8 September, 2005

Not a particularly busy part of town but still a challenge to walk down the street without colliding into a person or vehicle.

And many people use umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun.

Handheld fans are also quite popular. Most seem to carry advertising. The Japanese seem to have perfected the art of getting advertising into every conceivable blank space.

One of the many mobile phone displays you can find in all parts of the city.

Outside electronics shops, salespeople try to entice pedestrians to come into their stores.

This is where you go if you want to buy a JR ticket from a human.

The entrance to the JR trains at Shinjuku station and the track lineup which few stop to read.

There are lots of cops in the train stations but they generally stay in the background. Occasionally you see some sort of activity.

Passengers buy tickets at the JR machines.

This is one of the JR lines passing by.

This is how you would track down a particular train line. You need to know the name of the line (colors only appear to be used sporadically). In addition, exits are numbered and designated in almost as many varieties as the trains.

I don't think I've ever been on any train on either of the two subway networks or the JR lines where the cars haven't been at least this crowded. They're incredibly busy from early morning to late night. The trains stop running at around midnight. I'm told if they didn't stop running, many people would stay at the office around the clock and work themselves to death.

Mobile phone use on the trains is discouraged.

I don't think we'd be able to handle this sort of a traffic light back in New York. What it basically means is that you can't make a right turn but you can go straight. When you get a solid green light, that means you can make a right turn without having to worry about oncoming traffic. In the States, you would need to have an arrow to assume this.

Always nice to have role models.

A billboard encouraging people to vote on Sunday.

This is the graphic for a delivery company.

A rather negative poster.

The heart of the communications network.

This was a really old house stuck right in the middle of a modern area.

One of the JR lines passes over a busy city street. You can barely hear passing trains in the city at all.

Television screens on the street are not uncommon. Here we have the Japanese version of Bloomberg showing stock info along with disaster updates from New Orleans.

The calculator is a very important instrument as it's really the only way to convey what something will cost to people who don't understand your language. This is also the case in many of the countries I've visited.

One of the many cool devices found in Akihabara.

This was a multistory building just filled with radio stuff. As you can see, they have everything.

I wasn't considering buying a person but if I were this would clearly not be the place.

Now why does this look so familiar?

A small portion of the many books that were for sale here.

Now that's a great price for an FM transmitter.

This is like a trip down memory lane.

In a big way.

Another popular fast food chain.

It sounds so much more poetic than a hallway in a train station.

Now here was a real surprise.

And not surprisingly this is what the inside of the place looks like.

The restaurant Dave and I wound up in where language played no part.

It's always nice to know my homeland has something of worth to contribute.

8 September, 2005

Day 54. I guess by all that walking around last night I managed to get myself pretty exhausted so I didn't have too much trouble getting to sleep even though it was significantly earlier than when I had crashed the night before. I woke up shortly before the preliminary call for "Off The Hook" came in and I even had time to run downstairs and hop on the Internet to see if any new stories had broken. The show went smoothly, in no small part due to the fact that we had a really good phone connection this time around with no discernible delay. The next couple of shows are going to be very different from that.

We talked a lot about the effects of the hurricane and some of the technological issues that played a part. Things like the failure of the phone system, satellite imagery, and the use of ham radio to relay messages. I really found it astounding that so many people were focusing on what they considered to be the improper use of the word "refugee." This is one of the reasons why we get mired in indifference for so much of the time. Instead of arguing over the language we should be going after the people who made a bad situation into a tragedy of epic proportions. I don't know if everyone realizes just how badly the system failed for this to happen. And things don't fail at that magnitude unless there's systemic abuse and neglect. We don't live in a third world country and yet we fared worse than many would have. And *that's* what needs to be talked about. But just to put my feelings on the matter to rest, yeah, "refugee" has negative connotations. But a lot of people are confusing the ignorance and hatred that part of our society holds towards such people with the very use of the word itself. And this to me feels like an acceptance of that. Refugees are real people and they deserve respect and dignity. And now we have a situation in America where there are people in that exact position. No, they're not fleeing a government. They're fleeing a horrible fate. But a government is at least partially responsible for their plight. I just don't see a difference. Maybe when we realize that we are all potential refugees, we might just start treating others stuck with that moniker with something more of a degree of respect. Regardless, let's focus our passion where it might really make a difference.

So, yeah, the show was fun as always. It's unbelievable how long I've been away for. I hope I recognize the place when I get back. And now of course I have to think about next week's "Off The Wall" which I'll probably record tomorrow. Not only that but I'm going to have to record the show for the following week as well since it's almost certain that I won't have Internet access on the freighter. So there's going to be a lot of radio in my life over the next few days.

Today we met up with Dave's friend Yuki who was also involved with "Urchin," which is the movie I played a part in earlier this year. (By the way, Dave showed me the trailer and it's really awesome. I can hardly wait to see how this thing comes out. Definitely a project that I'm proud to have been a part of.) It was really hot and muggy today so I felt pretty sluggish. I realized just what a good thing air conditioning really is. It makes you think and breathe and want to move around and all that stuff. And also I had woken up really early so I was a bit out of it to start with.

We found ourselves in Akihabara (the "electronic district") which is this area of town where anything that can be plugged in is sold somewhere. This little doorway led to a multistory maze of ham radio equipment, electronic supplies, and computers. It was like the Dayton Hamvention only it was permanent. And air conditioned. Who knows how many other such doorways existed here? We saw camera stores, telephone stores, video places, you name it. It was hard getting down the street with all the people and once we were inside the places it was hard getting down the aisles for the same reason. All around there was this amazing mix of youthful energy and ancient Japanese salesmen who looked like they had been doing this sort of thing since the 1800s.

I've been getting much better at navigating the mass transit system but I'm still so struck by the size of it. While we were walking around this neighborhood, I was aware of trains in virtually every direction, each with their own strictly defined purpose. The whole city feels like a well-oiled machine or at least a machine that is very good at what it does. Sort of like all the vending machines you find on every street. I've really fallen in love with those. They overwhelmingly sell drinks of various sorts, mostly coffee and power drinks but also water and soda. And of course there are occasional snack machines. Cigarette machines are much fewer in number than in Osaka. It seems like there might be an anti-smoking crusade in progress. There are even signs telling people not to smoke on the streets but rather in designated areas on the block. No mention of what, if any, penalty might apply to violators. But I thought that was pretty dramatic for a country like Japan where people really do seem to smoke like chimneys.

But back to those vending machines for a moment. Yes, they're everywhere, they're huge, and mostly they're reliable. I'm just not used to that. They have this really solid feel to them, they don't ever seem to have burned out lights or out of order signs, they don't bitch at the bills you feed them, and change is rarely a problem. But the really impressive part is the amount of stuff they can hold and the variety of things you can find at them. Somehow they don't seem to hurt business at any of the myriad convenience stores that also seem to exist on every block. The absolute coolest thing about the machines though is their ability to deal with both hot and cold beverages. You can get a can of hot green tea or a bottle of cold green tea in the same machine! A blue color under the selection means it's cold and red means hot. And both of those temperature descriptions are taken very seriously.

Even the train machines have won my respect despite their confusing ways of doing business. Never before have I given a large bill (equivalent to $100) to a machine and gotten what I paid for followed by neatly stacked bills quickly dispensed as change. I really feel like I'm dealing with a form of alien intelligence here.

Interestingly, the country is on the eve of a major parliamentary election. On Sunday the government could very well change. Yes, they have elections on Sundays here which ensures that more people will be able to make it to the polls. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's Liberal Democratic Party is well ahead in the polls even though they're being split down the middle by what apparently is the biggest issue facing this country: postal reform. It sounds rather trivial but it's a really big deal here. Privatizing the post office would have a huge impact on employment, the economy, and pretty much everything to some degree. Koizumi takes it pretty seriously. There's been a purge in the party with those opposed to his postal reform plans being replaced by Koizumi loyalists. Sunday ought to be pretty historic.

Dave and I tried to find food tonight away from all the glitter and lights of Shinjuku or Shibuya. I knew it might be difficult but it really began to get frustrating when we first had to try and get away from all the noise and commotion of the really busy parts of town. But then we couldn't find anything that looked decent. We were starting to get desperate and began looking seriously at burger joints. Thankfully we decided to keep on pushing with what little strength we had left for just a little while longer. We saw a place on a not so busy street that was crowded with people. Always a good sign. And all of the prices of dishes were at around the 300 yen mark which meant this was one of those places where you got lots of small dishes. The thing was there was not a letter of English on the menus or the signs, the people in the place didn't speak any English at all, and we had absolutely no ability to express ourselves in Japanese. It was perfect.

And I'm quite serious too. Every now and then you have to throw yourself into a situation that is so crazy and unlikely to work that you know it somehow has to. It was hilarious trying to have a conversation with the people there because while they must have known we couldn't understand a word that they were saying, it didn't prevent them from giving us long soliloquies on everything from where we could sit to what was on the menu. I have to give Dave a lot of credit for somehow communicating the kinds of things we were after, although he claims it was mostly sheer luck. But the food kept coming, we were being accepted in what was most definitely a pure Japanese hangout, and it was all really affordable. Sometimes desperation pays off.