Another day at the beach thinking stupid things

Sometimes you do things for yourself. There is a way to live and that way isn’t constant, it changes everyday. Today that was is the beach.

Everyone (well almost everyone) loves the beach, but I _really_ love the beach. I was thinking on my way from the station about jobs and how you have to be prepared to collaborate with other people, or else nothing would get done. But you can’t give up what’s best for you for someone else everyday. There needs to be a degree of compromise. So, today I came to Enoshima again, a simple train ride on the Odakyu line for 610 yen and 73 minutes, not bad at all. I bargained with the umbrella rental lady and now I’m in the shade and drinking Asahi beer [actually a beer-like substance made from soybeans], listening to SMAP‘s “Bang Bang Vacance” on Yokohama radio while all the lovely girls walk by. The reason I can hear the radio is because I’m near the PA, so I get to listen to a great summer soundtrack with hits like Katrina and Waves and the cheery-voice chatter of perky Japanese female disc jockeys.

Until the end of college summer is usually about the beach, or the pool, or something leisurely. Playing Nintendo everyday and falling asleep watching Adam Sandler movies. I’ve had a job every summer since I was fourteen and worked at the Hood College pool, trimming radioactive hedges and chasing ghosts with my number one fan Chris Blackledge. What would it take to take off for a summer? Or a year? I guess I’d have to quit my job because who’s going to let you go for 9-12 months and then take you back? So I’d need to quit, have good chances of finding another job, and about 24,000 dollars in savings. Maybe that’s retirement. But I think that I want that now. I’m not saying I want to stop working forever, just a sabbatical to focus on some projects at a reduced rate for scholarship’s sake. After a while I’m sure I’ll want to go back to the regular grind. What’s wrong with life being fluid like that? Fixed is so boring.

On my way back from inspecting the oceanside beach vendor I must have looked like I was having a good time, or the man I met was. We had a brief conversation that went something like this.

Man: Dou desu ka? (What do you think?)
Me: (slightly tipsy) Hello!
Man: Hello!
Me: Tanoshii! (It’s fun!)
Me: Natsu da ne. (It’s summer, huh?)

Man: Sou ne. (Yeah.)

Then I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do next so I pretended to look at the snow cones and his GF came back from the bathroom. It was kind of cool, but I kinda wanted to talk to him more. Going to the beach alone gets kind of sad when you see everyone else having fun in groups. At one point some guy came up to my solitary oasis and kneeled down to give me a spiel about something involving custom shampoo he made himself, and he asked me if he could massage my head to try it out. Incredulous, I politely declined and wished him good look as he went on his way to solicit someone else for a complimentary beach-front scalp caressing.

There is a god, and he tells the DJ at FLASH YOKOHAMA to play the GTA: Vice City sound track of Wave 103. Loverboy is on now, and I’m forty pages into Stranger in a Strange Land. I tried talking to some girls on the beach after about half an hour of debating what my intentions were (which probably led to my demise). I think in the end, honestly, I just wanted someone to talk to. I’m alone at the beach and it’s sad if everyone around you has family or friends close by. I just want to have fun and meet people. Life is a gift not be experienced alone, though people anywhere are generally wary, partially because of people like me. I remember the times when I would go out on a date any day of the week and not worry about anything…. and it makes me nostalgic and sad.

Is there a life where I can support myself and not worry every night about money, my schedule, or how late I’ll have to work tomorrow?

Acoustic guitars, Drama II, and Julie Herber will save me. I know it. I’m not destined for this. Love is being alive and only appreciating it.

[sketch of rose]

[At this point I got a pretty drunk and listened to “Bad” by U2 about five thousand times until I passed out.]

Believe that life is yours… a gift that is only yours to spend. If I live, it is enough, I think… why am I worrying so?

[Self-pitying diatribe goes here.]

Societal norms are a topic of endless import in...

Waiting for ga-blow

Societal norms are a topic of endless import in Japan, at least for me. I try very hard not to judge for the way it’s done, aso I frequently spend half of my obseriving time debating the grey area betwen cultural differences and what I consider common sense/courtesy. Respect for things like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness may seem obvious and easily defensible as universal, however personal space and regard for other people’s possessions may not be. I went to Catholic school until I was twelve years old. Though my parents bestowed no religion upon me, I did learn respect and appreciation for the kindness to strangers; the golden rule of doing unto others as you would have them do to you. In my mind this stands up quite well both morally and logistically. How can I expect respect if I do not bestow it upon others? But Japan is a place where I’ve met mixed results, which I suppose would be true of anywhere. Still, if I walk into a store here, _any_ store, I will ninety-nine times out of a hundred be treated with greater respect and service than most places in the US. However, if I’m in public or boarding a train in the morning, most people would just as soon push me out of the way for their own benefit. There is a dearth of institutionalized ethics’ education here as far as non-acquaintances as concerned.

