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blog-L  (2006a)

2006/06/05 00:11

"Choonji Temple" (First batch of Olympus 810 photos.)

I stumbled upon a temple I'd never visited before - Choonji Temple - and I've posted some photos I took of it here:

Other than that, are some photos taken in the usual places... I aim to start focusing more on posting pictures of areas not yet covered on the site, but, for now, here are the links to some typical Shibuya, Shinjuku, etc. images:

"Shibuya - June 2006"

"Iroiro #2 - June 2006"

"Ebisu - June 2006"

Incidentally, if there is anything you notice about these pictures taken with the Olympus 810, let me know - I'm trying to figure out precisely how it differs from the Ricoh R4, so I can best divide their use accordingly.



"Rusty Rails"

I did some exploring along the Shinkansen (bullet train) elevated rails, and I happened upon a big factory-like building that used to be used for doing something to the Shinkansen rail cars - maintenance I'm guessing, I don't think it's the factory where they were made, although it could be....

What was interesting was the old rusty rails - something I've never associated with the Shinkansen super-express trains before.  ......

And... that's sort of it.  I meant to write about this in some detail, but the clock is saying I have to get in the sardine run for a trip across town, so I'll go ahead and post this overly short bit.  There are photos and a little more text in the same tune here:



2006/05/21 20:57

"Seven Pages, 367 Photos..."

Making use of some automation, I put up seven new "Photo Batch" pages today, as follows:

"Iroiro #1 - May 2006"

"Yamanote Line - May 2006"

"Ebisu - May 2006"

"Nakamagome - May 2006"

"Shinjuku - May 2006"

"Ikegamidai- May 2006"

"Hatanodai - May 2006"

I would rather have gone over those and arranged them the way I have most of the pages in the Photo Gallery:

- but have decided that if I'm ever to get a more comprehensive coverage of Tokyo actually up there on the screen, I have got to go with the speed of automation.  Once I've got a certain coverage completed and have some time, I'll go back to putting up custom-built pages.  (Note that these photos are on the "PhotoBatch" page, and not in the "Photo Gallery".  The direct link for the "PhotoBatch" page is here:



"Asakusa - May 5th, 2006"

I walked through Asakusa on one of its busier days - on May 5th, Children's Day, in the middle of Golden Week on a day with beautiful weather.  If you go to Asakusa, chances are it won't be quite as crowded as in the pictures:




"Hibarigaoka-kita - March 9th, 2006"

Views from a walk around the north side of Hibarigaoka Station on the Seibu-Ikebukuro Line.  Very early in spring, the trees were still mostly bare - it has (surprise) a warmer feeling in the spring and summer:


2006/04/30 18:18

"Traditional Japanese Restaurants & Traditional Japanese Food"

It's not often that I am lucky enough to visit traditional Japanese restaurants, so I took a few photos of one I ate in earlier this year:



"Friendly People & Angry-Young-Men"

I see a couple of trends in the way people are thinking/acting - one very welcome and one very alarming.  The good news first....

Japan has always been a country of manners and most encounters with people were civilized (exceptions existed for sure - like people out of their element away on vacation who often decided not to bother being overly polite while away from their home area), but form was usually adhered to.  Polite form is one element of a civilized society, but being overly formal can interfere with true communication and empathy when dealing with those who have come from afar.  So, in the eighties, I often wished that people would relax more when interacting with me.  Now, in the year 2006, I am realizing that this wish has been granted!  Much more than before, it's possible to communicate with a lot of people in a relaxed, open, and informal way.

Now for the flip side of this trend....

Three times in as many weeks, while walking through a crowded station, I had the same type of encounter with three different angry-young-man types.  Walking through train stations like Shinjuku Station (with vast numbers of people entering & exiting the station and vast numbers of people changing from one train line to another within the station), it's nearly impossible to avoid lightly bumping into a few people and being bumped into by a few other people as you walk through the dense crowds, but usually you try your best to avoid bumping into people and when the inevitable collision does happen, the two people generally nod, say a quick "Sumimasen" ("Sorry"), and go on their way (or just go silently on their way if there's no time for a nod).  So, after 21 years of that scenario playing out over and over, I was a bit shocked to have an angry-young-man aggressively throw out his arm towards me as if to shove me with his forearm.  It was an alarming moment, because he had a look of blood-lust in his eye and if I had taken a swing at him (which his provocation seemed to be begging for) then we probably would have jumped into the insanity of doing as much physical damage to each other as possible.

The next week, the same thing happened, and again the next, three different angry-young-man types, all with that outthrust arm and look of blood-lust in their eye.  The provocation?  None really, just the usual situation of accidentally getting into the same physical space in a very crowded situation.  (Did a movie "hero" do some "cool" people bashing that way?  It's just weird how they did exactly the same thing as though they were looking for a chance to try it, and it's something I had never seen in 21 years of being in the thick of things here.)

Well... there you go - nothing is free.  One advantage often comes with the price of a new disadvantage.  I'll enjoy talking with friendly types on one hand and be on the lookout for dangerous angry-young-man types when changing trains on the other.



New "PhotoBatch" page

A new way of posting photos - I've included file names to make ordering of individual pictures easier.

"Shinjuku Gyoen Gardens - April 4th, 2006"

The first set of pages in this format.  I'll still be continuing the old format, but this method should enable me to more speedily increase coverage of different areas of Tokyo.



"Mountain Breeze at Ontakesan"

Walking around near Ontakesan Station on the Ikegami Line on April 21st, I wandered into the grounds of a shrine and began walking down the stone path leading to the wooden shrine building.  As I was about mid-way down the path, I looked to my left and was greeted by a mesmerizing sight, so I stopped to take it in - standing there in a half-trance while an older woman prayed at the shrine down the path.  The actual sight itself wasn't remarkable really - just part of the roof of a traditional shrine building seen through some trees and with a backdrop of deep blue sky with white cotton clouds floating through the blue.  The view was nice enough, but what was really mesmerizing was a powerful flashback I had to standing among the trees in the Rocky Mountains as a child way back in the late sixties.

I stood there transfixed by my old feelings and wondered how and why they could come back so strongly in Tokyo!  I looked around quietly and figured it out though - April 21st was a dry day with a comfortably cool breeze blowing (and singing) threw the trees, clean air, deep blue sky with very white clouds, there was nothing in that wonderful view but wood, earth and sky - no concrete, no asphalt, no plastic, no glass, no exhaust fumes, no engine noises, no computer screens - and upwind to my right was a large old pine tree scenting the air with the pine smell I've always associated with the time I spent in the Rocky Mountains during a few childhood summer vacations.  It was such a nice feeling, that I wanted to linger within it longer still, but the siren call of concrete, exhaust gases, florescent lighting and mind-numbing CRT computer monitors dragged me back to "reality" or - perhaps more accurately - dragged me away from reality and back into the nightmare.  On the way back to the machines (and I - very ironically - like machines), I walked down the tree-lined shopping street leading to Ontakesan Station, taking in the warm spring feeling from the trees with their new green leaves, and wondering at how much better any street is with trees than without them....

And then today (April 22nd), I go out for a walk around my apartment, and I discover that someone has cut down the exotic fruit tree (loquat) that was growing by my apartment building.  Asking around, I discover that some imbecile on the first floor was afraid insects might be attracted to the tree, so they had it cut down.  I can't begin to convey to you the rage I feel in contemplating this kind of thing.  You've got a tree that produces fruit that tastes great (for those who are lucky enough to grab it in the few days it takes to pick the tree clean), and there was no insect problem at all, but the idiot is deathly afraid of any kind of life other than bipeds, and thinks the tree needs to be murdered in order to prevent the remote possibility of there being (gasp!) insects.  This type of an idiot should move to the desert and starve - they could sit in sterile bliss while they drift over to the other side - presumably to a place with no insects or trees.  It's bad enough to have such an imbecile living in the same building, but it's depressing that the rest of the tenants didn't stand up for the tree and tell the idiot to either shut up or move to the desert.  well... maybe they're all in a state of shock today like I am, but the building maintenance people apparently agreed and actually paid to have someone come out and kill the tree.  It's just so... wrong!

Well... sorry for liking trees so much, but I really don't understand why so many people seem to prefer barren dirt to living, green, oxygen-producing trees.




I had to visit a company today, so I looked up their address on a detailed map and figured out the on-foot part of the journey.  After getting off the train (train number four actually), I took the easy route there, walking along a main street - sharing the air with the trucks and getting a bit of a sore throat in the process.  So for the journey back, I decided to take back streets that ran more or less parallel to the main street, but were far enough away that there was no noise of the trucks at all.  Doing that sort of thing is an excellent way to get lost, but it worked out this time and I found myself walking through an expensive bit of suburbia with the only people on the streets being mothers with their pre-school children (one each, most people only have one or two children these days).

It's a strange thing about suburbia... you get the feeling that you're doing something wrong by walking through it.  Just about everyone you see is with children, so you find yourself wordlessly defending your presence and trying to project that you're conducting business and are just passing through.

That's it?  Hmmm... well, what can I say?  It was a wordless feeling after all.....


2006/04/12 23:59

"You Get What You Pay For?"

