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"Letter-Letter 304"
August 7th, 2001

"A Slow Day in the Office"
"News - August 5th - 7th, 2001"
"Working Longer Hours"  by UFM & LHS
"Absent Minded"  by CPK
"Sore Dewa?"  HQL & LHS
"A 'Festive' Family"  by IVJ
"Playing With Fire"
"When the Wind Blows - Typhoons Rage"  by Rose
"LL's - How/When/Why/Etc."  by CPK & LHS
"Preemptive Strike"
"What's With the Almonds in Ebisu?"
"At the Classic Rock Festival"  by CBB
"Signed Autobiographies"  by MMH & LHS

"A Slow Day in the Office"     [Top of page]

Tuesday... it's a slow day in the office, which is fine with me, but I suppose not so good for the company.  However the company is doing, I always hope for fewer of the newspaper clipping which are a double headache - first the translation and/or rewriting of them and then the fact that they are glued onto A4 paper with that #$%& spray-glue.  Speaking of the spray-glue... Mr. Onisan, the guy who spoke with the people from J-OSHA has become (sarcastic-surprise) rather unfriendly.  I had lunch today with Mr. Lookingfor (who only has two or three weeks to go before he is through with this place), and we sounded off to each other about jungle warfare.  When he's gone, I don't think there's another soul in the office I'll be able to do that with.  There are some people in the office that I get along with, but they have to keep their distance from me or draw fire for fraternizing with "the enemy".

By the way... I've noticed that the letters I receive from e-pals using new Macs have apostrophes that - while fine within English language software - turn into computer code within my Japanese language software, which seems to have this problem with all but a couple of the (seemingly) many types of apostrophes.  Does anyone know what type of apostrophe Mac's are using now?  I didn't start seeing this problem until I started getting letters from a couple of Mac users who recently bought new machines.....  The apostrophes are a problem that strikes from many directions... also being a reliable trouble-maker with letters from people in Europe.  The reason would seem to be that some types of apostrophes are used to form Japanese characters.....  Any info out there about this?

"News - August 5th - 7th, 2001"     [Top of page]

A couple of things that have come up almost like clockwork the whole seventeen years I've been in Japan are the Yasukuni Shine visits and history book rewriting by right wing nationalists - both of which never fail to prompt a reaction from China in particular and other Asian countries to a lessor extent.

The family name issue... until now - legally - married couples have had to use one or the other family name.  It wasn't legally an option to keep both.  Historically/culturally, it's always been that one or the other would be entering the family of their spouse - and thus taking their name.  Many men have taken their wife's family name, by the way.  What seems about to change is couple's being able to legally hang on to both names.

Hiroshima/Nagasaki.  Almost all the adults I've spoken with about this are quite even tempered about it - and not overly angry at the US for dropping those.  One guy commented that if Japan had developed the A-bomb first, they would have used it on the US, so.....  Up until now, I think most people view the issue as a horrible thing - but without placing a specific blame on anyone.  What worries me, is that the way children are taught about it, it's becoming more and more one-sided... something like "We were just minding our own business - and then this terrible thing was done to us......"  It's not for me to go into that overly much... what do I know of such an unfathomable horror anyway?  It's just that I hope we can all learn to live together without fighting, and I fear that teaching things in a purely one-sided way is begging for future disasters to happen.....

Here are some of the news headers from Kyodo's news site for August 5th, 6th, & 7th:

"China repeats concern about Koizumi's plan to visit Yasukuni
BEDAIHE, China, Aug. 5 Kyodo - A senior Chinese Communist Party official expressed Saturday night Beijing's concern over Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's plan to visit a Shinto shrine in Tokyo that honors war dead and Class A war criminals. (10 :52)"

"LDP's Yamasaki says Koizumi certain to visit Yasukuni Shrine
TOKYO, Aug. 5 Kyodo - Taku Yamasaki, secretary general of the governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), said Sunday that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will definitely pay a visit to Yasukuni Shrine, where Class A war criminals are honored, despite strong opposition from neighboring Asian countries. (13 :13)"

"Release of Japan's aid program for China delayed
TOKYO, Aug. 5 Kyodo - The release of Japan's new assistance program for China has been delayed by strained relations between the two countries, according to Foreign Ministry officials. (14 :06)"

"China stresses benefits from peaceful ties with Japan
BEIDAIHE, China, Aug. 5 Kyodo - Chinese Vice President Hu Jintao told a delegation of Japan's ruling coalition Sunday that peaceful ties between the two countries will benefit both sides, and suggested Japan exercise caution over contentious issues relating to Japan's militaristic past ..... (14 :40)"

"Nonaka raps Koizumi for not considering Asian neighbors
BEIJING, Aug. 5 Kyodo - Hiromu Nonaka, a former secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), on Sunday criticized Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for not considering the sentiments of Japan's Asian neighbors over his planned visit to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine. (17 :45)"

"Koizumi arrives in Hiroshima to attend A-bomb ceremonies
HIROSHIMA, Aug. 5 Kyodo - Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi flew into Hiroshima on Sunday evening to attend Monday's ceremonies marking the 56th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of the city in 1945. (20 :14)"

