Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"Shinjuku Melody - October 2008 #4 (30th & 31st)"

October 30th & 31st - having run out of not only patience, but also days in October, this is definitely the last one of this series. I originally meant for it to be one video containing the whole week's worth of performances, but there was too much material for one YouTube posting, so I divided it up.

As I mentioned in "Shinjuku Street Bands - October 2008 #3", I have no intention of focusing exclusively on street bands for videos, I just wanted to finish this project, so I slogged it out until the end. (I'm open to recording the subject again, but for now I want to do other topics for awhile.)

All of that said, there is some excellent guitar music in this one I think - with two sections highlighting Otofuke, the solo guitarist with a unique guitar-playing method (the first section is very brief, but the second takes a better look from multiple angles), and one section (at the end) of the group, Oshare Dorobo. Others are featured as well, such as the three-piece group Ondo.

December 31st, 2008. Another year over. But not just any year it seems. It's looking like "2008" will be remembered in history in much the same way as "1929". Here's to moving forward constructively; to not slipping into World-War-III; to proving that history does not have to repeat itself!

Happy New Year everyone! May it be a great one!

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

"Shinjuku Street Bands - October 2008 #3"

I don't intend to make writing and taking pictures of Shinjuku street bands a profession, but I would like to finish the project at least! I went by there every evening in late October 2008 and this is the next video in that series. #1 was taken earlier actually, and then #2, #3 (and #4, when I can get around to editing it) were taken in the same week. This one, #3, is from a couple of days - back-to-back.

In searching for the street bands, I walked around the station (about a 20 minute hike - Shinjuku Station is large) and there are some brief views of areas of Shinjuku around the station. Also in this video are views of three police officers shutting down a performance by the South-East Exit of the station.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Thursday, December 18, 2008

"Shinjuku Street Bands - October 2008 #2"

October may have been the peak of street bands performing in Shinjuku (mostly in the South and South-East exit areas), what with comfortable temperatures (no humid heat and no biting cold), and not very strict patrolling by local police officers. Since then however, the police have been more rigorously enforcing a ban on unlicensed pubic performances, and the weather has made it uncomfortable to be outside anyway (for both the performers and the audience).

For one week of October in particular, I went to Shinjuku every day, and this is one of the days (or "another of the days" - if you've seen the previous Shinjuku Bands post), a not very crowded evening, with only three bands:

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Monday, December 15, 2008

"Nighttime Ikegami Line"

The Ikegami Line is interesting, for a few reasons. The first thing you notice when using the line is that the trains only have three cars, which is really unusual for Tokyo. Most lines have ten cars, with a few six and eight car trains on one end of that, and a few 15-car trains on the other.

The next thing you notice as you travel down the line, is that several of the stations are as though in a time slip, with wooden roofs and other station bits that look as though they're either from the many-decades-ago past, or on a seldom traveled line out in the countryside somewhere.

Then - as you watch the trains going in the other direction, you notice that there are several different types of train on the line. By riding a few of them and noting the plaques that say when they were manufactured, you notice that the oldest of the four types being used dates back to around 1963 or so, and the newest is from this year (2008).

Other than that, it's just a normal branch line, except the station names tend to be more interesting than those on many other lines.

Anyway, that's not much, but it's four in the morning and I need to get some sleep, so....

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Thursday, December 04, 2008

"Guitar Music by the South-East Exit"

Time-wise, I can't walk the streets of Shinjuku every evening in search of street bands, but following my visit there on Monday, I returned on Tuesday and saw a guitar player I had enjoyed listening to before (and bought a CD of his music) named Otofuke Kenta. Before I get going with an attempt to put some of the thought typhoon I had earlier this evening (Thursday) into words, here's the guitarist's website:

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a musician, then a photographer. I abandoned the idea of becoming a musician when I assessed how much difficulty I had distinguishing one note from another, but have never abandoned my love of music, nor my quest for visual experiences and recorded images. The quest continues as the years continue their relentless acceleration towards the inevitable end of the story... and the man walking through life begins to... worry about running out of time... and to look at the sky and deeply feel that the world needs more art and music.

...... There was a moment earlier this evening, with the air thick with meaning, sorrow, tragedy, hope, promise... and all the wordless feelings such moments carry. In the moment I determined to write the experience into form with words. This is that attempt, but there was so much more. Maybe some of the moment is conveyed between the lines? I wish I could do better - this is where music would help - if only I could create music to fit the thought typhoons....

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

"A Hard Evening in the Plaza"

On Monday I stopped by Shinjuku to see if any bands were playing and found the band Ondo playing in the plaza by the Southeast Exit (correct name? I think it's "Tonan" in Japanese). As they finished playing one song, an unfriendly looking cleaning man came up and seemed to be telling them they shouldn't be playing in the plaza, which they smiled off and then began playing another song as he walked off.

As I dug my hands into my pockets, I thought "It's getting cold to be playing outside..." and was just getting into the song when the bass player hurriedly put down his instrument and dashed off down the street. I looked back at the other two members of the band, who kept playing. Looking back down the street to see where the bass player had gone, I saw him talking with a policeman by what looked like the band's van - probably getting a parking ticket.

I looked back to the two band members still playing and pondered the band's difficulties - the time and trouble of setting up their equipment for a performance; the difficulty in parking their van; and then the unfriendly man telling them not to play. As they finished the song, a pair of policemen walked up, and that was the end of the evening's performance. As one of the policemen talked with one of the three band members, I bought one of their CDs from the keyboard player/singer (at least two of the three sing, maybe all three), and she mentioned that they would be playing at a "live house" in Shibuya the following Monday (is "live house" an English term, or just a Japanese term?)

The band's website is:

You can hear clips of their songs on this page:

Incidentally, the system with the police asking people to write something on a clipboard when they are asked to stop playing in public seems to be one in which the written statements basically say something like "I promise not to do this again here", so if they are caught a few times, there comes a point where the police can take out a stack of statements and say "You obviously are willfully breaking the law" and then they can be... fined I guess. (One of the musicians filled me in regarding what the clipboards were about.)

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Monday, November 24, 2008

"Friendly Advice & an Empty Field"

On Friday, I went to an (early for the season) end-of-the-year party in Akasaka. The food and drink were good, irritations few and far between, and basically a great time was had by all (except one guy who had too much to drink, and had slipped into the "Uuu... can I hang on... uuuuu" zone). I was hoping to convince him to go home, but he was more interested in staying with the group for more fun. A perfectly understandable and good motivation, but generally a mistake under those circumstances. (I'll have to ask about what happened after I went home!).

I actually had the good sense to leave the "Let's keep going all night - all weekend - forevermore!" die-hards before reaching a "I should have left earlier..." point of regret, and sensibly left for home in time to catch my last trains. However, as I sat down on the last of the set of four trains I needed to take that evening, I relaxed, thinking I had completed the journey (big mistake!). I fell asleep and woke up a couple of stations past where I wanted to get off. Getting off, I walked across the platform, intending to take a train back in the other direction, but a station employee told me there were no more trains headed in that direction. (Tokyo shuts its entire train system down each and every night - except on December 31st - for... maintenance I suppose.)

No trains to get home on... time to wear my shoes down! I was rather irritated with myself and the situation as I began my long walk (on top of everything, I had to pay extra for that part of the train journey I hadn't wanted to take), but then (after walking for about 90 minutes) I began to enjoy the clear, cool (cold, but not too cold) night air. After getting instructions from a friendly man keeping guard over a crossing as workmen did some work on the nearby railway (the railways are kept in very good condition here, by the way), my mood improved still more and then I found myself positively and throughly enjoying walking through a field away from houses and lights - with the stars above visible as they rarely are in over-lit and often smoggy Tokyo (the air tends to be clearer in the winter).

I suppose you might be wondering about the idea of walking through fields in Tokyo! I live away from the center of Tokyo, so there are some, but not many. I considered myself fortunate for the experience of walking through an open field. I get very tired of always walking about on asphalt or concrete, in canyons of buildings, and of in being in sealed-box buildings. It's very rare to experience a wide-open sky in this city.... (That said, I certainly don't want to live outside! I just want a little more fresh air than I usually get!)

Why not a taxi? Basically, I'm allergic to taxi drivers! I've been cheated in the US, Hong Kong, Australia, and in Japan. About seven out of ten rides have been unpleasant. The usual problem has been drivers taking a round-about route, but I've also been overcharged, with the driver saying there was an extra luggage charge (in both Hong Kong and Australia, when I didn't have that much luggage anyway). A couple of times in Japan the driver blatantly ignored my direct requests and made sure that he ran the meter up. A couple of examples would be in order:

One time I said (using the local language, mind you) "Stop here please" and the driver - the dirty rotten scoundrel - kept driving past where I wanted to get off saying "I can get you closer". As soon as the meter jumped up, then he stopped, I (very unhappily) paid the extra fee and then had to walk back to where the driver had refused to stop!

