Friday, September 23, 2005

On ya bike...

Today was an odd one. In between practice, I did get out for two lovely rides in Chichibu and the local surrounds.

The first ride took me out of Chichibu to the other side of the next town - a place called Yokoze. I turned around when the mountains started to get serious. Save that ride for another day.

Here is a farmer just beginning his rice harvest. he had this nifty little powered harvester which not only cut the stalks, but bundled and tied the rice into sheafs as well - you can see these lying on the ground next to his path.

After the field is harvested, the sheafs (sheaves?) are hung up to dry. Yokoze is a bit more rural feeling than Chichibu. Lovely to ride through - the bike gives me the freedom to explore down side roads, and venture further, without eating into my practice time.

Buko-san is the mountain behind Chichibu and Yokoze both, and I cant help but be reminded of the movie "Princess Mononoke" - which describes the struggle between the forest and its representative spirits, and iron-age Japan, that had begun to see it as little more than fuel for the blast furnaces. The spirits of course were a bit cross.

Buko-san is high-grade limestone, and is being peeled like an apple. Pretty tragic, really. I can hear blasting every now and then, as the mountain is slowly broken down and turned into bags of cement to build modern japan.

This local statue of Buddha looked like it was about to have a shave. I guess the showercap and napkin were to protect from bird poo maybe...

The reason the day was a bit iffy for me was that my practice today consisted of blowing a single note, over and over, trying to find exactly the right combination of lip tension, embouchure, breath strength and flute position to achieve the best tone colour and strongest sound. I felt a bit like I was wandering around in the dark though, and wasnt really happy with the result. I know what I'm trying to achieve - Kakizakai's sound is the benchmark, and hes given me instructions for moving in that direction... but I still dont feel like im making any progress on this front. What kept me at it, despite the frustration, was one of the books I'm reading at the moment - a translation of a piece by a famous Zen monk called Dōgen, accompanied by a commentary by a current zen roshi - was at hand, and I kept picking it up when i got frustrated with blowing Ro (the lowest note on the flute). I'd read a bit, and then (in vairous different, but unmistakeable ways) the book would effectively say:

"What are you doing reading this? Reading about zen is like reading a prescription and hoping to get better. Just PRACTICE!!"

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Love Bike

"Amour..." it says on the side. How could I not fall in love?

9,900 yen brand new. Roughly $120 australian. A steal! *and* it folds up!!

Already done is a thorough de-stickering (except for the "amour..." sticker, which of course stays). It has japanese-standard-tiny cranks, and is quite low geared, so I'm looking into the option of digging up some longer cranks with a bigger front chainring from back home. Hmm... maybe some mountainbike hydraulic disc brakes... ahhh - thats right. This is a *budget* project... Sometimes the gearfreak constructor in me just won't let go.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Tokyu Hands - "For Your Creative Life"

I went in to Tokyo yesterday for my first explore. I was left pretty speechless by the experience. I'm still finding it hard to describe :) You'll just all have to go see for yourselves.

One thing that is apparent is that with at least half the entire population of Australia living within a 2hr train ride of the centre, almost any obscure niche market becomes worth persuing.

On the recommendation of my friend Andrew, I visited a store called Tokyu Hands, in Shibuya. He knows me pretty well and said, fairly understatedly, that I would like it. So I found the place (after wandering around Shibuya, reeling off photos like the dazed tourist I was) and went in. About maybe 3 hours later when I came to, the cow was gone, and in my hand I had a bag of magic beans...

Tokyu Hands calls itself the Creative Life Store - and that pretty much describes what it is.

If you are involved in any creative persuit then this place Has What You Need. It even has stuff you didnt even know you needed, till they placed it on a shelf in front of you.

Needless to say, it melted my brain, and I walked out some hours later a happy man with a lighter wallet and a bag of raw dream-stuff.

Sadly, I could only maintain consciousness long enough to take photos of the "engineering supplies" section. They also have a full blown workshop, and will cut, bend, drill, dovetail any materials you buy in the store to your specifications. metal, wood, plastic. AND the most incredible range of tools ive ever seen anywhere. AND a design workshop, where they will print, cut and laser carve(!) stuff for you.

The place is 8 floors in all, divided into sub floors. These photos were just from one section of one floor. Their paper-art section was amazing too. As was the lapidary and jewellery making section, the woodwork section, the cooking supplies section, architectural modelling supplies, etc. ad infinitum.

And the english Store Guide points out that each floor has a "Counselling Centre" - presumably to help people come to terms with the experience. Or perhaps just to deal with people found wandering aimlessly through the store, with no recollection of who they were or how they got there...

