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blog-L - (2008)


"Last Edition of Shinjuku Street Bands - October 30th & 31st 2008"

October 30th & 31st - having run out of not only patience, but also days in October, this is definitely the last one of this series.  I originally meant for it to be one video containing the whole week's worth of performances, but there was too much material for one YouTube posting, so I divided it up.

As I mentioned in "Shinjuku Street Bands - October 2008 #3", I have no intention of focusing exclusively on street bands for videos, I just wanted to finish this project, so I slogged it out until the end.  (I'm open to recording the subject again, but for now I want to do other topics for awhile.)

All of that said, there is some excellent guitar music in this one I think - with two sections highlighting Otofuke, the solo guitarist with a unique guitar-playing method (the first section is very brief, but the second takes a better look from multiple angles), and one section (at the end) of the group, Oshare Dorobo.  Others are featured as well, such as the three-piece group Ondo.

The YouTube video link for the video is here:

December 31st, 2008.  Another year over.  But not just any year it seems.  It's looking like "2008" will be remembered in history in much the same way as "1929".  Here's to moving forward constructively; to not slipping into World-War-III; to proving that history does not have to repeat itself!

Happy New Year everyone!  May it be a great one!



"Shinjuku Street Bands - October 2008 #3"

I don't intend to make writing and taking pictures of Shinjuku street bands a profession, but I would like to finish the project at least!  I went by there every evening in late October 2008 and this is the next video in that series.  #1 was taken earlier actually, and then #2, #3 (and #4, when I can get around to editing it) were taken in the same week.  This one, #3, is from a couple of days - back-to-back.

In searching for the street bands, I walked around the station (about a 20 minute hike - Shinjuku Station is large) and there are some brief views of areas of Shinjuku around the station.  Also in this video are views of three police officers shutting down a performance by the South-East Exit of the station.




"Shinjuku Street Bands - October 2008 #2"

October may have been the peak of street bands performing in Shinjuku (mostly in the South and South-East exit areas), what with comfortable temperatures (no humid heat and no biting cold), and not very strict patrolling by local police officers.  Since then however, the police have been more rigorously enforcing a ban on unlicensed pubic performances, and the weather has made it uncomfortable to be outside anyway (for both the performers and the audience).

For one week of October in particular, I went to Shinjuku every day, and this is one of the days (or "another of the days" - if you've seen the previous Shinjuku Bands post), a not very crowded evening, with only three bands:




"Nighttime Ikegami Line"

The Ikegami Line is interesting, for a few reasons.  The first thing you notice when using the line is that the trains only have three cars, which is really unusual for Tokyo.  Most lines have ten cars, with a few six and eight car trains on one end of that, and a few 15-car trains on the other.

The next thing you notice as you travel down the line, is that several of the stations are as though in a time slip, with wooden roofs and other station bits that look as though they're either from the many-decades-ago past, or on a seldom traveled line out in the countryside somewhere.

Then - as you watch the trains going in the other direction, you notice that there are several different types of train on the line.  By riding a few of them and noting the plaques that say when they were manufactured, you notice that the oldest of the four types being used dates back to around 1963 or so, and the newest is from this year (2008).

Other than that, it's just a normal branch line, except the station names tend to be more interesting than those on many other lines.

Anyway, that's not much, but it's four in the morning and I need to get some sleep, so....



"Guitar Music by the South-East Exit"

Time-wise, I can't walk the streets of Shinjuku every evening in search of street bands, but following my visit there on Monday, I returned on Tuesday and saw a guitar player I had enjoyed listening to before (and bought a CD of his music) named Otofuke Kenta.  Before I get going with an attempt to put some of the thought typhoon I had earlier this evening (Thursday) into words, here's the guitarist's website:

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a musician, then a photographer.  I abandoned the idea of becoming a musician when I assessed how much difficulty I had distinguishing one note from another, but have never abandoned my love of music, nor my quest for visual experiences and recorded images.  The quest continues as the years continue their relentless acceleration towards the inevitable end of the story... and the man walking through life begins to... worry about running out of time... and to look at the sky and deeply feel that the world needs more art and music.

...... There was a moment earlier this evening, with the air thick with meaning, sorrow, tragedy, hope, promise... and all the wordless feelings such moments carry.  In the moment I determined to write the experience into form with words.  This is that attempt, but there was so much more.  Maybe some of the moment is conveyed between the lines?  I wish I could do better - this is where music would help - if only I could create music to fit the thought typhoons....



"A Hard Evening in the Plaza"

On Monday I stopped by Shinjuku to see if any bands were playing and found the band Ondo playing in the plaza by the Southeast Exit (correct name? I think it's "Tonan" in Japanese).  As they finished playing one song, an unfriendly looking cleaning man came up and seemed to be telling them they shouldn't be playing in the plaza, which they smiled off and then began playing another song as he walked off.

As I dug my hands into my pockets, I thought "It's getting cold to be playing outside..." and was just getting into the song when the bass player hurriedly put down his instrument and dashed off down the street.  I looked back at the other two members of the band, who kept playing.  Looking back down the street to see where the bass player had gone, I saw him talking with a policeman by what looked like the band's van - probably getting a parking ticket.

I looked back to the two band members still playing and pondered the band's difficulties - the time and trouble of setting up their equipment for a performance; the difficulty in parking their van; and then the unfriendly man telling them not to play.  As they finished the song, a pair of policemen walked up, and that was the end of the evening's performance.  As one of the policemen talked with one of the three band members, I bought one of their CDs from the keyboard player/singer (at least two of the three sing, maybe all three), and she mentioned that they would be playing at a "live house" in Shibuya the following Monday (is "live house" an English term, or just a Japanese term?)

The band's website is:

You can hear clips of their songs on this page:

Incidentally, the system with the police asking people to write something on a clipboard when they are asked to stop playing in public seems to be one in which the written statements basically say something like "I promise not to do this again here", so if they are caught a few times, there comes a point where the police can take out a stack of statements and say "You obviously are willfully breaking the law" and then they can be... fined I guess.  (One of the musicians filled me in regarding what the clipboards were about.)



"Friendly Advice & an Empty Field"

On Friday, I went to an (early for the season) end-of-the-year party in Akasaka.  The food and drink were good, irritations few and far between, and basically a great time was had by all (except one guy who had too much to drink, and had slipped into the "Uuu... can I hang on... uuuuu" zone).  I was hoping to convince him to go home, but he was more interested in staying with the group for more fun.  A perfectly understandable and good motivation, but generally a mistake under those circumstances.  (I'll have to ask about what happened after I went home!).

I actually had the good sense to leave the "Let's keep going all night - all weekend - forevermore!" die-hards before reaching a "I should have left earlier..." point of regret, and sensibly left for home in time to catch my last trains.  However, as I sat down on the last of the set of four trains I needed to take that evening, I relaxed, thinking I had completed the journey (big mistake!).  I fell asleep and woke up a couple of stations past where I wanted to get off.  Getting off, I walked across the platform, intending to take a train back in the other direction, but a station employee told me there were no more trains headed in that direction.  (Tokyo shuts its entire train system down each and every night - except on December 31st - for... maintenance I suppose.)

No trains to get home on... time to wear my shoes down!  I was rather irritated with myself and the situation as I began my long walk (on top of everything, I had to pay extra for that part of the train journey I hadn't wanted to take), but then (after walking for about 90 minutes) I began to enjoy the clear, cool (cold, but not too cold) night air.  After getting instructions from a friendly man keeping guard over a crossing as workmen did some work on the nearby railway (the railways are kept in very good condition here, by the way), my mood improved still more and then I found myself positively and throughly enjoying walking through a field away from houses and lights - with the stars above visible as they rarely are in over-lit and often smoggy Tokyo (the air tends to be clearer in the winter).

I suppose you might be wondering about the idea of walking through fields in Tokyo!  I live away from the center of Tokyo, so there are some, but not many.  I considered myself fortunate for the experience of walking through an open field.  I get very tired of always walking about on asphalt or concrete, in canyons of buildings, and of in being in sealed-box buildings.  It's very rare to experience a wide-open sky in this city....  (That said, I certainly don't want to live outside!  I just want a little more fresh air than I usually get!)

Why not a taxi?  Basically, I'm allergic to taxi drivers!  I've been cheated in the US, Hong Kong, Australia, and in Japan.  About seven out of ten rides have been unpleasant.  The usual problem has been drivers taking a round-about route, but I've also been overcharged, with the driver saying there was an extra luggage charge (in both Hong Kong and Australia, when I didn't have that much luggage anyway).  A couple of times in Japan the driver blatantly ignored my direct requests and made sure that he ran the meter up.  A couple of examples would be in order:

One time I said (using the local language, mind you) "Stop here please" and the driver - the dirty rotten scoundrel - kept driving past where I wanted to get off saying "I can get you closer".  As soon as the meter jumped up, then he stopped, I (very unhappily) paid the extra fee and then had to walk back to where the driver had refused to stop!

Another time, I was running late for a friend's wedding and I took a taxi from the station to make up time.  Not only did the driver pretend to not know the streets at all, but when I (looking at my map) was giving him directions, as we neared the destination, I said (using the local language of course) "Turn left here", and the dirty bugger turned right!  Turning left would have gotten me to the wedding just in time, but by turning right, the scoundrel driver was able to take a long detour that made me late.  Naturally my story about why I was late was not believed.  "The taxi drivers here are wonderful and honest - they would never do such a thing."  Yeah, sure, right....

But the clearest example I had was a weekly trip I took out to a factory in Tatebayashi, which is in Gunma Prefecture, just over the border with Saitama; a one hour trip out of Tokyo by Ryomo Express train on the Tobu-Isesaki Line (I had thought it was spelled/pronounced "Isezaki", but there are more Google hits for "Isesaki", so I guess that's the correct way).  Over a period of about six months, I went out there once a week, and took a taxi from the station to the same factory each time.  Tatebayashi is a smallish city (by Japan's standards anyway), with a population of about 80,000.  In Tokyo, there's always the possibility that a driver really doesn't know the streets in a particular area well, since the city is so vast (less of an excuse now with electronic navigation), but in a city of 80,000, that's not very likely.  It's highly probably that the taxi drivers there know the city like the back of their hands (better maybe, who studies the back of their own hands anyway?).

So what happened?  Well, in a spirit of anthropology (and since my company was paying the taxi fare), I just sat back and observed what the drivers did each week when I gave them the name of the well-known factory I was going to.  The first time out, I sat back and watched the scenery go by outside as I took in Tatebayashi for the first time.  Arriving at the factory, I thought it was a little expensive, but I just figured that the factory was far away from the station.  On subsequent trips, I began to wonder why the price was never the same, but just put it down to traffic conditions.  Then - about the sixth or seventh trip out - I suddenly found myself with an honest taxi driver who - zip!-zip!-zip! - took me directly to the factory in the shortest distance and time.  The fare was about 30-40 percent cheaper and I arrived quite a bit sooner than usual.

From that point forward, I watched the drivers more closely, and - more often than not I'm afraid - they were not taking the most direct, least crowded, or fastest route to the factory.  (I could have battled them each and every time, but I wanted to see what they would do.)  One time was funny, because this driver had taken me on one of the detours, but it was a slightly less lengthy detour than usual, and the meter was just on the verge of jumping up when we stopped in front of the factory.  I could sense his disappointment as he looked at the meter that was just about to give him some (dishonestly earned) extra income, but didn't.  He reluctantly hit the stop button on the meter and I gleefully thought "Serves you right, you dishonest bugger you!  You wasted time and fuel, and all to very little avail!"  (Thinking back on this, I realize that he was likely confident the meter had already changed, as he didn't look at it until we were sitting there in front of the factory, and then what's he going to do?  I guess he could have said "Look, I took a special detour to cheat you out of some extra money, but the meter hasn't climbed much beyond the honest price yet, so let's do a few loops in the parking lot here until it jumps into the next range.  You don't mind if I steal some more of your money, do you?"

The lingering question is whether this despicable behavior and lack of morals of many taxi drivers is equally dispersed among their unfortunate passengers... but that's a stupid question.  Of course it isn't!  If you're going to cheat someone, you pick people who are cheat-able!  Doing that to a savvy local of Tatebayashi could generate some serious trouble for them.  After all, it is illegal to steal people's money dishonestly.

On the flip side of this issue of course, are the people who cheat taxi drivers.  Jumping out without paying, throwing up in the back seat, saying unpleasant things, doing unpleasant things, etc.  I don't envy the job taxi drivers have, along with the different kinds of nonsense they have to put up with, but that's still not an excuse to victimize innocent people.  Getting "revenge" on innocent people is not getting revenge at all, but rather perpetuating the crime.  (It's a fearsome thing the way things can snowball.)

A question the reader may have, is how could that happen with me going out there so often?  The answer is that if the weekly business I had out there had been more frequent, or went on longer than six months
(there may only be 80,000 people in Tatebayashi, but the city still has a large number of taxis, so I kept getting different drivers each time), the drivers would have begun recognizing me and then behaving more honestly.  They would have to, otherwise I would have begun getting angry and combative, not to mention that the company paying the taxi fare for me would have begun to get angry and started making complaining phone calls to the taxi company (and if the problem persisted), to the police, the newspapers, etc.  The taxi drivers probably (incorrectly) took me for a one-time visitor from overseas (people would come from overseas to visit that factory from time-to-time), and thought it was a safe crime to commit.

So there you have it.  Sorry for my long rant against dishonest taxi drivers, but now that I've explained in some detail why I'm allergic to them, if I need to explain again in the future, I can just dig up this text again and won't have to spend time explaining it.

This is another advantage to having an extensive train system, by the way: you can completely shun taxis (save riding somewhere past the nightly shutdown point).  In fact, I don't think I've been in a taxi for a few years now.  The last time was when one of my train lines caused me to miss the last connection due to some problem with the trains, so they gave out taxi vouchers to the people who had missed their connections.  They first determined which stations people were going to, and then grouped them together, giving them a voucher to that specific station.  You can bet the taxi drivers didn't even consider trying to rip off the railroads, who know very well what it should cost and are more than willing to fight about it (from a position of power no less).



"Visiting the Tokyo Motor Show in 1991"

Watching a video I took of my trip out to the Chiba convention center Makuhari Messe in October 1991, the number of changes between then and now is striking in some ways.  If you rent a historical CD of documentary footage taken decades ago, you expect things to be different and it just seems natural that a different era had people wearing funny clothes ("Ha-ha!  Look at those people in those ridiculous clothes!  And they don't even realize how silly they look!  Ha-ha!"), but when you take a video of modern life, today, right now, you have the current situation in hand to show people living in different parts of the world how things are where you are, currently.

So.... when you put that video in a box in your closet, let 17 years pass, and then have another look, you know it's not going to look modern any more, but the degree and depth of changes in the video can be a bit shocking.  Having been through all the time between then and now, one day at a time, it's disconcerting to see how nearly everything has changed.  ("Wait a minute... when did that change so much anyway?  I've been here the whole time... how could this happen without noticing it?").

And with that preamble out of the way, let's have a look at some of the things that have changed in Tokyo since this video was taken (comments preceded by the time where a comment topic appears):

00:01 - A few things right from the start in the first second of the video:  Women wearing long hair and long skirts.  Not exactly non-existent now, but there was a fashion trend back then with very long skirts and very long hair.  That's definitely changed.

Painted trains.  There are still some trains on the Seibu line like in the video with that same paint scheme, but new trains are nearly always some combination of unpainted steel and aluminum, with a colored stripe along the side.

00:05 - Old type train station.  This specific station - Hibarigaoka Station (on the Seibu-Ikebukuro Line) has been completely rebuilt (although those narrow stairs leading to the station are still basically the same).  The old stations were practical.  They often used old rails as a construction material (which makes sense - rails are I-beams after all) and were typically open on the sides, so they were cold in the winter, but nice in other seasons since you could look out on the world from them easily.  New stations typically force you to look through glass, and while they are larger and have higher ceilings, they sometimes feel more confining somehow.

00:07 - Manually punched tickets.  The ticket gates of Tokyo train stations were just beginning to go automatic in 1991.  Some other cities in Japan (Nagoya for one I think) had already gone automatic, but the vastness and complexity of Tokyo's train system made it much more difficult to automate.

00:10 - A view through an open window at the old roofs over the two platforms at Hibarigaoka Station.  There is now Plexiglas there that keeps out cold wind in the winter, but I liked being able to look through clear free air before.  The Plexiglas isn't kept clean and there's that early 21st century claustrophobic sealed-in-a-box feeling that ruins atmosphere and photos.

00:25 - It's hard to see, but if you look closely, you can see what look like square steel boxes on the roof of the train that is passed over.  These are air intakes for openable vents on the inside.  Trains used to always have these - a way of getting ventilation inside when the windows are closed (for rainy weather, etc.).  On new trains, they've stopped making these and made most of the windows unopenable.  There are some improvements to the new trains, but doing away with the roof vents was a very bad idea I think.  In the past, there have been many times when I was stuck as a sardine in the middle of the train, unable to reach the windows (which were nearly all openable before), but the stuffy uncomfortable atmosphere was easily remedied by reaching up and opening one of the roof vents.  But alas, now they are gone from new trains, and in a similar situation, I just stand there suffering, with no way of alleviating the bad situation.  Admittedly, they do seem to make a point of running the circulation system more, but mostly that is just recirculating the same air - better than nothing, but the vents for outside air were a vastly superior idea.

00:41 - That "Bee!!-Bee!!-Bee!!-Bee!!-Bee!!" ("Hurry!-Hurry!-Hurry!) sound used to be used at all the JR (formerly JNR) stations, but they've since changed over to using melodies instead, using a different melody for each station.  This change corresponded with signs saying "Don't run for the train!", flex-time, and a less industrial approach to life in general.

00:47 - Painted trains - you see less and less of them as they are replaced with stainless steel and aluminum ones.

00:52 - A real live human being making the announcement that the train is arriving at Tokyo Station, not a recording.  Also, the announcement is in Japanese only, without a secondary English announcement.  If the announcement is always the same anyway, then why not use a recording?  Because after you've heard the very same recording for about 20,000 times (if you travel ten stops on a line, you'll hear it twenty times a day for a round-trip - they only change the station name part of the recording, otherwise there is only one recording), you start to go insane!  People need variety!  Also, while the Japanese announcement isn't too bad, the English one is really irritating!  It's too loud, too slow, robotic like, and just... horrible!  And what's the point?  Shinjuku is Shinjuku, Yotsuya is Yotsuya, Ochanomizu is Ochanomizu.... so in Japanese: "Tsugi no eki wa, Shinjuku desu" and in English: "The next station is Shinjuku" - either way, the important part of that: "Shinjuku" is the same, so torturing commuters with a myopically spoken "The next station is..." is really uncalled for.  Not only could tourists catch the station name within the Japanese, but there are displays over the doors in both English and Japanese.  JR - please - drop those horrible English announcements on the commuter lines, they are unneeded, unwanted, unpleasant, and unnecessary.

01:07 - This passageway over to the Keiyo Line was new at the time.  In fact, the Makuhari Messe conversion center was new at the time as well.  The Tokyo Motor Show used to be held at the Harumi convention grounds.

01:58 - Tokyo Disneyland.  At the time this was taken, there were a lot of amusement parks in Japan, but since then, I've seen news reports about one after another of them going bankrupt.  Through it all - good times and bad - Tokyo Disneyland is crowded with expensive ticket holders, day after day, year after year, rain, shine, and in hot and cold weather.  I've talked to people who go there several times a year, year after year!  And people actually fly in from foreign countries (in Asia primarily) to go there!  It's amazingly successful....

02:16 - Chiba would qualify as a bed town, in that most of the people living in these houses and apartments travel into Tokyo to work.  It's the same with Saitama and (to a lessor extent due to Yokohama) Kanagawa.  The only thing that's changed here, is that they have since built a lot of luxury high-rise apartment towers in central Tokyo, and people who can afford to live in them, are happy to escape the purgatory of the morning crush-rush sardine-run trains.

02:18 - The big green netted box is most likely a golf driving range.  Those are scattered about the city - providing golfers without the time or money to visit a real golf course, someplace to practice their swings by hitting real golf balls (as opposed to the people I've seen practicing in their yards or in parks with sponge or light plastic balls).

03:25 - Crowds of people heading for the Tokyo Motor Show.  The shows are always crowded, but the last couple I've been to seem to have been a little less crowded than they used to be - like this time in 1991.

04:20 - I'm not even exactly sure what it is that makes these two women look so retro - but they seem quite different from women their age in the year 2008.  It's probably some combination of hair color (so many women dye their hair now, that black hair is actually unusual), eyebrows (it's common to more radically thin them now), eye size (it seems that a lot of women are having their eyes surgically enlarged now - a terrible mistake I think, as the women here look much better with their original eyes), clothes, attitude, radio waves, etc.

05:07 - It's a strange thing about mini-skirts.  You didn't actually see so many of them in 1991, but when you did, they were often really short.  Mini-skirts tend to be a little longer now, but they're everywhere!  The biggest change is that high school girls used to be required to have skirts that went below their knees and to not wear make up, but then a few private schools started allowing mini-skirt uniforms and now a majority of high school girls are marching around Tokyo in mini-skirt uniforms and many of them also have thick layers of paint on their faces (in their prime physically, why they think they need to hide their face is a mystery).

05:10 - Definitely a retro look from a 2008 perspective.  Three things stand out as reasons - 1) existence of eyebrows, 2) black hair, and 3) that hat!

05:41 - Live narration about the cars.  They used to have the models (the human models I  mean) memorize long and complicated presentation speeches about the cars, but the last time I went, more often they just played recordings and had the models walk around in front of the cars, acting like... models!  I did see one presentation just like in the old days though, with the model flawlessly (seemingly anyway, I didn't see the script!) giving a long presentation about the car's technical details.

05:58 - Four-wheel steering was a big deal at that time.  It seems to be have been completely abandoned.  Have you heard of any current production cars having four-wheel steering?

07:21 - Large crowds around the Ferrari cars....



"Hibarigaoka, Ikebukuro, Tokyo, & Shinjuku - October 1991"

Another look back at 1991 - mainly just detail changes in fashion and trains (train carriages since retired), but the scene at the Tokyo Central Post Office shows how it was before e-mail - when people still used stamps for letters, and since they needed to use stamps, they had much more interest in obtaining good-looking ones to use.  (If you only send a rare occasional letter, the detail of the stamp design doesn't seem so important).

When the post office released it's special regional stamps, they were sold only in the region being featured at the time, and at the Central Tokyo Post Office, so large numbers of people in Tokyo would go there and buy tremendous amounts of them, particularly businesses and collectors.  Businesses simply because it looked better to send letters with interesting stamps, and collectors for obvious reasons.  In-between the volume buyers were individuals such as myself buying just a sheet or two.

Here's the link:

Note that there is a bit of traveling about to other places in there, with the post office scenes in the middle.



"A Stroll Around Electric Shibuya"

There are many aspects to Shibuya, from upscale department stores to kawaii shops, to restaurants, movie theaters, hotels, Yoyogi Park... and in fact all the way over to Southern Terrace by the south exit of Shinjuku Station (even most locals don't realize that as soon as they cross the street after coming out of the south exit of Shinjuku Station, they are in Shibuya).

So, if I'd given the idea of video-recording it a lot of thought, I either would have set aside a lot of time to try to cover all angles, or I would have agonized over which aspects of the area were most wanting to be covered.  As it was, I just let my feet run on auto-pilot for an hour or so, from the Hachiko side of Shibuya Station, and they naturally followed the path of the former river (maybe still down there under the street somewhere in a pipe), and then took a turn here and there as seemed appropriate.

Why is "kawaii" in Shibuya?  The other side of the Yamanote Line (Ueno-Tokyo-Shinbashi-Shinagawa) is more professional/business oriented, with the Ikebukuro-Takadanobaba-Shinjuku-Shibuya stretch heavier with students, and Shibuya with (seemingly - I haven't actually studied the exact demographics of this) having the most high school students.  Sooo.... Shibuya is probably the world capital of kawaii.  That said and out of the way - if you look at the passersby in this video by master videographer LHS:

 - there are also businesspeople, etc. in the scene, but the majority of the crowd are probably in their twenties.

There should be much more to say, but after living with Shibuya for over 24 years, it just feels like part of the local scene (which it is), so I'm having a hard time getting into the frame of mind of seeing it as something novel - even though it has never ceased to intrigue....



"More Music on the Streets Worldwide? - Sounds Good to Me!"

Just when I was beginning to think that Japan was becoming exceptionally musical and wondering if it was peculiar to Japan, I have begun receiving e-mails from e-pals in other countries (incidentally, one pronunciation of good in Japanese is "ee", so e-pals sounds like "good pals" in Japanese), saying that they're seeing the same thing in other cities (Ikebukuro, etc.) and in other countries, so I guess it's a world-wide phenomenon.  These comments are from a friend who visited Italy a couple of years ago:

     Just read your story on streets musicians of Shinjuku.
     That's really too bad for them.  Guys on the bottom always get the lumps.  However, don't blame the cops.  I'm sure they had official complaints from nightclubs and businesses.  Nightclubs want people to come inside and spend money, and some businesses see such things as a neighborhood problem, attracting rowdiness.  Imagine trying to sleep.  But, I'll bet those musicians will find another place to perform. 
     During my tour of Italy a couple of years ago, we witnessed unlicensed street vendors in every major city creating problems for licensed stores, and police who were constantly chasing the low-overhead vendors from one street to another.
     However, in vast St Mark Square of Venus, small street orchestras (in tuxedos) were set up in front of restaurants with outdoor tables.  I saw three such orchestras playing beautiful music, a delight to all but the dullest of hoodlums.  The idea was to lure people to sit at tables and spend money, but mostly people would stand just close enough to be entertained, listen to one orchestra for a while and then drift over to another, listening and standing was free, while sitting at a table would cost you.  Historic and romantic St. Mark Square, night time sea air, and lovely music created a wonderful memory.  The street musicians in Shinjuku just haven't found the right location yet.

Regarding "Imagine trying to sleep." - This may be why Shinjuku is such a popular place for street musicians - there are no residences around the south exit side of Shinjuku Station (where most of them play) that I'm aware of, so there shouldn't be any sleep-related complaints.  The idea that area nightclubs might not like the idea of free music getting in the way of their selling it hadn't occurred to me, but that seems plausible enough.  After writing that the police were chasing the musicians off the street, I went back another day, and there were several bands out playing again - including several with advertisements for local clubs!  They played a few songs behind boards saying that they would be playing live at such-and-such a club on such-and-such a date, and a few were selling tickets to these places in addition to the usual CD's.

"Coming into Gotanda Station on the Yamanote Line, etc. (October 2008)"

Another train video - looking out the window of the Yamanote Line.  My video camera doesn't handle wind very well, so the sound is shockingly bad, but the images might be sort of interesting.  The video is on YouTube here:

Sore dewa,



"Sayonara Shinjuku Music?  (So Soon?)"

I went by Shinjuku again this evening and checked out a couple of street bands.  Then as I was walking off in search of a third band (going down the outside escalator from the South Exit area - heading towards the East Exit area), I glided past a team of four police officers walking up the stairs going in the other direction.  At first I just thought "Ah... better be careful with the camera - they probably don't want their pictures taken", but as soon as I had gone past them, it suddenly occurred to me that they might be on the march looking for street musicians....

So I did a U-turn at the bottom of the escalator and rushed back up the stairs (up and down escalators separated by wide staircase) just in time to see the four police officers walking up to the band and the band stop playing.  They began talking; one of the band members pulled out a card, handed it to main police officer, who then handed it to another police officer, who called somewhere and talked into the phone as he looked at the card the musician had handed over.  While the other band members started putting away their gear, the main police officer handed a clipboard to the head musician, and the musician was writing something down on it as I walked off disappointed - wondering what the police were asking the musician to write down.  Suddenly the excitement of a Shinjuku night was fading away, and it was becoming an ordinary boring evening again.

I'm all for law & order, but I don't see any harm being done by these street musicians.  They're not obstructing traffic, they're not over-amplified; most of them sound good, and they're not political (at least not the ones I've seen)... once winter sets in, it'll be too cold for them to be outside (not for long anyway), so why not just let them play now, while the weather is nice?  In these days of doom & gloom on the news, a little live music on the streets doesn't seem like a such a bad idea to me.



"Shinjuku - Music Town?"

Over the years I've seen street musicians performing in Shinjuku, but lately there seem to be a lot of bands there - every night!  Last Friday, there were even two bands set up side-by-side, each taking turns playing three songs each - back and forth.  I was already beginning to think of Shinjuku as a sort of "music town" before I put a DVD in the machine to watch the Nana-2 movie, and the movie features an outdoor performance in... Shinjuku!

So it must be official.  Shinjuku is Tokyo's music town.  Ginza for class, galleries, and classy (overpriced) nightclubs, Harajuku for middle-school fashion, Shibuya for high school wild-side bipeds, Roppongi for hard core night life on the one hand and new-found class on the other, Ueno for museums, Chigasaki for the Shonan Beach, and Shinjuku for movies and music?  Why not.  Japan likes to assign things to areas - it's good for tourism and makes things much more interesting than having everywhere looking the same.

Anyway - for a look at Shinjuku at night in October 2008, this video was taken by the eminent Lyle H Saxon (cough-cough) one evening a couple of weeks ago:



"Stone, Bamboo, & Earth"

I stumbled upon a local festival in Tokyo at a mostly unknown (outside of the area) small temple and found myself standing on the bare earth (no concrete! no asphalt!), watching the festival people beat drums, etc. as they walked down a stone path - past a grove of bamboo - and without banks of florescent lighting destroying the atmosphere with too much harsh and ugly light.  All this in Tokyo!  T
here was some electric lighting, casting a radioactive greenish glow (hey, this is Tokyo after all, where nearly every square meter of the entire place is over-lit in one way or another), but there were actually some dark spaces among the trees (darkness at night! in the shade! imagine the novelty!) where you could feel a trace of wind from past centuries animating the event.

All-in-all, it was about as good as a festival gets here, because usually, any kind of cultural festival like that in Tokyo is overrun with tourists, both foreign and domestic.  Out of respect, I didn't hang around too long, but I took a video clip of part of the event, tossed it onto the wires, and it can be seen here:



"Meeting Artists in Tokyo"

This year I've been spending a little more time visiting art galleries and listening to musical performances than... before.  I've tended to spend all my time taking/editing photos/videos and haven't spent much time seeing/hearing other people's creations.  For whatever reason, I've begun to take more of an interest in these things, so I thought I'd mention a few that I've recently seen.

There's a good-sounding street guitarist I've seen a few times, most recently in Shinjuku, where/when I bought one of his CD's.  As it says in the liner of the CD, he plays a 5, 6, or 7-string electric bass guitar, playing "the melody and backing lines at the same time" (and it really does sound like two people playing two guitars sometimes!).  He goes by the name "ani-zoo" (兄蔵, which is pronounced "a-knee zoe" - I suspect the musician doesn't realize English speakers will see "zoo", think of animals, and looking at the "ani", imagine "animal zoo"...), and this YouTube video of him playing in Shinjuku is a good representation of how he looks and sounds when he performs:

His website (in Japanese) is:

And the page of his website with links to several YouTube video clips of his performances is:

Another musician I've met a few times (most recently at "Smiles" in Yoyogi-uehara), is Torazo Udagawa, saxophone player.  I haven't actually seen him perform live myself, but there's a compilation of his playing in this YouTube video:

His YouTube website (with several videos of his performances) is:

For paintings, photographs, etc., there are a collection of galleries in the fascinating Okuno Building, which was built in 1932 as an apartment building.  Actually, in walking around the building, it's apparent that one half was built as an independent building first, and the second half was added on afterwards.  I haven't yet found the details of this in print, but heard it verbally from a tenant, and the evidence of the building itself suggests that that is indeed the case.  There is one elevator (with cool manually operated doors!) for the dual structure, and one restroom per floor, but dual staircases (one per building, or per half of the building, depending on how you look at it), with windows (mostly opened when I visited) between the landings.

The address for the building is:
1-9-8 Ginza
Chuo-ku, Tokyo

This (Japanese) website has some photos of the building:

And this next website (in
difficult-to-decipher English - obviously translated from Japanese, possibly with translation software) has some good photos of the Okuno Building, although the pictures of the elevator are old.  The elevator has since been renovated with glass doors on all floors.  A happy (but very rare in Tokyo) instance of something old being restored rather than destroyed).  This website indicates that the elevator only goes to the sixth floor, but now it stops at all floors:

So - if you're in Ginza and want to check out art spaces, the Okuno Building is something you ought to see - both for the art on display (most exhibits change weekly) and the building itself.



"Clearing Bicycles Away in Omiya in 1991"

Revisiting 1991 again - the young people who are now middle-aged, the little kids who are now in their twenties.  The trains that have been scrapped and replaced with newer ones.  The women with long, straight, black hair (you very rarely see that any more).  The vast number of bicycles parked around the stations....

Basically, everything is different, which shouldn't be a surprise, but change comes little by little, day by day, so you don't even realize how much things have changed (even though you think you do), unless you have visual & audio recordings to look back at your past with.  There are so many details that go missing in the memory - so seeing everything again can be a bit of a surprise.

That preamble out of the way, I should explain the situation with the bicycles.  Recognizing there was a serious problem of insufficient parking space for bicycles, multi-level bicycle parking garages were built all over the city, but they were still rare in 1991.  In the middle of this video ("Trip to Omiya - 1991"):

 - is an example of what cities did from time to time to clear roads and try to get people to park their bicycles in a way that didn't get in the way of everything.  People would rush to the station to get to work on time, and park their bicycle anywhere they could - often double and triple parking along roads, to the point that cars and delivery truck drivers would have to get out of their vehicles and move bicycles before they could continue down a street.  People would park so many bicycles around the entrances to a shop that you'd sometimes have to move one of them before you could even get into the shop!

And so the men clearing away illegally parked bicycles are not being real careful with them (slam! bash! - see the video).  What happened to the bicycles being taken away?  Many were probably given up on, and some (the better and/or more expensive ones) reclaimed.  Once taken away like that there was a fine to reclaim one, and if the bicycle was rusted and old, people would often just buy a new one.

With many more bicycle parking areas created since then, this is not as serious of a problem as it used to be, but still there are parking problems here and there.  Typically, certain shops will have parking for customers, and then people visiting shops without parking will leave their bicycles in whatever parking space they can find.  The space fills up, and customers of the shop providing the space can't park their bicycles there, so the shop owners get angry and remove bicycles of people obviously not shopping there, etc.

I should put in some more details, but it's late and I need to get some sleep!



"Foreign Broadcasts Broadcast Locally"

One of the reasons it's fun to spend some time with short-term visitors from outside Japan, is that they come over here still broadcasting on their regular frequencies, and since I used to send/receive on those same (or nearly the same) frequencies myself, I can pick up their broadcasts and see Japan from the outsider's perspective.  The narrow side streets where everything (cars, scooters, bicycles, pedestrians, etc.) shares the same space; the surprise of a first experience on a sardine-run train; etc.

And so it was last night.  Dinner in an Indian restaurant (not what I would have picked, but it turned out to be a great restaurant and a good choice), with tales of the old country and talk of speeding trains (they were scheduled to take the Shinkansen to Kyoto today), all seeming almost strangely familiar (after 24 years here, the west is beginning to seem exotic and things here normal), and - somewhat surprisingly - I found myself today still seeing "Exotic Japan".  Having switched frequencies last night, perception of the world was still colored by the experience.

And um... that's all folks.  Except to say that the fall weather is quite nice recently - the last pre-coat weather with some of the trees just beginning to change color.  Days to dream of the age when offices had windows you could actually (gasp!-shock!-horror!) open (what?!) to get some fresh air, instead of being sealed in like a fish in a fishbowl.



"Dodging Flying Fish at Tsukiji - 1991"

On my first visit to Tsukiji, I felt as though I was on a movie set - no doubt due to those old Hollywood movies that attempted to capture the hustle & bustle of a seaport, a train platform, a ballroom, etc., by having a bunch of extras wander back and forth on a large stage in southern California made up to look like a more crowded exotic city somewhere else in the world.  But after walking around for a few hours, it all began to seem quite normal and ordinary.  Still busy, but only a collection of a lot of individuals going about their work day.

I was driven to capture as much of Tokyo on video as I could back then (1990-92), and it was a video quest that led me to enter the Tsukiji fish market.  The resulting analog tapes slept in their cases within boxes at the back of closets for many years, and have - through the magic (or curse) of time, become interesting in a historical way, which was not my intention when I took them!  I was capturing "Tokyo Today", and now - suddenly it feels - it's history?  Time is a fearsome thing!  In any case, here is the link to the video entitled "Tsukiji Fishmarket - 1991":

The quality of the picture isn't great, due to my having dialed the size down quite low (to keep from going over my limit at YouTube).  To get an idea of what the picture quality really is (of the digitized-from-analog tapes), have a look at this commercially prepared version (used in a TV ad for HowStuffWorks.com) of the Pack-'em-in" video I took the same year as the Tsukiji video:



"From Yurakucho to Hibiya Park Beer Festival"

I went to a couple of beer festivals in Hibiya Park this year - one in the spring and one in the late summer (technically early autumn).  Of the two, the spring one was larger and more interesting, but they both were nice and lucky with good weather (at least on the one day in the spring and one day in the autumn that I went).

I took a series of video clips as I walked over to Hibiya Park.  I didn't get the timing of the edited clips down right, but as far as showing a few scenes here and there between (and including) Yurakucho Station and Hibiya Park, it might be of some small interest:



"Hard Times Straight Ahead?"

Taking a hard look at things in the world, it's difficult to imagine that things won't be difficult in the immediate future.  Overfished seas, rapidly dwindling sources of new oxygen (the continuing decimation of the world's forests), ever higher levels of toxic garbage being pumped into the air, greed & stupidity-generated financial crisis.  What's to like in any of that?  Not much!

A silver lining?  Maybe the continual degeneration of too many people into increasing levels of stupidity will stop.  When times are genuinely bad, there's less room to be mindless about life.  So, to give it a good outlook, hard times will wake people up and force them to start thinking more.  If we think, and we really try to solve things in the best way possible, we can handle whatever... I think/believe.



"Screaming in Public...."

Letting out a good yell is always fun, but where can you scream without causing stampeding, sudden panic, and general mayhem?  Where else?  Roller coasters!  I went on one for the first time in a quite a while a few weeks ago:

I had a good time at the Seibu-en Amusement Park, especially since I hardly had to wait in line at all - and this on a holiday!  I looked around at the park, with some pieces of it shut down - a restaurant here, one of the rides there - and wondered how long they will keep it going.  If it's almost empty on a warm weekend in the summer, it must be downright desolate on weekdays off-season!  No wonder they close it down at around 5:00 p.m.  The thing is probably hemorrhaging money as it is.

Tokyo Disneyland seems to always do good business, one of the reasons being that it's close to Narita Airport, and
(strange I think), people actually fly in from other countries just to go to Disneyland!  I like going to Disneyland myself, but while I don't mind taking a few trains across town to go there, I don't think I'd take an international journey for it!  And it's always popular with people here anyway.  Another key to this is that most of the rides and shops at Tokyo Disneyland are inside, so the place just keeps humming even in the pouring rain.

Contrast this with Toshimaen and Seibu-en, which are dependent on good weather.  Once the rain starts falling, there's almost nothing to do there.  They largely rebuilt Korakuen (next to Tokyo Dome) with several things inside, but they don't have much space, so the inside rides are... not exactly breathtaking.

Well - enough on that!  I've got a cold, so I better get some sleep.

Oh - completely off the topic, but what do you think of this woman's guitar playing?:



"Supporting Street Musicians"

Street musicians fairly regularly perform here and there in Tokyo and - when I can afford to (and like the music) - I sometimes buy a CD or two from the musician (or musicians, but usually just one).  I've had mixed luck with the CD's - some I have enjoyed listening to and some I didn't like as much as the live performance that prompted me to buy them in the first place.

A few weeks back, I bought a CD of some guitar music I particularly wanted to hear, but when I got home, the disk wouldn't play in my computer (I no longer have a CD player, so I have to listen to disks with my computer).  It was a computer-made disk, so I'm not sure whether I just got a bad disk, or whether it has some kind of very heavy-handed mutations thrown in to stop people from copying it (I was hoping to make some MP3 files for my MP3 player).

Within the disks I can play, like them or not, I'm at least glad my money went directly to the artist.  With regular commercial stuff, you have to wonder how much of your money actually finds it way back to the artist who made the music, so it's satisfying in a way to give it directly to the artist.



"Haunted Amusement Park"

A friend called, saying they had heard about a new ride at the Seibu-en Amusement Park (erroneous information I think, but...) and floated the idea of going there next weekend, so after hanging up, I got the bright/stupid idea of going out there after work this evening - thinking that I could get there before they closed at 9:00 ("or 10:00 p.m. maybe..." thought I), to ask about ticket prices, availability(?) of discount advance sales tickets, etc.

Although I did make it there just before 21:00, it took a bit longer than I had hoped it would to get there.  I had forgotten how many train transfers were required and how long I would have to wait for some of the small branch line trains to come.  Stepping off the train at Seibu-Yuenchi Station, I noticed the low number of people at the station ("Is the amusement park that unpopular, or is it closed?"), walked through the ticket gates, turned left, and walked down a wide, empty path towards the entrance of the amusement park (which I now realized was definitely closed).  As I walked, I realized there were a fair number of fallen dead leaves in the path, so I simultaneously pondered the evidence of autumn having arrived while I thought "You've got to be kidding me - it's just before nine and they've already closed the park?".

I reached the gates more quickly than I expected (confusing Seibu-Yuenchi Station with Seibu-en Station, which requires a bit of a hike). and looked through the gates....

Blackness!  Blackness with a dim outline of completely dark amusement park structures within.  It was striking for three reasons - a) not only was the park closed, but it had obviously been closed for some time, b) I had never in my life seen a completely dark amusement park before, and c) in Tokyo it's very difficult to escape electric lights.  The reason I always hear for the love of florescent tubes in this country is that things were dark and bad after the war, so people have (over)compensated for their dislike of darkness by light-blasting the entire city.  Whether that is good or bad is a matter of personal opinion I guess (ignoring wasted power on unneeded excess and the harshness on the eyes), but I think the lighting in Tokyo could generally be done a little better.  That said, new construction has been headed in that direction, and many new places have sensible and pleasant lighting, but I digress....

I didn't stand there for long, but the feeling was as though I had stumbled upon some long-lost remnant of civilization strangely intact and devoid of living people.  I should have stayed a little longer to observe the atmosphere and think about it, but I was tired and wanted to get home, so I rushed back and got on the same train I had come there on, jumping on just before it began its return trip.



"Empty Trains"

I recorded my trip to the beer garden at Mt. Takao after work one evening a few weeks ago, and have posted an edited version of that at YouTube here:

Some details about the scenes in the video:

00:01 - The Yamanote Line.

00:02 - Heading down the stairs at Shinjuku to the Keio Line platform.

00:04 - Getting on a "Jyunkyu-Kaisoku" (a sub-commuter express).

00:06 - Pulling out of Shinjuku Station.  The people on the platform are waiting for the next time.  This was taken during the peak of the evening rush for home.

00:11 - Manga reading on the trains is still liked by many, but you see less and less of it since cell phones became part of people's daily lives.  Cell phones have become just about everything except telephones (you hardly ever see anyone actually talking of them these days), so people are basically carrying around very small computers that they do various types of computing on, which includes reading text on the screen (usually in the form of text-messaging, but also for electronic books), watching TV and movies, etc.
     The announcement in the background - is in this case by a real human being, but (unfortunately) they are recordings most of the time.

00:12 - Typical view leaving central Tokyo.

00:14 - As the train gets further away from central Tokyo, there are fewer and fewer people (on this line in any case - on the Chuo Line, it is so long and passes through so many areas of major population, that there are people getting on just about everywhere on the line, so it basically just stays crowded all the time, all along the line).

00:19 - Transfer to another branch of the Keio Line - the one that goes to Takaozan-guchi Station, which is right at the base of Mt. Takao.

00:29 - Overhead luggage rack.  Empty in this view, but in the morning in particular, it's usually full and most of the people standing (far more than are sitting) can't find space to put anything on it, even if they can reach it (around the doors in particular - less so in the middle, between the doors).

00:31 - Station towards the end of the line - people who live out here have a longer commute, but they are the ones who can sit down in the morning!  I was in the last carriage of the train, so the voice is of the conductor as he closes the doors.

00:35 - Very few people at this point.  It's a strange thing, but when the train gets this empty, and there is not the slightest worry about getting a seat, then boredom tends to kick in, unless you have an interesting book or magazine to read.

00:38 - Takao - the last major stop on the line, and a transfer point for the last part of the trip to Takaozan-guchi (sometimes, some trains go straight through to the base of the mountain).

00:39 - Almost completely empty - very few people are headed to the mountain in the late evening (it was the best I could do after work on the other side of town!)

00:44 - Mechanical door latch.  Very rare on newer trains, but all the trains used to have this type of door handle and latch for the doors between the carriages.

00:49 - Last stop of the line!  From here there is just a short walk to the cable-car station and an effortless ride to the top (well, the top of one ridge - the mountain goes higher from there).

00:54 - Pulling away from the lower station of the cable-car line.

00:57 - Going through the first of two tunnels.  Fortunately, the cable-cars are old enough to have opening windows on the front and back, so you can look through clear and clean.  (I really hate being sealed into boxes with windows that don't open - like a fish in an aquarium.)

00:59 - Passing the cable-car going down.  They are hooked to each other via a cable, and act as counterweights to each other, so on the last ride down, when it's packed full, and the one going up is empty, the first steep hill up at the top creates a little speed before the grade lessens).

01:00 - Notice how the carriage is built like a moving staircase - the carriage is at a fairly steep angle, but the seats inside are (for most of the ride) straight.  Also note that this is the only part of the line where there are two sets of tracks - otherwise, both the up and down rides use the same rails.

01:04 - The second tunnel - and the steepest part of the ride.  This is the section that produces some speed going down when the downward-bound cable-car is heavily loaded and the upward-bound cable-car is empty.

01:09 - Headed up the stairs to the beer garden (Takaozan Beer Mount).

01:11 - Y3,300 for two hours of all you can eat and drink.

01:17 - Yes - just one plate and one beer - I went there alone, but ended up meeting some people there and having a drink and talk with them.

01:22 - Back to the cable-car for the ride back down the mountain.

01:23 - A view inside the cable-car, looking up towards the back - notice how steep it is.

01:34 - Speeding through the tunnel (in comparison to the speed of the rest of the ride in any case).

01:46 - Mountain stream - I had originally intended to use my laptop to write something at the top, but instead pulled it out at the base of the mountain, while sitting by the stream.

01:54 - A look at the hanging advertisements in the empty carriage I was in.

02:03 - The whole carriage to myself.  In the morning crush-rush, it's hard to imagine that there are times when there is this much space!

02:04 - Looking out the open window before the train reaches Takao Station.

02:09 - On the JR platform at Takao Station.  The train in upper background is the Keio Line, and the train coming in is a Chuo Line train.

02:12 - Old style long-distance train.

02:20 - More advertisements - this type of Chuo Line train is new - while there are still a few of the older type in service, they've almost completely phased in the newer type.  The one thing I really hate on the new ones are the recorded announcements - on the old trains, they actually have a human being announcing the stations.

02:24 - What's this?  Someone invading my private coach!



"Fiction-Toxic People"

Fictional novels.  Fictional movies.  Fictional computer space-war games.  Fictional TV science fiction shows.  Fictional news.  Fictional speeches (written by PR agencies; spoken by politicians-for-hire)....

I wouldn't have believed that anyone could live with so much fiction, but I have seen it in person too many times.  I guess these fiction-people need simplicity - and so the fact that truth is stranger than fiction makes the real world a thing to reject with fear and hostility.

Shades of GO's 1984, is it any wonder then that blatant lies & genuine propaganda from organizations with sinister agendas are more easily believed by fiction-people than the truth?  Presented with the truth, these fiction-addicts become hysterical and claim that the truth is a lie, is "propaganda", that someone has an "agenda".  They use the theme words their string pullers feed them in daily doses of fictionalized news.  Blind to their mindless servitude, they call the truth propaganda, ignore that their string-pullers have an agenda, and accuse someone genuinely working for the public good of having an agenda.  A murderer walking away from a crime scene may as well point a finger at the police and accuse them of the murder - it's the same concept.

How about the rest of us?  Those of us who find most fiction a simplistic and boring way to waste a chunk of our lives (periodic escapes from reality via a good movie seen once-in-a-while are enjoyed by nearly all of course), and can (usually) see the truth as the truth, and lies as lies?  Is there any help for the hysterical people who cling to the lies their string-pullers feed them and blood-thirstily attack any glimpse of the truth?

Be fiction-toxic people a majority - we're doomed.


September 3rd, 2008
Osaki, Shinagawa (Tokyo) - 18:30

"Seeking Connectivity"

Every time (cough-cough) I've come to (cough-cough) this office complex in Osaki (cough-cough), I've seen people sitting around with their laptops happily(?) computing away, so I thought there might be Free Public Wireless here...  (Phew - the prevailing winds have shifted and the - cough-cough, uggghh.... grrrrrr - foul leaf-fire smoke is - slightly - less intense than it was a minute ago)... but while my computer is detecting fifteen different broadcasts, they are all private networks requiring passwords, etc.  The search for "Free Public WiFi" turned up nothing.  Wait a second... I should check with my provider - maybe they have a broadcast that I can tune into.

Paper tubes of dried leaves for lighting afire and inhaling - there must be a new (new to Japan in any case) exotic type of toxic leaf that is popular to ingest - one of my apartment building neighbors torments me with it (when it's more than I can bear, I fight smoke with smoke by lighting up a few sticks of Indian super-strength incense), and one of my....

.... former (with a sore throat and on the verge of committing murder, I discovered a free seat in the non-toxic area) seat-mates here in Osaki is trying to poison himself and those around him...  Okay-okay!!  Rant over!!

"Roofed Sidewalk Tables" (18:50)

The trouble with having outdoor tables in Japan is that the weather - for one reason or another - generally isn't all that nice for sitting outside.  It's too cold in the winter, vast quantities of pollen fly in the early spring, the raining season kicks in in late spring, humid heat comes in July and August, typhoons in late summer, early autumn, and then - after a brief period of pleasant temperatures and nice colors - the dry, windy cold (of Tokyo - a different type of cold in other parts of the country) is back.  So it's no surprise that there are not many outdoor cafes, etc.

But there is a way - and I'm sitting in it.  There is a large ring of round tables with chairs a floor above a plaza, which also has the same type of round tables with chairs in the middle.  The seating is free and there is only one area for burning dried leaves (I'll try harder to never sit anywhere near that toxic zone again).  What enables this to work is that it's inside - with large curved windows looking out on a green garden (which has some chairs and tables for the rare days when it's nice to sit outside).  Maybe there are some other areas like this in Tokyo, but I can't think of them offhand.  There are no end of places you can pay to sit, but a free place with decent chairs and tables... very nice, but not the norm.

[Later] - After packing my computer into my backpack, I went out to the outside part and discovered that it had cooled down from the day's earlier heat and was actually pretty nice out - but I was running shy on time, so I couldn't spend much time there.

"Living in the Wonderful Future" (19:02)

Plugged into my Creative audio file player (not an iPod), typing on a laptop computer, with a cell phone sitting by the computer with the screen rotated to horizontal, displaying a digital TV broadcast (with Japanese subtitles since the sound is set to off).  Technology - in my ears, at the tips of my fingers, and showing some really stupid TV show on my phone.  (I turned on the TV specifically to get a Technology Rush, not because there was actually something I wanted to see.)

This makes me wonder how these wonderful gadgets seem to post-twelve, pre-twenty people (oh yeah, there's a word for those creatures - "teenagers").  I guess cell phones, anywhere connectivity, and music in the ears is like rain falling from the sky and sunlight showing up on a regular basis to light the world for free.  For those people, allow me to express a different perspective:

Several decades ago, I would watch futuristic movies and TV shows and think "That would be nice - but we'll never really be able to make TV's that small and effortlessly easy to use" (my family's TV at the time had a number of "special instructions" issues such as needing to physically whack it on a certain spot on the side from time-to-time to get the picture back), "and computers will never be quite that smart and compact all at the same time".  And so I feel a little like I'm dreaming about something from a science fiction book rather than actually living it.

About to move on to something else - after sitting back and contemplating people making fools of themselves on TV and contentedly listening to a favorite song - and I suddenly remembered I have a video camera sitting in my bag.  I briefly considered it placing that on the table to intensify the Technology Rush, but decided against it.  It would be like one more drink that doesn't make you feel better, but rather tips you in the other direction, so I left it in the bag.  I mean... what would everyone in Osaki think?  "Hee-hee!  Look at that Tech-bozo!  Trying to show off his gadgets!  Pathetic loser!  Ha-ha-ha!" etc.  I mean... not that it matters what people think really, but there would be no reason to pull out that technology and sit it on the table, other than to just look at the object.  The cell phone, music player, and computer are all out for a reason.

"Out of Words...?"

All this time wishing I had a laptop to write with outside and now here I am - with a laptop in front of me eagerly awaiting as many words as I can type in in the time I have, and after writing a few paragraphs, suddenly I'm drawing a blank.  Ah... maybe the aftereffects of the Tech-Buzz?  Take a deep breath Lyle, relax... let the thoughts settle down and organize themselves.

[Later]  No - that was it.  It was just time to go.  As I mentioned above, I then went outside and noticed how nice it was in the outside garden, but didn't have time to hang around, so I went back to Osaki Station and got on the Yamanote Line.



"Back to the Ramparts?"
Or maybe "Full Lifeboat Syndrome"

September 1st, 2008, 22:17
Takao, Hachioji (Tokyo)

There were two parts to this and I've forgotten the first part, but here's the second part.  I was in an electronics store in Shinjuku looking at video cameras.  Well... I wasn't just looking, I was about to buy one - my first video camera since #4 burned out in 1992.  The first uploaded video from it is here:

"Tokyo Perpetual Motion - August 2008"

In any case, at the electronics store, I asked the salesperson (I could have said "salesman" - he was a male biped after all, but... whatever) "how do you change the menu language?", to which he told me that they had disabled that function(!).  I looked at him with a "What?  In the 21st Century?  Dude!" look, and he explained that there had been a problem with people buying cameras in Japan either before they were released overseas or at a lower price, and then reselling them overseas, making overseas distributors unhappy, so... they disabled the ability to use the new machines sold in Japan with anything other than the local language, Japanese.

I thought about that, and it seemed significant, especially when put together with the other thing I was thinking of....  What was it?  Tougher immigration laws?  A renewed nationalism?  Something....

"New Laptop"

I don't have enough text to make an article with one topic, so here are some other things on my mind.  I have been thinking how I would very much like to have a laptop to write with while I'm outside, and so... I bought a new laptop - my first new laptop since 1996.  I bought a string of used ones that worked for a few years after that new-in-1996 one burned out in 1997, but I have gotten along without a laptop for many years now - waiting until I get home to write things.  Now and again I've pulled out a pen and paper and written something by hand outside, which is fun, but then I've had to transcribe it later, which is no fun at all (in fact I still have some text from last week awaiting my pounding it into electrons), so it's about time I got my hands on a proper portable writing machine.

"Takao Beer Mount"

No, I didn't make that one up, that's the name of a rooftop beer garden on Takao Mountain that I visited tonight, and after coming down off the mountain (but before getting back on a train for central Tokyo), I sat myself down by a mountain stream (on a bench - hey - I'm a city slicker after all) and pulled out the new laptop to enter some text.  So, as I type this, I'm listening to the sound of mountain stream water running by... and it's about time to get a train for home, so... that's all for now.  Laptop computers - Banzai!!!



"Reactions - August 2008"

Towards the end of the day at work, I began to imagine myself going out to Mt. Takao.  The closer to quitting time, the more it seemed like a good idea, so after work, I took a Keio Line Jun-Tokkyu train ("Limited Special Express"; one step slower than a "Tokkyu", or Special Express) out as far as I could, before changing to a local train near the end that veers off the main line and goes to the foot of Mt. Takao (Takaozan-guchi Station), and thus began a string of encounters that were ordinary in a way, but conveyed a lot on reflection and in context with the past 24 years I've spent in Tokyo.

There were a number of people who walked across the platform from the express to the local, but after the next stop, most people got off and I became aware of empty seats and a woman (around 20?) sitting next to me.  She stood up and walked down the car and took another seat.  I thought "I hope that isn't because I smell sweaty or something..." but then I noticed that we were the only two people in that train car, so had to admit that if I were a 20-year-old woman and found myself alone with a post-forty man in a train car, I would either actually move, or at least want to move, so... I couldn't complain.

As the train began the last leg of the trip, I turned around, opened the window, and kneeling on the seat, I contemplated the dark forested mountain passing by outside.  Nearly always in the unhealthy glow of florescent lighting, the lack of that much-hated form of lighting (I know - it's energy efficient - but I really hate the quality of light florescent tubes generate) is something I often dream of, but faced with the concept of walking into that light-less (other than whatever light there was from the moon) night forest, I had to admit the attraction of city life as opposed to something more primitive.

As the train pulled into the last station, I shut the window and got off as soon as the sliding doors opened.  Exiting the ticket gates, I turned right and walked up the path beneath the trees in the night, with the sky above (not to be taken for granted in Tokyo) to the cable car station.  This path was quite nice - just enough light to see, without damaging the ambiance of the night, and just enough other people about that there was no urge to look over your shoulder while walking along a lonely path in the night.

As I neared the cable car station, it was apparent that the cable car was about to depart - and since they don't run very often, I hoped to make it to avoid the wait for the next one.  There were three people in front of me - a man and a couple.  There was only one ticket machine on (the others turned off because it was late I guess), so by the time I was stuffing a bill into the machine, I heard the chain go up behind the couple, but I grabbed my ticket as it came out of the machine and ran up to the gate "Dame desu ka...?" I asked the guy ("No good?") and he gave me a rather unfriendly look, but wordlessly took the chain down again, so I gave him a "Sumimasen" ("Sorry!") as I had him punch my ticket.  Slightly wondering about the scowl and the fact that he had put up the chain after having seem me behind the others, I was nevertheless happy to not be left behind, so I ran to the cable car to avoid any more delay than necessary.

The ride up went about as well as it might - I was lucky to get a standing spot at the back where I could look back down the mountain out of the open window as the cable car climbed.  Midway up, a child sitting nearby wanted to stand by the window as well, but their parents told them it was dangerous - which got me to thinking "How?  Leaning out a side window can be dangerous, but the back window isn't so low that someone might fall out, and even if you completely hang your head out the window in back, there's nothing to hit it."  It's an old fault of mine - I like real reasons, not convenient and lazy lies.

The cable car goes through a tunnel, and then as it begins to climb more steeply, the lights of Tokyo appear from over the top of the mountain that the cable car just passed though.  Many of the people in the car seemed to be taking it up the mountain for the first time - while I've done so... ten times?  Fifteen times?  I'm not sure, but in any case I'm familiar with the ride and exactly when it ends, so as it was coming to a stop, I grabbed my backpack and walked up to the front of the car so I'd been one of the first ones off.  Once off, I skipped the (slightly expensive) beer garden and speed walked over to the free benches which still have a pretty decent view.  I was pleased to see that one of them was open (on the far right, next to the pay-binoculars), so I sat there and took out the food and drink I'd bought on the way (at a grocery store back in central Tokyo), and put it on the table-like shelf in front of the benches.  "Perfect" I thought....

Not long after I sat down, a group in their forties or fifties materialized to my right - and one of the men wanted to put Y100 in the pay-binoculars, but was dissuaded from doing so by someone in the group.  I thought "Aw, come on, let the guy give it a try".  I have spent my life seeing those pay-to-use binoculars, but have never actually used one (not that I can remember anyway), so I was sort of hoping to see one in action.  Since the binoculars were right next to where I was sitting, the man seemed to notice my radio waves, and he looked over - seeing a foreigner, he asked me "Good view?", to which I answered "Tashikani" ("Indeed"), which produced a laugh from the group, which seemed to expect me to be a tourist.  One of the men said "Yokeina koto wo shite..." to the man (not easy to translate, but something like "You should mind your own business").  They headed off, and a woman in the group turned around and said "Have a good time", to which I wordlessly nodded.  She may have intended it to be friendly, but it didn't feel friendly and I took it to mean something like "You may have gotten one of our expressions right, but you are not one of us."  [What's that sound I hear - groaning?  Booing?  You think I'm wildly imagining things?  Whatever - you jump in a time machine, go to 1984 Tokyo, live here for 24 years, and then see if you still have the same opinion.  I've met all kinds of people here over the past 24 years - and there are good and bad - just like everywhere in the world.]

After that, I tried to forget about the group who were young in Japan in the eighties, when it was more insular, more xenophobic, and more narrow minded than it is now.  As I had some more wine & dried mangoes (I know - weird - but they actually go together for some reason), the happy sounds of a young couple (with the woman pregnant) sitting to my left drifted over and I got back into the mountain vibes....

Later on, the couple stood up, pulled out a camera and proceeded to take their own picture (at arm's length).  I considered asked them if they'd like to take their picture, but stopped myself with "They're perfectly able to take their own picture".  They took a flash picture, then another, and by their third picture, and with the answer in mind, I said (in Japanese) "You should turn the flash off" - which produced blank stares, so I realized they didn't know how.  "Is that an Olympus?"  The man continued looking at me, but the woman acknowledged that it was indeed an Olympus (it was her camera I guess), so I told them "It should have a circle of four buttons, with a button in the center of the circle.  One of the four buttons should turn off the flash..."  The woman found the button, got to the "No flash" symbol, and I said "Now, push the middle button..." which worked.

The setting changed, I asked them if they'd like me to take a picture - which they did, so they handed the camera over.  The resulting picture showed the two of them in front of the lights of the city in the background (which the flash pictures didn't).  I briefly explained that while the exposure was good, since the flash was off in such a dark place, the shutter speed was bound to be slow.  I got them to expand the image a bit to see if it was sharp, or motion blurred.  It seemed to be sharp, and they indicated that they liked it (expressing surprise at how bright the picture turned out without the flash).  They said their (friendly) good-byes and headed off to the cable car. 

I sat there and tried to piece it all together - the more relaxed young generation (with some dangerous hot-head exceptions) and the more up-tight older generation that I've spent 24 years here with (who tend to be more responsible than the current twenties people).  Basically, it must just be a situation where some things get better and some things get worse.  It's a blazingly-bright obvious concept, but still you expect things to get better without the good parts deteriorating, so it's an unpleasant surprise to discover the loss of an aspect to life that you thought was unshakably constant and solid....

After a while, I noticed a pair of twenties men (probably college students) explaining about camera ISO settings to a group of five twenties women.  After the men left, I could hear one of the women asking what they were going on about, and another woman said "something about ISO this and that..." so I ended up (stupidly) jumping up and explaining that the numbers tied in with shutter speeds at f16 (what used to be the smallest aperture on most proper cameras), thus ISO 400 would basically mean 1/400 of a second shutter speed in bright sun at f16.  They politely tolerated my lecture and then went on there way - joking that the night was full of camera education.  I sat there and thought to myself, "What you did for the couple was good, but jumping up to explain the meaning of ISO settings to the group of five was really a dumb thing to do...".

By and by, I decided to go back down the mountain, so I got on the cable car and ended up talking with a man who was part of a group from the beer garden (on the roof of a building up behind where I was sitting).  It was a friendly enough conversation, but he called me a "henna-gaijin" ("strange foreigner") apparently because I spoke Japanese.  I used to get that from time-to-time (another eighties thing).  If you were comfortable in the culture here and spoke the language, you were strange.  If you didn't understand the language or culture, and you bumbled around expecting everyone you came in contact with to help you in English - well... that was a normal foreigner!

Back on a train speeding towards central Tokyo, I sat down and found myself in one of those on-a-stage situations that the bench seats against the windows facing each other generate.  There was a group of about five men across from me who were interested in who was sitting across from them - so they were taking surreptitious looks.  Not staring mind you, but the interest was in the air and I couldn't relax, so at the next station I casually moved over to another seat without an audience (late night trains headed towards Tokyo are not crowded and you can nearly always sit down - in contrast to the usual situation of always standing.

Back in the city... back to normal....



"Hibarigaoka - a Typical Suburb of Tokyo" (August 1991)

One quiet August afternoon in Hibarigaoka, on the mid-western fringe of Tokyo, in suburbia, Lyle's camera flew of his bag, into his hands, and began recording....

It was a typical quiet afternoon - not what you might expect if you had only seen the same area in the morning frenzy of commuters rushing to the station to get to work on time.

In fact, this highlights a mystery of Japan - how people seem to have cast-iron ears at some times (shopkeepers shouting "Irasshaimase!" into customers' faces), and then are hyper-sensitive to noise at other times (a woman living next to a park complained to the city because she could hear the sound of small children playing in the park!).

In any case, the city is actually quite quiet - and certainly much more quiet than a lot of people seem to imagine it overseas.

Anyway - here's a view of August 1991 Tokyo suburbia:



"Out & About in Ikebukuro in July 1991"

For someone who is sixteen; seventeen years ago is the far distant dark ages before the beginnings of time.  For me, it's the other way around.  It doesn't seem like enough has happened over the past seventeen years for things to have changed very much, so it keeps coming as a shock to me to notice how different my long-sleeping, recently revived video recordings from 1990-92 (digitized from analogue 8mm tape) look.  Without dwelling on the changes too much (or maybe too much, we'll see), here is a description of my video clip (at YouTube) entitled '"Free Tissues, Crosswalks & a Speech" (July 1991)'.

Coming up one of the narrow stairs from the underground part of Ikebukuro Station, walking past a platoon of schoolgirls wearing "sailor" style school uniforms.  This was before Japanese school uniforms became - in just a few years - mini-skirts (they had to be below the knee before), and the sailor style uniforms were considered to be the most stylish (and generally used by private schools, while public schools were more conservative).

The most striking part of this section of the clip for me, was the fact that I'm taking pictures while walking up public stairs.  Two things have made this an overly dangerous thing to do.  Cell phones & mini-skirts.  There were several very public incidents of people with cell phones caught taking (or attempting to take) pictures up young women's skirts as they climbed stairs.  Several things happened - among them; cell phone manufacturers made cell phone cameras so that they make a rather loud and obnoxious artificial shutter sound form the phone's speaker when a picture is taken; and there was a university professor caught, who was publicly and professionally ruined for his idiotic actions.  So I never take any pictures while going up stairs any more (unless the whole flight of stairs is empty)!  Best to be on the safe side.

The free packs of tissues (with advertising on the packs).  Those haven't changed much.  They still pass them out, and they still target certain people when passing them out.  Most are for loan companies (or real estate companies) and - generally, not always - they will give them to anyone.  The man who reluctantly handed over a pack I later saw very energetically passing them out to women.  I don't remember exactly what it was - I have some other video I took of close-ups of tissue packs I'd been given - I'll try to find that and see what they were exactly.

Right where the over-amplified man giving a speech says "Ittai, Nippon wa do natte'ru daro?!" ("What in the world is happening to Japan?!"), I walk past a... monk(?) who is ringing a bell and awaiting donations.  You used to see one of these guys pretty regularly, but it's become rather rare.  I did see one in Shinjuku a few weeks ago.

Speaking of the over-amplified speech (coming from a loudspeaker truck parked in front of the station - not visible in the clip - with the shouting man standing on a platform built onto the roof), there used to be a lot of those, and they were generally right-wing people urging the country to move to the right.  That you don't hear these people in public much these days may have something to do with things having gone to the right somewhat - just as they wanted - so maybe they see no need to make public displays now?  I can't quite catch most of what the guy was saying, but there is the sentence very clearly heard that I mentioned in the preceding paragraph, and later on he's saying something about the military.

What else?  Fashion and hairstyles I guess - mostly evident with the women.  Oh yeah!  Many people in 1991 in Japan actually had black hair!  So many people (especially women) dye their hair now, that when you see someone with jet-black hair, it's actually striking!  "Wow!  Look at that!  Actually black hair!"  If you don't believe me, take a look at the dozens (hundreds maybe?) of shades of hair dye sold in drug stores, and then take a close look at the color of women's hair out in pubic.  Another thing you didn't see in 1991, was men with plucked eyebrows and makeup.  No comment on that one.  Here's the link to the video:



"Hiroshima - Visiting in 2007 and Looking Back to 1945 (and beyond)"

Last year, when I posted a story about my trip to Hiroshima, someone asked if there were pictures, and I replied that I was working on it and would post something later.  I finally have, and the new page about Hiroshima is here:

Some of the text repeats a little, but mainly it's new text, with some outside historical quotes added as well.  Writing about historical things is time-consuming!  I spent a lot of time looking into things and still feel like I would like to spend more time researching this - but there are other things I need to be spending my time on, so I'm calling it a wrap.



"Casual World?  (Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremonies)"

I just got through watching the opening ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics (about three hours worth).  They were pretty interesting... with lots of fireworks and cultural scenes, music, etc.  And then the athletes were introduced at the stadium.  It was the usual deal with them parading out in different uniforms/costumes, and waving to the crowd.  I was watching absentmindedly when I noticed that one of the athletes was videotaping the stadium with their left hand while waving with their right!  And then there was another - and another!  Some countries' athletes looked more like camera crews than athletes!  In other groups, there was not a camera to be seen.  And... what's this?  A cell phone!  "Look at that!  That athlete is walking along like he's in the park, having a conversation on his cell phone! - Hee-hee!"  Another athlete came out with a big single lens reflex camera, pausing to focus on things and take pictures!  Ha-ha!  So much for solemn ceremonies!

And then there were the crowd scenes!  As expected, they focused on world criminals... er... leaders... from various countries as "their" athletes walked by, but then there was a large man who stood up, the camera zoomed in on him, and he adjusted his trousers up higher - probably not imagining that he was doing so on countless screens around the world!  Another group the camera focused on looked blankly back at the camera, and there was the boy who looked like the long ceremony was almost more than he could bear as his parents got him to (reluctantly) wave for the camera, etc.

So - my first impression was that the world has become loose and sloppy.  Partly this seems like a good thing - why not relax?  I like taking pictures and I probably would have liked to take a camera out there myself if I had been in their place.  But... there's something disconcerting about everyone taking pictures of everything all the time.

Also possibly worth pondering, is regarding the lingering camera close ups on athletes talking on their cell phones, or walking staring into their camera's viewscreen (which most didn't do actually - they just blindly aimed it while looking up at the crowd), makes me wonder a little at whoever was in charge of choosing which camera images to use during the live broadcast, and also at the camera operators who zoomed their cameras in on some of those scenes.  Maybe that's what you get with a live broadcast if you put it together with so many cameras?  It's no big issue - I had just thought that the opening ceremony would be slightly more formal than that, and that the camera operators would have chosen a different aspect to emphasize.  (You don't suppose they're trying to show the world what a relaxed and fun place Beijing is?).

Another thing that occurred to me is that we'll probably be seeing a lot of those personally taken videos on YouTube!  Some will be really hard to watch - with the screen at an angle and bouncing up and down.

Well, it's late.

Sore dewa!



"Defective Learning In - Bad Actions Out"

Watching yet another Nintendo Wii advertisement on the train this morning (one of the two over-door displays runs soundless TV advertising - along with made-for-the-train ads), I contemplated scenes of people standing on a board, playing virtual soccer, walking a virtual tightrope, balancing virtual this or virtual that - and it occurred to me that people are basically giving their bodies & minds defective programming.  Standing on a board that is very nearly motionless, they watch a screen showing a soccer ball come zooming in - which they virtually hit by moving their head as though they are knocking it back out onto the field on the screen (no impact, no pain); or virtually ski or perform virtual balancing acts, watching the screen indicating steep angles (while their feet are in fact resolutely parallel to the firm floor of their living room); etc. etc.

Great fun, sure.  But what happens to people over time when they have ever less interaction with the physical world and ever more interaction with a heavily flawed virtual world?  If kids are on a swing set, they learn what happens when they jump off of a moving swing - how far up they go, how far out, how hard down (Gravity-101).  If they climb on a jungle gym, they learn how much time they have to grab a bar if they begin to fall.  They learn the pain of hitting their heads on actual steel bars (hopefully not hard enough to be actually dangerous), and they learn a whole range of physical facts related to motion and balance.  All real and applicable to other physical things in the world.

Another example of defective learning so obvious, that it is simultaneously laughed off and underestimated - TV & movies.  I hadn't thought about this for most things, but a couple of events prompted me to give the concept some serious thought.  First there was the incident at Shin-Otsuka Station some ten to fifteen years ago in which a drunk man fell off the platform.  A train was approaching the platform and there was no time to do anything, but a man jumped down to help the man who fell, and another man (a friend of the second man) also jumped down.  There wasn't time to get out of the way of the train, and all three men were killed under its wheels.

While it's admirable that they wanted to help the man who fell, you have to wonder if they would have committed suicide with him if they had known there was no possibility - even remote - of actually saving him.  I have grown up seeing movies in which people are remarkably saved from being hit by a speeding train/truck/bus/car/skateboard/explosion(!)/bullets(!) at the last possible moment.  Sometimes it's clear that with the speed of the train/car/bus, whatever, the person would be dead - 100% dead.  But no!  Rejoice movie viewers!  For the laws of physics have been suspended once again, and our hero is saved!

Aside from the fact that I very greatly detest that sort of dishonest trick in movie-making (how much happier the audience is to discover the hero alive after having given them up for dead), after seeing that for two or three or four decades, what sort of answer does your brain throw back at you when you suddenly find yourself in a similar situation, when you need to make a microsecond decision about what to do - as the man who jumped down to save the other guy did?  In his case, his brain - in pre-thinking automatic mode no doubt - went with Hollywood screenwriting, and now he's dead.  Who knows, maybe the guy had never seen a TV program or movie in his life (coming from a modern society, there's a very slim chance of that), or maybe he would have done it anyway, but you have to wonder.

There was a news story about a man in a parking garage who saw a couple of car thieves beginning to drive off in his car.  What to do, what to do....  But of course!  Jump on the hood!  It always works in the movies!  "But wait... these criminals don't look upset that I'm on the outside of the car, looking through the windshield at them... they're laughing at me!  Speeding up!  Turning on the windshield wipers and washers!  Laughing!  Swerving and speeding up still more!  Oh no...."  And the guy ended up pleading for his life - telling them they could keep the car, but please let him live!

There was a hijacking in Japan something like fifteen years ago, in which a man who had spent long hours virtually flying a game airplane took the controls of a 747.  The pilot tried to get him to make the necessary actions to keep the plane in the air, so the idiot with the virtual brain and real knife, stabbed the pilot to death and kept on operating the real plane the way he had learned to fly the virtual plane (which was too slow to actually keep a real 747 in the air).  Fortunately, there were two off-duty pilots on board who realized that the plane was on the verge of stalling and falling from the sky, so they forcefully broke into the cockpit and wrestled the real idiot with the virtual brain away from the controls, and then flew the plane as it needed to be flown - saving the whole planeload of passengers and crew from certain death (except the murdered pilot).

From live news shows - in helicopter views of real car chases in which someone is trying to speed away from the police in Los Angeles, I've seen several where the car tries speeding straight through a red light and then hits a car in the intersection.  Could the adrenaline decision to speed through the red light be influenced by a lifetime of watching heroes speeding through red lights in the movies (and miraculously just making it, while the pursuer doesn't)?

Admittedly, those are mostly extreme circumstances, but my point is that with ever more virtual reality exposure, people are going to be making ever more misinformed and bad decisions, performing sloppy actions that work on electronic sensors in games/machines but don't fly in the real world.  Perception is reality?  No.  Reality is reality.  Some reality bites and some doesn't, but what's real is still real, even if people don't realize it.



"The Shinkansen Super Express Trains"

The Shinkansen train system in Japan - for a long time, known only as "the bullet train" - is finally beginning to be known by it's proper name "Shinkansen".  The name itself is better sounding than it's translation - "new main/trunk line".  (Even in Japanese, "Shinkansen" conjures up images of the train, not the mundane component parts of the name.)  Initially, the "bullet train" name made some sense, as the first version of the train looked like a bullet at the front, and was fast like a "speeding bullet" (in comparison to other trains).

I bring this up, because I posted a video at YouTube of one of the original type Shinkansen trains pulling into Tokyo Station in 1991, and then one of the newer (at the time) Shinkansen trains leaving the station.  The video also takes a quick walk inside one of the old type train cars and looks into the cab:

And this page has some pictures and information about the current Shinkansen train system:



"Ebisu Station - 1991 & 2008"

My first job in Japan, back in 1984, was at a company that had a small office in Ebisu.  I have fairly vivid memories of walking down the street on my way to the company (strangely, not going back to the station - I suppose the fact that it was more difficult to find the company than the station produced increased concentration and thus stronger memories), and walking up the stairs in an old building to the company, but no memories of Ebisu Station itself (before it was modernized) that I can recall.  And so it was a bit of a shock to see it (from the Yamanote Line) in one of my old videos from 1991:

Ebisu is a modern and fashionable place/station now, with two double-sided platforms at which several different train lines stop. There is a department store built over the station, so entering the station (in a train) is a bit like going into a tunnel. Contrast that with 1991, when it was just a single open-air platform, and it's hard to see the pictures of the open-air platform and draw any kind of mental connection with how it is now! I was there! I took the video! I used the station! And I still can't recognize the old images as "Ebisu Station". But it makes sense... the open-air type platforms were all about the same - so each particular one doesn't/didn't have much in the way of anything distinct to remember. (Current Shin-Okubo Station is about the same design of the former Ebisu Station, if someone would like to know how it was on the inside.)



"Tokyo Morning Trains (February 1991)"

My most recent post to YouTube is a video composed of many clips taken one morning between about 5:30 a.m. and 7:50 a.m., starting with the Yamanote Line in Shibuya, and then going up to Ikebukuro, where I changed to the Seibu-Ikebukuro Line and rode out to Tokorozawa (by mistake - I fell asleep on the train), and then back to Hibarigaoka, then to Shakujikoen, and finally back to Hibarigaoka.

This video picks up exactly where "night before The Train" leaves off (I'll put links to both below), and includes short clips from "Shakujikoen Sardine Run" and "Actually Full Train in 1991 (Why Flex-Time is a Good Idea)".  New are several scenes of other express trains loading in Shakujikoen, as well as not so crowded trains going away from central Tokyo, and station scenes at Ikebukuro, Tokorozawa, Shakujikoen, and Hibarigaoka.

"Morning Tokyo Trains in 1991"  (2 of 2)

"night before The Train"  (1 of 2)

The video is a jumble of images, but keep in mind that all the images are chronological and all the images were taken on the same morning.  So the images of one crowded train after another loading & leaving in Shakujikoen are not a compilation from different days, but rather just one train after another leaving on the same morning.  The progression from most people sitting down at 6:30 a.m. (from Tokorozawa anyway, not from Hibarigaoka!) to some people not being able to force themselves onto the train between around 7:15 - 7:45 a.m. (from Hibarigaoka & Shakujikoen) can give you some idea of how the crush-rush morning commute works.

The unfortunate thing about the
"Actually Full Train in 1991 (Why Flex-Time is a Good Idea)" video (that has been copied and reposted under various titles dozens of times over, and seen by something like three million people AFAIK), is that people with no idea how the Tokyo train system is, seem to have actually come to the conclusion that all the trains in Japan - all the time - are like that.  Obviously (I would have thought anyway!), this is not the case, but maybe seeing other trains from the same morning can set some people's mistaken mental image of Tokyo's trains straight(er)....



"Manga Beyond the Peak in Japan?"

There have been some reports in Japan concerning falling sales for the weekly manga magazines, with interviews with long-time readers who say they think the quality has dropped, causing them to lose interest in the publications.  What with the time lag in local trends crossing oceans, maybe a decline in manga popularity in the rest of the world is in the pipeline.  I'm no expert in manga and anime, but from what I've personally seen, I would tend to agree that a lot of the new stuff isn't as interesting as many of the older series were/are.  Over the years, I've really enjoyed reading some manga series (in Japanese in order to learn Japanese), but I haven't found much that I'm interested in lately.

Aside from quality, I think manga has reached a saturation point in Japan.  I remember about 15-18 years ago, when historical manga books were becoming popular, there were some concerned voices over the young people who were learning shallow history from easy-to-read manga and not reading proper books that presented history in any depth.  History is never completely understood by anyone, and nearly always greatly misunderstood by everyone, but even so, worry over that shallow way of learning history may have been valid - many current twenty-something people
(they don't quite know it yet, but they will-not & can-not stay there!) don't seem to be very knowledgeable about the basic facts of even fairly recent history).

For a while, it seemed like there were manga everywhere in Japan, and then manga began to be popular outside of Japan.  Just about the time it was looking like there was no end to the growth in popularity of Japanesee manga, I think they have become a bit of a standard production thing, and creativity seems to be lagging.  One exception seems to be "One Piece" which has some pretty creative story lines and has been (and continues to be) very popular, although the newest episodes of the animated version of that have become really bad - I don't know why that is exactly - one theory being that they had some catching up to do initially when the anime kicked in later than the manga, but now they're caught up, there isn't enough original manga material to fill up a 30-minute animation, so they put in meaningless filler in order to bring the show up to 30 minutes (with many commercials and a long intro and exit, more like 15 minutes actually).  Whatever the reason, many of the latest animated versions of One Piece aren't worth watching).

One type of manga that seems to be selling well, are manga-novels, which people are reading at home I suppose - as you don't see much of them on the trains... which brings up another reason for the decline of the weekly manga magazines - cell phones!  Before cell phones took over people's lives (text-messaging & games), magazines of all types were popularly bought from train station newstands to pass the time in the train reading.  These days, when people aren't text messaging with their cell phones on the train (which they nearly always are - especially the early-twenties crowd, who I swear must be doing it even when they sleep), or sleeping (for the lucky few who get seats), I've seen more A-6 text-only paperback books in hand lately than comic books.  The advantage of a text-only A6 paperback book, is that it's thin enough to easily fit into a pocket or bag, so they can be carried for a week or two or three.  The small phone book sized thick magazines used to be bought for a single journey's worth of reading (usually on the homeward-bound evening trains), and then tossed up onto the overhead racks before getting off the train (to be picked up by someone else to read), but I hardly ever see that any more.  (Since we entered the Age of Unknown Danger, railways have asked people not to leave things on the overhead racks like that, but I don't see many people reading them in the first place anyway.)



"Visiting the Past..."

On Friday, after walking from Shinbashi Station up through Ginza and over to Yurakucho, I stopped by a "stand-bar" (cheap place to buy suds, where you stand - sometimes on the sidewalk - while you drink, thus "stand" bar) near Yurakucho Station, had a drink, and - looking at the old brickwork of the elevated railbed - pondered someone putting those bricks in place, one at a time.  Then, looking down the street, I thought of stories an e-pal has written about the times he spent in Yurakucho, Ginza, and Hibiya Park in 1948-51.  Maybe the bricks soaked up some of those times, because it almost seemed as though I could - realizing the brick-faced overhead railbed was the same as at that time - see him and the people of that time walking by in the distance - crossing under the railbed when going to and from Hibiya Park and Ginza.

The next step in that line of thinking was (naturally) a time machine, so I could actually go back and walk around in that era.  And here I ran into turbulence.  Supposing you really could go back to another era - you would have to have period clothes ready before crossing the time bridge, and you'd have to assume some sort of period identity.  Someone asks you who you are, and you might have to actually be someone other than a time traveler, which would spoil the fun:

"What?  Another time traveler huh?  Well look here bud, this here is our time, and we don't appreciate you future time tourists coming here and treating us like funny animals in a zoo!  Go back to where you came from, and stay out of the past!  You don't belong here!".

The main attraction to going back, after all, would be to find out first hand exactly how it felt to live in that era, so being a part of the past - even for just a few hours - would be important.

And that's about where I was on Friday, when some people from a group also drinking at the stand-bar began to talk to me, and I shifted gears and re-entered the 21 century.

The flow of time has been on my mind since last Wednesday actually, when I attended a retirement party for a man who joined the company I work at in 1969.  That was part of what got me going on the past on Friday, and then over the weekend I watched a color newsreel from... 1944 I think, that showed life aboard an aircraft carrier (with the title "Fighting Lady", if I remember correctly).  The young men in the film seemed pretty much the same as the young men I remember from my school days.  Maybe adjusting to the past wouldn't be so difficult after all.  No Internet though....



"Not as Bad, and Worse"

Just when I tell people that the crush-rush commuter trains here are not as bad as they appear in a video I took in 1991 - "Actually Full Train in 1991 (Why Flex-Time is a Good Idea)" - I take my usual set of trains to work today and am reminded of the bad aspects to rail travel as a sardine.   It's not the crowding exactly that is unpleasant, but rather when you get stuck next to an unpleasant individual.  An a sardine in a fully packed train, you can't do anything other than stand there and wait for the train to reach a station.  Well... to be more precise, you can't do anything in the way of moving to another part of the train, but there are little wars going on beneath the surface, with actions, reactions, subtle attacks, revenge moves, etc. etc.  These take the form of stepping on feet, elbows in backs, arms strategically located to protect sides from other's elbows, "accidentally" stepping on a foot of a foot-stomper in retaliation, turning to face someone who has been poking you in the back with a paperback book, standing your ground (by holding on to an overhead bar) against someone pushing into you without good cause (some people will have empty space in front of them, and they *still* lean back against a group of people uncomfortably packed together), and.... many many more things that are very real to sardine-run commuters, but unseen by a casual observer, and completely off the radar screen of people in a car culture seeing a crowd of people smashing themselves onto a train, who have never experienced it.
Most of the time, most people are quite civil with each other on the trains here (as they should be - it would be chaos if they weren't!), but there are some very unpleasant people out there (as you might imagine - they're everywhere after all!), and they are the primary reason that riding the rails to work can be a very unpleasant experience.  What's the latest in unpleasantness?  Early twenties males who get in front of everyone and walk at a snail's pace - proving how big and tough they are - "I'm not going to hurry, and I'm going to slow you down and make you late to work - HaHaHa!".  A certain percentage of early-twenties males in every society are brain-dead neanderthals - they should be forbidden from riding public transport.



"Train & Lifestyle Perceptions"

Groan... no - not more text about the Tokyo sardine run trains!?!  Well... it's an ongoing issue!  The comments section of some of the copy postings have thousands of responses and some of them are worth taking a look at (if not for their content, then for what they suggest about culture, or lack thereof).
Responses to views of sardine-run commuter train conditions in Tokyo vary drastically, but there are two main categories, which correlate with the vantage point of the viewer: 1) Mega-City dwellers, who typically say something along the lines of "Ah, that's nothing!  My city's trains are more crowded than that!" (which they tend not to say for the "Actually Full Train in 1991 (Why Flex-Time is a Good Idea" video) BTW, and 2) Car Culture city dwellers who are horrified by it and either say "That's got to be fake!" or "You've got to be kidding!", or "After ten minutes in there, people will be dying from lack of air!", etc.  (I rode trains like that for many years, and lack of air wasn't an issue - heat in the winter was though, with the windows closed, it would sometimes get to be very hot in there.)
It's interesting to me how it becomes a badge of honor for Mega-City dwellers to brag about how crowded their trains are ("I'm strong enough to endure this!  Ho-ho!"?), and how horrified non-train riders are, sounding as though they have just viewed something unimaginatively horrible from the fringe of the universe - not something any human is likely to be able to endure for long without dropping over dead.
And - overall - I've been disappointed & shocked at the lack of any evidence of effort to understand what the pictures are, and what they mean, not to mention the racist and nationalistic insults that people post.  Who are these people who blithely insult people and cultures they know nothing about?  I'm hoping they're middle-school students, because if they're adults, then this world is in some serious trouble, with too many of the human race having retrogressed into idiotdom.
And... something else... what was it?  ........  Hmmmmm..... there was something else I wanted/needed to say.....
I can't remember what it was, but there's something else I've noticed.  There is endless speculation about the video, where it was taken (Japan? China?), whether it's real or fake ("It's fake!", "It's real!"), what it must be like inside the train, etc. etc., and no one seems to consider the concept that someone took the video and that person not only took the video, but rode that train line and trains just as crowded as that one for more than a decade.  That person is me, and I'm still shaking my head about the idiotic comments I see and the claims I see for it.  I KNOW what's what with that video, but it seems to be very difficult to get the truth out.
Traffic jams versus people jams.
In a traffic jam, you've got your personal space, but you don't have any kind of dependable time-line for exactly how long it will take you to get to work.  More cars on the road means slower speeds and increased waiting at lights, etc.  There is some variation to train travel as well (not so much in Tokyo usually), but whether a train is empty or is completely packed, it travels down the rails at the same speed.  So, while it's not fun being smashed in together with a bunch of strangers, the crowded conditions don't actually slow you down.  It's less pleasant than an empty train, but still speedy!

So, to sum up - I think Tokyo's trains are probably more crowded than the trains in New York and London (that depends on the line of course - there are many train lines in Tokyo, some more crowded than others), and for people who find the "Actually Full Train in 1991 (Why Flex-Time is a Good Idea" shocking - I can report that it's not as bad as it looks.  And I know what I'm talking about - I've spent many years riding trains like that.



"Japan's Clockwork Trains - Sayonara?"

Japan's trains are generally known for three things - 1) They're crowded, 2) They're nearly always on-time, and 3) The super-express (Shinkansen) trains are fast.  Many of the trains are less crowded than before (thanks to more of them and to companies allowing flextime), but unfortunately, breaks with the schedule seem to be increasing.  (The Shinkansen trains are still fast, and as I very rarely use them, I don't know if they're running precisely on time or not - hopefully they are.)  At this rate, Tokyo's famous "always on time & running like clockwork" train system is in danger of becoming just another "always late and off-schedule" system to grumble about.  (The Shinkansen trains are in a special category - like aircraft - and don't play a part in most people's commutes to and from work every day.)

Some obvious reasons for slipping schedules, are the many train stopping buttons they've installed on station platforms (which coincide with the aftermath of, and are probably in response to, an incident in which three people were run over by a train (at Shin-Okubo Station on the Yamanote Line) while people on the platform watched helplessly), and less pressure to be at work precisely on time (flex-time is common at many companies now).

Less obvious, but no less real, some segments of society seem to be more prone to destructive actions.  ......  Uh-oh... did I just say that?  Ouch - now I know I'm old!  Well... it's true though; while things still run pretty well, there are many more instances (than before) of people tossing a wrench into the gears for the sport of seeing part of an operation stop (at least temporarily).

Now - I should delete that paragraph above, but I'll leave it in as an example of what happens to a formerly young person who has begun to get old(er).  It's a shocking thing - you look at grumpy old people and wonder why they are like that, and one day you wake and up realize you're complaining about irresponsible young people!  Whoa!  Wait a minute!  What's going on here?

And so I have made a transition from shaking my head at the frantic rush into central Tokyo to get to work on time, to shaking my head at a lack of passion for getting to work on time!  A couple of examples witnessed first hand.

I was on an express train, standing (always standing, never sitting) near a group of elementary first grade students traveling somewhere (to school for the first time?; on some kind of field trip?) with a woman who was escorting them.  After a bit, one of the boys said he was feeling a little queasy, and the woman said, as though it were the most natural thing in the world, "Okay, let's stop the train then".

I don't know how that sounds to you, but I was horrified both by the casualness of her remark and the triviality of the reason.  She didn't seem to be in the least bothered by the idea of inconveniencing tens of thousands of people (about 2,000 people on one train, and trains all down the line stopped waiting for a train stopped out of place and out of schedule), and not for anything that could really be termed an emergency!  If the boy is going to throw up, so be it!  Give him a plastic bag!  We're not talking about a day-long journey here, all he would have to do is wait an extra fifteen minutes before getting off at the normally scheduled stop.  (There's the issue of throwing up *on* people of course - and that's something that's considerate to avoid, but she could have asked for a plastic bag - I'm sure someone had one.  In fact, I had one, because I always carry a few for one use or another, including just such an emergency (more on that at the end of this story).

But, horrified as I was, I made no comment, and watched the woman open a window as the train slowly passed a station it wasn't due to stop at, and - sounding like it was actually an emergency - asked the people on the platform to get the train to stop because there was a sick passenger.  Someone hit one of the emergency stop buttons (curse them!) and the train stopped.  So far, so bad, but it gets worse.

There is a downside to a system that nearly always runs on time.  Throw it out-of-whack, and the operators are not well-trained in, or accustomed to, how to think-on-their-feet and improvise a speedy new solution to an unplanned disruption in any given routine.  The train stopped soon enough, but it took a few minutes to communicate with the train operators just why one of the platform emergency stop buttons had been pressed (put there to save lives, not for trivial reasons it should be noted).  They then opened the doors to let out the boy (and the rest of his group).  "Okay" I thought, "Let's get the show back on the road!", but since it was an emergency stop and the system isn't geared to not working on time, it took about five minutes(!) to clear whatever safety procedures (and I'm sure there are many) they have in place and get going again.  I thought then, and still think now "Why so long?  The sightly queasy boy is off the train.  Just re-shut the doors and go!"  It shouldn't take more than 20 seconds from the boy getting off to getting things in motion again.  (Veteran Tokyo train rider I am - I think great efforts should be expended to keep the trains running On Time.)

At this point, I wish I could jump through to your side of the screen and ask how this sounds to you.  Are you shaking your head at the woman forcing an emergency stop for a non-emergency reason, or at me for being callous?  My view is the woman is far more callous - ignoring tens of thousands for one person who was not in the slightest bit in danger and had no need for emergency action.

The next example is sort of funny (in an "I shouldn't be laughing at this, but..." kind of way), that - at its core - showcases the very same "Ho-ho!  Let's stop the train!  It's easy!  It's fun!  Nobody needs to go anywhere!  Ho-ho!" kind of (non-)thinking.

The day began with me standing on the platform waiting for an express train.  I watched a local (that shouldn't have been at the platform at that time) shut its doors and set out, then looked at the clock, which indicated my express should have been leaving (with me aboard) at that exact time.  Three minutes later, the express roars in and I walk aboard (the term "climb aboard" isn't applicable here since the platform is exactly the same height as the floor of the train - it's pretty much like walking onto an elevator).

As I walk on with my fellow sardine riders, I wonder if the train will be less crowded than usual due to some earlier riders having taken a local, rather than wait for the express (depending on how many locals leave before the express arrives, they can be faster to a destination - there are only so many places for express trains to pass locals), but then quickly counter that with the thought "There may be fewer people on this train who were on the platform earlier, but there'll be more people who arrived on the platform later!"  But (due to there actually being fewer people aboard or not, I'm not sure), I only have two people pressed up against me, compared to a more typical three to six.

I settle in for the ride by listening to my MP3 player (not an i-Pod), after forcing myself to look away from the two over-door monitors.  One of them displays useful information about the train route, progress, station information, and news of which train lines are running late, and why (with ludicrous English translations - whoever did them was exceedingly lazy and/or lacking actively firing electrical signals in their head - there are something like ten different phrases that they translated into "Accident" in English), and the other display showing advertisements - some of them soundless versions of existing television ads, and others specifically made for the trains.

I avoid looking at the screens, because I've noticed how I'll be listening to an audio-book on my MP3 player; I'll look up and then realize (after a couple of minutes of watching the screen) that I'm not hearing the words (of the recording I'm listening to) any longer while I process the moving images.  "Ah... this is why people are becoming ever more stupid in the world then!  They watch TV!" I sometimes think, and then watch some TV on the weekend that I consider to be educational....

I settled into looking out the window between two peoples' heads (I was lucky to be second from the door - when you're stuck in the middle of a sardine run train, sometimes it's hard to find something to aim your eyes at - it's rude to stare at people's faces...), and listened to the classical Japanese story coming from my earphones (well-read and interesting-sounding, although its divergence from modern spoken Japanese makes it hard to understand).  Suddenly the train went into hard braking with a simultaneous announcement saying we were making an emergency stop.  The first time that happened to me was about a month ago - and large numbers of people fell down (a woman's high heel broke my skin and bloodied my leg in the pile up on the floor).  This time around, it was old news ("Oh... another emergency stop..."), and since the train had been traveling fairly slowly anyway (stuck behind a slow local train until we could reach a station with extra rails for passing), no one (that I saw anyway) fell down, and I just braced myself and wondered *why* we were being thrown into an emergency stop (I don't recall hearing an explanation for the other time either - just a "Sorry everyone, we had to make an emergency stop").  Same deal this time, but at least we got back under way fairly quickly.

In re-reading this, it just occurred to me that it could be the ATS (Automatic Train System) jumping on a train that it detects as following too close to another train.  The expresses run right behind locals until they get to a station where they can pass.  In which case, it would make sense that the train could get under way again quickly.  There's something to be said for trains being operated by people rather than computers.

I drifted off to commuter-stupor-land again - looking out the window - basically just waiting for the time of the ride to pass, looking forward to getting off the train and getting on with the day.  But... what's this?  The woman on my left is looking past me and also looking down, to the right, to the left... "Wha...?"  So I look down, back, left, right, expecting to either see that someone has dropped something, or that some pair of sardines are beginning to have an argument (which always makes us other sardines nervous when that - infrequently, fortunately - happens).  I don't see either of those things, but instead note that several people in my vicinity are looking left, right, down, left, right...  I give the woman who first caught my attention a questioning look and she tells me "Byonin ga iru" ("Someone is sick").  I nod "Ah..." and while I'm just starting to comprehend what the "left-right-down-left-right people are doing (looking for an emergency stop), I see a tall man on the other side of the train open the emergency door release cover (as far as I can tell, on that particular train line, there are no longer any emergency stop buttons/levers on the inside of the train, but pulling the emergency door open lever will obviously also stop the train), and - while I'm thinking "No... please don't do that...", he pulls the lever until it's sticking out at a 90-degree angle.

That pair of doors slightly opens (probably terrifying the people who had been standing up against it!), and the train stops while I imagine the driver looking at an error on his control panel and thinking "What the &%$%?!".

Great - now we're stopped *between* stations - on an *elevated* railway, and the train isn't going to move until the doors are shut again.  The driver (or the conductor) comes on the intercom and says "Hasshin era o hakken shimashita" ("A running error has been detected").  I looked over at the source of that error - the guy who had pulled the lever, who was standing there with his arms crossed, looking quite pleased and proud of himself for having figured out how to stop the train, and said (from here out the wholly Japanese conversation at the time translated to English here) "You should close that."  He ignored me, so I turned around, shaking my head, and thinking "Alright - we'll just wait this one out then", but after about three seconds of living with that decision, I turned around again in frustration, looked at the lever, and watched as Mr. Lever-Puller then pulled the doors halfway open and poked his head outside (we were in the middle of the train, so both the driver and the conductor were about five cars away).  Not seeing anyone, nor anyone seeing him, he pulled his head back in and mostly closed the doors.  Another announcement came on that they were still investigating the running error (with 80 pairs of doors on a 10-car train (four per side, eight per car), apparently when one is open, it's not immediately apparent which one - and anyway, I suspect the driver probably imagined it to be a computer or sensor error rather than the doors really being open).

I turned back to the window, away from the source of our troubles, and pondered whether - in my agitated state - my Japanese was up to the task of conveying the lunacy of our disabling the train on an elevated railway between stations.  Then, without first working out what to say, I cast aside the general rule of not talking on the train in the morning (not talking is the best way of getting to work without arguments breaking out under sardine conditions) and somehow the vocal gears started turning for me.  I said "Okay - so we've got a sick person on board - now we can sit here and watch them die!"  This got a response from Mr. Lever-Puller, who looked at me and said with an amazing look of calm & concern "Do you think I should close it?"  Struck by the non-combativeness in his way of speaking, I dialed back my frustration a few notches and said "Well... if someone wants to get off the train right here...."  So the guy looks at the sick man (who I noticed for the first time - I didn't know who it was before) and asks him with the same calm & concerned look/voice "Do you want to get off here?"  The man nodded and started to move towards the door....

I watched in wordless fascination thinking (in pictures and feelings, not words) "Is he really going to climb down off the train right here, onto the elevated tracks?  I wonder how much of a walk it is to the next station...."  But as he began to move towards the doors, another man said "That's..." which carried a radio-broadcast load of meaning, more fully conveying "That's not a good idea" than actually saying "That's not a good idea".  (What the Japanese language lacks in precision and clarity, people often more than make up for with radio broadcasts.  Any serious student of the language should bear this factor in mind.)  The man stopped, and it was apparent that he was not going to get off the train where we were stopped... with the power to get moving again tantalizingly close at hand ("Shut that emergency door valve!" was my broadcast signal!).

So Mr. Lever-Puller, once again with calm & concern, asked the sick man if he thought we should push the lever back to its normal, closed position.  The man gave a small nod, Mr. Lever-Puller became Mr. Lever-Pusher, the doors closed with the same sound they make when closing at stations, and there soon followed an announcement that the error had been cleared.  As the train slowly began to move again, I looked back to the sick man and
began to wonder what was wrong with him (he looked okay, standing there in an expensive-looking suit).  A student offered him a plastic bag, which he refused, and then Mr. Lever-Puller/Pusher quietly confirmed that it was another type of stomach problem.  You don't want to know the details, but suffice it to say that the subsequent smell that arose in the carriage explained the exact nature of the man's problem.  I sure felt for the guy - he probably had to buy a new suit before going to work, but stopping the train between stations like that hadn't helped him or any of us in any way.  It just made things worse.  (If someone really needs to get off for an actual emergency, the thing to do, is time the pulling of the emergency lever so that the train stops at a station.

Having said that - did we try stopping the train again for that poor guy?  No... the thought didn't occur to me until after I was on my next train, and anyway, by the time we came to the next station after getting under way again, it was too late and I think we all just figured another ten minutes (to the regularly scheduled stop) wasn't going to make much difference.  Although... the woman who was standing next to me, looked at me as we passed the next station... maybe she thought I should have pulled the emergency door open lever on our side of the train, where the platform was.

As we picked up speed, I again took to looking out the window, thinking over the morning's events and having a silent discussion with myself wondering if I had acted callously or badly about people wanting to help the guy get off the train.  I came to the same conclusion I had already made in the heat of the moment:  If stopping the train had helped at least one person in some way, then there's something to think about and discuss, but as it was, it made things worse for everyone - including the man Mr. Lever-Puller was trying to help.  (That logic ignores the possibility of trying it again at a station, but the idea of doing that didn't occur to me until I was on my next train.)

Interestingly, about five minutes later, suddenly the driver (or conductor) had very precise details about the "running error".  They came on the intercom again apologizing for the delay and explaining that there was an indication that a door on the left-hand side of coach #5 had been open.  We coach #5 people almost lowered our heads a notch in shame, and I seemed to detect an underlying thought with the announcement along the lines of "What are you idiots in car #5 doing anyway?!"  I could only agree.

I think... not so many years ago, that the man with stomach trouble wouldn't have asked to have the train stopped, and the man who pulled the emergency door release, wouldn't have done that.  People don't seem to think of the thousands (or tens of thousands) of people they're going to inconvenience in the attempt to help one person.  If that one person is having a heart attack or something that really is a life-threatening emergency, then of course it's great to stop the trains, if it helps the individual, but for stomach trouble?  How many other people were barely holding on, counting the seconds until they could get off and rush to a restroom?  Out of tens of thousands on one of the main rail lines (not an exaggeration), it's not unreasonable to imagine that there are a few individuals in such a state on any given day.  That incident made us a further ten minutes late (on top of the initial five minutes) getting into the next station.  (We got going again so quickly after the first emergency stop, that I don't think that actually affected the schedule.)

The conclusion?  If people continue to stop the trains for frivolous reasons, they will increasingly run off-schedule, until Tokyo's "clockwork" trains become Tokyo's "broken-clockwork" trains.

Ah...I promised to put in my example of having used a plastic bag on a train.  It happened like this - there was a man leaving the PR agency (back when I still worked there) for better employment.  He was one of a string of people who left, and I was incensed at how the company had a made a big deal about most of the other people, throwing farewell parties for them, etc., but hadn't done anything for this guy, who I thought had done more for the company than many of the others.  So, on his final day, I went out and bought some can-chuhai (sort of like vodka), and some things to eat with it, and we had a small (two-person) party in the office after quitting time (there were *always* people working there overtime, so the company was always "open" (for want of a better word) and we just used a conference table over by the balcony.  After the chuhai ran out, we were having such a good time, that we raided the company refrigerator, where we discovered left-over supplies from a birthday celebration for another employee, that had occurred the week before.  I'm ashamed to write the details, but these supplies included a half-bottle of vodka and a half-bottle of gin.  Both of these we fully consumed and I staggered off to the train station to catch the last train home.

So - there I was, standing on the platform at Shinjuku Station, and the last train was approaching the platform just as I was beginning to feel queasy....  What to do - what to do.  If I stayed off the train, I would have to find something to do with myself for the night while waiting until the first train at about 4:50 in the morning (Tokyo's entire train system shuts down every night except December 31st).  But how could I get on?

Plastic bags to the rescue!  I quickly opened my backpack and took two of them out, doubling them up so as make sure there would be no leakage.  The train came in, I climbed in with the rest of the sardines, bags in hand, and sure enough - after about five minutes I had to throw up, which I proceeded to carefully do into the double-walled plastic bag.  I can still remember the expression on the face of a woman standing in front of me, who looked nervously back at me while I was throwing up (you can't go anywhere when you're packed into a train like a sardine, so it can't have been a happy discovery that her next-door-neighbor sardine was throwing up), but not to worry - the bags didn't leak and I didn't get anything on anyone.  (There must have been some smell though.)

Ugh.  I probably shouldn't even tell that story, but I would like to show that I know what I'm talking about when I say it's possible to throw up into a plastic bag on a moving train.



"Instantaneous Water Heaters vs. Tank Water Heaters"

To start with the conclusion, instantaneous water heaters rule.  The only thing better about tank water heaters, is if you turn the hot water tap off and on rapidly, the tank could care less, while the same action seriously stresses a machine that goes from idling to action with each opening of the tap, and back to idle with each closing of the tap.

I grew up with 40-gallon (later 50-gallon, and one 30-gallon) gas-fired hot water tanks that would heat the 40 gallons with a raging blaze of blue flames, and then drop back to a flickering pilot light when a certain temperature was reached.  Hot water was pulled from the top of the tank, which was replenished by a cold water feed at the bottom of the tank, and when a water temperature sensor detected that the temperature had fallen to a certain point, the raging blue blaze would come back to heat the tank of water again.  A hot-water-run-dry cold tank would take something like 20-30 minutes to come back up to fully heated temperature.

The tank was hidden away out-of-sight and out-of-mind in either a basement or garage, and the only thing that made you think about it was taking too long of a shower, which would run the hot water out and require a waiting period before the household had hot water again.  First in to take a shower and you were likely to incur the wrath of subsequent shower users who ran out of hot water ("You used up all the hot water!"), and second in and you were likely to complain to the first user, "You used up almost all the hot water!  It went cold on me after about two minutes!", etc.

So, one day in 1984, I climbed onto a Tokyo-bound 747, had dinner, watched a movie, fell asleep, and woke up in a land of instantaneous water heaters.  Strangely, in that era of so many things being "Made in Japan", I noticed at the built-in-1928 YMCA I stayed at, that it had a "Made in USA" OTIS elevator and "Made in USA" silverware!!!  I don't think I'd ever seen "Made in USA" silverware before - everything I used in the US was "Made in Japan", so I cross the Pacific and my first meal is with "Made in USA" silverware - in Japan!

But I digress.  I got onto that line of thinking due to my experience of renting a room in a house in Chigasaki from a man who was long-term house-sitting (once a week) for the owners, who were friends of his parents.  The owners had apparently lived overseas for some years and were keen to carry back to Japan some of the luxury that they had experienced while in the US.  So they had their new house built with central heating (via a kerosene-burning furnace
that was fed from a large tank behind the house that cost something like - at the current exchange rate - $500 to fill), and a US-made 40-gallon gas-fired water heater.  How did those air and water heating systems transplant over here?  In a word, badly!  First, let's look at the central heating system.

The problem was, the house construction was not in line with the concept of heating the whole house (something practically unheard of in Tokyo at the time), so the house wasn't properly insulated (if it was insulated at all) and the heat just went through the walls and ceiling.  The furnace produced enough heat to warm the house, but since the house couldn't hold that heat, the furnace just ran constantly.  Energy costs were then (and still are) quite a bit higher here than in the US, so the only time we used the furnace was when guests were invited over, and then the furnace was fired up for a few hours.  Otherwise we left that thing shut down, lest it bankrupt us and make us sleep under a bridge somewhere.  Better to sleep in freezing cold under a roof than throw all your money away on sleeping in a warm house for a few months, followed by being kicked out for lack of rent money and having to sleep under a bridge!  Space heaters slightly reduced the inside chill, but they lacked enough power to actually warm a room up.

Now - the water heater!  In contrast to the nearly useless central heating system (if we had been filthy-dirty-stinking-rich, we might have actually used that on a daily basis), we did use the water heater, but the basic procedure was to fire the thing up 30 minutes before taking a bath/shower, and then to shut it off (completely shut it off, including the pilot light) right after taking a shower.  Used in this way, the gas bill was manageable, but still higher than it would have been with an instantaneous water heater (provided it was used correctly).  (Thinking back on those US-made things at a time when imported things here were pricey and rare, and how I ran into them in my first months after crossing the Pacific, it's almost as though there was some magnetic force putting a US-made biped in contact with US-made machinery.)

Now - finally we come to instantaneous water heaters.  Wonderful devices, with many advantages over tank water heaters, and with only a few disadvantages.  First, the advantages.

Since they heat fully cold water to warm/hot temperatures as it comes from the cold water supply, there is no warm up period and no running out of hot water.  In a multi-person household, you can take one shower after another and no one ever (ever) runs out of hot water.  When they are completely shut down (every night, etc.), there is zero gas consumption (in contrast to the constantly burning pilot light in a tank water heater).

Disadvantages:  Instantaneous water heaters are more complicated than tank water heaters, and so the initial cost is probably higher.  I'm not sure about the cost, but I am fairly certain about the complexity leading to more possibilities for malfunction.  Over the 23 years or so I've been using them, I've had to have a few of them repaired or replaced.  And... one of the advantages can be a disadvantage as well - never running out of hot water means that if you get to thinking about something while taking a shower and the clock speeds up on you, you can end up wasting a lot of water and gas through overuse.

Oh!  And one other disadvantage (at least with the system I'm using now).  The hot water is not mixed with cold - rather the hot water the machine generates is used directly, so you adjust the temperature of the heated water output - you don't mix it with cold water.  This is done in two ways.  It has three different flame settings, and fine-tuning adjustments are made by controlling water flow - more water is cooler and less water is hotter.  In theory, this setup should work fine, but the gradation between gas settings one, two, and three is such that setting-one is virtually useless (too cold even on the hottest day with the minimum water flow setting); setting-two is usable in the summer if the water flow is turned way down; and setting three, while perfect for the coldest days of winter, requires typhoon levels of water flow to keep the water from being too hot in the summer.  So when the weather is warm, as it is now, you end up bouncing between flame-two with not quite enough water coming out, and flame-three with a typhoon water blast.  It would be perfect if flame-one was brought up to the current flame-two level and flame-two was brought up to a level between the current flame-two and flame-three settings.

More than you wanted to know about water heaters....



"The Night Before the Sardine Express"

In the maelstrom of a typical Tokyo early evening, CT showed up at our prearranged (no pocketable cell phones in February 1991) meeting place at Naka-Meguro Station with a few friends of his, and then led the way to a Columbian bar that he knew.  After sitting down and ordering the first round of food & drinks, we settled in for an evening of talk & laughter:

The evening wore on - too much time & money was spent, and by the time I looked at the time, thinking I would go home, it was too late - the train system was already beginning its nightly shutdown.

CT said I could stay at his place, and so we went out into the concrete & asphalt night - stopping for more drinks at a second place (his idea, not mine), and after that place, we then had soba noodles at a third place, before finally going to his apartment in Yutenji.

It was great to have a place to stay, but when visiting a friend's home, you can only dial down your social politeness level so far, and the polite tension prevents a thorough rest.  Keep in mind that we're talking about a typical (especially in 1991) small Tokyo apartment, so the supreme luxury of a private room was not to be had.

Sleeping on the tatami mat floor (a couple of feet from my snoring freind) for a couple of hours and waking up more than half-asleep, I finally roused myself enough to begin the journey across town via the (very) early morning trains (which typically start up between 4:30-5:00 a.m.).

And it was on this journey home that I came across the situation I recorded on the Seibu-Ikebukuro Line:

I knew that that station at that time was a sardine packing point, but I hadn't recorded it, since when I had to pack myself on with the other sardines, I got on with the video camera in its case and over my head.  (On the day the video was taken, I had a late schedule.)  I would work pretty hard to get it onto one of the overhead racks, but when I couldn't, I put it on my shoulder to keep it from getting smashed.  As for recording the inside of one of those high-density sardine runs, it just seemed like way too rude of a thing to do.  Taking pictures of the backs of people disappearing into a train is one thing, but taking the camera out and recording everyone's faces on the inside of the train didn't seem like a great idea.

That evening was no big deal, but I'm hoping to give some context to my very often very misunderstood clip about the Sardine Run Express.  I had originally wanted to keep on editing in bits from the original tape until the peak rush towards Tokyo, but I decided to just cover the night before and the first couple of trains in the morning.  I might put together another clip to fill the gap between the Naka-Meguro/Yutenji-to-Shibuya clip and the crush-rush clip - if anyone is interested....



"2008 - Cultural Balancing Point"

I visited a western-influenced building last week and felt an ancient (for me) comfort with an interior layout similar to what is (or was) typical in the land-beyond-the-ocean that I came from, over two decades before.  It was just little things - like paper towels in the restroom (nearly nonexistent here) and the layout of furniture.  Pondering how I was so easily going on a nostalgia trip, I thought back to early experiences here with western-influenced interiors.  In the old days, I would notice one western thing, and then notice twenty eastern local touches.  The feeling tended to be along the lines of "this has lost something in translation/transplant..."

But now - having spent half my life here and half my life there - when I find something from that distant past & distant land - that single item, regardless of its surroundings, is enough to take me back to another era, another land, another me.

It's something like this - newly arrived, I would look for a perfect picture with all the details intact, and invariably I would notice that the picture was not complete.  Now, I don't think I can even remember the whole picture of life in the land-beyond-the-ocean, so discovery of a single item is enough to start up an old video clip in the mind.

....... That was what I intended to say when I starting writing this, but it occurs to me that this is also tied in with my shock at many of the comments made by viewers of the Sardine Run video.  It's not a big deal - no one was being forced to ride the train, and the ride they faced was only about 20-25 minutes, but many of the comments make it clear that there is zero understanding of the situation, and with that level of non-comprehension, I wish that hadn't been posted.  I wanted to make a point to my New York and London friends who claimed that Tokyo's trains couldn't be any more crowded than their trains, but the vast sea of misunderstanding that was to ensue was unforeseen.

"The seed doesn't fall far from the tree"
"You can never go home"

Which is true?  Both & neither it would seem.



"Shinjuku East Exit Ticket Gates - 1990 & 2008"

I've been living my in-motion life on the Tokyo train system for over two decades now, but since posting a few video clips, I realize from comments from overseas that the system here must not be very widely understood.  So, rather than focus on the sensational aspect (as portrayed in the gone-viral pack-'em-in video), there seems to be a need to focus a little on the mundane stuff, like ticket gates.

1990 was just before they began automating the Tokyo ticket gates, which might sound slow (San Francisco's BART system was automated when I moved there in 1982), but keep in mind how vast the Tokyo train system is, and the need for more computing power, more machines, etc. is apparent.  To compare 1990 with 2008, I have two clips that I took - both of the same ticket gates at the East Exit of Shinjuku Station:

1990 Shinjuku East Exit Ticket Gates:

2008 Shinjuku East Exit Ticket Gates:

One comment about the 2008 clip - the guy going the wrong way is a ticket gate crasher.  Many of the gates are bi-directional, but from the way he goes through and the sound, he rushed through with no ticket before the gates could close.

Tickets and cards.  The system has advanced to the point where you can travel on all of the trains and most of the buses with a single type of IC card, which saves an incredible amount of time (especially time that used to be spent in line at the ticket machines).

(Note: I posted the video clips for this a while back, and I've discussed them with a few people, but I don't think I've posted any text about them - or have I?)



"People are Holding Back!"

I've noticed over the past couple of years that some people are not as eager to get on a train when it's crowded than everyone used to be.  Rarely in the old days (1980's) but not so rare in 2008, is the sight of a few people who could easily get on the train if they just tried - with a little contact effort - but who stand there on the platform and (gasp!) just let the train go!  They actually wait for the next train when they could have gotten on the train sitting in front of them with its doors open.  I'm telling you, this is shocking behavior!  Kidding tone aside, it really is surprising to me to see it, so used have I become to packing myself onto trains, no matter how crowded they are.

But what really surprised me was the Shinjuku/Ikebukuro-bound Yamanote Line platform at Shibuya Station a few days ago at about 8:30 p.m.  The train took on a load of passengers, and could have taken on a lot more, but there were something like eight people per door (32-48 per car - some cars have four doors, some six) who just held back and waited for the next train.  That's actually sensible behavior if you only have one one to use, but for those with multiple transfers (hello...), one lost minute can snowball into a lost 15-30 minutes if it makes you miss long-distance express train connections, not to mention the possibility that a whole string of trains will be similarly packed anyway.

So I remember that scene, and have to step back for a minute and look at myself... who was amazed at the high-density trains for the first several years I lived here, but then grew accustomed to them, to the point where it seems abnormal that people - recently - don't want to force their way onto a train, no matter how crowded it is!

I think there's an image of culture movers getting used to a new culture, and then knowing it.  I don't recall ever - until it happened to myself that is - contemplating the concept of learning a culture, and then having that culture change from under your feet.  Change of culture versus change of generation.  Either it's something travel writers have not encountered or thought about, due to overly strong focus on the initial transitional years in moving into a new culture; or the pace of change has accelerated to the point where cultures fairly radically change in a decade or less, rather than... a century or at least several decades.



"Stepping off the Beaten Path - Jiyugaoka, May 2008"

It's easy to get into a set routine in life, but easy to step outside of it as well - especially in a mega-city like Tokyo.  Last week I received an e-mail inviting me to visit an Irish pub in Jiyugaoka (Irish pubs are popular in Tokyo and there are a fair number of them scattered about the city), where I had a couple of glasses of Kilkenny (which I prefer to Guinness), and I took some video clips of the live band there, one of which can be seen here:

"Jiyugaoka Irish Music at Irish Pub"

Backing up a notch - before I met my friend and we went to the Irish pub, I was walking around Jiyugaoka a little and took some videos in the rain.  Jiyugaoka is a nice area, with (some) tree-lined streets, fashionable shops, and nice (and expensive) houses nearby.  One of the tree-lined streets looks like this:

"Jiyugaoka in the Rain"

It's almost always fun going somewhere off the beaten path, but by the time I'm ready to go home, I always wish I could just step into a transporter and *be* home, and not have to spend an hour or two navigating the train system to get back.  And so it was at the Irish Pub - at one point, as I was running very low on energy (I'd only gotten a few hours sleep the night before), I looked off into space (through the wall) and thought "It would be so nice to just have a five minute walk home now....'.

But I don't live in Jiyugaoka and I don't have access to a transporter, so I hiked back to Jiyugaoka Station and began the two-hour multi-train trip back.  The first train I got on (Toyoko Line) was strangely not crowded, with only about 60% of the seats taken, so I took the one semi-box seat arrangement (the rest are bench seats with the seat back against the windows), opened the window as far as it would go (only about 40% from the top, pulling down), and stood up between the seats to have a real look at the world outside, without glass getting in the way.  And it was a nice (as in big-city interesting, not countryside beautiful) sight, with a cool breeze blowing into the car.  When there's nothing but air between yourself and what you're looking at, you really know you're there; but when you're looking through glass, it's as though you're watching it on TV or something.

And... seeing this on a computer screen, it's further still from "being there", but even on the computer, removing the window glass from the chain of actions and technology leading to your screen brings you one step closer to the original scene.  It's not the same as being there of course, but....

As I looked out into the electric Tokyo night ("electric" in the sense of everything being electric more than being charged, although there's some of that as well), there was that big-city feeling of being in the middle of urban action and adventure.  Part of the big-city ambiance of Tokyo comes form the sound of the many trains echoing between the buildings or heard in the distance - steel wheels and electric motors ("screeeech... screeeeech... mmmmmMMMMMM......  MMMMMMmmmmmmm......").  There's a little of that in the following video:

"Approaching Shibuya Station at Night"

In playing that back - there is no screeching exactly, but there is a low-tone sound made by the wheels - hard to describe, but you can hear it in the video.  And um... yeah... you're not supposed to stick your head out the window - you could lose it that way.



"Nostalgia & Tourism"

There's a very narrow path between old buildings in Shinjuku, not far from Shinjuku Station, that is still, to this day, defying the near absolute "nothing old tolerated" rule of Tokyo.  I'm not sure of its beginnings, but in 1984, when I first stumbled upon it, it was a nice holdout from bygone days, and very near to new and modern things, so entering the street was quite like stepping past a barrier into another age.  Foreign residents like myself liked the ambiance of the place - even if only to walk through - but it wasn't the sort of place many tourists visited, and it still performed its timeless (at least timeless in nothing-old-tolerated Tokyo) function of offering a collection of small, inexpensive, cozy drinking places that (mostly men) would drop in at for a drink on the way home, or to have a quick lunch at.

In 2008, visually, the street ("path" would probably be a more accurate term) looks mostly the same as it did 24 years ago (and probably 30-40 years before that), but that type of collection of old style drinking shops is now so rare in Tokyo that it's becoming more and more of a tourist destination for ("exotic thrill") foreign and ("nostalgia") local tourists.  Originally, many of the shops were probably husband & wife run, but the last few times I visited one or another of them, they were being run by foreigners (from south-east Asia).  (That's not a complaint, but it does change the atmosphere from what it was into something different.)

Just that one area isn't something worth spending time thinking about, but it's tied in with Tokyo's disconnect with the past in its relentless drive to destroy everything old and be forever modernizing any and everything.  Tokyo needs to be modern, but that modernity would be a more comfortable one to live in if it were in context among a certain number of older things.  New is exciting, off-new is hum-drum, but just as something is becoming old enough to be interesting, it is smashed to rubble and something squeaky new is put in its place....



"Yurakucho Time Slip"

I got it into my mind to visit Yurakucho on the way home last night.  I could find no logical reason to go there, but when you get the feeling you should do something, you should, so....

There isn't much of anything old left in Tokyo, but you can get at least a taste of industrial decades past by visiting a handful of places in Yarakucho that have somehow survived many decades in old-is-not-tolerated Tokyo.  The most picturesque of these is probably the drinking place under the tracks - so over-photographed that you've probably already seen pictures of it a few dozen times... but... here it is again:

After taking that, I wandered over to nearby Hibiya Park and stumbled into a German Beer Festival, where I talked myself into having sausage and beer.  The weather was actually perfect for it - not to be taken for granted here, what the rainy season, cold windy winter, hot & humid summer, etc.

"Hibiya Park German Beer Garden"



"Trying to Figure Out What it Means..."

It began with the day (in 1991) that I walked  my video camera out to the end of the platform at Hibarigaoka Station on the Seibu-Ikebukuro Line in Tokyo (there is also a Hibarigaoka Station in Hokkaido) to capture the morning rush ritual of getting to work on time under difficult conditions.  I spent about twenty minutes on the platform, taking video of a few different trains, one of which showed more clearly than the others, the pressures of competition for finite space by a very large number of people....

Then, after burning out four cameras taking video from 1990 to 1992 (with a couple of tapes in 1993), I decided I couldn't afford to keep taking Hi8 video, as the (disposable?) video equipment was too expensive for me to buy a new camera/editing controller/editing deck every six to nine months (all four of the cameras I did buy had to be repaired several times within their one-year guarantee period).  So, with all the hardware that could play the tapes broken, I boxed the lot of them and sent them to hibernate in the closet.

This is where you might expect to read "... and there they lay forgotten, until..." but they were not forgotten.  I had spent too much of my resources and time taking those tapes, so it was a constant thought in the back of my mind that I needed to get them digitized.  From time-to-time over the years I would ask around a bit, but the system and storage space requirements were beyond what my computers at the time could handle.  After about fifteen years, I began to worry that the tapes would disintegrate from age before I could vacuum the images off of them.

2007 - The power of affordable computers rose to a level sufficient to handle digitizing analogue tapes and I was able to buy what appears to be the last retail-available 8mm playback deck.  So - with the necessary equipment finally at hand, I set to work digitizing the tapes.  It hasn't always been easy.  I was having an increasingly difficult time getting some of the tapes to play, so I bought a second playback deck and it turns out that some of the tapes will play on deck-B, but not deck-A, and - strangely - some of them will play on deck-A, but not on deck-B (I would have thought the newer one would best be able to play all of the tapes).  Don't ask me why - both playback decks are the same model, but considering all the trouble I had with all four 8mm cameras and the 8mm editing deck, I'm not particularly surprised.  Now, I just want to get everything into digital form so I can stop worrying about it.

In the digitizing process, I came across that early morning crush-rush commuter train material, edited out a piece of it, posted it to Google Video, and mentioned it online.  I watched some other sites linking to it with interest, and then after it had been up at Google Video for a few weeks, an e-pal e-mailed me with the unwelcome news that my video had been ripped off and was being posted by others with no attribute to me.  Worse, the text introducing the video came in various shades of BS - that the men on the platform were professional pushers (not true - two of them were the drivers of the two stopped trains, the others doing various work at the station), that it was current (no, it was taken in 1991), that it was in China (at least this bit of nonsense was easily pointed out due to the platform men speaking in Japanese in the video), etc. etc.

When I first saw the postings on YouTube saying "Crowded Train in China" etc., I laughed at the ludicrousness of it, but the comments at the foremost copy site (1,104,227 views the last time I checked) have been sobering.  Mostly they are people laughing, which is not unexpected, but when they think it's present-day Japan and they start making derogatory remarks about the train system here, etc., I really wish my video hadn't been copied and used in an idiotic way.  I named it "Actually Full Train in 1991 (Why Flextime is a Good Idea)" for a reason.  The train system is better now than when the video was taken.  New train lines, new rails on existing lines, new train cars, flex time at companies, etc., have improved the morning commute here.

Numbers - I don't think there is any train system in the world that carries more passengers into a central area than the extensive network of trains in Tokyo.  The system is nearly overwhelmed at times, but that it carries the number of people it does, nearly always on time, is an extraordinary feat.

In any case, to do something specific about my vague statement that the system is better now, I went back to the same station, on the same train line, at the same time, and stood in the same spot on the same platform, where I took a new video of the same (in the schedule) express train.  There was still a two or three second push needed from the two drivers to get the first door closed, but only there, not at the other doors.  Have a look at the video here to see for yourself - remember, this one is current, it was taken less than a week ago:

Now... for the part that feels really weird.  I read the comments and see people saying "It's fake", "I've seen real videos of crowded Japanese trains, and this one is fake", "That's not Japan, that's China" etc. etc. and it's really bizarre.  Up until now, I've believed one thing or another based on books, conversations with people who know (or seem to know) what they're talking about, and even when I'm feeling quite certain about something, there's still the possibility in the background, however small, that I've got it wrong - that there's some crucial evidence that I'm unaware of.  But this time, I'm thinking "Hey!  Wait a minute!  I was there!  I took that video!  I rode that line all the bloody time!  I KNOW what's what here folks, I KNOW.  I didn't get it on good athority, I f***ing KNOW.  I mean... I wish I could put that in stronger terms, but all caps for "know" and the all-purpose "F" word is all that comes to mind right now.  Maybe I could scream or break something?  Naw, nobody could take that seriously.  See?  I KNOW, but how to convey that?

Anyway, to round out the commuting picture, here is another 2008 view of that same station - Hibarigaoka, on the Seibu-Ikebukuro Line:

See?  It's all quite civilized.  Crowded, yes, but working very well.



"Less Crowded may be More Dangerous..."

In reviewing the "Actually Full Train in 1991 (Why Flex-Time is a Good Idea)" video, and then contemplating the combined total of nearly 2,000,000 views (unfortunately 80% of those at sites that ripped off my video and posted it with idiotic titles and no information), and especially in reading the comments posted at the over-a-million rip-off site, the strange concept of safety through danger is coming to mind.  Yes, it probably isn't the safest situation to have trains that heavily loaded (although the railways here maintain trains and rails very well and accidents are few and far between), but when the trains are that intensely packed, the people on the inside (speaking from many years of experience here!) are focused on just getting through the ride and very mindful of the futility of trying to do something wild, like, say... attempting to move.  In these circumstances, things were - in one sense - peaceful in that people were not in a mood to argue with those around them.  What's the point?  When you can't move, it's not a good idea to deliberately do something to anger anyone - you can't get away from them, and  you can't do much to them, since you can hardly move at all.  Also, everyone realized that everyone is in the same boat.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and there are several new train lines, increased tracks on existing lines, new trains, and (very important) flextime.  It's still crowded and there are still times when some pushing from the platform is necessary to get people on, but it's usually not quite like in the video clip, and not at most doors.  So... people are beginning to forget how it used to be (plus the newest generation of train riders has never really had to go through much of the daily, high-intensity sardine run anyway), so there are increasing numbers of people who start to huff & puff when someone makes physical contact with them when the passenger density is high.  Also, when the passenger density is very high, several people don't even attempt to force their way onto the train!  Shocking!  Where's their "fighting spirit"?  (I'm sort of ashamed to admit here that I'm not entirely joking about this - I'll get on a train and find myself looking back at a group on the platform just before the doors close, and I see this look on their faces sometimes that seems to be saying "That's amazing - look how hard he pushed to get on... where is that masked man from?!".)

And so it was this morning - I was getting on a train in a spot that a lot of other people also liked, and the train car was probably at 90% capacity (on a scale with the train in "Actually Full Train in 1991" being 100% full), and as I forced my way on just as the doors were closing, I found someone fairly blatantly kicking my lower legs!  Feeling both shocked that this was happening (it's never happened before, not quite so blatantly anyway) and angry (due to someone putting their bloody feet on my clothing), I raised up a foot and pushed back on the offending legs... or maybe I should say "what I thought were the offending legs", as in typing this out and calmly thinking about it, I suddenly realize that someone may have been kicking me from behind the person who was between us (on either side of or maybe even between that person's legs), but in any case, after the doors closed, I had this person behind me acting like being smashed between strangers was the most horrible thing that had ever happened to them.  I ended up thinking - as I was being poked and elbowed - "If you can't stand the heat of the Yamanote Line, then just stay home!  Or at least get on the train in a less popular spot!  Or better yet, contribute to reducing crowding by moving out of Tokyo!"

So there we are, just one step away from an open confrontation & brawl, and we've gotten there with far less pressure than the people in the video had to put up with, who rode that ultra-high-pressure train to work every day.

And then there's the regular everyday deal where you've *almost* got enough space to stand without someone touching you, so when they do, you don't know whether to shrug it off as an accident or raise the hair on the back of your neck and bare your fangs in a "Grrrrr!!  Get away from me, you!" snarl (done more with radio waves than actual fangs bared, to be more precise about it).

Another issue - Japan passed an anti-groping law a few years back, which is good, except in densely packed trains, you can't always accurately tell who has done something to you, and there have been cases where people have been wrongly accused and sent to jail.  It's been in the news, there was a movie made about it, and now men on the trains are basically afraid of women.  One "He grabbed me!" and their life could be ruined (sent to jail, fired from their jobs, divorced from their spouses, alienated from their friends, etc.).  Mind you, if the guy is guilty of it, then screw him!  He deserves it, but if a pervert reaches around a normal guy and grabs a woman, and the woman mistakenly thinks the normal guy right behind her did it, basically he's done for.  So men try hard to keep their right arms up in the air (grabbing an overhead strap or bar, even when that means they're jabbing their elbows into someone (grrrr....), and when women are near the door or in a corner, often they get a no-touch zone, because a man standing next to them pushes/pulls himself forcefully back into the people behind him and stays several centimeters away from the woman.  I guess that's fine - I don't mind suffering a little more (I'll typically count around six people touching my body simultaneously at the same time a woman is standing by the door in a no-touch zone happily reading a book), but then some of these women get used to being in no-touch zones and they freak out a bit when they get into a car with a density high enough that everyone in the space is a sardine and no one could give any one a no-touch zone, even if their lives depended on it.

Trains-trains-trains... what can I say?  over twenty-four years, I think I've averaged about two and a half hours per day on them, so that's... ah... (it's late) I don't feel like doing the math.  In any case, it amounts to a huge part of my timeline of my life, so I end up talking about it more than I should.



"Gokai-darake (Rife with Misunderstanding)"

Not being an expert on YouTube and how people use and abuse it, I posted my video clip "Actually Full Train in 1991 (Why Flex-Time is a Good Idea)", to Google Video, without bothering to post it to YouTube (Huge Mistake!).  I noted with interest how viewings climbed up to 200,000 on Google Video, and just when I was thinking everything was going well, I received a message from an e-pal who tipped me off that there were rip-off copies of my file on YouTube, with no attributes, just blatant theft.  I figured some people might download the file and share it with friends, but I never thought people would just take it and post it as though they personally owned it. It's... so... shamelessly audacious/rude/wrong/etc!

And born of this theft, and helped along by bad titles like "Crazy Japanese Train Loaders" (over one million viewings!!), "Crowded Chinese Train"(!!), etc., there have arisen many questions, misunderstandings, heated arguments, and even one death threat (directed at an entire nation).  And this is what makes me the most angry about the current situation of about one view of my posted material per 20 views of copies with bad titles and missing information.  My title "Actually Full Train in 1991 (Why Flex-Time is a Good Idea)" alone would have eliminated something like 30% of the questions, maybe more.  But since there is a sea of misunderstanding arisen over the theft (many times over) of my material, I'll do what I can to answer some of the questions I saw in the comments section at that over-a-million-viewings site.

They're Not Crazy!

The title of the over-a-million site - "Crazy Japanese Train Loaders" is wrong and dangerous.  There were (correctly I feel) some complaints in the comments section over this.  Nobody on the receiving end of the shoves was complaining - and I've been there myself.  Notice the three people at the second door who were told to give it up by the man trying to help people aboard there.  They look quite unhappy at not being able to get onto the train.  Being shoved for no reason is one thing, but being given added force to get onto a train you really want to get onto (for time, not because there's anything pleasant about it) is another.  There's nothing crazy about the men doing the shoving - what would be better?  To stand around on the platform and do nothing while the passengers fight it out alone and the train sits there for ten minutes or more because the doors won't close?  Take a close look at the time - the video begins the moment the doors open (a little before that in my recent and belated post to YouTube), everyone is aboard with all the doors closed in 70 seconds (within 60 is probably the goal), and the train is on its way in 80 seconds.  In spite of this, there were comments saying that the time spent getting people aboard would be better spent in getting the train on its way quickly and bringing in another train!  Ha-ha!  Idiocy!  Time any train at any station, and 70 seconds is not exactly glacially slow - and they got everyone (save three) aboard!  No, while I think the management of the Seibu Corporation leaves much to be desired, and they should have invested more in track and train expansion much sooner than they did (they are notorious feet draggers when it comes to spending money), the railway employees are doing a good job of keeping the trains running on time - even when grossly overcrowded.

People Want to get to Work on Time!

Basically covered above under "They're Not Crazy!", the people being shoved aboard are not being abused - they're being assisted in getting on the train.  The train on the opposite side of the platform was going in the same direction, so anyone not up for the high pressure express train, could have walked across the platform and gotten on the lower pressure Junkyu (next fastest to the express that had just left), and if they're not up for that, they could wait for a local train.

There are options... (sort of)

There are options, and people who can't take the pressure of the sardine runs often escape the situation in one way or another.  Number one on the list is moving within walking distance of school or work.  At the company I'm at there is one guy there who moved specifically for that reason.  He hates the sardine runs, so he moved within a ten minute walk of work.  I get off of four trains (90 minutes), feeling like I've just come back from war, and I'll see him come ambling up to the company yawning - having gotten up fifteen minutes before....  My walking distance from the nearest station is further than his walking distance from home to the company!  He automatically has an extra three hours per day (15 hours per week, 60 hours per month) to enjoy life in.  Other options are coming to work very early (not allowed in my case as security is very tight and contract workers can't just come at any time), or take a local train (losing something like 30 minutes every morning - 150 minutes a week, etc.).  The final option - and final in every sense - is to take the Express Checkout via the rails in front of a speeding train, but that route is definitely not recommended.

1991 Folks - It's Better Now... Mostly

The video was taken in 1991.  Around 1986 or so, the private lines were all given permission to raise their fares in order to pay for rail expansion to cope with overcrowding.  Some of them honestly and forthrightly set to work and improved their services - such as the Keio Line, which added more express stops (all the lines already had full-time double tracks, but having four tracks at more stations enables fast trains to stay fast, getting around more trains at more stations) and then lowered their fares after they had finished construction.  The bloody Seibu Line, by contrast, did almost nothing at all for ten years.  They just took the extra money people were paying.  This fact still makes me angry when I remember riding trains like the one in the video every day - suffering for the greed of bad management.  I used to be in one of those trains, smashed in there like a sardine, thinking "they should force the management of this railway to ride this train every day until something is done to increase capacity!".  Finally they actually did invest in some construction and even that line was improved.  It's better today (but still crowded of course).

Ten-Car Trains (Some are Fifteen...)

Many people said "Why don't they add more railway cars?"  The trains are already ten-cars long and the platforms have to match the length of the trains - you can't just send people out on the rails and gravel and expect them to climb up into cars with ladders or something - that's insane.  Some of JR's main routes have fifteen cars per train.  Fifteen cars is a lot for a commuter train!  The platforms for these lines are quite long already and it's not really practical to have more than fifteen cars I don't think....

People are Usually Considerate of People Getting Off

One of the most persistent questions was "How do people get off?".  This is a simple matter in my mind because I've been living with & on the system for 24 years, but I realize it's sort of complicated when I have to explain it.  Number one - when the density is very high at sardine-run times, you need to know which stations are main ones (large numbers of people get off and it's not too difficult to get off with them), and which are minor stations that will be difficult to get off at if you're too far into the train.  If you have to get off at a minor station, you expend effort (sometimes a *lot* of effort) in making sure you're reasonably near a door.  Generally this is done either by getting into the corner by the door and clinging to the bars there fiercely, or by getting off at one of the major stations before the one you need to get off at, and then getting behind the people getting on there - last on, first off.  Often there's competition to be the last one on.  Not only do you get a window... spot, but you only have people pressed up against you on one side, instead of all sides.  And best of all (aside from being able to get off whenever you want), you become the front-runner in the race for the platform stairs, so you can run and get on the next sardine run (I get on eight trains per day - four in each direction).

And I almost forgot - even when you're away from the doors, generally if you say "Orimasu! Orimasu! Orimasu!" ("I'm getting off!  I'm getting off!  I"m getting off!") and start pushing towards the door, people will either lean far enough in one direction or another, enabling you to squeeze past, or the group by the door will get off, enabling escape to the outside (after which they get back on).  Sometimes it pays to get off at each and every station on the journey, just to keep yourself near the door.  In the case of the train in the video, its next stop was Shakujikoen, where likely very few people could get on, and after that Ikebukuro, the last stop, where everyone gets off.  One final detail being that the doors at Shakujikoen open on the other side, so anyone "lucky" enough to get on that express is guaranteed a ride all the way to Ikebukuro once they're on.  The thing that's rough if you're the last one on, is the shoving procedure at Shakujikoen can be pretty intense.  As you can see in the video, people really want to get on!  I can remember being pushed up against the door with such force that I was afraid I would end up with cracked ribs, so I tensed up my muscles to help take pressure off of the bones.

No, That's not Fake!  It's Real Dude!

One of the comments posters repeatedly posted a "It's Fake!" blurb.  Many people who know the Tokyo train system repeatedly told the guy it was not fake, but he persisted.  I am in the best position to know - since I was there and I rode on that line every day.  Dude!  It's real!  It's very real!  That's no movie set and those are not actors!



"Umbrella City"

Approaching a Tokyo train station in the rain - in a sea of umbrellas.  This was taken in 1991, so there are more colorful umbrellas and fewer of the clear plastic ones.

"Shakujikoen Sardine Run"

More morning crush-rush commuter train fun from 1991 (it's a little less crowded now, thanks to flextime). Both this one and "Actually Full Train in 1991" were taken by me. "Actually Full Train in 1991" has been relentlessly copied and even labeled as being from China! It's not! It's from the Seibu-Ikebukuro Line in Tokyo.

"Actually Full Train in 1991 (Why Flex Time is a Good Idea)"

Morning commuter rush in Tokyo in 1991. Pre-Flextime, everyone needed to get to work by 9:00 a.m. sharp. Now, in 2008, it's a little less crowded.

Incidentally, this video has been relentlessly & ruthlessly copied from my Google posting. Some of the posts even say it's China, but - shock & surprise - Japan and China are two different countries! I took the video myself... and don't quite understand the shameless audacity of people who steal it and claim that it's theirs!  Mutter-mutter.



"More Stolen Copy Versions than the Real Thing..."

Only the top one is the correct one - the rest are stolen.  The numbers speak for themselves... apparently there are a lot of shameless theives out there:

Actually Full Train in 1991 (Why Flex-Time is a Good Idea)

Crowded Japanese train
Views: 64,476
Crowded train in Japan
Views: 14,470

'Pushers' pushing people on a crowded Japanese train
 Views:  227,799 

Pack them in
 Views:  319,668 




"Stolen Video"

Hmmm... some people are shameless it seems.  My video "Actually Full Train in 1991 (Why Flextime is a Good Idea)" was stolen and posted here:


- without even mentioning where it came from.  This is dirty and foul behavior, as if they wanted to display it, they could have (and should have!) linked to the video's proper home, which is here:

Does anyone know anything about www.snotr.com?  Is this typical behavior for them?  I've just posted this comment there:

     Reading the other comments - I can answer all the questions.  Why am I able to do this?  Because I took the video!  It was stolen and posted here without my permission, name or website.  Check out "Actually Full Train" to see where it was stolen from.
     Nevertheless - a couple of answers:
     The video was taken in 1991, as its original title makes very clear: "Actually Full Train in 1991 (Why Flex Time is a Good Idea)".
     No, it was not an unusual situation - it was like that every day!  I know because I was usually one of those sardines myself!  (Some spots of the train tended to be slightly less crowded but you still had to force your way on).
     To whoever posted the video.  Please don't steal other people's material!  You're welcome to post it by using the code provided, which directs viewers to the site with the proper title, my name, and my website.  Just stealing it and posting it this way is wrong.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

To add insult to injury, there is this bit of fiction posted at the site (under the inane title "Crowded Japanese train"):

"So you think your train or subway is often crowded? In Japan it's even worse, check out this video of a train departing during rush hour (6:30 AM)."

It wasn't taken at 6:30 - it was taken about an hour later than that, around 7:30 a.m.  The 6:30 trains were not nearly that crowded.  Remember, the *reason* it was so crowded is that it was before flex time and everyone *needed* to get to work by 9:00 a.m.  Of the course the thief wasn't there that day, or any other day, and doesn't care about accuracy....

And it gets worse - after stealing it from me, they have the gall to embed their bloody logo in it!  And then that stolen version is posted at this site:

I also e-mailed them this message:

To: copyright@snotr.com
Subject: Stolen Video "Actually Full Train"
Date: Friday, May 16, 2008

My video was stolen from this exact site:

- and is now being displayed with no mention of where it came from at this site:

I would like it either removed or linked to the proper site.

Thank you!

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon
Images Through Glass

Mattaku!!!  Have you seen my material popping up in other places without being attributed to me?  I'd appreciate any info.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon


"B&W to Color Imaging Transition"

I recently ordered some historical DVD's of material from the 1930-1955 time frame, and the color material is fascinating to watch.  The type of material I grew up seeing from that era tended to be (nearly always was) in black & white, and so the border between what looked like the "black & white era" and color seemed to fall right between my generation and the generation proceeding mine.  But switch that older material to color, and add in the new factor that a lot of it was taken with privately owned small cameras loaded with color film (that had been sleeping in closets for decades - only recently becoming publicly available), and the double... not punch... the doubly strong effect of a more personal viewpoint combined with color, suddenly brought those black & white people from the past into the color world of the present.  I felt I could probably step through a time machine and get along with the individuals with no problem at all.  (Many black & white newsreels taken by professionals from previous eras seem otherworldly and out of reach in time & viewpoint, and... factor-X!)

This makes me wonder if there would have been less of a generation gap in the sixties if those children of Technicolor realized that their parents hadn't inhabited a black & white world in the past, but had actually lived among color as vibrant as at any time.  Naturally there were far larger causes for the rift of the day, but the pictures representing the young period of those who came before me being mostly black & white didn't help.  They had the effect of making the past look boring and - figuratively and literally - gray.  With my own pictures, when I've taken things in black & white and I know what the scene looked like in color, still it's hard to imagine the scene in color when looking at the black & white print - even though it is something I saw in color with my own eyes.  "Seeing is believing" even if it's an illusion?

Speaking of black & white film.  My first several years of photography were mainly with black and white film for financial reasons.  Color film was a bit more expensive than B&W and processing was a lot more expensive, so color was saved for special occasions.  In San Francisco I also liked the effect of black & white, but still there was that financial thing hanging over me.  If color had been the same cost, I'm sure I would have done some things at least in color.

The other thing that was a constant barrier to just doing what I would have liked to do, was the limitation of typically going out with three rolls of 36-exposure film, so once my 111 pictures (I always got 37 pictures per 36-exposure roll of film) were taken, I had to stop for the day.  I drooled when I read about 300-exposure film packs, and then, when I finally got my mitts on a digital camera with a large memory card, it was as though I'd found a genie in a bottle who had granted me unlimited photo-taking ability.  It's great to be able to get going in the morning on a photo-acquisition day, and be able to take around 1,500 pictures in a single day.

And so now - when I see people who have never experienced the day when black & white was the cheap film and almost no-one used it instead of color because they wanted to; and film is seen as artistic, instead of a limitation to free image making... I half shake my head and half reassess the advantages of black and white film taken with an old camera.  The main advantage is just that you try harder with each individual image with film and then place a higher value on any given image (double exposures and some other technical things can also be nice).  But if I assign a percentage to which I prefer - analog photography or digital photography, I would say 99 for digital and 1 for film (if that).  For the film enthusiasts, I would say do whatever you like, but I have a difficult time sharing your enthusiasm for chemical photography.  To use an expression I generally despise - "Been there - done that".



"Larger TVs & Smaller Movie Screens..."

I was given a free ticket to see "I'm Not There", the bizarre movie about Bob Dylan, and I went out to see it yesterday evening.  I didn't know much about Bob Dylan (except that I liked some of his music), until I read about him on the Internet following seeing the movie.  I would say to anyone thinking of seeing the movie, that it will likely only be interesting if you are thoroughly familiar with Bob Dylan.  If you're not, it's probably not going to make much sense.  Personally, I like autobiographic and documentary material, and tend to despise biographies and docu-dramas.  So, for me, the movie wasn't one I was happy to have invested my time on, particularly when there is a lot of documentary material available on the man.  I did enjoy the soundtrack however.

Next issue.  The movie theater!  It was one of those new ones where they pack 8-16 theaters into a spiffy new building, and in the case of the theater I went to last night, they double up movies in the same space (making sure to kick everyone out after each showing, so you can't see two movies), with one movie playing around noon, another movie playing once or twice after that, and the noon movie showing again in the evening.  So with 10 theaters, you can pack in 20 movies.  Just the sort of thing that would look great in a suit-driven PowerPoint presentation, but the genba result is pretty bad.  At the same time home TV's and sound systems are getting larger and better, movie theater screens are getting smaller and sound quality is getting worse.

Details of the theater I went to last night:

- The theater had a nearly flat floor, and to help people see, they had very uncomfortable seats that force you to slouch (tall people no longer get in the way - they just ruin their backs while suffering through the movie in an uncomfortable position) - although there was enough leg room (there had to be - otherwise the forced slouch wouldn't work).

-The smallish screen wasn't so small as to call it tiny, but as I looked at it from the pain of the uncomfortable seat I was in, I thought "This isn't vastly different than watching a large screen high-definition television hooked up to a decent sound system - what's the point in going to a movie theater to suffer in bad seats when you could actually enjoy the movie at home from a rented DVD?"

- There was no surround sound, but at least the from-the-front-only sound quality wasn't bad.  It should have been much louder for that movie though, but they have to keep the volume down in order not to disturb the other theaters packed onto the same floor.

So I'm left with my thought originally generated by the badly designed seats and the small screen - what's the point in going to a movie theater?  I certainly never again want to visit that one I went to last night!  I'm willing to go to some expense, time and trouble to see a movie from a comfortable seat, with a huge screen, and surround quality sound played at the proper volume, but otherwise, I'd just as soon they shut down movie theaters altogether.



"Banana Song in Colombian Bar" (Tokyo-1991)

I used to go out for a beer or two from time to time (here and there in Tokyo, but mostly in Shibuya) with a friend from LA, and one evening he took me and a few other people to this Columbian bar run by a Columbian man he knew (who later appeared in a bit part in a very bad movie here that I can't remember the name of).  Visiting a place like that isn't as big of a deal now, but in 1991, bars run by foreigners were rarer, so it was interesting to go there on novelty value alone.  We had a good time it seems - judging from the 10-15 minutes of video I took there (typically, I can remember standing with my video camera, focusing on the guy as he performed behind the counter, but I can't remember much of anything other than my time behind the camera.  The conversations must not have been too interesting...)  The video clip starts out on the street, then goes up the stairs, and once inside there's some... some... not "footage"... there are a couple of clips of the guy singing and playing a keyboard behind the counter:

My friend had shown up late that evening (he was pretty habitually late, come to think of it), and then we ended up staying past the last train, so we walked over to his place (he lived nearby, fortunately) and I slept there for a few hours and then I took the first train (5:00 a.m.) towards home in the morning.

How can I remember those details after seventeen years?  I can't!  Or more precisely, I couldn't, until I saw those parts again - in the video.  There is a scene looking across a train station platform.  My arm appears in the frame as I and the camera look at the time on my wristwatch as my friend walks up late & apologizing.  Later on, there are video clips of going to a convenience store on the way to my friend's place; me looking very tired there before catching a few hours of sleep on the tatami; me half-asleep in the morning when I got up (I actually went to the trouble in the morning of setting the camera on a bookshelf, aiming it at myself, and videotaping myself sitting on the tatami, half-nodding off to sleep for a minute before finally getting up); the early morning streets; the trains back... I used to videotape everything.  While watching the tapes, the memories are roused.



"Kubuntu v8.04"

Another weekend working for the computer.  Typical deal - you figure you're going to spend a couple of hours upgrading an OS, and that couple of hours turns into a couple of days.  There's always something.  In this case I stupidly thought I'd do the lazy and quick [sarcastic and hysterical laughter] thing, and do an upgrade install from v7.10 to v8.04.  I knew better than to do such a thing (I'd tweaked the system too much for that to work, and it's not a good idea in general to do upgrade installs that (attempt to) take the OS across a major generational line anyway).

The result?  It could have been worse.  When the upgrade install failed (as I should have known it would), the system was a bit mucked up, but still functioning.  I (belatedly) thought "Okay - no prob!  I'll plug in an external USB hard drive, drop the files into that, and then do a clean install" - reformatting the hard drive and putting in v8.04 on a squeaky clean slate.

One problem though... the system no longer detected USB devices!  "Uuuu......." I think, while looking at my computer - knowing the files are sitting in the steel box, but not knowing how to get them out.  I fleetingly considered abandoning everything and just going ahead and wiping the hard drive, but irrational/impatient passion subsided and I decided to put the stuff I really wanted (needed?) to keep onto dual-layer DVD's in 8GB chunks and dump about 90GB of the 100GB of data (stuff that was already backed up - .tif images from Hubble, etc.).

If I hadn't put that DVD drive into the box after bringing it home from the used computer shop, I'm not sure what I would have done (learned command line stuff no doubt), but all's mostly happy that ends mostly happy I guess.

Next multi-hour batch of fun involved a glitch with the Adept Package Manager, which wasn't pulling in the list of available application software like it's supposed to.  It just unhelpfully showed the things already installed.  To make a too-long story a little bit longer, I finally figured out that was due to it's trying to pull in the file list from a bad source (or maybe not trying at all due to garbled text?).

After that was sorted out (it took me much longer than it should have to figure that one out), I had some setup problems with some applications I use, etc. etc.  Now I'm up and running, but there are still a number of things that I want to get set up and so the machine will continue to burn up time over the next week or so I imagine.

So how is Kubuntu v8.04?  Seems good so far.  I need to spend more time with it to know exactly what's what though.



"Lining-up Progress"

Continuing to look around in 2008 Japan and compare it to 1984-1992 Japan, another issue that comes to mind is standing in lines. When I arrived, I was shocked and dismayed to discover that at banks and fast-food places, there were several parallel lines, rather than one central line that fed to the next open teller or order taker. So you'd go to the bank in a hurry and pick a short line, and if you were lucky, you'd get out before people who had been waiting longer. If you were unlucky, you'd get in a line and - noticing that it wasn't moving - you'd take a closer look up the line and there would be a time-machine visitor from the deep dark ages who didn't know how to interact with machines, or someone who brought in a stack of bank books to update (for colleagues?), or some such thing, and you'd be standing there in frustration watching people who had come in after you, smoothly gliding up to another machine, completing their banking, and leaving while you stood there.

What to do... getting out of line at that stage would mean getting in the back of a line twice as long, which might contain its own glacially slow biped... etc. etc. So I imagine that you can imagine my happiness spike when they finally got around to setting it up so there was only one line, and people at the front of the line just went to whichever machine was open first.

Same thing with escalators - they would immediately jam up and they were good only for the effort saved in not walking. If you were in any kind of a hurry, the only way to zoom ahead was to use the stairs. Don't believe me that people jammed them up? Have a look at this video from 1991:


And um... yeah, that's it. I need to get some sleep now!

Sore dewa, mata,



"Spontaneous Dual Lines"

For about twenty years I lined up on one platform after another and another-n'-another-n'-another, and the lines were always three people across. I remember hearing recorded announcements early on at some stations asking people to line up three across, and it occurred to me that it hadn't always been that way, hence the announcement. After that, though, I don't remember hearing that announcement. Either it was one of those things that is always in the background, so you just automatically tune it out, or they stopped making the announcements since everyone was dutifully lining up three across?

The only problem with standing three across, is that when the train comes, and the three-across line has to split to let people off the train, that middle row of people have to get in one or the other new line on the right or left of the opening doors, so the process ends up interfering with equal access to the train (on some lines, at some stations, the first people in can actually - gasp!- sit down!!) - this doesn't, on the other hand, interfere whatsoever when people are getting onto an empty train at the first station.

Jump through the years from 1984 to around 2005 or so, and one day I saw two people standing at one of the door marks (where the doors will be is usually marked on the platform, and the train operators pride themselves on stopping at precisely the same spot at the station every time), so I walked up and parked my standing bipedal form next to them, forming the third person. They looked over at me and I felt disapproval/irritation radio waves... "What?...." I thought, as I assessed the situation.... Reconfirming that I was the third person; not the fourth or fifth, I looked off into the distance and broadcast anti-disapproval waves and thought "Hey! I'm not being pushy! I'm just doing the regular thing! What's with you?" (Naturally no words were exchanged.)

Since then, I've seen people standing in pairs more and more until it's gotten to the point lately, that it almost seems official to stand two across. Equal access to the inside, etc. is great, but what's not great is when it's overcrowded (like every bloody day on a couple of the trains I line up for), and then you have a handful of people leisurely standing at the front edge of the platform, and - by the time the train is about to arrive - a huge mob of people unable to be in any kind of line at all at the back, and in danger of dropping off the edge of the other side of the platform, which becomes a real mess when a second train arrives on that side. Adding to the fun, there are actually people trying to walk along the platform (which they must - lest there be disaster at the junction of the stairs and the platform), and they have to physically force themselves through the mob.

Then - earlier in the evening, as I'm waiting for a train in Shinjuku, I notice the recorded announcement is asking people to line up three across.... Either it's new or I've been missing it all these years... I think it's new. What I'm wondering now is whether the urge to line up in pairs instead of triangles is a natural phenomenon?



"Old Style Y500 Coffee Shop"

On the way home over the past couple of years, I've periodically looked out the train window (when I'm standing at a door that is - the seats face the inside of the train) and noticed an old style (previously ubiquitous) coffee shop, and idly thought I'd like to go in for an over-priced cup of coffee for old-time's sake.

And here I am sitting in said shop writing this by hand (enjoying the experience of writing by hand, but also realizing that each word will have to be reproduced on the keyboard before I can get this through the wires to the screen).

Okay, this is getting in the way - I'll just make short notes from here out and fill in the text later directly on the machine:

These old style coffee shops are fast disappearing, to the point where the only remaining ones will exist on nostalgia alone, rather than their original reason for existing.  For quite a while, Japan's coffee shops were famous for their overpriced (compared to prices for coffee in other countries anyway) coffee, but I'm not sure people understand what was being bought with Y500 for a cup of coffee.

The deal is, not only are free places to sit down in Tokyo few and far between, but most of the year, the weather tends not to be ideal for sitting outside.  The winter is cold, the spring is wet, the summer is hot & humid, and although autumn tends to be nice, it's also often visited with typhoons.  Then you're back to cold winter.  So, if you want to meet someone and sit and talk, where do you go?  Coffee shops used to be the best option, since you could sit in one talking with a friend for a few hours, after which the Y500 didn't seem so expensive, since it amounted to seat & table rental time out of the weather and in a cozy atmosphere (assuming smoke didn't cause you grief).

Then cheap coffee shop chains caught on, and the expensive places lost customers to them and began to disappear.  The cheap places are convenient and cheap, but - like fast-food restaurants - generally soulless.

Observations of the Y500 place in which I now sit - which fit for most of the similar-style coffee shops I've been in over the past 24 years:

You sit down, and either exchange a few words with the person you've come with, or else look around the coffee shop or out the window.  (Before cell phones, they were also good places to wait for someone when you had to prearrange a place to meet.)  Often the menu is already at the table, but sometimes it's brought, and water and hot wet towels are brought.  You ponder the menu for awhile, and order, and then talk (or look out the window, or read, etc.) while waiting for the coffee to arrive.

Coffee is brought in style.  Like in a classy restaurant, the delivery of the coffee is considered an important element.  The person who brings you the coffee sets it carefully in front of you in a nice cup (never a paper cup), with the handle facing to your left at 90-degrees.  I never bothered to find out the exact proper procedure for turning it 180 degrees before beginning to drink, but (sort-of) enjoyed the ritual of turning it anyway (shades of the tea ceremony here), and then pouring in a little cream & sugar and stirring it with the small spoon.

One time, I went with an acquaintance who was really into the correct rituals, etc., and was told that you're not supposed to stir it right away, but rather watch in fascination (said mostly in seriousness, with a little bit of sarcasm in the background) the patterns formed with the cream in the coffee.  Immediately stirring it into a uniform mud color is considered very uncultured.  (I've forgotten, but I think the ideal thing is to stir the black coffee, and carefully drop the cream into the still swirling coffee after the spoon is out of the way - in any case it looks pretty interesting & artistic when you do it that way.)

There are always two kinds of sugar on the table - in glass containers with wooden lids, and metal spoons with small wooden knobs on the end (the spoons rest in the sugar, with the handle passing through a cutout in the lid).  One is regular white sugar, and the other is a brown sugar in large crystals.  I don't remember what the deal is with the large brown-crystal sugar.  Either it's a taste thing, or one or the other is more suited to ice-coffee?  (They would bring a liquid syrup for the ice-coffee, come to think of it.)  I have no idea.  Personally, I always used the large brown crystal sugar in hot coffee.

There was (is) an ashtray on each table, as leaf-fire burning and inhalation for nicotine drug addicts is/was allowed.  StarBucks was the first place that didn't allow smoking anywhere in the entire store, and it was instantly popular with non-smokers who weren't happy about being forced to smoke with the smokers in smoke/coffee shops.  (Probably not a great time or place to visit this issue, but for those who bring up alcohol and people who drink as an argument against banning leaf-fire smoke - the comparison only holds if you physically grab someone and force alcohol down their throats - otherwise the comparison is just sophistic inanity.  The air is common to all in the same space - what people drink is not.)

Back to the specific coffee shop I'm in:

- Between myself and the window are cake... ads? (they're not menus exactly, but perform that function) sitting on a wooden rail.  One for "Milk Crepe", one for "Chocolate Cake Cake Set" and one for "Cheesecake".

- Old style wooden chairs.

- Wood-pattern linoleum floor.

- Two small square wooden tables pushed together to form the rectangle of each four-seat table.  (Easily adjusted for an extra person here or there.)

- Small tables mostly, one larger table (with eight chairs) in the middle of the room.  A sort of bar-style counter, although at the same height as the tables, where people can sit in regular-height chairs.

- Daily (coffee) special on A4 card tacked to wall.

- Unobtrusive background music.

- Incandescent lights (no florescent tubes anywhere that I can see - unusual in most spaces in Japan, although classy restaurants have been trending towards warmer, more subdued lighting).

- Exhaust fan in the wall (for leaf-fire smoke).

- Magazines and comic books in smallish bookcase.

- People talking in Y500 coffee shop style.  Is that sound due to the acoustics; the background music; or do people actually speak in a different way in these places?  From past experience, I would say it's a way of speaking.  It's not a library, but the concept is similar.  (Note: That last sentence began as Japanese and is basically a translated sentence - does it fly smoothly in English, or does it feel like an oddly translated string of words that doesn't quite come together in a cohesive meaning?  It's common in Japanese to say that something "isn't something, but...".

I look out the window and ponder the people coming and going from the station.  There is the muffled sound of trains coming into and leaving the station, and the "kong-kong-kong" of crossing bell sounds generated by speakers.

Time to leave - I pick up the bill on the table and note that its height is A6, with a narrower width.

As I leave, I think I would like to return before long, but the first thing I think of when contemplating doing so, is the time it costs.  Perhaps this is what has really killed off most of these types of shops - the fact that people can communicate with anyone via e-mail now (with cell phones), and don't need to arrange a physical meeting to talk.

So saying, a scene comes to mind.  Later in the say, as I walked past a StarBucks in Shinjuku, I looked in the window and saw a woman sitting alone at a table for two (not four, as would be the case in the old-style shops), talking on her cell phone while she was doing something with her laptop at the same time.  Multitasking - why waste time meeting someone in a settled atmosphere and having a leisurely talk when you can do three or four things at once?  Quantity is more important than quality?  For everything gained, something is lost?



"Cherry Blossoms Mostly Gone"

I might just as well have titled this "Finally it's Getting Warm". The cherry blossoms always come out when there is no trace of new leaves on other trees (or the cherry blossom trees - the leaves come out after the flowers), which is their attraction, but it's always really cold when everyone goes out for the hanami drinking parties under the trees. By the time the weather is feeling a little comfortable, the petals are all gone. It's a good scam those trees have going! Just a week or so of flowers and they're given pride of place all over the country. Not so lucky fruit trees, which are considered bad outside of commercial farms, since they include the possibility of attracting (gasp!) insects!

Watching one of my video tapes from August 1990, I was surprised to see myself pointing out a security camera that had been installed over the train station platform. Trying to think of something in the news that prompted a stepped up security diligence, I looked up the gas attack on the subway (I was here, but had forgotten when it happened exactly), which turns out to have been in 1995, so it was either something else, or just the flow of time towards the odd age we live in now.

And in the video department - a view of the famous (or maybe infamous) Shibuya crossing near the Hachiko Plaza. Wait a minute.... Hmm? In the upload, the aspect ratio was destroyed and it looks extraordinarily horrible now! I should delete it, but I'll leave it up as an example of what happens when the aspect ratio is ruined:


Also "In the Shibuya Hachiko Crowd" (2008):


And "Shibuya - Waiting in Hachiko Square" (2008)




"Manga on the Way Down?"

There was a special on a weekly news program last night about how sales of manga magazines (typically weekly publications with ongoing bits of several different manga) have been falling. Apparently books sales of specific manga - like the long-running "Conan the Detective" - are still selling well, but people seem to be losing interest in the formerly hugely successful weekly magazines (printed on very cheap paper and looking almost like small phone books).

Maybe this ties in with dismal book sales in general - people are getting used to getting reading material off the Internet, and many don't buy any books at all. Whatever - I just felt sort of vindicated when I saw the report though, as I've been thinking that newer manga have gotten worse, so maybe others agree....

Somewhat related in how time relentlessly flows on, for both good and otherwise - here is a video showing both the modern face of Gotanda and a narrow backstreet from the past:




"The Curse of Audio Recordings"

As someone who is kept from going stark raving mad on the sardine run commute to-and-from work by audio recordings (usually there's no space for a book, so listening to something is all I can do), I look at my title sitting up there on the screen and feel as though I probably shouldn't say that about something I use and appreciate on a daily basis, but the flip side of listening to a favorite song or book, is listening to something that sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard, and hearing the exact same irritating sound again-and-again-and-again-and-again.... and again-and-again-and-again-and-again-and-again-and... Aggggghhhhh!! Stop already!!!

What do you do when you've got a vast and complex train system with an incredible number of stations, and you want to have a recording telling people what the next station is?  A coupe of options might be:

a) Have someone read through a list of stations, reading "The next stop is Tokyo Station"; "The next stop is "Yurakucho Station"; "The next stop is Shinbashi Station".  The resulting recordings would differ slightly from one station to another - a shocking concept - almost like real speech!

b) Have someone make a single recording saying "The next station is....." and then give them a list of stations to read "Tokyo"; "Yurakucho"; "Shinbashi".  Use the single recording for all stations; just dropping in the relevant station name at the end.  A "benefit" of this is that all the recordings will be uniform.  The disadvantage is that it sounds unreal, because... well... it *is* unreal!  And then this Frankenstein creation gets worse; 'Frankenstein monster, meet Dr. Clone!'

The "B" route seems to be what JR has done with its English announcements, although that single template sentence may be different for different lines... (the recordings that torment me on a regular basis are the ones on the Yamanote Line and the Chuo Line).

What prompts this rant?  I took a video clip of the station display screen (there's also one displaying ads, news & weather) over one of the doors (there are a pair of displays over every door), including the audio file that was playing at the time I made the clip.  After ranting up a storm about the recordings, I played back the video clip, thinking "I wonder how this will sound to someone who hasn't yet been tortured with this recording..." as the clip began.

How did it sound with that mindset?  Not so bad!  But - and this a very large "but" - keep in mind that the announcement is likely played quite a bit more loudly on the train than you're hearing it on your computer, and also that (except for the station name part), as you ride the train and it stops at one station after another, you're forced to listen to that same recording over and over and over....

Anyway - here's a video clip (and recording) from the Yamanote Line:

And by way of contrast, here's a video clip of a Toyoko Line train, which very sensibly skips an English announcement and lets the clear bi-lingual display over the doors do the job:

It would have been nice if JR had done the same!



"English Train Announcements - Why?"

In newer trains in Tokyo, they have bilingual (Japanese & English) displays over the doors on the inside of the train, as well as bilingual displays on the outside of the train (on the front, rear, and sides), not to mention bilingual signs on the station platforms. Great stuff - the long-term citizens of the country get to see their own language, and hapless tourists & businesspeople get an International language more widely recognized than Japanese.

What's not so great is the horrible audio; recorded announcements relentlessly assaulting everyone's ears before and after every station. What's wrong with English language announcements on Tokyo trains?

- First off, they are unneeded. "Shinjuku" in Japanese is also "Shinjuku" in English, "Nakano" in Japanese is "Nakano" in English... except when you get some mono-linguist who can't speak the local language to say it - like they have done for the JR announcements - and they pronounce it "NaKAno". Grrrrrr..!

- Bad education! When people ride a train every day, week-after-week, month-after-month, and year-after-year, and every time, their ears and minds are assaulted with the very same badly pronounced station names - I wouldn't be surprised if children here start calling Yotsuya "YoTSUya" like the bloody announcement on JR trains! And even if it's not bad education, it's disgusting to listen to! It's sound pollution! Yamete kudasai yo!

- The English parts of the announcements, although said with an irritatingly hard and twangy voice, are at least pronounced correctly (with an American accent). BUT - they are said at one-third speed, as though an over-eager kindergarten teacher is trying too hard to super-pronounce every single word, and to leave miles of space between each word for easy comprehension. I think even if English was my seventh and most poorly understood language, that way of "speaking" the language would still be highly irritating to listen to! Kanben shite kure yo!

- The audio assault English announcements (unneeded & unwanted) are played louder than the Japanese announcements!! Why??? Is it some kind of mental torture cleverly devised to ease crowding a little by getting people to walk or cycle to work, rather than face the horrible sound waves broadcast on the trains?

- In one of the announcements (about smoking, or babies or something), it sounds as though the woman badly needs to clear her throat... and you stand there on the train - involuntarily clearing your throat - and you think "Over time, millions - millions of people are going to hear the announcement and they couldn't be bothered to rerecord a bad spot?!? Incredible!! Astounding!! Outrageous!! Unforgivable!! And - oh so amazingly irritating!!! Grrrrrrrrrr!!!!!"

And... that's basically it. I realize the announcements are intended to be helpful, but they're really not needed (or wanted), and if they must be there, it sure would be nice if they could turn the volume down on them and rerecord them in a more natural sounding way. But really - they're not needed! They really aren't! Even tourists would rather take in the ambiance of a foreign country - enhanced by listening to cool Japanese announcements. Who is happy with those profoundly irritating English announcements? Maybe one person out of 333,333 - or less! Arigata-meiwaku desu!

Rant over....



"Oh Yeah... That's How it Was..."

Being with someone over a period of years, you know they (and yourself) are changing, but it doesn't seem like so much - until you take a look at a picture taken fifteen years ago, and suddenly the contrast is quite stark. The first reaction is a kind of shock, and then as you stare at the photo, the previous time drifts back into present day consciousness and the huge change between then and now is inescapable, not to mention the way the forgotten ambiance of the old "present" time comes back to haunt you.

And so it is with the many videos I'm watching that I took from 1990-92. In the flow of time from 1990 to 2008, many momentous things have happened, but on a day-to-day basis, it was just time flowing forward, and major change is something I abstractly imagined for the future, but never perceived in the way a time machine blast to the future would put the changes in stark contrast to what was (or "is" if it's the "future").

Not by way of illustration, but just because it happened to come up today - here's a video clip of a railway employee punching tickets by hand.

"Hand-Punched Ticket Gates in 1990 Tokyo at Shinjuku Station" 

I don't how soon (or late) other countries automated their ticket gates, but with the trains in Tokyo, automatic ticket gates started appearing at one station after another in 1991, and the only line I can think of off-hand that still does it by hand is the Chichibu Line in Saitama, although I'm sure there must be branch lines here and there away from the major city centers that still get by without modern machinery for taking and issuing tickets.



"Dust & Pollen... Sniffle"

For the past few years, every spring the media cranks up the "the tree pollen this spring is worse than before..." reports, and - this year in particular - I do believe they're right. Pretty much non-stop for the past three weeks or so I've had itchy and/or sore eyes, runny nose, sneezing fits, etc. The story is that after the war, they planted a fast-growing type of pine tree ('sugi' in Japanese) forming near-mono cultures in the mountains, and now these trees dump massive amounts of pollen into the air every spring.

And something I hadn't picked up before, but hear isn't new - apparently, there is an increasing amount of dust blowing in from China's deserts - and one sand storm I even witnessed myself. I wouldn't have though that sand from deserts in China would ride the winds all the way to Japan, but the winds are strong, the sand particles are small....

And so it was that - on the way home - I dropped by a park to see the cherry trees in blossom, armed with a towel in one hand and a camera in the other. It was a typical experience for this time of year, except for one detail.

At the entrance to the back side of the park (where most of the cherry blossom trees are) , I noticed a sign saying that cherry blossom viewing ("hanami") was only allowed until 9:00 p.m., and it warned people not to sing karaoke (good, good) or play music, and - get this - not to talk too loudly! I looked over at the large pricey houses bordering the park and thought "What's this? Did one of you guys complain to city hall about the noise? Do you think this park is your personal property or something?".

An over-reaction I suppose, but I remembered an article I'd read about a park in Nishi-Tokyo-shi that had some sort of sprinklers for kids to run around in the summer. Great idea. But they shut them down. Why? One neighbor complained that they could hear the sound of children playing and it disturbed them.(!!) What blows my mind is that one deranged lunatic is listened to and the sentiments of thinking people are ignored. A person can't stand the sound of children playing in a park? They should move to the Sahara Desert, or Mars, or something.




Just when I'm trying to be careful and quietly get myself safely to work without incident, I get on the Yamanote Line and suddenly there's someone pushing against the right side of my back as I get on - and as the doors close, they're still pushing away. Meanwhile, there's a man to my left and the closed doors straight ahead - no where to go! The person keeps pushing in a strange way - the way someone might if they are from Mars and they're used to riding completely empty trains and don't understand what the Tokyo morning crush-rush consists of.

I tried to ignore it, but as the person kept pushing at me, I started thinking about it... it seemed less like someone really in a pinch and needing space than someone being weird, so I looked back and discovered a very mean looking woman in her fifties with one of those profoundly ugly brown bags from one of the "brand" bag sellers (good gig - I wish I was in on the money generated by those things - so long as I didn't have to look at them!), who has enough space for two people and has her bag arranged sideways so it pokes into my back, and is holding out a book to read with one hand and shoving at me with the other....

Gentle readers not intimately familiar with Tokyo's very high-density train system, you may even think that's normal behavior. No. It's not. Not in general, and certainly not during the morning crush-rush. As I took in that scene - 1) mean-spirited obatarian, 2) hideous brown bag being used not only as a visual eye-sore, but as a physical weapon, and 3) enough space for two people... something snapped and I spun around (knocking her off balance, since she was pushing on me with all her might) and told her "Iikagen-ni shiro!" (something like "That's enough!" or "Stop it already!"). (The expression is stronger in Japanese than that translation makes it seem). Her snarling expression changed to one of shocked surprise, and I turned around and faced the window again - getting off at the next station.

Agggghhhh.... I don't want to be be in conflict! This is what is typically (and relatively recently) called "kireru" (to snap, or lose control). Even in the cool of several-hours-later tonight, I still think that obatarian needed to have someone tell her that (she wasn't behaving like a civilized human being) - I just wish it was someone else and not me! I want to peacefully commute to work! I don't want to battle my way there! Mattaku!



"Anti-Mobile Phone Fanatics"

When mobile phones first got small and cheap, it was pretty common to hear a new user talking on one on the train - typically saying something like "Guess where I am right now? - On the Yamanote Line!! I just got my own mobile phone!", or just talking loudly & proudly - suddenly having the freedom to talk on the phone anywhere!

The next step - after cell phones were becoming commonplace - was to encourage people not to talk on the phone on the train unless they really needed to, as the noise could disturb other passengers. About this time, cell phone e-mail kicked in, so was well and good.

Then... they reported that there was a possibility of someone with a cell phone causing interference with a pacemaker and killing someone dead. I don't think there has been so much as a single incidence of this actually happening at any time or any place in the country , but this gave some anti-mobile phone nut cases ammunition to go around verbally attacking people for having a cell phone in their hand. There are even two individuals that I've run into several times (the chances of this happening in a mega-city of 30,000,000 people are not so strong!), who are really wacky.

One is this woman in her late forties or maybe early fifties who - each time she sees someone with a cell phone in their hand - goes over to them and says with a life-or-death urgency "Yamete! Yamete! Yamete!" ("Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!). This might even be okay (sort of... if said in a more human-like manner) if it were in the priority seat area, which is the official area to turn the power of your mobile phone off, lest people start falling over dead left and right, but this attack-creature strikes all and sundry in any part of the train she's in (I've seen her two or three times on one line and once on a different line).

The other attack-biped I've seen several times, is this short, thin man in his twenties, who verbally attacks anyone he sees with a cell phone out in their hand ("What are you doing?! You could poke someone with that!"). Certainly there are some people who will jam their cell phones into people's backs while they're text-messaging on an overly crowded train, but every time I've seen this guy, the train hasn't been especially crowded, so I don't think there was any issue that a normal biped would feel driven to loudly complain about.

What prompts me to bring this up? On the Sardine Run home this evening, an argument broke out half-way down the train car. One (older-sounding) man loudly accused a (younger-sounding) man of poking him with his cell phone. The younger man less loudly denied the accusation, to which the older man accused him of it again in a still louder voice.

I had gotten on the train at its first station, so I was able to wait for an empty train and thus grab a seat. Sitting in my seat comfortably reading a magazine, I and my seat-mates (and nearby standing passengers) looked towards the direction from where the sounds were coming (we couldn't see anything from the seats - maybe the standing people could) with just a very slight sense of minor alarm. Even if things became more heated, the train was crowded enough that the two warriors wouldn't be able to move down the train car.

So how did that turn out? After the heated exchange, presumably the younger man backed down, as there were no more battle noises over mobile phones for the rest of the trip.



"Memory Corruption"

I've been looking at several hours of video tape I took (from 1990-92) that has been sleeping in one closet or another unwatched over the past 16-18 years. Somewhat expected has been the sensation of coming face to face with several of my own personal experiences that I had forgotten happened. While watching these experiences again, most of them come back, but some seem strangely missing.

That's not too big of a deal, but what was almost completely unexpected and a bit dismaying are some experiences I have often remembered over the years, that - now that I'm watching them exactly as they happened, enshrined on the tape - I'm shocked to discover that the version in my memory, which I had believed to be spot-on accurate, is often slightly different than the version on the videotape, which I must believe - especially since I took it myself! But more on that aspect later....

Back to forgotten memories. One example is three hours of tape I took in and around Tokyo Station on a single day in 1991. I had obviously decided to focus on Tokyo Station and I spent an entire day and evening there walking the platforms, diving into trains for a few minutes before they began a new journey (Tokyo is a terminal stop for some lines, so there's enough of a lag between arrival and the next departure in the opposite direction, to have a quick look inside), walking in the hallways of the Tokyo Station Hotel (now defunct), and walking around the surrounding station area a little.

A bit of time and effort went into that, and yet I can't remember making a decision to do it... well... wait... after thinking about it for the past 36 hours or so, I seem to remember deciding to focus on something in detail instead of doing my usual deal where I would get off at one station, walk around all day in one direction or another, and then, late in the evening, look for a train line - any train line - to begin the journey home on. But it's a faint memory and I can't quite remember myself doing what I see myself doing in the video images taken that day. Obviously, spending a day exploring Tokyo Station wasn't interesting enough to me to warrant thinking about again after I had done it. And so the memory was lost, and I find myself looking at myself (I used to periodically record myself at arm's length making commentary) and the very things I saw from my own vantage point, and it almost seems like it's another person doing what I'm watching. (In one sense it was - 17 years have wrought a different man in some ways.)

Now... for the really disturbing aspect to looking again at my life recorded on videotape in 1991. In watching the things I have remembered and thought about over the years, I kept wondering why my memory didn't hold on to a precisely accurate recording of what happened. It was fairly accurate, but why not spot-on 100% accurate? In the middle of reviewing the tapes, I listened to a radio interview with a researcher who has been studying how people's brains work, and there was a fascinating thing that came up in the discussion about how memory works. Apparently the researchers discovered that, rather than the brain re-accessing a static recording of an event, when it is recalled and thought about, it is overwrite re-recorded! So just recalling it, thinking about it, and remembering it, alters it! Revelation! Shock! Dismay! No wonder PR and advertising work only too well! Hammer away at people and give them an altered, inaccurate version of the truth (otherwise known as lies) and the brain will have a tendency to believe the story as fact after a while.

Groan! We're doomed! Well... wait. There is recording! Writing, cameras, video.... By way of (frivolous) example, thanks to my videotape, I can now give you a far more accurate view of 1991 than I could have before revisiting 1991 via the tapes (and there are a lot of them - 20 hours for June alone). Modern TV shows and movies here in Japan now portray the "bubble economy" years as a time of living it up, but that was only true for a very tiny percentage of the population. When I see kids playing on a shitamachi street in my 1991 video, it brings to mind how inaccurate modern portrayals of the time are. And I was there! Even though I was in Japan for every single day of the bubble years, the modern movies still influenced my memories of the times! History from previous generations? I have to wonder how accurate it can be if very recent history is already distorted!

The conclusion must be that recording things (by writing them down, taking photos, etc.) is absolutely vital to maintaining some kind of accuracy in history.



"Video Clips from 2008 & 1991"

This area was peculiar as it wasn't on my street map - it was just blank! Walking around, I discovered that half the houses were vacant, so could this have been one of the areas of Tokyo where squatters just threw up houses after the devastation of the war? In any case, it's probably a safe bet that this is completely gone now - sitting under high-rise apartment towers no doubt. (I'll go for a look when I find time.):

Off the Map (Minami-Senju, Tokyo-1991)


Looking out of a Tobu-Tojo line train heading away from Tokyo. This area may be basically the same - with more houses of course....:

Saitama Countryside (1991)


Modern view - taken just a couple of weeks ago - of the Shibuya Station platform as the Yamanote Line train left for Harajuku. As the train crosses a bridge just out of the station, there is a view of the famous scramble crosswalks - with people walking in all directions at once:

Pulling away from Shibuya Station - Shibuya Crossing


Another modern view - of walking towards and then through the ticket gates of Shinjuku Station on the west side:

Entering Shinjuku Ticket Gates on the West Side of the Station


View of the old Marunouchi Line. More interesting than the visuals of this train are the sounds - the air compressors kicking in (sounding quite different from modern trains) and the old-at-the-time station announcement which was changed several years ago. Incidentally, these train cars are now being used in Argentina! (See: http://halfzero.sakura.ne.jp/en/subte1.htm) , and for my video clip, see:

Old Marunouchi Line Red Train at Ginza Station (1991)


Visually interesting to me personally, but maybe not to anyone else.... Of some historical interest is the old type bus (some of which are still in use) and the fender-mounted mirrors on a passing car:

Ginza Reflections (1991)




"Air Flow & Oxygen"

Yesterday at work, I was feeling like it was as hot as the Sahara Desert, so I checked my thermometer and confirmed the sensation with the scientific information that it was 28 degrees (28C - 82.4F). Being a modern building, none of the windows are openable; and being the era in which we are currently living, all doors are security lock protected, so the doors to the emergency stairwells (which do have openable windows) must be kept shut at all times (other than momentarily being opened for entry and exit).

The result is that not only is it very uncomfortably hot (something that could be adjusted, except there are several sickly people on the floor who act as though they will drop over dead from frostbite if the temperature drops below about 25C), but the air is very stale and so the combination of hot and stuffy makes it feel even hotter still. Add to this the fact that the approximately 120 people sharing the same space are all consuming oxygen, and you have a fairly hellish workspace air-quality wise. It's a shame too, because otherwise, it's a good group of people and it should be a pleasant place to work. If only I didn't have to work while fighting off the sensation of approaching death from heat and lack of oxygen.

This is something I really envy past generations - who were able to work in buildings with openable windows. ISO energy savings are a good thing, but the amount of oxygen in the air and the general quality of the air should also be taken into consideration - if there are to be oxygen-fueled bipeds working in the space that is. Fill it up with machinery and keep the bipeds out, and there's no need for oxygen, but if people are working there... please give us some more live-giving oxygen!

It's the same thing with new trains - they've done away with the roof vents, and made half the windows unopenable. Even the openable ones people seem to be afraid to open. Here's the other thing - not only is new design putting us into sealed boxes, but too many people seem to think that's just fine. I guess they have special low-oxygen demand bodies? Or... they're getting sicker and sicker and don't even know it? When I see someone sitting in 27-degree heat with a blanket on because they feel cold, I can't believe that they're healthy.



"White Day"

March 14th, "White Day" in a Japan. A holiday reportedly begun by confectionery companies wanting to cash in on more chocolate sales following Valentine's Day. On Valentine's Day, women give men chocolate, and on "White Day", men give women chocolate. Westerner's living here don't necessarily go along with this however, so on Valentine's Day, you'll see a long line of women buying chocolate with a lone western man in line. On "White Day", the stores are pushing chocolate, but I never see lines (of any kind of biped) the way there are on Valentine's Day.

The idea seems to be that a woman will give a man she's interested in a Valentine's Day chocolate, and if the man is interested, he will follow up by giving her a "White Day" chocolate. I'd always heard that the "white" in that came from white chocolate, but a quick look at a Wikipedia entry says that it may have started with a marshmallow manufacturer and then spread to chocolate from there. Seems sort of plausible, although certainly not widely known! I'm a little skeptical, come to think of it. Why would you want to give someone marshmallows?



"You Don't Get Used To It"

I was nearly knocked over by this man while getting off one of the four trains I take to work every morning. Feeling that it wasn't necessary, and in an anger flash that bypassed reasonable thinking, I reached out my fist, placed it against the very top left corner of his chest (his shoulder really), and pushed with a "Hey you!" intent. It wasn't a punch, and it wasn't a strong push. Certainly it's a good thing I didn't go stark-raving-mad and actually punch him, which would be considered assault. What's bad though, is that if he decides to lie and say that I punched him, and he gets someone to say that I used my fist, he could make a lot of trouble for me.

I was depressed all day about this, thinking that I can't let myself lose control of absolute reason when in a situation like that. I mentioned it to a guy at work and he said "I would think you'd be used to that sort of thing by now".

Yeah... you might think so, but generally that's not how it works. The more bad experiences you have, the more hypersensitive you become to them. Twenty, ten, or five years ago, I would never have done that. But the unpleasant things that have happened to me over the past 24 years of being out on the public transportation system have built up to the point where I think I'm either going to have to arrange to come in earlier to work (to get myself into a lower pressure commuting time zone), or else move within walking distance of the company.

Tomorrow morning... I probably should get on a completely different part of the train. An obvious solution? It's not that simple. Losing around thirty seconds at the disembarkation transfer point of that train could make me miss the next express, and then end up being fifteen minutes late for work. I need to be near the exit.

Something needs to change. Punching people is no answer. But then neither is laying down and being trampled on. How to remain civil and still retain a tiny bit of dignity and self esteem.....



"The Sardine Run (Tokyo-1991)"

The Tokyo train system is a fantastic system, and it's constantly being improved upon. Nevertheless, moving 30,000,000 people about, leads to some crowding on some lines at some times..... This video was taken in 1991, but when a train is really packed, the situation is the same today.

So, to my Japanese friends, please believe me when I say that I have nothing but the greatest respect for for the Tokyo Train system. I think it's the best in the world. The reason I'm posting this, is that when I say to my foreign friends that I'm tired from the trains, and that the morning trains are so crowded... I don't think they believe me! So I want to show them what I'm talking about!

The video is of the Seibu Ikebukuro Line, which has implemented some track and train improvements since the video was taken. The system in fact, has never stopped growing for about six decades now. It just grows and grows! Still, I am nearly always (to one degree or another) basically in the same position today as the commuters in the 1991 video.

Well - here it is:

Let me know how that seems to you and how it compares to your own city's train system.



"Closer to the Process"

Part of what it takes to run an efficient train system is the constant replacement of older trains with newer ones. All well and good, but there are some drawbacks to the newest class of railway car - chief among them being less ventilation than the older ones (they've done away with the roof vents in the newest ones), and then there are things like motor noise....

A quieter train should be a good thing, but quieter is only good if you can relax. When you're packed in as a vertical sardine with a few hundred other sardines in the same train car, then distractions like wind noise and motor noise can be quite welcome as a distraction and indication of speed.

And... something else. The old type trains are manually run, with a throttle lever and a brake lever. The train is taken up to speed with the throttle, and then the throttle is cut back to zero and the train just coasts for a while, until it's lost enough speed that the throttle is thrown back on to get the speed back up. For braking, there's motor braking where the motors are basically turned into generators and some power is pumped back into the lines, and then the regular brakes are used towards the end of the stop.

I bring this up, because I go out to Mitaka from time to time on the Chuo Line and they've been phasing out the 1982 trains over the past year, to the point where there are only a few of the old trains left and soon those will be gone. Last week, I got on one of the old ones, and since it was running just about ten minutes in front of an express, the operator was racing between stations as fast as the train would go so as not to hold up the express (which passes the slower train at Mitaka). I was standing looking out a door window, listening to my MP3 player (Creative), and I could perceive how the operator was running the machinery (motor noise heard over the voice recording I was listening to). They got full on the throttle right out of each station, and left the throttle on full until the train was up to near its maximum speed (about 100km/h I think), at which time they cut the throttle and let the train coast for just ten seconds or so before starting fairly heavy braking for the next station.

So - big deal I guess... but there really is something to be said for sensing the speed of the train through the motor noise, wind leaking through the rattly windows a little, the sound of the metal doors rattling back and forth in their old worn tracks, etc. The more isolated we are from understanding how machinery works, the more numb & ignorant we become. Or not? I hope not.



"1991 Tokyo - Expensive Umbrellas & Long Hair"

In the day-to-day chain of living one day to the next, the world changing is not often striking, and so it has been with a bit of a shock that I've started watching my old videos taken in 1991. I didn't realize just how much things have changed since that time. It's not in the details so much as the feeling between the frames, but the details are connected in an obvious way, so that's what I'll focus on until I can come up with some sort of (hopefully) coherent bit of text that will at least hint at what it felt like to be walking the streets of Tokyo in 1991.

Why focus on 1991? Because I have about 200 hours of video from 1991! At the time, I nearly always carried a video camera with me wherever I went, and I had the thing fired up most of the time, taking a stream of pictures every minute or so. (I always carried several batteries, an extra two-hour tape, and in heavy usage from 1990 to 1992, I burned out four cameras.)

So - on to a few obvious detail differences in 1991:

- Many young women had long straight hair that reached halfway down their backs. This was most common among single women in their early twenties, but some high school girls also had it. Now it's practically unheard of.

- Y100 clear plastic umbrellas had yet to make an appearance, so umbrellas were more varied and more interesting when any crowd opened up a sea of them.

- It was right around this time that schoolgirl uniforms first began appearing as mini-skirts, but it was still unusual. In fact, this is something that was shocking at the time! You got used to school uniforms for girls always being long, and so the first time you saw a group of schoolgirls in mini-skirt uniforms, it seemed sort of... I hesitate to use the word, but it fits the feeling at the time: outrageous & almost shocking. (Not that I was distressed by the sight...).

- The vast majority of the ticket gates were still not automated, so you gave your ticket to an actual living human being. From this point forward though, they steadily installed automated ticket gates and now there are hardly any stations anywhere without the machines.

And a comment specifically for this video clip:


This was taken in the Oku-tama area of Tokyo, up near the mountains. It may not look like Tokyo, but it is. Probably by design, the western part of Tokyo reaches into the mountains, making it easier to lay claim to part of the watershed there.



"1991 Tokyo - Hibarigaoka Rain (July 1991)"

1991 - It was just before video camera manufacturers came out with stabilization technology, so there is some camera shake at telephoto lengths, but I tried to hold the camera steady and it's fairly stable at wider angles at least. I just figured out today how to pull a small bit out of a two-hour digital transfer from 8mm analog tape, so it's more haphazard than anything, but the rain seemed sort of interesting (to me anyway), so I grabbed that as a test. I'll try to find more interesting bits for the next video post....

The out-of-sight opening on the right of the frame that people are running to, is the side entrance to Hibarigaoka Station on the Ikebukuro Line in Tokyo.

The short clip is here:



"Mr. Foot-Kicker"

The ride into work today wasn't overly bad, but Mr. Foot-Kicker was standing next to me and he kicked my foot about twenty times on the way into town. The first five or six times I thought he was just accidentally acting like the big sub-human neanderthal bear he looked like, but after being kicked (and fairly hard, not the usual light accidental tap) about fifteen times, I had to consider the possibility that it was intentional.

The train finally reached my station, and as I got off (receiving a final parting kick from that low-life critter), I walked over to the next train and pondered what to do about it if the beast assaulted my foot again tomorrow. Visions of hitting the emergency door release and throwing him off the train at speed leaped to mind, but that's what bottled up frustration does to the imagination. Getting back on an even keel, I could only think of talking to him - something like this (in Japanese):

"Hi there. How are you today? Is there some reason that you have to haul off and kick me every 90 seconds? Would you mind stopping that please?"

If I'm lucky, the beast will have crawled back under a rock or gone back to its cage at the zoo, and I'll never have to see it again, but no - I see that bugger from time to time on the train, so it'll likely be (shudder-shudder) back.



"Three Mysteries Solved?"

I used to (still do actually) wonder why bright lights (overly-bright in my opinion) are so beloved in this country. Another of the many mysteries I've sought an explanation for, is how people manage to stay up studying or working so late without falling asleep. Still another mystery is how kids' study desks have florescent lights mounted in such a way that the light not only illuminates the study material, but also shines directly into the eyes of the person studying.

Suddenly, the three seem interconnected! Bright florescent light shining directly into your eyes has got to have some effect in keeping sleep at bay! And then it becomes a lifelong habit, and people vastly overuse artificial lighting. The popular theory is that in the bad old days, things were dark (and this is true enough), so people developed a passion for light. That probably is also true, but there's more, and anyway, the current crop of twenty-something people are pretty far removed from the proverbial bad old days....


2008/02/22 06:58

"A Desire for Space - 43,200 Rides & Counting"

Growing up in the western area of the US, I didn't like the desert very much - I always preferred lots of trees in the wild on one hand, and lots of buildings and excitement in the city on the other hand.  But after 12 years in Japan, I went to the US desert in 1986 and it was just so wonderfully empty!  No people!  No cars!  No trucks!  No noise!  No buildings!  No smoke!  Just wonderful, glorious space!  And stars!  Lots of stars seen through transparent (as opposed to translucent) air!

With this in mind, I sometimes find myself standing in a sardine-packed train - dreaming of sitting in a car, listening to music I like on the car's stereo.  That image seems like pure paradise.  It wouldn't matter if the car was a traffic jam - it would just feel so nice to have that space all to myself.

There's another element to train travel in mega-city Tokyo that should be explored.  Namely the Russian roulette nature of it.  The overwhelmingly vast majority of people who ride the rails are decent human beings, who just want to get from point-A to Point-B without molesting other innocent souls, but there are (inevitably in any society on the planet) some unfriendly elements out there in the crowd.

Think of this way - take a two or three hour walk around your city, walking through a park, through a department store, etc.  Have a good look at all the people you meet and imagine how it would feel to have them physically pressed up against you.

Ah-ha!  You may well have recoiled in horror already just at the concept, without having even gone through the mechanics of really imagining it.  Go ahead and imagine it, because to comprehend the Russian roulette game of becoming a sardine every morning and every night to get to and from work, you must do this thing.  Look at everyone and imagine how it would feel with them up against you.  (Guys, I know what you're thinking, but forget it!  It's not like that!  Also, there's a "Women Only" car for the rush times, and aside from that, women work pretty hard to avoid the horror of RRST - Russian Roulette Sardine Time.)

Also keep in mind the time factor and laws of increasing probability as you spend year after year on the system.  With different jobs and whatnot, I think it's averaged out to about two-and-a-half hours (round trip) per weekday, which would mean the following tale of woe and pain:

Five days per week
20 days per month
20x12= 240 days a year
240 days x 24 years = 5,760 days
2.5 hours per day x 5,760 = 14,400 hours
14,400 hours divided by 24-hour blocks=...
600 days in the trains

600 days - more than a year and a half of my life spent on the Tokyo trains.  That's bad enough, but what makes me look into the distance with a feeling of something having gone wrong, is that 14,400 hour figure.  Go back to your two-hour walk and an inevitable character or two that you would definitely not like to be in physical contact with.  You can keep a watch out for unpleasant bipeds, but you can't always spot things in time to avoid them.  It's a low percentage of the total - out of 14,400 hours, really bad experiences probably only amount to... say... a few hours, but those few hours out of 14,400 were pretty intensely bad, so the lingering desire not to have them repeat stays with you.

Actually, hours isn't the right unit to look at here.  I've both lived and worked in a number of places in Tokyo, not to mention going here and there for one reason or another, and daily train rides have ranged from two minutes (the typical distance between stations on most of the subways), to an hour.  The average train ride overall, would probably work out to twenty minutes (although if you take away the hour-long rides, that would fall to fifteen minutes).

So, for the total number of train rides so far, multiplying 14,400 by three should be somewhere on the playing field: 43,200.  A relatively small number of those rides have been really bad (very many have been at least mildly unpleasant - probably more than half), but the bad ones have really been bad - some examples:

 - While waiting to board a train, someone spit on my backpack from behind - which I discovered as I was taking it off as I got on the train

 - I was thrown up on.  Not intentionally, but I was still thrown up on!  And then I had to transfer to other trains smelling like I had crawled out of the sewer, with people looking at me like "Man!  I knew foreigners smelled bad, but this is too much!" (the evil brew seemed to be a mixture if cheap red wine, grilled meat, and stomach acids).

 - Back in 1986 this old guy who probably was in WW-II, harassed my wife in front of me (while we were in Kyoto).  It could have been worse - an Australian friend of mine nearly throttled a guy who was more persistently harassing his wife in front of him on a train - and in a more obnoxious way than the experience my wife and I had.

 - On Monday of this week, as I was part of the mass of people flowing off the train, this powerful neanderthal standing beside the door opening, put his knuckles into the middle of my back, exactly on the spine, and gave a mighty shove - four days later, I still have back pain in that spot and I'm about to arrange a hospital visit to see if my spine has been damaged.  The people on my side who stumbled with me away from the mighty shove on my spine are probably the only thing that prevented that beast from breaking my back.

Sitting here right now typing with my back still in pain, a car interior seems like a blissful paradise of surrounding sheet metal - keeping neanderthals at bay and away from my spine.  Some things you wonder if they are accidental or intentional - this could only have been intentional.  After all my years riding hellishly crowded trains, I have never even remotely come close to doing to another human being what that neanderthal did to me.  It couldn't have been an accident.  (If you're skeptical, keep in mind that in recent years there have been widely reported cases of passengers actually murdering other passengers - like... dead, you know?  No more train rides for the dead body left on the platform.)

Many more things have happened, but of a minor nature - being elbowed in the face (not often), being elbowed in the back (all the time!), verbal insults (not often, but also not forgotten), etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.  Enough things have happened over 43,200 train rides, that I now approach morning and evening rush hour trains with a feeling of dread and foreboding.



"A Land of Extremes?"

There is far too much of the picture in mind to get it cohesively on the screen, but I'll try for a tiny piece of it - focusing on one example.

Public school grades and school hours.

In the early eighties, when there were books and articles in the west about the "Japanese Economic Miracle", they invariably mentioned the country's weak point being a lack of originality and inventiveness, which would be necessary if Japan were to begin to - not just effectively implement and manufacture technology invented elsewhere - but to invent and lead the world in technological advances.

There are any number of angles that could be taken in exploring this concept/issue, but to focus on just one of the steps that was taken:

The public education system was rather drastically altered (private school haven't changed much).  Two of the most substantial changes being:

1) A five-day school week was phased in, giving kids not only Sunday, but also Saturday off from school.

2) The grading system was changed.  For the first year or two of elementary school, instead of regular grades, there were only two (and if this isn't word-for-word accurate, it's very close - I'm basing it on actual report cards I've seen): "Yoku yarimashita" (You did well!), and "Motto ganbarimasho" ("Try harder").
   The idea was get kids away from being overly competitive based on a contest for higher scores, so they could relax, be more imaginative, and become more inventive.
   I've forgotten the precise progression, but the number of grades was (is?) gradually increased with later grades, with the next step being three - something like: "Taihen yoi" (Very good), "Yoi" (Good), and... I'm not sure, but maybe "Ganbarimasho" (Try harder).

If this had been a system-wide change, it would have brought about a nearly instant change in the next generation, but private schools didn't change along with public schools, and since compulsory education is only through middle school; high school and university entrance tests were still *the* hurdle to clear on the way to a respected education.  (Sometimes respected for good reason, and sometimes not....)

So - people in private schools just did what they had always done, and the parents of people in public schools sent their kids to juku's (usually translated as "cram schools") on Saturdays (and/or after school) in an attempt to keep up with the private schools, all focused on doing whatever they could to get past the entrance test hurdle.

Nevertheless - there definitely are fairly large numbers of a new group of people, within the 18-24 year-old crowd, who act substantially different than previous generations of people in this country... but that's been the story for around the past 150 years, so I guess it's just the normal flow of time.

Probably a bigger society-changer was companies giving their employees Saturday and Sunday off, and not just Sunday.  Having two days off - people can have more of a life outside the company.

But back to the... strange?, innovative?, system of "Well done" and "Try harder" grades.  Hard line politicians and nationalistic groups are pushing to get things back to how they were.  One of the slightly scary things they've managed to implement is required singing of the national anthem, required bowing to the flag by each and every student in a ceremony (bow to person-A, bow to the flag, bow to the watching parents, etc.).  They are also pushing for a six-day school week and more rigid... everything in general.

Well, that's barely coherent, but I need to get some sleep!



"Slashed Bicycle Tires... ('Deru kui wa utareru')"

When I walked past the bicycle parking area of my apartment building yesterday after work, I noticed that the rear tires were flat on a few of the bikes... including my own.  A closer look revealed that they had been slashed with something - probably a box cutter.  Some details:

 - It's not the first time my bicycle has been sabotaged in this apartment building, but nothing (nothing serious anyway) had happened for a couple of years.

 - The only bikes with their tires slashed were the type with a lean-type kickstand - as opposed to the big, heavy, cumbersome U-shaped stands that lift the rear tire completely off the ground and whose sole virtue is that the bike can be parked exactly straight, since it's not leaning.  (Actually, when there are a lot of bikes to be packed into a small parking area, there's something to be said for this design, but it makes the bike heavier and slower.)

 - Taking the bike to a local bicycle repair shop today, the repair guy commented that he had just fixed another customer's bike that also had the tire slashed.

 - Reporting it to the police, they also commented that I was not the first one (today) to report that my bicycle had been illegally sabotaged.

Thinking back to the bike I had before that was most often sabotaged (there have been numerous things happen to a couple of my bikes since moving to this apartment building - from punctured tires, to torn-off bell, to various gouges, bends, etc., maliciously inflicted on the defenseless contraction); it was a strangely modified bike (weird handlebars) that had been given to me.  I theorized at the time about the unseen/unknown criminal who kept attacking it, that it was some extension of Japan's infamous "Deru kui wa utareru", which is typically translated along the lines of "The post/nail that sticks out gets knocked/hammered down", apparently based upon the concept of a fence with its neat row of uniform posts - when one is at an angle, it's straightened out to put it in line with the others.  When one is sticking up higher, a hammer is applied to it to pound it into the ground to the point where it's level with the others... you get the picture.  Nice neat posts, all in-a-row, deviation is bad.  Great, except people aren't fence posts!

That one bike stood out so much, that I eventually gave up and threw it away.  I don't have the resources to hire a 24-hour secret security detail for my bike, and/or set up hidden cameras in order to catch the criminal and put the sorry excuse for a human being in jail, where it belongs, so I got a new bike, making sure to get the most common color at the time, gray/silver.  As an extra precaution, as much as possible, I only parked it when no one else was in the bicycle parking area.  When someone was there, I rode around the block and came back later when I could slip the bike into the parking area without anyone seeing which bike was mine.  (I'm not a regulation-appearance biped in this country, so I didn't want my appearance to cause "Deru kui wa utareru" psychotic behavior being inflicted upon my new bike.)  That seemed to work, as I was able to use my bike without it being molested and/or damaged for... about three years I think... until yesterday.

So, I can't be absolutely sure (you almost never can be), but after being on this spot of the globe for nearly 24 years, I think I understand what form of mental illness generated this latest attack on my - and others - bikes.  Some looney feels grievously injured & personally insulted that all the bikes are not identical, and so, for God & Country, is waging war on non-standard issue bikes.  And (unfortunately) I'm not even exaggerating (much? at all?)... consider these points:

1) Beginning several years ago, it became normal for bikes to sell at from around Y7,000 to Y12,000 (when the cheapest ones used to be around Y30,000).  These new cheaper bikes came with the lean-type kickstands and were all - or nearly all - made in China.

2) About a year ago, there was an ad on TV showing a wholesome, pure, innocent housewife riding her bike - she applies the brakes, but - horrors!!  The brakes don't work!
   The voice-over, with wholesome nationalistic fervor, then admonishes the TV audience to only buy bikes authorized by some national bike association.  (Incidentally - have you ever had catastrophic brake failure on a bike with it's independent front and rear brakes?)

3) Almost immediately after this ad appears, the price of bikes goes up and suddenly they all have those big, heavy, cumbersome, but (I must admit) practical-for-parking, kickstands.  (No difference in the brakes, which never were the real issue.)

4) The lean-type kickstand bikes begin to disappear rather rapidly (I remember thinking "How can this happen so fast?  Do people really trash their bikes so quickly?").

5) My bike and others - all with the lean-type kickstands - are sabotaged in the bicycle parking area of my apartment building.

I bought a new tire for my bicycle today for Y4,000... but if it's sabotaged again very soon, I'll either have to invest huge sums of money to hire 24-hour guards for the bike, or else throw in the towel by trashing it and getting a regulation clunker with the heavy-type kickstand.  "Deru kui wa utareru" rules it seems.  But it sure would be satisfying to see the scum who is out attacking people's property apprehended, beaten, fined (to pay for the damage), and thrown in jail.

Oops.  I guess I shouldn't say that?  But why not?

One final detail - while the stand-straight kickstands can be good, they're only good when the lock tab they come with is locked (which people almost never do) after the bike is lifted up to set the stand under it (holding the rear tire off the ground).  When the lock isn't set, if you very slightly bump into the back of the bike, it rolls forward off the kickstand, triggering the double-springs on the kickstand (part of its rather excessive weight) to pull it up, and the (suddenly kickstand-less) bike falls to one side with no support at all.  If the bike next to it is a lean-type bike, there is often enough force to hold it, but when you have a row of ramrod-straight bikes on the heavy stand-straight stands, the entire row will spectacularly fall down like so many dominoes.  Come to think of it - I take back my comment that the stand-straight stands make some sense.  They don't.  They suck.  The only thing that really was bad about some of the lean-type bikes, were the ones with oversize baskets in front (nearly all bikes in Japan come with baskets in front), which took up so much space that they caused some serious parking problems when a lot of bikes were packed together.

Phew!  Rant over!



"Reading Books with Nintendo-DS"

I mentioned before that I hadn't seen anyone reading a book with a cell phone (based on direct observation of the screens of my fellow vertical sardines on the crush-rush trains), but today I saw someone reading a book with an electronic device.  Not a cell phone, but a Nintendo-DS, which seems to work quite well for reading Japanese, as with it turned sideways, it even resembles a book with text on both the left and right screens, similar to the open pages of a real book.  I'm not sure how well the very narrow screens would work for horizontal English, but the vertical Japanese I saw looked fine.  Easy to read (if you understand all the characters that is) lines of text running from top to bottom.

Considering the narrowness of the screen, for English, it would probably be easier to read with the screens horizontal.  It looked pretty cool being held with the screens vertical though - rather like a real book!  It did occur to me though, that the backlights in the screens must keep battery life on the short side.  If they make a folding two-screen device that utilizes incident light instead of backlighting (which they should be able to do just for displaying text - something like old digital watches), and the screens are a little bigger... *and* if the device runs an open-source software like Linux, then I'll rush out and get one.

Seeing a book displayed on the Nintendo-DS, it seems like something I would like, but only if I could drop in my own text files.  (The screens of most cell phone are too small to work very well for this application.)

I think I've figured out what's what with recent articles outside Japan about cell-phone books here.  There have been articles outside Japan about "cell phone books" in Japan, and I think it's being assumed that people are reading books on cell phones.  It could be that this is also happening, but what I've seen on the local media over here are stories about books *written* with cell phones, and then printed as regular (on paper) books.

To understand why someone would even attempt to write a book with a cell phone instead of a device with a proper keyboard, consider a few things:

1) the vast majority of people here get around by train instead of car (in the cities in any case - the countryside is another matter), so they have travel time to stand (not very often sit) and write with a pocketable device.  (I've seen a couple of loonies who harass people for using cell phones in any capacity on the train, but generally, writing text with one is considered okay (in contrast with talking, which is considered very nearly absolutely taboo now).

2) In a practical sense, for a lot of people here (and everywhere, or is there something unique about this?), their cell phone is their computer, and so all their personal e-mail and writing is done with the one device.

3) When writing in Japanese with a standard keyboard, people go through two conversion processes with their text.  First from "romaji" (western A-Z characters) to hiragana (a Japanese phonetic script), and then from hiragana to kanji (the complicated characters originally from China).  With cell phones, they just go directly from hiragana input to conversion to kanji, so while they're losing speed with thumb input, they're gaining it in a simpler input process.  (There is also the option of direct hiragana input with a standard keyboard, but for touch typing, it makes more sense to just learn one input method, which can then be used for both English and Japanese.)  People who can touch type can still write more quickly with a full-size keyboard, but for someone who hasn't learned to type well, it can even be faster to input text with a cell phone via direct hiragana input.....



"General Moods"

I dug out, and have been watching, some video tapes I took in 1991.  At the time, there were news stories about worsening economic conditions, and 1991 is listed as the year that the "bubble economy burst", but for most people living here, it was just headlines and not something that directly affected their lives personally.  Actually, the land price and stock price rocket ride was also just a TV story for most people (what percentage of the population was actively buying land and/or stocks?)

Now - writing this from 2008, the repercussions of the excesses (the peak seems to have been in 1989), have long since sunk in and are still being felt, and it's something that has directly affected a lot of people by this point.  What is striking to me as I watch the 1991 video footage (many hours of it all taken all over Tokyo and in the surrounding countryside), is how the main body of the population was still awakening from a more austere Japan around 1986-91, and how - in 2007-08 - the seriousness of things is just starting to sink in for many people.  Simply put, in one sense, during the "good times", people were in more of a mindset of struggle-to-survive, and in the current semi-bad times, people are still riding a richer lifestyle?

I'm not verbalizing the thought very well, but (one more try) there seems to be both overlap-lag (carryover from the preceding era) and realization-lag (it takes a while for a change to sink in).  Add to that the opposite....

Last night on the train, I was feeling melancholy about the commute (I don't really like becoming a vertical sardine for three hours every day), and since I had gotten on last at one station (I had to get off to allow biped flow from the inner part of train away from the doors), I was standing next to one of the eight (four per side) doors.  I leaned against the door (doors actually - two per opening) and idly looked into the window; simultaneously seeing the outside flowing by and the other people in the train.  I noticed that people seemed to be feeling the same subdued feeling... almost a foreboding of worse times ahead?  Has the two-decade long string of often bad economic news sunk in to our bones, or are we feeling an air change brought on by a coming storm (hopefully not tsunami)?


2008/02/12 23:48

"A Typical Day"

It was a typical day today - nothing amazingly good and nothing amazingly bad happened.  The train ride in (rides I should say) went without untoward incident

 ......... [Several hours later - at 4:00 a.m.] .........

Great... also a typical day in that I couldn't stay awake long enough to do anything, and fell asleep in front of the computer.  This is probably the worst aspect to working long hours - you don't have enough time to do much after you get home, eat, and take a shower.

Had an electronic exchange with someone regarding how things are here.  It went like this: 1) I made a statement.  2) The correspondent made a comment about Japan.  3) I commented that I thought it was a little different than that, and asked them if they were here or, if not, how long it had been since they were here, because things were changing.  4) They said they haven't yet been here, but have a friend living here.  5) I stopped and thought about it, and realized that it may be that I've changed more than the country has.  I've been here for 24 years now....



"Nearly Full Circle..."

There was a time in my life when I thought that trees and sky above were ordinary things, and I sought out the excitement of big city life.  Exciting skyscrapers!  Trains running underground!  Excitingly shaped glass & steel everywhere....  Now all those big city things are ordinary, and trees and sky above are the new sought-for exotic component to life!  There really is something to be said for balance - a balance of big city and multiple forms of life.  Mono-culture in society and elsewhere is profoundly soul-killing and boring.

Short - but that's what is on my mind these days, and in that spirit, I was pleased to discover a small park in Ota-ku - Senzokuike Park - shown at night in a few images on this page:



"Happy Friday (Last One Before Valentine's Day)"

Friday's are always nice, but this past Friday, it seemed like the women in my section were more electrified than usual.  "Hmm... I guess they've got something planned" thought I.  Feeing like doing something to unwind a little, I stopped by Ebisu on the way home and looked around - idly noticing happy-looking fashionable women to the right, to the left, behind, in front, all around!  "Hmm... it must just be one of those things - like a full moon or something" I mused.

The next day - it finally hit me what's going on!  The day before had been the last Friday before Valentine's Day!  Keep in mind that Valentine's Day here is not the same as in the West - here it's the day when women give chocolate to men.  (A month later - on March 14th, is when men give chocolate to women.  For more details, see your friendly Google search engine.)

I did notice that the shop I bought some things at was selling chocolate in front of the store, and there were several women looking over the display, but it wasn't until Saturday that I began to wonder if the more-festive-than-usual atmosphere the day before was due to the coming romantic day?  I'm still not sure, but it seems like it might have something to do with it - a last chance to get together with friends and discuss what/who/where/how/etc?



"Are Two Spaces Illegal?"

I'm migrating away from Netscape Composer 4.0 (from the deep misty reaches of ancient time - for those of you who don't know what that is) to newer software (non-MacroBucks of course) and I'm coming upon my original complaint with MacroBucks Word 7.0, back in 1996. MB-7.0 had this weird deal where you could have one space between sentences, or you could have three, but the bloody program would not allow two!!

Now why would they do that?  Did they have a meeting and in the meeting some typical, but truly horrible, mid-level management bozo came up with the wonderful idea of eliminating double-spacing?  (Probably not for that reason, but it's truly amazing how much damage is inflicted on the world by mid-level management trash!)  In any case, what happened is that you got one space by hitting the space bar once (breath-taking concept, that) but then, when you hit it a second time, you got two more spaces, for a total of three spaces for two hits on the space bar!  Maybe someone thought that "Three for the price of two!" was a spiffy sales phrase, so they went for "Three spaces for the effort of two!"?  It doesn't make any sense.

Anyway, this unforgivable behavior pushed me to using text editors to write with and I only used the horrible MacroBucks program Word when forced to at work.  (Some later versions of Word were less obnoxious with the spacing than version 7.0, come to think of it.)  Now, with HTML, I'm finding that my double spaces between sentences are being reduced to single spaces.  Why?!  Who sat down with the programmers and told them "Look, we have to do something about double spaces between sentences.  It must not be allowed!  Program the application so that it eradicates one of the spaces every time someone puts two of them between sentences."?  Grrrrrr....!!

Hate that as I do, I can still live with it.  And then there's the spacing between paragraphs!  when I hit the Enter key at the end of a paragraph, the application gives me a line space down... so I'm already to go with the next paragraph.  Okay... irritating (it should take two hits of the Enter key to get there), but also something I can live with.  But then if I want to have two line spaces between paragraphs, I get (shades of MacroBucks Word 7.0), three lines spaces when I hit the Enter key again - "Three line spaces for the effort of two!"  Why?!

Since the programmers for these HTML programs I use seem to have been infected with Mid-level management disease, I realized that I would have to look at my old HTML pages and get into the code to fix modern damaged HTML.  I'm not sure of the cause of the extra spacing between paragraphs yet, but I think I've discovered the cause of the space-killer between sentences.  It seems to be this: "&quot".  Proper double-spacing can be had via "&nbsp".  I'd rather not have to go on search & replace missions in the code for everything I write, but bad programming is forcing me in that direction.

People can write however they want to write, but I really resent programs forcing me into someone else's style! ...... Well... anyway.



"Writing (& Reading?) Books on Mobile Phones"

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a news report about a recent series of books published that were written with cell phones.  The report featured one of the writers; showing her walking down the street and inputting text on her cell phone with 90% of her attention on the device and the remaining 10% on navigating the street... saying that she always takes her cell phone wherever she goes and she always writes with it.  I watched the smiling "Isn't that wonderful!!" reporters and couldn't help thinking "That's cute... think what she could have done with proper tools!".

And then I received this e-mail from an e-pal in the US:

"I read that Japan is caught-up in reading books on their cell phones.  Sure, why not wear out one's thumbs.  It's just like I've said, 'Young people don't read BOOKS' - they are reading cell phones."

And I thought of the extension of the "Isn't that wonderful!!" local reporters: "Isn't that bizarre!!" (what those people in a foreign land are doing) reporters overseas.  There is some truth to both reports, but it's like a workmate said when I brought this up: "You know the media's motto - 'Never let the truth get in the way of a good story'!"

So - on to the truth:

1) Writing books with a cell phone is an extraordinarily inefficient way of writing.  In the case of the woman who is perpetually walking around Tokyo with her eyes, thumb and mind glued to her cell phone, if she used proper writing tools, she could write the same amount in a fifth of the time at home, and then be free to actually enjoy life outside instead of being a slave to her beloved tiny electronic gizmo.  (Taking electronic notes makes sense, but writing whole books that way?)

2) There probably are some people out there on the Tokyo trains reading books on their cell phones, but I've yet to see a single solitary soul doing so - and I spend three and a half hours a day riding eight different trains (with some extra trips, it comes to around 20 hours per week).  I always glance at the many people around me and I see people using their cell phones all the time, but the only two activities I see are sending and receiving e-mail and playing video games (talking on a phone is nearly unheard of now on the trains).

3) Of the people on the train who are reading books (ever fewer it seems), I'm sure some of them might like to read them on their cell phones if they could (overcrowding on the trains makes it impossible to hold a book much of the time), but availability, DRM roadblocks to free use, etc. make paper-based books the easier & better choice for most people.  (PDA's with larger screens are another category - but there is overlap between cell phones and PDA's now, so are future devices even cell phones really, or should they be considered full fledged computers with voice capability?)

Anyway - the real issue here is how can you get accurate news?  For local news you either get "Isn't that horrible!" or "Isn't that wonderful/cute!" (to balance the "Isn't that horrible!" parts).  For foreign news, you either get "Isn't that horrible!" or "Isn't that strange?!"  The bland truth in the middle is studiously ignored.  The tragedy here is that truth is actually stranger that fiction, but it takes perception and effort to see it.  The stuff that passes for "news" is like fast food - entertaining at the moment it's consumed, but of no value.



"Two-Thousand and Eight / 20"

The year 2008 in most of the world, including Japan, although Japan also has a secondary numbering system (used on currency, etc.) in which this is the 20th year of the Heisei Emperor.

So many projects, so little time... I'll try to get something meaningful put on this page... soon!  In the meantime, see the "blog-L Archive" for previous blog material.



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