Another time, I was running late for a friend's wedding and I took a taxi from the station to make up time. Not only did the driver pretend to not know the streets at all, but when I (looking at my map) was giving him directions, as we neared the destination, I said (using the local language of course) "Turn left here", and the dirty bugger turned right! Turning left would have gotten me to the wedding just in time, but by turning right, the scoundrel driver was able to take a long detour that made me late. Naturally my story about why I was late was not believed. "The taxi drivers here are wonderful and honest - they would never do such a thing." Yeah, sure, right....

But the clearest example I had was a weekly trip I took out to a factory in Tatebayashi, which is in Gunma Prefecture, just over the border with Saitama; a one hour trip out of Tokyo by Ryomo Express train on the Tobu-Isesaki Line (I had thought it was spelled/pronounced "Isezaki", but there are more Google hits for "Isesaki", so I guess that's the correct way). Over a period of about six months, I went out there once a week, and took a taxi from the station to the same factory each time. Tatebayashi is a smallish city (by Japan's standards anyway), with a population of about 80,000. In Tokyo, there's always the possibility that a driver really doesn't know the streets in a particular area well, since the city is so vast (less of an excuse now with electronic navigation), but in a city of 80,000, that's not very likely. It's highly probably that the taxi drivers there know the city like the back of their hands (better maybe, who studies the back of their own hands anyway?).

So what happened? Well, in a spirit of anthropology (and since my company was paying the taxi fare), I just sat back and observed what the drivers did each week when I gave them the name of the well-known factory I was going to. The first time out, I sat back and watched the scenery go by outside as I took in Tatebayashi for the first time. Arriving at the factory, I thought it was a little expensive, but I just figured that the factory was far away from the station. On subsequent trips, I began to wonder why the price was never the same, but just put it down to traffic conditions. Then - about the sixth or seventh trip out - I suddenly found myself with an honest taxi driver who - zip!-zip!-zip! - took me directly to the factory in the shortest distance and time. The fare was about 30-40 percent cheaper and I arrived quite a bit sooner than usual.

From that point forward, I watched the drivers more closely, and - more often than not I'm afraid - they were not taking the most direct, least crowded, or fastest route to the factory. (I could have battled them each and every time, but I wanted to see what they would do.) One time was funny, because this driver had taken me on one of the detours, but it was a slightly less lengthy detour than usual, and the meter was just on the verge of jumping up when we stopped in front of the factory. I could sense his disappointment as he looked at the meter that was just about to give him some (dishonestly earned) extra income, but didn't. He reluctantly hit the stop button on the meter and I gleefully thought "Serves you right, you dishonest bugger you! You wasted time and fuel, and all to very little avail!" (Thinking back on this, I realize that he was likely confident the meter had already changed, as he didn't look at it until we were sitting there in front of the factory, and then what's he going to do? I guess he could have said "Look, I took a special detour to cheat you out of some extra money, but the meter hasn't climbed much beyond the honest price yet, so let's do a few loops in the parking lot here until it jumps into the next range. You don't mind if I steal some more of your money, do you?"

The lingering question is whether this despicable behavior and lack of morals of many taxi drivers is equally dispersed among their unfortunate passengers... but that's a stupid question. Of course it isn't! If you're going to cheat someone, you pick people who are cheat-able! Doing that to a savvy local of Tatebayashi could generate some serious trouble for them. After all, it is illegal to steal people's money dishonestly.

On the flip side of this issue of course, are the people who cheat taxi drivers. Jumping out without paying, throwing up in the back seat, saying unpleasant things, doing unpleasant things, etc. I don't envy the job taxi drivers have, along with the different kinds of nonsense they have to put up with, but that's still not an excuse to victimize innocent people. Getting "revenge" on innocent people is not getting revenge at all, but rather perpetuating the crime. (It's a fearsome thing the way things can snowball.)

A question the reader may have, is how could that happen with me going out there so often? The answer is that if the weekly business I had out there had been more frequent, or went on longer than six months (there may only be 80,000 people in Tatebayashi, but the city still has a large number of taxis, so I kept getting different drivers each time), the drivers would have begun recognizing me and then behaving more honestly. They would have to, otherwise I would have begun getting angry and combative, not to mention that the company paying the taxi fare for me would have begun to get angry and started making complaining phone calls to the taxi company (and if the problem persisted), to the police, the newspapers, etc. The taxi drivers probably (incorrectly) took me for a one-time visitor from overseas (people would come from overseas to visit that factory from time-to-time), and thought it was a safe crime to commit.

So there you have it. Sorry for my long rant against dishonest taxi drivers, but now that I've explained in some detail why I'm allergic to them, if I need to explain again in the future, I can just dig up this text again and won't have to spend time explaining it.

This is another advantage to having an extensive train system, by the way: you can completely shun taxis (save riding somewhere past the nightly shutdown point). In fact, I don't think I've been in a taxi for a few years now. The last time was when one of my train lines caused me to miss the last connection due to some problem with the trains, so they gave out taxi vouchers to the people who had missed their connections. They first determined which stations people were going to, and then grouped them together, giving them a voucher to that specific station. You can bet the taxi drivers didn't even consider trying to rip off the railroads, who know very well what it should cost and are more than willing to fight about it (from a position of power no less).

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Monday, November 17, 2008

"Visiting the Tokyo Motor Show in 1991"

Watching a video I took of my trip out to the Chiba convention center Makuhari Messe in October 1991, the number of changes between then and now is striking in some ways. If you rent a historical CD of documentary footage taken decades ago, you expect things to be different and it just seems natural that a different era had people wearing funny clothes ("Ha-ha! Look at those people in those ridiculous clothes! And they don't even realize how silly they look! Ha-ha!"), but when you take a video of modern life, today, right now, you have the current situation in hand to show people living in different parts of the world how things are where you are, currently.

So.... when you put that video in a box in your closet, let 17 years pass, and then have another look, you know it's not going to look modern any more, but the degree and depth of changes in the video can be a bit shocking. Having been through all the time between then and now, one day at a time, it's disconcerting to see how nearly everything has changed. ("Wait a minute... when did that change so much anyway? I've been here the whole time... how could this happen without noticing it?").

And with that preamble out of the way, let's have a look at some of the things that have changed in Tokyo since this video was taken (comments preceded by the time where a comment topic appears):

00:01 - A few things right from the start in the first second of the video: Women wearing long hair and long skirts. Not exactly non-existent now, but there was a fashion trend back then with very long skirts and very long hair. That's definitely changed.

Painted trains. There are still some trains on the Seibu line like in the video with that same paint scheme, but new trains are nearly always some combination of unpainted steel and aluminum, with a colored stripe along the side.

00:05 - Old type train station. This specific station - Hibarigaoka Station (on the Seibu-Ikebukuro Line) has been completely rebuilt (although those narrow stairs leading to the station are still basically the same). The old stations were practical. They often used old rails as a construction material (which makes sense - rails are I-beams after all) and were typically open on the sides, so they were cold in the winter, but nice in other seasons since you could look out on the world from them easily. New stations typically force you to look through glass, and while they are larger and have higher ceilings, they sometimes feel more confining somehow.

00:07 - Manually punched tickets. The ticket gates of Tokyo train stations were just beginning to go automatic in 1991. Some other cities in Japan (Nagoya for one I think) had already gone automatic, but the vastness and complexity of Tokyo's train system made it much more difficult to automate.

00:10 - A view through an open window at the old roofs over the two platforms at Hibarigaoka Station. There is now Plexiglas there that keeps out cold wind in the winter, but I liked being able to look through clear free air before. The Plexiglas isn't kept clean and there's that early 21st century claustrophobic sealed-in-a-box feeling that ruins atmosphere and photos.

00:25 - It's hard to see, but if you look closely, you can see what look like square steel boxes on the roof of the train that is passed over. These are air intakes for openable vents on the inside. Trains used to always have these - a way of getting ventilation inside when the windows are closed (for rainy weather, etc.). On new trains, they've stopped making these and made most of the windows unopenable. There are some improvements to the new trains, but doing away with the roof vents was a very bad idea I think. In the past, there have been many times when I was stuck as a sardine in the middle of the train, unable to reach the windows (which were nearly all openable before), but the stuffy uncomfortable atmosphere was easily remedied by reaching up and opening one of the roof vents. But alas, now they are gone from new trains, and in a similar situation, I just stand there suffering, with no way of alleviating the bad situation. Admittedly, they do seem to make a point of running the circulation system more, but mostly that is just recirculating the same air - better than nothing, but the vents for outside air were a vastly superior idea.