Ill leave you with a picture of the booty. Bear in mind that this was just my first visit. Once ive trained rigourously for many weeks, prepared myself mentally, written my name, address and phone number down on a bit of paper pinned to my shirt, I'll be right back there.

"When you can snatch this Number 2 Micro-Torx Driver from my hand, only *Then* will you be ready..."

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


Monday, September 19, 2005

Supermarkets Can Be Fun

My local is a hoot! Kagemori Mall consists of a large supermarket, open till midnight every night, a huge 'drugstore', and "Shimamura Fashion Centre".

The Supermarket is called, appetisingly, "Belc". Every visit is an adventure. You can laugh at silly product names. Roll the dice and buy stuff that *looks* like something you recognise (warning "Peanut Soft" *looks* like peanut butter, but it is actually more like a pot of sugar with some peanuts and peanut colouring mixed in).

But the best thing is that they do have a lot of really yummy stuff, very cheap. Sushi and sashimi is a fraction of the price you pay in Australia. Lots of interesting dumplingy things, noodles, drinks, etc...

I couldnt resist trying these... And as the packet would seem to indicate, they were quite warm.

Shimamura Fashion Centre turned out to be much more fun that I first thought. I went in there to buy a bed sheet, and thought I'd see what else they had. The T-shirt section turned out to be a goldmine. I've bought a few as gifts for people back home, but if I can find a cheap shipping option, I'll buy a pile of them. They are only about $5aus each. Maybe have a party and give them out to people as they come in.

Back to the supermarket again: here is a photo of my favourite snack. Anyone able to translate? Spicy rice crackers, and at 99yen a packet, a total bargain.

Now, back to practicing. Got another lesson tonight. Coming along in leaps and bounds.

Shrine o' the times

This little shrine has been made and is maintained by one of the locals in my street, just down the road a bit. Its a very 'down to earth' kinda shrine, with the kinda things a very 'ordinary' deity might need. A clock shaped like a giant watch. Some plastic flowers. A girly magazine. A cup of tea. Some cooking utensils. Basic stuff.

A quick update on the neighbours. It appears that The Mechanic is ClipClop Woman's husband or father. I can't tell which, but on inspection, their house is part of the Garage 'compound'. I got a cool recording yesterday of the local grandmas chatting and having a great old cackle.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Jitensha dewa arimasen

After visiting a giant Bunnings type store, no bike as yet. My options there were a little limited - either a 3 speed 'ladies' style bike - the bog standard basic transport for all in these parts - for about $120 aus, or 6 speed fold-up bike for about $150. add about another $50 to each of those for gear rack, lock and lights. I thought pretty hard about the fold up option - which i could take with me on the trains when i go on the Grand Adventure in 2 weeks time, but just couldnt get my head around the logistics of travelling with it. It remains a definite option though. Opinions, anyone?

Aside from that, the hardware shops here are *far* superior to the ones at home. A backyard engineer's paradise. you want stainless steel cable in sizes down to 0.5mm. no problem. how about plywood? how does under 10 bucks for a large sheet of 12mm 7ply sound? same piece would get you almost no change from a pair of fifties back home. I could go on, but I'd just be torturing people. Including myself. I wonder how much a shipping container would cost to send home...

I'd like to find a real bike shop and see what the situation is there before I buy. Which probably means a trip into Tokyo - which is worthwhile just on its own. I wouldnt mind having some idea where to go before I set off, so I might survey everyone I can find here before I go. There are lots of westfield-style malls around outer Tokyo - I'd say a bike shop was sure to be found in one of them...

Two more photos of retro-style cars. The one on the left looks like on old Wolseley or something. "Enough!" you say, so I promise no more on them from now on.

But they are just so *cute*...

I mean, just look at this one - and two tone cream and beige paintwork!

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Kyo ni kuruma de Tokyo ni ikimashita

Today by car to Tokyo I went.

Its an hour and a half by car from Chichibu to where KZ teaches in Tokyo - at his wife Megumi's parents' place. The first 50 mins was through spectacular mountains with wild rivers and the ever present jungle. The rest of the trip was suburban Tokyo - for me as eye popping as the mountains.

The Japanese definately have a thing for Mini's. The cars, not the skirts. Almost the only pre-1995 car you ever see is a mini, usually done up like a replica racecar. That and VW Kombi vans. Everything else is so shiny and new it hurts your eyes. The current trend for modern versions of 1950's and '60s british cars goes deeper than I thought. Some fantastic new ones today. Cars are *cheap* here. I saw in a car yard a Honda Jazz, maybe a year or two older than mine, for the equivalent of about $5000 australian. They even make a 4wd version of the Jazz!

Luckily for me this cheapness extends to other modes of transport, and tomorrow I'm off to buy myself a bike. KZ tells me I can get a new bike for about $70 aus. My feeling is that there ought to be a huge market in 2nd hand bikes here, but there just doesnt seem to be. It appears they just get thrown away, or left to rot (or be eaten by the jungle). If I could figure out where the bicycle graveyard was, I'd just rescue one, but I have no idea where to start.

Election-Fist. This is a condition that politicians seem to suffer from at election time here. It seems there was a local election around the time I got here, and it was clear from the posters that there was an epidemic of Election Fist going around. Everyone had it, though there were many subtle variations. The version that hit most of the men made them look like power mad megalomaniacs, bent on world domination. The clenched fist held to one side, at about mid chest height - seeming to say either "And dont you ever come back!" or "If you only knew the *power* of the dark side...". The womens' variants were my favourites - one woman in particular who looked like a middle aged schoolteacher, holding her clenched fist low, with a naughty look on her face "ooh, look, ive got what it takes too - but shhh! dont tell anyone!"

No Ninja attacks today, but I saw my first Bosuzoku last night - the rebel motorbike revving yakuza wannabes. I heard them coming and got to the window of the van in time to see a black lexus with mega-dark tinted windows fly past at high speed, escorted by a pair of guys on what appeared to be trail bikes with no mufflers. The bike riders somehow managed to maintain forward motion while revving their bikes up and down as if they were on the starting grid of a motorbike grand prix.

And of course, there's the Love Truck.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Intanetto! w00teru!

I've found a wireless connection! It only works if I sit on my doorstep though. but I've got net! I wont *ahem* borrow *ahem* too much bandwith though, but I did get a bunch of photos out to patchie, anna, juz and nick. Email them if you want to see. If I'm lucky, someone might put them up on the web somewhere... :)

We all troop down to Tokyo tomorrow for lessons, Kakizakai teaches there on Saturday, so we (the chichibu cru) go too. should be fun!

But, it means i need to do at least another hour's practice before bed...

but heres a pic of the bamboo forest that i walk through most days

Renshu ga owatte kara, I go for a walk.

My neighbours.   ClipClop Woman.   The Mechanic.   Always Running Woman.  Curious Old Man.  Boyfriend&Girlfriend, Burning Off Man, and The Old Gardener.
a funny bunch.  Clipclop woman wears wooden sandals and lives opposite, with her family.  The Mechanic runs the chichibu garage, which is across the road from me.  they were working on the Chichibu Fire Engine yesterday - the teeniest fire engine youve ever seen :)   Always Running Woman seems to always be late for things.  Ive never seen her stand still - shes always running past in a blur, leaping over the bonnet of her car and screaming off.  I sometimes want to flag her down and ask her what the story is.  Curious Old Man walks his pointy dog up and down while trying not to appear to be checking me out.  Boyfriend and Girlfriend are terribly cute.  they come home from school together holding hands and being funny with each other.  Burning Off Man lives behind me, and seems to enjoy nothing more than to get a good fire going in a metal bucket and burn off garden prunings.  You smell him before you see him.  The Old Gardener - she works the large vege plot behind me - always weeding this or pruning that.  I hear the snip of her garden shears regularly.  Shes the only one whos actually come up and talked to me - she walked around the caravan until i poked my head out, then we had a simple conversation in japanese, revolving around hot weather.  she also asked me if i was living alone, and then had a mighty chuckle.
Im going to send a CD full of photos home today.  so hopefully they'll turn up on the web somewhere soon.
ok!  time to go!  im being booted!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Intanetto tsukatte mo ii desu ka?

Library again.  15 mins to work out how to get the keyboard to type in english.  :)
The last few days have been great - getting settled, getting a practice routine going, getting bolder at the supermarket...
Bronwyn turned up yesterday, and I am no longer the only anglo face in town.  After seeing her apartment, i've decided that Im pretty happy in the caravan - her apartment is nice - larger than I imagined, but quite dark, and I think it just wouldnt work for me.  Kakizakai says there is a teeny house in his street that I might like, so i'll have a look at that, but really i'm quite settled where I am now.
Perfect cubes of crustless white bread. skink sized lizards with yellow stripes and cobalt blue tails. Rice crackers that taste *exactly* like vegemite on toast!  the most fantastic manhole covers on earth.  mountains!  forest!
hey nat!  I sat in a bamboo grove and played my flute for you!  when i figure out how, photos to follow!
Chichibu is an amazing place.  the town itself is not all that exciting, except in its Japanese-ness.  but the setting is extraordinary - most streets end up becoming little tracks off into the forest - each one a little adventure.  everything here is reduced by 1/3 (at least) - houses, cars, etc...  but instead of being cramped, this seems to strangely have the reverse effect - the place feels spacious somehow.  because everyone is sharing the same space, there is a huge amount of consideration and respect given - eg, there are no footpaths, so the cars share the roads with cyclists (of which there are many) and pedestrians.  and I mean *share*.  its just lovely. 
there appears to be a retro thing going on with the cars here.  many people get around in what appear to be modern versions of 1950's and '60s cars - imagine a 2005 version of a Morris 1100...  again, photos soon, I hope.
sayonara for now!
Shakuhachi o fuku koto ga dai suki!

Friday, September 09, 2005

This may work...

If you are reading this, then it does. :)

I'm at the local library in Chichibu, using the internet here - but it has some kind of url filter that is preventing me updating my blog properly. The trip here was fun, and plenty mind bending. Tokyo is a mad place - in steel and concrete it mirrors the tropical jungle that covers anything not continually in use. Pictures when I get a chance. The funniest thing i saw on the way in was a giant bookstore, whose sign instructed the world to "Book Off!"

Crazy monorails, vege patches in the middle of hyper-dense urban spaces, an interesting collision of old and new, ultra-modern and decay. city and forest. (theres a totoro in there for sure!).  Captain Stag outdoor-wear, signage *everywhere* but none of it readable to me. The railway graf and tagging is almost exclusively in english though - bit strange.

And outside tokyo... **MOUNTAINS** real ones. pointy, steep and covered in impenetrable forest. Australia is an altogether slower, older place, where you have to take time to find the life of the land. Japan, on the other hand, will happily eat you alive the minute you stand still. Verdant and voracious. Movies like Princess Mononoke, and others make a more direct sense, even after just a day or two.

As for me, im temporarily housed in a caravan near Kakizakai's house, waiting for an
apartment to become free, hopefully on sunday. Kakizakai and his family are great - very welcoming. I had dinner with them last night.

My Japanese is already being pushed. I successfully had a short conversation with a guy on the train, to find out whether i needed to change trains or not. Sumimasen... Chichibu ni ikimasu. Norikae wa arimasu ka? :) Which seemed to do the trick. The helpful local then interrogated his mobile phone, which appeared to be connected to the net, and told me in japanese that it was good to stay on this train, and it would take about an hour to get to Chichibu from where we were.

I did, however, confuse one my new neighbours - an elderly japanese woman who was curious about the appearance of life in the caravan on the block next to her house. She did manage to communicate that she thought the weather was hot, and ask whether i was staying in the caravan alone. she thought it was all very humourous. :)

More tomorrow perhaps. This afternoon's mission is to secure a phonecard of some sort.


Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Passing Time

17J. That will be me for the next while.
China Airlines flight CI52. Airbus A340-300(C/Y).

Luggage went through no problems, despite being 5kg overweight :) That was really the last worry I had. My hand luggage weighs a ton, thanks to a stack of books and a laptop. Saskia and Rick took me to the airport and helped me till I passed the point of no return. Cheers guys - so much nicer to be seen off by friends, and I got to see Sas before I went. :)

Boarding in an hour... La la laaa...

Damn - I just remembered I forgot to turn off the fridge. :)

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Day Before

Yesterday, I was nervous. Today, im excited :)

I took some photos of my space the other day, to print out to show people in Japan where I live.

Packing is pretty much done. Just some minor tweaking to get under the weight limit. The reason I'm so close to it is all the camping gear. Tent, sleeping bag, thermarest, trangia, etc. If I didnt have that, it would be a cruise, but i want to try and do quite a bit of camping in Chichibu-Tama national park.

Ive had email from Kakizakai-sensei that he has an apartment waiting for me - which is great - I was a little worried. He is also going to pick me up from the train station in Chichibu. Getting there is going to be interesting. I land in Narita at 1pm. The train out to Chichibu from Tokyo leaves from Ikebukuro station. There are two main ways to get to Ikebukuro - there is a direct train that comes in from the airport, but it only runs every so often, or a much more frequent train that comes into another station that is on the tokyo ring line (the Yamanote line) - which would mean swapping trains, and going round the Yamanote line to Ikebukuro...

fun fun fun :)

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Trancendent Spiritual Experiences, Talking Toilets and Ninjas

Dave has made the request that I report at least 1 bizarre gadget, 1 transcendant spiritual experience and 1 ninja attack per week.

I'll see what I can do... :)

In the meantime, today I have my last Japanese lesson before I leave.

If anyone is looking for a great Japanese language teacher in Sydney, I can highly recommend Michiko Honda (email me for contact details) - she teaches Japanese at the WEA, and also takes private students. I guess I'm about to take the big exam :)

I'll tell you how I go.