The tao of a nerd - Joel Hall

Recently, while finishing up one of my stories and listening to Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1, in E minor, Op. 11, on my Sony Walkman, I learned from a fellow co-worker that I am officially a nerd.

So what? Nerds rule the world, just ask Bill Gates, George Lucas or Kanye West. They control what we see and hear, and even the mediums through which we do either.

Just think ... you are reading this column right now, so there. That's why I'm not afraid to do unabashedly nerdy things like go JapanFest in Gwinnett.

I had known about the event ever since coming to Atlanta in 2000, but had never gotten around to attending. I was always too busy. That hasn't changed, but this year, I decided to get myself out there, even if I had to battle samurai and ninja forces to get there.

Now JapanFest is not as nerd-tastic as an otaku convention (a gathering of individuals obsessed with Japanese animation), but it does bring out its fair share of eccentrics. You get your blond-haired, blue-eyed Americans wearing traditional Japanese outerwear, such as kimono and yukata (a more casual, summer version of the kimono), as well as a few of your cosplay folks (people who dress up as characters from Japanese cartoons and video games.)

It's a good thing that I was completely in my element. Before getting in my car and heading to Gwinnett, I unpacked a present that was given to me by an incredibly nice, elderly Japanese couple that semi-adopted me during my two-year stay in Japan.

The present was a jinbe, a kind of short set version of the yukata, worn during festivals and special occasions. I knew that if there was anytime in an American context that this uniform would be appropriate, this would be it.

I suited up, but not before praying to God that I wouldn't be pulled over and have to explain to the police officer why I looked so ridiculous.

Driving up I-85 North, my self-consciousness subsided and I actually felt quite comfortable driving on the Interstate in what was basically a bathrobe. As I made it closer to the convention center, I felt like I was returning to a home I hadn't been back to in a long time.

Somehow, I was able to convince some of my friends to meet me up there, so I wasn't alone in dork solitude. In fact, as I made my way to the gate, I found that I fit right in.

People were taking pictures and throwing the familiar "peace" sign that Japanese people seem to do in all their pictures no matter what the occasion. Girls were wearing cat ears, wooden sandals, and Hello Kitty accessories.

When I made my way inside, the venue was sweaty, crowded, and confusing, but it had many of the things I had been missing. I had a nutritious lunch of unadon (barbecued eel on rice) and washed it down with a can of calpis, a Japanese drink that tastes better than it sounds.

I also came upon what I miss the most about Japan -- hilariously awkward advertisements that occur when native Japanese speakers translate literal concepts into English. One advertisement that almost made me shoot calpis out my nose was an advertisement for Toto, a Japanese company which makes toilets.

A huge poster with the words, "Clean is Happy" featured a line up of different people of different nationalities, all with exposed rear ends. Each international tooshie had a smiley face painted on it, to illustrate how your behind feels after it is treated to the heated toilet seat, the bidet, or any of the other 30-some electronic features on Toto toilets.

My fondest memory of JapanFest, though, was when I noticed a former Fulbright scholar trying to teach a young boy how to use a kendama, a simple Japanese toy. It's basically a mallet with a pointy stick on top that is attached, with a string, to a wooden ball with a hole drilled in the bottom.

The point of the game is to position the ball onto the mallet using only momentum. There's a trick to getting the ball onto the stick, but the child failed miserably several times.

Being a nerd, I had a spare kendama in my bag and showed the boy -- as well as a small crowd that had gathered -- how to do it correctly. I guess the cool thing I learned about being a nerd that day is that you can be a teacher, too.

Joel Hall covers government and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at jhall@news-daily.com, or at (770) 478-5753, ext. 281.