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Round up your friends and watch these bad movie recommendations!

Midnight, red light, a dozen masked teens on motorcycles flood through the intersection, weaving and racing, mufflers naked and screaming, kicking out wildly at the police cars bouncing along beside them like Warner Brothers cartoons. 5 foot hooded hamsters holding hands with cotton Holsteins, look up from day-glow cell phone emails, as pinstriped uniformed business men grumble-march home, past kimono shrink-wrapped ladies buying octopus at 7-11, beneath a 100ft deep neon fog that never lets the night in. I am dodging through it all, desperately clutching my paintings, the till wet black oils staining my hands and clothes, as I tumble down into the aluminum shine and crowded chaotic pump of a Japanese subway.

My name is Rick Heywood. My Japanese name is Rika Chan Ningiyo (affectionately translated “Rika, The Little Girl’s Doll”). My Art nom deplume is Warless Rabbit, my mother calls me Richard and I don’t call her often enough! I am an artist in Japan.

After somehow seducing an Art degree out of Emily Carr Institute, I left my “job” as a snowboard designer and came to Japan to teach pre-schoolers how to speak English as best as mine… and paint. Two years on, I have 200+ friends under the age of five, and can count past 100 way easy! As a grown-up and painter, I have managed to hold 3 solo exhibitions, and been in two more group shows. I’ve even convinced a few people into the illusion that my Art is more important than their money. (Not that I measure my Artistic success by such Capitalistic rules). That said, its very hard not to be the stereotyped “starving Artist” when you really are a hungry painter. That also said while tapping away on my chic new Mac G4. Which cost me a lot more than any VW van I’ve ever broke down in on the highway back home!

I live in Nagoya, a city of about 3 million people in central Japan (It's ok, I had never heard of it before either). As I type this from my balcony, (also known as a “ledge” in Canada) I can hear a dozen Taiko drums rolling across the distance. Echoing and rumbling down the alleys of brick and unidentified brown rubber material buildings. From a small truck creeping along below me a man sings out a sweet song about how good his oil is (?). Through the muffled drizzle of jackhammers I hear an over-enthusiastic school principle in the local school yard, counting / screaming out morning exercises from a cackling witch of a loudspeaker that must have also warned the children’s grandparents of allied bomber house-calls so not many years ago. Surprisingly enough it all sounds exactly like what Japan should sound like.

My apartment is named “The Box” because If I stretch out my legs and arms I can almost touch all four walls. And I’m 5’7 with a hat on! Every night I shove my guitar, computer, books, dinner plates and samurai amour (*see Last Samurai) against the wall, roll out my futon, and lay down under my easel / diningroom table, aaah! “Box sweet Box”. My best friends back home in Qualicum have more leg room in their car than I do here! Did I mention I share this all with a roommate?

All said though, after two years living beside (no foreigner is ever “In” Japan) this land of creaking bamboo, Hello Kitty, karaoke, and canned coffee I have come to love/hate/like/put up with and adore it here. Japan life, (J-life) is like an evening bath that is too hot at first, but after a while it slowly sinks into your skin and bones until it becomes a most wonderful discomfort. The understanding is not to understand Japan, but to understand how to not understand Japan.

Describe J-life? Simple, step through the looking glass, follow the pink hamster to Vancouver’s Robson Street on a hectic Saturday afternoon, Charlie Brown's parents playing soundtrack on your Walkman, wear a sign on your head that reads, “Look at me! Look at me!” while perceiving everything in reverse through a full-length mirror… that may be a vague idea of the life.

Now, imagine being an artist here, where your minds eye fires, day after night, slumped over a microscopic skin canvas deep within your brain, needling every last visual and color into tattoo with the permanent ink of bio chemical combinations. Imagine floating through a world where a dozen black leather clad duct taped bouffant Elvis’s circle dance with imaginary microphones to raunchy rockabilly, where four story tall neon elephants walk 6 stories above your head, where the homeless get three channels and two toed monks in duct tape (its big here) chapeaus sit motionless against a torrent of commuters silently scream out for repentance and small change. Where colossal temples of golden red molten lacquer raise a million green copper arms upward to smile down blessings on a billion grey frowning office blocks. And the sunsets! The sunsets in Japan still drip with the paint of God’s palette, Japan has epic skies.

Japan and her people are some of the friendliest and warmest I have met. They have created the weirdest and most wonderfully interesting culture and environment I have ever trundled through. I am indebted to them for the trip. And this has been a “Trip” to say the least. Thank you Nippon, arigato gozaimasu. (Insert Doors “The End” outro here).

After a life-changing stint in Japan, Warless Rabbit said his farewells to Japan heading across East Asia, from Beijing to Calcutta via anything that didn’t fly or bite, playing obscure Pixies tunes on a pawned guitar for the local tribespersons and their children. He is currently living in Vancouver, Canada. Pay him a visit at

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