Living in Japan | 日本語

31 October

It's been a whirlwind while since I've contributed to the web. tokyo week In that time I saw a toilet-paper fashion show, visited the Tokyo height of human hunting, went to a rave on Mount Fuji, met a young woman and rode around in Tokyo on her couch. It's a six page web update with over seventy three photos. You can read it free November 8, or you can send me a $1 donation through Amazon or Paypal and I will send you the teeth-rattling URL now. (In an ideal web, I'd make the suggested donation 60 cents, ten cents per page. But these donation systems and their fees don't support begging for pocket change.)

How much will I make in a week? Join the online informal no-cash speculation pool!

[here's the page sold]

Hidden Links from the Underground

In an effort to upcrease the coherence of these pages, I've omitted some of the details from my narrative accounts. If you care for all the details, view source on recent pages and you'll find information not intended for most eyes. (look for the <!-- and >)

Readers Write in:
Justin, your site is updated so irregularly. And it's so chaotic! How can I be updated in a timely fashion on the general direction of your affairs without having to dig through these pages on a regular basis?

There's an easy answer: Subscribe to Justin-by-mail!

Sign up for craaazy, irregular, unlikely Justin email updates
You'll get a popup window asking you to register for (optional), then an email will be sent asking you to reply or click a link to be sure they have the right email address. thanks Topica, and Mark

In other news, today I smelled a shirt I'm wearing that I haven't washed in a while. The smell reminded me of my father. Today I took a walk in Stinson Beach with Peter. He pointed out that my father grew up with family troubles that he struggled with for his entire life. It's amazing to me when people in my life reflect my father's life back at me. I'm grateful for those moments. My father taught me how to love deeply. I'm still learning about him, the choices he made, and what I have percieved to have been his failures. I'm a point where I'm choosing what shape to make my life. Isn't that always the case? I wonder what happens to my energy level when I stop becoming. Living abroad and losing my lease in a month really puts me on the spot. No where to live, no where to be, no committments. Just a writing contract with The Feature, and this old web site. I think the road is calling. And everyone is driving on the other side, and talking almost so I can't understand.

25 October

so that explains it?

New freelance piece: Winged and Wired
"Worried that some folks might have a moment to themselves, several companies are promising to keep business travelers online in-flight."

23 October

Last week I spent most all of my time helping Howard during his Tokyo trip.
howard videophone tokyo
kneeling boy Ancient Shinto Artifacts
Shintoism is sorta like Japanese Paganism - an all encompassing high regard for the spirits in nature. The Britsh Museum hosted an exhibit of Shinto artifacts; I took photos of the oldest pieces.

21 October

washer gal My neighborhood: Uguisudani

Today I'm watching neon blue and vinyl clothes, "We Are In The Timehole" - live teenage dance performance on TV, writing for TV, eating out, wandering around my neighborhood. A quiet day at home in Tokyo. I keep putting off my laundry in the coin operated machines upstairs.

For lunch, shrimp and freshwater eel tempura near the Nippori station. Walking back, stopped by a Korean grocery store to pick up bananas and some spiced spinach that has just about seared my lips off. I left my house for some rice to soothe the spicy burning.

Stopping at a home supplies store, I tried to pick out some laundry detergent. How to choose? One said "A-ta-ku." Sounded ambitious.

Japanese Soul Food: Korean

index.html My appetite grew beyond rice, and my favourite local ramen place was closed. I wandered through an Uguisudani alley and into a Korean restaurant. Baseball on the TV, Japanese folks enjoying sunday night meals. Most people were using the grills built into each table to cook meat. I emulated a man sitting nearby, pointing at his food to request "ishiyaki," a korean hot iron bowl filled with rice, raw egg, seaweed, cabbage, ground pork, all sorts of good stuff that you mix up as the hot bowl cooks it. Korean rice porridge sort of. Joanne and Eve introduced me to this hearty goodness.


I spent some time translating the menu with help from my dictionary and the waiter. Korean food seems like the Japanese equivalent of soul food - urban food from a persecuted class.

Just about finished, lingering over my beer, the waiter asks if I mind if another gentleman sits across from me. I nodded my assent, and told the man I had been studying the menu.

He gestured around the table, asking if I wanted to share in his meal. I agreed, thinking I would sit with him and practice my grammer forms. He gestured, did I want another beer? Sure. He commenced to order three plates of beef, one of pork, one of shrimp, cabbage, salad, tomatoes, and the best salted nori dried seaweed I ever ate. We grilled, ate, drank and talked for some time.

index.html Kitamura-san runs a souvenier business, in Asakusa, and at Narita airport. He has a twenty person company, including his daughers (25 years and 27 years). He called them from his mobile phone soon after we started talking - in Japanese, "hey, I got a gaijin here, a young reporter dude. You should come practice your english with him." They declined. We persevered alone; he had English from the University 35 years ago, and he was patient with my beginner Japanese.

He asked if I enjoy baseball. I said I preferred to watch basketball. He's a baseball fan, and his favourite team is the Tokyo Giants. He also likes the Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, though we didn't get into the details. He hails originally from Tokyo, which he describes as "crazy" (english). On the weekends, he likes to go to a hot bath and sauna near the Tokyo Dome. Yesterday he spent all day working, today, all day sleeping, and some time at the baths. His wife was at home; a boy's night out I guess.

He asked how old I was (26). I asked him, he was 57. I'm as old as your father, he said. A bit older he would be (75); I had a tough time to figure out how to say dead.

It was a nice casual dinner between two men out to eat alone. After some eating, he wrote down his name and address, and I wrote down mine. He posed for a picture, paid for my dinner and bade me good night.



A few days ago, I left my room here singing Manchild by the Creatures. It's a fine song, I had just been listening to it, and it made me happy. But filling my head with foreign songs was not aiding my absorbtion of ambient language. So I have deleted all the English language and non-Japanese artist made music off my computer. It amounted to many hours and much culture purged, except I saved the gospel and Willie McTell for emergencies. And VU's Sister Ray, for research. I even deleted my jazz and electronica; if I'm listening to anything it should be part of linguistic and cultural immersion. I'm filling my hard drive with Japanese songs, to listen to on repeat, to make their words my words.

14 October

I'm trying to resist reading and writing in English, but there were some thing I had to tell you.

Upstairs from the Hibiya station in central Tokyo is the Foreign Correspondent's Club of Japan. It's a great place to meet other journalists, and several thousand businessmen (both foreign and Japanese) belong there as well. They host events, like the Japanese Prime Minister gave a speech there last month. There's a restaurant, sushi bar, and a full library and work facilities.

It reminds me very much of the clubs my father belonged to, probably with GK's father - older men sitting around in formal clothes drinking gin and vodka, business and social affairs mixed up together. This is the first formal club I've seen that I've wanted to join. Strange for me to think I've reached that point in my life where I sit in a suit drinking lemonade with these sorts of chaps.

The value of the library and research services, combined with the good writerly company should be a good balance to my explorations of youth culture and local Japan. They offer mailboxes for journalist members, which would be ideal for an itinerant writer based in Japan. I've applied to be a member - dues are $20/year if you're under 35 years old; dues are $350/year if you're older. They have a bit of an aging problem, perhaps. I had to get two members to sign for me; one of my signatories was Henry Scott-Stokes, author of a Mishima biography I read. He was standing in the lobby; I met him within five minutes of first entering.

your correspondent

I'm making myself some new "name cards." Freelance writers who like to meet strangers on trains need business cards, and now that I have a Japanese mobile phone I wanted a bilingual card.

I looked up "correspondent" in my dictionary. Unfortunately, Kenkyusha's Furigana dictionary just lists all the possible Japanese words without their connotations. I choose 文通者, buntsuusha, and printed that on my business card as my profession. Hah! Well as it turns out that's like "pen pal" or "letter writing buddy." I suppose I could have done worse!

I'm stuck somewhere between Groucho Marx and American Express. Joining this club is like joining a trade association. And why not? I've been writing steadily, professionally, sometimes for money, sometimes for other people, for almost eight years now. I walk into this place, and it feels quite natural. That's a slightly scary feeling. Commitment.

"Promise Me"

A seventy year old tall white man was waiting outside the FCCJ workroom. His Japanese wife had just handed him a scarf, as she had gone wandering off somewhere. He was ready to speak. As his wife was far enough away and we were alone, he lowered his voice - "These are stupid people." His accent sounded Northern European. "I've lived all over the world. Japanese are stupid people. In Hong Kong, I lived there four years, they don't care, they just do business. Here, if you are a foreigner, no way. Stupid. In Korea they try to learn English. Here, no. I know [second generation Japanese], they live in Hawaii, California - when they come back, they are foreigners. Always a foreigner."

I suggested maybe the younger generation might be different, or changing. "No, they're worse. Listen - don't do like I have done - don't marry a Japanese woman. Promise me. Promise me! I have experienced this. Don't marry a Japanese." Perhaps there are good things to these relationships, like the way these women treat men might be different. "Yes, it's different, but only until they're married. We've been living together for 30 years and still I am a foreigner. It's like Kipling says, east and west will never meet. Promise me you won't marry a Japanese!"

His fevered admonitions were unnerving. We spoke some of the beauties of Australia, and of the other places he's lived. But we were never far off topic. As his wife returned he looked me in the eyes - "Promise me!"

Uguisudani Locals

I live near to the Uguisudani station (Uguisudani - "Valley of the Nightingales"). There's many love hotels, a few prostitutes and lots and lots of crows. There are few foreigners around here, it's not a very international or glamorous place to live. Which makes it better for learning Japanese and understanding local Tokyo culture.

denki jisho

I found a good electric english-japanese dictionary.

There's a small Japanese pub-type restaurant near my apartment, where you can order anything from salty soup to fried vegetables, vinegary salads and grilled fish. The first time I went in, a full house of Japanese folks had their heads bent over their meals, but the cook husband and the waitress wife signaled to me with wrists-crossed that they weren't serving. I gathered they were out of rice. It seemed a little bit fishy to me, my hunger and paranoia left me wondering if I was being discreetly asked to stay away.

This evening the local ramen restaurant and manga reading room (which seats twelve elbow to elbow) was closed. I returned to this pub-type place. With my new dictionary, I asked for 一番健康的 - the most healthy. They served me grilled mackerel. Later I added roasted garlic (for an oncoming cold), spinach salad with sesame seeds, and the cook threw in a roasted rice ball. We got along quite nicely. He wants to move back to Fukushima.

As I sat watching the TV, translating the menus, a young man in a clean white sweat suit came in. He bowed before two older men sitting on the other side of the small room. He presented one of them with a pack of cigarettes, exchanged some words, bowed low again, and left. As he was leaving I could see he had short black gelled up hair, thin eyeglasses, and he seemed to be sweating a little bit. He looked exactly like any one of the young men that is always, always, sitting on a motorcycle just past the train station with one eye on the hookers and one eye on the traffic.

After he left I looked at the men. One of them was bald, with a small black mustache. He caught my eyes. I nodded at him slowly, not a simple acknowledgement, but I communicated that I had just realized that these men were involved in the underground economy. Who works that late on a Sunday night? Local gangsters. Where would local bosses hang out? At a laid back restaurant with good service and good food near the love hotels and prostitutes. This young men was an apprentice gopher gangster.

Confirmation of all this rapid unruly theorizing came as the bald man intensified our eye contact and nodded back at me. I've nodded at a few of Japanese while I've been here, and given many others long looks. This was the first older Japanese man to stare back at me like this, and his nodding was a wild display of confidence and chutzpah. Suitable for a relaxed yakuza scoping out a foreigner visiting his turf in leather pants and a rheingold shirt.

when you are dancing...
From the Ghost in the Shell soundtrack, a new incoming email sound: sustained thin bells - 350k wav.

Hiruma has linked to me from her links page; I think this is my first web link in Japanese.

11 October

Excited to learn Japanese through literature, I bought a book of Ikkyu poems with the intention of memorizing some haiku. "Here," I thought, "Let the words of a great spirit fall off my tongue, and through his images I will come to know this language."

Today with my tutor, she explained that nearly the entire book of poems is unintelligable to modern Japanese folk. Unreadable. In English, you can make your way through Shakespeare and know more or less what he's talking about. Here in Japan, it's well-nigh impossible for anyone today to read anything over 100 years old.

This is part of kanji, where one character can stand for larger things than in a phonetic alphabet. Over time, the Japanese have been decreasing or changing the kanji they use, so their old words come to lie fallow. This is mind-blowing to me, that a culture would see itself linguisticall disconnected from its roots so rapidly, repeatedly. Mishima liked to dig up old kanji to use in his books - use of obscure kanji is somehow considered masculine. Hiragana, the curvaceous phoentic native Japanese script was considered the domain of women for a very long time.

Now why don't they switch to Hiragana? Hayashi-sensei said, "No way." It takes too many letters to say what can be written simply in Kanji. Looks like Japan is still stabilizing its language, or perhaps it is a language forever in flux. Whoo hah.

Besides committing unintelligable ancient bawdy poetry to memory, I could work at a bar, get a girlfriend who doesn't speak english, move out into the countryside or sign up for an academic program. Today I applied for a job at a bar, I stopped wearing my casual clothes and glasses, opting instead for gelled-up hair and contact lenses, leather pants. For my first week in Tokyo I was fancying myself a student working to remain largely unnoticed by the opposite sex. Work undistracted I figured. Now, well shit.

Clearly I need to find some of today's literature. Perhaps it's videogames. or manga (comic books). John Nathan was the one who told me to memorize old poems, and he seems pretty convinced that young people here today are illiterate. And anyone who studies japanese without reading literature is lost. It's my job to find new literacies. And pay respects to the old. And write for money. And find a way to eat regularly.

This is actually my greatest challenge; my apartment here is swelling up with take-out food containers; most of my daily eating is done from a convenience store. Rice balls, yogurt, tofu sushi. Then at night I go out someplace and eat pork fat noodles, or last night I ate way too much sukiyaki - thin beef dipped in hot broth and slathered in peanutty sweet sauce. Holy mama. All you can eat sukiyaki, trouble. But cooking anything requires planning, access to a grocery store and pulling in my elbows enough to fit in my kitchen. So far I've been working on other things. I've noticed that I'm losing weight. Instant diet!

So I'm trying to write in Japanese, and talk to myself in Japanese as I walk the streets. I'm alone here; most foreigners seem to be with someone else. Maybe soon enough I will be. Now and then I am. But I keep wanting to know, Justin, are we going to be here for a while?

10 October


日本語: Japan, i-mode

and links, as ever.

9 October

software I want:

"email pane"
When an incoming message arrives in (outlook), a discrete bar appears at the top of my display, showing the subject and from fields of the last three email messages. three buttons allow me to delete the message, open the message, or open my email client.
"picture post"
I want to be able to email a small jpeg and caption from my japanese mobile phone to an email address that will post it to my web site.
anybody got any free time or suggested software?

mailing list

Sign up for craaazy, irregular, unlikely Justin email updates
You'll get a popup window asking you to register for (optional), then an email will be sent asking you to reply or click a link to be sure they have the right email address.
thanks Topica, and Mark

8 October

shoko asahara A major urban metropolis was hit by coordinated terrorist attacks by a fringe religious group:

1995: Tokyo Subways and Sarin Gas:
Aum Shinrikyo: Austere Japanese HodgePodge SciCult

From the spirit section.

Japanese TV: a double edged cooking knife

I leave Japanese TV on in my room most all of the time, to let the ambient language seep into my brain and absorb some of the culture.

oishii As it turns out, most of Japanese TV seems to be about attractive people eating fabulous looking dishes and pronouncing them OOOISHIIIII! over and over again - the closeup of the glistening dish, the chopsticks lead a steaming morsel into the mouth, the person hangs on the verge of a burnt tongue pain and pure flavour ecstacy, we wait in suspence, and inevitably they close their eyes and pronounce the food delicious. The cook, standing by, replies, it's delicious, yes? and the eater, yes it's delicious! delicious delicious! And then we watch food preparation for the next dish.

I haven't watched a lot of American food TV, maybe this is the general pattern there too. Somehow I only have 11 channels, but there is always some food on some channel. I'm hungry. Honto oishii, desne.

kitchen My kitchen here is quite small, and it would seem to be difficult to match these delicious, beautiful soups, pastries, dishes I see on TV. Except in this case many of these shows seem to have taken the tiny Japanese apartment into consideration. I've never seen so much microwave cooking before! They poach fish, make pastries, all the things I'd do in an oven, they have little packets, wooden devices, and tricks to do it in a microwave instead.

4 October

nippori night

dinner without my camera
a tiny cheap sushi restaurant
my neighborhood nippori
two hitachi middle aged salarymen
we talked about our favourite characters
california-jin on 90210

the cook, a small man
with small eyes
an old head
gold teeth
quick to laugh
a sharp cackle

he serves salty sushi
fills my cup with sake

pictures show him singing
he turns on ludwig van
real loud like
it's the beloved ninth
in a tiny narrow restaurant
the speakers are good
lots of bass
no more talking
only music

one speaker blows out
cockroaches are crawling over the counter
his son comes down
older than me
i'm fascinating for him
his father sends him upstairs

later the son returns
holding his favourite eric clapton
I nod and ask about it
he mostly grips it and smiles

no more pissing men in alleys
between love hotels
the prostitutes are sitting down
i can't help myself
i go to bed by nine

3 October

tada Nikki invites me out for art and drinks.
Harajuku is packed with young folks in artifice costume.
Nikki introduces me to Tada; Japanese sculptor and filmmaker
his studio on fire, a year ago he lost everything from clothes to films
he said this all with a steady eager gleam in his eye
and a wide grin.
he hosts bi-monthly art parties called "Slogan"
the next event focuses on Swedish art.

hiruma i asked him to introduce me to young artists
he started with Hiruma
bartender and illustrator with pigtails, a white beret, and a ready laugh
curious and friendly
and, as it turns out, bassist in a band called
Ana-Dorei ("Asshole-Slave")
whose recent album "Pussy Cannibal Holocaust"
was featured in a Tower Records flyer on Japanese indie music
they're performing this weekend, I'll let you know.

asshole slave
Asshole Slave

I went to DoCoMo, asking to see their new FOMA videophone
touted business use, maaybe
it will light up the face of every teenager once the price drops
including this one
my contact said I was the first foreign journalist
to get a chance to actually use the device.

bed view
The view from bed this morning

fast breakfast
Convenience Store Breakfast:
Salmon-stuffed rice ball wrapped in seaweed
Vitamin In: Body Support (if Gatorade were squeezable gelatin)

2 October

Tokyo 2001:

landed, now I'm
cold lodging at the Mansion.
excited to wake in a foreign city with no hard plans.
picking out a mobile phone is a deep choice here.

Digital cameras:
film is cheap
firewire harddrives ain't

1 October

pounding mix
fast fun
one half hour left at home
why am i updating my web site?

A survey of young and established game developers working with mobile phones:
TheFeature: New Developers on the Block

now the living man at creekside, Tom suggests:
NewsPaperLinks, an incredible way to browse publishing around the world.
"This is how I discovered that RATT was playing in South Dakota last week."
Tom recommends surfing far out deserted states for unsettling coverage of the war.

Last Month

subway crowd
Justin, Bush, Bin-Laden and Tokyo
Saturday Night, Yamanote line
20 October 2000

Free: advertise on
[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Search, Thanks Google.

Professional Writing
Stand up Speaking

Sign up for craaazy, irregular, unlikely Justin email updates
You'll get a popup window asking you to register for (optional), then an email will be sent asking you to reply or click a link to be sure they have the right email address. thanks Topica, and Mark

Recent Depth:

shoko asahara
Religious Terrorism:
Aum Shinrikyo

New Orleans


TV Show

Make The Web.

Message Board


Hosting, Thanks, Cyborganic!


laptop: Thinkpad X21
camera: CoolPix 880
luggage: Eagle Creek


Edit Plus

& skin

Windows 2000
Office XP

"Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop"
William Butler Yeats - 1933

I met the Bishop on the road
And much said he and I.
"Those breasts are flat and fallen now,
Those veins must soon be dry;
Live in a heavenly mansion,
Not in some foul sty."

"Fair and foul are near of kin,
And fair needs foul," I cried.
"My friends are gone, but that's a truth
Nor grave nor bed denied,
Learned in bodily lowliness
And in the heart's pride.

"A woman can be proud and stiff
When on love intent;
But Love has pitched his mansion in
The place of excrement;
For nothing can be sole or whole
That has not been rent."

No Cash? Advertise on
[an error occurred while processing this directive]