This is a record of my time and mind at Tsurunoyu, an onsen (hot springs inn) in Akita, in Japan. I lived there for two weeks in January 2002.|
day 1 - departure (Monday, 14 January)"Please transfer to the next train"
is politely spoken by a recorded voice both in Japanese and in English. What they neglect to mention is you have 45 seconds to do so. I emerged from between a small group of onlookers admiring the separation of the train cars, and I looked on with dismay as my train gracefully glided out of the station.
I was left to read Donald Richie in the heated waiting room at the train station (another example of Japanese selective interior heating). As much as I feel like reading Donald Richie in Japan might be like reading the end of a mystery story, it's been quite marvellous. With the Donald Richie Reader that mystery ending goes on and on; it's quite pleasurable. I'm storing odd trivia I've read from him to later find some way to prove to myself that something has changed; to distance myself from this learned scholar I have come to respect.
One hour late but now firmly plugged into the hourly dependable Japanese transportation timetable, I land at Tazawa-ko station. A jumping off point for skiing and onsens in this area; and obviously the beneficiary of some regional largess a few years back. At the station, a bold Scandinavian atrium boasts a tourist center with two women quietly plugging away on laptops, waiting to help me find fun in Akita. One woman pointed to a list of a few dozen hotels; three have jisuibus. Why so few? "Mukashii"
Between the small figures poised in traditional craftwork and ancient activities, and the giant topographical map of lake and mountain marked with highlights, two Compaq PCs with high speed wireless Internet connections. And I have lost my wireless card some weeks ago.
In this town of Tazawa-ko I can shop for food (or watches or teddy bears or spatulas) in a giant store playing a muzak version of "America - god shed his grace on thee" as I enter. I buy some sake from Akita (they're reputed to have good rice, and you know what that means. I don't yet, so that's why I bought the sake). And roasted pork in a plastic package, since that's often my favourite part of ramen and now that I'm cooking darn it I can make it as I like it. Two kinds of long green onions (thick and thin), tofu, yogurt, mushrooms. The rubber booted, gray haried seven-o-clock shadowed laborer in line ahead of me had a delicious looking bag of apples he was buying with a pre-seasoned and fried fish. Both looked delicious but I was disinclined to add to my already large load.
I'm moving north for six weeks is all, but it's supposedly quite cold and snowy. That's why I wanted to come, and that's why I have two hats, two mittens, snowpants (purchased yesterday in Ueno), three top and bottoms long underwear. I snuck in my suit jacket and shirt, well, because maybe I'll have a nice where I have a chance to honor people who have been nice to me with formal dress. Of course I have different feelings about honor and dress as I miss the train dragging my giant wheeled backpackable contraption around behind me. Still all the Japanese so far have been wildly patient which makes navigating narrow mountain bus aisles a moment for commiseration almost, and not embarrassment. One older gentleman gave up his seat for my possessions mostly, and my slim sliver of ass.
Tsurunoyu, my home for almost two weeks, comes at the end of an hour trip, of 5-10% inclines in some kind of a light-duty passenger snow truck. I'm pleased to see there are two young ladies, smiling wondering what the heck I'm doing on their bus. I concentrate on the scenery which is snowy mountains and a lake reflecting much sun (Japan's deepest lake). At the lake a large pile of photographers get on, of all ages. I look at the mountains; there are ski runs, and buildings and holes and strips in the trees - like these folks have given the mountain a bad haircut. I have faith that it would like to grow back. I can see Alex Kerr's lamentation that the landscape here has been abused and covered in concrete to excess; most mountains we drive near have been thoroughly paved, pegged and fenced. Of course as I'm gliding by on a precision high-speed train and I look up at a horizontal fence holding snow and boulders I'm not unhappy with all the engineering. But from the right distance, this work can be judged, and it looks like rural construction here has something to learn from Bonsai.
The inn itself is old, Japanese, nestled in snow. It doesn't have to say much; it looks like a picture, it's beautiful. I forgot to buy eggs! It smells like sulfur. I am asked to wait until someone can show me the ropes; meanwhile a steady stream of Japanese come to use the sauna here for the day, for a fee of 400 yen. I believe she's taking me to my room as she explains I can use the baths 24 hours a day; I'm repeating 24, 24, 24, because I don't want to forget my room number. Eventually she leads me away from the baths and towards my room, asking me, so you have some Japanese skills? I tell her the beauty has filled my head. She tells me to put my hiking boots on the top shelf.
I am living in the far corner of a long building. I pass a smoking lounge on my way in; otherwise this part of the inn seems deserted.