Today is the Sumida River fireworks festival, an event, though not continuous, extending back to 1733, when Lord Yoshimune conscripted a massive display to dispel the sorrow and depression that had set on as a result of a great plague (it was believed as a positive side effect the smoke would help curb the spread of the epidemic that was causing bodies to pile up in the streets). Today one million people will come here within a two square-mile radius to watch two boats launch sixty thousand fireworks from the river. I did not sleep last night, but worked until midnight and took the second subway out this morning to get a great seat for my friends. Now I’m holding down the tarpuline in the heat with no rest and lots of mosquitoes. Many other people have been here since well before seven, but people passing by through the park pay it little mind and seem to find it a nuisance, riding bicycles over peoples’ camps, stepping with dirty shoes on _beds_, and even wiping out occasionally, but no one acknowledges it’s happening.

Oh well, only twelve hours (ten alone) to go…

[Yes, you can punch me for the title.]

Two year/two thousand mile warranty, or how my dad...

Two year/two thousand mile warranty, or how my dad can fix anything

My always reliable commuter bicycle, the 2003 Enjoy has recently been anything but. The increased stress from daily rides to and from work since our office moved in April has apparently accelerated my ride’s decline and a lot of parts have met their limit. About a month ago my headlight burnt out, and since not having a working one is a good way to get stopped (or in an accident), I took it to the shop near my house and had it replaced for about five dollars. This was not so bad by itself, but unfortunately it seems to have been a harbinger for other problems. My front brake pads were worn to the limit, requiring me to use my rear (disc) brake with a lot more force. It makes perfect sense that the rear would be used more, but the disc brake seems to be more of a curse than a blessing. After wearing beyond a certain point it has become, like most cheap bicycles, incredibly loud, apt to screech to incredibly noisily that I find myself often placing myself in a moderate amount of danger from being reluctant to use it. To complicate things, the cable on my front brake line snapped completely, partially from the added tension of having the pads worn down, and partially from rust. I suppose it’s only a matter of time before the rear cable breaks as well. I’m all for maintenance of useful tools, but the bill for a five minute job of replacing a bit of rubber and wire came to twenty six dollars, about 20% of the initial cost of bicycle. Fixing the rear brake so it doesn’t squeal essentially requires replacing it, which would cost over fifty dollars. I’m thinking the parts for these operations probably wouldn’t even come close to the cost I’m paying for the five minutes of service at the bicycle shop, given the mass production and low precision of the pieces involved, so in the future I guess I just need to start taking better care of my bike.

Although my dad’s college degree was of the electrical sort, like most engineers he has an inclination and the talent to fix just about anything. As a result our family has probably saved tens of thousands of dollars in automobile service over the years thanks to his do-it-yourself attitude. One of his most notable achievements involves dismantling and rebuilding an entire motorcycle in one night, right down to the gaskets. More recently he replaced the triangle joints on my mother’s Accord, quite a considerable task even for a mechanic.

For the most part I spent today in Akiba, initially looking for some Evangelion figurines. Unfortunately, the store where I bought all my precious Love Hina characters moved, and I couldn’t find anything that wasn’t forty dollars. At first I didn’t see how anyone could afford actually paying for anime’ and character goods, but then it dawned on me that most of the people that really buy this stuff are so obsessed with it they don’t have a social life really, so if the only thing you spend money on is ramen and body pillows bearing the image of Rei Ayanami, I guess it may all come out in the wash. Either that or I just really need a raise.

Anyway, I was feeling contemplative and not so much in the Akiba mood (quite a mysterious set of circumstances indeed!), so I took the Sobu line to Iidabashi and spent a long while staring into the sotobori (outer moat) canal and watching lovers rent row boats as the classicly staid red Chuo line rambled past. Afterwards I planned on taking a stroll south through Chiyoda-ku, where I formerly had a contract on an apartment, and take photographs of all the schoolyards, but a bookstore caught my eye and I got motivated to buy some Japanese children’s literature to practice my reading. I ended up with San Nen Sei no Mukashi Banashi (Old Stories for Third Year Students), and Boku wa Osama (I Am King), two books for 8-10 year olds roughly at my fiction reading level. The truth is I can read kanji equivalent to an entry-level high school student, but the grammatical phrasings of novels continue to elude me and I get really tired reading small print. So I figured it was best to get something I could actually get through to build my confidence. I may very well go back to manga after this, since I really haven’t read any since finishing Dr. Slump last fall.

At the end of last weekend I went to a small island...

“The Hawaii of Japan”

At the end of last weekend I went to a small island off the coast of Shizuoka, Izu Ohshima. Though about a hundred kilometers or so as the crow flies from the capital, it’s still classified as being part of Tokyo, I suppose because no other principality really wanted the burden of managing it. Recommended to me as “The Hawaii of Japan”, I was a little dubious, but told that the water was very clean and some time at the beach sounded good to me.

For about seventy dollars you can take a “speed” boat that cruises at about seventy-five kilometers per hour, and get there in roughly one hundred minutes. The claims about the water being clean were quite true, it’s significantly far enough away from any kind of industrial development that I had no trouble seeing my feet and the sea floor to at least two meters on a cloudy day. This was pretty nice, but unfortunately as the island is essentially a dormant volcano, the beaches are comprised of nearly peppercorn-size igneous granules, and the seafloor is made up largely of spiky rocks that are not much fun to step on. I really think I need a pair of water socks. Unfortunately, the sky was overcast and the caldera misty the whole time I was there, so I didn’t get to see any sun at all, but at least it didn’t rain.

Perhaps due to the inhospitable terrain, the island is very sparsely populated, with only a handful of C-grade stores that all close at around seven or eight o’clock. All cars on the island are registered to Tokyo’s Shinagawa-ku (a couple kilometers south of where I live), and the entire island rings of a backwater resort in the America’s deep south: largely poor, most of the buildings incredibly worn down and ill-kept; in general quite a modest community. If you’re looking for quiet and lots of wildlife, however, it may suit your needs to a ‘T’. I had to dodge a number of small lizards drying themselves on the sidewalk while riding my rental bicycle, and the run down minshuku where I was staying (kind of like a bed and breakfast), had its share of mosquitoes and cockroaches.

The highlight of the trip for me was discovering the odd coincidence that one of my favorite Japanese medieval war heroes, Tametomo no Minamoto, was exiled to Ohshima. As such, I got to visit his old hideout right near the present day harbor, where he had a lookout point, and a secret back entrance through a cave (pictured below). His soul is also enshrined here (above, left). Tametomo was the first of the famous Minamoto family war heroes, fighting in the battle of Shirakawa Palace at a time of rival emperors and their military factions in 1156. Tametomo’s claim to fame mainly centered around his prowess with a bow and to demonstrate it he once shot an arrow through three suits of armor in a row. This amazing feat is mentioned often in the tales that follow it, and his lineage often swore their own bravery by it. He was reported to being more than seven feet tall, and his bow arm was a full six inches longer than the other, using a bow more than eight and a half feet in length. After he was eventually defeated, he was exiled to Ohshima and his arms were dislocated by the opposing forces to prevent him from picking up a bow again. However, he was so talented that it’s said he only got better as a result, and afterwards fought off an entire fleet of warships by himself, sinking one with a single arrow. Some versions of the story even go on to mention Tametomo’s further adventures, which include going to the mythical Island of Devils and conquering all the demons there. Undoubtedly, one majorly cool guy, and my personal hero. When my first son is born, I vow to push for naming him after this medieval superman. Anyway, sorry for the lengthy digression. It was pretty rad visiting the place of exile for a real hero from a thousand years ago.

The more of Japan that I see, the more appreciative I become of metropolitan life. In general, it’s a nice, quiet country for raising a family or retirement, but outside of Tokyo or Osaka, there’s really not too much to do, even in the “major” cities. America’s economy and population are much more diverse and thriving, such that you can really enjoy a fast-paced lifestyle in a great number of locations. Still, though the atmosphere of this post very closely resembles the bland, narrow range of midtones in its photographs, it was a nice time and I did enjoy myself. It was a place quite unlike any other that I’ve visited so far.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen each...

Jackass

It’s been a while since we’ve seen each other. Nothing is permanent and everything is changing. But we can make records of moments in time.

This is what I look like now.

I been drifting along in the same stale shoes
Loose ends tying the noose in the back of my mind
If you throught that you were making your way
To where the puzzles and pagans lay
I’ll put it together: It’s a strange invitation

When I wake up someone will sweep up my lazy bones
And we will rise in the cool of the evening
I remember the way that you smiled
When the gravity shackles were wild
And something is vacant when I think it’s all beginning

I been drifting along in the same stale shoes
Loose ends tying the noose in the back of my mind
If you thought that you were making your way
To where the puzzles and pagans lay
I’ll put it together: It’s a strange invitation

I took these pictures with my phone over the last...

