December 2002 Archives

25 words exactly

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For the last day of 2002, a repeat from last year--a writing assignment. Describe your year in exactly 25 words. Can you do it? Here's mine:

Celebrating four years in Japan, I exercised my right brain and my poetic voice. I filmed then procrastinated. I waited for the axe to fall.

Furry bits

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furrybit.jpg
Here's me with my favorite Christmas present--a psychedelic fur collar.

Fur's really popular in Japan right now. Every women's clothing shop carries fur trimmed scarves, gloves, shoes, and even fur handbags. I saw fur-covered high-heeled boots on a woman on the train the other day, and a mink vest in a shop window. Coats mainly have fur trim (rather than being fully fur), but sheepskin coats (suede on the outside, fur in the inside) are very popular.

Although the trendy excess is a bit ridiculous, I'm happy that fur has lost its moral taint. It's warm and cozy to wear. There's nothing like petting your clothes to make you feel calm. Would I like to have a fur coat? Yep, absolutely! Persian lamb, maybe...

I think its strange that many people feel guilty when they wear fur but they don't feel guilty about eating meat and wearing leather. Although I can understand not wanting to wear endangered species, I don't think that's so much of a problem in the fur trade any more. Most animals are ranched for fur, the same way they are for meat. So I wonder why people who eat meat feel bad about wearing fur?

Captured

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captured.jpg Finished! I finally got through all of the tapes from September and captured the clips I need for Puzzles of Daily Life.

Now I get to edit. As much as I hate logging and capturing tapes, I love to edit. So I should be able to get this project done in the next couple of weeks, if my voice recovers from teh cold. I have to record the voice overs still. And there is some B-roll footage to take, but only a few minutes worth, if that.

tick tick tick-tick

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Two nights ago, the neighborhood fire patrols started their year-end rounds. These are our neighbors out there carrying lanterns and wooden sticks. They walk around the neighborhood in pairs or small groups checking for fires. Back in the days when Tokyo was all wooden, I guess this had some meaning. Now it's just a tradition for the new year holidays. A festive addition to the season.

I love the sound and rhythm of the sticks they beat together to signal all is well. Wood makes a hollow, ringing tick sound that echos against the concrete buildings. It's an unmistakable sound and always brings a smile to my face.

Some of the patrols keep a faster rhythm than others. Some are very lax with their timing, others are precise, but they all follow the same basic pattern. TICK (...2...3..) TICK (...2...3..1...) TICK-TICK (...1...2...3...)

Someday I'm going to figure out how to join our neighborhood association so that I can go out on fire patrol, too.

Blog spam

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I have Moveable Type mail me new comments from my weblog. It's a very convenient feature, since I don't get too many comments (hint, hint).

Late last night, I received an e-mailed comment that linked to the Nipponjin with scissors entry froma few days ago. It is spam from a manufacturer.

"[...]we are willing seriously to establish our bilateral trade relations with you as well as with your esteemed company for a long time. And also want to cooperate with you at all steps."

First step towards bilateral cooperation: do not spam me!

Was this done by a clueless drone who is paid to paste form letters into anything vaguely scissors-related? Or is it a nefarious tool to seek out keywords on webpages and then fill in forms it finds attached to those pages? There was a spate of automated comments spam in late October; here's an interesting article on Dive Into Mark about solutions.

I guess I'll know if my spammer was human or automated if this post (also containing the word "scissors") gets spammed.

Watch this space...

Another present

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This one is a headcold. Compliments (I suspect) of an anonymous conbini patron by way of Yoshi and MJ.

My nose and eyes started to itch about about the same time I tried on my fur collar. I worried that maybe I was allergic or maybe it was the highly-scented soap we had just unwrapped. But no, MJ and Yoshi are both sick with the same symptoms.

On an unrelated note, here are some photo from last week's bonenkai. First, here's MJ, me & Misa looking pretty together.
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And later on, after much consuption of sake, we were all ordered to do something silly for the camera. This is how Tod, MJ & I posed. We did not consult about licking MJ--but what else would you do to a woman doing a back bend into your lap? Nooooo, don't answer that!
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Merry...

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xmasdinner.jpg
We varied a bit from our usual Christmas routine of work-shop-pizza. This year I cooked dinner. Nothing terribly difficult, a nice beef stroganoff paired with a variation on a beet and goat cheese salad from Epicurious and our favorite Tintara Shiraz. They were delicious; definitely recipes I'll make again.

As usual, I sent Tod to work with a tray full of cookies, then collected him from the office at about 5:30. We headed off to Shinjuku to do our Christmas shopping then came home by about 8:30, wrapped presents and dined.

xmastree.jpgWhen Tod leaves for work, there is no evidence of the holiday. When he arrives home, the living room is unveiled in all its do-it-yourself Christmas glory. For the past few years, I've been making the holiday tree out of found objects; this year I planned ahead a bit and bought some shiny things. This year's tree was made of three bamboo poles, some glitter-coated plastic snowflakes, beads, and two spotlights.

As you can see, there are a lot of presents under the tree. We received a 25 pound box from Tod's parents on Christmas Eve. I always feel like there's way too much for us and I want to share with others. Our haul of Christmas goodies includes books, music, warm clothes, toys, 18 pounds of candy (all from that 25 pound box!), and my favorite present--a technicolor fur collar from Tod. The books and candy will get shared around with friends but I'm not passing around my furry bit. :-)

xmascake.jpgAfter putting away all the newly unwrapped gifts, we finished off the festivities at midnight with a slice of Christmas cake in bed. It's a simple sponge cake filled with peaches and whipped cream and top with more whipped cream and strawberries--surprisingly light and delicious.

I was exhausted from my busy day of cooking, decorating and shopping. After the cake, I dropped off to sleep in about 46 seconds. I hardly even managed two pages of my new novel...

Sunday dinner

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After sleeping in a bit and taking are of household chores, it was about 2:30 yesterday afternoon when I got around to thinking about breakfast. Even with our odd schedule, 2:30 is pretty late. So I decided to skip breakfast and lunch and head straight for dinner.

At 3:30 we were sitting down to a nice crispy rosti, fresh green peas, chicken smothered in carmelised onions, and a salad. By 4:30 dinner was done and the kitchen cleaned. It was like a Sunday dinner at Grandmoms' house.*

(* in case you are wondering, the apostrophe is in the correct place there--my grandmothers shared an apartment for over 20 years.)

Normally, Tod & I dine at a Continental hour--somewhere between 8:00 and 10:00 pm. After dinner, my energy has ebbed and the day is over for me. I might do a little work on my back-burner projects, catch up on personal e-mail, play on the 'Net, or I might just rest.

So when we decided to go out after dinner yesterday to buy a new coffee maker, it seemed like a midnight excursion. But it was only 6:00. We shopped, rented two movies, returned home before 8 and spent the rest of the night on caffeinated entertainment. And went to bed at about 1:30!

Zous at the zoo

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zoustroller.jpg "This is an art project; we are not taking our stuffed animals on an outing to the zoo," Tod & I agreed as we left our building with the Zous in hand.

It really did feel like performance art.

It's pretty amazing the reactions you get with a stroller full of stuffed elephants. Adults were generally enchanted. They smiled and pointed. "Kawaiiiiii!" Older men and women were more likely to talk to us. Security guards cracked smiles. Middle-aged matrons laughed aloud. The whisper of a trendy young woman to her friends got them all to turn their heads subtly to peek. Mothers with children sometimes saw us before the kids did, and directed their kids to look. One very brave, stylishly dressed college boy petted Zousama even though his girlfriend disapproved.

Little kids had mixed reactions. Some were a little scared and clutched at their parents' legs; some warmed up to the idea after a few seconds and snuck another look and a smile. Others came toddling over to play with the Zous right away. Sometimes the Zous were a more interesting attraction than the animals in the cages.

Some people saw the Zous, but not us, then glanced up to see who was holding the stroller. Whether they stopped smiling because we were watching them watch us, or because we were foreigners and they were surprised by that, I don't know.

Tod estimated that the bemused to amused ratio was about 30:70.

The Zous have their own version of the day at the zoo on their blog and in pictures.

Nipponjin with scissors

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Last week I made a tactical error in the sartorial department. I decided to not go all the way across town to my usual stylist for a haircut, but to try a beauty shop in my own neighborhood.