My room is bare; a table in the middle of it with some cushions on a tatami mat. I don't know what I was expecting - a chair and a desk? Clearly these are about the most rustic or traditional accommodations I've yet found; at Kimi Ryokan they had the futon laid out for you. Here, as Jisui seems to mean, it's all do it yourself. I had a moment of panic when the guide lady with one prominent darkened gold rimmed tooth explained where in the kitchen my gas burner would go. I must have looked concerned, as I didn't have a burner and my thoughts immediately turned to cold uncooked soup. She took that occasion to end the tour, saying that if i had any problems I should inquire at the office. Then a few minutes later the bandana-headed lady comes bearing a small stove and gas unit.
There's an older lady who seems to clean up and has a very friendly nature to her. She brought some sort of hot liquid I lack a cup to drink, and asked me where I was from. I gave her my name, as well as telling her I was from California. Ito-san is old and bent. She passed by my room as I had unpacked my raw almonds and my laptop. She took some proffered nuts and I took her picture. She laughed and then cursed her image on screen, waving her tight hand at it.
do you get many foreigners here, I asked the lady with the bandana around her head as we worked on fixing the leak by the kitchen window. Yes, last year we had a Canadian, some Chinese, some Koreans. huh.
I guess that must just be in the jisui part of the inn, because I spy a blond with a beard soaking himself in sulfur during my tour.
Ayako was fantastic up until the end and past it, intermediating Japanese on the phone, driving me for errands, advising me on my travels. She was supremely courteous, deferent and contentious; writing out exact directions in both Japanese and English (I promptly misplaced the English) for me to get here. One thing she was wrong about, I would like to have a robe of some sort for padding around between the baths and my room. Now I'm renting one for 600 yen a day.
I watch the elaborate nightly feast preparations in progress in the main building, pots hang over coals, little dishes await floor sitting diners who desire pickled bits of Japan. I wonder for a moment, why am I squatting alone in the dark, under the pretense that I will manage to cook for myself? Oh yes, it's quite a bit cheaper. I'm not staying for just a brief bit of pleasure; I'm in this for weeks. And I must learn to cook in this country some time.
Now I'm eating almonds and typing, almost desecrating the place to unpack and replug my computer. But I'm offline so I think of this as hermitage. Ito-san walks by and must have seen my fingers trembling. She observes, cold isn't it? And closes the door for me so my space heater will generate heat for my space only. I will miss the activity in the hall and her inquisitive stares.
Only one contact, right, works. I want to be able to see at least half of the baths without my glasses. So I have near and far vision alternating depending on which eye I'm thinking with. It's discombobulating combined with people staring and making pleasant chit chat. Often they stare, catch themselves, nod, and I can't tell what's going on - all I see is skin and hair in motion without expression.
There are four baths here, best I can tell, I done 'em all pretty quick. I got the lay of the land. And then bought a bowl of cooked rice for 150yen, A returned to me room and cooked up miso and fish flake soup with pork and mushrooms and onions. Had a stumpy beer and now it's time to thaw my fingers and work maybe. 7pm only. Dark for a while now.
I ended up laying in bed at 8pm "to think" and sleeping promptly, after my Tokyo pre-departure all-nighter. I would wake up every few hours to fumble for my glasses around my bed and fall back asleep. Ito-san opened the door to check on me and make sure that I had found my sleeping materials okay. She seemed surprised to see that I had. I left the window open a crack accidentally, and I was wondering why there was a breeze on my head.
At 3am, awake, I wondered out to the baths with my camera and took pictures of all of them. A nice young Japanese man saw me in the baths taking pictures and offered to take my picture. I went to all the baths except the large public bath; somehow figuring it was better to photograph that in daylight. I took pictures in a bath where I couldn't read the darkened sign; the next day I would see that it was a woman only bath. I had the nicest lighting; I'm glad I got some photos there.
day 2 - starting (Tuesday, 15 January)truth be told i came up here to write fiction
and as i look through the "fict" folder on my laptop
i realize the four separate writing projects I've started are all the same
here i have come to merge them
Today I sit in my futon, drink from the thermos of hot water Ito-san brought yesterday that's still steaming, eat dinner leftovers, make up people and situations based on all I've encountered and studied. When I have a lull, I play the finger piano. Microsoft Word just changed "blissed out" to "blessed out." Should I turn off auto-correction?
As frustrating as that might be, I think to myself - I would like to make each section or chapter a document and have the choice to work on all the chapters at once, or work on each one as a separate file. About five minutes with MS Word help, and I find the "master documents/subdocuments" which is exactly what I want. Now if I could just get Word to stop asking me if I want to save my changes to a document when I have only paged through it. To view it is to change it - it's a very formal way to look at examination, but one that is empirically true. Congratulations Word, on enforcing the paradigms I learned in High School science but have since lost the vocabulary to describe.
I'm actually able to write today, not keeping track, but I think I've added about five pages so far, and some structure for the early and middle parts. It's building to a climax, which is where Rushkoff said the hard work comes. Figuring out what to do with all the tension you've made up until the last third of the book. That's exactly what I'm writing up towards, the last third of the book.
