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Thursday, 28 March

Today I landed from Chicago in San Francisco and put in ten hours with Ryan working on a video game interview teevee show pilot episode. Final cut and cover letter nailed down, out in the mail this week. Tomorrow morning I return to living nowhere in Japan.

The United States is nice.
Justin --

You know you can count on me to perk up and tell you when you've done some top-notch writing. I must, regretfully, hereby notify you that the following vapid line will probably provoke me to taunt you for years to come:

"The United States is nice. " -- Justin Hall

Howard Rheingold
what it is ----->is------>up to us

I missed some folks, and neglected some bills and business but there was an immense amount of compressed human relating. My mother and I palled around Chicago together, increasingly a treat as I live farther away from my one surviving direct ancestor. Mom was delighted by a recent exhibition in Chicago and took me along for her third visit: Chihuly in the Park: a Garden of Glass. A eyepatched glass sculptor from the Pacific-Northwest visited an immense aged plant conservatory in a neglected neighborhood in Chicago and felt inspired to impregnate it with his organic glass sculptures. It's a marvellous thing to wander through; the best moments are integrated: when you discover some bit of polished shiny alien outgrowth from an already strange looking tree or bright glass bulbs are spied coming up through grass.

This colored glass artist elevated the attendance at Garfield Park Conservatory to 40,000 people in a weekend. That's more than the movies. I like to think of this outpost of plant-love in Western Chicago calculating the difference between 200 people in a weekend and 40,000. The Garfeild Park Conservatory is in a part of Chicago that looks more like La Ceiba, Honduras, than America - run down buildings, trash, abandoned projects, loitering folk. So now all these people from polished Chicago are driving through the lowzone to see glass and plants. What will remain when the sculpture is removed and sold?

hondo packs

With her advisement and example I strive to compress my life into a single suitcase. Each thing I struggle to give up is vanity. You can always get by; there's few things you must have. It's all comfort and vanity.

  • three pairs of pants (jeans, gray jeans, and formal) [one too many]
  • nehru-collar suit jacket
  • two dress shirts - blue and orange
  • one short sleeved shirt, button-down, Howard colors
  • one overshirt - warm, red
  • one undershirt - thin synthetic
  • one shirt, longish sleeves, red
  • five pairs socks - varying thicknesses and lengths
  • five underwears - boxer shorts
  • three ties [one too many]
  • a swim suit - purchased in Daytona years back
  • an abused brown leather belt

    It all sounds marvellously compressed and I could get by just fine [didn't we see him wearing that same outfit yesterday, and maybe the day before?] but I left one bag with two suits and towels in it in a locker in the Ueno station in Tokyo. Hum. I'm spread out but still I feel myself consolidating. If I could capitulate on color and sink into all black, that might be easiest. That's what my Mom did to travel. I saw a monk meandering the other day, wearing orange robes. Why not just robes for me? Certain things it might be hard to do in robes, like sit around in a bar. I'm going for default societal outfits. Still I feel too high fashion at times, verging on formal. Society reacts to you different when you look formal, as opposed to informal. You can travel faster on planes looking formal. It's not so easy to climb around, get wet, or help people physically in formal clothes, at least if you care about their condition.

    Rough dates:
    Tokyo: March 29 - April 10
    Kyoto: April 10 - May 14
    San Francisco,
    Los Angeles/E3: May 21 - 24
    Mom visits Japan: May 28 - June 10
    Okinawa: June 12 - ?
    Plan is to to business in Tokyo when I first arrive. Then relocate for a month-long residence in Kyoto, the "culture capital" of Japan. Kyoto, many folks have said, is like the San Francisco of Japan - beautiful surroundings and pockets of surviving tradition attract people of a certain artistic temperment.

    Then Okinawa in June. It should be as hot in the summer as Akita was cold/snowy in the winter. And they are experiencing seemingly painful Japanese-foreign cultural mingling:
    "Okinawa, which has seen a long string of crimes by American troops, has less than 1 percent of Japan's total land mass but houses roughly 26,000 of the 48,000 American service members in the country."
    from Airman's Rape Conviction Fans Okinawa's Ire Over U.S. Bases by Howard French, NYTimes, 29 March 2002.

    *   *   *

    All of the Internet is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game.

    *   *   *

    Progress Quest is a simple application allowing just barely a bit of personal customization of a game experience and then you watch a prototypical electronic role-playing plot evolve. Game/media commentary in a small Windows game application. Beware the Double Hobbit Puma Burglar! Most of the Progress Quest fans I know of are game developers. Hmmmm.

    The depths of the ocean are an ongoing lure. I'm a sucker for deep blue visions, like scuba diving at night when you turn away from the group and turn off your flashlight and stare into mother ocean as you feel invited to join the great beyond, swim just a few feet, and a few feet more and feel fully embraced by loving cold.

    At Whole Foods The Fader magazine stood out on the rack near the cash register; I tossed a thick copy in my Mother's shopping cart. It's thick with advertisements mostly, and coverage of artists, mostly musicians, I'm interested in reading about. Cross-cultural agents of mixing and mysegination. Good articles. A shade too short at times.

    Friday, 22 March

    Harvey asked me, in conversation, after some time horsing around and talking politics with Lulu on a couch in the Fairmont in San Jose, where are you Justin? I've known him a short time but I've enjoyed much his moments of insight that seem more thoroughly owned as the evidence of his personal view construction is readily shared; he builds his thoughts before your eyes, guileless, for you to share if you care to listen all the way through.

