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August 28, 2007

Japan: both more rinkydink and more awesome than I expected
Posted by Patrick at 06:47 PM * 50 comments

More rinkydink: Surprisingly more evidence of infrastructure decay, notwithstanding the high-tech wonderamas like the Minato Mirai district of Yokohama where the Worldcon is about to be held. It’s not all the 22nd Century; parts of it are miles and miles of shabby suburbs, like some of the more stressed parts of Los Angeles or Phoenix only compressed to dwarf-star density. Other parts look like someone took Akron, Ohio and scrubbed it with a giant Brillo pad, so that the rust stains are still visible but it’s nonetheless clean enough to eat off of.

More awesome: Unbelievably friendly people, even service people who don’t speak English and are dealing with an idiot (me) who doesn’t speak Japanese. Trains you could set your watch by, all with their interior air-conditioning set to “stun”. And the gigantic statue of eleven-headed Kannon, Goddess of Mercy, allegedly carved from a single camphor tree, at the Hasedera Temple in Kamakura. I walked into the room out of the killing heat and time screeched to a stop. I think my jaw is still on the floor back there.

Upcoming: the 65th World Science Fiction Convention, starting tomorrow, at which Tor publisher Tom Doherty and I will be doing something a little new—podcasting the Worldcon, or at least our corner of it. Beginning late tomorrow (if the creek don’t rise), we’ll be putting up dispatches and interviews with a variety of skiffy luminaries. Hear Tom Doherty chat with Larry Niven over lunch! Listen as Robert Charles Wilson and I amble through the book room, peering at SF book publishing past and present! Behold the spectacle of PNH interviewing George Takei! (That one’s set for Saturday morning Japan time.) You can subscribe to the whole series here, or (if you promise to ignore the empty dummy podcast currently sitting there) you can pick and choose as they get posted here. (No, Making Light isn’t about to become a Tor promotional vehicle, but this is the first of several Tor intertube-related projects that I’ll be mentioning in the next few weeks.)

Comments on Japan: both more rinkydink and more awesome than I expected:
#1 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2007, 07:47 PM:

Podcasts from Worldcon! Much to be anticipated. It will make not being there ache a little less.

#2 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2007, 08:53 PM:

I'm also looking forward to the prospect of reading (hopefully) lots of LiveJournal entries from various fans in Japan.

#3 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2007, 09:04 PM:

If you're seeing infrastructure decay now, I shudder to think what the apartment I rented in Yokosuka must look like 33 years after the fact. It didn't have hot water even then.

#4 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2007, 09:12 PM:

Tom Doherty and podcasting in the same sentence? I am so there.

#5 ::: Calton Bolick ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2007, 09:16 PM:

#3: I'm sure it was torn down decades ago: permanence of buildings isn't taken for granted in Japan, so I suspect steady maintenance -- especially cosmetic -- isn't a high priority . On the block where I lived in suburban Tokyo for 6 years, literally half the houses were torn down and replaced during my time there.

It's the land that counts, not the building on it. Walk through any section of downtown Tokyo, practically, and you can find badly battered-looking little houses -- often with the family business on the ground floor -- nestled between the skyscrapers and shopping gallerias, occupied by families who've hung onto their land for generations.

#6 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2007, 09:16 PM:

Have a good time, Patrick.

#7 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2007, 09:20 PM:

When I visited Tokyo a few years back, Howard Rheingold described it as "New York mutiplied by Los Angeles". That seemed very apt.

#8 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2007, 09:22 PM:

Calton @ #5, Could be, could be. It was cheek-by-jowl with the Hotel Yokosuka (a small 4-story affair off the main drag), so knocking it down without damaging the hotel might have been tricky.

17,000Y per month when the exchange rate was 300Y to the buck didn't buy a very tony neighborhood.

#9 ::: Adam Rakunas ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2007, 10:18 PM:

And Tor takes another step toward conquering the Web. Next up: FlickrPedia, moderated by a TNH AI. Looking forward to meeting you for the blogging/LJ/Intar-tube panel.

#10 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2007, 10:32 PM:

The first podcast link isn't working for me - it gives me xml instead of a formatted page, in both of my (not very up-to-date) browsers.

If it's just me, never mind, I can find my way from the second link. Yay! Fun ear stuff for my commute.

Have a great time.

#11 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2007, 10:49 PM:

#10: I dunno. It worked for me (I use Google Reader). I'm not the tech department for this effort, but I'll pass on the note...

#12 ::: Joyce Reynolds-Ward ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2007, 11:00 PM:

Hasedera is way cool, isn't it?

I was there in December of 2002. Shocked to discover that there were *oranges* growing there. Have the pictures.

#13 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2007, 11:17 PM:

thanks, it'll be a good way to get a feel for what's happening. the other 2/3 of my family is there, I'm holding the fort and the kittehs.

Fortunately I'm so busy at work that I'm too tired to be worried much about site selection. Though through the efforts of a friend of mine to introduce all her friends to one another before she leaves town I discovered Ticket to Ride is a bitchin'' board game.

#14 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2007, 12:23 AM:

My overall impression of Japan, and this is after exposure to Europe, was this: take any aspect of life in the United States. Now change it in at least one way, generally the least expected possible way.

It gave me such culture shock that going to Germany for a Junior Year Abroad after that was like coming home. At least I could sound out the signage, I always told people.

Beer vending machines with built-in games of chance (hit the button at the right time, get a free beer) were terribly outré for this Hoosier boy fresh off the farm. But what really freaked my gourd was seeing a bright blue gas pipe in a big inverted U shape over a little bitty field in the middle of nowhere. Japan doesn't have eminent domain, you see, and the gas pipe company couldn't get piping rights to that guy's field. So they went over it...

#15 ::: Calton Bolick ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2007, 01:06 AM:

#8: Easy as pie, actually, since they do it all the time here. Put up a scaffolding that completely surrounds the building, cover the scaffolding in panels or canvas, send notices to the neighbors to apologize for the noise and inconvenience, and then bring in the front-loaders/cranes to bang away.

#16 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2007, 01:11 AM:

Old gods are all very well, but if you`re in Tokyo before, after or during the con, check out the statue of Godzilla in Ginza, not to mention something that looks like a monument to the Unknown Hentai Tentacle Rape Monster nearby. I`ll post some pictures when I have a web connection....

--Posted from a shop display computer in Akihabara

#17 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2007, 02:32 AM:

I selfishly look forward to any and all Japan reports, as I am headed there (specifically Kyoto, Osaka, Tokyo, and Nagoya) for the first time this coming December and have absolutely NO idea what to expect.

#18 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2007, 02:47 AM:

meredith @ #17, in December? Expect cold weather and gray skies. Beyond that, there are obviously some folks here who've been there more recently than my two-year expedition courtesy of the USN 1972-1974, so I'll defer to them.

#19 ::: Calton Bolick ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2007, 04:28 AM:

Cold weather (though rarely snow, at least in Tokyo) and sometimes gray skies, but between the lower pollution and humidity, the air is MUCH clearer, meaning sometimes you can actually see Mount Fuji from Tokyo.

#20 ::: Rachel ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2007, 05:13 AM:

Maybe someday the Worldcon will be in China. (With things like this happening, it may very well happen.) If it happens -- and especially if it's in Chengdu -- I will have to sell blood or something to make sure I can go. Or maybe sell myself as a tour guide. I'd die for a chance to go to Qingchengshan again.


#21 ::: individualfrog ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2007, 06:48 AM:

WARNING: the Godzilla statue (NelC @16 mentioned) is very, very tiny. In my opinion, there is nothing to recommend it. I work near there and tourists sometimes ask me where it is, so I bring them and watch their faces droop as their expectations are shattered.

#22 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2007, 09:41 AM:

individualfrog, that's sad. It needs to be monumental. It needs, like most public sculpture, to be larger than life. It needs to tower over Tokyo for real. There needs to be space under its foot for people to look very teeny as they pose for photographs...

It'll probably end up being built as an apartment block.

#23 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2007, 09:46 AM:

I'm sure it was torn down decades ago: permanence of buildings isn't taken for granted in Japan, so I suspect steady maintenance -- especially cosmetic -- isn't a high priority . On the block where I lived in suburban Tokyo for 6 years, literally half the houses were torn down and replaced during my time there.

I knew someone who used to collect photograph of the strange architectural artefacts that came from this constant tearing apart/rebuilding. Stairs that remained but weren't connected to anything anymore, doors on the nth floor of building that led to nowhere (for Roger Rabbit fan I guess), small bridges no more connected to anything.
Too bad I've lost the CD she gave me of her work.

Still, that's something to look for while you're there.

#24 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2007, 12:24 PM:

No, Making Light isn’t about to become a Tor promotional vehicle, but this is the first of several Tor intertube-related projects that I’ll be mentioning in the next few weeks.

I'm finding it very difficult to imagine a level of Tor promotion on ML that would bother me. I've always thought that y'all overcompensated in not doing enough casual promotion of your books, podcasts, whatever. So please: more!

#25 ::: Michael Walsh ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2007, 05:03 PM:

Sorry to miss Worldcon this year. The last time I was in Yokohama was sometime in the mid 1950s (courtesy MSTS). I do suspect it's changed since then.

#26 ::: Chuck ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2007, 08:33 PM:

"Unbelievably friendly people, even service people who don’t speak English and are dealing with an idiot (me) who doesn’t speak Japanese."
Before I went to Japan (I've only been twice, so I don't want to make it sound like I'm an expert on the culture or anything), I never understood the difference between "polite" and "friendly." Growing up in the southern US, acting friendly is ingrained in the culture when it's not genuine. And then in the SF Bay Area, people are as a generalization unfriendly, but only because when they do put the effort into being polite, it's a genuine sign of friendship.

In Japan, I was continually struck with how people were overwhelmingly polite and gracious, but would be happy for me just to conduct my business and go away as soon as possible. I was very impressed with the people there, but it seemed like a culture that I'd have a very hard time adjusting to.

As for the "more awesome" level: the first time I went, everything seemed somehow cooler because it was so completely foreign. Not in the intimidating or the insulting "look at the strange people!" way, but in the exciting sense that despite all the familiar aspects of being in a city, the people here had a completely different way of doing things.

My most recent trip was disappointing in that just over the span of two years, Tokyo already seemed more western and Americanized. There are entire blocks of Shibuya where all the signage is in English (GAP and Apple stores), and there are areas of San Francisco that seem even more foreign and authentic.

#27 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: August 30, 2007, 01:35 AM:

MD2 @ 23: Someone did a book full of pictures of those a long time ago. (How long? Long enough that I saw the article on it in either Whole Earth Review or Coevolution Quarterly, whichever it was called then.) I remember that the Japanese slang word for them was named after an American baseball player who was signed to a Japanese team at a princely salary and turned out to be completely useless. It had some great photos; besides the doors to nowhere and stairs to nowhere, I particularly liked the pair of factory smokestacks rising out of the middle of a parking lot.

I'm sure the house we lived in when I was a kid is long long gone; just during the couple years we lived in Shinjuku, it seemed like half of Naito-machi was torn down and rebuilt with high-rise apartment blocks.

#28 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: August 30, 2007, 01:57 AM:

Chuck @ #26, "people were overwhelmingly polite and gracious, but would be happy for me just to conduct my business and go away as soon as possible."

You weren't in a neighborhood public bath, were you?

My apartment had no hot water or shower. I had to go across the street to a bathhouse if I wanted to wash, paying my 100Y or whatever the fee was.

I have never gotten so many strange looks in my life as I did the times I went in there, which I did fairly often. Everyone was polite; I was just peered at from the corners of people's eyes. The proprietor kinda got used to me, but his other customers, not so much.

#29 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: August 30, 2007, 01:58 AM:

The second time I spent any length of time in Japan, I picked up a copy of Culture Shock: Japan at Narita just before my flight out and read it all the way through on the plane. I sorely wished I had read it at the beginning of my trip instead of the end. It did, however, help me lose my very bad attitude about Japan prior to my subsequent trips there. I like Japan much better now.

I suppose I should have mentioned that before everyone descended on Yokohama for the convention... sorry about that.

To make up for that, let me recommend taking the train up to the Ebisu station and checking out What The Dickens!, one of Tokyo's bizarre pseudo-British pubs. It's worth the ride. Please, trust me on this. Even if the music and the bar scene is not your style, Ebisu is a pretty nice little suburb. Reminds me of my own neighborhood here in SFO. (Make sure you plan how to get back to Yokohama and you don't miss the last train. The taxi ride is expensive.)

#30 ::: Zeborah ::: (view all by) ::: August 30, 2007, 02:59 AM:

I currently have twelve copies of "The First Podcast From Tor Books" in Google Reader: is this just me, and have I done something silly? At first I thought I had all sorts of content to listen to and was thinking I'd better check how much bandwidth I have left this month, but obviously I don't need to worry about that too much just yet....

All the Culture Shock books I've read have been brilliant. --Well, except the Denmark one; that kept rubbing me the wrong way, as if the guy writing it didn't really respect the country as much as he thought he did; but it may only have been that I was reading it for a different purpose than I read the other ones for so had my reading protocols tangled up.

#31 ::: Calton Bolick ::: (view all by) ::: August 30, 2007, 04:08 AM:

#29: I've never been to What the Dickens! -- though, coincidentally, I was in a sister pub called the Town Cryer [sic] last night -- but I'm not sure I see the point of traveling all the way up to Ebisu for Yet Another Pseudo-English Pub, which Tokyo is lousy with. If you DO head up that way, though, take a sidetrip to poke your nose into the nearby Yebisu Garden Place mall to take a look at the Robuchon restaurant there -- you'll know what I mean when you see it -- or visit the Beer Museum.

Of course, one more stop north of Ebisu on the Yamanote Line is Shibuya (home of the Blade-Runner-esque Hachiko Square and possibly the world's busiest Starbucks) and one more stop brings you to Harajuku, and two more after THAT brings you to Shinjuku (home of the world's busiest railway station),,,

#32 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 30, 2007, 09:02 AM:

"I currently have twelve copies of 'The First Podcast From Tor Books' in Google Reader: is this just me, and have I done something silly?"

I doubt it. I suspect the glitch is at our end.

#33 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: August 30, 2007, 02:45 PM:

Here's the iTunes store URL for the "first" Tor podcast, for those of us that use that darn product.

My SIL and BIL lived in Hokkaido for three years, they were in the JET program. The BIL would say things like "Some days I feel like I'm living in the most civilized and technologically advanced country on the planet".

#34 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: August 30, 2007, 07:18 PM:

Tania @33: I think Seoul gives Tokyo a good run for its money in the Technically Advanced Stakes these days. The outdoor video signs are brighter, and there are more people watching video on their cell phones while commuting.

#35 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 30, 2007, 07:50 PM:


Oh, hell, I was really hoping that video on the cell phone thing wouldn't work out; like maybe people would be upset that the screen was too small and just not buy into it. Driving while talking on a cell phone is bad enough; imagine the mess the streets will be when drivers are watching their phones instead of listening to them.

#36 ::: amberglow ::: (view all by) ::: August 30, 2007, 10:53 PM:

Tokyo surprised me too--the avenues and stores were shiny and new and "the future" and then you turn off, and all the little streets behind and between are totally old and shabby and low-key. Such an interesting place--amazing--with wonderful people.

#37 ::: Calton Bolick ::: (view all by) ::: August 31, 2007, 02:28 AM:

...imagine the mess the streets will be when drivers are watching their phones instead of listening to them

They don't have to: GPS navigation systems are wildly popular here, and yes, they double as TV sets/DVD players. I've certainly seen taxi drivers watching TV while waiting in taxi ranks and even seen the occasional MOVING vehicle with the TV on.

(Slightly apropos aside: a few years ago, I saw a TV commercial for a car GPS system which depicted a gloomy family, parked in their car across from a closed amusement park as the rain pours down. What to do? The mother, brightly, holds up a DVD, and they watch -- "Star Trek: The Next Generation".)

#38 ::: Eric ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2007, 06:32 AM:

Linkmeister @28: Funny you should mention baths. I just got through reading Eric Talmadge's Getting Wet: Adventures in the Japanese Bath, in which he spends quite a few pages talking about being a gaijin in neighborhood bathhouses, getting funny looks.

#39 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2007, 06:59 AM:

Re the podcasts: I note that George Takei, though looking very much like himself in the photo, sounds amazingly like Cory Doctorow, both in voice and in content. Word for word, actually, which appears to have caused Patrick to say exactly the same things in conversation.


#40 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2007, 02:37 PM:

abi, are you saying Cory Doctorow sounds gay? You take that back!

#41 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2007, 02:43 PM:

No, I was saying George Takei sounded straight. And Canadian to boot*.

He's more himself now.

* Whether these two are linked is left as an exercise for the reader.

#42 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2007, 07:31 PM:

Eric @ #38, when you stop to think about it, the Japanese technique of soaping up, scrubbing down, and sluicing off before getting into a tub of water is very logical.

It's probably why I've always preferred showers; bathing in water which contains whatever I've just washed off me doesn't make a lot of sense. YMMV.

#43 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2007, 12:28 AM:

Me too, Linkmeister. These days I can't get in and out of tubs, but after seeing Japanese bathing methods when I was a kid, I've always been wary of baths.

#44 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2007, 05:59 PM:

Podcast notes...listened to the first, now listening to the second. Interesting stuff, great idea. On the other hand...could you warn us how long these things are? Also, the second one seems to have a very quiet right channel...this is distracting; might be best to just make them mono, or else use two mikes.

#45 ::: Jules spots spam ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2007, 04:02 AM:

Either that or somebody's really more interested in the weather in Tokyo than anything else that might occur there...

#46 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2007, 08:32 AM:

Linkmeister @ 42 -- I dated a girl in high school whose parents were serious scholars of Japan, and actually had in their bathroom a shower outside of a bathtub. (They also had a super-duper toilet with a heated seat and a console to spray'n'wash your bits, which I never got to use.) That was where I learned about Japanese bathing customs, and it made a lot of sense to me, too. It was explained to me that you scrub the dirt off, rinse, then get into a hot bath to clean out your pores and soften your skin. Makes sense.

I sometimes try to implement these customs at home now, but find that I'm too stingy about water to take both a shower and a bath. For the best, since we're at record-breaking drought levels around here.

Bruce Cohen @ 35 -- I don't know, but my guess would be that the video-watching commuters are on trains rather than driving themselves. (Then again, there is a large contingent of people angry about the iPhone's touch screen because "How am I supposed to text while driving?!?" To which my answer would be "You're not." Good thing I don't sell them.)

#47 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2007, 11:17 PM:

Ironically, considering the place was apparently put there for my amusement, I've never been. Enjoy it for me!

#48 ::: Dale Archdekin ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2007, 09:04 PM:

Japan was beautifull, odd, fascinating, and repulsive...I found it amazingly complex when I visited. Men urinating in alleys, steaming hot tea baths, endless rows of pachinko machines and players with cigarettes burned down to their fingers, towering pine trees, shanty towns under elevated highways, decaying architecture adorned with gaudy neon advertisiments, "enjoy here" vending machines. I can't wait to go back.

#49 ::: Mary Aileen sees old copying spam ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2009, 02:33 PM:

#45 is a word-for-word copy of a message earlier in the thread, and the name sounds commercial (I didn't follow the link).

#50 ::: P J Evans sees probable spam ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2013, 02:07 PM:

somewhat coherent, almost on topic.

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