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Thursday, 21 February

"please die"

At many hotels in Japan, the mini-refrigerators have sensors built in, so if you remove one of the snacks or beverages, the front desk immediately knows about it. And immediately after you remove said snack or beverage, the slot immediately locks so you can not replace it.

Ayako and I were staying at a love hotel in Shibuya and she went to inspect the snacks. She pulled out some salami in a can and found she couldn't return it. She took out a Calpis calcium drink that she did imbibe. She left for work early the next morning and alone I went to the front desk to return the key and resolve these matters.

"Please guest sir, 500 yen."
"Ahh, yes 500 yen. But you see, please we did not eat the snack, we only drink that drink."
"Well in the refrigerator there is a sensor"
"Please wait"

I figured a quick return trip to the room, returning with unopened snack in hand would resolve the matter. Upon reentering the room I found the refrigerator door had been remotely locked!

I returned to the front desk with my hat in my hands,

"Okay you have won. I will pay."
"Yes, okay 500 yen, thank you. You see there is a sensor in the refrigerator and we can not argue with the sensor."
"Yes, but we made a mistake, we did not eat the snack, please believe me!"

and I gave them the money (nearly 4$).

Please believe me, in Japanese, is "Shinjite kudasai" something I have never said but I should be able to grammatically construct. Instead, flustered and frustrated at the front desk, I said, "shinde kudasai" which translates to "please die!"
They said "yes thank you" from behind the black glass and gave me my change.


Desparate for cheap constant access to the net in Akita I bought a "Air Edge" wireless card. Now I can get online at about 28.8k modem speeds from Yokote burger joints, moving subway cars under Tokyo, windowless love hotel rooms. Between that and my phone, it's all facilitating mobile reporting.

So without regard for venue, ever able to depart the stimulation of my surroundings for halting digital production, working on; the new issue is set to launch February 28. The same day as the deadline for the Mileage Giveaway! Bring it on!

Tuesday, 19 February

Tokyo is a beautiful vision - the sun is shining, busy people in fashionable clothes ride efficient transportation to marvellous restaurants. There is no sight of snow.

Today I took too long to order food in a katsu restaurant in the building housing NTT DoCoMo. In the Japanese countryside, they didn't care so much about speed; most restaurants seemed to want people to stay longer not leave faster. I like telling Japanese people that I was living in Akita. All she knows about Akita she saw on TV, she said, Yes! The Kamakura, those little snow houses. Earned a smile and abnormal customer recognition from the girl serving this morning at the front desk of the Shinbashi capsule hotel.

With help from the FCCJ, I found a capsule hotel within walking distance of the Press Club. 4000 yen per night, about $30. I slept in the same room as twenty men, each of us in a plastic cuccoon separated from each other by a fabric screen. In America I imagine there might be some sort of fear or reason not to share accomodations with so many men at once? The only trouble here in Japan was snoring and farting and wheezing and so I wore earplugs.

Editor: please insert picture of Go game with Kondo-san I stayed up last night until 3am working in the club jamming an article for TheFeature and working on Kamakura pages. I took a short break to have my first Go game against a live human, during the Press Club's every-third-Monday Japanese chess meeting.

Today I put in a full day on two tasks:


I have no apartment. I live out of my suitcase. Actually, I live out of about seven suitcases. Some are shopping bags from "DonKihote" the Japanese Walmart (a cheap version of everything you need, in extremely narrow asiles). Most are at Ayako's house, where I am not permitted to enter except under cover of night, when Grandma and Dad are asleep and they would not know that I have entered. Still her father helped her carry my things from her car into her bedroom. My bag loaded with long underwear and thick socks for a writing winter I have left for a freelance spring is parked in a large locker in the Tokyo train station. The half of my books that are not at Ayako's are in a tiny locker (inside and piled on top) here at the Press Club. I've got one nice outfit (grey Carhardt pants purchased in south Manhattan with Wilson in May, rich blue colored button down shirt that's too big for me from the Goodwill on San Pablo, Issey Miyake nehru collar jacket christmas present from Mom). A nice outfit I packed in case I wanted to honor someone with nice clothes in Akita. It's a nice outfit, but I'm on my third day in it. I think, people around the club are going to notice that I do not change my clothes. And then I think, I'm too busy to care. I have time to type this as I ride the Ginza line from Hibiya to Shibuya to meet Ayako for dinner. I'm sweating and not enjoying the usual eye contact. But if I finish, I can drink beer and talk to a nice lady with a clear mind, no intention of returning to my computer before bedtime.

The thing I most want to change about myself is my shoes - I elected only to bring/wear insulated hiking boots for my winter time in Akita. So now I clomp through Tokyo with abnormally warm sweaty feet, in the least practical shoes in Japan - something with laces, expected to be laced up to the shins no less. I yearn for light svelte shoes. And they are in bags three five and six, in Ayako's closet.

In 48 hours I get on a plane to Thailand just before my 90-day Japan tourist visa expires. When I return Monday I will be in Japan as a visaed journalist. Thailand is a close switch off, nice because its warm and different, and Amy is living there with her family. It will be a great chance to see an old friend in a country she is just beginning to understand, or beginning to study. Thailand requires the diametric opposite of my packing for Akita - that was a large rolling bag stuffed with anything warm. Thailand calls for three things, all thin.

All the possessions that I need for a light winter in Thailand or a business meeting in Tokyo or a return to the States are spread across three locations, with the bulk inaccessible. I elected today to rent a storage space; my possessions will have a collective resting place for the next two weeks, even if I don't. And then? I hope I can bring everything back to America, and lose it all enroute so I can start over and pick only those posessions for my life that I can't carry-on without. Like one nice outfit and a laptop.


Undoubtedly the most involving thing I have been a part of in Japan was the struggle to push a wood and cloth phallus into an old temple up in the hills above Yokote. I was drawn to that town at that time, and through a friend I was able to participate somewhate in the culture I've been looking at in museums and books. It was drunken, singing, half-naked, sweaty, difficult, supportive, masculine and fun.

Yokote Bonden Woah

Monday, 18 February

Snow Aflame, the Yokote Kamakura Matsuri:


Friday, 15 February

Today starts a full weekend of architectural and phallic festivals here in Yokote. Reports following fun.

Meanwhile, THE PANIC SPREADS in endless articles lamenting the state of the Japanese economy, ameliorated by conversation with Eamonn Fingleton a financial journalist.

Samurai Romanesque
Online multiplayer umbrella-making in Samurai Romanesque
Pocket Samurai
Perhaps you've heard of Everquest, an Internet-based PC game where people can live out a sword and sorcery fantasy in the company of thousands of other players. The time demands for a successful player are such that some folks have made a business of surrogate gaming.

Japan has similar sorts of online multiplayer games, including one designed for mobile phones. A world of thousands of tiny samurai in your pocket: Samurai Romanesque for Wireless Gaming Review.

After Love Hotels and bland business hotels, I found an aged Ryokan, a Japanese inn:

At Hiragen Ryokan the exposed wood and tall ceilings will put the zap on your brain.
Yokote: Hiragen Ryokan
Your chance to sleep in a museum.
Hiragen Ryokan has lasted since the Meiji-era, a shotgun marriage of Victoriana and boiled-down traditional Japanese design. Built before 1900, full of bric-a-brac, art and aging culture.

Wednesday, 13 February

I found fantastic lodgings in Yokote at the Plaza Hotel. A modern facility, warm, comfortable, well-appointed.
The temperature inside of this inn is just below freezing.
Spacious atrium lobby with cheerful staff. Seemingly endless amounts of hot and cold running water, with free bath salts. Working power jacks, and eight TV channels including the Olympics. They have a reciprocal deal for free admission to Yuu Yuu the adjacent "urban resort," an excellent onsen, bath and sauna. They are in the center of town, near the train station and quite a few restaurants. And my friend called to get me a fifteen percent discount, so I've been staying here for around $45 a day; a great sustainable rate for a traveller using a hotel room as his office.

Having found a perfect place to lay low for a few days, I packed up my things and checked out. Left my bags in a locker at the train station and with only my backpack trudged across towards the outskirts of town to stay in the coldest indoor lodging I've experienced since Tsurunoyu, costing twice as much, where I have to walk two hallways to a shared bathroom. There's no other guests here now - it's too cold, too out of the way and too expensive. And it's the most beautiful inn I've stayed at in Japan.

It's too cold to type; I need fingerless gloves - got to go buy some gloves and cut the fingertips off!

The phone rings at 21:15 my first night at the new inn. It's the young female staffer here:

"Hello, honoured guest."
"You are our guest."
"Yes, I understand."
"Tomorrow, there is a meal in the morning."
"Yes! I understand."
"About that breakfast -"
"Yes, is it okay?"
"There may be some Natto served if that's okay. Is that okay?"
"Okay. Anything."
"Thank you Okay."

Tuesday, 12 February Travel Giveaway Fewer than 8 proposals have been submitted for the Travel Giveaway. The deadline approaches, February 28.

You can win a plane ticket and share the results with the web! Good luck!

Today in Yokote I left my hat in my hotel room when I went out for a long noodle lunch with a delicious book of Japanese Folktales. Walking back, I crossed the street and turned my head to check the cars. The wind quickly filled my open ear with snow.

Now cradled in bed, bathed, here's what I can listen to.

Sunday, 10 February

Yesterday nearby Yuzawa was lit up with bright lights and fireworks above the artfully crafted houses and dogs made of snow. It was a rural Japanese festival to honor the snow gods.

yuzawa matsuri

Saturday, 9 February

Map of Japan
Courtesy of Life in Akita
After two days of spring-inflected peaceful weather here, the blistering biting wind driven snow has returned to Yokote. Batten down the hatches; it's winter in Akita once more.

For the Foreigner Eating in Rural Japan

Go to a restaurant in Japan. Order some food. When it arrives, eat three bites. Then look around the restaurant. Chances are, some of the staff are watching you eat. Smile, nod, make a positive hand gesture, and they will likely smile and nod back, with warmer feelings all around.

Then go back to eating and wonder if they were watching you to see if you would make a mistake with your chopsticks. Then try to keep from making a mistake with your chopsticks.


I typed all that yesterday until about 1.40am. I heard a rustling outside my door. I spied with the peephole a young lady working to enter a room across the hall. I opened my door to offer assistance. She required none. Not too much longer she knocked on my door.

More February - gosh what a month.

Tokyo: Love Hotel Bathing Bowl - Photo: Ayako

TheFeature: Mobile Reporting: Peer to Peer News
High-speed videophones mean widespread reporting from the field.
20 February 2002

Yokote: Bonden Matsuri
In rural Japan, groups of men wearing pajamas in severe winter weather decorate palluses to carry two kilometers uphill to shove into the gates of a temple.
18 February 2002

Yokote: Kamakura Matsuri
In the mist of a deep cold winter in north Japan, the snow in Yokote lights up with candle light.
17 February 2002

Yokote: Hiragen Ryokan
Your chance to sleep in a museum: Hiragen Ryokan has lasted since the Meiji-era, before 1900, chock full of bric-a-brac, art and culture.
15 February 2002

enu hanabi Akita: Yuzawa Matsuri
In the most technology crazy country in the world, children ride giant snow dogs beneath close fireworks to honor the little snow gods.
10 February 2002

Tokyo: Love Hotels
Justin and Japanese people escape tiny dwellings and familial surveillance in highly decorated short-term passion palaces.
6 February 2002

TheFeature: Can Old Designers Teach Our Phones New Tricks?
Gaming's old-timers know what it's like to work with limited hardware, and still make games fun.
4 February 2002

J@panInc: Seiko's New Pocket Monster Provides Speedy Japanese Translations
Writer Justin Hall has found that recently he is paying more attention to his Seiko RM2000 pocket dictionary than to his friends.
February 2002

TheFeature: Where is Location-Based Marketing?
If your mobile phone knows where you are, what might someone try to sell you? Reporting on Japan's early location-based tests, interviews with Finns.
31 January 2002

powerful stuff Tatsugakudou
Black Magic Ramen - the Devil's own noodle soup.
23 January 2002

Akita: TsuDazed
Living - the return: illness, misplaced cigarettes, Germans.
27 January 2002

kenjiki baka Akita: Snow Shoe
Once more into the woods, this time with snow shoes.
25 January 2002

Akita: TsuDaze
20 January 2002

Akita: Gentlemen
A group of distinguished older men teaches me about Japan as I try to keep vomit from out of my lap.
17 January 2002


Akita: Snow Walk
How do you walk through four feet of snow? You crawl.
(Now featuring Colin Adams's educated interpretation of these tracks)

16 January 2002

Akita: Turunoyu
Bathing with Japanese folks in elegant 400 year old bathwater.
14 January 2002 Mileage Giveaway
A free round-trip airplane ticket to the person who writes the best web content proposal.
7 January 2002

Japanese Homeless at Tokyo DisneyLand
New Year's Eve: Tokyo's homeless problem comes to a capital of worldwide theme park entertainment.
1 January 2002

index.html Considering Ayako
My brother was dating a woman. When he met her grandmother, she asked him, "What are your intentions?"
31 December 2001

index.html Christmas in Japan
More neon than nativity
26 December 2001

Too Much Walking?
I've changed my short daily route from the train station to my apartment in Uguisudani. Now I take narrower alleys. As a result I pass by four or five prostitutes each night, instead of just one or two.
26 December 2001

Freezing at the Emperor's Birthday
Shivering in a courtyard with gangsters and right-wingers watching the Japanese Emperor smile and decry the economy.
20 December 2001

Foreign Correspondent
An aged journalists' club with a lusty legacy welcomes a web itinerant.
December 2001

True Wireless
If you have to plug your phone in every few hours, that's not true wireless - that's occasionally unwired. If we can send data through the sky, what about Wireless Electricity?
December 2001

Modern Madame Butterfly
Many Foreign men date Asian women. Fortanately, all the Asian women are submissive and the Foreign men are wealthy. A recipie for harmony?
December 2001

For Men with Yen
A guide to the sexy side of Japanese nightlife from the 60s still has lessons for heedless young explorers.
December 2001

Aum Shinrikyo
Two books about the Cult behind the Sarin Gas Attacks in the Tokyo subway reveal only a modicum of LSD and sexual impropriety.
November 2001

Roppongi: GasPanic
Compulsory drinking in the fetid Tokyo swamp that breeds interracial dating.
November 2001

Winged and Wired
Worried that some folks might have a moment to themselves, several companies are promising to keep business travelers online in-flight.
October 2001

Raving on Mount Fuji
With speed-snorting male hosts on the site of Japan's sacred mountain, reaching for a bit of trance culture and ending up with the end of a zen stick.
October 2001

New Orleans
A visit to an old friend in the city of sin yeilds truly dangerous moments with the dead and lively dancing where Jazz music still moves feet.
September 2001

A trip to a culture fortress and Finnish playland in Eastern Europe.
September 2001

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