Lauren In Tokyo

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Growing a beard

Monday was a national holiday here in Japan. I asked my wife what the holiday was for and she said it was because the day is marked in red on the calendar that we get the day off.

Funny woman, my wife.

Also, Thursday is a holiday. Because the day is marked in red on the calendar, I suppose.

I've decided that with this many days off in a single week (6 out of 9 days) I ought to grow a beard. No significant thought went into this decision, I just thought it would be fun to do. I'll probably keep it around until the end of autumn or my wife gets fed up with it and demands that I shave it off.

Now on the fourth day of not shaving, the hair seems to be coming in a little thicker but it is still in the middle of the "dirty" look. It's time to take advantage of the look and go scare some ladies on the train.

Religious attitudes

I was reading a blog elsewhere here at written by a Christian missionary from Canada doing work here in Japan. Something about his attitude towards Japanese temples and shrines seemed quite absurd. His attitude towards them is fairly typical for Westerners visiting here, actually.

He seems to look upon temples and shrines as manifestations of cultural superstitions. To him, the shrine built at the base of a waterfall which flows only in the spring that signals the coming of warm weather or other good fortune is only "built in reverence of a rock or something " (paraphrased). Temples are magnificent works of architecture built around the worship of statues or housing the purported bones of the Buddha. They may be solemn, serious places which are conducive to self-reflection, but as far as 'true' spirituality goes it's all tatemae with no honne.

The thing that I thought absurd was that the same attitude that he sports towards Japanese religious culture is almost identical to the attitude that a Japanese person would have towards Western churches. Not being able to see that your own culture is viewed as nothing more than quaint homages to native superstitions by outsiders, and then intending to convert those outsiders to your own superstitions is the height of arrogance.

Just as Japanese temples and shrines are for sightseeing, so too are Christian churches.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

DMZ Tours

After what seems to have been an eternity, my wife and I are finally planning on taking an overseas trip. We haven't had the time or money to fly anywhere and have mostly been relegated to driving around Japan as a way to get away from this hectic city.

So we have decided that next month we will be taking a trip to Seoul. Out of the frying pan and into fire, I suppose.

My wife, a Japanese national, like many other Japanese, is absolutely crazy about North Korea. Any time the little communist country is mentioned on the news she is ready with the VCR to tape whatever scary, dumb, or just plain weird thing that comes out of there. So as a centerpiece to our short weekend trip she wants to visit the border at Panmunjom. Myself, I just want to eat some really spicy food.

There seems to be no lack of tour offers on the web, but it is unclear which, if any, are legitimate. I assume that the USO tour is probably a safe bet. The tour offered by what seems to be the official travel agency of Korea does not seem to be quite as interesting, though they promise to take us to a market in the afternoon. Market?

If you have any experience with JSA/DMZ tours, please comment.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

What a foreigner misses

It seems that every expat living over here feels the need to give a list of all the things that he misses from the old country and is not available or poorly replicated in the new country. Me too! These are a few things that I miss about the U.S. and Seattle in particular.

  • Cool weather (neither especially cold nor hot, which seems to be the only two extremes we've got here)
  • Free highways
  • Taco Bell
  • American Pizza (Pizza Hut, Domino's, Papa John's, etc)
  • Krispy Kreme
  • Cheap gas (though I hear that it's not so cheap nowadays)
  • Personable people
  • Natural scenery
  • Relaxed atmosphere
  • Good beer
  • Cheap wine
  • 24-hour supermarkets (there are a couple in northwest Chiba, but it's a pain to get there)
  • Offices with doors
  • Commuting by car
  • Large bookstores
  • Large apartments
  • Sitcoms (I never thought that the lack of braindead television would bother me, but it does)
  • Cheap groceries
  • Havana Joe's
  • Free time

Monday, September 13, 2004

Thinking of moving

I mentioned before that I lived in a large apartment in the suburbs of Tokyo. Unlike most Japanese living in this area, the square footage (or square meterage as they measure it here) is almost three times the size of a typical apartment in Tokyo for about the same amount of money. Though the building is old, it was renovated before we moved in so there were some very nice amenities that made our decision to live there easy.

We live on the fourth floor of a four-story building. The law in Japan mandates elevators for buildings of five or more floors. Less monetarily-endowed developers stop construction at three or four floors to avoid the cost of installing an elevator, and the richer developers build 8 or 10 story buildings so as to not waste money on a smaller elevatored apartment. To reach our apartment, we climb up four flights of stairs.

However, my wife and I plan on having a baby one of these days and that fourth floor is looking less and less appealing. She balks at the idea of climbing those steps with the extra weight of a kid inside her. And I balk at the idea of having to hear about that every day.

So we have started thinking about moving. We don't want to move far because our location is actually very convenient. Two shopping malls are within walking distance, three train lines are nearby, the highway interchange is less than a minute away by car, and on nice days we can walk to the Edo river and stroll along its banks. Except that this place is on the fourth floor, it would be ideal.

Across the street from our apartment a smaller apartment is just finishing up construction. It stands at three floors and the top floor seems to have a very large apartment made up of two or three standard apartments joined together. Of course, as it does not have five floors, it does not include an elevator. However, the three floors that it does have seem to be shorter than our current apartment's third story.

We took a tour and it looks really nice. The only problem is that the room that we saw was tiny. It couldn't have been more than 15 or 18 square meters. This was just a studio apartment, so for a single person it probably would have been sufficient, but it makes me wary of the larger apartment units. Except for the extra-large unit on the third floor, all the rooms seem relatively small. They would all definitely be a step down in size from our current accomodations.

Still, the location is great. It is even closer to our parking space than our current apartment is. It is brand new with very nice kitchen and bathroom appliances. And the climb to the third floor is going to be a lot easier than the fourth floor.

The apartment goes on the market in less than two weeks. I think we'd better start thinking seriously if we want to take it or not.

North Korean Nuclear Test?

In case you've been living under a rock the past couple of days (and I wouldn't blame you if you have if you've already heard the news), a large explosion occurred in North Korea along the Chinese border. The preliminary reports judged the two-mile wide mushroom cloud to be of nuclear weapon origin.

The Hiroshima mushroom cloud was 5-kilometers in diameter, so this latest North Korean explosion is slightly smaller. Still, if the explosion was nuclear in origin, then the after-effects would be similar.

This is not the first unexplained North Korean explosion. In April, a train carrying explosives detonated near the town of Ryongchon, along the Chinese border.

At this time, it seems that the official word from NK is that this isn't a nuclear blast, rather they had planned to demolish a hydroelectric plant and that was the explosion that is being reported. The official word from Tokyo is that this couldn't have been a nuclear blast because there was no significant seismic activity associated with the blast. From the same link, the official American word is that it was possibly a forest fire, not a nuclear test.

All these official announcements are available without anyone but the North Koreans investigating the cause of the explosion. It doesn't sit well with me.

Old friends lost

During lunch today, I was checking out the Georgetown alumni page and realized that there are hundreds of people who I knew back in DC that I have simply lost touch with.

If anyone knows where Myung Lee (SFS '98) can be reached, I'd really like to get back in touch with her.

I'm slowly combing my way through the alumni directory listing and have realized that I didn't actually know many people by their proper name. Searching by nickname sometimes works, but not always. The directory scan takes a lot longer when I have to try to remember or figure out each person's real name.

Monday, September 06, 2004

It's shaking in Tokyo

There were two large earthquakes in Japan yesterday. One occured around 7:00 in the evening in the Wakayama area of Western Japan. The second one happened just before midnight in the same place. Neither earthquake was seriously damaging, though some injuries were reported. Tsunamis were also reported. Though I live all the way over in Tokyo, the earthquake was noticeable as a long, rolling shake.

Lately, Japan seems to be having more than its fair share of weather problems. This entire summer has been filled with typhoons and rain storms that have ended up flooding rivers and destroying property. Western Japan was hit by a major heatwave, the longest since they started recording weather here. Recently there was a volcanic eruption that raised fears of a larger eruption in the near future.

Situated on the edge of the Pacific Plate, aka the Ring of Fire, Japan is a hotspot for geologic activity. Anything from earthquakes to volcanoes to large landslides are not uncommon here. Also, Japan seems to be in the middle of the convergence zone of the warm Pacific Ocean airmass and the cold Asian airmass. This makes for abrupt weather changes and wild swings from cold to hot temperatures. Add to this that the mountain range running down the middle of Japan holds the cool moisture of descending Asiatic air to the western side of Japan in the winter and the hot, wet air of ascending Pacific air in the summer, and you get really unbearable weather here in Tokyo all year round.