That custom-built computer I was given... going back to me standing in Yodobashi Camera (
the store where I bought the new board), and talking with the store clerk:  I showed him the old board and - after confirming that the CPU and memory in the old board would not be usable in a new board - asked what they had in the way of replacement motherboards that used AMD and are cheap.  The clerk looked at my old board, thought for a few seconds, and then went into a back room, soon returning with a spiffy-looking green box with AMD written all over it.

Thinking "How much are the three separate components (motherboard, CPU, & memory) I'm about to buy going to cost?", I was surprised to hear that the spiffy-looking box contained a set of all three of those for Y9,800.  "Well... that's cool!" I stupidly thought, envisioning only the off-new specifications (not a problem) and forgetting there was the not-so-minor issue of mechanical design to deal with, not to mention my own personal theory (and experience) that a spiffy box wrapped around a cheap product generally is indicative of garbage inside.  Looking at the box now, I note that "AMD" is proudly written large in 24 places all over the box, and the board name "DFI" just twice in small letters on the back (once as "DFI K8M800-MLVF").  One could be forgiven for suspecting (in hindsight alas!) that they are trying to hide a bad name with a good one.

But back to Yodobashi Camera and before the storm - I stepped out into the rain and proudly carried the box home and set about installing it in the custom box.  (Incidentally, what do you call a custom box with no name that you are given?  Do you give it a name like a pet, or just call it a "box" forevermore?  Suddenly I understand why custom computer owners call their machines boxes - I sometimes call my OptiPlex GX-1 a box, but generally think of it as "OptiPlex-2".)  First step was to plug in the CPU, its heat sink & fan, and the PC3200 memory boards (the kit 256MB & a separately bought 512MB, both in "CFD Sales Inc." boxes - "Memory Module for EXPERTS" it says - He-he!)  And then....

"What's this?  The board isn't sliding under the overhanging wiring the way it should be - what's getting in the way..?" I mutter, and then discover that - rotten design - the power connector for the board is at the top corner by the CD-ROM drives and the cable connector and other parts prevent it from being installed without taking the side screws out of the CD-ROM drives and sliding them halfway out of the machine.  "Well, that sucks!  But I guess I can still use it even with the CD-ROM drives hanging halfway out and in harm's way..." think I as I push on.  Next thing is the rectangular panel that should snap into place and then match up with the external connectors of the motherboard.  It's so flaky and uncooperative that I decide to skip using it - it doesn't provide any mechanical support for the connectors anyway and I know what they are without the labeling - "What's a little extra space around the plugs in the back... maybe it will provide better ventilation..." I think as I begin sinking into an unhappy and stormy cloud.

I was pretty disgusted with the project by the time I got the new motherboard bolted down, so the discovery of the flaky and nearly impossible to decipher pins and their bad labeling didn't come as a shock, but just another wave washing into an already sinking boat (the old board, by way of contrast, was infinitely more intelligently designed).  I made my best guess with the wiring, plugged in the power, and the machine seemed to come to life, but the only effect on the monitor was strange flashing of the setting lights, so with visions of the bloody thing not only not working but damaging innocent external equipment as well, I cut the power, removed the now hated board and put the old one back in.  It works fine again, but those ballooning capacitors will not last long.

I thought of taking it back and exchanging it for a more expensive and better board ("You get what you pay for"), but as I looked at the pile of packaging around me and the new board with the CPU in place, I realized it wouldn't be ready to just put back on the shelf, so I put the board back in the static-free bag, tore up and threw away most of the internal packing and put the board aside with a feeling of disgust as I noted the time - 4:00 a.m.  "Another night's sleep stolen by computers - the greatest sleep deprivation device known to mankind!" muttered Used-Machines-Lyle, ten-year veteran of the Equipment War.  Methinks I'm about to become "New-Machines-Lyle" as I dream of an all-new custom box with parts beginning life under my command.  What I'm wondering now is what to do with the CPU - is it one I should put to work for me or should I shelf it and go for something newer?  It's a... I'm not sure what - there's the name "Sempron"; the box says "2600+ Socket 754"; and on the chip it has "AMD 2001"(!), so does that mean it's five years old?  It can't be that old... can it?


2006/04/12 18:15

Boso Peninsula - Page-7

I had hoped to get more pages up on the Boso Peninsula, but going over the photos and some other outside competition for my time has slowed me down.  Nevertheless, here's one more page (sorry it's not five more pages):


2006/04/12 16:52

"Tada-hodo Takai Mono wa Nai!"
("Nothing is so Expensive as That Which is Free")

Once upon a time, long long ago, I thought the day would come when I would get my computers all arranged nicely and they would work for me without mishap while I concentrated on writing and photography.  Now - while I have not absolutely and completely given up on that dream - I have gotten to the point where I pretty much expect computers to endlessly cause me trouble.  The latest?  I was given a "free" computer....

It's a custom-built box that I was initially happy to use - for all of three hours, and then I had a good close look at the motherboard.  Ballooned capacitors met my horrified gaze.  "Oh no... you've got to be kidding!  Not again!" I silently screamed.  I had just lost a Dell Dimension-C to leaking capacitor-induced sudden death syndrome.  Oh well - "Tada-hodo takai mono wa nai" ("Nothing is so expensive as that which is free"), and so I rushed off to an electronics store to spend money on my "free" computer.  I expected some sympathy from the shopkeeper, but he just "explained" that that's what happens.

Well... it may happen, but does it really have to?  Dead mother boards in only a few years?  I think they should last a bit longer than that....



Boso Peninsula - Pg. 6

Continuing the Boso Peninsula series on my drive along the Pacific coast....

Yushima Seido

A piece of old Japan in central Tokyo - strangely unknown by most of the city's residents.


"Mexico & 21st Century JW-Bipeds"

The cherry blossoms are just coming out in Tokyo, but it's still a bit cold (which is usual - by the time the weather is actually warm, the cherry blossoms are gone), so I was sitting in my semi-warm apartment in my inside-use-only down coat when I received an e-mail from Mexico from a US e-pal living in California (who used to live in Tokyo) in response to an e-mail I had sent....

LHS: "I've forgotten exactly when you said you'd be visiting Tokyo, but it's soon isn't it?  I remember you said you would be staying in Daikanyama and I happened to be there yesterday.  Very nice scenery, if you know what I mean - JW-Bipeds here spend so much time and money on their appearance, and several of the places that help out (for a hefty fee) are around Daikanyama Station.  The passing bipeds I saw last night were quite easy on the eyes...."

SCJ: "I am in Mexico now and have been travelling to other Carib islands... wow, I am so disoriented, but in a good way.  I was just smoking cigars on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, the water was warm, the beer was cold ... and no kidding, it was nice.
     I am going to try to go to Japan in a couple of months if I can, but I might have to sacrifice that trip for this one. If only I could travel all of the time ... heh heh.
     Glad to hear you were able to enjoy Daikanyama.  I would trade this beach for Tokyo in a microsecond... but for many reasons, I just can't be in Tokyo long term right now.  Uhhhgg.
     On a brighter note, I just witnessed the best live jazz jam session ever ... simply incredible."

LHS: "That warm water and warm weather does sound quite nice!  My housemates are strangely happy with no heat in the winter - if I attempt to warm up the apartment in the dead of winter beyond about 15 degrees (Celsius), one of them complains about the "heat" and throws open the balcony doors.  I survive the winter by wearing a down coat inside all the time - it's the only way to prevent falling ill from the cold.  I think my housemates have antifreeze for blood or something... good thing there are down coats, or I'd bloody well freeze!
     Anyway... the weather is beginning to warm up and - at the moment - everyone is out, so with thoughts of warm Mexico dancing in my mind, I cranked up the heat to 27 degrees and am happily sitting here with no down coat on!  Warm weather never comes soon enough for me and right about this time of year I think 'Whew... I've somehow managed to survive another long and unpleasant winter!'.  There's something very stressful about working on the computer through the winter months with frost-bitten fingers....
     Daikanyama... yes, the scenery there is mesmerizing....  In a similar way, I was on the Yamanote Line on Thursday, going from Akihabara to Shibuya (I should have taken the Ginza Line, but it's more pleasant riding above ground) when one of those moments that stay with you forever happened.  I was sitting in a corner seat at the end of a train car when I looked across and saw a stunningly beautiful JW-Biped sitting there - our eyes meet for a second and then I looked out the window behind her and saw the evening sky over the rail yards of Shinagawa as we zoomed towards the station....  Earlier in Akihabara, I had looked up from the street to see a train coming into the station - and the sides of all the cars were perfectly straight without even a hint of any rocking.  At this point, they've gotten the rails into the kind of condition you would expect in a precision watch... and something of that same feeling came back to me as I looked again at the 21st century woman and the 21st century scene in and outside the train as it glided smoothly and speedily into the station.  From there, a crowd got on - blocking out the view of the other side of the train, the view out the window, and cutting off the never-to-be-forgotten memory video clip.
     Good music, good weather, warm ocean, cold beer, stunning scenery... that's what we're alive for my friend!"




"Boso Peninsula - Tateyama Sunset & Return Journey" (Page-4)

Pictures taken up on the hill that Tateyama Castle sits on, watching the sun set into the Pacific.

