The future

After living in Japan for nearly four years, I’ve managed to collect a small number of acquaintences. Though I wouldn’t say that I have many people I can truly confide in, I do have a number of friends who I manage to see a couple times a year. Recently, I’ve been providing counsel for one of my friends who is a future furniture maker. Kurosawa-san is about to graduate from Tama Art college with her M.A., and for her final project she made a riding device that resembles something between a tricycle and a rowing machine.

This Christmas Pooh (Pooh-san) was a little out of season, but his Santa suit is all white, so I think it could pass for Nordic apparel. He was presented as a gift to my friend Mori-san, who also works in wood. Kurosawa-san’s production was large, but put together with impressive craftsmanship.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity to take any MechE classes at UVa, and so my engineering support goes only as far as what I remember from AP physics and the fundamentals of Newtonian Law. But obviously this is far better than nothing, and a simple application of general force computation and material analysis can give an idea of what’s going to end up being the limiting factor in the system. I have to admit it was a lot of fun to apply the sort of practical knowledge that I seldom have a use for, especially to help someone out.

For her graduation project, Mori-san built an interior furniture set that is reconfigurable. All of the furniture is made from six-inch thick blocks which can be assembled in a large variety of patterns to make chairs and tables of varying size. The seats were surprisingly comfortable.

When I first met Kurosawa-san at a small art exhibition in Shibuya, I was captivated with her work. At that point she was showing a much smaller version of her final project, an earlier prototype on a toy scale. Even though she’s still a student, the craftsmanship of her work was quite impressive. Pretty much anyone who can express themselves artistically with a degree of refinement and talent inspires me, but that the subject matter of Kurosawa-san’s work was exceptionally pure and for children struck me all the more personally. She’s definitely the kind of person that I need to be around more, I think, as much for my study as my emotional health.

One of the other students, Asako-san, has a particular interest in Hindu culture, so she made a giant mandala which cast an beautiful shadow on the ground. Unsure of when we’d have a chance to meet again, I got Kurosawa-san to pose for a picture with me.

There’s so much I can do, if I can master the load of dark blankets that drag me down.

Communication

[A brief conversation on MSN Messenger, sometime last autumn (paraphrased)…]

B: Why don’t you put comments on your blog?
R: Because Blogger doesn’t handle them well, the interface is all clunky and doesn’t look right with my template.
B: Well, it’d be really helpful if you had them. There’re so many things that you write about that I want to reply to.
R: If I had the ability to comment on my blog, you’d really use it?
B: Of course.
R: Alright. It’ll probably be really tough, but I’ll make something happen.
B: Cool.

Never before, never again (well, hopefully not)

In this age of screencaps and the fraction of time it takes to assemble plausible proof of status, you may have understandable doubt about the validity of the image above, but we both know how little money means to me at this point in my life (look at where I’m living). So I have no obvious reason to fabricate such a statement, aside from perhaps giving cause for my family to sleep a little easier at night. Since they, however, are the source of the above figure, though, that too, is debunked.

When I was very young, I received some shares in a variety of Virginia regional banks from my grandfather. Those funds, while nothing to sneeze at, were not capable of any life-altering changes, but time rolls onward and bigger fish/banks eat little fish/banks as the market goes up.

Aside from a few shares for the next tax year, I sold virtually all of my investments and now have a five-digit sum in my bank account. It will be there, happy with my other paltry earnings, and earn about a dollar in interest from BoA, before disappearing quickly to strike down my stupid Citibankl 8.75% APR loan with furious anger. It dawned on me last autumn that this stock is most certainly generating less per year than I am paying in interest on my loans, so liquidating it was an easy choice to make. Unfortunately this only quashes half of the debt I generated in graduate school, but it’ll save me at least 2500 dollars a year (I was currently on track to pay it back over the next twelve to fifteen years).

Hopefully this won’t be the last time I have more than ten thousand dollars in my possession, but with the way things are in Japan, it’s going to be a while. Thank the good Lord for birth control.

Service in the 21st century

A couple weeks ago I struck some of the first blows to some long-delayed economizing so I can get my total budget under 1250 dollars a month. I’m not far off now, but I’m bound and determined to rub out my CMU loans by thirty as well build a sizeable “rest egg” for purposes yet undisclosed. As I said, things are in motion. I started with my phone service.

