March 2001 Archives

Playing hookey

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There's nothing like getting up early and working until lunchtime then playing hookey for the rest of the afternoon.

Seth, Tara and I went to Ginza for lunch at a favorite Indian restaurant then walked through the Sony Building. We gawked at the latest computers and electronic gadgets then went on to sit in Hibiya Park and enjoy the blossoming cherries.

Electric Work

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"Hey, come quick. There's a man walking on the power lines outside the window," Tara urged from the office.

Sure enough, there he was. He and his companion were dressed in the uniforms of the electric company and were walking along the power lines, inexplicably unbundling the wires that were spiralled together.

Tara stuck her head out the window for a photo op. The lineman looked up, smiled and held his hand up in the V for victory gesture thatis commonly used for photos here. His coworker, standing closer to the utility pole, laughed.


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Friends who used to live here in Tokyo have returned for a visit.

Seth & Tara quit their jobs last June and have been travelling the world. They arrived last night from Fiji via Aukland (where Seth had a emergency room sonogram to rule out a possible deep vein thrombosis problem!).

Today they are settling into thier accommodations at "the Palace," checking e-mail, looking up phone numbers of friends and teachers, and most critically deciding which of their favorite restaurants to revisit.

I'm sure that someday this will be Tod & me.

Japanese holidays

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Japanese lawmakers are angling for more long weekends.

This year saw the change of two holidays (Coming of Age Day in January and Health-Sports Day in October) from fixed dates to floating Mondays to create long weekends. This is great for overworked salarymen and a boost for the economy as many people turn these three-day weekends into travel excursions.

In 2002, a new bill in the Diet proposes, two more holidays will change to Mondays to create long weekends in July (Marine Day is currently on July 20) and September (Respect for the Aged Day is now September 15).

In total, Japan chalks up 16 national holidays, two more than the US. America has 14 federal holidays but some of them, like Flag Day and Inauguration Day, are still work days for most people. There are only ten "day off" national holidays in the US.

Jet lag nap

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I made a serious error last night. After arriving home from Hawaii, I let myself take a nap at about 6 pm, when I felt too tired to keep my eyes open. The nap lasted until 3 am (which is 8 am in Hawaii, the perfect time to get up). Oops.

Normally I force myself to stay awake until 10 pm at my arrival destination and that helps me to get a good night's sleep and to wake up at the right time the next day. Because of last night's nap, I'll spend the next day or two feeling groggy, making stupid mistakes or forgetting things I'm supposed to be doing. When I do, please blame it on my jet lag.

On second thought, maybe that nap wasn't such a bad idea after all.

Limo service

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After two weeks of relatively frugal vacationing on Maui, Tod & I treated ourselves to one blow-out night in Waikiki before boarding the plane back to Tokyo. We stayed at a hotel called W. After showering with all the hotel beauty products, we wrapped ourselves up in fluffy hotel robes and ordered what turned out to be the most fabulous room service meal I've ever eaten. We set ourselves up for a wake-up call and a taxi to the airport in morning, then curled up in bed and watched a movie.

This morning, there was a limo waiting for us. Not just a fancy four-door car, but a stretch limo with seats for seven, tasteless white piping on the black leather interior, and empty cut glass liquor flasks sitting on the shelves that ran under the dark tinted windows. I've never been in such an over-the-top vehicle. It was great fun to pretend I was a rock star.

So the vacation is over; we're home again in Tokyo and life is back to normal. For now.

Maui no ka io

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The Hawaiian language is integrated into everyday speech here. Aloha replaces hello and goodbye. Mahalo (thank you) springs up on signs--Mahalo for not smoking--and in announcements--Passenger Smith please pick up the blue courtesy phone, mahalo. Kapu (private) enhances the no tresspassing signs posted on fences. In the real estate listings, I discovered that an ohana is a cottage.

But the phrase I like most is Maui no ka io--Maui is the best. So true.

Sea kayaking

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Sea kayaking is great fun. This morning, we joined a kayak/snorkel trip with South Pacific Kayak. Our guide, Lee, paddled with extreme grace making us look like the clumsy amateurs we are. Tod & I paddled right into a big wave.

