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December 11th, 2005 - March 6th, 2006
- Preface -
"Shopping & Visiting Hearst Castle"  by KCM
"UTF-8 & ISO-2022-JP"
"Fun at the Game"  by KJA
"Lunch With the 'Morning Show' Team"
"Seattle, A Laptop & TV"  by KCM & LHS
"Old Music"
"Vancouver, Canada"  by KCM
"One Cold December Day"
"Under the Tracks..."  by SCJ & LHS
"Car Ads - That was My Concept!"
"Fashion"  by KCM
"Bone Smasher... Why?"
"What an Age..."  by KJA
"Revisiting 2003..."
"Bright Lights & Water Fights"  by LHS & KJA
"Medical and Other Issues"  by TJE
"A Reluctant Mechanic & Technician"
"Something in the Air...."  by LHS (+reader comment)
"Working Freelance"  by RER & LHS
"Wrong Wrapper"
"Futuristic & Dazzling Tokyo"  by KJA & LHS
"Nikkor 85mm f1.4 Lens, R.I.P."
"Life is Short..."  by KCM & LHS
"Strange Food & Acting in English"  by KCM & LHS
- Preface -     [Top of page]

(2006/02/27)  Since I've been slipping into the mainstream method of blogging, the direction this letter is taking is an ongoing transformation.  At the moment, I see it as a place to put less time-sensitive material and also to publish some historical bits and pieces that I don't want to put into a blog.  Actually - there's some overlap here as well, with some articles in here that I also published as part of the blog.  Some overlap isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I do aim to come up with a clearer separation of what this LL-Letter is and what the blog is.  Ideally, the blog would be for posting and comments to blog articles would appear in here, but the only blog forum at which I'm getting regular feedback is not via my own website, so the usability of comments generated on outside sites is an issue.
Chronology - as in there not being much of it in this letter!  I started the LL-Letters with a frequency that kept everything chronological, but with the time between letters having stretched out to two or three months, it's gotten quite mixed up.  Everything falls within about four months though, so it's still representative of a certain time frame - but don't expect the letters to be in chronological order, because they're not!


"Shopping & Visiting Hearst Castle"     [Top of page]

by KCM  [US]

Sun, Nov. 20th, 2005

So we didn't actually end up at H&M.  Bbccc got there first and it turns out there was a two-hour wait to just get into the store.  We ended up shopping in Macy's and Urban Outfitters instead.  And my shopping urge is still not quenched.  Grr.  Later we found out from a more fashion-informed friend that there will be a third H&M opening right next to the H&M on Powell, and one in Sun Valley Mall, so Bbccc, you won't have to BART over to SF for that!

This is my stash: A pair of pants and a shirt from Macy's.  I think I should just get a Macy's card, so I can get the coupons and additional discounts.  If anyone needs cookware, their pots and pans are 40% off the lowest price right now.  Tim Biskup and Pete Fowler coasters for two bucks each for a set of four, and the Lewis Black book, hardcover, for $5 from Urban Outfitters.  The set of coasters I really want, though, is the Junko Mizuno ones, which I haven't been able to find anywhere.  I love the Urban Outfitters sale section.  There's always some good stuff there amidst all the junk.

Later Aabbb and I watched a movie with some friends.  It was called Exit to Eden, and is based on an Anne Rice novel, stars Rosie O'Donnell and Dan Aykroyd.  That is all you need to know.  Anyway, it's funny, and weirdly dated.

Spelling errors are my pet peeve, especially glaring ones that any educated adult should be able to catch.  I caught a few this weekend:

TiVo's new download service (for series2 owners) includes CNet's reviews of current gadgets.  (Let's just say CNet editors are not necessarily TV people.)  In this segment, someone held up a sign that misspelled "capacity".  Seriously, shouldn't someone have caught that?

In Firefly, on the last disc, there are a few really sweet special features.  On one of them, they talk about Serenity, the ship, and its role as its own character.  Someone holds up a blueprint of the ship, and on it, the dining room was misspelled as the "dinning room".  Apparently in the future, we no longer dine, we din.

Tue, Nov. 29th, 2005

The weekend, overall, went well.  I loved spending time with my nieces and nephew, whom I hardly ever get to see, and seeing Hearst Castle was a lot of fun.  It's pretty amazing what OCD can do to a man with lots of money.  I loved how the tour guide mentioned that William Randolph Hearst "in three years, turned the San Francisco Examiner from the worst paper in the country, to the most-read" but didn't mention that these days, the Examiner is considered little better than a tabloid.  The Castle itself is very, very pretty, with lots of intricate details and genuine artifacts bought from auctions around the world, including a few pieces from King Tut's tomb.

Driving up Route One was an experience with a lot of twists and turns and panicking for me, because I kept worrying that maybe my sister would drive off a cliff.  It was a totally unfounded fear because my sister is a great driver.  Yep, I'm paranoid.  Other than my paranoia, the trip up is beautiful, with awesome views of the ocean and driving through lots of forests and state parks.  I think driving on Route One would be more fun in a good sports car.

KCM      [Top of page]

"UTF-8 & ISO-2022-JP"     [Top of page]

(2005/12/05)  Just a quick note about getting Japanese text through the wires.  With webpages I'm finding that Japanese text displays fine with UTF-8 (although the English fonts - on some machines - don't look as good as I've experienced using ISO-8859-1), but e-mail is another issue (you would think that if it worked for browsers it would work for e-mail, but that's not the case... yet?).

As mentioned in here previously, sending J-text to cell phones was one example where ISO-2022-JP was getting through the wires (and air) in readable form, but where UTF-8 was turning to bakemoji.  I sent a J-text message in UTF-8 to a Yahoo.co.jp (not sure what happens with Yahoo.com) address this morning and discovered that it turned to bakemoji and none of the Japanese encoding choices of the browser (FireFox on SuSE 9.3 Linux) would convert it to readable form.  I resent it as ISO-2022-JP and it came through the wires in good condition - looking the same as it appeared on the originating screen.

Note: (Please!) that I'm not posting this to discuss what method *ought* to be used, but rather to report on my on-the-ground experiences in the trenches with J-text messages often turning to bakemoji.  The way I have my e-mail client (Mozilla) set now is to UTF-8 for default messages and then I manually select ISO-2022-JP when I have a J-text message to send someone who is using software/settings/provider/whatever that only seems to be happy with ISO-2022-JP.


"Fun at the Game"     [Top of page]

From: KJA  [US]
Date: Sun, 13 Nov 2005

I drove my old hiking buddy to a football game last night.  Such things as ball games (any kind) are most interesting, not the game itself but the spectators.  What a collection of inhabitants with time and money on their hands and no intelligent alternatives open to them than the moronic game.  So they think.  But judging from the uncontrolled screaming, yelling, and noisemakers, they don't think enough.  They could be reading my book.

Or, they could watch the d*** game on TV while enjoying the comfort of their living rooms and refrigerators.  But no, they prefer climbing unending ramps and steep steps to a perch so high that binoculars are essential (at least they are for me).  Then for four hours on a little seat that, when exposed to pressure, turns to granite, I try not to appear revolted at grown people around me wolfing down nachos, cheese, and jalapenos, between barbaric yells and cries of "Go, Fight, Kill, and so on.  They bring small children who can't even see all the way down onto the field, but must amuse themselves by staring wide eyed at all the crazy people.  In time, the bored tykes fall asleep on the cold bench or concrete, while mommy pretends that this rowdy and uncomfortable environment, this noise, her revolting dinner of cold, maggot-proof, nacho-mess, altogether equals something great.  Speaking of which, my large binoculars stayed busy working the cheerleaders, not the ugly players.

With some satisfaction (secretly of course) I cheered within when our team, University of Arizona, lost and lost big.

After sitting so long, I fell when I climbed over the seats behind me while making my way out.  The woman who cushioned my fall and possible injury did not smile as I apologized profusely.  More successful in the parking garage, I navigated out without being killed in the mad rush.  Then the exchange of comments were made such as "what fun we had" when I dropped my friend off at his home in the dark foothills of Tucson.

Later, back in the glow and sanity of my home, I poured a stiff one and tried to shut out all recollections of the past wasted four hours.


"Lunch With the 'Morning Show' Team"     [Top of page]

(2005/12/05)  I was doing work at home for half of today, so I had a late breakfast (usually I skip breakfast actually) at about 9:15 a.m., so I turned on the TV, chose channel-6 and began eating my breakfast.  Looking up to see the "Morning Show" group also eating, I laughed a little and thought "Cool!  We're all eating breakfast together!" - I then pondered the situation and wondered if they have them eating something at this time specifically to make people watching who are also eating feel like they're part of the team?  It's sort of bizarre, but there's some logic to it and I actually did feel as though I was part of the group on the screen in some way... hummm....

They wrapped up their food sampling and got to talking to an author who is the daughter of a famous author, and is now an author herself.  I generally have nothing but contempt for television, but something about eating with the TV group and listening to an interesting interview with the author (obviously someone not often on TV), who was keyed up and going on about her famous father when she was growing up and some concrete examples of word usage advice that she received from both him and other writers....

Will I be tuning in again tomorrow?  No, but I'm glad I did today!


