Cutting off Heads

“Instant decapitation”

When you’re in the right state of mind, any part of life can be an adventure. Just ask Nakagawa-san, recent acquaintance of mine who happens to spend his time teaching others how to people’s heads off.

The cherry blossom trees were spreading their wings and raining a flurry of pink and white atop the suspecting heads of hanami party goers. The smell of BBQ chicken and beef not quite reaching my sensitive sunburned nose, I decided to hose off some calories by exploring a little-known route from Yoshino Town (吉野町) to Ryugamizu Station (竜ヶ水駅)

The trail itself was rather sparse, with few opportunities to view the blue water of Kinko Bay, adjacent to both Yoshino and the friendly neighborhood volcano Sakurajima. Having reached the train station and discovered transportation was not set to arrive for another two hours, I decided a combination of hitchhiking and walking would be a better choice. After all, with fewer than 12 km into Kagoshima City and a highway filled with vehicles all headed the same direction, it seemed like a good opportunity to walk along the coast and soak in the sun.

No sooner had I crossed the street to move in the direction of traffic than a white truck slowed down and a 60-something man with patched weathered skin gestured for me to hop in.

“Where go?”


“Kagoshima? Ok, come.”

After formal introductions and a series of seated bows, Nakagawa-san and I fell into a comfortable pattern of conversation, discussing our travels outside of Japan, regional dialects, and each of our jobs. His English was better than most Japanese, having a grasp of the sentence structure and vocabulary, but his native tongue, assuming he wasn’t dumbing it down for me, was very clear and simple to understand.

Unfortunately, when the time came for him to explain his profession, I was at a disadvantage. He was clearly a martial arts instructor of some sort, but was going into great detail about an aspect of weaponry I couldn’t quite catch. We both had our share of injuries – me with a broken wrist, him sporting an old scar from where he had failed to deflect a razor-sharp sword – and appreciated the importance of achieving a physical peak. Although Nakagawa-san was just over sixty, I could have easily mistaken him for a man in his forties, his arm veins very prominent and his hands brimming with strength.

An hour later, after guiding him through the city towards the central train station, I bid Nakagawa-san farewell and proceeded to head home. Later that night while I was browsing the internet, I discovered what he had been trying to tell me from the website address he had passed along:


This particular Japanese man enjoys teaching people how to cut off heads. Did I mention how glad I am the samurai class has been abolished?

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your eyes. My lack of blogging to date has been due to my pending recovery (almost able to do normal pushups) and other financial issues. In any case, it’s fair to tell you: I will be leaving Japan in June 2008

Where am I going?
Thai Muang in Thailand, just north of the city of Phuket.

What am I going to do?
I’ll be teaching English for two months (perhaps longer) with a volunteer program I discovered on Matador Travel. The program provides room and board, but I may be cutting my finances a little close by traveling on the weekends.

What do I need to do before I leave?

– Prepare the paperwork to get my Japanese pension reimbursed
– Get a non-immigrant visa at the Thailand Consulate in Osaka
– Settle all bills for internet, water, gas, power
– Sell most of my personal effects
– Pay a month’s rent for ending my lease early (standard leases are for two years)
– Do everything I can possibly do online
– Head to Fukuoka after my lease in Kagoshima ends and relax

I’m traveling to Amami Oshima to study up on Saigo Takamori and enjoy some nice beaches before I leave work this month, but I’m far from finished from blogging. Keeping sending me emails if you have questions about Japan or traveling around Asia. I’ll be posting my experiences on Kirishima, Amami Oshima, and leaving Japan before I go, and this blog will remain up in its entirety for all eternity. There may even be a “Keeping Pace in Thailand” in the works… we’ll see…

Craigslist Japan has expanded to include Fukuoka, Sapporo, Hiroshima, and Nagoya.
Courtesy of http://www.rhnaturaltherapies.com/

A Chinese medical practice or procedure that treats illness or provides local anesthesia by the insertion of needles at specified sites of the body.

The burning of moxa or other substances on the skin to treat diseases or to produce analgesia.

Acupuncture, or hari (針) as it is known in Japan, is probably more common in the states, even considering Japan’s proximity to China.

I first heard about my options concerning acupuncture as I was researching recovery and rehabilitation following wrist surgery. Hari is useful as a way of reducing pain and restoring nerve function, but I don’t believe it offers too much in the way of flexibility.

Nevertheless, with a friend of a friend of mine in Kagoshima being a doctor licensed to perform acupuncture (and myself getting a discount of 2,000 yen/session), I decided to experiment with all possible methods to restore my wrist function. If I don’t regain 99.9%, I’d rather be dead than living like a freak (not that people with disabilities are, just that I would be).

Step One
Just like with any doctor, go over your symptoms and why you feel acupuncture is necessary. Unlike other forms of rehabilitation, however, acupuncture may or may not be covered by insurance. I think if you can get a doctor to make a statement that acupuncture is essential, this might be the case… but, my doctor doesn’t seem to think losing 30% of my range of motion is a big deal. I really should break his wrist.

Step Two
Depending on your pain and desired treatment, lie on your back and prepare to be pricked. The doctor should be using sterilized needles, which he will then use to change the regular flow of energy in your body. Sometimes he will leave the needles in, otherwise a short one-second insertion will do in multiple places. Relax. There should be only the slightest amount of pain, as if the needle is gently touching the peripheral nerve but not irritating or activating it.

Step Three
Wait. Usually the needles are left in for 10, 20, 30 minutes.

Step Four
Again, depending on your treatment, the needles will be removed and suction pumps placed on your back. Using a vaccuum machine, this feels a lot like you’re being attacked by a school of leeches, sans pain.

Step Five
Maybe a short massage, and follow-up instructions. Be careful not to go to an onsen for at least two hours following treatment – apparently the blood can rush too quickly to your head and you can faint. At least, that’s what I was told. I still went (needed a soak) and felt fine.

Conclusions… western doctors have been unable to determine exactly how acupuncture works, but they won’t deny that it definitely does work. As such, I will continue treatment until someone tells me it in fact inhibits recovery. Nothing can hurt the wrist any more than it already has been, anyway.

Those wandering the earth in search of meaning or a greater purpose in life are not limited to the world of reality or practicality. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I present to you… some of the more unconventional vagabonds of our day.

1. Vampires

“…Where are you from?”

“Around. Everywhere.”

“I never been anywhere myself. Always wanted to see the world, but…”

“I could show you.”

“Could you, then?”

“Things you’ve never seen, never even heard of.”

“Sounds exciting.”

“It is. And frightening.”

“I’m not afraid. Show me. Show me your world.”

Precisely. Not afraid to drop everything and live (or die and kill) for the moment.

– unlimited lifetimes to explore, dream, discover
– little requirements in the way of money or possessions
– easy to ditch annoying traveling partners (“I’ll see you in a few hundred years”)

– nightly excursions only
– constantly running from the law
– that strange taste of iron in the back of the throat

2. Porn Stars

Image not available… best try Google and you might find one or two pages

Indeed. Flexible schedule, sharing intimate experiences with exotic locals, and sharing the American experience of getting a pizza delivered with those around the world. Freelance living in its highest and dirtiest form.

3. The Flash

Batman is limited to Gotham, Superman goes where he’s needed, but the Flash takes the time to look over the oceans of the world as he runs across them, and sample the local specialities (high-speed metabolism, if I recall correctly). Can’t say much for him spending daylight hours in a lab, though.

4. Read, then judge:

“What if I told you ‘insane’ was working fifty hours a week in some office for fifty years at the end of which they tell you to piss off; ending up in some retirement village hoping to die before suffering the indignity of trying to make it to the toilet on time? Wouldn’t you consider that to be insane?”

What kind of people think this way? It’s like something straight out of Rolf Potts’ mouth, and many vagabonds take that to heart. Unfortunately, these words are nothing less than those of Steve Buscemi’s character in Con Air.

Which brings us to the last type of unconventional wanderer: Serial Killer

What have we learned?

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

From Fukuoka Now

Some of these are pretty observant, others I don’t quite agree with…

Ways to fake Japanese fluency

10. Upon hearing “ne”, respond with “sou desu ne”

9. When asked a question, cock your head to the side and pull air through your teeth

8. Always carry a newspaper on the subway. Make a big production as you turn pages

7. If you want something repeated, rather than saying you didn’t understand, say you weren’t listening

6. If you don’t understand the conversation, pull out your phone and leave the room with a convincing “moshi moshi”

5. If you notice someone making a grammatical or cultural mistake, correct them with “wareware nihonjin wa…”

4. Girls, memorize “kawaii”, “iyada”, and “baibai”. You are now fluent

3. Interrupt people mid-sentence with “heehh~” or “uso!”

2. Learn a phrase regarding theoretical physics and mix it into normal conversation

1. Well, you just go study, you lazy X$%#@!

Number two would be difficult enough to learn, let alone pronounce properly. My advice?