"Boso Peninsula - Another Trip, Driving Down the Pacific Coast" (Page-5)

Another trip - continuing down the Boso Peninsula by car.



"Answering Machine?  What's That?"

In the past couple of years I've noticed an irritating thing with my phone.  If I'm busy working at home, I don't answer it - leaving the answering machine to take messages... which it could very easily do, but more and more people are hanging up as soon as they get the answering machine, and - worse - some of them call back every 30 seconds for a burst of five or six calls, hanging up each time without leaving a message, saying their name, or even saying "Ah..." "Ugghh..." or "Yabba-dabba-do!".  Not leaving a message doesn't bother me too much, but the barrage of calls from single callers trying to bully me into picking up the phone is really irritating and nearly feels like harassment, especially when they repeat the barrage every 30 minutes or so.  Sometimes I have to set the phone to sleep mode so I can get some work done (in which case the phone can still take messages, but doesn't audibly ring).

It's all due to cell phones I suppose.  People are now so used to getting in touch with anyone almost immediately that the idea of leaving a message on an answering machine never seems to occur to them.  In the situation of calling a cell phone and getting someone's voice messaging service (when their phone is off), then hanging up doesn't disturb anyone.  So, no problem there, but the people calling my regular phone should at least say their name and they shouldn't call so bloody often in a short period of time.  Yeah, I know.  I should just tell them, and I have told one person, but what can I say to the rest?  Maybe this:

"You know, your barrage of hang-up calls every 30 seconds is really irritating!  Would you mind not doing that?  Why don't I answer the phone?  Because I'm busy you dolt!  If you would leave a bloody %$#%#%# message, then I could call you back when I wasn't busy!  Is that too hard for you to comprehend!?"

At which point I would either succeed in ending both the friendship and the calls or create an enemy who called even more often to "get even" for my "rude" (honest) words.

Why don't I make use of caller ID?  I do with my cell phone (when it's switched on) but my answering/fax machine is an old one that doesn't display numbers.  Why don't I get a new one?  Why should I?  That wouldn't solve the hang-up call barrages - it would more precisely identify exactly who was being a rude idiot though.

Okay.  Rant over.




That old buildings often have character is an obvious thing in most cities, but in Tokyo, things are torn down and rebuilt so rapidly that there isn't much of anything very old here.  Never mind the devastation of WW-II, vast numbers of buildings put up since then have been taken down already.  There are old buildings of course, including per-war buildings that managed to get through the war years undamaged, but the number seems to be less than in most other cities in the world.

What prompts me to write this is the demise of the string of concrete apartment buildings in Jingu-mae (between Harajuku and Omotesando stations), that were put up with international financial assistance right after the 1923 earthquake that destroyed most of Tokyo and Yokohama.  By the time I came to Tokyo in 1984, the buildings were comfortably sitting among large old trees and some of the apartments had been converted into art galleries.  The area felt quite relaxed and comfortable to walk through, and I thought how nice it would be to live there....  That was then, and before I even realized it was going to happen, they were all torn down and an ultra-modern complex of shops and very expensive apartments (on the upper floors above the commercial space) was built on the land where the old apartments and trees had been.  While the main street still has its row of large trees along the road, the other plants were cut down to make way for the long & large structure that is now Tokyo's newest "trendy spot".

Hearing that the complex was open, I went over for a look and to take some pictures - feeling a very deep sense of a lost opportunity regarding not having extensively photographed the old buildings while they were still there!  The new complex, called "Omotesando Hills", is pretty much what I imagined it would be - modern, with nice shops, cafes and restaurants, and with many strolling young couples.  The inside will be better with age, but is a little weird now, as it smells like new-construction-chemicals, so as you walk about inside listening to the recorded bird sounds, the contrast between the slightly toxic air and the sounds of a forest - where the air would be so radically different - is a little bizarre.  Once the chemical smell is gone, the atmosphere will improve no doubt - by this summer?

Photos of the new Omotesando Hills complex are on this page:



"Omotesando Hills"

The newest trendy spot in Tokyo is Omotesando Hills (I think - but it's been open for a month now, so maybe there's something newer by now!), where I stopped by to have a look and take some pictures, which are posted here:

There are several nice complexes like this in Tokyo now, so I'm beginning to wonder if there are enough customers to go around... probably there are though, what with 30,000,000 people in Tokyo and the surrounding suburbs!



"Boso Peninsula - Crossing Tokyo Bay & Train to Tateyama" (Page-3)

The third page (if you count the title page as page one) of the Boso Peninsula series has been posted here:



"Working Freelance & Wearing Sunglasses"

I received a letter today from a friend who is also doing freelance work from home - among other things, he reports:

"The job was supposed to have been finished by Friday, but I missed the deadline... so the editors probably won't hire me again, but it's their fault because they always ask for impossible deadlines.  I tried to tell them the quality of the artwork would be compromised with so little time but they don't care.  Everything is expected to be speedy and well done, with very heavy emphasis on 'speedy'!"

It's the same problem here with freelance translating and rewriting work.  I was recently offered a freelance rewriting job (they called it "checking", but that was disingenuous - most of the sample I saw needed to be completely rewritten!) of some really horrible English in a huge PowerPoint file.  Good thing I demanded to see a sample of the text, or I would have ended up getting stuck with an impossible project at a ridiculously cheap rate and with too little time to do it in.  I told the company that I would do the job if the rate was much higher and if I could have access to the author of the difficult-to-decipher English in the report in order to talk with them (in Japanese) and discover what they were trying to say.  The intermediary company refused (not surprisingly), as they would never want the cheap worker (me) directly talking with the client - they could end up being cut out of the loop that way... which they probably should be!  All the intermediary company does is: take the job, call or e-mail someone, dump a pile of work on them, and then send the result back to the client.  For this, they take half (or two-thirds) of the money!

Re: "I have to take pain pills because my eyes hurt from looking at the screen.  I'm definitely taking a small vacation after this!"

Ouch!  Be careful with your eyes!  Have you tried wearing sunglasses?  Seriously!  Especially when working late at night, the white light from a monitor is very bad for the eyes!  What you could do is take the sunglasses off for detail work, and then put them back on for other things.  Recently I don't watch much TV, but when I used to watch it late at night with the room lights off, I wore sunglasses!  It sounds a little weird, but after the first minute or two, it felt comfortable and then I could watch TV for an hour or two and not experience the eye strain I got from watching TV without the sunglasses.  I wonder... does anyone else do that?  The difference between direct light and incident light isn't something people seem to think about, but they should - looking at a white sheet of paper (reflected incident light) and looking at a white computer screen (direct light) are two rather different things!




It's full of stuff from the end of 2005, but... LL-336 has been posted to the LL-Letters page, here:

The Pollen count this year is high again, but at least it's reported as being slightly lower than last year - which I'm glad to hear.  I had a pretty hard time last year with pollen allergies.



"Sweet?  Okay... But Not For Me!"

I called a friend in California today and talked for a bit, and I asked him about modern usage of "sweet".  He demonstrated its usage on the phone and it didn't actually sound so bad.  After hanging up, I'm beginning to realize how cut off I am from this sort of thing.  I read a lot, so I'm probably as up-to-date as most people in vocabulary, but reading a word like "sweet" and hearing it are two very different things!

So - to my "sweet" using e-pals out there - sorry for the fiery rant about that word!  In hearing it skillfully demonstrated, I don't think it sounds so bad... but I still don't think I want to use it myself!



"'Sweet'? - Yuck!"

I guess it's hip to use the word "sweet" now, but the problem for me is that it's not something new and cool, but something old and disgusting!  I still remember my older female relatives who would refer to anything insipid by saying "Oh, now isn't that sweet?".  Uggghhh!  Yuck!  It makes me sick to remember it!  So every time I get an e-mail from someone in their twenties now and they use the generational code word "sweet", I have a gag reflex and see visions of old women with too much perfume cooing about how "sweet" kittens and babies are!

But wait a minute - I get it - it's the twenties again!  The bored "opinion leaders" and "fashion" writers probably dusted off some old magazines from the twenties and figured:

"What the h**l, most people who were alive in the 1920's are dead now - so they won't/can't complain if I steal their fashions, 'trends', and vocabulary and call it something new!  From the other end, people in their twenties (now... they can't stay there) haven't a clue about the nineteen-twenties, so they'll think they're being hip as they use the old dusty words and fashions, and - best of all - they'll make me rich in the process!  Ho-Ho-Ho!! Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha!!!"

I mean... let's be honest here.  Every old person was once young and every young person who doesn't die young will get old.  100% of us die sooner or later - there is no eternal youth and - the "We're in the same group, ho-ho!" usefulness of generational code words aside - words are only tools and... and... wait a second... this is degenerating into sophistry....

Well - I just wanted to complain about that really horrible, disgusting, insipid, nasty word "sweet".  Man I hate that word!  I guess that makes it a perfect generational code term - "Say it and watch middle-aged Lyle gag! He-he!", but if I could only bring those old relatives of mine back to life to blast the ears off those in their twenties now with the insipid version of "sweet", they would cover their ears in horror and run away screaming when they heard the word!


2006/03/06 23:57

"Nine Years in a Trunk..."