00:41 - That "Bee!!-Bee!!-Bee!!-Bee!!-Bee!!" ("Hurry!-Hurry!-Hurry!) sound used to be used at all the JR (formerly JNR) stations, but they've since changed over to using melodies instead, using a different melody for each station. This change corresponded with signs saying "Don't run for the train!", flex-time, and a less industrial approach to life in general.

00:47 - Painted trains - you see less and less of them as they are replaced with stainless steel and aluminum ones.

00:52 - A real live human being making the announcement that the train is arriving at Tokyo Station, not a recording. Also, the announcement is in Japanese only, without a secondary English announcement. If the announcement is always the same anyway, then why not use a recording? Because after you've heard the very same recording for about 20,000 times (if you travel ten stops on a line, you'll hear it twenty times a day for a round-trip - they only change the station name part of the recording, otherwise there is only one recording), you start to go insane! People need variety! Also, while the Japanese announcement isn't too bad, the English one is really irritating! It's too loud, too slow, robotic like, and just... horrible! And what's the point? Shinjuku is Shinjuku, Yotsuya is Yotsuya, Ochanomizu is Ochanomizu.... so in Japanese: "Tsugi no eki wa, Shinjuku desu" and in English: "The next station is Shinjuku" - either way, the important part of that: "Shinjuku" is the same, so torturing commuters with a myopically spoken "The next station is..." is really uncalled for. Not only could tourists catch the station name within the Japanese, but there are displays over the doors in both English and Japanese. JR - please - drop those horrible English announcements on the commuter lines, they are unneeded, unwanted, unpleasant, and unnecessary.

01:07 - This passageway over to the Keiyo Line was new at the time. In fact, the Makuhari Messe conversion center was new at the time as well. The Tokyo Motor Show used to be held at the Harumi convention grounds.

01:58 - Tokyo Disneyland. At the time this was taken, there were a lot of amusement parks in Japan, but since then, I've seen news reports about one after another of them going bankrupt. Through it all - good times and bad - Tokyo Disneyland is crowded with expensive ticket holders, day after day, year after year, rain, shine, and in hot and cold weather. I've talked to people who go there several times a year, year after year! And people actually fly in from foreign countries (in Asia primarily) to go there! It's amazingly successful....

02:16 - Chiba would qualify as a bed town, in that most of the people living in these houses and apartments travel into Tokyo to work. It's the same with Saitama and (to a lessor extent due to Yokohama) Kanagawa. The only thing that's changed here, is that they have since built a lot of luxury high-rise apartment towers in central Tokyo, and people who can afford to live in them, are happy to escape the purgatory of the morning crush-rush sardine-run trains.

02:18 - The big green netted box is most likely a golf driving range. Those are scattered about the city - providing golfers without the time or money to visit a real golf course, someplace to practice their swings by hitting real golf balls (as opposed to the people I've seen practicing in their yards or in parks with sponge or light plastic balls).

03:25 - Crowds of people heading for the Tokyo Motor Show. The shows are always crowded, but the last couple I've been to seem to have been a little less crowded than they used to be - like this time in 1991.

04:20 - I'm not even exactly sure what it is that makes these two women look so retro - but they seem quite different from women their age in the year 2008. It's probably some combination of hair color (so many women dye their hair now, that black hair is actually unusual), eyebrows (it's common to more radically thin them now), eye size (it seems that a lot of women are having their eyes surgically enlarged now - a terrible mistake I think, as the women here look much better with their original eyes), clothes, attitude, radio waves, etc.

05:07 - It's a strange thing about mini-skirts. You didn't actually see so many of them in 1991, but when you did, they were often really short. Mini-skirts tend to be a little longer now, but they're everywhere! The biggest change is that high school girls used to be required to have skirts that went below their knees and to not wear make up, but then a few private schools started allowing mini-skirt uniforms and now a majority of high school girls are marching around Tokyo in mini-skirt uniforms and many of them also have thick layers of paint on their faces (in their prime physically, why they think they need to hide their face is a mystery).

05:10 - Definitely a retro look from a 2008 perspective. Three things stand out as reasons - 1) existence of eyebrows, 2) black hair, and 3) that hat!

05:41 - Live narration about the cars. They used to have the models (the human models I mean) memorize long and complicated presentation speeches about the cars, but the last time I went, more often they just played recordings and had the models walk around in front of the cars, acting like... models! I did see one presentation just like in the old days though, with the model flawlessly (seemingly anyway, I didn't see the script!) giving a long presentation about the car's technical details.

05:58 - Four-wheel steering was a big deal at that time. It seems to be have been completely abandoned. Have you heard of any current production cars having four-wheel steering?

07:21 - Large crowds around the Ferrari cars....

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Monday, November 10, 2008

"Hibarigaoka, Ikebukuro, Tokyo, & Shinjuku - October 1991"

Another look back at 1991 - mainly just detail changes in fashion and trains (train carriages since retired), but the scene at the Tokyo Central Post Office shows how it was before e-mail - when people still used stamps for letters, and since they needed to use stamps, they had much more interest in obtaining good-looking ones to use. (If you only send a rare occasional letter, the detail of the stamp design doesn't seem so important).

When the post office released it's special regional stamps, they were sold only in the region being featured at the time, and at the Central Tokyo Post Office, so large numbers of people in Tokyo would go there and buy tremendous amounts of them, particularly businesses and collectors. Businesses simply because it looked better to send letters with interesting stamps, and collectors for obvious reasons. In-between the volume buyers were individuals such as myself buying just a sheet or two.

Here's the link:

Note that there is a bit of traveling about to other places in there, with the post office scenes in the middle.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

"A Stroll Around Electric Shibuya"

There are many aspects to Shibuya, from upscale department stores to kawaii shops, to restaurants, movie theaters, hotels, Yoyogi Park... and in fact all the way over to Southern Terrace by the south exit of Shinjuku Station (even most locals don't realize that as soon as they cross the street after coming out of the south exit of Shinjuku Station, they are in Shibuya).

So, if I'd given the idea of video-recording it a lot of thought, I either would have set aside a lot of time to try to cover all angles, or I would have agonized over which aspects of the area were most wanting to be covered. As it was, I just let my feet run on auto-pilot for an hour or so, from the Hachiko side of Shibuya Station, and they naturally followed the path of the former river (maybe still down there under the street somewhere in a pipe), and then took a turn here and there as seemed appropriate.

Why is "kawaii" in Shibuya? The other side of the Yamanote Line (Ueno-Tokyo-Shinbashi-Shinagawa) is more professional/business oriented, with the Ikebukuro-Takadanobaba-Shinjuku-Shibuya stretch heavier with students, and Shibuya with (seemingly - I haven't actually studied the exact demographics of this) having the most high school students. Sooo.... Shibuya is probably the world capital of kawaii. That said and out of the way - if you look at the passersby in this video by master videographer LHS:

- there are also businesspeople, etc. in the scene, but the majority of the crowd are probably in their twenties.

There should be much more to say, but after living with Shibuya for over 24 years, it just feels like part of the local scene (which it is), so I'm having a hard time getting into the frame of mind of seeing it as something novel - even though it has never ceased to intrigue....

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Sunday, November 02, 2008

"More Music on the Streets Worldwide? - Sounds Good to Me!"

Just when I was beginning to think that Japan was becoming exceptionally musical and wondering if it was peculiar to Japan, I have begun receiving e-mails from e-pals in other countries (incidentally, one pronunciation of good in Japanese is "ee", so e-pals sounds like "good pals" in Japanese), saying that they're seeing the same thing in other cities (Ikebukuro, etc.) and in other countries, so I guess it's a world-wide phenomenon. These comments are from a friend who visited Italy a couple of years ago:

Just read your story on streets musicians of Shinjuku.

That's really too bad for them. Guys on the bottom always get the lumps. However, don't blame the cops. I'm sure they had official complaints from nightclubs and businesses. Nightclubs want people to come inside and spend money, and some businesses see such things as a neighborhood problem, attracting rowdiness. Imagine trying to sleep. But, I'll bet those musicians will find another place to perform.

During my tour of Italy a couple of years ago, we witnessed unlicensed street vendors in every major city creating problems for licensed stores, and police who were constantly chasing the low-overhead vendors from one street to another.

However, in vast St Mark Square of Venus, small street orchestras (in tuxedos) were set up in front of restaurants with outdoor tables. I saw three such orchestras playing beautiful music, a delight to all but the dullest of hoodlums. The idea was to lure people to sit at tables and spend money, but mostly people would stand just close enough to be entertained, listen to one orchestra for a while and then drift over to another, listening and standing was free, while sitting at a table would cost you. Historic and romantic St. Mark Square, night time sea air, and lovely music created a wonderful memory. The street musicians in Shinjuku just haven't found the right location yet.

