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