Thursday, April 26, 2007


iPod's are taking over to the point of exclusion of everything else! Shudder-shudder-shudder! About a year ago, when I went to Yodobashi Camera in Shinjuku to buy a sound file player that would play OGG files, there was a pretty even mix of things from different companies, but when I went back to the same store last week, I was shocked (shocked!) and dismayed (What?! Why? Oh no...) to see 95% of the display space taken up with those bloody iPods.

"You can have anything you want - so long as it's an iPod. Green, blue, pink, large, small, etc. anything you want! iPod accessories, cute little cases, matching Nike shoes.... What? You don't want to buy an iPod? But... but... that doesn't make sense! They're cute, everyone wants one and it's the only thing we sell! Monoculture! It's the 21st Century way!"

I'll go back and pester the staff about the lack of machines that will play OGG files - they must have some hiding somewhere off in the corners away from the prime display space mainly taken up with the bloody iPods and their bloody cute accessories, but the only thing I saw while walking through was a couple of models from Creative (that are nice, and work fine for MP3 files, but don't play OGG files, unfortunately).

As I wandered around feeling shell-shocked (the owners of the Sanshin Building are planning to smash it to bits and Apple is seemingly driving all sensible audio file players into oblivion), I remembered meeting a friend at the Bic Camera in the old Sogo Department store building by Yurakucho Station and seeing that they had more OGG-playing models than I've been seeing at Yodobashi Camera, so I rode the Yamanote Line over there... and walked in horror through another large and obnoxious display of bloody iPods, finally finding that they still have some machines on display that will play OGG files, as follows:


- SIREN DP-200 / DP-300


- iriver

I bought a SIREN, but haven't had a chance to try it out yet. I'm happy I could get a player that allows me to just load in files in a format that I like and then listen to them without mucking up my computer with rotten proprietary software and still won't play the type of files I want to use, but I'm worried whether that type of player will continue to be available in the future.

Monoculture... What's going on anyway? Is there only room for one operating system, one audio file player, one type of glass & steel sealed-box high-rise building? Is there no room for alternatives to a certain monopolistic software company, no room for something other than an iPod to listen to audio files electronically, no room for a classic 1929 building with possibly more character than any other building in Tokyo?

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Sunday, April 22, 2007

"Lack & Overabundance of Lighting"

One of my earlier impressions in Japan was an amazement of how brightly lit interiors are at night. The streets outside are brightly lit as well, but many interiors are overlit to the point of being uncomfortable unless you put sunglasses on! There are many theories as to why this is so, but the most common one is that the country is still living down its bad memories of the bad old dark days. This might indeed be the case, as more subtle lighting seems to be appearing along with younger people who have no memories of anything except bright lights and abundance. Back in the late forties it was a different world:

Job recalls,
Late pictures from Tokyo and surrounding districts tell me that tonight every shop, street, and path will be illuminated. I mean really well lighted. Perhaps modern Japan requires inescapable bright lights, but in 1948,49, 50, and 51 there were no lights on residential streets and very few on main streets, even Ginza was dim, mysterious, and considerably romantic. In surrounding communities, shops would close when daylight turned to twilight and most noise would cease. From train stations, people hurried on foot along dark unpaved lanes to homes, dinner, and maybe a visit to the local communal bath house identified only by a dim paper lantern, as were restaurants and hotels.
Television and automobiles had not yet arrived to violate quiet nights and torment neighbors, but maybe one might hear a recording of a girl's voice singing sadly of a lost or absent lover, (so it seemed to me) and one might be lucky enough to hear a samisen and traditional song.
Street crime was unheard of and one felt perfectly safe on nights when moon and stars chose to be elsewhere. As one walked through the friendly dark, anyone met along the way meant only an exchange of, "Konban-wa!"
It was a time of quiet nights unaltered by lights, with faint music that any young American soldier might find to be romantic . . .

Lighting... how I envy the people who were able to walk the streets and illuminate the inside of houses before the advent of florescent lighting! I know it's efficient for the same amount of illumination, but I would rather burn the same power and use a dim bulb than blast myself with the horrible light that florescent tubes provide. I don't know what it is exactly, but something about those tubes is very unpleasant for me. So the idea of a world without them sounds like paradise! Street lights are all kinds of odd things these days, the most irritating things being that some are so bright, they hurt the eyes and ruin the atmosphere of the night.

Night? What is it anyway? There is no night in Tokyo now - ever! Everywhere at all times is brightly lit! I have to think back decades to even remember what night is really (I've never experienced it in Tokyo). Ah... and with the memory is the associated fear of the unknown dark - thus the overlighting! Some happy medium would be nice!

