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"Letter-Letter 315"
August 10th, 2002
"From August to December"
"Riding the River"  by KCM & LHS
"Visiting Tokyo Again"
  by Yo/Gr & LHS
"OpenOffice.org 1.0"
"Fighting the Head Office - 1999 & 2002"
"You OOO, and We OOO..."   by Yo/Gr & LHS
"September 8th, 2002"
"September 15th, 2002"
"Shitamachi, City, Country, Etc."
"MMX 200MHz Machines, Etc."
"October 14th, 2002"
"Goodbye Bicycle"
"English Language Keyboard"
"Beer from the Sky"
"Who's Stronger?"
"What You Shouldn't Write to a Poet:"

"From August to December"     [Top of Page]

I began this year liking the number "2002" - such a balanced looking number... I had high hopes for this year, and I suppose it's not been such a bad one for me, but artistically it's been a disaster!  I've spent almost the entire year doing things I don't really want to do, but have to do.  I've been wanting to write all this time, but night after night after night... I end up simply falling asleep in front of the computer.  Ah... come to think of it, all the computer stuff I've done this year has sort of been fun, but not productive for anything produced with the machines.

Sorry I'm so behind with this - but I do have letters ready to go in here sorted and ready to be put in the next LL, so I'll really try to get the next one out before long.

"Riding the River"     [Top of Page]

Date: Sun, 16 Jun 2002  +0100
From: KCM  [US]

Hi!  I finally have time to breathe.  Finals went ok and today was Aabbb's graduation, except we're not sure if he's really graduating.  At the last minute, his professor decided to change the weight of his last project grade so that it would be a requirement for graduation, even though the entire class had already taken two midterms and done four other projects.  Aabbb explains it away as the engineering people being psycho and doing whatever they have to in order to get the professors to do research and the professors go on a power-trip.  According to rumors, the professor failed 3/4 of the last class.

I won't get to see Aabbb for a month.  Tomorrow I'm leaving for Oakland for a week and on Wednesday he's going to Europe for a month with a few of his friends.  I am so insanely jealous.  I want my parents to pay for a trip to Europe too!  The most I can hope for is a trip to my village in China.  While that has its own merits, it's still not Europe!  *sigh*

This summer I am going to focus on getting job skills.  I'm taking a class in postmodernism and computer skills.  It's like a computer class for English majors.  I think we're learning how to do HTML and all that lovely practical stuff.  The teacher seems really nice and I think I'll be able to learn enough to have a decent resume.

I'm going to be a senior!  This is so scary.  I have to start looking for jobs and stuff.  I'm not going to be in-between adulthood and adolescence, but I'm going to have real responsibilities.  I wonder if I'm always going to be this unsure of myself, and if I'll be able to have the kind of happiness and success I think I want.  It's hard watching Aabbb sometimes, because he's so confident and so matter-of-fact about exactly what he wants.  I don't have the same resolve or even an exact idea of what my goals should be.  I guess eventually everything will work out, but right now I feel kind of lost.  Oh well, I still have a bit of time left.


About the idea of looming responsibilities... it's quite true, but then I think life is something like a rafting trip (maybe not a good analogy), where preparation for the journey is vital, and yet there is no perfect preparation.  You know there will be rapids and waterfalls, but how fast are the rapids?  How much of a drop are the waterfalls?  How far downriver?  From what angle will waves hit the raft?  So you don't jump in the river without an oar/paddle, but on the other hand, there's only so much you can do... you watch and do, and do and watch as you go down.  There are rests on lazy sand bars in the middle of the river... and laying on the warm sand watching the waters smoothly flowing by, you think how nothing could be more perfect.....  Nevertheless, after a bit, you get bored, or the water level rises, the sky darkens with the coming evening... thunderclouds blow in, lightning flashes... for whatever reason, you get back in/on the river and continue the journey.  There are calm places, and there are rapids.  In the calm places, there is no  guarantee that you'll have a handle on your mind, and in the rapids, with your wits sharpened, there is no guarantee that you'll actually make it through the rough water.

Speaking for myself - work is crazy right now.  It's 90% political games.  Just real nonsense.  No wonder the world is so mucked up!  Remember the stupid games some people played back in middle school?  A lot of the same people do exactly the same thing when they get their Neanderthal idiot selves into work situations.  In that sense, don't worry about being ready for the "adult" world, as most people never become adults anyway - not if they live to be 111 years old.  That's not all bad of course... what's wrong with being a child anyway?  There are good and bad kids and good and bad adults... same story from a different angle!     [Top of Page]

"Visiting Tokyo Again"     [Top of Page]

Subject: Re: LL-313
Date: Mon, 17 Jun 2002  -0700 (PDT)
From: Yo/Gr  [US / Japan]

Wow, things change quickly there, but then again it has been over a year since I was last there.  I couldn't recognize Shibuya, too many new stores, and many of the places I did know have moved, so my mental map was way off.  Well, happy not to have the office life, though the city is obviously more stimulating mentally.  Speaking of which, I didn't have time for the Edo museum, but did find the shitamachi one.  It's basically on the corner of the pond in Ueno, near to where the porn theaters used to be (now all cleaned up!) next to the shopping area.  Wow, Ueno is also completely different!  It seems to have a trendy feel to it, I guess with the zoo there you would have thought it obvious, but it also has a weird feel to it now, I'm not sure I like it.  I guess it's better than before, but some of the character seems to have been lost.  It was nice to visit again, though I was sorry to see Shinjuku is getting dirty again.  When I was there before it was all clean and new, but I guess they don't think having someone clean it up is worth the money.  Things here are good for the stress, but I think your idea of having two places is the best.

Well, I'm dead tired today - I never can sleep on that bus....


After living in Tokyo nonstop for eighteen years now, I've become mostly insensitive to change in the city I think.  The only changes that I've found truly disturbing are the near disappearance of all the buildings and identifiable places that I encountered in my first three months here back in 1984.  Those three months contained such powerful feelings of adventure in a foreign land at the time, that not being able to return to the stages of those vivid memories is more unsettling than I could/would have imagined.  When I did find an apartment building that I had stayed at way-back-when intact, it seemed immensely important to spend some time there imagining/seeing myself there in 1984 and trying desperately to comprehend the changes in myself between that time and now... I suppose most travel to foreign lands is in fact a quest for self.....

As for the rest of Tokyo?  I've become somewhat used to the here-today-gone-tomorrow nature of the city.  I also noticed the changes in Ueno, but in a shallow kind of way - I didn't stop to think what those changes represented or how I felt about them.  In the case of Shinjuku, I've spent some time there every month for all these years, and so none of the many changes have had much impact.  After an absence of a year or two, I wonder how I would perceive this city?

The movie "The Family Man" - where the main character gets to experience what his life would have been if it had taken a different turn... ever since going back to San Francisco in 1996, I've had this desire to meet the me that didn't come to Japan.  Who/what would that man be?  Living here has changed me profoundly, and I have no idea what I would be like now if I hadn't jetted it over the Pacific......     [Top of Page]

"OpenOffice.org 1.0"     [Top of Page]

After having some problems with custom quotes that mutated into computer code in other programs when copy-pasting (a problem due to my working on a Japanese language OS platform), I finally (with help from a user's group) found out how to get rid of the custom quotes and am finding OpenOffice a great tool for writing - better than StarOffice 5.2, which had a strange problem of losing word wrap when going from one platform to another with old files.  As for the complicated stuff, I can't give you much information, as I just use it for writing and not for creating presentation slides, etc.  In any case, as a writing tool, I strongly recommend it.  (It's free by the way.)  The site is:

"Fighting the Head Office - 1999 & 2002"     [Top of Page]

I've been going through boxes of stuff that I stuffed into a storage space a few years ago, and I stumbled upon a letter (reproduced below) that I wrote on October 14th, 1999.  Eng-Inc. (name changed to protect the guilty) was one of what are called "culture schools" in Japan - places that offer courses in everything from flower arranging to English and Chinese lessons.  They had this woman who would call and speak in an infuriatingly patronizing way, so I stopped answering my phone and was "out" if someone else picked up the phone....  Finally they had their in-office foreigner send me a letter - by regular post!  Even if they didn't have e-mail (apparently not), they could have sent a fax.  A number of issues are hinted at in this letter... I had been late to a class (two hour trip from home after all...), and I had recently received an irritating and unwelcome directive from this same FOB (Fresh Off the Boat) foreigner saying he was reviewing class textbooks, etc.  When he said I should be using a different book than the one I and the class had already decided on, we told the company that we would use the book we had picked - with or without the company's help.  So, already feeling fed up with the company and in a mood to poke fun at them, I wrote the following letter (sent by fax).

October 14th, 1999

Attn: Mr. Another Foreigner

A letter!  I'm happy to discover that someone finally has taken to the written word!  Thanks for the info, I've added the names to Lotus Organizer, so until they change again, we should be set.

Regarding the bit about Kashiwa...  Understood!  I'll talk to them about it today when I go there.  I will also be more careful about the schedule in the future.

BTW, did you know that for each time I go to Kashiwa, Eng-Inc. gets twenty-eight thousand yen from the students, and gives only six thousand to me.....  If only I had enough money to buy a new watch (hint hint).....



PS  Don't you guys have e-mail??

And... here we go again in 2002 - here's a late July letter I sent within the company I'm currently working at.

July 24th, 2002

Dear Mr. Hokano,

I've been imagining Mr. Aizuchi (and yourself?) in the US next week with the sheet we worked on together explaining the XYZ proposal, and frankly, I'm a little bit worried.  We're running out of time and I still haven't seen the final version of that file.  I realize that we have already gone over it verbally and I sent you a file of text I input with my laptop computer, but I haven't seen the resulting final version of the file.  I'm sure it's mostly perfect, but there might be something still wrong with it... somewhere....

It's an amazing thing with words - even the slightest modification to sentences can make what was a bad sentence into a good one, or vice versa!  What often happens with English text written by subordinates is that when their bosses get the text, they make small modifications that are intended to be improvements... unfortunately, those modifications often transform what was an authentic English sentence into a defective and strange one.  This can happen even with the deletion or addition of a single word!  Proper sentences are a delicate balance of grammar, vocabulary, meaning, and most importantly, the feeling between the lines that holds the whole thing together as a cohesive unit.

I'm not suggesting that everything I write must remain exactly as I write it, but I am saying that modifications should be shown to me so I can see if the altered sentences have been damaged and become mutant English.  Even if the text has not been changed from what was verbally agreed upon, still the final version should be shown to me before it is sent out, so I can check the actual printed version for any mistakes I may have made as well as any mistakes that may have crept in during the typing on your end.

