August 2001 Archives

"Dorobou-mawari," Oyama-sensei said as

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"Dorobou-mawari," Oyama-sensei said as she gestured with an anti-clockwise motion. We were going to take turns answering our homework questions. But the term dorobou-mawari confused us, despite the gesture. We know both words: 'robber' & 'going around' but why did she say that? Oyama-sensei explained.

"Back when people wore kimono, they tucked their wallets in the fold above their sash where the kimono overlapped. Robbers could easily slide a hand in to pick this "pocket" if they approached from the correct direction."

We continued with our class from there, but I'm still not clear. Kimono are worn left over right, making an opening on the right. If dorobou-mawari is anti-clockwise, then the robber would come from the left and not reach the wallet...

Add another volunteer project

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Add another volunteer project to my To Do list.

Yanesen Magazine is a neighborhood publication that focuses on the historical aspects of the old shitamachi area in Bunkyo-ku. They have published in Japanese since 1984 and produced a scant few issues in English.

I have a copy of the 1992 English edtion of Yanesen (loaned by a friend in 1999 and still not returned) that I treasure for its hand drawn map of local points of interest and its articles on local arcana that commerical magazines would never think to print.

Earlier this month, a Sendagi neighbor, who introduced herself after reading this weblog, invited me to write for the upcoming Yanesen English edition. Of course I said yes. The details for the issue are being ironed out now and I am looking forward to being involved.

When it's done, I will return the cherished 1992 edition along with interest--a copy of the latest edition.

Japanese medical insurance system

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Japanese medical insurance system is government-funded. I'm finally getting to use my taxes!

I pay 30% of the cost; tax money covers the rest. In the quest to figure out my headaches, I've had an MRI, an MR angiogram, an eye exam, and two consultations with my doctor. My cash outlay to date is only 19,500 yen (about $156). Good value for services rendered.

I enjoy paying the hospital. When my appointment is over, I approach a bank of squat machines that look a little bit like ATMs. I slot my pale green hospital ID card into the machine and it tells me how much I owe. I feed in my money and receive a printed receipt. How modern!

When we first came

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When we first came to Japan five years ago, I thought that Japan's crime was quaint and retro, a restrospective of 1950s America: people with knives robbing stores; domestic violence; bribery; extortion; government scandals and coverups.

But now it all seems terrible and truly violent. 8 children slaughtered at a school in Ikeda, a girl held captive for 11 years, a family of four stabbed to death in their home, a hostage held at knifepoint. Plus the neverending bribery, extortion and scandal. Crime reports seem more frequent and too often have grimmer endings.

What's changed? Is Japan entering a period of rage? Or have I become more aware of what's been around me all along?

We are almost out

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We are almost out of coffee.

Normal people would just run to the grocery store and buy some more. But we have to have whole beans, dark-roasted and oily. Our grocery store doesn't carry these, so we purchase our coffee at a coffeeshop. A coffeeshop which is never open when we need more coffee.

Tod rummaged around in the cabinet and found an emergency ration, actually some very fine beans we'd negelected. When I ground them this morning, they smelled like dry leaves.

Adam lives in a

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Adam lives in a swanky bachelor pad.

On the outside, the decor is industrial--all concrete and metal with lighted pipeworks exposed behind glass doors. The interior architecture is minimalist with white, silver and dark grey the only colors. Adam selected individual pieces of interesting furniture and smart artworks. Excepting his books, everything fits the cool, white theme.

It's beautiful and tasteful, but to be honest it's pretty sterile.

But I realised the value of the space and its decor last night. I was delighted to see partygoers in riotous colors filling the rooms and even climbing the roof to sit and dangle legs onto the revellers below.

A simple, white room makes a perfect background for people.

[OK, one final post

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[OK, one final post about wireless networks and then it's back to the humanities.]

Years ago, I wondered what the world would look like if radio and TV waves were visible--beams of colored light, say, or threads showing the path from their source. Radio and tv bathe us in invisible sound and images but we don't think about them because we can't see them.

But now we've glimpsed them and our neighborhood will never look the same.

We just wanted to see if we could reach our own network from the park nearby (we can, barely) but as we left, we caught another network in our scanner. Surprised, we decided to "war walk" up and down the street a bit and found half a dozen wireless networks: DEPB500, ant1, AirportNetworking227766, airmac, AirportNetworking 231e45, & kikuna.

It's good to know the neighbors, even if they appear only as a green dot on a graph.

Lately, we've been reading

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Lately, we've been reading about "war driving" (more at The Register) and other methods of finding unsecured wireless networks. It's interesting to us for two reasons:

  1. We have a wireless network card in our laptop;
  2. Japan uses the same wireless standard as the US, but different channels.

So we wondered if our US-sourced wireless equipment would find Japanese wireless networks. Last night, we had dinner at a British pub near Tod's office and tested it out. The pub is next door to an Internet cafe, and sure enough we found not one, but three unsecured wireless networks.

Yesterday, the "big, black

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Yesterday, the "big, black noise trucks" were out in full force.

The extremist political groups own huge black, windowless boxes on wheels. On top is a railed platform for speeches and the entire thing is rigged with powerful speakers. Painted with Japanese flags and slogans condemning foreigners, non-patriotic Japanese, Russian island-snatchers or other brands of political skullduggery, they are intimidating.

They travel around town slowly, blaring the Japanese national anthem (only recently officially recognised) and shouting slogans from the belly of the beast. They disrupt office workers in Otemachi regularly and sometimes cruise through residential neighborhoods.

Yesterday, I think they parked somewhere nearby and held a rally. For over an hour, waves of angry call-and-response washed through the canyon of buildings in my neighborhood. The words were indistinct, but the emotion came through loud and clear. It was scary. I stayed inside.

No doubt they are terrorising some other neighborhood today.

NTT Kanto Medical Center

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NTT Kanto Medical Center is cutting edge and when I went there last month, I didn't think it was at all strange to be visiting a hospital owned by a telephone company (NTT is Nippon Telephone & Telegraph, Japan's Bell Telephone). It didn't even cross my mind.

But when a friend described his recent problems with midwest US telephone provider Ameritech (crossing phone lines, no response to service requests, untrained workers), I wondered what I would do if I were visiting "Ameritech General Hospital." Turn tail and run, I think.

So when I went back to the NTT hospital yesterday, I observed carefully. Except for the payphones on every floor and the logo on the signs, there was no evidence of telco ownership. Operations were very efficient and I was even seen before my appointed time. Not a single crossed wire.

Typhoon 11. Phooey. Why

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Typhoon 11. Phooey. Why won't Japan anthropomorphise major storms like everyone else? I want to see Typhoon Ichiro or Typhoon Mariko.

Throughout most of watery Asia, typhoons have names. The tropical cyclone names lend personality to natural disaster. Ironically, Japan contributed to the "Western North Pacific" names, but they don't use them.

Japan's contributions: Tenbin (balance/scales), Usagi (rabbit), Kanmuri (crown), Koppu (cup), Tokage (lizard), Yagi (goat), Kaziki (marlin), Kuzira (whale), Kompasu (compass), & Washi (paper).

I grudgingly admit that sequential numbering does make it easier to track a series of storms within a given year, and I'll be more suprised to hear about Typhoon 26 ("Wow, so many this year!") than Typhoon Zelda, but you have to admit that numbers aren't nearly as catchy.

The Bunkyo ward newsletter

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The Bunkyo ward newsletter arrived today. Tucked inside was an extra sheet, the Nishikata Dayori, that reports all of the local association's activities. Here's a sampling of what's going on in our neighborhood:

"The Nishikata Meeting Hall Reconstruction Team met on July 8th. The names of the team members were introduced in the last issue of Nishikata Dayori."

"The Used Paper Recycle results for July were 12,010 kg (newspapers 9,220 kg; magazines 2,790 kg). Thank you, everyone. The next recyle day is 8/10, as usual, on the second Friday of every month."

There's also a report on the budget of the town festival car (parade float), which is 3,304,700 yen (about $30,000). Donations accepted through 8/31 and thank you to our generous sponsors.

The news concludes with a long list of contact names and telephone numbers in case you want to join the association. It's tempting to join and be part of the local community but my ability to communicate is still so limited that I'm not sure I'd be much use to anyone.

We are experiencing a

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We are experiencing a delightful change in the weather--the vanguard of autumn. After a day of leaden clouds and drizzle, today is clear and cooler.

We slept in the path of a cool night breeze and even as I type this now, there is fresh air sweeping over me. I couldn't ask for much more. Except, perhaps, a mug of coffee and another pillow for this lazy Sunday morning.

I tagged along to

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I tagged along to the Tokyo Linux Users Group nomikai last night with Tod, mainly because he said our friend Ben would be there. Tod & Ben met on irc a while back and connected in person for the first time on Wednesday. Ben's a total hoot--he's got more energy than any three people and is hyper-intelligent. (He's also 13 years younger than me. Yikes!)

So at the TLUG party, instead of talking to the Linux geeks where my conversation is limited to topical technology subjects instead of source code, I played ChuChu Rocket on Ben's GameBoy Advance and watched Invader Zim on his laptop. It wasn't very sociable but it was more entertaining than listening to Steve on a tirade about xemacs.

ring "Kristen McQuillin" "Moshi

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"Kristen McQuillin"
"Moshi moshi..."
"Hello, this is Kristen McQuillin."
"Moshi moshi?"
"Kristen McQuillin."
"Moshi moshi?"
"Ergh. Moshi. Moshi."
"Ah! NTT desu. Ashita ni kimasu." [...]

Starting a telephone conversation is like vocally negotiating a modem connection. "I'm 56K, what are you? I'm 28.8. Well, I'm 56K, can't you speak at 56K?" NTT was not going to even try English with me yesterday. I think I could have kept volleying Hello at them for hours. But they are coming to install coppper for our ADSL line today so I'm not complaining.

The fruit flies read

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The fruit flies read yesterday's blog and sent in reinforcements. A platoon of mosquitoes has attacked me and late last night something (maybe a spider) bit Tod on the head and raised a lump the size of a marble.

But I struck back this morning by carrying a whole mess of fruit flies from the battlefield to the curb. Ha!

Tomorrow: "Bold! Brave! Blistering! Poison in a spray can!"

I'm fighting a losing

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I'm fighting a losing battle with fruit flies.

Some eggshells left in sink this weekend lured them in. Now, despite cleaning carefully, I can't seem to stop their offensive in my kitchen.

Although they have the upper hand now, I'll rally to a win when the weather changes. I live longer than they do in the cold. Then again, insects rule the earth; in the long run, fruit flies will win.

But not in my kitchen.

You probably won't read

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You probably won't read about this in American news. PM Koizumi made a very controversial official visit to Yasukuni Shrine yesterday.

Why is visiting a shrine controversial? In this case, it's because the shrine honors war dead who are interred there, including some infamous war criminals. China and Korea have been protesting this visit for weeks. Upon hearing that it had been accomplished, 20 Korean gangsters cut off their fingers (or so it was reported). These strong emotions stem from Japanese atrocities over fifty years ago.

Koizumi had planned to visit on the 15th, the anniversary of Japan's WWII surrender, but instead slipped in on the 13th. He doesn't seem to wish to upset his neighbor nations, but he certainly has.

How do I spell

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How do I spell relief? SHIATSU.

Having a shiatsu massage transforms me. Before the session, I am made of macrame--a serties of knotted muscles. During the massage I am a lump of dough being made into thumbprint cookies. Mizuno-san uses his thumbs to press out all of my aches and pains. He closes his eyes while he works so he can feel what's under his thumb (me!).

After the massage, I am a limp noodle. My knees wobble and I crave water. But I feel good.

Mizuno-san warned me as I left yesterday that I'd hurt today. He was right. All the lactic acid released during the massage is coursing around my body now. Yet another reason not to take holidays--I shouldn't go so long between sessions.

Eastern Japan is experiencing

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Eastern Japan is experiencing a drought.

Our exceptionally hot summer followed a very dry rainy season. Although the dams and reservoirs were full six weeks ago, one of the primary reservoirs is down to half its former level. Tokyo has cut its water intake by 10%. They say that this cut won't have any effect on citizens' daily lives (only agriculture and industry will have to cut back) but in 1996, during the last drought, they slowly increased the cuts to 30% and everyone was asked to conserve.

September brings typhoons and plenty of rain, so I hope that we can last out the next few weeks and see the water levels improved soon.

At this time of

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At this time of year, mid-August, the city is abandoned. Kids are on summer vacation and families are heading off to visit their parents and relatives in their hometowns.

So many of Tokyo's residents are originally from somewhere else that Obon matsuri, the midsummer festivals to honor the spirits of ancestors, are held a month earlier in the city than in the country. That way everyone can celebrate here and in their hometowns.

The exodus of people means that streets are a little less crowded than usual. Local trains, too. It's not quite as dramatic as the New Year holiday, but the effect is noticable. It's a nice time to be in Tokyo.

While we were in

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While we were in China, we learned to play mahjong. We enjoyed it so much that we all bought mahjong sets. Ours came from the Number 9 Department Store in Shanghai, just down the street from our hotel. Seth and Tara bought four sets after scouring the city for just the right ones.

We played in the hotel on the night that Tod wasn't feeling well then again the morning before we flew back to Tokyo. And we had a final game together the night before Seth & Tara left Tokyo. Tod's installed two different mahjong games on the computer and is staying up late at night to practice.

Really good mahjong players move the tiles so quickly they are only barely taking turns. For us, play is pretty slow and careful. I'm sure we'll speed up once we learn the strategy.

The house is quiet

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The house is quiet this morning. Our houseguests, Seth & Tara left for America yesterday.

They are repatriating after six years abroad but their experience returning was less than delighful. Rude cabin attendants on the American carrier, two metal detectors at the airport, and no apologies from the staff when no rental cars or hotel rooms were available.

Reverse culture shock is the pits.

Last night as walked

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Last night as walked home, Meziane Mejdoud wobbled by on a bicycle and stopped to talk to us.

He's quite a character. Originally from Algeria, he's lived in Japan for twenty years ("vingt ans" is what he said, actually, since we conducted our conversation in English, French and Japanese). He owns a home in Sengoku, just a few kilometers north of us. He's married to a local woman, but he doesn't seem to speak much Japanese.

He was extremely nice, if a bit off balance, and told us that if we ever felt Foreigner's Stress (he voiced it like a tragic disease), we should come visit his home to relax. I've filed his name and phone number in my card file and we'll see if I ever feel stressed enough to take him up on the offer.

Vacations are great. Coming

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Vacations are great. Coming home to hundreds of messages, minor crises, and changing deadlines isn't so fun.

OIne of the joys of freelancing is a flexible and lighter workload. But returning from this vacation, I am as swamped with stuff to do as if I were a wage slave. I'm a slave, but no wages. My To Do list is already 10 items long and I haven't made it all the way through the archive of e-mail. I know there will be a few more surprises hiding in there.

So forgive the brevity of today's writing. I have some stuff to take care of. 11...12...

In eleven days we

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In eleven days we covered plenty of territory in China: Beijing; Xi'an; Chongqing; Shanghai; and countless places I'd never heard of before. I captured it all in images. 252 slides on film and 181 digital photos, to be precise.

But my favorite snapshot, the one that best sums up my travel experience, isn't one by me. It's one of me (pretty narcissistic, eh?). I was standing at the bow of the ship trying to frame the beauty of the Qutang Gorge when Tara framed me instead. This is how I looked most of the time: eye pressed to lens, mouth squished to one side in concentration, hair unruly.

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