I'm eating some yogurt out of a metal pan from last night - still no bowl. I don't have dish soap, so my pan has a slight inflection of pork in the yogurt. Not too tasty.
I've got all this great shit to say about the characters and their environment, but it would seem to be more artful and expressive to have the characters talk and exist instead of describing them. I've forgotten, purposefully perhaps, what other books have been like. The Plague was among the last fiction I remember reading, and that strikes me as sparse now. The Donald Richie reader has bits of his fiction in it, and all of what is quoted is narration, some kind of all-knowing voice describing the characters from afar with more to say about how pained and knowledgeable the author is than anything having to do with human intimacy and actual character creation. I remember William Faulkner, reading him in college, and how his books would be dialog and the interior life of these characters expressed in such a way that you knew them to be deep or involved, all the while reaching for where they came from and the details of their personage and attachments. Maybe I'm romanticizing him. I flipped through Speed Tribes on my way out of Tokyo to check the dialog to description ratio, it seemed to be about 80% exposition. I wish I had a dictionary on this computer.
Now it's dark, five pm. I had been hoping to go to the large public bath while it was still light, to watch the sun go down. I've been working steadily since about 11am, and accomplishing things. Like seven pages or so, and an evolving sense of the circumstances for my character. I haven't figured out who he is or why he's doing what he's doing, but the activities of his life are fascinating enough for me now, and I have some faith that the other details will emerge in time. I've managed to write sitting on a futon so my body aches so I feel as though I actually might deserve the chance to take a bath and unwind some. I keep saying, yes well before I go to the bath, why don't I check the outline so I can see where I need to build this thing out. And then I write for fourty more minutes. I started today with about 1500 words I'd typed over the last few weeks in Tokyo.
Of course I guess the honesty of this project is that if I don't create characters I care about I won't have anything to do with them as the final moments come up. Writing about dead people will become a chore. So I must make them lively or somehow worth writing about. But maybe people are interesting to me precisely because of the descriptive details. My friends criticize me for saying, "he's an Irish Muslim potter" but that's enough to get me riled up.
day 3 - soaked (Wednesday, 16 January)
(journal excerpted to Gentlemen)
last night continues:
"Taking my notes and my portable typewriter, I went to a hot springs resort in Kagoshima - the Ibusuki Kanko, then just a small country inn alongside its enormous baths. I would work every morning until lunch, eat and take a bath, then go back and work until dinner, then eat and take another bath before falling asleep. In this way, I could easily and quickly write a chapter a day.
I figure the Japanese must consider the onsen baths a hangover cure; I'm torn between heading to the baths first thing or trying to write. Of course this means procrastination on note-taking instead; I feel damaged. Slight movements trouble my head. I wish for things within my grasp; more water, yogurt; but I will not rise to get them. I'm listening to Little Yellow Different's birthday mix on repeat, Jungle and IDM MP3s from a single tinny laptop speaker, like listening to a transistor radio. How far we've come with technology.
So far 6004 words - 4500 added yesterday. At 500 words a page, I added 9 pages. Whatever that means!
I'm not used to having a block - usually the words flow, I write about my life or the people I meet, or I write about mobile phones or web sites or video games; the source material is always there to reference. Here the source material is the intangible imagination. The imagination was tightened by a soured stomach from last night. So I try a few things to loosen it up - hours of GameBoy, a bath watching the light go from day to night, as a flurry of snow kept my head cold and wet. Listening to Biggie, Snoop, Tupac and admiring the contrast with my setting, wondering who was the last person before me to listen to Gangsta Rap MP3s at this 300 year old inn.
But their words aren't loosening mine. Ayako called; the hotel staff comes to get me as I'm buying mineral replenishing sport drinks. I had thought today to call her and thank her for preparations, but I laid in a sick puddle instead. She professes being worried about me, not sleeping, being sick, skipping work. Of course she does a lot of this stuff normally so it's hard to tell what's going on. She complains that her life is boring now. I tell her, if I'm living in a bare room in the back of a creaky old inn with nothing to stimulate me besides some baths and some people, she can't be bored in her house in Tokyo.
In the bath I laid across a rock, since no one else was out to mind. I talked out loud about my book and my living situation. I remembered reading "Your Turn to Curtsey, My Turn To Bow" and thinking at the time that was a severely simple indulgent book. And so that should leave me free by example to practice the craft of writing something long without so much regard for outcome or standing. For chrissakes!
Of course my source material is there, as I've framed nearly everything I've started writing before - the search to understand the meaning of fatherhood. With a lot of technological distraction. Can the fatherless father?
Orbital Halcyon puts me to sleep at 18:40, so does Robert Palmer's Sneaking Sally medley. VU Sister Ray gets me working on a new first chapter. Now that things have loosened up, I'm listening to this song for about the tenth time. And this is work! I have all these marvellous ideas; I've better plotted out the start of the book and the characters involved. But the fleshing out is labour to be sure. There are some inspired paragraphs, and some others fleshing things out.
I have my stomach completely under control until I somehow launch my Winamp music visualizer and I'm staring at Pixies - Brick is Red strobed and quivering, and I feel vertigo.
In this text, a boy goes to live with his Mother he's never met. She's Japanese, living in Los Angeles. I'm trying to write her style of English speaking. I fear making her a sort of linguistic immigrant stereotype. Still if there's anything I've been able to study over these last few weeks, it's Japanese people speaking little bits of English.
Somehow I had decided to locate much of the early action in Los Angeles. But I don't know Los Angeles well enough to write about it. Anyone who knows Los Angeles would see through. Still the Bay Area doesn't quite seem large enough for this. Maybe I know it too well. I can search and replace Los Angeles, but as this text grows, replacing a location or a name or a personality trait or detail becomes an increasingly challenging prospect.
22:09, I reach 10,000 words listening to St. Stephen -> The Other One (live, 1969) second time through.
I think of Rabbit Run, and how artful a small slice of life was served, without ice cream. My work is yearning harder for larger purpose. I'm recalling Snow Crash, I read some years ago; one lone programmer who can save the world through cyberspace. A comic book adventure story backed up with fascinating research.
day 4 (Thursday, 17 January)A small recent dream comes true. Yesterday, in the baths in the morning with some men from the night before, I watch someone from Tsurunoyu climb up on to the roof of the main building and push thick snow off. Relieving the roof.
I'm sorry for him, but I wanted to see more snow. And now there are thick sheets of it falling here. SevenThirty and my alarm has just rung awake.
9.45am Lunch - a sort of miso porridge with leeks, old rice, pork bits, tofu, mushrooms. I suspect I'll be seeing a lot of these ingredients over the next few weeks. Unless I plan out some meals and get cooking with Chicken or Fish! Some salty nori is the ideal garnish. I make my food and then I clean up. There isn't much to do but by the time I sit down to eat my food is nearly as cold as the kitchen.
Two days ago, in the outdoor bath, the bespectacled English speaker explained that he was a Jomon-jin, a person who believed in the very old gods and very old traditions of Japan.
Just after lunch my door is cracked open by Motegi-san, sticking her face in, checking on me. I hadn't met her - she lives across the hall, next to the kitchen. She wanted to know if I was eating. I took her into the kitchen to show her my lunch, and then we returned to my room; she came in without any hesitation. She had a little notebook with English phrases she ran over with me - an English teacher, a young woman from America Janet had stayed here for a few days last fall; she instructed Mingi-san "The bath is open 24 hours. Breakfast is served from 7am until 8.30" She would say each of these to me and then break out into a wide grin. She was wearing lipstick; her hair was pinned back in a plain blue bandana. She spent some good time pawing through my dictionary, pointing out different words, talking about the sparrows and the weather. She used the casual forms with me. I brought out my Japanese textbook for the first time this trip and she read through the vocabulary. We talked about my family, and hers a bit - she had lived in France for two years when she was young. She had me guess her age; I guessed 34 on the nice side of things; she had a young face but much metal in her teeth; she is probably in her fifties. Her husband lives in Yokote on business. She taught me two proverbs - even monkeys fall from trees, and even dogs stumble into walls. And one more I don't yet understand about seven times, eight times. She said she had been awake cleaning since 5am so she excused herself after about an hour to take a nap.
Vocab: author (sakusha), neighbor (kinjo no hito), kyoudai (siblings), happy (shiawase), guide (gaido/annainin), favourite (okiniiri no), suzume (sparrow), korobu (to fall), sweat (ase), hall, kokoro (thought), saru (monkey), ochiru (to fall), mamoru (keep a promise, observe, defend), tariru (to be sufficient). Mamoru she used when she asked about my Dad - I said he was dead. She said, now you study so your dad you mamorete. Something like that - the translation seemed to be that I was upholding my father's honor by working hard here. I was touched by that.
I left at 2pm or so, finally using a quarter of the immense pile of winter warm wear I brought with me to layer up for the outdoors. Longunderweared and snowpantsed, I wandered out towards the road, and then took a left across the woods. Immediately I met a patch of waist deep snow puffs - a forest quiet except for rushing water and falling snow. I walked, I lay, I dug a hole, I sat in the hole and admired trees. I jumped over sulfur creeks (not very well) and climbed onto a regular footpath. Down the footpath I saw over a large forest, divided neatly into sections of only pine, only birch.