"Koizumi says still 'thinking carefully' about shrine visit
HIROSHIMA, Aug. 6 Kyodo - Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Monday he has yet to make a final decision on whether to visit Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine for war dead on the Aug. 15 anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II. (11 :40)"

"Gov't sees 'big change' over 2 surnames for married couples
TOKYO, Aug. 6 Kyodo - The government sees a big change in the Japanese people's attitude concerning the use of separate surnames by married couples and plans to deal with the possible introduction of a two-name system with that in mind, the top government spokesman said Monday. (12 :56)"

"Tottori governor urges Koizumi to stay away from Yasukuni
TOTTORI, Japan, Aug. 6 Kyodo - Tottori Gov. Yoshihiro Katayama called on Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Monday to skip his planned visit to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine dedicated to Japanese war dead on the Aug. 15 anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II. (13 :33)"

"China seeks Koizumi statement on shrine visit
TOKYO, Aug. 7 Kyodo - China has demanded that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi either call off a planned visit to Yasukuni Shrine on next week's anniversary of Japan's defeat in World War II or issue a public statement that the visit has nothing to do with Japanese war ..... (01 :09)"

"Koizumi to attend Nagasaki A-bomb ceremony Thurs.
TOKYO, Aug. 7 Kyodo - Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will visit Nagasaki on Thursday to attend a ceremony marking the 56th anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said Tuesday. (10 :14)"

"Tanaka to respect Koizumi's decision on Yasukuni
TOKYO, Aug. 7 Kyodo - Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka said Tuesday she will respect Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's decision on whether to go through with his planned visit next week to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, which honors war dead and Class A war criminals. (11 :52)"     [Top of page]

"Working Longer Hours"     [Top of page]

Subject: Re: LL-303
Date: Sat, 4 Aug 2001
From: UFM  [UK]

I have to say I'm impressed with what you're doing with the Hexane thing!  I'd never have the nerve to take on the whole management over something like that.  This may sound odd, but I was wondering if getting OSHA involved might actually secure your position within the company a bit?  It would look very bad for them if the worst came to the worst and they tried to get rid of you... you'd be in a position to REALLY embarrass the company!

There's not very much news on my front.  I changed jobs a few months ago.  I'm still programming, but for a smaller company - ten people instead of forty.  It's not bad:  The money and the commute are quite good.  The only niggle is that I had to sign a contract opting out of the maximum hours laws, so my minimum hours are 8AM to 6PM.  That's probably not much by Japanese standards, but I still find that long before 6 my brain switches off, and then I really can't concentrate on the more complicated stuff.

I'm still living in a shared house.  I could just about afford a place of my own now, but it would be pretty cramped:  Property prices just keep going up here in London.  We're having some problems with the latest guy to move in.  It's the usual stuff, he doesn't wash his dishes, he makes lots of noise at odd hours.  Oddly enough the one time he did wash the dishes it was 4AM, and he made enough noise crashing the pots and pans to wake the dead!

Mind you I've had much worse flat-mates than that in the past, when I was really young and broke.  There was one who stole money from people's rooms, one who took the drug ketamine and climbed on the roof to "enjoy" it, one who brought home prostitutes... I guess I should be glad that the new guy's fairly normal at least.


I've noticed the same thing about working long hours... you can run at full speed for eight hours (with time off in the middle for lunch), but you just can't maintain it much longer than that, so the speed and/or quality of your work suffers when you start racking up the hours.  I noticed it back in San Francisco when I had a second night job for awhile after the 9-5 day job, and while I didn't think about it much when I was putting in long hours last year, now that I'm mostly working a 10-6 shift this year, I notice that I'm able to run full-speed all day.  Part of that is a fairly strong desire to get myself out of that place as soon as possible, and another huge factor in actually getting out on time is (finally) having a computer that is working for me instead of me working for it!  In fact, a lot of the overtime I put in last year was to get old junky computers up and running.  I started off using an old Compaq with 200MHz CPU/sub-100MB RAM/4GB HDD which not only wouldn't hold the reference software I need for my job (dictionaries, encyclopedia, etc.), but crashed all the time, so I was forever rebooting the %$#& thing.  Things were a little better with the Dell GXa and better still with the Dell G1, and the only complaint I have with the Dell C I'm using now (700MHz CPU/512MB RAM/10GB HDD) is that the 10GB hard drive only has 1GB left open, so I can't install any more large reference materials on it.

There I go with computer talk again... but I really can't overemphasize how much more productive the machine is with that 512MB of RAM.  If you're using a desktop computer, SDRAM memory is really cheap right now... I highly recommend stuffing in as much of it as your machine can handle - it makes a tremendous difference!     [Top of page]

"Absent Minded"     [Top of page]

Subject: Absent-minded
Date: Tue, 7 Aug 2001  -0500
From: CPK  [US]

My husband often makes fun of me for being absent-minded.  I think the reason he has such clarity of mind is because he has so few things he has to think about and orchestrate at once.  I handle all of the family business - including everyone's schedules, appointments, bills, finances, decisions, shopping, keeping records and insurance filings etc., not to mention the fact that I have my own hair salon business to run as well.  All he has to worry about is his job and what he wants to do next on his "to do" list (which I pretty much create as well).

