Guest post by @SteberMichael
If I had to mention one thing Gaijinass taught me, it would be that you can be savage and educated at the same time. For so long, I had been pretty sure that you had to choose sides: either being erudite, reading books and philosophy and being theoretically interested in fundamental realities of life or living wildly and dangerously in the midst of chaos and experience everything yourself. Especially here in Europe, where physical activity to me always seemed to be separated from so-called intellectual pursuits. Little did I know that intellectual reflection and physical challenges were two sides of the same coin, that one didn’t really make sense without the other. Little did I know that there sometimes are people who would have proven me wrong instantly.
I first came across Gaijinass in what must have been 2011. I had just come home from an internship in Tokyo and university life back in Germany took its course. Despite literally everyone else’s objections, I felt that urge to go back to Japan after my studies, somewhere between blunt escapism from my life in the middle of nowhere in southern Germany and that old nerdy delusion of living the dream in the Land of the Rising Sun. So what I did was I obviously looked for other people who seemed to do just that and one day, I found Gaijinass. At first, it seemed like just another blog about teaching in Japan, but the deeper I got into it, the more I learned about the man behind the site.
It feels wrong to me to call him Eric. I have never met him and can’t even imagine what it must have meant for people who knew him to let him go and, more importantly probably, to see him live. So I will just call him Gaijinass, even though I do know that the site was and is run by more people than just Eric. I hope they will not be offended by the fact that despite the work they also put in, I had always imagined Eric as the man behind the site. For me, he was essentially Gaijinass. I will also not mindlessly praise a person I only know from the Internet, even though his work makes it seem like he would deserve it. That being said and given the things I do know about Gaijinass, I can’t help but think he must have been an exceptional human being. He once wrote that what he experienced at his young age would have taken other people several lives to experience and I never thought that that was only the empty bravado which is so common these days. Everything about Gaijinass seemed unreal, so much that some people I told about him believed he was altogether fake, only a made up story. But sometimes unreal things happen, many at the same time. Living in Japan, being a father, teaching, kickboxing, writing, podcasting, getting after it all the time and never making excuses. He may have lived both the dream and the nightmare and to do just that with such honesty is rare. It’s an exception, just like he and his site were.
For me, finding out about Gaijinass’s death was just as unreal as the rest of his life. It almost seemed as if his story was destined to come to an end that fits the other chapters. Maybe that’s too much meaning attached to something as cruelly meaningless as an early death and maybe it’s true when they said that only the best die young. I can’t imagine what all of this must have meant for his family and friends. My loss is much less devastating and yet it also has an effect on my life. I have lost one of the most impressive people that I have never known. I have lost an inspiration, a mental guest who sometimes felt like an acquaintance, a part of my education. Someone who was savagely educated.
Michael Steber is a teacher and freelance journalist from Germany. He has lived and worked in the US, France, Singapore and, of course, Japan.