The Day the Tower Disappeared

The afternoon sky was a milky white smudge when I sat down at the little garden table on my balcony to listen to some music and stare into the horizon. I had just finished talking to my partner about wanting a room of my own, or in my case, a corner of my own; a place where I’ll be able to peacefully sit down to relax, gather my thoughts, read, listen to music and work on various projects that I come up with or get assigned.

Three fat pigeons were sitting on the neighbors’ balcony across from me, their feathers ruffled and wet from the light rain; so light it was barely noticeable for someone sitting on a canopied balcony with her consciousness only partly aware of the surroundings. One of the birds looked especially roughed up and was sitting apart from the other two. I sat there and wondered how come the pigeons always sit on that particular balcony. Is it the high wooden fence our neighbors added? Is it the plants?

Then there were four of them and for a moment it seemed like a fight is about to break, but then two birds compromised and moved to sit on the air conditioner. Not as prestigious as a wooden fence but definitely more desirable than a bird fight.

Compromise was all I was about that day. All I need is a corner of my own to curl up in. I’m on a mission to optomise my environment within the structural limitations of the house. Sitting on the balcony and writing this was a good solution for that day. It was a foggy, chilly day; too risky to set up writing camp in the real outdoors but just right for a quick idea-scribbling session in the safety of our concrete garden. It was undoubtedly better than spending the afternoon on the couch with the computer on my lap and aimlessly clicking away for things to read.

Music sounds better outdoors. It’s the best companion for anyone surging into the wilderness of the city — or observing bird interaction while trying to sort out your thoughts.

The murky-white horizon was charming, and the tower was gone. My partner got jokingly upset and said that the only reason we’ve rented this apartment in the first place was so we could look at the tower every day. After all, it was one of the tallest towers in the world. In the evening the tower would light up in a myriad of brilliant colours; red and white that made it look like the Japanese flag, then glamorous pink that travelled up and down the long and narrow structure, creating a captivating spectacle. Sometimes it would turn purple or blue, and sometimes you’d only see gentle specks white light elegantly flowing through the steel and glass.

But on that day the tower was gone. Was it even there to begin with? Did the creamy swamp in the sky engulf it whole and transfer it to an alternate universe where people woke up this morning to see a huge tower standing in the heart of the city they’ve been living in for years and decades? Did they just scratch their heads and wonder if it’s always been there? Did they panic? Did their government try to convince them nothing was out of the ordinary, writing people who claimed otherwise off as crazy conspiracy theorists?

Or perhaps it was me who’s moved to an alternate universe. The tower had never existed here and I’m about to find out that what seems like my apartment and partner and cat are in fact someone else’s home and family. Did this universe’s me move to the universe I came from? Is she surprised to see the tower? Does she think she’s lost her mind? It’s one thing to have a tower disappear one day, but seeing a 700-meter tower standing where yesterday there was nothing — or worse, a school or a shopping mall or a hospital — sounds somewhat harder to digest.

Or maybe I’m just seeing the world for what it is for the first time. Maybe I needed a big shiny tower to be a part of my everyday landscape so badly that my brain had created one. Sometimes you want something so much your brain will make up for its absence. What I really need is a corner of my own. It doesn’t necessarily need to have a view of an impressive urban monument; it just needs to be cozy, familiar and private. A space to read and listen and write. Today I found a temporary solution right here, at home — or my home but in a different universe.

The tower was gone but the birds didn’t look concerned. By the time I had finished writing the foggy blanket ahead allowed for a glimpse of the tower, wherever it was standing now, its top erased by the clouds. It was a beautiful day.


Planning is Hard

Planning things ahead can be a real pain. It makes a lot of sense to come prepared when you’re going somewhere you don’t know or doing something that requires a long list of procedures. There’s a limit to how spontaneous you can be when you don’t really know what you’re doing and how things work, and anyone in their right mind will at least try plan ahead in situations which require, well, planning. But sitting down and drafting an entire week’s or project’s worth of ideas can really take the wind out of one’s sails, and I find myself avoiding it more often than not.

This is one of my biggest existence core problems. You know, those How to Adult problems many of us have. It happens to me with everything from writing to planning my trips. Two years ago I was on a trip to Japan with some friends, and I missed some of the things I really wanted to see, like the Genji Monogatari museum and some of the most iconic spots in Kyoto. I can proudly say I’ve been to Kyoto, got lost in a store that sold porn DVDs (with little screens at the end of each isle showcasing some of the popular titles!) because I couldn’t find the escalator down and got stuck going up to the even weirder floors, but never got to visit Kinkakuji. It happened because I let my partner and a friend of ours plan the whole trip, and they’ve never heard of the museum and have already been to the biggest shrines and temples and Kyoto, so they planned a route that avoided most of them. I spent a considerable amount of time being really mad at them for not including the things I wanted to see.

Not that it was their fault. I avoided planning at all cost, and thought I’ll wing a visit to each of the places I wanted to go to because we were in town anyway. It didn’t work. So on one hand I want to kick back and have things planned for me, but then sometimes it comes at the cost of doing things I don’t really want to do, which can be a really bummer and have a very negative impact my interpersonal relationships with the people involved.

Same goes for writing: when I have an idea in my mind I can scribble it down no problem. When I have to write something as an ongoing project, I get stuck. My mental reserves for the particular subject I was dealing with go empty as soon as I take a break or start doing something else. I work in writing sprees, and when I’m out of fuel it’s really difficult for me to go to what I started working on. While this may have something to do with the fact that reading something you’ve written over and over again can surface your greatest insecurities and fears, I believe it mostly has to do with how mentally draining planning can be.

When I say planning, I mean drafting, writing an outline, deciding on the things I’m going to focus on, perhaps reading some information on the relevant subject matter and then changing, editing and even scraping entire parts and rewriting the whole thing. This is a very challenging and tedious process for some people, especially those for whom producing something half-assed is a no go. Some people just prefer not doing the thing to doing it not as well as they think it should be done, regardless of their time limitations, actual abilities and the real world in general. No peace to the wicked and no mercy for the perfectionist.

So if you’re both an impulsive doer and a perfectionist, here are two solutions that worked for me and might work for you too. Do bear in mind that the author is not a brain scientist.

Don’t plan.

It’s not always necessary. If you can pull an all-nighter of just writing and editing on that particular thing, you should probably do it. Just make sure it’s something realistically doable in a considerably short period of time. It’ll probably take you longer than it would have had you planned ahead, but if planning is your nemesis, you won’t even feel it. You will most likely feel like Mr. Productive for spending 8 hours on writing that paper, pat yourself on the shoulder and go to sleep without a care in the world. But again, this only works with short projects. If you know that your project is more complex than a ten page analysis of a novel, you should probably…

Plan anyway.

OK, you’re right, it’s a lot easier said than done. But when you have something that can’t be done in one coffee-fueled night you have to face the fact that you will either have to plan it, not do it at all or spend years working on it in small pieces when your deadline is a few weeks away. Sit your ass down and plan as much of it as you can. It doesn’t always work for me, and I end up not doing many things because of that. I’ve been meaning to open a YouTube channel for ages, but it never worked because videos require both planning and doing three separate things for the same end: writing, filming and editing. My brain still cannot compute this process, so I’ll be avoiding it for the time being.

It did work on some things I worked on in the past, like writing lesson plans for uni and doing some of my school work. But there was another component that’s always been there when planning actually worked for me: people. Whenever people relied on me to do my part, whenever it was up to me to instruct others (including, the irony, on how to plan your writing), whenever it could harm someone else’s efforts. When it was just me risking getting kicked out of school and ruining my life, it wasn’t that bad. Whenever it was personal projects I wanted to do for my own interest, I gave up 99% of the time without even making it halfway through. However when the scenario involved the fate of other people, I would sit down, cry a little, plan, cry some more and do the thing like an adult. It got better with time and experience, but it’s not easy.

So what’s the moral of today’s blog?

Planning doesn’t work for everyone always. It’s good to be organized and come prepared, but don’t let your current identity as a non-planner stop you from doing the things you want. It may take you longer than it takes people who know how to plan, but if planning is a hindrance, skip it and try doing it your way. It may not always work, but sometimes you’ll be able to create other methods, methods that actually work better for you, along the way.

Further, when you feel ready to sit down and plan, try to find the fuel that helps you do it. Be it people, small goals or prizes you award yourself when you successfully plan something or the thought of all the time you’re going to save if you do it properly and how sometimes planning can make thing a lot more simple and declutter the mess you have in your head when you approach something. Again, might not work, but never say die. Fight planning, use planning, don’t let planning control and ruin your life!




Living Among Giants

Sometimes it feels like you haven’t got much to add to the world. It seems as though it’s all been said and thought of a million times before you were even born, and even when someone comes forth with a new idea, it’ll never be you, and when you examine it closer, it’s not as innovative as everyone thinks. You bitter bitch. When you try to write a story, you get the feeling you’ve heard this one before and stop yourself. When you ask yourself a question in the shower, it’s most likely been asked on Yahoo Answers before.

Living in a world where information and ideas are (relatively) easy to access can be a curse and a blessing at the same time. Having an almost limitless bank of knowledge, assuming you have the equipment to access it and the knowledge and judgement required to search for sources and weed out the dodgy or irrelevant ones, potentially means that you can answer more questions and solve more problems than ever before in human history. But it also means that you’re likely to get a lot of ready-made answers and solutions. You’re not a special snowflake, the internet will have you know. There’s someone out there on Reddit already asking how come China has only one  official time zone even though it spans over five geographical ones (it’s a real mess), and someone’s already asked how it influences the lives of people in the western provinces of the country (they kinda figured it out, thanks for asking).

But new questions are being asked at a reasonable pace, and research is being done all over the world in thousands of important and esoteric fields alike. Some for the good of human kind, some for the sake of getting that grant and achieving tenure. Some questions end up curing cancer, some satisfy a very particular interest of a small group of people. They’re all great and some of them serve as proof that human spirit is still alive, but there are two big problems people may encounter while trying to reach the point where they can ask these questions: realizing they can’t get into higher education because their life circumstances suck, and realizing that after getting all these scholarships and grants they still have nothing interesting to say to the world. Oops. You can always do a lecture on TED on how creativity works and pray that your take on it is interesting enough for them not to notice that you’re actually not saying anything new.

And it’s not just in the magical world of Academia. There are artists who still create pieces that touch lives and truly spark the imaginations of millions around the world. Creative people have not died out, some of them just can’t make because they have better things to do, like feeding their families and not dying in wars. But many of them do get to do whatever it is that they want to do. To the point where the size of the population of people who create things makes you wonder how your voice will ever be heard if it drowns in a flood of new and aspiring artists who do exactly what you’re trying to do. Plus, it means that sometimes just finding something new to read or listen to becomes overwhelming. Sure, you can go by recommendations from people you trust and have a similar taste in literature or music as you, but where’s the fun in that if you’re too scared to try new things for yourself because don’t want to take the risk of wasting your time reading something really badly written or boring because you have no idea what to expect.

So you end up not trusting yourself to ask or create something worthwhile, and you slowly become suspicious of people who do give it a shot. In fact, you despise them. You become someone who only listens to mainstream recommendations, because they are safe. At best, you find your one alternative niche and you cling to it like to a comfort blanket. You also become someone who is afraid to give creating something new a shot. It’s all been done before you were even born, remember? And all the new kids, you say to yourself, disregarding the fact that you’re still one of them, they’re embarrassing themselves and should stop trying.

I’m sure that if I look in books or on the internet I’ll find someone who’s written something similar to this. It will probably also be much better written. But is it the end of the world? Only if I let anxiety eat me up and spit me out. At the end of the day, we all have human brains with mostly similar functions. We absorb very similar cultural tropes and memes, we hear similar ideas at school and we share some universal values that we learn growing up. These things may vary across cultures, which is one of the reasons why it’s important to expose yourself to as many of them as possible, but at the end of the day none of us asks questions or creates anything in a vacuum. We’re all a part of humanity, and it’s our duty to continue doing what humans do best: complain, seek for solutions, despair and create these things that reflect our spirits. Even though someone’s probably already done something similar and did it much better than us.


How Things Work

I never do things properly.

As a kid, whenever I had to solve a math problem in class I’d always end up with a wrong answer and a proof neither I nor the teacher could understand. She’d just give me her ‘you weird, weird child’ face and show the class the right way to do it. The more complex the problem seemed, the more guesses I took – guesses that only made sense in my mind, and the less people understood what I was doing and saying.

One of the constitutive, so to speak, moments of my childhood was when I had to solve a connect the dots worksheet. I must have been 4 or 5 when it happened. I didn’t understand I was supposed to connect the dots according to the numbers next to each of them. I just drew random lines and colored the page. My dad then took the sheet and showed me that if I connected the dots correctly, I’d get a picture of a computer keyboard. I was really mad at him and threw it in the trash bin. I didn’t like his solution.

But it was the correct one. And this keeps happening to me today still. It happens every time I look at a map, anytime I try to calculate something that requires more than simple addition, subtraction, multiplication or division, whenever I try to understand a big and complex theory (or sometimes even a simple one) or a grammar point in a language I’m learning. Every single time I get something wrong, and then my brain automatically fills the blank with the first thing that makes sense to it, and it only goes downhill from there.

Anyone observing me would say at some point that I’m stupid, or that my comprehension is slow. It’s difficult to explain that what people perceive as stupidity comes in more than one form. In my case, I don’t get things because my mind races from one thought to the next and always hurries to fill any gap it finds in the information I’m presented with, whether it makes sense to other people or not. And sometimes there is no real gap. Like when I understand the target language I’m learning but there’s a small bit of grammar that doesn’t connect to anything else I know. I’ll keep asking myself ‘but is it because of X? Or Y? Does this word come from that root/base? Is it the same as in that other grammar point we learned yesterday?’

And soon enough I’ll find an answer that will satisfy my brain, but most of the time will have nothing to do with reality, logic and how things work. It’s as if the most difficult thing for me to accept is the explanations that come from other people’s brains, because they require slowing mine down and creating a new pattern of thought.

These things get easier over time and with a lot of practice. It takes patience to get yourself to comprehend new ideas and get a grasp on them. I’ve only started working on it in recent years, because until then it wasn’t a big issue and most of the time I could get by without really understanding 90% of a lesson or a conversation. I can still wing my way through many things and make people think I understand what they’re talking about. But at some point it becomes a waste of time and I say to myself that if I truly want to learn new things properly, I’m going to have to put extra effort into slowing down and really understanding what I’m hearing or reading. It’s there in front of me, not in my imaginary world of barely related conclusions.

Putting these thoughts into words makes me understand even more clearly how quick perception and efficient problem solving are the 90-60-90 body for brain models. I sometimes wish my brain were as perfect as all of these entrepreneurs’, but like with everything else in life, I have to play the cards I’ve been dealt, and they’re not all bad. Quick thinking can be a pain in the butt, but also where new and exciting ideas are born at a crazy rate. Some of them you won’t be able to explain even to yourself, but others could possibly change the world. Or make a funny joke.

The moral of today’s story is: appreciate your mind, even if people think it doesn’t work right. Neuro-positivity FTW!


Kanamara Festival – Are Huge Models of Genitalia a Cause for Celebration or an Eyesore and Obscenity?

(I can’t believe I left the academia before writing a thesis with this title on it).

As someone who is fascinated by the way sexuality is portrayed in Japanese myth and folk religion, I was really excited by the fact that Kanamara festival marks the first matsuri I was to attend as a temporary resident of Tokyo. Anyone who has ever read the creation myth as presented in the Kojiki (712) knows that the kami (deities with some very human-like features who can be embodied by anything from tree barks to rivers to mountains or even Buddhas) sure do screw around. A lot.

Izanami and Izanagi created Japan (and the entire world) by getting it on and Amaterasu was brought back from the dead by getting all eight million kami (eight million being a figure of speech) to laugh and sound like they’re having fun at the sight Ame-no-Uzume-no-Mikoto dancing naked on an overturned tub. Sex and nudity are definitely not taboos in Japan’s realm of worship and ritual. Of course I’m oversimplifying this, because folk religion in Japan has a lot to do with local customs and beliefs rather than relying on a solid body of canonical text that unites them all, but it’s a good place to begin looking at this festival from. Sure, dicks are funny, but isn’t it much more awesome to realize that even the local deities find nudity hilarious?

Kanayama jinja is a part of the Wakamiya Hachimangu complex in Kawasaki. Kanayama means metal/gold mine in Japanese, and it enshrines the male kami Kanayama Hiko and the female kami Kanayama Hime, originally honoring metal work and worshiped by blacksmiths. Later, Kawasaki’s location on the main road between Tokyo and Kyoto (Tokaido) created business opportunities for innkeepers and brothel owners who catered to the many merchants and travelers who went back and forth between the two cities. The women of these brothels started praying at the shrine for financial success and protection from sexually transmitted diseases and the worship later expanded to prayers for children, safe delivery, finding a match and having a good relationship with one’s spouse.

Nowadays the shrine is also a place to pray for prevention of AIDS and issues related to the LGBTQ community. One of the mikoshi was even donated by a drag club called Elizabeth, and it has become a tradition for men in drag to parade it during the festival.


Elizabeth, also the name of the mikoshi, in its full glory. 

The myth attributed to the Kanamara (metal, or steel penis, as many style it) matsuri is supposedly of an Ainu origin. It tells of a woman who was possessed by a toothed demon who had castrated the two men she married when attempting to consummate the marriage. On the third time she got lucky – she married a blacksmith who made a metal penis that broke the demon’s teeth and shattered it to pieces. Myths of vagina dentata can be found in many places around the world and they are usually said to reflect the male fear of castration (and fear of the female body – because nothing is more mortifying to patriarchy than than a good ol’ vajayjay).

So the whole thing is a mishmash of myths and deities and history that make what the festival is today – a great way to celebrate fertility, have a local festival with neighbors and friends and make a lot of money to support the shrine by attracting lots and lots of tourists from all over the world: a win-win-win situation!

On a more critical note, fun and games aside, this free display of penis, which had disturbed some of my friends who saw photos and videos from the festival on my social media profiles (my mum hasn’t called me in three days!), did remind me of the regretful incident (well, incidences) involving Igarashi Megumi.

Igarashi is an artist who was arrested more than once over creating and distributing a kayak modeled on a 3-D scan of her own vagina.


I mean, look at this thing. It’s far less obvious than Elizabeth, which I’m sure has made many a man (and woman) wriggle uncomfortably in their seats. It does make one wonder how come one is considered a legitimate part of culture and tradition and the other, created by an artist with a strong saying on today’s society (perhaps that’s the problem?), is deemed obscene. How can one be in line with the establishment and the other get a woman arrested?

I think there’s a lot here written between the lines, but perhaps it’s not my place to criticize Japanese society. As an observer, however,  I do reserve the right to raise an eyebrow.

With that in mind, attending the festival was still a really good and interesting experience. Looking at all the unique religious art and worship items at the shrine really set my inner kami-geek loose and reminded me that I still have a lot more to learn about folk religion in general and Japanese folk religion in particular, and living in Japan is the best opportunity I’m going to get to take it a little more serious.



