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August 05, 2004

Kyoto

I'm a bit behind in posting pictures from my trip to Kyoto. I thought of using some kind of gallery program, but couldn't find one I particularly liked. Besides, I'd rather show you a few relatively worthy photos than a lot of random ones. I've posted thumbnails below: if you click on them, you should get the complete photo in a new window.

Thus, a sweltering morning thick with the morning's rains was spent crouched on a bench, staring at the slow meanderings of fish that must have been half my own size.
Over a cup of tea I watched a spider slowly spin his morning web, unaware that the more energetic of the carp were waiting for him to get just that bit closer to the water.
(If you look closely in the bottom right-hand corner, you can almost see the spiderweb. And to appreciate the size of these carp, realize that the large grey shape in the center was meandering at the bottom of the pond.)



Probably the most famous of Kyoto's temples, this is one view of Kiyomizudera.



The entrance gate to Nonomiya Shrine. For the most part, it's a fertility shrine--good luck in finding a relationship, happy marriages, easy childbirth--but it's most famous for featuring in The Tale of Genji.



Finally, Ryuanji Temple. Ryuanji was the last place I visited before I hopped the bullet train back to the hectic world of Tokyo. The people you see in the picture below left shortly after the picture was taken, leaving only an artist sketching the moss garden, two lovers watching the sunset, and myself observing the the famous stone well. As the evening darkened, crickets started mixing their voices with the sounds of a water hammer, and my heart gradually slowed to the still tempo of the evening. It's somewhat comforting to think that whatever I'm doing here, Ryuanji and its calm will still be there, year after year, waiting for me.


July 31, 2004

Last Love, First Love

I've not had a lot of luck with airline movies. When I first arrived on the plane today, the line-up didn't look much better: Ben Stiller in the thoroughly pointless Starsky & Hutch; "The Rock" in the thoroughly plotless Walking Tall; and Mike Myers in The Cat and the Hat, the film that set out to prove that The Grinch Who Stole Christmas wasn't such a bad idea--at least by comparison.

Thank goodness the Japanese stuff was better. Indeed, not only better, but positively good, if not great. First Love, Last Love is a simple romance involving a love triangle in which each leg converses in a different language. Min and Lin, two sisters in Shanghai, both fall for the same bit of damaged goods, automotive designer Hayase. However, he can speak to the elder sister only in English, and the younger one only in Japanese.

Mr. Hayase barely wants to speak to either of them at the beginning, however. He's too shellshocked by the fact that his wife and his partner ran off together, leaving him broken and isolated. Indeed, he meets the younger sister at mandatory English lessons, but the elder sister when she saves him from a suicide attempt.

The rest of the story focuses on the interactions between each character's flaws: Hayase's hopelessness, Lin's immaturity, and Min's instictive urge to overprotect those she loves. The plot itself is unexceptional. What carries it forward is the striking rightness of how most of these difficulties are resolved. For instance, at the deepest point of Hayase's funk, he's shamed into action when Min calls him a coward. That spark starts him trying to mend his ways, but it's not like his life turns around because of a speech. Finally he comes across the young truck-driver who loves Lin, his truck stranded in the ditch. And almost immediately, his jacket's off and he's helping to schlep bags of cement, notwithstanding that he's in his suit.

The change is immediate: whatever wreck the rest of his life is, he and the boy have gotten a large truck out of a ditch, a success life can't take away. It's really the first point you see him smile, the point at which his fortunes reverse.

It's these scenes that make the movie: technically it's not much, but what it lacks of the superlative it makes up in the familiar: you know these people. The simlplicity of the dialogue benefits from the multi-lingual love triangle: what might otherwise seem a stilted sequence of love-movie cliches suits a relationship based on limited vocabulary. Some of the non-verbal communication is far better presented, but even where the director shows and doesn't tell there's not a lot that's groundbreaking. Still, it's solidly put-together, the acting isn't half-bad, and if you're looking for a weepy that isn't a waste of ninety minutes of your time, you could do worse.

July 25, 2004

A bit... Not Homesick, Really, Since New York Is My Home

Sua Sponte writes:

Whatever happened to masked balls? Why'd we stop having them? Talk about a concept that needs reviving. Maybe that'll be the theme for my thirtieth birthday party this January: Masquerade. Extra points to anyone who shows up wearing a veil. (Infinite extra points to anyone who shows up wearing seven.)

Things like this are bringing back pangs of homesickness, or at least reverse-wanderlust. Some of my friends used to love doing masquerades: indeed, one of my going away parties before law school was a masked ball.

Back in middle school, an errant art teacher taught me how to make casts of people's faces and turn them into masks: a sophomoric venture, but one that I still enjoy putting my hand to from time to time. (I am ridiculously bad at painting, drawing, photography, and such arts, and being laughable in that department enjoy anything I can make a passable stab at.) Since then I've made about a dozen or so that I still have here or there, most hanging in my room.

One disadvantage of a dorm: you never really have the ability to throw a party. But a masque sounds a marvelous mystery, and I'd love to hold one. Maybe for my swiftly-approaching thirtieth I'll try to rent some space somewhere and blatantly steal the idea. No idea where I'll get the funding, but needs must...

July 24, 2004

Personal Fault

Maybe the heat is getting to me... I've been in a pretty foul mood lately. It's surprising, because all things considered, things are going relatively well. Life has been a series of ups and downs, but that's normal. EIP is turning out to be a surprising amount of pressure, but it's not a disaster yet. And the series of odd coincidences that is my life are turning a profit at every turn: really, I have little standing to complain. I think it's that I'm ending my last weekend in Tokyo--a place third in my heart only to Kyoto and London--and have to return home to New York, a city I've still not reconciled myself with.

Anyway, I've rubbed some folks up the wrong way recently, and figure it was probably avoidable. (Heidi, if I've annoyed you, consider this an apology.) Whatever awaits back in Manhattan is bearable, even joyful--after all, my friends are there. I should probably, as Mr. Baude would tell me, lighten up.

Today I'm off to see the latest Harry Potter movie with a friend. A little bit of innocent magic wouldn't go amiss, even if I've not seen the first two. If I'm lucky, I remembered to book tickets for the subtitled version, not the dubbed one.

(If you live in Tokyo, by the way, I recommend the Virgin Cinemas at Roppongi Hills. They'll let you book online with a credit card, reserve seats, and it doesn't cost you twice as much as a normal theatre.)

For now, though, must go home to start packing. All good things...

Song Lyric

There a Japanese pop-singer named Melody (near as I can tell the same fairly plastic pretty-face/pretty-voice that makes up most of J-Pop, but someone can correct me if I'm wrong here) who has a habit of interspersing her lyrics quite heavily with English. A little English in a J-Pop song is typical, but her song Believe Me is almost half and half.

For me, this makes listening to it a very interesting experience, like simultaneously interpreting two different conversations. Just when my head's gotten around some Japanese expression, she's back in English throwing out a few words which, alone, mean nothing. Then she's back in Japanese, and I'm trying to figure out how the phrases fit together.

Quite an entertaining way to listen to music. Since a lot of blawgs have taken to mentioning the occasional lyric, here's the refrain of Melody's Believe Me.

I know there's more
教えてよね to feel free
まだ見せてない 見えてない
Believe me
いつか
ai wo motto...
この気持ちは in me
胸の奥で待っていた想いに近づくよ
逃げないから
Gotta find myself now.

Quite a strange little ditty. I'd translate, but the lyrics aren't impressive in and of themselves. If anyone can suggest other songs of the type, I'd be interested.

July 19, 2004

Conversion of Interests

Right, I've stayed up late enough tonight trying to deal with the Early Interview Process, in which newly-minted 2Ls try to select an employer who will select them as a fledgling attorney. I'll write about the process later, but it's driven me crazy enough that my brain's free-associating.

One of my best friends at CLS is thinks goats are sweet and fluffy.

Heidi Bond, of Letters of Marque, is obsessed with chickens and the horrible things that happen to them.

And I, of course, have a fondness for diabolic metaphor.

Only appropriate, therefore, that I should link to the present Goats storyline, in which Diablo the Satanic Chicken starts making up history again.

July 18, 2004

Defeated By Fuji

Whatever they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men, the last forty-eight hours had nothing to do with them. I didn't reach the summit of Fuji, though I did make it within eyeshot. I barely saw the dawn. And unfortunately, there's no pictures.

What I did get was one heck of a cold, a respect for the harshness of nature, and six hours of utter misery. Oh, and a need to say thanks to a U.S. Marine.

The trip started well. The bus got me to the base of Fuji about nightfall, and I joined a group of missionaries who were a bit better prepared. (One nice thing about travelling on one's own--you meet people.) I had on three shirts, two pairs of jeans, some gloves, and a hat. The weather seemed mild, and the ascent was easy all the way to the seventh stage. (Fuji has eight stages, with the summit slightly past the eighth.) The fact that my flashlight burnt out wasn't a major killer, because with several thousand Japanese making the same ascent, light wasn't much of a problem.

(An image that will stay with me forever--looking down the slope from the sixth stage, observing the trail of walkers in the darkness. They formed a slowly ascending river of flashlights, like a highly organized firefly migration.)

About the middle of the seventh stage, it started to get cold. This was nothing I wasn't prepared for: I put on my final shirt, and wrapped an old t-shirt around my head to keep my ears and back warm. Yes, this looks pretty stupid, but it works quite well, and it wasn't like I was trying to impress with my fashion sense. Though the wind was picking up, I barely felt it through three layers of shirt.

Then the wind really began.

One of the astounding things about Fuji is that even with three thousand people per day attempting the ascent, there's not a lot of official help up there. Sure, there's guest houses, but unless you have a reservation they'll be of no avail: they won't even let you in the door. And whilst I wasn't kitted up like a lot of the Japanese making the ascent--covered head to foot in really quite significant climbing gear--I was a lot better off than some of the people up there.

Nonetheless, I spent three hours huddled in a windbreak near the Mt. Fuji Hotel (which is nothing like a hotel, to be honest), loving it every time someone opened the door and some of the heat escaped. At times I thought I was going to get close to hypothermia. I surely needed warm food.

At this point, a U.S. Marine--one of a number who were climbing that day as a part of a 'friendship hike' with some Japanese natives--passed by and offered me a windbreaker. I've got his name, his post address, and he's getting that windbreaker back with a very nice gift, because it probably saved me from frostbite.

By the time I got towards the last few huts, before the final ascent, it was 2 AM. The wind had gone from merely dangerous to a full-blown storm: those were thirty mile winds if they were a breeze. I was afraid to keep going upwards: the black rocks shone slick and sharp, and if I injured myself, I had no idea how to get down.

I certainly wasn't getting the worst of it. Outside of the last two huts--which wouldn't let anyone in without a reservation--people were huddling for warmth and shelter wherever they could get it. One woman--a tourist of unbelievable naivety--was up there in jeans and a t-shirt. Her legs seemed almost blue, and I worried that she might not make it through the night.

In any event, when it came time for the final ascent it had begun to rain, and I simply couldn't make it. The wind had yet to die down, my legs were soaked... there was no way I'd go any further. I could barely see the top through the mist. Sun rose for me outside a hut my the eighth station, and it wasn't as if I could even see it: the cloud cover was too thick.

And yet the descent... it takes quite a while, and goes own a long, winding route completely different and much safer than the one you climb. And after the sun rose, the wind began to die and the air began to warm itself. Gradually I shed wet clothing, until finally at the bus I was down to two shirts.

And the view... it's beautiful. A companion I met on the way promised to send me some pictures, and if I get them I'll post them.

All in all, I probably won't try that again, and if I do, I'll spend the vast amounts of money it takes to equip myself correctly. The morning was lovely, but it was a very long, cold night.

[I know this entry is rather disjointed, and would like to blame lack of sleep. I'll re-edit it when I've had sufficient rest to recover from this venture.]

July 16, 2004

The Unprepared and Mount Fuji

A brief tale: shortly after my second year at Oxford, I got invited on a camping trip by some of my friends. We'd go punting up the Cherwell, moor the boats on a bankside, make a campfire and... well, mainly sit around drinking and looking at the stars. Not a bad evening, actually.

My stuff was packed in boxes waiting to be shipped home or put into storage, so I asked my friends if they had sufficient supplies. "Oh, yeah," said J., "Sure." They had sleeping backs, blankets, and we'd stop off and get food...

What we actually got was soft drinks and a lot of wine. No one had brought a flashlight. Our bed equipment consisted of two sleeping bags, a long overcoat, and a curtain that had gotten wet in the bottom of the punt. And all this for five people. The most useful thing brought along, actually, was a bayonet, which ended up functioning as stake, axe, cooking implement, and occasionally dinner utensil. Really, bayonets seem much more versatile implements than you might expect. Do not ask why anyone would bring a bayonet camping. Preparation for unexpected attack of the Napoleonic Hordes, I suppose.

Anyway, that was my night spent shivering in a wet curtain, lying on a bed of nettles. I mention this because tomorrow I'm going to attempt a climb of Mt. Fuji. For this kind of trip they normally propose a jacket, a flashlight, and many other pieces of equipment which I lack. Some of these I'll buy, but for many I intend to simply 'make do': instead of a jacket, it's layers of shirts and pants. My quickly-deteriorating shoulder pack in which I normally carry my computer will cover for a real rucksack.

Thankfully, while I may not be the strongest or the quickest thing around, I've inherited my father's persistence. With a walking stick in my hand, a flashlight in the other, and my pack on my back, I'm confident I'll make it to the top if all it takes is the persistent slinging of one foot in front of the other.

Mt. Fuji has the highest post-office in Japan at its summit, so some postcards are getting mailed Sunday morning. What it does not have in profusion, however, is net access, so you may not see me until I've pictures of sunrise from the summit.

July 14, 2004

In The Realm of the Senses

The next few days are going to be full of meeting old friends and mentors, running at the gym, and generally getting life in order. I actually started writing a couple of rather argumentative pieces today, and just found my heart wasn't in it. The world's too full, the city calls, and at the end of the day, there's no point in paying web cafe charges at the moment. You may not see much of me until the weekend.

July 13, 2004

Distance

So yesterday, I'm sitting here in an internet cafe trying to get some business for the Early Interview Program finished, and I realize that I've got three instant messenger windows open. I'm chatting to a friend in New York, another in London, and a fellow in California. As the result of one conversation, I'm staring at the prices of tickets from the UK to Japan, information I've been able to get in seconds.

And I'm in an cafe with an old salaryman sleeping next to me. This is why I love the 'net.

July 11, 2004

Love and Other Subjects for Legal Articles

Know what a love hotel is? Well, over at the Social Science Research Network, Mark West of the University of Michigan Law School wants to tell you:

Throughout Japan, people frequent hotels at which the primary purpose is not sleep, but sex. Although some establishments offer such non-sexual amenities as tanning beds, fitness equipment, and large-screen televisions, there is little question that the raison d'etre of a love hotel is, well, love (or something like it). In this Article, based largely on field observation, interview data, and quantitative analysis, I show that law has played an important but unrecognized role in the development of the love hotel industry (determining love hotel population, location, and form), and by default in the sex lives of many people in Japan.

In all honesty, not a bad piece, but if this guy got paid to do his "field observation" then I immediately nominate him for the Lucky Bastard Law Professor Award. Well worth downloading, anyway.

July 10, 2004

Kyoto

I'm in Kyoto for my one-weekend lightning vacation. There's quite a lot to say, but it's all a well of emotions at the moment: memories striking every time I turn a corner, shocks of recognition that start at the base of the spine. I'd write it up now, but I'm still in the middle of it, and you'd get nothing but a muddle.

For a taste of what I mean, though I almost panicked today when I thought that my favorite tea shop--the one with the magnificent carp pond--had been closed down. Just wandering away from Gion the thoughts spiralled: one of my fondest memories has vanished; this means that--how very Heian of me--all such pleasures are ephemeral; and then finally a horrible feeling that I am just about to turn thirty. As I started wandering towards Kodaiji I was practically fitting myself up for my inevitable coffin or wondering what it would take to get them to put my imminent ashes in the local cemetary when my ears picked up and I realized I'd left Gion park too early: I'd been looking on the wrong street.

Thus, a sweltering morning thick with the morning's rains was spent croched on a bench, staring at the slow meanderings of fish that must have been half my own size. Over a cup of tea I watched a spider slowly spin his morning web, unaware that the more energetic of the carp were waiting for him to get just that bit closer to the water. Believe it or not, this is the sort of thing that brings me the most joy.

Since I walk like a demon, I've covered more of Kyoto than is probably healthy, and there's much more to tell, but it's time to go out into the town. In the meantime, there's only one thing weighing heavy on my mind. It's very difficult to travel alone. When I wandered into Nonomiya and remembered how it features in the Tale of Genji, I wanted to whisper about it to someone next to me. When the sun was setting over the bridge in Arashiyama, I wanted to jabber on about the poetry which features just such moments. And this morning in that coffee shop, I would have given just about anything to be holding my girlfriend's hand.

Sappy, but true. The trouble with joy is that when you get full of it, it's almost painful not to share.

July 08, 2004

Quick note

I don't have much time to write tonight: I've been spending my time catching up on correspondence and studying Japanese. But suffice it to say all is well: my work couldn't be more interesting, the week has been chock-full of social engagements, and I'm getting to the gym at least twice a week, which doesn't seem bad.

This weekend I'm going to Kyoto. Several years ago, when I lived in Osaka, I used to travel to Kyoto every few weeks and wander about. It's a place where my heart feels oddly at rest. But I fear this weekend will be a lightning trip to try to revisit all the places I loved before. Among these are:
Kiyomizudera: Probably the most famous temple in Kyoto, it's also the source of a famous expression. The platform at Kiyomizudera drops several hundred feet, which leads to the old saying, "To tumble from the platform at Kiyomizu." It's sort of the equivalent of 'crossing the Rubicon.'
Arashiyama: On the outskirts of Kyoto, this small collection of temples and tourist areas doesn't get the traffic that the rest of Kyoto does, which makes it particularly beautiful. I'm hoping I can get out there on Sunday morning, quite early, when the sun is barely showing over the mountains.
The Unknown Teashop: But mostly, I want to return to this little teashop that sits between Kiyomizudera and Gion, a real hole in the wall that you might not find if you weren't looking for it. It's got a beautiful back garden with a carp pond so full that it might be better described as a pile of fish with a little water sprinkled over the top. Tokyo commuters who have been very bad in this life are, I think, liable to be reincarnated in that pond.

On Saturday, when the heat is at its highest and I'm sipping a cold drink and looking out over that garden... I hope to be a very happy man.

July 06, 2004

Will Baude Would Have So Much Less Fun In Osaka, It's Lucky He Doesn't Speak Japanese

Will Baude questions how to get onto the least-crowded subway car on a metro station, based upon where the stairs are. He's playing around with the DC Metro, which whilst cleaner than New York's, is still a chaotic ant-hill designed by overly-hyper children compared to the sheer reason that is Japanese public transport. The explanation below will make more sense if you read his long and convoluted game-theory argument, but suffice it to say that planners in Osaka thought ahead of Mr. Baude and solved the problem already.

OK, the organization is less apparent in Tokyo than in Osaka, but it was immediately obvious on the old Hankyu line on which I commuted for a year. At the first stop--Takarazuka--the stairs came down right in front of the exits to the first train. At the next stop, the train from the upstairs platform was staggered by the length of a train car--meaning that the stairs came down in front of the second car. And so on, and so on, all the way to Umeda station (if it was a direct, express train) in which the main platform was right in front of the last car. Because of this, the natural momentum of passengers, and their habit of entering a car which was near the stairs, usually because they arrived just before the train was leaving, cars filled up in a gradual, logical, and ordered procession.

You can notice the same kind of system in the construction of the Tokyo metro, although it's a bit more convoluted and there are exceptions. (This is to be expected in places where there are more than two exits, and a number of complex levels above the station.) Nonetheless, station design normally looks like it's been planned with the movement of passengers in mind, which is a big change from what I recall in D.C.

July 05, 2004

Grades have come in

Ah yes, worth noting that grades have come in. I'm not going to set the world on fire, but then, I'm not dropping out in abject despair, either. That's about all that can be said.

I suppose I should take down the Exam Stress Advisory...

July 04, 2004

Rites of Passage

Does anyone know when we 1Ls officially become/became 2Ls? I've got some site changes that are ready to go on one or two of the templates here, but I don't want to implement them until it's official...

How to Confuse the Japanese Service Industry

So this weekend I wandered over to Kaminarimon (Gate of Thunder and Lightning), near Asakusa. I was supposed to get together with a classmate at the station. As neither of us had been there in several years and couldn't think of a meeting place, we came up with a 'foolproof' plan: meet at Exit #1.