Softbank (formerly Vodafone K.K. formerly J-Phone formerly Digital Phone formerly…) promised upon their acquisition of Vodafone’s network low prices and simple billing. (Sound familiar?) The president of the company even went to far as to say something to the affect of, “I’m disgusted with overpriced service rates. I plan to lower the prices of our new service significantly.” Of course, I was all for this, since I never used my phone’s internet access, receive only about a dozen calls a month from one person, and somehow paid a variable forty to seventy dollars a month. However, the promises of people in power of course rarely amount to more than political /market posturing. What did we end up getting? A plan that proports 0-yen for unlimited calls and mail, which actually ends up costing about 4800-5000, plus the “unlimited calling” is only for the hours when everyone is at work (one of many fine print points in the contract). Is this starting to sound a little like an American provider? So there was that, and the staff have become even more not helpful than before. What pushed things over the top is the deluge of haughty endorsements with Brad Pitt and Cameron Diaz the populace has been subjected to. So THAT’S what was siphoning all the money away from those rate cuts the executives promised.

So, enough was enough and for me– I wanted a sub-thirty dollar plan; and I got one. Willcom is my man now, a discount provider built on an antiquated, low-cost network commonly used for emerging economies (like much of southeast Asia). I no longer have leggy girls welcoming me into the service stores, because there aren’t any (girls or stores). I have a middle-aged, chronically coughing guy in a dirty jacket who sometimes can be found at Yodobashi being not too sure about a lot of the details of his company’s service. I have a prehistoric, palettized-display handset built by a network card manufacturer that looks more like an air conditioner remote than a cell phone. Supposedly I pay 2945 yen ($24.50) for basic service of about thirty outgoing minutes a month. However, any calls or email to others in the Willcom “network” are free. I haven’t gotten the first bill yet, so I’ll believe it when I see it, but this may fit my lifestyle, as it is. Amusingly, my cheapsie little phone grows faint after just a few days of non-use without a USB recharge to its dinky battery. I tried calling customer service today to update my address, but in a very non-Japanese fashion after receiving a busy signal was immediately placed on hold, and the phone died while I waited for the operator.

I’ve got a feeling things are going to work out just fine. But just in case, I kept my old phone for good measure. It does still have a working digital camera, compass, barcode reader, and television. Why waste a good piece of technology? 🙂

A lengthy account of the Tokyo real estate market (part 2)

After two weekends of searching for homes in my sweet triangle and finding very few possibilities, I acquiesced and decided to broaden my search to areas farther away, consenting to listings as far away as Koenji, which while still within a twenty-minute bicycle ride to Shinjuku, probably the better part of an hour to work. This would mean commuting via train, and the loss of my currently accruing commuter allocation. In turn, I lowered my acceptable upper bound for rent to 625 dollars a month. There’s nothing wrong with Nakano and Koenji, on the contrary they’re quite fashionable, trendy, cheap places to live and still within easy distance of Shinjuku. Being farther west on the Chuo line, however, they make all of the easy access to central Tokyo via bicycle that I enjoy now, more of an ordeal.

The first listing was billed as being near Nakano station, and having a spectacular view. It was rather nice, but unfortunately much smaller than the first floor rental in the same building, and a good twelve minutes’ walk from the station, something that’s a lot more important when you stop going everywhere by bicycle. At least it was clean, however.

The second place in Nakano I visited was much closer to the station, and near a shoutengai (small merchant street) just off of Waseda dori. Unfortunately it was on the sunken ground floor and had a lovely north-facing view of the the front shrubbery, leaving absolutely no sunlight whatsoever. It was pretty small too and felt a lot like a converted basement bedroom of Rachael’s parents’ that I slept in once. This tomb was ruled out before I even took off my shoes and as such didn’t bother to take any pictures.

The last place I saw was in Koenji, and the path to the building was magical. Apparently a long arcade runs underneath the Chuo line from Koenji to Asagaya, and the way in between is spotted with incredibly cheap bars, restaurants, and vintage stores. I could easily imagine unwinding at any number of friendly watering holes on the way home, negating even the worst of workdays with bouquets of cheap suds and the charming, stylish youth of Tokyo. But the real peach was the house itself. This was another one of those incredibly old, hardly maintained buildings that just screamed, “beat”. The stairwell was littered with trash, the antiquated interior sliding doors paper-thin, and all of the metal was in a various state of corrosion. Even the bathroom light was out, so it took the flash of my camera to give me an idea of what state the place was in. Nothing felt evil or dangerous though, it was more of just a very worn, very old part of the city left to the young and struggling artists. The owner of the building was obviously aware of all the strikes against it, for the rent was less than I was currently paying, and fitting despite how close it was to the station. A little too close, actually. The room was on the third floor and only about a good fifty feet from the elevated tracks of the Chuo line. Since it wasn’t right in front of the station I didn’t hear any whistles, but the trains rolled by every sixty to ninety seconds, and they were certainly hard to miss. I almost felt the old building rock slightly when an express rocketed by. If you’ve ever seen The Blues Brothers, you’ll have an idea of what it’s like, honestly.

The icing on the cake of this place though was the treasure I discovered in the kitchen closet. The previous tenants had apparently left behind three large photo albums and a bunch of negatives; what seemed like ten years’ of past discarded for the future. It was fascinating, I could hardly believe that it wasn’t scripted. There, in that cold, empty, beat house was over a decade of memories, a vault of life. It started with a clean-faced, bright-eyed boy at high school graduation, all of his friends and family crowded around in celebration. The suits were spotless, the smiles were genuine, and the world lay full of promise and hope.

After high school the protagonist gradually grew his hair out, in successive collections his look became more punk, and through their late teens and early twenties the friends formed a band. The beaming grins were replaced with nonchalant expressions accentuated by an appearance of the finger or the occasional moon. Rehearsels and gigs at local bars were recorded as the group tried hard to get by. Through the same pages and albums, one girl from the graduation photos appeared more and more prominently: a trip to Disneyland, holiday at Nara. Eventually they seemed to be living together, sharing the fight through an ambigous time. But towards the end of the catalog grinning faces were fewer and farther between, and the pictures didn’t all make into albums, some just in shoe boxes or the original sleeves from the print shop.

I guess in the end things didn’t work out the way anybody expected. The Blue Hearts broke up, the J-Punk boom of the early nineties ended, and so did everyone’s vision of what it should all be like. If those memories were cherished ones they certainly wouldn’t be left behind in an empty house, so it seems that it in end it must of have been a rough falling out. It’s kind of sad, if you really think about it. But the finding of such a striking slice of someone else’s intimate history was surreal and riveting. I almost wish I hadn’t found any better rentals just so I could take that beat pad by the train tracks and inherit that legacy. I’m positive I would end up writing the most fantastic of books from it. But it didn’t work out that way, so it stays just a naked brush with raw, wet humanity.

A lengthy account of the Tokyo real estate market (part 1)

Since my housing snafu in mid-December, I’ve been on the market for a new apartment. I know it’s going to end up costing about 3500-4000 USD, but that comes with the territory in Japan. I’ve been hoping to make an upgrade in several keys areas of my domicile, among them location, size, and amenities. Right now I have about a twenty to twenty-five minute commute on my bicycle, but it’s entirely down Yamate Street, which is about as construction-ridden and pollution filled a ground level road as they come in the city. It’s a good workout, but the toll it takes on my alignment bothers me, to say nothing of what my lungs must think of it. If possible, I’d like to move a little closer to the office and find a less-heavily travelled route.

Given that, I made my list of requirements and potential dwellings and carpet bombed the real estate web sites [Much later I found out how fruitless this is, being mostly composed of fake listings and ad bait to attract customers to realtors’ offices.] I even worked through two regional realtors, to maximize my chances of return with one while the other was idle. In the end, I saw enough floorplans to write a book on the state of property rental in west central Tokyo.

In terms of location I wanted to be no farther from work than I currently was, which gives us about a six kilometer radius from Nakameguro. I also wanted to be on either the JR Yamanote or Sobu Line, with accessibility to a big station in less than fifteen minutes, like Shinjuku or Shibuya. Additionally, I needed at least as much space as I currently had, about 21 square meters, or my furniture wouldn’t fit in. In some cases even more space wouldn’t work depending on the layout. In the end, I concentrated on the area in between Yotsuya, Shinjuku, and Shibuya, with the ideal being Sendagaya, where I originally lived when I came to Tokyo four years ago.

I don’t have time to go into detail about all the politics and hoops I had to jump through just to see these places, but it may still be interesting to enumerate the places I have pictures of, and ultimately what was wrong with them (for me). [It’s actually quite comical now that I think about it.]

This first apartment was an old building in Sakamachi, east of Higashi Gaien and between Yotsuya and Shinanomachi. Anything in this area peaked my interest because the commute would involve skipping Yamate dori all together and going through the incredibly upscale areas of Jingumae, Aoyama, Hiroo, and Ebisu. As it was, though, this apartment’s rent was slightly above my upper limit of 90000 yen (750 dollars a month), and the kitchen was barely wide enough to stand in. Ultimately it would take setting up my food preparation area and gas stove in a separate room down the hall. It also didn’t have a balcony (a feature I wanted to add this time) or much direct sunlight for my wide array of plants.

This second apartment is just west of Yotsuya station, in Saneichou. There were no apartments adjacent to or below the room, so sound would be a surefire non-issue. The amenities and fixtures were new, and incredibly the rooms were spacious. Everything was sparkling, and the dining kitchen was even carpeted. The owner was also an elderly old lady who ran a traditional Japanese sweets store around the corner which dated back nearly a hundred years. I almost went with this place despite the appreciable lack of direct sunlight, but in the end it fell through because I tried to do a run around the good ‘ol boy real estate system to save on a couple thousand dollars of service fees. It wasn’t pretty when the realtors got wind of it.

Lions Mansion is an extremely large chain of managed buildings all over Japan. Everyone’s heard of them and you’d think that with that much influence and success things would be handled a little more professionally. Such was not the case and this mansion in Nishi-shinjuku was a pit when we visited. It looked a lot like a some sort of gangster or cromag had previously lived there. Two refridgerators and a collection of broken furniture still remained, and stains from fluids of various origins were smeared across all the walls. I’m not sure which was more amusing, the decapitated cockroach bodies on the floor or the broken toilet seat which had been wrapped with duct tape. Even if the place was guaranteed to be renovated before move-in and heavily discounted, I don’t think you could have paid me to live there. It was suggestions like these from my first realtor that led me to quickly part ways with them. The view of the capitol was very nice though.

This little room was on the top floor of a crumbling and poorly maintained building only accessible by a spiraling series of progressively narrow roads which culminated in a set of decaying concrete stairs. In Akebonobashi the place gave good access to the east for when one is inclined to ride to Akihabara, but other than that, it was a bust. The heater was in the kitchen, leaving the bedroom ice cold, and the roof had no awning. This design problem was made readily clear by the freezing cold rain that was pouring the day I looked at the place. No sooner than I cracked open the window the tatami floor begin to get soaking wet. The toilet was also traditional Japanese style and not good for reading.

It’s no use crying about “what the market will bear”, because that’s always going to be true, especially in real estate. Time after time I saw small, poorly laid out apartments with little in the way of restoration since their contruction thirty-some years ago, when people were smaller and without an abundance of useful electric appliances. And for these gems each was listed at well above 80000 yen simply because it was less than three kilometers from the center of the city. My impression is that people still keep paying for these decreipt places for simply that reason. This room was on the top floor of a building that was rusting apart at the seams and completely empty (an especially stubborn owner I suppose). Flaking lead paint curled along every square inch of the facade giving the appearance of a geriatric poodle. The room itself had mold deep in the tatami mats, as well as disturbingly all along the inside closet walls. I wondered if the house had been under water as I remembered with trepidation all the horror stories I heard about condemned houses in the wake of hurricane Katrina. Once the mold has penetrated the mere surface, the only option left is to replace the wood completely. Somehow, the state the building was in left me little hope that this could be negotiated. The layout was also poor, the kitchen being too large but without useable wall space, leaving no practical place for my desk. Though the apartment sported two balconies to the north and south, the latter was useless as it looked directly into a larger apartment building.

Still, there was one incredibly redeeming point was not listed on the ad sheet. The southern balcony had a nearly hidden steel escape ladder leading up to the roof. Curious, I had to indulge and climbed up. Without any railing, the roof didn’t seem to be meant for any practical use other than access to the satellite dish. However, that’s all there was, and the large, concrete building top was nearly large enough for a pool. A 360 degree panoramic view of southern Shinjuku opened up and my mind raced at the thought of all the gorgeous photographs I could take up there, sunsets and sunrises. A deck chair, sunbathing, a private barbecue under fish scale clouds: it was fascinating. The best part was that the only means of access was through the top apartment, so if I rented, it would all be mine. This secret hideaway was almost enough to make me bear the decaying hulk below; but not enough to contract some sort of chronic illness from the spores that were already clinging to every paperlike surface inside. Since I had a feeling that I wouldn’t be back, I took a dozen or so shots with the A-1 before saying goodbye to that beautiful, silent sky.

One of my favorite listings was an apartment in the very large, very clean Towa High Town. The building is located on the very eastern edge of Shinjuku, right by Gaien Nishi street. It’s an area similar to the Upper West Side in terms of swank and style. The apartment wasn’t cheap, either. It was 91000 yen, but it was ridiculously huge and had a fantastic downtown view facing southeast. It also had the incredibly appealing benefit of not requiring any “key money” or intermediary service fees (this totals about 2400 dollars). The whole building looked like a hotel, had a number of elevators, and a security camera in the lobby. Oh, if only I could have landed it.

Unfortunately, it turns out that I wasn’t wanted there. Despite positive assurances from the management company that things would be all right, after applying I was turned down. Oddly enough, all of the vacancies in the building open at that time were mysteriously held by the same owner, so reapplying for a different room wouldn’t change things. Was it my income? The fact I’m foreign? Or that the listing was introduced to me by the slimy realtor I was trying to work around? I’ll never know, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be. Oh well, as my dad says, “You gotta be ready to walk.” I tried hard not to get my hopes up about it until the contract was closed, but of course I was still more than a little let down.

Smeared

Things are just in a jumble. The last six weeks have been nothing but numb, racing by in a powdered-tea blur. The holiday was not, and in the end all I vaguely recall is twenty-some hours of walking through Kyoto and a good New Year’s Day meal. I can’t help but feel like I just dumped something of myself into a meat grinder and shunted the output to the waste bin.

I’m not sure what I should be doing, or what I’m getting out of all this, but the only thing that’s certain is me getting older. Older, time is passing, and I have nothing to show for it other than a bank account about half the size it was forty-five days ago. I wish this was empirical, that the results were crystal clear and binary. Do A, B happens. Do C, B doesn’t happen, with the added benefit of D.

How can my spirit be so muffled? I had spellbinding direction and vision just four years ago, and then I fell off the mountain, and started a slide into a muddy ditch, within which I’m now wandering around in circles. Even my ennui is vague. Nothing makes sense at all, everything I do is only managed through routine. There is not a single inspired thought in my mind.

What the hell am I talking about?

The trunk of my car…

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve updated my blog online, actually about a month. I’v been very slowly tweaking the template with WordPress, but my tolerance levels for using my laptop without a desk are quite low so much doesn’t happen really, and all my blogs end up in the Prism. That’s ok though because by the time that this is readable there will already be a whole truckload of posts from Kyoto; that was quite an adventure for twenty-six hours.

I’m still technically homeless, in the respect that I’m not really living at my apartment, and I don’t have anywhere else to go at the moment. However, today I finished packing so all that’s left really is to load everything into the truck, and give the larger pieces of furniture a thorough wipe down to make sure that the only thing that doesn’t go with me is three years’ worth of dust.

One way or another, I’m past the expiration date on this apartment since I officially filed to move on the 27th of December. I suppose at worst all of this stuff is going into rental storage space if I can’t close on a place to hang my hat by next weekend. So it goes. At least I got a level one clearning job done on the place. That alone has taken an immeasurable load off of my shoulders. I feel more confident, more assembled.

“Holiday” afterthoughts

If nothing else, this trip to Kyoto was very efficient in terms of time. I was in the city for about twenty-six hours, spent less than four of that trying to sleep, and the remainder was pretty much writing, walking, and taking pictures for the brief period that the sun was out. I didn’t ride any subways or trains, and with all the back and forth traversing I did around Shijo, an eyeball estimate puts my foot traffic at about thirty kilometers, or slightly better than one of my best days at the M.S.S. Walkathon for St. Jude’s Medical Center. This was done with about six to seven kilograms of gear including my travel backpack and multiple wool, calf-length winter coats.

My mood went up and down in a fairly periodic fashion, which is par for the course considering the solitude, the cold, and the vast amounts of time with nothing to do other than write or walk. I am proud to say, though, that the only alcohol I had was a glass of wine I was treated to at lunch with some former colleagues.

Here are a couple highlights of my wanderings:


Pink is the path I walked on my first day after arriving at Kyoto staton at about two. Blue is the route I followed on the second day.

As night fell and my scheduled arrival time at the internet cafe a good five hours away, I was faced with the dilemna of what to do with my night. My options consisted of going to see Casino Royale for a third time, getting drunk, or being more productive with open schedule. Wisely, I chose the third option and bought a very nice book about the basics of SLR photography. For about the price of the movie ticket, I got a reusable reference book and spent a couple hours holed up in a warm corner of Starbucks until closing making satisfying progress with reading a technical book in Japanese. [Most people my age go to Starbucks because they like the atmosphere, the coffee, and the internet access (or to look sharp in public I guess). I go because I have nowhere to sleep and having already been to McDonald’s once in the day, it’s the warmest place to loiter that’s open late.]

“Go back to the basics.” “A just world values conservative nature.”

These words were written on a wrought iron ring I found on the ground outside of a pachinko parlor in Naka-ku. The worlds spoke to me so deeply, I thought it was a heavy-handed sign, just for me, of what I should do. I contemplated keeping it but my conscience has become a force undefeatable. And like Poe’s Telltale Heart or the One Ring, I nearly went insane in holding it and ran to the nearest police station after having it in my possession for fewer than five minutes. I did, however, record the finding so the words would not leave me.

This is daybreak at the gates of the Imperial Palace and soon after the Kamo River. The sun rose to a fairly clear morning and burned the fog off the horizon overlooking the Emperor’s perfectly cultivated mountains. I would continue on to walk another hour and a half to reach the foot of the world-renowed Ginkakuji, the silver temple famous for the scores of pilgrims who travel to pray at its altar for fortune. Unfortunately (sorry), there are no ATMs within miles of the ancient site and having spent the last of my coins on a vitamin drink and travel toothpaste (priorities), the five-dollar entrance fee barred me from nirvana. The timeless irony of commerce pervades even stoic Rinzai Zen Buddhism with the adage, “It takes money to make money.”

When I passed the sign for this hotel, I immediately shouted out loud, “HHEEHHHAAHHHRRRDIIIN-DOO-FLAHECHHHHHEEUUURRRSSSZZZZ!” I guarantee that at best, one person will get this joke. [Get it?]

I hoped to make up for my bad luck with Ginkakuji by following Valentine Michael Smith‘s example and visiting the animals in the zoo. Along the way I put my camera over the wall and tried to take pictures of some gazelles before I got around to the entrance, but all I ended up with was odd-angle shots of service areas and some empty cages. upon arriving however, I discovered it was closed for the holiday. This was just icing on the cake for me, but what was really depressing was when this little girl came skipping up path to the main gate with her father, incredibly excited about being able to go see all the animals, and they found out it wasn’t open. The guy probably works every single weekend trying to save for her education and when the poor sop finally has a chance to take a day off and make good on a promise to his daugther, the damn zoo is closed.

Towards the end of the my time in the city Rodney and I passed a charming little cafe with the most wonderful name. However, my delight was extinguished when Rodney explained to me how he knew the proprietor, and “David” actually passed away a number of years ago and his domestic partner had taken over the business along with a small gallery.

It was a nifty trip, though, and a got a lot of thinking done (how much is really actionable is another thing), in addition to a fair amount of reading, writing, and experience with my new wide-angle lens. The trip back was of course standing room only on the Shinkansen, but fortunately I scored a floor spot in between cars after the stop at Nagoya, so it was actually a pretty good deal.

Living out of a bag

A couple weeks ago I thought that I could survive for a month or so sleeping and showering in a manga kissa if I had to. However, after last night, I’m starting to rethink my position. I barely fit into my designated box and the chair didn’t recline more than 135 degrees, so despite as tired as I was, I wouldnt’ exactly say I slept deeply. Actually, I had a dream that I was in the manga kissa, but that each time I woke up, it seemd to be five minutes earlier than when I last went to sleep. It turned out in the end that the culprit was a rarely seen supporting character from a webcomic I regularly read. It was drawn crudely and unlike all the others, and every time I looked at the wriggling mass some sort of garbled foreboding music bellowed, like Dark Side of the Moon run through a sewer pipe. I’m not sure what it means, but it only kept me unconscious for about two hours. In the end I suppose it was better than trying to sleep in a park, though.

Now I’m in Matsuya having just finished my fermented soybean set meal, (how else am I going to start a day like this and survive?), listening to cheap Pizzicato Five knockoff music and thinking how convenient twenty-four hour trips through quasi-urbania are made by places like 7-11, Matsuya, and the manga kissa. If not for them, the only way I’d eat at quarter to six on a national holiday would be to untether some samurai rations from my bundle and sit in the frigid, pitch dark night and reflect on how nice a fire would be. (Actually I’m in luck, it’s not that cold at all despite being winter: a tepid six degrees with no wind at all.)

But the sunrise awaits me at the Imperial Palace, so I must be on my way.

Full moon, tranquil light

Full moon, tranquil night.

By pale lamp post I rest awhile in Maruyama Park. Water gurgles from a fountain to the west; occasionally a dog cries out in frustration. Lovers chat on a nearby bench, and far away in Gion an ambulance murmurs.

A puddle, the rock.
January second, the start of winter, yet thinking I do not grow cold. My mind is filled with a hundred deliberations, but the space around me just says, “Stop.”

Stop all this nonsense, stop the spinning of wheels. Stop fumbling through things only half aware of what’s going on. This time was given to heal, heal the mind, heal the body. This time is meant to be used for restitution. Yet for four years I’ve sought restitution, and only managed to leave a thousand doors half-opened.

What is the ideal? Can there be a paradigm? If there were an example, or a prophet, then quickly I could emulate that style. Why does growing older and knowing more mean having diminishing answers and multiplying questions? Is ignorance the true nirvana? Or is this a crossing in a forest, and the myriad paths will with time merge back into one? I’d like to think that at worst, through trial, I’ve found what the answer is not, so this narrowing of choices will one day reveal the way. But in prolonged emptiness I’ve lost confidence, and now looking back with doubt at each temrinated road I worry that one if not many were correct, and I only gave up too soon or applied too little perseverance. Now this lack of focus taints every endeavour I make, so the quality of everything suffers as a consequence, dragging me deeper and deeper into the quagmire of obscurity.

A bad thinker

A thinker sits, his blog the stage, to an audience two billion ripe, all caught up in the act of one from a troupe two billion poets strong.

As the ambient light fades the ducks quack indifference, and the whistle crossing signal of Sanjobashi consumes the waning day.

What we do with life is coping with being alive

What does it mean, “alone”? The things people do together, and the things that people do apart. If I were alone, would I be at home? If I were at home, would I hide it with some entertainment? In TV or computer, do we unthinkinbgly search for a way to speed the minutes until we can cast aside solitude? And when our heart tires of these things and needs sooner, is that the moment when money becomes a means to companionship?

Am I strange, for the gross inefficiency with which I wear my heart on my sleeve? The emptiness is a gunshot wound, and from it I weep unordered emotion, coughing up the frailities of man while wrapping the orifice with ten-thousand yen bills.

Travelling.

Oh, but why? How a winter’s day by the Kamo can chill a man. No sun, no snow, just damp and stone. How else could the day be spent? But so much, so many things… how many do await in this old city for a traveller and a thinker? But money does not buy happiness, oh no. With money comes so much baggage, so much regret, like a city, not your own, but only belonging to someone else, now gone.

Gentle duck, fair fisher.

Gentle duck, fair fisher.

The heron finds meal for today. Waking water, tender sleeper; you will flow no matter how many lovers visit your shores. Silent reed, ragged grass; in your weathered arms the crane keeps her home.

Not skirts, not pavement, not dates made on a calendar; time walks by while I sit.