One other thing I must say - is concerning the fonts.  Non-compatible fonts are a stubbornly persistent problem for everyone when writing English with non-English OS, but the fact that the problem is a common one doesn't mean that it's not a problem!  Some of the modifications made to the "Nantoka" PowerPoint presentation (which was sent to overseas OurCo offices) looked absolutely horrible when opened on an English-only computer.  (True, we did fix most of those problems and resent the file, but we should have done that before sending it in the first place.)  Considering that it's not very difficult to take the extra step of opening overseas-bound files with a computer running English language OS, we really don't have a good excuse for sending such damaged files out - even when they are staying within the company as a whole.  Doing so is (frankly speaking) an embarrassment to all of us.

Although politics are an issue that cannot be ignored, the final and decisive bottom line is quality product.  Politics are a storm, but a defective and leaking ship has no hope of staying afloat indefinitely.  Far better to be a sound ship in stormy seas than a defective and leaking ship in calm waters.  The storm will eventually pass, but a defective ship just sinks lower into whatever waters it is attempting to sail.

Best regards,

Lyle Saxon     [Top of Page]

"You OOO, and We OOO..."     [Top of Page]

Subject: Re: LL-313
Date: Fri, 14 Jun 2002
From: Yo/Gr  [US / Japan]

Ahh, I finally had a strange and antagonistic observer tonight.  I really don't meet racists often here, and the ones I do are the usual type - older men with a fondness for 'remembering' war time stories.  The guy I met this evening though, was younger (a masters student), and was a very strange one.  ..................


There was much more to Yo/Gr's letter, but I've truncated it to skip the details, as it's the type of thing two people in similar situations understand only all too well, but is not easy to explain to anyone who hasn't experienced the type of thing he's referring to in his letter.  What I do want to say here though, is that the thing to remember when talking to people who say "You OOOO's are..." (put in any nationality) and "We OOOO's are...." (nationality of the racist) , is that they are not spokespeople for the country that is unlucky enough to call them a citizen.

"September 8th, 2002"     [Top of Page]

It's been a busy year, but not an especially fun one, and now that it's September, I am in a melancholy state of mind thinking about the towers.  There's not much I can say to add to all that is being said right now, so I'll keep this short.

I put a post-1970/pre-2001 New York skyline on my computer for the wallpaper setting, and I've found myself looking at the towers and feeling irritated and unhappy that they're not still there.  ..........  I'm having a very hard time finding words here.... the feelings and images in mind don't lend themselves to accurate translation to words, and I don't want to say something other than what I'm thinking.....

After it happened, my main job dried up as one of the many aftereffects as the already bad economy here got worse.  Also noteworthy since that time (with causes beginning more than a decade ago), nearly all the banks in the country have merged with each other and there are now fewer names and fewer branches as banks close down one branch after another to cut overhead expenses.

At the company I'm currently working at, they've cut back on staff and are being squeezed by clients to do things for less money... which cuts our profit margin (often into the red).  Traditionally, the huge corporations in Japan are able to cut their own costs by putting pressure on suppliers to sell for less, so the smaller companies have the most difficulty riding out bad economic times.

"September 15th, 2002"     [Top of Page]

There were a lot of questions in my mind over the past year about the World Trade Center Towers... I wondered if anyone had seen one of the planes coming from inside the towers, how much the impacts had rocked each tower, what did people experience near the impact sites, what was happening down in the lobbies, etc., etc., so several articles in the New York Times detailing accounts of survivors, telephone calls from people who didn't make it, etc., along with some really incredible footage from two brothers who had been documenting a fire station, beginning with life at the fire station in the days before September 11th, and including the only images of the first plane hitting the North Tower and that fire truck rushing to the scene - the firefighters in the lobby before going up, the sound of people who had jumped/fell from the burning North Tower hitting... what... a roof over the lobby entrance area I'm guessing.  One of the more enduring images of that documentary footage is an image looking up at the North Tower after the South Tower had fallen (the cameraman was in the lobby area of the North Tower when it fell).  The tower, photographed from very near the base, and standing there alone, looked incredibly tall... and then it fell....

After all the reading and thinking back, I found myself reliving some of the anger I felt last year (in fact, I'm still in that stage somewhat), but many of my questions were answered and so I feel more settled, with a clearer understanding of the event - especially after seeing those incredible up-close documentary images.

"Shitamachi, City, Country, Etc."     [Top of Page]

I got an e-mail from Yo/Gr a couple of days before he came up to Tokyo, so I called him and we arranged to briefly meet up in Shinjuku.  He was with a friend and they were going to a new "shitamachi" museum.  "Shitamachi" is one of those words that is a constant source of irritation for translators interested in translating words accurately - instead of the "in the ballpark will do, even if it's not actually in the ballpark, but out in the parking lot somewhere... or at the bottom of that river over there" attitude of too many people - who often are the same type of people who have the audacity to say "perception is reality" (I beg to differ - reality is reality).  Yo/Gr correctly calls the area/era/mystique by its correct name "shitamachi", which is what people who live here do, but for someone who doesn't know, it's formed with two kanji characters, the first one meaning "low/below/down" etc., and the other one meaning town/city/area etc.  You may see this one coming... people will often call it "downtown" which is completely and totally wrong, but you can't convince people who think words are something in and of themselves, and not simply representations for wordless ideas/thoughts.  What shitamachi was (and still is to a small degree), was both the low in elevation area near the river and also where people on the low end of the hierarchical society lived.  What makes the term complicated is that it is synonymous for what the area became, the attitude of the people who live/lived there, etc.

Anyway, it was great to see Yo/Gr again after not having seen him for something like... two years?  I'm not sure - these past few years have been a time of nearly ceaseless political office battles, and, as is the case when you're fighting for your life figuratively or literally, you lose track of the normal flow of time.  Uh-oh... I feel like I'm about to launch into a multi-page tirade on that.....

(December 22nd, 2002)  And here, to see Yo/Gr's letter, just take another glance at "Visiting Tokyo Again" earlier in this letter.  It's taken me so long to edit this that I accidentally put the same letter in here twice!

For a double outsider, the quandary of whether to live in the city or the country is amplified here, as both the benefits and pitfalls of city/country life tend to be intensified.  Being different from the majority of people in the society you live in can be and often is an interesting and/or horrible, fun and/or awful experience.  On one hand, people who are interested in learning about other cultures are eager to learn something from you, and it's fun to suddenly be an "expert" on something and have people listening to what you say intently.  It's also a solemn responsibility, as you are suddenly a kind of ambassador for an entire nation of diverse people.  I try especially hard to always emphasize to anyone who asks me "What do Americans..." / "Why do Americans..." etc., that it depends on which Americans you're talking to/about, and that while there are certainly aspects to any country that predominate, never put every man, woman, and child into a single category.  That's a huge mistake!  On the other hand, there are those who hate you with a consuming evil passion on sight, and there is seemingly nothing you can do/say to convince them that you are actually a human being in spite of being in a red barbarian suit.

.......  All of which is a long way of saying that it's no accident that foreigners in any country tend to gravitate to the larger cities, where they stand the best chance of being accepted as members of society and not being attacked for the package they were born in.  Or.... being more accepted in a small town than could ever be possible in the cold concrete BigCity if really taken to heart by the locals.  Myself, liking to walk around in different places taking photos, and trying to think as I think I should think, often ignoring local broadcast frequencies, I probably would run into trouble living in a small community.  It's hard to say, but judging by the small communities of the two offices I've been working in over the past three years, I have a bad(?) habit of attacking what I feel is wrong - regardless of whether the culprit is the president of the small company I'm working for (that does seem pretty stupid as I write it down, but didn't at the time...), or politically connected individuals.  I'm trying not to jeopardize my paycheck, but when I think that something is clearly and definitely wrong, I suddenly feel that justice will be served if only the situation can be clearly detailed in writing and brought to the attention of... and here is the key - the people in charge.  (Probably) the only reason I didn't lose my current job earlier in the year after pointing out what a fool and liability a certain individual (a politically well-connected individual) was to the project we were working on, was because someone in power understood the situation and was willing to overlook my political transgressions.  A cover letter I sent at the time is as follows:

Subject: "BottomUp&TopDown"
Date: Tue, 4 Jun 2002

Mr. Hataraki,

I feel a victim of both circumstances as well as foul play - and so have written a short report (attached file).  It may seem long at two pages, but it really should have been twenty!  I haven't sent this to anyone else... and I don't know what effect sending it to you will have, but I strongly feel that someone should know what has happened, and you're the only one I can think of.  Mr. Aizuchi doesn't know, and doesn't want to know, so there's no point in approaching him.

Believing that "Truth Will Prevail",

Sincerely yours,

Lyle Saxon     [Top of Page]

"MMX 200MHz Machines, Etc."     [Top of Page]

(2002/09/16)  Not having a lot of cash to work with (as usual), I've been taking advantage of the close proximity of Akihabara to the office.  Akihabara has hundreds of shops selling electronic this or that, from tiny shops you can barely squeeze into if they have more than three or four other customers, to huge multistory stores with a huge array of things to choose from... (if you have the money that is).  If you are diligent, you can pick up a fair bit of computing power for next to nothing, but there is a lot of upward pressure on prices, what with many of the shopkeepers always being on the prowl - when they find especially cheap things, they will buy them and then mark up the price for resale in their own shops!  One result is that some things take on a nearly universal price in nearly every last shop - like used hard drives, which someone seems to have decided should sell for Y1 for 1MB, so a 1GB drive is Y1,000, a 2GB drive Y2,000 etc., going up to 4GB.  With the larger drives, most of them are new and so there are more variations in prices.  I recently picked up a new 10GB drive for Y3,200 - less than the price for a used 4GB drive.  [Made by Fujitsu - a manufacturer I've had good luck with for hard disk drives, but soon after buying it, I read some articles on the Internet about a high failure rate for Fujitsu hard drives made over the past year, due to a faulty chip on the hard drive's control board... hopefully that won't affect the drive I bought!]

There is a reason for the premium on 4GB and under drives though... with most sub-300MHz computers, that's all you can use in them (without modifications).  Speaking of which, I've ended up acquiring four more computers - one 200MHz Digital Celebris FX-5200, two MMX-200MHz Digital 5200s (one with many missing parts - for Y100), and an MMX-200MHz Toshiba Equium.  A bit too many computers it would seem - it's become somewhat of a joke at the office when I come back from lunch with yet more electronic parts in hand - but other than the one Digital still down with missing parts, all the computers are being put to use in one way or another.  One with only English language software, one with Mandrake Linux, one with Corel Linux, the main machine still with W-98SE, etc.

Ah!  Corel Linux!  I picked up a new box of that (with an English manual) and it installed very easily, but I haven't heard anything about Corel Linux for awhile, other than that it was not a financially successful venture for the company.  Is anyone out there using Corel Linux or know something about it?

One more machine... I stumbled upon a huge and terribly heavy steel box with a price of Y100 and a sign saying "This seems to be a hard drive...".  I bought it, and indeed it was, or more precisely, a hard drive controller with two huge slots for removable hard drives of 40MB each.  Considering that it was only Y100 and the machine looked like it belonged in a museum, I thought it would be educational if nothing else, so I pulled a hundred yen coin from my pocket and became the slightly embarrassed owner of a large and very heavy curiosity.

I tried plugging it in to see if it would work, but the power switch was by (mechanical) key only (and it was locked), so I nearly gave up on testing it and was beginning to carefully take it apart, when I discovered I could get the machine running by disassembling the switch and manually activating it.  There was a "Disengage" button that activated a solenoid that pulled a steel rod out of the way (KaThlunK!), which enabled the hard drive to be removed.  Once out, the machine gave a strong "BEEP-BEEP-BEEP" warning until it was put back in.  The experience was right out of the electro-mechanical machine age - steel cases, huge transformers, loud buzzes and thunks!

After that, I took the machine apart and discovered that it was dated back to the deep dark age of... 1988!!!  I had imagined it must be at least a decade older than that!  The actual hard drive consisted of four disks with an uneven brown coating and huge heads on the pick up arms.  Modern hard disk drives have immaculate silver coatings (that make perfect mirrors by the way!) and very tiny pickup heads.  As a memento of the event, I have the four-disk cluster from the hard drive sitting on my desk as a paperweight.

Truthfully, I'd much rather be buying squeaky new machines, but I only have enough money to buy used machines and bits of machines... and the occasional new piece of outdated machinery - like the printer switcher I bought for Y50.     [Top of Page]

"October 14th, 2002"     [Top of Page]

This has really been an artistically unproductive year for me.  I've been spending my time putting in too many hours at the company, spent too many hours going through 16 years of stuff that I pulled out of storage early this year, and practically no time doing what I want to do.  The stress level associated with this has risen to an almost unbearable level... I've either got to start spending more time on photography and writing, or I will have to start walking around screaming, foaming at the mouth, and biting fellow crush-rush train commuters.....

That said, it's time to go back to cleaning... %$#&%$#$%&......  At least I have lowered the stress pressure level here a tiny bit.  Having gotten some of the files backed up and some preproduction stuff out of the way, I can at least think that I'm making some headway.  Not nearly enough, but better than nothing at all.!

"Goodbye Bicycle"     [Top of Page]

(2002/12/21)  The history of the bicycles I've owned here in Japan began with one that given to me by a man who was staying at the same cheap Bed&Bath I was staying at back in September of 1984.  He had come to Tokyo from another city to pass some kind of certification tests in order to become a taxi driver, and when he was about to leave Tokyo after passing the tests, he gave me his bicycle, along with a note he had written to show to the police - in case they inquired whose (registered) bicycle I was using - saying that he had given it to me.  This became one of my many mistakes that I kick myself for every time I remember - at the time I was afraid of getting lost on a bicycle, and so I only used the trains and left the bicycle locked up near the Bed&Bath.  Stupid me!  I missed a great opportunity to get an early eduction of/on the streets of Tokyo.

Several years after that, an LA friend told me that a friend of his that worked at the Dutch embassy would be going back to the Netherlands and was selling off the things she had acquired while living in Tokyo that she didn't want to take with her back to the Netherlands - including a bicycle, so I went there with a couple of guys from Ghana who were interested in acquiring the woman's old TV.  She was living in Denenchofu, which is generally considered to be the most exclusive area of Tokyo - living in a house (a house! Not an apartment!) by herself (a whole house to herself!!) with a yard with a lot of trees (a yard!! Trees!!!!!).  After talking with her for a bit, and marveling at the relaxed and green atmosphere of her living room (trees outside in a yard - a real yard!), I paid for her bicycle, the men from Ghana paid for the TV, and we took our leave.  It was a funny sight - one of the men walking down the street in this exclusive area with the TV up on his shoulder.  No big deal of course, it's just that people here always wrap things up, so the sight of the TV up on his shoulder out in the direct sunshine seemed kind of bizarre.  That just isn't (wasn't?) done you see.....

I rode the bike back to my apartment - all the way across Tokyo - not in an exclusive area myself, I'm not.  That bike was a good one, and served me well for a number of years, getting a bit rusty and banged up over time (there was no space to put it inside and I had to leave it out in the weather).

Enter bicycle number three.  A woman from Taiwan living nearby (for some strange reason) had this oddball extra bicycle with a strange type of handlebars that were very briefly popular here, but now are nearly extinct.  I didn't particularly care for the handlebars, but thought it never hurts to have extra machinery, and she indicated that she and her husband would be trashing it if I didn't want it, so I accepted it.

Now - here's were the trouble starts.  My partner got it into her head that a new(er) bicycle is better than an old rusty one, and so one day, when I went to jump on my old trusty ex-Denenchofu bike, I was shocked and distressed to find it missing.  I announced the apparent theft to my partner who matter-of-factly told me that she had thrown it away.

Me:  "What?!!  Thrown it away?  Whatever for?!!"

MP:  "It was old and rusty - and you've got that other one now."

Me:  ".............................................."

I went around grumbling to myself for days after that, and - for about a year - every time I used the bike with the weird handlebars, I grumbled anew.  I mean... it was only supposed to be a backup bike, and not the main one, and the handlebars were an embarrassment for me - for the first year or two anyway, and then I got used to them.  I got used to them, but apparently a new neighbor didn't, and took to sabotaging the bike.....

What to do....  How much can you do when you have a piece of machinery sitting outside that anyone has access to all the time?  You can't protect it, and since the main issue for me is to try and live without being harassed, after I came home one evening and found that someone had moved the bike to an odd place again, I thought "Ah... what the %$#%, and rode it over to another train station (I had to ride it on a punctured front tire, trying to keep most of my weight on the back tire).  Near the station, I found a bicycle parking garage, left it in one of the open spaces, said fare-well, and then rode the train home.  Hopefully someone will use it.  It was a good bike actually, I never spent a single yen on it and it got me wherever I needed to go by bicycle, but once someone starts puncturing your bike's tires, adjusting the seat all the way down, moving it into strange places, etc., you are already not being allowed to use it, so what's the point in keeping it?  I would like to have caught the %$#&%#$ who did it and hauled them over to the police, but that's bloody unlikely to happen and the most important thing is to try and live in peace, so... goodbye bicycle.

New bicycles aren't so expensive at the moment, so when I have some spare money I'll try buying one of the silver ones that you see everywhere.  If it looks like everyone else's, maybe the saboteur will leave it alone, or at least have more difficulty finding it and performing more sabotage.     [Top of Page]

"English Language Keyboard"     [Top of Page]
(November 7th, 2002 - 2:18 a.m.)

I decided to start using an English language keyboard as of today, so I switched both the keyboard on my company computer and the one on my home computer.  The thing about the Japanese language keyboard, is that while it is marked with Japanese phonetic characters (as well as the standard a-z), the Japanese phonetic alphabet usually needs to be converted to kanji anyway (kanji are the complicated characters originally from China), so most people in Japan who can type (and need to input English letters as well as Japanese anyway) learn to type English and then use "romaji" to input Japanese via a-z instead of the local characters, so the extra characters on the keyboard are ignored 98% of the time....  The extra lettering on the keys is no problem, but what is a problem with the Japanese keyboard are the extra keys on the bottom row that infringe on the space bar.  Ironically, the space bar is equally important when writing Japanese - not for spaces between the words (there are none), but for selecting kanji after imputing words phonetically, so this is a problem whichever language you are writing in on a J-keyboard.

Now that I realize there are no disadvantages to using an English keyboard even when writing Japanese (the F1 - F12 keys handle necessary conversion functions), I feel stupid that it took me this long to figure it out and think "What's the point of having a J-keyboard with its badly sized space bar when it offers no advantages over typing Japanese with an English language keyboard?!", and it's set me to thinking about why I've steadily used a J-keyboard now for some seven years, for there are reasons for everything - not always (not often?) good reasons, but reasons nonetheless!

The reason... I hesitate to put this into words... ties in with the "Japanese adventure" I embarked on in 1984.  The fact is, Japan is a part of the same planet we're all living on, and people here are people... people with their own language and culture to be sure, but that's just like anywhere on the globe.  Some will jump on that and point out that there's an "island mentality" and use/misuse the words "unique", "exotic", "mysterious", etc., but fundamentally, you can do the same thing with any group of people anywhere - different cities in the same country, different families in the same city, different people in the same family.  There is more that unites us than not, and yet we focus on the differences.  Well... why not I guess, it's more interesting that way, but some places have reputations far too strong for their own good....

(2002/11/24)  I would look down at my keyboard sometimes and basically think (it's embarrassing to write this)... well, not in words, so it can't be put in quotations, but basically I would see the Japanese characters printed on the keys and know that I was in Japan, that I had made it across the Pacific Ocean, and that I could speak Japanese.  Well, good for me, pat me on the back.  I liked the keyboard because it was different and "exotic".

Actually, in one sense, that's as good a reason as any, but a keyboard is a tool!  And when a tool is badly designed, it inhibits smooth, effortless use.  The extra keys on the J-keyboard would cause input errors and lost time when accidentally hit (while aiming for the undersized space bar).  Now that I'm able to do everything I could with the J-keyboard, and without those time consuming and irritating keyboard-induced errors, I feel really stupid for having used a badly designed tool all these years.

I'm writing about this in such detail, because the keyboard switch is symbolic for me.  Symbolic of a fundamental switch in my thinking that has been in the back of my mind for years, but is just recently clearly in the forefront of my thinking, symbolized by the difference in keyboard design.  For years, I would look down at my J-keyboard and have this symbol of my "Japanese adventure" looking back at me... now I look down and see evidence that I have been wasting effort by inefficiently working on the wrong keyboard.  It's all very symbolic, and every time I look at or touch a keyboard now, I'm reminded of... so much... so  much of what has happened and not happened since 1984.......

From here out, I aim to be more practical.  There are aspects of both of the culture I came from and the culture I've been living in for the past 18 years that I find appealing... likewise, there are negative aspects to both cultures as well.  Respect and interest, study and learning, but not infatuation.  Infatuation never does - indeed cannot - last.

PS  There is one disadvantage to one of the E-keyboards I'm using - and that's a narrow Enter key.  I ended up pulling the key above it (a backslash key) off the keyboard to stop myself from accidentally hitting it.  The other keyboard has a large enter key and no extra junk, but is noisier and has sharper edged keys.  A quick question here - does the keyboard you're using have a large "enter" key?  Most of the English keyboards I've seen over here (not many actually) have narrow Enter keys and long, narrow Backspace keys.  I prefer a huge Enter key and (as a trade-off) a smaller backspace key.     [Top of Page]

"Beer from the Sky"     [Top of Page]

(2002/08/10)  One of the disadvantages of living in a city as huge as Tokyo (30,000,000 people if you include the 'burbs), is that (in most cases), when you get together with a few friends, since everyone generally lives on different train lines, the only practical way for everyone to get together is to meet at a restaurant or drinking place in central Tokyo and then split up and head out on the commuter lines in different directions to get home.  This is sort of fine - but although there is a certain entertaining aspect to being in one of the virtually infinite number of noisy drinking places across the city, the noise, the cost, and irritating customers can all detract from the enjoyment of the evening.  Another dimension to the practice of having a drink before going home is that there are categories of places to go, and the cheap informal places are always gone to with at least one other person (99.9% of the time at least), with a whole hierarchy of smaller bars catering to people who go alone with the express purpose of spending at least some of their time talking with women either running the places (small and cheaper places), one or two hostesses in larger and more expensive places, all the way up to the outrageously expensive clubs with scores of young woman to flatter and smile to each customer.  (There are gender-reversed places as well, but not so many.)

Indeed there is something for nearly everyone, but there's a gap when you want to drink alone, you don't want to pay much, and you don't want to talk to anyone. One partial answer is to just buy a can of something or other and drink it outside, but then you have the monumental problem of finding somewhere to stand inconspicuously - and to keep things very discrete.  I haven't actually researched it, but there must be a law against public drunkenness (I don't drink more than one or two generally, so...).  Actually, as I write this, it sounds stranger and stranger to me, but in the quiet event, it seems perfectly natural... and then there is the way things are generally done here regarding something that could be a nuisance to the public in general - since people are generally more concerned with maintaining their unblemished record (long term) than with dealing only with the specific issue at hand, just a word from someone with the potential power to create embarrassment is usually enough to send someone quickly on their way.  (Of course someone beyond embarrassment with no one to make him/her feel ashamed is a different story.)

For over a year, I've occasionally gone to a spot on the way home that is a very good combination of everything you need to have a moment (mostly) to yourself without having to fork out a pile of cash and not having to deal with irritatingly persistent waitresses basically forcing you to order things you don't want so the management doesn't get upset having cheap customers - not to mention smoke, noise, other customers sitting too close, etc. etc.  Typically I would buy a single can of beer and some potato chips, pretzels, or something - and spend fifteen minutes or so taking in my surroundings as I had the one beer before getting on a train and going home.  Eventually, I ended up introducing to the place to a friend, and then another friend, and another... until what happened on Wednesday.

I was supposed to meet just two people, but as I went over to Akihabara after work with an Australian friend, I invited him along.  He came, and then when I met up with my two Japanese friends, they turned out to be three instead of only two.  So right from the start, we were five instead of the planned-on three, and then one of the people called some friends from work and with the addition of three more people, suddenly there were eight of us.  We stood there out under the sky - on a pedestrian overpass - occasionally looking up at the sky, feeling the night breeze while talking with one another.... a good time was had by all, until... a security guard came along to told us to clear ourselves off the overpass as it belonged to the office building the overpass connects with the station.  We weren't bothering anyone, but with the number of us there he was probably worried that we'd suddenly disappear and leave all our trash behind.... not the case I assure you, but many people (unfortunately!) are like that, so the innocent and serious ones pay the unpaid bills the fools leave behind.

Not having anywhere else in particular to go, we decided to call it an evening and go home.  As there are no trash cans around there (post saran attack), I got on the train with a large shopping bag full of empty cans and bottles that I planned to throw away at another station that had trash cans.  I got on the train with my Australian friend (the rest of the group had been locals), put the bag up on the overhead rack... and a half-full bottle (someone didn't finish their beer!) tipped over and out from the top of the bag and rained beer down onto the heads of the people sitting below!!  Worse, as I tried to get the %$#& bottle back into the bag, several cans came noisily spilling out... some of them dripping more beer.  It was extraordinarily embarrassing, and the beer-soaked people below were none too pleased!  After apologizing profusely, I got off at the next station (Shinjuku) and threw the cans and bottles away there, where, I'm ashamed to say - the Australian and I had a good laugh about it.  Yeah... I know.  Well, read the next story for the "Bachi-ga-ataru" bit.     [Top of Page]

"Bachi-ga-Ataru?"     [Top of Page]

(2002/11/26)  As a sort of follow up to the story above ("Beer from the Sky" - written on August 10th), I had a reverse experience the week before last....

The Chuo Line is crowded nearly all the time, so opportunities to sit down are few and far between.  One evening as I was on my way home, a seat opened up, so I sat down, started reading my book (about Linux) and then the guy sitting on my left (who had been drinking it seems) suddenly threw up.  The next thing I knew, the left side of my backpack (which was sitting on my knees), the left side of the book I was reading, and my pants were dripping with it.  As I looked at the damage in shock, a gangsterish looking man who had been standing right in front of Mr. Hydraulics threateningly said "Hey!  What's this?" and then said that his now damaged clothes would have to be paid for.  The two businessmen who were companions of Mr. Hydraulics agreed with that, and the four of them got off the train at the next station.  As I shook vomit off of my book, bag, and pant leg, I looked out the window to see them exchanging business cards.

The irritating thing is that I got hit more than anyone (I think Mr. Hydraulics put his hand in front of his face, causing the waterworks to bounce off to the side - into me), ended up leaving a new keyboard on the overhead rack, and had to clean up after someone else's foolishness, but Mr. Gangster got paid for the little bit that splashed on his expensive clothes.  Too bad for me with my cheap closes that are in fact expensive for me and thus had to be cleaned to be used again.  I was able to retrieve the keyboard which had fortunately not been stolen and had been turned in to the police station at the end of the line in Takao (it cost a couple of hours in time and train fare almost equal to the price of the keyboard to go there), but inevitably my thoughts returned to that evening in Ebisu when I stupidly put that bag of cans on the overhead rack... which seemed to have some connection with the highly unpleasant experience on the Chuo Line.

"Bachi-ga-ataru"... I thought.  The dictionary definition is "incur divine retribution" but the meaning is less as a lightning bolt from the sky than a practical connection with something done in the past that is wrong.  So... beer from the sky - waterworks from Mr. Hydraulics.  Who knows, but in any case, what seemed funny in Ebisu was not at all funny on the Chuo Line when I was on the receiving end.  I'd rather have some beer hit me than an evil stew of half digested food and wine, but still......

"Who's Stronger?"     [Top of Page]

I have been reading jokes about men not asking for directions for a few years now, and the other day - as I idly looked out the window of the commuter train I was on (no need to ask for directions there), something about that ongoing joke was bothering me.  I had that feeling you get when you see someone accepting something as established fact without probing for the underlying reasons as to why that "established fact" should be as it is... and there is something in the air telling you that there is more to the story - more to know if only it would be seen.

The joke presents the situation as one where men drive around lost and refuse to ask for directions, which someone would be happy to supply if only they could bring themselves to ask.  This is certainly true, but there are reasons here (as in every situation), for everything has some cause, some reason behind it - some are reasons buried in a forgotten past, some are good reasons, and some are bad reasons, but always there is some kind of reason.

One of the factors here that I haven't seen mentioned, is that the situation of a man asking for directions when he's with a woman is inherently different than when he is alone or with another male, and so (not surprisingly) most men prefer not to put themselves in a situation that can have bad consequences.  Some reasons for this being:

When a man is with a woman and asks another man for directions, this demonstrates that the other man is more knowledgeable than the man asking for directions.  Men want to look good in front of the woman they love, and naturally avoid graphic displays of inferiority.  (Bad reason I know, but still a reason!)

The attitude of men when they are asked questions is not always the same.  If a woman asks a man for directions, he will usually bend over backwards to help out.  If a man asks a man for directions, there are actually some mischievous people (a minority to be sure, but still...) who will deliberately give the wrong directions and/or make fun of the man asking.  If a woman asks a woman for directions, I suppose they help each other?  (No way for me to test that one.)  Also, men are usually quite happy to have a woman approach them, and not nervous about ulterior motives.  With a man asking a woman for directions however, the situation is different.  Again, a minority of men with bad judgment and no manners ruin an innocent situation for everyone, and the reality is that while I will sometimes ask women for directions, I am always nervous that it will be misconstrued as a pick-up attempt.

"What You Shouldn't Write to a Poet:"     [Top of Page]

[Letter written to a poet friend]:  Date: Mon, 17 Jun 2002 18:22:48 +0900  ..........  About your poems - I went back and reread the first one, as well as the one I (earlier) said I liked.  Basically, I think I liked the crafting of the words in the first one better than in the other one, but the longer poem produced stronger images for me and seemed to have the power of truth behind it.  ............  Well... that's the explanation that has formed on my screen, but the actual experience was one of images, and not words.

Words....  Funny how it took me three decades to really realize that words are merely crude attempts to smash pure thinking into a concrete form.  That things can be put into words as well as they can is quite an amazing thing - people should tip their imaginary hats to those before who painstakingly set up languages.  Nevertheless, that so many television zombies foolishly think words in and of themselves have any meaning... is a profoundly tragic thing.  Without this blind faith in dead words, dishonest PR would have no power.  ..........

I'm still not exactly sure what it was exactly about what I said, but I've never heard from the person I sent it to again.  I met her while teaching at Waseda University earlier this year - not teaching directly for the university mind you, but for another company that had rented classroom space in one of the Waseda buildings.  (It's a sensible way for a university to bring in some extra cash I think.)  Well... life in the big city.  I haven't tried hard to stay in touch after not receiving an answer to an e-mail, and I suppose we both just figure that one person out of 30,000,000 isn't a big deal - there are 29,999,999 more people out there.  I say that half-jokingly, but there really is a line of thinking something like that in a mega-city like Tokyo.  People don't generally value each relationship as much as they probably would in a community without so many people.

Well - that's it for this one!  Time to stop thinking about doing anything else with this, and just stuff it in the wires!

Ja... sore dewa!

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon, Images Through Glass
LLLetters@yahoo.com - Nishi-Shinjuku, Tokyo
December 23rd, 2002 - (KFMM-17/LL315/HRE040616)
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