Archive for June, 2008|Monthly archive page

Minoh: It was so good that I went again

the path through the forest

Random Observation/Comment #23: I don’t think they have bicycle helmet laws here. Either that, or Japanese are like New Yorkers and don’t care about their own safety.

The original Minoh day was supposed to be a biking adventure, but this failed miserably when I couldn’t find a bike shop or “borrow” a bike from my university. I spent the whole week asking around and looking for places to rent bikes, but I finally just asked my dorms and they said that they have a dorm bike that can be used as long as I’m the first one to ask for it. Many people don’t know about this, but I suggest asking the place you’re staying before going off looking for university discounts and such. After assurance of this new mode of transportation, I just used Google maps and printed out different paths that could be taken to Minoh. It was only 3 train stops away, so I figured it would be a bike-able, even walk-able, distance. I wound up printing so many different details of these maps and not even using it once. I should have just written down directions and done the rest by instinct.

From my last visit, I remembered a path leading from the waterfall to a parking lot area. Around that area, there was a sign for a temple or visitor center a few kilometers away. I tried to walk it, but there wasn’t a sidewalk and people driving by thought I was homeless. (I didn’t need their pity, but I wouldn’t mind a lift.) Because of this first failed attempt to see what was further down the road, my goal this time was to take the path up there and use my new fancy mode of transportation to make things easier. Unfortunately, like all plans, it blew up in my face. I ran into a bit of a snag.

I got this feeling that I was in over my head when I started seeing professional bicyclists, armed head to toe in full gear, riding 10-speed bikes that looked pretty expensive. There I was, with my 1-speeder and a little basket in the front (luckily it wasn’t a pink) trying to make my way up this ridiculously steep road. The seat was too low so I was standing the entire time I was peddling. The road was just too steep for me, but I made a valiant effort to reach some end – which I wasn’t even sure existed because the map didn’t show this road clearly. It took me an hour of the hardest work-out to finally throw in the towel (this was all while my subconscious kept screaming “Benkyo! Benkyo! Benkyo!”) You’d be surprised how well this works because I actually passed one of the high speeders. I wish I could have captured the look on his face as I passed him. Imagine the slow motion head turn of a brightly lit spandex-wearing Japanese guy hidden behind his yellow tinted sun glasses and aerodynamically shaped helmet. In my version of the story he mouthed “what the eff”, as I zoom past in a gray POS with a basket holding my backpack.

Word of advice to those who want to take on the beast of the road: Don’t do it. Even if you have all the fancy equipment and look like a complete douche dressed to kill, you’ll be gasping for air so much that you won’t really be enjoying yourself. The sound of your racing heart will drown out the sound of any nature call, and it’d just be terrible. Riding the bike along the walk-way, on the other hand, is much more manageable. I would suggest it for the second visit because you’ll be taking too many pictures and slowly strolling the first time. I had taken enough pictures of the normal paved path to the waterfall to recreate my own filmstrip tour of the walk. It was literally every 5 steps when I stopped to take another picture – this is why 2.8km took an hour.

However, this time, I explored all of the side paths that I passed along the way. The first off-the-road trek was following a large group of little kids and parents. They were carrying nets, so I thought it’d be a nice branch off. It turns out they were really catching insects and studying them back at the insect museum next door (how convenient). I took my bike through the woods, which turned out to be the right course of action. Most of the paths are just alternative routes that all eventually lead back towards the waterfall. As long as you still hear the running water, you’re heading towards the right direction. The river runs straight to the waterfall, and if you follow this, you won’t get lost.

The second path I followed, however, was not as convenient to lead back to the waterfall. The road was so narrow and there seemed to be so many steps, that I had abandoned my bike and walk it. Even if the path led me farther ahead towards the waterfall, I could still find my way back to this little cove. The sign said “Stone Moon Mountain” after passing through a tunnel and walking towards another smaller waterfall. If you are wearing open shoes, do not go this way. If you are carrying small children, do not go this way. If you hate bugs, definitely do not go this way. This expedition is not for the faint-hearted or those who tire easily. Be prepared to walk through a lot of decaying stuff and keep walking for an extended period of time. I got lost for about 3 hours. Yes, there was a worn in path, but passed a certain point, I didn’t hear any water and I didn’t see any people. I think there’s a rule of thumb where you should never go hiking alone. Ppshaw. Me strong like bull.

I felt a relapse of the first time I came to Minoh. I tend to take a lot of pictures of bridges, running water, and stairs. Today was not the exception. The best part about the walk to this “Stone Moon Mountain” was the broad range of different sides of nature. One second you’ll be walking next to a river with green grass and tree roots acting as steps, and then the next the whole background will change to brown trees. The floor will be covered with leaves instead of stone, and the familiar sound of running water will only be in the distance. My description is still vague compared to the magic, but if you ever get the chance to see it, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

There was many times where I thought I was going to be attacked by insects or wild animals. My reactions were swift, as I stamped the ground and screamed like a little girl. Good thing no one was around to hear it. My paranoia level rose (to about an amber color) as the road felt like it never ended. I didn’t even know where I was going, but the little wooden signs that pointed towards “Stone Moon Mountain” gave me so much hope that this piece of cheese at the end of the maze would be so tasty. After walking about an hour, all I really wanted was a map that had a red dot to tell me where I was. This would be hoping for too much. Vague signs stationed every kilometer are all you get. I thought about turning back so many times, but when my hope was at its lowest, I saw some old men walking towards me with such a lively step. Then, as this motivation subsided, there would be more hope from couples eating a light snack on a picnic table. They were 60 – if they could make it, so could I (I had the advantage of having the hip that I was born with).

Many things changed after I got tired of walking. I thought I had already walked too far to not continue, and convinced myself that it would just be over those patches of trees (I also couldn’t quit twice in one day, I would have just thrown away all of my values and admitted my defeat). The sights around me were still incredible, but I was no longer mesmerized. I began looking closer to where I stepped and noticing all of the creepy crawly things around me. Everything was decaying and I was too afraid to step too hard or kick anything out of the way to expose a whole city of life forms beneath the fallen leaves and soil. With my concentration back on where I placed my feet, I started seeing all of the insects that I just barely missed with every step. My arms began flailing in front of me after that one time I stepped into a developing spider web.

After two hours, I was just thinking to myself – get me back to some concrete and away from all these chances of dying. Most of the paths I walked didn’t even have guard rails along the side. You could see a murderous path downward. I stopped for a moment and thought to myself “If I slipped, that tree right there would break my ribs, and then I would pinball to that stump which would break my legs, then I’d probably continue sliding until my groin gets caught on that other tree.” I simulated the full effect of the rag-doll being tossed down the path and it was horrifying.

It began to rain (which didn’t help my motivation to move forward), but at least the trees acted as my umbrella. The dirt slowly softened and the rocks became much more slippery. Don’t trust the black rocks – you will fall on your ass and get your left foot wedged in watery sediment (trust me on this one). The perfect camera angles are not worth wet socks. Good thing I packed an extra pair of socks, but a wet shoe doesn’t really help either.

So I kept following the signs like a good boy, and wound up somewhere unexpected – it was a concrete road. Immediately at seeing this, I threw up my hands and screamed “C’mon! All this way for a freakin’ road?” Where the hell was the great view or monument of some sort to make all this traveling worth it? There was one thing beyond the road that was really beautiful – it was a full view from one mountain to another with a city of tiny buildings in between. I took a lot of pictures because I knew I wouldn’t walk this again anytime soon. Still, it wasn’t worth the slosh every other step.

I took another route going back to the waterfall. It says that I walked about 5km, but I don’t think they take into account the vertical shift, so I must have walked at least 7km. It took about 40 minutes to get back to the main road, but I was really walking quickly and I had taken a much shorter path. I’m glad I walked this one going downhill because the steps were gi-normous. By the time I reached the main road, my shirt was drenched as much as my socks, and all I wanted to do was jump into that river. The familiar sound of the running water is heavenly when you spend 30 minutes in the woods.

I never really got around to riding my bike to fix my first trip’s failure. I also noticed a few more trails off the beaten path, so there’s definitely another trip before my time here is up. Despite that hour of frustration, desperation, and fear, Minoh has still been the best injection of nature for me. Tomorrow I will be rewarded with an onsen of epic proportions.

~See Lemons Benkyo Benkyo Benkyo

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Minoh: Where did all the monkeys go?

minoh stone moon mountain

Random Observation/Comment #22: Why is it that they awkwardly stretch out their “gozaimasssssssuuuuuu” with such an inflection? I understand it’s emphasizing the more formal mannered portion of the speech, but doesn’t it get annoying? Maybe they’re just practicing their singing voice.

I’m starting to think that getting lost is more fun than knowing: a) where you’re going, b) how you’ll get there, c) what survival things you’ll need when you go, and d) whether or not you’ll meet a dangerous killer along the way (these are just minor details to an exciting day). A map, a compass, or even some stars would have been very useful in this journey. By the time and the height of the sun in the sky, I could tell the winds, but this sense of direction doesn’t make a difference if you don’t know or care where you’re going or what you’re doing for the day. It’s this type of travel that I love most. There’s not a care in the world and nature surrounds you with spontaneity. Nature’s architecture was breath-taking.

Even though I didn’t know where to go, I prepared myself for the worst case scenario. I watched enough Man vs. Wild and Survivorman to know what to bring on a trip if I expect to get stranded in Africa or something. The essentials include: at least 1.5L of water, chocolate or energy snacks, regular snacks that don’t spoil easily, umbrella, lighter, flashlight, bug spray (well real travelers don’t care about insects, they just eat them), pair of socks, additional t-shirt, and a knife. I didn’t want to carry a knife around, so I just brought a sharp rock instead. I don’t expect to resort to killing wild animals near fresh water bores and eating them raw (Bear Grylls is so damn badass). I’d expect many raised eyebrows if I started walking around with my underwear around my head to keep it cool, and using a makeshift fishing line to catch dinner. It would be even worse if they caught me cutting down the trees to build my own place to stay for the night, or a raft to ride the rapids off the rain forest/mountains of Minoh.

When I pictured a nature expedition, I wanted the high grass and tall trees (and a whole camera crew documenting my every move). To my disappointment, there was no camera crew to save me, nor were there even insects to complain about. The path is paved concrete, which follows the river leading from the waterfall. Basically, if you follow this river, you’ll wind up at the waterfall. If you’re still afraid of getting lost, I would suggest following the 6 or 7 pro walkers that do the 2.8km walk as a morning exercise. You may think 2.8 km is short, but it could take hours to walk because of the small side paths branching off to some other place on the mountain. In addition, I stopped everywhere to take pictures of the surroundings.

The prize at the end of this path is the large waterfall where all the tourists and locals enjoy the mesmerizing sights and sounds of the flowing liquid gold (not literally, of course. That would be a well-mined waterfall if this were true. I don’t even think the liquid form of gold is pretty, but whatever.). This is by far, one of the best dating locations. Couples who don’t want to do the walk can just park their cars at the top of the mountain and walk down a much shorter path to skip the sight-seeing. Personally, even if I had a car and a pretty girl to take on a date such as this, it’s such a nice relief to see the beautiful waterfall in the distance that I would not give up the hardship it took to reach that sanctuary. It’s like following a rainbow for miles and finally seeing a pot of gold to make the journey worth all your time. Don’t take the local way – it will make you stray from the true purpose of the journey – the peacefulness of nature at its best. Don’t listen to music from your mp3 player or ipod (yes I just separated the difference), for the water, insects, and animals make their own soundtrack.

