Not much has been going on over the past few days, but I figured I might as well say hello. How's tricks? Okay, so that's not how I say hi, but one of the Nakano students was taught by an Aussie that the above phrase is a good way to great somebody. Now she won't stop using it for greetings, and, well... uh... It's lame, to put it mildly. No offense to any Aussies who read this, but jeez. "How's tricks?" At least "Wassup, sluts?" is alliterative. I'm about 10 episodes into "Smallville." I'm not much of a TV fan, and even less of a teen (melo)drama afficionado, but I'm a sucker for a good reinterpretation of pop culture. I've been downloading the show, which is about Superman when he was a teenager, with his powers coming along with his acne and other teen hormones. There aren't any costumes in the show, but whoever's in charge of wardrobe always dresses Tom Welling, the actor playing Clark Kent, in blue or red shirts. It's a nice touch. A recent episode featuring Christopher Reeve was also very well-done. Maybe the boob tube isn't as lame as I thought. Seasonally there's sort of a funky dead period going on. It's officially the start of spring and hanami season has also begun, but there aren't gazillions of sakura yet. People are moving out of the gaijin ghetto, which means there'll be some new faces meandering around the abode. People entering my life and people leaving. I'm doing some more site tweaking which won't go public for a while. It seems like everything in the world, from the mundane and personal to international affairs, is going through a giant spring cleaning phase. I think I need a bigger bucket.
I've been using my ADSL connection to the world, uh, Internet, to download movies. It's free, and I have nearly unlimited selection. "The Pianist" came in through the pipeline last night. In the first five minutes, I wondered if I could make it all the way through before having to write something down. I feared it had loosened the plug on my feelings about the current political situation engulfing the world, unleashed a barrage of useless feelings, at the expense of a good movie. I hate not watching a movie all the way through. So here I am, 26 minutes and 57 seconds into a really good movie, blathering futilely about war and its political consequences. Even though I would be out protesting the war if I was in the U.S. or if I had time off during work during the anti-war protests here, it's a fairly safe bet that although few people like war, let's face it: some wars are necessary. To let the Hitlers and Milosevichs and Hirohitos and Husseins of the world go unchecked, when there is a worldwide organization promoting dipomacy, is a failure of that diplomacy. It is the fatal flaw of the United Nations: too many crazies are allowed to implement their lunacy on others. Bluntly put, Hussein's got to go. I commemorated what could potentially be the beginning of World War III, the next Viet Nam or not much at all with food. The best way to celebrate any tragedy is with food, so last Friday I visited a Pakistani all-you-can-eat lunch buffet in Nakano; Sunday found me at an all-you-can-eat Israeli dinner of wine, falafel, hummus, lamb and other Middle Eastern delights. But Hussein's not the issue here. The issue here, the biggest of several bones I have to pick with how this war is going, is the bizarre curtailment of free speech in America. Veterans go on public record saying that to protest against the war is un-American. Cities across the U.S. arrest non-violent war protesters. A major American news outlet declines to broadcast an important speech from an enemy leader because of a recommendation by the government occupying the White House. If this war is so just, and I believe it is - although not for the terror-based reasons that Bush the Younger would have us believe - then why are freedoms being curtailed? Why are people afraid to speak their mind? Why has it become nearly a crime to tell Bush, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft and co. to take a long walk off a short pier? What the holy heck does all this have to do with "The Pianist"? The movie begins with a montage of short scenes illustrating the curtailing of freedoms in German-controlled Poland - and they are frighteningly similar official and self-imposed restrictions now promoted in the good ol' U.S. of A. Stand up for your rights, people. Defend the ones you love, defend what's morally and ethically right, but don't let that blind you to the lies and lines being fed to us.
San Francisco and Northern California in general are beautiful places. Adjective-defying views of the ocean, of mountains, of the oceans and mountains practically sitting in each other's laps, of a veritable orgy of Nature when you toss in the redwoods - it's enough to make any nature-lover blush. Or at least pull out a camera. Yet as stunning and overwhelming as they are, there aren't many cherry blossoms in San Francisco. Blossoms here in Japan are a yen a dozen when the season is right, but for the moment, sitting on the precipice of the annual sakura, cherry blossom, explosion, I find myself able to enjoy my first cherry blossom experience without having to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of eastern Japan. It's easy to see why the Japanese go ga-ga for the little white flowers. Without exaggeration, they are beautiful. Perhaps their luster would be diminished if Tokyo wasn't so often perceived as being devoid of natural pigmentation, perhaps not. Or maybe if the summer wasn't so intensely humid, as I've been told, then the hanami, cherry blossom viewing, season would be less important as a time when you can actually enjoy being outside. Regardless, the suckers are nice to look at. Part of the problem with living in an area that has seasons is that winter is usually dark, dreary, boring and cold, unless you've got 15 feet of snow, in which case it's white and cold. The sakura and their pinker, seasonally earlier cousins, the plum blossoms, really are good markers of the end of winter. (This is your cue to check out the plum blossom additions to the Hiroo gallery.) It's kind of like the difference between a kimono and a Brazilian bikini: sure, the kimono is beautiful, and no, the Brazilian bikini just isn't subtle or elegant no matter how you want to look at it, but after months of kimonos, bikinis are quite a change for the better.
Sometimes I have too much going on, and I just need to back off from one of many projects that often go nowhere. Much to my surprise, this blog seems to have real people really reading it, so I've tried to be diligent in keeping it updated, but last week I just needed to take a break. Last Thursday, mere hours before my brother was fated to fly back to S.F. and the world witnessed what could be the beginning of World War III, he and I hit the Tsukiji Fish Market. It struck me as the busiest place in Tokyo, outside of Shinjuku Station during rush hour. Several large warehouses on the water were crammed with all manners of sea beast - living, dead and in-between. The aisles were narrow, barely wide enough for one person to walk down, and there was a constant flow of foot traffic and these bizarre, small engine flatbed trucks for zipping around quickly. The sushi, of course, was phenomenal. Not quite as good as Hokkaido, but what is? There were so many small sushi shops, it really didn't matter which we popped into - the fish would be freshly caught and relatively cheap for what we got. Let's face it, though. A fish market can only go so far, and then you say to yourself, Geez. Another fish. And look! It's aorta is showing! So Tsukiji also has a produce market and a well-constructed vortex of tourist trinkets. But the Tsukiji area was interesting also for Tsukiji Hongan-ji, a Buddhist temple with strong Indian architectural influences, and Hama Rikyu Onshi-Teien, a large swatch of green sandwiched between the skyscrapers of Shimbashi and the fish market. Part of the beauty of the park relies on its groves of plum and cherry trees, but the stunning contrast between the nearby towers and the towering greenery is really what makes it great. In the middle of Tokyo, for the paltry sum of 300 yen, you can escape from the noise and the crowds. To be able to sit down and read a book in peace and quiet in the middle of Tokyo is a treasure not to be underestimated. For more on the Tsukiji area, here's a recent article from the Japan Times.
I just came back from Japan's northernmost island. I'll be posting about my experiences there, but it'll be done in bits and chunks. Look below this post for changes and whatnot.
I awoke early on Friday to a faint whistling. Startled, I jumped out of bed and checked the windows and doors for drafts. Nothing. The breeze still sang through some unknown part of the hotel room. Then I realized: it was the haunting, chilled cry of an empty wallet. I woke Aaron, but there was nothing we could do. Banks in Japan don't open until 8:30 or 9, and the ATMs follow their host branches like lost puppies. In Tokyo, most convenience stores have an ATM, but Sapporo is not Tokyo. Convenies here have copy machines, not ATMs, useful only if you want to make a bad photocopy of your 10,000 yen note. Not to worry, I thought. The ski resort will have a cash machine. As it turned out, the ski resort would not have a cash machine. Credit cards saved the day, but what an unpleasant way to start the morning. Kiroro sits above the town of Otaru, with pleasant views of Ishikari Bay when the clouds clear out. As a ski mountain, it's a big resort but less challenging than Rusutsu. In fact, sometimes it was downright boring. No wildlife darted out onto the slopes, no White Day inanity. I think I did every run they had at least twice. But sometimes, instead of constantly searching for the next challenge, it's good to just sit back and enjoy a day of skiing for what it is. There's not much point to a vacation if you can't relax while experiencing it. Otherwise, it's just a trip, and not a vacation. The trip to Hokkaido was, without a scintilla of doubt, a relaxing vacation. From the Sapporo food to the calming thrill of being back in nature for the first time since my September trip to Yosemite, escaping to Hokkaido could easily become a recurring theme of my adventures in Japan.