Sharp V603

I took these pictures with my phone over the last couple months. They’re not very attractive; contrast and white balance leave something to be desired, but ocassionally they turn out ok if I downsample in Photoshop enough (spaghetti, coffee). There seems to be some sort of digital smoothing and vignetting filter to compensate for the weak CCD. However, the LCD is really bright and clear, all the images look nice on its screen. I guess that’s what’s most important. I pretty much use my camera phone to make visual reminders to myself of things that I want to come back to.

I haven’t taken many pictures of people yet, but I was amused to find that Mikiko’s phone was apparently targeted for self-conscious women as the lens was blatantly concave such that all pictures taken of me looked ridiculously thin. Pretty shifty, but I guess department stores have been doing this with dressing room mirrors for years.

I have a lot of material from my trip to Sendai...

Writing in progress

I have a lot of material from my trip to Sendai last weekend, which will be going up over the next week dated retroactively, so forgive the confusing layout. I’m actually going to Oshima for a few days later this afternoon, so it may take a while. In the meantime, web-quality pictures are available via the (recently debugged) HTMLGallery here.

I have off this week, and after half a dozen plans...

Twilight crawling through my windowpane

I have off this week, and after half a dozen plans fell apart, I ended up splitting my time in a number of ways. Saturday I was hungover from Friday’s ship party and the subsequent park wiffleball with some random kids I met in front of Shinjuku station, but Sunday I made an earnest effort at something and hitchhiked to Sendai for a couple days’ stay by the Hirose river, which ultimately was cut short by my inability to find a public bath and threatening rain. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday I slept without alarm until the early afternoon and spent most of my time napping and playing lots of video games (Lunar 2, Vice City, and Kingdom Hearts). My nights have been a string of single man drinking parties and feel good television (With Honors, Road Trip, Densha Otoko).

Today I felt that despite the still lousy weather I should get out for a change and took a very slow meandering ride to Honnancho and back, via my navigational stalwart the Kanda River.

I kind of half-expected to come to a great personal resolution, revelation, or some other dynamic concept starting with ‘r’ in the course of all this time by myself, but before I even started vacation I kind of knew that putting pressure on myself to accomplish anything this week was really pointless, and so I’m only feeling very minorly dissatisified with myself. I have been eating and sleeping a fair amount, something that’s become a great unaffordable luxury in months past.

Somewhere buried beneath all the discarded ramen cups and vitamin drink bottles is that glowing, pure jewel of innocence and expectation for a clean, beautiful future that brought me here in the first place, and though increasingly depressed and feeling powerless, I still believe it’s going to break out of all this leaden ennui and reemerge twice as powerful as before.

For a while, my goal for today was finding a sento...

In search of soap and urban grit

~11:40 am

For a while, my goal for today was finding a sento (bath house), but after one unhelpful convenience store girl and two disgruntled elderly people, I’ve decided to give up the search and resign myself to being filthy. However, since I do have my shampoo with me, I think I’m going to put the nail in the coffin of my journey to vagrancy and just wash wash myself with sink water and hand soap at the subway station later this evening. There are far more interesting and useful things to be done than waste my time and money in the pursuit of modern hygiene. I am, however, reminded of the classicly random line from Final Fantasy upon visiting the fountain in Coneria,

See your face upon the clean water. How dirty! Come! Wash your face!

A pedestrian overpass in Aoba-ku; the view from my tent Sunday evening; Sendai’s food specialty, roast cow tongue with a side of tail soup.

Last night’s sleep was so atrocious that I had half a mind to leave this morning. Despite being utterly exhausted, I tossed and turned constantly; it was probably a combination of the heat, being unclean, and having no real pillow. As is common with bad sleep, I had a series of horrible nightmares, all lingering residuals of work, namely being at the office on Saturday and Sunday with everyone miserable.

Aside from that I had a Spartan breakfast of two Calorie Mate sticks and half a bottle of (incredibly overpriced) 168-yen orange juice from Sunkus. Disappointingly, the only subway line in Sendai has a base fare of two hundred yen, even more absurd than Tokyo’s. So for a few kilometers I spent two hundred and forty yen in my failed search of a bath house. I’m currently walking back under constantly rain-threatening skies, my makeshift home perhaps dangerously unguarded and with the fly door open, risking my bed to saturation. But patches of blue are breaking the tree and cloud-stripped horizon, so I’m betting the risk of disaster is low. Speaking of disasters, I noticed on my way out of the river basin this morning that my camping spot is in a flood area, which may be the cause of the largely surrounding marsh-like ground. There is a picture of an angry, surging river chasing a panicky little girl as sirens blare overhead, so apparently this happens enough to warrant a public defense system. I guess if it starts raining fairly hard I may avoid risk being washed away in the night and move to the high ground and sleep on a bench. Though the overcast sky makes for some horrible shots head level, I’ve managed a handful of fair black-and-white plates of earthbound decay. Odd, how being so filthy and underfed, I’m largely quite placid.