Shamisen (it's in my dictionary as "samisen", but in Japanese, the first sound is "sha" and not "sa")... I had a traditional dinner once, where at the end of the meal, the paper (in wood frame) doors behind us slid open and a woman in kimono played the shamisen and sang a song. It was a beautiful experience that I would live to have often, but so far just that one time.

Safe streets - it's still mainly safe to walk the streets here at any time of day or night. Crime is not nonexistent, but is lower than in most major cities in the world. (I think... I haven't read up on this in detail lately.)


Job's book, "At Mama-san House" can be found on AMAZON.COM

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

"Smoke Rant & Glorification - Final NWSR Friday Night"

Forward: This begins with a rant against smokers in the first paragraph, goes to a glorification of smoking in the second paragraph (both without... much... sarcasm), and then gets to the original reason I pulled out my notebook and began writing on Friday, March 23rd, 2007 - the last Friday night that the New World Service Restaurant was open for business. It was the first "last" in the restaurant's final week, as they closed for the last time after lunch on the following Friday, March 30th.... Now - to the text written by hand from a comfortable corner table near the kitchen and the base of the stairs to the second level.

(2007/03/23, Friday, Sanshin Building - New World Service Restaurant.) Cough-cough.... Smoke - I've gotten used to not having to ingest it from the leaf fires of those with the peculiar addiction of buying rolled leaves, lighting them on fire, and ingesting the smoke for the drug high of nicotine. As I breath the smoke being generated in this way, I wonder why, if these leaf-smoke people really need to drug themselves, why don't they do it with a hypodermic needle or by taking pills or something. And lest someone make the inane comparison of people ingesting alcohol with people ingesting smoke, allow me to point out that when someone drinks, they don't grab the heads of everyone in the room and forcibly pour alcohol down their throats - which is what they would have to do in order for the leaf smoke & alcohol comparison not to be inane.

Phew! Now I suppose I'll get hate mail for sounding off in in an infuriated/infuriating way. I should admit that I actually do understand the allure of smoking - from a single experience: A few years back, there was a barbecue by a river on the fringe of Tokyo, attended by a mix of nationalities (mostly long-term foreign residents of Tokyo), and I found myself standing by the barbecue jovially talking with a man from... one distant country or another, and he offered me a cigarette. It seemed perfectly natural to accept, and I smoked it, I stood there feeling... not cool... not manly... what? There was a feeing of connectedness with everything - with the earth, the sky, and the timeless history of humanity sharing a smoke by the fire and enjoying life.

It really was a good experience, but when I'm inside buildings with leaf fires, smoke burns my eyes, gives me a sore throat, and eventually a headache.

The Sanshin Building... due for destruction; and the New World Service Restaurant is due to close one week from today. In between writing the above sentences, I had a steak - one of the few things on the menu not sold out today - with a salad, soup, and a cup of coffee afterward.

After the coffee, I didn't feel ready to leave, so I ordered a beer (Asahi Super-Dry) - which I'm drinking as I write this. As I take a couple of photos of my table for posterity (the group off in another corner is doing the same), I note that there are smokers to the left... smokers to the right... but it's not bothering me much now - aside from slightly burning eyes. Maybe an exhaust fan was turned on, or maybe I've just gotten used to the leaf smoke. Come to think of it - the scene is perfect in a way - you can't smoke in most restaurants now, so this completes... no, not completes... "adds to" the trip back in time that this restaurant and this building provide.

Second beer - closing time approaches. The manager (and owner I think) of the shop has been running this restaurant for over 60 years. I would really like to interview him about the changes he's experienced from generation to generation, as he's seen more than a few generational changes in his life so far.

I ask the manager about next week, and am told that - at the latest, they'll be closing after lunch next Friday, so this is the last Friday night for this restaurant... after sixty-something years. Tokyo has no respect for tradition! Is it old? Smash it into rubble and build something new!

8:01 p.m. - And several of us customers are still here. Normally they would have pushed us out right at eight.... The last Friday night... but it shouldn't be.

The music just stopped... the manager is going from table to table politely telling people it's closing time. "The music has stopped." How symbolic can you get. Am I making too big a deal out of this? Maybe - but Tokyo is nearly devoid of anything old... if you haven't experienced living here, you probably can't imagine how hungry for history you get as you watch - continually - everything older than a few decades smashed into rubble to continually build something new - always something new. When the new bits are better than what they replace, that's good I suppose, but the destruction is indiscriminate - good, bad, culturally significant - no matter, it all has to go!

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

PS - The restaurant always featured music by Wong Wing Tsan, and much of his (piano-based) music is perfect as background... mood music? I'm not sure I like that term, but it does evoke a certain mood, so I guess that makes it mood-music? Of the two CD's I've carefully listened to (they sold them at the restaurant), one is piano with a synthesizer, and the other piano with jazz instruments. The website for the musician is here: