Sunday, September 21, 2008

Introduction: 2008

The following is a journal I kept in 2001, when I went to Japan for about three weeks. I make no claims for it other than it is one person's view of an experience, recorded more or less in real time. I haven't changed a word (except substituting "cell-phone" for the German "handy," which is a word I like better, but nobody else is going to understand), despite the fact that I've since learned things that have modified some of what I say here, particularly about the place of women in Japanese society. (Thanks, Jim). I also don't apologize for the characterization of some of the people here, most notably Cal, who at the time was miserable, but who has adapted enthusiastically to his situation and is doing lots better, thanks. So much for me as advice-giver, at least in 2001.

There's an epilogue to this tale. I was able to afford this trip thanks to a small inheritance. It was my intention, after I returned, to start work on a book which would require me to spend some time in the United States to gather material. Just before I left Berlin, I loaned a sizeable part of my capital to a friend who was on the verge of realizing a visionary project, and who was expecting to sign a lease for a large building here in which to realize it with the help of a major American corporation. This loan was not made lightly: I researched the hell out of the prospective partners, and everything came back good. The loan would have been repaid within a month, and I would have proceeded with my book.

Instead, the events of September 11, 2001 intervened. The American partners, who were due in Berlin on September 15 to sign the papers, backed out of all projected non-American deals, this one included. My friend was stuck with a building which, because the world's markets contracted in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, nobody wanted. In short, we both lost everything we had. To this day, neither one of us has really recovered.

I don't want to suggest that this is the last good time I had -- certainly it wasn't all a good time, as you'll be able to see between the lines -- or that I'm nostalgic or sentimental about this trip. It is what it is, and since recently, friends of mine have asked about it, I decided to throw it together in an afternoon. As I write, I still haven't finished adding the photos.

And if it seems familiar to you, it did, for a short while, exist on a website designed and published by my late friend, Bob Watts, who died this January. Even seven years ago, he designed a much more elegant presentation than this text is getting now, but Blogger is easy and free, so that's what I'm using.

There was a time, after this was written and I realized my money would never return, when I was consumed with ifs: if I hadn't loaned the money...if I hadn't gone to Japan...if I'd just written the book proposal first and had the advance to live on... And it's true: if I'd had the money, I would have left Berlin five years ago, when it became evident that there was, really, no reason for me to be here any longer. But there's no excuse for not living in the present, and there's no reason to regret the past if it was as amazing and eye-opening as this particular three-week slice of it was.

A few explanations. Online life wasn't like it is now in 2001. I was carrying a laptop, but there was no in-room wireless, and I had to use dialup. Unfortunately, all the phone lines were ISDN, and my modem wasn't compatible. That, the lack of online news sources, and the fact that at the time I was using Compuserve, which fought a long battle against the Internet and the World Wide Web because it wanted to remain proprietary, resulted in my not getting the information about the attacks until a couple of days later. Fortunately, I'd joined the Well earlier in the year, and when I finally could get to a computer, I was able to catch up through postings there. Not only was that community vital in helping me plan the trip, it kept me sane while I, an expat American in Germany on vacation in Japan, was trying to get a sense of balance. The reference to is to an e-mail account I set up there -- they offered free web-based e-mail -- while I was in Japan because I couldn't get into my Compuserve account. I was especially anxious, because I was writing a lot for the Wall Street Journal, whose offices on Liberty St. in New York were in the shadow of the World Trade Center (my one and only visit, if you can call it that, to the now-vanished buildings was when I walked through the lobby on my way out of the subway station to visit my editors, Ray and Taylor, the year before), and I had no idea if they were even still alive. They were.

Would I go back to Japan? I would, for a shorter time, with more clearly-defined goals. Sure, I'd love to go back to Kyoto and Tokyo, at the very least. I'd pace myself better, too, and not try to do so much. But even a mere seven years on, some things cannot be repeated.

Coca-Cola no longer makes Water Salad, for one thing.

The Introduction: 2001

This whole thing has a couple of origins.

As a kid, I was always fascinated with foreign places, the more “foreign,” the better. Even living near New York, it wasn’t easy to find non-European foreignness, so family trips to Chinatown were really cool. Then Takashimaya, the Japanese department store, opened a branch on 5th Avenue right near 42nd street, and I used to go in there and look for exotic stuff for sale. At some point I acquired a box lined with Japanese cedar, and I loved the smell, which, I thought, brought me closer to that far-off place, which undoubtedly smelled just like the box.

Japan became a reference-point as I grew older. There was the Beats’ interest in Zen, which I tried to read about, but didn’t really get anywhere with (well, I was, like, ten), and once foreign films started getting American audiences, word about ones with obscure titles like Rashomon and Kushingura.

After having totally aced French in high school, I thought I had an amazing talent for languages, so when I got to college, I debated whether I should take German or Japanese, and figured, hell, I can pick up German any time. I lasted about two weeks: not having a hell of a lot of self-insight at the time, I didn’t realize that I had serious problems memorizing stuff, shorn of any linguistic touchstones with which I had had any experience, and this class was all memorization.

I persisted, though. On my first visits to San Francisco, I was lucky enough to stay near Japantown, as it was called, before the big mall was built there, and have a vivid memory of walking down Buchanan Street one sunny day in 1967 and seeing and hearing a young girl playing a koto in a window above the street. Just before I moved there in 1970, I was, I swear, offered an 18th century Japanese teahouse for $175 a month, rather above my means at the time, hidden away on a hillside overlooking the Bay in an area I can’t really name, just up the hill from Tower Records. I really, really tried to figure out how I could do this.

Once I moved, I found myself going over to the new Japanese Trade Center as often as I could, eating udon and ramen in the restaurants, and buying “Crazy Mix” rice crackers with whole little fish in it, which grossed out my friends. After a while, though, this just sort of bled into the general culture of San Francisco, and my Japanophilia waned. It could re-occur, of course, at a moment’s notice. Little Feat came to town once, and Lowell George, who, as a military brat, had grown up partially in Japan, took me to a Japanese restaurant where he dazzled the owner with his command of Japanese and knowledge of its cuisine. I can’t remember at all what we had, but I do remember the experience was amazing.

In 1979, I moved to Texas, and Japan went away. By then, I’d seen some of those movies, and heard the language spoken and, I guess, realized I’d never have gotten anywhere with it. I’d ritualistically go for my nabeyake udon when I visited San Francisco, and shop for avant-garde ballpoints at Kinokuniya Stationery, but that was about it.

I became the book reviewer for the Austin Chronicle, and began reading about Japan in the line of duty. I’d crack that there were places I read about -- India and Japan, most particularly -- so that I’d never have to go there. For the most part, I meant it.

Then one day Louis Black, editor of the Chronicle, called me. John Sayles was in town, and thinking of going to Louisiana to scout locations for his next film. Would I like to cook something for a get-together? So I set about making a jambalaya, and took it out to a park, where Sayles, Maggie Rienzi, his assistant/producer, and various Chronicle folk were. Sayles had long been a hero of mine, and I kept hoping he’d go back some day to writing actual fiction, to supplement his writing and directing films, an art I didn’t understand as well and in which I had trouble monitoring skill and originality.

At any rate, I got there, and we were talking, and Sayles said he’d just spent a month in Okinawa and was so happy not to be there any more. Apparently some film company had offered him a ton of money to come act in a film there and he couldn’t say no to them. “I think that would be fun,” I said, “going to a place where you couldn’t speak or read the language, just totally cut yourself off from that whole process. It would be like being on acid or something, with so many of the traditional guideposts gone.”

Sayles glared at me. “It was NOT FUN,” he thundered. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” I’d clearly made him angry, and he stopped speaking to me for the rest of the evening, although he did thank me for cooking.

More than ten years later, late last year, I heard from my friend, the American composer Carl Stone, that he’d been offered a six-month gig teaching at a college in Japan, and something woke up in my head. Now that I knew someone there, I could go visit! He mentioned that he’d be doing a tour in September, so now I had a date in mind. And, in March, he alerted me that a friend of his named Nick Palevsky would be in Austin at the same time I was, at the SXSW film festival, so I called him when I got to town and we went out to dinner. I mentioned to Nick that Carl was in Japan and I was thinking of visiting, and started babbling about a guidebook to the country I’d reviewed once at the Chronicle, which I considered the best guidebook to anywhere I’d ever seen. “Do you remember the name?” he asked. “Something like Door to Japan...” I said. “Gateway to Japan?” he countered. “Yes!” and then I remembered: I knew Nick’s last name through his father’s involvement with Rolling Stone and had found myself wondering when I had seen the book if this guy were related. The book’s authors are June Kinoshita and Nicholas Palevsky. He got a good laugh out of that. “June’s my ex-girlfriend. I really don’t have anything to do with it any more.” (And I can report, after this trip, that the book is every bit as good as I intuited it would be back when the first edition came out, although they do need to put a new edition together sometime soon: see Kanazawa.)

It turned out that Nick, too, might be in Japan at the same time as Carl’s tour, and also Eric Thiese, another person I’d met through Carl, and, like us, a food nut, was also thinking of coming along. I started making plans in earnest.

I left Berlin for Tokyo Narita Airport on September 5, 2001.

I would find myself playing back that exchange with John Sayles many, many times over the next three weeks.


References abound to “the book,” which is the guidebook I used, Gateway to Japan, by June Kinoshita and Nicholas Palevsky, and to “Satterwhite’s book,” which is What’s What in Japanese Restaurants, by Robb Satterwhite. Both are absolutely essential to anyone thinking of any but the most superficial trip to Japan, and both are published by Kodansha International.

Sept. 6: Tokyo

The first thing I noticed on the Narita Express in from the airport was the bundles of dried grasses, both in the fields and arranged on drying frames. I wasn’t sure what they were, but it was the first sign that I was somewhere new. (It turned out to be rice, which gets bundled, and the bundles split on the frames. I’m not sure if the grain-heads are still on or not, although there are also fires set in piles of what look like dust later in the process).

Not that I needed a whole lot of reminding. If the confusion trying to exchange my voucher for a rail pass and the subsequent buying and using of a telephone card wasn’t enough, there were other sights -- pagodas, a monorail in Chiba, the Right-On sporting goods store -- to hint at it.

Carl was there at Shinjuku station, and we left my luggage at the hotel, a respectable and inexpensive business hotel called the Shinjuku Park, and I suggested we start walking around, because otherwise the jet-lag was going to kill me.

Carl, me, and some poor guy advertising something at Shinjuku Station

So we started down the street -- one of the few, he said, in Tokyo with an actual name, Meiji-doro -- and soon hit the entrance to a shrine. Walking in, we came upon a nice pond with koi swimming in it and some turtles sunning themselves on the rocks. Carl clapped his hands, the koi came gathering to be fed, and eventually figured out that it wasn’t gonna happen. He thought we were in a section of the Meiji Shrine, but as it turned out it was a much smaller one with a four-story building that was evidently used for weddings and receptions, the first of the elaborate wedding facilities I would see. I caught the sight of an ornate red-and-gold building that was probably a temple, but there was no way to get at it. Eventually we drifted back into the street.

Next stop was a giant complex of shops all aimed at teenagers, who were there in abundance, mostly girls, buying clothes. There’s an art museum on the top of it, but it was closed for a Sony product introduction for some sort of robot toy, so we soldiered on. The idea was to arrive at this famous ramen joint he knew, but it was too early, so we wandered here and there, eventually winding up at Takeshita-dori, a long, narrow, Carnaby Street-like lane filled with boutiques and coffee shops, another teen mecca. At the end of it was Yoyogi Station, and, beyond that, the actual Meiji Shrine. It was hot, and cicadas were singing as we walked up a long wide path towards the shrine, stopping just short of the entrance to do a ritual purification from a stand with water and scoops. You wash your hands and then take a sip (the water didn’t taste too good to me, but this may have been my debilitated condition). The shrine itself was huge, entered through a torii made from a 1500-year-old cedar from Taiwan (there being, I’m sure, no tree of that age left in Japan) that a patron had bought in 1958. At the shrine we saw some people doing something incomprehensible, dressed in white and walking up and down some stairs.

I wasn’t getting much out of this -- time to go back and consult the book on Shinto symbolism and so on -- so we exited down another long path and found ourselves back in the maelstrom of the city. We soon got to the ramen place, Jangara , and although I wasn’t as hungry as I could have been, it looked too good to pass up. You order from a little old lady sitting in a booth, and she hands you tokens in various shapes and colors, which denote the ingredients you’ve ordered. When they call you to sit at the counter you hand over your chips and in seconds a huge bowl of ramen with fatty pork, cod roe, a whole hard-boiled egg (a chopstick challenge), and much more appears. We’d ordered supplementary deep-fried garlic, but, as Carl noted, “the flavor of this stuff is so baroque you hardly need to add anything to it.” Elvis was singing on the soundtrack, and it was oddly quiet as people slurped their noodles. I immortalized it by buying a ¥480 keychain which depicted the bowl in miniature with, I think, the name of the place on the side.

This, expectedly, brought on the jet-lag, and after a bit of getting lost -- something I think you have to factor in for Tokyo -- we got back to the hotel, and I slept for three hours.

Carl had made dinner plans with a woman named Mari, who, he said, was a friend of Ornette Coleman’s, and she was offering a choice between a Chinese place and a sashimi place. On my urging -- hell, I didn’t want to eat Chinese food, no matter how good, on my first day in Japan! -- we went for the latter. It turned out to be on the third floor of a tall building in Shinjuku, overlooking the street and a building across the street with a company called NO Loans, a great name.

After protracted discussion with the proprietress on the part of Carl and Mari, a course of action was set. First came a large bottle of Kirin’s fall beer, a crisp, hoppy brew, which we enjoyed while we waited for what came next. I immediately came to grief with ettiquette, since I didn’t know it was polite to raise your glass while your neighbor filled it. The next point of decision was sake, since this place advertised regional sakes. A draft and a bottled one were brought, both with a lovely anise-like start, but then going different ways as to sweetness and finish, the bottled one being less sweet and with a stronger finish. This was the one we chose. Then came the parade. The woman came back with a wooden tub, in the bottom of which was a small, ugly, triangular fish, not looking too happy. It had huge raised spines on its back, and I recognized it from aquariums, although I thought it was called a sea robin and it was, in fact, a lion fish. The spines were deadly, and this place (which also served fugu) was licensed to sell and prepare it. We would have it as sashimi, including its skin and liver (which was exquisite, very foie-gras like), as tempura (six small morsels) and with its head cooked in miso soup. We also had other sashimi, a mix of octopus, abalone (again including the liver), and a fish called hatta, which none of us could identify. There was a course of a red fish, grilled exquisitely, some vegetable sushi (including rounds of eggplant with sweet miso), a savory custard with fish baked into it which the woman decided wasn’t up to their standards, and, thus, didn’t charge us for, and, finally, some simple udon noodles with a dipping sauce. The whole thing came to a whopping ¥18,000 each. It was worth it.


Needless to say between the quantity of food and the sake, we were pretty gone, having gotten there around 8 and stayed to after 11, so we wandered around Shinjuku’s seamy streets being accosted by sex-show guys and “drink bar” guys -- many of them black Americans (or so I thought, but Carl seems to think they’re from Ghana) -- in search of a place where Mari could get a coffee. Things, however, tend to close at 11, so we had to settle for a weird upscale bar called éf. Before we got there, however, Carl spotted an amusement center with a taiko drum machine. He put his dough in and got to pound his way through two saccharine folk songs, accompanied by bizarre animations including what appeared to be a bunch of penises doing somersaults. This was the second-weirdest apparition of the evening, the first having been a huge video screen at Shinjuku Station on which digitized chihuahuas in various pastel colors wearing tutus and standing on their hind legs were put through choreography by a white one, also with a pastel tutu, and a halo. Kawaii: terminal cuteness, courtesy of Tower Records.

Mari found a taxi right outside the bar, we headed back to the hotel, and it was crashola.

Sept. 7: Tokyo

Up in the morning and...straight to the vending machines. I’ve been on the lookout for a product called Water Salad, and bought a can of something I thought might be it, then followed with two cans of Coffee Jack Blue Mountain Blend. Blue Mountain coffee from a vending machine? But it did the trick. The other stuff turned out to be a very good V-8 kind of thing.

I was up early, jet-lag having had its way with me, so I read for a while and then called Carl, who suggested we try the Japanese breakfast in the hotel. This turned out to be a lacquer box with a slice of salmon, some mountain potato grated into goo, miso soup, rice, and tofu. We then headed over to Shinjuku Station to get reservations for tomorrow’s trip to Ogaki.

There being time for it, and since we were in the right neighborhood, Carl suggested we check out the food basement of a department store. We headed into Mitsukoshi, and it was like a museum. A museum of stuff you’ve never seen before -- and stuff you have. The first floor we went to was gift foods, stuff elaborately wrapped and packaged, something the Japanese have had down to an art for centuries. There was pastry, jelly candies, rice crackers (I succumbed), sakes, snacks for drinks, teas, beef (very, very fatty and sliced paper-thin for sukiyaki), seaweeds, and other confections and combinations. The floor below was more practical, a super-supermarket for the very wealthy. Your usual selections, only at a much higher quality than normal. There weren’t many people around, given that it was near noon, and no samples to speak of, although I did have half a grape which reminded me of the Concords which came off of my grandmother’s trellised grapevines.

There was still time, so we headed to another department store across the street. As we got there, we saw a line of women stretching around the block, which Carl couldn’t figure out. I had seen a little woman behind a screen telling fortunes on the street, and sure enough, that’s who they were waiting for. Dozens of them. This store, Isetan, was much livelier. We finally figured it out: they were offering samples. So we dove right in. Most of the people manning the departments were very friendly. I had a neat deep-fried meatball, passed on what Carl called “squid guts,” had a piece of what was advertised as “perfect tofu” (close enough), some killer kimchee, and I don’t know what all. I was also exposed to my first hostility to foreigners at a fish stall where the guy moved what Carl described as samples of “ruinously expensive herring roe” the minute we got there and also snatched a plate of little fish from Carl’s hand before he could grab one. He fumed about this for the rest of the day. I mentioned someone’s comment that foreigners in Japan were treated as half rock stars, half lepers, and he said you’ve never really empathized with minorities until you’ve had people change seats on a train to get away from you. (He also said, later, that he disapproves of Westerners using the word “gaijin,” which, he says, has the same resonance as “nigger.”)

It was later than we thought, and Carl had to be at the concert hall for sound check and so on at 3, so we mooched around Shinjuku and finally wound up in a fast-food joint where you look at the plastic food in the window, then buy a ticket for it from a vending machine, hand it to the guy inside, and receive your food by the time you get to the counter. Mine was fried vegetables on soba with some broth, and Carl had curry rice. Neither was particularly spectacular. I didn’t mind, though: I had found some Water Salad in a vending machine and discovered it’s a product of the Coca-Cola company. I think I may write them a letter when I get back: it’s amazing stuff, very subtle, well blended, if just a tad sweet for my taste. If the pictograms on the front of the can are to be believed, it contains lemon, green pepper, apple, spinach, carrot, pear, tomato, celery, lettuce, grapefruit and grape juices. It’s a masterpiece.

We headed back to the station and got on the circle line for Ueno. The concert hall turned out to be facing Ueno Station, which was easy enough, so Carl went inside and I headed into Ueno Park, where I sat and read my Japan Times, one of the New York Times/Washington Post collaborations (there’s an IHT/Asahi Shunbun also) on the stands here. It’s a weak paper, with lots of filler and not much content, although it would be okay for kids, given the large amount of fluff in it, like a column on animals.

While I was reading I became aware of a lot of people singing, who could be heard over the crows declaiming Aaa, Aaa, so I got up and went in search of them. Over where they were perfoming, I noticed some imposing buildings, so I backtracked to a sign and discovered it was the National Museum. The singers turned out to be led by a preacher, and were largely comprised of the contingent of homeless people who live all over the park. Each had a laminated piece of paper with the hymn music and lyrics on it, and another piece with prayers. The reason the crowd was so large was pretty apparent as I skirted the service: big vats of food were being stirred, and tanks of tea set into place.

The museum is pretty much the way Nick’s book describes it: filled with priceless treasures, but extremely inadequately captioned. Overall descriptions of each room’s contents are also very superficial and dry. Nonetheless, there’s not much you can do to diminish the effect of the three giant statues, a wrathful deity flanked by two attendants, or a number of serene Buddhas, or three statues of Kannon from the famous temple in Kyoto. One statue of a deity stands in front of an intricately-carved screen of crimson flames. Just about every facet of Japanese art is represented, including textiles and ceramics, and there is a great hall with a small but superb selection of swords, each of which is perfect and quite deadly-looking, and most of which are between 1500 and 500 years old.

Eventually one comes to the entrance to another building in which Japan’s past is described, although again there is much, much more documentation in Japanese than in English. I don’t think it would break the national treasury to print up -- and sell -- a booklet in various foreign languages for foreigners, but they’re not doing it now. One great thing in this building is the collection of haniwa, odd clay statues which were found at the openings of so-called keyhole tombs, named for their shape when viewed from above. Many are portraits, but there is a charming horse whose kawaii content qualifies him for endless reproduction in the souvenir shop.

I had missed the top floor of the main building, so I walked back there and saw the painting and calligraphy sections, although the lighting necessary to display them is so gloomy it’s very hard to make things out. It was getting late, and I was hurrying more than I wanted to, so I may go back when I come back to Tokyo. This didn’t stop me from noting the incredibly derivative late Meiji-era Impressionists, though.

It was nearly 5 by the time I hit the park again, and the homeless guys were all lined up getting haircuts from the Christians. Given that they have a pretty well-defined encampment there, the denial by the authorities that the homeless exist is pretty chilling. I hit Ueno Station with visions of the famous Tokyo rush hour in my head, but I was headed the other direction, and the ride was actually spent sitting down, for the most part. I hit the hotel, changed my shirt, threw my ticket voucher into my bag, and turned around to go back to Ueno. One nice thing about shows here is how early they start: 7pm, ending about 9, which gives plenty of time for an interval.

The show was in the recital hall, a relic, as Carl pointed out, of the Olympics in the ‘60s, with radical concrete walls in a rough but deliberate Japanese style I rather like. There were plenty of people, too, although it was far from filled, and lacking any more specific directions I just plonked down in the third row. Eventually, the lights went down, and Tomoko Yazawa, the pianist, came out wearing jeans and a backless top with stars and stripes on it, reminiscent of Wonder Woman. She sat down at a synthesizer and opened with one of the David Lang pieces, “Cage,” which had her hammering away such that it sounded like there was a digital echo, a very interesting sound, given the dry tone of the synthesizer. This was followed by “Far Away From Here,” which she co-wrote with Horkazu Hiraishi, and had a drum-and-bass component on tape, although the piano part was austere in an appealing way. Next up was the Frank Zappa composition, “Ruth Is Sleeping,” which, perhaps because of my jet-lagged condition (the Coffee Jack I’d had at the hotel was letting me down: it’s the damn sugar) I found incomprehensible. Hell, I think that about his “popular” music, so why not this? It was virtuosic -- scored for four hands, although she seemed to be equipped with only two -- but empty. Again, just like his pop work. Scott Johnson’s “Jet Lag Lounge” was next, and I was really drifting. It seemed pleasant enough, but I’d really have to hear it again. Another Lang piece, similar to the first, was next, and the first half concluded with Hirokazu Hiraishi’s “Fire,” which pitted live piano against taped piano and electronics.

I stretched some, talked with some San Francisco-based art administrators and a guy who runs a fellowship program to bring artists to Japan, and felt a bit more awake. The second half opened with Scott Johnson’s “Maybe You,” which began with that phrase, electronically manipulated, the piano tracing around it, and the track filling up with cello, electric guitar, and other electronics which might have been the words even more distorted. A collaboration with Masahiro Sugaya, “Gyration,” followed, pretty undistinguished, and then Carl’s new piece, “Tlapazola,” which he had described to the arts administrators as “a bagatelle” while explaining why he’d graciously ceded the concert’s finale for it. It’s nice, quite subtle, with a taped piano playing alongside the real one, but gradually doing things which show that it’s been manipulated electronically. The video for this one -- there was video for all of them, hard to make out against the grey of the concrete walls -- showed Japanese children playing in Ameican concentration camps during the War, a brilliant montage put together by Sugaya. It was, yes, a bagatelle, but it was a lively and pleasant one. The finale, “The Same Sky,” by Carolyn Yarnell, had its own color video, and a track which seemed to have been recorded on the same piano Tomoko was playing, giving the piece a great hall-of-mirrors quality which brought about quite a response at the end. Tomoko, clad for the second half in a sheer silk pantsuit, encored with “Far Away From Here,” although I think she may have improvised some of it differently from the first time around.

There followed the usual post-concert sit around and wait, and I talked to a director from New York who’d been at Bellagio with Carl, and with various others, and then drifted out for a cigarette, which finally caused the caffeine to kick in. This was good, because things always take a long tme after a show, and this one was no exception. I talked for a while with the director, and the arts administrators came out and we talked some, and finally we were shooed out by the usherettes. Outside, I began talking with Scott Johnson, who was over here for the event, and he started complaining about how the guys in the academy have ignored popular music for so long that a vital strain in what he called the “cultural ecology” was dormant and in danger of dying. This came from a remark I’d made about how he should sell t-shirts at his gigs (and I was only half joking, since I know Carl does well selling CDs at gigs), and I think this opened up for me the possibility of a panel at SXSW on the crisis in the avant-garde. I’ll e-mail them about this if I can ever get my damn e-mail to work at the same time as I’m around a telephone that also works.

The deal was that we were going to get a meal, and the good news was Noda-san was there. He’s kind of Carl’s road manager and advance man in Japan, and is a true foodie, an expert in Japan’s regional cuisines. In junior high, he’d been in an accident on his bicycle with a car, and after he recovered, he never went back, I later learned. He is nonetheless very well versed in avant-garde music and performs road manager services for a number of acts, both Japanese and foreign, when they tour the country.

A long, long discussion between Tomoko (who was now wearing a skimpy top and jeans open at the top to reveal a kind of black silk jockstrap with studs -- did I mention that she’s a complete babe?) and Noda and several others who were standing around as to what to do next resulted in a plan finally being hatched -- and a good thing, because it was getting on to 11 -- and we jumped on the train and headed to Shinjuku. As soon as we got off the train, cell-phones were put into action and Noda-san scored. A call was placed to Tomoko and Scott in her car and we headed off through streets lightly misted with rain to a cellar bar with what seemed to be hundreds of food options -- Japanese tapas, as it were. This sort of place is called an izakaya.

There were green soy beans on the table when we sat, and we gave Noda full freedom to order. Thank heavens. Some chicken cartilage (with some meat still on them) with kimchi, skewers of thin-sliced pork, Osaka-style pressed sushi with mackerel, tofu in a soupy cod-roe sauce, clams in a thin broth, a delicious simple broiled fish (“No word in English, it comes from very cold waters,” said Noda), a kind of Japanese guacamole with saltines, chicken gizzards and green peppers in a great mustard sauce (the gizzards were too stringy, though), tofu with tiny, tiny deep-fried fish, and I think there must have been more...all washed down with good cold Asahi beer. It was a great party, and clearly all those who had participated in the concert appreciated it.

It was also not very far from the hotel, and my SXSW idea kept coming on as we walked back, contrasting the way Kronos, Glass, Reich, and Adams were marketed almost as pop stars, and the idea that people like Tomoko, too, should be able to be marketed like that while giving exposure to new composers. Somebody should set up a record label with a relationship with a major or strong indie, put out a dozen records over two years, liberally salted with electronic and chamber works which are cheap to record, with one release by a star like Glass, and marketed to the avant-rock and dance markets. This, I think, is what Scott was talking about, although he didn’t have the idea, just an informed observation of the symptoms.

Time to leave Tokyo tomorrow, so I went back, had a nightcap while thinking on all of this, and crashed.

Sept. 8: Ogaki, Gifu

Was it hot this morning? Texas-like; Karen had visited here last year in September, and warned me that I’d encounter “Houston Weather,” but I’d secretly decided it would be early fall, and had packed accordingly. Stupid. We headed out for a coffee and roast-chicken-and-mayonnaise-on-spongey-bagel sandwich, then went back, packed, went to Shinjuku, and rode over to Tokyo Station.

The first order of business, of course, was to buy bento for ourselves, and then Carl had to buy gifts for his girlfriend Yoshiko’s family. Then we found our seats on the famous Shinkansen bullet train, where Carl decided to hop off for a minute and get drinks to go with the bento. He got back on, and said he’d found Fuji-san-side seats up front, so we hustled down there. The train is not only fast, but remarkably steady, unlike the TGV. We rocketed through an urban landscape, with only little pockets of agriculture, and gradually mountains -- or at least large hills -- started to appear. The day, however, was too hazy for Fuji-san. Hope I’ll see it on the way back to Tokyo.

Carl worked nearly the whole way -- he says he has no spare time between now and leaving for the America-Barcelona trip on the 22nd, and it would appear he’s right. However, about 30 minutes out of Nagoya, he remembered the bentos, and we ate. Mine had vegetable sushi, fried chicken, an awful gray yam-jelly cube, cucumber pickle, pickled huge black bean, and he’d picked up another small side of fried octopus, chicken, and whole shrimp. The drink he’d gotten me was Grapefruit Water, which was unfortunately skewed towards the sugar side, not towards grapefruit or water, but it was okay.

We wrestled our luggage through Nagoya station and got the local to Ogaki, and it was, if anything, hotter than in Tokyo. My hotel was the APA, a nice place right at the station, and I had to “join” APA Hotels to qualify for a ¥1000 discount, but once that was accomplished, I went up to the room for a minute before we went back to the station to deal with my travel plans for tomorrow. The electricity didn’t work, and when I went back down, Carl laughed and pointed out that I had to insert the keychain in a slot in the wall to make it work. This saves energy, but would seem to defeat comfort, in that the air conditioning won’t work otherwise, nor will the refrigerator.

The guy at the station said I didn’t need reservations for the train to Takayama, so Carl went back to the house and I went to the room to watch TV and enjoy a cold can of Love Body, Coca Cola’s green tea in a can. Carl had suggested a nearby town as being colorful and interesting, but it was so hot I didn’t feel particularly adventurous, so I just sat around and watched TV until dinnertime.

Japanese TV certainly was interesting. I was looking for commercials, which are my usual barometer for a country’s commercial culture, but it was hard to tell what was a commercial and what wasn’t, except in very overt circumstances where the production values were far greater than what I’d been watching; for instance car ads. For a while I watched a channel where a couple of young women went here and there, ooohing and aaahing about everything in and around a totally over-the-top Swiss chalet kind of vacation spot: the rooms, the beds, the onsen, the food. It looked like an infomercial, but Carl claims that these are informational programs about vacations, and although some “promotional considerations” exist, they’re really not ads. I’m not so sure, myself.

From there, I found some news, with footage of the fire in Shinjuku which had killed 44 people a couple of weeks ago in a multi-story entertainment building with a mah-jongg parlor and a “sexual harrassment clinic.” There was also a piece which showed cops crawling along a highway and a rectangle outlined in dark plastic. This turned out to be news of the arrest of a schoolteacher who had killed a 12-year-old girl. She had called her mother on her cell-phone and told her she’d be home in a minute, and five minutes later she was found dead and handcuffed by the side of the road. Crime isn’t common in Japan, but when it happens, it’s weird, and this looks like a real strange one. (Later, I found out more about this case; it turned out that the teacher was running a dating service using middle-school girls, and she was part of it. This is apparently not an uncommon phenomenon, apparently not seen as immoral or weird, for some reason, and these girls make extra money having sex with these older guys. One disturbing detail I read in the paper was that she’d told him she was only 12, and he’d said that was okay, he didn’t mind. So...what was she thinking? And where are the parents in stories like this?)

Flip, flip, flip, searching for ads, and suddenly everything was food: a fishing show which seemed to be hyping a reel with a LCD display attached to it which gave you various data on what your line was doing, “sponsored” by the manufacturer, and a thing on “pimen” growing, ie, pimentos. And guess who wound up eating the pimen? The ooh-aah girls! Then there were two teenage girls visiting the site of the ‘98 Winter Olympics, doing their own oohing and aahing, and a report on exotic animal smuggling on the Vietnam-China border.

Carl called about 7:10 saying we were ready to go get some sushi in Gifu. As he called I was watching a commercial for a Pringles-like product in which the words “Angry European Potato” flashed by. I never saw it again, although Carl did: there’s a guy lying in a field eating these potato chips, and an animated potato comes up to him and asks him for one. The guy says no, and that’s when the flash happens. I want an angry European potato!

The sushi place was magnificent. When we walked in, all the sushi chefs started yelling greetings. “Oh, you’ve been here before,” I quipped. But it turns out that’s what the Japanese do whenever anyone enters a restaurant or a store. Makes you feel good, initially, although I would soon get very, very tired of it. They also say good-bye the same way, possibly with even more gusto, considering, in this place, how much money they’d just made. The old guy who ran it was in the hospital with a hernia, evidently, and the crew for the evening was mostly his sons, but they had all manner of great stuff, including a tank in the back which had fish swimming in perfectly clear water, as opposed to the sick fugu we’d seen while wandering around Shinjuku. We started out with a selection of sashimi, octopus, maguro, toro, salmon, shrimp and sweet egg omelet, then went on to the sushi: crab legs, whale, horse, huge shrimp, and I finished off with the Platonic ideal of grilled eel. I passed on crab brains and squid guts, though, and, although he made fun of me, I notice Carl did, too.

The night landscape of Gifu was so much like America, with its neon and chain restaurants and stores that it was a study in cultural confusion: what were all these Japanese characters doing there? And why were we driving on the wrong side of the road? There were just enough American chains mixed in to heighten the confusion. One pachinko chain I saw twice featured a huge Statue of Liberty flashing various lights and with a truly psychedelic torch. Back in Gifu we delivered a bottle of wine to a bartender at what Carl said was Ogaki’s only decent bar, Barrel, and I was rewarded with a shot of Old Fitzgerald 1849, which I haven’t seen in years. Outside was a bridge with a historical marker about a local stonemason who had erected a milestone there (it’s still there) in the 19th century telling people how to get out of Ogaki, which, I gathered, was Ogaki’s only historical monument, but a useful and thoughtful one. Back to the hotel and to sleep, sorta, although the pillow sure was hard. The solo journey starts tomorrow.

Sept. 9: Takayama

Certainly getting to Takayama wasn’t too difficult. I jumped on a train to Gifu, was there in 15 minutes, and had a 40-minute layover there in a lovely covered, air-conditioned garden space, surely the most luxurious train station waiting room I’ve ever seen, before the big-windowed train into the scenic mountains left. However, ten minutes before it did leave, I noticed that all the cars were reserved, the man at the station in Ogaki notwithstanding. In a flash, though, I had not only a reservation, but one in first class, which went unchallenged.

The journey itself was plenty nice. The mountains started almost immediately, although I suspect these weren’t the Japanese Alps, as such. They were all below the tree-line and there was no snow, for one thing. But there was lots of agriculture, mainly rice, and soon we joined a river which produced some fine gorges with weathered rocks. The main problem was it was 90 degrees out there. Oh, and I’d run out of money. With luck, there’d be a cash-machine in Takayama, and the dire predictions I’d heard about the lack of them wouldn’t be true.

So the first thing I did when I checked in at the Best Western was ask about a cash machine. There was one across the street. I went over there and...the bank was closed, but the machines in the part that was open sure didn’t look useable. I asked again and received a map, on which the desk clerk indicated a couple which she thought would work.

I walked down to the first one, several blocks away, and it didn’t seem to work at all. I tried two cards and nothing. This was bad: I had only ¥1000 and some change in my pocket, and time was ticking away. I consulted my map and found to my delight that the Takayama Jinja was quite near, and after much circumnavigating the thing, I finally found my way to the entrance. It cost ¥400 to get in, but I was sure I’d find a machine soon, so I paid. The Jinja was where the regional administrator lived and worked during the Edo period, under incredible pressure from the capitol to produce revenue from the local agriculture and mining, something which kept the entire region poor, and led to the occasional riot, which usually cost the administrator his head, particularly if, as some of them had, they’d sided with the rioters. It had sumptuous rooms with tatamis on the floor (I had to remove my shoes and carry them with me as I toured the place), and a torture chamber for extracting those last tiny coins from the populace.

Back outside, I noticed a ricksha with a guy dressed as a samurai waiting. This is a tour service (only in Japanese) that’s run here for the tourists. But I was panicking now: I had to find some dough. I followed the map to where the bank should have been, but found nothing, so I crossed over the bridge to Sannomachi, the described in the tourist literature as “old private houses.” This is picturesque, sure, but lined from one end to the other with tourist shops -- and tourists. I was starving by now -- I hadn’t had breakfast because I’d slept too long the night before, hadn’t bought a bento in Gifu because it was so hot I wasn’t hungry, and it was now catching up to me. Just outside the Jinja, I’d bought some mochi balls dipped in shoyu and grilled on a stick (mitarashi-dango), which helped fuel me up, and then on the samurai street, I’d bought a similar thing, only Popsicle-shaped. I also found a place where big discs of rice cracker were dipped in shoyu, grilled, and served with a big pice of nori, which was fantastic, but now I was dying of thirst. I did at least have presence of mind enough to snap a few photos, including one of a wonderful little doll of a guy with a box in his hands, who, powered by a water-wheel driven by what I guess was once an open sewer that runs down both sides of the street, raises and lowers it, revealing a different plastic food model every time. Very ingenious.


The little box guy

Things tend to close at 5, and it was getting to that point, so I wandered up a street to find a huge temple complex with a stage with a giant bell in the middle of it (not explained in the book, for some reason), and, finally, a vending machine with ...Water Salad! I walked down the hill, to the place where the bank was supposed to be and discovered that, approaching it from this direction, a small kiosk with an ATM was, indeed, visible. I went in and got my dough, and, feeling better, walked back along the street it was on and found a sake shop which also featured a number of hand-crafted beers from the Hida Takayama Brewing Agricultural Corporation, Ltd. (since 1996), of which I bought their dark ale. (Carl told me later that the stuff in a blue bottle with a bird on it, which was also on sale there, is like Christmas ale, brewed with spices). A man in the shop rushed out to ask me what I was going to do with it, and I told him I was headed back to the hotel to drop it into the refrigerator, which soothed him. Microbrewers take their craft seriously.

And that’s what I did, too. It was nearing 6, and time for some down-time. Nick’s book seemed to indicate that restaurants closed at 7, which was hard to believe, but at least now I had money to get some grub. Around 7:15, that’s what I decided to do, so I walked out of the hotel, turned the corner and saw a bunch of dark restaurants. There was one, however, which looked open, and it had an Engrish menu -- lots of “flied” things -- outside, so I went in. A bunch of locals sat at a bar, drinking sake and choshu and eating various pickles and side-dishes displayed in front of them in huge bowls, but there was also a tatami area where one couple was eating, so I took off my shoes and sat down there and ordered a local specialty, miso grilled on a “big leaf” with sliced beef (hoha-miso). This came accompanied by some pickles, miso soup, rice, iced tea (!), and a raw egg in the middle. The bartender looked at me and said “You scramble,” so I did. It was lovely, although it was something of a race to cook the beef and fern stems before the leaf started to burn. I’d ordered a beer, and as I was finishing it, an old guy at the bar turned around and smiled at me.

He then ordered a bottle of beer and weaved over to my table. The waitress came over and started translating. “He says he doesn’t speak your language, but he sees you have good eyes and maybe you can talk with the heart.” So I poured him some beer, he poured me some, and the place turned into a circus of serial translations. He was a tourist, too, who’d driven from somewhere I didn’t catch, “far away,” according to the waitress, and the next day he was getting up at 6 and driving to the Noto Peninsula. The restaurant folks thought he was crazy to take such a long drive, but he was going to do it anyway. I had noticed a data-port at the hotel, and was kind of chafing at the bit to get back and see if I could get my e-mail to work, something I’d been unable to do so far. But manners dictated that I stay, and I finally pried myself away at about 9. The waitress walked outside with me and we noted how hot it was. And, at that hour, it still was.

Frustration back at the hotel: my goddam software still wouldn’t detect a dial-tone due to the busy-signal-like tone the hotel phone generated. So I got a Kirin from the vending machine, my ale was waiting in the fridge, and I read until 11, when I turned in, determined to get to the Morning Market the next day, and forge onward to Kanazawa.

Sept. 10: Takayama, Kanazawa

The tail end (actually the front end, as we’ll see) of a typhoon hit late last night, sort of breaking the heat wave. At any rate, it was definitely raining when I woke at 7:15 this morning, making me wonder if I was actually going to be able to do any further exploration in Takayama before my train left just before 1. But the first order of the day was breakfast. I headed downstairs to the Baker’s Field coffee shop (which advertised itself as a California restaurant), resigned to a Western breakfast because when I’d checked in, the girl assured me there was only American breakfast to be had. The pictures made it look semi-appealing, however, so I didn’t seek out any other places, and frankly don’t know where I would have looked.

You’d have been hard put to make a decent American breakfast out of what was on offer, though: some horrid-looking scrambled eggs and a few pastries, plus coleslaw and potato salad. Instead I went for the miso soup, a cup of rice, a wide assortment of pickles, some smoked fish, and a tiny cup of that legendary substance of debate, natto. Folks, natto is gooey. No getting around it. There was a tiny packet inside the well-packed cup with some mustard and something that sort of looked like shoyu, and I mixed that in, but I gotta say it didn’t do much for or against the flavor, which was not unlike baked beans as invented by the Japanese. But gooey? I later found a slime trail down my t-shirt, which must have gotten there from an ill-aimed jab of the sticks.

It was getting onto 8:15 after I’d nabbed some coffee from the vending machines and typed in yesterday’s notes, and I had decided to investigate the north end of town, starting, of course, with the Morning Market. I was starting to get a bit wet by the time I got there, but at least I’d beaten the bus-driven crowds I saw later. What was on offer was what was seasonal. One lady offered me a generous slice of apple from a pile she had, each not only perfect (all Japanese apples are perfect; I guess the rest get made into applesauce or something) but with a trademark, probably put there by applying scotch tape with the trademark in black letters so it doesn’t ripen as dark as the surrounding skin. Amazing. Another granny lady insisted I take an odd green sweet, which was barley sugar and ...something. I eventually gave it to the river, because there was so much else to taste.

One lady was putting the finishing touches on a turban squash, which she’d made into a funny face, and I shot her picture. Another guy insisted I try one of his not-too-sweets, made from sesame (“This one peanut, sesame; this one peanut, sesame; this one peanut, sesame” he said of three different colored varieties of the same thing, each of which tasted differently, and none of them of peanuts), and there were also eggplants in sizes between thumb size and the length of my hand, okra, those peppers that look like large serrano chiles but are mild, some early gourd squashes, some really sick-colored tomatoes (reminiscent of the ones I grew in the Bay Area before I learned you can’t ripen them there), and several miso and shoyu merchants who were grilling those leaves like I’d had for dinner last night.

Past the market was the road to the two houses, the Kusakabe Mingeikan and the Yoshijima-ke. The former Nick’s book describes as a “folk art museum,” but it’s hard to tell what exactly is on display here, since the little English sheet they give you doesn’t really say and there’s no other English documentation. It’s a nice enough house, built in the 1880s by a master builder for a guy whose family made most of its money loaning money to the local government, after his ancestral home burned down. They serve you tea and rice crackers after you pad around the tatamis in your socks, but I wasn’t too impressed, especially since a video downstairs which explains the house in Japanese has some of that horrible fake classical music the Japanese seem to do so “well,” cf. the hall music in the hotels, and you could hear it vaguely from just about everywhere in the place.

Since it was next door, I went to the Yoshijima-ke after watching some guys across the street make tatamis for a while. This house is notable for what’s not in it. No collection of ceramics and kimonos, just great bare lines, amazing light, a scroll or two, and, at the moment, some contemporary artist’s ink paintings. It was built in 1905, and after looking at the pictures of the Hamburg art collectors’ houses in the teens and ‘20s at a show earlier this year, I tried to imagine the impact something like this would have had on a European who was used to the clutter and chaos of lines that, even in the ‘20s, were the norm. Any architect with any pretensions towards reform would have had his brain strip-mined by this place. It’s still avant-garde. And they insisted I have some coffee afterwards, so now I was full as could be.

There was still a lot of time left before I had to grab my bags and head to the station, so I headed back to Sannomachi, where, not being desperate and hungry, I took things much slower.

This time I noticed the globes of cryptomeria above the sake brewers’ shops, looked carefully at some of the weird food items (mostly pickles), and found that you can buy miso and leaves for grilling (of course this means you then have to buy a charcoal burner and a little screen to put the leaf on), checked some of the lacquerware and ceramics on sale, and just dawdled around. Takayama is famous for its spring and fall fesivals, which involve a dozen or so floats being carried through the streets. The rest of the year, they “live” in sort of garages throughout the town, and there’s a plaque in front of each explaining its history. Before each, there’s a little box with a rubber stamp. I guess Japanese tourists carry a book with them and, having found each float, stamp the book with its image. Voila: the origin of Pokemon: gotta catch ’em all!

Still having time to kill, I walked down to the street where I’d bought the ale the night before and strolled it slowly, checking out what Takayamans really buy. At one place, I saw a guy making vegetable sushi, just about to start dealing with some he was unwrapping. He saw me looking and waved me in. He was a young guy, in his 30s, and spoke impeccable English because he’d hung out some in San Francisco. We talked food (“Indian food is the best: I went to Calcutta and Benares to eat it.”) and he showed me how this pressed rice was covered with ginger and then layered with pickled daikon. I didn’t want to delay him, since the lunch hour was coming on and people would be in to buy bentos, but I left feeling good, once again.

That street stretched on much further than I’d thought and pretty soon I was walking under a New Orleans-like covered sidewalk checking out this and that along the way. Best was a record shop with a poster for what might be a battle of the bands, with the words “Pizza of Death Crap” at the bottom. Definitely worth a pic. And, opening up off of this street was what was evidently the “entertainment quarter,” jammed with bars and places with names like Ruby Snack, which sure didn’t look like they served many snacks. But the bars all seemed to be tiny and they were jammed together like nobody’s business. Weird: in America, you’d try to have as big a bar as possible and attract a lot of folks to it. Here, a ten-man bar would seem to be the norm.

Death Pizza Records turned out to be an interesting story: started by a guy who'd financed it by being a pizza delivery guy, who said "Desu pizza" -- "Here's your pizza" -- each time he delivered one. "It sounded like 'Death Pizza' to me,' he said, so that became the name of the label. Oddly, it featured wispy folkie acoustic stuff, for the most part.

Trouble is, that took me out from under the cover at a point when it really started coming down. I was pretty soaked by the time I got to the hotel to claim my luggage, and I noticed that I hadn’t closed the flap on my shoulder bag and some of my reading matter was the worse for water. Ugh.

Finally made it to the station, waited a few minutes, and here came the train to Toyama, where I’d change for the 45-minute trip to Kanazawa. Great trip, too: nearly all agricultural, especially once we climbed out of the mountains and got into the coastal flatlands. Rice predominated, in tiny fields stuck anywhere they could be stuck. Often, a small cemetery looked out over the rice-fields, which I found moving. Farmers in conical hats and the traditional jackets were working them, too, right out of Hiroshige’s Manga. There were orchards, several kinds of squash growing here and there, lots of taro, with its elephant-ear leaves, and other stuff I couldn’t identify. The scale of the fields -- I don’t eat much rice, but I probably could empty one of the smaller ones in a year if you count restaurant food -- made me wonder where the giant agribusiness was. Surely it’s there.

Certainly other kinds of giant businesses have imposed themselves on Toyama. It didn’t look like such a hot place and doesn’t get many words in Nick’s book. Pretty soon the Thunderbird, headed for Osaka, came and I headed to Kanazawa.

Kanazawa greeted me with more rain, and although I could see my hotel, I couldn’t seem to get to it, which was frustrating. I eventually plowed through the station’s bus depot and found my way there. The Holiday Inn, recommended by Nick’s book, was...a Holiday Inn. I’d hoped it was the ideal combo of East and West the Best Western had been in Takayama, but it turned out to be the good old green and shades-of-brown Holiday Inn of the ‘60s, from which it almost certainly dates. It being way too early for dinner, I decided to find the market, which had been recommended (the sushi guy in Takayama called it the “Fisherman’s Wharf of Japan”), and took off uncertainly towards it. This city, for certain, wasn’t as tourist-friendly as Takayama, which, to be fair, probably makes a good deal of its living off of tourism (and as such is a pretty good orientation spot for this country). There are no maps, no tourist brochures, in English, and no tourist office in the train station that I could ever find. But I eventually found the market and it was hopping at 5 o’clock as people jammed it, searching for late-day bargains. What was evident was that the crab were in, several different kinds, in fact, including one which looked like it was covered with hair, as well as the more famous snow crab. There was also a weird medicine stand with dried snakes and turtles. But people were pulling up their stands, and I’d gotten a good idea what was there, so I made my pass through and decided to head back. Since the Miyako across the street from my hotel had a good skyline profile, I decided I wouldn’t get lost if I deviated from my previous route, so I walked down a street and found another market. This was a covered one like the food market, but had other kinds of shops in it; some marked with what appeared to be the seal of some organization which specialized in certifying the place’s adherence to tradition. One made shrines for the home, another cloth. The place was almost deserted, although some shops were still open. I left, walked down a road leading to the hotel, and passed a huge shrine which abutted the covered market.

Back at the hotel, I was wet, sweaty, and badly in need of a shower, which I took, phoning the front desk for a reservation (which it turned out I hardly needed) at the recommended seafood restaurant in the basement. I typed the first part of this, read about the town in the book, and wondered if I’d be able to venture out at all tomorrow. At 8:30 I went down for dinner, and got a “set” of mixed seafood with something resembling mayonnaise; a soup called jibujibu which was brought to the table raw and mounted on a brazier, which heated the iron pot and boiled the soup, cooking the duck meat, mushrooms and vegetables within; sashimi, including the local “sweet shrimp”; a small portion of crab; various pickles, miso soup, and the piece de resistance, a fried crabshell filled with crabmeat and breadcrumbs, resembling an American “stuffed crab,” right down to the mayo and frozen green peas. Weird.

After that I headed to a beer-store nearby I’d found on my walk and got a couple of cans of that Kirin autumn beer, which had a light sourness to its usual ricey crispness that was hard to place. Very nice stuff; I saw Sapporo also makes one, so that’s for tomorrow night. Bed at 11:30 (good heavens), only to discover the infamous Japanese buckwheat-husk pillow. Ow.