"Seattle, A Laptop & TV"     [Top of page]

by KCM & LHS
Friday, December 30th, 2005

Tomorrow we're flying to Seattle, to meet up with some friends for our New Year's Eve celebration.  Since Aabbb and I hardly ever spend any holidays together, it's definitely a treat for me.  Apparently the plan is to go to some "good underground hip hop" concert.  I have not heard the words "underground", "good", and "hip hop" all in the same sentence lately, so I have my hopes up.  I don't have a name.  Will probably write about them once I see them.

The next day we're driving up with Aabbb's friends to Vancouver.  I am the queen of packing.  I packed all our stuff, including umbrella, beanies, gloves, undies, heavy sweaters and towels all in our luggage, and we still had room for Aabbb's laptop.  We're bringing his laptop because we got a hotel with wireless.  Geeks need their Internet.  In Vancouver, we plan on eating dim sum, possibly taking a walking tour of Gastown, going to the aquarium because they have beluga whales, and checking out the underground historical drama of Vancouver.  There may be more.

We're going to have to remind ourselves to take lots of pictures.  We always bring the camera and forget about it.  It's such a waste of my money. ^_^

Project Runway has podcasts!  Tim Gunn explains what goes on behind the scenes, what the cameras didn't show, etc.  Zod's meltdown went on for about ninety minutes, Diana's clothes looked nothing like what she pitched to Heidi, and Heidi surprises everyone by having a brain.

I hate Zod. I don't even think he's that talented - he just keeps adding ruffles and thinks that makes up for his lack of understanding about a woman's body.  There's no one I really root for right now like I did in Season 1.  This season, they're either mean, or boring, and they seem unwilling to listen.  I mean, did any of them even watch Season 1?  So far I think Nick has the most potential, Chloe is talented but boring, Diana totally disappointed with this last challenge and is so inarticulate I wanted to smack her, Emmett is a cute boring robot overcompensating his menswear background with pink frills, Marla can't sew, Zod is evil incarnate, Daniel V who?  I can't remember anyone else.

Must. Sleep.


I didn't watch TV when I lived in the US, but somehow now not having the option makes me wonder what's what with popular shows.  I should be used to it by now - I haven't watched any popular US TV shows since about 1972.  One program that has made it onto broadcast TV here that I like is 60 Minutes and they used to also broadcast the "CBS Evening News" early in the morning.  Now I catch bits and pieces of it from time to time via the Internet and - very rarely - 60 Minutes when I'm actually awake at 3:30 a.m. on Friday night/Saturday morning.     [Top of page]

"Old Music"     [Top of page]

(2005/12/12)  An acquaintance who lived in Japan from 1948 to 1950 mentioned an old Japanese song that was on the Internet (as background music for pages), so I went to the site (that automatically plays the song via Flash) and had a listen.  It turned out to be a song originally sung in the 1930's (1938?) called "Shina-no Yoru" (also used in a 1940 movie by the same name, also spelled "Xina-no Yoru"), which had its name changed to "China Night" (or "China's Night") after the war due to some negative connotation being attached to the word "Shina" (or "Xina"), an old name for China.  At least that's what my research turns up so far - if you have additional or more accurate info, please let me know!  The song has been recorded several times since, by both men and women, but what I want to hear is the original version!  (I just found on another page that the song is banned in China!  Oops... I have no interest in making anyone angry here, I'm just interested in hearing the original song for historical purposes.)

So - off in search of it I went yesterday by going to one of the largest (the largest?) recorded music stores in Shinjuku, Tower Records.  I had high hopes that a simple inquiry would point me to a section of old music, including the very recording that I sought, but no, it didn't work out that way.  I was a bit surprised to discover that their search computer doesn't include anything at all older than the sixties, and while the store does have an "Oldies" section, most of it is also from the sixties!  There are a small number of things from the fifties, but practically nothing at all older than that.  I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, but recorded music on disks has been around since... when?  The 1920's?  For historical purposes, I would think it would make sense to keep that old stuff available on modern CD's....

In any case, I did find one double CD that I ended up buying and have found to be quite interesting.  In case you're interested, the English part of the title and the number of the CD is as follows:

Victor Entertainment

This double CD doesn't have the song "Shina-no Yoru" on it, but does have 46 songs from the 1948-1954 time frame; mainly with female singers, but with some male as well.

Listening to the two CD's, the image I'm trying to get out of my head is one of a period movie.  My only exposure to this kind of music has been in period movies, so I'm having a hard time projecting my imagination back to real people living life in real time.  But that's due to the tonal quality of the recordings I think - if someone could go back in a time machine and record the same sessions with modern recording equipment, it would probably sound much more modern.  It's like looking at a black & white photograph and trying to envision it in color.  It's no easy task!  The style of the music is completely different from now, but if it were clear and full-fidelity, then it would mainly be an issue of style instead of age and could be popular again I think.

Lyle     [Top of page]

"Vancouver, Canada"     [Top of page]

Thursday, January 5th, 2006
by KCM  [US]

I am waiting for the laundry to be done.  Traveling somehow seems to increase your luggage load by 250%, even though you didn't even buy anything new.

The rest of our trip was pretty nice.  We had dim sum at Sun Sui Wah, which was good but not amazing, and comparable to anything you'd get in California.  The chicken feet were excellent.  I kind of wish we had more people with us, because then we would have been able to try more types of food.  We were satisfied, though.  The hostess did not understand my request in English for two glasses of water, so I had to use Cantonese, which I should have used in the first place. I blanked out.  Ugh, all my Cantonese is disappearing - no one talks to me in it anymore, so I don't use it, so I forget more of it each time.  I guess I should work on that.  Note to self - watch more Hong Kong movies.

Afterwards, we took the bus down to Chinatown and walked around a little bit.  Vancouver salespeople are overly nice and attentive.  (This is preferable to them being mean and rude, just so we're clear.)  In every store I went into, I was followed around by a friendly salesperson who explained every item I picked up to look at.  It was annoying after the third time the person explained that the item I was looking at was "half off and imported from China", etc.

I bought some bookmarks and a small bamboo painting.  It is a cliche that I like. ^_^

Then we went to Gastown to check out Storyeum.  It was very, very cheesy, and pretty entertaining and educational.  For example, I learned that the Canadians screwed the Chinese over, too.  We stopped for some coffee and tea in a coffee shop, and I checked out a truly international bookstore.  The bookstore was tiny, but had books in about five different languages, and a large manga section, too.  I wish we could have a bookstore like that here, but it would probably go bankrupt in the first month.

We had a terrible time trying to catch a cab back to our hotel.  It turned out that they were all busy with the hockey games; some of the Canadian team was staying in our hotel.  We decided not to fight with the rain and cars, and ate at a restaurant within walking distance.  It turned out to be pretty good.  Cardero's is "fish, chops, and a wok".  I normally dislike fusion foods, but their crispy noodles fried with beef turned out to be pretty yummy.  The sides weren't spectacular, so I recommend just getting the entrees.

Vancouver is the most veggie-friendly place I've ever been to.  The hot dog stand also sold veggie dogs, and every place we went to had a veggie wrap or some veggie version of a meat dish.  Oh, and they have the cleanest bathrooms ever.  I couldn't get over it; even the aquarium bathroom, while not hotel quality, was clean and there wasn't anything gross on the floor and nothing was broken.  Once we flew back to SFO and I went to the restrooms there - there was water all over the floor, toilet paper strewn everywhere, it was gross.  I felt spoiled in Vancouver, and I would totally move there just to have access to really clean public facilities.

As a souvenir, I bought myself a copy of the Walrus Magazine, which I guess is the equivalent of the New Yorker or the Atlantic Monthly.  It was pretty interesting - I didn't realize it at the time, but in the weeks before we left I was reading Margaret Atwood and Douglas Coupland, both Canadian authors.  There was an article in there that really drove home how America-centric my thinking is, and it's pretty fascinating to get an outsider's opinion of what we look like, even if it is painful.  (Well, not necessarily painful, just brutally honest.)

Time to get my laundry.

KCM     [Top of page]

"One Cold December Day"     [Top of page]

(2005/12/18 22:28)  It began with a late morning three-train trip up to Saitama to teach a large children's class.  The woman who teaches the kids, teaches them math and English (in small groups) throughout the year (running a juku in her apartment) and I come out once or twice a year so the kids have an opportunity to interact with a native English speaker.  The class went well, and I met the teacher's recently married daughter and her bright and shining husband (both of them still riding the honeymoon wave), since they were there to help out for the event.

After the kids had gone home and the rented space had been put back in order, we broke out a few beers and relaxed and talked for about an hour.  The new husband talked of his three years spent in Italy, we all talked of crossing cultural bridges, etc. - and I think a good time was had by one and all.  Come 4:30, it was time for us to vacate the rented space and time for me to head towards Yurakucho to see JRG, a friend, play guitar at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan, so I walked over to the Keihin-Tohoku Line and climbed aboard a Tokyo-bound train that was just about to depart.

Most of the time in Tokyo, the trains are semi-full, full, really-full, super-full or ultra-full, but once in a while you find yourself in the happy combination of getting on a train going in a direction where, and at a time when, there are not many people on board.  Saturday at around 5:00 was just such a time as I took a seat in one of the corners in the middle of the train car (formed by the barrier between the edge of the bench seat and one of the train car's four - per side - doors).  I pulled out a book to read, but the warmth, quiet, and motion of the train soon put me to sleep - a restful, undisturbed sleep, with no untoward noises, no strange smells, and no jostling crowds.

I woke up just before the train reached Ueno, and in the settled frame of mind such a short, but restful sleep provides, I contemplated the next fork in the day's path.  As the train approached Akihabara, I remembered that the Blue Parrot bookstore's Akihabara shop was at the end of its weeklong closing sale, with just one more day to go.  I was leaning towards skipping it, but as the train pulled into Akihabara Station, I had a look at the time and decided that since JRG was playing at the press club from six until nine, there wasn't really any point in getting there right at six anyway, so I jumped off the train and headed for the Blue Parrot....

I had earlier mentioned to CGI, an Australian friend, that I would be going to the press club concert, and since he had called while I was working, as I walked through the falling yellow leaves riding a cold December wind on one of Akihabara's Ginkgo-lined main streets, I tried giving him a call to see if he would be dropping by Yurakucho.  I got his cell phone's voice messaging, left a message, and proceeded towards the Blue Parrot.

At an intersection while waiting for the walk light, I pulled one of the fallen hand-fan shaped Ginkgo leaves off of the windshield of a parked car and contemplated its shape and color while waiting for the light to change.  Whether due to the slower metabolism of a not-so-young body, a broader perspective, or just a new outlook, I found myself enjoying the moment of studying the leaf, its shape and color while the wind blew and the crowds rushed about.  There was a conscious appreciation of the moment being a good one - a focus on the present, not the past or future.  The light changed, I dropped the leaf to let gravity carry it down to join its fallen friends, and I completed the walk to the used English language bookstore.

I don't know what level of sales the Blue Parrot's Akihabara shop had, but as they are closing it (last day today), conditions can't have been overly good.  The shop was (by the time you read this it'll be closed, so - past tense) located on a main street, but you had to walk down a side street to get to the elevator at the back corner of the building in order to get to the upper floor the bookstore was located on, so that alone might have been the main factor in its demise.  You would never accidentally stumble upon it, so probably the only customers were people specifically looking for it after reading about the shop on the Internet.

Inside the shop, I spent most of my time looking through their CD's, picking out some classical titles (Rubinstein, and some other classical stuff I bought due to the composer rather than the performer), and a disk called "Music from Ireland - Breaking Sound Barriers - Volume Seven", but I also picked up a couple of books - "The World is my Home" by James A Michener (for Y50) and "The Hungry Ocean" by Linda Greenlaw (for Y400).

While in the bookstore, CGI called and we arranged to meet at a (Japanese language) bookstore next to Akihabara Station.  I would have liked to have spent more time going through the CD's at the Blue Parrot, but time was running low and I probably shouldn't have been buying any more than the ten I bought anyway - half price or not - so I took my pile of half-priced things up to the register and had a short talk with one of the owners as he added up the stuff.  It seems that the Takadanobaba Blue Parrot is doing well and they are going to just focus on that one shop now.

A quick walk over to the area by the Hibiya Line exit found CGI, and then we jumped on a Keihin-Tohoku Line train and headed over to the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Yurakucho.  We took the elevator up to the 20th floor, walked past a frowning man at the reception desk (we were dressed casually) and rounded a corner - following the cool tunes.  I walked halfway towards a "Members Only" sign and saw JRG up on the stage playing his guitar in front of the band... and then did a quick scan of the room.  Impressions: Overly lit for a space being filled with cool mellow tunes; stern looking bartender in expensive looking outfit; few people there.., so we would really stand out in the empty spaces and under the (relatively) glaring lights and glaring eyes of the bartender.  So... I backtracked towards the lobby and went over the situation with CGI.  For my part, I was most concerned with the potential cost of ordering drinks there.  One expensive drink I was prepared to fork out for, but with so little to blend into and with the overly bright lights, it would have been either uncomfortable sitting with one drink for too long or too expensive sitting there with the proper amount of cash outflow to the bartender.  From CGI's perspective, that "Members Only" sign was making him nervous, so - after looking over the pictures of famous people taken with FCCJ members that were hung on the walls of the lobby (amusingly captioned with only the correspondents' names!), we rode an elevator back down to the ground and found ourselves back out on the cold and windy streets of Tokyo, but feeling freer and easier....

I looked back up towards the 20th floor up there nearer the stars than I - and imagined myself strolling in there someday in an expensive suit tossing Y10,000 bills right and left as I took masterful possession of the room with my rich presence....  On the other hand, as a Google search link says about the club: "Private club of ex-pat reporters, professionals and diplomats to network and socialize."  It's not about writing after all, but about networking.  Maybe I don't really want that particular fantasy to come true.  An honest interest in writing might dictate staying on the outside.

Now what?  CGI mentioned the drinking place under the tracks that we had gone to before, which was fine with me, so off we went to the comfort of a noisy, crowded, cold and - most importantly - casual & cheap place to have a drink or two while eating yakitori (mini-Shish-Kabob).  We walked up and I confidently held up two fingers to the man at the entrance and he ushered us back to the very rear corner of the place - a spot I had never sat in before.  (Come to think of it - it was the moment I imagined on the ground while looking up at the 20th floor - just in different surroundings!)  I gleefully sat in the corner, with the very best view in the entire place - I could see everything without even moving my head.  As I looked out at the evening's stage, CGI sat on the opposite side - promptly banging his head into the ceiling - the underside of a support for the overhead railway where it curves down towards the ground/floor.  I'm not sure how he did that actually... being a smooth arch and in plain view, I don't know how you could miss the dimensions, but as one who has often banged his own head into one thing or another, I shouldn't say anything!

We settled down, ordered plum drinks with shochu as the alcohol base (sort of like vodka), and chicken yakitori.  As often happens at that place, we hadn't been seated more than five minutes before curious probes came from a pair of fellow drinkers sitting next to us.  The diminutive total size of the shop means that you are always in close physical proximity to others, and conversations typically develop.  Usually good, but not always.  In this case, the pair of drinkers were two middle-aged women who professed such surprise at my speaking in Japanese and knowing something about Japan, that it was slightly irritating.  At one point, I told my friend in rapid-fire-difficult-to-catch English that it was beginning to irritate me - only slightly, but knowing myself as well as I don't (not a typo BTW), I was on the verge of going rude, so I figured it was better not to talk to them any more.

Well... that's what I said and that's what I meant, but soon thereafter more probes drifted over from the side (my right, CGI's left) and I ended up talking in friendly, but rather direct mode, which is the easiest way to talk - bypassing the "Is this politically passable?" check phase, I just tossed out whatever I was thinking.  Then the catalyst of a burst of animated discussion popped out of the mouth of the woman sitting next to CGI.  From out of the smoky (from the grill) cold night she suddenly asked "Do you like young women?", to which I - operating in "Talk-first-think-later" mode answered: "Of course!  All men do!  That's just a natural thing!".  She gave me a look of disgust and muttered something about "All you men are alike..." and then I saw something large lurking beneath that initial question of hers, so I furiously back-pedaled by saying "Well - I just mean that they're nice to look at - like a beautiful painting or a nice car!  I'm too old to associate with them and they're too childish to talk to anyway.", which softened the woman who brought it up in the first place and seemed to go down very well with the woman on my right, who proceeded to be quite friendly thereafter.

All of this was fine and well, but the unfortunate aspect of the evening is that CGI doesn't speak Japanese and the two women spoke only rudimentary English, so even when I tried to shut up and leave the stage to the others, my friend would say something that they didn't understand, and I'd end up interpreting it and stealing the conversation again.

In the middle of all that, a phone call that I didn't answer came in from a company in Shibuya that I'd promised I would attend their bonenkai (end-of-the-year/forget-the-year party)... which prompted the woman on the right to inquire what my concentrated look at my phone's display meant.  I mentioned the bonenkai, but said I didn't need to go (thinking that I would go late, but trying to be polite).  Thirty minutes later, there was another call, and when I looked at my phone again, I began thinking that I had better go sooner rather than later, and the two woman seemed to pick up those radio frequencies as a clue that it was time to go home, so they said friendly good-byes and left, followed soon thereafter by CGI and I.

Walking to the station, I called Shibuya and said I was with a friend and would it be okay if they came with me?  "Sure!  Bring them along!" was the answer (in Japanese, when you say what I said, there's no "he" or "she" in it, so I'm avoiding those here for that reason), but CGI didn't want to come, so when we took the Yamanote Line around, he got off in Ebisu to get on the Hibiya Line there and I continued on to Shibuya.  (For those of you familiar with Tokyo's train system, yes, that's not the fastest way to go to Shibuya or Ebisu from Yurakucho!  I was feeling too lazy to think about it, so I just did the easy thing - jump on the Yamanote Line at Yurakucho, the nearest station.)

In Shibuya, I wondered how the rest of the day would go.  There are bad days and there are good days, and as I contemplated what a good day it had been so far, I almost got nervous... afraid to think too much about it having been a good day and then turning it into a bad day somehow, so I shut down that line of thinking and just focused on the present.

Arriving at the Shibuya bonenkai (which was - fortunately - held at the company and not in a restaurant), I walked in a bit late, so the (remaining) pizza was cold, but when I was offered a glass of beer, I noticed there was a bottle of wine on the table, so I homed in on that and someone poured me a quarter glass (paper cup actually) of it.  I looked at the mouthful of red wine in the paper cup and thought "Strange..." but didn't worry about it - instead I downed that, grabbed the bottle and filled it up myself.  While drinking that, I began to acquaint myself with the room ambiance.  It was pretty typical for any kind of office party.  A certain amount of nervous radio waves in the air and people standing in small groups with like-minded others talking, drinking and eating.  That was about it for the hour I spent there, except I ended up finishing off the bottle of wine and soon thereafter my attention was grabbed by a man standing on the other side of the table - standing there with the empty wine bottle in hand and an unfriendly and very displeased look in his eye.  I refocused on him with a feeling of surprise and listened to him accusingly state "It's empty".  "Oh, sorry!  Isn't there another bottle?" I responded, to which I was told "No.  Just this one, but don't worry, it only cost Y1,000..."

What-what-what?  I was thinking, when someone filled me in with the information that he had brought that to the party on his own and it wasn't company-supplied.  The light bulb over my head blinked into full illumination and I responded with "Then that was your bottle?!!  Sorry!  I had thought that was from the company and that there were other bottles on the sideline waiting to be opened...".  He responded politely to that, but was obviously none-too-pleased about his bottle of wine having gone empty.  Well... that's what I get for arriving late and not seeing the initial setup!

Then... there was a call from Shinjuku!  I had also promised to attend another bonenkai in Shinjuku!  I had originally planned on going directly from Saitama to the Shibuya bonenkai (on time), and then leaving there for the Shinjuku bonenkai, but since I got to the Shibuya one late, I figured I would call Shinjuku and apologize and say that I couldn't make it.  Trouble was, I forgot to call, so when I got the phone call from Shinjuku, I promised that I'd be there in 15 minutes.  So - with a couple of hasty good-byes said, I headed for the door - coincidentally - just after Mr. Wine.  I saw his retreating back as I got off the elevator, and then - magically - when I stepped outside, he was quite far away.  "No... he didn't actually run in order to distance himself from me, did he?" thought I.  Hmmm... he might have, but I hope he wasn't so upset over the vanished wine that he would actually break into a run rather than have to talk to me....

On the way over to Shinjuku, as I got on the Yamanote Line in Shibuya after a young couple, the man immediately and gallantly repositioned himself between his girlfriend and me.  I put on a face of stone and thought "Yeah... okay.  That's nice.  You're such a gentleman!  Three complaints though - 1) I'm just standing here minding my own business, 2) There are people pressed up against me on all sides here, I can't move anywhere and 3) Why are you seemingly concerned about me but unconcerned about the man standing up against your girlfriend on the other side?".  Not to worry though - such is the life when you are an alien in a space suit (i.e. wrong skin) in a foreign country.

Disembarking from the train in Shinjuku, I fell back under the trance of the wine I suppose, because - Ho-Ho - the spirits had put me in good spirits - Ho-Ho!  Then, when I arrived at the Shinjuku bonenkai, I found a mood that was quite a bit different from the Shibuya bonenkai.  The were many more people, the atmosphere was considerably more relaxed (with fewer nervous people in the room), and I rode the wave of good feelings in the room like a surfer who has successfully caught a big wave to joyously ride in towards the beach.  I made the rounds and talked to as many people as I could before the end of the party - marveling at how different it all felt.  At the end, as everyone was leaving, one of the employees asked me what I was going to do after the party and I responded, "What am I going to do now?  I'm going to China!  .....  I'm going home of course..."  Whereupon I discovered that they had missed their last train and were apparently looking for other late night people to... go to a karaoke room I suppose.  That probably would have been fun, but I was a bit tired at that point and more in the mood to go home than to do anything else, so I gave a "Maybe next time" and headed towards the station and the first of the last set of train rides for the day.

Lyle     [Top of page]

"Under the Tracks..."     [Top of page]

Subject: 2006
From: SCJ  [US/JP]
Date: Wed, 28 Dec 2005

(2006/01/12)  I just wanted to say that I enjoyed "One Cold December Day".  It seems that I've had that day, those thoughts.  I used to visit a friend at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Yurakucho - and it was as you suggested, overly bright and way too artificial.  They were always networking & I felt out of place.  But the best part was eating under the train tracks - we also used to go to a little Japanese restaurant with a ceiling so low and the room so narrow.  One night there, a few Japanese customers were recognized (famous?) and encouraged to play music after their meal - so the owner removed a table, the guests sat on the floor & played blues/jazz!!! I thought, "Am I in New Orleans?  Austin?  Memphis?  This is either extremely good music or I am much drunker than I thought!"  The night went on and on, we laughed & sang when we could join in, and everyone got drunker - and now that I think about it, I guess it was a year-end party as well.  (The fact that the whole restaurant shook when the train rumbled just a few feet above our heads just made the experience better.)

Has it snowed in Tokyo yet?

All the Best in 2006!  <Wine Glasses Raised!>   :-)


It was great to hear this from SCJ, since my friend who was playing at the club that night was displeased that I didn't stick around.  I'm hoping to have another go at it sometime actually (I hear that the drinks are not so expensive), but it would be nice if they'd turn the lights down a little more....

I think jazz may well be more respected and appreciated here in Japan than in the land of its birth!  Certainly I've been exposed to much more of it here than I was in California....

As for the rumbling trains... it's hard to explain, but it definitely adds to the atmosphere.  As a weak comparison, think of the excitement added at an amusement park with the round of a roller coaster in the background....

Snow - it seems to be snowing just about everywhere in Japan but Tokyo!  Even generally warmer Kyushu down south got snow!  The first time in something like eighty years I hear!  But this doesn't mean it's been warm in Tokyo - it's been quite cold - just the traditional dryness of Tokyo in the winter has saved it from the snow.  Had there been any precipitation, it certainly would have been snow, but no... just dry-dry-dry... a typical Tokyo winter!

Lyle     [Top of page]

"Car Ads - That was My Concept!"     [Top of page]

It was conceived of in a moment of creativity on the sixth floor of an office near Ochanomizu in Tokyo in 2002... and there is it is on the television screen in 2005.  So... where's the recognition and the money?.....

December 31st, 2005 - the last day of 2005... where has the year gone?  I'm not sure, but it's gone somewhere, as tomorrow is 2006.  It's been a year of what feels like slowly plodding forward without making any sailing progress or engaging in exciting adventures.  That's not an entirely bad thing, as there has been some progress made on this website (although it still needs a vast amount of work), and nothing really bad has happened to me here in Tokyo, other than the irritation of seeing a major corporation here running an ad concept I developed for them back in 2002 - something that should be cause for celebration, except in this case, I was given no recognition or compensation for my creation.  Irritating that!  I sent an e-mail to my former colleagues asking about it.  I didn't expect nor did I receive a reply, but hopefully I at least made them think about the issue of stealing someone's creation, taking the money for it and - worse - taking credit for the creation.  Who says crime doesn't pay?  When it comes to ideas, it seems that only crime pays and honesty keeps someone near poverty.  Technically, since I was working for the company which was (and is) working as a subcontractor for the client company - a large car company with a name that begins with "T" - I can't legally complain, but it would have been nice if they had given me some credit for my creation.

About the ad - if you see one of the many variations they've made of it, think of me and know that I dreamed up the basic concept, which is this:

A successful businessman is shown in an opulent office, then he is driving through a city of skyscrapers, then he is driving in the green countryside, finally pulling up to an opulent building in the country, and the last scene is from the top of the building.  The original concept called for a party and the version on TV shows a "glamorous" looking woman talking (lips moving, but with no sound beyond background music) to the camera - which would be the main character, and by extension a customer wishing to emulate the success portrayed on the screen.  The original idea was to tie together a couple of seemingly opposing concepts - the city & the country (the vehicle's suitability for both), and (between the lines) the man of the party & the family man.  It was, in a way, gratifying to see it implemented - too bad I didn't develop it for a company willing to give me creative and financial recognition for my contribution to their success....

On to bigger and better things in 2006!

Happy New Year!!!


"Fashion"     [Top of page]

Friday, January 6th, 2006
Project Runway
by KCM  [US]

I have to go to the dentist in a few minutes.  Having to use money for essentials hurts.

I caught up on Project Runway last night.  During the first season, I didn't really get why everyone was so picky about their models - I mean, all they had to do was look pretty and walk down a runway for about 30 seconds.  How could you possibly screw up walking?

Then Season 2 happened.  Last season's models had personalities in addition to their walks; this season, they all seem sedated.  I can't tell you which ones made an impression on me or who I liked, because I didn't really see anyone that was that special.  And several of them made the designers' clothes look worse, especially Marla's model.  Marla already had a bad design, but her model did it no favors.

Anyway, I think Daniel V. was robbed.  The dress he made with the sixties-ish print was beautiful.  It gave his model an hourglass figure.  Santino shouldn't be so smug about winning the challenges, because Jay won exactly 0 challenges and went on to win the entire competition.  There's no versatility to his "vision", and his one trick seems to be to find a beautiful fabric and throw junk at it until it sticks.  Nick's dress was far more gorgeous and flattering than his was.

Chloe's dress was boring.

Funny highlights:

Nicky Hilton: "My standards are high and my taste is exquisite." Ha!

Chloe, to Diana: "That looks like something Stevie Nicks would wear."
Diana: "Who's Stevie Nick?"


"Bone Smasher... Why?"     [Top of page]

(2006/01/09)  What's with the game of showing how powerful you are by grabbing an innocent victim's hand and smashing the bones in a vice-like grip?  Can such a biped be called civilized?

