31 December 2001
watching the culture machine
My language and upbringing leave me privvy to the most immense culture machine the world has yet known. Listening to Little Richard in an Itzakaya (pub) in Japan, I'm about the only person in the room who understands most of the lyrics. It makes me nostalgic for songs I never cared for before - they remind me of where I come from, and for a moment I share in the warm glow of American popular entertainment. Since most successful American music seems designed to push boundaries of conversation about sex, adultery, drugs, indulgence and propriety, I feel funny alone knowing that these Japanese people are eating and drinking amidst veiled references to all the body's loving functions. Maybe it doesn't matter.
It's always like this in Gas Panic, where the music is popular contemporary American rap. Most of what people readily dance to about illicit pleasure, or the price of illict pleasures. There, even if many of the Japanese girls don't understand the lyrics or themes, I guess they get the proper feeling in their hips.
Another time I was reminded of this culture machine was watching an American movie here in Japan. I spied "ILM" in the credits, and I turned to my Japanese friend and explained that this was the Star Wars company, which was started by the young man who was slated to direct Apocalypse Now and later had a falling out with his wife Marcia who edited his films. All the cultural context of modern media I've studied makes much of what the world sees.
This was on the day of my birthday; Ayako and I went to LaLaPort, a mega-mall of four mega-malls connected, adjacent to the indoor ski slope between Tokyo and Chiba. After some wandering there, we ended up in a shoebox-sized movie-theatre to watch "Harry Potter." In Hogwart's otherwise conspicuously pan-cultural wizard's school onscreen, there were no Asians. When the movie ended, and the credits ended, the theatre played Ravel's Bolero to urge people to leave.
I'm trying to get rid of as much stuff as possible; much less paper in my life, double up on existing shirts and pants to stay warm instead of owning many different clothes for different purposes.
At the same time I'm trying to pick a very few useful items that suit travelling. I'm casually hunting a Spy Glass, for example - many concerts, events I've wanted to see close up, and besides that, just around and about closer inspection.
28 December 2001
I have had a dream; after some over-lively time in Tokyo, I decided I wanted to live in the snowy north of Japan, the main island, in 秋田 Akita. This desire was planted in me by one of my Japanese teachers this summer who was from that part of Japan; she said that in Akita some times snow falls over two or three meters deep - covering the houses. People dig tunnels to get around! That blew my mind - I had to see it. Of course since then I've tempered my enthusiasm, and realized, even if I go there and I only see a single meter of snow, it will still be a quiet, older Japan than whan I have experienced so far. And that's just the right change of pace for me at this time.
So at first I thought, well I need to find an apartment there. So 綾子 Ayako, bless her, she called and found me a cheap mansion in 横手 Yokote, in the Yokote basin, which is reputed to be the heaviest snowfall area around. Based on reading some book jackets and web sites, I believe this is because the Siberian winds blow east and south over the Japan sea and that moisture hits the mountains running along the spine of the mainland, dropping big piles of snow. But as I was about to confirm the reservation, I realized that I didn't want to live in a small city of a few ten thousands. Most of the small cities in Japan, from what I've read, they are clones of Tokyo - little shopping centers, puddles of neon, pachinko machines.
At the same time most people migrate to those areas for onsens - hot baths where you might find traditional architecture, good cooking, natural surroundings and a community of relaxing Japanese people. This view of onsens as a sort of cultural nexus for traditional and communal Japan was illustrated to me today sitting at the bar in the FCCJ talking with Bob Neff, a veteran journalist, son of a missionary who first visited an onsen here when he was 13 and has spent decades since researching and writing about "Japan's Hidden HotSprings." I pitched him the idea that I might like to live in such a setting this winter, if I could find an inn that would cost less than $1000 a month. He agreed that would be possible - in 湯治場 "toujiba," long-term onsens frequented by Japanese farmers and pensioners, they have じすいぶ "jisuibu," self-cooking sections. If I found a rustic toujiba with minimal customer service, I might be able to live for a few weeks, writing, hiking, bathing, talking to old people. Sounds like a dream.
So now I will work with Ayako, asking her to help me find such a place. Then if I can stay there, all I have to do is find the nearest Internet connection. I don't expect to be online more than a few times a week, though hopefully I'll be able to take a bus somewhere I can discharge my research and writing duties. Rustic beauty in the snowy mountains with an internet/mobile phone connection would be too much to hope for I think. And that's just fine with me.
24 December 2001
Mom calls my mobile phone for my birthday while I'm eating at an "Itzakaya" in Nippori (Itzakayas are something between a bar and Denny's - a pub offering all sorts of Japanese cuisine with ambient cigarette smoke, cheap beer, a huge picture menu and open late). A guy who sits down in front of me, he's got a shaved eyebrow. That makes him a badass in my book, combined with the fact that while he sits down ten minutes after Ayako and I do, his food and drinks all arrive about forty-five seconds after his ass touches chair and we're still waiting for our first tofu salad with miso dressing. Trying not to make eyecontact with the badass while I'm talking to Mom about health insurance was a strange cultural straddle.
I have a fantasy of riding the Tokyo subway
during rushhour in a train car entirely filled with women. Rush hour on Tokyo trains is something between body surfing, wrestling and the human physical compression craved by many autistic folk.
Mind you I'm not necessarily eager to get my thrills from illicit grabbings; I just would enjoy the chance to be thoroughly smushed amongst many ladies. Strange sensuality? Probably; inevitably bred by my time here in Tokyo.
junk food city
Ayako found out from friends at work that Yokote, where I want to visit, it's called the "Yakisoba city." It's famous cuisine is a kind of Japanese junk food. Besides that, she's been wondering if the people there will be hospitable to foreigners, and if I will be able to find a place to live. Other people have mentioned that Akita seems to be the past tense of "to be bored" in Japanese - I'm getting a lot of flack from folks who don't understand why I would want to move to the snowiest part of the country. It's like moving to central Minnesota from Manhattan I guess.
I suspect if people in Akita, Japan are "country folks," they will be much like the people I have met in Nebraska, or Honduras: not inclined to talk to strangers, but people who work hard, talk honestly, and show patience, a willingness to participate and a curiousity about the world soon aren't so much a stranger. At least most folks are interested to talk with you after they see you're not judging them.
A Magazine for Me
While the airline industry, laptop makers and Microsoft may appear to cater to the mobile business traveller, they expect them to be affiliated. ie, you can be mobile but not too mobile - your tech support department of your large company ensures that you can be on the network at all times. These machines are not built for people to work between networks - people expect you to only want to access one primary network; that is your office. In my case, I have to ensure that I am on a few different networks. Being my own tech support is rewarding; ie, I trust my purchasing decisions. But it's harrowing when I can't get my work done because I have to monkey with stuff like ArGoSoft's SMTP outgoing remailer. I kind of wish I knew of an online community for hyper-mobile unaffiliated people. There probably is one; I just don't know about it. To discuss frequent flyer programs, SMTP servers, laptops, international mobile phones. Maybe there's a market niche for me to cover! I can give up this travelling around and writing in order to sit in a small office trying to hustle advertisements from business card scanner makers - my dream of a magazine for me.
the Web's Working Class
I think I had lost touch with the web's working class. Always working on my own site, doing things my way, I had forgotten some of the sufferings incurred by the workaday web designer. since I'm going to be editing Chanpon.org and they have a limited budget, I offered my web wending skills as well. First order of business, rid the site of frames - it doesn't suit a magazine; you can't link directly to articles. That requires changing all the code from frames to server side includes, which requires hand combing FrontPage code. Fortunately, though the headers and footers may look the same, there were linebreaks and hidden spaces strew throughout to ensure that I couldn't perform a global search and replace. i had to hand cut and paste every header and footer. But this is important - just the sort of spring cleaning to do before one takes over.
For example, here's one of the things I love to see in HTML code:
<font face="Arial, Helvetica, san-serif"></font>
Thank you FrontPage! This reminds me why I used to rant about this sort of thing, and why I still love hand-coded HTML - it's neater. Fortunately I've found what seems to be the PC equivalent of BBEdit, EditPlus a program that helps you write web pages, it doesn't just clutter them for you.
a wretched hive of twitching villainy
One of the single most valuable things I got from Gamers.com was the address of the IRC server where the videogame editors chatted with other videogame editors. Now and then I drop by for an email or an address; between the fart jokes and name-calling there's a lot of useful information on the state of electronic entertainment. Often that information is encoded in a fart joke.
One thing I want for XMas - Winamp 3. I don't crave many things, but this software will seem to play your music according to the date it was made, the genre it is from, the composer; etc - allowing you to plug in hours of music and slice it ten ways from Tuesday.
I don't know when the final version of Winamp 3 will come out - Beta 2 is very buggy. I've been preparing myself for it - all 37 of my Blind Willie McTell MP3s now have a date stamp. I'll be able to listen to music from the 1920s, or the 1930s, year by year!
The Rest of December - gosh what a month.