This morning he was ranting and raving because he found a pair of my underwear placed accidentally in his underwear drawer.  If he didn't wear such ridiculous multi-colored bikini underwear we wouldn't ever have that problem.  I suppose he was so impatient because he was probably wearing them before he figured out they weren't his.  So... he went out the door to his car this morning carrying what he thought was a VCR tape he was supposed to bring to work, but when he got into his car, discovered was actually the television remote.  Ha, the joke's on him.  Who's absent minded?


"Sore Dewa?"     [Top of page]

Subject: Re: "Sore dewa"??
Date: Mon, 06 Aug 2001
From: HQL

What does 'sore dewa' mean?


"Sore dewa".....  It basically means the same thing as "Sono toki made, sayonara" (Good-bye, until then).  Just "Sore dewa" is basically like "Well..." in English - when you've run out of things to say, but don't want to just abruptly say "Bye".  So, when I say "Sore dewa", I mean it as "Until next time", or some such equivalent.

"A 'Festive' Family"     [Top of page]

Subject: Festivals and Ragging
Date: Sat, 4 Aug 2001  +0530
From: IVJ  [India]

It's the 4th of August today - Raksha Bandhan in India.  It's a festival for brothers and sisters.  The sisters tie a special thread called rakhi on their brothers wrist hoping for their long life.  The brothers in return promise to protect their sisters always.  The sisters also get some money or gifts from the brothers.  I got cash and a marble statue of the Taj Mahal.  It's also my sister's birthday but she's in Australia.  From my sister's birthday falling on the day of a festival, it reminds me of a funny thing in my family.  The year I was born, it was Raksha Bandhan on my birthday.  The year my eldest sister was born, it was Dusshera (another festival) on her birthday.  The day my brother was born it was Independence Day.  And finally, my sister whose birthday is today was born just one day before Janmastmi (another festival).  That makes us a very "Festive Family"!!!

My college is open from the 6th.  In Indian Universities there is this fun thing called ragging.  Basically it's when the seniors ask or order the freshmen to do something like dance, sing, or maybe run around the campus as if you were a crashing plane or something.  It's a fun way to get to know your seniors - but sometimes it goes too far.  Therefore it's being banned.  But seniors are seniors.  So we'll be ragged on Monday.  Of course if things get out of hand, we'll complain to the Principal, but with the banning stuff, it's not likely to go too far.  Well, we've already been told to wear only traditional clothing and flat shoes.  Nowadays, young people are more into jeans and stuff, along with high heels, lipsticks, nail polish - new fashions.  So the seniors are - you could say - de-glamorizing everyone.  Fine with me - I'm not fond of makeup anyway.  Maybe we'll have to wear what our seniors say for about a month!!  Wish me luck for Monday.

Anyway... bye for now,


"Playing With Fire"     [Top of page]

The following three e-mails are mostly self-explanatory... the funny thing about Mr. Aruchu bogging down the Internet for everyone, is that he got hooked on listening to jazz with RealPlayer immediately following my giving him the speakers I had been using before - the ones that originally came with the Compaq.  I hooked them up to each succeeding computer I've used, but gave up on them after the move to the new office, since I'm now sitting in the middle of the room across from Mr. Lookingfor, who's already complained about being able to hear my headphones... if he can hear anything, he's unhappy, so using speakers is out of the question for sure.  So I thought I'd be a nice guy and give Mr. Aruchu the speakers.  Stupid me... and stupid Mr. Aruchu, who doesn't realize how much bandwidth he's using most of the time now.....  Ms. Kikai Gasuki - by the way, is a woman working at the company's Internet provider.  Her E-mail/English is a little cryptic, so I'm not sure what she meant... I picked what I figured was the most likely meaning, but was it accurate?  (The CCs are all to people at Provider.com.)

From: Lyle Saxon [mailto:saxon@prez.com]
Sent: Wednesday, August 08, 2001 5:19 AM
To: Kikai Gasuki <kgasuki@provider.com>
Cc: Mr. A, Ms. B, Mr. C
Subject: Questions... Answers?


I have a couple of questions I would like to ask in line with the IT situation we discussed previously.

1) Would it be possible to get a breakdown of which IP addresses at the company are using the most bandwidth?  Mr. Aruchu, for example, likes listening to jazz on his computer... via RealPlayer.  Not being technically proficient, I don't think he comprehends how much he is slowing down the entire network.  There must be other people downloading music files or something, as often the system is slow to the point of nonfunctionality.  If the perpetrators could be pinpointed, it would put an end to both the problem and the head-scratching!

2) One of the employees - a Mr. Shibui - expressed to me his interest in accessing his company e-mail via his home computer.  I could help him set it up - except for one thing... his e-mail password.  If he contacts you in conjunction with a request from myself, could he obtain his password from you?

3)  How is everything?  Good I hope!

Lyle Saxon

Subject: RE: Questions... Answers?
Date: Tue, 7 Aug 2001 17:45:09 -0700 [Sent & received on August 8th...]
From: Kikai Gasuki <kgasuki@provider.com>
To: "'Lyle Saxon'" <saxon@prez.com>
CC: Mr. A, Ms. B, Mr. D


We have a meeting tomorrow with Hetakuso-san and Uragi-san.  Could it possible we do this tomorrow ?

Best regards.

Kikai Gasuki

Subject: IfDoneDiscreetly,Yes
Date: Wed, 08 Aug 2001 14:11:34 +0900
From: Lyle Saxon <saxon@prez.com>
Organization: Inoue Public Relations
To: Kikai Gasuki <gasuki@cmptr.com>
CC: Mr. A, Ms. B, Mr. D


Thank you for your e-mail.  I wrote to you from the gray area of having formerly been half of the team providing IT support to Prez Consulting, Inc., and currently being hindered in my work at times due to the mismanagement of the company's computer system by Mr. Uragi and Mr. Aruchu.  Mr. Hetakuso is learning quickly I think, and he seems not to be political, but his computer knowledge is spotty at best.

So... please don't mention my name to Mr. Uragi - doing so would cause him to go into full political battle mode.  Obviously I'd rather not have to engage in further office warfare with him, particularly as it's not in my current job description...  However, if you could bring it up as:

"We've noticed that a couple of your IP addresses in particular are very heavy users of bandwidth - have you been experiencing problems with the system being overly slow?"

... then maybe you can put the blame where it belongs.  Certainly Mr. Uragi will try to blame every problem we're having on you... you might as well throw something back to bring him around to reality.  He will fight very hard to conceal his computer ignorance, so bring someone along who is very knowledgeable and can keep the conversation from degrading into politics - Mr. Uragi's specialty.


Lyle Saxon     [Top of page]

"When the Wind Blows - Typhoons Rage"     [Top of page]

Subject: From My Corner of the World
Date: Sat, 04 Aug 2001
From: Rose  [US]

I think it's been something like 18 months since I've written you, but I have been reading all the LL's with ongoing interest.  They have given me a connection to many people at a time when I have been unable to make connections with those around me.  So much has happened in my life; it's been extremely difficult for me to find words - whether in conversation or by writing.  I have so much in my thoughts but have been unable to communicate.  But today I feel different, perhaps I'm beginning to heal.

As I've written before, my husband is a merchant marine who is gone for two months, and then home for two months at a time, on a rotating basis.  Subsequently, for six months of the year I am a single parent and the head of household in our family.  As I am about to relate - there have been many losses in my life during a time in which I was the only person to hold down the fort.  My husband is wonderful and my life is so much better when he's home, but life happens on its own schedule - usually with the worst happening when you are least prepared to cope with it, and often when the network of support is not there.

It all started about two years ago…  In September '99 my former mother-in-law was bludgeoned to death by her son (my ex-husband's younger brother) who is mentally ill.  They had an argument and he beat and asphyxiated her until she died.  He concealed her body in their apartment until his aunt and uncle forcibly broke in and found her…two weeks later.  It was all very shocking and probably the most traumatic experience of my life, as I have continued a friendship with my ex-husband, and our sons are the same age - friends in their own right.  My ex-brother-in-law is now in jail for life.  Having great empathy for them, my heart broke to see the suffering they were all experiencing.

A month later, my dear grandmother suffered a heart attack and I spent my birthday with her in hospital.  Little did I know that would be the last time I could tell her I loved her, to bask in her love and warmth, to hold her hand and feel at peace, because she died the next day.  She was my greatest friend and a surrogate mother to me, and there are simply no adequate words to describe how close and special our relationship was.  I felt as though a huge part of me died with her - never again would I be healed by her hugs and her immeasurable love.  Nine months later my father died of a rare form of lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.  He had fought a brave battle for 18 months and we knew he would eventually succumb.  But try as you might to prepare yourself, you can never be ready for the loss of someone close to you who is so cherished.  A few weeks after his death, my mother, who had been concealing her own symptoms of illness, was diagnosed with colon cancer.  She underwent surgery and then began a course of chemotherapy, which lasted a year.  She is now cancer free but for how long I wonder?  Hopefully for good.  Finally, one year ago this month my grandmother on my father's side passed away.  All other close elder family members being gone, the only one left is my mother.  Of course, I still have my sister.  Nonetheless, there is no one else left in the family.  Just as I began to recover from each blow, another would come.... I have felt as though my family is being taken from me one by one too fast.  I know we must expect loss with the march of time, but it seems as though I'm on an accelerated schedule.

Aside from these losses, I take care of my 96 year old father-in-law who is still a mostly functional person.  He lives next door to us in a ground-floor apartment because he cannot climb stairs and we have no bedrooms on the first floor.  Despite having the early stages of emphysema, he is remarkably robust for a man of his years.  I clean his apartment, administer his medication, do his laundry, take him to medical appointments (he can never remember what he is told so he takes me as his memory bank), and ensure that he eats well.  Then there is my mother-in-law.  She has Alzheimer's and despite our best efforts to get her someplace safe, legally our hands had been tied for several years because she was considered competent after being evaluated by a psychiatrist.  She lived 800 miles away from us in Philadelphia and it became obvious that a crisis would have to occur in order for the true extent of her impairment to be as evident to others as it was to us.  In March that crisis came.  In her advanced state of confusion, she actually set her own house on fire in an attempt to "make cookies."  Luckily no one was hurt and the major damage was limited to two rooms on the ground floor.  We were able to have her released from the hospital where she had been committed after the fire, but only after we could guarantee she would be going to a secure facility - for her own safety and that of others.  She is now a mere half hour away from us in Maine in a home specifically geared to the care of Alzheimer patients.  We visit her as often as we can.

It's a wonder I've had any time for our 13 year old son and our own home!

It's amazing... I just reread what I've written and am quite surprised at how well the words came.  To talk about the trauma I feel, as well as the myriad emotions I experience in general is another issue entirely.  But it's more communication than I've been capable of for many months.  I'd reached a point where I felt nearly dead inside.  They say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger - I don't know whether that is actually true or not.  I know I am not myself.  But am I stronger?  I certainly have learned about priorities and the importance of family.  Cherish them and express your feelings to them while you are still able.

Throughout this seemingly infinite ordeal, I have had your LLs.  They very well may be the only constant in my life!  I enjoy hearing about other people's lives as well as your travails with the jungle warfare, because they give me something atypical of my own life.  I worked for over twelve years in a law-firm where the environment is remarkably like that in which you work and I can completely empathize with what you have been dealing with.  The LLs bring the world to my doorstep and reveal that no matter the distance, we humans are so very much alike.  It makes me feel less alone in my withdrawal from "normal" life.  I know someday, and hopefully it will be soon, I will again feel like myself and be ready to engage life instead of hiding from it.  In the meantime, I thank you and all your correspondents for being there, even if you weren't aware you were.

Rose     [Top of page]

"LL's - How/When/Why/Etc."     [Top of page]

Subject: Hello
Date: Tue, 7 Aug 2001  -0500
From: CPK  [US]


If you could fill me in a little about how you started this, how long you've been at it, etc., I would find it interesting.  Are there people who try to participate that you find you have to ignore?  Have you had any trouble with inappropriate submissions?  I wonder how you decide what initials to use to identify each person, for example - I'm CPK.  Is there a formula or is it random?



Good questions.  As for how I started it... I was in a drinking place in Otsuka (in Tokyo) at the end of 1996 (LL-01 is dated January 1997), and I looked around at the regulars who I had talked with on a few occasions... stepping back from myself I saw the situation as one that, while ordinary enough for me, would be strange/exotic to my e-pals back in the US, and the people sitting around would find the US world equally strange/exotic.  There I was... seemingly sitting in the middle of two worlds, so I thought I'd be a bridge, promote mutual understanding, save the world - etc. etc.  That's how it got started, but two things turned out differently than I had initially imagined... one of them a great thing, the other one a bit depressing.  What I initially thought would be primarily a East-West Pacific Ocean cross-cultural deal became a collection of stories that were global and personal - not tied in with any particular culture.  I was/am happy to see that there is more that bonds us in common humanity than that which makes us different.

The depressing part... has been almost zero participation from my Japanese e-pals.  That people's English skills here are notoriously low is certainly one reason, but it goes well beyond that.  As Donald Richie - a man who has lived in Japan since 1946 and written several books of his experiences and observations has put it:  "You might say that Japan is a religious country, and the religion is Japaneseness..."  Sharing experiences of the sort that are regularly in the LL-Letters with outsiders is something that people are not supposed to do here.  If you are infatuated with Japan, and write about it as though it were a fairyland of mysterious wonderful "inscrutable" people (sorry - Japanese are human just like the rest of us), then you are spoken of as being a "good gaijin" and "understanding the Japanese heart".  Certainly there are unique aspects to the culture here - but that goes for most places (all?) on this planet.  It's as though outsiders can't become insiders, because then the insiders would be revealed to be human - and they have to maintain the Japanese mystique?  Whatever the reason, while there are over 100 people in Japan receiving the LL-Letters, they very seldom participate.  I wish they would!

Next question - people I have to ignore and inappropriate submissions?  Sure, all the time!  Some I feel bad about not using, but without sitting down and deciding what it would be, I've ended up with a kind of "editorial policy".  The clearest part is that I don't run political and religious things - people believe what they believe when it comes to that pair, and writing anything contrary only causes anger.  Sometimes I get things which seem interesting on the surface, but if something about them bothers me, I generally drop the letter.  And then there are letters with great content, but which are in very bad shape technically... so I have to spend some time cleaning them up.

The three letter pseudonyms... are mostly random - with a few that have some meaning, but overall they have no meaning at all... if there were a logical system with them, then they would lose their effectiveness in providing anonymity.     [Top of page]

"Preemptive Strike"     [Top of page]

Over the years of teaching English here, I've experienced enough that I can see a pattern developing with one of the new students at the old English teaching job I have at a factory... the only regular class I still have.  Back in LL-301 in "Words, Culture, & Desire" I mentioned "The attitude of a couple of the students has brought back 17 years worth of memories of the seedy side of the 'English conversation' teaching business in this country."  One of those guys came around and I didn't have trouble with him after that... but apparently he didn't fit into the international section of the company very well and has been transferred to the domestic-only section.  The other guy had written some unfriendly e-mail, but as he was in Thailand on business, the first actual lessons I had with him (aside from meeting him once briefly at the factory) were last week.  After the second lesson, I sent the following e-mail to him:

August 10th, 2001

Dear Mr. Namaiki,

I have some comments about the two lessons we've had, and... something else as well.

First, the lessons.  In the lesson, you are personable and easy to talk to, but nine times out of ten, when I correct some mistake you've made, you just ignore me and persist in saying it the wrong way.  While I don't think your strong Thai accent is a problem (spending so much time in Thailand, that can't be helped), your resistance to learning certainly is!  While you can communicate well, if you could swallow your pride enough to allow me to correct your mistakes, it would be educational for you.  That said... considering that you are able to communicate reasonably well already, I suppose you'll do alright even if you refuse to make any effort to improve your English.

Now, for the other matter.  I have been thinking about the way you park far back from the stoplight when you pick me up at the station... and the way that you also drop me off further from the station than anyone else at the company has in six years of teaching there.  I had been putting this down to your being overly cautious about stopping the car near the station, but when I got in the car yesterday morning and said "Good morning!" to you - and you answered with silence, I began to think that you are being unfriendly for some reason.  So, allow me to be blunt.  There are only two possible explanations for your strange driving/parking.  Either you are ignorant or you are rude.  I can see that you are an intelligent man, so I am forced to think that you are intentionally being rude.  Am I wrong?  In that case, there is a third possibility!  But whatever it is, it doesn't matter - in that the effect of your behavior is insulting to me, it would likely also be insulting to another guest of the company, and so any way you look at this situation, it is my duty to let you know how I feel about this - for my sake, your sake, and the company's sake... probably in reverse order.

Let's be... more friendly!


Lyle Saxon     [Top of page]

"What's With the Almonds in Ebisu?"     [Top of page]
(2001/08/11  18:07  Nishi-Shinjuku)

My finances are such that I very rarely can afford to eat/drink out, but occasionally I'll stop off in Ebisu at a store that sells imported food (cheeses, wines, nuts, chocolate, etc.) to buy a beer and something to go with it - generally almonds or crackers - that I then consume outside in an area not far from the upper level ticket gates to Ebisu Station where there are always people waiting to meet friends.  There are almost no places in Tokyo where it's considered ok to be standing outside and drinking, but for some reason I feel comfortable standing there and having a single imported beer as I stare off the second floor level at people walking below.....  Ah... there it is.  I'm facing away from the crowd, the area I look down on is not over-lit (as most of Tokyo is), and there are a fair amount of foreigners in Ebisu.  So, the combination of the crowd only seeing my back, being up high, and looking into the semi-dark, it's not overly conspicuous that I'm drinking a beer in public.  Naturally, I'd rather go somewhere, but you can't do that for Y350.  Someday I'll be filthy-stinking-rich and actually able to go someplace "for a drink" on the way home without worrying about running out of food money.  Well... maybe I'm exaggerating a little... I managed to find the money to buy Y30,000 worth of books from Amazon and Y10,000 worth of reference books from a used book store (the price would have been about Y40,000 if the books had been new), so it's a matter of priorities.  I would really hate myself if I bought beer instead of books.  I've cut down on food in order to buy books before - how can you not buy a book that you need to read?

But I've "derailed" here - as drifting off the topic is called in Japanese...  Almonds!  I went by Ebisu after work yesterday and bought a bottle of Tiger beer (from Singapore) and reached down for a bag of almonds...  "Hm??"  There was only one bag, and it was taped to the shelf!  I looked at the next shelf down and there was a bag of another company's almonds... same thing!  One bag, and taped down.  I tugged on the bag on the upper shelf - pulled it off the shelf - and as I stood there in the aisle staring at the bag in my hand with the tape on it, thinking "What in the world?.....", one of the clerks appeared next to me and told me that it was a sample, and if I wanted a bag, she'd get me one from the back.  She re-taped it to the shelf and disappeared in back for a minute.  (There must have been a sign explaining the situation, but I didn't notice it.)  When she came back with my bag of almonds, I asked her why they were handing just the almonds like that, and not the peanuts, etc.  Her eyes told me that she knew, but she said "I don't know... it's just store policy".

There it is again - extreme caution about information.  This ties in with my Japanese e-pals not contributing to this letter I think.  People are naturally extremely guarded about giving out information here... even for the most mundane things!  When I taught people from Daikin (a company that manufactures air conditioning and heating systems), one evening, when one of them explained to me about the large office systems which have humidifiers that use distilled water to counter the dry air of the winter, I asked him if he could tell me where I could buy distilled water, as the tap water I was using in a humidifier in my apartment was leaving a white film (of whatever it is in the tap water) all over everything in the room.  He and the other students looked at each other as though I had asked about a dangerous and/or secrete substance, and the student I was talking to said he didn't know.  Maybe he really didn't, but there was a definite something else in the air.....  I've found this over and over and over - people are very happy to acquire information, but just hate to provide it.

Back to the almonds... I can only imagine that they've either had a problem with people stealing them (unlikely) or else a store or some commercial establishment has been coming in and wiping out their stock??  Who knows!  In my whole life I've never experienced food being taped down on the shelf and having to ask a clerk to go to the back storeroom for one of what I want!  Has anyone else experienced something like this?  The very last place on earth that I'll be able to get any information about this is at the store itself, so.....     [Top of page]

"At the Classic Rock Festival"     [Top of page]

Date: Tue, 7 Aug 2001  -0500
From: CBB

How are you doing?  Things are good here... the weather continues to be very hot - I don't remember when it has been this hot and muggy.  While I was away over the weekend, everyone forgot to water my flowers, so they are no more.  They were looking a bit wilted before the lack of water, but now they are done for.

I was away all weekend at the classic rock festival (where we have gone for the last three years).  I was very disappointed in it this year though -  the music wasn't all that great.  Saturday night the headliners were supposed to be Survivor and Styx, but a horrendous storm blew in and it went almost instantaneously from sunny blue skies to nearly black skies with lightening and thunder, and then the wind got up and it started to pour rain and hail... so much for any more bands that day.  Then it was back to the campsite and into a farmers shed to sit around and visit.  On Sunday, Poison was supposed to play, but on Friday or Saturday their drummer had an accident - breaking his back(!), so they didn't show - and the band they got to come in at the last minute didn't play my type of music.  So all in all it was very disappointing.  We did haul our camper trailer up there and use it for the first time.  I sure liked having the trailer instead of the tent, and finding that the air conditioning worked was a pleasant bonus.  We'll have to think hard as to whether we'll go next year though - it's too much $$$$$ to be that disappointed.

The weekend of July 28th and 29th was my 25th high school reunion in my hometown.  It was great fun - and to think I almost didn't go.....  I met a couple of my girlfriends I have not seen in over 20 years, so it was nice to have a visit with them and get kind of caught up on our lives a bit.  I couldn't believe how many people are starting to look like how I remember their parents looking.  I wonder if they were thinking the same thing when they looked at me... interesting thought.....  Aabbb and Bbccc went with me up to my hometown and visited my sister while I attended all the functions.  Aabbb was my taxi driver - payback for all the times I've had to drive her.

So, other than that... life continues along as always.  I finally got all the stain on the deck - I still have one little section of fence to finish, but I'm going to wait for cooler weather... probably next week.

Well, I better go and get some lunch on the table for the guys... take care.


"Signed Autobiographies"     [Top of page]

Subject: Dose of MMH
Date: Thu, 09 Aug 2001  -0800
From: MMH  [US]

For most of my life I have been an avid reader.  A few years ago, my reading slacked off when I found myself sometimes having difficulty putting a book down after my lunch break and getting back to work.  But then my reading nearly vanished altogether, and I found myself missing it terribly.  Now, I am back to a civilized level of reading a book a week.

My taste in reading has changed over the years... when I was younger, I read mainly fantasy and science fiction.  Mainly because those were the books my brother Aabbb bought and the house was filled with them.  Then, while I was in Japan [as a high school student] , the lack of reading material had me seeking out anything with text on it.  The care packages from home were a mishmash of what my mother found laying around at home.  And then there was the treasure trove of books left behind at one Japanese family by an American college student who was obviously studying the humanities.

When I got to college, I read (obviously) textbooks, with an interest in the 'how-to' type covering elements of design and color.  Outside of educational material, I went back to science fiction.

When Bbccc and I found a catalog offering hardback books at a fraction of the cost, but that had to be bought in blind lots (meaning we wouldn't know what we got till we got it), we gave it a try.  What arrived was a box full of mystery books.  We tried again and got another batch of mystery books.  We quickly became avid mystery fans, with a little espionage to spice it up.

Finding an autobiography of Chuck Yeager one day at a thrift shop, I bought it and found it an enjoyable read.  I started to read all sorts of autobiographies.  I found/find them fascinating.  I send them off to the authors (those still alive) with a request for their autograph, and most of the books come back signed.  (Some don't come back at all.)  Bbccc makes presents to me of autobiographies.  She gave me a limited leather-bound edition of Sir Hillary's Top of Everest - which I was amazed to find signed.

Last week I finished the recently published book on John Adams.  I really enjoyed it and recommend it to history buffs.  I think I will see if I can interest my father in it.  This week I read Sybill Disobedience by Sybill Sheppard.

My work load is heavy this week.  I had to make some noise to a few clients about getting paid when some checks were late.  The checks got to me a day later.  Woo Hoo!

Lots happening in the neighborhood.....  A rental unit at the end of the block wants to start up a day care center, and the neighborhood is against it.  One of my favorite neighbors says if the daycare does move in, he will move out.  He means it too.  Passions are running high.  I will be going to a public meeting with the rest of my neighbors so that we might voice our objections with the advisory council.

My good neighbor Ccddd (Ddeee's wife) had a car accident five years ago.  The court case for it is this week, finally.  So Ddeee and Ccddd have been going to court all week.  I will hear about the judgment next week.

My Aunt Eefff is back at home now after staying with my parents for a week.  My folks tell me they are planning some travel this year as well.  It looks like they might visit a few of my father's siblings.  Speaking of my parents, their anniversary is this month.  They were married in 1956.


About a lack of English reading material in Japan.  Reading MMH's comments brings back memories of a friend of mine who lived in Nagoya - quite a large city, but apparently not containing good foreign book stores.  My friend would always drop by Kinokuniya in Shinjuku and stock up on books when he visited Tokyo.  But that was over ten years ago.  Now anyone with Internet access, a credit card, and a land address can buy whatever they want, wherever they are.  I still remember the feeling that I shouldn't throw away any English publications though... and how happy friends were to get their hands on English language magazines, newspapers, etc.  The Internet has changed that radically - but still, getting one's hands on an actual printed newspaper like the New York Times is a treat.  The easy access to books is proving to be a problem for me actually... Amazon sends me their newsletters and when I see something I want to read, I have a hard time not clicking on it and starting it on its way westward across the Pacific and my money eastward.

I had a funny conversation with a woman at the used book store I went to last Wednesday.  I asked her if she had any world atlases, and as she explained that the one type of book she rarely gets is atlases, she showed me a really interesting book on Japan, a combination of aerial and land based photographs.  I couldn't resist buying it, and as I looked down on the pile of books I had decided to buy, I told her "I really shouldn't go to bookstores... when I do, I can't resist buying more books, and when I get them home, they tend to cause typhoons".  She laughed and told me that she has a lot of customers like that.  Some of them are university professors who tell her an exact time to deliver the books, when their wife is out... and some ask her to hang on to the books and allow them to come back later to pick them up bit by bit.  She suddenly drifted into saying that women are sneakier than men - when they spend money on clothes for instance, they don't have a hard time concealing it.....  We walked over to the register and the next thing I knew, she was telling me about her granddaughter who spent several years in the US and is about to marry an American.  She seemed on the verge of launching into still something else when I picked up my books and bid her farewell.......

Phew!  I enjoyed talking with her, but it was as though I had opened a valve for a dam's spillway or something.  The funny thing about it, is that as I was silently looking at the dictionary section, when I looked over her way, she had a not-very-friendly look on her face... but as soon as I asked her (in Japanese) about the atlases, she became instantly friendly.  It reminds me a little of an older guy who was looking sternly at me at the war museum near Yasukuni Shrine some fifteen years ago.  I was looking at a painting of a battleship and he muttered something darkly, which I didn't understand... so I just pointed at the painting and asked him in Japanese if it was the Yamato battleship, and not unlike the woman in the bookstore, he suddenly became very friendly ("You speak Japanese?!!") and took me around explaining some of the things in the museum.  He also showed me a photo of himself at a US air base in... Virginia(?) and said that he had been working with the US military after the war.  If I were told that piece of interesting info today, I'd start asking questions - at the time I had non-verbal questions in mind, but didn't know what words I could/should assign them, and - as missed chances do - the moment slipped away and he bid me farewell.  It just goes to show though, if you know you should do something, don't wait!  I could have asked then, but I hesitated, and now I'm left with the unanswered question all these years later.

Autobiographies.....  I think one reason I'm conformable writing about my life here in Tokyo is that, after reading literally hundreds of autobiographies over the past two decades, it seems like a natural thing to do.  So the fact that MMH also likes autobiographies and regularly rites about himself makes me say... "Naruhodo..." ("Ah ha!"/"So that's it then!"/"I see..." etc. etc.)  Incidentally, the most recent autobiography I've read is:

"The Man Who Flew the Memphis Belle - Memoir of a WW-II Bomber Pilot"
by Col. Robert Morgan, USAFR, Ret., with Ron Powers

I found the book a fascinating read - from his descriptions of life before the war, leading into the war, and his part in the air wars over both Europe and Japan.  His tales of flying on the edge of death and then spending nights in London in style are... what... movie-ish?  Almost too fascinating to be real.  And then his description of the first low-level nighttime firebombing raid on Tokyo that he took part in... made for very creepy reading as I read about the horror of people being burned alive on the streets of Tokyo with nowhere to run.....  Reading that part on a crowded Chuo Line train as we commuters rode into central Tokyo, I could imagine things only too well.....

Well... I was going to write more, but I've only got about another hour of computer time, so I'll stop here and stuff this into the wires.

Sore dewa,

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon
Images Through Glass

Nishi-Shinjuku, Tokyo
August 14th, 2001
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