one year ago, i had just quit my job, sold everything i owned and was in the process of moving out of my apartment. after over a year of planning, i was about to move across the globe to another country. just as i was saying my goodbyes, a big wave hit japan killing thousands and causing a nuclear catastrophe. on every news program were images of death, destruction and people scrambling to escape the tiny island nation where i was headed. it seemed the gods and mother nature had conspired to send me a sign that said, “you must be out of your [expletive deleted] mind!”
the thought of being homeless and jobless was scary. the mere notion of returning to my former job (which probably wouldn’t take me back anyway) was horrifying. it was…a conundrum. so i did what any reasonable person would do when faced with perhaps the most important decision of their life. i went out the next day and got tattooed with my dad, then said “smell ya later!” the decision wasn’t without trepidation, but i felt that i had come too far to be turned away by a little radiation. besides, growing a tail and a third arm was a pleasant alternative to my last job.
with the anniversary of the tsunami, there’s a myriad of TV programs showing both the immediate aftermath and the current state of the region affected by the great wave. it makes me think of how i was feeling this time last year. last night i was at a dinner party with japanese friends and we realized it was the actual anniversary of the tsunami. i mentioned that i almost didn’t come because of what happened. my friend reached out his hand to shake mine and with a sincere look said, “thank you for coming.”
while i’m always homesick, i’m enjoying my life here and having lots of fun. quite honestly, my life is much simpler than it was a year ago. i miss my family and friends but i don’t miss a lot of the worries and stresses that i left behind. as i write this, i am preparing to move out of my apartment and leave the town i live in. i don’t yet have a job lined up and or a destination for my new home. there is a distinct possibility that i’ll be unemployed and homeless come april. am i worried about it? not really! i’ve got a 3-year visa and a japanese driver’s license. of course i won’t have a car come april but…minor details. i’ll figure something out. and besides, the cherry blossoms are starting to bloom! life ain’t bad. it might be time to get another tattoo…
- Joe Versus the Volcano
***editors note: the highlighted items below contain links to visual references. please click on them.***
reflecting upon my stay abroad in italy, i recall that ITALIAN BEERS don’t tend to be typically too tasty. that fact was offset by the variety of delicious european beers that were readily available. the proximity of italy to its european neighbors kept the prices, not only reasonable, but downright cheap.
i distinctly remember an autumn italian afternoon, years ago, which found me and a couple of my compatriots fumbling on foot through a new route back to our apartment. in passing, we noticed a local watering hole that advertised Heineken bottles at the equivalent of 75¢ each. jackpot! you don’t pass that up. we went in and gave it a try and quickly professed this to be our new local hangout. as it turns out, we soon realized that it was a TRANNY BAR. but hey…75¢ beers!
japan isn’t proximate to anything. be that as it may, one of the things i quickly came to appreciate in japan is that the beer is decent. the same brands of japanese beer that are readily available in the US are the most popular brands here as well….ASAHI, KIRIN and my personal favorite, SAPPORO. so at least the domestic brew should command a modest price, right? wrong.
a six pack of beer in japan costs $15 or more. there is absolutely no discount for buying in bulk either. a case costs roughly $60. and i’m not talking about the fancy stuff. japan taxes beer at such a ridiculous rate that you can buy an entire bottle of liquor for almost the same price as a six pack. evidently the tax is on anything with a certain percentage of malt. and as luck would have it, the amount needed to make beer falls in that tax bracket.
to counter this “taxation without consideration,” the japanese have come up with an answer…fake beer. not JOKE BOOZE which they’ve got plenty of, but actual fake beer. they call it HAPPOSHU. it’s got alcohol. they put beer flavoring in it and it come in beer cans, but it’s not beer. this becomes apparent the next day when you feel the hangover which ironically is painfully real. it’s hard to believe the germans ever made a DEAL with these people.
fear not friends! i may not have much in the way of virtues at this point in my life but i have managed hold on to a shred of dignity, a pinch of integrity and an ounce or two of pride. i wouldn’t be caught dead drinking that swill. i leave that to my BRITISH FRIENDS.
in japan i don’t have a couch to relax on. i’ve got a fridge that i could pick up and carry around. and if it had the space, i couldn’t afford more than a couple beers at a time. they’re an expensive treat. what’s more is that i live in a place where you have to drive to do just about anything. truth be told, back in the states i’ve had a drink or two before taking a short drive. who hasn’t? here, the penalties for driving with even the slightest amount of alcohol in your system are extremely severe. it’s not even remotely an option, so if i decide to have a beer at home after a long day i have to be sure i’m not going anywhere or doing anything that requires me to drive.
my apartment in new york had a full-sized fridge. at any given moment, i had four or five different kinds of beer in there. this included a case of YUENGLING PREMIUM cans (delicious) which i would stock up on at $13 a case during trips back to pennsylvania. it was there if i entertained guest. it was there if i wanted to have a drink before going out and it was there if i just wanted to sit back and have a beer with my feet up on the couch.
this is one of those things that makes me miss home so much. it’s not just about the beer. it’s about the whole ritual…the amenity…the comfort it provided. it’s something i took for granted. it’s something so simple that it’s impossible to know you take it for granted. it’s almost impossible not to take it for granted. it may sound crazy but it’s something that i enjoyed so much and miss so terribly that it’s enough to make me want to come back home.
but i won’t.
i’m certain however that i’ll appreciate it that much more when i do.
The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Oohama, Takuma, Kagawa, Japan