I took the photos of my Amelie cut that MJ snapped. I explained that I just wanted my hair cut a little shorter. I ended up with...not the same thing and about 2 months of regrowth before I think I'll be happy with my hair again. I might hand MJ the scissors next time we get together and see if she can do something to fix it. It can't get too much worse, really.

The trouble started when trying to make small talk, I asked the hairdresser--a 20-something man with dyed yellow hair and a nose pierce--whether Japanese hair and foriegn hair are similar. His answer was pretty standard (No, Japanese hair is thick and springy) but the word he used for Japanese really took me by surprise.

Nipponjin. This is the way is used to be said in Japan's expansionist, Korea-is-really-our-colony-and-so-is-China history. Before the war, Japan was commonly called Nippon and its people were Nipponese or Nipponjin (hence the wartime word for the Japanese enemy, Nips).

But after the war, as a concession to peace, the country renamed itself to the softer Nihon and its citizens became Nihonjin. So when I said Nihonjin and Mr. Hairdresser answered with Nipponjin, I really didn't know what to think. Is he a nationalist? Am I having my hair cut by someone who hates foreigners? Does he drive those loud black trucks on his days off--the ones that cruise around town blaring the national anthem and shouting for foreigners to go home?

So with that dread in mind, I sat back and tried to enjoy my haircutting experience. It was OK until he attacked my head with the thinning shears. Some thinning is OK, but he really went at it. I think he was trying to cut away all of the waviness--which simply cannot be done to my hair.

Now I have sections that stick stright down, really short bits underneath (I found one last night that's about one centimeter long) and one nice wave in the front that flies off into the air like a wing. There used to be other hair that supported it, but it was all thinned away. My head looks like a badly waving flag.

Rainy weather

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Today Tokyo is grey, wet and cold. It's the sort of day that makes me long for a fireplace, an interesting book and a bottle of really nice wine.

Instead of cuddling by a fire, Tod & I braved the rain and went grocery shopping. Not that we had a huge choice, really. I suppose I could have managed to cook a meal from the pantry but it wouldn't have had any vegetables.

Now we are well stocked with food for the rest of the long weekend (Monday is the Emperor's birthday) so if the misreable weather continues, we can build a blanket tent in the living room, read by flashlight, and make short forays for salad and soup.

But if the weather is nice tomorrow, we're taking the Zous to the zoo.

Turmeric tonic

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At this time of year, half of Tokyo's population is suffering from bonenkai hangovers. Unlike American holidays, where overeating is the festive indulgence, here in Japan we have overdrinking--nomisugiru.

There is an entire industry of hangover cures. Genki drinks full of caffeine and nicotine, mineral and ionic drinks to replensish lost liquids and salts, and scads of vitamin and herb supplements.

One remedy which I am ready to swear by is ucon, turmeric in English. Last night at the Kajiro's bonenkai, I had entirely too much 80 proof sake. Fortunately for me, I won a bag of Ucon Kuro Tou, brown sugar and turmeric candy. It is the weirdest stuff--very sweet but bitter, and the texture is like fudge that's crystalized--but a few chunks of it last night kept me from feeling too horrible today.

I handed it around at the party, and everyone was chiming in about ucon's tonic properties. Good for the liver. Keeps you healthy. I added "nomisugitara..." (when you drink too much...) and everyone laughed.

Like cough drops, Ucon Kuro Tou's medicine that's actually pretty tasty in its weird way. So I'm munching on some now as I type this. My liver will soon be singing my praises or asking for beer.

Less time, more details

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The longer we work on the FCCJ project, the more details unfold and issues spring up. Our deadline for completing the coding is the end of this month. Our aim is to launch the site on 28 January.

The To Do list gets longer as the time grows shorter on every project, of course, but this time I'm not doing everything myself. There's a team of four of us. My job is mainly to test things as they are done, to find/report problems and to communicate between FCCJ & the development team at Blue Beagle.

I feel so fussy, though. A lot of the items on the To Do list are picky little details. Let's face it, I want things the way I like them. I'll have to maintain and support the system and its content after launch and I want to ensure I can do it confidently.

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Yesterday's drama-in-minature was changing the color of an outlined box style. The true blue currently there doesn't match the palette of teal colors in the rest of the site. Picky point, right? It took four mails to convince the designer. What she doesn't realise is that I can go fix the CSS later myself if I don't like what she's done.

Today? Who knows...

New Style of Shopping

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Leafing through "Trendy" magazine yesterday, I was fascinated by a long article titeld New Stype of Shopping. It featured (and compared) all the recently opened shopping theme parks around Japan.

Japan doesn't have too many American-style shopping malls. There's not much room in the cities for fields of parking lots surrounding a low, broad building full of shops and anchored by a big-name store or grocery. There are a few of these, but they tend to be out in the further suburbs. This is in contrast with American cities; Chicago has numerous shopping mall complexes in the urban centers.

What we have here are more like Chicago's Water Tower Place or Pittburgh's Fifth Avenue Place, a collection of stores stacked up on many floors of a single office-tower sized building.

I mentioned the Marunouchi Building the other day. Nicknamed Maru Biru, it sits just across the street outside Tokyo Station on the site of Japan's first skyscraper (which was also called the Marunouchi Building). It's got two floors dedicated to restaurants which are booked out months in advance. There are shops of all types on 6 floors, offering everythign from clothing to an Xbox gaming parlour. There are distintively high-end chain retailers and a few boutiques. The architecture is amazing--even jaded Tokyoites stand in the atrium and stare up at the glass elevators and exposed beamwork.

Newly opened this month is Caretta Shiodome. It's another skyscraping shopping mall whose tagline is "Enjoy the taste of lesiure." With "sky restaurants" on the 46th and 47th floors, a theatre and restaurants on the lower floors, and a shopping concourse in the basement floors, they may be giving Maru Biru a run for its money. I haven't been there yet but will put it on my To Do list.

There are so many similar shopping places: Takashimaya Times Square, Sunshine City, several new complexes along the Yokohama waterfront. I think the "Trendy" article got it right--these shopping plazas and others like them are theme parks.

What amazes me is that Japan is still in a recession. How can these very upscale locations survive? Maybe they pander to the good old days of the Bubble when everyone had more money than they could spend. Back then regular people could afford to splash out on fancy food, designer handbags and clothes with labels. Perhaps the last few years of less money, uncertain job prospects and making do with two-year old toasters has finally got everyone ready to backlash. I suppose if consumers are spending money in places like Maru Biru and Caretta Shiodome, then the economic outlook will improve...for the importers and brand name retailers, anyway.

Party games

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At kids' parties, games make the event fun. So why don't more adult parties have games? Maybe we're too worried about cracking our facade of cool? But laughing and being goofy is better than any facade.

I decided that at our bonenkai, we'd have games. So last night, 16 normally serious grownups played Wink and Exchange.

Brad, our winker, killed me first and I did a dramatic scream-and-fall-to-floor death. It's been a while since I've done that and I'm out of practice--I bounced my head off the marble floor. Ouch! Poor Brad had a hard time killing people; the reflections on his glasses obscured some of his winks. Eventually, he was found out by Zahid, who won a box of chocolates for his persipacity.

After dinner we played Exchange. I had purchased a lot of the gifts at the 100 yen shop--soap, pencils, a box of crackers--plus a few nicer things like gift certificates from Tower Records and a train pass. I had fun wrapping them. I must say that taken as a whole, they looked great!

The hot gift was a box wrapped in a pink foil bag tied at the top with a wide silver ribbon. It changed hands seven times. Inside? A box of Kleenex. There was a lot of laughter when everyone opened their gifts and saw what they had and figured out what they had traded away.

So since everyone seemed to have fun and to enjoy the games, I say more games at parties. When else do you get to play like that?

Millenario

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millenario1.jpg
Preparations are afoot for many of Tokyo's year end activities. These workers are putting together the Millenario, a light display for Christmas and the new year.

The Millenario is a series of illuminated latticework arches across one of the streets in Marunouchi. It runs for several blocks and is a big attraction, with thousands of visitors every night. It started in 1999/2000 and has been popular ever since. This year they asked a famous designer to do the latticework. I can't tell, though. It looks a lot like last year's. I guess there's only so much you can do with lattice, or maybe my design sense isn't subtle enough.

It's beautiful from a distance. The perspective looking down the street is amazing; it looks like a tunnel of fairy lights. Walking through it is a bit of a let-down. It doesn't *do* anything. Arch after arch, all the same. No changes as you go further. No movement, except for the other people around you. It's not a close up sort of thing.

millenario2.jpg

But watching the workers put up the sections of arch was fun. They had a small crane and a lot of very tall ladders. There were many more people on the ground standing around holding clipboards than there were guys actually doing the work. A few of the clipboard people were directing cars when the crane and ladders got in the way. Otherwise, I really couldn't tell you what they were doing. Smoking. Looking up. Comparing notes?

Marunouchi is a surprisingly nice part of town now. When we first arrived, it was just a lot of big, older office buildings on squarely laid out streets. Everything looked the same to me and I sometimes got lost trying to find the office I worked in! Now the area has been redeveloped. It's full of big newer office buildings, but they've claimed one street for shopping boutiques and restaurants. The Maru Building anchors it all. But that's a blog for another day.

Nightmare

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I must be feeling pretty stressed. Last night was a night of mares. I don’t remember the 1st one at all, but woke up shaking and drenched in sweat. Then I fell back to sleep and dreamed:

Nightmare 2

Time: present
Place: Erie, PA

After corresponding with my friend, Mike, I go to visit him in Erie. He takes me to see his Aunt Karen who is dying. Mike has described in e-mail and over the phone that she’s opted for this really weird procedure/manner of death. He’s disturbed by it, but she and the family agree that it’s the right thing.

She is kept in a gas station on a low scooterboard and she’s draped with a sheet. Bits of her body are removed, put into customers’ cars and driven around until they have incinerated. Then they are returned to the station.

Karen is still very much alive, though missing her legs. Some of her torso has been taken. She is weak and very thin, but she is able to recognize Mike through her sheet drape and reaches out to him. She doesn’t notice me at all and I can’t see her except for a hand which comes out from under the sheet.

We leave but later return to find three men squatting on the garage floor, sorting through some of Karen’s incinerated bits that have been returned. The remains seem to be mainly bolts, screws, nuts and bits of forged and cast metal. The men arrange them in piles, then put them into grungy old cardboard boxes. They don’t say what happens to them.

I’m fascinated and stay to help them while Mike goes to look for Karen. She’s been moved to a small room off to one side of the garage. I can’t see what she and Mike are doing, but I can hear her talking.

She is telling Mike that she and the rest of the family know all about Mike’s college days and his indiscretions. She lists off a handful of incidents that make him sound perhaps gay (dying his hair, staying the night in a friend’s room and giggling the next day) and then a bunch of things he’d done with girlfriends. He is unbelieving that she and his parents could possibly know all this, but she’s giving him the details, so obviously she does. The conversation gets darker and weirder and she is starting to accuse Mike of being a force of evil for doing things like being a DJ and acting in plays. She ends by singing a section of a song with an 80s feel (which was familiar in the dream, but I cannot recall it now). The person in the lyrics sounds like it could be Mike, and the song somehow emphasizes Karen’s point about evil.

At that point, I run in to rescue Mike from this awful situation. Karen is lying on a cot and is no longer draped with a sheet. Her hair is long and graying blonde, but thin and falling out as if she’s malnourished. She skin is loose and translucent, hanging off her body in folds. Her face is sunken, her body is frail but she has a dull gleam in her eyes.

When I come into the room, she shrieks and reaches out forcefully with her one remaining arm to grab me. I pull back before she can touch me. She accuses me of being an evil influence who’s ruined Mike and scourged the planet. Her arm is flailing and she continues to reach for me. Somehow I move nearer without her grabbing me and I take hold of her head—palming the top of it like a basketball.

How I know to do this is unclear (it is a dream, after all) but while holding her head, I start to pull my hand away. My hand leaves her head slowly, with a force resisting it. I wrench a white, maggoty homunculus from her head. It looks vaguely like a stubby sock money, actually, but it’s really pissed.

Mike recognizes it and calls it The Decomposer. Without the homunculus, Aunt Karen is now dead. I drop the horrible thing.

We run out to the parking area toward Mike’s family’s dark green SUV. It’s not quite like any SUV I’ve ever seen—the bottom is dripping with black rubber loops and trailers, like the truck had been dipped in a swamp and congealed.

The remote beeps but it won’t unlock the car to let us in. This vehicle is on the side of good; I have been deemed evil and it won’t behave if I’m around. All the while we struggle to get into the truck and leave, The Decomposer is chasing us.

Somehow we trick the car into opening and we get in. There’s a third person with us--maybe Mike’s sister or his wife. It's a woman, but I’m not sure who; perhaps she was waiting in the truck for us. The truck won’t start—it bucks and stutters trying to shake me out. Again, it is somehow fooled and it starts. We drive off with The Decomposer following us and howling.

-end of dream-

Perfectionism is wasteful

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Since we switched to Zoot ADSL months and months ago, I haven't been able to send mail to anyone at GOL.com, a popular Tokyo ISP. GOL blocks all mail from our provider as spam. It's really irritating, as I have a half-dozen correspondents and clients with addresses at GOL. Everytime I need to contact them, I have to do it through a web interface with an account I don't use much anymore.

Tod's been promising for months to look into it; he got as far as getting some information and advice from a knowledgable friend about a month ago. But he hasn't yet contacted Zoot to ask them to fix the problem. I've complained about this often enough now that he has spent almost 3 hours this evening looking for the perfect words to express the problem and its solution in Japanese because Zoot doesn't have English support.

For some reason, this insistence on perfection is really irritating me. I would (and actually offered to) bang out the mail in 30 minutes, looking up a few words and using a lot of katakana for the technical terms. Mine might not be perfect and it would certainly lack nuance and politeness, but it would get the job done.

But that's not Tod's style. So he's meticulously looking up words and phrases while I've been reading a book waiting for him to finish. Only I'm almost finished with the book and he isn't anywhere near done with the e-mail....

So much for a pleasant Saturday night.

Bonen-, Niji- & Sanji- Kais

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Last night's DigitalEve Japan bonenkai was great fun. We enjoyed a yummy Italian buffet at Trunk in Omotesando and it was fun to catch up with some of hte members I haven't seen in a while.

After the party, a handful of us decided on a short nijikai (second party) and walked up to Harajuku to have a drink at the Pink Cow, an eclectic house turned into a bar. We met some interesting people (a guy who programs for Sega and a voice recognition geek) there and the owner, Tracey, offered to let DE-J use the space for meetings.

When we left at midnight, MJ invited me over for a pajama party. We stayed up 'til 6 am chatting about everything from pets to parents at our own private sanjikai (third party). We fell asleep before Yoshi came home at 8:30, but I got up, said good moring and left around 9.

I'm not so much of a party person, but this was a fun evening. I'm exhausted now, though!

Customs saw my Xmas presents

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"Sweaters" is what the shipping form claimed was in the box my mother sent to us for Christmas.

The shipping box has been opened, examined, resealed with kraft tape emblazoned with Japan Post in big red letters. It was shipped on to us with a duty fee payable.

I've never had a parcel containing gifts opened and examined. Maybe we've just been lucky; maybe the Customs office is cracking down to make up a budget deficit. Perhaps they have a thing against sweaters. Who knows? It's a pretty decent racket the Customs Office has going. Here's what the customs form says:

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Classification:
JERSEYS, PULLOVERS, CARDIGANS OR SIMILAR ARTICLES 6110.92-2

Rate of Duty: 11.50% (of assessed value)
Consumption Tax: 4.00% (of a different assesed amount)
Area Consumption Tax: 25% (of a very small assessed value)
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

And the post office charges 200 yen to handle the Customs duty payment! I truly do not mind paying the duty, but it's a bit of a surprise out of the blue like that. I expect duty on commercial shipments--shoes in particular always get slapped with a hefty extra fee--but on a private gift from Mom? Outrageous...good thing I picked up freebie a Customs Office pen at a community fair a few years back.

Website renewal

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Since early October, I've been project managing a big website redevelopment. The launch date is mid-January and today I spent six hours with the developers going over myriad details. Could we change the layout to highlight the event name, instead of the name of the person posting the event announcement? Will this module work this way or that way when it's finished? What happened to this thing we asked for two months ago?

It was interesting and we covered a lot of ground. But it was exhausting. The programmer speaks little English; I speak little Japanese. Our interpreter is extremely personable and works his ass off for us, but isn't as technically skilled as we are. So it was sometimes difficult to make my points understood--through interpretation of language and technical concept!

I know that the results of this project are going to be excellent. I can hardly wait for the unveiling in January.

Mock Tribunal to Try Bush

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(Sorry for simply copying this interesting wire story here; it explains better than my paraphrasing might.)

TOKYO (Kyodo News) A group of citizens in Japan said Monday they will launch a mock tribunal to try U.S. President George W Bush on war crime charges over military attacks on Afghanistan last year in retaliation for last year's Sept 11 attacks on the United States.

The organizing committee for the "International Criminal Tribunal for Afghanistan" will hold public hearings in some locations in Japan, beginning with one in Tokyo next Sunday, before handing down a "ruling" on Dec 13 and 14 next year, the group said.

The group, co-chaired by Akira Maeda, professor of international criminal law at the Tokyo University of Art and Design, said it will deliver the ruling to the White House.

It said it has visited Afghanistan three times to look into war damage there.

Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who organized a similar tribunal in New York in 1992 against then U.S. President George Bush over the 1991 Persian Gulf War, is a special adviser to the upcoming tribunal, they said.

Blizzard!

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Wow! It's snowing!

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Real snow from the sky, not imitation snow.

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It looks so peaceful and there's almost 2 inches of very wet snow.

Tod woke me up at 2:15 this morning to show me the snow. It snows so rarely in this heat island that it's quite an event when we get some. I had no idea it would still be snowing this morning. The blanket of snow on gardens and rooftops looks lovely.

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It won't last long (it will turn to rain this afternoon) so I'm going back outside to enjoy it.

Relax day

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Can't be bothered to form sentences. Woke at 10:00. Made eggs benedict at noon; read The Zope Book for a while. Took a nap on the sofa while Tod finished reading The Diagnosis. Woke up and made a small batch of cookies at 4:00. Took a bath; put pajamas back on. Had a nap from 6:30 - 8:30.

Now waiting for vegetable curry and croquettes to be delivered. With all the napping today, I expect to stay up late again, so maybe will get a head start on tomorrow's work and rescue this day from being a truly "do nothing" day. Or not.

Holiday fuss completed

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The gifts were ordered days ago; now we've finished the cards, except for stamps & mailing. Holiday obligations are now officially out of the way.

There's still osouji, the Japanese end of year cleaning marathon, to complete, but that will wait until closer to the end of the month. I have a very short list of things to take care of this year. Fix the squeaking hinge on the pantry door; clean out and wipe down the kitchen cabinets; tidy up the container garden; and give the veranda furniture a good scrubbing. Piece of cake.

Year-end social season

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Tonight was the first of this season's bonenkai (forget-the-year parties) that mark the end of the year. This was the UBS party, a grand affair in the ballroom of the Westin hotel in Ebisu.

The theme was Las Vegas Night and in addition to a huge buffet spread, a magic show and a very good live jazz band, there was a casino with the proceeds going to charity. I won about 200 dollars in chips playing roulette, then handed them to the woman next to me to play with--gambling doesn't hold my interest.

UBS' charities (UNICEF Japan & the Children's Cancer Society) will be receiving a nice donation. A signed Manchester United jersey was auctioned for 350,000 yen (about $3,000) and one of the evening's prize winners auctioned his "trip to two to Las Vegas" prize for 150,000 yen.

Most people opted to keep their raffle prizes which ranged from a bottle of champage to a DVD player to two round-trip tickets to London. At one of the UBS parties a few year back, when the economy was surging, one lucky winner got an entire year's paid vacation.

I suspect that this was the most elaborate of the year-end parties we'll attend this year. Next Friday is the DigitalEve party which will be fun, but on a much smaller scale.

Swan Lake

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When I was a girl, I had an illustrated book of ballet stories. It was one of those oversized books that was challenging to read in bed because it was heavy and awkward and hard to keep open, but I did it--numerous times. I remember the beautiful paintings that illustrated each of the classics: Coppelia, Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Giselle, Sleeping Beauty.

So when Tod got us tickets to see the Shanghai Ballet performing Swan Lake, I was delighted. But I should have suggested that Tod read the story ahead of time.

During the intermission I asked if he understood what was going on and he wove a fantastical tale of a king who couldn't dance and a madman with a crossbow chasing after a bunch of ballerinas in white skirts. Extremely entertaining, but not quite right...he didn't even realise that the dancers in white were the swans.

He also believes that Tchaikovsky wrote the theme music for the Death Star in Star Wars.

I think we need to incorporate more cultural events into our schedule.

Community board

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I've told several people about the badger sighting and they have been incredulous.

"But they are mountain animals..."
"Maybe it was a tanuki?"

So I decided to seek the opinion and comments of my neighbors. I tacked a notice on the community bulletin board.

anagumanotice.jpg

It says "Sunday 12/1 around 10:30 at Kawaguchi Apartments, I think I saw an Anaguma. Is it someone's pet? Am I going crazy? Have you see it? If so, please e-mail me."

I included a picture of a Japanese badger (not the one I saw) and my picture so everyone will know that I am a crazy badger-sighting woman.

Articles Online

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MJ is soon to launch an online resource for Japanese and foreign web designers, programmers, print designers, information architects and other design and development professionals in Tokyo.

In addition to being an online resume database, there will be a collection of article son the in and outs of doing business as a designer. I spent my afternon drafting the inaugural piece, 650 words on four key responsibilities that clients and designers need to consider when project planning. I'll follow this up with some handy checklists for web project specifications and content.

So now that I've written the articles, MJ better get herself gear and get the site launched! (Right after this week's rush jobs, our trips to the gym and a little bit of sleep, naturally)

Clean curtains

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My grandmother frequently laundered her curtains. Every couple of months she's strip the windows, wash the curtains wipe the windows and rehang the curtains. As a kid, this mystified me. As a young adult, I considered it an old-fashioned housekeeping practice, one that was meant for women who stayed at home without a career. I grew up in a house that didn't launder its curtains every three months. In a tidy house is curtain washing really necessary?

Yes. Yes, it is. When we moved last February, I washed the floor to ceiling (very high ceiling) sheers that I had custom made for the old house. They had 18 months of accumulated dust on them. They smelled bad. It took two washes to get them clean. I rehemmed them, put them in our new living room and forgot to wash them.

Something reminded me yesterday and I stripped the windows and washed the curtains. What a difference. Not only are the curtains cream-colored again (instead of a slightly dingy grey) but the living room smells fresher. My grandmother had the right idea, didn't she?

These days, I balance a life of career and homemaking. My office is ten steps from the laundry (it's true, I just checked) so it's easy to keep up on washing. I take breaks from writing or image editing to clean windows or sweep the veranda. It's a balance that I like. Now I just need to put "wash curtains" in my To Do list a little more often. Early March should be about right...

Mystery weasel

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At about 10:30 this evening, walking home from returning the rented DVDs, I spotted what I thought was a big grey cat slinking up the stairs at the apartment building next to ours.

Only it wasn't a cat at all. But I don't know what it was. I've been searching on the 'net to no avail. It's not a weasel/stoat, tanuki, raccoon, or ferret, as far as I can tell. It might have been a Japanese badger, but from the photos I've found, the tail is different...can anyone identify this animal? I didn't have my camera with me (drat!) but here's a description:

length: approx 1 meter (including tail)
legs: short, black, no defined joints or hips
tail: pretty bushy, grey with black at end. length is about as long as the body
fur: sort of fluffy, grey/brown with black legs, tail end. lighter markings on ears and top of head
ears: small, pointy, dark
head: about as wide as body, triangular, whitish stripe down the middle towards nose

What the heck is a wild animal doing in my paved-over neighborhood??

Feast of Films

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Every once in a while we'll rent a handful of films and watch them one after another. This weekend was Akira (newly released on DVD with a new million dollar soundtrack), Chocolat, What's Eating Gilbert Grape, and Shawshank Redemption. Not a bad one in the bunch.

So there was planty of input this weekend, but not much output. Must get back to a productive schedule tomorrow!

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