We headed out to the Coral Gardens to snorkel. After the big wave, the sea was very calm and paddling for half an hour was easy. With goggles and fins on, I hopped overboard and spotted a ray, several interesting corals and hundreds of colorful fish.

But even more impressive were the whales we watched as we paddled back in. They were at a distance but leaping friskly with lots of flukes flying and huge splashes. These humpback whales, Lee informed us, come to Hawaii to calve. When the babies are big enough to take a trip, they head to Alaska to feed (they don't eat here). A mother humpback can lose up to 3500 lbs of body mass here in Hawaii. What a shame I'm not a humpback!


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We trekked through a forest of dense bamboo, splashed across a chilly, knee-deep stream, and clambered over rocks to reach the waterfall.

We weren't the only visitors to hike in. Eight well tanned, mud smeared naked people were perched on the boulders surrounding the swimming hole. We watched as they stretched arms to the sun, then dived from their perches into the water below.

Now if that's not extremely intimidating to a pasty-white, pudgy girl, I don't know what is. I left my swimsuit on when I waded into the pond and swam over to the waterfall. Climbing the rock face to stand in the waterfall and then ducking in under the veil of the falls, I sureptitiously and enviously watched the naked people cavorting.

The trail was a bit rough, but the view was worth it.


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To celebrate the equinox, we drove to the top of Haleakala, Maui's 10,023 foot volcano.

Above the clouds, we saw the landscape change from lush tropical greenery to sparse shrubs and rocks. An endemic plant, the silversword, which looks like a cross between an aloe and an artemsia, captured our fancy. It grows for twenty years before flowering and dying. 70 years ago it was near extinction but it has made a comeback, with several thousand plants growing in the harsh environment of the mountaintop.

Fruity dinks

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No tropical holiday is complete without plenty of fruity drinks. Every afternoon, we fill our daily quota of blended fruit ice and rum.

We've made the classics, most remarkably pina coladas with a coconut from a tree on the property, and we've invented some of our own. As the sun set yesterday we sipped cantaloupe, pinapple and orange juice spiked with vodka.

This evening? Probably something with the papayas we picked from our tree and the bananas that are ripening in the basket on the counter. Mmmmm. Happy Equinox!


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Uluhe is an indigenous groundcover that has the most unusual growth pattern.

It unfurls, fernlike, into two leaves. Each of those spreads two additional leaves and so on until it reaches its end where the leaves branch out to form a pointy-ended fern shape.

These plants cover everything that isn't forested. Roadsides, clearings, recovering lava flows. They tangle into impenetrable brambles and their dead leaves create a fire hazard when the weather turns dry. Forestry services consider them a nusiance but I think they are pretty.

Mysterious boat

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The mysterious boat comes by every morning.

It cruises past quickly at a distance about 3/4 of the way to the horizon. There's no sense of scale--it could be a twenty person yacht or a radio-controlled toy. Our binoculars bring it into clear focus but there is nothing to see that indicates how big it is. No people are visible and only waves surround it. How big are those waves, anyway?

Watery view

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Our watery view is punctuated by creatures that like to leap. Yesterday morning a school of fish came jumping along. Again this morning. The fish are sleek and pale grey and are accompanied by a bright blue spot that swims along with them.

We've been debating what the spot is attached to. I think it's a blue fish. John thinks it's the underbelly of a shark or a dolphin. No way to tell for sure, yet, but we'll keep watching.


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It rains often here. Every evening, the clouds roll in from the south and we have a nice downpour while we cook dinner. Then the clouds break up and the sky is full of stars. Every other day, we see more clouds than sun.

But this is good. Not only does it fill the catchment that provides water for the house, but it offers opportunities to see rainbows (so far I've spotted four) and even a moonbow.

I thought moonbows were legend but they are real. A pale shining arc of light comes from nowhere and leads to heaven. There are no colors, just soft white light. Incredibly lovely.

Flock of Parrots

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Flock of Parrots. Great name for an 80's pop/Jimmy Buffet cover band. Also an actual sight and sound at our Hawaiian retreat.

Parrots are noisy squawkers when they fly but they sure are pretty. Their green plumage with red and pink on the head and yellow beaks makes quite a spectacle as they wing across the cliffside in a gang of 20 birds.


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Whales! Yesterday morning, I swore I saw a black fin arcing up out of the water, but I was the only one who saw it. Later in the afternoon, I spotted another. Once again, I was the only one.

But I wasn't halucinating. Within the hour we were standing at the railling of the lower deck of our house, cheering on the three small, black whales who were flapping their tails and spouting water. They were playing in the inlet 100 meters from where we stood. What a sight!

Our cliffside ocean view

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Our cliffside ocean view offers hours of lazy fascination. With a pair of binoculars, we have spied on passing ships, waves, sea birds, even cows in a pasture on a nearby hillside. Rainbows do not magnify well.

Maui has a gaping

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Maui has a gaping hole in its service economy. There are no Internet cafes on the island. I see an opportunity. Would relocating to a tropical island be torture?

I don't think so.

Travel is the worst.

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Travel is the worst. Holidays are the best. At the moment, I'm getting over through over the rigors of travelling from there to here.

Train to Narita. Wait in the lounge. Red eye to Honolulu. Short hop to Maui. Arrival 9:30 am. Friends are due to arrive at 2:12. We've forgotten their flight number. Meet the 2:12 flight. No friends. Wrong flight? Try another likely flight. No friends. 4:00. Panic.

We don't have the phone number for the place we're renting. But I know I can find it online. No Internet terminal at the airport. Phone book. Taxi to Kinko's. Minutes online: 7. Call house rental place. No friends. Back to airport. The woman at the customer paging desk is getting to know us.

Call house again; friends have called so we leave number of payphone. Phone rings--Donna's returning a page and do we need a booty call? More waiting. Phone rings. It's them! Time? 6:15. Hours in airport: nearly 9.

Kahului airport is nice, but I'm glad to be sitting here in the beautiful, cliffside house.

The number of digital

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The number of digital subscriber lines (DSL)
reached 34,372 at the end of February, more than 10
times last October's figure of some 3,000, thanks to
lower rates and the shorter duration of installation work,
the telecom ministry said Friday.

(from Japan Today)

Soon, we'll add ourselves to that statistic and cut down on our 36,000 yen/month phone bills. DSL, which gives 24x7 high-speed internet access is only 6,000 yen a month. Much cheaper than the 10 yen/5 minute phone connection we use now.

Way back, when I

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Way back, when I was trying to learn to program in C, Tod had some licorice candies with "GP" embossed on them. I decided they were the Good Programmer candies and I awarded them to myself when I finished a chapter. I quickly grew frustrated with C, gave up and eventually threw away the Good Programmer candies.

Last night, to celebrate my minor triumph in porting database software to a new system, Tod brought me a gift of candy. He presented them to me when he got home from work.

"Since this is volunteer work, I though you might appreciate some Kash and Fees. And because you're still learning, I think this Assist might be useful. You are my Sweetie, so I'm also giving you some Kisses."

From time to time,

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From time to time, the Daily Yomiuri runs its own recommendations on how to improve the country. This week they are running a seven-part series on the front page: Arresting Deflation.

The introductory paragraph of the first in the series contained some remarkable language--more fit for the editorial page than the front page. "With no one at the helm, Japan appears to be drifting," "fresh and capable persons to carry out policies," and my favorite "a crisis of pernicious deflation."

The Daily Yomiuri is not too happy with the way the government is handling the latest economic downturn.

A battle is brewing

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A battle is brewing on the business front.

Japan's domestic towel makers are urging the government to place import restrictions on foreign towels that they claim are erroding their marketbase. But the Japan Chain Stores Association says they must import towels to provide convenience to consumers.

I've used Japanese-made towels. They're not especially remarkable. Bath towels are tiny and scratchy; kitchen towels are thin. But cleaning rags are excellent--fat and stitched together for extra strength. Maybe the towel association is concerned about scrawnier Tawainese towels being imported and sold for cheap.

Hear my plea, Japanese lawmakers--please don't stop importing plush, American, terry bath sheets. I'm a luxury junkie when it comes to drying off.

i-mode penetration

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Japan's population is about 125 million people. 20 million of them carry DoCoMo's i-mode mobile phones.

i-mode allows its users to send e-mail and text messages, read news, access web pages, even play games on the color displays of the tiny mobile handsets. You can also make travel reservations, do your banking, find a restauant, get a map, and program your own ringing sound.

Of course the phone takes messages, keeps track of who called and when, allows you to set up "speed dial" lists (that you can activate by saying the name of the person you want to call), and all the normal functions of a phone.

Tod's i-mode phone (model P209i) weighs only 55 grams (about an ounce and a half)--less than a candy bar weighs. But that's not good enough for me...

I'm one of the shrinking group that does not carry a cell phone. I'm still waiting for an interface that integrates all the digital gadgets (phone, PDA, Internet, camera, music playera) into one device that is easy to use and impossible to lose. Like a chip implanted in my head. I think I have a while to wait.

If you've been thinking

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If you've been thinking of visiting Japan, this might be a good time. The dollar is over 119 yen, the highest it's been since July 1999.

The dollar hit bottom at about 101 yen in December 1999 after a drastic overnight drop from 108 to 104 in September. We saw people at the bank selling huge handfuls of 10,000 yen notes and buying dollars for cheap.

After that major sell, the dollar was below 110 for fourteen months. But by the end of 2000, we saw the price come back up to 110. Yesterday it was 119.23 with fancial experts predicting 120 soon.

I'm a lazy currency converter, I think of 100 yen = 1 dollar. So when it's really 120 yen = 1 dollar, it's like a 20% discount on everything. So if you were thinking of coming to Japan, this is a good time--Japan's on sale!

I'm not sure what

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I'm not sure what I'd do without the online Travel Expert. It's a scaled down version of Japanese software that tells me how to get from point A to point B.

Today I want to know how to get from home (Kasuga) to a town in Hyogo Prefecture, several hundred miles away. I used my Japanese atlas to find the town, then checked for the nearest train station (Teramae). Plugging the stations into Travel Expert, I find out how to get to Teramae:

Duration 4hour 55min (Boarding199min, Walk2min, others94min)

Total 23,980 yen

Distance 668.4 km

Transfer 5 times

The route takes me to Haneda airport, then flies to Osaka. From there, it's a bus and two trains to Teramae. A final bus from Teramae will get me exactly where I want to go.

Or if I prefer not to fly, I can take the Shinkansen to Himeji and another train to Teramae. Since I want to visit Himeji Castle, that's probably the route I will take. It's less expensive, too. Only 15,210 yen (one-way).

Today is Hina Matsuri,

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Today is Hina Matsuri, the doll festival.

It used to be a holiday for girls, with a Boy's Day coming along later in the spring. But these days, Boy's Day is now Children's Day and Hina Matsuri is just a minor blip on the calendar.

Girls arrange dolls representing the emperor's court from the Heian period (794-1192). There are always plenty of princesses in fancy kimono. Maybe you'd like to try folding your own origami Hina Matsuri Emperor?

Japan's Prime Minster, Yoshiro

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Japan's Prime Minster, Yoshiro Mori, is not much longer for his post. The press have been speculating on the date that he will face a no-confidence vote (his second since he took office last April) and be asked to step down. Some members of his own party have recommended that he quit the post voluntarily.

Mori's response? "It is a mandate from Heaven for me to make efforts day by day."

Dangerous words in a country whose Emperor used to be a god. After WWII, state-sponsored religion was abolished, so lawmakers and leaders avoid mentioning it. But not Mori. Last year he called Japan a Divine Nation. The press is having a field day.

Last night, I had

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Last night, I had an experience I haven't had in years. I got a ride home.

Brendan, the crazy proprietor of Pizzakaya, had driven out to Chiba for supplies before going to the restaurant for work. When we arrived for our usual Wednesday night pizza fest, he told me and Tod that he'd give us a ride home.

So I found myself sitting in the backseat of a 1991 Diamante, riding along streets I've often walked. Brendan braked to a stop at to our door and we hopped out. How very luxurious!

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