Monday, July 27, 2009

"Long Summer Dresses"

I've been interacting with the closest thing I have to a time machine - my old video recordings - and it's a strange feeling looking at the scenes I recorded while walking around in Tokyo back then. I've spent my life watching recorded images from (nearly?) all years in which moving pictures were recordable, but it's always been someone else's viewpoint. There's something almost eerie about seeing the very same scenes I saw in real time 18 years ago, from the very same vantage point and recorded by myself. So many things that I'd forgotten about come back into active memory while watching the scenes again.

I've mentioned before (several times?) the realization that most, not some, but *most* of what we experience day by day goes missing in the dusty archives of our minds, but with a few recent video clips that I edited and posted to YouTube, women's clothing fashions stand out. I didn't notice it quite so much with 1991 winter clothing, but the summer clothing of 1991 Tokyo women looks quite different from what women are wearing in summer 2009. The most striking thing is probably the large number of women wearing long skirts. That and the different hair styles of the time make it look like such a different era....

I'm looking at what were young and modern women in 1991, thinking how they are now middle-aged women, and thinking how current modern women in 2009 will be middle aged women in their time, and I'm beginning to think that the whole concept of "modern" is a mistake. What is called "modern" is supposed to be what is coming, but more often it's just what is now that wasn't yesterday, but it won't make it to tomorrow.

Yawn... I'm putting myself to sleep writing this, so it must be even worse for people reading it! Sorry.....

Oh - here are a couple of videos that I haven't introduced in the blog yet:

"Gotanda to Nishimagome to Gotanda" - July 1991

Trip to Nishimagome from Gotanda, and then back to Gotanda.

On the way to Nishimagome: Nearly empty train (going away from central Tokyo). Since the subway is not air-conditioned, most of the windows are open. The sounds are completely different from newer air conditioned trains.

At the top of the escalator, there are creaky old escalator noises.

Near Nishimagome Station, a pair ride by on a bicycle, with a man standing on hub extenders on the back. I don't think this was ever exactly legal, but you used to see it from time to time. I haven't seen this at all lately. Maybe the police put a stop to it.


"Gotanda to Shinjuku (& Ikebukuro)" - July 1991

Taking the Yamanote Line from Gotanda to Shinjuku, shopping in Shinjuku, and then taking the Saikyo Line from Shinjuku to Ikebukuro.

Of note - many women in long summer dresses that look really old fashioned by today's standards. A good look at the platform at Ebisu Station - just an open-air platform when this video was taken in July 1991 (now radically different). When coming into Shibuya Station, the view over to the Toyoko Line is unobstructed - this was before the Saikyo Line was extended to Ebisu.

July 25th, 1991... and posted to YouTube on July 25th, 2009. Eighteen years later....

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

"Chaos to Order to Chaos to...?"

When I arrived in Japan in the summer of 1984, the orderly lining up for trains in neat rows of three seemed right enough that I never even thought about it. On the other hand, I wondered why there were separate lines for each ATM machine at the bank, each order window at fast-food restaurants, and a near free-for-all for public phones (although there were sort of separate lines for each phone in some cases). On escalators, people rapidly stood on both sides of each step, making any walking progress impossible.

Then many things got better. Single lines were set up at banks and fast-food restaurants, and people began standing on the left on escalators, allowing passing on the right (same as the roads in Japan, although I've heard the left-right orientation (on escalators) is opposite in Osaka, possible due to the 1970 Expo there...).

And now... the one thing that was most orderly back in 1984 - lining up for trains - is beginning to fall apart. A few years ago, I began seeing people lining up in twos instead of threes, and while I could appreciate the concept of two lines evenly splitting when the train arrives, it's a bad idea when it's crowded (not at all a rare occurrence in Tokyo!), as people quickly end up lining up all the way across the platform, making it difficult (or nearly impossible, or impossible) to walk along the platform, and forcing people to mill about between the lines once there is no more room to line up. At Shinjuku Station, the platform workers used to work at getting people to line up in threes, and I heard some announcements asking people to line up threes, but now it's gotten to the point where it seems like most people are lining up in twos as though it were their religion - "Thou shalt line up in twos and disrupt the platform!".

Just as I was getting (grudgingly) getting used to everyone lining up only in twos, I began seeing (on one branch line), some people forming a single line! Now, if you're getting on an airplane or a reserved seat train, this is what you should do, but the logistics of transporting vast numbers of people in Tokyo screamingly does not allow for single lines for the cattle cars! When I saw some people doing that, I began to wonder "What are they doing? Daring people to walk around them? Something has to give here..."

And... that something appears to be the new popular rage in Tokyo - line breaking! Now, however people are lining up (in twos or threes), I'm seeing people blasting past everyone and just going straight for the door. In some situations, this is almost understandable. For example, at Shinjuku Station in the morning, each and every 11-car train (arriving & departing every two or three minutes) is full. Some are smash-'em-in sardine can style full, and a lot of people don't even try to get on, but form a line waiting for the next train. So, if you get to the platform after the lined up people who were boarding get on, there is often a ten to fifteen second window of opportunity to get on the train. In this case, you cruise past the people lined up (who are not even attempting to get on the train), and jump (or push) aboard.

So you've got this situation of people lining up for trains incorrectly (for conditions) in the first place, combined with situations where it's actually okay to walk past the line, and there are beginning to be a number of people who seem to think that they have a right to just blast in front of everyone all the time, whenever they see a door open. Having this happen repeatedly, people are getting more blood-thirsty about getting on and off the trains.