Many years ago, in a fit of extreme frustration, I punched a wall that turned out to be concrete.  Momentary pain was to be expected, but I seem to have damaged something in my right hand that has caused me pain from time to time over the years, particularly in the winter and also after shaking hands with one of those neanderthal bone smasher idiots who think there is some good reason to show how powerful their hands are by giving a "firm handshake" and cracking the bones in the hand of their victim.

I'm sure there must be many good reasons for the custom of shaking hands, and I'm happy enough to engage in the custom from time to time with civilized human beings, but every time I end up in the painful grip of a neanderthal, I end up cursing the bloody custom and having to deal with the painful aftermath (sometimes lasting a day or two after the assault).  The most recent experience of this happened a couple of weeks ago - I innocently put out my hand to shake the hand of someone I was meeting for the first time (a friend of a friend) and he grabbed my four fingers instead of my hand and showed what a fine neanderthal gorilla he was by smashing them together with 30x more squeeze than a civilized man would use.  Not being a politician myself, I pulled my hand back and said "Ow!! #$%#, that hurt!!".

That would have been the end of the story, but I unfortunately ran into this same neanderthal again (making very sure not to let him touch me this time) and after he shook the hand of a friend I was with who was meeting him for the first time, I asked my friend, the new victim, "Any broken bones in your hand?" to which Mr. Neanderthal said - "Oh yeah, you had a problem with that last time, didn't you?".  Notice the choice of words Mr. Gorilla used - insinuating that his gorilla non-human bone-smashing sport was somehow my fault....

Methinks that hand shaking between strangers is a barbaric custom.  Far better to do the Eastern thing and bow - a way of showing respect without having to come into physical contact with neanderthals.

Rant over....


PS - The neanderthal I referred to is one of the mutant varieties of westerners living here in Tokyo.  Call it "Vikings-back-from-the-dead syndrome... but some of the worst of the West is over here in Tokyo.....     [Top of page]

"What an Age..."     [Top of page]

From: KJA  [US]
Date: Feb 12, 2006
Subject: Cabernet Sauvignon

I think I have about mastered G-Mail and it is indeed much better than the other company I'm using.

Now, I am considering a package deal from Cox to lump digital TV, digital telephone, and high speed Internet into just one back-breaking bill rather than three separate back-breaking higher bills.  So, possibly yet another address change.  All my friends will know for sure, "Ol' KJA has lost it all."

What an age we live in.

Saturday now and I am consuming my weekly bottle of red wine.  Since my workday is about driving all over the city, I stay at home on weekends and play with this computer.

Yet another e-mail from someone searching for someone who knew Uncle Chuck before he was killed in Korea, 1950.

Of course most everyone is gone now or can't remember anything.  So I tell such people, get to know your uncle's old outfit, then you will know what his last days were like.  Every man in that unit experienced and thought the same things, so knowing that, you'll know your uncle.  And of course, we can find history books and personal accounts such as my book "At Mama-san House", thus learning about Uncle Chuck's last days and of those times which were worlds different from today.

Still, Tucson experiences beautiful sunny days, but everyone now hopes to see rain, days of steady downpour to break the drought and looming specter of water scarcity.

KJA     [Top of page]

"Revisiting 2003..."     [Top of page]

This next letter is an old one... from 2003, but in rereading it, it sums up so much that happened at the printing company I was working at then, that I want to put it in here for anthropological reasons.  I stand by what it says - I wasn't exaggerating when I wrote it and I don't think so much as a word should be changed.  The only thing I have changed is the names.  Instead of the usual boring "Aabbb", "Bbccc" etc., I've picked more meaningful names, such as CarCo, ElecCo, etc., which need no explanation.  Mr. Workwork, the main recipient of the letter, was the most productive person in management there - too bad there was an idiot over him - Mr. LazyMan.  Anyway - read it and laugh, or whatever!

Lyle (March 3rd, 2006)

February 12th, 2003

Dear Mr. Workwork,
cc: Mr. LazyMan

(WARNING: This is a "Honne" letter, with no "Tatemae".  Not political in any shape for form.  Just the truth in unvarnished form.)

I need to write to you about a couple of things.  One - ElecCo - it would seem that someone has told you that I contacted someone directly at ElecCo.  This is completely untrue.  I have never contacted anyone at ElecCo in any shape or form.  The only thing I did was to fill in the plan sheet I was told to fill out.  In answer to:

1) What are your objectives for this term (itemized and in concrete terms)

- I answered:

I will do (primarily) two things:

1) Bring profitability and heightened meaning to the Kyoto periodical & introduce our new limited run cultural books to the world, resulting in high profitability for PrintCo.

2) Learn about the machines we are engaged in creating manuals for from qualified professionals at ElecCo, which will result in concise and clearly written instructions for their use.

- and in answer to:

2) What are your concrete plans for implementation of your objectives?

- I answered:

This will be brought about in the following way:

1) Regularly visit Kyoto for research and development on cultural books slated for worldwide distribution, as well as get to know the artists we are featuring in the Kyoto periodical and on the Internet - which will enable me to write life-infused editorials about them - assisting in their soon-to-be-achieved worldwide popularity.

2) Management at PrintCo must push for me to gain access to qualified engineers at ElecCo, who will directly show me the functions of the machines we are engaged in making - resulting in the type of instruction manuals that users find informative and interesting to read.

- It would seem the answer to:

3) (To be filled out by management) Comments or advice regarding employee's objects or concrete plans:

- was to fire me!

- Under:

Other (opinions, problems, questions, statements)

- I wrote:

As a printing company that is branching into publishing somewhat, we should expand upon that and have a retail path as well, an on-line outlet managed somewhat along the lines of Amazon.com.  Considering the effort, devotion, and history that the company has with traditional Kyoto (not to mention that we are a printing company), we are in an excellent position to publish books that could easily be bought over the Internet.

A focus on art books would not only be consistent with the Kyoto periodical, but also helpful for logistical reasons, as this would limit the amount of text that needs to be translated (or originally written).  Depending on how far we are willing to go with this idea, we could offer a full range of publications over the Internet - everything from ancient maps to modern novels, beginning with Japan and expanding to include books from all countries of the world.

There is a definite niche market for new authors and limited production runs of non-mainstream books, and we are ideally situated to take full advantage of this new market.

That's the extent of it - and now suddenly today I hear that I contacted people at ElecCo - that I'm up to old tricks again.  I contacted people at CarCo (yes, indeed I did - after meeting them face to face and exchanging business cards!), and I contacted that idiot Ms. Manuke who was incredibly, amazingly unfit for the position she was hired for.  I guess I should not have contacted her, but it was only later that I heard from Mr. PoliticMan that she was politically connected - a personal friend both of Mr. ShowNoGo and someone at CarCo.  If only someone had told me that she was a political liability we had to put up with, I could have acted more diplomatically.  Alas!  I was told nothing at all and led to believe that she was actually hired to do a job!!

What next?  A letter to the president of the company!  In 20/20 hindsight I suppose I should have tried the nemawashi route - but you see - it's not really open to me!  I'm an outsider by birth and not included in the normal loop of the communication circuit.  Being cut off from the decision makers while they talk about me in closed rooms that I never enter... how else can I communicate except via e-mail?

To sum up about my "loose canon" status.

Charge-1:  I contacted people at CarCo without getting express permission.

Answer-1: Yes, I did, but they were people I had met face to face at CarCo and exchanged business cards with.  I still don't think that what I contacted them for (requesting information about English language publications for CarCo) was in any way harmful or improper, and it should also be remembered that no one told me I was forbidden to contact anyone.  If someone had taken me aside and said:

"Look, you were hired ostensibly to be a part of the team, but the fact is, you're no such thing.  You're a hired gun.  When we say "talk", then and only then talk in the direction we tell you to - otherwise sit quietly at your desk and do nothing."

If I had been told that, I wouldn't have liked it, but I could have lived with it.

Charge-2:  I sent a strongly worded letter to the idiot Ms. Manuke.

Answer-2: True.  Here is that exact letter:

May 2nd, 2002

Dear Ms. Manuke,

Regarding "DNA", "heritage" and "culture".  I could spend hours teaching you the authentic English meaning of these words and explaining word associations, context and true meaning of not only basic words, but their effect in a given situation, but I now realize that not only is your English level far too low for the job of making editorial decisions in English, but is also too low to even understand the issue after it's explained to you!

The situation is this.  You are unable to edit English with an acceptable level of quality.  The magazine that CarCo is about to produce is to be sent around the world to tens of thousands of people.  We are making history here, and your inability to comprehend English could bring shame on PrintCo, SubCarCo, CarCo, and Japan.  If you are unable to do the job, then let someone who can - do.  I can see that you have a place on the editorial team, but please stop obstructing progress of the actual product, the magazine.



In rereading that letter, while it's certainly not political (I didn't know she was politically connected), the contents are quite accurate.  (It might have been better to have left out the part about her being a shame to Japan, but it's true!)  She couldn't do the job and in fact was so incredibly incompetent, that CarCo had to tell Mr. ShowNoGo to fire her after the first issue of the magazine had come out.  I knew she couldn't do the job - I tried to warn the company before it was too late.  What happened?  PrintCo backed the idiot Manuke and told me that I was a bad-bad-bad man for upsetting a politically connected woman.  Nonsense!  Rubbish!  Idiocy!  Were we actually trying to produce quality product, or not?

Charge-3:  I exposed the fact that Mr. PoliticMan's English level is quite low - and that he was damaging text I'd written and then sending it out.

