August 2002 Archives

The storyboards are done

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The storyboards are done and most of the locations are figured out. Now I have to confirm a few minor points, get in touch with some people, call in favors, and get a haircut. Then I can start filming...

Sketching storyboards

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This morning I am sketching storyboards for a video project I'm planning. By the end of the day I will have drawn 137 frames. My sketches are cartoonish and probably not illustrative to anyone except me. How is anyone going to know that the green line on a grey background with three white boxes above is a train? Those red and black blobs are me, can you tell?

Despite the low quality of the drawing, the sketches help me to see where the action takes place. Even though I know what I think I want--the script is typed up and I've noted the general composition of each shot--actually drawing it helps to fix the details. I can do this shot at Iidabashi station, near the entrance facing the street. Then if I turn the camera towards the station for another scene later on, I have two "locations" but only one trip to the station.

I hope to get the pre-production planning done by next week so I can start shooting in early September.

Aimee Mann

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Aimee Mann has a new album out. She's one of my favorite singers (along with Sam Phillips, Holly Cole and a few others).

Lost in Space is independently produced and brilliant, classic Aimee Mann. She has an amazing vocal range,and writes dark, thoughtful lyrics with catchy tunes. I'm listening to the songs online now and will go buy it today.

Way back when I was in college, she was in a pop band called 'Til Tuesday. I still know all the words to all their songs, even though the band broke up a million years ago. I remember sitting at the sewing machine in my mother's bedroom during a summer holiday, making clothes for school and wobbily singing along.

Her work is part of my life's soundtrack.

Struggling with kanji

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Oyama sensei is on holiday in Canada this week. We'll have a substitute teacher tonight. But instead of a regular lesson, Oyama sensei left us a page-long composistion to translate. We'll discuss it in class tonight.

I've finished deciphering the first three sentences. This makes me realise how few kanji I actually know--there's a lot of dictionary work for me this afternoon. I have four hours to complete the rest.

Heat island nation

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Every summer we hear about the "heat island" effect of too many buildings, air conditioners, cars, heat-absorbing asphalt and other inconveniences of the modern environment. The average summer temperature has increased 3 degrees Celcius in the past ten years. Tokyo's supposed to have some rules about roof gardens and open/planted land per square foot of new building. A small measure of concern for a big problem, right?

Wrong. In some of the areas of Tokyo currently undergoing huge building projects, the rules have been amended. It looks like you can "swap" square footage in one building location with another to allow you to have fewer green spaces in a commercial area. So I guess you count one 100,000 sq ft building as only 50,000 (so you need to include only 1/2 as much garden) but add 50,000 to some other building you're putting up where it's more convenient to have open green space.

So much for small measures.

People on roofs

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People do weird things on roofs in Tokyo. Across the tracks, on top of an office building, a man is practicing the trumpet. He comes out to play at lunchtime once or twice a week. He's not too bad, though he's not really playing more than scales and phrases. On a nearby apartment building, Tod tells me, a man practices swordfighting late at night. I've never seen him at it.

Yokohama daytrip

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I literally dragged Tod out of bed this afternoon at 1 (he's quite heavy!), got him into the shower and out of the house by 2. We went to Yokohama.

So much has changed since the last time we trekked down there. Before there was lots of construction around Sakuragicho station but MInato Mirai 21, the harbor area, is all built now with bridges and walkways connecting shopping/restaurant/entertainment areas. We cruised Landmark Plaza on several small shopping missions and only ended up with a few things we didn't expect--mainly books, which can never truly be considered an unexpected purchase.

Our main goal was to go to Chinatown for dinner. Although we were tuckered out from being in the shopping center. we summoned the energy to walk the 2 kilometers to Chinatown. It was worth it. At Tung Fat, we feasted on dim sum, char siu and chahan washed down with jasmine tea. Afterwards we picked up some Chinese sweets then headed home. The sweets and my new book await, so I'll cut this short...

Kitano Jinja festival

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For two weeks, a tinsel draped signboard at the end of our street has reminded us about the Kitano Jinja matsuri around the corner from us. Saturday 8/24, 5-9 pm. Rain or Shine. The main selling point was "Dad, we'll have beer at good prices!"

By 8 pm, the lanterns leading up the stone stairs to the shrine cast a soft red light on the scene. Things were winding down and some of the food stalls were closed but the beer stand was going strong with a very long line. Kids were catching cicadas with a net and squealing as loudly as the bugs; teenagers were shoving one another in play fights. Moms, seated on wooden benches under pergolas of bamboo and bare bulbs watched the kids and nibbled on yakisoba. Every available seat was taken and there wasn't much room to stand so we made a quick circuit, skipped the beer and walked back home.

We saw fireworks peeking above the skyline to the west--one of the nearby towns is having their hanabitaikai tonight. I stood on the veranda and watched the sky glow pink and green as booms echoed against the mountains and sprinkles of lights popped over the sillhouette of buildings.

Another mad cow

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Another mad cow. This one is #5. It was noticed during the Agriculture Ministry's testing process this week so it hasn't been sold or served. They didn't say it wouldn't get mixed into cowfeed, though. That happened with one of the other mad cows earlier this year. I was really hoping to have some tasty sukiyaki this autumn, but maybe next year.

In another food chain scandal news, Snow Brand Milk (caught recycling old milk into new products that caused food poisoning) has partnered with several other milk producers to form a new company that will market its product as "Megmilk."

Nippon Scam

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Nippon Ham, meat packager and owner of the baseball team the Nippon Ham Fighters, is in the news this week for scamming the government. They bought 5 tons of cheap, imported beef and passed it off as domestic during the mad cow beef buyback program.

So what's their penalty? They've announced that the founder/chairman & his son, the company president, will be demoted to "honorary chairman" and "senior managing director" and will not receive any pay until the business situation improves (meat sales are way down after the mad cow outbreak). Three offices will be closed and the company is setting up an auditing department.

But there seem to be no outside sanctions. The Agriculture Ministry is going to examine the Nippon Ham offices now that the company has admitted its fraud. I wonder what that examination will yield. Probably nothing.


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I should have made this phone call weeks ago. Maybe even months ago. But I'm loathe to make it at all.

I'm scheduled for my annual thyroid biopsy in mid-September. Yuck. Last year a few weeks before the biopsy, I had a ultrasound scan and bloodwork done. But this time, I don't have appointments for a scan or bloodwork, just the biopsy. Did the doctor decide I don't need those? Did he just forget to schedule them? Should I have made those appointments on my own?

I don't know so I have to call the hospital and find out. In Japanese. I'm not sure what's worse, having a big needle jabbed into my throat or having to figure out how to ask if I need extra appointments.

Hosting a FOAF

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There's a stranger sleeping on my living room floor. Mike Lee went the same school as one of our friends. He was passing through Tokyo and needed a place to stay. Our living room seemed the logical choice.

It's good to meet and host people you don't know but who have some sort of connection to you. You never know exactly what you'll get but it's always interesting and an opportunity to learn things. Last night, Mike was talking about his (now defunct) business venture and introduced me to the concept of Extreme Programming. It's lots of best practices rolled into one philosphy and rigorously followed. I'm looking forward to learning more about it; I think it will be useful to some of the projects I'm working on.

Delayed daytrip

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For several months, I've been hoping to get out of town to take a walk in the woods. On Friday night, Tod asked me to pick a good trip from our Day Walks Near Tokyo book. I was delighted. We'd go on Sunday.

But yesterday morning the edge of a typhoon tormented us with rain, so we decided on a more urban adventure--Yokohama's Chinatown. After eating lunch, we headed out, but neither of us was really up for it. Halfway to the station, I looked at Tod and made him confess that he didn't really want to go and was just doing it to please me (what a sweetie). But I was tired and didn't want to go, either!

So instead we walked to the video store, rented some movies, bought snacks for dinner and went home. Not quite the day we'd envisioned, but it was nice to relax.

Square watermelon


We found the holy grail of watermelons. Of course, I didn't have my camera...

Since reading about square watermelons last summer, we've been keeping an eye out at all the fancy fruit mongers. Last night, we finally found one--at the supermarket down the street.

It was about 30 cm on a side with rounded corners. They put the young watermelon into a glass box while it's growing to give it a refrigerator-friendly shape. The cost for custom form factor? 9800 yen (about $80).

There were other specialty watermelons on display. One was the size and color of a pumpkin, orange with darker orange watermelon stripes. A very striking watermelon was a completely matte black beachball and a bargain at 5800 yen. A Jumbo Suika was quite large by Japanese standards, though not much bigger than a good-sized American watermelon. It was wrapped in woven straw with a braided handle for easy carrying. Price: 9000 yen. One melon came packed in a wooden cage--I guess they were worried that it might escape.

For those on a budget, 1/8 wedges of watermelon selling for a budget 600 yen. Or a mere 398 yen would buy half a dozen chunks of fruit in a plastic cup complete with toothpick.

Japanese TV is silly

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Japanese TV is silly. This afternoon I watched as two young male TV talents met the lovely spokeswoman for the upcoming Pan Pacific Swimming Championship. They challenged her to a high-stakes Jenga game. If she lost, she had to go out on a date with one of the guys. To add to the hilarity, each Jenga block had a truth-or-dare style stunt to perform. "Do a 3 second promo for the Pan-Pashi (Pan Pacific) in a baby voice" "What's your favorite sport for a date?"

Following the game (the spokewoman lost), I changed the channel and watched a food travel show. A portly, but very genki woman enthused about the famous uni (sea urchins) of eastern Hokkaido. I find uni extremely revolting. The yellow-brown color of baby poop, it is a mass of slightly gritty eggs. Blech. But the woman was funny to watch. As she checked into the ryokan where she would stay and have her dinner, she asked several times about the uni. "Do you have it with your dinners here?" She was assured that there would be plenty of uni. When dinner arrived, she had uni in abundance--raw, steamed, over rice. She was so excited that she couldn't even manage "Oishii!" after her first bite. A squeal of delight was her only utterance. It was subtitled, ala the 1960s Batman TV show, naturally.

Flourless chocolate cake

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I have 12 servings of an extremely rich, flourless chocolate cake sitting in my fridge. MJ will take it home with her this morning (it's the remainder of her birthday cake) but not before I scarf down a slice along with some nice strong coffee.

I'm already anticipating the sugar-caffeine rush. I'm feeling a bit sluggish this morning (too much late-night billiards again) and I hope it will kick me into gear. Or maybe it will send me into shock and I'll just go have a nap...

Last night's birthday extravaganza was an all-American calorie fest. Before the cake, we had mashed potatoes, salad and Kentucky Fried Chicken. KFC has recently switched to domestic Japanese chickens. Signs in the store announce the change and apologise--domestic chickens are smaller than imported chickens. The store manager gave Tod an extra piece for our party. I guess Tod looks like a hungry guy with a big appetite.

Obon approaches

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Obon holidays are upon us and the city is emptying out. Everyone's going back to their hometowns, vacationing overseas, or at least not going to work. Businesses and restaurants are closed. Yesterday's trains were virtually empty; I got a seat on 3 out of 4 I rode.

I should try to find a festival with some bon odori. I love those Japanese folk dances. Circling a small, square stage decorated with paper lanterns & red and white striped fabric, dancers in yukata shuffle along in a big circle, waving their arms, twirling fans, clapping and spinning. The music is a steady beat of taiko drums with shamisen and flute picking out a melody. Sometimes there is a dish-shaped bell ringing a counterpoint.

I remember my first bon odori 6 years ago. I stumbled upon it accidentally and stood there watching and grinning until an old man handed me a fan and dragged me into the circle. I was quite a spectacle but not because of my dancing skill--I was the only foreigner there.


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Last night, Tod & I (and the UBS staff outing) had arena seats for the Jingu Hanabi Taikai. In addition to two spectacular 25 minute firework displays, there were concerts featuring famous musicians we don't know but the 30-something crowd went wild, so I guess we should have. Then again, the crowd were also excited about the sing-along version of YMCA, so maybe it's best that we don't know who these musicians are.

Usually my fireworks viewing is on someone's balcony or among the crush of people gathered, so having a seat and the perfect view was a nice treat. It was interesting, too, to realise that each flight of explosives was sponsored and to see the commercials placed between each group. The sponsor was announced while a video clip or animation flashed on the big screen of the baseball stadium where we sat and a laser show picked out the sponsor's logo. Then the next set of fireworks started.

Everyone in the crowd was surprised when the stage lights went on andTakefuji Yen Shop dancers appeared live on stage. Yen Shop, a loan company, is known for its ads featuring leotard-clad jazz dancers. I've no idea what jazz dance has to do with loans, but the girls on stage were great dancers and fun to watch. And the Takefuji fireworks were pretty good, too.

US Immigration

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I am not sure what to think about America's changing immigration policies. Beginning next month, aliens entering from "high risk" countries are to be fingerprinted at their port of entry. If they remain in the US longer than 30 days, they must register at an INS office and check in annually.

Here in Japan, all resident aliens register with their town office and must renew their registration if they move or after 5 years. When we arrived, fingerprinting was required but was dropped about two years ago. I don't mind being registered with my ward because every alien is treated equally. And, after all, I'm a guest here and I have no rights, really. However, if I were being subjected to a policy that applied only because I am a (insert characteristic here), I would be annoyed.

Which is why I think the new policy of US Immigration and the DOJ is a little creepy--no, it's a lot creepy. They are targetting just the people that are fashionably suspicious.

Sadly, that's always been the case--the US's immigration policies are historically reactionary. Anarchist killed our President--no more anarchists allowed! Chinese laborers took over gold panning and railroad jobs--Asians are restricted from becoming citizens.

Where does it end? What's coming next?


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Tonight we should be able to see the Perseid meteor shower if today's bank of heavy clouds goes away and light pollution doesn't spoil the show.

I remember the first time I saw the Perseids. I was at a drive-in with a friend during a university break. The movie was too stupid to capture my attention, so I was scanning the sky for constellations. Tim thought I was nuts when I distracted him from the on-screen action to look at the meteors.

It was a good display that year; I saw about 20 in the remaining hour of the movie. I hope I catch a few this year. I like being reminded of my place in the universe--a tiny speck of animate carbon on a pebble orbiting a spark of fire.


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iMovie crashed my Mac

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I have a video editing project with no particular deadline, though I've put it off long enough that now I want it over so I can spend time procrastinating on other projects. For the past two months, I've been working on it, getting frustrated with my preferred software which is not OS X ready, and putting it aside. So when it turned up on my To Do list today, I thought I'd try out iMovie, Apple's consumer-level DV software. My project doesn't require too much fancy stuff and iMovie should deliver the basic titling and cross dissolves I need.

Well, it does all that, but not very smoothly on my machine. About three hours into my work, it decided it didn't have enough memory and quit. Now my 450 MHz G4 computer is kitted out with 512 MB of RAM, enough for every other application I've ever run. Either iMovie is bad at memory management or I need to add RAM. Of course, since the average lifespan of computers is 3 years and my computer is 2.5 years old, perhaps it's time to start thinking about a future purchase.

Maybe there will be a 1 GHz dual-processor G4 for my birthday 8 months from now... (Do you think that's enough of an advance hint?)

Zoupi in Belgium

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Zoupi is still enjoying his vacation in Belgium. He's travelled all over and amassed an extensive photo album. Here he is in Brussels with Manneken Pis, the famous fountain that inspired the funny Suntory Dakara commercials. (Click on the videotape, then navigate the menu to choose MPG or animated gifs--you don't really need to understand the Japanese to see the humor).

I can't believe my stuffed elephant is having a summer holiday and I'm not! But I'll get my turn eventually. If not soon, then in the autumn when we go to Ireland for my sister's poetry workshop.

Since there's no summer vacation for me, this wretched season could end itself any day, thank you. We're having a 35 degree heat wave this week. I wilt in heat, just like my plants. I've started the countdown to October, when the weather will be nice again--53 days.

SMAP's soda

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Pop superstars SMAP's latest album cover art has been turned into a promotional soda with a discount price--just 105 yen instead of 120.

What's the flavor of SMAP? Its a cola/orange baby aspirin/gum fantasia. I haven't had a cola drink in years and the contents of the can took me by surprise. I've become accustomed to white cans with blue writing bearing grapefruit flavored sports drinks!

It's quite tasty and refreshing but I won't finish it because as MJR knows from a notorious flight from Portland to Pittsburgh, "Coke makes Kristen cranky" and I have too much to do to be cranky today.

The Global Cities Tokyo

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The Global Cities Tokyo team (me, Fred, Chiharu, and Wilson) are smiling because the film is "in the can." We wrapped up last night at about 11 pm; Wilson and Fred are on their way back to Frankfurt today. At the end of the night as we said our thanks and goodbyes, it really felt like the closing night of a theatre production. Fred gave me his Kraffftwerk company jacket; Wilson told me I was as good an assistant as his son. Pretty gratifying...

Overall, being a production assistant was a great experience. I met tons of people with whom I hope to keep up personally and professionally, and went to locations I wouldn't normally. It was exhausting but exhilarating. Today seems so quiet in comparison.

I took plenty of photos while we worked. If you'd like to see some of the places I've been this week, take a few minutes to sit through the Global Cities: Tokyo slideshow.

Sugamo filming

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Yesterday was a fun day of shooting at Togenuki Jizo in Sugamo, "Grandma's Harajuku." I'm too rushed to write more, but I'll be back tomorrow.

Stamina in Kabukicho

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I have no idea how these guys shoot for 14 hours without stopping or eating. In this photo, taken yesterday at 17:30, I'm exhausted, sunburned, sweaty and starving after traversing Harajuku, Omotesando and Shin-Okubo from 10:00. They are taking shot after shot of Kabukicho's neon-covered porn shops & pachinko parlors. I'm cranky and at the point where I fail to see how 40 minutes of Kabukicho is going to tell their story, but whatever...I just want to eat...

Resident registration

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On Monday, a national "resident registration" system launches. Japan's citizens will be assigned an 11 digit number associated with their name, date of birth and other vital statistics, similar to the US's Social Security Number.

But not every citizen will be enumerated. Two communities in Tokyo, Suginami and Kokubunji, and several other towns around the country, will not participate until better personal privacy legislation is enacted; Yokohama's mayor is making this national registration voluntary for his constituents. This is a hot issue; PM Koizumi received threatening protest letters full of shotgun ammunition.

I don't know the mechanics of the registration process; I wonder if individual citizens will refrain from signing up? All foreign residents are required to carry an alien registration card, so I'm already a number in a Japanese database somewhere. If I had a choice, I wouldn't sign up.

On the grass at the Dome

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Yesterday one of our filming locations was Tokyo Dome. We captured the Yomiuri Giants' batting practice and pre-game activities.

We attracted some attention from the press. I guess it isn't every day that a foreign film crew invades the regular reporters' turf. I fielded a bunch of questions about who we are and what we're doing. In fact, one of the sports writers phoned me later to ask my opinions on soccer. But that conversation was in Japanese, so if you see really, really stupid quotes from me ("Oh, yeah, Kahn's great.") in the Tokyo Sports , please be kind.

Doitsu no terebi

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For the next five days, I'm on the crew of Global Cities as they shoot the sixth and final show in the series. It's a hectic schedule, but fun.

Yesterday we interviewed Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan; Yu Miri, a Japanese-Korean author; Jonathan Watt, a correspondent for the Guardian; and Ramesh Kapoor, who founded the popular Samrat Indian restaurants in Tokyo. In this photo, Wilson Ruiz, the creative director, consults with Fred Gattys, fimmaker. What are they shooting? The neon facade of a Roppongi karaoke bar.

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