A quick intro from 2020. The following was written as I went about Tokyo for work reasons on a Wednesday in 1997. It was written partly directly into a laptop computer I carried with me everywhere, and partly by hand (pen on paper) while going about when it wasn't convenient to take the laptop out (while standing on a train, for example). And some of the handwritten parts were then typed up on my desktop computer at home. 1997 was a period just after I left my Nikon FM2 on the Yamanote Line and someone (apparently) made off with it. After getting used to the Nikon FM2, I didn't want to use a junk camera, but couldn't afford another FM2 at the time, so for a few years I went without a camera and recorded things with text. Rereading my text from my camera-less time now, I see that - ironically - often I was recording much more with text than I would have been with images. There's that saying "A picture is worth a thousand words", but - in a sense - for some things you might say "A page of well-written text is worth a thousand pictures". (The photo I'm using as an illustration for going about in Tokyo was taken on May 9th, 2000, when I had resumed recording Tokyo with images.) LHS - 2020/08/08
Uehara 97/11/12 15:05
I’m in Uehara now, sitting in the outside section of a coffee shop in front of Yoyogi-Uehara Station. This is one of the “classier” areas of Tokyo, with fashionable people and foreign cars. It’s cool today (the weather that is), but not downright cold, so it feels pretty good sitting outside. The coffee comes... with the handle facing 90 degrees to my left... I watched an educational video last year (in Japanese, intended for a Japanese audience) in which an old man explained about various Japanese customs (people here have to learn them too, and not just by osmosis). He explained the reason for turning the cup in the Japanese tea ceremony. When there’s a beautiful picture on one side of the cup, you pick up the cup, admire the beautiful picture, and then carefully turn the cup so that you don’t put your mouth on the picture. After taking a sip, you turn it again so you can see the art as the cup sits in front of you. The old man went on to say that in the Meiji Era, when three was the sudden influx of Western things, even though there was (is) no particular reason to turn the cup anymore (since the design is uniform all the way around), from force of habit, people continued to do so. He suggested that it’s perfectly acceptable to serve Western tea with the handle facing to the right.
After watching that video, I tried asking people about whether the handle should face to the right or the left, and got all kinds of answers. The largest number of people said it should face to the left, followed by people who said to the right, and finally people who admitted that they had no idea. “Ah... this is why the video was made!” thought I....
Since then, I’ve noticed that I seem to get the cup facing right or left, and more commonly facing left at expensive places like the one I’m at now (Y500 for one cup). Occasionally the handle is facing some odd angle, but that’s rude.
As I sit here drinking my coffee, sitting behind potted plants, breathing cigarette smoke from the two smokers sitting in close proximity, looking at the concrete mass of the elevated tracks and station in front of me, people coming and going from the entrance. I wonder at the ability to feel happy only because there are a few potted plants around me. Selective vision.... Not “What’s wrong with this picture?”, but “What’s right with this picture?”. Once you get to the point where you expect most things to be ugly, you can take great pleasure from beauty in the midst of a drab city street.
The couple next to me. Cell phones on the table, two packs of Marlboro Lights, an ashtray with, ah... let’s see... about nine cigarette butts, man wearing baseball cap with visor facing behind, woman in very short mini-skirt (distracting). I had to ask the woman to move her bag, which had been on the chair of the table next to theirs, where I am sitting now - no apology - and her “oshibori” (wet hand-towel) is still on my table.... I’m happy that the young generation is less stiffly formal, but it would be nice if civility would remain behind as old customs go their way.
The man, after calling out “Simasen” (Excuse me) towards the waitress for awhile, finally went inside to pay as the woman wondered off towards the station without even turning her head. I watched her walk off into the station - a slow, deliberate walk - no backwards glance. The man came out and, looking at me, said “Mendokusai”, which your Japanese-English dictionary would probably define as “troublesome; annoying; etc.”, but carries a broader definition than that.
There are several Japanese words that carry a broad and substantial meaning, enabling you to convey a multi-dimensional feeling to someone with a single word. What would you think in the situation above if the man came out and said (in English) just “Irritating!”? I might be tempted to say “What? The coffee shop? The woman? Some combination of the two?”, but in Japanese, he looked at me, said “Mendokusai”, and I knew without question that he meant the woman. I said (in Japanese) “Well, she’s beautiful, so I guess you just have to put up with it”, to which he said “No, she’s just... mendokusai!”, and headed off to the station himself, at a slightly faster than leisurely pace.
Hmm... if you have confidence in what you’re doing, it’s OK to wear it, and the language is structured in such a way that you generally have to talk either up, or down, but rarely can you talk straight across. (Well... you can talk almost straight across, but there’s usually at least a slight tilt built into the words.)
At the job site I was just at, I was telling someone not to attempt to draw exact parallels in Japanese word for word with English. Even between native speakers of a language, the words are only representatives of thoughts, so if you start with words as a base, you can only go wrong... you have to start at the source - before words - then you have at least a small chance of conveying what it is you’re thinking of.
Well then! It’s about time to head over to Akasaka..
