Sunday, September 24, 2006

"Shinagawa" - September 1st, 2006

When I went to Shinagawa on September 1st, I was primarily going for photographs, but I ended up writing about that trip and the memories it brought back ("August/September 1984/2006"). Nevertheless, I did take a few pictures - some of which I've posted here:

I need to take more daytime photos, but in order to do that I'll have to take them early in the morning, so I tend to always end up taking night photos (I wish Tokyo was in the right time zone!).

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Saturday, September 16, 2006

"Art Tyde's Ginza Visit"

February 25th, 2006 - I took a couple of trains across town to Ginza for a special TLUG meeting with Art Tyde. Being a Saturday, I had mixed feelings about going out for something that seemed a little more like work than fun, but the man crossed the Pacific, so the least I could do was to cross Tokyo! The last time I attended a meeting, I was expecting to meet a California man and I met someone from South Africa, so this time I was pleased to discover someone from my old stomping grounds in San Francisco and Silicon Valley (no problem with South Africa mind you, I just mean it was nice to meet someone from my old hometown).

Walking into the company conference room where the meeting was held, I sat down with the other expat Linux people in the room and looked over at Art, who looked around at us all with a bemused expression and asked what was with the lack of locals.  We laughed and explained that there are J-locals on the TLUG list, but since the list is an English language one, it's a bit heavy with expats (a couple of the local members did show up later on).

So - to go over some parts of what Art talked about during the Ginza meeting, here are some select transcriptions from a recording I made (with permission) of the meeting.

Tyde: "I've got a bunch of different things that I've been working on. One is obviously the standards group, so that's the... ah... Linux standard base, which we just actually got approved as an ISO standard... which is a big deal."

SB-1: "So now we have to pay for it..."

Tyde: [laughter] "No... you can still get it for free... but not from the ISO website!  But they're happy to send you something like 40 pounds worth of books [for a price].
"And one of my start-up companies is coming into Japan for a second time. Back in '96, I started this company called LinuxCare, which was here for a while, but then when the bubble burst, LinuxCare's customers went out of business. So everybody scaled down and then LinuxCare kind of looked around and said; 'Okay... IBM is basically making off with all the support business and it's a changed space now. We need to get a product that's...' so ah... they did that, and now they're actually coming back into Japan, and they have this gadget that will provision Linux machines, which is kind of cool.
"Um... looking around in Japan, it's like... everybody lies to me about which are popular Linux distributions; Red Hat tells you they own the market, Turbo tells you they own the market... who actually uses Linux, and what Linux do they use around here?"

There was a bit of everyone looking around at everyone else, but basically we agreed that companies tend to consider Red Hat the way to go for servers.  As for what people are using as desktop machines, it's a little hard to say.  On the TLUG list, there seem to be people using all the distros, with one distro or another coming under discussion from time to time.  And then there are people like me who bounce around from distro to distro, trying several of them out.  So far, I've used Red Hat, Suse, Mandrake (now Mandriva), Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Turbo, Knoppix, and... some other things (at the moment I'm using Suse and Ubuntu).

Tyde: "Well, what about in terms of general Linux use, like is Turbo Linux being used by anybody?"

