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775: The M-List
774: Compatriotic Spirit
773: The Naked Truth
770-71: It Ainít Easy Being Green
769: íTwas the Night Before Christmas in Japan
768: Japanese Lessons
766: Bad Credit
765: Chew on this
764: Red faced
763: Down and Out in Tokyo
761: Kicking the bucket
760: Thumbing It
759: Fixing the System
757: Smoke rings
756: Stalking the Predators
755: Banding Together
753: No Competition
752: Sex and This City
751: Letís Shogi
750: The Yasukuni Follies
748: Loud and Clear
747: Iíll be back
746: Raiders of the lost SMAP
744: Magical Mystery Tour
743: Murder in Lotus Land
742: Stereotypes íRí Us
740: The Mother of all Mothers
739: Crimes of Fashion
738: The Hafu Dad Brigade
737: The Green Team
736: Fight Club
735: The Paper Chase
734: The Wind-Up Writer Chronicle
733: Food For Thought?
732: Home and Away
731: The 2008 Nazi Olympics
730: The Two-Wheel Revolution
729: Gimme a Break
728: Power Play
727: Dying for a doctor
726: Footloose Revisited
725: Little Fish, Bigger Pond
724: Japanís Peace Monster
723: Language Abuse
722: Scumbusters ďRĒ Us
721: First Action Hiro
720: The Return of Asashoryu
718-719: A Time to Give
717: My Homelessness Dilemma
716: The 30 Percent Solution
715: Past Imperfect
714: Killing the Kimono
713: The trouble with Tibbets
712: Surfing the Shinto-net
711: Falling Stars
710: Macho Man
709: Bad Impressions
708: Bloodsport
707: Our Last Word
706: Anonymocracy
705: The Air Up There
704: Read the Signs
703: The sky should not be the limit
702: My Year Zero Proposal
701: The Joys of Freeganism
700: Prada for the People
699: The Parasite Country
698: Washed up in Tokyo
697: Birthingís Not for Babies
696: On the Handlebars of a Dilemma
695: My So-Called Poverty
694: Get Out the Vote
693: The Ishihara Mystery
691: Let it Flow
690: Cafť Culture
689: Oyaji Fashionistas
688: The Democracy of the Dysfunctional
687: Polite Disregard
686: Venting on Climate Change
685: Silent No Longer
684: To protect and serve?
683: Save the Sanshin building!
682: In the Realm of the Pond God
681: The Open Society and Its Enemies
680: Five-Ring Circus
679: Topic of Cancer
678: Pet Peeves
677: Why I am Banned in Japan
676: A long way to the top
675: Euro-vision
674: Childís play
673: Why I did it
672: I Love Japan
671: Running Crazy
670: Planet Apology
669: A peek behind the curtain
668: Opening Up
666: Pitching a fit
665: All wrapped up
664: Yule Rules
663: Field of Dreams
662: Save Lives, not Face
661: Why Do I Buy a Ticket?
660: Dying for a Nap
659: We, the jury
658: Grain of truth
657: Remembering The Maverick
656: A Rose by any Other Name
655: Heir today, gone tomorrow
654: Manhandled on the Metro
653: The bodyguards of the road
652: Separate but equal
651: Going for the gold
650: Being Audrey Hepburn
649: Not Sitting Pretty
648: Get Smart
647: Through foreign eyes
646: A failing grade in cute
644: Club Lands
643: Sayonara, Hide
642: The JET SET
641: What, me worry?
640: The Da Vinci Load
639: Making Waves
638: Final Cut
637: Resave the whales
636: Soccer Silliness
635: I, Smoker
634: The Ultimate Loss
633: Shoot the Messengers
632: The second sex
631: A Maverick Moves On
630: The curse of Baron Mitsui
629: Waiting for Heidi
628: Memoirs of a fake celebrant
627: Take it Outside
626: Wa? What wa?
625: A well-drawn life
624: St. Patrick the abducted
623: Bend over
622: The (Un)Late show
621: Oil spill
620: Ice Follies
619: Pride Goeth
618: Lost roles
617: Saying it with Cookies
616: Wrestling with foreigners
614-615: Blank Pages
613: Fretting Over Freeters
612: Farewell, Sensei
611: Sympathy for the wild ones
610: Back in Black
609: Out of many, one
608: Youth culture
607: The Russians are coming!
606: Meddle Detector
605: Tokyo, Mon amour
604: The Wailing Wall
603: Getting Abreast of Cancer
602: Willing Ally
601: New war,same story
600: The Big Chill
599: The Gray Zone
598: Jail break
597: Extremely Lost in Translation
596: Wounded Despot
595: History Lessons
594: Valhalla of the Imperial Army
592: Culture crash
591: Complaints Department
590: What lies beneath
589: Strange Games
588: Junk Science
587: The day the invaders came
586: The Test that Drove Me Crazy
585: Smile and say “lesbian”
584: Keep Article 9
583: The Great Divide
582: An ad for all seasons
581: Killing the Golden Goose
580: The other half
579: Give me back my bye-bye
578: Araki in Focus
577: Head out on the Highway
576: The hate that won't go away
575: Here's the beef
574: Yukking it up
573: Squatter’s rights and wrongs
572: The Trouble with Yokoso
571: Fire from the sky
570: Invasion of the gairaigo
569: Good company
568: Find Out What it Means To Me
567: Field of schemes
566: In the Name of Justice
565: Winner or Loser?
564: Staying Foreign
563: The Scare after Tomorrow
561-562: The Spirit of Things
560: War for remembrance
559: Storm damage
558: The Meaning of Godzilla
557: Who’s left to listen?
556: Paying respects
555: Gender Trouble
554: Coming clean at last
553: Go our own way
552: Hits of yesteryear
551: Heir apparel
550: Personal Reflections
549: Nuclear Reactions
548: Article of faith
547: Martyrs for the firm
546: A different anniversary
545: We, the jury
544: Wrongs & rights
543: Moore or less
542: Fair games
541: Developmentally challenged




Nick Currie has released about 20 records under the name Momus. He lives in Berlin, but spends several months each year in Japan.

SOMEWHERE IN HIS DIARY, Franz Kafka offers a cryptic thought. Happiness, he says, consists in having a goal, but not advancing towards it. As a “failed” pop star who finds failure increasingly interesting—perhaps even a blessing in disguise—I’m more convinced of that every day.

I suppose Kafka meant several things. That achieving one’s ambitions will only lead to disappointment. That the dream is better than the reality. That happiness is not a destination, but the journey itself. That perhaps happiness, as a static solid state, is unattainable. That happiness might consist in lowering one’s expectations and seeing one’s dreams, realistically, as dreams.

This might seem like a strangely negative philosophy for someone who’s lived in as many different places as I have; my trajectory from London to Paris to New York to Tokyo to Berlin seems, after all, to have been motivated by some utopian quest to find a place where people “think like me,” where “life is as it ought to be,” where I can find what Goethe called “elective affinities.”

Of all the places I’ve lived, Japan is where I feel those affinities most strongly. To list all the reasons why, I’d have to write a book. But I think one reason my relationship with Japan has been so good, and will last so long, is that I don’t expect to belong, I don’t expect to integrate, I don’t expect to merge with the beloved. We will hold each other at a distance, and that will be fine.

Paul Bowles, the American exile who spent most of his life in Tangier, Morocco, spoke a lot about the pleasures of being a foreigner. It’s something Roland Barthes celebrates too in his book about Japan, Empire of Signs. Bowles refused to learn Arabic, or rather learned it as slowly as was humanly possible. Barthes didn’t speak Japanese.

I’ve been in no hurry to learn Japanese either. My time in Japan has been spent in a haze of valuable disorientation; Japan for me has resembled art using the Russian formalist technique of ostranenie, or “making strange.” Here, sensual disorientation and overload are not distractions, but the whole point. It feels like being a baby all over again: I’m overwhelmed by a rush of unfamiliar textures, smells, sights, sounds, sensations. The verbal centers of my brain are bypassed, my senses work overtime. Combined with jet lag, it’s a heady, even druggy experience. Eating bizarre food, tingling in the electric water of a sento, getting an electronic foot massage, watching a kabuki play without understanding the plot...

Letting the other stay the other, staying other oneself...isn’t this a form of “Orientalism”? Well, possibly. But Orientalism is only a vice when it denigrates “the bad other,” the other whom we insist on reaching, teaching and reforming. When it celebrates “the good other,” respects and cherishes its otherness, Orientalism is a virtue.

It’s a commonplace of gaijin-lore that Japan is the world’s most hospitable and kind country while you’re clearly a foreigner or a guest, but becomes frosty if you make attempts to integrate. This is seen as a bad state of affairs; some long-term gaijin feel so rebuffed by their beloved nation that they turn against it, writing polemical books that assert that Japan is terminally flawed, or that the Japanese people are being oppressed and “betrayed” by their institutions. In fact the only “betrayal” such books reveal is their authors’ own sense that they’ve been let down.

If only these writers had remembered Kafka’s proverb about happiness!

I believe the paranoia the Japanese have always felt about foreigners, especially missionary foreigners, has been one of history’s more correct paranoias. Japan’s resistance to monotheistic missionaries (usually followed in the colonial history of the West by trading companies and government gunships) has been wise, its methods of “Japanizing” foreign influences admirable, its rejection of Platonic-style metaphysics invaluable. Japan is not racially pluralistic in the way many Western nations are, but if this is a Western virtue, it’s one with dubious origins in practices like slavery and imperialism. The official attitude to immigration in countries like France and Britain is increasingly set by the far right. “France, love her or leave her!” says Le Pen’s party, and the French state now requires second-generation immigrants to pledge an oath of allegiance to France, to pass history and language tests, and even to renounce the wearing of traditional garb. This is an “integration” far less respectful of “the otherness of the other” than Japan’s respectful distance. It’s an erasure of the idea of “the good other,” an integration verging on compulsory assimilation. Being a British or a French citizen these days means renouncing all the rights—and pleasures—of being, and staying, foreign.

A couple of weeks ago I was listening to the BBC World Service. Arafat had just died. A journalist asked a Palestinian, “Why was Arafat so respected by his people when he failed to achieve their goal, a Palestinian state?” The question seemed to answer itself. Arafat and the Palestinian people loved each other because identity is based on struggle, failure, the dream and the movement, not on success, arrival, reality and stasis. He pictured happiness—and failed to move toward it. M
Nick Currie has released about 20 records under the name Momus. He lives in Berlin, but spends several months each year in Japan.

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