1. If you travel a lot, take a few minutes to have a conversation with a local and pick up a few words of the regional dialect (even one or two words is fine). Then, incorporate those words into your next conversation.

Example – I was hitchhiking back to Kagoshima one weekend and was picked up by a martial arts sensei from Kumamoto. I asked him what the word for “very” was in Kumamoto-ben (taigena), and taught him the equivalent in Kagoshima-ben (wassee). If this is your first time reading about dialects… it’s no wonder many Japanese can’t even understand each other.

2. Find a set phrase you can use in almost any conversation. If you’re flaunting a camera, learn “may I take your picture?” (写真を撮ってもういいですか?). Quickly run away after that to leave the impression of fluency.

3.Numbers three, nine, and ten from the list above are particularly observant – more important than just learning the vocabulary and grammar is displaying the correct mannerisms: using filler words to show you are paying attention (I still get looks when I’m listening quietly, as is my instinct); stating the proper transition phrase before beginning a conversation (shitsureishimasu when interrupting someone, otsu kare sama desu when passing a coworker, sumimasen or gomen nasai used properly for apologies).

4. The classic smile and nod.

5. Talk to kids, young kids. They’re eager to speak with foreigners, and as your Japanese may be comparable with theirs, you’ll probably be able to understand 90% of what’s said. Don’t speak English to them; you’re teaching them something more important than a simple eikaiwa ever could: there are foreigners in this country who are here to stay, and we try to learn the language.

For the record, the reason I haven’t been updating so often as of late is due to increasing demands on rehabilitation and family visiting.

Sports injury followers, here’s where I stand

– Comminuted distal radius fracture 12/18/2007, reduced with closed reduction
– Non-union observed in the following weeks
– Reduced with a titanium plate and open reduction on 1/25/2008
– Began physical therapy on 2/13/2008

– Currently, I am at approximately 70% strength and range of motion; 100% pronation, 65% supination, 70% extension, 80% flexion, 35 kg grip (normally 55-60)
– I go to physical therapy four times/week, and acupuncture twice/week (will blog on this)
– I take supplements of calcium, Vitamin D, Vitamin C, MSM, glucosamine, and chondroitin, and apply Vitamin E soybean oil to the scar
– I try to go to the onsen 2-3 times/week
– I do the NASA-approved wrist rehabilitation stretches three times/day (though morning and lunchtime are difficult)

My running distance is coming along slowly, naturally, but the speed and agility are coming back to me, and my metabolism has kicked back in. I want to run a marathon before I leave Japan; it’s looking like Hokkaido in September.

What I should be doing now

– Putting my coworker’s stapler in jello
– Writing a human interest piece on Arudou Debito
– Reading Lost Japan, by Alex Kerr
– Writing a short introduction to Koya-san for Matador Travel
– Taking RAW images of Japan for a photography project
– Writing a piece on hanami parties
– Enjoying the cherry blossoms, even in this lousy weather
– Exploring. Dreaming. Discovering. Always.

My contract in Kagoshima gives up at the beginning of June, so we will see what the future holds. I know, I know, I’m spending too much time being busy instead of just living for the moment. I’ve fallen prey to that monster, inhibiting all desire: complacency. Being so comfortable with my surroudings and routine of everyday living. But I can still remember… being dropped into a new environment heightens each sensation, widens the boundaries of the mind, and keeps you human. One way or the other, I’ll be moving on.

32 runners stung by honey bees during marathon in Saga

Thirty-two runners were stung by honey bees while taking part in a marathon event in Saga on Sunday, local fire department officials said. The runners were treated at a hospital, but their injuries are not serious, the officials said.

The 32 runners participating in the half-marathon race were attacked by a swarm of honey bees at around 10:50 a.m. Sunday when they were around the 11-kilometer point near an apiary, according to event organizers. Many of those who were stung dropped out of the race, but the overall event, featuring races of varying distances, continued as a makeshift route diverted trailing runners from the area where the bees appeared, the organizers said.


From NPR, no less…