SB-2: "Turbo was a bubble thing, most people have moved to Red Hat I think."
Tyde: "Really, because I was in Akihabara looking at a software store, and I saw a bunch of TurboLinux distros there, next to Red Hat, and one or two others, but I was just curious as to who used what, because ah... in Korea, we're kind of getting strong-armed, so we built this box called Intrepid, it builds... it provisions Linux machines and it does it in a cool way, but... essentially what we can do, is we can take any Linux distribution, and shove it into this thing called a repository, and punch out Linux boxes in about 30 seconds.
     "So, basically, the only relevant distribution in terms of a commercial potential in Japan would be Red Hat... is that a true statement?"
SB-2: "Companies like Dell, they basically... they only support Red Hat."
Tyde: "It's interesting, because at the Free Standards Group, we have a presentation that we give [where] we talk about the difference between open source and open standards, and how - you know - open source doesn't prevent you from finding yourself in situations where you've got vendor lock-in with - for example - Red Hat.  [There was a study by a] financial institution of what it would take to move from, um... Suse to Red Hat, and it was a more expensive move than moving from Windows to Linux or vice versa.  The whole article was about the idea of vendor lock-in, whereas open standards actually - ideally - would prevent vendor lock-in.
SB-1: "That's not going to happen - if you don't have vendor lock-in, then prices go below profitable levels."
Tyde: "Oh, I disagree with that..."
SB-2: "Are you talking about just for the software, or are you talking about... I mean, you've still got support."
Tyde: "Yeah, there's a whole business you can build around that.
SB-2: "Well, in Japan, people like going for brand.  You know, you could go with anyone for support, but why would you take the risk?  That's what drives Red Hat."
Tyde: "Yeah, I mean, so it's funny - when I look at Red Hat - cause, back in the LinuxCare days - you know - our model was, let's hire all these name brand guys, and get them all under one roof, so that we have the credibility to go out and say that we can support Linux.  I think we were supporting it on... 21 different Linux distributions and... nine different hardware architectures, but... once IBM and these guys got in the game, it was just all over for us, but interestingly enough, Red Hat's business model today, including the structure of their company - the professional services, the support, training... is exactly what our business model was back in 2000."
SB-1: "No it's not though..."
Tyde: "What's different about it?"
SB-1: "They have a distro..."
Tyde: "They have a distro - right.  Well, that was the hard lesson that we learned.  You know, it's like - you can fight the battle on a lot of fronts, but, traditionally, companies will only buy support from the perceived maker of the software, even though Red Hat has very little to do with 90% of the software that goes into its distro."
An interesting story came up - a famous one that one of the TLUG members had already heard, so probably many of you have heard it too, but I'll include it in here as well since it's a first-person story and not something far removed from the source and drifting towards folklore.
Tyde: ..... "USB support in the Linux kernel - a very simple bribe action.  Back in '99, when I came to Japan, I bought a Sony PictureBook - the first one - which only had USB ports on it, it didn't have serial, it didn't have parallel, didn't have any... there was no other way to get a peripheral into it.  So, ah... I was down in the South Bay, having lunch with Linus and Dan Quinlan, and Linus was admiring the PictureBook.  We had just gotten five or six million dollars [laughter], so I ordered him one... and I gave him a PictureBook, because I knew that I would have USB support in the kernel [snapping fingers] just like that!  [laughter]  Now the days of buying Linus a piece of hardware to bribe him into supporting your toy - those days are probably over... but I think they're happening at a bigger, more institutional level."
After discussing the predominance of Red Hat further:
Tyde: "Red Hat's business model today is a support business.  It is services around their product, which appears to have won - at least in every major market that I've seen so far, which actually, I think is... I would like to come into a market, and look around and see something else."
At this point, the meeting shifted gears and Art began more of a presentation-style discussion, complete with a slide show from his laptop.
Tyde: "So there are a couple of interesting projects that I've got going right now... I don't know if they're interesting to everybody, but....  The reason I was asking about Turbo Linux, is because there's a small start-up company based in the Philippines [SpecOpS Labs, (Special Operating System Laboratories)] that has taken the Wine core, rewritten big pieces of it, and they have a product called David, which is shipping on Turbo Linux.
     "And the idea is - actually this has been tried in the past - they're trying to make it such that you can just take your Windows setup CD's and shove them into a Turbo Linux box, run setup, and start Windows applications right on Turbo Linux.
     "And... for... you know... a large percentage of applications, that actually works.  For other applications, it still needs a little bit of polishing, but that's been a very controversial sort of start-up - we're pissing off all the Wine guys, and stuff.  You know... oh well!  [laughter]
     "So there's that project, and there's the Free Standards Group (, of which I'm now the Chief Certifications Officer.  We're actually doing a lot of interesting work these days in terms of promoting open standards, and we hired Ian Murdock (of Debian fame), in December.  So, it's a lot of fun working with Ian.
     "And then there's the third major project, which is actually, I think, the most technically interesting - LinuxCare, also known as Levanta today ( - the provisioning device that they built, which won the best of show for Linux hardware stuff at Linux World in San Francisco back in August...."
>From there Art talked about SpecOpS a little and Levanta in some detail, but that information is mainly on the Internet, so have a look at the respective sites mentioned above and you'll be pretty much up to speed.
After the meeting, we walked over to Shinbashi and ate at a nondescript restaurant.  Not having set foot out of Japan in ten years, I asked Art about his impressions of the country and was surprised/pleased to hear that his 2006 impressions are basically the same as the impressions I had in 1984!  Surprised because I had been thinking recently that Japan had changed quite a bit, but pleased in a way to discover that it hasn't changed as much as I thought.  (What probably has changed quite a lot - is me....)

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

"Converging Paths in Tokyo"

I was in the middle of testing Ubuntu and Kubuntu on a test box when an e-mail landed on the TLUG mailing list from a member of an Ubuntu users' group. According to the e-mail, Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Ubuntu Linux, would be visiting Tokyo and meeting with Linux users for a roundtable discussion about Ubuntu Linux and the current state of the free software movement in Japan.  "Well - that sounds interesting," I thought, and I fired off a message saying that I would like to attend. A few other TLUG members also expressed interest, and on Friday, February 3rd, we found ourselves standing in front of the Roppongi Hills tower in... er... Roppongi.  The four of us walked through the base of the tower complex and up to the Laurel Room.  We were a little early, but by and by The Man came - Mark Shuttleworth, a man with an interesting story. You've probably already heard it though, so I'll keep it brief:

The Ubuntu story is quite an interesting one - a classic case of what Linus would call "standing on the shoulders of giants".  In brief, you have Mark Shuttleworth, who founded Thawte Consulting in 1995 (while still in college), a company that produced a full-security e-commerce web server which enabled encrypted and authenticated translations via the Internet.  This was acquired in 1999 by VeriSign for hundreds of millions of dollars.  What next?  But of course!  The space station via a Russian rocket, and then back to earth with forward looking dreams and actions, including, but not limited to, Ubuntu Linux, HBD Venture Capital, The Shuttleworth Foundation, etc. (look on the Internet for further details).

Truth be told, I was busy before the meeting and didn't look things up about Ubuntu.  Actually, I spent the time that I might have done that using Ubuntu and Kubuntu - so I stupidly stumbled into the meeting expecting the founder to be a Silicon Valley California man.  Wrong.  He's from South Africa, although he's currently living in London, and he's far more polished than I was expecting, but then I'm a writer and photographer first and second, computer user third, and politician 57th, so when - early in the meeting - Shuttleworth turned to me and asked:

"Perhaps I could ask a question of you as somebody who watches the industry - how would you characterize free software in Japan today?"

I wasn't prepared for it.  I had been expecting to be just an observer for most of it and to work up to asking some questions of my own, so I weakly replied:

"Well, I'm not an expert actually - I mean, I use Linux on the desktop myself, and I'm very interested in promoting Linux and that sort of thing, but I'm actually not specifically focused on technology.  I've been doing a lot of more general kind of issues about Japan... and about travel to the Boso Peninsula and that sort of thing.  So I'm actually not an expert at all, but I'm a user of Linux and I want to do anything I can to promote it, , so I'm sort of a crusading anti-Microsoft person - I really hate Microsoft."

Oops... wrong thing to say!  After that was translated into Japanese for those in the room not up to speed in English, I continued:

"And... and also...."
But alas! Too late! Shuttleworth responded:

"There is a danger in the fact that many of the people who are passionate about Linux, are really passionate about their opposition to the status quo... because the question arises - when the status quo changes, what will bind us together. And, ah...  So I think my focus is very much on promotion of what is good about this software."

For the record, I don't care what the status quo is - or rather, I would be happiest if the status quo were something worthwhile - then I would be anti-nothing!  In any case, from there the conversation headed off into other directions, including discussions of how much awareness there is of free software in Japan, technical details about Ubuntu 5.10, etc.  I realized once past my fumbling of Shuttleworth's question (If I had known that I was going to be asked something like that, I could have put together something more intelligible to say...), that the wavelength of Shuttleworth and the man most into programming were remarkably similar....

In any case, let's have a look at some highlights from the meeting.

When asked about Ubuntu's stance regarding Debian, Shuttleworth responded:

"We are in perfect agreement with Debian in some areas, for example, we will not put any proprietary applications, or any non-free applications in the default set of applications that will be installed in any default Ubuntu system. Where we differ quite substantially from Debian is that we acknowledge the pragmatic need to work with vendors who are not yet ready to release the source code of their drivers.  And... so while we lobby and encourage those vendors to make their source code freely available, we do include in the default Ubuntu many proprietary drivers - for video cards, for storage, infrastructure, for wireless network cards, and so on. Our rational for that is that we believe it is more important to get free software up and running on as many different desktops as possible.And so we recognize Debian's position as being valuable and important, but also recognize that it's useful for us to be able to make that compromise, and insure that people's installation experience is a successful and happy one."

After this the issue of whether to focus on desktop users or the server came up, and a local network administrator commented on that issue, and brought up something possibly peculiar to the Japanese market:

LNA-A: "Most people in Japan using Linux, are using it on servers.  On the desktop side, my impression is that it really isn't happening in Japan - I think there is an image problem too, um... it looks like a cheap system to most people..."

Shuttleworth:"The costs are not that high by comparison with salaries... in Japan, compared to some of the other countries that we've been.  We've observed a very clear correlation between income levels and a willingness to consider alternatives to..."

LNA-A: "I think though, you've also got the big image sort of thing - it looks like a cheap alternative, so that people - you know - um... people will spend more, because they think they're getting more."

Shuttleworth: "Interesting... so what's needed is desktop labeling basically."

Following this was a discussion in Japanese of the different local versions of Linux available, including Turbo Linux, the Japanese version of Knoppix, Vine Linux, and the Japanese version of Ubuntu (  Invariably, this led to probably the biggest problem for users who need to input Japanese text - the many competing and inconsistent input methods available, and the biggest problem of all, the fact that Ubuntu (and some other distros) require a certain amount of tweaking before Japanese input is possible (although the downloadable version supplied by the local group works right off).  Reading Japanese usually isn't much of a problem, but writing it is.  Once an input system is in place, the next problem is its functionality.  This single issue has probably done more to chase away potential users in Japan than any other.

Shuttleworth: "I would very much like to insure that Ubuntu handles the input methods and fonts that are necessary..."

LNA-B: "It has to just work..."

Shuttleworth: "Are there any members of the community here who are experts in that and who will be able to help us identify the specific pieces that need to be put in place?"

At this point there was discussion of local user groups, mention of Jim Breen's membership in TLUG (Jim Breen has created one of the best, if not the very best Japanese-English dictionaries available - see, and mention of the Japanese version of Ubuntu available from a local Ubuntu user's group, as well as discussion regarding which input method works best.

Shuttleworth: "This is a thorny problem.  There are keyboard issues - in the console, in X, and the desktop environment.  There are input methods, there are fonts, there are... many tricky interrelated issues.  And my hope is that we can pull together some experts from around the world, and solve this once and for all."

Being one of only a few desktop users in the room, I pointed out that of the people I'd converted to Linux from brand-W, there had only been two issues for them.  One was getting used to Japanese character conversion (with Suse 9.3), which was a bit different from what they were used to (brand-W), and the other was an English language user who was completely happy with Linux in all respects but one (on two machines, one running Suse 9.0 & one 10.0) - his inability to play back DVD disks and some video formats from the Internet.

Shuttleworth: "We are effectively excluded from the... we exclude ourselves from the DVD playback environment by default, because we focus entirely on free software applications.  There are some people who effectively make commercial derivatives of Ubuntu that include that include commercial DVD playback, and of course they have the ability to license the patents involved and get the proprietary software involved into the [package].  It may be that, [in] certain regions, that's a reasonable thing to do.  We're working very hard to build up the body of knowledge around video CODEC's that are not patented and can be included in free software.  That process is coming along quite nicely, and..."

LNA-B: "The problem being content."

Shuttleworth: "Of course.  I wonder if we shouldn't adopt our strategy so that in countries where consumers - digital consumers - are extremely sophisticated, and very feature-sensitive, but not very price-sensitive, in other words, those countries like Singapore, Japan, and so on, where desktop Linux is going to take much longer to be accepted - perhaps, in those countries, we really should focus our attention and our efforts on servers, where..."

LNA-B: "Or on the corporate desktop, which doesn't need to play back DVD's.  Because, I mean... speaking as an employee of [a US corporation in Japan], there's no way we're ever going to use Ubuntu for servers, because we have our own..."

Shuttleworth: "Ecosystem?"

LNA-B: "Yeah, we have our own stuff - we're not going to change.  On the desktop, where we're using Windows, we would love to go to Linux.  I mean, right now, we're in the middle of trying to get rid of Office, and go to OpenOffice... just to save money, that's it.  But in Japan, you have a lot of companies that are very very rich.  They're willing to spend money, and what they really want is something that works.  And you've got foreign companies that [are geared] towards efficiency - everything we do is [towards] helping lower our costs, so... that's another market that I think you could target in Japan with maybe more success than just [average desktop users]."

The meeting lasted for a little over two hours, but what with nearly everything being said twice (English translated into Japanese and Japanese translated into English), it was effectively more like a one-hour meeting content-wise.

Not discussed at the meeting, but something that's been on my mind lately, are how semi-skilled users of Linux are at a sort of crossroads right now - caught between the expert Unix crowd on one hand, and the clueless desktop users of brand-W on the other.  The experts are at a skill level vastly higher than brand-W refugees and so these semi-skilled computer users try the patience of LUG groups with issues that are advanced for brand-W but overly elementary for old-hand Linux users.

Where to from here?

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon
February 19th, 2006

Sunday, September 03, 2006

"August/September 1984/2006"

I crossed the Pacific in mid-August of 1984 - and many things happened in the early weeks and months I was here.  The impressions and drama of the first few weeks in fact was so strong that it comes back to me powerfully from time to time, particularly in late August and - this year - early September.

Last night - September 1st, 2006 - I went stright from work to Shinagawa, where I stayed for my second week in Japan.  .......  Sigh... I guess I have to write this down in sequence.  I was only intending to mention a part of it, but it all came back so powerfully yesterday, and the images and memories are still strongly lingering today, so I suppose this is the time to put it into words.

The moment of walking off the 747 into Narita Airport in August 1984 - I was immediately struck with the realization that I was walking into something very different from what I had left behind.  Different radio waves in the air, different smell and different general feel....

In the regular Keisei Line train (not the reserved seat Sky-liner) with Tokoko (a high school student - one of four pen-pals I exchanged letters with before coming here) on the way into central Tokyo, I looked around, noticed that I seemed to be the only non-Japanese person in the train and wondered at Tokoko's having written "There are many foreigners in Japan...".

