Monday, August 12, 2002 4:33 PM
part 3

When I first arrived here, I asked Kaoru to show me how to get from the office to my apartment. He was very helpful - he gave me a map, marked the route to take, and even accompanied me there, because he had never been before to that area. After we arrived, I thought that it would be a good idea for me to confirm the directions, so I tried to take us back to the office. I was feeling confident because I thought that I'd memorised a sufficient number of interesting landmarks, so I didn't look at the map... it didn't take me long to get us both lost. Landmark recognition becomes subconscious after a while. It begins with large objects (a particular building, a tree, a statue) and the size decreases over time. Eventually the streets themselves become familiar, that particular rock, the shape of that gutter, the colour of the paint on that wall, but until then a certain amount of concentration is required, especially when one looks around and sees that the chosen landmarks aren't unique. After learning to recognise the finest details subconsciously, there exists the problem of what happens when one of those details changes (eg the wall is repainted). The usual result is knowing that something has changed, but not being sure what it is.

Every visitor to Tokyo should take a taxi - once - to find out why you shouldn't. It seems that traffic lights, lane lines, and speed limits, are merely recommendations. It is recommended that you stop at the traffic lights and stay between the marked lane lines. The speed limit? That's the lower limit, not the upper limit. Don't go any slower of there will be trouble. That trip was a white-knuckled ride through the streets. Only the motorcyclists offered more excitement as they weaved between the cars - the *oncoming* cars. Since I know people who would insist that such generalisations are suspicious if based on only a single experience, I tried it again the next day. At one point, torrents of vehicles converged from every direction at an intersection, and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth... until the taxi driver said that if I kept making that noise then I'd have to get out.

Sometimes people come into the office with Japanese snacks. Mostly the snacks are recognisable (pretzels, biscuits, etc), and some of them have great names (Fancy Dessert, Rare Cheesecake) but one was new to me, and introduced as "ear". It was actually eel, but Japanese has no "l" sound. It took me several guesses before I worked it out. Eventually, I suggested the Japanese word for "grilled eel" (unagi), which is the only word for eel that I know. That was close enough. Atli knows that word and is probably laughing now, but it would take too long to explain why we think that it's funny.

I experienced my first earthquake in Japan. And it's raining. Wherever I go, the sky falls and the ground trembles beneath my feet. Serious stuff.

Several people have asked me about the graffiti scene in Japan, so I'll answer it here. Japanese graffiti is at a very early stage. So far, I have seen only tags, no pieces, and lots of drips and fuzz. Not good. The main problem in Japan is finding several hours (yes, hours) when no-one is around. By comparison, the scene in the USA is (or was) very mature. Even if it is not active anymore, the old pieces are respected and people leave them alone. In Iceland, the scene is very active and maturing quickly. Pieces aren't respected, but only because they are replaced by something that is as good or better. In Australia, the scene seems to have finished completely. Nothing is respected and pieces are being destroyed. Heavy police presence has increased the risks to the point where it's not worth it for the older guys, and the younger guys just want to play Nintendo. The answer to the other question is: no, the Japanese can learn on their own. :-)

Isn't it always so that after you have a late night and need to sleep, the neighbours are having a party? This part was a religious festival, so I couldn't have asked them, with a good conscience, to be quiet, even if I knew how. There was dancing and singing and drumming. Lots of drumming. There would be noise for an hour, then it would stop and I'd think that it was finished, but it was just the band on a break. Another hour playing, another break, and so on. The tunes all sounded the same to me, so perhaps the music itself is symbolic. The festival has been going for several nights now... these people must have a lot to celebrate.

You might wonder if you've done something wrong when: you catch the airport bus, and you're the only passenger, during a trip that takes nearly two hours. I won't wonder because I'll never know.

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