Feb. 10th, 2015 10:47 am
I have a lot of anxiety dreams where I’m in Japan and have forgotten how to say basic stuff in Japanese. Last night I dreamed I was in Shinjuku and very upset with myself because I couldn’t remember 1) “shitsurei shimasu,” which means “excuse me,” and 2) “taiyaki,” which means “a fried pastry shaped like a fish and usually filled with sweet bean paste or cream.”

Also the plot of Battlefield Terra was going on, but I was more upset that I couldn’t remember about fish pastries.

Edit: You need to understand that Battlefield Terra happening in Shinjuku is an extremely funny thing to contemplate. Really, putting any emotionally-intense disaster narrative in Shinjuku is fucking hilarious. It’s too bad anime doesn’t take advantage of the absurdity of this situation the way it should.


*nearby, a man in a scarf awkwardly ignores this while evincing an intense and joyless preoccupation with some pastel macarons*

*also nearby: a wall made entirely of white plush pomeranian toys for some goddamn reason, it’s terrifying*
Uniqlo jeans sold for $30 in Japan four years ago: They are just starting to get a hole in them.

Uniqlo jeans sold for $80 in New York a year ago (though I got them cheaper): They are also just starting to get a hole in them, because they're made of noticeably coarser denim.

(They're also fading out in places, but that's a less cynical design decision, given that Americans like our jeans to have shitty dye. Fading in weird places on jeans feeds our rapacious hunger for mass-produced authenticity, as a result of some stew of cultural symbolism left on the burner so long that its original ingredients are now unidentifiable.

Though bleaching in weird places on t-shirts doesn't work, because it indicates a person who has actually cleaned a thing. No one wants to look like a person who has actually cleaned a thing.)

And these daifuku I got in Lexington taste like marshmallows. Way too sweet.

Dec. 5th, 2012 11:53 am
I woke up this morning several times. Upon none of these awakenings did it seem appropriate to get up and get ready for work - my head felt heavy and weird - so I didn't.

At eleven-thirty I woke up for the final time, working through an unclear memory. I was at the Manga Museum in Kyoto in April, and a woman was there with her two resentful and bored small children; they'd come with her husband, who was somewhere else in the building. Her daughter asked her grouchily if there was anything here but comic books under glass, and she said, clearly at the end of her rope, that she didn't know. I interceded and told her that there was a room with art donated for tsunami relief and another with clothes based on manga; she dragged them off towards the first with relief.

I can't remember what language I was talking to this woman in, or whether it really happened. It seems real, none of this seems unreasonable, and both of the exhibits I described are real - but I don't remember ever remembering it before. If it happened, I forgot about it almost immediately, and the recollection has existed in isolation in some sequestered part of my brain, never before jostled into activity due to proximity of any other active thought. Or maybe I just dreamed it this morning, and it's worked its way permanently into my memory of the trip.
It seems like someone on the internet might find this useful - I log my spending compulsively, which means I know exactly what I spent on the Japan trip. (Except for the Ramen Alley incident.)

The total is $3,049.60. )
I was planning on actually posting some stuff about the trip, but I've apparently descended to a level of mental function at which I cannot even correctly pet the cat. She got offended and left. So, I'm posting this email I sent to my parents\siblings while I was there.


I just got to Kyoto, but am feeling kind of gross and might take a nap instead of going out. Though the guest house staff gave me some extremely detailed hand-drawn maps of the area, and apparently there is "really good soy pudding" down the street. I assume that this is a restaurant and not merely sort of a mound of pudding that formed naturally.

In Tokyo I went to Tokyo Tower (which is silly), a temple called Zozoji (which was very nice but full of two busloads of tourists because it's right next to Tokyo Tower), Harajuku, Shibuya, Ikebukuro (shopping districts aimed at hipsters, sociopathic fashionistas, and otaku, respectively; I only ended up buying anything at Harajuku, where I got a cheap coat because it's cold), Jimbocho (shopping district devoted specifically to used books; couldn't find any of the ones I was looking for), Jiyugaoka (shopping district specifically devoted to cake; I had ice cream instead), and Rikugien (my favorite landscape garden).

I went to Jiyugaoka with Mo's youngest cousin Rei; she just came back from studying abroad in Australia and wanted to practice English, and is interested in Judaism. I was unable to help her with the latter part, except that when we had lox-and-avocado pancakes for dinner (this was good), I was able to explain to her that the lox was a pretty Jewish thing to eat. We also went to a cat cafe, where the movie Kiki's Delivery Service was apparently on permanent loop, and everything was decorated with pictures of Kiki's cat or Totoro.

At the station, we ran into a girl handing out fliers for a "rabbit cafe" (place where you can hang out with rabbits for an hourly fee) called "Rabbit And Grow Fat." The girl had an extremely-well-behaved bunny in a baby carriage with her. The place's logo is a picture of a bunny having a bowel movement.

Rei informed me that bunny cafes are pretty trendy right now. It looks like this place is actually a chain; the original branch is perhaps unsurprisingly in Harajuku.

- Sarah

Second email a few minutes later:

I found an article about that bunny cafe. I'm 75% sure that the girl on the right in that photo is the one we met at the station.
* Hung out for a while with a couple of Malaysian women who were staying in the guest house until today. They were here for work, but worked in some intensive tourism. One is a very aggressive HR administrator who is constantly designing employee training sessions and sensitivity presentations in her head - I know because they often spill over into what she says out loud. The other is her younger and quieter assistant, who is very into anime involving youkai, J-dramas, and Johnny and Associates-managed idol groups. She showed me an episode of a drama called Detective Academy Q.

Me: Why is the bad guy calling himself King Hades if his power is that he hypnotizes people? I mean, you should probably never call yourself King Hades in any circumstances, but...

Her: Yes, it's a pretty stupid name. Oh, and this thing about the dry ice, too... I don't think that it would really work like that. If you really dumped dry ice on a tray full of wine glasses, they would just break.

Ultra-Manager videotaped part of this conversation for her report when they get back; she convinced the department to send them over so they could learn about Japanese culture and be better prepared for incoming Japanese employees. Presumably she'll use her video to demonstrate that their experience will also be useful in dealing with American employees who are nerds?

She showed me one she'd taken of herself trying to communicate with a station employee who didn't know any English, in which her persistence in cheerfully asking him questions he doesn't understand reduces him to helpless giggling. I asked her what dramatic purpose this would serve in her presentation, and she said it would be funny.

* Left for Toji market at 5:00 AM, discovered en route that I had a horrific cold. My eyes were watering and nose was running continuously all morning. I'm not completely sure what's in those shopping bags, it's kind of blurry.

* Came back to guest house around 11:00 to drop off purchases and try to take a nap. The manager was repairing the door across the hall with a power drill. So I got up and got on the bus to Arashiyama, not feeling like walking back to the JR station. It looked like it was going to rain any second when I got there, and all I'd eaten that day were three pastries, on the rationale that when if I feel this crappy I should get pastries for it. So I went into the first coffee place that appeared before me and ordered curry. I asked the waitress for directions to Gioji. We ended up having to consult three different maps and guidebooks, which she thought was very funny, given that it turned out it was only a fifteen-minute walk away.

I strongly recommend visiting Gioji regardless of time and weather, but I suspect that it works especially well in late afternoon and under an ominous dark sky; the light suited it nicely, and there weren't many people. It never actually rained.

* The bus back to the guest house wasn't running for some reason (it was only 4:45?), so I had to walk all the way to the JR Station. Once there, I decided I'd might as well go to Kyoto Station and visit the ramen-only floor of the Isetan, which I hadn't yet done.

I did so, and there experienced a serious moral and intellectual quandary. This is common at the vending machine ramen place, right? That's where you have those.

I put what I recall as being a single 10,000-yen bill into the machine for a 900-yen bowl of miso ramen. It gave me back 19,100 yen in change. After staring in confusion at these bills for several seconds, I gave the extra change to the attendant standing by the machine and told her it was too much. She told me I'd put in 20,000 yen and gave it back. I insisted that I couldn't have, gave it back to her again, and went over to the counter to sit down and wait for my ramen.

The problem is that I actually couldn't remember how much I'd had in my wallet. I felt like I couldn't have had 20,000 yen left, given the amount of cash I generally carry. But maybe I'd gotten some extra to put in there while staggering around in the morning? I didn't think I had, but I was sick and I'd gotten up at 4:30 AM, a time at which I prefer to be fiddling around on the computer trying to decide if I should go to bed.

And it occurred to me that I was sitting in front of a bowl of miso ramen and didn't actually feel like eating it. Which is what really made me feel that I might actually be sick and sleepy enough that my judgment couldn't be trusted. And I didn't want to be responsible for them having to put the damn vending machine out of commission to be checked when I might just be confused. They'd probably lose more than 10,000 yen if they did that and I was wrong. But AM I JUST RATIONALIZING BECAUSE I AM GREEDY?

I forced down about half the ramen, to see if whatever nutrients contained therein would fix my brain - they didn't - and went back over to try to run through with the attendant what she thought I'd done again. She'd apparently been talking it over with a guy who seemed to be the manager, who again assured me that I must have put in 20,000 yen, and gave the money back.

I don't know what John Stuart Mill would make of all this, but I'm pretty sure that the characters from Lois McMaster Bujold's Curse of Chalion would tell me to donate that 10,000 yen to the temple of The Bastard. Its history is too problematic.

* The miso ramen was not itself very good. The best ramen I've had on this trip was in Jimbocho the other day, on the south side of the used books street, a little ways past the easternmost shop. Excellent tonkotsu.

* Should I drink this umeshu I bought? Old Japanese men think it's healthy. Surely old Japanese men always know exactly what they're talking about.
Or probably any other fictional narrative involving Tokugawa Tsunayoshi:

I guess I at one point knew this but forgot about it: Rikugien, my favorite landscape garden in Tokyo, was apparently designed by Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu. The garden plaques and pamphlets describes Yoshiyasu as being known mainly for his contributions to the arts. I do not think that this is, in fact, the case. At the very least, he's a sub-villain in the 47 Ronin narrative, which is better known than the man's poetry. Probably anyone with an interest in the period has opinions about whether he was sleeping with Tsunayoshi.

For purposes of comparison, Koishikawa Kourakuen was designed by Mito Koumon.
I'm still bad at being a tourist.

I tried to do this Kyoto itinerary today, but I didn't leave the guest house until about noon? And then I needed to get to Kyoto station, and then I had lunch before heading off, and so it was about 1:00 when I got to the first site. And I'm a slow walker, and everything closes at 5:30 at the latest, so I only got about halfway through. And half of the sites were under renovation.

(Kiyomizu-dera was still gorgeous, but I'm pretty sure it's nicer when there aren't scaffolds and nets over half the buildings.)

I was a few blocks from Gion when I gave up for the day, so I went over there and walked around the shopping street. There's a Hello Kitty store there. It's not a Sanrio store, like the one in Ikebukuro - it sells only items with Hello Kitty's face on them. Keroppi is not permitted. I went in there and looked for the pen drive [profile] elongated_tito wants, but they didn't have one.

Is it weird that I feel like it's not especially weird to find a Hello Kitty store in Gion? Gion is for distorted idealized femininity. The presence of this shop is natural and expected, like that of a stalactite in a limestone cavern.

I decided to try to take the bus back to the guest house - I knew there was a bus station out front - but having forgotten to look up what bus(es) I needed to take, I ended up having to take one back to Kyoto Station and get on the JR instead. I'm pretty sure this wasted a lot of time, but I cannot find any bus maps, and thus cannot figure out how much.

Also, I had planned to go to Kokedera, but had somehow failed to realize you need to make a reservation several weeks in advance, though this is stated clearly on every website about the place.

I did have some very good nishin soba at Gion, though.
I once bought a bottle of Dr. Bronner's soap in Niigata, which is now in [personal profile] thegeekgene's possession. It's the same packaging as in the US, but today I noticed that there's a little Japanese-language label on the back. It doesn't actually say the same stuff as the original label:

It melts away blackheads, leaving beautiful clear skin like a model's!

Does it really, now. I'm sure there's some opaque spiritual significance to this, though, right?

A castile soap made in America by the Dr. Bronner's company. Unlike an ordinary olive soap, it's made with a base of olive oil and palm oil, with the addition of beautifying hemp oil and moisturizing jojoba. And all of these oils are 100% organic! Use it to wash your face or body - it's even mild enough for removing makeup.

Evidently a slightly different marketing posture is required in the Japanese market. There are also some little bubbles saying "Certified Organic" and "Made in America", which is probably not as appealing as "Made in Japan," but slightly better than "Made in China."
Thanks to my excellent taste in fiction, I am just as capable of saying the following things as I was the day I left Japan:

"Even if you're not human, you're still capable of being killed!"

"I still haven't wiped the blood off from the last one."

"It will be as if this train had never existed!"

It is to be hoped, however, that none of this will be necessary at Mo's wedding. Is there a good book or website just for polite conversational stuff, without all the hyperbolic threats?
I just booked my ticket to Japan for April. I was freaking out when I was done, and had to bake cookies to calm down.

I decided to take a six AM flight with a five-hour layover, rather than a two PM one with a one-hour layover, because all through the ordering process I was having hideous flashbacks to running through Charles de Gaulle trying to find thegeekgene. Five hour layovers mean a lower likelihood of having to run and freaking myself out, so goddamnit, THAT IS WHAT I SHALL DO.
Because in terms of content, a lot of the stuff that happens in my dreams doesn't make sense. Like, last night there was an immortal woman who had a friend who was an independently motile right leg, with a strand of long black hair wrapped around it. The friend was murdered (don't ask me how you murder a leg), so the immortal woman wrapped the hair around her own right leg on the grounds that "it will wear well." I assure you that this made perfect sense when she explained it to me in the dream.

The Pentacle Worm dream was relatively coherent, but there was still a lot of confusing and boring stuff going on that I cut out. For instance, my brain apparently expended a lot of effort inventing a system of street signs that it claimed Paris used to mark Locations Of Interest.

It's sort of a disassembled pie chart; if there's a circle with a red slice in the upper left, it's a church, and a pink slice just below there is a shrine. The worm's church was marked with both slices, suggesting that the church is a church, but its basement is a shrine to the worm, or whatever force the worm represents.

(Apparently I do think that all foreign countries are Japan. France, too, must have some indigenous animistic faith worshipped at places slightly separate from but frequently adjacent to those belonging to its imported, more-hierarchical faith.)

My dream was specific on the issue that, regardless of how many slices a location got, there was always room for the full circle on a sign, even if it wasted space. Like this:

Le Ver de Pentacle; The Pentacle Worm; ペンタクルのワーム

...actually, I kind of think this might be a good idea. If it were, you know, implemented by somebody who didn't just half-assedly generate it in Google Docs. The insistence on leaving all that whitespace makes it uniform in size and shape, it's easy to draw, it'd be usable by colorblind people, and maybe you could even implement it in pop-up or indented form for the blind? It's more the sort of thing you'd want to use to delineate subway lines or something, though. I feel like you could engrave it in a square in the ground, the way they do the Walking and Stopping lines and bumps and Japan, with some sort of groove marking the bottom of the square. You could feel around it with your foot and know if you're facing the right way on the train platform and suchlike.

You know what? Somebody tell Paris that I am now open for negotiations over my awesome idea for their signs. Though I must warn them that I will give preferential treatment to whatever municipality, state, or nation first produces an actual shrine to the Pentacle Worm. I think it's only fair.

Anyway, the day I had the dream I spent a while trying to figure out what the rest of the pie slices would indicate. I mean, my subconscious mind only came up with two, and one was imaginary. I've come to the conclusion that I know shit about France.

Pie Chart of France: Church, Shrine, Museum, Vineyard, The Bastille?, Place where people were beheaded during the revolution, Significant location in The Lymond Chronicles, Where Jean Valjean hid his money, and uh, the Temple of Kushiel, and Lady Oscar

You will NOTE that half of it is STILL IMAGINARY.

I think my Japan one's a little more realistic:

Pie Chart of Japan: Temple, Shrine, Formal garden, Massive terrifying department store (you will get lost), Sanitized history museum pretending that the Edo Era was not extremely literally gay, Place where traditional craftsmen try to work while you're looking at them, Significant location in Rurouni Kenshin, Amazingly good restaurant that costs WAY more than you'd meant to spend today, Hey I think those guys might be Yakuza, look at them, Daiso

I am not very good at being a tourist, by the way.


Jan. 17th, 2012 11:22 pm
Time and money permitting, I am probably going to Japan for my friend Mo's wedding in April. (She hadn't even met this guy last time I talked to her in person; these are the perils of living an ocean away from somebody.) She has informed me on no uncertain terms that I cannot show up at this particular formal event in khakis and a button-down shirt; I probably need to get a dress of some description. I have not owned one since, I think, grade school? I no longer have the intense philosophical objections to such garments that I did in high school, but this is still going to be kind of a project. I have been looking at this site.

Also time and money permitting, I'd like to travel for a week either before or after. I'd really like to go to Kyoto, but would need to figure out some way to do it at least semi-cheaply.
because I am an idiot! Paying for International Express would have been ridiculously expensive, so I didn't do it; I just sent the package normal priority. Mee and Conan are accustomed to my doofusitude in such matters.

It's now Christmas morning in Japan. An hour ago I got an email from Mee saying, "Thank you for your present!" In English, even.

I said, "Mom? What do you think's the fastest a box could possibly get from here to Japan? Because Mee says -"

Mom: "Oh, surely not. She can't have gotten it already."

"Yeah, I don't know how she could have! The delivery estimate was like, early January! I guess she knows I'm sending it because I asked her to confirm her address, and she's just saying thank you in advance?"

Mere moments after we had this exchange, Mee sent another email. It contained this photograph:




There are only two possibilities I can think of, and they may both be true at once:

1) The woman I dealt with at the post office upgraded the package to Express out of consideration for the pain my doofusitude might cause Mee and Conan. I know her, we talked for a while the day I mailed the stuff, and she is definitely very familiar with my habit of mailing gifts to Japan in a less-than-timely manner.

2) Random unrelated people at USPS and Japan Post recognized it as a gift for children due to the picture I made for the label:

and thus decided to rush it along. (I drew them both as characters from the books I got them; Mee is Mee, and Conan is the bear whose hat is gone.) Also, in addressing the envelope I referred to Conan as "Coconuts." And I'm pretty sure I told the complete and unvarnished truth on the customs declaration, that being "2 books and 2 origami penguins." Was their present given special treatment... on grounds of cuteness?

Regardless of what actually happened, I clearly need to go by the post office and thank the person next week. This is badass.
If you're writing a book about a bunch of Japanese people who are into putting themselves into cryonic suspension for generations at a time - how do you get through it without anyone ever mentioning Urashima Taro? How is that even possible?

(If you don't know who he is, here. The story's like Snow White in Japan - every single person in the country knows it by heart, there are picture-book versions in every grade-school classroom, and it's been retold in kids' and adults' stories of varying levels of metatextuality thousands of times.

...Actually, I'm surprised that Bujold missed it, because one of those retellings was Ursula K. LeGuin's A Fisherman of the Inland Sea, which covers some similar subject matter. Not that, when you re-work a sci-fi concept, you need to read every single re-working that came preceded yours - I just thought that a lot of Anglophone nerds had read this one in particular.)
The movie is about a former professor, retired to focus on his writing, and his relationship with his students. The first part takes place during World War II, and his and his wife's house is destroyed in an air raid. They end up living in an old garden shack. There is a montage of the seasons, showing him inside the shack calmly reading at a little desk, and her outside doing all the work.

This montage reads - to me - like parody. Same with the scene where he leaves her in the shack to go to a lavish birthday party put on by the students, to which she isn't invited. It's just so ridiculous.

There's a scene in which he sits in the shack and calmly describes to his students the way all of their pet birds but one burned to death in the raid, deriding his wife's sentimentality in having rescued the last one. She's sitting right there, pouring sake for them. His students rescue them and buy them a new house with a garden built just to his specifications, and he gets a cat, which he loves. The cat disappears, and he falls completely apart, mourning extravagantly for the cat as he refused to mourn for his old life while living in the shack. Whenever there's bad weather, he sees vivid images of the cat trapped out in it, a projection of his fear of homelessness.

He stares at the cat's old bed and pets it; the bed's on the bathtub cover, and he won't let it be moved, so he doesn't bathe, and his wife has to go to the bath house. She makes desperate calls to his students and goes out looking for the cat. His students philosophically put his behavior down to his writerly temperament - but they don't have to live with the guy.

I mean, this seems like it ought to be parody. But maybe it's not safe to assume that. Maybe Kurosawa's ideas of what's culturally normal were so different from mine that this relationship didn't look at all dysfunctional to him. Maybe this is even true of most of the people watching it! (I don't think so for Japanese people under 30, but I honestly can't speak for the older folks.) The only other film of his I've seen is Rashomon, which isn't helpful for interpreting this one. I honestly cannot tell if he thinks there's anything weird about this couple.


Unrelated, but - please tell me there's more than one set of English subs for this. They spelled carp "crap." They spelled carp "crap" every time. In sentences like, "I'm going to keep carp in the pond!" and "Imagine a carp that big!"
On BoingBoing, via [livejournal.com profile] james_nicoll.

M: Kiryu is the way yakuza used to be. We kept the streets clean. People liked us. We didn't bother ordinary citizens. We respected our bosses. Now, guys like that only exist in video games.
S: I don't know any ex-yakuza running orphanages.
K: There was one a few years ago. A good guy.
M: You sure it wasn't just a tax shelter?
K: Sure it was a tax shelter but he ran it like a legitimate thing. You know.

I remember reading somewhere - I have no idea where, and whether there's any truth to it - that some mafiosi kind of learn how to behave by watching Hollywood movies about mafiosi. It seems like there might be a feedback loop like that at play with yakuza, too. The interview mentions that there's a yakuza manga sitting the office they're playing in, and this game is not exactly the first piece of Japanese media I've encountered that thinks yakuza are kind of cool. I mean, I've watched two anime in the past month - Darker Than Black and Yami no Matsuei - and sympathetic yakuza dudes show up in both of them.

For a while, there were trailers for this game playing constantly at the electronics store next to the school in Shibata. I wasn't sure how I felt about that, given that, you know, there were both prostitutes and a lot of violence in the trailers, and there was a display of magic markers and stickers right next to the screen showing it. (Actually, the trailers gave so much attention to the prostitutes that I thought at first it was some kind of extremely-high-production-values dating sim.)
For some reason I was looking at the Japanese covers for Jacqueline Carey books. )

Amazon recommends Mercedes Lackey's Mage Storms series to people looking at Jacqueline Carey books. )

In Japan, as elsewhere, the Vorkosigan books appear to be cursed with awful covers. )


the Japanese title for Brothers in Arms? It's Shinai naru clone. This literally means Beloved Clone. You can use "shinai naru" for letters or messages, like "dear," so maybe it doesn't come off quite so strongly, but 1) you only do it on personal correspondence to people you actually like, and 2) there ought to be an "e" tacked onto the end if that's what they were going for, anyway.


2) It is also hilarious.

3) Disappointingly, Mirror Dance does not get a similar interesting change in title.

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