Nov 4, 2005

Turning Japanese

I moved to Japan
because I wanted to turn Japanese—
Not in the black-appareled
sleek and fast-walking way

but in the millennia-old
many-layered kimono way.
I embraced the land and inhaled deeply.
Ate puffer fish, raw shellfish
bear and whale
country-style guts stew.
I donned yukata, obi
had my hair manicured
and ornamented,
walked coquettishly
in tabi and geta.
Struggled to blend into
schools of black heads.
I stayed in quaint ryokan
slept on hard tatami
under heavy kakebuton,
on the hottest of nights
boiled myself in public whirlpools
cooled myself with paper fans.
If gaijin/foreigners could not do it,
I could—
sit for hours on my shins
back-straight
at lacquered tables,
practice tea ceremony
with diminishing gaijin-awkwardness,
kiss Japanese men,
(who love women like they love fish)
speak the staccato language,
buy new clothes at every silly occasion.
I dated a yakitori chef who said
Look, you are never going to be Japanese.
You are a foreigner.
I think I pretended not to be affected.
I think I cried.
I think I gave up in that moment,
though it took years to wake
and return to my fatty and funny
sloppy and spontaneous
curious culture,
where people sleep in suburban
separateness
and drive too many cars,
where loneliness is so rampant
no one knows what it is.
Where one isn’t owned
by company
or family.
And vigor and youth
are the highest wages.
But this culture comes in many colors.
my land whispered to me,
a failed Japanese.

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