(That was the idea, but as I left, I noticed a sign saying “Uehara Park”, so I asked the waitress if it was far, and she explained where it was, but had a certain look on her face, so I asked her what was there, if it was an interesting park, and she recommended going to a different park, which I did.)
The evening sky of pale blue and orangeish-pink through the baseball diamond chain link fence is quite beautiful. Again I find my seat next to a smoking couple (cigarette smoking that is). “I have to get going” the woman says, and they wander off together below the trees. Trees.... This area is very nice - large houses on hills with real yards - I imagine myself happily living in one....
Yoyogi-Uehara - not just an empty image - the place really is nice.
Well, bye! I’m going to soak up the twilight a little before getting on the subway.
Chiyoda Line 17:17
I walked through the park after that, the trees with colorful leaves, the sound of children happily playing in the twilight, memories of childhood autumns long ago... a Porsche 928 rumbles slowly, smoothly up a hill... I watch it until the glowing taillights disappear over the crest of the hill. With the aid of my Tokyo street map (68 fold-out pages), I find the correct direction to the station (after wandering the wrong way in the maze that the streets are). As the station nears, the Tokyo I know too well comes back to me. I flatten myself against a wall behind a concrete utility pole so a car can pass. I climb the stairs to the station, go through the gate using my magnetic ticket with Vincent van Gogh’s Almond Blossoms printed on one side (nice picture, beautiful colors...)..... I climb more stairs to the elevated platform and buy a pack of Clorets candy... the woman explains that it’s only 100 yen, and that you don’t have to pay the 5% tax at the Odakyu kiosks, but you do at the kiosks run by the subway system on the other platform.....
And in the time it took to write that, I have arrived at Kokkaigidomae (only six characters in Japanese) Station.
I’m now in a windowless, airless meeting room at a large American company in Central Tokyo, awaiting the people I came to meet....
Nihonbashi Station 23:50
I’m sitting here worrying a bit, wondering if I can make the connection to the last train.
Earlier in the day in Ginza, I was invited me into the office from the conference room, and I sat at a desk on the other side of an acquaintance who just got a new computer. I ran back and froth from my own computer (exploring how to use Netscape) to his computer (which he began using just today), showing him how to do different things with e-mail. We sent each other e-mail (all the way across the desks... amazing stuff, technology) while trying out our respective new e-mail systems.
Jumping back to Akasaka, I heard an amazing story from someone I had sent an e-mail to, best explained with the following letter (uncorrected):
Thank you for your email.
We had an email trouble caused by your today's email. In my case, the trouble was that I couldn't send and received any email, and the email system (MS-Mail) displayed Mail SPL Error message. I asked for what happened to my email-box to a system administrator who is responsible for our company's email system. The answer from her was your email was not acceptable with our system and also made other email to me delayed. As she deleted your email to solve this trouble I can send this letter to you. Could you tell us either machine and either address caused this error?
I am afraid I cannot come to the meeting today because I am not in good condition. I will hear your talking from Nantoka-san tomorrow.
Incredible huh!!? After hearing from three people that they lost their address books after loading the new MSN software, plus my problems of repeated system error induced computer shutdowns when Outlook Express is open, my sudden inability to send e-mail from my laptop computer, and now this. I think there’s a serious problem with MS’s newest e-mail software. (Using newly purchased Netscape Navigator, I’m able to send e-mail again from the laptop by the way.....)
Back to Ginza.
My acquaintance and I were successful with most of the stuff we were trying to do, but one strange thing happened that I’m hoping was just a simple “pushed the wrong button” mistake on my part. Two messages that I sent to him went through, but the message part was blank!! If this ever happens with mail from me, then please let me know. (I know, I know, if it happens with this letter, you won’t be able to read this.)
Well... as I sit on this late night Tozai Line train with 92.3% men, I sign off.
Inside the last train 12:30 a.m.
On the last train now. I'm standing in front of three, count ‘em, three people in a row (sitting), talking on their cell phones. One of them is wired for sound with headphones around her neck. This display of technology brings to mind my own self an hour ago, sitting in an office in Ginza, drinking Chivas Regal, and sending e-mail to the States, the UK, and across the desks within the office.
The guy right in front of me on the phone:
“It’s late, and... ‘hic’... I’m on the train..... I’ll call... ‘hic’... tomorrow...”
No joke! The guy really is hic-upping as he speaks! In my Chivas-induced glow, I don’t even try to kill my laughter.
Oops... I said before I was signing off, didn’t I? Oh well, this is hand written, but I’ll pound it into electrons later.
Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon
(2020) Formatting question here - Why is it considered necessary to have word processing programs auto-mutate carefully formatted text by dumping in extra hard returns here and there? Hard returns automatically inserted between lines of text with (intentionally) no spacing between lines (creating double spacing against the will of the author) and then triple hard returns between paragraphs (creating hideously huge spaces between paragraphs). The process seems clear - if you have a single hard return after a line, the software makes that two hard returns (so you get a space between lines you didn't want a space between) and if you have two hard returns after a block of text (to get one line of space between paragraphs) it adds two more hard returns so you get triple spacing. Why in God's name is this auto-mutating of text considered a good thing? Is there some way to turn off auto-mutate and control line spacing yourself?