Bringing everything full-circle, I was talking with a from-birth local who told me that when they were a child (about 45 years ago), people didn't line up for trains and it was just a free-for-all when boarding. Hearing that, and looking at the current state of things, I would say Japan is just a few steps away from coming full circle with the trains, and getting back to free-for-all boarding. Not a happy development, but at least bank and restaurant lines are still orderly....

As for when things were still orderly, have a look at this July 1991 video, "Hibarigaoka to Gotanda - July 1991" (which doesn't show things in the rush, but still):

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Saturday, July 18, 2009

"Disposable Contract Workers must not have Opinions"

Hierarchy for hierarchy's sake... not again!

I went drinking with a few middle-management types last night and things were going okay until one of them complained that the avocados in some dish or other that we ordered were "rotten". Since they were not in fact rotten, but only slightly on the soft side (I used to buy one every day in California, I actually have pretty extensive experience and knowledge about this), I stated this fact and ran into a "You - as a lowly & disposable contract worker - are not allowed to contradict his lordship I - lofty middle-level manager!" wall.

Some people... don't know how to act like people. I think in the future if I'm in a position to go drinking with a company person I've not been drinking with before, I should first ask "Are you, by chance, in a middle-management role?". If an affirmative answer to that query bounces back, then I had better think "Red Alert! - Red Alert!! - Middle-level management demon dead ahead! Evasive emergency action, commence... now!!!" and say "Let me check my schedule... oh... rotten luck. I'm meeting some friends from out of town then. Maybe some other time!" and then get far-far-far away from the danger before the possibility of triggering some middle-management evil impulse arises.

There's this thing in Japan where it's supposed to be okay to hash things out over drinks, but that only really applies if you're a "seishain" (regular lifetime employee). Disposable contract workers aren't really considered to be human beings and are only jovially tolerated so long as they are friendly no matter what, have titanium smiles able to withstand the most uncalled for insults, and under no circumstances commit the unpardonable offense of actually having an opinion.

At the moment, I'm thinking artists are 500,000 times more human than middle-management... people.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Friday, July 10, 2009

"Into Video Lately..."

"Company Event in Tokyo - 2000"

A company event held in a rented space in 2000 (or was it 2001? I'm not sure, but I think 2000 - I didn't label the tape!). The space was quite good, with good equipment, etc., but not in a very convenient location. Most of us came by taxi.

The only copy I have remaining of this is a VHS tape that I digitized for editing for this post. Bloody VHS... it doesn't last! Parts of the images in some places have turned various shades of light purple at the top of the screen.

"Nishi-Ogikubo (& the Chuo Line)" (June 2009)

Beginning with a view inside the Chuo Line, I then get off at Nishi-Ogikubo Station and walk off into the suburbs between Nishi-Ogikubo and Kichijoji.

"Tokyo Subway (Marunouchi & Tozai) - June 1990"

Tuesday, June 19th, 1990 - Starting off with a quick view of me on a public phone (they were still used in 1990), following by a quick view of the Marunouchi Line (an old Red & White one - now running in Argentina), I then change trains and get on the Tozai Line. Notice that the ticket gates consist of a live person sitting there to take tickets. Also notice that the announcement in the train is made by a live human being and not a recording. Also there are no over-pronounced, over-intonated, culture-less, half-speed, and extraordinarily irritating announcements in English. (The announcement for Kayabacho Station is a recording, but at least it's in the local language.) It wraps up with me on another public phone. There were cell phones then, but they were quite expensive, so most people didn't have them.

"Diagonal Subway Views - June 1990 (Tokyo)"

Starting with a quick view of the (by today's standards) large camera (held by myself) and then a view of the office I used to work at near Tamachi Station, then a look up at the buildings above before going underground into the subway system. First is a a ride on the Hanzomon Line, and then a transfer to the Marunouchi Line (one of the new - currently getting old! - ones, which were just being introduced at the time), and finishing with a street view at night. Notice in subway views from this time period that the windows are often open. They didn't have air condition the subway system as soon as the surface trains due to the heat generated by air conditioning units (on the trains) that would have heated the stations. So they first air conditioned the stations, and then installed air conditioning on the subway trains.

"Ontakesan Evening (Tokyu-Ikegami Line) - June 2009"

The video begins near Senzokuike Station and then I take the Ikegami Line down to Ontakesan Station, where I video the evening shopping scene and visit a nearby shrine.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Friday, July 03, 2009

"Shifts Might be Nice..."

I went to the dentist yesterday morning, so I took a half-day off from work. As it turned out, I finished early at the dentist and had some extra time, so I went over to Akihabara (a.k.a. "Akiba") to check out some computer parts, etc.

Well, at least that was the plan... but arriving in Akihabara just after 10:00 a.m., I was greeted with a sea of closed shops! "Oh yeah... since the shops tend to be open until 7:00 p.m. and companies religiously avoid having shifts, they open late to avoid getting into an overtime pay situation!" thought I.

And so goes my rant, but certainly - given the choice between retail shops being from 10:00 to 6:00 or from 11:00 to 7:00, I'd prefer the 11:00 to 7:00. It only becomes irritating when I have some time in the morning and would actually like to do something before lunch! Added to the fact that Tokyo is in the wrong time zone and there's no DST in the summer to push the clock back, you could almost say that shops don't open until the afternoon.

Oh well - who needs retail before lunch anyway, hey?

I mentioned this situation at work, and a fellow biped in the office said "So what makes you an expert on this?". Being a bit flustered at the sudden attack, I didn't have a good comeback, but I wish I'd said "It's called observation and thinking. You should try it some time."


Sleep... need sleep... sleep... .......

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon