May 2001 Archives

Talk about a bad

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Talk about a bad time to look for a job. The international financial institutions where I'm most likely to find employment are freezing hires until the markets improve and on top of that Japan's unemployment rate is rising.

Tod swears this doesn't affect me, and maybe he's right. I'm pretty much a fringe employee anyway. But if a company has to make a choice between a native Japanese and me, I think they'd select the native. Then the unemployment rate decreases by one.

I'm awfully glad I am not responsible for paying the rent.

Remember the guys who

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Remember the guys who were setting up drainage pipes last month?

Apparently their work is being inspected today. Two men from the Tokyo Waterworks department are walking along the retaining wall where the pipes are installed. They are examining a big patch of bright green the moss that grows where the water spills over the wall. I suspect they are not pleased.

They are armed with a Polaroid camera, a checklist on a clipboard, and a measuring tape. They are busy measuring moss, distances and poking around. They seem completely oblivious to the traffic that skirts around them as they crouch low to peer into drains.

I wonder what their report will say?

Crown Princess Masako is

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Crown Princess Masako is having a baby and the nation's lawmakers are having a cow.

The princess is married to the heir to the Imperial throne. The country has waited (somewhat impatiently) for her to produce an heir. If she and her husband welcome a boy into the world, the young prince will be second in line to the throne. If they deliver a girl, Japan has no direct successor to the crown prince.

Even though there were several ruling Empresses in ancient history, as the law stands now only men may inherit the crown of Japan. However that may change. The Diet will soon decide whether to change the Imperial Household Law to allow females to succeed to the throne.

If we see a woman on the Chrysanthemum Throne, will women fare better in society in general? It's an interesting question and I hope we get to discover its answer.

I'm happily out of

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I'm happily out of touch with American culture. When I get a hint of what awaits me on repatriation, I am stunned and revolted.

Here's an excerpt from a liabilty waiver that US chapters of a non-profit organization have to sign for every event they attend:

"I have read or had read to me this Agreement and had an opportunity to have my questions answered. I have not been induced to grant this release by any representation or assurance by the organization or on its behalf. I hereby warrant that I am of full age and have the right to contract in my own name. I am fully familiar with the contents of this release. I understand the meaning and effect of this release, and intending to be legally bound, have signed the release."

Doesn't this sound like a paranoid lawyer read too much case law regarding waivers? Would you sign this? I'd would just walk away. Argh, it makes me sick.

I remember permission slips from when I was in grade school and in the Girl Scouts, but I don't recall anything as silly as this in any non-profit organization I've ever been a part of.

Yesterday, Tod gave a

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Yesterday, Tod gave a Database Design seminar. It was fun, but tiring for both of us.

Today's been a sleepy day but I really do have things to do. Maybe it's the wet weather; maybe I'm just procrastinating. Whatever it is, I'd better get myself in gear and do some work.

I love to barter

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I love to barter deals with other women business owners. For example, yesterday I made a deal with a local art school owner. I'll give her 17 hours of computer tutorial--teaching her how to update her website and set up a mailing list--and she'll let me take her 5-day Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain workshop.

Bartering is much more rewarding than money, but it rarely pays the rent. So I'm still looking for a "real job" with a steady income. Know of anything interesting?

Alice had been looking

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Alice had been looking over his shoulder with some curiosity. `What a funny watch!' she remarked. `It tells the day of the month, and doesn't tell what o'clock it is!'

`Why should it?' muttered the Hatter. `Does YOUR watch tell you what year it is?'

`Of course not,' Alice replied very readily: `but that's because it stays the same year for such a long time together.'

Which is just the case with MINE,' said the Hatter.

Never enough time. When's tea?

Sumo was all I'd

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Sumo was all I'd hoped and more. Elizabeth was certainly right about the food. I don't need to cook dinner for at least two nights. The caterer delivered yakitori, sandwiches, soramame (huge steamed beans like limas), bento lunch boxes, beer, sake, wine, and ice cream. Plus a bag full of omiyage (gifts) to take home at the end. Tod will deliver anmitsu (fruit with sweet beans), rice crackers, dango and more to the office today as a way of thanking everyone who covered for him while he took the afternoon off.

But even better than the generous quantities of food was the spectacle of these huge, strong, and graceful athletes, pushing and shoving one another around the dohyo (the sacred ring where the action takes place. No women allowed.) We arrived at the end of the lower levels of wrestlers, and watched the middle ranking juryo (literally it means "10 together" but there are more than ten matches) followed by the maku-uchi--the top wrestlers.

It's difficult to explain the rankings and the process by which one obtains a higher ranking but to reach the highest rank, yokozuna, you must not only be a terrific wrestler, but a man of good character. That's something that American sports franchises might want to consider. There are currently two yokozuna: Musashimaru and Takanohana. Takanohana is unbeaten in this Summer tournament.

Much of the nuance of sumo is incomprehensible to me. There are 82 ways to win a match--mainly variations on pushing, lifting, twisting or dropping your opponent over the ring or to the ground. The judge, who is dressed in a traditional costume that gets more complicated as the ranks rise, has quite a challenging job to determine who wins. He watches carefully but there are also five "line judges" posted around the ring. The five judges can dispute a call. And they did yesterday, coming up on the dohyo and examining footprints and marks on the sand-covered surface. They changed the judge's call. In the old days, the judge would commit harikiri (ritual suicide) when he was wrong. These days, that's not part of the game.

Commerical sponsorship for sports dates back a long time. Although the sumo stadium isn't named "Sony Stadium", matches are sponosred by companies who offer extra prizes and have they banners walked around the ring. Wrestlers are sponsored, too, and the lovely aprons that they wear are actually advertisements for their sponsors. One wrestler, who is from St. Louis, is sponsored by Budweiser. His apron shows the Clydesdale horses.

After three years in

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After three years in Japan, I'm finally going to a sumo match. And we're going in style. Our friends, the Andohs, have a box courtesy of Takashimaya, where Atsunori works. Elizabeth proimises us that we'll be fed until we're stuffed! "Come hungry and bring a backpack for the food to take home," she advised.

As for the sport itself, I know only the fundamentals. I expect I'll learn more today. During this tourney, Takanohana has remained completely unbeaten and Chiyotaikai has only one loss. With five days remaining, either of them could come out the winner. It should be a fun and exciting day.

Yesterday just before dinner,

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Yesterday just before dinner, Tod's cell phone rang. "I got spammed on my phone," he said, looking at the message and turning the phone towards me and our friend, Brendan.

Tod's NTT i-mode phone allows people to send e-mail and text messages (like a pager, remember those?), as well as voice mail and regular phone calls.

This message was all in Japanese. I read the first few kanji then gave up and handed it to Brendan who read the full thing. "It's a phone sex service," he declared. "Ra-bu Me-ru. Love Mail."

Today NTT announced that they will hook up with AOL to offer online e-mail. More spam to come.

For the last week

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For the last week or so, I've been trying to hurry summer along. I've taken my warm-weather clothes out of storage; I'm walking more; meals have migrated outdoors. The weather (when the rain lets up) has been lovely, with warm days and cool nights.

Thinking about it, this is the best of summer. In a few weeks, we'll have more rain than sun and after that the weather is hot and humid until mid-September. So even if the calendar doesn't agree, I declare summer to be here.

Last night Tod opened this year's grilling season. We burned last year's lucky arrow (a few months late) then cooked up some rosemary-garlic marinated chicken breasts. Accompanied with a grilled onion, oven fried potatoes and a tomato-mozzarella salad, we couldn't have asked for a nicer Sunday dinner.

I waited until too

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I waited until too late on Friday to try to courier the Postcard Competition flyers, so I went out to DesignFesta to deliver them in person. What fun!

Terri, my contact there, was 90 minutes late, so I wandered around handing out flyers to women artists who were exhibiting postcards and prints--they seemed likely entrants for our competition.

1,500 booths filled the huge exhibition hall. Artists of every type showed and sold their works. The energy in the place was amazing and the talent ranged from knock-your-socks-off impressive to really pretty bad.

I was very happy to have a limited amount of money with me; otherwise I would have been the proud and happy owner of several interesting pieces of clothing, some pottery, stacks of postcards and definitely a few bits of silver jewelry. I covet all those things that Tod doesn't care about too much. As it was, I limited myself to a hand-dyed t-shirt printed with dragonflies.

Each resident of my

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Each resident of my fine city has only 3 square meters of park to call his own. In comparison, Parisians have 12 sqm; Los Angeles residents have 18 and New Yorkers have a full 29 thanks to Central Park. If you are a lucky resident of Australia's capital, Canberra, you have 77 sq meters of park to stretch out in!

This lack of parks in Tokyo means that people have nowhere to sit when they go outside for lunch. Office towers provide some unique options, including this "urban forest" at Otemachi First Square, where Tod works. A triangle of eight trees on a side, paved over with granite between the trees, is a cool and shady place to sit and relax during a break. Most people perch along the edge, but a few brave souls climb inside to claim a little patch.

Lunchtime passes too quickly when you're sitting under the trees.

Today I will tackle

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Today I will tackle a small new challenge. I need to send 500 DigitalEve Postcard Competition flyers to one of our members who is attending the DesignFesta tomorrow. She's promised to hand tham out and talk up our group.

The challenge is getting them to her by courier. I should be able to take my package to any convenience store and have it delivered anywhere in the city. But I've never done it before. The prospect seems scary, but I know that as soon as I've completed the Japanese forms once, it will be as easy as pie. (How easy is pie, anyway?)

Last week, Tod "graduated"

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Last week, Tod "graduated" out of his work team's shift schedule and is now allowed to work whatever hours he pleases. From here on in, he'll be concentrating on Unix engineering instead of system administration and doing it later in the day.

However, when delivering the happy news, nobody warned him that there would be one final week of early shift for him, as his teammates hadn't reorganized the schedule before the end of last week. On Monday, his phone rang at 7:20 am. "Where are you?" the rest of the early shift asked. Argh!

Only one more morning of early shift left, then Tod will be happy to arrive at work at 10 am every day!

Yesterday a new bank

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Yesterday a new bank opened in Tokyo. With bank mergers happening all the time, a new bank isn't a surprise.

But this bank is a little bit different; it's owned by a retail company that runs Japan's 7-11 convenience stores. The new bank, IYBank, has no branches, only ATMs.

I can imagine the business planning that went into this venture. A bunch of conbini clerks standing around wishing that their shop had an ATM (most in Japan don't) and filling in a bunch of Suggestion Cards. Management reads them, and a new bank is born.

How do you start a bank, anyway? Where does the money come from...overinflated prices on chewing gum?

Japan's new foreign minister,

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Japan's new foreign minister, Makiko Tanaka, is getting herself into trouble. She's outspoken, fluent in English and not your average Japanese bureaucrat. She's been called "feisty," a "maverick" and she really is a breath of fresh air, even if she is offending people right and left by cancelling appointments with foreign dignitaries and making bold comments.

"The nail that sticks up is hammered down" is a saying applied to peole in Japan. Anyone who is different is shunned or forced to conform with the group. Yesterady in the Diet, Tanaka got chastised by her fellow LDP members. She defended herself, but this might be the first step in hammering her down. I hope she can find the right path between her current undiplomatic state and the old, stodgy party line.

The 13th Annual Bunkyo-ku

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The 13th Annual Bunkyo-ku Aozora (Blue Sky) Garage Sale took up three streets and a schoolyard.

At about 11, I dragged Tod from his slumber to see the market. He broke his fast with a serving of yakisoba (fried noodles). I went into the schoolyard and joined the little children playing with the creatures in the Fureai Dobutsuen (Friendly Animal Zoo).

The garage sale portion of the festival, Koishikawa Free Market, took over the margins of each street (there are no sidewalks here) as neighbors cleared out their houses by selling old clothes, housewares, and trinkets. Each doodad covered tarp and table was a living archeology dig--all the junk dug up from the bottoms of closets.

Next year I think I'll join the Free Market with English books and computer parts.

In the heart of

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In the heart of our residential neighborhood, a hotel is disguised as an apartment building.

We've walked by it several times and commented on the French restaurant in the first floor. It's a bit unusual for an apartment building to house a restaurant, but Tokyo is full of surprises.

Last night, we decided to eat there. The food was astonishingly good: tomato and red pepper terrine, rabbit tart with fresh dill, seafood-stuffed fish with lemon-lime cream sauce, roast duck, and a heavenly orange-cassis sorbet served in an orange rind on a bed of spearmint jelly.

But more amazing than the food was the revelation that this building is a hotel. We walked into the lobby and located the restaurant without noticing. It wasn't until Tod read a sign in the washroom that he was clued in. As we left, we picked up a brochure. There are 60 rooms with rates between 8,800 and 16,000 yen/night. Now when we have guests that overflow the capacity of our house, we know where to send them.

I should not have

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I should not have answered the doorbell. I am not prepared to rebuff relgious zealots in Japanese.

They were sweet those two young women with pamphlets. "We are Spiritual Volunteers," they said in English as they handed me a pamphlet in Japanese. I should have turned and fled. My problem is that I am stupid and curious.

Stupid because I didn't quite understand them. Most of the conversation was in Japanese with some English thrown in for good measure. I only know how to be polite in basic social situations. Being prostelytised to isn't covered in my Japanese lessons.

Curiousity always gets me into trouble. I want to understand what's going on around me. They offered to bring me a brochure in English. I agreed. After I took my Japanese brochure inside with me, I found a URL (http://www.mahikari.or.jp) and checked it out.

They turned up again yesterday to give me my brochure, but after having read their web page, I decided to lay low. They left a note in my mail box written in English on notepaper seasonally decorated with frogs and tadpoles.

Dear MCQUILLIN.

I'm M-- Fujimori.

In the afternoon we visited your home

but couldn't meet you.

We would like to meet you

and we want you to know our

Spiritual Volunteer activity.

We will visit your home tomorrow.

If you wouldn't convenient please

call me. Tel. 03-xxxx-xxxx

good-bye.

from M-- Fujimori.
M-- Miyata.

Yikes! Time to look up the words for "I'm not all that interested, sorry."

With windows thrown open

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With windows thrown open to let in the spring breezes, I'm discovering that my neighborhood smells like food.

This morning, tonari-sama is cooking sausage and eggs. The other evening, I smelled curry. My own kitchen is as bare as Old Mother Hubbard's, so these scents are tantalizing.

Oddly enough, I never smell Japanese foods, only Western cooking.

Outside our front door

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Outside our front door is a tiny triangle of garden.

When we moved in in October, it wasn't terribly impressive--lots of unruly woody branches with green leaves. However, it evolved into a flowering wonderland this spring. First apple blossoms, then brilliant azaleas. Now we have huge red roses. The buds of pink spray roses are just beginning to peek open.

Summer will come and the flowers will die off, but they have certainly made my springtime more vivid and enjoyable.

Tsuyu, the rainy season,

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Tsuyu, the rainy season, began in Okinawa two days ago. From the state of the weather in Tokyo, I think it's begun here as well.

Even though it isn't really due here for another few weeks, the rain clouds rolled in and we suffered a classic tsuyu rain yesterday--slow, misty drizzle all day. This is the sort of rain that chills bones and finds its way up under your umbrella.

One odd upside to yesterday's weather is that I left my old umbrella locked in an umbrella rack outside the Communications Museum last week. Instead of retreiving it, I spent a foolishly large sum of money on a lovely olive green one with tone-on-tone giraffes embroidered on the edges and a bananaleaf patterned handle. So stylish. I hope I manage to keep it through tsuyu.

My short note to

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My short note to the DigitalEve Japan mailing list asking about job placement firms elicited 10 responses, including a personal referral to a recruiter, an appointment with another, a request for my resume, and scads of information about where to look for job leads online and offline.

With all this support and goodwill, maybe job hunting won't be so dreadful after all. Thanks, Devas.

In theory this should

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In theory this should be a breeze. Install FreeBSD Unix on an old computer, add a web server, a database and some other bells and whistles to get it running for DigitalEve Japan. We've done this before.

In practice it's turning out to be a major hassle. Not even counting that it took two days to download the latest version of the OS and burn it onto a CD, this project has not gone smoothly. The machine, which works beautifully under WindowsNT, will not properly reboot in Unix which renders it useless as a remote server. So it's back to the drawing board. Either we get another computer or we try another version of Unix.

Maybe building Unix servers is worse than job hunting.

I really, truly hate

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I really, truly hate job hunting.

After two years of freelancing, I've generated a decent body of work but I haven't added much to the family coffers. On top of fiscal irresponsibility, my focus is beginning to drift; I spend days writing nothing at all. I think it's time to return to the 9-5 world for a while.

My resume is updated; I've already had a conversation with my former employer and I'm looking for interesting opportunities in corporate communications, technical writing, instructional multimedia design, or writing of any sort.

If you hear of anything promising, please let me know.

NEWS FLASH Our nephew,

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NEWS FLASH Our nephew, Seth Adams, was born at 1:26 pm on May 4th (Tod's birthday, too). He weighs in at 8 lbs, 12 oz. Maureen and Seth are both doing fine.

I'd never encountered a

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I'd never encountered a massage chair until I came to Japan.

In stores, the demonstration chairs are a good place to locate husbands who've strayed from the family shopping expedition. The basic format of a massage chair is a recliner with wheels inside that roll, tap and vibrate up and down your back. It sounds painful, but usually isn't.

Not all chairs are created equal. There's one in my local bath house that looks like a torture device--covered in peeling, carmel-colored vinyl, the coin slot is bunged up, and you can see the tracks the rollers inside have made over the years. I've never tried it.

Last night I met a massage chair to love. It gave an amazing massage--not only the back and neck but the legs and "oshiri" too. Some of the movements felt like a live masseuse was working on me. We were at a party and throughout the course of the evening, everyone gave the chair a try. It was funny to watch the bodies flexing and vibrating in the chair as they were kneaded into relaxation.

There might be a new piece of furniture in my house soon.

I'm feeling weighed down

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I'm feeling weighed down by all my possessions.

Piles of books, papers and pamphlets that I've been saving for research are trash now. The detritus of several projects--spare brackets, hardware and boxes. Gone. Dust under the computer is about to be vacuumed away.

I'm tempted to pull out drawers, throw away clothes, pitch everything that hasn't been worn or touched in the last six months. Is it nailed down? It stays. Otherwise, bye bye clutter.

Isn't it a little late to have Spring Cleaning fever?

The Communications Museum "TeiPaku"

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The Communications Museum "TeiPaku" (theme park) is pretty unassuming from the outside. It's in big building in the middle of the financial district, on a corner near Tod's office. It's signage is ugly. We've given it short shrift for three years.

But yesterday, we decided to stop in after lunch. What a pleasant surprise. It was larger than I expected--three generous floors of interactive exhibits--and lots of fun. We sent bad Morse code; our best tries were EXCELLBENT and YOVVVURVLE. We talked on the picture phones and pressed the tone generators to make touch tone beeps.

But best was the telex. It was set up to let you print out your own strip of coded words. My strip is above. What does it say? KU-RI-SU-TE-N, of course.

Actual samples from the

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Actual samples from the Japanese test in front of me.

Form a sentence with the following words:
[tameru (to store), ofuro (bathtub), mizu (water), tamaru (to collect)]

How do you answer that?! Please collect water in the bathtub to store in for an emergency. My hobby is collecting water; I store it in my bathtub.

Here's another:
[hajimaru (to begin), kimaru (to be decided), jugyou (a class), jikan (time), kimeru (to decide), ~teiru (~ing)]

We must soon be deciding what time to begin class so that it is decided. The teacher is deciding that the time to begin the class is decided.

Form this sentence: [fail utterly test ~ing Kristen]

We invited friends for

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We invited friends for dinner and planned a Chinese meal. Chinese food, in case you've never cooked it before, requires a fair amount of deep frying. Even Kung Pao chicken and pepper steak are deep fried briefly before being stir fried. But tops on our menu last night was shrimp toast which needs a lot of deep frying and plenty of oil.

Getting rid of the used cooking oil has always been a problem. Dumping it down the drain's not ideal. Putting it into the trash can invariably causes a huge leaky mess. But there's a product on the market here that solves the problem.

The name of the product is Katameru Tenpuru. Katameru means "to harden." It feels lke sawdust but it's made of seaweed. You pour it into the hot oil, stir and let it cool. It turns your leftover greasy mess into a solid mass that can be lifted from the pan and put into a trashbag.

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