Blue Parrot Books
Jim Breen's JpPg
The LL-Letters book
Tokyo Subway Map
Tokyo Area Maps
Knoppix CD Prog
The Daily Yomiuri
The Japan Times
Japan Tourist Org
Jerry & HipSwingers
"Looking for Continuity"
In pondering my interest in the 1929 Sanshin Building, it occurred to
me that its standing in the middle - between the beginning of the Meiji Era (1868)
and today - makes it a kind of link enabling a feeling of
continuity. Tokyo is badly lacking this feeling of continuity -
there are some old pre-Meiji things, and then everything else "newer"
than that 1868 line is relentlessly destroyed to feed the voracious
appetite of the construction industry. When buildings are made
better and stronger, it's generally a good thing to replace them, but
that's not always the case (as recent news has shown).
The Sanshin Building was built in 1929, not long after the Great Kanto Earthquake
of 1923 that destroyed Tokyo, and they seem to have overbuilt the
structure, if anything, so I don't think there's any issue with the
building's safety. It appears to just be a case of suits armed
with PowerPoint thinking they can get more money out of the land by
making a modern tower there (by also knocking down the next building
and using the combined space) and making yet another structure with
overpriced shops and restaurants at the bottom and top, and overlit
sealed air system office space in the middle - the whole towering box
casting an ugly shadow over neighboring Hibiya Park. And they're
right I suppose, but this line of thinking is destroying the culture of
the city. I suppose many European countries go to the other
extreme, and would do better to renovate a little more, but Tokyo has
almost eradicated its own history - what's left of value, like the
Sanshin Building, should be kept alive to use and help future
generations tie together the flow of time and the changing of
The Dai-Ichi Building, just down the street, is being preserved, which
is great - but it's a completely different style, and there's a
highrise that's been put in the middle of it! In walking around
the building a few days ago, it looks as though they disassembled the
rear of the building, put up the tower, and then reassembled the facade
of the old building around that on the back half of the block.
The front, as least, seems to be unmolested (they may have only taken
off the back of the building to make it one with the new tower).
Fine, but it's a completely different style and type of building than
the Sanshin Building. Well... whatever! I'm getting tired
of thinking about it, but I really would like to see that building put
to good use!
There are a good set of photos of the Sanshin Building at this
(Japanese language) site:
And my page (previously mentioned) in English:
- and in Japanese:
The Sanshin Building
I like old buildings - or more specifically, I like a mix of new
buildings and old buildings. All old buildings or all new
buildings produce a desire for change, while a mix of new and old
enable a view back and/or forward, depending on which buildings you
spend time in. Tokyo is very lopsided on the "new" side - to the
point of old buildings having been nearly eradicated from the
city. The next target of this relentless push to the new seems to
be the Sanshin Building, which its owners (Mitsui Fudosan Co.,Ltd.)
want to tear down, but others want to save. One last tenant is
still in the building (a restaurant & bar) and there's a "Save the
Sanshin Building" website:
I've ended up getting interested in the issue myself, as I've always
liked wandering through that building and think it would be good to
renovate it - especially if they could restore it to its original
style. It was built in 1929 - conceived in the rush of the 20's
and finished just in time for the Great Depression. Post-war, it
was not a time for opulence and the building was used in a practical
way, with some of the nicer elements (chandeliers, etc.) damaged in the
interest of pragmatics.
Anyway, I've put up a page about it here:
I got a couple of new things on-line today:
"Mt. Takao Moonrise Over Tokyo" - (Japanese Version)
"Musashino Art University Outdoor Exhibit in Kodaira Chuo Park - 2006"
The Musashino Art page also shows the fall colors of a Tokyo
park. The colors of the leaves in Tokyo this year are better than
usual due to the temperature having taken a more sudden dive down than
is usually the case.
Sleep... need sleep.....
"Ikebukuro - September 8th, 2006"
I've been meaning to get some photos of Ikebukuro up, and finally did
All of the pictures on that page were taken on the evening of September
8th, 2006. Ikebukuro is one of the major train hubs of central
Tokyo, just four stops from Shinjuku. Shinjuku is the bigger and
better known of the two, but Ikebukuro has a lot to offer in the way of
shopping, restaurants, movie theaters, a concert hall, etc. as well.
"Lumix LX-2 Camera"
I think the official name is actually "Panasonic Lumix DMC LX2", but
the real name of the company that manufacturers it is Matsushita; I
have no idea what that "DMC" stands for; and I think it's better to
write LX-2 than LX2, so I'm calling just calling it the "Lumix LX-2".
I have only been using mine for about a week now and I have yet to
completely familiarize myself with it, but I'll still comment on some
of my impressions so far, both good and bad. (20 pictures taken
with the camera can be seen on this page:
- The unique wide aspect ratio finder and CCD are the primary
reason I bought the camera, and I'm finding it quite interesting to
take pictures in that wide format.
- So far, I've found the auto-white balance to work well,
something I've been not always been happy with when using several other
- The camera looks really cool - especially when it's sitting on
a desk and it looks rather like an old classic 35mm film camera.
(This comment for the silver one - I'm not sure how the black one would
- The lens seems very smooth and precision-built as it powers in
and out of the camera.
- Other things are good too, but the other things I can think of
off hand are good on all digital cameras I've used, so there's no point
in noting them for this specific model.
- The big beautiful display seems to be a power hog! The
camera uses the same battery (not only the same specs, but actually the
same part from the same factory I suspect - only the sticker is
different) as my Ricoh R4 and Ricoh GR, but they both keep going much
longer than the Lumix, particularly when they're in the mode that
leaves the monitor off except when lightly pressing the shutter button
to activate the screen just before taking a picture.
- That big beautiful display stupidly stays on for the entire
time that files are being transferred from the camera to the
computer. This is a really stupid design decision (that someone
should lose their job over!) and something I haven't seen on any other
digital camera so far. Not only does it waste power, but it
increases the chance that the battery will run out of power in the
middle of a file transfer - something that could damage the flash
- Part of the camera's claim-to-fame is its "Leica" lens
(manufactured by Matsushita to Leica specs is how that works I think),
but it's not as good a lens as is on my Ricoh GR - not surprising since
the Ricoh GR has a fixed focal length lens and the Lumix LX-2 has a
variable focal length ("zoom") lens.
