Sunday, June 12, 2005


Blog Update for Sarah Priest, who demanded more details in my descriptions of my travels. Apparently I am to write so descriptively and eloquently that photographs are made obsolete by the sheer weight and mass of my writing skills. Apparently my description of the bullet train was enough but come on write more.

Well then, okay. I will do what I can to write details in here, as they come. I am now on my trip to Tokyo and environs, so I will open this file and add observations every chance I get.

// Wednesday, July 8 2005. 17:50. Bullet Train en route to Tokyo. Somewhere in Kanto.

For starters, I am on the bullet train to Tokyo. It is about 6pm on Wednesday Evening. I will arrive in Tokyo at 630, and then hop a train from Tokyo to another city about an hour and a half to the north. Once there, I will have dinner and sleep in a hotel. The next morning, the people from the Tochigi Research Center will come meet us at the hotel at 730. I will get in their car and go to Tochigi, arriving around 830. Then there will be a meeting – the guys I am traveling with will explain the procedures for the safety inspection, will nod at me to say that I will ask questions later, and will get down to business. They will pour over dry documents, tell the Tochigi representatives about various safety related things (how well Nissen did this year, etc), inform them of any new policies, etc etc etc. Then the Tochigi guys will pass out the safety report for the past year, which includes a good many different things. The first few pages are basic company statistics, number of employees, equipment, etc. Then come 20 pages of safety information. The others will go over these pages carefully while I scour the first few pages of general information for tidbits that I can use in my website. I will enter this data into my computer and then sit quietly waiting for the first section of the meeting to wrap up (about an hour). I will then seize my camera and join them on an inspection of the facility. This means walking around and taking pictures of people working. This takes about 45 minutes. Then we reconvene in the meeting room and discuss the findings of the inspection and make closing comments – takes about 20 minutes, half an hour. Then we make our farewells, get driven to the station an hour away, and hop the train for Saitama for the factory we have there. Then we repeat the process at Saitama. We wrap up tomorrow in Tokyo itself, probably with a big dinner and a lot of booze. Then we get up early for another round – Friday we will be at the Tokyo Branch Office and the Chiba Factory before finally catching the last train home and arriving in Niihama a little after 11 on Friday night.

So that is the plan.

Let me see, maybe I can get in some basic details about my current situation.

I am sitting in seat 12A in a reserved car on the bullet train. Seat A is window, and Manabe-san the Olympian is asleep on my left after a few beers. To his left is a guy reading. My battery is dying so we will see how long this lasts. I had been plugged in earlier, but the only seats with plugs on the trains here are the front seats in each cabin. The guy who had the ticket for the front seat finally got on in Nagoya so I had to move back to 12A, but yeah, I was in 20C for a while and it was nice.

I am kinda sweating a bit cuz the AC on the train isn’t quite enough to deal with the vague humidity going on outside now that it is June. It gets real hot, they say, starting next week. And that’s when the bugs come out. Snake-light centipedes that are dangerous, and giant flying cockroaches. But I am digressing, this is to be a details post. We are about to stop at the Yokohama station. I will see about including a photograph. I have never been in Yokohama – it is sort of part of Tokyo, kinda. From here though it looks very rural; I see schools and grass and apartments, but now that I think about it I see a lot more apartments than I am used to seeing. This area looks very dense. Now I see parking lots, full of cars. Still, this doesn’t look urban – there are farms under me just now. Not what would be considered a real farm in America, in that there are maybe 12 small plots, but that’s what the farms are like in Niihama, and that’s country. The railway station is rather open-air, but enclosed enough to look safe in a storm.

The train has started up again so this means that I will be crossing into “Tokyo” at some point during this scribbling, unless my battery dies before then. The layout of the streets around/below me seems rather chaotic – not so much a standard, easy to follow grid pattern like they more or less have in Kyoto but rather an organic group of winding avenues set in no particular order. Japanese addresses are fucking weird, too. No street names means you get your house number relative to the part of the city where you live and it is up to the mailman to know where that building is.

I see the first skyscrapers in the distance. Ironically there are still farms and such but no as much, it’s almost entirely apartment buildings now. Now there are offices and a factory. And trains are speeding by me much more frequently.

This is my second drive through the greater Tokyo area, the first being upon arrival in Japan. You can check back to my first massive blog update for those details. Ha, there is the NEC building – I had an NEC computer ages ago. This looks like a large NEC complex, actually.

There seem to be at least 4 train tracks running parallel here, which suggests density. Usually you only get this kind of spread around stations but this is the middle of Yokohama. I would imagine these all get used.

It is slightly overcast today – we were afraid of rain but it looks like we will be okay. But it isn’t sunny and now that it’s after 6 it’s feeling like it’s going to from a dusky day to a dusky dusk. God frowns on Yokohama.

I wonder if this is Tokyo yet? We are making a brief stop at Shinagawa. I guess there is a station between Yokohama and Tokyo on the Shinkansen (bullet train).

So I spent much of this trip working on Macromedia Flash 2004. I have designed a sort of interactive digital photo-album template, into which I will add select photos from these trips I am going on. I keep having great ideas about web design but we will see if I can get them all integrated in time.

This is indeed city now, but we just passed by a thickly wooded shrine/cemetery. I like that they can have shrines that think they are in the woods even in the middle of bustling cities. It’s a sort of stubborn denial of the perils of the modern age. “Umm…the forest is gone, man, we dozed it to put up this supermarket…” “No you didn’t.” “Uh…there are no trees…” “Yes there are.” You get the idea.

So here is Shinagawa station, much more urban and underground. I feel “in the city” now. We will arrive in Tokyo Station in 8 minutes. I am excited. That means I am going to wrap this up shortly so that I can put my computer away and get my shit together and ready to move.

I will be upset if there is no internet in the hotel I crash at tonight.

That reminds me I should probably look into hotels for when Karen visits, we will have to crash in Osaka for two nights.

Okay, 6 minutes and my battery is almost dead. This wraps up, more to come later.

// Thursday, 9 July 2005. Bullet Train from Uchinomiya to Omiya en route to Saitama for the second half of the day.

So day I have been in a shitty mood. Allow me to present a (detailed) list of causes for said mood, and then debunk them.

1) The hotel last night blew. The room was tinier than I am used to even here and the “internet” they offered was an in-house dialup service that connected me at 28.8 but only after an hour of configuring and arguing with the staff about why it wasn’t working, and then periodically disconnected me. That was annoying.
2) This morning. I couldn’t remember if were meeting at 7 or 730 in the library so I woke up at 6 and got ready and all and was down there by 700 but apparently it was 730 so I sat around for half an hour then finally someone I knew showed up (my boss didn’t answer his phone, I thought they’d left wout me). So I finally figured out what was up then had a minute and ran to 711 for breakfast and that led to some muffins which were good and some orange juice which turned out to be orange pop that made my stomach hurt.
3) Hurting Stomach Bilokonsky and his parade of stalwart companions fail to be greeted at 730 by their not-so-stalwart escort who overslept. The day is delayed by 30 minutes, resetting train schedules and removing lunch. Etc.
4) Said stalwart companions are shoved into a too-small car with a television unit in the front for an hour long drive to the facility. On said television is Japanese morning TV. Japanese television is inconceivably bad – did you see Lost in Translation? You remember that talk show he went on? That’s kinda tame compared to how off the wall not even funny tacky bad most JPTV is. Anyway this morning show was about the world cup soccer match that Japan won last night. It was just shots of drunk people screaming last night and then the people on the show laughing in a really irritating TV-laugh kind of way between gasping out such zingers as “I can’t believe it! Can you believe it? I mean really can you believe it? Whoooooooo!” and running around like asses. For an hour. With a stomach ache. On not enough sleep. In a cramped car. That was nice.
5) Finally time for the meeting. My computer detects wireless internet in the vicinity, unrestricted, and yet cannot connect. Irritating. Meeting lasts an age. Then pictures/tour that was cool. Then more eternal meeting. I start working with the pictures I had taken. Then meeting ends and they ask me if I have any questions. Last week I asked questions and my boss got annoyed with me and said “That’s all in the documents, let’s go.” So this week I didn’t really prepare any questions so I tried to wing a few to the dubious faces of seven Japanese businessmen with someplace-better-to-be. Felt like an ass.

And that was that. As you can see, most of these are my fault – I shoulda known what time to meet, confirmed it; I shoulda prepared questions better; I shoulda looked more carefully at what beverage I was buying; etc. But ah well, just cuz something is your fault doesn’t mean you don’t get irritated about it. So I was in a shitty mood this morning. Still kinda am cuz my stomach is feeling odd and I almost missed this bullet train cuz I was in the bathroom. They called my phone. Yeesh.

So the moral of this story is, why on earth would I let a bunch of stuff like that get me down? It seems downright silly. Here I am touring around Japan with stalwart companions (Ichimiya the millionaire on my right and Manabe the Olympian on my left, and everyone in front of us bending over backwards to show us Truth and Justice), with a bag full of technology that would make Norse Gods weep with envy, and the latest CD’s – Black Eyed Peas’s Monkey Business and White Stripes’s Get Behind Me Satan, which are both amazing amazing amazing. I have no reason to be irritated. Damn, I slipped into emotionally honest blog and out of detail collection.

So let me get some details down. This morning we were met by Touro Ichimiya, the son of Nissen’s president Yoshihiro Ichimiya. I haven’t really spoken to him cuz I am shy and never speak Japanese unless spoken to, but he represents something great. He is wearing a kind of audacious pinstripe suit – it is subtle and tasteful and expensive looking but something about it is confrontational and confident. He has a thickly knit gold tie which looks like it was cut from the golden fleece. And he is wearing brown shoes – in all my months here I have never seen a businessman in brown shoes, always black.

That was written on the train. I am continuing this entry in the middle of a meeting that has dragged an hour behind schedule. There are 6 of us sitting around a small table in an unairconditioned room and they are getting into complex details and things I just don’t understand, and as such I feel myself getting irritated again. I don’t want to be here. Such a brat.

Damn, my typing brings too much attention to me. Better stop.

Okay, back to this. Now even Prince Ichimiya and his Herculean Helper are sitting around rolling their eyes at how long this is taking. I think we all just want to go to bed. Or am I projecting? It’s 430 and I am tiiiired. Looks like the last push. We are down to small talk. Just walked around and inspected this warehouse. Am I jaded? I have learned enough this year to understand that mood is a choice, so why do I choose bad moods when things irritate me? Seems maybe I should choose bad moods when things please me and happy moods when things irritate me, sort of mix it up a bit.

Choice is everything. That is the greatest lesson of this year in Japan. A sub-lesson is that we should choose gratitude, that that is the best choice in any situation. But choice is everything. How’s that for a detail.

// Friday, 10 June 2005. 1pm. Chiba Facility, outside Tokyo. Conference room.

This is the last stop of this little journey. It is also the most massive, I think. This is the Chiba Factory, but it is an entire complex with god knows how many buildings. We are gonna do our inspection speech and then commence wandering and photographing. Right now I am in a room that seems vaguely sterile but without the sense of cleanliness that generally accompanies that observation. It looks dirty sterile – dead. But not sure why. Am sitting at one end of big table rectangle. I think we gonna get a powerpoint presentation against the far wall, meaning I have the best seat in the house.

Ichimiya-san is no longer with us. Someone said something about a golf game. Last night Manabe the Olympian and I went out to eat. We had a few drinks and talked about all sorts of stuff, including Prince Ichimiya. I observed that he was wearing nice shoes and manabe was like “And did you see his watch?” We were both duly impressed. I also said wasn’t it odd his shoes were brown. Manabe looked at me with some vague surprise, “Ah, so you noticed that, did you? Yeah…” “Well what does that mean?” ask I. “That he can do anything he wants and he is showing us?”

Manabe-san kinda shakes his head while agreeing with me, afraid to associate himself with a mutinous view but unwilling to lie. He asks me if I noticed that Nabae-kacho, the guy I blogged about before who is recently back from Singapore, also wears brown shoes. Somehow it fits – if I blogged about him before, which I think I did, then I am sure I mentioned how he seems so “Cool”, with a finger in every pie, flirting with the girls, chatting up the bosses. He seems an up-and-coming star in the company. I kinda don’t like him even though he is only kind to me. It’s because I am a bad person. But anyway, Manabe pointed out that he also wears brown shoes. It’s a sign, I guess. When you strap on brown shoes you are telling everyone around you to fuck off. With such expressions taken care of in attire, you are free to use your personality in any way you choose, which is why Nabae-kacho is so friendly and Prince Ichimiya so aloof. Shoes say everything. I need to pay more attention to my shoes – I suspect the professional world is one where they are a language to themselves.

Manabe-san was telling me how when Nabae-kacho joined the company Manabe was his boss, and joked that things have reversed now. Poor guy, he seems kinda sad. There is a general sense that he is forever top of the bottom, he’s like an enlisted man and is never going to make lieutenant. He’s like a sergeant, a capable leader of his squad but lacking in the specific favors of the specific people it would take to make it any farther. Nabae-san, however, has been promoted to Brown Shoes which is surely a step on the way to No Tie and Rolled Up Sleeves in Winter.

So they just turned on the powerpoint projector and I look up and there are craters on the wall and I think “Wow, this place looked dirty but intact, I hadn’t realized it was so dingy.” And then I realized that it was just the moonscape background on the computer being broadcast up at the wall. Ha, silly me.

So we are in the sitting-around-waiting-for-the-meeting-to-start phase. Probably give it another 15 minutes, get the ball rolling at 130 and over by 4. Be on the train by 5 or 6 and home by 12 or 1230.

Allow me a reverie as to the details of train travel. You get to the station in Niihama, and it is a little dingy. You are on a raised concrete platform with a fence behind you, and the tracks spread away in a field of gravel in every direction. You look at your ticket, see which car you are to board, and then look for the right painted number fading from the concrete as a crowd of high school girls giggles by you on the left looking at your crotch and a 90-year-old-couple looks at you in such a way as to give you the distinct impression that they forgive you for being American. So you go to spot 7 or whatever, and put down your heavy bag to wait the 7 minutes and 35 seconds until the train pulls in. Vaguely hot but not really, the humidity is building pockets and nests of wet in your clothing. TO BE CONTINUED…

// 19:45, Bullet Train from Tokyo to Okayama.
…CON TINUING. But I have lost interest in the pseudo-fictional train trip. That’s as far as you get. The train never arrives.

Have been on this bullet train for two hours, another hour and a half to Okayama, then an hour and a half to Niihama. I will be glad to be home. Gorgeous girl next to me but engrossed in her phone and I am not sure how to start a conversation across the aisle. Would be dif if she was right next to me but there are three feet between us. Grr and whatnot.

I want an iPod. Will you send me one?

Woot, just caught girl staring at me in reflection of window. She looking down shyly now. She wants me. Whee. Too bad I swore off JGirls. She has cool shoes on – they are kinda like sandles, right, picture the sole of the shoe with like a hand-width leather band in the front but not all the way up. Like slip-ons with the toes and back half of the foot open. And her jeans are riding low. And a lacy button-up shirt. I wonder if the guy sitting next to me can read this? Hey dude, what’s up?

So I have my tie off, not one but two shirt buttons undone, have had two beers, and am on weekend mode. Another 3 hours till I am home, then it’s to Jackie’s and the weekend commenceth. Last week I told Alison to shut up and she went home offended, so we gotta play nicer this week.

That’s twice she was looking at me, yeehaw. Unless she is just trying to catch me looking at her…hmm. Is it considered okay to try to pick up girls while “at work”?

I am tired of writing now. Bye!
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