Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Coming Soon:

A detailed account of the typhoon we just had and today's activities, cleaning up after it. Look forward to it!

Coming Soon:

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Whenever I save my journal, it says "Microsoft Word is Saving Japan"

Here's my latest.

28 Sep, 2138
My apartment

Gaaaaah! I just spent the past couple hours getting my characters set up juuuust right to beat this dragon that keeps killing me in FF5…I assumed it was an optional battle, but refused to run away from the challenge (it’s easier than deciphering the damn Japanese townpeoplespeak!). So I fiiiinally hooked on to a system whereby I keep two characters alive and protecting each other and do about 100 hitpoints every round to a monster with 20,000 hitpoints. Basically, I fought it for over an hour, and then? Then it just ran away. Then I stumbled upon it again and it had full health.

Fucking dragons.

Aaaaanyway! It’s been a while since I’ve given a “Here’s what it’s like in Japan, the exotic far-away place where I’m staying” update. Today my bosses drove me out to Nanyo (that’s South Yo, for the non-speakers) (Iyo is the old name of Ehime, the prefecture in which I stay, and so now the regions of Ehime are Nanyo (southyo), Chuuyo (central yo) and, you guessed it, Tooyo (Ha! It’s East yo!)). Niihama is in Tooyo, so we had about an hour and a half drive to get where we were going. Once there, we went to a history museum, which was pretty swank. It basically covered the history of Ehime prefecture from pre-stone age to last week. Lot of cool little displays. No pictures allowed, so sorry ya’ll.

That actually gives me a segue (is that how you spell that word? “Seg-way”?) into the coming month’s festivities. The last room in the museum was devoted to contemporary local culture. Now, apparently in Japan, local culture is like a big deal. Example, Niihama is known for its copper mine, now dead, and for the copper products it exports, which it now doesn’t. But 50 years ago, when you went to Niihama, you got something made out of Niihama copper. Saijo, the town bording Niihama to the West, is famous for its water. When you are in Saijo, you fill a bottle with water which gushes out of any number of drink-me holes in any number of walls or statues in Saijo. Oshima Island is famous for its salt (when you are there, you have to try its salt ice cream, which is amazing) and for its granite (you might as well pick up a tombstone for the kids, right?). Etc and so on – always there’s something you “have to try” in any given town, which is really kind of cool. It gives you an impetus to travel around – a lot of times, the specialty product in any given town isn’t really available in other towns, even other towns in Ehime. So it’s in your interest to travel to Oshima if you want to try the ice cream. I really really like that. It means when I go sight-seeing with my bosses, every town we stop in there’s something small worth buying (and usually eating on the spot). Isn’t that kind of cool?

But anyway, on to this display in this museum. It was focused on festivals – each town (or at least each general area? I’m sure not EVERY town…) has a festival every year, some of which are famous. Niihama has a taiko festival which is famous across Japan, or so they say. A taiko is a Japanese drum – but this ain’t your gramma’s taiko. The taiko gets built into a gigantic wooden float, which weighs like over a thousand pounds, I believe, though that could be wrong. Anyway they’re huge, and a few people ride in this float while a few dozen carry it on their shoulders and dance all over Niihama for 3 days. While drinking heavily. With the money that they get from people. Who give it to them for fighting with other floats. Tell me that doesn’t sound like fun? My company is making me participate, too, so if I get crushed under a float I can just sue ‘em. :-D

But yeah, I’ll be sure to send pictures.

And it looks like I’m going to graduate from kendo practice with 8 year olds to kendo practice with real people. I’ll be going to the 6am workouts before work, where I’ll likely just get brutalized. I’m gonna look into buying some armor this weekend, though. That’ll be fun. I’ve always wanted my own set. Then I can get dismantled in style. J Won’t that be fun?

Oh, if anyone ever for whatever reason wants to call me, I have the official way to dial my cell phone from the states: 01181 90 1175 9071. Around 8 or 9am your time is the best time, but around 4pm should also work (I should juuust be getting up). But God help you if you call me at 4pm on Friday or Saturday afternoon (for you) as that will be Saturday or Sunday morning (for me) and I have not by any means taken to waking up at 5am on weekends. So call me Friday or Saturday night, around 11. I know when my mom calls it costs her like 30 cents a minute, that varies based on what service provider you use, but on the bright side it’d be free for me. :-D

Ha, so at some point this summer, as I recall, Jon referred to me as an oaf. I found that rather funny, as I’d never been an oaf before – an oaf is big and clumsy, kind of dumb. I told him he was crazy, but he pointed out that I was bigger than he was and said that he had no problem calling me an oaf. I was just amused then, but now in Japan, afraid, it’s the sad truth. I’m twice the size of a normal man, I read slower than a drunk 3 year old, I’m incapable of saying anything interesting due to lack of vocabulary, and I’m constantly getting stuck in chairs under tables or making noise in a quiet room as I hit my head on a beam or falling over as I try to take off my too-western work shoes to enter any building. But rather than decide to work hard to become more graceful I’ve decided to get mad at Jon for jinxing me. Yeah, that’s it. Rat bastard.

How’s this for a wicked cool kanji?

It means “Black Horse”, read “Ri” or “Rei.” I wouldn’t be so amused except that my last name means “(of the) White Horse” (which is a paltry 白場, read “shiroba.”). Basically, it means my family name’s antithesis has an old, rare kanji. If I ever turn on the family I’m getting this tattoo. :-D

Ack, I just accidentally cleaned my entire apartment from top to bottom, tidied and threw out most of the crap I had laying around, swept, dusted, etc etc etc. Then I read the first few sections of Oxen of the Sun. What a productive evening. Too bad it’s now 135, and I am getting up at 6. That’s cool, though, 4 hours is a wonderful amount of sleep for me – no joke, I always feel great. As long as I don’t do it too often.

Dan, you need to do everything in your power to develop a functional understanding of Finnegans Wake. I have this vague theory that makes FW into chapter 13.5 of U, right between Nausica and Oxen. Also, I discovered my old notes about how to overcome Joyce – as I am interested in starting writing, maybe I’ll outline my few vague ideas here. I really like reading old notebooks, cuz they’re kind of strung out the way this is. So I’ll see an idea introduced on one page, and then kind of brought up again later 2 pages later as a sort of synthesis of the original idea and the intervening pages. It’s really kinda cool to watch an idea develop like that.

But what the fuck am I doing writing, I need to sleep!!

How wonderful to have a spotless apartment. I’ve been cleaning, but it’s good to really just get into all the cracks. There’s a big vacuum cleaner tucked into one of the bazillion storage spaces, but I bought a cheap broom. Now, I hate sweeping, but it’s kinda nice to be able to just get every square inch.

Good Odd, listen to me, I’m talking about cleaning. Now I’m Martha Stewart without the jailtime…or money. Well, whatever. By the way, did you like “Good Odd”? I thought that was clever, though in fairness it originated as a typo.

But right, bed. And comment on this, damn you.

Monday, September 27, 2004

So I figured out how to enable anonymous comments, so ya'll can all leave messages on this log now.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

For the record...

...I wrote about 5 more pages last night, but it was mostly just whining cuz I was in a cranky mood, so I'm not going to bother posting it. I've posted enough whining in recent days. I guess having serious discussions with intelligent people just inevitably kinda makes you depressed a bit, right?

But anyway, I think that's done. Now I need to turn my attention to the more serious problem of why exactly my DVD player on my laptop won't play right. God damn it, I wanna watch movies, playing final fantasy 5 all day is fun but it's in Japanese and I just wanna break already! Gaaah!

...But I downloaded 6, also in Japanese, for when I finish. It's my favorite game, I might as well play it in the original, right?

So in case you're curious, I'm right now working on my daily report, for last friday. So's ya'll can see what I do every day, I'll post it in here. So far my duties at work have consisted primarily of writing reports about what I did that day.

So here's friday's, sorry if you can't read it, as it's, ya know, in Japanese. They're usually a bit longer, but I have decided to be a bit more reasonable in terms of report length, and there's just no need for the kind of detail I usually include.

1. 始業: 7時50分から8時30分まで

2. 中予の訪問: 8時30分から4時30分まで



This has not yet been editted by my boss, so the Japanese may well be terrible, but there you go, hot off the presses.

Anyway, time to get to work on my month report. That's gonna be a bitch. Adios.

This is more like it

I FINALLY found a place where I can use wireless internet, there's this coffee shop at the mall. The result is that I'm currently on my own laptop, drinking an iced coffee and getting stared at by all the little kids who walk by. I dig it.

Anyway, here's my latest update, the news from the front as it were.

26 September, 12:43
My apartment

So, yeah. Let’s see, it’s Sunday, so there’s work tomorrow and for like 4 more days after that, during which I’ll be expected to write my September month report in Japanese. That sucks. But whatever.

This weekend was quite alright. Ah, the british English is creeping into my mental vocabulary already. I just said “quite alright.” That’s what you get for getting pissed and smoking fags all night with a bunch of brits. Curses.

But yeah, Friday we went to Pat’s and watched “I, Robot” which was really rather bad in its own right but had a few things that were very interesting. Specifically, it made me think about this sci-fi cliché business about robots with emotions. There was a bit in the movie where the old main dead scientist is talking about the “ghost in the machine”, this idea that we don’t actually know how computer programs work frequently, cuz there are billions of lines of code and nobody ever writes NEW code, we just kind of modify what we have, but it’s impossible to actually read through it. We know “Okay, these 15 pages of code take the input and do XYZ to it.” But we don’t really know how or why, etc, that sort of things. And that’s fine, that’s just how computer science has evolved – but then what we get is various anomalous behavior. We get computers that behave the way we expect 99% of the time and then lock up and crash for no reason in the middle of something routine, right? And in the movie, this scientist was talking about how robots have behavioral quirks that are sort of parallel to this, and it was this idea that they were “Evolving” on their or something like. And so he writes human emotions into one and yadda yadda yadda.

But here’s the thing, how do you define emotion? I mean, anger or sadness or whatever, right, it’s a product of all sorts of complex chemicals and hormones and electric shocks going on inside our heads. Very similar to these computers, we don’t actually know how this works, we just have a vague understanding of the results. So there’s this big cliché about trying to give robots emotions, right, it’s in all the big sci fi movies and tv shows; but, couldn’t you say that computers already have emotions? Every time your computer locks up and freezes, every time it suddenly runs quickly after running slow for 2 months, every time a program takes a slightly different time to start up, that’s a product of a hyper-complex system of stimulus-response, going on at such a far-off level that all we can really understand are the results. How is this in any way different from human emotion? Perhaps it’s misguided, then, to try to give robots emotions – perhaps what these movies don’t see is that they’re just trying to give human emotions to robots, which is of course going to smack of artificiality. I just wish someone would treat the idea of robot emotions. This movie was reeeeally close, like it scratched the surface, it tapped against the door but didn’t actually enter.

So that’s my take on that, thanks to Will Smith’s kinda crummy sci-fi movie fused with a kinda crummy cop movie. But the robots were slick. I wanna go re-read Asimov.

Last night we went to Tricia’s and played Cranium, then I stayed behind talking to Tricia and Jackie till about 3. First of all, I realized that I’m the only guy here without a Japanese girlfriend. There were like 4 couples over for Cranium and I was like “waaaaait a second…” Cranium is always a lot of fun, but you’d never think about how American-centric it is until you try to play it with a bunch of brits and Japanese. The trivia, the spelling, the pop culture references were all very American – so I had a distinct advantage. :-D

So after that Jackie and Tricia and I got into a discussion of hippies, of all things. Jackie and I both casually mentioned how you gotta hate hippies but at the same time they accomplished something amazing (basically the same thing I was ranting about the other day, scroll down, except this time it was Jackie’s idea), and Tricia was defending them. But I guess what it ended up coming down to, though, was that the animosity you tend to feel towards hippies (and I’m perhaps generalizing here, maybe “you” don’t) stems from the fact that, if you’re in my age bracket anyway, the only “hippies” you know are the ones you met when you got to college, right, and it’s ludicrous but they believe they’ll save the world but not going to class (Damn the man!), not bathing, and doing a lot of drugs. Now, it’s arguable, but the original hippies DID accomplish a lot by doing just that, they provided this outlet, they made the world recognize that you could do that if you wanted to and if you don’t like that fuck you, whatever. But…the change they were going for was made. You can’t accomplish anything big anymore by being a hippy, that’s been done. If you wanna live that life, that’s fine, I guess, but don’t get all preachy and “oooh look at me I’m a hippy” or something, right? Cuz you’re not accomplishing anything, you’re just vaguely dirty with disenfranchised political interests. It doesn’t make you special, especially if you come (as most of the “hippies” I know do) from upper-middle class families and you know that eventually you’ll get a job and make a lot of money and this is just your “hippie years,” right?

That was a bit tangled, I know, but basically the moral of the story is that it doesn’t make much sense to be a hippie in 2004 unless you’re aware that’s it’s just what you’re doing to while away a year or two before real life starts, but then it’s really more a fashion thing than anything else, right? And back to the real hippies, well, that whole lifestyle, while it accomplished something sure, was really self-destructive and based on ignorance and innocence even, in spite of the sex drugs rock thing going on. Looking back, all we can really appreciate about it was that it opened a few doors that would have never been opened, right? So yeah, that’s the hippie talk.

Then we did the religion thing, right. I confessed to Tricia that any sort of a serious discussion about life (re: hippies) always for me comes from the basic feeling that it’s all fucked, and Tricia told me that was the biggest cop-out, even worse than hippieness (and it may be) but Jackie was like “no, I got the same thing going on, and it’s like this pain in my stomach when I wake up every morning, but what can you do? I just try not to think about it.” Which is fair enough. Tricia then argues that that’s what religion is for is to try to fill that void, which is of course the truth, but once you lose religion what do you have left? And Jackie postulates the only other way I know of to fill that, which is love, but love is just confusing, right, because in some ways it’s eternal but in other ways it fades, and so if you’re looking for an answer to an eternal question love is reeeally tricky because it’s going to be in some important ways inadequate, right? And so at least according to Jackie, who is far older and wiser than myself, love doesn’t cut it and in the end you’ve got to become religious, and this is why all the great revolutionaries (well, some of them) if they live long enough become conservative and religious – Wordsworth, Eliot, etc.

So then Jackie says that in another 20 years she suspects she’s going to go Catholic, which I really like right because I’ve always had a bit of a soft-spot for the Catholics ever since religion sort of fell apart for me. It’s like the Joyce thing, right, Stephen, even though he loses the faith keeps a really strong affinity? Appreciation? For the whole Catholic bit. So yeah, Jackie’s deal is that Catholicism has the most to keep a mind occupied, it’s by far the most thought out religion, with the most complex system (which you can spend a lifetime studying) and fantastic art and amazing history and really big buildings, which is cool.

So my objection is “right, Jackie, but religion is supposed to be based on faith and how the hell can you just choose one?” I mean, if you choose a religion for ANY reason other than faith, isn’t the whole thing sort of based on a lie? They say the faith comes later, in those cases, but isn’t that a bit sketch? I wouldn’t like to think that my faith is based on the fact that I joined the church cuz I like the taste of communion wafers and oh yeah by the way two months later “sure god exists, why not?” So I suggest that if you’re just gonna join a religion for the artistic and aesthetic merits (which is something I’ve given a lot of thought to myself, in fairness) wouldn’t it make sense just to make your own? Or pick like an artificial one, like Blake’s? Blake has a whole cosmology, he’s even got all the religious art going on, but Jackie says no cuz Catholicism has the buildings and you just can’t compete.

So that was that half-serious discussion, and then we left. Jackie tells me to be honest with myself and that I’ll just become a Catholic eventually, which is probably true but I’d hate to think I could do that without finding faith first. And in the end it’s all just sort of a silly game, a bit of a joke, right, that the people with the pits in their stomachs tell each other so they can go on living another day. Is that terrible? I’m not even depressed as I write this, right, I’m just sort of incredulous and vaguely amused. But what can we do?

So yeah, in fairness I’ll likely become a Catholic at some point in my life, I think I’ve always kind of known that, but if it’s gonna be a last ditch effort to fill the hole, then I’ll do it later, I wanna try out living first, right? And I still need to find and fail in love a few times, right, to wear that one out.

Ha, so my “Journal of Japan” isn’t so much the cultural study I had half hoped it would become and more of an introspective foray into the unknown depths of the psyche, laced with vague emotional outbursts…but I suppose in the end, that’s why I’m here, right? To get to know me? Already I feel like I’ve grown quite a bit, so that’s cool.

Now I just need to learn Japanese, which is freaking hard. Makes me wish I’d worked a little bit harder in Japanese class and not missed so many days (sumimasen, kuwai sensei!).

Okay, I think my shower is about ready, which is exciting. I’m gonna shower and THEN I’ve been told that there’s a place in the mall where I can use my laptop internet for free, so how cool is that? (so I went to your room, and read your dia-reeeee-eeee). So perhaps I’ll chat with a few of you very shortly. Also, thanks for the mails, Sarah and Kate, I really appreciate communication from home!

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Middle-of-the-week National Holidays are rather a treat.

I'm going to adopt various british speech patterns by the time I return. It's not intentional, it's just inevitable given the company I'm keeping. Nobody here gets drunk, for example, they get pissed.

Anyway, here's what happens when there's a break in the middle of the week.

2130, Thursday Sept 23

Today was the second national holiday of the week (but I think the last for like a month) so no work. Translation, last night was fun. Was wondering what to do with myself, then Jackie emailed and said people are going to Pat’s, so went to Pat’s, where it was myself Jackie and Pat for a few hours. We drank, ate coconut wafers, and smoked, whilst watching music videos on the net.

Now, these people haven’t seen/don’t know anything about current US pop culture, new music etc, cuz Niihama is a bit isolated and there’s no real radio stations and like 3 tv stations and anyway media input is severely restricted, especially if you speak no Japanese. So they wanted me to catch them up to date. Me, catching people up to date on US pop culture. So that was weird, but I showed ‘em the latest cool music videos and latest cool songs, and that was fun. Seems like at least Pat and Jackie have pretty diverse musical tastes, which is good, hopefully I’ll broaden mine a bit over here. But the Black Eyed Peas made quite an impression, it seems. They’ve been all over the place in the states lately, so it’s weird to meet a country where they’re still more or less unheard of.

About 3 hours later, other people came over, and it was just kind of noisy for a while. I was all the way on one end of the room and most of the people were on the other and by that point I was in a bit of a slump so I just sort of sat there kinda playing with the music for 2 hours.

Finally, around 4, everyone started leaving, but myself and Jackie stuck around and the three of us just stayed up a few more hours. I really enjoy getting to know people – novelty wears off fast, I suppose, but it’s always great to first speak to someone. Those are the 12 hour conversations where you convey and receive entire identities converted into words and facial expressions. As my circle has been more or less static since I started college, it’s a welcome experience. I think I’m going to really like at least Pat and Jackie. I’m gonna do anything I can to help Pat create his radio station here.

But yeah, drinking and smoking and listening to music and talking to interesting people all night, that’s kind of cool. Although let me tell you, I think I’ve had more cigarettes since coming to Japan than I did before coming. Everyone freakin’ smokes. It’s downright creepy, but someone is always offering you a smoke and it’s like, why not.

So I think I was in bed around 7 or 730ish on my day off, got up at 4 and went to Kendo, which was a bit less awkward this time as I was there early. I just jumped right in and practiced with the children, which is still somewhat weird. For the first hour it was all group stuff, but then they separated into people who have armor and people who don’t, who stopped and went home. I stuck around, and she just told me to practice my head hit. So I started doing that and half an hour later she told me to stop. That fucking hurt! But she came over now and again and made adjustments to my technique so I think I probably improved a good bit from that. But yeah, just moving back and for across the hall hitting the air for half an hour, I dug it, but I’m gonna have some really excited blisters. And it wasn’t just me, there was also this little girl, couldn’t have been older than like 8. She just didn’t slow down and didn’t get tired, so I just kept pace with her. These people are crazy.

On Sunday, apparently, there is a massive kendo tournament in Matsuyama, about an hour west of hear. People like the Miyazaki brothers and Eiga are going to be COMPETING – so I’m gonna do everything in my power to get out there. I’ll be sure to send pictures to the kendo club.

Tomorrow my bosses are gonna take me out to “Chuuyo”, the central part of Ehime state. I’m in “Touyo”, the eastern part, and there’s also a “Nanyo”, the southern part. Not sure exactly what we’re gonna be doing, but it’s a bit of travel, so that’s cool. Nanyo is next week sometime.

Also, I finally got some blank CD’s, so the music I can play in my stereo has expanded exponentially. I’m excited. Soon I’ll have a playstation 2, as well, so this place is becoming more and more like home. It’s cool to live by myself, cuz I can always have some sort of background music going on. Hell, I can even dance naked to it if I want to, cuz hey, nobody else lives here.

In fact, I think I’ll go do that. Adios!

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

5 more pages of rambling

September 21. Evening.
My Apartment.

There seems to be a massive storm building outside – I went out on my roof to look at the sky, and there are these massively gorgeous black clouds just billowing around the mountains to the north – it’s beautiful, but as my transportation is limited to my moped or my bike, it means I’m not going anywhere tonight. Ah well, it’s all good. Fortunately, today at work I downloaded Final Fantasy III to play at home, so at least I got something to do. So the plan this evening is to alternate between journal writing and video gaming until I fall asleep. With Coldplay in the background and roarwhispering wind.

Coldplay is really weird – I don’t mean the sound, so much, but the mood it puts me in. I hesitate to say it makes me sad, cuz that’s generally a bad thing – but so far it always puts me in this really weird state of really remorseful nostalgia, which is odd as I just started listening to them this week. But it’s a good kind of remorseful nostalgia, the sort I don’t want to fade. Does that make sense? Anyone else get that from them? It’s like the opposite of happy, but also the opposite of oppressive. I don’t get it, but I can dig it. Though I think if I put the disc on loop it’ll drive me mad. For now, though, I’ll just enjoy the hell out of it.

So if you’re interested in a broader perspective on life out here, Pat (the local entrepreneurial English teacher) has his own website at I was checking out a bit at work today.

Also, I finally cracked down and downloaded AIM on my work computer. If ya wanna chat with me, I’ll likely be using it during the second half of my lunch hour when I’m at the office. That’s 1130-midnight for ya’ll. It’s a brief window, but it’s there. In a way I kind of like being completely isolated from ya’ll, but frankly it gets a bit lonely out here so I’m glad to have a brief chance to converse with whoever is available.

So today, I had my first Japanese lesson. Doesn’t seem to bad, read through the first chapter of the book she has me starting with (Intermediate Level, go me, I’m not basic!). Aced that, we’re on to chapter two next time. I’ll see about finishing this book within a month and moving on to bigger and better things. Though I admit it’s kind of a gear-shift to get back into student mode since coming out here.

I have to wonder, does anyone actually read this business? It almost doesn’t bother me if no, my primary purpose for this journal is to have a hard copy of my year abroad, I’m just posting it for those who are interested. Though I admit, my oh-so-fragile ego would be crushed if I found some way to check the hit count on my blog page in like February and saw that nobody had looked at it since late august. :-D

Let’s see, so far I’ve received email from Sarah, Toshi, Zach, Turner, Kuwai-sensei, and Kate. I think that’s everyone. Oh and my parents, who will doubtless find this blog eventually given my dad’s habit of googling our last name on a regular basis. But my point is, people who don’t email me don’t get great souvenirs upon my return. I SWEAR that’s not how you spell souvenir, but I guess it is. Well, I’ll be damned.

I think my best friend out here might be Miai(maybe)-san, a 9 year old girl at the kendo dojo, where I am quite the celebrity among the kids. One, I’m exotic and foreign, and two they can all beat the crap out of me – it must be quite exciting for them. Japanese kids are like not at all shy, it’s strange. At least some of them, at any rate. Always they wave when they see me, it’s cool. I was just on the train going to the beach this weekend and at one station there were three kids just watching the trains and eating ice cream and one of them saw me and started pointing and they all laughed and waved for like the full 5 minutes my train was stopped at that station. I really like it when people are friendly for no reason, even if only for a moment, and I’ve always liked kids a lot (except when I had too many little brothers crying…).

That was one of the cool things in The Idiot by Dostoevsky, Myshkin loved kids, thought them the highest in all things. It’s a good way to be – they’re the future, as clichéd as that is, and so it’s cool when they’re coming along as decent. I guess for anyone to feel any hope ever, they have to look at kids, no? Kids are proof that no matter how fucked up it all gets, there’s someone coming who might fix it. If that’s not hope, what is?

Speaking of The Idiot (how are ya liking the stream of consciousness?) I read an interesting commentary by Herman Hesse that said that it had to go the way it did. Now, I know that only Dan can even relate to this, but fuck it cuz this is my journal and not my blog and whatever. So Myshkin is this wonderful, pure manifestation of the Christian ideal of purity, he’s everything good in humanity, he trusts everyone, etc etc etc. And he gets destroyed by those around him. Hesse says that that wasn’t just an accident, and wasn’t even just a commentary on the mindless senseless mess we live in – he says rather that Myshkin, in his goodness, is in actuality an enemy of humanity.

In trusting everyone, in always doing unto others as he would have done, etc, he was actively undermining the fabric of society, and so the fact that he gets in the end a lot of antipathy from those around him is a testament to the fact that his presence is detrimental to the order of things. In shining light into every bit of darkness, he doesn’t consider the fact that that darkness is an essential element of The Way Things Are. This is a lot like what I was ranting about the other day – the only “goodness” that can triumph is that which takes a stand against the status quo to the point of burning it all down. The genius of The Idiot, then, is that this is all sort of implied.

Myshkin is a warrior, a bearer of destruction (albeit in the name of justice, implicitly) but is presented as an affable, lovable young man with nothing but love in his heart. He is indeed both – surely he never even considers himself to be the destructive force that he is, except in passing, in his darkest moods, and this must surely cause him immeasurable pain. I originally thought that the theme of the book was that there was no place in this world for a good person. But it’s more – it’s a character study of the “good person,” and Dostoevsky’s conclusion is that this ideal figure is as oblivious to the shadow as the shadow is incapable of accepting him. Myshkin is the kind of guy that cannot see the evil that he is destroying, he crusades through his very naiveté.

Maybe that’s it – maybe the answer to the world’s problems is simply to ignore them. Maybe the right course of action is simply to do good to everyone and everything one meets, and then all the evil in the world, ever speck of shadow, is utterly meaningless, it can’t make a dent.

This, then, goes back to Socrates – when they kill him, they ask him for his last words. He says, and I’m paraphrasing, that “There are two evils that plague humanity. I, being old, am caught by death, the slower of the two. You, young and clever, are caught by wrongdoing, by far the more dangerous. No matter what you do to me, it cannot matter to me because I know now and will always know that I have done no wrong. In the end, nothing you do can hurt me, because no evil can befall a good man.”

This even captures Myshkin – his end is only tragic because to us he presents a pathetic figure in the end of the book. To himself, were to collect his identity, he is not the victim – the victims are Nastashia and Aglaia, right?

So between Myshkin and Socrates, we have two representation of the same model. The relevant question, then, is how does one begin to live like that? We don’t know much about Socrates’s personal life, but let’s look at Myshkin – he is who he is through his own nature, he doesn’t try. Is the implication, then, that one must be born a Messiah in order to lead this life? Does this, then, leave the rest of us as broken and hopeless as any other argument for hope does?

I’m dropping this rant there, but if ya’ll have any input please let me know.

So lemme see, I think I’ll bust out the Final Fantasy III now. I’ll write more in a bit, I’m leaving this entry open.

Noooo! It’s a NES rom and I only have an SNES emulator. Curses from the deepest dankest depths of darkest hell.

I do find it cool that I seem to be able to just sit down and write in here for an hour or two – though I still don’t consider this to be Writing, with the capital W. I’d like to Write eventually, but every time I try I just realize I have nothing to say, no ideas of my own – the best I can do is something like this, where I just spit out a disjointed analysis of whatever’s on my mind.

Or does this count? Can I take this to the bank? Can I refine this into something they’ll be studying 100 years from now? Because honestly I won’t be satisfied with anything less, and I know I have it in me, I just have to find. I can feel it, squirming around and waiting to jump out, but not yet, always not yet. I have this tremendous sense of “not yet ready” that seems to pervade almost everything I do, does that make sense?

Anyway, the storms seems to have turned out to be a dud, which is a shame because I opted out of Kendo practice tonight for fear of apocalyptic rain. Bah. I think now I go check out that ramen shop near my house. But the journal remains open.

Woo, feeling that. So I go to the local dive, right, where they have ramen and whatnot, and it has the little red paper lantern outside so ya know it’s also a bar, and it’s all a bunch of regulars in there and they were all real cool, talkin’ to me about this and that and buying me drinks all night. Even shared some of their food, for no apparent reason. I’ll be sure to go back.

So the drink of the evening was sou-chuu or something like that. I think it might be the same as the Korean drink souju, maybe? Or maybe not? I dunno, it’s 50 proof and they serve it in large quantities. I had some sort of fried pork. If ya’ve not caught on by my rambling style, I’m feeling a yopparai at the moment. And if you’re really dense, yopparai is Japanese for drunk. But I forge ahead! You see my dedication to you, the reader? It’s all for you, even though I just told you a few pages ago that it was all for me. So I’m a hypocrite. Bwahaha.

Boy, I don’t feel like I’m making sense but I don’t feel like making sense so it’s all good. Gotta throw something new on the record player, I don’t wanna mix odd Coldplay mood with booze, dangerous things could happen.

So let’s see, where was I? This is degenerating into a whole evening’s worth of ranting, so let me see if I can get back on track into some reporting. How about something boring? Lemme try to give a sense of the cost of living around here.

1 yen = about 1 cent, right? But, here, something small and cheap like a snack at the store runs about 150 yen, rather than the 50 or 75 cents we’d pay. So even though they’re about equal in value, 150 yen is worth a lot less than $1.50 in practice. However, that has its limits. At Makudonarudo, for example, a big mac meal runs about 600 yen, which is roughly what it costs in the states, right?

Also, gasoline and drinking water seem to run at about 100 yen per liter, which is a little under 4 bucks a gallon. I dunno if ya’ll know this, but the gas in the US is the cheapest in the world by a factor of at least 2. Even though it’s like 2 bucks now and we’re all having fits, Japan is also cheap, in the big picture, at 4 dollars a gallon. Just something to keep in mind.

So if I just tell you that, you get this sense of Japan as an expensive place to live. On the contrary, though, you can get a boxed lunch at the local convenience store (henceforth, “conbini”) for 300-400 yen. And it’s enough to fill you up, maybe 6 sushi-rolls and a bit of meat or something. So it’s absolutely possible to get by on 1000 yen a day for food, 400 a week for gas for my moped, and figure another 2000/month for miscellaneous expenses. Quick math tells us, then, that the truly frugal can live on (1000x31)+(400x4)+2000=49,000 yen a month. That means a little under 500. But, anyone who knows me knows that the word frugal and I don’t have much in the way of history together. So if we double my food budget, we get about 800 yen a month for expenses and 200 banked, which is interestingly enough the exact figure I had down before. In reality, of course, I’m much more likely to be spending all 1000 and eating ramen for a week between checks. But, ya know, whatever.

Just put away another chapter of the book that’s gonna fill the next month and a half or so (and has filled the past few). I’ll “solve” Ulysses eventually, dammit. And this is bottom of this page of text – doh, just rolled over onto the next one. Curses.

Well, screw that, I’m tired and my booze is wearing off so I’m gonna get some sleep. Ciao.

Monday, September 20, 2004

week-long late-into-the-night-every-night deserted-beach concert-parties are, to use the beckism, where it's at.

1950 20 September

This weekend was a bit of a blast. Saturday, after stopping at the lame free internet place they set up for gaijin to use as a courtesy but which has everything firewalled and ancient computers, I went home and took a nap, and then showed up an hour late to kendo practice because apparently there’s a difference between 6:00 and 16:00. Dammit. Then I got beat up by a middle school kid for an hour. Can’t wait to go back.

After that, I went to a meeting of the local English Speaking Society, which is a bunch of middle aged Japanese people who meet every week to read and discuss some page about whatever. This time they were reading a comparison of Iraq to Vietnam. They were all excited to have a real live native speaker in their midst. So that was fun.

Then Sunday morning I went to the local Buddhist temple with a member of the Niihama guides club, and we did zazen meditation. Alas, no sattori for me this time – I had a bit of a cold and just sat there sniffling for an hour as all these people were so still and silent they could have been dead. I was really embarrassed. But it was cool, I’d like to go back.

Then, the excitement began. Monday is a national holiday (“grandparents day” or something like that) so no work today. That means Sunday night I went to the sun and moon festival. Now, I’m not sure how legitimate a festival this was, in terms of traditional Japanese festivals go. It was more of a 4 day beach party/folk rock concert on this absolutely deserted isolated beautiful beach about an hour and a half away from where I live by car. A lot of the music was absolutely crazy, notably this band called “Motto” (Japanese “motto”, not English “motto”), which had a keyboard, a huge standup base, and a bongo played by the woman who sang. They had such a crazy cool sound.

I went up there with the local expats. The crowd there was mostly Japanese people with a good chunk of English speakers, many of the English speakers in Ehime showed up. So the result is that I got to know the gang a little bit better, and have decided that more or less I really like them.

There’s Tricia, who seems just kinda laid back with a touch of the old road rage. Didn’t really talk to her altogether too much but I’m sure I will in the coming months. She and Jackie came to get me at the station, she’s a fantastic driver, which is kind of scary, taking narrow-as-hell mountain roads at 50 mph. I believe she’s American.

There’s Todd, who is leaving soon. I like Todd, he reminds me of someone but I can’t put my finger on it. Just seems like kind of the group center, which makes his impending departure a bit of a shame. He’s the guy who always has a good thing to say about (almost, get to that) everyone. Also, he seems like the group slut, which is kind of funny. IE, we’re trying to figure out sleeping arrangements in tents and he was all like “Oh, don’t worry about me, I’ll find a tent.” But it’s all in good fun, he’s only half serious all the time. I suspect I’d really get to like him but he’s out in two weeks so oh well. He is Chinese, but from New York.

Let’s see, then there’s Jackie, who I found out is 37, which is weird cuz she’s like almost 40 and that’s weird. But she’s really cool, hard-drinking music-loving clever-as-hell joyce-reading (!!) fun. She’s one of the JETS in our town. Also, she’s apparently got a band which may or may not be in need of a bass and wants me to join cuz “even a monkey can learn bass” so maybe I’ll be in a rock band. She is British.

Then there’s Pat, who seems to be the go-to guy of Niihama. He’s got a hand or foot in anything – he’s technically an English teacher, but he has a cooking class on the side and is working on starting up a local FM radio station. For this beach party he set up a stand to sell shish-kebob and beer. I suspect a really useful guy to get to know, I’d like to jump on board his radio station, he says he could use some help. He is Canadian.

Ah, and I might as well get around to Karen. Karen is from Jamaica. Karen loves Jamaica. Karen hates Japan. Karen can’t stop talking about how much she hates Japan and loves Jamaica, and apparently can’t stop calling people and whining. Karen arrived one week before I did, and is apparently already driving everyone absolutely mad. As a testament to the kindness of this group, they all invited her to this party/concert anyway, cuz they don’t just wanna leave her isolated and by herself out here. But she came and just bitched the whole damn time. And THEN she turns out to be a religious nut, evangelizing to us during this concert. And then when Pat’s girlfriend drank too much and was throwing up, and the rest of us were like “whatever, she’s fine” she got really mad at us. And it’s just everything, she takes a really irritating moralistic high ground and bitches about the rest of us and about Japan and about the Japanese (which she refers to Chinese half the time because “They all look the same to her.”) So yeah, she was the exception to Todd’s kind outlook. She just makes no effort and it really kinda gets everyone down, but what can we do? She’s going to be my new Bellinger, but at least I can avoid her. Also, hopefully this’ll be the last time I say anything about her; I’m gonna try real hard not to just start bitching about people. But it’s sad that there’s this kinda drama out here, I wish people could just be cool.

Let’s see, who else? There’s Emma and Sarah, a couple of JETS who seem like they’re cool enough. Their thing is that at beach parties they twirl these chain things around that have fire burning on the ends, it looks pretty cool at night, I’d like to learn. There’s Nevin and Yuki, who I met for the first time last night. They’re from kinda near Niihama, and seem cool enough. Nevin is a salsa dancer and Yuki is a surfer. I think at 26 they’re the youngest English speakers I’ve met. There’s Jay and I believe his girlfriend’s name is Ellie. Jay plays guitar and seems about the laid-backest guy around, and his girl seems cool enough, though I didn’t really talk to her.

There were a few more, but I spent most of my time talking to Jackie, getting talked at by Karen, and flirting with Nevin. I’m really starting to dig it around here. It’s good to know that there’s a base around here that I can actually relate to. I really would have thought that too much to ask, ya know, like living out in the sticks of Japan I’d be happy to meet anyone who speaks English at all, let alone a crowd of really considerate, with-it people who have read Finnegans Wake and like Wong Kar Wei movies. This is pretty swell. Also, I suspect they all kinda like me, which is good. Jackie when she was drunk was telling me they were relieved that the new young guy turned out not be a “wanker”, but is clever and cool. So that’s cool.

Hmm, for such a long weekend that seems like rather a short post. Ah, and the lousy thing is I got back today, showered, and laid down for a nap around 1 and woke up around 730. That sucks. I have work tomorrow.

Oh, Sarah, I’m rocking out the Coldplay and really digging it. Haven’t so much gotten into the other one, but I think this disc will make my permanent rotation, which is quite a feat.

At some point here I’m going to have to step out for some food. I’ve decided that I make a really comfortable amount of money – basically, I can ration myself 200 bucks a week and bank 200 a month. This means I’ll be able to afford a Playstation 2 from Todd in early October when I get paid. So that’s exciting.

Also, if any of you want anything from Japan, please let me know. There’s a lot of “stuff” here. Zach, that means Dreamcast games, lemme know if there’s any Japanese-only that you’re looking for, there’s a small selection of used at a local used stuff store.

Meh, I was gonna try to fill up the rest of this page so I can start at the top of the next one next time I write, but I got nothing. If you guys know anyone who would be interested in reading about my exciting adventures, please feel free to pass this URL around.

Have a good one!

Saturday, September 18, 2004

The local internet place blows, but at least its free.

So, a big chunk of this is more of a political rant that came out of nowhere and spiralled into a chaotic pyrotechinic of vague emotional read at your own risk.

1800, same day
My Apartment

Yeah, well, here I is. I got some incense today, so my room smells holy. I have ten thousand yen more stashed away than I thought I did, so that’s swell. Damn, typing on an American keyboard is wacky now, cuz I keep checking myself, thinking I’m on a Japanese computer. Gah, my mind is going, I can feel it.

I’m drinking tea. I do that now. It’s kind of cool. I think if I was back in America tomorrow I’d be left with nothing but wistful thoughts about the kind of laid back but responsible person I could have been, had I stayed in Japan. But if things keep up, I think I’m going to develop good habits. I clean my apartment religiously, get up early, shave daily, exercise, drink tea for god’s sake, how much more civilized could I be? I show people here my driver’s license photo (which, more or less, is probably the image you have in your head when you think about me) and people recoil, it’s great. And that was two weeks ago. So a year of this, and I’ll become downright respectable.

And yet I can still play rock or hiphop on my stereo here and not have it be out of sync with “grown-up” life. That’s kind of weird to me, I dunno, maybe it’s just me and my preconceptions. But it’s weird to shave to the Black Eyed Peas (quiet, so as not to disturb my neighbors) in the morning. Know what I mean? I guess in my mind I never really fully associated contemporary youth culture and future middle-aged culture, but they have to be related, don’t they? Ah, the days of Britney Spears on the oldies station are on their way.

At the same time, this is kind of a very interesting time to be alive in terms of culture. The cultural revolution that hit America 40 years ago is now making its rounds all over the world – rock and hiphop music, reduction of censorship in tv and movies, all the liberties placed on artistic standards are spreading across the world like Shelley’s West Wind. The first generation of this revolution is just dying off, and so it’s up to us to keep progressivism alive or let it die. It’s us, it’s this generation that’ll determine the future of culture in the next hundred years. What scares me is that conservatism is on the rise. We’re on the verge of a progressive world – for all the ancient regimes out there trying to keep it out of their little sections of the world, there’s a tide that’s been rising over the past 50 years and if we let it, it’ll carry us into a freer future.

The problem is, of course, that like every revolution of any sort, there are people on top that find it threatening. A change in the manner in which we think means that power structures considered secure until this point now have to question how much support they have – and so, in the name of morality, progressivism is shunned. And people buy into this shit.

But if that’s the case, if there rises up in the world enough resistance to abort this child of culture evolution, then perhaps it’s right that it should fail. After all, isn’t it up to us to make our own world?

This is kind of getting all-over-the-place out of control and not making sense, perhaps. Let me regroup. This is gonna be world history 101 as I understand it, feel free to skip if you don’t want to listen to a vaguely angsty theoretical gripe about the way it is.

All over the world, there are those in control and those not, right? I don’t mean that to sound conspiracy-oriented or anything, just a general principle. These people, naturally want to maintain their control. Example, in America, “old white men” have maintained dominance since 1776. They do it by instilling a negative ethical value on progressive art (book/movie censorship, emphasis on controversy over contents, etc.), they do it by instilling a negative ethical value on progressive political theory (Red Scare, anyone? News coverage now of protestors as “anarchists seeking to topple civilization”, etc), and they do it by maintaining a sort of mainstream binary – you’re either a Republican or a Democrat (either way right or kinda right). If you don’t fall into one of those categories, you don’t matter, you’re the “lunatic fringe.”

Naturally, throughout history there has been pocket resistance. Abolitionists were seen as anarchists, jazz musicians and “modern” poets (who gasp didn’t always rhyme) were sinful wicked men of the city, atheists were anarchists, hippies were anarchists, rock and hiphop are “not music”, they don’t qualify as “art”, they’re simply clicks and whistles coming from somewhere beyond the scope of the campfire, and best ignored. And always these groups identified themselves as fringe – abolitionists certainly wanted to change the laws, but recognized for a long time that the best they could do was illegally help slaves escape etc; jazz musicians had a really close circle, though they were certainly a trendy thing to listen to; the beats were the same; the hippies, much as we all hate them, were the first to increase their scope – they wanted to do something in the world, to stop the war.

Whatever else we can say about them, for the first time a fringe group tried to become more than itself, and the fringe got a group consciousness. This was around the time of the birth of rock, and suddenly 1950’s America had a counter culture – a group that wasn’t pro-kennedy any more than it was pro-goldwater. I hope I haven’t mixed up my timeframe. So anyway, suddenly, 15 years after world war II, the kid siblings and kids of the vets got together and across the country was born a self-aware group with progressive inclinations and bizarre, “unhealthy” influences including sex, drugs and rock and roll.

Now ask anyone voting for Bush what group of people he hates most and he’ll tell you “Terrorists and Hippies.” Why? Because both are against existing power structures, and anyone who is gonna vote for Bush, who epitomizes the dominant American power structure, sees them as a threat. I’m certainly not making an apology for terrorists, don’t get the wrong idea – they can all burn in hell. But nor am I conflating groups who oppose the current power structure into one giant, uncivilized, barbaric, looming “other”, the way the static power structure would like me to.

But all of this is still pretty vague, isn’t it? What I’m getting at is this – Shelley’s “West Wind” is blowing, about 200 years later than he expected it to. Counter culture, as it’s known, the critical examination and unapologetic rejection of many contemporary power structures, is spreading across the world, and it’s doing so through movies and music and books. I’m sitting on the other side of the world, where there’s a youth anti-culture as strong as America’s waiting in the wings. And it’s like this everywhere – grandparents the world over are shaking their heads sadly at crazy haircuts, mothers everywhere are throwing away CD’s with inappropriate lyrics, fathers everywhere are sighing because their kids aren’t patriotic or nationalistic. What happened nationally in America in the 1960’s, the birth of a self-aware subculture focused around progressive ideals, is AS WE SPEAK happening all over the world. The earth is moving in its sleep, everywhere new movies and new music and new literature is pouring into dry waiting crevices.

I’m not trying to wax poetic, I didn’t even know I had it in me – but suddenly I find this very important. The same people who would vote for Bush (and I hate to put so much importance on a small man, but every body needs a face and his is the most convenient) are the ones who would see Janet Jackson crucified because Justin Timberlake yanked on her dress, but have no problem watching their FOX news war coverage. The point is, the old white men have trained America to apply moralistic judgment – censorship – to their daily life, but only when it’s a threat to the existing social order. Nobody gets righteously furious about today’s body count of Arabs. They’re all terrorists anyway, right? And if they’re not they’re probably opposed to being bombed to hell so they’re hippies anyway so fuck ‘em. Not like they’re American.

So if this trend in America is not stopped, it poses a legitimate risk to the still infantile progressive culture – and I mean infantile in several ways. 1) Very often it’s very immature – it’s about change and revolution for the sake of change and destruction, like a baby playing with lego blocks. 2) of course, it’s still nascent. It can’t stand on its own yet, though it’s very close.

So if you follow my argument (I swear, it’s there, just very jumbled because my mind is racing) you see that the world is following the American model. If the American progressive sub culture can grow into maturity and challenge and overcome its forebears, then so can that of the world, and in 50 years this whole rock will be a better place. But if the GWB’s and John Ashcrofts of America succeed in convincing the American people that theirs is the right way to go, then we’ll fail in the world, too.

I still can’t tell if this particular instant in history only seems important because it’s the first time I’m able to vote, and it just seems really urgent, or if indeed we’re on the cusp, and the future of progressivism in America (and, from there, across the world) is in the balance. Either way it horrifies me that Bush even stands a chance, against anyone. Kerry of course has his flaws – he’s kind of a nobody in himself, though a step away from the cliff on the far right is a step in the left direction. I just have a feeling that what happens here in the next 5 years will play out on the big screen across the world over the next 30 – and that brings me to my original point, the fact that it’s up to US.

Us, you and I, my circle, my posse, my friends, my comrades, my partners – only us and people like us can save this country and from there save the world. I only wish we could do something OTHER than buy CD’s from inspired indie acts and vote for John Kerry, but for now I think it’s enough – it’s a step. But while our national progressive movement reaches its empowered early 40’s, its international little brother needs to be nursed and treated carefully. For the first time in history, the fringe group has a chance to stand up and become mainstream. Isn’t that crazy? If everything goes well, in 20 years we’ll have a black female president and nobody will think it so much as remarkable. What’s crazy about the world is that now that’s unthinkable.

I feel pretty hypocritical writing this – in all fairness, I’m just kind of an apathetic middle class American ass, and I know it. But god damn it, this is Helm’s Deep, and if we fail now Sauron wins everything going into the 21st century, ya ken? I was talking earlier about how I feel more responsible and respectable – well, maybe this is just a manifestation of those sentiments.

We are responsible for creating the world we live in – we are the most empowered generation in the history of human social evolution, and the reigns are there for us to seize if we’re only willing for a fight. I guess now we just need a leader – the enemy has a face, and it’s George W Bush, insignificant as he may be. But what about us? Surely not Kerry. McCain? He always makes so much sense, and then throws it away by supporting Bush, I don’t understand. Dean? Too late, our Brutus has already killed his Caesar. An artist, then? Bono, frontman of the greatest rock and roll band of all time? Ha, that’d be cool, but no.

In Blake’s creation myth, Urizon (Jehova-ish) creates the world and rules over it as a cruel dictator. He represents all power, all authority, and all corruption. One day, his son makes a bow and waits in ambush. His son has the support of the people, of everyone, as the only hope against the tyrant. Urizon comes into range, the son shoots him. Thinking Urizon dead, the first thing he does is step forth and say “Hail me, for I am eldest of living things” and basically establishes himself as a new Urizon. The real Urizon, however, was not really dead and then killed his own son to reassert his power.

Is this not perfect? Is it not the ultimate description of power dynamics throughout history? For all my bluster over the past 5 pages, none of it matters. The very nature of power means our cause is lost – what, then, is worth fighting for? And so my inspired rant comes to a crashing halt. In the end, Urizon, the manifestation of power and control itself, reveals himself as not dead. Always he’ll be there, always the looming threat over the horizon – though faces come and go, the soul lingers and cannot be vanquished.

Vonnegut once said that “politics” is another word for fear, and that in English we have many synonyms for fear. It’s true – the people in control are afraid of losing their control, and so make their subject afraid of life without them, and this is politics in a nutshell. Isn’t it sad?

And in the end some people have hope. I guess I don’t understand – but I know it makes me feel like it’s almost all worth it when the battle over a hollow victory is on the horizon. Go figure.

Okay, that rant is over. Sorry if it went out with a whisper and not a roar – “I done what I could when I was let…” In the end, maybe the art of the movement is enough, maybe the footprints of the sacrificial lamb of progressivism on its way to the altar are all we can fight for. So sit back and read Ulysses and listen to the Sex Pistols while it’s legal. And then when it’s not, do it anyway and feel like you’re fighting for something.

Is that all there is?

Saturday, Sep 18 11:05
My Apartment

Well that was a long rambling post last night. Ah well, I’m using the same rule I used to use when writing term papers in high school: once it’s written it’s forbidden to erase it. So at least ya’ll get to see an honest picture of my thought process, much as that scares me.

Last night was pretty cool, went to a bar/restaurant with some of the English speakers here. This was my first bit of actual socialization in the past two weeks – there was the BBQ, and I’ve been out with my superiors at work, but those were structured events. This time Tricia emailed my phone (, dammit, email me!) and invited me out with the gang. I am indeed the only non-english teaching non-japanese in town, that’s a little weird. I feel like I’m on the wrong side of the fence.

But anyway, joined Tricia, Todd, and Jackie for dinner. I wasn’t sure if I liked this crowd at first, but now I do. It’s really just a pleasant surprise to learn that these kids are all intelligent, well read, cosmopolitan individuals. We talked about favorite movies and I’d only heard of about half of everyone’s favorites. This is great, I’m gonna grow! :-D But I did impress Todd, the guy from Hong Kong, when he was like “Well, my all time favorite you guys will never have heard of, it’s called Days of Being Wild…” and I was like “Oh, Wong Kar Wei, right?” :-D

Ha, I referred to these people as kids, but Todd, the youngest, is 27. Tricia is 29 and Jackie is older but wouldn’t give details. We ordered all manner of crazy stuff and it was all great. One plate we got looked like sashimi but when it arrived it was actually beef. Nobody wanted to touch it, so I got to eat it all. :-D (oh, I should specify – sashimi is just slabs of raw fish. This was a mess of raw beef.). Also, there’s a beverage here called “Chuuhai”. This is the Japanese equivalent of a girly drink – it’s shouchou with soda, kind of a fizzy alcoholic pop. I tried it last night, but the flavor I got was absolutely awful – I think it may have been soba noodles. So that’s a little weird.

Also, I stopped to buy a back of cigarettes – going out, might as well smoke whilst drinking, right? So I’m at the vending machine on the corner and smokes are between 270-300 a pack, right? Just drop a decimal before the last two digits and you’ve converted yen to dollars. So not too bad, but then I saw a small back in the bottom corner for 170, and I figured I had to try it.

Mistake. Never, ever smoke “Echo” cigarettes. They are absolutely terrible. The flavor is awful, and they burn like 151. I guess they’re “the cheap stuff” for a reason, right? Anyway at least I know what to get Basil.

Gonna go shower and see if I can’t find the local internet place.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Another day

1642、16 sep 2004/09/17
At work.

Just finished up another day, more or less. Today I went to see the city of Saijo, which neighbors Niihama to the west. Whereas Niihama is a past-its-prime industrial center, Saijo seems to be a way-past-its-prime cultural center. I really liked it. I had tea in the former home of a local samurai lord, converted into a tea house. The garden was unbelievable, and everyone there was really nice. The owner came out and talked to me in English (broken nonetheless).

Getting used to this lifestyle, I suppose. Going out tonight – with people, no less, so that’s a bit of a first. The expats in town invited me to come hang with them, some dinner at some place that’ll probably cost an arm and a leg.

I’m still trying to figure out how money works hereabouts. As in, how much I can afford to spend in a week, what kind of lifestyle I can afford to lead. If I run out of money, that’s it, I’m out of money until the first of the next month. That’s a little scary, so I’m trying to tuck away cash here and there for rainy days.

This is going to be a 3-day-weekend, because of grandparents day on Monday. Then I also have Thursday off for some sort of memorial day that I don’t really understand. That’s two national holidays in a week. I dig it. I heard there’s going to be a big party of some sort in Imabara (where I went two days ago) this weekend, like a 3-day-long concert on the beach with raving at night. Not my scene, but then again, using the past as a standard neither is international travel. My point being, it sounds like fun and I might go check it out after my zazen session at the temple on Sunday morning.

What else to report? Much to my surprise after all I’ve heard from so many people, nobody has tried to marry me off to their beautiful 18 year old daughter yet. Maybe I haven’t been here long enough.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Here's a bit more, which I just wrote, so it's fresher.

10:55 am Sep 16
At Work

This keyboard is juuuuuust different enough to be irritating. All they did was move the quotation mark, @, apostrophe, semi-colon and various slashes. The result is that just when you get up to speed you come to a crashing stop. In some ways I suppose it’s easier, but it’ll take some getting used to. And word says my apostrophes are invalid. Wonderful.

Anyway, went to 6am meeting this morning, with bigwigs. Didn’t understand anything, got a lot of smiles, introduced myself to the owner of my company. That’s cool. Yesterday, crashed my moped – this thing seriously went over my head, we rolled, we danced together forward in a slow spiral of doom. Good thing I was wearing my helmet. I just stopped too suddenly, and must have had my weight forward. That sucked, ruined a shirt and kinda screwed up some pants. Not to mention it’s my boss’s moped. It seems to be running just fine, but now I’m always wondering “Did it make that sound before? Did it ride like this before?” Makes me wish I had paid more attention to how it felt to ride it. Ah well.

Found a dojo, I’m gonna go show ‘em what I can do on Saturday. If all goes well, I can go to kendo practice every morning at 6am before work, and then shower there. It’ll be magnificent. Then Saturday night after kendo I am going to go to a meeting over some sort of the English Speaking Society. I’d imagine that as a native speaker I could potentially help them out a bit, and in so doing start to repay the kindness and generosity of every Japanese person I’ve met since coming here.

Work is still not at all busy, they still haven’t given me any sort of “job” per se. I write reports every day of what I did all day, then the next day receive the report, with corrections, fix it, and send it out to various bosses. Then I write that day’s report. But I’ve been kept pretty busy. For example, last week I got a different lecture every day – about company history, about the computer system in the building, etc. Then this week, members of the Niihama Guide Club have been showing me around. This club seems to be just a bunch of Japanese housewives volunteering their time to show the occasional guest around Niihama and outlying areas. The only camera I have right now is attached to my cell phone, and so it’s not very good, but I’m going to try to attach some pictures as soon as I figure out where I can upload them.

Yesterday, we went out to the bridge that connects Shikoku Island to Honshu Island (two of the main islands in Japan – I’m in Shikoku). It might well be the largest bridge in the world. It’s actually a series of bridges over a series of islands. Yesterday, we went to Oshima Island, where we drove up a mountain, had salt flavored ice cream (it was delicious), visited a rose park, and saw a museum with armor and weapons. Every where I go there are beautiful vistas, ancient buildings and just dozens of things to look at. Nowhere in America will someone casually mention “Yeah, this was built 1200 years ago. Whatever.” Or “Yeah, from you can see the city you live in, 50 miles away.” I’m just constantly walking around with my jaw hanging open.
So I met some Gaijin this past weekend, mostly American and some brit/scot/irish/aussie as well. The rule of thumb is, if you’re not Japanese you’re an English teacher. What surprised me is, these people don’t speak ANY Japanese. They’re all like “Yeah, I’ve been here for 2 years…I’ve almost learned Katakana…” Katakana is the easiest of the three Japanese writing systems, and the one in which foreign words are written – I couldn’t even imagine living here without knowing so much as Katakana, especially since it takes maybe a day to learn. But I guess that just goes to show how friendly and accommodating the Japanese are – these people can live here, function on a daily basis, without even a rudimentary grasp of the language.

Anyway, according to these guys, there’s nothing to do in this town – they all seemed kinda bored with the whole Japan thing. Apparently they just drink a lot and do karaoke once in a while and that’s the life – so I’m not sure how much I dig that. I know just from my tour this week that there’s more than that, albeit maybe not much more. Niihama used to be a really thriving industrial city, but now it’s kind of a run down country town, with not much aimed at younger people. There’s a small technical college in town, so there are SOME younger people around – I gotta get to know them. So far, other than the Gaijin, I only know the girl at the Ramen shop in the mall who speaks English. Though I’ve spoken with her briefly a few times, I still don’t know her name, but I know she goes to the technical college so perhaps I can befriend her and in so doing have an in to the Niihama nightlife. We’ll see. Or, ya know, an in with a beautiful native who speaks English.

Prices in Japan are a bit different than in the US. Stuff that would be expensive in the US (like, say, Japanese food, for instance) seems on the whole to be a bit cheaper, but things that are cheap in the US (like, shampoo or whatnot) tend to be more expensive. In the states I can get a 99cent bottle of shampoo, while here the cheapest I’ve seen is about 4 bucks. I guess given that most of my money went to Japanese food in the states, I may actually save a few bucks here. :-D

Todd, one of the Americans here, is leaving next month. As a result, he will sell me his PS2, which includes the internet adaptor. The price is going to be 60% of whatever such a system used normally goes for, which is a good deal for me. I expect about 10,000 yen (100 bucks), maybe 12,000. Video games fall into the category of “more expensive” out here, so when Metal Gear Solid 3 or Final Fantasy 12 come out, I’ll probably be shelling out about 70bucks. But it’s cool.

In terms of pop culture over here, I’ve seen pretty little so far, but the hip new thing in music seems to be a group called “Source”, who just released their second CD (featuring KJ from Dragon Ash, as it were). I can’t afford new CD’s over here (those fall in the category of way more expensive, ranging up to about 50 bucks a disc for popular artists, it seems), but I can go listen to the new stuff at Tower Records and then go buy used old albums by the artists I like, so it works out.

These updates, you have by now realized, are really chaotic, and I rarely keep the same subject between paragraphs. I hope it doesn’t seem so spaced out as to be difficult to read. This is just the way my mind works and I won’t apologize, damn you.

So according to my boss, when I write my daily reports I need to, at least at first, think in English and then translate, using a dictionary. For example, I talked about various artifacts on display at a history museum that I saw yesterday – but in my report, I discussed “things relating to Japanese history that were in a museum.” It makes for very childish writing, I suppose. I need to try harder – mayhap henceforth I shall write my reports in English first and then translate. Then eventually I’ll be able to write them in Japanese.

So I go to meetings now, like I’m some sort of person who belongs at meetings. Everyone takes notes, as do I – but my notes are just words that I don’t understand, which I then take back to the office and look up. It’s a life.

So yeah, for reference if you ever need it, my address is:

792-0032 Ehime-ken Niihama-shi Masaeda-Cho 3-3-6 #403

A package of cookies now and again would be appreciated. *cough cough, hint hint* Also, my phone number is 81 090 1175 9071. I think. The 81 is a little sketch – that’s Japan’s country code, I’m not sure if you need to dial anything else to call me. However, if that gives you trouble, try dialing 011, then that number. At any rate, the important thing is, call me some time.

And that’s about enough of writing my journal for the time being. I got about 4 hours left of work, during which I will learn, god willing, about 30 kanji. Maybe I can figure out a bit about my phone, as well. Like how much the long distance call I just put in to Dan cost me. Cuz it doesn’t say. But it should. Dammit.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

So here`s my journal so far. I have not been editing, so this is gonna be pretty rough, but there you have it. The bits written in Japanese are especially bad and may make absolutely no sense. But odds are you don`t read Japanese, so you`d never notice. Props if you get through it all in one sitting. There`ll be more coming every now and again, most likely in big chunks. Please feel free to comment, I can reply to that easily enough :-).

Book I: Travel

Saturday, September 6 2004. 830pm. Somewhere in Ohio.

Hello everyone. I’m writing this now as I sit in the back of a car hurtling inexorably towards a bad literary device. It’s now 8:30-ish on Saturday evening in Ohio, making it 7:30ish in Chicago and a lazy 9:30am Sunday in Japan. I’ll hit Chicago in about 6 hours (230am Cleveland 130am Chicago 330pm Japan), will perhaps get some sleep, will get up about 5.5 hours after my arrival (8am Cleveland 7am Chicago 9pm Japan) and will have breakfast with my parents, after which I will arrive at the airport around 9am Chicago time (10am Cleveland 11pm Japan) and be airborne at 1135am Chicago time (noonthirtyfive ohio 135am Japan). I’ll then fly for 13 hours and 5 minutes (exactly, mind you) and arrive in Japan around 230 or something I believe. My numbers are getting sketch, but in fairness people are starving in Africa and my digital (I like the use of the word “digital” here as referring to digits) transgressions are meaningless. Anyway, from Tokyo I have a few hours to change airports and then fly another hour and forty minutes to Matsuyama, the capital city of the Ehime prefecture in which I’ll be living. From there, I will drive an hour and a half to Niihama, the port-town base of my unfolding operations. All told I’ll be sleeping with the roaches in a futon in a hole of a Japanese apartment in about 38 hours or so.

I really like having a laptop. Due to a miracle of modern wiring (a wiracle? M and W seem so close…) I am charging the batteries of my laptop whilst on the road. Crazy and useful. I could be watching a movie, I have all my DVD’s with me. I feel so technologically advanced – though I’m prepared for Japan to crush my feeble fetus (my ubiquitous, burgeoning soulchild, if you will) of a technoego. They’re probably reading my mind through satellites and laughing over Pocky and Asahi as I type. The kids, I mean – the adults are too busy fighting an interstellar war in secret.

But I digress. I mean that as a paradigm, a constant, a habit. Get used to it. I dunno who will be reading these updates, even if I do start posting them regularly (I may), but I almost promise it’ll be about 25% updates of my adventures and 75% rambling.

Just to see if I can do this, 日本語で書けますよ。よかったですねえ!僕は、まだあんまり上手じゃないですが、すぐよくできると思っているんです。MSWord でかなと漢字で書けます。面白いですね!

So yeah, that’s cool. On a side note, all of the rest stops on the Ohio Turnpike are closed, presumably because Bush is passing through Ohio. That really blows, as I’ve had to go to the bathroom for the past hour. That man is a blight on my bladder, how can he be expected to handle the country? Alright, gonna take it easy for a bit. Got many miles to Chicago and I gotta unplug my laptop from the car. More updates as the trip continues, no doubt.

Saturday Sep 5, midnight (eeeearly morning, not late night)
Somewhere between Cleveland and Chicago

This is two updates within a few hours of each other, and I expect a few more between now and my first nap. Since there’ll be not much to report about the trip (In the car. Dark. Laptop batteries going weird. Miles to go before I sleep.) I’ll likely just ramble about whatever’s on my mind. As a result, the next few entries may not be so much a travelogue as a rather dreary monologue. Tough.

I started writing this entry an hour and a half ago, but don’t feel like starting a new one just cuz so much time went by. I’m 5 miles from Gary, Indiana.




Okay, well, I’d babble more in broken Japanese but there will be time enough in the months ahead. Right now my last good battery is about to die, so I’m gonna shut down. Peace.

Sunday, Sep 5. 10:42am (Chicago time)
O’Hare airport, terminal 5, gate 8 lounge.

About an hour to airtime. Parents left, drank some water, sitting here surrounded by people speaking notenglish comfortably. Have some degree of confidence in my Japanese, at long last. This is weird, my computer isn’t picki upsome keysokes. Be I’ll just ahead an type like this – it’ll be my nature sle.

Ok no, that sucks, I’m gonna shut down.

Monday, Sep 6. 4:56am (Japan time)
Somewhere over Northern Canada, Alaska on the horizon.

About 10 hours until projected arrival, and I’m already feeling antsy. I put on “Closing Time” and busted out this laptop – I’m determined to use it for the duration of this battery (78%, 1:48, which will miraculously be 85% :57 next time I check). So apparently, drinks and whatnot on planes are free – that’s kinda cool. Keep it in mind when you travel. That is, unless they hit me with a bill later. All I had was a beer so it should be okay.

I’m just typing this out to keep myself away from the madness that will settle in inevitably. They’re playing some old Kurosawa movie with no subtitles on my little screen, maybe I’ll check that out later.

I’m writing this as the beginning stages of my year-long journal which I plan to post on my blog, but I must admit this projected course of action gives me pause – I don’t know that I like the idea of everyone being able to read what I’m scribbling down in a desperate attempt to occupy my mind. This is hardly polished prose, I’m sure it reads like some 12 year old brat’s diary. I’ve never been self-conscious about my writing before, but then again I’ve never really posted it up for people to read. Granted I had that livejournal thing going on for a while, but that’s a good example of the sort of writing I wanna avoid – the bare-my-soul-over-trivia style, the here’s-what-I’m-listening-to-and-here’s-how-I-feel-right-now style. I don’t think even I care, so I certainly want to treat my friends to something better. I guess once I get settled in I’ll focus more on an objective transcript of the things I see and do, with a little bit less in the way of uselessly artificial stream of consciousness rubbish. Sometimes, tho, you find yourself on a plane for 13 hours (13 hours! I could probably beat a video game or two in that time!)

So yeah, that’s what I’m leaning towards just now. I’ll be more objective and less personal in my journal, cuz ya’ll know me as much as you need to. Besides, I talk too much when there are people in front of me listening, if I keep this up these will go on for pages. So generally, updates and witty anecdotes, but over the occasional train ride I’ll see about posting something like this. Unless I’m too busy having fun to do such a crazy thing. We’ll see.

Can you tell I’m getting antsy? I’ve been writing the same thing in modestly different ways for the past 4 paragraphs.

They keep putting up this projection of a map with our plane on it. Every time I look we’ve moved a few millimeters – so I suppose there is progress. I’m just putting off the inevitable 3 shots of whiskey -> nap. I am not gonna be able to take this for another 10 hours, even though it’s completely reasonable. I’d have no problem watching movies and listening to music and reading on the couch at home for 12 hours or more – especially if they kept bringing me food and booze for free – but there’s something about knowing I can’t leave that irks me. I hope that’s not a sign of what’s to come more generally in Japan. I was not born to be a Sarariman (that’s Japanese for “salary man” for those of you without a creative bent), so the next year should be an interesting test of what I’m capable of.

I bought two boxes of Godiva chocolates for Tanaka-san and Fujita-san, the two people who will meet me at Matsuyama airport (34 months from now, when I finally arrive). I hope they like them. It was that or booze (which would have been cheaper – I could get a ton of anything for cheap at the Duty-free store.) But I don’t really know these people (to iu yori, sono hito wa zenzen shirimasen) so I didn’t feel comfortable buying alcohol as a gift…but then again, this is Japan, so maybe I should have? I dunno.

I’m wearing a really flowing white button up shirt that’s 3 inches too big for me in the neck. It has no collar. I think it looks majestic, I feel like an aristocrat when I wear it. I hope it’s not just ill-fitting and vaguely ugly. It’d be hard to pick up girls at the airport were that the case. But I remain confident.

I just caught myself in the act of typing out the particularly wonderful last line of a particularly good song I just listened to, but no. That’s so lame. And if you disagree with me shut up, you’re wrong. That’s right. Back off. I know kung fu. No I don’t.

So now that the driving consciousness of this particular entry is unbridled will disjointed from reason or writing style, I think I’ll call it quits for a while. Next time I update will be in Japan.

No it won’t, I’ll get restless about 7 hours from now and ramble again from the plane. But I’ll be in the pacific. Or above it, rather. One would hope.

I need a good conclusion to my entries – I can’t just write “peace” after each, that’s hardly original even if it is functional and appropriate. This journal is going to have to be a fusion of art and madness, so either without the other is insufficient and a lack of originality is fatal to both. Of course, these sentiments will change within the hour. I’ll doubtless go through a phase where I try to remove myself from my updates altogether, then one where I stop doing the updates, then I’ll transcend that and write again from the perspective of a condescending god – but in the end it’s all vanity.

Though I will sincerely try to have exciting adventures, if only so I can regale my friends with accounts thereof.

Vanity. I love it.

5:48pm Japan, Monday 6 September.
Sitting in the lounge at Gate 1 of Tokyo Haneda airport.

My plane to Matsuyama and the rest of the year leaves in approximately half an hour. I haven’t slept since the last time it was dark, which was Chicago. 13 hours sitting on a plane is really just too much. But it’s all good. And then I took an hour bus ride (3000yen) through Tokyo to switch airports to catch my next flight. Thanks for your gift, Toshi, I used it! :-D

On the plus side, I read the entire guidebook that the kendo guys gave me (thanks guys!) while on the plane and have a few places in Shikoku I’d like to go visit. The sex shrine looks amusing, if frightening.

I will now copy verbatim the notes I jotted in my notebook while riding the bus through Tokyo:

-People speak notenglish comfortably
-to weyes
-The Honda H looks at home
-Kilometers let you feel progress. % vs blue bar.
-Left side of road, right side of car. Weird. Busses board on the wrong side.
-Like a cinder block unashamed on the horizon unaware.
-Signs on the highway go by faster than I can pretend to understand them. This is high school and I’m Micghelbrink. Perfect.
-The wheels on the bus go round and round, but everyone is silent, even couples.
-The sky over Tokyo is soo blue..
-Just saw a truck driver with his cab full of plants.
-There are several giant ferris wheels just there.

So yeah, that’s the extent of Tokyo experience, as I’ll soon be leaving it behind – for a while, at least. Maybe next time I’ll not be such a tired retard. This has been great – I swear if these people addressed me in perfect English I’d look at them the same way, I feel wiped out. As it stands I keep getting funny looks and laughed at.

Anyway, enough of that, I think we’re boarding in 3 minutes and I need to go tuck my shirt in. Maybe I’ll get online one of these days, that’d be cool.

Vanity. :-D

Book II – September

2:46 PM Tuesday, September 07
My apartment (!!)
There’s a Typhoon going on.

Well, here I am. Arrived in Matsuyama last night, met Fujita-san and Tanaka-san.

7:22PM Tuesday, September 07
My Apartment

That last entry was all I got done whilst eating sushi and drinking Asahi beer (as a normal, every-day cheap meal, no less!). I’ll see if I can’t be a tad more descriptive.

My arrival: Tokyo was nuts, I felt completely lost the whole time and then came to my senses in Matsuyama, to a degree. On the plane ride from Tokyo to Matsuyama, Dan, I read almost all of Sirens, by the way – that’s the first time I’d actually read it. Wowsers, not bad. Anyway, got off the plane and everything was pretty straightforward. Didn’t have to check in with immigration, didn’t have to wander around figuring out how to get to a new airport, anything at all. I got my luggage and Tanaka-san and Fujita-san were waiting for me as soon as I stepped outside.

It was here that I committed my first faux pas – Tanaka-san introduced himself as Tanaka, and my response was “Tanaka desu ka?” (“Tanaka?”). I should have said “Tanaka-san desu ka?” (“Mr. Tanaka?”) It’s very rude to address someone without the –san, especially if you don’t know them and I’d imagine especially if they’re your boss’s boss and just drove an hour and a half to meet you. It wasn’t a big deal, I immediately corrected myself and it probably isn’t even worth mentioning, but that’s a mistake I shouldn’t have made. They spoke to me in Japanese at first and it was fine, with a few small exceptions, but no problems – at least, not on my end. As I think I wrote earlier, even in Tokyo I would have had a hard time communicating in English, so my Japanese probably came across as a lot worse than it really is. As it turns out, though, Fujita-san speaks almost perfect English. So that’s useful, as she’ll be more or less my handler for the next year.

From the airport, they took me to a Japanese restaurant. I had a dish with Tempura and sashimi and miso and rice and all sorts of good stuff – it was wonderful, and was almost more than I could eat. I think my stomach shrank by 35% on the plane or something, cuz since I’ve gotten here (it’s been, like, a day) I’ve just not been so hungry. But before I get excited I’ll let my body adjust to a 13 hour time difference – we’ll see what happens.

Anyway, after that I gave them the Godiva chocolates I had gotten for them at the duty-free store and it was Niihama or bust.

The trip to Niihama was pretty cool. We just took a highway the whole way (about 15,000 yen to take the highway from Matsuyama to Niihama – that’s about 15 dollars for a one hour highway drive. Getting around in Japan is expensive.) [metatextual note: I just discovered that I have an ice tray with each cube in the shape of an English letter. I can cool my hot self with ABCDEHIKLMOTUVWXY and Z [meta-meta-textual note: metatextual is apparently not a word. It must be meta-textual with a hyphen. I was unaware.]], and although they told me it’d be an hour and a half, it really didn’t feel like it. Maybe it was the novelty and maybe it was the fact that after all the traveling I’ve done since Saturday 90 minutes in a car is about as traumatic as blowing my nose (which, incidentally, is very rude to do in public in Japan), but we were there before I knew it. I took my contacts off in the back during the trip – I’m still not sure, in retrospect, if I should have done that. I’m vaguely concerned that it may have given the wrong impression, been too casual a thing to do two hours after meeting my superiors. My first sight of my new home was really tremendous, despite the darkness – we came around a corner on this gorgeous mountain road, and there below us was this large flat expanse of land on which comfortably situated could be seen the entire city of Niihama. It was really a view too glorious for me to have just sullied it by nesting into a grammatically awkward sentence, but there you have it. We drove down the mountain into the city on this road that just zig-zagged all the way down – we’re talking 180 degree turns every 50 meters. That was fun. Tanaka-san was driving and Fujita-san and I were making small talk as we entered town, and then they took me to the Ichimiya-Group office. It was already pretty late (circa 10, maybe?) so the place was empty and dark, but they showed me my desk and gave me my cell-phone. The office is kind of small and concentrated, like everything else I’ve seen since Narita, but I think I’m going to like it. I’ll post pictures as soon as I get me a digital camera.

As we left, I committed the second faux pas of the evening in failing to hold the door for Tanaka-san. Unthinkingly, I sort of gave it a push after I’d gone through, the way I normally would when there is somebody behind me, so that it’d stay open long enough for him to get through as well. Unfortunately, he was half a pulse behind schedule and the door just kind of whacked him in the shoulder as he came through. I was rather embarrassed, good to know I’m off on the right foot with Tanaka-san. He smiled and said no big deal, of course, and again I’m sure it wasn’t a huge deal, but these are the things you worry about. I guess in any real sense it’s not a big deal, but it would be a big deal if I believed it was no big deal – does that make sense?

Anyway, from there we walked across the parking lot to the hotel where I’d spend the night. The old woman was very kind and showed me up to my room. Tanaka-san and Fujita-san then took their leave. Fujita-san told me that I should take it easy in the morning and that she would therefore not call me until around 8am. I must confess, it vaguely gives me pause to think that the kind of relaxing morning one gets after a 20 hour trip is to sleep in until 8am – but I’ll get used to it. This is the business world, after all, I suppose. Fujita-san told me she’d call me to wake me up and figure the next day out, but I set the alarm for 10 minutes before 8 just so I’d not be too groggy when she did call.

I got my clothing for the next day together and crashed into blissful oblivion for the next few hours.
Today: So this morning, I woke up at 7:50 and sat around for 10 minutes, not wanting to go shower before Fujita-san called. She did, then I did, then I dressed and went downstairs for breakfast. This was just some dinky hotel that they apologized for putting me in, saying it’s just cuz it was close to the company and easy to coordinate from on my first day. That being the case, I can hardly wait to stay in a good hotel. The room was comfortable if closet-sized, the bathroom was great, and the breakfast they served me was just great. Never have I had ham and eggs in quite such a way. The ham was just a little piece of fried meat on the plate. The egg was an omlette (did I spell that wrong? MSWord seems not to know the word omlette or anything like it) that was folded into a thick, small square. On top of that, I had an artistically cut slice of every fruit I’ve ever heard of, two grapes (one green, one purple, both with seeds and both exquisite), a bit of potato salad, a full salad, bread (like, a loaf) and a cup of coffee. There was probably more that I’ve forgotten, but c’est la vie. Or should I say 仕方がない。Anyway, suffice it to say that breakfast was great. After that, I packed my stuff up and Fujita-san walked over and brought me back to the office (we walked through a delightful little deluge through the parking lot carrying luggage under umbrellas that were trying very hard).

We got out of the elevator (I work on the sixth floor) and Fujita-san introduced me (sort of) to two girls who apparently work there who were standing in the elevator lobby. They just giggled. Then we went into the office, where I was introduced to three or four elderly Japanese men who all looked very serious but who smiled big when they met me. JSL students, I actually have a 部長 that I work under. They do exist! I also met Mr. Ichimiya (Ichimiya Group, remember?). That was exciting.

So there, Fujita-san gave me the box for my cell phone, which included the charger and whatnot. I forgot it there when we left. Oops. Tanaka-san came in with a gift for me, a little pocket organizer thing for notes and numbers. I really rather like him, he’s very short, very affable, and very…I dunno, commanding? He has a strong presence? Anyway, cool guy, wish I hadn’t dissed his name and slammed a door on him.

From there, we left for my apartment. The typhoon was kicking in by then, so they stopped at a convenience store and bought me some food to eat today, given that I’d be trapped indoors by the weather (hence the sushi and Asahi). It was on Tanaka-san, who said he had been planning on inviting me over for dinner but couldn’t due to the weather. From there, we drove to my apartment.

Now, I’ll post photographs later. For now, I’ll describe it and try to draw an illustration. The exterior looks like crap. It’s like God dropped a cinder block in a ditch and the Japanese people started living around it and eventually in it. But I knew that going in – the previous intern had warned me not to get too turned off, that the inside was okay. Well, the inside is more than okay, I am really excited about this place. I suppose it’s what would be called a 2DK (2 rooms and a dining room/kitchen). I have two 6-tatami rooms on one half, and the DK and corridor and bathroom(s) on the other. Since I’m on the fourth floor of this building, I can see like a mile or two out my windows – Niihama is very flat, surrounded by gorgeous rolling green mountains in the nearness. Tanaka-san and Fujita-san dropped me off after explaining everything I needed to know and making sure I wouldn’t just cry myself to sleep if left alone, telling me it would be a bad idea to leave the building given the typhoon.

Let me tell you guys, the wind during a typhoon is amazing. You can hear it roar, you look out the window and see the rice fields (yes, I have rice fields around my building) swaying around like stormy ocean water. Unlike American storms, it did not rain continuously – the rain kept coming, but it’d rain for 20 minutes or half an hour or 5 minutes or an hour and then stop for just as long. What was constant was the wind. And there was no thunder or lightening. I unpacked all of my stuff and listened to music and wind while gazing out the window at the Japanese farms with mountain backdrop.

One of my plans in the past months, as I contemplated this adventure, was to find some place I could go sit on the roof and chill out while here, that was just something I wanted to do. I dunno, I have a roof thing. What’s cool, though, is this. At some point today, I wanted to go outside a bit, having spent hours and hours in the room, and as the rain had stopped I thought I’d go and feel the wind. Now, I’m on the top floor, but the stairs kept going, so I went upstairs and there was a door to the roof of my building, which looked almost exactly like the mental image I had vaguely hoped to find manifested somewhere in Niihama. I went out there and held on to the railing as the wind did its damnedest to throw me off. Pretty cool, huh? I love it.

I gotta describe this place a bit better. First of all, you know how in Japanese movies they always have those sliding doors that look like walls when they’re closed? Basically movable walls? I got those. They’re cool – when I want one big room, I open the wall between the two tatami rooms. When I want two small rooms, I close it. My bedroom/living room is basically a square. I have a little cabinet with three…cabinets in it, in which stuff is kept. I have a little table with a TV and VCR in one corner, a little stand with a stereo against one wall, and this little heating table in the corner opposite the TV. I get 3 TV stations. All in Japanese.

I just said heating table, you’re probably wondering what that is. I was. Here’s the deal, it’s a squat little table, maybe 20cm off the floor (so I sit on the floor, as I am doing now as my computer is on it). On the bottom side of the table is a little surface heater thing, aimed downwards. In the winter, I spread this special blanket that keeps/distributes heat over this tatami room, then put this table in the middle and turn on the heat. This heats the blanket which heats the room. I sleep right on the blanket. That’ll be nice. Pretty nifty, huh?

Anyway, the other tatami room. Just like this one, except the far wall has more sliding doors on it. Behind these can be found an obscene amount of storage space. Everything gets put away, walls close, and it’s just an empty room. In this empty room is an ironing board and a folding bed which I’m not going to use.

Sleeping arrangements – I have a futon that I put in the computer/TV room. It’s not like an American futon, which has a metal frame and folds into a couch. It’s actually just a couple of thick blankets, really. During the day I’m going to fold them up and put them behind one of the magic walls in tatami room #2. Also, Jon, this one’s for you – Fujita-san told me that you can’t just use a futon constantly without moving it around and airing it out, as it absorbs moisture. Apparently I’m to hang it out the window every couple of days just to let it dry out.

The kitchen has its own share of amazing storage space hidden behind walls, plus a stove, a microwave, a water-boiler, a rice cooker, a toaster oven and a blender. And a table and chair. And another quasi-chair that’s sort of a folding chair with leopard print.

The bathroom(s) are as follows: I have a toilet room. It is a closet with a toilet in it. I also have a sink/shower room. Here’s how the shower works: I fill the tub with water, which is cold. The tub is like a 4 foot cube in the corner. I then heat the water with a gas thing attached to it. I then put the electric pump into the tub. I then use the head coming out of the electric pump to wash myself as I stand on the floor outside of the tub. It looks interesting, and Fujita-san tells me it can be time consuming, especially in the winter.

As a result, I’m looking at a 5:30 wake up every morning. I fill the tub, turn on the heater, go iron my clothing for the day, wash, eat, and go to work. I have not yet been introduced to my moped and the bike was stolen (they’re gonna buy me a new one). Punchline, I’m at work by 8am every day, I think.

After the typhoon blew over I went for a walk. As it happens, there’s what I assume is a walking path real close to my building. I’m making that assumption because there is a sign with a picture of a mother and a kid, and people keep walking on it. But it’s as wide as any of the streets (over the left side of which people drive) around here. I walked about two miles or so, bought a snack, and walked back. People more or less avoided eye contact with me, except for a few old men here and there who smiled and bowed.

You guys are not gonna believe the view for my room when I post pictures. This seems to be a slummy area and it’s really pretty. Also, I’ve seen a couple of spiders in here and outside – Japanese spiders are kinda cool-looking. I think I can survive. It’s the cockroaches that’ll drive me nuts.

Also, Japanese separate their garbage, it’s a law. There’s Bottles/Cans (together), Paper, Plastic, and Organic. It’s still kind of confusing me, sometimes I’m just not sure where to put something – but I’ll figure it out.

Anyway, tomorrow I meet with the group of English speakers living in Niihama, they’re gonna show me around and whatnot. I look forward to it. Fujita-san will pick me up at 7:30, so I should get some sleep. It’s already 9:03, I’ve been writing here for a while. Wow, I think I can fully expect to spit out 20 pages a week easy – I haven’t even really scratched the surface with this little update, I just want to get through yesterday and today so that tomorrow I can write about tomorrow. This is going to be really wonderful.


Thursday, 9 September 2004, 8:23pm
My Apartment

So no entry yesterday, been a bit busy, what with moving to a new country and whatnot. The office is pretty cool, everyone is very nice. I spent yesterday making introductions to dozens of people whose names I’ll not remember. Everyone winces at my name, too – mikoora birokonsukii isn’t all THAT hard, is it?

There are various details about my daily life that I’ve gathered. First and most importantly, I will never again smile condescendingly when I see someone on a moped – damn things are great. Here in Niihama, all the streets have a little moped/bike lane on the shoulder. It’s great in traffic, cuz you can just zip by. And when it’s not too crowded, you can drive with traffic in the street – though I’m not sure if my moped, specifically, is up to such a task. My speedometer goes up to 60kmh (40mphish?), but it makes funny noises at anything faster than about 25-30kmh. They also bought me this gorgeous big black bike with 28inch tires, which is two inches bigger than anything I’ve seen. It even has a headlight, a big basket on the front (like every bike I’ve seen in Niihama, it was only weird for like a minutes) and a bell. How can I go wrong?

So in the states, my only real expense is Japanese food, which costs an arm and a leg and breaks my bank account every quarter. Here, though, what would be a 10 dollar bento from a restaurant in the states is a 3 or 4 dollar item at the local convenience store or gas station. Moral of the story, even though I’m in a country with a generally much higher cost of living than the states, my housing is paid for and my food is actually cheaper. I’m getting 1000 dollars per month, but I’d be willing to bet I can make do with about 400. Figure another 200 for gas and miscellaneous unforeseen expenses and I can bank 400 a month towards a trip to China or Korea (or a Japanese restaurant back home).

At the office, my duties seem to consist mostly of smiling as people talk at me in toofast Japanese. Then I have to write a daily report at the end of the day, in Japanese. My first one was like a two page narrative, which was too long. My handler, Fujita-san, corrects my report and gives it back to me to fix and then email to her and a few of her bosses. Ergo, a two narrative just means more work for her and for me than, say, a half page of bullet points, which is also acceptable and even preferable. So I know how I’m gonna play that one.

Today, I got a lecture from Nakamoto-san about the history of Ichimiya group. It was actually pretty cool, as is Nakamoto-san. This company started out as a backwoods carpentry company here in Shikoku. After world war two, the city of Niihama was bombed to hell. At the time, about half of this city was employees of the Sumitomo company, a huge industrial company in Niihama for the copper mine (b.1691 d1964, after which Sumitomo left and Niihama became half slum). Anyway, the savvy management of small wood company Ichimiya sent a gift of wood to Sumitomo for use in rebuilding Niihama. After that, Sumitomo helped Ichimiya to gain more and more business and eventually invited them to build a base in Niihama, which is the origin of the current situation. This was all in the 1940’s.
When Sumitomo left Niihama, they had a lot of chemical leftovers from their projects there. They didn’t know how to get rid of it, so once again Ichimiya stepped up and offered to take it off their hands, and Ichimiya chemical (a new division of the erupting company) basically did crazy stuff and developed techniques of plastic injection over the years that made them very valuable. So valuable, in fact, that Honda contracted them exclusively to make the plastic used in Honda cars, in the interior panels (like inside the doors). So I guess the renowned Honda safety is due in part to the light-weight super-strong Ichimiya plastic that every single Honda uses. You can imagine what that did for Ichimiya’s business. It is because of the Honda plant in Columbus, then, that I am here. Honda invited Ichimiya to build a chemical company in Ohio, and in 1988 the backwoods carpentry company became a world leader in automotive plastics.

Nakamoto-san explained all of this to me in Japanese, so it took a while. My Japanese really is just kind of terrible, but I was one of the better people in SPEAC this summer (if I do say so myself, I suppose I could be wrong…). Moral of the story, I have a lot of room for improvement, on which I will capitalize.

Tomorrow night is a welcome party for me, that’ll be fun. I suspect I’ll be using the lessons taught to me by kendo club buddies. And by lessons I mean tolerance.

I’ve had the chance to poke around this town some – Monday night on foot, Tuesday night by bike and tonight by moped. I think I’m gonna like it, though I have yet to find where all the beautiful girls hang out. Last night I biked up to the local mall, which just opened recently I guess. It was okay, things are expensive and people are nice. I had some Ramen at the food court because the girl behind the register was cute and spoke great English. I have yet to lay eyes on another Caucasian in this town. Er actually, no, I’m sorry – I did see through the window into some sort of store or agency or something some sloppy fat guy looking too confident for his own good as he talked to two giggling Japanese girls.

So I shave and dress up every day now. That’s so weird. But I dig it.

Sunrise over the mountains from the roof is really wonderful. Speaking of which, I’ve been writing for about an hour and it’s 9:15. I’d best get to bed soon, so’s I can wake up at 5:30 and do the morning thing again. Hopefully I’ll be able to post all of this from work tomorrow, gotta save it to disk and take it in.

See ya’ll on the flipside.

19:45 Sep 15
My Room

So tired. Been running around sight-seeing on company time and company dime all week. “If I want to go” there’s a meeting tomorrow morning at 6am where I can meet some important company people. So, I guess I want to go. Not that I have to, oh no. But if I don’t…eh. So getting up at 4. Which is fine as I’m exhausted. More later.

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