This plan failed pretty miserably. There are in fact two Asakusa stations, the normal subway station and one belonging to a private line. Needless to say, she arrived at one, and went to Exit #A1, while I went to the normal Exit #1. Never did catch up with her. If I thought about it again, I'd just suggest meeting up next to Kaminarimon. So much for my skill at planning.

The pictures from the trip should be on the site shortly, as well as those from my excursion to Harajuku. In the meantime, a small vignette. One of the entertaining things about Japan is that in almost all social situations, tipping is not required. Indeed, some will find it positively confusing, including those who take your order at coffee shops. (My custom is to tip the remainder of the dollar in change, unless that amount is so small as to be ridiculous.)

But as I was waiting outside of Asakusa Station yesterday, there was a very old lady hunkered down across the alley, surrounded by boxes, vials, bottles, and jars of shoe-polish. Since I'd not seen anywhere to get my shoes shined in Japan thus far, I figured that 500 yen was a steal.

And it was. For the next ten minutes this obaachan fiddled about with my shoes, muttering things that I'm pretty certain no native Japanese speaker would have understood. (I caught, "Ehh. Your feet are bigger than that last guy's.") Afterwards, my shoes looked newly-purchased, the leather cleaned and brushed. I was well impressed. (The only downside was that even at a tourist trap like Kaminarimon, passerby will stare at a gaijin doing something unusual. I'm not sure I like the image presented by a youngish American guy leaning over an aged Japanese woman as she shines his shoes.)

In the end, I really wanted to tip her: this was the single best shoe-shine I'd received on three continents. And for five-hundred yen, it was an absolute bargain. But my single effort at doing so yielded to a daunting, "That's not necessary." Which is a crying shame.

Anyway, pictures to come, if I can get the back-end to function.

June 29, 2004

OK, Enough's Enough

That was quite a lot, but I felt a bit too poorly today to go to the gym, so I worked on the computer instead. Tomorrow I hope to get my Harajuku pictures onto a machine where they can be uploaded, so hopefully there will be some Japan stuff soon. Otherwise, you might not see much of me until the weekend, because the gym calls...

June 27, 2004

The Strange And Wonderful

To those who are wondering what I've been doing online so much today--it's my weekend, after all--I've been spending the time trying to get Brandon Fuller's MTPhotoGallery Plugin to work. I only have access to the net through my notebook on weekends, and thus this is the only time I can make major changes to the blog.

I want to get this sorted before I head off this afternoon to Harajuku, the park where some of the strangeness that is Japanese youth collects. As I recall, it was quite an experience when I was there ten years ago, and I'm looking forward to taking some photos.

June 23, 2004

Critiquing Cass Sunstein

Since I'm in Japan, I'm going to feel free to nitpick Cass Sunstein's latest piece on The Volokh Conspiracy, "Holmes Haiku":

Ok, it's not quite a haiku. But as sentences in Supreme Court opinions go, it's not all that far from that: "Property, a creation of law, does not arise from value, although exchangeable -- a matter of fact." That's from Holmes' 1918 opinion in INS v. AP.

No, it's not even close. It's reasonably close in syllables--enough that Prof. Sunstein's caveat would cover it--but it doesn't contain a kigo, a word referencing a season. Indeed, it has nothing close, unless one wants to apply 'value' to a season. Since most of the annual general meetings of Japanese corporations are occuring about now, maybe you could stretch it to reference summer. But I don't think that's what Sunstein was on about.

I only mention it because some haiku afficianados of my acquaintance get rather miffy when people start talking about things being 'like haiku' when what they mean is 'short.' As a friend of mine once sniffed: "When we already have a decent word like epigram, why do we need to stomp on a Japanese one?"

Cock of the Walk

In the spirit of fellow CLS Blogger Paul Gutman's letter to a fellow gym member: 

Dear Fellow Gym Member:

If your dearly beloved has been so pleased by your nightly romping that s/he has left deep red gouges over the vast majority of your back, please refrain from coming to the gym until the welts have died down. It's just tacky.

Yours,

A. R.

June 20, 2004

FREESPOT: HOW TO FIND FREE WIRELESS ACCESS IN JAPAN

If you are looking for free wireless access in Tokyo or Japan, and can read Japanese, try Freespot for Free Wireless Access. They provide free wireless access points.

(Sorry for the stilted English in this post--I'm trying to optimize for both Japanese and English Google so that other expats will find this on a search for "Free Wireless Access in Japan" or "Free Wireless Access in Tokyo." It's more a Public Service Announcement than a blog entry.)

June 17, 2004

Passionless

I thought about seeing a movie tonight, and the theatre I passed was showing The Passion. I was tempted.

Then I remembered: the whole thing's in Aramaic. So I'd be watching a movie in Aramaic with Japanese subtitles. I don't speak Aramaic, and of course, my college education in this language didn't include such words as 'crucifixion' or 'savior.'

Paying 1800 yen for the privilege of completely failing to comprehend a movie simply didn't appeal.

The Uplifting Company of Crows

Sometime today it hit me, as it usually does when I'm in Japan for a while: that wearing down of confidence that comes with the slow accumulation of little failures. When working in a foreign language--particularly one at which you used to be more fluent--the most basic of things becomes difficult. As any reader will find obvious from a quick examination of my work, I enjoy speaking and writing in a complex and overly-florid manner. In Japanese, this is simply beyond me, and yet I've not managed to reign myself in. I want to say, "I think The Last Samurai was a horrible parody of Japanese history. The Scottish and the Japanese should probably form an army and invade Hollywood by force." But by the time I could formulate how to say that, let alone actually pronounce it, any listener's attention would--rightly--have wandered. Instead I should just say, "I didn't like the movie. Japanese history wasn't like that," and be done with it. But even when I remember to restrain myself, it's frustrating to only show this simple side to yourself.

My reading hasn't suffered so much in the time I've been away from Japan: I read the Nihon Keizai Shinbun last night at an Irish pub while celebrating Bloomsday by downing a pint of Guinness. It wasn't that difficult, though I needed a dictionary for a few words. But I'm also trying to read Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, a page or two every night. Given that it's five-hundred pages, I begin to wonder how I will ever read the other works of literature on my 'must read' list.

Still, lawyering is a vocal vocation, and not being able to speak perfectly shows up badly against those who are erudite. Every error, such as a a bad episode of stage fright in an introductory speech, just brings back memories of other memories of dire failure, like when I completely froze in trying to speak Japanese during an interview last spring. One failure breeds the next.

I seem to have left behind the Japan of gentleman-amateurs, where the half-fluent managed amidst a mix of newbies and the very skilled. Or maybe it's just that when you're working at the level of a law firm, the gentleman-amateurs are elsewhere. Anyway, I keep reminding myself that I don't have the advantage of having lived in Japan for the last ten years, and the other things I've learned instead of building my language skills mean something. After a while that rings hollow.

This all sounds very negative, but it's not. The moments that inspire change are very often those of dissatisfaction: one exercises harder when one starts to gain weight, one works harder as the deadline approaches. Today I went back to a bookstore and picked up some lighter reading, something I can chew over slightly more quickly between attacks on Murakami. I actually spent the time I'd set aside for studying with a phrasebook. And while the simple gruntwork is sometimes tedious, it pays off.

Like when this evening, I sat out on my veranda looking across at the park, smoking a pipe and staring at four-character compounds. Somehow the pipesmoke had annoyed a crow which had been perched overhead, and it squawked at me angrily before flying to a nearby power line. All of a sudden a mini-revelation hit me: Tokyo has crows, not pigeons. And then the big crow in the opening credits of Serial Experiment Lain made a sudden, strange sense. Shortly following that, I remembered that I knew about the crows in Tokyo, that I'd walked hand in hand with a young lady who commented about how she so preferred them to the pigeons back home. Karasu. That's it.

At the good times, it's like getting little pieces of your mind back. And the rush of memories and associations, of places you've not seen in ten years, or smells you've not tasted for half that: it's maddeningly addictive. I'm sure it will be hard work, and I'm not looking forward to all of it, but this slow remastery is certainly worth it.

Reagan's Heretofore Unknown Influence on the Youth of Ikebukuro

It's a long-standing tradition as a foreigner in Japan to laugh at some of the English one finds on t-shirts here. This is blatantly unfair, as anyone who lived through the entire "let's put Chinese characters on t-shirts" fad in the UK should know. After all, while the middle-aged housewife wearing a HUSTLER t-shirt the other day may not have known what she was advertising, they probably at least thought it was talking about cowboys: frequently folks wearing, or worse tattooing, kanji on themselves didn't usually what they were actually saying. Then again, some of the shirts are quite funny, so I'll just hope that to balance my karma, some Japanese guy is laughing at some naff calligraphed t-shirt somewhere. [1]

Occasionally you see classics, mostly centering around sex in some way, shape, or form. (I've been told of a young girl with the t-shirt 1-800-FISTF---, and Dave Barry wrote about t-shirts from a band named King F----- Chicken, neither of which story I can confirm, but it wouldn't surprise me.) Rarely do you see one venturing into politics, however.

That changed today outside Ikebukuro's Red Wagon American Vintage Clothing Store. Hanging out front, in black typeset letters on a white shirt, was:
TAXES ARE EGREGIOUSLY HIGH!
HOWEVER YOU LOOK AT IT, TAXES SUCK.

For a moment I considered buying it, and then realized that on me, it simply wouldn't be funny.

[1]: My personal favorite was one of the spice girls, who got the characters for what she claimed was 'girl power' inked on her arm. Which was true, but I wondered if she knew that the characters she used for 'girl power' (女力) were roughly similar to those for 'horsepower' (馬力) or 'water power' (水力).

June 15, 2004

Well, that felt better...

But after that rather long entry, I don't have much to write about Japan. I'll leave you with a brief glimpse of Japan through the eyes of one of their fast food chains, the ever-so amusingly-named Mos Burger, where I had lunch a few days ago. The sandwiches are nowhere near as big as they appear on the website. Oh, yes, and I've found my local coffee shop, which for a mere ¥550 will sell you Cafe Vienna...

June 05, 2004

Product Lust

As mentioned in both entries below, today I'm going to Akihabara, Tokyo's electronics district. This is the place that hardware geeks go when they die, at least if they'd been good hardware geeks. (My guess is that bad ones go to France and have their souls sold to Groupe Bull. Or maybe get reborn Amish.)

I'm going with a purpose. Or at least, I'm telling myself that, because I've just been paid my entire stipend for my time here--quite a lot of money for me--and if I don't keep myself to a purpose, I'm going to break my bank in the first weekend. And given that this weekend Sony launched its new products, and that my officemate is deeply determined to encourage me to buy stuff, it's quite a risk.

So, here's the goal. At the moment, I'm trying to read a Japanese novel, but doing it with a conventional dictionary is slow going. What I'd like to do is read an e-book, but incorporate some kind of automatic lookup so that if there's a word I don't know, I'll be able to search for it in just a few clicks. Being able to read it on the subway--i.e. not on my notebook--would be a plus.

The inner consultant--the guy who wants to use what he's already got to get the biggest bang for his buck--wants to get someone to chip his Dell Axim PDA with the Japanese version of Pocket PC 2003, and then buy a dictionary program for MS Reader. But there are such other cool options.

For instance, Sony has just released the Vaio U, the world's smallest Windows XP machine. It's not a Pocket PC, it's a 'real' computer, and the specs are pretty impressive: 1GHz processor, 512 MB RAM, etc. Plus a touch screen, which is massively useful for Japanese-to-English work.

I saw one in Ginza on Friday, and it was mouth-wateringly good. Besides coming with everything you need to hook it up as a desktop--docking station, power supply, etc--the screen resolution is good, the handwriting recognition solid (for a Microsoft machine), and most importantly, it is a real PC. I suppose you could install an English version of Windows, or even Linux if you could get the drivers to work.

The downside is simply price: even though for the features $1800 is cheap, I'm just not ready to spend that at the moment. Especially since my inner consultant reminds me that it doesn't come with the dictionary I need.

But Sony has released another option, the Librie. This e-book reader uses Sony's new E-ink screen technology, which is bloody gorgeous. I won't bother to explain it here--and unless you can read Japanese, the description on the site probably won't help you--but suffice it to say that it looks much closer to paper than anything I've seen.

Additionally, it has a number of dictionaries, expandable through a memory stick, which are accessible within the book while you're reading. This is incredibly useful for reading novels.

The downside? First of all, it's pretty slow--it would benefit from a touchscreen, which is what I expect the next model will have. Secondly, Sony uses a proprietary e-book format. This is simply a pain in the ass: first, I'm not sure if I can write files to it, a feature that would be extremely useful. Secondly, proprietary formats have a tendency to die swift deaths, which means that I may be extremely limited in my choice of readable books, and might end up with a lemon fairly soon. But at $400, it's tempting.

As it is, I'll probably jury-rig something myself, either with my own PDA or a Japanese one. But these options, particularly the VAIO U, are oh, so tempting.

Ikebukuro Nights

There's a great deal I want to say, and yet I've had a hard time putting things into words recently. Part of this stems from the fact that when you're in another country, and communication becomes difficult at the best of times, the last thing you really want to do is try to reach out, one more time, and try to connect with people. Instead, you just want to go to bed.

But tonight's been very strange. I'm not sure yet if my jetlag is getting some visceral revenge, or if the poet I keep trapped inside me has rabid indigestion. Nonetheless, I spent the night awake and wandering Ikebukuro.

I was supposed to go to Akihabara today--more about this above--to purchase some electronics. Instead, I sat in and read The Club Dumas, which my girlfriend had gifted to me before I left. (Those who've read the book--or seen The Ninth Gate--will understand why she felt it appropriate.) Between that and some dozing, the day passed to sundown.

Since then, I've been walking my neighborhood. I normally do this when I'm going to be living somewhere any amount of time. I go out and just start wandering about aimlessly, with about a hundred dollars in my pocket and no particular agenda. I want to learn what's where and who's who, and sort of make the place my own. So here's what I've found.

Continue reading "Ikebukuro Nights" »

Catching Up

Dear Readers:

I'm sorry you've not heard from me in so long. I'm afraid that during my sojourn here, I may be less and less available to you.

On the one hand, I really don't want to blog from work. There's something about that which seems unprofessional, although a co-worker and I came to the opinion that it wouldn't be a problem if I got to the office early--an 8AM start, say--and blogged until work begins. Those of you who know how I function in the morning will thank me for not giving you my morning prose.

On the other hand, that leaves me with where I am now: a web-cafe in Ikebukuro, the district of Tokyo in which I am living. As one friend here said, "I think Shinjuku or Ginza are what the Japanese would like Tokyo to be, and Ikebukuro is what it is." I'll assess that statement a bit more later, but for now, let me describe me current surroundings.

I'm in SPACE CREATE SELF-ENTERTAINMENT CENTER (if one translates the name a little over-literally), one of a number of 'internet manga' cafe that dot the area. It's about 5AM, and I can see the sun starting to rise outside. (More on why I'm up so early later.) Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, you can pay $4.00/hour to sit in any of a number of booths: some are small cubicles (like the one I'm in presently) and some are fully-enclosed, with seats that lean back. But fully half of each floor is given over to shelves full of manga, DVDs, books, weekly magazines and other entertainment items. So if you don't want to use the internet connection you're paying for, it's a relatively expensive library of pop culture.

All of which means that because Tokyo's trains quit shortly after midnight, and a taxi-ride can cost you several hours of surf time, the internet-manga cafe have become a cheap place to sleep overnight whilst you wait for the subway to hum back to life. As I'm writing this, I'm surrounded by an entire symphony of snoring, wheezing, stretching, and other sounds of nighttime. Indeed, although an alarm-clock just went off a few booths down (and the bastard seems to keep hitting snooze, because that's the third time in half an hour), my cubicle is the only one from which any actual typing is coming.

More than that: I just got a nasty stare from a hungover, 40ish salaryman who was snoozing off Saturday's party. Apparently I didn't get the memo that the keyboard here is just for show.

Anyway, the entries above--which you'll probably read before this--are mostly about the events of the last few days. As I said, writing here will be intermittent, if only because I'm trying not to spend all my summer in a web cafe. But I'll try to give you the highlights.

Giving The Devil His Due

Kyoto (1)
Chris wrote: Cool pictures, especially the first... [more]

Last Love, First Love (2)
Lamar Cole wrote: A first love always remains in a se... [more]

A bit... Not Homesick, Really, Since New York Is My Home (2)
Nicole Keable wrote: I am with Sua Sponte on bringing ba... [more]

Personal Fault (0)
Song Lyric (1)
Kenji Gracia wrote: Some good bunch of japanese artists... [more]

Conversion of Interests (1)
Tony the Pony wrote: Good luck on interviews. Don't wor... [more]

Defeated By Fuji (1)
Steve wrote: OK, so as a future law student (hop... [more]

The Unprepared and Mount Fuji (2)
Denise wrote: Can't wait to see the photos!! Plea... [more]

In The Realm of the Senses (0)
Distance (0)
Love and Other Subjects for Legal Articles (1)
Adam wrote: West is an all around cool guy. He... [more]

Kyoto (1)
Denise wrote: Well, as someone who really appreci... [more]

Quick note (1)
Denise wrote: Tony, you don't know me and our pol... [more]

Will Baude Would Have So Much Less Fun In Osaka, It's Lucky He Doesn't Speak Japanese (1)
Lyndsey wrote: Oh, I don't know about less fun! I ... [more]

Grades have come in (4)
stammered wrote: http://www.i5net.net/~i5pages/i5pag... [more]

Rites of Passage (2)
Alison wrote: Now that all grades are in, I think... [more]

How to Confuse the Japanese Service Industry (3)
martin wrote: "I was well impressed" - wow, not s... [more]

OK, Enough's Enough (0)
The Strange And Wonderful (0)
Critiquing Cass Sunstein (2)
A. Rickey wrote: Thanks! (I know I checked t... [more]

Cock of the Walk (2)
Len Cleavelin wrote: Envious? ;-)... [more]

FREESPOT: HOW TO FIND FREE WIRELESS ACCESS IN JAPAN (0)
Passionless (1)
Matt wrote: Hi Anthony, So you live in Ikebuku... [more]

The Uplifting Company of Crows (0)
Reagan's Heretofore Unknown Influence on the Youth of Ikebukuro (2)
kat wrote: check out www.engrish.com. Some of ... [more]

Well, that felt better... (1)
km wrote: In defense of Mos Burger, I would h... [more]

Product Lust (0)
Ikebukuro Nights (0)
Catching Up (0)

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What I'm Reading

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D.C. Noir

My city. But darker.
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A Clockwork Orange

About time I read this...


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Parents for Inclusive Education (From my Clinic)

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The Columbia Continuum
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De Novo
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Althouse
Nancy Pelosi covers her head and visits the head of John the Baptist.
Vlogging in from Austin.
Omikase/"American Idol"


Jeremy Blachman's Weblog: 2007
Happy Passover
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Stay of Execution
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The End
Mid Thirties


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Program Announcement: Summer Programs on the Constitution at George Washington
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Hillary
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IrishLaw
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Half the Sins of Mankind
Cheney Has Spoken Religious conservatives who may ...
Does Ahmadinejad Know Christianity Better Than MSN...
Borders as Genocide In discussions of climate chan...


pf.org
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For lovers of garden gnomes...and any China-freaks out there
We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Programming


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What did the market learn from internal controls reporting?


The Yin Blog
Iowa City = Riyadh
Jeffrey Rosen's "The Supreme Court"
Geek alert -- who would win between Battlestar Galactica and the U.S.S. Enterprise?


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Oil!


BuffaloWings&Vodka
Signing Off


Dark Bilious Vapors
Jim (The Waco Kid): Where you headed, cowboy?
Bart: Nowhere special.
Jim: Nowhere special. I always wanted to go there.
Bart: Come on.
--"Blazing Saddles"

Technical Difficulties... please stand by....
The Onion should have gotten a patent first....


Legal Ethics Forum
Interesting new Expert DQ case
Decency, Due Care, and The Yoo-Delahunty Memorandum
Thinking About the Fired U.S. Attorneys


Ex Post
Student Symposium- Chicago!
More Hmong - Now at Law School
Good Samaritan Laws: Good For America?


Appellate Law & Practice
Those turned over documents
CA1: courts can’t help people acquitted of crimes purge the taint of acquitted conduct
CA1: restrictions on chain liquor stores in Rhode Island are STILL okay


the imbroglio
High schoolers turn in plagiarism screeners for copyright infringement
talisman
Paris to offer 20,600 bikes at 1,450 stations to rent by the end of the year


The Republic of T.
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links for 2007-04-04
Where You Link is What You Get

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