The public notice warning about flooding; the statue of Dai Kannon overlooking the city; the view down from the hill just south of Dainohara station.

~2:00? 2:30 pm?

As prone to flooding as my “home” on the Hirose-gawa river may be, I have to say that I’m quite content here. When I arrived back at base camp this afternoon there was a scooter parked by the basin and a man in some sort of wetsuit wading in the river. I wasn’t sure if he was washing clothes, but I noticed he had a utility belt and a net of some sort, so I suppose he might have been taking ecology samples. I squeezed a couple more shots out of the nearly dead battery in the PowerShot before sitting down to listen to the birds. There’s quite a good number of them actually, and I’m privileged to hear a wide range of calls from melodic and shrill. In Tokyo the most abundant birds are of course our friends Mr. Crow and Ms. Pigeon, but thankfully there is a yamahato (mountain dove) that serenades me often with a soothing whippoorwill-like hooting.

The north side of the riverbank is much more well maintained than the south, and in the light of midday I noticed a number of people sitting about enjoying the view. I suppose they could see my squat abode if they were looked long enough. So much for anonymity. I’m reminded of the public mowing cycle in southern Kyoto, where the public works department is so poorly funded that it only happens about once a year, in late July, after the rainy season is over. So I suppose the knee-high clover and wild grass here may be due for a wrangling in several weeks’ time. It does seem odd that all these park benches are down here and grown over. The dense forest on the left directly behind my tent must have once been a temple or fortification of some sort. It’s quite surreal to see seemingly abandoned shrine gates and paths half hidden in underbrush, only sixty meters from an apartment complex. Actually a lot of Japan is that way, and it’s kind of sad. Almost all of the universities are pretty run down looking. The promenades and stone pathways are ridden with weeds and errant brush, and most of the land around the buildings is overgrown and bears collected trash. The buildings are probably the most pitiful of all, concrete stained with sumi-e striped soot and the paint uniformly faded, peeling and cracked. These aren’t just any schools either, the top three universities I mentioned before all bear similar states of disrepair. My adopted alma mater of Waseda is well kept for the most part, but space and budget limitations are still readily apparent.

Apparently I look very American, because Japanese people usually mention that right off when I’m window shopping. I stopped in a store that sold hand-painted earthenware figures earlier this morning, and I got the full treatment as far as traditional Japanese shopkeeping goes. The owner got up from her work at my entry and I kind of had the tingling sensation of things moving quickly beyond my control. But instead of running I just let it go and three cups of tea, coffee, two biscuits, and four pickled plums later I’d had a fairly detailed conversation about Japan while feeling entirely insecure about my bedraggled appearance. I took off my hat out of respect but given the state of my hair it might have been more advisable to leave it on. I also had to continually mop my brow with my handkerchief as I was dripping sweat on the table. Before leaving, I bought a t-shirt with a carp on it for twenty-five dollars (about the cheapest thing in the store), and ended up feeling more giri than was equivalent to the price of my purchase. On the way out my benefactor showed me a kiln full of bells that the town children had made the day before and described something about the history of the area.

~5:40 pm

I’m again on the Komachi, being whisked home at a ridiculous speed, all with a very warm bath just waiting to be drawn for my sticky, beleaguered skin. I actually had a plan to stay in Sendai for another day or two, but my phone portended “strong overnight and AM rain”, recommending that I “take caution.” As my intenion for staying in the city was predominantly pedestrian and phtograph-oriented, I recided to go against chancing being washed away overnight and come home this evening. As a reward for being so thrifty in my gettting to and sleeping in Tohoku without spending any money, I decided to treat myself with a trip back in about 25% of the the time that it took me to get to Sendai. Looking at the gorgeous countryside streaming by in clay-tiled suburban fashion, I think that even more than hitchhiking I may enjoy touring the country on bicycle. Though it would probably require a considerable amount of planning (finding roads where I wouldn’t be squashed), it would probably be quite fulfilling and produce an entire notebook’s worth of inane dribble. I don’t think my current resources are up to the task however, so I’ll need a large cache of money for a road bike and ryokans along the way. Then again there was a homeless man who stole a bike in front of Shibuya station and rode all the way back to Osaka so he could return to the place of his youth to be a construction worker. It would be neat doing manual labor perhaps for tanbo (rice field) farmers along the way. Or maybe I’m just thinking rosily of the days when I used to watch MTV and you could count the number of Real Worlds and Road Rules on one hand.

I’m a little tired and look pretty haggard, which is too bad since I was just beginning to revert to semi-normal hair and skin. I’d almost say I was waiting for a revelation this week, but of course real insight never comes from looking for it I guess. Maybe I should just about doing what I do and something will naturally come undone, like how a splinter works its way out of one’s palm.

[An image dump of my pictures from Sendai can be viewed in my new “travel” section of the site, here.]

I’m currently in a Doutor in the (supposedly...

Gloria, Sendai

I’m currently in a Doutor in the (supposedly famous) Ichiban-cho shopping arcade of Sendai, slightly sunburned and listening to October. This is the first time I’ve been in a Doutor in probably about a year, ever since they stopped selling my anytime meal staple, the bagel chicken sandwich. The only reason I’m back now is because a similarly-named (but inherently different) model is back on the menu, with another ten yen price hike. [Incidentally, I estimate the cost of living increase via the rising price of commodities such as this and bottled tea sold at convenience stores.] It’s more or less the same, however the chicken is shredded and mixed in with the mayonnaise, a la chicken salad.

Why am I sunburned? Well October was my soundtrack for making runs up Routes 50 and 15 from South Riding/Chantilly to Frederick when I used to work at DSR and live with Karen. It’s a summer album for a sexy 80s Honda Accord at 65 mph with the windows down. So ideally, this should be listened to in the car but I couldn’t do that out of courtesy to my benefactors. The truth is I hitchhiked the 350 or so kilometers from Tokyo to Sendai. Originally I was thinking of going to Aomori (twice the distance) and if the wind was at my back, Hokkaido, but my first attempt at actual hitchhiking as a means of transport didn’t start off quite as swimmingly as the Wikitravel guide made it sound. In actuality, I stood grinning like a goon at the Hasuda service area for two hours in the 32 degree sun before I got a ride. The first mistake I think I made was listening my destination as too far away. Though I wrote “IN THE DIRECTION OF AOMORI”, most people probably interpreted that as I was expecting a ride all the way there, and of course not many people were going to make that drive (it’s probably about San Diego to San Francisco). So after about forty minutes I took out a new sheet of paper and wrote “IN THE DIRECTION OF SENDAI” with my Sharpie, compromising on halfway. Still, this didn’t pay off anytime soon. I only got one offer for Utsunomiya, which was about an hour away, and half a dozen waves or passing words of encouragement. I was about at my limit and ready to concede defeat, preparing to again shift my plans, this time to camping in Saitama. However, for benefit of the doubt I decided that I would wait for the next 30 cars that passed (my birthday is on the 30th), and after that retire. Fortunately car number eight surprised the hell out of me and I got my first ride with a couple in a rental Toyota full of carsick dachshunds.

The couple’s names were Koji and Ai, and they were on their way to Nasu (which though a homophone for the word meaning “eggplant”, had an entirely different purpose in this context), for a weekend at a hot springs resort. They live in Koenji, which is a hip place west of Nakano that I took an early liking to when I was still looking for jobs before graduation. They were quite nice, and probably about the best kind of people you could hope to start hitchhiking with, given a dearth of previous experience and rapidly waning patience. I even got a rice ball and something to drink. Their two dogs had on little floral jackets, and both looked completely exhausted. I suppose the backseat wasn’t their idea of heaven. Serendipitously, the ELO song “Twilight” came on the radio [theme of the television version of Densha Otoko] and my spirits were buoyed after coming so close to being heartbroken with rejection.

Since Koji and Ai’s plans to get off the Tohoku Expressway were far ahead of mine, I was politely dropped off at the Nasukougen service area (far less impressive in scale than Hasuda, but bustling nonetheless with a popular soft cream kiosk). At first I was a little worried, because now I was really far away from home, and once you’re on the expressway, you’re pretty much on until someone drives you off. Walking anywhere on the road, ramps, or tollbooth areas themselves is apparently a surefire way to either get killed or picked up by the highway patrol. However, fortunately my earlier success seemed to stake my luck and charisma, as after about ten minutes of grinning I got a ride from a solemn middle aged man in a beat little Civic. I never learned his name, as after introducing myself as David (it took three slow pronunciations), he didn’t say anything in response. I think he was a little hard of hearing; we didn’t talk much. Maybe he had a lot on his mind, but for the most part we just rode the hundred or so kilometers to Kunimi in silence, with the occasional pepperings of dead-end conversation.