Standing off to the side in a very busy station with people rushing about everywhere, watching Tokoko asking a station worker how to get to Kanda after she had put us on a wrong train (probably she got on a Keihin-Tohoko Line train going away from Tokyo instead of into it).

Walking down a street in Kanda (on our way to the Kanda YMCA), I looked up and noticed the utility poles were indeed the unusual type I had first noticed in a Japanese movie at the Kokusai Movie theater in San Francisco.  I spent enough time watching Japanese movies and reading books about Japan, that - for most things - I was not surprised about too much; rather is was a feeling "Oh yeah - that's what I saw in that movie!" or "Oh yeah - that's what the book said!".  A huge exception was the (ongoing) experience of dealing with other foreigners in Japan!  Nothing can adequately prepare you for that!  Psychosis 909!

Jaywalking across a street with Tokoko to get to the Kanda YMCA building (an old brick building, built in 1928 and - unfortunately - torn down in 1988; the old building had a lot more character than the new one does), as we crossed, a policeman blew a whistle and yelled at us - Tokoko bowed an apology and we were allowed to proceed under the fierce gaze of the policeman (jaywalking was very rare then - it's become more common over the years).

Walking into the Kanda YMCA and meeting Tokoko's father (who had made a reservation at the Kanda YMCA for me - at Y5,000 a night, not the best option when there were "gaijin houses" at Y1,400 a night) and a translator friend of his (who claimed he had translated for President Carter when he visited Japan).  I stupidly paid for a week in advance (meaning that, with food costs, I would be out of money at the end of the week!), and we took a creaky old "Made in USA" Otis elevator down to the time-slip dining room in the basement with "Made in USA" silverware!  After getting used to practically everything being "Made in Japan" when I was living in the US, it was amusing that the first elevator I got on in Japan was "Made in USA" and the first spoon to go in my mouth was "Made in USA".

Making a (very expensive!) semi-local call to Kathy in Saitama, my Japanese-American girlfriend, who had flown over with me.  Where was she staying?  At a former boyfriend's apartment!  (I was BF#3 who was Japan-bound, so she decided to tag along this time, meeting up with BF#2 in Saitama and BF#1 in Kyushu.)

In a Shinjuku department store, going from floor to floor via escalators with Kathy and a local friend of hers (who was the new girlfriend of BF#2 I think) - no non-Japanese anywhere....  Again, I remembered Tokoko's "There are many foreigners in Japan" remark and thought "Where?!" (remember I came from San Francisco City, where there is no clear majority of any race).  Later, when I was about to head back to Kanda, I was feeling a bit lost and scared in Shinjuku Station as I was about to set off alone, so I asked Kathy's friend which platform I should go to and she told me "Take the Yamanote Line", so I said "Yeah, I know, but in which direction?", to which she flippantly told me to take it in either direction - it would get me to Kanda.  I walked under the tracks within the station, darkly thinking "Thank you for your rudeness and thank you for your disregard for my time!  I'd like to take the shorter/faster route..."

Day three or four - I meet Tokoko and a friend of hers, Kibijin.  They take me around Kamakura to the temples, and Kibijin refuses to go past the gates of anything not specifically her version of Buddhism (the newest, strictest version of it).

Probably the same day as the temple visits - I visit Kibijin's house with Tokoko, and Kibijin's mother takes a liking to me (no, not in *that* way!).

Day four or five - I wake up early in the Kanda YMCA (jet-lag/supercharge and in-wrong-time-zone Tokyo effect), open the windows and look down at the street below (from something like the 7th floor, I can't remember exactly).  I ponder the fact that I have a few more days before I'm out of money and out of a place to stay, look at the people walking along the street, realize that I can't talk to them (no Japanese language on my side, little English language ability on theirs) and break down for a minute beside the bed in the closet-sized room "What am I going to do! Sob!-Sob!".  But I snap out it, and take on the "March into it man!  Do what you can!" attitude necessary for survival if you're a freelancer in this life, without connections.

Day... five or six?  I go into a barbershop for a haircut and the oldest barber there that I immediately think "No... not him... please...." jumps up and indicates a seat.  I sit down, hold up my thumb and fingers, indicating that I just want a centimeter or so taken off.  What happens?  The bugger takes off everything in a flourish *except* a half-centimeter!  I may be wrong, but it sure did seem deliberate and that guy did seem to be sadistically enjoying my extreme discomfort at having all my hair cut off!  It took three months before I wasn't ashamed of my appearance and was a contributory factor in my eventually swearing off barbers of all kinds - I've been cutting my own hair for ten years now, saving money, time, frustration, and all to better effect.

