September 2001 Archives

If you are ever

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If you are ever in the business of setting up a non-profit organization in Japan, here are four ways to do it:

  1. Apply to become an NPO. This is the legal, formal way of going about it. You petition the appropriate government ministry and after about a year, they give you a retiring executive who "works" for you for a few hours a day and takes a big salary.

  2. Incorporate in the US then open a branch office in Japan. This is not as challenging as it seems despite the fact that it has two nations and two tax authorities involved.

  3. Start a normal corporation and run it without a profit. This is perfect for the first three years but then you get audited. Start up costs: $30,000 paid-in capital and about $3,000 in filing fees.

  4. Write up a document that says you're a non-profit organization. Sign it. Done. Unfortunately groups of this sort have no legal standing whatsoever and some banks and businesses will not work with them.

Autumn brings out the

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Autumn brings out the creativity in people. These men stripped off all their clothing (except for a tiny strip of loincloth), shaved their heads, painted their lithe bodies white, and danced a slow and twisting modern dance. A small band of musicians accompanied them.

This is not the sort of performance art you would see in the US. Anyone this unclothed would be arrested for public indeceny. But here, well...a policeman rode by on his bicycle and checked his watch. Maybe public performers have a time limit.

The performance was the sort that makes me wonder "What are they trying to say?" My interpretation: ghosts move slowly and sometimes fall down in agony. Despite the autumn weather, I wasn't feeling very creative that afternoon.

OK, enough of being

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OK, enough of being a nabob of negativity. Here are three good things that have happened this week:

The Tuesday night DigitalEve steering committee meeting was extremely productive. We mapped out our long range goals for the next five years. 1,000 members, here we come!

Last night's Women in IT panel discussion, which I moderated, was a big success. The five panelists presented the state of women in the IT field in Japan. It wasn't an entirely positive message, but it held hope for improvement. The audience was interested and much larger than I expected. There were members of the press attending; I think this was a PR coup for DigitalEve.

An unexpected e-mail made me smile. Cynthia was my boss and my friend when I lived in Pittsburgh but our bad habits and busy lives keep us from corresponding regularly. Hearing from her makes me feel "natsukashii" (nostalgic).

I'm waiting for the

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I'm waiting for the third shoe to fall. You know how they say bad things always come in threes. Well, I've had two this week and no doubt #3 is on its way.

First, my cat died. Eliot, who has lived with my parents since I moved abroad, was 16. I used to swear he was really an enchanted human cursed to wear a cat body. It may be overly sentimental to call an animal a friend, but El surely was a personable, faithful companion to everyone who loved him.

Second, I was told I have thyroid tumors. Yesterday I had a biopsy and although the tumors are unlikely to be malignant, these two little lumps in my neck simply do not belong there. I'll have to monitor them indefinitely; the doctor said I require two biopsies a year but I intend to bargain him down to once a year and then "forget" to schedule my appointment on alternate years. Needle biopsies are unpleasant.

Third,...? I have my fingers crossed to ward off anything truly devastating. You might want to cross yours, too.

Tokyo Transportation SeriesDerelict Bicycles

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Tokyo Transportation Series

Derelict Bicycles tagged for removal. 2:18 pm

I don't often post

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I don't often post lists of links, but I've been enjoying the webpages of friends & family recently. Want to meet some of the people who influence me?

  • Jennifer Kaucher. My sister and a poet. She updates her weblog daily.
  • Team Perot Systems Japan. Three colleagues who are biking from Seoul to Osaka this week to raise money for the Children's Cancer Association of Japan.
  • Grandfather Philip. My father's showcase of stained glass windows and doors.
  • Ben Gertzfield. A newcomer to Japan and a new friend.
  • Arsenic. Run by an old friend in Erie, PA who is now having a baby.
  • Seth & Tara Immell. They travelled around the world for a year and have the pictures to prove it.