Regarding "Imagine trying to sleep." - This may be why Shinjuku is such a popular place for street musicians - there are no residences around the south exit side of Shinjuku Station (where most of them play) that I'm aware of, so there shouldn't be any sleep-related complaints. The idea that area nightclubs might not like the idea of free music getting in the way of their selling it hadn't occurred to me, but that seems plausible enough. After writing that the police were chasing the musicians off the street, I went back another day, and there were several bands out playing again - including several with advertisements for local clubs! They played a few songs behind boards saying that they would be playing live at such-and-such a club on such-and-such a date, and a few were selling tickets to these places in addition to the usual CD's.

"Coming into Gotanda Station on the Yamanote Line, etc. (October 2008)"

Another train video - looking out the window of the Yamanote Line. My video camera doesn't handle wind very well, so the sound is shockingly bad, but the images might be sort of interesting. The video is on YouTube here:

Sore dewa,

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"Sayonara Shinjuku Music? (So Soon?)"

I went by Shinjuku again this evening and checked out a couple of street bands. Then as I was walking off in search of a third band (going down the outside escalator from the South Exit area - heading towards the East Exit area), I glided past a team of four police officers walking up the stairs going in the other direction. At first I just thought "Ah... better be careful with the camera - they probably don't want their pictures taken", but as soon as I had gone past them, it suddenly occurred to me that they might be on the march looking for street musicians....

So I did a U-turn at the bottom of the escalator and rushed back up the stairs (up and down escalators separated by wide staircase) just in time to see the four police officers walking up to the band and the band stop playing. They began talking; one of the band members pulled out a card, handed it to main police officer, who then handed it to another police officer, who called somewhere and talked into the phone as he looked at the card the musician had handed over. While the other band members started putting away their gear, the main police officer handed a clipboard to the head musician, and the musician was writing something down on it as I walked off disappointed - wondering what the police were asking the musician to write down. Suddenly the excitement of a Shinjuku night was fading away, and it was becoming an ordinary boring evening again.

I'm all for law & order, but I don't see any harm being done by these street musicians. They're not obstructing traffic, they're not over-amplified; most of them sound good, and they're not political (at least not the ones I've seen)... once winter sets in, it'll be too cold for them to be outside (not for long anyway), so why not just let them play now, while the weather is nice? In these days of doom & gloom on the news, a little live music on the streets doesn't seem like a such a bad idea to me.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Sunday, October 26, 2008

"Shinjuku - Music Town?"

Over the years I've seen street musicians performing in Shinjuku, but lately there seem to be a lot of bands there - every night! Last Friday, there were even two bands set up side-by-side, each taking turns playing three songs each - back and forth. I was already beginning to think of Shinjuku as a sort of "music town" before I put a DVD in the machine to watch the Nana-2 movie, and the movie features an outdoor performance in... Shinjuku!

So it must be official. Shinjuku is Tokyo's music town. Ginza for class, galleries, and classy (overpriced) nightclubs, Harajuku for middle-school fashion, Shibuya for high school wild-side bipeds, Roppongi for hard core night life on the one hand and new-found class on the other, Ueno for museums, Chigasaki for the Shonan Beach, and Shinjuku for movies and music? Why not. Japan likes to assign things to areas - it's good for tourism and makes things much more interesting than having everywhere looking the same.

Anyway - for a look at Shinjuku at night in October 2008, this video was taken by the eminent Lyle H Saxon (cough-cough) one evening a couple of weeks ago:

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Friday, October 24, 2008

"Stone, Bamboo, & Earth"

I stumbled upon a local festival in Tokyo at a mostly unknown (outside of the area) small temple and found myself standing on the bare earth (no concrete! no asphalt!), watching the festival people beat drums, etc. as they walked down a stone path - past a grove of bamboo - and without banks of florescent lighting destroying the atmosphere with too much harsh and ugly light. All this in Tokyo! There was some electric lighting, casting a radioactive greenish glow (hey, this is Tokyo after all, where nearly every square meter of the entire place is over-lit in one way or another), but there were actually some dark spaces among the trees (darkness at night! in the shade! imagine the novelty!) where you could feel a trace of wind from past centuries animating the event.

All-in-all, it was about as good as a festival gets here, because usually, any kind of cultural festival like that in Tokyo is overrun with tourists, both foreign and domestic. Out of respect, I didn't hang around too long, but I took a video clip of part of the event, tossed it onto the wires, and it can be seen here:

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Sunday, October 19, 2008

"Meeting Artists in Tokyo"

This year I've been spending a little more time visiting art galleries and listening to musical performances than... before. I've tended to spend all my time taking/editing photos/videos and haven't spent much time seeing/hearing other people's creations. For whatever reason, I've begun to take more of an interest in these things, so I thought I'd mention a few that I've recently seen.

There's a good-sounding street guitarist I've seen a few times, most recently in Shinjuku, where/when I bought one of his CD's. As it says in the liner of the CD, he plays a 5, 6, or 7-string electric bass guitar, playing "the melody and backing lines at the same time" (and it really does sound like two people playing two guitars sometimes!). He goes by the name "ani-zoo" (兄蔵, which is pronounced "a-knee zoe" - I suspect the musician doesn't realize English speakers will see "zoo", think of animals, and looking at the "ani", imagine "animal zoo"...), and this YouTube video of him playing in Shinjuku is a good representation of how he looks and sounds when he performs:

His website (in Japanese)is:

And the page of his website with links to several YouTube video clips of his performances is:

Another musician I've met a few times (most recently at "Smiles" in Yoyogi-uehara), is Torazo Udagawa, saxophone player. I haven't actually seen him perform live myself, but there's a compilation of his playing in this YouTube video:

His YouTube website (with several videos of his performances) is:

For paintings, photographs, etc., there are a collection of galleries in the fascinating Okuno Building, which was built in 1932 as an apartment building. Actually, in walking around the building, it's apparent that one half was built as an independent building first, and the second half was added on afterwards. I haven't yet found the details of this in print, but heard it verbally from a tenant, and the evidence of the building itself suggests that that is indeed the case. There is one elevator (with cool manually operated doors!) for the dual structure, and one restroom per floor, but dual staircases (one per building, or per half of the building, depending on how you look at it), with windows (mostly opened when I visited) between the landings.

The address for the building is:
1-9-8 Ginza
Chuo-ku, Tokyo

This (Japanese) website has some photos of the building:

And this next website (in difficult-to-decipher English - obviously translated from Japanese, possibly with translation software) has some good photos of the Okuno Building, although the pictures of the elevator are old. The elevator has since been renovated with glass doors on all floors. A happy (but very rare in Tokyo) instance of something old being restored rather than destroyed). This website indicates that the elevator only goes to the sixth floor, but now it stops at all floors:

So - if you're in Ginza and want to check out art spaces, the Okuno Building is something you ought to see - both for the art on display (most exhibits change weekly) and the building itself.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"Clearing Bicycles Away in Omiya in 1991"

Revisiting 1991 again - the young people who are now middle-aged, the little kids who are now in their twenties. The trains that have been scrapped and replaced with newer ones. The women with long, straight, black hair (you very rarely see that any more). The vast number of bicycles parked around the stations....

Basically, everything is different, which shouldn't be a surprise, but change comes little by little, day by day, so you don't even realize how much things have changed (even though you think you do), unless you have visual & audio recordings to look back at your past with. There are so many details that go missing in the memory - so seeing everything again can be a bit of a surprise.

That preamble out of the way, I should explain the situation with the bicycles. Recognizing there was a serious problem of insufficient parking space for bicycles, multi-level bicycle parking garages were built all over the city, but they were still rare in 1991. In the middle of this video ("Trip to Omiya - 1991"):

- is an example of what cities did from time to time to clear roads and try to get people to park their bicycles in a way that didn't get in the way of everything. People would rush to the station to get to work on time, and park their bicycle anywhere they could - often double and triple parking along roads, to the point that cars and delivery truck drivers would have to get out of their vehicles and move bicycles before they could continue down a street. People would park so many bicycles around the entrances to a shop that you'd sometimes have to move one of them before you could even get into the shop!

And so the men clearing away illegally parked bicycles are not being real careful with them (slam! bash! - see the video). What happened to the bicycles being taken away? Many were probably given up on, and some (the better and/or more expensive ones) reclaimed. Once taken away like that there was a fine to reclaim one, and if the bicycle was rusted and old, people would often just buy a new one.

With many more bicycle parking areas created since then, this is not as serious of a problem as it used to be, but still there are parking problems here and there. Typically, certain shops will have parking for customers, and then people visiting shops without parking will leave their bicycles in whatever parking space they can find. The space fills up, and customers of the shop providing the space can't park their bicycles there, so the shop owners get angry and remove bicycles of people obviously not shopping there, etc.

