Sunday, December 25, 2011

dreams dreams

This morning, I had a dream and as I was waking up I heard a good friend from America saying dramatically "if life had a GPA, you'd be failing". That really made me think hard. I stood in my morning shower, the cold brisk air mingling with the hot water pouring down, and couldn't get that phrase out of my mind. If I thought about it objectively, I would be flunking the "school of life" by traditional standards of success I suppose. But does that matter? I think one of the key things I learned at actual school is it is what you learn in the class that matters, not the arbitrary grade that you are assigned based on some external goal posts. I think that when the one you love fails to love you, people tend to inflict self hate. My mind subconsciously is focusing on typical social goals and noticing my utter complete failure to meet those standards. But does it matter? I think I don't mind being the F student in life, at least for the moment.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

nakagin capsule tower

I find it weird that I can relate to a tower. But there I was, staring up at the Nakagin Capsule Tower with some sort of radiating empathy. The once magnificent building beginning to show the signs of age. Decay beginning to eat away at the once high concept building. I don't want to pull the analogy too close to myself, but we all get old and lost in the waves of time. In any case, I just stood there looking at the urban beauty of the place, reflecting on everything and nothing at the same moment. Trying to hold on to tranquility, fighting against a storm of inner thoughts.

Each room of the Nakagin Capsule Tower is it's own encapsulated and contained room. A small bed, a tube TV and a reel to reel tape player in each room. This is a relic of the early 1970s, a beautiful movement known as Metabolism, something I wish had taken off in a big way. It really appeals to me, I've even thought of similar towers before I ever saw this one. Each renter in their own isolated unit, connected to the whole like a distributed network. Brilliant, self contained, compartmentalized. I find this building, and the hopes it embodied, fascinating.

But like all good hopes, it seems ready to be destroyed. The Ginza area is one of the most expensive areas in Japan and the land this old hulk rests on could be utilized in more profitable ways. So they might rip it out, destroy all that ws built for years, for no real good reason. I can imagine them cutting the cord on this building and the little pods floating off into the air, like castaway balloons.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

about japan

If you live in a foreign country long enough, you can hear a lot of complaints about the country from other non-natives. I do not really consider myself a "Japan Lover" by any stretch of the phrase, I think of Japan on pretty simple terms. It's a country, good points and bad points, just like any other place. However, I want to discuss some of the "Japan Hater" comments I have heard over and over in this country.

"Japanese food is gross/not delicious/I can't eat it."
This one mystifies me. Japanese food is some of the best food on the planet, and I mean that with all sincerity. I really can't understand people who spit out pickled plums or refused to eat fermented soy beans. Are western tastes really that restricted for the average person growing up? I grew up eating quite a bit off the normal chart I suppose (beef tongue, candied ginseng, bacon wrapped chicken livers, goat meat, and rabbit are just some of the maybe unique dishes I was exposed to as a kid, at least that's what comes to mind right now) so maybe I am a bit biased, but giblet stew and fried chicken ligament is some of the best Japanese food there is. It's really a shame that people only like sushi, if that.

"There are no trash cans anywhere!"
Another one that confuses me. I don't remember a bountiful never ending supply of trash cans back home either. And there are plenty of places to deposit trash in Japan, if you know where to look. Almost all convenience stores have several types of trash cans out front or right inside the front door. Most vending machines have a place to deposit used cans or bottles also, and etc etc.

"Japan is too noisy!"
It can get a bit noisy during certain times. Just a few minutes ago the "hi no youji" people came past my window screaming to "be aware of fires" to promote fire safety. A short repeated beat on wooden clappers--dun, dun-dun. I suppose I am slipping into "Japan Lover" here, but I loved it. The sound of those wooden clappers brought back so many memories, like a vocal bookmark. Maybe a slight annoyance that will be gone before you know it. Like many of the other annoying seasonal sounds. Cicadas (which even the Japanese are fond of complaining about) buzz loudly in the summer, making their insect chorus heard, and then they suddenly cut off. Their voice is the voice of summer, and it reminds you that you're here again--- for another summer. The election season trucks are quite noisy too, the politicians driving around screaming into bullhorns about empty promises, political change that might never happen. But they too are the pulse of Japan, the noise is part of the fabric. I don't know, I think the noises are just part of what Japan is and what it means to live here.

There are many other things people complain about, but these are some of the ones that come to mind now. I just thought I would rant about that, to get it out of my mind.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

in search of a song

A few days ago, I was thinking about my first time coming to Japan. I had been talking to a friend about the few things that have changed over these past 11 years. One thing I was thinking about was that the first time I came to Japan, the crosswalk signal in front of where I was staying played a song when the light was green. I wondered two things. 1. Why can't I hear that song anymore? 2. What's the name of that song? Well, I did what anyone does in that kind of situation. I googled it. It turns out the name of the song is "Toryanse" and apparently some people complained that it was a noisy song to hear every time the light turned green. So because of the complaints, most signals in Tokyo now just make a simple chirping noise when the light is green. That is if they make a sound, of course many crosswalks are silent. So all the new ones don't play that song, but luckily Japanese geeks had website lists of old signals that still played that song. So I googled a map of the ones near my house, and decided to find the one closest to me. It was only about 15 minutes from my house, near a station I had never really spent time at.

I got off the train and wandered around. I found a beautiful park, sunshine streaming through soft leaves. But I couldn't find the crosswalk! I walked around the park, and finally I could hear it echoing in the distance. It's weird how sounds pull at us from our memories, curl up into our mind and explode like a thought grenade. It painted vivid memories in bursts that quickly faded. I sat near the crosswalk and listened to it a few times, holding it in my mind just in case this crosswalk singer would also go the way of the samurai-cowboys.

Before I end this diary post, I thought I should apologize to myself for taking so long to update anything. I have been absent minded, and holding a lot of negative thoughts. Such problems will be my excuse for such a long gap since I have written anything. Also, I would like to share a poem (the poem will be written in English letters, so that anyone can hear the original, plus my horrible not 5-7-5 translation of this beautiful thought-signal) by Basho that really hit me tonight. (Today's silly task was to try to memorize three Basho poems.) It is interesting to know he wrote this while looking down at the gray hair of his mother. te ni toraba kien, namida zo atsuki, aki no shimo (It will disappear if you take it in your hands, like hot tears, autumn's frost.)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

kyoto in spring

This is a blog about going to Kyoto last week. Irrelevant or useless details have been redacted in the sake of brevity and laziness.

So I was supposed to go to Taiwan with my friend Yusuke, but his computer fell down in the earthquake so he didn't want to spend any money on travel because everyone knows a computer is an important window to the world. I understand, but was quite discouraged. Tokyo is shaking like a tamboruine, and I really wanted to get out of town for a few days. A friend suggested we go on a vacation in Japan for a few days and I immediately thought of Amanohashidate, one of the "three scenic places of Japan" somewhere I have been wanting to go for quite awhile.

To save money, we took a pass that can be loosely translated as the "JR Youth 18 Pass". If you are unfamiliar with this pass, let me explain that you don't have to be young to use it. It is simply only valid during school breaks, thus the name. It is quite cheap, but you can only take local trains. My travel companion is a quite relaxed lady, and so she mostly just looked out the window at the slowly rolling countryside. We left Tokyo station at about 8AM and got into Kyoto station around 5:20PM that evening. It was quite a ride. Right in front of Kyoto station is the aptly named Kyoto Tower, so we rode up the tower for a twilight view of our new surroundings.

Kyoto is a peaceful city, and a whole lot darker than Tokyo. Not a lot of neonlights, and a considerable less amount of light pollution. (Suppose if I had grown up there, my blog would have had a different name besides Neonvirus, eh?) In fact, we could make out pinpoints of major stars as we walked around the city for a bit (lost, utterly lost, never found our destination).

The next day, we did the tourist thing. We went and visited The Golden Pavilion, which is like the Eiffel Tower of Kyoto. Symbolic but as cheesy as you imagine. After walking around the gaudy temple and the beautiful Japanese strolling garden, we made our way to a local temple that was aflame with Cherry Blossoms. Wonderful tiny pinkish white blossoms against a stark blue sky. Cherry blossoms are a seasonal reminder of the always rolling wheel of time, I enjoy the evanescence of their beauty. It's good to remember that even beautiful things don't last forever, and yet nothing is ever lost forever in the cycle of life. Or something. Yeah, odd thoughts.

The next day, we made our way to my desired destination. Amanohashidate. That name is quite a mouth-full, eh? Amanohashidate is a land "bridge" that cuts across a bay, and it has been around for quite sometime. It was quite hard to get to it (took a 3 hour bus that cost about US$40) but it was quite beautiful and the weather was perfect.

Oddly, the preferred viewing of Amanohashidate is with your head between your legs. I am not joking. People get up to the edge of the hill above it, and tuck their head between their legs and look at the land bridge from between their legs. Oddest tradition I have heard in awhile.

We walked along the land bridge itself too. It was quiet and peaceful, not so many people. On the edges of the land bridge were soft empty beaches with emerald green water. The trees and the ocean were quite refreshing, a focal point of natural energy, so to speak.

And before I knew it, the next day was hitting me over the head with it's long train ride back to the constantly shaking Tokyo. Good memories last a lifetime, at least that's the hope. I sometimes wonder how long I can hold memories in my mind before they fade away like most things in life.

(This goes without saying, but click on the images for larger views.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

the wait

A little like knowing a holiday is coming, but not knowing when, they have promised a magnitude 7 earthquake sometime this week in Tokyo. Combined with the waves of planned power outages, the continued aftershocks, and the almost collapse of the train system, and it is a bit of a mess in Town these days.

So I was told work was open. So I woke up as usual, headed to the office out in the countryside. The first sign of foreboding, was when my normal line wasn't running. I switched to a different line, and got to my transfer point. And then when I usually only wait 5 minutes for my next train, I waited for over an hour for a train towards work. But that train didn't even make it that far. Because of aftershocks or overloading or whatever reason, they stopped the train shortly before the correct station and unloaded us all. We were funneled out of the station. I was so close, but not there. I asked the local subway if they could get me near my work, and they suggested a stop. I waited again for a subway, and then used the GPS on my cellphone to find work, which was about a 10 minute walk away from the subway I rode on. I got to work and... no one was there. No students, and only one head staff. Empty. The others hadn't made it. I sat there for awhile wondering why I was there. A local unemployed student came by for a lesson, and it was surreal. Just the two of us pretending that I was working in a fully functioning machine.

After the student went home, the head staff got permission from his boss to close the school. I went back to the main station. But it was shuttered. Completely closed, with signs on it. I felt so weird. Exit blocked. I walked to another train line. Closed. This was like Escape From New York, or something. I walked with the head staff even further, and we found a running subway (bless the subways!) and I got back to somewhere that I had a running train to Tokyo.

The trains were PACKED, and it was surly not rush hour. It was so bad, that they actually had to have staff tie ropes to hold back people so they didnt clog the up and down flow on the stairs. The trains themselves were elbow to elbow, grumpy tired people.

Most of the food has been picked off the shelves of the local supermarkets, like we were visited by locus. Oddly things like instant noodles seem the first to go, but if an earthquake comes again I don't think we will be able to cook noodles. I didn't have a lot of supplies in my house before the earthquake, so I don't have a lot of food to make. I am eating up my emergency canned food, it was supposed to be for if a massive earthquake hit. But a hungry stomach tells me I can get new cans tomorrow. I have water filled up in my bathtub, just in case water goes out. A candle ready, for a power outage. I just don't want to experience that earthquake that they say is coming. Not really a fun thing to look forward to.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

thus spoke the earth

It started out as a fairly usual day, as the majority of days do. I woke up, showered, grabbed a bite to eat and rushed out the door to work. At work I exchanged the same typical banter with my coworkers and went to class. In my class there was a grumpy student, and I remember thinking about how I could try to change that. When suddenly the earth started to roll, like the deck of a boat. I have been in a lot of earthquakes in Japan, but this one felt different. I stood up, and said maybe we should do something. Some of the students looked scared. A very pessimistic coworker across the way laughed and said "It's only an earthquake." But the rolling continued, the walls began to undulate, and the pessimistic coworker kind of nodded and said maybe "Yeah, maybe we should get out." So we stood the students up and with the help of the staff up at the front desk, we evacuated with the neighborhood to a small park near the buildings.

There we were huddled in the park, shaking, most of us without coats. The fitness gym people only in towels, a small group of nurses behind them, and a group of apparent hostesses from a club behind them, a quite random group of strangers standing around in the park nervous. We didn't know if we could go back into the building, and there were already several strong aftershocks. Some of my students from the class I had been teaching had their books with them, so I sat on the steps of the park and taught half of the lesson in the open air. We decided to go back to the school, and tried to teach more but the aftershocks scared everyone. And the news of the tsunami wave warnings and what not began to filter in. The students found ways to get home to check on loved ones but the teachers and staff hung around the branch not sure if they could go. Some of the teachers decided to just go, since there was no point in staying in an empty school. But at that point we found out that the trains had been stopped all over Japan. One of my coworkers had TV in her electronic dictionary (what an age we live in!), and we started to see the destruction. A walk home would have taken me 6 hours or so, it wasn't an option. We got word that the company would pay for a taxi ride if we took one, so I went out and tried to find a taxi. The line for a taxi was hideously long, wrapped fully around the building and only slowly moving. The night was bitter cold. I decided to make my way back to my school where it was warm at least. I stretched out some chairs and tried to sleep. A few other coworkers did the same. In the morning, I got up early and tried to take the first moving train. I waited on the platform with a clog of other people, the golden rays of the sun seeming to offer symbolic hope.

The group of people (in the above picture the sun highlights the man's newspaper, and a headline that reads "What will happen to the water and electricity?") waited silently for quite awhile until a local train inched slowly into the station and dragged us in our direction at a snail's pace. I thought the platform at my first station was crowded, but when I got into downtown Tokyo it was mayhem. There was wall to wall people trying to get on trains. It was like a fireworks festival or new years in times square, but without the laughter, smiles and happiness. I got home finally, at about 10:30AM... a few hours short of 24 hours after the earthquake.

As I am sure you know from the news, this was an insane 8.9 magnitude earthquake that resulted in tsunamis and sadly loss of life. I suppose it should be said here that many of the buildings in Japan are designed so well to withstand earthquakes that this greatly helped to reduce casualties. The biggest destruction seemed to be from the aftermath; tsunami and fire. It is quite surreal watching such wild destruction live in places only hours from you, and I suppose my little experience of it was nothing compared to what others felt firsthand. (The above collection of pictures are from net streamed TV coverage I was watching live.) There have been many aftershocks, just had two while writing this. I am nervous but still very much alive. Life is a fragile thing.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The me inside the me inside the mirror

This morning I stumbled onto the above picture on the Internet (I am on the train to work right now) and it got me thinking about life. I was thinking about how I am the same "me" I have always been, and yet externally I am quickly changing. Some gray hair, more wrinkles and a disappearing chin these days. This long strange trip of life is quite odd. I wonder too much about meaning, I wonder if I will ever stop wondering about meaning. Life has it's patterns, expected performance. I have things I have wanted to do and yet have never done. I have things I have done, and I have a collection of memories contrasted with my thoughts that make me who I am. Dust to dust, memento mori.  

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

a new year dawns

I seem to be a bit delinquent with the whole blog thing, so I am sitting down here to write something. The old and odd Stuck With You, by Huey Lewis & The News just popped onto my computer, which is set on loud to drown out the pounding sound of the workmen ripping the surface off the small alley behind my house. They are just going to repave it after they pull it up. Noisy thundering and machines blocking me in to my house. I am suppose to get out of here soon, so I hope they clear a way so I can get out of my house.

And now Basket Case by Green Day is on the computer (my collection is rather eclectic and random) and my mind is pulling me into a Geocities chat room from a million years ago, a long time before I ever heard this band live, chatting with someone who mentioned Green Day. I had no idea they were talking about a band. Naive innocence of youth, lost?

This experimental "mind flow" blogging is failing.

Now the computer presents me Love Love Show by The Yellow Monkey. A good song, also with it's connected moments and memories. Music is like that, a kind of mental bookmark.

I need to get ready to go out.

Hello 2011, I hope we can believe in the brightness of the dawn.
All original content CC 2002-2012 BY NC SA - first design from dilarangmelarang altered by neonvirus and thunderbunny.