G and I meet at a gaijin, Japanese for ‘foreigner’, social gathering organized by some of the teachers who’ve been in the town longer than both of us. She’s a bit scraggly and frightened; a newbie’s disposition I empathize with immediately. Freckled, lithe, with curly, brown hair that halos around her head, she’s a beautiful-tough South African babe. She wants to know where she can get some weed and I know a couple of dudes in a nearby city. She’s not embarrassed to talk about how uncomfortable her first week has been, a subject many of us hide with big bravado and a bit of beginner Japanese. On her 2nd day in, an old Japanese farmer pulls over and parks his tiny truck in her path then gets out and asks her something she doesn’t understand. As she’s flustering out an answer in English, he unzips his pants and pisses in front of her. She runs in the other direction as he yells, “Tissue? Tissue?” as if all American-looking women carry tissue around in their bras or something. She’s grossed out but surprisingly bemused by the interaction -- it all just seems like part of the total queerness of the place.
“This place fucks with your head,” she says. We set about becoming inseparable.
G and I tell stories. Impeccable, wonderful, intricate, winding tales that recount the profound and banal details of our world travels, the puzzling and harrowing compositions of our childhoods, and most importantly, the men we loved, or hope to someday love. Her man will be strong, mine will be artistic. Storytelling and smoking weak Japanese hash cigs are two of our favourite activities on our nights and weekends off. We usually meet on Friday after class to vent about our students and weird jobs then launch into the epic tales of where we came from. She from South Africa and I from Canada, with the majestic Alps off on the horizon, we’re bound together on the rooftop of Japan in the middle of the main island of Honshu amid electric green rice paddies, flowering apple orchards, and asparagus fields.
To me, G embodies Discipline, a concept I lord over myself like a drill sergeant. “I lack discipline!” is one of my frequent journal scrawls, my favourite quote being: “The pain of discipline is short, but the glory of fruition is eternal”. That quote gets me out of a bed sometimes.
What I do embody though, albeit without fully understanding it, is Abandon. I worship Discipline but my real life philosophy is: “Jump first and ask questions later”. Though we seem to embody opposite states, her and I are very complimentary within the softly walled structure of gaijin life. In fact, we’re so solid, it feels like we live even further outside the walls than other foreigners. Our bond is strong and we feel protected by one another through the raw adventure. We enjoy the freewheeling lifestyle we’re permitted as young, foreign teachers in Japan yet our individual styles never overshadow each other.
We are alone together and our bond is constantly strengthened by our differences, our stories, and our shared future dream of falling in love once we leave Japan. She and I never make a move without consulting the other; we are the storytellers and the stories and we hope to write ourselves out of isolation. As we spend more time together, my words become our words, become our essays and our theories. This bond of mutual understanding is an impenetrable force field around us.
Our analyses take us in circles as we try to dissect Japanese culture, concluding time and time again that we live on the moon. The only narrative that has real momentum is the future one, the ultimate story that gets us out of Japan and into the wider world where adventure awaits. We drive around in the sunshine smoking and listening to our favourite bands. We cook together and visit public baths where we’re exposed to each other’s naked forms. We go over all the details of our epic Asian backpacking adventure we’re planning for at the end of our teaching contracts. We decide we’ll follow a loose itinerary starting in Vietnam then see where the wind takes us.
Both of us are saving for the trip though she's killing it. Her rent is basically paid where mine isn’t, her salary is more, and she works constantly in a ton of private teaching gigs. Basically, whe’s banking major cash. I’m sending a portion of my savings back to Canada to pay off my student loan but I am thrilled at my burgeoning ability to slowly put some aside for our trip.