Yes, that trunk - the trunk of my previously written about 1984 Honda Prelude (R.I.P.).  At some point back when I was still driving the car on a regular basis, I changed out of a pair of dress shoes into running shoes and the dress shoes ended up staying in the trunk.  They weren't originally forgotten... I think I just left them in there thinking that they might come in handy some time if I needed to dress up while out on the road somewhere.  But after a few years, they were very much forgotten and they didn't resurface until I completely cleaned out the trunk just before paying to have my old Prelude friend scrapped (such is the fate of old cars in Japan - they don't go into garages, they go to the scrap yard to be shredded).

Looking the newly resurfaced shoes over, they seemed to be in reasonably good condition and when I tried them on, they fit comfortably enough and looked okay, so I put them in the shoe closet by the door and determined to use them again in the near future.  That near future came today, so I put them on and - looking at my watch and seeing I was running late - I ran to the station, contemplating how strange it was to be wearing shoes that I had last worn some nine years ago.  Once on the first of two trains into central Tokyo, I forgot about the shoes and looked out the window - thinking of something or other... until I noticed a man standing next to me looking at my feet.  I looked at his feet and saw a pair of shiny black shoes... "Hmm?  Is he happily noticing that his shiny black shoes are newer than my older dull-brown shoes?  What's up?", thought I, but once off the train, I again forgot about the shoes.

On the next train, I was able to sit down, so I read the Japanese version of Botchan half way into town and the National Geographic for the remaining half.  Standing up at my station, I walked to the door, and as I waited for the train to stop, I looked down and noticed that there was something sticking out from the side of my right shoe... "What the...?", thought I as I lifted up my right foot and tilted it sideways - "!!!!! Wow!  Look at that!!!", I thought as I saw that the heel was disintegrating and bits of rubber were coming out the sides!  Same thing with the other shoe!  I walked off the train, suddenly feeling a bit like a character in a comedy movie with bits of rubber falling from my shoes with every step!  Seriously!

From there I went to work and was horrified to see that the rubber leakage was getting worse - I was leaking so much rubber on the carpet, that I couldn't pretend nothing was happening, and so I had no choice but to apologize to people at the company for making a mess and then make the best joke I could of it - "This is like a comedy movie or a comic book story!  Ho-ho-ho!", etc.

Work eventually ended and I headed for the station - trailing rubber all the way.  By the time I got to my transfer station, the heels and front section of the right shoe had come off and it was painful walking on only the middle section of remaining rubber, so I stomped and scrapped my feet a little to knock off the middle section.  Once that was done, the height of the two shoes was different, so I stomped and scrapped my left foot a bit to knock the remaining chunks of rubber from that side off.  As I walked home, more bits fell off, and by the time I got home, I was wearing moccasins.

The moral of the story?  If you find an old pair of leather shoes that has been sleeping in a car trunk for nine years; bury them in a deep hole, put them in the trash, put them in a glass case, whatever - just don't ride the trains into central Tokyo with them on your feet.



"Rampaging Monkeys"

The monkey problem here - as in too many of them - is an ongoing problem that resurfaces in the news from time to time.  Yesterday I saw a report about a town somewhere (forgot the name of the town - somewhere in Japan in any case!) that was having town hall meetings trying to decide what to do.  The town is divided between those who like the monkeys and don't want them harmed, and those who want to kill some of them off.  Tempers flared at one point and a couple of people were telling each other to get out of the meeting, and then others were interrupting each other as they gave their opinions to the town leaders and television crews.

Apparently there's been a progression from the monkeys only coming out when people were not around, and then coming around in front of people, but staying away from them and running when approached, to being unafraid, and recently they are stealing crops in the fields, making off with shopping from the hands of people walking down the street, and even biting some people.  There was a video of a bunch of monkeys chasing away a camera crew, and then discussion about the different monkey groups.  Apparently one group in particular is causing most of the trouble.

I must admit, when I watched the monkeys ganging up on the camera crew within the city, I imagined myself being in that position and images of baseball bats and flying monkeys came to mind.  I like animals, but seeing them come threateningly towards the camera in the middle of the city set off some primal survival thing in my mind that predates civilization.  Eating or not eating, and being physically challenged on your home turf brings out base instincts....



"Blue Skies Bank?"

There's this bank in Shibuya called "Aozora Bank", which probably prompts you to say "So what?", but "Aozora" means "Blue Sky" or "Blue Skies" in English (there's no plural in Japanese), so that basically makes it the "Blue Skies Bank". .....

Cool name, but do they really mean to say that it never rains on them in a financial sense?  I like the name so much I'm tempted to open an account there, but the banking industry in Japan has been going through so many changes, you have to wonder where is safe to leave your money.

Just in case you're interested, the bank began life in April 1957 as the The Nippon Fudosan Bank, Limited, changed its name to The Nippon Credit Bank, Ltd. in 1977, and then changed its name to Aozora Bank, Ltd. in January of 2001.

Blue skies... nothing but blue skies... happy, happy future, blue skies.  Maybe I better get an account there just so I can get cheered up every time I go to the bank!



"Ubuntu Linux Mark Shuttleworth Visit Follow-up"

As a follow-up to my previous posting about Mark Shuttleworth's Tokyo visit, there's an article about it posted here:

Recording are great, but transcription isn't the funnest thing.  I'm looking forward to better speed recognition technology so I won't have to transcribe things any more!



"Lights... as Far as the Eye Can See..."

Up in a highrise in Tokyo - I look out at the lights of Tokyo and there is no end to them - the city seemingly goes on to the edges of the earth.  The size of this city is an amazing thing to behold at night.  Down on the streets it doesn't seem quite so huge, but up here in the sky, it's quite a sight.  I suppose that's the way it is in any large city - "The city for the buildings" you could say - you can't see the city at street-level with the buildings getting in the way.

And... that's it...  I thought I would burn up the keyboard writing something about the experience, but it's a simple enough one.  You get up into a sky-side restaurant, sit by the window, and the world outside seems endlessly interesting.  It would be nice to have an apartment 50 stories up - turn off the apartment lights and write while contemplating the city of lights stretched out before you like something from a science fiction story.

Hmmm..... taking a look in the windows of one of the neighboring highrises, I see people at work (it's 7:15 p.m. as I write this).  How often do they look out the windows and contemplate the world outside?  Maybe not that often at night - the interiors tend to be a bit overlit, so it's not so easy to see outside anyway.

Well - enough on that.  It seemed downright magical when I first contemplated the view, but the more I look, the more ordinary it becomes!  Truly, there is profound in the mundane and mundane in the profound!

Sore dewa!


PS - There are a couple of night view pictures (taken on a different day) here:


"Folklore or Science?"

When I grew up in the US, whenever I caught a cold, I always (always-always-always) took a very hot bath or shower just before going to bed to try and sleep it off.

I crossed the Pacific and suddenly everyone in Japan acts horrified when I mention taking a hot bath when I have a cold.  The local belief is that taking a hot bath when you have a cold will make you sicker, so people never (never-never-never) take a hot bath when they're sick with a cold.

Is this just local folklore, or is there some science to this view?  My personal theory is that when you live in a house or apartment without central heating, there's a stronger possibility of getting cold after heating yourself in hot water - thus the horror on people's faces when I mention my custom....

Any comments?  I'd really like to know the answer to this one - for the sake of my own health it would be good to know, and also it would be great to be able to put this long-running dispute to rest with science.



"Empirical & Amusing?"

I visited an Australian pal's house last week and had a great time drinking wine, eating, talking, and watching a movie on his new wide screen TV.  But... there was one point where I was going on about the naming of "Nishi-Tokyo" and my friend suddenly said "There you go again!  You're always so empirical!".  I was a little taken aback, as I considered it to be a non-touchy topic, especially since every local I've talked with also doesn't like the name "Nishi-Tokyo" (formerly "Hoya-shi & Tanashi-shi" - two cities that were merged and renamed "Nishi-Tokyo", which means "West Tokyo"), but I did the social thing and backtracked... for a few days that is, and then I decided to write my Australian pal a letter, which is as follows (with some names taken out to protect the guilty):

Hello Abcdef-pal,

I was thinking about your accusation that I'm too empirical, so I thought I'd respond to that.  First, let's have a look at the dictionary definition of "empirical":

empirical, adj.
1. derived from or guided by experience or experiment.
2. depending upon experience or observation alone, without using scientific method or theory, esp. as in medicine.
3. provable or verifiable by experience or experiment.
[1560-70; EMPIRIC + -AL1]
empirically, adv.
empiricalness, n.
Syn.1, 2. practical, firsthand, pragmatic.
Ant.1, 2. secondhand, theoretical.

While some of that I would agree with - that I make many decisions and take many stands "derived from or guided by experience or experiment", and I don't have a problem with the synonyms "practical, firsthand, and pragmatic", but with regards to some recent issues, like [a certain software company], [a certain bunch of politicians], etc., those are most definitely not "depending upon experience or observation alone, without using scientific method or theory, esp. as in medicine".  Especially regarding [a certain software company], I think you must know that there is something foul and very wrong with that company!  As for [a certain politician], I hope [that certain politician]-supporting PR spinmeisters haven't gotten to you and made you blind.  Short-term they are happy to buy their new plasma TV's, but long-term they don't care what happens to this world of ours.

Closer to home, that idiot at the company we worked at really did try to pawn off mutant English as a company slogan for the website.  I wasn't able to get it all the way over to real English, but at least they fixed it grammatically.  Again - this is a very real thing - and the real issue here is having the backbone to stand up against that which is wrong.  An embarrassment on the company's website is a stain on everyone in the company.  Again-again-again, it's real, very real.  Not simply a matter of opinion.



PS - Nishi-Tokyo.  I may have overstated my case on that, but I was purposely going overboard in an attempt at humor.  Obviously that failed, but I'm disappointed in you that you failed to see the humor of the situation and chose to attack me on that instead....  Nishi-Tokyo is high comedy you know, in a very irritating way, but high comedy nevertheless.

And then I got a phone call from him this evening... and he stated that he was "amused" by my e-mail (Hmmm.... why does that sound like fingernails on a chalkboard?), and that he had been thinking about the Nishi-Tokyo issue and "It occurred to me that it's more cultural than geographic".  I was about to answer that, when he said "But that's not why I called!" and he jumped onto other conversational tracks.

Sigh... here we go again!  We talked for a bit about this and that and after hanging up, there I was in front of my computer, so I sent him another e-mail, as follows:



You mentioned that it occurred to you later that the meaning of "Nishi-Tokyo" might be more cultural than geographic?  It doesn't matter mate!  Either way the name enshrines the inferiority complex some people in Hoya-shi had regarding being on the fringe of the Ku's and right next to Saitama...  It's... like... very nasakenai desu yo!  Mattaku!

Sophistry may cloud the issue, but the issue is still there for those who open their eyes!  (He-He-He!)


Yes, I know - it's foolish to be going on about this!  Anyway, here is some background on what comprises Tokyo and what the issue with "Nishi-Tokyo" is.  In an attempt to get you interested, I call your attention to the fact that Tokyo is not a city....  Details below:

The quick road to understanding the geographical nature of Tokyo and the cities within it, is to look at Los Angeles.  When people say "Los Angeles" from afar, generally they are referring to everything within Los Angeles Country, (which includes, confusingly enough, Los Angeles City).  Here is a list of the cities within Los Angeles County:

Agoura Hills, Alhambra, Arcadia, Artesia, Avalon, Azusa, Baldwin Park, Bell, Bell Gardens, Bellflower, Beverly Hills, Bradbury, Burbank, Calabasas, Carson, Cerritos, Claremont, Commerce, Compton, Covina, Cudahy, Culver City, Diamond Bar, Downey, Duarte, El Monte, El Segundo, Gardena, Glendale, Glendora, Hawaiian Gardens, Hawthorne, Hermosa Beach, Hidden Hills, Huntington Park, Industry, Inglewood, Irwindale, La Canada, Flintridge, La Habra Heights, Lakewood, La Mirada, Lancaster, La Puente, La Verne, Lawndale, Lomita, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Lynwood, Malibu, Manhattan Beach, Maywood, Monrovia, Montebello, Monterey Park, Norwalk, Palmdale, Palos Verdes Estates, Paramount, Pasadena, Pico Rivera, Pomona, Rancho Palos Verdes, Redondo Beach, Rolling Hills, Rolling Hills Estates, Rosemead, San Dimas, San Fernando, San Gabriel, San Marino, Santa Clarita, Santa Fe Springs, Santa Monica, Sierra Madre, Signal Hill, South El Monte, South Gate, South Pasadena, Temple City, Torrance, Vernon, Walnut, West Covina, West Hollywood, Westlake Village, Whittier

Tokyo is along the same lines, but there is no Tokyo City only "Tokyo-to", and how to translate "to" is such a headache that I'm not even going to attempt it right now, so let's just simplistically and inaccurately call it a county to clarify the idea that it's an area that contains a group of cities.  Another complicating factor with Japanese cities, is that whether they are called "shi" (city), "machi" (town) etc., depends upon their populations and other factors.  I regularly surprise people here by explaining that in the US, a tiny town with a population of 173 can still be called a "city".  In Tokyo's case, the central area is composed of "ku"s (generally translated as "ward" in English), and outside of those, there are mainly "shi"s (generally translated as "city").  But increasingly, most (all?) of them are operating just like cities.  They each have a town hall, elected representative, etc.  In looking around for a list of everything within Tokyo, I find on the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's site:

 - that Tokyo has 23 ku, 26 shi, 5 cho and 8 son.  The following paragraph (from the TMG site), explains the complicated system in some detail:

"Tokyo is a metropolitan prefecture, divided into smaller administrative bodies. The 'central' region is divided into 23 special wards (ku in Japanese), and the western Tama Area is made up of 26 cities (shi), 3 towns (cho) and one village (son). The 23 special-ward area and the Tama Area together form a long, narrow stretch of land, running about 90 kilometers east to west and 25 kilometers north and south. The Izu Islands and the Ogasawara Islands, two island groups in the Pacific Ocean, are also administratively part of Tokyo, despite being geographically separated from the metropolis. The islands have between them 2 cho and 7 son."

I wanted to put a complete list of all ku's, shi's, cho's & son's in here, but I've only come up with a list of the 23 ku's and the 26 shi's, which is as follows:

Tokyo's 23 Ku's: Adachi, Arakawa, Itabashi, Edogawa, Ota, Katsushika, Kita, Koto, Shinagawa, Shibuya, Shinjuku, Suginami, Sumida, Setagaya, Taito, Chiyoda, Chuo, Toshima, Nakano, Nerima, Bunkyo, Minato, Meguro

Tokyo's 26 Shi's: Hachioji, Tachikawa, Musashino, Mitaka, Ome, Fuchu, Akishima, Chofu, Machida, Koganei, Kodaira, Hino, Higashi-Murayama, Kokubunji, Kunitachi, Fussa, Komae, Higashi-Yamato, Kiyose, Higashi-Kurume, Musashi-Murayama, Tama, Inagi, Hamura, Akiruno, Nishi-Tokyo

With that background out of the way, let's return to Nishi-Tokyo (West-Tokyo).  As Nishi-Tokyo is right in the center of Tokyo, the term "west" only makes sense if you forget Tokyo and focus on the 23 ku's.  It's a nonsensical name that looks very much like a heavy-handed and clumsy attempt to make sure people understand that that area is actually in Tokyo, and is not part of neighboring Saitama (to the north!).  I should go into more detail on this, but I'm tired and you've probably stopped reading this way up the page anyway, so I'll stop here!  If you want more details, send me an e-mail and I'll add something to this.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon


"Tokyo - 1950 & 2006, Etc."

The following is composed of quotes from an e-pal in the US who was in Japan from 1949-1951 and my responses.  There wasn't much of anything in Roppongi in 1950, but now it's possibly the most notorious area of the city.

Re: "In the Blog, you talked about visiting Roppongi and the train station there.  I don't believe there was a train station there in 1950.  I used to jump on the trolly over to Shinjuku, or was it Shibuya, and there catch a train to Yurakucho or Yutenji.  Do street cars still run?"

Going to Yutenji from Roppongi via surface transportation in 1950, you would have first gone to Shibuya (or gone to Shinjuku and taken the Yamanote Line to Shibuya), and for going to Yurakucho, either Shinjuku or Shibuya would work, via the Yamanote Line or the Chuo Line (with a transfer to the Yamanote Line).  Now that there are new subterranean train lines, the fastest way to Yurakucho from Roppongi would be to take the Hibiya Line three stops to Hibiya Station (which is right by Hibiya Park), and just walk over to Yurakucho (about five minutes).

Streetcars.  Once people started buying cars here, the roads became so jammed up that streetcars were increasingly unreliable as a timely means of transportation.  In the 1948 "Principal Part of Tokyo" map I have posted here:
- there is only one subway line - the Ginza Line, that ran (and runs) from Asakusa to Shibuya (which was originally two lines - one from Asakusa to Shinbashi and one from Shinbashi to Shibuya - they were later connected to form a single line), and now there are... thirteen different subway lines, and they're still tunneling!  You should see the subway maps - guaranteed to strike terror into the hearts of lost tourists!

There is one streetcar line left - the one that runs from around Waseda University, past Otsuka (Yamanote Line), Oji, and over to Minowa (of which I have some pictures on the "One Evening in Minowa" page, here:

- but it runs on off-road rails for almost the entire way, so it's more like a one-car surface train, with only a couple of areas where it actually runs in the street - the most interesting part being going through traffic near Oji Station.

All the rest of the streetcars are gone.  There are two subway lines that stop in Roppongi - the Hibiya Line and the Oedo Line.  To get to Yutenji today, you would take a Hibiya Line train to Naka-Meguro and then change trains to the Toyoko Line for the one stop to Yutenji, or - if you timed it right - you could take a single train from Roppongi to Yutenji without changing trains at all.  When the train runs straight through onto the next train line's tracks, they just change drivers at the border, so at Naka-Meguro, when going to Roppongi from Yutenji, the Toyoko Line driver steps out, the Hibiya Line driver steps in, and from the passengers' standpoint, it's just one train ride.

Re: "Is this a fact or just western fantasy?" [Regarding a mass-forward e-mail with pictures of Asian (Japanese?) women in impossibly small swim wear that left key parts hanging out in the breeze, entitled "The latest Japanese swimsuits (WHY BOTHER...) Goodbye Momma I'm Off to Yokohama".]

After looking over those photos, I can tell you that it's definitely not the norm in swim wear here!  I think that was probably taken from a local magazine.  The truth of the matter is, many men long to see such sights, and local publishing companies are only too-happy to hire some models and make the fantasy seem quite real.  No big deal, but then someone from outside the country gets ahold of the magazines and sends scanned photos here and there all over the world, saying "the latest from Japan!" and the fiction is believed to be reality overseas.  Certainly those look quite real - the one with the child in the photo makes it look like you'd really see those women at the local beach, but absolutely, definitely, no mistake - that is not what most (any?) Japanese women wear to the beach!

And the title, "I'm Off to Yokohama" is nonsense - there are no beaches in Yokohama!  There's an artificial beach not far from Disneyland and then there are the beaches of the Izu Peninsula, but not in Yokohama (unless they've created one on a land-fill island or something that I don't know about, but I don't think so).

Re: "Just reading your latest note in your blog (I have no idea what blog means) and I see myself when I wrote 8th Cav news - "Does anyone read this?".  Turned out that mostly the only responses were from those who objected to what I had to say.  The approving group were silent, or I like to think that."

Thanks for pointing that out - I would have to admit that I also don't write to authors I like and say I like what they write - I just read their articles, like them, and look forward to more.  If they say they're thinking of giving it up due to lack of interest, or they say something I think is wrong, then I write!  As for the word "blog", it began as "web log" and then - as the story goes - an Internet writer re-spaced that to "we blog" and thus "blog" was born.  I resisted that stupid word for several years, but finally gave in since it's become a standard term now.  But even if the word itself doesn't make much sense, there was a need for a term to explain the phenomenon of people self-publishing their thoughts on the Internet, and so blog is good enough.

Re: "It seems that pricking people with opposing views or even misspelling their names is a sure way to get response."

I've found that criticizing Microsoft is a sure way to generate very nasty letters - so predictably and with such a high level of nastiness, that I have to wonder if Microsoft actually employs people as attack dogs to strike whenever a bad word about Microsoft gets into print....  It's weird.  But being an extremely PR-conscious company, they might actually do that.

Re: "What is the current rate of exchange Yen to Dollars?  I tried to find that info on internet and it seemed I ran into cousins of used car salesmen.  I never did learn the exchange rate."

The last time I checked, it was about Y119 to the dollar or thereabouts.  It was Y245 to the dollar when I came in 1984.

Re: "Interesting to me the talk of Roppongi. In 1950 it was just a place, and not much of one.  Lots of shacks.  I think it was heavily burned over by the air raids.  No night clubs and no train station.  There were some embassies - I recall the Russian Embassy wasn't far from our barracks.  One of our men told of stealing their flag.  For me, Roppongi was just a place to catch a trolley to get to the real action."

Ah... that has completely changed then!  Now, just saying the word "Roppongi" makes people think "nightclubs, foreigners, discos, drugs, craziness, prostitution, etc., etc.", which is why the Canadian guy [referring to another letter here] said he never went there because he's a family man.  A woman was recently found there in a parking lot - dead from an overdose of one recreational drug or another, and there was a special report on it in the news, saying that the US embassy has even put out a warning about the area recommending the unwary to avoid it!  Think Ginza, take out the class, the department stores, and any sense of order and politeness and you might begin to imagine Roppongi.  That doesn't mean it's cheap!  Many clubs there are quite expensive, but the overriding word is "decadent".  I don't particularly care for the area myself, but it is interesting!

In case you're interested, there are some nighttime photos of Roppongi (at the end of the page, the first photos were taken elsewhere) here:

- and some daytime pictures of the spiffy side of Roppongi here (located a ten minute walk away from the "fun zone":



"Something in the Air...."

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 - I'd imagine people receiving my e-mail, clicking on it and then reading it as they scrolled down the page.  While it's true that any one of them could have forwarded it on to someone else or copy-pasted the text into a new e-mail, etc., 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 normality....

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 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 disappoint 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 between the lines.....



"Another Side to Roppongi"

It feels a little odd how I ended up in Roppongi yet again last night.  It's not a place I have spent much time in since my arrival here in Tokyo in 1984, but while the number of times I go there are few, those few visits always seem to be interesting (in both good and bad ways).  There was my first visit there with a group I was staying with in 1984, when I met a woman in a disco that I was smitten with (but events ended the encounter in a complicated tangle of misunderstandings).  And then there was the first visit there with a friend from LA after the yen has shot up in strength and Japan suddenly became a place to emigrate to... I still remember the shock of walking down the street and seeing foreigners here and there... everywhere!  Never before in Japan had I been anywhere where locals didn't comprise at least 97% of the group in sight.  I had grown used to the idea that foreigners here were - by definition - a radical minority.  Thinking about that issue, I realize there is something to be said both for higher numbers (more familiarity with individuals from across the sea) and for lower numbers (the fun of always being unique, no fear of being overrun)... as well as something to be said against both (but never mind that aspect, let's stay positive with this).

What next... a short memory, like a video clip, of going to some noisy club with that same friend from LA and ending up talking with a local woman who suddenly (why?) told me "The moon landings were faked!" as she looked at me with fierce and "let's fight" fire in her eyes.  I was so flabbergasted by the intensity of the toxin she was beaming at me and not having any idea what prompted it, that I was rendered speechless... (end of memory-video clip).

Then there is a memory of wandering through the area and sensing the atmosphere as I took pictures in the afternoon; then a job interview for the Stars & Stripes newspaper, at which I was told I would have to abandon my permanent residency visa if I was offered the job (why?!), followed by the melancholy walk down the street taking pictures... looking over to see what was to become the Roppongi Hills Tower under construction.  That particular memory-video clip is longer than most - I remember nearly everything - from walking by the helicopter pad, to the interview itself, and the view of the large building under construction down the street, with the final scene being the entrance to the subway as I headed down.

Those are a few experiences, but spread over something like eighteen years, and then suddenly three in just a few months:

First there was the visit to the new place opened by a friend of a British pal (see "Ebisu & Roppongi":

- at which I missed the last train and ended up drinking several bottles of Guinness and talking with the English guy until the first train in the morning ("I've had enough of Roppongi to last a few years!" thought I, on the walk to Roppongi Station for that first train at 5:00 a.m.).

Then on February 3rd, there was the Ubuntu Linux meeting with Mark Shuttleworth in the Roppongi Hills Tower complex (at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo hotel) no less (see:
"Ubuntu Linux Round Table at Grand Hyatt Tokyo, Roppongi Hills Tower":
http://www5d.biglobe.ne.jp/~LLLtrs/PhotoGlryMain/pgb/Ubuntu01.html )

 - something I didn't imagine when I saw the building under construction; and then finally last night....

I recently posted the first version of a website for a singer acquaintance (a friend of a friend), and she asked me if I could come by a club where she performed a Valentine's Day concert to talk about the design, etc.  I had to work in Shinjuku until 21:30, but she said that she'd be singing until 22:00 and that she'd wait for me, so I took the Oedo Line subway from Shinjuku to Roppongi, marveling at how deep underground it is (as the most recent large-scale subway line, they had to put it under everything else) and felt annoyed at the extra walking time it took to get down to the platform (I very seldom use the Oedo Line).  After over 21 years of marching up and down subway stairs, I've gotten used to it taking a certain amount of time, so when that time is tripled, it's quite irritating somehow (they should try running the escalators at higher speed I think)....

On the train, I looked around and thought how different it felt from the other subways in Tokyo, so I looked and listened for the causes, which seemed to be that (combination of on-the-spot perception and previous technical knowledge about that line): it uses linear-motors (although it's not a maglev - it runs on steel wheels on rails); it's smaller (to accommodates the smaller diameter tunnels running deep underground); it's running closer to the floor of the tunnel (with smaller wheels, part of the reason for the linear motor design apparently); the sounds of the train in the tunnel are a bit different; and the feeling of acceleration is different in a way that's hard to pin down (thanks to those linear motors no doubt, but also due to computer control?).  Lastly, there is just some strange extra element - that feeling you have when you ride a subway in a foreign city; you look around and see the design is basically the same as what you're used to, but everything is a little bit skewed in a different direction, giving the experience a different personality.

Running a little late (it was a couple of minutes past ten as I stepped off the train at Roppongi Station), I hiked up the escalators to get to the top as soon as possible.  As I hiked past people, I wondered why they were just patiently standing on the slow-moving stairs.., but by the time I had negotiated several long flights of escalators, I understood only-too-well why!  Man, that thing is deep!  It must be something like six or seven stories underground!  (Come to think of it - it's got to be way below sea level... I wonder if the tunnel walls are holding back water seepage?)

Once past the mountain passes of escalators and breathlessly outside, I was able to figure out where the place was via several public maps located on boards at intersections - which is an excellent idea by the way!  A huge thank you to whoever is responsible for getting those put up.  While there have been maps put up here and there the whole time I've been here, there weren't that many and they weren't as detailed before.

I stopped in front of the building and looked up at the 2nd floor club, getting the about-to-enter-social-situation butterflies.  I thought about how I looked ("Am I presentable?") and then climbed the stairs, asking myself why I felt nervous.  Inside the place, I found the singer and eased through the typical transition phase from nervous to part-of-the-scene, and then moved on to worry-over-catching-the-last-train home.  I took in the singer's requests regarding the site and when I left, as I was saying a last ten-second string of words at the door, she said "Get home!" after three seconds and slammed the door shut; her laughter through the closed door fading as she walked away from it.  Since she's a tri-cultural person, I have no idea if that was a deliberate insult or just unintentional rudeness, but I walked to the station muttering a bit nevertheless.  Since I was in danger of missing the last train though, she was probably just helping out, but still... "Bang! Ha-Ha-Ha".  Hmmmm.......



"Roses & Chocolate"

Re: [From a US e-pal]: "Tomorrow is Valentine's Day in the US. Rumor has it that a dozen long-stem red roses will go for $99.00.  However, a local nursery is advertising them at $13.99.  It's amazing what some folks will pay - they are the ones who haven't the time to look for the lowest price. We managed to get our cards today."

It's Valentine's Day in Japan too, but - like most imports here - it's been localized.  In the J-version of Valentine's Day, only women give chocolate to men, and on March 14th, there's a male version of J-Valentine's Day called "White Day" where only men give chocolate to women (sometimes white chocolate - hence the name).  Basically, it seems to be a very cleaver marketing move by the J-chocolate manufacturers!



"Onsen Resorts"

The following is part of an e-mail conversation with an e-pal (SCJ) now living in the US who used to live in Tokyo.

Re: "Fortunately, I still have a few friends who will let me crash on their floor - the best of which is in Daikanyama.  (He swears that it is the "cool" place to be - much improved since 2002.)"

I don't know the area very well - but the locals definitely consider it a "high-fashion" area.  The first time I heard anything about it was when someone told me it was becoming an area known for fashion photography or something along those lines.  I think it's only about a fifteen or twenty minute walk to Shibuya Station, so it's part of that scene in a way.
     Speaking of Shibuya - it's become a sort of flaky area in a way, popular with teens and people in their early twenties, but... I stumbled into the 109 building in December and it was quite a weird experience to wander around in that zone of dyed blond hair and on-the-other-side recent fashion.  I felt completely out of place - half expecting someone to grab me by the arm and say "Hey!  What are you doing in here!  Have you had a look in a mirror lately?  You're not young, you're not hip, you're a stodgy-looking middle-aged bozo - you shouldn't be in here!"
     Back out on the street again, I remembered once again how you can enter a whole different world in Tokyo just by going up into some of the buildings.

Re: "I agree with you 100% - wouldn't Japan be an awesome place to be if one were filthy rich!  My wife's family is comfortable, and when my wife visits them they always take her to some exotic 500 year old ryokan - the details of which I will spare you.  I've never been in Japan when they go, but I've heard the lore - it sure sounds like something I would enjoy!"

That does sound nice!  I'm still running on the fumes of a visit about 20 years ago to Kusatsu Onsen in the winter, where I (after one of many dips in the bath) walked out on the street in the ryokan's yukata and wooden clogs.  The combination of everything - the old wooden building I stayed in, the snow, the smell of the hot springs, the sound of the wooden clogs on the street, the feel of the clean cold air after the hot bath, and the endless energy of a 25-year-old....  Sometimes I wish I could jump back into myself in past experiences like that and relive them all over again.

Re: "China will have to wait.  My pennies having been counted, I realize that I can easily spend a month of relaxation at my uncle's in Mexico (near the beach) and not spend very much at all, whereas the China trip would be too much if I hope to do Japan in May.  Then I probably have to go back to coding, and back to the cubicle.  <shudder>  Oh well, c'est la vie."

Financially, I should have continued my computer studies, but the classes I took in 1978 were too heavily focused on engineering, and I wasn't cut out for the math involved.  If the classes I was in had been focused on programing, I may have gone in that direction, but I've always liked photography too much to abandon it, so... my position of struggling to make money but spending a certain amount of my time doing things I like may have been inevitable.  There's no money for taking a vacation though....

Anyway, back to trying to turn words into yen!

Sore dewa, mata!



"Ships & Singers"

I've been going over some of my pictures of the Tokyo Bay ferries - and it's gotten me thinking about ships in Japan in particular and ships anywhere in general.  There are a lot of islands in this country, so there are a lot of ferries - but the only ones I've ridden on are the last remaining Tokyo Bay ferry and the one that used to run on the route that has been taken over with the latest bridge and tunnel.  What am I getting at?  I have no idea... I'm just curious how many of you are ship riders on any kind of a regular basis.  Every time I ride a ferry, I find myself envying the lucky people who get to commune that way every day.

Ah!  There was a point to this!  I've put up two new pages about the Boso Peninsula - as follows:


And now on to the second part.  The singer - specifically the singer I've put together a preliminary website for.  If you're interested, the link is:

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon


"Roppongi Hills Tower & Grand Hyatt Tokyo"

Mark Shuttleworth of Ubuntu Linux held a round table discussion at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo (which is right behind and connected to the Roppongi Hills Tower complex) on February 3rd and I took a few pictures, some of which I posted on this page:

Speaking of Linux, there are several versions of it - one of them being Ubuntu, which is based on Debian Linux.  For details about the company, have a look at their website:

Too much time spent on the computer today.  I'm tired... enough for one day!  Yawn... talk to you again tomorrow (or the next day)!



"Snow Family"

I put this on the site a while ago, but forgot to point it out in the blog - which I will now.  The photos are of the first snow of winter in Tokyo, with the bottom three taken on the day the snow fell, and the top picture on the following day:

Tokyo gets very little snow, but occasionally it will fall.  We had another snowstorm late at night on... February 6th, I think it was.  The next day was fairly warm though, so it was almost completely gone in a day.



"Passionate and Reasonable... I Hope!"

I'm still in the process of reading up on Ubuntu Linux to prepare for writing about it in some detail, but there was one moment of the round table discussion I partook in last Friday at a conference room at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo hotel that has stayed very firmly in the "Pending" section of my mind, so I've decided to go into that moment and its ramifications first and foremost.  I recorded the meeting (with permission) and so the following part of it was transcribed from the recording word-for-word.  There is the main issue of face-value content, and there is also the sub-issue of the gap between writing and speaking.  For some, there is little or no perceptible difference, but for others (such as myself), the gap is wide.  For those of you who have never heard me speak, have a look at the transcription of what I said at the meeting... and you will have at least a small idea of what a horrible speaker I am!

The following except from the two-hour meeting with Mark Shuttleworth is just a few minutes beginning from the 15-minute, 17-second part of the recording (which wasn't begun until about ten or fifteen minutes into the meeting - a round table discussion with about twelve participants):

Mark Shuttleworth: "Perhaps I could ask a question of you [this directed at me as a freelance photojournalist] as somebody who watches the industry - how would you characterize free software in Japan today"

LHS: "Well, I'm not an expert actually - I mean, I use Linux on the desktop myself, and I'm very interested in promoting Linux and that sort of thing, but I'm actually not specifically focused on technology.  I've been doing a lot of more general kind of issues about Japan... and about travel to the Boso Peninsula and that sort of thing.  So I'm actually not an expert at all, but I'm a user of Linux and I want to do anything I can to promote it, so I'm sort of a crusading anti-
CSMSC person - I really hate CSMSC."

[Japanese translation]

LHS: "And... and also...."

Mark Shuttleworth: "There is a danger in the fact that many of the people who are passionate about Linux, are really passionate about their opposition to the status quo... because the question arises - when the status quo changes, what will bind us together."

LHS: "Haha - Yeah, okay..."

Mark Shuttleworth: "And, ah...  And ah... So I think my focus is very much on promotion of what is good about this software."

LHS: "Yeah."

Mark Shuttleworth: "To a certain extent, everything [???] good work has been done on the outside [??] as well... setting a reference."

LHS: "But I do make a point of trying to... you know... ask as many people as I can, and kind of mention it, and the thing that is always a little bit depressing is... is... of most of the general people I meet, they've never even heard of it, so it's really hard to get them interested in trying...."

Mark Shuttleworth: "There's a low awareness of free software..."

LHS: "I think it's a very low awareness amongst... you know... ordinary users.  Yes... um..."

Mr. A: "At the same time, there are many magazines - published glossy magazines - that feature free software, but they're just for the... like... really technical crowd."

Mr. B: "But I think the thing is, if you look at the bookstores here in Japan, that ah... the publishing industry is very strong here, they'll publish about anything.  ........ [etc.]"

Notice how to the point and focused Mark Shuttleworth sounds above and how out-of-focus I sound.  It's a strange thing for me.  For some reason, I can conjure up what I want to say when I'm writing alone (or by tuning out the people around me and thinking as though I were alone), but in a public situation like that, I usually don't articulate what I want to say very well.  (Maybe I should imagine that I'm going to write it down and then just verbalize it instead.)

