My How Times Have Changed

   My how times have changed. Sitting in a neighborhood coffee shop that I've frequented for the last nine years drove the point home. When job hunting nine years ago I would wake up around 7:00 A.M. on Monday morning, have coffee and breakfast, then walk fifteen minutes to the train station near my house. Inside the station was a kiosk that sold The Japan Times, one of two local English language newspapers. If the kiosk at Nishi-Chofu station didn't have it the kiosk at Chofu station, one stop away, would. I would take the train one stop regardless of where I picked up the newspaper.

   Coming out of the north exit of Chofu station, walking past the two-story black building with the decorative circular cutout up top that housed the police box, it was a few minutes to the major intersection. One right turn and and another couple minutes away there was Doutor on the right. Doutor is a chain of coffee shops found anywhere and everywhere but Chofu being the funky little village that it was at the time this particular Doutor might as well have been a privately owned establishment because it was very much a local joint. Retirees and the general elderly population often spent their mornings there. One of the most colorful characters was a mentally retarded man who appeared to be in his early to mid 30's. He was completely harmless but he loved to talk and would talk the ear off the staff and any customers he managed to ensnare. Being a gaijin I would respond in English whenever he tried to talk to me and that was my polite way of avoiding any conversation. This happened a few times since we both sat at the counter looking out onto the street. One of my favorite past times in a metropolitan area is to sit in a coffee shop and watch people passing by. And back then the smoking section was much larger, before the self-important yuppie Liberals somehow strong-armed businesses into making their smoking sections a tiny little closet huddled in the back.

   With my newspaper, cappuccino, pastry and cigarillos I would go through the want ads looking for suitable employment, i.e. something that paid well and left enough evenings open to play gigs. One must have one's priorities. After circling all the ads that looked promising I would hang around for a while enjoying the vibrancy of this quaint little village from within the warm and cozy shelter of the coffee shop. This ritual always took place during the winter months. Sometimes I would have breakfast instead of a pastry. Forget high ambitions, it's the simple pleasures that make life enjoyable. The Japanese got coffee and the culture of coffee shops from the Europeans. Something I share with all American ex-pats is a profound disappointment in coffee when back home and an absolute elation over the sacred beverage when abroad.

   By the time I returned home in the afternoon I would call all the phone numbers then grab my exaggerated resume (which carefully hid the fact that I was a musician first and foremost and daytime employment was nothing more than a necessary evil) and walk five or ten minutes up the road to the convenience store to fax it off to my various prospects. Since my neighborhood was located in an out of the way area the walk was like a stroll through the park rather than the dodging of self-absorbed pedestrians that normally entails walking through Tokyo (and got ten times worse when cell phones and later smart phones came along). By 3:00 in the afternoon I'd had a pleasant morning and done all the work that I needed to do for today. Nothing more to do other than wait for the replies to come in. Occasionally I'd stroll around the neighborhood and back home would break out my guitar to do some practicing. Sometimes I would take the rest of the day off. Rarely is job hunting so idyllic.

   This is not a story with a happy ending. As the Internet became more and more central to people's lives my job hunting, which had to be done almost every year due to the nature of the work, lost it's idyllic rituals. First, resumes were e-mailed rather than faxed. No longer was I walking up to the convenience store. Sometimes I would go anyhow just for the sunshine and fresh air, and to stretch my legs. Eventually a couple websites similar to Craigslist popped up and nobody was advertising in the newspapers anymore. My ritual was lost forever. Now I would scan said websites every few days and apply by e-mail. I tried taking my laptop out with me but it eventually proved to be an exercise in futility. Times had changed.

   Sitting in that same Doutor an hour before writing this brought back memories of those early days in this village I've called home for the last 9 1/2 years. How I miss those small rituals. It's harder to get out of bed in the morning now. Without a schedule or a deadline I end up wasting more time than ever before. The convenience of doing everything from home is an inconvenience. Most of all I miss the need to go out to do things; humans are social creatures by nature and our decreased interaction with each other has led to decreased mental and emotional health. Most of all it's made life boring because it's made people boring. We can never go back but if we consider what we've lost and why then maybe we can go in the right direction as life moves ever forward and onward.


Well said sir. I remember the job section in the Japan Times used to be on a Monday, and they were often sold out if you didn't pick one up early. I used to like the Japan Times because you could cut out the photos and interesting articles and photocopy them in said convenience stores to make off the cuff yet compelling and modern English discussion lessons. You should check out Stuart Lee's stand up stuff on YouTube. "Do you remember ... things? You know, before the digital age ... things you could hold, like ... things"

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