I should put in some more details, but it's late and I need to get some sleep!

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Friday, October 10, 2008

"Foreign Broadcasts Broadcast Locally"

One of the reasons it's fun to spend some time with short-term visitors from outside Japan, is that they come over here still broadcasting on their regular frequencies, and since I used to send/receive on those same (or nearly the same) frequencies myself, I can pick up their broadcasts and see Japan from the outsider's perspective. The narrow side streets where everything (cars, scooters, bicycles, pedestrians, etc.) shares the same space; the surprise of a first experience on a sardine-run train; etc.

And so it was last night. Dinner in an Indian restaurant (not what I would have picked, but it turned out to be a great restaurant and a good choice), with tales of the old country and talk of speeding trains (they were scheduled to take the Shinkansen to Kyoto today), all seeming almost strangely familiar (after 24 years here, the west is beginning to seem exotic and things here normal), and - somewhat surprisingly - I found myself today still seeing "Exotic Japan". Having switched frequencies last night, perception of the world was still colored by the experience.

And um... that's all folks. Except to say that the fall weather is quite nice recently - the last pre-coat weather with some of the trees just beginning to change color. Days to dream of the age when offices had windows you could actually (gasp!-shock!-horror!) open (what?!) to get some fresh air, instead of being sealed in like a fish in a fishbowl.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Monday, October 06, 2008

"Dodging Flying Fish at Tsukiji - 1991"

On my first visit to Tsukiji, I felt as though I was on a movie set - no doubt due to those old Hollywood movies that attempted to capture the hustle & bustle of a seaport, a train platform, a ballroom, etc., by having a bunch of extras wander back and forth on a large stage in southern California made up to look like a more crowded exotic city somewhere else in the world. But after walking around for a few hours, it all began to seem quite normal and ordinary. Still busy, but only a collection of a lot of individuals going about their work day.

I was driven to capture as much of Tokyo on video as I could back then (1990-92), and it was a video quest that led me to enter the Tsukiji fish market. The resulting analog tapes slept in their cases within boxes at the back of closets for many years, and have - through the magic (or curse) of time, become interesting in a historical way, which was not my intention when I took them! I was capturing "Tokyo Today", and now - suddenly it feels - it's history? Time is a fearsome thing! In any case, here is the link to the video entitled "Tsukiji Fishmarket - 1991":

The quality of the picture isn't great, due to my having dialed the size down quite low (to keep from going over my limit at YouTube). To get an idea of what the picture quality really is (of the digitized-from-analog tapes), have a look at this commercially prepared version (used in a TV ad for of the Pack-'em-in" video I took the same year as the Tsukiji video:

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Thursday, October 02, 2008

"From Yurakucho to Hibiya Park Beer Festival"

I went to a couple of beer festivals in Hibiya Park this year - one in the spring and one in the late summer (technically early autumn). Of the two, the spring one was larger and more interesting, but they both were nice and lucky with good weather (at least on the one day in the spring and one day in the autumn that I went).

I took a series of video clips as I walked over to Hibiya Park. I didn't get the timing of the edited clips down right, but as far as showing a few scenes here and there between (and including) Yurakucho Station and Hibiya Park, it might be of some small interest:

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

"Hard Times Straight Ahead?"

Taking a hard look at things in the world, it's difficult to imagine that things won't be difficult in the immediate future. Overfished seas, rapidly dwindling sources of new oxygen (the continuing decimation of the world's forests), ever higher levels of toxic garbage being pumped into the air, greed & stupidity-generated financial crisis. What's to like in any of that? Not much!

A silver lining? Maybe the continual degeneration of too many people into increasing levels of stupidity will stop. When times are genuinely bad, there's less room to be mindless about life. So, to give it a good outlook, hard times will wake people up and force them to start thinking more. If we think, and we really try to solve things in the best way possible, we can handle whatever... I think/believe.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

"Screaming in Public...."

Letting out a good yell is always fun, but where can you scream without causing stampeding, sudden panic, and general mayhem? Where else? Roller coasters! I went on one for the first time in a quite a while a few weeks ago:

I had a good time at the Seibu-en Amusement Park, especially since I hardly had to wait in line at all - and this on a holiday! I looked around at the park, with some pieces of it shut down - a restaurant here, one of the rides there - and wondered how long they will keep it going. If it's almost empty on a warm weekend in the summer, it must be downright desolate on weekdays off-season! No wonder they close it down at around 5:00 p.m. The thing is probably hemorrhaging money as it is.

Tokyo Disneyland seems to always do good business, one of the reasons being that it's close to Narita Airport, and (strange I think), people actually fly in from other countries just to go to Disneyland! I like going to Disneyland myself, but while I don't mind taking a few trains across town to go there, I don't think I'd take an international journey for it! And it's always popular with people here anyway. Another key to this is that most of the rides and shops at Tokyo Disneyland are inside, so the place just keeps humming even in the pouring rain.

Contrast this with Toshimaen and Seibu-en, which are dependent on good weather. Once the rain starts falling, there's almost nothing to do there. They largely rebuilt Korakuen (next to Tokyo Dome) with several things inside, but they don't have much space, so the inside rides are... not exactly breathtaking.

Well - enough on that! I've got a cold, so I better get some sleep.

Oh - completely off the topic, but what do you think of this woman's guitar playing?:

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Friday, September 26, 2008

"Supporting Street Musicians"

Street musicians fairly regularly perform here and there in Tokyo and - when I can afford to (and like the music) - I sometimes buy a CD or two from the musician (or musicians, but usually just one). I've had mixed luck with the CD's - some I have enjoyed listening to and some I didn't like as much as the live performance that prompted me to buy them in the first place.

A few weeks back, I bought a CD of some guitar music I particularly wanted to hear, but when I got home, the disk wouldn't play in my computer (I no longer have a CD player, so I have to listen to disks with my computer). It was a computer-made disk, so I'm not sure whether I just got a bad disk, or whether it has some kind of very heavy-handed mutations thrown in to stop people from copying it (I was hoping to make some MP3 files for my MP3 player).

Within the disks I can play, like them or not, I'm at least glad my money went directly to the artist. With regular commercial stuff, you have to wonder how much of your money actually finds it way back to the artist who made the music, so it's satisfying in a way to give it directly to the artist.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

"Haunted Amusement Park"

A friend called, saying they had heard about a new ride at the Seibu-en Amusement Park (erroneous information I think, but...) and floated the idea of going there next weekend, so after hanging up, I got the bright/stupid idea of going out there after work this evening - thinking that I could get there before they closed at 9:00 ("or 10:00 p.m. maybe..." thought I), to ask about ticket prices, availability(?) of discount advance sales tickets, etc.

Although I did make it there just before 21:00, it took a bit longer than I had hoped it would to get there. I had forgotten how many train transfers were required and how long I would have to wait for some of the small branch line trains to come. Stepping off the train at Seibu-Yuenchi Station, I noticed the low number of people at the station ("Is the amusement park that unpopular, or is it closed?"), walked through the ticket gates, turned left, and walked down a wide, empty path towards the entrance of the amusement park (which I now realized was definitely closed). As I walked, I realized there were a fair number of fallen dead leaves in the path, so I simultaneously pondered the evidence of autumn having arrived while I thought "You've got to be kidding me - it's just before nine and they've already closed the park?".

I reached the gates more quickly than I expected (confusing Seibu-Yuenchi Station with Seibu-en Station, which requires a bit of a hike). and looked through the gates....

Blackness! Blackness with a dim outline of completely dark amusement park structures within. It was striking for three reasons - a) not only was the park closed, but it had obviously been closed for some time, b) I had never in my life seen a completely dark amusement park before, and c) in Tokyo it's very difficult to escape electric lights. The reason I always hear for the love of florescent tubes in this country is that things were dark and bad after the war, so people have (over)compensated for their dislike of darkness by light-blasting the entire city. Whether that is good or bad is a matter of personal opinion I guess (ignoring wasted power on unneeded excess and the harshness on the eyes), but I think the lighting in Tokyo could generally be done a little better. That said, new construction has been headed in that direction, and many new places have sensible and pleasant lighting, but I digress....

I didn't stand there for long, but the feeling was as though I had stumbled upon some long-lost remnant of civilization strangely intact and devoid of living people. I should have stayed a little longer to observe the atmosphere and think about it, but I was tired and wanted to get home, so I rushed back and got on the same train I had come there on, jumping on just before it began its return trip.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Saturday, September 20, 2008

"Empty Trains"

I recorded my trip to the beer garden at Mt. Takao after work one evening a few weeks ago, and have posted an edited version of that at YouTube here:

Some details about the scenes in the video:

00:01 - The Yamanote Line.

