A Self-Portrait

“Where would you say you’re from,” Adam asked.


“Okay, where’s your hometown?”

“…Tokyo,” I said, to a face that clearly told me that I was giving the wrong answers.

“But, would you describe yourself as Japanese?” He tried again.

“Um, yes and no?”

As much as I hate to admit it, I was being honest. I knew what Adam was trying to get me to articulate – that I wasn’t really “Japanese,” – but the truth is that I still belong to that category. I have Japanese parents and a Japanese name and a Japanese face. Even with a gray-purple undercut, I can still easily blend in with just about any crowd here in Tokyo. In short, I’m very Japanese.

Except, of course, I’m not. I think in English, make mistakes when I speak or write Japanese, and have no idea who is famous and who’s not. I don’t watch the right TV shows, understand the cultural references, or act like a 33-year old Japanese woman should. I have values and priorities that seem vastly different from the majority of Japanese people my age. I don’t think Lost in Translation’s depiction of the culture here is inaccurate.

For a year or so after I was bullied here, I avoided Japanese food as part of my campaign to not be Japanese. I thought about trying to rip my face off, or at least mutilating it enough that I wouldn’t look Japanese anymore. I tried to erase myself but couldn’t do anything about how I looked. I hated my face, my eyes, my hair, and my skin. I hated appearing like I was as culturally Japanese as everyone else.

It's a weird thing to hate how you look. I wouldn't recommend it. 

When asked if I’d be interested in doing a self-portrait recently, the big question became “what do I draw myself in?” And the answers weren’t American things like burgers or tacos. I love those things too, but what came to mind first were Japanese things: mochi, daifuku, dango, anything involving sweet bean paste.

Maybe it’s my stubborn reaction to being bullied here, maybe it’s a product of my upbringing where we’d always have tea and a Japanese snack at 3pm on weekends. Maybe it’s my lactose intolerance. Or maybe I’m just being honest. I can’t change being from Tokyo, or being Japanese. And while people might find fault in how I fail to be Japanese enough, I no longer feel shame in who I am.

“Yes and no?” Adam had said.

“Well, like ethnically Japanese, but culturally American.” I explained.

“Okay.” He seemed satisfied with that answer.

And there we sat, an Australian who lives in the Czech Republic and a by-all-accounts American living in Japan, united by a love of bikes, in a Chinese restaurant in Tokyo. And I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Subject: myself!

Materials used: Hiyoko crumbs

[Hiyoko means “baby chick” and is a chick-shaped Japanese snack, popularly bought and given as a gift from Tokyo. It has a soft, wheat-based shell and is filled with sweet white bean paste.]

Instagram's #DiscoverYourStory Exhibit at the Tate Modern

This past Monday, Instagram held a private exhibit at the Tate Modern of work by 45 artists and other creatives. I was lucky enough to be included, and recently got pictures of the event from Instagram. The set up was totally different from what I was expecting, and it looks like it was a huge success. Thank you again to Instagram for letting me participate in this exhibit!

[All photos by Instagram]

Work by @bobbugs

Work by @esposin

Work by @hellorayita

Work by @groehrs

Work by @hoodass

My portrait of Evidence!

Work by @pinot

A Year of Reunions

“It’s been the year of reunions,” I said to Adam, over omurice. It was his last day in Tokyo and we’d spent it wandering around Shinjuku and Harajuku and indulging in my favorite pastime of eating too much food. I was referring to a few friends I’d reconnected with (a friend from high school and a roommate from college, both of which I hadn’t spoken to in at least a decade) as well as to seeing Adam in Tokyo again (we’d lost touch for about a year). Though the origins of each of those friendships were vastly different, it seemed that cycling – like an embarrassing moment that you play over and over in your head, reliving it to react differently – always lingered in the background. My old college roommate had gotten addicted to cycling some years back, and my friend from high school was now a hardcore endurance athlete. New friends brought memories of training rides and red-lining my way up mountain passes, too. “Do you do sports?,” a gym buddy asked as I got under the barbell for some squats.

While I currently spend more time in the gym than on my bike, the past weekend spent at Cycle Mode with Adam Hansen and the exceptionally welcoming people at Ridley was really bringing back that lovin’ feeling for bikes.

Incredibly, this was my first ever visit to Cycle Mode. Held at Makuhari Messe in Chiba prefecture, it took up two separate convention hall spaces, which were connected by a small passageway. Unlike Interbike, Cycle Mode is focused on presenting new products directly to consumers. To that end, most bike brands offered free test rides of almost all of their bikes, and this didn’t mean a simple loop around the building. Cycle Mode organizers had set up a winding 1.2km course exclusively for testing the bikes, which came in an impressively wide range of sizes.

As Adam did sign and meet sessions at the Ridley booth, then talks at the main stage of Cycle Mode, I wandered around taking pictures of people touching stuff. Ridley was kind enough to invite me along to Adam’s signing event at Y’s Road in Ochanomizu, as well as a talk and private party hosted by Cycle Terrace in the Aeon Mall where I became the unofficial interpreter

Between events and after the whirlwind of a day was done, Adam and I did what old friends do: drink lots of coffee and catch up on recent life events. There was a whisky bar in Ginza, Scramble Crossing and eel in Shibuya, Din Tai Fung in Shinjuku and wandering around Harajuku. There was lots of laughing and a lot more teasing and sarcasm and giving each other shit. There were promises made to do it again next year.

I opened iTunes this morning for the first time in four days and noticed that I’d had Eminem’s “Die Alone” on repeat. Not because I’m mourning an ex, but because it seemed to reflect my feelings after I’d lost cycling. Cycling had been an answer to everything until a few years ago, when it began to bring with it a heaviness and a sense of permanent ostracization. “Why aren’t I good enough?” I used to cry to my best friend, “why does the bike industry hate me?”

It had felt like a betrayal. I’d poured my soul into cycling. I knew the races, I knew most of the riders, I knew I could write and copyedit better than whatever Cycling News was publishing. And it still wasn’t good enough. It broke my heart, and in retaliation, I had resolved to move away and past cycling, onto bigger and better things.

Predictably, I struggled. Bikes seemed to be all I knew. No other spectator sport is nearly as fulfilling, emotional, or rewarding. I still watched roadies pass enviously and continually reminded myself to do something about my currently nonexistent aerobic capacity. I looked at my hopelessly scarred knees and tried to convince myself that I was in it for the long haul, there was no going back. And yet, there was still the hurt and the fear. Could I ride solo again for years without unraveling? Will the risk of bringing back all the baggage and negativity be worth it? Was it healthy for me mentally to get back into cycling?

Releasing my iPhone from looping “Die Alone” this morning, the beats eventually slid into “Guts Over Fear” and I realized how I’d come full circle. When I had said to Adam that this year was one of reunions, I’d been more right than I’d known. It wasn’t just a year of reconnecting with old friends who’d known me before I started to ride, of hanging out with a professional cyclist who doesn’t judge me for not riding for over a year, but also one of getting back into cycling and the bike.

It’s taken a while, but I think I’m back.

[A big thank you to Kawataki-san, Haruki-san, and Edward V. at Ridley, and Glenn L. at Vittoria!]

Here's Johnny!

Happy Halloween!

Film: The Shining (1980)

Subject: Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance

Materials used: Oreos*

*I tried to use rum raisins (raisins are listed as some of the things in the pantry, plus that whole "red rum" thing), but I couldn't get the level of detail I wanted with the raisins. I reverted to Oreos instead because they're pretty easy to manipulate and I could get the shadows really, really dark.