Month: May 2004

Roppongi Hills

Tantalized by the view of Roppongi Hills the other day, Gwen and I resolved to go back and explore it a little. We got there bright and early, before most of the stores had opened. We didn’t cover the whole complex, but we did wander through much of the four-floor shopping mall (tenanted mostly by international luxury brands that you could find in any city where there’s wealth). The space had a random feeling, with nooks and crannies, catwalks and alcoves, breaking it up into weird little bits. A glass roof, also broken up into little bits, with an incredibly complex system of mechanized gondolas riding on tracks to carry window-washers across it. Among other things, Gwen’s office designs signage for places like this, and so we took an interest in the very elaborate bilingual infographics for the place, with information maps showing exploded isomorphic views of the four levels, wayfinding graphics embedded in the floors, etc.

A drum-shaped glass-covered tower lead up to an art museum and gift shop. We bypassed the museum and scoped out the gift shop, which sold an extensive line of relentlessly designy Roppongi Hills-branded items (one of which I actually wound up buying as a souvenir for a friend), a lot of art books, and various other designy accessories.

There’s a piazza that’s apparently used as a performance space next to the drum, and meticoulous garden and pond next to that; a mama duck with ducklings completed the picture. As beautiful as the garden is, it can’t help but have a very contrived feeling, snuggled in among all that obvious artifice. Japanese gardens have always been exercises in concealed artifice, though, so perhaps it’s not so objectionable.

Having had our fill of Roppongi Hills, we headed over to the 明治屋 grocery in Hiroooo, where we mostly ogled but wound up buying a couple of carrots to eat as a snack. Fat, perfectly conical carrots of a type never seen in the USA. We took these to the nearby 有栖川公園, a small oasis of green crisscrossed with little trails, clearings, benches, etc. A major hangout for ravens–sometimes you feel like you’re in a Hitchcock movie there. I don’t call ’em crows, even though everyone else does. “Crow” suggests a farcical trashpicking bird. These birds are bigger (they could make off with a poodle) and seem distinctly malevolent–and signs in the park warn to be on guard against them attacking.

After a nice stroll through this park, a sit-down and a snack, we decided to make our way over to Julia’s to say Hi. I knew exactly where her office was, and tried to take a shortcut to get there. Mistake. I was going down a street that went through Roppongi Hills: it had existed before, but apparently had been diverted, as it took us to a completely different neighborhood. When I found myself at a train station that I had never heard of, the intersection of two subway lines that hadn’t even existed when I lived in Tokyo, I felt very weirded out.

That wound up being an enjoyable enough diversion–we laughed at a store that sells nothing but canine apparel, and stopped in nifty bookshop. Made our way to Julia’s, visited for a bit, and headed on. That night we took Bryan and his wife out to dinner at one of Bryan’s favorite local joints, 笹吟, known for its extensive selection of sake and good food. I’ve never been much of a sake drinker, but the good stuff is, well, good. I sampled widely and enjoyed it.

Yoyogi Park

Somehow, we wound up back in Harajuku

We stopped at a Lawson Station and fortified ourselves with nigiri. Hung out and watched the world go by some more.

We started working our way back home, and paused to check out the コスプレー族. Quite a scene–probably about 40 kids in various anime/lolita/EGL/EGA (they all sort of run together) outfits, many of their own creation, and probably as many tourists taking pictures of them. They all seemed quite happy to be the center of attention and to pose for pictures. I noticed a couple of white kids among their ranks.

代々木公園. That’s the place to be in Tokyo on a Sunday, and that’s where we went next. The park is sort of like Barton Springs on a good weekend: a bunch of people hanging out, clustered in little groups, doing their own thing. Except it’s about 20 times as big, it’s free, and there’s no swimming. Despite a large, sternly worded sign at one entrance to the park forbidding any kind of musical performance whatsoever (probably dating back to the Battle of the World’s Worst Bands days), I saw a knot of bluegrass musicians (including a guy who had dragged his upright bass to the park), one of martial artists doing their thing, a couple guitarists sitting under a tree trading licks, and so on. I happened on not one but two separate groups of poi spinners (the second of which had a damn good DJ with a huge table set up). I said Hi to both groups and wanted to rush back to the apartment to grab my own poi and rejoin them. We wound up continuing to take a leisurely walk through the park, though, going past a large homeless encampment–one of several in the park. Gwen observed that some of the dwellings would pass for regular homes in Mexico, and indeed we saw one that seemed to be made of 1×2 sticks, carefully measured and nailed together square with a peaked roof, with blue plastic tarp stretched taut and neatly over the whole thing. We saw a guy sweeping clear the packed dirt in front of his tent. All the camps in the park were about as orderly as you can imagine a homeless camp being (this is Japan), and Bryan likened them to the Hoovervilles of the 30s, an apt comparison in a lot of ways.

We made our way back to the apartment, I grabbed my poi, and headed back to one group of twirlers, hanging out with them for a little bit, and then going back to the other group I had introduced myself, and hung out with them for a little while. Found out that one of them has a friend in common, Vance.

Hanging out in the park made me regret not having spent more time there when I lived there, it was so much fun. When I lived in Japan, I had a somewhat pessimistic view of the quality of life enjoyed by the average person in Tokyo; being in the park, surrounded by so many people doing their own thing, gave me a much more optimistic view.

For better or worse, I had to take my leave at about 6:00 PM and head back, because Bryan and I had a dinner with a prospective client that night. The dinner was at an interesting basement izakaya, with narrow twisty-windy corridors that led to a private room for us. Bryan had a friend in the company, who was present at the meeting but said almost nothing. Instead it was a marketing guy (who had attended Stanford and spoke very good English) and the CTO (who was certainly competent in English when discussing his subject). It was a bit odd that the whole thing went off in English–I’m not sure how that happened, but since everyone at the table (except Gwen) was to some extent J/E bilingual, I guess the choice of language becomes somewhat arbitrary. Although my own Japanese speaking ability is bad enough that it does nothing to promote my image as a capable translator, I still would have felt more comfortable somehow if things had been a little more in Japanese. We briefly discussed the nitty-gritty of the company’s key product, a computer technology that genuinely is interesting, and perhaps I was able to convince them that I know my stuff by asking intelligent questions and understanding their answers.

People-watching in Harajuku

Saturday is a people-watching day around 原宿 and 表参道, so that’s where we spent most of it. We started off at Spiral Gallery, which always has something interesting on display, but more than that, is just an interesting place to be. The building itself has always been the main attraction to me. The exhibition on display when we were there was clothing by a Turkish designer, which Gwen was very interested in. Then we went to the museum shop upstairs. Calling it a museum shop is kind of an understatement, since it is sort of a super-sleek lifestyle-supply boutique. Various skin-care potions, tableware bits and household accessories, stationery, etc. I bought some postcards that are too nice to send, and will be framed instead. Given sufficient funds, I think Gwen would have cleaned those guys out. Instead, she contented herself with some paper.

We stopped by the nearby Anderson bakery, bought various airy goodies, and perched ourselves on the rails along Omotesando to snack and watch the world go by. We then headed into La Foret, which is the department store of the young, alternative, and well-heeled. Many small boutiques, each catering to a specific look. Several EGL shops, one cyberwear shop called Fötus, many retro-70s shops, etc.

The people-watching was excellent. Gwen mostly remarked on the shoes that women were wearing: mostly painful-looking high heels, especially mules: many women had toes that looked like they were on the verge of being pinched off, were wobbling on the heels, or were generally having trouble walking. The platforms that were so plentiful a few years ago had become scarce, although we did see a few shops (one in La Foret, one on the outskirts of Shibuya) that still specialized in them. Gwen stopped in one on 竹下通り where she picked out a pair of platform sandals (when we asked for a business card, we were given something that had been run off on cheap paper stock on a cheap inkjet printer). Lots of other goofiness on that street, which is home to much trendsetting in Tokyo. We found a store up a flight of stairs, with the sign Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling Federation, housing various punk and goth accessories. We were most taken with a line of gruesome teddy bears that all had bloody fangs. We also stopped in the completely outrageous Takenoko, a shop tucked off to the side that goes on and on with rooms full of sparkly costumes. Some of these are the sort of thing that ビジャルー系 band members wear, others are sort of like fantasy stripper outfits, though perhaps a bit more discreet. (Pictures of the shop: 1, 2, 3). This place has been there as long as I can remember, but somehow I had never been inside. I was surprised to discover that, as elaborate as many of the costumes looked, they were pretty cheap. Despite that, neither Gwen nor I bought anything there, though Gwen was tempted by a sheer green top.

On towards evening, we moved on to Shibuya. Gwen had heard of Tokyu Hands before, and was interested in checking it out, so we did. It’s a department store specifically for hobbyists of all stripes; it also has housewares, some sporting goods, office supplies, etc. Gwen was intrigued by the sofa section, because all the couches were low enough that she could sit on them comfortably with her feet flat on the floor. She was also generally impressed by the assortment of stuff throughout the store, which is divided into something like 18 levels, each with a different focus.

Asakusa

Another epic day of schlepping. We started off in 浅草, home of the famous 浅草寺 and the perhaps more famous 仲店通り. The area is sprucing itself up just a smidge, and I was surprised to see a couple of rickshaw drivers (runners? what do you call these guys?) in traditional garb soliciting business from tourists. On Nakamise-dori, I bought the smallest 招き猫 imaginable for Jenny, as per her request. The crush surrounding the temple was, as always, pretty amazing. Many schoolgroups, tour groups, etc. This sort of thing becomes completely self-perpetuating: I think the real reason everybody goes there is because everybody goes there. This is the counterpoint to Yogi Berra’s old saying. We wound up getting a little off the beaten path, wandering down some of the dowdier 商店街 in the area, where Gwen picked up a pair of clogs for her niece. We made our way over to a supermarket, and picked up a few おにぎり. We plopped down near the temple to have our snack. I showed Gwen the ingenious way nigiri are packaged, so the nori doesn’t get soggy from contact with the rice, and the correct way to unwrap them. She was instantly hooked.

I checked a map, and saw we were walking distance from かっぱ橋, the commercial kitchen supply district, so we wandered over there. Gwen was keen on seeing the plastic food, but really, the overwhelming volume and selection of everything in Kappabashi is what makes the place fun. Where else can you find a store with ten different kinds of ramen strainers? We stopped in several knife stores, and eventually Gwen found a big carbon-steel chef’s knife to get as a gift for Heather, the friend who had made our wedding cake.

Next stop, 銀座. We went to 鳩居堂, the pricey but super-deluxe paper store. Again, quite a crush of people. Gwen spent a lot of time scoping out possible gifts to send home, and we wound up dropping a good chunk of change on exquisite paper products there. Examined the calligraphy supplies upstairs. Smelled the incense that pervades the store.

Then it was time to get along to 六本木, where another client, Julia (well, former client, as she hasn’t had any work for me in years, but she’s still a friend–but I digress), has her offices. This is very near the new Roppongi Hills development, of which I had read, but had not seen. We didn’t have time to explore it right then, but were sufficiently impressed by its sprawling bigness: the tower is, well, pretty darned tall, and the complex covers several city blocks.

We made our way to Julia’s, made introductions, hooked up with another friend of Julia’s, and made our way to Baggio, a little Italian place nearby where Julia’s a regular. Very tasty meal–a sort of Japanese take on Italian food.

Hakone, Day 2

Breakfast the next day came a little earlier than we were ready for, and was almost as lavish as dinner. Nine courses. Usually I’m not so keen on Japanese breakfasts, but I enjoyed this anyhow. After that, I went down to the rotenburo, and then (after the switch) Gwen did too. And then it was time to check out (they had some kind of crazy 10:00 AM check-out rule).

We toddled back to the train station and again put our packs in a coin locker. Since Hakone is a touristy town, we were tourists, and it seemed the touristy thing to do, we took the 早雲山ケーブルカー to its terminus, where Gwen wanted to transfer to the even more touristy ropeway. That turned out to be quite spendy–it would have been about ¥4600 for the two of us to take the round trip, and we were low on cash with no ATMs in sight. So I nixed that, and we climbed 早雲山 on foot instead. It was a very challenging trail: steep, muddy, and not very well cleared. And we weren’t exactly in our hiking boots and lederhosen. There was actually a network of trails up in the mountain, with one segment closed due to volcanic gas emissions (which looked like big campfires from down below). We hiked about an hour up to the first checkpoint, where we met some middle-aged women (who did have proper hiking boots and lederhosen) having coffee. We chatted briefly, considered our options, and decided that we were tired enough to head back. It was a little disappointing that nowhere along the trail did we get to a clearing: there must have been very dramatic views from up there. So we made our way down, meeting a Japanese guy who had lived in Houston for four years on the way, and took the funicular back to the rinky-dink switchback three-car train, back to the Odakyu line back to Tokyo.

One thing that really impresses me about Japan, apart from the extensiveness of its public-transportation network, is its integration. Tokyo is served by three different networks (JR東, 都営, and the former 営団, recently rechristened メトロ ). Along with at least a half-dozen private rail lines that feed the outlying areas. These all interconnect, and you can buy tickets that connect through multiple networks. This is no joke: one could buy one ticket that would take you on the ropeway, transfer to the funicular, transfer to the Hakone-tozan line, and transfer to the Odakyu line.

Once back, we hung out in 渋谷, the neighborhood that inspired Blade Runner. Gwen got sucked into Copo, a crowded little shop selling wacky hosiery. Japan is way out ahead of the curve in terms of hosiery configurations. Here in the USA, women are bogged down with the antiquated notion that either something covers your foot or it doesn’t. Not the young women of Japan: there, you can have a sock that covers just your toes, with a sling around the heel. Or covers the bottom of your foot, but not the top, except for a little wraparound to hold it on. Or covers the instep but not the toe or heel. Or is like a stirrup. Gwen wound up getting examples of several of these variations. We also looked around in Three Minute Happiness, a ¥100 shop full of fun stuff. I discovered that another one of my favorite restaurants, Negishi, had opened a branch in Shibuya, and although the beef-oriented menu didn’t have a lot to offer Gwen, she humored me and we ate there.

Hakone, Day 1

Gwen wanted to get outside of Tokyo a little, and one of the destinations she really had in mind was 箱根, a popular tourist area with lots of hot springs. Bright and early we headed out. Got on the 小田急線, taking the 急行 as far as 小田原, then changing to a 各停 to 湯本, then changing to the tiny three-car 箱根登山 train that took us to its terminus, å¼·ç¾…, by way of several switchbacks along its steep route (first time I’ve ever been on a train that made switchbacks).

At Gora, we stowed our packs in a coin locker at the station and walked our way back to the 彫刻の森. This was a lot of fun. A lot of the sculpture frankly left me cold, but plenty of it was wonderful. There was an extensive Picasso pavilion, but my reaction to most of the pieces in it was ‘this is the work of a man who knows he has the world by the balls.’ In other words, not his best work.

We hiked back up to Gora (not far) and started looking for lodgings. We had my preferred Japan guidebook, Gateway to Japan, which recommended a couple of lodgings. One, we couldn’t find. I was sure we were looking in the roughly right place, but it just wasn’t there. The second was 箱根太陽山荘, part of a government operated network of 国民宿舎. We found that place, and it looked quite nice, but there was some excavation going on and nobody seemed to be around. Eventually the little old lady who ran the place saw Gwen and me standing around looking confused; she came out and told us they were closed for just that day because of construction. I asked if she could recommend anything else in the area in our price range. She went inside and made some calls, and recommended a place called さつき園, not far away. She gave me a little map showing all the inns in the area, and we made our way there quickly enough. Satsuki-en was located up a very steep hill, and when we got there, the little old couple that ran the place seemed surprised to see us, surprised that we wanted to stay there, and surprised that I could manage Japanese. But we checked in, had some tea, and got oriented to the place’s somewhat Byzantine bathing schedules. I then trotted back to the station to retrieve our bags. On the way, I walked by a construction site–or what would be, if anything were actually being constructed there. An extensive building had been torn down, and the construction-information signboard indicated that construction was to begin in…1994. I checked the address, and it turned out to be the place we had been looking for. No wonder.

After getting settled in at the hotel, Gwen and I both went down to the baths. This place has a confusing system: they have two “regular” baths, one each for men and women. Which one is which depends on the time of day: they hang signs by each indicating who should enter (and not a simple ç”·/女 that someone with limited kanji ability could figure out–no, they use 殿方/婦人). They also have a much nicer 露天風呂, which is reserved for men during certain hours, women during other hours.

After bathing, it was about time for dinner. They brought up this lavish 12-course meal. We both ate at least a little of everything. Pickles, sukiyaki, tofu, roasted fish, sashimi, shumai, etc. I later talked with Bryan about this, and he had been puzzled by the outlandish ryokan spread when he first encountered it too. His wife had explained that the thinking behind it is that certainly you’ll like something in all of that (actually, we liked pretty much all of it). I suspect there’s also an intention to create a sense of excess and luxury.

Paper

Tokyo is very much a city of special-purpose neighborhoods. We decided to make this day the day of paper. Gwen’s got a bit of a paper fetish. I vaguely recalled that 日本橋 was the paper neighorhood, and so we hopped on the train and went there.

Well, strike one for my memory. I should have checked more carefully beforehand (now I’m not sure which neighborhood I was looking for, but I know I’d been there before). We did find a small shop that specialized in 書道 supplies; I asked one of the clerks if there were other shops in the neighborhood that sold paper, and she gave me directions that seemed clear enough, but didn’t lead me anywhere I recognized.

So we gave up on that and headed for 神保町, the book neighborhood. We spent hours exploring the mind-blowing used-bookstore mall, 神保町古書センター, eight stories of used booksellers, many specializing one one thing or another (children’s books, new-age books, ephemera, girlie books, etc).

We stopped 大屋書房 in an antique bookstore that I had somehow never visited and found some amazing books, including many that seemed to be basically clip-art books over a century old. Some of these were in color, and clearly beyond anything we could afford. But Gwen found one in black and white going for ¥8000 that sorely tempted her. She put it back and decided to think about it while we went to 三省堂, the huge bookstore for new books, just around the corner. She picked up a Japanese phrase book by that denizen of the Tokyo demimonde, Boye de Menthe. We left, went to a nearby Starbucks (hey, Starbucks is probably the only place in Japan that is no-smoking), and Gwen though some more on that antique book. We went back the store, and after some internal debate, she bought it. While she was at the register, I found a boxed volume in the shape of a brick. It was an ancient Japanese-English dictionary. Again, much too expensive to contemplate, and apparently even older than the first edition of the Green Goddess (which probably wasn’t even green back then). I marvelled briefly and carefully put it away.

Somehow from here we made our way to 人形町, where Gwen appropriately ate a 人形焼き, and from there, we somehow made it back to Nihonbashi, and ran across the very paper store that the woman at the calligraphy store was directing me to. 小津和紙. Quite a store. Gwen spent a lot of time marvelling at the 千代紙, and picked out quite a few samples to get as gifts for the folks back home.

As long as we were out and about and near a station that could get us there easily, I suggested we go to 秋葉原, the mecca for electronics. We hit some Mac specialty shops, and while I was tickled at the used-Mac market (especially for cubes, which have a notoriously dedicated following in Japan), I was kind of disappointed that we didn’t see more wacky peripherals such as I’ve seen mentioned on the various gadget-tracking blogs. There was very little for sale there that couldn’t be found at Fry’s, I figured. The rabbit’s-warren of specialty parts stalls right by the station is still there, and still a zoo. Each merchant has his own schtick. One guy sells potentiometers, the next guy sells knobs for potentiometers, and the guy across the alley sells miniature security cameras. There’s probably someone in there hawking NOS Soviet vacuum tubes. If an electronics geek wanted to build his own NORAD replica, this would be a good place to start.

At this point, we were seriously beat, and we headed towards Shibuya and home, taking the 山手線 from exactly halfway across the loop. I decided we deserved a treat, and so I steered us a little off our trajectory to one of my favorite places in Tokyo, Raj Mahal, an Indian restaurant overlooking the teardrop 交番. Raj Mahal always has Bollywood song-and-dance numbers going on two TVs, the decor is gaudy, and the food is good. On this visit, I had the impression they’d put up their prices somewhat, but I didn’t mind: we ate well and plentifully, and enjoyed just relaxing there.

A day of something resembling work

One of Bryan’s requirements (really, just about the only one) for us staying in his office was that we be out of the office during working hours. So we had to clear out by 9:00 AM every day, and this was the first day to do so. Gwen headed out with me

Another one of my clients, Aki of Digitized Information, has its offices very close to Bryan’s. I had been there before, but not in a long time, and I was unsure of the way there. But I had (I thought) the address, and should have been able to figure it out from that.

Well, no. As it turns out, I had his address slightly wrong. I navigated to where my mistaken address should have been–between the Brazilian and Bulgarian embassies–and discovered it wasn’t there. On a lark, I opened up the laptop I had borrowed from Drew, and discovered there were two open wifi nodes. I hit the diginfo web page, got the correct address, found a neighborhood map, and navigated to the office. I spent the rest of the day working on a job I had brought with me.

After stopping by the office and meeting the people there, Gwen made her way to 清水観音堂 in 上野. That evening, we all got together at a nearby 居酒屋 called 亘. For the 二次会, Aki dragged us to some microscopic カラオケ pub in 下北沢. This joint could maybe accommodate 12 people, and the six of us in our party were crammed into one corner. Aki, it turns out, is quite a good singer, at least with all the reverb and effects that the karaoke machines lay on. Gwen and I declined to sing, but were fascinated by the enormous selection of songs available (four pages of Beatles selections), the little wireless pad that song requests are punched into, and the porn-flick production values in the karaoke videos. We escaped around 11:30 and made our way home. Didn’t manage to get back to Shimokita (as it’s known to its friends) for the rest of the trip, which I kind of regret, as I enjoy that neighborhood.

IJET-15, Day 2

I somehow managed not to sit in on any of sessions during the first round on Sunday, chatting with fellow translators instead. 木村博子, the sole representative from Norway, gave me a small packet of sweet Norwegian smoked goat cheese. To think she schlepped all those little cheese packets all the way from Norway…As a traveller, I’m resolutely opposed to any check-in luggage, and fripperies like gift cheese would never make it anywhere near my packing list. Still, I appreciated the gift of the cheese, which was unusual and tasty.

I (along with a lot of my peers) was very keen on attending a discussion of the recently completed fifth edition of the Green Goddess, the J-E dictionary that is a standard reference for many translators. This included a retrospective look at the earlier editions, including the first edition, which apparently resembled a brick, with thousands of relatively small pages. This was evidently the first edition where a lot of Japanese-competent native English speakers were involved, and they helped cull out many of the goofier glosses that had apparently survived since very early editions (the spotting of which is a minor sport for translators).

Had lunch with a gaggle of JAT doers, Pai Hwong and Paul Flynn among them. Wound up sitting with Paul and discussing the JAT website–he wants to do there some of the same things that I want to do with the Honyaku website.

After lunch, I sat in briefly on another talk about TM, specifically Trados and Wordfast, but since neither really works on the Mac, it was of limited practical use to me. One of these days, I can imagine TM really being useful to me.

Also of little immediate use–but pretty darned interesting anyhow–was the last session I attended on Japanese regional dialects. The presenter really seemed to know his stuff, pointing out that certain phonetic changes are common features in Japanese, but appear in different situations in different dialects. The talk was mostly oriented towards interpreters who might need to cope with unexpected regionalisms from time to time, but would be interesting to anyone curious about the language.

After the last session, things just kind of ended unceremoniously with everyone drifting away. Not that I’m big on ceremony, but it would have been nice if there were a more organized way to say goodbye to everyone. I’m sure there must have been some kind of 二次会, but I wasn’t in the right place at the right time to get in on it.

Gwen stayed in Tokyo for the day, exploring the neighborhood. I headed back that way and we had a low-key evening. I discovered that someone in Bryan’s building had an intermittently available open wifi node, and so I was able to get my e-mail. I also was able to check on something that someone had mentioned to me the day before: that my site was down. Sheesh. This wound up being an ongoing irritatation for the next two weeks, not to mention a bit of an embarrassment: I have a bit of a reputation (deserved or otherwise) as being technically competent with this whole Intarweb thing. Being at a conference with colleagues, handing out business cards with my URL, having my Honyaku page being chatted about, and having my website go offline right then really made me wince.

IJET-15, Day 1

Saturday and Sunday were the days of the conference. It was starting at 9:00 AM, so we had to be out the door and heading towards the 東横線 by about 8:00. Not that this was hard to manage: aside from our circadian rhythms being almost perfectly out of phase with the local time, Tokyo is in the wrong time zone: the sun was up at 4:30 AM, and Bryan’s office gets plenty of light. So we were awake pretty early.

Once at the station, I vaguely recalled that 桜木町 was the stop for the Pacifico, but to my consternation, the Toyoko-sen didn’t stop there anymore–instead it had a stop at みなとみらい. Which also sounded like the right area, based on my memory, but not what I expected. Off we went. Turns out that the Toyoko-sen’s route had in fact been diverted recently, and my guess was correct. As Tom explained over lunch (at a wacky little Chinese place), 東急 had built backwards from the new station, which is underground, up to the point where the new segment would intersect the old, and in one night after the trains stopped running, ripped up the section of old rail over the juncture, relaid it to connect to the new segment, made a couple of test runs, and continued with service as usual the next morning. Quite an audacious feat of engineering–something that was a recurring observation through this trip.

Gwen was not in on the conference, but would be attending the schmoozefest that night, so she came in to Yokohama with me and lit out on her own. She managed to find her way around well enough.

Sessions attended that day: the opening plenary “state of the industry” session, and on a new publishing venture launched by some of my fellow translators. I checked in on one about translation memory, but wound up leaving that to catch up with friends. Richard Sadowsky observed that when we had first gotten to know each other at a much earlier IJET–perhaps IJET-3 in 富士吉田(?), he had commented that he and I seemed to be the youngest translators there, but that was no longer true. He’s right: Richard has aged quite a bit since then.

Gwen made her way back to the conference site, and everyone shuffled downstairs to the dinner, a really lavish buffet with free beer and wine. Gwen and I were still kind of looped from jet lag, and made a relatively early departure.

Harajuku-Shinjuku meandering

Friday the weather had mercifully cleared (in fact, we didn’t really get rained on at all for the rest of the trip), and we relocated to Bryan’s office, which would be our base of operations for the rest of the trip.

There were some last-minute details about the conference that I had been meaning to check online–I wanted to refresh my memory of which train station to exit, for example. Though I had set up an account with a local ISP, GOL, I was unable to log on for some reason. Very infuriating.

I took Gwen to Harajuku. It’s my favorite part of town. We wandered around aimlessly. I was a bit disoriented by the changes in the neighborhood: where there had once been a couple of sidewalk cafes on 表参道 there were now gleaming retail showrooms. And the Aoyama Apartments, the first Western-style apartment building in Tokyo, were demolished. This wasn’t a surprise–the death knell had sounded on them a long time ago, but it was still a shame that a bit of Tokyo history was gone. For the most part, the backstreets (though they had no doubt seen many small businesses come and go) looked about the same. We walked past Jenny’s old apartment, and it still stood, though there was a little novelty shop wedged in front of it now. Nearby was an excellent stationery store that I remembered, with an incredible selection of postcards and desk-stuff on the ground floor, and a lot of art books downstairs.

We kind of wandered via a route that I’d never be able to reproduce through 千駄ヶ谷 up to 新宿. We wandered around there some more, taking in both the busy-but-civilized part and the sleazy 歌舞伎町 Quite a lot of walking that day.

Japan trip: depature

I hadn’t been to Japan since 2000; Gwen had never been. But this year’s IJET conference was going to be in Yokohama, it was coming shortly after our marriage, so the trip would serve as a honeymoon, and, well, Lost in Translation just made me really nostalgic for Tokyo. And although the trip would be expensive, I really felt that I needed to try to drum up some business in Japan, since that’s where most of the J-E translation demand is. So we decided quite some time ago that we’d go. Gwen negotiated a lengthy vacation from her job. We got tickets at a pretty good rate through JTB (though flying on AA instead of JAL–a bit of a letdown).

We left on Wednesday the 19th and arrived in the evening of the 20th after an uneventful flight. A typhoon was in the area, and Tokyo was getting heavy rain. After a bit of misdirection, getting very wet in the process, we made our way to the 多摩旅館, an inn in 高田馬場 run by a fellow translator who I vaguely knew from my days in Japan; although we would be crashing at a friend’s place for most of the trip, we needed a place where we could sleep in to get over the initial shock of jet lag. That was pleasant, and there was an Indian restaurant I had never tried, Malabar, just a few doors away. It has been my ongoing project to eat at all the Indian restaurants in Tokyo, so after we checked in and got settled a bit, we had dinner there and ate quite well. I learned that Takadanobaba has become a haven for Burmese refugees, and there are a lot of hole-in-the-wall Burmese restaurants there where the menus are available only in Burmese–no Japanese, no English.

How I use Movable Type

Since Mena asked so nicely, here’s my setup.

My MT database has seven blogs in it:

  1. This blog–this and the next two would probably count as a single blog under Six Apart’s current licensing;
  2. My “hit and run” blog;
  3. My “longer articles” blog;
  4. Instructions for making firedancing equipment. This isn’t very bloggy, but it was more convenient to do this in MT than all by hand;
  5. The Honyaku Home Page. This has five authors (though only two others, aside from me, are really active). Also not very bloggy, but MT is a good enough CMS for the purpose;
  6. Jenny’s personal blog;
  7. A test blog.

I’ve thrown up a few other demo blogs here and there under this install, but those have all been temporary.

The paperless office

pile of work manuscriptsI’m doing a little housecleaning and found this stack of old jobs shoved into an inaccessible shelf in a closet. These are all Japanese source documents, mostly faxes on flimsy thermal paper, with text now faded to pale gray. The stack is 24″ tall.

I didn’t make a careful survey, but it’s likely that very few of these papers are any newer than 1992; that’s the year I got a fax-modem. Since then, I’ve had a digital copy of almost every job that’s come to me. The paper copy (I always print out my jobs, regardless) is a temporary convenience–it’s not what I think of as the archival version. I kept around these old papers out of some completeness fetish, but really, the odds that I’ll ever want to refer to any of these (or that I could find what I wanted) are vanishingly slim. So away they go.

In the book In the Age of the Smart Machine, Shoshana Zuboff observed that when the back-office operations at an insurance company were first computerized, the operators still preferred to consult paper files: they considered the online information to be ephemeral and suspect, and felt that the information’s “real” form was on paper. Not me.

Interestingly, I’ve acquired a new client that has a completely paper-based workflow. But so far, I’ve been able to scare of PDFs of most of the documents they send me anyhow.

Another pocket of slack stamped out

The end of free has come to Movable Type. If you want to upgrade and be honest, it’ll cost you. A lot. I am disappointed.

I am an enthusiastic user of MT2. It’s a good program. I’ve encouraged other people to use it, and via the MT support forum, tried to help the community a little. But based on my own current usage, I’d owe Six Apart $150 if I upgraded to MT3: their license is based on the number of authors and blogs you host, rather than a more direct metric, like the number of support requests you make. And my usage is entirely for vanity and community projects: it’s not like I make a dime off any of this. That’s a lot of money to spend on free expression.

Even that might not be too bad if I perceived much value in this upgrade. I don’t. As useful as MT2 is, it’s getting long in the tooth, and there are features that users have been clamoring for for years, few if any of which appear in the new version apart from comment management.

For the time being, I’ll sit pat. MT2 works, and it isn’t going to stop working. But there are features I was expecting in MT3 that aren’t there, and (as I understand it) will not be there unless developed by third parties. Switching to a different system–even an open-source one–would be expensive for me in terms of time: I’ve got a lot invested in tweaking MT and learning its ins and outs, and getting to a similar level of proficiency with a different system would take a long time. So in that sense, it would be reasonable for me to pay $150 to upgrade (if I had a reason to), but only because they have me over a barrel.

Later: After the barrage from the blogosphere, Six Apart has backed off a bit–giving you more for your money and allowing a more expansive definition of a “blog.” I congratulate them for being responsive. With a little creative counting, I could probably sneak in on the $100 license now. Still not exactly cheap.

Lowered standards

I’m accustomed to getting various paypal scam-spams that direct me to a paypal-like page in the hopes that I will naïvely give them my login info. I just got another. This one is noteworthy for the URL:
http://v093707.dd2336.kasserver.com/zero/scampage/
Come on, guys, if you’re going to run a scam, don’t call attention to it right in the URL! There used to be a time when grifters took pride in their work and put some craftsmanship into it. I’m very disappointed.

Kill Bill: Vol. 2

Yet another in my orgy of movie postings, I saw Kill Bill 2 last night. Very good. A somewhat different feel from Vol. 1: less campy, less bloody (though still, pretty damn bloody), more intense. Excellent cinematography. QT is the ultimate cult-film aficionado who was granted three wishes by a genie, and he has made the most of those wishes. He even appears to be using different kids of film stock to evoke different moods (or digital post-processing to create the same effects): black and white segments, which are memorable for the brilliantly lit tight shots of Uma Thurman and David Carradine showing the geological surface of his face and the subtler imperfections on hers; muddy-colored segments located in Barstow CA, that made me wonder whether he had unearthed some 1970s-era film stock, and super-grainy blown-out footage from Pai Mei’s temple, evoking cheap Hong Kong action flicks.

Some movies leave you with the sense that some establishing scenes, which would have helped make sense of the plot, were left on the cutting-room floor. Not with QT. This movie is all about how we got to where we are. So before The Bride can punch her way out of a coffin, we break to a flashback, a story that would stand on its own, to explain how she came to be able to do this. And this is tightly linked to another flashback story that answers another niggling question.

It was interesting to be made aware, with those pitiless close shots, of the tiny wrinkles now appearing on Uma Thurman’s face. Even teenage celebrities are getting obligatory plastic surgery these days, and some women a generation older than Thurman can no longer frown from all the botox paralyzing their faces. And it was interesting to consider that this increasingly inhuman standard of beauty must be influencing the way movies are made: a lot of actresses probably would refuse to put their features under the audience’s loupe, or would insist that the laugh lines be photoshopped away. Some actresses probably couldn’t be cast for a role like this at all, because they are physically incapable of the facial gestures required. It seems ridiculous to say that Thurman deserves respect for putting herself on display in this way, but the way things are headed, perhaps she does.

The Seagull’s Laugh

Saw The Seagull’s Laugh a little while ago. Noteworthy if for no other reason than being the first Icelandic movie I’ve ever seen, it’s interesting as a weird little slice into life in a postwar Icelandic village, and the study of a mythologically witchlike character (appropriately named Freyja) and her machinations. In fact, I suspect there are a lot of mythological references that I’m just not catching (there’s something about Freyja’s red hair pinned to the wall that seems especially freighted with symbolism).

Robot Stories

Robot Stories was a special AFS showing at the Arbor, and I’m glad I caught it. A tetralogy of related shorts that dealt with serious science-fiction questions, questions of the edges of what is humanity. These are rarely addressed in SF movies–in AI the last time I saw, though perhaps less successfully because of the Spielbergian cruft.

The second of the four in this film was out of place and the weakest of the lot; the others looked at how we relate to machines, and at what point machines become people. Or people become machines. And a host of related questions, many of which have been taken up many times in SF literature, but which a good movie shows in a new perspective. If your consciousness is downloaded to a computer shortly before you die–and continues to be aware, present, and involved in the world–are you dead? And if you had a spouse, are the two of you still married? And if you are, is that a good thing? This movie evoked these questions in me, in some cases with a single silent shot.

Of Freaks and Men

Gwen picked out Of Freaks and Men to rent the other day. I usually don’t blog renters, but this is worth a mention.

It’s a strange movie, occupying a quiet space somewhere between David Lynch and Jim Jarmusch–there was a lot about this movie that reminded me of Dead Man: the lush black-and-white cinematography, the understated violence, the lumbering pace, and Putilov’s suit. Except this is Russian. A lot of class-struggle satire that would probably be more acutely relevant to someone who had lived through communism.