Answer-3:  This is simply the truth.  I like Mr. PoliticMan, and didn't want to cause him trouble, but I felt that he was selling me down the river to save himself in a not entirely honest way - and so I wanted the truth known.  This issue - Mr. PoliticMan damaging English text - may in fact be (in addition to having that complete and total idiot Manuke in charge of editing, who had no understanding of either English or cars), one reason we lost that project.  I was not allowed to be in contact with CarCo directly, so by sending text through Mr. PoliticMan, who then sent it through that idiot Manuke, the text was being damaged before it got to CarCo - and the information from CarCo was being blocked in the other direction as well (this is the key to the friction there was between Mr. PoliticMan and Mr. BackStabber).  The fact is, I didn't lose that contract for PrintCo.  I was trying to save it, but was prevented from doing so - principally because Mr. ShowNoGo - while a very skillful talker - is an absolute disaster when it comes to written English.  If you entrust the company's English to that man, he will put shame on us all.  (People overseas reading mutant English created by Mr. ShowNoGo don't care that he graduated from Tokyo University.  That is not the issue here.  In fact Mr. ShowNoGo is a shame to Tokyo University, come to think of it!  Living off of that name, along with clever deception achieved through a winning smile and smooth talk.)

Charge-4:  I contacted ElecCo.

Answer-4:  Untrue! An outrageous lie! Pure fabrication!  I was told in the very beginning (when I came to the second floor) by Mr. BigBear in no uncertain terms that I was - under no circumstances - to ever contact ElecCo.  So - I never did!  Not by letter, e-mail, telephone, fax, smoke signals, or beating drums.  No contact.  It simply didn't happen.  I requested contact - but only would have made contact with permission from Mr. SnakeInGrass.  Apparently he was so terrified by Mr. ShowNoGo's lies, that he was sure I would rashly contact them on my own.....

Charge-5:  I contacted the President of PrintCo.

Answer-5:  True.  Having met him already and since I have been basically fired from my job - and yet still in a position to help save the company from the disaster of Mr. ShowNoGo's idiotic English, I thought I would make it known to the man at the top of this company that I am ready, eager, and willing to help with the creation of a respectable, profitable, and constructive English Web site.

The result?  Apparently only that I have been branded as a "loose canon" and am probably now considered untouchable by one and all at PrintCo.

The thing to remember about Mr. ShowNoGo is that the most important thing to him is himself, followed by his family, followed by CarCo, and followed a distant fourth by PrintCo.  He doesn't want to do anything - other than to not make any mistakes.  While a ship sitting at anchor in a safe harbor will not be lost at sea - nor will it go anywhere!  He is a liability to the company for anything other than his connections to CarCo.  That's a very important thing I suppose - connections - but in the long run will not keep the ship afloat.  Do we slowly sink in a safe harbor, or boldly try to actually go somewhere?  What will happen to PrintCo when CarCo no longer requires our printing services?  What good will Mr. ShowNoGo and his mutant English be then?

Well - I suppose I've gone on long enough.  I'm just an outsider it seems, but you really should at least know my side of the story.


Lyle Saxon     [Top of page]

"Bright Lights & Water Fights"     [Top of page]

(2006/01/29) There's a strange thing that happens to people when they go to a foreign country.  The experience should simply be a matter of visiting another spot on the globe with different customs and different languages, but nearly everyone gets travelitis - which leads them to either glorify or tear down the lands they visit.  Either way, they think they are special for having traveled.  Maybe it's something in our bones; an ancient belief that travel is something only extraordinary people do, and so we think we are automatically entitled to special status for having ventured past the village boundary to the lands far away across mountains and seas....  Maybe it's even true, who knows.  Anyway - as free of travelitis as I'd like to be, I'm in the situation and the situation is in me, so I've decided to try and balance out the positive/negative dilemma regarding reporting from a foreign country, by reporting on one thing I consider to be positive and one thing I consider to be... er... not so positive.

Japanese baths.  And by that, I don't mean the hot springs or public baths (which are fast disappearing, by the way), but rather just the standard kind of bath found in most Japanese homes.  Two things are great about Japanese baths: a) they are usually separate rooms from the toilet (as they are in many of the old houses in San Francisco, come to think of it), and b) they are - from corner to corner and from floor to ceiling - built to get wet.  You could almost call them very large shower stalls, if you want to compare them to something in the West.  So, they feel cleaner to begin with and, from kids having water fights to adults jumping into the bathtub and spilling water, everyone can get everything in the room wet to their heart's content and there's no problem.  No water leaking into the downstairs apartment, no soggy towels from mopping up spilled water after a bath, no... problem!  In short - they're great!  (Note: Some of the newer small apartments have everything in one room, but still it's basically watertight.)

Desk lights.  The type of desks that most kids use when studying at home (beginning with elementary school) usually have a sort of built-in bookcase in the back of them where books can be kept, with a florescent tube mounted to the bottom - just above eye level.  The design is a great one with regards to making good use of the floor space that a desk takes up in rooms without a lot of space to spare, but the florescent lights are positioned in a spot that ends up shining some of that horrible florescent light directly into the eyes of the victim using the desk to study.  As any good photographer can tell you, light shining directly into the lens is almost never a good thing - not good for cameras, and not good for the human eye.  The bad thing about having elementary-age school children studying under those conditions from a very early age, is that they get used to studying with direct light shining into their eyes, and get so used to it over the years that they feel as though it's dark (at work, etc.) if there isn't very bright light, including direct light shining into their eyes.
     For my part - I grew up with indirect light and I always took great pains not to have any light shining directly into my eyes, so when I arrived over here... there was a bit of frustration over the very high levels of light in most workspaces.

To summarize:

Japanese baths are good, great, wonderful, fun, fantastic, subarashii, etc.

Japanese lighting is occasionally good, but too often vastly overdone and not optimally placed.

Lyle     [Top of page]

"Snow and Hot Tubs"     [Top of page]

Subject: Baths
From: KJA  [US]
Date: Sat, 28 Jan 2006

Been browsing at the LL-Letters website and found your comments on baths to be dead-on.  I made much the same observations in 1950.

At that time, far as I know, the Japanese bathtub was not known much in the western world.  Now, hot tubs are known by all, with much utilization of plastics, groups soaking with glasses of wine for all, and even outdoors where water splashing causes no problems at all.  While in Korea, winter of 1950, I fantasized about those Japanese baths filled with scalding water.
And yes, travel does have an effect on people (maybe mostly in their own heads).  But travel broadens one's mind and our lives are enriched by getting to know that those places in pictures are real and people everywhere are much the same.
How much snow did you get?  Our own winter is dry and fairly warm.  Even now, I sit by an open window.
The Gem and Mineral Show of Tucson kicks off this weekend.  It occurs once a year and is the largest one in the world.  People come from everywhere to buy, sell, and trade
gems and minerals as well as dinosaur bones and whatnot.


Re: "And yes, travel does have an effect on people (maybe mostly in their own heads).  But travel broadens one's mind and our lives are enriched by getting to know that those places in pictures are real and people everywhere are much the same."

Yes, I definitely agree with that.  The thing I was alluding to with my comment:

"The experience should simply be a matter of visiting another spot on the globe with different customs and different languages, but nearly everyone gets travelitis - which leads them to either glorify or tear down the lands they visit."

- is how it can become a competitive issue, with one person competing against another via any number of meaningless yardsticks - such as "How long were you there?", "Did you try...?", "Did you go to...?", "How did you travel...?", "How many countries have you been to?", "How many languages do you speak?", etc. etc.  The deep meaning that should be in mind is often lost in idiotic competition as though the competitors were school children comparing test scores.  Over the years here in Tokyo, I have been unwillingly dragged into too many such competitions.

Re: "How much snow did you get?  Our own winter is dry and fairly warm.  Even now, I sit by an open window."

An open window!  Most of the snow in Tokyo has melted by now, but it's too cold to leave windows open!  For the one day that it fell though, we residents of Tokyo were able to build snowmen, have snowball fights, and take photos of a world covered in snow.  It began melting by the next day, but I think there was about... three or four inches of it after it snowed all day.

Lyle     [Top of page]

"Medical and Other Issues"     [Top of page]

From: TJE  [US]
Date: Tue, 13 Dec 2005

An illness has invaded my cranial arteries... Ho-ho-ho, the only known treatment is steroids... well after some days of no treatment, it is being controlled... man what a trip those days were!!!  I'm in Ft. Worth where the doctors seem to know what is wrong, whereas in my city, they were just horsing around while I wanted to climb the walls and walked the floor all night....  So much of life as happiness is illusion, and pain is reality.

Something has gone wrong with my web, as I do not get sound - then my home was broken into and robbery was the idea.  Going back tomorrow to get fancy French door replaced with solid wood.  Having locks thrown up all over the place, and lights that come on at night... there goes the money I was saving for replacing my teeth.  So much for that.


"A Reluctant Mechanic & Technician"     [Top of page]

(2006/01/31) It's been a day of fighting the machines.  I could not possibly toss them out the window, slap my hands together to knock off the dust in glee and happily walk away, but I'm feeling none too friendly towards the beasts today nonetheless.  Computing is still too much of a mystic art - I'm forever in the middle of different worlds here, with my computer-literate friends laughing at my non-expertise and my computer-illiterate friends applauding my ability to work magic with the mysterious boxes.  I guess what it comes down to is that if I were running a company and had enough money to pay for a team of computer experts to handle the under-the-hood stuff, I would, but I don't and so I must do everything myself.  Just like in the old days as a high school student when I would have been happy to have had a good garage repair my car, but I could barely even just buy the necessary parts, so there was no one to do the repairs but myself - with some help from other semi-technical friends.  Satisfying when the problems are surmounted, but it would be nice to just drive the car and it would be nice to just write and edit photos and websites without having to perpetually crawl around under literal (in the past) and figurative hoods half the time to keep the car on the road....


"Something in the Air...."     [Top of page]

(060216) Back in the days when I only sent out text via e-mail to the members of the newsgroup I put together, I had this nearly visual feeling of a group out there - and I'd imagine people receiving my e-mail, clicking on it and then reading it as they scrolled down the page. .......

...... True - any one of them could have forwarded it on to someone else or copy-pasted the text into a new e-mail, etc., but still - it was a finite list and I imagined a finite number of people who read the newsletter.  And then I posted the first one on-line....

Stage One - Suddenly there was this strange feeling... who was reading it and who would read it in days, weeks and months ahead?  How many people would read it?  Where were these people?

Stage Two - Without noticing exactly when the boundary was crossed, things just drifted out of that strange zone and into a state of normalness....

Stage Three - Right now.  A year and a half since the first posting, and now I sometimes find myself thinking "Is anyone going to read this?".

Stage Four - The future....  I have no idea!  Is there a Stage Four?  Or will it cycle back to Stage One?

It's a strange thing about writing - you have an idea, you try to put it into words and you hope that it's of some interest to someone. On one hand it seems sort of hit-or-miss, but sometimes an idea begs to be put on the screen and you don't really care what anyone thinks of it - the act of getting it written and posted seems like the whole task.  It had to be done and whether someone likes it or not isn't the issue.  This is exactly the type of thing that tends to be well received....  On the other hand... when you do care what people think and you push a little hard in a direction that you want them to think... look out!  This is a dangerous thing to do!  You have a momentary feeling of glee as you whack the Enter key at the end and click on Send.  "Go get 'em!" you silently think.  Then, the next day arrives and - with the new sun - an in-box full of angry/over-enthusiastic/disappointed/etc. letters.

Ah... the disappointment of it!  The very text you write with the most enthusiasm often dumps you into the lowest level of shame!  Full meaning sitting in the air and begging for form in words is another matter however!  This seems to be the key.  There are things that need to be said, so when you find them, give them voice and/or form!  If you just want to say something, go ahead and try, but not too enthusiastically and try to look for something real in the air to fit in between the lines.....


Blog reader comment:

It definitely felt very different

Getting the LL-letters back when I first got on the list.  Can't remember when - late Nineties I suppose.  This was back before "blogs", so it definitely seemed peculiarly fascinating to be receiving these little snippets of strangers' lives from all around the world.  And occasionally add one back.

Never thought I had anything interesting to say, so didn't post back much.  Since having my own blog/online diary thing though, I pretty quickly found out that the things that generate interest are often very different from the things that I think are interesting.

Time.... by LHS

Time, as in "Where does it go?", or better yet, where are the borders between the radically different past and future?  I recently saw a few old Japanese movies filmed in 1969, 1970 and 1971 - the country was a different one then.  Naturally... but still - there's something about the daily journey of nearly imperceptible change becoming titanic change that is unsettling....


The shortest way home is the longest way 'round....     [Top of page]

"Working Freelance"     [Top of page]

by RER & LHS
Date: 2005/11/08


Re: "Now that I've left my day job, I feel so relieved to finally have enough time to get all these jobs done.  In this case luck was a tricky thing.  Having to do everything keeping clients happy and at the same time go to the office with only a few hours of sleep."

I think you have a stronger will than I.  When I get really tired, there is almost no way I can stay awake!  I've (momentarily) fallen asleep while driving at 100km/h; fallen asleep while standing on a train station platform at the front, near the edge; fallen asleep in important meetings while desperately trying to stay awake; fallen asleep in spite of drinking gallons of coffee in a vain attempt to stay awake while working on something overnight; fallen (momentarily) asleep while standing up while teaching; etc. etc.  It's a strange thing for me - when I get to a certain point, it becomes nearly impossible for me to stay awake!  It might be that way due to a habit I got into when I was 19 - I found that if I went to bed early, I would end up thinking about things and not be able to sleep, so I got into the habit of just staying awake until I was unable to stay awake any longer, and strangely was able to get more sleep that way!

Re: "I also feel a strange feeling of anger: I've been struggling so many years to be an illustrator and all of the sudden all this work lands on my head. It may sound stupid (I should be thankful) but I published my first work at 14 years old. So it's been over 15 years that I've been trying to get my work appreciated enough to make a living out from it."

No - it makes perfect sense!  Society needs to support and reward artists more, bloodsuckers less!  The most destructive people in companies and society are rewarded the most, and truly creative people are fired from their jobs, underpaid if paid at all, etc.  It's a kind of insanity and if the destroyers aren't stopped soon, the planet is doomed!  So, you should be angry!  But also happy!  Finally some money is headed to you for your creativity and positive contribution to the world!  This is how it should be!

Re: [About "Reflexive Rain"]

Actually, I should explain something about that title.  A more common word to have used would have been "reflective", but I liked "reflexive" (which has the same meaning) better, so I used that.  The title "Reflex Motion" is bit non-standard.  I meant it to be a sort of cross between the "reflex" in "reflexive" and the "reflex" in "single-lens-reflex" camera, which is what I used to take those pictures on the train.  So (just to be sure that I don't cause you to speak Lyle-speak in the wrong setting), the word "reflective" would be the best all-around word to describe the concept of both "Reflex Motion" and "Reflexive Rain".

Re: "The picture ["Reflexive Rain"] is great but common at the same time. In the sense that it makes you feel like daily Tokyo. I think I capture now the pictures in such a different way. Like a more personal feeling mixed with a tension in the stomach for missing the ambience and everything in Tokyo. I think I was starting to feel at home. Right now, I still have that weird feeling that there's something missing. Like when you go out without your cameras and feel that you forgot something (well, maybe!)."

Of the two pictures on that page, I like the first one because it reminds me of some pictures I took in San Francisco that I liked, causing it to be (strangely) a picture that makes me feel nostalgic for San Francisco... or more accurately, a period in time and in my life when I lived for photography and was very focused about it.  I like the second picture for the mood it evokes in me of the better side of city life....

Lyle     [Top of page]

"Wrong Wrapper"     [Top of page]

Some jobs do require specific language requirements, but then there are the jobs that could be done by anyone with the right linguistic skills, so... what gives?

Under "Help Wanted" in the classified section of the December 5th, 2005 Japan Times:

KING RECORDS is looking for a bilingual Japanese who loves music.  Job includes correspondence, English word processing operation, import/export business, interpretation for foreign guests and administrative support to team.  Age up to 30, Monday through Friday, 10:00 to 18:30.  term is one year's duration, to be renewed annually.  Social benefits fully provided.  Send Japanese resume with photo by December 16.  Call 03-3945-2127, Mr. Ishizuka, King Records Co., Ltd., 1-2-3, Otowa, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 112-0013

KYOSEN OHASHI'S OK GIFT SHOP in Australia urgently seeks some shop and sales staff.  Native Japanese speaker.  Under 35 years old.  Minimum 3 years' work experience.  Sponsorship provided.  Call: 03-3237-9876, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.

INTERNATIONAL Model Agency seeks Japanese staff.  English fluency and driver's license necessary, age under 30.  Call Bravo Models at 03-3746-9090

COUNSELORS urgently wanted at study abroad center in Tokyo and Kobe.  Cheerful and responsible person with experience in this field, travel agency or studying in foreign country preferable.  Japanese only.  Age to 33.  Excellent conditions according to company regulations.  Call (03) 3342-9350 or (078) 333-9119 for an interview.  Wintech, Inc.

DAABON, a leading organic food importer, seeks experienced native Japanese salesperson.  Send resume to 2F, 1-33-5, Nishigotanda, Shinagawa-ku 141-0031

BILINGUAL COORDINATOR.  Native Japanese with English skills.  Computer skills (MS Word, Excel) a must.  Previous experience in IT company preferred.  Tel. 03-5659-6330.  Success TRC

Then there are the ads for native English speaker only:

LOOKING for high-school English teacher from January.  University degree and native speaker.  Tel 0495-77-3811.  Cell: 090-4023-8627.  E-mail: khsgw@ba.wakwak.com Stellar School

The thing is, for a language-teaching job, it's only sensible to stick with people born to the language for the most part.  The thing that feels strange to someone in the wrong wrapper, as I am, is how I'm automatically excluded from jobs that anyone who is bilingual in Japanese and English could do.  Call it what you will, but whatever it is, it doesn't feel good to be one of the ones who are excluded by wrapper and not by content.  Anyway - if any of you are applicable for the positions above, go ahead!

Lyle     [Top of page]

"Futuristic & Dazzling Tokyo"     [Top of page]

by KJA & LHS
Date: 2005/11/26

Re: "I looked over Ebisu and Roppongi this morning and enjoyed it. For whatever reason the last three pictures did not show."

I've noticed that happens sometimes with pages that have a lot of pictures - I'm probably putting too many pictures onto one page.  What you can do in that case is to click on the "Refresh" or "Reload" button (or else go back to the Photo Gallery and click again on the title).  If that doesn't work, try clicking on the Japanese version, which has the same pictures in the same order.

