Archive for December, 2011

Memoirs of a Gaijin

December 27, 2011

 

Christmas Eve in 2008, was a mild introduction to a Japanese winter in the mountains of Iwate. I had no idea how cold it can get here and how much snow can fall in two days. Living on the East coast of Scotland usually means the sea breeze keeps the snow fall to a minimum and on the rare occasion of a blizzard, Edinburgh council soon turn the winter wonderland into brown slush thanks to a rally of road gritters and mountains of  rock salt.

This is the real thing. The frosted epicenter of a C.S. Lewis  narrative. The snow has stopped but will continue into the New Year. The depth of the snow outside easily clears my waist justifying my decision to stay here for a while. Stepping through the glass doors of the ski resort, everything changes – colored fabrics, snowboots, boards and skis are racked up like armor. You choose your weapon carefully and step out of the building into an arcade of mental and physical challenges.

Skipping over to the chairlift like a new born snow leopard (only there was a distinct lack of fur on this cub), I was transported higher into the heavens of Iwate. I managed to gallantly throw myself down several of the intermediate runs without killing myself. The only injuries sustained were muscular and one of those was due to passing out on pillows filled with beads the previous night; just another of Japan´s quirky little differences. Why they fill them with plastic beads and not feathers, I will never know – perhaps it is so that stupid white men like me, injure or ´crick´ their neck.

The added bonus of this adventure – apart from the attractive manga girls luring you into the path of a high speed tow bar has to be the luxurious Japanese Onsen provided for established writers and other elderly members of society such as myself. The fear of being publicly ejected from the premises for exposing my tattoos in the communal baths has surpassed and I now proudly skip from hot tub to steam room without a care in the world. So far my beating heart has withstood the insane pressure of removing myself from a sweltering seventy degrees and plunging myself into a cool pool of around five. Not bad for an ex-smoker. Glad it´s no longer me puffing away outside the chairlift whilst conveniently leaning on another beer dispenser. Irony sits proudly on a plinth right next to heart disease, lung cancer and winter sports in Japan.

Ninety percent of the comfortably well-off that come to these resorts probably think I am romanticizing a ´dip in the pool´, but my faith in humanity clings to the ten percent that sat beside me as the hot volcanic waters evaporate into the mountains early offerings of snow. Each snowflake seems to represent the toils of modern civilization; the love lost; the sickness and the strain. As the crystalline fingertips hit the surface and melt into the warm embrace of her liquid lover, the significance of each painful memory becomes irrelevant. When we are lost in a shopping mall, wrapped in plastic and designer labels, it is hard to imagine removing our layers of armor and forgetting the superficial world we live in. Here in Japan that luxury is possible.

Thanks to these memoirs, I will hopefully never forget the feeling of being back inside the womb whilst literally a tiptoe away from the world of Narnia. An experience I unfortunately shared with no other, but one that reinforces the delicate balance, beautifully exposed in its tender moment, between man and Mother Nature. I´ll take that one to the grave.

Oyasumi nasai.

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No More Trouble

December 18, 2011

Originally published by SchNEWS, December 2011

At The People´s Cafe in Edinburgh, the fight continues to liberate the collective space previously known as The Forest Cafe on Bristo Place. The occupation that began three weeks ago has successfully kept the doors open without any major complaints from surrounding businesses or  passing policemen.  The premises is still connected with water and electricity having closed 3 months ago and the occupiers are wasting no time in connecting shower facilities, checking the electrics and fitting fire alarms with the help and advice of Lothian and Borders Fire Service. A free shop allows Christmas consumers to wander in and help themselves and if you were passing last wednesday the Alternative Christmas Fayre helped clear out the cupboards. 

However, amidst these seasonal good tidings, a petition has been lodged by the administrators PricewaterhouseCooper (PWC)  to remove the illegal dwellers before Christmas is out. The civil motion will be held in court this week and a member of the occupation is to represent The People´s Cafe. His proposals are to invest in the space as a community project as opposed to previous offers of turning the listed building into ´flats with added business space´. Profit has often obscured any possible vision of a collective organization at the cafe as allegations of bankruptcy and corruption moisten the lips of loyal disheartened artists and musicians that once frequented the venue. The old Forest Cafe management don’t want anything to do with the occupation and are still currently looking for a new premises in which they can continue their collective arts project. 

Only time will tell if the courts will listen to the occupation´s proposal for a facility that embraces ´the people´s interest´. The cafe´s legal representative said:  “we are interested in a centre for community projects – not workshops and not for entertainment.” The emphasis was on providing a space for the less privileged communities on the outskirts of Edinburgh and bringing these communities along with the inner cities, together. 

There has been some support within Edinburgh´s judicial system for an autonomous space were popular culture and a community spirit can thrive, but against a capitalist model  that operates on segregation and individualism, a collective unit is far from welcome.  PWC are ready to wash their hands on the administration, their remarks on the premises:  ”The Forest is more trouble than it´s worth”.  With these kind words from Bruce Cartwright, The People´s Cafe go into battle with a legal system that all too often supports the bistro, the banker and the building contractor before the collective force gains political strength and becomes a catalyst for social change.

www.peoplescafe.noflag.org.uk