Saturday, December 26, 2009

Merry Creemos

Due to a series of unfortunate events. I couldn't make it home this year for Christmas. That makes two in a row. And Mom let it be known...she's counting!

A few of my friends here in the L.A. area offered to bring me along to their respective gatherings. Each of which sounded intriguing in their own special way. However, I settled on spending the holiday with one of my bestest friends...Summer, who resides out in Ojai. The decision proved to be just what the doctor ordered.

I trained out to Ventura where she picked me up and escorted me to this quaint little area. It was night time when I arrived, but she let it be known that the surroundings were absolutely gorgeous. "Wait til you see this place in the morning," was a recurring theme.

As for Christmas Eve, it was so familiar that it felt like I was back in New York with my very own family. Mom wrapping last minute gifts. Egg Nog with your choice of liquor to choose from. Pumpkin bread was an added bonus. One I wouldn't have minded scooping up the recipe for and making a part of the Gary family tradition. But best of all was the conversations unfolding between all those present. More than anything our chit chats set the tone and confirmed the already obvious, that I was amidst good people.

And the good people only multiplied the next day. Not long after I rose, did the family start pouring in. Uncle's, Aunt's, cousins, Grandma! It was a scene I'd witnessed many a times before yet had it's own unique flavor to it on account of those in attendance.

As promised, the natural surroundings attested to beauty beyond words. Summer is an avid gardener. One who is constantly grabbing a flower, or random leaf and saying, "Smell this." Each time leaving me shaking my head in disbelief... 'How did you know that?" Strolling around the premises shed light on just where all of that natural appreciation and gardening ability came from. Her mom had the place decked out. Whether it be the actual plant life (cactus/cacti) or even the unprecedented placement of bowling balls throughout the garden, the whole place had a very zen feel to it.

And that was just the immediate surroundings. As my gaze zoomed outward, I took in the sights of nice sized mountain across the way, which inherently gave birth to the valley which lied between us. More than anything, it was the peace here that struck a chord.

I searched my memory in attempt to recall the last time I'd felt/experienced peace and quiet on this level and I was hard pressed to do so. It was so quiet I could hear the dog barking from across the valley. This alone shed layers of mental chatter and concrete jungle-isms that I was previously unaware of. And as my mind attempted to clear itself of the typical rants that had plagued it, I surrendered and simply basked in the presence of it all. Hurrying not, to speak, move or distract myself.

Eventually more humans arrived, and so began the dance that is Christmas. The gift exchange was not as pronounced as it is in our household, but it was really awesome to not only have a card to open from my "family" in Tokyo. But even have a gift complements of Summer's mom.

By early afternoon there were upwards of 30 people in the house, each weaving our way in and out of conversations, food and Spirits (of each kind.) It was a beautiful collection of souls. One in which seemed void of judgment or any of the family dramas that plague many a gatherings.

Prior to the guests arrival, there were at least 10 guitars in random locations throughout the house. A sight that seemed a bit excessive at 1st, yet sparked a degree of curiosity as I wondered, what in the world could someone do with ALL these guitars? The answer soon presented itself as the jam session of a lifetime commenced right before my eyes.

There were some truly talented musicians amongst us. Each of which graced us with a few tunes from within their arsenal. What amazed me was not only their musicianship, but also how well they fed off of each other. Although I 'dibble dabble' in the realm, I was a bit intimidated by the where-with-all they exemplified.

The most recent addition and pleasant surprise for all involved was the arrival of a couple of English girls who have their own band Athena. This was their 1st time being in the States for the holidays, and they lucked up and found this haven for musicians in which they fit right in. Their songs were moving and I had to make an extra effort to not appear too interested :) Cool may be the death of me!

As it turned out, they just happened to be staying in Hollywood, not far from my hotel. As fate would have it, I ended up riding back with them which gave us the perfect opportunity to reflect on the magic of the night. The people, the food, the feelings, it was all indicative of a great holiday experience. One that could never be duplicated.

So...I apologize Mom for not making it home. But please believe your boy was in good hands when it was all said and done.

Divinity continues to align with perfect timing and placement. Can't wait to see what comes next.

Bless

Monday, December 21, 2009

The (B)east Coast

After almost a year to the day, I find myself back in DC. And more importantly, back at my brother's place. Which for the 1st time in a long time gives me the sense of being HOME. It's been so long since I knew where the dishes were, where the snacks were, and how to work the remote control!! All these subtle simplicities create a momentum of appreciation for not only the surroundings, but above all, FAMILY.

To my surprise, upon arrival, my brother informed me he wouldn't be needing his car, so I could take it and do what I need to do. Oh what a difference a year makes. The last time I was around, he was protecting that ride with his every breath. You would too if you were pushing a BMW 645 Ci.

Needless to say, I was delighted to receive such an offer. Which led me to snatch up those keys and get out the door before he got a chance to reconsider!

DC on a whole really didn't feel so magical.(not that I expected it to) It was nice to stop by my old job and see a lot of the people and spirits I've missed. But the overall vibe wasn't one of "I've missed this so much." But rather a sense of, "Hey, what's up? Nice to see you again"..and that's about it.

The lone highlight came in the form of one Mia Jael Flemming. Born just 5 days before my arrival, it seemed rather fateful that I just happened to return in time to say a few silent prayers and extend Divine Light around My God Daughter! A title that was often given and taken away by her mother in the months prior to her arrival, whenever I got to acting a fool!! :) However, now that she's here, there's no turning back!

And she's a cutie for sure! And I say that reluctantly, because I'm not one to shower newborns with too much affection. When friends send those fresh outta the hospital pictures to everyone they know proclaiming, Malcolm Paul Little, 6 lbs, 8 ounces. And at least 10 of those people who have yet to discover the difference between reply to sender and reply to all write back.."Ooohhh..he's so cuuuuuute!" I'm like "Nah. Not really!" In my opinion, it usually takes a good month or so before that cuteness factor arrives. But perhaps I was a bit biased in her case. Regardless, she was great. Let me hold her with no crying. And that's about all a brute like me can ask for...ha haaaa!!!

From DC to upstate NY, my brother and I drove. Well..he drove.. I relaxed. The trip was a cool one. We dove into the depths of being bi-racial. And how distinctly different our set of challenges are from those of black or white people. My bro made the point that it is an injustice to attach the label of Black to President Obama because that is discrediting the uniqueness of his/our plight. He has learned a certain skill set as a result of being both black and white. And to simply group him into the sweeping generalization of being a black man is not only a mistake, but also an indication of how ignorant Americans' remain in terms of race relations.

This is an element I witnessed 1st hand, as numerous people asked me "Why do they keep calling him 'Black?" when I was in Japan. "Isn't he mixed?"

I'd roll my eyes and say..."Yeah, but in America (and seemingly only America) we're considered black."

It was almost comical to me at 1st but eventually educational to see outside of the American framework and realize many cultures on Earth recognize the distinction quite clearly. There was actually a time in Jamaica, where an elder (Black Woman) hollered out to my friend, from her porch "Who da white bwoy wit ya?"

I got offended as hell! And pleaded to my man..."Who's she calling white boy? Can't she see I'm black?" He gave me that nod like, Yeah..yeah..shut up for a minute, I'll explain later. :) Big deal at the time...hilarious now!

As for our family the spectrum could never be more evident. Although born unto the same parents. And brought up under as similar a conditions as one could conjure. You'd be surprised to see how distinctly different our personalities and tendencies are.

I'd be the 1st to tell you there is no such thing as acting Black or acting White. But I think we can all identify with certain qualities and modes of being which we'd usually attach to one race or the other. (gotta throw that disclaimer out there so folks know I "ain't ignorant!")

My brother admitted that he leans more toward the white side, while I seem to have more of a black disposition. An idea which was reiterated by a friend of mine here in L.A. who proclaimed despite his vast number of fully black acquaintances, "You the blackest friend I have!"

But ultimately, as a child I was never fully embraced by either. WE were always different. And often reminded of our difference from both sides. And that makes for a pretty lonely upbringing in terms of having a point of reference or role models.

But you better believe I studied my older brother's every move in hopes of gaining any insight on the path that lied ahead. A move that was often times beneficial.

Although I thought I may be ranting a bit, I just realized that all of these thoughts were a part of our conversation. Which was a doozy I promise you that.

Just to paint a picture for you non-New Yorkers who continue to hold the illusion that New York STATE is the same as New York CITY. It was a great surprise for me to see the Welcome to New York sign while still on the highway on this trip. See Route 15 has been a country road that takes you through small town after small town, offering litte more than gas and Dunkin Donuts at each stop. Yet somehow, someway, they managed to circumvent the villages and navigate the farmland without pissing off the cows in a fashion that kept us aboard the highway. A beautiful yet tragic accomplishment.

Beautiful for the obvious reasons of convenience. Yet tragic on account of remembering when they said, that was gonna be a 15 year project. Yikes. These days are mounting!

Not long after, we pulled up to Mom's place. A welcomed sight. But even greater... a welcomed FEELING! As these days turn to years and many of my priorities shift (drastically.) There is one that remains atop. And that's Mommy!! So good to be home!

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Magnet that is Santa Cruz

Alas, I am in the same time zone as my family. It's been quite a journey since I've last found myself here in the DC area. Yet the stories that seem to fall from my tongue after the usual question "How was Japan?" seem to do it no justice.

As for my time in Santa Cruz, California, it was ideal. The home I stayed in was impeccable. My bathroom alone was bigger than my entire place in Tokyo. Not to mention it was located just 2 blocks from the beach. And if that wasn't enough, only 2 days into my stay, a good friend of mine offered his jeep to me so I could have transpo throughout the duration of my stay. Truly a blessing.

As much as I'd like to say I returned to the area and took the states by storm, it was quite to the contrary. More than anything I relaxed and basked in the familiarity that I'd missed in all those days spent outside the states. Basked in Burritos, Pizza and long drives with loud music. It was just what the doctor ordered.

My plans changed 37 times in the month that I was there, as opportunity after opportunity continued to present themselves. Each of which looked to be just right for the next step. At first it was a month long stay in Jamaica. Then it was a few weeks in the Dominican Republic. But ultimately, I settled on a month in Los Angeles. A move that has the potential to impact my path in a myriad of ways. Both financially and musically. Needless to say, I'm intrigued to see exactly what lies ahead in the days to come.

A few weeks back, I was invited to play (basketball) at an open gym at Santa Cruz High School by a friend of mine. The experience was refreshing, so much so, that I returned again the following week. When that run was completed, the coach thanked us for coming out and informed us that the gym would no longer be open on account of their Varsity Boys season starting.

It took me a moment to size up the feasibility of such a choice, before I approached the coach and extended an offer. Although I've never coached a day in my life, "I'd love to come help out., contribute to the program in any way you see fit." He accepted the offer, and so began the birth of my love affair with the Santa Cruz Varsity Boys Basketball Team.

It's a shame that in the realm of sports, being nice is often times a fault. The kids I've been working with all have hearts of gold. A characteristic that holds little to no value when it comes to competition. And in many instances may prove to be detrimental to the team. Hence, the mission laid before me was to light a fire in a few of the less fire-full. A challenge I gladly accepted.

Lamb or Lion? has been our motto. And it's been absolutely delightful to see the transformation many of the kids have made in only a matter of weeks. Not only in terms of heart, but also skill-wise. Working with them has been a blessing because almost all of them are very coachable kids who are open to criticism and diligent in practice. This entire experience has filled me with a greater sense of purpose and my influence is becoming visible through time. And I say that in no selfish way at all. As the head coach is truly guiding the ship and doing so with a sense of confidence and clarity that amazes me from time to time.

Working with him is an inspiration in itself. Often times I catch myself daydreaming about how much more enjoyable my high school basketball experience would have been had I been lucky enough to have a coach like him.

Needless to say, this opportunity to fulfill yet another life long dream seemed to present itself almost effortlessly. My proclamation prior to this experience was, "I will not move back to Santa Cruz, no matter what!" But it just so happened that a friend of mine decided to return to Africa for a 6 month stretch. This opened up his place for that entire period.

When I stepped back and looked at the grand scheme of things, and attempted to make sense of the opportunities being presented, I wavered a bit, before surrendering to the obvious momentum that was/is guiding me to accompany this squad throughout their season.

That being said, I'll be returning to SC for at least the duration of the season, if not longer. As usual, many possibilities lie ahead. But that's a step that feels just right.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Looking Back on the Transition

I swore up and down I'd do my best to document as much of my transition back here to the States as possible. However, life has it's way of moving...and shaking and I can't say that I've regretted even a moment since I've returned.

Ready for take-off:
So after the nightmare that was my departure from Japan, I settled myself into my ROW of seats quite comfortably. Only minutes into the affair, the stewardess approached, and the two of us had a brief but charming exchange.

It was then that a very warm feeling set in...I'm going HOME. Home as is, the place where people speaka my language. Home, where I can read the signs. Home where spontaneous conversations are not only acceptable, but in some places even encouraged. Immediately a veil of pressure/frustration was lifted.

As a good friend of mine, Colin, pointed out. People like us feed off of interactions and sharing positive experiences with those in our surroundings. This was a dynamic that I could only brush the surface of in Tokyo. Although the overall personality of Japanese people was not as outgoing as Americans, it still boiled down to the language barrier presenting the predominant roadblock.

People ask me what I thought of Japanese people. And I struggle to answer this question. Most notably because I did not learn their language. How can I possible assess the intricacies of one's culture without first grasping their native tongue. Especially in a place like Japan where subtleties abound. So, eventhough I spent close to a year there, I always remained an outsider looking in.

As for the plane ride itself, it was ideal. I watched a movie, then took some time to reflect on the adventure that was Japan. I must say, more than anything, I was extremely sad. There are a good number of places I've ventured to thus far, most of which I've left with a positive feeling. However, in this case, it really felt like goodbye. If not to the country, certainly to a good deal of wonderful people I've come to endear.

The strange thing with traveling is you meet so many good souls. Yet most of us are in transit. As adventurous as it is to look ahead to reunions in other destinations, there is still the very real possibility that we will never meet again. And for some reason, that dynamic was much more present this go round than in trips past.

One element I very purposefully preserved was presence. Or at the very least a lack of looking ahead. Although many seemingly beautiful connections and landscapes awaited me in California, I was careful to cherish the moments I had between the two worlds. What is/was to come in Cali, will have its' time. However, for the time being there were so many powerful experiences and friendships to reflect on and put in proper perspective.

Symbolically, there was quite a force corresponding to my travels. As we departed from Tokyo, the pilot mentioned the possibility of us being delayed on account of a 'typhoon' hitting the bay area. At the time, I'd assumed he used the word simply because there were Japanese passengers aboard. But I soon discovered there was much more to it than that.

As it turned out, there was a typhoon that hit Japan just a few days before my departure. It was reportedly the strongest to hit in over 20 years. It only grazed Tokyo, hitting us with a good amount of rain, and some strong winds but it didn't quite equal the hype. At least in my neighborhood. However, once it was finished with Japan...it headed East. As in toward California.

When we touched down, the sun was shining and the air felt just as magical as ever in San Francisco. Laced with the chill that defines bay area weather, all seemed to be at peace in my surroundings. That is, until we headed south.

By the time I arrived in Santa Cruz, I was amazed at just how much damage had been done. There were fallen trees on highway 17, and all types of blown over vegetation along the way. It was clear that whatever I'd missed came through with some serious force behind it. And this was confirmed as tales began to abound from one friend to the next whom were welcoming me back.

This only added to the magic of my arrival as person after person said, "Wow, you are so Lucky! It's been raining like crazy here for the last few days."

Lucky indeed. But somehow humbled by the correlation between my departure and this bodacious storm. If only I could have taken this country by storm upon my arrival!!!

But there's still time :)....

Saturday, October 24, 2009

In a Blink

So there I was, back in familiar surroundings. Serving at Cafe Mare. (everyone's favorite Italian Restaurant in Santa Cruz,) When a table of 12 showed up in my section.

All flowed naturally, they ordered drinks, appetizers, then their main courses. After dropping off their apps, and choppin it up with them momentarily, I skated off to another table. On my way back, I looked over and one of the ladies at the table was convulsing. At first, I thought she was telling a story and demonstrating to everyone what happened. But upon further examination, I discovered that she was actually having a full blown seizure.

Talk about traumatic. I'd never seen such a thing in all my days. She twitched back and forth violently, as her friends came to her side doing all they could to prevent further damage. Someone wrapped a knife in a napkin and put it in her mouth to keep her from biting her tongue. And after about a minute, she emerged. Well, kinda.

For me, the moments to follow were even more frightening than the actual seizure. She simply gazed off in no particular direction. With no awareness whatsoever of her surroundings or her friends. From where I stood, she looked dead. I kept thinking to myself, please Lord don't let this woman die right now. It was right about then, that her friend declared, "She's breathing."

After a few minutes of blank staring, she slowly returned to her senses. Her friends did a great job of consoling her and guiding her back calmly. The ambulance soon arrived. And she made her way to the hospital where she was in stable condition in no time. Thank God.

But I must say, seeing something like this firsthand was a mind blower. And more than anything it brought to the tip of consciousness that life is by no means a guarantee. And any of us can cross over (to the afterlife) in the blink of an eye.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

One Final Adventure

Perhaps Japan wanted me to stay a little longer than expected. Or so it seemed, as the moments leading up to departure transpired.

It all began with the typical, "Bags too heavy" juggle that I had to do at the check in counter. Actually, that's a lie.

It began as I stepped foot outside of my place, with two humongous bags. One of which had my garment bag attached. Big, heavy, but still pretty impressive when considering THIS IS MY LIFE. Nothing more, nothing less (well Mom's garage may beg to differ.)

Prior to that moment, I failed to remember that on my way into Japan, I had my bags shipped to my place from the airport. Meaning, this was actually the 1st time I had to carry everything solo. As it turned out, about halfway to the station, I ran into my best friend in the neighborhood, Katsu.

Katsu, worked at a Yakitori stand in the neighborhood. I used to stop by his spot everyday and chop it up with him.

I don't know how many of you have seen the movie "Ghostdog," but there are a few scenes in it, when Forrest Whitaker would stop by the ice-cream man's truck and the two of them would converse. Forrest in English, the ice-cream man in French. The two of them never 'understood' one another, but the subtitles revealed in fact they did.

Well, it wasn't until I had a Japanese friend accompany me to Katsu spot, that I discovered the same was true for us. It was quite an amazing revelation because we were walking away from the place and my friend said to me, "Oh, he speaks English?" And I was like, "Nah, not at all, why?" Apparently his answers to my questions were right on point. It was beautiful, cause he used to always say, we don't speak from our mouths, (Katsu and I) we speak from our hearts.

Anyhow, he dropped everything he was doing, and immediately grabbed one of my bags to escort me to the train. To my surprise, he even got aboard the train and rode with me for a stop just to say a relaxed goodbye. It was yet another sign of the beauty of Japanese culture. And of course, true friendship.

The only obstacle remaining, was the transfer from trains that awaited at Motoyawata station. This would be crucial because there is no elevator and at one point, no escalator either. Or so I thought.

I ended up discovering the lift, and took it up to street level. Once there, I was a bit shell-shocked, because I had no idea where I was or where I was supposed to be going from this unfamiliar exit. Long story short, I ended up walking a good mile+ with these bags as I got directions to the wrong station the 1st go round. At this point, I was grinning and bearing it!!

Once there I actually lifted my bags up onto the platform from street level, before even going through the station, as to avoid the lack of elevatorness. A move that garnered more than a few glances from the rule abiding Japanese folks in the area.

If that wasn't enough, I ended up getting off the train one stop too soon, hence leading to another delay.

But this was no stress, by the time I got to the check-in counter, time was not of the essence whatsoever. That is, until I sliced my thumb open, on a metal record, while attempting to lighten up my bag.

Blood was dripping off my finger, as I asked one of the Airline ladies, if she could help me out. She looked at my thumb, shrugged and said, "I'm sorry, we don't have anything over here that can help take care of that." PERIOD. I was in disbelief. There I was, bags wide open, belongings scattered around the counter and this lady showed not the slightest bit of empathy.

I proceeded to shuffle with one hand, and get everything squared away, before she appeared, this time with one solitary band-aid. I don't know how many Mommy's are out there, but I'm sure you know, you can't just throw a band-aid on a bleeding wound. But I tried!! That tided me over for a few.

At the money exchange, there was a problem with some of my Yen. It had oil spilled on it, so the marker-check failed, hence they refused to change it for me. That took a good 15 minutes to sort out.

Finally I got to security and when I did, the thumb started acting up again. This time, however, the lady working there had a hint of compassion. (She was actually a Sweetheart.) By the time I passed through security, I had tissues for days and enough band-aids to supply an elementary school nurse for a year!!

Alas, my problems were over...that is..until I got to...Immigration? Who has immigration when you're LEAVING the country? As I was waiting in line, one woman asks, "Is there anyone on UA flight 852 to San Francisco here?" I raised my hand, expecting some kind of assistance. She glanced, said something into her walky talky...and that was it. No, express lane treatment. But I was cool with that....until I got to the checker-upper and he decided that because I was not returning to Japan I had to fill out some paperwork. I couldn't believe it.

Meanwhile, they are calling my name on the loud speaker.

At this point, I'm frazzled to say the least. But I eventually pass through. And then the lady, who was absolutely useless, proceeded to walk 10 steps in front of me the entire way to the gate. Glancing back every 8 seconds and waving me along as if I couldn't read the signs above that were blatantly pointing out where I was going. I am mentally chastising this woman, something to the tune of "I know BITCH!" as she continues to chip away at what little resilience I had remaining.

Then alas, I made it to the gate. I took a deep breath, cleared my mind, handed my ticket to the guy and set out for the plane. All was finally moving in a positive direction...that was..until.. a voice from behind called out.. "Security check. Sir I need to look through your bags."

UNBELIEVABLE!!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The saddest part of this whole saga was I didn't get the chance to answer any of the thoughtful calls and texts that friends were making/sending. Each of whom knew exactly when I was departing. So sad. But I luff You's!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Lost between Hello and Goodbye

As I dip my Oreo's in milk. A tradition that has kept me rooted in my Americanism nearly every night since arriving. I can't help but reflect on the days that have defined my trip/stay here in Japan.

It all happened in a flash. Many of intentions remain unfulfilled, while many were exceeded greatly. Although music did not add up to my previous projections, I must say, I feel as if I was on the brink of breaking through some of the barriers which stood between me and destiny. (Or something like that.) The same could be said for the realm of basketball. Although my moments attested to experiences far beyond anything I'd previously done, I still felt as if I'd only brushed the surface here in Tokyo.

Yet, as is usually the case with any extensive stay in a country, what stands out most in my soul is the connections with people, friends and community out here that have sprung up in such a short time. The disappointment lies in not being able to remain here to nurture some of these connections to full fruition. However, the moments we've had have been quite venturous.

It's interesting, as the time wound down, and the end drew nearer, many of the surface interests fell by the wayside as the important things (God bless the teacher who told me to never write the word 'thing,' "there is always a better word"...but pardon me) took center stage.

What could possibly be more important than FAMILY? Although I made a great number of friends here in my time, there are 4 friends which really proved to be soul mates through and through. We all came here at the same time. And we each guided one another in our own respective ways while we continued to socialize, yet keep tabs on each other.

It's extremely ironic to speak in such depth about my Tokyo family because when I look through the pictures there seems to far more indulgence than introspection. Yet we seemed to find time for that too. Even if we forgot the next day!

Goodbyes are such a double edged sword. There's the pain of detachment. while entertaining the idea that we may never see each other again. A principal which becomes even more probable as the trips start to mount and more friends slip through the sieve of time. All this juxtapose to the extremely eloquent summaries of times shared that friends offer one another when their moments together are coming to an end.

I've been humbled by many of the expressions friends have shared this past week+. And even moreso, honored by the revelation that I've played a significant role in their recent developments. While many of them have certainly impacted me on a great scale, perhaps it's human nature to downplay one's role in another's life.

Regardless, it's been a rollercoaster of emotions this past 2 weeks. Yet as the departure neared, all I really wanted to do was kick it with family. And that speaks volumes of our connection because this city is full of potential distractions. But looking back, it's all been so majestic as the days have played themselves out.

Zooming out a bit, Tokyo has been quite an exciting chapter on the path. From the music connections, to the Rising Suns experience in Paris, to the discovery of Kyoto. This place has provided the full spectrum of experiences from triumphs to heartbreak and disappointments.

Although my overall perspective on Japanese people remains in limbo, I will say this country, and the opportunities provided within it, have left a lasting impression on my being. And even greater than that. The friends I have found here, will undoubtedly be my peoples for life!!

This is my last post from Japan. I hope to express much more in these ever-so-crucial days of transition ahead.

Blessings and Light..
And Infinite Gratitude to the Spirits of Japan which not only guided my here, but also took good care of me while navigating It's soil.
One Love

Monday, October 5, 2009

Beginner's Mind

Somewhere in my studies, I came across a book entitled, "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind." The premise of the book, amongst other things, was that we should aim to keep a child-like mind in reference to perceiving the world around us. It is common practice for us to wake up and go through our daily routines without acknowledging the newness and changes around us. Hence, strive to be child-like, not in the sense of naivete, but rather in a state of wakefulness and appreciation in perspective, in which all things are viewed as brand new. Even if we've seen them a thousand times before. (As is always the case, this is much easier said than done.)

Living here in Tokyo, I've certainly been guilty of falling into that 'daily routine' mentality. However, with my departure now 9 days away, "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory!"

There are a great number of cultural aspects which attest to the rich tradition and heritage that is Japanese life. Many of which, present a sharp contrast to America.

The most pronounced difference I've perceived is the well being and liveliness of the elders in this country. Simply put, old people are everywhere! I didn't realize how hidden our old folks are back in the States, til I arrived here.

Not only are they out, but they've got some spunk wit' em. I've seen 50+ year old ladies walking around with their hair dyed PURPLE! Folks who look to be in their 70's on bikes, cruising throughout the neighborhood. And I'm not talking about a handful of people. I'm talking..goop gobs of old folks! It's amazing. I always thought my Pops was a timeless being for still being able to give me the business on the basketball court at age 60. But these folks might give him a run for his money.

Aside from the activities, I simply see more elders here than at home. They spend a lot of time walking the streets and talking to one another. Riding the trains and still very much living. Not to mention, they are a mainstay on television here to put it mildly. This gave rise to an interesting question. "Why don't we see elders too often on television in the States?"

Is it that we value youth so much in a capitalist society, that we downplay the significance of the aging? Or are we so preoccupied with the next NEW thing that we forget to step backwards every now and then to remember the way things were?? Perhaps it's a result of being brought up in a rootless (ruthless) culture, in which the actual Native's are purposefully repressed in attempt to silence the ugly history that lies at the foundation of our 'Great Nation.' We're raised in a culture where our history is so atrocious, that we scurry toward a bold future, in hopes of overshadowing the wrongs once done. Indeed, I'm getting a bit pessimistic here, but these are certainly factors worth entertaining.

From the elders to the youth. I swear Japanese babies are born warriors! You know that moment, when a fresh-stepper is still discovering the rhythm and balance required to accomplish this thing called walking?

How many times have you seen a child bouncing, ever so confidently, on his way, just to hit an unexpected bump in the road, and absolutely bite it! That's usually when, everyone in the child's circumference takes that collective gasp. And then rushes over to him, if not verbally than psychologically saying, "Are you ok?"

Well here in Japan, I don't know if it's just the parents who don't create that same psyche by staying cool when it happens, or if these kids just have harder heads! But I'll tell you what, I've seen at least 15 of em, take some serious L's (that's losses for the un-eboniced.) The kind where you wince when you see it. And they just pick themselves up...don't even run for Mom's leg or anything, and keep it moving!! Remarkable.

A cultural aspect that I will greatly miss here is that of bike riding. Back home, if you show up somewhere on a bicycle, people look at you like you must be broke. (Well, except for in Santa Cruz.) I remember feeling this internal judgment before I acquired my vehicle back in Cali. There was a sense of personal ineptitude that seemed to accompany my biking days. However, here, you will see the sexiest girl on the block on her 5 speed, WITH A GRANNY BASKET on the front of it!! Riding that bad boy with pride!! And every (bold) guy on the block, clocking her as she goes by. Simply put, bikes are everywhere out here. Every major store has bikc parking which is packed with no less than 50 bikes at a time. It's rather refreshing to have such an option, especially, sans judgment.

So yeah, I'd have to say, between bikes and trains, America is lacking on its' transportation skills. Hopefully Obama will put some of those train issues to rest in his term(s?)

In the meantime, I'm a strive to stay brand new for the last few days. And fully soak in the dynamics that shape Tokyo. I look forward to sharing them with you..

Blessings and Light!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I Had a Dream

Quiet as kept, I was given notice by my employer that my services will no longer be needed as of contract's end September 30th. Their reasoning, I was late multiple (5) times. 4 of which had no effect on classes or scheduling. However, I owned up to my (lack of) responsibility with no ill will or hard feelings. That is, until I was notified by other employees, that they'd been late at least that many times, and have had little to no threats/consequences sent their way. Couple that with a scenario in which I witnessed a new employee make the exact same mistake at the exact same school that I made in my 1st week on the job, (mis-reading my schedule and being late on account of it.) and receive not nearly the degree of penalty or 'warnings' that had me fearing for my life(job) just 3 weeks into the country.

Regardless of the dynamics surrounding the decision, ultimately I am done as of tomorrow. This left me in an interesting situation. To stay or not to stay. What to do? I immediately blasted out resumes everywhere I could. In the teaching industry it is pretty easy to get a job. Or so I was told. I didn't hear back from anyone at first. Then gradually interviews started aligning, mostly for part time work. But that was much more liberating than my current situation which required working on Saturdays and Sundays.

Yet, all the while I was flirting with making a move back to the States.

Just when it seemed to be a toss up, I had a dream that very clearly told me where my next step shouldn't be!

I don't really remember how it began, but I do recall glancing over and locking eyes with my grandfather. This was a bit extraordinary as he passed away a good 10 years ago. And I haven't seen him in a dream for at least 3 years. However, it should be noted that he remains my primary ancestor, in terms of prayers and guidance. I always feel his presence is closest. At least amongst those I can name and recognize.

Astonished by the sight of him, I all but collapsed into my brother Guilian's lap as I balled from the soul. The tears were uncontrollable. Moments after I regained composure, he walked over to me and said very matter of factly, "You need to stop teaching."

And just like that, my decision was made. I'd be lying if I said I didn't wrestle with this. My ego has grown very comfortable here in Tokyo and I felt like I'd only brushed the surface of what is possible. Yet an omen is an omen. And I feel as if I'd be disobeying a direct order, so to speak, if I chose to stay here despite what's been revealed.

That being said...I put a plan in action. One of my bestest buddies from childhood is getting married Thanksgiving weekend in New York. Hence, I had to figure a way to get back there in time for that. However, I am no fan of the cold. I have a month to kill between my estimated departure from Tokyo and the wedding. I'm not usually a fan of taking steps backwards, but this was a remarkable exception. The spirits of Santa Cruz beckoned! And I joyously heeded the call.

Not only will I be side-stepping some cold, but I'll be beach bumming at the same time! A formula for empowerment I do believe! Only time will tell exactly what dynamics manifest there. But here and now I am VERY excited to be returning to the States and rekindling some good-hearted friendships!

If you're gonna be in the area... Holla at ya boy!!!
Bless

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

All Day Erryday!

Probably the biggest outdoor basketball tournament in Japan is the All-Day tourney, sponsored by Nike. The 1st one I played in back in March sometime. The scenario was less than optimal, as I was slated to play with a team that last it's 1st game, hence preventing me from joining them on day 2 (when I had the day off.) As it turned out, a youngin asked me to run with him and his boys the night before and I accepted. We faced an early exit, as we ran into the eventual champions "Underdog" in our 1st game.

As the days turned to weeks turned to months, I amassed a good number of basketball friends by way of 'gettin it in' at every open run I could get to. As the 2nd All-Day approached, I received a few different invitations to run. After some intense deliberation, I decided my 1st choice was to join "Underdog" the very team I'd lost to that went on to claim the title in the last tournament. I'd much rather beat em than join em, however, in this case, Underdog's roster consisted of all the fellas I'd gotten to know well by way of the Rising Suns experience.

The guys were gracious enough to offer me a spot, so we laced em up, and got it on! Our opening game was versus a squad called 1st step. Apparently they had 3 or 4 guys on their roster that play/ed pro ball out here. If that's the case, we all should've been offered contracts when it was said and done, cause they never really contested us. I think we bounced em by double digits.

Game two~ The Semis of the tournament (we had a 1st day bye on account of being the previous champs) matched us up with a team called 420. Which is absolutely hilarious because ganja is HIGHLY illegal out here. As in you can get 5 years for a spliff.

Anyhow, we went ahead by about 9 or so on em with about 5 minutes left in the game. But they mounted a comeback and got it down to a one point game with about 40 seconds left. We were at the line shooting 1 and 1. I snatched up the miss and threw it out to our point guard, who proceeded to throw a cross court pass that sailed a good 5 feet over our player's head. TURNOVER.

There was about 20 seconds left when they came down court, penetrated, shot a jumper. And that's when my biggest moment of the tournament came as I outjumped 4 others to come down with the rebound. They fouled, we converted, game over!

Honestly, I didn't really contribute much to our teams' success throughout the tournament, but like my daddy used to tell me, "Just be there when I need you!"

We ended up manhandling a team called Proline in the finals. Winning by about 15 or so. My man, ST was the MVP. And Each of us got a free pair of kicks for bringing home the title!

I've been in this country 9 months, and I've already got 2 new pairs of shoes from hooping. Why can't life always be like this!!

Pictures can be found at http://alldaymag.com/photo_gallery/19th-allday-photos-day2-part2.html

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Legends 3 on 3 Grand Championship

Most of the guys I played with on the Rising Suns play in a professional 3 on 3 league here in Tokyo called "Legends." It's kind of like a Japanese version of And 1 without the above the rim aspect.

Fresh off our trip from Paris, I made it a point to get out to as many of their games as possible. Not only to check out my boys and Show Love, but also size up the competition!

The 1st event I attended was RIDICULOUS! Basketball aside, the setting alone was chilling. They were in the center of this ancient Greece looking like stone coliseum. The only thing missing was the chariots and lions! The gladiators, however, definitely showed up.

The way the league is organized is, they change teams at each event. The winner of each game gets...(something like) 3 points. Leaving each of them jockeying for position game in and game out, in hopes of qualifying for the Grand Championship.

When the regular season is finished, the top 4 scorers get to choose their respective teams. Those 4 teams compete in the finals which are held in, get this, a night club! With the captain of the winning team getting a grand prize of $10,000. Needless to say, these boys put it all on the line when it comes down to the finals.

It turns out, my man Mitsui is the 2 time defending champion. He qualified for the Grand Championship as a captain, as did Atsushi who was our point guard on the Rising Suns. Although they didn't qualify as captains, S.T. and Matsu also laced em up as members of qualifying teams.

Unfortunately, I ended up getting on the wrong train after work, (yes, I live in Japan!) This cost me a good hour of competition. So I basically missed the semi's. When I arrived Atsushi just happened to be outside and I could tell from his walk alone, he didn't fare so well in the earlier game.

As it turned out, the only one from the Suns to make it was none other than Mitsui (the reigning champ.)

When I walked into the club I was amazed! They did a great job of designing the venue according to their vision. There were 2 huge screens showing the game from above the action, while a few thousand people looked on from every angle possible.

Hosted by the street ball legend himself, Mamushi, who is a great host and hilarious M.C., the scene was set for a much anticipated championship game.

Mitsui (M21) was set to meet Chihiro in the finals. I've played with this dude Chihiro a few times, and the kids got one of the quickest 1st steps I've seen in awhile. Not to mention he plays with a passion that borders on fury.

After killing time with an off-key J-pop band and an entertaining ex-Legends vs present Legends game, they finally got down to business. All the hoopla ceased. And when that ball was in play, the Lion inside of Chihiro was finally cut loose.

The boy was everywhere. Grabbing rebounds, making steels, going to the cup at will. No one could hold him. M21's squad tried to stay in it, but all it took was one cold spell that put them down 10.

They could never recover. Partially on account of having to shoot 3's to make up any kind of ground. But mostly due to the unrelenting tenacity Chihiro's squad brought to the table. They weren't missing. And if they did, they rebounded. Simply put, the game was over midway through the 2nd (of 3) period.

When the final horn sounded, streamers and confetti rained down all over the court as Chihiro's squad ended up with a 25 point victory. I felt bad for my bredren, cause of course I was rooting for him to take home the title. But I must say, Chihiro's approach to the game won over everyone in the building that night.

What was even more powerful, was watching him cry like a baby when it was all said and done. To watch someone go from one extreme to the other in such a short period of time was truly compelling. But shiiiiit, bring me a check for $10,000 dollars and you better believe you're gonna see some tears from ya boy!

All in all, it was dope to see the pinnacle of the league. After getting to know the guys and feel out the scene here in Japan, it was nice to have a little insider's perspective on the entire event. With the way things have been going out here, who knows...perhaps next year I'll be writing this from inside the locker room.

Bless

~Retired Ninjas~

Ok, this one was random.

We hoop at a school in an obscure neighborhood in Tokyo. There's an exercise room on the floor beneath us which has proven to be quite entertaining. The last time we played there, there was one of those 'big ball' exercise classes going on when we finished up. This in itself was not so comical. Although I'm sure most would have found ample reason to laugh if they'd watched the retired old ladies doing a little good for their bones. However, the instructor must have brought her daughter along, cause there was a 5 or 6 year old girl who was TOO CUTE!

She couldn't do any of the exercises the grown folks were doing. But believe you me she was trying with all her heart. And it was downright hilarious. (in a beautiful way) Wish you could've seen that one.

Anyhow, the following week. We staggered down the stairs on hollow legs. And lo and behold, there were some old-timers, (this time men) doing something I had never seen before. I guess you'd call it blow-darts. I was transfixed from the moment I saw them.

From what I gathered. They'd take out a dart. Hold the bamboo shoot looking....blower??? at their waste and pause for a moment. (I think this is when they're getting their mind right!) Then they'd raise the shoot to the sky in a very reverent fashion, as if praising it or perhpas exulting the entire process. Before loading the dart. Lifting the shoot, aaaand.. PEYUNT!!...Whap!! Smack dab on the target. Amazing!

The actual execution itself was astonishing, but what really took me by surprise was how accurate these guys were. None of 'em looked younger than 70. And I don't know what type of darts they were shooting, but they were hitting the target REAL hard. So you can imagine the look on my face as I watched one of them slowly stroll down his 'alley' to retrieve his darts. WHILE the man 4 feet next to him was shooting.

I thought, "Man! That's a lotta trust!" But I watched for a good while, and every single one of them was on target time and time again. And that's when it hit me....

This is what ninjas do when they retire!

Friday, August 28, 2009

All That Jazz

August is a glorious month in Japan. For all of us English teacher's, we get 2 weeks off to recharge, relax and do whatever it is we please. Most of my friends made a mad dash for the airport and headed to a variety of countries. From Thailand to Peru my peoples were exploring the ends of the Earth.

I, however, took a different approach to the vacay. Instead of joining the exodus, I chose to stay at the crib and focus on a few areas of life I felt needed a little more attention. Most notably, my Japanese!!

A partial motivation to do so (stay home) was provided by a good friend of mine, Reuben Rogers. Reuben's a world class upright bass player who takes the art to places most could not imagine. It just so happened, he was bringing out a trio to play 5 nights here in Tokyo.

There's a legendary venue in Omotesando called Body and Soul that is celebrating it's 30th anniversary. As part of the celebration Reuben's crew was joined by a different Japanese artist 3 of the 5 nights. And all I can say is, I wish they stayed for 10!

Amidst all my hip-hop pursuits and club nights I've seemed to have lost the part of my self that took the time out to enjoy the frequency that is Jazz. Oddly enough, I listened to it more when I was 16 than I do now. Perhaps it's fear of aging! I can't call it. But I'll tell you this, the 4 nights I spent at Body and Soul were absolutely cathartic.

I've found that there are times that I don't even know something is wrong with me until I experience what is right. This was certainly the case here in Omotesando. Simply put, these brothas hold a space. You have no choice but to dismiss all the typcial trains of thought when in the presence of Masters.

Not only were they supremely present, but they also evoked an array of emotions from composition to composition that was absolutely chilling. There were times I wanted to cry, times I wanted to dance, and everything in between.

As moving as it all was, I must say, the pieces composed by Eric Harland, the drummer, held a special place for me. The only way I could describe them is he 'takes you to church.' The beauty with Jazz is, there are so many dynamics criss-crossing and weaving in and out of each other that a lot of times I didn't see it (the soul) coming til those chords dropped and "BLOW!" Smacked me in the bone marrow!

Involuntarily, my face got stuck on ugly. You know that face you make when a sound is so raw that it penetrates all self consciousness and consumes your very being. Yeah, THAT one. They took me there early and often. Combine that with the nostalgia factor that had me recounting my days in church pews where people caught the holy ghost at the mere tickling of ivory keys, and yes, my friends, you've got the making of musical magic.

Meanwhile, the musician in me was sponging their every move. Attempting to interpret their unspoken language. Catch a glance or a smile that had implications far beyond the obvious. Often times I felt spot on in my observations, others I was left guessing. "Why did he just say 'Uh!'?" "What are they laughing at?" "Did he know he was going to do that?" It was a wonderful game of "Mindreader!"

The icing for me was being able to kick it with the guys after the show. Occasionally I'd ask about something I thought was happening and get confirmation or humbled depending on the answer.

Aside from the music, the atmosphere was just right. It called forth a higher state of being. I can't describe how good it felt to be around grown folks, doing grown things!

And at a time when I was praying for some much needed focus and inspiration in my life, the Reuben Rogers Trio delivered...and then some.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Summer Summer Summertime!

Summer is in full swing here in Tokyo. It seems like every neighborhood I pass through has some kind of festival or celebration going on. It's been quite an exciting shift in energy to see so many people out and about and interacting.

It all kicked off about 3 weeks ago when a friend of mine invited me over to his place to catch the fireworks. Unlike the usual fireworks displays in the states, (Santa Cruz not included) Japanese shows last for a good hour and a 1/2. People forewarned me, but I was still astonished to see just how long they keep em coming.

The fireworks, however, are only part of the entertainment. Male and females alike turn out in what they call Yukattas. (sp) Prior to attending the show I'd been mistaking these outfits for kimonos. But a friend of mine pointed out there are far fewer layers to these leisurely get ups.

I can't really describe the electricity in the air, but there was certainly a great deal of anticipation in the air as hoards of people were all flocking in the same direction. It reminded me a lot of the night of the free Rolling Stones concert we caught down in Rio De Janeiro. The whole city seemed to be walking in the same direction. Add to that the traditional attire, and you've got the setting of some authentic Japanese style celebrating!

Oh...did I forget to mention drinking?!? Please believe the one constant at any gathering out here is drankin! I don't know if there's any other place on the planet where you can buy "Chu-hi's" but if you happen to be in one, make a mad dash for the convenient pronto! They're sort of like a hard lemonade, but they also come in grapefruit. And they sneak up on you something serious! It only took me twice to find my bearings with them. They taste so good you don't even realize how potent they are. Til the next thing you know, you're feeling a little happier than you're supposed to be. CHU-HI's!! Remember the name...and don't say I didn't warn you!

But back to the fireworks, I made my way to the Sumida River where they had two launch sites. Just so happened my man lived in the neighborhood and he invited a whole crew of international folks out to check em from his roof. The show itself was...aiiiiight. I wouldn't say I had my breath taken away or anything. But I couldn't tell if that was because were on rooftop with a good amount of distance between us and the launch points, or if it was just the duration of the show that kind of dulled the senses. An Hour and a Half!

We got into at-length conversations about all types a meaningless topics, before being reminded by an "Oooooo" that we were supposed to be looking at the sky and not each other. It was cool though.. To say the least.

A few days later, I was riding my bike to Yoyogi park around 7:30-8 at night when I rounded a corner and BAM! Was smack dab in the middle of a quaint little neighborhood festival. There was about a block or so of people dressed up and doing a traditional dance to some seemingly ancient music. I smiled at the sheer randomness of the entire affair. It was one of those moments that really drove home the occasionally elusive truth that I LIVE IN JAPAN! Somehow I manage to forget this from time to time.

Needless to say, Summer is in full swing and this is just a pre-cursor for Oban! Details to follow.

Blessssss

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Black is Beautiful

Please pardon any racist implications, but I cannot speak on behalf of the others. All I know is, it is absolutely beautiful to be a black man!

As I sat on the train today, half awake, half zombied out. I looked through the window at the opposite platform and caught a glimpse of a brother, awaiting his train. The angle prevented eye-contact, so I leaned over to see if he was on 'the frequency' and sure enough he was. Gave the nod, lifted his hand, and gave it that chest pump. I, instinctually, returned the nod.

Simple as it may seem, it changed my entire day. It really just lifted my spirits and put my mind in the right place for at least the next 18 seconds ;)

This made me think back to yesterday, when I was leaving Yoyogi Park. Fresh off of hoopin, I stopped and had a spontaneous chat with a guy from Senegal. There was really no Divine inspiration behind it. But it was more of an understood courtesy to acknowledge one another and share a moment, as opposed to rudely riding by and acting as if we don't see the connection.

And I'm not so ignorant to exclude people from this sort of connection. I have certainly had spontaneous convos with people from a variety of backgrounds. But there's just that thing. I can't quite put it into words (although I'm trying) That is really so cool, about being, if not Black, at the very least AWAKE! And taking the time to acknowledge that in those passing by.

Life is Good. And Tokyo continues to align just the right moments!

Bless

Sunday, July 26, 2009

I'm Dat "Nigga!"

So there I was, preparing myself to see my television debut, when it dawned on me. If this hasn't been the most stereotypical Black Man day of my life, I don't know what has.

It began with a scrumptious breakfast...WATERMELON. After running a few errands, I returned home to work on the latest HIP HOP song I've got in the works. Sometime around dinner I scarfed down some FRIED CHICKEN. And this or course to create a foundation so I could stomach the ensuing COURVOISIER! Need I say more?

Well it only got better as I sat down to watch myself be a DRUG DEALER for 30 seconds in a Japanese TV drama! It dawned on me later that night...the only thing I didn't do, was play BASKETBALL!! So I threw on a Michael Jordan highlight tape, just for spite!!!

I may have grown up in Horseheads, New York. But I am still...your stereotypical Nigggaaaaaa! Life is good!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Play Baaaallll!

Well the last, and most important, event has arrived in my brother's stay. Being the die-hard NY Yankees fan that he is, the only shrine he had left to take in, was the old home of GODZILLA!!! And if you think I'm talking about the monster, you definitely need to start tuning into Sportscenter a lil more. Godzilla would be the one-and-only Hideki Matsui. The Yankees DH, (who just happened to hit a solo home run last night to win a game for them! Go Yanks!)

Anyhow, the beauty of this passion of his, is that it guided us to one of the most legendary sports complexes in Japan. The Tokyo Dome! And it did not disappoint, I promise you that.

Even better, the Yomiuri Giants just happened to be playing their arch rivals, The Hanshin Tigers. A team who's raucaus fans have a reputation for being the wildest in all of Japanese sport. Everyone we spoke to prior equated this to Red Sox vs. Yankees back home. Both my brother and I rolled our eyes at such a notion. "How little these people know about baseball to be making such a claim." Man, did we ever get our bubble's burst!

We arrived at the dome midway through the 1st inning. Both of us pretty amazed by the layout of the place. Bub's a bit deeper into his baseball, so hearing him say 'it was impressive' added a lil extra belief on my behalf. (Isn't that how it goes with little brother's?)

There were all types of cultural nuances, that presented themselves throughout the night. Some of which amused us, others which made us say, "Damn, they should do that back home." (Yes, 'home' is still America people!) Between innings, they had cheerleaders that would come out in foul territory and... do what cheerleaders do. (I don't know, How do you describe that?) The concession stands were rather intriguing. You could buy edimame, octopus, and I think squid, but don't quote me on that one. Aaand, the aisle vendors, get this! Every single one of them was a girl. And I'd say, maybe 4 out of the 57 were ugly! These people are not fools!

But what was cool about the aisle vending, was how easy it was to order from them. They walk by and raise their hands while scanning your section, you just raise your hand and they'd jog up to you. There's no need for the psychological game of "I will attract this man's attention," we play back home.

And surprisingly the prices of everything remained reasonable. Japanese are extremely kind in most cases, in terms of the usual inflated price scale that accompanies American "This is the only place you can get what you need" situations. From train station snacks to temple shops, the prices remain the same (for the most part) across the board.

Oooooh, how could I forget?!? The craziest part was, when we entered the stadium. My brother, had not finished his Vokka by the time we entered (Wuss!) But we figured, we'd ride that 'dumb tourist' role out as far as possible. You can imagine our amazement, as we entered THE STADIUM, with drink intact. All they asked, was that we step aside and pour it in a cup. We looked at each other and said..."DAAAAAAAMN!" As the realization set in that we could've came much better prepared had we known!

The game itself was a gem. Both pitchers, were having their way with batters throughout. But I'll come back to that.

What was more captivating, was the SPIRIT of these fans. I have never seen anything like this. Some of you may have read the piece I wrote after the Brazilian soccer game I attended between Butafogo and Flamengo a few years back. But even this, surpassed their passion and thoroughness of fanfare.(yes, I just said 'thoroughness of fanfare!') No Joke, there was not a single at-bat that passed without the fans STANDING and CHEERING.

The way it works is, all the Giants fans had seats from right field to center. And the Tigers fans from left to center. And they were evenly split. When your team gets up to bat, you stand and you cheer. And Cheer and Cheer. And they kept going from the 1st pitch to the last. What was crazy about it, was how polite the fans are. In true Japanese form, they were very orderly in their approach. When your team hits you go..HARD. When they field, you allow the other teams fan's the space to cheer. I just couldn't imagine such a thing in America. Especially seeing as how we allow about 9 fans in from the opposing team in some cases. But here, it worked, and worked to a T. We had a crew behind us that had 2 Giants fans' and 2 Tigers fans' in it. They taught us the songs/chants for both sides and we sang along when we could!

But back on the field, the score was 1-0 Giants off of an early home run. The Tigers were down to their last 2 outs in the 9th, when the passion of their fans seemed to carry over to the team and literally seize the energy in the Dome. Crack! Home Run, next batter, Crack! Homerun, a few later, Craaack!! HOME RUN!! It was unbelievable. 5-1 Tigers on 3 9th inning homeruns. That place went absolutely bananas!!

The Giants got up and were quickly retired to end the game. Or so it seemed... Although play was undoubtedly over, we lingered for at least a good 10 minutes before heading towards the exit. Both my brother and I were utterly amazed to see that EVERY SINGLE Tigers fan was still in their seats. Well, AT their seats. Still singing, still chanting, yet now moreso in a rejoiceful state as they had captured victory. I'd never seen anything like it. I'm telling you not a soul wearing (Tigers) yellow left. When I looked at the exits, there was no flow of people, no movement at all. Unbelievable. I don't know how long they stayed, but we agreed, we'd never seen fans like this in ANY situation.

Simply put, Baseball in Japan is Serious Business! It was a delight to see it 1st hand.

And don't you know, just for good measures, I ran into my man Takaku from the Rising Suns as we were leaving the stadium. Moments like that make me think of the odds. There were 55,ooo people in that stadium. What were the chances that we would cross paths?? Gotta love this life!

FOOTNOTE: This was the end of my brother's stay. I talked a lot of trash about "My liver will be glad when you're gone." But I'll tell ya, it was sad to see him go. We had an absolute blast. But hopefully, that won't be his last visit to Tokyo!

Bless

Monday, July 20, 2009

I Am Happy Documentary

I just received word that a documentary film entitled "I Am Happy" featuring music from Yours Truly, will be making its' World Premeire at the NY
International Latino Film Festival.

It premeires on Wednesday, July 29th at 3:30pm at Clearview Cinemas
with an additional show on July 31st. at 4PM

From what the director shared with me, the film is about the struggle of Brazilian's within the favellas (ghettos.) However, it's cast in a light where struggle is present, but not central. The beauty and joy of their lives is what penetrates the storyline.

I have yet to see it, but I am very excited to do so!

You can catch the trailer and more at.
http://nylatino.bside.com/2009/films/iamhappy_nylatino2009
or here
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qBgBe7fzM2E

Bless

Lights, Camera...Action!

In perhaps my 2nd month here in Japan, I registered with an agency in hopes of landing some extra work on the side. Not to mention, increasing visibility, which is never a bad thing when an artist. Or..so I thought.

After a few calls to "keep this date open" which never manifested into anything whatsoever, I finally landed a part in a TV drama. What my part is, is not nearly as awe-inspiring as the fact that I got A part. I guess when you're black and have lox, you're a prime candidate to be a DRUG DEALER on Japanese TV.

Yeah Mom, I know, you're so proud of your Baby!! I'm not gonna lie ya'll, when the girl called from the agency and said, "Uuuuummm, I think you got the part but, Uuuuuhhh, it's aaaaaa, DrugDealerIsThatOKwithYou?" I did not have the slightest of moral dilemma! Of course, I have pondered the implications of the opportunity. But I've also factored in, the financial gains. And in this case, the End justifies the Mean! NahMean!

The shooting was real mellow. All I had to do was walk up to this guy and get a stack a money, then give him a little paper bag outta my back pocket. There was a hilarious moment in the beginning when they discussed how it was going to go down. I initially started to voice my "idea" about what it should look like, (prolly got about 2 words out...Thank God noone really understood English) when the DIRECTOR continued to speak and set it up the way he'd envisioned. And in that moment, I cracked up inside as I said... "Oh..yeah...that's why you're a director!"
And that's why "I'm an Extra!!"

The whole thing probably took a couple of hours, but what I was vibing on most, was how they shot it. We probably took about 15-20 takes. This from about 3 or 4 different vantage points. I'm interested in seeing the final cut because the way they set it up was...well...professional, I guess you could say. 1 very close shot of just our hands exchanging. Another from an opposite viewpoint. It definitely got my wheels turning with respect to doing videos and such. (hold that thought)

All in all, it was a cool experience. TV is a lot like music in the sense of doing something over and over and coming back to it later to take the best of it. Hence, I was right at home with the dynamics.

The show is called "Menkyou Helpers," and it's airing this Thursday at 10PM on Channel 8 (Fuji TV.) Check it out if you're local. But don't tell my Mom alright!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Saga Continues

I Love my brother to death. But if he stays out here much longer, I just may see that day a little sooner than anticipated! We have been going hard every night. Endulging in Adult Beverageness and soaking in as much as possible.


The beauty of Tokyo is it just doesn't stop. There's always a place to hang and always some people ready to get wild for the night. Whether that entails only 4 people in a club and a DJ to ourselves, or wall to wall folks, there is no shortage of opportunity to be out til sunrise.


In contrast to life in America, when you catch the train here at 5am you don't find winos passed out drunk on the seats, but rather suited up salary men. It's truly a phenomenon. There are 2 waves of alcoholism which present themselves on the train. The 1st being "Last Train." This ranges from anywhere between 11:45-12:30 depending on one's destination. It is very common to see trains packed to the brim and many a salaryman in rare form. The 2nd wave is "1st Train" which usually starts off around 4:30-5:00. This one is guaranteed to be entertaining! Japanese, being as humble and mild mannered as they are, certainly come out of their shells at 5AM and this is always a sight to behold. For me it's quite refreshing, because it reminds a lot of New York in terms of volume and absurdity. A shy New York that is!

Interestingly enough, nightlife is catered to the train schedule. So there are places that are targetted toward last train, and other events for 1st train. Staff transport also plays a role, hence, many a restaurant does not hesitate to PUT YOU OUT in order for them to wrap up business and get all the employees a chance to get out in time to catch their trains'.



Being the die-hard baseball fan that my brother is, we headed out to Roppongi last night to catch the All-Star Game on tape delay. Afterward, we sat out on a staircase sipping Chu-hi's and overseeing the games of the street as they played themselves out right before our eyes. I tried to convince the hookers walking by that my brother was in dier need of a "Massaji!" But he just never seemed to cooperate.


Needless to say, by the time we awoke this morning, neither of us had much energy or ambition to do anything. However, with Bub's days slowly winding down, I tried to light a fire and get us up and out at around 5:30. The move was forced. And it flowed as such for the next 2 hours as we dragged our feet through Shibuya.


But just when the night had seemed it was all going to waste, a glimmer of hope presented itself. Some friends of mine mentioned a festival jumping off in Iidabashi. We maintained our groggy state until we knew were nearing the grounds. Magically, we both took that breath of cleansing, where everything within said, "Alright, we're gonna give this one last shot.... ALIVE!" And just like that, we pepped up. Convo got lively. And so did the environment surrounding us.

Both of us had "Wow!" on repeat for the next 10 minutes as we made our way toward Yasukuni Shrine. There were endless lanterns, and steam filled food stands wafting a myriad of aromas on both sides of the walkway. There were some of the typical American staples of a festival, i.e. Cotton Candy, and Candy Apples. However, their version of candy apples were miniature. But such is the way in Japan. As for the rest of the vendors, they were, shall I say, Exotic. Fish on a stick getting cooked by hot coals. Some waffle balls thing, that smelled delicious. You could catch your own goldfish with a flimsy net that you were only allowed to use until it broke. And an array of other entertaining sights that each captivated both my brother and I time and time again.





As we neared the center of the grounds, there was a pavilion of sorts. Round in shape, with a statue's foundation shooting up the middle of it. A group of Japanese people were dancing around the pavilion as music played. This was accompanied by some well adorned people who poured their hearts into a traditional drum. There was one drum and approximately 8 drummers. Each drummer rotated mid song without missing a beat. It was a thing of beauty. This was without question the most authentic Japanese feeling I've experienced since coming here. The majority of women wore kimonos and the dance was a seemingly simple combination of gestures, claps and steps which flowed ever so pleasantly. Bubba studied their movements and later confessed to be prepping himself to join the outer g of group of people who were circling aound the pavilion. It was such a culturally beautiful sight to see people of all ages swaying around and very light heartedly moving together to traditional sounds. Bubba and I simultaneously acknowledged how happy we were that we dragged ourselves outta the house.

Eventually, we made our way up to the actual shrine. It was an impressive sight for sure. But the magnitude of the festival and setting gained significance when 2 japanese girls stopped to explain the history behind the shrine. It is a WWII Memorial. The place where the top generals who perished in the war are either burried or at least commemorated. We also learned that the countless lanterns were in memory of each person who passed. It was powerful. Especially when I compare it with the anticlimactic exercises we have in America to commemorate our fallen heroes. Needless to say, this left quite an impression. One I'll savor for as long as I can.

And day by day, I continue to discover more about this majestic country. I must confess, having my brother here to share it with me has not only fueled the entire journey, but also ignited a passion to see and do more with my time here. "That's what friends are fooooooor!"

Love

Monday, July 13, 2009

Kyoto: Day 2

After putting in some good mileage on foot yesterday, and getting my previous sleep on a bus, to say I was delighted to lay down in that bed may be the understatement of the year. It was crazy. As I laid down I heard a mysterious "Ahhhhh" resound through the room. I looked at my brother and asked him..."Did you say that?" He said, "Nah, Dogg..That was your back!" Indeed it was.
The hotel rang us at 11:00, "Leave now Negroes," was the loose translation of what they said. But, as you know, my Japanese is a work in progress. It's actually been pretty interesting for me to have my brother visitting. I had not realized just how much Japanese I'd picked up until I found myself translating the brief gestures and inuendo's I could make out. The greatest dynamic I've become aware of is how comfortable I've become in a situation where a person is rattling off high speed sentences which make absolutely no sense to me whatsoever, yet I'm still attempting to pull a word or two out of it to (at the very least,) give a good guess at what he's trying to convey. This as opposed to my initial mindstate, which was "What the hell is this guy saying to me?" On repeat, from beginning to end of sentences.

After breakfast, if you call it that at 11:30 AM. (Which I do) We headed off to c. This was the one that had the most hype surrounding it, so we were both real intrigued to see what it amounted to in actuality. Let it be known, it did not disappoint, by any means. Set in the middle of a pond, the entire temple is made of GOLD! It is stoic. And the setting was tranquil to boot, creating just the right setting and mindset to take in the majestic feel of the place.



Unfortunately, guests are not allowed inside, but from the brochures we could see there is a pool on the 3rd floor of the temple. The layout of which appeared to have a real Divine feel to it. Wish we could have gone in, but I certainly understand why they keep the parade of tourists out of such pristine territory.

From Kinka (Gold) to Ginkakuji, the Silver temple. As we entered, we were handed an apology that stated, the temple is currently under construction. Yet we still had to pay to get in, so I was like, "Yo, there better be something in here worth seeing!" And let me tell you, the temple wan afterthought at this place.

By now we'd seen so many temples and shrines, it was gonna take something extraordinary to make an impression. And initially, when we walked up on the construction site, it was very anti-climactic. No silver in sight. And just the shell of a temple really. HOWEVER, as we continued along the path, we were guided through some truly sanctified grounds. The 1st of which was the sand, zen garden. Bubba had been longing to see one and he'd said so just moments before we entered, so we both smiled when we caught a glimpse of that one.

As I close my eyes, I revisit this very distinct feeling that emanated from the land. It's extremely difficult to bring this to words. Primarily because the feeling itself was unprecedented. But also, even the greatest of superlatives seem to fall short in terms of describing this. Attention to detail seemed to illuminate the entire setting. Yet, somehow amidst the "Wow factor" I found a great sense of peace. It struck me on a chord that resonated just right.

As the path continued, that energy continued to rise, as we stepped into higher and higher elevations. Soon offering a view from above the temple, and even greater, the city. Bubba and I spent a nice little while up there and just sponged the view. No talking, just breathing and acknowledging that we were really living these moments. As movie-esque as it all felt, we were really standing right there breathing that air. It was special. To say the least.
And thank God/Buddha it was! Cause when we left there, we ran into some tough luck! The next move was to check out a village which was old school and real traditional. A friend of mine from Kyoto, who was meeting us there, called me and told me we would not be allowed to enter because village entry requires a reservation. "Jenkies!"

With a look of despair, I looked at Bubba and said.."That's alright! I didn't wanna see that anyway!!" And just like that we were off to see a castle. That's the beauty of Kyoto, there are over 1,500 temples and shrines there, so you don't have time to get caught up feeling sorry for yourself. You gotta keep it moving and get as much in as you can...(if you're in that mindset.) Well, I guess we should've shifted gears a little earlier, cause by the time we got to the castle, it was closed. UNBELIEVABLE.

And just like any troopers, who set out on a spiritual journey and got denied twice, we decided it was time to DRINK!! Bub had found a nice restaurant up on a hillside which had a view that was ridiculous. It was there that the Sake began to flow, and the spirits got to getting lively! As is always the case, when I'm in a place where the scenery is moving, I can't help but wish my mother is there to share it with me. This was no different. But based on the prices on that menu, it was probably best she didn't make it!!


All in all, Kyoto definitely lived up to the hype. It's a place I hope to visit again, early and often. From the good natured people, to the refreshing natural scenery, Kyoto provided a much needed shift in gears. That being said, there's so much to take in there, that it feels like our 2 day adventure was merely the tip of the iceburg. I am truly appreciative of having the opportunity to actually feel that place. And I will be doing my best to preserve that image and feeling that I connect with when I close my eyes...and return to Ginkakuji.


Bless




Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Japan I've been longing to see..KYOTO!

My brother just flew in from DC the other day. He arrived with 2 goals. See a Tokyo Giants game...and see Kyoto. 3 days into his stay...we've fought half the battle. (G.I. Joooooe) But doing so is much easier said than done.
We left from Shinjuku station on the "Night Bus" at midnight. I was bright eyed and bushy tailed for the first 20 minutes. Proclaiming, "I'm not the least bit tired." As I had taken a nice lil 20 minute nap on the train, just 2 hours prior. Those proved to be famous last words, as I passed out something serious. Not awakening until 7AM as we'd just entered Kyoto City Limits. I swore I slept lightly, until my brother informed me we stopped 4 times as opposed to the 2 I'd remembered.

As our bus neared Kyoto station, we got a glimpse of the incredible sights to come. There was a HUGE temple to our right, that stretched for at least 3 blocks. It was enormous. I had no idea temples could reach such size. This crushed all previous expectations as I prepared myself to be blown away by the rich history that is Kyoto.

Traveling with Bub (Greg,) is always a treat. He's the type to research the hell out of every nook and crany of the city, then map out a plan of action. For those of you that know me, you know that is quite a contrast to my approach to any and everything in life, let alone traveling. But to his credit, researchers discover things like the 2000 yen (that$20) unlimited 2-day subway and bus pass. Not to mention, the rankings of each temple and shrine according to tourists' revenue. I busted his chops about the latter, but by the 3rd temple, I was like..."What's this one ranked? What's this one ranked!?!"

After a Japanese portioned breakfast. (So small I had to order 2.) We headed straight for Higashi Honganji Temple the one we'd seen from the bus. Although under construction, it did not disappoint whatsoever. As I said, Massive. However, the amazing part was, the construction that was going on. It turns out, it was to build a retractable roof over the entire temple. I've heard of stadiums with this feature..but a Temple?!? Impressive.

From there we hopped on the subway and made our way to Jujo station where a little walk guided us to Fushimi Inari Shrine which was full of bright orange gates. They were any and everywhere. Most of which had divine looking kanji on them, which frustrated both of us, because we had no idea what they said. It's an interesting dichotomy to be simultaneously Wowwed by a relic, while acknowledging only half it's significance can be percieved on account of illiteracy. Still gorgeous, nonetheless.

As we were making our way out of the temple, we crossed paths with a Turtle (Go Terps!) This may have been an omen of sorts as Buddha was attempting to tell us to move slowly and don't rush. Unfortunately, only hindsight would provide such vision.

When we left the temple we strolled back down to the main drag with plans to catch the bus. Enroute, we came across some school kids who looked to be on their "School Trip."

In Japan, most Middle School aged kids take a 2-3 day trip where they go to Kyoto and or Nara and go see the Temples and Shrines and such. They stay in nice hotels, and from what my older students share with me, it's one of the more memorable trips of their lives.

This being my 1st trip outside of Tokyo since my arrival 8 months ago, I finally got a glimpse of the dynamics I'd expected upon departure from the States. I don't know if they were just small town kids, or if even in the rest of the metropolitan areas in Japan there's not really that many black people. But these kids were oooooing and aaaahhhing all day. Stopping taking pictures with me. Testing their English, asking all kinds of questions...it was too cute. Bub was cracking up the entire time.... and I just sponged it up, like "Hey...I'll be a Star for a day. Why Not?!?"
When we arrived at the bus stop, we actually saw the bus we wanted pull away just as it was in sight. This put us in a predicament, as we now had 30 minutes before the next bus would come. Our choices were, wait, or venture off on foot and soak in more sights along the way.

The map showed a couple more temples not too far away, so we opted for the latter. Remember the turtle? Yeah...well, we scurried off. But our map but a bit vague. Hence, we walked..and we walked...and we walked...right on by BOTH temples and didn't even know it. Well that is UNTIL, we both gave each other that look and said.."DAMN! I'm exhausted!" Of course, I'd been the beneficiary of all Bubba's hard work and preparation. But all that walking in the heat, gave me a serious case of amnesia as I had no choice but to question his abilities as a navigator! For the record, I was that guy....talking all types of trash, but not once considering taking the map and attempting to get our bearings!! But that's what little brother's are for. Bicker and Bitch. Be a downright nuisance. But not help!!




Eventually, we staggered into the next cluster of temples and shrines. Just when we appeared to be on our last legs, we entered Sanjusangendo Temple. Talk about a rebirth! From the outside, it looked like all the rest. Perhaps a little on the long side, but still nothing overly impressive. Unlike the others, when we entered, they requested that we remove our shoes immediately. As we began walking in Bub said, I think you're gonna like this, this is the one that has....just as I turned the corner he said 1,001 Kannan Statues.... A-MAZING! My entire state of being shifted immediately. This was the first time I felt as if I was in the presence of something greater. Each statue has it's own individual style. And some of the more formidable deities stood before them. All of this was tied together by one enormous (I believe it was) Buddha who sat in the middle. I wish I had photos to share, but pictures were not allowed. Even that was a blessing, because this place had such a strong feeling to it, that picture taking would have disrupted the energy entirely. I can tell you now, at the end of Day 1, that was my favorite so far.

From there, we went in and out of about 4 more temples. Taking it in and snapping away photo after photo. And eventually, we made our way to the #4 ranked temple in Kyoto, Kyomizu-dera Temple. The setting alone, separated this from the others. All the previous temples were pretty much in neighborhoods. But this one was atop a hill, overlooking the entire city. Not to mention a (dare I say) beautiful graveyard, which led Bub to ask..."Is it OK to take a picture of a Graveyard?"

"Yyyyeah, if not, I'm sure you'll figure it out by the time you wake up tomorrow morning!"

Not only were the structures ornate but their color schemes caught my eye more than any of the other temples had. There was also the LOVE STONES! This one lit up Bubba's life! Appartently, if you can walk from one stone to the other with your eyes closed, you will receive the blessings of Love from Buddha and good karma will surround that area of your life. He made it! Perhaps I offered a lil guidance, but isn't that often the case with Love. The cool part was, everyone in the vicinity was cheering for whoever was attempting to walk the walk. So when they touched all the school kids and even grown folks in the area shouted out, "Heeeeeyy!" It was fun.

We checked out a couple more spots before hunger kicked in. I'd received a tip, to try the udon in Kyoto cause it's apparently different than that of Tokyo. I don't really remember the Tokyo taste too tough, but the one I had today was Deee-licious. And Bub was happy with his eel, so the sometimes difficult task of finding a place to eat in a foreign city, worked out just right for us this round.

As we left the restaurant, we got an unexpected treat. 5 Geisha's walked by, captivating the attention of all in the vicinity. There was one main girl who was telling them what to do, when to stop and let people take pictures and such. She looked at me, smiled and winked, then asked me for my number. I said, "Sorry Love, I don't do the whole Geisha thing, I'm into girls with booties and breast! But my brother here's pretty hard up!!" No dice..and we kept it moving!! :)
The only disappointment of the day came as we took a rather extended bus ride across the city to get to Kinkakuji Temple. This, the only one I had starred on my list as all of my students proclaimed its' excellence. It is also #1 in Bub's rankings. As the anticipation rose with each nearing footstep, we got slain in our tracks by the security guard at the front gate. "Clos-ee." We're closed. Just wasn't meant to be. However, we now know exactly where tomorrow will begin!

Can't wait!


Also visited: Ryozen Museum of History, Kodaiji Temple, Maruyama Park, Yasaka Shrine, and Gion Corner (Geisha Headquarters!)