In This Issue:
That time again, and here I am, bouncing around the room…
Greetings, and welcome to the latest edition of the Blue Mountain Journal.
An oversight in the first issue, allow me to begin with some clarification
about the title. “Blue Mountain” comes directly from the characters used
to spell Aoyama, “ao” being blue and “yama” mountain. Aoyama, of course,
is the name of the university I’m attending here in Tokyo. Make sense? Right,
so, with that out of the way…
As you’re no doubt aware, I’ve been having some internet connectivity
problems since arriving here. Dial-up accounts are cho-expensive, so I’ve
waited to shell out the big dollars for an account with a provider here
until I have a better idea of the big picture. I am, however, glad to say
that as of yesterday I got the dial-up connection via Aoyama up and running
for e-mail, WWW and USEnet. The downside is that I still can’t see the rest
of the world unless I Telnet to another campus machine and go from there.
Unfortunately that doesn’t allow me to use any of the nifty internet tools
that I’ve installed under Win95. So, in short, I’m still working on it.
(Somewhere a voice is saying “Er, Windows 95??)
Yes, it may come as a shock to those of you who know me as a Team OS/2
member and ardent Windoze basher, but I’ve come to the inevitable conclusion
that OS/2, though robust and powerful and uncommon enough that you can say
“I run OS/2″ and come off sounding like a tech-savvy, with-it computer guy,
is doomed to extinction. Software companies globally must agree, since there
is virtually zero software available for it. I’m not even going to get into
drivers and hardware support. Add to that the problem of appearance, most
notably the fact that the interface was designed by a team of vision-impaired
engineers rather than graphic design artists or others with more than a
passing familiarity with the concept of esthetic appeal. Maybe Microsoft
and NeXT got to them all first, who knows.
So anyway, back to Windows95…
A friend talked me into installing it on Zeke, my ThinkPad (only after
much cajoling and arm-twisting and a succession of Martinis) to see what
I thought about it, and I have to admit that I love it. Win95 and the ThinkPad
get along smashingly well, and all of the things that always proved so frustrating
in the past with OS/2 (getting drivers, finding software, etc. ad nauseum)
have been amazingly simple. I’m hooked! (All thanks to a certain stubble-headed
one we all know and love).
On a related point, I’m using MS Exchange (a great program, especially
since I installed “Idioms”) to compose and distribute this, so if any of
you out there would like a copy that incorporates some of the numerous groovy
functions that Exchange has to offer let me know.
Enough about computers, though. I have a phone number for the time being,
should anyone have something really pressing. It is: 0422-33-0851 (precede
this with your international dial code and the country code for Japan, 81).
The number should be good until sometime in May. If you would like the address
here, mail me.
Thanks to everyone who wrote back and for the positive feedback! And for
you thoughtless others out there, scorn and derision! (Just joking. Well,
sort of joking, anyway)
Waiter, there’s a hanabira in my sake!
The end of that handful of weeks that marks the onset of Spring and finds
the cherry trees in full, splendid bloom was drawing nigh, and it found
me fretting that the period would pass before I would have a chance to enjoy
a trademark Japanese pastime, Hanami. When the blossoms have burst forth
in pink radiance around this time every year people flock in droves to parks
in the city and elsewhere to get engage in a tradition centuries old. Handed
down from generation to generation and rich in cultural heritage, it essentially
involves getting plastered under the pretense of enjoying nature.
In groups of all sizes family, friends and co-workers flee the indoors
armed with blankets, baskets, and truckloads of sake and beer to spend the
day in wistful (catatonic?) contemplation of the fragile blossoms, and of
the way they reflect our own insignificance and mortality. (Sigh)
But, alas!, it seemed that I would miss out on the fun this year, and
I was saddened by the prospect…
Then, out of the blue, an invitation! Another student at Aogaku, one that
I had met only an hour or so before, tendered the offer, and I was more
than happy to accept. We set the date for the following Sunday and agreed
to meet at a station in a popular part of town. Saturday night, however,
found me dancing in Roppongi till around five o’clock Sunday morning, and
there was no way I was going to make the 10:00 appointment. My exhausted
body scolded me for the trade-off I had made, but its admonitions grew muffled
as my head sank into the pillow. I awoke sometime later, and the short shadow
of the wind-chime on the tatami beside me indicated that the noon hour had
come and gone. I arose, muscles complaining, and in the semi-conscious fugue
state of the shower I worked on an alternative plan for the day.
Shortly thereafter, dry and backup yotei in mind, I got on the phone and
invited a Japanese friend I had met in the states to go and see if we could
find the Hanami group. We met later at Harajuku and set off in search of
the others, fingers crossed and thinking that we might even be able to find
them in the expansive, rather crowded environs of Yoyogi Park.
Tsumari, we never did. But we did walk around for a couple of hours and
catch up, and that was really nice. Eventually, tired from all of the walking,
we sat down on the grass on the edge of a park and chatted about computers
and Seattle and how Tokyo needs a real kissaten and watched the clouds drift
As many of you probably guessed, it was about then that a bullhorn-wielding
man in a pink rabbit suit approached, bellowing incomprehensible English
and beckoning wildly with a long, pink appendage. I hollered back, surprised
and amused, “Nihongo de ii yo,” (Japanese is fine) which provoked an eruption
of laughter from a group of Hanami-ers stationed a couple dozen yards away,
and took the rabbit quite by surprise. He brightened then, and promptly
invited the two of us to join he and the group for some food, drink and
merriment. My friend and I exchanged “shall we?” glances, shrugged, and
stolled on over.
Everyone there seemed pretty well lit by that point and welcomed us with
cheers and toasts and at least five different Japanese dishes. The sole
foreigner present, I was inundated with questions of all sorts for about
the first thirty minutes or so, and people marveled politely at my meager
Japanese ability. I’m at that stage now where I can carry on conversations
and such about general matters but not much else, which places me in the
huge middle category of people that speak Japanese anywhere from barely
to pretty darn well, and so end up lavished with compliments on language
ability far in excess of what is warranted. (Or what _I_ would say is warranted,
anyway) Foreigners who can produce the occasional “arigatou” or “sumimasen”
are afforded the same treatment, and it ultimately amounts to courtesy more
than any real evaluation of one’s ability. I’ll know I’ve really made progress
when the compliments *stop*. (Jack Seward has excellent guidelines for rating
Japanese language ability, and they can be found in his book “Japanese in
So we sat there, eating and drinking and chatting, and the day passed
in a wonderfully blissful fashion. I had been provided with a glass of beer
and a wooden, square cup for drinking cold sake. Neither was allowed the
opportunity to dry, and I was feeling pretty light-headed pretty quickly.
I realized at some point that every time the woman across from me refilled
my sake cup she would drop a sakura petal (hanabira) into it, but I was
beyond caring enough to ask why. Anybody out there know?
Kin-chan, the rabbit who had initially approached us, had not let up one
inch in his efforts at recruiting revelers, and soon began intercepting
anyone who passed too closely with earnest invitations via bullhorn. (It’s
easy to sound earnest with a bullhorn) And should a foreigner (any nationality)
come into view, he would immediately bellow in my direction, “Maiku-san!
Maiku-san! Tsuuyaku shite!” (Mike! Come ‘ere and translate!) In about half
of the cases I would actually speak the same language as the hapless passer-by,
and would let them know that their presence was not only requested, but
demanded by the ebullient pink fellow nearby. This pattern was repeated
indefinitely until we had a real “international” thing going on, with Japanese,
German, Russian and Brazilian people scattered beneath the sakura blossoms
and partying it up. It pleased Kin-chan to no end to call the affair an
“International Hanami Party,” and he would do so about every four minutes,
laughing and waving the bullhorn around. Call it what you will, it was a
Presently my friend indicated a need to return, but assured me that I
was more than welcome to hang out if I wanted to. I accepted, and we all
saw her off with a toast and even a traditional homecoming ballad or two.
(Okay, I made that last bit up. For all I know the Japanese don’t even *have*
traditional homecoming ballads, but it would have been cool if we had.)
Not long after that the decision was made to go. I’m not sure exactly
how it was decided, but suddenly everyone was moving about, gathering glasses
and plates and things and generally mobilizing into some kind of Hanami
Cleanup Task Force, so I just jumped right in and followed suit. (Shyeah
right. Picture fifteen or so Japanese, all responsibly engaged in the execution
of some specific duty like it had been decided at birth, and then there’s
me with, like, a tupperware bowl filled with some mysterious black murk
sloshing about, looking lost and muttering to nobody in particular, “Um…kore
wa…ano…dou shiyou..?”) Maybe they were using telepathy or something,
I dunno, but they had also decided on the next destination, and in moments
we were off, giggling and delirious, to Kin-chan’s noodle shop.
I’m not sure why we stopped in there, but we only stayed for a moment
or so before striking off en masse to another restaurant for sushi. The
food was wonderful, and tray after tray of assorted dishes were brought
and consumed in short order. (Think “gyuuinbashoku”) Regretfully, though,
there was this one particularly inebriated individual next to me who kept
covertly stealing the topping off the sushi, leaving the shivering, exposed
rice ball forlornly behind. Odious woman. Eventually I reprimanded her,
and she scowled at me but discontinued her surreptitious campaign.
The check came, and after some quick calculation by Kin-chan we all produced
some cash (about twenty bucks each). Sated, we struck off once again, this
time to sing karaoke and resume serious drinking.
The bar itself was a “karaoke box” on a grand scale, with massive rooms
that could accommodate twenty or more. Our group fell into that category,
and soon people were taking their turns at the microphone. I was called
on first to do an impromptu jikoshokai (self-intro), and then to sing something.
I was ready for them, though (ha-HA!), and I casually announced the number
for my standard opening tune, Anzen Chitai’s “Koi no Yokan” (Expectation
of Love). It went over well, and I was replaced on stage by a succession
of drunken revelers who crooned (or brayed, as was the case) their favorite
tunes. Kin-chan, now well-oiled, was down to his boxers, and they seemed
to be on their way out as well. His bare ass periodically cavorted in front
of the raucous crowd, and the reactions of the spectators ranged from shouts
of encouragement to averted, blushing faces. After a while he put the strip
tease act to rest and let the other performers sing in relative peace.
How long this went on I can’t really say, but eventually we left in search
of more food. It was approaching the wee hours at this point, and we had
been partying for maybe twelve hours straight. At the small noodle restaurant
that admitted us (fools!) we all slurped down monstrous bowls of ramen or
udon, and shared plates of gyoza. It finally looked as though everyone had
had just about enough, and we made for home. The trains had stopped running
some time earlier, and Kin-chan happily agreed to put me up for the night
in his chic-but-small Shibuya apartment. I was out as soon as my head hit
I’ve just completed the first week of classes, and my schedule is approaching
some semblance of solidity. Here at Aogaku the first week is kind of a trial
period where students sit it on classes that they think they might like
to take and get an idea of what the course will be like. As you’re required
to select the classes for the next year in advance, it’s probably a good
The classes I’ve decided on thus far are:
- Japanese III (Intermediate)
- Advanced Japanese
- Japanology (who came up with this, anyway?)
- History of Japanese Culture
- Computer Applications
All but one of the classes (Japanology) is conducted in Japanese, so I’ve
got my work cut out for me. The computer class should be pretty easy for
the obvious reasons, but history and advanced Japanese classes will prove
to be quite demanding, I’m sure. I’m really looking forward to the calligraphy
class, and the professor for the Japanology class seems interesting and
The classes on the whole seem to be far simpler than university-level
courses in the US. It’s my understanding that this is common knowledge among
most Japanese, and that after 12 years of “education hell” in Japan’s demanding
school system, anyone who has made into a university deserves the break.
It’s not uncommon at all for students to sleep or read magazines during
the lecture, and the quantity of homework and assignments in general seems
minimal at best. These are only my initial impressions, of course, so their
accuracy should be classified as dubious at best. I thought I’d share them
anyway, and we’ll see how they evolve.
What else? The campus is small but attractive, and located in the center
of a commercial urban district known for its high-fashion and as a proving
ground for new styles and test products. There are approximately 135 female
students to every male student, and the women are required to conform to
strict standards of dress, height-weight distribution, and speech (25 uso!’s
per hour minimum, 20 heee!’s, etc.) They are all between 18 and 20 years
of age. (I haven’t checked the actual figures yet, but I’m sure I’m prety
close) The students dress for the office, or it seems that way to me, and
I occasionally feel out of place in my t-shirt, levis and doc marten’s.
Maybe the heat and humidity of Summer will spur the student body to more
casual dress. (Insert Sean-esque “uh-heh…heh” here)
I usually take lunch in the shokudou, or cafeteria, only because it’s
so cheap. The quality of the food fluctuates between not bad and tolerable,
depending on what you order, but it fits with my rather limited budget.
One can usually get enough to eat for around four dollars, which is about
half what you might expect to pay at an inexpensive lunch spot nearby. The
smoke in the shokudou can get unbearable at times, what with upwards of
two hundred students taking turns smoking in the confines of the main room,
and I usually try to find an open spot in the smaller non-smoking area.
The meal selection process bears mentioning, as the system was certainly
a new one for me. On one wall in the main room there is a large, glass display
case that entices unsuspecting patrons with twenty or so shellacked examples
of whatever is on the menu for that day. These prefab teishoku, or “set
lunches,” exhibit characteristics not unlike what one might expect from
the menu board in a typical fast food restaurant. Specifically, they never
seem to accurately represent what ends up on your plate. Noodle dishes buried
in vegetables, shrimp and other goodies look pretty tasty under the lamps
of the display case, but the dish placed with an unceremonious thunk in
front of you is pretty much noodles and some kind of liquid, with a smattering
of bean sprouts or some other dollar-a-hectare produce tossed in as an afterthought.
With practice and experience, though, I expect to be able to restrict my
selections to those that are both filling and, well, not too odd-tasting.
One Key Guy
Remember that scene in Sex, Lies, and Videotape where James Spader relates
his aversion to keys and the trappings they connote? If I recall correctly
it went something like this:
Y’know how it is. You get a job and the next thing you know you gotta
have a key to the office. And a key to your house or whatever. Then there’s
a key for your car or, even worse, cars. Before you know it you’ve got
a big ugly wad of keys jangling around in your pocket. Well, not me. No
thanks, mister. I’m a One Key Guy.
Well, as a One Key Guy myself, I can see where he’s coming from. I have
but one key, a house key, and you know what? It’s not even *mine*. I guess
that would make me a No Key Guy. (I don’t want to hear any business about
suitcase or padlock keys from you sticklers out there. I got no keys that
count, see?) I must say I feel all that much lighter for it, too. I enjoy
occasionally confusing my key with, say, a 500 yen coin. I like not having
to fish around in my pocket for something that has settled below the level
of the key ring. I like never being thrust unwittingly into some annoying
Solve The Magic Keyring Puzzle! situation that requires you untangle a hopelessly
convoluted key mass in order to free the one key you actually need. I especially
like not having to endure the repeated thwack-bounce-thwack of the keys
striking my upper thigh when I wear slacks. Maybe someday *everyone* will
just have one key. You’ll buy a car or a house or something and at some
point the salesperson will ask you for your Key so that they can properly
configure the locks. No offense to the Locksmith lobby or hardware store
clerks out there, but frankly the world would be a better, happier place
with fewer keys around. I’m doing my part.
This section is a must-have, especially for someone so apparently prone
to “pulling a gaijin” as I am. As you read, though, I would ask you to remember
that I’m *new* here, and not necessarily a complete imbecile. So there.
Japanese: no longer the language of convenience
At the Nyuugaku-shiki (Opening Day Ceremony) at Aoyama Gakuin, a friend
and I were watching the students mill about and pass in large groups (there
is no such thing as a “small” group in Japan). I turned to him, elbow jabbing
and grinning lecherously, and said, “Boy, this place is a real bijin tengoku!
(babe heaven),” only to have a Japanese woman to my left, obviously the
parent of one of the bijin in question, whip her head around and fix me
with a menacing glare. We moved away quickly, hiding our faces and trying
hard not to laugh out loud.
Your bath is ready, Sir.
My roommate for the time being had been out of town on business for the
better part of a week, and on the day of his return I resolved to do something
nice for him. I decided to fill the o-furo, or bath, and have it nice and
hot by the time he arrived home late that night. I wasn’t completely familiar
with the complexities of the gas-operated machine at that point, and I set
thing to “heat bath water” and adjusted the temperature down to a low setting
that would be just right for steeping a medium-sized body. Tetsu arrived
home as expected, and we sat and enjoyed a beer and some conversation, at
which point I let him know (smiling smugly inward) that the bath was ready,
should he want one. He said it sounded great and went off to change while
I made for my own room, the satisfaction of having done a good deed sitting
warmly in my belly.
His arrival at the bathroom a few moments was marked by a stunned “oh
no…” and then “Maiku!!!” I practically fell out my skin scrambling to
get over there, and, looking into the bathroom, I saw the water of the bath
at a full, roiling boil. It seems the temp selector has no effect when the
system is set to heat the water in the tub, and the bath had just gotten
hotter and hotter and hotter. Needless to say, poor Tetsu was going to go
without a bath tonight…
I’ve got to add here, though, that I was truly distressed by the turn
of events, and Tetsu knew it. He went to great pains to make light of the
situation, including waving the steam that billowed out of the bathroom
into his mouth with his hands and saying by way of reassurance, “It’s good!
Healthy, see?” I had royally screwed up, yes, but that to him was secondary
to my peace of mind, and I appreciated his handling of this situation more
than he probably knew. (Minakawa-rashii, ne Noboru-san?)
Heard near Harajuku Station as I watched a group of punk-types sulk and
pose for the cameras of passing tourists: makusu (max), as in “kanojo
wa makusu-sugei jan!”
Heard on the train: Cho-beribaddo (Cho very bad), which must equate
to being, well, pretty darn bad.
- No film is developed in this country. Instead, film is sent via space
shuttle to a secret film laboratory on Mars, and then returned for pickup.
I swear I’m not making this up. How else would one explain a charge of $20
for a single roll of 24 exposure film?
- Advertisers are legally bound to include the word “shinhatsubai!” (NEW!)
in any televised advertisement, no matter how old the product may be. I’ve
commercials for rice, for crying out loud, which has been around for, of,
maybe a kazillion years now, where some perky, vacuous teen idol proclaims
“shinhatsubai!” at the end. Um, hello? It’s RICE! Jeez…
- Ex-pats in Japan seem to have an odd kind of aversion to or competitiveness
thing going on with one another. I’m still trying to figure out why this
might be, but there definitely seems to be very little in the way of kinship
among the other hakujin I see here. (I only say “hakujin” because they are
the easiest to find, unless you go to Roppongi, where the majority instantly
becomes kokujin military-types. They’re friendlier, but this probably owes
to their being employed as kyaku-hiki.) It may just be Anti-American sentiment
I’m experiencing, though, of which there appears to be no shortage, at least
among the Europeans. I’ve had a couple of encounters with people where it
was clear that they took a certain sneering affront at being categorized
as from the US. The really funny part is that most of these arrogant snots
can’t even speak Japanese. I’ll be researching this further.
- Smoking isn’t slowing down at all.