Monday, 30 December -<link>
Yotsuya Rental Apartments, Tokyo, Japan

We spent our Christmas vacation visiting Albion, Hibernia and Midgard. Holed up in Larry and Bettina's Tokyo rental apartment, side by side on the couch, marathon sessions in the online world of Dark Age of Camelot.

Tuesday, 24 December -<link>
Yotsuya Rental Apartments, Tokyo, Japan

the shape of tokyo

Tokyo has some grid-street neighborhoods (Ginza, Otemachi), and many tiny tangled nests of twisted narrow streets (about everywhere else) crossed by a few big boulevards. Often there are no sidewalks - Lessig pointed this out about China. Sometimes I enjoy the intimacy of having people, bikes and cars working through the same alleys as small stores and plants, everything on one level. But increasingly I feel my life at risk from choking fumes and hasty impolite drivers.

Howard later chimed in that Tokyo is a mix of a few Manhattans with Los Angeles in between - pockets of skyscrapers and dark urban canyons, punctuated by nondescript extended low-rise housing sprawl.

tokyo scape
Urban Jumble - partial-Tokyo view from Yotsuya Apartment

Jane sighs and remarks that Tokyo is gray and rather ugly. I respond that I like electric light and there is no more electric light in the world than Tokyo at night.

Either way, the geography of Tokyo is on our mind especially these days as we have been temporarily elevated to the fourteenth floor overlooking the Imperial Palace, houses and skyscrapers from Yotsuya. Larry and Bettina left town for Christmas and we're house-sitting their downtown Tokyo rental pad. Being this high above everything, with wide windows to gaze out, changes one's feeling of power in relation to the city. That and having some dependable heat. And a couch! And walking out the door and being surrounded by restaurants, people and public transit! I feel young again.

eminem draws himself a bubble bath

lance and marshall mathers Jane is continuing to read the many chapters in the Lance-Eminem love story featured on Game Girl Advance, pausing only to laugh out loud and update me on their media-savvy homosexual entanglements.

information ecology

There's a web server where my web site is hosted along with many other fine web sites. It's running full, so each time I want to post something new here, I have to delete something old. (Mostly I've been sticking to pictures - the big stuff) This is fascinating to me as an information ecology experiment - what if I was only able to share a finite amount of information online? Each thing posted would have to replace something from the past. If I didn't push each old thing off the edge of the page in sequence, I'd have to do painful checking and thinking each time I posted.

Friday, 20 December -<link>
Workroom, Foreign Correspondents' Club, Tokyo, Japan

When I was a wee one, I felt some estrangement from my hard-working Mama. She was often at the office, putting in long hours on her law work, while I was at home being raised by nannies. She was a good cook, she gave me art supplies, she sent me to college, and she encouraged my talents. But I wanted more of her presence.

To Justin Love Mom :-) After I left home, I found a lot of her presence - in regular mailings. Rarely a week could go by without some sort of envelope from my mom - forwarded mail, a clipped article about someone we knew, or a magazine about something I was studying. And everything she sent along had a yellow post-it attached, "To Justin, Love Mom" written in her flowing cursive, with a cheerful smiley face. Hundreds of tiny loving notes - I remember when I was packing up my things from college, I had trouble throwing them away. Finally I realized that one note could stand in for all the notes she had sent. And she's still sending them!

Now my Mom has email, through her law firm. And today I got my first email forward from her - "Dear Sons: I never forward e-mails, but this was too good not to share. Love, mom". From the Onion, "Bill of Rights Pared Down to Manageable Six"

Thursday, 19 December -<link>
Apartment, Kakio / FCCJ, Tokyo

pizza king

Tonight, a deliveryman dressed as Santa Claus came to our door with our first Pizza-La, the "pizza king" - a wide pie topped with shredded crab, corn, potato, "white sauce" and parsley. It has a crust on bottom and a crust on top. It's delicious!


brain dumping? korea

A friend called from the States today for a video game brain dump: "What's big in Japan? What's going on?" I stumbled for a moment, thinking about things I had read on Magic Box. I didn't start talking enthusiastically until I started talking about video gaming in Korea.

Tuesday, 17 December -<link>
Workroom, Foreign Correspondents' Club, Tokyo, Japan

money capsule

I make a good living as a freelance writer/webber - good, but irregular. Two of my payments are late coming in, another payment has arrived - a check at my house in Oakland. Last week I pushed a bunch of money towards a swelling credit card bill and now I'm left with $130 in my checking account - I would draw on that, but I have all these random billpayments set up to draw on my account and I'd rather not be overdrawn.

You see, I left my house this morning without money. I had 37 yen in my pocket. I have a phone card with 500 yen on it, and a railway Suica card with 1000 yen on it, but my subway Passnet card only had 200 yen on it. I have money, but it's tied up in communications and infrastructure currencies - and not the infrastructure currency I need. With 200 yen on my subway card I was able to pay to board the train, but I didn't have enough pocket change to pay my way out at my arrival station. I pulled my hat down low over my glasses, buttoned up my black overcoat and pushed through the bleating turnstyle.

As bad as I may have felt for short-changing the eighth wonder of this world this morning, I'm too busy wondering how I'll get home. I have 193 yen in single yen coins I discarded in a cup in my locker at the Foreign Correspondent's Club when I left Japan in March. A bit of a money-time-capsule to my currently more-broke self. But not quite enough - I need 460 yen to ride the train all the way home.

Funny to be cashless in Japan, a credit-card hating society! Funny to be cashless when I have a computer and a camera and a mobile phone with a camera in it! Funny to be cashless and to not know when I'll get my next check!

Compare Tokyo and New York, in terms of subway/railcar ridership:
Metropolitain Area Total Route (km) Passengers Carried (million)
New York, USA 2,184.9 1,562.1
Tokyo, Japan 2,302.3 13,019.1
With about 10% more length of subway than New York, Tokyo carries 10 times as many people. Here's another framing: "More than 87% of journeys into central Tokyo are by rail, versus 31% for Manhattan,"
More Japan urban rail facts available in "Riding the Eighth Wonder of the World" by John R. Harris (PDF).

Monday, 16 December -<link>
Bed, Kakio, Japan

Tragic heroes of recent American popular culture, the people reaching out into darkness to bring light and truth of pitched excess, they typically die at my age. Twenty seven Jimi, Janis, Jim, Kurt, Brian, Tupac.

In spite of some of my efforts to live hard, to persue a ragged edge of work and indulgence, I've not met the abyss through my choices. I've had friends and upbringing that brought me back. I am increasingly seized by a will to live, even if that means modulating the volume at which I live. I've even started taking vitamins.

At twenty-eight that seems like a sensible thing to do - to invest in your long-term health. My grandfather was a dedicated vitamin-head, he credit decades of vitamin E ingestion for forestalling serious parkinson's disease. Yesterday, Howard visiting Tokyo, pointed out that I should start up with rogaine now, since Rogaine is made for keeping the hair you have, more than spawning new hair.

the only picture I have of Howard and I wearing scarves
The only picture I have of Howard and I in warm clothes I think. Taken by Jane in the Ginza.

I don't yet think I'm balding, though my loved-ones may. I don't concern myself with my hairline yet. I do notice deeper lines around my mouth, lines engraved by my smiles or winces. So my face looks older to me.


And now that I'm turning twenty-eight I think of it as a time when I'm perhaps craving less of that drama that may have seized popcult heroes: wishing to be the messiah, wishing that I could make a fiery bold impact. To take pain I feel and lonliness and make them art that leaves me bleeding. To burn ordinary pleasures on a public altar in exchange for taboo fruits. I'm more excited by the chance to work with people, to see long term writing projects and ambitions come to fruition. To study, to learn how to live. To cook, to have children. Holy smoke!

More and more I find myself surrounded by the choices I've made thus far. I like that - I can pick my head up for a moment, and look at my life as I've arranged it. And wonder what more I might arrange still! As I live longer, the stakes seem greater, and I relish the challenge. The challenge to outlive the thin grasp of dramatic death and prodigy in favor of respect and slow nuturing.

Two exciting things in Japan lately -

have a drink, have a ball. Jane and I have found two bars that pour their "whiskey rock" over a single large ice sphere - molded to fit the glass, the sphere spins as you drink or finger it, shrinking gradually, giving everyone around something nice to stare at.

Being a foreigner living in Japan means that people often look you up when they come here. Maybe they want a guide, or some familiar company in a foreign land. When I was writing my guide booklet, I felt like I had to be a tour-guide for visiting foreigners. But I've since noticed that most visiting foreigners have as much to show me about Tokyo, by their curiosities and appointments.

Case in point, this semester, cyber-rights lawyer Lawrence Lessig and his wife Bettina have been in Tokyo as he has a visiting professorship at a University here. From what they report, they have more relaxed time here than they do back in the States, so they've been game for a number of outings and meals. Good stimulating discussion and a new view of Tokyo. Bettina is an amazing planner; she has picked a different specific outing in Japan each weekend and free weekdays. We've joined them on just a few and heard about the others - inspiring to see how she's been so focused about their time here.

white face bar five
Larry, Jane, Bettina, Yuko, Mouth.

Friday, 13 December -<link>
Bed, Kakio, Japan

lively problem.

I have a problem. And it's beginning to affect my community. It is detracting from my work, and it is interfereing with my relationship with Jane.

"Lively minds..." "lively minds..." "lively snow festival..."
"and oh! here's my favourite! 'lively roasted vegetables!'"

Jane found 155 instances of the word "lively" on this web site.

Someone else (anonymous) said, "i wish justin hall was electro-shocked every time he used the word 'lively'." - that's what started our discussion. ("It's someone who cares about you honey. It's not me though, I swear.")

It's just laziness, as Jane points out.

Friday, 13 December -<link>
Workroom, Foreign Correspondents' Club, Tokyo, Japan


I've gotten better about deadlines. I remember in fifth grade I had to write a research paper on the Norman Conquest of 1066 and the Bayeux Tapestry (Shockwaved), and it took my Mom coming up and holding my hand with pencil against the paper to make me write anything that I could turn in weeks late. I had a real block on school work for the longest time - paying attention elsewhere and getting away with it. Until I failed a bunch of classes.

I suppose I could look at my credit card debt as a failed class now. But in fact, I'm actually making a decent living as a freelance writer. Based in Japan, covering video games, mobile phones, and cultural exchange pays decently, and there are opportunities out there that I have been unable to find time for, because I'm busy working on projects in front of me. I'm still not out of debt, but I figure that is the price of my own education - paying for myself to travel to places and participate in conversations before I'm rich enough to afford it completely.

But when I think about writing as a way to pay my bills, I get short of breath. It's a silly dash to sell ideas, and I'd rather see writing as a way to keep my brain alive and connected.

Freelancing is a different sort of life discipline than I envisioned myself having when I was a young web writer, expecting renumeration online. But I appreciate that my work requires me to read, discuss, think, and and then focus my thoughts. And as a result of this, I can join discussions I'm interested in. Either way, I found myself emailing an editor the other day, begging for a deadline, so I could have an excuse to work on an idea we had been discussing loosely. I guess a deadline is like an assignment. Recently, I've been toying with the idea of other, larger deadlines - aging. Jane thinks I'm going bald. Humph.


Japanese Magic Words saved me nearly $400 and the use of my laptop - at what cost to social justice? Examining the Power of Keigo for


I check in on Gen Kanai's weblog often - he's curious about technology, poltics, Japan. He's got a good eye for important stories; reading his site makes me feel like I don't have to go search on about four other sites. I set up an interview with Gen Kanai on, feel free to post any questions you may have for him!

keep it pure

Jane's in a band, called Dealership. She plays guitar and keyboards, and sings. Actually, she has been on a two-month hiatus, visiting Japan with me (and her Mom sorta). I feel bad about that when I read band interviews - they're a good group of people who make music I like. So we're going to go back to California in January so she can rejoin the band and they can finish up their third album. Which has a video game theme!

Wednesday, 11 December -<link>
Workroom, Foreign Correspondents' Club, Tokyo, Japan

Indie Game Interviews

Last summer, I worked in an old barn in Oakland California, in the company of a few philosophically-minded game developers. They enjoyed breaking down games into their component pieces and analyzing the game play - what kind of routines and rewards were involved in engaging the player. It was the first time I had been surrounded by so much talk about games that was so little concerned with genre, narrative or aesthetics.

Like any good critics, these guys had ideals, visions of their industry, a sense of the potential for video games that few games lived up to. Last week, I interviewed one of the people I shared the barn with,

Where I think this NPC stuff is important is in the genres where videogames, as a dramatic medium, aren't keeping up with any of the other dramatic media -- we do violent conflict great, but we don't do any other kind of conflict -- especially interpersonal relationship sorts of conflict -- at all.

sean face independent game designer: Sean Barrett.

Tuesday, 10 December -<link>
Dining Table, Apartment, Kakio, Japan

I wake up first, check email from California and rush to meet a time zone deadline. I make lemongrass tea, I eat yogurt. My hands freeze - I'm wearing all my clothes from yesterday, a blanket, a hat and scarf.

Then Jane wakes up. Her body radiates heat from within the comforters. I turn on the heater next to her. She opens wide the bedroom doors and that heat filters in to the middle room where I'm crouched working. I warm up coffee for her and do yesterday's dishes, the kitchen becomes steamy.

After reading at the table with me she folds up the futons and makes them into a couch. She sits down, writes down her dream from last night and the sounds of Baldur's Gate fill that room.

Sunday, 8 December -<link>
Dining Table, Apartment, Kakio, Japan

bacon for weight-loss

During Thanksgiving, Mom and George were in the early stages of the Atkins diet. It's a throwback experience - all of a sudden they're eating eggs and bacon for breakfast, lamb and steak for dinner; closer to Mom's midwestern upbringing perhaps. I wasn't arguing - I love protein before noon.

I remember Terence was on this diet a year or so ago; I asked him, what do you have for breakfast? He said, "grilled chicken covered in cream cheese." Atkins - taking the austerity out of weight-loss. Recently a new version of the diet book was published, I hope it's healthier than the first version seemed to be.

Home is where the Hearth is

In Chicago, we had the chance to visit a few wonderful homes and apartments, one as large as five bedrooms. And all of these places were heated, top to bottom, room by room.

Back in Kakio, Japan, Jane reminds me to close the closet door because we don't want to lose warm air to that space. Now that winter is here, we compute in bed where it's warm, with the door closed, saving all the human heat and electric heat for this single chamber. Leaving to go to the bathroom is like jumping in an icy lake.

(This subject of central heating versus local heating is in my mind since a post about smoking in Japan evinced strong feelings about American pollution.)

Chicago Photos

Visiting Chicago with Jane was great. She got to see where I'm from, my family got a chance to get to know my partner. We had a chance to enjoy a few winter Chicago sites:

We visited the Young Women's Leadership Charter School of Chicago with Mom.
We watched the YWLCS 8th graders give a puppet show telling the history of the conquest of the new world. They simplified and illuminated history, they made it their own. The narrator had a strong African-American voice, and she was impulsive, prone to insert comments: Cortez: "I'm going to take your gold Montezuma!" Narrator: "Oh, no you won't!" (barely under her breath). I heard later she has trouble speaking out of turn in class; here she was perfect to keep things lively. The girls consistently referred to "King Fernidad" of Spain. We had a great time.
Mom cooked a big Thanksgiving meal; here George stands before the feast smiling wide.
Jane and I walked up and down Michigan Avenue. The cheek-smacking windchill and blowing snow combined with electric light and fading sun to make winter's onset beautiful.
"not our responsibility"
Western Union now offers easy money transfers to Nigeria. So people can finally send money to help get all those jewels and riches secreted in Nigerian vaults by the wife of the brother of an esteemed general in the former administration of Santa Claus?
moblogging pickup? for love -

A few weblogs picked up on my Mobile Weblogging article, "From Weblog to Moblog," including Joi Ito, Gen Kanai, Glenn Fleishman, Marc Canter, and Sean @ Cheesebikini - Sean's post reminded me that mobile weblogs, cameras and short messages from the road will probably be used most in the service of love. "Honey, look, I'm almost home!" or "Look, Dear, I said I was going to Ohio for a conference and here I am!"

Someone reported to me that they saw that word "moblogging" on Adam Greenfield's site a few weeks before I used it in my article. I didn't see that so I didn't credit him. Howard cited Adam's extended sentiments.


Recently, on examining purposeful U.S. Culture Exports.

For Chanpon, Bicultural = Half? Both!

And a Chanpon interview with Karuna Shinsho, "In this three-part interview, former CNN/NHK anchorwoman Karuna Shinsho speaks about her childhood in Japan and Hawai'i, as the child of a Buddhist minister, now an avid spam-eater and mother of a possibly tri-lingual child."


As I compose this, I have the "Farmer In the Dell" in my head.

Thursday, 5 December -<link>
Cubicle, Workroom, Foreign Correspondent's Club, Tokyo, Japan

Linking around from a recent Chanpon story, I found another article in the Western media about dismal fucked up sad sorry Japan gloomy dying economy verging on horror and despondency: Going Nowhere Fast: "Yes, Japan has broken banks and crummy companies. But the real problem is unproductive workers."

Many points in my reading today make me feel my stomach sinking, for the people here, and for myself. Where should I live? But I'll push my endless concerns aside in favour of a few choice quotes and insights.

This piece starts off describing the incredible overemployment here in Japan. Like that guy who is paid to stand in front of the construction site in front of our apartment and wave his baton at cars driving by. Or the three other guys who follow around a tiny dirt-scooper and sweep up the gravel it spills. The article quotes, "According to the Japan Productivity Center for Socio-Economic Development, a government-affiliated research center, Japanese laborers are 40% less efficient than Americans, 20% less efficient than the French and 11% less efficient than the Germans."

I love Mom & Pop stores, but they seem to be a sad way to employ the world's growing population and provide them both with products they can use, and benefits that help them get by. Japan has a lot of "Mom & Pop" stores:

In other advanced countries, mom-and-pop shops are niche operators, accounting, for example, for only 19% of retail employment in the U.S. (measured by hours worked) and 26% in France. But in Japan, mom-and-pops are the rule not the exception, making up 55% of the retail labor force. They are, in other words, still the way the nation sells things. And they are woefully unproductive, generating only 19% of the output of the average U.S. store.

The article goes on to detail all the reasons and results of this kind of system. Reasons include, fascinatingly, the means by which the government here in Japan propped up the country devastated by World War II. Basically, they picked a few industries and supported the hell out of them. The rest of the business of the country was bound to stability, lifetime employment and continuity: "For the domestic industries, Japan pursued consistently protectionist, anti-competitive policies, with the intention of keeping as many companies afloat as possible. 'Ten percent of the country was allowed to be capitalist, and the other 90% was socialist,' says Eisuke Sakakibara, director of the Global Security Research Center at Keio University and a former vice minister of finance. He's not really joking. Antitrust laws were virtually nonexistent, cartels flourished and high tariffs pushed away foreign entrants."

Jane and I talk plenty about this being a communist capitalist country. A fascinating mix of control and commerce. But either way, it's not much fun to read about the devolving, breaking up, unraveling, decline, plummeting, fear-mongering sadness spread by most reports about Japan these days. There are flaws with the article, sure. But on this overcast day, working alone in a cubicle in downtown Tokyo, I feel the fate of this nation as it is here described, in the tightness of my jaw.

Fortunately, there's always cultural mixing to measure, and video games to play. But cultural-mixing might be threatened as broke and dismayed people turn to nationalism. And aren't video games just promoting more hikikomori? I'll close my eyes and dream of radical governors here.

Sunday, 1 December -<link>
Lake Shore Drive Apartment, Chicago, USA

myn lyking

We have been spending about all the hours of day and night together for some months. It's an astonishing thing - since she quit her job there's no other demands on her time. Career hobby necessity and socializing we have merged into one.

And so I'm glad she came to Chicago for some context, to meet my family and their nice friends. To see the urban canyons I stalked as a boy, even as her cheeks were chapped by hard cold winds.

Most of what I used to write about here, self-doubt, analysis of people and intimate situations, I share with her. We process in the same space. Before I take refuge in exploring my problems in personal prose, and then publish them to the world, we hammer out our details. By the time we're through, reporting it seems silly or perhaps invasive, as we have developed a mutual consensual truth of our own.

Sometimes, occasionally I remember that feeling of rushing my thoughts out my fingertips to share online. And I wonder if I should again, if I'm losing track of something valuable to myself. But I place so much value on this constant companionship I enjoy with Jane. So it seems better to invest that energy I might spend typing and thinking here instead talking and working things out with her.

metaphor metaphor

Church twice today. svante in the demonbox Email from Svante has me thinking about children some as I stare at those white-frocked little haircuts moving candles and banners about. Younger than I, also a writer, he's found energizing purpose in his little daughter.

He's still in Sweden, so he can qualify for some major Dad's time off and health care benefits by having any kind of a job. So he got a simple job:

I work at the commuting trains running all over Stockholm with suburbs as a onboard conductor. Mostly, I just sit in a middle compartment of the train and at every station open and close the doors with two old-fashioned switches. The trains are from the sixties, theres nothing modern about them at all! Between stations I have nothing to do, so I read. And write. And just sit and watch the suburbs fly pass, think about my life.

I would love to have children I think. A reoccurring fantasy happening with more frequency. More friends are making babies, Howard's baby has gone off to college. Watching people evolve. For me, I've had this sense growing throughout the years that I can't learn fully about fatherhood without practicing.

Of course there's a few different ways to practice parenthood; I think of all my horrible conduct in grade school and I think maybe I should start by being a teacher. If I could learn how to educate a student both as indolent and disruptive as I have been, perhaps I might pay more of my dues in this lifetime. Being an editor feels like a small step in this direction.

Anyhow, Jane and I are moving to the Bay Area in January, so I think about finding some regular work, maybe substitute teaching. Then I remember all the conferences I want to go to, and the articles I want to work on, trips back to Japan, and I'll have to practice some compression.

remember real doll? Strange early human-pleasure bots exist in actual silicon - "Real Dolls" first found online years ago, they've begun to propagate and their owners have saluted them online. Discussion ensues on why gordon owns a real doll.

November 2002