My house is full

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My house is full of unnecessary junk and I can't stand seeing the clutter any longer. I hate cringing when I open up my full-to-overflowing closets. Now is the time for a big dumptruck. I'm tossing it all. I don't care if it wastes money or if I ditch stuff that has sentimental value.

It's amazing the things I keep. Do I really need the half-empty can of spray snow? I suppose I might use it someday, but probably not. How about the gift of chinese tea that sat unopened in a closet for two years? I am being unrealistic by keeping a dress that looks great if I lose a pound or two.

Bye bye material goods!

Today is the autumnal

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Today is the autumnal equinox and everyone is in a festive mood. Yesterday children pulled minature shrines through the streets. Today, we've got a neighborhood rummage sale going on, a kids' bazaar.

Most of the items were children's clothing and toys but a few enterprising moms had snuck in some household goods. A woman called to me as I passed by her booth. She pointed at some magazines--old issues of Bon Appetit in English. Surely these must be what I was looking for?

As it turned out, they were. For a hundred yen, I couldn't refuse and she threw in a matching set of "Year of the Snake" tea cups. I'm not sure I'll use the cups, but the little girl who was trying to sell them looked very happy when I took them.

I was suckered in at another booth by a rather worn set of lacquered food boxes. Red inside, matte gold on the outside worked with a 1970s style motif of shiny gold and red flowering branches, the three layers fit inside a lazy susan stand with a handle. Truly, you would be hard pressed to imagine anything less tasteful but they are kitchy classic and 100 yen is a bargain compared to the 10,000 yen price tags on new lacquered bento boxes.

Tokyo Transportation SeriesOedo subway.

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Tokyo Transportation Series

Oedo subway. 11:56 pm.

Our neighborhood hums like

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Our neighborhood hums like an air conditioner.

Maybe it's the ever-present trickle of water in the storm drains, or the distant traffic from the main road nearby, but I've been fooled twice in the past twelve hours.

The shades in the dining room window were dancing during dinner. I heard the aircon, but the fins weren't open to distribute the breeze. The power button was switched to off. Tod had to tell me that he opened the window before I understood.

This morning I heard the buzzing aircon as I lazed in bed but the breeze was coming from the wrong side of the room. Tod had opened a window to Nature's chilly night air.

Japan really, really wants

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Japan really, really wants to be a leader in the field of IT. They have a vague, lofty goal of being "the most advanced IT nation in the world." Whatever that means.

The government is implementing policies to improve infrastructure and education. And they are sponsoring INPAKU Internet Fair 2001 but it is completely inscrutable to me. I think it's supposed to be like a World's Fair, but online.

A series of funny ads for the newly opened .jp namespace made me laugh. Apparently, changing to just .jp makes it easier to have a homepage and easier to remember. Listen to these realAudio files from the radio campaign: "If I had my own homepage, I could show off my bonsai tree to the whole world." "I remember the name of the campaign, but I'll never remember the long web address."

A few weeks back,

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A few weeks back, we were waiting for a friend at Myogadani station. She was late and we had time to examine the bronze relief map of the station. It showed the layout of the exterior and interior, marking all of the key points: ticket vending machines, wickets, stairs, toilets. Everything was labelled in Braille and Japanese and popular spots were worn to a shine.

I closed my eyes and ran fingers along the stairs and other prominant features, but I'm hopeless. Even when I know what I'm touching, my fingers are insensate. If I were blind, I think I'd spend a lot of time tripping and falling down.

For the touch-impaired, the map features a talking legend. When you press the button for "toilet", it tells you (in an embarrassingly loud, clear voice) how to get there: thru the wickets, then straight ahead about 10 meters. Ticket machines: behind you about four meters away.

In times of uncertainty,

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In times of uncertainty, there's nothing like an earthquake to keep you on your toes. Or in my case, in bed with my head under the covers.

The one that shook Tokyo at 4:30 this morning was a 4.4 with an epicenter in Tokyo Bay. It was strong enough to rattle windows and to wake me up. The house shook for about 30 seconds. No damage done and I fell back asleep within minutes just a little more shaken than before the earthquake.

The dreams have started.

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The dreams have started. The first few nights after the terrorist attack held blissful, dreamless sleep. Last night, current events crept in.

But the dreams weren't nightmares, exactly. In one dream, I was training as a spy. Part of the course was learning to compose coded messages in poetry while swimming. In another dream, there was a relief benefit concert. The Bee Gees were on stage.

I woke briefly then, as Tod came to bed. "Why are the Bee Gees playing a benefit concert in my dream?" I mumbled to him. His answer was succinct. "Stayin' Alive."

"Gyo-zaaaaa! Gyo-ooOOoo-za!" I love

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"Gyo-zaaaaa! Gyo-ooOOoo-za!"

I love the food vendors who cruise the streets of Tokyo. The gyoza truck, with its delicious menu of potstickers, began making the rounds of our neightborhood this week. I smile when I see the little white van with its traditional red paper lanterns hanging from the open hatch in the back of the van. Inside the van, the gyoza man is decked out in a white paper hat and a white apron as he fries gyoza on a hot grill. The menu is limited to a few kinds of gyoza--pork, vegetable, burdock, and curry--and everything costs 500 yen per dozen.

You can't miss the food vendors as they drive around town. Like Good Humor trucks in the US, these kitchens on wheels announce themselves loudly. The gyoza truck's pre-recorded chant has the tone and rhythm of a Edo-era hawker and it sings (literally) the praises of gyoza. Oishiiiiii gyoooOO-zaaaaaaa.

Words of the Week


Words I've learned this week:

buji: safe, untouched
chukei: live video
tero-jiken: terror event
minkanki: commercial airplane
fumei: unknown, no information
zenbun: full story
doujitahatsu: simultaneous occurance

I tried to find

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I tried to find something else to write about today but there really isn't anything else being reported. So here's an update on the Japanese perspective:

  • Japan offered to send a 90-person team of police, firefighters and medical personnel to assist in the rescue, but they were told they weren't needed.
  • All airmail to the US has been cancelled until further notice, as flights are simply not leaving Japan for any US destinations.
  • Former President Clinton cancelled his Sapporo speaking engagement scheduled for next week.
  • US military bases spent a day on Delta alert, checking everyone for bombs and threats, but have stepped down to Charlie level today.
  • The US Embassy reopened for business as usual yesterday morning.
  • Economic pundits fear that the attacks on the US will plunge Japan into a recession and harm US-Japan trade.
  • The Nikkei average plunged 680 points on Wednesday to close under 10,000 for the first time in 17 years.

Yesterday, Tokyoites were grim

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Yesterday, Tokyoites were grim as news poured in from the US. The first question from everyone I saw yesterday was "Your family and friends are safe?" It was a relief to be able to answer 'Yes." As far as I know, everyone I know has escaped harm.

Mobile news vans were parked in the financial district, reporting from the headquarters of major banks. Hundreds of Japanese citizens worked in the World Trade Center at Japanese branch offices. As of this morning, most had been accounted for, but there were still 17 missing. The news stations show graphics of the buildings marking the floors they worked on and list each name along with the person's name, age, and in some cases photos.

During the Gulf War,

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During the Gulf War, I was part of an IRC-based news network. Dozens of us each took a radio station, TV station or other source and parroted back what they were reporting. People from all over the world participated, sharing news as it was reported.

I never thought I'd be doing this again but when I learned of the US terrorism just minutes after it happened, I started a new channel on IRC (, #moderated_news) and invited people to join me in reporting. There are over 100 people typing and reading news from around the world.

Food for thought today.

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Food for thought today. Why does the Japanese government say nothing is wrong when Japan's first case of mad cow disease has been found?

Last month, a cow in Chiba Prefecture mysteriously fell over and could not stand again. It was slaughtered and sent for testing. Results were positive for BSE, mad cow disease.

Mad cow (BSE) is infectious. Cows get it by eating feed made with bone meal. Humans get it by eating infected cows. The incubation period for mad cow is two to eight years and it is always fatal.

But despite this first confirmed case, the government denies that there is a problem. In June, they supressed a report published by the UN saying that Japan is at high risk for an outbreak because of the sort of feed they use. Apparently, the farm ministry began testing for BSE in April. They know something's going on but their communication with the public is disingenuous. What are they hiding?

No more beef or milk for me, thank you.

The weather outside is

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The weather outside is frightful. The air is heavy with humidity and heat. Typhoon 15 is heading towards Tokyo, so far only a steady rain without any wind.

Today is a good day to stay inside but my schedule isn't going to allow me to do that--I have things to do! So I will grab an umbrella and hope that the typhoon doesn't kick up too much wind or stop the trains.

As we conclude Disaster

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As we conclude Disaster Preparedness Week, our neighborhood supply shed has been cleaned out. In every train station, disaster maps are posted that show evacuation areas. Our first refuge is across the street in the tiny play park. From there we and the neighbors proceded to the large botanical garden if necessary.

A team of men and a big flatbed truck appeared at the local park in the morning. They opened the shed and took out a large assortment of things: a red and yellow striped beach umbrella, wooden planks, folding trestles, trash bins, rice making equipment, bamboo screens, large signs, boxes of miscellaneous supplies. It all looked a bit derelict and not at all as I expected.

Why did I imagine that disaster supplies would be tidy, futuristic packages? Most of what I saw come from the shed wasn't even wrapped to keep the dust out. One of the older men sprayed around the edges of the shed with a fumigant. No doubt this man is our neighborhood disaster representative and I will I read about him in the next issue of Nishikata Dayori.

By the time I returned from running errands, the shed was repacked and the truck loaded with refuse. The men were moving one final item onto the truck--a stair-stepper exercise machine. I guess that's not too handy in a disaster.

Mom always said pretty

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Mom always said pretty on the inside is pretty on the outside. So now I know that she was right. Everything inside me is normal, my doctor tells me. And that's good news.

But look at me revealed by magnets and radio waves--what a horrifying mug with those googly eyeballs! I'm ready for Haloween any time.

The MRI image in the middle above reveals a miniature, snow-capped Mt. Fuji tucked into the center of my head (perched on top of an egg and waiting to explode, I think).

Over on the right that big white circle is my brain stem and my nose is pointing to the top of the image. Look carefully to see my ears and a shoulder, too.

The pictures on the left are from an MR angiogram and show my blood vessels. Those big white lines down the back of my neck are veins. The little white spot (just below the H which stands for 'head') is the main plughole where all the blood is collected and sent down into the veins to return to the heart.

The lower picture is a closeup of more veins. What a complicated tangle. Obviously, kittens have been running amok in there. Or maybe I'm really a 1973 SuperBeetle...I think this looks like the wiring diagram from "How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive." Which one connects to the lights?

Check out the unusual spelling of my name: kurisutenn makuuirinn. Romanized katakana loses something in the translation. No wonder everybody in the hospital just calls me "Kristen."

Another autumn treat--wonderful menus

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Another autumn treat--wonderful menus of fall foods. Kushikyu, our local pub, held a Kinoko Matsuri (mushroom festival) yesterday. We ate seven different mushrooms prepared as kushiyaki (skewered and grilled).

I'd never eaten so many different kinds at once and it was a great opportunity to compare flavors. Earthy shiitake and woody maitake are my favorites. Thin, white enoki are too stringy and they taste like fruit juice; Tod loves them, but I'll pass. Shimeji have a slight wine vinegar flavor that doesn't stand well alone but blends nicely in simmered dishes. Matsutake are extremely expensive--running 800 - 2,000 yen for a pair of Snickers-sized specimens. They taste like butter, but they are tough and fibrous. White button mushrooms (just called "mushroom" here, since all the others have specific names) are really juicy and very mild in flavor.

Last night I heard

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Last night I heard crickets chirping and realised that autumn is upon us. The late-summer hum of cicadas is over. Where did they go? They must have vanished during the rain.

The whole world feels a little bit cooler as the crickets' syncopated beat breaks up the silence.

I must be the

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I must be the only busybody in the neighborhood. Or maybe I'm the only one at home during the day.

Yesterday afternoon, two cars collided at the intersection outside our house. Hearing the thump and crunch of metal, I leaped from my desk and threw open the window. A man was stepping from his crumpled red Lexus. On the other side of the street, a white car ejected a tall man in a tan suit. I craned my neck and called down to make sure everyone was OK, but they ignored me.

Within moments, cellphones were deployed as they reported the accident to the police, insurance companies and families. About twenty minutes later, the local policeman arrived by bicycle. He took their statements while I peeped.

Surely someone else watched this little drama. I guess I'm the only one who is obvious about it.

The weekly classified in

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The weekly classified in Tokyo are often strange. In addition to the lonely hearts ads, the transient foreign population has an abundance of sayonara sales to sell off everything in an apartment before moving from Japan, and plenty of individual appliances, computers and furniture for sale.

But most interesting ads are in the Help Wanted section. It's not what you might expect:

Anyone pursuing art? My wall is still all white so I need someone's beautiful drawing, like beautiful oceans, maybe?

Chilean man seeks magazines with Madonna on the cover. I want to trade for collectibles.

Maria Yumeno. She is an actress and a model. If somebody knows how to meet her, please tell me because I am really interested.

Ah, I didn't win

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Ah, I didn't win in the Kamo-Mail lottery. Kamo-Mail is a summer greeting postcard sold by the post office and sent mainly by business to their customers. We received one from Inoue-san, our realtor.

The postcard is imprinted with a 6 digit number and yesterday (lottery day, remember?) the winning numbers were announced. Very cleverly, they announce one 5 digit number, four 4 digit numbers, and two 2 digit ones which is an easy way to get multiple prize winners without having to draw thousands of numbers.

What are the prizes? For the 5 digit winners, there's a digital camera, a handheld TV, a personal organizer. Other winners get post office gift certificates or commemorative stamp sets.

But not me. 256019 was not a winner. However, i do have a pretty postcard and something to write about today. :-)

Japanese calendar

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It could take all day to explain this calendar page.

Today is Sunday, September 2nd. On the lunar calendar, it's 7/15 and the feast of the dead, Bon. Today is also "lottery day" (takarakuji no hi).

In the ancient calendar today is a dragon day (the seahorse is known as "dragon's child") and its element is earth with a positive pole (tsuchi no e).

The proverb at the bottom says "Shouji ni kodawari daiji wo wasureruna" which means "Don't sweat the small stuff."

I guess it didn't take all day to explain, after all.

Shinano, a new restaurant

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Shinano, a new restaurant near Kasuga station, serves the best tonkatsu in the neighborhood.

Brightly lit and freshly decorated with traditional tables in blonde wood and hanging lamps with white washi shades, the focus of this eatery is the quality of their meat.

Tokatsu is crispy breaded, deep fried pork cutlet. Shinano starts off with a base of tenderised pork--I heard the chef pounding tomorrow's servings as we ate a late dinner--and adds a perfect breading. The outside is flaky, light and fried to a crisp golden brown. Inside, the pork was buttery in texture with no extra fat and not a bit of sinew or gristle. Chewing optional.

Spicy Chinese mustard or a thick worchestershire-based barbecue sauce adds extra flavor. Traditional side dishes accompanied the filet katsu dinner: steamed white rice; a pile of shrededed raw cabbage; brine-pickled cabbage, cucumbers and eggplant; and a rich miso soup with tofu, mushrooms and mistuba.

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