Despite my past complaints about loneliness, I did not have the same feelings here. Being surrounded by green triumphed any fear and pain. It was a place to just sit down and absorb. Forget the camera, for your mind will always remember the true meaning of peace. This is not the time and place to bring forth memories of missing a certain touch or missing the sweet words of security – save yourself that state of mind. Instead, think of how many people have felt this escape from reality. Sure, you have bills to pay and deadlines to meet back home, but what about here and now? How do you enjoy your world without first taking a step back to see what you’ve already accomplished? Where some have written poems and haikus about the rustling of leaves or mating calls of insects, I’ve just sat smiling for this opportunity. In the 21 years that my eyes and ears have seen and heard this world, I have not yet felt as liberated as that moment. Everything about this magical place has been seared into my mind.

Japan has found a place in my heart for its little things. I wish everyone could share my experience with their own eyes and ears. Share it with someone you love unconditionally.

~See Lemons Get Lost Again (for the better)

DEN DEN Town: Electronics, Hobby Shops, and Porn – a man’s essentials

wall of capsule toys

Random Observation/Comment #21: Stop putting the money on the counter – It goes on that plate with the plastic bed of spikes.

The advertisement of the capsule hotel mentions how the capsules are very good with privacy and noise pollution. This may be true of the walls, but there still lacks that door which makes everyone susceptible to the 4AM drunk foreigners being completely inconsiderate. It was only a week ago that I was “that guy” stumbling in and falling off the ladder (fully utilizing my angry vocabulary on the way down). And that day I experienced the opposite. Oops. Sorry 8D.

So I “woke up” early and bathed in the onsen for an hour. I didn’t risk taking my camera in there because of the possibility of breaking it. That would definitely piss me off because I’ve taken about 3000 pictures in the past 3 weeks. I’ve really only posted a third of all the pictures I take, which is usually the 2 gigs on a weekend. Thank you, good battery life.

It was 10AM and I walked east from the hotel to find some breakfast. Takoyaki is always a solid choice. I didn’t really have a plan, but I knew the general direction of the main attractions in walking distance. Well, my walking distance tends to be much further than everyone else’s, but you can basically walk from Umeda (Osaka JR loop line stop) to Namba station (near Dotonbori) in about an hour. Just keep walking South on that Park-Avenue-looking road and you’ll be fine.

The capsule hotel is located near a JR loop line so you can go anywhere, but I felt like walking so I went South to DEN DEN town. This place is for the capsule toys, electronics, manga, and porn. All my spider senses were tingling and my legs just walked on their own accord. I swear the porn stores were for the sake of journalism. I even wrote it in my notepad to remind myself of this fact. The stores do start to repeat themselves, so if you get bored, walk further south to reach Tsutenkaku tower and Tennoji Zoo. There are parks, museums, and shrines along the way so I think it’s the best direction for a full day of exploring. If you get tired, there’s also a Spa World which is about $30 for a full day of swimming and saunas. I really want to stay there over night, but it will be another experience for the weekends.

Walking towards DEN DEN town, I passed the largest street with Pachinko and slot machines I’ve ever seen. It’s absolutely ridiculous how packed this place was on a Saturday morning. These people really want to lose their money early. They were already hard at work pressing buttons and pulling levers by 9:30. I wonder if there is a rush hour for these places. I give these people the wag of my finger, but I almost feel bad for their addiction. Hey, I’ve bid on ebay; I know the rush =). But at least with ebay, I actually trade my money for an object that I’ve wanted (but will probably only use once). Yes, you have a small chance of winning money back to continue your gambling fury, but how many leave the pachinko machines happy and satisfied with their winnings? Gambling guilt is for another entry.

I actually couldn’t tell when DEN DEN town started along this street. I thought there would be a main shop or collection of shops that made up the name DEN DEN town, but it was really just a lot of the same thing. Without money to spend or reasons to buy these electronics (I guess the capslock on an English keyboard should be ctrl), I really didn’t need to go to every store there. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t out of pure curiosity. There were a lot of product oriented shops, but not as overflowing as in Hong Kong. In Japan, it seemed like they packed everything into one giant store instead of having separate towns that sold one specific genre. I’m referring to Hong Kong’s famous Nike, Gundam, Car Model, and Gun Model streets that build their customer loyalty by having unique models and friendly salesmen skills.

The electronics may be cheaper, the parts may be better, and there is probably faster and cooler stuff here, but there are quirks in this culture that outweigh the electronics heaven. Yes, everything is just different from what I’m used to, however my comfort lies in a built understanding of the world I grew up in. My point of view about it is changing ever so quickly, but there are some things that will always stay constant. The love of family, the love of friends, and the love of being alive has only grown stronger even with the bumps in the road. Again, I digress.

I walked the street downtown on the west side and then back uptown from the east side. I went into every store and scoped out every floor they had to offer. My notepad is filled with prices and my mind is bursting with new innovation, but no matter what I saw, there was this urge that picked at the back of my mind. All I wanted to do is grab someone’s arm and say “Did you see that?” All I wanted was someone who would do something silly; someone to just make a stupid joke with; someone else other than my big head in the pictures I took with scenery. Anything to make me feel I am more than a tourist. I didn’t even feel like a tourist. I felt like a journalist – as if it was my job to regurgitate the facts and add my little twist of flair to their anomalies. A feeling of insignificance passed through my body, and my only available cure is writing.