Re: "I thought it amusing that by 10 PM you thought of going home, but did not.  Then, just one more free drink before catching the last train.  Finally, you took the first train after 5 AM.  A good story there...."

Well... there are a couple of minor details I could flesh it out with, but mainly they just concern things talked about with my English friend and are not for publication....

What else... ah... the Filipino woman working the bar (the one in the photo) - she was interesting to talk to in a philanthropic way.  She works as a nanny for an expat family during the week and as a bartender on the weekends - one of eight siblings, she's the only one overseas and she sends money back to support the family.

Re: "Your pictures always tell me that the poor, drab, and primitive Japan of 1950 is now futuristic and dazzling."

I would imagine - Tokyo's changed quite a bit since even just 1984.  I just squeaked in before the yen became strong and so I was able to experience a completely different Japan for the first year.  The strong yen enabled the non-rich to go overseas for the first time in the country's history and the changes since then are not unlike the changes in America in the 1960's I think.  I was only a child then, but I remember how the sixties felt in the US and I see many strong parallels with Japan now.  Actually, maybe it's the 1970's by now, but in any case, the inflow of imported products and the outflow of people traveling all over has made people's mindset quite different.

Re: "But Y800 for a beer tells me that Tucson is also a pretty good place."

Yes, things have reversed in that regard!  Now it's expensive here and things are cheaper in the US!  But there are cheap things here too these days (acknowledging the hard economic times somewhat) - the chuhai I drank in Ebisu only cost Y120, so that Y800 figure for the beer seems really outrageous to me too....

Lyle     [Top of page]

"Nikkor 85mm f1.4 Lens, R.I.P."     [Top of page]

Yesterday's jewel today's trash?  My lens... sob.....

(2006/01/14) When I lived in San Francisco (1982-1984), nearly all the photos I took were with a Minolta 85mm lens, and in around 1990, after moving to Tokyo, I bought a Nikkor 85mm f1.4 lens for my Nikon FM2 camera.  It is... um... was... a nice lens and it cost about Y80,000 - just a drop in the bucket for filthy-dirty-stinking-rich people, but nearly an entire bucket-full of water for squeaky-clean poor me.  So - imagine my distress, if you will, when I pulled that jewel out of a drawer and discovered (Auuuggghhh!!) that it has mold (mold!!) growing inside (inside!!) of it!

After the initial shock of the discovery, I began thinking it might be interesting for creative photos ("The Moldy Lens Series", by Lyle H Saxon), but then I discovered that it's almost impossible to rotate the focus ring (internal threads full of mold?).  Well... it's not absolutely impossible, so maybe I'll try to do something with it yet.

Why mold?  Have you ever noticed the little anti-moisture packs that come with new cameras?  Now you know why!  If you live in a city like Tokyo with high humidity and in a concrete building, then keep anything damageable by mold far away from outside walls and especially windows!


"Life is Short..."     [Top of page]

by KCM & LHS
Date: 2005/12/02

Re: "Aabbb and I will be going up to Vancouver for New Year's.  We're going to fly to Seattle, stay at his friend's apartment, and then drive up to Vancouver with his friend and his friend's girlfriend.  We got a pretty nice hotel at a very good deal, although every time I look at the bill I die a little.  Well, this is the price I pay for wanting to see the world.  :P"

Oh yeah!  Spend the money!  Life is short!  Enjoy this kind of thing while you can, because money is something that can (usually) be generated at any time, while time is absolutely irrevocable!  If you end up in a situation where you don't have time to travel around much, then money will be the least of your problems to get past before doing something.  Aside from some really stupid things, for the most part people regret what they didn't do more than what they did do.  You're at one of the most enjoyable parts of life now you know... free, independent, in the peak of health... you absolutely should enjoy it!  Don't worry about money too much!  While money spent on fun doesn't come back, the fun experience can never be erased - it becomes a part of you and your life and is well worth it.  One request - take some pictures of these places you're visiting and send me a few!


"Strange Food & Acting in English"     [Top of page]

by KCM & LHS
Date: 2005/12/26

Re: "It was a pretty easygoing day today, especially since we had our office holiday party.  I left early, mostly because I am not a dancer, and I wanted to beat the traffic."

I had a date with a woman once who said "I like to dance..." so I thought I had better do something about the fact that I couldn't dance at all (to be ready for the next date - which never came - I only dated her that one time), so I began practicing in the evenings when my waiter roommate went off to work.  I would turn off the lights, shut the curtains, and turn up the music.  In the beginning, I would actually fall over when trying to move about the room at speed, but after a while, I found that there were times I could ride the music and have a lot of fun dancing with the sound waves.

There's a problem with my freestyle dancing though... as it's totally freestyle, people's hair sometimes stands up on the back of their necks when they see me dance, so - while I think it's probably a more pure form of getting close to the music than overly formal and stiff junk, people get spooked by my "medicine man" dancing, so - in a practical sense, while I did learn to move with the music somewhat, I have to do it alone for the most part.  Still, for a year or two, I used to go dancing out in public and I even managed to hook up with like-minded dancers a few times.  But it's impossible to dance my style of dancing if it's too crowded - I quickly found that out when I came to Tokyo!

Re: "I remembered why I HATE MUNI.  The machine ate my dollar bill, the next machine would not accept dollar bills and there were no change machines, and on the way back, the machine would only accept dollar coins and quarters, and the MUNI change machine would only change dollars into dollar coins, and if I wanted to change a dollar into quarters, I had to waste time walking across to the BART machine to change my money.  It was really, really annoying."

Ah... it's been so long, I had almost forgotten!  The ticket machines for the trains here have really good bill readers that almost never refuse a bill, even when it's an old beat-up one.  It does save time and frustration to be able to buy a ticket with a bill in about five seconds - predictably and reliably.

Re: "I sat next to Aabbb, who is my senior in my department, and next to a Japanese woman, who said she was still a temp with the company, even after a year.  I recommended that she get aggressive about becoming a permanent employee, since it would be more stable and it would be harder to fire her.  I also advised her to negotiate her salary so she could get a better one.  She replied that because she was Japanese, she is not used to asking for things like that; it would be considered rude.  At least, that is what I think she said, because I could not understand her very well."

Ha-ha!  I can imagine that well enough!  People here avoid expressing opinions much in the first place, and when they go overseas, they express their opinions less and when they are operating in English, less again!  I bet I could find out what she's thinking if I talked to her in Japanese.  I've (after 21 years here) figured out somewhat how to get information out of people.  One of the tricks to speaking Japanese is suggesting what you think the person is thinking rather than asking.  If done correctly, people loosen up a little and will actually express their opinions.  You do always have to be on guard for subtle hints dropped here and there though.  It's not that they're not communicating exactly, but rather that they are communicating half by radar.  If your radar is tuned to the same frequency, then you can broadcast things back and forth, but if you're relying on foreign (English) words, it's nearly impossible to have any deep level of exchange.

Re: "I recognized her as the woman who, every afternoon, eats something that smells rather odd... would you have any idea what it is?  She eats it out of a can, with some rice, and I think it's some type of fish, and I'm always afraid to ask her what it is, because I know I will end up saying something about how much it smells."

Now I'm curious what that is!  Is there anything written on the can that you can make out?  Or would you have to get too close for that?  A photo of the can would be the best thing.  I wonder what it is....  If it's natto, that would explain the smell.  Natto is - basically - half-fermented soybeans.  It has a weird smell and not even all the locals like it, but supposedly it's healthy.  Is it stringy the way something sticky is?  With strings leading back into the can as bits of it are pulled out?

Re: "It's kind of interesting - my mind immediately jumped to the controversial casting of Chinese actresses in the Japanese roles for Memoirs of a Geisha.  I hear that neither the Japanese nor the Chinese like it.  I remembered reading that the casting had interviewed Japanese actresses, but most were afraid to speak English on-screen.  Now, I know for a fact that Zhang Ziyi's English, before shooting, was virtually nonexistent.  She made the commitment to learn and make mistakes."

The commitment part probably isn't the issue with the Japanese actresses.  The weird thing in Japan is that - while having something good under your belt is easily forgotten, mistakes never are.  Therefore, people are rather obsessive about avoiding mistakes.  Better to do nothing and maintain a clean white sheet of paper than to attempt to do something and end up with black marks on the paper - marks that can never ever (ever-ever) be erased.

Incidentally, the Japanese actress Yoshiko Yamaguchi, who played a Chinese woman in a 1940 movie (under the name "Li Xianglan" I think), was almost executed for treason in China at the end of the war.  She was born in China, but since she was able to prove that she wasn't actually Chinese, they didn't execute her - but I wonder if that sort of story has had any influence on how actresses view playing in rolls overseas....

Re: "Anyway, that's just a long-winded way of saying maybe that sort of Japanese attitude of perfectionism might be hurting them, at least in American circles, more than it helps.  I could be blowing smoke, though."

It's not perfectionism!  It's just fear of mistakes in front of outsiders!  You should hear some of the English regularly used in domestic films and TV "dramas"!  Some say it's not even English really, but a Japanese form of it for domestic consumption only.


Well - that's all for LL-336.  Keep in touch!

Sore dewa!

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon
Nishi-Shinjuku, Tokyo
March 7th, 2006
[Top of page]