- Light-touch switches. The dial that is used to select
modes and playback is so light touch that it's easy to overshoot your
target and you have to carefully feel for the overly-light touch of the
stops. Worse - such a light touch suggests the contacts inside
the switch are not likely to be durable.
- Weird USB connector. This is something nearly every
digital camera manufacturer is guilty of, but others' guilt makes not
for innocence! Of the digital cameras I've used - Olympus (three
different connectors on three different models); Pentax (two different
connectors for three different models); Casio (weird size for the one
machine); only Ricoh (same standard size small USB connector for four
different models) seems to be behaving logically here.
- Bulky. The same bulging lens barrel that makes the camera
look retro cool also makes it more difficult to get into a pocket
(don't even try to put it into pants pockets!).
Beyond that... I need to use the camera more before making further
comments. Have a look at the twenty pictures on this page to get
an idea of what sort of pictures the camera records:
I self-published a book at the end of 2000 called "The LL-Letters"
(same name as the newsgroup I moderated/wrote for ten years (in a
period of hibernation at the moment), and I recently sent a copy of it
to a beyond-the-horizon, over-the-ocean friend. His letter
follows, followed by my answer....
"I am about 30% into
your book and find it interesting but then I know you. A stranger would
find little interest. I'm reminded of Francis Hall as I read,
except his era was more intriguing for today's readers.
story starting at the beginning of your arrival in Japan and on to
slowly getting familiar with the language, romances, jobs and
impossible situations would be a good thing. This could be light
comedy with the misunderstandings and blunders of fitting into
Japan. Readers like chuckles more than moans. Thing is, a
story needs a beginning, which you have, and an ending when all loose
ends are tied neatly. THAT is difficult when sticking to facts,
as is comedy, but a satisfactory ending can be concocted. Just
Your letter triggered such a storm of activity in my mind that I'm not
sure where to begin or whether I have any real chance of actually
getting the typhoon that blew through my thoughts - into words.
That's the core problem in communication I think - people do not
(contrary to what they seem to think) actually think in words.
They think, and then the thoughts are translated into words for the
sake of easy communication. In this sense, words are actually a
cause of stupidity in some (many? most?) people, since they forget the
original thought and focus instead on the degraded and mutated version
of it that remains in words.
That book... there are a mountain of things I would change with it if I
could jump in a time machine and go back to when I was going through
the process of having 2,000 copies printed (most of which are still
with me - taking up space in my apartment), but the random nature of
the letters I might not change, even though that would probably lead to
the same result of the book not selling.
Selling.... Personally, I view Stephen King and that director -
what's-his-name... wow... I really can't remember!.. the "E.T." and
"Jaws" guy... Spielberg! Stephen Spielberg! - as sell-outs for
profit. I'd rather go to my grave having written something that I
believe is worthwhile that didn't sell than to have had a wildly -
financially - successful sell-out book that contributed to the general
stupidity of humankind! If you compare a movie like "Stray Dog"
to "Jaws", most people would probably say that "Stray Dog" was boring
and "Jaws" was exciting. In my book, "Stray Dog" is a
thousand-fold better than "Jaws".
The original idea.... The original idea for my starting the
LL-Letters project, was to act as a sort of bridge between Japan and
English-speaking western countries, since I knew something of both, I
thought I could act as moderator in an exchange of letters going both
ways. Two things changed that; 1) Very few Japanese people
contributed to the letters, and 2) The interest of people in countries
all over picked up, making it more International than I had first
envisioned it would be. A third factor, is that individual
foreigners living here in Japan, like me, generally are a little mixed
up - as they well might be, having dived head-first into a foreign
culture - so they more often attack each other than help. So, for
me, the ordinariness of the exchanges was an affirmation of a common
thread through people's lives anywhere in the world. I think
that's something people should think more of - and stop letting
fanaticism - of one kind or another - destroy civilization!
Well... there was much more to the wordless typhoon, but I need to do
some work on my photos, so I'll stop here.
Incidentally, I bought a new camera - a Lumix LX-2, that is delighting
and enraging me... the most interesting thing about the camera is its
uniquely wide aspect ratio. I'm hoping to get some of the first
pictures from this camera on-line during the weekend - if not this
weekend, then maybe next.
There's this thing advertisers, PR companies, and mediocre
mid-management types do, and somehow (amazingly) get away with.
They need to divert people's attention away from thinking and towards a
path (in thought or action) that reasonable people would never take if
they were paying attention. How to simultaneously turn them into
(temporary?) zombies and get them to think something they wouldn't
ordinarily pollute their minds with? Use a bludgeon word.
While at the PR agency, one of our semiconductor industry clients sent
us a promotional video of the head guy at the company talking about the
semiconductor industry and his company's role in it. Every other
contained the word "solution", said with an accent that
heavily emphasized the "LU" - "soLUtion" - so there was this "Blabbidy
blabbidy blah, soLUtion, blabbidy blah soLUtion blabbidy blah-blah
soLUtion blabbidy blabbidy" mantra that went on and on and on, and to
this day - some six years down the road, whenever I hear or read
"solution", I am thrust back into the nightmare of that incessant
"Blabbidy-blabbidy-blah, soLUtion; soLUtion; soLUtion, Blabbidy blah"
video that I was unfortunate enough to have been exposed to. I
would like to delete that memory from my mind, but it was bludgeoned in
and will be very difficult (impossible?) to eradicate.
At the printing company, there was a certain worthless (worse than
actually, "destructive" would be a better describer) mid-management
bozo who regularly held three-hour meetings with content that could
typically have been covered in ten minutes. Being a spineless
bugger, he couldn't deal with non-special-papers me, so he latched onto
this consultant "Bob" who used to work at a famous advertising
agency. Day-after-day, week-after-week, we had to listen to Mr.
Spineless Mid-management Bozo drone on-and-on: "Nantoka-pondoka,
Bob-san desu ne, nantoka-bontoka, Bob-san, Bob-san desu ne..." Bob-san
has this great idea; Bob-san worked at Big Advertising, Inc. before;
Bob-san will be in Tokyo in two months, etc. Bob was convenient
since he was from the US, had lived in Japan, and was - at the time -
living in Italy. He blew through town once every six months or so
with slick talk, collected a pile of cash, and flew back to Europe to
spend the Tokyo cash on nice restaurants in Rome. To this day, I
still have that bloody "Bob-san desu ne... Bob-san - Bob-Bob-Bob desu"
ringing in my ears.
And then there are advertisers, PR companies and politicians (one for
all and all for one?). Hopefully there is no need to point out
specific examples here. It's all about getting your very own
bludgeon word in front of people (primarily through the media) to
hammer people into senselessness with. If it weren't for
advertising, then we'd probably be more sensitive to it, but we've been
hit so many times with bludgeon words, that we're numb, punch-drunk...
and don't have the will and/or courage to challenge those who would
destroy the language as a medium of true communication.
"Mt. Takao Moonrise Over Tokyo"
Mt. Takao is the most convenient mountain to go to for a large
percentage of the people living in Tokyo, being within an hour of
Shinjuku and with a cable car that is just a five minute walk from
Takaozan-guchi Station (on the Keio Line). It's not of
astoundingly high elevation, but when you walk up the valley towards
the cable car station, the cool mountain breeze that greets you is - I
hesitate to use the word, but - fantastic! Or at least it feels
that way to me when coming from the center of the city after breathing
the city air for many months straight without a break.
Yesterday (October 8th), I visited Mt. Takao and was rewarded with the
best nighttime view of Tokyo I've seen from a distance. One
picture is here:
The view from Mt. Takao isn't always as clear as it is in the photo -
there were strong winds both on Saturday and Sunday (October 7th &
8th), which blew away the noxious breath of the fire-breathing
machinery (the internal combustion engine - the curse of humankind!),
producing a rare view... but it shouldn't be rare! Cars are
something I love when I'm behind the wheel (and hate when I'm not!),
but they need new propulsion systems. Here's to returning to
living in transparent air!
"Midnight Chuo Line" - September
The 22-year-old Chuo Line trains are not long for this world I fear...
and when they are replaced with newer types, it is certain that they
will not have windows that open at the bottom as on the current Chuo
Line trains. And so the days of being able to open the window and
hang your head out in the wind a little - out there in the real world,
will be gone. They are practically gone already actually - I was
getting some very strange looks when I took these pictures:
I just don't understand people - they suffer in a sealed box, painfully
waiting for the transit purgatory to end and their freedom to come when
the doors open and they can escape the box. With an open window,
the trip at speed is fun! The wind rushes in; the
clacking/screeching/grinding of steel on steel is heard; the sounds of
the night come in from place to place.... I'm of the opinion that
it's better to live in the world than to shut it out with sealed
windows and refrigeration. Why are people afraid of the wind?
"Shinagawa" - September 1st, 2006
When I went to Shinagawa on September 1st, I was primarily going for
photographs, but I ended up writing about that trip and the memories it
brought back ("August/September 1984/2006"). Nevertheless, I did take a
few pictures - some of which are here:
I need to take more daytime photos, but in order to do that I'll have
to take them early in the morning, so I tend to always end up taking
night photos (I wish Tokyo was in the right time zone!).
"At the Foreign Correspondents'
Club, in Yurakucho"
Way back when, long-long ago, I wrote about almost going to the Foreign
Correspondents' Club (see "One
December Day"), and I finally actually did go. I took
too many pictures, some of which are here:
I crossed the Pacific in mid-August of 1984 - and many things happened
in the early weeks and months I was here. The impressions and
drama of the first few weeks in fact were so strong that it comes back
to me powerfully from time to time, particularly in late August and -
this year - early September.
Last night - September 1st, 2006 - I went straight from work to
Shinagawa, where I stayed for my second week in Japan.
....... Sigh... I guess I have to write this down in
sequence. I was only intending to mention a part of it, but it
all came back so powerfully yesterday, and the images and memories are
still strongly lingering today, so I suppose this is the time to put it
The moment of walking off the 747 into Narita Airport in August 1984 -
I was immediately struck with the realization that I was walking into
something very different from what I had left behind. Different
radio waves in the air, different smell and different general feel....
In the regular Keisei Line train (not the reserved seat Skyliner) with
Tokoko (a high school student - one of four pen-pals I exchanged
letters with before coming here) on the way into central Tokyo, I
looked around, noticed that I seemed to be the only non-Japanese person
in the train and wondered at Tokoko's having written "There are many
foreigners in Japan...".
Standing off to the side in a very busy station with people rushing
about everywhere, watching Tokoko asking a station worker how to get to
Kanda after she had put us on a wrong train (probably she got on a
Keihin-Tohoko Line train going away from Tokyo instead of into it).
Walking down a street in Kanda (on our way to the Kanda YMCA), I looked
up and noticed the utility poles were indeed the unusual type I had
first noticed in a Japanese movie at the Kokusai Movie theater in San
Francisco. I spent enough time watching Japanese movies and
reading books about Japan, that - for most things - I was not surprised
about too much; rather there was a feeling of "Oh yeah - that's what I
that movie!" or "Oh yeah - that's what the book said!". A huge
exception was the (ongoing) experience of dealing with other foreigners
in Japan! Nothing can adequately prepare you for that!
Jaywalking across a street with Tokoko to get to the Kanda YMCA
building (an old brick building, built in 1928 and - unfortunately -
torn down in 1988; the old building had a lot more character than the
new one does), as we crossed, a policeman blew a whistle and yelled at
us - Tokoko bowed an apology and we were allowed to proceed under the
fierce gaze of the policeman (jaywalking was very rare then - it's
become more common over the years).
Walking into the Kanda YMCA and meeting Tokoko's father (who had made a
reservation at the Kanda YMCA for me - at Y5,000 a night, not the best
option when there were "gaijin houses" at Y1,400 a night) and a
translator friend of his (who claimed he had translated for President
Carter when he visited Japan). I stupidly paid for a week in
advance (meaning that, with food costs, I would be out of money at the
end of the week!), and we took a creaky old "Made in USA" Otis elevator
down to the time-slip dining room in the basement with "Made in USA"
silverware! After getting used to practically everything being
"Made in Japan" when I was living in the US, it was amusing that the
first elevator I got on in Japan was "Made in USA" and the first spoon
to go in my mouth was "Made in USA".
Making a (very expensive!) semi-local call to Kathy in Saitama, my
Japanese-American girlfriend, who had flown over with me. Where
was she staying? At a former boyfriend's apartment! (I was
BF#3 who was Japan-bound, so she decided to tag along this time,
meeting up with BF#2 in Saitama and BF#1 in Kyushu.)
In a Shinjuku department store, going from floor to floor via
escalators with Kathy and a local friend of hers (who was the new
girlfriend of BF#2 I think) - no non-Japanese anywhere.... Again,
I remembered Tokoko's "There are many foreigners in Japan" remark and
thought "Where?!" (remember I came from San Francisco, where there
is no clear majority of any race). Later, when I was about to
head back to Kanda, I was feeling a bit lost and scared in Shinjuku
Station as I was about to set off alone, so I asked Kathy's friend
which platform I should go to and she told me "Take the Yamanote Line",
so I said "Yeah, I know, but in which direction?", to which she
flippantly told me to take it in either direction - it would get me to
Kanda. I walked under the tracks within the station, darkly
thinking "Thank you for your rudeness and thank you for your disregard
for my time! I'd like to take the shorter/faster route..."
Day three or four - I meet Tokoko and a friend of hers, Kibijin.
They take me around Kamakura to the temples, and Kibijin refuses to go
past the gates of anything not specifically her version of Buddhism
(the newest, strictest version of it).
Probably the same day as the temple visits - I visit Kibijin's house
with Tokoko, and Kibijin's mother takes a liking to me (no, not in
Day four or five - I wake up early in the Kanda YMCA
(jet-lag/supercharge and in-wrong-time-zone Tokyo effect), open the
windows and look down at the street below (from something like the 7th
floor, I can't remember exactly). I ponder the fact that I have a
few more days before I'm out of money and out of a place to stay, look
at the people walking along the street, realize that I can't talk to
them (no Japanese language on my side, little English language ability
on theirs) and break down for a minute beside the bed in the
closet-sized room "What am I going to do! Sob!-Sob!". But I snap
out it, and take on the "March into it man! Do what you can!"
attitude necessary for survival if you're a freelancer in this life,
Day... five or six? I go into a barbershop for a haircut and the
oldest barber there that I immediately think "No... not him...
please...." jumps up and indicates a seat. I sit down, hold up my
thumb and fingers, indicating that I just want a centimeter or so taken
off. What happens? The bugger takes off everything in a
flourish *except* a half-centimeter! I may be wrong, but it sure
did seem deliberate and that guy did seem to be sadistically enjoying
my extreme discomfort at having all my hair cut off! It took
three months before I wasn't ashamed of my appearance and was a
contributory factor in my eventually swearing off barbers of all kinds
- I've been cutting my own hair for ten years now, saving money, time,
frustration, and all to better effect.
And now, finally, Shinagawa enters the story. Strangely, I can't
remember how it was set up at all. An initial phone call? A
question in person? I have no recollection at all, but - in one
way or another - as my time at the YMCA was running out, Tokoko let me
know that Kibijin's mother had put in a good word about me to her
husband, who owned his own company in Shinagawa. All this is
conjecture of the obvious - I had to be informed and it had to come
from Tokoko or Kibijin, but the memory of the actual event is
gone. Now - back to memory video clips, which are clearly
I'm sitting in one of the cushy customer seats by the window on the
fifth floor of Mr. Shacho's (Kibijin's father - President and owner of
his own business) company in Shinagawa, looking out the window at the
many trains going by - the Yamanote Line, the Keihin-Tohoku Line, the
Tokaido Line, etc. I notice that not all of the Yamanote Line
train cars are air-conditioned (they got all the trains air-conditioned
about a year or two after that), with the non-air-conditioned cars
having dry roofs with round cover/intakes for the ceiling fans inside
the train, and the air-conditioned cars having large air-conditioner
units mounted in the middle of the roof, with much of the roof wet from
the water taken out of the humid air by frigid coils. I sat there
feeling a combination of nervousness and ease. Nervousness at the
sort of interview situation, and ease at sitting there in the
air-conditioned office in the comfortable chair, with a cold drink and
a view out the window of the passing trains. Smiling Mr. Shacho
sits opposite me, and the memory fades....
It's decided that I will work for Mr. Shacho, helping with English
correspondence and also handle phone orders in Japanese(!). A
series of memory video clips:
Mr. Shacho takes me over to an apartment he rented just behind his
company's office. He explained that he had a heart condition and
rented the apartment so he could go there and rest from time to time
during working hours - a quick escape from the stress and noise of the
office. The apartment doubles as storage space for things from
the office, with boxes piled up in the bathtub and no hot water as the
gas was shut off. He says I can stay there for a while (and take
showers at another place that he'll show me) and takes me to a nearby
shop where he buys a new futon, sheets, blanket, and pillow for
me. I remember feeling slightly uncomfortable that he was laying
out cash for me before I'd done anything for him.
We then walked back towards the station and he took me to another
apartment he was renting as his overseas division. One woman
named Minami was working there alone (for another three months, at
which time she was going off to Australia to get married), and other
people would pop in from time to time. Mr. Shacho introduces us
and after he's gone, Minami looks at me with a wondering look and asks
"So you're going to work here?" I nod, and we end up talking a
lot about things in general as she shows me the work she's doing and I
begin to help out. A few days later, she gets that wondering look
on her face again and asks "So you're really going to stay here and
work?". Maybe we were talking about general things too much or
maybe she was thinking about how I didn't speak Japanese, but I would
need to speak it in order to take over her job when she headed to
Australia. A couple of times, she followed up her "Are you really
going to stay here?" questions with the question/statement "Don't you
think that it doesn't matter where you live? I think everywhere
is the same." I found that a strange sentiment at the time and
just looked at her as I pondered the concept that everywhere is the
same, but in hindsight, I wonder if she was trying to convince herself
of that, as she was about to move to Australia to live. (She had
spent a couple of years there studying, so she spoke English fluently,
and presumably she met her soon-to-be husband while living there.)
Walking into an expensive restaurant at the top of the Hotel Pacific
[newly opened in 1971 - closed on September 30th, 2010] in
front of Shinagawa Station with Mr. Shacho. A group of women
bowed as we entered and we were shown to a table by a window with a
great view, but as we were talking the whole time and I was giving Mr.
Shacho my full attention, I wasn't able to take in the view much.
I remember him telling me that his ancestors had been wealthy, but his
father had spent all the money, so by the time he came along, he had to
work hard to make a living. He also mentioned how he took the
"Green Car" (1st class car - of which there are generally two on a
15-car Tokaido Line train) up from Fujisawa every day. As we
walked back towards the elevators, several women at the entrance to the
place bowed to Mr. Shacho's departing back. (I thought it rude at
the time, but I've gotten used to the idea of just marching out of a
place like that with my head held high and the staff thanking me and
bowing to my departing back - that's just the way it's done here.)
Standing in front of the apartment building containing the export
branch office/shower spot in the August heat with the cicadas making
their summer noises overhead - a sound I had never in my life heard
before. After all these years, when I hear the cicadas, I
remember that moment in Shinagawa in front of that apartment building,
waiting for Mr. Shacho to get a car out of the parking lot.
Whether that was the first time I met Mr. Shacho's son, I'm not sure,
but I distinctly remember him on that occasion - positively radiating
doubt and irritation in my direction. I had been told by Mr.
Shacho that I would only need to know numbers and some set phrases to
handle orders on the phone, so I had set to memorizing numbers right
away, and he asked me in the car to read the numbers of the license
plate on the car in front of us. I slowly, but accurately, read
the numbers out in Japanese, and Mr. Shacho turned smilingly to his son
with a "See?" expression and the son tilted his head to the side and
gave a "Hmmm.... I don't know...." look.
In a car (the same day as above?) as it passed the US embassy, which
Mr. Shacho pointed out. We then ate in a restaurant near the
embassy, where I was introduced to an acquaintance of Mr.
Shacho's. All I remember is being looked at skeptically and
Meeting another business acquaintance of Mr. Shacho's in a restaurant
in a five-star hotel. I sat there not understanding what they
were saying in Japanese, and so there was nothing to interject and
nothing to do but dumbly wait. The acquaintance at one point
turned to me and said something bland, like "So you'll be working for
Mr. Shacho then?" to which I responded, and then they set to discussing
things in Japanese again. The only word I remember catching was
"telex" (as in "He'll be useful in sending and receiving foreign
correspondence - he can run the telex machine", or something to that
effect I imagined).
Back in the export office alone while Australia-bound Minami went out
for some reason or another. An older man came by and he came in
and sat next to my desk - talking to me in Japanese. He would say
"Nantoka dokonanka dareka" ("???") etc. etc. and I would say
"Wakarimasen" ("I don't understand."), and he would then say "Desukara,
dareka donadesho" ("???"), to which I would say "Wakarimasen". I
don't remember how long that went on, but I eventually called the main
office and put the man on the phone to them. Who he was or what
he was visiting for I hadn't - then or now - the slightest clue or idea
beyond that it was probably business. He seemed like a friendly
and calm person though, so I wish I could have been able to talk with
At the end of my second week, I explained to Mr. Shacho that my Japan
Rail Pass was good for three weeks and I was hoping to do a little
traveling on it before it ran out, so he said "Where do you want to
go?", "Hokkaido" I answered, and he told me I should go and gave me a
few days off and some money as an advance on my salary.
I took the Shinkansen (super-express or "bullet train") north, thinking
of Kathy, who had headed in the opposite direction - to Kyushu to stay
with BF#1. The plan was to go to Hokkaido where another of the
four pen-pals I had been writing to was from and where she told me I
was welcome to visit. Very unfortunately, I got to thinking of
Kathy down in Kyushu, and when I got to Morioka (the terminus of the
Shinkansen then - it's further north now), I got out of the train,
looked around at the city down below the elevated Shinkansen platform,
and then walked back into the train, intending to go all the way down
to Kyushu. Unfortunately, the Shinkansen I eventually took south
from Tokyo went only as far as Osaka and then the system shut down for
I spent the night in the cab of a small truck in a... junkyard?
Construction site? In the morning, a man appeared and - nervous
that he'd be upset about me being in the truck - I opened the door to
get out. The man looked up in shock, emitted a stream of sparks
from his hair standing on end, and practically ran out of the
area. Maybe he thought I was a ghost - or maybe he wasn't
supposed to be there either....
I met the third of the four pen-pals the next day who was -
conveniently enough - from Osaka. She and her friends took me to
Osaka Castle. There was something uncomfortable about my time in
Osaka. I think I was supposed to go to Hokkaido and the gods of
travel were frowning down at me tossing mini-lightning bolts -
"Idiot! Why did did you turn around?!"
For two decades I have kicked myself for not having gone to Hokkaido
that day. I finally made it up there this year (to Hakodate), but
still I regret not going up in 1984.
I can't remember for sure, but I think I actually took the Shinkansen
down to Kyushu the next day - what I do remember very clearly is:
On a Tokyo-bound Shinkansen, sitting in one of the non-reserved seat
cars. The train was very crowded and somewhere along the line, I
looked up to see Mr. Shacho's son leering at me from the end of the
train car. I thought "Great... I was given time off to go to
Hokkaido, and here I am seen by Mr. Shacho's son in southern
Japan". I looked up a few times, and each time, Mr. Shacho's son
practically doubled over in laughter. (At the time, it was
mortifying, but if that happened now, I'd go over and talk to him -
explaining what was what.)
Later, back in the office, Mr. Shacho's son came by and talked with
Minami for a bit and she turned to me and said "Did you go to
Hokkaido?". "I went up to Morioka, but then changed my mind and
went south instead" I told her. She looked thoughtful, and looked
off into space for a moment - I think she understood what was happening
on both sides and also understood there was no point in trying to
explain anything to the hostile son of Mr. Shacho.
The following Friday evening, Kathy - being back in Tokyo, came to
visit, so I showed her the sleeping apartment behind the main office,
and since it was without hot water and half full of boxes, we went over
to the export office. It was Friday night, so, figuring that no
one would be using the office on the weekend, we spent the night there
on the sofa, awakening early on Saturday morning to the sound of a key
in the door! Kathy dove into the next room and I stood up with
only a towel on as Mr. Shacho's son walked into the room with a
"What-what-what...?" look on his face. Kathy then made her
appearance (with her dress on backwards) and he fell into a "You
devilish foreigner you! Preying on the local woman are you?!!"
look on his face. I didn't speak Japanese and he didn't speak
English, so I couldn't explain to him that she was actually American
and was my long-time girlfriend from the US who had come over with me.
As I got dressed, he went into the next room and made a phone call
somewhere - speaking somberly into the phone - explaining the
"terrible" situation to someone I imagined. I imagined Mr.
Shacho's wife and felt like she's be shocked and disappointed in
me. Feeling shamed by the whole thing, and also painfully aware
that I was going to need more than three months to learn enough
Japanese to actually do my work there in the export office alone, I
left with Kathy (I think we stayed at BF#2's place that night - he was
out of town for some reason) and I came back on Sunday to get my stuff
together. I put a few things together in my smallest bag and
packed everything else into a bag that I stuffed into the space over
the unused (and thus cold) water heater in its closet, which was behind
an unlocked door beside the entrance door to the apartment, accessible
without any keys. I figured that no one would look in there and
it could sit there for a week or two untouched (luggage lockers were -
and are - a bit expensive here).
I then went over to the export office/shower spot, took a shower, slept
on the sofa, and early on Monday morning before anyone came in, I wrote
a note to Mr. Shacho, and then dropped it and the keys to the
apartments through the door mail slot after locking the door. (I
wish I remembered what I wrote in that note! Hopefully I
explained about Kathy, but I'm not sure what I said.)
I then went down to Kyoto, where I stayed at a cheap place (how did I
find it?) and explored the city, going over to Osaka to look for
work. I even found a job towards that end, but after the man said
I was hired, I said "Thank you, but please wait for a few days for my
answer, I have business to attend to in Tokyo first. The man
looked none-too-pleased and I - indeed - ended up getting work in Tokyo
and not returning to Osaka. I suppose if Kathy hadn't been in
Tokyo, I would have started working in Osaka - maybe I'd be there
still? I suppose I can both blame Kathy for ruining my Hokkaido
trip and thank her for bringing me back to Tokyo. (I'm assuming
that Tokyo was the better choice of the two - that's how it feels
I saw Minami one last time in Tokyo - she was walking the other way
down the street (in Harajuku I think) on the arm of a foreigner,
presumably the Australian
guy she was to marry. She pretended not to - or maybe really
see me, and I didn't call out, because I sensed that she didn't want to
make the man jealous and get any mistaken ideas. I would love to
meet her today to talk about that brief time we spent working together
in that Shinagawa office. From her side, I think she was aware of
what was going on all the way around, but I was somewhat in a fog - my
first time overseas and all. I would also like to hear some
details about what happened after I left and also talk to her in
Japanese about that time! (I wonder if she's still in Australia?)
Fast forward 22 years and I visited the old export office apartment in
July - minus the company's name on that apartment door (on the 4th
floor), it seems not to be there anymore. And then on September
1st, I walked over to the main office - or where it used to be in any
case. I looked at the company name plates for the building and
the fifth floor was blank. I almost just walked away, but I
decided to take the old elevator up to the floor for the experience of
riding that era elevator again (which tend to have the lights for the
floors shining through number cutouts in an aluminum panel, and large
noisy fans right in the center of the elevator ceiling) and also see if
I recognized anything up on the fifth floor. In getting off the
elevator on the fifth floor, I was surprised to see the door to the
empty office open, so I walked in and found myself standing in front of
the same windows I had looked out on the passing trains from back in
July 1984. It was a strange feeling. I had often - through
the years - thought I would someday go back to the office and meet Mr.
Shacho to both thank him for helping me out at a critical point in my
life and also apologize for whatever embarrassment I may have caused
him in the company and at home.
How to describe it... standing there in the empty space and remembering
how I felt when I was there before. Aside from the melancholy
feeling that anyone would expect, there was also a feeling of... not
futility, but maybe... loss? Regret? Nostalgia? All
of the above? In writing this down, I realize more clearly now
than I did at the time, that the situation held both promise and
danger. I was non-verbally aware of the threat of Mr. Shacho's
son, but I didn't properly realize that the hostility from him was
directly tied to the opportunity that Mr. Shacho was offering me.
All in all, I suppose it wouldn't have worked out, but maybe it would
have. Maybe if I'd stayed there and hadn't invited Kathy over, it
would have launched me into business here instead of into the wild and
unstable world of freelance work. But then I would have missed
meeting the many people I met? Who knows - but when I think of it
now, it was a pretty cool setup -I would have been working in an office
in an upscale apartment building alone, without having to deal with too
much office politics... maybe? Naw... you can never escape office
politics! And Mr. Shacho's son was a determined foe!
Anyway, Mr. Shacho - thank you! It was a critical time for me and
that job may have saved me from disaster.
PS - My bags were still sitting (where I had left them) on the unused
water heater about three weeks later when I found a semi-long-term
place to stay. I felt somewhat nervous going to the apartment to
pick them up, but didn't see anyone coming or going....
"Iroiro, August 2006 (Ota-ku,
Gotanda, & Shibuya)"
I should be focusing on specific areas, but I was testing an SLR camera
body (Pentax ist DL2 - with a film lens (50mm f1.2) and I decided to
toss some general photos from that camera-lens combination onto the
My assessment of the Pentax ist DL2? It was cheap - about Y50,000
- and works well in natural lighting, but I'm very disappointed in its
performance under artificial light. My compact Ricoh and Olympus
cameras do a much better job. The 50mm f1.2 lens I like - I wish
it were an Olympus lens instead of Pentax though....
"Ginza - July 2006"
A page of
photos of historically fashionable Ginza. They were taken at
around 6:00 p.m. on a weekday, so most of the people on the streets
were women. Ginza is popular with women anyway, and at many
companies, women tend to get off earlier than men. (Many women
work vast amounts of overtime mind you, but still, percentage-wise,
more women get off work on time than men overall, so at 6:00 p.m., you
see more of them outside, particularly in Ginza!)
My technical level of Japanese is pretty sloppy, but I was able to get
used to the rhythm and feel of the language through a lot of listening
practice. I bought a Y30,000 yen "Professional" Sony recording
Walkman in 1985 that I used to make tapes of children's books that I
listened to (nearly) endlessly while studying the books.
Typically I would understand very little the first few times I listened
before having struggled through the book with a dictionary (getting
help from Japanese friends for parts I couldn't find in the dictionary
on my own), but then the meaning would come through loud and clear
after listening to the tape several times after having read the
relevant pages in the book.
I made copies of the master tapes that I then listened to with
auto-reverse walkmans (walkmen?). I had an auto-reverse machine
for my bag that I listened to all the time while outside - walking down
the street, riding the trains, etc., and I had one for when I was
sleeping. Typically, the sleeping model would burn out every four
or five months from excessive use, and I went through a small mountain
of machines over the few years I was most intensively studying this way.
It's much easier now with MP3 players. Recently I've gotten ahold
of some Japanese audio books that I like. One by that famous
actor Taka... something Ken, that is quite entertaining and interesting
to listen to, and Botchan, which is great - particularly after reading
two separate English translations of the book (the one by the Japanese
translator is vastly superior to the one by the western translator -
who over-translated it, doing stupid things like calling soba noodles
"buckwheat noodles") and half of the Japanese original. Same as
back in 1985, I understand the part I read very well, but am missing
things in the last half, which I've yet to read.
In the "Why am I doing this?" category, I've obtained recordings of
"The Tale of Genji" and "Heike Monogatari" (What's the English title
for this? The Tale of Heike? The Heike Tale(s)?).
These are useless for modern Japanese, but since everyone here studies
them, and even has to memorize part of "Heike Monogatari", they are
interesting to listen to in a way (with very low compression!).
Just some random stuff I guess. But I do have a specific
question. Does anyone have any information on available Japanese
audiobooks? The concept seems to be not nearly as popular as in
the US. I guess people prefer to actually read books (gasp!) than
listen to them. Actually, I prefer reading books too, but I
*can't" read things like "Heike Monogatari" and in the sardine trains
of the morning rush, I can't even hold a book in front of my face, so
audiobooks are the only way to go!
Hakodate, Hokkaido - Yunokawa Onsen
It may have just been in contrast to my long stretch of living in
mega-city Tokyo, but Hakodate seemed at the time - and seems still now
in memory - a bit like San Francisco to me; cool air slightly damp with
a sea breeze, hills with old style houses from the late 1800's, city by
a bay, less people density than Tokyo (of course!), clean air, relaxed
I'll try to get more pictures up, but for now, here are a few of part
of the waterfront and also of the Yunokawa Onsen (hot springs) area:
"Walking in San Francisco &
A friend working in San Francisco wrote this bit:
"My manager let me get off early
today, and I took some time to walk all the way down to the Ferry
Building, following the concrete ribbon structure along the way.
It was a beautiful day outside, and as I walked I watched the
ocean. I had a great view of Treasure Island and the Bay
Bridge. Along the way, I briefly skimmed the little informational
bronze plaques and square towers, read a poem from an Angel Island
inhabitant, and walked and walked and walked. It was fun, but am
This reminds me of the two years I lived in San Francisco (mid-1982 to
mid-1984). I would typically go out with three rolls of
36-exposure film (Tri-X B&W) to take pictures of one area or
another of San Francisco. I would walk and walk, and while I did
get tired feet, I didn't get overly hot and I didn't get very thirsty
in the pleasantly damp ocean scented air. Walking in Tokyo can be
like that, but only for a very limited number of days in the spring and
autumn, and on a day after a typhoon or at least a strong wind (to blow
away the effects of the fire-breathing automobiles).
On the same line of thinking, I went up to Hakodate in Hokkaido this
month, and the port city with its hills, low lying clouds that engulf
the tops of the hills, pleasant and clean air, old street cars brought
out for the summer tourists, and old brick shipping warehouses
converted into shops and restaurants... had me daydreaming about moving
up there and settling in. Before making such a move though, it
would be a good idea to visit in the winter and see if I could bear the
(according to the taxi driver I talked with) -10 temperatures.
Boso Peninsula #8
Back to working on the set of pages on the Boso Peninsula - the eighth
page is here:
And there is more to go - someday I plan to finish the series....
"City Dreams" - Shibuya & The
"What? More pictures of Shibuya?! Why?!" Yeah-yeah -
I know. I should be focusing on areas of Tokyo that are not yet
represented on the site rather than putting yet more material up about
places that already are, but... but... I carry a camera with me to the
places I have to go to in Tokyo, and so the ordinary places I go end up
being photographed more than they deserve. Oh well... in any
case, this one is about modern life whizzing about the city at speed
possibly not being any more advanced really than ancient times when
people had to walk to where they needed to go....:
"Outside the Boxes"
Generally being sealed into boxes on wheels when riding modern trains,
my camera takes a quick look at the world outside of one speeding box:
"Bob Dylan - 1966 Concert"
The only things I had heard of Bob Dylan's until a week ago (when I
began listening to a live recording of Bob Dylan on my MP3 player while
walking around Tokyo), were what was broadcast on the radio. The
recording I'm listening to these days is the digital version of a
double album of a 1966 concert, and something about that recording very
strongly stirs memories of the better side of that era for me. I
was only six years old in 1966, so I wasn't exactly part of the scene,
but I still picked up on the feeling in the air and heard the music on
the airwaves (thanks to my older brothers). The stuff of Bob
Dylan's that I grew up hearing on the radio sort of bored me, so the
excitement this live recording generates has come as a surprise.
"'Sweet' - July 2006"
I previously complained about the new use of the word "sweet" - now
being used pretty much like "cool" used to be used, but now it's time
to apologize for that rant! There's a guy I'm working with who is
around 25 years old and he says that - and other new things - very
naturally, and I have to face the fact that 47 is not just an abstract
number, it's really how many years I'm been walking around on this
planet. Just as I'm getting used to being "middle-aged", I look
ahead and see that in a decade or two I will no longer be "middle
aged", but will be "old" and looking ahead another two or three
decades, I'll likely be dead. Life is short. Enjoy the
"sweet", "cool", "subarashii" (or whatever) moments and do what you can
to be constructive - it'll be over before you know it.
