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Sunday, 29 September -<link>
This morning Jane's aunt 'Miko served us her home-made yogurt, with some jelly she'd mixed with a little red wine. She's fond of punctuating her phrases and doings with laughter, little laughs, and this mixture was no exception. "I'm mixing wine and jelly," tee-hee! "This might taste good with the yogurt!" oh-ho!
It's fun to be around here when she's so cheery, and dependable rich smells, slow-cooked foods and green tea eminates from the kitchen. She's a near full-time cook it seems, making things that require a steady stream of attention. Boiled pork pickled in vinegar and mirin/soy/sake - holy yum. And besides her fermented homemade yogurt, she shows us her nuka-miso, a mixture of golden-rice flower and starter that's been fermenting for 30 years, requiring some daily hand mixing. This is an old fashioned way to pickle vegetables - submerge a cucumber in the stuff for a few hours or a longer while and it assumes the salty sour flavor popular here. But what's more, you've saturated the vegetable matter with vitamin B1, leeched from the fermented golden-rice flour surrounding it. 'Miko explains that this is a two or three hundred year old Japanese traditional means of cooking and sustaining health.
She serves us milk, farm direct from nearby countryside; it's a taste flavour I haven't had since I last drank milk around my grandparents's table in Stuart Nebraska, milk we'd picked up directly from giant steel tanks in sight of the cows and the machines that pulled milk from their swollen udders. It's a rich flavour and it makes me love the country ever more. There's kindness and sustenance here I don't feel so much in Uguisudani, perhaps, or especially in Shibuya.
Here in the quieter parts of town, the drone of occasional appliances, chirps of crickets and smell of burning moquito-repellant coil is punctuated by regular chimes and tinny loudspeakers - vans and cars of craftsmen and salespeople criss-crossing narrow streets to sell their small stock of foods and goods. These tend towards the traditional, as the loudspeakers play familiar songs - "bamboo for sale, long pieces, for [laundry drying] structures" or "tofu guy, the tofu guy is here" (except that tofu song is only a whistle really - no lyrics). Short loops playing off old cassettes from tinny speakers mounted on tiny trucks, the sounds starting faint, growing strong and finally fading away as that particular good or service moves through the neighborhood.
Some chimes ring out, and 'Miko goes out to pick up vegetables from a sort of farmers-market-on-wheels, rolling through the neighborhood ringing out their for-sales. At the pickup, the women come and go, talking of, well you know. Leaning on their elbows, the talk about what's fresh, if there's eggs, the weather, their families, the foreigner homestay guest. The oldest lady pictured here remarks on how large a person I am, and then says something, I believe commending me to marry in Japan since foreigners who marry here learn the best Japanese - pera-pera des.
Veggies include bags of eggplant, "sato imo" (a kind of potato), sesame seeds, chestnuts, some kind of leek-looking thing
Saturday, 28 September -<link>
Jane's Mom found us an apartment on beyond outside of Tokyo. About forty minutes west of Shinjuku by train, and a ten minute walk from the station. That's about the same (distance not culture) as living in Concord near San Francisco, perhaps Thousand Oaks near Los Angeles, or New Jersey, in New York.
This place, named Kakio, something like "persimmon orchard," is a sleepy-looking town with sidewalks slightly wider than my shins. As you lean out of the way of swiftly oncoming cars on the main road, trees abound, and the sound of birds - a far cry from the mechanical voices and omnipresent paving of urban Tokyo. A friend Nikki replied, "oh yes, that's an area with many writers." Must be the peace and quiet, not the ready access to editors, publishers and trendy, saleable subject-matter.
Still for all these benefits, it seems a bit out of the action. Can't drop home for a nap after busy walking around Tokyo. Can't meet a friend on a moments notice, unless they happened to be searching out organic produce or something.
It begs the question, did we come here to live in Tokyo or to live in Japan? The answer is yes, and so we're taking at least a few weeks to stay and begin building up a life some here. We're approaching the task with some enthusiasm, fueled in large part by our eagerness to have our own place, where we can cook, sit in bed, and play games. And write.
It's a miraculously cheap place, because it belongs to a friend, it's so far away, in a non-hip locale, and it's old. The building is slated for demolition in five years or so. Old fashioned Japanese squat-toilet. But it's got two whole rooms, apart from the kitchen and bath/toilet rooms. Renting an apartment in Japan typically requires 6 months worth of rent cash in advance, often as a gift to the landlord and rental agency. So factoring those prices in to the price of lodgings means you would usually have to stay in an apartment for a long time to amortize your initial costs. In this case, the network of friends and family are forgiving us those expenses, so we can feel free to live there briefly or for the duration of our winter in Japan. Or treat it as a rustic semi-rural retreat while maintaining other urban lodgings!
link>Who Watches the Gamers?
Along those lines, we'll be in Korea for the World Cyber Games at the end of October / early November. 500 gamers from 45 countries will be competing for $300,000 in prizes. Hardened, trained young gamers working to hold their edge in plastic outfits, performing their virtual drama in time to pounding techno-music and pulsing neon lazer light shows. At least that's how we imagine it. It's six days in Daejeon, South Korea, 100 miles south of the capital Seoul. Six days of watching other people play computer games.
Jane and I arrived in Tokyo last week in time for the Tokyo Game Show. Accordingly, there were a number of game designers in Tokyo, visiting friends from abroad. For the time around the Tokyo Game Show and the time since, we've been travelling around town with Alan, Chris and Doug, meeting their friends, sitting in cocoon bars, finding accomodations and food to eat, and enjoying lively conversation about games and politics.
It's a bit like being a part of someone else's vacation, with a touch of work helping plan and translate (probably mostly my own sense of responsibility, because I want them to have fun and I want to serve as a social interface and I enjoy that work). But I can easily justify the time away from my keyboard since much of our conversation feeds into articles I'm writing about the game industry and culture in Asia and the Americas. Soon these friends leave and then Jane and I have to decide where and how we want to live here!
Chris, Doug and Justin in yukata robes at the ryokan.
Friday, 20 September -<link>
I celebrated being in Japan with Jane's aunt and uncle in the airport cafe by eating plain tofu salad, boiled edamame beans and natto with raw egg. Shovelling quantities of these stinky healthy little snots into my gulliver, I realized I was eating three kinds of soybeans and I wondered if George Washington Carver would be pleased.
Monday, 16 September -<link>down bills, down!
Two upcoming article assignments for TheFeature, due within a week of each other, towards the end of this month. I leave Wednesday for Japan, so I'm putting the wheels in motion:
My two subjects are: mobile gaming in Korea, and utopian/distopian mobile phone scenarios (any thoughts?). So I search for related keywords online. Typically, a search for "mobile phone games korea" will yield both news articles and company web sites. I save all the articles to a folder created for this article (Dox/riting/Wireless/korea-games), and I email the companies asking if they have someone who can do an interview, in English, over email in the next week.
Meanwhile, I comb through my contacts emailing old co-workers from technology media companies, businesspeople, pundits, travellers, asking them if they have any leads.
Over the course of the next week or ten days, I'll read the articles to get a sense of the issues and then email people questions. Some people will respond well, provocatively, and we'll extend our conversation over a few exchanges.
As I'm composing these questions and reading their answers, I'll be drafting my piece - writing overviews, starting paragraphs on the emerging hot issues. Then as the deadline approaches I'll fill in details in those paragraphs from the email interviews. I'll usually go through about four to six separate draft files, pasting in pieces of the old drafts and rewriting critical sections.
Working this way, over email and the web, writing drafts and conducting correspondence, allows me to be a freelance correspondent from anywhere I have a laptop and a dial-up connection. I do the same work from anywhere in the world, and this summer I filed stories from Missouri, Hawaii, Tokyo and San Francisco. I love most all the subjects I write about and I like to work this way. The work flow starts slow, keeping up a steady flow of outgoing emails until towards the end I hunker down and file through all the material I've collected. It's research, study, and I'm glad to have it be my work.
In other news, Hugh over at South by Southwest was nice enough to interview me: Justin Hall gets his link on.
Friday, 13 September -<link>Nuance
There are many interesting questions in life. Right now the most interesting question for me is, will I be stopped at immigration in Tokyo when I arrive on my flight on Thursday?
Recap: I got a journalist visa, I forfeited it when I last left Japan, I reapplied in San Francisco this summer.
Update: They asked my sponsor, Joichi Ito, to call (because he is Japanese, he might "understand the nuance" they suggested). He did, from Europe. Nice of him. He reports, "They didn't ask me anything, but told me that the Tokyo office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was reviewing your case and that they would then consult the MOJ. That's all they said. They said this is not necessarily standard procedure, but also not uncommon. Maybe the "nuance" they wanted to convey was that they are wrapped up in a bureaucratic mess..."
Jane's Mom suggested I visit the Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco in person, to tell them that I must be in Japan next week to cover the Tokyo Game Show on a writing assignment. So upon her advice, I donned a button-down blue shirt a little bit too large for my frame, my thin glasses and I went up to the window to address them again. I had a print-out of my Tokyo Game Show (TGS) press credentials to prove my purpose. The Visa window agent (whom I've come to know somewhat as an increasingly nice person) took that and my passport and my half-inch of submitted papers to the consul, someone somewhere back in the building I can't confront and can't question.
She returned, placing my TGS press credentials on the counter as she looked up at me. "We are going to put a stamp in your passport saying that you have applied for a journalist visa. If you go to Tokyo, and you show them this passport with this paper," she patted her hand flat on my TGS press credentials, "then it will appear as though you have come to Japan to do the sort of business you have applied for a visa to do."
This looked and sounded like nuance to me, I tried to restrain my eagerness to retrieve my passport and continue to Tokyo. She thought my return date at Thanksgiving was too far in advance, I told her I'd come back in October. "Yes, two weeks is good," she said. I shrugged - that's details. Just let me in to the country with my lady. Please.
cheating a blank slate
"Maybe you can go to the Passport office today, to put some new pages into your passport." Gesturing at the last blank page, she observed, "you have no room for stamps and a visa here."
So off I went to secure some new pages, walking across San Francisco's South of Market, thumbing through automated menus on the San Francisco Passport agency information hotline. The security guard at the passport agency asked if I had an appointment, I said, "I just want some new pages please," and showed him my passport. He fingered a battered corner and looked where the lamination was peeling off of my photograph and said, "they won't put pages in this, you have to get a new passport."
It's true, I am overdue. Ten weeks of constantly keeping my passport crammed in an ass pocket in humid Honduras left my blue booklet looking like an incompetent terrorist's hack forgery. When I went to Finland last year, after forty minutes of grilling and inspecting the immigration official wrote in my passport, with a pen, "don't let this guy back into Finland unless he has a new passport." Fortunately he wrote it in Finnish so I've been able to go to Japan and Thailand and Estonia in between without other immigration officials reading his admonition and agreeing.
But maybe getting a new passport is the solution - there will be no Japanese journalist visa used for one month and cancelled. There will be no stamp saying I've applied for a Journalist visa, unless I take my passport back to the nice lady at the Japanese Consulate. Then I can enter Japan the way the vast majority of Americans do, whether business or pleasure, they get ninety-day temporary visitor's visas at the airport. I've met businessmen who have been living in Japan for five years on these temporary visas; they just leave Japan every three months to go somewhere and re-up.
I may be leaving soon after I get there too; my application for legitimate status as a journalist in Japan is still pending, through the Consulate in San Francisco to the Ministry of Justice in Tokyo. If they approve my application (which is not at all clear - why are they taking so long?) then I will have to come back to San Francisco to pick up my new credentials.
In short it's all very complicated and unsure. Will I get a new passport between Money and Tuesday of next week before my flight Wednesday? Will I spend six hours in a holding tank in Tokyo before I'm shipped back to the States without my lover or my luggage? Will I get permission from the Japanese government to continue exploring that country and sharing the results in print and pixels?
on another note
Yesterday in the office we share, Chris was watching me play Halo the X-Box-based first person shooter. (I've decided I want to solve it before I leave for Japan, an arbitrary decision really, an attempt at thorough, if selective, participation in game culture. And Halo is fun.). Chris noticed, as I was running through the corridors of Keyes, the second-to-last level, shooting at mutants and aliens, I was thrusting my hips with each trigger-pull.
Thursday, 12 September -<link>violet posted
I edit a web site called "Chanpon." Chanpon is a Japanese word, here it's used to described cultural mixing: Japanese-Foreign cultural mixing.
I notice non-native Japanese with Japanese character tattoos. One of them was a friend Aimee; I wanted to know what her tattoo was and why she got it:
Wednesday, 11 September -<link>mystery money
Random joys of a freelance writer who gets paid by foreign media outlets via wire transfer:
Ending balance as of 09/10/02 $1,293.75In the last twenty hours, I just got paid a neat sum of cash. And I'm not even sure for what or from whom!
For example, after I went to Japan, I posted photos of Capsule Hotels on my web site. In June, a TV show from England and a travel magazine from Israel each contacted me to ask my permission to use different Japan Hotel shots and pay me for them. They promised to pay me a few weeks or months after the publication or airing date. Now that's not nearly all the money I got, but maybe it's some of it. Besides that, I can think of four other articles I've written with payments due off the top of my head. No, five! Time to boot Quicken and get to the bottom of all this.
Meanwhile, back in New York City
Tuesday, 10 September -<link>
Background: the young Mister Hall, after acquiring a Journalist visa necessary to work as a reporter in Japan, lost that visa in a great hurry to see his friend Jane. Now preparing to move back to Japan for three months starting 18 September, he has applied for another Journalist's visa at the Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco.Call from the Consule office in San Francisco: "Your visa request is held up at the Japanese Ministry of Justice. Could you ask Mister Ito to call on your behalf?"
Speaking from a sinking feeling, "What might Mister Ito talk with them about? Just to vouch for me?"
Mistress of the Consul replies: "Mister Ito is Japanese, so maybe he can understand the nuance, something like that."
So checking Mister Ito's web site I saw his recent post "Travel to Europe," starting with these words: "Mizuka and I will be leaving in 8 hours for the airport to go to Europe."
Hah! I email him anyways, and he responds, "I will call from the airport." Feeling emboldened, chatty, I ask, "what will they ask you about, I wonder?" Joi replies: "I bet they will ask me about your cat dick page."
Saturday, 7 September -<link>Jane is fond of having Bollywood music videos playing Saturday mornings ("Namaste America") - we're having a series of short parties, weddings, feasts and dance festivals from India in the living room.
Friday, 6 September -<link>new, fictional regime
This week, when I came into the office in the morning, I walked past my Internet connection into a comfortable chair and sat and typed fiction. No email, no news, no weblogs; persuing a dream that I might make my imagination into a beginning middle and end about someone other than myself. How did it go? I added a few thousand words, spent a few hours in the quiet of my mind. Quiet! HAH! Like a drunken monkey stung by a bee it was.
Saturday, August 14, I'll be giving a ten minute story as part of a collection of stand-up storytelling, mostly drawn from the ranks of other busyfingers - Fray San Francisco. A favourite band Dealership will be playing as well.
[Many helpful replies to my Mozilla wonderment earlier - thank you! I've never gotten such a reply, so fast, writing about other software.]
Tuesday, 3 September -<link>mozilla mozated
mozilla motated? mozilla motated moved.
August 2002 - more! but older.
Befuddled - backwards in a wetsuit
Justin Hall Gets His Link On
Article: Murasaki Tattoo
New York City
Hawaii Trip Photos
Living Loud: the Mobile Lifestyle
Meanwhile, Over in Japan
Family in the Ozarks