Last night, went to see Eric play at an improv fusion music thing at Club Zerro - way cool. Today, went up to Nara again, planned to see an exhibit on Buddhist and Shinto art - only to find that it doesn't start until Sunday. Which is ok, I took 2 or 3 hours to view their permanent collection, mostly of Buddhist art. They did a fair job of explaining the images of the historical, Amida, Minoku/Maitreya, and Dainichi/Mahavairocana Buddhas, something I don't know much about (it gets into the esoteric Buddhism thing, big in Japan but I'm more of a simple, smack-upside-the-head, kill-the-Buddha sort of guy).
One particular statue that struck me was "Sakyamuni Coming Out of the Mountains." For those who don't the story, early in his career as a seeker, while fasting to extremes, the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Guatama, known (among other titles) as Sakyamuni, "sage of the Sakya clan", almost starved himself to death. He was rescued by a passing farmgirl who fed him (overcoming her initial fear that this creature of skin and bones was some sort of demon). This statue portrays an emaciated man, ribs protruding under his robe (which, according to the story, was a stolen burial shroud), learning on a stick, emerging from his ordeal with the vital knowledge that suffering will not end suffering.
Suffering will not end suffering! As I write that it seems a noteworthy revelation, or at least a noteworthy expression of one.
Anyway. Cool statue.
There was also a statue of Yakushi, the Medicine Buddha, that captivated me for reasons I can't explain...just sort of a "how much you want for that one? I'll take it," feeling.
There are a few questions I've come to anticipate. "Where are you from?" "How long have you been in Japan?" "Are you an English teacher?"
And "Do you have a Japanese girlfriend?" Often in the stronger form "Do you have a Japanese girlfriend yet?", implying that it's just a matter of time, one thing on the checklist.
Make no mistake: there are many lovely ladies over here. And for reasons I don't quite grasp, many Japanese women are fascinated by gaijin guys.
As a few gaijin guys here have expressed it, the level of "service" is remarkable; a Japanese girlfriend will cook for you, rub your back, do your laundry, really take care of you.
I must admit that there is a part of me that thinks it sounds appealing in some way, but I suspect that such subservient behavior would drive me batty after a few weeks or months.
Anyway, there's the whole language thing. If I was either a) an evil heartless prick who didn't care about others and was willing to be totally exploitative, or b) staying here for a year or two and open to the sort of long term exclusive permanent relationship that people assume by default, I could probably have a Nihonjin ladyfriend.
But putting in a requirement that someone understand enough English to grasp an explanation of "polyamory", and be comfortable with the idea? Yeah. I think I'll be sleeping alone while I'm here.
But let me put to rest at least one myth: Japanese women are "shy"? Nonsense. They might play that, but to take an example, last Friday I was at the Cellar, dancing to the last show of a local band ("Total Quality Object?" "High Quality Thing?" Something like that.) when a Japanese girl tapped me on the shoulder, two shots of tequila in her hands. She said "I am interested, want to talk, to you, but I am shy, so I buy drinks," handed me a shot, and tossed back hers.
Let me mention that this was while another girl - a friend of hers - was flirting with me somewhat aggressively.
I felt really bad, a bit guilty, when Tequila Girl passed out about ten minutes later. Not my fault, but still, I was involved...
Anyway, shy, this ain't.
Speaking of not shy, this takes me to to the Japanese prostitute, or maybe madam, who approached me last night. After the show, Eric, Yukari, and I went for udon (noddle soup). As we walked down the way, east side of Shinsaibashi, Eric mentioned that he used to live in this neighborhood, and commented on the presence of prostitutes, and how you (or at least, we Americans) can't spot them; the made-up girls in short skirts and thigh-high boots are just fashion victims, maybe "yero cabu" girls ("yellow cab", easy to pick up) but not hookers; the hookers are more plainly dressed.
After our snack, as I walked back alone to Club Zerro to grab my bike, this was illustrated when an ordinary-looking lady came up to me...maybe I made eye contact and nodded in a friendly fashion without thinking or something, but suddenly she was up close and personal, tugging on my coat. In English: "You want date? Beautiful girl. Beautiful. Date?"
For the record, I demurred, walked on. (Also for the record, I believe it's a private choice and make no legal or ethical condemnation; just not my thing.)
Anyway. In my experience here so far, Japanese women (stereotyping in dangerously broad strokes) are "shy" or "demur" only to the extent that this serves them.
A reggae version of "Country Roads", heard at a bar in Osaka ("Life")...can I get some more international points? "I think that my whole wide world, soon mama gonna get mixed up", as Pete Seeger put it (or close to it).
I'm not sure if it's hospitality when I mention I'm new to Japan, or in return for being an English conversation partner, but last night and tonight, Japanese guys keep buying me drinks. (Apparently straight guys, I should add.)