domo Arigato God for that.
About the author:
Dan Kennedy is a writer living in New York. A frequent contributor to McSweeney's, his work has also appeared in Bookforum and BIG Magazine. Crown Books will publish EVIDENTLY I KNOW EVERYTHING in 2002.