Back in my room, well-tired and worked over, bathed and warmish, I watch a DVD movie on my laptop: Taxing Woman is well-crafted, funny. I think I appreciate it more since I've lived in Japan. Not that I watched it before, but I laughed at the demeanor of certain people. Because it was typical or exceptional; things I've learned a bit about since living here.
Then I made some web pages tonight. I like making web pages. I had the movie play again as my desktop wallpaper, listening to Japanese behind my work. Finishing up late around 1.20am, I put on Al Green, singing Christian - his full throat and excitement is a stark clash with the understated quiet of this place I'm living in. Even more so than Gangsta rap, which lacks some of the conviction of Green it seems.
day 5 - town (Friday, 18 January)Three hours in the bath talking to a relative idiot. Not a bad guy and maybe if I had asked more questions he would have come out better. But he was persistent in a way to demonstrate something about me that I did not understand and dug into my personal life and history while somehow passing judgement in the form of questions about my mental state and physical condition. I probably didn't help his estimation of me by leaving the bath and sitting in the snow. Still the snow was compelling in a way that made three hours in the bath seem like an experience. Overhead, winds whirled snow around underneath a clear night and a starry sky. It was a true kind of magic, wonderful.
Then I return and Ito-san invites Mengi-san out of her room they are going to the baths; Mengi-san invites me too. After three hours in the bath my face hurts, tightened from cold wind and sulfur water. I am baked and frozen, soaked and parched. I can't do much except type my thoughts take out my contacts and head to bed. Not before I pad around upstairs to see how the other half lives; there was a woman on a DoCoMo mobile phone chatting (I asked her when she finished) and a supply of Manga sitting around.
This man in the bath, he talked always for his girlfriend. That's a habit that annoys me. I mean I would occasionally step in with Amy when I didn't feel she was doing herself justice, and maybe that was wrong, or at least subject to debate. But this guy, man she didn't get more than ten words in for two hours. He said, she speaks English good. You should talk to her. All this stuff. And then on and on he talked. All the while, I'm thinking - wow this is great Japanese practice. My toes were curling.
I climbed out, walked down a snowy path in sandals, sat naked in a throne of snow. My entire body wanted to jump forward, "can you control your mind?" I repeated again and again. I heaped snow on my legs and chest. I stared up at the stars. Then I started to think, "Can you get pneumonia?" and I clambored out, coming down the path steaming and snow encrusted as a naked Japanese man gripping his towel ignored my apparition. Yosh Yosh Yosh I said vehemently, trying to expel the pain in my skin through my mouth. I eased into the water and felt that wonderful moment of extreme temperature change when your entire skin is awake and dying. And this guy says to me, "You are very noisy!"
Later, he was shaking my hand saying goodbye again, and three Japanese men were climbing in (about the fourth shift on my watch), and they were all chanting Samui! Samui! Yosh! All sorts of exclamations about the cold, and I pointed out to my friend Madoka, you see, Nihonjin can be noisy too.
At one point he climbed to the center of the pond. It was near the end of our time together this nite. I was sitting now alone with his lady Jun, always wearing a yellow towel wrapped around her chest. I said something about something, probably the weather or the stars, because I can only speak like a child and when I sit under snow like moving stars and stars that stand still behind steam rising from the warm stale water that I sit in comforted, I feel fine speaking about magic as a child. He says, "no touching." He was one of those guys (I dislike that phrase), one of those guys who kept asking, "what do you want to do, what do you really want to do," without reference for my previous answer. I'll ask that question, once maybe twice, and by then I've usually found a topic to drill down on. Who is your favourite musician? Duke Ellington. How about someone popular? Jesus, Ayumi then.
But it's not all bad, he approached a mostly illiterate and probably offensive and likely strange foreigner without fear and mostly without reproach and provider this foreigner with hours of language practice. This is a way to see each human being I see each day as a means to an end.
And that was after I'd already spent an hour talking to another young man, who dipped his steamed up glasses in the water to unsteam them. He was 33 and single; did he hope to meet a lady at a hot springs? But of course. If I sat in a hotsprings for a few weeks straight for a few hours every day, I would come out with good Japanese. Somehow I think I'm going to manage a way out of that, but conversational Japanese seems to be coming on. It's a strange feeling. I'm maturing quickly in this language - now somewhere around 5 or 6 years old maybe. Moving, I seldom encounter the same people in the same situations; it's hard to benchmark.
I'm thankful that my contact lenses function. I'm thankful that my computer functions. I'm thankful that I have sat under the starry snow magic of North Japan. He said, what is your dream? Where do you want to be? The last dream I remember having seems to have looked like this. But this is so excellent, it's hard for me to remember anything I wanted to see more.
Ate lunch at a ramen restaurant where the traditional Japanese floor seating was more popular than the western chairs. I availed myself of a western chair.
I stopped for a piece of cake at an empty sweets shop. The proprietress was very nice; we chatted about this area. She gave me a sweet "designed to look like a tit and nipple" she pointed out with her gestures and her words.
I mailed a package, a letter and a postcard to the United States.
I don't want to lose weight; I might as well eat. So I spent about 6200 yen on fish, bacon, eggs, tofu, mushrooms, cookies, bread, chocolate spread, garlic margarine, butter, athletic drinks, orange juice, chocolate drink, yogurt, granola, ramen noodles. Took the last bus back to Tsurunoyu at 6.30pm - it was completely dark, and I was the only traveller. I chatted with the busdriver about raccoon dogs, and whether they make for good eating.]
day 6 (Saturday, 19 January)I wake up and lay in bed and wonder if what I really want to do is be a father. And then I start to wonder what I would have to do to prepare for that.
Then Motegi-san comes to the door, peeking her head in, and we end up talking for two hours. Man! What a great deal; she's patient, enthusiastic, interested in sharing with me. She brought tomatoes, daikon, eggplant for me to eat. Last time she brought a bottle of a sweet medicinal drink. She sang "old black joe" again - that song sort of weirds me out. She played on my finger piano. It was very relaxing and fun conversation! I am glad to have this friend here.
Admitting you're not eating properly may be an effective way to get ladies to pay attention to you, but after a few days of focusing entirely on my head and arms I remembered what fun my mouth and stomach can have. Last night was salmon poached - one small camping pot half filled with water, one smaller camping pot with onions, mushrooms, sake, soy sauce, and salmon rubbed with miso-paste placed on top of that mix. Salted nori on top of that, two lids and let it bubble around for fifteen minutes. Delicious.
This morning, I realize that my camping pot lids also work as pans. I'm not sure if that's standard for camping equipment; I'm glad I bought the best set they had at that store; two pots and two pans is enough for me to get creative here and it's still quite portable. garlic margarine and onions, a touch of soy. Then take that pan off, and put the smaller pan on, with three half strips of bacon. cook them, then cook another three. then put the large pan back on with the onions, pour on the bacon grease. Cook til near blackening and then pour in two eggs. Stir thoroughly with chopsticks. Pull off, garnish with nori. Listen to Blind Willie McTell singing "Southern Can." Yum! Eat a carrot afterwards for a bit of health and put a lighter, sweeter flavour on the palette over the salty pork.
I spend the morning on correspondence, mostly related to Chanpon. It's easier to focus on writing linearly when I'm offline, but it's unsatisfying to have the messages remain on my computer after I finish them. They've already left my mind but they won't reach the world until Monday when next I acquaint my computer with a payphone.
People invite me to their wedding. Often I take pictures and notes. Then later I feel obliged to make a web page about it. Not as a heavy obligation, but in recognition that weddings are for the purpose of telling people about a public commitment to love and family. That's something I like to celebrate or observe. Today I spent a few hours making a page about a wedding I attended back in November. Giving a full-fledged media content treatment to a party your friends had feels a little weird. You hope that it will be received as a thing of value and positive sentiment.
Some nights here I slack off and relax with Golden Sun in Japanese on the GameBoy. Last night, it was Dune 2. Tonight, I'm making web pages. First, a tribute to Tetsugakudou, a black magic ramen restaurant. Then a page about walking in the Akita snow. The photos take all the time. Gosh I love making web pages.
Motegi-san brings by a gentlemen for a goodnight, photo show and technology demonstration. She said show them your Mom and (step-)father. Then she'd tell this man, they're both lawyers in America. Ito-san dropped by as well. Motegi-san said, play the music - I played an MP3 of Ashita-ga-aru for her earlier so she wanted to show them again. And I showed them that I could watch a DVD movie (the excellent A Taxing Woman). And I showed them my articles about Akita, Tsurunoyu, etc. We chatted for some time, about life in America, life at Tsurunoyu. The gentleman left. A younger man came Tanaka-san. It seems they might help me find another place to stay down the road. They stayed for at least 90 minutes, close to midnight we said oyasumi. It's severely cold tonight; possibly the coldest it's been yet. The heater only helps some. I break out the big guns - my full body fulllength long underwear. I discover that the other folks (all employees) who live in similar rooms to mine all cook in their rooms. My hands are trembling and my feet frozen by the end of each meal I prepare these last two days.
So I returned to my onions, now looking tastily glassy with some black parts and smelling fine. I added them to the mixture and it smelled divine and photographed well. But the taste, a hint of burnt. The onions were too far gone and they brought too much carbon into my soup darn it. And the homebrew liquor, holy cow - it tastes like tree fungus. It's really out there. Deep country shit. I find that if I drink it in large gulps, as opposed to small sips, it doesn't taste quite and skin-crawly. But after two or three big gulps, my stomach did a backflip. So I'm holding off for right now.
day 7 (Sunday, 20 January)fiction or web pages? So many more web pages to make. But I lay under the stars in warm water at night and think to myself, I should really let myself off on this fiction project and just write something. Not worry about whether it's Updikian or Stephenson, just write.
That is, I think when I'm not talking to Howard, a tall New Zealander from the Jet Program and the first foreigner I communicated with here. He lives in Akita-ken, about two and a half hours away. Teaches at 14 different schools; he sees probably about 1000 kids per semester. And now they have more English teachers in Akita than ever.
And then I remember that I actually have some writing work to do. Yimney! (TheFeature: Old School Game Designers).
In the kitchen I brush my teeth for the third time this trip. In the sink, there's puddles of ice. I begin to see why people couldn't imagine living in this kind of cold.
I'm listening to Japanese pop music it fills me with a strange sort of longing I don't entirely enjoy. At first I was able to work steadily and now I think more of fictional things. So instead I put on a North Korean song about KimChi (NorthKorea-KimchiKkakdugi.mp3). And then the White Stripes, who feel like perhaps the diametrical opposite in spirit and musical quality from j-pop.
This is marvellous and indefinite. I could be here for today or forever. Most people adjust to their surroundings. I can get along here. But I feel the tug of work and career. I've signed up for some fulfilling projects and so far I can only do them about three quarters here. If I want to do them 100% I should really be back in one of the world's urban capitals. I wanted to be here to do a different sort of writing. And I have done that. And I will continue to do it. But always the freedom of time I have makes me wonder, where should I be next? or now?
Being in the hot springs every day is a great luxury but my face is tightening, painful from the water and wind and cold and hot repeated. Today my stomach is upset, eager to expel something I've eaten recently. My toes and fingers are only just now returning to a feeling of mutual admiration after a long trial separation last night.
I see ladies here, young ones in pairs or groups. Their eyes widen often when they see me, a foreigner here. And I see them, and I usually nod just a little and keep on with whatever I'm doing. And each time I do so, I remind myself that if I want to develop any possible consorts for warmer times, I might try striking up conversation, giving a greeting, smiling, something. And then I think I have a sense of purpose to my affairs, and I'm mindful of being a guest here, under the watchful eye of caretakers and elders. I don't want to develop a reputation as a lech. So I figure I will keep moving until I make eye contact with a lady that can not be ignored. To see a pretty girl is to be happy that you have seen such a thing. To talk to every pretty girl you see is to make a career of sensual desire. Wouldn't I rather be back in my room alone in my long underwear typing to myself?
Word count: 12048. Was it Keroac who insisted on 3,000 words a day, at all costs? And then Capote said of On the Road, "That's not writing, that's typing."
Multiple choice test:
You are staying in Akita in the Winter. You have finished cooking. You hold a greasy pan. Filling that pan with water and leaving it to sit by the side of the sink is:
A) a great way to procrastinate on cleaning
As it was with the Digital Underground: Sex Packets, the answer is D, All of the Above:
Motegi heard me in the kitchen and came out to offer me some onigiri - rice ball. After the nori, and salted rice, delicious salmon. It was a wonderful start to my proper eating today. I pointed to the stump and mallet laying in the corner of the kitchen; was that for making mochi? I asked (traditional Japanese pounded rice). Yes, during New Year's week only. I showed her a bag of Mochi I bought with Ayako at DonKihote before my trip up here. Motegi whipped out her toaster and heated them till they exploded like marshmellows. She mixed up sugar in soy sauce and we ate the steaming puffy white treats. Yum!
How do you say "fingerless gloves" - that's what I need up here. I've got two pairs of regular gloves; maybe I'll buy a cheap pair of gloves in town tomorrow and just cut the fingertips off. I'll be up early tomorrow, to travel with Tanaka-san to visit Misukawa onsen nearby. Last night when all the folks was in my room, talking about my travels some, they discovered I was leaving to look for another onsen when this one is full next weekend. So Ito-san immediately elected herself to call Mizusawa onsen nearby to see if there was space in the jisui. Then Tanaka-san with his car was volunteered to drive me there Monday to take a look at it. These people are astonishingly sweet to me.
When I write about what I cook and eat on my web site I think about my Mom, because we often enjoy talking about food together.
There's computers and media devices in this story. I'm trying to resist the urge to create a technology mythology, with "first generation" devices and "prototypes" and bootlegged software transiting the globe. Focus on people not on hardware. I think that's what the critique of Cyberpunk said that I found in the New York Times when I was in high school. The editorial is cut out, and stuck in a file marked "media" in my file cabinets at my Mom's house.
I have many articles saved on this hard drive in folders under different topics. Tonight I whipped out the Japan folder and read some fiction; "Zoetrope All-Story - Hiropon my Heroine." I've now been here long enough, and I've read enough about this country to feel somewhere in between when I read this story. I am neither the newbie Indiana Jones Journalist protagonist, nor am I the mystified characters cavorting about Japan, flirting with danger in the nightlife. For the time being I'm jet setting in a bathtub, in my own mind, and this man he writes with a sense of urgency, to make where he visited the future, a glossy surface that reflects back at him the lonliness he feels as the inescapable exotic feminine has defied him. He makes his lonliness into some taut prose in praise of urban living intended to ignite desparately accelerated circumstances. The mass of men may lead lives of quiet desparation, but some lucky ones, their desparation is quite loud. So here I am.
When I first arrived in Tokyo I thought I wanted to be a fashion journalist. Maybe after the Pillow Book I thought this. An endless parade of shimmering people. Accelerated living. Now I think I have enough adventure learning to make mochi with an old nurse in a drafty inn set in cold mountains. When this has been done, then will I be ready to settle?
So I skip past that straight to the Sam Sloan, who, as ever, has written the most incisive prose on whatever subject it is we share this evening. Somehow I've had the foresight to save a copy of "Hard Times in Tokyo, Japan, A Screenplay" to my hard drive, and right now I am deriving much enjoyment from this reading. All that is fashion and pretense and post-contemporary cliche in Hiropon my Heroine is unrepentantly stilted prose depicting non-sequetorial lust, cuttthroat chess and mindless sexual conquest in "Hard Times in Tokyo, Japan, A Screenplay"
Why bother with fiction? After three beers, I can think of three reasons:
I have questions about my life that I want to explore in written form unhindered by real-life relevance, so with fiction I create an environment in which I can test theories about humanity and culture and then propose possible results. That and I wish to get laid, and I wish to get paid.
Unbelieveable - They said there was another guest staying at the jisui tonight, but I couldn't have imagined this. Mesako is 26, a drop-out grad student in anthropology from berkeley. She just finished touring with her all girl punk electronica band "Robert Johnson's Tamales" in Osaka/Kyoto, and a friend has recommended this place to her. So she pulled in here with a duffel bag with a bunch of fabulous clothes in it, pretty much unprepared but with a great attitude. She's an experienced welder and she knows tai chi. I caught her in her room, as I was walking by the door was open and she was doing some martial arts routine in a full-length pink chiffon robe. She's half Honduran and half Japanese; we ended up sitting in the outdoor tub as the sun went down, talking in Japanese, Spanish and English. Turns out she's a huge John Coltrane fan; she's been educating me about him. But she's been keen on learning more about early Jazz, and blues so that's where I've been talking. She doesn't have any plans between now and March so we're talking about travelling around Akita together. This looks like a serious impact on my ability to work, as she is just now calling me to come into her room to listen to something. The vibe is full on brain bending, with a fair amount of physical heat; she's got a strong body, that's apparent even with her clothes on, and she got a lively eye. I look forward to seeing more of this girl!
Hah. As if. I drank a few beers, futzed around on my computer, now I head off to the baths before bedtime.
Heading into the public bath after managing to shave myself I passed another figure in dark robes like mine, hair up in the particularly female bundle of Japan. I said, good evening. And got only a startled head gesture response.
Later, entering my building, I saw the same head, toothbrush and porcelain cup in hand, headed to the sinks. I quickly trotted back to my room, let my towl drop to the ground from under my robe, hung up my washcloth, gathered my toothbrush and toothpaste from the kitchen and hightailed it to join her in toothbrushing at the sink. She was so discreet; brushing gently, spitting in little bits, with her hand near her mouth. Rinsing her mouth out from a porcelain cup, and then spitting little bits again. I made some comment about how cold something was, an easy starter here. We talked of art, and Ueno Park museums, and Jomon period art as it relates to Paul Klee. She works as a pharmacist in a hospital but her hobby is painting. She's 32. We talked about scuba diving, her trip to Australia, my travels in Japan. She's single, lives with her parents ("hazukashii" she said, laughing, covering her mouth, with tiny gray teeth lined up neatly). Yokoyama-san. A young woman alone on vacation away from her parents, and a young foreigner living alone, both cold in a mountain inn late at night. Time to head back to our respective rooms! After a nicely pregnant sustained handshake that she initiated. I stood, in the hallway as she shuffled up towards the stairs; should I have pulled on that hand? Should I have reached out to touch the arm? (do I dare to eat a peach?) Those gestures seem so severe; most of when I fool around with someone it doesn't require that sort of physical coercion. But if I'm curious to see sex, I should try the different means to achieve it. We stood outside my room talking just a moment; I had led her there to give her my card. And I felt as though her voice was loud and would attract attention from my friends and neighbors. The screens have ears, they say in Japan. And should I care? So far I've been inclined to feel that I should.