All of that said, when I think back to when I was working at Linear Power in the late seventies, I found it easy enough to focus on the product, and when you talk about the same subject to large numbers of people, one after another, on and on, you fall into patterns - which is useful for smooth speaking, but also a hazard in that you can misidentify where someone is coming from and launch into one of your automatic responses - as Mark Shuttleworth seems to have done in mistakenly identifying me as one of those who "...are really passionate about their opposition to the status quo...".  No, Mark, I'm not against "the status quo".  When the status quo is something I feel to be a good thing, I'm happy to jump on the bandwagon, but when the status quo (or fringe element, whatever) is something I feel to be destructive to the common well-being of us all, then I end up going against it.

There is certainly some truth to the situation of people more easily banding together when they have a common enemy, but I think the situation Linux users are in with regard to
CSMSC is one where CSMSC plays dirty - very very dirty.  How can you be complacent and purely positive about something that threatens the very existence of tools you depend on for a living?  So - yes, I'm passionate about Linux and passionately opposed to CSMSC, but I don't care what the status quo is, other than I find it distressing to see large numbers of people supporting tyrants - committing a kind of collective slow suicide through the ignorance of not knowing any better.

Conclusion?  I'll try to be more positive and I hope that Mark Shuttleworth doesn't underestimate what Ubuntu Linux is up against.  And - Mark - I promise that, even after
CSMSC has gone bankrupt and saner days return to the computer software scene, I will still be with you on Linux!  Passionate, reasonable and with no regard whatsoever to whatever the "status quo" is.  A good thing is a good thing.  The more people on board, the better!



"Ubuntu Linux"

I often mention Linux to my friends and acquaintances - and generally they say "Linux?  What's that?" - to which I sadly shake my head and attempt to explain something about Linus Torvalds and the worldwide Linux community.  After talking about 30 seconds, I look at them closely and am generally shocked and dismayed to see their eyes glazing over.  It's a depressing thing my friends - when something as profoundly important to peoples' lives as the computer is not deeply thought about, you have to wonder what sort of future is in store for this planet's bipeds.

Yeah - I'm joking... sort of, but I'm also serious.  The thing that people forget when discussions turn to a certain sinister and monopolistic software company (hereafter referred to as "CSMSC", is that the issue doesn't begin and end with whether a CSMSC-run machine is easy to use or even if its performance is better (which it isn't in many cases).  The connection between what you support and how it influences all of us is worth thinking about.

What to do?  At this point in the short history of our long lives, there is a way to escape the tyranny of CSMSC.  Using Linux, you can completely eradicate CSMSC from a computer and use the hardware - which is yours - with software that is yours as well (remember that CSMSC never allows you to own the software that they overcharge you for).  Linux is getting better and better, but what worries me is that there's too much of a complacent "I'll wait until it's perfected" attitude with most of the people I've spoken with who are not using it, but are at least thinking about it a little.  The problem here is that CSMSC is not sitting still (they are taking out patents on things that have no business being patented) and if there is not a strong stand for our computing freedom, the chance staring us in the face now could be lost.  (Mind you, I'm not anti-CSMSC because I want to be anti-something, I'm anti-CSMSC because of the threat CSMSC poses to our computing freedom.)

Okay.  Enough preamble.  I'm going on and on about this because I met Mark Shuttleworth and Malcolm Yates of Ubuntu Linux today.  And... now that I've finished the preamble, I realize that the Ubuntu Linux story is deserving of more time than I have right now, but I'll be back with details.  In the meantime, have a look at the Ubuntu Linux website:



"State of the Economy..."

One of the English language schools in Tokyo (NCB-English) has suddenly gone bankrupt, leaving the employees without pay for the last month they worked (the pay system at most companies here is one where you work from the 21st to the 20th and get paid a month's salary on the 25th/31st), so many of the teachers who were leading a hand-to-mouth existence are suddenly left with empty bank accounts and unpaid rent.  English teaching was once a lucrative business, but these days it's very cutthroat and precarious.  A small version of the economy in general perhaps.  Some of the largest companies are doing well, but the rest of us have to scramble to survive.  I suppose that's the way of the 21st century, but one would hope that things could take a better turn and we bipeds on this planet could live with each other in peace and prosperity.  It doesn't hurt to dream....



"A Reluctant Mechanic & Technician"

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 computerj-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....



"Snow and Hot Tubs"

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 in the middle of 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 snow 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.



"Bright Lights & Water Fights"

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.



"Location Filming"

For as long as I've been watching (for about 20 years) Japanese "drama(s)" (a cross between a TV-movie and a soap), they have always been half-mystery/romance/action and half-travelogue.  Typically, they will start with someone being pushed over to the other side, and then the trail to the culprit will lead the detectives off to some region of Japan where they can show historical places and comment on the area's history.  Back in Tokyo (where many of city scenes are based), they will have scenes filmed on location of people meeting in coffee shops in famous areas, etc.  Overall, the show is interesting to watch even if you're not overly excited by the storyline.

Living here, you come across film crews getting such scenes recorded here and there from time to time.  I've seen several - from along the Sumida River to Yokohama to Shinjuku, etc.  The most recent was In Shinjuku and - luckily - I had my camera with me, so I opened my backpack and it leaped into my hands.  The result being this picture:



"Linked LL's"

I've finally finished going through all of the LL-Letters posted at the site and internally linking the titles to the articles, so you can go to the LL-Letters page:

- click on any one of the LL's there, and whatever title at the top of the page you think might be interesting, just click on it and it will instantly appear.  To get back to the top of the page, click on any of the "Top of page" links that I've added throughout each of the LL's.  It took a couple of weeks to go through them all, but the result will save time when looking for anything.  Also, once you have clicked on a title, the link in your browser's link window (assuming your settings allow it to be visible) can be copy-pasted to an e-mail and sent to a friend (the specific article, not just the whole page).  The article can also be bookmarked (or added to "Favorites", etc.).



"Feeling Like Winter"

In spite of the locals often stated reason for liking their country - that it has four seasons - the country is a long one and not all regions actually live up to that very well.  Tokyo is certainly cold in the winter, but usually above freezing and generally with no or very little snow in the winter.  Paradoxically, Tokyo's lack of extreme cold makes it one of the colder places in Japan in the sense that - historically - many people have gotten by without heating their homes.  True, there is the traditional "kotatsu", but that's just an under-table heater that heats the feet and legs of people sitting at the table, without actually heating the room.  While just about everyone has a heater of one kind of another, most people don't run them 24 hours a day in the winter.  The usual method (practiced by myself, as well), is to have all forms of heating completely shut down at night (energy isn't cheap and it dries out the air too much in typically dry Tokyo anyway) and to only heat one or two rooms to a semi-comfortable temperature when awake (I'm wearing a down coat as I type this, with the thermometer indicating 18 degrees Celsius).

All of that is too much preamble to finally get around to what I was meaning to write about in the first place - how it actually feels like winter at the moment in Tokyo, with ice and snow on the ground and the outside temperature just under freezing.  It's helpful for heating inside as well, as the higher humidity keeps the air from getting overly dried out when using the heater (and that's "the" heater - one, in one room).

"Half a Recording"

I made a recording for a friend in an orchestra - or more accurately - I recorded his recording of an orchestra that he had made with an MD recorder over to an electronic file in my computer from a portable MD player.  The recording, made with KRecord (on SuSE & KDE) worked fine, except for the very irritating fact that it's only one channel!  The left channel to be exact.  The music is of the type that tends to fill up the room and I didn't notice, until I had made a CD, that it was only on the left channel.  Any tips or advice on how to get both channels working with KRecord - or recommendations for something better to use for recording?



"Snowing in Tokyo?"

What's this? Frozen bits of water falling from the sky.... So it's not just folklore then!

Just when I thought that Tokyo would stay its usual wintertime dry, we got a lot of rain last week and now it's snowing!  It hardly ever snows in Tokyo, so when enough frozen water falls from the sky to actually pile up, it's a bit of an event.  It's fascinating to see the world suddenly transformed into a canvas of dazzling white, but hopefully it won't get overly deep, as it has in so many other areas of Japan this winter.  Or... come to think of it, it would be a lot of fun if it got quite deep in a day or two, and then melted away the next day - providing the fun of snow without the long drawn out weariness of trudging through it day after day.



"Nikkor 85mm f1.4 Lens, R.I.P."

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

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!



"Under the Tracks in Yurakucho..."

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

I just wanted to say that I enjoyed "One Cold December Day" [here].  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 is 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!



"Bone Smasher... Why?"

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 hands of their victims.

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....


"Indexing the LL-Letters"

Actually, it's not exactly indexing, but rather making links within the same page, but now - with LL-287 through LL-293 (December 19th, 2000 to April 22nd, 2001) having all the titles linked to the text further down the page, and with "Top of page" links to get back to the top, it's vastly easier to look for specific articles.  Once you see something you want to read, just click on the title and that article will immediately display (being part of the same page, there's no additional download time, it just shows you the right part of the page).  For short pages, this would be no big deal, but most of the letters are over 15 pages long, so it makes the difference between something being rather difficult to find and it effortlessly coming to screen.  At the top of the page, there's a new "LL-Index" link (only the LL-287 to LL293 batch, but I'm aiming to go over all the letters) to make it easier to have a look at different LL letters without using the "Back" button or going through the Home page again.  The link to the LL-Letters page is: