Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Quick note

Quick note: I just downloaded a 150Mb file from in under a minute, on a normal household internet connection. In a rural farming town. Japan has its charms.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Mountained Sphere, part 1: The hills of Japan

The hills here do not roll. Japanese hills leap.

One will be on a plain, the moist flatland of central Californian dreams, and there, not a hundred yards away, a hill rockets up in indescribable greenery.

This is not big-sky country.

You can get a crick in your neck without realizing it, you have to look up every time you want to see the weather. It can mess with your perception of the horizon. You will find yourself looking up at a 45 degree angle, and, suddenly, you realize, you aren't looking at a flat horizon. You try to look straight, and you realize that you can't from the very top edge of your eyeline, see the sky. You can't even see halfway up the hill, or thirty yards away.

I have never seen hills so vertical.

And it's not just in the country - the cities change elevation like they were built out of lego-blocks. Taking a train through the city, you look out the windows, and there's one row of houses, fifty feet below another, and nearly straight down, so fast you wouldn't want to roll down the side. You could throw a large sibling out the back door of a hilltop house, and he'd land on the front porch of the house below.

Incidentally, this corrects a misperception I had about fiction set in Japan. Watching the Last Samurai, I thought the village was set in some unreal city, the valley walls were just too perfect of razors, inspiration for swords. I thought surely this was the work of some high-paid location scout, probably found the spot somewhere in central Asia, and a team of Hollywood stagehands spent weeks stripping, shaping, and reassembling the hills. But no, all the hills are like that, sharp, but still wooded. I thought the hill behind the house in My Neighbor Totoro was an exaggeration - the animated movie form coming through to portray a child's-eye view of both wonder and unreality. But again, no, The hills really do require serious panning-up to get to the tops, and they are so covered with trees, you can't tell where the hill ends and trees begin.

The whole thing reminds me of Chesterton's comment that sometimes we forget culture can be older than nature - I wonder are these sharp hills cultural or natural. Are they the creation of some strange rocks and geophysical forces mashing things straight, or are they the creation of generation after generation of rock farmer, slowly chipping away at hillsides, desperate for just one more yard of workable earth, slowly wearing the hills into sharp peaks. Ultimately, I don't know - it's probably some combination of both, but a wonder, of nature or culture, is a wonder to behold.

Incidentally, the picture is right behind where we work every day. I certainly didn't have that view at my old desk.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Any Questions?

So, here we are in Japan. There is far too much to see and think about right now, so stay tuned. I do intend to post my observations of Japanese and farming society and geography here soon. I am trying to create something that captures the beauty of the landscape, the soft glow through rice paper walls, and the strange rainbow flowers of clothes drying behind almost every house and apartment. That'll take time.

Until then, I thought I'd open things up to questions. Please, if you have any questions, post them here or on facebook.

Brief notes:
Snow Monkeys. On the roof. Crazy.
I've eaten plenty of strange stuff already. Kimchi (kind of good, actually) Natto (salty, pasty, sticky... but quite edible), Stewed Octopus and Geletain on a skewer (from a street vendor no less), Spaghetti with pureed spinach as a sauce, and a number of other odd and interesting things.

My favorite dish so far has probably been the sauteed pumpkin in some indescribable soy-based sauce. Now I'm hungry.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Strange fact of flying west

Strange fact of flying west: The sun rose over California around 6:30 Sunday morning. It did not set over us until about 2 the next morning, California time.

Also weird: West is now east. - The "west" coast, the "western" culture, etc, is now largely east from us...

Two blogs, one trip!

For those of you interested in my wife's far more lucid and extensive notes on our trip, I recommend:

FWIW, It may be the eternal optimist in me editing my memories, but I honestly don't think things were as difficult as she makes it out to be. Sure, it was confusing, bewildering, and possibly dangerous, (more so than my trip to Europe) but there was a little tiny column of English on the train schedule... not that we were sure we were even reading that right.

My advice: Instead of trying to learn kanji (blech) see if you can find a few pictures of Japanese train schedules beforehand and familiarize yourself with the look and where the english sections are, where they can be found, etc. Of course, this may not help you out beyond Tokyo, where a surprising amount was still in english...

That said, she's right on about the hotels. Really, who puts their major airport an hour and a half from their major city? And it's not in the suburbs either. Woods surround Narita airport. It's a very bewildering feeling for the traveler expecting a world megopolis. Wait? Are you sure we're in the right country?

My Bones

This is a poem I came up with while pondering the dangers of modern flight.

Here is a (very boring) video of me reading it, as I like to include audio.

"My Bones"

My bones are not white.
My bones - not osseous honeycombs
That if I should die, while in the sky,
a sweating, nervous hand,
fingering trigger across the aisle,
an eternal rose of flame, for a moment in the sky,
breathless, and the people shocked
You will not honor my bones
With revenge.

You will not honor my bones
If I should die -
You will not honor my bones
with armies. You will not honor my bones,
more soldiers.
My bones are not flesh,
are not revenged with flesh,
They did not die with flesh,
They shall not perish.

Neither are my bones aluminum
My bones are not airplanes
nor science, stretched wings,
angelic and rippling with wind
stiff and thin, carrying American
and other across the seas.
My bones are not capital
My bones are not national
My bones - quote enquote - are ocean spray

You will not honor my bones
when I die
Will not honor my bones
with bombs. Nor space shuttles
nor skyscrapers
nor airplanes
nor anything you dream
or dreamed
in this state.
Nor are my bones a nation
My bones - not the grass
the moutains - purple, grey, or brown
white capped, overlooking the ocean
hidden in the heartlands
my bones are not a country
for old men or young
no Byzantium, Rome, England
empire, state, capital or law.

You will not honor my bones
If I should die - repeat! no honor with soldiers!
right, just, or effective,
Let them raise other men
If they can - Other dust make dust
raise Requiem in arms.
My bones, no flag, over coffin,
no nation died with me,
as with me no nation lived.

My bones - what held me up
My bones - what steadied the strain
of muscles and spirit?
My bones - what are they?
What can we honor, with me gone?
My bones, sediment in the deep
for glowing fishes to snap at
as I fall.

You may honor my bones with learning.
Honor my bones with thought
Not dry thought - Not profit thought -
Thought of other men, love even of a sweating hand
thought for him - afraid, yet resolute
Think - why does he hate -
And when you have found why you too would hate
Then you have found him,
My bones, no longer my own
They are not holy mixed with some things.

I do recommend that you not interpret this poem to mean that no one can be honored in death by soldiers, armies, war, etc. That is an entirely different discussion.