And now, finally, Shinagawa enters the story.  Strangely, I can't remember how it was set up at all.  An initial phone call?  A question in person?  I have no recollection at all, but - in one way or another - as my time at the YMCA was running out, Tokoko let me know that Kibijin's mother had put in a good word about me to her husband, who owned his own company in Shinagawa.  All this is conjecture of the obvious - I had to be informed and it had to come from Tokoko or Kibijin, but the memory of the actual event is gone.  Now - back to memory video clips, which are clearly remembered:

I'm sitting in one of the cushy customer seats by the window on the fifth floor of Mr. Shacho's (Kibijin's father - President and owner of his own business) company in Shinagawa, looking out the window at the many trains going by - the Yamanote Line, the Keihin-Tohoku Line, the Tokaido Line, etc.  I notice that not all of the Yamanote Line train cars are air-conditioned (they got all the trains air-conditioned about a year or two after that), with the non-air-conditioned cars having dry roofs with round cover/intakes for the ceiling fans inside the train, and the air-conditioned cars having large air-conditioner units mounted in the middle of the roof, with much of the roof wet from the water taken out of the humid air by frigid coils.  I sat there feeling a combination of nervousness and ease.  Nervousness at the sort of interview situation, and ease at sitting there in the air-conditioned office in the comfortable chair, with a cold drink and a view out the window of the passing trains.  Smiling Mr. Shacho sits opposite me, and the memory fades....

It's decided that I will work for Mr. Shacho, helping with English correspondence and also handle phone orders in Japanese(!).  A series of memory video clips:

Mr. Shacho takes me over to an apartment he rented just behind his company's office.  He explained that he had a heart condition and rented the apartment so he go there and rest from time to time during working hours - a quick escape from the stress and noise of the office.  The apartment doubles as storage space for things from the office, with boxes piled up in the bathtub and no hot water as the gas was shut off.  He says I can stay there for a while (and take showers at another place that he'll show me) and takes me to a nearby shop where he buys a new futon, sheets, blanket, and pillow for me.  I remember feeling slightly uncomfortable that he was laying out cash for me before I'd done anything for him.

We then walked back towards the station and he took me to another apartment he was renting as his overseas division.  One woman named Minami was working there alone (for another three months, at which time she was going off to Australia to get married), and other people would pop in from time to time.  Mr. Shacho introduces us and after he's gone, Minami looks at me with a wondering look and asks "So you're going to work here?"  I nod, and we end up talking a lot about things in general as she shows me the work she's doing and I begin to help out.  A few days later, she gets that wondering look on her face again and asks "So you're really going to stay here and work?".  Maybe we were talking about general things too much or maybe she was thinking about how I didn't speak Japanese, but I would need to speak it in order to take over her job when she headed to Australia.  A couple of times, she followed up her "Are you really going to stay here?" questions with the question/statement "Don't you think that it doesn't matter where you live?  I think everywhere is the same."  I found that a strange sentiment at the time and just looked at her as I pondered the concept that everywhere is the same, but in hindsight, I wonder if she was trying to convince herself of that, as she was about to move to Australia to live.  (She had spent a couple of years there studying, so she spoke English fluently, and presumably she met her soon-to-be husband while living there.

Walking into an expensive restaurant at the top of the Hotel Pacific [newly opened in 
1971 - closed on September 30th, 2010] in front of Shinagawa Station with Mr. Shacho.  A group of women bowed as we entered and we were shown to a table by a window with a great view, but as we were talking the whole time and I was giving Mr. Shacho my full attention, I wasn't able to take in the view much.  I remember him telling me that his ancestors had been wealthy, but his father had spent all the money, so by the time he came along, he had to work hard to make a living.  He also mentioned how he took the "Green Car" (1st class car - of which there are generally two on a 15-car Tokaido Line train) up from Fujisawa every day.  As we walked back towards the elevators, several women at the entrance to the place bowed to Mr. Shacho's departing back.  (I thought it rude at the time, but I've gotten used to the idea of just marching out of a place like that with my head held high and the staff thanking me and bowing to my departing back - that's just the way it's done here.)

Standing in front of the apartment building containing the export branch office/shower spot in the August heat with the cicadas making their summer noises overhead - a sound I had never in my life heard before.  After all these years, when I hear the cicadas, I remember that moment in Shinagawa in front of that apartment building, waiting for Mr. Shacho to get a car out of the parking lot.  Whether that was the first time I met Mr. Shacho's son, I'm not sure, but I distinctly remember him on that occasion - positively radiating doubt and irritation in my direction.  I had been told by Mr. Shacho that I would only need to know numbers and some set phrases to handle orders on the phone, so I had set to memorizing numbers right away, and he asked me in the car to read the numbers of the license plate on the car in front of us.  I slowly, but accurately, read the numbers out in Japanese, and Mr. Shacho turned smilingly to his son with a "See?" expression and the son tilted his head to the side and gave a "Hmmm.... I don't know...." look.

In a car (the same day as above?) as it passed the US embassy, which Mr. Shacho pointed out.  We then ate in a restaurant near the embassy, where I was introduced to an acquaintance of Mr. Shacho's.  All I remember is being looked at skeptically and feeling uncomfortable.

Meeting another business acquaintance of Mr. Shacho's in a restaurant in a five-star hotel.  I sat there not understanding what they were saying in Japanese, and so there was nothing to interject and nothing to do but dumbly wait.  The acquaintance at one point turned to me and said something bland, like "So you'll be working for Mr. Shacho then?" to which I responded, and then they set to discussing things in Japanese again.  The only word I remember catching was "telex" (as in "He'll be useful in sending and receiving foreign correspondence - he can run the telex machine", or something to that effect I imagined).

Back in the export office alone while Australia-bound Minami went out for some reason or another.  An older man came by and he came in and sat next to my desk - talking to me in Japanese.  He would say "Nantoka dokonanka dareka" ("???") etc. etc. and I would say "Wakarimasen" ("I don't understand."), and he would then say "Desukara, dareka donadesho" ("???"), to which I would say "Wakarimasen".  I don't remember how long that went on, but I eventually called the main office and put the man on the phone to them.  Who he was or what he was visiting for I hadn't - then or now - the slightest clue or idea beyond that it was probably business.  He seemed like a friendly and calm person though, so I wish I could have been able to talk with him....

At the end of my second week, I explained to Mr. Shacho that my Japan Rail Pass was good for three weeks and I was hoping to do a little traveling on it before it ran out, so he said "Where do you want to go?", "Hokkaido" I answered, and he told me I should go and gave me a few days off and some money as an advance on my salary.

I took the Shinkansen (super-express or "bullet train") north, thinking of Kathy, who had headed in the opposite direction - to Kyushu to stay with BF#!.  The plan was to go to Hokkaido where another of the four pen-pals I had been writing to was from and where she told me I was welcome to visit.  Very unfortunately, I got to thinking of Kathy down in Kyushu, and when I got to Morioka (the terminus of the Shinkansen then - it's further north now), I got out of the train, looked around at the city down below the elevated Shinkansen platform, and then walked back into the train, intending to go all the way down to Kyushu.  Unfortunately, the Shinkansen I eventually took south from Tokyo went only as far as Osaka and then the system shut down for the night.

I spent the night in the cab of a small truck in a... junkyard?  Construction site?  In the morning, a man appeared and - nervous that he's be upset about me being in the truck - I opened the door to get out.  The man looked up in shock, emitted a stream of sparks from his hair standing on end, and practically ran out of the area.  Maybe he thought I was a ghost - or maybe he wasn't supposed to be there either....

I met the third of the four pen-pals the next day who was - conveniently enough - from Osaka.  She and her friends took me to Osaka Castle.  There was something uncomfortable about my time in Osaka.  I think I was supposed to go to Hokkaido and the gods of travel were frowning down at me tossing mini-lightning bolts - "Idiot!  Why did did you turn around?!"

For two decades I have kicked myself for not having gone to Hokkaido that day.  I finally made it up there this year (to Hakodate), but still I regret not going up in 1984.

I can't remember for sure, but I think I actually took the Shinkansen down to Kyushu the next day - what I do remember very clearly is:

On a Tokyo-bound Shinkansen, sitting in one of the non-reserved seat cars.  The train was very crowded and somewhere along the line, I looked up to see Mr. Shacho's son leering at me from the end of the train.  I thought "Great... I was given time off to go to Hokkaido, and here I am seen by Mr. Shacho's son in southern Japan".  I looked up a few times, and each time, Mr. Shacho's son practically doubled over in laughter.  At the time, it was mortifying, but if that happened now, I'd go over and talk to him - explaining what was what.

Later, back in the office, Mr. Shacho's son came by and talked with Minami for a bit and she turned to me and said "Did you go to Hokkaido?".  "I went up to Morioka, but then changed my mind and went south instead" I told her.  She looked thoughtful, and looked off into space for a moment - I think she understood what was happening on both sides and also understood there was no point in trying to explain anything to the hostile son of Mr. Shacho.

The following Friday evening, Kathy - being back in Tokyo, came to visit, so I showed her the sleeping apartment behind the main office, and since it was without hot water and half full of boxes, we went over to the export office.  It was Friday night, so I figured no one would be using the office on the weekend, so we spent the night there on the sofa, awakening early on Saturday morning to the sound of a key in the door!  Kathy dove into the next room and I stood up with only a towel on as Mr. Shacho's son walked into the room with a "What-what-what...?" look on his face.  Kathy then made her appearance (with her dress on backwards) and he fell into a "You devilish foreigner you!  Preying on the local woman are you?!!" look on his face.  I didn't speak Japanese and he didn't speak English, so I couldn't explain to him that she was actually American and was my long-time girlfriend from the US who had come over with me.

As I got dressed, he went into the next room and made a phone call somewhere - speaking somberly into the phone - explaining the "terrible" situation to someone I imagined.  I imagined Mr. Shacho's wife and felt like she's be shocked and disappointed in me.  Feeling shamed by the whole thing, and also painfully aware that I was going to need more than three months to learn enough Japanese to actually do my work there in the export office alone, I left with Kathy (I think we stayed at BF#2's place that night - he was out of town for some reason) and I came back on Sunday to get my stuff together.  I put a few things together in my smallest bag and packed everything else into a bag that I stuffed into the space over the unsued (and thus cold) water heater in its closet, which was behind an unlocked door beside the entrance door to the apartment, accessible without any keys.  I figured that no one would look in there and it could sit there for a week or two untouched (luggage lockers were - and are - a bit expensive here).

I then went over to the export office/shower spot, took a shower, slept on the sofa, and early on Monday morning before anyone came in, I wrote a note to Mr. Shacho, and then dropped it and the keys to the apartments through the door mail slot after locking the door.  (I wish I remembered what I wrote in that note!  Hopefully I explained about Kathy, but I'm not sure what I said.)

I then went down to Kyoto, where I stayed at a cheap place (how did I find it?) and explored the city, going over to Osaka to look for work.  I even found a job towards that end, but after the man said I was hired, I said "Thank you, but please wait for a few days for my answer, I have business to attend to in Tokyo first.  The man looked none-to-pleased and I - indeed - ended up getting work in Tokyo and not returning to Osaka.  I suppose if Kathy hadn't been in Tokyo, I would have started working in Osaka - maybe I'd be there still?  I suppose I can both blame Kathy for ruining my Hokkaido trip and thank her for bringing me back to Tokyo.  (I'm assuming that Tokyo was the better choice of the two - that's how it feels anyway.)

I saw Minami one last time in Tokyo - she was walking the other way down the street (in Harajuku I think) on the arm of a foreigner, presumably the Australian guy she was to marry.  She pretended not to - or maybe really didn't - see me, and I didn't call out, because I sensed that she didn't want to make the man jealous and get any mistaken ideas.  I would love to meet her today to talk about that brief time we spent working together in that Shinagawa office.  From her side, I think she was aware of what was going on all the way around, but I was somewhat in a fog - my first time overseas and all.  I would also like to hear some details about what happened after I left and also talk to her in Japanese about that time!  (I wonder if she's still in Australia?)

Fast forward 22 years and I visited the old export office apartment in July - minus the company's name on that apartment door (on the 4th floor), it seems not to be there anymore.  And then on September 1st, I walked over to the main office - or where it used to be in any case.  I looked at the company name plates for the building and the fifth floor was blank.  I almost just walked away, but I decided to take the old elevator up to the floor for the experience of riding that era elevator again (which tends to have the lights for the floors shining through number cutouts in an aluminum panel and also tends to have noisy large fans right in the center of the elevator) and see if I recognized anything.  In getting off the elevator on the fifth floor, I was surprised to see the door to the empty office open, so I walked in and found myself standing in front of the same windows I had looked out on the passing trains from back in July 1984.  It was a strange feeling.  I had often - through the years - thought I would someday go back to the office and meet Mr. Shacho to both thank him for helping me out at a critical point in my life and also apologize for whatever embarrassment I may have caused him in the company and at home.

How to describe it... standing there in the empty space and remembering how I felt when I was there before.  Aside from the expected melancholy feeling you would expect, there was also a feeling of... not futility, but maybe... loss?  Regret?  Nostalgia?  All of the above?  In writing this down, I realize more clearly now than I did at the time that the situation held both promise and danger.  I was non-verbally aware of the threat of Mr. Shacho's son, but I didn't properly realize that the hostility from him was directly tied to the opportunity that Mr. Shacho was offering me.  All in all, I suppose it wouldn't have worked out, but maybe it would have.  Maybe if I'd stayed there and hadn't invited Kathy over, it would have launched me into business here instead of into the wild and unstable world of freelance work.  But then I would have missed meeting the many people I met?  Who knows - but when I think of it now, it was a pretty cool setup -I would have been working in an office in an upscale apartment building alone, without having to deal with too much office politics... maybe?  Naw... you can never escape office politics!  And Mr. Shacho's son was a determined foe!

Anyway, Mr. Shacho - thank you!  It was a critical time for me and that job may have saved me from disaster.

PS - My bags were still sitting (where I had left them) on the unused water heater about three weeks later when I found a semi-long-term place to stay.  I felt somewhat nervous going to the apartment to pick them up, but didn't see anyone coming or going....

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon