Paradox of the Moment
In Zeno's dichotomy paradox, you run toward a wall. As you run, you halve the distance to the wall, then halve it again, and so on. But if you continue to subdivide space forever, how can you ever actually reach the wall? (The answer is that you can't: Once you're within a few nanometers, atomic repulsion forces become too strong for you to get any closer.)
Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business -- I never thought about how modern science and atomic theory has such a good answer for Zeno! The article is also worthwhile for its final bit, a speculation about what life would really be like if electricity HAD become "too cheap to meter" as predicted by
Atomic Energy Commission chief Lewis Strauss
Not too sound too much like I'm boasting, but sweet jimminy crickets do I need to get on the ball for this trip to Japan. Nothing is really looming about it; but wanting to get my apartment a bit tidied and then just the normal "do I have everything? what kind of suitcase should I use?" etc etc.
Speaking of what kind of suitcase should I use... what kind of suitcase should I use? My first plan was trying to get by with a small suitcase (on the high side of domestic carry-on-able) and then my courier bag. I have a medium suitcase I can use instead, and now I'm wondering if I should buy a more touristy/hiker backpack, or if that would just clash with the Japanese street style, which I know I'm already going to be at the low, low end of.
I do want to pack lightly, and have a certain small amount of giftage to bring there and back...
Link of the Moment NEStography -- kind of like a geekier, less harsh a softer world. Melancholy and painfully self-aware in parts. With Nintendo games, so obviously it's perfect for me.
Game of the Moment
--Dessgeega et al. graced us with a perfect and appropriate
"Leap Day" gift -- an original oldschool game Mighty Jill Off. It's a mildly-kink-themed tribute to "Mighty Bomb Jack", an old NES classic. A very playable and satisfying short story of a game.
When I am king of the world, I will make this law:
Every movie with a prolonged scene on an elevator - especially ones where the characters are awkwardly standing and waiting - must have the elevator playing an instrumental version "Girl from Ipanema". Plus, every movie made after 1970 or so that does NOT have music playing, this song will be added to the sound track of all existing prints. (Individual directors of existing films may apply for an exemption, but have to write an essay explaining why they want one.)
"Lost in Translation", I'm looking at you.
Movie Secret of the Moment
"I love you. Don't forget to always tell the truth." --Supposedly what Bill Murray's character whispers to Scarlett Johansson's at the end of "Lost in Translation". Watched that movie again with cmg the other night; it really is lovely. I wonder how Bill Murray-esque I might be in my interactions with new and unfamiliar parts of Japan...
Video of the Moment
--How People Count Cash. Supposedly. (Take it with a big grain of salt.)
Why is "parallels" such a more popular word
Oddly, I suppose you could probably substitute
"one point of intersection is" for "one parallel is"
This is probably not as profound as I first thought.
Costume of the Moment
--Been watching "Project Runway" again. Was bummed to see Chris March, the snarky, queeny rotund costume genius with a huge laugh just miss the final four... cmg used some of her googlemojo to dig up his website that has TONS of fabulous design fun.
I know I've rambled on about my
Theory of Multiple Intelligences for Art before, but in a recent online discussion I realized that I can put it much more succinctly than I usually do, without all the backstory I usually give it:
A. art needs to judged in a multidimensional away--
B. to the extent that there's "good art" it will be art that succeeds on more of those axes than mediocre or poor art
C. very little art exists that doesn't work on at least one of these axes, in particular, commercial success is almost universally indicative of success in a few of these
D. Ok, so, not all the axes are created equal, some are more important and/or easier to achieve than others-- some may only have subjective meaning, might only work for a certain target audience. And maybe this is all so much anti-elitist, post-modern, "can't we all just get along" kumbaya-- but actually I think there's something to it.
So the other night I got accused of being incredibly self-absorbed.
(The irony of taking the time to write up a big blog entry on protesting being called self-absorbed is not lost on me.)
This isn't the first time I've been accused of this. And it is a vexing accusation! To some extent it's of course true, but... I mean, are there really people out there so selfless as to put themselves way behind their interest in everyone else? That seems unlikely. Is the implication, then, that I lack the ability to be appropriately concerned for and interested in other people?
That seems an unfair accusation!
Or deficient in interest about things in general, I dunno, politics, pop culture, science, etc?
That seems blatantly untrue. And despite all this, I'm willing to accept that there's a problem here.
So what is it? Previously I've heard it put that I have trouble talking without sentences that begin with "I" or "Me". I would say that to whatever extent the I/Me thing is valid, this aspect is going to be exaggerated by my rhetorical caution; I hardly ever assert something to be objectively true, I tend to couch things with things like "I think" or "It seems to me that". But that's probably beside the point, the issue is: I talk about myself a lot. (Like, that's what brought this up last night: it was a discussion where I tangented to mentioning playing tuba in church during a poignant pause (actually in response
to an observation that something went over "like a fart in church"
in a serious conversation. I was trying to be funny, but admittedly it was a story about me.) )
So yeah I talk about myself! I have stories to tell. But I want to hear every one else's stories too! In my interpersonal relationships I tend to have three goals:
A. I want to tell you my stories
B. I want to hear your stories.
C. I want to experience things with you that we can tell stories about.
To me this is a central part of the human condition.
Richard Feynman said that he didn't mind dying so much because
"...When you get as old as I am, you start to realize that you've told most of the good stuff you know to other people anyway."
Story- and Anecdote-related interaction is a side effect of my "Interestingness-as-Moral-Good" escape from the existential "why bother" hell I might other wise be in. You want to see cool stuff, and then through the power of communication, you can hear about other cool stuff you haven't seen, and return the favor.
But still -- some people, including people I care about, and whose opinions I care about -- see this as a problem. Even to the point of suggesting therapy! Which, as a way of fixing a problem of being self-absorbed, reminds me a bit of California fire fighters setting fires to try to preempt a larger firestorm, but I guess that's why you shell out the big bucks to be able to do in that magic 50-minute span.
As far as I can tell, this isn't a universally recognized problem; I believe that I have an OK relationship with others of my friends, possibly story tellers themselves, they seem to cope with how much I talk about myself and in turn believe in my legitimate interest in them. So is the issue in recognizing people who don't share this brand of mutual extroversion? And how then should I act? Try to tone down the quantity of anecdotes? Be more proactive in expressing my interest in what's going on with them? Just shut up for a change?
Would therapy be able to answer this question? Or is this just the symptom anyway, and therapy should somehow break me free of an underlying condition of needing attention the way fish need water?
I do value candid feedback on this, especially from people who know me in real life. (That I think is one of my positive character traits: I freely admit my flaws even as I consider triaging them into things I like the way they are, things I can change, and things that I don't like but know are here to stay.)
I'm nervous by nature, and so frankly was a bit surprised at how well 2005 and 2006 seemed to go, economically-speaking. Now it looks like the chickens are coming home to roost.
I know some of this is a side effect of my general financial good fortune and lack of family to support, but sometimes I have trouble deeply understanding how as a country we have a negative savings rate. I don't think this is an international phenomenon; it's us.
What is it about us? A screwed up job market that tends to be bottom- and top-heavy? A culture so addled with materialism that people make an endless series of dumb purchasing decisions? As my Libertarian friends would probably argue, too darn much taxation?
But spending seems to be what our economy is based on! Is it some giant shell game? I remember listening to public radio when I was sick, some commentator who kind of contradicted herself without blinking an eye, on the one hand saying this downturn was going to be rough because consumers can't spend their way out of it, on the other hand chastising Americans for spending this way to begin with.
For a lot of us it all comes down to employment. If your job situation stays good you should be more less OK. If not, it's going to be a scary struggle. But even if you're in the first category, man, it's tough not to let this stuff dominate your thinking and outlook in general.
Heh, maybe working for a European company will help. I wouldn't count on it, I've been burnt by that kind of thinking before, thinking that being sheltered under the Thomson umbrella would help my subsidiary muddle through, but it turns out when you work for one part of a giant company and your part is doing pretty well, they may still look to economize on your part just to help out the other sections.
Random, if gross thought: so one of the less attractive habits of some of my cousins was to spit up in the air and catch it. This is, of course, disgusting, but it's hard to put your finger on exactly why. The material starts in the mouth and ends up in the mouth, and you wouldn't think that the time in the open air would be all that corrupting. It's like it involves a process similar to transubstantiation, where the material epistemologically changes from mere saliva into spit, and we reject the attempt to reverse that transmogrification.
Game of the Moment --from an old post at cellar.org's Image of the Day.
(I feel like I haven't been finding as much cool stuff to share with you all lately. But, I do like frogs.)
Quote of the Moment
He had two choices. He could pretend that everything that had happened since the day of Lynch's murder had been a bad dream, forget it all, and set about rebuilding his life and his career like a sane, rational person. Or he could take a hand once again, play it out to its conclusion.
It was no choice at all, really. He felt like a moth that had just sighted the Great Chicago Fire.
--George R R Martin, "The Armageddon Rag"
"Never try to write about your father [...] Men can't do it. You learn about life by the accidents you have, over and over again, and your father is always in your head when that stuff happens."
--An Interview with Vonnegut
"There is never a time in the future in which we will work out out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment; the time is always now."
--James Baldwin... I thought it was interesting to compare that to Henry Miller's
"There are no 'facts'-- there is only *the fact* that man, every man everywhere in the world, is on his way to ordination. Some men take the long route and some take the short route. Every man is working out his own way and nobody can be of help except by being kind, generous, and patient."
Travelog of the Moment
In theory my jetlag "isn't so bad", but then again I'm writing this at 4AM (3PM Boston time.)
I now have the technology and 'net access to try travelloging in real time.
This likely means my observations will be extra facile and I'll be less likely to know if they represent just what I see, or Japan as a whole. And so it's going to be more raw and mundane than if I were pulling it together after. So, those disclaimers out of the way:
My connection flight to Chicago got changed to a sidetrip to Washington Dulles.
I got to stop at a mini-Fuddrucker I remembered from business trips, and my final arrival in Japan was only 2 hours later than first scheduled. Plus I got to see this ATM:
I'm sure they get these jokes all the times, but man! Who let him have a bank? (But then later when I saw the current Yen/Dollar exchange rate, below 100 for the first time in a long while, I myself felt ready to sing Moon River...ZING!)
The flight on ANA (All Nippon Airways) was fine.
Inseat video technology has improved since my last international flight,
or Japan does it better. Jet Blue had DirecTV, but on this flight every chair had its own video library, so you could pick from about 20-odd films, pause, rewind, etc. There were also some basic time killing video games and the old standby channels of music etc.
My last minute seat change had put me in the "families with kids" section, but I admired the little bassinet things the attendants could fasten to the wall in front of the seats:
My friend Josh met me at the airport. He's lived a total of 9 years in Japan, and lives just outside of Tokyo with his wife Tomomi and their young daughter Erin. We took a few trains from Narita (an airport built kind of against the will of the rice farmers who were living there, but certain concessions were made) to his place in Chiba. The train seating was "subway" style, but often the seats were nicely padded and cushy:
Same car a bit later, giving more of a feel of it:
Josh describes the vibe of Chiba as being roughly "Coolidge Corner"-ish. I could see that, with the caveat that stores and buildings tend to be brighter and more garish than their American counterparts. Here's Chiba on a rainy Friday night:
A few other notes:
I noticed more people who seemed to have more mundane tasks than in the USA: an airport employee at the luggage carousel, wrangling bags coming out of the chute to make sure they didn't get stuck, a man making a pass through the train with a mop (it being a rainy day), and then at the rail station, a man with a construction uniform and a megaphone warning people getting off the train to be careful about the construction going on. Josh talked to me about the pride and work ethic entailed even at these "low level" jobs, but more striking to me was the-- attention to detail, I guess I'd say, that it was worth having someone responsible for these particular things.
I'll probably get some photos of this later, but the department store we ducked through is interesting, because it wasn't really a department store... it rather looked like one, but each section was a separate vendor with its own cashier. So while there are other "proper" department stores around, there's also this "evolution of the bazaar" in effect.
Josh and Tomomi live four or five stories up, and the stairs to their building are exposed to the outside... Josh says this is extremely common in Japan.
The Society for Barefoot Living
Most important facts: 1 It is healthy for your feet to go barefoot.
2 It is not against the law to go barefoot into any kind of establishment including restaurants.
3 It is also not against any health department regulation.
4 It is not against the law to drive barefoot.
Travelog Photo Insanity of the Moment
So, Saturday. Josh played tour guide and we hit Kamakura, with dozens of temples and a giant Buddha, and then the port area around Yokohama. I appear to have gone a bit crazy nuts with the photos this day.
I adore the controls of Josh and Tomomi's microwave/toaster/convection oven. Why haven't I seen color icons on one of these type of products before?
At the risk of stereotyping, the Japanese love their umbrellas:
Sidewalks in big cities and walkways at train stations have interesting tactile paths for the blind. They combine these lines with another tile pattern more like rivets, for indicating when the path is no long a straight line:
There is a drink called "Calpis". The phonetic reading of that is not a coincidence, but actually it's very tasty, a kind of lemony milky flavor. (Better than the infamous Pocari Sweat, which is kind of a bland gatorade flavor.)
Japan is 13 hours into the future, and it shows: modern trains have these useful video screens over the doors. They even tell you if they're the side that's going to open or not!
An image of Kannon, overlooking where Josh used to live, photo from the train.
After about 2 hours of train rides - with 3 train changes, painless but I'm dreading doing them on my own a bit - Josh and I first visited Engaku-ji, a Zen Buddhist temple, actually a series of buildings, full of Buddhas and giant bells perfectly set among the steep hills and cedars. An image from there:
At the risk of being stupid... hey look! The Triforce from Nintendo's Legend of Zelda! (Mitigating factor: at least I didn't take photos of and make dumb jokes about the reverse swastika. These guys had prior dibs!)
Giant bell, rung on New Year's, at the top of a STEEP set of stairs that might've helped prime a bit of a sore knee later (nothing some advil didn't more or less clear up though.)
So another thing the Japanese love: vending machines! Outside of stores:
Near Zen Temples:
And in giant quantities in town:
So after a lunch of soba noodles ("Foreigners!" exclaimed one of the hostesses at the little noodle place as we entered. "Foreigners who speak Japanese," clarified Josh) we headed to the Shinto shrine Tsurugaoka Hachiman temple.
Shinto temples have a trough with dippers for washing of hands. Plus, you often see the guardians "Ah" and "Un" (err, the names are aout the Japanese equivalent of "A" and "Z" or maybe "Alpha" and "Omega", more info)
Typical view of the temple and its stairs:
Me and Josh in front of a giant wall of Saki, probably all sponsors of the shrine. Damn, I need to start tucking that shirt in, I think it unfairly looks like maternity wear on me:
This photo illustrates two things: there are pigeons
at Tsurugaoka that will actually fly in to land on you. Also, many, many Japanese wear these surgical mask looking things this time of year to keep out the pollen. After a while it moves from the weird to the intriguingly mysterious, sort of a "what's behind the veil" kind of thing.
Just a billboard I liked, also gives kind of a feel of the surrounding town.
Pseudo-artsy closeup of random kanji for the word Inside, I think Josh said, from a larger monument.
So cars in Japan are: A. narrow, but tall. and B. generally replaced every 3 years or so because of a prohibitive tax on older cars (kind of the reverse of how it is in the USA) There are a few SUVs though, which get extra mirrors attached, I guess to help see around on narrow streets:
Josh tells me that Japanese people put out bottles of water in a belief that cats won't pee there. Josh himself doesn't feel that this theory - err - holds water:
There were also a lot of political posters, mostly with guys making fists.
Then up another steep hill to a Shinto cave (Zeniarai Benten) to engage in some good-luck money laundering. Well, washing:
Finally off to Daibutsu, the giant Buddha!
No seriously, this is a BIG Buddha... 750 years old, cast in bronze, you can pay 20 yen (about a quarter) and walk around inside. Between that and the giant bells I was looking at before, I figured that they really had metallurgy down back then! After a Tsunami, this Buddha was all that was left in the area...
My first photo idea was dancing to I LIKE BIG BUDDHAS AND I CANNOT LIE - the photos weren't so great, but I like the expression of the girls behind me.
Finally, just an oddly cropped photo with the Buddha, the blue sky, and if you look really closely, a hawk.
I don't know much Japanese but I think it says "beware of men in uniform who will put your hat on a stick and lower it to the kanji below".
Train station billboard. I post it hear only to admit that yes, I actually asked Josh what a "Lo-Cal" train would be about, like some kind of diet thing?
Then we took a few more trains to Yokohama. This is the Landmark Tower, Japan's tallest building. "Only" 69 stories or so (or at least that's where the Sky Garden is) but it has the world's fastest elevator:
A great view. There area also has a mini-amusement park, with what was the world's biggest Ferris Wheel 'til the London Eye showed up:
Just to be clear, the ferris wheel boasts a GIANT DIGITAL CLOCK. Complete with blinking seconds indicator. I <3 Japan.
Attached is 5 stories of shopping goodness at the Landmark Plaza...
...which had the only curving escalator I remember seeing in my whole life... weirdly disconcerting in its elegance, you just don't expect an escalator to DO that:
Random Engrish T-shirts, I like the one that says LOCAL ONLY: Enjoy The Life More Because It Is Short
PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN - WHERE AT LEAST I KNOW I HAVE A MINIMUM OF 36 KINDS OF MUFFIN
To end the day we stopped at Yokohama's China Town: yes, I know it seems a bit ornery to go to a Chinatown in Japan, but Josh was very familiar with the restaurants in the area and we had a really tasty dinner. This is the traditional gate marking the entrance to the area:
Then on the train home, I found a poster advertising the upcoming Red Sox vs A's Opener in Japan:
Finally, back in Chiba, I found a peanut, found a peanut, found a peanut last night...
- this is the "Rhino" truck from the show "Mask", the last toy series I got into, after Transformers and GI Joe. Ever since then I always get the feeling that the back end hitch part of trailerless semis I see should be able to roll around independently, as shown here.
Gary Kitchen's Gamemaker was a very cool program for the C=64. That link is an attempt to collect games people made on it for posterity.
Special relativity is the girl you meet at the dorm party while you're dating electrodynamics. You make out. It's not really cheating because it's not like you call her back. But you have a sneaking suspicion she knows electrodynamics and told her everything.
Travelog of the Moment
Another amazing day with Josh. I'm going to be traveling to Hiroshima and Kyoto on my own by rail, so I might not be posting quite so extensively for a bit...
This is what a Tokyo rail and subway map looks like. It is not a simple thing:
You do see more uniforms in Japan, I imagine it's an aspect of the pride in their work. This lady is one of those folks I mentione meant to warn people getting off the train about the construction:
Shin-Matsudo station, near where Josh lives:
First glimpse of Akihabara, the electronic district of Tokyo. We met up with my old college buddy Alex who lives in Tokyo.
The first thing we hit seemed to be a bit of a hobbyist center, 5 or 6 floors, each about a different hobby. Here is a racetrack on the second floor, one of the model builders behind:
Next floor: guns! CO2 and battery powered.
Some political commentary on the gun floor:
The basement was about, well, porno. Though I can't imagine what this was, must be some kind of novelty cup holder.
We then went to the grand department store Yodobashi-Akiba, like 9 or 10 stories. Here's what it looks like on the outside, including the electronic billboard.
An on the inside, you can see it's pretty hopping!
On the ninth floor we went to "Pepper Lunch". You place your order using a vending machine that gives you the appropriate coupon which you give to the waitstaff. Like many vending machines here, especially ones that have products at different prices, a light shines next to each selection for which you've inserted enough yen.
My meal, which was some tasty pepper steak, served raw-ish on a hot skillet, so you get to cook it yourself... fun, and tasty!
Typical Japanese hand drier... almost a matter of trust as you hold both hands in the mouth of the thing:
Back to the department store! A few places around the district I saw these kid-sized arcade games...
Including Pokemon, where you could battle people at other machines.
So this store tended to have vast selections of many things, like dozens and dozens of Playstation Portable cases. Or in this case, LOTS of watchbands:
Near some other exercise/health equipment, some kinf of vaguely obscene-looking saddle things that would shake and shimmy. Kind of like a small scale mechanical bull:
Josh and Alex indulging me in a goofy photo, holding a very odd one handed keyboard device designed for gamers.
So on Sundays certain streets in Tokyo get blocked off, and they have things kind of like street fairs. (Corner of one of those streets, mostly I just liked the banners.)
More buildings and a fearsome Space Invaders. (I remember hearing how the original Space Invaders caused a shortage of ten yen coins...)
So one recent addition to the scene are "maid cafes" where you can be attended to by highly attentive young ladies. (I guess it ranges from the innocent to the err...more detailed services.) We thought these gals were advertising one of those but no, they were just playing dressup, which happened a lot at the Akihabara street fair thing:
As amusing as the girls in dressup, all the men taking their photo...
Another cute girl:
Alex and me at the The House of the Venerable and Inscrutable Colonel.
I liked the sci-fi vibe of these escalators:
And who doesn't like Snoopy? "Snoopy Towns" seemed even more prevelant than "Disney Stores"
Gate for Takeshita Street, super-fashion-trendy...
But don't take my word for it:
One of the more common jobs are people outside of stores saying "welcome welcome" and otherwise trying to interest you in the store. Often they have megaphones. Lordy, the Japanese seem to love their megaphones.... in the department stores, you have the same thing, only for individual products.
I didn't know Chevrolet made bikes:
The ritzier high fashion district Harajuku: so many people!
Alex and Josh outside of a Wendy's
This photo doesn't show it well but it was the most hopping Wendy's I'd ever scene, very youth-centric. Also smokey despite the signs against it.
There was actually some kind of Irish festival going on: (I saw a small Irish group, complete with some hooligan lookin' fella shouting at random intervals to the music.)
Errr... buildings. I liked the billboards.
Injoke: "pedobear is that you?" (It actually might be where the infamous parody character came from.)
I'm very fond of corporations co-opting hippy-ish sentiment. Maybe they even mean it!
Funky building. An Audi dealership I think.
What does it say about Americans that I want to call any any big construction vehicle that's not a crane or a dumptruck a bulldozer? Anyway, these cute purple vehicles were all over Japan.
The Hummer and the Zen Temple.
Famous Scramble Intersection... this is under the same billboard with the giant walking dinosaur in "Lost in Translation"
Random cultural note: most restaurants give you a oshiburi before your meal, a hot wet facecloth for your hands and face. Refreshing!
The universal sign for exit in Japan:
Tokyo at Night.
Finally two examples of kawaii, "Japanese Cute". Josh notes that it seems to be losing popularity... now you see more computer rendered 3D characters. Still, I dig this aesthetic a bit more, like the peanut I posted yesterday:
* Users must be given obvious and easy control over color usage. Different people have very different combinations of monitors, background colors, limitations in color perception, and general preferences. There is no single choice of colors that will work for any substantial portion of the user community.
* The basic nature of the human visual system is that it separates objects based on intensity differences, not color differences. If you are designing colors for a white-background display, every color you use must be, with few exceptions, a low-intensity color. Hot pink on white may look snazzy, but people will have to work hard to read it.
* Dark blue should never be used for anything somebody is expected to read. Short wavelength colors tend to focus just in front of the retina, and will thus always be a little bit blurry. --
The Grumpy Editor's guide to terminal emulators
Travelog of the Moment
So I thought Monday would be mostly travel, but I got to see some important things. I braved the Tokyo subway and then the bullet trains all on my own, got to Hiroshima, and then determined to heed Josh's admonition to "don't be that girl from Lost in Translation" (i.e. sitting moping around a hotel room) I headed out for a few hours of exploration.
So, the trains. It's too bad that "and the trains ran on time" has such a negative connotation, because it's actually quite handy. They are extremely punctual, except when someone stepped in front of one... a not uncommon occurrence, maybe 2 or 3 a month - infamously the result of a nation that has A. a strong and idiosyncratic sense of honor, B. not much of a religious prohibition against suicide, and in fact a social precedent for it (A Spitzer in Japan would be dead by his own hand by this point, Josh says) and C. Really, really fast trains.
They also have thse little strips that reliably indicate where the doors of the train will open. People line up behind 'em one or two abreast, and it likely helps speed things along:
So back in the day there was a game called "Koronis Rift", that had a distinctive fractal-based landscape-- I have a strong memory of the way the game used color to show hills fading into the distance:
I always assumed that was a game conceit, but really, Japan from rail looks a bit like that:
I admit to feeling a note of melancholy traveling on my own. But maybe some of that was the hazy landscape, or the feel of the rails, or maybe the Portable Dorothy Parker I was grinding through... she's a very lonely writer.
Hiroshima Station has a huge hoard of taxis waiting outside:
I decided to walk rather than take the tram (but, oy, I'm starting to feel all this walking) and this is a temple I saw, a bit elevated:
Plus I found this posture-based poster a little amusing.
Here's another view of the pavement inserts for the blind, here you can see how some parts are linear while other parts (intersections and endpoints) are more generalized:
I tried to play it like I wanted a picture of the statue but really I was more interested in the guy:
My hotel, the Rihga Royal, was surprisingly swanky, I got a really good deal on Expedia the day before. The giant sweep of lobby:
I got in after many of the attractions were closed, but I made one important trip: The Atomic Bomb Dome was just a few blocks away. This was the "Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall" until the first atomic bomb exploded about 150 meters away.
I know in my stupid blog here it's going to sound trite, but I was moved to the point of tears by its stark presence and broken grandeur. The intellectual part of me knows more people died in firebombings and massacres, and there's always the rightwingers argument that more would have died in a full invasion but... the sheer brutal efficiency of the engines of war has made humanity's chance at making it for the long haul that much worse, so in that way the blast still echoes for us all. And what does it matter that this wasn't the "worst" tragedy humanity has inflicted on itself; it was a tragedy, and I can mourn for the lives destroyed.
The dome is by the Motoyasu river.
There was a surprising amount of seaglass there on the sandy bank. Maybe not worn enough to be seaglass; and some of it seemed like shards of china and other things. I gathered a few pieces.
Later that evening I headed to the Hondori shopping area. I was thinking I wanted to try the cliche of checking out the McDondalds, but since I didn't want to subject my friends to it it seemed like a perfect time.
(We didn't actually get anything at Wendy's before.) I...uh... think this had some kind of egg on it...
Hondori is pretty cool, almost like a normal street with a ceiling, and tons of stores. You can see the traffic light here, it's so odd to feel a bit like you're in a mall but you still have to watch for traffic:
I checked out a Sega arcade, including the fun of Mario Kart 2 (it even has a builtin webcam and puts a mario mustache on you). Also, I liked the Beatles with coffee cups on their heads:
On my way back to the hotel,I was startled when what I thought was just a simple underpass and tramstop turned out to be more extensive, going on for a few blocks:
Finally a note on television: many shows have a little subpicture showing what looks like audience reaction. Josh explained "the japanese are big on group activity. The panel/audience guides the crowd reaction--shows them what to do." Which sounds kind of bad, but really that makes it a visual laugh track, but with real people.
I know I scanned this once, and may have even posted it, but one of my favorite New Yorker cartoons is just a brick with this caption above it:
FOUR HUNDRED SELECTIONS OF THE WORLD'S FINEST MUSIC, OVER ONE THOUSAND FULL-COLOR REPRODUCTIONS OF MANKIND'S GREATEST PAINTINGS AND SCULPTURES, AND TWO HUNDRED AND THIRTY-ONE TIMELESS CLASSICS OF WESTERN LITERATURE COMPACTED INTO A TWO-BY-THREE-BY-SIX INCH BRICK
You know... I'm sure it misses the joke but you could probably get that all on a 100Gb drive these days.
Random idea I had for a short story: a very realistic study of a guy's reaction when a teammate on his football
team does something incredibly and surreal-y awful to a member of the other team, like knock him unconcious and
rip off his testicles.
Travelog of the Moment
Running late but I wanted to get this in... sorry if some of the descriptions are rushed --
View of the palace from my hotel room in Hiroshima. Not bad! But I wasn't brilliant at managing my time that day
(too much walking, and anxiety at making it to the train station) so I didn't go for a tour there.
I then went to the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall. Some moving stuff there, giving the background and results of what happened in an even-handed manner that makes it even more wrenching. This is a large (oh jeez, I was going to say "blown up") panoramic view a few weeks after the blast.
A model of before the blast...
After every nuclear test, the mayor of Hiroshima writes to the leaders of that country urging them to stop such tests and strive for nuclear disarmament.
The nuclear powers...each of the large missiles represents a large number of missiles. I was also struck by the "globe on its side" view, useful since all the nuclear players seem to be in the Northern Hemisphere.
A full size reproduction of a shattered building. They had some more gruesome reproductions of horribly burned victims walking through the ruins...
One word I hadn't heard before my time in Hiroshima: "hypocenter", a strict word for "ground zero". This is a smaller model of the city, with a red ball indicating where the blast occurred. (One letter made reference to girls watching the parachute, which seems such a human thing to do, and that would be the last thing they would see.)
Model of Little Boy.
Hiroshima Rooftiles... the sign says you can touch, and reassures you they are safe.
The Memorial Park is laid out in a line; I'm in the museum, there's the cenotaph, the eternal flame, and the atomic dome.
I then decided to walk to the Museum of Contemporary Art. I admit my bias about art and culture, the present usually catches my attention more than the past.
Yet another vending machine. With some of these machines and in convenience stores, coffee in can comes hot or cold.
Gas station. Gas is very expensive, about 6 bucks a gallon (though America is working its way up there.) I was kind of struck by the high-mounted gas hoses, but I guess that was just a quirk of this place. Also, highway tolls work out to be about a buck a kilometer!
Walking on my own, I'd take reflection shots, a kind of "dude! YOU'RE IN JAPAN" reminder to maintain a sense of wonder and observation.
I was a bit surprised what a climb the museum turned out to be...
The city below, with a cemetery nearer.
I haven't put TOO much "Engrish" here, as it seems uncharitable; I'm grateful for all the English they provide. (Actually I realize I start to take Romaji (transcription into the Latin alphabet) and odd English words for granted, its so prevalent that when it almost seems more striking when it's not there.)
I couldn't take photos of the temporary exhibition. But I think this work was "Atomic Dome Model 5", an obvious reference.
Heh, ok, less artsy. Just a note, Japanese public restrooms tend to have full doors, like little closets, and Josh mentioned Japanese visitors to the USA tend not to like our half-walled stalls. I can see that!
In the permanent exhibit, Venus Bleue by Yves Klen was SO very blue. I guess they had to put her in glass or everyone would touch.
There were so many attendants (guards? what's the term) sitting so still and quietly that it struck me as a form of performance art itself.
Ugh, don't have time to look up this yellow guy, but a variety of works featuring him (it's some kind of radiation suit, and this is him supposedly in Chernobyl) were the center of the temporary exhibit.
Outside, "Little Bird".
Woman taking photo of some cats.
Another view of a cemetery. I'm struck by how much they resemble model cities.
Also way up in the same park: a Manga Library! I had no idea they would have libraries just for that form, it seemed pretty busy in there.
Inside the library, they had what I assumed were the winners of a local single panel manga contest. Here is a Japanese view of MLB taking away Japanese players:
I had an easier time descending when I found this giant escalator.
More names a native speaker of English might not pick:
A few places (like a train station barber shop) I've seen this idea: a tall glass window will return some privacy by a carefully placed painted section. It works surprisingly well.
I just liked this billboard as I walked back to Hiroshima station.
The poster reminded me I wasn't having enough fruit this trip! So I bought a bag of something that might be clementines.... maybe something different? They had a certain, sharper, "cactus-y" tone, just subtly different.
Oh, Hiroshima. I'm sorry what you had to go through, and how that mighty mushroom cloud might influence some of your public art, but... this looks like a butt.
The sleek nose of a bullet train.
For being a country known for working well on a small scale, I've seen more impressive cavernous indoor spaces this trip... this is Kyoto station.
Finally, this poster (I'm still not sure if Porta is the shopping center or what) had many slogans in English:
"Catching my breath for this good taste.",
"Delicious stuff is all around here.",
"Things I want to have-there are a lot of them here",
"I have found my favorite thing.",
"I'm in a good mood, full of joy.", and
"Pleasure to find something." I guess that's the power of positive thinking!
Travelog of the Moment
So Wednesday I went on a bus tour of Kyoto and Nara. I wasn't utterly blown away by the tourguides (who may have been gearing for people who did zero reading about Japan in general) but it was the best way to get to these geographically diverse sites. Plus, a day with more riding and less walking seemed like a nice idea for my feet.
Also I met some nice people from Norway and Finland (dropped my Nokia street cred) and to be honest often they seemed more interesting than the tourguide's spiel.
Japanese do love their umbrellas! The standard umbrella is only a couple of bucks and is transparent, which makes a lot of sense.
This picture and the last were from our first stop, Nijo Castle, or "Nijo-jo" (heh). Both shoes and photography were forbidden inside.
Nijo Castle was built by the Shogun Iemitsu, so we saw where the feudal lords would pay tribute to him, and then where he had to sit below the platform of the emperor's messenger. Some of the work inside and out was really lovely.
Close-up of that...
One of the more interesting features was a clever "Nightingale Floor" in all the hallways; this clever system of metal bits that squeaked in a melodious way and prevented people from sneaking around. They say there are all sorts of hidden passageways and what not there. This is the view from underneath.
Trying to find nice and balanced shots of the grounds outside.
The outer wall looked strong.
After we went to the Golden Pavillion / Rokuon-Ji Temple. This is a detail of a map billboard there, I liked the art style.
The Golden Pavilion is a terrific building, centuries old, and covered in gold leaf. I think my ISO settings were messed up, so its beauty isn't coming through, or maybe it's me next to it.
Crane in the pond by the Pavilion.
Waterfall on the grounds there.
Finally we headed out to the Imperial Palace. Security was weirdly uptight there and we had to line up in 4s. But I liked the bright orange construction and fireproof white plaster:
And I saw my first blossoming cherry tree! Unfortunately I was fumbling with my camera battery and didn't get a picture of the guy stationed there to protect it. Maybe he had to be there, one girl seemed to try and make a dash for the tree and he angrily chased her away, though I'm not 100% sure if she would have tried if he hadn't been there.
From there to the 7 stories of the Kyoto Craft Center. And yes, I took a photo of this just for the obvious giggle about the Internet Cafe name.
I then switched to the Nara afternoon group. Nara's single biggest attraction (in both senses of "biggest") is Todai-ji temple, biggest wooden building in the world, and home of one of the largest Buddhas. This is just the outer gate.
The outer gate has two guardian figures, though I didn't quite catch the names:
(I don't think they were the Shinto ones) Still awfully fearsome...
Just a nature scene, with a groundskeeper in blue looking awfully small...
So there is the temple--those are people looking very, very small themselves. One detail is a "peekaboo" door the Buddha can peek out of...
Looking up at the Temple's entrance. They mentioned that the original building, which got destroyed, was about 30% wider, and there were models showing the old and current versions inside.
The Buddha! There are some priests in front for scale.
The Buddha was flanked by attendants... here's one--
--and the other. This Buddha was bigger than Kamakura's, but somehow... I don't know, I preferred the Buddha under the great wide open sky.
The temple had other guardians, one for each direction, but two were only heads. Here's one of the full bodied ones:
So for a 1000 Yen (~$10) donation, you could paint a tile that would be used in some new construction. (Also good luck forever I think!) You were asked to paint your Name, Address, Country, and Wish.
This is me and my wish: "That we figure this thing out or learn to love the figuring"
So, one thing I've neglected to mention: the grounds were crawling with deer. For 150 Yen ($1.50) you could get a stack of ten cookies, like pizelles, to feed them. But... what's this sign warning about? Angry deer? Huh?
AAAAAAH DEER GET THEM OFF ME AAAAAH! (Seriously in general they were pretty decent, but the ones standing around the cookie stands would butt and nip you if they thought you were a bit slow with the goods.
Finally Kasuga Taisha Shrine. Lots of stone lanterns and I got to learn more details about Shinto practice. I must confess to a small dose of shrine fatigue at this point. Anyway, here is my afternoon tourguide climbing the stairs.
Back at the hotel. Tug of War is a serious sport here?
Finally on my run for dinner, I found three anti-smoking posters...well, not anti-smoking, just watch where you put your butts... the cowboy approach
I made a note to write about this one Arby's ad they had playing in Cleveland circa...I dunno, 1986 or so? It just had this goofy nebbish guy going "I want BEEF - LOTS of BEEF -- eee arrr!" I think he then knocks down some columns, obviously designed for easy knocking-downage, ala Samson. I think the close then had him say, sounding almost chastened "Arby's, for a manly kind of guy". Something like that.
I just wanted to share that somewhere in my brain are some cells that fire almost anytime I hear BEEF discussed.
"Recall: it's more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slowly." --
autoblog. Of course girlfriend cmg thinks I drive like a grandparent anyway.
Travelog of the Moment
Today I took trains to Osaka, third largest city of Japan. Osaka is know for its cuisine, its dialect Osaka-ben (confession: it all sounded like Japanese to me), and the easy-going nature of its people. Scheduled to be in Tokyo, I was worried I didn't have enough time, and while a daytrip is never enough to really take in a city, I got to hit the major things Josh suggested.
So, like I was saying, the Japanese love their umbrellas. Here's a "lock it and leave it" stand for them that wasn't uncommon.
I just like the 70s computer font used on this part of the hotel elevator.
Here I just like the bold colors of the beer billboard. Funny that it's "emerald" and the main color is such a bold blue...
Osaka-Jo is the main castle...
It's surrounded by a large moat with high walls. But what I like in this photo is how the walls seem to be floating above the water...
View of the main tower. Crows circling above.
View from the top of the tower. There are museum exhibits inside, including some popular ones where they project movies of people in period costume acting out scenes of the place's construction onto miniature dioramas (no pictures allowed, though)
Little bird way up high.
I don't read much Japanese, but I'm pretty sure this is says: "WARNING: Bond Foe 'Odd Job' in Area!"
One of my favorite snacks, Calamari from a stick out side the castle.
Another view of the outer walls. Josh points out the building in the background looks like the I.M.Pei building in Boston.
Walking to the train station, by a live plant market. I like the color of the girl's raincoat in this photo, it really "pops".
It's not as distinct in this photo but the whole side of this building is an electronic billboard...
America-Mura is a bit of a "Chinatown" but for America. Lots of T-shirt shops with Western music blaring, and the youth culture was strong there.
It also had these interesting sculptures for advertising and maybe light. Also, cameras.
Sexy Dynamite baby!
So this is Lupin the 2nd. "Lupin the 3rd" is a famous anime character. This sign suggests
Please enjoy the best clammy mat play
that can be tasted only
by 'Genuine service' that not is in daily life.
I didn't know what that was but instincts told me to steer clear...
I had another SUPER TASTY thing from a vendor, some kind of soba sandwich/taco on that styrofoam-like pink stuff you sometimes see at chinese restaurants. It was a delicious messy wonder.
So I thought I learned something about the classic Japanese R/L mixup. Josh says you enter Kanji into a phone by typing it in phonetically, and then the phone offers the kanji choices...
...so if that's how they handle their own language, and they don't really distinguish Ls from Rs, I can see why it makes it into various signage...
Cutest. Truck. Ever.
From there to the Dotombori district... a gourmet's paradise, and not so bad for me either!
Famous crab restaurant sign.
Josh's wife Tomomi confirms this little robot drummer clown guy is a real landmark. Lots of people were having their picture taken.
Dotombori had more of those covered plazas, and was really vibrant with life and energy and people. (In part because it was just after lunch hour.)
A video! I just liked this little animated video outside a restaurant there:
Bic Camera had pachinko in the basement, which had this invocation written all over the place:
Outside another pachinko parlor, signs saying you must be over 18, and don't bring in your kids. The cartoon guy is made of pachninko balls.
Did I talk about Pachinko? Very popular here, parlors everywhere. (Many owned by Koreans, which is generating some bad feeling.) It's a roulette like game using
steel balls and a modicum of skill. Gambling for money is officially prohibited so you get small prizes (lighters etc) which can then be exchanged for cash at nearby shops (just outside the designated minimum area.)
Interesting fluorescent light arrangement.
What's that, on top of the "Hep 5" building? A ferris wheel??
So of course I had to try that. View of the city and the railyards I'd be on shortly thereafter.
Coke vs Pepsi, Pepsi vs Coke.
Round1 bowling! (bad photo though, I was trying to get the text so I missed the bowling pin on top.)
The first part tells you it's not about winning and losing and then
Do you like bowling?
Lets play bowling
Breaking down the pins
and get hot communication
Structure of the ferris wheel, looking down.
More names you might not see in the USA, this one for yet another underground shopping area:
It had a little clockwork blimp model inside. With a digital clock. (Kind of interesting, that Yokohama ferris wheel with a digitial clock had one of its light patterns look a bit like an analog clock. It's funny to see visual references to both digital and analog timekeeping together.
At the Shin-Osaka trainstation.... Mannekan is a stand to get tasty belgian waffles, and yes, the figure is Manneken Pis, the statue of the peeing german boy.
This was kind of a creepy thing to be looking at the whole ride back to Tokyo.
For a while I was thinking most bikes were left unlocked in Japan, but on the walk back to their apartment Josh pointed out the small clamp lock on the back wheel. Also cities have official guys who will shuffle parked bikes around, and leave paper slips if your bike is badly placed, and you might well find it taken away if you leave it in a bad spot.
mis: So you mean, you can plug a phone line into it, and play multi-player games online, like with the Dreamcast?
Sony: Dreamcast? Ha ha, funny stupid yankee! You dishonor me with your mention of this Dreamcast. The Praystation 3 does not connect to internet, Praystation 3 CONTAIN the internet. You prugga in the computer to the port, the internet isa all there. We copy it inside machine for fast access.
mis: Wait, so you're saying that you copied every single file on the internet into this box? That doesn't even make any sense! The internet is a constantly changing network of millions of individual machines. How does the PS3 update its so called "internet" if it has no connections to the real network?
Sony: Thasa right. No connections. Praystation 3 get internet from outerspace.
Ken Perlin seems to have some interesting toys on his site.
Travelog of the Moment
Fairly relaxed day today.
Started by walking with Josh to take his daughter Erin to kindergarten.
Then we headed into Tokyo, the Ginza and Asakusa areas. The area is known for its kitchen and food supply stores, and we seemed to go through an area with lots of Buddhist-ware. I liked this little guy next to the sidewalk selling custom stamps; people's official seals, their names in Kanji symbols.
Store selling domestic shrines.
This looked like it might be some kind of workshop manufacturing the guardian figures.
Giant Chef Head and stack of teacups.
We stopped at a place called MOS Burger. (Josh says it stands for Mountain Ocean Sea, and back in the day it used to be blatantly a McDondalds clone. But it was pretty distinct, and tasty. Served notably hot. But again, I'm weirdly amused by the way the table thingy had a picture of a cow. Americans are so shy of thinking about the animals that they eat!
The Tokyo Honganji, HQ of the Hifashi Hongunji sect. Some kind of lecture was going on.
The row of vendors heading up to Sensoji Temple, one of the biggest attractions of Tokyo.
A pagoda behind the latterns.
More lanterns. Big stuff!
This vendor was makin' some intriguing seafood products, somewhat resembling the calamari I had the day before, but we settled for chocolate bananas.
Another cook in the vendor's row.
I liked this lone Buddha off to the side, a bit apart from all the action.
Looking down the other way, towards the crowds.
Josh pointed this out as a nice example of old style Japanese architecture, repurposed as a storefront.
We decided to check out some Kabuki! This is Kabuki-Za, one of the main theaters. We got 1000 yen (~$10) seats in the nosebleeds. It was pretty cool, but I was grateful for the English live audio track.
Post for the Kabuki theaters - some big names! No photos inside, sadly.
It Came From The Vending Machine -- odd diet coke can/bottle.
Josh says this used to be a high end Italian restaurant.
Side of a Hello Kitty Bus.
In fact, Hello Kitty seemed to be riding the Hello Kitty Bus.
So that was it for the day. We came home and then got a giant platter of sushi, take-out, nice way to end a Friday. So I thought I'd shoe you Josh and Tomomi's bathroom. They live along with their daughter Erin in a small apartment in Shin-Matsudo. It's cozy for three, and they have to live fairly precisely, but it seems to work pretty well.
First stop: a bit of a prefab medicine cabinet... not too exciting, but I admire that it has built in lights, and the toothbrush holder actually seems big enough to, you know, hold modern toothbrushes, which is something I don't see a lot of in America.
The tub is short but gratifyingly deep. Plus, though the shot doesn't show it, the whole room is a shower! You can see a run for drainage on the floor. It took me a while to get used to it being ok that all the water wasn't going into the tub...
Plus, digital water temperature setting. BRILLIANT! Even better than my German friends'.
Finally, the toilet. No Washlet (the infamous gadget that shoots water up your bum), but a very clever design with a small sink for cleaning your hands, using the water heading in to refill the tank.
ATI's classic show-off-your-videocard CGI percussion video. Heh, you know, now that full video is cheap and easy, no non-interactive video playback is going to be all that impressive to me.
Designer Challenge: it's video of 9 chairs that can pack into a FedEx box. Most are just stools, and some are just wrecks, but a few are clever, and it's amusing to see the staff of CITY try to figure them out.
Travelog of the Moment
So today was another day taken at a leisurely place, sight-seeing-wise, but with plenty of hiking. Josh and I headed out to Hakone, near the base of Fuji, and then went toa traditional Hot Spring.
First off: today was clear enough that you could JUST see Mt. Fuji from the patio... this is gamma-corrected to make it more visible...
Back inside the apartment, Josh is doing a good job raising Erin:
Proof Japan is living 15 minutes into the future: their magnadoodles have TWO colors! AMAZING!
This Disenyfied bus was at Odawara on the way there.
Attractive restaurant by the roadside.
So, none of my pictures from the bus showing the lovely valleys or the constant hairpin turns really came out, so, uh, I give you this one:
Really dull American-tourist style shot at Hakone-Machi. We got some corn on the cob on a stick there, grilled, basted in soy sauce, wonderful. I wish I had taken a picture of the vendor pounding in the sticks with a mallet, it (sigh) would've made quite a nice shot.
An American-steamer themed ship "Frontier". Note the deer head at the top. Nice! Also, swan and panda boats on the other side of the dock.
So we started some hiking around the volcanic-crater lake. At one point, we came across this guy. At first we couldn't tell if he was, err, a guy, or some kind of recumbent scarecrow or something, and then we were suddenly thinking "bizarre horror film tableau" and hurried on our way.
There was a tree in the path.
The path was rather steep.
My attempt at a typical Japanese tourist photo.
Fuji behind trees.
Nice village view with boats, probably needs to be expanded.
Fuji and a Shinto Tori Gate.
Badly reflective shot of a neat stylized version of "hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil." Missing monkey for "so just do it!"
So, weirdly washed-out view of the Onsen, traditional hot springs spa. I saw many naked Japanese men. I like how they (and I, when in Rome etc) carried arond small white towels in front of their thingies, and then put those same white towels on their heads when relaxing in the hot water.
So, on the walk back to Moto-Hakone (village with the fishmonger and stylized monkeys) I saw this protective fence, stopping rocks from falling on innocent passerbys such as me and Josh. At one point the chain link had a hole cut in it for chainlink to pass through but I had to wonder, how did they get the tree through the hole? Or the rest of the fence around the tree? The tree branches out quite a bit. Kind of a Ship-in-Bottle situation.
Crane, Water, Rocks.
Josh does not think this is a very pretty river.
Finally, back in Shim-Matsudo. I like this logo on the side of a vending machine. Tommy Lee Jones used to advertise this stuff.
Finally, ending where we began, sign for the supermarket below Josh and Tomomi's apartment. I was more interested in it when he mentioned it was family owned, only two of 'em around Japan.
Odd anecdote: when I was a wee lad I was eating too many grapes so my mom put the bowl on... a piano, I think it is, out of reach. She comes in later to find me clambering up over the piano to get the little treasures, and my all-innocent response to her fierce look: "gapes... I yike gapes". That's a bit of a family catchphrase to this day.
Travelog of the Moment Now reading: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. This is actually a profoundly wonderful book, thanks for the suggestion Lex!
You know, I've taken almost 1,200 shots so far this trip. Yeesh!
Today was a bit of a repeat of last week, visiting the electronics store area Akihabra and meeting up with old college buddy Alex.
LAN3 asked for a shot of 7-11/iHoldings... here 'tis. Not too exciting.
Japanese shops usually put a sticker on stuff you just bought if there is no bag, or seal the bag if present...
So note the complexity of the Tokyo Japan Rail subway map. Also not the complexity of the ticket machines. Also ponder the difficulty in using said machines, which have an English mode, but often the maps don't have the place names written in Romanji, so figuring how much of a ticket you need is tough.
I was trying to make a balanced photo of the next subway train over.
Josh and I returned to Electric City Akihabra... this is the Taito Station arcade previously photographed, some gal DDRing, and a drummer drumming.
I was kind of surprised to see sit-down arcade machines, with little stools. When I met with Alex later he said this had been common for a long while.
This shop had nothing but those "gumball machine" type toy dispensers. My favorites were the Super Mario noise makers that played a sample from the game (200 Yen, ~$2 each) I have secret hopes that in a few years they'll be able to dispense little LCD video games. I mean they make those things for Happy Meals, why not here? Come on, get with it Japan!
Retro videogame store. I enjoyed the Pac-Man ghost wearing Mario's hat.
So I bought this random CD of Jpop (Alex was telling me something how it was actually some kind of synth voice) and when Josh and I came back to the store there was a costumed gal hawking it, so I got my picture taken.
So what I called a "department store" last week was actually just a "camera store", though it had pretty much the same range as a Best Buy, actually quite a bit more. Anyway, outside the store there was a robot for taking pictures with.
This was in a different store, "Bic Camera". Josh says "Bic" is probably Engrish for "Big". Which might explain these binoculars. My faith in Japanese miniaturization techniques is diminished.
Just a note on Tokyo fashion; this is a conservative version of what seems to be the most popular look, short skirt, and then either boots or socks almost up to the knee. I gotta admit, it's a pretty good look.
The 50 minute wait for Krispey Kreme donut. Oddly they were giving people in line free donuts to bribe them into waiting longer. But what if a single donut was all they wanted in the first place?
Demolishing some building or other...
Engrish on Alex's bag... "It is felt familiar always. SHELTER SPORTS. The time of when is also active and aiding people with a dream is continued."
NTT/DoCoMo tower, with lots of cellular and communication equipment.
At this point Josh headed back home to be with his wife and child so it was just Alex and me. Alex says this store is not actually pronounced "My Lord" even though it looks like "mylord"
Alex also had a bit of scorn for extremely strict Japanese interpretation of promising to meet someone "under the AltaVision" (Shown here). Waiting, you know, in the near area isn't enough... you have to be UNDER the SIGN.
Shinjuku district, entertainment and more.
Seperated at birth: this Tokyo building circa 2008, and the Northcal Headquarters of the Atari Technology And Research Institute, circa a 2005 that never was?
Design school ad image. It would seem to be a girltank.
Intriguing Traffic Halo.
Alex suggested this would be a cute photograph. He's probably right.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. Its design is a little disturbing, this kind of modern reinterpretation of gothic spires.
The court area at the base of the building. Alex and I observed it looks like the area for a final boss battle. "Just break these statues on the outer part to reveal health powerups if you get damaged"
So you can go up that building, about 42 or so floors, and visit toy stores and see a pretty fantastic view of TOkyo.
The Eye of Sauron Shinjuku.
Shinjuku at night.
I would have liked this shot more except for the guy at the bottom.
So Shinjuku is a bit of a redlight district, which was kind of fun, we had a few offers of various entertainments, nothing too exciting. And we decided against this Stewardess cafe. That kind of things not my bag, baby.
So we went to a Shabu-Shabu restaurant, where there's a big simmering dish with broth and veggies in the middle, and you cook thin pieces of beef and pork in it. All you can eat in 90 minutes for around 20 bucks! Tasty.
Alex and I had some really nice conversation, talking about Tufts back in the day and our careers now. He's Chinese by origin, and actually I enjoyed his cynicism about Japan and the folks there, kind of a nice contrast to Josh's generally upbeat attitude.
Terrible shot of the nightlife. They had a number of little bands setup. The odd thing was that it seems like the most important instrumentalists of these buskers were the drummers. I saw some solo drummers, and even one case that had a prerecorded background, a live singer, and a live drummer. That's what you can't see in the back center of this photo.
I navigated to Shim-Matsudo on my own for the first time, but I had done it enough with Josh that it was pretty easy. Especially for the train to Ueno, that had this helpful digital map of the Tokyo loop.
Finally, like the free English lesson on the monitor next said, time to call it a day...
Random anecdote: We tried to get a "pep band" going for basketball games in high school but we were getting too much flak about not being able to play during the course of the game. I remember thinking how lame Mr. A's (the band director's) arguments were, something along the lines of... don't the refs use whistles? And aren't whistles tones? And aren't tones a form of music? So let the band play!
"If one were to take the 25,000 word Oxford Pocket English Dictionary and take away the redundancies of our rich language and eliminate the words that can be made by putting together simpler words, we find that 90% of the concepts in that dictionary can be achieved with 850 words." --Ogden's Basic English.
You wonder about the other 10%... how much is just technical? How much is poetry?
Travelog of the Moment
So today I set off once again on my own to Kanazawa on Japan's west coast.
It was a rainy day in Shim-Matsudo, though... I was impressed by all the people on bikes with umbrellas.
I was braving my first full-on Tokyo commute, but it wasn't bad as all that. I think I managed to avoid the worst of it by choosing cars at the ends, but I did see the classic image of uniformed railroad employees shoving folks in a bit further so the doors could close. I also saw these women with giant wicker baskets on their backs...
A beer ad I like, Josh says he's a well-known comedian.
Random digital annoucment board.I was just impressed because between the resolution and the font, it was the least electronic looking announcement billboard I've seen.
They generally have women cleaning all of the bathrooms, and guys just ignore them utterly and do what they need to do.
Sometimes, when two bullet trains love each other very much...
Shot from the train. I was in the bottom part of a 2 floor car, and the ground-level view was kind of neat as we sped past the platforms.
I changed trains in Echigo-Yuzawa. Outside the station things were covered with snow! (I was worried that I hadn't brought my fleece, but Kanazawa was only a bit brisker than Tokyo had been)
The scene outside the train was really beautiful;
I was thinking about how I had seen the image of snow used in Japanese art, and now I know why...
The train passed through tunnels (with a sudden pressure change to make your ears pop a bit) and eventually we got to ferris fairer climate...
At the Kanazawa train station, I think this is some kind of advertisement for Hermes.
More lovely big architecture that you so often find by the train stations here.
They also had a very clever fountaint, again with a digital clock, and then messages in English and Japanese.
Close up of the "K" in "Kanazawa"
Kanazawa is a very art-minded town, from their historical arts and crafts to more modern fare. Statues grace many intersections...
Sometimes they're all nekkid!
This is the Shinmon outside the Oyama Jinja shrine. It has stained glass at top, was made in co-operation with some Dutch, and once acted as a bit of a lighthouse.
It had a lovely garden inside; Kanazawa has a lovely formal garden I'll be seeing, but this was a lovely contrast.
I like the walkway over the water.
And a water strider! Hadn't seen one of those since summer camp in upstate NY!
Close up of the map at the Shrine, showing the garden. I was thinking the street maps are odd here, because none of them seem to agree which direction to put North at.
It occured to me that some of them may try to make it so the map is oriented with the way the viewer is standing, but even printed material can't agree.
For some reason I wanted to take a picture of the lone figure in the park, but I like how the shot came out in general.
I stopped by the Noh museum. I'm kind of intrigued by the oldest living drama form, but even most Japanese don't understand it well. The museum didn't have a lot to it, really, but there was a nice video on Kanazawa in general that you could watch in English.
Again, I don't know what it is with me and random Japanese people, and how I take a picture of them but pretend to be mostly interested in something else. Guy and a bike and a cherry tree.
Finally, to the hotel. It's near a pretty happening place, as you can see out the window...
I'm at a funny level of "connectedness" when I'm on a trip on my own. On the one hand, sometimes I end up wishing I had rented a cellphone so I could dial up Josh and ask him things as they occur to me,
othr times I think it's good to not be quite that wired. (Plus, maybe not having that security blanket is a positive for both me and Josh...) But I'm able to get online wherever I go, and make this travelog and e-mail and msg with people in the mornings and evenings, and that's a far cry from
days of old, and there's a bit less adventure for that.
Also I think about how the camera changes my logging style; I think it's very cool and visual but I'm not writing quite as much, or as deeply.
Maybe at the end I'll try to rectify that and go over some topics, for people here and for my future self. I hope people have been enjoying it
this far, maybe the picture style helps people ahare in the experience a bit...
I've always wondered where the phrase "throw ___ under the bus" comes from, usually in the sense of "make ___ the scapegoat". It's seems a rather peculiar choice of metaphor... its not like buses demand sacrifices, or throwing someone under one will do much to slow down the bus. Maybe it's for better traction under ice conditions?
Travelog of the Moment
Mornings in hotels I tend to watch kids' tv, it's more interesting that the news and I like watching people teach English. There's this one show with muppet-like folk, they all play instruments along with a human pianist. I'm impressed with how much fidelity the instruments seem to be handled; they're not just holding them and flailing, which seems to be the standard for puppet musicianship.
Another show has a big dog, a little girl who also dances and sings, and then a bunch of younger kids who wander around and try to follow around. It's so very cute.
My breakfast from Mister Donut! (Nice counterpoint to Boston's Mister Sushi.) The shop seemed busier in the afternoon.
Japan is so 10 minutes into the future... Kit Kat with green tea AND Kit Kat with apple!
"Ah" and "Un" at the local Shinto temple. Thought I'd start the day making a token offering and asking for a good day taking in Kanazawa.
Since rain was forecasted for later I thought I'd start at Kenrokuen Garden, of Japan's best three gardens it's widely viewed as the finest. But many trees had supports to see it through the winter snows; I especially liked this one's crutch.
Midoritaki Waterfall; I guess waterfalls aren't common in this kind of garden, but I liked the way it breaks over rocks.
Nearby is Kaisekito Pagoda, nice stone structure.
I got interested in finding the source of the waterfall. This is part of the stream to it, I like how the path is broken by the small stream.
Another bridge, Gankobashi -- reminiscent of a geese in formation if taken as a whole, or of tortoise shells if taken individually.
The Neagarinomatsu Pine, majestic.
Plum blossom, purty.
In my typical attempt to find beauty just a little off the beaten path, a well...
Next to the teahouse it was SO GREEN.
I took green tea there, but was two shy to take this one shot of the lady serving it to us.
So I spent a few hours just walking around. After I headed over to neighboring Kanazawa castle. This is the corner of its wall.
Later, the view from where the last shot was pointing.
It strikes me Japanese is great for this kind of signpost, since you can write it vertically.
There's like a small forest up there. I of course got lost, because that's what I do in forests.
Who, me Tourist? I'm not sure if I found the actual castle or not. There was some part of something that was under heavy construction, and I never really went into anything. They had some storehouses but that was about it. So, not a very good tourist.
Many attractions in Japan have models of the area. I like that.
I really liked the 21st Century Contemporary Art Museum. These reminded me of my tuba playing days.
By far my favorite modern art work of the trip is Argentinian Leandro Erlich's "Swimming Pool"
Artwork you can really get into!
View from inside.
Another neat work was "Liminal Air", this kind of cloud of string things you could push your way through, like a stringy fog... very neat.
Don't know if it was art or design or what but I liked this rabbit ear chairs.
Compared to "Swimming Pool", American James Turrel's "Blue Planet Sky" was rather static...
So, that was the museum. I headed back and scouted out the territory near the hotel... lots of bars etc, the Kanazawa Scramble district, which I think is a refernce to the intersection where people can cross any of the six ways. Here's a scooter sporting something I've seen on a few bikes as well, odd handlebar mitts...
This is assembled from a snapshot of a McDonalds placemat (I know, I know... but they had this "Shaka Shaka Chicken" I wanted to try... kind of like DIY shake and bake. The lemon pepper version I had was really great, actually.) Anyway the placemat sported six people saying something about McDonalds, and ending with the same catchphrase (have to ask what it is.) Anyway, it got me thinking about people's handwriting with Kanji, which generally seems less robust to me than English letters... how bad can your Kanji be and still be legible?
Back at my hotel I realized... tonight is the season opener for the Red Sox! And they're in Japan too, so the time of day works out for me... here's Dice K warming up.
Here's Big Papi. The Sox struggle a bit at first, and I could kind of sense how the Japanese announcer was rooting for them... especially Dice K, it might well be a point of national pride there, seeing how one of their former stars is doing in American baseball...
Besides the grunts of disapproval and excitement at big plays, I like how the symbol for "Red Sox" (behind 0-2 in the 5th) kind of looks like a sock:
How to Make Friends by Telephone are some pointers from the early days of Bell... my favorite bits are "GLUB-GLUB-MO-BLON!" as what you sound like if you shout too loud, and
"Speak TO the person at the other end of the line - - not TO the telephone - - then you're more apt to be pleasant and understanding" which, somewhat modified, is good advice for the Internet today.
Travelog of the Moment
So today, back to Tokyo. Kind of melancholy, I can feel a part of myself working to say good-bye to Japan, knowing
that while a return trip isn't out of the question, it's not assured either.
A side note from the previous day... this is a close up of my stamped ticket for the gardens at Kanazawa. I was wondering why in printing the date they would put the first two digits of the year and not the final two, but, duh, that's just a coincidence... that's the "Emperor Year", 20 years into the Heisei era...
LAN3, dunno if your interest in Japan's take on 7-11 extends to "Sunkus", a similar store that seems to be borrowing the color scheme...
Man, Japan stores have a wide variety of drinks. I guess stores in the USA do to, but here there's a better variety of teas and coffees and fruit waters, not just colas and gatorades.
Including one called "Collagen Water". Tomomi says that's made of marrow of some kind. That's kind of gross. And very unkosher.
Went to a different Mister Donut. (Just a block or two from yesterdays
I suppose a truck full of asphalt chunks isn't particularly Japanese, but still.
So, Josh assures me this ain't a menorah. Actually it's satellite-based distance learning center.
So, besides being a photo of a pretty gal, this shows the result of what seemed like a magic trick... most seats
in these express trains rotate 180 degrees! I was startled when one of the women fiddled with some
leverish thing and whoop, there it went, facing the other way. A casual inspection of nearby seats didn't reveal the mechanism, so I was kind of relieved
when a businessman guy turned that seat back; at least I knew it wasn't my imagination.
A sudden business meeting meant Josh couldn't meet me in Tokyo so I was on my own. I had two goals: get to the famous no-brand brand store "Muji" in Ginza, and then track down a store I had seen some gifts I wanted to pick up in the Electric District Akihabara. First mission accomplished:
Muji is kind of cool. It's probably most like Ikea (also like Ikea: it has a cafeteria. And like Ikea I got obsessed with it by reputation, the way I romanticize retail and chain restaurants I don't get to see). There's also a touch of, like, what the Gap was doing in the "Basic Pocket T" days. All this vehemently unbranded yet elegantly put-together stuff, it's kind of cool...
Back to Shim-Matsudo. I dunno if this is a gal cosplaying an anime character or an anime character designed to look like the gal, but either way the composition was interesting.
Ah, farewell to the Shim-Matsudo train station. I mean, I guess I'll see it on my way to the airport tomorrow, but still, it won't be the same.
Josh thinks that the Japanese aren't really big into flavors; like at Baskin-Robbins, a majority of people still go for Vanilla...
I just enjoyed the name of this breakfast place in Shim-Matsudo.... "Eggs Country!"
Really random note about Toyota cars here... this is is the Ist, the original of my Scion xA. But instead of a generic maker logo on the front, it's customized for the model... an interesting touch.
My final dinner in Japan; Pizza Hut! Josh is amused how this place lives up to the Hut-part of the name, just a little shack under the train tracks.
They had delivery scooters. I've seen similar scooters on the road elsewhere; it's crazy watching them take turns, the whole cargo section and seat tilts while the bottom section stays rock steady.
But it wasn't just America pizza.... it was Korean Barbecue Pizza! SO TASTY!
Pizza is pretty expensive here (like, $30 of expensive). So I guess they come up with stuff like this: hey... what if we put a HOTDOG into the crust? Or scratch that...a CHEESE HOTDOG!! But in this I'm afraid that Japan might be only like 4 or 5 minutes into the future and the USA will be hot on its heels.
So, this is probably my last daily update for the trip. I'll be doing some wrapup and summary stuff I'm sure, but tomorrow I fly back! I'll miss the place, I've had a great trip and I've enjoyed journaling it here, for folks to see and for my future self.
Prepublishing this from Japan, since I'm probably going to be pretty out of it for a bit as I actually return to good ol' Boston...
Snark of the Moment
"This book," he says, further, "is a study of American literature from an economic point of view. It takes our living writers, and turns their pockets inside out, asking 'Where did you get it?' and 'What did you do for it?'"
Fired by Mr. Sinclair's example, I tried turning inside out the pockets of a living writer of my acquaintance, a writer considered successful in his work, and one who appears often in the wealthier magazines. The gross receipts were one nail file; one rubberized tobacco pouch; one fountain pen without a top; one Western Union envelope (empty); one folded bit of paper upon which was written "Endicott 6281--about eleven o'clock"; one card bearing the names Tony, Gus, and Joe, and a West Forty-eight street address; one small rubber band (broken); one office clip (bent S-shaped); one half-dollar, one dime, and four pennies; one twenty-five centimes piece; and several unpleasantly mouselike formations of gray fluff. I had no heart to ask, "Where did you get it?" much less, "What did you do for it?"
--Dorothy Parker reviewing Upton Sinclair's "Money Writes!"
So during my trip I kept a list of "Japan Topics" on my iPhone,
a few words to remind me of a topic I wanted to mention in the travelog... the thing was my daily updates were often done for speed, so most days I just selected, picked, and captioned the photos without so much verbiage.
On the plane ride back I decided to type up what I had to say while Japan was still fresh in my mind. It got pretty wordy though (also some if it reads as if I was typing on a tiny laptop keyboard while sleep deprived on a plane) so rather than taking up all the space here (or breaking it up over a course of days...) I made each iPhone note a link to display/hide what I wrote about that on the plane. Or just hit "Show All" and see just how wordy I got... there are a few last photos lurking in there to.
I'd like to say that I managed to take something deep out of Japan, the people's sense of duty, and ritual, and sometimes whimsy, the mix of ancient and modern, the hint of warrior spirit and pride that quietly permeates the place, and maybe to some extent I have, but the strongest impression, as crass as it might be, has to do with how many people I saw doing so little. There's a beautiful sense of pride in doing even a humble task well, but... mostly it's this one image of a hardhat-wearing guy sticking out of a manhole flanked by two flagmen that sticks in my head. Yes, there were many bicyclists on that sidewalk, but still, this kind of usage of manpower (personpower?) seemed ubiquitous in a way, say, the oft-gratuitous traffic-guiding cop at road construction works in Massachusetts doesn't match. I can't help but wonder if that's cause or effect of Japan's lingering economic doldrums. (Hearing about the rampant misguided lending and speculation of their bubble in the 80s definitely reminded me of what I'd heard of our own the subprime mess.)
The package says it's giant, 435g -- but Josh says used to be 450...
Josh mentions some inflation (like prices for softdrinks, far more standardized than in the USA, going up, or other price hikes disguised by quantities per package going down) and that the Japanese government is thinking about hiking the salestax from 5% to 20%, which would be a shock on many levels.
(Heh, actually, having landed at O'Hare, this is a great example of not always knowing what's specific to Japan vs. what it's like to be a tourist; I think I mentioned that my first image of a somewhat gratuitous job was a guy wrangling bags as they came onto the baggage carousel; but O'Hare had a guy doing exactly the same task.)
Now to be fair, Japan uses many English loanwords and (Josh reports) just over the past decade or so has added tons of signage in English, along with listing place names in Romanji (phonetic Japanese, Latin letters.) But even beyond that, I was struck at how much language I could blithely ignore. Most notably the formulaic spiel reeled off by store clerks - which isn't surprising, it's just a ritual, though I kind of dug that there was a formula to follow - but just everywhere. I probably ignore more words in my life in the USA than I realize. Also, the USA has its share of multilingual signage, and Boston has lots of people to overhear talking in languages other than English, so maybe I'll flatter myself and think of my (relative) ease as being a cosmopolitan citizen of the world, or some such flowery gunk.
Also, people designing computer UIs have a rule of thumb: put whatever text you want on screen, people don't read anyway. In that sense, UI design has its own international flair, sharing people's indifference to text.
Well, not cellphone ringtones so much (though I like Josh's, with some gals singing this one classical number acapella), but you hear a lot of melodies, especially on the subway and rail systems. Some are whole little symphonic snippets, others are more blatantly electronic minitunes. And it's not just the trains either; one of my favorites was three-Fs convenience store's "person entering" tone, a variant on the typical "bing bong" - it was a 3 part "Bing bong, Bing bong, BING Bong" (err, the number of capital letters showing how high the note was) that really sticks with you. Cheerful: "Hello, Hello, HEL-Lo"
Josh is a high school teacher, and he mentions the challenges of coping with the Japanese "group mentality"; many of the cliches about being taught that "the highest nail gets hammered down" and the stress on group consensus have their basis in reality. He will ask a question of one student, and the student will consult with the small peer group to come up with the group's answer. ("What about intragroup disagreement? How is that resolved?" "Oldest male wins".) Similarly, a student asked a question but forced to separate from the group will often hem and haw and say they don't know, even if they do. (Two possibly cosmetic similarities between Japanese and Russians: maybe it's not the same but the latter also have no compunction about collaborating on individual assignments (to an extent that an American might call cheating) and people of both nations seem to love slippers around the house.)
This provides a challenge for Josh, who is tasked with preparing students for college abroad, usually in nations with a great stress on personal achievement. I admired the cleverness of one approach he takes: he divides his class into teams and his subject matter into sections. Each team then has a single member responsible for each section (so ideally if there are say 4 sections of material, each team has 4 members.) Each member is responsible for learning that section and teaching it to the other members of their team, and then every team is tested on all the sections... so each student has a personal responsibility, or else the whole team will suffer. I thought that this was a nifty it of organizational jujitsu, using the students concern for the group to strength their own personal responsibility.
Maybe it goes without saying, Josh and I had many terrific conversations as we ventured forth in Eastern Japan.
It seems like most chain stores (maybe not the convenience stores) had loyalty / reward cards. Sometimes these seemed laughable (get $5 once you spend $500!) but at the camera/electronic stores, it could really add up.
So, as an overnight option beyond the (in)famous capsule hotels and love hotels, there are the Internet Cafes. We ducked into one my first day there, just to see it. Each one is a private (albeit electronically monitored) room, roughly work cubicle sized, but otherwise like a closet, with a PC, a desk, and a comfy (reclining?) office chair. There are hourly and overnight rates, a big library of computer games and videos and manga, and unlimited use of the soft drink fountain. Kind of smoky, though, and gross to think about what has gone on in that little room, but I suppose all hotel situations suffer from that to some extent.
My first night there Josh reminded me of the earthquake basics (head for doorframes, try not to get hit by falling bookshelves) Earthquakes are an ever-present threat in Japan, probably more so than say, California. (I think Josh mentioned some author putting it as "Tokyo is a city waiting to die".) There haven't been too many medium-small quakes to relieve the pressure as of late, and a big one is kind of due. (There was a small one when I was there, but I wouldn't have felt in on the train.)
In Hiroshima, I got to thinking of the science fiction vision of "superweapons", and how the atomic bomb qualified for (and probably inspired) that idea-- the secret program producing the game-ending horrific ability. Like I mentioned, firebombing may have produced worse numbers, but being able to do that with a single bomb changed the game for everyone, probably for the rest of history.
These were things I saw reproductions of at the Hiroshima Peace Museum. Both were English documents with sections highlighted in red, and only those sections were translated into Japanese. I tried to get a feel for how "out of context" the excerpts were. Anyway, Einstein's famous letter warned about the possibility of atomic weapons and urged FDR to start research programs (though he, logically enough, wasn't sure if they would be portable enough to be dropped by a plane, or if they would have to be, say, snuck in by ship) and the other document was the mundane bureaucratic process of funding the programs and selecting the possible target sites. (I'm not sure what Hiroshima made of the USA's failure to attack it prior to the atomic bomb, despite the place having some military significance. (The Americans wanted a better evaluation of just what their weapon could do.) The people of Hiroshima certain knew they were on the list of eligible cities for bombing -- it must have been incredibly disheartening for the citizens to have been razing some of their own buildings in order to make firebreaks, but I guess that would have only helped for more conventional bombs.)
So even more than the language issue when reserving seats (since most Japan Rail clerks spoke a fair amount of English) is just not knowing what cities are likely to be major hubs or local destinations with trains running all the time... a few times I would ask detailed timing questions when the best answer was "don't worry about - the train is running every ten minutes".
A note to ask Josh about a nifty way of indicating numbers greater than five with both hands... to show "Track 8" rather than just raise both hands up in the air seperately, the JR employee placed 3 fingers against the open palm of the other hand that had all 5 fingers extended. Josh further explained there's a specific finger order they'll always use when counting, but I didn't quite catch it.
I mostly noticed this in the gateways and doors at shrines and temples... often the doorway had a piece of wood to step over, sometimes a big step. You kind of saw this in some of the houses in Japan to a lesser degree. I might have been paying too much attention to it, especially since some of those were for housing sliding doors, but it made me notice that for the most part, doorways in the USA are 3 sided, with the bottom at most being a separator between two types of flooring.
I guess I should mention the general scheme of houses, where there's always an area to take off your shoes, and then a distinct step up, often with slippers, which is where the house is considered to more properly begin. In casual households, at least, barefeet are not a problem, and tatami mats really feel nice on your feet!
Everyone knows about tatami, right? I liked the woven borders of the mats, which often line a Japanese floor, and how you're not supposed to line them up so four corners meet grid-wise, and how they're used as a good way of estimating the dimensions of a room.
So the tourguides use of "please", as in "please look to your left" (to regard an interesting building), struck me as odd. Not incorrect, completely fine grammar, but I never noticed that an American in the same role won't say please in quite that way, when it was for that person's own benefit. I guess we'd say "Now if you would", and maybe even throw in a please after that, but now that phrasing strikes me as a little contrived and complex. Josh pointed that Japanese, being above all a polite language, has a few different forms of request that all translate to "please" more or less, hence the confusion.
So, Josh was quite envious of my JR Pass that, for four or five hundred bucks, let me go wherever I wanted in the nation. Only tourists can get these, and it was a worthwhile investment, both in terms of sheer dollars, and in terms of providing a sense of freedom in planning trips. Except for some private subways here and there, I didn't have to learn the ticket systems much, I had the luxury of showing my pass and having the JR employee wave me through.
I think I mentioned, most non-subway trains have reserved seats and unreserved seats. If you had a general pass as I did, there was no cost difference, it was just an extra step to go through. Further confusing the scene were the "green cars" - sometimes even subway-ish trains had cars you could pay a bit more for to get airplane-style rather than bench seating.
Josh mentioned this old joke. I guess in some ways to it ties in to the increasingly common pairing of Japanese/Asian women and foreign men; stereotypically at least, Asian men don't have a great track record in how they treat women, so maybe it's not shocking that some of these women prefer the balance of other gender role models.
Like I mentioned, there's a great deal of patter that gets said at the register of every store, even (or especially?) the ubiquitous convenience store. It's kind of a respect and tradition thing, I'd say.
Most every store has a little tray for passing money to the clerk (often the tray top has little rubber bristles to make it easier to scoop money from) and sometimes for getting money back, but they're not super obsessive with their use, and money just gets handed over. Often money, credit cards, and just-purchased goods will be handed over by the clerk with both hands, which I think is a way of signifying "I am taking good care of this" (I first heard about that with the business card exchange ritual)
Finally, Japanese culture is very aware of the changing of the seasons. The convenience stores have various broiled-ish things at the front, and the selection changes four times a year. (There are other aspects of season awareness too, but some of it, like the fashion, was muted by a cold streak that happened just at the Spring changeover.)
I need to google this a bit, but Erin's new dolly had a green spot on its lower back. Josh says that Japanese babies tend to be born with this "mongolian spot", though his half-Japanese daughter Erin wasn't.
Erin also seems to have inherited Josh's eyes, since she has the "double eyelid" that I guess is a characteristic detail of European guys that I had never heard of. But apparently Asian women are very aware of that, many even consider surgery to get it added! So strange! Obviously I was aware of general eye-shape difference, but not this aspect. (I wonder what things an American might be cosmetically aware of that a Japanese person might not notice, or vice versa...)
OK, so this is question not just about Japan... but at some of the crater lakes around Mt. Fuji, they had some awfully big boats, bigger than what could have made it on the rivers there. Do you need a dry dock to build a boat on a lake like that? Or how do they do it? Do you not need a lot of permanent infrastructure, or is it there and I just don't notice it?
I meant to describe the Kabuki performance in more detail. But I'm feeling lazy. Men play women's roles, it's an old Japanese, the place I was at had very nice audio commentary in English you could rent a headset for, they have musicians in the background. The first number, "Onna Date" or some such, had a lot of great gymnastics, the second was a bit more drawn out, but kind of a nifty musical comedy that avoided the "Three's Company" ending I was expecting. Also Josh thought the somewhat foppish guy character in a purple kimono was supposed to be a woman, and was confused at the plot for a bit, but he didn't have the headphones.
Just a personal note... I had a great time talking with Alex. I know he had a kind of rough time at Tufts, being a commuter student, and maybe some culture shock only having been in the USA since middle school. But he mentioned that I seemed really "with it" to him somehow, because (and not despite, like I now think) wearing that weird fedora hat all the time. Also (and this struck me as odd because then we were just drinking buddies) seeing me with Mo in the cafeteria once, I just looked like I knew what I was doing. Maybe shmoozing my way to head of the computer labs there helped... anyway. How many people really feel they know what they're doing in life? Both Alex and I don't now, at least, single guys (but with girlfriends) in IT, approaching the outskirts of middle age and still wondering what it's all about.
So there's essentially no tipping in Japan. If you really had to do something for some helpful person, you could get a small gift, but a small cash hand over would probably be insulting... people are just expected to do their job. I can't imagine how hard it is to make the reverse trip and learn how Americans tip. I mean, restaurants it's pretty straight forward, but there are some other situations where even Americans aren't clear what's expected.
Another thing I think a visitor to the USA might find dumb: sales tax that gets added at the register. Seriously, that's just strange. And then combined with our coin money, most which doesn't bother to identify itself numerically (and then our plethora of quarters, and nickel variations?) Sheesh! Only one coin, the five yen, wasn't labeled in arabic numerals, though extra points are deducted for the symbol that looks like a squared off "8".
Also I had trouble getting over the idea that no place in this store oriented culture minded even large 10,000 Yen bills (about 100USD). I always feel weird using anything above a twenty in the USA.
So there's a great food you can get at any convenience store in Japan, also at the Porter Square market, which is a triangle of rice, generally with some kind of sushi-ish topping, wrapped in (but separated from) a sheet of seaweed. The name is just "rice balls" but they're not JUST rice, and they're not ball-shaped. Anyway, moving on.
I was wondering why many of the stairways at trainstations were broken up with a small "up" section and lots of "down". Or the reverse. Well, duh... you expect people to come to the tracks a few at a time, but exit a train in big thundering herds. Duh.
Man, trains are just perfect for naps. Like a lot of Japan (in my opinion) often kept a bit too warm, and then the soothing rhythm of the tails... Even the subways are good, and you often have to watch for someone slumping onto your shoulder. Not helping are the cushy seats that are heated, even (or Josh says especially) as it starts to get warmer out.
There's a lot of casual bowing that goes on in Japan, but it seemed more pronounced on the railway cars, with the ticket taking conductor and drinks and snacks cart women always carefully bowing on entering, and then on exiting... Josh says he hadn't previously noticed but it's pretty pronounced.
It was great, trains were so punctual (helped in part by the way the platforms were marked with where the doors would open) that you had the option of setting an alarm and using that to know it's time to get off, rather than tracking each station name as you stopped at it.
I want to look up reports of this Tokyo stabber. Apparently he was a repeat offender, had told the cops what he was going to do, there were 8 plainclothes cops there, the first guy he stabbed was a cop, he stabbed a bunch of folks, one fatally, and he pretty much got away, turning himself in at a local police station. (heh, they're looking into a videogame connection)
So ever since Tom Robbin's "still life with woodpecker" I'm loyal to the inanimate objects that are my loyal traveling companions: my green hooded zip sweatshirt (starting to pil a bit), my tan courier bag (inner pocket, refuge for my passport an JR pass, busted its zipper on my penultimate day), Rockport shoes (starting to cut my heel just a tad), increasingly battered digital camera, my baby laptop that me let travelog everywhere, my iPhone (as a digital notebook), etc. They all did great service to me this trip, and as I continue to use 'em will remind me of the terrific time I had.
Random final image... while JR stations sometimes made you buy your own TP, the Narita airport toilets included washlets. These are the first detailed instructions I saw. I didn't dare try find out what "extra deodorizing" consisted of.
So thanks again Josh and Tomomi and Erin... I had a fantastic great neat time there and it was all over way too soon...
OK, I know I've written an awful lot about Japan, and this should be
my penultimate entry (assuming I get to assembling the list of interesting
man hole covers I photographed...) While I really enjoyed assembling each day's
travelog just after it happened, I kind of longed for a summary like I had for
some previous trips -- a way of telling my future self, where the heck did those 14 days go? As well as having a single URL.
It's kind of odd that each day's entry starts with three random quotes or links, but oh well.
Fly to Japan, via DC instead of Chicago. Josh meets me at Narita Airport and we take trains to his place in Shim-Matsudo in Chiba.
Kamakura and Yokohama
Josh and I head to Kamakura.
We hike all over place and see the Zen temple Engaku-ji, the larger Shinto temple Tsurugaoka Hachiman,
wash money in (Zeniarai Benten) and adore Daibutsu, the outdoor giant Buddha. After we head back
east to Yokohama, go up Japan's tallest building the Landmark Tower, hop the water-taxi, and then have dinner in Chinatown.
Akihabara, Takeshita Street and Harajuku
Josh and I meet up with my college buddy Alex. We geek out at the Electric City Akihabara,
taking in one of the giant stores (Yodobashi-Akiba) and the weekly street fair. Then we see
super-you-threndy Takeshita Street and chic Harajuku. Finally we have dinner near the famous scramble intersection
(as seen in Lost in Translation when it had the giant dinosaur on the electronic billboard.)
I head out on my own to Hiroshima, walk to my posh (but cheap) hotel
and pay my respects at the Atomic Bomb Dome. After I go gift hunting in the
impressive Hondori shopping arcade.
I visit the Peace Memorial Park and with a heavy heart view the displays at the Memorial Hall. Then I hike across the city
and up to the Museum of Contemporary Art and check out the Manga Library. Finally a train to Kyoto.
I take a bus tour of Kyoto along with some friend Finns and Norwegians.
The rainy day tour features the elegant Nijo-jo with its Nightingale floors, the Golden Pavilion shrine, and the Imperial Palace. After a buffet lunch
and light shopping at the Kyoto Craft Center I switch to the Nara tour for the afternoon, getting attacked by friendly but hungry deer outside Todai-ji,
world's largest wooden building and home of a Buddha even larger than Daibutsu. I paint a tile there, the tour makes one last stop at the Shinto shrine
Kasuga Taisha, and then it's back to the hotel, damp but happy.
I hop the train to Osaka, the third largest and most generally easy-going big city of Japan. I go to the of Osaka-Jo, have some squid on a stick,
enjoy seeing a slightly twisted version of home in America-Mura, have more great vendor food, and then
witness the restaurant apocalypse that is the Dotombori district. Finally I ride the Hep Five Ferris Wheel (starting on the 7th
floor of the shopping center and spinning its way up) and catch the bullet train back to Tokyo
Ginza and Asakusa
Josh and I head through the Ginza and Asakusa district and take in Sensoji Temple, with its giant lanterns and huge festive
row of vendors. Then we watch two great programs of Kabuki.
Josh and I journey out to Hakone, near the base of Mt. Fuji. We take a bus over steep climbs and scary hairpin turns and
do a bit of hiking. We drink in magnificent views of the lake and Mt. Fuji, as well as a visiting a few neat shops.
Finally I try the Japanese Onsen, natural springs, with nary but a little towel to hide my junk and then sit
folded on my hand as I decompress in the hot water
Akihabra Again and Shinjuku
Another day in Tokyo. Josh and I go back to see some stuff we missed in Akihabra then we again meet up with Alex.
After a brief respite in Starbucks Josh heads home and Alex and I head to the top of the neo-Gothic Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
for more great views. We then see a bit of Shinjuku and have some great conversation over some Shabu-Shabu hot pot cooking.
to Kanazawa via Echigo-Yuzawa
Time to head to the west coast on my own, this time to Kanazawa. The snow covered landscape near the Echigo-Yuzawa station is just
breathtaking. I walk to my hotel, taking in some cool public sculptures and then see the Oyama Jinja shrine with its
lovely rustic pond gardens. I get a feel for the city watching a video at the minimalist Noh Museum and then head
to my hotel, right in the heart of the Katamachi scramble area.
A brief stop at a Shinto Shrine and then I spend hours exploring
Kenrokuen Garden, arguably Japan's finest. I follow the water, see some shops,
and take tea. Then I get lost in small forest of Kanazawa Castle, never sure if the storehouses
I saw were all there were to see because of the construction or if I was just lost.
I then experience the delight of the 21st Century Contemporary Art Museum, including the
so-brilliant permanent installation Swimming Pool. A quick dinner at McDonalds (lemon pepper shaka shaka chicken is weirdly good)
and then I see the Red Sox opening the season against the A's.
I walk to the train station and then head back to Tokyo.
On my own I hunt down the brandless brand store Muji (at last!) as well as
a particular shop in Akahabra I wanted to check out for some gifts. Back one final time
to Shim-Matsudo where Josh and I head out for some pizza - Pizza Hut, but Korean BBQ style!
All the things I didn't have time to fully ramble about when putting together the previous updates.
A quick postscript, manhole covers that seemed a little interesting at the time.
Sigh, like Milan Kundera wrote
"We never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither
compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come."
Japan of the Moment
So one odd series of photograph I took in Japan were manhole covers. Not every one I saw, but I saw a few that caught my eye, either because of design, or with a splash of cover, or because the hole was in grass instead of asphault, etc...
That last one probably is the one that got me noticing them on one of the first days, but I didn't think to photograph it 'til the end.
I guess this means I am no longer "in my early 30s".
S'funny, I've been doing this site since before I was 27. That's a little nuts. I'm not sure I know what I would tell my younger self. Anyway, it would probably be more useful for me to try and channel my older self into giving me good advice for nowadays.
Quote of the Moment
First, I read in the paper how John Smoltz, the Atlanta
Braves star, showed up at a training session one day with a
painful-looking welt across his chest and, when pressed for an
explanation, sheepishly admitted that he had tried to iron a
shirt while he was wearing it.
Second, it ouccured to me that although I have never done
anything quite so foolish as that, it was only because I had not
thought of it.
--Bill Bryson, I'm a Stranger Here Myself