Thursday, January 23, 2014


2014/01/16 - Under-road drinking place.  Okay folks - this is being written by hand (ink on real paper in a small notebook) in and old izakaya.  Voices... (make that *animated* voices) all around, and Lyle is sitting in the middle of the verbal storm attempting to capture some of the atmosphere in words.  It's a fundamentally impossible task, but some of the atmosphere - mot much, but some - might get through somehow.  In any case, if any of the real atmosphere is to be conveyed, it must be written - by hand - at genba (現場), in genji (現時) [I'm told that "genji" isn't actually it word, but it so much seems like it should be, that I I think it *must* be... so I'll use it for now and look into this...]  Oh - in English, yeah - it means something like "at the source" and "at the time".

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

"Rain Train Thoughts..."

I was riding across town on the train in the rain - idly looking out the window and thinking that I'd like to describe the sights, sounds, and general atmosphere - in words.  It's not really possible, but here goes:  Sea of houses and an assortment of other types of buildings flow by the wet windows, the speed of the train... is strangely felt through the concert of sights and the sound of the electric motors running at speed.  Music playing through my earphones adds atmosphere and a purposeful feeling of timelessness on the one hand, and a lack of time on the other....

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Thursday, January 16, 2014

"Half-Smiles are Dangerous"

There's a strange thing that's happened to me a few times, with two times standing out starkly in my memory.

The first time I remember this happening was in 1984, which I'm a little embarrassed to write, but that's how the brain works - when there's a problem, the brain stores it in the high-priority part of the brain (HPM - High Priority Memory), and there it stays until (and typically beyond) the point where the riddle is solved.  But here's what happened in 1984:

I was at a party at the place I was working (here in Japan) and I was talking to various people, as you do at a party.  One older woman said something to me, and we talked a little about banal/vapid/meaningless things ("Nice party, isn't it?" / "Where are you from?" / "How long have you been here?" / "What do you think of Japan?"), and at one point, she said something banal and smiled at me, so I - with the intention of simply being civil - smiled back.  Once I did,  a look of horror filled the woman's eyes and she physically backed away.  I thought "What was that?  What just happened there?  I get an empty friendly smile, I smile back meaninglessly to be civil, and suddenly I'm a monster?  What-what-what???"

Thinking back on it, it feels like it happened yesterday and the feeling I had some 30 years ago is still vivid.  Coincidentally enough... wait... no, it's not a coincidence, but rather the *reason* I'm writing this; it happened to me again yesterday:

I'm talking with an acquaintance (work related) and she says something inconsequential, but says it with a big smile on her face, so I - same as in 1984 - smile back inconsequentially with the intention of being civil.  You know, someone says "Hello" and you say "Hello" back, someone says "It's cold today, isn't it?" and you say "It sure is!", etc.  But again, not exactly a look of horror, but a sudden deep freeze in the eyes and a turning away.  And so I get a flashback to the 1984 event (that's what HPM is for after all - quick access for future reference regarding important issues).

And today... as I woke up to begin another day, I noticed that the mystery was still turning over in my mind, so at one point, I get (and this is the first time I have thought to do this) the idea of thinking back on the moment and trying to replicate my inconsequential smile into the mirror (you know, that wonderful device that reflects your image - quite accurately, but in reverse - back at you? - marvelous invention), so I walk over to a mirror and try it out.  Immediately I see a problem and it fits in with a whole host of concepts I've thought about over the years....  Where to start?  I suppose it doesn't matter, as they are all interconnected and probably don't have a specific order?  Okay, here goes:

The first thought is one of surprise.  The expression on the man in the mirror seems to be saying "Yeah-yeah - cut the c**p and let's get on with meaningful life already..."  Uh-oh... that wasn't the message I had intended to convey, but when you smile with your mouth only, and look at someone with a PGI  (Photographer Grade Intensity) visual beam, the result is blood-curdling.  Who knew?  I'd never tried it out on a mirror before!

Acting.  People - very strangely - respond best to overacting.  You would think they would recoil at this, and not subtle expressions, but the brain processing appears to be "Big vapid overdone smile... Oh, okay!  This biped must be friendly!  Someone dangerous or dishonest couldn't possibly make such a big smile!".  And of course the worst, vicious, most evil, sub-human scum among us are the ones who smile the biggest!  We are stupid, we bipeds are.  I wish I were an exception, but I'm afraid I'm not.  Just the other day I told myself, again (for the 57,349th time), "Man, how often do I have to remind you!?  Anyone who smiles too much is dishonest/dangerous almost by definition!  Remember that already!"

Huh... I started this thinking it would be a few short paragraphs, and then as I got warmed up to the topic, I was thinking it was going to be a book or something, but suddenly I get the feeling I've basically described what I set out to describe.  Now time to go practice smiling big into the mirror, and even using some other part of my face besides just the mouth.  Or maybe it's better to just not smile in the first place...?

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Friday, January 10, 2014

"Going to a Movie in January 2014"

Walking through the 1-Chome area of Kabukicho last night, I stopped in a square and looked around - thinking:

"Just about everything I knew back in the eighties from here is gone now....  Wait... the Godzilla Construction Monster missed one!  There's that old building with the movie theaters in it."

I pondered it for a minute - feeling grateful that *something* that I had known before was actually still there.  I started walking again, and when I was on the verge of walking by the older building, it suddenly occurred to me that that building might not exist for very much longer, so it might be a good idea to experience a movie inside while it's still possible to do so.

So I checked my watch and walked up to see what was playing.  There were four movie theaters; two of the movies had already begun showing the last screening of the day, but there was still time to see the other two, which were just about to begin.

"Hmm... 'Captain Phillips' or 'Gravity'..."

I was considering seeing "Gravity" when I noticed it was 3D and so I opted for "Captain Phillips" (in 2D) instead.  The thing I don't like about 3D movies is that they are actually *simulated* 3D movies.  I understand that they are real in the sense that two parallel images are taken and the effect reconstructed, but they're simulated in that the image is projected onto a flat screen, so they're a kind of virtual 3D, but not actual 3D.  Now, a hologram movie (actual 3D) I would be very interested in seeing (depending on the quality) - and for that you wouldn't need special glasses to trick your eyes with.  (I did see Avatar, and the 3D effect was interesting, but I still prefer honest 2D over virtual 3D.)

Anyway - I was later glad I chose "Captain Phillips", as it was (I thought/think) a great movie, with an interesting story line; creatively filmed, and with good music to keep the suspense in the air.

Now - back to the old movie theater!  How old?  I couldn't find the exact date of its construction, but apparently it's about 50 years old.  Taking a seat, I looked around and had flashbacks to seeing movies back in the 1980's, and after the movie, I walked over to the area with drink machines and flat bench seats (for sitting on before the movie).  It was the last showing of the day (last movie times are generally 7:00-9:00 here), so I couldn't spend much time there, but still there was a strong feeling of atmosphere in the space....

Back out on the cold and windy streets of January Tokyo, I pondered that atmospheric area of the theater and it occurred to me that maybe a big part of the interesting atmosphere of old places like that is how the same space has been used in the same way for several decades.  It's as though the years of people and their feelings while in the space have soaked into the walls to the point where the space practically glows with that old movie theater feeling of anticipation before a movie begins.  Add in the nervous excitement of young couples on first dates, etc. and you end up with an atmosphere that new places just don't have... and maybe never will have, since we now live in a world saturated with high definition images, so the excitement people felt when going to see a movie in the fifties, sixties, seventies and even nineties isn't felt so much any more.

Watching the movie with the powerful surround-sound system, I thought "Pictures in people's homes have gotten quite big, so the screen size in a movie theater isn't such a big deal, but it's pretty hard to match this level of sound intensity!"  You could just about (or actually) say that the main reason for going to a theater to see a movie now is for the sound experience.

The general decline in movie theater goers meant that even though the movie started in just five minutes (from when I bought the ticket), there were still seats.  I've gotten used to this since the last several movies I've seen always had seats, but I was still a little surprised by how few people were in the theater - especially considering it was a new movie with a well-known actor, etc.).  I think there were a total of about ten of us.  Seriously - that's not an exaggeration for effect or "virtually ten" (as in the perception of very few people even though there were actually more), but "actually ten".

[Tragic note regarding degradation of the English language: I *should* have been able to just write "literally ten of us", but massive numbers of imbeciles have hijacked "literally" to mean "virtually", so the real meaning of "literally" has been mainly destroyed - thus I have to write a sentence to explain the concept of what one word used to convey.  The disintegration of civilization and culture isn't pretty.]

When there are so few people in a theater, expectations of a good/perfect seat rise.  I looked at the hight of the screen relative to the rows and aimed for (what I consider to be) the best spot - a middle seat aimed at the center part of the screen.  The only problem was picking one that wasn't right in front of someone (so my head wouldn't be in the way) and also not right in back of someone (so their head wouldn't irritate me during the movie).  Fortunately, there was one such seat available on the center aisle (the man in the row behind me had fortunately chosen the second seat over) and so I could even stretch my right leg out into the aisle while watching the movie.

(As a related issue - I saw a free movie in a remote museum earlier in the week and I was the *only* person in the museum's movie theater!  The animated movie I saw was interesting for cultural and historical reasons, and begging to be written about, but there are political issues, so I'll stay away from discussing that one.  It would be impossible to write about in any detail without angering one group or another.)

Going back to the gang of ten movie-goers (it might have been nine, but I think ten), the lot of them appeared to be in their fifties (or maybe late forties).  This is exactly the generation that began going to movies before home video (tape, disk, or any format other than actual reels of movie film, which the vast majority of that generation didn't have), and most of us had probably seen movies in that very movie theater three or four decades ago.  Thinking about the situation of the entire audience (all ten of us - ha-ha!) being the same generation, I suppose the current trend of ever fewer movie theaters will continue and they will become a rare thing - with a few high-tech ones left to try out new technologies in.  (When do we get to see real [holographic] 3D I wonder?)

Another factor is that people are watching the TV series shows *instead* of movies now.  One reason may be something that came out in a conversation I recently had with a 20-year-old regarding movies:

LHS: "How often do you go to see a movie?"
20YO: "Never."
LHS: "Really!?  So you don't like movies then?"
20YO: "No, I like movies."
LHS: "Do you watch them at home then?"
20YO: "No."
LHS: "What do you watch?"
20YO: "Various TV shows."
LHS: "Why not movies?"
20YO: "Because they're too long!"
LHS: "..... Ah I see.  Yeah, they *can* be long, but some are only about 90 minutes...."
20YO: "..............."

And then there was a change of topic, but the concept of *never* seeing movies because they're too long(!) is fascinating to me, as it suggests our lives are so geared towards constant change and things coming at us from all directions that giving any single task two whole hours (sarcasm intended) is becoming unthinkable?

Well, for my part, the combination of having a little extra time on hand yesterday evening; pondering the rapidity with which the Godzilla Construction Monster devours Tokyo; noticing a still-undevoured old building with movie theaters in it; deciding to see a movie there before the GCM gets it; finding the theater to be nearly empty, and then having the movie turn out to be quite good was a great experience.  Y1,800 is a bit pricey, but for the experience I had yesterday, it was well-worth it.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Monday, January 06, 2014

"1990 Ginza, Shimokitazawa, etc.; 2013 Kichijoji, Inokashira Line, Shimokitazawa Station, etc."

After watching views of 1990 Shimokitazawa I took back when it wasn't the past (more on that wording in a minute), I decided to have a look at December 2013 Shimokitazawa.  As the Inokashira Line train from Shibuya passed over where the Odakyu Line tracks used to be (the Odakyu Line has been put into a deep tunnel there), there was something depressing about watching them deconstruct the surface railway, even though it's just gone underground.  (... so much to say about rail vs. internal combustion machinery, but leave that for now.)
So - back to watching views of something that I took "back when it wasn't the past".  I say it that way, because as I watch material that I took myself, I remember how it felt to take it and it always seems strange how what was the present is now (in/from) the past.
Just the flow of time I know, but there's a difference between watching videos that other people have taken and videos that you have taken yourself.  Just relying on memory, generally only the highlights of the past are recallable (although circumstances, people, smells, sounds, etc. can bring so many long buried memories flooding back!), so when you have a detailed video (with sound) recording of a part of your past that you mostly forgot about, the act of watching it brings memories back in such detail that there's a feeling of overlap with that time and the present - something like traveling back in time via a time machine.

At times when watching my view - as I recorded it back then while walking down a street - I get the urge to tell my 1990-91 self to turn down a street that I wish I had recorded back then but didn't... "Okay... that's good... now turn right at the next intersection...  No!  Don't go down into the subway station just yet - head over a block!".

All to no avail of course, but at times it feels almost as though the window looking back on the past should be a two-way one through which I can communicate with the me on the other end.  Photographs don't have this effect, but a moving, talking image seems so real sometimes.

Back to Shimokitazawa - I had intended to get off and walk around a bit, but as I exited the Inokashira Line with the camera rolling, I decided to walk down to the entrance to the Odakyu Line, and once deep underground, I had a flashback to the depressing feeling of the railway deconstruction on the surface and decided to just go ahead and take an Odakyu Line train to Shinjuku.

Well, on to the videos:

1990 御徒町駅から銀座まで From Okachimachi to Ginza 901222
(Above) Near Okachimachi Station
(Above) Nearing Tokyo Station
(Above) Tokyo Station, Yaesu Side / (Below) Ginza
1990 Ginza Department Store Walkabout 銀座デパート散策散歩 901222
I think the department store I walk through in this video is currently being demolished to make way for a hotel - supposedly for the Olympics.  I'm always amazed when someone tells me - with a straight face - that they're doing something like building a large hotel in Ginza "for the Olympics".  A massively expensive structure in Ginza constructed for an event that only lasts a few weeks?  Sure.  Doesn't it occur to people that it's something powerful interests already want to build, and the Olympics are stated as a goal (helping to speed things up presumably).  That may be all well and good, but people should think about what they're saying.  Instead of "They're building a new hotel in Ginza for the Olympics", they could/should say "They're rushing the construction of a large new hotel in Ginza in order to get it finished in time for the 2020 Olympics".  Accuracy.
1990 Ginza on December 22nd 1990 12月22日の銀座 901222n
1990 有楽町から渋谷まで Yurakucho to Shibuya 901222
(Above) Yurakucho / (Below) Yamanote Line
(Below) Shibuya Station Platform - Yamanote Line 山手線
(Below) Shibuya 渋谷
1990 銀座と池袋と彼方此方など Ginza and Ikebukuro Etc 901225n

1990 東京中央郵便局と彼方此方など Tokyo Central Post Office Etc 901228

Part of the old Tokyo Central Post Office Building survives as part of a new office tower, but this is what it looked like inside while it was still the original Tokyo Central Post Office.

1990 Shibuya Walkabout 渋谷散策散歩 彼方此方 901222
1990 渋谷駅から下北沢駅まで From Shibuya to Shimokitazawa 901222
1990 下北沢の彼方此方散歩 Shimokitazawa Walkabout 901222
Many elements of the Shimokitazawa area shown in this video are still there, but many details have changed, and that old shopping area has shrunk and now has the feeling of not being likely to continue very much longer.
Shimokitazawa / 下北沢
Shimokitazawa / 下北沢
Shimokitazawa / 下北沢
1990年の下北沢駅と駅辺り Shimokitazawa Station in 1990 901222
Many changes between this 1990 view and now - the Odakyu Line is now deep underground (and thus less convenient to access from the surface of the earth than the old surface station was) and so the above-ground station is under reconstruction (the elevated Inokashira Line tracks are still above ground).
1990 下北沢駅から新宿駅まで From Shimokitazawa to Shinjuku via Odakyu Line 901222
1990 Nishi-Shinjuku Illuminated Trees Etc 西新宿木ライトアップ 901222

新宿駅南口クリスマスイブ Shinjuku Station South Exit 131224

Line for Chicken on Christmas Eve 131224

I was later told that this line was not for regular fried chicken, but rather for... roast chicken I suppose... and it was something you had to pre-order.

四ッ谷駅ホーム夜遅くの様子 Late Night Yotsuya Platform 131224
Looking around on one of the JR platforms at Yotsuya Station while waiting for an outbound train to arrive.
Suburbia Side Street via Bicycle 自転車での夕方道 131226n

Twilight Footbridge and Trains 夕焼けの橋と電車 131226
While cycling out in the burbs in the last light of the day, I noticed this rusting pedestrian bridge and thought it looked interesting, so I got off my bike and walked around on the bridge a little - watching a couple of trains that passed under it while I was over the rails.

自転車での夕方道 Sunset Bicycle Ride in Suburbia 131226

Asphalt Road と Noise と Exhaust ブラックロードと車は嫌いです 131226

From the perspective of sitting in a car with the heat on (or air-conditioning in the summer) and good music playing on a decent sound system, a road like this can be downright romantic - the surface that conveys your magic machine at speed across the surface of the earth....

On the other hand, from the perspective of people living right next to this expanse of dead black asphalt or walking (or cycling) along it - it's a version of h**l.  Constant irritating noise, vibrations from the trucks, poisoned air, etc.  Basically a whole set of anti-life things that lead me to think - as a pedestrian breathing noxious air - that cars are the curse of humankind.

By way of contrast, look at this pedestrian street in Kichijoji and ask yourself which you would rather spend some time on while on foot:

Kokubunji to Kichijoji 国分寺駅から吉祥寺駅まで 右側と左側 131227

Kichijoji Transfer Chuo Line to Inokashira Line 吉祥寺駅乗換え 131227
Kichijoji is another station in the middle of a long-term reconstruction project, although the Inokashira Line part of the reconstruction appears to be completed and it looks much more modern than it used to.  (No doubt the JR part - when completed - will be yet another shopping mall with trains.)

京王井の頭線で吉祥寺駅から浜田山駅まで Kichijoji to Hamadayama 131227n
京王井の頭線で浜田山駅から永福町駅まで Hamadayama to Eifukucho 131227

京王井の頭線急行で永福町駅から渋谷駅まで Eifukucho to Shibuya 131227

Shibuya Station Inokashira to Yamanote Transfer 井の頭線山手線乗り換え 131227
Shibuya Station / 渋谷駅
工事中の渋谷駅2013年12月 Shibuya Station Under Construction 131227
With the Toyoko Line having been put deep underground, they are dismantling the old above-ground station and also one of the Tokyu Department store buildings.
夕方雨の渋谷 Evening Shibuya in the Rain 131227
Shibuya Street to Inokashira Train 渋谷道から井の頭線電車まで 131227

駒場東大前駅から下北沢駅まで Komabatodaimae to Shimokitazawa 131227n

Inokashira to Odakyu Transfer at Shimokitazawa 工事中の下北沢駅 131227
This is where I had intended to exit the Inokashira Line and walk around in Shimokitazawa, but instead just made the transfer to the deep subterranean Odakyu Line.
小田急線下北沢駅-東北沢駅 Odakyu Shimokitazawa to Higashikitazawa 131227

小田急線東北沢駅-新宿駅 Odakyu Higashikitazawa to Shinjuku 131227
Odakyu Line / 小田急線
Odakyu Line / 小田急線
Odakyu Shinjuku Lower and Upper Platforms 小田急新宿駅上下ホーム 131227

Apparently all of Odakyu's Shinjuku Station will (eventually) be put underground to make way for new development on the surface.

新宿駅小田急線から西新宿の方へ Walking Towards Nishi-Shinjuku 131227

新宿駅西口から中央線へ Boarding Chuo Line via Shinjuku West Entrance 131227

Asagaya to Nishi-Ogikubo via Chuo Line 阿佐ヶ谷駅-西荻窪駅 中央線 131227
Kichijoji Station Platform to Lower Concourse 夕焼けの吉祥寺駅 131227

Kichijoji Under Construction Bus Area 工事中吉祥寺バス乗り場 131227
Kichijoji Twilight Side Street 吉祥寺夕暮れ散策散歩 131227

Kichijoji Footpaths and Shopping Arcade 吉祥寺歩道と商店街 131227
Kichijoji Pedestrian Street Atmosphere 吉祥寺歩道 131227
To fully appreciate how wonderful this scene is (for human beings walking around on foot), compare it with this view of a black-asphalt road:

Kichijoji Backstreet Izakaya Area 吉祥寺横道居酒屋など 131227

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon