MONSTER! Or how three girls took me to a gay bar in Hamamatsu
My life is many things. Uninteresting is not one of them. For all the lull and hum drum of living in the countryside, crazy shit still seems to happen to me. For example: the owner of my local bar- whom I am friends with- calling me up out of the blue and inviting me to dinner at a yakitori restaurant with our regular crowd. After dinner a waitress suggesting we do one hour at karaoke with her. Arriving home at four. Waking up at seven. Arriving at school at eight to learn that today is bring your parent to school day, I have to rewrite all my lessons to combine two grades at a time and be twice as long. This is why I normally don’t go out during the week. What is supposed to be dinner and home by nine becomes “Where did I leave my socks -holy toledo is it really four in the morning?”
When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. If you don’t have water and sugar, you develop a taste for sour fruit. Or you can go somewhere with water and sugar and make lemonade there. Travel is one of my favorite things to do in Japan. Despite the malaise and worry that comes from my isolation and financial constraints, I do my best to stay above the storm clouds. Travel and staying close to friends is one of the best ways I know how.
When I interviewed for this position in the States together with Saba, a friend I had made through Yelp. We both were hired. Me to the Osaka branch and she to the Hamamatsu branch. While conferring plans to travel to Kobe for Luminarie we noted that in all our time living Japan we had yet to visit each other. Simply put, I normally would have no reason to visit Hamamatsu. Hamamatsu is like Trenton, New Jersey. Unless you know someone there or are from there, what would ever motivate you to go there? ButI do like travel, new experiences and new scenery, so I opted to visit on my three day weekend.
Hamamatsu reminds me of Yamagata, where I formerly lived. It’s small, quiet, and there’s not terribly much to do or see during the day. I did a bit of sight seeing, but that took only half a day. The castle, the gardens, the tea house, the art musuem. Hamamatsu has a very quaint and peaceful vibe similar to Yamagata, just a little more built up.
There’s more of a foreign influence in this city than there was in Yamagata. The combination of a small city with some (but not much) foreign influence means that the foreign community tends to be fairly tight knit. The result is there’s a good crowd of the same people going to several of the same bars and clubs on a regular basis. Some people might find this a but hum drum, but when living abroad such a community is comforting. As an outsider it was fun to take part, especially with the festivities that took place.
We spent much of the night with four or Saba’s friend: Sian, Yuriko, Mitsuki and Akiko. Sian teaches at an eikaiwa, and the other three are her students. On that night it was Akiko’s birthday, so there was a good crowd at the regular foreigner bar (and cake!) We drank, we partied, and had fun.
I had the opportunity to meet some of the regulars. There were a number of Americans and Canadians, all English teachers. A couple of Japanese men and women interested English and foreign culture. A Brazilian bar owner taking the night off to drink at a his friends bar. All somewhat standard of a foreign bar. With the exception of one fabulously gay Indonesian man named Deris, who despite the weather wore nothing but a short sleeve hoodie and shorts.
As night wore on the girls said they wanted to go dancing. Deris mentioned the Monster party at Seven Street Bar. The girls, who attended the last Monster party, were quite excited at the prospect. They said most people came in costume and that it was quite fun. Always a fan for costumes I agreed to go along.
I did not realize until I arrived that the Seven Street Bar was a gay bar. This took me by surprise. I felt like a little section of the Castro was carved out and put into this bar. Being a heterosexual foreigner in a gay bar in Japan, I was a bit concerned on how I would be received. Given the experiences of a friend of mine who often visited Kabuki-cho San-chome with his girlfriend and her gay friends I did not expect a warm welcome. Deris and the girls insisted it would be fine. And it was. Though not much one for clubs or dancing, I enjoyed myself and the company of Akiko, Saba, Mitsuki, and Deris (the others went home.)
The surprising thing is I didn’t see many Japanese men at the bar. Mostly there were foreign men. The foreign gay populace appears to be very open, so what about the Japanese? This started me thinking about homosexuality in Japanese culture. I’ve heard some people -usually foreigners- talk about the Japanese perspective on homosexuality as highly advanced. Advanced meaning it is very open, simply accepted and no one cares. The conversations I have with Japanese people tend to present a different view of the matter. While Japanese people do not take a violent reproach to homosexuality like many in the US do, it is not a very open subject.
From what I gather from the limited reactions and discussions I have with my Japanese associates on this topic, homosexuality generally isn’t talked about. Homosexuality is viewed as different (which in Japanese culture can mean a dissociative wrong) and humorous. The response to homosexuality tends to be “He’s gay ha ha that’s strange and funny!” rather than “Oh my God you’re gay get out of here before I beat you fag!” Obviously the later viewpoint is less appealing, but given that existing outside of social norms is looked down upon in this culture, I’m not sure the first is much better. I know there are very strong gay communities from the existence of Kabuki-cho San-chome in Tokyo and the gay bars and clubs in Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima . However, these appear to be very closed and quiet societies. There appears to be little to no open homosexuality in Japanese society. Most of these clubs and bars are geared towards homosexual men as well, which leaves me wondering what options there are for lesbian women.
My information comes from very limited experience and is mostly conjecture, I will admit. I may be entirely off on this and i hope to find out. This is something I am curious to learn more about as I don’t think it is an often discussed subject or one very transparent to foreigners. If it is, the people I normally associate with are not privy to it. I imagine the answers may interest some of my friends back home.
I suppose it’s something to look into.