    And I thought for just a moment to this and responded by reflecting on recent professional media geographies; I was just in Tokyo with foreign correspondents covering politics, some of these men who landed in Japan with General MacArthur, talking about the shape of Japan. Or I'm here at the Game Developer's Conference, mingling with young game developers stirring the dark vat of bubbling contemporary entertainment. Or I visit freak-friendly friends from San Francisco who were there to invent some of the web. I come from a family with some Nebraska and some serious lawyers and executives. And where am I? I'm a student to them all. I think that's what I said.

    And then driving home alone in the rain after I dropped Ryan off,
    Tired of staring at old footage, Ryan and I hit the GDC with a small ready video camera and taped a series of fast interviews with caring brainy game developer folks. This we hope to turn into a pilot episode of a Justin Hall show that might run somewhere looking for a video game TV show.
    I was saving this emotional moment for myself, a yearning for home I this night misplaced on a long remembered lady who flits back through my memory though I met her for one night only her figure and bright eyes left me something to cling to as her open heart seems still a welcome vessel in which to pour my soul. That was my unrefined reflection tonight; I would typically keep myself from wanting to pour, so as to balance by saying I would like to share instead. Something more equal, better befitting my firmly developed vision of a romantic partner busy in her own right. But I felt a need to empty myself in someone claiming to understand or at least listen, as it seems to me few folks do. Harvey elaborated: "you seem to listen, Justin, and just take all of this in. And then," he folded his hands, "you say, 'oh that's interesting.'"

    By my velocity I'm leaving lodging to chance, no place to stay when I return to Japan. I have some plots but none are designed to move me any closer to that lady, whoever she was. I think she might have been Los Angeles, this fleeting dream fulfilled in the moments when I flirt with some flakes, that I might have a soul that can find a soul-mate and then come to understand higher truth as we both sit our first long night, folded knee to folded knee, affirming each other's world view. I know, it's happened to me before. Except I look back on that world view now and it's been absorbed into personal obsession and more lengthly and permanent modes of behaviour, sustained only when you hold your fingers around a small flame, reminding yourself that heat doesn't hurt except in the head. And then you remember that you can pinch that fire wick whenever you get impatient so you can move to the next candle to eventually darken the room. I'm alone now, it's easier so far that way. But it leaves me with my story on the tip of my tongue, desparate to share, hands folded in my lap, standing up to greet and goodbye people in social gatherings, listening a long time to find some girl singing or a guy asking questions.

    Tuesday, 19 March

    Indie Game Jam

    If you could have 100,000 little characters running around in a video game world, what kind of game would you make?

    I spent the last four days, around 8-13 hours each day, in a barn-style wooden room packed with computers and programmers. It was a sort of summer-camp for people who can code hard and fast. They were each making games, and those games each had around 100,000 characters in them. I contributed art, hot air and music. Results to be shared Friday at the Experimental Gameplay Workshop during the Game Developer's Conference and perhaps in print.

    Searching for the Man in the Suitcase

    The New York Times web site will search their news daily for up to three search terms. I threw in "japan", and each day they send me links to their articles that mention Japan.

    When I can have access to the Internet, I read news constantly. I like to know what's going on in the world. But besides that, occasionally I find inspiration for my life in current affairs.

    Today I read this provocative piece by James Brooke One German, and His North Korean Conscience:

    Arriving in Washington this month, Dr. Vollertsen, a restless, rumpled man who lives out of a suitcase, talked to officials and members of Congress about his concerns.
    His constant travel is paid from royalties from [his book about North Korea, "Diary of a Mad Place"] and another memoir published in Japan on his experience in North Korea and from income left over from his job in North Korea. Using Asia's internet cafes and airport telephone centers, he communicates with an e-mail list of hundreds of Americans, sending daily news about North Korean rights abuses.

    I'm a functioning digital nomad these days and I enjoy reading about others. It reminds me that it's possible to live out of a suitcase, even if that doesn't always seem appropriately settled.


    index.html Last week I had the chance to stand in front of an audience and talk just a bit about my recent travels. You can listen to 12 minutes in Real Audio or watch a 2 minute Windows Media Video exerpt of my yammering at the Fray Cafe 2. Thank you Derek.

    Joel reminds me that they do have expensive hostess-type clubs in America, just that the women generally don't wear clothes.

    Thursday, 14 March

    Finishing my fifth year at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, America. Friendly, stimulating conference. Folks who make web sites and folks who make films share a city before many good bands join later in the week. As usual I did not take adequate advantage of the film and music options. But as usual, I met many web co-creators and had a marvellous time wandering hallways, eating Mexican food, hugging, singing - someone described it as summer camp.

    Running into many nice folks in the corridors of the Austin Convention Center. We chat a bit, and I am often asked some similar questions. Now I want to take a minute to examine the phrases I formulated to present my life in digestible bits.

    How is Japan?

    It's a fantastic challenge. I'm a child, I can't speak much or read and write much, so I'm relearning more basic human communication. Still it's frustrating sometimes when you can't tell a story [those moments when I string together events from the recent past and maybe throw in a metaphor or feeling are too often taken to be language mistakes or just politely nodded and smiled at]. But when you do have those moments when you successfully communicate, even something wildly basic, it's a fantastic triumph. By comparison, America is too easy.