00:02 - Heading down the stairs at Shinjuku to the Keio Line platform.

00:04 - Getting on a "Jyunkyu-Kaisoku" (a sub-commuter express).

00:06 - Pulling out of Shinjuku Station. The people on the platform are waiting for the next time. This was taken during the peak of the evening rush for home.

00:11 - Manga reading on the trains is still liked by many, but you see less and less of it since cell phones became part of people's daily lives. Cell phones have become just about everything except telephones (you hardly ever see anyone actually talking of them these days), so people are basically carrying around very small computers that they do various types of computing on, which includes reading text on the screen (usually in the form of text-messaging, but also for electronic books), watching TV and movies, etc.
The announcement in the background - is in this case by a real human being, but (unfortunately) they are recordings most of the time.

00:12 - Typical view leaving central Tokyo.

00:14 - As the train gets further away from central Tokyo, there are fewer and fewer people (on this line in any case - on the Chuo Line, it is so long and passes through so many areas of major population, that there are people getting on just about everywhere on the line, so it basically just stays crowded all the time, all along the line).

00:19 - Transfer to another branch of the Keio Line - the one that goes to Takaozan-guchi Station, which is right at the base of Mt. Takao.

00:29 - Overhead luggage rack. Empty in this view, but in the morning in particular, it's usually full and most of the people standing (far more than are sitting) can't find space to put anything on it, even if they can reach it (around the doors in particular - less so in the middle, between the doors).

00:31 - Station towards the end of the line - people who live out here have a longer commute, but they are the ones who can sit down in the morning! I was in the last carriage of the train, so the voice is of the conductor as he closes the doors.

00:35 - Very few people at this point. It's a strange thing, but when the train gets this empty, and there is not the slightest worry about getting a seat, then boredom tends to kick in, unless you have an interesting book or magazine to read.

00:38 - Takao - the last major stop on the line, and a transfer point for the last part of the trip to Takaozan-guchi (sometimes, some trains go straight through to the base of the mountain).

00:39 - Almost completely empty - very few people are headed to the mountain in the late evening (it was the best I could do after work on the other side of town!)

00:44 - Mechanical door latch. Very rare on newer trains, but all the trains used to have this type of door handle and latch for the doors between the carriages.

00:49 - Last stop of the line! From here there is just a short walk to the cable-car station and an effortless ride to the top (well, the top of one ridge - the mountain goes higher from there).

00:54 - Pulling away from the lower station of the cable-car line.

00:57 - Going through the first of two tunnels. Fortunately, the cable-cars are old enough to have opening windows on the front and back, so you can look through clear and clean. (I really hate being sealed into boxes with windows that don't open - like a fish in an aquarium.)

00:59 - Passing the cable-car going down. They are hooked to each other via a cable, and act as counterweights to each other, so on the last ride down, when it's packed full, and the one going up is empty, the first steep hill up at the top creates a little speed before the grade lessens).

01:00 - Notice how the carriage is built like a moving staircase - the carriage is at a fairly steep angle, but the seats inside are (for most of the ride) straight. Also note that this is the only part of the line where there are two sets of tracks - otherwise, both the up and down rides use the same rails.

01:04 - The second tunnel - and the steepest part of the ride. This is the section that produces some speed going down when the downward-bound cable-car is heavily loaded and the upward-bound cable-car is empty.

01:09 - Headed up the stairs to the beer garden (Takaozan Beer Mount).

01:11 - Y3,300 for two hours of all you can eat and drink.

01:17 - Yes - just one plate and one beer - I went there alone, but ended up meeting some people there and having a drink and talk with them.

01:22 - Back to the cable-car for the ride back down the mountain.

01:23 - A view inside the cable-car, looking up towards the back - notice how steep it is.

01:34 - Speeding through the tunnel (in comparison to the speed of the rest of the ride in any case).

01:46 - Mountain stream - I had originally intended to use my laptop to write something at the top, but instead pulled it out at the base of the mountain, while sitting by the stream.

01:54 - A look at the hanging advertisements in the empty carriage I was in.

02:03 - The whole carriage to myself. In the morning crush-rush, it's hard to imagine that there are times when there is this much space!

02:04 - Looking out the open window before the train reaches Takao Station.

02:09 - On the JR platform at Takao Station. The train in upper background is the Keio Line, and the train coming in is a Chuo Line train.

02:12 - Old style long-distance train.

02:20 - More advertisements - this type of Chuo Line train is new - while there are still a few of the older type in service, they've almost completely phased in the newer type. The one thing I really hate on the new ones are the recorded announcements - on the old trains, they actually have a human being announcing the stations.

02:24 - What's this? Someone invading my private coach!

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Sunday, September 07, 2008

"Fiction-Toxic People"

Fictional novels. Fictional movies. Fictional computer space-war games. Fictional TV science fiction shows. Fictional news. Fictional speeches (written by PR agencies; spoken by politicians-for-hire)....

I wouldn't have believed that anyone could live with so much fiction, but I have seen it in person too many times. I guess these fiction-people need simplicity - and so the fact that truth is stranger than fiction makes the real world a thing to reject with fear and hostility.

Shades of GO's 1984, is it any wonder then that blatant lies & genuine propaganda from organizations with sinister agendas are more easily believed by fiction-people than the truth? Presented with the truth, these fiction-addicts become hysterical and claim that the truth is a lie, is "propaganda", that someone has an "agenda". They use the theme words their string pullers feed them in daily doses of fictionalized news. Blind to their mindless servitude, they call the truth propaganda, ignore that their string-pullers have an agenda, and accuse someone genuinely working for the public good of having an agenda. A murderer walking away from a crime scene may as well point a finger at the police and accuse them of the murder - it's the same concept.

How about the rest of us? Those of us who find most fiction a simplistic and boring way to waste a chunk of our lives (periodic escapes from reality via a good movie seen once-in-a-while are enjoyed by nearly all of course), and can (usually) see the truth as the truth, and lies as lies? Is there any help for the hysterical people who cling to the lies their string-pullers feed them and blood-thirstily attack any glimpse of the truth?

Be fiction-toxic people a majority - we're doomed.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Osaki, Shinagawa (Tokyo) - 18:30

September 3rd, 2008
Osaki, Shinagawa (Tokyo) - 18:30

"Seeking Connectivity"

Every time (cough-cough) I've come to (cough-cough) this office complex in Osaki (cough-cough), I've seen people sitting around with their laptops happily(?) computing away, so I thought there might be Free Public Wireless here... (Phew - the prevailing winds have shifted and the - cough-cough, uggghh.... grrrrrr - foul leaf-fire smoke is - slightly - less intense than it was a minute ago)... but while my computer is detecting fifteen different broadcasts, they are all private networks requiring passwords, etc. The search for "Free Public WiFi" turned up nothing. Wait a second... I should check with my provider - maybe they have a broadcast that I can tune into.

Paper tubes of dried leaves for lighting afire and inhaling - there must be a new (new to Japan in any case) exotic type of toxic leaf that is popular to ingest - one of my apartment building neighbors torments me with it (when it's more than I can bear, I fight smoke with smoke by lighting up a few sticks of Indian super-strength incense), and one of my....

.... former (with a sore throat and on the verge of committing murder, I discovered a free seat in the non-toxic area) seat-mates here in Osaki is trying to poison himself and those around him... Okay-okay!! Rant over!!

"Roofed Sidewalk Tables" (18:50)

The trouble with having outdoor tables in Japan is that the weather - for one reason or another - generally isn't all that nice for sitting outside. It's too cold in the winter, vast quantities of pollen fly in the early spring, the raining season kicks in in late spring, humid heat comes in July and August, typhoons in late summer, early autumn, and then - after a brief period of pleasant temperatures and nice colors - the dry, windy cold (of Tokyo - a different type of cold in other parts of the country) is back. So it's no surprise that there are not many outdoor cafes, etc.

But there is a way - and I'm sitting in it. There is a large ring of round tables with chairs a floor above a plaza, which also has the same type of round tables with chairs in the middle. The seating is free and there is only one area for burning dried leaves (I'll try harder to never sit anywhere near that toxic zone again). What enables this to work is that it's inside - with large curved windows looking out on a green garden (which has some chairs and tables for the rare days when it's nice to sit outside). Maybe there are some other areas like this in Tokyo, but I can't think of them offhand. There are no end of places you can pay to sit, but a free place with decent chairs and tables... very nice, but not the norm.

[Later] - After packing my computer into my backpack, I went out to the outside part and discovered that it had cooled down from the day's earlier heat and was actually pretty nice out - but I was running shy on time, so I couldn't spend much time there.

"Living in the Wonderful Future" (19:02)

Plugged into my Creative audio file player (not an iPod), typing on a laptop computer, with a cell phone sitting by the computer with the screen rotated to horizontal, displaying a digital TV broadcast (with Japanese subtitles since the sound is set to off). Technology - in my ears, at the tips of my fingers, and showing some really stupid TV show on my phone. (I turned on the TV specifically to get a Technology Rush, not because there was actually something I wanted to see.)

This makes me wonder how these wonderful gadgets seem to post-twelve, pre-twenty people (oh yeah, there's a word for those creatures - "teenagers"). I guess cell phones, anywhere connectivity, and music in the ears is like rain falling from the sky and sunlight showing up on a regular basis to light the world for free. For those people, allow me to express a different perspective:

Several decades ago, I would watch futuristic movies and TV shows and think "That would be nice - but we'll never really be able to make TV's that small and effortlessly easy to use" (my family's TV at the time had a number of "special instructions" issues such as needing to physically whack it on a certain spot on the side from time-to-time to get the picture back), "and computers will never be quite that smart and compact all at the same time". And so I feel a little like I'm dreaming about something from a science fiction book rather than actually living it.

About to move on to something else - after sitting back and contemplating people making fools of themselves on TV and contentedly listening to a favorite song - and I suddenly remembered I have a video camera sitting in my bag. I briefly considered it placing that on the table to intensify the Technology Rush, but decided against it. It would be like one more drink that doesn't make you feel better, but rather tips you in the other direction, so I left it in the bag. I mean... what would everyone in Osaki think? "Hee-hee! Look at that Tech-bozo! Trying to show off his gadgets! Pathetic loser! Ha-ha-ha!" etc. I mean... not that it matters what people think really, but there would be no reason to pull out that technology and sit it on the table, other than to just look at the object. The cell phone, music player, and computer are all out for a reason.

"Out of Words...?"

All this time wishing I had a laptop to write with outside and now here I am - with a laptop in front of me eagerly awaiting as many words as I can type in in the time I have, and after writing a few paragraphs, suddenly I'm drawing a blank. Ah... maybe the aftereffects of the Tech-Buzz? Take a deep breath Lyle, relax... let the thoughts settle down and organize themselves.

[Later] No - that was it. It was just time to go. As I mentioned above, I then went outside and noticed how nice it was in the outside garden, but didn't have time to hang around, so I went back to Osaki Station and got on the Yamanote Line.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

"Back to the Ramparts?"

Or maybe "Full Lifeboat Syndrome"

September 1st, 2008, 20:20
Takao, Hachioji (Tokyo)

There were two parts to this and I've forgotten the first part, but here's the second part. I was in an electronics store in Shinjuku looking at video cameras. Well... I wasn't just looking, I was about to buy one - my first video camera since #4 burned out in 1992. The first uploaded video from it is here:

"Tokyo Perpetual Motion - August 2008"

In any case, at the electronics store, I asked the salesperson (I could have said "salesman" - he was a male biped after all, but... whatever) "how do you change the menu language?", to which he told me that they had disabled that function(!). I looked at him with a "What? In the 21st Century? Dude!" look, and he explained that there had been a problem with people buying cameras in Japan either before they were released overseas or at a lower price, and then reselling them overseas, making overseas distributors unhappy, so... they disabled the ability to use the new machines sold in Japan with anything other than the local language, Japanese.

I thought about that, and it seemed significant, especially when put together with the other thing I was thinking of.... What was it? Tougher immigration laws? A renewed nationalism? Something....

"New Laptop"

I don't have enough text to make an article with one topic, so here are some other things on my mind. I have been thinking how I would very much like to have a laptop to write with while I'm outside, and so... I bought a new laptop - my first new laptop since 1996. I bought a string of used ones that worked for a few years after that new-in-1996 one burned out in 1997, but I have gotten along without a laptop for many years now - waiting until I get home to write things. Now and again I've pulled out a pen and paper and written something by hand outside, which is fun, but then I've had to transcribe it later, which is no fun at all (in fact I still have some text from last week awaiting my pounding it into electrons), so it's about time I got my hands on a proper portable writing machine.

"Takao Beer Mount"

No, I didn't make that one up, that's the name of a rooftop beer garden on Takao Mountain that I visited tonight, and after coming down off the mountain (but before getting back on a train for central Tokyo), I sat myself down by a mountain stream (on a bench - hey - I'm a city slicker after all) and pulled out the new laptop to enter some text. So, as I type this, I'm listening to the sound of mountain stream water running by... and it's about time to get a train for home, so... that's all for now. Laptop computers - Banzai!!!

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"Reactions - August 2008"

Towards the end of the day at work, I began to imagine myself going out to Mt. Takao. The closer to quitting time, the more it seemed like a good idea, so after work, I took a Keio Line Jun-Tokkyu train ("Limited Special Express"; one step slower than a "Tokkyu", or Special Express) out as far as I could, before changing to a local train near the end that veers off the main line and goes to the foot of Mt. Takao (Takaozan-guchi Station), and thus began a string of encounters that were ordinary in a way, but conveyed a lot on reflection and in context with the past 24 years I've spent in Tokyo.

There were a number of people who walked across the platform from the express to the local, but after the next stop, most people got off and I became aware of empty seats and a woman (around 20?) sitting next to me. She stood up and walked down the car and took another seat. I thought "I hope that isn't because I smell sweaty or something..." but then I noticed that we were the only two people in that train car, so had to admit that if I were a 20-year-old woman and found myself alone with a post-forty man in a train car, I would either actually move, or at least want to move, so... I couldn't complain.

As the train began the last leg of the trip, I turned around, opened the window, and kneeling on the seat, I contemplated the dark forested mountain passing by outside. Nearly always in the unhealthy glow of florescent lighting, the lack of that much-hated form of lighting (I know - it's energy efficient - but I really hate the quality of light florescent tubes generate) is something I often dream of, but faced with the concept of walking into that light-less (other than whatever light there was from the moon) night forest, I had to admit the attraction of city life as opposed to something more primitive.

As the train pulled into the last station, I shut the window and got off as soon as the sliding doors opened. Exiting the ticket gates, I turned right and walked up the path beneath the trees in the night, with the sky above (not to be taken for granted in Tokyo) to the cable car station. This path was quite nice - just enough light to see, without damaging the ambiance of the night, and just enough other people about that there was no urge to look over your shoulder while walking along a lonely path in the night.

As I neared the cable car station, it was apparent that the cable car was about to depart - and since they don't run very often, I hoped to make it to avoid the wait for the next one. There were three people in front of me - a man and a couple. There was only one ticket machine on (the others turned off because it was late I guess), so by the time I was stuffing a bill into the machine, I heard the chain go up behind the couple, but I grabbed my ticket as it came out of the machine and ran up to the gate "Dame desu ka...?" I asked the guy ("No good?") and he gave me a rather unfriendly look, but wordlessly took the chain down again, so I gave him a "Sumimasen" ("Sorry!") as I had him punch my ticket. Slightly wondering about the scowl and the fact that he had put up the chain after having seem me behind the others, I was nevertheless happy to not be left behind, so I ran to the cable car to avoid any more delay than necessary.

The ride up went about as well as it might - I was lucky to get a standing spot at the back where I could look back down the mountain out of the open window as the cable car climbed. Midway up, a child sitting nearby wanted to stand by the window as well, but their parents told them it was dangerous - which got me to thinking "How? Leaning out a side window can be dangerous, but the back window isn't so low that someone might fall out, and even if you completely hang your head out the window in back, there's nothing to hit it." It's an old fault of mine - I like real reasons, not convenient and lazy lies.

The cable car goes through a tunnel, and then as it begins to climb more steeply, the lights of Tokyo appear from over the top of the mountain that the cable car just passed though. Many of the people in the car seemed to be taking it up the mountain for the first time - while I've done so... ten times? Fifteen times? I'm not sure, but in any case I'm familiar with the ride and exactly when it ends, so as it was coming to a stop, I grabbed my backpack and walked up to the front of the car so I'd been one of the first ones off. Once off, I skipped the (slightly expensive) beer garden and speed walked over to the free benches which still have a pretty decent view. I was pleased to see that one of them was open (on the far right, next to the pay-binoculars), so I sat there and took out the food and drink I'd bought on the way (at a grocery store back in central Tokyo), and put it on the table-like shelf in front of the benches. "Perfect" I thought....

Not long after I sat down, a group in their forties or fifties materialized to my right - and one of the men wanted to put Y100 in the pay-binoculars, but was dissuaded from doing so by someone in the group. I thought "Aw, come on, let the guy give it a try". I have spent my life seeing those pay-to-use binoculars, but have never actually used one (not that I can remember anyway), so I was sort of hoping to see one in action. Since the binoculars were right next to where I was sitting, the man seemed to notice my radio waves, and he looked over - seeing a foreigner, he asked me "Good view?", to which I answered "Tashikani" ("Indeed"), which produced a laugh from the group, which seemed to expect me to be a tourist. One of the men said "Yokeina koto wo shite..." to the man (not easy to translate, but something like "You should mind your own business"). They headed off, and a woman in the group turned around and said "Have a good time", to which I wordlessly nodded. She may have intended it to be friendly, but it didn't feel friendly and I took it to mean something like "You may have gotten one of our expressions right, but you are not one of us." [What's that sound I hear - groaning? Booing? You think I'm wildly imagining things? Whatever - you jump in a time machine, go to 1984 Tokyo, live here for 24 years, and then see if you still have the same opinion. I've met all kinds of people here over the past 24 years - and there are good and bad - just like everywhere in the world.]

After that, I tried to forget about the group who were young in Japan in the eighties, when it was more insular, more xenophobic, and more narrow minded than it is now. As I had some more wine & dried mangoes (I know - weird - but they actually go together for some reason), the happy sounds of a young couple (with the woman pregnant) sitting to my left drifted over and I got back into the mountain vibes....

Later on, the couple stood up, pulled out a camera and proceeded to take their own picture (at arm's length). I considered asked them if they'd like to take their picture, but stopped myself with "They're perfectly able to take their own picture". They took a flash picture, then another, and by their third picture, and with the answer in mind, I said (in Japanese) "You should turn the flash off" - which produced blank stares, so I realized they didn't know how. "Is that an Olympus?" The man continued looking at me, but the woman acknowledged that it was indeed an Olympus (it was her camera I guess), so I told them "It should have a circle of four buttons, with a button in the center of the circle. One of the four buttons should turn off the flash..." The woman found the button, got to the "No flash" symbol, and I said "Now, push the middle button..." which worked.

The setting changed, I asked them if they'd like me to take a picture - which they did, so they handed the camera over. The resulting picture showed the two of them in front of the lights of the city in the background (which the flash pictures didn't). I briefly explained that while the exposure was good, since the flash was off in such a dark place, the shutter speed was bound to be slow. I got them to expand the image a bit to see if it was sharp, or motion blurred. It seemed to be sharp, and they indicated that they liked it (expressing surprise at how bright the picture turned out without the flash). They said their (friendly) good-byes and headed off to the cable car.

I sat there and tried to piece it all together - the more relaxed young generation (with some dangerous hot-head exceptions) and the more up-tight older generation that I've spent 24 years here with (who tend to be more responsible than the current twenties people). Basically, it must just be a situation where some things get better and some things get worse. It's a blazingly-bright obvious concept, but still you expect things to get better without the good parts deteriorating, so it's an unpleasant surprise to discover the loss of an aspect to life that you thought was unshakably constant and solid....

After a while, I noticed a pair of twenties men (probably college students) explaining about camera ISO settings to a group of five twenties women. After the men left, I could hear one of the women asking what they were going on about, and another woman said "something about ISO this and that..." so I ended up (stupidly) jumping up and explaining that the numbers tied in with shutter speeds at f16 (what used to be the smallest aperture on most proper cameras), thus ISO 400 would basically mean 1/400 of a second shutter speed in bright sun at f16. They politely tolerated my lecture and then went on there way - joking that the night was full of camera education. I sat there and thought to myself, "What you did for the couple was good, but jumping up to explain the meaning of ISO settings to the group of five was really a dumb thing to do...".

By and by, I decided to go back down the mountain, so I got on the cable car and ended up talking with a man who was part of a group from the beer garden (on the roof of a building up behind where I was sitting). It was a friendly enough conversation, but he called me a "henna-gaijin" ("strange foreigner") apparently because I spoke Japanese. I used to get that from time-to-time (another eighties thing). If you were comfortable in the culture here and spoke the language, you were strange. If you didn't understand the language or culture, and you bumbled around expecting everyone you came in contact with to help you in English - well... that was a normal foreigner!

Back on a train speeding towards central Tokyo, I sat down and found myself in one of those on-a-stage situations that the bench seats against the windows facing each other generate. There was a group of about five men across from me who were interested in who was sitting across from them - so they were taking surreptitious looks. Not staring mind you, but the interest was in the air and I couldn't relax, so at the next station I casually moved over to another seat without an audience (late night trains headed towards Tokyo are not crowded and you can nearly always sit down - in contrast to the usual situation of always standing.

Back in the city... back to normal....

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Monday, August 25, 2008

"Hibarigaoka - a Typical Suburb of Tokyo" (August 1991)

One quiet August afternoon in Hibarigaoka, on the mid-western fringe of Tokyo, in suburbia, Lyle's camera flew of his bag, into his hands, and began recording....

It was a typical quiet afternoon - not what you might expect if you had only seen the same area in the morning frenzy of commuters rushing to the station to get to work on time.

In fact, this highlights a mystery of Japan - how people seem to have cast-iron ears at some times (shopkeepers shouting "Irasshaimase!" into customers' faces), and then are hyper-sensitive to noise at other times (a woman living next to a park complained to the city because she could hear the sound of small children playing in the park!).

In any case, the city is actually quite quiet - and certainly much more quiet than a lot of people seem to imagine it overseas.

Anyway - here's a view of August 1991 Tokyo suburbia:

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Sunday, August 17, 2008

"Walking the Streets of Ikebukuro in July 1991"

For someone who is sixteen; seventeen years ago is the far distant dark ages before the beginnings of time. For me, it's the other way around. It doesn't seem like enough has happened over the past seventeen years for things to have changed very much, so it keeps coming as a shock to me to notice how different my long-sleeping, recently revived video recordings from 1990-92 (digitized from analogue 8mm tape) look. Without dwelling on the changes too much (or maybe too much, we'll see), here is a description of my video clip (at YouTube) entitled '"Free Tissues, Crosswalks & a Speech" (July 1991)'.

Coming up one of the narrow stairs from the underground part of Ikebukuro Station, walking past a platoon of schoolgirls wearing "sailor" style school uniforms. This was before Japanese school uniforms became - in just a few years - mini-skirts (they had to be below the knee before), and the sailor style uniforms were considered to be the most stylish (and generally used by private schools, while public schools were more conservative).

The most striking part of this section of the clip for me, was the fact that I'm taking pictures while walking up public stairs. Two things have made this an overly dangerous thing to do. Cell phones & mini-skirts. There were several very public incidents of people with cell phones caught taking (or attempting to take) pictures up young women's skirts as they climbed stairs. Several things happened - among them; cell phone manufacturers made cell phone cameras so that they make a rather loud and obnoxious artificial shutter sound form the phone's speaker when a picture is taken; and there was a university professor caught, who was publicly and professionally ruined for his idiotic actions. So I never take any pictures while going up stairs any more (unless the whole flight of stairs is empty)! Best to be on the safe side.

The free packs of tissues (with advertising on the packs). Those haven't changed much. They still pass them out, and they still target certain people when passing them out. Most are for loan companies (or real estate companies) and - generally, not always - they will give them to anyone. The man who reluctantly handed over a pack I later saw very energetically passing them out to women. I don't remember exactly what it was - I have some other video I took of close-ups of tissue packs I'd been given - I'll try to find that and see what they were exactly.

Right where the over-amplified man giving a speech says "Ittai, Nippon wa do natte'ru daro?!" ("What in the world is happening to Japan?!"), I walk past a... monk(?) who is ringing a bell and awaiting donations. You used to see one of these guys pretty regularly, but it's become rather rare. I did see one in Shinjuku a few weeks ago.

Speaking of the over-amplified speech (coming from a loudspeaker truck parked in front of the station - not visible in the clip - with the shouting man standing on a platform built onto the roof), there used to be a lot of those, and they were generally right-wing people urging the country to move to the right. That you don't hear these people in public much these days may have something to do with things having gone to the right somewhat - just as they wanted - so maybe they see no need to make public displays now? I can't quite catch most of what the guy was saying, but there is the sentence very clearly heard that I mentioned in the preceding paragraph, and later on he's saying something about the military.

What else? Fashion and hairstyles I guess - mostly evident with the women. Oh yeah! Many people in 1991 in Japan actually had black hair! So many people (especially women) dye their hair now, that when you see someone with jet-black hair, it's actually striking! "Wow! Look at that! Actually black hair!" If you don't believe me, take a look at the dozens (hundreds maybe?) of shades of hair dye sold in drug stores, and then take a close look at the color of women's hair out in pubic. Another thing you didn't see in 1991, was men with plucked eyebrows and makeup. No comment on that one.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon