Living in Japan
There sure are a lot of Foreign Men and Japanese Chicks dating.
Two new ads today: for Plastic, and from Nori.
This has been "Nabe" (鍋物) week for Ayako and I. We meet each night after work at the FCCJ, she researches an appropriate restaurant on MSN or Yahoo, and we head off for Nabe. Nabe is a sort of catch-all do-it-yourself stew; with a gas or electric hotplate at your table, you mix in mushrooms, cabbage, various meats, tofu, rice products into varying broths.
The first night was Akita-style nabe, at "Akita Nabe" in Ginza: nabe with toasted rice cylinders, and shockingly fresh fish before the soup.
Last night was Chanko nabe, sumo-themed Japanese stew. supposedly what sumo wrestlers eat to bulk up.
Here a young sumo is working at the Chanko-nabe restaurant serving food and helping people mix up their soups. He's holding a laden bowl of fresh vegetables ready for broth in a metal bowl elsewhere. Like the name of the restaurant, I have his name written down; I'll have to get it translated from Kanji to hiragana. Mom, you can click on the picture to see a larger version (that's often the case on my web site). Maybe you knew that.|
I'd heard that Japanese people eat horsemeat, and I'd seen some horse-themed restaurants around Tokyo. Ayako ordered this surprise - frozen shaved raw horsemeat. I was excited to try it. The texture was neat (thin frozen meat), while the taste was somehow too strong. Maybe I was thinking of all my more pleasant associations with horses (ie, riding them, admiring them, feeling sometimes like I am one ("I was like a blinded horse" - didn't Martin Luther say that?). The next two or three bites I added the shaved ginger, scallions and soy sauce provided and it was quite delicious. [How do you feel about horesemeat?]|
Inside the restaurant, most people's mobile phones couldn't get a signal. So here is a pile of mobile phones near the door, near the Sumo calendar, still on the network, still picking up short mails.|
Tonight we plan to find some spicy nabe. Good food for the cold winter in full swing here! No snow though.
Ayako doesn't like me to mention my neighborhood Uguisudani too loud in public. This part of town is known for little today other than love hotels (places built for a quick shag), so saying, "Let's go back to Uguisudani" is a bit like saying, "Hey, let's go to Fuck Town." It seems there's little other reason people would come here.
When I first arrived in Uguisudani I was rather charmed to see a storefront that took care of and saught homes for the many stray cats around here. Recently it seems they've closed up and in their place there's now a store offering Viagra and Herbal Ecstacy.
Indefatigable fan site One-Percent.com has been hosting Jane's Addiction (and related band) downloadable MP3s on a rotating basis. The current batch, the first half of the Feb. 20th, 1989 Philadelphia, PA show at the Theater of the Living Arts, is fantastic young pissed off Jane's Addiction. In particular, "Had a Dad" boasts a funny introduction, and "Ted, Just Admit it" is, as usual, expansive; but the band's complaints and bad attitude build over all the songs. Their performance doesn't suffer; in fact it seems augmented by the felt antagonism. (These particular songs are available until Wednesday, when the second half of the show should be posted).
Today 27, 二十七, three times nine. In Japan, three is 三 san, nine is 九 somewhere between qu and ku - so I am now "san qu" - thank you!
Ikkyu-san at my age yesterday:
"one mid-summer night in 1420, as he was meditating in a boat on lovely Lake Biwa, the caw of a crow brought the twenty-six-year old monk out of his stupor." He then wrote his enlightenment verse.
I have not yet managed the patience to sit daily and meditate.
Though now I can see there are some younger than me who can. "Not yet" does wear thinner as I age. This is a fortunate thing, it's either an urge to action or to relaxation.
I've been contemplating lately that growing old could just be fine, that in fact, by the time someone is eighty or seventy or ninety they might not be sad that they can't chase after the train and wishing they could have high school love again. Because if they can look past frustration of departed potential, they can see that they have been through those moments and in fact, those moments yield to where they have arrived. So I look forward to growing old, realizing that at some point small pains in my body will build to a crescendo and I will be ready to leave.
Although in this regard my grandfather was a strange example - while inspiring as he faced each dawn with a loaded list of things to have his children do, he was in fact somewhat upset by the end of his life by his diminished mental capacity to manage and remember all that he could imagine. Yesterday I called up Kenji Eno and asked if Ayako and I might join him for lunch, our first meal of the day.
We showed up at his Azabu-Juban office around one o'clock, and spent nearly all the day until eight in the evening in his den, piles of CDs and toys and magazines and media atop old wooden desk as he conducted marvels and research off his computer. I learned some from him about the far-right wing in Japan (右翼 - うよく- uyoku) and resorts in Bali, and he poked some fun at my speaking skills; Ayako and he talked over the fate of Japanese mobile phones mostly too fast for me to understand. And instead of lunch, he smoked clove cigarettes all day long. My gentle agitation for actual 食べ物 was met only with smiles and more cigarettes and lighters.
Finally I began to feel faint and I resigned myself to this moment of terminally low blood sugar and eventually a curtailed evening. This is a marvellous thing about aging - my own self-fulfilling physical prophecy - I begin to know my body, my limits better. I have decided them, so I should! And so last night when we finally reached Kenji's old ramen restaurant, ぱいめん, and I loaded in some pork and fine thin noodles with a bowl of rice covered in more pork and kimchi and something green it was not long after that I felt slugged up and tired out, all the blood drained to my stomach, I explained to a slightly impatient, pretty Ayako as she agitated for more of an evening. I was explaining my own pseudo-science, that the limited supply of 血、ち、 blood in my body was all running to the late arrived food and I would be no longer a party; and at once the words coming out of my mouth, a ready formula that made sense in the United States with my friends who might say the same thing, and suddenly it seemed like so much concocted poppycock. Where had I learned this? Did I know it to be true? Maybe I felt tired. Maybe I was upset that my day's hunger had gone unmet. If I was provided with stimulating enough activity, wouldn't I stay awake?
But as I age, and I eat late, and I want to sleep, there is less and less that can keep me awake,
and I derive a certain perverse physical pleasure in those early night crashes. It's a sort of social narcolepsy; I noticed it hard recently, when Jay Lesser was in town and he and Ayako and I went out for some Shitamachi good times. Afterwards we had a beer and some snacks and finally made it to a roasting restaurant recommended by the lady; where old fashioned Japanese is served to you off long and large wooden paddles by white head towel wearing Japanese grill professionals sitting for hours on the flats of their feet. Immediately after dinner, when we retired to the heated confines of her car, I lost my ability to converse and quickly descended into pure carseat sleep. It was maybe two hours before I regained my ability to function politely and I was as awake as ever, but having lost Jay Lesser to his hotel and Ayako's patience to her own quest for bed. I must say that I didn't really mind, it was the end of the night for me, and I excused myself to have silent conversation with my eyelids. Maybe it's rude, maybe it's the outcome of too much indulgence, or energy expenditure during the day. I can bounce with the best of them, until.
I'm trying to think of other people I know who sleep suddenly, inappropriately, socially. Wilson used to pass out so hard with a bit of drink and such, and he could be messed with thoroughly without waking up. But with Lesser and Ayako, I had only two beers, maybe some sake. And with Kenji and Ayako, only ramen.
Grandpa used to carry with him constantly small sandwiches, ham and cheese with lettuce on wheat bread with mayonnaise cut into quarters and every hour or so he'd have a quarter or half a sandwich. I suspect that this was his way of medicating the problem I encountered - potential for low-blood sugar and bottoming out into sleep. I intend to learn to use the modern Japanese general store (called the コンビ "conbi") to the same affect I think - hourly rice-balls. Of course during five hours of writing today I have had only a blueberry yogurt drink. But it was purchased at a convenience store!
Ikkyu-san found enlightenment at Lake Biwa when he was 26, so I intended to make it there myself to see what he had seen. And then last week, as my birthday loomed, I was facing a map of Japan and realizing that lake Biwa was very large (look on here - Biwa is the blue tear between Kyoto and Nagoya), and likely fairly paved, and so for me to head there would be an exercise in abstraction. So instead I extended that and ended up spending my birthday proper a few days early with Ayako at ディズニーシー /DisneySea, a nautical-themed park where various ficted highlights of maritime adventure are wraught in picturesque plastic.
There, riding the DisneySea electric railway for the second time, well after dark, when to be outdoors was to be constantly shivering, I reached for a window adjacent to my seat to close it. I turned to the young Japanese man to my left to gesture for his permission and his startled but blank expression told me that he was somehow mentally retarded. In a country with some issues over racial purity this was my first encounter with a living person of some ready handicap. He wasn't much for communication, at least not about the window. So I went ahead and closed it.
A few minutes later, as he was chewing on his hand I wondered: it seemed he was practicing some serious restraint; his teeth in his hand seemed to be his way of controlling his enthusiasm. And I saw at once I could join him in a certain sort of inarticulate but exuberant fun, perhaps by rocking back and forth and making noise and smiling, or jumping up and down.
And then he would stop biting his hand and feeling the pressure from the world around him that reached through layers of cotton batting in his head to the brain that managed to feel anxiety on the DisneyRailway. His id unleashed would perhaps be therapeutic, as it would be to stop biting your hand and run about a little bit. But then I thought of the very nice young middle aged Japanese lady taking care of these men, and I wondered how she liked to play with them. Admittedly, I figured my unrepentant desire to run amok with this boy would not make her work any simpler, and in fact, a little anxiety goes a long way towards getting everybody moving along towards the next attraction.
|(of course perhaps his biting his hand might not have been anxiety at all, what kind of amateur psychologist am I to judge? It was more than likely an unrepentant oral fixation, an accession to latent polymorphous perversity.)
At that time, the next attraction for Ayako and I was "Encore!" a series of American, New York, Broadway classic climaxes performed in severe compression, with much vibrato.
I looked up on stage, and I saw performers, professional artists - singers and dancers, foreign and Japanese, and I thought that someday I might meet these people. And then five large pedestals topped with swirling electric light covered pianos rolled out on stage as torch singers in satin clothes sang choruses from famous love songs and I wasn't so sure any more.
Thanks to Dana Dizon, for looking up the Ikkyu information for me.
Asian Male Power Glasses
I've been fascinated by Asian Older Male Power Eyeglasses since I got here. Most nearly all the older Asian dudes I see around town opt for a severe style of glasses -
black or walnut trimmed rims flat across the top, with a more transparent metal bottom. No one under the age of 50 seems to wear there, and I've never seen them on a female face.
I went to an eyeglass store in Nippori and as soon as I put them on and looked in the mirror I saw it - these glasses are surrogate eyebrows. Almost a mono-brow, protruding out from my face. I nearly wet my pants with excitement, imaging the expressions on the faces of them old executives in the subway when they looked at me wearing their glasses. Then the kindly clerk rang up the bill for the glasses with my bad myopia prescription and this joke would set me back $500. So for now, it's a joke for us to enjoy together here on the Internet.
I've joined an Amazon Associates program. So when there's a link to a media product from my site to that media product on Amazon.com, and you click on it, and you buy something on their site, I get a cut. (look for "jah-20" in the url).
For The Itinerant
For my birthday, I would appreciate it if you would visit my Amazon.com wishlist and buy yourself something off of it. I'm travelling too much to be buying books, CDs, DVDs and even games; if media doesn't fit on a harddrive, I'm best off borrowing it. This is a good thing - it forces me to be selective about my media consumption. So buy for yourself, and then write a review somewhere and send me a link; I'll consume media vicariously through you. (Japan-oriented stuff towards the top, more random stuff towards the bottom).|
Thanks to a mailing list of body-pleasure-minded friends (called "perverts") I have John Perry Barlow's Nerve.com essay: A Ladies Man and Shameless added to my internal 'log. It's not necessarily a new voice, or a potent one, but merely a mostly swaggering rough slap at the back urging me down the road as my hips and ass feel increasingly comfortably planted in Ayako's car. She drives like a goddamn lunatic, and this Monday, I swear I'm going to get health insurance.
When she's frustrated with me, Ayako beams her eyes, keeps her lips closed and puffs out her cheeks slightly. It's an animal gesture; I can't help but mimic it. Then she laughs.
Some problems don't go away: Tokyo gov't to launch all-out attack on crows. When my grandfather was little (say before the Great Depression in America), he could get 5 cents for every crow's head he could bring in, and 10 cents for every crow's egg.
NakedBarbie Patty has a journal after some time of reading other folks online. She has a different voice than many of the other journalers - she uses complete sentences, she dwells mostly on media without assuming people know what she's talking about. There's a sense of presentation and of audience awareness that's not always present when people hurl open their inner cabinet for your rummaging.
It's winter here, so I've got to dress warmer. This synthetic long underwear I have comes to smell so fast; so I'm wearing layered dress shirts. Last night I did a blue shirt with orange over that, underneath a black nehru collar jacket. A blue triangle within orange - I was a flame! Before that, I'm wearing a gray shirt, black shirt over that, black suit jacket and gray carhartt pants. Gray and black, leaving the softer color at the core, under the neck. Carhartt pants haven't left my hips except to sleep or sex for days; the pocket on the right leg originally intended for some kind of manual labor tool is ideally suited for mobile phones.
Today's best music for making web pages is a mix of young Duke Ellington and more aged Duke - Brunswick Cotton Club era singles, and S.R.O. (live in Europe around 1961). Duke was 30 or 31 when he recorded the first album's material, so there's still time. Time for what?
After that, Jungle and IDM from LittleYellowDifferent's Birthday Party. Thanks for the link, Jane.
Editorial work full throttle:
I'll be serving as editor for Chanpon.org, a Japan/Foreign intercultural online journal. The goal of the site is to give people of mixed Japanese/American cultural background a place to explore their identities between those two worlds, examining the mixing happening in race, language, culture, marriage.
I grew up very white and midwestern, so I'm a bit late to this game of interculturality; their core focus is folks raised speaking with two tongues. Still my enthusiasm, editorial and web experience, and willingness to work cheap seem to have won me the position.
I'll be responsible for writing articles, as well as coordinating other writers and contributors to the site. The site will update once every two months, so it's a nice pace to explore some new editorial responsibilities. Now I'll be able to cull content from my network of bicultural Japanese/Foreign folks. If you have an article you've been itching to write along Chanpon lines, please let me know!
The Foreign Correspondent's Club of Japan accepted me. And it turns out they have high speed internet connection here. I'm a rather cheap, or specific sort of daytime date - if you have an internet connection, you can pretty much count on me to find a corner and plug in and lose track of time.
These confines echo some old behaviour. Perhaps the sort of thing Ms. Karen Ma despised - reading through "Foreign Correspondents In Japan" is a visit to a darkened wood panelled room thick with cigar smoke and some martini spilled on the floor. In the corner, beneath a blowup of Marilyn Monroe's famous first nude picture, two gentlemen in horn-rimmed glasses, one with a comb-over, sit back smiling wide, their mouths open, as a slightly drunk Japanese lady wearing only a tiara and bikini dances limply, staring at the ceiling. In front of you, a group of four fellows sit, one is holding court wearing a dented green army helmet. All four of them were wearing suits, but they've removed their jackets revealing white button-down shirts and suspenders. It's three AM on a Sunday morning, and the piano player is on the verge of going home. Next to his piano, three men well into their sixties ignore the other members, intent on a dice game.
This is perhaps an exaggeration of history I have never seen, probably colored by my reading of "For Men With Yen," and the funny/raunchy fifties cartoons in it (the same sort of cartoons I remember seeing in Johnny Carson's book Happiness is a Dry Martini that my father had in the house when I was growing up).
There's a sense of nostalgia in that; something I might have inherited from missing my dead Dad, and wondering what it would have been like to manly pal about with him in the slightest. I know he belonged to clubs that were probably similarly old-boy in his day. All those institutions have been modernized in the meantime, and I can't say I'm sorry - I like having women peers in my professional life more than I prefer a lapdance on demand.
Still I was excited to see that when I brought Ayako into the workroom to poke around I was only carrying on in the tradition established by pre-Korean-war veteran Journalists who snuck women into small sleeping quarters furnished by the club and shared with other journalists. Those men were voilating threadbare standards of decency; I was transgressing against the rules here designed to promote a sober working environment.
Through time and hard labor this Foreign Correspondent's Club is become respectable. I say this because the few Japanese people who have seen my green membership card have recoiled in respect. I'm not accustomed to this sort of reaction, but perhaps I should have expected it:
"The term 'groupism' (shúdan shugi) is often uised in describing the national character of the Japanese. The antithesis of "individualism," it denotes a way of thinking that ascribes particular importance to human relations within the small group(s) to which a person belongs."
- Makoto Watabe, "Youth Problems and Japanese Society," The Japan Foundation Newsletter, June 2001 (Volume XXVIII/Nos. 3-4)
Merle Okawara put it more simply in her Chanpon interview:
"Japanese love to form clubs and are fairly clannish. ... What I find particularly Japanese is the fact that four or five people get together and decide to call themselves by some name and have dinner several times a year, making them feel intimately related and enjoying a special relationship apart from others."
At the Visa office, at trade shows, on the phone applying for an apartment in Akita, when I'm out and about in Japan I'm often asked, "Who are you with?" I'm asked the same question in America, but less frequently, and with less noticable distancing when I reply "freelancer." Now that I'm actually with someone, I'm eager to see what more access I might have. Already I've been invited to the imperial palace on the emporer's birthday as part of an FCCJ press corps. Coochie-coo!
Every few weeks I appear on a broadband television show based in London - The Circuit, on The Network of the World. I speak from a webcam in my apartment in Tokyo, about gadgets here or news online. If you can figure out how to watch it, please do and let me know how it is.|
Amy writes in:
i just got off the phone with a friend from high school who pointed me to www.akashkapur.com
Too many people recommended this to me, so now I'm listening to the White Stripes - young music that liberally strews about real old blues.
he writes a lot about travel. he is the sort of person who makes me feel like I need to read about 20,000 more books.
The entire history of Usenet seems to have been ported online. Usenet was my first exposure to the net; hitching a ride on a Northwestern Medical School student's account in 1988, I was able to find all these Zappa fans, anime geeks, game players, a mix of folks with a nerdy passion for culture I couldn't find matched in my real world. I wrote an article about Usenet in 1990.
Eventually I would come to have my own access, and I came to post in Usenet. As best I can tell, these are all the posts I made. A pattern emerges - heavy site promotion. And themes: astrology, drugs, music, travel.
1997-09-01: Re: Spanish schools in Honduras
1995-02-08: Re: Help for 4th House Saturn
1994-11-11: Re: Internet Astrology Sources
1994-11-04: HotWired Webbed Astrology Discussion
1994-09-13: Graffiti Web site
1994-09-13: Re: WANTED: Headline News page...
1994-09-12: On the WWW: Fuck with McDonalds
1994-09-12: ANNOUNCE: Links from the Underground
1994-07-24: New WWW Astrology site
1994-07-22: New WWW Drug Site
1994-04-03: Links from the Underground
1993-11-21: Re: recycling pot smoke with balloons
1992-11-01: Gorilla Biscuits, seeking some hardcore punk during my brief tenure as a teenaged tech support agent at Northwestern University - my only means of gaining legal access to the Internet during high school.
Then there was a series of posts with Jerry:
I'm slightly chagrined to recall our exploit raising money online. Jerry watched me geeking out one day, and began to quiz me - there are thousands of people online? They all read these messages? And do they respond? Well why don't we ask them for money? So over soft tacos at the Baltimore Pike's Taco Bell, Jerry and I cooked up a plan. The result was this brief flurry of pre-Canter and Siegal Usenet spam, each dated 07 Dec 1993:
comp.sys.mac.games: Load Runners.
rec.music.gdead: Put your money where your love is baby.
alt.cyberpunk: Interface this.
alt.angst: Send us greenbacks.
alt.fan.jimmy-buffett: Made enough money to buy Miami...
alt.support.attn-deficit: Don't forget...
alt.sex: True Story:
alt.current-events.usa: Send $ to us, not Bill.
alt.hemp: Help our buzz.
alt.activism: We'd appreciate contributions.
alt.folklore.urban: Take a chance on us.
alt.journalism.gonzo: Do it for Hunter.
alt.drugs: Spare some cotter me brothers?
It wasn't good netizen behaviour, but it was a successful prank, sorta: We got a single dollar mailed to our mailbox, and someone subscribed us to a wide range of magazines (to be billed later). I insisted we use Jerry's email address.
A week or two after we posted these messages I discovered the web and that kept me out of that sort of trouble. At least for a bit.
Later, I helped Jerry post to Usenet this message: Fidelity 95' Summer volunteer Cuba Grassroots Students. This lead to Swarthmore being written up as a bastion of pro-Fidel Castro sentiment by William F. Buckley in his National Review. (The message was posted in the second week of May; Jerry hoped to rally a few dozen folks for the illegal, dangerous boat ride to Cuba a month later. I think he ended up going later, by himself. Maybe not at all.)
At it's best, being a freelance writer is like being a musing student. A few months back, I said, Gosh it sucks to have a mobile phone that I have to plug in to charge up. That's not wireless! That's occasionally unwired!
So I got an assignment from my editor at TheFeature and I spent a few months slowly researching wireless electricity. It turns out inventor Nicolai Tesla thought of wireless electricity, and he even had a plan for distributing small amounts of power freely around the world. So I looked into Tesla, which lead me to some folks who have plugged him into some conspiracy-theory-type-stuff. From DisInfo:
"Besides the US government, Tesla's weapons research has attracted the attention of numerous other governments, new-age groups, and, a bit more ominously, cult groups such as Aum Shinrikyo (Aum Supreme Truth; now known simply as Aleph) - whose high-ranking members traveled to the Tesla Museum in Belgrade in 1992 to conduct research on his weapons experiments, including the electromagnetic oscillator."
So my curiousity lead me back to Japanese death cults, and historically maligned inventor Tesla who seems to have taken the science fiction in his brain and made modern society of it, and Trevor Baylis. It was a stimulating run, almost completely online; the result is this:
TheFeature.com: True Wireless
Meanwhile I get paid in dollars, and prices here in Japan seem to be falling, so I feel pretty good right now as a functioning economic unit. I was accepted as a member of the Foreign Correspondent's Club of Japan so I'm feeling affiliated almost. It gives me at least a permanent mailing address from whence I can continue gallivanting.
This would have been Grampa's 94th birthday. Eventually I'll be dead too.
I wonder if American fingernails are demonstrably longer since airport security was tightened? I haven't found replacement nail-shortening equipment since I departed for Japan, leaving my father's nail scissors that I've been using for 16 years in Oakland.
Someone I knew in high school turned out to be a journalist working for YM magazine. She sent me this link to JewishCheerleaders.com a profoundly pornographic exploration of the self online.
elsewhere in links, Mindex updated, a few new Japan links, new advertisers. I've been hanging out in the Chanpon message boards.
Cameron's favourite web site is Zombo.com. It is an expansive look at the potential of the internet, if you have your speakers turned on. I've been visiting it daily since he showed it to me.
an eye-throttling compendious examination of early electronic gaming culture.
Van Burnham's SuperCade has been published - a big, thick coffee-table book on the "visual history of videogames." I contributed three essays, on the Apple II, Spy Hunter, and a celebration of surrealist tendencies in Data East's "Burger Time."