In no way did I not enjoy my walk – in fact, just the opposite. I love learning new things and I love gadgets. I’d ask more questions, and even interview the store owners if I could understand what they were saying. It’s just… the activities you participate in during vacation become memorable when you’re with company you can share them with. More and more, I see that a community is the key to advancement. Too bad I missed the Web 2.0 phase.

~See Lemons Mweh

A second capsule hotel experience: No JETs or pure to make it half as fun

they don\'t have my size

Random Observation/Comment #20: Just bow, nod, and say “hai” if anyone talks to you…

There would be no reversing tonight. It would be as quiet as you’d expect from a capsule with no door (or a curtain as a door). Instead of sleeping at 4AM, as in my previous experience here, I slept around midnight after visiting all of the hotel’s accommodations again. I sat in the massage chairs, watched some TV, played some video games, and tried to read some manga to pass the time. The onsen is actually really nice considering it’s a capsule hotel onsen. They had an American newspaper (but I didn’t bother because it wasn’t the wallstreet journal).

I wonder how the market is doing anyway. Maybe the escape from America was also a small escape from the financial life. It had been too big of an obsession to try and predict the stock ticker depending on our current events. It would mostly be with gadgets and new releases or leaks of information about next generation technology, but my predictions were mostly correct. It’s too bad I don’t even condone legalized, socially acceptable gambling. Even though the stock market truly does make it possible to give companies that go public a large share of money to further develop more advances, I never really liked the idea of gambling. If you’re smart enough, you could make a lot of money from the 80% of anxious people who want to be another “I got rich from the stock market” statistic. It’s like they think they’re missing out on a piece of the pie if they don’t get involved with this beast. To be honest, they are the ones that are helping the small investors who actually have a background and know what they’re doing make money. Thank you for buying shares in completely useless companies with a team of really good salesmen.

It doesn’t take a lot of time to make the predictions for larger breakthroughs, but you have to keep up with the latest news every second of the day if you want to notice the small changes in the market. The key is to think like your peer investors and the investors with the most money. These entrepreneurs make things happen. There’s nothing wrong with being a frontrunner here. Next time you read the paper or see the fresh internet breaking news, just pull up Yahoo!Finance and see if the companies that are involved in these transactions are actually pulling the weight you expect. As you can imagine, it drains a lot of time from internet usage and directly causes the carpel tunnel, RSI, blurry vision, tearing eyes, and hunched back. Imagine how bad these side effects would be if I actually cared enough to put all of my effort into predicting the next trends. Ah, and I digress.

I noticed a few more things in the capsule hotel that I overlooked at my last stay. The TV there was separated into four different channels. These channels were baseball, soccer, wrestling, and porn; as expected from a mainly male dominant atmosphere. The porn was nothing hardcore, or even softcore (actually I wouldn’t even go far enough to give it a core rating). It was just a cute Japanese girl with large breasts in PJs reading magazines and painting her toenails. There was some soft music in the background which was relaxing, but sometimes these clips would be interrupted by an impromptu interview or quiz with the girl that would involve an abundance of giggling. Maybe the cuteness factor is being exploited here, but I don’t really understand how this show gets viewers. Perhaps the old guys that watch it can’t get hard anyway, so they just do it to remember their youth? It would be a good way to sell products that she’s using on the side, but all the tags were peeled off and the swimsuits or other tight clothing line didn’t show any indication of having a brand. Mystery desu.

The night was uneventful – no capsule dragons, beasts, or lions were there to bother me. I slept well and moved on to my next adventure in DEN DEN town…

~See Lemons Survive Another Night

Kanpai to me! Thanks for the warm welcome with alcohol and food =).

minoh at its prettiest

Random Observation/Comment #19: This is a country addicted to video games and gambling. Most of the video games are gambling. They even teach children to gamble with candy and elmos.

“Dozo” was said to me about a dozen times last night. It means, “please” (as in “please continue drinking” (as in “the alcohol for everyone is free” (as in “you’re not leaving until you get trashed” (as in “keep saying stupid things because it’s hilarious.”)))) That was an awesome/cool/sick/sweet use of parentheses. This polite “dozo” soon became “yo parateru” which means “you’re drunk.” It’s my welcome party and I’ll keep drinking if I want to…

Once again, the conversations with all the researchers are the best part about Japan. Although some of them are too shy to speak English, they like assuming that I speak fluent Japanese. I’m actually picking up a lot of the informal uses of phrases which I’ve incorporated in my impulsive vocabulary. Phrases like “jonto ni?” are replaced with “majide?” which means something like “for serious?” This night was more concentrated on my Japanese culture and linguistic education instead of picking their brains for the next ground-breaking idea. I noticed that it is very traditional for groups to rotate back and forth so you get to spend time talking drunk with everyone. After a while you’ll see that all of the people from each table have traded places. Either this happens or one table becomes empty and you have 30 people surrounding the 3 or 4 conversations.

Japanese also have the Asian glow, but they seem to be a little louder with their parties – I think it’s their method of shedding the mask and letting themselves stop with the formalities and loosen up a bit. If there is anything some of these businessmen need, it’s definitely loosening up.

Drinking at the restaurant moved to playing soccer in front of the restaurant, which eventually lead to Karaoke =). Yes, I took videos. This guy sang English songs like a pro. Anyway, I don’t think I was too bad either, but I think they were clapping because I just added vibrato to everything. I doubt they’ve ever heard the songs, so they were just listening for the consistency. With the pressure to impress completely off my shoulders (and also 6 or 7 beers in me), I had the best time singing… singing past the last train.

I wound up sleeping on the floor in front of my laptop in the lab. Because of Cooper’s vigorous training, I can sleep anywhere for the shortest amount of time and still wake up to finish a project. Actually, sleeping wasn’t even necessary for 3 or 4 days in a row when I had to study for finals. Fall off the radar and run on backup batteries. I slept for 4 hours because the floor is a terrible mattress and the lights were turned on by 2AM for the other researchers who continued working into the night. Everywhere I go it’s the same dedication, motivation, and work ethic. You can even say the J’s and I take drinking to the same level (Don’t worry, Mom. We’re not alcoholics.  We’re much more disciplined than alcoholics).

~See Lemons Feel Welcomed

Wait… There’s a ping pong table in the lounge room at the end of the hallway?

I don\'t know what that says but it should be peaceful

Random Observation/Comment #18: Ping Pong was either invented by an angel or a demon – I haven’t decided what purpose I work for yet.

This Tuesday was not a long day. I felt very satisfied with my work after presenting to Ishiguro sensei. He had nothing to say to me, which I took as a very good thing. This could have been interpreted a few ways: 1) He had nothing to complain about, so I did well. 2) He had no idea what I was talking about so he couldn’t complain. 3) It was too premature in my stay to show any criticism when I had not really done anything to show results yet. 4) He doesn’t really care because he didn’t want to spend another minute listening to a side project that wouldn’t be published. 5) My project was so trivial that he had already written all the code on his laptop in the time it took for me to explain my proposed solution. I would expect nothing less from a genius with an android clone of himself.

Hopefully it was the first choice, but it wouldn’t be too bad if any of the other conclusions were true. I am enjoying just talking to researchers and “stealing their souls with my soul-stealing notepad.” I am up to my third notepad in three weeks and they are all being filled daily with spending and observations that I’ve found inspiring for these journals. Richie claims that I am stealing his soul and selling it online. (This is true. His soul is on sale for a large fee. It could be priceless ::raises eyebrow::. I don’t know what you would do with it though. One day I will write an entry that is entirely in parentheses because it is unrelated to anything I intended to convey.)

After patting myself on the back for a job well done, I bummed around basking in my accomplishments. The things I have to do are not that complicated, but they are very crucial to chiseling my skill-sets. I’m slowly leveling up and working on my programming attributes so I could use that wizardry staff. Just a few more levels to go… I do still have to decide if I want to become a mage or a druid though. It’s just silly to build my character based on a weapon and one skill, but we’ll see how well this works out. I can always start a new character, right? (As you can tell, I love MMORPG references).

After this thrilling day (might be sarcastic), I took the bus home and came to my apartment door to hear the sound of the most beautiful music. It was the rhythm of a well trained ping pong bounce. I could tell how well they played by the sound and frequency of the sounds. I didn’t even bother putting my stuff down in my apartment 4 rooms away. I pictured the players in my mind before opening this door (it was back-lit with a glorious aura and some smokey cheap 80’s special effects). As my eyes focused at the sight before me, I imagined these guys doing cartwheels and returning the most ridiculous serves. Instead, there were two middle-aged Vietnamese guys playing in their boxers. It wasn’t exactly how I envisioned champion ping pong players, but they weren’t terrible.

Normally walking home from the bus stop, I pass by these soccer players on the field. I’m always torn between asking them if I could join or thinking it would be too awkward to play with them. I always say to myself that I’ll go back to the apartment to change and then come out to play again, but when I take off my sweaty clothes and jeans, I don’t really want to do anything but shower. However, when ping pong is in the equation, I do not have any trouble asking to join a game in any language. Luckily, they spoke English. I would have honestly played not being able to communicate a single word with them. For serious – It’s ping pong.  I’m game. This made my night and it will make many nights to come.

~See Lemons Excited to Play Ping Pong =D

So your wife let you out tonight. How much allowance did you get?

doesn\'t that just want to make you drink them even more?

Random Observation/Comment #17: Long hair is probably stylish because hair cuts are expensive (2000 yen). It might just be the style because hair products are also quite expensive. Maybe Japanese people are just crazy.

Just because it was a Friday doesn’t mean it was any different from any of the other weekdays. At this point, I had already done enough for the presentation for the next week, and I was more interested in learning new Japanese sayings and looking at other researcher’s projects. This networking thing has become one of my favorite pastimes, but it kills my productivity for the lab. Given that I only have 5 more weeks of working before I spend the last month doing more traveling, I did not have much to do because we were still deciding the details of my project. It was only yesterday that the head sensei confirmed my tasks – so everything up until now was for my leisure.

As the minutes of talking evolved to hours of philosophical discussions, we all decided to have dinner and then go out for some drinks. They apparently get their paycheck this day, and it’s prime time to spend a few thousand yen in celebration. It was the first time drinking with researchers so I didn’t go all out in the beginning. In the beginning, it was just chatting with a beer about religion, women, and Japanese cultures, but then we ordered more food while waiting for the rest of the group. It is offensive to have an empty beer glass (maybe that’s just me), so we kept drinking and talking in English. Finally, some non-broken English.  I felt relieved that I didn’t have to simplify all my sentences to smaller phrases. It was comforting to see that even though they were brilliant, they know how to have a good time. Mind you, the talk was still the nerdy random facts picked up from who-knows-where blended with a slew of sarcastic comments. Thus is the humor I have come to exhibit – a quick, witty response that catches the other off guard. This is especially effective in a drunken state.

The title of this entry refers to the Japanese culture’s organization of power in a household. Many of the researchers I spoke with moved to Japan with their wives and decided to work towards their PhD. Although we had about an hour of laughing about Japanese wives, we came to realize that the Japanese husband-wife relationship is more of an economical move than a love-based one. I am in no way speaking of a loveless marriage, but the divided powers in a typical marriage lean towards the woman wearing the pants and the man just making the money. The wife is the accountant for the family and has the responsibility of stopping the impulsive male spending towards alcohol and new electronics. It may be true that the female would go shopping for clothes and handbags, but it seems like the Japanese restraint in money spending is tamed when they get married. Maybe marriage leads the women to acquire some extra power of guilt, as well. Dale mentioned how his wife says just the right things to make him not angry at her for being right, but feel this deep guilt in himself that makes him re-evaluate his choices. For example, she would say something like “didn’t you spend that money a little too quickly?” Ah, a trick question. You can’t just say “No, b*tch! Give me my money.” That’s not healthy at all. (Maybe he should try $sudo give me my money.)

At one point, the conversation about religion brought up an interesting observation about all modern researchers I’ve met. Everyone at the table was agnostic even though they were brought up with the Sunday schools about Christianity and Judaism. Although they knew all the stories in great detail, it only seemed to fuel their jest against the religion itself. In all of our scientific and logical sense, we just agreed that our generation is not ready to believe. Belief is a very powerful thing that can drive millions of individuals to give up personal will and subject themselves to a group mind; this is how we win wars. Be it nationalism or faith, we put way too much trust into a force that is built on manipulation. Our generation is seeing that believing in an invisible man is a great story where morals can be drawn, but our Sunday mornings are spent at the lab, not in a church praising such a deity. I guess we believe in science and its ability to move our society forwards. We do not fear death as much because we love living the lives of today and tomorrow, not 40 or 50 years from now. It’s as if religion was built as guidelines for morality, and the scientists around me already follow the common rules of humanity.

Then again, another point was brought to the table that made me even quieter in deep thought. Richie said, “I find the parallel between the attitude of a teenager towards a parent and our people towards G-d quite fascinating.” Here, he points out how the age of our people in a larger time span of generations is growing into a phase of rebellion and lack of appreciation towards our dependent. We forget that our age as a species is just a spec compared to the Earth and even more of a fraction of an atom’s size compared to the Universe. As children growing up to teenagers, our large community view has begun to reject what we once thought was the answer to all miracles. Now that we’ve developed to see the world before us with science and flawed observations, we each have slowly resented the power above (below, side to side, depending on how you look at it in space). I wonder when we’ll make the mistakes as a whole and crawl back to G-d for shelter and morale support. What devastating fall will we have to get back up from? And when will we grow up knowing that G-d is not someone special to place on a pedestal, but just another one of us trying to look out for our best interest. Replace G-d with parents, and maybe a sense of appreciation will help rethink those decisions that ignored their annoying rules, or those actions that showed you took everything they gave you for granted.

I have in no way become religious. I don’t need such beliefs to give me hope for an eternity of bliss, or give me fear for an eternity of torture. I believe in controlling my life and influencing the lives of other around me. In some way I am a missionary, but it is only to convert loneliness to warmth and bitterness to reason. My rules as a human being do not need a holy text. It is only led by an ingrained idea of love, life, and happiness.

In one way or another, these ideas were scribbled throughout my notepad after hearing Richie’s statement. It echoed throughout my mind all night in the capsule hotel. I wound up there again because it was my first time taking the kita-senri train back to ishibashi and I became completely lost. It was the last train, so I couldn’t even go back a few stops to correct my mistake. As fate would have it, it brought me back to familiarity.

~See Lemons Enlightened

The Solution to my Hangover – Osaka Castle

osaka castle awesome picture

Random Observation/Comment #16: I have too many coins in my right-side, small jeans pocket. They should remove the 1 yen like they should the penny. Please round down.

I’ve learned from the wise planning of the strands of rope that after every day of heavy drinking, there needs to be a rest day to recuperate and rejuvenate. This is a day where our livers and stomachs forgive us for all the unspeakable things we’ve done to it the night before. Usually this day is just a bum day for naps after every meal and a meal every three hours (yes this is basically non-stop sleeping and eating – awesome). I would have normally done this, but I felt compelled to use my time efficiently and visit more of Osaka while I still have time. I figured a day of pure nature and green stuff around me would bring me some solace and counteract what I deem “the Pure experience.”

Osaka castle is easiest accessed from the Osaka JR loop line stop, Osakajokoen. This will put you on the East side of this massive park and give you the chance to slowly trek across some bridges and over some moats to reach the concrete monster of a castle. Starting from the East side of the park, there were a surprising number of musicians playing full band sets about 50 feet apart. Their music was interesting (to say the least). I am very much into the rock and metal scene, but I didn’t really understand their lyrics. They all followed the same high pitch screeching that didn’t register in my brain as good music. Every now and again I would hear some English phrases thrown into their random noises and become even more confused. I’m not really sure how “lobster” comes into a song lyric. You can’t just throw lobster around – there is a time and place for that.

Their performances did not bring me to my toes, but many other fans seemed happy enough to be there. I wonder if it is a daily event, or if I accidently stumbled onto a well organized jam session. Even if the bands were playing music I liked, their close proximity lead to clashed melodies which formed more unbearable noise. The softer sounds of acoustic or single musicians would be drowned out by the 3 guitarists, bass, drummer, and screaming singer. All I really wanted was a nice breakdown to cure my hangover, but nothing pulled me left and right; nothing made me bob up and down or move my hands in a gang-sign flashing manner. My lips did not purse, nor did my hands hold orbs or make devil horns for the crowd. In short, due to the confusing lyrics and absent energetic crowd, it lacked the overall force that pulled me into a trance. It’s mostly the community that helps me get involved, but these head-bobbing amateurs did not convince me that they were having a good time. Instead, they looked around (much like I did) to make sure that they were doing the most socially acceptable moves. C’mon Japan; bring on the headbanging, crowdsurfing, and moshpits.

The well-deserved head shaking towards the J-pop and J-rock bands was interrupted by this jaw dropping “wow.” This was, of course, my own jaw dislocating because my eyes saw the beauty of the park and scenery before me. The reflection of the buildings and the high walls in each layer of the moat gave me an indescribable feeling of peacefulness. It was a view perfect for stepping back and unfocusing your eyes =). It has been etched in my mind including the concrete Osaka castle in the background.

Along the slow journey towards the center of the park, I asked at least three different people to help me take pictures. I was tempted to ask “Are you going to the castle? (Of course they were, where the hell else would they go?) Me too! Where are you from? Let’s walk and talk ::warm smile::” All the pretty girls that I tried this with acted as if they didn’t speak English, Chinese, Spanish, or broken Japanese. Really? I don’t look like a creepster, but I guess that’s a strange thing to do. Maybe I won’t count it as being shot down because we didn’t speak the same language. I want to see the guy that can pickup someone without being able to talk with them – maybe Jay Chou is the exception; he can just play the piano.

The walk took about 45 minutes, but that’s because I was really soaking up the atmosphere and taking copious amounts of pictures. I like bridges and the way they fit into the side shot across the water. They accent the reflections and make a beautiful sight.

After crossing the bridge, there are usually the high walls with steps for archers to overlook the moat (this was back in the day). You may be tempted to walk up these stairs and take pictures off the ledge, but the few ledges I tried were inhabited by very territorial crows. They really do gawk and make you feel unwelcomed. For those who think it’s a great spot for a date, a handholding, a hug, a kiss, a blowie, or a quickie, I implore you to reconsider. The crows would ruin the rhythm (and it’s all about rhythm).

Finally, when you walk across the few bridges and slowly see this tiny background piece become a massive concrete beast, the center touristy area awaits you. Although the top view from the castle is the main attraction, do not forget to walk along the perimeter of the ridges to see fantastic views of layers of moats and sharp cutoffs between nature and city. It’s as if the attacking urban forces tried to conquer the natural beauty of the castle, but failed like the waves repelling off the shores. Unfortunately, the waves somehow attacked from the center of the castle outwards, shown in the complete concrete castle-museum and small shops opened along the paths around the main attraction. (The waves-thing was a poorly thought-out metaphor.)

The ticket for the castle is 600 yen, which is a little steep, but I suggest taking pictures like it’s your job. I took so many pictures, that I even took pictures of the no-picture-taking signs. Yes, I am hardcore and I wanted to get my money’s worth of memories. The first thing I suggest doing is taking the stairs up to the roof of the castle. This is, of course, the American way following instant gratification. Since you already know that slowly working your way up will just make you disappointed and overly tired to enjoy the view, why don’t you just go up there first and then revisit if you really miss it after seeing the other boring stuff? And to tell you the truth, we Americans rarely see things twice. It’s checked-off our list, so we haul ass to the next tourist destination or suggested travel route.

I didn’t mean to sell the museum’s useful historical significance short, but some of the videos are a little annoying when they’re all in Japanese. There are a few blurbs about the dynasties that ruled during these times, but why would I read or learn on vacation (well actually I do, but who else wants to read?)? The roof is the best part, so spend the most time there in the cool breeze. You really can see far into the distance if the weather permits. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to try on the samurai suit on the second floor. That’s good for a laugh and a half. No, you look good – you look freakin’ scary, man (Boondock’s Saints reference).

After walking from the East, I naturally continued walking westward to see the rest of the park. This turned out to be a terrible idea. The other side of the park is filled with mythical creatures with immunities to elemental attacks. They do not go down easy, and it is not suggested for single-man parties. (If you don’t like the MMORPG reference, then maybe this is better.) The moving armies of trees resemble blurring lava of green and brown, devouring all enemies in its way to reach the wizard’s tower. (If you don’t like the LOTR reference, then maybe this is better.) The outskirts of the castle are guarded by the ghosts in black cloaks. If you feel their cold chill amongst your fellow wizard classmates, it is too late. (If you don’t like the H.P. reference, then maybe this is better.) Beyond the gates await an army of beasts protesting your ignorance and genocide of their furry friends. The cute little Spanish undercover mice will kick your ass. (If you don’t like the Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian reference, then maybe this is better.) Because of terrorists, our imaginations have gone wild and destroyed the barrier between the friendly creatures and creatures imagined from violence and hatred. Among the feared are Man-bear-pig and the Christmas Critters, who have channeled their forces for a frontal assault. Walking away from the safety of the castle is a walk towards certain death. (If you don’t like the South Park reference, then maybe this is better.) Oh no! It’s Godzirra! Haha. I got nothing. I’ve exhausted my references to popular movies and TV shows displaying attacks on castles. You try and do better.

And thus, I digress from my initial opinion. I think I pass bad judgment because my back was to the beauty and I only faced this deathly road into thicker shrubbery, returning to the poison of urbanization. I did the only thing I could do at a time of epic farewells: I waved into the camera as it panned outward from a helicopter view. It was appropriate at the time. Perhaps we will meet again.

~See Lemons Absorb Some Nature

When there were no electronics, what did we used to do for fun when it rained?

mino waterfall pretty

Random Observation/Comment #15: You come to Japan to be educated in the way of cute. Yes, Eric, they all look like May.

I was awoken by the bright sunlight shining through my opened blinds. Why does my apartment have to face the East? I didn’t know what time it was because my cell and laptop were both left at the research lab, and I can’t read analog time first thing in the morning. For a split second I was confused with the notion that I was supposed to be back at the apartment in NYC waking from another drunken night with the J’s. Oh right, that’s 6000 miles away and a month ago. Perhaps the thought lingered in my mind because the day before was rather uneventful. It’s not that I didn’t go anywhere; it’s the fact that there was nobody to go with and no one to talk to about random things. Yes, the monkeys were cute and the waterfall was gorgeous, but I mostly tried to start random conversations with strangers and wrote in my little notepad. I love you, notepad.

Pictures were mostly of nature, and the ones that I took of me with the patented myspace/facebook one-hander had my head take up most of the shot. I need to build an apparatus to help me take my own pictures (or maybe less depressing, someone to take a picture for me/with me/beside me). Of course, I stopped random people to have them help me when the weather was still pretty. It turned from sunshine to misty cloudy to pouring cats and dogs in about four minutes. I’d like to describe more of my wonderful hiking experience in Minoh, but I want to write and post in the order that things occurred, so I’ll try to stay on track with my fleeting thoughts of last night.

I found myself with not a worry in the world and hours to do anything and everything. My faithful blue pen and notepad weighed my decisions with me. I had no computer, no large sheets of scrap paper, no television, and the rain was unbearable for jogging – it was just me, myself, and I in a minimally furnished room. What did they used to do before technology? Normally I would just introduce myself to my neighbors, but today was not the day to be social – not after walking around for half the day. I was too exhausted with the rain, and I had already showered (I didn’t think it a good first impression to show up in PJs speaking broken Japanese). It also risks a forbidden hello if I happen to live next to a young, hot English-speaking Japanese college student. This scenario only lives in my dreams.

I paced in the little space I had. Normally I would be writing about my thoughts, but now they seemed to float in the air and then dissipate with my horrible long term memory. Scribbling a few of the key points into my notepad may help, but the well phrased explanations of my dilemma just drifted away. I needed a keyboard to channel my powers, and just let the flow of ideas out on one of those retractable leashes for puppies. But alas, I felt crippled without technology. No music to drown out the voices and not enough paper to doodle away the randomness. I’ve found all these methods for sifting my thoughts an actual hobby (although many would call me crazy for calling writing a hobby). I picture myself holding a vacuum cleaner tube that sucks up the little thoughts in the bubble above my head. Like a stream of magic, these words shrink to a point and follow through my body until they flow through my fingers and out onto the screen.

I’ve always found it odd to write in my free time because humanities classes were (in mine and many engineers’ perspectives) a burden. Each assignment became a new hump on my back that insisted I finish a few pages earlier in the week and actually read every word in the book. I always wound up waiting until the night-before for these essays, and I could never understand why the writer’s block that shadowed my thoughts about anything and everything related to the subject waited until the absolute last minute. Even psychology, a topic I often discuss in my personal entries, I couldn’t find the right way to put everything into words until Sunday at midnight.

Anyway, I kept myself occupied by finishing Shadow Puppets in an hour and rereading my thoughts in the little notepad. Each little phrase reminded me of that moment in my life. The walls shifted around me and people appeared; all of them sketched in with my brain as the artist. In many ways, these pictures were incomplete, but each action stood out in my mind. I’ve often wished to control my body in these situations, perhaps look around at the still-life I’ve painted and see the details I’ve missed, but unfortunately any sort of reality I try to reproduce is simply imaginary. The wonders of how I could just combine the beauties and make myself believe that these memories were true. If the wind didn’t rustle the leaves to produce a symphony with the running waterfall, it did now.

Many may call filling in these patches a delusion, but when have these memories been so important to keep 100% truthful? It’s not as if I completely imagine flying in space and chilling (get it? It’s cold up there) with some astronauts eating some dried ice cream. In fact, most of the delusions are believable and merely add to the excitement and “pi-zaz” of my explanations. Sometimes it’s not what you’ve literally seen, but what you’ve seen after your mind filters and stores the thoughts into their respective blocks – my filter just so happens to add some “desired noise.” It’s this insight that draws me closer to seeing more of what this world has to offer. Each experience helps me dive deeper into my own subconscious and discover new complexities in the vast unknown of my mind.

So what did I do with my free time after doing everything I possibly could? I enjoyed the peace and quiet. I reflected on a moment where the words of “responsibility” and “schedule” bear no meaning. For some, this may have led to six hours of fidgeting, but for me, it was a chance to defragment. My scan disk and monthly checkup to make sure all the wheels were still turning. It was a chance to rethink my values, reorganize my priorities, and relearn the lessons from my past mistakes. What is there to regret when that only speaks of the past? What is there to plan when you’ll never be able to control everything? I laid there staring at the ceiling and talking to myself. It was the breath of free time I needed before facing the next week of work. Pictures of the weekend and stories to be posted throughout the week – I still have to catch up with last weekend o.O

~See Lemons Live Simply

I missed my train and I wound up at the capsule hotel again…

the reason I missed my stop

Random Observation/Comment #14: The trains run ontime and they do not exceed midnight so be sure to plan well while sober.

I’m not exactly compalining, but this is not a good way to start the weekend.  Well, maybe it’s a very good way to start a story, but I wound up missing my train and I’m staying at the same capsule hotel earlier than expected.  It’s not exactly how I planned this weekend to work out, but I also didn’t plan to miss my stop on the train and wind up back to this place.  Good thing I caught the stop earlier or else I would have wound up much further away.  I guess I’ll stay here again for the night.  There’s internet service and I feel a little bit safer knowing that I survived the first night I was here.  To think, it was only a week ago that a lot of good times happened here.  It’s already quite late so I doubt the same events will happen again, but I think it was some sort of fate that brought me back here.  Maybe I have unfinished business.

Anyway, I am going to call it a night earlier, but once again, if I don’t post on Monday, something has gone wrong and I am in a ditch somewhere as another capsule hotel statistic.  Not to worry, parents,  I think I will be okay.  I will be more observant and try to stay out of trouble.  More will be posted for the weekend as soon as I figure out how I will spend $60 in two days.  I’m sure I could hold out until Monday.  Good thing I’m only 30 minutes away if the trains are running.

Why the hell is this keyboard so weird…

See Lemons Wind Up At the Capsule Hotel Again :\