Americans are a sordid crew. They are gun-toting nymphomaniacs. They are loud, larger than they are selfish and nearly all of them are famous. In America nearly everyone is, or will marry someone who is tall, buxom, professional and domestic. Gas is free. The Yellow Brick Road is paved with gold and it goes from McDonalds in the Bronx all the way to Disneyland.
All of these things are true, on television.
As an American, the things you see on the screen may as well be your reflection. That’s the way the world regards you. The unblinking eye of TV. is only blind to one thing as far as I can see. That is the fact that nearly every denizen of the Western Hemisphere is skeptical of television. We don’t believe what we see because we know, that’s not us. Who is it then?
Japanese television is rarely unbelievable.
I see a large man on the screen. He has thick glasses, a bright green safari hat and a lab coat. He is grinning wildly. Japan’s sense of divine play is at work here. The grin says that much.
The table in front of this man holds three spinning mobiles - large wires atop posts. Each wire has a plastic chip on one end. The mobiles look like hyperactive Calder sculptures.
The largest, fastest contraption has a red chip on its wire. It appears to be moving of its own volition.
Mr. safari hat grins again and sticks his finger into the spin of the propeller. It stops. The chip dangles. On the other end of the wire, glued to a hook is a beetle. It flaps and claws with all its appendages but, alas the man is holding the wire. He grins again because he has stopped the bug machine.
Girls at school ask a lot of questions especially now that I understand their words. They want to know about soup and sushi and what I can eat. ‘How about Nato?’ they ask. Nato is a bean substance, notorious for its reputation among foreigners. The stuff is about like a bowl-full of rubber cement. Anyone who says they can eat it is either Mr. charisma or has been here a very long time.
The girls ask about American holidays, specifically New Years with its midnight kisses. They want to know about American movies, ‘Do you know Leonardo DiCaprio’ (Well, just between you and me, I used to see the guy every day.) I tell them about the part time jobs I had back home. Many Japanese high schools don’t permit their students to be employed. But that doesn’t stop these girls. One of them makes donuts, another is a bowing girl at the department store, and another runs an elevator. ‘SHHHH’ they say, ‘don’t tell Sensai’
A girl asked me about the number of famous Japanese people in the U.S. There certainly aren’t as many Japanese of fame in America as there are Americans in Japan. The girls groan, “Yoko Ono is bad. She broke the Beatles. Yoko Ono SHUT UP!”
Someone asked if “Japan is bad in America.” I didn’t know what to tell her, or how to say it, so I said “No. Not bad. America doesn’t know Japan.” She understood.
There’s a small reservoir down the mountain from my residence. It was built in the year 840 to provide a place for “Imperial Moon viewing.” At first I thought the nearby park sign would tell a tale of irreverent, pants-dropping gestures but no. It’s a tradition for poets and nobility to visit this lake and gaze upon the moon. However, this tradition can only be upheld when the lake is there and currently it isn’t. The lake is drained every so often, for fish harvesting. After the fish are gone, and the mud starts to get crusty, the guppies come out to play. I saw a segment of a children’s show about it. These creatures flop out of the mud and drag themselves toward the stream which has only recently remembered its ancient course. It’s like watching prehistory in action. The mud guppies are almost cute, in a slimy, big eyed way.
Then the camera switched to a view of one of these creatures crispy-fried on a plate. The lake wasn’t even there for the blue moon.
I’ve moved again. My new room features two picture widows: one with a view of buildings and another with a view of buildings and a large mountain in the distance. Carved into the face of the mountain is the character for the word “large.” That’s how I know it’s a large mountain. The word looks like a person lying down, gazing out at the buildings.