I began this three
months ago, and while I was
planning to put in everything I have to clear out the "pending" folder,
there's too much material, so I'll post this as it is, and then get
to work on LL-335 in order to bring things up to date. September
was a fun month - due to a couple of visiting friends from Portugal
I went to a few different places with during their month-long vacation
here in Tokyo. Thanks to them, I feel like I had a vacation in
too, although I was only able to fit in time with them between work.
"Levi's" [Top of page]
(2005/08/24 21:55) Throughout the years I've been in Japan, the occasional pair of original 501 Levi's I've bought were a connection to the past - with the same old label I remembered from my first pair way back when, and almost as important, or perhaps more so, the smell of them when they were still stiff-as-a-board new. I got used to them being an unchanging thing in my life that I could always come back to, and then I read in the news (this year wasn't it?) that Levi's closed their last US factory and now all Levi's are made in other countries.
So... a few weeks ago, when I went to Ueno for a couple of replacement pairs of Levi's, I was initially only concerned about the size - asking the shopkeeper if I could trust the size numbers I'd been buying for years, or if they had changed them and I'd have to figure out what the new numbers were for the same size. He assured me that the numbers were the same, and that there were only very minor, if any, changes to the overall style and cut of the traditional "501" jeans. He said most of the jeans his shop had been importing were made in Mexico, but when we had a look at the label, it said Dominican Republic.
The price had been marked down from Y9,000 to Y6,000, so I happily bought two pairs and took them home. The smell that always takes me back to when I was in high school was still there, but the paper labels were different, and when I had a look at the other pair, I saw they were made in Columbia. Hmmm... the Dominican Republic and Colombia - and the shopkeeper said they're also made in Mexico. How many countries are they made in now anyway? I'm happy with them so far and not worried about the quality, but the floating variable of where they are made makes me feel a little strange. I grew up associating different manufactured products (or different brands) with different countries, so a product (especially one with as many cultural connections to San Francisco as Levi's) that now belongs to no country seems a little... weird.
Lest you think I'm trying to make a political
statement, I hasten to say very plainly and simply that I actually
know what to make of it! I do feel a little strange though...
at the tag before I wear one of the pairs to see if I'm in the
Republic or in Columbia. Once I know what country I'm in, I
whose hands made my jeans, how much they were/are paid, what sort of
they have, what the factory looks like, who the supervisors are,
I shouldn't bother thinking of those things I know, but I've always had
an interest in how something I use is made and who made it. The
products are the ones that don't say where they're from! Every
I use such a stateless product, I look at it and wonder if it was
in from Mars, or maybe somewhere on Earth even....
"Argus Cameras" [Top of page]
From: KJA [US]
Date: Fri, 8 Jul 2005
....... My old Argus camera has been fun just figuring out how it works. Winding it calls for depressing the catch before winding, and then releasing it as soon as the spool begins to turn, which stops the winding when the exposure count rolls around to the next frame.
It has an adjustable range finder. Aperture, shutter speed, and focus must be set. The shutter is cocked with a lever, and then the shutter is triggered with a button where a flash can be attached. Wind again. I recall that photographers used to always have a light meter.
There are some rules of thumb you can use though (so you don't need a light meter) - and old film packs used to give exposure guidelines, such as 125/f5.6 for an overcast sky (those numbers pulled from a hat, BTW), etc. The exposure guidelines would work well with color negative film, which has a large latitude (you can both under and over-expose it quite a bit and still be within range of getting a good picture). If you can't get ahold of exposure guidelines, then remember this old rule of thumb:
The old ASA ratings (same numbers as the new ISO numbers) were based on estimated shutter speed with the aperture at f16 (stopped all the way down to the smallest opening on most cameras, although some have f32, etc.) under a clear sunny sky. Thus, ISO-400 film would have a shutter speed of 1/400th of a second at f16. The closest speed on the camera would be 1/500th of a second, and so a photo taken on a sunny day (with ISO-400 film) would turn out fine with 1/500 f16, 1/250 f16, or 1/500 f8.
Some more details (sorry if you already know this):
Both shutter speeds and aperture are generally set up so that in either direction, you are either doubling the exposure (amount of light) or halving it. Thus the following exposures will all deliver the same amount of light to the film:
All provide the same amount of light, but the 1/500 f2 setting will freeze action and have a narrow depth of field (area in focus) while the 1/15 f16 setting will give the maximum depth of field but might be blurry if you don't use a tripod or otherwise brace the camera somehow.
Also note that on a bright sunny day outside
ISO 400 film, you don't have much choice except to use the fastest
speed and smallest aperture. Cloudy days offer more options and
better (less harsh) lighting. People often think a sunny day is
for pictures, but actually, with a good camera, an overcast day is
better - with much more even lighting. With one of those
cameras (idiotically called "film with lens" to avoid the bad-PR word
bright sun is often best for the simple reason that they have
bad lenses and need a lot of light for a proper exposure. With a
good lens, that's not a problem.... [Top of page]
"July 2005 Weather" [Top of page]
We had a late rainy season, but it did come (a little too much for some areas that experienced flooding), so I've stopped worrying about a water shortage for this year at least. Japan has a lot of dams, but they're not all that large, so I don't think the water would keep flowing from the tap if there were more than two dry seasons in a row - by the third one, the lakes would be nearly empty I think. In any case, the one thing that Japan does get a lot of, is rain! It's a water-wealthy nation!
At the moment though, the rain has stopped,
the kids are out in the parks looking for the beetles with the large
that they so love to catch. It's practically a national pastime,
with seniors out for an early morning walk often catching them to give
to kids later, etc.
"Upcoming September Vacation" [Top of page]
Subject: Re: Double Exposures, etc.
From: RER [Portugal]
Date: Mon, 27 Jun 2005
Before summer there is always a lot of work around here. I guess companies try to get all work done before the staff starts going on vacation.
Next week there will be a short film festival (film and animation) and this year's theme will be Japan. The best thing is that there will be a party with DJ Konishi from Pizzicato Five. I really love this band, it's too bad they stopped releasing records.... The funny thing is that I was told they aren't very well-known in Japan. Yet they are one of the most famous Japanese bands in Europe!
Re: "One recent time burner that will save me money in the long term, is the project to make my old 1984 car disappear! It's going to cost me about Y45,000 to make it go away though."
Are you thinking of buying a new car? Judging by the things I've been reading about Japan, the transportation system is so good that most people in Japan shouldn't need to have a car. Comparing Japan to Portugal, it takes me around thirty minutes to get to work by car here in Portugal, but it would take an hour and a half if I went by public transportation (bus and subway)! Anyway, it's funny because, here, the government would pay you 1,500 euros (200.000 yen) for your old car. There is a campaign to get rid of old cars in Portugal and they would discount that amount from the price of a new car.
Re: "The trouble with photographers is that there are so very many of them that it's quite hard to sell photos. Mainly I've only been able to sell photos along with text, but that's okay, since I like to write too."
Well, it's also true that there are many stock agencies who work only with photography. Maybe you could try to sell some of your pictures from Japan as a theme. Many agencies have categories or themes. Or maybe try travel agencies abroad.
About the agency I told you about, it went wrong. I refused to sign a contract with them. They asked me to pay 1,100 US$ per year for advertising my work. To me this has no logic at all! If they want to sell my work gaining commissions why should I pay for what should be their expenses? For this amount I can advertise myself without going through anyone else. These guys are real thieves!!!
I'm in contact with another agency from London; let's see how it works out...
Re: "Next week there will be a short film festival (film and animation) and this year's theme will be Japan."
How did that go? I think Japan is a more
exciting and exotic place when seen from afar! Up close it's just
my ordinary and usually sort-of boring life.
Re: "Are you thinking of buying a new car? Judging by the things I've been reading about Japan, the transportation system is so good that most people in Japan shouldn't need to have a car."
Right. No need. Anyway, there are
rent-a-cars.... The deal with the 1984 Prelude is that I got it
free.... There's an old saying in Japanese "Tada-hodo takai mono
ga nai" ("There is nothing so expensive as that which is free"), which
is sort of similar to the English expressions "There's no such thing as
something for nothing" and "If it seems too good to be true, it
is". I never in my life (up till a few years ago) thought that a
small piece of dirt in an open lot (to park the car) could cost me so
money! In the center of the city, some people actually pay more
a parking space for their car than they do on rent for themselves!!!
Re: "Comparing Japan to Portugal, it takes me around thirty minutes to get to work by car here in Portugal, but it would take an hour and a half if I went by public transportation (bus and subway)!"
Here, a 30-minute train ride into the central
part of Tokyo would take 90 minutes (or more) by car due to inching
in a (perpetual) traffic jam! So our situations are exactly
Re: "Anyway, it's funny because, here, the government would pay you 1,500 euros (200.000 yen) for your old car. There is a campaign to get rid of old cars in Portugal and they would discount that amount from the price of a new car."
Japan seems to be going in the opposite
- they are making it more and more difficult and increasingly expensive
to throw away anything big - old TV's and CRT computer monitors are
expensive. There are many things the city will not accept, even
a price (you have to pay to throw away something like a chair, etc.)
you are forced to search for a company to pay to take it away.
things like old stereos, many people have taken to dismantling and
them into small pieces so they can mix the pieces in with the regular
Something like a an old tire can only be disposed of through a company
that sells tires, etc.
Re: "Maybe you could try to sell some of your pictures from Japan as a theme. Many agencies have categories or themes."
I've had bad luck so far registering with
photo-bank agencies. One of them has a system like those horrible
automated telephone recordings that companies use to save money by not
having to actually hire a human being to answer the phone ("If you
like to..... press one; If you would like to..... press two, etc. etc.
etc. etc. etc.). They have very narrow and time-consuming
that their bloody computer forces you to burn off huge amounts of time
playing with before you can submit photos. They're clever I guess
- the machine does all the work and all they have to do is sit back and
collect the cash, but I don't think they are human and I want nothing
do with those face-less money-hungry non-human creatures hiding back
somewhere behind their bank of computers. I'm not against
mind you, but I am against inconsiderately wasting other people's time
through laziness. [Top
"From the Outer Galaxy" [Top of page]
(2005/09/01) I was excited about the prospect of possibly showing some of my photos on the wall of an upscale pub in Nishi-Azabu, so I went to a meeting with the pub's "Art Director" (Hey, don't laugh at me, that's exactly what it says on the woman's card), but things degenerated in a hurry. It turned out that the three people I met are all from the outer galaxy and are not of this planet. Well, the woman who introduced me to the pub's "Art Director" seemed decent, if drifting away from this planet in the direction of the "Art Director", but that "Art Director" and the other man present, who said he was an investment banker(!), are definitely not from this planet. They are drifting on whatever galactic wind leaks the most cash, no matter where it's headed.
I'm sure the first class staterooms on the Titanic were quite comfy - at least until they were at a 45-degree angle and the cold Atlantic began leaking in. Is that all there is for humankind? To blithely be imbeciles until the ship is irredeemably damaged?
"Perpetual Change" [Top of page]
From: KJA [US]
Date:Sat, 16 Jul 2005
[Re: "Shibuya" in the Photo Gallery] Your comments on an ever-changing Tokyo, and feeling like a stranger at times ring a bell with me. A much different city in every other way, Tucson is like that with stores replacing stores and new buildings on every corner. These are in new neighborhoods, and most people here see only their favorite pocket of shops, stores, and offices and never know about the others.
The old "Downtown" has become a place of government buildings, hippy clothing boutiques, tattoo and body piercing dives, as well as a few bars where no honest man would consider entering. An old movie theater has been revived in an effort to lure people back downtown, but a hoard of homeless vagrants are fed free food nearby so the sidewalks are occupied by threatening bums begging cigarettes or money. Who needs that? Most people stick to the new shopping centers, restaurants, and theaters which again change their faces every ten years.
I think most Tucsonians take care of their jobs, business, and shopping by auto (Tucson is definitely a SUV and pickup truck town), then they stay at home with the TV as their connection to world events and entertainment. And that isn't bad. However, the scene is constantly changing, prices go up, and lifestyles are adjusting almost daily.
That's something that I think about sometimes
- how my life would be if there were no television, radio or
I'm quite certain I would spend more time outside. I can remember
back when I was a student how I felt on weekends - I felt as though the
world was waiting for me outside and it was somehow mandatory to get
and find out what was what in the world. Now the majority of my
about the outside world comes through the phone wires to my computer,
going out is for shopping and work. Some weekends I will spend a
Saturday or Sunday without setting foot outside at all. Tokyo
encourages this though, as going anywhere usually entails a tiresome
ride, and what with running all over town from Monday to Friday, the
is a time to recharge and get ready for another five days of running
"Today or Yesterday & Tomorrow?" [Top of page]
(2005/09/09) Tokyo has been expanding its train system nonstop (with a few intervals) since the very first train that ran from Shinbashi Station to Yokohama Station (currently Sakuragicho Station) in 1872 (present-day Yokohama Station is now at a different location, further inland). One of the newest improvements to the system is the Shonan Line - a new train that runs on existing tracks. I took it from Fujisawa to Shinjuku yesterday, and was so impressed with the convenience and speed of it that I pondered the details of its inception. "What rails is it running on exactly?" I asked a local woman. She said she didn't know... paused... looked at me, and then said:
"What is it with men that they love to talk about things in the past and things in the future, but never like talking about the present?"
I gave that a whir in the old computer upstairs and admitted that I would have to admit (exceptions nearly always existing of course, including this time!) that many of the men I know do tend to be dreamers either looking back or (and/or actually) looking forward, while many of the women I know are quite practical about... today. Here. Now.
And... that's it! I don't know what it
but it seemed to mean something yesterday when the incident described
happened, so I'm tossing it up onto the screen.
"New Orleans - July 2005" [Top of page]
From: KCM [US]
Date: Jul. 18th, 2005
[Sent from New Orleans] Aabbb is in the bathroom right now, and I am taking advantage of our hotel's "wireless" Internet (I put wireless in quotes because they apparently don't understand that wireless means that you don't need network cables) to catch up a little. New Orleans has been fun, hot, and humid. Every time we leave the hotel for even a short walk, we come back sopping wet. It's so gross.
We are staying in the French Quarter, which is probably the San Francisco equivalent of staying in Fisherman's Wharf - really touristy. San Franciscans are notorious about never venturing to places like Fisherman's Wharf, because it's where they "cordon off all the tourists", but I kind of like Fisherman's Wharf, and I like the French Quarter, mostly because underneath all the tacky knick-knacks and postcards and strip clubs and bars, are remnants of the historical past, in the architecture, in some of the preserved buildings, etc. In New Orleans, this is truer, where every street seems to be named after some general or other who once lived there or made an impact on the place.
I forgot to mention - my dad actually used to work in New Orleans. I don't know what he did here, but maybe it had something to do with the dried shrimp. My dad considered moving us to New Orleans, but my mom put her foot down and refused to move somewhere where there were no Chinese people. So for a while he worked here while we stayed in San Francisco, and he would come back every so often. This explains why I was terrified of him when I was a kid, because I hardly ever saw him.
They requested dried shrimp because my mom says, "that's where it comes from." I had no idea. I bought them two half-pound bags of large ones.
In playing "spot-the-Asian", which I automatically do every time I travel, it turned out not to be too bad. There were actually a couple of cute guys, who I suspect were from the local college.
We decided not to rent a car, which turned out to be wise of us, since nobody here seems to know what brakes are for. You've heard of a California "rolling stop"? We've got nothing on the New Orleans people, as they would just kind of roll into you, even if you were walking directly in front of them. The drivers would just kind of look off to the side, not on the side they were turning into, but the other way.
We ate really well. The saying that
can't get bad food in New Orleans" is apparently true. Some
were better than others. I loved the fried chicken at Mother's,
gumbo I had except for the one at the Harrah's buffet (which was too
and there was catfish, oysters, steak, etc., etc. After a while,
it got to be too much and I ordered soup and salad for one of my
Oh, and beignets, which are like fried Chinese donuts that you dip in
sugar. Fried bread and sugar is one of the greatest inventions
Wed, Jul. 20th, 2005
Overheard on Canal Street: "I'm from Minnesota. You don't tell me to shut up, you ASK me to HUSH!"
In reference to the "wireless" stuff below, I actually had a dream about that. The day before we ordered the "high-speed Internet access", I dreamed that they fixed our lack of access by bringing in a network cable. As they entered the room, I whined, "But that's not wireless!" Then I woke up, and freaked out, thinking, why am I turning into Aabbb?
The swamp tour was awesome. The guide told us a bunch of stories about how he gets bit every month, the type of personalities among the alligators, commentary about failed government environmental management, how he fell down in a marsh and got bit by a snake and almost had his arm amputated, etc. I kept thinking, "Wow, dude, you better have really good insurance."
The random bars in the French Quarter mostly sucked. When asked what beers they had on tap, they inevitably said, "Miller, Coors." &%&$^%$.... It was better when we went into the restaurants and ordered from the bars there, because you could see their selection of alcohol. I couldn't even get a buzz from my daiquiri though, and I usually am tipsy from the first few sips.
We saw this homeless woman get up from her wheelchair and run over to someone else. It was so surreal.
New Orleans is full of crazy and sketchy
Several men said to us, "Hey man, I know where you got your
I kept trying to figure out what that meant. Were they trying to
steal from us? That would have been a dumb way to do it,
What does it matter if they know where I get my shoes? The driver
who drove us to our swamp tour seemed nice enough, but had a glazed
in his eyes and kept cracking jokes that he laughed at silently,
his fist on the wheel at the same time.
[Top of page]
"Changing Conditions" [Top of page]
(2005/09/10) I met up with another long-term foreign resident of Tokyo yesterday, and he expressed the opinion that it's becoming nearly impossible to find work in this country. He basically said, "I think it's time to either check out the lifeboats or get on another ship."
It might be true, but the world's oceans are full of ships not sailing very well, so where to go - be it the case that another ship would make for smoother sailing? I have no idea, but after talking about that in the afternoon, later that evening when I dropped into a British pub in Ebisu and contemplated the live band and the dancing crowd there (about half local and half foreign), I felt (for the first time, out of many visits to that pub), something different from the old sensation I've always had of feeling like I had entered an ongoing subculture of Tokyo. The feeling was a subdued one and I felt as though I were witnessing the last days of an era about to end....
I hope that's not the case, but there are
clouds on the horizon and the high waves washing over the ship's bow
inspire confidence in it's unimpeded progress to calmer seas.....
"I Can't Wait!" [Top of page]
Subject: Re: Japanese Artists
From: RER [Portugal]
Date: Mon, 04 Jul 2005 +0100
After spending all weekend working, I finally got some time to write. I'm very excited about the coming holidays, I've been really tired and I can't wait for my vacation to begin. I even started taking vitamins! It's funny because I had a conversation with a friend this afternoon and I was explaining to her that I have to get out of the country on the holidays. If not I'll have someone calling me with more work to do. If I stayed home I wouldn't rest at all, there would always be a reason to keep me in front of the computer. Besides, I believe big trips are also a way think about the world and your own life. Many people can't understand this, and go on worrying about with their tiny problems. It's strange, I just remembered there was the G8 meeting recently, I guess it's related in some way. Most people tend to forget selfishly about the rest of the world....
About Hiroshige, I took a look at the "Tokaido 53-Tsugi" pictures - the pictures are really awesome. I don't know if I saw his work before.... The snow pictures are so lovely! What struck me the most were the saturated colors, which strengthen the dramatic lightning of the images.
Unfortunately, there are many cases where an artist is only recognized in his own country after being successful abroad. We have lots of cases like this in Portugal.
"Not Fair..." [Top of page]
(2005/09/11) I was invited to a Chunichi Dragons vs. Yomiuri Giants baseball game at Tokyo dome today (earlier in the night, yesterday by the calendar). I'm no expert on any kind of baseball, but I've seen more of it in Tokyo than anywhere (five or six games here and one in San Francisco), so allow me to comment on what I've seen and what I saw tonight.
Baseball on these islands has a different form of fan support than what people on the other side of the Pacific engage in. There are sections of the stadium set aside exclusively for fans of one or the other team (as well as a "free seating" area) and when the team of one side or the other is on the offensive, people in their exclusive section of the stadium blow trumpets, beat drums and chant one thing or another ("Fight-Fight-Fight!!"; Hit-Hit-Hit!!" etc.), and the other fans of the same team scattered about in the "free seating" areas of the stadium also yell, beat noisemakers together in time with the official cheering section, etc...
Okay - cool. I can dig it. It reminds of the huge swinging ship at an amusement park I used to go to, where people sat on the ends of the swinging "ship" facing the center (and the other half of the riders), and the people on whichever end was up in the air would put their arms up in the air and yell as loudly as they could, and then, as they swung down, they shut up and let the people on the other end take their turn yelling back, with their hands up in the air. There were times when it was really fun - someone (cough-cough) would try some oddball yells and the people on the other side would laugh and try something similar when it was their turn. Fun. Not highly complicated fun, but immensely enjoyable at times (how often can you hell at the top of your lungs anyway?)
So... there I was in the Tokyo Dome a few hours ago taking things in and only mildly irritated at the lopsided size allocated to the Yomiuri hard core noisemakers (Tokyo dome is their home turf), but enjoying the game nevertheless (except for the kids behind me with their Yomiuri plastic pole noise makers - which they kept bumping into my chair, my shoulder, and even my head), especially enjoying the one strong run Chunichi made against Yomiuri, complete with some strong and cool sounding chanting with their drum "Ute-Ute-Ute...!!!" ("Hit-Hit-Hit!" - it sounds better in Japanese!), but then some details started to creep into my conscious thinking....
When Yomiuri was making their noise, and only when they making their noise, the PA system was being used from time to time, with music and some drum beats being electronically amplified (is that standard? - to only have the PA going for the home teem?), and what really made me smoking mad and provided the drive for me to toss this into the wires, was when Chunichi got going again later on with their cool "Ute-Ute-Ute...!!!" chant and then the bloody Yomiuri noise section got going at the same time with interference noise. I mean... that's not civil. I know, I know, you'll pummel my statement there with comparisons to sports fans here or there bloodying each other, but the point is, when Yomiuri was at bat, the Chunichi noisemakers shut up, but then when they got going with the chant that coincided with their earlier gain, the Yomiuri side went dirty. There was no violence of any kind at the game, but once one side goes dirty, there's a pull on the other side to retaliate and then one thing or another gets grimy and civility goes out the window, and without civility, civilization is - even if only incrementally - damaged.
I've been accused of automatically not liking large companies and organizations, but it's not true. What I don't like are dirty players. Unfortunately, too many of the powerful groups in this world got that way by going dirty. I've been told to my face by creatures wearing straight faces, that "Might is Right", but... it's not. Wrong is wrong, dirty is dirty, and justice comes sooner or later (hopefully sooner), but in the meantime, fair play makes life better for all. So - to Yomiuri - please be civil!
Wow... and I don't even like sports! If
I hadn't been invited to that game, I wouldn't have gone and I'd
be asleep right now, dreaming about... what? Photographing
in one beautiful setting or another? [Top of page]
"Kanji & Google Earth" [Top of page]
Subject: Tokyo, Kyoto, Porto, the world
From: RER [Portugal]
Date: Sat, 09 Jul 2005 +0100
...... I always wanted to learn calligraphy (being an illustrator, I'm not bad with a brush and ink). Because I'm not able to read the words, it becomes even more fascinating and poetic. The time this art struck me the most was when I first saw a Japanese calligraphy master on TV writing (or painting). Years and years of training to create these unique pieces of art in just a few seconds with a few quick and determined brush strokes....
Oh! I just discovered a GREAT thing!!! Do you know Google Earth? It's a huge picture database of all the world from satellite photography. Some places have really sharp picture. I could see the Meiji shrine so clearly I could see people walking! I also saw my own house!! The whole thing starts with the globe and you start zooming and zooming and zooming.... If you don't know it, here is the link: http://earth.google.com/
Unfortunately, I think it only runs on windows.
Yes, the software they have for it only works
on MicroMuck... but I'll try it out at some point on a MicroMuck box!
"At Mama-san House" (Autobiography) Review [Top of page]
This book is a good read... being self-published, the book has its share of typos, but on the other hand, not having been damaged by a homogenization/political editor, the book is the authentic voice of its author about a time that will, before long, be impossible to write about from a first-person perspective....
Joe (the name Job used at the time), was in Japan from the end of 1948 until mid-1950 as part of the occupation of Japan, and then he was sent to the front lines of the Korean War. The story is in the details, and there are pictures painted for the reader about the immediate postwar years in Japan (and later, the front lines in Korea) that could only be produced by someone who was there - someone with 20/20 vision to boot. Things were going well for Joe - he fell in love with a woman in Tokyo, and they rented a room just outside of central Tokyo that became their hideaway ("Kakurega" - the mysterious Japanese subtitle written only in Japanese), and then the Korean War and military politics (the military version of office politics) intruded and made things complicated....
Saying any more would ruin the suspense of the
book, so I'll just say that I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys
reading autobiographies and/or is interested in that period of time in
Japan & Korea.
"Art & Movies" [Top of page]
Subject: Sunday (Long Letter)
From: RER [Portugal]
Date: Mon, 18 Jul 2005 +0100
Re: "How did that go? I think Japan is a more exciting and exotic place when seen from afar! Up close it's just my ordinary and usually sort-of boring life."
Actually, I got extra work and Aabbb has her final exams - we couldn't watch a single movie. It's a shame because we even had free invitations to watch winning short movies. But we did go to the DJ Konishi party and it was awesome!
Most of the music I like, I can't find in stores. Even so, a few bands get to become famous without selling out. Pizzicato 5 are very famous in Europe (among music lovers, of course - not teenagers). They started around 1984 and released their last album in the US (Matador records - great label) in 2002. They were around for almost 20 years, I think that if an artist is true to himself and doesn't give his work to $$$ he will be appreciated eventually. The problem is that people try to go the easy way. I'm used to seeing illustrators that change their style depending on the aesthetic trends of the moment.
Re: "Right. There's no need for a car in Tokyo - anyway, there are rent-a-cars.... The deal with the 1984 Prelude is that I got it for free.... There's an old saying in Japanese "Tada-hodo takai mono ga nai" ("There is nothing so expensive as that which is free"), which is sort of similar to the English expressions "There's no such thing as something for nothing" and "If it seems too good to be true, it probably is". I never in my life (up till a few years ago) thought that a small piece of dirt in an open lot could cost me so much money! In the center of the city, some people actually pay more for a parking space for their car than they do on rent for themselves!!!"
HA HA! maybe you should try to give it to someone! :) In Portuguese, it would go like this: "O barato sai caro" - translated: "Cheap things turn expensive"
Re: "Japan seems to be going in the opposite direction - they are making it more and more difficult and increasingly expensive to throw away anything big - old TV's and CRT computer monitors are particularly expensive...."
Around here, you could just put whatever into the trash. Every town has a special trash service - if you have something big like a washing machine, they will come pick it up at home for free. In Portugal, we also have lots of used stuff fairs. It would be very easy to sell TVs or electronic stuff to people who need parts from it for repair. I used to sell old stuff at these fairs when I was a kid to get some extra money.
Re: "I've had bad luck so far registering with on-line photo-bank agencies. One of them has a system like those horrible automated telephone recordings that companies use to save money by not having to actually hire a human being to answer the phone...."
Maybe they do it on purpose so people will give up in the process, like some kind of filter. Anyway, photography and illustration, as a form of commercial art, are very hard fields to work in. I have been working professionally in design and illustration for twelve years, and only now I'm starting to get good freelance jobs. The key is to keep fighting and not loose faith. I've been trying several approaches to get to clients. I was very surprised to get assignments when I directly contacted magazine editors and publishers. I thought they would receive hundreds of proposals and I wouldn't have a chance, but I got lucky. Even so I'm very far from being able to make a living on freelance jobs.
Re: "The movies are masterpieces, but some people have told me that they think Kurosawa's movies are boring. I guess too many people were/are more willing to spend their money on horrible junk. Quality is largely ignored - horrible garbage makes tons of money... it's a tragedy I think!!!"
I guess it's the difference between entertaining trash, and art - no matter what field (music, literature, cinema, painting, etc..). Art should be groundbreaking, innovative and personal. But, on the other hand, the public also should be open-minded to new things. How can an artist survive if no one is interested in their work? They will sell out sooner or later to be able to pay the bills. But I think the major problem is that big companies only care about quick money. Since most of the public will watch what is advertised, I believe that if the money guys would start advertising alternative and quality movies and music, people would buy it anyway....
I also hate "S" movies and that kind of commercial junk, but I gave up having this kind of discussion with most people. I start speaking about good directors and they have no clue of what I'm talking about. To be able to understand new and different visions and points of view is fundamental to grow as a person. An exercise I sometimes do is to think: "Why do I hate this artist's work?" Many times, I take the effort of knowing more about it and I come to like it. Most people won't go beyond their first view of something. I never liked Jackson Pollock's paintings, until I watched a movie by Ed Harris. I read a little about him and once I understood what he was trying to do, and I came to view him as one of the greatest contemporary painters around. It's sad to realize that 99% of the public won't give their brains a push to go a little ahead.
Here I am writing in circles.... Movie business nowadays only repeats the same formula again and again. The only thing that changes is the amount of special effects. I really get angry when I see on TV: "The most expensive movie ever made". Just because they had to use large hardware and millions of 3D rendering hours.... They forgot that any kind of art is meant to transmit a story and a point of view. What matters to the public is only the least important thing: the medium.
RER [Top of page]
"They've Arrived!" [Top of page]
(2005/09/05) A couple of friends arrived
in town on Friday for a one-month stay in Tokyo. I met them in
and we spent some time walking around together - going to the top of
Tokyo City Government towers, etc. Their visit makes me think
to 1984 when I first came here, and I'm having flashbacks to how I
things then - the new sounds, sights, smells....
"Quiet Tokyo?" [Top of page]
(2005/09/06) Something my visiting friends from Portugal said has given me an unexpected outlook on Tokyo. They said they were surprised at how quiet it is! Quiet? Tokyo?! Hmmm.... I've never been to Portugal, but I would have imagined it to be quieter than this mega-city, but now I find out that its cities are noisier than the streets of Tokyo! Shouting across or down the street and honking car horns are more prevalent in Portugal, I was told. With that scenario in mind, I can now actually walk down the street here and perceive it as being quiet - something I've never thought of before. Thinking back though - I would have to admit that I've never actually thought that Tokyo was noisy all the time, but definitely noisy at times - with loud announcements in some discount electronics stores, over-amplified train announcements (at times, not always), very loud speaker trucks for politicians and political groups, etc.
Actually - come to think of it - in spite of some sporadic excessive noisiness, people do seem to be noise-conscious to a certain degree. The most common neighbor complaints I've heard about in apartment buildings are over noise. People will often complain about what is just normal behavior really - kids running from one side of the apartment to another will set some people off. One acquaintance who teaches kids math and English in her apartment put in a secondary layer of flooring in the room the kids walk into (who then do nothing more than sit on the floor around a table!) to please a complaining person in the apartment below. Another was being harassed by anonymous phone calls whenever she tried to practice the piano (in the middle of the day), something she alleviated by laying out a large pile of cash to have the room the piano was in sound-proofed. The most surprising thing I've heard, is that the wind chimes that used to be popular in Japan, are now nearly nonexistent in Tokyo due to people complaining about them being noisy!! This one I was really surprised to hear, as I've always thought that the sound they make is quite pleasant.
Hmmmm..... Like every country, it's a situation of contrasts, but I suppose some of the traditionally famous subtlety of Japan dictates a certain sensitivity to noise. And some things have gotten quieter over the past couple of decades - the train station "BEE!!BEE!!BEE!!BEE!!" (hurry-hurry-hurry-the-doors-are-about-to-close!!!) warning bells of 1984 have been changed to much quieter and differing melodies (different in each station). On the other hand, the rather loud "Irasshaimasei!" ("Welcome") call has become even louder and more frequent in some Akihabara stores. At T-Zone, I used to just walk in and shop for parts, but now I typically have to walk past a man calling out (overly loudly I think) "Irasshaimasei!" at the door, and then have my concentration distracted repeatedly by clerks within the store also (loudly) calling out "Irasshaimasei!"!! Sometimes, when I'm standing in front of the hard drive display case, the man just on the other side of it is calling out "Irasshaimasei!" over and over. As his calling voice is rather loud and my pair of ears are only about one meter away, his voice hurts my ears and prevents me from concentrating on the different hard drives in the display case, so I finally decided that I needed to defend myself. Now, when the man starts yelling, I just put my fingers in my ears to lower the noise to a level below the threshold of pain. Rude? I guess so! But I think yelling in my face is even ruder, and if they want me to buy things there, I need to block out the noise sometimes.
Well, like I said - contrasts! Since I
never in my life had people actually calling out "Welcome!" to me in a
loud voice on the inside of a shop before I came to Japan, I had ended
up thinking Japan was noisy due to those experiences, but actually,
not necessarily so. Certainly if you do decide to spend some time
here, don't think you can play your stereo as loudly as you like in the
middle of the night! [Top of page]
"An Old Friend" [Top of page]
Subject: old friends
From: PBU [Pakistan / UK]
Date: Sat, 18 Jun 2005 +0100
Long ago, in 1973, when I was thirteen years old, Aabbb was my classmate. Then we went to different schools and got separated, but remained in touch. In 1979, we became medical students, but at different institutions, where we became busy and lost track of each other. Then, in 1980, he surprised me with a phone call out of the blue. We were both second year medical students at the time, and I was impressed that he had found my phone number and managed to get ahold of me and to later come by for a visit. Later I graduated and entered practical life, and I guessed he did so as well, but we lost track of each other again. Later, I heard that he joined the army.
In 1991, I left my country, went to UK and found a job. My old friend remained in the back of my mind, and in 2004 when I was invited to a friend's place for a barbecue, I met a stranger who mentioned Aabbb. I told him that I knew him, and he told me that Aabbb was currently working in the UK. I said "Wow! Tell me more!", and he gave me Aabbb's phone number. I phoned Aabbb and surprised him :-) This time, it was his turn to be impressed that I had managed to find his phone number and give him a call!
He told me that after he graduated, he had joined the army, and then later came to the UK. I told him that after I graduated, I didn't join the army, and then later came to the UK. He said that he studied at the University Of Wales for two years, 1993 and 1994. I told him that I was a student at the University Of Wales for two years too, 1991 and 1992. He graduated and became an anesthesiologist, and I also became an anesthesiologist... nice coincidence. :-) He got married and had two kids. I also got married and had two kids.
Today we spoke again on the phone, and are planning to see each other in the near future. He's in Manchester, and I'm here in Jersey, only 400 miles away. But surely we'll stay in touch.
"Closer When Thousands of Miles Away?" [Top of page]
(2005/09/06) My friends from Portugal are staying at a "gaijin house" (foreign guest house), which has a communal phone for each block of four or five rooms (with one or two people in each room). We've long exchanged e-mail and - through e-mail - successfully arranged to meet in Shinjuku on the day they arrived in Japan last week, but since then, I have been unable to reach them by phone. Either they're not there, or some neanderthal just picks up the receiver and immediately puts it back down again without bothering to listen or say anything. Revenge for someone calling too much no doubt - and like nearly all revenge, not actually revenge, but rather a perpetuation of the crime on someone innocent, slightly different in detail though the crime may be. Someone outside was inconsiderate about calling there too much (women calling a male model I hear), so someone staying there decided to get revenge by being a neanderthal. Well, good for them (extreme sarcasm), they feel good imagining that they're getting back at whoever called too much, while in fact they're mucking with me, who didn't call too much and had nothing to do with the earlier problem.
"Not Too Old!" [Top of page]
The letter below refers to my text on the
page on the Internet and also (to a lesser degree) the article "Gaijin
Disease", in LL-333.
Subject: RE: People in their 40's in
From: APR [Portugal]
Date: Sat, 9 Jul 2005 +0100
I really don't remember feeling excluded for being too old! I think I told you I live in a small village (about 1500 people, only detached houses and the nearest house is 200 meters from mine) and I work in a small town 3.5km from here. I am not married but I get along here with people of all ages. In the town where I work and I do most of the shopping, I know there are places which attract different ages but I've yet to find myself in a place where I felt I didn't belong. Usually the bars, the restaurants, the cinemas, the bookshops I go to here or in the nearest big city have people of all ages in them.
It's not that people find themselves excluded exactly, but rather that groups of one type or another tend to get together ("Birds of a feather flock together"), and if you're of a different type, you can't help but feel odd when you are the only one! This happens more often here than in some places... like a restaurant that has 99% women or 99% men in it. If you are the oddball 1%, you'll be served politely with no problem, but - again - being the only one, you feel out in the cold....
But... whatever! There is something to
said for all ages, so you're never really too young or too old - save
the extremes of the spectrum at the entrance and exit.
"Everything Works" [Top of page]
(2005/09/13) In talking with my friends from Portugal (yes, we finally got back in touch with each other via e-mail - no luck with the phone!), hearing about their perceptions of Japan is both educational and interesting. One comment they made yesterday that caught my attention is, "everything works", as in things function well without breakdown or failure. Some examples being:
- The trains run on time and they hardly every break down (I haven't experienced a single train failure in 21 years of riding the rails here).
- The vending machines work and don't steal your change (I actually did have one do just that about 15 years ago, but the company gave me my money back after they were contacted about the problem).
- Things open and close on time, etc.
Thinking about it, I would have to say it's true. In fact, things work so well, that it never enters the imagination that it could be otherwise.
I wonder if, in a world where people get used to things always actually working as they should, do they then become less skillful at improvisation/innovation? Look at cars - there's less and less a user can do if their car breaks down. Fortunately, they usually don't break down, but when they do, how many of us can do anything other than call for help?
And... that's the idea. I thought I was
going to write quite a bit more than this, due to the strength and
of the realization that comment about things working had for me, but
easy enough to explain in concept, if not in impact. I've been so
focused on attempting to somehow evade crowded trains and the high
of mega-city life in Tokyo, that I'd forgotten some of the city's
aspects. For comparison, hearing about how things are in other
is helping to put things in perspective.
"A Trip to Italy" [Top of page]
Subject: Trip to Italy
From: KJA [US]
Date: Mon, 3 Oct 2005 -0700
The trip to Italy got off to a start with a change of planes at Dallas/Ft Worth, then spending a night at a hotel near JFK Airport. That afternoon we boarded an Alitalia 757 for Milan. Our fellow passengers were as motley a group as you could ever see and I caught a case of crabs on the airplane toilet seat. The plane itself has seating for only half the passengers because half of each person spills over into the next seat, or the aisle. Not a good place for one given to claustrophobia. I felt a distinct relationship to sardines. At Milan air terminal we got into the wrong line, which turned into a nightmare of hundreds of people pressing forward to get checked. Turned out this was the group flying on to other destinations. The police showed us to the proper place for passport checks.
Now we met our guide Enzo (where in he*l was he earlier) and tour companions, and rode the tour bus into the city and our hotel. The building was quite old but in excellent shape. The bus driver delivered baggage to respective rooms. Immediately our bathroom became the center of our attention and was funny with the bidet and strange method of flushing the equally strange commode. A purple ball attached to the floor in front of the bidet caused me to wonder how that was used while using the bidet, a fixture for female hygiene. I'm afraid I thought the worst before discovering the purple ball was merely a doorstop.
We went for a walk and found Milan to be a very crowded and busy city with dangerous traffic of odd looking mini-cars, street cars, buses, scooters and I don't know what all. Driving on the sidewalk is fine, so one can't really relax while promenading. We ate at the hotel dinning room which turned out as expected, worst food in town. In fact, throughout the tour, Italian foods like spaghetti and ravioli were poor, no bad, no real bad. Pizza was different but edible. Soups such as minestrone (vegetable soup) were the best choice. Bread was often good. I had the advantage here because I will drink and enjoy most anything that appears to be wine, so my meals were made endurable. All breakfasts were free, a part of the tour, and they were splendid. We made up for barely passable dinners here at the breakfast table.
From Milan, we made a side trip to Lago de Como and enjoyed a boat ride along its shore while gawking at palatial homes of the rich and famous. From Como we drove up to Lugano Switzerland on another lakefront. We ate lunch at a cafeteria of a department store. I selected a rabbit stew over what I thought would be mashed potatoes (turned out to be polenta made from corn), and a serving of mixed vegetables. All were absolutely terrible. I couldn't eat it. Aabbb went crazy in the chocolate department.
We did explore around an old church of several centuries as well as some other things that people there take for granted, as antiquity is everywhere.
Dinner was in a small restaurant, a considerable improvement over the hotel dinning room. At all our excursions to eateries, we usually found fellow tour members to talk with. Many of them were New York Italian.
Before leaving Milan we toured the old palace and museum (mostly art works.)
The weather was great.
Subject: Trip to Italy - II
From: KJA [US]
Date: Wed, 5 Oct 2005 -0700
During my assignment in Verona (1957-60), traffic density was nonexistent. Today however, it's a severe problem. In cities, centuries old streets cannot be widened and I don't recall seeing a parking garage. So they park everywhere, but not for free. They buy tickets from vending machines. I was impressed by the nonchalance of scooters and motorbike riders in jostling for space in brisk traffic of autos and buses.
Driving from city to city is now on the autostrada, toll roads of at least two lanes in either direction. It is bumper to bumper and moves fast. An accident will back up traffic for many miles. Views from the bus window were wonderful. Everything is so green (not like Southern Arizona) and the farms look like pictures in a seed catalog. These modern highways offer large gas stations and restaurants where we ate several times. They ain't bad either because they offer a wide assortment of ready to eat foods (no soup da*n it) and prices are as reasonable as you will get. But heaven help you if your bus stops at the same time as ten other tourists buses. One is reduced to fighting through a crowd that wants to eat NOW. Often I settled for a pane (bread roll) and a salad. I don't recall seeing Italians in the fifties eating tomato and lettuce salads. The salad is of course eaten with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Wine and beer are available at a decent price.
The countryside is almost devoid of cows. I saw only ten cows throughout the trip, causing me to wonder, "Where do the beef and milk come from?" Today's Italians will order steaks as if they were in Texas. It isn't cheap though. A steak for two can cost $35.00 and up.
Since our bus had to pass by Verona, (my scene) I would have demanded a stop but our guide called for one anyway. We drove straight into the old part of the city, made famous by Shakespeare and his "Romeo and Juliet". Yes, we did see an old balcony (everything in this part of town is old) where Juliet was supposed to have stood while the anxious Romeo waited below on the cobblestones. A bronze statue of her stands today where Romeo once stood. Crowds of endless tourists pose for a picture with her, their sweaty hands on her right breast keep it polished bright.
This part of town was built over much older ruins. We could see into a great hole in the street where some of this was revealed. Nobody knows who and when. These ruins were exposed by bombs during war II. Ancient ruins and ancient buildings still standing and even still in use are nothing here. Such things are everywhere. Two thousand years is no big deal. Just update the plumbing. They really built them to last.
Aabbb and I walked around a bit. Piazza Erbe (a small area which was a fruit and vegetable market back in the fifties) still offers lovely fruit and vegetables and a hundred souvenir stands which Aabbb could hardly pass without browsing. I recall this place very well and remembered the two young women who once lived only a few steps off the Piazza. And sorry to say, "No, I did not."
Verona has a Roman arena not far from Piazza Erbe. Today however it is hidden by large trees from the bus riders straining to catch a glimpse. The arena is in good condition and is a stage for outdoor opera during the summer.
Well, time was moving on so we departed for Venice, rested our feet, and enjoyed the panoramic view of vineyards, cornfields, and lovely farm villages.
To be continued...
KJA [Top of page]
"Ugly Brown Bags" [Top of page]
(2005/09/15) There is a certain prestigious manufacturer of ugly handbags that is very popular here. Not being interested in fashion myself beyond just liking or disliking things that I see, I noticed back when I first began seeing the products from this manufacturer that there seemed to be a lot of women carrying very ugly brown bags. "What's this about?" I wondered, "Why are so many women carrying these profoundly ugly bags?". A friend (another outsider like myself) explained that they were "brand" bags and very pricey. "What?! Those hideously ugly things are expensive?! People are handing over large piles of cash to carry them?!! - That's... shocking!!", said/thought I. I still think so, and so it was a pleasure to hear my friends from Portugal expressing the same sentiment - saying that only rich old women carry them in Portugal, so why are so many young women here carrying them?
Why indeed! I wish I knew! When
could be throwing cash at something beautiful, why they take delight in
over-funding the manufacturer of those really ugly bags is a disturbing
mystery. (Hello Media! Stop promoting junk!) There
exceptions of course - and viva la difference! If there were not
at least some original thinkers, then... shudder-shudder!
The trend of ugly bags arrived in the US
five years ago, and is apparently here to stay. Everything seems
to be about reliving the ugliest fashions of the eighties. As
who is interested in fashion, but not interested in sacrificing my
it has become nearly impossible to find something, anything, that is
"On Vacation" [Top of page]
From: PBU [Pakistan / UK]
Date: Sat, 30 Jul 2005 +0100
I'm here in Islamabad (the capital of Pakistan), staying with my parents. I arrived on July 20th, and will be returning to the UK on August 19th. My brother also visited here with his wife & kids, traveling all the way from Canada. It's been a nice family reunion.
I have been going to dinners arranged by friends & relatives, and today I invited some friends over for dinner. Tomorrow I'm going out for lunch with several other friends.
Before my arrival in Islamabad, temperatures were above 45 degrees Celsius (115 degrees Fahrenheit) but now the temperature is down to 35... alas, I just missed the hot weather. I like the summer in Islamabad and I feel pretty comfortable in that heat.
The wife & kids are now at my in-laws in Karachi, 750 miles away. I'm still here with my parents... gaining weight from eating so much!
"Middle Management Can't Write!" [Top of page]
(2005/10/07) I finally got to the point where I couldn't stand mutely by while the "editor" of a local magazine I had been providing some material for damaged the material before it got into print. I sent a letter of protest to the editor and to the publisher, which I actually got away with, but just as soon as I figured we had come to some kind of truce regarding the text, they started mucking up the photos I sent, and on the next article, they really ruined my pictures. As the article included two people I'd interviewed, I was quite embarrassed by the horrible hatchet job the magazine had done to the photography, so I wrote the two people a letter (with the original photos I had sent the magazine) saying that the magazine had dropped the ball with the photos I had supplied, and "here's what they could have used". That might have been okay, but I (stupidly) CCed the letter to the publisher, thinking that they might not be aware of the damage their editor had incurred on the photos. (Or more precisely, the "designer", but the editor is... um... the editor, right?) And that got me summarily fired from that organization.
"But what did you expect?" you may say. Yeah... well... it was a publication that didn't pay a lot, yet I was happy to do work for them in the beginning just to get things into print with my name on them, so when they started damaging my material to the point where I was embarrassed by it, then what would be the point of continuing the relationship without changes?
It's not the first time I've had trouble with a small local publication. There was the printing/publishing company that - incredibly - hired a person who didn't speak English and didn't understand anything about cars to be the editor of an English language car magazine for an auto manufacturer!! I correctly pointed out that the captain of that publication couldn't sail the ship and the project was headed for the rocks, and subsequent events proved me right. After the first issue, the client realized what a mistake the company I was working for had made and had the first "editor" fired (too late though - soon thereafter, the client decided to give the editorial work to another company). My reward for giving the company I worked for early warning? I was immediately removed from the project for insubordination! They were happier to sail the lucrative ship onto the rocks, ripping the bottom out of it, than they were to listen to a lowly crewmember point out what was happening. (Lowly maybe, but on the project as one of only two native English speakers, and the other one had just dropped out of the sky with minimal local language skills, no understanding of local customs, and - like the editor - no understand of cars!). The response was basically: "What's that? The ship is headed for the rocks? Such insubordination! Down to the engine room you go! Be gone with you!"
There are other examples as well, but never
them - it's the same bloody story of a company hiring a person as
who is skillful at (spoken) PR-BS, back-stabbing, face-stomping, and
licking, but never writing or with any artistic sense. What
Does upper management like to have its boots licked by slimly creatures
more than it actually wants to produce something of quality?
is wrong... very wrong, with middle management in general and middle
"editors" in particular!
Okay, that's enough for this letter.
get back to catching up with LL-335, which should clear out the
Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon
October 11th, 2005
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