    Of course none of that answer has anything to do with Japan, per se, except that they use a funky alphabet and so I can't read. Most of my answer here revolves around me and my working to challenge myself. Japan is a safe and stimulating place to do that. Plus I'm a student of people with decidedly different social boundaries, fairly obsessed with tools and costumes and both some eagerness and dread to have infectious foreign bacteria in their seemingly sanitized gene pool. But really I could be stimulated in many places. I actively work not to hoist Japan up as the pinnacle of strange nations, with alien peoples and collectable culture. Still few people visit Japan, while it exports bizarre but loved media products; so some folks get a strange light in their eyes when they're talking to me about that mythical island.

    What are you doing there?

    I've been working as a freelance writer. That's just a cover. The money and access I get from that leaves me free to research the largest pagan country in the world, and strange sex and gender in a homosocial environment, and write about it on my web site [and].

    That answer evolved, as I explained that I was a freelance writer repeatedly, I came to feel as though that didn't describe my life's work, that is, farting around and detailing it online. I have a higher calling, I should at least allude to that in vaguely salacious ways! As personal web page making is thankfully spared the status of a respectable profession, I'm left wondering whether I have a better time making news or reporting it.

    I met some filmmakers here, bang the machine! who have made a lively sounding film about a video game. And I thought, hey this is a great story for a game web site or maybe magazines. And then later I discover they've already been interviewed and profiled by some such publications. Being a contemporary culture hound, trying to track down the latest and greatest first, that is a frustrating business.

    So a better alternative is to be a journalist who puts those things in context. Keep your eye out for three or four things and then write a survey and perhaps point to some social ramifications. This is more along the lines of what I have been doing, but I feel antsy about my publications. I'm not in enough of them, at least financially speaking.

    But ultimately it would be best to step perhaps one step or one half step back, and write about society using examples. In this case, three movies about video games is not the focus, but rather a society that initiates its young people through the use of machines. And while I feel I have worthwhile ideas, and I'm exposed to fantastic culture, I need somehow still to climb some professional ladder to share these sorts of thoughts elsewhere besides my web site.

    Since I'm only able to work, tangibly, for an hour or two a day in the midst of this mingling and information retrieval in Austin, I'm restless about my work. Then I remember that I'm an editor at, which gives me good hope that I can expand the sorts of writing I share.

    Are you going back? /
    How long are you planning to stay?

    I'm going back on the 28th of March [hopefully in time for Hanami]. I plan to give my time there at least at year, meaning until October. I want to cement my Japanese language more, and I don't have anything better to do. If someone called me up and said, Justin, we have a web site / game / TV show / committee / company / project we'd like you to work on, I'd move to Cairo, Cannes or Columbine. But no one has asked me to do anything, so until then I'm learning, working, growing myself.

    This is probably a fairly honest answer, except that I'm occasionally groping madly about for new ideas myself, not waiting for people to invite me elsewhere. Write a book? Learn Chinese? I diddle myself with the usual distant fascinations and quiet desperation characteristic of the mass of men.

    I do have more than one project besides the work I share on my web site and my professional writing; these things largely unspoken keep me thinking that I will continue to be more than just a journalist as I age and risk losing some youth-identified attachment to diversity in my pursuits. Meanwhile I'm learning a dying language spoken by mostly reserved residents of a small island nation with a birthrate far below that necessary for reproduction of their society.


    Wednesday, 13 March

    SXSW 2002 pictures and recollection

    Japanese Mobile Phone Culture

    Sunday, 10 March

    I am at South by Southwest, a film/music/internet event in Austin Texas. I'll be here until Thursday. I'm part of a panel presentation on "i-mode and Asian Culture" on Tuesday afternoon; I'll be posting a slide show and some presentation notes up here shortly thereafter.

    Mileage Giveawayed

    I planned to give away a plane ticket to the person who wrote the best proposal for some online content they would make of personal travel. Fourty-five proposals were submitted. Eight judges voted. Two proposals came out on top, so I am giving away two plane tickets.

    You can read the proposals here. Matt P and Jess B are the winners.

    Thanks to all the folks who considered how their lives might be lived somewhere else, and how they might share that with the web. There are many deserving, motivated folks here. People with compelling stories and personal exploration ahead of them. Hopefully some will find other ways to fund their travels. If you have money or airline miles to share with them, I'm happy to put you in touch.

    I had thought to do an "audience choice award" for the second ticket, so you could have a chance to vote yourself. But the judges essentially elected two winners. Still it would be great fun to run an Internet vote for another winner, if we could keep it from becoming a pure ballot-stuffing popularity contest. It would take about 60,000 miles on United for most International plane tickets; smaller denominations of airline miles can only be donated to full-fledged non-profits. I'm open to any ideas.

    Either way, it's been inspiring to see the extent of enthusiasm and brains people have online. There's enough content here to start a fantastic online travel magazine.

    The judges did a marvellous thorough job of reviewing the proposals. Thank you Wayne, GK, Jeannette, Ryan, le, Steve and Svante.

    Wednesday, 4 March

    My first flight as a card-carrying United Airlines "Premier Executive 1K" - the highest level of frequent flyer possible on that airline. This is a sign that you are a professional traveller. You are afforded speedy service because you travel all the time. You know the routine. Except somehow I forgot it.

    I showed up at San Francisco International Airport in a buddhist monk's work clothes and wooden beads. So I look like some kind of moonie maybe. Except that I'm wearing a t-shirt from Wilson that says "THUG Lite." My shoes are colorful like clown shoes, and they always set off the metal detector. I'm carrying two mobile phones, a digital camera, a laptop and computer docking station.

    And this is the era of homeland terrorism. Travelling abroad, they don't seem to care, perhaps assuming that a slightly-dazed white American boy doesn't represent a threat. In this case, the American ideals of equality have been pressed into service so all are equally harassed without regard to ethnic profiling.

    After I have been frisked and wanded and patted and I have removed my shoes and turned on my laptop and two mobile phones and my bags and shoes have been chemically sniffed, they ask to search my bag. And I had forgotten that friend Jim gave me a large pair of scissors yesterday, that I left in my backpack. These couldn't fly, of course, but I pointed out the fantastic ergonomic quality of these scissors, as Jim had, encouraging the security person not to throw them away, but please to get some good use out of them. Then they discover a Leatherman pocket-knife tool I had forgotten. Then three lighters (mostly nicked from Ayako so as to slow her rate of smoking). My bag is a carnival of contraband. To keep any of my 80$ of hardware, I am turned back to rewait in line to check my backpack.

    Standing back in security line, I remove my shoes to put them on the conveyor belt, and unload everything in my pockets that could set off devices onto the security belt. I ask one woman for a box to hold my laptop on the security belt. She regards me long and hard. I realize, I am a suspect in America's War on Terrorism. I am "that guy with the knives and scissors and lighters who was wearing some kind of weird robes and is now walking around in his socks." And how could I react to this surveillance except to stare straight ahead and not engage them. Keep my mouth shut so as to stand out no longer, so I can get to my destination to meet friends.

    Wednesday, 4 March

    Recently I aspired to adventures best had single. I emailed some truth to a Japanese lady I've seen a lot of: "We have a lot of fun. But I'm busy," I said, "I like searching." She responded thusly:

    Your shining bright. You can do it anything. I want you to have fun and to be happy. So I say! がんばって! わたしもがんばります。 We had a good time in Tokyo. I thank you from my heart. (^-^) Have a nice day Justin.

    That was a warm breeze through my cold fetid heartland. I wept silently, invisibly on my way to meet a devilish gent at an open-bar party in a basement room with no windows. Artists and people who broker talent for brands spoke English and Japanese interchangeably. I collected business cards of motivated multiculturals. It was professional and aspiring. Objects, persons of desire abounding. Free to mingle voraciously, stretching limbs that had only recently been exercised Bonden carrying and love-making with a woman who seems to enjoy me unconditionally.

    Spoke with one lady, spent time at college in the United States. We exchanged some cultural references, signposts for study of Japan and America, clearly she was smart. But she protested that she hadn't been using English enough lately to follow all that I said.
    "Do you keep up with reading in English at all?" I asked, leaning forward just a bit.
    "Just two magazines" she said, hunching her shoulders up for a moment.
    I raised my eyebrows, "Which ones?"
    She demurred, a pause; "The New Yorker and the Economist."

    I later found my teeth under a nearby couch.

    She confessed she had never seen a love hotel. Torn between a bucklingswasher inviting her to see the legs-spread side of her own country, and a man intent to develop a smart female friend here I opted for some patience. We spoke some of Jomon. She found a ride home with a friend. And I left to find a capsule hotel.

    Aren't You Paranoid?

    brief financial portrait of a freelance journalist in Japan:

    February 2002:
    4 articles published
    $4670 earned
    $7000 outstanding credit card debt.

    Out on the street, I stopped to admire a perfect English manor home built in a Tokyo alley. I smelled something I haven't smelled in a long time. A snowboarding instructor Japanese looking but slang English talking and claiming to be from Canada, and his weedy white buddy in yellow goggle sunglasses who said he was a writer.
    "What kind of writer?"
    "You know Franz Kafka? Like that."
    "How you support yourself?"
    "I write articles."
    "Like about Japan?"

    He later confessed to being on mushrooms, as the snowboarding teacher pulled out a second joint along the main street connecting Roppongi to Aoyama.

    As we strolled along, them smoking pot at a brisk clip, leaving clouds in the Japanese streets for passers-by, I slowly edged away and contemplated how I would explain that I didn't really know them. "Aren't you paranoid?" I asked.
    "What, man, of the cops?"
    "Naw, look around you man there aren't any cops," he gestured with the flaming illegal embers between his fingers.
    I didn't see any police it was true. But I saw about fourteen men in blue suits with yellow helmets in charge of public safety near construction sites.
    "And besides they don't even know what this is" He let fly another gray cloud.
    I wasn't sure if I entirely believed this but it made a naive sort of sense. If very little marijuana makes it into Japan, the average cop wouldn't likely be exposed to it. Still it seemed wise to part ways. Especially because the young "writer, like Franz Kafka" guy was acting slightly unhinged, gesturing at far away buildings and speaking in sentence fragments about this crazy day. "You're tripping" said the snowboarding instructor and I had to agree.

    "Red Light: Keep Walkin': High Touch Town: Roppongi"
    massaji? uh, hai

    So I strode on in search of a capsule hotel, standing tall in a New Haircut and contact lenses and slightly high I recognized the international flavour of Roppongi and wondered why the area of greatest cultural mixing should seem so repellant to me? Desire for sale attracts all matter of folks, the great equalizer should be celebrated as such perhaps.

    I was accosted by the usual ladies urging me to accept a message. Tired, I professed I was not looking for a massage, but some nearby capsule hotel, that I had been directed to by young men on psychedelic drugs.

    The third woman who spoke to me on this subject was unusually persistent, accompanying me for a few blocks. I said I really wasn't interested, I was just looking for a hotel. She said that I could sleep in the room where she would massage me. Is there a bed? now seriously considering this and enjoying the feeling that I was doing something perhaps stupid but not all that challenging.
    "Yes, there's a bed."
    "How much?"
    "In the massage shop, up the street."
    "How do I know that some big dude is not going to stand between me and the door and demand "I give you all my money?"
    "He won't."
    Above her cute puffy pale zitmarked cheeks I looked for truth. I saw some dark simplicity.

    Tired, 3am ready for bed and realizing the capsule had just disappeared and may never have been built, I allowed her to take my arm and lead me back past the other customers up into an unassuming second floor massage parlor. She didn't have an edgy dirty or bad vibe other than eager. Eager like a young woman inviting you to a party. And I wondered, what sort of party was this? In the space of what is left unsaid or misunderstood with this Chinese girl and this American boy sharing bits of Japanese and English was a world of fantasy and fear on the sidewalk and on up a narrow staircase.

    index.html Inside, on a l-shaped couch, a Japanese man and a young Asian lady sat looking over a menu of prices. At the other end of the couch, a Japanese man in an khaki-colored overcoat and black briefcase bag strapped across his chest lurched up at the insistence of a middle aged male host. He charged briefly towards me and opened his hand, "Hello!" in proud, wet English and he started to lean left hard. He was carried away and his seat was thusly vacated for myself and my hostess to consider the menu.

    All the scenarios for extortion, bullying and theft I had imagined paled in comparison to the fearsome truth - she planned to get me up into this massage parlor and upsell me.

    She offered me tea. It was 3am, I explained, tea makes me jumpy. No thanks. Only later did I remember that it's occasionally a good idea to turn down tea from strangers who might dose you and take your stuff. Travellers paranoia. Vibe reading. This doesn't happen to Mormons.

    We were handed a Japanese language menu - "I can't read so well, you'll have to help me."
    Pointing her slender fingers at the leading options: "You can get powder massage for 5000 and oil for 5000 and hot towel for 6000. But if you get all three, oil, powder, hot towel, it's only 150000."
    Imagining power, oil and hot towels on my private parts for just a moment, I reared back my mind and observed thrift; "Uh, how about that one?" pointing at the cheapest option on the menu, 3000 yen.
    "The facial massage?"
    Slightly under whelmed, "Facial is just fine with me, thanks."
    The middle-aged men hands her an English language menu. She quickly discards it out of my reach and focuses back on the Japanese I can't read.
    "Ah but you can't sleep if you don't get the VIP massage."
    "Huh? (90 minutes for 150,000?)" What happened to the prices I was quoted on the street? How did I ever expect that to be the whole story? And heck, was I going to get a handjob out of this without asking for it? And did I want one anyhow? Or did I just want to know if that was what we were negotiating? Why did I think that anything sexual was even on the table? Because this woman had accosted me late at night on a dark street in a part of town where sex seems to be sold?
    "I'll cut it down to 30 minutes for 6000."
    Uh, let's see. 90 minutes for 150,000 or 30 minutes for 6000. "6000?"
    "500 for towels and the after midnight charge." Her matter of fact manner and pointing to these listed charges in small print below the menu of massage services eased my mind groping for the seeds of my own exploitation.
    Feeling only slightly bamboozled, but more tired I readily consented. I was looking forward to a possible handjob, a bed, and the mystery of it all.

    She was nice, a honest seeming gal. And the man behind the desk, with some gray hairs complemented my Japanese and said I was better than him, though he'd been there three years from China. Earlier that night at the Foreign Correspondent's Club I had learned that the Japanese have a gesture for flattery; bright-eyed Ishibashi-san behind the reception counter demonstrated it for me - a flat palm and an upright fist moving in circles around, above it. The gesture evokes grinding sesame seeds with a sort of small mortar and pestle, the likes of which I've ground in the Tammeike-sanno katsu restaurant under NTT DoCoMo.

    I removed my shoes in the darkened room. Immediately I realized that when she said "room" where we would be massaging and I might be sleeping, she meant "space" and it was a curtained partition wide enough for a massage table ("bed" as she had referred to it) and someone to walk around it. My hopes for sleeping accommodations somewhat cramped, I looked forward to a massage. And so she told me to strip down to my shorts. Any worries I had that my stuff might be nicked was assuaged as I lay my belly down, put my head down in a headhole in the massage table, and notice that my stuff was placed in a basket underneath the headhole where I could always see it.

    She poured oil on my back and rubbed it. Shook baby powder over my skin and spread it into my muscles. She hammered at my back with her hands. She left and returned with hot wet handtowels and spread them over my back. Then she worked some on my limbs. It was a comforting average massage. She didn't dig deep into the reservoirs of emotional pain I have secreted away in long-cramped withering muscles, but she did make me feel comforted as a lonely man up too late. And as I lay there, asking her about her 23 year old from the Northeast of China in Japan to study Japanese self, I tried to keep quiet to respect the massage experience of those around me. And eavesdrop on what was massage radio - ten or so other clients each having their own physical conversational interaction with a Chinese lady in the same room. My masseuse did not follow this metaphor, or at least my broken language explanation of why I was laughing at the people around us. The Americans were loud and slow, "One hour" said one man repeatedly, no matter what the ladies said. I think the ladies might have been trying to upsell him. I felt bad for my country that he couldn't play along better. Another interaction went as so:

    "Owari" she said (finished).
    "Owari?" a somewhat groggy voice from the table. Japanese.
    "Te?" (hand)
    "Te. Te?"
    "Chotto matte" and she left the room. She returned and some discussion ensued, I didn't exactly follow.

    When IForgotHerSimplifiedAsianVersionOfHerRealName-OrMaybeNotEvenHerRealName-ButJustAJapaneseTwoSyllableThingThatSheCalledHerselfHere-ThatIStillForgot said we were done, I thanked her, praised her skills. She offered me another hour, a face massage, and then a foot massage. I respectfully declined all them looking forward to sleep. Trying to use my limited Japanese to be somewhat elusive or at least subtle, I followed up on my curiousity:
    "You approached me on the street late at night."
    "I thought all of these massages were sexual or perhaps there was something sexual involved."
    "But this was just a straightforward massage."
    "Is there something sexual here?"
    "No. This is healthy massage only."

    I thanked her. She brought in a foam pillow, and then a polyester blanket at my request. She left the curtained environment. And so was I left at 4am to sleep in my room, the sounds of skin being slapped and prodded and men hoping to get their dicks stroked and woman turning them down and upselling. I put in my earplugs and slept hard on a narrow massage table. In the morning I woke to an aching bladder and other snoring customers. I put on my clothes by light of my mobile phone and discovered I had slept seven hours; more than I would have slept at a capsule where they generally kick you out at ten am.

    Massaji? Beddy.

    Two Things I want

    In spite of an active program to avoid desire, I want two things:
    A Wired Doctor

    I have no regular doctor. I have health insurance I never use. I travel all the time. I want a doctor in Tokyo, San Francisco or Chicago - places I routinely visit once every few months. Or heck, Paris, Dakar, Melbourne, Austin. The point of the doctor is not to visit, just to visit once. After that I want to be able to correspond with this doctor. I'll email her or him photos of my conditions and ailments, and describe my symptoms. They'll tell me to eat more, sleep more and stop acting the fool. Medicine by correspondence - anyone know any Internet-ready medical professionals? I'll give them free advertising on!
    Where do you want to stay today?
    Lodging at South by SouthWest - this second desire I just overcame. It will work out.

    These days I seldom know where I will be sleeping this night. One black gent, a Tokyo veteran from America I met in the streets of Roppongi observed that this sort of thinking might have me living homeless on the street in some few years. Slightly guilty I remembered looking into the subway tunnel where one staggering drunk had just yielded his sleeping place; I had passed it up as I decided it would ruin my fine raiment and make my work difficult. But cheap! And easy!

    This week my reservation-less policy lead to some adventure, and a worsening cold. But friend Ethan, investment banker, has arrived in town and now I've got two nights sharing his penthouse double with him at the Hotel Okura, where Kissinger stays when he visits Tokyo. The top and the bottom, as Joi observed. What's inbetween is futsuu I added.

    Interiors View from the Japanese Gardened Balcony
    a change from the capsules;
    Okura: interior; view from the Japanese gardened balcony night.

    Saturday, 2 March

    long enough to lament

    I have now been in Tokyo long enough to lament.

    In my email this morning, Patrick Macias writes:

    Some bad news. The Showakan theater is going to close down for good in April. The management can't afford to keep it open any longer. I'm utterly heartbroken, but grateful I got to spend Christmas and New Years Day there with the oyaji. Please grab a six pack of ume flavored Chu-Hi and get shit-faced hammered in there for me before the proverbial Last Movie plays.

    The Showakan is a movie theatre built soon after world war two. It shows old Japanese movies, mostly gangster and samurai epics. It's a large old screen with balcony seating. The popcorn is sold from a tiny aged vending machine. People, mostly old men, smoke and drink in the movie theatre.

    I went there in January; on Patrick's recommendation I saw ?? one of the early gangster flicks. It's like "The Godfather of Japanese Film" Patrick said. Seminal. I saw frenzied action, stern heroes, buffoon Americans, honor and quick death. The hero shoots up a Buddhist funeral to protest hypocrisy. The place was mostly empty, Ayako was the only young lady. It felt like a time machine, sitting amidst the neon, new development and security cameras of Shinjuku. And soon it will be gone.

    Then I returned to the place where I got my first name card. Name card, business card, it's a big deal in Japan. It represents your ties to an organization, your affiliations, your identity. Once I was a member of the Foreign Correspondents' Club, I got myself a Japanese language business card. Itoi-san in Yokote had me give a name card to nearly everyone we met together.

    This place sold name-stamps and name-cards, old-fashioned tools for identity in Japan. It was recommended to me by my Japanese teacher Hayashi-san. It took the guy a few tries to get it right; he had to dump a whole batch of a hundred neatly printed cards because my postal code was missing a digit. I returned repeatedly and worked it out with him, yes I wanted email and web written in english but mobile phone written in old japanese. As a youngin' new to Japan, it took me some time to figure out how these things were supposed to work. And as a foreigner entering this old-fashioned identity store, it took him a little while to figure out how he could trust me.

    Thursday I went back for another batch, the same cards please, and I discover that he has folded up shop. There's a beauty parlor or a soba shop or a photoshop; new stores that have all opened up within the last three months, obscuring all traces of his business. And why should I lament the pace of Tokyo?


    Alone at a Yakitori restaurant under some train tracks between Ginza and Yurakucho, I'm a beer and a half, eating all these skewers of grilled chicken, and pork temple (But not rectum - I didn't feel like venturing into that kind of food experimentation tonight). The woman who spoke some English, older, like the Mama of this restaurant (Mama being the woman in charge of maintaining civility and good feelings at a hostess club), we read over the menu together. I tried to order grilled nuts, that I love, and she pointed out that's a fall season food only. So we read over the seasonal menu together and I was pleased to see that I could identify some Kanji and difficult foods. And then I realized that each thing I read off proudly she dutifully noted in her pad and now I'm staring at seven dishes, too much for the first meal of the day after seven PM. I still ordered one more - garlic, grilled or fried, to help with this persisting deep chest cold.

    I look up at the man across from me in glasses eating plain weiners with chopsticks, and the long haired young men drinking and smoking and the ambient noise as everyone in the restaurant calls out "Irrashaimasse!" to "welcome" passing customers, mostly couples of men and women who keep walking. Electric guitar ballads of Japanese yearning on the loud speaker. People yelling out orders for sour plum dishes. The yakitori grill chef has immaculate hair, a sort of pompadour that would make the men from the musical Grease proud.

    The cook shows me a picture and says, isn't she pretty? I see a pretty girl sitting in an office and I realize that she's not working now and as I roam around town she might be a girl I would talk to, whatever children's Japanese opening line I could coax from our surroundings, probably a train station. I was made to feel that I should never fool around with someone else's lady, a reminder more than a revelation, as I contemplate this meat-skewer chef with a picture of his lady taped up over his grill and five or six hours until he's off of work and he can join her in the apartment they share, where she'll likely be sleeping unless she's been coaxed into a love hotel by her own non-monogamous desire born of a schedule incompatible with that of her beloved.

    As I survey I realize in a week I will be drinking beer and eating meat in Austin.
    In Austin: March 8-14
    South by Southwest Interactive
    Panel Discussion: "I-Mode & Asian Culture"
    Tuesday, March 12 - 3:30-5:00pm
    And it makes me want to eat Japan to breathe it and to take it in to carry it with me. Something warm as I venture far away from this place that is so inclusive of is members, the Japanese, that even a guest member of Japan can not help feeling like they should take some of the country with them when they travel so as not to lose the feeling of belonging. Even if belonging now means solo adventure. And probably has more to do with having no schedule and few friends than it does with being in Japan. Japan is just a good environment in which to practice such foolishness.

    It's time for some emotional accounting. I've been sleeping alone in Tokyo lately. Still she writes me email on my phone, telling me that she's bored and has much free time and shouldn't we play together? But our last meeting, for her birthday, I presented her some Nina Simone and a hand drawing greeting for a holiday that the Japanese don't celebrate. Birthdays seem so individual here. We are celebrating you! On your day! Here they have traditional, seasonal and group celebrations.

    I felt myself somewhere else. Judging her slightly. I was sick and tired, mostly miserable. But still it was inexcusable and it was starting to darken the luster on all the fabulous fun we've had. I'm travelling so much, in motion and so I can't leave my heart here. And what's more all my time travelling around Tokyo especially but really all of Japan and the world leaves me lustful. Hungry for experience, to know ladies. But that's silly and so I like to work instead. I have the choice to play, but I feel I shouldn't waste this lovely girl's time with a playing boy. This is a sign that I like her, we have too much together for me to sustain this travelling "When I'm in Tokyo I'll call you" behaviours. I would rather be alone persuing stranger ladies than to call her up at my convenience. I like her enough to want to leave her free and not enough to persue her relentlessly. We get along quite well, laughing and carrying on. I expect us to be friends for my lifetime. Still I need to be solitary or hunting. It's a little silly.

    People ask, "kanojo?" Do you have a girlfriend? Or if they've seen me with her, How is your girlfriend? Georges at the club asked tonight and I said I feel my heart is not in it and so I don't want to be with her having fun if I feel I am growin away. He seemed to think that was honest; I wondered if telling her how I felt would be more honest. Instead I hide in mobile phone emails, saying I'm busy and I have a deadline. There is always work to be done, it's true. How do I say, I have too much fun with you? I'd rather sleep alone because then it will be easy to move on?

    Because I'm still not sure of whom I am and so I can not pick a partner. And so if this woman, a lovely young lady, is not my partner, then she is my playmate. And so we have played. Now I feel more serious!

    In 1998 with help from friends I ran as a link list and posting occasional essays. It was fun to solicit friends to write. The job of an editor.

    Now in similar fashion, I'm editing a web magazine about Japanese-foreign cultural mixing. The first issue of that I worked on has been posted online.

    Thailand Ikimashita

    Notes from a recent trip to Thailand; visiting Amy, Asian economies, Thairarchy, stray dogs and fresh fruit. "Pardon me?" "It is nothing."

    Howdy Thailand Howdy Thailand

    Won a Trip For the Web?

    The Mileage Giveaway has closed for entries. Over 45 submitted. Now the judges are having at it. Results and details to be posted later this month. Thank you!


  • index.html
    Thailand Beach Landing - Photo: Amy

    Trip: Thailand
    Foreign correspondence with stray dogs and sun-dappled beaches littered with my own human hairs. THE HOTEL!!
    2 March 2002

    Chanpon: Being A Broad in Japan
    Western women in Japan face unique challenges, not the least of which might be remaining single.
    28 February 2002

    TheFeature: Mobile Reporting: Peer to Peer News
    High-speed videophones mean widespread reporting from the field.
    20 February 2002

    Yokote: Bonden Matsuri
    In rural Japan, groups of men wearing pajamas in severe winter weather decorate palluses to carry two kilometers uphill to shove into the gates of a temple.
    18 February 2002

    Yokote: Kamakura Matsuri
    In the mist of a deep cold winter in north Japan, the snow in Yokote lights up with candle light.
    17 February 2002

    Yokote: Hiragen Ryokan
    Your chance to sleep in a museum: Hiragen Ryokan has lasted since the Meiji-era, before 1900, chock full of bric-a-brac, art and culture.
    15 February 2002

    WirelessGamingReview: Samurai Romanesque
    Playing the first mobile phone game connecting thousands of players in feudal Japan.
    15 February 2002

    enu hanabi Akita: Yuzawa Matsuri
    In the most technology crazy country in the world, children ride giant snow dogs beneath close fireworks to honor the little snow gods.
    10 February 2002

    Tokyo: Love Hotels
    Justin and Japanese people escape tiny dwellings and familial surveillance in highly decorated short-term passion palaces.
    6 February 2002

    TheFeature: Can Old Designers Teach Our Phones New Tricks?
    Gaming's old-timers know what it's like to work with limited hardware, and still make games fun.
    4 February 2002

    J@panInc: Seiko's New Pocket Monster Provides Speedy Japanese Translations
    Writer Justin Hall has found that recently he is paying more attention to his Seiko RM2000 pocket dictionary than to his friends.
    February 2002

    TheFeature: Where is Location-Based Marketing?
    If your mobile phone knows where you are, what might someone try to sell you? Reporting on Japan's early location-based tests, interviews with Finns.
    31 January 2002

    powerful stuff Tetsugakudou
    Black Magic Ramen - the Devil's own noodle soup.
    23 January 2002

    Akita: TsuDazed
    Living - the return: illness, misplaced cigarettes, Germans.
    27 January 2002

    kenjiki baka Akita: Snow Shoe
    Once more into the woods, this time with snow shoes.
    25 January 2002

    Akita: TsuDaze
    20 January 2002

    Akita: Gentlemen
    A group of distinguished older men teaches me about Japan as I try to keep vomit from out of my lap.
    17 January 2002


    Akita: Snow Walk
    How do you walk through four feet of snow? You crawl.
    (Now featuring Colin Adams's educated interpretation of these tracks)

    16 January 2002

    Akita: Turunoyu
    Bathing with Japanese folks in elegant 400 year old bathwater.
    14 January 2002 Mileage Giveaway
    A free round-trip airplane ticket to the person who writes the best web content proposal.
    7 January 2002

    Japanese Homeless at Tokyo DisneyLand
    New Year's Eve: Tokyo's homeless problem comes to a capital of worldwide theme park entertainment.
    1 January 2002

    index.html Considering Ayako
    My brother was dating a woman. When he met her grandmother, she asked him, "What are your intentions?"
    31 December 2001

    index.html Christmas in Japan
    More neon than nativity
    26 December 2001

    Too Much Walking?
    I've changed my short daily route from the train station to my apartment in Uguisudani. Now I take narrower alleys. As a result I pass by four or five prostitutes each night, instead of just one or two.
    26 December 2001

    Freezing at the Emperor's Birthday
    Shivering in a courtyard with gangsters and right-wingers watching the Japanese Emperor smile and decry the economy.
    20 December 2001

    Foreign Correspondent
    An aged journalists' club with a lusty legacy welcomes a web itinerant.
    December 2001

    True Wireless
    If you have to plug your phone in every few hours, that's not true wireless - that's occasionally unwired. If we can send data through the sky, what about Wireless Electricity?
    December 2001

    Modern Madame Butterfly
    Many Foreign men date Asian women. Fortanately, all the Asian women are submissive and the Foreign men are wealthy. A recipie for harmony?
    December 2001

    For Men with Yen
    A guide to the sexy side of Japanese nightlife from the 60s still has lessons for heedless young explorers.
    December 2001

    Aum Shinrikyo
    Two books about the Cult behind the Sarin Gas Attacks in the Tokyo subway reveal only a modicum of LSD and sexual impropriety.
    November 2001

    Roppongi: GasPanic
    Compulsory drinking in the fetid Tokyo swamp that breeds interracial dating.
    November 2001

    Winged and Wired
    Worried that some folks might have a moment to themselves, several companies are promising to keep business travelers online in-flight.
    October 2001

    Raving on Mount Fuji
    With speed-snorting male hosts on the site of Japan's sacred mountain, reaching for a bit of trance culture and ending up with the end of a zen stick.
    October 2001

    New Orleans
    A visit to an old friend in the city of sin yeilds truly dangerous moments with the dead and lively dancing where Jazz music still moves feet.
    September 2001

    A trip to a culture fortress and Finnish playland in Eastern Europe.
    September 2001

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