(for sake of typing, all translated to English)
Me: Are you from Kunimi?
Man: Huh?
Me: Do you live in Kunimi?
Man: What?
Me: Is your house in Kunimi?
Man: Aa, no.
Me: …
Man: …

Me: Are you going to see friends or family?
Man: What?
Me: What are you doing?
Man: I work in Yokohama.
Me: …
Man: …

Man: You can’t see the mountains because of the clouds.
Me: Yeah. It’s kind of overcast.

And that was pretty much about it. Seriously though, I was a really happy to have a ride, even if I was on edge for most of the ride wondering what he was thinking.

At the Kunimi service area I looked at the leaden sky and started wondering how far I’d get before I got stuck in the rain. It was already about two o’clock at this point and it was looking less and less likely that I would make it to Aomori that day. At Kunimi there were even fewer people than there were at Nasukougen, and most of them were from tour buses, which are of absolutely no help whatsoever. I heard trucks are the best chance for a long stretch, but I didn’t feel experienced enough to directly solicit rides from the lonely drivers.

Fortunately, I got lucky again and within fifteen minutes made an agreement with a guy that reminded me of Yamamoto-san for a ride into Sendai itself. Getting off the expressway is difficult enough, and I’d never been there, so it sounded like a good deal to me. What I ended up getting far exceeded my expectations, as it turned out I wound up with the polar opposite of Mr. Blue Civic. This guy’s name was something to the effect of Yoshihara, I hadn’t heard it before, but he was quite affable. On the way to Sendai, he virtually never stopped talking. When I responded to his question of what I did, he bust out with a laugh so hearty and amused it was almost scary. He told me about his two sons that live in Tokyo, what he used to do in Roppongi thirty years ago, how he hates the big city now, how to form good relationships with Japanese people, and how he loves history and culture. It’s amazing how many things a person can talk about in detail over the course of two hours if you give them the chance. It was like a never-ending graduation commencement, or a guest speaker in one of those 101 classes you take as a freshman. I’m not begrudging it at all, I learned all about iced cream (as opposed to ice cream) pastries [which I was given one of] from Koriyama, how he worked for what I think is the census bureau, how he likes onsens and local festivals, and the houses of old politicians from ages gone by. On top of all this I probably got the most intense Japanese listening exercise I’ve ever received.

When we got to Sendai he asked me where I wanted to go, and I really didn’t have any idea, or specific destination. Of course this is bad, people don’t feel right when you just say “drop me anywhere”. There needs to be some sort of resolution, so they can get a sense that you’ll be okay. So when he asked again what I hoped to see in Sendai I mentioned Sendai castle because it was the only thing I could remember hearing about Sendai. So he drove me there [It’s actually not there, like most Japanese castles, because it was burned to the ground X number of times. Now it’s only a rock foundation to a flat grassy area.], but instead of just letting me off, he took me all around the north half of the city, telling me about the history, and the universities. Apparently Tohoku Daigaku (monster that it is with tons of campuses spread around the city), is like the number three school in the country, behind Tokyo and Kyoto universities at 1 and 2, respectively. He knew quite a bit about the place, and we drove around outside of all the departments, him pointing out where the cafeteria was, or how in this particular building the high intensity diode was invented, which is now used in all car taillights (as opposed to the old way of mounting glass bulbs behind cheap, red, translucent plastic). Interestingly, the incredibly well-selling Nintendo Kahashima Ryuuta Kyouju no Nouo Kitaeru Otona DS Training [this is the short name] game is based on the work of some famous professor here.

After the college tour, he drove me downtown and advised against my plans of sleeping outdoors for risk of getting in trouble with the authorities. In the end, he pulled over on the side of one of Aoba-dori and talked for about another forty-five minutes until it got late enough that he had to get back home to his wife. So I set out on foot once again, sunburned and lumbering along with my ridiculously corpulent pack, and a handful of tour guides and maps from my final driver. What a trip, three hundred and fifty-one kilometers. But it only cost 850 yen to get to Hasuda station! Now if only I can find a place to sleep…

Yesterday was the rare sort of day that brings back...

A rare sort of day

Yesterday was the rare sort of day that brings back memories of accomplishment and security long since forgotten. I could not hope for a more fulfilling twenty four hours. I woke up early (and holding a grudge against humanity) to go to the swanky Grand Pacific Meridien hotel at Daiba for the 2005 Xfest, which is more or less a tiny little GDC just for pushing Xbox. It’s a bit of a ride, and it was hot, but the food was free, and boy was there a lot of it. I took full advantage of this and ate almost constantly, having a wholesome breakfast, lunch, and extended dinner with plenty of snacking during sessions. Several bottles of beer and glasses of wine were easily deflected by the large resevoir of beef and cheese in my tank, and I was quite content upon retiring for the day at six thirty. It was almost like being back at school, but tinged with the fatigue and frustration readily apparent on some of my coworkers’ faces.

But I wasn’t going to let anything ruin my enjoyment of a slow day of mixed lingual lectures. I nodded, listened, took notes and practiced my kanji, and in the evening took my sweet time unwinding amidst finishing Lunar 2 and watching the premiere of Densha Otoko (“Train man”), a tv drama based on a true story that strikes to the very core of so much that I am and what lured me here. I would describe its synergistic dynamism in detail with far less marketing-speak, but I have a half day off for a doctor’s appointment and packing to take care of.

There is an interesting video on the web. I think it’s worth a look.

Today is the first day I’ve come home from...

Another world

Today is the first day I’ve come home from work before eleven in a number of weeks. However, I don’t think it really means anything because coming home early this afternoon was my return trip from going to work on Tuesday (after getting home at 2:30 and 6:30 a.m. on Monday and Tuesday, respectively). So yesterday was just your standard run-of-the-mill twenty six hour workday, nothing to write home about. Though presumedly quite tired (the level of tired when you don’t notice it and you just drift for hours completely unaware that your mouth is hanging open), of course my thinking was not, “God, I should get a shower and to bed ASAP, I haven’t eaten in sixteen hours,” but “this is the first day I’ve had the freedom to be someplace other than a job-related function in what seems like forever; I should get some chores done.” So, having ten hours of sleep across four nights, I fumbled my way through Yoyogi after passing Hachiman, so I could get to Takashimaya and southern Shinjuku in hopes of finding a long-anticipated tent and some AA batteries.

After about forty-five minutes of zombielike shambling through Oshman’s, Tokyu Hands, and L-Breath (twice), I began to slowly realize the looks I was getting from all the healthy, clean shaven floor girls in the department stores. My skin is pallid, taut, and full of lines, my cheeks concave, my hair a shriveled, greasy mess, and my aura most undoubtedly quite disturbing. Being this tired and under unrelenting stress for so long has made me quite irritable, and quite prone to rage (I severly damaged my right hand on Saturday night and have come a hair’s breadth away from getting into half a dozen fights in the last week, cursing out loud to myself and at strangers who get in my way almost constantly). As such, it makes me all the more incensed that I honestly look like I’m on the wrong side of a drug addiction at 40. I’m not exaggerating at all when I say if my mother saw me now she would start crying. My eyes are sunken in and watery, crows feet stretch like razor blades creased across my face. I swear that this is doing permanent and irreversible damage to my health in every sense of the word.

In most stories one’s constitution and sanity are forsaken for vast amounts of material wealth and financial security, exemplifying the age-old wisdom of tradeoffs and balance. You work hard, you get compensated well and don’t have to worry so much about money. However, my situtation is really so pitiful it doesn’t contain such palatable entertainment. I live in the most expensive city in the world (really), and my mother makes more than I do working part-time without a college degree. I have a masters, and (after two years of monthly installments of 600 dollars) still over seventy thousand dollars of debt, half of which is a variable-interest loan, and with the Fed hiking the prime rate to the sky, my budget continues to degrade from cabbage and water to water and cabbage. A semi-cheap Ocean Pacific bathing suit can be purchased here for forty-five dollars. A nice Salomon or Rusty one is ninety. That’s about how much money I have for food over a two-week period. I have no savings, and somewhere on the order of 400 dollars a month for everything non-bill (gas, electric, water, rent, telecom, health insurance) related. How does anyone live here? It used to be that I wore everything until it fell apart because I liked dated fashion, but now it’s because I have no alternative. Half of my socks (all purchased at the dollar store) have had holes in them for at least the last year. What the hell is the guy at the office one year my junior going to do when his wife has a kid in November? Feeding a family of three while I mix mayonnaise with newspaper?

It’s just as well that I don’t have any money to buy things unessential for sustaining “life”, I don’t have any time to use it anyway. But just the smell of being in a store and actually being able to buy something you’ve wanted for six months and not worry about what happens if you lost your job or got hurt… this is a far, far cry from my affluent, fat (155 lbs) days in Seattle.

I hate myself even more for writing this, because it just reminds me that no matter who you tell, how angry it makes you, or how long you endure the strain, things don’t change. They can’t, and they won’t, and there are no feasible alternatives, just endless lines of code outstripping my youth.