October 2001 Archives

Tod surprised me with

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Tod surprised me with a present of books. Actually, it wasn't a surprise; he let the cat out of the bag a while ago. But he didn't tell me what books he had ordered from
Powell's our favorite online book retailer.

First he handed over Geoffrey Sampson's Writing Systems, a dense tome, thankfully brief, on the development of writing symbols to represent our spoken languages. That will be good bedtime reading though not guaranteed to put me to sleep.

Then, with a big grin on his face, Tod pulled out an old, jacketless hardcover book. Imprinted in fading black ink on its green fabric binding were the words "Origins, a short etymological dictionary of modern English" We proceeded to spend the next hour looking up words and discovering connections we never dreamed of.

Did you know that 'suave' and 'sweet' have the same root? That 'boot' (as in "Buy three oranges and you'll get an apple to boot") means rememdy or improvement (which might explain the name of the British pharmacy chains, Boots) and has the same background as 'better'?

Ah, words. Maybe I should have taken Latin in school.

If you peeked into

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If you peeked into my genkan, you might think a dozen people lived in my house.

The genkan is the entryway, recessed a bit, where you remove your shoes before stepping up into the house. It's a relic from farming days when shoes and boots were muddy and keeping them at the door kept the house clean. These days, Japanese dwellings still have a genkan and a shoe closet where the entire shoe wardrobe is stored.

But my shoe closet is empty and my shoes are all over the genkan. I'll blame it on the changing seasons; it's warm one day, cold the next. I've worn just about all of my shoes over the past week. Now they are spread all over the genkan, crowding the margin between outside and inside.

Are they anxious to leave or to come in?

On the 29th of

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On the 29th of every month, our local yakiniku (Korean barbeque restaurant), has a 29% discount. It took me a while to figure out why.

The date in Japanese is "ni-ju kyu nichi" (2 tens 9 day). If you read the numbers without the place value, it is "ni kyu" which is very close to "niku" which means meat. The perfect opportunity for a restaurant featuring meat to offer a special discount.

This is the first niku day I've remembered in advance of dinner. But I'm not comfortable with the government's reassurances that there is no more BSE in the local livestock. I think I'll skip the discount dining this month.

Astrid's Chinese Opera Costume

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Astrid's Chinese Opera Costume party had the best costumes of any I've ever attended--so much red and gold silk and excellent make-up.

I was a Chinese acrobat crowned with a three-tiered layer of glitter- and sequin-enhanced wine glasses. I think I wore the most talked-about headpiece at the party--at the very least, it made me stand out above the crowd. Three different men poured champagne in the glasses and drank from them which required some acrobatic bending on my part. I drank from my own handheld props.

Tod was decked out in a gorgeous red and gold satin brocade coat and a black hat with a button on top and a queue of yarn hanging from the back. Very scholarly and beautiful, too. I've already claimed his costume pieces for my daily wardrobe.

Japan's consumer price index

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Japan's consumer price index fell again in September--the 24th month in a row that prices have dropped. It was just 0.8% lower that last September but every little bit helps a shopper's wallet. Despite lower prices, Japan's consumers aren't buying as much. We all purchased 2.9% less stuff in September.

Dropping prices are bad for business and combined with a drop in overall purchases, members of the government are pressuring the Bank of Japan to plan inflation targets to increase prices. So far the BOJ has said no; they don't seem to like to tinker with the economy too much.

A couple of weeks

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A couple of weeks ago I resumed SITO again after a five year absence. SITO is an online art community. I've been playing in the Gridcosm where eight artists share a grid and try to create a cohesive image.

After last night's chat with friends in the US, I've got two new projects going--a writing project and another to make prints--so my Gridcosm activity is going to have to slow down a little bit.

Collaborations are very satifying. I discover other people's ideas imbedded in me like shards of glass after an accident. I can pick them out or leave them in and let them heal into me.

I discovered that I

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I discovered that I can touch type.

That probably sounds odd coming from a woman who's spent a significant chunk of the past ten years at a keyboard. My shameful admission is that I always watch my fingers. Not so much to find the keys, I guess, as to will the words to come out of my head and onto the blank page.

Yesterday, as I was concentrating simultaneously on two things on my screen, I suddenly realised I'd typed an entire paragraph without once looking at my hands. What a revelation. My style and fingering leaves something to be desired (my jr. high typing teacher would cringe) but it gets the job done.

I'd been anticipating dinner

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I'd been anticipating dinner at the Irish House for more than a week. It's an Irish pub in Shimbashi with all the right beers and a wonderful menu of potato-based foods. Potato bread, champ (mashed potatoes with bacon), stew. Mouthwatering just to think about it.

Think about it is all I can do now. We hadn't been there in a long time. As we flipped through the newly designed menu, we discovered there were no Irish foods! No champ, no mushroom bread, no stew. The bartender confirmed it; "Japanese tastes, well....Irish food wasn't so popular"

I looked around and realised that there weren't as many Irish nationals in the place as there used to be. We ordered pints of Guinness and some appetizers--ravioli with yogurt sauce, shiitake garlic toast, and a mini plate of fish and chips. It just wasn't the same, so we ate quickly and left.

Tonight, I will have to make mashed potatoes for dinner.

Diagnosis: migraine. After four

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Diagnosis: migraine.

After four months of tests and appointments, my doctor has pronounced that my headaches will not kill me or cripple me and that since they don't stop me from doing what I need to do, I should just learn to live with them.

"Take two aspirin and call me in the morning..."

The interior of Zakuro,

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The interior of Zakuro, an Iranian restaurant near Nishi Nippori, is completely covered in carpets--stacks of Persian carpets fill an alcove; a thick layer of them blankets the floor. Even the walls sport carpets worked with figures of women and tigers.

Iranian foods are similar to other Middle Eastern cuisines but with several different spices, including a flaky, bitter, burgundy powder for grilled meat. I couldn't identify it beyond perhaps the dried skin of a fruit. Curried and stewed dishes, basmati rice, flatbread, nuts and pickles rounded out our meal.

But the experience to remember was fruit flavored tabacco in hooka pipes. I tried it and enjoyed the sweet apple scented smoke. Tod had cherry tobacco which was also delicious. The headache and sore throat afterwards (I'm not a smoker) wasn't so fun, but the initial experience was memorable.

Three cheers for Tod

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Three cheers for Tod and his astonishing Internet knowledge.

For about a month, I've been having weird Internet problems. I first noticed them around the time of the terrorist attacks and I chalked it up to extra-heavy Net use. But as the Net returned to normal, my problems continued.

Tod spent the day researching IP arcana and eventually found the answer. As it turns out, it was a conflict between settings on our home network and our ISP's specialty equipment. Changing a single setting from 1492 to 1454 fixed everything.

Hip, hip hooray! Hip, hip hooray! Hip, hip hooray!

Tokyo Transportation Series Family

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Tokyo Transportation Series




Family with Babycar, Ueno Zoo. 3:10 pm

The Count Basie Orchestra

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The Count Basie Orchestra played to 1800 people at the Bunkyo Civic Hall last night. It was a fantastic show. The band was so "on" that it was like listening to a recording. They've been playing together a long time and they seemed to have fun doing it: lots of banter between the drummer and bassist; smiles from the brass players; general goofiness between songs.

I wonder what it's like to be a musician in front of a Japanese audience.

The Japanese audience (in the entire audience, we spotted 6 foreigners including us) applauded enthusiastically at all the right places, but nobody shouted, whooped or whistled. I tapped my toes until I was almost dancing in my seat, but the woman to my right was in better control of herself. She tapped a tiny bit, once or twice.

Most astonishing was the rhythmic clapping. In the US, when the band gets the audience clapping in time with the music, it breaks down after a dozen bars or so as people get tired or start missing the beat. Here, it lasted through the entire song. Even after everyone applauded the soloist, they returned to clapping a 2-4 beat.

How is it possible

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How is it possible that in a country where clothes don't fit me, I've accumulated so many over the past three years?

I cleaned out my closet--really cleaned it out--and got rid of three 70 litre ("lawn & leaf" sized) trash bags of worn, torn & stained clothing. Some of the discards were from Tod's wardrobe, but even so, three bags seems like an awful lot to come out of one closet. And I still have more than enough clothes to wear.

Maybe I should go be merciless with my shoes, too.

At the end of

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At the end of the day, tired & hungry, we often opt for whatever food is easy and quick either at home or in a familiar neighborhood restaurant. We avoid the more challenging experiences like seeking out new restaurants of questionable character--the izzakaya beer pubs, the little yakitori shops presided over by a middle aged Mama-san. They look interesting, but...

The trouble is that sometimes they always seem full of regular customers who maybe aren't too comfortable with strangers--especially foreigners. Even though Tod speaks passable Japanese and I limp along, we are not the easiest people to talk to.

But every time we screw up our courage and go into one, we walk away wondering why we hadn't tried it before. Last night we stopped into a yakitori places that I've been wanting to try for almost a year.

And it was a great experience. The owner greeted us warmly and after asking a few questions, engaged the other customers in our lives by repeating back exactly what we had told her even though they certainly must have overheard since they were sitting within a foot of us. "These customers live in Nishikata. They have lived in Tokyo for three years. Aren't they skillful with their chopsticks?" That brought others into the conversation and we managed to chat for about half an hour with a man and his wife on topics other than our chopstick skill.

Tokyo Transportation Series Rowers

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Tokyo Transportation Series




Rowers on Shinobazu Pond, Ueno Park. 2:40 pm

The neighbor's new puppy

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The neighbor's new puppy woke me up this morning. In truth, he woke me throughout the night. The poor thing has been outside barking since yesterday afternoon. Nobody slept well last night.

Barking dogs are quite unusual in Tokyo, though there are plenty of dogs. I guess they must be trained to stay quiet and that's good since houses are so packed in that a dog barking nearby sounds like it's in your living room.

I'll bet that the puppy's owners get the cold shoulder from the neighborhood for a while. Maybe that will encourage them to send their dog to obedience school.

Two days in a

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Two days in a row I've been to some of Tokyo's atypical spaces. Yesterday it was Daiba, an island of shopping malls and entertainment complexes. The day before it was the convention center, actually east of Tokyo in Chiba Prefecture. It is another planned complex with hotels, office buildings, and the convention center halls.

Both of these places seem foreign--their vastness seems American. Yet of course they are Japanese. Modern Japan continually rebuilds itself using whatever adaptation of international style is practical and attractive.

The Tokyo I'm used to, the one I love, is cramped, crowded and run down. It's full of neon, workers shouting greetings and people stopping in the middle of the street to make a phone call. Not practical or attractive at all. But charming and captivating in its way.

Maybe Daiba and the convention center on the outskirts of the city, are the vanguard of future inner city planning. I hope not.

The "soft unchi" character

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The "soft unchi" character seemed to be a big hit at the Game Show yesterday.

The demo of Graffiti Kingdom was playing on a huge video screen in the exhibition hall. As dozens of onlookers gawked, what looked like a blob of dark brown soft-serve ice cream appeared.

Except dark brown soft-serve is the anime iconification of poop (unchi in Japanese). It's very cute and popular, too. I've seen teenage girls with "soft unchi" keychains.

As the demo voiceover intoned "Is it soft unchi? No, it's an ice cream cone!" the cone came into view and the dessert came to life with facial features and limbs.

Needless to say, chocolate is not a popular ice cream flavor in Japan.

Today I'm off to

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Today I'm off to cover the Tokyo Game Show Autumn 2001. 53 vendors will exhibit hundreds of new video games and related products.

Doors open at 9 am for the press. The hardcore gaming magazines are already on site, writing articles out of their press kits. The Gamespot website has articles online that were updated at 7:30 this morning.

Not being quite so hardcore, I will arrive in time to watch the flood of people coming in for the public opening at 1:00. I'm dragging two friends/gaming fiends along to provide some much needed perspective and extra energy for game playing.

It's bath weather. Now

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It's bath weather.

Now that the temperature is dropping and nights are chilly, the bath calls to me. Nothing is more relaxing than sitting in a tub full of hot, hot water scented with hinoki (Japanese cedar) or yuzu (a citrus fruit).

Our bath employs sophisticated technology. The press of a button fills it to the desired level and temperature. It keeps itself warm for a while, then turns itself off to save energy. You can easily reheat the water without refilling the bath by pressing the button marked 'atsuku".

Since we follow the Japanese habit of getting into the bath only after washing off, the water stays clean and we can share a single tub. In fact, the bath I drew last night was Tod's this morning and I will pop into it again, too, before draining it this morning.

I broke my thermometer.

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I broke my thermometer. I was shaking it down and cracked it against my foot (don't think too hard about how the thermometer and my foot managed to collide, ok?). Glass everywhere, and little balls of mercury, too.

Its replacement has a feature that ensures I can't repeat that disaster. The thermometer case is a long plastic tube with a screw-on cap. A cord slips through about a third of the way down its length. By twisting the cord tight and then pulling hard, the case spins and cetrifgual force will push the mercury down.

Very clever and much safer...as long as the cap's in place and the cord doesn't break.

Should anyone be fooled

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Should anyone be fooled into thinking that I am an IT expert (as described in a recent article about DigitalEve Japan in the Daily Yomiuri, Bringing Women into IT), think again. I can't program my way out of a paper bag.

Even simple tasks confound me. I just tried to change a font in a PHP script and broke the entire thing. "Parse error on line 69" isn't giving me the clue I need to fix the problem I created. Fortunately, I have been using our version control system, so I can undo my changes.

P.S. To get out of a paper bag, it's best to use a knife. Programming doesn't have quite the right edge.

Today is Health Sports

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Today is Health Sports Day, a national holiday to commemorate the opening of the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.

Those Olympic games put Japan back on the world stage after WWII and the government made a big splash to show off. A huge amount of city planning and construction took place beforehand: the city highway system, Shinkansen, and many stadia still stand as testament to the growth spurt. Part of the Olympic village in Omotesando is used as a series of shops and galleries, but there are constant threats to pull down those charming but dilapidated old buildings.

Japanese holidays are pretty mellow. The Emperor or Prime Minister will visit a stadium, make a speech or play a round of golf in public to mark the day. Everyone else just enjoys a long weekend. In fact, Health Sports Day used to fall on the actual anniversary of the opening ceremony, 10 October, but recent changes in the laws rescheduled it for the second Monday.

I never thought I'd

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I never thought I'd see the day when all of the computers in my house were in active use. But yesterday, a team of four volunteer translators (Reiko, Kaori, Shino, & Nagusa) came over to work on the DigitalEve Japan website and every computer that could be used was.

I pressed two of my old machines into service, plus the two I normally work on. Lil edited English text on Tod's PC laptop. Tod sat at his usual place, somewhat stunned by the number of people in our office space. And me? I didn't have a computer to use, so I poured drinks, took pictures and offered limited help with translation.

Yesterday, my art was

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Yesterday, my art was not neglected.

Erin, who designed the graphics and layout for DigitalEve Japan's new website, came over to visit after an extended holiday in Greece. She and I fell into our designing habits and played together for six hours reworking the front page of the DEJ site so that it better matches the look of the rest of the content.

We laughed as we made suggestions simultaneously. A stereo outcry of "Polka dots!" had us staring at one another. Like any good collaborative effort, it was chance for us both to learn and to gt a fresh perspective. What we created is nothing like what either of us would have done alone.

"If you neglect your

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"If you neglect your art for one day, it will neglect you for two" is a Chinese proverb that's been dogging me.

A shopping trip with a friend turned into an exploration of galleries in Yanaka an old-fashioned neighborhood in Taito-ku. By accident and good fortune we met Jim Hathaway who paints sumi-e, traditional Japanese ink painting. He's lived in Japan for twelve years and after we had viewed his work, he invited us to stop for a cup of tea. Jim's down-to-earth and I really enjoyed hearing about the art community of Yanaka. It's much more vibrant than I'd ever guessed.

Seeing all of the art at Jim's and other galleries makes me realise how long I've been neglecting my art. I want to drag out my printmaking tools and carve some blocks. But I have too many computer-based projects going on right now. Maybe next week...

Whump. pause. Whump. pause.

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Whump. pause. Whump. pause. Whump. Godzilla is romping through our neighborhood this morning.

When I was making coffee at 8:10 this morning, a woman outside the house signaled an unseen companion "5-5-5-5" with a flash of her hands.

The thumping began 20 minutes later. Emergency vehicle sirens started screaming down the main thoroughfare about 15 minutes after that. Now it's 9 and the noise continues but thus far Godzilla (who sounds like someone thumping a very large metal bin) seems to be walking in place a few blocks away from here. I hope he heads in the other direction.

Tokyo Transportation Series Well-marked

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Tokyo Transportation Series




Well-marked intersection in Bunkyo-ku
4:12 pm

In the days immediately

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In the days immediately after September 11th, the local news reported that quantities (varying from 6 to 29) of people with links to bin Laden slipped through Immigration and entered Japan.

Since then, there's been no news of them. In Germany and the UK there are reports of detentions, questionings, and arrests of suspects or suspicious persons. But here...nothing. Where did those 6 - 29 people go once they arrived here? Are they plotting some insanity or are they innocently climbing Mt. Fuji?

A quote vaguely attributed to "an Irish journalist" claims that there is a "29 year old Japanese woman named Masumi" in the bin Laden organization. The quote was published in the Shukan Shincho, a somewhat-reputable weekly tabloid.

Are the police (Japan has no FBI or CIA, only a police force) looking for these people? If so, they are doing it very quietly.

What's your poison? Today

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What's your poison? Today could be your day.

October 1st is Coffee Day, and it's Sake Day, too. The national associations of these two beverages claim this day to celebrate their products.

On Coffee Day I'm enjoying a steaming mug of coffee made with Doutor espresso beans. These beans make bad espresso, but good strong coffee. If I had known today was a coffee celebration, I'd have saved some of the home-roasted Sumatran that my friend Brendan gave me but I finished it on Saturday morning.

Today is also Sake Day, as enforced by the 19th century law that sake production begin on October 1st. I have no plans to brew my own, but perhaps I will indulge in a glass at dinner tonight.

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