David Chart’s Blog | Nyotai Daijin and Wakamiya Hachimangu 

The Diplomat | Kanamara Matsuri: Fertility Festivals’ Relevance for Japan

Kaileigh Nicklas, Sex in Japan: It’s a Straight Man’s World (2015).

Khoon Choy Lee, Japan: Between Myth and Reality (1995).

Travel Kawasaki | Wakamiya Hachimangu Kanayama Shrine, Kanamara Festival



You Realize You’re Not in Israel Anymore When

When you stand in line without constantly feeling on edge because someone might decide to cut in front of you just because they feel like they deserve to.

It can happen at the supermarket, the bank, your local clinic, a food court at the mall and pretty much anywhere you have to queue. Bonus if you run into an angry older person who will come out of nowhere and start yelling that they haven’t seen you in line when they came in and claim you were the one who cut in front of them. Extra achievement bonus for getting the idiot who will save a spot in line by putting half of their groceries in a trolley and roll it up beside the cash register, proceed to shop for another 30 minutes and then demand their god-given right on their spot when they’re done.

When you have public transportation seven days a week. And shops. You have shops that are open seven days a week.

Israel still abides the Halakha (Jewish law) in many cases and places that are open for business on Saturday usually get fined. Public transportation is non-existent starting Friday afternoon. So in most places, unless you have a car and/or enough food for the weekend, you’re fucked. Hopping on a train and going to the supermarket on the weekend was one of most liberating experiences I’ve had since moving.

When the week starts on Monday.

That’s just weird. WTF, rest of the world.

When things start on time.

Things sometimes begin on time in Israel, but most often they don’t.

When your night out doesn’t start at 23:00

You can meet your friends at 6pm, grab some drinks, go dancing, see a gig and still be home before it’s fuck-I-have-work-tomorrow o’clock. A gig doesn’t have to start at 1am to be cool and edgy.

When you’re no longer scared that the bus driver might close the door on you before you can get on the bus.

Or just pass you by without bothering to stop. The bus drivers are not the only ones to blame though – whoever is in charge of planning the public transportation in Israel, especially in the Tel Aviv area, is doing a shitty job, so most of these buses are so packed that the drivers decide not to let any more passengers on for safety reasons. A problem that could be solved with, well, I’m no transportation expert, but I guess more buses and better route planning?

When nobody yells at the cashier at the supermarket to work faster.

Imagine standing in line at the supermarket. The cashier rings up someone’s groceries, asks them if they have a membership card and offers them some of the store’s counter deals. Basically a normal scenario in which a normal person is just doing their job. In comes the impatient customer and says anything ranging from ‘honey, we haven’t got all day’ to ‘could you hurry up?’ to ‘why is this taking so long I want speak to the manager’. I worked as a cashier at a drug store chain and my strategy was to give a huge smile to whoever was complaining and start working even slower. I once had a customer do a rage quit over that, not before screaming at the top of his lungs that I was crazy for smiling at him and not responding to his demands.

When you care less and less about petty internet drama that used to make you hate Israel and want to leave it.

You just stop caring about Israeli social media drama in general, unless it’s something good. I mean, you’re still human.

Israel is probably one of the most torn societies on the planet these days, so Israeli internet is like a potluck of slime mixed with people trying to get at each other’s throats 24/7. Be it political activists, random racists or pretty much anyone who knows better than ya’ll. Well, internet drama exists everywhere, but I’m almost 100% sure that Israeli internet drama is winning the Exhausting and Repulsive Drama Race. Not having to deal with it doesn’t mean that you don’t care about politics or social issues in Israel anymore, it just means you don’t have time to argue about these issues with people on the internet who wish you got raped by 40 (insert racial slur here) for having the opinion you have.

And these are just from my experience of being raised in Israel since I was 3 and being an adult (at least formally) there for many more years. Israel is a masterpiece. It’s complex and wrong and right at the same time. I didn’t leave it for the reasons listed above, but it sure is refreshing to be somewhere different.