Yesterday me and Sushu went to Japan Town in San Francisco to shop for cool stuff to wear to the wedding after-party.
I got these awesome geta:
I have been clomping around in them all day. They make walking slightly harder, but more fun! And noisier.
I got them from a small, quiet kimono shop which is built on the bridge between two mall-type buildings. The shopkeeper was a quiet, fragile-looking old Japanese man.
Me and Sushu were going back and forth between the Chinese and Japanese readings of the inscriptions on various items in the shop, like "Spring summer winter fall:"
"haru-natsu-aki-fuyu" in Japanese, "chwen(1)-xia(4)-qio(1)-dong(3)" in Chinese. The shop guy overheard us so he asked if I read Japanese, so we started talking in Japanese. I told him I had lived in Iwate for three years.
He looked shocked and said "Iwate? I'm from Iwate! What city?"
I said "Kamaishi" and he said "I'm from Miyako!"
Miyako is, like, the next town over. Map:
He was suddenly much friendlier. I told him I was going back to Iwate in a few weeks as part of my honeymoon travels. We had a pretty good conversation.
That made my day. Man, Miyako! Who would have guessed?
We also browsed through a much larger antique-furniture and clothing store, where we made a cool discovery. There was a shelf with a bunch of old papers, books, and writings. On closer examination, some of them turned out to be very old indeed. It was all pre-war; some was early Showa period, some was Taisho and some was even from the Meiji era. There was a Japanese literature textbook, a book of lyrics to a Noh play, and a bunch of other things we couldn't identify.
What was it all doing on that shelf? Was it to be sold as knick-knacks to people who just wanted to decorate with random japanese written material they couldn't read? The thought made me very sad. It seemed like they should be in a museum or a library or something.
The shop lady didn't know anything about where the books had come from. We ended up buying a bunch of them to take home and analyze. I'll blog about them more once we've gone over them and deduced what we can.
When scouting out Tohoku on Google Maps, I noticed this weird-looking area in Akita prefecture:
Here it is closer up;
I remember seeing this circular-river looking area on sufficiently large maps of Japan while I was living there, too. It looks so... weird and unnatural. What the heck is it?
Well, I looked into it a bit, and the name of the area is 大潟村, Oogata-mura (mura = village). I found their website, which explains that it is the result of an enormous land reclamation project. Apparently, it was originally the Hachirogata lagoon, the second-largest lake in Japan. Then, over the span of 20 years and at a cost of 85.2 billion dollars, finishing in 1977, they lowered the lagoon water level with pumping stations to convert the lagoon bed into an enormous stretch of flat, fertile farmland, and then built a planned community on it. I guess they decided to do this because flat farmland is so hard to come by in such a mountainous and densely populated country.
I am both very impressed and slightly disturbed. Dude. It's just so... science-fictiony, don't you think?
Japan is like my Narnia. (Or Oz, if you prefer, or Wonderland). It's this alternate world where I went and had all these adventures in my early 20s, and I came back completely changed by the experience; but none of the people around me after my return shared any of those memories. To them it was like I had just disappeared for three years. Sometimes I did wonder if I had dreamed the whole thing, so strange and intense was it, and so little connection to the rest of my life it had.
What do I miss about that time? Frankly, I spent a lot of time being lonely, cold, and miserable. But I loved every minute of it because I was on a non-stop adventure. Just trying to negotiate daily life in Japan was adventurous. There were surprises around every corner, many of them weird and inexplicable (like the time a drunk Russian sailor who spoke neither English nor Japanese showed up at my apartment in the middle of the night looking for food and water). Traveling around the mountainous Japanese backcountry was an adventure. Trying to find ways to teach the kids something useful in the face of apathy and Kafkaesque bureaucratic resistance was an adventure. Struggling for fluency in Japanese language and culture was an adventure.
These days I feel like I'm much more in control of my life, and I'm building a lot of things that I'm proud of (software, a marriage, terrain, etc.) but I'm no longer on a kind of spiritual quest like I was back then. I feel kind of complacent, comfortable, not as adventurous or as acutely aware of things as I used to be. I miss those feelings.
It's weird that I'm now going back there, but I'm not going back to my old job, my old apartment, my old friends, nor am I going back to the phase of my life I was in when I had those experiences. And I no longer have the anime/manga obsession which was such a big part of why I went to Japan in the first place.
So it's not going to be the same at all. I'm going back to the place, and the culture, and the people (although I don't expect I'll be able to track down many of the people I used to know -- many of them have moved on) but I'm not going back in time. We'll see how much of what I miss is Japan itself, as opposed to the time in my life that is tied to it.
I hope and expect that being surrounded with visual reference materials will get me inspired to draw more comics! I brought all my Yuki Hoshigawa sketches with me and I will be on the job. I'll also be taking lots of pictures — not pictures of cool stuff or touristy stuff, but pictures of entirely mundane things to use for reference material: the insides of train cars and buses, sidewalks, office buildings, telephone poles, kitchens, vending machines, parking lots, grocery stores, traffic lights, etc. The stuff that needs to go in the background of comic panels all the time but which is hardest to find references for on the Internet (because who would post pictures of such boring stuff?)
Then, after that, it'll be China for the first time. China! It's way too huge for me to comprehend.
Making my way in Japan when I first went there, it felt like a second childhood — I felt like a child in the sense that I was helpless, didn't understand anything, had to learn to read all over again, had to learn which foods I like and didn't like, had to learn my manners, how to talk to strangers, etc. Part of what makes travel so exciting is that it takes you out of your habits and makes you re-learn all the things you normally take for granted. I'm guessing that being in China for the first time will feel the same way.
Have you ever wondered how to tell Japanese and Chinese people apart? The American army in Asia in World War Two sure did, since one was the enemy and the other was an ally. Since Asians are apparently so hard to tell apart, the army gave its soldiers a pocket guidebook containing a helpful comic, now reproduced online, called How to Spot a Jap. And by "helpful" I mean "appallingly racist".
It's interesting how they assigned all the more "othering" or inferior characteristics to the Japanese, while the Chinese get all the good, more humanizing or closer-to-white-people characteristics. E.g. Japanese are supposed to be shorter, hairier, have slantier eyes and buck teeth, shuffle when they walk, etc. I wonder: if history had been different and the Japanese were our allies and the Chinese our enemies, would this pamphlet have assigned all the same qualities in the opposite way?
It's weird that anybody ever thought you could tell people's nationality apart this way with any degree of accuracy, as if people were different species of birds or something. As if the normal huamn range of variation didn't exist in both populations. You would think that, being in a war and all, they would be very careful to teach people only the most accurate and reliable ways to identify the enemy, but apparently the need to dehumanize the enemy trumped any strategic concerns.
The only thing in the pamphlet that I've ever noticed to be remotely true in real life is the difference in accents (e.g. Chinese speakers have no trouble separating R and L sounds, Japanese speakers do.) Maybe the thing about the geta toes was true back then, I don't know.
Apparently the army realized it wasn't working, because they took the comic out of the second printing of the booklet, probably trying to forget it ever existed.
It's also interesting how they published this but they never published a guide to telling French and Germans apart, eh?
I wasn't expecting the "in sickness and in health" clause to come up this early...
Yesterday in Tokyo, Sushu slipped on a wet sidewalk and sprained her ankle. She's been taking it like a trooper. I've been taking care of her as best I can. Yesterday she hobbled around with a cane until we made it onto the Tohoku Shinkansen. But a few hours later when the train got to Iwate, her foot had swollen up and become very painful. It was worse than we had thought -- she shouldn't have been using the foot at all.
The hotel staff at Hanamaki Onsen brought out a wheelchair for us to borrow while we're here. Today we're trying to make sure Sushu doesn't use her foot at all, so we canceled our travel plans and are hanging around the hotel. I've been wheeling her around everywhere.
I think we're going to go see a local doctor today. Most likely the doctor will just tell her to keep off her feet and give it time to heal, and then send us home. But maybe we can at least get some crutches for her so we can travel beyond Hanamaki.
I have no idea whether my insurance or Sushu's insurance will pay for a Japanese doctor or how we'll pay for it if the insurance can't. But I think we should go to the doctor anyway; I don't feel right about leaving it untreated.
Sushu is telling me that if she still can't walk tomorrow, I should leave her here and go visit Kamaishi without her. But it's supposed to be our honeymoon, and what kind of husband would leave his injured wife behind in a strange town? A crappy husband, that's what kind. I'd rather stay with her and take care of her, even if it means we miss seeing any more of Japan and just hang around the hotel drawing comics together.
So, I pushed Sushu in a wheelchair up a mountain for about a kilometer to get to a small country hospital, and then had a very awkward conversation with the reception desk where I explained that I have insurance in America but it probably won't cover anything in Japan, will it, and I know that you can't know this until after we've seen the doctor, but like how much will this cost? 10,000 yen? 100,000 yen? 1,000,000 yen? (I heard an old man in line before us get charged 1,000,000 yen for something, so I was worried our bill might be similar.)
About an hour later we saw a doctor. Even in such a remote location, the doctor spoke English. An X-ray found no fractures. They put Sushu's foot in a cast, gave her a bunch of painkillers and anti-swelling meds and cold packs, and told her to stay off it for 2-3 weeks.
Examination + X-ray + cast + medicine = 15,000 yen. That's $150. This is after we showed up with no appointment and no insurance. Paperwork was minimal. Everybody was quick, professional, and super-friendly.
So, yeah, it pretty much put the American health care system to shame. I would expect a similar treatment in America to end up at least $1,000, if we would even have gotten to see a doctor the same day at all.
Oh, and it was raining when we were done, so I called back to the hotel about ordering a taxi. The hotel sent a guy up the mountain in a car to get us and bring us back for free. He stood out in the rain to hold the door open for Sushu and make sure she got in the car OK. He expected no tip.
Some days Japanese people just amaze me with their helpfulness and understanding in the face of all the weirdness I'm introducing into their lives. This was one of those days.
I spent most of Tuesday dragging heavy luggage through train station after train station, through the thronging crowds, up and down stairs and through tiled, flourescent-lit underground tunnels, as sweat beaded and rolled down my forehead in the dense, humid air.
Ah yes, I remember this feeling. It's quite familiar. It's the part I usually edit out of my happy nostalgic memories of Japan, but now that I'm doing it again I can remember how much time I spent dragging luggage through train stations all over the country — invariably wondering why I hadn't packed lighter.
Navigating the labyrinthine bowels of the Tokyo subway system (actually, as I discovered, the two separate Tokyo subway systems, the JR and the Metro, which don't accept each other's tickets) is a lot like a giant, endless dungeon crawl. You can go for miles and miles underground, going up and down between multiple sublevels, in and out of ticket gates, as train stations lead unexpectedly into underground pedestrian tunnels, shopping malls, and food courts. One could almost live out one's entire life without ever coming back up to the surface. There were several times when the distance we covered on foot within the station complexes was greater than the distance we covered on the actual train.
Just to make it more like a dungeon crawl, I had a damsel in distress with me, and she couldn't walk too well, so I was carrying all the luggage and doing a lot of "Wait here while I scout ahead and see if we're going the right way", searching for more accessible paths, and backtracking.
This is the view from the Ryumeikan honten, a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn, like a bed & breakfast) in downtown Tokyo not far from the Mozilla Japan offices.
We had an address that said "3chome - 4". (Japanese addresses are by block numbers instead of by street name, since most streets don't have names.)
I had written down a Google map, but once we got to Ochanomizu station and checked the map there, I found my hastily scribbled doodle had no resemblance to reality. We couldn't find 3chome - 4 on the map, and nobody we asked knew where it was, not even the random Tokyo guy who wanted to practice his English by helping out lost tourists.
The best part was when said random helpful guy flagged down a police officer on a bicycle ("O-mawari-san!"). The policeman stopped and pulled a map out from under his hat. That's right: He took his hat off and inside it there was a folded-up map of the neighborhood. It was really cute. But he didn't know where the ryokan was, either.
As you can see, we did finally find the place. Here Sushu tries sleeping in the closet like Doraemon.
Not the recommended way to treat a sprained ankle, but at least we're keeping it cold.
A kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi place in Tokyo station. When we asked for the check, a waiter waved a big tricorder-looking thing next our stacks of sushi plates, and it automatically added up the price. I was like whoa, that's new. He explained there are RFID chips inside the plates. Dude. Technology marches on.
I LOVE kaiten sushi. It's fun to watch the sushi go by and reach out to grab things, it's fun to count up the different colored plates, and plus there's instant gratification.
I love the Shinkansen almost as much as I love kaiten sushi.
The biggest change since last time I was in Japan? They've gone non-smoking in way more places. Chiyoda ward now has signs all over the sidewalk forbidding street smoking, and major train stations allow smoking only in special smoking rooms (with massive ventilation ducts) like this one.
Tuesday was 7/7, Tanabata, the one day of the year when two fairy-tale lovers (two stars separated by the Milky Way) are allowed to meet. Japan and China share this mythology but celebrate it in different ways and on different days. In Japan people write wishes on slips of paper and tie them into bamboo trees. (My only wish is for Sushu to get better soon.)
Check out the 7/7 front page from Google.co.jp:
There wasn't much happening on 7/7, though. All the summer festivals, including Sendai's famous Tanabata festival, are in August. (I think it's one of those solar calendar vs. lunar calendar things.)
This trip has really made me appreciate the phrase "Wheelchair accessible", a phrase which doesn't apply to many places in mountainous Iwate. The Hanamaki onsen hotel let us borrow a wheelchair for the three nights we stayed there. Here we are in the rose garden behind the hotel, a pleasant place to while away a morning hour.
This is the JR East pass. If you are going to visit Tokyo and any points north or east, you want one of these. (If you are going to Kansai or points west, like Osaka/Kobe/Nara/Kyoto, then you want the JR West pass.) You can buy it online and then pick up the actual ticket at the JR ticket counter in Narita airport.
The pass gives you unlimited rides on the Shinkansen and all JR local trains for a period of five days for 20,000 yen ($200) or ten days for 32,000 yen ($320), cheaper if you're under 26. It's only available if you're on a tourist visa, so people living in Japan can't buy it, but if you're just visiting you can. If you take just one Shinkansen trip from Tokyo up to the hinterlands and back, it's already paid for itself, and having it gives you tremendous freedom to just hop on a train and go wherever you want.
There are a couple of caveats. First, if you buy it online, make sure to print out the PDF that they send you with the confirmation email; it will make things much easier, trust me. I thought I could get away with just writing down the numbers, but if you do that the ticket clerk will not be happy. (She was clearly frustrated, saying "Why didn't you print it out?" and if you know how people in the Japanese service industry usually talk, you know that's an expression of pretty severe anger.)
The second caveat is that while the JR East pass works on the JR Tokyo subway system, it doesn't work on Tokyo's other subway system (the Metro), so be sure to look at the signs on the stations and figure out which one you're in.
I found Mozilla Japan! It was a little tricky to find, on the 4th floor of a building down a back street in Koji-machi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo.
Mozilla Japan is cool! My idea of Mozilla culture is very different from my idea of Japanese company culture, but Mozilla Japan somehow managees to combine them and make it work. I met up with Mitcho, Gen Kanai, and Takita-san. I wasn't here to work this week, just to make contact and exchange cards and get to know people a little.
It was pointed out to me that there's no reason I couldn't work from Mozilla Japan. (In fact, seeing as how Dan and Aza and Mitcho also speak Japanese, maybe we could move the whole Labs team to Japan...)
It is a very tempting prospect. I would love to try living in Japan again, even if it is Tokyo (which I am on record as hating even more than I hate San Francisco) and not my beloved inaka. But you know what? I could deal. Mastering the specialized skills of Tokyo Navigation and Tokyo Local Knowledge might even be a fun challenge.
At the moment, though, Sushu is tied to the Bay Area because of her family's Chinese School, so I can't just up and move away. What I could do is to try working in Tokyo for like one month out of the year -- one of the summer months, when Sushu has summer vacation and can come with me. Hmmmmmm.
Above: plushy of the old Java mascot, that somebody had around because they used to work for Sun. It's weird, but cute.
I asked around Mozilla Japan to see if anybody there knew about where I could buy or rent a temporary keitai (mobile phone) to use for the week; before I could say no, they were lending me a spare one Mozilla Japan has for visiting employees.
But using it required buying a prepaid card, and it turns out that finding a place to buy one of these is not an easy task, even in Tokyo. I had to go on sort of an epic vision quest. The Docomo store sent me to a "First Bank" inside Tokyo station that turned out not to exist; Lawsons sent me to 7-11, 7-11 sent me to Family Mart, and nobody knew where a Family Mart could be found until the extremely helpful lady at the Tokyo station information desk pulled out a huge book of maps and pinpointed one in the basement of the South Tower on the other side of the station; finding that place required another lengthy dungeon crawl. When I finally found what is apparently the one place in the whole city to buy a prepaid card, I felt like I had truly found the treasure hidden in the dungeon.
So, Kamaishi is still there where I left it in 2003, and it turns out I still know my way around.
I felt slightly disappointed that the crosswalk signs no longer play annoying dirge-like songs to let you know it's OK to cross. Instead they just play bird chirps like everywhere else. Boring!
Being in Kamaishi was beyond natsukashii. It brought back feelings I had forgotten how to feel.
Kamaishi is honestly kind of a dirtball town picture Flint, Michigan or any other dying Rust Belt city but it's in a beautful fjord and surrounded by verdant, misty mountains. Somehow I felt more at home there than anywhere else I've ever lived. Maybe it was because it was the first place I lived independently as an adult. Maybe because my lifestyle there was something I constructed up from nothing. I was pretty excited to show "my town" to Sushu.
However, most of the people I knew there were JETs, students, or teachers. JETs and students would have long since moved on to bigger and better things; the teachers would also have moved on, because teachers serve at the will of the Prefectural Board of Education and are shuffled hither and thither every year. That left just a handful of people in the town who might still be around; I had a few six-year-old phone numbers and addresses, but would any of them still be there? I felt sad that I hadn't managed to keep up better contact in the last six years.
Our first stop was here, Sano-san's liquor store, where I used to hang out all the time. I didn't drink then and I don't drink now, but I would go there just to chit-chat with Sano, who is a very cool dude.
He was very surprised to see me when I showed up unannounced on Wednesday. Even more surprised when I told him I was married and wanted to introduce my wife. (Who I then had to go fetch, because she was still on crutches, and so I had left her at the bus stop while I scouted ahead to figure out where the place was. Poor Sushu, stumping along gamely while I ran around all excited.)
We talked about our trip, his family, the world economic situation, how Kamaishi had changed, words that are similar between Japanese and Chinese, etc. Mrs. Sano brought us some tea and cherries. I asked if there was a bus that went up to the Daikannon and before I could say no, Sano was offering to drive us. Again with the Japanese people being incredibly generous and helpful. Sano said business was bad so he didn't have much to do at the shop anyway; he was looking for an excuse to go to the beach.
So first we went to Nebama beach and looked at the Pacific for a while. Sano found a cool sand dollar. He pointed out the island that the American naval warships hid behind when attacking Kamaishi in World War 2 (just beyond the peninsula at the left of the picture above.) Then we stopped by a hotel run by some of Sano's friends and had some onigiri and delicious dumpling things full of brown sugar and walnuts.
The inside is one big staircase, so we didn't go inside, but here's Kamaishi's famous landmark, the Daikannon: a 50-meter statue of the Buddhist goddess of mercy. I used to take all my friends here when I lived in Kamaishi.
A jizo statue in the area at the base of the Daikannon.
Sushu in the stupa next to the Daikannon, which is said to have a fragment of Buddha's ashes.
And here she is in the graveyard by the Sekioji temple in Kamaishi the one I did the colord-pencil drawing of, way back when. So many memories...
Here's Sano's carnivorous plant collection.
Peggy was an Iwate JET way back in the day, and she married a Japanese man (Hiroki) and stayed on. Ben gave me Peggy's phone number, so I called her up and was like "Hey, remember me?". We managed to meet up with her and Hiroki on Wednesday night back in Hanamaki.
I introduced them to Sushu and we caught up on most of the crazy stuff that's happened since 2003. Now she's teaching English at university, and Hiroki makes fishing poles; they visit Canada once a year, and have a relaxing life in the countryside with their cats.
We told stories of how me and Sushu first met and how we got engaged; Peggy told stories from Iwate JET and how I was so young and innocent and naiive when I first started there, and how much she thought I had grown up by the time I left. Hiroki said I haven't changed one bit since then. Saaa...
We had some really good yakiniku, and Morioka reimen noodles, which is one Japanese food that you pretty much can't get outside of Iwate.
Besides Sano and Peggy, the other people I really wanted to introduce Sushu to were Naoko-san and Chida-sensei. But sadly, I lost my contact info for Naoko-san, and I don't remember her last name so I couldn't even look her up.
I did have the phone number for the Chida family's futon shop. I called up and got his wife, and I was like "Remember me? I used to do aikido with your husband back in 2003?" and I asked if he was around... but she told me that he had passed away.
This wasn't a complete surprise. He did have lung cancer last time I saw him. In fact I had been a little reluctant to call because I was afraid I might find out something like this.
Anyway, it sounds like the rest of his family is doing fine; they're not in mourning anymore or anything. They were happy to hear from me and said I could drop by anytime. I didn't have time to do that on this visit, but think I'm going to write them a letter as soon as I'm back from the honeymoon.
I wish I had called or written or visited earlier. I would have liked one more chance to visit with Chida-sensei in this life.
R.I.P. Chida Keiichi the man who first introduced me to Aikido; who invited me into his family's home for the Japanese New Year celebration, which is a pretty big deal; calliagraphy teacher; father, grandfather; mikoshi carrier; really fun guy to be around at parties; and all-around good friend. I will miss you.
I've been feeling a lot of culture shock because I keep expecting China to be like Japan in certain ways and I keep being wrong.
Despite Japan's wholesale copying of Chinese culture in the 800s AD, modern Japan and modern China are very, very different cultures. They both eat rice with chopsticks and they both have Buddhist temples but in terms of actual human behavior and attitudes they are almost complete opposites. Chinese people don't bow to each other. Their language doesn't have politeness levels or formal phrases for every occasion. They only apologize when they're actually sorry.
I have a lot of blog posts about China still to write, so I will be saying a lot more about this topic as I go on.
OMG OMG I went to an outdoor concert in San Francisco today and Tsushimamire was there and afterwards I got their autograph and I talked to them in Japanese and they're totally cool and I'm all squeee-ing like a fanboy.
This was my first time driving in San Francisco. It is a scary driving nightmare, with insanely steep hills, narrow roads, unexpected one-way streets and no-turning signs, weird lane merges at strange angles, buses and taxis making sudden stops, parked cars blocking the road, other cars suddenly veering into the opposite lane to get around the parked cars blocking the road, etc. I brought Aaron and Dave from my former gaming group with me, partly because I wanted to introduce them to some other role-players who I knew would be there (but that's a story for another time). I think I scared them pretty bad with my inexpert driving but I did get them all back in one piece.
Besides Tsushimamire, the concert also included sets by bands Noodle and Red Bacteria Vacuum who I hadn't heard before. All of the bands that played are all-girl Japanese punk bands from the Benten label, which specializes in promoting female indie acts. I discovered Benten Records by accident in 2004 when I was searching for reference pics of its namesake, Benten the Shinto goddess of music (one of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune). Thank you internet!
I really like the Japanese girly punk rock scene. It's a lot of wild, noisy chaos and craziness and general rebellion against the idea that women must always be demure and polite. It's like the polar opposite of the Idol factory scene. If Yuki Hoshigawa had a soundtrack, Benten-style punk music would feature prominently.
Tsushimamire is three women named Mari, Mizue, and Yayoi. This year is their 10th anniversary as a group. They can basically be described as punk rock but they stretch out into a lot of different musical directions, some of them rather more artsy and musically ambitious than what you would usually call "punk". Their lyrics are total insanity about plum seeds and manholes and brain shortcake. You can listen to samples on their MySpace page or on Songza.
Today, Mari was clearly pushing the limits of her English ability talking to the audience and explaining what songs were about. "Sometimes when we play songs in clubs in America the microphones stink like pizza and hamburgers and beer and vodka and Jack Daniels. So we wrote a song about stinky microphones! Sorry for my bad English! Please enjoy our song!" I know what it's like to try to use a second language to talk to a crowd: it takes some guts. The crowd was eating it up, though. The beats were compelling and the energy was infectious. Yayoi did a bunch of high-kicks while playing the bass; Mari jumped up on top of some speakers and rocked out on the guitar. A couple girls in front of me were standing up in their seats and dancing along, so I joined in. Off to the right a mini-mosh-pit was threatening to form. Good times!
They played 脳みそ Shortcake, 良いテンポです, their Powerpuff Girls theme song, 梅うまい, Time Lag, Mike Smell (sniff sniff), エアコンレモコン, one or two more that I forgot, and did an encore of お茶ッスカ. When they were getting ready to do an encore I yelled out "PLAY MANHOLE!" but they did not play "Manhole". Sad. They did say that they would play Manhole tomorrow night when they give a show at Yoshi's. Hmmm, can I handle two concerts in one weekend...?
After the concert ended I went to the booth selling CDs and T-shirts, but the crowd was too big to be worth fighting so I hung around with some friends at the manga cafe on the bridge. I went back to the CD booth about an hour later and found Tsushimamire signing autographs! "私のもサインしてくださいますか?" They were really friendly and I got to talk to them in Japanese a whole bunch while they were passing around my new copy of "あ、海だ". I found out that they played a show together with Shonen Knife last week (sweet!), and told them about accidentally discovering Benten and about missing the ACEN concert, and I asked Yayoi about her name and found out that yes, that is her real name not a stage name, and yes it is the same as the name of the Yayoi period of Japanese history. And guess what else? YAYOI IS FROM IWATE-KEN. Iwate REPRESENT YO!!!
I also talked to Red Bacteria Vacuum (who get points for having the best band name) bought their CD and expressed regret for missing their set due to the difficulty of finding parking in San Francisco. Both the bands were selling their own merchandise (they did not have roadies) and they had a jar on the table for gas money. Geez! I guess they really are indie: starving artists and all that. Playing the concert for free was probably not their ideal scenario. Anyway I am happy to support them directly.
Now I'm totally sunburned all over my face from sitting in direct sunlight during the concert. Oh well; totally worth it!
Isaac came over this weekend. He was one of the five people I promised to make something for; he had asked for something edible, so we took a walk to the Mountain View farmer's market on Sunday morning and looked for inspiring ingredients. I was originally thinking about making Italian noodles and tomato sauce from scratch again, but right before I went to buy tomatoes Isaac mentioned that actually he had his heart set on something Japanese. I found some shiitake mushrooms that looked really good, so I decided to make gyuudon. Then I needed some other dishes to go with the gyuudon. I decided to go all-out and make the best damn Japanese meal I am capable of making, so after the farmer's market I went shopping at Mitsuwa and then a Chinese grocery store called Ranch 99. By the time I was done it had five dishes, plus tea and dessert, and I had used pretty much every pot, pan, bowl, and plate in my kitchen.
All Japanese food is seasonal. Mostly by accident, this meal was almost all autumn foods. It seemed appropriate, since we were all about read for summer to end and autumn to start.
I'm really happy with how it all came out, so here are the recipes for the benefit of anyone who wants to try them.
The five dishes are:
Kinpira Gobo (root vegetables)
Miso soup with Asari clams
Saba Shioyaki (grilled mackerel)
Gyuudon (beef and rice bowl)
The rice takes the longest, so start it first. Wash and soak two cups of white rice and put them in the electric rice cooker, or use your preferred way of steaming rice if you don't have an electric rice cooker.
When you need a green vegetable to balance your meal, this is a super simple side dish.
Take a whole bag of fresh baby spinach leaves, fry them in a pan with a little bit of oil and salt until they shrink and shrivel up. Roll the leaves up and serve them on your tiniest plates with a little bit of sesame dressing.
The brown and bright orange colors of this kinpira gobo always make me think of autumn. Gobo, aka burdock, is a very long skinny brown root vegetable which is worth looking for at an Asian grocery store.
Peel the gobo and the carrots with a vegetable peeler. Chop the gobo into manageable chunks, put into a bowl and soak it in a 50/50 mix of vinegar and water. The vinegar softens the root and removes the bitterness.
Carefully chop the carrots and gobo into matchstick-sized pieces.
Throw a little oil in a frying pan or wok over medium heat. Once it's hot, throw in the gobo pieces and stir-fry. Add:
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon sake
Stir-fry some more. Throw the carrots in and stir-fry it all together. Once all the liquid is absorbed, sprinkle liberally with sesame seeds. Test a piece to make sure it's all soft enough to be edible. Take it off the heat once it is.
Miso soup with Asari clams and autumn vegetables
The mix of dasshi and miso in this broth is very important, but I do them to taste rather than measuring. Go easy on both of them, because you don't want the broth to be too salty, or to overwhelm the natural flavor of the clams. I use less of each than I would when making miso soup without clams.
1/2 a Daikon (giant white radish)
1 bunch of Enoki mushrooms
8 small azari clams (pick clams that look healthy and have just a tiny open gap between the two halves of the shell.)
2 cakes of deep-fried tofu
2 fresh green onions
Dasshi powder (Japanese fish soup stock)
Fill a large soup pan with water, and bring it close to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, scrub the outside of the clams in running water to make sure there won't be any dirt in the soup. Turn the heat down and let the water simmer. Dissolve a few shakes of dasshi powder, stir it up, and throw in the clams. You're going to gently boil the clams until they pop open. Meanwhile, rinse the fried tofu in hot water and chop it into bite-sized triangles. Chop the root chunk off the enoki. Slice the daikon into disks about 1-2mm thick, then cut each disk in half to make half-circle shapes.
If the clams are open now, turn the heat down to low and throw in the tofu, daikon, and enoki. Dissolve a ladleful of miso paste in the soup by holding it in a slotted spoon and stirring it with chopsticks until it dissolves. This is to prevent any miso chunks from ending up in the soup. Make sure that it stays on low heat and do not let it come back to a boil during this process; you'll ruin miso paste if you boil it.
Once the daikon is translucent and tender enough to eat, chop the green onions into little rings and throw them in. Stir it up and let it cook for another minute or so, then take it off the heat.
To serve, fish out the clams and put two in each bowl, then ladle the soup on top of them.
Saba shioyaki (grilled mackerel)
2 mackerel fillets
Buying the right fish is the most important part of this business so make sure they're fresh, firm, and silvery.
Basically all you do is: salt, let stand, fry in oil. It's the simplest thing ever. But here are the finer points:
Cut each fillet in half, so you have four quarters of a fish. Remove the spine, if it's still there, and the largest bones. Sprinkle salt all over each fillet; flip it over and salt both sides. Rub the salt in a little bit. Let it sit for 10 minutes while you work on the other dishes. Heat up a little vegetable oil in a frying pan over high heat. (An oiled grilling rack would be even better, but I don't have one, so the frying pan it is.) Once the oil is hot, throw the fish in; it will sizzle dramatically. Flip it three times. You want it to be cooked all the way through to the center, but just barely. There should be a light golden crust forming on the outside of the fish, and if you peek at the edges of the fillet you should see the translucent flesh turning opaque white all the way through. Use your best cooking intuition to decide when to take it off, and remember that saba is firmer than other fish, so it's not going to start flaking apart in the pan like some fish would.
To make the sauce for the fish, mix 1 part lemon juice to 2 parts soy sauce. Take about 1/3 of a daikon, peel it, and grate it into a bowl with the fine side of a cheese grater so that it forms a juicy white mush. Serve each piece of saba with a dish of the sauce and a little pile of daikon.
Gyuudon (beef on rice)
In Japanese cooking "umami" is the fifth flavor besides salty, sour, sweet, and bitter. Onions, beef, dasshi, and shiitake mushrooms are all strong in umami flavor, and this dish uses all of them, so it is one of the most umami things imaginable. Try it and then you will understand what umami means.
1/4 pound of shiitake mushrooms
1/2 an onion
1 pkg. white shirataki (Japanese yam gelatin noodles)
1 pound thin-sliced beef (the good stuff, not the cheap stuff)
dasshi, mirin, soy sauce, brown sugar, sake
Optional: beni-shoga (red pickled ginger)
First, make the broth. Mix 1 and 1/3 cup water with as much dasshi stock powder as will dissolve in it. Add:
5 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon sake
Pour that into a saucepan and turn on the heat. While waiting for it to boil, peel and coarsely chop up 1/2 onion. Wash the shiitake, remove the stems and throw away, chop the caps into bite-sized pieces. Drain the shirataki noodles in a colander and rinse them under hot water. Take a pair of clean scissors in one hand, grab bunches of noodles in the other hand, and cut the noodles until the largest pieces are no more than 4-5 inches long. Throw the onion, mushroom, and noodles into the saucepan. Bring it to a low boil, covered.
Let it simmer long enough for the onions to soften and turn translucent. Uncover and throw in the beef. The beef will cook rapidly and change color as it does. Take the pan off the burner the instant all the beef pieces have turned from pink to brown.
Dish out four large bowls of rice (you remembered to start the rice early, right?) and ladle the beef mixture onto each one, with enough broth to soak all the rice through. Serve with red pickled ginger.
Tea and dessert
I served this with hot genmai cha, which is green tea leaves mixed with roasted brown rice for a richer flavor. It's usually sold loose, so you'll need a tea press or at least a strainer of some kind.
For dessert, we had fresh nasshi, a.k.a. Asian pear, a fruit that ripens in late summer. I peel it with a vegetable peeler and slice it into bite-sized pieces on a plate.
I just saw Ponyo with Sushu. It was good! It's very cute and sweet. It's obviously a lil' kid's movie, like Totoro, but that's quite alright with me.
The story is kind of like a much, much trippier retelling of The Little Mermaid, set in and around a rural Japanese seaport town. I was wigging out on the natsukashii factor, because the backgrounds looked sooo familiar. The crooked mountain roads, the tunnels, the fishing boats, the grungy seaport machinery... It was practically "Kamaishi: the Movie". But a Kamaishi where prehistoric fish from the Devonian period swim through the treetops and where a freaky wizard with too much eyeliner commands living waves like giant blue amoebas.
And the colors, oh man, the colors! They're gorgeous. The backgrounds are all soft, inviting colored-pencil drawings full of verdant green, shimmering aquamarine, deep indigo, shocking crimson, and radiant gold. The animators were having way too much fun. Watch the way they animate liquid surface tension: it's completely wrong, but it looks awesome.
This is my favorite kind of anime: the kind with bizzare and intensely dreamlike goings-on are anchored in reality by the mundane details of everyday life in small-town Japan. It's something Miyazaki does very, very well.
On New Year's eve Sushu was mixing drinks and she invented a new one:
Baijou + Calpis Water!
She calls it the "Manchukuo".
Baijou (白酒, "white alcohol") is a kind of Chinese liquor, and Calpis Water is a Japanese sweet yogurt drink.
(Manchukuo is what the Japanese called the puppet state that they set up in the part of northeastern China that they conquered prior to WWII, speaking of Japanese fascism. It's a cold snowy area. The drink is Chinese + Japanese and white. So there you go.)
From the "TV clips that will make your brain explode" department: A series of Japanese commercials for Sangaria's "こどもののみもの" or "beer for kids". Yeah, I know it's non-alcoholic, but it still just looks SO WRONG.
Via Stephen: An epic rant about Japan by a guy named Tim Rogers, from video game magazine Kotaku. (Which published his rant despite it being only tangentially related to video games.)
I feel like I've read this same rant many times before. There's a template for this sort of thing, a Standard Japan Rant if you will. It's usually written by somebody in the winter of their 2nd year on the JET program: gaijin who have been living in a Japanese cultural context long enough for the novelty to have worn off, but not yet long enough to reach a state of acceptance of the more negative aspects or form a livable compromise with their permanent outsider status.
To paraphrase the standard Japan rant:
Japanese people smoke too much and you can't get vegetarian food here and all the pop music sounds the same and the comedy isn't funny and the TV shows are horrible and there are no public trash cans to be found anywhere and attendance at boring office drinking parties is considered part of the job and CDs are too expensive and pachinko is dumb and everyone is apologizing constantly! WAAAAGGGH ARGLEBARGLE NOOOOOO!
Oh no, you poor thing, it's so terrible that Japan hasn't gotten up and rearranged its economy, corporate culture, entertainment, and public infrastructure to better suit your expectations! Somebody call the waaaaaaah-mbulance.
I say that, but I actually do have a little bit of sympathy for Tim Rogers and other ranters. I got through the winter of my 2nd year on the JET program feeling many of the same things. When you're living alone in another country, feeling isolated and alienated and stressed out, it's amazing how really small things can seem overwhelmingly frustrating, depressing, or rage-inducing.
In particular, the deeper feature of Japanese culture that drives so many westerners crazy is its emphasis on conformity, hierarchy, and group harmony. This emphasis can seem very disturbing to a westerner raised on the ideas of individualism and the rebel-as-hero. Japanese conformism expresses itself in many ways: uniforms, ceremonies, company loyalty exercises, the aforementioned mandatory drinking parties, obsequiousness towards people who outrank you. Fear of sticking out or drawing attention to yourself. Lack of ambition to set oneself apart. Seemingly submissive tolerance of obnoxious things like the loudspeakers that seem to be blaring announcements and horribly cheerful music at you everywhere you go. Reluctance to criticize or speak anything negative even when something obviously isn't working. Lack of personal relationships outside of work, school, or family. Etc.
I experienced all this stuff first-hand for three years. I understand how oppressive it can seem. There's a couple of places in Tim Rogers' rant that touch on this conformism, and those are the parts that rise above petty complaints and touch on interesting questions. Reading the rant reminded me of my own feelings of frustration about Japanese conformism, feelings which were one of the main inspirations for starting my comic, after all. (You know, seven years ago when I first came up with the idea, before grad school and marriage and all that derailed it).
But I don't think Japanese conformism is some uniquely Japanese thing, so much as I think it's the uniquely Japanese expression of a universal human thing. Every culture has things about it which are illogical. These things are often invisible to people who grew up with them; if they're noticed at all, they're just accepted as the way things are. But to outsiders or newcomers to the culture these illogical points are often glaringly obvious. We're fooling ourselves if we think that America doesn't also put a lot of pressure on people to participate in behaviors that make basically no sense. It's just that Japan wraps it up in ideology about harmony and teamwork, and America wraps it up in ideology about freedom and self-determination.
Want me to list a few of the things in American culture that make no goddamn sense? Because I can gladly do that. Why do so many Americans choose to live an hour or more away from their jobs and then spend over two hours a day stuck in a car in rush-hour traffic, polluting the air and making themselves miserable, just to live in a place with a lawn? Why do Americans constantly vote to lower taxes and then act shocked that the debt keeps going up? Why do they put up with news media that strip out all historical context and turn everything into sensationalist soundbites? Why do they accept a legal system that large organizations use like a blunt weapon, where everybody lives in constant fear of being sued by everybody else? Why do most cities not have any kind of decent public transportation system? Why does America spend more on its military than the rest of the world put together? Why do so many girls like the Twilight series? WAGGGGGH ARGLEBARGLE NOOOOOOOO!
See how easy it is to make any country sound terrible, if you just free-associate on the negatives without putting them in any sort of context or balancing them out with positives?
It all makes you wonder about cultural norms, and why they are so powerful, why people follow unspoken rules even when those rules are detrimental to the person and seem to provide no benefit to anyone? Why do people tolerate so many indignities without complaint?
And what is the appropriate attitude for someone who is a guest in a country? Is it their place to criticize, or should they just try their best to understand things from the natives' point of view, to accept things if they can and go home if they can't? What about if they see something they think is seriously whack - is it right to call it out, or better to keep quiet? Does the answer change if you're not just a guest but a long-term resident? A permanent resident? (A random guy who used to live there and is now drawing comics about it?)
I don't know the answers to these questions. But I'm pretty sure that the wrong way to approach them is to succumb to the paranoid idea all the unfamiliar Japanese cultural norms and conformity-enforcing behaviors are all part of some big, scary, Matrix-like conspiracy, or the racist idea that all Japanese people are fundamentally different from the rest of humanity in some essential way.
Sushu and I went up to Emeryville (it's between Oakland and Berkley) for our first Taiko drumming lesson on Saturday.
The Emeryville Taiko Dojo is run like a martial arts dojo: it's VRY SRS BSNS. We take our shoes off, sit seiza, bow to the sensei, yell ONEGAI SHIMASU!, and so on. There are warm-up stretches and exercises. We have to do all these hand exercises and sit-ups and planks before we even pick up the bachi (drumsticks). That's right, sit-ups! For a drumming class! I think the idea is to have strong core muscles because the movements when playing the O-daiko (the biggest drums) are supposed to originate from the core muscles, much like throwing strong punches.
So, yeah, I pretty much felt right at home. It was so similar to Aikido that the fact that we were hitting drums rather than throwing people seemed like a minor, incidental difference.
One thing that threw me off was the fact that the greeting when entering the dojo is OHAYOU GOZAIMASU! and when leaving the dojo is OYASUMI NASAI! Which is a little weird because that means "good morning" and "good night". I don't think I'm going to get used to saying "Good night!" in the middle of the afternoon. Our sempai said that these are the traditional greetings in Japanese Taiko practice; I guess I'll take her word for it.
Japan just got hit by an 8.9 magnitude quake just off the coast of Miyagi prefecture. This is one of the biggest in recorded history and it generated a 10-meter tsunami across Japan's eastern seaboard.
I got an email from the Mozilla Japan team in Tokyo that they're all OK. Their office looks like this, though.
My town, Kamaishi, is just north of there. I haven't been able to find anything about it in the news since it's a small town. All the news is covering Tokyo and Sendai. But I fear the worst. I know people there, and I don't know if they're alive or if their houses are underwater or what.
My heart goes out to all the people affected by this disaster. I hope your families are OK.
UPDATE: Jake found this news clip showing Kamaishi. Thanks a lot, Jake. That's actually somewhat reassuring, because the street in the video (I know that street. I used to walk down that street to get to aikido practice) is on the east end of town near the harbor. So if that was the high-water mark, then everything west of there is presumably not underwater. Although they might have taken serious earthquake damage.
This video clip freaked me out pretty bad last night. I had trouble falling asleep after watching it:
That's the town I used to live in. I don't recognize any of the people in the video but I recognize the streets and the buildings that are getting knocked down. Thanks to everybody who sent me links to that clip.
This is also Kamaishi. Note the tops of telephone poles next to that ship.
Japan knew a big one was coming eventually so they were crazy prepared. Apparently they have an early warning system that detects the faster P-waves running ahead of the damage-causing S-waves of the earthquake, so they had 30-60 seconds of warning before the earthquake hit and were able to shut down machines, get to safer places, etc. An earthquake this big in most other countries would have caused a much higher casualty toll than the 1,100 ish dead-or-missing that I heard reported last.
Lots of people have told me they want to help somehow and are asking where's the best place to send donations. I don't know a good answer to that yet but I'm asking some of my Japanese friends for suggestions.
Fingers crossed that that nuclear reactor doesn't go critical.
Kotatsu: The excellent Japanese cozy table, with built-in blanket and heating element. It keeps your legs warm while you sit under it. It's pretty much the best thing ever during cold Tohoku winters in poorly-insulated apartments with no central heating.
I've wanted one ever since I moved back to the USA, but importing one costs $500. Then Sushu proposed making our own, and it turned out to be cheap and easy.
Step 3. Buy 4 angle brackets (1.5"x5/8") and some wood (1"x.5"x4 ft) from the local hardware store.
Step 4. Use wood and angle brackets to secure heater panel to the underside of the table.
Step 5. Put a blanket over the top.
Step 6. Put something flat on top of the blanket to hold it in place and provide a suitable writing/drawing surface. Or, if you don't have a suitable surface, put whatever you have lying around, like some cardboard and a mirror.
Finally, make sure to get some legless chairs for lower-back support so you don't mess up your spine sitting under this thing for hours at a time.
(Proper Citation: Sushu already explained most of this in her comment on this post)
I've been to the town of Ishinomaki, once, on my way to visit the famous temple on the island of Kinkazan. It's a small, not particularly exciting town best known for being the birthplace of Ishinomori Shotaro, manga artist who drew Cyborg 009 and Kamen Rider. They've got a whole museum devoted to his works.
Ishinomaki has pretty much been turned into a lake by the tsunami. Eek.
This one guy, named Hideaki Akaiwa, escaped from the tsunami, but he couldn't contact his wife. So seeing his neighborhood consumed by the tsunami, he decided to grab a SCUBA suit and dive in, swim through the freezing, murky, black currents and riptides and the cars and jagged metal chunks getting tossed around, and find the apartment building where his wife was trapped on the top floor. He rescued her and somehow brought her back out to safety. He and his wife were both surfers, so I guess he had some relevant experience for this kind of thing.
And that's not all! Hideaki Akaiwa couldn't contact his mother either. So a couple days later he went in to the tsunami again, find where his mother was trapped, and rescue her too.
Now he goes back into the flooded city every day looking for more survivors.
There was a weird phenomenon I noticed back when I was in Japan. When I, or another gaijin, was at a point in our Japanese learning where we were really struggling with it and able, at great effort, to make ourselves understood, we'd always hear "日本語が上手ですね。" ("Your Japanese is so good").
But when we finally started getting good at Japanese for real, we stopped hearing this. It always confused me a little.
But just recently I found myself on the other side of it. In Brazil, I noticed I was complimenting people on their English who seemed to be trying really hard. But I wasn't saying it to people who spoke English effortlessly. It seems kind of condescending to say "Your English is really good" to somebody who speaks English like they grew up speaking it, right? At that point you're more involved in the conversation and, like, why shouldn't their English be good?
So when somebody says this, it's not about your skill level, despite the literal meaning of the words; it's about your effort. It's a way of acknowledging somebody's effort and encouraging them to continue studying.
I just added a Japanese language option to RunJumpBuild. This is important because I'm going to be demoing at the Mozilla Vision 2012 event in Tokyo next week.
We'll be using RunJumpBuild as well as Hackasaurus and Scratch as part of a workshop where we teach kids to make games. I'm pretty excited about this. So many of my interests combined in one activity! It will be like a reunion with my 2011 self.
I hear that tickets for the Stuido Ghibli museum are really hard to get. But one of the guys from the Mozilla Japan office, who goes by his IRC name "Dynamis", pulled some strings or something and got two tickets for me and another visiting Mozillian named Chris Heilmann. Thanks, Dynamis!
The tickets were for 4pm the next day and were covered with very dire warnings that they could ONLY be used to enter the museum at the designated time and if we showed up late we would not be able to get in. Many Japanese institutions can be absurdly strict about seemingly pointless rules so I figured we'd better take the warning seriously.
The museum's in a neighborhood of western Tokyo called Mitaka, and it looked like about three train transfers to get there from the Mozilla office, so I figured we should leave by 3pm at the latest to get there. However, Chris was off having an adventure of his own looking for a place where he could get cash yen with a foreign ATM card (there aren't many) so it was like 3:20 by the time we left. I didn't think we'd be able to get there by train in time so I suggested taking a taxi.
Big mistake. The taxi drove into a tunnel and immediately got stuck in a traffic jam. The driver estimated it would be at least 4:30 by the time we got there. Ugh. The train would have been better after all. I felt terrible that we were going to miss the museum due to my incompetence at trip planning.
When we finally got out of the tunnel, we passed Shinjuku station so I asked the taxi driver to drop us off there and we got back on the train system. It was about 4:00 already but we decided to press on; if we couldn't get in, then oh well.
It was drizzling cold rain and the sun was setting as we hustled down the sidewalk from Mitaka station and it was 4:30 by the time we got there. I was expecting to be rejected and had already apologized to Chris several times about it.
Turns out it wasn't even a thing. They let us in no problem. Huh.
They strictly disallow photography in the museum, so I don't have any pictures to show you. Except one: Chris Heilmann snuck his phone out and took a picture of me sitting in the life-sized Catbus. A uniformed attendent immediately ran up and started telling him he couldn't do that; I told him to put the phone away before it got confiscated. Later he put the one picture up on Flicker labeled "Illegal photo".
Anyway, the place is really cool. There are about seven short films by Studio Ghibli which have apparently never been released and can only be watched in the tiny theater at the musuem. The one we saw was called "Chuuzuumo" and was about mice doing sumo. A frog is the referee and the audience sits on shiitake mushrooms. An old man and woman stumble upon the ring and are upset that the mice from their house are losing to the visiting mice, so they prepare a feast for their own mice to bulk them up for a re-match. It was intensely cute and funny and well-animated.
The museum is clearly designed with kids in mind; most things are touchable and there are lots of tiny tunnels and walkways and staircases and child-sized secret pathways to explore. There are life-size reconstructions of not only the Catbus but the robot from Laputa, the cursed restaurant from Sen-to-Chihiro, etc.
There are plenty of interactive exhibits of old-timey animation technologies in action - zoetropes and illusions with strobe lights and hand-cranked film projectors and all that kind of stuff. Gorgeous watercolor background paintings and storyboards hanging up everywhere. Animator's desks on display with cells and light tables and stacks of tracing paper and racks and racks of different colors of paint, etc. Their deep respect for the craft of traditional hand animation really comes through strongly.
The other thing that was really interesting was all the inspirations they have on exhibit. I expected to see lots of old-fashioned flying machines, zepplins and biplanes etc. because it's obvious how much Miyazaki loves all that stuff. But there were also shelves and shelves of European children's picture books - Pipi Longstocking and Tintin and stuff like that. I hadn't ever thought about it before but the Ghibli aesthetic owes a lot more to that oevure than to anything from the Japanese comics industry. Finally there were tons of pictures of nature everywhere: books full of reference photos of deep woods, craggy beaches, moss-covered stones, insects, decaying old wooden temples, etc. Theirs is a culture that loves nature, and demands deep study of the reality of whatever it is they're animating.
Good animation is inspired by life and nature; mediocre animation is inspired by other animation.
OK so later today Emeryville Taiko will be performing between innings at a baseball game at the Giants stadium in San Francisco.
This will be my first performance wearing the full traditional, formal taiko outfit. Which looks like this:
Oh hell yeah. I feel so manly! Everybody will get to see my tattoos.
They told me this apron thing is a "Donburi", which is weird because I thought donburi only meant a rice bowl with fried stuff on top. I guess it's a taiko slang thing, like how we say "Ohayo gozaimasu" at the start of practice no matter what time of day it is.
I've never been to a baseball game before. Since baseball is kind of boring. But playing taiko... is awesome!
When learning this song, I watched the intro video on youtube a bunch. It sure brought back memories. Remember halfway through watching Evangelion, when it was still possible to believe that the story was heading towards some kind of resolution, perhaps including a climax and denouement? Ahh, those were the days.