Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Series of Inconsequential Anecdotes: Pt. 1

This segment is basically just an excuse for me to commemorate some very minor events/milieu that I encountered whilst residing in Japan. The entries will be brief and void of context. I will not attempt to mine them for constrained literary or sociological significance. It’s just that if I don’t write them down ASAP, I’ll forget them entirely. Because, again, they don’t matter at all.

Pt. 1: The Ocean is Closed in June

June, 2011: I drove to Kanazawa City for a long-weekend of beach-bumming + seafood gorging with a British boy and a girl from Baton Rouge. The boy’s name was Ben and the girl’s pseudonym is Kate. They were my two best friends in Japan. We’d vamoosed on a whim because Ben was moving back to England soon and the three of us had a good rapport so what the hell, why not. It was finally summer. I’d bought a cowboy hat. Ben had Technicolor swimming trunks. We wanted to go to the beach.

All I remember from the seven hr drive is that certain stretches of the highway were thick with the stench of some bizarre botanical explosion. I say bizarre because this particular olfactory experience wasn’t at all like springtime or bouquets or other aromatic stuff you’d normally associate with the blossoming of blossoms. It was a seminal odor, in the human male ejaculation sense of the word. Driving through these sporoid clouds was like periodically plowing your way through a dumpster of wadded up teenage-boy tissues. Syrupy and sneeze-inducing. We giggled and gagged and dubbed the mysterious organism to blame: The Semen Tree.1


Kanazawa is the capital city of Ishikawa Prefecture, a peninsular district that borders a tract of northwestern Nagano. The city itself is a small municipality, population just under 500,000. Located right on the Sea of Japan, Kanazawa is famous for jumbo shrimp and beaches that you can drive on and probably some other more remarkable historical/cultural stuff that none of us bothered to research. We booked a room at a homestay-type place run by a congenial, pony-tailed Japanese man who’d once lived in Tibet and tended to pack his English sentences with esoteric, spiritual locutions. There were two other guests at the residence; a portly, generally abhorrent Australian woman who’d given herself a Japanese first-name and spent afternoons ignorantly strumming whatever traditional Japanese musical instrument she could get her hands on, and a timid Swedish boy who suffered a serious native-land inferiority complex.

Sample Idly-Chatting-With-The-Swedish-Boy Dialogues:

1)         Me:                 So, where are you from?
Swedish Boy:   Sweden. Do you know where Sweden is?
Ben:                 Yes.
Kate:               Yes.
Me:                  No.

2)         Swedish Boy:   Can you name one Swedish invention?
            Me:                  Cross Country Skiing.
            Kate:               Ikea.
            Ben:                 Swedish Fish?
            Swedish Boy:   How about Tetra Pak; the material that milk cartons are consisted of?
            Me:                  Never heard of it.

That first night we ate Japanese chicken wings and got drunk with the Swedish Boy and helped him avoid Abhorrent Australian Girl’s sloppy advances.


The next morning we went to the Kanazawa fish market. It was an impressive indoor bazaar, a pungent gauntlet displaying the entire spectrum of ichthyoid; from multihued and symmetrical to asperous and extraterrestrial. While Kate bought coffee, Ben and I basically camped out at the raw oyster station, slurping up a series of fleshy, cinereal shellfish. The largest oyster was like a small hamburger and cost over twelve dollars. We devoured them all with a dab of wasabi and a splash of soy sauce and gurgled at one another with piscine-induced glee and then suddenly felt intensely unwell so we sat down for a minute. Kate drank her coffee and kept her distance.

After breakfast we collected our beach equipment. Sunglasses, sandals, sun-visors, sunscreen, swimsuits, sushi, sake, etc. It was a warm, overcast day and compacted clouds zoomed across the horizon. The traffic was dense but polite. The landscape surrounding downtown Kanazawa was flat and decidedly non-suburban. An assortment of rice patties and industrial factories interrupted by crisscrossing freeways. The rice patties were dotted with bodies. Hunchbacked Japanese grandmothers knee deep in their crops, performing cabalistic harvesting tricks. I pulled my car off pavement and under a bridge and onto pliant sand. We parked indiscriminately on the beach and opened all the car doors and set up camp, feeling liberated and on the verge of total leisure.

The shoreline was spacious and sans dunes or any other sort of topographical variation. The water was opaque and the waves were big and loud. The sand was the color of wet sand. In the distance a partition of boulders extended out into the sea. Along the shoreline lots of mostly XL-sized vehicles were parked. Surfers surfed and whooped and hollered. I waded into the water and it was a temperature that is ideal for swimming. We chortled and danced. This was a good beach.

Only once we’d assembled our beach-roost did we notice all the debris. It was everywhere. Food wrappers, metallic rods, shredded rubber, plastic bags, fishing twine, lumps of unidentifiable former flotsam half-enveloped by sand. Streaks of washed-up junk indicating the high-water marks of recent tides. And so the three of us sat there in silence and sipped our sake and just sort of reassessed our environs. It was unlike anything we’d ever seen in Japan. A totally neglected public space. Litter everywhere. Zigzagging tire treads tattooed all over. Surfers emerged from the water wearing full-body wetsuits.The XL-vehicles belonged to the surfers. No one else was on the beach. The stratum of dense clouds sunk closer and moved faster. The sky went hunter-green. A single oversized car blared J-Pop. It started to rain.

“This is weird,” Kate said.

“It’s like a little Japanese apocalypse, just for us,” Ben said.

“Let’s go swimming,” I said.

Two men on horseback galloped by, shouting indecipherable, grave-sounding Japanese things. We finished the sushi and sake and stripped down to our skivvies and went in the water and stayed there for a long time. Body-surfing and splashing and swimming and squealing. Gamboling like idiots. By the time it stopped raining, the surfers had all absconded.

The sun got strong again. The wind picked up. Sand and trash rocketed westward, in harmony with the clouds. Ben or Kate laughed. We were alone. Just us and the filthy Japanese beach. 


Later that week, back in Toyooka, I asked my adult English conversation class: why. Why had Ben, Kate and I been the only bums on the beach? Why were the surfers wearing wetsuits when the water was so warm? Why was the beach so goddamned dirty? Where in God’s name had I gone?

An elderly woman, a miniature-sized farmhand named Atsuko who often brought me fresh apples and plums and undoubtedly possesses a litany of recondite harvesting mores, covered her mouth.

“You went swimming?” she said.

“We did. It was good.”

“But the ocean isn’t open yet.”


“The ocean opens in July. Not June.” 


1. If you think semen doesn’t have distinct odor, then you haven’t spent enough time around semen. The three of us recognized the scent. No questions.

1 comment:

  1. I believe the semen tree is their actual name. Come to Brooklyn in the spring to relive your road trip memories. It's so bad.