"Bad News, Company, Cameras, &
Re: "Saturday again and I am just
about numb from all the terrible things in the news such as Global
Warming, worse hurricanes on the way, assurance that Los Angeles will
experience a bad earthquake, no end to the drought but maybe an end to
water, war in Iraq getting worse, Iran building Nukes, North Korea
testing intercontinental missiles, and now my newspaper points out that
the number of close friends that Americans have has shrunken
I just realized one advantage to working too much lately - I haven't
had time to find out what's happening in the news lately! All I
know is what's happening in my own apartment and somewhat at the
company I'm working at....
Re: "And that's true, I recall
childhood and youth when TV hadn't come along, and people were not so
busy. We had friends. Visiting was our entertainment.
Now with the Internet, we have friends across the ocean and don't know
the name of the people next door. And NOBODY anymore ever drops
in for an evening of talking."
Now you mention it, I remember reading how people are skipping having a
living room at all and instead using the space for a home office.
I remember my parents entertaining people from time to time, but - come
to think of it - I very rarely do the same. Actually, Tokyo makes
it hard anyway, since most people are living in small apartments for
one thing, and often lives hours away from each other on top of that,
so get-togethers, when they happen, tend to occur in restaurants,
coffee shops, and drinking places - generally in a middle ground
between where the people meeting live.
Re: "You are correct when you ask,
why can't people have both money and time? Yes, I'm afraid that
having enough money to live, and maybe even enjoy some of the good
things, requires all our best time and energy at some job we learn to
hate. The unlucky man will eventually grow feeble and sick and
unable to work and so dies a very poor man. The lucky dog however
simply drops dead while at work."
I laughed when I read that. I'm definitely spending more time
working right now than I would like to, but it has enabled me to
recently get a new camera (a Ricoh GR-Digital), so at least I'm having
some fun taking pictures with that. The only irritant being that
work ties up most of the day, so I end up with too many night pictures.
Re: "Sounds like the bad news on CNN
has me depressed, but not so. I find time for comical films of all
kinds and a few drinks... and talking with you (via the Internet of
course!). Tell me about your work these days."
Work is going okay, but the projects I've been assigned have been
delayed, so I've been filling up the time with reading about past
projects and trying to find out the definitions of the very large
number of acronyms the company uses! Some of them are
international, some of them are specific to Japan, some of them are
specific to that company, and some of them are even specific to
engineers within the company!! It's incredible, but there I am
right there under the same roof as the authors of material I'm reading
and many of the acronyms seem to be unknown to everyone! And they
still use them!!! I've begun to irritate some of the foreigners
I'm working with regarding my quest for acronym definitions, so I guess
I better be more quiet about it, but I do strongly feel that you can't
really write properly when much of the vocabulary is in code that no
one can explain! Rather than "XYZ" and "MNO", they might as well
assign their special codes numbers "Attach the 729 to the 503",
etc. On the other hand, one of the old-timers who's been in the
translation and technical writing business here for several decades has
talked with me and told me how he fully understands where I'm coming
from and he's given me some database material he's built up while
working on projects for the company....
Oh - incidentally, I have a few new pages at my website. Two that
were uploaded today are:
Nenogongen Mountain Area
- and here:
Tenryuji Temple (Tokyo)
Those were taken with the same camera on the same day (a Pentax, in May
of this year).
This page was taken with my newest camera - the Ricoh GR-Digital:
4:11 a.m., and the sky is growing light. It gets dark at 7:30
p.m.! When the sun comes up at 4:15 a.m. and sets at 7:30 p.m. -
you are (Tokyo!) in the wrong time zone!!!
"Higashi-Yukigaya, June 2006"
Further exploration in Ota-ku (here in Tokyo) brought me to an old
temple and house, several photos of which can be seen here:
Incidentally, this is the first page of photos taken with my Ricoh
GR-Digital camera. Of note is how the 5.9mm lens (28mm lens
equivalent on a 35mm camera) handles lines very well without distorting
them - which is evident in some of the close-up pictures of the temple.
"(Subway) Train Yard, Etc."
After looking into it a little more, it appears that the old train car
factory/maintenance shed was for wide-gauge subway cars, which the Toei
subway system uses, and not in fact Shinkansen cars, as I had initially
thought. In looking into the logistics of that old factory, I was
led to a new-looking and fairly large train yard about a fifteen-minute
walk away - see:
- where evidence strongly pointed towards that old factory being
an extension (or vice-versa) of the new factory building. At the
large train yard, there is also an older building similar to that old
disused factory building, so I suppose those two were a pair and the
new building replaced the separate and recently shut-down one.
Not far from the train yard and factory/maintenance sheds is Honmonji
All of the pictures on the two pages above were taken with an Olympus
810. I'm working towards getting some pictures from the Ricoh GR
Digital up next.
4:35 a.m. ..... I need to get some sleep.
"Ricoh GR Digital Camera"
I recently began using a Ricoh GR Digital camera (the model name "GR
Digital" is a reference to Ricoh's well-regarded GR film cameras) and
it's an interesting design. It falls right between the low end of
the digital SLR market and the top end of the compact fits-in-a-pocket
digital market - or more precisely, it *is* the top end of the
fits-in-a-pocket digital market (based on my observation of what's for
sale at Yodobashi Camera in Shinjuku - not on extensive Internet
research). What makes it worth considering as something worth
shelling out your hard-earned cash on, is the quality of the
lens. Being a fixed focal length (thus avoiding the tradeoffs
inherent in variable focal length lenses), Ricoh was able to design a
lens that is more akin to a quality SLR lens than a typical cheap and
fuzzy compact 5X (or whatever) zoom lens.
I don't have any photos from it posted to the site yet, but when I get
some up, I'll make a mention of them so you can see for yourself how
pictures from the camera look. The camera name and exact specs
Ricoh GR Digital
CCD: 8.1 million pixels
GR Lens 5.9mm f2.4
The 5.9mm lens is comparable to a 28mm lens on a 35mm film
camera. I've only put in a limited amount of time using the
camera to date, but I'm very impressed so far - enough to recommend
buying one if you're at all interested in taking quality pictures with
a pocketable camera.
PS - As
there was too much stuff on the page, I moved the first part of this
year's postings to the blog-L Archive page.